Read an Excerpt
Plain Jane MacAllister
By Joan Pickart
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHome, Mark Maxwell thought as he set his heavy suitcase down. He was finally back in Boston after living and working in Paris for what had proven to be a very long year.
The research project he'd been invited to take part in had been fascinating and challenging, and it had certainly been an honor to participate. The problem with his stay had been that the preconceived vision most Americans had about the city had turned out to be absolutely true. Everywhere he'd gone, it seemed, he had been surrounded by couples who were deeply in love.
Maybe the same could be said of Boston, but he'd sure never noticed it if it was. He'd gone to Paris with a mind-set which no doubt made him more aware of the love-in-bloom, or some such thing. To his own self-disgust, he'd also been thrown back in time to when he, too, had been in love, had lost his heart and youthful innocence to a sweet smile and sparkling brown eyes.
They had made plans for a future together, a forever, had talked for hours about the home they would share, the children they would create, the happiness that would be theirs until death parted them.
But none of it had been real ... not to her. She'd smashed his heart to smithereens, leaving him stunned, bitter and determined never to loveagain.
He'd been convinced that he'd dealt with those painful ghosts, had long since forgotten her and what she had done to him. But while in Paris in the crush of the clinging couples, the pairs, the twosomes, the old memories had risen to the fore, taunting him, making him face the realization that he really had neither forgiven nor forgotten her.
He strode across the living room toward the kitchen. While he'd been gone, he'd rented his apartment to his buddy Eric, a recently divorced doctor at the hospital, and Eric had told Mark on the phone the other night that he'd have some food in the refrigerator when Mark returned. He'd also put the magazines and junk mail that had come in Mark's absence in a box in the corner of the kitchen.
As Mark scrambled four eggs in a frying pan, adding shredded cheese and chunks of ham, he inhaled the delicious aroma, then frowned as he scooped the mound of eggs onto a plate and carried it to the table at the end of the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of milk, then settled onto a chair and took a bite of the hot, very-needed food.
Yep, he thought, after a nourishing meal and hours of sleep, he'd be the same ol' Dr. Mark Maxwell who'd left Boston a year ago.
But he was still frowning as he stared into space as he chewed, then swallowed.
The same ol' Dr. Mark Maxwell, his mind echoed.
Dr. Mark Maxwell, who had avoided becoming involved in any kind of serious relationship with a woman for the past fourteen years.
Dr. Mark Maxwell, who had buried himself in his work, who was the whiz kid of medical research at only thirty-two-years-old.
Dr. Mark Maxwell, who was just as lonely here in Boston as he'd been in Paris, but who hadn't admitted that to himself until right this second.
"Damn it," he said aloud, then shoveled in another forkful of eggs. He was so thoroughly exhausted that he was emotionally and mentally vulnerable. He didn't seem to possess the ability to recognize that he had had no time to nurture a partnership with a woman because he'd been centered on his career.
His hopes and dreams had become a reality beyond his wildest imagination. But emotionally? He was forced to accept what he could no longer deny. He was still a kid, eighteen years old, wounded and raw, disillusioned, bitter and mad as hell.
"Well, isn't this just great?" Mark said, shaking his head in disgust. "So? Now what, Maxwell? How do you plan to free yourself of her ghost?"
He didn't have a clue. But, by damn, he'd figure it out once he'd had some rejuvenating sleep, because he had no intention of spending the rest of his life alone and lonely because of her. No way.
"I'll get back to myself on this later," he said, getting to his feet. "Damn straight, I will. But for now I'm not thinking about it anymore because I'm definitely brain-dead."
He went to the box in the corner, snatched up the magazine lying on the top of the pile and looked at the cover.
"Across the USA," he read, then sat down again and flipped it open.
Taking the last bite of eggs, Mark turned a page in the magazine and stiffened, every muscle in his body tensing as he stared at the story headline.
"Ventura, California, Cousins Marry Royal Cousins in Romantic Fairy-Tale Fashion," he read aloud.
His heart thundered as he looked at a color picture of a multitude of people whom the caption identified as being the two families ... the royal one from the Island of Wilshire and the one from Ventura.
And there she was.
She was standing in the row behind the two recently married couples.
It was her. Mark got to his feet so quickly, the chair fell to the floor with a crash he didn't even hear, his gaze riveted on the photograph.
This was creepy, really weird, he thought frantically. He was fighting an emotional battle over her and now her picture was staring him in the face?
Get a grip, he told himself, setting the fallen chair back into place and sinking onto it. Maybe this wasn't weird. Maybe this was a ... yeah ... a sign, a directive, telling him that the only way to be truly free of her was to see her one last time, making it possible finally to close the door on what had happened so very long ago. Then he'd be able to move forward, find his soul mate, fill his life with love and laughter, hearth, home and babies, and erase the chill of loneliness consuming him.
He'd sleep on this concept, he thought. But if it still had this much merit when he was well rested, he was going back to Ventura, by damn. He would fly to the opposite end of the States and get his heart back because somehow, somehow, she'd managed to keep it.
Excerpted from Plain Jane MacAllister by Joan Pickart Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.