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By Linda Wisdom
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNora Summers thought about how the day was meant to be spent. She would have been dressed in a lovely lilac gown with a circlet of flowers on her head. She would have been watching her best friend get married. She would have spent the afternoon eating cake, drinking champagne and dancing. She would have joined her friends in trying to catch the bridal bouquet and she would have cried happy tears as she watched her best friend and her new husband leave on their honeymoon.
Instead, today she bid a last goodbye to her beloved grandmother.
Nora's flight home was delayed for almost six hours. The airport was quiet as the cranky passengers disembarked.
"I'll be home soon," she murmured to herself as she trudged up the corridor toward the terminal interior. "I will be in my very lovely soft bed where I will indulge in lots of sleep."
She moved past people waiting for the arrivals. She stopped short when a familiar figure straightened up from a leaning position against a pillar and walked toward her.
Nora decided she was dreaming. Men wearing tuxedos weren't a normal sight at airports at 1:00 a.m. Especially not this particular man whose wardrobe consisted of blinding Hawaiian-print shirts and shorts or jeans.
"Hey, Nora." His smile was dazzling against his tanned skin. He reached out and took her carry-on bag from her, then switched it to his left hand while circling her waist with his right. He kissed her gently on the forehead.
She wrapped her arms around him. She felt the strength of his body under his clothing. There was comfort in the familiar lime scent mingled with the warm aroma of his skin. Hints of different perfumes were added to the mix. She guessed Mark had been a very popular guy at the wedding.
"Mark, what are you doing here?" She was tired enough to feel bewildered by his unexpected appearance.
"Ginna mentioned what time your flight was due in," he explained as they walked through the terminal. "I thought you might appreciate a ride home."
"I do appreciate it," she admitted. "But my flight was delayed for almost six hours. You haven't been here all that time, have you?"
"Funny thing about airport terminals. They're loaded with coffee kiosks and bars with wide-screen televisions."
Nora shook her head trying to dislodge the fuzz clinging to her brain. Weariness was making it difficult for her to think clearly.
"Where are your baggage-claim tickets?" Mark asked.
"I only have my carry-on." She gestured to the bag he held in his hand.
"How did you manage that? When Ginna goes away for more than a day she requires at least two suitcases."
"I only needed a black dress," Nora said dully. She was tired enough to take a nearby chair, curl up in it and go to sleep.
Mark squeezed her shoulder, offering silent comfort as they walked toward the entrance.
"I'm impressed." She looked him over from head to toe.
"What threats were used to get you into formal wear?"
He moved off a couple paces. He spread his arms out wide and cocked one hip in a fashion-model's pose.
"Like it? It was my wedding gift to Gin. Plus she said if I showed up at her wedding wearing my favorite shirt she'd personally burn every piece of clothing in my closet. Since she'd been in a pretty crazy mood the past few weeks, not to mention she always backs up her threats, I wasn't taking any chances."
Nora nodded. She knew her friend would have done exactly that. "She'd invite everyone over for a barbecue and marshmallow roast."
Mark winced. "Yeah, she does have that cruel streak." He again flashed a smile that weakened many a woman's knees, including Nora's once upon a time.
They were silent as they exited the terminal and headed for the parking lot.
Mark stopped at an elegant-looking Jaguar sedan and unlocked the passenger door for Nora before going around back to open the trunk and set her carry-on bag inside.
"Your father let you take one of his cars?" She slid onto the buttery-soft leather seat.
"He said you should be picked up in style. I won't tell you what he said will happen if I get so much as a microscopic scratch on it," he added ruefully as he slid onto the driver's seat.
Nora smiled. She knew Lou Walker, Mark's father, only too well. The older man was an expert in the art of restoring classic automobiles. His family liked teasing him that he treated his vehicles like beloved children. She didn't doubt that Lou demanded nothing less than a blood vow that Mark would protect the Jaguar with his life.
The engine purred like a satisfied kitten as Mark drove out of the parking lot.
"I won't be offended if you want to nap on the way home." Within moments, he was driving onto the freeway that boasted more than moderate traffic even at the late hour. "I can imagine you're exhausted with all that flight delay."
She smiled her thanks and leaned back against the headrest.
In no time, the gentle glide of the car lulled her into a light doze. Mark glanced at her a couple times as he drove down the freeway.
He'd always thought Nora was one of the most beautiful women he'd ever known. Tonight was the first time he'd ever seen her looking weary and dejected. Her skin was pale and her emerald-green eyes weren't flashing their usual fire. Even her copper-penny hair had lost its luster. She looked like a woman who'd lost an important part of her world. Which he knew she had.
Nora and her grandmother had been close. The elderly woman had raised her after Nora's father abandoned his family, and her mother retreated into herself. She never talked about it much, but Mark guessed that she wasn't more than five or six when it happened. Nora had been helping his sister, Ginna, plan her wedding when she'd received word her grandmother was dying. Nora had immediately flown to Seattle and remained with her grandmother until the end. Mark had been looking forward to dancing with Nora at the reception, but it wasn't to be. While Ginna had recited her wedding vows to Zach, Nora had attended her grandmother's funeral.
All it took was Ginna's mention that Nora was returning that evening for Mark to suggest he pick her up. His reason being, after the week she'd had, Nora shouldn't have to worry about finding transportation home.
Nora and Mark had dated for a few months a couple of years ago. The only description he could give to their relationship then was stormy. He recalled times she'd appeared insecure, which he couldn't understand since he'd never given her a reason to doubt his fidelity. His father had raised his sons to revere the opposite sex, and if there was one thing Mark was good at, it was revering women. To this day, he didn't know the exact reason why Nora had broken up with him.
"Nora. Nora," The male voice whispered her name. "Hey, you've arrived at your castle, Sleeping Beauty."
Her lids felt leaden as she strained to lift them. "I don't think I can move. Could you just wave a wand and pop me into my bed?"
Mark chuckled as he climbed out of the car. "Sorry, I left my wand at home. Besides, with my luck, you'd end up in a parallel universe." He walked around to the passenger door and opened it. "Let's just try it one step at a time, shall we?" He took her hand and helped her out. He gazed at the house, frowning. "Has anyone been staying there while you were gone?"
"Just dust bunnies." She looked in the same direction. "Oh, the lights. I put a few lamps on timers so it wouldn't look as if the place was deserted."
"Good idea." Mark left her long enough to pull her bag out of the car's trunk.
He was on her heels as she entered the house.
"Thank you for picking me up," she said, reaching for her carry-on.
"Wait a minute." He set the bag down. "You don't think I'm going to leave without checking the closets and under the bed, do you?"
Nora laughed. "Everything is fine, I'm sure of it."
"I don't see the Brumb anywhere around."
"I wouldn't have left Brumby alone this long. He's staying at the Canine Castle," she said, explaining her dog's absence.
"Ah." Mark nodded. "Five-star facilities for the discriminating canine. Since he isn't around to keep the place safe, I consider it my duty to ensure everything's all right." He wandered toward the back of the house.
Nora walked into the family room and set her purse down on a table. She could hear doors opening and closing. She was grateful she'd picked up her clothes before she left for Seattle. Looking around the room, she felt as if she should be doing something, but had no idea what.
Excerpted from Pregnancy Countdown by Linda Wisdom Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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