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By Marta Perry
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTyler Winchester ripped open the pale blue envelope that had arrived in the morning mail. A photograph fluttered onto the polished mahogany desktop. No letter, just a photograph of a young boy, standing in the shade of a sprawling live oak.
He flipped it over. Two words had been scrawled on the back - two words that made his world shudder.
For a moment he couldn't react at all. He shot a glance toward the office doorway, where his younger brother was trying to talk his way past Tyler's assistant. Turning his back on them, Tyler studied the envelope. Caldwell Cove. The envelope was postmarked Caldwell Cove, South Carolina.
Something deep inside him began to crack painfully open. The child's face in the picture was partly shadowed by the tree, but that didn't really matter. He saw the resemblance anyway - the heart-shaped face, the pointed chin. Miranda.
The boy was Miranda's child, certainly. But his? How could that be? He'd have known. She'd have told him, wouldn't she?
The voices behind him faded into the dull murmur of ocean waves. A seabird called, and a slim figure came toward him from the water, green eyes laughing, bronze hair rippling over her shoulders.
His jaw clenched. No. He'd closed off that part of himself a long time ago, sealing it securely. He wouldn't let it break open.
The truth was, he didn't know what Miranda might do. It had been - what, eight years? He stared at the photo. The boy could be the right age.
He spun around, the movement startling both his brother and his assistant into silence. Josh took advantage of the moment to move past Henry Carmichael's bulk. He looked from Tyler's face to the photo in his hand, gaze curious. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing." Nothing that he wanted to confide in Josh, in any event. He slid the photograph into his pocket.
"In that case ..."
"Not now." He suspected he already knew what Josh wanted to talk about. Money. It was always money with Josh, just as it was with their mother and with the array of step and half siblings and relatives she'd brought into his life. The whole family saw Tyler as an inexhaustible account to fund their expensive tastes.
You can't count on anyone but yourself. His father's harsh voice echoed in his mind. They all want something.
"But Tyler," Josh began.
He shook his head, then looked at Henry. He could at least trust Henry to do what he was told without asking questions that Tyler had no intention of answering. "Have the jet ready for me in two hours. I'm flying to Savannah."
"Savannah?" Josh's voice suggested it might as well be the moon. "What about the Warren situation? I thought you were too involved in that contract negotiation to think about anything else."
He spared a thought for the multimillion-dollar deal he'd been chasing for months. "I'll be a phone call or a fax away. Henry will keep me posted on anything I need to know."
"Whatever you say." Henry's broad face was impassive as always. Henry was as unemotional as Tyler, which was probably why they worked so well together.
Tyler crossed the room quickly, pausing to pull his camel-hair coat from the mahogany coatrack. It had been a raw, chilly March day in Baltimore, although Caldwell Cove would be something else.
Again the image shimmered in his mind like a mirage. Surf. Sand. A laughing, sun-kissed face. His wife.
They all want something. What did Miranda want?
He shoved the thought away and strode to the door. He'd deal with this, just as he dealt with any project that went wrong. Then he'd bury the memory of his first love so deeply that it would never intrude again.
* * *
The bell on the registration desk jingled impatiently. Miranda Caldwell dusted flour from her hands as she hurried from the inn's kitchen toward the front hallway. The Dolphin Inn wasn't expecting any new guests today, and the rest of the family had taken advantage of that fact to scatter in various directions.
She'd thought she'd have an uninterrupted half-hour to bake some molasses cookies before Sammy got home from school. It looked as if she'd been wrong.
She shoved through the swinging door to the wide hallway that housed the inn's registration desk, along with whatever clutter of fishing poles and baseball bats her brothers had left on the wide-planked floor.
"May I help you?"
The tall stranger turned slowly. Afternoon sunlight through the front screen door lit broad shoulders, dark hair, an expensive suit that was far too formal for the island. Then he faced her, and her heart stopped entirely.
Tyler Winchester, the man she'd never expected to see again. The man who'd broken her eighteen-year-old heart when their marriage dissolved. The man who'd never known he'd fathered a son.
"Hello, Miranda. It's been a long time."
His voice was deeper than she remembered. More confident. Through a haze of dismay came the knowledge that Tyler didn't sound surprised. He'd known he was going to find her here.
"Tyler." Pain ripped through the numbness of shock when she said his name. She hadn't said it aloud in years. How could two syllables have such power to hurt?
He lifted his brows, eyes the color of rich chocolate expressing nothing at all. "Aren't you going to say you're surprised to see me?"
"I ... yes, of course I'm surprised."
Tyler made no move to close the gap between them, thank goodness. If he attempted to shake hands with her, she'd probably turn to stone.
"What brings you to the island?" She managed to get the words out.
He seemed to move farther away from her, even though he didn't actually move at all. Maybe it was just the effect of the chill in his strong-boned face.
"Not a pleasure trip," he said crisply.
No, it wouldn't be that. Tyler probably vacationed in the south of France. He certainly wouldn't choose to come to Caldwell Cove after what had happened between them.
Maybe that didn't matter to him. After all, he'd had eight years to forget his youthful indiscretion. While she'd been looking at a reminder every day in Sammy -
Sammy. She sent a frantic, fearful glance at the clock. Her son would be walking in the door from school any minute now. As soon as he heard the name, he'd know who Tyler was.
But Tyler didn't know Sammy existed, and she had to keep it that way.
Oh, Lord, please. She sent up a fervent, desperate prayer. Help me get rid of him before Sammy gets home.
Excerpted from Promise Forever by Marta Perry Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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