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Doing your best usually meant redoing. Abigail Franklin had learned that at her mother's knee.
With a sigh, Abby squeezed her forceps, lifted the paste stone and dropped it in the center of her newest platinum setting for the third time.
"Looks good," a voice offered.
"Good is never good enough," she muttered. Then the familiar voice hit a nerve.
Abby's fingers numbed. Her forceps slid out of her hand. She lifted her head and stared.
He was backafter five long years.
Forcing taut muscles to obey, Abby slid from her stool and faced Donovan Woodward, the man who'd promised her the world. And never delivered.
Memories of that smile, all sparkle, charm and appeal, swamped her.
"I'm not an April Fool's joke, so stop staring," he ordered, his grin slashing his handsome face. "How are you?"
"Okay." She studied his jutting cheekbones. "And you?"
"I'm all right."
He didn't look all right. He looked tired.
But the longer Abby stared at Donovan Woodward, the more she knew tiredness wasn't the right word. True, there were deeply carved lines around his ocean-blue eyes, stripped now of the sparkle of pure fun that once dared her to join in. But tiredness wasn't the reason. Donovan never got tired, not the life-of the-party Donovan that Abby had known.
Still, a girl didn't forget the face of the first man to ask her to marry him, even after five years. Yet his face had changed, matured.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" he demanded when the silence stretched too long and the air bristled with tenseness.
His testy tone irked her.
"Such as what? Welcome home?" Abby suggested, glaring at him. "Or maybe we could discuss that note you told mymother to give me five years ago. How did it go? 'I made a mistake. I'm leaving. Sorry.'"
She gritted her teeth, irked she'd let that slip out.
"That wasn't my best moment," he admitted. "But if you'll listen a minute, I'll explain"
"After five years you're finally offering an explanation?" She tossed him a scathing glance before turning back to her work-table. "Forget it."
"Abby." Donovan touched her arm, wordlessly asking her to face him. "I know I should have explained my reasons to you personally. Asking you to marry me on prom night and leaving two days later for Europe wasn't exactly what I'd planned, but I figured you'd understand I was doing it for you."
"For me?" Incredulity filled her. "Is that how you justify it?"
"I didn't have to justify myself after" Donovan shook his head, cleared his throat. "The gossip must have been awful. I'm sorry I left you alone to face that, Abby."
An apology from Donovan? That was nice. But all he was apologizing for was the gossip. He'd even intimated his leaving had somehow benefited her, which was ludicrous. But then, maybe five years in Europe had changed his memories.
Still, how could he say his decision had anything to do with her?
"The past is over, Donovan. Let's agree to disagree on your part in it." She refocused away from the painful memories. "Will you be working at Weddings by Woodwards?"
"Uh-huh." His shaggy walnut-toned hair moved in a ripple of assent.
"Your grandmother will be ecstatic. That's great." She winced as her voice echoed around her work room like some kind of cheerleader.
"Oh, Abigail. The way you say that," Donovan mocked.
"When did you get back?" Funny how she struggled to talk to him when once they'd never had enough time to say everything.
"Flew in tonight. Grandmother didn't tell me you'd be here," he mumbled with a frown at the array of tools she'd spread out.
"Sorry." If she'd known he was coming she'd have stayed away.
"Don't be. I needed to apologize, Abby. I owed you that."
"I don't want your apology."
"Tough. I needed to give it." A smile flirted with his lips, but didn't quite reach his eyes. "Want to reciprocate?"
"I have nothing to apologize for." Something lurked beneath the surface of his remarks, something Abby didn't understand. "Anyway, I told you, I don't want to discuss the past. We're different people now. I've moved on, Don. So have you, I'm sure."
He'd always been Don to her; charismatic, showering everyone in his life with laughter and happiness, always fun, totally irresistible.
And then he'd left.
"I'm sure you agree that leaving was the right thing to do, but I should have talked to you first. My only excuse is I was upset."
The right thing to do?
"Upset by what?" Confusion filled her. "Proposing?"
"No." He studied her intently. "Have you forgotten everything about that night, Abby?"
"I've tried," she said, meeting his stare. "It wasn't the best time of my life."
"Nor mine." Something lay hidden in those words. Something Donovan evidently decided not to clarify because after a moment of further scrutiny, he shrugged, stepped closer and brushed the edge of her creation with one fingertip. "Is this a special order?"
"A private commission." She studied the setting with a critical eye. Not her best yet, but better. "It's an idea for a project, actually."
Donovan nodded as if he'd expected that answer.
"What's the project?"
Abby didn't want to share her dream with him. But this awkwardness between them had to end. Weddings by Woodwards was a tight-knit family company that offered everything a bride and groom could need. Winifred Woodward expected her employees to get along.
"Is it a secret?"
"No." Abby strove for a bland tone, ignoring her inner discomfort. "It's for a contest in New York. Jewelry designers can submit fine designs. Well known designers will judge. It's great exposure and a chance to get my designs into New York. Entries close in two weeks." She bit her lip, then admitted the rest. "I haven't yet settled on the complete design."
"As I remember, you always had plans to go to New York."
With him. She'd thought they'd shared that dream.
"So what's holding you back?" Donovan leaned one hip against the counter and waited for her explanation.
"Time. My parents recently moved from their home into a retirement condo. It was a difficult transition."
"Ah, your parents."
Abby winced at his tone. Her mother had never accepted Donovan in her life. She'd always claimed he was never serious enough about anything. He'd endured her disapproval and caustic comments many times, and always without losing his charm. His faultless manners and quirky sense of humor had helped Abby weather many embarrassing confrontations.
"How are your parents? I suppose the two dedicated doctors of genetics are still buried in their world?"
"No. Dad's in the first stages of Alzheimer's. He gets frustrated by the memory lapses. Mom's finding it difficult." Wasn't that an understatement?
Her parents had always lived and breathed their work. They'd assumed Abby would follow in their footsteps and were less than pleased when she refused to attend college. Jewelry design was so not the career of choice her mother wanted for her only child, a fact she constantly reiterated.
"I'm very sorry, Abby." Donovan looked genuinely upset. "It can't be easy on you."
The casual hand he brushed through his hair, mussing it even further, was so Donovan. Abby blinked at the flicker of silver on his finger. He still wore the ring she'd made for him in junior high? That shocked her.
"So you entered this contest because?"
Again Abby shoved back past memories.
"Because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase my work to some of the top people in the industry. If I win, I'll finally be able to move to New York and work with one of them."
Donovan studied her solemnly.
"Still proving yourself, Abby?" he asked quietly.
She gripped the edge of her worktable and swallowed hard, suddenly furious.
"That's not fair. Don't I have a right to extend myself, see how far my abilities can take me? You're not the only one who has dreams beyond Denver you know."
Donovan's face altered. "I didn't mean that. You're a talented designer who can work marvels with metal and stone. It's only natural you want to stretch yourself."
"I can hear a 'but' in there."
He searched her face. The sparkle that usually blazed through his eyes dimmed.
"I know how hard you must have fought to make your own way, Abby."
"Nothing's changed there," she admitted grimly. "My mother still hopes I'll have some kind of awakening and realize I really want to be a scientist."
"Is she why you've entered this contest?"
The astuteness of his comment proved that Donovan had lost none of the perspicacity that had always rendered him capable of sizing up a situation in seconds. But Abby didn't want him looking too closely into her motives.
"I'm doing this for me," she told him firmly. "Because I need to stretch myself, to do more unusual designs, ones Weddings by Woodwards has no market for."
"And if winning means your mother finally accepts your capability, so much the better, right?" He nodded as if he understood. "I suppose it's the only way she'll be convinced now."
A simple uplift of one eyebrow breathed life into his entire face. Abby slammed the door on her memories. The past was dead. Her goal was the future.
"Have you got a stone chosen for this piece? You're surely not doing paste?"
"The fellow who commissioned it is buying the diamond from Woodwards."
"So you're looking at what, three carats?" he guessed. "Nice." He tilted his head to one side.
Then Donovan pulled a dark blue box from his jacket pocket.
"I saw this in Greece. It reminded me of that essay we did together in our senior year, the one on classical Greece."
She didn't want to talk about their past.
Donovan snapped the latch exposing a gorgeous bracelet crafted in the Byzantine style.
Abby lost her breath when he slid the web of gold onto her wrist. No sooner had he closed the clasp than she brought the bracelet closer to study it.
"The detail of the granulation is incredible. It looks like it was spun into shape." She twisted her arm left, then right, to examine each bend and fold, admiring the painstaking craftsmanship.
Then reality returned.
"I can't take this, Donovan. It's too expensive. Besides, you don't owe me anything." She tried to slip it off, but he grasped her hand and held it between his.
"I'm not trying to repay you, Abby. Why would I?" He lifted one eyebrow. "I bought it years ago because I knew you would appreciate it."
And then whathe'd forgotten he had it?
Or he now wanted to be rid of all reminders of the past?
"You can't return a gift, Abby."
"Is yours." He watched her tip her wrist toward the light, as if he understood how little she wanted to give back this bracelet. And he probably did.
Donovan hadn't changed. He was still like a chameleon, spinning dreams and fantasy so well that everyone fell under his spell. But the man himself was impossible to pin down. Only now, seeing him again after so long, did Abby recognize that he'd abandoned the charisma he'd used to skate over life.
"Thank you." Abby undid the clasp and set the bracelet back in its box.
"Abby, about that proposal."
"I'm not going to talk about it, Donovan. It's over. I'm over it. I've moved on. So should you."
"You sound so hard. I don't remember that about you."
She stared straight at him.
"Time and circumstances do that to you, Donovan."
He returned her look without flinching.
"Maybe you should tell me what you think happened that night, Abby," he said, a quiet tension threading his voice. "What did your mother say?"
"What's the point of rehashing that period of our lives? It's over. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work." Abby turned her back, pretending to concentrate on her ring.
A few minutes later, she heard the door close.
Her legs weakened and she had to sit down for a minute to regain her equanimity.
So Donovan was back.
"So you avoid him. Keep yourself busy and away from him. He's probably here for only a month or two, anyway. Donovan never sticks to anything anyway." At least not the Donovan she remembered.
For his first week at work, Donovan stuck to his office, familiarizing himself with everything about Weddings by Woodwards. Wednesday night he stayed late, poring over the ad campaigns the company had used in the past.
Puzzled by something he read, Donovan was doing a survey of the sales floor when he saw a light shining in a back room. He checked it out and then wished he'd stayed upstairs.
Abby was hunched over a table, her face determined as she twisted one of the ring's claws tighter.
"It must be tough to find the spare time to do what you love."
"That's life." Abby ignored him.
"Tell me more about this contest." He poked his finger at the fake stone.
"It's for jewelry designers across America who want to reach a broader audience with new designs."
"Meaning the chichi moneyed set?" he pressed on, determined to get rid of the tension between them.
"Meaning people who know jewelry," Abby substituted. "The kind of people I want to know better. In New York."
Donovan detested the snappish self-righteous tone in her voice. He was the good guy here. Five years ago, he'd given her the chance to pursue her dreams.
"You never let anything stand in the way of your goals, do you, Abby?"
"What does that mean?" she demanded, her forehead pleated in a fierce frown. "Do you?"
Donovan sighed. What was he doingtrying to make her admit he'd been right to leave?
"Grandmother says your designs are hot at Woodwards."
"Sales have been going well." She set the ring down before facing him. "Why are you back, Donovan? Are you suddenly interested in the family's wedding planning business?"
Do not take offense, he ordered himself.
"It was time."
"Grandmother wants a new marketing campaign that will spread the company logo across the country. Something young and hip," he explained. "If the Chicago store goes well, she thinks she might start another on the East Coast, provided I can up our brand recognition to national status. I'm to get to work and earn my keep."
"Oh. No one told me about another store, but then, why would they?"
Donovan winced at the hint that even though Abby had always been like one of the Woodward family when they were dating, there was no reason for them to consider her as part of their inner circle since he'd left. He hadn't considered how that might impact her.
"I heard you were working with one of Winifred's contacts in Paris and enjoying it," she said.
Unasked question: Why leave now?
"I had some changes in my life," he said. "I thought maybe you'd heard."
"I brought someone home with me."
"Her name is Ariane."
Something flickered through Abby's expressive eyes, but it was gone so fast he couldn't decipher it.
"Seven?" Abby blinked.
"I'm her godfather." He saw her disbelief. "Improbable as that may sound, it's the truth."
"I see." Abby kept staring at him.