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Sleeping Beauty's Billionaire
By Caroline Cross
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Caroline Cross
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Hey, Colly, what's the matter? Why're you stopping?"
Colleen Barone only dimly registered her second cousin Matthew's inquiries. The nine-year-old's voice seemed far away as, her feet rooted in place, she stared transfixed at the tall, black-haired man who had just entered the reception hall.
Gavin O'Sullivan. Even among the throng of notable guests helping to celebrate her brother Nick's wedding - and so far she'd seen four U.S. senators, the current governor of Massachusetts and two of his predecessors, a bushel of Fortune 500 CEOs and a smattering of Hollywood movie stars - he stood out. And while Colleen wished it was merely because of his chiseled good looks or the impeccable tailoring of his expensive black suit, she knew better. There was simply something about the aloof way he held himself, the serious line of his sensual mouth, the reserve in his coffee-colored eyes, that set him apart.
But then, that was Gavin. Always so intense, so unpredictable, so alone.
Of course, there'd been a handful of brief exceptions to the latter. Once upon a time, for the three years they'd played soccer together at Madison Prep, he and Nick had been best friends. And then later, during her second year of college and his last, he and Colleen had shared for a little while what could only be called magic.
An ache, brief but savage, squeezed her heart. It had been twelve years since their last meeting, and the relationship had ended badly. Yet suddenly she longed to cross the space separating them, slip her hand into Gavin's and say something to make him smile.
If only it was that easy ...
"Colleen!" Matthew's earnest voice coupled with his sharp tug on her hand jerked her back to reality.
Tearing her gaze from the man across the room, she looked down at her young companion. "What?"
He rolled his eyes. "I'm hungry, remember?"
As if someone had hit a switch, the totality of the reception hall snapped into focus for her. She heard the band playing, registered the noisy, shifting presence of the hundreds of guests, saw the impatience on her young relative's face. "Oh, Mattie, I'm sorry. Of course you are." Pushing away an edge of dismay - just how long had she been staring at Gavin, anyway? - she summoned a smile. "Lead the way."
"All right." His equanimity restored, the youngster tightened his grip on her hand and set off like a tugboat at full throttle. He chugged steadily past clumps of chatting guests and skillfully avoided knots of family members, not stopping until they finally arrived at the buffet, a vast spread laid out over a river of tabletops covered with crisp white linen.
The boy's gaze darted from the steaming casseroles to the heaps of Italian meat sliced paper thin, from stacks of golden calzones to platters of strawberries dipped in pale chocolate. He exhaled with gusty appreciation. "Wow."
Wow was right. In her usual over-the-top fashion, Colleen's mother, Moira, had made certain there was enough food on hand to feed all of Boston. Yet Colleen, who'd typically forgotten to eat that day and had been ravenous only a few minutes earlier, realized she no longer had an appetite.
The reason was obvious, and she felt a prick of annoyance at herself. Not that she intended to let on. Although Matthew probably wouldn't care, she refused to allow Gavin's unexpected presence to affect her behavior. After all, the time they'd been together had happened many years ago; neither of them was the person they'd been.
She knew she wasn't. After a difficult, painful struggle she'd learned to accept herself. She'd carved out a life rich with friends and a job where she felt she made a difference. And though there were times she was lonely and she still had her share of doubts and fears, frustrations and longings - life after all, was a constant and ever-changing challenge - in the ways that mattered most she was at peace for the first time ever.
So quit acting like a drama queen and eat, her practical side chided. Squaring her shoulders, she handed Matthew a gold-banded china plate, then took one for herself. "It looks good, doesn't it?" she said as she began serving them.
Excerpted from Sleeping Beauty's Billionaire by Caroline Cross Copyright © 2003 by Caroline Cross
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.