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"Okay, how badly is he really hurt?"
Lindsay Newman tried to keep the tremor out of her voice, but she couldn't. Her father, a retired heart surgeon, had been injured in an automobile accident. She was afraid the truth concerning his condition had been kept from her.
"Like Tim told you on the phone, it's not serious." Peter Ballinger frowned, knitting his thick, dark brows together. "Cooper's not serious. He's going to be all right."
Lindsay peered at her friend Peter long and hard, trying to pick up on any hint that he was lying to her. Her efforts proved futile. Underneath his bland but handsome facade, his conviction didn't appear to waver. It was then that her insides seemed to turn loose. Before they had been tied in tiny knots. Now she could breathe and function like a human.
"Ah, here are your bags."
Lindsay looked on as Peter motioned for a bellman to tackle the three pieces of large luggage, all the while continuing to breathe deeply. She couldn't believe her trip to London with a couple of friends had ended on such a frantic note.
She had been gone almost four weeks when her brother Timothy called and told her about their father's accident. She had taken the first plane out. Yet it seemed like an interminable amount of time had passed since she'd boarded that jet at Heathrow and arrived in Garnet, Mississippi.
It wouldn't be long now before she actually saw for herself that Cooper was not in jeopardy; the limowas waiting to take them straight to the family estate.
"So were you having a good time?" Peter asked once the luggage was loaded and they were on their way.
Lindsay didn't answer for a moment, still irritated at having seen Peter at the airport instead of her brother. However, she knew why Tim hadn't come. A doctor himself, he was most likely by Cooper's side, which was where he belonged.
Still, seeing Peter hadn't been to her liking. Although he professed to love her, she knew better. He wanted her; she wouldn't deny thatalthough she suspected it was the family money he wanted more.
Peter was from a family rich in lineage, but short on cash. She thought that a rather ironic situation, since he was a banker, banking being considered a "suitable" position for a Southern gentleman.
And Cooper was urging her to marry this stuffed shirt. She had met Peter at a charity function and ended up dancing with him several times. He'd asked her out the following week, and she'd gone.
Even though she saw him quite often after that, she never considered him anything other than a friend, someone to go out with, no strings attached. He'd been fun, harmless and at loose ends.
Peter, however, had other ideas, especially after he met Cooper. They formed an instant rapport, and Cooper saw him as the perfect match for his daughter.
From then on, Peter turned into a man with a mission, becoming more of an aggravation than an asset. Unfortunately, that hadn't changed, and she was getting fed up.
Shaking her head to clear it, she faced Peter once again and gave him an aloof smile. "Sorry, I'm having trouble concentrating."
"I understand," he said in his smooth voice. "Now that you're back, what are your plans?"
"I think that should be obvious," Lindsay said with a slight sting in her tone. "First of all, I'm going to see to Daddy."
His perfectly shaped mouth stretched into a thin smile. "Of course."
His words were not without their own sting, and she knew why. While Peter respected Cooper and saw him as an ally, he also resented her father because of her attachment to him.
"I gather you don't want to talk about us."
There is no us, she was tempted to say, but didn't. "No, Peter, I don't."
"Dammit, when are you going to think of yourself? Do something for yourself?"
Lindsay's irritation burgeoned into anger. Nonetheless, she managed to hang on to her control, though her voice was cold as icicles. "I'm happy with my life the way it is, thank you."
Once she'd said that, Lindsay turned away, hoping he wouldn't see the flush that covered her features, a tell-all that she hadn't exactly told the truth. But the demons she was wrestling with weren't any of his business.
Other than clenching his jaw a bit tighter, Peter showed no emotion. But he dropped the subject and didn't try to break the silence that fell between them. Finally the driver braked the limo inside the gates of the mansion grounds.
For a second Lindsay didn't move. It was good to be here. She loved this old home. Her gaze roamed over the huge flower garden set amidst the perfectly manicured grounds of this fine old Mississippi mansion, one that had been in the family for generations. However old it might be, it was in mint condition, having been refurbished and redecorated on several occasions.
One day this estate would be hers. Tim didn't want it, she knew, having been given several acres of adjoining land where he and Eve had built a lovely home of their own.
"Thanks for meeting me," Lindsay said, once they were standing outside the vehicle.
Peter nodded, then leaned and grazed her cheek with his lips. "Any time."
Before Peter made it to his car, Lindsay was inside and dashing up the stairs.
"Lordy, child, is that you?"
Lindsay stopped for a second at the top of the circular stairway and whipped around. "Oh, hi, Dolly. I was wondering where you were."
The housekeeper's round face broke into a huge grin. "I was comin' to the door as fast as I could get there. Only you were faster." Dolly's grin fled as she placed her hands on her equally rounded hips. "You don't look so good. You've lost weight."
"Don't hover, Dolly. I'm okay. After I see Daddy, I'll give you a hug."
"The tea cakes will be coming out of the oven about then. Meanwhile, you skedaddle. He's waitin'."
The instant Lindsay entered the master suite, her brother rose to his feet, met her halfway and gave her a brief hug, which she returned. Then her eyes sought the man who was in the bed, propped against massive pillows.
"Oh, Daddy" Her voice broke as she crossed to his bedside, grasped his hand, then bent and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
"Ah, hell, I'm fine. Don't fuss so." Cooper cut his eyes over at Tim. "If I had my way, I'd be on the golf course right now."
"Dream on," Lindsay muttered, looking toward her brother, then back to Cooper. "I have to say, you don't look like you've been run over by a truck."
"I don't feel like it, either."
Lindsay scrutinized him. If not for the brutal-looking circles under his eyes, circles that heretofore hadn't been there, and the purplish spot on his right cheekbone, no one would have known he'd just experienced a life-threatening trauma. Dr. Cooper Newman was still a striking figure.
Blessed with deep-set, piercing green eyes, a thick head of silver hair, and a tall lean frame, he was downright good-looking. When he was dressed for success, no one would guess he was in his middle sixties.
"Well, he has a concussion to prove it," Tim said in a firm tone.
Lindsay's gaze shifted back to her brother, who did not have anywhere near the commanding presence Cooper had. Yet in all fairness, Tim, who looked like their mother, Emily, had no trouble holding his own.
Perhaps if he didn't wear glasses and have a mustache, there might be more of a resemblance between father and son, Lindsay had always thought. At thirtyfour years her seniorTim was tall and fine-looking in his own right, with light brown hair and dark brown eyes, the same as herseyes they had inherited from their mother.
"What about his heart?" she asked into the silence, her voice anxious.
"My ticker's ticking right along," Cooper snapped before Tim could answer.
Lindsay raised her eyebrows at her brother. "Is it?"
"So far, so good. Other than what's visible, and the fact that his muscles have to feel like he's been in a war zone, he came out of the fiasco relatively unscathed."
"Thank God for that."
Cooper made a strange noise. "Would you two stop talking about me as if I'm not here?"