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He fastened the chain around her neck, and the medallion fell between her breasts. "Beautiful," he whispered, but then his face clouded over.
"What is it?" she asked, tracing the line of his jaw with her fingers.
"There's something I have to tell you. I'm not who you think I am."
"Shh," she said, replacing her fingers with her lips.
"We're exactly who we need to be."
Linda Mailer was late.
She hurried up the walkway that led to the upscale seafood restaurant, the smell of broiled fish and grilled shrimp mingling with the salty sea air. Waves slapped against the pier below, while behind her the sun slowly descended into the cliffs beyond the Bay.
She glanced at her watch, wondering why she had bothered to show up at all. She didn't belong here. She wasn't sure she belonged anywhere. At first, she had refused Sara and Cade's invitation, but when Cade's sister Emily had insisted she come, she'd caved in.
How could she say no to a princess? Albeit, Emily was a princess by marriage, but she was a princess nonetheless.
Emily Parks -correction, Emily Eban, Princess of Daniz - had told her she was practically family. Nonsense! The only person Linda was close to in that family was Walter, her employer and Emily's father, and he wouldn't even be here tonight. Besides, if she were practically family, wouldn't that make her practically a princess? Her mouth curved down in self-deprecation. A princess was the last thing she felt like.
In the lobby of the trendy seafood restaurant, Linda tried to ignore her queasiness and checked her coat with the attendant. She looked down at her dress, a shapeless frock that hung loosely on her frame and fell to her ankles. When she'd first seen it on the clearance rack in the department store, she'd known it would be perfect. A dark gray-green, it would allow her to blend into the background.
Gazing around at the decor, she headed toward the Poseidon Patio, where the party was being held. Ornately patterned with shells and conches, the walls had been painted to reflect the depths of the sea. She more than blended in. She could virtually disappear into the backdrop.
She had something to hide, and the dress she was wearing would do the job.
Not that she was showing yet. But she knew she couldn't take any chances. At the office, she sat all day immersed in ledgers, hardly ever raising her head, but here she would be on display. People would be looking.
And if they looked closely, they might guess her little secret.
Her little secret, as she preferred to call it, was the reason she was late getting to the party. Morning sickness - now that was an interesting euphemism. Sure, she was queasy in the morning, but the feeling persisted all day and night, not even subsiding when she was asleep. Last night, she'd dreamed she was on a cruise in the midst of a storm. The ship was rocking and she was reeling.
Mercy, not here, she thought now, as nausea overcame her. Queasiness was one thing; this was something else. It was as if the restaurant's decor had sprung to life, as large ocean waves seemed to roll off the walls, threatening to swallow her up.
That decided it. She wouldn't stay. She had no intention of spending her Saturday evening either trying to avoid small talk with people she hardly knew or hiding in the bathroom, bending over the porcelain throne. After the nausea had somewhat subsided, she headed back to the coat check.
"Linda, hurry! We're just about to start dinner."
Linda cast a rueful glance at Sara Carlton, Emily's sister-in-law. Correction, Sara Parks, now that she was married to Cade. Lately, it seemed as if everyone Linda knew was getting married, and although she was happy for them, sometimes she couldn't help but feel annoyed. It had nothing to do with her not-married-and-never-had-been status; on the contrary, matrimony was not one of her life's priorities. Simply, newly married couples always seemed to probe into what they considered her sad-single state, and now that Sara had spotted her, it was too late for a getaway.
Smiling brightly, Sara approached her. Chic in a three-quarter-length silk dress, she didn't merely walk; she floated, as though some of her sister-in-law's new royal status had flowed into her through osmosis.
"Come, I'll show you to your table," she said, "but first, I want you to meet my twin brothers."
Actually, half brothers. The office had been buzzing for weeks about Tyler and Conrad Carlton, the "surprise" sons of Walter Parks. The identical twins and Sara had shared the same mother, but what made the situation even more complex was that Cade Parks, Sara's husband, was also a half brother to the twins, through Walter.
Illegitimate, Linda said to herself, recalling the gossip. Such an outdated term, yet apparently it was still used. She shuddered. It was such an ugly word. Would people use it to describe her child?
Her thoughts returned to Walter and his family. Even though the DNA testing had confirmed his paternity, he refused to acknowledge his two grown sons. Linda felt a wave of guilt. Like Walter, she should have refused to come to the party, which was being given by Sara and Cade to welcome the twins into the family. Shouldn't her loyalty lie with Walter? Although, she had to admit, Cade and Emily - his legitimate children - always treated her well, making sure to include her in every family function. As much as she hated social gatherings, it would have been rude of her to refuse this invitation, just as she had never been able to refuse any of the others.
Excerpted from The Marriage Act by Elissa Ambrose Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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