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The Third Mrs. Mitchell
By Lynnette Kent
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
The red Porsche flashed by at an impressive 84.7 miles per hour.
Parked within the deep shade of the pine trees in the median, Pete Mitchell sighed, pushed his shades up on his nose, then flipped the switch for the siren and the lights and eased his patrol car into the northbound lane of Interstate 95. Another day, another speeder, another hundred dollars for the county.
Traffic was light at 3:00 p.m. on a Thursday and he caught up with the Porsche before five miles had passed, noting the South Carolina license plate. The driver glanced in the rearview mirror as he moved over behind her in the right lane. Her fist hit the steering wheel in frustration.
"Gotcha," Pete told her with a grin, staying close as she slowed to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. After checking for oncoming traffic, he eased out of the car and set his hat straight on his head, then took his time getting to the driver's window.
The windowpane slid down as he came close. A long slender arm stretched out with a driver's license and registration sheet clipped between two pink-frosted fingertips. The diamond tennis bracelet weighing down that elegant left hand could easily have doubled as a handcuff.
"Trying out for a NASCAR berth, ma'am?" Pete slid the papers free. "I think you've confused Interstate 95with Darlington Speedway." He turned on his toe to head back to the cruiser, but one glance at the license stopped him cold. Taking off his shades, he checked out the name again. Looked at the face in the picture. Swore under his breath.
Mary Rose Bowdrey. Born May 1, 1974. Height, five-eight; weight, one-thirty. That hadn't changed in ten years. Eyes, blue - the color, as he remembered, of the Atlantic Ocean at noon on a sunny day. Hair, blond - a rich gold shot through with streaks of silver which didn't show up in the lousy license photo. Pete hadn't known her long enough or well enough to be sure whether all that color was natural or not.
After all, they'd only been married thirty-six days. He pivoted back to the window, automatically taking off his hat. "Mary Rose?"
The red door swung open. The best legs on Hilton Head Island during the summer of 1992 - and probably every year since - unfolded into the sunlight. In one smooth move, Ms. Bowdrey stood up out of the car and faced him, pushing up the sleeves of her navy blue sweater, tucking strands of shiny, shoulder-length hair behind her ears. "I don't believe this. Pete?"
"That's right." He needed a second to remember the next line. "Uh ... how are you?" His mama always said good manners could salvage even the most bizarre situations. "It's been a long time." Not that he could tell by looking at the woman in front of him. Still sleek as a cat, this Mary Rose could be the eighteen-year-old girl he'd spent that summer with. Married.
Worked so damn hard to forget. His first ex-wife gave him a beauty-queen smile. "That it has. I'm fine. How about you?" With a faint clink of diamonds and gold, her hands slipped into the pockets of her short white skirt, heading off any impulse he might have felt to give her a hug. She kept her dark sunglasses on, so he couldn't read the expression in those marineblue eyes.
Pete didn't need an interpreter for this message: Keep your distance was as clear as the nearby billboard for fast food and gas. "I'm good. Where're you headed?"
"New Skye. I'll be visiting my sister for a little while."
"That so?" He'd have felt better if she'd said the sky was falling. The possibility of Mary Rose spending more than an afternoon in the same county he lived in, let alone the same town, was big-time bad news.
Why couldn't he have been asleep when the Porsche passed through?
Pete shook off the feeling of dread creeping up his spine. "Well, it looks to me like you're in kind of a hurry to get there. Speed limit's sixty on this stretch of road, you know."
Mary Rose bit her bottom lip, which was frosted with the same pink as her fingernails. "I guess I wasn't watching the speedometer. I'll slow down from now on. I promise."
"I hope so." Pete turned toward the cruiser again. "You get back in the car. I'll be with you in a couple of minutes."
Standard procedure didn't use up much brain space, which was good because Pete registered a definite lack of available cells at the moment. Working on autopilot, he wrote up the ticket, logged in the information and ran a check on Mary Rose's license. There were no outstanding violations on her record, which probably meant she'd talked the other suckers who pulled her over out of writing her up. Maybe she took off her sunglasses for them.
When he handed the citation through the Porsche's window, Mary Rose gazed up at him, her mouth open in surprise. "You're giving me a ticket?"
"You can contest the charge in court. There's a trial date on the sheet. If you fail to appear, your plea of guilty will be assumed and you'll be expected to pay the full fine."
"But ..." She pressed her lips together for a second, then relaxed them into a sweet, coaxing curve he remembered all too well. "Come on, Pete. There's no traffic. I wasn't hurting anybody. Can't you let this one go?"
He wasn't even tempted. "Sorry. You keep it under the speed limit from now on, all right?" Tipping his hat, he stepped back, needing to get away. Fast. "Good seeing you again, Mary Rose. Take care."
Mary Rose watched through the rearview mirror as Pete Mitchell returned to his car. The man was still seriously gorgeous, being possessed of wide shoulders, narrow hips and a tight butt, plus those light gray, dark lashed eyes gleaming like polished pewter in his tanned face. When they were together all those years ago, he'd worn his black hair pulled back in a short ponytail, but the regulation highway-patrol buzz cut wasn't bad at all. A little austere, maybe, but Pete had always been a straight-arrow kind of guy at heart.
That was why he'd married her in the first place, right? You got a girl in trouble, you took responsibility. If you were lucky, she lost the baby and set you free.
Her ex-husband had been nothing but lucky. Blowing an irritated breath off her lower lip, Mary Rose put the car in gear, checked for traffic and eased into the sparse flow. Pete followed in his cruiser; while she kept the needle carefully set at sixty, he breezed past her with a wave.
"Oh, of course." She hit the heel of her hand on the steering wheel. "Mr. Big Shot doesn't have to obey the speed limit." She threw him a furious glance as he took the next exit, once again vanishing from her life.
Or maybe not. He had grown up in New Skye, graduated in the same class with her older sister, Kate. Did he still live there? What were the chances she might see him again while she was in town?
Mary Rose shuddered at the thought, tempted to turn around and head straight back to Charleston, damn the speed limit.
But running away was not an option. Kate was in deep trouble. She sounded more desperate with every phone call.
And not even the possibility of another encounter with the man she'd never quite managed to forget was going to keep Mary Rose from standing by her sister during the worst days of her life.
Fifteen minutes after leaving her ex-husband behind, Mary Rose took the interstate exit for the town of New Skye, North Carolina. She hadn't been home for at least six years; her final Christmas in college had been her last visit, despite her parents' repeated invitations. Nobody climbed the ladder of success in the business world by indulging themselves with extended vacations. This was the first time since graduate school she'd taken off more than five business days in a row.
Anyway, it wasn't as if she never saw her family. They all spent a week together in the condo at the beach every summer and a week skiing in Colorado every January. She talked to her parents once a week and chatted with Kate and her kids whenever either of them had a spare hour or so. That was as much family togetherness as Mary Rose, personally, could stand.
Excerpted from The Third Mrs. Mitchell by Lynnette Kent Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.