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By Marta Perry
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMost people wouldn't throw a pregnant woman out into the cold. But the October sun was warm, and Nathan Sloane wasn't most people. The discovery that his unwanted renter was pregnant just made him more eager to be rid of her.
Nathan stood on the porch of the lakeside cottage, realizing he'd been staring for too long at the auburn-haired woman who'd opened the door to him. He glanced at the registration card in his hand.
She hesitated momentarily. "Yes."
He tried to smile, but the tension that rode him probably made it look more like a grimace. "I'm Nathan Sloane. My father, Daniel, owns Sloane Lodge."
She gave a brief nod, edging the door toward him slightly, as if ready to close it in his face. "Is something wrong, Mr. Sloane?"
"I'm afraid so." Besides the fact that just being near the cottage rubbed his nerves raw. "My stepsister made an error when she rented the cottage to you."
The woman opened the door a bit wider, letting the autumn sunlight hit her face. It turned her hair to bronze and caught the gold flecks in eyes as deeply green as the hemlocks on the hillside across the lake.
It also showed the purple circles under those eyes, marring her fair skin. She looked like someone who'd been fighting a losing battle with insomnia.
"I don't understand," she said, frowning as if he'd just told her that her credit card had been rejected. "What sort of an error?"
Again he tried the smile. "We're getting ready to winterize the cottages. In fact, my father will be closing the lodge for the season before long." He hoped. "So you see, I'll have to ask you to make other arrangements."
"The person who checked me in earlier didn't say anything about that." She didn't look particularly impressed by the explanation he'd rehearsed.
He spared an irritated thought for his stepsister. "Apparently Jennifer didn't understand. The cottage is not available to rent at all. And certainly not for an entire month at this time of the year."
Her lips tightened. "That's impossible. I've already rented it."
He didn't seem to be getting very far. "Perhaps you'd like to move into the main lodge for a few days until you find something else. Or we'd be glad to call around for alternative accommodations for you."
The woman's fingers were white where they clutched the edge of the door. She released it abruptly. "You'd better come inside."
She walked away from the door, giving him no choice but to follow her. If he clenched his jaw any tighter, it would shatter.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience ..." he began.
"It's more than inconvenient."
The woman stood turned away from him, staring out the windows of the small living room that fronted on the lake. She was so slender that from this angle she didn't even appear to be expecting. Irrationally, he found that made it easier to deal with her.
"I do apologize." He tried to express a warmth he didn't feel.
Get the woman out - that was what he had to do right now. No others were rented. Then he could shut the cottages and persuade his father to close the lodge early for the winter. Maybe by spring he'd have been able to convince his stubborn father that a man who'd narrowly survived one heart attack shouldn't court another by refusing to retire.
Ms. Morgan turned toward him, and for a moment her figure was silhouetted against the windows, her hands pressed against her stomach.
The image hit him like a blow. He saw Linda standing in front of those same windows, head thrown back in laughter as she pressed her hands to her swelling belly.
No. He fought the grief that threatened to overwhelm him. This woman was nothing like Linda. Linda had been gentleness and warmth. This woman was all chilly, sharp edges. He wouldn't let her remind him.
He forced himself to concentrate on her words, shutting out everything else.
"As I said, it's not a question of inconvenience. We have an agreement." Even her smile had an edge to it. "I don't intend to leave."
"An agreement?" He lifted his brows. "I don't recall signing a lease with you, Ms. Morgan."
She didn't look intimidated.
"There's no need for a formal lease in this situation. The person who was operating as your agent checked me in and gave me the keys to this cottage. In my opinion, we have a legally binding agreement."
He suspected his eyebrows went even higher. "You're an attorney."
She wasn't just a nuisance. She was an intelligent nuisance who wouldn't let him gain the slightest advantage.
"As a matter of fact, I am."
He glanced at the address on the registration card in his hand.
"What's a Philadelphia lawyer doing in a place like Lakemont in October?"
Pregnant. And alone, obviously, in spite of the gold band and large matching diamond on her left hand.
"I'm sure Sloane Lodge gets its share of tourists who come to admire the autumn leaves, doesn't it?" She put that hand up to push back a lock of auburn hair that had strayed onto her cheek.
"Leaf peepers generally come on the weekends. And if you'll forgive my saying so, you don't look the type."
Excerpted from True Devotion by Marta Perry Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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