Youthful, soul-shattering mistakes? Deborah McCloud had made more than her share. She'd believed in her father, only to discover her trust had been cruelly misplaced. And her heart? She'd misplaced that, too, by falling hopelessly in love with Dylan Smith, a man too sexy and too smart for her comfort. Wanting, needing, Dylan was more than she could bear, so she'd left. Seven years ago. And she'd been running ever since.
But now, threats against her family had brought her home to face the people she'd hurt, the mistakes she'd made and the one man who could rekindle the passion she'd sworn to leave behind.
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Faith, Hope And Family
By Gina Wilkins
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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Chapter OneThe Honesty city limits sign was just visible within the range of Deborah McCloud's headlights. She was tempted to keep driving, leaving the town where she had grown up behind her. Honesty, Mississippi, wasn't her home anymore; she had escaped nine years ago when she'd left for college, and she hadn't been back for more than a few days at a time during the past seven years. It was only because her mother and two older brothers still lived here that she returned at all.
Mostly her mother, she acknowledged. She and her brothers had drifted apart in the past few years.
It might have been a Freudian impulse that made her press harder on the accelerator as she moved closer to the edge of town. Probably a barely suppressed desire to escape the unhappy memories here, though she tried not to dwell on them during her infrequent visits with her mother. She supposed it was her brother's wedding that afternoon that had brought the memories so close to the surface tonight, preventing her from sleeping.
A flash of blue lights in her rearview mirror made her hiss a curse between her teeth. Terrific, she thought, pulling over at the side of the deserted road. The only thing that would make this episode worse was if the officer who had pulled her over was Dylan Smith. Surely, fate wouldn't be that cruel.
She should have known better.
Resting one hand on the top of her car, Dylan studied her through the open driver's-door window. Even though he was silhouetted by the yellowish streetlamps above him, she had no trouble picturing his roughly handsome face, nor his bitingly intense steel-gray eyes. The dark-brown hair he had once worn rebel-long was now almost militarily short, befitting his career on the right side of the law.
When he spoke, his voice was deeper than the youthful echo that still too frequently haunted her dreams, but it held the familiar undercurrent of mocking humor. "Evening, Ms. McCloud. Did you rob a bank? Knock over a liquor store? You seem to be in a big hurry to get out of town."
Knowing her face was illuminated by the same light that shadowed his, she kept her expression impassive. "I'm not leaving town. I just felt like taking a drive."
"Yes. Is that against the law?"
If her challenging tone annoyed him, he didn't let it show. "No. But doing sixty-five in a forty-five-mile-an-hour zone is."
"So write me a ticket." She extracted her driver's license from her wallet and held it out to him. "If you run this, you'll see that I have no outstanding warrants."
He made no move to take the license. "You know I'm not going to ticket you."
"You'd ticket any other speeder. I expect the same treatment."
Leaving his hands where they were, he asked, "How was your brother's wedding?"
The abrupt change of subject made her blink. She lowered her outstretched hand to her lap. "It was fine. No problems."
"Gideon and Adrienne make a great couple."
"Yes, they do." Keeping her voice totally disinterested, she said, "I heard that Adrienne insisted on inviting you. How come you didn't show up?"
"It's not like you to ask stupid questions."
His curt reply made her temper flare again. "Then I'm sorry I asked."
He sighed. "I didn't want any unpleasantness to cast a shadow over the wedding. I knew you wouldn't want me there. And, despite my new friendship with Adrienne, Gideon and I still barely speak. For their sake, and for your mother's, I didn't want to risk any problems."
"I really couldn't care less if you were there or not. And my mother would have been as gracious to you as she was to any of the other guests."
He obviously didn't buy her implication that he no longer had the power to stir any emotions, even negative ones, in her, but he didn't challenge her on that. "I always admired your mother, you know. A real class act. The way she's being so kind to her ex-husband's orphaned little girl - well, that just confirms what I always thought about her."
Deborah had no intention of discussing her family scandals with him. "I'm sure my mother would be pleased that you think so highly of her."
He made a sound that might have been a laugh. "I'm sure your mother couldn't care less what I think of her."
She tapped the steering wheel again. "Are you going to write me a ticket or not?"
This time his laugh was a bit more natural. The one that had always warmed some cold little spot deep inside her heart - and would have done so again if she hadn't steeled herself against it. "I don't think I've ever had a speeder actually demand a citation from me before."
She scowled. "Well?"
"No ticket. I'll just advise you to slow down for the remainder of your drive."
"Then I'm free to go?"
He dropped his arm to his side and stepped back from the car. His voice was suddenly weary when he replied, "I've never tried to stop you from leaving, Deborah."
Not trusting herself to speak, she put the car in gear and drove away, well aware that he remained where he was until she was out of his sight.
Deborah was up early the next morning, having managed only a few hours of sleep after returning from her midnight drive. Following the scents of coffee and freshly baked sticky buns, she wandered into the kitchen where her mother stood at the counter slicing fruit. Impeccable as always, Lenore McCloud was already dressed in a cream blouse and a tailored camel skirt. Her once-dark hair was now liberally streaked with gray. It was sleekly styled, not a strand out of place.
Conscious of her own tumbled, dark-blond hair, baggy T-shirt, plaid dorm pants and bare feet, Deborah cleared her throat. "I feel like I've walked into one of those old TV sitcoms. You're even wearing pearls."
Lenore reached up automatically to touch one of her earrings and then the gleaming strand at her throat. "I have a civic committee meeting this morning at ten. And the pearls match the outfit."
"Of course they do. You always match."
Lenore glanced at Deborah's outfit, but chose not to comment. "You were out rather late last night, weren't you?"
Deborah hadn't realized her mother had heard her leave. She should have known better. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she replied casually, "I couldn't sleep. Decided to drive around for a while."
"Is there anything in particular on your mind? Something you would like to talk about?"
Carrying the coffee to the table in the cheery, bay-shaped breakfast nook, Deborah shook her head. "I guess I was still wired from the wedding."
Lenore joined her at the table, which was already set for breakfast for two. She set a plate of sticky buns and a bowl of fruit in the center, then fetched a cup of coffee for herself. "I'm so glad everything went perfectly yesterday. It was a lovely wedding, wasn't it?"
Excerpted from Faith, Hope And Family by Gina Wilkins Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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