The "Big One" hits California on New Year's Eve...Hundresds trapped by the quake... And for two Marines, Lives--and love-- are on the line.
Racing against time to save victims in a ravaged, burning city, golden boy Lieutenant Wes James discovered an angel in disguise: plain-Jane rescue worker Lieutenant Callie Evans, who defied death to dig survivors from the rubble. Amid the hellish wreckage, her blue eyes shone with inspiring hope. Her innocence and valor moved the unshakable Marine, and she blossomed into a beauty beneath his protective gaze. Still, past pain kept Wes from surrendering his closely guarded heart. But he ached to make Callie more than his comrade-in-arms. He ached to make her his....
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The Heart Beneath
By Lindsay McKenna
Harlequin EnterprisesCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDecember 31 1600
"Oh, Morgan, this is such an unexpected and beautiful New Year's gift!" Laura Trayhern whirled around in the sumptuous suite of the Hoyt Hotel. She smiled at her husband who was grinning proudly. "I never expected this!" she exclaimed as she flew to his arms. They had just arrived at the hotel from Los Angeles International Airport. The lavish suite was a surprise - as was Morgan's plan for them to spend New Year's Eve there, just the two of them.
Morgan swept his pretty blond wife into his arms, almost dwarfing her petite form. The childlike expression of joy on her face made his heart sing. As she brushed his neck, cheek and finally his mouth with quick, wet kisses, he picked her up and twirled her around. Then, when his masterful Fred Astaire dance routine had made him dizzy, he placed her feet on the thick, white carpet, and murmured, "Happy New Year, darling. I wanted this to be a surprise for you...."
Smoothing her hands over her ankle-length, blue wool skirt, then straightening her pink blazer, Laura looked around. "The Hoyt ... a five-star hotel! It's so old and beautiful, Morgan. Oh, I've always wanted to come here. This is where the Hollywood elite from the thirties and forties came to party and be seen by the press. Why, there's a gorgeousmahogany bar, trimmed with brass, where actors like Clark Gable came to drink. And so did some of the most famous writers from those eras, too!" She gazed up at her husband, who was dressed casually in accordance with California fashion in a bright-red polo shirt, dark-blue blazer, and tan chino pants. "This is a dream come true, Morgan," she said, wandering about the suite, which was the best the hotel had to offer.
Laura knew the Sun King's suite, situated at the top of the old hotel, was expensive with its elegant whiteand-gold Louis XIV furniture. The place looked like a palace. Gliding her fingertips across the sideboy, she gazed out through the open curtains. The Suite faced toward central Los Angeles, visible in the distance. The lurid brownish cloud of pollution that always hung across the wide basin was clearly visible. But the damask curtains, burgundy embossed with gold flowers, made the scene look like a postcard to Laura.
Fourteen stories below them, she saw the old, stately palm trees in front of the Hoyt moving in the breeze. The trees lined the broad avenue in front of the pink hotel like guardians standing at rigid attention. California was wonderfully warm compared to their icy-cold home in Philipsburg, Montana, where they'd just flown in from. Even at the end of December the temperature often reached eighty degrees here.
She felt Morgan come up beside her and slide his arm around her shoulders, drawing her near.
"Merry post Christmas," he murmured, and pressed a kiss to her mussed gold hair, which always reminded him of Rapunzel's spun-gold tresses. When Laura lifted her chin and flashed him another excited smile, he felt his heart expand with joy.
"I couldn't believe it, Morgan! When you handed me that red envelope at the Five Days of Christmas celebration we just held for everyone at Perseus, I had no idea it would contain airline tickets and a voucher for the Hoyt." She sighed happily and leaned against him, her arm going around his strong body. "What a gift! You know how long I've been dying to come here and snoop around this historic mansion, doing some in-depth research."
Morgan nodded. "I know we've been busy. Perseus has taken up a lot more of my time than I envisioned," he said, referring to the covert team of mercenaries he headed up. Now, as he looked into his wife's eyes, he found himself drowning in her dancing gaze. Even after all these years, bearing and raising his four children, she managed to retain her childlike enthusiasm and joyful heart. That ability forever astounded him, and over the years had helped heal him from the many massive wounds he'd carried from active service in the Marine Corps during the closing days of the Vietnam War.
When they met, Laura had been working as a research writer and historian, well known for her military articles, and living in Washington, D.C. They had literally run into one another.
Morgan had been at the airport and seen Laura struck down by a car. It was that accident that had brought them together, and changed their lives forever. Over the years, they had had difficult times, but their love for one another had only been strengthened as a result. Even after that terrifying time, when he, Laura, and their oldest son, Jason, had been kidnapped in an act of revenge by drug lords, Laura had emerged with her spirit in tatters, but still intact. It was a miracle, Morgan realized, because his wife had suffered horribly at the hands of their captors. The kidnapping had stolen a piece of her soul, but she battled back from the ordeal with the help of his unquenchable love and support.
Morgan knew well her penchant for research and for history. And since the Hoyt was one of the last of the elite, Gothic-style hotels built in Hollywood during the twenties, he knew she'd get a kick out of staying there. For a long time she had been wanting to depart from the military articles she still wrote upon occasion, even though she was a full-time mother, to do in-depth research on some magnificent landmarks from a bygone era.
"Well, we're going to mix business with pleasure," he told her. When he saw the crestfallen look on her face, he quickly added, "More pleasure and less business."
"Let me guess," she said impishly, turning and leaning fully against him, her arms around his waist. "Camp Reed, the major Marine Corps base in Southern California, is only a stone's throw from here - about twenty miles or so. And you're probably going to nose around over there, right? Talk to the general at the base because you've had some of his Marine Recon detachments or individual marines assigned to Perseus black ops missions?"
"Yep." Morgan breathed in, inhaling the lilac fragrance of her hair. "I have two appointments before we party in the New Year. First I'm going to see General Jeb Wilson on January first."
"He's the commanding officer of Camp Reed?"
"Yeah. More a courtesy call than anything, darling. To thank him for all his help, loaning his people out to us over the past year."
"And you're not going to be cooking up new missions with him?" Laura raised one eyebrow. She knew Morgan didn't waste time; he made the most of every trip he went on. And Lord knew, he was constantly flying here and there on the Perseus jet - checking on his mercenaries who, around the world, were involved in life-and-death missions, helping others.
Shaking his head, he kissed the tip of her nose. "Nope, for once we'll just have a drink over at the O Club - officer's club - and remember old times. I'll wish him a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."
"Okay," she murmured petulantly, pouting provocatively as she moved her hips suggestively against him. "I know there's a New Year's party at the hotel tonight and I don't want to go to it alone." She saw his eyes narrow, and slowly smiled. "In the meantime I guess I'll keep myself busy by talking to the manager of this lovely old hotel, snooping around, and taking photos. Maybe I can start building a research file on it. I've already got a major magazine that wants my article. Or maybe I'll just relax a bit. Take a hot bath ..."
Excerpted from The Heart Beneath by Lindsay McKenna Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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