When Randi Jean Ferguson fell for Courtland Robinson while studying abroad in London, she was ready for a life of tea and crumpets. But when she discovered Court was being forced into a shotgun wedding, there was no way she could stay—or tell him she was also pregnant with his child. Now widowed, Randi is just starting to consider finding Court—when he shows up at her door. With his son. Randi’s not ready to reveal everything to Court, but if she doesn’t will both their children end up scarred?
The best thing to come out of Court’s unhappy marriage was his son. But he’s spent the last twenty-two years thinking about Randi, his California girl, his first—and only—love. Now a widower, he takes a chance he’s only fantasized about and seeks her out. At last he’ll solve his heart’s greatest mystery—but that won’t be the only surprise in store for him.
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Her Foreign Affair
By Shea McMaster
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Shea McMaster
All rights reserved.
Twenty-two years later
East Bay Area, Northern California
Bent over the open oven, Randi figured only serendipity could have timed her daughter's arrival for Thanksgiving dinner quite so well.
Already up for six hours, most of that time spent in the kitchen, Randi was ready for her first glass of wine. A real glass, not a sip from the bottle she'd poured over the bird. So much for her resolve to become a new woman in her fabulous forties. A couple years in and she still harbored doubts about how fabulous the forties were. However, a person should always seek to improve herself, right? All well and good, nevertheless, this new woman clung to a few old habits she didn't want to give up, such as nipping from the bottle of wine intended for basting the turkey.
"Mom!" Birdie's voice rang through the house like a bell.
"In the kitchen," she called back. Steam from the oven frizzed her hair and bathed her face as she basted the bird. There went the efforts of an hour spent plucking eyebrows and applying her makeup just so. Well, instead of a fashion plate, the picture of a sophisticated California hostess, she'd be Wyatt's picture of the perfect woman — glowing from the heat of the kitchen and probably smelling of turkey as well. Too bad he wasn't here to celebrate. Death had a way of ruining family gatherings.
Instead, Randi expected her father and Birdie, both bringing visitors from out of town with no place else to go. Strays had always been Randi's specialty, especially for holiday dinners.
"Smells great, we're starving!" Birdie moved into Randi's peripheral vision. As bright as a sunny day with her long, honey blond hair, Birdie lit up any room, especially with her smile, cheerful disposition, and her clothing. Occasionally, Randi considered her child's bubbly nature positively nauseating. But not today. The semester had dragged on and contact with her daughter remained too infrequent. Stanford may have been a mere hour across the Bay, but it might as well have been across the country for all the time Birdie had to spare.
Randi shoved the heavy bird back into the lower of the stacked double ovens and straightened with a hand on the small of her back as she lifted the door shut. Yeah, cool sophisticate she so was not. Had she wanted to present such an image, she would have ordered the complete meal, cooked and ready to serve, delivered from the upscale grocery store down the hill. "Bird should be done on schedule this year. This time I bought a fresh one, not frozen."
"Your dinners are always perfect, and thirty minutes late doesn't count. Mom, come meet our guests."
Ah yes. The mysterious Drew, a grad student from overseas Birdie had met the previous week after tripping over his big feet in a coffee shop. Not only Drew, but his father, as well, visiting the states on business, timed for Drew's first big American holiday. The widowed father. A match to her widowed mother status.
Great. It was bad enough her father also asked to bring a guest, a single man of a certain age. In other words, old enough for Randi. But now her daughter had joined the game? Lately, it seemed as if an invisible milestone had passed, one declaring her mourning period complete, and, apparently, someone had declared open season on finding dates for her. Funny, her heart hadn't reached the same conclusion yet.
Well, let these possible future dates get a good look at the new woman. The one thinking about thinking of dating again.
Since Birdie generally preferred jeans, Randi raised an eyebrow at the dress her daughter wore. Navy flats were more in keeping with her personality, though Birdie showed off a pair of still nicely tanned legs. Randi was about to comment, but Birdie beat her to it.
"Wow." Birdie stopped and stared for moment. "Great look," she whispered, then took Randi's arm and dragged her into the foyer where two tall men stood. So the extra hour of shaving, shining, plucking, and painting had been worth it? Despite the steamy glow she certainly sported at the moment, and no time to powder it away.
Not wanting to acknowledge the matchmaking attempt of her daughter — the man was a foreigner for crying out loud and wouldn't be around long enough to get to know — she wiped her hands on her apron, then extended one to the younger of the two. Dark blond, he had deep blue eyes and a smile every bit as cheery as Birdie's. As Randi gripped his hand, hers warmed with dreaded perspiration. She made her shake firm and brief, dropping his hand almost immediately.
"Mom, this is Drew. Drew, my mother Rand —"
"— ee Ferguson," Birdie stumbled to a stop.
Drew hadn't interrupted. No, it was the man behind him. The boy's father. The one Randi didn't want to look at. The resonance of his voice, the rich British accent that made the plain name she'd used for one semester sound exotic, it was an illusion, an echo from the past, a hallucination induced from too little sleep.
Reluctantly, Randi let her gaze slide past Drew's startled eyes and collide with those of the older man one step back, looking more stunned than startled. More amazed than surprised.
"Not Jean Dailey?" he asked, head tilted a fraction as his gaze bore into her.
There was only one thought in her mind as her heart thudded to a momentary stop, and her blood froze into crystals. It can't be.
This must be a delusion leftover from last night's dreams. The ones brought on by the romance novel she'd found in a box last week. The one sitting on her bedside table still exuding the soft scent of the rose pressed between the pages of the love scene. He'd been invading her thoughts too much lately. He couldn't really be here, in her foyer. This scene was purely a figment of a mind set to wandering by plain old loneliness.
Randi grasped Birdie's arm, holding her as much to stay standing as to keep Birdie from moving to the side of the younger man. There was no way God would play this cruel a joke on her after so many years. Yet, as she stared into those blue, blue eyes, the years peeled away.
"Jean is my mother's middle name," Birdie supplied helpfully, despite her apparent confusion, breaking the silence that had held for nearly a full minute. Words abandoned Randi, leaving her throat too tight, too dry for speech. "Her full name is Randi Jean Dailey Ferguson."
Hell, no point in trying to hide her true identity now, as if that had ever been a remote possibility. Not only did Birdie give it all away, she babbled to fill in the extremely awkward silence.
The gaze of the apparition who resembled, well, him, sharpened, and his lips quirked in satisfaction. The heat of his regard wouldn't allow Randi to deny the exceedingly male presence in her house. All the air evaporated from the foyer, and her heart kick started so hard it threatened to leap from her chest. Her mind might be screaming denials, but her body knew. And despite the first sluicing of ice through her veins, heat rushed in behind.
Those damn blue eyes stared into hers, and a spark of something ancient and irrepressible settled in her heart, causing it to beat triple time.
Yup. God was that cruel.
From her past, the one man she never once imagined she'd ever see again stood in her foyer. Impossible that he should have found her. Dad would have never given her away had anyone knocked on his door looking for her. Google searches on the various combinations of her name turned up little other than notices in school newsletters. All those years ago she'd married, changed her name, given birth, and moved from the parental home to start a new life as a new woman. The girl he'd known as Jean Dailey became Randi Ferguson. All the heartache of betrayal had been left far behind in Merry Old England more than twenty-two years ago. The only reminder? The nearly twenty-two-year-old beauty standing at her side. The child who towered over her, so like her father, if the truth be known.
All those years ago, God had held her feet to the fire to face her future, but this time she faced the past. And why did that past still have to be so damn handsome?
No, not a hallucination. He was real. So very, very real.
It was him, looking barely five years older than he had so long ago. His thick hair still gleamed gold under the soft glow from the skylight, though there were hints of silver at his temples, and his forehead seemed a tad higher. Great, gray looked good on him. He was still lean, his eyes remained as piercingly blue. Light blue that looked right into her soul. His face had filled out a little, developed a few lines at the eyes, and the cheekbones were no longer quite so prominent, the jaw a slightly smoothed granite instead of freshly chiseled stone, but essentially the same.
Yes, he still looked the same while she'd grown rounder and squatter. Thank heavens for the impulse that sent her to the salon a week ago. At least she wasn't gray. At the moment. And of course, makeup, underwires, and Lycra hid a multitude of other imperfections.
Whereas he ... Well, he looked damn fine in his light blue tailored shirt, gold cufflinks, perfect navy slacks, and expensive leather shoes.
Just like his son.
She wanted to push them out of her house right then, send them both back to England, far, far away from Birdie.
Oh, no, no, no. This did not fit with Randi's plans. She needed to regain control of the situation. Time. She needed time. Yes, she'd planned to tell Birdie all about this part of her past, but after Christmas. Before the New Year. After getting some more information from an investigative resource. Not like this, not now. Lord, not now! When Birdie was already looking at her as if she'd lost her mind.
Control. Right. Shut the rest away and pretend there was nothing going on. Randi eased up on her daughter's arm when she murmured a protest.
Oh God. Birdie's attracted to ... She couldn't complete the thought too horrible to think.
A first date she'd said, right? Did that mean they hadn't progressed beyond coffee? No hand holding? No kissing? God forbid ... How would she break this up without Birdie knowing she'd brought home not only her brother — half brother — but father, for dinner? Her very gorgeous, missing from her entire life, father.
As she watched his face, drinking in every detail, his eyes warmed, then hardened. He didn't seem nearly as surprised as she felt. Had he been looking for her? Had he used his son to find her through her daughter?
Birdie pinched her arm, bringing Randi back to the moment with a small jolt. Oh Lord, she was standing there like an idiot, everyone looking at her with expressions of curiosity and puzzlement. Hoping to find her cool hostess voice and not a strangled, choked voice, she gulped.
"Hello, Court."CHAPTER 2
Many things filled Courtland Bailey Robinson's head as he stared at the woman clutching her daughter's arm as if she were sinking. Not the least of which was satisfaction. Finally, a conclusion to the investigation he'd begun ten years before. A bittersweet triumph because, apparently, she'd been keeping things from him, including her real name.
"Jean," he repeated, then shook his head and corrected himself. "Randi. Sorry, but I know you as Jean."
All the years of searching aside, he had to drink her in with his eyes. God, she was beautiful. She'd fulfilled the promise of her youth. And then some.
Where she'd once been pretty, bright, fresh, and young, twenty-two years later, she'd become the most wonderful of creatures, a mature woman. Confidence radiated from her as she lifted her chin ever so slightly, her jade eyes challenging him for having the nerve to enter her domain. Her petite body, once slender, now showed soft curves behind the faded green apron stained with the efforts of her labors to produce a feast. He took in the surface details, as too many emotions to name whirled through his mind. He'd been thinking of her so much lately, for a moment he wondered if he were dreaming.
"You know each other?" Birdie, the beautiful young woman who he'd thought vaguely reminded him of someone, looked from her mother to him and back again, her little brow wrinkled in confusion. "Mom? Are you okay?" Birdie protectively covered her mother's hand on her arm.
After her initial cool greeting, Jean's — Randi's — face had paled under her smooth makeup, making the colors all wrong on her face. A second later, the pasty shade heated into the rosy glow he'd loved, though usually produced for a completely different reason. Her body had flushed that way, in the same perfect shade of dewy pink while ...
His son's query caused her gaze to dart in the lad's direction and forced Court to blink himself back into the present, his lips curving in a smile greatly at odds with the emotions swirling deep inside. Hadn't she trusted him enough to gift him with her real name? Then again, what he'd done, been forced to do, probably had proved him untrustworthy in her eyes. Still, the mystery of where she'd ended up was solved, and the relief it brought nearly knocked him to his knees.
"I don't usually bring roses to strange women, but Birdie said they were your favorite, and I'm delighted to say you aren't a stranger after all. Well, except for the name thing. Why didn't you ever tell me your whole name?"
Randi's wide, shocked gaze darted back to him, bounced over to Drew, and zoomed to him again as if searching for signs of something. Most people gushed over the similarities between him and Drew, so she was clearly noticing for herself. It didn't take much to ignore the reaction as usual. He held out the bouquet of soft pink roses, so pale they were nearly white. As he recalled, they were exactly her favorites.
"Oh. Thank you. Funny you should find these ..."
She ignored the question about her name and reached for the flowers. For an instant, her hand tightened around the tissue and plastic wrapped stems until the knuckles turned white. It seemed as if she were almost tempted to beat him about the head and shoulders with the bouquet of her favorite posies.
He'd once nicked a rose like these from her landlady's garden and Jea — correction, had to remember — Randi had pressed it between the pages of her economics book. "Yes, those exact roses. Destiny, I'd say." Did she still have the dried flower? What about some of the petals he'd shaken onto her as she lay on the bed their last night together? No, she probably didn't have any of those mementos. Most likely they'd hit the dustbin later the next evening.
The moment of pending violence passed and Court let the air escape from his lungs as she held the flowers to her nose. "More like the Fates screwing with me again, I'd say."
For a moment, a pain to rival the anguish he'd felt the last time he'd looked into those eyes stabbed at his heart. At the worst moment of his life, when he'd turned around at that bloody reception, knowing what she'd overheard. He'd never forgotten the look, and it punched him harder now, faced with what he'd given up by bowing under family pressure, and his own conscience, to marry Beatrice. Though judging by Birdie's age, the bitter thought hit him twice as hard in the gut, Randi hadn't been down for long. Birdie couldn't be a full year younger than Drew.
Court could see Birdie's curiosity growing by leaps and bounds, and he looked her over once again. Of course, she somewhat resembled her mother. And yet, there was something besides her hair coloring that didn't quite come from her mother that twigged at the back of his brain. A quality from her father, perhaps? Someone he may have met in the course of business without ever realizing it?
One question answered, his Jeannie's location, but a few hundred new questions popped into his head. Too many to cope with and not only for him. He could see the turmoil in her as well.
"Yes, darling." Randi came out of her trance, long lashes sweeping her cheeks as she blinked a few times. "Yes, I met Court when I studied in England. Remember, I told you I did a semester abroad?"
"Why did he know you as Jean?"
Birdie asked the first question at the tip of Court's tongue, though logic told him exactly why she'd used her middle name, or to be more specific, avoided her first name.
Excerpted from Her Foreign Affair by Shea McMaster. Copyright © 2015 Shea McMaster. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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