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By Jillian Hart
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNovember 23
Kristin McKaslin took one look at the snow-caked airplane window and groaned. She was doomed. That window had been only a little bit icy less than twenty minutes ago, when she'd looked up from her work. Now she couldn't see through it, not that there was anything to see at this altitude and with the plane swinging in the turbulence.
At least it gave her something to think about other than heading home to Montana. Thanksgiving was tomorrow, and that was both good and bad. She loved her sisters. She loved her parents. She loved going home to visit.
What she wasn't looking forward to was facing her mother's disappointments. She lived too far away. She didn't come home to visit enough. She wasn't married.
And she wasn't married. Mom was doubly unhappy about that one.
Just because she wasn't married, it didn't mean she was a failure, right?
Right. So, why did it feel that way? And why was it such a big deal? A marriage certificate came with no guarantees, and as far as she could tell, it didn't protect a person against heartbreak, disappointment and loneliness.
It wasn't as if Mom and Dad were ecstatic in their nearly forty years of marriage. But it wasn't as if she could say that to Mom. She hated pretending, as if nothing had changed in their family, when everything had.
That was the real reason she didn't want to walk through the front door of her childhood home. It was too painful to think about.
"Kristin McKaslin, is that you?"
She studied the well-dressed man who sank into the empty seat across the aisle. He was good-looking with disheveled black hair and eyes a sharp aquamarine blue. He had a straight blade of a nose, high cheekbones and dimples cut into his cheeks. He was dressed in a casual outfit that shouted, "Money!"
Nope, she didn't know him, but wait, there was something familiar about him. But what?
She didn't know him from work, the gym or church - either in Seattle or in Montana. Still, there was something distinctive about that devastating smile, those dimples ... and that strong jaw.
Of course! She saw a flash of a boyish face with longer black hair standing before the podium at a high-school assembly. The image of a leaner, younger star running back whipping off his helmet after the final touchdown for the state championship. The caustic face of her mom's best friend's son, who wanted to be anywhere but stuck waiting in the car while their mothers talked on the sidewalk in town.
"Ryan Sanders?" She couldn't believe it. She blinked, and the remembered youthful image of his face blended with the older, wiser one staring back at her across the aisle. "It is you."
"The one and only. I look different, I know, everybody says so. I went and got respectable."
"You were always respectable."
"Nope, I wasn't. You're just being nice." His cute lopsided grin had matured into a slow curve of a smile.
"You look better, but the same. Still have your nose in a book."
"Guilty. I confess."
Those blue eyes, which could have been cold, sparkled. "That's how I recognized you."
"I'm surprised you could see me over the seats. I'm still short."
"The word is 'petite.' I was bored and people-watching and I could see your profile from way back there. I got the last seat on the plane I think."
"Waited until the last minute?"
"I didn't think I'd be flying out of Seattle. Hey, you cut your hair. It was always long. Hiding your face. It still does, even short." He reached across the aisle to touch the curled end of her chin-length hair.
She felt a jolt, like the snap of static shock, as the lock of hair rebounded against her jaw. What was that? And should she act as if she hadn't felt it? "Your hair's shorter, too."
"It goes with my more reputable image." He shrugged one dependable shoulder.
Yeah, he looked reputable, all right, decked out in a loose-knit black sweater that hugged the lean curves of his muscled shoulders and chest. Black trousers, crisply pleated, completed the image.
He could be a corporate heavyweight, with a stuffy MBA and an impressive portfolio. Except for the black boots, scuffed and rugged, showing there was still a part of the Montana boy in the polished, educated man.
He raked his hand through his short, unruly black locks and leaned into the corner of the seat. A big powerful man, sprawled out like a kid, his large feet crossed at the ankles in the aisle.
"So, what's a pretty girl like you doing with a laptop and a book at -" he glanced at the gold flash of his Rolex "- 9:07 at night?"
"Yeah? I remembered you were studious in high school. What did the valedictorian of Valley High grow up to be?"
"An advertising executive."
"Well done. You live in Seattle?"
"I do. Not a hard guess, since the flight originated there. You, too?"
"Nope, just up checking out a job offer." Less comfortable talking about that, he hauled his feet in from the aisle and sat up straight. Too late to change the subject. It wasn't pretty Kristin McKaslin's fault his life was messed up.
Okay, it wasn't a mess yet, but it wasn't the fit he wanted, either. He'd become a successful doctor. It just didn't feel right to him. And after the breakup with Francine -
Excerpted from Holiday Homecoming by Jillian Hart Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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