Beautiful Jessica Parks spent years under the watchful eye of her hard-hearted father, Walter, never able to trust anyone. But he was about to go on trial, leaving her free to rescue her mother from the Swiss asylum she’d been banished to long ago. Little did Jessica know she was not alone on her fateful journey .
Private investigator Sam Fields couldn’t believe how his quarry kept him on his toesboth personally and professionally. He couldn’t control his attraction nor his desire to protect her, and vowed to help at any cost. But when lovestruck Jessica learned that Sam was working for Walter, would she continue to trust him or feel the sting of yet another betrayal?
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By Gina Wilkins
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
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Chapter OneThe bracelet in Jessica Parks's hand was undeniably pretty. Multicolored semiprecious stones were set in sterling silver, their facets catching the light and cheerily scattering it. But looking at the lovely bauble brought her no pleasure at all. Instead, she was filled with consternation at having found it in the pocket of the long black sweater jacket she wore over a white T-shirt and snug black pants.
She didn't recall putting the bracelet in her pocket. She remembered admiring it at a department store she had visited with her best friend, Caroline, but she had no recollection of slipping it into her jacket.
Swallowing hard, she turned to open a center drawer in her cherry dresser. Inside the velvet-lined drawer rested five small, easily pocketed items - six, once she added this bracelet. Ranging from a pair of gold earrings to a little cloisonné box shaped like a grand piano, the baubles had all shown up in her possession during the past year. Sometimes she found them in her pocket, sometimes in her purse, and one - a miniature crystal rose - she had found hidden in an art portfolio she had carried with her on a shopping and sketching outing. Sometimes she had been alone on those outings, other times with Caroline, but she never remembered takinganything.
Stashing the bracelet among the other things, she closed the drawer quickly, as if not seeing the purloined items would make them disappear. She knew she should do something with them - specifically, try to figure out a way to return them to their stores - but she just couldn't deal with that task yet.
The unremembered shoplifting incidents - for want of a better term - were disturbing enough, considering that she'd had a little habit of taking things as an angry and rebellious teenager. But she had always remembered those events, had been very deliberate about what she had taken and why. Most of her petty larcenies in the past had been aimed at her father, either from the jewelry stores he owned or from his office or study - and usually intended to provide cash for things she wanted to do that he had forbidden. But this was very different.
There were other episodes. Finding her keys locked in her car when she had been certain she'd carried them inside. Finding her wallet in the freezer and a melted container of ice cream in her art studio. Discovering cosmetics she didn't remember buying stashed neatly inside her makeup case.
More disturbing, on three occasions finding odd additions made to paintings in progress in her studio. Undoubtedly her own style of painting - but additions she simply didn't remember making.
Definitely not normal behavior. And it seemed to be getting worse, especially during the last few weeks as she had dealt with the tension of making secret plans in addition to her powerful and controlling father's arrest.
She should tell someone what was going on - a medical professional, at least - but she refused to give anyone evidence that she was becoming emotionally unstable. Especially not now, when she was so close to seeing the culmination of a plan she had been carefully putting together for what seemed like most of her twenty-six years.
She could handle this, she assured herself. Whether her odd behavior was due to stress or anxiety or simply artistic absentmindedness, she would get control of it through the force of sheer willpower. Perhaps she had inherited some of her mother's emotional instability, but it was combined with a streak of her father's ruthless determination.
She wasn't letting anything - or anyone - stand in her way this time.
Sam Fields waited until Jessica's little red sports car was well out of sight before he broke into her cottage.
There was no need to follow her this time; he knew where she was going. She spent every Wednesday afternoon as a volunteer art teacher at a San Francisco school for emotionally disturbed teenagers. If she followed her usual routine, she would be gone for three hours, after which she would return and retreat to her art studio until late into the night. Something about her volunteer work always seemed to spark her creativity.
Just for curiosity, he walked into her studio after letting himself into her tidy, eclectically decorated cottage. Though he had never been inside the cottage before, he had no trouble finding the studio. The cottage wasn't big enough to get lost in, unlike the mansion just next door in which she had grown up.
He spent quite a while - too long, perhaps - studying the paintings sitting on easels and stacked against the walls. He had seen her work before, in local galleries, and he was always taken aback by the sheer power of it. It surprised him that such a delicate, almost fragile- looking young woman could create such bold, intellectually challenging works of art.
Had he guessed at her work judging solely by her appearance - a petite, fair-skinned blonde whose dimpled oval face was dominated by astonishingly blue eyes - he would have expected pretty watercolors or tidy still-life studies. Instead, her paintings were unpredictable and untamed, with strong hints of rebellion, anger and simmering sensuality.
His attention was drawn to three canvases propped in a corner, backs facing the room. None of them were finished, he noted when he flipped through them. It was as if she had reached a certain point with each and had stopped. Perhaps she had been unhappy with the way they were turning out.
As he studied them more closely, he could see that they were different, somehow, from her other works. Similar enough that he recognized the style, but more disturbing in content. Some additions seemed to have been slapped on in periods of extreme emotion, and others looked almost assembly line, as if painted by a computerized robot. Paintings that seemed to have begun with one theme had been abruptly altered, then abandoned.
Odd, he thought, putting everything back exactly as he had found it. But then, he had come to expect odd behavior from Jessica Parks.
Excerpted from The Homecoming by Gina Wilkins Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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