Justin Dunne had a mission, and if prowling around a supposedly haunted castle helped him find what he was looking for, then that was what he would do. A beautiful woman could only mean troubleand Lauren Cambridge was trouble with a capital T.
Lauren was through with failed relationships and had gone on an island vacation to get a fresh start. She'd figured she would find someone safe and work up to sexythen she met Justin. He was as mysterious as the castle she was staying in, and before she knew what hit her, he'd stolen her heart!
|Product dimensions:||4.22(w) x 6.61(h) x 0.52(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"Who me? Afraid of falling in love?" Lauren Cam- bridge stopped her pacing long enough to stare at her friend, Rene Browning, and add guardedly, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Rene smiled faintly, settled back into the cordovan comfort of her executive chair and steepled her fingers against her chin.
Lauren resumed pacing. She knew that look. It was the secret weapon that Rene reserved for patients who were avoiding self-examination. Lauren tried remind- ing herself that she was not one of Rene's patients, but it did little to calm her disquiet. In any other setting, she could have ignored the fact that her old college buddy was now a prominent Seattle psychiatrist. But not here. This was Rene's office, her arena, her sanctum sanctorum. Diplomas and certificates lined the walls, an obligatory aquarium sat on the credenza behind her, and pale midmorning sunlight glinted off a desk sign that read Rene Browning, M.D.
Never one to be intimidated, Lauren stopped in her tracks and countered Rene with a look of her own. "Well?" she asked, hands on hips, arching one eyebrow in undeniable question.
Rene grinned. "I don't know how to put it any plainer, Cookie. You are what we in the shrink business call a love phobic. you're scared silly of a meaningful relationshipand always have been, I suspect ."
Lauren wondered briefly why her friend had waited all these years to drop this little bombshell on her, but she didn't take the time to ask. She was too busy de- fending herself against the accusation. "How can you say that, Rene? I've had meaningful relationships ." Lauren began counting them off on her fingers. "There was Conrad in high school, Bruce in college. And just last year, Nigel, that redheaded Londoner." She smiled triumphantly. "I almost married him ."
"Nigel was more concerned with his looks than yours," Rene reminded her, none too subtly. "I wasn't fortunate enough to know Conrad, but Bruce wasn't the last of the red-hot lovers, either, as I remember." She sat forward in her chair, bedside manner forgotten.
"Lauren, no matter what you may have told yourself, you weren't emotionally involved with any of those men. You were just going through the motions. They were safe ."
"And what's wrong with a safe man?"
"Nothing, as long as you're in love with him ." Rene had her there. Lauren glanced at the aquarium. She felt like a hooked goldfish, and instinct told her it was useless to fight. "Uncle," she murmured.
"Okay," Rene said softly, "now we're getting some- where." She stood up from her desk and went to stand by the window, gazing out for a moment, then turning back to Lauren, her expression expectant. They both knew it was Lauren's move.
Lauren sighed, sinking into the nearest chair. "What am I doing wrong, Rene? I'm reasonably attractive, aren't I?" She consulted the aquarium again, seeking her own reflection this time, and was reassured by what she sawa chic, sensible woman with chestnut hair and blue-gray eyes. "I'm a successful financial analyst. I like men. I work with them, play tennis with them at the club and even date them semiregularly. But what comes of it?" She threw up her hands in despair. "Nothing. I'm thirty-three years old, and I've never been in love. Can you believe it? No fireworks, no light- ning bolts, nothing!" Glancing down, as though the answer were hidden somewhere in her solar plexus, she murmured, "Do you think it could be glandular?"
Rene shook her head with exaggerated slowness and tapped her forehead.
"It's all in my head?" Lauren questioned. "I'm crazy?"
"Not as in certifiable," Rene assured her, "but you've got an interesting quirk or two." She sat on the narrow windowsill and folded her arms. "You know I'm a firm believer in self-discovery, Lauren. We each have all the answers alreadyin here and in here," she said, indi- cating her head and then her heart. "We just need a little help occasionally to tune in, to listen." She paused con- sideringly. "I make it a rule never to offer instant insight, but in your case I'm tempted ."
"Don't stop now," Lauren prompted.
Rene took a preparatory breath. "Okayto get specific, you've been playing a game that some of us in the profession call Blemish. It's a common defense against emotional involvement. Everybody does it now and then. But you, my friend, have elevated it to an art form. At the tender age of thirty-three, Lauren Cam- bridge is headed for the Blemish Hall of Fame"
"I never liked games much, Rene," Lauren cut in.
"Especially games that sound like skin conditions ."
"Shall I go on?"
Lauren glanced at the ceiling in mock despair. "Try and stop her ."
"Have you ever noticed what happens when you find a man attractive?" Amused sympathy warmed Rene's brown eyes. "I havecountless times. You zap him. You search out a defect, real or imagined, and he's history, disqualified before anything can happen. That's Blemish. It's the way you protect yourself from the possibility of emotional painrejection, abandonment, whatever it is you're afraid of ."
Lauren lifted her eyebrows skeptically. "Why should I do that? I've had a rejection or two, sure, but it's not like I'm one of the walking wounded. And I've certainly never been abandoned" Her friend's expression stopped her. "I have? When?"
Rene hesitated, almost sighed. "Your father, Lauren ."
"Oh, yeah," Lauren admitted, sobering. "But that's not the same thing. I was five years old, a child ."
"What better time to form an opinion about men? A five-year-old girl is impressionable, vulnerable, ready to idolize any father figure who'll hold still long enough. Yours didn't. He took off and left you and your mother holding the bag, not once, but several times if I remember correctly ."
Lauren nodded, recalling the tall, wheat-haired man who'd twirled her in his arms and called her Butterfly. Her father was a handsome drifter, a long, lanky shadow of a man. "She divorced him when I was seven," Lauren remembered aloud. "But by then it was too late. She was angry and embittered. he'd turned her against men ."
"And between the two of them," Rene observed quietly, "they turned you against men, as well ."
Lauren wasn't listening. She was reliving the dire warnings of her childhood. Alley cats, all of 'em, her mother had insisted, with no more morals or character than a rutting stag. And women, damn fools that we are, we don't listen to our own instincts. If we did, we'd never let the devils near us.
Remembering her mother's rancor as if it were yes- terday, Lauren sighed with a bittersweet sound, like laughter, only tainted by sadness. When she looked up, she saw the empathy in Rene's eyes.
"She sure did a job on you," Rene said softly. "I figured as much ."
"I suppose she did scare me," Lauren said, her throat oddly tight, "but I knew all men weren't like that. And even if I didn't know it then, I certainly know it now ."
Rene sat forward. "Of course you know it on a rational level, but emotionally you're still reacting to those childhood messages. We all do, Lauren. It's the way we're made. There's intellect and there's emotion, and the two levels don't always mesh. That's what makes us complex and interesting ."
"And crazy?" Lauren sighed.
"A little crazy," Rene conceded. Lauren rubbed her thumb back and forth along the nubby fabric of the chair arm and wished she didn't suddenly feel so uneasy and so exposed. Over the years she and Rene had often talked about love and sex and all the things women friends talk about, but Rene had never offered a clinical opinion before. And it had never occurred to Lauren to ask for oneor that Rene might know things about her she didn't know herself. She almost wished she hadn't called Rene last nightat two in the morning, actuallyin a fit of desperation.
"Rene," she'd blurted into the phone, "I just had the god- awfulest nightmare. I was this bag lady in the park.You know, homeless, childless, whiskers on my chin"
"That's wonderful, Lauren," Rene had drowsily mumbled. "Drop by my office at ten. I've got a free hour ."
Lauren had done just that. And here she sat, with her troubled psyche laid bare for Rene and all the world to see.
Rene broke into her musings. "Lauren, you know how much I value our friendship. If I've overstepped"
"Noit's just that" Lauren looked up, saw her friend's concern and winked to reassure her that every- thing was okay. "You must have wanted to tell me this before. Why didn't you?"
Rene winked back. "You never asked ."
In that moment Lauren had a glimmer of how com- plicated it must be for Rene, juggling professional opinions and friendly advice. A psychiatrist's words, however casual, carried with them the implied wisdom of all those years of training and clinical practice. You couldn't offer suggestions casually, even to troubled friends. You had to wait to be asked. Lauren didn't envy Rene that aspect of her life.
A sigh welled up in her chest. But she did envy her friend's love life, her marvelous ten-year marriage. Rene had always known her own mind where men were concerned. "Well, what now?" Lauren asked, smiling ruefully. "Around-the-clock therapy until I'm safe to be on the streets again?"
"I had something a little different in mind," Rene said, looking entirely too pleased with herself. "Just say no if you don't like the idea. There's this guy. He's a friend of Ted's"
"No!" Lauren was out of the chair like a shot. "You know how I feel about blind dates ."
"Sorry ." Rene held up her hands in a placating gesture. "Scratch Plan A. He's a fascinating man, but probably a little too wild for you, anyway ."
Lauren knew bait when she smelled it, but she wasn't biting this time, thank you very much. Gather- ing up her purse, she decided an exit was in order.
"you're not leaving?" Rene protested. "We haven't discussed Plan B yet ."
Eyes narrowed, Lauren measured the aquarium for size. "Does it include drowning a pushy psychiatrist? What would they call that? Shrinkicide?"
"Plan B is a nice, long vacation ."
Lauren managed a pained grin. "you're not seri- ous?"
"Why not? You haven't taken one in years." Rene opened her arms expansively. "I'll even give you the name of my travel agentshe's always exclaiming the virtues of Barbados. Open up to life, to love. Take some risks, Lauren. And for heaven's sake, if you meet a man you find attractive, give him a chance!" She walked to her desk, scribbled something on her prescription pad, tore it off and handed it to Lauren with a flourish.
To be taken immediately: one fabulous getaway vacation to some exotic port where the men still wear loincloths and beat their chests.