Long-Lost Father

Long-Lost Father

by Melissa James

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460367049
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 08/15/2014
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 301 KB

About the Author

Melissa James is a former nurse, waitress, shop assistant and history student at university. Falling into writing through her husband (who thought it would be a good way to keep her out of trouble while the kids were little) Melissa was soon hooked. A native Australian, she now lives in Switzerland which is fabulous inspiration for new stories.

Read an Excerpt

"SO SHE MARRIED the prince and lived happily ever after in his beautiful castle." Samantha Holloway's fingers left the page to trail over her daughter's sleep-flushed cheek. "It's time for sleep now, princess."

The child's tiny Cupid's-bow mouth stretched wide in a yawn. "Oh, all right." The golden-brown eyes—so like her father's— turned to Samantha, soft and unfocused. Eyes as heartbreaking as they were beautiful, for while they were filled with expression, they were not filled with light. "D'you still love me lots and lots?"

Sam felt her throat close up as she caressed the feathery gold curls. "More than anything in the world, princess." To love and protect her darling girl was her life's mission.

Casey smiled, lighting twitching dimples, with a look of mischief that was her father's inheritance. Sam ached anew, seeing it. "Night-night, Mummy." After her prayer, she rolled over and pulled up her sheet before drifting off to sleep.

Sam returned the stuffed animals and discarded book back to their slots—and then she did the same for the rest of the house. Cleanliness wasn't a luxury or an obsession in Sam's home. It was a necessity she couldn't afford to neglect. A dropped toy was a potential hazard; spilled milk not immediately wiped dry could be worth crying over.

When your child was blind, mess was deadly.

When her work was done, Sam heaved a sigh of relief and wandered to her bedroom. She crossed to the window and looked out at the night through her neighbour's trees, luxuriating in the simple joy of silence and peace.

It was her time now...her time to live.

But I have no one to live it with.

Stop it! Self-pity is as destructive to you as it is to Casey. She'd go relax on her hammock on the veranda. That was it. Let's get positive...

The light cotton dress slithered down steam-heated skin, pooling to a huddled heap around her feet. Her cream-coloured lacy underwear—her concession to femininity—followed piece by piece, dropped carelessly for the simple abandon of it. Then years of routine kicked in, and she laid them on the bed. She stretched, her hands sliding upward to lift her mop of fair curls through her fingers as she drank in the dark, still night. Shrugging off the responsible woman she must be during the day, even if it was only for an hour. As much as she loved Casey—and no woman could love her child more—she reveled in the glorious freedom of quiet, the peace of being alone. For now, she belonged only to the sweet, velvety summer night.

February nights in Sydney were steamy, heavy with the promise of storm, turning the lightest of clothing into unbearable fetters. She loved padding around the darkened house in as little clothing as possible, feeling the whispering breezes through her windows surrounding her. With a long, cool drink and her lightest sarong, lying on the hammock she could only set up on her veranda at night—lest Casey walk into it and hurt herself—and she could indulge her senses, lose herself in the pulsing silence of darkness.

Shimmering waves still rose from the ground as the earth cooled itself from the scorching heat of day. Her body took on its heat and pulse, the waiting for the storm, the pressure building, heat sliding into her pores. She took an ice cube into her mouth, letting it melt, and the cold liquid slipping down her throat in cool relief.

The build-up toward the distant rumble of thunder set her nerves jangling; the promise of electricity lashed in tiny whip-flicks along every nerve ending.

The glistening water of the inground pool, lit by floor lights, whispered her name. It was her only indulgence, renting a house with a safe, solar-heated pool. She told herself Casey needed hydrotherapy, but deep down she knew it was for her. A swim was the only way she could release the pressure of the day.

A perfect night for a swim...moonlight and starlight and dark, roiling clouds, terrifying and beautiful—she wanted to slide into them, become part of the night.

Stop the memories...

She had little time before the storm hit. She was all Casey had; she couldn't risk her life, as she used to when it didn't matter— before Casey gave her life strength, meaning and love.

Twenty or thirty hard laps would dissipate the tension, bring her back to reality.

She wouldn't admit that it was thinking of him that she wanted to escape.

A minute later, dressed in her favourite sky-blue one-piece swimsuit, she plunged into the deep end, her splash coinciding with the distant crack of thunder from the clouds closing in on the Sydney Basin.

Tire yourself out and you'll stop thinking. During the buildup to a storm, memories overwhelmed her. The tension took hold of her heart, body and soul, leaving her so alone, and the power of him came like a knight on a white charger to rescue her from endless isolation. Memories of his laughing face. Of him taking hold of her hand, something serious and intent inside those golden-brown eyes as her boss had introduced them at a swish poolside function at his fashionable Kew home. "Samantha Holloway, this is my doctor, Brett Glennon. He saw you standing alone over here and wanted to meet you."

Brett had smiled at her as if he knew something wonderful, amazing, that she didn't. World-weary at twenty-two, she'd waited for the trite line about Fate or something blatantly sleazy; but he'd looked at her kicked-off sandals, glanced down and said, "I never could resist a pair of bare feet as good-looking as that. My feet are jealous." And he'd kicked off his shoes, defying the disapproving looks of the formally clad guests with a conspiratorial grin that had melted her heart.

He was like that from the first, making her feel special and keeping her laughing. Life wasn't serious or tragic with Brett; she wasn't the Ice Princess—she was Sam, a young woman enjoying life with a man who saw beneath her cold facade to the scared girl inside.

Brett was the laughter she'd never known in her sterile world, the caring she'd always hungered for in the dark emptiness of the orphanage—and on their wedding night, he'd overcome her fears and introduced her to the passion she'd read about but never understood. For five exquisite months, he'd been the light in her starved life, the love, the reason to get up every day. Brett was everything.

And then he was gone, and the sun disappeared behind the clouds of her life: she was back to the mistrust and anger, the abandonment and dark emptiness, of life in the orphanage and repeated bouts of foster care...the nothing. He'd left her behind.

Yet for a little while, she had been loved—or at least she'd believed so at the time. Sometimes she wished she could have remained that blissfully ignorant.

Still, he hadn't left her totally alone. He'd left her a priceless treasure. Every day she thanked God for the gift of her beautiful daughter. To Sam, Casey was perfect, precious—her beloved daughter, her only family. She'd spent six years on the run to keep them together. David and Margaret Glennon might be Casey's grandparents, but they'd only gain custody of her over Sam's dead body.

Don't think. Swim!

On a night like this it was impossible not to relive her time with Brett. He'd been gone for too long, and memories were all she had. But she ached with what she'd lost—the absolute love from a man who knew her inside and out.

Every so often the memories became overwhelming, so incredibly real. She could almost feel the tender brushing of his lips against her mouth, the gentle waft of cool breath, the whispered comments that made her choke with laughter, made her body come alive with need and her heart overflow with love at once; and tonight she was already aching, yearning for what could never be again...

Swim harder!

She turned at the end and struck out again. Twenty. Twenty-one. The memories, beautiful and unforgettable, were worse than useless. Painful and bittersweet, they hurt her as much as his words after their first kiss. He'd caught her behind the palms surrounding the pool, laughing—and something in him had called to her, melting the frozen walls she'd built to keep all men at arm's length.

Her resolve had died by the end of that incredible kiss—and he hadn't been laughing when they'd finally parted. He'd said, his voice shaking and almost bitter, "Why couldn't I have met you three years from now?"

Don't think about it. Swim! You have only— "Hello, Sam."

She gasped in water, halting midlap. Had she really heard that beautiful dark-malt-whiskey voice? No! Don't drive yourself mad with hope!

Yet she whimpered, "Brett." Hungering, craving... "Yes, it's me." The dark, smooth voice was strong, sure—so masculine yet so cold. "Despite your best efforts to hide, I found you. I hear I have a daughter. I'd like to meet her."

She gasped again. Her eyes snapped open. She jerked backward in the water until she stood facing the shadows of the veranda from where the sound of his voice had come. No—it couldn't be Brett. He was...was—

Obviously not in an unmarked grave behind enemy lines in some war-forsaken tiny nation inAfrica.All six feet of strong, dark-haired, golden male was right before her, living, breathing—and all she could do was gape at him while stinging tears rushed to her eyes.

"Brett?" The name was laden with disbelief, with terror, her whole body shaking: the rush of shock, from her fingertips to her reeling mind, seemed to have changed her very heartbeat, stopping and kick-starting in painful waves. He was real...he was real.

"Hello, Sam." He stepped out of the languid darkness, into the soft brightness cast by the pool lights. Those eyes, those golden-brown laughing eyes, were dark with the intense emotion he was keeping under tight check.

Sam couldn't stop shivering; the world seemed to be spinning the wrong way. Her hand found the edge of the ladder, and she hung on for dear life. "Brett..." She sounded like the world's biggest idiot, repeating his name over and over, but she couldn't stop.

"Yes." His tone held no impatience; it held nothing at all.

"But..." The change from languid heat to ice-cold fear, from deepest fantasy to utter reality in a matter of seconds left her too disoriented to be coherent. "Africa...Mbuka...when did...?"

His face tightened. "If you mean when did I get back to Australia, almost two years ago." He lifted something in his hand—it was a walking stick. "I only got the all clear from my physiotherapist a week ago."

Two years. He'd been home two years, and she'd known nothing, thinking him dead.

It was too much. The sickness rushed to claim her. Her head drooped onto the ladder, but she breathed in water. Gasping, choking on one cough after another, she tightened her grip on the ladder as if it were a lifeline to sanity. Tears poured down her face.

She felt his warm, strong hands grasp under her arms. A moment later he'd lifted her out of the pool and hauled her against him, patting with a cupped hand against her upper back, pushing upward with the heel of his palm to clear the water. He kept working on her until the choking subsided. "That'll teach me to shock a woman in a pool," he murmured somewhere near her hair. "You'd think a doctor would know better."

Even the intimacy of his hand on her back, his voice so close, overwhelmed her. Six years of painful dreams, waking to emptiness, always alone but never letting anyone close...now he was here and...touching her... Brett...

There were times during the frantic days, the long, sleepless nights, when she thought she'd die for him to be here, to touch her one more time, to let her know she wasn't alone.

She choked again as the emotion came crashing down over her, and the more she tried to fight it, the bigger the burning ball of pain became, cutting off her breathing. The woman who'd never allowed herself the time or luxury to grieve for the husband she'd adored finally emerged from some dark place inside, demanding relief. Her legs shook too hard to support her. She dropped to her knees, buried her face in her hands and wept.

"Sam." He was so close she could smell the spicy aftershave he wore, the one she'd always loved so much. She'd bury her face into his throat and inhale it, inhale him. "I know this is a terrible shock. I had no choice but to do it like this, without warning."

Soft as the touch of butterfly wings, his fingertips touched her arms, caressing her. She felt the traitorous urge to snuggle against him, to take the comfort he was offering—

A bolt of panic sent her scuttling back. "D-don't touch me," she cried through the sobs still overwhelming her. She ached for his touch but hated that vulnerability after six years of strength and independence. She couldn't afford to be weak now.

You're at his feet in tears, a disgusted little voice said inside her. Is that strong? "Okay." His voice grew deeper, hard yet rich with sensuality.

"It's your choice. But could you adjust that thing you're almost wearing?"

Oh! The shock stilled her tears like a twisted-off tap. Gulping and hiccuping, she looked down and saw her old, favourite swimsuit had gone patchy in places, delicately see-through. She groped for her sarong and scrambled away from him, hitching it over her breasts. Unable to stop herself, her gaze lifted to his.

The tight-leashed control she'd sensed in him must have slipped just a little, for his dimples twitched. "You'd better get dressed now, Sam. It's been a long time—for me, at least—and you're still the most beautiful woman I know."

She crossed her arms over her breasts in guilty confusion. The winds, cooling now, sent a chill down the length of her overheated body. She shuddered, but with a massive effort she managed to stop her teeth from chattering. "W-why are you here?"

His gaze remained steady on her face. "You're shivering on a night as hot as this—you're in shock. Dry off and get dressed or you'll end up sick."

She jumped unsteadily to her feet and fled into the house, locking her bedroom door. She leaned against it for a minute or more, just shaking, drawing deep breaths. She couldn't think, could only feel right now—and what she felt was sheer panic.

She reached out with trembling hands to gather up her forgotten towel and dried herself.

"Sam? Are you all right? You've been in there a long time." Frantically she pulled herself together. "I'll be right there." She scrambled into her underwear and the plain cotton sundress she'd kicked under the bed and then used a second towel to fluff her hair semi dry. Time, she needed just a little more time to think...

On the other side of the door waited the husband she'd been told was dead.

She walked through to the living room and turned on the lights to negate the sensual, soft, deep velvet of night and the memories that were too strong, too beautiful, for either of them to forget, too dangerous to remember.

Brett waited for her by the open double glass doors leading to the small back veranda, arms folded, leaning on the doorpost.

It seemed some things didn't change. He still wore his favourite hip hugging jeans and a black Screaming Jets T-shirt. The evening shadow showed that he hadn't shaved since morning, giving him a rough, unfinished look that had always melted her.

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