Stephanie Wynne has given up on finding a man who can help her raise her kids instead of acting like one himself—as her late husband did most of the time. No, she’s in control of her own life now. Maybe she’s just a little lonely, but there are temporary solutions for that…
FBI negotiator Nash Harmon is trained to be cool and detached in every situation. But when he comes to Stephanie’s Bed & Breakfast, he finds that something about her lively family just draws him in. For the first time in a long time, he starts to realize why people have ties…
Originally published in 2003
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One In A Million
By Susan Mallery
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGood-looking men should not be allowed to show up on one's doorstep without at least twenty-four hours' notice, Stephanie Wynne thought wearily as she leaned against her front door and tried not to think about the fact that she hadn't slept in nearly forty-eight hours, couldn't remember her last shower and knew that her short, blond hair looked as if it had been cut with a rice thresher.
Three kids down with stomach flu had a way of taking the sparkle and glamour out of a woman's day. Not that the man in front of her was going to care about her personal problems.
Despite the fact that it was nearly two in the morning, the handsome, well-dressed stranger standing on her porch looked rested, tidy and really tall. She glanced from his elegant suit to the stained and torn football jersey she'd pulled out of the rag bag when she'd run out of clean clothes about two days ago because ...
Her tired brain struggled for the reason.
Oh, yeah. The washer was broken.
Again, not something he was going to sweat about. Paying guests only wanted excellent service, quiet rooms and calorie-laden breakfasts.
She did her best to forget her pathetic appearance and forced her mouth into what she hoped was a friendly smile.
"You must be Nash Harmon. Thanks for calling earlier and letting me know you'd be arriving late."
"My flight out of Chicago was delayed." He drew his dark eyebrows together as he looked her up and down. "I hope I didn't wake you, Mrs...."
"Wynne. Stephanie Wynne." She stepped back into the foyer of the old Victorian house. "Welcome to Serenity House."
The awful name for the bed and breakfast had been her late husband's idea. After three years she could speak it without wincing, but only just. If not for the very expensive custom-made stained-glass sign that had replaced a front window and the fact that her kids would object, Stephanie would have changed the name of the B&B in a heartbeat.
Her guest carried a leather duffle and a garment bag into the house. Her gaze moved between his expensive leather boots and her own mouse slippers with their tattered ears. When she finally headed upstairs to her own bed, she must remember not to look at herself in the mirror. Confirming her worst fears would cause her to shriek and wake the boys.
The man signed the registration card she'd left on the front desk and she took an imprint of his credit card. Once she'd received approval, she handed him an old-fashioned brass key.
"Your room is this way," she said, heading up the stairs.
She'd put him in the front bedroom. Not only was it large and comfortable, with a view of Glenwood, but it was one of only two guest rooms that weren't under her third-floor apartment. When she wasn't completely booked, she found it much easier to have guests stay there than to constantly keep at her kids to stay quiet. Being loud and being a boy seemed to go hand-in-hand.
Five minutes later she'd explained the amenities of the room, said she would be serving breakfast from seven-thirty to nine and asked him if he would like her to leave a newspaper outside his door in the morning.
He refused the paper.
She nodded and headed for the hallway.
She turned back to look at him. "Stephanie, please."
He nodded. "Do you have a map of the area? I'm here to visit some people and I don't know my way around."
"Sure. Downstairs. I'll put one out for you at breakfast."
He offered her a slight smile, one that didn't touch his eyes. It was late and she was so tired that her eyelashes hurt. But instead of leaving that second, she hesitated. Oh, not more than a heartbeat, but just long enough to notice that the overhead light brought out brownish highlights in his close-cropped black hair and that the hint of dark stubble on his square jaw made him look just a little bit dangerous.
Yeah, right, Stephanie thought as she turned away. Apparently she'd moved into the hallucination stage of sleep deprivation. Dangerous men didn't come to places like Glenwood. No doubt Nash Harmon was something completely harmless like a shoe salesman or a professor. Besides, what he did for a living was none of her business. As long as his credit-card company put the right amount of money into her bank account, she didn't care if her guest was a computer programmer or a pirate.
As for him being somewhat good-looking and possibly single - there hadn't been a wedding ring on his left hand - she couldn't care less. While her friends occasionally got on her case for not being willing to jump back into the man-infested dating pool, Stephanie ignored their well-meant intentions. She'd already been married once, thank you very much. Nine years as Marty's wife had taught her that while Marty looked like a grown-up on the outside, he'd been as irresponsible and self-absorbed as any ten-year-old on the inside. She would have gotten more cooperation and teamwork from a dog.
Marty had cured her of ever wanting another man around. While on occasion she would admit to getting lonely, and yes, the sex was tough to live without, it beat the alternative. She already had three kids to worry about. Getting involved with a man would be like adding a fourth child to the mix. She didn't think her nerves could stand it.
* * *
Despite his late night, Nash woke shortly after six the following morning. He glanced at the clock and compared it to his watch, which was still on Central Time. Then he rolled onto his back and stared at the ivory ceiling.
What the hell was he doing here?
Dumb question, he told himself. He already knew the answer. He was in a town he'd never heard of until a couple of weeks ago, to meet family he hadn't known he had. No. That wasn't completely true. He was in town because he'd been forced to take some vacation and he hadn't had anywhere else to go. If he'd tried laying low in Chicago, Kevin, his twin and already camped out at Glenwood, would have been on the next plane east.
Nash sat up and pushed back the covers. Without the routine of work, his day stretched endlessly in front of him. Had he really gotten so lost in the job that he didn't have anything else in his life?
Dumb question number two.
He knew he was going to have to get in touch with Kevin sometime that morning and set up a meeting. After thirty-one years of knowing nothing about their biological father save the fact that he'd gotten a seventeen-year-old virgin pregnant with twins and then abandoned her, he and Kevin were about to meet up with half siblings they'd never known they had.
Excerpted from One In A Million by Susan Mallery Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.