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In her youth, Molly Anderson couldn't help crushing on gorgeous bad boy Dylan Black—even though he had eyes only for her older sister. When things didn't work out between them, he said goodbye to Molly as well, vowing they'd have a great adventure when she grew up. Years later, dumped by her fiancé just before Christmas, she's finally ready to take Dylan up on his promise.
When Molly waltzes back into Dylan’s life—grown-up and gorgeous—he's stunned. So why not whisk her away for some no-strings-attached fun?
Laughter-filled days and late-night kisses are changing Molly's life, for good. The only gift she truly wants now is Dylan's love, but when he discovers the secret she's been keeping, she may lose him again…this time forever.
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The Christmas Wedding Ring
By Susan Mallery
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All rights reserved.
"It's easier in the movies," Molly said as she leaned against the door frame and surveyed the mess that was her bedroom. In the movies or on television, when a character decided to escape from her life by packing up and leaving everything behind, there was an upswell of music, then the scene changed and she was on the road, or the plane or whatever. In real life, someone had to do the packing.
"As no one else seems to be volunteering, I guess that someone is me," Molly murmured.
She looked at the open suitcase on her bed, at the piles of clothing scattered around. There was a notepad on her dresser that listed the things she had to do before she could go. Stop the paper and the mail, check that her bills were paid. At least she didn't have a pet to worry about.
There was also the small issue of deciding where she wanted to go. Running away would be easier if she had a destination in mind. But right now, all she wanted was to get away—to leave and never come back. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option.
She crossed to the bed and picked up a sweater. It was early December in Southern California, which meant warm, sunny days and cool nights. She tossed the sweater into the suitcase. Jeans were necessary, but did she need a dress? A dress or even a skirt and blouse meant uncomfortable shoes, which were more than she wanted to deal with. Then there was the whole issue of the right purse and—
Molly swore under her breath. "None of this is important," she told herself. "Just go." She could feel the tears forming, tears that she'd promised herself she wouldn't be crying again. It wasn't supposed to keep hurting, but it did. If only she could forget. If only there were something she could do to fall asleep for the next couple of weeks until everything had been resolved.
She shook her head. It was going to take more than two weeks, she reminded herself. It could take months. So a year from now she would be fine, right?
She didn't have the answer. No one did. She sucked in a deep breath. She was strong and tough and she wasn't going to let the situation get her down. After squaring her shoulders, she crossed to her dresser and tugged out her lingerie drawer. She then returned to the bed and dumped the entire contents into her suitcase. If she couldn't decide what to take, she would take everything. That made life simpler.
She dropped the empty drawer onto the carpet and began quickly sorting through panties and bras. As she picked up a plain cotton sports bra, one of several she'd purchased recently, something caught her eye. A glint of light ... a flash.
Molly fished around in the tangle of elastic and lace. As she pushed aside garments, the small object fell into a corner of the suitcase. She grabbed it and pulled it out.
For the first time in ten days, Molly smiled. She rubbed her thumb over the gold ring. Dylan's ring—the one he'd meant for her sister but had instead given her. It had been forever. Years. She sank onto the mattress. Whatever had happened to him? He'd ridden out of her life and disappeared, just like one of those western heroes she loved in the movies. Only instead of a trusty horse, Dylan had been astride his motorcycle.
That Christmas had been the loneliest of her life. Janet had been away on her honeymoon, leaving Molly alone with their parents, who had always been distant at best. She'd told Dylan that no one should be alone at Christmas, but she learned that year that you could be painfully lonely even when you weren't by yourself.
She wondered where he was today. Did he still possess the same magic? There was a time when being close to Dylan had been enough to make her world right. She'd thought he was the most handsome, perfect male on the planet. She remembered how unattractive she'd been then, with her bad skin and braces, and winced. But Dylan had always had time for her. He'd made her feel special, and she would never forget him.
She slid the ring onto the third finger of her right hand. No doubt he was still breaking hearts at an alarming rate. Or maybe he'd grown up, like the rest of them, and was just some middle-aged guy with a wife, two kids and a mortgage. She tried to picture him driving a sensible sedan, but her imagination failed her. In her mind, Dylan would always be young and handsome, a dangerous rebel in black leather and boots.
Leaving the ring in place on her finger, she returned to her packing. She was folding a sensible long-sleeved cotton shirt when the phone rang. She knew who it was before she answered.
"I'm fine," she said as she picked up the receiver and cradled it between her shoulder and her neck.
"I could have been a salesperson," Janet said. "Then you would have felt really foolish."
"Nope, there was a definite 'Janet' sound to the ring. I knew it was you." She tossed the shirt into the suitcase, then sank onto the floor. "Seriously, I'm fine."
Janet sighed. The sound carried clearly down the length of the state. Janet and her husband, Thomas, lived in northern California, in Mill Valley, near San Francisco. "I don't believe you, Molly. And I'm worried. I know you tell me not to be, but I can't help it. You're my sister and I love you."
Molly pulled her knees to her chest. "I appreciate that and I love you, too. I couldn't have gotten through this without you. But you've gotta trust me. I'm doing okay." It was a small lie that shouldn't count at all.
"I considered coming down and spending a week or so with you. Until ... you know."
Molly thought about Janet staying in her small condo and fussing over her. Actually, the idea had merit. She and her sister hadn't gotten along while they were growing up—a situation, they'd come to realize, that had been encouraged by their mother. But once Janet had married and moved away, the sisters had discovered they had more in common than they'd first thought and over the past ten years or so they'd developed a close, loving bond.
"As appealing as that sounds," Molly said, "you've got three kids and I know my nieces would never forgive me if I took their mom away from them, especially over the holidays. And to be completely honest, you miss Thomas when you're not with him. By day three, you're a whining mass of helpless jelly. You'd get on my nerves."
Molly said it lightly, partially because it was true and partially because she was afraid she and Janet would do nothing but cry for the week. She needed a distraction more than she needed sympathy.
"Besides," she added, "I'm going away."
"You're right about the girls missing me, and how I get when I'm not with Thomas. Getting away is a good idea. Come see us. You know we'd love to have you. We missed you over Thanksgiving."
"I want to," Molly said slowly. Oh, how she wanted to. Her sister and brother-in-law would pamper her, and the girls would help her forget. Family was healing. But ... "I need a complete change of scene. I haven't decided where I'm going, but I'll let you know when I get there."
"I don't know whether I should push you into coming here or let you do what you want."
"You bossed me around enough when we were kids, so I think you should give me a break now. Besides, I'll be there for your anniversary and for Christmas, like always. I just need to get away for a couple weeks first."
Janet sighed again. "Fair enough. I'll trust you to know what's best. I'm just so frustrated. I want to do something."
"Tell me about it." Molly tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. As she brought her hand down, she noticed the ring on her finger. "Janet, do you remember Dylan Black?"
Her sister laughed. "There's a change in subject. Of course. He's the bad boy from my past. Dark and dangerous and so completely wrong for me. Thank goodness Thomas came along and rescued me from myself. I haven't thought of him in years. Why do you ask?"
"When I was packing, I found the ring he gave me. The wedding ring he bought you. I still have it, and finding it made me think of him."
"Let me see. He was at the ten-year high school reunion, although that was nearly five years ago. He has a custom motorcycle design firm in Riverside. Black something, I can't remember. The rumors were, he was doing well for himself."
"Interesting," Molly said, and changed the subject. They talked for a few more minutes, then Molly again promised she would think seriously about joining Janet and her family up north. If she didn't do that, she would at least let them know where she was going to be.
After the phone call, it took her another half hour to finish packing. Then Molly moved the suitcase into the living room, sat on her sofa and stared at the bag. Now what? Where did she go? She wanted to escape from her life for a week or two, to be in a place where she could forget what had happened, while trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her future.
A cruise? A train trip to New York? Maybe she could go to Acapulco and stay drunk for a week. Of course, one margarita made her silly, while two knocked her on her butt for the rest of the evening, so staying drunk would be virtually impossible. She needed a plan.
Her gaze fell on the ring. She turned her hand to make the gold glimmer. Even after all this time, she could still remember the thrill of that moment, when Dylan had given her the ring. Of course, he hadn't meant it as a romantic gesture at all. It had been his way of letting her know that he hadn't forgotten his promise to her. That one day when she was grown up, the two of them would take off on an adventure. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
As Molly stared at the ring, an idea took hold. It was silly and foolish. She would be completely insane if she did it. After all, it had been years. He wouldn't even remember her, would he?
She rose to her feet. "It's a start," she whispered to herself. "A place to go in the morning." And she needed that more than anything. The rest of it didn't matter.
She would do this one crazy thing and visit Dylan Black, then she would go on from there. At least going to see him would give her journey a beginning. Maybe after that, she would head up north to stay with her sister. It didn't matter. All that she wanted was to run away so she could finally forget.
Dylan Black slammed down the phone and glared at it.
Evie, his assistant, raised her dark eyebrows.
"Destroying the office equipment doesn't seem overly productive to me, but then, I'm just the hired help."
Dylan leaned back in his chair. "Tell me about it." He looked at her. "They're making the deal too hard to resist. I can't decide if I'm moving forward or selling my soul to the devil."
"If they're the devil, his prices have gone up. Most people I know would sell their souls for a lot less than several million dollars."
Dylan had to agree. But then, many people put much too low a price on their souls. He wasn't stupid. He knew exactly why they were tempting him—they wanted what he had. For them, this was a win-win situation. But what was it for him?
Evie shook her head. "You've got that pensive look about you. I hate it when you get like that, so I'm going to head back to the front office. If you need anything, buzz me."
"I will, thanks."
She closed the door behind her.
Dylan turned his chair until he was staring out the window. The rugged, dry wilderness of the California desert stretched out behind the one-story complex. His critics said that establishing his custom motorcycle design firm, Black Lightning, out in the middle of Riverside had been a huge mistake. But the land had been cheap, there was a good labor pool and Dylan had wanted plenty of open space around him. It got hot as hell in the summer and he was nearly two hours from the Los Angeles International Airport, but all that was a small price to pay for autonomy. He'd poured everything he had into the company. In less than five years, he'd proved his critics wrong. Now he was touted as a visionary in the industry—the magician who set the trends. So why was he thinking of selling out?
Excerpted from The Christmas Wedding Ring by Susan Mallery. Copyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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