Swinging golf pro meets icy blond Connecticut country-club widow. Fore!
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Nancy Weber’s diverse body of fiction includes The Playgroup , a psychological suspense novel with a medical twist; the slipstream novel Brokenhearted ; the metafiction Ad Parnassum ; the young adult mini-series Two Turtledoves; and eight romances written under her pseudonym, Jennifer Rose. Her nonfiction book The Life Swap , published in the seventies, recounts her experience exchanging lives—trading habits and jobs and even lovers—with a stranger. Weber has written for the stage as well, adapting the lyrics for the American version of composer Alexander Zhurbin’s Seagull: The Musical. Weber earned a toque blanche at the French Culinary Institute and ran a catering business, Between Books She Cooks, for a decade. She plays chess, badly, and drinks Irish whiskey.
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By Jennifer Rose
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Jennifer Rose
All rights reserved.
The tall, rugged-looking man on the practice tee took a bright-orange golf ball out of a canvas bag, teed it up, gripped his driver, and settled into a wide stance. Broad shoulders moved fluidly in a ninety-degree turn as he drew his club back and up, bracing against his right leg at the top of his backswing.
Laurel Campion shook her blond head in disbelief as she watched the man from her vantage point on the grassy rise between the clubhouse and the practice tee. She'd been taught that a golfer's swing was as individual as a thumbprint, but there, in front of her eyes, a perfect stranger was wielding his club exactly as she'd seen Reed Campion wield his club hundreds of times. Her slender body arched knowingly as the stranger connected with the ball, sending it streaking across the placid blue of the Connecticut early-morning summer sky, before he brought his driver around and up over his left shoulder — in a startling replica of Reed Campion's high finish.
Who is he? How dare he? Indignant questions flashed across Laurel's mind as she watched the stranger take another practice ball out of his bag and tee it up. Even the way he bent deeply at the knee when he teed up — as if he were about to dance the limbo — painfully reminded her of Reed.
Trying to break the stranger's mesmerizing hold on her, Laurel quickly forced herself to catalog the differences between the two men. Reed's hair had been silvery and sleekly cut; the stranger's hair was the color of a warm beach and grazed his collar. Reed had been six feet tall and slim, with an elegant build like Fred Astaire; the stranger was two inches taller and — a word springing unbidden to Laurel's mind — flagrantly muscular. Now that she was actively taking the man's measure, nearly everything about him struck her as flagrant — from the new orange golf balls, which Reed would have spurned in favor of traditional white, to a swaggering air of self-confidence that wafted toward Laurel on the morning breeze. Even his faded jeans seemed a loud announcement, the sort of proclamation made by club members' teenage children who wanted to flaunt their rebelliousness at the same time that they happily charged the latest stainless-steel putters to their parents' accounts.
The stranger was no teenager, though. He looked to be in his late thirties, three or four years older than Laurel ... and years younger than she'd ever known Reed, except in photos. Was he a new club member, Laurel wondered, as her cool blue eyes took in both the canvas bag of balls at the man's feet and the caddy out on the practice fairway, shagging the balls as they landed near the three-hundred-yard marker. A member would have been hitting old balls from one of the pro shop's wire buckets. The sandy-haired man could only be one of the touring pros who would be playing in the Southern New England Classic, scheduled to start in two hours.
Laurel's heart quickened. As the women's champion of Falling Water Country Club, she'd agreed to play in the pro-amateur eighteen-hole best-ball round that would precede the three days of fiercely competitive professional play. She'd worked on her game that winter in Boca Raton, Florida, with Ronnie Pulane, her favorite teaching pro, and she'd brushed up on her putting these last two weeks with Buzz Newfield, the venerable Falling Water pro. She'd been confident of doing herself and the club proud — until she'd seen the disturbing stranger on the practice tee whose swing hauntingly evoked her dead husband and chipped away at her famous control.
If only Reed could come back to life and be there with her! He would be so pleased that Falling Water was host, for the first time, to a Professional Golf Association Tour event. He would have fought at Laurel's side against the club diehards, including Reed's own brother, Evan, and sister-in-law, Sara, who'd bitterly opposed the coming of the Classic on the theory that it would bring a certain "element" onto the sacred club grounds. And how excited Reed would be that Laurel was playing in the pro-am round, the only woman in the field. It had been Reed who had first put a golf club in Laurel's hands, declared that she was a natural, and insisted that she take lessons to make the most of her gift.
Suddenly Laurel panicked. Without Reed to cheer her on, would she be able to play even a semblance of her best game? She had horrible visions of dribbling the ball off the first tee as the onlookers blushed in embarrassment for her ... landing in the fiendish sand trap on the third hole and in the famous water on the twelfth ... four-putting the eighteenth green as the sportscaster from the Hartford televison station narrated her agony. Damn the stranger on the practice tee for destroying her equilibrium!
"Laurel, my darling, you look as though you've seen a ghost," a throaty voice said in a wry drawl.
Laurel turned in relief as Elsie Howard hailed her. The tall, lithe, fair Laurel and the rounder, dark-haired Elsie were known around Falling Water as the Bobbsey Twins, because neither their physical dissimilarity nor the fourteen-point difference in their handicaps stood in the way of sisterly closeness. "Oh, Elsie, I think I have seen a ghost." Laurel pointed toward the muscular sandy-haired stranger. "Is that a reincarnation of Reed's swing, or is it?"
Elsie watched the stranger belt the ball down the practice fairway, then waved her hand dismissively. "Good grief," she said, borrowing, as she often did, from her eight-year-old twins' vocabulary. "You're just worked up because of the tournament. Let's go down and hit off a bucket. You'll feel much better."
"I can't go to the practice tee as long as he's there," Laurel wailed.
"You're not going to tell me you got me up at the crack of dawn just to talk! I've got to get into that skinny little nothing dress Pete bought me in London — in about ten hours," Elsie added, consulting her watch. "I need some exercise. And you need to unwind. Come on."
Laurel stubbornly stood her ground. "The whole idea of getting here so early was because I thought we'd have the practice tee to ourselves."
"Laurel, what's the matter with you? You're not really jittery, are you? When I think of you sinking that thirty-foot putt on the eighteenth during the Connecticut Women's Amateur, in front of that huge gallery, and the awful heat —" A breeze riffled through Elsie's dark hair, and she brushed back her thick bangs. "You can do anything, and you know it. Just remember — Campion rhymes with champion. And you look gorgeous, by the way, which never hurts. Love that blue skirt and hair band. No wind is going to get underneath that hair band. Next to you, Princess Grace looks messy."
"Thanks — I think," Laurel said. Elsie was always telling her that she should "unbend" her looks — wear shorts to show off her long slim legs, wear her shoulder-length blond hair in a fashionable tangle instead of the pageboy she favored. But Reed had liked classic looks, and Laurel still used his standards as her guide. "I just wish Reed were here," she said mournfully.
"Of course you do, darling. But he's not, and there's nothing you can do about it, and the last thing he'd want would be for you to stand around playing the weepy widow. If you want to honor Reed Campion, you'll get out there today and hit the hooey out of that ball."
Laurel burst into laughter. "Hit the hooey out of it?"
"All right, the hell out of it," she chuckled. "For the Gipper and all that. Now, are we going to hit off a bucket or stand here forever?"
Below them on the practice tee the sandy-haired stranger put his driver back into his bag and took out an iron.
"Pretty determined, whoever he is," Elsie said, as the two women started down the grassy rise. "He must be one of the rabbits — you know, one of the newcomers on the PGA tour."
Laurel didn't respond. She knew they would have to pass by the practice tee to get to the pro shop, and for no reason that she could fathom, the thought of being near the stranger filled her with a tension not unlike the oddly exciting fear she sometimes experienced when she was driving her Mercedes convertible alone at night over deserted country roads.
She directed her thoughts to the rolling green lushness of her surroundings. Her husband had liked to say that women looked best in the evening, but golf courses looked best in the morning, and she shared the sentiment. The dew was still sparkling on the manicured reaches of the first fairway, off to her right. The darker grass of the first green was hidden around a dogleg turn, but she could see it in her mind's eye, could almost feel its cushiony planes beneath her cleated white shoes. At this early point in the day, even the sand traps looked good — neatly raked, and unmarred by careless footprints. Her anxiety forgotten, Laurel felt hopeful anticipation now, as she thought about sending a ball down the first fairway. Playing golf on your home course was like making love within a great marriage — always new. She had her reservations about the Falling Water Country Club and country-club life in general, but she adored the course itself — as she'd adored the husband she'd lost two years earlier when he was fifty, after too brief a marriage.
Laurel steeled herself as she and Elsie neared the practice tee. She was close enough to the stranger to see the weathered cast to his complexion, the dramatic eyebrows glinting red in the sunlight, and a jaw that all but vibrated with determination. Hardly a conventionally handsome face, yet an indisputably arresting one — the face of an outlaw-turned-hero in a western movie, or maybe a hero-turned-outlaw. Laurel felt an urgent need to move out of their shared space before she found out which one he was, but he looked up at the two women, seemed about to dismiss them from his mind, then unaccountably locked eyes with Laurel, virtually pinioning her with his gaze. Laurel sensed her shoulders, her elbows, the backs of her knees growing hot; her whole body was suddenly patchy with heat. His lips curled in a sneer and the man widened his hazel eyes, making Laurel feel as though her very soul were being X-rayed. Abruptly he gave a knowing little nod and turned his attention back to the five iron in his hand. Gasping, stumbling, Laurel moved on.
"Laurel?" Elsie said, concern bringing her voice several notches above its usual throaty alto.
"Did you see the way that man looked at me? You did, didn't you?" Laurel's own cool voice was tremulous. "Don't try telling me I'm just having tournament jitters. If that wasn't the very definition of undressing someone with your eyes, I don't know what is!"
"Are you talking about the way he looked at you or the way you looked at him, darling?" Elsie asked.
"What?" Laurel stopped dead still. Her heart felt as if it were trying to escape through her chest wall.
"Don't give me 'what,' darling. That man attracted the hooey out of you. Sorry — the hell out of you, and it's about time somebody did. You haven't looked this animated in two years." Then she added, "Don't quote me to Pete, but I wish the man had done a little of that eye work on me. Devilishly appealing."
"Elsie, don't be absurd. You know what touring pros are like. Low scorers on the course, big scorers off. Oh, I wish I'd never agreed to play in this damn event."
Several high-school boys who caddied during the summer came out of the pro shop and waved at Laurel and Elsie.
"Good luck, Mrs. Campion," a thin, dark-haired boy said.
"Thanks, Donald." She almost added that she wished he were carrying her bag that day, but she didn't want to be disloyal to her stepson, Dean, who'd asked to caddy for her so he could be a part of the excitement of the Classic. Considering Dean's behavior so far that summer, Laurel was less than certain that he'd manage to peel himself out of bed to get to the first tee for her nine- fifty starting time. And, like the infuriating man at the practice tee, Dean would no doubt manage to produce his grubbiest jeans to thumb his nose at the grandees of Falling Water. Laurel noted approvingly that Donald was wearing immaculate, pressed khakis and a brand-new striped two-button shirt, and complimented him on his appearance.
"Gee, thanks, Mrs. Campion," he said. "Not like your rabbit, right? But if I could hit a ball like that, I guess I wouldn't care what I wore, either."
"My rabbit?" Laurel echoed. Her foursome for the pro-am round included an unknown Toronto pro named Doug Stewart, and two Falling Water duffers who were on the board of directors of Inner City Youth, the local charity that would receive the profits from the Southern New England Classic. Even as she asked the question, she steadied herself for the inevitable answer.
"Sure," Donald said. "Didn't you know that was Doug Stewart down there on the practice tee? I bet you're really looking forward to going eighteen holes with him!"CHAPTER 2
Lingering in the pro shop to buy a new package of golf balls and to chat with club pro Buzz Newfield, Laurel managed to use up nearly half an hour before she and Elsie got back to the practice tee. To Laurel's relief, the maddening Doug Stewart had vanished. But as she teed up a ball she realized he might as well have still been there, so strong was the impression he'd made on her. It wasn't his unconventional good looks or even the uncanny way his swing resembled Reed's that dominated her thoughts: what had gotten to her was his taking all of ten seconds to look her over, then broadcasting the unmistakable message "I've got your number." Little did he know, Laurel mused.
Orphaned at five when her parents died in an automobile accident, Laurel had grown up with her Aunt Bett and Uncle Jack and their children in Windsor, an historic but economically underpowered town to the north of Hartford, in Connecticut's Tobacco Valley. She'd been treated with kindness, but she'd always felt like an outsider, a flower transplanted into foreign soil, doomed to be regarded as a weed because its beauty wasn't recognized. She put herself through Farmingdale College, only fifteen miles to the west of Hartford, but in its moneyed, New England pristineness a thousand miles from Windsor, and she'd found herself odd woman out again. Instead of wondering what color Fiat she should demand for her eighteenth birthday, she was frantically worrying about how to carry two waitressing jobs, do all her course work, and occasionally sleep. By the time she'd gone to work as a financial analyst for Nutmeg State Life Insurance in Hartford, she'd almost believed in the image she'd defensively created for herself — that of a cool, even aloof, woman who never doubted her own judgment or surrendered control over a situation.
When she'd married Reed Campion, president of the insurance conglomerate, she'd believed she was signing on for a lifetime run in her invented role. Reed had found her ice-maiden persona endlessly exciting and had installed her in the perfect ice palace — an imposing white colonnaded early nineteenth- century house in Farmingdale, not far from the college where Laurel had once struggled to make ends meet. Because she had loved Reed and felt grateful to him, she had never disturbed his pleasure in her by forcing him to look beneath her surface and to see her molten core. Besides, the cool mask helped convince Reed's friends that the much-younger Laurel was their emotional contemporary ... and had convinced Laurel herself that she was a grown-up among grown-ups. Doug Stewart, however, had seen her molten core, her girlish heart. They hadn't exchanged so much as a word, yet his penetrating hazel eyes had bored through the protective layers of frost to the part of Laurel where fantasies ran rampant and sensuality knew no bounds, where playfulness mattered more than winning. He'd seen the real Laurel — or had he? As her blue eyes followed the trajectory of her practice ball, she wondered if years of role playing hadn't perhaps altered her very nature. Maybe the coolness was her reality now, the molten core a cherished illusion. Regardless of which Laurel was the real one, she knew for certain which Laurel she was comfortable being — and that was the unruffled persona she'd invented long ago and perfected over the course of time. Doug Stewart had to be regarded as an enemy, almost a blackmailer, someone who knew a dreadful secret about her which she had to keep concealed at any cost.
Excerpted from Twilight Embrace by Jennifer Rose. Copyright © 1982 Jennifer Rose. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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