David’s suggestion that they elope, which had seemed so sensitive and romantic at the time of its offering, had saved her from being subjected to yet more sympathetic looks and exclamations of “Not again!” Kanata was a small town and people had long memories.
Though, of course, David’s secretiveness had garnered him precisely what he’d wanted…he would still be a groom, only the louse would be married to his old flame Susan, who’d driven up from Toronto to stop him from marrying her.
Hope had no idea how Susan had learned of their plans, but she’d made quite a dramatic scene, rushing into the quaint stone chapel wearing a sleeveless, silver-blue frothy confection and glittering silver sandals that put Hope’s demure and practical blush-pink suit and white pumps to shame. Susan’s Cinderella-gold mane had flowed gracefully onto her tanned shoulders, her bottle-green eyes liquid with tears as she’d professed her undying love for David and pleaded with him to marry her instead.
Hope had let them have each other and counted herself lucky she hadn’t wasted another thousand dollars on a fancy wedding dress for a ceremony that would never be performed. At least, she’d been able to wear her wedding dress this time.
Figuring she’d indulged in enough self-pity, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and felt along the wall for the light switch. She blinked as the soft hazy pools cast by the table lamps brightened the redbrick Victorian farmhouse’s cheery front parlor. The lace curtains, the wide varnished pine floorboards, the rose-patterned wool area rug, the plump cushions lining the blue chintz sofa and the photographs cluttering the walls, soothed the hollow ache in her heart with their homeyness. The truth was, she had everything she needed: her health, a home, a successful business and children in her life…even if they weren’t her children.
Besides, she was beginning to think husbands were more trouble than they were worth.
Hope kicked off the white pumps, burrowed into a corner of the sofa and covered herself with a rainbow-hued afghan she’d made several frigid winters ago. It had the sweet nostalgic scent of the children who played with it day in and day out, used it for a blanket, a tent or a king’s robe. Hope’s jaw ached as she clamped back on a fresh crop of tears stinging her eyes.
Maybe somebody up there was trying to tell her something…. Her thirtieth birthday was a dim memory. Her younger sisters Grace, Faith, Charity and Patience were all married and had children—some of them teenagers. And her best friend Marie Elizabeth, who’d divorced her first husband, was happily ensconced in her second marriage and busy blending two families together.
The telling silence of the empty house she and Matthew had bought forced Hope to acknowledge painfully that she was a crummy judge of male character. She’d have been much better off if she’d turned down David’s dinner invitation when they’d been introduced to each other by a mutual friend at a coffee shop, and hadn’t let herself be swayed by the boxes of raspberry jelly donuts he’d leave on her porch. But he’d seemed so perfect—a stable and dependable accountant who shared her family values.
However, there was plenty of contentment to be found in the fact she was a wonderful aunt, sister, daughter and friend, and made a valuable contribution in the nurturing of all the children who passed through the doors of Home Away from Home, her day- and night-care center. She could buy her own jelly doughnuts.
An early spring wind sighed heavily in the eaves, the rafters cracking and groaning as if agreeing with her decision. The throaty purr of a motor turning in the drive and the pinging of gravel crunching beneath tires mingled with the sound of the wind. Hope saw a twin beacon of headlights swing across the front window for an instant.
Her pulse pounded through the veins in her wrist as she lifted the lace panel and peered out into the night, hoping David hadn’t followed her. Another dramatic scene she did not need.
She briefly considered turning off the lights and refusing to answer the door, but that would make her a coward. David was an adult. He had the right to choose whom he wished to marry. She just didn’t want to hear any explanations that were supposed to make her feel better—and ease his guilt!
The yard security lights flashed on as the car drew to a halt, illuminating the driveway and the rain-withered, misshapen snowmen rising like ghostly creatures from the snowdrifts still covering her front lawn. Winter hadn’t completely released her grip on the land.
A figure emerged from the driver’s side. A man. But he seemed taller and more imposing than David, his shoulders seeming to take on superhuman proportions. Or perhaps that was her imagination? No, it wasn’t David. This man had a thick, full head of black hair that gleamed with a bluish sheen beneath the light. He wasn’t one of the fathers or stepfathers of her routine charges either. But something about him seemed vaguely familiar.
His every footstep rattled the wet loose gravel until he hit the red-brick path that wound up to the house, then he moved soundlessly, almost stealthily, pausing with obvious uncertainty on the rim of the sagging porch as if he weren’t sure he’d found the right address. But an enormous colorful placard in the shape of a house, with children playfully peeping out of windows, was impossible to miss at the end of the driveway. Was he just someone asking for directions?
She saw him look back over his shoulder toward the white sport utility vehicle. Unease slithered down the bones of her spine. Hope dropped the curtain and clambered off the sofa, not for the first time wishing she had a dog—something big with an intimidating growl. But a lot of toddlers were scared of dogs, and she didn’t want any child under her roof to feel anything but happy and safe. Besides, she’d developed a mother’s fine sense of hearing and wakened immediately at the slightest sound.
Telling herself she was being ridiculous, Hope quickly and silently moved to the kitchen and grabbed her cordless phone off the end of the counter as the man’s knuckles thumped against the screen door. Whoever he was, at least he’d obeyed the instructions on the card posted over the doorbell requesting people not to ring the bell as children could be sleeping.
“Just a minute,” she called softly. None too gently, she wrestled her suitcase into the crowded hall closet, then engaged the security latch at the top of the door which prevented her young charges from sneaking out to climb the old apple tree the moment her back was turned.
She flicked the porch light on. Phone clasped firmly in her damp hand and her finger poised to dial at the first sign of trouble, she eased open the door. The bolt slid along the latch and caught, granting her a six-inch crack through which she could speak without appearing rude.
She had an unfettered view of a chest that rose and expanded like a rough-hewn peak to the jagged thrust of a granite jaw and lean cheeks. Slate-gray eyes, glinting with uncertainty down the blade of a sharp, chiseled nose, impaled her. Disbelief slapped her in the face.
Hope dropped the phone, oblivious to the clattering it made as it hit the floor. She must be dreaming. The man in black jeans and the black anorak zipped up to his chin had to be a figment of her imagination. “Quinn?”
He dug his fingers into his hair, sweeping it back from his broad forehead. His words were low and strained. “I’m sorry to barge in on you like this unannounced. But I need you. It’s an emergency.”
He needed her? Surely this was a joke. No, a nightmare. Any moment now she’d wake up with a start on her couch, but Hope didn’t want to wake up. Quinn was gazing at her with the same hungry intensity he’d looked at her with ten years ago; as if he were devising a plan to sweep her off to a secluded spot where he would СКАЧАТЬ