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Caprice was equally determined not to fall for Gabe.She’d come hoping to discover the truth about herfather’s past. Yet she found Gabe and his little girl,Willow, irresistible. If only she could convinceGabe to trust in love once more
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Forever Wife and Mother
By Grace Green
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Grace Green
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy had he lied to her?
Caprice Kincaid stood at the study window, tears misting her eyes as she watched three black limos sweep the last lingering mourners from Lockhart House. Never had she felt so lost, so alone ... so bewildered. She had trusted her father all her life; it pained her heart now to know he had deceived her.
She desperately wanted to ask him why ... but it was too late. He was gone. Forever gone. And she was left to wonder what deep dark secret he had been hiding -
"Excuse me, Mrs. Kincaid."
Blinking back her tears, she turned to see her father's lawyer, Michael Duggan, in the doorway.
"Michael." With a pale smile, she waved the bearded, heavyset man forward. "Thanks for waiting." The heels of her black pumps spiked into the plush bronze carpet as she crossed to her father's rosewood desk.
"You said you had something to show me."
Caprice slid open the desk's top drawer - the drawer she'd unlocked for the first time last night, with the tiny key she'd found in her father's wallet. Her fingers shook as she withdrew the sheet of age-yellowed paper - but she steadied them and quickly closed the drawer as the lawyer walked over to join her.
"As I told you the other day," he offered in a reassuring tone, "your father's will is straightforward. He has left all his assets to you, as his only surviving relative. You are now one very wealthy young lady...."
Caprice handed him the paper. "This is my father's birth certificate." A swath of her long ash-blond hair slid over her cheek; abstractedly she looped it behind her ear. "Dad always led me to believe he'd been born in New York. Why would he have lied to me?"
The lawyer frowned. "According to this, he was born in Washington State. That is a surprise!"
"To you, too?"
"Well, yeah ... I had the impression he was born in New York. I know that's where he met your mother - and I know they moved here to Chicago before you were born. But this place in Washington State ... Hidden Valley. Your father owns some riverside property there - yours now, of course."
"What kind of property?"
"A log house. Modest place, with a bit of acreage."
"But his investments were all in apartment buildings, weren't they?"
"Except for this house. Holly Cottage."
"Is it rented out?"
"Not at the moment, but over the past more than twenty years your father donated it for the summer months to a Seattle charity group called Break Away. They used it as a retreat for women who for one reason or another badly needed a holiday - a break - from problems in their lives."
"I had no idea...."
"After his second heart attack last fall, your father indicated to Break Away that Holly Cottage would no longer be available to them. He was planning to sell all his holdings - and he did divest himself of all the apartment buildings - but he never got around to putting the log house up for sale. Something seemed to be holding him back." He returned the birth certificate to Caprice. "I don't know what it was."
"I should like to find out."
"I'll make inquiries -"
"Thank you, Michael, but this is something I want to do myself. I'll come into the office on Monday to attend to the paperwork we discussed, and next day I'll fly out to Seattle. I've looked up Hidden Valley on the map - it's a couple of hours' drive from the city. I'll rent a car at the airport."
"You'll stay at Holly Cottage?"
"It'll be habitable?"
"Oh, sure, a caretaker looks after it."
"Then yes, I'll stay there."
"For how long?"
"For as long as it takes." Caprice's ebony silk blouse clung to her ribs as she drew in a deep breath. "Can you get me a key?"
"No problem. Come to think of it," the lawyer added as he prepared to leave, "it may not be a bad idea for you to take off for a while, have a vacation in the country. You've been under a lot of pressure over the past couple of years with your dad's failing health...."
Caprice waited till after Michael Duggan had gone before she opened the drawer again and withdrew the only other item she had found there: a photograph.
The snap was of a modest two-story log house, with a very lovely brunette posed at the front door.
On the back of the snap was written, in her father's strong familiar hand, just one word. Angela.
Caprice felt her heart twist as she looked at it. Her mother's name had been Kristin.
Who was she, this dark stranger who had been part of her father's past? And why had he never talked about her?
It was a mystery.
And one she was determined to solve.
"Will! Will! Dammit, where is that girl?"
Willow Ryland woke with a start. Her father's voice, faint though it was, had penetrated her dreams. Oh, cripes, she thought frantically as she scrambled off the rocking chair where she'd dozed off, I'm in big trouble if he finds me up here!
She whipped off all the jewelry she'd bedecked herself with earlier - the silver charm bracelet, the ropes of pink pearls, the blue earrings, the gold brooch that spelled out Angela - and tucked them away swiftly in the bottom of the old trunk, under the silk dresses and scarves and straw hats and wonderfully shiny highheeled sandals, before lowering the lid carefully so as not to make any noise.
"Will! Where are you and that damned dog?"
At the word dog, Fang stirred and gave a protesting growl. He'd been dozing, too, his squat little body stretched out on the planked floor in a beam of April sunshine that slanted through the attic skylight.
"Hush!" Willow hissed as she clambered onto the rickety table that sat below the skylight. Raising herself on her toes, she peered out. And - oh, cripes! - there he was, striding around the car park, looking every which way. For her. Then all at once he turned on his heel and strode toward the lodge. His face, she noticed, was set in a dark scowl.
"Oh, hell!" The bad word popped out before she could stop it. She'd have to say an extra prayer that night. "Fang, let's get out of here!"
The black and white mongrel's claws clicked as he scurried across the floor and then lolloped down the narrow winding stairs that led to the third floor. Willow climbed down after him backward, rolling her eyes as the dog lost his footing and his roly-poly body landed with a fat thud against the door at the bottom of the steps.
Cautiously, she opened the door a crack. She heard nothing. She crept out, with Fang rudely pushing ahead, and closed the door again. She turned the key in the lock, and biting her lip, planted the key where she'd first found it a year ago, in the shadowy cranny of a glassdoored bookcase, across from one of the guest bedrooms.
Then - heart thumping like mad - she sped to the passage and the landing.
Fang was already halfway down to the second floor. And when she caught up with him, she gulped at the sight of her father in the foyer. He was scratching a hand through his wavy black hair and muttering to himself.
"Dad!" she called. "Hi!"
He raised his head sharply, and she saw relief flood his eyes before sparks of irritation sent it flying.
"Where the hell have you been?" he asked. "I've been looking everywhere for -"
"Dad." She used the same tone Miss Atkinson had used last week when the teacher had sent her to the principal's office for wrestling with her best friend Mark at recess. "You're not allowed to say hell. Remember?"
She saw his lips twitch. "Right. Sorry, Will. I'll try to do better."
Excerpted from Forever Wife and Mother by Grace Green Copyright © 2003 by Grace Green
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.