Andrew has helped them so much—saving Hetta's life and finding them a new place to live. Elinor finds she still loves Andrew, but didn't she lose her right to his love years ago? Now single dad Andrew asks Elinor to live in his home, and become his housekeeper and childminder, almost like a pretend wife. Elinor agrees—for all their sakes—but can she ever be Mrs. Blake for real…?
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His Pretend Wife
By Lucy Gordon
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHE WOULD never have known her.
He would have known her anywhere.
Andrew caught only the briefest glimpse of the woman, at the far end of the hospital corridor, but it was enough to revive memory, as soft as a bird's wing fluttering past his face.
She looked nothing like Ellie, who'd been young and luscious as a ripe peach. This was a thin, pale woman, who looked as though life had thrown everything at her, and left her exhausted. Yet there was a hint of Ellie in the resolute set of her head and the angle of her jaw. The bird's wing fluttered again, and vanished.
He couldn't afford sentimentality. He was a busy man, second in command of the Heart Unit of Burdell Hospital. Ultimately he could only be satisfied with heading the team, but there was no shame in being second when the chief was Elmer Rylance, a man of international eminence. Soon he would retire and Andrew would step into his shoes.
He'd fast-tracked, giving everything to his work, allowing no distractions, as a broken marriage could testify. He was young for his position, although he didn't look it. His tall figure was still lean, his features handsome, and there was no grey in his dark hair, but his face had a gaunt look from too many hours spent in work, and not enough spent in living. And there was something about his eyes that spoke of an inner withering.
He had only time for a glimpse of the woman, enough to show that she was with a child, a little girl of about seven, on whom her eyes were fixed with an anguished possessiveness with which he was all too familiar. In this place he'd seen a thousand mothers look at their children like that. And usually his skill sent the two of them home happy. But not always. He turned swiftly into his office.
His secretary was there before him, the list of appointments ready waiting on his desk, along with the necessary files, the coffee being made, exactly as he liked it. She was the best. He only employed the best, just as he only bought the best.
The first patient on his list was seventeen, the age that Ellie had been. There the likeness ended. His patient was weary with illness. Ellie had been an earth nymph, vibrant with life, laughing her way through the world with the confidence of someone who knew she was blessed by the gods, and laughter would last for ever.
"Mr Blake?" Miss Hasting was eyeing him with concern.
He shook himself out of his reverie. "I'm sorry, did you speak?"
"I asked if you'd seen the test results. They're just here ..."
He grunted, annoyed with himself for the moment of inattention. That was a weakness, and he always concealed weakness. Miss Hasting was too well disciplined to notice. She was a perfectly functioning machine. Like himself.
Ellie's beauty had been wild and overflowing, making him think of wine and sun, freedom and splendour: all the good things of life that had been his for such a brief time.
He switched the thought off as easily as he would have switched off the light behind an X-ray. He had a heavy day ahead.
Besides, it hadn't been her.
"Time for me to start on my ward rounds," he told Miss Hasting briefly. "Make a call to ..." For five minutes he gave brisk instructions.
When he went out into the corridor again the woman was gone.
He was glad of that.
SHE would have known him anywhere, any time. Down the length of the corridor. Down the length of the years.
Years that had changed her from a flighty, blinkered young girl who'd thought the world danced to her merry tune, to a bitter, grieving woman who knew that the world was something you had to fight. And you could never, ever really win.
She'd been partly prepared, seeing his name on the hospital literature. Andrew Blake was a common name, and it might not have been him, but she knew at once that it was. Just two words on the page, yet they had brought before her the rangy young man, too tense, too thoughtful, a challenge to a girl who'd known any man could have been hers if she'd only snapped her fingers. So she'd snapped. And he'd been hers. And they'd both paid a bitter price.
She'd planned a glamorous, if ill-defined, career for herself. She would earn a fortune and live in a mansion. The reality was 'Comfy 'n' Cosy', a shabby boarding house in a down-at-heel part of London. The paint peeled, the smell of cabbage clung, and the only thing that was 'comfy' was the kindness of her landlady, Mrs Daisy Hentage.
Daisy was peering through the torn lace curtains when the cab drew up, and Elinor helped her daughter onto the pavement. Once Hetta would have protested, "I can manage, Mummy!" And there would have been a mother/daughter tussle, which would have made Elinor feel desperate. But now Hetta no longer argued, just wearily did as she was told. And that was a thousand times worse.
Daisy had the front door open in readiness as they slowly climbed the stone steps. "The kettle's on," she said. "Come into my room." She was middle-aged, widowed, and built like a cushion.
She scraped a living from the boarding house, which sheltered, besides Elinor and her daughter, a young married couple, several assorted students, and 'that Mr Jenson' with whom she waged constant war about his smoking in bed.
When the house was full Daisy had only one small room left for herself. But if her room was small her heart was large, and she'd taken Elinor and her little girl right into it. She cared for Hetta while Elinor was out working as a freelance beautician, and there was nobody else the distraught mother would have trusted with her precious child.
After the strain of her journey Hetta was ready to doze off on the sofa. When they were sure she was safely asleep they slipped into the kitchen and Daisy said quietly, "Did you see the great man in person, or did you get fobbed off?"
"Elmer Rylance saw me. They say he always sees people himself when it's bad news."
"It's much too soon to talk like that."
"Hetta's heart is damaged and she needs a new one. But it has to be an exact match, and small enough for a child." Elinor covered her eyes with her hand and spoke huskily. "If we don't find one before - "
"You will, you will." Daisy put her arms around the younger woman's thin body and held her as she wept. "There's still time."
Excerpted from His Pretend Wife by Lucy Gordon Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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