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Her Sister’s Secret

Mary Kate Brogan

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Melange Books, LLC

White Bear Lake, MN 55110


Her Sister’s Secret, Copyright 2017 Mary Kate Brogan

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ISBN: 978-1-61235-378-4

Names, characters, and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published in the United States of America.

Cover Design by Mae Powers

In memory of my beloved husband, Mike.

Her Sister’s Secret

by Mary Kate Brogan

Jenny Eglington’s dying sister begged her not to tell Rolan LaPierre she bore him a son. When, at the end of a year, Jenny couldn’t find Roland, she believed her promise to her sister and her love for Danny made him hers. Now Danny is six and Roland is back. Jenny must deal with guilt and an attraction to the man who has the power to destroy her life.

Table of Contents

Her Sister’s Secret”

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

About the Author


Chapter One

Jenny glanced at the envelope, and a wave of unease swept over her. Ms. Jenny Eglington and Guest. Where had she seen that bold, masculine handwriting before? She read the words on the enclosed card:

You are cordially invited to a reception at Eglington Lodge to mark the opening of Hallmark Transportation’s new Detroit terminal on Saturday, the 18th of July at 4 p.m.

She frowned. The real estate agent must have worked fast to rent her old house during the three days she’d been away in New York City. She couldn’t very well phone him right now to find out, for it was eleven o’clock at night. But she could take a look to see if there were lights on in the house. She stepped outside the coach house where she and her small nephew had lived since they’d been forced out of the family home.

Across the wide expanse of lawn, her old home nestled amidst a profusion of oak, maple and spruce trees. One of the finest homes in Michigan, the gray stone house stood tall and proud, as though in defiance of the fact that the Eglington name had long since been ground into the dust. Light shone from its leaded glass windows, and traced golden fingers across the grass.

The heavy stone in her chest dissolved. Obviously, someone had moved in. Business people who wanted her to come to a reception tomorrow. She went back into the coach house and closed the door.

“Mom,” Danny called. “Mom.”

Hearing Danny’s anguished cry, she dashed to his bedroom.

He sat amidst a pile of twisted bedclothes, his brown eyes glistening with tears in the soft glow from the night-light. “Oh, what’s the matter, lovey?” She dropped to the side of the bed and held him close. His narrow shoulder blades felt like mountain ridges, sharp and thin. Too thin. In that moment, like so many other moments since her rash promise to her dying sister, she despaired in her role of single parent.

“I dreamed you hadn’t come back from New York yet.”

“Of course I’m back, sweetie. Don’t you remember me reading you a story when you went to bed?”

“Yeah, I remember now.” His warm breath caressed her neck. “You were gone three whole days. I don’t like it when you go away for so long and Mrs. Stevens stays here.”

“I know you don’t, honey, but sometimes I have to travel for my job.” Smiling, she held him at arms’ length. “The big house is rented so we’re rich again.” Well not exactly rich, but she could at least make mortgage payments.

“And will we be moving into the big house?”

“One day, sweetie.” She rubbed a tear from his cheek. “Now, how about trying to get back to sleep?”

He lay on his back, and she tucked the covers around him. She pressed her lips to his cheek. “Good night, darling,” she whispered. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.” He yawned and turned onto his side.

She moved to the window. The moon was a gold medallion set amidst a sprinkling of stars. It cast its ghostly light across the lawn, and painted a silvery path on the waters of Lake St. Clair and on the weeping willows bordering Peche Island. She gazed past the island toward the Canadian shore. Canada. Roland LaPierre’s country.

The thought of Roland sent icy fingers down her spine. She shivered and took a deep breath, willing herself to relax. She had no reason to fear Roland. He didn’t live around here anymore. If he knew her sister had borne him a son, he would have claimed him by now.

She remembered the time Danny had questioned her about his daddy.

“Your daddy went away before you were born,” she’d told him. She knew that eventually she’d have to tell him that her deceased sister, not she, was his natural mother.

* * * *

The following afternoon, Jenny climbed the steps of Eglington Lodge. The warm breeze rustled her green silk dress and tossed her shoulder-length blonde hair about her face. Not only would her date, Walter Weatherby, be late for the reception, he’d have to leave early for a dinner meeting.

A deep masculine voice hailed her from the doorway, “Jenny.”

Her head jerked up at the sound. Sweet Jesus! Roland LaPierre. No wonder the handwriting had raised a red flag. Once it had been as familiar and as beloved as the smiling face above her. For the first time in five years, she locked gazes with the man she now feared more than anyone else on earth. All the air left her lungs in a soundless scream. “Roland,” she whispered.

His tuxedo, as dark as his hair, hugged a tall, well-built body. Time had carved shadows beneath high cheekbones and deepened the grooves around his mouth. The scar was still there—a diagonal white mark that cut through his right eyebrow. A relic from the time two thugs had tried to rob his father’s hardware store across the Detroit River, in Canada.

Eyes as dark and mysterious as night met hers. “It’s good to see you again, Jenny.” He captured her hand. Her knees shook.

“Hello, Roland,” she managed at last. She pulled her hand free. “What are you doing here?”

“My company is renting this house.”

“You mean Hallmark Transportation?”

“That’s right.” And again, that infernal smile.

Anger, contempt and dislike ricocheted within her. And fear. If he worked for Hallmark Transportation, he might be living in this house, only a few yards away from the son he’d never met. The idea dried her mouth. She might not be able to keep him from meeting Danny. She brushed perspiration from her upper lip and rubbed damp palms on her skirt.

He took her arm and led her into the large crowded foyer.

“Please excuse me,” he said. “I have a phone call waiting.” He lifted a glass of champagne from a tray carried by a passing waiter, and presented it to her. “Enjoy. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

She took a sip of the drink and watched Roland maneuver his way through the guests. Two smiling young women approached him as though eager for his attention. He gave an answering smile, and after exchanging words with them, continued on his way.

Turning, she saw her date, Walter Weatherby, making his way through the guests. He wore a pale beige business suit that matched the color of his hair. His brow was creased, as though in annoyance.

“Walter.” She moved toward him.

“Oh, there you are, Jennifer.”

“Is something wrong? You look worried.” But then, Walter always looked worried. To look at him, one would think people had perpetrated all sorts of injustices against him.

“I’m just stressed out, that’s all.” He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. “I really can’t spare the time for this party, you know. I have to leave in a few minutes or I’ll be late for my meeting.”

She sighed. Between Walter’s accounting business, his positions on the school board, the Chamber of Commerce, the city Planning Committee and a half dozen other activities, she was surprised he even had time to eat. She rubbed her forehead against a sudden headache. “Walter, you’ll never believe who’s renting this house.”

He frowned. “Who?”

Before she could respond, Roland walked toward them. Walter stiffened, and swore under his breath. “LaPierre. What the hell’s he doing here?”

“The company he works for, Hallmark Transportation is renting this house.”

Roland stood before Walter, his height diminishing the shorter man. He extended a hand. “Walter Weatherby.”

Walter hesitated before returning Roland’s handshake. Then, he slid an arm around Jenny’s waist. “So you’ve come back, LaPierre.”

“Astute observation,” Roland said, his tone dry. He looked from Walter to Jenny. “Are you here together?”

Walter’s jaw tightened. “As a matter of fact, we are.”

A waiter stopped at Walter’s elbow. “Can I get you a cocktail, Sir?”

“No thanks, I have to leave soon.” He regarded Roland through narrowed eyes. “I just came to see if Jennifer was all right.”

“Jenny will be fine.” Roland met her gaze. “I promise to take good care of her.”

Her cheeks burning, she glanced at Walter. As she expected, his eyebrows were drawn together.

“Excuse us, LaPierre,” Walter said in a tight voice. He drew Jenny aside.

Roland touched her shoulder. “I’ll catch up with you later.” He shook hands with Walter. “Goodbye, sorry you can’t stay.”

Jenny moved away from Walter as Roland strode off.

“Would you like to leave?” Walter asked. “You can’t feel all that comfortable being here.”

“I don’t. But I don’t want to appear rude.”

He sniffed. “I don’t like LaPierre’s pompous air. The poor boy who’s worked his way up from truck driver to an office job. Hmph.”

“What a nasty thing to say. He worked as a truck driver so he could go to college.”

He snorted and brushed a speck of lint from his lapel. “Interesting that you’re defending him, after what he did to your sister.”

“I dislike him intensely for what he did to Helen, but that doesn’t mean I should deride him for not being wealthy. I don’t think he acted pompously. He just has an air of self-assurance, that’s all.”

Walter pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Your parents didn’t mind deriding him.”

She fell silent. She had always disapproved of her family’s snobbishness. How she had hated the way her parents talked about Roland behind his back. They had criticized his old red convertible and been embarrassed the neighbors could see it parked in front of the house.

Yet, in spite of her sympathy for Roland, she couldn’t understand why he had insisted on driving a truck for a transportation company, and refused the office job her father offered him with The Eglington Furniture Company. His refusal had caused bitter resentment, with Helen siding with her parents, and Roland walking away without a backward glance. Helen had never forgiven him for that and neither had Jenny.

“He’s probably the front man for his company,” Walter went on. “The fellow who arranges the entertainment, rents accommodations. That sort of thing. After this party, he’ll probably go back where he came from.”

“Oh, Walter, I hope so.” In spite of the warmth of the house, she shivered. “Still, I’m glad the house is rented again. As you know, I need to pay off the mortgage.”

Walter placed his hands on her shoulders and studied her face. “Jennifer, I realize this is neither the time nor place, but I’ve been wanting to say this for some time. If you marry me, I’ll pay off your mortgage. I have the money to do it. I’ve always liked this house and we’d own it jointly. What do you think? It will take a big load off your shoulders.”

Shock widened her eyes. A marriage proposal was the last thing she’d expected from Walter. He’d been a friend of the Eglingtons for years, but she’d never thought of him in a romantic sense. Good heavens, this sounded more like a business arrangement than a marriage proposal. “Walter, I need to prove that I can get this house back on my own. If all else fails, I might turn it into a bed and breakfast place. In any case, I want to resume my art career. I can make some money that way.”

“If we were married, you wouldn’t have to worry about any of that. My money would be your money.”

“I would never marry anyone just for the purpose of paying off my mortgage. I have more pride than that.”

He dropped his hands to his sides. “If the bank threatens to foreclose on your mortgage, you might feel differently, Jennifer. You have that boy to think about, remember. Pride is good and well, but pride doesn’t put food on the table, nor does it pay off mortgages. Will you at least think about my offer?”

“Thank you, Walter. It’s very kind of you. Yes, I will think about it.” But thinking about it was all she intended to do.

“Are you sure you’ll be all right?” He cast a doubtful glance in the direction Roland had taken.

“I’ll be fine.”

He gave her a peck on the cheek. “Goodbye, then. We’ll talk later.”

She watched him make his way toward the door. Her evening bag clutched in one hand, her drink in the other, she made her way to the crowded living room. In the adjoining library, Roland paced back and forth while he spoke on the telephone. Suddenly, his pacing stopped.

Their gazes met for a long moment before Jenny turned away. The room swam before her; the scent of roses and the voices of the guests reminded her of the last party she’d attended at this house—a celebration of Helen and Roland’s engagement.

She was seventeen again, and her brother, Dean, had introduced her to his former college classmate whom he’d invited to a pool party at this house. Roland had smiled and held her hand, and her heart took flight. That afternoon, as they swam and talked and laughed with the other guests, she felt Roland belonged to her. But during the next few weeks on their occasional dates, she soon learned he thought her much too young for his twenty-seven years.

And yet she couldn’t banish her fascination for him. Like a starving person scrambling for crumbs, she had lived for their dates and the chaste goodnight kiss he would place on her cheek.

A few weeks within meeting Roland, Helen had dropped Walter Weatherby, her current boyfriend, and begun dating Roland. All too familiar with her sister’s fickle ways, Jenny had tried to reassure herself Helen would soon meet someone else and leave Roland for her. But that didn’t happen. Before long, Helen and Roland had set the date for their wedding.

Jenny recalled that at the time, she’d decided she’d die before she’d ever let Roland know how it hurt to have him cast her aside for Helen. And yet, in a way, she couldn’t blame him for believing a naïve seventeen-year-old was too young for a man of twenty-seven. Still, this knowledge hadn’t helped ease her pain, for at the time she thought she loved him. She knew better now.

She’d suspected Helen’s feelings for Roland had fallen short of love, that if her sister truly loved him, she’d have accepted him for himself and not plan to change him, to mold him into a man her parents might eventually approve of.

In spite of her jealousy of Helen, she came to despise Roland for practically leading her sister to the altar rails and then walking out on her.

She wound through the guests to the other end of the room, and stood by the grand piano. As in the rest of the house, her parents’ eclectic mixture of traditional and Victorian furniture graced this room. Her gaze swept over the ornately framed oil paintings, then halted on a still life of flowers and fruit, one of many she’d painted when her life moved at a slower pace. If only she had time now for her art.

“I’ve always liked that painting.”

Her heart jumped at the sound of Roland’s voice. He stood by her side, his gaze on the picture. She drew in a deep breath, aware of the scent of sandalwood cologne.

“Thank you.”

“Here, let me take that.” He reached for her empty glass, then lifted two full glasses of champagne from a nearby waiter, and handed one to her. His gaze skimmed the crowded room. “Why don’t we talk in the library? It’ll be more private.”

A wave of apprehension swept over her. She didn’t want to be alone with him for fear he’d delve into her life. But before she could think of a reason to refuse, he laid a hand on her waist and guided her toward the library.

He closed the door behind them and, with a smile, pointed to a tan leather couch. “We might as well be comfortable.”

When she seated herself on the chair beside her father’s mahogany desk, he raised his eyebrows as though recognizing the fact that she didn’t wish to sit beside him.

“Let me offer you my belated condolences,” he said. “The real estate agent told me your parents and…” He fell silent, and his expression darkened. After a long moment, he continued, “He told me Helen was with them when a truck crashed into the car just outside Detroit.”

Remembering that dreadful night, grief squeezed Jenny’s heart. By the time she reached the hospital, Helen was the only one left. She died shortly afterwards. Thank God Helen had left her baby in Florida with Aunt Tess.

He lowered himself onto the couch, opposite her, and she took a sip of her drink to ease the dryness in her mouth. “What else did he tell you?”

“That you’re a salesperson for a wholesale jeweler and that you have a young son you’re raising on your own.” A smile lit his face. “I’ve always wanted a son, if only to bring joy to my parents.”

Her heart gave a frantic leap that robbed her of breath. She clutched the chair arm and tried to reassure herself Roland couldn’t possibly know that Helen went to live in Sarasota with her aunt in order to have his child. Documentation of Danny’s birth stated his father as being James Smith, a name Helen invented. With Jenny’s parents dead, only her brother, Dean, Aunt Tess and her friend, Maggie Stevens, knew the truth.

Danny’s dark hair and dark eyes made him a miniature copy of his father. If Roland met him, he might notice this. Suddenly, the magnanimity of her deception bore down on her.

In the beginning, she’d decided to ignore her sister’s dying words: Don’t ever let Roland know about my baby. If he doesn’t want me, he doesn’t deserve my son. For a whole year, she’d tried to find Roland, but not even his father knew where he lived or worked.

Conceiving a child didn’t make a man a father, she reasoned. She recalled the years she’d nursed Danny through childhood illnesses, striven to keep him happy, the years she had loved him. Surely all this made him hers. She couldn’t imagine a world without Danny any more than she could imagine him surviving without her. No, she resolved. She would never tell Roland that Danny was his.

“What’s the deal with you and Walter?” he asked. “Somehow, I can’t see the two of you together. For one thing, he’s at least fifteen years older than you.”

“Thirteen.” Surely Roland remembered that Walter had been a close friend of the Eglington family for years, which was why she befriended Walter now and consistently accepted his dinner invitations. She didn’t love Walter and saw no reason why she should explain this to Roland. Walter could, no doubt, tell by the way she consistently rejected his sexual advances that no seed of attraction for him flourished within her heart. It irked her, now, that he hadn’t seemed to accept her rejection of his recent marriage proposal.

Maybe she should tell Roland her private life was none of his business. A shadow crossed his face, and she wondered if he was remembering her parents wanted Helen to choose wealthy Walter Weatherby over him. Perhaps he was also remembering the pain he had caused her sister.

He shifted his weight. “Did Walter ever get married?”

“Yes, but he’s divorced.”

“Any children?”


“What about you? You must have married soon after I went away.”

Her grip tightened on the stem of the champagne glass. “I never married.”

His eyes narrowed and she wondered what thoughts ran through his mind. Did he see her as irresponsible for becoming pregnant out of wedlock and then dumping the man? Or did he think she was someone to be pitied because a man had done the same thing to her as he had done to Helen? Desperate to divert his attention, she asked, “Are you married, Roland?”

“No, I’ve never been married.”

The sun shining in the window glinted off his gold wristwatch and monogrammed gold cuff links. Hallmark must be paying well for him to indulge his impeccable taste.

He lifted his glass. “Here’s to a successful landlady-tenant relationship.”

“How long do the Hallmark employees plan to stay here?”

“I’m the sole tenant, and I expect to be here at least two months. Maybe longer.”

A ripple of foreboding danced along her skin. She’d hoped that only his superiors would be living here, and that they’d rented the house for at least a year.

“I’m here to train new employees for the Detroit terminal,” he explained.

Her eyes widened. “You?”

“Yes, me,” he said, his tone faintly sardonic. “The company seems to think I can do it.” He lifted a dark eyebrow. “You seem upset. Is my presence so distasteful to you?”

As a matter of fact, you’re the last person in the world I want to live in my house, she thought. “Why did you pick this place when you could have chosen any number of houses?”

He took a sip of champagne. “For one thing, your real estate agent said you were looking for a tenant. I like this location. I’ve always thought this a beautiful house.” He shifted his weight. “Maybe you’d prefer I look elsewhere.”

“No, no, of course not,” she lied. What reason could she possibly give him for wanting him out of here? Clutching the stem of her glass, she rose. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get something to eat.” She turned to the door.

The leather couch groaned and he closed the distance between them. “What’s wrong, Jenny?” he asked, his tone soft.

“I guess I’m just distracted. I have a lot of things on my mind.”

He took the half-full glass from her hand, set it on a table beside his own, and turned her to face him. Brushing a strand of hair from her face, he gently drew his other hand across her shoulders and pulled her close.

“You have a big load to carry, and you’re doing it very well.”

When she started to pull away, his hand moved gently over her shoulders and down her arm. She struggled to dismiss the tiny bursts of sensation his touch aroused in her. He gently stroked her upper arm and, mindlessly, she melted against him.

Now, she knew why her old fear had resurfaced last night. Subconsciously, she had recognized Roland’s handwriting, for she’d seen it long ago on a card he had sent her. Happy Birthday to Jenny, with love. Roland.

With love. Words he had inscribed on her heart.

“Jenny.” With an index finger, he tilted her chin and studied her face. He looked into her eyes for a moment, then his lips touched the curve of her jaw.

In her younger days, she had often wondered how she would react if Roland were to hold her in his arms again. But no amount of imagination could have prepared her for the explosive tumult of emotion that seized her now. All rational thought fled. Her breasts tingled, every nerve in her body quivered with the incredible realization that he was there and holding her. When he bent his head, her lips parted in yearning.

Before their lips could meet, three men burst into the room.

Jenny pulled away from Roland. He adjusted his tie.

“Oh…sorry,” the taller man said. “We thought…” He cleared his throat. “You said we could come in anytime and look at the financial report. We didn’t know you were in here.”

With his strong fingers closing over Jenny’s, Roland introduced her.

She shook hands, giving silent thanks that the men had come in when they did.

Roland nodded toward the desk. “You’ll find the financial report in that folder. I’ll be right back.” He touched a hand to Jenny’s waist, and led her from the room. “I need to have a few words with those fellows. I’ll walk you to the dining room so you can get something to eat, then I’ll catch up with you later.”

“No, no, please, go to your meeting. I’ll be fine.” Grateful for the chance to escape, she hurried away.

* * * *

The sway of Jenny’s hips, and the sight of her long, shapely legs sent attraction shooting through Roland with lightning force. Taller than any other woman here, she carried her height with an easy grace. She was gorgeous. Alabaster skin, hair reaching her shoulders, like spun gold. Eyes like aquamarine jewels fringed with dark lashes. And those full luscious lips—ah yes, he remembered a time when those lips had clung to his.

After all these years, the memory of that one special kiss caused an ache of desire to settle deep within him. Wanting to be alone with his thoughts for a few moments, he opened the French doors and stepped onto the patio. He stared across the sparkling blue waters of the lake toward Peche Island, sifting through pages from the past. Years ago, when he’d first become aware of his and Jenny’s attraction for each other, she was in her teens—only seventeen and much too young for him. The few kisses they’d exchanged on their occasional dates had been chaste. Until the day they’d gone to Peche Island on the Eglington yacht with Dean, Helen and Walter.

As clearly as if it had happened yesterday, he saw himself walking along the beach with Jenny, heard her cry out when a sliver of driftwood stuck into the sole of her foot. They sat on the sand while he held her foot on his lap and extracted the painful sliver. She’d surprised him by flinging her arms about his neck and pressing her lips to his. Not having the heart to bruise her feelings, he didn’t pull away immediately.

His response to the kiss had caught him totally off guard. He kissed her soundly and deeply, exulting in her honest affection, oblivious to the ten-year difference between them. When he realized what was happening, he broke off the kiss and forced himself to stay away from her.

The drone of a motorboat returned him to the present. He glanced toward the house. Who would ever have believed that one day he could afford to live in this mansion? He smiled when he remembered Jenny’s words: If you’d taken the job Dad offered, you’d be making a decent salary right now. She didn’t know he was the owner of the multi-million dollar Hallmark Transportation.

His parents had raised him to believe he was as good as any man, that money should never be the measure of a person’s worth. He’d believed that then, and he believed it now.

He recalled his and Helen’s final argument over his refusal to work for her father, recalled the passion with which she had begged him to reconsider, and his vehemence in refusing. It had been one of many such arguments, and it had been bitter. He was glad he hadn’t backed down, for above all he needed to believe in the strength of his convictions. He had to be his own person and not let himself be molded into someone else’s idea of who he was.

So why wasn’t he telling Jenny he owned Hallmark? Could be because he wanted to see if she’d accept him for himself and not his wealth.

She was no longer too young for him, and it seemed a spark of their old magic remained. But maybe he should keep in mind that Jenny was an Eglington and it might be pure folly to fan that spark into a flame. And yet she tantalized his senses as no woman ever had. He didn’t know yet if he could trust her. He only knew that he wanted her.

Chapter Two

Jenny entered the elegantly furnished room where an enormous crystal chandelier glistened over a table laden with platters of food. She placed a warm dinner roll, portions of lobster, stuffed shrimp and oysters on a plate, and found a seat against the wall.

Her parents’ sterling silver tea service and silver candelabra sat on the mahogany buffet. It hurt to have strangers living here using these things, but it would hurt more if the bank manager foreclosed on her mortgage and sold the place. She must keep the house rented until the day came when she and Danny could move back here. As she’d explained to Walter, if all else failed, she could turn the house into a bed and breakfast establishment. Only by reclaiming her home could she salvage her pride and re-establish the Eglington name.

When she finished eating, she remembered she had left her evening bag in the library. She was walking across the foyer when Roland approached her. He held up her bag, his lips curving in a smile. “People tell me this doesn’t go with my outfit.”

A laugh escaped her. He hadn’t lost his sense of humor. “Thank you, I was just going to get it. And thank you for inviting me.” She extended a hand, the memory of the way he’d held her in his arms a short time ago, fresh in her mind. “Goodbye, Roland.”

His large hand swallowed hers. “You’re leaving so soon?” His voice held a hint of disappointment. “I hoped we could talk some more.”

She pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry, but I must go. I’ve been away the past three days and I’d like to spend a little time with Danny, my little boy.” Immediately, she regretted having mentioned Danny.

“I can understand that. Well, this isn’t goodbye.” He walked beside her, down the steps. “We’ll get together soon.”

She drew in a sharp breath. Avoiding him wasn’t going to be easy.

He glanced toward the lake where the setting sun painted a fiery path across the water. “A magnificent sunset.”

“It is pretty.” She inhaled air laden with the scents of roses and moist earth. A robin inspected the soil in one of the two round rose beds, while sparrows hiding in the towering spruce trees burst into song. She’d taken this home for granted, and now she had to live with the ever-present possibility of losing it.

“I heard your brother managed The Eglington Furniture Company after your father retired,” he said. “The Detroit News reported that your father rushed home because he’d received word about Dean’s trouble with the IRS.” He paused a moment, then went on, “And that Dean had to pay back a ton of money for tax evasion.”

Anger sliced through her, and she stared at him through narrowed eyes. “I don’t believe Dean cheated the IRS on purpose. After all, he was acting on the advice of his accountants.”

Roland remained silent, his expression bland.

“You think he did it on purpose, don’t you?” she said.

“I don’t know what to think, Jenny. All I know is that you’ve lost The Eglington Furniture Company and are in danger of losing this house. Too bad Dean went away and left you with the whole mess. Where does he live now?”

“I’ve no idea. I haven’t heard from him in six years—since he left.” Resentment clutched at her heart. “You could have prevented all this if you’d taken that job my father offered. Dean never had much of a head for finance whereas you have a degree in economics. If you had been working for Dad, you’d have handled things better than Dean did.”

“Don’t expect me to be grateful for your vote of confidence,” he drawled. “You’re laying a damn heavy guilt trip on me.”

“I know it wasn’t your fault. Still, I can’t understand why you didn’t take the job Dad offered.”

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants. “As I once told Helen, I needed to be my own person. I wanted to prove I could make it on my own.” He met her gaze. “Can you understand that, Jenny?”

“I suppose I can, but if you’d worked for Dad he’d have given you a good share of the business right away, and you’d be making a decent salary right now.”

His mouth quirked at one corner. “I’m satisfied with my earnings.”

She shrugged. He was as stubborn as ever.

He shook his head. “I can’t believe your brother’s accountants would make such a mistake. Dean once told me they were the most reliable firm in Detroit. But it seems they let him down, and with a vengeance. Well, I suppose there’s nothing to be gained by re-hashing the whole thing now. I’m sorry for bringing it up and upsetting you.”

He moved so close to her she could smell the scent of his after-shave. “Let’s get together for dinner, soon.”

Long ago, her heart would have soared at such an invitation. But now, her fear of what he might discover blocked the path to their friendship. “I can’t.”

“Why can’t you? It doesn’t look as though you’re all that committed to Weatherby.”

His gaze moved to her mouth, and she wondered if he planned to kiss her to prove his point. But he simply smiled.

The glow of the sunset deepened the hue of his tan. Against her will, she found herself observing him with interest. The Roland of long ago had been undeniably good looking, but this new, mature Roland was devastatingly attractive, an attractiveness enhanced by his aura of self-confidence.

He shifted his weight. “How old is your little boy, Jenny?”

An innocuous question, but it put ice in her blood. “Five.” She squeezed her hands together until they hurt. If she told him the truth—that Danny was six, he might suspect the boy was his.

“Is his father involved in his upbringing?”

She decided this line of questioning had to stop. “Sorry, but this is something I don’t like to talk about.” She backed away.

He lifted a hand. “Sorry. In any case, I’m looking forward to meeting Danny.”

Her pulse throbbed painfully. She had to find a way to keep him from seeing Danny. Wanting to change the subject, she asked, “How’s your dad?” His mother had been long deceased, but she’d met his father at his and Helen’s engagement party and had been instantly drawn to him.

He stared toward the lake as if he could see the home, over in Canada, in which he had lived with his parents. “Dad’s not too bad, except for an arthritic hip that bothers him sometimes. He’s retired now. Still living in the house in which I grew up, and keeping busy growing vegetables and flowers.”

Roland’s broad shoulders lifted and fell as he sighed. “I’ve been living in Chicago—not all that far away, yet it was a year after I left before I came back home. Dad doesn’t like to travel, so visiting me wasn’t an option. Later, I kept in touch with him by telephone, but I should’ve come home more often. Instead, I let my work take control of my life.” He threw back his shoulders. “But guilt, I believe, is just a wasted emotion. Instead of wasting time worrying about past sins, one should resolve to do better in future. I feel I can make it up to him by spending more time with him now, and that’s what I’ve been doing. My parents always wanted a large family but ended up with just me.” He chuckled. “I guess that’s one reason Dad longs for grandchildren.”

She massaged her forehead against a sudden headache. For the first time, she realized the far-reaching consequences of the promise she’d given her sister.

Roland glanced at his watch. “We have so much to talk about, Jenny, but it’ll have to wait till later. Right now, I’ve got to get back to my guests.” He took a step backward. “Enjoy the rest of the evening. Thanks for coming to the reception.”

“You’re very welcome.”

With a smile, he turned and walked back to the house.

A motorboat droned in the distance and Jenny watched it skim the water, the white foam splashing at its sides. Roland’s words drummed in her mind. But guilt, I believe, is just a wasted emotion. Instead of worrying about past sins, one should resolve to do better in the future. If only she could apply that philosophy to herself.

* * * *

That evening, Jenny stood in the vestibule of the coach house, looking out the window. The windows of Eglington Lodge glowed yellow in the deepening dusk. Only a few cars remained in the driveway and on the street in front of the house.

“Mom.” Danny rushed into the house. She looked down into his smiling face. How perfectly this child was carved in his father’s image. “Hi there, honey.” Gathering him close, she placed a kiss on his cheek.

“Mom, can I play football with Kevin? His mom says we can play when she’s visiting with you.”

“Sure, honey. But it will be dark soon.” She waved to Maggie and the woman’s redheaded son, Kevin, who were walking up the driveway.

“How was the party?” Maggie asked, pushing her flyaway auburn curls from her face.

“It’s a long story, Maggie. Come on in.”

Maggie followed Jenny to the kitchen, then sat at the table.

Jenny seated herself opposite her friend, and poured coffee. “Do you remember me telling you about Roland LaPierre?”

“Sure. Danny’s dad. What about him?”

“He’s my new tenant.”

Maggie’s mouth dropped open. “No way!”

“It’s true. He works for that company I told you about—Hallmark Transportation. He’s setting things up for their new terminal and will be here for the next couple of months.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know, Maggie. I’ve kept my promise to Helen all these years, and now, suddenly, I’m not so sure I did the right thing.”

“But he did walk out on your sister.” Maggie took a sip of coffee. “He just disappeared, and you didn’t know where to find him.”

“That’s right. I phoned his dad and his friends, and none of them knew where he was. I didn’t have the money to hire an agency to locate him. Eventually, I decided that I didn’t want to find him, that I owed my loyalty to Helen and I’d bring up Danny as my own. Roland’s father lives just across the Detroit River, in Canada. He doesn’t know he has a grandson. Oh, Maggie…” Her throat closed.

Maggie’s hazel eyes clouded with sympathy. She reached out and touched Jenny’s hand. “Don’t do this to yourself. You inherited the problem from your sister and you did what you thought was best.”

“I still feel guilty.”

“Are you thinking of telling Roland?”

“I can’t, Maggie. I just can’t. If he took Danny away now, it would kill me. And just think of what it would do to Danny. His life would be turned upside down.”

“Seems to me you should be legally entitled to at least partial custody of that child.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, if you ask me, that Roland fellow must be totally irresponsible to walk out on your sister when she was pregnant.”

“He didn’t know she was pregnant.” She shrugged. “Helen didn’t even know, herself, at the time.” She fell silent, surprised she was defending the man who had hurt her sister. The man who had the potential to become her worst enemy.

* * * *

After watching the late news that evening, Jenny made herself a mug of hot chocolate, then settled down with a book. Catching herself staring out the window, she went outside. In the ghostly moonlight, she walked toward the water, listening to the night wind rustle the leaves of the trees, feeling its touch on her skin and her hair. Lights glowed from the windows of Eglington Lodge, and a few cars still dotted the driveway.

When she reached the shore, she stood looking out toward the lake. Laughter drifted toward her, and she realized it was coming from a magnificent yacht anchored at the dock on the shore below the big house. Curious, she wended her way through the pine trees for a better view. A few people stood on the deck, then a man wearing dark slacks and a white shirt waved to her. Recognizing Roland, she returned the wave. She stepped back into the shadows and was about to retrace her steps when he called, “Jenny,” his deep voice vibrating across the water. The next moment, he stepped from the boat and walked along the dock toward her. A dark-haired woman clinging to the railing of the yacht, called, “Hurry back, Roland.”

“I won’t get lost, Vivian.”

When he drew closer, Jenny noticed he’d removed his bow tie and had unbuttoned his shirt half way down, revealing a sprinkling of dark chest hair. Realizing she was staring, she looked away.

“Jenny.” He smiled, his teeth gleaming white in the moonlight.


“Nice to see you again so soon,” he said.

“I see you’re still partying.”

“There were a few stragglers left who wanted to see the yacht. But we’re just about ready to call it a night.”

So the yacht belonged to Hallmark. She wondered if Vivian and Roland were lovers, and was surprised at her sudden, irrational, stab of jealousy. “Well, I’ll let you get back to your guests. Goodnight, Roland.” She turned to go.

“Jenny, wait--please,” Roland said when she took a step backward. He stood in front of her. “I’d like to see you soon. Let’s have dinner some evening next week.”

She seized on her only valid excuse. “I’m going out of town Thursday--on business. I’ll be busy all week preparing. As a matter of fact, I expect to be away quite a lot for the next two months.”

Folding his arms across his broad chest, he leaned against the trunk of a towering oak. “Does your son mind your being away so much?”

A tremor of apprehension raced along her spine. In her mind’s eye, she saw Roland argue before a judge that because of her neglect of his son, she should have nothing more to do with the child. Even if that never happened, the fact remained that he was reinforcing her guilt about being away from home so much, even though Maggie’s mother took good care of Danny when she was away. Don’t let him know you’re afraid of him, she told herself. Act tough, even though you are scared of his power and what he could do to ruin your life. She drew herself up to her full height and looked him in the eye. “Why don’t you take care of your own business and let me take care of mine.”

He chuckled. “You’re right, I’m getting too personal.” He reached out and lifted a strand of her hair, then let it sift through his fingers. “I’d still like to have dinner with you.”

She stepped back in an effort to shake off the sensual feelings his touch aroused in her. “I’d better get back in case Danny wakes up. Good-night.” She hurried away, aware that he watched her.

When she reached the coach house, she paused a moment to catch her breath. She thought she had banished her youthful fascination for Roland, but apparently, her longing for him had merely lain dormant. Now, it flowered like a garden grown wild. How ironic that he was pursuing her when an even greater obstacle stood in their way.

* * * *

Herb Waller shifted his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. “You did real good on this last trip, Jenny.” Leaning back in his swivel chair, he crossed his hands over his ample stomach and glanced in obvious satisfaction at the pile of invoices on his desk.

Seated across from her boss, she squeezed her hands together in her lap. Ordinarily Herb’s praise would have earned him a smile of gratitude from her, but last evening’s encounter with Roland, followed by a virtually sleepless night had left her feeling drained. She’d spent most of the night trying to figure out a way to sell jewelry for Herb without having to travel. Finally, she’d come up with a plan, and now she had to sell Herb the idea. “The truth is, Herb, I’m really feeling pressured.”

Herb’s chair creaked as he leaned forward and slapped his big hands onto the desk. His balding head gleamed in the light from the window beside him. “You’re not thinking of quitting? You’re our top salesperson, and we can’t afford to lose you.”

She shook her head, slowly. At thirty-nine, Herb looked forty-nine, and no wonder. Although Meteor’s sales had soared into the million-dollar mark, his hunger for another million brought him to the office at the crack of dawn and kept him here until midnight. As a result, he didn’t get enough sleep and ate too much fast food. According to office gossip, Herb’s wife ran off with another man four years ago because he loved his work more than her.

He glared at her. “You’re not still thinking of starting that bed and breakfast business?”

“Not if I can get by without it.”

With a sigh of satisfaction, he leaned back, the tip of his cigar glowing red. “So what’s the problem?”

She wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell and regarded him through a curtain of smoke. “You know that I graduated from college with a degree in visual art.”

His forehead became a series of horizontal grooves. “So what’s that got to do with anything?”

She swallowed hard. It wouldn’t be easy to convince him. He was too resistant to change. “Some wholesalers create ads to help the retailers sell the jewelry. I’ve been told the retailers really like this service, that it increases their volume of sales.”

“That so?”

She leaned forward. “Creating ads would make our jewelry more attractive to the retailers. In addition, we could produce booklets and brochures depicting the merchandise.”

“And who’d pay for all this?”

“We would, and at a minimal cost. We’d do it right here in the office.”

“We haven’t got the equipment.”

“We have everything but a color copier and a scanner. We can buy those easily enough.”

He tapped his stubby fingers on the desk. “What are you suggesting? That you quit your sales job and take on a job that might go belly up?”

This would work if Herb would only give her the chance to prove it. “I’d sell just as much jewelry this way,” she reasoned. “Maybe more. Couldn’t you let me at least try, Herb? I know it’ll work out. There are other people here who’d like the traveling job.”

“You wouldn’t make as much as you do now.”

“Maybe not at first. But eventually I will. Herb, I really do want to spend more time with Danny.”

He drew on his cigar, and gazed out the window. “I never had a kid, and now it’s too… too late.” He coughed and glanced at his watch. Then, he labored to his feet, clutching the invoices. “Got an appointment with a dealer in five minutes. I’m gonna get rid of these invoices, then grab a cup of coffee.”

She wiped her palms on her slacks. “Herb… what about the advertising job?”

“Let me think about it. But it’s not something I want to do right away.” He ground out his cigar in the ashtray, then waved the invoices at her. “You’re scheduled to cover Cleveland on Thursday.”

“I know.”

“And I’ve scheduled several other trips for you over the next few months.”

Swallowing her disappointment, she rose.

At the doorway, Herb paused. “Look, hang in there, Kiddo. Maybe later, if you still feel the same way we can talk about advertising.”

With a sigh, she stared at his retreating back. A maybe was better than a no.

* * * *

At least one thing was working in her favor, Jenny thought three days later. Early each morning, Roland’s car pulled out of the driveway of the big house and didn’t return until at least ten o’clock in the evening—long after Danny had gone to bed. If he continued this schedule, she wouldn’t have to worry about him meeting Danny.

On Wednesday, after work, she’d no sooner let herself into the coach house than the phone rang. Walter’s voice traveled across the line, “Hello, Jennifer. Since you’ll be out of town tomorrow, I’d like to take you to dinner this evening. I’ve a Chamber of Commerce meeting at seven-thirty, but if we get to the restaurant by a quarter to six, we—”

“Walter, I can’t go tonight,” she interrupted. “I mean, I just can’t leave Danny with the baby-sitter—not when I’ll be away from him for two days.”

He fell silent for a moment. “Would you like to take the boy along?”

“Well…” She foresaw the possibility of Danny’s sulking through dinner. Not only would he be bored with Walter’s company, but he’d be upset at the prospect of her going away tomorrow. Then, on the other hand, it would be nice to eat out for a change. Maybe she could cajole her child into behaving. After she’d agreed to the dinner, Walter said he’d pick her up at half past five.

“We’ll go somewhere nice next week,” she told Danny when they were standing outside the coach house, waiting for Walter.

“Aunt Maggie’s already taken me to the zoo.” Danny picked up a small stone and threw it across the grass. “An’ to Greenfield Village and the Detroit Historical Museum, and—”

“Here’s Mr. Weatherby,” she interrupted when Walter’s Lincoln pulled into the driveway. She felt a twinge of regret that it had to be Maggie, not she, who was always taking Danny to these places. “We’ll think of something, sweetie.”

* * * *

“Thank you,” Jenny said to the waiter who placed menus and a wine list before them. Walter had made reservations at Lakeview--a restaurant known for its excellent seafood.

“We’re in a hurry,” Walter told the waiter. “So we’d like to place our orders now.” Within moments, the waiter returned with glasses of white wine for Jenny and Walter and a soft drink for Danny. He hurried off again to place their orders.

Jenny smiled at Danny who sat opposite her, then glanced around the crowded room. Three men seated at a table across the room rose and shook hands with one another. She caught her breath as she stared at the tall, raven-haired man whose back was turned to her. It can’t be... Oh, God, please no! The next moment, his companions walked away. She gasped in dismay when Roland turned and walked toward her.

Chapter Three

“Don’t you think you’d better start your salad, Jennifer?” Walter asked. A frown drew his eyebrows together as he followed the direction of her gaze. “You’re as white as a sheet. LaPierre,” he muttered under his breath. He dabbed his mouth with a napkin, then rose and accepted Roland’s handshake.

Roland placed a kiss on Jenny’s cheek. “You look ravishing,” he whispered in her ear. He studied her face. “Are you okay?”

She took a sip of wine to ease the dryness in her throat. “I’m fine, thank you.”

“This must be Danny.” He clasped the child’s hand.

Jenny clutched her hands tightly together in her lap. The room spun.

Voices rose and fell. Finally, when her pulse stopped drumming in her ears, she heard Danny’s voice.

“…but sometimes I like school, ’cept I hate singing.”

“Never liked singing myself,” said Roland. “I’d much rather listen to someone else.”

An emotion that ranged between jealousy and fear clutched Jenny’s heart at the immediate camaraderie that seemed to have sprung up between Roland and Danny. “Danny, this…” Her words were a squeak, and she cleared her throat. “This is Mr. LaPierre. He’ll be living in the big house for the next two months.”

Danny looked up into Roland’s eyes. “Is that your boat docked by the back of the house?”

“It’s a yacht, Daniel,” Walter said. “And Mr. LaPierre doesn’t own it. It belongs to the company he works for.”

“Will they let you drive it, Mr. LaPeer?” Danny asked.

“LaPierre,” Walter corrected.

Roland chuckled. “Yes, they’ll let me drive it.” He knelt on one knee, crouching close to Danny. “Tell you what, Danny… if you can convince your mom, I’d like to take you both for a ride.” His gaze met Jenny’s. “How about it, Jenny? Walter too,” he added as though in afterthought.

“Wow!” Danny’s eyes widened. “Can we, Mom?” Then, as though sensing her refusal, he said, “You promised to take me somewhere. Please.”

“Danny, I really don’t have the time. I’ll take you somewhere else, later, honey.” She glanced at Roland. “Thanks, anyway.”

“But I wanna go on the yacht,” Danny persisted.

“You heard your mother, Daniel,” Walter said. “Now be quiet and eat your salad.”

Danny’s face flushed. “I don’t want to.” He gave his plate a shove, sending his water glass tumbling toward Walter.

“Look at that!” Walter’s voice rose to a shriek. His face turned crimson. He pushed back his chair, scattering ice cubes in all directions. He stared down at the widening dark patch on the front of his light gray slacks. “And I have to give a speech at the Chamber of Commerce meeting.”

Dismayed at Danny’s behavior, Jenny offered Walter her napkin. Lately, Danny had been acting up too much around Walter. As for Walter, it was apparent he had no idea how to relate to children.

Walter snatched the napkin, and glared at Danny. His eyes bulged behind his glasses.

Like a frightened puppy, Danny cowered in his chair. “It was an accident.” His bottom lip quivered and tears pooled in his eyes.

Their waiter arrived with two orders of red snapper and a hamburger. Two more waiters rushed toward them with fresh napkins, which they promptly laid over the wet tablecloth.

Danny looked up at Roland, his lips trembling in an uncertain smile while Roland appeared ready to burst with suppressed laughter.

“You should’ve been more careful, Danny,” Jenny said. “Apologize to Mr. Weatherby.”

Danny turned wide, brown eyes toward Walter. “I’m sorry, Mr. Weatherby.”

Walter remained silent, and Jenny noticed the irritated glance Roland directed toward him. “We’ll talk later, Jenny,” Roland said. “Enjoy your dinner.”

“Mom, can’t we go on the yacht?” Danny pleaded when Roland was about to leave.

Jenny sighed in exasperation. Danny’s stubborn determination was obviously a trait he’d inherited from his father. “Honey, I told you I don’t have the time. You know how busy I am.” Danny’s look of helpless disappointment squeezed her heart.

“You never have any time,” he said.

That’s all I need, she thought. Another dose of guilt. Nervously, she twisted her napkin on her lap. If she didn’t want to arouse Roland’s suspicions about Danny’s identity, maybe it would be better to act as if she had nothing to hide. She glanced up at Roland. “We’d love to go. Thank you for inviting us.”

“All ri-i-i-i-ght!” Danny bobbed up and down on his chair. “When can we go?”

Roland smiled. “How about Saturday?”

“Saturday’s okay with me.” Jenny turned to Walter. “How about you?”

“Obviously, you’ve forgotten the School Board Convention, Jennifer. I’ll be in Traverse City this weekend.”

“How about the following weekend?”

“I promised Mother I’d take her and her sister to Ann Arbor that weekend. We won’t be back until late Sunday. The weekend after that is out too.”

“When do you expect to have a free weekend, Walter?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Children Danny’s age can’t handle deferred gratification,” Roland put in.

Giving Roland a sharp look, Walter folded his arms.

“Could we invite my friend, Kevin, Mr. LaPeer?” Danny asked.

Jenny glanced at Roland. “Kevin’s mother is my friend, Maggie Stevens. She’s a single mom.”

“I’d love to have them along.” Roland said. “Tell Maggie she’s welcome to bring a friend.”

Jenny’s spirits rose. The more people there, the less time Roland would have to focus his attention on her and Danny.

“How about I collect you Saturday morning about nine?” Roland suggested.

She nodded. “We’ll be ready.”

“And bring swim suits.” His large hand swallowed Danny’s. “I promise you’ll have a great time on the yacht, Danny.”

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