Read Getting some of her own Online

Authors: Gwynne Forster

Getting some of her own

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Also by Gwynne ForsterBreaking the Ties That BindWhen the Sun Goes DownA Change Had to ComeA Different Kind of BluesIf You Walked in My ShoesWhatever It TakesWhen You Dance With the DevilBlues from Down DeepWhen Twilight ComesDestiny's Daughters(with Donna Hill and Parry “EbonySatin” BrownGETTING SOME OF HER OWNGwynne ForsterKensington Publishing Corp.http:/www.kensingtonbooks.comAll copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.Table of ContentsAlso by Gwynne ForsterTitle PageACKNOWLEDGMENTSChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenEpilogueTeaser chapterCopyright PageACKNOWLEDGMENTSMy thanks to my stepson, Peter, the most precious gift I have ever received; to my husband who is always there for me, as faithful as daybreak; and to my Heavenly Father for the talent he has given me and the opportunity to use it.Chapter One“I've never done one wild thing in my entire life,” Susan Pettiford said aloud to herself as she left the doctor's office that early October morning, shading her eyes from the bright sun, “but there's a first time for everything. I'm going to know what it's really like, if it's the last thing I do.”As cold as it was that mid-October morning, perspiration streamed from her scalp to her chin, and she rolled down the window of her bright-red Taurus, eased away from the curb and headed for the apartment she'd sublet a few days earlier. What a blow! She'd come back to Woodmore, North Carolina, after an absence of sixteen years because her late father's only sister had died and left her heir to all that she had, including a house. Settling in a town of thirty-five or forty-thousand inhabitants wasn't her idea of a life, but fate seemed to be making decisions for her.Pains shot through her middle, and she tried to ignore it as, for months, she'd tried to overlook her other symptoms. She thought of going back to New York and seeing a doctor there, but she knew the diagnosis was correct, knew it before she went to the specialist. Driving fast, as usual, she put the thirty-five miles that separated Winston-Salem from Woodmore, North Carolina, quickly behind her. Inside her rented apartment, she dropped herself on the oversize leather sofa.Susan leaned forward, braced her elbows on her thighs and cupped her chin with her palms. Her life, all that she'd hoped for and dreamed of right down the drain. Had a sigh ever seemed so ominous? The breath that seeped out of her had the sound of agony, and of hopelessness, too.She got up, opened a crate and let its contents spill out on the bedroom floor. Then, she wrapped her hands around the purple-velvet box that she bought with her babysitting money when she was thirteen. She opened the box and looked at the four little dolls, two female and two male—symbols of the children she hoped one day to have—and went into the kitchen and tossed the box into the trash bag.Seemingly drawn to the floor-length mirror in the narrow hall, she stopped and stared at herself. She looked the same. She felt the same. But she wasn't the same. In two weeks, she'd be half a woman. Thirty-four years old and unable to bear children.“Count your blessings,” the doctor had said. “I just told a thirty-year-old woman that she has breast cancer.”I hope you announced that to her with more compassion than you just showed me,she thought, but didn't say.Susan gathered her resolve, strode to the telephone and dialed the doctor. “This is Susan Pettiford. Is there anything you haven't told me?” she asked when he took the phone. “I want to know everything right now.”“Well, you'll have hot flashes, but we can give you something for that. Some women have difficulty with sex, but that's partly a matter of attitude. Of course—”She interrupted him. “And partly a matter of what else?”“Oh, it may not happen in your case. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.”She hung up, dissatisfied, hurt and angry. It wasn't his body. She wished she knew someone who'd had a hysterectomy and with whom she could discuss it.While eating her lunch of milk and a peanut butter and raspberry sandwich, she remembered that the lawyer for her aunt's estate had invited her to his wife's birthday party that night.At least it'll take my mind off that operation.She wanted to wear red to the party, but decided that flamboyance wasn't in order, and chose a short, pale-green chiffon evening dress. And silver accessories. Since she didn't know how the local women dressed, she decided not to wear her mink coat—a mark of distinction in New York—and put on her beige cashmere coat instead.Susan hadn't previously been in the Woodmore Hotel, and its elegance surprised her. Crystal chandeliers sparkled in each of the public rooms and gave the suite housing the party a grandeur that offset the chic appearances of those present. The bartenders wore tuxedos and served the latest alcoholic concoctions in long-stem crystal glasses. The drapes were made of royal blue silk, which covered the walls as well as the chairs and sofas, and the women must have known that, for only she wore a gown the color of which clashed with the room's furnishings. Glitter was the last thing she had expected to find in Woodmore, but Mark Harris' friends had it in abundance.She saw him the minute she entered the room. She couldn't have missed him, for he towered over everyone there and his persona commanded attention. And when he looked at her, she was glad she'd left that red dress home. Almost immediately, the man headed toward her with their host, Mark Harris, at his elbow.“I'm so glad you could come, Susan,” Mark said. “This is Lucas Hamilton, a close friend and former classmate. Lucas, Susan Pettiford is an interior decorator, so I expect the two of you will find that you have much in common.”The bulk of Lucas Hamilton blotted out all else from her vision—she could not pull her gaze away from the eyes of one of the most handsome men she'd ever met.“Mark said you're new in town. Would you have dinner with me tomorrow, Sunday? I'd like to get to know you.”She looked around for Mark and saw that he was on the other side of the room. “Why does he think we have so much in common?”“I suppose because I'm an architect. You didn't say whether you would or wouldn't have dinner with me Sunday evening.”A week earlier, she would have glowed with delight, but now she couldn't encourage a man's attention. She had no right. She laid back her shoulders and got a firm grip on her resolve. “That's right. I didn't. I'm sure we'll have other opportunities to see each other. This is, after all, a small town.”Both of his eyebrows shot up, and she'd have sworn that his chin jutted out. “As you wish,” he said. “It's been interesting.” She watched him walk away, and it struck her that Lucas Hamilton was unaccustomed to rejection for any reason or by anyone.Oh, well. He can't possibly be as disappointed as I am. The kind of man I've always wanted in my life, and I have to let him go.She spent a few minutes talking with a local minister, who introduced himself as the Reverend Gilford Ripple, and with Sharon Hairston-McCall, publisher ofThe Woodmore Times. An interesting woman. The idea dawned that life in Woodmore might be more rewarding than she'd imagined, and she began to mingle with the guests, hoping to find among them a future friend.  Sitting in the comfort of his cathedral-ceiling living room later that night, Lucas Hamilton reflected that he'd just had his first dusting off by a female, a woman who interested him as much as any woman he'd ever met. She didn't even try to make it palatable, didn't offer an excuse. He'd been thirteen years old when he asked his mother's best friend what was so great about sex—and he'd asked her because he'd caught her staring at his crotch on more than one occasion. She'd asked if he really wanted to know, and when he said yes, she opened her arms, spread her legs and gave him what he now regarded as a degree in the techniques of lovemaking. And she eagerly polished his skill at it whenever he thought he needed it. To her credit, the first time she saw him with a girl, she smiled, waved and never made another move toward him. He'd often wondered why he hadn't become attached to her. His approach to her was the first he'd made to a female and, in twenty-two years, he hadn't had a single refusal—until tonight. Susan Pettiford intrigued him, but not sufficiently to cause him to chase her. He had more important things to do with his time.Lucas leaned back in the recliner and let his gaze roam over the house he had designed to his own taste and for his own comfort. He had done well as an architect, had carved a name for himself in Woodmore and as far away as Nashville. But he knew he wouldn't be satisfied until he wielded more influence and his name carried more prestige than that of Calvin Jackson, the man who sired him. He wasn't after the man's blood. His mother chose to have a four-year affair with a married man, but she had no right to deny that man access to his son and to withhold from her son a father's care and nurturing. But that did not absolve Calvin Jackson; in thirty-five years, the man hadn't once reached out to him. The short distance of twenty miles separating Danvers, where Calvin lived, and Woodmore made that seem ridiculous. He'd never spoken with his father, and if he ever did, he wouldn't be the one to initiate the conversation.He got up and tuned the radio to the station that played golden oldies. His eyes widened when he heard “If you knew Susie, like I know Susie.” Laughter poured out of him. “Well, I'll be damned. That gal must be a little witch,” he said aloud and turned off the radio.  If Susan had been a witch, she would have ordered her life differently. The morning after meeting Lucas, she set about trying to make a liar out of the doctor who gave her that heart-rending diagnosis. “I'm not taking this lying down,” she said to herself and dialed the office of a famous endocrinologist.“What will this do to my hormones?” she asked him. “Will I grow facial hair, and what about sex?”“Of course, it will affect your hormones, and how it affects sex varies. I doubt you'll grow any facial hair. If you have problems, make an appointment to come in and see me.”Thanks for nothing, she thought after ending the call. Before she could ponder more, the phone rang. It was Mark Harris, the lawyer for her aunt's estate. “If you want to sell your aunt's house, I have a prospective buyer. I ought to tell you that your aunt enjoyed a bit of notoriety. At forty-eight, she was one of the best-looking women in town, and the local men paid due homage. I suspect more than one person will want that house, so you may wish to take your time about selling it.”She thanked him and hung up. She'd always known of her aunt's beauty, and now, she suspected that her unmarried relative enjoyed a full and fulfilling sex life, something that wasn't guaranteed her. Indeed, it would probably be her fate that the operation would leave her asexual. Frigid.She was not a virgin, but the earth had never moved for her, although she'd given more than one man an opportunity to create an eruption. The most she'd experienced was a few tremors, and she was damned if she'd settle for that.I'm not undergoing that operation until I have myself one mind-blowing affair with a man I can dream about for the rest of my life.But how was she going to manage that in a place where she knew exactly six people, including two men, one of whom was married.I shouldn't have been so quick to brush off Lucas Hamilton. He's not self-assured for nothing. The man wears his success with women the way a peacock wears his feathers. And Lord, you could drown in his eyes.A week later, still in a quandary, Susan lifted the telephone receiver from its cradle and dialed information. “Could you please give me the number for Lucas Hamilton, the architect?” Her fingers shook as she jotted down the number. She didn't think he would turn her down, because his curiosity wouldn't let him. She dialed the number, and as she waited, she could neither breathe nor swallow.“Lucas Hamilton's office,” a clipped-female voice answered.“I'm Susan Pettiford. May I please speak with Mr. Hamilton?” She thought her teeth chattered, but she wasn't sure. At the moment, nothing seemed real.After a brief pause, she heard, “This is Hamilton.” She nearly dropped the phone. What would she say to him? Gathering her courage, she let out a long breath and began. “Mr. Hamilton, I hope you remember me, I'm—”He interrupted her. “I certainly do, Miss Pettiford, and considering the reception I received when we met last week, I'm surprised to hear from you.”So far, not good. Best to brazen it out. “I can imagine, but I've spent an entire week without speaking to anybody except salespeople and, well, I've been led to believe that small-town people are friendly, and I—”“A city of forty thousand isn't exactly a hamlet, Miss Pettiford.”May as well cut to the chase. “Look . . . will you forgive me for being foolish and have dinner with me Saturday evening? It's rumored that I'm a great cook.”“Will I . . .what?”“Have dinner with me. I promise to pull out the stops.”In the lengthy silence, perspiration dampened her from her scalp to her waist. As she prepared herself to find a gracious way out of it, he said, “My curiosity won't let me decline. I'll be delighted. Where do you live?”She gave him her address. “Seven-thirty?”“I'll be there. Thank you.”“Till then,” she said and barely managed to hang up without dropping the receiver. As she had suspected, Lucas Hamilton had the manners of a polished gentleman, but beneath it she detected a core of steel. She'd better be careful.  In the three days that followed, Susan did her best to make the furnished apartment that she sublet more like her own environment. Being an interior decorator, there wasn't much about that furnished apartment that she liked. She softened the masculine appearance of the living room with an antique gold and brown African print that she threw across the sofa, then added burnt-orange colored velvet cushions, a large ficus plant, and placed a crystal vase of tea roses on the glass coffee table.Saturday finally arrived, and after preparing a seven-course meal worthy of Buckingham Palace, Susan set a table equal to the standard of the meal, pampered her body, and dressed in a deceptively simple sheath. The long-sleeved, high neck, burnt-orange jersey dress would have seemed prim, but for its color and a right side seam that was slit from ankle to mid-thigh. With nothing beneath the dress but bikini panties and a demi bra of matching color, she figured that she was displaying her assets to their best advantage. Gold hoops in her earlobes softened her pixie haircut.At ten minutes before the appointed time, she stopped pacing the floor, remembered to dab perfume behind her ears, to lower the living room lights, put some soft music on the CD player and take ice cubes out of the refrigerator. What else had she forgotten? Too late for that. The door bell rang, and as if she'd been soldered to the floor, she couldn't move her feet. The bell rang again, this time with greater urgency, or at least so it seemed to her, and chills plowed through her body. Could she go through with it? What if he didn't fall for it?The bell rang again, and to her it sounded like a warning. Maybe he would leave. She shook herself out of her trance, rushed to the door and opened it.“Hi.”His eyebrows shot up, and she knew that the apparent primness of her dress had registered with him. “Hi. I thought for a while there that you had changed your mind and hadn't bothered to tell me.”She forced a smile. Forced it because the man's commanding presence unnerved her; not because she lacked confidence, but because she disdained trickery, was about to engage in it, and his bearing said he wouldn't tolerate it.“I was raised better than that,” she told him. “Come on in.”When he handed her a large bouquet of yellow roses and a bottle of Moët and Chandon champagne, it was her turn to raise an eyebrow. “Thank you, Lucas,” she said, trying out his first name. “Yellow roses are my favorite flower, and I love champagne. We'll have it for dessert.”“I'm afraid it isn't chilled.”She smiled to put him at ease, but if truth be told, he seemed at home. It was she who needed bolstering. “By the time we get around to dessert, it will be good and cold,” she assured him. “Have a seat.” She led him to the living room, then went into the kitchen to refrigerate the champagne. When she returned, he stood where she'd left him.His words were the only evidence that he'd watched her walk away from him, but those words were revealing indeed. “I hope you don't mind my telling you that your dress had me fooled. I thought you'd shrouded yourself for protection.”Protection, eh? She sat on the sofa and motioned for him to sit in the chair opposite her. And in spite of her effort to appear dignified, laughter took possession of her until she bordered on hysterics. After trying unsuccessfully to pry from her the reason for her amusement, Lucas went into the kitchen, got a glass of water and brought it to her.“Drink this.” She took a few swallows, and he repeated the question. “Now, what was so funny?”That was the opening line she needed. “I guess it was the idea that I needed to protect myself from you. To tell you the truth, the suggestion seemed ludicrous.”His face darkened into a frown. “So I'm harmless? I'd like to know your other thoughts about me.”She ignored the remark. “I seem to have forgotten my manners. What would you like to drink?”She knew she hadn't fooled him when a half smile eased across his face. “Usually bourbon and water, but—”“Bourbon and water it will be.”They had already begun to fence with each other, and she didn't think that was the route to her goal. She'd have to change the mood. Susan put a dish of hot canapés on a tray along with the drinks—bourbon for Lucas and white wine for her—and went back to him.“I hope you like these. In fact, I'm hoping you will like everything I cooked for you and that you're hungry.”He smiled again, and she was beginning to get the feeling that she would never get used to it, that his smile would always unsettle her. Maybe it wasn't his smile, but her guilt that caused her discomfort. She almost wished she hadn't started the charade.“As long as you don't give me chitterlings and chicken livers, we'll get along,” he said. “A good home-cooked meal isn't something I get every day.” He tasted the miniature quiche. “If this is a sample of your culinary talent, I can hardly wait for the meal.”He leaned back in the chair, sipped the bourbon (she had bought the best, and she sensed he was aware of that and appreciated it), and focused his gaze on her until it seemed to burn her skin. “Why did you invite me to dinner?”The question came as a surprise, for she hadn't anticipated it and had no ready answer. She did her best to give him a reasonable explanation. “In the two weeks that I've been back in Woodmore, I've met six people, four women, my married lawyer and you. I was—I didn't feel like spending this kind of evening with any of the other five, and I suspected you'd be a good conversationalist and that you would enjoy a well presented, gourmet meal.” She ignored his slightly dropped jaw. “Am I right?”“You certainly are candid. Where did you live before you came here, and what did you do?”“I lived in New York City, where I was principal interior decorator for Yates and Crown.”He sat forward. “So that's why your name is so familiar! I know that firm of architects well. Are you married?”“No. If I was, I wouldn't cheat on my husband.”After staring at her for a minute, a grin floated over his face. “You would call what we're doing here this eveningcheating?”She wanted to kick herself for that slip. “Well, you know what I mean.”“I assume your relatives live in the Big Apple, too.” He savored another sip of bourbon.“No. My father died some years ago, and not long after my brother married a Swedish woman. He lives in Stockholm with her and their two children. My mother joined the Peace Corps about five years ago and, ever since, she's been saving Africa.”Concern etched the contours of his face, mirroring his compassion for her. “That's too bad. Do you ever see her?”“I've visited her twice, once in Nigeria and once in The Gambia. Right now, she's in Sierra Leone.”“I see. Maybe she needs to help others. By the way, why would the chief interior decorator for Yates and Crown architects leave New York and settle in a small town like this one?”“Because I don't have a life there. Usually, my workdays begin at eight-thirty in the morning and end at midnight. Most Yates clients are wealthy, and when they hire you, they think they own you. If Miss Importance gets an idea at midnight, she thinks she has the right to call me and discuss it right then. I've proved that I can handle the job. Now, I want to smell the flowers sometimes. My aunt's will is what made me consider moving back here.”“You'll find plenty to do here, because there isn't a top decorator in this area. What does your mother think of your plans?”“Oh, she lives in a different world. For her, living quarters are a matter of providing tin rather than mud structures for poor women, so that their houses won't be washed away in the rainy season. By the way, where's your family?”He appeared to withdraw, and she wished she hadn't asked him. “You're not married, are you?” He'd have to be deaf, stupid or both to have missed the anxiety in her voice. She might be conniving, but she would not knowingly sleep with a married man, not even if that were the only means of realizing her body's potential.If he noticed her concern, he didn't make it obvious. “If I was, I wouldn't be here. I also don't cheat.” He grinned at that, but a somberness quickly settled over him like fog over a mountain lake. “My mother lives on the outskirts of Woodmore, and I see her from time to time, although I make certain that she doesn't want for anything.”She put her glass on the end table beside the sofa and sat forward. “Don't you like your mother?”“I like her. The problem is that I resent her for not letting me get to know my father.”“But you're an adult. Couldn't you have contacted him?”He leaned back in the big overstuffed leather chair and draped his right knee over his left one, comfortable with himself and his surroundings. “Of course I could have, but he's the father, not I, and if he makes no effort to have me as a part of his life, fine with me. I'm not going to beg him, and I don't lose any sleep over it, either.”Without thinking, she reached across the coffee table and patted his hand. “I'm so sorry. My father was everything to me.” The raw need that she saw in his eyes startled her, and she jumped up. “I'd better serve dinner. It takes a long time to go through seven courses.”Lucas savored the first course,quenellesof scallops with Dugléré sauce, without saying a word. After swallowing the last morsel, he put his fork on his plate and looked straight at her. “If the rest of the meal is up to this standard, it may take the sheriff to get me out of here.”Susan thanked God for her brown skin; if she had been lighter, the hot blood in her face would have betrayed her. “I'm glad you enjoyed it,” she said in barely a whisper.“That is an understatement.” His deep, velvet baritone gave his words a seductiveness that she assumed he didn't intend to convey.She was no expert at the seduction of a man, and she hoped the food and wine would do their job. After the courses of sherry-garnished cream of wild mushroom soup; peach sorbet; filet mignon, lemon-roast waxy potatoes and asparagus that followed, he rested one elbow on the table, fingered his chin and gazed at her. “If you tell me you feed every stranger you entertain this way, I won't believe you.”If he could play hardball, so could she. “Did I tell you that? When I do something, no matter what it is, I do it properly. And you can write that down.” She didn't look at him, but busied herself clearing the table. When she returned with their next course, she noticed a difference in his demeanor.“That was impolite,” he told her, “and I regret saying it. You didn't have to go to so much trouble, but you did, and I'm enjoying the fruits of it.” Charm radiated from him, and she told herself to beware. She meant to be the seducer, not the seduced, whose reward for the evening was a kiss on the cheek and an invitation to dine with him in a first-class restaurant. She served an assortment of French and English cheeses, French bread and a smooth red wine. When she stood to clear the table, he said, “I can do this,” and gathered the dishes and headed for the kitchen.This is working too well. I hope I'm not headed for a let down.When she took the brandy Alexander pie out of the refrigerator and put it on a plate, he whistled sharply. “I guess this is where I open the champagne,” he said as he opened the refrigerator door, got the cup towel that hung on the oven door, wrapped it around the champagne bottle and eased the stopper out without making a sound.“I see you've opened a lot of those,” she said. “The champagne flutes are up there.” She pointed to a cabinet door, and when he reached for the glasses, his hand managed to brush her shoulder. “Let's have this in the living room,” she said, calculating that she would have to sit beside him on the sofa. She put the pie on the coffee table, and as soon as he was seated, she said, “How foolish of me. I have to get plates and some forks,” rose and walked back to the kitchen, giving him an eye-full of her back action. Music. That would help get his mind on sex. She sat down beside him, picked up the remote control and within seconds, the haunting music of “Paradise” filled the room. She cut the pie, served it and waited while he poured the champagne.“Thanks for the most intriguing evening and the most delicious meal I've ever eaten,” he said, raising his glass. “The first course alone would have kept me happy for days.”“But you haven't tasted the dessert.”“Any dessert I get will be an anticlimax.”Her nerves seemed to rearrange themselves throughout her body. She didn't know what he meant, and she feared the answer if she asked him. He tasted the pie. “This pie is out of sight, and I'm convinced now that you meant to seduce me to putty.”“Wh-why would I do that?”“Beats me.” He took a long sip of champagne. “Probably for the same reason you're wearing this go-there-come-here dress. I don't know whether to make a pass at you or recite the Twenty-third Psalm.”When she replied, “I'm sure you can figure it out,” he put his glass on the table, stood and extended his hand. “Dance with me. I've always loved this song,” he said of Percy Faith's recording of “Diane.”Susan didn't need to be coaxed, but she had begun to like the man, and she wondered if she would someday regret what she was increasingly certain would happen between them. She wanted it, didn't she? Hadn't she planned it meticulously? She considered backing out, but his arm eased around her, strong and masculine, and pulled her to within inches of his body. And they danced. Danced until that song and then another one ended. Danced as if they had always danced. She didn't know when she rested her head on his shoulder and his other arm went around her, snug and comfortable as if it had a right to her body.
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