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by Anne Ashby
Description: New Zealand widow Raven thinks her mother's American fiancé is the loveliest man. Visiting his home in Maryland, she unfortunately finds his son is the exact opposite. Greg's animosity and distrust forces Raven into an unpalatable position of safeguarding her mother's happiness. His arrogant assumption his father has been conned by a gold digger enrages Raven and she assumes the mantle to prove him wrong. Soon finding herself attracted to Greg, Raven is certain he's incapable of feeling anything deeper than the lust he makes no attempt to hide. Even if she is wrong about him, she can't extricate herself from her pretence and she's afraid he'll never forgive her deception, her lies. Can he ever understand her reasons for pretending to be engaged to his father? She was his father's fiancée, wasn't she? Greg discovers Raven's subterfuge within days of her arrival. His initial enjoyment of her antics quickly palls as his feelings for her deepen. Desperate to bring her lies into the open, he maneuvers her into a situation where she'll be forced to own up, only to have his scheme backfire. But Raven has other secrets. Secrets that could drive Greg away, forever.
eBook Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc./Last Rose Of Summer, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: May 2010
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [362 KB]
Reading time: 237-332 min.
"I can't do this," Raven Titirangi gasped, staring at the airline ticket in her hand.
"Why not?" grinned the man seated at her hospital bedside. "Didn't your mother teach you not to look a gift horse in the mouth?"
Raven frowned. "My mother taught me lots of things, like always being on the lookout for lecherous old men--"
Brad Collins threw back his head, his shout of laughter drawing glances from others in the hospital ward. Raven felt a swell of affection. Since meeting Brad during the annual Rollercoaster Fun Run around Auckland's North Shore, life had been so different. The tall American tourist said he had spied the advertising for the fun run and joined the thousands of runners pounding the pavement. By the time they'd crossed the finish line, Brad and Raven had established an easy rapport that had continued to grow, and very soon he'd worked his way into her family's hearts.
"Look, honey..." He leaned forward grasping her clenched fingers. "You work too damned hard. You need quiet time to recuperate. Listen to what the doctors said. You need to rest or this surgery could take a long time to get over. If you stay at home, you won't rest." He pressed on as if aware of her mounting hesitation. "Joy said you have an extended leave of absence from school to recuperate, so there's no reason why you can't go. You know I'd like you to come to America permanently, so why not take this chance to visit Ellicott City and see what you think of the place? I have my own quarters so you won't need to bother Greg, unless you feel like being sociable. Our house actually borders onto a state forest with hiking trails you could use to build up your strength again. And if you feel up to doing some painting, I have a sunroom that would be ideal for you to use as a studio."
He's ticking off everything he knows I'll find irresistible, Raven realized.
She looked up from their entwined fingers. What he suggested sounded very tempting. She knew she had to slow down and give her body time to recoup, but how could she accept this offer? She had her obligations here--still, a holiday in America, all expenses paid, staying in Brad's home, it sounded wonderful, relaxing, and carefree. Almost what the doctor would order...
No, she must not be tempted. Her mother had enough on her plate without taking over Raven's maternal responsibilities as well.
"All you're really doing is going over for a couple of weeks before us. What could be the harm in that?" he pressed.
"But without the boys?"
Brad continued as if she hadn't interrupted. "It will help to put some colour back into your cheeks. I'll make all the arrangements, have Greg or Abby pick you up in Baltimore, and look after you until we arrive. Perhaps if you feel up to it, you might want to help with some of the wedding arrangements, make sure everything would suit your mother."
Brad didn't stop long enough for Raven to speak. Instead, he slipped in the coup de grace: "I've talked this over with your mother already and we have it all sorted out. Between the two of us we can take care of everything here."
Finally Brad paused. Raven guessed he was uncertain what further arguments he could use to sway her. He knew she would not willingly expect Joy and him to look after her sons. A small smile crossed her lips as she realized he'd probably heard her quote 'they're my responsibility' on more than one occasion.
"Raven, you must realize that without your health you're no good to your boys or yourself. Take it easy for a while!" He sighed, looking quickly over his shoulder, before returning his eyes to her face, entreating, "Please."
"Your reinforcements are arriving." Raven tried to keep the amusement from her voice as she sighted the familiar woman entering the ward. Brad's head swung around and his face lit up with the sweetest smile.
Raven watched her tall, slim mother approaching the bed. Joy smiled apologetically at Brad. Still attractive even as she approached her sixties, there was now a glow about her that thrilled Raven. As a child Raven had often dreamed of her mother remarrying, but it had not happened--until Raven had taken Brad home that day on the promise of a 'home-cooked Kiwi meal.' Within a short time she could see that Joy had found someone she could love. Raven hadn't been surprised when they had shared the news that they intended to marry.
"What kept you?" Brad asked, concern marking his face. "I saw some parking spaces along the road before you dropped me off."
"Yes, but it's a one-way street. By the time I got around the block they'd all gone. It doesn't matter. I finally found one lone car park down Grafton Road." Raven watched the love soften her mother's face as she touched his cheek before turning to her with a smile.
"Hello, darling." Joy leaned over and kissed Raven. "How do you feel today? You still look awfully pale to me, although it's such a relief to see you without those tubes."
Not for the first time Raven thought of how frightening her collapse must have been to her mother. Thank God Brad had been there to help Mum cope with her grandsons and her fears, through those long terrifying hours when my life hung in the balance.
"I'm feeling much better, thanks, Mum. The doctor said I'd be able to come home within a week."
"That's good news. The boys will be so happy. We'll bring them in later today. Brad and I wanted to talk to you alone, so we came a little early."
Raven tried to glare at the concerned face. "Yes, I've been hearing already, Mother. You two are ganging up on me, aren't you?"
Joy didn't even have the grace to look ashamed although her lips twitched at the almost unheard of formal address. "Of course we are, darling. Maybe two of us can talk some sense into you. You wouldn't listen to me before when I said you were doing too much. No one can continue burning a candle at both ends. Something had to give and it was your health."
"Mother, appendicitis isn't caused by overwork, you know."
"Of course it isn't," Joy acknowledged, "but you must have been ignoring the warnings your body was trying to give you. I suppose you told yourself it was a torn muscle or something?" She sniffed disparagingly, shaking her head. "Anyway, I don't want to listen to excuses. I can manage the boys until we all join you."
Using her sternest school-teacher voice, eyes glittering with determination, Joy continued. "Take that ticket and get on the plane to Maryland, Raven. Stop arguing. Brad and I are quite competent, you know." Her eyebrows arched defying argument. "We'll see you in a couple of weeks."
As if she could read her daughter's mind, she added, "I spoke to the boys last night and explained you need a holiday."
Brad cut in guilelessly, "They were really happy with the idea if it means you getting back to your old self. Especially when I suggested we might be able to spend a couple of extra days in L.A. on the way over."
Raven couldn't help it. Laughter bubbled up even though her stomach hurt and she had to clutch it firmly. "You old reprobate! Mum, how on earth could you fall for someone as sneaky and underhanded as this?"
Joy looked across the bed at Brad, her eyes twinkling. "Just fate, I guess."
Brad tore his eyes from Joy's and back to Raven. "Go, Rae," he urged. "I promise everything will be okay here."
Tears welled up in Raven's eyes.
What would life have been like if I'd grown up with him as a father? Still, soon he will be my father. Well, stepfather, she corrected herself, but that was good enough. And seeing the change in her mother over the last month made her heart swell with love and gratitude.
She placed her hands on either side of his face. "Brad Collins, I love you. If you'd been a few years younger, I'd have given Mum a run for her money." Raven missed the glance that flashed between Brad and Joy as she hugged him tightly. Just as well. She'd never have consented to go to Maryland, had she known Brad's ulterior motive.