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To Have And To Hold Diana Palmer Are her unknown boss and the sexy mystery man next door one and the same? Find out in New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer's acclaimed story, TO HAVE AND TO HOLD!Who is Cal Forrest? wonders shy Madeline Blainn. Her new neighbor is undeniably gorgeous. He's also older and worldlier, but nevertheless, Maddy finds herself drawn to the man. Something about him seems oddly familiar, but she's had no time for a personal life since her fiancé passed away days before their wedding. Maddy does her best to stop thinking about the irresistible Cal. But as the secrets between them grow, so does the attraction. Can they confess their hidden desires in time for true love to blossom? Are her unknown boss and the sexy mystery man next door one and the same? Find out in New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer’s acclaimed story, TO HAVE AND TO HOLD! Who is Cal Forrest? wonders shy Madeline Blainn. Her new neighbor is undeniably gorgeous. He’s also older and worldlier, but nevertheless, Maddy finds herself drawn to the man. Something about him seems oddly familiar, but she’s had no time for a personal life since her fiancé passed away days before their wedding. Maddy does her best to stop thinking about the irresistible Cal. But as the secrets between them grow, so does the attraction. Can they confess their hidden desires in time for true love to blossom? TO HAVE AND TO HOLD Just who was Cal Forrest? Shy Madeline Blainn’s new neighbor was as mysterious as he was mesmerizing. First, he’d turned her simple world topsy-turvy—and then her heart. Cal’s passionate kisses made falling in love easy—but just who was she really falling for? Dear Reader (#ulink_f9e1a620-af69-5f45-80f5-98bf60ac4f26): Back by popular demand! Diana Palmer has long been a favorite of Silhouette readers, and it is with great pleasure that we bring back these impossible-to-find classics. After the Music, Dream’s End, Bound by a Promise, Passion Flower, To Have and to Hold and The Cowboy and the Lady are some of the first books Diana Palmer ever wrote, and we’ve been inundated by your many requests for these stories. All of us at Silhouette Books are thrilled to put together books four, five and six of Diana Palmer Duets—each volume holds two full novels. Earlier this year we published the first three volumes of Diana Palmer Duets, containing Sweet Enemy, Love on Trial, Storm Over the Lake, To Love and Cherish, If Winter Comes and Now and Forever, to universal acclaim and sell-out crowds. Don’t miss this chance of a lifetime to add to your collection. The twelve novels contained in the six “Duets” show all the humor, intensity, emotion and special innocence that have made Diana Palmer such a beloved name at Silhouette Books. I’d like to say to Diana’s present, past and future fans—sit back, relax and enjoy! Best wishes, Isabel Swift Editorial Manager A Note from Diana Palmer Dear Readers: This book contains To Have and to Hold—my third published book—and The Cowboy and the Lady, my first published Silhouette Desire. To Have and to Hold was strictly for fun. I loved that big black dog of Cal Forrest’s, especially when he ate Madeline’s steak and pushed her down in the stream behind the house. He was actually based on my own dog, Mingo, a Doberman Pinscher whose ears had never been properly clipped. James and I almost didn’t get married because of Mingo. At the time James and I started courting—if you can call getting engaged on a Wednesday and married the following Monday a real courtship—there were three women in the house: my mother, whom I called George, my sister and me. Dad was temporarily living in Atlanta, having just changed jobs. Mingo had gotten used to protecting his girls, and he definitely did not like strange men. The minute James walked in the house, Mingo jumped up on the nearest chair, bared his sharp white teeth and let loose his best professional wrestler growl. The fact that James refused to be intimidated really floored that dog. He went from puzzlement to shock to actual shame. By the end of our five-day courtship, Mingo would slink away and whine when James came in the door. Poor old dog. I felt that he did at least deserve a little immortality because of his perseverance, so I added him to the cast of To Have and to Hold. The cat, Cabbage, was not patterned after our only resident Siamese cat. Our cat was neither cross-eyed nor female. He was a mean-tempered, macho-type male cat who hated everyone—especially me. From the beginning, he belonged strictly to James. If he ever got mad at James, he would come and bite me instead! Lucifer—he lived down to the name, believe me—came to live with us in 1972. By 1979, when To Have and to Hold was written, he was seven years old and smugly secure in his position of Solitary Adored House Cat. I hate smug cats, so I conspired to undermine his position in the household. I bought another Siamese cat. This one was female, cross-eyed and loving. She was a totally different kind of cat from Lucifer. I named her Kwan Yin, after the oriental goddess of beauty. Sadly, her elegant name lasted one day. She was sitting in my lap when a door slammed. Always high-strung, she dug in her very sharp claws and took off like a hotrod. “Awww,” James said, grinning as he eyed my scratches. “Mama’s little Boo-Boo.” Boo-Boo she is, to this day. But in To Have and to Hold, she was Cabbage. We lost Lucifer in 1989—ten years after he became accustomed to Boo-Boo. She has been a lost soul ever since. Lucifer was seventeen years old, not a bad life span for a beautiful and much-loved old friend. I buried him under my favorite dogwood tree, in the front yard, and planted violets around him. They are almost exactly the color of his eyes. The secret identity that E. F. McCallum adopts in the book—pretending to be Cal Forrest—springs from my fascination with such heroes as Zorro and Superman when I was a child. I always loved the idea of a secret identity, so I couldn’t resist having Madeline’s boss adopt one during his sick leave. When he revealed his true identity and she had to deal with the differences in their life-styles, I delighted in the resulting drama. I have to confess that I enjoyed the opportunity for some humor, as well. My first two books were rather dark in tone. This one was light and airy, with madcap people and animals. When Madeline dumped the pie on McCallum’s stomach, I laughed until I cried. I could see the syrupy apples running down over that white sweatshirt and hear McCallum yelling his head off. It was my favorite scene. My next favorite was when she backed down her driveway and hit his car. Poor guy. It was nice that he survived their courtship, though. The scene on the beach in Panama City, Florida, was retracing old paths for me. For many years, my family spent several days every summer on the Miracle Strip in Panama City, shelling and playing in the surf. My sister, Dannis, was just a toddler then. It was so much fun, watching her experience the beach for the first time. We lived in Atlanta then, and she’d never seen anything like the Gulf of Mexico. Neither had I; seagulls and pelicans, bone-white sand and aqua water, were equally fascinating to me. I sat on the balcony of our room and watched the whitecaps break in quick chain reactions at night, with the moon shining down on the dark water. I remember thinking at the time—I was only fourteen—that someday I was going to write a book about the place. Even at that age, writing was all I ever wanted to do. Well, I did write the book, and To Have and to Hold was it. I tried to capture the excitement I felt the first time I saw the Miracle Strip, along with the tangible delight that the atmosphere held for me. I hope I succeeded. The Cowboy and the Lady was my first Silhouette Desire, and it wasn’t light in tone like To Have and to Hold. If anything, it was a dark drama with a very masculine hero and a feminine heroine. Amanda was very much on the defensive with Jace Whitehall, and it was obvious to me from the beginning that she was going to have a hard time. Jace is my favorite of all the heroes I’ve ever created. He isn’t as complex as some have been, but he has traits that I liked and admired. I often wished that I’d had the space of a longer book, because the chemistry between these two characters was immediate and explosive any time they were together. I have never enjoyed a story as much. Even when I finished the book, I couldn’t stop developing the characters. My filing cabinets are full of scenes I couldn’t fit into the book. The only other book that affected me so strongly was To Love and Cherish. I don’t really know why they made such a lasting impression on me. But they did, and I’d still love the opportunity to go back and add more to them. The idea of having Jace celibate for so long wasn’t really something I planned. Like so many facets of a character, this one popped out of thin air and refused to be dislodged. Some people think that long periods of celibacy are not possible for men. Whether they are or not, Jace said he had been, and I wasn’t about to argue with him! Really, this is fiction, and the ideals of romantic love may not be very realistic—but they are beautiful. Fidelity, honor, loyalty and sacrifice are noble virtues. In bygone eras, they were life itself. A man’s word was like money in the bank, a woman’s virtue was a pearl beyond price, and honor was worth dying for. Maybe those old-fashioned ideas are out of date, but I still believe in them. I admired Don Quixote tilting at windmills as he sought to restore honor and nobility to a weary, cynical world. I like characters with noble ideas, virtues beyond price and honor. Being bad is easy. Being good is not. The very rarity of true virtue makes it intriguing to me. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy building characters who portray it. And perhaps I saw too many replays of Man of La Mancha in my youth! I always have loved windmills, and there are plenty of them in Texas. Cervantes created his character as a Spaniard, but he would have made a great Texan. All in all, I prefer writing books with Western settings. There is something timeless about a vast plain where men struggle against nature itself to carve a life—or an empire—for themselves. The men who tamed the West were a special breed. I have enjoyed recreating that pioneer spirit in modern-day cattlemen, in heroes who are, I hope, a little larger than life. If their virtues are slightly magnified, it is to compensate for the flaws of modern society, which are also magnified. Romance fiction offers a brief escape from the pain and pressure of modern life, taking you into a world where the human spirit can be noble and strive for a higher, richer existence. My characters aren’t completely true to life—but then, perhaps that’s their appeal. I have enjoyed sharing my rose-colored dreams with you. If they have made your heart a little lighter, your step a little surer, your sadness a little more bearable, then I have succeeded beyond my wildest hopes. May your lives be as bright and joyful as your friendship has made mine. God bless you. Your friend, To Have And To Hold Diana Palmer www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) CONTENTS Cover (#ue9c50084-7bad-50ed-8d80-df48c105370b) Back Cover Text (#u5e544363-7b11-524a-ae3f-4d7350248f74) Dear Reader (#ulink_36001b36-450e-5100-b2e2-5fd0e5cf913b) Title Page (#u4dbf08f9-3747-5272-a6fd-b43ddc6fd37f) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_60cd9eec-3705-5737-a24e-e53c159033cf) CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_db38ab17-8999-5dfa-a8ca-ec6e604b316f) CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_12de2d56-52cb-5634-85dd-0aba22750ce8) CHAPTER 4 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 5 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 6 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 7 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 8 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 9 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Extract (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_af694595-8377-52f0-8549-33f2da7313c7) Madeline heard the bustle of the other girls gathering up purses and sweaters, slamming desk drawers, covering typewriters, and she smiled to herself as she finished typing a letter. It was Friday, and she didn’t blame them for hurrying. Most of them were barely out of their teens, and had boyfriends. Friday night meant dinner and a show to them. But for Madeline Blainn, it meant a steak for one seared on the brick charcoal grill behind her spacious suburban home. At twenty-four, she was a career woman in every sense of the word. Tall, slender, a clotheshorse, she was the envy of her friends, not only for her loveliness, but for her poise as well. Nothing ever rattled Madeline. Not the nervous assistant who helped her handle the home office in Atlanta for her mysterious ever-absent new boss. Not the bustle of high finance or the screaming pace of dictation and phone calls that went with it. Not even the disagreements that were legion among the girls in the other offices. Nothing ever rattled Madeline. “Going home tonight?” Brenda teased with a smile as she stopped in the doorway on her way out. Madeline shrugged her shoulders and gave her friend an easy smile, her dark eyes quiet. “Two more letters to go. Mr. Richards said he was to have them out today—McCallum’s orders,” she added with mock solemnity, and brushed away a strand of auburn hair that curled rebelliously at her eye. “Oh, yes, Mr. Mystery.” Brenda laughed. “You’d think he’d drop in on his own company once in a while, wouldn’t you? Have you ever seen him at all?” Madeline shook her head. “Not even once. Of course,” she added mischievously, “I was just across the way with the peons until that promotion two months ago. This building is strictly for the company brass, so it isn’t likely that I’d have seen E.F. McCallum in person.” She frowned. “I wonder what the E.F. stands for? Ever Faithful? Evenly Fried?” “How about Eccentric Fiend?” Brenda suggested. “After all, they say he’s relentless when it comes to business. You wouldn’t know about that, of course; you only know about the big boss through Mr. Richards.” She sighed. “Dear old Mr. Richards.” Madeline eyed her. “He’s a very nice man until something goes wrong.” “Something always goes wrong,” her friend countered. “He never yells when one of us is out sick,” she returned doggedly. Brenda shook her head. “You’ll find at least one nice thing to say about the devil, wouldn’t you, dear? Don’t you ever wonder what McCallum looks like?” she asked suddenly. “Yes. But I think I know why nobody ever sees him,” she said with a taciturn expression. “Why?” “I’ll bet he’s got terminal acne,” Madeline said, “and only goes out with his head in the hood. Or maybe he’s so short and wizened that. . . .” “I’ve heard all this before. Have a nice weekend, bye!” And Brenda was gone like a small whirlwind. With a sigh, Madeline finished her letters and signed them with McCallum’s name and her initials. They’d still have to be okayed through Mr. Richards, in spite of the fact that she was technically answerable to McCallum only. But, she reasoned, how could she be answerable to a phantom? She held out a letter and studied the name with a slight frown. What, she wondered, was E.F. McCallum like? Was he tall, short, old, young? He might have walked through her former office a dozen times, and she’d never known who he was. She’d never even seen a picture of him, because rumor had it that he’d been known to break cameras that were poked in his face. Another argument, she thought wickedly, in favor of the terminal acne theory. . . . Of course, she reminded herself, McCallum was the head of a dozen corporations just like this one, and probably in each of the international offices he had a man just like Mr. Richards who held the reins of control. But why couldn’t he, just once a year or so, stop in to review the troops and let himself be seen? There were always rumors, of course. This month’s favorite was that he had a mistress in France and spent the majority of his time in the Paris office for that reason. But there were just as many counter rumors linking him with women all over the world. Nobody really knew McCallum. Of course, there was the usual bonus every Christmas with his personally signed and much duplicated note of thanks. There was a Christmas card, a very fancy one, with his signature engraved in gold leaf. There was a small gift for each of his personal staff, but no personal contact. Ever. Perhaps it was just as well, Madeline thought as she finished stuffing the envelopes and stamped them. The mystery had its own delight, and if she wanted to pretend that her never-seen boss was the image of Clark Gable, that was nobody’s business. Anyway, a man in a dream was ever so much safer than a real one. After Phillip She gathered her sweater and purse and went home. * * * As she pulled into the long driveway of the suburban house her aunt had willed her, she glanced next door and saw that the workmen were still busy on the patio and swimming pool which were being added to it. The familiar red Jaguar and the familiar blonde, however, were missing. There was a very sedate black Mercedes in the driveway. The blonde had been a landmark to the neighbors for two years or more. Why a woman of such obvious wealth chose to make her home in this middle-class neighborhood was the subject of much speculation. She never mixed with the neighbors or had anything at all to do with them. Probably, Madeline thought, she was simply too busy for it—which was a kinder sentiment than most of the other residents aired. The majority’s opinion was that she was some rich man’s mistress. Of course, there were rarely any visitors who stayed overnight; and even then, the cars were always different, and, Madeline told herself, nobody, not even the super rich came in a new and different luxury car every time. Dismissing the puzzle, she parked her small economy car under the carport, locked it, and went into the comfortable split-level house that had been the last home of her aunt and uncle. It was really a bigger house than she needed, but it had been home for a number of years now, and she liked the seclusion of the nearby woods, the little stream that ran through the property, and the garden spot to grow things in. Besides, it was a pleasant neighborhood with pleasant people who, thank God, minded their own business and left each other alone. Madeline liked the privacy of it. The tall hedge between her and the blonde was as good as a stone wall, and there was nothing but a small forest of fruit trees on the other side of the house. Trees in the yard sheltered her from the road. It was like a country home although it was just minutes from the sprawling office complex where she worked. And she loved it. As she walked into the living room, with its clutter of patchwork cushions and earth colors in the furnishings, she saw Sultana stretched lazily on the brown upholstery of the couch, where she had no business being. With a laugh, Madeline swept the lean, long Siamese cat up in her arms. “You bad cat,” she chided, watching the crossed blue eyes stare unblinkingly back at her from the smoky gray face in startling contrast to the snowy white that surrounded her points. “You know you don’t belong on the couch. Come here and I’ll feed you.” She put the young feline on the floor, and Sultana followed her into the kitchen chattering noisily in a voice that sounded like a cross between a squalling baby and a Model-T Ford that couldn’t quite start. “Noisy, aren’t you?” Madeline laughed. “I don’t know why I bother talking to you, Cabbage, when I don’t speak Siamese any better than you understand English.” Sultana was the name on the cat’s papers, but Cabbage she had become when she ate a chunk of it that Madeline was shredding for slaw. She’d read somewhere about cats having three names—one for special occasions, one for everyday, and; one that was secret. It seemed to be true. The secret one was probably only to Sultana, too. Sultana Cabbage made a loud remark as she settled down in front of her bowl. Madeline left her there and went to change clothes, still vaguely curious about that third name. Minutes later, in a pair of beige slacks with a beige and white cotton knit blouse, she started a fire in the charcoal grill in the back yard. It was early summer, and the afternoons were warm and pleasant. Madeline loved to eat out on the picnic table and listen to the crickets and June bugs harmonizing in the woods. Especially after a day like today. She pulled a thick steak from the refrigerator, slapped it on a platter and sliced an onion on top of it. “I’ve been looking forward to this all day,” she told Cabbage. “Sorry, girl, but it just isn’t enough for both of us, and I’m not sharing it.” If cats could grimace, the Siamese did, and gave her what really looked like a I-hope-you-drop-it look. Madeline went out the back door without paying much attention to her immediate surroundings. The fragrance of blooming shrubs and flowers was everywhere. The sun was low on the horizon, the skies were streaked with red and gold. It was, she sighed, such a beautiful afternoon. Her mind was on that beauty and that luscious steak she was about to cook, and she didn’t think about company. That was why she hadn’t noticed the large black Doberman pinscher who was walking slightly behind her, sniffing the air and licking his lips. Seconds later, lying on her back in the grass, staring up into the sharp, white teeth that were grinding up her thick, red steak, it was impossible not to notice him anymore. He was standing on her stomach with his front paws, and he felt like two bags of wet cement. Her eyes like saucers, the fear making her mouth dry, she gasped up at him breathlessly, wondering if the steak was going to fill up such a large dog. She felt like a large slab of fresh meat, and it was all she could do to make noise come out of her throat. “N-nice puppy,” she choked in a loud whisper, as he wolfed down the last tidbit of steak and licked his jowls noisily. “Oh, nnnnice p-puppy! Wouldn’t you like to go run it off now, puppy, hmmmm?” she managed. “Puppy? My God, are you blind?” came a rough, decidedly masculine voice from above her head. “Suleiman, down, you dammed glutton! Down!” The note of no-nonsense authority in that deep, impatient voice moved the dog immediately. Even Madeline responded to it, getting to her feet with a speed and grace that were a credit to her ballet training. “Are you hurt?” the voice demanded in a tone that said she’d better not be. She looked into the face that went with the voice and felt as if she’d been slammed in the stomach with a mallet. She was five foot seven in her stockinged feet, but he still dwarfed her. His leonine face was hard and uncompromising and was topped by waving dark hair threaded with silver. He had to be close to forty, but there was not an ounce of flab on that athlete’s body. He was all muscle, from the powerful legs in dark slacks to the massive chest and shoulders encased in a spotless white shirt. He was watching her through slitted eyes, eyes so deep-set and narrow she couldn’t even tell their color. “Will you answer me, damn it, or are you dumb as well?” he growled. Her dark eyes flashed fire at him, and she pushed back her disheveled auburn hair with a hand that trembled despite her attempt at poise. “The only dumb thing I did,” she said in a voice like a straight razor, “was walk out that door unarmed! Tomorrow, so help me, I’ll bring a shotgun!” Something glittered in those narrow eyes, although his face was as hard as a stone wall. He studied her as if she were a new breed of animal, quietly, insolently. “Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever known Burgundy to pack a punch,” he said, his eyes on her hair that was dancing with fiery lights in the late-afternoon glow. “I’m not used to women who fight instead of flirt.” She didn’t doubt it. He was attractive, in a rugged, dark sort of way. But years older than men she was used to, and far too domineering. “Are you and your horse,” she indicated the dog, who was now sitting on his haunches at the man’s feet, “visiting around here?” she asked hotly. “In a sense,” he replied. “Bess is in Europe and I’m looking after the place until she gets back. “Bess?” The name didn’t ring any bells. “Bess,” he said impatiently, gesturing toward the high hedge. Oh, Lord, the blonde! A friend of his, no doubt, and judging by the wear on the clothes he had on, he needed some friends. The collar of the shirt was slightly frayed. Her eyes went to her own clothes. There were two massive pawprints on the once-white slacks. She glared at him. “So, you’re the caretaker? May I express the sincere wish that her absence is short-lived?” she asked testily. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get out of these clothes and finish what I started—my supper! Not that I had more than the one steak, but maybe I can find a moldy piece of bacon in the refrigerator!” One dark eyebrow went up. “Is that a subtle hint that I owe you a meal?” he asked narrowly. “It isn’t subtle, and it isn’t a hint,” she fired back. “Your four-legged garbage can ate my steak!” “If you didn’t expect him to,” he said, “why did you leave the gate in the hedge open so that he could come through it?” Her eyes widened as if they meant to pop. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You think I left it open deliberately?” she gasped. “Why not?” he returned, one big hand jammed in his pocket. His dark eyes studied her slender figure insolently, boldly with a practiced deliberation that made her blood riot in her veins. “But you’re wasting your time,” he added. “I like my women fuller around the….” “How dare you?” she choked furiously. He snapped his fingers, and the big dog immediately came to heel. “Kindly keep that gate closed in future and turn your attentions in some other direction. I’ve got all the women I need, and I don’t like such obvious tactics.” “You . . . you . . .” she sought wildly for just the right word. “. . . Yankee!” she finished desperately, her face flushed, her hair and eyes wild. “Me?” He shrugged. “I was raised in Miami.” He started toward the gate. “I don’t want to have to follow my dog over here again. Ever,” he added with a cold flick of a glare. Her fists clenched at her sides. “If you do,” she replied harshly, “wear armor!” But he wasn’t even listening; his broad back insolent and uncaring was turned to her. With a muffled cry of anger, she turned and marched back into the house, slamming the door behind her with all her might. Her only comfort was that her co-workers couldn’t see her. The unflappable Miss Blainn was definitely flapped. CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_c6684f77-4f2f-5198-9041-45afb556542a) The black Mercedes was gone the next morning, and it didn’t reappear until Monday, much to Madeline’s relief. It had been an eventless weekend, and a lonely one, and it had been marred by the unpleasantness of its beginning. As Madeline got into her own car to start out to work, she mentally cursed a fate that had made her only close neighbor such a barracuda. Why couldn’t he have been some nice old retired man with a….” She was backing out of the driveway as she was thinking, and the sudden metallic thud that brought her small car to a screaming halt shook her. Trembling, she glanced in the rear-view mirror to see the black Mercedes stopping and its door opening. Her eyes closed momentarily as she opened her door. Why me, Lord? she wondered silently as the stormy, taciturn giant came toward her with narrowed, glittering eyes. “How many driver’s license inspectors did you have to get drunk before you talked them into giving you a license?” he said shortly. “My God, do you drive with your eyes closed?” Her lips made a thin line. She looked up at him, and it was a long way even in her two-inch heels. “Only when I’m backing over my neighbors,” she replied tightly. “Sorry I missed.” He glared down at her. “What you need, young woman, are some manuals on safe driving.” “What you need, old man,” she countered, “are some tips on how to behave like a gentleman.” Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Oh, excuse me, now I remember, I’m only doing it to attract your attention, isn’t that so?” She smiled sweetly. “Next time, I’ll wear a bikini when I back into you. Sorry I don’t have time to bat my eyelashes at you any more, but I’ll be late for work. You’ll send me a bill for the damages, I’m sure.” “You can count on it!” he said in a voice like Arctic snow. She glanced around him at the front bumper, where a dent the size of a half dollar was barely visible. She shook her head and sighed. “Such a lot of damage. You may need to garnish my wages. I’ll tell you what, just send the bill to Evenly Fried McCallum, and he’ll pay it—I’m his private secretary, you know, and worth my weight in diamonds. I chase him, too,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper. “Bill whom?” he echoed, both eyebrows arching, his dark eyes incredulous. “Excuse me, E. F. McCallum was what I meant to say,” she replied. “Only his friends get to call him ‘Evenly Fried.’ It’s the McCallum Corporation. You may have heard of it.” “I may have.” His eyes narrowed, studying her quietly. “You work for McCallum, do you? What does the old man look like?” “He’s short and bald and has terminal acne,” she replied smartly. “And he doesn’t like his employees to be late. I am sorry about your car—but it’s your own fault, you should never drive past my house when I’m backing down my driveway.” She turned and got back into her little car. “Honey, from now on, I’ll head for the nearest ditch when I see you coming,” he replied in that deep, slow voice, but there was a hint of a smile on his swarthy face. “Watch where you’re going from now on. I don’t have time for these little eyecatching maneuvers of yours. I’ve already told you, you’re not my type,” he added deliberately, almost casually. “You conceited, lily-livered son of a . . . ” she sputtered after him. “Nice try, but flattery doesn’t move me either,” he replied quietly, not even pausing in his measured stride. “Ooooooh!” she screamed. But he wasn’t listening. Madeline spent her entire break grumbling about her new neighbor while Brenda tried not to laugh too hard. “Looks like he’s getting you flapped. Is he good-looking? Married?” Brenda probed gently. “He’s ancient,” came the hot reply. “Gray at the temples, big as a barn and he runs all over people. And if he’s married, it has to be to Saint Joan!” Brenda laughed. “That bad, huh?” A thought came to her, and her eyes widened suddenly. “Oh, you haven’t heard the latest news yet! Guess who’s in town?” “Charlton Heston!” she replied in mock pleasure. “No, not Charlton Heston,” Brenda sighed. “McCallum!” Madeline’s eyebrows arched. “McCallum? Here? Really? Where?” Brenda laughed. “Nobody knows where. They say he’s taking some time off, though, so he won’t be around the office. His doctors are making him slow down, escape from business pressures. So he’s in town but not in town.” “Oh.” That was vaguely disappointing. “If his health is that bad, he must be pretty old.” “I hear his health is bad because he’s been pushing himself right over the edge. His wife and son were killed in an airplane crash a few years ago. They say he gives everything that’s in him to the corporation now . . . I guess he must be horribly lonely. All that money and power, and nobody to care about him. Poor old man.” “Poor is right,” Madeline sighed. “Money can’t buy absolution. He must hate being alive. He must feel all kinds of guilt because they died and he didn’t.” “I hadn’t thought about it that way.” “It doesn’t occur to most people,” she said in a husky whisper, with a smile that never touched her eyes. Brenda clasped her hand warmly. “Phillip wouldn’t want you to feel guilt. Honey, he’d have been the last person . . . ” “Please!” Madeline turned away, biting her lip to stem the rush of tears. “Sorry. I thought . . . I mean, it’s been a year, going on two years . . . ” She straightened and forced a smile to her lips. “And I should be getting over it. I know. I will. I’ve gone on living, haven’t I?” Brenda’s gaze was piercing. “Have you? No dates in all that time, no social activities, no parties, no nothing. You work. You go home. You eat. You sleep. How long are you going to walk around dead?” She felt her face going white. “I . . . I. . . .” “This morning, for the first time in over a year, I saw you feel something,” Brenda persisted. “God love that neighbor of yours, honey, he’s breathed some life into you.” Madeline stared at the toes of her shoes. “I hadn’t realized I’d been like that.” She smiled. “I guess you’re right, I really did feel something this morning. In court, I believe it’s called homicidal rage.” “Been talking to Cousin Horace again?” Her friend laughed. “He’s still after the house, I guess?” “With a vengeance.” Madeline shook her head. “Every time he calls, the first thing he asks is when am I going to marry somebody and let him inherit. Little does he know that I plan to die a spinster just to keep him from getting it.” “I thought you liked the guy.” “I do. He’s a good attorney and a nice man, and he’s the only first cousin I have left. But,” she added, “he does have this thing about money, and I don’t think he’s ever forgiven Uncle Henry and Aunt Charlotte for leaving everything to me. The clause about the house and property reverting to Horace when I marry was probably just to pacify him. “Too bad first cousins can’t marry.” Madeline made a face. “Yuuuch! If you’d ever seen Horace, you wouldn’t wish him on me!” Brenda sighed. “I’d wish him on me. Do you know the last date I had was with a . . . ” and the conversation drifted back to Brenda’s favorite topic—her nonexistent love life. The day seemed unusually long, and soon after Madeline got home the walls seemed to start closing in on her. She was vaguely restless, unsatisfied, and that had never happened before—not in recent years, anyway. She left Cabbage curled up on a rug and went out the back door, barefoot, her mind on the tiny stream at the back of the property and how cool the water would feel. Dressed in white shorts and a lacy pink top, she made her way through the sparse woods, trying to walk carefully enough that the bark and pine needles and twigs didn’t rip the soles of her feet apart. Before she finally reached the bank of the cool little stream, she wished a hundred times that she’d worn sandals. The stream was nestled in a green glade with wildflowers curling along the shady bank, and the water was sweet and cold and clear. She waded in it contentedly, careful not to splash water on her spotless shorts while she felt the rocks smooth and hard under her tender feet. She closed her eyes on a sigh, feeling the wind in her face, hearing the murmur and gurgle of the water and the heavy thud and crackle of leaves as something came bounding towards her. “Arrrrrff!” Her eyes flew open at the loud bark as the Doberman came into the water with a mighty leap, and she screamed and slipped and fell with a great splash right into the water. She glared furiously at the beast. He sat down in the water, eyeing her carelessly and watching her frantic efforts to sit up and smooth the wild fury of her hair. “Urrrrrrr!” he purred, and seemed to grin, if dogs could. “Oooooh!” she groaned angrily. “You great clumsy beast! Why can’t you stay at home and eat his steaks and push him into the water? Hmmm?” He shook his wide black head, his sharp ears pricked as he enjoyed the water gurgling over his fur. “Ruff!” he replied, leaning forward with his long, thin nose as if to emphasize the playful bark. With a sigh and a shake of her head, she relaxed in the stream and brought her knees up to wrap her arms around them. “Ruff to you, too, Charlie horse,” she murmured. “I hope you do realize that if that awful old man you live with catches us together, there’s going to be an awful scene? Oh, well.” She let her forehead rest on her arms. “All right, sit there. But do be quiet, okay?” “Asssruth,” he said in a low bark. “Nice puppy.” She reached out a slender hand and let him sniff it before she ran it over the sleek, silky fur over his eyes. He settled down in the stream beside her, and the water ran quietly around them both. Only a few minutes had passed, and Madeline was lost in the peace and quiet of the glade when a rude voice shattered the enchanted silence. “Suleiman! So there you are, you damned fugitive!” Oh no, not again, Madeline groaned silently, looking up to find her neighbor on his way through the young trees, his look as black as the matching slacks and shirt he wore. He stood at the bank and looked down at her, his hand idly going to the giant dog as it clambered up on dry land to sit and look contentedly up at him. “Why,” he asked quietly, “are you sitting in the water fully clothed?” She met his level gaze narrowly. “Why,” she returned, “don’t you ask your horse?” He blinked. “My what?” “That black one there. Remember him? He’s the one who had supper with me last week—and went for a swim with me today.” Her eyes blazed. “I can’t wait to see what he does next; every day’s a new adventure!” He eyed her suspiciously. “He was on a lead,” he said, nodding toward the dog. “And I don’t think he’d have broken it without some coaxing.” That was the last straw. She could hear her quickened breathing, feel the fury choking in her throat. “You think I lured him down here?” she asked tightly. One heavy, dark eyebrow went up. He stuck his hands in his pockets and lifted his head arrogantly, studying her. “Did you?” he asked finally. Her full lips made a thin line. “And I suppose I moved next door to you in order to attract your attention, too?” she persisted. “It’s been done,” he replied matter-of-factly. She stood up, ignoring the water that trickled down from her wet shorts in a downpour and stuck her hands on her slender hips. “Shall we have the gloves off?” she asked quietly, barely containing her temper. “Point number one, you’re years too old for me, and even if you weren’t, I am off men. Period. Point number two,” she continued, ignoring the sudden flash of his dark eyes, “I grew up in this house. It was my uncle and aunt’s, and I’ve been here for over eighteen years. Hardly,” she added with chilling politeness, “an attempt to attract your attention . . . Mr. . . . Mr. whoever you are!” One dark eyebrow went up. “You really don’t know, do you? Call me Cal.” “There are a lot of things I’d rather call you,” she remarked, still sizzling under her studied calm. “Don’t strain yourself.” His dark eyes slid up and down her slender figure. “So I’m too old for you, am I?” She flushed uncomfortably but stood her ground. “Yes, you are.” “How old are you?” “It’s none of your business—but I’m twenty-four,” she replied. “Touché” he told her. “All right, Burgundy, let’s call it a draw and put up the gloves. I bought this property for a refuge. I don’t want it turned into an armed camp. Pax?” She eyed him warily. “You started it,” she said defensively. “I can finish it, too,” he said, the authority in his deep voice arresting. “I’ll ask you once more—pax?” That or nothing, he didn’t have to say it, it was there in his dark, unsmiling face. She grimaced. “Pax,” she ground out. “Like pulling teeth, isn’t it?” he asked. “Need a hand?” She shook her head stubbornly, giving the Doberman a nasty glance as she found her way to the bank, careful not to slip again on the water-polished stones, where the ripples played. She shifted from one foot to the other in the soft, cushy grass near the tree trunks to dry her toes. “Suleiman knocked you down, didn’t he?” he asked her. She nodded. “He didn’t mean to,” she said, defending the big beast sprawled at his master’s feet. “He’s just an overgrown puppy.” “Come at me with a stick and you’ll see what kind of a ‘puppy’ he is,” he replied flatly. “I’ll walk you home. It’s getting late.” She studied the hard, leonine face with a curiosity she couldn’t hide. He was used to giving orders, that showed. In experience, much less age, he was by far her superior, and his face was hard with lessons she had yet to learn. She felt a sense of loneliness in those dark deep-set eyes and wondered vaguely if he ever smiled. “Suit yourself,” he said, taking her silence for protest. He turned, gesturing the dog to his side. She ran to catch up with him, grimacing as her feet hit sharp bits of bark and twigs. “You are,” she breathed, “the most exasperating man . . . !” He glanced at her. “You’re not McCallum’s average secretary. Where did he find you?” he asked suddenly. He had her attention now. “You know him?” she asked excitedly. “We’ve done business together,” he said easily. “Answer me. How did you get the job?” “You might ask, instead of making it sound like an order,” she grumbled. “Mr. Richards hired me, promoted me, that is. I’ve been at the engineering offices for the past four years.” They walked in silence for several steps. “Why are you off men?” he asked suddenly. Her eyes misted, softened with the memory as she stared blankly straight ahead. “I had a fiance once. He died,” she said gently, in a tone laced with pain and memory and the sweetness of loving. “When?” She shrugged. “Well over a year ago, in an airplane crash, two days before the wedding. Isn’t that ironic?” she added with a hollow laugh. She drew a quick breath, and smiled suddenly. “Would it give away any deep, dark secrets if you told me what McCallum looks like? You have seen him, haven’t you?” She met his quiet gaze and noted with a shock that his eyes were gray, not dark at all. Gray, like water-sparkled crystal in that swarthy face, under those heavy eyelids. A corner of his mouth went up in a bare hint of amusement, and his eyes seemed to dance. “He’s old and bald and women follow him around like puppies. You didn’t know how close you were to the truth this morning, did you, Burgundy?” She laughed, the sadness gone from her face. “I thought he might have two noses and wear his head in a bag, and that’s why we never saw him,” she explained. He chuckled; it was a deep, pleasant sound that made magic in the enchantment of the forest in late afternoon. She glanced at the pine straw on the ground. “I’m sorry I lost my temper at you. I don’t usually, I’m very even-tempered.” He studied her face, his expression cool but with none of the wary curiosity that had been in it before. “There’s a reason for the way I was with you,” he told her solemnly. “I’ve been chased too much, and by pros. I’m not a poor man.” “I thought you were,” she admitted shyly, watching as the house came into view through the trees. “That was a low blow, asking if you were the caretaker, but I was so mad. . . .” “You thought that?” he asked in disbelief. She frowned up at him. “Well, your shirt was frayed at the collar, and your car is a rather old Mercedes. . . .” “My God. That’s a first.” She turned and stood looking up at him at the edge of the yard. “It’s all the same to me if you live in a palace or a log cabin. I don’t choose my friends by their bank accounts, and don’t think I haven’t had the opportunity.” His eyes studied her flushed face with a strange intensity. “Yet you spend your time alone, don’t you, Burgundy? No close friends, no socializing . . . don’t you know that you can’t hide from life, little girl?” Her jaw stiffened. “My life pleases me.” “It’s your funeral, honey,” he shrugged indifferently. She glanced at the hedge, a thought nagging the perimeter of her mind. “You said . . . you bought that property?” She frowned. “Does the lady rent it from you?” “Bess?” He pondered that for a moment. “In a sense.” “Oh,” she said, accepting the explanation. “Well . . . I’d better go in now. Good night, Cal . . . Cal what?” she asked. “Forrest,” he replied after a pause. “Good night, Burgundy.” “My . . . my name is Madeline. Madeline Blainn,” she told him. His narrow eyes scanned her flushed face with its tiny scattering of freckles. “Burgundy suits you better. Good night,” he called over his shoulder. She stood at her back porch and watched him until his broad back disappeared through the hedge, the Doberman at his heels. There was a subtle shift in their relationship after that. She waved to him when they happened to pass, when she was in the yard or driving past his house. And he waved back. There was a comradeship in the simple gestures that puzzled her. She found herself absently looking for her neighbor and his black Mercedes wherever she went. In the grocery store. When she went shopping at one of the sprawling malls. At the theater where she went to an occasional movie. In some strange sense, he represented security to her, although she couldn’t begin to understand why. On an impulse one Saturday, she baked a deep-dish apple pie and carried it next door, braving his anger at an intrusion he might not want. “Cal?” she called as she reached the carport, shifting the pie plate in her hands as she tried to find the source of the metallic noises coming from there. “Where are you?” “Here.” “Here, where?” she asked, looking around her, but there was only empty space unless she counted the Mercedes. “Here, damn it!” he growled and suddenly appeared from under the rear of the car, flat on his back on the creeper, his white T-shirt liberally spotted and smeared with grease, a wrench in one hand. “What the hell do you want?” he demanded in an exceptionally bad-tempered tone of voice. All her good intentions vanished. “I wanted to give you something,” she said. “Oh? What?” he asked curtly. “This.” She dumped the pie, upside down, onto his flat stomach, watching as it spread down the sides of his white jersey. “I hope you enjoy it.” She turned on her heel, her lips in a straight line as she carried the empty pie plate home, ignoring the string of blue curses that followed her. So much for the truce, she thought wistfully. * * * Once she got over the attack of bad temper, she could laugh at what she’d done. Even if he never spoke to her again, it would be hard to forget the look on his dark face as he stared incredulously at the apple pie on his stomach. Serves him right, she thought as she sat down to the kitchen table and cut a slice of the other pie she’d made. Of all the unneighborly. . . . The insistent buzz of the door bell interrupted her thoughts. With a sigh, she left the untouched slice of pie on the table and went to open the back door. The object of her irritation was standing there, head cocked to one side, eyes narrowed. He’d changed into tan slacks and a patterned tan knit pullover, and apparently his surge of temper was over, too. “I thought someone should tell you,” he began deeply, “that when they said the way to man’s heart was through his stomach, they didn’t mean to dump food on it.” The statement, and the taciturn way he made it, broke through her reserve. The laughter started, and she couldn’t stop before tears were tumbling down her flushed cheeks. “Oh, I am sorry,” she apologized, “but I’d been baking all morning, and I thought you might like a fresh pie, and. . . .” “I’m bad tempered when I’m in the middle of something,” he replied. “A clamp on the muffler came loose . . . oh, hell, Burgundy, I’m not used to women in broad daylight, much less women who can cook!” That made her blush, and she stared at the door. “I’ve got another pie, if you’d like a slice.” There was a silence, and she looked up quickly, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, you’re in a hurry, I imagine, and I’ve got to go to the store!” “Don’t panic,” he said quietly. “You’re not the kind of woman who throws herself at a man. I’ve learned that about you, if nothing else. I’m not in a hurry, and you don’t have to go to the store. I’d like that pie.” “I . . . I . . . ” She took a deep breath and stood aside. “Won’t you come in?” She motioned him to the table while she got down coffee mugs and another slice of pie. Meanwhile, Cabbage came in to see what the disturbance was all about and stood watching the newcomer with her crossed eyes intent and wary. “Purebred?” he asked, leaning down to let the cat sniff at his hands before she began to purr and scrape her cheeks against it. “Yes,” Madeline replied, setting a cup of coffee and a slice of pie in front of him at the table. “Her name’s really Sultana, but I call her Cabbage.” He scratched the cat’s ears. “Do you show her?” She shook her head. “Those lovely crossed eyes would disqualify her in any real competition, she’s little more than breeding stock. But I liked her because she wasn’t perfect.” He took a bite of pie and nodded. “It tastes better than it felt,” he said with a glance in her direction. She grinned self-consciously. “Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, you didn’t do my ears much good.” “I never pretended to be a saint.” “God knows, you’d never be accused of it.” He finished the pie and leaned back, satisfied, to sip his coffee, taking it black, as she had half expected. He set the mug on the table and pulled a cigarette from the package in his pocket. “Do you mind?” he asked formally. She shook her head. “Want one?” “I don’t smoke.” She got up to get him an ashtray from the counter and set it in front of him. “No lecture?” he asked with deliberate mockery. “I live my life as I please,” she told him. “I think other people have the right to do the same.” He lit the cigarette and threw his arm over the back of the chair, watching her through a cloud of smoke. He seemed to fill the room, not only with his size, but with the raw force of his personality. His dark, masculine vitality clung like the cologne he wore. “I think it’s time you and I did some straight talking,” he said finally. His eyes narrowed, glittering across at her. “How would you feel about having an affair with me?” CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_c67117c0-cdfd-58fe-aa82-02a68b42489b) She could feel the blood draining out of her face, the astonishment making her eyes widen and darken with shock. Had she heard him right? He chuckled softly. “Never mind, words couldn’t say it any better than the look on your face. All right, Burgundy, I get the message. As you said before, I’m years too old for you.” She caught her breath, taking a sip of the hot coffee as she searched for something to say. “You say the most outrageous things,” she said breathlessly. “The best defense is a good offense, didn’t you know that?” He sobered, setting the mug down and leaning forward. His forearms crossed on the table as his eyes met hers. “You need someone, little girl. You have a haunted look about you when you think no one’s watching. You’re years too young for that kind of ache, that kind of loneliness. All I can offer you is friendship, but I think it might help us both. In a real sense, I’m as alone as you are, Burgundy.” She met his gaze levelly. “Are you?” He studied her in silence for a long time. “I’ve had women, Burgundy. I think you knew that already. And I’ll still have them. I’m a man, with all a man’s needs, I can’t live like a monk.” She felt the flush returning. Even with Phillip, there hadn’t been this kind of adult conversation, this frankness . . . even their kisses had been gentle, undemanding “That’s none of my business,” she managed in what she hoped was a calm voice. “No, it isn’t. No more than your sex life is any business of mine . . . if you even have one.” He took a deep breath. “The only way a relationship between us is going to work is if we keep it on a non-physical level. Men and women aren’t usually friends,” he added, stressing the last word just enough to make his meaning clear. “I know that.” She studied her hands on her lap. “You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. I’ve never had a lover, and I don’t want one. But I do, very badly, need a friend. Some one to . . . hold onto, who won’t make demands I can’t meet. Someone just to talk to and do things with….” “My God, maybe I ought to just adopt you!” She jerked her eyes up to his, puzzled at the anger there. “But you just said. . . .” “Never mind. Never mind, I said,” he growled as she opened her mouth. He gulped down his coffee. “Thanks for the pie. I’ve got a few phone calls to make.” She bent her head, staring down into the black, glimmering liquid in her coffee cup, stung almost to tears by the whip in his voice, the anger that she couldn’t understand. She couldn’t answer him, not without having him hear the tears in her voice. “Burgundy?” he asked gruffly. She shook her head, trying to convey in that non-verbal message that there was nothing wrong. She heard his footsteps move closer, until he was standing beside her, his hands clenched into fists in his pockets. He sighed deeply, and one big hand came out of the pocket to tip her face up, very gently, to his view. “I’m forty years old,” he said tightly. She forced a tremulous smile to her lips. “I won’t kick your crutches out from under you, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she whispered. His eyes closed, and an involuntary deep chuckle shook his chest. “Oh, my God, what am I letting myself in for? Eat your pie, you impudent little upstart. I’ll see you later.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/diana-palmer/to-have-and-to-hold/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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