A Suitable Father

 

 

A contemporary romance novel 

 Available from Zumaya Publications in print and electronic formats and from Ulverscroft in hard cover, large print format

© Patricia Crossley. Nothing may be copied from these pages without the permission of the author

Summary ]]] Reviews ]]]Chapter one ]]]Buying information 

 

No one has heard from Kurt Rainer for twelve years. He’d loved Maggie once with an all-consuming passion but doesn’t know she bore his son, married his half brother and was now widowed. He doesn’t know she’s planning to marry a wealthy, sophisticated doctor who owns the retirement home where she works. He doesn’t know how much his son resembles him in looks and in character. Most of all, he has no idea what havoc he will create in Maggie’s carefully planned life.

Maggie longs for a stable family and a loving father for her child and when Kurt turns up on her doorstep, wounded and implicated in a high-profile murder, she has to fight every instinct she has to help him. Despite the strong sexual attraction, she resists letting back into her life the man who once betrayed her so coldly and callously, and is now possibly a wanted criminal.

Let's skip the reviews, I want to go right to the chapter 

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What are they saying about this book?

A SUITABLE FATHER is a terrific tale of true love.  It started off with a bang and had me stuck to my seat.  I was not able to put the book down
because I had to find out what was going to happen next with Kurt and Maggie.  Mrs. Crossley adds just the right touch of suspense and action
without taking away from the romance.  She has a great way with writing her characters' emotions that has your heart reaching out to them.  This
book has a place on my keeper shelf and I will definitely be looking for more of her work.
Mendi Chaka" Romance Junkies

 

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Patricia Crossley has written a compelling story of two former lovers trying again, in spite of nearly insurmountable obstacles. She also gives us a  baffling mystery.  These two characters are well-developed, interesting people, and the mystery  they solve is finely crafted. 

Romantic Times, November 2000

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I really loved this book. I could relate in a lot of ways to Maggie. From the beginning I found myself supporting Kurt because I felt he was so affected by Steve’s lies and manipulations. I almost cried for Kurt, with all he was going through to win his Maggie.

This story moves along quickly and very well. It keeps one wanting to turn the pages to answer the suspicions about Kurt, the question of paternity and to Steve finally getting what he deserved. The author moved the story along with wonderful ease. I will read this one again, and again. I enjoyed the story immensely and would definitely recommend you read this book. It's a keeper.
Reviewed by: Guinevere Vestich   November 16, 2000. Read the complete review

 

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A tantalizing weave of love, adventure, and deception marks the pages of A Suitable Father, and renders the reader yearning for a sequel. .  . .

Patricia Crossley's ability to engulf her reader comes from an intriguing and well-developed plot mixed with a titillating romance. This is one sexy contemporary romance you wont want to miss.

A Suitable Father earns platinum honors (our highest)! -SEXY

BRIDGES Vol 1, Issue 3 Sept/Oct 2000 (Reviewed by Brenda Blanchard)  

Posted at: http://www.bridgesmag.com

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More going on in this story than I let on. Trouble at the work place for Maggie, trouble for Kurt while helping the police, and a lot of water under the bridge between Maggie and Kurt. The characters are well written and seem to have a life of their own. A flowing story full of romance, healing, and the learning of trust between two people. Recommended. 
HUNTRESS BOOK REVIEWS (Reviewed by Detra Fitch) Read the complete review



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Kurt and Maggie have many past problems to overcome and have to learn to forgive themselves as well as each other before they can have a forever-after kind of love. The characters are well developed and loveable and the plot has lots of twists and turns. This is a definite must read!
Reviewed by Bea Henson Read the complete review   

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A Suitable Father by Patricia Crossley is a sensual tale that will capture you in the first sentence and carry you through to the end. Maggie, betrayed and heartbroken pulls the pieces of her life together and provides a home for her unborn child. Suddenly, Kurt appears back in her life and she's faced with the truth that he's her son's father. You'll love this story of precious love lost and found.

KIM's REVIEWS (Reviewed by Kim Gaona)  


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Karin Huxman says:

Author Patricia Crossley crafts a tale of lost love found, but the stakes are high for former lovers, Maggie and Kurt. A SUITABLE FATHER offers a tender story of hope, renewal, and always ... romance. -- Karin Huxman, author of ENTANGLED, http://www.newconceptspublishing.com

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CHAPTER ONE

The headline leaped out: "Star's death suspicious. Guide in hospital." In smaller letters a sub-heading flared: "Guide outfitter being questioned."

The harsh, black print seemed to shimmer, hurting Maggie's eyes. Under it, was a picture of Johnny Gunn, the macho hero of four action movies, and next to him was a grainy photograph of her missing brother-in-law, Kurt. Kurt Rainer: her son's father, her betrayer, the fickle lover. There were many other words she could have used for him.

The camera had caught him full face, his head cocked in the old "damn your eyes" stance. All Maggie's senses became sharply focused as the world seemed to hold a breath. She kept a tight grip on the folded newspaper and felt carefully for the high back of the nearest chair.

"It was the name," Ellen said. "I thought you should know."

Maggie nodded and sank into a wicker chair. The article was a blur of print.
"Is he a relative?" Ellen's voice seemed to come from far away.

"My husband Steve's half brother," she whispered through dry lips. "He's been-gone for a long while."

"Thought I'd never heard of him." Ellen had only moved to Branscombe five years ago, so hadn't known Kurt. That was one reason why Maggie felt comfortable in her company. Most of her other friends from highschool
studiously avoided all mention of the Rainer family, in case they touched on Steve's death and Kurt's disappearance. They did it from the best of intentions, but the ghosts of the brothers often seemed to hang in the air at any gathering of old friends.

"They seem to think he might be involved," Ellen said.

"Would he have done something like that-killed someone?"

Maggie shook her head. "It's hard to believe. He was wild, but . . ."

"Here," Ellen was holding out a glass. "Have a drink. You look as if you've had a shock."

Maggie took the cold drink and sipped at the lemonade. The ice rattled in the glass.

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

Maggie put down the glass very carefully and hugged herself as if to keep warm. She heard her son Jeff yell something from the touch football game way down the yard.

"Kurt was older than Steve-Kurt's mother was his father's first wife. He-" she hesitated, "-had a reputation. About twelve years ago, he left town. No one has heard from him since. Not even Frieda Haydon, his grandmother."

"How sad for her." Ellen was quick to empathy.

"I should go to her." Maggie struggled to her feet. "Can Jeff stay here for a while?"

Ellen nodded. "Of course. Glad to help." She touched Maggie's arm. "Just do what you have to do."

Maggie checked her watch as she drove. A few minutes after seven thirty. She hadn't even taken a shower to clean up after the long, hot day. The setting sun flamed in a blood-red sky, sending flamboyant tentacles of gold, orange and pink across the horizon. One small black cloud hovered, pretending a threat to the summer heat wave. Overhead, a plane heading south to California left a vapour trail in the remaining blue.

As she took the turn to the Glenhaven Retirement Manor, the blazing golden light flared directly into her eyes. She pulled down the visor against the glare and braked before the curve into the clinic grounds. Nursing the car gently through the gears, she coaxed the engine back to life before it died on her. The old clunker would surely give up one day soon.

The cooler evening air wafting around her face and arms through the open window was refreshing at last. She pushed her damp hair back from her forehead and blew an obstinate wisp from her cheek.

In front of Glenhaven, sprinklers were gently watering the beds of flowers and shrubs that lined the driveway. Maggie pulled into her reserved spot, marked "Administrator," noting at the same time that Dr. Roger Saint George's car was in the Director's space. He must be catching up on paperwork since he was taking the day off tomorrow to drive her and Jeff to camp. It jarred her to see his car with her thoughts so full of an old lover. Roger made no secret of his wish to take their relationship a step further during her vacation and while Jeff was gone.. She needed time to sort out her emotions, time to pull herself together after the shock of seeing Kurt's picture.

No one knew Kurt was Jeff's father, and now was not the right time to start spreading the news, if she wanted her life to stay on track. She'd chosen to be alone since her husband's death, but Roger was beginning to mean a lot to her and most likely would become even more important. Nonetheless, she couldn't help hoping she wouldn't have to face him until the turmoil in her mind had died down.

Inside the building, the air was cool, smelling faintly of lemon polish. Maggie nipped a wilted head from the display of daisies on the coffee table and dropped it in the waste basket. Automatically, she reminded herself to leave a note for them to be replaced tomorrow.

The faint hum of a TV came from the residents' lounge. There was no one behind the desk. According to the roster posted over the counter, Dianna was on duty. Maggie had never warmed to the girl, but she knew there was no need to worry. Dianna seemed very reliable.

Maggie hurried through the deserted dining room and glanced out the window. The residence she managed occupied a prime piece of land near the harbor entrance with lawns sweeping down to the water. Clusters of tables and chairs dotted the grass, their colorful umbrellas furled for the night. There was someone in the gazebo down by the shore. Maggie could make out the outline of a head and shoulders against the backdrop of the shining water. The gazebo was Frieda's favorite spot. Surely she wasn't sitting out there so late?

Frowning, she pushed open the French doors and met once again the moist blanket of warm air after the welcome air conditioning. There was no point in calling out; Frieda's hearing wasn't that good anymore.

The gazebo was in shadow now, a slight breeze ruffling the vines on the trellis as the evening cooled down. Maggie strode rapidly across the lawn, her heart quickening. It was Frieda, sitting very still. She reached the wooden gazebo and crouched down by the old woman.

"Frieda?" she said gently. "Frieda? It's Maggie."

The old lady's eyes were closed and her hands clutched a newspaper. Once a journalist, always a journalist. She read every paper available. She must already know about Kurt. Hesitantly, Maggie put out a hand to touch the thin arm.

"No," she thought. "No, Frieda, not like this." Had the news been too much for her?

If Frieda died, the last links with her childhood and youth would be severed. She needed more time. Tears pricked her throat as she stroked the mottled hand. Suddenly, Frieda drew a deep sigh and opened her eyes.

Maggie jumped. "Oh Frieda," she said. "You frightened me."

"Why? Did you think I was dead? Not going to go yet. What time is it?

Frieda sat up straighter on the wooden bench and shivered.

"You're cold. Come inside. Did you have supper?" Maggie asked.

"No, I didn't have supper and I'm fine right here. Don't fuss, girl. I know what I'm doing."

"Of course you do."

Maggie rose from the crouching position and sat on the wooden bench next to her old friend. She reached for a hand, but the newspaper was still firmly in Frieda's grasp.

Frieda thrust the newspaper at her, folded to the same photograph of Kurt with a text in the same box. Maggie fought for control over the wave of apprehension that swept through her yet again at the sight of him. It was very quiet by the water. The trees stood black against the purple sky. The red, orange and green of Frieda's thin shawl blazed against the weathered wood of the gazebo. A seagull squawked raucously and another bird swooped low over the lawns with a beating of wings. The scent of the grass and the flowering bushes was suddenly cloying in her throat.

She closed her eyes and took a deep, trembling breath. "You know," she whispered.

"It's Kurt," Frieda said unnecessarily. "He's in some kind of trouble. He's in hospital. Hurt. I want you to go and see him."

"It's Kurt, it's Kurt," had not ceased to echo in Maggie's head, a persistent refrain since she'd first seen the newspaper. Her heart raced as if she had been confronted by the man himself, and not just his photo in a newspaper. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. She couldn't imagine what she would feel if she saw him again in the flesh.

Before she could find any words, a clear voice called from across the lawn. "Mrs. Haydon, Mrs. Haydon, are you still out here?"

Maggie stood up. "Yes, Dianna," she called. "It's ok, she's with me."

Dianna came around the corner of the gazebo, slightly out of breath and clutching a blanket.

"Oh Mrs. Haydon," she said. "You frightened me when I saw you weren't in your room." She turned to Maggie. "Mrs. Rainer, I'm sorry. Mr. Blacklock had a dizzy spell and I was checking on him and didn't realize that Mrs. Haydon was still out here." The girl looked flushed and uneasy. Maggie figured she was mortified at being caught out by her supervisor.

"It's all right, Dianna," Maggie replied. "No harm done." She took the blanket from Dianna's arms and placed it gently round the old lady's shoulders. "Mrs. Haydon seems to have given both of us a bit of a scare. Now, Frieda, let's go inside."

Frieda rose to her feet and leaned on her cane. She thrust the newspaper toward Maggie. "Read it," she commanded. "Take it home with you. You taking Jeff to camp tomorrow?" 

Maggie nodded.

"Good, " Frieda said. "We'll talk about what to say to Kurt when you get back. Come along, Dianna, you can help me back inside since you're here."

Maggie stood motionless, absorbing the news for a long while after the sounds of their footsteps faded Kurt, who'd callously abandoned her when she needed him most, was insinuating himself back into her life, whether he knew it or not. And was involved in something criminal. What could be worse than murder? The man she'd loved so desperately had proved himself undeserving, untrustworthy, unfeeling, unlovable.

She tucked the newspaper under her arm and slowly retraced her steps into the building. Her breathing had slowed almost to normal, but she was chilled, despite the muggy, summer air. Her knees felt wobbly. Her throat was dry. She made for her office. A few minutes to recover, a glass of water were all she needed.

She slid behind her desk, taking comfort in the familiar tools of her work. Everything was already in order for the start of her vacation: her files neatly stacked at the side, her project list and notes to hand for reference while she was away, her "to-do" list ready for her first day back. The Manor ran smoothly, thanks to her. She was good at her job.

She poured some water from the insulated carafe and sipped it, thinking, remembering. It was twelve years since Kurt had disappeared. Those days were a blur, with the quality of a nightmare: the horror of her parents' car accident, Kurt wild with anger at his father, pleading with her to run away with him.

When she refused, he left town, not knowing she carried their child and never gave a sign of life again. He didn't know of her desperate marriage to Steve, his half-brother, of Jeff's birth, her parents' deaths and the plane crash six years ago that had claimed Steve. And no one knew anything about Kurt. What had he done, where had he been all these years? Did he still think about her, or had he put everything to do with his former life behind him? He probably didn't even know about his father's will. There were few people left from those days. Only Frieda, his grandmother, and Maggie, his abandoned lover, and Jeff, his unknown child.

Jeff was the most important thing in her life. She'd loved him desperately from the moment he was first placed in her arms, a red, squalling bundle. She'd been protected and loved as a child and she longed to give Jeff the same security of two parents in a loving relationship. Every time she looked at her friend Ellen with her husband Cliff, she felt a familiar twinge of envy. It was a long time since she'd been part of a family where people played silly games and loved each other no matter what. Jeff had never known that bond with a caring father, but that could change. Roger St. George was a fine man, he said he loved her, and she'd thought herself on the brink of returning that love.

A knock at the door pulled her from her reverie. She looked up as Roger poked his head around the door. "Hi there. Two workaholics on a beautiful Sunday evening," he said with a grin. "Shameful. What are you doing here?"

The glimpse of his car had reminded her earlier of the relationship developing between them. Now she was filled with memories of Kurt. At this instant, her mind balked at the prospect of a new love when tortured by recollection of the old. She stood up.

"I'm not working," she said, "I just had to see Frieda. It was personal." She hoped he would think it was something to do with the house which Frieda still owned, but which Maggie and Jeff occupied. The arrangement, planned with Frieda's usual foresight and efficiency, worked well for them all.

"I'm glad you're here." Roger's eyes were tender. "Want to go for supper?" he asked. "Or a drink?"

Maggie shook her head. "No, thanks," she replied. "I have to pick up Jeff."

He was right in the room now and she took a step forward, towards the door. She didn't want to prolong this conversation.

His expression showed his disappointment. "I wanted to congratulate you, he said.

"What for?"

"Negotiating that deal with the linen suppliers. It's going to save us a lot of money. And Pete Moss, the owner, was talking to me. Said his people were most impressed. 'Professional, honest, but tough.' Those were his words." He put out a hand to touch her arm. "We make a great team."

"Thanks, " she said. She was numb, unable to feel the usual sense of elation at a job well done and acknowledged. She had to leave. Her tongue moistened dry lips. It was bizarre to talk to the man she might marry while her mind was full of Kurt.

"Is anything wrong?" His hand was warm and heavy on her arm.

She forced herself to smile at him "Just tired," she said and swung her big leather purse onto her shoulder. "I walked a long way this afternoon. Took some good shots. It was pretty hot." She moved towards the door.

"Can't wait to see the prints. Walk you to your car?" Roger took her hand. She hadn't the heart to withdraw. It wasn't his fault she was feeling guilty, angry, and fearful as the ghosts from the past materialized in her head.

At the car, Roger grasped her arms lightly and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. "Take care," he said. "See you and Jeff tomorrow, bright and early."

Maggie tucked the newspaper article under her camera case and drove back to Ellen's to pick up Jeff. Her heart had slowed down from the adrenaline-produced racing caused by the sight of Kurt's face, but she still had the sick, hollow feeling in her middle. Could he possibly be involved in a murder?

"Was Frieda okay?" Ellen asked, rocking on the porch swing with Jennifer, her seven year old.

"It was a shock. But she already knew. I'll talk to her tomorrow."

"Thought you were taking Jeff to camp and spending some time with Roger." Ellen raised her eyebrows and grinned meaningfully.

"Yes, well, there may be a change of plan."

Jennifer was draped on the swing like a rag doll, her straight black hair hanging in limp strands. She revived with a whoop of joy when Jeff appeared at the top of the steps from the direction of the back yard. Maggie turned to smile at him. He groaned and made a face at Jennifer, bouncing the ball on the wooden boards.

"I heard your car, mom," he said, "from three blocks away."

"It got me here," Maggie said, and turned to Ellen. "Got to run," she said. "Thanks for helping out, Ellie. A few things left to do before Jeff takes off."

Ellen sighed and then grinned. "Tell me about it. Jennifer goes next week. What we put ourselves through for a week of peace." She hugged her daughter to her. "Just kidding, kiddo," she said.

"Three weeks for me. He's going to the survival course."

"Hey, playing with the big guys, eh? Good luck Jeff. Be careful."

Maggie and Jeff walked through the grassy yard to the car, watched by Ellen and Jennifer from the porch.

"Cliff wasn't here, you know, mom," Jeff grumbled. "He went to the hospital." Cliff Yeung, Ellen's husband, was a pediatrician with a thriving practice. "So we couldn't play anything good," Jeff finished. Maggie understood "good" to mean a game that involved running hard and shouting. "I could've stayed home by myself for an hour," Jeff insisted. "I am nearly twelve, you know. I don't need to be 'minded'. Especially not with a girl!"

Maggie 's fingers itched to ruffle his hair but she refrained from adding insult to injury in front of a girl. "Dr. Yeung, to you," she said. "You didn't have to play with Jennifer if you were too tired,." she continued briskly.

Jeff looked at her with scorn. "Of course I had to play with her, mom. Chinese Checkers," he said in disgust. "Or she'd tell stuff about me at school."

Maggie repressed a sigh at the politics of the school yard and opened the car door.

Jeff climbed in the car, waved at Ellen, and stuck out his tongue at Jennifer as they pulled away. He pushed aside the camera bag to click his seatbelt.

"Hey, watch my camera, kid."

"Sorry, mom." The newspaper fell to the floor and he wriggled down to pick it up.

"Wow," he said, "this guy looks a bit like dad. In that picture at home." He frowned as he concentrated on the text.

"Guide to the stars," he read. "Kurt Rainer, guide and well-known outfitter. . . " He looked up at Maggie. "Hey, he's got the same name as us!"

"Has he?" Maggie felt her throat tighten. Her heart was pounding again in her ears.

"Wow," he said again. "This is awesome. Do they think he let Johnny Gunn fall from the cliff?. Did you see the pictures?"

How could she stop him talking about this? Her hands were white on the wheel.

"Hey, look out, mom. You're drifting."

Maggie pulled herself together. She wasn't going to ruin her life again and Jeff's because of Kurt Rainer. He'd done enough damage. He'd stayed away for all these years, and if she had anything to do with it, he would come no closer than the hospital bed fifty miles away where he was now being treated for his injuries.

"Do you know this guy, mom?"

"Yes, I do. He's a relative." The small evasion of the whole truth stuck in her throat. It hadn't seemed so bad to let Jeff believe Steve was his father. After all, everyone else took it for granted. She had never actuallyhad to say it out loud to her son. She had some vague notion of letting him know the truth when he was eighteen. If she had to. Until then, she would let sleeping dogs lie. When all was said and done, Kurt Rainer was not the kind of man a boy could proudly claim for his father.

Thankfully, Maggie pulled into the driveway of the old clapboard house before Jeff could ask any more questions she couldn't answer. The scent of the flowers hung heavy on the air in the closing dusk. She swiped a mosquito from her arm. "Come on," she said, "enemy aircraft sighted! Last one in's a goner!" Laughing, they ran for the protection of the screened porch, Kurt Rainer and his past misdeeds put out of mind for the moment.

An hour or so later, Jeff in bed and his bags for camp checked for the last time and stacked around him, Maggie settled back in the porch with a glass of fresh, icy lemonade and the newspaper. She'd scanned the article before, but a closer reading gave few more details than Jeff had read out. Kurt had been working in the bush for a film company and someone had rigged the ropes when the star of the movie had to do an action shot hanging off a cliff.

Johnny Gunn had fallen three hundred feet to his death. Kurt had slid down, perhaps trying to save him. He'd suffered "unidentified injuries." She searched in vain for more information.

She looked again at the photo. He hadn't changed much. Older of course, but still lean and broad shouldered. A little grey around the temples, but that looked good against his dark, curly hair. He wore it shorter now. The eyes were mocking as usual and, because of the angle of the camera, followed her as she moved.

The article implied it might have been a trick gone wrong. Someone might have wanted to scare Johnny. He wasn't the most popular of actors amongst the film crews. There was an investigation going on, but it seemed no one had access to the ropes except Kurt. Did that mean he had deliberately murdered the movie star? The newspaper tiptoed carefully around that question, but added detailed examples of Kurt and Johnny's hostility around each other. Whatever the truth, Kurt was assisting the police with their inquiries.

Maggie drained the last of her lemonade. Why now did he have to come back into her life just when she was at peace and content? She led a quiet life with Jeff, she loved her job and the photography that had started as a hobby, but was growing into something more. Jeff was happy at school. He was wildly excited about the three-week camp in the wilderness. While he was gone, she would work on her book illustrated with her own photos. And then there was Roger. There was a good relationship developing there.

She stood and stretched. Halfway across the living room, she hesitated and took a book from the shelves. Branscombe High School Year Book was inscribed in gold on the spine. Class of 1982. She sat cross legged on the floor and flipped through the pages. There he was: "Kurt Rainer: Most likely to break hearts" was the caption. You could say that again! All the girls thrilled if he even looked their way. And she was the one he chose.

She read on. Ambition: "To do my own thing without interference." She smiled. She could understand that, knowing his father. She looked again at the small black and white photograph. No, he hadn't changed much. They had all figured he would end up badly. Despite everything that had followed, she wasn't pleased at their predictions coming true. She sighed in sadness for the "might have been." Gently, she pressed her finger to her lips and transferred the kiss to the mouth in the picture. She closed the book, smoothed the cover with the palm of her hand, stood up and slid the album back onto the shelf. No way she would go to see him.

  #        #    #

The next day, just before noon, Maggie watched Jeff lug his duffel across the open space in front of the cabins towards the group of camp counselors. She knew the clothes would come back untouched below the top layer, still neatly folded, their name labels pristine. He would wear the same underwear, socks and shirts every day until they would almost stand up on their own. That was the story of every year at camp, yet she still followed the lists the organizers sent, regardless.

One of the counselors bent his head down to Jeff, checking his name on a list and her son took his place in the line of adolescent boys. Was he too young for this challenging course? During the two hour ride up to the camp on Mount Vardon in Roger's car, she'd listened to Jeff's vivid description of the activities that awaited them, her heart sinking at the list of potentially neck-breaking undertakings that he could get into. Jeff thrived on challenge and adventure, loved the outdoors. She knew exactly where he got it from!

Jeff waved at her, his baseball cap turned backwards, his eyes bright with anticipation and her heart lurched. Suddenly, she saw Kurt at twenty something, waiting for her down the road, because she begged him not to come to her door. When had Jeff grown so like his father? When had the childish curves of his face smoothed out to reveal the high cheekbones and firm jaw? When had his dark eyes taken on the daredevil look, the lock of black hair begun to fall just so over his forehead?

She forced herself with an effort back to present moment, to the shouts of the boys, the whistles of the leaders, the chatter of the parents. Jeff leaned forward to speak to someone and suddenly he was a boy once more, the manly planes and structures of his face dissolved into softer pads and dimples. A trick of the light, that was all.

The camp bus lumbered into the parking space, cutting off the view of the welcoming activities. Maggie swallowed hard and took a deep breath. The reminders of Kurt were no longer confined to her son's features and her own memories. There was news of him: he was close by. But even if he was in trouble, he'd maintained the same silence that had swallowed him up twelve years ago. He hadn't turned to the people who'd loved him in the past. And now Frieda wanted her to go and see him. Of course she couldn't do that. Her whole carefully constructed life would come tumbling around her ears if she saw him.

"Penny for them." Roger said from behind her, putting his hands carefully on her shoulders.

She blinked, startled to find Roger so close. She'd almost forgotten he was with her, distracted as she was with memories of Kurt. She turned her head to glance his handsome profile. His hands were strong, nails carefully manicured. He no longer practiced as a doctor and the many years of administration had given him a smooth, diplomatic finish. She suspected he no longer kept up his medical knowledge. She felt the increased pressure of his fingers.

"You seemed a bit preoccupied in the car," he said. So he had noticed. "You're far away still," he continued. "What's wrong? Not worried, are you?"

She seized on the excuse of the earlier conversation about the older boys, the longer hikes, rock climbing and canoeing. "Just an anxious mom," she smiled. "Camp's tougher this year."

"He'll be fine," Roger said. "Don't worry."

She took a small step forward, turning away to fiddle with the lens on her camera and held it up to her face, focusing on Jeff and the groups of excited boys in front of the log dining hall.

She'd been happy to accept Roger's offer to drive in his sleek new Land Cruiser, because her own car would never have made it. Besides, she wasn't the world's best driver under any circumstances. She tended to lose herself in her thoughts, usually planning the layout of her photos for her book, and her concentration suffered. Jeff could've taken the camp bus, but going with Roger allowed her a bit more time with her son before the three-week separation. They'd never been apart that long before, not even when she was taking her business courses because the junior camps never lasted beyond ten days. Roger had jumped at the opportunity to drive them and it'd seemed a good idea at the time. He'd even hinted at staying longer, overnighting at an inn he thought she'd like.

But some things weren't possible. There would be no leisurely dalliance with Roger today. She glanced at her watch. "I should be back by four," she said, avoiding his eye.

"Four?"

She felt him tense and turned to him. "I'm sorry, Roger. I have to see Frieda Haydon. I told you, there's a problem. . ."

"Then we should get going if we're going to have any time to ourselves." Roger checked his watch. "It's nearly noon now." He strode ahead of her to the car, annoyance plainly transmitted in the set of his shoulders, the impatient jab of the key into the ignition. She knew how years of negotiating sessions had taught him not to flare, not to lose his control. Kurt would have told her in no uncertain terms what he thought and would have driven off with her, kidnaped her if necessary, kept her prisoner until she fulfilled her promise.

She sighed and told herself she was glad not to be with Kurt, driving off into the mountains with a few precious hours stretching before them to enjoy as they pleased.

She paused to replace her camera in the bag on her shoulder. A week ago, she'd thought maybe this would be the day, this would be the ideal moment to respond to all Roger's kindness, all his caring, all his help. Not to mention his patience at waiting for her to make up her mind to take their relationship that important step further. But that was a week ago. Now, she felt an emptiness in her middle at the thought. Now, Kurt Rainer had intruded himself back into her life after twelve long years.

Why did the idea of making love to Roger feel like a betrayal of Kurt? Why should Kurt have anything to do with her life, her plans, her decisions about any man in her future? She was going to have to sort out this tangle of feelings; it wouldn't be fair to Roger to let him think she was at last going to make a commitment to him if it wasn't so. She would have to find a way to put him off, tell Frieda she couldn't help her contact her grandson  and put the ghost of Kurt Rainer to rest. Then she could reassess her relationship and mend fences with Roger. She gave a last wave to Jeff and turned away.

She watched Roger settling himself into the leather seat. He was a good man, he liked Jeff, would be a good father to him. The boy needed a strong male influence in his life. So what if she didn't feel the rush of desire, the urgency to touch and hold that she'd felt with Kurt? She was older now, more in control. Love was different at thirty-three than at twenty. Roger could give her stability, a caring and united family. She was comfortable with him, would be able to love him.

End of Chapter 1

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"Journey's End"

"Beloved Stranger"

"Dancing with the Devil"

 
 
 
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