The Gazebo (Hqn Romance)

Cates, Kimberly

Editore: HQN Books, 2006
ISBN 10: 0373770510 / ISBN 13: 9780373770519
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Riassunto: A teenage pregnancy changed "wild child" Deirdre McDaniel's life and dreams. Now that her idealistic daughter has come of age, Deirdre tries to make up for lost time as she struggles to come to grips with the demons of her past and open her heart to Jake Stone. Original.

Estratto. © Riprodotto con l'autorizzazione. Tutti i diritti riservati.: THE SMALL WHITE HOUSE at the end of Linden Lane didn't look like the kind of place where secrets lived. But no one in the river town of Whitewater, Illinois, knew better than Deirdre McDaniel that appearances could be deceiving.

The lawn was manicured with military precision. No dandelion had dared invade from behind enemy lines--the yard of the neighbor, whose lackadaisical attitude toward weed control had been the bane of Deirdre's father's existence.

She wasn't sure which would have hurt worse--seeing her childhood home down at the heels, the way vacant properties often were, or witnessing her older brother's valiant attempt to keep the place ready for their father's inspection when the hard truth was Captain Martin McDaniel was never coming home.

Deirdre shifted the white van into park and killed the engine. Catching the inside of her full lower lip between her teeth, a nervous tick no one else could see, she stepped out of the car, her grip tightening on the keys in her hand.

Breezes tugged chin-length wisps of unruly mahogany hair about a face too sharply drawn, with its pointed chin and high cheekbones. Eyes so intensely blue they seemed a breath away from catching fire stared at the red-painted front door. She wished there was a key somewhere among the cluster in her hand she could use to lock away her memories, but it was too late. They flooded through her, the past far more vivid than the glorious late-September day.

She could remember crushing wrinkles into her mother's crisp cotton Easter dress as she gave Emma-line McDaniel a chocolate-bunny-smeared hug. She could smell the wood shavings on her father's callused hands and hear herself wheedling her big brother, Cade, into letting her join the "boys only" club that had the coolest tree fort in the neighborhood.

She could see Spot, the ragged coal-black mutt she'd rescued, racing down the lane howling, the neighbor cat's claws dug into his back, triumphant glee on its feline face. Deirdre's father with his military bearing and loathing of weakness glowering in disgust.

If that dog was a marine we would've shot it by now. But you couldn't shoot your daughter. Not even if she did the unforgivable.

Merry Christmas everyone. I'm pregnant... That was one Christmas no McDaniel would ever forget. Seventeen years had passed since Deirdre had made that announcement, and her stomach still turned inside out whenever she thought of it. The only small mercy in the whole ordeal: her mother hadn't been alive to hear what she'd done.

Emmaline, always the quintessential lady, would have burned with shame to see the telltale bulge of Deirdre's belly and hear the whole town buzzing that the wild McDaniel girl had gotten what was coming to her. Maybe they were right.

Deirdre quelled the old hurt welling up inside her and walked up to the familiar front door. Her hand shook so badly it took three tries to fit the key into the lock.

You don't have to do this. Cade's voice echoed in her memory as she stepped inside the house. The living room stood empty except for brighter patches of paint where pictures had hung and divots in the carpet where furniture legs had left their mark. A few boxes and some rolls of bubble wrap stood neatly in a corner, Cade's always-efficient handiwork. He would have spared her this last task, too, if Deirdre had been willing to let him.

You've got nothing to prove, he'd insisted with a hug. But how could the family golden boy ever understand? She did have something to prove. To herself. And she was running out of time.

The house was for sale. She might never have another chance to make peace with the home she'd grown up in. To say goodbye to the maple tree she'd climbed down to sneak out at night, her father's workbench, her mother's petal-pink bedroom--a sanctuary Deirdre had rarely entered because it was tucked under the eaves. Illustrating just how big a failure Deirdre was when it came to being Emmaline McDaniel's daughter.

It was such a simple thing to hold so much pain, just an old-fashioned cedar chest with dollops of copper trim.

"This is your hope chest," Emmaline explained when Deirdre was still too young to be a disappointment. "My mother gave it to me, and her mother gave it to her. Someday you'll give it to your little girl."

"What is it hoping for?" Deirdre had asked, clambering up on top of it, the buckle on her shoe cutting a raw white scratch in the wood. Her mother's lips had tightened in a way that would grow all too familiar as she hauled Deirdre down.

"A hope chest is a place to store dreams for when you grow up," Emmaline had explained.

Deirdre remembered running grubby fingers over the smooth orange-streaked wood as she tried to imagine what dreams looked like. Would they pour out like the glitter she'd put on the cookie dough star she'd made for the Christmas tree? Would they float out, shimmering, and sprinkle her all over like fairy dust?

She'd been five years old when she was finally strong enough to wrestle the trunk's lid open and saw what was in the chest.

Every object was fitted like pieces in a giant puzzle. Old-fashioned aprons and dainty white napkins with handmade lace were painstakingly starched in neat squares. A fluffy white veil and wedding dress, every fold stuffed with tissue paper so it wouldn't crease. Silverware marched across one end of the chest in felt sleeves, and crystal vases like the ones her mother put roses in all over the house sparkled in nests of cotton batting.

Undaunted, Deirdre figured the treasure must be hidden somewhere amid all that worthless junk, like the lamp in the Aladdin story Cade had read her. If she could just find a way to unleash its magic...

One bright summer morning while her mother was tending her roses, Deirdre sneaked one of the vases from the wooden chest so she could try to pour the dream out of it. The dream she could see sparkling inside it, just out of her reach. She'd climbed up on the rocking chair by the window and stretched up on tiptoe, holding the vase as close to the sunbeam as she could, hoping to see the dream more clearly.

She could still feel the sickening sensation of wavering, losing her balance, hear the horrid smashing sound as the vase fell, striking mama's table full of delicate ladies on the way down. Shattering crystal and china released not glistening dreams, but the hard, ugly truth that made Deirdre bleed inside the way her fingers bled when she tried to scrape up the broken glass, hide it before her mother could see.

There was no point in giving a girl like Deirdre McDaniel a hope chest. She was hopeless and not even her mother's magic chest could change her. "Mom? Hey, Mom?"

Deirdre nearly jumped out of her skin as her own daughter's call yanked her back from memories imbedded like the slivers of crystal even her father hadn't been able to remove. They would work out from beneath her skin's surface on their own when they were good and ready, he'd promised. When it came to ignoring pain, Captain Martin McDaniel was an expert.

Deirdre braced herself as sixteen-year-old Emma burst through the door, her thick black curls tumbling halfway down her back, her heart-shaped face aglow. Love still punched Deirdre in the chest every time she looked into Emma's dark eyes, terrifying her, amazing her. It was dangerous to love anyone so much. But Deirdre had never been able to help herself.

"How in the world did you find me here?" she asked, trying not to sound as relieved as she felt not to be alone.

"I ran across the garden to Uncle Cade's. He guessed there was a chance you might be here at Grandpa's house."

"My brother the psychic." Deirdre grimaced. "I specifically told him I was coming here and I didn't need anyone to hold my hand. In fact, I seem to remember threatening to murder him if he came within a hundred yards of this old place. I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill him."

Emma groaned. "Not again. Couldn't you at least come up with something more original?"

Deirdre's chin bumped up a notch along with her aggravation. "It's not funny. I can do this. Alone." Maybe so, but she couldn't deny how grateful she was to see Emma's earnest face. Methinks the lady doth protest too much... What was it about having a daughter in Miss Wittich's drama class that set Shakespeare rattling around Deirdre's head? "I'm hardly going to fall apart," she asserted stubbornly.

Emma sobered. "Maybe you'd feel better if you did."

"That's your aunt Finn talking. She's always so sure she knows me better than anyone else."

"She's wrong about that." Emma regarded Deirdre with old-soul eyes so shadowed with worry that guilt twisted in Deirdre's chest. "Nobody knows you better than I do."

That's exactly what Deirdre was afraid of. It kept her up late at night, pacing through the white elephant of a house she and her sister-in-law had turned into a thriving business.

March Winds...where the past comes alive. Finn had even incorporated the Civil War-era mansion's resident ghost into the B&B's logo--a sketch of the distinctive tower window framing the silhouette of a little girl, a candle in her hand. A brilliant marketing tool, if only Deirdre could look at it without being carried back to when Emma was ten and so terribly alone that the ghost had been the child's only friend. How could any mother ever forgive herself for that?

"Mom, for once this McDaniel-style mutiny isn't anyone's fault but mine. I have to head in to work in less than an hour and I couldn't stand to wait until the library closed to tell you the news from school."

It still blew Deirdre's mind that the news from school was always good where Emma was concerned. For years the McDaniels had been Whitewater High's personal Bad News Bears.

"Mom, you'll never guess what Miss Wittich picked for the senior play."

The drama teacher had kept her selection under wraps for weeks, leaving her students on tenterhooks--perfect...

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Dati bibliografici

Titolo: The Gazebo (Hqn Romance)
Casa editrice: HQN Books
Data di pubblicazione: 2006
Condizione libro: very good

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Cates, Kimberly
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