The first book in the Scent of Lavender series, 2003
Thank you for choosing Silhouette Desire-where passion is guaranteed in every read. Things sure are heating up with our continuing series DYNASTIES: THE BARONES. Eileen Wilks’s With Private Eyes is a powerful romance that helps set the stage for the daring conclusion next month. And if it’s more continuing stories that you want-we have them. TEXAS CATTLEMAN’S CLUB: THE STOLEN BABY launches this month with Sara Orwig’s Entangled with a Texan.
The wonderful Peggy Moreland is on hand to dish up her share of Texas humor and heat with Baby, You’re Mine, the next installment of her TANNERS OF TEXAS series. Be sure to catch Peggy’s Silhouette Single Title, Tanner’s Millions, on sale January 2004. Award-winning author Jennifer Greene marks her much-anticipated return to Silhouette Desire with Wild in the Field, the first book in her series THE SCENT OF LAVENDER.
Also for your enjoyment this month, we offer Katherine Garbera’s second book in the KING OF HEARTS series. Cinderella’s Christmas Affair is a fabulous “it could happen to you” plot guaranteed to leave her fans extremely satisfied. And rounding out our selection of delectable stories is Awakening Beauty by Amy J. Fetzer, a steamy, sensational tale.
More passion to you!
Senior Editor, Silhouette Desire
For letting me rescue even the impossibly ugly dogs, cats and critters over the years.
Don’t worry, love.
I’ll never tell anyone what a softie you are.
Once a month, Pete MacDougal braced for a full-scale rebellion. And once every month, he got it.
Only the nature of the weapons and attacks varied. The look on the faces of his fourteen-year-old sons was always the same: A never-give-in-determination in the eyes, an unrelenting stubbornness in the chins, a cocky attitude written on their every feature.
It was bad enough to have two teenagers in the house, worse yet to have twins, but the real insult was that the kids took after him. It just wasn’t fair.
“Look, Dad. You just don’t get it. You’re missing the point of living without women. We’re supposed to be free.”
“Uh-huh,” Pete said, and from his key position in the front hall, slapped a mop and bucket in Simon’s hands. His sidekick-and Sean was the absolute spitting image of his brother except for one errant cowlick-was trying to slowly back away from the vacuum.
“Come on, Dad. Remember about free? We’re supposed to be free to be ourselves. Free to not eat vegetables. Free to not do dishes until we run out. Free to wear our boots in the house. Free to live how we want.”
The vacuum nozzle was slapped into Sean’s hand-but Simon elbowed in front of him. “You always said we should think for ourselves, remember, Dad? Well, we finally got a day off from school because of the blizzard, so I think the last thing we should be doing is cleaning.”
Sean accidentally let the vacuum nozzle drop. “And, like, what’s the point, you know? As soon as you clean, the dirt comes right back. What’s wrong with dirt anyway? I like dirt. Simon likes dirt. Gramps likes dirt. You’re the only one-”
“Dirt keeps the women away, right, Dad? Like an apple keeps the doctor awa-”
“Enough. I’ve had it with the lip.” Pete knew he’d lose his temper. He always did. The only question every month was when. “I don’t want to hear another word. Unless you both want to be grounded for the rest of your lives, the floors are getting washed and the carpets vacuumed. And the bathrooms-hell, the health department wouldn’t go near your bathroom upstairs. It stinks. Now move it-”
“I’m not doing the bathroom,” Sean told his brother.
“Well, I’m sure not-”
Pete’s voice raised. “BOTH bathrooms upstairs. And I want all towels and dirty clothes down the chute-” He saw the bucket crash down on Simon’s head, followed by the mop cracking over Sean’s. Yowls followed-both of them sounded like tomcats auditioning for a back alley fight. The yowls inspired more blows, followed by desperate claims of pain, followed by pokes and giggles and more desperate claims of pain.
“NOTHING is going to get you out of chores, do you hear me? And I don’t care if it takes until midnight-this house is getting cleaned up. If I have to knock your heads together-”
Both kids knew damn well he never had and never would knock their heads together, but usually the threat got their attention. It didn’t work this afternoon. The senior MacDougal unfortunately chose that moment to poke his head over the banister. Ian leaned heavily on his cane and looked more frail by the week, but he offered full-bellowed support to the boys on the benefit of dirt and the joys of life without women. Ian MacDougal was inarguably the most worthless grandfather this side of Poughkeepsie. Worthless…but popular. The boys immediately begged their grandfather to take their side against their slave-driving, cruel, unfair, uncaring, unreasonable father.
“I’m so sick of hearing this malarkey every month that I could punch a wall. The place is a sty. There is NO argument, and that goes for you, too, Dad. Now, all of you, GET TO IT.”
Well, they finally budged, but whether the old farmhouse would end up destroyed or cleaned, Pete wasn’t sure. The boys clattered upstairs, dragging tools and utensils to make the maximum possible racket. The minute they were out of sight, a series of dramatic noises followed. The source of the noises wasn’t clear, but seemed a possible cross between trumpeting elephants, screaming banshees, bloodthirsty soldiers and whining brothers. A stereo blared on, followed by a television-both played at volumes that could be heard over a vacuum cleaner. Or a sonic boom, Pete mused.
He almost missed the sound of the doorbell-actually, he almost didn’t recognize it. No one used a doorbell in White Hills, Vermont-at least not at the MacDougal house. Particularly on a snow-stormy day in March when even the sturdiest New England farmer was holed up inside.
When he yanked open the front door, fistfuls of snow were hurled in his face, which didn’t shock him half as much as his visitor.
“Pete? I need to ask you a favor.”
“Well, sure. Come on in.” The Campbells had the neighboring property-in fact, the Campbells and the MacDougals had probably come over on the same ship from Scotland a million generations before. Long before the American Revolution, for damn sure. The MacDougals tended to raise sons, where the Campbells favored having daughters. Pete had grown up with three Campbell sisters himself, had gone to school with Violet.
“Hey, Dad! Who’s at the do-?” Sean started to scream down the stairs, galloped halfway, then saw who was standing in the doorway. “Hey, Ms. Campbell,” he said at a lower decibel level.
Sean disappeared. The vacuum died. The stereo died. The TV died. All signs of life silenced. They were all afraid of Violet Campbell. Violet was… Well, Pete wasn’t sure how to explain Violet to his kids. She’d always seemed normal in high school, but a few years ago, she’d come back home after a divorce with the brains of a poodle. Like now, on a day colder than a witch’s heart, she wore her blond hair flowing down her back, flighty boots, earrings almost too big to make it through the doorway and a pretty purple coat that couldn’t keep a goose warm. She was about one hundred pounds of froufrou, and on sight threw Pete’s all-male household into a panic attack.
Except for Pete. How could you be scared of somebody you’d gone to school with? It’d be like rejecting a sister. Whether she was weird or not was irrelevant. Automatically he ushered her inside and closed the door, facing her with resigned patience. “Take off your coat. You want coffee? By this time of day it’s thicker than mud, but it’ll still be hot-” The instant he caught a straight look at her face, he changed gears. “What’s wrong?”
“Thanks, but I don’t need coffee. I won’t stay long.” She pulled off her gloves, obviously on edge, revealing four rings on each hand. Immediately, her hands began fluttering, as restless as a trapped canary. “What’s wrong is my sister, Pete. Camille. I need to drive down to Boston for a few days.”
One minute Pete was fine. The next he felt as if someone had slugged him in the stomach. Just hearing Camille’s name could do that. Violet may have been like an honorary sister to him, but Camille sure wasn’t. “Hell. Everybody said Cam was finally doing okay. Is she sick? Hurt? What can I do?”
Violet shook her head. “I only wish you could do something. I’m about beside myself. And I’m scared to drive in this icy weather, but I have to go there. Get her to come home. It may take me a couple of days or more. I don’t know. But the thing is, I’m leaving my business, the greenhouses, my cats-”
“Forget it. I’ll take care of that stuff.”
“The greenhouse temperature has to be-”
“Violet, I’ve done it for you before. I know what to do, what to watch for.” He was annoyed she felt she had to ask. MacDougals had been taking care of Campbells for years and vice versa. That’s how it was in White Hills. After everyone finished fighting over sex, religion and politics, they still took care of their neighbors. And Pete knew perfectly well how temperamental her greenhouses were to caretake, so he sure as hell didn’t want to waste time talking about it. “What happened? I thought Camille was finally on the mend. I mean, obviously, she had a hell of a time. But it’s been months since whozit died-”
Violet unbuttoned the top of her jacket, took a long breath. “I know. We all thought that was the rough part. Her losing Robert like that. Barely married a year, so much in love, and then to lose everything in a stupid street robbery.” Violet’s eyes welled up. “She loved him so much.”
“Yeah. I heard.” Pete saw the tears, and figured he’d better do something quick and drastic before she started really crying on him. But a burst of mental pictures flashed through his mind, ransoming his attention and his heartbeat both. All he could think about was Camille.
Cam was four years younger than him-which meant, when they were in school, that he’d have been way out of line to look at her in a personal way. But he remembered her wedding. She hadn’t been too young then. She’d looked like God’s gift to a sexy wedding night-deeply in love with her groom-full of laughter and light, full of secret smiles and sexual promises, her face glowing and her gorgeous dark eyes softened with love.
Pete had always had a soft spot for her. All right, he admitted it-more than a soft spot. He’d had a dug-in, could-never-shake pull for her. But those feelings had made him feel forbidden and guilty, initially because she’d been too young, and then later because a good man just didn’t think about the bride of another guy that way. Still, when he’d heard about the couple getting attacked by thugs last year, he remembered feeling profound relief she hadn’t been the one killed.
“The neighbors all said she was finally recovered,” he pressed Violet again.
“And that was a miracle in itself. The physical recovery took months as it was. She was in the hospital for ages. Her beautiful face-she was so battered up, her face, her ribs, the broken leg-”
“But that’s the point. Everyone said she was finally on her feet again-so what happened? Has there been some kind of setback? What?” God, getting Violet to the point was like motivating a mule to win a horse race.
Violet threw up her hands, did more of that fluttering thing. “It’s complicated. Camille always calls home a couple of times a week. Only suddenly she quit calling. And when I tried to track her down, I found out that her phone’s been disconnected. So then I got in touch with her apartment neighbor. Twilla something. This Twilla says Camille lost her job, hasn’t been out of the apartment in two weeks or more. Mail’s piled up, newspapers, trash. She says she knocked on Camille’s door, thinking she had to be sick or something, but Cam was in there and nearly snapped her head off.”
“Say what?” Camille had always been one of those joyful, happy-go-lucky people. No temper, no temperament. She’d never had a moody bone in her entire body.
Violet hugged her arms. “I don’t know what to think. But Twilla said she’s turned totally mean.”
“That’s ridiculous. Camille couldn’t be mean in a million years. It’s not in her.”
“It didn’t used to be. I think it’s about the trial, Pete. The trial of those three thugs.”
Pete frowned. “You mean, the guys who robbed her? The boys and I were gone for spring break when the trial ended, but I thought they were all found guilty.”
“They were. Only the guilty verdict wasn’t worth much. The one who actually killed Robert only got seven years-and he can get out after three for good behavior. The other two got even lighter sentences. They could be back on the streets in less than two years.”
“WHAT? They kill whozits and almost beat Camille to death, and a few years in prison is the only penalty they got?”
Violet’s eyes welled again. “That’s all. The judge seemed to think there were extenuating circumstances. They’d had no record before, and even though they’d all chosen to get high, they had no way to know the drug had been laced with some extra chemicals. They were all in this induced psychotic state, according to the testimony. So the judge didn’t seem to think they were totally to blame. Anyway, apparently the sentence came down about a month ago. It was a long trial, and God knows I’d been following it-so was everyone in the family. And Camille called when the sentence came down, but that was it. She was upset, we knew that. But that was the last time she contacted anyone, as far as I know.” Violet grabbed her gloves, obviously too agitated to stand still and talk any longer.
“Bring her home, damn it,” Pete said.
“That’s what I’m going to do. Drive there, pack up her stuff, bring her home.”
“If she won’t come, you call me. I’ll drive there and help.”
“According to her neighbor, I’ll be lucky if she lets me in. But I figure I can always ask Daisy if I really need help.”
Pete didn’t follow. “Isn’t your other sister still living in France?”
“Yeah, but she’d fly over in two seconds if I called. She flew home when Camille was first attacked and in the hospital. So did Mom and Dad, of course. But for this problem-I just want to see what’s what for myself before I call in the cavalry.” Violet opened the front door. More fistfuls of snow howled in, but she turned back to him, appearing not to notice. “Daisy is kind of like the calvary. She’s just a take-charge, bossy kind of person-”
Pete knew Daisy. He also knew that once Violet got chatty, she was hard to shut down, so he tried to get her back on track. She gave him keys to the house and greenhouse, then proceeded to flibber and flabber on about security and temperatures and the fragility of her lavender strains and the cat and the trickiness of the furnace if the temperature dropped below zero and how the back door stuck.