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Authors: Janet Dailey

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BOOK: Darling Jenny
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His suddenly casual attitude irritated Jennifer. Logan Taylor seemed to want to make it clear to her that she was of little consequence to him. Her cheeks were flushed with anger and embarrassment as they left. She could certainly treat him as lightly as he treated her.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

'HERE'S the car,' Logan stated, a hand steadying Jennifer's elbow as they stepped off the pavement on to the snow-packed street.

Her gaze raised from the path of her feet to the luxurious white Continental Mark IV parked beside them. She had been expecting the jeep, and her surprise must have registered on her face.

'In the winter I store it, just taking it out a few times to keep it in condition. Besides, it's too easily lost in a white snowdrift. I have difficulty finding it,' he joked, opening the car door to assist Jennifer inside.

She couldn't help admiring the opulent black leather interior as she slid into the low seat. Her hand trailed lightly over the plush cushion as Logan walked round the car to enter on the driver's side. Quickly Jennifer placed her hand primly in her lap. She knew he was waiting for her reaction to the car. He obviously expected her to be impressed.

'I don't see how you could possibly have trouble finding it,' Jennifer smiled with saccharine sweetness. 'All you have to do is look inside to see it's as black as your heart.'

His rich, warm laugh filled the car. His gloved finger flicked her cheek lightly as he spoke. 'I knew you couldn't keep that tongue of yours still for long.'

The deeply creased lines of amusement remained in his cheeks as he started the car and backed it out of its parking place. As she stared out the side window, Jennifer mentally cursed herself. She should have known he could care less whether or not she was impressed by the car. He had waited merely to get a rise out of her, and he certainly had succeeded.

Minutes later they had arrived at their destination with Logan assisting with her packages. Instantly Logan was pounced on by the children.

'Are you bringing our Christmas presents already?' Eric demanded, his blue eyes rounded by the gaily wrapped packages in Logan's arms.

'Nope. These are presents Jenny's bought. I'm just carrying them for her,' Logan replied, ruffling the dark hair on the boy's head.

'We got our tree, Uncle Logan,' Cindy chattered brightly. 'It'th out in the wath room. Mommy thaid it had to get warm before we could decorate it. Come thee it, please.'

'You come too, Aunt Jenny,' Eric pleaded, tugging her hand.

'Jennifer,' she corrected him, with a trace of exasperation at the children's insistence on copying Logan.

'Yeth, Aunt Jenny, you come, too,' Cindy added her voice to her brother's.

'Later,' she promised. The last thing Jennifer wanted was to be confined in the close quarters of the washroom with Logan.

'Logan!' came Sheila's startled voice from the hallway. Her raven hair was piled under a towel with a few wet locks peeping out underneath. 'I didn't expect to see you this afternoon.'

'There was something I wanted to tell you.' His expression was serious as he faced Jennifer's sister, not the mockingly amused one that invariably was shown to her. 'But first, I'm off to see your tree.'

'Such as it is' Sheila murmured to Jennifer as she watched him being hurried out of the room by her children. She glanced at Jennifer with a resigned and loving smile. 'You should see that tree! The children picked it out. On one side there's a hole two feet in diameter that's completely lacking in any branches. The rest of the tree looks as if it's suffering from malnutrition. Cindy said nobody would buy that tree, and it would be all alone on Christmas if we didn't take it. Naturally we did.'

'Naturally,' Jennifer laughed, yet touched by the totally unselfish gesture of the young child.

'All your shopping done?' her sister asked, busily putting away some of the toys scattered about as Jennifer removed her parka and hung it in the closet. 'I never dreamed you'd bring Logan home with you or I would have waited to wash my hair.'

'I ran into him downtown,' Jennifer explained hurriedly, lest her sister think she had intended to meet him. 'He insisted on giving me a ride home.'

'That was nice of him.'

'Yes,' Jennifer agreed with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

Her sister stared absently at the door of the washroom, her head tilted to one side in contemplation. Jennifer tucked her red-gold hair behind her ears and out of her face as she walked into the small kitchen.

'You know, sometimes I feel guilty about the way the children demand so much of Logan's attention,' Sheila mused aloud. 'But he seems to enjoy them so.' She turned abruptly towards her sister. 'Remember that game we used to play where we took the first letter of a person's name and thought of two adjectives to describe them? Every time I think about Logan, it's always "loyal," and "loving". He's done so much to help the children and me.'

The words were so far from Jennifer's 'lawless, lordly, and a Lothario' that she nearly choked.

'Want me to pour you a cup of coffee?' she hurriedly asked her dark-haired sister before the subject took a firm hold of the conversation.

'Yes, half a cup,' Logan stated, his light, even tread stopping in the kitchen doorway.

'What did you think of that magnificent specimen of a Christmas tree?' Sheila laughed as she seated herself at the small wooden breakfast table in the kitchen.

'Cindy assures me it will be beautiful,' Logan said with a dubious shake of his head. 'I'm afraid some of those branches aren't heavy enough to even hold an ornament.'

He lowered his tall frame on to one of the table's chairs, spreading his legs in front of him so that Jennifer had to step across them to set the coffee down. Her hand trembled as she did so, but she refused to meet his glance. The two children entered the room as his last sentence died away.

'We can too decorate the tree and make it pretty' Cindy insisted, hurrying over to stand beside Logan.

'But if the limbs break when we put the bulbs on,' Eric began fearfully, 'how can we decorate it?'

'We can make strings and strings of popcorn and berries and paper chains,' Jennifer spoke up quickly as the corners of Cindy's mouth began to droop.

'Just make sure that Rags doesn't decide to eat the popcorn,' Logan teased.

'Ragth hathn't theen our tree yet,' Cindy lisped with a yelp. 'Come on, Eric, leth'th go get him.'

A silence crept lightly into the room after the children had dashed outside to find their St. Bernard. Logan straightened, leaning his elbows on the table while cupping his coffee in both hands. Jennifer watched him glance speculatively at her sister before his brown head turned back to the table. He took a large drink of hot liquid before his low baritone voice spoke softly to halt the growing silence.

'I dropped into the Lodge this morning.' Logan studied Sheila out of the corner of his eye. 'You'll never guess who was checking in, Dirk Hamilton.
'

Sheila's face grew as white as the towel around her head. Her hand trembled slightly as she raised her cup to her mouth in a struggle for nonchalance.

'Really?' her voice broke. 'I wonder what he's doing here at this time of the year?'

'He said he wanted to do some winterscapes of the Tetons.' Jennifer was struck by the concern that was etched in his face as Logan watched her sister's reaction. 'Listen, Sheila,' he went on quickly as she rose from the table and walked over to the sink, 'if you want me to, I'll ask him to stay somewhere else.'

'Don't be ridiculous, Logan,' put in Sheila. Too quickly, Jennifer thought, and with forced lightness. 'Why should he pay some other motel when he can pay us? Besides, it just doesn't matter to me any more. As a matter of fact I was going to take Jennifer down to the Lodge with me tomorrow, to sort of show her the ropes. It's been quite a while since the children have spent a day with Eric's parents.' Sheila paused, then she turned away from the sink and towards the intense gaze that was now fixed on her. 'Jennifer could take over some of the front desk duties.'

Jennifer suddenly felt Logan's eyes on her, his expression harsh and forbidding. She realized she was practically gaping at Sheila's statement. After all, they had only discussed her filling in on an emergency basis, if one of the maids became ill or something. Now it sounded like a full-time job. Who, in heaven's name, was Dirk Hamilton? Glancing at her sister, Jennifer saw the almost pleading expression in her blue eyes. Logan continued to stare at her, waiting for her to make some sort of comment.

'It…it sounds fine to me,' she stammered as Sheila silently breathed her relief. Logan didn't seem convinced of her enthusiasm, so she added, with an effort at lightness, 'I was beginning to wish for something else to do anyway. I spent an awful lot of money on schooling. It would be a shame for it to go to waste.'

'Is that the way you want to handle it, Sheila?' Logan asked, quietly but with sharpness.

Jennifer watched anxiously as Sheila's throat worked nervously under Logan's scrutiny.

'She just said so, Logan,' Jennifer inserted quickly before her sister lost hold of her composure.

Logan's mouth closed in a grim line, accenting the tanned cheeks and firm jawline.

'I think you're making a mistake, Sheila,' was his only comment as he rose from his chair. 'I haven't the time to discuss it now.'

Jennifer was conscious of Logan's movements towards the door, even managed to indicate her thanks for the ride home, but her attention was focused on the obvious turmoil that her sister was experiencing. As the sound of the door closing behind Logan echoed into the kitchen, Sheila's movements became hurried and nervous.

'I'd better set my hair before it dries,' she said quickly, a fluttering hand touching the towel briefly.

'Who's Dirk Hamilton, Sheila?'

'Just an artist,' her sister replied—very casually. 'He was here this last summer, doing some painting.' At that moment the two children and the St. Bernard came bursting through the door. 'How many times have I told you to keep that dog out of the house when he's all muddy!' The unusually strident voice of their mother halted both children. 'You heard me. Get him out of here at once,' she ended in a more controlled voice.

The children were quick to obey. But Jennifer's heart was tugged painfully by the crestfallen and confused expressions on their young faces. A glance at Sheila told her that her sister regretted the outburst.

'Sheila?' Her hand brushed a straying strand of her red-gold bangs away from her eyes.

'Look, he was interested in some of my portraits, that's all,' Sheila said sharply, with bitterness lacing her words. 'I've never asked you to tell me about Brad, so please will you…I just don't want to talk about it!'

For the first time that Jennifer could remember, there was a strained silence between them, one that she didn't know how to bridge and her sister refused to.

 

The duties outlined for Jennifer at the front desk the next morning were not difficult, but the holiday skiers made them never-ending. She couldn't suppress her curiosity about the occupant of Room 228, Dirk Hamilton, but thus far, he hadn't made himself known to the desk. She had just paused during a lull to chat with Carol, whose switchboard had also ceased to buzz insistently, when a noise from the counter drew her attention.

A man of medium height, of stocky build with thick black hair, was studying her with an analytical thoroughness from a pair of nearly black eyes. She stepped towards him, a polite smile curving her lips, when she noticed Logan enter the Lodge. His sharp brown eyes scanned the lobby quickly, coming to rest on the man in front of her. Immediately his purposeful stride brought him towards them, the lithe easiness of his swinging step surprising her with its panther-like grace.

'Good morning, Dirk.' His tanned hand reached out towards the other man in polite greeting.

'This is Dirk Hamilton,' Jennifer thought in a rather stunned silence. Although Logan was several inches taller than he, the man's hand was nearly as large as Logan's, hardly the hand and fingers of an artist. There was no masking the challenge in the gazes of either men as their eyes fixed boldly on each other. Jennifer was struck by the assured way that Logan measured the man, not overtly friendly nor hostile, but rather weighing his advantages and disadvantages should they do battle.

'I thought I'd check to see when you wanted to set up your trip into the Tetons,' Logan said casually.

'Whenever's convenient.' The answer was indifferent as was Dirk's face as he turned it back towards the silent Jennifer. His gaze travelled over her face and hair once again, cool, without apparent interest in her as a member of the opposite sex. 'You're Jennifer.'

'Y-yes,' she managed, surprised that he could possibly know who she was.

'I saw the portrait of you. Sheila couldn't capture the colour of your hair—golden like the sun with a few streaks of a fiery dusk. Copper's too brash a colour. Yours is much paler, softer, to match the smoothness of your angelic features.'

Jennifer flushed lightly at his appraisal, but flashed a warning look at the mocking gaze of Logan Taylor.

'The features may be angelic, Dirk,' Logan drawled, 'but not the girl. An angel-elf mixture would be a more appropriate description.'

BOOK: Darling Jenny
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