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Authors: Linda Conrad

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BOOK: Seduction by the Book
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“Me? What have I done? I only wanted to do the best for my wife. I wanted to keep her safe and happy.”

“And what about her wishes, Nicholas? Did you once think to consult her about what she really wanted?”

“But…”

“It's the same thing that you did to Christina,” his
mother broke in. “You thought she needed you to control her life, but she was almost as strong inside as Annie. Christina didn't die because you forced her to do something against her wishes. She wanted to be near the ocean. She made her own choices.”

He could feel his cheeks flaming with the anger and the pain. Why did she have to dredge this all up now? Wasn't his current situation bad enough?

“It was your guilt about not being able to father a child that colored your memory of the relationship with Christina. Annie is a strong woman. You cannot control her whole life.

“Stop and take a look at what you are becoming. Do you want your children to think of you the same way you thought of your father?” she asked with a low, sad sigh.

A sudden image of the face of his and Annie's child, looking up at him with his own big, hopeless eyes, blinked into his mind. But he couldn't allow himself to think of that, not when everything looked so impossible with Annie.

“Thank you for your concern, Mother,” he said in a more formal tone than necessary. “But I won't discuss this.”

He turned and walked away, suddenly more tired than he'd ever been in his whole life. Without paying much attention to the direction his feet were taking him, Nick found himself back in his old office. The place where he and Annie had first come together—and where they had come together tonight for perhaps the last time.

Nick collapsed into his old chair, and realized he was
surrounded by things that reminded him of Annie. Her books on the desktop. Her scent still in the air. He even imagined he could feel her warmth in the leather under him.

How could this happen to him? To find the one passion, the one right person who matched him and his needs so perfectly, only to lose her again.

His eyes began to cloud with the sheen of wetness he'd seldom allowed. Searching frantically for something to take his mind off the pain, he spotted the gypsy's gift on the far corner of the desk. He reached out and picked up the heavy gold-and-ivory covered book, studying it.

He'd almost forgotten all about this. What nonsense it had been for the old woman to give him a book of fairy tales and tell him it would bring him to his destiny. Ridiculous.

But curiosity got the better of him as he turned the book in his hands. He couldn't remember ever actually reading any fairy tales before. But he did listen to a few told to him by his great-aunt Lucille. Now he wondered if his memories were the same as the real thing.

Opening the book and beginning to read, Nick absorbed each story. Remembered each plot. Relearned each lesson.

As he came to the story of Sleeping Beauty awakened by the kiss of her Prince Charming, exhaustion took over. His body was limp and his brain couldn't focus. He lowered his head to the desk and fell fast asleep. To dream about gypsies and witches, and beautiful sleeping princesses—all with Annie's face.

 

Passionata smiled down on the sleeping heir from far away. “Yes, let the magic take you, young Scoville. It is not a sleeping princess that has been awakened today, but a vulnerable and lonely prince.

“Wake up and take your destiny into your own hands. Your legacy has brought you to your heart's desire. Cherish it. Cherish her.”

The gypsy waved a hand over her crystal ball and time spun forward.

 

Groggy and disoriented, Nick woke up several hours later. Something felt different in the room.

Suddenly he came alive. Something
was
very different. For the first time, Nick could see himself, his life and his mistakes with complete clarity. As clear as if it were one of the stories he'd read in the book.

Hell. He was the one that was different. Not the same selfish, controlling jerk who'd fallen asleep, laying on the gypsy's magic book. He shook his head in amazement.

It was a complete wonder that anyone could've stood for the man he used to be. He had turned into a bully—just like his father.

Christina popped into his mind. Poor, dear Christina. He'd badgered her into marrying him and then hounded her until she agreed to stay married after they discovered they couldn't have children. They hadn't loved each other and hadn't even been friends in the end.

The ache of remembering her woke him up to a new truth. He'd thought he was honoring her memory by not allowing pleasure into his life, by staying in his isolated
and gray world and hiding from the desolation of not being able to father a child. But in fact, Christina would've hated that he'd done that in her name.

I'm sorry, Christina, he thought sadly. Sorry for everything. But I refuse to continue being a lost prince…

The book! The damn book must really be magic.

He looked around, half-expecting to see Annie and dying to tell her what he'd learned. But she wasn't there.

Oh, God, she was never going to be there again. The stabbing pain in his chest moved him. He had to find her, had to talk to her. Had to make her listen and understand. Tell her about the magic.

He started down the hall toward the pool house to wake her up. But he saw a light on under the door to the master suite, and changed directions instead.

When he opened the door, he saw her, pulling things out of a suitcase and putting them away in a drawer. Was he dreaming? Had he wanted her back so badly that his brain conjured her up?

“Annie?”

She turned her head, but there was no smile on her face for him. The vision must be real. If he'd dreamed her, she would've been laughing and happy to see him.

“Hello, Nick. You're up early. I was hoping to get this done before you needed to return to your room.”

“Annie, what's going on?” He'd asked the question calmly, but then found himself holding his breath, waiting for the answer.

“I thought about it a lot and I've decided it was not very adult of me to walk away. I married you for better or worse and I have a child to consider.” She shook her head sadly and dropped her hands to her side. “Even if
we must live separate lives from a distance like your parents have always done, I intend to stay married and keep the promise I made.”

It was as if a window opened to his soul. But Annie didn't understand. Somehow he would have to make her see.

He went to her side and gently turned her to face him. She kept her head down as if she couldn't bear to look at him. So he tenderly used his finger to lift her chin.

“Don't…” His voice faded and he swallowed hard, trying to sound steady when that was the very last thing he was feeling.

Finally, he tried again. “Don't stay with me out of duty, or because of our child. My mother did that and it ruined two lives, and nearly ruined several more.”

Annie looked confused—and distant. He must make her understand that he'd changed. He fell to his knees before her and clasped both her hands in his own.

“Stay because if you go, you'll take the sun with you,” he begged. “Stay because every day without you will put me back into a cold, gray hell. Stay because you make me more human…”

His voice hitched again and he had to swipe at his eyes to see her. “Stay because I love you, Annie. And I promise to never again make a decision alone.”

“You love me?” Her voice was small, and her hands began to shake.

He was blinded by the wetness now and threw his arms around her body, pressing his face to her belly and the child they had made together. “I've never been in love before, my darling.” His breath caught at saying the truth out loud.

“But I know I love you,” he moaned. “You've got my loyalty, my heart, my soul…forever. Please don't turn me away. Make a real life with me.”

Annie suddenly dropped to her knees and clung to him. “I don't know why or how you've changed. But I do know I love you so much. And I'll never leave as long as you just keep telling me you love me and keep on talking. We can make it. I know we can.”

Nick kissed her, allowing every emotion he'd ever hidden to surge through his lips to hers. They
would
make it work.

Annie pulled back and smiled at him. “You know, I think I would love to marry you again. We'll have a big church wedding this time,” she said with a chuckle. “And a
much
better honeymoon. I promise.”

Nick dashed his hands across his eyes and bent to cover her laughing mouth with his own. What a fabulous life they would have together, laughing and sharing and making children.

He knew for certain now that their lives would end up being much more like a wonderful fairy tale than any daily reality could ever be. They gypsy's book had shown him the way.

Raising his eyes, he gave thanks to an unseen old gypsy woman and to the wonderful great aunt who'd been the reason he had been so gifted by love.

Because he knew their love came from the magic. It was his legacy.

Epilogue

T
he old gypsy woman, Passionata Chagari, picked up her heavy crystal and waited for the haze to clear. It was important that she see into young Scoville's future.

Everything must be as her father had directed. There could be no deviations from his wishes. Passionata had sworn on her life to deliver the proper legacies.

When the fog cleared from the crystal, a future day filled with brilliant sunshine on the ocean came into view. Sea and sky ran together in an indigo blue wash of color.

And through the choppy whitecaps appeared a double-masted sailing vessel, looking like a pirate ship with all her sails set and strained by the wind. Passionata smiled as she spotted the strawberry-blond crew, consisting of two strong and lean young men and two laughing and beautiful preteen girls. Their fresh young
faces beamed with the promise of youth and good health.

They all worked together, following the orders of the captain and first mate. Their captain wore white slacks, a halter top and a navy blue cap pulled tightly down over her fiery red curls. She grinned over at the first mate as she tacked the tidy ship back and forth through the following seas and shouted over the winds to her crew.

First mate Nicholas Scoville's gold and silver hair blew across his eyes as he smiled contentedly upon his family and crew. Proud and so magically happy that he thought he might burst, Nick did as he did every day for the past eighteen years. He gave up silent thanks to an old gypsy and her father who, for reasons still unknown, had given him back his life—and left him with love.

From her vantage point through time, Passionata wished Nicholas Scoville well, nodding her head in approval. Her father could rest easy on that account. Another small part of the debt due to Lucille Steele had been repaid.

The old gypsy tilted the crystal once again, wanting to check on the rest of her charges. But the future clouded over in a gray mass, blinding her to the future for the next of Lucille's descendants.

Determined that nothing would stand in the way of the legacies, Passionata sat back and waited. The time and the vision for Tyson Steele would come. When it did, she was convinced all would be as ordained…and filled with magic.

ISBN: 978-1-4268-7710-0

SEDUCTION BY THE BOOK

Copyright © 2005 by Linda Lucas Sankpill

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the editorial office, Silhouette Books, 233 Broadway, New York, NY 10279 U.S.A.

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.

This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

® and TM are trademarks of Harlequin Books S.A., used under license. Trademarks indicated with ® are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Canadian Trade Marks Office and in other countries.

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www.eHarlequin.com

*
The Gentrys

†
The Gypsy Inheritance

BOOK: Seduction by the Book
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