Authors: Iris Johansen
|The Reluctant Lark|
|Reluctant Lark |
|Random House Publishing Group (2013)|
In this classic novel of love and loss from #1 New York Times bestselling author Iris Johansen, a delicate songbird discovers her true colors—with a little help from a charismatic billionaire intent on setting her free.
Her dark eyes and haunting voice have earned gypsy-haired singer Sheena Reardon renown on both sides of the pond as “Ireland’s Mournful Dove.” Trying to forget her tragic past, she threw herself into her art long ago and let her overprotective uncle handle the rest. Now, at a stuffy New York cocktail party, she spots a friendly face in the crowd . . . and learns that it belongs to a ruggedly handsome, wickedly tempting stranger who knows her better than she knows herself.
To oil magnate Rand Challon, Sheena is more than a carefully manipulated stage persona. She’s a flesh-and-blood woman whom he desires with all his heart—which is why he spirits her away to his isolated mountaintop retreat. Out of the spotlight and under his sensual tutelage, Sheena learns to spread her wings. But Rand must leave it up to his reluctant lark whether to take flight . . . or find a home in his arms forever.
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: Along Came Trouble, The Notorious Lady Anne, and *Unforgettable*.
The Reluctant Lark
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1983 by Iris Johansen
Along Came Trouble
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
The Notorious Lady Anne
by Sharon Cullen copyright © 2013 by Sharon Cullen.
by Linda Cajio copyright © 1989 by Linda Cajio.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
The Reluctant Lark
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1983.
“You were absolutely terrific!” James O’Daniels said jubilantly. “You had them in the palm of your hand!”
Sheena Reardon stood quietly in the wings as her uncle, Donal O’Shea, gently patted her face dry with a towel and Sean Reilly stood waiting with a glass of water to soothe her throat. Mr. O’Daniels was right, she thought indifferently, as the roaring applause continued even though she had walked off the stage two minutes earlier. The concert had gone exceptionally well, and this New York audience was tremendously responsive despite what she’d heard of their blasé sophistication.
“The reviews are sure to be raves tomorrow,” the concert promoter continued enthusiastically. “You really blew their minds, and you didn’t even have your best song on the program.”
Sheena’s hand tightened involuntarily on the glass. Then she took a sip of water and handed the glass back to Sean. She smiled with an effort and accepted
her guitar from a waiting stagehand. “I’m glad you were pleased, Mr. O’Daniels.”
As she turned to go to her dressing room, her uncle touched her shoulder caressingly. “All right, darlin’?” he asked gently, his gray eyes troubled.
She kept the smile fixed firmly on her face as she nodded. “I’m fine,” she said huskily. She would be, she assured herself. She was always exhausted after a concert. This odd lethargy would disappear after a good night’s rest.
Donal O’Shea fell into step beside her as she strode swiftly to her dressing room. “He’s right you know,” he said quietly. “They were with you all the way. You wrung the hearts out of them, love.”
“That’s nice, Uncle Donal,” Sheena said listlessly. “Mr. O’Daniels seemed very happy about it all.”
She opened the door to her dressing room, and he followed her in and closed the door behind him. “You could appear a little more enthusiastic,” he said reprovingly. “James O’Daniels is a very important man in concert circles, and he’s done a great deal for you. He’s even arranged this party tonight to introduce you to some very influential people.” He crossed to the easy chair in the corner of the room and dropped into it, watching her with narrowed eyes as she seated herself at the mirror and began to apply cream to remove the heavy stage makeup from her face. “I think it might be best if you wear the black gown tonight instead of the gray. We want you to make the proper dramatic impact.”
“All right,” she murmured. It didn’t really matter what she wore. All her clothing was either black, gray, or white. Her uncle was convinced that it was important to maintain her image as “Ireland’s Mournful Dove” in her private life as well as on the stage, and he’d seen to it that her entire wardrobe echoed the theme. Though she’d noticed that black did make her appear a trifle gaunt of late.
She was thinner than when the tour had started, she realized, gazing at herself in the mirror. The thinness
of her face made her black eyes look even more enormous in their extravagant frame of long, dark lashes and threw her high cheekbones into startling prominence. Uncle Donal had always teased her about her “foreign” look, saying that she looked more like a wicked Spanish señorita than a good sturdy Irish colleen. Her full lower lip lent a curiously passionate look to her face, and her glossy dark hair was allowed to fall halfway down her back in a tangle of gypsylike curls.
She made a face. “I wish I could just forget about the party and go back to the hotel.” She sighed. “I’m so tired.”
“I know you are, darlin’,” Donal said soothingly. “It’s been a long, hard tour, and you’ve been an angel from heaven. I promise you that when we return to Dublin I’ll arrange for you to have a nice, long rest.”
There was a wry smile on Sheena’s face as she watched him stand up and walk toward the door. Uncle Donal meant well, she knew, but he had been promising her that rest for almost three months now. He simply forgot that everyone did not possess his own driving energy.
Even his appearance was almost overpoweringly aggressive, she thought affectionately. He was only a little above average height, but his square, powerful body and barrel chest had an intimidating strength. Then, too, for a man of fifty-eight, his blunt features were surprisingly youthful, and only a few grizzled gray streaks in his curly brown hair bore testament to his age.
“Sheena, love,” he said hesitantly, as he paused by the door, “you’re going to do ‘Rory’s Song’ tomorrow night.”
She inhaled sharply, and she could feel the color drain from her face. “Do I have to?” she asked faintly.
Donal O’Shea nodded, his gray eyes warmly sympathetic. “I promised O’Daniels that you’d do it. It’s a great drawing card. Even more so since you haven’t done it for the entire American tour.”
She moistened her lips nervously. “I know, Uncle Donal, but …”
There was a thread of steel beneath Donal O’Shea’s kindly tone as he said coaxingly, “I know it’s difficult for you, love, but you know that it’s necessary. We mustn’t let them forget about Rory and the way he died, even if it’s painful for us to remember. You wouldn’t want that, would you, dear?”
Sheena closed her eyes for a moment, experiencing a swift jab of pain at the gentle reproof. Then her lids slowly lifted to reveal tear-bright eyes. “No, I wouldn’t want that,” she said huskily. The door closed softly behind him.
Sheena sat quite still and drew a deep breath, fighting for composure. How foolish to allow herself to become so upset. She knew that she couldn’t avoid including “Rory’s Song” in her repertoire indefinitely. She had been lucky that her uncle had not deemed it necessary before this. She knew that he tried to spare her the ordeal as much as possible, but there were times when he had to insist on the song. It wouldn’t be so bad, she assured herself desperately. Her uncle and Sean would be there to offer their usual comfort and support. They were always there when she needed them.
She mustn’t think of that now. She automatically plucked out a tissue and began wiping the cream from her face. She had O’Daniels’s party to get through, and her uncle would be most upset if she didn’t say and do the right things. Not that she would hear anything but the gentlest reproach from him. After her parents’ death in an automobile accident when she was eleven, he’d been kindness itself, taking her brother, Rory, and her into his home and his life without a thought and lavishing on them a bountiful tenderness. But his care and affection deserved to be returned with equal thoughtfulness.
She searched her mind frantically for a subject to distract her thoughts from the ordeal to come the next night. Then, as if by magic, a bronzed, rugged face and
a pair of strange golden eyes appeared on her mental horizon. She stared absently into the mirror, not seeing her own finely drawn face but the bold, masculine features that had been haunting her ceaselessly of late. She felt a tiny frisson of excitement surge through her. Would he be there again tonight?
Sheena’s eyes had searched the crowded room with an almost compulsive fascination until she spotted the tall, muscular figure leaning with casual grace against the wall on the far side of the room. She didn’t know if what she felt was fear or excitement when she finally ascertained that he was indeed present once again.
“I see you’ve spotted our social lion,” Barbara O’Daniels said cheerfully, as she came up behind her. She handed her the cocktail she had wrested from a passing waiter before continuing enthusiastically. “He’s really quite something, isn’t he? Even if he wasn’t such a fabulous catch, he could still put his shoes under my bed anytime.”
Sheena felt an obscure sense of shock at the remark from so young a girl as her host’s pretty nineteen-year-old daughter. But then she had felt the same discomfort ever since she had arrived in America three months earlier. Young women seemed to grow up very quickly over here, she thought uneasily, or perhaps it was her own sheltered upbringing that led to this conclusion. At any rate, Barbara O’Daniels had been very pleasant to her since she had arrived at this cocktail party, and she had no right to be critical.
“And who is your social lion?” Sheena asked lightly, trying to mask her sudden intense interest in Barbara’s answer.
“You mean you don’t know?” Barbara asked incredulously, her blue eyes widening. “That’s Rand Challon!”
“He’s some sort of entertainer?” Sheena inquired,
knowing the answer even before Barbara shook her head. That magnetic, powerful figure possessed a charisma that had no connection with the limelight.
“Good Lord, no!” Barbara said derisively. “He owns practically the whole state of Texas, plus several other parts of the world. He’s head of Challon Oil and owns a fabulous ranch called Crescent Creek. The man’s a billionaire and one of the most powerful men in the world!”
“Is he Irish-American?” Sheena asked. Everything that the younger girl had told her had just increased her puzzlement.
Barbara shrugged, “Not so far as I know,” she answered. “Why?”