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       Desert Rain with Bonus Material, p.1

           Elizabeth Lowell
 
Desert Rain with Bonus Material


  Desert Rain with Bonus Material

  ELIZABETH LOWELL

  Dear Reader,

  The original version of Desert Rain (entitled Summer Thunder) was the first romance I ever wrote. It was quite short because that was the length my first publisher required.

  It was a joy to go back and put into Desert Rain all the things I had to leave out the first time around. The book is now twice as long, which tells you that I had to cut to the bone and beyond in the original version.

  I made a fascinating discovery while reworking Desert Rain. Even though it was my first romance, even though it was so short, the book still contained the themes that all my later romances did: the necessity of trust, the risk of loving, and the ultimate truth that is discovered in non-verbal communication.

  People can lie quite easily with words, but touch rarely lies.

  CONTENTS

  Cover

  Title Page

  To The Reader

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  An Excerpt from Beautiful Sacrifice

  Title Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  About the Author

  Also by Elizabeth Lowell

  Credits

  Copyright Page

  About the Publisher

  One

  “Come on, Shannon, smile like I’m your lover. You do know what a lover is, don’t you, sweetie?”

  Holly Shannon North bit back what she wanted to say and smiled as she had been trained to do.

  Jerry was the hottest fashion photographer outside of Paris, but he had a mouth like a razor blade. Since Holly had refused to sleep with him, he had become nearly impossible to work with.

  The flash that burst in Holly’s face was reflected in flexible metal shields held by sweating technicians.

  “Better, but not good enough,” Jerry said. “I know you’re ice from the neck down, but let’s keep it our secret, lovey.”

  Holly lowered her eyelids until her unusual sherry-colored eyes were only glints beneath thick black lashes. Long hair fell like black water over her bare shoulders and upper arms. Her smile widened without becoming a bit softer.

  Jerry grunted.

  Motionless, Holly waited. Perspiration made fine tendrils of hair curl over the high temples and slanted cheekbones that had transformed a young girl called Holly North into Shannon, an internationally famous model.

  “Now give me a pout,” Jerry ordered. “Lots of lip just begging to be bitten.”

  Holly pouted.

  “Turn left,” Jerry said harshly. “Make that hair fly. Make every man who looks at you want to feel it sliding over his naked skin.”

  Holly turned with the grace that was as much a part of her as her long legs and lithe body.

  The heat that had everyone else short-tempered and sweating was like wine to her. She had been raised in Palm Springs’ scorching, brilliant, endless summers. The desert sun that bleached out most people made her bloom.

  A delicate rose flush glowed beneath her skin, hinting at the heat within, a heat that only one man had ever touched.

  Lincoln McKenzie.

  Don’t think about him, Holly told herself automatically. It only hurts you.

  Though she tried not to think of Linc, she couldn’t help herself. The feel of Palm Springs in the summer was too unique. She couldn’t make herself believe that she was in New York or Paris, Hong Kong or London or Rome, and Lincoln McKenzie was half a world away.

  Holly knew that Linc lived here, near enough to touch. He was part of the desert, as strong as the mountains rising in stark grandeur beyond the city.

  Memories of Linc, like the sun, fired her skin.

  She had worshipped Linc since she was nine years old and he was seventeen, riding one of the Arabian horses his family raised. The first time she saw him was a moment so vivid Holly could still smell the sage and dust, see Linc’s slow smile and hazel eyes, feel the velvet flutter of the horse’s nostrils and her own heart as she stood in the path of his mount and smiled up at him.

  “Lovely!” Jerry said. “Keep it up! Over the shoulder now. Turn. Faster! Again. Again! Again!”

  Feeling like a leaf caught in the winds of time, Holly turned and spun, giving herself to the desert heat and her memories of one man.

  She couldn’t mark the day or even the month when her young girl’s crush on Linc had changed into something deeper, hotter, more consuming. Although their ranches shared a common boundary, the two families did not socialize.

  Yet as Holly grew older, she saw Linc frequently at horse shows and auctions and training rings. With each meeting she fell more completely under his spell.

  Each time, it crushed her that Linc didn’t notice her.

  “Yeah, good,” Jerry muttered. “Now a little brighter, less pout. Big smile, baby. Gimme teeth.”

  Holly smiled at the camera, but her eyes were focused on the past.

  On her sixteenth birthday she had been baby-sitting Beth McKenzie, Linc’s half-sister, who was only nine. The McKenzies came home very late, arguing and more than a little drunk. Holly had never heard people swear at each other like that.

  When Linc showed up unexpectedly, Holly ran to him. He drove her home, talking softly to her until she stopped shaking. When he learned that she had turned sixteen at midnight, he teased her gently about “sweet sixteen and never been kissed.”

  What began as a comforting gesture became different, deeper, the timeless kiss of a man holding a woman he desired. Holly responded with an innocent abandon that had all but destroyed Linc’s control.

  After a long time he had taken her face between his hands and looked at her, memorizing the moment and the moonlight pouring over her dazed face. The smile she gave him had been that of Eve newly awakened to the possibilities of being a woman.

  “That’s the smile I want!” said Jerry triumphantly. “My God, babe, if you were only half as hot as you look. Left shoulder. Gimme some heat. Yeah. Yeah! Turn on for me, babe!”

  Holly barely noticed the photographer’s chatter or the battery of flashes going off around her. She was sixteen again, smiling up at the man she had always loved.

  Linc had wanted to take her out the following night, but Holly had promised to baby-sit for her father’s foreman. That was where she had been when Linc came and told her there had been an accident, a head-on crash along a twisting county road.

  He had driven Holly to the hospital where doctors were trying to save her parents. He had held her through the long night while first her mother and then her father died.

  Linc had held Holly while she screamed and wept, held her while her world shattered, held her until she fell into an exhausted sleep in his arms.

  When Holly woke up, she was in a hospital bed and her mother’s sister, Sandra, was there. Holly knew her aunt only from a few faded photographs in a shoebox full of family pictures.

  Within a few days Sandra had taken Holly back to Manhattan, where Sandra owned an agency that spec
ialized in high-fashion models.

  By the time Holly was eighteen, she was working full time as a model. By the time she was nineteen, she had been on the cover of every major American and European magazine. By the time she was twenty, she was the Royce Reflection, the woman chosen by Europe’s foremost designer to represent his total line of products, from perfumes to clothes, from negligees to cosmetics.

  Holly used only her middle name, Shannon, when she worked. It was her way of separating herself from the alien, glamorous creature who stared back at her from the pages of magazines and spoke seductively about negligees and sex on millions of television screens.

  Shannon was sensual, beautiful, extraordinary.

  Holly was not.

  After years of seeing herself as an awkward duckling, she wasn’t at all comfortable with what makeup and lighting magicians did to her face and what fashion sorcerers did to her slender body.

  Most of all, Holly resented the males who groped after her carefully applied beauty in expensive cars and penthouse suites. She knew that the men were really making love to a four-color magazine spread.

  And that was how she responded—cool, sophisticated.

  Flat.

  Men had called her many names, frigid being the most polite.

  At twenty-two, Holly was a virgin who looked like every man’s dream of a sexy, very experienced lover.

  “Lift your arms,” Jerry said.

  Dreamily she did, remembering what it had been like to slide her hands up Linc’s shoulders and comb her fingers through his thick, chestnut hair.

  “Higher,” Jerry ordered. “Good. Now arch your back and shake out your hair.”

  Holly hesitated. Acting like that wasn’t part of her memories. She hadn’t flaunted herself and teased Linc.

  She had loved him.

  “C’mon, sweetie,” Jerry said impatiently. “Give it a little sex. Think of your lover.”

  Caught between the innocent past and the empty present, Holly tensed.

  “No, no, no,” Jerry snapped.

  Forcing herself to relax, she tried again.

  “Not good enough,” he said. Then, sarcastically Jerry added, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. You’re not into lovers. So put your hands on those lovely, useless hips and pretend, damn you!”

  A toss of Holly’s head sent black hair rippling down the center of her back. She moved her body into a taunting stance and looked sidelong at the camera.

  Memory stabbed through Holly as her hair slid over her skin. She wished her hair had been long when Linc’s fingers had tugged playfully at her chin-length curls.

  Why couldn’t I have been beautiful then, when I was sixteen and in love?

  On the heels of that thought came another, one that had haunted her for six years.

  I wish I was sixteen now, in Linc’s arms, his mouth warm against my throat and his taste on my lips. . . .

  The memory was hot and sweet at the same time. It transformed her body with a tidal wave of yearning so strong that the camera couldn’t miss it.

  “Beautiful!” crowed Jerry. “Babe, I’m gonna put you up for an Oscar. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you liked sex.”

  His words were meaningless noise to Holly. She was six years in the past, smiling, lost in her memories of Linc and her first taste of passion.

  Turning, hair swirling, she held her arms out to the only man she had ever loved. She could see him so vividly, chestnut hair shot through with gold, taller than other men, stronger. His eyes changed with the light, first hazel, then green, now dark with an emotion she couldn’t name.

  Past and present collided, throwing Holly off-balance.

  She wasn’t holding out her arms to a dream, but to the real man.

  Linc.

  She couldn’t believe that she wasn’t seeing her dream. Linc was here, now, towering over the crouched, muttering photographer.

  Abruptly Holly believed it was the present, not the past. The look Linc was giving her was one of absolute contempt, not of gentleness or of rising passion.

  His cold hazel glance swept the crowd of technicians and gawkers. Then he returned to an examination of her that was so intimate she blushed.

  Instinctively she crossed her arms over her breasts and shook her hair forward until it was a veil concealing her from Linc’s icy scrutiny.

  “That’s a new one,” Jerry said, shifting for a better angle. “It has possibilities.”

  The motor drive on his camera raced like a mechanical heart, pumping frame after frame of film through the camera.

  “Not bad, lovey,” Jerry said grudgingly. “Now shoot out that right hip and give me the hungry little girl bit you do so well.”

  Motionless, Holly stood frozen in Linc’s contempt. She didn’t know why Linc hated her, but the look on his face left no doubt that he did.

  Her dream of love, of Linc, exploded like glass inside her, cutting her, hurting her so much it was hard to breathe.

  “Wake up, Shannon,” Jerry snapped. “We don’t have all day.”

  Shannon.

  Holly’s professional name echoed in her mind, breaking the grip of pain. She remembered that she was twenty-two, a top international model. She was no longer a plain, love-struck girl of sixteen.

  Not Holly, she reminded herself harshly.

  Shannon.

  Shannon wouldn’t let a man’s contempt strip her nerves raw. She would give as good as she got.

  Or better.

  Holly assumed a provocative stance, hand on hip, chin lifted, as graceful as a lily swaying on a long stem. She bared her teeth at the camera in a mockery of a smile.

  “You call that a come-on?” Jerry demanded.

  Turning away, Holly let out a breath and narrowed her eyes. She tried to forget the present and recall the dream that had sustained her through the empty years since her aunt had dragged her from the land—and the man—she loved.

  It was the dream of Linc that had made Holly come alive for the camera. It was the dream of Linc that made her radiate a leashed sensuality that fairly shimmered through the magazine pages and TV commercials.

  “Over your right shoulder,” Jerry ordered. “Gimme some teeth and a hint of tongue.”

  Holly turned again.

  Linc hadn’t moved. He was still there, watching her.

  Hating her.

  Why? Holly asked herself painfully. What did I do to make him so angry that he never answered my letters?

  Why is he here, now, hating me?

  Abruptly Holly realized that the silk dress she wore was molded to her body by heat and static electricity. The clinging cloth told anyone with eyes that Royce designs, as the ads purred, “are made to be worn over nothing but a woman’s perfumed skin.”

  For an instant Holly was motionless, caught in Linc’s consuming glance. Embarrassment and something else shot through her, something she hadn’t felt since she was sixteen.

  Her body changed, hot and cold at once. The tips of her breasts tightened, pressing in intimate detail against the thin silk.

  The sardonic twist to Linc’s mouth told Holly that he hadn’t missed her body’s response to him.

  She wanted to run from him, but that was something Holly would do. She wasn’t Holly at the moment. She was Shannon and she ran from nothing, certainly not a man’s contempt.

  Shannon would return that contempt with interest.

  Fine silk clung to Holly’s hips as she spun away from Linc, from the camera, from everything. She walked through the battery of lights and reflectors without a backward look.

  “Shannon?” called Jerry. “Where are you going? I’m just getting started!”

  “Too bad,” she retorted. “I’m just getting finished.”

  The words came out in the brittle, East Coast accent Holly used on difficult men.

  Shannon’s voice.

  Without a backward look, Holly kept on going, walking away from Linc McKenzie, the only man she had ever loved.

  Two

  Hol
ly grabbed sunglasses and a bottle of mineral water from the catering van that followed her to every location, whether it was mountain-top, sea, or desert. The van was just one of the fringe benefits of being the Royce Reflection.

  Holly put on the darkly rose-tinted glasses and sipped at the cold water. With a sigh, she rolled the bubbly liquid around on her tongue and rubbed the icy bottle over the pulse that beat hotly in her wrists.

  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jerry shouted. “We’re in the middle of a shoot and you’re sitting on your tight ass like Queen Elizabeth!”

  Holly ignored him and concentrated on her hands. They showed an alarming tendency to shake.

  Jerry began yelling names.

  Holly ignored that, too. Grimly she reminded herself that Jerry was a great fashion photographer as well as a miserable human being.

  Roger Royce’s clipped British voice cut across Jerry’s tirade.

  “Belt up, Jerry. You’ve been working Shannon like a donkey for hours in this heat. Any other model would have told you to get stuffed long ago.”

  Slowly Holly turned and faced her boss. He was blond, elegantly masculine, and almost six inches taller than her own five feet eight inches. Roger was a genius with shapes, textures, colors, and women’s bodies. He was also that rarity in the fashion business—a gentleman.

  “You okay?” Roger asked.

  “Working on it,” Holly said tightly.

  Roger touched her forehead with his palm.

  “You’re pale underneath all that makeup,” he said.

  “I’m fine.”

  “You don’t look it.”

  Holly smiled thinly.

 
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