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Her mothers keeper, p.13
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       Her Mother's Keeper, p.13

           Nora Roberts
 
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  “Oh?” Luke looked past Anabelle to Gwen, then studied the open cases on her bed. “Going somewhere?”

  “Yes.”

  “No,” Anabelle said simultaneously. “Not anymore. She was going back to New York, but we solved everything nicely.”

  “Mama,” Gwen said warningly, and stepped forward.

  “I’ve confessed all,” she told Luke with a bright smile. “Gwen knows all about my secret hobby. The poor darling thought you and I were having a romance.”

  “Weren’t we?” Luke lifted her hand to his lips.

  “Oh, you devil.” Anabelle patted his cheek, highly pleased. “I must get along now, but I’m sure Luke will want to hear what you told me about being in love with him.”

  “Mama!” The sharp retort emerged as a tragic whisper.

  “I’d close the door,” Anabelle suggested to Luke. “Gwen favors her privacy.”

  “I’ll do that,” Luke agreed, and kissed her hand again. With a delighted blush and flutter, she disappeared.

  “A truly marvelous woman,” Luke commented, quietly closing the door and turning the key. He turned it over in his palm a moment, studying it, then slipped it into his pocket. Gwen decided it was better strategy not to comment. “Now, suppose you tell me what you told Anabelle about being in love with me.”

  Looking into his calm eyes, Gwen knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Temper would not work as long as he had the key. It was vital that she remain as calm as he. “I owe you an apology,” she said as she casually moved to her closet. Taking the dress Anabelle had just replaced, Gwen folded it and laid it back in the suitcase.

  Luke continued to stand by the door, watching her movements. “For what, precisely?”

  Gwen bit the underside of her lip hard and moved back to the closet. “For the things I said about you and Mama.”

  “You’re apologizing for believing we were having an affair?” Luke smiled at her for the first time, and although she heard it in his voice, she did not turn to see it. “I took it as a compliment.”

  Turning slowly, Gwen decided to brazen it out. It was impossible, she decided, to be any more humiliated than she already was. “I’m well aware that I’ve made a fool of myself. And I know that I deserve to feel every bit as ridiculous as I feel. As I look back, I believe that you decided on the very first day to teach me a lesson. You never admitted you were having an affair with my mother, you simply told me it was none of my business. I felt differently at the time.” Gwen paused to catch her breath, and Luke moved into the room to lean comfortably on one of the bedposts. “I was wrong and you were right. It wasn’t any of my business, and you succeeded in teaching me a lesson just by letting me draw my own conclusions. These were helped along by Mama’s unusual behavior and her affection for you. You could, of course, have saved me a great deal of anxiety and humiliation by explaining things, but you chose to make your point. Point taken, Mr. Powers,” she continued as she worked herself up into a temper. “I’ve been put in my place by an expert. Now, I’d like you to get out of here and leave me alone. If there’s one thing I want above all else, it’s never to see you again, I can only be thankful we live on opposite ends of the continent.”

  Luke waited a moment while she tore two skirts out of her closet and heaved them into the case. “Can I get a copy of that speech for my files?”

  Gwen whirled, eyes flaming. “You unfeeling, pompous boor! I’ve done all the groveling I’m going to do. What more do you want?”

  “Was that groveling?” he asked, lifting a brow in interest. “Fascinating. What I want,” he continued, “is for you to elaborate on the statement Anabelle made before she left the room. I found it very interesting.”

  “You want it all, don’t you?” Gwen snapped, slamming the lid on her first case. “All right, then, I’ll give it to you. It makes little difference at this point.” She took a breath to help the words come quickly. “I love you. What will you do now that you know?” she demanded, keeping her head high. “Write it into one of your books for comic relief?”

  Luke considered a moment and then shrugged. “No. I rather think I’ll marry you.”

  In stunned silence, Gwen stared at him. “I don’t think that’s very funny.”

  “No, I doubt marriage is a funny business. I’m sure it has its moments, though. We’ll have to find out.” Straightening, he walked over and put his hands on her shoulders. “Soon.”

  “Don’t touch me,” she whispered, and tried to jerk out of his hold.

  “Oh, yes, I’ll touch you.” He turned Gwen to face him. “I’ll do much more than touch you. Idiot,” he said roughly when he saw her tear-drenched eyes. “Are you so blind you can’t see what you’ve put me through? I wanted you from the first moment I saw you. You stood there smiling at me, and I felt as though someone had hit me with a blunt instrument. I wanted to teach you a lesson, all right, but I didn’t expect to learn one. I didn’t expect some skinny kid to tangle herself up in my mind so that I couldn’t get her out.” He pulled her close as she stared up at him, dry-eyed and fascinated. “I love you to the edge of madness,” he murmured before his mouth crushed hers.

  It’s a dream, Gwen thought dazedly as his mouth roamed her face, teasing her skin. It must be a dream. She threw her arms around his neck and clung, praying never to wake up. “Luke,” she managed before her mouth was silenced again. “Tell me you mean it,” she begged as he tasted her neck. “Please tell me you mean it.”

  “Look at me,” he ordered, taking her chin in his hand. She did, and found her answer. Joy bubbled inside her and escaped in laughter. Laughing with her, Luke rested his brow against hers. “I believe I’ve surprised you.”

  “Oh, Luke.” She buried her face in his shoulder, holding him as if she would never let him go. “I’m not surprised, I’m delirious.” She sighed, weak from laughter, dizzy with love. “How did this happen?”

  “I haven’t the faintest idea.” He brushed his lips over the top of her head. “Falling in love with you was not in my plans.”

  “Why not?” she demanded, rubbing her cheek against his. “I’m a very nice person.”

  “You’re a child,” he corrected, lost in the scent of her hair. “Do you realize what we were doing when I was your age?” He gave a quick, mystified laugh. “I was working on my second novel, and you were drawing pictures with your Crayolas.”

  “It’s twelve years, not twenty,” Gwen countered, slipping her hands under his shirt to feel the warmth of his back. “And you can hardly make an issue out of an age difference, particularly a twelve-year age difference, after all this. You don’t have any double standards, do you?” she asked, lifting a brow.

  Luke gave her hair a brief tug. “It’s not just the years. You’re so innocent, so unspoiled. Wanting you was driving me mad, then loving you only made it worse.” He kissed her lightly behind the ear, and she shivered with pleasure. “Even up to last night I was determined not to take advantage of that innocence. Part of me still wants to leave you that way.”

  “I hope the rest of you has more sense,” Gwen tossed back her head to look up at him.

  “I’m serious.”

  “So am I.” She ran a fingertip along his jawline. “Buy Bradley’s portrait, if you want an image.”

  “I already have.” He smiled, caught her fingers in his and kissed them. “You don’t think I’d let anyone else have it, do you?”

  “Have me, too.” Amusement vanished from his face as she pressed against him. “I’m a woman, Luke, not a child or an image. I love you, and I want you.” Rising on her toes, she met his mouth. His hands sought her, possessed her, while she trembled with excitement. Her love seemed to expand, surrounding her until there was nothing else. She pressed closer, offering everything. It was he who drew away.

  “Gwen.” Luke let out a long breath and shook his head. “It’s difficult to remember that you’re Anabelle’s daughter and that she trusts me.”

  “I’m trying to make it impossible,” she co
untered. She could feel the speed of his heartbeat against hers, and reveled in a new sense of power. “Aren’t you going to corrupt me?”

  “Undoubtedly,” he agreed. Framing her face with his hands, he kissed her nose. “After we’re married.”

  “Oh.” Gwen pouted a moment, then shrugged. “That’s sensible, I suppose. Michael was always sensible, too.”

  Luke’s eyes narrowed at the mischief in hers. “That,” he said distinctly, “was a low blow. Do you know how very near I came to pulling the phone out of the wall last night when I heard you talking to him?”

  “Did you?” Gwen’s face illuminated at the thought. “Were you jealous?”

  “That’s one way of putting it,” Luke agreed.

  “Well,” Gwen considered carefully, trying not to smile, “I suppose I can understand that. As I said, he’s a very sensible man. It’s all right, though, I’m sure you’re every bit as sensible as Michael.”

  Luke studied her carefully, but Gwen managed to keep the smile a mere hint on her lips. “Are you challenging me to kiss you into insensibility?”

  “Oh, yes,” she agreed, and closed her eyes. “Please do.”

  “I never could resist a dare,” Luke murmured, drawing her into his arms.

  Keep reading for a special excerpt from the newest novel by Nora Roberts

  WHISKEY BEACH

  Available now in hardcover from G.P. Putnam’s Sons

  Through the chilly curtain of sleet, in the intermittent wash of the great light on the jutting cliff to the south, the massive silhouette of Bluff House loomed over Whiskey Beach. It faced the cold, turbulent Atlantic like a challenge.

  I will last as long as you.

  Standing three sturdy and indulgent stories above the rough and rugged coast, it watched the roll and slap of waves through the dark eyes of windows as it had—in one incarnation or another—for more than three centuries.

  The little stone cottage now housing tools and garden supplies spoke to its humble beginnings, to those who’d braved the fierce and fickle Atlantic to forge a life on the stony ground of a new world. Dwarfing those beginnings, the spread and rise of golden sand walls and curving gables, the generous terraces of weathered local stone sang to its heyday.

  It survived storm, neglect, careless indulgence, dubious taste, the booms and the busts, scandal and righteousness.

  Within its walls, generations of Landons had lived and died, celebrated and mourned, schemed, thrived, triumphed and languished.

  It had shone as bright as the great light that swept the water off Massachusetts’ rocky and glorious north shore. And it had huddled, shuttered in the dark.

  It had stood long, so long, now it simply was Bluff House, reigning above the sea, the sand, the village of Whiskey Beach.

  For Eli Landon it was the only place left to go. Not a refuge as much as an escape from everything his life had become over the past eleven horrible months.

  He barely recognized himself.

  The two-and-a-half-hour drive up from Boston over slick roads left him exhausted. But then, he admitted, fatigue cozied up to him like a lover most days. So he sat outside the house, in the dark, sleet splatting off his windshield, his roof, while he debated the choices of gathering enough energy to go inside or just staying put, maybe sliding into sleep in the car.

  Stupid, he thought. Of course he wouldn’t just sit there and sleep in the car when the house, with perfectly good beds to choose from, stood only a few feet away.

  But neither could he drum up the enthusiasm for hauling his suitcases out of the trunk. Instead he grabbed the two small bags on the seat beside him, ones holding his laptop and a few essentials.

  Sleet slapped at him when he climbed out of the car, but the cold, that whistling Atlantic wind, cut through the outer layers of lethargy. Waves boomed against the rock, slapped against the sand, combining into a constant hissing roar. Eli dragged the house keys out of his jacket pocket, stepped onto the shelter of the wide stone portico to the massive double entrance doors hewn more than a century before from teak imported from Burma.

  Two years, he thought—closer to three—since he’d been here. Too busy with his life, with work, with the disaster of his marriage to drive up for a weekend, a short vacation, a holiday visit with his grandmother.

  He’d spent time with her, of course, the indomitable Hester Hawkin Landon, whenever she’d come to Boston. He’d called her regularly, e-mailed, Facebooked and Skyped. Hester might have been cruising toward eighty but she’d always embraced technology and innovation with curiosity and enthusiasm.

  He’d taken her to dinner, to drinks, remembered flowers and cards, gifts, gathered with her and his family for Christmas, important birthdays.

  And that, he thought as he unlocked the door, was all just rationalization for not taking the time, making the time, to come to Whiskey Beach, to the place she loved most, and giving her real time, real attention.

  He found the right key, unlocked the door. Stepping inside, he flicked on the lights.

  She’d changed some things, he noted, but Gran embraced change even as she managed to embrace traditions—that suited her.

  Some new art—seascapes, gardenscapes—splashing soft color against rich brown walls. He dumped his bags just inside the door, took a moment to just look around the glossy spill of the entrance hall.

  He scanned the stairs—the grinning gargoyle newel posts some whimsical Landon had commissioned—and up where they curved gracefully right and left for the north and south wings.

  Plenty of bedrooms, he thought. He just had to climb the stairs and pick one.

  But not yet.

  Instead he walked through to what they called the main parlor with its high, arching windows facing the front garden—or what would be once winter opened its claws.

  His grandmother hadn’t been home for over two months, but he didn’t see a speck of dust. Logs lay in the hearth framed by the gleam of lapis and ready to light. Fresh flowers stood on the Hepplewhite table she prized. Pillows sat fluffed and welcoming on the three sofas ranged around the room, and the wide planked chestnut floor gleamed like a mirror.

  She’d had someone come in, he decided, then rubbed his forehead where a headache threatened to bloom.

  She’d told him, hadn’t she? Told him she had someone looking out for the place. A neighbor, someone who did the heavy cleaning for her. He hadn’t forgotten she’d told him, he’d just lost the information for a moment in the fog that too often crawled in to blur his mind.

  Now looking out for Bluff House was his job. To tend to it, to, as his grandmother had asked, keep life in it. And maybe, she’d said, it would pump some life back into him.

  He picked up his bags, looked at the stairs. Then just stood.

  She’d been found there, there at the base of the steps. By a neighbor—the same neighbor? Wasn’t it the same neighbor who cleaned for her? Someone, thank God, had come by to check on her, and found her lying there unconscious, bruised, bleeding, with a shattered elbow, a broken hip, cracked ribs, a concussion.

  She might’ve died, he thought. The doctors expressed amazement that she’d stubbornly refused to. None of the family routinely checked on her daily, no one thought to call, and no one, including himself, would have worried if she hadn’t answered for a day or two.

  Hester Landon, independent, invincible, indestructible.

  Who might have died after a terrible fall, if not for a neighbor— and her own indefatigable will.

  Now she reigned in a suite of rooms in his parents’ home while she recovered from her injuries. There she’d stay until deemed strong enough to come back to Bluff House—or if his parents had their way, there she would stay, period.

  He wanted to think of her back here, in the house she loved, sitting out on the terrace with her evening martini, looking out at the ocean. Or puttering in her garden, maybe setting up her easel to paint.

  He wanted to think of her vital and tough, not helpless and broken on the f
loor while he’d been pouring a second cup of morning coffee.

  So he’d do his best until she came home. He’d keep life in her house, such as his was.

  Eli picked up his bags, started upstairs. He’d take the room he’d always used on visits—or had before those visits stretched out fewer and farther between. Lindsay had hated Whiskey Beach, Bluff House, and had made trips there into a cold war with his grandmother rigidly polite on one side, his wife deliberately snide on the other. And he’d been squeezed in the middle.

  So he’d taken the easy way, he thought now. He could be sorry about that, sorry he’d stopped coming, sorry he’d made excuses and had limited his time with his grandmother to her trips to Boston. But he couldn’t turn back the clock.

  He stepped into the bedroom. Flowers here, too, he noted, and the same soft green walls, two of his grandmother’s watercolors he’d always particularly liked.

  He put his bags on the bench at the foot of the sleigh bed, stripped off his coat.

  Here, things had stayed the same. The little desk under the
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