Full Circle [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Anna Dynowski
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Allegra returns to her home town following her mother's death, a town she had fled because of her broken romance with Nick. Even though Nick had betrayed her in the past, Allie has forgiven him--of course she has--after all it's the Christian thing to do. But it would be silly to consider resuming their romance. She had been hurt too badly the last time. Still Allie finds Nick and his young daughter irresistable
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, Published: 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2006
This eBook is part of the following series:
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In a small store in Toronto, the phone peeled. Leaving the unopened box of aromatherapy candles on the counter, Allie Blackwell reached for the receiver on its second ring.
"Heal Thyself Health Food Store. How may I help you?"
"May I speak to Allie Blackwell, please?" a warm masculine voice responded.
"You got her!"
"Allie, my name is Joshua Lockhart. I'm the pastor at Paradiso Tabernacle."
"Oh, yes, my mom has mentioned you. How are you, Pastor Lockhart?" A smile tugged at her lips as she sat down on the stool behind the counter.
He hesitated before replying, "I'm fine, thank you. And please call me Joshua."
She missed neither the slight hesitation nor the uneasiness that crept into his gentle voice. A shiver ran down her back and she shuddered. Her hand grasped the counter, her knuckles white from the pressure. An inexplicable fear gripped her. Exhaling a deep breath, she willed her fingers to release their vice-like grip and waited.
When next he spoke, his voice was full of compassion. "Allie, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your mother just passed away."
Shock paralyzed her. She felt the color drain from her face. As her hand flew to her throat, she shook her head in disbelief.
"Mom passed away?" she parroted blankly, raking an unsteady hand through her hair. "That can't be! I just spoke to her by phone two nights ago and I--I saw her three weeks ago when she came to visit me here in Toronto." Her voice was barely a whisper. Tears flowed down her cheeks. "How? When?" she choked.
"About an hour ago. I was with her. Your mother apparently had been sick for some time. Her illness went undiagnosed until it was too late. I'm sorry, Allie. If you'd like, I can help you with the arrangements," he offered.
She swiped at the tears rolling down her face. Why didn't you tell me, mom?
"I'll go home and pack a few things. I--I should be there in about four, maybe five hours," she stammered. "Uh, where do I go? To the hospital? Or the funeral home?" She tried gallantly to clear her benumbed head.
"Why don't you stop by the Church office and I'll accompany you," he suggested.
"Thank you. I'd appreciate it very much."
As Allie replaced the phone on its hook, Samantha Jones came out from the back storage room, fussing with her wild riot of strawberry red curls.
"Honey, what's wrong?" Samantha was at her side, draping a comforting arm around her shoulders.
Through her tear-dimmed eyes, Allie gazed at her friend. She'd first met Samantha ten years ago when Allie had escaped to Toronto. She'd been a loyal friend with her rock-solid support. Now, the concern in Samantha's voice tugged at Allie's heart, bringing a fresh wave of tears flowing down her cheeks.
Her words came out in gulps and gasps. "Sam, my mom just died. I ... I have to go to Paradiso right away."
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. Don't worry about a thing here. I'll hold down the fort. Just call me."
"I want to thank you, Pastor--Joshua--for coming with me and helping me make the arrangements. I don't think I could have done it on my own." Her voice caught. When she regained her composure, she turned to this caring man with the gentle manner. "You're such a busy person and you don't even know me."
The crescent-shaped moon shone, scads of stars twinkled. A soft evening breeze blew gently as Allie and Joshua strolled toward the Church parking lot where she'd left her car before accompanying him to the funeral home earlier.
His warm smile and compassion-filled eyes gave his face a kindness she could trust and lean on. Although her mind was in turmoil, she still realized the friendship he offered her was steadfast.
"Allie, your mother was a member of my congregation. It was the least I could do." Joshua's golden brown eyes became guarded. "I believe you know my wife and her family."
She cocked her head in query. When he hesitated, she prompted him, "Your wife?"
"Lisa Fusilli," he supplied, his eyes roaming her face, gauging her reaction.
"Lisa's your wife?" She smiled up at him. Then, as realization hit her, she swallowed hard and slid her gaze away. "That means Nick is..." she gulped.
"My brother-in-law," he finished the sentence for her.
She stopped dead in her tracks, shaking, as she became aware that Joshua had led her to Fusilli's, the restaurant Nick's parents, Giuseppe and Maria, had started thirty years ago.
He took hold of her elbow, leading her toward the door. "It's okay, Allie. Nick is out of town. And you need to eat something. It's been a long, tough day for you. Come on," he encouraged quietly.
The red-bricked facade had been transformed into white stucco. Spilling over onto the sidewalk were white tables and chairs inviting the patrons to enjoy their meals al fresco.
Allie found herself propelled through one of the two arched mahogany front doors and into a dimly lit interior that was as familiar to her as it was different. The old-fashioned Tiffany lamps still graced the room, no longer hanging suspended from the ceiling but from the mahogany beams added overhead. The tables that once sported the red and white checkered tablecloths were now covered in white linen. Romantic votive candles, in vanilla scents, flickered on each table, while Italian music flowed softly through the speakers throughout the restaurant. Gone was the red wallpaper. White stucco walls replaced it, with pictures of the Italian landscape proudly adorning them.
"Wow." She stood spellbound as she took in the ambiance.
"Yeah, it has changed, hasn't it?" Joshua said. "A few years back, Giuseppe retired and handed over the reins to Nick who lost no time in talking the bank manager into giving him a loan. With the money in hand, a lot of time, energy, and effort, he treated the restaurant to an incredible face lift. He even jazzed up the menu."
Giuseppe and Maria hurried toward her, their gentle eyes a mixture of sympathy and love. Maria, all of five feet, wrapped her plump arms around Allie while Giuseppe stood quietly by.
"Cara, we are so sorry about your mamma." Maria's voice broke, her blue eyes glistened with tears.
"But we are here for you," Giuseppe quickly cut in, brushing aside a tear that slipped down his cheek.
Moved by their unashamed display of emotions, Allie welcomed the opportunity to bask in their love and concern.
"Well, well, well."
Allie stiffened. She would know that voice anywhere, even if it now had a bite to it. Nick Fusilli.
"What have we here?" the voice continued.
She slowly withdrew from Maria's embrace, and with bated breath, turned to the owner of the voice.
At thirty-five, Nick still had a lean, sleek grace. As he approached, he moved with the smooth ease of someone who gave his body a physical workout. She could feel her pulse accelerating and was annoyed with her reaction.
His golden brown hair was worn in a shorter style than it had been ten years ago, but it was the expression on his face that sent her pulse skittering. Emotion swirled in his blue eyes.
"Nick, basta. That is enough!" his mother scolded him.
He quirked an eyebrow at his mother without responding. Turning piercing blue eyes back on Allie, he inclined his head, turned on his heels, and strode purposely through the door leading to his private office. * * * *
Nick pushed the sheaths of paper away from him and disgustedly threw down his pen. Who was he fooling? He could no more concentrate on his work here, alone in the sanctuary of his office than he could if she was sitting across from his desk, gazing at him with those eyes. Those eyes. Eyes, he remembered, that could miraculously change from green to blue. Tonight they were pools of blue. And those lips...
Don't even go there, Fusilli.
He expected to see her. In fact, he psyched himself up for the inevitable. But seeing her in his restaurant a few minutes ago threw him for a loop anyway. She looked so good, so right, standing there as if she belonged.
He ran a hand behind the back of his neck and sighed wearily. She did not belong here. She was a city girl and had been for some time. She'd made that decision a long time ago. Ten years ago to be exact.
And she looked every bit the city girl. A short red skirt emphasizing her shapely legs. High-heeled shoes begging him to take them off and massage her small, delicate feet. The white turtleneck sweater clinging to her curvaceous body. Earrings, dangling and flashing when she turned her head. And how he wanted to hide his face in her hair that now hung long and loose down her back.
Clearing his throat, he berated himself. "Knock it off, Fusilli. She's off limits. Has been for a decade. Besides, she's moved on with her life, her city life. So get a grip!"
With an effort, he focused his attention back to the staff work schedules. * * * *
The silence was deafening. Nick's angry departure left a heavy air of shock in its wake. Allie caught Maria and Giuseppe exchanging an uncomfortable glance, the lines around their eyes more pronounced, their mouths pursed. Even kind and gentle Joshua was rendered speechless, his mouth gaping, his eyes widened.
Shaking off her own feeling of embarrassment, she said quietly, "It was a mistake coming here tonight. I'd better leave." She started to move.
"No!" Both of Nick's parents cried in unison.
"You are not going anywhere, Cara, until you have something to eat," Maria proclaimed with authority, sending an annoyed look toward the office door.
"I'm really not hungry," she said lamely, her own eyes darting to the closed door, expecting to see Nick storm out any moment. "Besides, I don't want to cause any trouble."
"Hush, cara, I am going to the kitchen and get you some of my homemade minestrone soup. It will do you good. You need your strength. You probably have not eaten all day and you do not want to get sick." Maria clucked like a mother hen, her eyes warm with concern.
"I don't think so--" Allie started to say.
"Nonsense," Giuseppe interrupted. "We will not let our son run you off. You are family. You belong here. Now sit down."
"I thought Nick was out of town." Joshua frowned, looking from Giuseppe to Maria, back to Giuseppe.
"He was not due back until the day after tomorrow but Lisa thought it best to call him this morning, to tell him about Allie's mother." Giuseppe looked apologetically at her. "He obviously decided to cut short his trip under the circumstances. It is too bad he did not decide to be..."
She saw his gaze slide to Joshua. An unspoken request passed from father-in-law to son-in-law and with an imperceptible nod, the younger man acknowledged his understanding and agreement. Placing a guiding hand on his wife's back, Giuseppe escorted her to the kitchen while Joshua pulled out a chair and motioned Allie to sit.
He pulled out the chair beside her and straddling it, he leaned his elbows on the back of the chair and searched her face. "I'm so sorry, Allie," he sighed, reaching over to lay a comforting hand on hers. "I hadn't given it a thought that Lisa would naturally call her brother or that he would return so quickly."
"It's okay. It--it was just a--a shock to see Nick again. His displeasure..." Her gaze shot to the office door as she recalled Nick's blue eyes dagger bright, his lips folded tight, every line of his body vibrating with anger. The dislike he showed toward her rippled through her like shockwaves. His sudden and unexpected appearance combined with the force of the few terse words he spoke to her had her heart slamming into her ribs, her stomach muscles knotting tight.
How was she going to survive? What was she to do?