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A Seasonal Secret [Secure eReader]
eBook by Diana Hamilton

eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: When Carl Forsythe bumps into Beth at Bewley Manor, his ancestral home, all he can think about is their night of searing passion years ago. Then he meets little James, her son--his son?--the secret she's been keeping for all that time...

eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Special Releases
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2007


21 Reader Ratings:
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CHAPTER ONE

THE short winter day was drawing to a close as Carl Forsythe cut the Jaguar's speed, slowing right down as he entered the narrow main street of Lower Bewley village.

Shadows were deepening and the ivy that clothed the stone walls of the ancient church looked black, as black as his mood, he recognised drily, his dark grey eyes brooding beneath clenched black brows.

Perhaps it had been a mistake to come back at all. The first visit to Bewley Hall since his uncle had passed away three months ago would be tough, adding to his sense of failure.

But accepting one of the many invitations from the friends who had stayed loyal to him after he and Terrina had split up hadn't seemed like a good idea either. He was no fit company for anyone, especially at Christmas time.

Three days to go before the Big Day and the normally sleepy main street was positively throbbing with expectation. Lights blazed from the bow-fronted windows of the butchers and greengrocers, their displays of turkeys and pheasants, piles of oranges and rosy apples, all decked out with festive sprigs of red-berried holly. And cottage windows were brightly lit, each with its own glittering Christmas tree. People burdened with shopping, buggies and toddlers, bumped into each other, grinning. Everyone was happy, stocking up for the coming festivities.

With a grunt of relief he edged the sleek car past the last straggle of cottages and out onto the winding country lane that led to the Hall.

Reminders of Christmas, family togetherness, he could do without.

Today his divorce had been finalised.

Failure.

Love, or even the pretence of it, had been absent for a long, long time. But when he'd made his marriage vows he'd meant them. For better or for worse. So if everything had so quickly fallen apart was it down to him? If he'd been the husband Terrina had wanted she wouldn't have looked elsewhere.

Or would she? Were his friends right when they said his now ex-wife was a promiscuous tramp? Had he as her husband been the last to know?

Throughout his uncle's long illness he'd kept the true state of his marriage from him. Kept his lip tightly buttoned on the subject when Terrina had demanded a divorce so that she could marry her French lover. 'Pierre knows how to have fun,' she'd told him. 'He knows how to have real fun. He doesn't expect me to have children and ruin my figure or spend dreary weekends in the country keeping a crabby old uncle company!'

So today he had told his executive PA that he was taking two weeks off, had locked up his apartment off Upper Thames Street and headed for his old home in Gloucestershire, where he would spend the so-called festive season sorting through his uncle's personal possessions, and his own which were still in the small suite of rooms that had been his for twenty years—since Marcus has taken him in when his parents had both died in a motorway pile-up when he'd been just seven years old.

His throat clenched as the powerful car snaked along between high, winter-bare hedgerows, the headlights making the bleached, frost-rimmed grass glitter. The next few days promised to be pretty depressing.

The Hall would be empty, unheated. The staff dismissed with generous pensions.

Another failure.

Marcus had never married and had looked to him, Carl, to bring his wife to live there, start a family, carry on the Forsythe dynasty.

The decision to auction the Hall and its contents hadn't been easy. But Carl had no intention of remarrying. Once had been enough. More than enough. So, no wife meant no children, no continuity. Pointless to keep the place on.

Smoky-grey eyes grew stormy. Guilt piled heavily on top of failure and intensified with a stabbing ferocity as he glimpsed a solitary light in Keeper's Cottage, beyond the trees that bordered the grounds of the Hall. Obviously the new owners had moved in.

So where was Beth Hayley now? What had happened to her? His heart kicked his ribs. If he knew what had happened to her, knew that she was happy and successful, then maybe he'd finally be able to forget that night—forget how badly he'd behaved, say goodbye to dreams that were threaded through with past scenes, like snatches of a videotape constantly replayed. Her silky blonde hair, her laughing green eyes, the dress she'd been wearing, a shimmering deep green silk that had made her eyes look like emeralds. The way her taut breasts had felt beneath his touch, the ripe lushness of her lips. And the deep shame that had come afterwards…

Eight years was a long time for a recurring dream to last. Too damn long…

In the fading light the sprawling Elizabethan house looked lonely, almost as if it were an animate thing, endlessly waiting for light and warmth, the sound of human voices, laughter.

His mouth tightening, he pushed that thought aside. It wasn't like him to indulge in flights of fancy. It was time he pulled himself together and started to do what he was good at: getting the job done.

Locking the Jaguar, he took the house-key from the side pocket of his jeans-style cords and mounted the shallow flight of stone steps to the massive front door.

The main hall was almost pitch-dark, the last feeble rays of light struggling through the tall mullioned windows. Turning on the mains electricity was obviously the first priority. Swinging round to go and fetch the torch he always carried in the glove compartment of the Jag, he froze, his spine prickling.

Laughter, childish laughter, echoed from the upper reaches of the house. Disembodied whispers, a burst of giggles. The shadows of the children his uncle had wanted to see and hear? The new generation of Forsythes that would never be?

Copyright © 2004 Diana Hamilton.


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