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Authors: Ginna Gray

Sweet Promise

BOOK: Sweet Promise
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Sweet Promise
Ginna Gray
Harlequin Sales Corporation (Mm) (1986)
Silhouette Special Edition #320
Being the daughter of celebrity Claire Drummond was not easy. Everyone expected a shallow display of glamour when they first met Joanna. And thought Joanna as just an assistant to a U.S. Senator, she wanted to be taken seriously. 
So when her boss gave her a special assignment, she rolled up her sleeves and set out to prove herself in her own right. If only the task wouldn't involve Sean Fleming, an old friend of the family. Joanna had always had a crush on the powerfully handsome Mr. Fleming. How would she ever get him to take Joanna - the woman - seriously.

SWEET PROMISE


Ginna Gray

Chapter One

W
ealth
.
Comfort. Warmth. The room exuded all three. Fine paintings, an exquisite cut crystal vase and a signed Paul Revere bowl shared pride of place with a bottle collection, a battered old hand forged copper scuttle and other items of whimsy. The furniture was of the
highest quality and in excellent taste, but each piece proudly bore the marks of daily living, and each invited you to relax, to kick off your shoes and forget your cares. A cheery fire crackled in the stone fireplace and plush easy chairs cozied up to the hearth on either side. A pillow-strewn sofa, long enough for a tall man to stretch out on, stood foursquare before it. On the floor beside the sofa sat a basket of yarn, and draped across one arm was a half-finished afghan with a crochet hook sticking out of it. Underfoot, a thick oriental rug spread its faded beauty over the oak planked floor that had known over two hundred years of footsteps. This was a haven, a home, a refuge for the soul—not a showplace.

Two men occupied the fireside chairs. At first glance they appeared much alike. Both were big men: tall, broad shouldered, muscular. And both were dark and utterly masculine, with a commanding presence that immediately drew the eye. Yet there were differences. Matt Drummond's ebony hair was frosted silver at the temples; Sean Fleming's had the blue-black sheen of a raven's wing. Matt's face was rugged, with a weathered, lived-in look that was harshly appealing; Sean's was classically handsome. Matt's eyes were vivid blue; Sean's the deepest black.

The younger man sat slouched down on his spine, his long legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. His head rested against the chair back, his hands across his abdomen, fingers laced loosely together. He looked almost boneless, nerveless. Only those who knew Sean well could detect the keen glitter in those seemingly drowsy black eyes, or see that behind that laid-back, easygoing facade was a taut restlessness, held rigidly in check.

And Matt Drummond knew him well.

Through half-closed eyes, Sean watched his friend leave his chair and walk to the old armoire that had been converted into a bar. He poured a generous amount of the finest Kentucky bourbon into two squat glasses, studied them, shrugged and added another splash to each for good measure. As he turned and started back across the room, Sean idly wondered what it was about these people, this place, that drew him.

Matt and Claire. Whenever he felt restless, troubled, unsure, he sought them out, preferably here in this huge old barn of a farmhouse that they called home. Somehow, just being around them calmed and soothed him, let him put things into perspective. It was strange, he thought with a wry smile. Strange... but damned comforting.

"Here you go." Matt handed him a drink. When he had settled into the chair on the other side of the hearth he gave Sean a long, steady look. "You know, ole buddy," he said finally. "Even though it's a cliche, there's a lot of truth in that old saw about opportunity only knocking once. You've always said you wanted to run for office some day. Well, if you're ever going to do it, now's the time, while you have strong backing. Turn Newcomb and his group down and they probably won't ask you to run again. And what with the incumbent retiring, the race for that Virginia Senate seat is going to be wide open."

"I know."

"When do they want an answer?"

"I told them I'd let them know in three weeks." Sean raised his drink and took a sip, exhaling a slow, raspy breath as the mellow bourbon slid down his throat. Holding the glass loosely between his hands, he rested it on his board-flat abdomen and stared at the dancing flames in the fireplace.

The fire hissed and popped. In the hall, the ancient grandfather clock ticked ponderously. The big room was lit by only two dim lamps and the fire, whose wavering glow was reflected in the polished oak floor and wainscoting. For a few minutes the two men sat in companionable silence.

Then Sean levered himself out of the chair and ambled over to the window. He twitched aside the green velvet curtain and looked out at the gathering darkness.

A light snow was falling, their first of the season—fat flakes that looked like feathers floating in the air.

What the devil is the matter with me?
he wondered impatiently.
For months I've been feeling this... this vague... What? Discontent? Depression? Hell, you jerk. You don't even know what it is you feel. Or why. You ought to be turning cartwheels. Everything you've ever wanted, everything you've worked for, is within reach.

So why wasn't he happy?

With a sigh, Sean walked back to the hearth and stared broodingly at the licking tongues of fire once again. "Before Newcomb approached me about running for the Senate, I'd been giving some thought to opening my own public relations firm, but I'm not sure I want to do that either." Grimacing, he sighed and raked an agitated hand through his blue-black hair. "Hell. The trouble is.... I'm not sure what I want anymore. I feel at loose ends. Restless. Antsy." Sean gave a disgusted snort and shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe I'm going through a mid-life crisis or something?"

"At thirty-six?"

The dry amusement in Matt's tone pulled Sean's gaze away from the fire and his mouth twitched up in a self-conscious, half smile. "Well, something. I'm just not content with my life or my future anymore."

"So what are you going to do?'"

"I'm—"

The peal of the doorbell halted "Sean's words. He looked at Matt, a question in his eyes, but the older man merely shrugged.

Excusing himself, Matt went to answer the summons. A few seconds later Sean heard the murmur of voices and a soft ripple of feminine laughter and frowned. Sean liked women. Sean
loved
women. But tonight he wasn't in the mood for that kind of distraction.

Matt returned, bringing a young woman with him, and Sean's black eyes ran over her in automatic assessment. Nice looking, he thought idly. Great legs, too. A bit classy for my blood, but nice. Definitely nice.

"You remember Sean don't you, Joanna?" Matt said as he steered her toward the fireplace, and Sean felt a little dart of surprise.

This is Joanna? Claire's daughter?
He eyed the softly feminine, poised young woman and expelled his breath in a long silent whistle. The Joanna he remembered had been a haughtily aggressive, rather obnoxious eighteen-year-old. There have definitely been some changes here, Sean thought as he noted the friendly sparkle in her hazel eyes.

The dark mole just above the left corner of her mouth drew his eye. It was a tiny imperfection that added fascination to her face, drawing attention to the otherwise flawless skin, the lovely curve of her cheek. The beauty mark was one of the few things about her that had remained the same. That, and the elegant bone structure of her face. It was that, Sean decided, which gave her that look of patrician aloofness he remembered so well. But it was softened by a mouth that was a tad too wide and curved now in a friendly smile. Her brown hair, which she used to wear in that god-awful frizzy style, now swung loosely around her shoulders in a shining cloud. It was, Sean thought a bit uneasily, the kind of hair a man wanted to thread his fingers through, bury his face in.

"Yes, of course," Joanna said. "You were Mother's press secretary when she ran for the Senate."

Smiling, she extended her hand and Sean took it between both of his. It was small and soft, and to his surprise, trembled ever so slightly. Even her voice has changed, he noted. It was gentler, softer, without that hard edge that had made everything she said sound like a command or a challenge.

"That's right. Hello, Joanna. It's good to see you again. It's been a while."

"Almost four years. I haven't seen you since Mother and Matt's wedding." Joanna cast a curious glance at her stepfather. "Speaking of Mother, where is she?"

"She's in the kitchen getting dinner. She'll be out in a minute."

Withdrawing her hand from Sean's grasp, Joanna smiled politely and edged toward the door. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go see if I can help."

When she had disappeared into the hall Sean's stunned gaze sought Matt.
"Joanna
is going to help in the kitchen?"

In the hall, Joanna heard the remark and stopped momentarily, her mouth compressing. It hurt to hear that incredulous tone in Sean's voice. Not that she blamed him. Four years ago she had been a brat. A spoiled, selfish brat.

As she continued toward the kitchen Joanna pressed her hand against her fluttering stomach, mildly surprised to realize that she was nervous. Which is just plain silly, she thought with a scornful chuckle. She'd once had a bit of a crush on Sean but that, thankfully, had died a natural death.

Joanna didn't think that Sean, or anyone else, had even been aware of her childish infatuation. At the time Sean had had his hands full with her mother's Seriate campaign and had barely even noticed that she was alive.

And she, to her everlasting shame, had been too busy trying to prevent her mother from marrying Matt to actively pursue him. In the end, when Claire had withdrawn from the primary race, her staff had disbanded. "And that had been the end of that, thank heaven," Joanna muttered under her breath. "Given enough time, I probably would have made a complete fool of myself over the man."

Actually though, finding Sean there was a stroke of luck, considering the reason she'd come.

Joanna pushed through the door and walked into the huge, old-fashioned kitchen, and Claire looked up from the sauce she was stirring, a smile lighting up her face. "Hello, darling. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it in time for dinner."

As always these days, at the sight of her mother Joanna felt a little jolt. She supposed it was natural, under the circumstances. For no matter how often she thought about it, no matter how pleased and happy she was, it was something of a shock to see her mother—her forty-three-year-old, beautiful, elegant mother—nearly seven months pregnant.

Smiling, Joanna crossed the room and gave Claire a kiss on the cheek. "Sorry I'm late. Usually on Fridays we knock off early, but tonight Senator Hartwell kept the entire staff working till five." Joanna tipped her head toward the living room. "You didn't tell me that Sean would be here this weekend too."

"Oh, Sean can't stay for the weekend." Claire looked at Joanna, her soft gray eyes filled with wicked laughter, and added drolly, "He has a date tomorrow night."

"Ah, I see." Joanna's smile was knowing. "Still giving his little black book a workout, is he?" She washed her hands at the sink, then began to set four places at one end of the long trestle table, chuckling to herself as she recalled how she had been eaten up with jealousy every time she'd seen Sean riffling through that book. How she'd sworn that someday she would rip it to shreds.

"I think it's now a two-volume set," Claire said, rolling her eyes. "Sean's as sharp as a tack and a dear, sweet man, but he is a devil with the ladies."

Joanna chuckled and began helping her mother dish up the food, enormously pleased that now she could laugh at Sean's romantic escapades. She poured the lemon and butter sauce over the broccoli and picked up the dish to take it to the table, turning just in time to see Claire lifting a roasting pan from the oven.

"Mother! For heaven's sake! You shouldn't be lifting that," she cried, rushing over to take it from her.

Claire looked disgusted and made an exasperated sound. "I swear, you're as bad as Matt. I'm not an invalid, you know. I'm just pregnant. Besides, I like to cook, and it's about the only thing I get to do anymore."

Poor Matt, Joanna thought, smothering a grin as she set the pan on the counter and transferred the roast to a platter. Becoming a father for the first time at age forty-five was hard on him. He was both thrilled and terrified over the prospect and tended to fuss over his wife like a mother hen. The day after Claire had told him she was pregnant he had hired a woman to do all the work around the house. If Claire hadn't put her foot down, he would have hired someone to do the cooking, too.

It was amazing, Joanna thought, as she had done countless times during the past few years, how drastically her mother's life-style had changed. Though Matt was equally as wealthy as Joanna's father and grandfather had been, his family had always lived a simpler life, and Claire had embraced it wholeheartedly. She had settled in this big old rustic house and adapted to country living with astounding ease. Claire had learned to cook and keep house, even to garden. And, Joanna admitted with a smile, casting a covert glance at her mother's glowing face, she seemed to thrive on it.

When the meal was ready, the men joined them in the kitchen, and Matt sat at his customary place at the head of the table. Instinctively Joanna shied away from sitting beside Sean and chose the place on the opposite side, facing him and Claire. It was a choice she soon regretted, for every time she looked up her eyes were drawn to him like a magnet.

During dinner, conversation was general, but for the most part Joanna said little. Her reaction to Sean surprised and disturbed her. She was acutely, uncomfortably aware of him. She found herself staring, as though mesmerized, at his finely chiseled, incredibly sexy mouth. And that voice. Its deep rumble did the strangest things to her insides.

Sean was a wildly handsome man, with an appealing air of devil-may-care rakishness. Joanna told herself it was perfectly normal to be attracted to him.

BOOK: Sweet Promise
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