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Past ImperfectPAST IMPERFECT

Silhouette Special Edition #1724
Most Likely To…
December 2005
ISBN: 0-373-24724-9
The Saunders Sound-Off
Where are they now?
Saunders University keeps track of its notable alumni

Rachel James

Once Miss Popularity and the campus "It" girl, even after surviving a difficult childhood and two dreadful adoptive parents, Rachel's future was finally looking up. Until she dropped out, opting to marry instead of graduate. Widowed too young, she's decided to remain single and save herself from further heartache. But a reliable source reported that lately Rachel's been spotted having secret meetings with a handsome reporter. And when those two are deep in conversation, her eyes are ablaze with possibility.the same flicker from her college days..

If you know the whereabouts of your fellow alumni, or are interested in locating someone, e-mail or call your class faculty representative.

Buy Online: Amazon | Powell's Bookstore | Barnes & Noble


Excerpt from PAST IMPERFECT

When he saw Rachel slipping away from her friends and heading toward the exit, Ian didn't waste any further time.

With a burst of energy, he bolted through the back door, intending to head her off before she left campus.

Minutes later, he did, catching up with her near the little redbrick theater.

"Not so fast," he said, gently grabbing her arm.

She was wearing that same threadbare coat, coupled with a long wool skirt and boots. The outfit all but swallowed her whole, scratching at Ian's heart because every clue indicated that she couldn't afford any better.

"Ian." Her gaze was dark with exhaustion. "Now's not the time."

"When is the time?" Steeling himself for a rejection, he gripped her other arm, making sure she faced him. Then he bent a little lower so they were eye to eye-so he could glance at her straight on and show her how much he wanted to help.

When she sighed, he realized that she was weak and unsteady.

"Did you have any lunch?"

"Sandra and I talked through the hearing's break."

"Dammit, Rachel."

He steered her toward a snack cart, buying her a bottle of apple juice and a hot dog.

"But."

"My treat," he said.

She flushed, but thanked him gracefully.

He played it off, her gratitude making him feel more heroic than he should, for some reason.

"Man," he said, "it's cold. Let's go inside."

They ended up in the theater's modest lobby, with its gold curtains, closed box office and tiled floor. A blast of heat greeted them as they claimed a waiting bench. Framed posters of Tartuffe, the most recent production, added flair to an otherwise quiet space.

As she nibbled at the hot dog, he took off his jacket, revealing the crew neck sweater he wore underneath.

"You need to take better care of yourself," he said.

"Thanks, Lunch Monitor." A spot of mustard lingered near the tip of her mouth as she risked a smile.

Before he could think, Ian reached out, thumbed the mustard away. Rachel gulped down the food in her mouth.

He felt a little weird, too-God knows why-so he hunkered down, forearms on his lower thighs.

Come on, shrug it off, he told himself. What's with you?

"What did you think of the facts today?" he asked.

She drank some juice. "Pretty awful. Gilbert's coming off in a bad way."

"That's what I thought. What kind of article would you write for tomorrow's paper?"

"The same one you're probably going to."

The resulting pause hushed through the lobby, thick as the morning fog.

"It doesn't have to be that way," he finally said, giving voice to what he felt in his gut.

The doubt.

The instinct shouting that there was a lot Gilbert wasn't telling them.

Rachel's hand brushed his sweater. "What do you mean, 'It doesn't have to be that way?'"

He couldn't answer for a moment, because there was a flare of warmth blazing over his skin, a sensual heaviness under the knit of wool where Rachel had touched him.

It was hard to get his mind back on work, but he managed. "I know something's going on, Rachel. All this discussion about a benefactor, all these strange glances everyone is exchanging, all the tension between you and Gilbert and your friends. If someone would just talk, things might not turn out so terrible. I'm going to uncover it in my research anyway."

Famous last words.

She was biting her lip, as if forcibly restraining a comment.

"Rachel, jeez. Give me a reason to let the guy off the hook. Please. I can't make excuses for Gilbert, even if I want to see him pull through all this garbage."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

Ian sat up, bringing his face dangerously close to hers.

Those eyes-like strong coffee from the Moroccan cafés he had frequented during his travels.

Those lips-full and pink and soft.

"Because," she whispered, "I'm afraid to tell you any more than you already know."

"You don't trust me."

She hesitated, and he inched nearer to her.

That perfume-soft jasmine wafting out of a shaded shop in an exotic bazaar.

Before he could stop himself, he leaned forward, giving in, skimming his lips over hers, breathing over the plump moistness of them. He felt, more than heard, her quick intake of air.

"Trust me, Rachel," he whispered.

Her wide-eyed pause was excruciating-a heartbeat paused in its pattering rhythm.

But then, with a tiny gasp, she pressed her mouth against his, giving him a taste of her: the sharp mustard and sweet catsup from the food, a hint of apple and.the flavor of something he couldn't identify but would crave for hours afterward. He sucked at her mouth, drawing in her essence, his body demanding more.

And he took it, true to his yearnings, gathering her in his arms and pulling her close, slipping his hands under her coat to caress her back, to press her against his chest.

Her sweater rubbed against his, causing warm friction, heat. Her breasts were small but full, and he longed to take them in his palms, memorize them.

But instead he waited. Agonizing moments, body-pulsing possibilities.

As their kiss deepened, she relaxed, threaded her fingers through his hair, cupping the back of his head. Ian felt the first wave of dizziness wrap around his brain, buzz through his body, taunt him with questions.too many questions.

Who was this woman?

How could she be controlling him like this, with just one kiss?

Maybe she was asking similar things because, before he knew it, she was hitching in a breath, disengaging and leaning her forehead against his.

"Nice interviewing technique," she whispered.

He laughed, taken aback by her joke. He'd expected denial from her, maybe embarrassment.

"I do what I have to."

Silence swallowed them. Was she wondering if he'd kissed her for that very reason? The pursuit of a story?

"I'm kidding," he added.

Nodding, she backed away, closing up her coat and clearing her throat. "I know. Heck, I was even wondering if kissing would help to divert you. But I imagine working my wiles will have no effect."

He wasn't so sure about that.

She continued, a hint of heartbreaking hope on her face. "But, tell me anyway. What would make you stop writing about Gilbert?"

He must've seemed shocked, because she corrected herself.

"No. Not that. I wasn't. I wouldn't."

"Got it." He took one of her hands in his. "You're not that type of woman."

She sagged with obvious relief and glanced down at their connected hands, clearly enjoying his gesture as she entwined her fingers with his. "I'm such a goof."

"No, you're not. You just care about Gilbert."

"He's the only person who's ever given unconditionally to me. I don't like to see him hurt-by anyone."

Even him.

The weight of expectation settled on his chest. Maybe she was hoping that he would abandon the story. Maybe he was wishing the same thing-but he wouldn't do it. That wasn't his style.

At least he could be loyal to something in his life.

"The truth," Ian said, "is the truth. You can't get around it.unless there's more than meets the eye in Gilbert's case."

There. He'd given her another shot to come clean. And from the indecision on her face, he was near to getting some kind of confession.

But she was a tough one, all right. She didn't say a word.

God, maybe he was a dreamer. Could it be that Gilbert Harrison was an overconfident lout who really did take advantage of students in his office while he polished his image by helping others?

Reluctantly, Ian squeezed her hand and let go. Then he started to put his coat back on. "Okay, then. I guess that's it."

"What's it?"

"Gilbert is what he seems, I suppose. But I'm not surprised. Even good people have dark sides, Rachel, and it could be that Gilbert's is finally being exposed."

"That's not true. That's not."

There she went again, looking confused and lost.

Ian helped her off the seat. She stood in front of him, not meeting his gaze.

"Can't you admit the worst about your adored Gilbert?" he asked. "Can't you even consider the question?"

Why did all of this sound ridiculous, even to him?

What was it about Gilbert that made him want to so desperately believe?

"Ian," she said, seeming sadder than ever, "I've considered the question of his innocence. I really have."

"Then talk to me. Let me in on what you're thinking. You could be holding the key to clearing his name, Rachel, and you might not even know it."

She tossed her hot dog wrapping into a garbage container, then walked toward the glass door. "Let me think about it, okay? Let me. I don't know. Run it past my friends. Maybe. If I."

By now, he thought he knew Rachel well enough to finish that sentence for her.

If I have the courage.

She knew something, all right. Ian would bet his left leg on it.

But before he could say anything more, she thanked him again for the hot dog and left.

He watched her through the glass, and when she lifted her hand up to her lips, his pulse gave a jolt.

Get off it, he told himself. It's not like your kiss is the secret to unlocking her.

But he could hope, couldn't he?

 

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