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9780671744588

The Invitation

Deveraux, Jude Author

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9780671744588: The Invitation

Jackie O'Neill was a daredevil pilot and a true American heroine...a woman so beautiful men stopped in their tracks to watch her walk down the street, her long confident strides eating up the earth. After years of nonstop excitement -- of traveling around the globe in a chaotic rags-to-riches-to-rags whirl with her late husband, Charley -- Jackie had returned to Eternity, Colorado, near her hometown of Chandler. She wanted to put down roots, start a business, maybe someday fall in love again. But she never dreamed that the man who might make all her wishes come true was William Montgomery...little Billy, the lovesick boy who dogged her every step when she was a teenager...little Billy, who was now definitely a man, handsome, sexy, rich, and still madly in love with Jackie O'Neill....

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About the Author:

Jude Deveraux is the author of more than forty New York Times bestsellers, including Moonlight in the Morning, The Scent of Jasmine, Scarlet Nights, Days of Gold, Lavender Morning, Return to Summerhouse, and Secrets. To date, there are more than sixty million copies of her books in print worldwide. To learn more, visit JudeDeveraux.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

1934

Jackie was flying a plane, so Jackie was happy.

Soaring high, catching the breezes, winking at the setting sun, Jackie stretched and the plane stretched. Jackie moved and the plane moved. As though the body of the plane were a second skin to her, she could move the airplane as easily as she moved her arm or her leg. Smiling, she dipped one wing downward to look at the beautiful high mountain desert of Colorado.

At first she didn't believe what she saw. Sitting in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest road, was a car. Thinking that the vehicle had been abandoned, she turned her plane, dipping the wings, turning on a dime, to backtrack to have a second look. The car hadn't been there yesterday, so perhaps someone needed help.

She swooped down as low as she dared, not that the piÞion trees, rarely over twenty feet tall, were going to interfere with the height she needed to stay aloft. As she came back for a second pass she saw a man stand up from the shade of the car and raise his arm in greeting. Smiling, she turned her plane back toward her home base. He was all right, then, and as soon as she landed at her airstrip in Eternity, she'd call the sheriff to send the stranded traveler some help.

She was chuckling to herself. Travelers often were stranded in Colorado. They looked at the flat landscape off the side of the road and decided to see nature up close. But they didn't take into consideration the thorns as large as a man's little finger and rocks whose sharpness had not been worn away by heavy yearly rainfall.

Maybe it was because she was laughing and not watching what she was doing that she didn't see the bird, as big as a lamb, that flew straight into her propeller. She doubted that she could have avoided hitting it, but she would have tried. As it was, everything happened very quickly. One minute she was flying toward home and the next minute there were feathers and blood all over her goggles and the plane was going down.

Jackie was a good pilot, one of the best in America. She'd certainly had a great deal of training, having received her license at eighteen years of age, and now, at thirty-eight, she was an old hand. But coping with this bird took all of her knowledge and skill. As the engine began to sputter, she knew she was going to have to do a dead-stick landing, a landing without power. Quickly, tearing off her goggles so she could see, she looked about for a place to set it down. She needed a wide, long clearing, someplace free of trees and rocks that could tear the wings off the plane.

The old road to the ghost town of Eternity offered the only possibility. She didn't know what had grown or rolled across the road in the many years that it hadn't been used, but she had no other choice. Within the flash of an eye, she lined up the nose to the "runway" and started down. There was a boulder blocking the road -- it had probably rolled down during the spring thaw -- and she was praying to stop the plane before she hit the enormous rock.

Luck wasn't with her, for she plowed into the rock. As she crashed, she could hear the sickening crunch of her propeller being destroyed. She didn't think anymore. Her head flew forward, hitting the stick; she was out cold.

The next thing Jackie knew, she was being held in a pair of very strong, masculine arms and carried away from the plane. "Are you my rescuing knight?" she asked dreamily. She could feel something warm running down her face. When she put up her hand to wipe it away, she thought she saw blood, but her eyes weren't functioning properly and the daylight was fading fast.

"Am I badly hurt?" she asked, knowing the man wouldn't tell her the truth. She'd seen a couple of men mangled in airplane wrecks, and as they lay dying everyone had reassured them that tomorrow they'd be fine.

"I don't think so," the man said. "I think you just bumped your head, cracked it a bit."

"Oh, well, then, I'll be okay. Nobody's head is harder than mine." He was still carrying her, but her weight didn't seem to bother him at all. As best she could, considering how dizzy she felt, she pulled her head back to look at him. In the fading light he looked great, but then, Jackie reminded herself, she'd just cracked her skull in a plane wreck. For all she knew, he had three heads and six eyes. No one could be so lucky as to crash in the middle of acres of nothing and find a handsome man to rescue her.

"Who are you?" she asked thickly, because all of a sudden she felt very sleepy.

"William Montgomery," he answered.

"A Montgomery from Chandler?" When he said yes, Jackie snuggled against his wide, broad chest and sighed happily. At least she didn't have to worry about his intentions. If he was a Chandler Montgomery then he was honorable and fair and would never take advantage of the situation; Montgomerys were as honest and trustworthy as the day was long.

More's the pity, she thought.

When they were some distance from the plane, near his car, which she could just make out in the dim light, he gently set her on the ground. Cupping her chin in his hand, he looked into her eyes. "I want you to stay here and wait for me. I'm going to get some blankets from the car, then build a fire. When you don't show up at the airfield, will anyone come looking for you?"

"No," she whispered. She liked his voice, liked the air of authority in it. He made her feel as though he'd take care of everything, including her.

"I was planning to spend the night out here, so no one will look for me either," he said. "While I'm gone, I want you to stay awake, do you hear me? If your head is concussed and you go to sleep, you might not wake up again. Understand?"

Dreamily, Jackie nodded and watched him walk away. Very good looking man, she thought as she lay down on the ground and promptly went to sleep.

Mere seconds later he was shaking her. "Jackie! Jacqueline!" he said over and over until she reluctantly opened her eyes and looked up at him.

"How do you know my name?" she asked. "Have we met before? I've met so many Montgomerys that I can't keep them straight. Bill, did you say your name was?"

"William," he said firmly, "and, yes, we've met before, but I'm sure you wouldn't remember. It wasn't a significant meeting."

"'Significant meeting,'" she said, closing her eyes again, but William sat her up, draped a blanket around her shoulders, then rubbed her hands.

"Stay awake, Jackie," he said, and she recognized it for the order it was. "Stay awake and talk to me. Tell me about Charley."

At the mention of her late husband, she stopped smiling. "Charley died two years ago."

William was trying to collect wood and watch her at the same time. The light was fading quickly, and he had difficulty seeing the pieces of cholla on the ground, as well as the deadfall. He had met her husband many times, and he'd liked him very much: a big, robust gray-haired man who laughed a lot, talked a lot, drank a lot, and could fly anything that could be flown.

Now, looking at her, drowsy, he knew he needed to warm her up, get some food inside her, and make her stay awake.

Right now she was in a state of shock, and that, combined with her injury, might keep her from seeing another dawn.

"Jackie!" he said sharply. "What's the biggest lie you ever told?"

"I don't lie," she said dreamily. "Can't keep them straight. Always get caught."

"Sure you lie. Everybody lies. You tell a woman her hat is nice when it's hideous. I didn't ask you if you had lied or not; I just want to know what your biggest lie was." He was stacking up what wood he could find as he questioned her, his voice loud; he couldn't let her sleep.

"I used to lie to my mother about where I was."

"You can do better than that."

When she spoke, her voice was so soft he could barely hear her. "I told Charley I loved him."

"And you didn't love him?" William encouraged her to talk as he dropped a pile of wood near her feet.

"Not at first. He was older than me, twenty-one years older, and at first I thought of him as a father. I used to skip school and spend the afternoons with him and the airplanes. I loved planes from the first moment I saw them."

"So you married Charley to get near the planes."

"Yes," she said, her voice heavy with guilt. She sat upright and put her hand to her bloody head, but William brushed her hand away and turned her face up toward his as he used his handkerchief to wipe away the blood.

After he'd reassured himself and her that the cut on the side of her head was minor, he said, "Go on. When did you realize that you loved him?"

"I didn't think about it one way or another until after we'd been married about five years. Charley's plane was lost in a snowstorm, and when I thought I might never see him again, I found out how much I loved him."

After a moment of silence she looked at him as he bent over the wood he was trying to coax into a fire. "What about you?"

"I didn't once tell Charley I loved him."

Jackie smiled. "No, what's the biggest lie you ever told?"

"I told my father it wasn't me who dented the fender of the car."

"Mmm," said Jackie, becoming a little more alert. "That's not a very horrible lie. Can't you come up with something better?"

"I told my mother I wasn't the one who'd eaten the whole strawberry pie. I told my brother that my sister had broken his slingshot. I told -- "

"Okay, okay," Jackie said, laughing. "I get the picture. You're a consummate liar. All right, I have one for you. What's the worst thing a woman can say to a man?"

William didn't hesitate. "'Which silver pattern do you like best?'"

Jackie grinned. She was beginning to like this man, and her overwhelming sleepiness was starting to subside.

"What's the worst thing a man can say to a woman?" he asked.

Jackie was as quick to answer as he had been. "When you're shopping and the man says, 'Just exactly what is it you're looking for?'"

Chuckling, he walked the few feet to his car to open the door and remove camping gear. "What's the nicest thing a man can say to a woman?"

"I love you. That is, if he means it. If he doesn't mean it, then he should be horsewhipped for saying it. And you? What's the nicest thing for you?"

"Yes," he said.

"Yes what?"

"Yes is the very best thing a woman can say to a man."

Jackie laughed. "To any question? No matter what she's asked, it's what you most want to hear?"

"It would be rather nice to hear yes from a woman's lips, at least now and then."

"Oh, come on, a man who looks like you has never heard a woman say yes to whatever you asked her?"

His arms full of blankets and canteens and a basket of food, he grinned at her. "One or two, but no more."

"Okay, it's my turn. What's the kindest thing you ever did for someone and didn't tell anyone about?"

"I guess that would have to be adding a wing to the hospital in Denver. I sent the money anonymously."

"Oh, my," she said, remembering how rich the Montgomerys were.

"And you?"

Jackie began to laugh. "Charley and I had been married for about four years, and with Charley you never stayed in one place long enough to learn your neighbors' names, much less put down roots. But that year we had rented a small house that had a very nice kitchen in it, and I decided to cook him a marvelous Thanksgiving dinner. I talked about nothing else but that dinner for two weeks. I planned and shopped, and on Thanksgiving Day I got up at four A.M. and got the turkey ready. Charley left the house about noon, but he promised he'd be back by five when everything would be ready to serve. He was going to bring some of the other pilots from the airfield, and it was going to be a party. Five o'clock came and there was no Charley. Six came and went, then seven. At midnight I fell asleep, but I was so angry that I slept in a rigid knot. The next morning there was Charley, snoring away on the sofa, and there was my beautiful Thanksgiving dinner in ruins. You know what I did?"

"I'm surprised Charley lived after that."

"I shouldn't have let him live, but I figured the worst thing I could do was not let him have any of my dinner. I bundled everything up in burlap bags, went to the airfield, took up Charley's plane and flew into the mountains -- we were in West Virginia then, so it was the Smokies -- where I saw a dilapidated old shack perched on the side of a hill, a measly little trickle of smoke coming out of the chimney. I dropped the bags practically on the front porch."

She pulled her knees up to her chest and sighed. "Until now I never told anyone about that. Later I heard that the family said an angel had dropped food from heaven."

He had the fire going now, and he smiled at her over it. "I like that story. What did Charley say when he got no turkey?"

She shrugged. "Charley was happy if he had turkey and happy if he had beans. When it came to food, Charley was into quantity, not quality." She looked up at him. "What's the worst thing that's happened to you?"

William answered without thinking. "Being born rich."

Jackie gave a low whistle. "You'd think that was the best thing that had happened to you."

"It is. It's the best and the worst."

"I think I can see that." She was thinking about this as William poured water from a canteen onto a handkerchief and, with his hand cupping her chin, began to clean the wound on the side of her head.

"What's your deepest, darkest secret, something that you've never told anyone?" he asked.

"It wouldn't be a secret if I told."

"Do you think I'd tell anyone?"

She turned her head and looked up at him, at the shadows the firelight cast across his handsome face: dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin, that long Montgomery nose. Maybe it was the unusual circumstances, the dark night surrounding them, the fire at the center, but she felt close to him. "I kissed another man while I was married to Charley," she whispered.

"That's all?"

"That's pretty bad in my book. What about you?"

"I backed out on a contract."

"Was that really bad? If you changed your mind..."

"It was a breach of promise, and she thought it was very bad."

"Ah, I see,&q...

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Deveraux, Jude Author
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ISBN 10: 0671744585 ISBN 13: 9780671744588
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Book Description Pocket Books, 1994. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: Since 1985, 17 of Jude Deveraux's novels have been New York Times bestsellers. Now she offers three novellas that will delight readers with the delicious romance that could come only from America's most beloved storyteller. Includes "The Invitation", "Matchmakers", and "A Perfect Arrangement". Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0671744585

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