Jude Deveraux First Impressions

ISBN 13: 9780743496032

First Impressions

 
9780743496032: First Impressions
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When Eden Palmer moved into Farrington Manor, the charming house that was willed to her, she hoped her new home in lovely Arundel, North Carolina, would provide the fresh start she needed. Her beloved daughter Melissa, whom Eden raised on her own, was married now, and Eden must begin a new chapter. But her arrival in the small Southern town soon plunges her into a mystery that threatens not only her plans and reputation, but her life . . . and when two eligible bachelors pursue her, Eden is flattered - and more than a little suspicious. Can she use one man to save her from the other?

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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 One

Mom? Mom? Are you all right?" Melissa looked at her mother with concern. She'd brought in the mail and put it on the hall table, then went to get herself something to eat. She was five months pregnant, and she could eat the legs off a table. Her mother had come in from work and picked up the mail, opening a letter from what looked to be a law firm. Melissa hoped it was nothing bad. "Mom?" Her words were muffled by the peanut butter sandwich in her mouth. She'd been tempted to add grape jelly but was afraid her husband would smell the jelly on her breath. Stuart was adamant that she didn't gain too much weight during pregnancy, so at dinner Melissa ate steamed vegetables and broiled meat. It was just during the day, while he was at work at the prestigious accounting firm, that she indulged in chocolate and shrimp -- together.

"Mom!" Melissa said loudly. "What in the world is wrong with you?"

Eden sat down on the little sofa by the hall table. The sofa had been a rickety piece of junk when she'd seen it in a small, out-of-the-way shop in a district that Melissa's husband didn't want them to visit. Eden had known right away it was Hepplewhite. She and Melissa had tied the sofa onto the roof of the station wagon and taken it home. It had taken Eden six weekends to repair, refinish, and upholster it. "Aren't you clever?" Stuart had said in his haughty way, as though Eden were of a lower class than he was. She'd had to grit her teeth, as she always did when she dealt with her son-in-law. Melissa loved him, but Eden had never been able to figure out why.

"Mrs. Farrington left me her house."

"Mrs. Farrington?" Melissa asked, looking at the clock. She had seventeen and a half minutes before Stuart came home. Was that enough time to make herself another sandwich?

"Go on," Eden said, knowing her daughter's mind. "I'll cover for you."

"I shouldn't. Really, I shouldn't. Dinner will be soon and -- "

"It's grilled chicken breasts, steamed broccoli, roast potatoes, and sugarless Jell-O for dessert. Very good for you. Not a calorie in any of it."

Melissa opened her mouth, then scurried off to the kitchen, her mother behind her. She was slathering peanut butter on bread when Eden walked into the room, the letter open before her. "Who's Mrs. Farrington?"

"You remember her, don't you, dear? We lived with her until you were five."

"Oh, yeah. I do remember her. Sort of. Very old. And a long time ago you mentioned a man. Was he her son?"

Eden didn't bother to suppress the shiver that ran over her body. "Yes, her son. Dreadful man. It seems that he died some time ago. Before Mrs. Farrington did."

"You didn't keep in touch with her?" Melissa was pouring chocolate syrup into her milk. It was a good thing that Stuart never opened the refrigerator or he'd see the forbidden things that Eden bought for her daughter. No, Stuart was the type who believed food should be eaten at a table and served to him by someone else, preferably his wife. He didn't go rummaging in the refrigerator looking for something to eat.

"No," Eden said tightly. "After we left I had nothing to do with her. Not that she..." She broke off. What happened was not something she wanted to have to explain to her daughter. I didn't want that pedophile of a son of hers to know where I was, she could have said, but didn't. "No, we didn't keep in touch."

Many times over the years she'd wondered what had happened to dear Mrs. Farrington, and Eden often felt a wave of guilt run through her when she thought about that sweet woman being left alone with her evil son. But then Eden would look at her daughter and know that she'd done the right thing in running away and never looking back. She glanced at the clock. "You now have approximately two and three-quarter minutes before the master returns, so you'd better drink that and clean out your glass."

"Mother," Melissa said primly, "Stuart isn't like that. He's a kind and loving man and I love him...ery uch." The last words were muffled, as her mouth was full.

"Yes, he's wonderful," Eden said, then cut herself off when she heard the sarcasm in her voice. It was tough to think how she'd tried to raise her daughter to be an independent woman, only to see her marry a control freak like Stuart. To Eden's mind, Stuart was all show. For all his talk of having a great future before him, he'd willingly moved into Eden's apartment "for a few weeks," as he'd said just before the wedding. "Until I get a place for us. A little farther uptown." Stuart had made Eden's generous offer seem as though it were worth nothing, and she'd had to resist the urge to defend herself. But that was two years ago, and now nothing Stuart said bothered her. He and Melissa were still in Eden's small apartment, still letting her cook for them and letting her take care of most of the household chores. Months ago, Eden had decided she'd had enough and was going to evict them. She'd built up her courage to the point where she didn't care if they had to live on the street for a while. It might do them some good. Teach them some lessons. But then Melissa had announced she was pregnant and that was that. Eden could still remember the smirk on Stuart's face when Melissa made the announcement. It was as though he'd known what Eden had been thinking and he'd calculated the pregnancy just so Eden couldn't throw them out. "You don't mind, do you, Mom?" Melissa had said. "It was an accident. We meant to have children, but we wanted to wait until we had a place of our own. But with Stuart on the verge of a promotion, it doesn't make sense to buy something small and dreary when in just a few weeks we'll be able to afford something grand and glorious."

Since her daughter had married, Eden often wondered if Melissa had become a marionette. "Small and dreary" and "grand and glorious" were Stuart's words, not Melissa's.

Eden took a seat on a bar stool at the kitchen island and read the letter again. "Mrs. Farrington had no other heirs, so she left me everything."

"How nice for you," Melissa said. "Any money?"

Eden kept her head down, but she felt the blood rush up the back of her neck. Anger did that to a person. There was fear in Melissa's voice, and Eden well knew what caused it: Stuart. For all that Melissa told Eden at least three times a day how much she loved her husband, the truth was that after two years of marriage she'd come to know him well. If he found out that Eden had inherited a lot of money, there would be problems.

"No money," Eden said cheerfully and tried not to hear her daughter's sigh of relief. "Just a falling-down old house. You remember it, don't you?"

"A Victorian monstrosity, wasn't it?"

Eden started to correct her daughter and say that the house had been built before George Washington's Mount Vernon, but she didn't want Melissa to tell Stuart that. He might see money in a house that old. Melissa hadn't yet learned that she didn't have to tell her husband everything that went through her mind. "More or less," Eden said, still looking at the letter. She was to go to a lawyer's office in North Carolina as soon as possible to sign the papers and take possession of the house. They're probably worried that the roof's about to cave in, she thought, but said nothing as she folded the letter and put it back in the envelope.

"What will you do with an old house like that?" Melissa asked, her eyes wide.

Eden knew that her daughter was afraid for her mother to leave. They'd rarely been apart since Melissa's birth twenty-seven years ago. "Sell it," Eden said quickly. "And use the money to buy my grandson a house in the country. With a copper beech tree in the backyard."

Smiling, Melissa relaxed, then hurriedly drank the rest of her chocolate milk when she heard the front door start to open. She washed the glass in seconds, so she was ready to turn and greet her husband when he walked into the kitchen. Stuart was tall, thin, and handsome. Melissa's eyes lit up when she saw him.

Eden gave her son-in-law a nod, then slipped out of the kitchen to go to her bedroom and close the door. For a moment she leaned against the door, closed her eyes, and remembered back to that summer when she'd been pregnant with Melissa. Eden had been just seventeen years old, just out of high school, when she'd been walking home from church choir practice one night. She'd been leaped on by a man, thrown down, and...She'd never been able to remember much of what happened after that. When it was over, she dragged herself up, pulled her skirt down, and staggered home. She'd wanted to call the police, but her parents had refused. They didn't want their family to be the object of gossip; they didn't want people to know what Eden had done. "But I didn't do anything," she'd cried. A few weeks later, when she'd started throwing up from morning sickness, her parents told her to get out of their house. Nothing Eden said could sway them. She'd packed one suitcase, taken the $300 her parents had grudgingly given her, and got on a bus going east. She ended up in North Carolina, a state she'd never been in, but it was beautiful and she loved the old houses and the flat fields.

She'd tried to get a job, but there wasn't much work to be had, and no work for a girl who was by then obviously pregnant. When she'd applied at the newspaper office in Arundel, a man had taken pity on her. He was looking at the job application she'd filled out. "You didn't misspell one word," he said, teasing her. Eden was hot, tired, hungry, and wishing she'd never been born. All she could do was look at him. Was he going to grade her application?

He looked her up and down for a moment, then said, "Let me guess about you. It's something I'm good at. Decent family, church every Sunday, good grades in school, wrestled with the high school football quarterback on the backseat of a car, and now the two of you've run away together. Or did he leave you somewhere along the way?"

Eden was too tired to play games. He'd probably eaten more for lunch than she'd had in the last two...

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