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Authors: Anne Stuart

Chain of Love

BOOK: Chain of Love
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Originally Published November 1983

Electronic Edition 2016

 

Copyright © 1983 by Anne Kristine Stuart Ohlrogge. All rights reserved.

 

All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or
names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all the incidents are pure invention.

Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

 

It was a dream, a nightmare, that she’d relived too many times. That voice, that awful, slurred voice, yelling at her, screaming at her, tormenting her, before the heavy fists
followed, crashing down on her, as she helplessly tried to flinch out of his reach. But she had never been fast enough, even though he was always
slowed by liquor when the rages came upon him. He’d catch her as she scrambled for the door, and her cries would go unheeded as he’d hit her, again and again and again.

 

“Are you all right?”

Cathy Whiteheart turned her attention from the crowded highway to her sister’s concerned gaze, and managed to summon up the vestiges of a smile.
“Of course,” she said, her voice slightly rusty. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You just groaned,” Meg said sharply. “And you’re white as a sheet.”

“I haven’t been outside my apartment all summer,” she reminded her. “It’s no wonder I’m pale.”

“You weren’t that pale a few moments ago. Were you thinking about Greg?”

Cathy pushed the sunglasses back, huddling deeper into the soft leather seat of the deep blue Mercedes. “I shouldn’t have agreed to come with
you,” she said, ignoring her sister’s question.

“You didn’t exactly agree.” Meg’s voice was caustic. “I simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. It’s been months
since we’ve seen you, Cathy. We’ve been worried about you.”

“I’ll be all right,” Cathy replied, but the set expression on her pale, stubborn face was far from reassuring.

“I wish I could believe that,” Meg said, equaling her stubbornness as she once more turned her attention toward the highway between Georgetown
and Annapolis.

The famed Whiteheart obstinacy was about all they had in common, Cathy thought with a wryness unusual for her nowadays as she turned back to the scenery.
No one would ever have taken them for sisters. Much as Meg might envy Cathy her willowy height, the shoulder-length curtain of silver-blond hair, and the
large, wide-set green eyes, it was Meg who had been inundated with suitors, surrounded by handsome, friendly, eager young men. Pert, short, dark-haired
Meg, with her much lamented tendency to put on weight and her less-than-perfect nose was the acknowledged belle of the Whiteheart clan, while Cathy, with
her classic, untouchable looks had led a surprisingly cloistered existence. It wasn’t that she had actively disliked men, she thought musingly. Far
from it. But no one had, in most of her twenty-six years, been able to arouse her interest, and the most dedicated men had fallen away in the face of her
intractable calm. If only it had stayed that way.

But owning and running a day-care center hadn’t put her much in the way of eligible men, so that by the time Greg Danville had appeared in her life,
with his handsome face, puppy-dog air and absurdly vulnerable demeanor she had fallen hard, too hard. And then had been unable to pull herself out of the
quicksand of a suddenly destructive relationship until it was too late, and she was scarred for life, emotionally if not physically. Why hadn’t she
stayed in her apartment, hidden behind the drapes, instead of out here in the bright, merciless October sunlight that reached behind her large, opaque
sunglasses? She wasn’t ready to face life again. There were times when she doubted she ever would be.

Meg had kept up an inconsequential flow of chatter, refusing to be discouraged in the face of Cathy’s monosyllabic answers. They were almost at the
marina when she once more broached the subject that never seemed far from her conversation. “He’s not worth it, Cathy.”

For a moment Cathy considered not replying. She continued facing out the window, mesmerized by the scenery she had seen many, many times.
“Don’t you think I know that?” she said finally in a weary, disheartened voice. “I know perfectly well that I was a fool—I
never spend a day without realizing it. And I know that my pride was more damaged than my heart. Sometimes I wonder whether I’m capable of falling in
love. If I’d loved Greg more maybe I would have put up with less.” She sighed bitterly. “I thought he needed me.”

“He did, Cathy. But in ways that were no good for either of you, don’t you realize that?”

“Of course I realize that. I realize quite a bit,” she added, staring out the window with listless eyes. “But then, I haven’t had
anything to do but sit and think.”

“Sometimes I think it’s a damned shame Brandon Whiteheart is our father,” Meg declared with belated wrath. “It would have done you
good to have had to go out and work every day. I still can’t imagine why you sold out your share in the day-care center. The work was perfect for
you.”

“If Brandon Whiteheart wasn’t our father, Meg dear,” Cathy replied with a trace of her old humor, “and if we each weren’t the
proud possessors of embarrassingly large trust funds, not to mention all sorts of expectations from Auntie Flo, etcetera, then Greg Danville would have
found me less than irresistible, and I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in now.”

“If you think he was only after your money, then you haven’t looked in the mirror, sweetie.”

“I know only too well he was only after my money,” Cathy replied wearily. “It was made appallingly clear to me.”

Meg, never blessed with a large amount of circumspection, plunged right in. “What exactly did happen? One moment the two of you were all hearts and
flowers, engaged to be married, and the next thing I know you’ve barricaded yourself in a new apartment and Greg had moved in with some
politician’s daughter.”

A shaft of remembered pain shot through Cathy. “Please, Meg. I don’t want to think about it.”

“But you obviously are. And I think it might help if you talked about it to someone,” Meg persisted, her concern and curiosity inextricably
entwined.

Cathy knew that nothing but shock tactics would silence her. Turning to face her sister’s pert, inquisitive face, she pulled off the enveloping dark
glasses that were like a second skin, and her cold, despairing green eyes bored into Meg’s startled brown ones. “Do you remember the time I
fell off a horse last winter?” she queried calmly enough.

“Of course I do. You were a real mess—two black eyes, a broken rib and a concussion. But what does that—”

“And the time I told you I fell down a flight of stairs?” she continued inexorably.

“Certainly. But why...” Horrified disbelief washed over her face as she swerved over into the opposite lane. She pulled back into her own just
in time to avoid an irate Volvo station wagon. “Cathy, I had no idea! How hideous for you! But why didn’t you leave him sooner? Why did you let
him continue to do that to you?”

“It’s very hard to escape from a situation like that,” Cathy said wearily, returning her glasses to their customary position on her
aquiline nose. “I don’t think I could explain, even if I wanted to. Do you suppose we could just drop the subject? Have a nice day sailing,
with no bad memories and no broken hearts? Please?” The plea wasn’t far removed from tears.

“Of course we can drop it, sweetie,” Meg soothed, instantly contrite. “I didn’t mean to push. And I’m certain that Charles
won’t bring it up either. He’s always the most tactful of men, my dear husband is, and you can be sure he wouldn’t mention something like
that in front of a stranger. Not that Sin’s a stranger, mind you. We’ve known him for years—he’s one of Charles’s very best
friends. But you haven’t met him yet, so we would hardly be likely to...” Meg’s mindless chatter trailed off in the face of Cathy’s
suddenly wrathful expression.

“Margaret Whiteheart Shannon, if you have dared to fix me up with a blind date I will never, ever forgive you! At this moment I have no interest in
men whatsoever, and if I ever do I will be more than capable of finding my own. I’ve spent the last three months feeling angry, hurt, and frightened,
and I’m not in the mood to have some willowy senator’s aide paraded for my inspection. Stop the damned car!’’’

“He’s not a senator’s aide, and he’s not there for your inspection,” Meg said mildly, her face mirroring her guilty
conscience. “It’s his boat, after all. I couldn’t very well tell him he couldn’t come along because my sister is afraid of
men.”

“Damn you, Meg,” Cathy said bitterly, determined not to let her see how close to the mark her words had come. “It’s not without
justification.”

“I know it’s not,” Meg said in a reasonable, sympathetic tone. “I shouldn’t have said that. But I’m not trying to fix
you up—I can understand you need time. I wish you wouldn’t be so suspicious. Charles and I were thinking of buying a boat, and Sin’s
seemed just the right size.”

“So he’s a used-boat dealer.”

“No, dear. Sin doesn’t need our money, and he’s very happy with his boat. We’re thinking of buying one like it, and he suggested we
come along for a day’s outing and see if it suited us. As a matter of fact, I expect he’ll probably have some sweet young thing along, and you
won’t have to worry about him making a pass at you. You can sit on deck and glower to your heart’s content. Does that make you any
happier?” She pulled into a parking lot beside the marina, sliding to a halt with a squealing of tires that years of driving and her husband’s
exasperation had failed to cure.

“I should never have come,” Cathy mumbled.

“Maybe not. But I’m not about to turn around and drive you back to Georgetown. You’re here and you’re going to enjoy yourself, or
so help me I’ll throw you overboard as soon as we get out of the harbor.” Meg’s dark eyes were quite fierce in her heart-shaped face, and
there was a pugnacious tilt to her pointed chin; it was a battle of wills. After a moment Cathy laughed—a weak laugh, but it gave Meg hope after
she’d all but abandoned it,

“All right,” Cathy said, raising her hands in a gesture of defeat. “I’ll be good. I’ll tap-dance around the deck, flirt with
Mr. Whatsisname, keep Charles in stitches...”

“His name is Sinclair MacDonald, and he isn’t your type at all.”

Cathy followed her sister out of the car and down the docks. “And what do you consider my type? Why wouldn’t your wonderful Mr. MacDonald
do?”

“Because Sin is fairly good-looking, intelligent, charming, well-bred, amusing, somewhat dangerous, and quite, quite kind. Since your only previous
lover lacked all those qualities, I’m certain that Sin would never do for a girl with your peculiar tastes.”

“A great many people have said Greg was handsome,” Cathy said with ill-placed defensiveness.

“His eyes were too close together. And don’t go telling me he was charming. I could see through that manufactured bonhomie the moment I saw
him. And he certainly wasn’t intelligent. If he was, he would never have thrown you over for a round-heels like Susie Daley.”

“Could we just possibly stop talking about Greg?” Cathy begged. “I’ll make an effort, I promise. I’ll even be nice to Mr.
Sinclair MacDonald, if you promise me it’s not a setup.”

“Have I ever set you up before?” Meg demanded, properly incensed.

Despite her overwhelming gloom, Cathy found she had to laugh at her righteous indignation. “Well, there was Charles’s assistant at the
Division, there was your next-door neighbor.” She listed them on her slender, ringless fingers. “There was the young man you took your pottery
course with, there was—”

“Enough! I plead guilty. But I know well enough that you’re in no mood for matchmaking right now. I have
some
sensitivity, you
know,” she said, a vague look of guilt hovering around her dark eyes.

“There you are, ladies,” Charles’s east coast drawl hailed them from up ahead. “We’d just about given up on you.”

“Cathy took a bit more persuading than I expected,” Meg replied, moving toward the boat with quickening steps. “But I got her here, and
that’s the main thing. Come along, Cathy,” she called back over her shoulder, racing up the gang-plank and into her husband’s welcoming
arms.

BOOK: Chain of Love
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