Man Behind The Voice
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“Your hair,” Eleanor whispered. “What color is your hair?”
Despite the fact that her voice sounded far too needy in her own ears, she had to know the entire picture. She had to see him.
Like molasses. Like his voice.
She fought the burgeoning awareness filtering through her veins, filling her with a languid heat. It wasn’t right to be responding this way to a volunteer. It wasn’t in the least bit businesslike.
But, dear heaven above, she was beginning to form an image of him in her head, which wouldn’t go away. The clarity of her imagination was strange and disturbing, as if somewhere, somehow, she’d seen him before….
Welcome to another joy-filled month of heart, home and happiness from Harlequin American Romance! We’re pleased to bring you four new stories filled with people you’ll always remember and romance you’ll never forget.
We’ve got more excitement for you this month as MAITLAND MATERNITY continues with Jacqueline Diamond’s I Do! I Do! An elusive bachelor marries a lovely nurse for the sake of his twin nieces—will love turn their house into a home? Watch for twelve new books in this heartwarming series, starting next month from Harlequin Books!
How does a proper preacher’s daughter tame the wildest man in the county? With a little help from a few Montana matchmakers determined to repopulate their town! Sparks are sure to fly in The Playboy’s Own Miss Prim, the latest BACHELORS OF SHOTGUN RIDGE story by Mindy Neff!
An expectant mother, blinded from an accident, learns that the heart recognizes what the eye cannot see in Lisa Bingham’s touching novel Man Behind the Voice. And when a little boy refuses to leave his ranch home, his mother must make a deal with the brooding, sexy new owner. Don’t miss Carol Grace’s delightful Family Tree.
Spice up your summer days with the best of Harlequin American Romance!
Associate Senior Editor
Man Behind the Voice
Thank you for teaching me to see with new eyes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Bingham is a resident of Tremonton, Utah—a rural farming community where the sounds of birds and the rustle of wheat can still be heard on hot summer evenings. She has written both historical and contemporary romances and loves spending time watching her characters grow. When she isn’t writing, she spends time with her husband on his three-hundred-acre farm and teaches English at a local middle school.
Books by Lisa Bingham
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
635—THE BUTLER & THE BACHELORETTE
651—THE DADDY HUNT
662—DANA AND THE CALENDAR MAN
692—THE PRINCESS & THE FROG
784—AND BABIES MAKE TEN
835—MAN BEHIND THE VOICE
540—WHEN NIGHT DRAWS NEAR
Jackson MacAllister groaned, his body pounding with a thousand aches, the worst of which seeming to center over his left eye.Inexplicably, his mind stumbled through a dense emotional fog, while his eyes stared at…
It took several long moments for Jack to realize that his face had been pressed into something soft. A balloon?
In a sickening rush, he was inundated with memories. For most of the day, the weather had been cold, with the windchill factor causing temperatures to drop to well below freezing. Jack, who had been working with a filming crew near Estes Park, Colorado, had been eager to finish his assignment and begin the long drive to California.
With the road ahead of him and weeks of difficult stunt work behind him, Jack had been making good time out of the canyon. Traffic was sparse at eight in the evening. The weather had long since chased most of the skiers away.
Jack had been whistling softly to himself, enjoying the hot coffee he’d taken with him from the commissary and the soft music drifting from the speakers of his brand-new pickup truck. But then, Jack had topped the rise and taken a blind curve.
As soon as he focused on the scene awaiting him in the valley below, his good mood vanished. Silhouetted in the headlights of another car, he saw a three-car accident blocking the road in front of him.
Immediately, Jack’s instincts kicked in. Years of stunt driving for films made his actions second nature. He’d swiftly applied the truck’s antilock brakes, steering well away from the accident should he overshoot his mark. But just when he’d begun to believe he had the situation under control, the truck hit a patch of black ice and…
Jack winced, remembering the horrible screech of metal, the exploding whoosh of his air bag, the grinding explosive sound of his car colliding with the others. And then a scream.
In an instant, his mind cleared and Jack was suddenly galvanized into action. Ignoring the aches and pains of his own body, he grappled with his door handle, all to no avail. The impact had dented the panel to a point where nothing short of the “Jaws of Life” would open it.
Reaching behind the bench seats of his pickup, he grasped a toolbox. Flinging open the lid, he removed a small metal awl. By placing the tip against the window and applying pressure…
The pane shattered, spraying him with tiny chunks of glass. Tucking the awl and a small first-aid kit into the deep pocket of his jacket, Jack carefully slid through the aperture, assessing the scene that lay before him.
A delivery truck was evidently the first vehicle to hit the ice, skidding sideways across the road so that it was hit in turn by a large sedan, and then a smaller compact car.
Jack’s heart thudded painfully in his ears as he saw the damage his much larger vehicle had made to the tiny car. “Donormobiles” One-Eye Sullivan, Jack’s co-worker and friend, called the small compact cars. The diminutive vehicles were great on gas mileage and kind to the wallet, but in a high-impact crash they provided only a minor buffer between the driver and an oncoming car.
“Is everybody all right?” Jack shouted to a pair of figures who were beginning to emerge from the sedan.
“I think so,” an elderly gentleman called back.
Glancing behind him at the hill to ensure no other cars were about to hurtle toward them, Jack made a sweeping wave to the couple. “Get off the road and away from oncoming traffic.”
“What about the other drivers?”
“I’ll see what I can do. I need you to watch out for oncoming traffic and let me know me if you see any headlights approaching. That’s about the only warning we’ll get.”
“I’ll whistle at the first sign,” the white-haired gentleman said as he took his wife’s arm and hurried her toward the side of the road. “Come on, Martha. There’s a good girl. We’ll climb those rocks there so we’ll be out of the way.”
A movement from the direction of the delivery truck caught Jack’s attention.
“Are you all right?” he shouted to the driver.
The man was awkwardly cradling his arm against his chest, and even in the gleam of the headlights, he looked abnormally pale. Jack would bet the man had broken something during impact.
“Fine. Just a…bump.” He climbed from the driver’s seat and jumped to the ground, hissing in pain. In his good hand, he held a set of reflectors and a dozen flares. “I’ll just go mark the road to warn off any approaching cars. I’ve…” he sucked in his breath for a moment, waited, then continued “…I’ve called dispatch and…911. We should have some help here shortly. Go ahead and check that little car. I thought I heard…a scream.”
With a hiss, the first flare was lit, flooding the wreckage with a macabre reddish glow.
Movingly gingerly, Jack managed to crawl over the twisted wreckage of the compact car. To his horror, the wind shifted at that moment, bringing with it the overpowering scent of gasoline. Too late, Jack saw that a puddle of the liquid was forming beneath the mangled vehicle.
He opened his mouth to call to the driver, but the man was already halfway up the hill and there was no time to waste.
Scrambling to the far side of the car, Jack peered into the interior. The driver was slumped over the wheel, her long hair spilling around her shoulders. It was obvious from the condition of her own door that she had been attempting to get out of her car when Jack’s truck had veered out of control. If Jack had plowed into her a few seconds later…
Not wanting to think of the possibility, Jack rapped sharply on the passenger window.
To his relief, the woman moved, turning to gaze at him with wide-eyed confusion.
“I’ve got to get you out of there. Now. Are you pinned down in any way?”
She shook her head, then winced, gingerly touching her forehead where blood was pouring from a gash next to her hairline.
Jack yanked on the passenger door handle, to no avail.
“Cover your face with your arms. I’m going to break the window.”
As soon as she’d done as he asked, Jack angled his own head away, then pressed the tip of the awl against the window. Again, in a seeming explosion of glass, the window dissolved. Seconds later, he was reaching through to the woman in the car.
“Can you crawl out? Your gas tank is leaking and I’d feel safer if we could get you out of there as soon as possible.”
A wave of panic raced over her features, and as she stared at him wide-eyed, Jack noted that one of her deep blue eyes was slightly more dilated than the other. To a man who surrounded himself with carefully staged “accidents” as a living, he knew that it was a bad sign. Head injury.
“N-no. I’ve just got a bump.”
“Careful, then. We don’t know if you’ve injured your neck.”
“No. It doesn’t hurt.” She rolled as if to demonstrate. “It’s just my head. I banged it on the window frame.”
Inching onto her knees, she crawled over the gearshift. As soon as he was able to reach her, Jack slipped his hands beneath her arms to support her and gently lifted her from the car. But when she stumbled as he tried to set her upright, he swung her into his arms and held her against him like a child.
Her body was slight and slim, offering him no resistance—a fact that frightened him even more. She had tucked her head into the hollow of his neck. Against his own, her skin felt cool and clammy. He could see the color leeching from her face and knew she was going into shock.
Hurrying as quickly as he dared, Jack carried her well away from the scene of the accident. Laying her on a patch of bare, frozen grass, he ripped off his coat. After taking the first-aid kit from his pocket, he wadded the heavy down jacket into a ball and wedged it under her feet, elevating her legs as much as possible. Then, dragging his heavy sweater over his head, he knelt beside her, draping the wool over her torso.
“Y-you’ll be cold,” she whispered, her teeth already chattering from shock and the chill of the wind.
He shrugged, doing his best to pretend that wearing little more than a T-shirt in the gusting wind was no big deal.
“I’m fine. Right now, I’m more worried about you, Miss…”
She licked her lips, squinting up at him in the darkness. “Eleanor. Eleanor Rappaport.”
“Well, Eleanor. How’s the head?”
“Hurts.” She squeezed her eyes shut, blinked then opened them again. “I must have banged it on the side of the car when I tried to get out.” She frowned. “But then, I already told you that, didn’t I?”
Jack felt a twinge of guilt, knowing that it was because of his truck slamming into her that she’d been injured at all.
“Does anything else hurt?”
She shook her head. “I’m really…fine. Don’t know why…I feel so…shaky.”
He took her hand, squeezing it. “Don’t you worry. You’ve got a nasty goose egg beginning to swell over one eye. You’re bound to be a little woozy.”
Releasing her hand for just a moment, Jack tore open the first aid kit. Selecting a pre-moistened towelette, he swabbed the gash. To his relief he found that it probably wouldn’t require stitches.
Working as quickly as he could, he cleaned the area, then applied a thick gauze bandage. Then he touched her forehead again. She was cold. Cold, clammy and so very, very pale.
Her eyes suddenly opened. She blinked, squeezed them shut for a moment, then peered at him again.
Jack felt his mouth grow dry. “You can’t see?”
“I’m having trouble…focusing…on things.”
Since the fact evidently agitated her, he touched her cheek, then took her hand.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve probably got a concussion or something. A little rest and you’ll be fine.”
“You never…” she murmured, her voice faint and somehow fragile “…told me…your name.”
He squeezed her fingers. “Jackson. Jackson Mac—” He broke off, his head lifting. From far away he heard the faint wail of sirens.
“Hear that?” he said. “They’ve already sent someone to help. In no time at all, you’ll be safe and snug inside an ambulance.”
But when he searched her face for a sign of relief, he saw instead that she was gazing at him wide-eyed, a look of sheer horror spreading over her features.
“Shhh,” he offered gently, calmly, even as his heart thudded in his ears and the wailing of the sirens grew louder and louder, scraping nerves already raw from the night’s events.
“I’m here, Eleanor,” he said, wondering if she were about to lose consciousness. Instead, as he bent low, he realized that her eyes were open, but they weren’t tracking him. She stared at him blankly, huge tears beginning to well up and spill down her cheeks.
“Jackson, I can’t see,” she cried, softly at first, then louder, the sobs tearing at his heart. “Jackson! I can’t see!”
Six Months Later
Jackson MacAllister bolted upright in bed, his own shout echoing in the darkness of the hotel room.
Breathing heavily, he dragged his fingers through his hair, trying to calm the fierce pounding of his head.
The dream. It had come again—as it always did when he was tired or feeling under the weather.
Or recovering from a nasty concussion.
Wincing, Jack swung his legs over the edge of the bed and turned on the bedside lamp. His body throbbed with the aftereffects of injuries he’d sustained on the job that day and the dregs of his dreams, causing his head to ache until he thought his skull would split with the pressure.
Standing, he padded into the bathroom. Under the harsh glare of the overhead light, he shook four aspirin from the bottle on the counter, then gulped them down with a glass of water from the tap.
Only then did he begin to relax.
Willing himself not to think of the dream or the woman who had seemed so real, so vulnerable, he moved to the windows. Pulling the heavy curtains aside, he peered down at the pre-dawn glow seeping over the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.
It had been nearly a week since the stunt car he’d been driving had flipped end-over-end during a staged high-speed chase for the film adaptation of the bestselling techno-thriller …Savage Justice. The scene had been choreographed and reshot three times in the first month of production, but since the director had spent only a quarter of a million dollars more than his budget had allotted, he’d decided to celebrate his good fortune by spending another fifty grand expanding the final chase scene.
Jack grimaced at the irony of the whole situation. Naturally, the director had decided that the footing showing Jack’s accident was “mar-r-r-velous”—as if Jack had planned to roll out of control and finish the take upside down next to a broken water hydrant. If Jack hadn’t immediately been rushed to the hospital, he would have grabbed the director by the collar, pinned him against a wall and chastised the man for moving a camera crew into the middle of the road—unannounced. As it was, Jack had still been in the emergency room when he’d received the news that the filming was finally—finally—over.
His anger at the director hadn’t eased with the announcement. If anything, Jack’s ire had increased—to the point where he’d made an effort to ignore the man so that he wouldn’t say anything politically incorrect. Jon Palermo might be an idiot, but his films were spectacular, and Jack enjoyed the creative freedom and lucrative budgets that came with a spot on Palermo’s crew. In the meantime, he planned to avoid Palermo.
Which was why Jack was booked on the next afternoon flight to Los Angeles. Once he’d returned to California he could put this whole miserable week behind him.
As if of its own volition, his mind quickly strayed away from all thoughts of Palermo to the nightmare that had awakened him.
Eleanor Rappaport. Why did the memories of that night, that woman, still continue to haunt him?
But even as he asked himself the question, he already knew. In the months since the accident, Jack had thought about Eleanor more than he would care to admit. He couldn’t seem to banish the image of her lying next to him, gripping his hand, and crying, “I can’t see!”
Again, the words shuddered through him like an icy finger touching his heart. He often found himself wondering what had happened in the intervening months. And if she’d ever regained her sight…
He shook his head as if to clear it of his thoughts, then regretted the action when a slicing pain shot through his head.
The time had come to put the memories of that night behind him, he told himself fiercely. After all, Eleanor Rappaport was a stranger to him. Other than those few minutes at the scene of the accident, he had never seen her again.
But he’d tried, a little voice reminded him. He’d brought a huge bouquet of daisies to the hospital where Eleanor had been taken, only to discover she’d been transferred to another facility.
Sighing, Jack stared out at the jewel-like glow of the historic buildings clustered around the glassy reflecting pool. Maybe the pressures of the job were to blame, but lately the dreams of that night plagued him even more. The details seemed sharper and Eleanor’s panic seemed that much more real.
If only he could assure himself that she was all right. If only he knew if she’d regained her sight. If he could see her one more time…
No. He couldn’t even think such a thing. She was a stranger to him. And those few moments they’d had together didn’t give him the right to interfere.
But she wouldn’t have to know.
The moment the thought raced through his head, he tried to push it aside, but it returned with even more force.
If he could somehow find her, he could tell at a glance if she was happy, healthy…
And whether or not she could see.
Again, he tried to bury the idea. He was out of his mind to even consider such a thing.
But he had the time.
And he needed to know.
Already he found himself making plans. Denver. If he could change his flight to Denver, he could—
Again every logical bone Jack possessed insisted that he stop and think about the repercussions of such an action. Eleanor Rappaport was a stranger. He had no business barging into her life unannounced.
But another part of him, one that reacted on instinct, had taken control of his body. He was filled with impatience, a sudden hunger to see her again.
Numbly he turned, making his way to the closet. Slowly at first, then with greater urgency, he began throwing his belongings in his suitcase, banging drawers as he went.
“Hey! Where are you going?”
The door to the adjoining room squeaked open and a stoop-shouldered man glared at Jack.
Jack grimaced, realizing too late that he’d been making enough noise to wake Ira Sullivan, a fellow stuntman and mentor—known to his friends as One-Eye because of the patch he wore over his left eye, the result of a stunt-related accident that occurred years earlier.
“Denver?” the man echoed incredulously. “What the hell for? I thought we were taking a four o’clock flight to L.A.”
“I’ve got to see someone there.”
One-Eye’s mouth gaped. He’d heard all about the accident and was clearly flabbergasted that Jack intended to see Eleanor again. He opened his mouth intending to argue, then closed it again.
“I’ll just gather my things. Heaven only knows what kind of trouble you could get into with that concussion. ’Pears to me you’re going to need someone to ride shotgun with you on this little adventure.”
“THERE YOU GO, Ms. Rappaport.” The bus driver’s rich-as-chocolate voice was accompanied by the squeal of brakes and the pungent scent of diesel fumes. “You be careful on your way home, y’hear? It’ll be slippery out there with all that rain.”
Eleanor awkwardly pushed herself to her feet, automatically smoothing the folds of her jumper over the protrusion of her stomach.
Two months. Two more months and she wouldn’t have to complete the odd contortion of movements it took to wriggle out of her seat and stand on a moving bus.
Finally gaining her balance, Eleanor automatically curled her hand around the iron bar overhead and made her way to the rear doors, her body leaning backward to adjust to the rocking of the vehicle.
Once she was positioned in front of the exit, she hooked an elbow around the vertical pole and used her free hand to unfold the red-tipped cane she’d slipped into her purse, taking great care not to bump the strident bicycle bell attached to the handle. Burt came unglued if she rang it on his bus. Something to do with the fact that he was an ex-police officer—go figure.
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