Tara Taylor.

Just Around The Corner






Im pregnant.

Matt blinked. He froze inside. Pardon?

Im pregnant.

He waited.

I just thought you should know. Phyllis Langford looked far too calm sitting there, her honey-colored purse, which matched her honey-colored shoes, still slung over her shoulder.

I dont understand why Im the one youre telling, he said carefully. He knew it wasnt polite to ask a woman who the father of her child was, but what did a guy say when it wasnt him? He might have lost a good piece of his mind that day, but not so much that he hadnt protected himself, and her, from any and all consequences.

Because youre the only man Ive had sex with since I divorced my husband four years ago. As he shook his head, she added softly, Condoms fail.

Not likely.

Read the box the next time you pick some up, she said, still appearing far too calm. Besides, when I thought about it, I realized the wrapper you took from your wallet didnt look exactly new.

Damn, the woman sounded as though they were discussing nothing more earth-shattering than a rained-out game of Little League. Didnt she get it? They had an untenable situation on their hands.

Matt didnt even know how to be a friend. There was no way he could be a father.

Dear Reader,

Have you ever found yourself disliked for something, some trait or skill, thats an integral part of you? Something you cant change? Its not an easy position to be in, but a very real one. To be a person deserving of happinessa good person, a loving personand yet alone. It was a situation that intrigued me, a situation I couldnt let go. I needed to know how such a thing could happen. To find the happy ending.

This is Phyllis Langfords story. If youve read any of my previous SHELTER VALLEY books, youll remember her. Just Around the Corner is a story about the human spirit, about making the most of what life has given you, about enduring. And about happy endings. I believe theres a happy ending out there for everyone. Its just a matter of hanging on. Of not giving up. Eventually it will come knocking.

Each day of my life consists of hanging on, of not giving upand of answering the door when I hear that knock. It doesnt come just once. It comes, for me, every day in one form or another. A phone call. A smile. A note. A hug.

I wish you all a lifetime of happy endingsand the ability to hear happiness knocking at your door when it arrives.

Tara Taylor Quinn

P.S. I love to hear from readers. Write me at P.O. Box 15065, Scottsdale, Arizona 85267-5065. Or visit my Web site at http://members.home.net/ttquinn.

Just Around the Corner
Tara Taylor Quinn


www.millsandboon.co.uk

For Tanya Elizabeth Clayton.

You, like Phyllis, are an amazing young woman.

I truly believe that you will take whatever life gives you and make your own happy endings. Im very proud to be part of your life.

MOTHER

by Tanya Clayton

Every time you tell me something

That may help me

I turn the other way.

My pride says I wont listen

But my heart absorbs every word.

I always tell you Ill be a better mother

But I know I wont.

You have taught me lessons

That no one else could.

You have backed me up

When no one else would.

You have been my biggest fan

When everyone had given up.

You are my mother,

The person that I am part of

And the person I am proud of

Being part of every day.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

EPILOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

THE KISS WAS as powerful as he was. As dangerous.

And beckoning.

Her arms crept around his neck, her lips pressing against his as excitement uncoiled in her belly. This was insane.

And she didnt want it to stop.

Phyllis had spent the entire day with Matt Sheffield. Seen him in action. And still knew absolutely nothing about him.

Because he wanted it that way.

Which made him even more desirable. Because she wanted it that way, too.

Dr. Phyllis Langford didnt need a man in her lifeespecially this man. Didnt need to know him, to get tangled up in the shadows shed read in his eyes, the aloofness in his body.

What she needed was exactly what he was giving her. Lips that knew their destination, that didnt hesitate. Hands that touched her lonely body, igniting fires banked too long.

We shouldnt be doing this, she said, her mind still engaged enough to recognize that much.

Mm-hmm. The moan tingled against her lips. His tongue penetrated her mouth, and Phyllis thrilled to his aggression. He felt so damn good. And it had been such a long time. He placed her against the theaters sound-booth console in the performing-arts center at Montford University, where theyd spent the day working on a Patterns of Abuse presentation shed be giving at a Psychology In the University seminar in that very theater later that month. The big window in front of them looked out over the dark and empty auditorium. The controls beneath them pushed into her back.

Not here, he said suddenly, pulling her up and urging her toward the couch at the opposite end of the room.

The couch shed been eyeing off and on all day, her mind filled with lascivious thoughts.

Shed just never dreamed her inappropriate and completely far-fetched fantasies would ever achieve reality there.

Hadnt really even decided she wanted them to.

His hands skimmed along her sides. Those same hands had been manipulating computer keys and technical equipment all afternoon. His lips left hers only long enough for breathing, and then they were consuming her again. Obliterating thought as he used his body to guide her on another erotic journey.

In spite of the sweet tension building inside herthe kind that made a woman forget she was a nice girl and allow anything as long as she found the satisfaction that was almost within reachshe might still have been able to stop him if he hadnt seemed as completely absorbed as she.

His hands werent quite steady as they slid beneath her red chenille sweater. His breathing ragged, he kissed her chin, her neck and then was at her lips again.

Phyllis accommodated him. Lifting her mouth to his, she raised her body off the couch to let him slide her sweater up, exposing her belly. Her breasts ached for his touch, ached to be covered by those big capable hands. She arched against him.

God, she needed this. To feel desirable. To know she could drive a man to distraction. Maybe because losing the weight hadnt been enough to give her back the confidence shed lost. Maybe because all her friends had this. Every single one of them was in love.

For a brief moment, as she lay there with her newly flat belly exposed, Phyllis panicked. Why had she thought of love now? She wasnt going to get involved again. Not like that. Not when hurt was inevitable.

And then she remembered. She wasnt in danger. Matt Sheffield wasnt the type to allow involvement.

Everyone in Shelter Valley respected his hands off signals. Shed only lived in the town a little more than a yearnothing like the four years hed been the Fine Arts Technical Coordinator at Montfordyet she was much more a part of this community than he was. Other than the classes he taught, the events he oversaw, he kept to himself. He seemed to welcome neither personal conversation nor invitations. It didnt take a psychologist to figure out that the man was off-limits.

His lips burned her neck and then her belly, as his hands finally slid up over her breasts, cupping them, squeezing gently, the sensation excruciating in its intensity.

Please, Phyllis was begging before she could stop herself.

Please what? he rasped.

Please make love to me.

I intend to, pretty woman. He took a condom out of his wallet before reaching for the button at the waistband of his jeans. Believe me, I intend to.

Hed called her pretty.

They were the last coherent words Phyllis processed for a long time.

The next ones, uttered by her after silent, awkward moments of pulling on clothes that had been hastily discarded, were, Well, goodbye.

We used a condom. Phyllis looked across at her friend one Monday in the middle of October, her disbeliefand confusionapparent.

Cassie Tate Montford, happily wearing maternity slacks and a blousy top as she entered her sixth month of pregnancy, looked as if she didnt know whether to smile or cry.

Phyllis didnt blame Cassie for her indecision. The two women had several things in common: their interest in pet therapy, their commitment to Shelter Valleyand their red hair. Now, apparently, they shared something else, as well.

Something Phyllis hadnt planned on at all.

Youre sure? Cassie asked.

Im sure, Phyllis said, nodding her head, feeling more like a lost little girl than the Yale graduate she was.

They were in the sitting room at Montford Mansion, sharing cups of homemade hot chocolate, courtesy of Cassies mother-in-law, Carol Montford. This was a rare moment of privacy for both of them. Mariah, Cassie and Sams adopted daughter, was still at school. And Sam was at work, refurbishing homes, providing better-than-new living conditions for people who occupied the inadequate housing outside Shelter Valley. These places, built in the late 1890s, had fallen into disrepair as subsidized government housing, and Sam was renovating them at a reasonable cost to their current owners.

So youre pregnant. This might not be badnews, you know, Cassie said slowly, the tremulous smile seeming to win the battle of expressions on her beautiful face. Babies are such blessings in so many ways. Raising a child is one of the greatest accomplishments possible. And youll never be alone.

Phyllis shook her head. Im not alone, she said, surprised by the sudden ache she felt at Cassies pronouncement. I have plenty of people to love. Plenty of people who love me.

Cassie was one of them.

Of course you do, her friend said, her brow creased in a frown. But no one who shares the ups and downs of daily life with you.

Phyllis couldnt argue with her there. Shed had that once, though. And in her case, being alone was the better option.

Im guessing you havent told Matt.

Phyllis shook her head, her short, flyaway red curls the only vibrant thing about her.

How do you think hes going to take the news?

Not well, Phyllis said, shrugging.

Something, somewhere sucked all the love out of that man, Cassie said, her sweet brown eyes concerned. Hes been in town four years and has nevernot onceaccepted an invitation to anything. Not only does he always reject our hospitality, even at Christmas, but hes never attended any community function when hes not working. He was probably the only person in town who didnt attend the Fourth of July celebration last summer.

I know, Phyllis said, wishing the chocolate that was warming her thick ceramic cup could warm her, too. Hes sodetached, and thats what made him so safe to begin with. I wanted sex, not involvement.

Cassie seemed to have more to say, but she sat there staring at Phyllis, instead. Phyllis could only wonder what her friend was thinking. And decided maybe she didnt want to know.

Its not like he can be angry with me, Phyllis finally said. It was his condom.

So you have every right to be angry with him.

Tilting her head, Phyllis grimaced. And what good is that going to do me?

Give you the energy to cope, Cassie said with her customary frankness. The two women had worked together on more than one occasion, counseling abuse victims through Cassies pet-therapy program, and they were used to speaking honestly. Even negative energy is better than none at all.

Once again, Phyllis couldnt argue with her. Cassie had learned that particular truth the hard way, Phyllis knew, back when Cassies entire life had fallen apart, and shed disintegrated right along with it. Shed needed years to rebuild what shed lost, to reshape her existence in a new form.

I havent even thought about coping yet, she admitted quietly.

Setting down her cup, Cassie said, And Im assuming you plan to have the baby when theres nothing that says you must.

Of course Im having it, Phyllis said, running her finger along the outer seam of her jeans. You know me well enough to know that. I only found out this morning, so its not like Ive had time to make a single plan, but not having this baby isnt even a choice for me.

You want it, Cassie guessed, her brown eyes piercing.

Looking up at her friend, Phyllis smiled. I guess I do.

Cassie lifted her cup and sipped carefully from her chocolate. So, she said, leaning forward on the couch, her legs spread slightly to accommodate her growing belly. What kind of cooperation are you hoping to get from Matt Sheffield?

Not marriage, thats for sure, Phyllis said. That would naturally be one of the first assumptions people would make, but she wasnt even going to consider it.

While I have to admit Im relieved that you arent holding out hope that the mans going to do the right thing by you, do you have to be quite so adamant about being better off single?

Theyd had this discussion before. Phyllis understood that with Cassies newfound happiness, and her current state of being head over heels in love, she wanted the same satisfaction for those she cared about. Phyllis got that satisfaction in other ways, but she knew better than to argue with Cassie.

Financially youll be okay, even if he denies all responsibility? Cassie asked.

Okay, and then some.

Elbows on her knees, Cassie rested her chin in her hands, staring down at her bare feet, and then over at the fashionable ankle boots Phyllis was wearing with her size-six jeans.

You really look great, you know that?

The words brought a smile to Phylliss face. Thanks. But then the expression faded as something else hit her. Ive lost forty pounds, Im finally feeling positive about myself, and now Im going to turn around and get fat again.

But only for a while, Cassie reminded her. And for a very good cause. She cradled her own belly, obviously loving every pound, every outward sign that she was truly carrying a baby of her own. Shed been told years ago, after the death of her first born, that shed never conceive a child again.

Yeah. Phyllis nodded, still a bit concerned. Those pounds of hers had not come off easily. Through many long months of struggle, shed promised herself that shed never see them again.

Did you read Borough Bantam this week? Cassie asked suddenly. As a diversion, the tactic was a little rough around the edges, but Phyllis was eager to turn her thoughts away from her own situation, if only for a minute or two. She nodded.

The little mouse character picked out a boys name and a girls name in case a new mouse comes to live with her. Youve obviously been talking to Mariah about the baby.

Borough Bantam was a nationally syndicated comic strip depicting a village of creatures who, through their daily and often comical adventures, imparted gentle lessons and observations about life. Cassies husband, Sam, the creator, had fashioned them after people hed grown up with in Shelter Valley, his way of keeping in touch with his home and everything hed left behind during his ten-year exile from the place he loved. The little mouse in the strip represented Mariah, the little girl Sam had adopted when her parents, his best friends, had been killed by terrorists on the other side of the world.

We have. Cassies smile was tinged with sadness. Shes insisting we name the baby either Brian or Morning Glory.

After her parents?

Yeah. Her mothers name was Moira, but Mariah always says Morning.

So are you and Sam going to keep those names?

Absolutely. How can we not? Our daughter speaks her mind, we listen.

For the first few months Mariah had lived with Sam, shed been mute, a result of the trauma of witnessing her parents death. Cassie and her pet therapy had been the way by which Mariah was able to heal. It was also the way Cassie and Sam found each other again.

So is Sam used to everyone in town thinking hes a hero for creating Bantam? Phyllis asked. She knew that Cassies husband had been more than a little worried about his receptionand that of his comic stripwhen hed returned to town after so many years.

I dont know if hell ever get used to it, Cassie said honestly. He was so sure theyd think he was poking fun at them and hate him for it. But I think hes getting just a bit tired of everyone trying to help him write it!

They all have ideas, huh? Phyllis commiserated, and Cassie nodded.

So, back to Sheffield, Cassie said. What are your expectations?

Shaking her head, Phyllis set her cup farther from the edge of the end table. Im expecting nothing from him, she said. Our being togetherit justhappened. Wasnt planned. Other than when we put on the psychology seminar last week, we havent spoken.

Cassie studied her friend. And you were happy about that.

Absolutely.

And now?

Now Im just trying to deal with the ramifications of this pregnancy in my own life. Matt Sheffield doesnt matter to me at all.

Sighing, seeming oddly relieved, Cassie sat back. Can I tell you something then?

Of course.

If Matt reacts coldly to the news, dont take it personally. I dont think the mans capable of softer feelings.

Phyllis frowned. Why do you say that?

Last year I had a litter of pups thatd been left at the clinic, Cassie said. I took them down to campus one afternoon, offering them to anyone who might want a dog. While I was busy giving care instructions for one of them, another puppy got tangled up in one of the leashes Id brought along with the stuff I was giving away to the new owners. Sheffield walked by and didnt even stop. He just left that puppy there, squirming and frightened.

Maybe he didnt see it.

He saw it, Cassie assured her. He looked right at us. Besides, when he walked by, the puppy started to squeal, which is what alerted me to the whole thing.

Shrugging, Phyllis looked tired as she laid her head back against the chair. So maybe he doesnt like dogs. Probably got bitten by one as a kid.

Spoken like a true psychologist. Always looking for the hidden motivations.

Everybody has them.

Maybe hes just incapable of caring for anything or anyone, Cassie said softly.

Maybe.

Phyllis didnt care one way or the other.

You know, Cassie said, leaning forward to lay a hand on Phylliss arm. Between Tory and me and Becca and everyone else in Shelter Valley whos fallen in love with you, well get you through this pregnancy. And well give you whatever help you need for the next eighteen years or more of single motherhood. No sweat. You can count on that.

Phylliss eyes filled. Thank you.

What we cant do, Cassie said, her voice taking on a note of warning, is preventor curea broken heart.

Nodding, Phyllis believed her friend. Cassie should know. Shed lived with one for more than ten years. And from the sound of things, thered been days when the pain had been almost enough to kill her.

Dont worry, she said, this heart is firmly intact. And going to remain that way.

AS DAYS WENT, it wasnt a good one. Matt Sheffield wondered what hed done to piss off the fates this time. The new gels had come in for the dance show that weekend and they were the wrong colors. The light boardthe computer that controlled the lightinghad crashed, so the lights werent working. He had a student working for him who could only be described as technically challenged, the kids in his lighting design class had all acted as though theyd rather be someplace else, and his star student, Sophie Curtis, had been missing cues all morning.

And it was a dance show. His least-favorite kind of production to entrust to students. Plays were usually easy to lighta wash, some specialsunless they were going for extravagant effects. Concerts were even easier, symposiums downright boring. But dancenow there, the lighting was part of the art. He could lose himself in creativity and forget about life for a while.

Unless he had butts to wipe every step of the way.

And Sophieshed been preoccupied all semester. In the two years hed known her, Sophie had done nothing but amaze him, with her diligence, her reliability, but mostly her vision. She could make magic out of an empty stage with almost nothing. Whether she was working as lighting designer, stage manager or sound engineer, she was always the glue that held the rest of the students together.

Until this semester. Shed been late, absentminded, short-tempered. Shed lost weight.

Something was wrong.

Not that Matt had any intention of finding out what.

You busy?

He glanced up from his desk in the office at the back of the performing-arts center to see who actually had the nerve to interrupt his lunch hourthe one time he could let down his guard and allow free rein to whatever thoughts he felt like having.





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