Blessings In Disguise by Diana Palmer\Lenora Worth\Loree Lough released on Apr 24, 2003 is available now for purchase.
About the Author
Diana Palmer (a pseudonym for Susan Kyle, born Susan Spaeth in 1946) is the author of dozens of romance novels dating back to 1979. Voted one of the top ten romance writers in America, Palmer’s best-known books are part of her Long, Tall Texans series. Palmer lives with her family in Cornelia, Georgia.
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Blessings In Disguise
By Diana Palmer
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDana came to with Mrs. Pibbs standing over her, taking her pulse. For just a moment she was back in her student nurse's class six years earlier, watching Mrs. Pibbs give pointers on nursing procedure. But when she felt the stabs of pain in her head and the bruises on her slender body, she realized that she wasn't in class. She was a patient in Ashton General Hospital.
Her face felt tight when she tried to speak, and her head throbbed abominably. "Mother ...?" she managed weakly.
Mrs. Pibbs sighed, laying the long, fingered young hand down on the crisp white sheet. "I'm sorry, my dear," she said gently.
Tears ran down the Nordic face, misting the soft brown eyes in their frame of tousled platinum-blond hair. She'd known before she asked the question. Her last memory was of her mother's unnatural position in the metallic tangle of the front seat. But she'd hoped ...
"Your father is here," Mrs. Pibbs said.
Dana's hurt eyes flashed. "No," she said stiffly.
The older woman looked shocked. "You don't want to see Mr. Steele?"
Dana's eyes closed. After what her mother had confessed just before the wreck, she never wanted to see him again. "I don't feel up to it," she said tightly.
"You aren't critically injured, Nurse," Mrs. Pibbs reminded her in that tutor voice. "Just some bruises and a few deep lacerations; not even a broken bone. We're observing you because of a concussion and shock more than for any great injury."
"I know. Please, Mrs. Pibbs, I'm so tired," she pleaded.
The plump woman's hard face melted a little at the look. For all her facade of stone, she was a marshmallow inside. "All right," she agreed finally. "I'll tell him you aren't up to it. Shall I ask him anything?"
Dana blinked her eyes. "The funeral arrangements.... Is my Aunt Helen taking care of those, or must I ...?"
"Your aunt and I spoke briefly this morning. Everything is being taken care of," came the quiet reply. "It's to be tomorrow. Your aunt will be by later to explain."
Dana nodded, closing her eyes wearily. It seemed like a nightmare. If only she could wake up!
"I'll tell Mr. Steele you're indisposed," Mrs. Pibbs added formally, and left Dana alone.
Dana turned her face to the wall. She couldn't bear even the sight of her father, the sound of his name. Poor little Mandy, poor little Mandy, who hadn't the weapons to survive all alone after twenty-five years of being provided for. It was inevitable that she'd break eventually. For the first few weeks after the divorce was final, Dana had been on the lookout for it to happen.
But it hadn't, not even when Jack Steele announced his marriage to one of the women he worked with, a blond, motherly woman whom Dana had only seen once.
Mandy had held on, working at a florist's shop, doing well, apparently happy and with everything to live for. Until Jack had been married three months. And then, last night, Mandy had called Dana, crying hysterically, and begged for a talk.
Dana had gone, as she always went when Mandy called, and found her mother drinking heavily.
"Let's go out to supper," Mandy had begged, her pale brown eyes watery with hot tears, her wrinkled face showing its age. "I can't bear being alone anymore.
Let's go out to supper and talk. I thought you might want to come back home and live with me again."
Dana had been as floored by the state her mother was in as she was by the request. She didn't want to live at home again; she wanted her independence. But there had to be some kind way to tell Mandy that, and she was searching for it when they went out to the car.
"I'll drive," Mandy had insisted. "I'm fine, dear, really I am. Just a couple of martinis, you know, nothing heavy. Get in, get in."
At that point Dana should have insisted on driving, but she'd been upset by her mother's sudden request that she move back in and she'd climbed obediently into the front seat.
"It will be lovely having you home again," Mandy cooed as she drove them toward a nearby restaurant.
"But, Mother -" Dana began.
"Your father said you wouldn't, but I knew he was lying," Mandy had continued, unabashed. Tears had suddenly sprung from her eyes, and her hands on the wheel had trembled. "He said you were glad we'd divorced, so you could spend more time with him without ... without having to see me at the same time. He said you hated me."
Dana remembered catching her breath and staring blankly at her mother. "I didn't!" she burst out. "I never said such a thing!"
The thin old mouth began to tremble. "He made me go along with the divorce, you know. He made me ..."
"Dad?" she'd queried, shocked. It hardly sounded like him, but Mandy wouldn't lie to her, surely.
"There have been other women since we married, Dana," she'd continued hotly. "He only married me because you were on the way. And he tried to get rid of you as soon as he found out ..."
Dana had been devastated. She opened her mouth to speak, but her mother wouldn't let her get a word in.
"I called you tonight because I'd decided that ... that I was going to kill myself." Mandy had laughed hysterically, and her hands on the wheel had jerked; the car had accelerated. "But then I got to thinking that I needn't do that; I needn't be alone. You could come home and stay with me. You don't need to stay in that apartment alone."
"But I'm not alone, I have a roommate," Dana had tried to reason with her.
"We'll have such fun," Mandy continued wildly. She turned her head to look at Dana. "He never wanted you, but I did. You were my baby, my little girl ..."
"Mama, look out!" Dana had seen the truck, but Mandy hadn't. Before she could get her fogged mind to function, the truck was on top of them. Then there was only the sound of crunching metal, splintering glass....
Dana felt hot tears run down her cheeks. She wept bitterly. Not only had she lost her mother, but now she understood why there had been arguments all the time, why her parents had been so hostile toward each other. It even explained why her father hadn't come near her since the divorce. He'd only married Mandy because he'd had to. He hadn't wanted Dana, not ever. No wonder he had always been away from home. No wonder he'd never tried to build any kind of relationship with his daughter. He'd hated her because she'd forced him to marry a woman he didn't love - had never loved.
Suddenly Mrs. Pibbs walked into the room, and Dana dabbed at the tears with a corner of the sheet.
"Your father's gone," she told the young nurse, wincing at the deep lacerations on the once spotless complexion. There would be scars, although Mrs. Pibbs had determined that she wasn't going to tell Dana about that just yet; Dana had had quite enough for one day.
Dana licked her dry lips. "Thank you, Mrs. Pibbs."
She managed a wan smile. "A really murderous one. Could I have something, do you think?"
"As soon as Dr. Willis makes his rounds." She checked her wristwatch. "And that will be in a very few minutes."
Excerpted from Blessings In Disguise by Diana Palmer Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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