Diana is devastated after her husband's unseemly death. At his funeral, She makes a promise never to to trust so easily again. She was in no way prepared to meet her husband's perplexing step-brother; who was used to getting his way and achieving whatever he wished. And he wanted Diana.
After an almost fatal accident brings them together, Devlan works at dissolving Diana's distrust of him. Embarking on a jouney of a lifetime, Diana and her daughter find out that neither of them is impervious to his charming nature. But is he determined enough to gain their love and trust?
With a sudden squeal of the tires, the midnight black Mustang stopped in front of a long-legged blonde dressed in skin-tight black jeans and a black tank top. Over the rumbling engine, an unseen neighborhood dog could be heard barking while the driver revved the car impatiently. He reached across the seat to open the door. The woman at the end of the driveway hastily tossed her pink overnight bag in the back and climbed in. No sooner had she shut the door than the Mustang was pulling away with another swift chirp of the tires.
"You're late," the blonde whined.
She pressed the power button and rolled down her window. Cool night air entered the car and filtered out the aroma of her perfume.
"I've had a bad night," he replied.
She was instantly contrite. Her full lower lip pouted and she reached over to place a well-manicured hand on his thigh. Peter Somerset glanced down at the smooth hand and compared it to his wife's.
Diana's hands were dry and her fingernails were brittle from cleaning and cooking. Unlike Camille, she never took the time to paint them anymore. In fact, she did not care about her appearance at all. What had happened to the popular 'catch' he thought he had snared? Had their child stolen all of her sex appeal away? He stomped harder on the gas in frustration and maneuvered onto the highway, heading west to the hills. If it was the last thing he did, he was going to enjoy his weekend outside of the city.
As long as he was far away from Diana and Hannah he'd be fine. Just fine. It did not bother him at all that Diana knew he was going to a cabin for the weekend with another woman. He did not care that she had cried when she said their marriage was over. Though her money had been good, he was having a hard time finding anything interesting about her now that it was gone. And he knew that Diana understood that as well.
"What happened, babe? Did you and Diana have another fight?"
"Yep," he snapped, steering onto the open road. "I told her we're through."
A smile curved Camille's painted lips for several minutes. Turning to look out the window, she remained silent. He liked that about her. She did not fight with him, and she had a fat wallet. Two very good qualities, the ones he liked best in a woman.
After a while, she reached over and her hand began to caress his thigh. "Good."
"No, it's not good. Why did you come to the house? Hannah told her you were there."
"So? Well, she could use that during the divorce."
Peter's foot pressed harder on the gas pedal and the sleek car sped up smoothly. He was tense all over, but Camille's hand was distracting him all the same. The lights of the city had turned to the blackness of the mountains ahead. He could already feel the chill in the evening air through Camille's open window. He deftly maneuvered the car into the hills, enjoying the curves and dips on the road. The vehicle hugged the pavement, compelling him to speed up even more. At this time of night there were very few people out, so he felt confident about putting his car through the paces. He knew Camille loved the way he drove, and he strove to please her as he had never pleased his wife. Right now he had to ensure he stayed on her good side. Too soon he would be dependent on her.
"What's wrong with starting a new life? Without Diana and Hannah. Let them do their own thing. After all, it's like the two of them are peas in a pod." Camille's hand crept further up his thigh, getting tantalizingly close. "I can give you everything you need, baby."
Peter's sharp inhale came through clenched teeth. How could he think about his nagging wife and child when this beautiful woman was teasing him to distraction?
His fingers gripped the steering wheel harder when he heard the sound of the zipper on his black slacks being released. They were almost there. The cabin was just up the mountain. Ten more minutes. He gasped. Her cool fingers surrounded him.
When her mouth came down, he nearly lost control. Though he was still upset and angry, there was no denying the soft pull of her mouth and teasing intensity of her tongue. One hand left the steering wheel to roughly grasp her head and hold her in place as he sped up even more. Diana and Hannah were forgotten as Peter allowed his lover to distract him.
Then the deer appeared in front of him.
With a shout, Peter's foot quickly shifted from the gas pedal to the brake, but he knew it was too late. He struggled to free his hand from Camille's stiff hair, but he succeeded only in tearing free strands of her mane. She responded by biting down on him in a wail of alarm and pain. His hips bucked, sending her head into the steering wheel with a dull thud.
They were off the road; the headlights shining on nothing.
Peter closed his eyes tightly before the first impact came. The front end of the Mustang buckled as it landed on the soft shoulder of the cliff. A loud bang sounded before he was slammed in the face with the air bag, driving Camille's head into his abdomen with a great force. Then she was gone, her feet flying out of the open window. However, he remained with the car, toppling head over heels. The pain was excruciating, and he was unable to catch his breath.
Suddenly he was rolling, his body tumbling free of the driver's seat to go with the car to the bottom of the ravine.
"Hannah?" he asked again, his last thoughts of his beautiful child. "God forgive me."
Relief flooded through Peter as the pain began to ebb away. He was vaguely aware of the car coming to a halt and everything going quiet. It no longer mattered. Peter knew it was time.
Diana came awake from her dream with a gasp, her eyes fluttering open to the gray light of dawn. It streamed through the window via the cracks in the blinds, offering enough light for her to see the untouched side of the bed where her husband of six years used to sleep.
Today was his funeral.
The car accident that had taken his life kept replaying itself in her mind, a mind now filled with guilt as though she was somehow responsible for his irresponsible actions. Pieced together from what she had learned from the police, she had envisioned the events of that night over and over again until they now invaded her dreams.
She replayed their final words countless times.
"You're leaving again?" she had asked.
"Will you be coming back?"
Through tears that she had bravely held in, she stared at the man she had promised to love and cherish above all others. "May I ask..." she began. Then her voice broke. "Peter, do you not care about our marriage anymore or the fact that I want out?"
Slowly, so very contemptuously, his gaze had traveled from her head to toe. His lips twisted just before he answered. That single word that had dashed all of her hopes and dreams. They had sealed the deal.
She had known that he was leaving that night, had even slammed the door behind him when he stormed out after those final painful two letters. Locking the door behind him, she had picked up all the evidence of their altercation and locked herself in the bedroom to nurse her wounds. When she had gone to bed that night, she had known that the time had come to make a change. She just had not realized that change was being forced upon her by the hands of fate. After eighteen months of watching her marriage crumble around her without doing anything to stop it, she now understood that Mother Nature had taken the reins from her hands and had settled the matter for her. She no longer had a say in her future; it was out of her hands.
In the privacy of her bedroom she allowed the tears to spill. Tears of regret, tears of relief, and tears for the man she used to love with all of her heart trickled down her cheeks. This was her time to grieve, away from onlooker's eyes. All too soon she would have to face his friends. She would have to hold her head high as they whispered behind their hands about how Peter had died, about Camille's presence in the car, and the bruise high on Diana's left cheekbone that remarkably showed signs of being obtained around the same time as the accident. Yes, their final altercation had not gone well, cumulating into physical violence borne from frustration by both parties. They would never have a chance to discuss it, though Diana doubted he would even have wanted to try.
All too soon she would have to face her future bravely. However, at this moment she was free to be weak. To grieve. To wonder what she had done so wrong.
Wiping away her tears, Diana tossed back the covers on her bed and made her way to the bathroom. A long hot shower eased some of the tension in the muscles of her neck and shoulders and washed away the last traces of her sorrow, but it did nothing to ease the ache in her heart. Like a song stuck on replay, she heard the guilt in her mind reminding her that she had not been careful in what she wished for. What she had wanted was her freedom. She had gotten that for sure, but she received that gift at a great cost to herself and others.
For instance, Hannah would grow up never knowing her father. Although, with the way things had been going, Diana was not sure if that was a good or bad thing.
She stood before the mirror on her dresser as she dressed, critically taking in her appearance through blurred vision. These past few months had been the most difficult. Late nights of worrying about Peter's philandering and partying had seen her once rounded figure grow thinner from exhaustion and loss of appetite, and dark circles dulled her normally bright blue eyes. Her wavy blond hair was now dry and limp from the pressure and the stress. Once considered a knockout, she no longer had the time to make herself as beautiful as Peter had wanted her to be. That was a point he had made so repeatedly. In recent months, she had not even had the urge to try.
Smoothing her black dress over her hips one last time, she sighed and turned away from the mirror. Hannah still needed to get ready, and they had to leave soon. She had more important things to worry about. No more time for self-pity.
Though she had arranged a quiet graveside funeral, she was amazed to see so many people congregate around his casket. She only knew a small portion of the group, and they avoided her intent stare with the shifting eyes and shuffling feet of those who knew too much for their own comfort. Several times she caught some of the men in the group protectively covering their privates with a pained groan. So it was no secret what the police had determined as the cause of the accident, she realized with a touch of humiliation. When they caught her furious stare, they turned away in embarrassment. Not too long ago those men had flirted shamelessly with her. Now they glanced at her out of the corner of their eyes in pity. She and Hannah stood alone by the minister, dressed in their best and remaining dry-eyed and solemn while all his friends in their flashy, high-fashion clothes and lithe, well-toned bodies cried and mourned around her.
The day was cool and sunny, perfect for a funeral, and the high altitude air was fresh and clean. Diana held onto Hannah's hand tightly as she took several deep breaths. Not quite five yet, her daughter had not taken the news very well. With her youthful lack of wisdom, she could not seem to understand that her Daddy would not be coming back ever again. She wanted to know why and sent a barrage of questions Diana's way. They were questions she did not have the strength to answer yet.
Diana could not say why. It was not her decision.
The morning after the accident, Hannah had awakened to find their elderly neighbor dozing on the sofa while Diana had gone with the police. She had been worried when her mother returned pale and numb with shock. After Diana had told her there was a bad accident, Hannah had cried. However, the tears were more from confusion than understanding.
Diana wept too. She wept bitter tears of anger with her husband. How could he be so foolish and remove himself from his daughter's life so permanently? She remembered the look on his face again. Apparently he had not been considering either her or Hannah at the time and he had made it plain that he regretted their marriage. That look of pure contempt he had given her before he stormed out the front door would stay with her for the rest of her lifetime. Well she had certainly learned her lesson, and she would be damned if she ever fell that hard for a man again.
"May he forever rest in peace..."
The minister's final words rung in Diana's ears as she slowly lifted her chin. The silence only lasted a moment before more wailing captured Hannah's attention. She turned her head out of curiosity, and Diana gave her a quick tug on the hand to keep her focused. At the same time, they heard a car door open from somewhere behind the long line of cars parked along the side of the dirt road leading up to the freshly dug grave. How rude to interrupt, Diana thought, though she was not surprised. The tight-knit crowd that Peter had grown friendly with was not necessarily a respectful group of individuals. Disturbing the somber silence of the last rites fell right in line with their standards. In fact, she half-expected that once the grave was filled, most of these people would return to celebrate with him one last time. The idea filled her with disgust.