Dancer in the Shadows – Linda Wisdom

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MARRY IN HASTE, REPENT AT LEISURE

And Valerie had plenty of time to repent—four long years. Her marriage to Sean Hunter had been deliriously happy until her desire to become a dancer had torn them apart. Her husband gone, Valerie lost her career as well when she bore Sean the son whose existence he never even suspected. Then Sean walked back into her life, and once he met Michael she knew he intended to have the boy—at any cost. How could she cope with a man who wanted her only for her son’s sake—a man who was only marking time until he could put another in her place?

Chapter One

“Now that is a dress they won’t forget at the party tonight.” Shelly grinned at her
friend. “You’ll be able to hold your own with anyone there.”
Valerie Hunter studied her reflection in the floor-length bedroom mirror. Dark brown hair was swept away from her face and pinned up in loose curls, emphasizing her darklashed green eyes. The Grecian-style gown of cream-colored silk clung to her slender
curves, and only a minimum of makeup was necessary to accent her fresh beauty.
“It’s the first party I’ve been to in years,” she murmured, picking up a bottle of
perfume.
“Mommy! Mommy!” A small boy ran into the room, skidding on his heels and looking up at Valerie with awe. “Oh, Mommy, you look so pretty,” he whispered. “Sexy.” His grin held pure adoration.
Her mouth curved into a smile at the sight of the little boy. “Sexy?” Her voice was
teasing. “And where did you learn that word, Michael, my love?”
“At school,” he replied artlessly. “Mary Davis says I’m sexy.”
Shelly’s short blonde curls danced as her head shook in amusement. She and Valerie exchanged knowing looks. “He’s his father’s son, Val,” Shelly said quietly.
Valerie felt a pang as she thought of Sean. Why did thoughts of him invade her
mind just when she felt she was getting over him? Yet, how could she forget him when
all she had to do was look down at Michael? The small boy’s hair was brown, with the
same golden highlights, and his baby face showed signs of Sean’s rugged features,
although his eyes were the same green shade as hers.
Even after four years, she would still lie awake nights remembering the feel of
Sean’s possessive mouth on hers. His arms holding her against his lean, hard body as
he whispered love words in his husky voice. His demand for an immediate response to
his lovemaking—which she had gladly given. Her heart would still pound madly
whenever she saw the back of a man’s head with sun-kissed brown hair and the same
broad build. She took a deep breath to banish the thoughts that could so easily drive
her mad.
“What necklace are you going to wear?” Shelly’s voice broke through her reflective thoughts.
“I’m not sure yet,” she replied, rummaging through her jewelry chest. Her fingers
stilled as they encountered a cold, hard stone. Trembling, she drew out a thin gold
chain with a jade pendant hanging from it.
“Matches those cat’s eyes of yours.” Sean’s voice spoke clearly in her mind as if he were standing next to her with his fingers caressing her bare shoulder.
Before she could lose her nerve, Valerie quickly clasped the pendant around her
neck, the tear-shaped drop nestling in the discreet hollow between her breasts.
“That must be Craig for you,” Shelly said, cocking her head at the sound of the
doorbell. She quickly rose to her feet. “I’ll get it.”
Valerie picked up her evening bag and bent down to drop a kiss on the small boy’s
forehead. “You’ll be good for Shelly tonight, won’t you?” she smiled fondly at her son.
“Don’t forget to pick up all your toys before you go to bed.”
She walked out to the living room, a smile of welcome on her face. “Hello, Craig.”
His eyes roved slowly over her slim figure. “Very lovely,” he murmured. “No one will be able to match you, Val.”
Shelly grimaced behind Craig’s back. Her dislike of Valerie’s boss was no secret
between the two friends. “Well, the two of you have a good time,” she said brightly.
Craig’s hand on Valerie’s arm was possessive as he escorted her out of the
apartment. “No wonder that boy is such a handful,” he muttered, a dark look marring
his blond good looks. “She isn’t exactly the best influence, you know.”
“Shelly loves Michael just as much as if he were her own, Craig,” Valerie said
sharply. “He’s nothing more than a normal boy. They’re all active at this age.”
“He needs a man around twenty-four hours a day,” he persisted. “You know I’d be
only too happy to handle a divorce for you if you would just give me the particulars—
your husband’s name, where he can be reached. You wouldn’t even have to see him.”
“I would prefer to handle it my way,” she said tightly. “And if you continue in this
vein, I would rather go back home than to the party.”
One glance at her grim face told him she meant it, so he deftly changed the subject.
The country club was well known for its select membership, and the ornate
plantation-style clubhouse always seemed to Val to embody this attitude. “I always feel
as if I’m here on a pass,” she said wryly as they walked up to the large double doors.
“You belong here just as much as any of them,” Craig told her.
Inside, the men, handsome in their dinner jackets, and the women, resplendent in
their expensive gowns and jewels, made a magnificent picture.
“A friend of mine from school is supposed to be here. I want you to meet him.”
Craig’s eyes scanned the dance floor and the surrounding area. He slipped his arm
around her waist in a possessive gesture. “Just as long as you remember who brought
you, that is. Let’s dance.”
He led her out to the dance floor and took her in his arms. As they danced to the
dreamy music, Valerie could feel a prickling sensation along the nape of her neck as if
she were being observed. She glanced around, but saw nothing that could cause the
feeling of unease.
“Hey, remember me?” Craig la laughingly reminded her. “I’m that guy you’re supposed to be madly in love with.”
She laughed easily, causing the men around her to eye her with interest. After their dance, Craig got their drinks before they joined a group of his friends in lively
conversation. Then Craig straightened as he spied someone across the room.
“Come on, darling. I see him now.”
Valerie allowed herself to be led by one hand, keeping her wineglass in the other.
The warm smile on her face froze as she saw the man Craig was approaching. Tall and
disturbing in a white dinner jacket, the man stood near the open French windows. The
bright lights shone on his brown hair, highlighting the sun-bleached strands that lay
carelessly above his darkly tanned forehead. The expression on his face was openly
cynical, the dark brown eyes almost black in their coldness. A voluptuous black-haired
woman in her early thirties, dressed in a red strapless gown of clinging silk, hung onto
his arm, seeming very much a part of him.
Valerie gripped her wineglass tightly, trembling as his eyes rested on her pinned-up hair with amusement. Automatically, she lifted her hand to her hair in a defensive
gesture.
“Sean, glad to see you again,” Craig greeted the man, bringing a reluctant and pale
Valerie forward. “Val, this is Sean Hunter; Sean, Valerie Hunter, my secretary. Seems you two share the same name, but that better be all you share. Valerie’s a very important part of my life.”
“Craig!” She blushed hotly at his words.
“Miss Hunter.” The cold voice sent shivers along her spine.
“Mrs. Hunter,” she corrected stiffly.
”Running around with married women now, are you, Craig?” Sean drawled lazily as he cocked an eyebrow at the other man.
“Not exactly,” he laughed.
“As it seems we’ve been forgotten, I’m Felicia Everest.” The dark-haired woman
smiled coolly at Valerie, and Valerie noticed the wide gold band on the other woman’s
hand.
“Mrs. Hunter, would you care to dance?”
Valerie’s head snapped upward at the icy tones. “I don’t know,” she said faintly,
knowing that the last thing she wanted was to have him touch her.
Ignoring her protest, he clasped her wrist with a steel hand, leading her to the
dance floor. Valerie groaned inwardly as the band began to play a softly sensuous love
song. She shrank away from him as she felt his muscular thighs burn through the thin
material of her dress. Her nose detected the faint aroma of a woodsy cologne mixed
with cigarettes and his clean male smell, bringing back so many painful memories.
“You’ve done quite well for yourself, Mrs. Hunter.” Sean’s icy voice flayed her
already bruised nerves. His fingers dug cruelly into her waist, but she didn’t show her
pain by so much as a flickering eyelid.
Valerie kept her eyes on the front of his ruffled shirt, her body moving sinuously
with his as they had done years before. When the music stopped, he checked her
retreat by gripping her wrist tightly. “Thank you for the dance, Mrs. Hunter,” he said
coldly, his features devoid of expression. “I’m sure we’ll meet again.” The tone held a
threat, causing her to back away in fright as he released her arm.
Holding back the violent tears that threatened to fall, Valerie fled through the open doors, not stopping until she reached a far dark corner of the garden. Breathing deeply, she stared unseeingly ahead in order to calm her frazzled nerves. A few moments later, she turned as she heard footsteps behind her. Before she could speak, a pair of hands grabbed her arms in a rough grip as her mouth was imprisoned by a pair of lips ruthlessly parting hers. She struggled in the embrace, tears streaming down her face as
her mouth was bruised by punishing kisses.
She was suddenly released and the figure disappeared silently into the darkness.
Fighting the rising nausea, Valerie stumbled to a side door near the powder room.
Relieved to find it empty, she dropped to a pink velvet stool before the large lighted
mirror, letting the tears flow unchecked. When she felt calmer, she repaired her eye
makeup and lipstick before venturing outside. She held her breath as she looked around
for Sean and felt relieved not to see him anywhere.
“There you are.” Craig approached her, a warm smile on his face. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“I—uh—I wanted to repair my makeup,” she replied weakly.
“Do you feel all right? You look pale.” He appeared concerned.
“No, I’m fine.”
Valerie managed to get through the evening with an artificial smile on her strained face, and she drank more wine than was good for her. She was grateful when Craig suggested leaving.
“I told you the party would be fun,” he told her, not noticing her strained features.
“I’m glad you were able to meet Sean. He’s a great person.”
No, he isn’t a great person! Valerie’s nerves screamed out. He’s cruel and unfeeling!
When they reached the apartment house, she pleaded a headache, slipping out of
the car and leaving behind a disappointed Craig.
“I’ll see you Monday, Craig.” She smiled, desiring only the solitude of her room.
Once inside the apartment, Valerie’s face reflected the pain she felt. Moving quietly, she stopped first in the small room where her son slept. She carefully arranged the covers over his shoulders before tiptoeing out.
Valerie was grateful that Shelly was already asleep so she wouldn’t have to endure
any questions about the party. Once inside the bedroom they shared, she slipped off
her dress, letting it fall to the floor in a careless heap. Reaching behind her neck, she
was dismayed to find her jade pendant missing. She looked around the floor and, not
seeing it, decided that the slender chain must have snapped during the struggle. She
felt tears pricking at the back of her eyes.
She quickly pulled the pins out of her hair before she crawled into bed. Curled into a tight ball, she fought the mounting tears as her mind wandered back to that time four years before…that time when Sean Hunter entered her life.

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