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The Perfect Stranger-THE PERFECT STRANGER-

By Rosalyn Alsobrook

St. Martin's Press, 7-96
ISBN: 0-312-95875-7
.Excerpt from Chapter One
Nicolle's curiosity was interrupted when another car pulled into the long, narrow, fir-lined drive, headed for the inn. She watched while a sleek, black Lexus pulled to a crunching halt out front. Seconds later, the tinted window slid down to reveal the driver.

No!

Nicolle's heart dropped to the very pit of her stomach when she saw who leaned out and called to Jimmy--hidden somewhere between the car and the front door.

No, not Willett Porterfield! Not here. Not now.

She stared at the familiar face in utter, miserable disbelief. Willett was one of the men she'd come there to escape. Her two week vacation at the Seascape Inn was ruined.

Her chest suddenly constricted, as if someone had wrapped mighty arms around her and now squeezed the very breath out of her. Willett following her there was positively the last straw. She had to get rid of him. Now. Before he had a chance to check in. She couldn't let him ruin her vacation. She couldn't let him drive her away from the one place that could let her think.

Her earlier calm shattered, she headed immediately for the hall. Feeling angry and betrayed by the one person she'd thought could keep her secret, she jerked the door open. How could Jacque do this to her? How could her loyal secretary tell Willett where she'd gone. She'd promised not to! She'd said there was nothing Willett could do to her that would make her tell him about Seascape. Nothing. Besides, Willett was over an entirely different department. He had no power over Jacque at all.

Nicolle's heart sank further at that last thought. Her father was the only other person who had any real authority over her secretary. He had to have played a part in this. Probably threatened Jacque's job. That was the only explanation that made sense. Willett had conned her father into helping him find out where she'd gone. Her father wouldn't know he was wrecking her entire vacation by getting Willett that information. Even though she'd told him she wanted some time alone, he wouldn't think that meant time alone without Willett. After all, he thought they loved each other.

But Willett knew different. Why couldn't he just leave her alone like she asked? Why couldn't he give her the time she so desperately needed to think? So she could find some way to make him be the one to break it off?

Well, Willett wasn't going to get away with it. Not after all the trouble she'd gone through to get away from him. This was her vacation and her vacation spot. She'd needed it, and she would have it. Without Willett.

Angrier by the second, Nicolle marched through the door, resolved to tell Willett James Porterfield to turn right around and go right on back to Dallas--for what little good it would do. Willett never listened to anyone but her father. Which was partly why her father was so carefully grooming him for the presidency--and another reason for her not to marry him.

Once inside the hall, Nicolle glanced back and caught sight of a man about her age, maybe a year or so older, fumbling with the lock on a door at the far end of the hall. He was an attractive, well-built man, wearing a comfortable looking pair of dark-tan shorts and a beige summer shirt. Two large suitcases, a laptop case much like her own, and various other items lay scattered across the floor behind him.

Upon seeing the handsome stranger, Nicolle was struck with the perfect solution. Acting as much on impulse as instinct, she rushed back into her room, yanked her purse out from under her pillow, snatched a hundred dollar bill out of it, then returned to the hall. By then, the man and his belongings were inside his room.

With fists swinging stiffly at her sides, Nicolle marched toward the still open door. Not thinking to knock, he went straight to where he'd just set his laptop computer on a small desk facing a window, and slammed the money down in front of him.

"I'll give you one-hundred dollars to go downstairs with me for the next few minutes and pretend to be my lover."

Jerking his head up, the man glanced first at the open door then at her. He raked a hand through his thick brown hair as he took a cautious step away from her.

"Who are you?"

"Someone in dire need," is all she had time to tell him. Willett would be at the desk signing that register any moment. She could not let that happen.

"In need of what? That is in addition to a few manners." He glanced again at the open door then at her. Nicolle knew she should apologize for having barged in like that but, at the moment, she didn't have time. "In need of a lover," she reminded him. When his dark eyebrows arch higher, she stifled a groan and added, "I mean, I need someone to pretend to be my lover. I don't have time to explain, but that money is yours if you'll just go with me downstairs and pretend to adore me for the next several minutes." Sensing an understandable reluctance, she took a breath then quietly added, "Please."

His pale blue gaze raked over her while he considered the odd proposal. "Why?"

"I'll explain later. Just, please, say you'll do it." She bit the corner of her lower lip and gazed at him hopefully. "Please?"

His forehead notched, then smoothed again as a reluctant smile tugged at his wide, firm mouth, forming long curved dimples in his lean, tanned cheeks. "Sure, why not? Anything for a damsel in distress."

Nicolle noticed how deep his dimples were, deep and sexy. The kind that made a woman want to reach out and touch them.

Perfect.

Returning that smile, she gestured for him to follow her. They had no time to waste.

Tall, manly, and drop-dead gorgeous. Those attributes would not only help Willett believe the man really was who she was about to say he was, but also would help her make Willett would rue the day he ever decided to ignore her request and track her there.

"What exactly do you want me to do?" He paused long enough to close his door and lock it.

"Just follow my lead," she answered, already headed for the stairs. "All you need to know for now is that my name is Nicolle Stone--Nicki to my closest friends--and we've been meeting in little out of the way places like Seascape for years."

"As lovers," he added, being sure he had that part straight.

"Yes, as lovers." She paused at the top of the stairs to let him catch up with her so they could go down together. "And your name is?"

"Joel Brannon."

"Joel," she repeated. Committing the name to memory, she narrowed her eyes with renewed determination. "Are you ready to face the enemy, Joel?"

"Enemy?" he repeated, then leaned down to try to get an early glimpse of the floor below.

"Yes, there's someone down there I want you to help me get rid of. Someone who has no right to be here. As soon as he's left, you'll be free to go on back upstairs and finish doing whatever it was you were doing. Are you ready?"

"I am if you are." He shrugged, then added with a wry wink, "Girl of my dreams."

Despite the anger boiling inside her, she chuckled, liking his attitude--but she didn't have time at that moment to tell him so. "Then let's go."

As they started down the stairs that descended first behind then beside the desk, Joel slipped a supportive arm around her shoulders, gently pulling her to him. When Nicolle drew in a deep breath to steady her nerves, she noticed the light scent of his cologne. She wasn't sure what brand it was, never having been good at distinguishing such things, but she definitely liked it. It was the sort of cologne that made a woman want to close her eyes and enjoy. And if she'd had the time, and more of an inclination, she probably would have done just that.

"Might as well make it look good," he explained in a playful voice that fell softly against her ear.

Her cheek tingled from the unexpected warmth, making her even more aware of him. Thinking it all a result of her acute reaction to Willett's unwanted presence, she fought the perplexing leap forward of her already racing pulses and continued down the stairs, barely noticing that the crooked picture from before was now straight.

"See that guy there?" she said in a hushed voice. They had descended a little beyond the halfway landing. "The one just coming in the door?"

He bent closer, allowing her another clear whiff of that ambiguous but definitely manly cologne.

"The prep in the power suit?"

"Yes. His name is Willett. He's the one who has no business being here. I want him gone. I won't be able to think with him here."

Joel studied him a moment then grinned. "He certainly looks a like a Willett." He tugged her closer still.

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Quotes:

"Take a slightly haunted New England inn, add a woman on the run and a man seeking solitude, mix in a white lie and a black negligee---. In THE PERFECT STRANGER, Rosalyn Alsobrook has masterfully blended the ingredients for a delightful romantic romp...If you like your romance seasoned with humor and high spirits, THE PERFECT STRANGER is the perfect treat!" 1/96.
. ---Judith Arnold, bestselling author of CRY UNCLE.

"THE PERFECT STRANGER is an appetizingly frothy romantic comedy that has the power to lighten up even the darkest mood...Rosalyn Alsobrook keeps to the spirit of the "Seascape" series even as she leaves her own glorious mark on it. Her novel is a brilliant triumph and perfect counterpoint to Victoria Barrett's more intense, dramatic "Seascape" tales." 1/96.
. ---Harriet Klausner, reviewer, Affair de Coeur.

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