"Goodnight, Princess, don't forget me."
Whispered words. His hushed, smoky voice swirled in Temple Banning's head as she awakened one morning to totally unfamiliar surroundings. It was the most sumptuous hotel suite she'd ever seen, but she had no idea how she got there. Or who the man was.
She was lying in a canopy bed, surrounded by chantilly lace and fresh-cut flowers. There was a magnum of champagne in a silver urn next to the bed and a room-service cart, covered in white linen and set with fine china. Silver bowls and tiered trays were laden with sweets, lump caviar and other exotic tidbits. Two crystal flutes of champagne sat untouched, the bubbles now gone flat.
Temple would have thought she was dreaming, except that her dreams had never been this good. This was too lavish. Too perfect.
She sat up carefully, not wanting to disturb anything, including the rose petals fluttering on the bed like blushing butterflies. A lilac-sprigged coverlet concealed her from the waist down, but not the bodice of her white plisse nightgown, or the delicate straps that had drifted down her arms.
Her breathing quickened. Panic gripped her as she searched her memory, and visually scanned the room, but still had no idea what she was doing there. The last thing she remembered was the nightly routine of going to bed in the apartment that had been provided by the company when they brought her out here. It was March fifth, another dateless Friday evening. And now, according to the digital display on the suite's clock radio, the next morning.
The suite was quiet. Temple decided to find out if she was alone, but as she drew back the coverlet, she saw the diamond on her finger. Surrounded by sapphires in the antique white-gold setting, the marquise-cut stone was stunning, exactly the sort of thing she would have picked out for herself.
"Donald?" No one answered when she called out the name of her former fiancĂ©e. For a moment she wondered if she'd suffered some kind of lapse and let herself be talked into marrying him, simply because he wanted that so badly.
What was going on here?
Temple was an expert at putting people first. Until recently it had been a way of life. But on her last birthday, she'd turned thirty--and made some difficult choices. She'd said no to Donald, very gently, and yes to the dream job that had brought her out here to Ventura, California.
If she was in Ventura. Beyond the bedroom, tucked away in a daydreamer's alcove, there was a sitting room with wraparound window seats, rich cherrywood surfaces and Tiffany lamps. She could see gardens beyond, lush with pink foxglove, climbing roses, a wisteria-draped arbor. All lovely, but none of it familiar.
Temple drew on a matching plisse robe for a look around. This was not her lingerie. She'd never seen it before, but it felt like cool air flowing against her skin. So did the matching mules she slipped on her feet. They made her feel light and floaty as she walked across the room. It was almost as if she'd had a dizzy spell and couldn't catch her balance.
The empire wedding dress draped over an antique settee wasn't at all familiar. Nor was the bridal bouquet of lilies and snowdrops or the lacy blue garter. She picked up a veil, and a cloud of In Love Again filled the air. It was her favorite perfume.
But none of those things commanded her attention like the piece of paper lying on the occasional table. It was a marriage license with her name at the top and her signature at the bottom. His name was there too, in bold print, Michael St. Gerard. But it was no more familiar than the room or the wedding ensemble. She didn't know this man.
Don't forget me. That voice. Those words. How could she forget someone she'd never met?
What she did remember, as if it were a dream, was the shadow touch of a man's hands, the lightning touch of his lips. She remembered heart beats pattering like rain, the sweet riot of surprise . . .
Temple had barely settled the veil on her tousled auburn tresses when she encountered herself in the mirror. She looked a little tipsy, her eyes dark and tenderly questing for something, her mouth lush, surprised, and just the tiniest bit slack. One curly tendril of hair had caught in her eyelashes. Another had attached itself to the dampness of her throat. She didn't wear her hair this way, long and curly. She usually pinned it up. Even the color in her face was high.
She could have been one of those women who'd drunk too much and found herself in a lonely motel one morning with some man she hardly knew, married on a dare. Only she wasn't in a motel. This was a luxurious honeymoon suite, and there was no man in evidence.
She began to laugh it was all so bewildering. She couldn't imagine who would play such an elaborate practical joke on her, even Denny Paxton, her arch-competitor at the ad agency. She hadn't been in California two months, and she didn't know anybody well enough for that. But what else could it be?
* * * * *
"Good morning, Mrs. St. Gerard." A feminine voice chirped softly in Temple's ear as she picked up the phone in the suite. Temple had swooped the moment it rang, hoping it would be someone who could tell her what was going on. The phone was one of those antique French hand sets. Temple had to hold it at both ends to get the mouthpiece lined up, but the woman didn't wait for her anyway.
"This is the concierge," she said over Temple's half-hearted attempt to explain that she wasn't Mrs. Anyone.
"Are you enjoying your stay so far?" she asked. "Is there anything you'd like this morning? Your husband asked us to check."
"Yes, he's terribly sorry he was called away so abruptly. It was the middle of the night, and he didn't want to wake you. He said there an emergency in the overseas operation that could take a few days to clear up. But he wanted us to make sure you had whatever you needed. Can we send up some breakfast, Mrs. St. Gerard? Our warm raisin brioche is delicious. Coffee? Fresh champagne?"
This was not the call Temple had been hoping for.
"No thank you," she said. "Nothing." The phone was already halfway to the cradle, and she was more than halfway to being completely confused. "Wait!" she cried. "The man, did you see him leave?"
"Yes, Donald, my . . . husband. He's 5'10", medium build, brown hair and silver wire-rim glasses."
"Donald? I thought his name was Michael." The clerk laughed merrily. "No, I didn't see him. I'm the day person, but I can tell you one thing, Mrs. St. Gerard . . . whatever his name might be, you're a very lucky woman."
Now Temple did hang up the phone. Her confusion was complete.
* * * * *