Borrowed Promises by Judith Ingram by Judith Ingram - Read Online

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Book II in Moonseed Trilogy
Sequel to Bridge to the Past

On the night of the new spring moon, a near-fatal accident propelled Victoria Reeves-Ashton over a century back in time to awaken in the body of Katherine Kamarov. Now, after three months of pretending to be Katherine and laboring to repair relationships damaged by Katherine's brash and selfish personality, quiet and gentle Victoria finds that her heart is putting down roots in Katherine's world, in her family relationships, and especially in a deepening friendship with Katherine's winsome cousin Michael.
Hidden letters reveal the story of other moonseed—time travelers like herself—and Victoria realizes that she and Katherine will likely be returned to their own times the following spring. Tension mounts when a rich and handsome suitor applies to marry her, and Victoria must choose whether to accept him for Katherine's sake or to follow her own heart.
Ryan Ashton, the husband Victoria left behind, is baffled by the woman his wife has suddenly become. Unwilling to believe her story about an exchange in time, Ryan struggles to understand the stark transformation of his timid, remote wife into a sexually aggressive and captivating siren. Against his better judgment, he falls hard for this new woman who is a perplexing mixture of cruelty, sensuality, and tenderness, a woman who he suspects has the power to either break his heart or heal the aching loneliness he has lived with all his life.

Published: vinspirepublishing on
ISBN: 9781310974014
List price: $2.99
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Borrowed Promises - Judith Ingram

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Page 1 of 1

Anne

Part Three

SUMMER

Katherine

Chapter One

Stephanie Ashton squinted against the painful glitter of June sun glancing off the crinkled surface of the Pacific Ocean. As the plane arched a wide circle for its descent into Oakland Airport, her tiny window panned like a camera lens over the San Francisco Bay Area. Her heart leaped as she spotted the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Mount Diablo sprawled like a sleeping giant among the East Bay hills, solid and familiar.

She didn't dare tell her mother, but Stephanie loved the Bay Area. It's where she would have grown up if her parents hadn't divorced. Where she should have grown up. San Francisco was beautiful, nothing like New York with its dirty streets and dark buildings, where you either had to travel in packs or stay home. She hated New York, hated the triple locks on their apartment door and the chilling way people looked right through you on the street. Hated the dazzling nightlife that teased her mother away from her most evenings.

I guess that'll change, she thought, now that Mom's married to that creep.

Chin in hand, Stephanie stared moodily at the gray asphalt rising rapidly to meet her plane as the engines climbed to a deafening pitch. Clifford Baines bothered her. From the first, there was something about him that Stephanie didn't trust. It made her feel weird sometimes when he looked at her, the way his eyes smiled at her like they shared some kind of secret.

She had tried to warn her mother about him, to make her understand that something wasn't right.

But who listened to a twelve-year-old?

Stephanie settled back against the leather of her first-class seat and closed her eyes, waiting for the jolt of wheels touching ground. It was time to stop thinking about Clifford Baines and the wedding and watching her mother's plane take off for Europe. In a few minutes she'd be with her father. And Vicki.

Stephanie groaned. Why couldn't it just be the two of them, like all the other times? She loved being with her father—cooking for him, showing him new stuff on the Internet, performing her latest ice-skating routine with him watching. She'd missed spending last summer with him, but her mother said it would be selfish to intrude on the honeymooners. So she'd spent a hot, boring summer in New York. It was nothing like the summers she spent with her father. Here they rode bikes together in Golden Gate Park, ate fresh crab on the wharf, and took the boat out to Angel Island for picnics. They'd been to dog shows and circuses at the Cow Palace, and sometimes he'd shown her the new buildings and renovations he was working on. She smiled to herself, recalling the pride in his voice when he introduced her to his colleagues and the comfort of his arm around her shoulders.

Then he had to go and marry Miss Perfect USA.

Stephanie hadn't met Vicki yet, but she would have recognized her anywhere. In the strictest secrecy, she collected photos from glamour magazines and Prescott's catalogs and pored over them, memorizing her beautiful face and trying to imagine what her father must see when he looked at her. When he'd sent her photos of his wedding, Stephanie hid them, knowing the sight of them would only make her mother angry. She also hid that People magazine with its shot of Vicki and her father at the airport just before they took off for their honeymoon in the Bahamas. "Retail princess marries her prince." It was a terrible photo of her father. But Vicki looked great.

Stephanie reluctantly opened her eyes as the plane rolled neatly up to the terminal gate and stopped. The man next to her was already out of his seat, blocking the aisle as he opened the overhead compartment and struggled to remove his carry-on case. With a sigh, Stephanie dragged her backpack from under the seat in front of her and adjusted the scrunchie holding her long black ponytail.

Uh, sir? She cleared her throat and smiled politely at the man. He had slept for most of their flight, after three drinks at lunch, and embarrassed her with his snoring. Can you get my skating bag down for me, please? She scooted into the aisle beside him and pointed into the overhead. Right there. The red one.

Can't reach it, huh? Chuckling at his own joke, the man reached for her bag and swung it down. There you go, short stuff.

Thanks, she snapped, straightening to all of her four-foot-eleven-inch height. Asshole, she added silently. She clutched her skating bag to her chest and waited, unable to budge as other passengers jammed into the aisle, thrusting arms into coats and collecting bags and children. Eventually they began to move, funneling through a sterile corridor that spilled them into the terminal. At the sight of eager faces waiting beyond the check stations, Stephanie's feet slowed, and she shifted her backpack uneasily.

Well, here goes nothing, she muttered.

* * *

She spotted her father right away. He was easily the best-looking man in the crowd.

Dad! Stephanie dropped her bag and flung her arms around him, hugging him fiercely to keep herself from crying. His jacket was soft under her cheek and smelled faintly of him.

Hey, Stephanannie. His pet name for her made her laugh and look up into his face. His warm hazel eyes held a smile of welcome, but she noticed new lines and dark circles that hadn't been there before. He's tired, she thought suddenly. Then, fiercely, He needs someone to take care of him.

Her father kept an arm around her shoulders as he picked up her bag and led her toward the windows. Come on, Steph. There's someone I want you to meet.

Oh, goodie. Stephanie's smile tipped into a scowl, and she looped a possessive arm around her father's waist as they approached a tall woman standing by herself, watching them.

She wasn't nearly as beautiful as her pictures, Stephanie instantly decided. Not that she wasn't pretty. Her complexion was flawless, and the green eyes were dramatic. But her trademark blond mane was pulled into an ugly knot at the back of her head, her tailored suit was expensive but plain, and her makeup was minimal—just a touch of color on her cheeks and lips, a faint mist of shadow highlighting her eyes.

Then the woman smiled. It was the same dazzling smile Stephanie had seen in photos, but so unexpectedly lovely it trapped her breath in her throat and sent a curious, sharp pain right through her chest.

Hello, Stephanie. I'm Vicki. Her soft voice had a husky edge to it. Stephanie looked up into steady eyes that were coolly appraising her. She swallowed over twin lumps of awe and resentment.

Hello. Stephanie pretended not to see the woman's extended hand and turned to her father. Are we taking the BART train home, Dad? In the tube under the bay?

He laughed and yanked gently on her ponytail. Of course. But don't you think we should pick up your luggage first?

Oh, yeah. Eagerly, she turned her back on Vicki and started to pull at her father's arm. But he annoyed her by dropping back and placing a light hand on Vicki's back and urging her forward with him, making them a threesome.

Stephanie glanced up to find herself still caught in that cool green gaze. She fixed her face with her nastiest New York scowl and moved ahead of them, deciding that three was definitely not her favorite number.

* * *

Nearly two hours elapsed before the yellow cab pulled up to their apartment building. Ryan smiled and nudged Stephanie, whose head had lolled onto his shoulder as the long day caught up with her.

Hey, Stephanannie. We're home. His daughter lifted her head and looked around with bleary eyes, her cheeks rosy with sleep. Just like when she was little, Ryan thought. The memory twisted a sweet pain in his chest.

His daughter caught sight of Vicki sitting in the front passenger seat. She snapped herself straight, scrubbed her cheeks, and combed her fingers through her ponytail. In a sudden burst of energy, she jerked open the cab door.

I'll help you with the bags, Dad! She bounced out of the cab and twirled impatiently on one foot while Ryan untangled his cramped legs and climbed out after her. The cabby helped Vicki out before he opened the trunk and deposited Stephanie's two suitcases and skating bag on the sidewalk. He accepted his fare and a generous tip from Ryan and touched his cap at Stephanie.

Hope you enjoy your stay in 'Frisco, miss.

Stephanie dimpled at him but then swept a quick arm over her suitcases. No, Vicki, don't! Dad and I will get them.

She struggled to pick up the heaviest case, and Ryan laughed, taking the handle out of her hand.

Hey, tiger. Why don't you let me get these? I need the exercise. You take your skating bag.

Okay. She shifted her backpack, grabbed up the red bag, and leaped up the steps to the apartment lobby.

When the elevator doors slid open on the seventh floor, Stephanie leaped out. I've got it, she said as Vicki began to pull out her keys. Stephanie marched up to the apartment door and, with an air of dignified competence, slid her own key into the lock.

But the two adults nearly ran into her as she stopped dead just inside the door, mouth open and staring.

Ryan glanced over her head and thought back to the last time she had seen his apartment. In an instant he saw how different it must appear to her. He had always been comfortable with an airy white simplicity, but Vicki had been adding her own touches, especially in the last few months. In that moment he realized that he liked the changes: the flowered rug spread over the white tiles behind the sofa, the plump, colorful pillows, the vigorous little herb garden spilling over the kitchen windowsill. Visible beyond the balcony doors, a neat procession of yellow roses softened the black iron railing. Vicki had gathered some of the roses into a ceramic vase that now sat comfortably on the kitchen counter between a spice rack and a pair of goldfish darting around each other in a small glass bowl.

Stephanie turned to her father. "Am I in the right place? Do you actually live here? She cast a sudden, suspicious eye at Vicki. You didn't mess with my room, did you?" Without waiting for a reply, she took off at a run down the hall.

Ryan barely had time to set down the suitcases and shut the front door before his daughter reappeared, holding a small vase of roses out in front of her, stiff-armed, as if their petals were poisonous.

I don't like flowers in my room, she announced. Ryan glanced uneasily at his wife, who stood, tight-lipped, watching his daughter dump the flowers into the kitchen sink.

She's never been one for flowers, he said lightly. Then, as his daughter reapproached, But it was a thoughtful gesture and deserves a thank-you. Right, Stephanie? He eyed her pointedly.

Yeah. Thanks. Stephanie's glance barely grazed the silent woman's chin. She picked up her skating bag and headed down the hall without looking back.

Narrowed eyes watched her, glittering like emerald ice.

Ryan cleared his throat. Give her time. She'll come around. His wife flicked him a look before she turned her back on him and headed for the kitchen.

Loud, angry music pounded from down the hall.

Ryan winced at the offending noise and glanced toward the kitchen. Muttering an oath, he grabbed up the two suitcases and marched them down the hall to his daughter's room.

* * *

Stephanie wandered alone around the apartment. Vicki was shopping with her friend Lisa and wouldn't be back until the afternoon. Lisa was nice, Stephanie decided. It was too bad her father hadn't married her instead of Vicki. In the two weeks since Stephanie's arrival, Vicki had made little attempt to be friendly. She just stood back and watched with those cool green eyes of hers—watched Stephanie and her father, watched them together, like she was jealous or something.

Her cooking was awful. Her father seemed to like it, but Vicki used too many spices and herbs. Like that stew last night. Stephanie actually saw her snipping off some of the weeds on the windowsill and adding them to the stew pot. They made it taste gross, but Stephanie managed to choke it down to please her father.

That was another thing—her father. He acted too polite and careful around Vicki, not relaxed and joking like he usually was. He sometimes came home late and missed dinner with them, and he spent every night in his den working on the computer. They hardly touched each other in front of her. Stephanie had stayed with them four nights before she realized her father was sleeping on the couch in his den.

That was stupid. Why did they get married if he couldn't even sleep in his own bed?

Stephanie stepped out onto the balcony, shielding her eyes with her hand against the dazzling sunlight. She squeezed into the only spot of railing not crowded with planter boxes full of roses and looked out. Summer haze misted the distant blue bay and softened the edges of the buildings that swarmed up the hilly streets. Stephanie drew a deep breath, testing for a trace of sea air. But all she could smell were Vicki's roses.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust and glared at the offending blossoms, yellow with orange edges. What was it with Vicki and roses, anyway?

Heat pricked moisture from her skin, and Stephanie returned to the cool interior of the apartment. She flopped onto the sofa, bored and miserable. Her father had promised to get off work early today and take her to the ice rink. She'd been trying to stay in shape with in-line skating, but the hilly streets were a pain. She couldn't wait to get back on the ice.

Restless, she wandered down the hall, into her father's study and then into the bedroom he was supposed to be sharing with Vicki. She trailed a hand over the satin bedspread and, with a casual glance over her shoulder, opened the nightstand drawer and gently pawed through its contents. The room smelled like ginger spice, the perfume Vicki always wore.

What was it with Vicki and spices?

Her snooping led her to a polished wood jewelry box on Vicki's vanity table. Stephanie pulled out a diamond earring that looked real and dangled it against her earlobe, observing the effect in the mirror.

Our coloring is wrong for diamonds, baby. She heard Gina's voice even as her mother's black eyes stared back at her from her own reflection. Rubies, sapphires, ebony. Leave the diamonds and pearls for the washed-out blonds of this world. We were made for drama.

Well, her mother, maybe. Even though she was petite and dark like her mother, Stephanie had never really resembled her. Gina commanded attention wherever she went, dressing outrageously, always fluttering excitedly like a bright-winged tropical bird.

Next to her mother, Stephanie felt like a dowdy hen. And a flat-chested one at that.

Her gaze dropped to a wedding photo framed in silver. She hated to admit that Vicki and her father made a really beautiful couple. He'd sent her a copy of this picture, but Stephanie never put it into a frame. It was jammed in with the magazine clippings and her copy of People in a large envelope stuffed under her sweaters in the bottom drawer of her dresser. Her mother didn't know about the envelope.

Stephanie's hand froze halfway to putting the earring back in its box. I wonder, she thought, and a delicious chill ran up her spine. Hastily she replaced the earring. Then she crossed the room to the tall chest of drawers. Heart thumping, she knelt on the carpet and tugged open the deep bottom drawer.

It was just as she thought—stacks of wool sweaters, scarves, a blanket. Is that what everybody kept in their bottom drawers?

Stephanie slipped her hand under the stacks and rummaged carefully. The left side was disappointing. But the right side…

She pulled out a book with a red cover, stained and faded. The book gave off the musty smell of something very old.

Her fingers traced letters embossed in the lower corner: Katherine A. Rostnova.

Stephanie shut the drawer, shifted to sitting position, and opened the book on her lap. Its pages were yellow and covered with writing and dates. Somebody's diary, then, with babyish handwriting done in black spattering ink. Must be some little kid named Katherine.

She flipped through the pages, noticing how the black scrawl matured into long sloping characters. The book naturally fell open to a page about two-thirds through, where the sloping script continued but in blue ballpoint.

Stephanie turned back to the first page and began to read.

* * *

By the time Stephanie arrived at the rink, dozens of skaters had already marred the smooth ice surface. At the far end of the rink, orange cones secured an instruction area for beginners teetering on their brown rented skates. A gaggle of young girls clustered along the wall, clinging to each other and squealing as their skates scissored out from under them. Pop music blared and stuttered from a sound system that definitely needed repair.

Stephanie hit the ice fast and plotted a quick course through the casual skaters, reveling in the rush of cold air against her face. She turned and glided backward for a while, thankful she'd gotten her blades sharpened just before her trip. Her Harlick skates fitted her feet perfectly—her father's Christmas gift.

She glanced over at the bleachers as she whirled around the curve of the rink, trying to catch her father's attention and wave, but he was concentrating on his laptop, punching at the keyboard. Stephanie sighed. He'd been late picking her up, which was why the ice was so marred and the crowd of skaters so thick. It was almost dinnertime.

She raised her arms and executed a series of simple waltz steps, regretting that there wasn't space to practice her latest routine. She'd been working on a double axle but still couldn't land it. Give it time, her coach had urged her, but Stephanie felt impatient. She wanted her father to see her do it before she had to go back home.

She glanced at the bleachers again, prepared to wave, but her father's seat was empty. Gliding up to the wall, she scanned the lobby where observers sat with their Cokes and snacks and watched the skaters through wide glass windows. She spotted him with his back to her, his head bent, his cell phone pressed to his ear.

Blind with anger, Stephanie shoved off the wall and lunged low over the ice, working up to a speed she knew was dangerous for the crowded rink. She dodged skaters, betting on her quick reflexes, when a teenaged boy appeared out of nowhere, and they met head-on.

The crash sent them both sprawling.

For a moment Stephanie lay stunned. Ice burned her cheek, and she struggled to sit up. As pain registered in her knees, she saw gaping holes in her white tights and bloody ice splinters sticking out of her scraped flesh. She whimpered, and her eyes filled with tears of raw pain and humiliation.

Hey, where's the fire? The teenager was struggling to his feet, his face red with fury. You think you own the rink? He stopped when he saw her tears and the blood running stains into her ripped tights.

His expression softened, and he extended his hand. Here. Think you can stand up?

Mortified, Stephanie considered ignoring the offer of help. But the ice was freezing under her thighs, and she wasn't sure she could stand by herself.

Thanks, she mumbled, grabbing his hand and grimacing as she straightened her knees. As he helped her off the ice, she noticed that he favored his left leg.

You're hurt! Fresh tears of remorse brimmed her eyes. I'm sorry. That was really stupid, what I did out there.

Yeah, you're right. It was stupid. She glanced up at him, and he grinned at her. He stood at least a head taller than she, and his eyes sparkled a deep sapphire blue. Stephanie became conscious of her bloody, disheveled appearance, and a clammy wave flushed through her body as she limped into the lobby.

Stephanie! Her father rushed toward her, pocketing his phone. What happened to you? He glanced at the boy supporting his daughter's elbow.

I'm okay, Dad. It was my own fault. Stephanie lowered herself onto a bench and bent to examine the damage. The blood had stopped running, and she winced as she imagined what it would take to clean the wounds.

Her father bent over her. I'll find something to put on those cuts. He touched her cheek before moving off.

Stephanie glanced around for the boy. He was on the bench behind her, unlacing his skates and pulling them off.

Are you okay? she asked shyly.

Oh, yeah. I was ready to leave, anyway. He gestured at her knees. Looks like you got the worst of it. He wiped the blades of his skates with a towel and stood up. "You know, there are safer ways to get your dad's attention—Stephanie."

He grinned as her mouth dropped open. Before she could say a word, he slung the skates over his shoulder and padded away on stockinged feet.

* * *

Stephanie lay on her bed and hoped the music blaring from her stereo would keep