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Kate Hoffmann, Jacqueline Diamond, Jill Shalvis

Paris or Bust!

© 2003

ROMANCING ROXANNE? by Kate Hoffmann

PROLOGUE

There is only one person I know who deserves to be named “Mother of the Year” and that’s my sister, Roxanne Perry. When we were little girls, Roxanne used to dream about getting married and having a large, happy family. We’d dress ourselves in toilet paper veils and make bouquets out of plastic flowers and whisper about the handsome men we’d marry. Roxanne found her Prince Charming and they had four beautiful children together. But fairy tales don’t always have happy endings, and a few years ago, Roxanne was forced to wake up and recognize that the man she married had turned from a prince to a big, fat, warty toad.

Though her husband walked away from their marriage and their family, Roxanne ignored her own pain and did everything in her power to help her children adjust. It was hard at first, but she’s always maintained a positive attitude. Every day, she wakes up with a smile on her face, her only thought for her children’s happiness. She’s brave and resilient, patient and loving, and the best sister a girl could ever have. But beyond that, she’s the best mother I know. And if I could be half the mother she is, then I know my children would grow up happy and healthy.

If Roxanne knew I was nominating her for this contest, she would be embarrassed. She believes that simply loving her children is its own reward. But I want her to know that the difficult path she’s walking in life is important and it does count for something. I want everyone to know that Roxanne Perry is the very best mother I know.

CHAPTER ONE

CARL LAWRENCE reread the copy of the letter once more, then glanced at the photo of Roxanne Perry and her family. The publicity department at Family Voyager magazine had contacted WBAM, hoping that Carl’s radio station would provide some additional media coverage for their contest, possibly an interview with Roxanne on Carl’s afternoon show, Baltimore At Home. At first, Carl hadn’t been interested. But then his promotions manager had called Roxanne’s sister, Renee, and she’d provided more background, including the photo.

Roxanne Perry was a beautiful young woman, Carl mused. Dark-haired and slender, with a pretty smile and lively eyes. He tossed the picture on his desk and leaned back in his chair. She was exactly the kind of girl he’d always hoped his son, Kit, might one day marry, a woman who could make Kit happy for a lifetime. A woman who would provide Carl with a gaggle of grandchildren to occupy his retirement years. Instead, he spent his days as general manager of Baltimore’s WBAM, Talk Radio 1010, a job he’d returned to after his wife had died.

Grandchildren wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility if Kit would just start to take his relationships with women a bit more seriously, Carl thought. But, the women he chose to date were icy beauties who had no interest in a future raising children and keeping a house. In truth, Kit paid more attention to Carl’s sporadic social life than he did to his own, determined to keep Carl’s widower status and family stock portfolio intact.

Carl reached across his desk and picked up a framed photo of his wife. She’d died ten years ago, but there were times when it seemed as if it were just yesterday. “I want him to be happy,” he murmured. “I want him to have a real life. And damn it, I want grandchildren.”

Kit had been such a sweet and caring kid, a boy who used to bring home hurt birds and stray cats, who used to cry inconsolably when his goldfish died. A boy with a soft heart and a big smile. Now, all he cared about was his next deal. Kit measured his success in terms of dollars and cents.

“You would have made a much better match-maker, Louise,” Carl said, setting the picture back in its spot. He grabbed the photo of Roxanne Perry and shoved it back into the file folder. And in that instant, an idea hit him. More than an idea, a plan! If Kit wasn’t going to find a wife for himself, then Carl would have to take on the responsibility. But he’d have to go about it in a very careful way. If Kit suspected he was being set up, the plan would be doomed to failure.

Carl smiled. “Grandchildren,” he murmured. “If I’m going to get grandchildren, I’ve got to find the right daughter-in-law.” And he knew exactly where to start.

He grabbed a pad of paper and scribbled Kit’s name on the left side and Roxanne Perry’s on the right. First, he’d have to find a way to put them together, a way for them to meet on neutral ground. He glanced at the photo. She was an attractive woman and Kit would see that immediately. But Kit knew a lot of beautiful women. What would spark an interest in Roxanne Perry?

“She has to be a challenge,” Carl muttered, writing the word down between their two names. Most women fell all over themselves to date Kit. He was handsome and charming and rich, all the qualities that a good catch needed. But if a woman didn’t show any interest at all, then Kit was usually intrigued and began a single-minded pursuit.

“This is more complicated than I thought.” Carl rubbed his chin. If there was another man in Roxanne’s life, that might create some interest. Maybe he could introduce her to Bill Mayer, the station’s financial manager. He was single and considered cute by most of the girls at the station. And Carl knew Bill made a decent living, since he signed his paycheck. But what if Roxanne fell for Bill and wasn’t attracted to Kit at all?

Carl grabbed the piece of paper and crumpled it up in his hands, then tossed it in the wastebasket beneath his desk. Maybe it would be best to just wing it and see what happened. He’d get Roxanne and Kit in the same place at the same time and if sparks flew, he’d be there to fan the flames. And if there were no sparks at all, he’d find another woman…and another and another, until he found the perfect mate for his bachelor son.

“I’ll get us some grandchildren, Louise. Or I’ll go down trying.”

ROXANNE HEARD IT from the kitchen, the sound of the mail slot creaking open and the stack of bills dropping onto the hardwood floor of the foyer. She slowly turned away from the sinkful of dirty dishes, the familiar sick feeling growing in her stomach. Grabbing a dish towel, she wiped her hands dry then started for the front door.

On the way, she made a detour. Instead of picking up the stack of bills, she opened the hall closet door and stepped inside. When the door was shut, blackness surrounded her. Only then could she allow the tears to come.

Her daily afternoon cries had been a two-year habit. At first, she’d cried out of sorrow and then out of anger. But now the tears had become a way of coping, of focusing all her emotions into a few minutes so she could get on with the business of life-the kids, the bills, the house that seemed to be crumbling around her.

Roxanne drew a deep breath and thought about all those things that usually started the tears-her husband’s infidelity, her deteriorating bank account, her loneliness. “And I’m never going to have sex again in my entire life,” she murmured.

Usually that was enough, but today the tears just wouldn’t start. Maybe she was dehydrated. She sat down on a box of mittens and scarves, listening to the sound of the television drifting out from the living room. Danny, Rachel, Michael and Jenna were watching Saturday afternoon cartoons and eating Jell-O cubes, their regular

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