From America's beloved storyteller, Barbara Delinsky, comes a classic novel about looking for love in all the right places--and finding a place to call home...
The young widowed heiress to a hotel empire, Deanna Hunt isn't one to mix business with pleasure. But when she first lays eyes on Mark Birmingham, she just can't help herself. In a moment of passion, she spends a wildly romantic night in this handsome stranger's arms--in the very hotel that is her heart and her home. If that weren't awkward enough, it turns out that Mark is the architect for the Hunt Foundation's children's hospital, which makes Deanna his boss. If they hope to work together, Mark and Deanna will need to cool off before they ignite a scandal. But even if the sign on the hotel room door says "Do Not Disturb", the home fires are still burning...and hearts are ablaze.
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St. Martin's Paperbacks
June 25, 2012
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Excerpt from Home Fires by Barbara Delinsky
"Good morning, Mrs. Hunt Have you decided what you'll have for breakfast this morning?"
Deanna Hunt raised her eyes from the morning paper. With rare exceptions, she had eaten breakfast in the dining room of the Hunt International-Atlanta Hotel every morning for the past ten years. A menu was unnecessary.
"Any fresh strawberries today, Frank?" she asked softly.
Frank Pareto smiled and winked. "Fresh and sweet With a little cream, perhaps?" he coaxed gently. In the years he'd been serving her, never once had he heard a condescending word pass her lips. Despite her youth, when Lawrence Hunt had married her and brought her to Atlanta to live, she had always been poised and gracious. Frank looked forward to her arrival in the dining room each morning. "The pecan rolls are particularlygood today," he added on a note of temptation. "May I bring you a basket?"
Deanna returned his smile with a hint of chiding. "Are you trying to fatten me up, Frank?"
"That's my job, Mrs. Hunt" The waiter tipped his head, not in the least hesitant As had many on the Hunt staff, he had grown more protective of her since the death of her husband nearly fourteen months earlier. She inspired that kind of caring.
"You do it very well." Deanna's compliment preceded a decisive nod. "Make it strawberries with cream and one pecan roll." She arched an auburn brow to emphasize the strict limit. Now that she had finally replaced the weight she'd lost after Larry's death, she no longer looked painfully thin. In fact, she had begun to notice gentle curves that had not been there when she'd first married. She had been nineteen then, barely out of her teens. Now she was several months short of thirty and a wealthy widow. It was a situation some women would have envied, yet Deanna increasingly sensed its flaws. With not a material worry in the world, she had no outward cause for complaint What, then, explained the growing restlessness she felt?
Her disconcerted eye returned to the paper as Frank quietly disappeared into the kitchen and another waiter unobtrusively poured her coffee. He was a newer member of the hotel staff and slightly in awe of the presence of the head of the Hunt Foundation. Only Deanna knew her role to be a titular one. Like a queen, she was pampered and revered while the true power lay in the hands of others.
"Deanna?" A restrained male voice broke into her sober reverie, drawing her head up seconds before it brought a spontaneous smile to her lips.
"Jim, what a pleasure to see you!" she exclaimed,warmly extending her hands to meet his clasp. "It's been a long time."
James Drummond was relieved by the welcome. Though he knew that Lawrence and Deanna had purposely formed the habit of breakfasting in the dining room in order to be accessible to the hotel's guests, he feared that he had caught Deanna in a moment of private thought. She had borne a look of utter vulnerability in that split second before the mask of the hostess had fallen over those deep inner emotions.
"I haven't been in Atlanta for months," Jim explained, releasing her slender hands slowly. "It seems that business has been concentrated around New York and Boston lately." He paused. "You're looking very well, Deanna."
"Thanks, Jim," she acknowledged his concern. "I'm doing well. The foundation goes on and I try to keep busy." Her eyes brightened. "How's Angie?"
At the mention of his wife, Jim smiled. Deanna had always been the perfect hostess, with a distinct knack for remembering such things as the name of the spouse of even a minor Hunt business associate such as himself. "Angie is just fine."
"And the boys? The youngest must be ... getting ready for college?"
"Entering Duke University next month," he replied with renewed admiration for her memory. "He may just bring us in your direction more often."
Deanna's smile broadened. "I hope so. You'll make a point to stop back again soon, won't you?"
"Of course, Deanna," Jim assured her, sensing her sincerity. "Take care now." With a brief salute, he was gone. Deanna's smile dissipated with his departure and she looked absently around the dining room for other familiar faces.
Lawrence Hunt had believed in elegance and that was what he had created when he'd built the hotel fourteen years before. This formal dining room embodied an old-world charm that had been abandoned in much of modern Atlanta. Here one dined in low-keyed splendor beneath graceful crystal chandeliers while seated in high-backed armchairs and served on fine white linen, with exquisite china and silver. If the cost of such grandeur was nearly prohibitive, the guests were undaunted. They returned repeatedly to visit the Hunts.
Catching sight of a familiar face at a table across the room, she smiled and nodded, then dropped her gaze to frown at the crease that her pale pink fingernail had distractedly inscribed on the padded linen tablecloth. There were always people to see and things to be done. Her days didn't lack for activities of her choosing. So what could be lacking?
Frank arrived with her breakfast As she moved her hand aside to make way for the ice-embedded bowl of strawberries, she chanced to glance toward the far corner of the dining room, where the sun streamed through graceful bay windows. In the echo of a heartbeat she stared. There was a new face, one she didn't recognize. Surely she would have remembered had she seen this man before, for he was quite striking as his eyes captured hers.
"Powdered sugar, Mrs. Hunt?" Frank interrupted, the sugar bowl in his hand, its spoon poised to sprinkle.
Deanna tore her gaze from that of the stranger. "No. No, thank you. Cream will be fine," she told him in the soft tone that now hid her uncertainty. Before she could reach for the small porcelain pitcher, Frank raised it and swirled its rich white contents over the ripe red berries. Cupping the empty vessel in his left hand, he used his right to nudge an opening between water goblet andcoffee cup for the lone pecan roll she'd ordered and its small rose-shaped butter pat.
"Will there be anything else now?"
"This will be fine." She smiled her quiet appreciation and ever so subtle dismissal. She took her fork, then savored the sweet taste of several strawberries before venturing to look up again toward that far corner and that new face.
Eyes averted now, he read his own newspaper, his head bent. The morning sunlight filtered into the room, reflecting off the flatware before him and bouncing up to play among the chandeliers before spraying pale copper sparkles through hair that was every bit as thick and auburn as her own swept-up tresses, though far shorter. Even seated, he seemed tall and graced with dignity.
Deanna was held in his spell by the powerful masculine command he exuded. She helplessly admired his dark business suit, crisp yellow shirt and silk rep tie, all complementing his dark hair and bronzed skin perfectly. From a distance, she guessed him to be in his late thirties.
Despite her intent regard, the width of the room kept the fine details of his features hidden. Perhaps it was just as well, she realized with a jolt For, while she would have liked to have examined him more closely, she found her interest new and frightening. He was different Very different
As his attention momentarily left the paper to focus on the plush burgundy carpet, Deanna felt an odd premonition. Then, as she had known he would, he lifted his gaze to meet hers directly and she felt strangely excited. The man was absolutely compelling. His expression contained an enigmatic blend of curiosity and vulnerability, all somehow rooted in a potential for strength that held her rapt for several long moments before she finally managed to force her eyes downward once more and slowly released the breath she'd been holding.
Her hand was less steady as she ate another strawberry, her thoughts on the riveting man with the most unusual expression on his face. He was different But in what way? She had seen many attractive men come and go over the years, many just as charming, equally good-looking and as virile. What set this one apart from the others?
She sipped her coffee, not quite daring to confront him again. Looking in the opposite direction, she spotted a couple approaching and smiled quickly, grateful for the diversion. "LeeAnn and Tom! What a nice surprise!" Half rising, she offered a cheek to each of the pair in turn before sinking back into her chair.
LeeAnn Walker was an attractive brunette of roughly the same age as Deanna. The two women had been tennis partners for several years. "I couldn't resist showing you that he's actually taking me to breakfast," LeeAnn quipped, slipping her arm affectionately through her husband's as she looked at him. "We're doing it in style."
Deanna laughed. "I can't argue with that. How are you, Tom? I see your better half often enough, but not you," she scolded softly.