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Fiona Hood-Stewart
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Fiona Hood-Stewart

SOUTHERN BELLE
by Fiona Hood-Stewart

An Excerpt...

CHAPTER ONE

LEANING on his ski poles at the bottom of the slope, Johnny Graney watched appreciatively as the slim white-clad figure crossed the last few hundred years, then made a neat, sharp stop next to him.

“Okay?” he enquired solicitously.

“Fine.” Elm pressed the tip of her pole into the back of her binding.

Johnny followed suit, wishing she’d remove her glasses once more so he could catch another glimpse of those incredible brown eyes, an amazing contrast to the mass of natural blonde hair falling about her shoulders.

As thought guessing his silent wish, Elm shook her skis, then removed her glasses. For a moment he frowned. He knew that face. Was she an actress? Someone he’d met in London?

“How about a hot chocolate in the village?” he threw casually, surprising himself.

“Oh, I really don’t think—“

“You said you were sorry for running into me.” He grinned, his blue eyes flashing in his bronzed face. “Make up for it by joining me.”

Elm was about to refuse automatically when she suddenly realized she wouldn’t mind having a drink with this handsome stranger. It was Gstaad, after all, not Chicago. Everybody knew each other.

“Okay, why not?” She smiled.

“Great. Maybe we should introduce ourselves. In a formal manner,” he added, lips twitching.

Elm grinned ruefully.

“You first,” he urged in a smooth British accent.

“Elm Hathaway from Savannah, Georgia.”

“Pleased to meet you, Elm Hathaway from Savannah, Georgia. I’m Johnny Graney from Ireland.”

A warm tingle coursed through Elm’s fingers. Then all at once realization dawned.

“Johnny Graney?”

“Guilty.” He sent her a curious glance. “This sounds like a line, but haven’t we met before?”

“Uh, as a matter of fact, we have,” Elm responded, feeling as if she’d been thrown into a time warp. Johnny Graney had been her first serious crush, the boy she’d mooned over some twenty years earlier.

“I’m dreadfully sorry, but I—“ He raised his hands in a gesture of defeat. “I’m afraid I just don’t remember.”

“How flattering,” Elm replied dryly. “But it makes sense. At the time, you were only peripherally aware of my existence.”

“I was?” His face took on a look of comical horror. “You must be joking,” he added. “If I ever met you, even for a split second, I’m certain I’d remember.”

Elm burst out laughing. He’d been a dangerous flirt back then, and every girl’s hero. She couldn’t resist teasing him a little longer. “I can see I made a lasting impression on you,” she said, glancing down.

“Look, I feel awful. At least give me a hint,” he begged.

“Should I?” she taunted, deliciously aware that she was actually flirting with a man, something she hadn’t done in years.

“Come on, be a sport. Heck, you almost massacred me back there. Are you planning torture, too?” He raised an amused brow, and Elm smiled sweetly.

“It’s too cold for conversation.”

“Okay. The Palace Hotel—I promise a table next to the fireplace if you tell me where we met.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“Elm Hathaway from Savannah, Georgia,” he said thoughtfully, placing their skis on the back of a new silver Range Rover.

“This is really quite demoralizing.” She pouted, sighing heavily as he held the door of the vehicle for her. “To think I’ve changed to the point of being unrecognizable—“

“I never said that, I merely—“

“I know,” she continued, enjoying the game. “You meet so many women it’s hard to keep track. Don’t worry, I understand.” She sent him a sympathetic look.

“Hey! Hold it,” he exclaimed. “If it was as long ago as you’re implying, maybe you were an ugly duckling who’s since turned into a swan.”

“An ugly duckling—“ Elm sputtered, laughing. “I was never an ugly duckling.”

“In that case you’ll just have to help me out,” he insisted.

“I don’t know.” She eyed him thoughtfully. “Seeing you strain your memory is rather satisfying.”

“I give up,” Johnny declared dramatically.

“What –so easily?” She raised a brow and looked him over with a contemptuous grin. “I seem to recall a certain basketball team captain rallying his players with a speech about never giving up and fighting until the death… Quite dramatic stuff, really,” she added with a sigh, “and so disappointing to know it no longer holds true.”

The car braked abruptly. “My God.” He turned and stared at her. “Now I remember. Little Elm Hathaway, the Southern Belle from Savannah.”

* * *

SOUTHERN BELLE
MIRA Books, May 2004
ISBN 0-7783-2078-2

A sweeping story of love and betrayal

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