Read A Vow to Love Online

Authors: Sherryl Woods

A Vow to Love

Courteous, courageous and commanding--these heroes lay it all on the line for the people they love in more than fifty stories about loyalty, bravery and romance. Don't miss a single one!

AVAILABLE FEBRUARY 2010

A Vow to Love
by Sherryl Woods

Serious Risks
by Rachel Lee

Who Do You Lov
e? by Maggie Shayne and Marilyn Pappano

Dear Maggie
by Brenda Novak

A Randall Returns
by Judy Christenberry

Informed Risk
by Robyn Carr

Five-Alarm Affair
by Marie Ferrarella

AVAILABLE MARCH 2010

The Man from Texas
by Rebecca York

Mistaken Identity
by Merline Lovelace

Bad Moon Rising
by Kathleen Eagle

Moriah's Mutiny
by Elizabeth Bevarly

Have Gown, Need Groom
by Rita Herron

Heart of the Tiger
by Lindsay McKenna

AVAILABLE APRIL 2010

Landry's Law
by Kelsey Roberts

Love at First Sight
by B.J. Daniels

The Sheriff of Shelter Valley
by Tara Taylor Quinn

A Match for Celia
by Gina Wilkins

That's Our Baby!
by Pamela Browning

Baby, Our Baby!
by Patricia Thayer

AVAILABLE MAY 2010

Special Assignment: Baby
by Debra Webb

My Baby, My Love
by Dani Sinclair

The Sheriff's Proposal
by Karen Rose Smith

The Marriage Conspiracy
by Christine Rimmer

The Woman for Dusty Conrad
by Tori Carrington

The White Night
by Stella Bagwell

Code Name: Prince
by Valerie Parv

AVAILABLE JUNE 2010

Same Place, Same Time
by C.J. Carmichael

One Last Chance
by Justine Davis

By Leaps and Bounds
by Jacqueline Diamond

Too Many Brothers
by Roz Denny Fox

Secretly Married
by Allison Leigh

Strangers When We Meet
by Rebecca Winters

AVAILABLE JULY 2010

Babe in the Woods
by Caroline Burnes

Serving Up Trouble
by Jill Shalvis

Deputy Daddy
by Carla Cassidy

The Major and the Librarian
by Nikki Benjamin

A Family Man
by Mindy Neff

The President's Daughter
by Annette Broadrick

Return to Tomorrow
by Marisa Carroll

AVAILABLE AUGUST 2010

Remember My Touch
by Gayle Wilson

Return of the Lawman
by Lisa Childs

If You Don't Know by Now
by Teresa Southwick

Surprise Inheritance
by Charlotte Douglas

Snowbound Bride
by Cathy Gillen Thacker

The Good Daughter
by Jean Brashear

AVAILABLE SEPTEMBER 2010

The Hero's Son
by Amanda Stevens

Secret Witness
by Jessica Andersen

On Pins and Needles
by Victoria Pade

Daddy in Dress Blues
by Cathie Linz

AKA: Marriage
by Jule McBride

Pregnant and Protected
by Lilian Darcy

SHERRYL WOODS
A VOW TO LOVE

SHERRYL WOODS

With her roots firmly planted in the South, Sherryl Woods has written many of her more than 100 books in that distinctive setting, whether it's her home state of Virginia, her adopted state, Florida, or her much-adored South Carolina. She's also especially partial to small towns wherever they may be.

A member of Novelists Inc., Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America, Sherryl divides her time between her childhood summer home overlooking the Potomac River in Colonial Beach, Virginia, and her oceanfront home with its lighthouse view in Key Biscayne, Florida. "Wherever I am, if there's no water in sight, I get a little antsy," she says.

Sherryl also loves hearing from readers. You can join her at her blog, www.justbetweenfriendsblog.com, visit her Web site at www.sherrylwoods.com or contact her directly at [email protected]

For Diane Kay McDaniel, who had the
wonderful idea of bringing Sammy and Penny together.
This one's for you.

Prologue

I
n the eyes of sixteen-year-old Penny Hayden there was something a little dangerous and very exciting about the handsome young man standing beside her grandmother in the streaming sunlight at the front of Boston's Whitehall Episcopal Church. Though he was wearing an expensive suit made of the finest Halloran fabric and tailored to fit perfectly, he looked as if he would have been more comfortable in ripped denim and black leather. His blond hair had been newly trimmed and was slicked back, but it was still an inch or two longer than any respectable teen's in her conservative private school back in California.

Of all the new relatives she was meeting for the first time at the christening of six-month-old Elizabeth Lacey Halloran, Penny thought Sam Roberts was by far the most fascinating. She had been drawn to him from the first instant she'd seen him. At the same time, the unexpected intensity of her reaction was something entirely new and faintly puzzling. Frankly, it scared her silly.

Sam's exploits, at least as told by her grandfather, had taken on almost mythic proportions in her mind, adding to his intriguing aura. Every time the stories were told, her parents managed to look faintly alarmed, as if they'd guessed right off what her reaction to Sam would be. She'd probably been half prepared to fall head over heels in love with him before she ever got to Boston just because he was the kind of boy they'd always placed strictly off limits. At sixteen, she figured she was long overdue for both a rebellion and a gigantic crush. That probably explained why she trembled inside every time she set eyes on him.

Unfortunately, Sam Roberts, who'd just turned nineteen, hadn't so much as glanced at Penny the entire weekend. In fact, he'd stood on the sidelines at most of the family gatherings this weekend, looking a little lost, a little lonely. She knew with some gut-deep instinct that he would never admit to either of those feelings. He probably didn't even recognize them.

Penny could empathize. She still felt like an outsider with the tight-knit Hallorans. For one thing, they all lived on the opposite side of the United States. None had visited them in LosAngeles, despite her grandfather's overtures. She guessed they were still as shocked as her family was by the discovery that Penny's mother Ellen was the daughter Brandon Halloran had never known he had.

Personally, Penny thought it had been incredibly romantic the way Brandon Halloran had tracked down her grandmother Elizabeth and then discovered the truth. Penny had been dying to go to Boston for their long overdue wedding, but everyone had agreed it would be best if only her mother and her Aunt Kate were there for the first meeting of the two sides of the family. She'd had to wait six months, for this christening, to get her first look at all these intriguing new relatives.

Because of her own tumultuous emotions she could guess how Sam must be feeling. It made her want to reach out to him. To her parents' regret, she'd been picking up strays most of her life, always befriending the outsiders in her class and in her neighborhood. It looked as if she might carry the trait into adulthood.

Right now, though, Sam was in the center of things, caught up in this special celebration. He, along with Penny's grandmother, had been chosen as godparents for the firstborn in the fourth generation of Hallorans.

Sam's expression was solemn as he listened to the minister explain his responsibilities. Only when he glanced down at the baby, still being held in her mother's arms, did a look of absolute delight and reverence soften his features. Penny saw her grandmother reach over and squeeze his hand and wished like crazy that she could have been the one standing up there beside him, sharing this special moment in a family where tradition meant so much.

Later, at her grandfather's house, Penny watched with her heart in her throat as Sam awkwardly cradled the baby in his arms. She told herself she was being silly and romantic, but she fantasized that it was their baby he was holding with such a look of tenderness on his face. Then she wondered when she had turned into such a nut case. She'd always been the steady one, the precocious one. She'd never fantasized about anything until this week...when she'd seen Sam Roberts for the very first time.

"What are you thinking about so seriously?" her grandmother asked, coming up beside her and giving her a squeeze. "You've been awfully quiet all weekend. It's not like you."

"They're a little overwhelming, don't you think?" Penny admitted aloud for the first time.

Elizabeth Halloran gave her a conspiratorial grin. "That's exactly the way I felt when Brandon introduced me to them for the first time, but it doesn't last. Pretty soon you'll feel like one of the family." She followed the direction of Penny's gaze. "Quite a hunk, isn't he?"

Embarrassment flooded Penny's cheeks. She hadn't realized she'd been so obvious. "Who?" she asked, hoping to save face.

"Sam."

"I guess," she said with a disinterested shrug.

"He's older than you are, though."

"Not that much. A couple of years."

"But he had a much tougher life. He grew up a lot faster."

"Is he going to go into business with grandfather?"

"That's what Brandon wants and Kevin and Jason don't object. Sam started working in the company right after his sister Dana got involved with Jason. He seems to have a real aptitude for sales and marketing, but according to your grandfather, Sammy's gotten it into his head he wants to do something on his own. Maybe he's feeling overwhelmed by all the Hallorans, just like you. How come you haven't asked him about this yourself? You've never been shy."

"I've never met anyone like him before," Penny admitted. "He seems so mature compared to the guys in school. Whenever I get around him, I get all tongue-tied."

Her grandmother regarded her with disbelief. "Now that has to be a first. How come when I was seeing Brandon, you had so much to say? You sounded very wise and grown-up."

"All talk," Penny retorted. All the textbooks in the world on human sexuality and family relations hadn't prepared her for the giddy, off-kilter way Sam Roberts made her feel.

Her grandmother grabbed her hand. "Come on. I'm sure he's tired of hanging around all these grown-ups, too. Maybe the two of you can go to a movie or something."

Humiliated by the thought of being foisted on Sam, Penny held back. "Grandmother, no. You can't make him take me out."

"Going to the movies so you can get to know someone from out of town isn't the same thing as a date, for goodness' sake. Besides, I won't have to
make
him do anything. One thing you'll learn as you get older is that subtlety goes a long way. Now watch a pro in action."

Determinedly tugging Penny along in her wake, Elizabeth Halloran breezed through the throng until they were standing beside Sam.

"Hey, Mrs. H., how're you holding up?" he asked with genuine affection. He didn't even glance at Penny.

"I'd give anything to kick off these shoes, but Brandon would be appalled," Elizabeth Halloran confided.

Sam shot her a knowing look. "Come on. You know Granddad Brandon thinks you walk on water."

"I won't be able to walk at all if I stay on my feet in these shoes much longer. I don't know why I let him talk me into these three-inch heels at my age."

A devilish hint of mischief in his eyes, Sam leaned down. "He probably told you they made you look sexy."

To Penny's astonishment, a girlish pink tint flooded into her grandmother's cheeks. She winked at Sammy.

"As a matter of fact, he did," she admitted. A familiar glint of determination sparked in her eyes. "By the way, Sammy, weren't you telling me earlier that the new action movie, the one with that Arnold person with the huge biceps, is playing now?"

He regarded her innocently. "You want to see it?" he inquired. "We could sneak out."

"Not me," she said with a laugh. "But Penny was telling me that she'd been dying to get to it. She's seen all of his films, isn't that right, dear?"

"All of them," Penny confirmed, her gaze fastened on Sam's incredible blue eyes, trying to read his reaction to her grandmother's ploy. She might not be all that experienced, but it sounded less than subtle to her. And it was pretty clear that Sam hadn't mistaken her intentions, either. He finally looked at Penny as if she'd just appeared magically at her grandmother's side.

"Maybe we could go before you go back to California," he said right on cue.

Sam hadn't said it like a man who would die if she said no, but he had said it. Penny felt her heart begin to race. "That'd be great. I'd really like to."

Sam nodded, meeting her gaze directly for the first time. "I'll get back to you." He leaned down to kiss her grandmother on the cheek. "Gotta run. I've got a date."

When he'd gone, leaving Penny trembling with an odd mixture of anticipation and a first-ever attack of jealousy, her grandmother beamed at her. "Now, see, that wasn't so difficult, was it?"

"Do you think he'll really take me?"

"He said he would, didn't he? I've never known Sam to go back on his word. Now, come on. Let's go have some of that fabulous cake Dana just cut."

For the next few hours Penny's excitement mounted until she barely slept a wink all night. But as the remainder of her stay with her grandparents wore on, Sam didn't call. Nor did he stop by. Slowly she began to realize that he never would. The
date
had been no more than a polite gesture, not a promise at all.

However, on her last night in town, he appeared at the door just after her grandparents had gone out for their favorite after-supper ice cream. This time he was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and a leather jacket that added to his mystique of danger. He looked exactly as she'd envisioned him. Penny's heart began to thud wildly. She sensed she was about to embark on something that would change her life forever.

"Sorry I didn't get back to you, kid. It's been a busy week. You want to catch that movie tonight?"

Despite his failure to call, despite the rudeness of showing up at the last minute, Penny was thrilled and thoroughly disgusted with herself because of it. One thing every girl in her class knew was that appearing anxious killed a guy's interest. Unfortunately, she hadn't the vaguest idea how to act aloof when she could hardly wait for whatever the night held in store.

"I'll change. It'll only take a minute," she said at once, thinking of the outfit she'd planned, the one that would make her look more grown-up in his eyes.

"You look fine," he said automatically, without even giving her a glance. "Besides, we'd better get going if we're going to make the show."

Disappointed to be going out in an old pair of shorts and a faded blouse that she'd worn to help her grandmother in the garden rather than in the sexy sundress she'd anticipated wearing if this day ever came, Penny didn't argue. She jotted a note for her grandparents, then followed him to his car. She told herself the important thing was to be going at all. She'd never felt so grown-up before in her life.

When Sam didn't say another word all the way to the theater, Penny struggled for conversation. Silence or halfhearted replies met most of her attempts. Her ego tumbled further when he bypassed the popcorn and soda without even asking if she wanted anything.

Inside the darkened theater and filled with romantic yearnings, she imagined his arm around her shoulders or his hand brushing hers. Instead he remained slouched down next to her, his eyes glued to the screen. She told herself he was only being a gentleman.

The slights, however, were beginning to add up. During the silent ride home, when he never once suggested stopping for a hamburger or a soft drink, she began to get angry, really angry. Even the lowest form of creeps back home offered a snack at the end of an evening. The evening she'd been dreaming about with so much hope was turning out to be a dismal failure. The fact that she was still attracted to Sam despite his behavior only made her angrier.

"Why'd you take me to the movies?" she asked, finally summoning some of the spunk she was famous for.

He glanced over at her with a surprised expression. "You said you wanted to go."

"And being a dutiful member of the family, you forced yourself to show up, right?" she snapped, infuriated by his patronizing attempt to place the blame for this miserable evening on her. "Next time, don't do me any favors."

"Hey, Granddad Brandon said..."

Penny thought she might very well die right where she sat. "You talked to my grandfather?" she asked in a low, hurt voice.

Now, at last, he did look at her. "I talk to him every day," he replied evasively, but guilt was written all over his handsome face.

Oh, God, it was worse than she'd thought. Angry at Sam, at her grandfather, but mostly at herself, she lashed out. "And what exactly did he say to you? Did he tell you that I was moping around the house, that I had this silly crush on you and you should give me a break and spend a couple of hours with me? Maybe give me a little thrill, so I can take the memory back to L.A.?"

Something in his expression changed and before she knew what he'd intended, he'd pulled to the side of the road, turned off the ignition. "Is that what you want from me? You want a little thrill? No problem." His hand circled the back of her neck and drew her toward him.

Penny's heart thundered so hard she was sure it could be heard clear to L.A. She wanted to protest as he lowered his mouth to cover hers, but the words snagged somewhere in the back of her throat.

There was nothing tentative or tender about the kiss. It was a bruising, punishing clash of wills and it sent a dark, throbbing, sensual thrill right through her, just as he'd promised. She thought she heard him groan, but then she was lost to the wildly provocative sensation of his tongue invading her mouth. For the first time in her life, she began to understand all the excitement about sex as an unfamiliar heat spread through her, tempting her beyond reason.

Then she remembered that the man making her feel this way didn't care about her, that this kiss meant nothing to him, that he was merely delivering what she'd asked for and she burned with humiliation. He had awakened her sexuality, but in the process the fragile flowering of her self-esteem was crushed.

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