I Do! Anthology

Fourteen years in the making,

yet love wins out.

ISBN: 0-7860-0486-X

Click on Book or ISBN to order

At New York's Most Romantic Setting-

Valentine's Day Can Bring Love's Special Surprise...

Amid Manhattan's most elegant restaurants,

The Rainbow Room casts a golden glow with nights

filled with fine dining, magical music and the

splendor of dancing high atop the glittering city. Now,

on a day of secret longings and sweetly-whispered

desires, this breathtaking ballroom is holding a

contest that will give one lucky couple the chance to

fulfill their most passionate dreams...

And in Shirley Hailstock's The Engagement, executive

Serena Coleman hopes the contest will "inspire" her long time

boyfriend into marriage. But when they unexpectedly become

finalists, she realizes it could end their relationship --- or make

them realize their deepest longings.

I Do! Excerpt


Shirley Hailstock

"So, rumor has it Mr. Right will actually be in the country this weekend."

Serena Howard looked over her reading glasses at her Vice President and long time friend, Chase Roberts. "Don't call him that," she said, her tone low and serious.

Chase crossed the floor of Serena's office and flopped into a chair in front of the desk. "I ought to call him Nathan Detroit and you Miss Adelaide."

"Nathan Detroit!" Serena Howard repeated.

"Serena, anyone who's been engaged as long as you two could only be Nathan and Miss Adelaide."

Closing the file she'd been reading, Serena through Peter was nothing like Nathan Detroit. He was dependable and loving and would never skate around getting married.

Serena couldn't help being anxious about him coming home. This was his third attempt. Each time he'd called to say he was coming, something always came up before he made it back to New York. He'd be here tomorrow if everything went right. If no world crisis happened, no plane crashed, or no government toppled to send him running toward disaster, the two of them would be together in twenty-four hours. She could feel herself shivering at the thought that something might spoil their plans.

Trying to avoid thoughts of these mishaps, Serena had delved into work. It had only made her day worse. Her newest client, Athena, an up and coming actress, wanted S.M. Howard & Associates to turn her into the next Madonna. If they could do it overnight they'd get a bonus. If not overnight, their deadline was the weekend. Serena had been looking for ideas and ways to get the starlet's name and face in print. Obviously, the woman had financial backing. S.M. Howard didn't come cheap and this woman wanted results, and she wanted them fast.

Giving her full attention to Chase, she asked, "Why don't we get out of here early for a change? If I look at this folder again I'll..." She left the sentence hanging and stood up. Chase stood too.

As the two women left the mile-high building in mid-town Manhattan, the cold January wind gusted around them. Serena pulled her coat collar closer to her neck. Chase's comments bothered Serena. She and Peter had been engaged a long time, since they were in college. Actually, they'd become engaged as sophomore's but didn't tell their parents until graduation. That was nearly fifteen years ago. She'd never thought they'd be engaged this long, yet getting married had never been convenient.

Peter returned for graduate studies in journalism after undergraduate school. She went to work for a public relations firm. After their two year separation, he was assigned to the Middle East, a place that wasn't safe for a family man. They postponed marrying until he returned home. Then she began her own business and worked night and day to get it off the ground. She had no time for marriage then and Peter was reassigned to Paris and later Japan. He'd spent a few years at a local TV station in New Jersey. At that time he'd asked her to come and live with him. It was the only time in their relationship when she thought she might lose him. S.M. Howard & Associates had just begun to turn a profit. Marrying was inconvenient then and it wasn't any better now.

Serena walked silently with Chase toward the curb. She suddenly didn't want to go home. Tonight she didn't want to be alone, didn't want to sit next to a phone that could ring and destroy her one weekend with Peter. She was sure it would be short. If he made it home, it would only be to tell her where he was being assigned this time.

"Let's go get something to eat," Serena suggested as they reached the street and a taxi stood before them.

"Sorry," Chase smiled. "I have a date." She slipped into the back seat of the cab and pulled her briefcase and the ends of her coat with her. "He'll be here this time, Serena. Go home and get a good night's sleep. It's only one more day."

The cab swept away from the curb leaving her alone. Tomorrow, Serena thought. The wind grabbed at her, tearing her hair and reminding her she was standing on a street corner. Quickly she hailed a cab and headed for home.

Serena sat forward in the taxi the moment it turned onto East 88th Street. The light in her window was on. Her brain, registering the fact that Peter was home and the hammering of her heart, occurred simultaneously. She was out the door, throwing the fare at the driver, and rushing up the five steps to the front door in record time. She didn't even know if Peter knew he always turned the light in the upstairs hall on when he came in. It reflected through the windows and Serena found it a welcoming beacon.

"Peter!" she called, closing the door and dropping her briefcase. She was afraid she may be wrong and he wasn't there.

"In the kitchen," he said.

Serena's heart soared. Peter stepped through the kitchen door into the hallway. She wanted to run to him, but fear kept her in place. Suppose she was dreaming? Suppose he was only an apparition and those broad shoulders and slim waist, that athletic build and dark skin would dissolve into thin air.

"I'm real," Peter said, as if he'd read her mind.

He was here. He was really here. He moved toward her. She was sure it was him. He wasn't the small figure on her television screen, or the static photograph she saw each morning when she woke. He was real. He could walk and talk and hold her close.

Suddenly Serena heard her own footsteps. She ran, her heels clicking a rapid staccato against the polished hardwood floor. Peter opened his arms and she flew into them. He caught her, whirling her around like a human cyclone. When he stopped, he set her on the floor and gazed into her eyes. She saw passion there, raw, powerful, exciting.

"God, I've missed you." Emotion laced his deep-throated speech pattern and made her insides dance. His mouth touched hers softly, with such tenderness that she thought she would cry. Then the kiss changed, deepened, devouring her mouth as if he'd found the fountain he'd been looking for. His tongue pushed past her lips mating with hers like a long-lost lover. Serena met his mouth with the same earth-shaking passion that had rocked her foundation as a sophomore in college and still reduced her to jello fourteen years later. Her arms circled his neck as she raised her heels in an effort to get closer to him. His hands spanned her waist, caressed her back and smooth the length of her until they cupped her bottom. Pulling her body into his he groaned deeply and slipped his mouth from hers. Serena stood in his embrace feeling as if she'd burst with the love that flowed through her.

"You're home early," she spoke into his neck. She could smell his soap and that indefinable scent that was only his.

"I couldn't wait to get to you."

Serena's knees would surely have buckled if Peter hadn't been holding her. She wondered how long he could stay. How much time did they have together this time. She wouldn't ask. Not now. Not yet.

Then she became aware of her surroundings. "What's that smell?" she asked.

"Dinner," he said. "I believe it's my turn."

The dining room table was set for two and candles were burning on it. The house smelled of baking bread, beef and something sweet she could not place. Serena was suddenly famished.

"Why don't you sit down and I'll get the food?"

She smiled, not wanting to leave his embrace, but feeling the sudden pangs of hunger.

"I'll go change," she said and tip-toed to kiss him on the mouth.

Serena went to the bedroom. Peter's suit case sat open on the bed. Most of his clothes has been unpacked. She went to it, running her hands along the zipper edges. She pulled a shirt from the inside and hugged it to her. "Thank, God," she prayed, then put the shirt in the drawer.

Trading her business suit for grey slacks and a fisherman-knit sweater that hung to her knees, she stopped on her way down the stairs. Peter stood in the dining room putting the finishing touches on the table. Serena had a moment to study him without his knowledge. He had an easy, comfortable stance. He looked as natural in the kitchen as he did reporting a story from the other side of the ocean or in the bedroom. Her ears warmed at thoughts of them between the sheets.

How had she been so lucky? Peter cut such a good looking figure at nineteen, with his deep, dark skin and black eyes. His body, honed to perfection on a high school basketball team and a summer of working construction to help pay his way through school, had every girl in the dorm hanging out the windows just to stare at him. Yet she had been the one to snag him and she hadn't regretted one minute of it.

His body had a chiseled quality to it. Definition could be seem even through his jeans and shirt. Often she'd run her hands over his contours as if she were a sculpturer fashioning him into flesh and bone.

"Just in time," Peter said, snapping her dream and bringing her back to the present. Serena went forward and into his arms. She snuggled against him and rested her head against his beating heart. Closing her eyes she breathed in the essence of him. Her body warmed as it always did when he held her. Her hands caressed his back, slipping under his sweatshirt and fondling the hard texture of his bare of his skin. Sound caught in her throat as she pulled herself closer to him.

"Peter, I missed you so much." The gravelly sound of her voice spoke the volume of feelings that struggled to burst from her breast. Peter raised her chin until she looked into his eyes. They were bright, filled with love and a little uncertainty. She liked that. For a long moment he only stared at her. Then slowly, his head moved down and his lips touched hers. Serena's mouth opened to accept his wanted invasion. His tongue swept inside her mouth, joining hers and sealing them together as if their two individual persons had merged into one.

Looping his arms over her Peter leaned into her, running his hands down the length of her back over her sides until his hands touched the plumpness of her breasts. She did things to him, things he remembered but couldn't control. He wanted her, wanted her now, this minute. Her mouth was hot and wet and sweeter than he thought any refreshment could be. How could he have been away so long? How could he have missed this precious torture for such a long period? Pushing himself even closer to her, Serena moved one leg accommodating his arousal and making him want to lower her to floor and make mad, wild love to her on the carpet.

Inside Serena was melting, becoming unglued at the simple and complex nature of Peter and the power he held over her. She let her hands roam over him, trying to touch all of him at once. She'd yearned for his touch, the feel of him in her arms, the way his body pressed into hers, the way he could make her feel with his mouth and his hands and his harder-than-steel body. She continued her perusal making him tremble and quake.

Peter pulled his mouth away as if the effort took all his strength. "If we don't cut this out," he whispered raggedly. "We'll never get to dinner." She felt his labored breathing in her ear and over her throat. His lips nibbled along the column of her neck.

Serena groaned. Right now she could skip dinner. Her body was hot and weak and hungry, but it craved Peter more than the meal he'd prepared. Sagging against him she took long, exhausting breaths. Peter held her, until they could both breath easily. Sanity returned and she could again distinguish the delicious smells of Peter's cooking.

Her mouth watered at the thought of food. Peter had put a lot of work into the meal. It was his first night home and he wanted it to be perfect. Her stomach suddenly grumbled letting her know she was hungry. Backing out of his embrace she walked to her seat but her eyes never left him.

Peter couldn't take his off her. She was as delicious looking as any of the food he'd spent the afternoon cooking. Peter backed into the kitchen, thanking God they'd installed the louver doors. He needed a moment to compose himself. Serena had turned him into an inferno and had him ready to abandon his plans for the evening and take her straight to bed.

For a moment he stood still, opening the refrigerator and allowing the cooled air to flow over his heated skin. Then he opened the oven and took the burst of heat which did nothing to reduce his own heat level. He spent extra time ladling the food onto a tray and cleaning up unnecessary counters before returning to the dining room.

"I feel like I should be wearing an evening gown."

"You never looked more beautiful," he told her.

Blushing, she lifted her napkin. Peter had fashioned it into the shape of a single long-stem rose and laid it across her plate like a delicate bud.

"It's beautiful," she said raising it to her face and smelling it as if it had a fragrance. "When did you learn to do this?"

"Long nights in my hotel room with too much room service," he said.

Serena thought of her own long nights. She'd had plenty of time alone while he'd been away, but tonight would be theirs. She would not think about him going away again. She knew the heartbreak it caused and she didn't want that to cloud his homecoming.

Peter slid into the chair opposite her and poured champagne into two crystal glasses. "To us," he said lifting his glass and saluting her. Serena clinked the delicate glassware against Peter's. It produced a beautiful bell-like note. They drank. And ate. The first morsel of food that touched Serena's tongue tasted like the best food she'd ever eaten. Her steak was perfect, her potatoes seasoned and hot and her broccoli covered with melted cheese and steamed to the degree of crunch that enhanced her palate.

"We haven't drunk champagne in a long time," Serena said, draining her glass.

Peter refilled it. "We have something to celebrate."

"What?" she asked.

"I'll tell you after dessert." Peter gave her a wicked smile that said I-know-something-you-don't. Serena was curious but she didn't press him.

"What are we having for dessert?" She'd just finished her meal. Glancing toward the kitchen, she tried to isolate the sweet smell, but there were so many appetizing smells that came from there she couldn't distinguish anything more than sugar.

"Apple Brown Betty," he replied.

"You made Apple Brown Betty?" It was her favorite next to sweet potato pie.

"Only for you, Honey. Only for you."

Peter got up and took the plates. In moments he was back with the dessert and coffee. Both were delicious. Serena couldn't help the satisfying sounds that came from her at the taste.

"You know I keep you around because you can cook," she teased.

"Yeah," he laughed, then his eyes turned piercingly serious. "Ask me why I keep you around?"

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