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Grinning, Maryanne lowered her head. When they’d first met, Nolan had been convinced she was nothing more than a spoiled debutante. From that point on, he’d taken to referring to her as Deb, Trouble and, with obvious affection, Annie.

“It was love at first sight,” Nolan told his children.

Maryanne smiled again. Despite his sometimes cynical manner, her husband could be a real romantic.

“Your mother was head over heels in love with me the minute we met,” he went on.

“I don’t remember it quite that way,” Maryanne protested.

“You don’t?” Nolan feigned surprise.

“No, because you infuriated me no end.” She remembered the notorious column he’d written about her—“My Evening with the Debutante.”

“Me?” His expression turned to one of exaggerated indignation.

“You thought I was a spoiled rich kid.”

“You were spoiled.”

“I most certainly was not.” Although Maryanne could see the gleam in his eye, she wasn’t going to let him get away with this. It was true her father owned the newspaper and had arranged for her position, but that didn’t mean she didn’t deserve the opportunity. She might not have worked her way up through the normal channels, but in time she’d proved herself to the staff at the Seattle Review. She’d also proved herself to Nolan—in a rather different way.

Courtney and Bailey exchanged glances.

“Are you fighting?” Bailey asked.

Nolan chuckled. “No, I was just setting your mother straight.”

Maryanne raised her eyebrows. “Apparently your father remembers things differently from the way I do.”

“Start at the beginning,” Bailey urged.

Excitedly clapping her hands, Courtney added, “Don’t forget to tell us about the time Daddy embarrassed you in front of the whole city.”

Nolan had worked for the Sun, the rival paper in town. It wasn’t as if Maryanne would ever forget the column he’d written about his evening with her. Even now, after all these years, she bristled at the memory. He’d informed the entire city of Seattle that she was a naive idealist, and worst of all, he’d announced that she was away from home for the first time and lonely.

“I still don’t get why that column upset your mother so much,” Nolan said, gesturing helplessly toward his daughters. “All I did was thank her for making me dinner.”

“Did Daddy kiss you that night?” Bailey asked.

“No, he—”

“Don’t tell us,” Courtney cried, interrupting Maryanne. “Start at the very beginning and don’t leave anything out.”

Nolan looked at Maryanne. “Why don’t you tell them, sweetheart?”

“I’ll tell them everything, then.”

“Everything?” Nolan repeated.

Courtney rubbed her hands together. “Oh, boy, this is going to be good.”

“It all started fifteen years ago…”

Chapter One

“Maryanne Simpson of the New York Simpsons, I presume?”

Maryanne glared at the man standing across from her in the reception area of the radio station. She pointedly ignored his sarcasm, keeping her blue eyes as emotionless as possible.

Nolan Adams—Seattle’s most popular journalist—looked nothing like the polished professional man in the black-and-white photo that headed his daily column. Instead he resembled a well-known disheveled television detective. He even wore a wrinkled raincoat, one that looked as if he’d slept in it for an entire week.

“Or should I call you Deb?” he taunted.

“Ms. Simpson will suffice,” she said in her best finishing-school voice. The rival newspaperman was cocky and arrogant—and the best damn journalist Maryanne had ever read. Maryanne was a good columnist herself, or at least she was desperately striving to become one. Her father, who owned the Seattle Review and twelve other daily newspapers nationwide, had seen to it that she was given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the Seattle paper. She was working hard to prove herself. Perhaps too hard. That was when the trouble had begun.

“So how’s the heart?” Nolan asked, reaching for a magazine and flipping idly through the dog-eared pages. “Is it still bleeding from all those liberal views of yours?”

Maryanne ignored the question, removed her navy-blue wool coat and neatly folded it over the back of a chair. “My heart’s just fine, thank you.”

With a sound she could only describe as a snicker, he threw himself down on a nearby chair and indolently brought an ankle up to rest on his knee.

Maryanne sat across from him, stiff and straight in the high-backed chair, and boldly met his eyes. Everything she needed to know about Nolan Adams could be seen in his face. The strong well-defined lines of his jaw told her how stubborn he could be. His eyes were dark, intelligent and intense. And his mouth…well, that was another story altogether. It seemed to wrestle with itself before ever breaking into a smile, as if a gesture of amusement went against his very nature. Nolan wasn’t smiling now. And Maryanne wasn’t about to let him see how much he intimidated her. But some emotion must have shone in her eyes, because he said abruptly, “You’re the one who started this, you know?”

Maryanne was well aware of that. But this rivalry between them had begun unintentionally, at least on her part. The very morning that the competition’s paper, the Seattle Sun, published Nolan’s column on solutions to the city’s housing problem, the Review had run Maryanne’s piece on the same subject. Nolan’s article was meant to be satirical, while Maryanne’s was deadly serious. Her mistake was in stating that there were those in the city who apparently found the situation amusing, and she blasted anyone who behaved so irresponsibly. This was not a joking matter, she’d pointed out.

It looked as if she’d read Nolan’s column and set out to reprimand him personally for his cavalier attitude.

Two days later, Nolan’s column poked fun at her, asking what Ms. High Society could possibly know about affordable housing. Clearly a debutante had never had to worry about the roof over her head, he’d snarled. But more than that, he’d made her suggestions to alleviate the growing problem sound both frivolous and impractical.

Her next column came out the same evening and referred to tough pessimistic reporters who took themselves much too seriously. She went so far as to make fun of a fictional Seattle newsman who resembled Nolan Adams to a T.

Nolan retaliated once more, and Maryanne seethed. Obviously she’d have to be the one to put an end to this silliness. She hoped that not responding to Nolan’s latest attack would terminate their rivalry, but she should’ve known better. An hour after her column on community spirit had hit the newsstands, KJBR, a local radio station, called, asking Maryanne to give a guest editorial. She’d immediately agreed, excited and honored at the invitation. It wasn’t until later that she learned Nolan Adams would also be speaking. The format was actually a celebrity debate, a fact of which she’d been blithely unaware.

The door opened and a tall dark-haired woman walked into the station’s reception area. “I’m Liz Walters,” she said, two steps into the room. “I produce the news show. I take it you two know each other?”

“Like family,” Nolan muttered with that cocky grin of his.

“We introduced ourselves five minutes ago,” Maryanne rebutted stiffly.

“Good,” Liz said without glancing up from her clipboard. “If you’ll both come this way, we’ll get you set up in the control booth.”

From her brief conversation with the show’s host, Brian Campbell, Maryanne knew that the show taped on Thursday night wouldn’t air until Sunday evening.

When they were both seated inside the control booth, Maryanne withdrew two typed pages from her bag. Not to be outdone, Nolan made a show of pulling a small notepad from the huge pocket of his crumpled raincoat.

Brian Campbell began the show with a brief introduction, presenting the evening’s subject: the growing popularity of the Seattle area. He then turned the microphone over to Maryanne, who was to speak first.

Forcing herself to relax, she took a deep calming breath, tucked her long auburn hair behind her ears and started speaking. She managed to keep her voice low and as well modulated as her nerves would allow.

“The word’s out,” she said, quickly checking her notes. “Seattle has been rated one of the top cities in the country for several years running. Is it any wonder Californians are moving up in droves, attracted by the area’s economic growth, the lure of pure fresh air and beautiful clean waters? Seattle has appeal, personality and class.”

As she warmed to her subject, her voice gained confidence and conviction. She’d fallen in love with Seattle when she’d visited for a two-day stopover before flying to Hawaii. The trip had been a college graduation gift from her parents. She’d returned to New York one week later full of enthusiasm, not for the tourist-cluttered islands, but for the brief glimpse she’d had of the Emerald City.

From the first, she’d intended to return to the Pacific Northwest. Instead she’d taken a job as a nonfiction editor in one of her father’s New York publishing houses; she’d been so busy that travelling time was limited. That editorial job lasted almost eighteen months, and although Maryanne had thoroughly enjoyed it, she longed to write herself and put her journalism skills to work.

Samuel Simpson must have sensed her restlessness because he mentioned an opening at the Seattle Review, a long-established paper, when they met in Nantucket over Labor Day weekend. Maryanne had plied him with questions, mentioning more than once that she’d fallen in love with Seattle. Her father had grinned, chewing vigorously on the end of his cigar, and looked towards his wife of twenty-seven years before he’d casually reached for the telephone. After a single call lasting less than three minutes, Samuel announced that the job was hers. Within two weeks, Maryanne was packed and on her way west.

“In conclusion I’d like to remind our audience that there’s no turning back now,” Maryanne said. “Seattle sits as a polished jewel in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Seattle, the Emerald City, awaits even greater prosperity, even more progress.”

She set her papers aside and smiled in the direction of the host, relieved to be finished. She watched in dismay as Nolan scowled at her, then slipped his notepad back inside his pocket. He apparently planned to wing it.

Nolan—who needed, Brian declared, no introduction—leaned toward the microphone. He glanced at Maryanne, frowned once more, and slowly shook his head.

“Give me a break, Ms. Simpson!” he cried. “Doesn’t anyone realize it rains here? Did you know that until recently, if Seattle went an entire week without rain, we sacrificed a virgin? Unfortunately we were running low on those until you moved to town.”

Maryanne barely managed to restrain a gasp.

“Why do you think Seattle has remained so beautiful?” Nolan continued. “Why do you think we aren’t suffering from the pollution problems so prevalent in Southern California and elsewhere? You seem to believe Seattle should throw open her arms and invite the world to park on our unspoiled doorstep. My advice to you, and others like you, is to go back where you came from. We don’t want you turning Seattle into another L.A.—or New York.”