Authors: Marta Perry
But he still had that comfortable-in-his-own-skin air that said he was sure of himself and his place in the world. He was a Caldwell of Caldwell Island. And he still had that honeyed drawl that could send shivers down a woman's spine.
Maybe she'd better concentrate on the reasons she'd come back after all these years. With this commission, her fledgling stained-glass business was on its way. She'd never have to work for someone else or let another take credit for what she'd done.
For an instant her former fiancÃ© intruded into her thoughts, and she pushed him away. Her engagement to her boss had confirmed a lesson she should have learned a long time agoâlove always came with strings attached. Jason Lockwood had shown her clearly that he'd only love her if she did what he wanted.
Forget Jason. Forget everything except the reason you've come here.
This memorial was her chance, and she wouldn't let it slip away because Adam Caldwell was, for some inexplicable reason, opposed to it.
More important, being here would let her fulfill
the promise she'd made last year when her mother was dying. She'd finally erase the shadow Caldwell Island had cast over both their lives for too long. She wouldn't fail.
She focused on the image of Jesus' face in the window, the silence in the old church pressing on her. Fredrick Bauer, her teacher, had always said a person couldn't work constantly in sanctuaries without being aware of the presence of God. Somehow she'd never been able to move past an adversarial relationship with the One Fredrick had insisted loved her.
Still, she knew God's hand was at work in bringing her here. Why else would she have found Mrs. Telforth's ad when she'd needed a reason to be here? Why else would her talents have been just what Mrs. Telforth needed?
You brought me here. If this is Your will, You'll have to give me a hand with Adam Caldwell. I don't know why, but I know he'll stop me if he can.
Tory was ready to take on Adam Caldwell again. She looked over the items she'd spread across the round oak table in the Dolphin Inn's small sitting room that evening. Her credentials, photos of windows she'd designed, the four-page spread in
magazine featuring a project she'd worked on.
Miranda Caldwell, who'd been working at the desk when Tory checked in, had insisted she use the sitting room for this meeting with Adam. The Caldwells who owned the island's only inn turned out to be Adam's aunt and uncle, making Miranda his
cousin. The sweet-faced woman had been only too happy to talk about Adam.
He and Lila were so happyâher death devastated him.
Was that the reason for Adam's reluctance about the memorial window? Did he find his memories too painful? She paced restlessly across the room, stopping at the window to brush aside lace curtains and stare at boats rocking against a dock. Across the inland waterway, lights glowed on the mainland.
Adam's a real sweetheart, Miranda had said. Everyone's friend, the person the whole community relies on. And the family peacemaker, as well.
Tory didn't have much experience with family peacemakers. Her family could have used one. But she didn't think Adam intended to use his peacemaking skills on her.
A firm step sounded in the hallway. He was coming. She moved quickly to the table.
“Ms. Marlowe.” Adam paused, filling the doorway.
She hadn't been as aware of his height and breadth in the high-ceilinged sanctuary. Here, there was just too much of him.
Her hands clenched. Concentrate on the work.
“I have some materials I thought you might be interested in.” She gestured toward the table.
He didn't move. Instead he glanced around, as if it had been a while since he'd been in this room. His gaze went from sofa to mantelpiece to bookshelves. His eyes looked darker in the twilight, like the ocean on a cloudy day. He'd changed from the white shirt
and khakis he'd worn earlier to jeans and a gray pullover that fit snugly across broad shoulders.
“My cousin Miranda must like you, if she's letting you use the family parlor.”
“I didn't realize.” She followed his gaze, suddenly off balance. Now that she looked around, it was obvious this was the family's quarters. She'd been too caught up in herself to notice. Photos of babies, children riding bicycles, fishermen holding up their catch, weddingsâa whole family's history was written on these walls. Everything about the space was slightly faded, slightly shabby and obviously well loved. “I didn't mean to impose.”
“Miranda wouldn't have told you to use the parlor unless she wanted you to.” He crossed to the table, moving so quickly that she took an automatic step back and bumped into its edge. He reached out to flip through the photos she'd spread out. “You've had a busy afternoon.”
Her efforts to impress him suddenly seemed too obvious. “I thought you might like to see projects I've worked on.”
“Trying to convince me of your abilities?” His smile took the sting out of the words.
“Not exactly.” She took a breath, trying to find the best way to say this. It was too bad diplomacy wasn't her strong suit. “This is an awkward situation. Your mother-in-law hired me, but it's important that you be satisfied with my work. After all, you knew your wife better than anyone.”
The strong, tanned hand that flipped through the
photos stopped abruptly. He pressed his fingers against the table until they whitened.
She'd made a mistake. She shouldn't have mentioned his wife, but how else could they discuss the memorial?
An apology lingered on her tongue, but that might make things worse. She forced herself to meet his gaze. “I'm sorry ifâ”
He cut her off with an abrupt, chopping gesture. “Don't.” He seemed to force a smile. “It's irrelevant, in any event. My mother-in-law chose you from all the people who answered her ad. She must have been satisfied with your ability to do what she wants.”
“You've talked with her, then.” She couldn't imagine that conversation.
“Yes.” His lips tightened. “She's very enthusiastic about this project.”
She might as well say what they both knew. “But you're not.”
He shrugged. “Let's just say you caught me by surprise today and leave it at that. All right?”
There was more to it, but she wasn't in any position to argue. Not if the battle she'd anticipated was unnecessary.
“All right. I hope I can come up with a design that pleases both of you.”
His gaze lingered on her face, as if he assessed her. She steeled herself not to look away from that steady gaze.
He frowned. “My mother-in-law has asked me to take care of all the details about this project.”
“I see.” She kept her voice noncommittal. “So you'll be supervising my work.”
“I would in any event, since I'm chair of the church's buildings and grounds committee.”
This wasn't any ordinary church business they were talking about, but a memorial to his late wife. She had to show a little more tact.
“Perhaps you'd like to take with you some of my designs.” She put the folder in his hand. “They might give you an idea of what would best memorialize your wife.”
He dropped the folder, spilling photos onto the table. “No. Not now. Pastor Wells and I feel it best if you do the repair work first.”
She stifled the argument that sprang to her lips. “Of course.” She could only hope she sounded accommodating. “But I'll need to have some idea of what you want.”
“Later.” His tone didn't leave any room for argument. “We'll talk about it later.”
The customer is always right, she reminded herself. Even when he's wrong.
“I'll start the analysis of the existing windows tomorrow then.”
“I can be reached at the boatyard if you need me.” He took a quick step away from the table, and she suspected only his innate courtesy kept him there at all.
“Mr. Caldwell, Iâ¦” What could she say? “I'm glad you've decided to go ahead with the project.”
“It's my mother-in-law's project, not mine.”
Again she had the sense of strong emotion, forced down behind his pleasant, polite facade. “We'll both have to try and make her happy with it.” He held out his hand, and she put hers into it. “Welcome to Caldwell Cove, Ms. Marlowe.”
His firm grasp had as much ability to flutter her pulse now as when she'd been fifteen. Her smile faltered.
Don't be stupid, she lectured herself. The man means nothing to you. He never did.
Now if she could just convince herself of that, she might get through her second encounter with Adam Caldwell a little better than she had the first.
t least Adam hadn't shown up yet with another reason she should leave the island and forget this project, Tory thought as she studied the church's east window the next morning. She half expected to hear his step behind her, but nothing broke the stillness.
She'd had an early breakfast at the inn, a place that seemed overly full of Caldwell cousins, all curious about her project. Then she'd hurried through the village of Caldwell Cove to the church, eager to begin but half-afraid she'd find another Caldwell waiting for her.
Adam had given in, she reminded herself. He'd agreed to his mother-in-law's proposal. So why did his attitude still bother her?
His face formed in her mindâeasy smile, strong jaw, eyes filled with integrity. He had a face anyone would trust.
But Tory had seen the flash of feeling in his eyes
every time the memorial to his late wife was mentioned. She hadn't identified the emotion yet, but she knew it was somehow out of place.
Lila Caldwell had died four years ago. One would expect to see sorrow on her husband's face at the mention of her name. The feeling that darkened Adam's eyes was something much stronger than sadness.
Maybe the pastor and Miranda had it right. Perhaps Adam had loved his beautiful wife so dearly he still couldn't bear to discuss her. If so, that made her job more difficult.
The next time she saw him, she had to confront the subject. It was all very well to say she could begin with the repair work, but she should be working on the design for the new window. She had to get him to talk to her about it.
She moved up the stepladder to touch the intricate detail of the twined floral border around the window of Jesus and the children. Someone with pride in his craftsmanship and love for his subject had done that, choosing flowers to echo the children's faces instead of a more traditional symbol. A hundred years from now, she hoped someone might touch a window she'd created and think the same.
I can do this, can't I? She looked at the pictured face, longing for the love she saw there welling inside her.
Please, Lord, let me create something worthy of this place.
If she didâ¦ How hard it was not to let self-interest creep in, even when she was planning something to
God's glory. But she knew that success here could establish her business. For the first time since she was fifteen, she wouldn't have to scrape for every penny. She'd be able to pay her mother's final expenses and get a suitable stone to mark her grave. And she'd never have to rely on anyone else again.
The wooden outside door creaked. Tory's grip on the ladder tightened as she listened for Adam's confident tread. Instead, the patter of running feet broke the stillness. She turned.
The little girl scampering toward her had a tumble of light brown curls and a confident smile. A bright green cast on her wrist peeped out from the sleeve of a sunny yellow dress. She skidded to a stop perilously close to the ladder, and Tory jumped down.
“Hey, take it easy.” She reached a steadying hand toward the child. “You don't want to add another cast to your collection, do you?”
The child smiled at her. Sunlight through stained glass crossed her face, and Tory saw that the cast matched her eyes. “I fell off the swing and broke my wrist,” she said.
“You jumped off the swing.” Adam's words quickly drew Tory's gaze to where he stood in the doorway. With the sun behind him, Tory couldn't see his expression, but she heard the smile in his voice. “And you're not going to do that again, are you, Jenny?”
This was his daughter, then, Tory's employer's granddaughter. Jenny needs this memorial to her mother. Mrs. Telforth's words echoed in her mind. She does.
The emphasis had seemed odd at the time. It still did.
Jenny sent her father an impish grin, then turned to Tory. “I got to be off school all morning to get my cast checked. Did you ever break anything?”
Adam reached the child and clasped her shoulders in a mock-ferocious grip. He was dressed a little more formally today than the night before, exchanging his khakis for dark trousers and a cream shirt. “Jenny, sugar, that's a personal question. You shouldn't ask Ms. Tory that when you don't even know her.”
His daughter looked at him, brow wrinkling. “But, Daddy, that's how I'll
to know her.”
Tory's lips twitched, as much at Adam's expression as the child's words. “I think she's got you there.” She bent to hold out her hand to Adam's little girl. “Hi, I'm Tory. Yes, I broke my leg when I was nine. It wasn't much fun.”
Jenny shook hands solemnly, her hand very small in Tory's. “But why not? Didn't you get a present for being a good girl when they put on the cast, and a chocolate cake for dessert, and an extra story?”
Tory's mind winced away from the memory of her stepfather berating her all the way to the emergency room for upsetting her mother while she lay in the back seat and bit her lip to keep from crying. “No, I'm afraid not. You're a lucky girl.”
“She's a spoiled girl.” But Adam didn't look as if the prospect bothered him very much. He smiled at his daughter with such love in his face that it hurt Tory's heart.
“I'm not spoiled, Daddy. Granny says I'm a caution.” She frowned at the word, then looked at Tory. “Do you know what that means?”
“I suspect it means she loves you very much.”
The frown disappeared. “Oh. That's okay, then.”
“Jenny, love, let me get a word in edgewise, okay?”
Jenny nodded. “Okay, Daddy. I'll put water in the flowers. Don't worry, Granny showed me how.” She scurried off.
“Sorry about that.” Adam watched his daughter for a moment, then turned to Tory. “I really didn't come so Jenny could give you the third degree.”
“She's delightful. How old is she?”
“Eight going on twenty, I think. I never know what she's going to come out with next.”
His smile suggested he wanted it that way. Jenny didn't know how lucky she was. Tory realized she was seeing the Adam Miranda had describedâthe man everyone liked and relied on.
“That must keep life interesting.” She wanted to prolong the moment. At least when they talked about his daughter they weren't at odds. They almost felt like friends.
“It does that.” He glanced at the window. “Are you finding much damage?”
They were back to business, obviously. “Some of the windows are worse than others.” She traced a crack in the molding around the image of Jesus and the children. “Settling has done this, but I can fix it.”
Adam reached out to touch the crack. His hand brushed hers, sending a jolt of awareness through
her. He was so close, the sanctuary so quiet, that she could hear his breath. He went still for an instant, so briefly she might have imagined it.
“Let me know if you need any equipment. We might have it at the boatyard.”
She nodded. She had to stop letting the man affect her.
“Look, Daddy. I brought the water.” Jenny put a plastic pitcher carefully on the floor, spilling only a few drops, then skipped over to them. “You know what? I know what you're doing, Ms. Tory.”
“Ms. Tory's fixing the windows for us, sugar.”
She shook her head, curls bouncing. “Not just that. Everybody knows that. But I know she's gonna make a window for Mommy.”
Tory happened to be watching his hand. It clenched so tightly his knuckles went white.
“Who told you that?”
Tory blinked. She hadn't heard the church door open again, maybe because she'd been concentrating too much on Adam. A small, white-haired woman marched erectly toward them, a basket filled with bronze and yellow mums on her arm. The striped dress and straw hat she wore might have been equally at home in the 1940s.
“I told Jenny about the memorial window, Adam.” She peered at him through gold-rimmed glasses. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“Of course not, Gran.” Tory thought the smile he gave his grandmother was a little forced, but he bent
to kiss her cheek. “I was just surprised news traveled that fast.”
“You ought to know how the island busybodies work by now.” She turned to Tory, holding out her hand. “I'm Naomi Caldwell. You'd be the lady who's come to do the stained glass. Ms. Marlowe, is it?”
“Tory Marlowe. I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Caldwell.”
The elderly woman must be in her seventies at least, if she was Adam's grandmother, but she had a firm grip and a bright, inquisitive gaze.
“I hear tell you're going to replace the Moses window.”
“Does that bother you, Gran?” Adam sounded as if he hoped so.
His grandmother shook her head decidedly. “Never was up to the rest of the windows. If something's good, it'll improve with age.”
Adam's expression softened. “Like you, for instance.”
She swatted at him. “Don't you try to butter me up, young man.”
She turned away, but Tory saw the glow of pleasure in her cheeks. For an instant she felt a wave of envy. If she'd had a grandmother like that, how different might her life have been?
“Jenny, child. Come help me with these flowers.” Naomi Caldwell ushered Adam's daughter toward the pulpit, handing her the basket. “We'll put them on the dolphin shelf.”
Tory tensed at the words. “The dolphin shelf?” She glanced at Adam, making it a question.
“That bracket behind the pulpit. A wooden carving of a dolphin once stood there. Gran likes to keep flowers in its place.” Adam nodded toward the shelf where his grandmother was placing a vase.
I never meant for the dolphin to disappear. I didn't. Her mother's voice, broken with sobs, sounded in Tory's mind.
If she asked Adam about the dolphin, what would he say? Tory's mind worked busily. She had to find out more about the dolphin's disappearance if she were to fulfill her promise to her mother, but the last thing she needed was to stir up any additional conflict with Adam.
“What's this new window going to look like?” Mrs. Caldwell's question interrupted her thoughts before she could come up with an answer.
“That's really up to the family.” Maybe she'd better stay focused on the window for the moment. “Usually I try to come up with some designs that reflect the person being honored, then let the family decide.”
“How do you do that?” The woman paused, head tilted, her hands full of bronze mums. “Reflect somebody in a design, I mean.” She seemed genuinely interested in the design, unlike everyone else Tory had met since she'd come to the island.
“Well, first I try to find out as much as I can about the personâher likes and dislikes, her personality, her background. Thenâ”
Carried away by the subject, she glanced at Adam.
His expression dried the words on her tongue. He stared at her, his eyes like pieces of jagged green glass.
“No.” He ground out the word.
“What?” She blinked, not sure what he meant.
“I said no. You'll have to find another way of working this time.”
Before she could respond he was calling the child, saying goodbye to his grandmother and walking out of the sanctuary.
The heavy door swung shut behind him, canceling the shaft of sunlight it had let in.
“I'm sorry about that.” Adam's grandmother shook her head. “Reckon Adam's a bit sensitive about Lila.”
She'd made another misstep. She should have been more careful. But how on earth could she possibly find any common ground with Adam if he wouldn't even talk to her?
“I can't do this.” Adam had arrived at his office at Caldwell Boatyard after dropping Jenny at school, his stomach still roiling. He'd found his brother, Matthew, waiting for him.
“Can't do what?” Matt perched on the edge of Adam's cluttered desk, toying with the bronze dolphin paperweight Lila had given Adam in happier times. Matt looked as if he had all the time in the world.
“Help that woman design a memorial window for
Lila, of all things.” Adam slumped into the leather chair behind the desk. Matt was the only person in the world he'd speak to so freely, because Matt was the only one he'd told the whole story to. A good thing he had his brother, or he might resort to punching the paneling. “If my mother-in-law wanted a window, why didn't she put it in her own church instead of saddling me with it?”
“Maybe because St. Andrews was Lila's church,” Matt offered helpfully.
Adam glared at him. “Don't you have work to do? Or doesn't running a weekly paper and being husband and stepfather for two whole months keep you busy enough?”
“Actually, I am working.” Matt smiled, his face more relaxed than Adam had seen it in years. Marriage seemed to agree with him. “Sarah and I want to do a story for the
about the church windows.”
“Great. That's just what I need.” Adam rotated his chair so he could stare at the sloop he was refitting for an off-island summer sailor. “Maybe you can satisfy Tory Marlowe's curiosity.”
He glanced at his brother, wondering how much he wanted to say about Tory. Everything, probably.
Matt lifted an eyebrow. “Curiosity?”
“She wants to talk about Lila.” His throat tightened. “She wants to get to know her so she can create a fitting memorial.”
Matt whistled softly, obviously understanding all the things Adam didn't say out loud. “What are you doing about it?”
“Not telling her the truth, that's for sure.” He rubbed his forehead as if he could rub the memories away. He and Lila had married too quickly, too young, and he faulted himself for that as much as Lila. He hadn't realized until later, carried away as he was, that Lila had had totally skewed ideas of what their married life would be like. She'd hated the island, and everything he'd done to try and make things better only seemed to backfire. Even their beautiful baby hadn't made Lila want a real family.