Authors: Marta Perry
She'd craved excitement, and eventually she'd found that with a man she'd met on one of her frequent trips to visit friends who, she claimed, were living the life she should have had.
He frowned at Matt. “I certainly can't tell her the truth. I'm not telling her anything, if I can help it.”
“Sounds like a mistake to me.”
“Why?” He shot the word at his brother like a dare, but Matt looked unaffected.
“You'll just encourage her to go to other people for what she needs.”
“No one knows the truth.”
Matt shrugged. “You're probably right. But what if you're not? Better answer her questions yourself than have her asking around town.”
Unfortunately, that sounded like good advice. He lifted an eyebrow at Matt.
“How did you get to know so much about women, little brother?”
Matt grinned. “My wife's training me.” He sobered. “Seriously, Adam. Just get through it the
best you can. Give the woman a few noncommittal details and say you trust her artistic sense to come up with the design. She'll get busy with the design and stop bothering you.”
“I hope so.” But somehow he didn't think Tory was the kind of person to do anything without doing it to perfection.
He got up slowly, letting the chair roll against shelves crammed with shipbuilding lore. “Guess I'd better go back to the church and make peace with her, if I can.”
Adam slipped in the side door to the sanctuary and stopped in the shadows. Tory, on the ladder, didn't seem to hear him. He could take a minute to think what he'd say to her.
Unfortunately he wasn't thinking about that. Instead he was watching her, trying to figure out what it was about the woman that made it so hard to pull his gaze away.
She wasn't beautiful. That was his first impression. At least, she wasn't beautiful like Lila had been, all sleek perfection. But Tory had something, some quality that made a man look, then look again.
Those must be her working clothesâwell-worn jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt topped by an oversize man's white shirt that served to emphasize her slender figure. She looked like what she was, he supposed. An artisan, a woman who worked with her hands and didn't have time or inclination for the expensive frills that had been so important to Lila.
Tory's hair, rich as dark chocolate, had been pulled back and tied at the nape of her neck with a red scarf. The hair seemed to have a mind of its own, as tendrils escaped to curl against her neck and around the pale oval of her face.
Oh, no. He'd been that route before, hadn't he? Intrigued by a woman, mistaking a lovely face for a lovely soul, thinking her promises meant loyalty that would last a lifetime. With Lila, that lifetime had only lasted five years before she'd lost interest in keeping her vows.
His hands clenched. He wouldn't do that again. He had his daughter, his family, his business to take care of. That was enough for any sensible man.
The smartest thing would be to avoid Ms. Tory Marlowe entirely, but he couldn't do that. Thanks to Mona's bright idea, he and Tory were tied inextricably together until this project was finished.
Something winced inside him. He had to talk to her, and it might as well be now.
He took a step forward, frowning. Tory had leaned over perilously far, long fingers outstretched to touch some flaw she must see in the window.
She jerked around at the sound of his voice, the ladder wobbling. His breath caught as she put a steadying hand on the wall. He hurried to brace the ladder for her, annoyed with himself for startling her.
She frowned at him. “Are you trying to make me fall?”
“Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. I'm trying to
keep you from falling.” He gave the elderly wooden ladder a shake. “This thing isn't safe.”
She jumped down, landing close enough for him to smell the fresh scent that clung to her. “I do this all the time, you know. Scrambling around on rickety ladders comes with the territory.”
“You might do that elsewhere, sugar, but not in my church.”
Her dark eyes met his, startled and a little wary. The red T-shirt she wore under the white shirt seemed to make them even darker. “What did you call me?”
“Sorry.” But somehow he wasn't. “Afraid that slipped out. It's usually Jenny I'm lecturing about dangerous pastimes.”
Her already firm jaw tightened. “I'm not eight, and I'm doing my job.”
She reminded him of Gran, intent on doing what she wanted to no matter how well-intentioned her family's interference was. The comparison made him smile.
“Are you always this stubborn?”
“Always.” Something that might have been amusement touched her face. “I'm not your responsibility.”
“Well, you know, there's where you're wrong. In a way, you are my responsibility.”
She lifted level brows. “How do you figure that?”
He patted the ladder, and it shook. “Everything about the building and grounds of St. Andrews is my responsibility. Including rickety ladders.”
She grimaced. “I've been on worse than this one, believe me.”
“You shouldn't be up on a ladder at all.” An idea sprang into his mind, and it was such a perfect solution he didn't know why it hadn't occurred to him sooner.
Steel glinted in Tory's eyes. “If you think I'll give up the project because I have to climb a ladder, you have the wrong impression of me, Mr. Caldwell.”
“Adam,” he corrected. “I think my impression of you is fairly accurate, as a matter of fact. But I was referring to the ladder, not your personality, Ms. Marlowe.”
A faint flush stained her cheeks, and she fingered the fine silver chain that circled her neck. “Maybe you'd better make that Tory. What about the ladder?”
“It's not safe. I'll have a crew come over from the boatyard to put up scaffolding so you can inspect the windows safely. That's what we should have done to begin with.”
He was taking charge of the situation. That, too, was what he should have done from the word
instead of letting himself get defensive.
“You don't need toâ”
“As far as working on them is concernedâ” he swept on “âwe'll take the panels out completely. That way we won't have to worry about St. Andrews getting slapped with a lawsuit.”
He thought her lips twitched. “Is that what you're worried about?”
She nodded. “Well, in that case, since you're being so cooperative, I will need a workroom, preferably with good light, where things won't be disturbed.” She glanced around. “Is there a space in the church that would do?”
“Nothing,” he replied promptly. Ms. Tory didn't know it, but she was walking right into his plans. “We have just what you need at the house, though. It's a big room with plenty of light and a door you can lock. We'll move in tables or benches, whatever you need.”
He could see the wariness in her face at the idea. “I don't think I should be imposing on you.”
“It's not an imposition. It's my responsibility, remember?”
“Having me work at your home sounds well beyond the call of duty. I'll be in your way.”
“You haven't seen our house if you think that. It's a great rambling barn.”
“Even soâ¦” She still looked reluctant.
“You don't want me to bring up the big guns, do you?”
“Pastor Wells and my grandmother. They'll agree this is the best solution. You'd find them a formidable pair in an argument.”
The smile he hadn't seen before lit her face like sunlight sparkling on the sound. “Thanks, but I think you're formidable enough. All right. We'll try it your way.”
“Good.” He was irrationally pleased that she'd
given in without more of a fight. “I'll have a crew over here later this afternoon to set up scaffolding, so you can inspect the rest of the windows tomorrow. Don't climb any ladders in the meantime.”
She lifted her brows at what undoubtedly sounded like an order. “Are you always this determined to look after people?”
She turned to grasp the ladder. He helped her lower it to the floor. Her hair brushed his cheek lightly as they moved together, and he had to dismiss the idea of prolonging the moment.
Just get through it, Matt had said. Okay, that's what he'd do. He'd take control of this project instead of reacting to it. And the first step in that direction was to have Tory's workroom right under his eyes. Of course that meant that Tory herself would be, as well.
He could manage this. All right, he found her attractive. That didn't mean he'd act on that attraction, not even in his imagination.
ell, what do you think? Will this be a comfortable place to work?”
Adam looked at her for approval. Light poured into the large room he called the studio from its banks of windows. On one side Tory could see the salt marsh, beyond it the sparkle of open water. At the back, the windows overlooked a stretch of lawn, then garden and stables. Pale wooden molding surrounded the windows, and low shelves reached from the sills to the wide-planked floor. Anyone would say it was an ideal place to work.
“This should do very nicely.” She couldn't say that his home had taken her by surprise. This wasn't a houseâit was a mansion. And she didn't want to say that she'd lived like this once, before her mother's downward spiral into depression, alcoholism and poverty.
She took a breath. She'd been handling those rec
ollections for a long time. She could handle this reminder. Besides, being here was a golden opportunity to find out what she needed to about the Caldwells. She just had to get Adam to open up.
“Why do you call it a studio?”
He shrugged. “We always have. My mother used it that way. Dad turned the space into a playroom for us kids after she died.” He pointed to a small easel in the corner, the shelves behind it stacked with children's books, paints and crayons. “Jenny likes to paint in here when she's in the mood.”
The room seemed uncomfortably full of his family with one notable exception. He hadn't mentioned his wife. “Was your mother an artist?”
“She painted, did needlework, that kind of thing.” Sadness shadowed Adam's face for a moment. “I can remember her sitting in front of the windows with some project on her lap. She died when I was eight.”
“I'm sorry.” Tory had been five when her father died. She hesitated, torn. If she told Adam about it, that might create a bond that would encourage him to talk, but she didn't give away pieces of herself that easily.
She walked to the long table that held the first of the panels they'd removed from the church that morning. Everything she'd asked for was here, ready and waiting for her. She longed to dive into the work and forget everything else. If Adam would leaveâ
“What about you?” Adam leaned his hip against the table, crossing his arms, clearly not intending to go anywhere at the moment.
She looked at him blankly, not sure what he meant by the question.
“Family,” he added. “You've met Jenny and my grandmother, heard about my mother. What about your family?”
It was the inevitable question Southerners put to each other at some point. She'd heard it before, phrased a little differently each time, maybe, but always asking the same thing. Who are your people? That was more important than what you did or where you went to school or even how much money you had. Who are your people?
“I'm alone.” That wouldn't be enough. She had to say more or he'd wonder. “My father died when I was quite young, and my mother last year. I don't have any other relatives.” At least, not any relatives that would like to claim me.
“I'm sorry.” Adam's eyes darkened with quick sympathy. “That's rough. They were from this part of the world, weren't they?”
The question struck her like a blow. “What makes you think that?”
He smiled slowly. Devastatingly. “Sugar, you've been slipping back into a low-country accent since the day you arrived. You can't fool an old geechee like me.”
She hadn't heard that word since she'd left Savannah, but it resounded in her heart. Anyone born along this part of the coast was a geechee, said either affectionately or with derision, depending on the speaker. Apparently she couldn't leave her heritage behind, no matter how she tried.
Tory managed a stiff smile in return. “I'm from Savannah originally, but I've been up north so long I thought I passed for one of them.”
“Not a chance.” He pushed himself away from the table, the movement bringing him close enough to make her catch her breath, making her too aware of the solid strength of him. “Welcome back home, Tory Marlowe.”
She wanted to deny it, to say she didn't have any intention of belonging in this part of the world again. But his low voice, threaded with amusement, seemed to have taken away her ability to speak. Or maybe it was his sheer masculine presence, only inches from her.
Adam wasn't the boy he'd been at seventeen. That boy had been charming enough to haunt her dreams for a good long time. Grown-up Adam was twice as hard to ignore. He was taller, broader, stronger. The lines around his eyes said he'd dealt with pain and come away cautious, but he had an air of assurance that compelled a response.
A response she didn't have any intention of making. She wouldn't let fragments of memory turn her to mush. She'd better get back to business, right now.
She cleared her throat, dismissing its tightness. “One thing about working in the studio concerns me.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Only one?”
She would not return that attractive smile. “Glass slivers fly around when I'm working. And the lead I use is dangerous to children.”
He nodded, face sobering. “I've told Jenny she
must never come in unless you invite her. To be extra safe, I have a key to the studio for you.” Adam held out a key ring. “And a house key, in case you ever need to come in when no one is here.”
It was as if he handed her a key to the Caldwell family. Everything she was hiding from him flooded her mind. “I won't need that.”
He took her hand and put the ring in her palm, his fingers warm against hers. “Just in case.” We trust you, he seemed to be saying.
You can't. You can't trust me.
“Looks as if you're getting all set up in here.” A tall, silver-haired man paused in the doorway, his interruption saving her from blurting something that would defeat her goals even before she started.
Adam took his hand away from hers, unhurried. “Tory, this is my father, Jefferson Caldwell.”
“Mr. Caldwell.” He came toward her, and she shook his hand while she tried to ignore the voice in her mind.
Jefferson and Clayton Caldwell.
Her mother's words had been disjointed and hard to follow.
They were brothers, just a year apart.
Her mother's coquettish giggle had sounded out of place in the hospital room.
They were both sweet on me, you know.
Tory could easily imagine that. She'd seen pictures of her mother at fifteen, before alcohol and sorrow had weighed her down. Emily had been a golden girl, far more beautiful than Tory could ever dream of being.
If she mentioned Emily Brandeis's name to Jefferson Caldwell, would he remember that long-ago
summer? Her mother had certainly remembered it. Rational or not, she'd traced everything that had gone wrong in her life to the events of that summer.
Jefferson surveyed the setup that had changed his studio into her workroom, then turned to her. “Welcome to Caldwell Island, Ms. Marlowe. I hope you're finding everything you need for this project.”
Jefferson's beautifully tailored jacket and silky dress shirt gave him an urbane, sophisticated air that seemed out of tune with the down-home impression she received from his brother, Clayton, whose family ran the inn.
“Yes, thank you. I hope it won't inconvenience you to have my workshop here.”
“Not at all.” He waved his hand as if to encompass the entire estate. “Twin Oaks is a big enough place to accommodate all of us.”
“It's a beautiful house.” She said what he no doubt expected.
“Yes, it is that.” Jefferson smiled with satisfaction at her words.
A cold house, she thought, but who was she to judge? No house could be more frigid than her grandmother's mansion in Savannah.
The hospital where she'd sat beside her mother's bed hadn't been far from her grandmother's Bull Street mansion, but there'd been no contact. Neither of them had expected it. Amanda Marlowe had long since cut all ties with her embarrassing daughter-in-law. Probably losing touch with her granddaughter had seemed a small price to pay.
Her mother had moved restlessly on the bed, shaking her head from side to side.
I didn't mean for him to take his family's heirloom. I didn't mean it, Tory. I didn't want anyone to get hurt.
Tears had overflowed.
You have to find the dolphin and put it back. Promise me.
Her thin hand had gripped Tory's painfully.
Promise me. You have to promise me.
I didn't mean for him to take it. Her mother had felt responsible for the disappearance of the carved dolphin from the island church. For reasons Tory would never understand, that guilt had haunted her during her final illness. Someone had been hurt, but who?
I didn't mean for him to take it. One of the Caldwells, obviously, but which brother? Jefferson or Clayton?
She searched for something to say to drown out her mother's voice in her mind. “I'm staying at the Dolphin Inn, you know. So I've become acquainted with your brother and his family.”
Jefferson's face froze as a chill seemed to permeate the air. “I suppose they're making you as comfortable as they can. When the new Dalton Hotel is finished, we'll be able to offer visitors something better than Clayton's little operation.”
The spurt of malice in his words silenced her. Had he really just insulted his brother to a stranger?
Luckily Jefferson didn't seem to expect a response. “I'll let you get on with your work. Please ask if there's anything else you need.” He turned and left the room before she could find a response.
When Jefferson's footsteps had faded down the hallway, she gave Adam a cautious look. “Did I say something I shouldn't?”
He shrugged, but she could almost feel the tension in his shoulders. “Nothing you could have known about, so don't worry. My father and his brother have been on the outs for a long time. The rest of us have learned to take it for granted.”
The silence stretched between them, broken only by a bird's song drifting through the open window. How long a time, she wanted to ask. Since they were teenagers? Since Emily Brandeis came to the island and the dolphin vanished from the church?
But she couldn't ask because she wasn't ready for these people to know who she was yet. Until she knew how they'd respond, she couldn't risk it.
“I'm sorry for putting my foot in it,” she said carefully. “Family feuds can be devastating.” Nobody knew that better than she did.
“I'm used to it.”
Was he? Or was that merely a convenient thing to believe?
One thing was certain. Her job on the island wasn't just another commission or a step toward the independence she longed for or even a chance to keep her promise.
Like it or not, her history and Adam's history were interwoven in ways he couldn't begin to imagine.
What was she thinking? Adam leaned against the heavy oak table, watching Tory's face. Light
from the bank of windows made her hair glint like a raven's wing.
He forgot, sometimes, how odd the Caldwell family feud must seem to an outsider, especially since he had no intention of telling this particular outsider anything else. She didn't need to know that his father's drive for success at any cost had created a wedge between him and the rest of the family, who thought he'd left his honor behind along the way.
She also didn't need to learn that Adam's peacemaker role had grown increasingly difficult over the years. He'd been peacemaker between his father and brother, between his father and the rest of the familyâmaybe the truth was that the buffer always ended up battered by all sides.
“It must bother you.” Her eyes went soft as brown velvet with sympathy.
That look of hers would be enough to melt his heart if he didn't watch out. “I suppose it does, sometimes.” She was a stranger, he reminded himself. Furthermore, she was a stranger whose presence here threatened his secret.
Get through it, his brother had said. Matt charged at problems headlong, shoving barriers out of his way. Adam wasn't Matt.
He'd come up with another way of dealing with the trouble represented by Tory Marlowe. His gaze was drawn irresistibly to her. What was she thinking?
Apparently assuming he wasn't going to say anything else, she bent over the window panel, her
fingers tracing the pieces as lovingly as he'd touch his daughter's hair. Her dark locks were escaping from the scarf that tied them back. They curled against her neck as if they had a mind of their own.
Deal with her, he reminded himself. Not gawk at her as if you've never seen a woman before.
He didn't want her wandering around Caldwell Cove, digging into a past that was best forgotten. So the best solution, until and unless he could find a way to derail this memorial window altogether, was to move Tory into Twin Oaks.
“I've been having second thoughts about this arrangement.”
She looked up, startled. Apparently while he was watching the way her hair curled against her skin, she'd forgotten he was in the room. “What do you mean? I thought you wanted me to work here.”
Would he ever get things right with this woman? He reminded himself that it didn't matterâall that did was her leaving Caldwell Cove.
“Of course I want you to work here.” He almost put his hand on her shoulder, then decided that would be a bad idea. “In fact, I think you ought to stay here at the house while you're in Caldwell Cove.”
A frown line appeared between her brows. “Is this because of the feud between your father and his brother?”
He should have realized she'd think that. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I get along fine with Uncle Clayton and everyone else in the family.”
“Well, you would.” Her lips curved in the slight
est of smiles. “Miranda says you're everyone's friend. That everyone in town relies on you.”