Authors: Marta Perry
“I wonder if she meant that as a compliment.” That was him, all right. Good old reliable Adam.
“Of course she did. Anyone would.”
“Sounds sort of stodgy, don't you think?”
“It sounds good.” She looked startled, as if she hadn't intended to say that. “Anyway, if it's not that, then why should I move here from the inn? I'm comfortable there, and I can drive over every day.”
Because I want to keep tabs on you. He could give her any reason but the real one.
“We have plenty of room for you.”
“They have room for me where I am.”
“Yes, but you won't have to pay for a room here.”
She blinked at that, face suddenly shadowed. The look opened up a whole new train of thought. Was money a problem?
“I don't know what advance my mother-in-law has paid you,” he said cautiously. Tory obviously had an independent streak a mile wide. “But it stands to reason we should pick up your expenses while you're here.”
“That doesn't mean I should be your houseguest.”
“It doesn't mean you shouldn't.” He suspected he sounded the way he did when he tried to coax Jenny into eating her collard greens. “If you move into Twin Oaks, you'll be close to your work. That will certainly be more convenient.”
Her lips pursed as she considered, and he found himself wondering how it would feel to kiss those
lips. He shook off the speculation. Not a good idea, Caldwell.
“If you're worried about propriety, you needn't be. As my father said, it's a big house. Miz Becky, the housekeeper, lives in, and we often have business colleagues of my father's staying.”
“That isn't what I'm worried about.” She looked up, eyes dark and serious. “I might even find it helpfulâgiving me a better sense of the kind of person your late wife was.”
It felt as if she'd punched him, and he could only hope his expression didn't change. Naturally she'd think living in Lila's house, talking with the people who'd been closest to her, would help her know Lila.
Nobody here will tell you the truth, Tory, because nobody knows it but me.
Well, Miz Becky might have guessed some of it. The Gullah woman who'd taken care of the family since his mother died often knew things no one had told her. But Miz Becky would never betray his trust, no matter what Tory asked. She understood loyalty.
He managed a smile. “What's holding you back?”
“Dad?” That startled him. “Why on earth?”
“I didn't get off to a good start with him. I can't imagine that he'd want me living under his roof.”
“Now that's where you're wrong. He's the one who suggested it.”
Get her out of Clayton's place, for pity's sake, his father had said irritably. That's the last impression we want to make on the womanâthat Caldwells are
back-country hicks with no more ambition than to rent out a few rooms and go fishing.
“Is that true?”
“Cross my heart,” he said lightly. “Dad would like you to stay here.”
“And you would like me to leave the island and never come back.” Her eyes met his.
She wouldn't be convinced by a polite evasion. His natural instinct was to say as little about Lila as possible. As long as he didn't talk about her, he could forget. At least, that's what he told himself.
Tory's gaze was unwavering. He felt a surge of annoyance. No one else in his life pushed him on this. They respected his grief and kept silent.
Or maybe that was the pattern of his relationships. He was the listener, the shoulder to cry on. He wasn't supposed to have tears of his own.
“All right.” He blew out a frustrated breath. “I'm not crazy about this idea of Mona's.”
“That's been clear all along. But I don't understand why. A memorial to your wifeâ¦”
“Exactly. A memorial. Something that brings back memories.” He swung away from her, not wanting her to discover what kind of memories they were.
“I'm sorry.” Her voice softened, filled with sympathy for the grief she imagined he was expressing. “I don't want to hurt you, and I'm sure that's the last thing on your mother-in-law's mind.”
“Thank you.” She shamed him with her quick sympathy. For an instant he imagined the relief he'd feel at telling her the truth.
Horrified, he rejected the thought. He couldn't tell anyone, least of all a stranger working for Lila's mother. Mona, like Jenny, would never know the truth from him. He turned toward her.
“Look, this will work out. Just give me time to get used to the idea. All right?”
Tory nodded. Her dark eyes shimmered with unshed tears, and he felt like a dog for accepting the sympathy he didn't deserve.
“All right. And if you're sure about this, I'll take you up on your offer of a room.”
Relief swept through him. “I'm sure.”
Tory squeezed his hand, the gesture probably intended to express sympathy. He felt the touch of her fingers right up his arm.
His eyes met hers. Her dark eyes widened, and her lips formed a silent
She felt what he did. And she didn't know what to do with it, either.
This is a mistake. The voice inside his head was deafening. You won't risk feeling anything for a woman again. And if you wanted to, it wouldn't be Tory. She's complicating your life enough just by being here.
Good advice. That was his specialty, giving good advice to other people. Why did he feel that following his own advice was going to be next to impossible where Tory Marlowe was concerned?
If she'd thought living at Twin Oaks would bring her any closer to her goals, Tory had been wrong. She hadn't found out a single thing about Lila or the dis
appearance of the dolphin in the three days she'd been there.
She leaned against the back porch post, sketch pad on her lap. The lawn, greening again after summer's heat, stretched under live oaks draped with Spanish moss that looked like swags of gray-green lace. Bronze and yellow chrysanthemums spilled over the flower beds along the walks.
Jenny lazed away a Saturday afternoon, pushing herself back and forth in a wooden plank swing suspended from a sturdy branch. Her sneakers scraped the ground with each arc, and her curls bounced.
Tory looked from the child to the sketch that had grown under her fingers. Jenny swung on the page, face lifted to the breeze she was creating.
“That's good, that is.”
Tory glanced up. Miz Becky, the woman who ran Twin Oaks and apparently everyone in it, settled in the bentwood rocker.
“Thanks.” Tory flexed her fingers and stretched, lifting damp hair off her neck. Even in fall, the air was sultry here. “I can't sit without doodling.”
Miz Becky's smile warmed her elegant, austere face. With her hair covered by a colorful scarf wound into a turban, she looked like royalty. “Know what you mean about that.” She lifted the strainer of fresh green beans. “I got to keep my hands busy, too.”
It was the first time she'd been alone with Miz Becky, her first opportunity to ask her about Lila Caldwell if she wanted.
“How're those windows at the church coming along?” Miz Becky asked.
“Not bad.” Tory wrapped her arms around her knees, wishing she could find a tactful way to broach the subject. “The repairs are moving along. Unfortunately, the new window isn't.”
The woman popped the ends off the beans with a decisive snap. “Why's that?”
“I really need to find out more about Mrs. Caldwell's life if I'm going to come up with a design to honor her. So farâ”
“So far Adam's not talking.” Mix Becky tossed a handful of beans into a sweetgrass basket.
“That's about the size of it.” She thought of the darkness that crossed Adam's open, friendly face whenever the topic was raised. “I don't want to intrude on his grief, but I'm afraid I'll have to.”
“Grief?” Miz Becky seemed to consider the word. “I'm not so sure that's what's keeping him close-mouthed about her.”
Tory glanced up, startled. That almost sounded as ifâ¦
Before she could respond, Jenny ran toward them.
“Miz Tory, could we go for a walk on the beach?” The child hopped onto the first step and balanced on one foot. “Please?” She gave Tory the smile that was so like her father's. “I can't go by myself.”
She couldn't resist that smile. “If Miz Becky says it's okay.”
“Get along.” Miz Becky flapped a hand at them.
She held Tory's gaze for an instant. “Just might answer a few questions for you.”
Was the woman suggesting that Jenny could be a source of information? Adam would definitely disapprove of that.
Jenny grasped Tory's hand and tugged her off the step. “Come on. I'll race you.”
Grabbing the sketch pad, Tory followed. She wouldn't ask the child. If Jenny volunteered anything, that was different.
They crossed the lawn. Jenny skipped ahead of her down the path toward the beach. Palmettos and pines lined it, casting dense shadows littered with oversize pinecones and palmetto fans stripped by the wind.
They emerged from tree shadows into bright, clear light, the ocean stretching blue, then gray, then blending into the sky at the horizon. Tory tilted her head back, inhaling the tang of salt and fish and seaweed washed up by the tide and baking in the sun. It filled her with an irrational sense of well-being, nostalgic for a time she could barely remember.
Jenny trotted across beige sand and hopped onto a fallen log, bleached white by the sea. She patted the smooth space next to her. “Sit here, Miz Tory. I want to talk to you.”
Smiling at the serious turn of phrase, Tory sat. The log was smooth, sun-warmed, a little sandy. “About what?”
“My mother,” Jenny said promptly. “I want to talk about my mother.”
“Listen, Jenny, I don't think your daddy would like that.”
Jenny's frown resembled her father's, too. “The window you're making is for my mommy. I can tell you lots of things that will help.” She pointed to the small purple and white flowers blooming close to the ground among the sea oats in the dunes. “See those?”
“Beach morning glories, aren't they?” She hadn't expected to, but she remembered the tiny, trumpet-shaped flowers from those early childhood holidays when her father was alive and the family summered on Tybee Island. Her fingers automatically picked up the pencil.
“Those were my mommy's favorite flowers.” Jenny said it firmly, as if to refute argument.
“They're very pretty.” Beach morning glories began to grow on the paper under her hand.
“I remember lots of things.” A frown clouded her small face. “Like how Mommy smelled, and what she liked to eat. Andâ”
“What are you doing?”
Tory's heart jolted into overdrive. Adam stood at the end of the path, glaring. There wasn't any doubt that his sharp question was aimed at her.
rush of anger threatened to overwhelm Adam. Tory was talking to his daughter about Lila. He clenched his fists. He'd avoided her questions so she'd turned to his child. How dare she?
Jenny's stubborn pout reached through his anger to sound a warning note. Careful. Don't make too much of this in front of her.
“We're talking, Daddy.” Jenny tilted her chin. “About Mommy.”
“I see.” He crossed the sand toward them, put one foot on the bleached log, tried for a casualness he didn't feel. “That's nice, sugar, but Miz Becky's looking for you. She has your snack ready.”
“But, Daddy, I don't want to go yet. I'm not done telling Ms. Tory about Mommy.”
He pushed down another wave of anger at Tory, took Jenny's hands and swung her off the log. “Maybe not, but Miz Becky's waiting for you. Get along, now.”
Jenny pouted, then glanced at Tory. “I'll see you after a while. We'll talk some more.” At his warning look, she darted toward the path.
The smile Tory had for his daughter slipped from her face once Jenny was gone. She planted her hands against the log on either side of her, seeming to brace herself for battle. “Is something wrong?”
“I think you know something's wrong.” Anger drove him, so intense he almost didn't know where to begin. “First off, Jenny's not supposed to go to the beach without asking, even with a grown-up.”
Tory lifted her level brows. “Miz Becky gave her permission. Surely you don't think I'd take Jenny anywhere otherwise.”
“I don't know what you'd do.” Being blunt might be the only thing that would work with the woman. “You were probing Jenny for information about her mother.” He flung the words at her like missiles. He wanted her to admit she'd been wrong. More than that, he wanted her gone.
She didn't give any sign of being struck. “I wasn't probing. Jenny brought it up. She wanted to talk.”
His heart seemed to wince at that, and for a moment there was no sound but the rustle of sea oats bowing in the wind. Then he found his voice. “That's ridiculous. Jenny was only four when her mother died. She barely recalls her.”
“Maybe that's the point. She wants to remember.” Passion flared in Tory's face, vivid and startling. “Don't you realize that?”
Her question flicked him on the raw edges of
emotion, and he wanted to hit back. “I realize it's none of your business.”
Her mouth tightened, as if acknowledging his right to say it. “You can't stop the child from remembering.” Her voice softened, and she put up one hand to brush windblown hair from her eyes. “Why would you want to?”
It was safer not to stare into brown eyes that seemed to know too much about loneliness. He looked beyond Tory, focusing on the inexorable movement of the waves rolling into shore. A line of sandpipers rushed importantly along the wet sand. He struggled, trying to find the right words.
“I don't. But I don't want her to be stuck in grieving. Jenny needs to look forward,” he said. “There's nothing to be gained by dwelling on the past.”
“Are you talking about Jenny or about yourself?” The question was like a blow to the stomach, but before he could react, she was shaking her head. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that.”
“No.” He had to force the word through tight lips. “You shouldn't.” She had no right.
“I just wantâ¦” She let the words trail off, then held her sketch pad out to him. “Look. This is what I'm trying to do.”
He took the pad, frowning at a sketch of beach morning glories trailing along the page. “You're drawing flowers. What does that have to do with questioning my daughter?”
Tory's sigh was audible. “I wasn't questioning her. Coming down to the beach was Jenny's idea. She
brought me here because she wanted to show me somethingâthe morning glories. She says they were her mother's favorite flower.”
“I don't think so.” Lila hadn't even like the beach. She'd longed to return to her native Atlanta almost from the day they'd married. The beach was always too windy or too hot or too cold for her.
Tory stood, the movement bringing her close enough that her wiry hair, escaping from its band and caught by the breeze, brushed his arm. “Look.” She touched the drawing. “Don't you see? I could work this into the design for the window.”
“The window.” Back to that again. Or maybe they'd never left it. “I told you we'd decided to do the repairs first.”
She wasn't listening to him. Her gaze focused on the pad, and she pulled it from his hands. She sat back on the log as if she'd forgotten he was there, her pencil flying across the paper.
He watched, bemused. Tory had withdrawn into some other world where nothing could touch her. He doubted she heard the screech of the gulls or the rustle of the sea oats. Only the breeze drew a reaction from her as she pushed her hair back impatiently and smoothed the paper flat.
“There,” she said at last, looking at him, eyes alight with passion. “See? This is what I can do with it.” She thrust the sketch pad at him.
He took it, sitting down next to her on the log. How was he going to get through to the woman if she wouldn't even listen to what he said?
“This is the window's shape.” Her finger traced the arched rectangle she'd drawn. “That's a given. The border can go all around.”
She'd turned the morning glories into a twining design that made a frame for whatever would go into the center. He didn't want to be intrigued, and he fought the feeling.
“As I said, we want you to do the repairs first. We're not ready to plan the window yet.”
Her gaze probed for what lay behind the words. “I know. You've told me, several times. But you don't understand. It takes time to create a new design and order the materials. I have to work on this now, while I'm doing the repairs, or I won't be ready when the time comes.”
How did he argue with that? Did he tell her the truthâthat she'd never come up with a design he'd approve of because such a thing could never exist?
He concentrated on the page, trying to ignore the wave of energy coming from Tory. But he couldn't do that, either.
This mattered to her. Maybe she brought this kind of passion to all her work. Did she have any of that passion left over for anything or anyone else?
Not a question he had the right to wonder about, he told himself quickly.
“All right.” He gave in because he didn't know what else to do, and it didn't really matter, anyway. “This looks fine, although I think Lila preferred hothouse orchids.” Now, how had that slipped out? He didn't intend to tell her anything.
Dismay filled Tory's eyes. “But Jenny said her mother loved the morning glories.”
He shook his head. “Maybe Jenny's confused. Or it's just her imagination.”
She reached out as if to take the pad. “I can change the design.”
“No.” His grip tightened. “Leave it. It's more important that Jenny feel a part of this project.”
Tory's rare smile lit her face, making his breath catch. “That's true. I'm glad you see it that way.”
See it that way? What on earth was wrong with him? He didn't want this window. The last thing he should do was encourage Tory. But he had the uneasy feeling her smile could make him forget his decision, if he let it.
What was Adam thinking?
For a few minutes Tory had been totally absorbed in the idea that was taking shape under her fingers. She'd forgotten Adam was next to her.
Now he seemed uncomfortably close, and even through the distraction caused by his physical presence, she knew he was hiding something. Some alien emotion roiled beneath his calm facade. She didn't know what it was, but it had to do with his wife. Lila.
Adam flipped through the sketch pad as if to distance himself from any discussion of the window. She watched his hands move over her drawings and wondered how he'd react if he ever saw the sketch in her old pad from that long-ago summerâthe one
she'd drawn of him after that night at the yacht club. She'd almost thrown it away a dozen times, but something always stopped her.
He wouldn't see it, she assured herself. He'd obviously forgotten that night, and she'd never remind him. Their relationship was complicated enough without that.
Adam stopped, turned back a page to something he must have missed the first time through.
“When did you do this?” His voice had changed as he tilted the sketch of Jenny toward her. Maybe the current battle was over, if not the war.
“This morning. She looked as if she were trying to go into orbit on that swing.”
His lips twitched. “She does do that, doesn't she? She scares me half to death sometimes.” He quirked an eyebrow at her, green eyes smiling, and her heart turned over. “May I have this?”
Apparently they'd declared a truce for the moment. “Of course, if you really want it.” She felt the heat come up in her cheeks. “It's not that good. I'm not an artist, just a craftsman.”
His tanned fingers touched the drawing lightly. “Looks pretty professional to me. Anyway, you caught that sense of adventure in her face. That's wonderful, even when it terrifies me.”
“You wouldn't want her to be any different.” She thought about her mother and stepfather, who'd always wanted her to be different. About her grandmother and Jason, who'd have loved her if she'd been willing to change.
“Of course not.” He looked surprised, as if the thought had never occurred to him. “Jenny is herself. I wouldn't change her for the world.” He smiled. “But I thank God every day that I have plenty of people to help me with herâfamily, Miz Becky. I don't know what I'd do without them.”
“Caldwell Island is filled with Caldwells, isn't it?” And Adam Caldwell belonged here, in a way she'd never belonged anywhere.
“We are kind of thick on the ground,” he agreed. He seemed to relax now that they were away from the subject of the window. “Especially since my brother and my cousin Chloe came home. We never thought those two wanderers would settle down. At least, nobody thought it but Gran.”
She pictured the erect elderly woman with her obvious pride in her family. “I take it the Caldwell clan was among the first settlers on the island.”
“Oh, yes.” He stretched, his arm brushing hers and sending a trickle of warmth along her skin. He nodded toward the mainland, shimmering green against the blue water to the west. “The island doesn't seem far from the mainland now, but before the bridge was built, this was wild country. The first Caldwells date back to the eighteenth century, and they lived pretty isolated for a long time.”
“Sounds like there's a story in that.” She put a question in her voice. Her mother had said that the carved dolphin was somehow related to the Caldwell family's history. Maybe if Adam talked about itâ¦
He shrugged. “Lots of stories, but I'm not the
best one to tell them. Get Gran going on it sometime. She's a real sea island storyteller. Nobody knows the legends like she does.”
“I'll bet you know them. After all, you grew up here, while Iâ”
She stopped that thought before it could spill out, appalled at her carelessness. She'd almost said she'd only been here twice.
“While you?” He smiled, watching her, and her heart seemed to lurch. There was something about his interested gaze that made a person want to confide in Adam. He focused on her with such flattering attention that it drew the words out. Maybe that was why, as Miranda had said, everyone depended on him.
She managed a smile in return. “While I'm a newcomer,” she said firmly. “A visitor, isn't that what you'd say? I notice no one says tourist.”
“We think visitor sounds nicer. Anyway, we've never had what you'd call hordes of tourists on the island. Just as well, as far as most of us are concerned. Mostly we get the summer residents who own or rent those houses down by the yacht club.”
The last place she wanted to discuss was the yacht club. It brought back too many memoriesâdancing in the moonlight, the scent of white roses, the feel of Adam's strong arm around her waist.
“I understand a new hotel is going up,” she said hurriedly.
He nodded, but he seemed distracted, too, as if chasing down a vagrant thought. Because he was recalling a moonlit night that was better forgotten?
“It'll mean changes,” he said. “Good or bad, I guess we'll see. More nightlife, probably. Lila would have liked that.” He stopped abruptly, as if surprised at his words.
“She enjoyed going out?” Tory was so glad to be off the dangerous topic of the yacht club that she asked the question without thinking.
He snapped the sketch pad closed, and his face closed, too. “Yes.” He clipped off the word. “But I don't see how you can incorporate that into your design.”
“I wasn'tâ¦” I wasn't trying to get you to talk about her. I just wanted to change the subject.
Obviously she couldn't say that. Before she could think of something noncommittal, he stood.
“I'd best get back.”
He didn't give her a chance to say she'd walk to the house with him. He spun away from her and strode up the path as if something were chasing him.
Memories, she thought. Memories are chasing you, Adam, and you don't want to let them catch up. Is it because you grieve for your wife so deeply? Or do you have some other reason?
Well, she was certainly the last person he'd confide in. She tilted her head, letting the breeze tangle her hair. She'd have done a better job of handling that conversation if she hadn't been so worried about her own secrets.
She frowned at the sketch of the beach morning glories. She could create something good from that, if Adam would let her. If.
Where is this going, Lord?
There didn't seem to be an answer.