A Time to Forgive and Promise Forever (5 page)

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Tory hadn't, in her wildest imaginings of being on Caldwell Island, expected to be standing next to Adam in the front pew on Sunday morning, sharing a hymnbook as the pastor announced the last hymn. Adam flipped to the song, his hand brown against the white page, and she stilled the by-now-familiar tingle at his nearness.

She'd been startled at his automatic assumption they'd go to church together. When she'd met him at the bottom of the stairs and waited with him for Jenny and Miz Becky, it had been almost as if they were family.

No, not that. She hurried away from that notion and focused instead on the window of Jesus and the children. She and Adam had worked late with his crew the evening before, wanting to put the repaired panels back before this morning.

Last night, she'd felt as if they were on the same team. But they weren't. She had to remember that. She had an undeclared purpose here, and she had the strong feeling that Adam was hiding something, too.

Sunlight slanted through the old glass, casting rays of ruby and amethyst across the faces of the worshipers. She found herself drawn to the image of Jesus. The light behind the window made the face glow with an inner peace.

You brought me here,
she prayed silently.
Show me what to do.

She had to succeed. The thought sent a shiver through her. Because if she didn't, she'd spend her life thinking she'd failed her mother one last time. She couldn't be in this sanctuary without seeing that shelf and knowing what she had to do.

Show me,
she said again.
Please.

“Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm has bound the restless wave…” She sang the words with the congregation, sensing the emotion that rippled through the sanctuary. These people lived lives surrounded by the ocean. They knew what it was to beg God's mercy for those in peril on the sea.

Her gaze moved to the dolphin shelf behind the pulpit, filled with the late chrysanthemums Adam's grandmother had put there. Was that why the dolphin had been so important to them—because of its connection with the ocean?

She had to know more. And Adam was the one who could tell her, if he would. If she had the courage to bring it up.

She slanted a sideways glance at him. As if feeling her gaze, he looked at her, eyes crinkling in a smile, and her hand tightened on the hymnal.

The amen sounded, and Pastor Wells lifted his hands. “Before we leave today, I'd like to draw your attention to the window of Jesus and the children. The repair work has already been finished on it, and I'm sure you'll want to say a word to the stained-glass artist who will be with us working on the windows, Tory Marlowe.”

He nodded toward her, smiling, and she didn't
know where to look. She hadn't expected that. She was here to do a job, not become a part of this community.

Pastor Wells launched into his benediction, and the moment passed. But she soon found that wasn't all there was to it. Once the organist began to play the postlude, everyone in the sanctuary seemed intent on speaking to her.

By the time she'd shaken hands a dozen times, nodded and smiled and said whatever she could about the windows, Adam had slipped away.

Fine, she told herself. She hadn't expected him to wait for her. Not when she was just someone he had to put up with for the duration. She could easily walk to the house.

“You did a fine job with that.” Adam's grandmother paused next to her, navy bag clasped in white-gloved hands.

“Thank you.” She joined Mrs. Caldwell in looking at the window. “The cleaning really brought out those beautiful colors.”

“Always has been one of my favorites.” The elderly woman reached up to settle her navy straw hat more firmly. “Which one do you reckon to do next?”

Tory nodded toward the image of Jesus feeding the five thousand. “That one. But I'm not sure I'll have it finished by next Sunday.” She frowned, worrying. “If they can get it to me quickly…”

Mrs. Caldwell patted her hand. “You talk to Adam about it. He'll work it out.” She moved away.

Talk to Adam. Yes, she'd do that.

And she had to talk to Adam about the dolphin. She traced a glass flower, wondering. Maybe the time had come to level with him about who she was. That might be the only way she'd gain his cooperation. Without that, she stood little chance of finding out what had happened to the dolphin. Still, she couldn't help cringing at the thought of telling him.

“Are you planning your strategy?”

She jumped at the baritone voice so close behind her, her heartbeat accelerating. Adam hadn't gone, after all. Was he reading her mind?

Chapter Five

T
ory tried to catch the breath his words had stolen. Adam was in the nearest pew, apparently gathering discarded bulletins. It took a moment to convince herself he wasn't reading her mind. With a wave of relief, she realized he was talking about the window, not her search for the dolphin.

“Something like that. I'd like to get started on the next one.” She paused. “I thought you'd already left.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “My daddy always told me if you bring a lady somewhere, you take her home again.”

“Going to church isn't—”
A date.
She didn't want to say that. “I could easily walk back to the house. It's not far and it's a beautiful day.”

Adam nodded, scooping the bulletins into a neat stack. “October weather is perfect on the island. I never have figured out why the visitors don't seem to know that.” He grinned. “Not that I'm complaining about it, you understand.”

“I can see why you want the place to yourself, if that's what you mean.” She glanced around. It was disconcerting to be suddenly alone with him when a few moments earlier the church had been full. “Is Jenny outside?”

“Miz Becky took her on home. She wanted to get started on lunch. The buildings and grounds chair always gets stuck with last-minute chores after the service.”

That sounded like an invitation. “Can I help?”

“Sure.” He looked around the empty sanctuary as if picking out a job for her. “You might take those flowers from the dolphin shelf. We'll drop them off for one of the shut-ins on our way home.”

Tory moved slowly past the pulpit, her gaze on the bracket where the carved wooden dolphin had once stood. She inhaled the spicy aroma of the chrysanthemums, then ran her hand along the shelf. Her fingertips touched the border of seashells, incised by a careful hand generations ago. Someone had put a great deal of love into the shelf to hold the dolphin.

Her throat tightened. The disappearance of the dolphin had messed up several lives. Returning it couldn't erase the damage, but it was the last thing she'd ever do for her mother. Maybe that would make up for all the times she'd failed—failed to understand, failed to keep her mother from drinking again, failed to somehow save her from herself.

“Tell me about the dolphin.” She tried to keep her voice casual, not wanting Adam to guess it meant anything at all to her.

“My gran would tell it better.” He shoved a hymnal into the pew rack.

But she wanted to hear it from him. “I'm sure you know it by heart.”

“Nobody knows how much truth there is to the story,” he warned.

“I'll take it as legend.” She smiled, trying to disguise how keyed up she was.

He shrugged, as if giving in to her whim, and leaned his hip against the pew back. “It's said the first Caldwell on the island was a shipwrecked sailor. Supposedly he was close to drowning when an island girl and her dolphins rescued him. ‘He took one look and knew he'd love her forever,' that's what Gran always says.” Adam's voice deepened on the words. “He carved the dolphin as a symbol of their love. Tradition says those who marry under the dolphin's gaze are especially blessed.”

She thought he was moved more than he wanted to admit by the story. Her throat had certainly tightened. He took one look and knew he'd love her forever. What woman didn't long for that, even though she knew it was a fantasy? The silent sanctuary seemed to murmur of the hundreds of vows that had been uttered there.

“What happened to the dolphin?” she asked when she could speak again.

Adam walked toward her, mounting the single step to the chancel. His sleeve brushed her arm as he touched the shelf, and she resisted the urge to step backward. He traced the carving as she had done.

“The carving stood here for generations. My dad was around when it disappeared. He was in his teens then.”

I know. “Did they ever find out who took it?”

He was close enough that she could see the change in his eyes at the question. Some strong emotion showed for a moment and was quickly suppressed.

“No.” His voice was colorless.

He knew more, she was sure of it. “They must have had some idea.”

Adam's hand tightened on the shelf until the knuckles whitened. “There were stories. They say some rich girl—a summer visitor—was involved.”

Grief had a stranglehold on her throat, but she forced the words out. “Why would she do that?”

“Who knows? A whim, maybe.” He let go of the shelf suddenly, as if he didn't want to touch it while he spoke of it. “Something to do on a lazy summer day. It didn't mean anything to her. Obviously she didn't care what it meant to us.”

Contempt filled Adam's voice, and her heart contracted. She'd wanted the dolphin story, and he'd given it to her. But she'd gotten something she hadn't bargained for.

He blamed her mother. She struggled with that unpalatable truth. He apparently didn't know who the rich girl was, but he held her responsible. She should have realized that would be the case. Probably the whole Caldwell clan felt the same way about her mother.

The brief thought she'd had of telling Adam the truth about herself suddenly seemed very foolish. She couldn't. He resented her presence because of the memorial window. If he knew who she was, he wouldn't tolerate her for another instant.

That knowledge hurt more than it had any right to.

 

He was spending too much time watching Tory, Adam decided. Maybe it was Miz Becky's fault for seating her directly across from him at the dinner table that Sunday evening. How could he help noticing the way the candlelight reflected in Tory's dark eyes and the sheen of her hair against the white dress she wore?

All right, he was drawn to her. He'd already admitted that to himself. And it wasn't just the way she looked. He'd seen the passion in her eyes when she talked about her work and he'd glimpsed her caring heart in the drawing she'd done of Jenny.

Unfortunately the bottom line was that he hated her reason for being here. He'd stop her if he could.

With a spurt of determination, he focused on his father, seated as always at the head of the oval mahogany table. Dad had been talking for the last ten minutes about his latest business trip. A trip that had, as always, been extended so he didn't get back in time for the Sunday service.

Had Tory wondered about his father's absence from worship this morning? Probably not. She hadn't been around long enough to know it was habitual.

He fingered the heavy silver knife, letting it clink against the china plate. Tory also didn't know he hadn't told her the whole truth about the dolphin's disappearance. He hadn't told her the most significant part—that his father had taken it.

Miz Becky's pecan pie turned tasteless in his mouth. Matt had been the one to learn about Jefferson's involvement. According to Matt, Dad claimed he'd borrowed the dolphin to impress a girl. The party they'd been attending was raided, and when all the confusion cleared, he'd never seen either the girl or the dolphin again.

Too many questions remained unanswered about that night—questions Adam had never asked. He'd accepted what his brother told him. He hadn't ever so much as brought it up with his father. Maybe it was time he did.

Adam slanted a glance at his father. Jefferson was being charming to Tory at the moment. The courtly Southern gentleman was a role he liked to play, as if it canceled out the ambitious businessman he really was.

Jefferson picked up his coffee cup. “If you'll excuse me, there are some contracts in the study I must put away.”

“I'll join you.” Adam's chair scraped as he shoved it back. For a moment he wondered what he was doing. He was the family peacemaker, wasn't he? He was about to stir up trouble. “I need to discuss something with you.”

His father lifted an eyebrow slightly, then nodded.
With a murmured excuse to Tory, Adam followed him next door to the study.

The book-lined room was dim and still. His father crossed to the desk where a single brass lamp cast a circle of light. He started shuffling together the papers that littered the surface.

He glanced at Adam. “What is it, son? Something about the boatyard?”

“No.” As always, his father's first concern was business. “I've come about the dolphin.”

Jefferson's manicured hands froze on the papers, and his face looked old. “You know all there is to know from your brother. I don't see any benefit to discussing it again.”

“You talked to Matt about it.” At some level, that rankled. Why had Matt—the rebel, the wanderer—been the one his father confided in? Why not him, the good son who'd always been there for his father?

“Only because he didn't give me much choice.” His father frowned.

Adam didn't move. After a long moment Jefferson slumped into the leather chair behind the cherry desk. A breeze from the French doors ruffled the papers on the desk and brought the scent of the salt marsh into the room.

“All right,” his father said finally. “What are you wondering?”

He'd been holding his breath. He let it out slowly. “I want to know why. Just why. Why did you take the dolphin?”

His father leaned back, rubbing his temples as if
to massage away memories. “I was sixteen. It was a girl. Your brother must have told you that.”

“Not just any girl.” Why, Dad? Why would you betray everything your family held dear?

“No.” The lines in his father's face deepened. “Not any girl. Emily Brandeis.”

“A summer visitor.”

Jefferson shook his head with sudden impatience. “I can't make you understand what it was like then.”

“Try.” It might be the first time in his adult life he'd pushed his father.

Jefferson stared at him, his face tightening. “They looked down on us—the yacht club people with their fancy boats and fine houses. They thought we were dirt beneath their feet.”

Bitterness etched his father's voice. Was that where his drive to succeed at any cost had come from? “Including the girl?”

“Emily was different.” His voice softened. “She was—a golden girl. Different from anyone I'd ever known. It was like having a princess step out of a fairy tale. And she wanted to be with us, Clayton and me.”

So Uncle Clayton was part of this story. “The three of you were friends.”

“More than that. Puppy love, I suppose it was, but I've never felt anything like it before or since. I'd have done whatever Emily wanted. And when she teased us about getting the dolphin for her—”

He stopped, his lips twisting. “Clayton wouldn't. Mr. Goody Two-shoes would never do anything like
that. I wanted to show her I cared for her more that he did. I'd have put it back the next day, and no one the wiser.”

Oh, Dad. “You didn't.”

“No. We were having a clambake out on Angel Isle. The island kids and some of the summer visitors. We weren't supposed to hang out together, but we did. I showed Emily the dolphin.” He stopped.

“And then?” Adam prodded.

His father made a chopping motion as if to cut away the rest of the story. “We quarreled. I left. Later a bunch of yacht club parents raided the party. Emily's father must have been upset that she was hanging out with geechees like us. Her family left the next day.”

“That's it?” He sensed things unsaid, things his father would probably never say.

Jefferson's mouth formed a tight line. “Believe it or not, I never saw her or the dolphin again.”

 

Tory took a soundless step away from the open French doors, then another. She backed up until she hit the railing that separated the veranda from the salt marsh. Raising her hand to her cheek, she discovered it was wet with tears.

She hadn't meant to eavesdrop. Their voices had come floating out the open door into the darkness on the veranda. She'd heard her mother's name and she hadn't been able to move away.

Tory wiped tears away with the back of her hand. She couldn't change the past. She had to decide.
What was she going to do with the knowledge she'd been hiding?

A footstep sounded, and Adam came through the French doors. The room behind him, lit only by the small desk lamp, was empty. His father must have left while she'd stood there crying. She pressed her hands against the railing, trying to regain control.

Adam took another step, then stopped abruptly. “Tory. I didn't realize you were out here. You look like a ghost in that white dress.”

“I'm sorry if I startled you. I came out for a breath of air.” To her dismay, her voice was thick with tears.

Adam was at her side in a moment. “What is it? What's wrong?”

She'd asked herself what she should do with her knowledge, but there was really only one possible answer. She had to tell him. But how?

Maybe the only way was to blurt it out.

“I heard you and your father talking.”

He stiffened as if she'd struck him. “Eavesdropping, Tory?”

“I didn't mean—” She could hardly claim that. “I'm sorry. I didn't intend to listen.”

“Then why did you? You could have walked away.” Contempt edged his voice.

She took a breath. She should have known from the beginning that this foolish plan of hers would never work—that she would fail her mother in this, too. “Because you were talking about my mother.”

Adam's silence was probably shock.

“Your mother was Emily Brandeis.”

“Yes.”

The evening was so still she heard the intake of his breath, caught the faint splash of something moving out in the marsh. Then the breeze picked up again, fanning her hot cheeks and rustling the spartina grass.

“I don't understand.” At least there wasn't anger in his voice, not yet. He took a step closer, his hand on the rail, his gaze intent on her face in the dim light. “Did you know the connection when you came here?”

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