A Time to Forgive and Promise Forever (8 page)

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“It's mean,” Jenny burst out, and he realized she was on the verge of tears.

“I'll bet Andi didn't intend to be mean. Of course, sometimes we can hurt other people's feelings even when we don't mean to.”

Something about Tory's words must have caught Jenny's attention. She was looking at Tory's face, her resentment seeming to slip away.

“I wouldn't do that,” she said self-righteously.

Tory smiled at his daughter with such gentleness it clutched his heart. “I know you wouldn't want to. But don't you think sometimes it happens anyway?”

Jenny's lower lip came out. “Maybe.”

“Maybe,” Tory agreed. “It isn't easy to forgive someone you love when they've hurt you.” She touched the front of Jenny's T-shirt. “But I bet you'll feel better in here if you do. I know when I hold on
to being mad at someone, it hurts me more than it does them.”

The soft words reached inside him and grabbed his heart in a vise. From the little he'd learned of her family in the last few days, he knew Tory had plenty of reasons to hold on to resentment against them. Apparently she'd found a way to let that go.

Jenny rubbed the front of her shirt. “You mean it makes my heart hurt when I'm mad at someone?”

Tory nodded, lips curving in a smile. “Don't you think you might be able to forgive Andi if you tried?”

Jenny seemed to ponder that. Finally she heaved an elaborate sigh. “Well, I guess it would be more fun at the picnic if we weren't being mad at each other.”

“That's a very sensible way to look at it,” Tory said solemnly. She touched Jenny's curls lightly. “I'm glad you see it that way.”

Forgiving. Adam leaned against the kitchen counter, not quite willing to join them. It was probably just as well Jenny hadn't come to him for advice on that particular subject. It wasn't one he'd dealt with very successfully.

His father and Uncle Clayton hadn't forgiven each other for the differences between them. He couldn't forgive Lila for what she'd done to him and to Jenny. The truth seemed to be that his side of the family wasn't very skilled at forgiving.

And Tory's presence, no matter how he looked at it, seemed to make that worse.

Chapter Eight

“I
don't think I should be here.” Tory followed Adam and Jenny down the path toward the beach, her footsteps making no sound on the carpet of pine needles. Her sense of not belonging grew stronger by the minute. Adam didn't want her here. She knew that even if he'd never say it.

“Why not?” She detected a faint note of frustration as he switched the cooler he carried from one hand to the other. “My grandmother invited you. Look, they've already started the fire for the crab boil.”

They emerged from the shadow of the pines to the dunes, and Jenny darted toward the group gathered on the beach. Some people fed a fire while others unpacked hampers. Children bicycled around them on the hard-packed sand, looking like so many seabirds darting in and out. The orange glow of the fire matched the orange sunset to the west, over the mainland. It was a beautiful, peaceful scene. She didn't belong.

Tory tried to find the words for her uneasiness. “It's a family thing. I'm sure your grandmother just invited me because I'm staying at Twin Oaks.”

Adam stopped and smiled at her, the sun lines around his eyes crinkling. Whatever reservations he had about this, he was managing to suppress them. “You don't know my grandmother very well if you think that. Relax, Tory. You'll have a good time.”

A good time? She wasn't so sure of that. But maybe it could be a useful time. Adam had said his aunt and uncle would be at the picnic with the rest of their family. This might be her best chance to talk to Clayton about the dolphin.

She'd heard Jefferson's version of events. She wanted to hear Clayton's. Maybe she also wanted to have a glimpse of her mother through his eyes. Did he perceive Emily the same way Adam's father did?

She glanced at Adam, who was lifting his hand to wave to the group on the beach. He belonged to this place and these people. With his faded jeans and his white sweatshirt, he looked like what he was—a man who worked hard, played hard and was at peace with his world.

Or was he? The only chink in his facade was his relationship with his late wife, and that she had yet to figure out. After ten days of working on the sanctuary windows and living in Adam's house, she was no closer to understanding the woman she was supposed to memorialize. Adam wasn't just reticent about Lila—he was a blank wall.

They reached the hard-packed sand where walking was easier, and she paused to shake the loose sand from her shoes. Adam paused, too, looking at her with a hint of a frown in his eyes.

“There's something I should mention before we join the others.”

She found herself tensing. The feeling couldn't be shaken off the way the sand could. “What?”

He hesitated, as if wondering how to say whatever it was, and her tension doubled.

“I've told them who you are,” Adam said. “They know you're Emily's daughter.”

She froze, staring at him, hoping she'd heard wrong. “You what?”

His face tightened. “They're my family. It wasn't something I felt I could keep secret from them. After all, they all know about the dolphin.”

“You might have warned me before this.” Anger sharpened the words. She should have known he'd tell them. All that loyalty of his was directed toward his family, not her.

“Would you have come if I had?” His gaze challenged her.

“Probably not, but I think I had the right to decide for myself.”

“Look, you may as well get used to the situation. No one here is going to blame you for—” He stopped as if realizing where he was headed.

“For something my mother did?” Her fists clenched so hard her nails bit into her palms. “My mother didn't take the dolphin.”

“No.” Something bleak appeared in his eyes. “My father did.”

“But everyone thinks she took it away. You said so yourself.”

He put the cooler down and stood looking at her. Was that sympathy or pity in his eyes? She didn't welcome either. “That was before you told me what she asked you to do. I believe you.”

“Do they?” She jerked a nod toward the others, still out of earshot.

“I can't answer that.” His jaw tightened as if in exasperation, a small muscle twitching. “You asked me to help you. I'm trying to.”

She wanted to flare out at him—wanted to tell him she didn't need his help.

Unfortunately that wasn't true. She did need his help, and she needed the cooperation of those people around the fire. The question was, how likely were they to cooperate with the daughter of the woman they blamed for the disappearance of their family heirloom?

“All right.” She bit off the words. “It's too late to change that now. Maybe since your uncle already knows who I am, it will be easier for me to speak with him about that night.”

“My uncle—” Adam's expression froze. “I don't think that's necessary.”

She blinked. “But he's the only one who might have some clues as to what happened after your father left the party.”

“Don't you think my uncle would have spoken up years ago if he did?”

She could hear the anger under his words, but she didn't understand it. “Look, don't you see that this is the next logical step? And there must be other people who were there that night we can talk with.”

Adam planted his hands on his hips. “You've already heard my father's account,” he said stubbornly. “As for other people—everyone on the island knew by the next day that the dolphin was missing. If they knew anything, they'd have spoken up.”

Suddenly she knew what was going on here and why Adam hadn't invited her to this event. He wanted to keep her away from his uncle.

“This is because of the feud between your father and your uncle, isn't it?”

His expression got even more forbidding. “What if it is?”

“I thought you said that didn't affect your relationship with the rest of the family.”

She saw the anger flare in his eyes, saw him fight it and control it.

“Fine.” He ground out the word. “You want to talk to Clayton, go ahead and do it. Talk to anyone you want. I can't stop you.” He picked up the cooler, dangling it from one strong hand. “Let's go.” He stalked toward the fire.

Tory followed him, her stomach quivering as they approached the others. That unexpected quarrel with Adam had shaken her confidence, and the fact that everyone was watching them didn't help.

No, not them. Everyone watched
her,
with expressions she could only call guarded. Tension tight
ened her muscles until it took an effort to walk naturally.

They came up to the cluster of people. For a moment no one spoke. Adam's cousins stopped feeding the fire. His nieces and nephews stopped circling. Everyone looked at her.

Then his grandmother marched toward them.

“'Bout time you two were getting here. You don't want to miss the food, do you? Tory, I'm right glad you decided to join us.”

Tory's tension ebbed in the warmth of the elderly woman's smile. “Thank you for inviting me, Mrs. Caldwell.”

“Might as well call me Gran. Everyone else does. Make yourself at home. If you don't know somebody, just ask. They all know who you are.”

Tory looked for malice in that last sentence but found none in Gran's sharp old eyes. She took a deep breath. She may as well put her cards on the table.

“I understand Adam told you who my mother was.”

The elderly woman nodded. “Can't say I'd have recognized you otherwise. You don't favor your mother much, do you?”

The casual question knocked her off balance. She'd forgotten that Adam's grandmother would probably have seen her mother during that long-ago summer.

“No, I guess I take more after my father.” That much was easy to say. The next question wasn't. “Did you know her?”

“Not to say
know.
I knew who she was.”

Of course she would. Of all the people here, Naomi Caldwell had the most cause to blame Tory's mother for what happened to her sons.

But Adam's grandmother didn't seem to be carrying any resentment. She nodded toward Adam's uncle, bending to put a piece of driftwood onto the fire. “I reckon Clayton's the one you need to see.”

Tory felt Adam's tension as surely as if they were touching instead of inches apart. He didn't welcome the idea from his grandmother any more than he'd welcomed it from Tory. Would he tell Gran so?

“Guess I'll go help with the fire,” he said, and moved off quickly.

Obviously he wouldn't.

Tory looked at Clayton Caldwell. The lean, gray-haired man walked around the fire, limping slightly. He hadn't so much as glanced in her direction, and her heart sank. “It doesn't look as if Clayton wants to talk to me.”

Mrs. Caldwell frowned toward her son, then transferred her gaze to Adam as she assessed each of them. “We don't always get to do what we want to do. Besides, seems to me that this family's been keeping too many secrets for too many years. Secrets aren't good for anyone. That's the verse I gave Adam, you know.”

Tory felt as if she'd missed a step in the dark. “Verse?”

The elderly woman shook her head. “Forgot you wouldn't know about that. All my children and grandchildren—the Lord gave me scripture verses
for them when they were baptized. Adam's is from Ephesians. ‘Speaking the truth in love…'” She paused, looking expectantly at Tory.

Tory was irrationally glad she didn't have to disappoint. “We will in all things grow up into Him who is the head.”

That earned her an approving nod. “Maybe it's time for some truth speaking. Maybe that's why you're here.” She patted Tory's arm as if she were one of the grandchildren who'd done well.

The touch was disarming. Tory felt a ridiculous urge to pour out all her concerns—about her mother, about Adam, about fulfilling her promise. She pushed the sensation down with a spurt of something like panic. She didn't confide in people. She didn't lean on people. That wasn't how she was.

“I hope you're right.” She managed to speak.

Mrs. Caldwell patted her arm again. “Looks like Adam's filled a plate for you. You go on and have your food now. You'll have a chance to hear Clayton's story. Don't you worry about it. He'll get together with you before the evening's over.”

She could only hope the woman knew what she was talking about. Mrs. Caldwell walked off, calling the children to come and eat, and Adam approached her, a laden plate in each hand.

“Sorry. Guess I overreacted. Did Gran make everything okay?”

She took the plate he held out to her. “Well, she convinced me that the family isn't planning to run me out of town on a rail, if that's what you mean.”

Adam's face relaxed. “Gran's good at reassuring people. Among lots of other things.” He took her arm. “Looks like there's room on that blanket. Come and meet my brother and his family.”

She let him steer her toward a place to sit. If Adam wanted to make up for his hasty words, she would let him. As she'd told Jenny, it didn't pay to hold a grudge.

The man she knew was his brother looked up at their approach. He smiled and pulled a chubby blond toddler onto his lap to make room for them.

All right, the Caldwells were more welcoming than she had any reason to expect. Apparently Adam hadn't ruined things by telling them about her, but he still should have asked her first. As far as talking to his uncle was concerned, she probably couldn't count on Adam to help her with that.

A question of loyalty, she thought again, glancing at his face as he exchanged banter with his brother. With Adam, things would always come down to that. She knew perfectly well that his loyalty would never be directed to her.

 

Adam put down his dessert plate and leaned back on his elbows on the blanket. The warmth of the sand lingered even though it was getting dark.

Who'd have guessed he'd find such enjoyment in a family picnic with Tory Marlowe sitting next to him? He watched her lean over to tickle the baby who sat on his sister-in-law's lap. Tory, prickly and uncomfortable at first, had thawed under the influ
ence of Sarah's warm interest. Sarah seemed to have that effect on everyone. She'd certainly warmed up his brother, turning Matthew from a globe-trotting loner into a contented family man.

It was Sarah who'd produced a windbreaker for Tory to put on. Adam should have thought to warn her it would get chilly after the sun went down. In Sarah's Pirate Days jacket, she looked like a real islander.

Adam looked from one familiar, fire-lit face to another. The children had settled onto blankets around the fire, the younger ones drifting off to sleep, the older ones pointing out constellations in the star-studded sky or toasting one last marshmallow. Jenny huddled close to Andi, their quarrel apparently forgiven and forgotten, as Adam's cousin David started to play the guitar. Under cover of the music he leaned close to Tory.

“I see Uncle Clayton's gone over on the dock to smoke his pipe,” he murmured. “Maybe we ought to join him.”

She flashed him a look that mingled surprise with apprehension. Then she nodded and got to her feet.

They picked their way through sprawled grownups and children and started down the beach. The sound of music and voices faded. Darkness closed, and Tory hugged her borrowed jacket tight. The muted, incessant rumble of the waves accompanied the rustle of the sea oats.

“I thought you didn't want to do this.”

He shrugged, then realized she couldn't see the gesture in the dark. “I made you a promise. Guess
I got a little derailed there for a moment, but I plan to keep it.”

They took a few more steps before Tory spoke. “Do you think he'll speak to us? He didn't look especially welcoming.”

He heard the tension under her question. “I think he will. Looked to me as if Gran had a few words with him. You're never too old for a talking-to from Gran.”

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