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Authors: Joan Wolf

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Affair of the Heart

BOOK: Affair of the Heart
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AFFAIR OF THE HEART

 

Joan Wolf

 

Oh, East is East, and West is West

and never the twain shall meet.

                        —
RUDYARD
KIPLING

 

Chapter One

 

He didn’t come to his mother’s funeral. That galled Caroline more than anything else she knew about her stepbrother.

“He didn’t want anything to do with Nancy while she was alive, honey. He certainly made that abundantly clear over the years,” her father answered her as they rode home together from the cemetery. “I suppose we can’t fault his consistency. He might even have felt it would be hypocritical of him to come now.”

Caroline snorted but otherwise did not reply. The Virginia countryside they were driving through was lush with early summer, and she looked broodingly out the window for a few minutes before she turned once again to her father. Seen in profile, his face had a grim, heavy look that was utterly foreign to its usual expression. Impulsively, Caroline put a comforting hand over his as it lay on the steering wheel.

He smiled a little in acknowledgment and she said, “It still doesn’t seem real, does it? Even after the funeral and the cemetery, it still doesn’t seem real.”

“I know.” Her father’s face settled back into its unusual heaviness. “Somehow, in this day and age
,
one just doesn’t expect people to die of pneumonia.”

“It all happened so fast,” murmured Caroline in bewilderment.

“Yes,” her father said flatly. “Too fast. If only I’d suspected how ill she was....”

Once more Caroline put her hand on his. “Don’t, Daddy,” she said. Then, “The church was packed this morning. Nancy would have liked that.”

A smile flickered briefly on Ambassador Carruthers’s mouth, and suddenly the resemblance between father and daughter was astonishing. “Yes, she would have.”

Everyone had been there except the one who should have been, Caroline thought moodily. She had an only child’s reverence for family ties. One should attend the funeral of one’s mother, even if one hadn’t seen that mother once in the seventeen years since she had divorced one’s father.

The image of her stepmother was suddenly vivid in her mind. Nancy had been a charmer: easy to talk to, easy to laugh with, easy to love. She had made a perfect ambassador’s wife at the various posts where her husband had been assigned: Paris, Bonn, the United Nations. Caroline thought again of her stepmother’s first marriage. “I just can’t imagine Nancy living on a ranch,” she said aloud. “She was so cosmopolitan.”

“Well, that was precisely the problem, of course,” Ambassador Carruthers replied. “Joe couldn’t live off the ranch and Nancy couldn’t live on it.” He gave his daughter a humorous look. “One can scarcely blame her, Caroline. Do you know that there aren’t half a million people in the whole state of Wyoming?”

Her father sounded genuinely horrified, and Caroline looked at him reflectively. He and Nancy had been well suited, she thought. They both loved the busy, social, transient life of international diplomacy. Even the house which they called home, a beautiful brick Georgian colonial set in the rolling hills of Virginia, had scarcely ever been graced by their presence. It was her grandmother who had truly made it a home.

The car turned into the wide gravel drive, and Caroline felt a familiar ache come into her throat. “Pemberly’s not the same without Gran,” she said sadly, and after a minute her father answered gently, “No, it’s not.”

* * * *

Mr. Aldwyn, Ambassador Carruthers’ personal lawyer, drove out to Pemberly from Washington the following day and spent some time closeted with him in the library. They were there when Caroline went out and still there when she came back two hours later. The library door opened as she went by, and her father’s voice said, “Would you come in here for a moment, Caroline?”

“Sure, Daddy,” she replied. “Just give me a minute to wash up. I’ve been down to see Nugget.” Nugget was the hunter she kept stabled locally.

She gestured to her jeans and shoes, and her father made a face. “Please
do
wash up,” he said dryly, and she laughed.

Twenty minutes later she knocked on the library door and poked her head in. “Come in, Caroline,” her father said, and she obeyed, closing the door behind her. Ambassador Carruthers glanced with approval at the tall, slim figure of his daughter, clad now in immaculate pale-green slacks and crisp white shirt. “George and I have been going over Nancy’s will,” her father said, “and there are a few things that pertain to you.”

Caroline’s gray-green eyes widened in surprise, but she made no reply. Her stepmother had been a wealthy woman in her own right, but Caroline had a tidy trust fund from her grandmother and she had never expected anything from Nancy. “She bequeathed her jewelry to you, honey,” her father said.

Caroline’s eyes widened even more. “Oh, Daddy.” She bit her lip and felt tears sting behind her eyes. “That was so sweet of her.”

Mr. Aldwyn cleared his throat. “You are to get all the jewelry except one ring, Miss Carruthers. That piece, a diamond which was a family heirloom, is to go to Mrs. Carruthers’s son, Joseph Alan Hamilton, Jr.”

He didn’t even come to her funeral, Caroline thought once again as she gazed at the smooth plump face of the lawyer. “And there was a further stipulation—well, let us call it a request, rather,” Mr. Aldwyn was going on. “Mrs. Carruthers asked that you deliver the ring to Mr. Hamilton in person.”

“Me? Deliver the ring to Jay?” Caroline’s normally low-pitched voice went up an octave with surprise. “Are you serious, Mr. Aldwyn?”

“It’s right here in the will,” the lawyer said and proceeded to read her the relevant section. When he had finished he looked up. “I am bound to tell you that you are not held to this request, Miss Carruthers. Mr. Hamilton will get the ring whether or not you deliver it. It was merely Mrs. Carruthers’s wish that you do so.”

“I’d have to go out to Wyoming,” Caroline said blankly.

“Yes.” Her father’s voice was grave. “You’ll have to do it, honey.”

She sighed. “I suppose so. If Nancy made such a point of it, it must have been important to her.” She looked at her father’s face and said with rueful humor, “But I’m afraid Jay Hamilton and I are going to mix about as well as oil and water.”

* * * *

Ambassador Carruthers made all the arrangements for Caroline, including accepting Joe Hamilton’s invitation to her to make a visit of several weeks at the ranch.

“Are you crazy, Daddy?” Caroline asked her father incredulously when she heard this news. “I can’t stay there for a couple of weeks. I don’t even
know
the Hamiltons.”

“You met Joe once, don’t you remember?”

“Yes, but I was a child then, Daddy. I remember I thought he was very nice, but still ...” Her voice trailed off. Actually, she remembered Joe Hamilton very well. He had come to visit his ex-wife to discuss some problems their son was causing, and Caroline had thought he looked just like John Wayne. He had brought her a beautiful little carved horse, which she still had. It was not Joe she objected to visiting.

“You’ll enjoy yourself,” her father was saying. “You love to ride. You love animals—when you’re here you spend half your time at the barn or the kennel. You’ll love the ranch.”

“But Daddy—” she began protestingly, but he cut in again.

“If you’re miserable you can always make an excuse after a few days—say that something has come up at the office and they’ve canceled your leave.” He looked at her a little wryly. “I’m sorry if I got you into something you don’t care for, honey. But Joe was awfully insistent. It was almost impossible to say no.”

“Yes,” said Caroline resignedly after a long pause, “I can see that it was.”

The Senator for whom Caroline worked granted her a few weeks’ leave with absolutely no fuss. It was not an unusual request on her part; she spent several months a year vacationing. The job was not a full-time commitment for her. Her father’s secretary made her flight arrangements, and on June 20, Caroline took off from Washington on a United Airlines flight bound for Denver. There were two stopovers before they reached Denver, and at Denver Caroline had to change to a small Great Lakes Aviation plane that was to fly her to Sheridan, Wyoming. There was a stopover on that, too, and by the time Caroline finally deplaned she was feeling tired, crabby, and wrinkled.

She looked none of those things, however, as she stood awaiting her luggage in the small airport. Her thick streaked blond hair was smooth and shining, her lightly tanned skin fresh, her clothes immaculate. Caroline’s perpetual trimness had always sparked envy in her friends. “You always manage to look as if you were born dry-cleaned,” her college roommate had often complained. “Why don’t you ever wrinkle?”

“Because I refuse to,” Caroline had returned with a flash of very white, very even teeth.

So now she looked as cool and fresh as if she’d just stepped out of her front door as she waited next to her saddle for the rest of her luggage.

“You can’t be little Caroline!” a deep voice boomed in her ear, and she turned to look up at a tall, strongly built man whose weathered features reminded her irresistibly of John Wayne.

“Joe?” she said a little uncertainly, and the rancher’s face broke into a grin.

“You
are
little Caroline. I’d know that voice anywhere.” He held her hand in a hard grip for a minute, and she smiled up at him, all of her liking for him reviving.

“I still have that carved horse you brought me,” she said, and he broke into a delighted laugh.

“Well, we’ll have some real horses to show you at the Double Diamond,” he answered. His gaze went to her saddle. “I see you came prepared.”

“I wasn’t sure how I’d do on a Western saddle,” she said a little apologetically. “I’ve had that one for eight years and it’s like home.”

“I know what you mean,” Joe Hamilton assured her and bent to pick it up. An almost comical look of surprise crossed his face. “But it doesn’t weigh anything!” he said.

Caroline grinned. “Four pounds, without the irons.”

“And it’s comfortable?” he asked incredulously.

“Blissfully,” she returned and stilled a giggle at the look he gave her. “I don’t have to rope cows from it, Joe,” she pointed out. “I only have to sit in it.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I suppose so.” And this time she laughed out loud.

The ride to the ranch was one Caroline never forgot. They took a direct highway out of Sheridan and then switched to a steep, narrow road that led snakelike across the Bighorn Mountains. The scenery was gorgeous, the Wyoming air crystal-clear, and Caroline’s foot went frantically up and down on an imaginary brake the whole way.

At first she was afraid to talk to Joe; she didn’t want to distract him from the petrifying road. But gradually it became clear that he was not going to miss one of the switchbacks and topple them over the side of the mountain. The Ford station wagon held the road with easy confidence. Caroline cleared her throat. “How large is your ranch, Joe?” she asked.

“About a quarter of a million acres,” he answered, and she turned her eyes from the scenery to stare at him. “It goes from the Bighorns here up to Montana,” he was going on. “We run about ten thousand cattle.”

“My goodness,” Caroline said faintly. “I’d no idea it was so large.”

“Yep. It’s a lot of work. We’ve just about finished with spring roundup, though, so you’ve come at a good time.” He grinned, although his eyes never left the road. “We wouldn’t have had much time to entertain you if you’d come three weeks ago, I’m afraid.”

“What do you do during spring roundup?” she asked curiously.

“Round up the cows and calves from winter ranges and push them into summer pastures. And it’s branding time.”

“So you still use cowboys?” Caroline closed her eyes as the wagon came down an impossible hairpin turn.

“Sure we still use cowboys. We have pickup trucks, and even an airplane, but nothing gets the job done like a
man and a horse.”

“Um,” said Caroline and cautiously opened her eyes.

Suddenly they came to a wide shoulder on the side of the road, and Joe pulled over onto it. He turned the engine off and turned to look at her. “Before we get to the ranch,” he said soberly, “I want to talk to you about Jay.”

“Ah,” said Caroline and sat up straighter.

“I want to ask you to be patient with him, Caroline,” Joe began slowly. “I’m afraid you’re not going to find him—overly friendly.”

“Oh?” she replied. Her normally husky voice sounded even deeper than usual.

“No. He never forgave his mother for leaving, you see.”

“I’m not his mother,” Caroline pointed out reasonably.

“No, you’re not his mother, but you come from her world. You’re from the East, like Nancy, and you’re from the same kind of social background.”

“I see,” said Caroline. She looked out at the fabulous view for a moment, and then she asked the question she had always wondered about and always felt unable to ask Nancy or her father. “Joe, why did you get custody of Jay and not Nancy?”

“Jay wouldn’t go with her,” the man said quietly.

BOOK: Affair of the Heart
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