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Authors: Patricia Rice

Tags: #humor, #contemporary, #roadtrip, #romance, #Route 66, #women's fiction

California Girl

BOOK: California Girl
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California Girl

Patricia Rice

www.bookviewcafe.com

Book View Café Edition
September 3, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61138-296-9
Copyright © 2002 Patricia Rice

Acknowledgments

I am immensely grateful to my brainstorming buddies who
not only understand when I demand hot air balloons but willingly go along for
the ride. Without you guys, I’d be up in the air without a way down.

As always, I bow before the expertise of Connie Rinehold. If
there are gaping holes in this book, I put them there despite Connie’s warnings.

And for the first time, I thank Renee Halverson for her
excellent perception just when I thought I was so mired in the mud I might
never crawl out.

Bless Pati Nagle for providing crucial Santa Fe details
after I had to bypass the town because of a snowstorm!

For those readers who may be interested in learning more
about diseases of the heart, I recommend beginning with the American Heart
Association at
www.americanheart.org

The resources of the National Historic Route 66 Federation (
www.national66.org
) have been invaluable
in researching this book. The highway may be gone in places, but thanks to
them, it’s not forgotten.

I have strayed from the beaten path occasionally and created
places where I needed them, but if I name a building, place, or thing, it’s
still there, or was last time I checked.

Chapter One

“It’s my life and
I’ll live it my way!”

At this clearly recognizable battle cry from behind the
hospital room door, Alys Seagraves almost cracked up. Blown away in relief, she
slid down the wall of the corridor and tried not to laugh—or she might end up
crying.

Mame was alive and
kicking
. Not only kicking, but butchering Frank Sinatra songs.

Alys had spent these last few hours terrified that her best
friend may have died, like everyone else in her small universe.

Assuming a lotus position on the corridor floor, she sought
her center as she’d learned to do in Mame’s School of Alternative Life Lessons.
Palms turned up and resting on her knees, she took a deep breath.

Deliberately wiping out negativity, she concentrated on the
here and now, seeking the good times as Mame had taught her to do. Head up,
eyes closed, Alys focused on the long-ago morning when her six-year-old self
complained about writing the “ys” in Alys instead of the easier “Alice.”

Her conservative, gray-haired mother got a faraway look in
her eyes and smiled. “I thought if I could have a beautiful miracle like you at
forty, we should celebrate with a special name, one all your own.”

It wasn’t until later that Alys realized what a break in
tradition that bit of whimsy was for her conventional parents. She treasured
that memory. She loved them for trying to give her the freedom they’d never
experienced in their hardworking lives.

“Life can’t be
vacuum-packed and preserved like meat in a freezer!”
Mame’s familiar voice
bellowed from the hospital room across the corridor. “Don’t put that thing on
me.”

Groaning at Mame’s cockeyed argument, Alys leaned her head against
the concrete-block wall.

If the hospital personnel and visitors scurrying past her
thought it odd to see a twenty-seven-year-old woman assume the lotus position
in a hospital corridor, they offered no indication of it. Alys was rather proud
that she’d made it this far into the bowels of her personal hell.

Love is the power that
heals
. She repeated her mantra, seeking her energy balance. She would think
positive thoughts and look to the bright, gleaming future. Mame would not die.
Not like her father. And mother.

And Fred.
Orphaned
and widowed within two years.

Angrily fighting back tears, she scooted up the wall, using
the cold concrete as a brace for her backbone. Shoving away, she marched the
few feet into Mame’s room.

“Thank goodness, there you are!” Disregarding the nurse
attempting to take her pulse, Mame cranked the head of her bed into a sitting
position at sight of Alys. “Get me out of here. I have entirely too much to do
to lie about any longer while these people poke and prod me.”

Mame’s naturally thin build gave her lined face an almost
ascetic appearance of skin and sharp bones, but the vivid red of her hair
bespoke her vibrancy. She’d had her roots touched up for the trip.

“What did the doctor say?” Alys hoped her voice wasn’t as
hoarse as it sounded to her as she tried to ignore the dripping IV and clicking
heart monitors.

Suppressing her fear fed the bubbling panic. In her head,
the room diminished to throbbing tubes, blinking lights, and the pounding thrum
of heartbeats. Her breath caught in her lungs.

“Sit down,” Mame ordered. “You’re turning whiter than I am.”

The nurse chuckled and dropped Mame’s bony wrist to note her
chart. “The doctor said she had a myocardial infarction, and he wants to run
more tests. Are you family?”

“They’ve called Elliot,” Mame said with disapproval, not
giving Alys time to reply, much less to run away or even sit down. “We’ll have
to make a break for it before he gets here. Sign me out.”

“Unless you’re family, you can’t do that.” The nurse pulled
the curtains across the window, shutting out the sunshine. “You shouldn’t even
be in here. Mrs. Emerson needs her rest.”

“I have all eternity to rest,” Mame protested.

“Mame, it’s all right.” Why didn’t Mame want to see her
famous nephew? Alys thought Doc Nice might be very handy to have around in a
hospital. He’d always seemed immensely intelligent and amusing on the radio.
“You scared the bejeebers out of me back there,” she said to change the
subject.

“Miss, you really need to leave.” The nurse hung up the
chart and cranked the bed down.

“I won’t rest unless she stays,” Mame announced, not with
the querulousness of age but the imperiousness of a queen. “Does she look
capable of smuggling me out?”

The five-ten, two-hundred-pound nurse looked at Alys in her
childish smocked dress with the skirt falling at mid-thigh and snorted. “She
doesn’t look big enough to be out of school.” The nurse flipped off the
overhead light, immersing them in darkness before padding out and closing the
door.

Alys wrinkled her nose and sank to the tile floor, resting
her head against her knees. If she could just find her center, she might stay
without freaking out. Maybe.

“How’s Beulah? I didn’t wreck her, did I?” Mame whispered
eagerly, snapping on the bed light.

Alys sought her friend’s expression in the pale glow of the
lamp. Mame was fine. Mame had to be fine.

Alys’s rusted-out Nissan was not fine. It had been totaled
when Mame passed out at the wheel of her Cadillac—Beulah—crashing it into the
Nissan’s rear end, thereby transforming her rusty little car into an accordion
against the garage wall.

“Beulah just has a dented bumper,” she replied reassuringly.
“I drove her over here.”

“Then help me out of here. We’ll need to be gone before
Elliot arrives.” Mame fiddled with the wires hooking her to the monitor, in an
apparent attempt to remove them.

“Mame! You’ve had a heart attack.” At least, that’s what she
guessed an
infarction
was. “You can’t
just get up and walk out.” Although she certainly sympathized with Mame’s
determination to escape. How could anyone get well in the chilly dark with
machines beeping off heartbeats as if they were minutes on a parking meter?

“I know how much you hate being here.” Mame frowned when the
monitor apparently didn’t detach as easily as she’d expected. “There is no
reason to keep me here except doctors are afraid of being sued.”

“My dislike of hospitals is irrational,” Alys protested
halfheartedly. “Doctors did everything they could for Fred. It’s unfortunate
that cures for cancer haven’t developed beyond the witch doctor stage, but that
doesn’t apply to you. You should listen to them.”

“They nuked Fred and stuffed him with pills until he wanted
to die, which made his last years hell for both of you,” Mame said vehemently,
examining the IV attachment. “I refuse to die like that. When I’m ready to go,
I want to go with a big bang.”

Alys bit back a semi-hysterical giggle. “You almost did. The
neighbors thought they’d been bombed. Beulah packs a wallop.”

Mame beamed. “There, see, you can smile. Now get up off that
floor and unchain me.”

Alys took another deep breath and stubbornly maintained her
yoga position.

* * *

Undeterred by her young friend’s refusal to comply with
orders, Mame noted with delight that Alys had finally shed her depressing blacks.

Mame wasn’t certain she understood Alys’s choice of
coming-out clothes, but she heartily approved the thought behind them. The pink
cotton dress printed with tiny blue hearts and flowers belonged on a child, but
the scooped neckline revealed womanly cleavage, and the elasticized smocking
showed off the slender waistline of youth. Alys still looked like a teenager
untouched by life.

Other than the creamy skin of a child, Alys possessed not
one remarkable feature. She was of average height and weight, with sleek,
mink-colored hair—currently cut with wisps that stuck out at stray
angles—unremarkable gray eyes, and even features. But Mame had watched the men
at the school swivel to follow Alys’s progress through the halls. Even in dull
black, her attire had emphasized her womanly attributes.

Mame liked to think she was responsible for Alys’s
transformation, but she knew she’d only coaxed out what had been lost for a
while. She suspected that provocative baby-doll dress had come from Alys’s
college wardrobe.

At the sound of a familiar determined stride down the hall,
Mame sighed in exasperation. She should have known Elliot would run from the
ends of the earth to be here.

He would insist on a battery of tests, forcing her to stay
in here for days. She
couldn’t
stay. She
was on a mission, but Elliot would never understand that. She loved her
brilliant nephew, but his focused lifestyle limited his options—and hers.

Mame glanced down at Alys, who had apparently entered a
meditative trance, and the germ of an idea blossomed.

She’d been on her way over to Alys’s to explain about the
student who needed their help. It wouldn’t have required a great deal of change
to their travel plans, but she didn’t dare tell her now with Elliot about to
walk in.

Mame fully intended to help Dulce save her niece, but Elliot
would never approve of the risk. She thought Alys might.

She began to smile as her idea flowered into full bloom.

Maybe her fainting spell was for the best if it brought her
nephew home. She knew Elliot’s habits well. He would need someone to pull him
out of orbit once he realized she had escaped.

Alys was strong enough to ground him.

Looking at Alys’s cap of dark hair and ripe figure, she
chuckled. Alys would definitely divert her nephew.

Mame cranked the bed back up and tucked her hair behind her
ears.

Undisturbed, Alys remained on the floor, the fabric of her
full skirt falling short of her bare knees. Hearing Elliot open the door to the
darkened room, Mame recognized the elements of a perfect distraction, and pure
mischief replaced the last vestige of her apprehension. Watching Elliot and
Alys together could rival a good Doris Day movie.

She snapped off the bed light, and Alys disappeared in a
pool of darkness.

* * *

A pair of size thirteen polished wingtips emerged from the
darkness to connect with Alys’s hip, and a soft leather computer bag just
missed her head. She leaned over to dodge the blow, while their owner stumbled
in the opposite direction, grabbed Mame’s IV, and did a wicked samba with the
pole until it rolled into the bed.

Mame snapped the bed light on.

BOOK: California Girl
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