Authors: Dallas Schulze
|Home to Eden|
Home To Eden
Temptation in Eden
Kate Moran finally had everything she wanted: a home where she felt secure, a family who welcomed her into their hearts and a man who wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. It was everything she'd never had until now, everything that had been missing.
But then she was tempted by something she shouldn't - couldn't - possibly have. Something dangerous and potentially destructive. Something that would put at risk everything she'd gained. Nick Blackstone. Her fiance's brother.
Nick had come home to Eden to confront the tragedy of his past, but his return jeopardized all of their futures: his, his brother's and Kate's. Because some temptations can't be denied.
To my editor, Lucia Macro: Every writer should be so lucky!
I'd like to thank my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, for smoothing the path many times over the last couple of years. And Dianne Moggy and everyone else at MIRA Book for their support and enthusiasm.
The shrill jangle of the phone woke him from an already restless sleep. Nick rolled over, his hand groping for the receiver even before his eyes were open. He didn't know the time, but it had to be late. It had been after midnight when he came to bed and, judging from the tangled sheets, he'd been tossing and turning for awhile. Face half buried in the pillow, he mumbled into the receiver, his voice raspy with sleep.
"Did I wake you?"
"Harry." Not an emergency then. If something had happened to someone in his family, it wouldn't be Harry making the call. Along with relief, he felt a certain resigned irritation. He squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again, trying to wake up. "What time is it?"
"It's a little after eleven here."
"You're in California. I'm in New York. There's a three-hour time difference. That means it's—" still foggy with sleep, Nick fumbled over the difficult calculation and settled for simplicity "—late. It's late here."
"Figured I could be sure of catching you now," Harry said, sounding disgustingly alert and not at all guilty.
"Couldn't you have called at a normal hour?" Nick rolled over and dragged himself into a semi-upright position, leaning back against the headboard. He rubbed one hand over his face.
"Nothing abnormal about eleven o'clock."
"No, but there's something a little peculiar about two in the morning." He'd managed to focus on the clock long enough to confirm the time.
"I did call earlier. When you didn't answer, I figured, since it's Saturday night, you were probably out on a date."
"Why didn't you leave a message on the machine?" He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He ignored the comment about the date, knowing it was the old man's not so subtle way of probing into the state of his love life. There was no point in telling him just how little there was to probe into. Nick forced his eyes open with an effort
Damn, he was tired. He tried to remember the last time he'd had a decent night's sleep. It had been weeks. "The machine did pick up, didn't it?"
"Don't like them," Harry snapped. "I don't like talking to a machine, talking to a piece of tape. Takes all the humanity out of communication. If people spent as much time talking to one another as they do yapping at machines, the world might not be in such a mess."
"Afraid it'll capture your soul, Harry?" Forgetting his irritation over the lateness of the call, Nick grinned into the darkness.
"Might be more truth to that than anybody knows," Harry shot back tartly. "People are all the time inventing things without giving any thought to the impact of what they're doing. Look at cars. Must have seemed like a pretty clever idea—horseless carriage and all that I bet none of the folks who invented them gave a thought to pollution and noise and traffic jams. Not to mention parking lots covering half the planet's surface."
''Probably not So, I take it you've quit driving?" Nick asked.
"Hell, no! Why would I do that?"
"Because it's clear that the automobile is a danger to all mankind, maybe even worse than the answering machine."
There was a brief silence and then Harry chuckled.
"Hoist on my own petard, damn you. When are you going to learn some respect for your elders?"
"When they earn it," Nick shot back, still grinning.
He hadn't seen Harry Wallace in five years but he could see him clearly in his mind's eye. His face was lined with the joys and sorrows of seventy-five years of living, and he was tall and lean. With his thick, gray hair falling in untidy waves onto his forehead and his clothes wrinkled and socks that usually didn't match, Harry looked like the epitome of an absent-minded professor. The misleading image had served him well during his years as a highly paid criminal attorney. The rumpled appearance and deliberately vague blue eyes had led more than a few opposing attorneys to dismiss him as a bumbling idiot, much to their ultimate regret.
When Nick met him, Harry had been long retired from practice. The two of them had immediately hit it off, and the more than forty-year difference in their ages had never seemed to have any relevance to their friendship.
"I assume you didn't call just to entertain me with your neo-Luddite theories." Nick hitched himself higher against the headboard and stifled a yawn. "What's up?"
"I've decided to sell the house."
"Your house?" Nick's voice reflected his surprise. Harry's grandfather had built the house during the late Victorian era. It featured more gingerbread and fancy trim than a wedding cake. Harry generally referred to it as a monstrosity. He'd often complained in acid-tongued detail about the cost of upkeep and heat, and the absurdity of a single man occupying a home with seven bedrooms. Still, Nick had always thought Harry's attachment to the place was unbreakable.
"It doesn't seem likely I'd be selling someone else's house, does it?" Harry asked tartly.
"Doesn't sound any less likely than you selling your place. Where are you going to live?"
"They're putting up a block of condos on the north end of town, next to the golf course, advertising it as the ideal place to spend your 'golden' years, although I don't know what the hell is so golden about aching bones and prostate problems," Harry muttered in disgust. "But golden or not, I'm not as young as I used to be and I thought maybe I'd buy a condo and play golf until I get too old to swing a club."
Nick tried to imagine Harry living in a condo and filling his time with golf. The image wouldn't come clear. "I thought you hated golf."
"I can learn to like it, can't I?" Harry snapped irritably. "Maybe I'll play chess or checkers instead."
Checkers? Nick frowned into the darkness of his bedroom. Harry Wallace whiling away his time with checkers? Not likely.
"What's really going on, Harry? And don't give me a line of bull about golf and checkers. Are you sick?"
The silence on the other end of the line tightened the knot forming in his stomach. If something happened to Harry... When he spoke, his voice was quieter, his words slower. For the first time in Nick's memory, he sounded like an old man.
"I'm not sick, not unless you want to call getting old an illness. I'm getting tired, Nick. Just wearing out a bit. Nothing for you to worry about." He sighed, and Nick felt something tighten in his chest. Harry was one of those rare people who had always made age seem truly irrelevant. It was frightening to hear him sounding so old and almost frail.
"Is that why you're selling the house?" He made an effort to keep the concern out of his voice, knowing it wouldn't be appreciated.
"It's just too damn big," Harry said fretfully. "I've let things slide the last few years, and the place is falling down around my ears. I don't have the energy to fix it up and, even if I did, there's no real point to it. I'm not going to be around long enough to enjoy it."
"This house was built for a family," he continued, cutting off Nick's protest. "It needs young people in it—maybe some of those yuppies who are trying to escape the rat race in the city and think living in a town like Eden is going to give their life new meaning.
Nick didn't doubt that Harry would be able to sell the place, probably to exactly the sort of people he was describing, a young couple looking to escape the smog and traffic in Los Angeles. Eden was small enough to feel intimate but large enough to offer the important things in life—cappuccino, good bagels and decent amateur theater. And, if they wanted a taste of big city life, L.A. was just a little over two hours away. Harry's big old house, oozing with the kind of character that came only with time, wouldn't be hard to sell. But it wasn't possible to imagine someone else living there.
"You didn't call me at two in the morning just to tell me you're thinking about selling your house." Nick kept his tone brisk, concealing his concern. "Cut to the chase."
'The problem with you is that you have no finesse," Harry complained.
"And the problem with you is that you have too much," Nick countered. "Spit it out."
There was a brief silence, as if the other man was choosing his words carefully. Nick reached over and flipped on the sleek black lamp on the bedside table, narrowing his eyes against the soft flood of light. Whatever Harry wanted, Nick had the feeling he wasn't going to like it.
"I want you to come home, help me fix the house up so I can put it on the market."
Nick said nothing, letting the faint hum of the long-distance connection fill the silence while he absorbed the magnitude of his old friend's request.
"I know it's a lot to ask," Harry said finally, his tone more defensive than apologetic.
"If s a hell of a lot," Nick said flatly.
"You're the only one Td trust to do the job. You know the place."
"You don't have to know a house to patch a few holes in the plaster and slap some paint on the walls. You can afford to hire someone who'll do good work. Talk to Jack Sinclair. He doesn't usually do restorations, but I'll call him and ask him to make an exception."
"I want someone doing the work who actually cares."
It was on the tip of his tongue to say that he didn't care, but Nick couldn't get the words out. He did care. He'd always loved the rambling old house with its extravagant layers of trim and air of sweetly pompous dignity. And there was something in Harry's voice that worried him—a vulnerability he didn't like. He shoved his fingers through his dark hair and closed his eyes, feeling as if the walls of the loft were starting to move in on him.
"You're not talking about a weekend job," he said, marshalling his arguments carefully. "I've got a job here. A life."
"Last time we talked, you told me you were sick of Wall Street," Harry countered. "You said you were thinking of quitting, getting out of the city."
"Thinking about it is a long way from doing it" Nick threw the covers back and swung his legs out of bed. "I can't just pick up and leave."
But even as he said it, he knew it wasn't true. There was nothing—no one—holding him in the city. His job would be filled by the time he'd packed up his desk. He'd made few friends in the years he'd lived in New York, a matter of conscious choice as much as chance. He could leave tomorrow and the ripples of his departure would fade before he made it to the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.
"Dammit, Harry, there are other people who could do the job. I don't restore houses anymore. I sell stock. Talk to Jack Sinclair. He'll do a good job for you."
He could hear the older man's breathing on the other end of the line. There was something about that shallow sound that made his own breathing feel constricted. He tried to call up an image of Harry the way he'd always been—lean and strong, touched by age but not conquered by it—but somehow, this time, he seemed to see new lines in his face, noticed a faint tremor in hands that had always been rock steady.
"You're right," Harry said at last. "It's too much to ask. I guess I was just thinking you might be ready to come home. It's been five years, Nick."
Five years, three months and six days. If he thought about it for a moment, he could come up with the number of hours and minutes since he'd left Eden, left California. He'd been running from the past, running from his memories. Five years later and three thousand miles away, they were both still with him. He thought about the restlessness he'd felt lately, about the sleepless nights, the gray sameness of the days.
Funny that it should take so long to realize he couldn't run away from what he carried inside himself. He felt resignation seeping in around the edges of his refusal.
"Is this part of some misguided attempt to save me from myself, Harry?"
"Do you need saving?"
The automatic denial died in Nick's throat. He glanced around his bedroom, taking in the sleek, modem furnishings. The room was cool and carefully soulless, just like his life for the past five years. Maybe Harry was right. Maybe it was time to go home. Maybe the only way to lay ghosts to rest was to face them on their home ground.
'I've got some vacation time I can take," he said slowly. He knew, even as he said it, that, once he left this place, he wouldn't be back. Whether he stayed in Eden or not, he wouldn't be coming back to New York. He released his breath slowly. "Give me a couple of weeks to get things settled here. I'll come home."
Three thousand miles away, Harry set the receiver in place and hoped he hadn't made a mistake. His blue eyes, faded with age, settled on a framed portrait of a young couple, the woman cradling an infant who looked scarcely more fragile than she did herself. His hand shook a little as he reached out and lifted the picture. He studied the faces for a moment before sliding open a drawer in the end table and setting the picture inside. He slid the drawer shut.
He'd interfered once before, manipulated two lives with the best of intentions, and the results had ultimately been tragic. But this time he was right. He knew he was right.
He'd done the right thing, he told himself. He was sure of it.