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Authors: Jude Deveraux

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Moonlight in the Morning (10 page)

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
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“Do you think everything she told us about herself was a lie?” Kim asked Jecca on the phone that night.

“If it was, she had a reason,” Jecca said.

They knew Sophie didn’t want to be found, but that didn’t keep them from hoping—or from trying to find out about her.

After they left Kim’s shop, they walked around Edilean and stopped in Mrs. Wingate’s store, Yesterday.

Jecca was astonished by what she saw. Clothes for children and babies, made of the softest cotton imaginable, had rows of lace and embroidered strips inserted into the fabric. Jecca turned over a little dress that had a heart of lace in the skirt. There didn’t appear to be any seams. The lace had, somehow, been butted up against the fabric and fastened with a nearly invisible stitch.

Mrs. Wingate said the garments were called “heirloom” because they were based on age-old sewing techniques. Where once the lace had been inserted by hand, it was now done by machine. Jecca had done enough sewing to be in awe of the precision, as well as the art, of the clothing.

She wanted to ask Mrs. Wingate questions about how it was done, but that would mean talking about Lucy. Jecca wanted to know more about Lucy’s reluctance to be around people before she started blabbing her name.

“Shall we see you this afternoon?” Mrs. Wingate asked when the young women were about to leave.

“I’m not sure.” Jecca looked at Kim in question. “Anything planned for today at three?”

“Actually, I need to meet with some salesmen. You’re welcome to come if you want.”

“Thanks but no,” Jecca said and smiled at Mrs. Wingate. “Looks like I’ll be there.”

When they were outside, Kim asked what that was all about.

“They want me to work out with them.”

“‘They’? You mean Mrs. Wingate and the secretive Lucy?”

“She’s not—” Jecca cut herself off. If she said too much, Kim would ask questions, and Jecca had no answers. “Are you hungry?”

“Starved,” Kim said. “There’s a sandwich shop two stores down.”

“Perfect,” Jecca said.

Inside the cute little shop they placed their orders, then sat down at a marble-topped table.

“Tell me more about your advertising campaign,” Jecca said as she put her big handbag on the floor by her chair.

“The usual, love and romance. Since I tend to take designs from nature, I thought of the flowers. Think you can get some good watercolors from Tris’s orchids?”

“Lots of them. I was wondering if you’d ever thought of using something like a story as the basis of your campaign.”

“What do you mean? Like get my cousin Luke Adams to write something, then I fit the jewelry to it?”

“Sort of.” She paused as a young waitress served them food. When they were alone again, Jecca said, “I was thinking of Cupid and Psyche.”

“Oh yeah. I think I remember that story, but I’ll have to look it up.”

“It was just a thought,” Jecca said. “If you run your ads in the same magazine, each month could be a continuation of the story.”

“And a different design presente Ksigth could bd,” Kim said. “Not a bad idea. What made you think of it?”

“Something someone said,” Jecca answered, then put food in her mouth.

Kim was nodding. “Angels, bows and arrows, a garden full of flowers . . .”

“Not to mention a beautiful man,” Jecca added.

“He could be handing her a piece of jewelry,” Kim said. “I like it! You were always rather good at portraits. Think you could do this?”

“If you can get me a model as beautiful as the son of Venus, sure,” she said, joking.

Kim didn’t hesitate. “I’ll get Tris. He won’t like doing it, but I’ll nag him into it. Are you ready to go?”

“I think I’ll make a quick trip to the restroom,” Jecca said, thinking about Kim instantly casting Tris as Cupid.

“I’ll make some notes,” Kim said.

A few minutes later, Jecca returned to the table to see Kim laughing. “What did I miss?”

“Tristan.”

“What about him?”

“He was just here. He said he was sorry he couldn’t stay to meet you, but he had to help his dad with something. He said he’d stop by Mrs. Wingate’s this evening.”

“I would like to see him,” Jecca said, “especially since he’s all I hear about from you, Mrs. Wingate, and Lucy.”

“So you
did
talk to this Lucy!” Kim said.

Jecca picked up her bag. “Is there someplace I can get some shampoo? I’m about out.”

“Sure. It’s homemade around here and we put lye in it, but it won’t hurt your hair too much.”

“Funny,” Jecca said. “I just need—”

“Ma’am?”

They turned to see their waitress holding out a large, colorful book to Jecca. “You left this behind.”

Taking the book, Jecca stared at it.
Cupid and Psyche
was the title, and it was profusely illustrated with gorgeous watercolors.

“Jecca!” Kim said. “You’ve really been thinking a lot about my ad campaign. You are such a good friend! Could I borrow this?” She reached for the book.

“No!” Jecca said and clasped it to her chest. “I mean, I need to look at it more before I come up with some ideas.”

“Okay,” Kim said, smiling, “but I get it next.”

They stayed in Edilean for only an hour more. Kim had meetings and Jecca was dying to get to work. She wanted to set up her table and put out all her supplies in exactly the order she wanted them in. And she wanted to start photographing the orchids in the light of the setting sun.

But m Kh=" start ostly, she wanted to go through the book Tristan had left for her. She couldn’t help smiling as she thought about how he’d gone to the trouble of finding and purchasing the book, then hiding it . . . Where? In his sling? Somehow, he’d distracted Kim long enough to get it out and put it beside Jecca’s bag. She hadn’t noticed it but was very glad the waitress had.

Once she was back at the Wingate house, Jecca ran upstairs, flopped across the bed, and read the story of Cupid and Psyche. It wasn’t until the last page that there was a note from Tristan stuck inside.

I was wrong. They didn’t wed until after they fell in love. Tristan

She laughed. It was funny that he was pretending that
she
was the woman he wanted. “A woman he’s never even seen,” she said aloud.

She slipped the book under her pillows and went about setting up her makeshift studio. She got out her precious paper and laid out her brushes. Since school she’d invested in the best quality sable brushes, and treated them with all the care and respect they deserved.

She put individual enameled dishes that she used for her paints in stacked office trays. Jecca liked to layer her paints. If she wanted green, she’d put down a very thin glaze of blue, let it dry, then put another glaze of yellow on top. The resulting green was, to her eye, more luminous than if she’d just mixed blue and yellow on a palette and spread it on the paper.

Her practice of letting colors dry between applications, plus her frequent use of masking fluid, made her paintings take weeks. But to her, the result was what mattered.

She got out her travel box, the one she used when she went outside to sketch. Her father had made it of fine-grained mahogany.

“That should hold what you use,” he said when he presented it to her the second Christmas she was home from art school. Unknown to her, he’d gone through her big, worn-out canvas bag and measured everything inside it. It held what she needed when she did her quick sketches, where she didn’t take the time to layer but used a kit that held a dozen different colors. A few weeks before, Jecca had been in tears because her wet colors had bled onto what she’d painted.

“You turn them up sideways and they run,” her brother had said, as though she were a moron.

Her dad put his arm around her and patted her shoulder. At Christmas he’d given her the box that had space for her paper, paints, brushes, and a separate place inside for her completed work.

Jecca had loved the kit so much that she’d danced around the room with it, making her father and brother laugh. Later, she’d painted a picture of her dad and Joey bent over a new hand plane. Their faces showed an identical look of love for the tool—and for each other.

Jecca ran her fingers over the grooves for her pencils and her brushes and thought of her dad. The last few years hadn’t been happy for him. He was always butting heads with Joey’s wife, Sheila. She had turned out to be extremely ambitious, and she didn’t see any reason why her father-in-law shouldn’t retire and give the hardware store to Joey.

“Tell her that when the queen r Kn tm">̶etires I will!” Joe had shouted at his son.

“What queen?” Sheila asked. “Is he talking about that club down on the corner? I don’t go into places like that.”

During one of the fights—which Jecca worked to stay out of—she’d said that Sheila’s ambition was inversely proportional to her intelligence. Her dad laughed, Joey glowered, and Sheila had asked what that meant.

The “Sheila War,” as Jecca called it, was one of the major reasons she’d so readily accepted Kim’s invitation to spend a peaceful summer in Edilean.

Jecca was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn’t notice Lucy standing at the open door to her bedroom.

“I don’t mean to interrupt you,” Lucy said. She was wearing a flowery bathrobe and looked like she was headed for the shower. “It’s just that it’s nearly three o’clock and you said you might like to join us.”

“Sure,” Jecca said. She could stand some mild exercise. She just hoped it would be active enough to get her blood flowing. Afterward, she’d like to set up her camera and take some photos.

But an hour of leg lifts or whatever would be a welcome break. And besides, she liked the idea of being with these two older women. She didn’t really remember her mother, and since she’d spent her life with men, she’d always wondered what it would be like to be around such women.

Five

“Tristan?” Jecca said into the dark for the third time, but there was still no answer. “Stood up by a man I’ve never even seen,” she mumbled, then groaned at the pain in her shoulder.

There was a crack of lightning, followed immediately by a clash of thunder. Great, she thought. Now I’m going to get soaked. When the first drops hit her, she turned back toward the house.

“Psyche,” she heard Tristan’s voice. The rain started coming down harder.

She couldn’t see anything, but she felt his arm go around her shoulders in a way that drew her head down onto his chest. When he started running, she went with him.

They went through the dark woods at a fast pace. A couple of times she felt a tree graze her arm. If Tristan hadn’t known exactly where he was going they would have slammed into one another, but he never hesitated in his run.

“Duck!” he said as his hand came up to her head and pulled it down. He stepped back as she went across what seemed to be a threshold and under a low doorway. When she stood up again, she was inside a building, and if possible, it was darker than outside. “Where are we?” she asked.

“You are in . . .” he said.

She could hear him moving about but could see nothing. There was a sound of cloth, then he handed her what felt like a small quilt. She wrapped it around her upper body.

Tris Nn tm"he htan put his free hand on her shoulder and began to pat her. “Sorry about the rain,” he said. “You’re in the Aldredge playhouse. My niece is the fourth generation to use it.”

He moved to her back to smooth the quilt over it, then returned to her front. “Better?” he asked.

“Yes and no,” she said.

He stopped moving. “What does that mean?”

“I worked out with Mrs. Wingate and Lucy today.”

“No!” he said. “I thought those things were an urban myth.”

“I wish they were,” Jecca said and pulled the quilt off and handed it to him. “You must be dripping.”

“I’ve been more dry,” he said as he took the quilt and put it around his shoulders—and gave a shiver.

“Did your sling get wet?” she asked in a scolding way. “When you heard the thunder, you should have stayed home.”

“And miss seeing you?” he asked in a low voice.

“You can’t see me, and you could have called.” She was patting him dry, walking around him, her hands on his body. In spite of what she was saying, she was pleased that he’d shown up.

When she got back to the front of him, he kissed her cheek. “I like it when you’re concerned about me.”

Outside, the rain was lashing hard. “Is there a place to sit down in here?”

He took her hand, again told her to duck, and led her into a second room. Guiding her, he pulled her to what seemed to be a bed.

“I don’t think—” Jecca began.

“No seduction, I promise,” he said.

Jecca thought, Then why am I here? but didn’t say it.

The bed was short and surrounded on three sides by walls. She turned and leaned back against one end of the bed, and he took the other, but she kept her legs bent. To extend them would mean entwining their legs.

“Why didn’t you stay in the restaurant today?” she asked. “I would have liked to actually meet you. Again, that is.”

“You’ve met me as much as anyone has. And besides, if I’d introduced myself, maybe you wouldn’t have liked the look of me and not come tonight.”

“I shouldn’t have.” She expected him to ask why, but he didn’t.

“Tell me about your workout.”

“Those two women!” Jecca said. “Hey! Maybe I’m not supposed to tell. Women’s secrets, that sort of thing.”

“I’m the town doctor, remember? You can tell me anything. And maybe it would help me with future patients who come in with muscle strain from their classes. What did you do? And where is it held? In the woods by candlelight?” There was hope in his voice.

“Promise you won’t laugh.”

“I
never
make that promise. I take laughter anywhere I can get it.”

“Good philosophy,” she said, then took a breath. “We pole danced.”

“You what?”

“Pole danced. Tomorrow it’s belly dancing.”

Tristan didn’t laugh. “You’re serious?”

“Oh yes, and I have the aching muscles to prove it. There’s a big room in the basement that’s carpeted with what they said was triple padding. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. In one end of the room is a huge flat-screen TV with super video equipment, and one of those bookcases that holds a thousand DVDs. Smack in the middle is a fireman’s pole. And that’s it.”

“No chairs?”

“Not one. Mrs. Wingate said that every day Lucy chooses a different workout disk, and they do it. Tristan, I went through them, and you can’t believe what they have. There’s every kind of dance from Brazilian carnival to hula and ballet. Even the yoga is called Power Yoga. And they have kickboxing.”

“I can’t imagine my Miss Livie straddling a fireman’s pole. You are talking about . . . ?”

“Strippers,” Jecca said. “What those women can do! I blush at it.”

“So, uh,” Tristan said, “did
you
try it?”

“Of course. I’m half their age, so I thought that I could easily do what they were doing. But I couldn’t get anywhere near the height on that pole that they did. And swirling around it . . . Impossible!”

“I have the most wonderful images in my mind.”

“Of Mrs. Wingate? Or is it Lucy in your visions?”

Tristan chuckled. “And it’s belly dancing tomorrow? You think maybe I can—”

“No, you can’t join us.”

“Are you sure? Maybe—”

“There’s a sign on the door
NO MEN ALLOWED
.”

“I can see that it’s been too long since I’ve been in the basement of that house.”

Jecca rubbed her arms. “I’m going to be sore tomorrow.”

“Turn around and I’ll rub your shoulders.”

She hesitated.

“I can’t do much with just one arm,” he said.

“You seem to have managed to get the new girl in town alone and in bed with you and you’ve not even
seen
her.”

Tristan laughed. “I think that has more to do with your sweet nature than with me. Come over here. I promise to do nothing I shouldn’t. Unless S17;omorroyou want me to, that is.”

She didn’t answer that statement but turned and scooted closer to him. The bed was narrow as well as short, and when she was by his side, he had to put his feet on the floor. That, combined with having one arm in a sling, and she could tell that he was quite uncomfortable.

To make his point, he gave a great, melodramatic sigh.

“I’ve heard about how you get your way,” she said.

His answer was another sigh.

“All right!” she said and bent forward so he could put his legs up and she moved back between them. She refused to lean against him as he began to massage her neck.

“That’s great,” she said.

“Yeah, the lumbar region holds a lot of tension.”

“Spoken like a true doctor,” she said.

“It’s what I am.”

They were silent for a moment as his hand went down her spine, manipulating her sore muscles in a way that was almost a caress. She felt herself relaxing. “Do you miss seeing your patients?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I miss having a job. This morning I tried to get my father to tell me who’s got what, and how everyone is doing, but you know what he said?”

“I can guess,” Jecca said. “He told you he was a doctor before you were born.”

“Either you have a dad just like mine or we were separated at birth.”

“My father, Joseph Frances Layton, refuses to listen to anyone’s suggestions about anything. One time I said he should take down the shrine and use that space to put in some decorative hardware. Guess what he said?”

“What shrine?”

“No. He said that he was running that store before I was born and—”

“Jecca, what shrine?”

“Oh,” she said. “The hardware store was started in 1918 by my great-great-grandfather, and he made a wooden shrine to honor the men who served with him in World War I. It’s a scene of a battle where several of his friends died. It’s quite big and it’s a masterpiece. Took him twenty years to build it. Everyone who sees it is awed by it. A lot of artists come to see it and photograph it. It’s mostly art deco, but there’s a bit of baroque in the carved figures. It’s quite unique.

“Anyway, the local historical society has begged Dad to put the shrine up in the town hall, but will my dad listen? No. Two years ago six two-by-fours came close to hitting it. If they had, they would have probably destroyed the whole thing.”

Tristan stopped massaging. “You’re worried about your father, aren’t you?”

His words startled her. They were
very
perceptive. “Yes,” she said. “How could you tell?”

“I listen to a lot of people tell me about Stelem">

Jecca twisted around so she was leaning against the long wall. His leg was behind her, but he didn’t move it. “I don’t know what to do. My brother’s wife wants Dad to retire and turn the shop over to them.”

“And your dad hates that idea, right?”

“That store is all he has. He’s been a widower for twenty-two years and—”

“No girlfriends?”

“One when I was in the seventh grade, but it didn’t last. Your parents are lucky to have each other.”

“Very lucky,” Tris said. “I envy them.”

“Do they miss your small town?”

“Dad does, but he has buddies down in Florida, and they like it there. And they have each other.”

His words sounded so wistful that Jecca reached out for his hand and held it. His fingers were long, like a piano player’s—or a surgeon’s, she thought, and smiled. “Did you always want to be a doctor?”

“Always,” he said. “I never had any doubts at all. Mom loves to tell people that the only thing that relieved my teething pain was Dad’s old stethoscope.”

He kept his hand in hers as she felt his palm, his wrist.

“Tomorrow . . .” he said softly.

“Yes?”

“We could go on a real date. I could pick you up in my car and we could go out to dinner.”

“And order something delicious and drink wine?”

“That sounds good, doesn’t it?”

Jecca hesitated. It sounded very good, but it also seemed oh so very
ordinary
.

“Artists love whatever is different, don’t they?” he asked.

“Not just to be different, but I do like creative things.”

“All right,” he said. “No formal dates like other people. But what do we do when the moon comes out?”

“I don’t know. I thought maybe Virginia didn’t have a moon.”

“Virginia
is
for lovers, but we haven’t progressed that far. In case you didn’t want a regular date, I looked at some moon charts.”

“Did you?” His hand clasped on hers. “What did the charts say?” she asked.

“We have another night of dark, then the moon starts to show. By the fourteenth it will be quite light outside.”

“I guess that means we’ll start seeing each other.” As she said it, she looked toward him. It had settled into a quiet, steady rain outside, and the little room was growing cool. He tugged on her hand, pulling her toward him, but she resisted.

“We can’t,” she said.

“I’m a very patient man.” He settled back against the wall. “What do you plan to do tomorrow?”

“Start my watercolors. Kim wants me to do a series of a dozen paintings that she can use in a new ad campaign.”

“I know.”

“How do you know?”

“Kim’s mother told my dad when she went to his office. He called Mom and told her, she told Addy and my sister told me. The Edilean gossip drums.”

“Did anyone tell you
what
I’m going to paint?”

“We all agreed with Kim’s idea of the orchids.”

Jecca laughed. “Everything by committee. What are those weird-looking ones under the bench?”

“Paphiopedilums.”

“And the ones from the Eisenhower era?” She heard him chuckle.

“Cattleyas.”

“Why do you have orchids at Mrs. Wingate’s house?”

“From a fight with my dad.”

“You
have
to tell me this one! Maybe it will help me with my own father.”

“If you figure out how to deal with a father who believes he knows everything and that I’m still teething on a stethoscope, let me know. Please.”

“My father thinks I don’t know a claw hammer from a ball pein. Unless he sends me to get a tool. Then I’m supposed to know what he wants, even if he doesn’t tell me. I want to hear about you and your dad and the orchids.”

“Do you mind, but my leg has gone to sleep and my broken arm is aching. If you’ll move to the side, and I move here, then . . .”

He was a lot bigger than she was, and the bed in the playhouse was very small. Jecca wasn’t sure how it happened, but one minute she was leaning against the wall and the next her back was against his chest, his long legs on each side of hers. He lifted his injured arm and brought it down over her head to rest across her stomach. His sling seemed to have disappeared in the position change.

“Hey!” Jecca said. “This isn’t—”

“Don’t move or you’ll hurt my arm. Now where was I?”

“Making the smoothest move I’ve ever had played on me,” Jecca said. “I bet in high school when you took a girl to a movie you were a terror in putting your arm around her.”

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