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Authors: Jude Deveraux

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Moonlight in the Morning (11 page)

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
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“She never knew what hit her. You can’t believe how good I am at stealing kisses.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, now stop distracting me and let me tell you about my orchids.”

Jecca leaned her head back against him and couldn̵ Sd c my orchid7;t help marveling at how well they fit together. Her head set just into his shoulder, and when he spoke she could feel his warm breath on her cheek.

His voice was soft and deep and so very masculine as he told about growing up in Aldredge House. There was a little conservatory on the end of the house, put there by the woman who’d built it in the 1840s.

“Did she live there alone?” Jecca asked.

“Winnie’s story is for another night. Is my arm too heavy on you? I can move it.”

“No!” Jecca said. Her arms were wrapped around his. “I mean, no, it’s fine.”

Tristan smoothed Jecca’s hair back with his free arm and kissed her temple. “Where was I?”

“I’m not sure,” Jecca said. His lips had made her want to kiss him. What would be so wrong with a single kiss?

“Orchids,” Tristan said and started talking again. It seemed that down through the generations whichever Aldredge owned the house took care of whatever he put in the little greenhouse. Tristan’s father liked bromeliads. “Know what they are?” he asked.

“I have no idea.” She was very aware of his body against hers.

“Not my favorite plants,” Tris said. “I was about nine when I was at some store with my mom and saw my first orchid. An oncidium. She bought it for me, and Dad let me put it in with his plants.”

“That was nice,” she said.

“It was until I had six orchids and that’s when he told me to stop buying them.”

“And I guess Mrs. Wingate and the big conservatory her husband built came to the rescue,” Jecca said.

“Yes,” Tris said.

“Was she a widow then?”

He took a while before answering. “I think Olivia Wingate was a widow even when she was married. Her husband was a bastard.”

“That’s awful,” Jecca said.

Tristan shrugged. “It was a long time ago.”

“She never remarried?”

“Never so much as looked at a man as far as I know.”

“Maybe she and Lucy are a couple.”

“I don’t think so,” Tris said. “I’d like both of them to find companions. They’re very nice women, and they deserve the best.”

Jecca realized that Tristan’s hand was again in hers. In just two days his hand had become very familiar to her. “When Kim came to the house this morning, Lucy ran out of the room.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I thought you might have heard something.”

“Nothing. Lucy works very hard, and she doesn’t go out much. I try to get over t Sto ;

Jecca laughed. “I bet they shower you with buttered popcorn and lemonade and—”

“Chocolate cake and cherry pie and apricot tarts with almonds in the crust. I have to spend an extra forty minutes on a treadmill to counteract all the calories.”

Jecca ran her hand up his arm. It was well muscled, strong. “It doesn’t feel like any fat has been put on you.”

For a moment they were both still, and Jecca knew that if he turned his head toward hers she wouldn’t pull away. He seemed to be debating what to do next and she held her breath.

“It’s late and we have to go,” he said abruptly, then moved quickly as he disentangled their bodies.

To Jecca it seemed that one second they were close to kissing and the next they were both standing up.

Without a word, he took her hand and led her through the two low doorways to the outside. It had stopped raining and the air was fresh and clean.

Still holding her hand, they went through the darkness at a pace that left her breathless. In what seemed to be seconds, they were at the edge of the woods. There was a small yellow porch light shining from the house.

“Tristan,” Jecca said and her hand tightened on his.

He stepped close to her, but he didn’t put his free arm around her as she hoped he would. Instead, he put his hand on her cheek, his fingers entwining in her hair.

“Jecca,” he whispered. “I like you. There’s been only one other woman I’ve felt so comfortable with. Bear with me on this. I don’t want to mess this up.”

Damn! Jecca thought and couldn’t help frowning. He sounded serious. “Please don’t forget that I’m going back to—”

He put his thumb over her lips. “I know. You’re going to leave to go back to New York. I’ve thought about that. But you know what, Jecca my sweet?”

“What?” she whispered.

“I’m all grown up. If I get some of the sweetness of you, I’ll be able to handle the pain of good-bye.”

She felt him bend his head down and thought he was going to kiss her, but he moved so his lips were by her ear.

“Tomorrow at dark?” he whispered.

“Yes,” she said, then he let go of her hand and he was gone.

Six

Tristan was struggling with breakfast, determined to scramble some eggs rather than eat yet another bowl of cereal. But doing anything with just one arm was difficult. He broke eggs into a bowl then picked out the shells.

He put butter in a hot skillet, but it burned because he was distracted. He kept sta Vto ;

Yesterday he’d had to give excuses to the two women as to why he couldn’t stay. Lucy had believed him. She’d kissed his cheek and told him he worked too hard.

But Miss Livie had looked at him the same way she did when he was twelve and had told some lie about where he’d been and what he was doing. Even his mother didn’t catch him in lies the way Miss Livie did.

Tristan figured that by now she’d connected him with Jecca’s nighttime absences. But as far as he could tell, she didn’t seem to disapprove of the secretive way they were meeting.

She probably thinks we’re going to my house and screwing our brains out, he thought, then cleaned out the skillet again. He had burned the second batch of butter.

Tris wondered what Miss Livie would think if she knew the truth, that he hadn’t so much as kissed Jecca.

“Probably wouldn’t believe me,” he muttered and put the eggs back in the refrigerator. Forget trying to cook; he was going into town for breakfast.

On impulse, he picked up his phone and called Kim. “Have you had breakfast?”

“Not yet.”

“Could I take you out to Al’s?”

“That would be nice. I have some good news to tell you.”

“Yeah? About what?” he asked.

“I’ll save it until I see you. By the way, how do you like Jecca?”

“Every time I go to Miss Livie’s, your Jecca is upstairs.” That’s the closest he could get to not lying.

“That’s better anyway, as she’s spoken for. I’ll see you at Al’s.” She hung up.

“What the hell does that mean?!” Tristan said to the phone. “‘Spoken for’?”

In spite of his handicap, Tris was at the diner in about ten minutes and he impatiently waited for his cousin Kim.

She came in, smiling, kissed his cheek and took the bench across from him. Al’s Diner had been the height of fashion in the 1950s when the ’57 Chevy ruled the road and Elvis Presley was making a name for himself. The place had been a great success then, so Al—the son—saw no reason to change it. The booths were the same, the round stools at the long counter were the same. There were little boxes on the wall for each booth, and you could choose your music. No one minded that there were no songs past 1959.

“So what do you want to hear this morning?” Kim asked as she flipped through the charts. “B9, Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’ or D8, Jerry Lee Lewis belting out ‘Great Balls of Fire’?” Kids in Edilean used to pride themselves on memorizing the call numbers of the songs.

“Nothing,” Tris said as he drank his coffee.

“Somebody’s in a bad mood,” [ moht="0e Kim said. “Your arm bothering you?”

“Days with nothing to do are driving me insane,” Tris said.

“Sorry, but I think it’s going to get worse.”

“What does that mean?” Tris was frowning.

“You
are
grumpy today. What’s put you in a bad mood?”

Tris couldn’t say that her words of Jecca being “spoken for” had done it. “What’s your good news?”

“Reede is coming back this weekend.”

“Yeah?” Tris asked and smiled. He hadn’t seen his friend and cousin in over two years. It had been Kim who’d asked him to take over Tris’s practice. His father was willing to work the whole time Tris’s arm was in a sling, but his mother objected. She was determined to go on the cruise she’d booked!

“What’s making him come earlier?” Tris asked, his bad mood gone. Reede was one of the few unmarried friends he had left.

“Jecca.”

Tris had to suppress a groan. Not that “thing” she’d mentioned again. “What does that mean?”

“I told him Jecca was here, and he said he’d be on the next flight out. He and his last girlfriend broke up a couple of months ago, so when I told him about Jecca being here, he couldn’t wait to see her. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my brother and my best friend did get together?”

“I didn’t know they knew each other until you mentioned it the other day.” When Tris had asked Jecca about him, he got the idea that there was nothing between her and Reede. As far as Tris could tell, it was all a figment of Kim’s very active imagination. Wishful thinking. But now she was saying that Reede was coming home early just to see Jecca.

“Oh yeah,” Kim said. “The first time Jecca visited was right after our first year in college, and she had the major hots for my brother. But that was when that idiot Laura Chawnley had just dumped him, and he didn’t even notice Jecca. He told me he was running around stark naked in front of her and wasn’t even aware of it.”

The waitress came to get their orders, and that gave Tris time to calm down. After the waitress left, he said, “What do you mean that Reede was naked?”

Laughing, Kim told the story of Jecca and Reede in the pool at Florida Point and how she dove in after him. “A couple of years ago I asked Reede what happened—I wanted to hear his side—and he said he was so upset about Laura that he didn’t know what he was doing. You know what else he told me?”

“What?” Tris asked.

“That day he
was
thinking that he might like to end his misery, and that if he didn’t come up from the bottom of the pool it would be all right.”

“So Jecca saved his life.”

“I think maybe she did,” Kim said. “And I think Reede wants to thank her. I’m going to do everythin [ dowidtg I can to get them together.”

“Didn’t you tell me that Jecca doesn’t want to live in Edilean?”

“Neither does Reede. I’m afraid the world has a hold on him. Jecca would make the perfect wife for him.”

“Wife?!” Tris said with more vehemence than he meant to expose. “Since when did you go from meeting to marriage?”

“It’s just that Reede and Jecca are so perfect for each other,” she said as their food was put on the table. “Her profession of painting is mobile, so she could go anywhere with him.”

“I thought she worked in an art gallery. That isn’t very mobile.”

“What’s with you and your negativity today?” Kim asked.

“My arm, and I want Reede to be happy. How can this Jecca do that for him? How can she travel if she has a full-time job in New York?”

Kim hesitated. “Jecca . . .”

“She what?”

“Don’t tell her I told you this, okay?”

“You know that I hold a lot of secrets in this town.”

“I do know that,” Kim said softly. “Jecca’s paintings haven’t sold. They’re great, they’re fabulous. I’ve never seen any better, but she’s sold only a few of them. And her work in that gallery—she has a rotten boss—takes up so much of her time that she doesn’t get to do much of her own work.”

“She has the whole summer here to paint,” Tris said.

“I hope so. But then I also wish Jecca would quit her awful job, travel with my brother, and paint. Can’t you imagine what she’d do in Africa? Or Brazil? Reede’s been there twice.”

Tris looked down at his plate of food. He’d eaten little, and it was getting cold. Jecca wouldn’t want to give up a life like that to live in itty-bitty Edilean. Give up the chance to paint Masai warriors to record the local Scottish fair? Not quite.

On the other hand, he wasn’t going to let fairness stand in his way. “What’s your friend Jecca like as a person?”

“Creative. She loves to make things, from decorating cakes to sewing her own clothes to painting a room. She said she’s looking forward to the party.”

“What party?”

“To welcome Reede home, of course. It’s next Saturday. You’re invited. It starts at six, but come early and help Dad with the food. He’s going to barbecue about fifty pounds of meat. Colin is bringing—”

“When did you call Jecca?”

“Last night. Is something wrong? You’re acting very strangely. I can’t believe you haven’t seen Jecca at Mrs. Wingate’s house. You’re usually over there four times a day, and—”

Tris cut her off. To a [herr tnswer he’d have to lie and he didn’t want to do that. “Tell me more about Jecca. What advice will you give Reede if he wants to win her?”

“To use his brain and come up with something different to do with her.”

“Dinner and a movie . . . ?”

“Would bore her to death. You can’t imagine the guys in college who were after her. There’s something about her that men like.”

Yeah, he thought, humor, compassion, a willingness to have a good time. Jecca wasn’t the sort of woman to throw a fit when a man stood her up for dinner because he had an emergency patient. “Any marriage proposals?”

“Four that she told me about. Why are you asking all these questions about Jecca?”

“You’re planning to offer this woman to my cousin and friend. I want to make sure she’s worthy of him. Have you got a plan for Reede to follow to win this Jecca?”

“Just not be boring,” Kim said.

“What’s boring to Jecca?”

“You know how so many of those beautiful bimbos you date think it’s enough just to look great?”

Tris nodded. He knew exactly what she meant. There was Heather, who was so beautiful that people on the street stopped to stare at her. Tris had been as enraptured as everyone else. But it had taken only two dates before he realized that she expected him to do everything for her. She seemed to believe her only duty in life was to look good. “I do know,” he said. “Jecca isn’t like that?”

“No. Behind her pretty face she’s a real person. Tristan, what are you up to?”

“What do you mean?”

“All these questions about Jecca! You aren’t planning to go after her, are you?”

“Jecca and I have yet to be introduced.”

She looked at him hard, trying to figure out what he was thinking. “You won’t win,” she said at last.

“Win what?”

“Don’t give me that innocent look. I’ve known you all my life. I’m telling you that no matter how hard you try, you won’t win Jecca.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because she’s not like the women in this town. She needs more than to marry some handsome doctor, move into his beat-up old house, then pop out four or five kids.” Kim could feel herself getting angry. “Stay away from her. I don’t want her heart broken, as you’ve done to every other woman who’s tried to get near you.”

Tris thought that if anyone’s heart had been broken, it was his. “I wasn’t aware that I’d damaged any hearts.”

“You’re so damned
nice
to them that they think there’s going to be more. You’re so sweet and considerate that the women begin to buy bridal magazines after the first date. [ fi"1em"When you tell them to get lost, they’re shattered.”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t be courteous to the women I date?”

“I think you should be more honest. If you don’t like them, let them know.” Kim waved her hand. “This conversation is going nowhere. Jecca isn’t for you, so I ask you to please leave her alone.”

Tristan couldn’t help but be shocked by her words—and no little hurt. How many people saw him as a man who broke women’s hearts? In his mind, he was a good guy for having always been polite to the women. No matter how obnoxious, aggressive, or vain his date turned out to be, he did his best to make her feel as though she was an appealing woman.

To hear that his cousin, someone he loved, saw what he did in a different way, was a blow to him. He chose his words carefully. “I’ve heard nothing but good about your friend and I’d like to ask her out.”

Kim fell back against the seat. “Damnation! Reede and Jecca have a history. He’s grateful to her for helping him at what he says was the lowest point in his life. When I told him she was spending the summer here, he rearranged everything in his life so he could come back three weeks earlier. For years I’ve imagined Jecca with my brother.”

“What would be so tragic if she fell for somebody else and lived in Edilean?” Tris asked in exasperation.

“She likes this little town, but she can’t live here,” Kim said. “Her family, her career, all of it is elsewhere. What would she do here? Paint Florida Point three hundred times? Open a gallery here and have tourists talk about how
cute
her work is? Even if she was madly, insanely in love with you, you’d still be killing her spirit.”

Kim slid to the end of the booth and looked at him. “Tristan, you know I love you. I always have. You were the only one of my teenage male cousins who paid attention to a little girl who liked to make jewelry out of flowers. You used to let me cover you with daisy chains. I’m sure that if you turned on your charm you could make Jecca fall in love with you, but then what? You put her in your old house and watch her spirit die? Please don’t do that.”

When he said nothing, she kissed his cheek good-bye, then left.

As Tristan drank another cup of coffee, he stared out the window and tried to think what to do. Honor his beloved cousin’s request, or keep on meeting Jecca?

His first thought was that he couldn’t bear not to be with Jecca again. To not spend another night talking with her, laughing, snuggling? It wasn’t something he could contemplate. Last night he’d had to cut their time together short because his desire for her had nearly overtaken him. But he already knew that what he was feeling for Jecca was more serious than a tumble in the playhouse. He didn’t want to make things go too fast. When they did make love, he wanted it to be more important than just a nightly fling.

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
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