Authors: Jude Deveraux
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
“Oooooh,” Jecca said and felt herself drawn to the cave of colors.
“I thought you’d like that,” Lucy said. “Please come in and look around.”
“I don’t mean to bother you.”
“You aren’t. I hope you don’t mind if I keep working. I’m trying to fill orders for the shop.”
Jecca went to the closet and ran her hands across the bolts of fabric. They were mostly cotton, the kind used in quilts. But there were also white, ecru, and pastels in the softest fabric she’d ever felt. She looked at Lucy in question.
“Swiss batiste,” Lucy said. “Livie only uses the finest fabrics. The insertion and entredeux are in those drawers below.”
Jecca pulled one out and inside were cards of what looked to be the most boring trim she’d ever seen. It seemed to be a tiny ladder bordered on both sides by plain cloth. She looked at Lucy.
She held up a baby garment. Near the hem, the laddered design had been sewn in, and Lucy had threaded the holes with narrow pale pink ribbon.
“Very pretty,” Jecca said, but her interest was still with the bolts of colored fabric. “What do you do with all these?”
“Not much,” Lucy said. She was cutting out what looked to be a tiny bodice. “When I first came here I wanted to quilt, so I bought a machine, then went crazy buying bolts of fabric. But then I got involved with Livie’s shop and . . .” She shrugged.
“So you didn’t come here to work with Mrs. Wingate?”
“Oh, no,” Lucy said but didn’t volunteer any more information.
“Didn’t you know her before you came to Edilean?”
“No,” Lucy said, and there was caution in her voice.
Jecca knew when to back off and decided to change the subject. “I was wondering who a man in the photo albums is. He was with Tristan a lot when he was a boy, but then the man just seemed to disappear.”
Lucy glanced toward the door and lowered her voice. “I don’t know. c#828221 Odd that you’d pick him out. I did too and I asked Livie about him. She said he was just the gardener, but she had a funny look when she said it.”
It seemed that Lucy was quite willing to talk about Mrs. Wingate, but when it came to herself, she clammed up. “What happened to him? The gardener, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” Lucy said. “I asked Livie that and she stopped talking. Actually, she looked really sad. Would you hand me that—”
Jecca knew she wanted the pincushion so she pushed it to her. “I heard something about Mr. Wingate.”
“Me too,” Lucy said. “Not that Livie ever told me a word about him, but Armstrong’s—that’s the local grocery—is a hotbed of gossip. He was an uptight old man, quite a bit older than Livie. He was constantly aware of what he called his ‘social status’ and demanded that his young wife live up to it.”
“No pole dancing?”
Lucy smiled. “He must be turning over in his grave. Good!” When she reached across the counter for her rotary cutter, Jecca picked it up. “Would you like for me to cut that for you?”
“Can you do that?”
“Are you kidding? I’m from generations of hardware store owners. They haven’t made a hand tool I can’t use.”
“How wonderful! If you’ll cut those, I’ll put on the ruffler.”
“What’s that?” Jecca asked.
Lucy held up an intricate-looking metal object the size of a bar of soap. “It pleats fabric.”
“This I have to see,” Jecca said, and Lucy demonstrated. When Jecca was in high school and making her own clothes, to make the pleats, she’d had to mark them, pin them, fold the pins to each other, press, baste, then sew. The little machine attachment did it all as fast as Lucy fed it through. “Magic!”
Jecca turned to look around the room at all the machines. “So what do all these things actually
?” she asked.
By the time Lucy had demonstrated the Baby Lock Evolution serger and the way it not only sewed a seam but also trimmed it, it was time for lunch. She and Lucy went downstairs, made sandwiches, and took them upstairs to look at the Sashiko machine.
Jecca ate and listened to Lucy’s history of Japanese quilting—for which the machine was named—then saw that it had only a bobbin, no upper thread. This meant there was a blank space between stitches that gave them the appearance of being hand sewn.
“In my world
is a four-letter word,” Lucy said, and Jecca laughed.
There was a huge machine on a cabinet along the far wall. It was for embroidery, and Lucy spent nearly an hour showing Jecca software where she could take any photo, drawing, or painting, and reproduce it at any size in colors of thread.
“Amazing,” Jecca said as she thought of the possibilities of what could be done. She’d studied fiber arts in school, but it had been the basic ceeno each ots with a four-harness loom. As with most art schools, it was believed that a student should learn from the bottom up.
Jecca said, “If our fiber arts teacher wanted to use a sewing machine, it would be with a treadle. He didn’t like anything electric.”
“And that brings us to Henry,” Lucy said and she sounded as though she was speaking of a lover.
She went to the center cabinet to a huge sewing machine with a computer screen built into the arm. It was a Bernina 830. Lucy caressed the top. “When I first bought this guy I had so much trouble with him, I named him Henry. Only a man can cause a woman that much agony.”
Jecca laughed. “But it looks like you two have come to terms.”
“The first year was difficult. I hauled all fifty-eight pounds of him back to the shop eight times. I was sure he was defective. He’s just precise. If he’s threaded correctly, has the right foot, the right needle, and his tensions above and below are correct, Henry can perform miracles. Want to see my feet?”
Jecca didn’t know what she meant until Lucy opened a drawer to show her forty-two different presser feet for the sewing machine. “What in the world do they all do?” she asked.
“Well,” Lucy began as she pulled out a bolt of muslin and cut off a half a yard, “this one is a tailor tack foot, and besides doing what it was designed for, it makes tiny fringe.” She demonstrated. As Jecca was marveling over the row of fringe, Lucy said, “And these are for pintucking. They—”
“What is pintucking?”
While Lucy was showing the use of a double needle and inserting a strand of pearl cotton in the ridge created by the needles, an alarm went off.
“Time for exercise,” Lucy said.
“It’s three already?”
“It is,” Lucy said and gave a wistful look at the pile of fabric on her big cutting table. Because of spending the afternoon with Jecca, she was even farther behind in her work.
“If today’s workout doesn’t kill me, afterward I’ll help you,” Jecca said.
“Would you?” Lucy asked. “I’d love the help, but the company would be even more welcome. There are only so many movies a person can watch.”
So much for Lucy being shy and reclusive, Jecca thought. “Let me change clothes and—”
“Oh no!” Lucy said. “We have clothes for this session downstairs.”
“You mean . . . ?”
“We have belly dancing costumes complete with veils and lots of gold coins.”
Wait until I tell Tris about this tonight, Jecca thought, and followed her down the stairs.
Jecca was outside and waiting for Tristan as soon as the light faded. It was the last night of full darkness, and she feared that it would be their last truly secret meeting.
She was afraid to walk too fast or she might run into the heavy lawn furniture. Maybe instead of spending today with Lucy she should have gone to the playhouse so she could find it in the dark. She could have waited for Tristan there.
She heard a sound to her left. “Tristan?” she whispered, but there was no answer. But then she felt his hand on hers. His fingers closed around hers and tugged—and she followed him.
He didn’t take her through the woods to the playhouse. She wanted to ask him where he was leading her, but more, she wanted to be surprised.
When she stumbled, he halted and lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers one by one. “Not far now,” he whispered, and they walked some more.
When they stopped, he pulled her so her back was to his chest, his free arm in front of her. She could feel his arm in its sling behind her back. “Tell me what you see,” he whispered, “but don’t use your eyes.”
It was difficult to think when he was touching her, but she closed her eyes and listened and
. “My other senses,” she whispered.
“All right.” He rubbed his cheek against hers. “What do you hear?”
“Your breathing, even your heart.”
“I like that. But what do you hear besides me?”
“Frogs,” she said, “and water. Quiet water. It’s not small. It’s a lake or a large pond.” She turned her head toward him.
“Right.” He kissed her cheek. Not just a peck but she could feel his lips fully, softly. When she moved her mouth closer to his, he drew back.
“Kisses are my reward?”
He nuzzled her neck in answer.
“Beats a regular report card. What’s next?”
“Smell,” he said.
She inhaled slowly. “Again, it’s you. Cleanliness. You recently showered and shaved. No colognes.” She put her head back against him, her eyes closed. “I know your breath. Sweet, fresh. I could find you in a crowd by the smell and feel of your breath.”
He moved his face into her neck. “What about around you?”
She had to move her head so she could feel the night air. “The air still smells of the rain and . . .” She inhaled. “Roses. They’re close by. And there’s . . . Is that jasmine?”
“Very good,” he said and kissed her an inch away from her mouth. His lips lingered, as though daring her to turn into them. But Jecca remained where she was and didn’t turn toward him. If he could hold out, so could she.
“Feeling,” he whispered.
“You!” she said. k shwid8220;The back of me feels the warmth and strength of you, and the hard lump of your injured arm.”
He twisted and she felt him pull the sling over his head. He slid his arm around her, the cast in front of her, her body fully against his.
“I feel you,” she whispered. “Your clothes, your body against mine. The strength of your arms makes me feel safe, protected. Even though I can see nothing, I feel . . . trust. Yes. I feel secure, that I’m with someone I can trust.”
She took a breath. “The night air is cool but warm at the same time, as though they were mixed thoroughly but remain separate strands. There’s a breeze off the water. I feel good here in this place and with you.”
She closed her eyes, letting him hold her, enjoying the sensation. The photos she’d seen this morning, of the way she’d watched this man grow from a toddler to a tall, straight man, a doctor, ran through her mind. A montage of images and colors, of the sights and sounds they produced played across the back of her eyes.
“Taste,” he whispered, then turned her in his arms for their first kiss.
Their lips met perfectly. Without the distraction of sight, she could give herself over to the feel of his lips, the warmth of his skin. She opened her mouth under his, inviting his tongue inside. She felt his breath catch when she turned more fully in his arms and her breasts touched his chest. Her hands went to the back of his head, her fingers buried in his hair.
He held her tightly in his arms. “Jecca,” he said softly.
She could feel his heart pounding against her chest, and she was breathing heavily.
“Champagne,” he said against her lips.
Tristan drew back but kept his face next to hers. “I have champagne and cherries and cheese.”
She didn’t want to give in to the sheer sexiness of him. It was too early for that. “Do you?” Jecca asked, her hands on his shoulders. “That’s great because I’m starving. Lucy and I were working together and I forgot about food.”
Tris took her hand, led her a few steps away, then turned her toward what she was sure was the water.
“I bet this place is beautiful in the daylight.”
“It is,” he said. “I’ve been feeding ducks here since I was a kid.”
“I saw you.” He was to her right, and she could hear him moving things but he stopped.
“When you were two and sixteen, and when you graduated from college.”
“Oh,” he said, and she could feel his laughter. “You saw the albums. Miss Livie loves to take photos.”
“I think she loves
” Jecca said.
“I can assure you that it’s mutual.” She heard him sit down, then he reached up, took her hand and tugged. “The problem wi khe #8217th a picnic in the dark,” he said, “is that you can’t see where to sit. There’s a big stone flower pot here to lean against but I’m afraid we’ll have to share it.”
“Too bad there’s only one of them,” Jecca said as she sat down on the cloth he’d spread on the ground.
“If you want any support for your back, you need to move closer to me.”
She scooted over but wasn’t touching him. “How about this?”
“Very bad for your back. As a doctor, I can’t recommend that.”
She moved so her body was next to his, their arms touching. “Better?”
He extended his right arm, encircled her, and pulled her so her back was to his chest. “Now that’s proper support.”
Jecca laughed. “But how do we eat? You have only one arm and it’s around me.”
“That is a dilemma, isn’t it?” He put his hand to the side of her face and kissed her temple, her cheek. “Ah, Psyche, you are the food of the gods.”
Jecca started to turn around in his arms but her leg hit a container and it fell over onto something else. She sat up abruptly as she tried to grab whatever she’d hit, and in the process she moved away from him.
“Thwarted by a jar of pickles,” Tris said with a great sigh.
“You poor thing.” Jecca was smiling. “Feed me, Seymour!”
He got the allusion. “So now I’m a plant that eats people.” He sat up straight, and Jecca heard the unmistakable sound of a bottle being pulled out of ice.
“You’ve made a feast, haven’t you?”
“A little of this and that. Since you won’t let me take you out to dinner, this will have to do.”
“A picnic in the dark with champagne. I like this much better than a restaurant.”
“Kim said you would.”
“When did you talk to her?”
“I took her out to breakfast this morning.”
She could hear that he was fumbling with the bottle of champagne. It would be difficult to open with only one hand. She reached out to take it from him but he moved it away. “Let me help you,” she said, but he moved the bottle out of her reach.
It was on the third move that she realized he was doing it so she’d touch him more. She leaned forward, ran her hands up his chest, put her face very close to his—then snatched the bottle from him.
“That wasn’t fair,” he said.
“I’m thirsty.” She twisted the wire off the top and the cork popped out. Tristan put two champagne flutes into her hand, and Jecca managed to fill them without spilling too much.
Tristan ran his hand along her entire arm before he came to the glass. “What s kdiv heighall we drink to?”
“Kisses in the dark,” she said.
After she took a sip, she said, “Where’s the food?”
“I’m planning to feed you.” He leaned toward her.
But Jecca put her hand to his chest and pushed him back. “You’re practically an invalid, so I think I should do the feeding. But maybe you don’t want me to feed you.”
“Now that you mention it, I have been in pain all day, so I could stand someone else doing the work. Food’s to your left. Oops! My mistake. That’s my leg. The food must be to your right. Unless you’d rather . . .”
Smiling, Jecca found the containers and began to pop off their tops. “What culinary delights did you get for us?”
“Chicken and salad and cheeses, cherries. And I have a fondness for pickles.”
“It all sounds wonderful.” She was feeling her way around what he’d spread out and found plates and utensils. “What did you and Kim talk about?”
“You. She told me to back off of you, that you belong to her brother.”
Jecca paused in putting food on the plate. “You told her about us?”
“You don’t care that she’s telling people you’re the property of her brother? You just don’t want people to know about you and me?”
Jecca couldn’t tell if he was teasing or serious. “I know Kim’s always wanted me to hook up with her brother, but I did have the idea that you and I were to be kept a secret.”
“I don’t see why we should be,” he said. “Do you? You have a husband or fiancé somewhere?”
She managed to spread cheese onto a cracker, then reached out her hand to find his face.
He kissed her thumb and she put the cheese and cracker in his mouth.
“Why do I get the impression that you’re asking me if there’s anything between Reede and me?”
“Because I am,” he said, chewing. “Kim seems to think you two are an item.”
She spread more cheese, found his hand, and filled it. “She tell you the Florida Point story?”
“In detail. She made it sound like it was a Grand Passion.”
“Not quite. It was more of a depressed young man and a girl in awe of his naked beauty.”
Tris didn’t comment on that statement.
“What did you say to Kim to make her tell you to stay away from me?” Jecca handed him a plate and he put it on his outstretched legs.
“Would you believe me if I told you she guessed?”
“Definitely. Don’t worry about it. She only wants what’s k whhei best for me.”
“And I’m not?”
“She knows I’m not going to live here, that I’m going back to New York. Since your life is here, she’s concerned about me—and about you too.”
“I know you’re leaving,” Tris said. “But I refuse to think of that. I believe in enjoying the moment.”
“Me too,” she said, smiling. “I want to ask you something.”
“Anything,” he said.
“Who’s the mystery man in Kim’s life?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Sophie and I used to talk about him. Kim was always searching for some man on the Internet. She joined several of those personal search Web sites, the kind where you pay thirty-five dollars to find the address of someone. I’ve always wondered if she found him.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
“I thought maybe some high school guy came and went.”
“I wouldn’t know. When Kim was that age, I was away at school. I could ask her—”
“No!” Jecca said.
“You don’t want Kim to know you were snooping, do you?”
“Right,” Jecca said, and they were silent for a moment.
“I want to know about your day,” he said.
“Yours sounds more interesting. Who else did you tell about us?”
“I didn’t tell Kim. She has a sixth sense when it comes to you.”
“Are you avoiding telling me what you did today? Is there some secret?”
Tristan laughed. “I’m caught! If you’re this perceptive when you can’t see my grimaces, what are you like in the daylight?”
“You’re still avoiding answering me.”
“Okay!” Tris was laughing. “My sister called, and I have to fly to Miami in the morning.”
“Oh,” Jecca said and she couldn’t believe how the news was bringing her down. No more nighttime meetings.
“Her husband, Jake, is being released from the hospital, and I’m going down to help them come back to Edilean.”
“How can you help them move if you have only one arm?”
“Actually, my sister wants me to look after my niece, Nell. I’m the designated babysitter. Mom’s driving down to Miami from Sarasota, so she and Addy will arrange everything. I’m just to look over Jake and see that the doctors haven’t missed anything, then Nell and I will be told to go occupy ourselves.”
“Which I’ve heard that you love to do,” Jecca said.
“Oh yeah. Nell’s up for any adventure. She’s going to love your artwork.”
“You told her about me?” Jecca asked.
“Not yet, but I will.”
Jecca smiled. “How about your parents and sister?”
Tristan took his time answering. “When I tell them, things will become serious. They’ll start wanting to know about your parents, your job, your plans for the future . . . everything.”
“Do they want to know that about all the women in your life?”
“The ones I’ve told them about, yes,” Tris said. “You wouldn’t like to go away with Nell and me for a week or so, would you?”
Jecca’s first thought was that she should work, not run off with this man she’d only known a few days. And there was his niece, who she’d never met. They were strangers to each other. But she couldn’t bring herself to say that. “Where and when?”