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Authors: Jude Deveraux

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General

Moonlight in the Morning (2 page)

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
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Prologue

New Jersey

2004

“Dad,” Jecca said to her father, Joe Layton, “I want to go to Virginia to see Kim. It’s only for two weeks, and you can run the store without me.” She knew she sounded like a whiny little girl and not the mature nineteen-year-old woman she was, but her dad did that to her.

“Jecca, you spent all year at that college with your friend. You lived with her and that other girl. What’s her name?”

“Sophie.”

“Right. I don’t see why you can’t spare your old dad a few weeks.”

Parental guilt! Jecca thought and clenched her hands into fists. Her father was brilliant at it. He had perfected it to an art form.

That she was spending the entire summer working for him in the family hardware store never seemed to enter his mind. She’d already been home from college for two whole months now and her father hadn’t taken a single day off—and he expected his daughter to be at the store alongside him. She was the one who closed the gap when one by one all the other employees took their vacations. But Jecca didn’t consider taking care of the hundreds of do-it-yourselfers as what her father called “being together,” since the only “conversation” they had was when he asked if the new router bits had come in.

Jecca appreciated all her father did for her and she wanted to see him, but she also wanted some time off. She wanted fourteen whole days to do only what
she
wanted to. Put on a bikini and lie by a pool. Flirt with boys. Talk to Kim about . . . well, about everything in life. Time to dream about her future. She was studying art at school as she wanted to be a painter. Kim said there was some magnificent scenery around her home in Virginia, and Jecca wanted to put it all on paper. The plan was perfect—except that her father wouldn’t agree. She didn’t want to cause any anger by openly defying him, so all she could do was plead for his permission.

As she watched him stack boxes of wood screws, she thought of her last e-mail from Kim.

“You should spend some time at Florida Point,” Kim had written. “If you climb to the top you can see across two counties. Some of the boys, including my idiot brother, strip off and jump into the pool at the bottom. It’s a far drop and very dangerous, but they still do it. Naked boys aside, it’s a beautiful place, and I think you could find lots to paint up there.”

Jecca had explained to her father as patiently as she could, in as adult a manner as possible, that she needed to produce some artworks before the next year.

Her father had listened politely to every word she’d said, then asked if she’d ordered the tenpenny nails.

Jecca lost all her newly found maturity. “It’s not fair!” she’d yelled. “You let Joey off for the whole summer. Why can’t I have even two weeks?”

Joe Layton looked affrontby oked afed. “Your brother now has a wife, and they’re trying to give me grandchildren.”

Jecca gasped. “You let Joey have the entire summer off just so he can screw Sheila?”

“Watch your mouth, young lady,” he said as he moved to the small power tools section.

Jecca knew she had to calm down. She wouldn’t get anywhere by making him angry. “Dad, please,” she said in her best little-girl voice.

“You want to meet a boy, don’t you?”

Jecca refrained from rolling her eyes. Did he ever worry about anything else? “No, Dad, there is no boy. Kim has an older brother, but he’s had the same girlfriend since forever.” She took a breath and reminded herself to keep on track. Her father was good at knowing when his only daughter was lying. Joey could get away with telling whoppers. “I was out with the boys,” he used to say, and their father would nod. Later, Jecca would say to her brother, “The next used condom you leave in the car, you’ll find on your pillow.” She knew he hadn’t been out with “the boys.”

“Dad,” Jecca said, “I just want two weeks to gossip with my friend and to paint. When I go back to school I want to nonchalantly, as though I didn’t work my tail off to show Sophie and maybe a teacher or two some watercolors that I did over the summer. That’s all. I swear it on—”

The look her father gave her made her close her mouth. She couldn’t swear on her mother’s grave.

“Please,” she pleaded again.

“All right,” he said. “When do you want to leave?”

Jecca didn’t answer or she would have said she was running out the door right then. Instead, she threw her arms around her father’s stout, strong body and bent to kiss his cheek. He was proud that she was an inch taller than his five foot six. He liked to say that she took after her mother’s family, as they were tall and lean.

His oldest child, his son Joey, was pure Layton. He was five foot five and nearly as wide as he was tall, almost all of it muscle, thanks to having worked in the hardware store since he was twelve. Jecca called him “Bulldog.”

She was on a plane early the next morning. She didn’t want to give some contractor the chance to show up saying his tools had been stolen/lost/destroyed and he needed new ones
now.
Her dad would expect her to stay and help fill the order. He thought nothing of sending his daughter up the side of a mountain in a dual-axle pickup to deliver nails, roofing supplies, and equipment.

When Jecca got off the plane in Richmond she was expecting to see Kim, but she wasn’t there. Instead, Kim’s father was waiting. Jecca’d met him only once but she remembered him well. He was older than her father by several years but he was still handsome.

“Is everything all right?” Jecca asked.

“Yes and no,” Mr. Aldredge said. “We had to rush Kim to the hospital last night for an emergency appendectomy.”

“Is she okay?”

“Yes, but she’s going to be out of it for a few days. I’m sorry we didn’t call and tell you so you could postpone your trip.”

“It took me two months to talk my father into letting me out of the hardware store. If I’d had a delay he never would have let me come.”

“We fathers can be a problem,” he said.

“I didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay, Jecca. I understand completely. Why do you think Kim isn’t visiting you? I couldn’t bear to part with her.”

She smiled at him. Kim had always said he was a pushover. “Sweetest man alive. Now my mother . . .” The three of them had laughed. Sophie and Kim knew about mothers being difficult, but Jecca figured her father was enough of a problem for any three parents.

They got in Mr. Aldredge’s car and started the long drive to Edilean. “Kim will be down for a while, but I can introduce you to some people. My son’s friends are around if you’d like, and there’s her cousin Sara, and—”

“That’s okay. I can paint,” Jecca said. “I brought enough supplies to last me months. Kim said something about Florida Point?” Mr. Aldredge made a noise as though Jecca had said something extremely dirty. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, uh, I mean, well, it would be better to call the place by its proper name of Stirling Point.”

“Oh. Because . . . ?” She wasn’t sure but it looked like Mr. Aldredge’s face turned red.

“Better ask Kim,” he mumbled.

“Okay,” she said, and they were silent for a while.

“I guess I should tell you about my son, Reede. He and his girlfriend broke up.” Mr. Aldredge sighed. “It’s the first time he’s had his heart broken. I told him it wouldn’t be the last, but that did no good. The poor guy is so despondent that I’m concerned he might drop out of med school.”

“That
is
serious. I thought he was about to get married.”

“We thought so too. He and Laura Chawnley were a couple since they were kids.”

“Isn’t that—?” Jecca thought it would be better to keep her opinions to herself.

“Limiting?” Mr. Aldredge asked. “Very much so, but Reede is as stubborn as his mother.”

“And Kim,” Jecca said.

“Oh yes. When my children decide something there’s no changing them.”

“It looks like Laura changed Reede.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Aldredge said with a sigh. “She changed his whole life. He was going to come back here after he graduated and set up a practice, but now . . . I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

Jecca had seen Reede Aldredge only once, when Kim moved into the dorm, but she rememberedol.e remem him as one gorgeous hunk. In the last year, every time Kim mentioned him, Jecca listened intently. “Did they have a fight?” she asked and wanted to say, Is he available?

“Not really. Laura just dumped my son flat. Told him it was over, that she’d met someone else.”

“Poor Reede. I hope she didn’t run off with someone in your little town, so he has to see them together.”

Mr. Aldredge glanced away from the road to look at her. “She wasn’t that thoughtful. She’s taken up with the new pastor of Edilean Baptist Church. If my son ever goes to church again—which he says he’ll never do—he’s going to have to look at the man who stole his girl.”

“I’m so sorry for him,” Jecca said, but inside she was elated. Beautiful man, heartbroken, in need of consoling. The summer was looking more interesting by the second.

When they got to Edilean, Jecca made the appropriate sounds about how cute the little town was. Historical buildings had been restored and every façade was under a strict code for conformity of appearance. No glass and steel structures allowed in Edilean!

As an artist, Jecca appreciated it all, but she was working hard to get out of her small town in New Jersey where she’d grown up. Right now, she only admired cities, specifically New York.

As for Reede, he was going to be a doctor, so he could work anywhere—and now his connection to Edilean was broken. Jecca had a vision of the two of them living in Paris. He’d be a renown heart surgeon and she an artist revered by the French. They’d visit Edilean and see Kim often.

When they reached the Aldredge home, Jecca was smiling. “When can I see Kim?”

“Anytime. My wife is already at the hospital, and I’m going over there as soon as I unload your suitcases. You can go with me if you want.”

“I’d love to.”

He drove them the ten miles to the hospital in Williamsburg, and when she saw Kim sitting up in bed with a sketchbook in her hands, Jecca laughed. “You’re supposed to be taking it easy. Resting.”

Kim’s parents politely left the room.

As soon as they were alone, Jecca said, “I told your father I wanted to go painting at Florida Point and I thought he was going to faint.”

“You didn’t!”

“I did!” Jecca said. “So spill the dirt.”

“I told you not to say that name to anyone from Edilean.”

“You did not,” Jecca said.

“Okay, so maybe I didn’t.” She glanced at the door, then lowered her voice. “It’s the local makeout point—and has been for centuries.”

“Centuries?” Jecca asked in disbelief.

“Certainly since WWI and that ended in—”

“1918,” Jecca said quickly. “And donand8220;An’t remind me of the Great War. That’s when Layton Hardware was founded, and if I hear one more time that we Laytons have a tradition to uphold . . . Okay, so what about that war?”

“Somebody called the place the French Letter Point. That’s old slang for a condom and they were used a lot there. Somewhere along the way it got shortened to F.L. and since that stands for Florida . . .”

“I get it,” Jecca said. “So I’m to say Stirling Point to anyone over thirty.”

“Good idea.”

“So let me see what you’re designing,” Jecca said and picked up her friend’s sketchbook. Kim’s passion was jewelry and she loved organic forms. That was one thing that had united the three young women when they’d met at school. Whether it was jewelry, paintings, or sculpture, they liked reproducing what they saw in nature.

“I like this,” Jecca said, looking at the branch-like designs. They flowed in a way that would hug a woman’s neck. “Will you add any jewels?”

“I can’t afford them. I can barely afford the silver.”

“I could get Dad to send you some steel ball bearings.”

Kim laughed. “So tell me what you said to your dad to get him to let you come. And tell me again about you and all those men in tool belts.”

“Gladly, but first I want to hear all about Laura and Reede and the bad boy preacher.”

Kim groaned. “Whatever you do, don’t mention any of that while Reede is around. And don’t make jokes!”

Jecca stopped smiling. “Really bad, huh?”

“Worse than you can imagine. Reede was really in love with that little slut and—”

“Has that always been your opinion of her?”

Again Kim looked at the doorway. “Actually, it was worse. I thought she was ordinary.”

Neither she nor Kim would ever say it out loud, but having been born with a talent in art made them feel grateful but also, well, sometimes disdainful of people who didn’t create. “How ordinary?” Jecca asked.

“Bland. Nothing she ever did was different from what everyone else did. The way she dressed, what she talked about, what she cooked, everything was tasteless, flat. I could never understand what Reede saw in her.”

“Pretty?”

“Yes, but not in a way that would cause any notice.”

“Maybe that’s why she left. Maybe she was intimidated by Reede,” Jecca said. “I only saw him once, but if I remember correctly, he wasn’t bad to look at. And he must be smart or he wouldn’t be in med school.”

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
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