Authors: Jude Deveraux
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
Jecca got out the little nonstick skillet the ladies had sent—“Roan will only have cast iron,” they’d said—and put it on to heat. At first, Roan’s book sounded interesting.
As Jecca began pouring batter and making crepes, Roan got more into his plot plan. His hero would reason with the criminals and outsmart them that way.
“And of course he’d commit the fallacy of
.” Like the teacher he was, he explained that that was a point made that was irrelevant to the issue at hand. “But I—I mean my protagonist—would point out the error to him. As Thomas Aquinas used to say—” He lapsed into a lecture about philosophers.
She so lost interest in what he was saying that her mind began to wander. She began to plan what she hoped to paint that day. When she got back to Edilean, she wanted to have some solid ideas of what to do for Kim’s ads.
Roan’s voice droned on. Every other sentence he seemed to name-drop: Heidegger, John Locke, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer. Jecca had heard of some of them, but a lot of the people he named were unknown to her.
When Nell opened the bedroom door, dragging a heavy cardboard box across the floor, Jecca was relieved. “I’m ready to go,” Nell said.
Jecca placed the last of the crepes on the pile, turned off the stove, and went to her. Behind her, Roan at last stopped his monologue.
“What is this?” Jecca asked, looking at the box.
“My new art supplies.”
Bending, Jecca looked inside the box. She had texted Tris a short list of supplies to get for Nell, a watercolor set of eight colors, three brushes, a pad of paper, and some colored pencils. What was in the big box were four of those big, expensive sets encased in beautiful wooden boxes—the kind given out at Christmas and rarely used. Half the supplies in them were unneeded.
“This isn’t what I told him to get,” Jecca said in frustration as she opened the kits and looked inside. “These must have cost a fortune.”
Nell reached into the side of the cardboard box and withdrew the sales receipt. It was for over four hundred dollars.
“Wow!” Jecca said as she removed the sets and put them on thputohn Loce dining table. “Why did he get these?”
“I thought they were pretty,” Nell said.
Jecca knew her annoyance was with Tris, not with the child. “And they are pretty.” She smiled at Nell. “But if we’re going to go hiking we can’t take them all, can we? I bet Uncle Roan has a plate we could use. Preferably white.”
Roan was sitting at the counter, watching them. “The lower cabinet,” he said.
Nell pulled an old white plate from a tall stack and took it to Jecca. She had removed a few tubes of basic colors from the art sets, some pencils, the spiral-bound pad of paper, and two brushes.
“There,” Jecca said. “That’s all we need to create masterpieces. Didn’t I see that you have a backpack with you? Let’s put these things in it.”
Nell ran into the bedroom just as Tris’s door flew open.
“I can’t find my fishing gear,” he yelled from inside the room.
“Look under the bed,” Jecca called back.
“Thanks,” he answered.
Jecca went back to the kitchen to get fruit and muffins out of the fridge and she began putting it all on the dining table.
Roan was still sitting at the counter, watching Jecca as she lifted the chainsaw off and put it in the corner, out of the way. Within minutes the table was set.
“Breakfast is ready,” she called, and Nell came out and took a seat. Tris was next, his hair uncombed and wearing the old, worn clothes he always put on at the cabin, his shirt misbuttoned.
Jecca went to him, kissed him good morning, then said, “You spent too much on the art supplies. I sent you a list. Why didn’t you just get what I told you to?” She was rebuttoning his shirt.
“You’re cute when you’re fussing,” he said as he kissed her again, then looked over her head. “Are those crepes? I love those things!”
“Mrs. Wingate said you did and she made the batter.”
“Great. She puts Grand Marnier in it.” He put his arm around her shoulders and they went to the table. Tris held Jecca’s chair out for her.
“Come on, Roan,” Jecca said. “Have some breakfast.”
He got off his stool and stood for a moment looking at the three of them. They were a perfect picture of domesticity—and he felt totally unneeded. “I think I’ll—That I’ll—See you guys later,” he said as he went out the front door.
They watched as he got into his beat-up old pickup and drove away.
“It’s me, isn’t it?” Jecca said. “I know he doesn’t like me and—”
“Are you kidding?” Tris asked. “He woke up when I came in last night and saw that you’d put the chainsaw together. He kept me awake for an hour and a half talking about how great you are.”
“Really?” Jecca said. “An hour and a half? Talking about
“Well maybe he did say he was having a bit of trouble with his book and wanted to talk about it.”
Jecca looked down at her plate.
Nell looked from one silent adult to the other. “Uncle Tris said Uncle Roan’s book is the most boring thing he’s ever heard in his life but I’m not to tell him that.”
Jecca didn’t want Nell to know she thought the same thing, but then Tris said, “What was the quote from Heidegger that was so profound that the psychotic criminal gave himself up?”
Jecca’s reserve broke and she started laughing. “Your poor cousin. No wonder he gets writer’s block. Doesn’t he know that the book-buying public isn’t interested in some guy who can outtalk the bad guys? People like
“None of us has the heart to tell him,” Tris said. “So who’s ready to go hiking?” He looked at Nell. “Shall we take Jecca up to Eagle Creek?”
“Oh yes,” Nell said as they got up from the table and began clearing it. “But you’ll have to carry me for the last half.”
“In that case, only one.”
“Six,” she said.
“Then you can walk the whole way.”
“Okay, four,” Nell said in resignation.
“What . . . ? Jecca asked, but then she knew. They were negotiating how many animals and dolls Nell could take with her. “I’ll carry a couple of Rileys,” she said, and Nell beamed at her. “But your uncle has to carry every one of those boxed sets of art supplies that he bought for you.”
Tris quit smiling. “Those things weigh more than Nell.”
Jecca shrugged. “That’s what you get for having a charge card bigger than your back muscles.”
Nell looked at her uncle for the next volley.
Tris shook his head. “I am outnumbered again!” He went to Jecca, bent over, put his shoulder into her stomach, and lifted her. He twirled her around while she was laughing. “Who has strong back muscles?” he asked.
“You do!” Jecca said, laughing. “But you do need to be put on a budget.”
He put her down so that she slid over the front of him. “I agree,” he said softly. “I think you should stay and put me on one.”
“Not again!” Nell said. “No more kissing. Let’s
“Five,” Tris said, his face inches from Jecca’s, “but only if you disappear for ten whole minutes.”
Nell ran into the bedroom and loudly shut the door.
Tris’s mouth was instantly on Jecca’s, and she was as hungry for him as he was for he heshut the dr.
“I wanted you with me all night,” Tris said as he kissed her neck.
“I wanted to be with you.”
“Stay with me,” he said. “As long as you’re here, live with me.”
“Then I’ll move in with you,” Tris said, his lips on her throat. “I want to come home to you. I want—”
“Time’s up,” Nell said.
Jecca pushed away from Tris and he turned from his niece so she wouldn’t see his physical condition.
“How do couples ever have the privacy to make a second child?” Jecca murmured.
“They sneak,” Tris said. “One time I had to extract the sharp end of a coat hanger from a woman’s hip. They were—” He broke off because Nell was listening. “Who’s ready to go painting?”
It was a two-mile hike up to where Tris and Nell wanted to go, and Jecca enjoyed every minute of it. They took their time. Jecca showed Nell how to use her little camera to make closeup photos, and Nell stopped often to snap pictures of whatever interested her.
Jecca knew that if she and Tris had been alone they would have indulged in only the physical side, but with Nell there they had to behave themselves.
“Where did you go to medical school?” Jecca asked Tris.
“Uh oh,” he said. “It’s first-date time.”
“A little late for that,” Jecca answered. “By now I should be asking you about your past girlfriends.”
He groaned. “I’d rather anything than that, so school it is.”
When Nell stopped to take pictures, Tris and Jecca continued their conversation from the car and asked each other questions about their childhoods, travel, friends, and finally, even past boyfriends and girlfriends.
Tris insisted he was a virgin until he met Jecca.
She looked at him.
“That thing you did in the chair on the first night . . . That made me feel brand-new to the art of—”
Jecca cut him off with a look at Nell.
Tris chuckled. “What about your relatives? Cousins, aunts, uncles?”
“None,” Jecca said, and told him that her mother had been an only child and her father’s older brother had been killed in Vietnam.
“And all four of your grandparents have passed away?” Tris asked.
“Yes. I think that’s part of why the Sheila War hurts my dad so much. He only has Joey and me.”
“And his grandchildren.”
Jecca sighed. “Sheila doesn’t let Dad see them very often. She wants them to be . . .” She glanc221hoods, traed at Tris. “Doctors or lawyers, not men who work in hardware stores.”
They were sitting on a big rock at the side of the trail and watching Nell run about a field as she tried to get a butterfly to stay still long enough to photograph it. “Your poor dad,” Tris said. “Everyone around him has left him. Parents, sibling, and now it seems he’s even lost his son.”
Jecca had to look away for a moment. “I’m all Dad has left,” she said. “I feel bad that he’s stuck in a family war, so I do all that I can to look after him. I call him, e-mail him, except that he hates computers. I gave him a phone that gets e-mails and I visit when I can, but it’s not enough though. None of it is enough.”
Tris stood up and held out his hand to help her up. “You sound like you do more than most adult children do. Why don’t you get him to come here for a visit?”
“My dad take a vacation?” Jecca said. “Never has; never will. He’s a man who can’t bear to be idle. He gets fidgety on Sundays when the store’s closed. One time Joey jammed a bit up inside a drill because Dad was making us crazy because he was bored. Dad lectured Joey, then settled down to repair the drill. Joey said I owed him twenty dollars for babysitting Dad.”
Tris laughed. “Your father sounds like a handful.”
“You have no idea,” Jecca said.
Nell came back to them, and they picked up their packs and started walking again. At last they went around a bend to see a truly beautiful place, with a deep stream running at the bottom of what was almost a mountain. Tall pine trees were at one edge, a field of wildflowers at the other end.
“We’re here,” Nell said and ran forward.
“Like it?” Tris asked.
“Very much,” Jecca said.
“Nell and I usually set up a day camp over there by those rocks. That okay with you?”
“Perfect. Why don’t you go fishing and let us girls make the camp?”
“I could help,” he said, but she could tell that he was dying to get to the water.
“You’d just be in the way.”
He kissed her in thanks and hurried off.
It was a joy to Jecca to unpack their bags, to spread out the blanket, and get the food out. On the bottom were the art supplies.
“Food or art first?” Jecca asked Nell.
“Art!” she said.
“We are kindred souls.” Jecca looked around, found a patch of wildflowers, and motioned for Nell to follow her.
As with nearly all children, Nell neither needed nor wanted any instruction. She let Jecca set everything up—which involved only putting a little glob of each watercolor in a circle on Roan’s white plate and filling a little plastic beach bucket with water—then the two of them went to work.
Nell learned by watcharn widthing what Jecca did. When Jecca made a quick pencil sketch of the landscape, then filled it in with color, Nell did the same thing. When Jecca stretched out on her stomach to better see a little flower, Nell was sprawled less than a foot away. Jecca used colored pencils and watercolors on the same drawing, and so did Nell.
“Hey!” Tris said softly from behind them. He was smiling down at them as they were stretched out on the grass like wood nymphs. Surrounding them were a dozen sheets of paper, each with a scene rich in color, drying in the sun.
“I don’t mean to break this up, but I’m starving.” He held up a string of four fat fish. “The hunter has come home.”
Jecca rolled onto her back and looked up at him. The sun was behind his head and he looked so good she thought
was the only thing she wanted for lunch.
Tris dropped the fish to the ground and lay down between the two of them. He stretched out his arms, and they both put their heads on his shoulders. “I am a happy man,” he said.
It was a perfect moment—until Tris’s stomach gave a loud growl.
“Chyme,” Nell said.
“Chime? Like a bell? That’s a nice way to put it,” Jecca said as she put her hand on Tris’s stomach.
“Chyme is the mix of food and digestive juices,” Tris said. “How about if I clean the fish while you guys build a fire?” He looked at Jecca.
“Can do,” Jecca said.
“I think,” Nell said solemnly, “that Jecca can do
Tris laughed. “You’re more right than you know.” His stomach gave another rumble. “Up! The hunter is hungry.”
“Come on, Nell,” Jecca said. “Let’s build a fire for our caveman.”
It didn’t take her long to put a pile of dry twigs together. They’d brought a grill lighter, so the fire started easily. Within minutes two fish were sizzling in a skillet and the blanket was covered with the containers they’d brought.