Authors: Jude Deveraux
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
Jecca did a slow turn to look about the room. “Gorgeous! Truly breathtaking,” she said, as words seemed to fail her.
“I’ll pass on the compliment to Tris.”
Jecca turned to see her friend emerge from the plants and for several moments there was squealing and hugging.
“You look great!”
“So do you!”
“Have you lost weight?”
“I love that color on you!”
They hugged more, truly glad to see each other. They’d met on their first day in college when they’d been assigned as roommates, and they’d never parted. They had shared a dorm room and later an apartment, first with just each other, then Sophie had been added. The three of them had been a great team, each girl with her own love of an area of art, each with her own personality.
Whereas Kim’s only love was jewelry, Jecca just wanted to create. She was the one who used her mother’s old sewing machine to make curtains. And Jecca knew all about the rods needed to hang them. “Courtesy of Layton Hardware” was a frequent saying in their bare-bones apartment. Sophie used to say that if Jecca had her toolboxe t her to she could fix anything.
Now, the two women, hands on shoulders, kept looking at each other. “The whole summer!” Kim said. “I can’t believe it! Did you bring enough paper? Enough paint?”
“I hope so. But if I run out, how far do I have to go to get more?”
Dropping her hands, Kim looked serious. “You have to take a puddle jumper to the big airport where you can get an oxcart, then—”
“Okay, I stand corrected,” Jecca said, laughing. They were nearly the same height, but Jecca’s dark hair was short, while Kim’s auburn was longer. While they were both very pretty young women, their personalities made them look very different. Jecca always looked as though she were about to laugh, while Kim was more serious. Jecca had always attracted men to her, but Kim sometimes seemed to scare them away. If someone had suggested climbing a pole, Jecca would have agreed to give it a try. Kim would have said, “Let me make some calculations to see if I can do it.” Jecca liked adventure; Kim liked to succeed.
“Hungry?” Kim asked.
“Nothing’s changed.” Kim smiled, still unable to grasp that her friend was really there. She started toward the dining room.
“I hate to leave this room,” Jecca said, looking back at the conservatory and the orchids. “I can’t wait to do some painting in here. I’ve been learning some new techniques of how to put light in my work, and I plan to give it my full attention. Who made this place?”
“Oh. Right. The doctor next door.”
They went through the living room, past the staircase, and into a big white kitchen. In the center was a heavy oak table that looked as though it was put there when the house was built. Gleaming white subway tiles covered the walls. The appliances were top of the line—about forty years ago.
“I’m back in time,” Jecca said.
“And aren’t you lucky?”
“I am,” she agreed. “I want to hear everything that’s happened in your life lately.”
“Me the same,” Kim said as she opened the refrigerator and pulled out a quiche, salad, olives, asparagus in a vinaigrette sauce, and bottles of raspberry-flavored sparkling water.
“Nice,” Jecca said. “Did you cook all this?”
“It’s from our local grocery, and before you ask, we have pretty much any cheese Zabar’s does.”
“Of course. We’re Southern.”
Smiling, Jecca picked up a couple of plates that were on the countertop.
“We could eat out there with Tris’s orchids,” Kim said, and Jecca had her arms full of plates and food before she finished the sentence.
Kim got a Rim">Kim tray, filled it, and they went back to sit among the plants.
Jecca looked about the room as she began to eat, noticing the way the light came through the windows and played off the colors of the flowers. She thought how to layer her watercolors to achieve just that shade of pinkish red. “My apartment isn’t as big as this conservatory—and certainly not as pretty.”
“Mrs. Wingate’s husband added it right after his father died. But Tris put the plants in here and he takes care of them. He was over here a lot when he was a kid. The Wingates never had children, so Tris and his sister sort of filled in.”
“Nice for all of them,” Jecca said. “This food is good.”
“Not what you expected in backwater little Edilean?” Kim asked.
“After all the times I’ve been here, I know about you guys. You people love to eat.” She nodded toward the doorway that led into the house. “So tell me about the other people living here. Please tell me no one’s going to be knocking on my door at two
wanting to chat.”
“The truth is,” Kim said as she took a long drink of water, “I don’t really know all the details. I hadn’t been out here in years until I started trying to get the apartment. Right now Mrs. Wingate is in her shop in town, and—”
“What does she sell?”
“What’s that? Vintage clothes?”
“Oh no,” Kim said. “It’s a type of sewing. I don’t know much about it, but . . .” She lowered her voice. “There’s a woman named Lucy in the apartment across the hall from you, and she sews all day long. She makes nearly all the clothes Mrs. Wingate sells.”
Jecca leaned forward. “Why are you whispering?”
reclusive. I think she may be agoraphobic but no one mentions it.”
“Scared to leave the house?” Jecca asked, also whispering.
“That’s my guess. Even though I’ve been here several times in the last couple of weeks, I’ve never met her, never even seen her. I think she stays in her apartment nearly all the time.”
Jecca leaned back in her chair. “Sounds good to me. The last thing I want is to get involved with people this summer. I have enough to do in my real life with Andrea.”
“Speaking of which, how’s your boss’s honeymoon going?”
“You think she’d tell
?” Jecca asked. “The fact that I’m the one who got her gallery out of debt and started showing artists who actually sell, is that a reason to let me know what’s going on? And there are the three times she kept me at the gallery until dawn as she cried about yet another boyfriend dumping her. Are those enough reasons to send me a postcard?”
Kim laughed. She loved hearing Andrea stories and knew they were an outlet for Jecca’s frustration with thet iion wit woman. “Is there a possibility that she might close the gallery permanently?”
“I hope not, but her father swore that if she did, he’d get me a job in another one.”
“I could use some help,” Kim said, her tone hopeful.
“Two artists in one small shop? I don’t think so. Tell me about Mrs. Wingate. Sweet old lady?”
“Not so old. Fifties, I guess. Very sweet, but she’s also good at business. This house needs a lot of upkeep. Tris says the only money she has is from the shop and the apartments she rents. Not an easy task.”
“You said there are three apartments. Who’s in the third one?”
“No one at the moment. I think it’s reserved for someone, but I don’t know who. I’m sure Mrs. Wingate would tell you if you asked. Actually, I’m hoping . . .”
“That Reede would like to use it while he’s here.”
“Well, well, well,” Jecca said as she popped an olive in her mouth. “Is this something you didn’t tell me about?”
Kim grinned. “I purposefully hid it from you—for a whole twenty-four hours.”
“That long?! I think you broke the sisterhood code. Why would he need an apartment in his own hometown? Not that I’m anything but politely interested in what your world-traveling, beautiful brother is up to, but I’m willing to listen.”
They smiled at each other in complete harmony based on years and years of late-night talks, of crying together over men-are-slime, of giggling and deep laughter that came from their hearts. And more than once, Kim had said that she wished Jecca would become her sister-in-law.
In the seven years since Jecca had made a play to get Kim’s brother’s attention, they’d talked about him often. Kim always passed on any information her family received from Reede. He’d finished his medical degree, and as a single man with no family to tie him down, he was free to roam the world. He’d worked for Doctors Without Borders, set up a clinic in a remote part of Africa, and went to many world disasters. Kim said that there were few helicopters that her brother hadn’t been on. “They say, ‘go,’ and he says ‘yes,’” she’d said.
“Reede is coming back to Edilean in two weeks.”
Jecca couldn’t contain her big smile. In spite of several boyfriends and one serious romance, Reede had always been in the back of her mind. But then, Kim had never let Jecca go more than a couple of weeks without mentioning him. “How did you manage that?” she asked.
“Mom was able to put a ton of guilt on him because he hasn’t been home in over two years. I just found out yesterday that she’d finally beaten him down. He’s going to come home to help Tris.”
“Tristan again,” Jecca said. “So why does your doctor cousin need help?”
Kim waved her hand. “Long story. I told you about td o you abhe problems we’ve had in the last year.”
“The world heard about the CAY paintings found in little Edilean, Virginia. You think your friend would let me show some of those at Andrea’s gallery?”
“I’m sure Sara would. She only sold a few of them. And she’d love to show them to you.”
“Fabulous!” Jecca said. “I’d truly love to see them. What do they have to do with Reede?”
“Tristan, our cousin—”
“Who lives next door, grows orchids, is a doctor, and comes up in our conversation every other sentence . . .”
“That’s the one. You’ll understand when you meet him. He has . . . What can I say? A strong presence. People like him.”
“That’s good in a doctor. Are you going to tell me about Reede or not?”
“Let’s take this stuff to the kitchen,” Kim said as she began filling the tray, and Jecca helped her. Household chores were something they’d done together many times and they knew who did what.
When the tray was full, Jecca carried it back to the kitchen.
“There was . . .” Kim began as she put dishes in the washer and Jecca put the olives away. “An incident here a couple of months ago. Some man, an international thief actually, was caught trying to rob something from Tris’s house.”
“What was it? Diamonds? Gold? Is he that rich?”
“Not at all. A lot of Tris’s practice is pro bono. Anyway, during the scuffle, Tris was hurt, hit over the head with something and pushed down a hill. His left arm was broken—or cracked, I don’t know which—and he’s now in a cast and a sling. He can’t really function well enough to keep his practice going, so his dad came up from Sarasota to help out. When Reede gets here, he’ll take over. He’s staying until Tris can get back to work.”
“How kind of him.” There wasn’t anything Jecca had heard about Reede Aldredge that she didn’t like.
“Well, they are friends as well as cousins, and Tris would help Reede. Besides, it’s time my brother got over Laura Chawnley and came back to where he belongs.”
“You think Reede might stay in Edilean permanently?”
“I hope so!” Kim said emphatically. “We’re always worried that he’ll get killed in his next rescue attempt. Remember the time . . .”
“He went down a cable hanging out of a helicopter to get to that kid? Oh yeah.”
Kim smiled, and for a moment tears came to her eyes. “I can’t tell you how good it is to have you here. In the last couple of years it seems like all my friends have married. And once you’re married, your interests change. Now when I ask if anyone wants to go out for a drink they look at me like I’m crazy. They want to talk about which diapers are less likely to leak.”
Smiling, Jecca hugged her friend, then stepped bay,en stepack. “I’m here now and all I want to talk about is art. I assume that necklace you’re wearing is something you made.”
Kim grinned. “Olive branches. You like it?”
“I think we should get your bags out of the car and put them in your room. Jecca?”
“Yes?” She paused and waited because she could see that Kim had something serious to say.
“A couple of weeks ago, I came up with an idea. I don’t know if you’ll want to do it or not. I know you like to make up your own creations, so feel free to say no to this.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I thought maybe you could do some watercolors of flowers, say Tris’s orchids, and I’d have my jewelry photographed with them. I’m planning to start doing some national advertising, and I’d put ‘paintings by Jecca Layton. For information contact . . .’ then give an eight hundred number. What do you think? Any interest at all?”
Jecca was staring at her friend in wonder. “Yes,” she said. “I’d be honored. How many pictures? When?”
Kim smiled. “I was hoping you’d like the idea. I need one dozen pictures. I thought to be fair you could match six paintings to my designs, then I could make jewelry to match the other six that are fully your own ideas. You like that?”
Jecca gave a smile that came all the way from her heart. Inspiration, she thought, was the basis for everything that had ever been created. A need, a purpose, they were all the foundation of what inspired an artist, a writer, a chef, a builder. All art came from what they saw, felt, heard. Kim’s jewelry would give Jecca ideas, and her paintings would push Kim to create. It was Jecca’s turn to have tears in her eyes. “I like your plan very much,” she managed to say.
“Come on, let’s get you unpacked, then we’ll have margaritas in the garden.”
“And what has the illustrious Dr. Tristan done out there?”
“Made an arbor.”
“He does woodwork too?”
Kim laughed. “No. I have another cousin who does that. But Tris did design and plant it.”
Jecca lifted the hatchback of her car. It was packed tightly with boxes of supplies, several thin wooden cases full of brushes, and her precious tubes of watercolors. There was her big camera bag and the slide projector. Peeping out from the bottom was the surface board of the drafting table that she had designed and her father had helped her make. The top had been made to fit into the back of her car, with the legs folded flat.