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Authors: Jude Deveraux

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Moonlight in the Morning (7 page)

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
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“Did you bring any clothes at all?” Kim asked.

“They’re in the front under the paints.”

“Where all unimportant things should go,” Kim said and picked up three art cases, while Jecca grabbed a cardboard box. She followed Kim back into the house, down the side of the huge living room, to the stairs. Upstai, aairs. Urs was a big open area with dark hardwood floors partially covered by a pretty rug. Several tables with lamps were along the walls. It was serene-looking and very elegant.

“Nice,” Jecca said, then heard a sound to her left. “What’s that noise?”

“Sewing machine,” Kim said, nodding to the closed door at the other end of the hall. She opened a door across from it and went inside, Jecca behind her.

There was a square bedroom with a pretty, queen-size bed with big pillows, and a large sitting room with a magnificent bow window.

Jecca went to the window and looked out to see the garden below. It stretched over what must be about four acres of lawn and trees, with several little seating areas interspersed among the shrubs. The arbor that Kim had mentioned led the way to what looked to be a bona fide rose garden. “Is this place real?”

“It’s been preserved as it was when it was built by a very rich man in 1926. His only child married Mrs. Wingate.”

“Who was she before she got married?”

“I have no idea.”

“Then she’s not from Edilean?”

“If she were, I’d know all about her,” Kim said.

“Her and her ancestors.” Jecca looked back at the room. It was furnished like the living room downstairs, with a couch and chairs in a variety of styles that covered the years. “Think Mrs. Wingate would mind if I moved everything back a bit and set my table up here in the light?”

“I think she’d be pleased. She’s one of those people who greatly admires artists. She adores what Lucy sews for the shop.”

“If Lucy never leaves this house, how does she get her supplies?”

Kim shrugged. “I have no idea. When you find out, let me know.”

“Gladly,” Jecca said and went to check out the bathroom. It was large, with a pull chain toilet and a big claw-foot tub. The sink was on a pedestal and looked to be quite old. There were more of the shining white subway tiles on the walls.

“Mrs. Wingate said this used to be the master bath,” Kim said. “I guess old Mr. Wingate used to shave in here.”

“That sink is big enough for me to wash out brushes,” Jecca said, “and that’s all that matters. Where does she stay?”

“Upstairs. She has the whole third floor. I’ve never seen it.”

It took them thirty minutes to get all Jecca’s gear up the stairs and into the rooms. She and Kim unpacked most of it and talked about everything. Each piece of clothing was scrutinized before being hung up in the big wardrobe in the bedroom. Where each garment came from and how Jecca had redesigned it was discussed. Jecca loved buying vintage clothing then altering it in some way, removing ruffles, adding piping on the sleeves. She said she hated seeing others wearing what she had on.

They opened the art supplies last, as Kim knew Jecca would have some of her latest paintin ontest pags in there and she did.

“When I’m in New York, I don’t have time to do much,” Jecca said as she passed them one by one to her friend.

Kim admired them in the way only another artist could do. She complimented Jecca on her use of color, on the play of light, and the way she’d captured the detail on a leaf.

“They are truly exquisite,” Kim said. “I think you’ve improved a great deal. Not that you needed improvement. It’s just that . . .”

“I know,” Jecca said, and for a moment her eyes filled with sadness. Just like Kim and Sophie, when Jecca had graduated she’d thought she was entering a world that would pay for her art.

Kim had returned to Edilean, and for a couple of years she’d sold only to the locals, but she’d had a breakthrough when a store in Williamsburg agreed to display a few pieces of hers. They’d done well and that had led to more offers. Two years ago Kim had opened a tiny retail shop in Edilean and later she’d started selling her work on the Internet. She now had four employees and was doing quite well.

Jecca had not had the same experiences. For three years after she graduated she’d waitressed at night and spent her days taking her work to galleries in New York. Not one of them had been interested.

“Too derivative,” was the consensus of them all. “Georgia O’Keeffe meets Gainsborough,” one particularly nasty man said.

Those years had been the hardest of Jecca’s life—and Kim had been with her all the way. Only another artist could understand the hurt Jecca suffered. She felt that she was pouring herself onto the canvas. When they rejected her pictures they were rejecting her, her life, her very soul.

During that time, Kim had twice flown to New York to stay with Jecca in her tiny apartment, and had listened for hours as Jecca poured out her heart.

One time when Jecca had a night appointment with a gallery owner, Kim had taken Jecca’s waitressing shift. Jecca hadn’t been able to persuade the gallery owner to buy her work, but Kim had sold three necklaces off her body while delivering people’s dinners. Afterward, it had taken two hours and two margaritas, but Jecca finally was able to laugh about the incident. Now, it was one of their favorite stories.

Andrea Malcolm’s gallery had been open only six months when Jecca went there. The snooty little man who ran the place made her wait an hour and a half before he’d even look at Jecca’s watercolors.

During her wait, she quietly sat there and observed what was going on. Two new artists came in with their work, and she saw each of them hand a hundred-dollar bill to the prissy little manager. And when an artist came to be paid, the man took a 45 percent commission.

Jecca watched and said nothing. If it got her paintings hung where the public could see them, she was willing to part with cash.

But when he finally agreed to look at her work, he was the most hateful of anyone who’d critiqued her. “Technique is adequate,” he said. “But you lack any talent whatsoever.” He dropped the last watercolor on the desk in such an insolent way that the corner bent. She’d have to remat it.

Jecca was tired, hungry, and worn out from walking fifty blocks a day, and from being dismissed as though she didn’t matter. She opened her mouth to tell the dreadful little man what she thought of him, but then she looked up. Behind him was a narrow window into an office. A young woman was sitting at a desk, and her clothes looked like they cost more than the building Jecca’s apartment was in. Instantly, she was sure she saw what was going on. Bored rich woman opens a gallery so she can pretend to have a business and impress her friends. But she has no idea how to run it so she leaves it up to some guy who says he knows what to do.

Jecca didn’t say a word to the man but grabbed her portfolio, opened the door to the office, and went in. The man ran after her, but she leaned against the door and held it shut.

“That little twerp out there is stealing you blind.”

The woman didn’t seem the least perturbed by Jecca’s accusation or the man pounding on the door. “I know,” she said. “As soon as I find someone else, I’ll fire him, but I don’t have time now.” She stood up and picked up her multi-thousand-dollar handbag.

Jecca felt like a fool for sticking her nose into it. “Anybody would be better than he is,” she muttered.

The woman looked at her. “Could
you
manage the gallery?”

Jecca didn’t think the woman was serious. “Easily,” she said.

“Then the job is yours.” She nodded to the door, and Jecca stepped back.

The little man burst in, his round face shiny pink with anger. “This . . . this two-bit nothing knocked me down before I could stop her. Andrea, I’m so sorry. I’ll call the police immediately.”

“You do, and I’ll show them the account books. Finch, you’re fired. Go home.” She turned to Jecca. “The job is yours. Now will both of you get out of my way?” She walked past them and left the gallery.

There were a few angry verbal exchanges, but finally, the little man slammed his keys on the desk and left. Suddenly Jecca realized that she had a new job and an entire gallery to look after—and she had no idea how to go about it. But then she’d practically grown up inside the family hardware store, and selling was selling.

When two customers came in, she was able to describe the paintings on the wall so well that she sold two of them. However, she couldn’t sell her own. “Very sweet,” one man said. “My grandmother would have liked them,” was the kindest thing she heard.

She stayed late that night, hoping Andrea would come back and tell her things, like salary and whether or not she got commissions, but she didn’t show up.

Fearing that it was all a joke, Jecca kept her waitressing job at night and opened the gallery at 10
A.M.
On the third day, she had her head on the desk, half asleep, when Mr. Boswell came in. He was one of Andrea’s father’s lawyers, and as he said, he had the unfortunate position of being in charge of Andrea’s affairs. “I look over whatever she does with her father’s money, but I have no real control over her.”

I ght="0ediv>

Jecca and Mr. Boswell hit if off well. She showed him what she’d done in the last three days, the sales figures, how she’d rearranged the furniture as well as the paintings, and she’d made sketches of how she thought the gallery should look. Mr. Boswell said, “I do believe that through no fault of her own, when Andrea hired you, she at last did something right.”

Together, she and Mr. Boswell drew up a contract that spelled out everything about her job, from salary to how many of Jecca’s own paintings she could exhibit.

But in spite of being hung in a gallery that got a lot of foot traffic as well as Andrea’s very rich friends, over the years, Jecca had sold only eight paintings. Not being able to support herself from her work was the only bad thing in her life.

Kim saw the look in her friend’s eyes and said, “I think it’s margarita time.”

“Great idea,” Jecca said and they went down the stairs.

Three

Jecca stretched out on the chaise lounge and looked across the little pond to the rose garden. It truly was a beautiful place and she was glad Kim had found it for her. She was a bit nervous about the other two women who were living there, as she still hadn’t met them, but so far, everything was perfect.

Kim had left an hour ago, as she needed to check on her shop and go somewhere with her little sister. She’d told Jecca there was food in the refrigerator and to help herself. Tomorrow they’d go into town.

“And see your new studio,” Jecca had added. Kim had recently bought a house and Jecca hadn’t seen it yet.

“It’s really just a converted garage,” Kim began. “It’s just—”

Jecca’s look cut her off. She was not allowed to disparage her achievements just because Jecca’s life had not gone the way she’d planned.

Kim smiled. “I would truly love to show you my workshop and the recent changes I made in my store. And I want to hear any ideas you have about display or future work.”

“I don’t think I—” This time it was Jecca who broke off. “Point taken. I’m still an artist even if I don’t sell.”

“I would say that it’s what’s inside you, but you’d laugh at me.”

“Yes I would,” Jecca agreed. “You better go or you’ll be late.”

Kim stood up, the two empty margarita glasses in her hand. “I thought Mrs. Wingate would be back from work by now.” She glanced at the light in the window upstairs. “With only Lucy here, you might as well be alone.”

“I’ll be fine,” Jecca said. “I just want to sit here and look and listen and smell those roses. I’m going to come up with a series of twelve paintings for your jewelry. Since half of them have to inspire you to create sometas hing magnificent, I have to plan carefully.”

Kim kissed her friend’s cheek. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Jecca nodded and leaned back on the chaise. She’d moved it so she was closer to the pond. During the day it would be in the sun, but now it was twilight. It was growing cool, and she was glad she’d picked up a cardigan.

She yawned. It had been a long day with the drive down. She’d left late last night, as there were a thousand things to do to close up the gallery, not least of which was dealing with unhappy artists.

“But my work is selling here” she’d heard over and over. “Why can’t she leave the gallery open while she’s away? It’s not like Andrea does any actual work.”

Jecca had agreed completely, but she’d had to smile and murmur things about Andrea doing more than people saw.

All in all, it had been a frantic week. Now, the approaching darkness and the sound of frogs in the pond were lulling her to sleep. The chaise was well cushioned. She leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and began to dream of Reede in a helicopter.

When something heavy fell on her, she awoke with a start. When she realized it was a man that had landed on her, she let out a little scream and began to push at him. There was no moon, no outdoor lights, and it was pitch-dark so she couldn’t see who had fallen on her.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he fumbled to get off her. “I didn’t mean to fall on you, but the chair has been moved.”

She had her hands on what seemed to be his shoulders but she wasn’t sure. His face was near hers, as she could feel his breath and smell it. Rather nice, she thought, then struggled harder.

“Please stop pushing,” he said in a way that made her think he was in pain. “I don’t mean to complain, but my arm was broken and the sling has caught on the chair. I can’t move until I get it loose.”

With those words she knew he was Kim’s cousin Tristan, the doctor who lived next door. She kept her hands on his shoulders, but she stopped fighting him.

She felt his hands near her as he moved the cushion behind her head. His body was half on, half off hers. She could feel that he was tall, his stomach flat, and under her hands she could feel rather well-developed pecs. Altogether, he felt truly wonderful.

“There!” he said and rolled off of her. He started to stand, then stumbled.

She caught his hand to steady him as she sat up straighter. “Sit down,” she said, and tugged on his hand. She swung her legs around so her feet were on the ground, and she kept hold of his hand.

It was so dark she could see nothing, but she knew by his breathing that he was hurting.

“If you don’t mind,” he said as he turned and sat down beside her.

She was quiet as he took a few breaths. One side of her was close enough to him to feel that he was shaking a bit. The pain from hitting the wooden chaise must have been bad.

“I take it you Ctakpain from 8217;re Dr. Aldredge.”

He took a breath before answering. “You must be Jecca, and we’ve met before. Please call me Tris. We’ve heard about nothing but your visit for weeks. We—” He broke off as he did more deep breathing.

“That’s it,” Jecca said as she stood up. “You’re injured, and I’m going to call someone. Didn’t Kim say your dad was in town?”

Reaching up, he moved about until he found her hand and took it. “Please don’t call anyone, especially not my father. He’ll get upset and insist that I take painkillers and get more rest. If I rest any more I’ll lose my mind.”

The darkness was so complete that she couldn’t so much as see an outline of him, but she knew what he meant. “I guess you were walking home. Did I move the chaise in your way?”

“Yes, you did, but that’s all right.” He was still holding her hand.

“Would you like me to walk you home? I can go in the house and try to find a flashlight.”

“I don’t use one, never have.”

“Even in this darkness?” She knew she should take her hand out of his but she didn’t. There was something rather, well, intimate about being with this stranger in this deep, black darkness. His voice was rich and more seductive than moonlight.

“When I was two I wandered through the woods to here. I was so happy when I found this house, as I’ve always loved Miss Livie. But my parents were frantic and thought I might have gone into the lake. After they found me, they tried everything they could think of to keep me from coming here. But I always found a way around them. Dad finally gave up and used a chainsaw to cut a path for me.”

“And you’ve been using it since you were two?”

“Yes.” He took her hand in both of his. “An artist’s hands.”

She pulled out of his grip. His tone was a little
too
friendly. “I think I should get Mrs. Wingate or someone.”

“No,” he said. “I just want to stay here and be still until my side stops throbbing. If I promise to keep my hands to myself, will you stay and talk with me?”

Jecca thought she should say no, but she couldn’t seem to make herself do it. Her nap had revitalized her, and the last thing she wanted to do was go into a strange house and go to bed. She was a bit concerned that she’d not even be able to find her apartment again.

“I’ll get a chair,” she said. “If I can find one.”

“How about if I direct you? This will be good practice for me with my blind patients.”

“All right. I am now just to the left of the chaise.”

“Come to this side until you reach my hand.”

“You seem to like hand holding.”

“I like holding any part of pretty girls.”

“Then you’re out of luck with me. I’ve become downright scary-looking.” She’d felt her way around the back of the chaise and came to touch the fingertips of his right hand.

“Turn your back to me and go straight ahead ten steps.”

“How long are the steps?”

“Normal. Don’t do those long, pirate strides or you’ll bang into a wooden seat.”

She took the ten steps, but could feel or see nothing. Bending, she moved her hands around. “No chair.”

“Good. Now go three steps to the right, then slowly go forward four.”

She did what he said and when she stuck out her hand, she felt the chair. “Very good!” she said.

“Now please bring it back here to sit by me.”

It took her only minutes. She bumped into the side of the big chaise, he grunted, she apologized, but she finally got it positioned near him and sat down.

They were silent for a moment.

“I have a question,” Tris said.

“What is it?”

“You are the one in the red bikini, aren’t you? I don’t have you mixed up with the other one?”

Jecca couldn’t help laughing. She knew exactly what he was talking about. When they were juniors in college, Kim, Sophie, and Jecca had gone to a beach, and they’d taken turns photographing one another. There was a big rock sticking out of the sand, so in one photo, Jecca had leaned against it while Sophie had sprawled on top in her blue suit.

“Sorry, but I’m the skinny one. Sophie’s the one with all the stick-out parts.”

“Good,” he said, and she could feel him smiling. “I think quite enough of you sticks out.”

“What kind of doctor are you? You don’t say things like that to your patients, do you?”

“Of course not. In the office I’m purely professional. I never even make passes at my female patients outside the office.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“So, Jecca, tell me everything about yourself.”

“Nothing much to tell. I grew up in New Jersey, my mother died when I was four, so I was raised by my father. My older brother likes to say he helped raise me, but he didn’t. Didn’t Kim tell me you have a sister?”

“Addison. Addy. She’s married, her husband is just back from Iraq, and they gave me my eight-year-old niece.”

“Gave her to you? You adopted her?”

“No, we just enjoy each other’s company, that’s all.”

Jecca was trying hard to see him but couldn’t. She couldn’t remember what Kim had told her about this particular cousin, but then there wer Chenhard toe so many of them. One was a lawyer, one wrote novels, a new one was a super jock, another one was a sheriff. The list seemed endless. And even though both he and Kim said she’d met this cousin, Jecca couldn’t remember him at all.

“Okay,” Tris said, “we’ve now told each other all the happy, sugary things, so what’s bad in your life?”

“’Fraid I don’t know you well enough to tell you that,” Jecca said.

“So what’s the good of this? Sitting here in utter blackness, two strangers who will never meet again, if we don’t talk of something besides superficialities?”

“We will meet again,” Jecca said. “And again. I’m going to be living next door to you for three whole months.”

“And what is that in the scope of life? Three months to actually
talk
to someone? It’s not much.”

Underlying his jesting, Jecca could hear the seriousness in his voice, and she remembered Kim’s story of how her cousin’s arm came to be broken. “Hit over the head,” Kim had said. “Pushed down a hill.” And the robber had wanted “something” Tris had. These were traumatic events.

When Tristan had fallen over the chaise she’d put in his path, she knew he’d been in pain, but he’d acted as though he wasn’t. If he concealed pain, did he also hide his true feelings from people here in Edilean? Jecca knew that she worked hard to keep all bad news from her father. There were times when she’d been so down she’d wanted to see no one, but she’d always done her best to put on a happy face around him.

“It must be difficult to live in a town full of family,” she said softly. “When you have one of those life setbacks, who do you talk to?”

He took so long to answer that she thought maybe he wasn’t going to. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. “A few months ago, a young woman came to Edilean for a job. I came very close to falling in love with her, but she recently married my best friend.”

“And this happened at the same time you broke your arm?”

“Yes. It’s all related.” He took a breath. “She’s in her second trimester now.”

“That was fast. Wait! If she’s that far along, maybe she only married him because she felt she had to.”

“I wish that were true,” Tris said, “but it’s not. She never once looked at me as anything but her friend.”

“That hurts,” Jecca said. She wasn’t going to say so, as Kim’s brother was his friend, but she’d felt that way when Reede ignored her. When she was silent, she heard him turn as though to look at her, but try as hard as she could, she couldn’t see him.

“Speaking of being hurt, whatever happened to Laura Chawnley?” Jecca asked. “I’ve always meant to ask Kim but haven’t. Is Laura still around?”

“Oh yes. She married the pastor, and they have strong, healthy kids. We thought the boy had a heart murmur but he’s okay.” C ok

Jecca laughed. “You really are a doctor, aren’t you?”

“Not now. While this damned arm heals I’m nothing.”

“I know that feeling well!”

“You? How could you know? Kim raves about you. When she was in college every e-mail she sent me was about you and the blue-bikini girl. What was her name?”

“Sophie. I bet Kim sent you more photos than just the one of us in swimsuits.”

“She sent hundreds, but for some reason, that’s the only one I remember. I stuck it on the mirror in my bedroom.”

“With your other girly pictures?”

“That was the only one.”

“Sophie is beautiful.”

“I bent her back.”

“What?” Jecca asked.

“I bent the photo so she’s not in it. She’s not my type.”

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