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Authors: Jude Deveraux

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General

Moonlight in the Morning (9 page)

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
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He’d left the old photo of Jecca in his bedside table drawer, and he got it out to look at it. Each time he looked at it, she seemed to get prettier. Her nose sort of turned up on the end. And her eyes looked like they were two seconds away from laughing. But her mouth wasn’t cute. It was beautiful. Her lips looked like something off a lipstick ad, utterly perfect and oh so kissable.

“Come on, Aldredge,” he said aloud. He put the photo on his bedside table and rolled off the bed. It was late and he was hungry, and he was facing the onerous task of trying to get undressed and dressed with just one arm. He thought, If Jecca were here, she’d help me, then he groaned at the idea.

His refrigerator was well stocked, thanks to his housekeeper. She cooked things for him at her house and brought them to him. Four years ago, when he’d hired her, she’d looked at him with starry eyes, but now she was engaged to be married and was more likely to ask him to look at her sore throat.

He filled a plate with cold roast beef and cold salads, opened a bottle of wine, and sat down on a stool at the counter.

Jecca had made it clear that she wasn’t interested in a life in Edilean, that she was leaving to go back to New York at the end of the summer.

He knew that by all rights he should respect her wishes. What he should do was look around for a woman he could spend his life with. He was already thirty-four. Before he knew it, he’d be forty and that was old to start a family.

But maybe if he did what his sister suggested and made a little
effort
he could persuade Jecca to stay a while longer in Edilean. On the other hand, maybe once they got to know each other better they would find out they were destined only for friendship.

Maybe the blazing hot lust he’d felt tonight would just go away all by itself.

Laughing at that absurdity, Tristan got his laptop and logged on. “Wonder what books there are on Cupid and Psyche?” he said. “And where can I get one?”

He might fail, but this time he was going to try his best to win the fair maiden.

Four

Jecca awoke smiling—but then, that seemed to be her normal state whenever she was in Edilean. She had a feeling that her life was going to start today—which was, of course, absurd. A person’s life didn’t begin at twenty-six years old.

Maybe her life wasn’t actually to
begin
, but she had a sense that something was about to happen.

She put her hands behind her head and rested on the stack of down pillows. It was indeed a beautiful room. The bed had one of those pillow-top mattresses that was so extremely comfortable. It was a bed to wallow in, to snuggle down and dream in. Or to make love in.

That thought made her smile broader as she remembered last night. Laughing in the darkness with a man she couldn’t see. Hearing his voice, feeling his breath on her cheek. She didn’t think she’d ever experienced anything so romantic. Too bad moonlight couldn’t arrive in the morning so she could keep the mood, she thought, then laughed at the idea. Daylight brought reality. And work.

Today Kim was to pick her up to take her into Edilean. What would happen if she saw Dr. Tristan Aldredge? Would they shake hands at the introduction? Be polite?

The worst thing, she thought, would be if he apologized for things he’d said last night. She hoped he’d not regret telling her that he’d almost fallen in love with some woman who was now married to another man.

Of course she couldn’t meet with him tonight. Since he’d point-blank told her that he was out wife hunting, seeing him again was out of the question. Jecca was fresh blood in town, so it made sense that he’d try with her. But ultimately the result of their flirtations would hurt him. When she left to go back to New York, he would be crushed. No, she couldn’t meet with him.

She got out of bed and dressed to go downstairs. Kim would be here in an hour, and she needed to be ready. As soon as Jecca opened the door to her apartment, she smelled bacon and some kind of bakery goods. Banana muffins?

She was a little nervous about meeting Mrs. Wingate and wondered if the elusive Lucy would run and hide when Jecca appeared. But the first thing she heard when she got to the kitchen door was laughter.

Two women were in the big, white room, both of them trim, and both quite good-looking. The shorter one was at the stove, the taller one setting the table. Right away, Jecca knew who was whom. The taller one had an elegance about her in the way she stood, with her back rigid, that would cause people to call her “Mrs. Wingate.” Jecca hadn’t been told, but she knew that only Tristan and his sister called her “Miss Livie.” The shorter woman was smiling, friendly-looking. She would be Lucy. It flashed through Jecca’s mind that her father would love being here with these pretty women.

“There you are,” said the taller one. “Come and join us for breakfast. I’m Olivia Wingate and this is Lucy Cooper.”

“Hello,” Jecca said, looking at Lucy at the range, a skillet in her hands. She didn’t look like someone who hid from the world.

“We have bacon, scramb Kbacthisled eggs, and banana muffins,” Lucy said. Her voice was pleasant, with a lilt to it that seemed to say she was glad to be alive. “Any? All?”

“Everything,” Jecca said. “I missed dinner last night.”

“You did come in late,” Mrs. Wingate said, then both women looked at Jecca as though waiting for an explanation.

Small towns! she thought. No one in her apartment building in New York noticed what time she came and went. “I fell asleep on the chaise lounge,” she said.

“I saw that it and the chair had been moved,” Lucy said as she took the muffins out of the oven.

Jecca cursed that she’d forgotten to put the furniture back where she found it. But then it had been too dark to see.

“It’s all right,” Mrs. Wingate said. “Tris put them back this morning. That boy still wanders around in the dark. It’s a wonder he didn’t trip over you last night.”

Jecca avoided Mrs. Wingate’s eyes as she sat down at the table. There was a big bowl of blackberries in the middle and she ate one. “I keep hearing about this man Tristan. Is he here at this house often?”

“You just missed him,” Mrs. Wingate said. “He brought the berries. He has a patch at his house.”

“And of course he misted his plants, and looked after them,” Lucy said.

“Kim talks about him often. What’s he like?” Jecca asked, trying to sound as though she was just making conversation.

“He’s a quiet, hardworking boy,” Mrs. Wingate said.

“He’s a wonderful young man, and he’ll do anything for you. He’s helped me in so many ways,” Lucy said.

“You mean he’s helped you medically?”

“Oh no! When I got the 380, Tristan was the one who figured out how to use the semi-automatic threader.”

“Are you talking about a sewing machine?” Jecca asked.

“Yes, of course,” Lucy said.

“You’ll have to see Lucy’s workroom and all the machines she has,” Mrs. Wingate said.

“I just bought a Sashiko,” Lucy said proudly but didn’t explain what that was. “The truth is, I can thread my own machines now, but Tristan and I have such nice chats that I pretend that the serger is beyond me.”

“Tristan has always been good company,” Mrs. Wingate said as she put a basket full of hot muffins on the table. “Haven’t you met him?” she asked Jecca.

“I haven’t seen him, no.” She looked at Mrs. Wingate. “Didn’t Kim say you’ve known him since he was a child?”

“Yes.” She smiled. “He started coming over here when he was still in diapers. I’d feed him, then walk him home, and each time I’d tell him that he couldn’t come again unless hi Kainhen he ws mother called first. I enjoyed his visits, but I was afraid she’d worry when she couldn’t find him.” She gave a sigh. “He didn’t do what I asked. I learned to phone his mother as soon as I saw him here.”

Lucy handed Jecca a plate full of bacon and scrambled eggs. “Tristan does what he wants to.”

“Yes, he does,” Mrs. Wingate said, and there was admiration in her voice.

“Is he married?” Jecca asked. She knew the answer but hoped they’d keep talking.

“Oh no,” Lucy said. “He’s quite unattached. He doesn’t even have a girlfriend at the moment.”

“If this guy is such a paragon of virtue, why hasn’t some woman snatched him up?” Jecca asked. When the women said nothing, she said, “Did I say something wrong?”

“No,” Lucy said. “It’s just that most of the women in town have tried but haven’t succeeded with Dr. Tris.”

“Both unmarried and married, if you know what I mean,” Mrs. Wingate said.

“So he dumps them?” Jecca asked. “Gets them to fall for him, then leaves them?”

“Oh no!” both Lucy and Mrs. Wingate said.

“It’s more that the women go after
him
,” Mrs. Wingate said. “Even when he was a child, women liked him.”

“He’s such a very pretty boy,” Lucy said.

“Is he?” Jecca asked as she bit into a muffin. “How pretty?”

Mrs. Wingate and Lucy paused with food on the way to their mouths and stared at Jecca.

“That bad, huh?”

“Yes,” both Mrs. Wingate and Lucy said.

The three women were quiet for a moment, then Mrs. Wingate started explaining the way the shared kitchen worked. “If you’ll make out a grocery list, Lucy will pick up what you need, then give you a bill. She loves to go to the grocery as much as I hate to.”

“But I thought—” Jecca began but stopped. If Lucy went to the grocery, then she wasn’t agoraphobic as Kim believed.

“Do you work out?” Mrs. Wingate asked.

“Work out? You mean go to the gym?”

“Yes.”

“I try to,” Jecca said, “but my life in New York is pretty hectic. I do walk a lot there.”

“I guess you could walk back and forth around the garden,” Lucy said.

“Or you could join us,” Mrs. Wingate said. “I come home from work at three
P.M.
then we go downstairs to the basement and follow one of Lucy’s DVDs. It’s for one hour, and afterward we have tea amid Tristan’s orchids.”

Jecca ducked her head to Kd h kitch hide her smile. What kind of DVD workouts did two fifty-something-year-old women do? Ten leg lifts and a sit-up? A dozen reps with two-pound dumbbells?

“Or not,” Mrs. Wingate said. “Whatever you prefer. You’re certainly free to do what you want. A gym is about to open in Edilean, but not until the fall. Lucy, what do they do there?”

“Mixed martial arts. I think it’s a lot of boxing.”

“That’s a little above my exercise level,” Jecca said, and the women smiled. “Maybe I will join you this afternoon.”

“We’d love that!” Lucy said.

Mrs. Wingate looked at Jecca. “Last night when you fell asleep outside, didn’t the mosquitoes bother you?”

“They never do,” Jecca said. “They eat my brother up, but not my dad and me.”

“You sound just like Tristan,” Mrs. Wingate said. “His mother and sister can put on three kinds of insect repellent and still be bitten, but Tris and his dad have never had a mosquito bite.” She looked down for a moment. “When I saw that the lawn furniture had been moved, I thought maybe you and Tris had seen each other.”

“Never saw him,” Jecca said again, but this time she could feel her face turning red. She would
never
make a spy! How could she lie to these sweet women?

Mrs. Wingate started to say more, but they heard a car crunching on the gravel.

“That’s probably Kim,” Jecca said. “She and I—” She broke off because Lucy suddenly jumped up and ran from the room. “What did I say?”

“Nothing wrong,” Mrs. Wingate said. “It’s just that it’s time for me to go to work and Lucy is, uh, is, uh, a bit shy.”

At least I’m not the only one who is bad at lying, Jecca thought. Why in the world would Lucy Cooper—who didn’t seem shy at all—run away when Kim appeared?

Thirty minutes later, Jecca and Kim were in her car and heading into Edilean. Kim had taken time to visit with Mrs. Wingate while Jecca finished getting ready.

“She’s quite pleased to have you there,” Kim said as she drove them into town. “She wondered if you’d mind if she asked to see your watercolors.”

“You know I’d love to show them off. Tomorrow I’m going to take photos, then see what I have.” On her first visit to Edilean she’d taken pictures, then later she’d enlarged them, cut them into good compositions, and made her paintings from them. Since then she’d worked more from photos than from life.

“So Lucy had breakfast with you?”

“Yes,” Jecca said. She didn’t want to say that the woman ran off when Kim arrived for fear Kim’s feelings would be hurt.

“Such a reclusive woman,” Kim said as she drove through a narrow alley and parked behind the shops. “Mind if we go see what I did with my store first?”

“It’s what I want to see most.”

Jecca had seen Kim’s little shop twice before. Of course she’d been there for the grand opening, but a few months ago, Kim had redone the lighting and put in new carpet. Jecca had seen photos, but in person it was better than she’d imagined. The well-designed lighting made each piece seem to be in its own case. Besides the highlighted pieces, there was an area for locals who wanted to buy an engagement ring. Kim showed Jecca a box of rings with channeled jewels. “I designed them especially for people who were on their second marriage or wanted to renew their vows. I call it my Forever collection.”

Jecca smiled. For all that Kim was the practical one of the three of them, underneath, she was deeply romantic. “Sophie would have called the rings Trying for Heartbreak Again,” Jecca said, and Kim laughed.

“I miss her so much!” Kim said.

“You still haven’t found her?”

“No,” Kim said. “Wait a minute! I just had an idea. My cousin Sara’s new husband has connections in the FBI. Maybe he can find her.”

“My concern is that Sophie doesn’t want to be found. She knows where we live. She heard the name Edilean often enough, and Layton Hardware was said every day. If Sophie wanted to see us, she knows how to contact us.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Kim said. “But I’d like to know that she’s all right. Maybe if I can find her and tell her you’re here for the summer, she’ll visit too.”

“There go all the men in this county,” Jecca said, but she couldn’t keep from smiling as she remembered what Tris had said the night before. Had he been telling the truth when he said he’d folded Sophie’s half of the photo back? Probably not, since men followed Sophie wherever she went. They used to carry her books around campus for her. For every dance, at least six men asked Sophie out, and on weekends she’d sometimes have three dates a day. Sophie called them “free meals.” “If I don’t date, I don’t eat,” she said. She’d come from poverty, and every dime was a struggle for her. She refused to let Kim or Jecca help her and always paid her way, even if it was for just a third share of a pizza. “
Men
are supposed to pay for things,” she used to say.

On the day the three of them graduated they’d hugged and cried and vowed to stay friends forever. Jecca and Kim kept the vow, but Sophie had disappeared. They’d tried every method they knew to contact her but had failed. Three years ago, Kim flew to Texas, Sophie’s home state, and drove to the small town where Sophie said she’d gown up—but no one there had heard of her. No one recognized her photo.

BOOK: Moonlight in the Morning
7.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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