Authors: Judy Griffith Gill
HE MOON HUNG HIGH
in the night sky. The man walked slowly up through the woods along a path he saw only dimly. No matter, he had climbed that same hill many times within the past several months. His feet knew it even though he couldn’t see it well. Coming to his favorite spot, he sat on the flat surface of a cold rock, just where a break in the leafless trees gave him a fine view of the moon and its silver reflection on the ocean waters far below.
As he sat, he began to speak as if his listener were right beside him. In a way, for sixteen years she had been, but for the past six, he could never be certain that she heard him.
“Simone, I have to tell you about someone, someone I believe is the only woman other than you I can care for. In many ways, I already do. I like the way she looks. She has sleek black hair that hangs like a bell around a tiny, delicate face, and jet-black eyes that flare with light when she’s annoyed.” He paused, smiled to himself, and then went on. “Where I’m concerned, unfortunately, she’s mostly annoyed, yet I love to see her eyes flash anyway. She moves like a skater, gliding. I could watch her for hours. Someday I want to dance with her. Whenever I have an opportunity to be close to her, the scent of her makes me dizzy. Her voice … she has the most beautiful speaking voice, like a fine-tuned instrument playing a melody. Her name is Sharon, Simone, and she has two children, a ten-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. Our family would have been exactly the same if the world hadn’t caved in on us when it did. I met her son Jason first, and then I met Sharon. And though she doesn’t like me or want to know me, I think she is simply doing what I did for so many of those years after I lost you. She’s running, because she’s afraid to love again. She will, though. I recognize the way she looks at me, half fascinated, half afraid, and angry with me for making her feel that way. Probably angry with me simply for making her feel.
“Don’t think that this means I intend to forget you or Jean-Pierre or the little one who might have been our daughter. You will all live on in my heart forever. But six years is too long for a man to be alone without a family, without a love. I’ll play one more song for you, the one I played on our wedding night.” His voice fell to a whisper. “It will be my final good-bye to you, Simone. It’s time for me to move on again, not to another town, another country, but into a future. Right here.”
For a moment the man sat there, his head bowed, then he stood and resumed walking as he put his old, worn harmonica to his mouth and began playing softly. As he walked aimlessly across the top of a nearly treeless hill, he played louder, hoping the song was winging its way upward to where his dead wife and children might hear it and rejoice with him in his newfound hope for tomorrow.
Yet it was from far below that an answer came in the form of a female voice crying, “Help! Help! We’re down here! Help!”
As he heard that faint voice, Marc Duval froze where he stood. “Where are you?” he shouted, and when the woman replied that they were in a cavern nearly under his feet, he knew. His heart swelled, and a smile grew broad across his thickly bearded face. “Are you Jeanie Leslie?” he called, and when the answer came back, he breathed a silent thank-you to Simone for giving him this chance, for surely she had been the one to lead him this way, offering him her blessing to go on and live his life.
Because how could Sharon Leslie possibly resist him now? He had found her sister, who had been missing and feared dead for the past fifteen days!
“Jason Murcady!” Sharon stood, hands on her hips, glaring down at her ten-year-old son. She spoke angrily but quietly; she didn’t want her guests to know that the sister of the bride was furious with one of her children. “When I said that you and Roxanne could each invite one friend to Aunt Jeanie and Uncle Max’s wedding, I did not mean that man! I meant one of your school friends, and you know it! It was so you could have someone special of your own age to talk to among all these adults.”
“But Mom, Marc is special. And I did tell you I was inviting him.”
“You know as well as I do that when you said Marc, I assumed you meant Mark Simpson. That’s twice you’ve pulled that one on me, Jason. It won’t happen again. I’m onto you now.”
“But nothing! You know how I feel about Marc Duval.”
“Why don’t you like him, Mom?
Sharon hesitated, biting the inside of her lip. She couldn’t tell her son that she found the way Marc Duval looked at her distinctly unsettling, or that her own response to those looks was just as disturbing. “Jason, I can’t explain it. It’s just … just something I can’t explain, but it’s true. I wish he wasn’t here.”
Lifting her troubled gaze from her son’s rebellious face, Sharon transferred it across the room to the man who stood talking, laughing, gesturing, looking to all the world as if he belonged in her living room, when the fact of the matter was he belonged in no one’s living room. The man was a drifter, without visible means of support. He lived in a battered old camper, for heavens sake, a battered old camper parked not ten feet from the wall of her patio. Every time she saw him, her hackles rose, in spite of what he had done for her family. Now, she watched as he put an arm around her soon-to-be brother-in-law’s shoulder and laughed at something Max said, then leaned over and ducked under the brim of the incredible hat worn by Freda Coin, Max’s research assistant. Marc Duval kissed the elderly woman’s cheek and said something that raised a laugh from the crowd around him.
Dammit, he fit in all too well! Normally clad in tight jeans and flannel shirts with his bushy beard and overlong hair every-which-way, this afternoon he was dressed in a dark suit that she was certain was cashmere, and a pale pink shirt with a burgundy and dark blue striped pure silk tie. He’d had his beard trimmed and his hair cut, but it was still longer than she thought fashionable. Only on him it looked good.
She found herself furious that he’d cleaned up so nicely. She would have preferred he remain the drifter she knew him to be and drift away on the next outgoing tide.
Then, as if sensing her stare, he turned his head toward her. With a smile, he broke free of the group and crossed the room, moving in her direction, she thought with whimsy that angered her even further, like a well-dressed mountain lion. Her heart hammered high in her chest as Marc Duval approached, his topaz eyes fixed on her face. He was giving her that … look again, that hungry, seeking look that she knew she was responding to with one of her own, as hard as she tried to stop it.
“Hi, Jase,” he said, giving her son a quick squeeze, never taking his gaze from Sharon’s face. He smiled at her. “Ms. Leslie. It was good of you to invite me,” he said, and extended his hand.
She had to take it. Politeness dictated that she do so. His hand was huge and engulfed her own, making her feel hot and bothered, the way Marc Duval always made her feel whenever he came into the library where she worked, or she saw him in the supermarket or the post office or the backyard of the Harding place over her patio wall.
She snatched her hand free and locked it with her other one behind her back as she struggled against the tumultuous feelings he aroused in her.
“Not at all, Mr. Duval,” she said stiffly. “I’m sure if Jason hadn’t asked that you be given an invitation, my sister would have. We are all very grateful to you for having found her and Max.”
Liar, he said silently, trying hard not to laugh. He knew she was grateful that her sister was safe, but he also knew that she wished it had been anybody but he who had been instrumental in finding her.
But it was Christmas Eve and her sister’s wedding day. And she had invited him. Surely she had to feel some form of human kindness toward him? If she did, it was hardly reflected in the cool smile with which she introduced him to a couple who had just arrived. As she stood chatting with the others, he watched her unobtrusively, the changing expressions, her quick smile, her laughing eyes. From the moment he’d first seen her from his camper next door, he’d been captivated. But she’d never stood still long enough for him to have a chance to introduce himself. In fact, it had soon become obvious that she avoided her patio whenever he was in residence next door. He’d met her kids and had come to like them very quickly, as he did most children. But their beautiful mother had remained intriguingly elusive.
Now, as the conversation ebbed and flowed without the necessity of his adding to it beyond an interested nod or smile, he remembered that first time he’d spoken to her, and how her instant animosity had set him back on his heels. She knows! How in hell does she know? The knowledge and the question had slammed into him with immediate and shocking impact. Yet, it seemed impossible that his past had followed him so far. He’d changed his name, changed his appearance, stopped practicing his profession, even moved across the country. He’d been shattered to think the only woman he’d shown an interest in since losing Simone knew his terrible story and loathed him in spite of the findings of the court.
Later he’d realized that she didn’t know, that the name Marc Duval meant nothing more to her than the name Sharon Murcady had to him. He’d assumed she had the same surname as her children, but when he called her by it, her obsidian eyes had flared, and she’d said stiffly, “Leslie. My name is Sharon Leslie.”
He remembered how his jaw had dropped. “Of course!” he’d said. “I knew when I first saw you on your patio that you looked familiar. I have one of your tapes, Ms. Leslie, one with your picture on it. It’s wonderful. Music is one of my greatest pleasures in life.”
“How nice for you,” she’d said, and turned deliberately to the next customer in the library. He’d been forced to move on. Every attempt he’d made to get to know her, to develop some kind of relationship with her, had been met by the wall she’d erected between them. But this night he intended to knock that wall flat. Or at least kick down a brick or two. If only he could figure out how.
“You have a lovely home, Ms. Leslie,” he said when the other people stepped away.
“Thank you.” Her response was light, even though she wished with all her might that he, too, would go and talk to someone else.
“It’s similar in design to mine, although somewhat larger,” Marc said, watching the constantly changing expressions in her eyes. “I understand that our two properties used to be one and that mine was the guest house.”
Her eyes flared. “Yours?” He was pretty proprietorial for a man who rented a bit of concrete on which to park his camper!
“I’ve bought the Harding place, you know.” She was silent for several seconds, looking at him in frank dismay. Since old Dr. Harding had died, his widow had rented the place to summer visitors. She’d wondered why Mrs. Harding hadn’t rented it to someone else, since Marc clearly wasn’t using the house. Until recently, he hadn’t even been there much, just enough to drive her up the wall and make Jason glow with happiness. When Duval was gone, the boy moped. When he was there, however, she lived on edge all the time. It was those damned discerning eyes of his that made her uncomfortable. He made something deep inside her itch unbearably, and she was sure he not only knew it but did it deliberately.
“No. I didn’t know. I thought you’d be moving on again.”
“And perhaps I will. I rented for a few months to see how I fit into the area before I committed myself, but I find I like it here. However, at least for the winter, I’m moving out of the camper and into the house. I thought I’d do that tomorrow.”
“I hope you’ll be very … comfortable,” she said in a tone that suggested she hoped the roof would cave in on him soon. She lifted her small chin upward and glanced toward the entry, where Max’s brother Rolph had just opened the door. “You’ll excuse me, I’m sure. I see the minister has arrived. I must go and greet him.”