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Authors: Billie Green

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Whitney nodded, taking in every word as though he had just come down from the mountain after having a long talk with a burning bush. She would follow his suggestion, she told him as they parted at the fortuneteller's parking lot. And then she would come back to Trash Town and tell him all about it. Because Trash Town no longer frightened her. It was where Dean lived.

That day had been the beginning for them. In the eighteen years that followed, a lot of changes took place. Trash Town no longer existed. The old houses were considered fashionable, and the area was now called West Edge. Dean had gone through college and law school and had become a respected attorney. His stepfather had walked out years ago, and his mother lived with her sister in Florida.

As for the advice Dean had given her on that first day, it had worked, and eventually a truce had been called among the Harcourt children. Whitney's cousins had mellowed with age, and sometimes she even found herself almost liking them.

In eighteen years Whitney had grown from a little girl to a woman. She had been through six years of college and was on her way to becoming an expert in her field. And in all that time Dean, in her mind, had never once stopped being her hero. She still went to him when she was in trouble or when she had a triumph to share. And he was always there for her.

Of course she was in love with him. How could she not be? But to Dean, Whitney was still just a little girl he had rescued on that day so long ago. Maybe she always would be.

Chapter 2

"
Y
ou want to tell me why you're out here digging holes in my backyard?"

From her stooped position Whitney glanced over her shoulder. Dean stood at the back door with a cup of coffee in his hand. He wore only jeans. No shirt, no shoes. He hadn't even combed his hair yet.

"I'm digging for buried treasure," she said. "Inca gold... Marie Antoinette's jewels. Yeah, that's it."

"You're too late." He walked down the steps and moved to stand beside her. "I hocked all that stuff last week."

It was Saturday, more than a week since she'd brought Oscar to him. And, as Dean had predicted, the Watkins boy had taken one look at the disreputable animal and fallen in love. Pete Watkins had shown more resistance to Oscar's charms, but eventually Dean had talked him into giving the dog a home.

"I brought you some flowers—" she held up a plastic pot "—to brighten up your backyard. It's a thank-you for rescuing Oscar. Aren't they pretty? I bought some just like them for the garden behind Sweet House."

He frowned. "I thought I told you to stop buying me things."

"I'm not trying to corrupt you with ill-gotten Harcourt booty," she said. "I used money gained from the honest sweat of my very own brow." She grinned up at him. "I baby-sat with Allie's three darlings, ill-gotten Harcourts all."

"Then I thank you sincerely." He rubbed the top of his chest, and then, as if he suddenly realized he wasn't dressed, said, "I'll be right back."

Minutes later he reappeared, this time fully dressed his hair neatly combed.

Pity, she thought with a wistful little sigh as she turned back to the flowers.

"It looks like you bought out the nursery," he said, squatting beside her. "What have you got here?"

"A little bit of everything—impatiens, pansies, begonias. And these are caladiums. They'll look good against the house. You should have seen the plants the man at the nursery tried to sell me first. Pale, sickly things. The poor plants were practically coughing." "Camellias?" he suggested.

"Smart aleck," she said, laughing. "You wouldn't have thought it was so funny if you'd got stuck with a backyard full of consumptive plants. Which is why I badgered him until he took me into the back where all the top-drawer plants live."

"Better neighborhood in the back?"

"Indubitably."

Chuckling, Dean stared at her bent head. There
were times, like now, when she was playing the clown,
that Dean found himself suddenly taken aback by her
beauty. She took her looks so completely for
granted—the rich black hair that fell across her face as
she worked, the complexion that was like antique
porcelain, and the eyes that were bluer than ordinary
eyes had a right to be—that he found himself taking
them for granted, as well. Then the light would hit her
at just the right angle, or she would move her head in
a certain way, and the sight of her would take his
breath away.

In the past few years, Whitney's body had filled out. Beautifully. She was still slender, her curves not the conspicuous kind, but she' had legs that went on forever, and there was something about the way she moved that exuded vitality and subtle, energetic sensuality.

Or maybe it was only subtle to him, he thought ruefully. More than once, the sight of her walking down a street had sent construction workers into a howling frenzy.

Although Dean had always treated Whitney with casual indulgence, there was nothing casual about his feelings where she was concerned. He had been worrying about her for most of his life. He still worried about her, because, even though she was an adult, he couldn't stop thinking of her as fragile. She was a Harcourt orchid raised in an artificial Harcourt environment, an upbringing that had left her ill-equipped to deal with the harsh atmosphere of the real world.

Maybe it would have been different if Whitney hadn't lost her father. From what she had told him, Lloyd Grant had been the exact opposite of his wife. He had been a man with both feet planted firmly on the ground, a man who would have made sure his daughter knew how to deal with reality.

When Dean first met Whitney she had talked about her father constantly, telling Dean about all the things they had done together and how much she missed him. Although she didn't talk about him so much anymore, Dean knew that, even now, she felt his absence in a million little ways.

But Lloyd Grant had died, and although Dean had done his best to provide a masculine influence in Whitney's life, it wasn't the same. His presence in Whitney's life had been a secondary thing, too equivocal to count for much. She had always needed—still needed—stability. She needed the strong, solid grounding of her father to neutralize the Harcourt influence.

"How's the case going?"

He glanced up, startled for a moment, and realized she was studying his face. Picking up another of the potted plants, he shook his head. "Nothing new yet. I walked Tess—she's Alvo's little sister—home from school yesterday, and I'm almost sure you're right about her, that she's holding something back, but she still isn't talking. She doesn't trust me."

"She will." Whitney smiled. "You have a way of getting right into the heart of a little girl." She took the pot from him and turned it upside down to dislodge a lush caladium, then she looked up and caught his eye. "Guess what? I may have a job for the summer."

"Don't tell me. The nursery man took one look at you and said, 'By golly, I like a girl with spunk. Come work for me and nurse my gasping gardenias back to health.'"

She tossed her head haughtily. "I don't doubt he was thinking exactly that, but the job I'm talking about is with Boedecker and Kraus."

"The copier people?" He frowned. "What do you know about copiers?"

"Nothing," she admitted readily. "But the Japanese who bought them need an apprentice art buyer. By a strange coincidence I happen to have a degree in Art History. If I get the job, I'll be flying all over creation this summer... maybe even to Europe. Sounds good, huh?"

"It sounds great," he said slowly. "When will you know for sure?"

"I have an interview on Monday. But I can't remember what time— Don't roll your eyes at me like that. It wasn't my fault. The secretary set a time, then changed her mind. But I'm almost sure it's either at ten, ten-thirty, or three."

Dean laughed, finding her brand of emphatic ambiguity as irresistible as always. It was, however, another example of the distance that separated Whitney from the rest of the ordinary world.

The first time Dean had gone out on a job interview he had been a nervous wreck for a week before. And then he'd showed up an hour and a half early to make sure he would be on time—that was the way it worked with most people. But Whitney wasn't most people. She was a Harcourt and therefore had never tasted the bitterness of defeat. She didn't even realize it was a possibility.

She would most likely get the job. Whitney could charm an enraged bull out of its horns if she set her mind to it. But he was having a hard time picturing her in a fast-paced, nerve-racking, corporate atmosphere. She was too naive and, at times, too emotionally immature.

Whitney had never held a job in her life, and suddenly she was going to be flying all over the world on business trips? The very idea scared him silly.

"Do you really want this job?" he asked, trying to keep his voice casual.

"Of course I do. It will allow me to use what I've learned at school." She paused and turned an audacious look in his direction. "Besides, I already have my wardrobe picked out. I'm going to be the best dressed art buyer in the history of western civilization."

Although Dean laughed along with her, he was still uneasy. Her news shouldn't have affected him this way. He had been pushing her to spread her wings, to find a life of her own, since she was eighteen. But somehow he'd thought that whenever she got around to it, it would be a more gradual change. He'd figured she would ease her way into a more well-rounded life.

He should have known better. Whitney never did anything halfheartedly. With her it was all or nothing.

When they finished with the last plant, he stood up and dusted off the knees of his Levi's. "The flowers are beautiful, Whitney. Thanks for thinking of them."

She rose to her feet and glanced around. "They do make the backyard look nice, don't they? They bring a little sparkle to your austere domain. Like Mother always says, 'Accessorize, Whitney, accessor—'"

Before she could finish, he wrapped an arm around her neck and brought her head down so he could rub his knuckles across the top.

"You're bad," he said, chuckling as he released her. "Now make yourself scarce. I have a lunch date and I should probably scrape off some of this dirt before I leave."

"Business?" Whitney asked hopefully.

"Pleasure," he corrected.

She made a face. "Barbara Charles again? Are you sure she's a trustworthy sort of person? I think I remember seeing her picture up at the post office... no, listen," she said when he burst out laughing. "Really, I could have sworn it was her. Her hair was stringier in the picture, but she has the kind of hair that would do that if it wasn't washed often enough. Not that I'm implying Barbara isn't a clean person, but— Would you stop laughing? I just don't happen to think she's right for you. She seems to be a cold, calculating sort of woman."

Whitney abruptly glanced at him. "She is cold, isn't she?" she asked with fading optimism.

"No, she isn't," he said flatly. Taking her arm, he walked her to the back gate. "Now get out of here." Pushing her out, he closed the gate firmly behind her.

"Dean?" she called out, standing on her tiptoes even though the fence was six feet high and she couldn't possibly see over it. "Dean, listen. I wasn't going to mention this, but Barbara's a lot older than you think she is. Modern makeup can work miracles, but I promise you, when she takes it off, her face is going to look like an aerial view of the Dakota Badlands."

When she only heard more laughter from the other side of the fence, she kicked one of his plastic garbage cans and muttered, "The woman has fat ankles. Of course, she might simply have been retaining water on the day I met her," she allowed generously.

"Okay," she said, raising her voice again, "I'll admit it... I'm jealous. If you go out with her it will hurt my feelings. You don't want to hurt my feelings, do you, Dean? Dean?"

The sound of his laughter faded and seconds later she heard his back door close.

Exhaling a resigned sigh, she turned and walked down the alley. She was going to have to walk all the way around the block to the front of his house to pick up her car. He probably hadn't stopped to consider how she had managed to get the plants to his house this morning. He probably thought she had twitched her nose and magically transported half a nursery to his backyard. Or maybe he thought the Harcourt butler had carried them over for her.

Oh well, a walk would do her good, she decided as the natural buoyancy began to return to her steps. She knew Dean didn't take her jealousy seriously—he didn't take her seriously. But he would, she vowed. Someday he would.

* * *

When Whitney walked into her home minutes later, her mother was coming down the stairs. Anne Grant was in her late forties, but she had the kind of soft good looks that stayed the same no matter what her age. Beigy-blond hair, beigy-cream complexion. And she always wore flowing pastels. Blurry. Insubstantial. Nothing about Anne Grant was strong, not even her emotions.

Whitney loved her mother, but in all the years she had known her, she had found nothing solid about Anne. No center, no shell. Fluffy was the word that came to mind most often. Fluffy looks and fluffy personality. If you tried to grab her, she would slip right through your fingers, leaving you with only a handful of air.

As Whitney watched her mother, she thought how strange it was that two people could look at the same tiling and see something different. When Dean looked at Anne Grant, he saw deluxe, top-of-the-line chocolate with a solid steel center. He said she was smooth and melty on the outside, but that inside there was a core of inflexibility.

Whitney had never been able to see Dean's version of Anne Grant. Her mother just wasn't that strong. In everything, even in minor decisions, she deferred to her older brother. Whitney had no doubt that if Uncle Ames decided to spray-paint Sweet House purple, Anne would simply smile and say that her brother knew what was best.

Anne reacted with equal fluttery confusion to a spot on the carpet as she did to a world disaster, and Whitney couldn't recall ever having had a serious conversation with her. But maybe that was partly her own fault, since she had decided, a long time ago, that striking up an in-depth conversation with her mother would be a waste of time, a little like trying to discuss philosophy with a Boston fern.

When the older woman reached the landing, she finally spotted Whitney.

"But if they didn't have the fabric I ordered, why didn't they call me?" Anne asked. A frown worried her soft features for a moment then drifted away. "It's such a simple thing really. Nothing more than ordinary courtesy. I suppose I'll have to talk to your uncle about this."

"Uncle Ames Will straighten them out," Whitney said, her voice sympathetic. She had had years of practice at picking up nonexistent conversations.

"There's no need for you to worry about it anymore. And next time you can go to someone more reliable."

"Well, I will," Anne assured her. "There is simply no excuse for— I'm sorry you missed Madelaine's visit. And of course, she noticed. She'll tell everyone you weren't here and imply that you're careless or that we've argued. I told her that you would have been here if something important hadn't come up, that I was almost sure it was charity work. And it wasn't your fault that I couldn't remember which charity it was."

"I'm sorry, I forgot Madelaine was coming for brunch today," Whitney said with feigned regret. "I was with Dean."

Anne blinked twice and her features stiffened. "Because you're involved in so many things," she continued as though Whitney hadn't spoken. "I assured her you wouldn't intentionally miss her visit."

The obsolete rules and outdated restrictions that her mother lived by had, at one time, driven Whitney right up the wall. But then she had come to see that the rules and restrictions were a form of self-protection. The past was a place where definite lines had been drawn. Right was right and wrong was wrong. The secure, unchanging decrees of the past provided a buffer zone that shielded Anne from the uncertain, constantly shifting present.

After a brief pause Whitney leaned forward and kissed her mother's cheek. "Would you like me to send her a note, telling her how truly distressed I am at having missed her?"

Her mother's face brightened. "Madelaine would like that. Only last week she was pointing out the fact that young people, her daughters in particular, don't seem to understand what the phrase 'good breeding' implies. They mistakenly think it's acceptable to substitute a telephone call for a handwritten note."

Whitney laughed. "And this will give you a chance to one-up your dear friend Madelaine? Well, I'm all for that. Consider it done."

Anne began to huff a denial, then once again switched thoughts in midstream. "I don't know what to think about the Japanese, darling: They're very pleasant people, of course, always bowing and making one feel so wonderfully honored, but they're so...so—"

"Foreign?" Whitney offered. "And since they're all so polite, how can you tell which of them is truly socially acceptable or not?"

"Exactly," Anne said, relieved that someone had managed to put her thoughts into words.

Whitney laughed again, shaking her head. If she even hinted that Anne was a bigot as well as a snob, her mother would have been genuinely hurt. Socrates may have thought an unexamined life was not worth living, but Anne Grant seemed to have gotten through most of her life with ethics that were not only unexamined, they were unidentifiable, as well.

"I think if you'll check Amy Vanderbilt, you'll find we're accepting the Japanese socially these days," Whitney said as she turned and ran up the stairs to her bedroom.

In the shower and later, as she wrote the promised note, Whitney's thoughts kept drifting back to Dean. He hadn't returned to his house after lunch. She called him at two, then again at three, four and four-thirty.

At six she began calling every five minutes, pushing the recall button on her telephone again and again until ten o'clock, at which point she reluctantly went to bed.

As she lay in bed Whitney worried herself with possibilities. Had he taken his date out to dinner as well as lunch? Or maybe Barbara had cooked dinner for him. She seemed like the kind of woman who would do a sneaky thing like that, showing him what a perfect little homemaker she was. Maybe they were at her house right now. Maybe they were in her bedroom. In her bed.

Whitney rolled over in an abrupt rejection of the depressing thought. Most of the time she managed to keep a positive attitude about her relationship with Dean, looking forward to better days in the future. But sometimes, late at night, as she lay awake watching silver moonlight stream through the white lace curtains, she would be unable to sleep for wanting him so badly.

Whitney knew she had Dean's friendship; it was the most solid thing in her life. But friendship wasn't enough. She wanted total intimacy. Mind, body and spirit. She wanted Dean to love her as much as she loved him.

For comfort, she closed her eyes and imagined what their wedding day would be like, something she did on a regular basis. Her mother was the only Harcourt Whitney would allow to share that special day with her. She wouldn't let her relatives turn her wedding day into the kind of circus Allie's and Muffy's had been. Hie planning for her cousins' weddings had taken more than a year. There had been trips to Paris and Milan for wedding dresses and trousseaus, and both events had been covered by national magazines.

Whitney wasn't about to participate in such asinine competition. She would marry Dean in a garden wedding, maybe in his backyard now that it had been softened by the plants she had given him. It wouldn't be an elaborate ceremony. It would be simple. Real. And she would pay for it all with her own money. She had been living on Harcourt money for most of her life, and if she had learned nothing else, she had learned that the interest they charged was too high.

She hadn't decided yet what she wanted Dean to wear. In a tuxedo he was so beautiful he could make a grown woman cry, but a tuxedo was a little too Harcourtish. Something less formal would be better. Dean looked wonderful in black. And brown. And gray, maroon, blue, and white. He looked wonderful in the ratty old cutoff Levi's that he wore when he jogged, and would look even more wonderful in no clothes at all, but none of that helped her make up her mind about what he should wear on their wedding day.

Whitney would ask her mother to give her away. And Dean would have his law partner, Sam Carter, as his best man. Evie Ladd, Whitney's best friend from college, would be her maid of honor and Reverend Brown, Dean's pastor, would perform the ceremony.

After the wedding they would go to the mountains for their honeymoon—Dean liked the mountains— New Mexico, or Colorado, she thought, throwing a bare arm up over her head.

Maybe they would get one of those outrageous suites with a heart-shaped bathtub and a heart-shaped bed. That would make them laugh. People should begin their life together with laughter.

On their wedding night they would sit on the ridiculous heart-shaped bed and share champagne and strawberries. Whitney wasn't all that crazy about champagne, but she liked strawberries, and the idea sounded romantic.

She couldn't make up her mind about what she would wear to bed on the first night. Something long and white and flowing would look good with her black hair. On the other hand, she had really good legs and hated to cover them up. Although she agreed with Dorothy Parker that brevity was the soul of lingerie, a skimpy teddy would be too blue-movieish. No, a plain little satin shift would be better, she decided.

Dean would wear silk pajamas. Burgundy silk. But just the bottoms, riding low on his hips, the dark flesh of his lower abdomen exposed, a line of dark hair extending from his navel down to...

Whitney sat up in bed and fanned her flushed face with both hands. After a moment her head fell back against the headboard, and the instant her eyes closed, she saw him again. And again she caught her breath in a rush of pleasure. She not only wanted to see him, she needed to see him. She needed to see them together.

There was no silk in her vision now. None on her,
none on him. The long, strong line of his body covered hers. Every muscle in his body was strained and
tight, and she could almost feel his hot flesh against
hers. She could almost feel the hunger in his mouth,
in his fingers. She could almost feel his hipbones as he
thrust urgently against her softness, her fingers digging into his shoulders and his back, digging into his
hard, flexed buttocks.

As she leaned against the headboard in her moon-silvered room, Whitney's fingers actually flexed, as though they were, in reality, touching his warm flesh.

Forcing her eyes open, Whitney drew deep gulps of air into her lungs, fighting for control.

"You're a silly excuse for a woman, Whitney Daryn Grant," she said in a rough whisper. "Really silly, really. .. disturbed."

Scrambling out of bed, she continued to talk to herself as she fumbled around in the dark for her riding clothes.

"This is a bad sign. A very bad sign," she warned as she stepped into formfitting pants. "You know what this means, don't you? It means you're turning into an old maid. Lying alone in your solitary bed, dreaming erotic dreams."

Her next words were muffled as she pulled a cream turtleneck over her head. "The next thing you know you'll be wearing those pitiful little saucer-shaped hats and immaculate white gloves, sharing a house with twenty-seven cats and checking under the bed every night before you go to sleep.. .just in case there's a man hiding there," she said through clenched teeth while struggling to pull on her riding boots.

She managed to get out of the house without disturbing her mother, then walked the quarter mile to the stables, tying the scarf she'd brought along on her head. She had stopped talking to herself, but when she reached Heracles' stall, she talked to the horse as she saddled him, meaningless words that made her feel less alone. In response, Heracles nickered softly against her back to let her know that he sensed the wildness in her and was looking forward to the ride.

In the stable yard, Whitney guided the horse to the mounting block and swung into the saddle. Then, leaning forward, she patted his neck and said, "Okay, boy, let's do it."

Open pasture lay beyond the mansion of Harcourt House, and as she walked Heracles past the tennis court and the pool, the sound of the horse's hooves on the flagstone terrace was like claps of thunder. Uncle Ames was a light sleeper and would probably hear, which meant he would be complaining to her mother tomorrow—again—but she was in too much of a hurry to worry about him.

As soon as they had gotten far enough, Whitney urged the horse into a gallop, letting him have his head through familiar trees and shrubs that dotted and cultivated part of the estate. Then suddenly open land was before her, and she was free of Harcourt influence.

She rode hard and fast through the fields, feeling the powerful animal beneath her as they both worked off restless energy. Excitement sent her blood racing, and she laughed in pure joy when the wind tore the scarf from her hair.

Half an hour later they topped a small rise. Pulling Heracles to a halt, she stood in the saddle. Below she could see Harcourt House and her own little Sweet House. And beyond that she saw what used to be Trash Town. From her vantage point she could also just make out the top of Dean's house.

It wasn't the first time she had sat on this hill watching his house. In fact, she had given him an antique weather vane so that she could spot his house instantly. This little knoll was the destination of all her midnight rides. Seeing his house, even from a distance, made her somehow feel closer to him. And no matter what was going on in her life, just knowing that he existed, knowing that Dean was in the same world, comforted her.

Before she was old enough and bold enough to take midnight rides, Whitney had walked to the little hill. Sometimes to daydream. Sometimes to brood.

BOOK: That Boy From Trash Town
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