The Carson Springs Trilogy: Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey, and Wish Come True (8 page)

BOOK: The Carson Springs Trilogy: Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey, and Wish Come True
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“Water would be nice.” She’d never been so thirsty. At the same time, she felt strangely full…though she had no memory of having eaten. The events of the past few days had run together like colors on a finger painting.

Laura got up and left the room, returning moments later with a chilled glass in which ice cubes tinkled with a faint, musical sound. The girl gulped it down so quickly its coldness made her head ache.

Laura touched her shoulder. “You’re shivering. Let’s get you under the covers.” She bent to pick up the backpack on the floor beside the bed.

“Don’t touch that!” Finch cried.

The woman froze, clearly startled. “I didn’t want you to trip over it,” she said gently.

The girl’s face flooded with heat. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I just don’t like people touching my things.”

Laura straightened, planting her hands on her hips. “Look, you’ve got to trust somebody, so it might as well be me. I meant what I said. No snooping, and that goes for personal property, too. Scout’s honor.” Her voice was crisp, but not unkind.

Finch dropped her gaze, at a sudden loss for words. She didn’t know how she was supposed to feel. Almost everyone she’d ever trusted had disappointed her in some way. Why should this woman be any different?

“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked, realizing suddenly that she had to pee.

“Just down the hall.” Laura pointed the way. “I left you a towel if you feel like taking a shower. Anything else you need just make yourself at home.”

And that was it. Her first night in this strange place—walking as if in a dream down a hall lined with family pictures, its old boards creaking faintly beneath her bare feet. The woman eyed her from the bedroom doorway as anxiously as if she’d been a toddler taking her first steps. An odd feeling quivered in the girl’s belly, a feeling she couldn’t recall ever having before—that of being watched over. She remembered her dream and all at once seemed to grow weightless, as if flying.

Chapter 3

on her nightstand. Six-thirty in the morning and she was as wide awake as if the alarm had gone off. Hadn’t the wedding, followed by the lingering of her brother and sister and their respective spouses well into the evening, been enough to wear her out for a week? She ought to have slept until noon. But today wasn’t just any Sunday. There was Ian. Picking her up for their date in just four and half hours.

Not a date,
she corrected.

So why hadn’t she mentioned it to anyone? Laura, the least likely to jump to conclusions, or even her brother, Ray, who analyzed stock quotes and futures, not other people’s lives. If it was all so innocent, a passing remark would have saved her from…

feeling like a teenager sneaking behind my parents’ back.

Sam rolled onto her stomach with a groan, burying her face in the pillow. Alice and Wes were in Maui by now, too far away to give their permission, if that’s what she was looking for.

A vestige of teenage rebellion stirred in her now. Permission?
My God, I’m forty-eight years old!
She didn’t need anyone’s blessing to spend a pleasant afternoon with someone who was practically a member of the family. Never mind that he was a man, and an attractive one at that. Had Alice asked
permission before taking up with Wes?

Sam groaned anew at the comparison. Of course, it was flattering that Ian found her attractive; she was only human after all. And except for Tom Kemp, whom she’d never even kissed, there’d been no one since Martin. The idea of getting involved with someone young enough to be her—well, Ian’s age—was ludicrous.

At the same time, it left her glowing as if she’d just stepped out of the bath. She felt both restless and strangely indolent, acutely aware of her nightgown twisted about her hips and the pale sunlight soaking into her bare limbs. She closed her eyes and imagined Ian running a hand up her leg. She could almost feel the light brush of his fingertips tickling the tiny hairs along the inside of her thigh, bringing to life what she’d believed dead.

She jumped out of bed as if goosed. It seemed disloyal to Martin’s memory somehow…not so much as if she were cheating, but because she’d never felt that way with him; she’d never burned at his touch. What she’d fallen in love with were his quick mind and easy laugh, how he’d light up a room merely by walking into it. Martin had had a way of making her feel not just like the only woman in the world, but the only other
Even his proposal had been one of a kind, as unique as Martin himself. They’d been sitting cross-legged on the bed in his dorm room surrounded by Chinese takeout cartons, when she cracked open her cookie to find a fortune that read,
Will you marry me?

She hadn’t known whether or not to take him seriously until Martin rose, wobbling, to his knees and slipped the paper ring from his chopsticks onto her finger, saying solemnly, “I’ll buy you a real one soon as I can afford it.”

What she hadn’t realized at the time, looking into his broad Irish face flushed with impish delight, was that everything there was to know about Martin had been summed up in that single gesture: the wild romantic leaps with nothing to back them up, the grand gestures that were like the wedding ring he’d never gotten around to buying. It was her grandmother’s gold band, given to her by her mother, that she’d worn her entire married life.

Her gaze fell on a photo of Martin in a pewter frame on the bureau, taken just before he became ill. He stood poised at the helm of his sailboat, squinting into the sunlight: a handsome, middle-aged man grown a bit soft about the middle, his curly silver hair blowing in the wind. Martin had always been happiest at sea. Their marriage, she thought, was just another version—with her the terra firma to his flights of fancy, the one who put the brakes on when things threatened to spin out of control. When he died she hadn’t been utterly lost like many widows because all those years it had been
, not Martin, managing the household and paying the bills.

Sam tugged on her robe with something close to defiance. This room was her answer to all those years of excess. A few months after Martin’s death, she’d had the carpet and wallpaper ripped out; she’d sold the ornate walnut bed and dresser and brought down from the attic her childhood bureau and bed frame, which she’d stripped to their original oak finish. Now the white stucco walls and polished heart-of-pine floor—accented by a simple Kazakh rug, a few framed watercolors, a vintage mica floor lamp—seemed to glow with an austere beauty.

Making her way downstairs, she could hear the faint clatter of her housekeeper in the kitchen. Lupe, no doubt rearranging things to her liking. Sam shook her head in exasperation. How many times had she urged the woman to slow down? She was in her seventies, after all, and not getting any younger.

Sam walked in to find Lupe teetering on tiptoe, trying to push a platter onto the top shelf of the old oak china cupboard. She darted over to help. “Here, let me.” Taller than Lupe by at least eight inches, she had no trouble sliding it into place.

“Gracias, mi hija.”
Lupe sank onto her heels with a sigh, casting Sam a look of mild reproach. “
Dios mio,
what are you doing up at this hour? Did you forget it was Sunday?”

“I could ask the same of you.” Sam glanced about, frowning. “What’s all this?” She gestured at the serving bowls and platters spread over the counter. “I thought everything was put away last night.”

“It was.” The stern lines of disapproval in Lupe’s face confirmed what Sam had already guessed: that the catering crew’s cleanup hadn’t been to her housekeeper’s satisfaction. “Men,” she scoffed. “What do they know about kitchens? It’s a miracle nothing was broken.”

“And even more of a miracle you aren’t flat on your back,” Sam chided. “Do me a favor, please, and take the rest of the day off.”

Lupe dismissed her concerns with a snort. “I’d rather die on my feet than on my back.” She gathered up an armload of bowls, a pint-sized woman in jeans and a red-checkered shirt, her face as brown and wrinkled as a walnut, her charcoal hair wound about her head in a tightly braided coronet.

Lupe’s hair, only lightly threaded with gray, was her pride and joy. She washed it with special oils and dried it in the sun. Once, a few years back, Sam had come across her basking in the sunlight with her head in her husband’s lap. Guillermo had only been combing her wet hair, but Sam had felt as if she’d stumbled upon something deeply intimate. Fifty years of marriage hadn’t wiped away the small smile on Lupe’s lips as she lay with her eyes closed and head tipped back, her hair spilling into her husband’s knotted brown hands like a gift.

Sam caught the scent of something baking. “Do I smell corn bread?”

Lupe bent to stow the bowls and straightened. “Since you’re up, it won’t hurt you to eat something.”

Sam groaned. “I’m still stuffed from yesterday.”

“Men like meat on a woman’s bones.”

Sam reached for the coffeemaker by the stove, filling her favorite mug—one Laura had given her some years back, on which was printed
. “I’m not looking for a man.” This past year it had become a familiar refrain; Lupe wasn’t going to give up until she remarried.

“A woman alone is no good to anyone. Now sit.”

Lupe slid a skillet from the oven—corn bread, lightly golden on top and crispy around the edges. Sam surprised herself by devouring two thick wedges smothered in butter and Blessed Bee honey. Afterward, sipping her coffee at the table, she felt a contentment that eluded her most days. Maybe it was this kitchen, so rooted in memory: family meals about the oak harvest table, arriving home from school to find a pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade in the fridge, Lupe teaching Audrey and her to pat out tortillas and prepare
for tamales. There’d been popcorn popped in a long-handled wire basket over the open fire, birthday cakes decorated with marshmallows and gumdrops, and a gingerbread house each year at Christmastime.

She gazed about her, at the blackened fireplace and mantel hung with copper pots, the built-in cupboard with its hodgepodge of china she’d collected or inherited over the years. Sunlight fell in leafy patterns over the Mexican tiles at her feet. On the patio out back she could see a lemon tree, laden with fruit ready to be picked. An overlooked champagne glass from yesterday’s festivities glittered on the wrought-iron bench by the pool.

The thought of Ian crept in, causing her heart to quicken.

“Oh, by the way,” she said, “don’t bother with lunch. I’m driving up the coast with a friend.”

Lupe, washing dishes already spotless, turned from the sink. “Anyone I know?”

Sam felt her face grow warm. “Wes’s son.”

“The tall, blond one with hair to here?” Lupe brought a soapy hand to her shoulder.

“His name’s Ian. He’s an artist. Quite talented from what I’ve heard.” Sam spoke lightly, almost tripping over her words. “He offered to show me his paintings.”

“Dios mio.”
Lupe cranked off the tap with a groan of old pipes.

Sam stiffened. This was the price she paid for the woman having helped raise her: a housekeeper who acted more like a mother. “It’s not what you think,” she said.

“If you know what I’m thinking, you know it’s wrong.”

“Why? Because he’s young and I’m…” Sam faltered. How could she expect Lupe, of all people, to understand? Weakly, she finished, “I’m not that old.”

Lupe dried her hands with her apron—hands as tough as old shoe leather. “Not now,” she said. “But one day you will be. You need a man who will look after you.” A subtle reference, Sam knew, to Martin’s shortcomings.

“I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.” She pushed herself to her feet and carried her plate and mug to the sink.

Lupe eyed her narrowly. “Will you be back in time for supper?”

“Don’t count on it.”

Her words had the desired effect. Lupe’s lips drew in as tightly as a drawstring. And this was just the tip of the iceberg. Sam’s daughters would be scandalized as well. To Alice, who’d worshipped her father, another man—never mind that it was Ian—would seem almost a sacrilege, while Laura would see it as one more cause to fret.

As she climbed the stairs, Sam thought of the girl who’d crashed the wedding. She wondered if Laura had made any headway with her.
I ought to phone

She hadn’t finished the thought when it rang. Audrey calling to say what a wonderful time she’d had…and oh, by the way, had anyone reported getting sick? Grant was up half the night throwing up and thought it might have been something he ate.

Minutes later her brother called on his way to the airport. “Great party, Sis.” Ray’s voice boomed over the crackle of his cell phone. “Next time you’re out our way we’ll return the favor, Texas style.”

She couldn’t help smiling. Ray, a recent transplant to the Dallas area, had become more Texan than the Ewings of South Fork. When she’d visited last fall, her brother had greeted her at the airport wearing a ten-gallon hat and three-hundred-dollar Tony Lama boots. The barbecue in her honor had consisted of fifty of their “closest” friends, and enough ribs to feed a small third world nation.

After that several more people phoned to say what a beautiful wedding it had been and what a lovely time they’d had. By the time she hung up on the last caller it was nearly ten-thirty. She jumped into the shower and was tucking her shirt into her jeans when the doorbell rang. She dashed downstairs, but Lupe got there ahead of her, casting Ian a long, coolly assessing look before Sam could hustle him off.

“You’re early,” she said.

He glanced at his watch. “Actually, I’m right on time.”

“Guess I’m used to being kept waiting.” Martin had always been running late.

“My military school training,” he joked as they made their way up the path.

Climbing into his van she was pleased to notice he’d tidied up except for a pair of binoculars resting on her seat. Ian stowed them in the glove compartment, explaining, “There’s an osprey colony about a mile or so from my place. I thought we’d take a look.”

BOOK: The Carson Springs Trilogy: Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey, and Wish Come True
13.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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