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Authors: Georgia Bockoven

Disguised Blessing

BOOK: Disguised Blessing
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Disguised Blessing
Georgia Bockoven

1

C
ATHERINE
M
ILLER STOOD AT THE CABIN’S KITCHEN
window and watched a squirrel stretch from one branch of a fir tree to the next in an effort to reach the bird feeder she’d put up less than an hour ago. On the dock, a Steller’s jay sat on a pillar, its head cocked to one side, intently eyeing the unfolding scene.

Abruptly, as if everything had been choreographed and timed, the feeder tipped, the jay took off to capture the spilled prize, and Tom Adams came up behind her to slip his arms around her waist. He pulled her against his chest, fitting her back and buttocks into his long torso. His breath hot and moist against her ear, he whispered the plans he’d made for later when they were alone. Catherine caught her breath at her body’s immediate, powerful response.

Tom Adams could do more to arouse her with words than Jack had managed with his peculiar brand of foreplay during their entire marriage.
Feeling a familiar guilt at their intimate display, Catherine sent a furtive glance in her daughter’s direction. Thankfully, as usual, Lynda was caught up in her compulsive need to be in touch with the members of her own fifteen-year-old world, and was as oblivious to them as she was to the suitcase she’d promised to take to her room and unpack an hour ago.

“We really need to be more careful when Lynda is around,” she reminded him. Tom could be led, but balked at being pushed. She maneuvered out of his arms, took his hand, and moved to the far side of the kitchen.

Tom followed, caught Catherine, and pulled her into his arms again. “Stop worrying. I made sure she wasn’t looking. I always do.” He kissed the base of her throat, then her mouth, touching and tasting her lips with his tongue before leaning back and grinning seductively. “Besides, what we’re doing isn’t anything she hasn’t seen already or doesn’t imagine. She’s a lot more savvy about what goes on between us than you want to think she is.”

“Even if that’s true, I’d rather leave it to her imagination than lay it out for her.”

At that he held up his arms in surrender. “Whatever you say.”

“Please don’t do that.” She put a conciliatory hand on his chest. “Let’s not spoil the day by fighting.”

He took another step backward, leaving her hand suspended in air. “Who’s fighting? I’m simply giving you what you want.”

She knew if she didn’t do something to smooth things over they really would get into an argument.
She’d put too much work into arranging this vacation for the three of them to let that happen. She wanted this to be a time to look back on and reminisce about, a memory that would get better and better with each telling. She had her camera and five rolls of film, and the determination to see that every shot was a memorable one. She even had the album ready—one she’d found at a card shop that had FAMILY PHOTOS stamped in gold on the green leather cover.

Before Catherine could find the words to appease Tom, Lynda hung up and came into the kitchen. She took a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, studied her mother as she opened it, and asked, “Are you mad at me about something?”

Lynda had uncanny perceptions; but in typical teenage fashion, she invariably believed herself to be the source of any conflict. “What makes you think that?”

“You look like you’re upset.” She started to take a drink and paused. “You’re not thinking of changing your mind about letting me go to the party, are you?”

“No. But I don’t want you making any more plans this week without checking with me first.”

“By ‘making plans,’ would that mean inviting Patty to go bicycling with us tomorrow?”

“Oh, Lynda, you didn’t.” Lynda’s friends were the veins she needed to supply her with social oxygen. She collected them wherever she went, like seashells and pinecones, with a natural, uncomplicated ease.

“I thought you liked Patty.”

“I do, but this vacation was supposed to be just the three of us doing things together.”

“We’ve got the rest of our lives to do things together,” Tom said as he put his arm around Lynda’s shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “Lynda only has one summer to be fifteen. She should be with her friends.”

Catherine was stunned. And angry. Tom knew how much this vacation meant to her. Now, with the two of them lined up against her, she didn’t stand a chance. “We’ll talk about this later.”

“Does that mean it’s okay about Patty?” Lynda asked.

“Do I have a choice?”

“No…” Lynda grinned, breaking the tension between them. “But I’d like you to think you do.”

They were Catherine’s own words, ones she’d used in a half dozen disagreements they’d had that past month. “I’m going to give you this one, but no more commitments without checking with me first, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart.”

“What time is Brian going to pick you up?”

“Twelve thirty.”

Catherine glanced at the clock on the microwave. They’d been there less than an hour and Lynda had already made two dates to be with friends. “How did he even know you were here?”

“He saw us drive in.”

“From across the lake?”

“What difference does it make?” Tom asked in a get-off-the-kid’s-back tone.

Catherine bristled but didn’t say anything. To Lynda, she said, “Why so early?”

“I volunteered to help set up. He’s having a ton of people—even some of the renters. Can you believe it? Nobody ever invites renters to parties.”

The social circle at Rainbow Lake went back generations and rarely included anyone who’d owned their cabin less than ten years. Catherine’s grandfather had acquired their place as partial payment for a business debt during the depression. Now it belonged to Catherine’s mother. Eventually—possibly very soon—if her mother really did move to Arizona, it would be passed on to Catherine and her brother, Gene.

“Is Brian coming here or are you meeting him at the store?” Catherine asked.

“The store. Jody’s coming, too. I told her we’d pick her up on the way. I hope that’s all right.” Lynda drank the last of her water and put the empty bottle on the counter.

Isolated years earlier from the main road by a rock slide too massive to clear, Brian’s family’s house was one of three on the lake that could now be accessed only by boat.

Tom didn’t give her a chance to answer. “I’ll drive you,” he said. “I think your mother could use a little time alone to unwind from the trip up here.”

Catherine let the odd comment pass. “How late is the party supposed to last?”

“It’s open-ended. But don’t worry. Brian said he would bring me home when it was over.”

“I want you here by midnight.”

“Mom,”
Lynda groaned. “That’s so unfair.”

“Twelve thirty, then. No later.” She gave Lynda her I-mean-it-this-time look that still magically worked.

“All right. But I’m going to feel like a jerk asking him to leave his own party before it’s over.”

Lynda left to change clothes and Tom leaned against the counter and reached for Catherine. She stepped into his embrace, loosely wrapping her arms around his neck. “I didn’t mean you couldn’t come with us,” he said. “I just thought that you might want to stay here and relax for a while.”

If she’d missed the look he gave her, she would have picked up his meaning in the low, throaty way he said the words. Rarely did they have three uninterrupted hours alone together, let alone twelve. She could hardly blame him for being excited at the prospect.

Catherine ran her hands through his thick dark hair and came forward for a kiss. “I think I just might use the time for a nice, long bubble bath.” She was still coming down from the every-minute-must-be-accounted-for life she’d led before quitting her job two months ago and had to remind herself that a bubble bath was not something she had to schedule anymore.

He pressed his cheek to hers and whispered into her ear, “With that to think about on the way home, I may wind up in the lake.”

She laughed. “How is it you always know the right things to say?”

“Simple. I have the right woman to say them to.”

When Catherine heard Lynda coming down the hall, she moved to free herself from Tom’s arms. He loosened his grip but refused to let her go. Catherine made one more attempt before Lynda appeared in the doorway and it became a moot point.

“Ready?” Tom said.

Lynda nodded. She’d put her shoulder-length hair up with a clip and changed into khaki shorts and a bright red chemise top.

A half dozen warnings and reminders danced in Catherine’s mind as they always did when Lynda was ready to go somewhere, everything from applying sunscreen to not swimming immediately after eating. She managed to control them all save one. “Don’t forget to take a jacket.”

“All I have is that great big one Dad gave me. I forgot to pack anything else.”

“Then take my sweater.”

“I’ll be okay. It’s—”

“Indulge me.”

With a groan, she asked, “Where is it?”

“In the hall closet.”

Lynda opened the door. “You mean this green thing?” She held the sweater out in front of her. Big and bulky with a rolled collar and dangling belt, it looked like a garage sale reject from the sixties.

“It may not be beautiful, but it’s warm. You’ll thank me when you’re out on the lake tonight.”

Lynda made a face. “You’re kidding, right? You
don’t really expect me to let anyone see me wearing this.”

Tom took the sweater from Lynda and put it across her shoulders. “You want to stand here and argue or you want to meet Brian at the store?”

For a second, it seemed Lynda might actually be considering her options. Then, sighing again, she took off the sweater and stuffed it in her bag.

Catherine walked them to the car. “Remember—twelve thirty.”

“Uh-huh.” Four graduated gold rings reflected the sun from her right ear; two more and a small diamond stud decorated her left—compromises from Catherine for a promise they would be the only parts of her body she would pierce.

“Have a good time.”

“I will.”

“And don’t make any more plans for the week,” she couldn’t resist adding.

“I won’t.” Lynda got in and waited for Tom to start the engine on Catherine’s Lincoln Navigator. She rolled down the window as they backed out of the narrow driveway. “If Jody calls, tell her we’re on our way and that I decided not to take my swimsuit after all.”

Catherine waved and waited until they were out of sight before she headed back to the house. She veered off at the last minute to check the status of the bird feeder. Rounding the corner, she heard a chirped warning. An irate squirrel dashed past, its cheeks stuffed with pilfered sunflower seeds.

A breeze swept a yellow cloud of pine pollen off
the wooden dock and into the lake. For a month every summer the pollen coated everything with a fine dust. Viewed from the top of one of the surrounding mountain’s peaks, the lake itself took on a yellowish cast and looked like a giant, swirling pot of blue and yellow finger paints.

June was not Catherine’s favorite month here. As an adult, she much preferred May, before the summer crowds settled in, or September, after Labor Day, when most of the cabins were closed for the winter. Of course, when she’d been Lynda’s age and she and her brother had spent the entire summer at the lake, she’d counted the days until her friends arrived and bemoaned the day or two they stayed after everyone had gone. Those were the days of stay-at-home mothers who had their summers free and fathers willing to commute from as far away as San Francisco on weekends.

Only six miles from Lake Tahoe, where lakefront property was as pricey as oceanfront property in Malibu, the snows at Rainbow Lake were too heavy and the roads too narrow for winter access, which kept cabin prices down. The lower prices made it possible to pass the vacation homes from one generation to the next, helping to keep the small community stable.

If her mother did move to Arizona, Catherine and her brother would find themselves responsible for the upkeep of a cabin neither of them used more than a few weeks each summer.

Which was one of the reasons she’d decided to bring Tom there instead of somewhere more private
for their pre-wedding family get-together. She wanted to see how he felt about the lake, and whether she could count on his support if she decided to buy Gene’s share should he want to sell.

On impulse, Catherine slipped out of her loafers, cleared the pollen from a spot on the end of the dock, and sat down, dangling her feet in the cold water. The sun-heated wood stung the backs of her bare thighs. She rocked from side to side until the burning became a comfortable, welcoming warmth. Settling, she closed her eyes, listened to the wind slip through the pines, and tried to remind herself not to luxuriate too deeply in her newfound happiness.

Her austere German grandmother had instilled a fear of tempting the Fates with a show of too much joy. There’d been little danger of that happening before she met Tom. She’d been content with the job she’d taken to fill her days after her divorce from Jack, and she loved being Lynda’s mother, but joy wasn’t a coin she spent in her realm.

When Tom came into her life, he reminded her how much she liked being with a man. And Lynda actually gave Tom a chance, something she never did with the other men Catherine dated. He didn’t try to parent her, and she responded with a hesitant, developing friendship that Catherine was convinced grew stronger every time they were together.

Her life couldn’t be better.

There, she’d said it. She’d actually challenged the Fates. Instead of cowering in fear, she felt free and alive and powerful. Happiness as complete as hers was its own shield.

BOOK: Disguised Blessing
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