Authors: Maureen A. Miller
“You have an unsettling way about you, Jake.”
Jake frowned. He sat back and Megan’s eyes latched on to what captured his focus. He was following the trek of a gull as it struggled against the wind, like a swimmer battling an undercurrent. It was a lone bird somehow misplaced in this desolate climate. She felt a kinship with the weary gull.
“Unsettling,” he said. “You know, you’re really giving my ego a tough time. What do I do that unsettles you?”
Look at me the way you did in the rain. Touch me the way you did in the dark. Express concern with those eyes. Why should you be concerned? You don’t know me.
Megan cleared her throat. “To save your fragile ego…” She watched the bird dip below the cliff, and whispered, “…
doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing.”
Jake let out a soft chuckle.
“Now see.” He twisted the keys and started the ignition. “That wasn’t so bad.”
Jake tried to keep the conversation innocuous during the remainder of their drive, regaling her with tales of voltage stability and the implementation of superconductor power cables in his latest office building, but Megan did not appear to be engrossed in his dialogue. She looked like she was going to roll down the window and lurch through it at any second, and he hoped it was not to avoid his boring banter. The money he raked in was the only attractive aspect of his job to women. His was not an exciting profession such as a firefighter or a SEAL; he was just a dork with a voltmeter. No wonder she was ready to crawl out the window.
As they pulled onto Victory Cove’s Main Street, her fidgeting reached epic proportions. He watched her eyes scan the sidewalk with the intensity of a hawk.
Along this street of weathered storefronts, remnants of vitality were exhibited with vivid flashes of paint beneath the shade of metal awnings. A sprinkling of cars were parked at an angle before the row of antique shops and lobster-fishing supply stores. The echo of a hammer competed with the effervescence of the ocean as the dominant sound. Outside a storefront a man nailed a wooden panel over his door, next to the sign that read Closed for Winter.
Jake pulled in before the Victory Cove Maritime Museum. The building could have represented anything from a former town hall to nothing more than a souvenir shop, with its red wooden annex and black shutters and a hand-painted sign alerting passersby of its identity. Judging by the minimal square footage, Jake guessed there wasn’t enough significant history in Victory Cove to occupy anything larger.
“Two doors down.” Megan nudged her head toward the right.
“Yeah.” He nodded. “I made it as far as the sidewalk and the big Closed to Visitors sign on Friday.” He followed her glance to the white picket fence with an arched trellis woven with gnarled dead limbs. A twinge in his lower back as he got out of the Jeep was a reminder of the spill in the mud. He sliced a look at Megan to see if she suffered any muscle twinges, but she was still tucked away in the passenger seat, looking out on the road with anxious eyes.
Jake rounded the vehicle and opened her door, his arm resting on the doorframe as he looked down at her. Their eyes held for a long time until the salty breeze forced him to blink.
“I’m the one who’s supposed to be nervous here. You know, meeting my prospective grandmother and all?” He tried to goad her into smiling. Her troubled eyes were making him ache.
What is she afraid of?
He had to stop worrying about it. He had his own problems. After this little adventure with Estelle Wakefield was over, he would return to Boston and lose himself in another project, and Megan Summers would be nothing more than a distant memory.
“I’m not nervous,” Megan asserted and stabbed her leg out the door, nearly kicking him. He did not move aside as she emerged. When she stretched to her full height, she was boxed in between him and the doorframe as his body provided shelter from the breeze coming in off the cove.
Caging her like this, when he would have anticipated panic in Megan’s eyes, Jake was surprised to see her pupils widen with awareness. He caught her gaze dropping to his mouth and lingering there as heavy eyelids and long lashes barely masked the dark flash of passion.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he whispered gruffly.
Megan’s eyes shot up. She tried to step back, but the frame of the Jeep prevented her. She panicked and grabbed the door.
Her chin tipped up. “Visiting hours will be over if you don’t stop dawdling.”
“Well, let’s not dawdle then.” He grinned and stepped back to let her slip past him.
It nearly felt like voyeurism, sitting in a room with someone oblivious of your presence. Megan was beside Jake in an equally uncomfortable chair. Together they faced a blue-haired woman in a rocker whose gray eyes were flooded with cataracts, those sightless orbs searching the window regardless of the fact that the shade was drawn.
“Mrs. Wakefield, do you remember me?” Megan’s hands were clamped together. She stooped forward as if the motion would entice Estelle to take a peek. “I’m Megan Summers, the new tenant at your house?”
Watery eyes sliced toward Megan’s voice. Thin white eyebrows narrowed with effort and her head shook above brittle shoulders. “No.”
Megan arched her own brow and shrugged at Jake as if to say, you’re not going to get much here.
Jake watched Estelle Wakefield, waiting for some recognition to flood his blood. Her gray eyes matched her sweater and skirt, and also her demeanor. He tried to attribute her aloofness to the disease that plagued her mind, but there was something about the aged woman that seemed too strong and determined to submit to weakness. Perhaps it was the rigid posture, the tip of her head that indicated she listened with a keen perception. Or it was just an aura of arrogance, as if she were royalty misplaced in a hovel.
“Mrs. Wakefield, my name is Jake Grogan. I’ve come a long way to meet you.”
Her head snapped in his direction, and Jake shuddered as the clouds of senility sharpened into condemnation.
“I thought you were dead,” Estelle hissed.
Jake felt his heart kick up its pace. He looked at Megan and she offered sympathy with a soft curve of her lips.
“We’ve never met before, Mrs. Wakefield.”
Now-shrewd eyes regarded him with open hostility. “You can’t have her.”
He sought Megan’s gaze again and she offered a silent nod of encouragement.
“I’m not looking for anyone but you, Mrs. Wakefield,” Jake assured. “Actually, I want to talk to you about Gabrielle.”
“I said you can’t have her.” The elderly woman’s voice pitched to a near screech.
Nervous, he glanced at the open door. At any moment he expected an army of nurses to pour in and condemn him for badgering the old woman, but there was no one out there. There was no noise, save the sound of Estelle’s chest rattling in agitation.
“Mrs. Wakefield,” Megan inserted, “this is Jake Grogan…” she hesitated, “…who do you
“I offered him good money to keep away. His kind is no good for Gabby.” Estelle turned to face Megan, but monitored Jake out of the corner of her eye. When she caught his gaze, she sneered, “But after what he did to her—” Estelle coughed, “—she’s spoiled.”
“Estelle,” Megan persisted, leaning forward with a squeak in the chair, “who do you think this man is?”
As quickly as the agitation had sprung, it fled on a rasping sigh. Air leaked from Estelle’s lungs, and so did the clarity in her eyes. On a last lucid drift, she whispered,
and then slumped in her chair to stare blindly at the drawn shades.
Megan reached over and hauled open the yellowed roller blind to offer a view of the overcast day, but all that could be seen was the faded façade of the next building. The muted light did little to alter Estelle’s vacuous gaze as, helplessly, Megan looked toward Jake.
In her short time with Jake Grogan, she had come to know very little about the man, but there was no denying that he had been affected by this visit. Dark winged eyebrows were knit with strife, and his hands were clasped tensely between spread knees. He watched the older woman without a blink, and the intensity made his chiseled countenance even more defined.
There was no reaction except a soft bob of his throat.
“Jake, I think that’s all we’re going to get for today.”
Pensive, his head was cocked to the side in contemplation of Estelle Wakefield’s profile. Megan looked back and forth between them and found no physical resemblance whatsoever.
But Estelle had recognized Jake. Whether she was actually seeing Jake or recalling his father would not be solved today.
“Jake,” she repeated softly and went so far as to touch his knee. “Come on, you can come back another time.”
Gold-flecked eyes met hers and she saw so many questions in that earnest gaze that she reached out and cupped his shoulder.
“Let’s get out of here,” he muttered, rising to his feet so swiftly he startled her.
In the corner of the room, Estelle tapped an arthritic finger against the vinyl armrest and didn’t even acknowledge that Jake stepped up beside her.
Megan watched as he stood motionless before his grandmother. He was such a large man, nearly filling this chamber with his broad shoulders. He waited for the woman’s damaged eyes to lift and recognize him again, but her gaze was focused somewhere outside the limits of this nursing home room.
With a garbled sound deep in his throat, he turned away. When he faced Megan, the sharpness in his features softened. He reached for her elbow. “Come on.”
“I hope you weren’t too disappointed.” Megan scanned the street warily and then darted after Jake. “I tried to warn you. I knew you wouldn’t find out much from Estelle.”
She waited as he leaned past her to turn the key and haul open the door, allowing her to spill into the front seat and flee the public eye.
“I know. I guess I had to see for myself,” he said after he crossed to the driver’s side and ducked in behind the steering wheel. “Crow? Does that mean anything to you?”
“She was looking out the window. Maybe she saw one.”
“Maybe.” He sounded dubious.
Jake hauled the Jeep into Reverse, but Megan’s arresting hand on his forearm made him tap the brakes.
She stared at the diner window misted from the heat inside, the words Corner Cove stenciled with chipped blue paint in an arc across the pane. Outside that window sat several newspaper stands, each in a greater state of decrepitude. Lois Goodall generally brought the paper along with groceries on her stops to Wakefield House, but Megan hadn’t seen a paper in over a week. The hunger for knowledge ate at her. Internet connectivity was something she could grab occasionally when she came into town, but it was a source too infrequent to satisfy her needs.
“I—I just want to pick up a newspaper.”
Megan darted up to the curb, dropped the necessary coins in the machine, yanked open the panel and dragged out the paper. A brief glimpse at the condensation on the diner window assured her that no one inside could possibly see out, and a scan of the street disclosed only a
single car approaching a quarter mile away.
With a brisk stride, Megan returned to the Jeep and thumped the door shut, leaving the pervasive sound of the ocean behind. Leaning back against the headrest, she crammed the paper beneath her thigh even though she was dying to pore through its text.
“You know what, Megan?”
Breathless, she shoved moist bangs out of her face. “What?”
Even as she asked, Megan was absorbed by the couple emerging from the diner. Instinctively she inched down farther in her seat.
“We’re going to talk about this.”
“About what?” she asked, searching the strangers’ faces, deciding they seemed innocent enough in their University of Southern Maine sweatshirts and fleece jackets. Temporarily appeased, Megan rolled her shoulders.
She was startled to feel Jake’s fingers on her chin. He tilted her head in his direction until she was trapped by his gaze.
“About what’s going on with you.”
Her head jerked out of his grasp. “I—I don’t know what you’re talking about. Nothing’s going on with me. You, you’re the one we should be talking about. So what do you think she meant, when she said, ‘Crow’?”
Jake smiled. It was a smile that said
there is no way this subject will be dropped.
A shiver coursed through Megan. Beneath her thigh the paper burned with the promise of news, but she resisted the lure.
One year since Gordon Fortran murdered that man in his office.
Of course he had never been convicted of anything. Megan was able to follow the news in those ensuing weeks. Gordon explained in his cool, unflappable manner, that he arrived at his office and was assaulted by an irate client and had no recourse but to protect himself.
Yeah, with a silencer.
The matter disappeared altogether with Gordon’s legal finesse, but Margaret Simmons was a witness.
Margaret Simmons could shatter Gordon Fortran’s perfect life.
Margaret Simmons was a condemned woman, therefore Margaret Simmons ceased to exist.
“Nice segue, Miss Summers, but I’m worried about you. What’s going on behind your seductive eyes? They are seductive, you know. Haunted, scared, mistrustful, but in the end, very seductive.” Jake’s voice dropped on the last word.
Megan didn’t want this. She didn’t want to be attracted to anyone. It was the wrong time, the wrong place—everything was just
“No answer?” He shrugged, but it was not a casual gesture. He jammed the Jeep in Reverse, obviously frustrated.
Well, too bad, she thought. I never asked for the storm that stranded him on my doorstep. Megan cocked her head to peer out the window at the clouds. Their insidious layers promised more fury. Even now the cove rolled with choppy swells that broke into a frothy procession on the rock-strewn shore.
Jake murmured, “I’ll take you back to Wakefield House.”
That was what she wanted. To be alone
To be safe.
Why did those two notions no longer seem synonymous?
“Harriet or Coop might know,” she whispered.
“Excuse me?” His eyes slid off the slick road long enough to study her.
“Harriet Morgan—you met her, right? And Cooper Littlefield. They’re probably both sitting at O’Flanagan’s right now, and if anybody would know something about Estelle Wakefield’s past, it would be them.”
They reached the fork in the road that would ultimately climb to O’Flanagan’s or begin the long trek on to Wakefield House. There was no traffic in Victory Cove which allowed Jake to bring the Jeep to a complete halt. His eyes snapped to the rearview mirror and then back to her.
“Are you suggesting that we stop at O’Flanagan’s before I take you back?”
In his short time with her, Jake must have come to realize how ludicrous the notion of Megan suggesting to stop in a public venue was. It was absurd. But if Jake was here to identify his heritage, then Megan was not going to stand in the way of him finding his answers. Peace would never be her destiny, but she could possibly help this man to achieve it.
“A quick stop perhaps.” Once she uttered the words, Megan felt her palms grow damp as panic started to well up in her throat. It was too late though; Jake jerked the wheel to the left and started up the trail to the local inn.
“You have your secrets, Megan.” His voice was deep. “And I respect that. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I sense that you just made a big sacrifice on my behalf.” He took his hand from the steering wheel and rested it above her clenched fist, caressing that tension with his thumb. “Thank you.”
Megan nodded, trying to focus on the calloused pattern of his thumb. She struggled to disregard the car that passed them in the oncoming lane as she slid down in the bucket seat, praying her body would blend in with the creamy upholstery.
O’Flanagan’s was packed, with only one stool available before the L-shaped bar. Jake motioned Megan onto it as he stood behind her and waved the very pregnant bartender over.
“Mr. Grogan.” Serena smiled congenially. “Megan, what a surprise.” The bartender’s green eyes brimmed with curiosity. “What can I get you two?”
A couple shots sounded good right now, Jake thought, but he settled for a beer. To be heard over the din of conversation, he dipped to Megan’s ear. “What do you say, Miss Summers, some Jack Daniel’s?”
Over the crowd noise Jake heard her tiny snort, but Megan’s mirth did not last. Her eyes flitted from the overhead television to the faces at the bar, to the crowd in the dining room, and then lingered on the front door. She trembled every time it opened and a burst of cold air assaulted them.
“Maybe a bottle of Allagash,” Megan called to Serena.
The bartender nodded and moved to fill their orders.
“Are you okay?” In the confines of the crowd, Jake stood directly behind Megan, though he kept space between their bodies.
The back of her head bobbed. Hazy bar lights made her rich dark hair shimmer. He nearly lifted his fingers to touch it, but instead cleared his throat and surveyed the eclectic patrons lined up before the bar. They, like the buildings on Victory Cove’s Main Street, bore signs of weather damage.
“Now,” he began, “where do you suppose Harriet is?”
Megan tipped her head back to look at him. She was so close, forced in tight against him by the throng at the bar. His gaze dipped to her mouth where her lip was slightly glazed from the mist outside.
God help him, this position, with her beneath him, her head tilted back, brought sinfully
erotic thoughts to mind.
“Oh, Megan,” he whispered roughly, “be careful when you look at me like that.”
Awareness flooded her eyes. Her mouth opened on a quick intake of breath.
“Mr. Grogan,” Harriet boomed, slapping Jake’s back. “Well, I’ll be damned. How the heck did you get our resident recluse out in public?”
Jake was not going to let go of Megan’s eyes till he was good and ready. She seemed to understand that and remained fixed on him, unblinking, locked by the promise she must have seen there.
“Uh huh,” Harriet uttered. “That’ll do it.”
Besieged from two sides as Serena appeared with their drinks, he reluctantly tore from Megan’s gaze.
“Actually.” He ignored Harriet Morgan’s implicating smile. “We were looking for you.”
“Were you now?” Harriet nudged in toward the bar with her flannel-shrouded elbows.
“Coming right up, Harriet.” The bartender reached for a mug and jabbed it under the tap.
“What is it you’re after me for?”