Read I Want Candy Online

Authors: Susan Donovan

Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction

I Want Candy (5 page)

BOOK: I Want Candy
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Cherokee Pines Assisted Living was a single-story, redbrick complex with razor-sharp landscaping, a grand semicircular drive, and a white-pillared portico framing the main entrance. A network of white-pebbled walkways led from the main building to the gardens, tennis courts, and swimming pool. The property was surrounded by towering old evergreens that had likely inspired its name.

Candy blinked in surprise. She had no idea Jacinta’s retirement home was this posh. Then it hit her—her mother might have to move out when she realized her nest egg had been fried to a crisp.

She parked the beat-up Chevy at the far corner of the parking lot, making sure it was hidden behind a line of senior citizen vans. She didn’t want anyone making note of the condition of her car. Or of its contents. That morning, as soon as Tater Wayne had it running again, Candy began loading all her crap back into the trunk and the backseat. She’d had no choice. When she’d walked in the house after that incredibly strange drive home with Turner, Viv was lying in wait. The conversation that followed had been the last straw.

“You’re probably starving.” Viv started in on Candy the instant she stepped into the house. “There’s a plate in the oven for you. You shouldn’t go to bed hungry.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine, Viv. The dinner was excellent. Good night.” Candy started up the stairs.

“He’s always had a thing for you, you know,” she said, folding her arms over her chest. “Ever since you’uns were little.”

“What?” Candy froze on the second step. She looked down at Viv.

“Now, your daddy had some narrow-minded ideas, that was for sure, and I remember him complaining to me once about how you were being too friendly with a colored boy, which was just plain silliness considering how your daddy and Turner’s daddy had been friends back in the day, before he went and married Rosemary. Oh, it was a scandal at the time, let me tell you. A shock, really. Nobody knew what to think.”

Candy turned around on the staircase so she could see Viv square on. “What is all this about, Viv?”

“Why, it’s about you and Turner.” She smiled brightly. “You know I’ve always loved that boy like one of my own. And he’s grown up to be a fine, fine man, of course.”

Candy waited until it was obvious Viv wasn’t going to embellish that thought. “I’m going to bed.”

Viv shrugged. “All I’m sayin’ is you should think long and hard before you get yourself mixed up in that kind of arrangement. Just ask Rosemary. She’ll be the first to tell you. It was no picnic for them in this town, being married to someone outside their own race.”

“Married?” Candy nearly choked out the word. “Are you talking about me and Turner Halliday being
married
? Are you out of your mind, Viv? I’ve been back in Bigler five minutes! I haven’t seen Turner in more than five years! This is complete lunacy!”

Viv gave a quick wave of her hand, swatting away Candy’s reaction. “Now calm down. I noticed the way you two looked at each other this evening, and anybody can see what’s coming down the pike if you’re not careful. Turner’s always wanted it, honey. I figured I should give you my two cents’ worth.”

Candy had to laugh. “Oh, Lord,” she said, sighing. “Look, Vivienne, as much as I appreciate you letting me stay here temporarily, I do not want your two cents. I don’t need advice about my love life. I’m a thirty-year-old woman and I’ve had my share of men in my life and I can make my own decisions. But, for your own peace of mind, I can assure you there’s nothing going on between Turner and me. We’re friends. That’s all.”

“Well, then.” Viv sucked in her bottom lip in offense. “I meant no harm.”

“Good night,” she said yet again, continuing up the stairs.

“So you’ll be free to keep Tater Wayne company while you’re in town, then? He said he’d fix your car.”

And that was how Candy came to be walking across the parking lot of the Cherokee Pines Assisted Living complex, the noonday sun beating down on her head, everything she owned cooking in the back of a 1997 Chevy Caprice.

She just needed a freakin’ break. She needed a job. A place to crash where she could be left alone. Enough money in her pocket that she could think straight and figure out where she was headed and what she was going to do next. One thing was certain, she wouldn’t be staying in Bigler one more day than was absolutely necessary. In fact, if it weren’t for Cheri being here, she never would have considered returning to this town in the first place.

Candy smoothed out her skirt and raised her chin as she approached the entrance. She could do this. She could deal with Jacinta. All it would require was a bit of friendly chitchat. A dash of forgiveness. Some pathetic begging thrown in for good measure.

As the automatic glass doors opened, a delicate
bing
announced her arrival. A pimply-faced guy no more than twenty looked up from the raised front desk. Candy didn’t miss the flash of surprise in his eyes when he saw her.

“Uh, may I help you?”

Candy smiled pleasantly and approached the reception area. “Hello. Yes. My name is Candace Carmichael and I am here to visit my mother, Jacinta Carmichael. She’s a resident here.”

The boy peeled his stare from her cleavage and looked up at her face, his pale blue eyes narrowed with mistrust. Candy knew he reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. He quickly tapped at the computer keyboard and said, “She isn’t expecting any visitors today. You’re not on the list.”

“Yes. Well, she didn’t know I was coming.” Candy leaned in and whispered, hoping she could get this weasel boy on her side. She gave him a big smile. “It’s kind of a surprise. She doesn’t even know I’m in town.”

“Hmmph.”

“And what is your name? Are you the manager here?”

He straightened. “I’m Gerrall Spivey. And I’m the night-shift front desk manager. I don’t usually work days.”

“Gerald, you said?”

“No.” His mouth formed a thin line of irritation. “Gerr-
all
. No
d
.”

“Oh!”
I’m failing miserably.
“What an unusual but wonderful name!”

“Right,” he said, picking up the phone and dialing a few numbers. He turned away, his shoulder to Candy. “Mrs. Carmichael, you have a visitor at the front desk. You weren’t scheduled for anyone, so if you’d like I’ll ask her to—” Gerrall stopped. He turned and frowned at Candy again, then let his eyes roam from her forehead to her shoes, with another brief derailment occurring at her boobs. “Yeah,” he said into the phone. “That would be her. Okay, Mrs. Carmichael.”

Gerrall—no
d
—hung up and pointed to an uncomfortable-looking settee in front of the bay window. “Have a seat. She’ll be out in a minute. But it’s almost lunchtime, so I can’t promise she’ll be much interested in visiting.”

Candy didn’t understand that bit about lunch, but nodded anyway. “Great. Thank you.”

She was so nervous that her tummy felt like it was home to several dozen butterflies and small birds, all crashing around in the tight quarters. She sat down on the sofa and pressed her knees together, comforted by the feel of Sophie stuck to the inside of her left thigh. She began looking around the place. Dusty rose carpet. Muted striped wallpaper. Real crystal chandeliers. Fresh flowers. Oil paintings of sun-dappled landscapes that had to be straight from the starving artists’ sale in the Howard Johnson’s ballroom.

She tried to smile at the sour and pimply Gerrall, who continued to glare at her over the raised reception desk, when it dawned on her—
Kid Rock.
Gerrall looked like a young Kid Rock after a shave, shampoo, and cut. But not a good cut.

His glare darkened.

Wasn’t it the same everywhere? she thought. A dorky dude who’s accustomed to lurking near the bottom of the food chain gets a hold of a little power and gets drunk with it.
Not on the list
. Of course she wasn’t on any damn list! That would mean she had advance permission to show up here, that her mother was actually looking forward to her visit.

Maybe she should have just stayed with Viv. She could probably find a way to live with the pimping and the poking around in her love life. Or, maybe she could move back with Gladys! Hell! Now that she thought about it, the old lady could
have
her underwear. In the scheme of things, would it really matter all that much?

“Is there a problem?”

A rotund, middle-aged man stuffed into a suit and tie came around the corner and hovered near the reception desk. His question was for Gerrall but his eyes were on Candy. She stood up.

“She
says
she’s Jacinta’s daughter,” Gerrall whispered.

“I see.”

The man blinked with annoyance and took a few steps toward Candy. She could smell his aftershave from twenty feet. His thinning and too-long black hair was slicked back away from his ruddy face.

“Wainright Miller, here. Executive director of Cherokee Pines.”

“Oh, hey, Mr. Miller.” Candace held out her hand and smiled. “A pleasure to meet you. I’m—”

“Candace!”

Jacinta swept into the foyer with a sense of purpose, the sleeves of her Hawaiian-print caftan drifting behind her like flags in the wind. The first thing Candy noticed about her mother was that she didn’t look a day older than the last time she’d seen her, which was well over five years ago. Her hair was still a blond bouffant, her blush still applied with a spatula. The next thing Candy noticed was the scowl in her eyes.

Mr. Miller stepped aside as Jacinta approached.

“How nice to see you, dear,” she said, coming to an eye-to-eye halt before her only child, her hands on her hips. “I’m assuming you’re here to return my nest egg plus the ten percent interest you promised.”

Before Candy could open her mouth to produce an answer, a series of digital beeps rang out from an intercom system and a gaggle of senior citizens appeared out of nowhere, rushing toward the open double doors across the lobby.

Jacinta’s head spun around and she sighed with irritation. “I guess you better just go ahead and sign her up as my guest for lunch today,” she told Mr. Miller, grabbing Candy’s hand. “Come on. We’ll have to hurry or that hussy Lorraine Estes will try to steal my seat.”

*   *   *

 

Turner pushed away from the dining room table, already regretting that he’d stopped by his mother’s for lunch. The combination of too much home cooking, a shortage of sleep, and Candy Carmichael on the brain would make it nearly impossible to stay focused on work that afternoon.

Reggie grinned at him from across the table. “Anything new in your world?”

Turner shrugged. “Same shit. Starting another drug task force operation out in Preston Valley. I swear to God, it seems like the only new businesses opening up around here are meth labs.”

Reggie laughed and gathered up his dishes. “Good to know the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Cataloochee County.”

“Right. How about the dealership? Business picking up?”

“No,” Reggie said, frowning. “Let’s just hope it doesn’t get any worse. We only moved fourteen cars and three pickups last week. Worst week this fiscal year.”

Turner glanced quickly toward the kitchen, making sure his mother was occupied. “So, listen. Check this out—the task force is looking into what’s going on out at the Spivey place.”

Reggie’s eyes got big and he leaned forward across the table. “Bobby Ray Spivey?”

He nodded.

“Oh.” Reggie pursed his lips. “And?”

Turner looked at his brother like he was crazy. “You know full well what the
and
is, Reg. This might give me the break I’ve been looking for with Junie.”

“Ah, man.” His brother groaned softly and peeked over his shoulder at their mother, still busy at the sink, her back to them. Obviously, Reggie didn’t want Mama getting all riled up by the topic of conversation any more than Turner did. “You’ve already been all over that,” Reggie whispered, crossing his big arms over his chest. “You spent
years
looking, Turner, and you never found a thing linking that slimeball to what happened to Junie. Come on, now. I know it would be a relief to have something—
somebody
—to blame for her death, but—”

“I don’t want relief,” Turner snapped. “I want answers. I want the truth.”

After a few silent seconds, Reggie muttered something indiscernible under his breath and stared at the tablecloth.

“What?”

When his brother looked up again he shook his head back and forth. “Junie drove out to that place to give that idiot a piece of her mind about how he treated his kid, who was in her class, right?”

“Right.”

“Then she left. She lost control of the car and ran off the road, T. Just because that Spivey loser was the last person to see her don’t mean he did anything to her. The man was found at home watching TV, right? His kid cried when he heard about Junie—she was his favorite teacher—and all this time you and J.J. never found a shred of evidence that the Spiveys had anything to do with the accident. I think maybe…” Reggie’s voice trailed off. “Ah, hell. Forget it.”

Turner laughed bitterly. “That’s it? I don’t get the punch line? Why stop now?” The heat of anger began to rise up his neck. Reggie was the only person in the world he trusted with work-related shit. Reggie had been an MP in the army for eight years before he came home to run their dad’s Ford dealership, so he knew his share about law enforcement. And Reggie and J.J. were the only two people who knew of his suspicions about Spivey. So it pissed him off that this was the kind of reaction he got. The truth was that having a multiagency task force poking around Bobby Ray Spivey’s life might unearth something that Turner had missed, especially now that an undercover DEA agent had wheedled his way inside that group of lowlifes who hung out in Preston Valley.

“I just think it’s time, is all,” Reggie said, his voice deflated. He uncrossed his arms and laid his hands flat on the table. “You gotta let her go, little brother. Please. It’s time you move on with your life.”

“What the fuck do you think I’m trying to do? Finding out once and for all if Spivey had anything to do with—”

BOOK: I Want Candy
12.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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