Read Scarlet Nights Online

Authors: Jude Deveraux

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Scarlet Nights (5 page)

BOOK: Scarlet Nights
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He flung back the covers, got out of bed, and began to dress.

“What’s wrong?” Sara asked, blinking sleepily.

“Nothing. I have to go away for a while, that’s all. Go back to sleep.”

“A while? How long does that mean? The wedding—”

“Damn it, Sara, you’re not going to start nagging me again, are you? I know when the wedding is. How could I forget when I was the one who got stuck with all the work for it? Something’s come up and I have to go. I’ll be back for the wedding.” He grabbed his wallet and car keys off the dresser and left. Just like that, with no explanation.

Sara had sat up in bed feeling like she’d just been through a tornado. She didn’t know what had happened, but Greg was gone, not taking so much as his shaving kit, and she didn’t know when he’d return.

She couldn’t go back to sleep and as soon as it was daylight she began calling Greg, but he didn’t answer.

Then, early this afternoon, Luke had run her out of her own apartment with his cans of noxious bug poison, saying he had to spray right then and that she could move into Tess’s apartment while he fumigated. Sara started to put her things into the guest room, but Luke had insisted she take Tess’s bedroom. “But why?” Sara’d asked. “I don’t need—”

“The bed in the other room is bad. No springs,” Luke said as he went back outside.

All in all, the whole thing was so odd that for a while Sara had thought a surprise wedding shower was being planned for her. But, hard as she looked, she saw no evidence of it.

Sara heard the water running and it now occurred to her that she wouldn’t mind if Greg did hear that Tess’s brother had stayed in the apartment with her. “What else could I do?” she’d ask Greg, her lashes fluttering helplessly. She’d say, “It was nighttime and he had nowhere else to go. You can see that I didn’t have a choice.” When she imagined Greg’s anger and jealousy, she smiled on the way to the bedroom. Yes, it might be quite good to be able to tell Greg that another man had been alone with her.

As she closed the door, she thought about the tussle she’d had with Tess’s brother. He could certainly move quickly! And when she’d been on top of him, she’d felt the man’s muscles. But later, he’d handled a teapot in a way that was worthy of a geisha. She was used to men like her father and Luke, who left their dishes where they lay.

Sara was drifting into sleep when she heard him leave the bathroom, and she remembered that he hadn’t answered her questions about why he was there and why Tess hadn’t warned her he was coming. Tomorrow, she thought, I’ll buy a lock for that trapdoor and one of us will leave.

3

S
ARA SLEPT LATE
the next morning, and it was several moments before she remembered all that had happened during the night. Rolling onto her stomach, she looked at the floor. There was a small rug by the bed, but one corner of it was folded back, a testament to last night’s fiasco. She got up, moved the rug aside, and saw that the square cut in the floorboards was clearly visible.

“I’m going to give Luke Connor a piece of my mind,” she said aloud. It angered her that he’d let her move into the apartment without telling her about the trapdoor that led to … To what? she wondered. That the man had come up through it meant it must lead down to an underground exit. So why didn’t everyone in town know that Edilean Manor had a secret tunnel? She could almost hear her cousin saying, “Then it wouldn’t qualify as a ‘secret,’ would it?” Luke could sometimes be maddening!

Sara took her time dressing and was quiet about it. If the man
had driven all the way up from Fort Lauderdale the day before, then he probably wanted to sleep in. And when he did get up, Sara planned to be cordial and polite, but she’d also be firm: He
had
to leave. He could
not
stay in the apartment with her. It was one thing to tell Greg that a man had stayed with her for one night because of an emergency, but it was another to say that he’d spent two nights—or more.

It crossed her mind that she should be the one to get out, but where could she go? If she moved into her parents’ spare bedroom, she’d again have to hear her mother’s speech that she could “do better” than Greg Anders. Worse, she’d have to see her father looking at her with sad eyes.

Sara had lived in Edilean all her life and she had lots of friends, not to mention relatives, so she could go to one of them, but that would cause too many questions. They’d want to know where Greg went and when he was going to return. Would he be back in time for the wedding? they’d ask. That Sara had no answers for these questions would lead to the one she most hated: Was Sara absolutely
sure
she wanted to marry him?

No, where she was, in Tess’s apartment, so near her own place, was where she was going to stay. If she needed a change of clothes or sewing supplies, she could easily get them. She just had to hold her breath against the pesticide fumes when she went into her apartment, but she could do it.

When she was dressed, Sara tiptoed out of the bedroom and made a quick trip to the bathroom, noting that it was spotlessly clean. No whiskers in the sink, no soap scum on the shower door. It was so exactly the way she’d left it that for a moment she thought maybe she’d dreamed that a man had come up through the floor.

As she left the bathroom, she glanced at the closed door to the
other bedroom. She’d not heard a sound from him. On the kitchen table was a note. Picking it up, she read it.

“Dear Miss Shaw,” it said in what she thought was a very formal manner. His handwriting was even and readable.

Again, I am very sorry about last night. It wasn’t my intention to disturb anyone. I’m going into Williamsburg this morning to go to a gym, then I must run some errands. I’ll have lunch at the Williamsburg Inn at one, so if you’d like to take a break from your work and join me, perhaps I can make up somewhat for last night. I should be home at about five and I’ll cook dinner tonight. Maybe we can take turns? If there’s anything I can pick up for you while I’m in town or if you’d just like to talk, please call me.

He put his cell number with its 954 area code at the bottom.

Sara tossed the note back on to the table. “Of all the audacious, presumptuous …!” she said aloud. Have lunch with him? Surely he must know that she was about to be married. Last night when Tess told him who she was, he’d known several things about Sara, so he probably even knew the time and place of the wedding. And what did he mean by “if you’d just like to talk”? Did he think she had no
friends
? And “take turns” cooking? How long was he planning to stay?

Angry, she glanced about the kitchen and saw that he’d kept his word and cleared away everything from their little tea party of the night before. When she opened the refrigerator, what few items she had inside were neatly arranged.

“Not my kind of man,” she said aloud.

In silence, she ate a bowl of cereal, put her dirty items in the dishwasher, then went to the bedroom to start her day’s work. But
when she looked in the closet at the three boxes of clothes and the dozen or more garments on hangers, she wanted to close the door and leave.

This was all Greg’s fault, she thought. A hundred percent of it was caused by him. Why did he have to run off like that? Why couldn’t he have told her where he was going and what he had to do that was so important? Why couldn’t he have written her a note like the one Tess’s brother had left? “My darling Sara,” it would say, “I’m very sorry but I had to leave to go—” That’s where she always drew a blank. Before two nights ago, she would have said that she knew nearly everything there was to know about the man she planned to marry. The two of them had spent many hours together as he told her about his life before they’d met. She’d heard in detail about the two women who’d treated him so badly that it was a wonder he could ever care for any woman again. But he said that Sara’s love had made him forget everything that had happened before.

So if she knew so much about him, who had called and made him go running? Who besides Sara was important enough to make him drop everything and leave like that?

When her cell phone rang, she leaped on it so fast she must have looked like a football player diving for the ball. “Hello?” she asked in a breathless voice.

“Sara, dear, are you all right?”

It was Luke’s mother, her cousin by marriage, but since the woman was the age of her mother, in Southern tradition, Sara had always called her “aunt.” “I’m fine, Aunt Helen. I just, uh, tripped on the way to the phone. I’m sorry about the costumes for the fair this year, but I have so many things to do for the shop that I couldn’t get to them.”

“That’s all right, dear. My sister is working on them with me.
I was just wondering if there’s anything I can do to help with your guest.”

“My guest?”

“Yes. Tess’s brother, Mike. Such a polite, helpful man, isn’t he? When he told me he was staying in Tess’s apartment and I remembered that Luke’d had to fumigate yours, I thought how very kind it was of you to let him stay.”

Sara glanced at the clock on the bedside table. “Aunt Helen, it’s only nine-thirty in the morning. How did you find out all this so fast?”

“The battery on my car gave out again—I’m going to skin my husband if he doesn’t get me a new one today—and Mike gave me a lift into town, so I had a chance to ask him a few questions. He is such a pleasant young man and I enjoyed his company so very much.”

Sara pulled the phone away from her ear to glare at it. How unsubtle could a person be? she wondered. Her aunt Helen was one of the women who disliked Greg very much. “Yes, he is a nice man, isn’t he?” Sara said sweetly. “Why don’t you and Uncle James invite him to stay at
your
house? I’m sure he’d love your cooking.”

Helen didn’t hesitate. Just as pleasantly, she replied, “I do wish I could, but you know how James needs his privacy. I hope to see you in church on Sunday, and why don’t you bring Mike? With Tess away, the poor man is all alone.”

“Maybe he can go with Luke,” Sara shot back. “I may go out with Greg on Sunday.”

“Oh? Is he back?”

Sara wasn’t going to answer that because if she did, she’d have to deal with more questions about where Greg went and when he’d return. “Uh oh, the pan I have on the stove is boiling over. I have to go.”

“You must be starting dinner for Mike. How considerate of you. He—”

“Bye,” Sara said and clicked off. “Of all the—” No, she thought, she was not going to let herself get upset about this. Tonight she’d calmly tell Tess’s brother that he had to leave and that would be the end of it. In fact, maybe it was good that her aunt Helen had found out about Mike. Maybe the town residents could shuffle him back and forth.

Sara had just picked up the first jacket that needed to be remade when the phone rang again. This time the ID showed that it was her aunt Mavis calling. “Wonder what good deed he did for
her
?” Sara mumbled and let the phone go to voice mail. When it rang again ten minutes later and the ID showed it was her mother, Sara didn’t take that call either.

She picked up her sewing basket and two dresses, left her cell phone on the charger, and went outside. She knew she should keep the phone with her in case Greg called, but at the moment she didn’t want to talk to him or anyone else.

Outside, she sat down at the pretty little iron table and chairs under a shade tree and began to sew. She had half a dozen seams to repair in an expensive dress that a woman seemed to have worn while jogging. In the afternoon, Sara knew she’d have to spend time on her sewing machine. She planned to turn on HBO and listen to one movie after another while she worked. Maybe she could find something scary so it would take her mind off where Greg was—and off the man who had broken into her apartment last night.

“Good morning.”

She looked up at Luke and smiled. She wasn’t going to let him or anyone else see how upset she was. “Why aren’t you writing?”

“Need to think,” he said as he held up his shovel. It was a family joke that whenever Luke was upset about anything, he dug holes.

“Is Joce okay?” Sara went to see Luke’s wife every day, as she needed some relief from the tedium of being bedridden. For over a year Joce had been working on a biography of her grandmother, a woman prominent in Edilean’s history, but she’d reached a standstill in her research and had had to put the book aside.

“Fine. Great. Well, maybe she’s not so good right now.” He gave a little grin. “She’s working on her family’s genealogy and …” He grinned broader. “Last night she found out that she and I are seventh cousins. I think she’s worried that the babies are going to be morons.”

“Or hemophiliacs,” Sara said, referring to the European royal families who were so interbred that they’d passed the disorder around for centuries.

Luke got the allusion. “Please don’t mention that to her or she’ll add it to her list of what could go wrong. Are you going to meet Mike in town for lunch?”

Sara groaned. “Don’t tell me he got to you too!”

Luke looked surprised. “Got to me? I don’t know what you mean. I saw him at about six this morning, he asked me about gyms in the area, and I told him.”

“You were outside at six
A.M.
?”

“I usually am,” Luke said, “and if you ever got up before midday, you’d know that.”

“I’ve never slept to noon in my life.”

Luke looked at her.

“All right, so maybe I have, but I haven’t in years. Too much work to do.”

“So how are you coming with all that Greg gave you to do?”

Sara knew exactly what he was up to. After all, he was her cousin and she’d known him all her life. For all that he was eight years older than she was, they’d always been close. “I’ve already had my share of
hassle for today, so don’t
you
start on me. I can’t understand why this town is taking the side of a man they don’t even know. For all any of you know, Mike Newland might be a serial killer.”

“He’s related to Tess and we know her,” Luke said. “And when she married Rams, she became one of us. Mike is her brother.”

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