Authors: Jude Deveraux
Tags: #Fiction, #General
“You aren’t saying anything,” Ellie said. “Don’t you think Ariel and Mike would make a great couple?”
“How would I know? I don’t know him and I haven’t seen her in years.”
“Oh! She’s just beautiful! Long red hair and dark blue eyes. And of course she’s smart. But then she always was. And Mike is quite handsome.”
“Yeah, if you like men from a police lineup.”
Ellie looked at her daughter with wide eyes. “I think all that sewing Greg makes you do has damaged your eyesight.”
“So help me, if you say one more thing against Greg, I’ll—”
Ellie walked to the door. “I told you last time we had a discussion about him that I’d keep my nose out of it. Everyone has to make his or her own mistakes. Sorry. I didn’t mean that as it sounded. I’m going. But Sara, my dear child, I do think you could cut Mike a little slack. His apartment and everything he owned burned and the only relative he has is his sister. And …”
“My mother used to tell me about Mike and Tess’s grandmother. After their parents died, she raised them, and my mother said Prudence Farlane was the most angry person she’d ever met in her life, that it was like a volcano of hatred was inside her. That Mike can retire so early means he joined the force when he was still a teenager. A child, really. Sara, I truly think you should have some compassion for the man.”
Sara waited a moment before answering. “Good try, Mom, but I’m still going to marry Greg.”
Ellie laughed. “I did my best. Let me know what he does with that
. I might put his recipe in the store bulletin.” She paused at the door. “And you don’t think he’s handsome?”
“I think he’s gay,” Sara said, even though she was lying.
Again, Ellie laughed. “I wonder if I was ever as young as you are? Keep me up-to-date with any news. See ya.” With that, she left the apartment, and Sara leaned back against the door in relief.
Y LATE AFTERNOON
, Sara had calmed herself somewhat. She knew that most of her nervousness was caused by not having heard from Greg for days now. And too, she was sick of trying to make the people of Edilean like the man she loved. If Greg would just allow her to tell people the truth about his very difficult life, she knew they’d understand. His childhood had been so harrowing that it was true that he was sometimes awkward in public situations. He’d even admitted that he was jealous of the love the people of Edilean gave Sara. “I’ve tried,” he said as he shed tears that made Sara’s heart nearly break. “I’ve tried hard to make them like me. I didn’t understand about the grocery store. I thought that since your mother owned the place that she would share what she had with her daughter.”
Sara didn’t know what to say. The food was free to her, but not to
. “It has to do with accounting,” Sara said. “And inventory. I’ll talk to her and see what—”
“No!” Greg said. “I don’t want her to do anything special for me. If your mother doesn’t want me to eat her food, so be it. We’ll go to a grocery in Williamsburg.”
“If you’d just let me explain to her about your past …” Sara said, but Greg always forbid it, and she understood why. He said he wanted the people of Edilean to like him on his own merits—as the people outside the town did. Sometimes he said, “Afterward, you and I will leave here.”
“After what?” she’d asked, but he would never answer her.
“Am I disturbing you?”
She looked up to see Mike Newland standing by the table, two glasses of iced tea in his hands.
“I saw yours was empty so I … Is that all right?”
“Sure,” she said and tried to smooth her forehead. If he stayed much longer she was going to get wrinkles from frowning so much.
He set the glasses down and said, “Do you mind?” as he nodded toward the empty chair.
She kept on sewing while he sat down.
“Look,” he said in his raspy voice, “I think you and I got off on the wrong foot yesterday.” For a moment he didn’t seem to know what else to say. “Did you have a nice day?”
seem to have been busy. Helped about a thousand people, didn’t you?” There was hostility in her voice.
“I, uh …” He took a deep drink of his tea. “Miss Shaw, I know I offended you last night, but I thought I was entering an empty apartment. I can assure you that you were as much a surprise to me as I was to you.”
Sara put her sewing on the table. “You’re right. I’m being rude. It’s just that—” She waved her hand in dismissal. “It doesn’t matter.”
“No, tell me. I’m a good listener.” When Sara silently drank her
tea and looked out over the garden, Mike said, “Does it have anything to do with your missing boyfriend?”
“Sorry. I was told so much gossip this morning that I can’t keep up with it all. By the way, who is Ariel?”
“A distant cousin of mine. According to my mother, she’s the most beautiful, brilliant, talented female ever put on this earth—next to my two perfect sisters, that is.”
Mike looked at her for a moment, then stood up. “It sounds like you’ve had a hard day. Why don’t you come inside and let me cook something for you?” When she hesitated, he said, “It’s what I’ve done with Tess since we were kids.”
It was so nice to have someone smile at her that Sara picked up her sewing and docilely followed him into the house. She sat at the table while he took over the kitchen. He tied a half apron (newly purchased) around his waist and began to rummage in the refrigerator. He emerged with an avocado, sour cream, and a couple of limes. “Talk to me,” he said as he set it all on the countertop and reached for a knife from the wooden holder.
Sara watched him as he moved about the kitchen. He smashed a clove of garlic with the back of the big knife as though he were a professional chef. “I’m sorry about what happened to your apartment.”
Mike gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Hazards of the job.”
“It was burned because of your job?”
Turning, he gave her a little smile. “The last thing I want to do is talk about my work or me. I’d rather hear about you. Aren’t you having a wedding in a few weeks? Is your dress nice?” He was peeling the avocado.
“It’s lovely,” Sara said as she hid her smile in her iced tea. He certainly wasn’t like the men she knew. “It was my great-aunt Lissie’s wedding gown.”
Mike put a bowl of the avocado dip he’d made in front of her, along with another one of tortilla chips. “So when do I get to meet your fiancé?”
He hadn’t taken long to start in on what everyone hassled her about! Sara thought. She was torn between wanting to throw the bowl at him and bursting into tears. But in the next minute he removed a frosty pitcher of margaritas from the refrigerator and poured her a glassful. She drank it in one gulp. He looked at her with wide eyes but quickly poured her another one.
After she’d taken a long sip, he said, “Better?”
Sara nodded and dug into the chips and dip.
“I take it everyone has been asking about him, but you don’t know when he’ll be back, so you have no answer to give them.”
“Exactly,” Sara said, feeling relaxed for the first time since Greg left.
“Maybe he went home,” Mike said as he put slices of pear on salad greens.
“He lives here. With me.”
“No, I mean, maybe he went to the place where his parents live.”
Mike sprinkled piñon nuts over the salad and drizzled raspberry vinaigrette on top. “Did you call his parents?” he asked as he put the plate in front of her.
Sara mumbled a reply.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear what you said.”
She waited while she chewed a bite of salad. “I don’t know where his parents live—or if they do. He told me about some extremely unpleasant experiences he had while growing up, but he didn’t give me details like names and addresses.”
“Ah,” Mike said as he turned his back to her, and he thought that it was true that Stefan had had some very unpleasant things
happen in his childhood. He’d served two years in juvie for stealing a car, six months for attempting to rob a jewelry store, and had been arrested twice for pickpocketing. By the time Stefan was eighteen, he was an experienced criminal and hadn’t been arrested since. “So you don’t know about his family?”
“No! And don’t you start on me too! Everyone has a right to privacy, and besides, I’ve heard enough complaints about him from my mother, from this whole town. I bet
have things you don’t want people to know about.”
“Ask me anything. I’m an open book.” He removed the two Cornish hens he’d ordered that morning and quickly began to stuff them with wild rice and herbs he’d prepared before he went out to see Sara. One of the good things about his life of living undercover was that he’d had to work at a lot of jobs. One of the handiest was the eighteen months he’d spent as a sous chef for a restaurant in Arizona. He could whip out a fajita in ten minutes.
“Where did you grow up?”
“Why does Tess refuse to talk about her childhood?”
“I thought this was about me, not my sister.”
“She’s my friend; you’re a stranger.”
Mike tied up the hens. He’d once tied up a man in the same way, legs together, arms in the back, cord down his front. “You’re right. What’s about me is about Tess. Our parents were killed in a car wreck when I was twelve and Tess was five, so we were raised by our maternal grandparents.” He put the birds in the oven.
“I’ve heard of your grandmother.”
“I bet you have. They tell you what a bad-tempered woman she was?”
“Yes,” Sara said quietly. “Was your grandfather nice?”
Mike looked back at her. “We rarely saw him. Grans said he had
to travel for his job, but after he died in ’99, I found out that he’d had a second family.”
“Good heavens.” Sara paused with the fork on the way to her mouth and watched as Mike took the seat across from her.
“Are you beginning to see why Tess doesn’t talk about her childhood?”
“Yes,” Sara said, looking at him. “Please tell me more. I need something to take my mind off my own problems. My mother said you joined the police force when you were still a teenager.”
Mike hesitated. Never in any of his undercover work had he been required to tell the truth about himself. But there were people in this town who’d known his grandmother, so if he lied, Sara would find out about it. “I was older, so I ran interference between little Tess and Grans, but there was only so much I could take. On the night I graduated from high school, I told the old woman that if she so much as touched Tess I’d kill her, then I left town.”
“But of course you wouldn’t have. Killed her, that is.”
Mike looked up from his salad, but he didn’t answer.
“What did you do after you left?”
“I’d always wanted to see the ocean, so I …” He smiled in memory. “I flipped a coin to see which one I’d go to and the East Coast won—or lost, I guess. I bummed my way to Florida and stopped in Fort Lauderdale.” He took another bite. “One thing led to another and I joined the police force.” He looked up at her. “And here I am now.”
“What about Tess?”
“She’s done well, hasn’t she?”
“No, I mean, when did you get back with her?”
“When she graduated from high school, I was waiting outside for her. I’d already picked up her bags from where she’d thrown
them out her bedroom window. She threw her cap and gown in our grandmother’s face, got in my car, and we drove away.”
“I guess you were the one who put her through college.”
Mike had told all that he could without giving away any real information, so he shrugged. Miss Sara Hélèna Shaw was certainly a curious young woman. He knew that while he was out she’d gone through his room. Out of habit, he’d marked the drawers and aligned the little throw rug with the floorboards. When he returned, everything had been slightly askew. He was glad he’d left the case files with his weapons in the hidden compartment under the carpet in the trunk of his car.
He got up to look in the oven window. “So who do you know more about now? Me or the man you’re planning to marry?”
“What an odd question. Because I’ve never met my fiancé’s parents doesn’t mean I don’t know everything else about him. I know what he likes to eat, how he drives a car, what he wants in the future, about his last two girlfriends who broke his heart, his—”
“What he wants for the future?” Mike asked sharply. “And what would that be?”
Sara looked down at her hands. “The usual. A home and children.” She wasn’t about to tell him that birth control pills made her swell, that Greg was scrupulous in using protection, and that he was vague about when he wanted to start having children.
“Is what he wants here in Edilean? Did he tell you that in those exact words? What did he say?” The moment he spoke, Mike cursed the eagerness in his voice and hoped Sara wouldn’t pick up on it.
But she did.
“They got Tess to send you here, didn’t they?” Sara stood up.
“Tess to send me here? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said honestly. “Who is ‘they’?”
“This town. They all think they own me. Other people come
and go, but not me.” Her voice was rising. “Sweet little Sara Shaw stays at home and
people. Everyone else goes away and
stay here and watch other people come back with their careers and their husbands and their adorable little kids. But good ol’ Sara is always here.”
Putting her hands on the table, she leaned toward him. “You can tell all of them—your sister, Ramsey, Luke, everyone—that they may not like Greg but
do. He’s made me achieve things. He may be abrupt and rude at times, but at least he gives me hope for the future.”
She leaned so far forward her face was inches from his. “As for you, Mr. Newland, you can forget about trying to get information out of me, or seducing me away from Greg, or whatever you have planned, because it won’t work. Do you understand me? I’m not interested in you or any other man, so you might as well leave
With that, she went down the hall to her bedroom and slammed the door.