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Authors: Linda Howard

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BOOK: Shades of Twilight
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Lucinda wiped away the tears as she sat in Janet's bedroom and slowly folded and packed away her daughter's clothing. Both Yvonne and Sandra had offered to do this for her, but she had insisted on doing it alone. She didn't want anyone to witness her tears, her grief-, and only she would know which items were precious, because of the memories, and which could be discarded. She had already performed this last task at David's house, tenderly folding away shirts that still faintly carried the scent of his cologne. She had wept, too, for her daughter-in4aw; Karen had been well liked, a cheerful, loving young woman who had made David very happy. Their things had been stored in trunks at Davencourt for Roanna to have when she was older.

It had been a month since the accident. The legal formalities had promptly been taken care of, with Jessie and Roanna permanently installed at Davencourt and Lucinda as their legal guardian. Jessie, of course, had settled right in, commandeering the prettiest bedroom as her own and cajoling Lucinda into redecorating it to her specifications. Lucinda admitted that she hadn't needed much cajoling, because she understood Jessie's fierce need to regain control of her life, impose order on her surroundings again. The bedroom was only a symbol. She had spoiled Jessie shamelessly, letting her know that even though her mother had died, she still had a family who supported and loved her, that security hadn't vanished from her world.

Roanna, however, hadn't settled in at all. Lucinda sighed, holding one of Janet's blouses to her cheek as she pondered David's daughter. She simply didn't know how to get close to the child. Roanna had resisted all efforts to get her to choose a bedroom, and finally Lucinda had given up and chosen for her. A sense of fairness had insisted that Roanna's bedroom be at least as big as Jessie's, and it was, but the little girl had merely looked lost and overwhelmed in it. She had slept there the first night. The second night, she had slept in one of the other bedrooms, dragging her blanket with her and curling up on the bare mattress. The third night, it had been yet another empty bedroom, another bare mattress. She had slept in a chair in the den, on the rug in the library, even huddled on the floor of a bathroom. She was a restless, forlorn little spirit, drifting around in search of a place of her own. Lucinda estimated that the child had now slept in every room of the house except for the bedrooms occupied by others.

When Webb got up every morning, the first thing he did was go on a Roanna hunt, tracking her down in whichever nook or cranny she had chosen for the night, coaxing her out of her blanket cocoon. She was sullen and withdrawn, except with Webb, and had no interest in anything but the horses. Frustrated, not knowing what else to do, Lucinda had given her unlimited access to the horses, at least for the summer. Loyal would look out for the child, and Roanna had an uncommonly good touch with the animals anyway.

Lucinda folded the blouse, the last one, and put it away. Only the contents of the nightstand remained, and she hesitated before opening the drawers. When that was finished, it would all be finished; the townhouse would be emptied, closed, and sold. All traces of Janet would be gone.

Except for Jessie, Janet had left precious little of herself.

After she'd gotten pregnant, most of her laughter had died, and there had always been sadness in her eyes. Though she'd never said who fathered Jessie, Lucinda suspected it was the oldest Leath boy, Dwight. He and Janet had dated, but then he'd gotten in an argument with his father and enlisted and somehow ended up in Vietnam in the early days of the war. Within two weeks of setting foot in that miserable little country, he'd been killed. Over the years Lucinda had often looked at Jessie's face, searching for some resemblance to the Leaths but instead saw only' pure Davenport beauty. If Dwight was Janet's lover, then he had been mourned until the day of her death, because she had never dated anyone else after Jessie's birth. It wasn't that she hadn't had the opportunity either; despite the awkwardness of Jessie's illegitimacy, Janet was still a Davenport, and there were plenty of men who would have wanted her. The lack of interest had all been on Janet's part.

Lucinda had hoped for more for her daughter. She herself had known deep love with Marshall Davenport and had wished the same for her children. David had found it with Karen; Janet had known only pain and disappointment. Lucinda didn't like to admit it, but she had always sensed a certain restraint in Janet's manner toward Jessie, as if she were ashamed. It was the way Lucinda had expected to feel but hadn't. She wished Janet could have gotten past the pain, but she never had, Well, putting off an unpleasant chore wouldn't make it any less unpleasant, Lucinda thought, unconsciously straightening her spine. She could sit here all day musing over the intricacies of life, or she could get on with it. Lucinda Tallant Davenport wasn't one to sit around whining; right or wrong, she got things done.

She pulled open the top drawer of the nightstand, and tears filled her eyes again at the neatness of the contents. That was Janet, tidy to the bone. There was the book she'd been reading, a small flashlight, a box of tissues, a decorative tin of her favorite peppermint candy, and a leather25

bound journal with the pen still stuck between the pages. Curious, Lucinda wiped away her tears and pulled out the journal. She hadn't known that Janet kept one.

She smoothed her hand over the journal, knowing full well what information might be on the pages. It could be only private comments on day-to-day life, but there was the possibility that here Janet had divulged the secret she'd carried to her grave. At this late date, did it really matter who Jessie's father was?

Not really, Lucinda thought. She would love Jessie no matter whose blood ran in her veins.

But still, after so many years of wondering and not knowing, the temptation was impossible to resist. She opened the journal to the first page and began reading.

Half an hour later, she blotted her eyes with a tissue and slowly closed the journal, then placed it on top of the pile of clothes in the last box. There hadn't been all that much to read: several anguished pages, written fourteen years ago, then very little after that. Janet had made a few notations, marking Jessie's first tooth, first step, first day in school, but for the most part the pages were blank. It was as if Janet had stopped living fourteen years ago, rather than just a month. Poor Janet, to have hoped for much and settled for so little.

Lucinda smoothed her hand over the journal's leather cover. Well, now she knew. And she had been right: it didn't make any difference at all.

She picked up the roll of masking tape and briskly sealed the box.

 

BOOK TWO

Torn Asunder

Chapter 3

Roanna bounced out of bed with the dawn, hurrying to brush her teeth and drag her hands through her hair, then scrambling into jeans and a T-shirt. She grabbed her boots and socks on the way out the door and ran barefoot down the stairs. Webb was driving up to Nashville, and she wanted to see him before he left. She didn't have any particular reason other than that she seized every opportunity to have a few private minutes with him, precious seconds when his attention, his smiles, were only for her.

Even at five o'clock in the morning, Grandmother would have had her breakfast in the morning room, but Roanna didn't even pause there on her way to the kitchen. Webb, while thoroughly comfortable with the wealth that was at his disposal, didn't give a snap of his finger for appearances. He would be scrounging around in the kitchen, preparing his own breakfast since Tansy didn't come to work until six, then eating it at the kitchen table.

She burst through the door, and as she bad expected, Webb was there. He hadn't bothered with the table and was instead leaning against the cabinet while he munched on a jelly-spread slice of toast. A cup of coffee steamed gently beside his hand. As soon as he saw her, he turned and dropped another slice of bread into the toaster.

"I'm not hungry," she said, poking her head into the huge double-doored refrigerator to find the orange Juice.

"You never are," he returned equably.

"Eat anyway." Her lack of appetite was why, at seventeen, she was still skinny and barely developed. That and the fact that Roanna never simply walked anywhere. She was a perpetual motion machine: she skipped, she bounded, occasionally she even turned cartwheels. At least, over the years, she had finally settled down enough to sleep in the same bed every night, and he no longer had to search for her every morning.

Because it was Webb who'd made the toast, she ate it, though she rejected the jelly. He poured a cup of coffee for her, and she stood beside him, munching dry toast and alternately sipping orange juice and coffee, and felt contentment glowing warmly deep in her middle. This was all she asked out of life: to be alone with Webb. And to work with the horses, of course.

She gently inhaled, drawing in the delicious scents of his understated cologne and the clean, slight muskiness of his skin, all mingled with the aroma of the coffee. Her awareness of him was so intense it was almost painful, but she lived for these moments.

She eyed him over the rim of her cup, her whiskey brown eyes glinting with mischief.

"The timing of this trip to Nashville is pretty suspicious," she teased.

"I think you just want to get away from the house."

He grinned, and her heart flip-flopped. She seldom saw that cheerful grin any more; he was so busy that he didn't have time for anything but work, as Jessie consistently, relentlessly complained. His cool green eyes warmed when he smiled, and the lazy charm of his grin could stop traffic. The laziness was deceptive, though; Webb worked hours that would have exhausted most men.

"I didn't plan it," he protested, then admitted, "but I jumped at the chance. I guess you're going to stay in the stables all day."

She nodded. Grandmother's sister and her husband, Aunt Gloria and Uncle Harlan, were moving in today, and Roanna wanted to be as far from the house as possible. Aunt Gloria was her least favorite of aunts, and she didn't care much for Uncle Harlan either.

"He's a know-it-all," she grumbled, "And she's a pain in the-"

"Ro," he said warningly, drawing out the single syllable. Only he ever called her by the abbreviation of her name. It was one more tiny connection between them for her to savor, for she thought of herself as Ro. Roanna was the girl who was skinny and unattractive, clumsy and gauche. Ro was the part of herself who could ride like the wind, her thin body blending with the horse's and becoming part of its rhythm; the girl who, while in the stables, never put a foot wrong. If she had her way, she'd have lived in the stables.

"Neck," she finished, with a look of innocence that made him chuckle.

"When Davencourt is yours, are you going to throw them out?"

"Of course not, you little heathen. They're family."

"Well, it isn't as if they don't have a place to live. Why don't they stay in their own house?"

"Since Uncle Harlan retired, they've been having trouble making ends meet. There's plenty of space here, so their moving in is the logical solution, even if you don't like it." He ruffled her untidy hair.

She sighed. It was true that there were ten bedrooms in Davencourt, and since Jessie and Webb had gotten married and now used only one room, and since Aunt Yvonne had decided to move out last year and get a place of her own, that meant seven of those bedrooms were empty. Still, she didn't like it.

"Well, what about when you and Jessie have kids? You'll need the other rooms then."

"I don't think we'll need seven of them," he said drily, and a grim look entered his eyes.

"We may not have any kids anyway."

Her heart jumped at that. She had been down in the dumps since he and Jessie had married two years ago, but she had really dreaded the idea of Jessie having his babies. Somehow that would have been the final blow to a heart that hadn't had much hope to begin with; she knew she'd never had a chance with Webb, but still a tiny glimmer lingered. As long as he and Jessie didn't have any children, it was as if he wasn't totally, finally hers. For Webb, she thought, children would be an unbreakable bond. As long as there were no babies, she could still hope, however futilely.

It was no secret in the house that their marriage wasn't all roses. Jessie never kept it a secret when she was unhappy, because she made a concerted effort to make certain e'eryone else was just as miserable as she was.

Knowing Jessie, and Roanna knew Jessie very well, she had probably planned to use sex, after they were married, to control Webb. Roanna would have been surprised if Jessie had let Webb make love to her before they were married. Well, maybe once, to keep his interest keen. Roanna never underestimated the depths of Jessie's calculation. The thing was, neither did Webb, and Jessie's little plan hadn't worked. No matter what tricks she tried, Webb seldota changed his mind, and when he did it was for reasons of his own. No, Jessie was not happy.

Roanna loved it. She couldn't begin to understand their relationship, but Jessie didn't appear to have a clue about the type of man Webb was. You could appeal to him with logic, but manipulation left him unswayed. It had given Roanna many secretly gleeful moments over the years to watch Jessie try her feminine wiles on Webb and then throwing fits when they didn't work. Jessie just couldn't understand it; after all, it worked on everyone else.

BOOK: Shades of Twilight
7.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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