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Authors: Linda Howard

Tags: #Philosophy, #General

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BOOK: Shades of Twilight
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Bitterly, Roanna knew that she would have made Webb a much better wife than Jessie had, but no one had ever considered it, least of all Webb. Roanna was abnormally observant, a trait developed from a lifetime of being shoved to the side. She loved Webb, but she didn't underestimate his ambition. If Grandmother had made it plain that she would be very pleased if he married Roanna, the way she had with Jessie, then very probably they would now be engaged. Granted, Webb had never looked at her the way he'd looked at Jessie, but she'd always been too young. With Davencourt in the balance, he would have chosen her, she knew he would. She wouldn't have cared that he'd wanted Davencourt more than he wanted her. She would have married Webb on any terms at all, grateful just to get any part of his attention. Why couldn't it have been her? Why Jessie?

Because Jessie was beautiful, and had always been Grandmother's favorite. Roanna had tried hard at first, but she had never been as graceful or as socially adept, or had Jessie's good taste in clothing and decorating. She would certainly never be as pretty. Roanna's mirror wasn't rose tinted; she could plainly see her straight, heavy, untidy hair, more brown than red, and her bony, angular face with her weird, slanted brown eyes, the bump on the bridge of her long nose, and her too-big mouth. She was rail thin and clumsy, and her breasts were just barely there. Despairing, she knew that no one, especially no man, would ever willingly choose her over Jessie. At seventeen, Jessie had been the most popular girl in school, while Roanna, at the same age, had never had a real date. Grandmother had arranged for her to have "escorts" to various functions she'd been forced to attend, but the boys had obviously been shanghaied by their mothers for the duty, and Roanna had always been embarrassed and tongue-tied. None of the draftees had ever volunteered for another opportunity for her company.

But since Webb's marriage, Roanna had tried less and less to fit herself into the mold Grandmother had chosen for her, the appropriate social mold of a Davenport. What was the point? Webb was lost to her. She had begun withdrawing, spending as much time as she could with the horses. She was relaxed with them in a way she never was with people, because the horses didn't care how she looked or if she'd knocked over yet another glass at dinner. The horses responded to her light, gentle touch, to the special crooning note in her voice when she talked to them, to the love and care she lavished on them. She was never clumsy on a horse. Somehow her thin body would move into the rhythm of the powerful animal beneath her, and she would become one with it, part of the strength and grace. Loyal said he'd never seen anyone ride as good as she did, not even Mr. Webb, and he rode as if he'd been born in a saddle. Her riding ability was the only thing about her that Grandmother ever praised.

But she would give up her horses if she could only have Webb. Here was her chance to break up his marriage, and she couldn't take it, didn't dare take it. She couldn't hurt him that way, couldn't take the chance that he would lose his temper and do something irrevocable.

Buckley sensed her agitation, the way horses do, and began to prance nervously. Roanna jerked her attention back to what she was doing and tried to soothe him, patting his neck and talking to him, but she couldn't give him her full attention. Despite the heat, cold chills roughened her skin, and again she felt as if she might vomit.

Loyal was far more attuned to horses than he was to people, but he frowned when he saw her face and came over to take Buckley's reins as she swung down from the saddle.

"What's wrong?" he asked bluntly.

"Nothing," she said, then rubbed a shaky hand over her face.

"I think maybe I got too hot, that's all. I forgot my cap. 11 "You know better'n that," he scolded.

"Go on up to the house and drink some cold lemonade, then rest up for a while. I'll take care of Buck."

"You told me to always take care of my own horse," she said, protesting, but he cut her off with a wave of his hand.

"And now I'm tellin' you to go on. Scat. If you don't have enough sense to take care of yourself, I don't know that you can take care of Buck."

"All right. Thanks." She managed a weak smile, because she knew she must really look sick for Loyal to bend his rule about the horses, and she wanted to reassure him. She was sick, all right, sick at heart, and so full of impotent rage that she thought she might explode. She hated this, hated what she'd seen, hated Jessie for doing it, hated Webb for letting her love him and putting her in this situation.

No, she thought as she hurried up to the house, stricken by the idea. She didn't hate Webb, could never hate him. It would be better for her if she didn't love him, but she could no more stop that than she could stop the sun from rising the next morning.

No one saw her when she slipped in the front door. The huge hall was empty, though she could hear Tansy singing in the kitchen, and a television played in the den. Probably Uncle Harlan was watching one of the game shows he liked so much. Roanna moved silently up the stairs, not wanting to talk to anyone right now.

Grandmother's suite was at the front of the house, the first door on the right. Jessie and Webb's suite was the front one on the left side. Over the years, Roanna had finally settled on one of the back bedrooms, away from everyone else, but to her dismay she saw that Aunt Gloria and Uncle Harlan had chosen the middle suite on the right side of the house, and the door was standing open, Grandmother's and Aunt Gloria's voices coming from within. Listening, Roanna could also make out the voice of the housekeeper, Bessie, as she worked to unpack their clothes, She didn't want to see any of them, especially didn't want to give Aunt Gloria the opportunity to start in on her, so she reversed her steps and went out the double French doors onto the upper story gallery that completely encircled the house. Using the gallery, she went around the house in the opposite direction until she came to the French doors that opened into her own bedroom and gained sanctuary.

She didn't know how she could ever look at Jessie again without screaming at her and slapping her stupid, hateful face. Tears dripped down her cheeks, and angrily she dashed them away. Crying never had done any good; it hadn't brought back Mama and Daddy, it hadn't made anyone like her any better, it hadn't kept Webb from marrying Jessie. For a long time now she had fought back her tears and pretended that things didn't hurt her even when she felt as if she would choke on her hidden pain and humiliation.

But it had been such a shock, seeing Jessie and that man actually doing it. She wasn't stupid, she'd been to an Rrated movie a couple of times, but that really never showed anything except the woman's boobs and everything was all prettied up, with dreamy music playing in the background. And once she'd glimpsed the horses doing it, but she hadn't really been able to see anything because she'd sneaked out to the stables for that very purpose and hadn't been able to find a good vantage point. The noises had scared her, though, and she'd never tried that again.

Reality was nothing like the movies. It hadn't been romantic at all. What she'd seen had been raw and brutal, and she wanted to blot it out of her memory.

She took another shower, then collapsed across the bed, exhausted from her emotional upheaval. Perhaps she dozed; she wasn't certain, but all of a sudden the room was darker as twilight gathered, and she realized she had missed supper. Another black mark against her, she thought, and sighed.

She felt calmer now, almost numb. To her surprise she was even hungry. She pulled on some clean clothes and trudged down the back stairs to the kitchen. Tansy had already cleaned up the dishes and gone home, but the industrial-size stainless-steel refrigerator would be full of leftovers.

She was nibbling at a cold chicken leg and a roll, with a glass of tea at her elbow, when the kitchen door opened and Webb strolled in. He looked tired, and he'd removed both coat and tie, the coat slung over his shoulder and hanging from one crooked finger. The top two buttons on his shirt were open. Roanna's heart gave its customary jump when she saw him. Even when he was tired and disheveled, he looked like heaven. The sickness roiled in her stomach again at the thought of what Jessie was doing to him.

"Are you still eating?" he teased with mock amazement, green eyes twinkling.

"Got to keep my strength up," she said, striving for her usual flippancy, but she couldn't quite achieve it. There was a somberness in her tone that she couldn't hide, and Webb gave her a sharp glance.

"What've you done now?" he asked, taking a glass down from the cabinet and opening the refrigerator door to pour himself some iced tea.

"Nothing unusual," she assured him, and even managed a wry, crooked smile.

"I opened my big mouth at lunch, and both Grandmother and Aunt Gloria are mad at me."

"So what did you say this time?"

"We were talking about cars, and I said that I wanted one of the Pontiac Grand Pricks."

His broad shoulders heaved as he controlled a spasm of laughter, turning it into a cough. He dropped into the chair beside her.

"My God, Ro."

"I know." She sighed.

"It just popped out. Aunt Gloria made one of her snide remarks about the way I eat, and I wanted to get her goat." She paused.

"It worked."

"What did Aunt Lucinda do?"

"She sent me from the table. I haven't seen her since." She picked at the roll, reducing it to a pile of crumbs, until Webb's strong hand suddenly covered hers and stilled the movements.

"Had you eaten anything before you left the table?" he asked, and there was a stern tone in his voice now.

She made a face, knowing what was coming.

"Sure. I had a roll and some tuna."

"A whole roll? How much tuna?"

"Well, probably not an entire roll."

"More than you've eaten of this one?"

She eyed the demolished bread on her plate, as if judiciously weighing each crumb, and was relieved to be able to say, "More than that."

It wasn't much more, but more was more. His expression told her he wasn't fooled, but he let that slide for now.

"All right. How much tuna? How many bites?"

"I didn't count them!"

"More than two?"

She tried to remember. She knew she'd taken a couple of bites just to show Aunt Gloria that her verbal swipe had fallen short of the mark. She might try to evade the truth, but she wouldn't lie outright to Webb, and he knew it, so he would continue to pin her down with explicitness. With a little sigh she said, "About two, I guess."

"Did you eat anything afterward? Until now, that is?" She shook her head.

"Ro." He turned his chair toward hers and put his arm around her thin shoulders, hugging her to him. His heat and strength enveloped her the way it always had. Roanna burrowed her untidy head against that broad shoulder, bliss overtaking her. When she'd been young, Webb's hugs had been a haven for a terrified, unwanted little girl. She was older now, and the quality of her delight had changed. There was a heady, faintly musky scent to his skin that made her heart beat faster, and made her want to cling to him.

"You have to eat, baby," he said cajolingly, but with a firm undertone.

"I know you get upset and lose your appetite, but I can tell that you've lost even more weight. You're going to damage your health if you don't start eating more."

"I know what you're thinking," she charged, lifting her head from his shoulder to scowl at him.

"But I don't make myself throw up or anything like that."

"My God, how could you? There's never anything in your stomach to be thrown up. If you don't eat, soon you won't have the strength to work with the horses. Is that what you want?"

"No!"

"Then eat."

She looked at the chicken leg, her expression miserable.

"I try, but I don't like the taste of most food, and p-people are always criticizing how I eat and the food turns into this big wad that I can't swallow."

"You ate toast this morning with me and swallowed just fine."

"You don't yell at me or make fun of me," she muttered. He stroked her hair, pushing the dark chestnut strands away from her face. Poor little Ro. She had always hungered for Aunt Lucinda's approval, but was too rebellious to modify her behavior to get it. Maybe she was right; it wasn't as if she was a juvenile delinquent or anything like that. She was just different, a quirky wildflower growing in the middle of a sedate, well-ordered southern rose garden, and no one knew quite what to make of her. She shouldn't have to beg for her family's love or approval; Aunt Lucinda should just love her for what she was. But for Aunt Lucinda, perfection was her other granddaughter, Jessie, and she had always made it plain that Roanna fell short in every category. Webb's mouth tightened. In his opinion, Jessie was far from perfect, and he was sick and tired of waiting for her to grow out of some of that selfishness.

Jessie's attitude, too, had a lot to do with Roanna's inability to eat. He had let this rock on for years while he devoted himself to the herculean task of learning how to run Davencourt and all the Davenport business concerns, packing four years of college into three and then going after his master's degree in business, but it was obvious now that the situation wasn't going to resolve itself. For Roanna's sake, he was going to have to put his foot down, with Aunt Lucinda as well as Jessie.

BOOK: Shades of Twilight
13.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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