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Authors: Mariah Stewart

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Wonderful You (25 page)

BOOK: Wonderful You
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* * *


Z
oey, ah have to tell you how much ah enjoy this show. Ah look forward to Tuesdays just so’s ah can watch you in the kitchen.” The caller—June from Savannah, Georgia—giggled. “But ah have to say ah never did see anyone have such a dickens of a time making pie crust.”

“Well, I know that there is a way to prevent this stuff from crawling up your arms


A flustered Zoey tried to keep her eyes on the monitor and away from the side of the set, where Ben stood laughing at her efforts to pick the sticky dough from her wrists.

“Sugar, if you would just flour your hands before you start, you won’t have a lick of trouble next time,” June confided.

“Really?”

“Really. Now, ah’m just going to hang up here and you can just go on with your show, there, Zoey,” June told her with a touch of maternal warmth.

“Thank you, June. Ah

that is,
I

appreciate your help.” Momentarily off-camera, Zoey stuck her tongue out at Ben before continuing. “Now for the real challenge. I have to put this pie together.” She attempted to pick up the round crust and place it in the bottom of the pie plate, but it ripped into two pieces. “Oh boy.” She sighed and put the halves into the plate, trying to moosh them together.

“Zoey, you have another call,” her producer told her through her earpiece. “And for crying out loud, you’re burning the crap out of the strawberries. Take the pan off the stove!”

“Hello, Ruth.” Zoey dropped the pie crust onto the counter and removed the pan of boiling strawberries from the burner. “How’s your day going?”

She heard Ben chuckle but refused to look at him.

“Fine, honey, but it looks like you’re having a little trouble there.”

“I always do, Ruth.” Zoey frowned.

“If I could
give you a little suggestion…”

“Certainly. Please. Feel free.”

“You can put that little torn section of crust back together with a little water.”

“Water?” Zoey frowned.

“Just wet your fingers and sort of work the two pieces of the crust together.”

“Like this?” Zoey signaled the cameraman to zoom in while her fingers worked the dough into a smooth and slippery disk.

“Exactly. That should be fine.” Ruth’s voice was soothing and patient.

“Hey! It worked!” Zoey beamed. “Well, I certainly thank you, Ruth.”

“It was my pleasure, Zoey.”

“Call back anytime,” Zoey told her, pleased that she had been able to salvage the dough and make a presentable piecrust.

“Zoey, one more call,” the producer told her.

“Hello, Zoey, this is Sharon calling from Boston.”

“Hi, Sharon, how’s everything in Boston?”

“Warmer than it was last week. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy watching you cook—”

“Zoey, your oven mitt is on fire!” Ellen yelled.

“Oh!” A nervous glance at the monitor indicated that the burning mitt was off-camera. Zoey tried to inconspicuously knock the flaming mitt into the nearby sink.

She missed. The flaming mitt headed toward the floor. “—and how thrilled I was to see you last week. I was lunching in the same restaurant as you and your mother. I sat three tables away.”

“Really?”

Zoey dropped a thick towel onto the mitt, which had gone down in flames like a kamikaze.

“You’re even prettier in person.”

“Zoey, say thank you to the lady,” Ellen instructed. “And see if you can stomp on that sucker to make sure it’s out.”

“Thank you,” Zoey said as she slid one pump-clad shoe onto the smoking towel.

“And I loved that purple suit you were wearing.”

“Thank you…”

“Sharon,” Ellen supplied Zoey with the name she had clearly forgotten.

“Sharon. Thanks for calling.”

Having gotten the fire out, Zoey glanced at the clock. Down to the last few minutes. She signaled the cameraman to run the promo shot and voice-over for one of the products to be offered on the next show while she retrieved the remnants of the burned mitt, dropped it into the sink, and turned on the water.

“Thanks for your help,” she stage-whispered to the production assistants and product coordinator, who were all but falling on the floor in gales of laughter. “I could have burned the set down.”

“We had a fire extinguisher ready, just in case,” one of them told her, “but you were doing just fine.”

“Zoey, please stop at my office when you’re done here.” Trying his best not to laugh at her, too, Ben turned away, nodding politely to the other employees as he walked off the set.

“Oh, boy.” One of the prop boys rolled his eyes. “Poor Zoey. It’s bad enough to mess up, but messing up with Pierce standing right there is not a good thing.”

“Sorry, Zoey,” another said as she walked off the set. “I guess you’re really going to get it now from Pierce.” Ever hopeful that he might, in fact, be right, Zoey smiled to herself as she removed her microphone, stuck it into her pocket, and stepped down off the set.

* * *


S
o, now you’ve seen firsthand what a buffoon I am in the kitchen, I guess you’ll want to recommend someone else do the cooking shows, right?” Zoey cheerfully folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the side of Ben’s desk.

“Not a chance. Everyone adores you.”
Including me.

Zoey sighed. “You’d think that people would want to see someone who knows what they’re doing.”

“They seem to like watching you.”
I like watching you.

“I thought maybe I had been summoned to the boss’s office for a lecture.”

He stood up from his desk, testing his foot. Therapy had helped a lot, but there were still times when his ankle seemed almost to freeze up. It didn’t bode well, he knew, but he pushed the thought from his mind. “This has nothing to do with how many woks you can sell.”

“What does it have to do with?”

“The way you look in that shade of blue-green.” His voice grew husky as he walked toward her.

“Teal,” she said.

“Teal.” The corners of his mouth quirked into a grin. “Teal is a very good color on you, Zoey. It brings out that smoky blue of your eyes.”

His fingers traced the outline of her face from her temple to her jaw and back again. “I haven’t been the same since the weekend,” he confessed. “I can’t seem to concentrate on much of anything.”

“Me, too,” she whispered.

“All I can think about is kissing you, Zoey Enright.”

“Well, then, I think you should stop thinking about it and do it.”

“I think you just might be right.”

He seemed to engulf her with his arms, which held her in an embrace both tender and powerful, and his lips, which caught her mouth and claimed it for his own. He seemed to siphon the very life from her, leaving her weak, short of breath, and dazed. But not totally defenseless, she discovered, as she parted her lips and felt his tongue, soft as a summer morning and hot as the midday sun, as it slipped into the co
rn
ers of her mouth, and heard his breath catch in his throat. The pulse inside her head pounded like thunder and she lifted herself closer into his arms, drew his kiss deeper, until there was
neither sight nor sound, only sweet hot sensation that spread downward from her mouth and showed no signs of stopping at her stomach. She wished she could be brazen, could act the way she’d seen women act in the movies, the ones that would pull their dresses up to their waist and slide on back to the top of his desk and just
do it.

But she, Zoey Enright, had not been raised to seduce men on their desks in their offices in their place of employment.

Ben, however, had apparently not been as delicately taught.

He eased her back toward the slab of mahogany and pressed her against the front of the desk.
Oh, boy,
raced through Zoey’s feeble mind.
Oh, boy!

Finding that she did, in fact, feel much the seductress after all, Zoey pressed against the solid wall of Ben’s body and the source of the heat that had risen so rapidly between them like a flash fire. She felt herself falling, falling backward, like a snowflake on a downward spiral, still held tightly by his arms but dropping back onto the desk, his lips still torturing her as they skimmed first her chin, then the long eager column of her neck. She heard her breath in short bursts, his heart beating wildly, her name as he whispered it somewhere between her waist and her collarbone. She heard the soft fall of items on the desk as they fled toward the floor.

She heard the voice of Ben’s secretary announce through the intercom, “Ben, your grandfather is here.”

It took a few seconds before he could react. But when he did, he was brilliant.

“My grandfather is here?” He raised his head and frowned. Looking down into Zoey’s half-closed eyes, he repeated, “My granddfather is here.”

“Just called from the parking lot. He should be up here in about, oh, my guess is three minutes. Providing he doesn’t stop to talk to anyone.”

The news seeped slowly into Zoey’s brain.

“Did
she say…
?”

“Ah, I’m afraid so.” Ben eased himself back and drew her along with him until they were both standing upright and on their own two feet, and swore softly.

Damn.”

“I guess I should just”—Zoey thought perhaps she’d just back on out the door, like a businesswoman whose business had concluded—“be going.”

“There’s no need for you to run away,” he told her, his arms sliding from her shoulders to her elbows.

“I just feel a little awkward.” She laughed nervous
ly. “I mean, we were almost…
that
is to say…”
She pointed to the desk, which, except for the phone, an appointment book, and one pen that managed somehow to remain in its place, was totally bare. “Oh, damn. Your desk.” She bent and started to retrieve the pens, folders, and the small calculator that had been pushed aside, and handed them up to Ben, who replaced them on the desk. They had just finished when the door opened and Delaney O’Connor appeared.

“Hello, son, how’s it going?” Delaney entered the room with his cane in his left hand and a leather folder under his right arm. He paused at the sight of Zoey down on one knee in front of Ben’s desk. “Oh. Appears things are going very well. Very well indeed.”

“Hello, Delaney.” Ben chuckled and offered his hand to his grandfather.

“Hello, Delaney.” A red-faced Zoey stood up and smoothed her shor
t blue skirt. “I dropped my…
pen.” She held up the ballpoint she had retrieved.

“So I see.” Delaney struggled to keep a straight face.

“Well, then, I’ll just leave you to your business. It was nice to see you again, Delaney.” She backed toward the door. “Ben, I’ll see you—”

“At seven-thirty?”

“Fine. Yes. Seven-thirty.”

Ben walked her to the doorway and leaned over to whisper in her ear, “And if you want to make it to dinner, do
not
wear your black dress.”

She nodded somewhat numbly, her heart still pounding, and backed on out through the door. She stumbled out to her car and managed to drive from the parking lot to her house without being quite certain whether or not he had been giving her a choice.

Had he said dinner
or
the dress?

 

 

19

 

 

Z
oey stood in front of her open closet and pondered the possibilities. Maybe something casual, she thought, tugging on a long-sleeved red knit dress with a turtleneck. Maybe something sexy, she thought, searching for a little blue number she had bought in Paris three years earlier and hadn’t worn since. She pulled it out and held it up. Nah. Too blatant.

Debating the merits o
f safety as opposed to out-and-
out seduction, she took one more look through the closet, hoping to find some forgotten favorite. She twirled a deep green suit on its hanger, then rejected it. Too warm for a suit. Besides, she longed for a casual evening, one spent in familiar chatter and easy smiles, with their heads dipped over glasses of wine the color of sunshine. She’d wear the red.

She paused and looked back at the suit, and the voice came back to her.



how thrilled I was to see you last week
…”

Where had that call come from? Boston?

“I was lunching in the same restaurant as you and your mother.”
The caller’s words, all but ignored at the time
while she had been in the midst of her firefighting duties, came back to her.
“I
loved that purple suit you were wearing
."

Zoey began to tremble and her chest began to hurt.

She had not been in Boston with Delia the week before. And she had never owned a purple suit.

With shaking hands, she dialed Delia’s number. She was not at all surprised when Mrs. Colson told her that her mother had left that morning for a long weekend at the beach. She was
staying at a bed-and-
breakfast called the Bishop’s Inn right above Fenwick Island on the barrier coast of Delaware.

She no longer needed to debate what to wear. Tossing the high-heeled shoes off her feet and stripping off her panty hose, she reached for jeans and a sweater. Then she reached for the phone. Dinner with Ben would have to wait. She hoped he would understand.

 

 

T
wo hours and twenty minutes later, Zoey was parking her car at the curb two properties up from the Bishop’s Inn, which was a rambling Queen Anne Victorian-style house on the co
rn
er of Sea View and Bay Boulevard. The air was thick with sea air, dense and salty, a telltale sign that the bay lay just a block or two in one direction, the ocean roughly the same in the opposite. She walked slowly up the brick walkway toward the neat house, which, for all its size, had a welcoming facade. Light poured from every first-floor window, behind several of which she could see diners at round tables. The inn had a casual but cozy elegance that would, Zoey knew, suit her mother just fine. She wondered how Delia had found it.

She wandered into the spacious entrance, where a large stairwell curved downward from the second floor and pots of greenery seemed to be everywhere. The inn keeper clearly was partial to African violets and gloxinia. The decor was eclectic, with handsome Eastlake tables complementing cozy overstuffed chairs. Dramatic sofas dressed in floral chintz with a black background were accented by small striped pillows of pink and white
satin, and Victorian side chairs, upholstered in sage green velvet and holding a collection of needlepoint cat pillows, crowded a bay window dripping with lace. It was a beautiful room, well thought out, with lovely antique pieces and just the right touches of whimsy.

A young waitress crossing from one side of the entry smiled, then stopped and did a sort of double take before smiling weakly and continuing on her way.

Zoey frowned, wondering what that was all about, when someone asked, “Have you been helped?”

She turned toward the voice. Later, she would recall having had the momentary sensation that she had looked into a slightly older version of her own face.

Startled, the two women merely stared at each other while a great, undefined tension began rapidly to build between them.

From the doorway, Zoey heard a soft gasp, followed by, “Oh. Oh, no.”

Delia stood at the threshold, the color rapidly draining from her face.

“Oh, Zoey

” she whispered, looking from Zoey to the other woman, shaking her head ever so slightly, as if in apology.

“Mother, what is going on here?” Zoey had to clear her throat to make the words come, so heavy was the sense of dread that began to surround her.

“Oh, Zoey
…”
Delia repeated helplessly.

“Come into the sitting room,” the other woman said, taking Delia gently by the elbow and guiding her through the French doors off to one side of the entrance. She turned to Zoey and gestured to her to join them. “Please.”

A confused Zoey hesitated, fear overtaking her, knowing instinctively that if she followed her mother into that room, her life would never be the same.

Looking through the doorway, she watched the woman turning on soft lights to illumine the room. It was as beautiful as the rest of the inn appeared to be, homey and warm. There were photographs on the piano top and
all along the mantel, an older couple, a little girl, the woman herself, some with the older woman, some with the child, others with a handsome dark-haired young man. The thought occurred to Zoey that, whoever she was, this was a woman who cherished her loved ones.

Struck by the tenderness with which the woman now placed a pillow behind Delia’s back, Zoey went into the room and closed the door behind her.

“Zoey, I was planning on telling you. I just needed a little more time. Please believe me when I tell you that I never would have had it happen this way.”

“Tell me what? Time for what?”

Could Delia really be unaware that she was crying? Zoey watched, fascinated, as the tears ran down her mother’s face without any effort being made to stop them. The look on her face was the same as it had been when she had looked up into Nick’s eyes on Sunday.

“Mother, please…
” Zoey crossed the carpeted floor and sat on the hassock at the foot of Deli
a’s chair. “Please, tell me…”

“Would you like me to leave?” The other woman had poured water into a goblet of cranberry-colored glass and pressed it into Delia’s shaking hands.

“Perhaps just for a little while.” Delia nodded. “It might be for the best.”

Avoiding Zoey’s eyes, the woman left the room.

The only sound was the sound of Delia sniffing into her handkerchief.

“Oh, Zoey, where to begin?”

She cleared her throat. “Why don’t you begin by telling me who she is?” They both knew who
she
was.

“Her name is Laura Bishop”—Delia took a deep breath and turned to look into Zoey’s eyes—“and she is my daughter.”

The knot inside Zoey’s chest cavity suddenly grew bigger and threatened to burst out of her chest. She thought for a minute that she was going to be ill.

“How
is that… how could she…

“How is it possible that I have a daughter that you
knew nothing about?” De
lia finished the sentence for
her.

Zoey nodded, the shock continuing to grow and fill not only her body but, it seemed, the entire room as well.

Delia stood and began to pace, as if gathering her thoughts and her words carefully, “I gave birth to Laura in November of nineteen sixty
-
three. I was seventeen years old,” Delia said simply. “That’s the short version.”

Delia pulled a tissue from a box on a side table and B dabbed at her wet face.

“This is the big deep se
cret in the Hampton family, my
dear.” Delia twisted the tissue into knots. “It would have been the biggest scandal had anyone found out.” She paced a little faster. “If anyone had know that the daughter of the Rig
ht Reverend William Hanesford
Hampton had had a
n illegitimate child, well…

Delia stared out the window, both hands on her hips, the anger forgotten for so many years beginning to bubble and boil within her as the taps from one increasingly agitated foot echoed softly on the hardwood floor. “And Lord knows that William Hanesford Hampton was both
right
and
reverend.
And so when the
unthinkable—the
unspeakable
—happened, well, there was a fast scramble to find a way to hustle me out of town in the fastest possible manner, you can believe that.”

The tears had stopped momentarily and her voice began to harden.

“I was fo
ur months pregnant on the day
graduated from high school. And foolish enough to be happy about it.” She turned and faced Zoey. “Can you imagine? I was happy about it. It never occurred to me

I never thought for a minute

what they would do to me.” She shuddered.

“Mother,” Zoey whispered, horrified by the look of pain and loss on her mother’s face. “Mother, you don’t have to go on.”

“Oh, but I do. I should have told you long ago.” She
cleared her throat again. “You see, we had had it all planned, Edward and I. He would be home in July. No one really expected the war to escalate, you know. In the very early sixties, you see, Vietnam was just the name of a jungle somewhere south of China. And there was no fighting involved, there were only
advisers.
” She dabbed at the tears that started anew. “Edward’s plane went down in the jungle on the first of June, and he never made it home.”

“But, of course, there was his child. My child.” She blew a long breath out from between softly pursed lips. “My mother’s sister lived in Ocean City, Maryland, and that is where they sent me. Immediately. No time to think, no time to protest. Just ‘Cordelia, how could you? You’ve disgraced us all,’ and off I was sent. The adoption was arranged without my consent. They took Laura from me as soon as she was bo
rn
and I never saw her again.” She choked back a quiet sob. “They told everyone that I had gone to London for my first semester of college.”

“Oh, Mother.” Zoey’s heart began to break for the young girl her mother
had once been. “Oh, Mother…

“You know, they never came to see me. Never asked about the baby. Never mentioned her. When I went home, it was as if it had never happened. For years, my mother almost had me convinced that it had never happened, till even I began to wonder if perhaps I
had
been in London.” Delia squeezed Zoey’s hand. “Except for the time I tried to tell Edward’s parents. I thought they should know. He was their only child, you see, and I thought that they should
know.
But my mother convinced me that it would only bring shame to his family to
know what he had done to me…
My mother’s words, by the way, not mine. I did go back to see them, a few years later, but they had moved away. I started to think that maybe my mother was right. Maybe it had never happened at all.”

Delia sighed heavily. “I met your father when I was in my senior year in college. It was love at first sight. We married immediately after graduation, much to the
relief of Reverend and Mrs. Hampton. We had Nicky right away, then yo
u came along, then Georgia…
” Her voice trailed off.

“And then Dad left us.” Zoey said, knowing there was a connection, but not sure just what it was.

“Oh, my fault, darling.” Delia shook her head vehemently. “I should have told him long before I did.”

“You mean about the baby?”

“I should have told him sooner—before we were married—or not at all.” Tears welled in Delia’s eyes again. “There were complications with Georgia’s birth. The doctors said I would not have other children. But it was okay, they kept saying, you have three beautiful children, and I kept telling them no, I had four, and they all thought it was some postpartum nonsense. But I knew that I could not go on pretending that it had never happened. I had a child somewhere in the world and I could no longer pretend that she wasn’t out there. I had to tell someone. I had to talk about her.” Delia sighed again. “Unfortunately, the person I chose to tell was your father.”

“Dad
left because you told him…
?”

“Almost immediately.” Delia shook her head. “He simply could not accept it, could not understand how I could have deceived him for so long. He felt betrayed, Zoey, and he could not forgive me.”

“For keeping it a secret?”

“A woman who could keep a secret like that, he said, was a woman who was capable of anything. Who knew what else she might lie about? He wanted nothing to do with me. He packed his things and left.”

“I remember when he left.” Zoey sat on the edge of the sofa. “It was early in the morning and you were crying, I heard you. I went into the hallway and saw Daddy going down the steps. I called to him.”

“You never told me that.”

“He didn’t turn around. He stopped, but he didn’t turn around,” Zoey told her. “Over the years, every time I started to think that I missed him, every time it started
to hurt, I remembered that moment, when he had heard me calling him, but he would not turn around to say good-bye. And then the hurt would go away again, every time.”

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