Authors: Mariah Stewart
Tags: #Retail Industry, #Smitten, #Racing, #Sports Industry, #TV Industry
“Zoey, darling, the issue isn’t whether or not you
my opinion.” Delia reached for her daughter’s hand. “The issue is that you wanted to do something for yourself, and you had to do it behind me so that I would not take over, isn’t that right?”
“Oh, Mom, I hate to put it like that.” Zoey squirmed uncomfortably.
“But that’s the simple truth of it,” Delia said in a soft voice. “Oh, I never wanted to take over your life, Zoey. I just always wanted to make it easier for you. For all of you. I only wanted for you to know that I was always there for you, in every way. I never wanted there to be a doubt.”
“And there never was, Mom. Not for a second. This was just something I wanted to do. I didn’t tell Nicky, or India, or even Georgia.”
“Were you afraid they’d tell me?” Delia asked.
“No,” Zoey told her first half truth of the day. “I just wanted to surprise everyone.”
“Well, you’ve surprised me. And no doubt, you’ll surprise your sister and your brother.” Delia’s face darkened. “I wonder if either of them resent what I’ve done in their homes. Georgia’s condo. Nicky’s cabin.”
“I don’t think so, Mom. Neither of them ever gave a hint that they did. But they’re different, Mom. Neither of them had as much to prove as I did.”
“What on earth does that mean?”
“Georgia and Nick have
always known their way, Mom. I al
ways thought of all the things you do for them to be your rewards for their hard work and for their accomplishments. ”
“And you thought that somehow you didn’t deserve such rewards?” Delia’s brow folded into deep creases. “That I felt you were not accomplished?”
“Let’s face it, Mom, until recently I haven’t even known where I was headed.”
“And you thought that somehow that disappointed me?”
“Something like that.”
The admission was more diffi
cult than Zoey had expected.
has never had a thing to do w
you are, Zoey. I have always been very proud to be your
mother. Always. As proud as I
am of all my children. It
has never had anything to do with what
you do to earn your living.”
“Thank you, Mom.” Zoey tried to speak over the lump that had grown in her throat.
“Well, then, Zoey Amanda, do you know where you’re headed now?”
“I think I do, Mom. I’m
happy. I like what I’m doing.
Every day is different. It’s fun. I’m meeting so many interesting people. Yesterday I worked with Alicia Green, the designer.”
“I have several of her suits.” Delia could not help but smile. The light was coming back in Zoey’s eyes.
“And on Monday,
my guest was Jackson Martin.
Mom, I’ve been in love with Jackson Martin all my life.
He is the greatest movie star of all time.”
“Me too.” Delia nodded, then
asked, “What was he selling?”
“His autobiography.” Zoey sighed. “And Mom—his eyes really are that blue.”
“I’ve heard that.” Delia sighed too. “I always wanted to meet him.”
They sighed together.
“Pass the Godivas.”
Zoey opened the glove box and removed the lid from
the gold foil box.
“Which one do you want?”
“Bring the box.” Delia took the key from the ignition and stuck it into her pocket. “Next time we’ll bring the champagne and toast your happiness in your new home.
In the meantime, we’ll just have to celebrate your independence with chocolate.”
elia had clearly loved Zoey’s house, even while admitting that, at first glance, she herself probably would have overlooked it. Had she been asked, she most likely would have tried to talk Zoey out of buying it, due to its seemingly small size and out-of-the-way location. Delia had followed her daughter from room to room, Zoey proudly pointing out the architectural details, the chestnut woodwork and the arched doorways, the many windows with their deep sills and the lovely views. Zoey produced both the architect’s drawings for the second floor as well as the plan from the kitchen designer, and together they leaned across the old kitchen counter and peered over the sketches, Zoey showing her mother her well-thought-out vision of her new home. Bit by bit, Zoey had shared it all—the wallpaper selections, the carpets, the furniture. By the time the “tour” was over, Delia was enthralled.
“Heaven,” she declared with a satisfied sigh. “This little house will polish up nicely, like a little gem. Oh, Zoey, I hope you’re as proud of yourself as I am of you. Why, to have pulled all of this together in so short a
time. Now, when does the contractor start on the kitchen?”
Zoey hesitated, and Delia laughed out loud.
“Sweetheart, I promise not to show up without invitation until they are all done. And if invited over while work is still in progress, I swear I will not tell the carpenters how to hammer or the plumbers how to plumb.” Delia raised one hand to the sky.
“Mom, you are always welcome. You don’t need an invitation.” Zoey looped her arm through her mother’s. “Now, come out back. Wait till you see my backyard.”
Zoey slid aside the thin metal bar that served as the backdoor lock, and Delia eyed it suspiciously.
“Now, you are thinking about new locks, aren’t you?”
“I hadn’t,” Zoey admitted.
“Well, right now, while the house is vacant and there is work being done on a daily basis, what you have there”—she pointed to the slide bar lock—“is probably sufficient. I’d feel better if you had dead bolts installed once you move in.”
“I’ll put it on the list.”
Delia paused and looked up at her daughter. “Did that count as meddling?”
“Nah. We’ll let that one pass.”
Zoey pushed open the back door and stepped aside to allow her mother to precede her onto the tiny back porch.
Delia paused meaningfully on the third step from the bottom, as if about to say something.
“Nothing, sweetie.” Delia sighed, apparently having changed her mind about whatever it was that was on her mind and turning her attention to the wooden bower overflowing with vines. “Oh, a grape arbor! How wonderful!” She swept toward the garden. “We had a lovely grape arbor at the house I grew up in back in West Newton. Oh, and by the end of the summer, it would be laden with grapes. My mother made endless batches of grape jam every year, and gave them out at Christmas to
the members of Father’s congregation. As the minister’s wife, she always took such pains to go a step or two beyond what was expected of her. Always. As if she would be judged by how many jars of jam she gave out, how many loaves of bread she baked for the poor, or how many new Bibles she raised the money to buy.”
Delia stood so still, her face blank, transformed from the lively woman taking off across the backyard to a younger version of herself, frozen in time, robbed somehow of her jaunty, confident air and her strong presence. Some sadness seemed to sweep over her, transforming her for just a few seconds into a woman even her own daughter did not recognize.
“Mother always did exactly the right thing, Zoey. Always. She was a woman who never made a mistake. Never made a bad choice. She soundly—
— professed on her deathbed to have had no regrets.” Delia’s body seemed to waver slightly, as if suddenly weakened from a blow delivered by an unseen hand, her voice lowered till it was barely a whisper. “None whatsoever.”
“Mom.” Zoey caught up with her. “Are you all right?”
“Of course, darling.” Delia flashed a smile, shook off whatever demon had been perched upon her shoulder, and took Zoey’s hand. “I can’t wait to see what’s inside the gate.”
Zoey swung the wooden gate aside and Delia grinned happily. “Oh, yes, whoever Mrs. Kilmartin was, she kept a lovely garden. Now, I wonder if those hydrangeas will bloom pink or blue? And what color do you suppose the roses might be?”
“Well, there were still a few in bloom the first time I looked at the property. These were red”—Zoey pointed to a bush with long, tangled canes—“and very big and wonderfully fragrant.”
“Were the petals a sort of velvet red, and was the scent more sweet and perfumey than spicy?” Delia asked.
“Yes, velvet is a good way to describe the flower. And I’d say a heady perfumey smell.”
“Mr. Lincoln, perhaps.” Delia guessed at the name of the rose. “And these, over by the fence?”
“Pink. Very pale pink. Those closer to the gate were a darker pink, but that’s all I remember.”
“That’s more than I expected from you, dear, since you’ve never had much of an interest in gardening.” Delia smiled. “Perhaps that will change now that you have your own. I’ve always loved to work in the dirt, myself. I’ve worked side by side with every gardener I’ve ever had.”
“If you love it so much, why hire someone else to do it?”
“Because if I’d spent all my time gardening, I’d never have gotten a book done on time. But this”—she waved her hand in an arc to take in the garden that spread out before her—“is manageable. You’ll have many happy hours out here, dear.”
Zoey frowned. “I doubt it. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even planning on—”
“Oh, look here!” Delia swept past her, trotting off down one of the stone paths, a woman with a mission. “What do you suppose was planted in these beds? You know, if you stand back here by the gate, it almost looks like the garden was designed to follow an Elizabethan garden plot. Oh, what fun we’ll have next spring when all of
”—she waved her arm in another wide sweep— “begins to green up. Now, Zoey, promise me you’ll let me come back and work here with you in the spring.”
“Mom, come next spring, the pleasure will be all yours.”
“Now, look back there, sweetie. Running right across the back of the garden, where one would expect fence. What might that stone wall be from?” Off Delia went to investigate. By the time she was done exploring, they had found the remains of what appeared to be an old goldfish pond, an herb garden, and the groundhog hole that housed the family that Wally had mentioned.
“Seen enough?” Zoey crossed her arms over her chest and shivered slightly. The sun had begun to set behind a
grove of ancient apple trees that formed a sort of boundary between the back of her property and Wally’s, and the dusk brought with it a cool breeze that moved across them with a hint of even cooler nights to come.
“Not really, but if I can come back, I’ll be happy for now.”
“Of course you can come back. Let’s just go inside and turn the lights off, then I’ll take you to dinner.”
It was on the tip of Delia’s tongue to insist that dinner would be on her, but somehow she managed to resist the impulse, allowing for Zoey’s earlier declaration of independence. “That would be lovely, dear.”
Arm in arm, mother and daughter walked in the twilight shadows toward the back steps. Delia paused, and Zoey could sense that she appeared to be struggling with something, as she had earlier.
“What is it, Mother?” she asked as they went from room to room, turning off the lights.
Delia hesitated, as if about to speak, then not. Finally she gave in and blurted, “Just a deck, Zoey. Just let me build a little deck for you. A deck out there off the back of the house would be just perfect, sweetheart, don’t you think? We could have dinner out there and sit and watch the sunset.”
Zoey burst out laughing.
“My contractor has already drawn up the plans, Mother. He’ll be starting on the deck when the kitchen and bathroom are done.”
“I guess it would be out of the question to let me take care of that part of his bill.”
“Mother, we went ov
er all this…”
“Maybe for Christmas then. Or a housewarming gift. Consider it a housewarming.”
“Why can’t you just bring a casserole or a bottle of wine like everyone else?” Zoey asked, trying to hide her amusement, lest Delia know she was on the verge of giving in.
Delia merely lifted an eyebrow as she lifted the lid on
the box of Godiva chocolates, which she had left on the living room mantel.
“One for the road, sweetie?” Delia tilted the box in Zoey’s direction.
“All right,” Zoey laughed. “But just the deck, Mother. And that will be my Christmas present. You won’t buy anything else for me. Agreed?”
“Of course, dear. Just the deck.” Delia smiled and draped an arm over Zoey’s shoulder as they headed toward the front door, knowing that Zoey’s presents, along with those of her other children, had already been purchased, wrapped, and stashed away. “I won’t buy another blessed thing.”
* * *
razzled from a three-hour special demonstrating exercise equipment, athletic clothing, and workout videos, CeCe Hollister flopped on a chair in the hosts’ lounge where Zoey sat at a table giving her nails one last coat of dark pink enamel before her show began.
“Do I look as bad as I feel? Damn, three hours of trying to keep up with Michael McCall, the King of Fitness, and I’m ready to drop over.”
“Ah, yes, how well I remember the day when this whole fitness concept was introduced.” Zoey grinned. “Were you not the one who raised her hand and said, ‘Oh, please, Mr. Producer, please let me host the exercise shows. I’m in great shape. Please, allow me to don the biking shorts and the sports bras and work out on national TV with the fitness guru.’ That was you, wasn’t it?”
“It was, and I may never forgive you for not stuffing something in my mouth.”
“There wasn’t any room. Your foot was already in there.”
CeCe used the toe of one shoe—a heavily padded cross trainer—to slide the heel off the shoe of the other, then reversed the action before stripping off her white sweat socks. She wiggled her bare feet, then padded over to the small refrigerator and searched for the bottle of water she had brought in that morning. Leaning her head
back, she took a long drink before asking, “So. How’s it feel to be a homeowner?”
“Great. I love my house. I can’t wait to move in. I go out there every day and see what the workmen have done, walk around the place, and just dream of how wonderful it will be when it’s finished.”
“When do you think that will be?”
“Probably not till February. I was hoping to be in by Christmas, since I have to work Christmas Day and I was hoping to have my family here for Christmas Eve. But there’s no way that can happen. My mother and sister are going to Devlin’s Light again this year to spend the holiday with my brother and his
. India’s family does a bird watch on Christmas Day, and they can’t miss that. I went last year—I’m hoping to get down to the beach early enough this year so I can go again. It was fun. But apparently the electrical wiring in the house is more complicated than the electrician had originally thought, and it seems we’ve run into all sorts of little complications. But I expect I might be in by Valentine’s Day.”
“Let’s have a party. A housewarming and Valentine’s party.”
“Swell idea, CeCe, why didn’t I think of that?” Zoey glared. “And a swell party it will be. All single women, with perhaps one or two married couples thrown in for a little variety.”
“We should be able to scout up some guys.” CeCe frowned.
CeCe thought about it.
“Well, there’s always Mike the King of Fitness. I think he’s a hunk.”
“If you like that beefy type.”
“Oh, I do.” CeCe grinned.
“Great. And I guess I can always count on Wally.” Zoey grumbled.
“Your next door neighbor? I thought you said he was, like, seventy years old.”
“He is. But he’s the only single man I’ve met in the
past year who was the least bit interesting.” Zoey slumped back in her chair. “This is so bizarre, don’t you think? Here we are, two int
elligent, decent-looking women…”
“Excuse me, but I believe that would be two
“Judging by the number of dates I’ve had lately, I might just as well look like Granny Clampett.” Zoey inspected her nails, then moved her fingers back and forth rapidly to speed up the drying of the polish. “And when was the last truly memorable evening you spent with a man?”
“Two weeks ago when I went home for Thanksgiving. My brother Trevor invited some cowpoke buddies of his to a skating party down on Russell’s Lake back home in Larkspur, Montana. I met me the handsomest buckaroo you’d ever want to lay eyes on. Tall, dark, and to die for. Skated the night away.” She sighed dreamily.
“Nothing happened,” CeCe told her dourly. “At ten o’clock, he skated off in one direction, I skated off toward the airport, and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane headed back east.”
“Your brothers are really cowboys?”
“Yes, ma’am. Both of them. And three of my cousins, too.”
“Think they’d be interested in coming to a Valentine’s Day party?” Zoey said glumly.
“Only if we could find a ba
to hold it in. The Hollister men aren’t much for socializing. Not if it requires a shirt and tie, anyway.”
“What was his name?” Zoey asked.
“What was whose name?”
“The skating cowboy.”
“Dalt. Dalton Cahill. Deep blue eyes and dark hair, shoulders like this
She spanned her arms to demonstrate how big Cowboy Dalt’s shoulders were.
“Let me get this straight,” Zoey twisted the lid of the
nail polish to close the jar tightly. “You met a tall, dark, to-die-for cowboy named
and you left him to come back here?”
“I was scheduled to do a show the next afternoon, Zoey. It was the only flight I could get.” CeCe stuck out her bottom lip to make a slightly pouty face.
They both sighed deeply.
One of the young production interns poked her head into the room. “Zoey, they’re putting out the jewelry now. Amy wants you to come and take another quick look at the new products.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” Zoey held her left hand up for a final inspection. “Last I looked, there were a lot of rings in my first show. The nails can’t be beaten up.”
“They look fine,” CeCe peered over Zoey’s shoulder. “What else do you have today?”
“I have two hours of jewelry and one hour of cooking stuff. What a joke. Me, the queen of take-out, demonstrating cookware. This is definitely not a case of art imitating life.”
“Still keeping the local take-out establishments happy?”
“If it’s Tuesday, it must be Mexican.” Zoey grinned, and looked toward the door as it opened again. The same young intern stuck her head in.
“Zoey, Amy said—”
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” She slipped her feet into her low-heeled brown suede shoes. “Amy gets nervous when she has all that gold in one show. She’ll be draping me with it.”
“There are worse ways to earn a living,” CeCe told her as she put her feet up on the end of the wooden table i
n front of her chair. “Worm farm
ing comes to mind, taxidermy, perhaps
Zoey let the door swing closed with a bang, leaving CeCe to ponder alternative forms of employment.
“Oh, Zoey, there you are.” The producer, Amy, met Zoey in the hallway. “There have been several product
changes since yesterday afternoon. I want to make sure you are familiar with everything before you go on.”
“What’s new here?” Zoey peered over the jewelry, which was displayed on a long folding table covered with a plain white tablecloth.
“This bracelet”—Amy pointed to a wide, heavy gold chain—“was a substitute for the more narrow chain we had planned on. Someone had neglected to check the amount in stock. You always draw a large audience, and it was felt there wasn’t sufficient quantity for the show.” Zoey checked the yellow cards, which contained all the product information—size, color, gram weight of the bracelet, along with the price, country of origin, how many times it had appeared on the air, including the last date, and how many bracelets were in stock.
“There aren’t a whole lot of this one, either,” she noted.
“But this one is a lot more expensive than the other one was, so there won’t be as many orders.”
“Good point.” Zoey nodded, holding her right arm out so that Amy could fasten the bracelet on for her. “What else do you want me to wear today?”
“This gold bangle and the gold watch on your left wrist, and the big gold door knocker earrings. And this around your neck,
Amy lifted a very wide, flat gold necklace.
“Ummm, gorgeous.” Zoey sighed as she lifted the necklace. “I’ll bet there aren’t a whole lot of this one either. This has got to cost a fortune, even at our prices.” She leaned over and shuffled through the cards until she located the right one. “Wow. Is this right? Eighteen hundred dollars?”
Amy nodded and took the necklace from Zoey’s hands.
“And to think they’re actually
me to wear this little beauty,” Zoey murmured as the beautiful gold piece was fastened at her neck. “Not such a bad job at all.”