Her mothers keeper, p.12
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       Her Mother's Keeper, p.12

           Nora Roberts
 
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  find some way she could have made her feelings clearer. It’s all been said before, she reminded herself, but he doesn’t listen. He forgives me. With a quiet laugh, Gwen pressed her fingers to her eyes. He forgives me but thinks nothing of the cruel things he said. He doesn’t even love me. He loves the woman he’d like me to be.

  As she watched, a star shivered and fell in a speeding arc of light. Gwen caught her breath at the fleeting flash from heaven. Abruptly her thoughts centered on Luke. With him, she had felt a meteoric intensity, a brilliant heat. But she knew she could not hold him any more than the night sky could hold the trailing shimmer of light. Feeling a sudden chill, Gwen slipped back into her room. The middle of the night’s a bad time for thinking, she decided. I’d be much better off if I went downstairs and tried some of Monica’s detestable warm milk.

  Gwen moved quickly down the hall, not bothering to switch on a light. She knew her way, just as she knew which steps creaked and which boards moaned. An unexpected sound made her whirl around as she reached the head of the stairs.

  “Mama!” Stunned, Gwen watched her mother creep down the third-floor staircase. Anabelle started at Gwen’s voice, and her hand fluttered to her heart.

  “Gwenivere, you scared the wits out of me!” Anabelle’s soft bosom rose with her breath. Her hair was charmingly disordered around her face. The robe she wore was frilly, pink and feminine. “Whatever are you doing out here in the dark?”

  “I couldn’t sleep.” Gwen moved closer and caught the familiar scent of lilac. “Mama. . . .”

  “Of course, you’re probably starving.” Anabelle gave a sympathetic cluck. “It doesn’t do to miss meals, you know.”

  “Mama, what were you doing upstairs?”

  “Upstairs?” Anabelle repeated, then glanced back over her shoulder. “Oh, why, I was just up with Luke.” She smiled, not noticing Gwen’s draining color.

  “W-with Luke?”

  “Yes.” She made a token gesture of tidying her hair. “He’s such a marvelous, generous man.”

  Gwen gently took her mother’s hand. “Mama.” She bit her lip to steady her voice and took a deep breath. “Are you certain this is what you want?”

  “Is what what I want, darling?”

  “This—this relationship with Luke,” Gwen managed to get out, although the words hurt her throat.

  “Oh, Gwen, I simply couldn’t get along without Luke.” She gave Gwen’s icy hand a squeeze. “Goodness, you’re cold. You’d best get back to bed, dear. Is there anything I can get for you?”

  “No,” Gwen answered quietly. “No, there’s nothing.” She gave Anabelle a quick, desperate hug. “Please, you go back to bed, I’ll be fine.”

  “All right, dear.” Anabelle kissed her brow in a way Gwen recognized from childhood. Satisfied that there was no fever, Anabelle patted her cheek. “Good night, Gwen.”

  “Good night, Mama,” Gwen murmured, watching her disappear down the hall.

  Gwen waited until the sound of the closing door had echoed into silence before she let out a shuddering breath. Face it, Gwen, you’ve been falling for your mother’s man. For a moment, she merely stared down at her empty hands. Doing nothing wasn’t enough, she reflected. I could have stopped it. . . . I didn’t want to stop it. There’s nothing to do now but get untangled while I still can. It’s time to face things head-on. Lifting her chin, she began to climb the stairs to the third floor.

  Without giving herself a chance to think any further, she knocked at Luke’s door.

  “Yes?” The reply was curt and immediate.

  Refusing to give in to the urge to turn and run, Gwen twisted the knob and pushed open Luke’s door. He was, as he had been before, seated in the midst of his own disorder. He was hitting the keys of the typewriter in a quick, staccato rhythm, and his eyes were intent and concentrated. Faded, low-slung jeans were his only concession to modesty. The faintest hint of lilac drifted through the air. Moistening her lips, Gwen kept her eyes from the tousled sheets of the bed.

  I am in love with him, she realized suddenly, and simultaneously remembered it was impossible for her to be so. I’ll have to find a way to fall out of love with him, she told herself, warding off a brief stab of misery. I’ll have to start now. Keeping her head high, she closed the door behind her and leaned against it.

  “Luke?”

  “Hmm?” He glanced up absently, his fingers still working the keys. His expression altered as he focused on her. His hands lay still. “What are you doing here?” There was such sharp impatience in his voice that Gwen bit her lip.

  “I’m sorry to interrupt your work. I need to talk to you.”

  “At this hour of the night?” His tone was politely incredulous. “Run along, Gwen, I’m busy.”

  Gwen swallowed her pride. “Luke, please. It’s important.”

  “So’s my sanity,” he muttered, without changing rhythm.

  She ran a hand through her hair. Sanity, she thought desperately, I must have lost mine the moment he put down that ax and walked toward me. “You’re making this very difficult.”

  “I?” he tossed back furiously. “I make it difficult? Do you know how you look at me? Do you know how many times I’ve found myself alone with you when you’re half-dressed?” Instinctively, Gwen reached for the low neckline of her robe. “Contrary to popular opinion,” he continued as he rose and strode to a small table across the room, “I am a mortal man given to normal instincts.” There was a decanter of brandy on the table, and he poured himself a hefty glass. “Damn it, I want you. Haven’t I made that clear enough?”

  His tone was rough. Gwen felt the tears burn in her throat. When she spoke, her voice was thick with them. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean . . .” She broke off with a helpless shrug.

  “For God’s sake, don’t cry,” he said impatiently. “I’m in no mood to give you a few comforting kisses and send you along. If I touch you now, you won’t leave here tonight.” His eyes met hers. She swallowed even the thought of tears. “I’m not in a civilized mood, Gwen. I told you once that I know my limit. Well, I’ve reached it.” He lifted the decanter and poured again.

  Temptation fluttered along her skin. He wanted her, she could almost taste his desire. How easy it would be to take just one small step . . . to steal a night, a moment. The night would be full and rich. But the morning would be empty. Gwen’s eyes dropped, and she struggled with her own heart. When his passion was spent, she knew her love would starve. Love has found another fool, she thought resignedly. It’s best to do this quickly.

  “This isn’t easy for me,” Gwen told him quietly. Though she fought for calm, her eyes were tragic as they met his. “I need to talk to you about Mama.”

  Luke turned and walked to the French doors. Tossing them open, he stared out into the night. “What about her?”

  “I was wrong to interfere.” Gwen shut her eyes tight and struggled to strengthen her voice. “It was wrong of me to come here thinking I had any say in whom my mother becomes involved with.”

  Luke swore and whirled back to face her. She watched him struggle with temper. “You are an idiot. Anabelle is a beautiful woman—”

  “Please,” Gwen interrupted swiftly, “let me finish. I need to say this, and it’s so difficult. I’d like to say it all at once.” She still stood with her back to the door, poised for escape. Luke shrugged, dropped back into his chair and signaled for her to continue. “It isn’t up to me to decide what’s right for my mother, it’s not my right to interfere. You’re good for her, I can’t deny it.” Gwen’s breath trembled before she could steady it. “And I can’t deny I’m attracted to you, but it’s nothing that can’t be resolved by a bit of distance. I think—I think if you and I just stay out of each other’s way for the rest of my visit, everything will work out.”

  “Oh, do you?” Luke gave a quick laugh as he set down his glass. “That’s an amazing piece of logic.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Gwen frowned at the action, find
ing it somehow out of character.

  “I’m leaving next week,” Gwen told him. “There’s no need for me to stay, and I’ve left several things undone back in New York.” Hurriedly, she turned to the door.

  “Gwen.” Luke’s voice stopped her, but she could not bear to turn and face him again. “Don’t waste yourself on Michael.”

  “I don’t intend to,” she answered in a choked voice. Blind with tears, she opened the door and plunged into the darkness.

  Chapter 12

  Gwen dressed with care. She stretched out the process, dawdling over the buttons of her pale lavender blouse. After another sleepless night, Gwen knew she could not survive even a few more days in the same house with Luke. She could not be sophisticated, mature or philosophical about love. She went to her closet and pulled out her suitcase.

  When two women love the same man, she mused, one of them has to lose. If it were anyone else, I could fight her. She opened the first case. How does a daughter fight her own mother? Even if she wins, she loses. I haven’t really lost, she reflected as she moved to her dresser and pulled open a drawer. You have to have something first to lose it. I never had Luke.

  Gwen packed methodically, using the task as a diversion. She refused to speculate on what she would do when she returned to New York. While packing, she had no past and no future, only the present. She would have to face the shambles of her life soon enough.

  “Gwen.” Anabelle knocked quickly and stuck her head into the room. “I wonder if you’ve seen . . . Oh!” She opened the door all the way when she saw Gwen’s half-packed cases. “What’s this?”

  Gwen moistened her lips and strove for casualness. “I’ve got to get back to New York.”

  “Oh.” There was disappointment in the single syllable. “But you just got here. Are you going back to Michael?”

  “No, Mama, I’m not going back to Michael.”

  “I see.” She paused a moment. “Is there some trouble at your office?”

  The excuse was so perfect, agreement trembled on Gwen’s tongue. Regretably, the lie would not form on her lips. “No.”

  Anabelle tilted her head at her daughter’s tone, then quietly closed the door at her back. “You know I don’t like to pry, Gwen, and I know you’re a very private person, but . . .” Anabelle sighed before she walked over to sit on Gwen’s bed. “I really think you’d better tell me what this is all about.”

  “Oh, Mama.” Gwen turned away and rested both palms on her dresser. “It’s such an awful mess.”

  “It can’t be as bad as all that.” Anabelle folded her hands neatly in her lap. “Just tell me straight out, it’s the best way.”

  Gwen took a breath and held it. “I’m in love with Luke,” she said quickly, then expelled the breath in one swift whoosh.

  “And . . .” Anabelle prompted.

  Gwen’s eyes flew to the mirror in search of her mother’s. “Mama, I said I was in love with Luke.”

  “Yes, darling, I heard that part. I’m waiting for the part about the dreadful mess.”

  “Mama.” Gingerly, Gwen turned around. Anabelle smiled patiently. “It’s not just an infatuation or a crush, I’m really in love with him.”

  “Oh, yes, well, that’s nice.”

  “I don’t think you understand.” Gwen covered her face with her hands for a moment and then dropped them. “I even wanted him to—to make love with me.”

  Anabelle blushed a soft, gentle pink and brushed at her skirts. “Yes, well . . . I’m sure that’s quite natural. I don’t believe you and I ever had a talk about . . . ah, the birds and the bees.”

  “Oh, good grief, Mama,” Gwen said impatiently. “I don’t need a lecture on sex. I know all about that.”

  “Oh?” Anabelle lifted her brows in maternal censure. “I see.”

  “No, I don’t mean . . .” Gwen stopped in frustration. How did this conversation get away from me? she wondered. “Mama, please, this is hard enough. I came home to get rid of the man, and before I knew it, I was involved with him. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t want it. I’d never, never do anything to hurt you, and I was wrong because years don’t mean a thing, and no one has the right to choose for anyone else. Now I have to go away because I love you both so terribly, don’t you see?” Gwen ended on a note of despair and dropped down at Anabelle’s feet.

  Anabelle stared down at the tragic face thoughtfully. “Perhaps I will in a minute,” she answered, furrowing her brow. “No, actually, I don’t think I will. Why don’t you try again? Start with the part about your coming here to get rid of Luke. I believe that’s where I got confused.”

  Gwen sniffled and accepted Anabelle’s lace hankie. “I wanted to make him go away because I thought it was wrong for you to have an affair with him. But it was none of my—”

  “A what?” Anabelle interrupted. Her hand paused on its journey to smooth Gwen’s curls. “An affair?” she repeated, blinking rapidly. “An affair? Luke and I?” To Gwen’s amazement, Anabelle tossed back her head and laughed. It was a young, gay sound. “How delightful! Darling, darling, how flattering. My, my.” She smiled into space, her cheeks rosy with pleasure. “Such a handsome young man, too. He must be—” she stopped and fluttered her lashes “—well, a year or two younger than I.” She laughed again and clapped her hands together as Gwen looked on. Bending down, she kissed her daughter soundly. “Thank you, sweet, sweet child. I don’t know when I’ve had a nicer present.”

  “Now I don’t understand.” Gwen wiped a lingering tear from her lashes. “Are you saying you and Luke aren’t lovers?”

  “Oh, my.” Anabelle rolled her eyes. “How very blunt you are.”

  “Mama, please, I’ll go mad in a moment.” Briefly, Gwen pressed her fingers to her eyes. Rising, she began to pace the room. “You talked and talked about him in all your letters. You said he’d changed your life. You said he was the most wonderful man you’d ever met. You couldn’t get along without him. And just last night you were coming out of his room in the middle of the night. And you’ve been acting strangely.” Gwen whirled around and paced in the other direction. “You can’t deny it. Locking your door and practically pushing me out of the house on the flimsiest of excuses.”

  “Oh, dear.” Anabelle clucked her tongue and touched a hand to her hair. “I begin to see. I suppose it was silly of me to keep it a secret.” Standing, Anabelle took a blouse from Gwen’s suitcase, shook it out and walked to the closet. “Yes, it’s obviously my fault. But then, I wanted to surprise you. Poor darling, no wonder you’ve been so unhappy and confused. I’m afraid I thought you were brooding over Michael, but it wasn’t him at all, was it? Luke makes much better sense, I’m sure.” Carefully, Anabelle hung up the blouse. “Now, when I think back on it, I can see how you might think so.” She moved back to the suitcase while Gwen prayed for patience. “Luke and I aren’t having an affair, though I do thank you for the kind thought, dear. We are, however, collaborating in a sense. Why don’t you sit down?”

  “I think,” Gwen said, “I’m going to scream any minute.”

  “Always so impatient,” Anabelle sighed. “Well, this is a bit embarrassing. I feel so foolish.” She placed her hands on her cheeks as they grew warm. “Oh, I do hope you won’t laugh at me. I’m . . . I’m writing a book.” The confession came out in a swift jumble of words.

  “What?” Gwen exclaimed, touching her hand to her ear to check her hearing.

  “I’ve always wanted to, but I never thought I could until Luke encouraged me.” Excitement joined the embarrassment in Anabelle’s voice. “I’ve always had such pretty stories in my head, but I never had the courage to write them down. Luke says—” Anabelle lifted her chin and glowed proudly “—he says I have a natural talent.”

  “Talent?” Gwen echoed as she sank onto the bed.

  “Isn’t that lovely of him?” Anabelle enthused. She shook out one of Gwen’s packed dresses and moved toward the closet. “He’s given me so much help, so much time and encouragement! He doesn’t e
ven mind if I pop up to his room and try out an idea! Why, just last night he stopped his own work to listen to me.”

  Remembering the conclusions she had drawn, Gwen shut her eyes. “Oh, good grief! Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “I wanted to surprise you. And to be honest, I felt you’d think I was being silly.” She began neatly to put away Gwen’s lingerie. “My, what a pretty chemise. New York has such wonderful shops. Then there’s the money.”

  “Money,” Gwen repeated. Opening her eyes, she tried valiantly to follow her mother’s winding train of thought. “What money?”

  “Luke thinks I should sell the manuscript when I’m finished. It’s—well, it’s a bit crass, don’t you think?”

  “Oh, Mama.” Gwen could only close her eyes again.

  “I am sorry about not telling you and about locking my door so you wouldn’t catch me writing. And about shooing you out of the house so that I could finish up. You aren’t angry with me, are you?”

  “No, no, I’m not angry.” Gwen stared up at Anabelle’s glowing face and then buried her own in her hands and laughed. “Oh, help! What a fool I’ve made of myself!” She rose quickly and embraced her mother. “I’m proud of you, Mama. Very proud.”

  “You haven’t read it yet,” Anabelle reminded her.

  “I don’t have to read it to be proud of you. And I don’t think you’re silly, I think you’re marvelous.” Drawing away slightly, she studied Anabelle’s face. “Luke’s right,” she said, kissing both of her mother’s cheeks. “You are a beautiful woman.”

  “Did he say that?” Anabelle dimpled. “How sweet.” After patting Gwen’s shoulder, she moved to the door. “I think we’ve solved everything nicely. Come down after you’re unpacked, and I’ll let you read my first chapters.”

  “Mama.” Gwen shook her head. “I can’t stay. . . .”

  “Oh, Luke.” Anabelle beamed as she opened the door. “How lucky. You’ll never believe the mess Gwen and I have just straightened out.”

 
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