Carolina moon, p.13
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       Carolina Moon, p.13

           Nora Roberts
 

  a nice egg salad here, so I don't have to stand around watching my only son starve to death. You're getting too thin."

  "I haven't lost an ounce."

  "Then you were too thin to start with."

  He had to laugh. "Why don't you put another egg on, Mama, so there'll be enough for both of us. I'll just go down and see to Sadie, and I'll come back and we'll have lunch together."

  "That'd be nice. You take your time." She slid another egg into the water, and glanced over her shoulder as he went out.

  Boots was well aware her son was a grown man, but he was still her baby. And a mother never stopped worrying about or looking out for her own.

  Men, she thought with a sigh, were such delicate, such oblivious creatures. And women, well, certain women, could take advantage of that.

  The doors of the old building weren't as thick as her son might believe. And a woman didn't reach the age of fifty-three without recognizing certain sounds for what they were. She had a pretty good idea just who'd been on the other side of that door with her boy. She'd reserve judgment on that matter, she told herself, as she sliced up pickles.

  But she'd be watching Faith Lavelle like a hawk.

  She was gone. Wade realized he should have figured she would be. She'd stuck a Post-it to the door, drawn a heart on it, and had pressed her lips to the center, leaving a sexy red kiss for him.

  He peeled it off, and though he told himself he was an idiot, tucked it into a drawer for safekeeping. She'd come back when she was in the mood. And he'd let her. He'd let her until he came to despise himself, or if he was lucky, until his heart was whole and his again, and she was just an interesting diversion.

  He stroked a hand over Sadie's head, then checked her vitals, her incision, and stitches. Because she was awake now, her deep brown eyes glassy and confused, he picked her up carefully. He'd take her upstairs with him, so she wouldn't be alone.

  9

  Sex made her thirsty. In a much happier frame of mind than she'd been in, Faith decided to wander up to Hanson's and buy herself a bottle of something cold and sweet to enjoy on the way to the market.

  She glanced back at the vet's office, then up at Wade's apartment windows. Blew him a mental kiss. She thought she might just give him a call later and see how he felt about taking a drive that evening. Maybe they could head over to Georgetown and find some pretty spot near the water.

  It was nice being with Wade, comfortable on one hand, exciting on the other. He was as dependable as sunrise, always there when she needed him.

  Memories of a long-ago summer when he'd spoken so easily of love and marriage, of houses and children, tried to wind through her mind, through her heart. She cast them out and set her mind on the thrill of fast, secret sex instead.

  That's what she wanted, and luckily, so did he. She'd oblige them both later. She'd borrow Cade's convertible, then they'd take that drive toward the coast. They'd park somewhere and neck like teenagers.

  She'd parked her own car several storefronts up from Wade's office. No point in giving tongues an excuse to wag, though God knew they wagged anyway over everything and nothing. She was about to slide in when she spotted Tory walk out of her shop door, then just stand back on the sidewalk and stare.

  There's an odd duck who never did grow out of her funny feathers, Faith thought, but curiosity had her crossing the street.

  "This one of your trances?"

  Tory jerked, then deliberately relaxed the shoulders that had tensed. "I was just seeing how the window looks. The sign painter finished not long ago."

  “Hmm.” Faith planted a hand on her hip and took a long look herself. The black scrolled letters looked fresh and classy. "Southern Comfort. Is that what you're selling?"

  "Yes." Because her pleasure in the moment had been dulled, Tory walked back to the door.

  "You sure aren't very friendly to a potential customer."

  Tory glanced back, eyes mild. Faith looked gorgeous, she thought. Sharp, smug, and satisfied. And she wasn't in the mood for it. "I'm not open yet."

  Annoyed, Faith grabbed the door before it could shut in her face, and squeezed inside. "You don't look near ready to me," she commented, scanning the nearly empty shelves.

  "Closer than it looks. I have work to do, Faith."

  "Oh, don't mind me. You go on and do whatever." Faith wagged a hand, and as much out of stubbornness as interest, began to wander.

  The place was clean as a whistle, she had to admit. The glass sparkled on the displays Dwight's men had built, the wood was polished to a gleam. Even the storage boxes were neatly stacked, and a large plastic bag held the Styrofoam bits used for packing. There was a laptop computer and a clipboard on the counter.

  "You got enough stuff to fill all this space?"

  "I will have." Resigned to the intrusion, Tory continued to unpack stock. If she knew Faith Lavelle, her companion would shortly be bored and wander out again. "If you're interested, I plan to open next Saturday. Selected stock will be ten percent off, that day only."

  Faith shrugged a shoulder. "I'm usually busy over the weekends." She roamed by a waist-high counter with a glass top. Inside, on a drape of white satin, were examples of handcrafted jewelry—silver and beads and colored stones, artistically scattered, designed to catch the eye and the imagination.

  Forgetting herself, she started to lift the top, found it locked, and swore under her breath. She shot a cautious look toward Tory, glad the other woman hadn't noticed.

  "You got some pretty enough baubles here." She wanted the silver dangle earrings with the little lapis balls, and wanted them immediately. "I didn't think you went in for baubles. Hardly ever wear any yourself."

  "I have three artists right now for baubles," Tory added dryly. "I particularly like the brooch in the center section. The wire's sterling, and the stones are garnet, citrine, and carnelian."

  "I see it. They're all scattered on the wire like stars, like one of those sparklers the kids light on the Fourth of July."

  "Yes, very like that."

  "It's nice enough, I suppose, but I'm not much for pins and brooches." She bit her lip, but avarice won over pride. "I like these earrings here."

  "Come back Saturday."

  "I might be busy." And she wanted them now. "Why don't you sell them to me, make yourself an early sale. That's what you're in business for, isn't it? To make sales."

  Tory set a pottery oil lamp on the shelf. She was careful to wipe the smile off her face before she turned. "I'm not open for business yet, but ... " She started toward the display. "For old times' sake."

  "We never had any old times."

  "I suppose you're right." She unhooked the keys that dangled from her belt loop. "Which one caught your eye?" "That one. Those." She tapped the glass. "The silver and lapis."

  "Yes, they're lovely. They suit you." Tory took them off the satin, held them to the light before passing them to Faith. "You can use one of the mirrors if you want to try them on. The artist lives outside of Charleston. She does beautiful work."

  As Faith walked to a trio of mirrors framed in bronze and copper, Tory slipped a long pendant out of the case. Why make one sale if you could make two? "This is one of my favorite pieces of hers.

  “It’d go well with those."

  Trying not to be overly interested, Faith glanced down. The pendant was a thick barrel of lapis clasped in silver hands. "Unusual." She switched her earrings for the new ones, then gave in and took the necklace. "You won't see this walking back at you down the street."

  "No." Tory allowed herself a smile. "I plan to offer the unique."

  "I suppose I should have both. Haven't treated myself in ages. Seems like everything you see around Progress is the same as the other."

  Quietly, Tory closed the top of the display. "Not anymore."

  Lips pursed, Faith swiveled the chain around to look at the tag. "Some people will say you're outpricing yourself." She skimmed her finger down the chain as she looked back at Tory. "They'd be w
rong. This is fair enough. Fact is, you could charge more if you were in Charleston."

  "But I'm not. I'll get your boxes."

  "Don't bother, I'll just wear them out." She opened her purse, dropped her other earrings carelessly inside. "You just cut the tags off for me, and ring it up."

  "Add it up," Tory corrected. "I don't have the cash register set up yet."

  "Whatever." She slipped off the necklace, the tagged earring. "I'll write you a check." Faith lifted her eyebrows when Tory held out a hand. "I can't write it until you give me the total."

  "No, give me your other earrings. That's no way to treat them. I'll give you a box." With a short laugh, Faith dug them out again. "All right, little mother."

  Sex and shopping, Faith thought, as she wandered again. There couldn't be a better way to spend the day. And from the looks of Tory's shop. Who'd have thought little, spook-eyed Tory Bodeen would grow into such fine taste? And learn how to use it so cleverly.

  “Must’ve been a powerful lot of work to hunt up the right things, to find the people who made those things, to calculate what to charge for them, to design the space to display them.

  Likely more to it than that, Faith mused. Bookkeeping and that kind of nasty thing.

  She found herself impressed, and a little envious, by the idea of having the gumption and the skill to create a business from nothing.

  Not that she'd want any part of such an undertaking, and all that responsibility, herself. A shop like this would tie you down tighter than a coil of hemp. But wasn't it nice the shop was so convenient to Wade? Maybe life in Progress was about to pick up for a while.

  "You ought to tip this bowl up on a stand." She stopped, tipped the big serving bowl herself. "So people can see the inside design from across the room."

  Tory had intended to, once she'd unpacked her stands. Adding figures, she barely glanced up. "Want a job? I've got your total here, tax included, but you should check my math."

  "You always got better grades there than I did." She started over, and the shop door opened. Faith would have sworn she heard Tory groan.

  “Lissy’s squeal was, in Tory's opinion, only one of her annoying habits. Among the others were her tendency to douse herself in lily-of-the-valley scent that entered the room before she did, and remained in it long after she'd left.

  As both the scent and the squeal entered her shop, Tory gritted her teeth in what she hoped would be mistaken for a smile.

  "Oh, isn't this fun! I just got my hair done and was walking on down to the office when I saw y’all in here."

  As Lissy clapped her hands together and took a turn around, Tory shot Faith a single, deadly look. It was answered by a lightning grin of perfect understanding, and a coy flutter of lashes.

  "I happened along just after Tory's sign was finished."

  "And it looks just fine, too. Everything's coming right along, isn't it?" With one hand on the weight of her belly, Lissy turned back to scan the shelves. "It's all looking so pretty, Tory. Why, you must've worked like six mules to get so much done in so little time. And didn't my Dwight do a fine job."

  "Yes, I couldn't be happier with the work." "'Course not. He's the best there is. Oh, isn't this dear!” She snatched the oil lamp Tory had just placed on the shelf. "I just love things that sit around the house. Dust catchers, Dwight calls them, but it's those touches that make a home, isn't it?"

  Tory took a deep breath. Just one more of those annoying traits was Lissy's habit of turning every sentence into an exclamation. "Yes, I think so. If dust doesn't have someplace to catch, it'll just fall on an empty table."

  "Why, that's so true!" Discreetly, Lissy turned the price tag over, then rounded her mouth into an O of surprise. "My, it's dear, isn't it?" "It's handcrafted and signed," Tory began, but Faith rolled right over her.

  "You get what you pay for, don't you, Lissy? And Dwight makes enough to indulge you, especially since you're about to pop with another baby. I swear if I ever carried a weight around for nine months, the man who planted it there would have to buy me the moon and the stars."

  Not entirely sure if she was being complimented or insulted, Lissy frowned. "Dwight just spoils me rotten."

  "'Course he does. I just bought me these earrings." She gave the one still in her ear a spin with a fingertip. "And a pendant, too. Tory's giving me a little jump on her Saturday opening."

  "Really?" Lissy's eyes went sharp and narrow.

  As Faith knew, she wasn't one to tolerate anyone getting ahead of her. She clutched the lamp greedily to her breasts. "Tory, you just have to let me have this now. My heart's just set on it. I don't know if I can get in here first thing on Saturday, and somebody else might snap it up. Be a doll, won't you, and let me buy it today?"

  Tory circled Faith's total so that she could begin calculating. "It'll have to be cash or check, Lissy. I'm not set up for credit cards today. But I'd be happy to set it aside for you if—"

  "No, no, I can write you a check. Maybe, since I'm here and all, I could just poke about for a bit? It's just like playing store."

  "Yeah." Tory took the lamp, set it on the counter. It looked like she was open for business after all.

  "Oh! Are these mirrors for sale?"

  "Everything's for sale." Tory got a small navy blue box from under the counter, placed Faith's earrings inside. "I'm going to put the artist's card in with your old earrings."

  "Fine. You don't have to thank me," she added under her breath.

  "I'm debating whether you did it to be helpful or to irritate me," Tory said equably. "Or irritate her. But ... " She noted down the price of the lamp. "A sale's a sale, so I will thank you. You knew just which button to push."

  "On that one?" Faith glanced over to where Lissy was oohing and aahing and chattering. "She's as simple as they come."

  "She buys one of those mirrors, and she can be my new best friend."

  "Well, I like that." Enjoying herself more than she'd imagined, Faith pulled out her checkbook. "I get shoved aside, and after I gave you your first sale, too."

  "I just have to have this mirror, Tory. The oval one with the lilies going up the side. I've just never seen anything like it. It'll look so sweet in my little sitting room."

  Tory's eyes met Faith's over the counter, gleamed. "Sorry, she just outbought you." To Lissy, she called out, "I'll get the box out of the back room."

  "I appreciate that. I swear there's just so much to choose from already, and I guess you're not half set up. I was telling Dwight just the other night that I don't see where you find the time. Between moving into the house, setting things up here, handling deliveries, and spending evenings with Cade, you must've found yourself a twenty-six-hour day."

  "Cade?" The name popped simultaneously from Tory's and Faith's lips. "That man moved faster than I gave him credit for." Lissy wandered back. "I have to say, I never pictured the two of you together, as a couple. But you know what they say about still waters."

  "Yes. No." Tory held up a hand. "I don't know what you're talking about. Cade and I aren't together."

  "Oh, there's no need to be coy when it's just us girls. Dwight told me all about it, explained you'd probably want to keep it quiet awhile. I haven't told a soul, don't you worry."

  "There's nothing to tell. Absolutely nothing to tell. We just ... " She saw two pair of eyes sharpen, and felt her tongue go thick. "Nothing. Dwight's mistaken. I'll go get the box."

  "Don't know why she's so hell-bent to keep it secret," Lissy commented, when Tory rushed into the storeroom. "After all, it's not like either of them's married or anything. Of course," she added with a smirk, "I guess the idea she's rolling on the sheets with Cade after being back here less than a month doesn't go with that quiet, proper-lady attitude she's painting herself with."

  "Oh?" Cade's business was Cade's business, Faith told herself. But she'd be damned if she'd let this little cat claw at him. "Don't quiet, proper ladies have sex?" With a viciously bright smile, she tapped a finger on Lissy's belly. "I g
uess that bump you got there's from eating too much chocolate."

  "I'm a married woman."

  "You weren't when you and Dwight were bouncing around in the backseat of the secondhand Camaro his daddy bought him when he lettered in track." "Oh, for heaven's sake, Faith, you did plenty of bouncing of your own back then."

  "Exactly. That's why I'm damned careful where I aim my stone if I get an urge to throw one." She signed her check with a flourish, then picked up the mate to her earring.

  "All I'm saying is that for somebody who's barely back in Progress and who's been doing God knows what all these years she sure has latched on to a Lavelle mighty fast."

 
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