Carolina moon, p.20
Carolina Moon, p.20Nora Roberts
too. I went on over to Broderick's yesterday. Time to trade in my sedan. Planned to get another one, then I saw this baby on the lot." J.R. grinned and ran his fingers over his thick silver mustache. "Love at first sight."
"Four-speed?" Cade strolled around to peer into the cockpit.
"Bet your ass. Four on the floor. Haven't had me one of them since, hell, since I was younger than you. Didn't know until I popped the clutch how much I've missed it. Hated having to put the top up when the rain started."
"You pop the clutch and drive around at ninety, you're going to be stacking up tickets like cordwood."
"It'll be worth it." J.R. gave the car another affectionate pat, then glanced toward the house. "You stopping by to see Tory?"
"Thought I might."
"Good. I got some news to give her she might not take well. Just as soon she have a friend around when I do."
"What's wrong, what's happened?"
"It's nothing dire, Cade, but it'll trouble her. Let's just get it said all at once." He stepped up on the porch, knocked. "Feels funny knocking on family's door, but I got into the habit with my sister. She wasn't one for leaving the door open for company. There's my girl!" He said it heartily when Tory opened the door.
"Uncle Jimmy. Cade." Though her stomach did a quick pitch and jolt at seeing both of them on her porch, she stepped back. "Come in out of the wet."
"Ran into Cade here, seeing as both of us had in mind to stop by. I was just showing off my new car."
Obligingly, Tory looked out. "That's quite a . . ." She started to say toy, and realized that was likely to hurt his feelings. "A machine."
"Purrs like a big old cat. I'll take you for a spin first fine day."
"I'd like that." But just now she had two big wet men in her living room, one chair, and a nagging headache. "Why don't y'all come out to the kitchen. There's a place to sit, and I just made some hot tea to chase the damp away."
"Sounds good, but I don't want to track through the house."
"Don't worry about it." She led the way, hoping the aspirin she'd taken would kick in without the ten-minute nap she'd planned to go with it. The house smelled of the rain, of the ripe, wet scent of the marsh. Any other time, she would have enjoyed it, but now it made her feel closed in.
"I've got some cookies. They're store-bought, but better than I could make."
"Don't you go to any trouble now, honey. I've got to get back home here directly." But since she was already putting cookies on a plate, he reached for one. "Boots won't buy sweets these days. She's on a diet, and that means I am, too."
"Aunt Boots looks wonderful." Tory got out cups. "So do you."
"Now, that's what I tell her, but she fusses over the scale every blessed morning. You'd think gaining a pound here and there was the end of the world. Till she's satisfied, I'll be on rabbit food." He took another cookie. "Surprised my nose doesn't start to twitch."
He waited while she poured the tea, sat. "Heard your store's coming right along. Haven't had a minute to get down and see for myself."
"I hope you'll make it in on Saturday."
"Wouldn't miss that on a bet." He sipped his tea, shifted in his chair, sighed. "Tory, I hate coming over here with something that might upset you, but seems to me you ought to know what's what."
"It'll be easier if you tell me straight out."
"I'm not sure I can, exactly. I had a call from your mother just a bit ago. Just as Boots and I were finishing up our supper. She's in a state, or I guess you know she wouldn't have called me. We don't telephone regular."
"Is she ill?"
"No, not as what you'd call sick." He blew out a breath. "It has to do with your father. Seems like he got in some trouble a little while back. Damn it." J.R. pushed his cup around its saucer, then raised his eyes to Tory's. "Appears he assaulted a woman."
In her mind, Tory heard the snake-slither of the thick leather belt. The three harsh snaps. Her fingers jerked once, then settled steady. "Assaulted?"
"Your mother said it was all a mistake, and I had to pry what I got out of her with both hands. What she told me is some woman claimed your father, ah, roughed her up. Tried to, ah ... molest her."
"He tried to rape a woman?"
Miserable, J.R. shifted in his chair again. "Well, Sari, she wasn't real clear on the details. But whatever happened, it got Han arrested. He's been drinking again. Sarabeth didn't want to tell me that part, but I pushed it out of her. He got probation, contingent on his going to alcohol rehab and such. I don't figure he took it well, but he didn't have much choice."
He picked up the tea to wet his dry throat. "Then a couple weeks ago, he lit out."
"Hasn't been home. Sarabeth said she hadn't seen him in more'n two weeks now, and he's violated his probation. When they pick him up, he'll . . . they'll put him in jail."
"Yes, I suppose." She'd always been surprised, in a mild, distant way, that he'd never found himself on the wrong side of iron bars before.
God provided, she thought.
"Sarabeth, she's frantic." Without thinking, J.R. dunked his cookie in his tea, a habit his wife despaired over. "She's running low on money and she's worrying herself sick. I'm going to drive up and see her tomorrow, see if I can get a clearer picture of things."
"You think I should come with you."
"Now, honey, that's up to you. No reason I can't handle this on my own."
"And no reason you should. I'll go with you."
"If that's what you want, I'd be pleased to have the company. I thought to leave bright and early. You be ready 'round seven?"
"Yes, of course."
"Good. That's good. Fine." Awkward now, he got to his feet. "We'll get this all straightened out, you'll see. I'll come 'round and get you in the morning. No, you just sit still and drink your tea." He patted her head before she could rise. "I'll let myself out."
"He's embarrassed," Tory murmured, as she heard the front door open. "For himself, for me, for my mother. He told me while you were here because he'd have heard the gossip Lissy Frazier's passing around and thought I'd be better with you than alone."
Cade kept his eyes on her face. She hadn't shown any reaction. He marveled at her control even while it frustrated him. "Is he right?"
"I don't know. I'm more used to being alone. Are you wondering why I'm not particularly concerned about my father, or my mother?"
"No. I'm wondering what happened between you so that you're not particularly concerned. Or why you're determined not to be or show that you're upset by what J.R. just told you."
"What's the point in being upset? What's done's already been done. My mother chooses to believe my father didn't do what he was arrested for doing. But of course he did. If he'd been drinking he wouldn't have been as careful to keep the violence inside his own doors."
"Did he abuse your mother?"
A corner of Tory's mouth twitched into a parody of a smile. "Not while I was around. He didn't need to."
Cade nodded. He'd known. A part of him had known since the morning she'd come to his door to tell them all about Hope. "Because you were the easier target."
"He hasn't been able to aim at me for quite some time. I've made sure of that."
"Why are you blaming yourself?"
"I'm not." Because his eyes were steady, she closed hers. "Habit. I know he used her for his punching bag after I was gone. I never tried to do anything to change that. Not that either of them would have let me, but I never tried. I've only seen him twice since I was eighteen. Once, when I was living in New York, when I was happy, I had this notion that we could mend the things that were broken, or at least some of them. They were living in a trailer then, near the Georgia border. They moved around a lot after we left Progress."
She sat like that, with her eyes closed, in the quiet, while the rain pattered on the roof. "Daddy couldn't keep a job for long. Someone was always in for him, so he said. Or there was a better job another place.
"Couldn't you have gone for help? Your grandmother."
"He'd have hurt her." Tory opened her eyes, looked straight into Cade's. "He was afraid of her, the same as he was afraid of me, and he'd have done something to her. And my mother would've sided with him. She always did. That's why I didn't go to her when I left. If he'd found out, that wouldn't have set right with him. I can't explain it to you, I could never explain it to anyone, the way a fear can live inside you.
The way it dictates how you think and how you act, what you say, what you don't dare say."
"You just did."
She opened her mouth, then closed it again before something leaped out she hadn't thought through. "Do you want more tea?"
"Sit. I'll get it." He rose before she could, and put the kettle back on to boil. "Tell me. Tell me the rest."
"I didn't tell them I was leaving home, though I'd planned every step of what I would do, where I would go. I packed and ran off in the middle of the night, walked into town, to the bus station, and bought a ticket to New York City. When the sun came up I was miles away, and I never intended to come back again. But ..."
She lifted her laced fingers, then closed them again, like a prayer. "I went to see them that time," she said carefully. "I'd just turned twenty. Been gone two years. I had a job, working at a store downtown. A store with lovely things. I made a good salary, and I had my own place. It wasn't much bigger than a closet, but it was mine. I had my vacation coming and I took the bus all the way to the Georgia border to see them, well, maybe part of it was to show them that I'd made something of myself. Two years I'd been away, and inside of two minutes, it was like I'd never left."
He nodded. He'd gone away to college, become a man, he supposed, during those four years. And when he'd come back the rhythm was the same.
But for him it had been the right rhythm, one keenly missed.
"Nothing I did," she went on, "had done, could do, was right. Look how I'd tarted myself up. He knew the kind of life I was living up north. He figured I'd just come home because I was pregnant from one of the men I'd let get at me. I was still a virgin, but to him, I was a whore. I'd gotten some spine in those two years, just enough steel that I stood up to him. The first time in my life I dared to stand up to him. It took the rest of my vacation week for the bruises on my face to heal enough that I could cover them with makeup and go back to work."
"He only hit me once. But God, he had big hands. Big, hard hands, and they bunched so easily into fists." Absently, she lifted her hand to her face, traced the slightly crooked line of her nose. "Knocked me right off my feet and into the counter of that grubby little kitchen. I didn't realize my nose was broken. The pain was so familiar, you see."
Under the table Cade's own hands curled into fists that felt useless and late.
"When he came at me again, I grabbed the knife out of the sink. A big, black-handled kitchen knife. I didn't even think about it," she said in that calm, thoughtful voice. "It was just in my hand. He must've seen in my face that I'd have used it. That I'd have loved to use it. He stormed out of the trailer, with my mother running after him, begging him not to go. He flung her off like a gnat, right into the dirt, and still she called after him. God, she crawled after him on her goddamn hands and knees. I'll never forget that. Never."
Cade walked back to the stove, to the spitting kettle, to give her time to settle. In silence, he measured tea, poured the hot water. He sat again, and waited.
"You have a gift for listening."
"Finish it out. Get rid of it."
"All right." Calm now, Tory opened her eyes. If there had been pity in his, the words might not have come. But what she saw was patience.
"I felt sorry for her. I was disgusted with her. And I hated her. In that moment, I think I hated her more than him. I put down the knife and picked up my bag. I hadn't even unpacked, hadn't been there an hour. When I walked out, she was still sitting in the dirt and crying. But she looked at me, so much anger in her eyes. 'Why'd you have to go and make him mad? You always caused nothing but trouble.' She sat in the dirt, with her lip bleeding, either from where he hit her or from biting it when she fell. I just kept walking, never said a word to her. I haven't spoken to her since. My own mother, and I haven't had a word with her since I was twenty."
"It's not your fault."
"No, it's not my fault. I've had years of therapy so I can say that with assurance. It was none of it my fault. But I was still the cause. He, I think, he fed on punishing me, for being born. For being born the way I was. Up till the time I showed that I was different, he left me pretty much alone. I was my mother's problem, and he rarely took time for more than an absent swat. After that, I don't think a week ever went by without him abusing me.
"Not sexually," she said when she saw Cade's face. "He never laid hands on me that way. He wanted to. God, he wanted to, and that frightened him more, so he beat me more. And got twisted pleasure from it. Sex and violence are wrapped up tight inside him. Whatever they said he did to that woman, he did. Not rape, at least not that could be proved, or they'd never have given him probation so easily. But rape's only one way a man can hurt and humiliate a woman."
"I know it." He got up to fetch the pot and pour her tea. "You said you'd seen them twice.”
"Not them, him. Three years ago he came to Charleston. He came to my house. He followed me home from work. He'd found out where I worked, and he followed me home. He caught me as I was walking from the car. I was scared to death. Didn't have much of that steel I'd forged in New York left in me. He said my mother was sick and they needed money. I didn't believe him. He'd been drinking. I could smell it on him."
She could smell it now, if she let herself. The stale, hot stench like a bad taste in the air. She lifted her cup, breathed in the steam instead. "He had his hand around my arm. I could see what he wanted to do. To twist my arm, to snap the bone, and he was aroused by the images in his own head. I wrote him a check for five hundred dollars, wrote it on the spot. I didn't let him into the house. I would not let him into my home. I told him if he hurt me, or tried to get in the house, that if he came to where I worked, any of those things, I'd stop payment on the check and there'd never be any more money. But if he took it and left, and he never came back, I'd send a hundred dollars every month."
She let out a short laugh. "He was so surprised at the idea, he let me go. He'd always liked money. Just the having of it. He liked to lecture about rich men and eyes of needles, but he liked having money. I got into the house and locked the door. All that night I sat up with the phone and the fireplace poker in my lap. But he didn't try to get in. Not then, not ever. A hundred dollars a month bought me a kind of peace of mind. Not a bad price for it."
She drank now, a long drink of tea that was too hot and too strong, and nonetheless bolstered her. Unable to sit, she rose to stare out at the steady rain. "So, there you have it. Just some of the ugly secrets of the Bodeen family."
"The Lavelles have some ugly secrets of their own." He got up to walk to her, ran his hand down the length of the tidy braid that hung down her back. "You still had your steel, Tory. You had what you needed. He couldn't break it. He couldn't even bend it."
He brushed his lips on the top of her head, pleased when she didn't step aside as she usually did. "Have you eaten?"
"Probably not. Sit down. I'll scramble some eggs." "What are you talking about?" "I'm hungry, and if you're not, you should be. We'll have some eggs."
She turned, jerked once when he slid his arms around her. Tears swam into her eyes, quick and stinging, to be blinked ruthlessly away. "Cade, this can'
"Tory." He cupped the back of her neck until her head settled on his shoulder. "It's already gone somewhere. Why don't we stay there awhile, see how we like it."
It felt so good, so steady to be held this way, this easy and familiar way. "I don't have any eggs." She drew back, met his eyes. "I'll make soup."
Sometimes food was only a prop. She was using it now, Cade thought. Maybe they both were as she stirred canned soup on the stove and he put together the makings for grilled cheese sandwiches. A nice, homey meal for a rainy evening. The kind a couple might share with light conversation, and for the hell of it, a good bottle of wine.
He could have used an evening like that, he thought. Instead here he was slathering butter on bread the way Lilah had taught him and trying to out the way through Tory's thin and prickly shield.
"You could do better than soup and a sandwich down at Beaux Reves."
"I could." He set the skillet on the stove and stood beside her. Close, but not close enough to touch. "But I like the company here."
Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / Mystery & Detective have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes