Carolina moon, p.41
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       Carolina Moon, p.41

           Nora Roberts
 

  "Why is it wrong? Why should I have to want things from you, or want you to be something, do something, when I've been happier with you, just as you are, than I've ever been."

  He stopped, turned back to her. The sun beat mercilessly down on the fields. He felt the heat roll over him, roll inside him. "That's a first. You telling me I make you happy. But I'll tell you what's wrong with it. I want things from you, and it's not going to work between us if it's all one-sided. Neither one of us is going to stay happy for long that way."

  The ache punched into her stomach and up toward her heart. "You want to end it. I don't—" Her breath caught, breaking her voice. Tears swam into her eyes, burned there. "You can't—" Fumbling for words, she backed away. "I'm sorry."

  "You should be, for thinking that." He didn't fuss with her tears but narrowed his own eyes. Calculated. "I told you I loved you. Do you think I can just switch that off because you're a lot of work? I brought you here to show you I finish what I start, that what belongs to me gets everything I've got. You belong to me." He gripped her arms, brought her up to her toes. "I'm getting tired of waiting for you to figure that out. I care for what's mine, Tory, but I expect something back. I told you I love you. Give me something back."

  "I'm afraid of what I feel for you. Can you understand?" "I might, if you tell me what you feel for me." "Too much." She shut her eyes. "So much I can't imagine my life without you in it. I don't want to need you."

  "And of course it's easy for everyone else to need. For me to need you." He gave her a little shake that had her eyes snapping open. "I love you, Victoria, and it's given me some very bad moments." He pressed his lips to her brow; "I wouldn't change it even if I could."

  "I want to be calm about it." She laid her cheek against his chest, smiling a little when he pulled the sunglasses free and tossed them on the ground. "I just want to be normal about it."

  "Why would you think it's normal to be calm about love? I don't feel calm." He stroked a hand down her hair. "Do you love me, Tory?"

  She tightened her grip, anchoring herself. "Yes. I think—"

  "Just yes." He tugged her hair until her face lifted. "Let's leave it at yes," he murmured, and covered her mouth with his. "Say it a few times so we both get used to it. Do you love me?"

  "Yes." She let out a shaky breath, wrapped her arms around his neck.

  "Better already. Do you love me, Tory?"

  This time she laughed. "Yes."

  "Nearly perfect." He rubbed his lips over hers, felt hers soften. "Will you marry me, Tory?"

  "Yes." Her eyes fluttered open, she jerked back. "What?"

  "I'll take the first response." He swung her off her feet, kept her mouth busy with his until she was breathless and dizzy.

  "No. Put me down. Let me think."

  "Sorry, I'm afraid you leaped before you looked. Now you have to live with it." "You know very well that was a trick." "A maneuver," he corrected, as he carried her back toward the car. "And a damn good one, if I do say so myself."

  "Cade, marriage is nothing to joke about, and it's something I haven't begun to think of."

  "You'll have to think fast then. If you want a big wedding we can wait till fall, after harvest." He dropped her into the car. "But if you'd like small and intimate, my preference, next weekend suits me."

  "Stop it. Just stop. I haven't agreed to marriage."

  "Yes, you did." He hopped in beside her. "You can backtrack, bluster, circle around, but the fact is, I love you. You love me. Marriage is where we're heading. That's the kind of people we are, Tory. I want a life with you. I want a family with you."

  "Family." The thought of it ran cold in her blood. "Don't you see that's why . . . Oh God, Cade."

  He took her face in his hands. "Our family, Tory. The one we'll make together will be ours."

  "You know nothing's that simple."

  "There's nothing simple about it. Right doesn't always mean simple." "This isn't the time, Cade. There's too much happening around us."

  "That's why it's the perfect time."

  "We'll talk rationally about this," she told him when he drove down the dirt road. "When my head's not spinning."

  "Fine, we'll talk all you want." When the work road split, he took the left fork. Instantly, Tory shot up in the seat, her stomach pitching.

  "Where are you going?"

  "Beaux Reves. There's something I need to get." "I'm not going there. I can't go there." "Of course you can." He laid a hand on hers. "It's a house, Tory. Just a house. And it's mine."

  Her chest hurt, and her palms went damp. "I'm not ready. And your mother won't like it. It's your mother's home, Cade."

  "It's my home," he corrected coolly. "And it'll be our home. My mother will have to deal with that."

  And so, he thought, would Tory.

  26

  It was, Tory thought, the most wonderful house. Not grand and elegant like the lovely old homes in Charleston with their fluidity and feminine grace. But vibrant and unique and powerful. As a child she'd thought of it as a castle. A place of dreams and beauty and great strength.

  On the few occasions she had dared to step inside, she had gawked and spoken in whispers like a pagan entering a cathedral.

  She had gone in rarely, too shy and afraid to risk the tight-lipped disapproval of Margaret Lavelle. And as yet too young to protect herself against the sharp arrows of Margaret's thoughts.

  But she had seen and smelled and touched every room through Hope.

  She knew the view out of each window, the feel of the tile and wood floors. Under her feet she smelled the scent that hung in the tower office, the mix of leather and bourbon and tobacco that meant man.

  Papa.

  She couldn't allow herself to see it through Hope's eyes now, to be drawn to it, into it, that way. She had to see it through her own. Through the now.

  It was as stunning as it had been the first time she'd seen it, she realized. Stunning and proud against the sky, with towers defiantly rising. Beaux Reves. Yes, it was exactly that. Beautiful dreams with flowers spread at its feet like an offering and grand old trees guarding its flanks.

  For a few precious moments, Tory forgot that the last time she'd seen it, she'd limped up the lane with horror in her eyes and death in her heart.

  "It doesn't change," she murmured.

  "Hmm?"

  "No matter what goes on around it, even inside it, it stays. There's wonder in that."

  It meant something to him to hear the pleasure in her voice when she spoke of his home. "My ancestors had ego and humor. Both are strong traits for building." He stopped the car, turned off the engine. "Come inside, Victoria."

  Her smile, one she hadn't known curved her lips, vanished. "You're asking for trouble."

  He got out of the car, walked around to her door, opened it. "I'm asking the woman I love into my home." He took her hand and drew her out. She was reminded that however genteel he might be, he was equally stubborn. "If there's trouble, we'll deal with it."

  "It's easier for you. You stand on a foundation, like the house. I've always teetered on boggy ground, so I have to watch my step." She looked up at him. "Is it so important to you that I take this one?"

  "Yes, it is." "Well, remember that if I end up sinking."

  They walked up the steps onto the veranda. She remembered sitting there with Hope, playing jacks or studying one of their pirate maps. Long, tall glasses of lemonade beaded with damp. Frosted cookies. The scents of roses and lavender.

  The image of it slipped in and out of her mind. Two young girls, arms and legs browned from the sun, their heads bent close. Whispering secrets though there was no one to hear.

  "Adventure," Tory said quietly. "That was our password. We were going to have so many adventures."

  "Now we will." He lifted her hand to kiss it. "She'd like that, wouldn't she?"

  "Yes, I suppose she would. Though she didn't care much for boys." Tory managed a smile as he opened the door. "You're so tedious and silly." Her h
eart beat too fast, and the grand foyer with its lovely green tiles stretched in front of her like a pit. "Cade."

  "Trust me," he said and drew her inside. The air was cool. It was always cool and fresh and fragrant. She remembered the magic of that, of how sharply it contrasted with the stuffy heat of her house, how the smells of last night's dinner never smeared the air here.

  And she remembered standing there with Cade before, nearly there. "You were tall for a boy." She fought to keep her voice steady. "It seemed to me you were tall, and so pretty. The prince of the castle. You still are. So little has changed here."

  "Tradition is a religion to the Lavelles. We're schooled in it from birth. It's both comfort and trap. Come into the parlor. I'll get you something cool to drink."

  She wasn't allowed in the parlor, nearly said so before she caught herself. She could sit in the kitchen if she went in the back. Lilah would give her iced tea or Coca-Cola, a cookie or some small treat. And if she helped with the sweeping, a quarter to tuck in her mason jar under the bed.

  But she wasn't allowed in the family rooms.

  With an effort, she blocked out the old images that wanted to intrude and concentrated on the now. The early lilies were in bloom, and there was a vase bright with them on a gorgeous table spread beneath the curve of the stairs.

  The scent of them was utterly female. Beside them were tall white tapers in bold blue stands. No one had lighted them, so they stood pure, untouched and perfect.

  Like a photograph, she thought. Every piece, every placement absolute as if it had remained, just exactly so, for decades.

  And now she was walking into the picture.

  Even as she stepped toward the doorway, Margaret appeared at the top of the sweep of stairs.

  "Kincade." Her voice was sharp, stinging. Her hand wanted to tremble as it held the banister, but she wouldn't permit it. Head lifted, she came halfway down. "I would like to speak with you."

  "Of course." He knew the tone, the stance, and didn't bother to mask his response with a polite smile. "I'm about to show Tory into the parlor. Why don't you join us?"

  "I prefer to speak with you privately. Please come upstairs." She started to turn, assured he would follow.

  "I'm afraid that'll have to wait," he said pleasantly. "I have a guest." She jerked to a halt, her head whipping around just as Cade led Tory into the parlor.

  "Cade, don't do this." Already the tension, the stabs of animosity were pricking her. "There's no point."

  "There's an essential point. What would you like? I'm sure Lilah has iced tea in the kitchen, or there's sparkling water behind the bar."

  "I don't need anything. Don't use me as a weapon. It's not fair."

  "Darling." He bent down to kiss her forehead. "I'm not."

  "How dare you?" Margaret stood in the doorway, her face pale and set, her eyes swirling with temper. "How dare you defy me in this way, and with this woman? I made my wishes perfectly dear. I will not have her in this house."

  "Perhaps I didn't make my wishes perfectly clear." Cade shifted, laid his hand on Tory's shoulder. "Tory is with me, and welcome here. And I expect anyone I bring into my home to be treated with courtesy."

  "Since you insist on having this conversation with her present, I see no reason to bother with a pretense of courtesy or manners."

  The picture changed again as Margaret entered. The stage, Tory thought, was perfectly dressed. Only the characters revolved.

  "You are free to sleep with whomever you choose. I can't stop you from spending your time with that woman or generating gossip about yourself and this family. But you will not bring your slut under my roof."

  "Be careful. Mother." Cade's voice had gone soft, dangerously soft. "You're speaking about the woman I'm going to marry."

  As if he'd struck her, Margaret took a staggering step back. Color flooded her face now, staining her cheeks. "Have you lost your mind?"

  Where are my lines? Tory wondered. Surely I must have some in this odd little play. Why can't I remember them?

  "I'm not asking you to approve. While I regret this upsets you, you'll have to adjust."

  "Cade." Tory found her voice, already rusty with disuse. "I'm sure your mother would prefer to speak to you in private."

  "Don't put words in my mouth," Margaret snapped at her. "I see I might have waited too long. If you persist on this path, with this woman, you risk Beaux Reves. I'll use my influence to persuade the board of Lavelle Cotton to remove you as chairman."

  "You can try," he said equably. "You won't succeed. I'll fight you every step of the way, and I have the advantage. And even if you could undermine my position at the plant, which I doubt, you'll never touch the farm."

  "This is your gratitude? It's her doing." Margaret's heels clicked on the hardwood as she rushed forward. Cade merely stepped to the side, putting himself between Tory and his mother.

  "No, it's my doing. Deal with me."

  "Oh good, a party." With Bee racing at her heels, Faith strolled in. Her eyes were bright with anticipation, her smile wicked. "Hello, Tory, don't you look pretty. How about some wine?"

  "That's an excellent idea. Faith. Pour Tory some wine. Deal with me," he repeated to Margaret.

  "You're disgracing your family, and your sister's memory."

  "No, but you are. It's a disgrace to blame one child for the death of another. A disgrace to treat a blameless woman with such contempt and viciousness out of your own guilt and grief. I'm sorry you could never see beyond them to the children you had left, to the life you might have made outside of that bubble you surrounded yourself with."

  "You would speak to me this way?"

  "I've tried every other way. If you did what you had to do for yourself, I won't blame you for it. If you continue to live as you have these last eighteen years, it's your choice. But Faith and I have lives of our own. And mine is going to be with Tory."

  "Well, congratulations." Faith lifted the glass of wine she'd just poured, then drank it herself. "I suppose this should be champagne. Tory, let me be the first to welcome you into our happy family."

  "Be quiet," Margaret hissed, and got no more than a shrug from her daughter. "Do you think I don't know why you're doing this?" she said to Cade. "To spite me. To punish me for some imagined wrongs. I'm your mother, and as such I've done my best by you since the day you were born."

  "I know that."

  "Depressing, isn't it?" Faith murmured. Cade merely glanced at her, shook his head.

  "I've nothing to spite or to punish you for. I'm not doing this to you, Mama. I'm doing it for me. I've had a miracle in my life. Tory came back into it."

  He took her hand again, found it icy, drew her up beside him. "And I found out I'm capable of more than I imagined. I'm capable of loving someone, and of wanting to do my best by her. I'm getting the best of the bargain here. She doesn't think so, won't even after this. But I know it. And I intend to treasure it."

  "By tomorrow, Judge Purcell will have my new will drawn up. I will cut you both off without a penny." She aimed her furious gaze at Faith. "Not a cent, do you understand, unless you stand with me now. You have no personal stake in this woman," she said to Faith. "I will see to it that you receive your share, and Cade's, beginning with the fair market value of your interest in the Marsh House and the Market Street property."

  Faith contemplated her wine. "Hmmm. Now, what would that fair market value be?"

  "In the vicinity of a hundred thousand," Cade told her. "I can't speak for what my share of our mother's estate might be, but I would assume it edges quite a bit closer to seven figures."

  "Oooh." Faith pursed her lips. "Imagine that. So all that will be mine if I just toss Cade to the wolves, so to speak, and do what you want me to do." She waited a beat. "Now, when, I wonder, have I ever done what you wanted, Mama?"

  "You would be wise to think this through."

  "Second question. When have I ever been wise? Do you want wine, Cade, or would you rather a beer?"

  "I
will not make this offer a second time," Margaret said coldly. "If you insist on going through with this farce, I will leave this house, and you and I will have nothing more to say to each other."

  "I'll be sorry for that." Cade's voice remained calm. "I hope
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