Carolina moon, p.44
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       Carolina Moon, p.44

           Nora Roberts
 

  "Sure it is." He gave Cade a pained looked as Lissy pulled Tory toward the kitchen. "I couldn't stop her," he murmured. "She means it for the best."

  "I'm sure she does."

  "It's a terrible thing. Terrible. How's Tory holding up?"

  "She's coping." Cade glanced back toward the kitchen where Lissy's voice ran on and on. "I'm worried about her, but she's coping."

  "They're saying it was Hannibal Bodeen who did it. Word's spreading fast. I figured you'd want to know that's what's being said. It's going to get worse, I expect, before it gets better."

  "I don't think it gets any worse. Chief Russ give you any updates on the manhunt?"

  "He's playing it close. I guess he's got to. Haven't had anything like this around here since you lost your sister, Cade." He hesitated, then shifted, the dish still in his hands. "It can't be easy on you, either, bringing all that back again."

  "No, it's not. But I'll tell you the way it's starting to look, and that might close this off once and for all. It's starting to look like it might have been Bodeen who killed Hope."

  "Killed—" He took a long breath, blew it out again as he, too, glanced toward the kitchen. "God almighty, Cade. I don't know what to say. What to think."

  "Neither do I. Yet." "Dwight, come on and bring me that casserole, will you?" "On the way," he called back. "I'll move Lissy along, soon as I can. I know you don't want company."

  "Appreciate it. And I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't mention Tory's father's connection to Hope. To Lissy or anyone just yet. Things are hard enough on Tory right now."

  "You can count on me. I mean that, Cade. You let me know what you want done and when, and I'll see to it." He managed a smile. "You and me and Wade, we go back. All the way back."

  "I will count on you. I do. I—"

  There was a sudden squeal from the kitchen that had Dwight bolting across the room in alarm. He burst in to see Lissy, eyes wide, mouth open, with Tory's hand clutched in hers.

  "Engaged! Why, I just can't believe it! Dwight, look here what Tory's wearing on her finger, and neither of them saying a word about it." She jerked Tory's hand forward, her own face alive with the bliss of being, she was sure, the first to know. "Isn't this something?"

  Dwight studied the ring, then looked into Tory's eyes. He saw the fatigue, the embarrassment, the faint irritation. "It sure is. I hope you'll be very happy."

  "Of course she'll be happy." Lissy dropped Tory's hand so she could waddle around the table and hug Cade. "Aren't you the sly one, never letting on. Then snapping Tory up so fast. Why, her head must still be spinning. We have to celebrate, drink a toast to the happy couple. Oh."

  She stopped, had the grace to flush even if her eyes continued to dance. "What am I thinking? I'm just a scatterbrain, that's all. Oh honey, you must be so torn." She scurried back to Tory as quickly as she could manage. "Getting engaged and losing your mama this way so close together. Life goes on, you remember that. Life does go on."

  Tory didn't bother to sigh, but she did manage to get her hand in her lap before Lissy could grab it again. "Thank you, Lissy. I'm sorry, I hope you understand, but I need to call my grandmother. We have to see about arrangements."

  "Of course we understand. Now, I want you to let me know if there's anything I can do. Anything at all. Nothing's too big or too small. Dwight and I are more than happy to help. Aren't we, Dwight?"

  "That's right." He put his arm firmly around Lissy. "We'll go on now, but you can call us if there's anything you need. No, don't you get up." He steered Lissy toward the doorway. "We'll let ourselves out. You call now, you hear?"

  "Thank you." "Imagine that. Imagine it!" Lissy could hardly wait until they'd gotten to the front door. "Wearing a diamond big enough to blind you, and on the day she finds out her daddy killed her mama. I swear, Dwight, I don't know what to think. She'll be planning a wedding and a funeral at the same time. I told you, didn't I tell you, she was a strange one."

  "You told me, honey." He nudged her into the car, shut the door. "You surely told me," he murmured.

  Inside, Cade sat at the table. For a moment he and Tory studied each other in silence. "Sorry," he said at length.

  "For?" "Dwight's my friend, and she comes along with him."

  "She's a silly woman. Not particularly crafty, not particularly mean. She thrives on other people's business, good and bad. Right now, she doesn't know which to highlight. Here's Victoria Bodeen, in the middle of a tragedy and scandal. And here she is again, engaged to one of the most prominent men in the county."

  Tory paused, glanced down at the ring on her finger. It was a jolt to see it there, she thought. Not a bad sensation, just an odd one.

  "Such bulletins," she continued. "It all must be rattling around in her head like marbles. Clinking together as there isn't much else in there to get in the way." His mouth twitched. "Is that speculation, or did you take a look?"

  "There's no need to. And I don't do that, anyway, when everything she's thinking runs riot over her face. Dwight would never have gotten her out so quickly if she hadn't been jumping to get to a phone and start spreading the word."

  "And that bothers you."

  "Yes." She pushed back from the table, wandered to the window. Odd that it comforted somehow to look out into the dark shadows of the marsh. "I knew when I came back here I'd be under the microscope. I understood that. And I'll deal with it. My mother . . . I'll deal with that, too. There's nothing else I can do."

  "You don't have to deal with it alone."

  "I know. I came back here to face myself, I suppose. To resolve or at least accept what had happened to Hope, and my part in that. I expected the talk, the looks, the speculation and curiosity. I planned to use them to build my business. I have, and I'll keep on using them. That's cold."

  "No, it's good sense. Tough maybe, but not cold."

  "I came back for me," she said quietly. "To prove I could. I expected to pay for it. To quiet the restlessness inside me, but to pay for it. I never expected you."

  She turned back. "I never expected you. Cade. And I don't know quite what to do with all of this feeling I have inside me for you."

  He got to his feet, crossed to her to brush her hair back from her face. "You'll figure it out."

  "This is so easy for you."

  "I guess I've been waiting for you."

  "Cade, my father . . . What he is. Part of that's in me. You have to consider that. You have to weigh it in."

  "Do I?" He gave her a considering look as he turned her to walk toward the bedroom. "You're probably right. I suppose I should give you the same opportunity to weigh in my great-grandfather Horace who engaged in a long, lascivious affair with his wife's brother. When she discovered it, and in what you can imagine was her shocked distress, threatened to expose him, Horace, along with his lover, displeased by this reaction, dismembered her and kept the alligators fat and happy for several days."

  "You're making that up."

  "No indeed." He drew her down on the bed. "Well, the business about the alligators is family legend. There are some who say she simply fled to Savannah and lived to the age of ninety-six in mortified solitude. Either way, it isn't a proud footnote in the Lavelle family history."

  She turned to him, found the curve of his shoulder, and rested her head there. "I suppose it's a good thing I don't have any brothers."

  "There you go. Sleep awhile, Tory. It's just you and me here. That's what matters now."

  While she slept, he lay wakeful, listening to the sounds of the night.

  28

  "I'm asking you to indulge me."

  Tory looked up at the peaks and lines of Beaux Reves. "You're putting me between yourself and your mother again, Cade. That's not fair to any of us."

  "No. But I need to speak with her, and I don't want you driving into town by yourself. I don't want you alone until this is over, Tory."

  "Well, that makes two of us, so you can rest easy there. But I'd as soon wait in the car while you do what y
ou have to do inside."

  "Let's compromise." "Oh, when did that word enter your vocabulary?"

  He slanted her a slow and very bland smile. "We'll go around back. You can wait in the kitchen. My mother doesn't spend a lot of time there."

  She started to object again, subsided. He would, she knew, simply roll over her excuses and she was too worn out to fight about it. Too many dreams in the night, too many images sliding into her head in the day.

  When it was over, he said. As if it would be. As if it could.

  She got out of the car, walked with him around the garden path, through the wildly blooming roses, past the glossy-leafed camellia where a young girl had once secreted her pretty pink bike, wound through the hills of azaleas with their blooms long since spent, and fragrant spires of lavender that would scent the air all the way into winter.

  The world was lush here, full of color and shape and perfume. A lazily elegant place of bricked paths and lovely benches set just so among the beds and shrubs with overflowing pots of mixed blooms tucked artistically among the stream. The result was like a painting, meticulously executed.

  Margaret's world again, Tory realized, just like the studied perfection of the rooms inside. Nothing to mar it, nothing to change it. How wrenching it would be to have some invader burst in and skew the balance of it all.

  "You don't understand her."

  "Excuse me?"

  "Your mother. You don't understand her at all."

  Intrigued, Cade laced his fingers with Tory's. "Did I give you the impression I thought I did?"

  "This is her world, Cade. This is her life. The house, the gardens, the view she sees out the windows. Even before Hope died, it was the center for her. What she tended and preserved. And continued to after she lost her child. She could keep this," she said, turning to him. "Touch it, see it, make certain it didn't change. Don't take this from her."

  "I'm not." He cupped Tory's face in his hands now, holding it up to his. "But neither will I tolerate her using it, or the farm, as a threat to hold me under her thumb. I can't give her more than I've already offered, not even for you."

  "There has to be a compromise. Just as you said."

  "One would think." He laid his lips on her brow. "But sometimes, with some people, there's only yes or no. Don't take this on." He drew her back, and his eyes were troubled. "Don't ask me to, Victoria." The sound he made wasn't so much a sigh as a rush of air. "Don't ask me to bargain our happiness against her approval. I've never had her approval to begin with."

  It was so strange to realize it, and all at once. He'd grown up in a castle and had been just as starved for kind words as she. "It hurts you. I'm sorry I didn't see that it hurts you."

  "Old wounds." He ran his hands down her arms, laced fingers again. "They don't bleed like they used to."

  But they would seep and trickle from time to time, she thought, as they began to walk again. No one had ever used a belt on him, or fists. There were other ways to pummel a child.

  Even here, in all this beauty, so far removed from the barren and stifling rooms of her childhood. Beautiful, yes, Tory thought, as they walked under an arbor buried in morning glories, but lonely. That was just another word for barren.

  There should be someone sitting on the bench or clipping the gerberas for a basket. A child stretched belly-down over the path studying a lizard or toad.

  The painting needed life, and sound and movement.

  "I want children."

  Cade stopped in his tracks. "Excuse me?"

  Where had that come from, and why had it popped out of her mind as if it had always been there? "I want children," she repeated. "I'm tired of empty yards and quiet gardens and tidy rooms. If we live here, I want noise and crumbs on the floor and dishes in the sink. I couldn't survive in all those perfect, untouched rooms, and that's something you can't ask me to do. I don't want this house without life inside it."

  The words rushed out of her mouth, and the panic riding in them made him smile. He remembered a young boy who'd wanted to build a fort. Scrap wood and tar paper.

  "This is such an interesting coincidence. I was thinking two children, with an option for three."

  "Okay." She blew out a breath. "All right. I should've known you'd already figured it out."

  "I am a farmer. We plan. Then we hope fate cooperates." He bent to pluck a sprig of rosemary from the kitchen garden. "For remembrance," he said, as he gave it to her. "While you're waiting for me, remember we have a life to plan, as messy and noisy as we like."

  She went inside with him, and there was Lilah, as she was so often, working at the sink. The air smelled of coffee and biscuits and the sweet rose scent Lilah sprayed on every morning.

  "You come in late for breakfast," she said. "Lucky for you I'm in a good mood." She'd been watching them the last few minutes with a lightness of heart. They looked right together. She'd been waiting to see her boy look right with someone.

  "Well, sit down, coffee's fresh enough. I made up some flapjack batter nobody's bothered to eat."

  "Is my mother upstairs?"

  "She is, and the judge is cooling his heels in the front parlor." Lilah was already getting down mugs. "Don't have much to say to me today. Been on the phone considerable, and got her door shut. That sister of yours, she don't even bother coming home last night." Cade's stomach clutched. "Faith's not home?"

  "Nothing to worry on. She's with Doc Wade. Breezed out of here yesterday saying that's where she'd be and I'd see her when I see her. Seems nobody sleeps in their own bed around here these days but me. Too damn hot for all these carryings-on. Sit down and eat."

  "I need to speak to my mother. Feed her," he ordered, pointing at Tory.

  "I'm not a puppy," Tory muttered as he strode away. "Don't go to any trouble, Lilah."

  "Sit down, and take that martyr look off your face. It's his place to settle things with his mama, and not yours to fuss your head over it." She got out the griddle to heat. "And you'll eat what I put in front of you."

  "I'm beginning to think he takes after you."

  "Why shouldn't he? I did most of the raising of him. I'm not speaking against Miss Margaret. Some women aren't built to be mothers, is all. Don't make them less, just makes them what they are."

  She got a bowl out of the refrigerator, peeled back the cover. "I was sorry to hear about your mother."

  "Thank you."

  Lilah stood a moment, bowl in the crook of her arm, her eyes dark and warm on Tory's face. "Some women," she said again, "aren't built for mothering. That's why, just like the song says, God blesses the child who's got his own. You got your own, honey. You always did."

  For the first time since she'd heard the news of her mother's death, Tory wept.

  Cade stopped at the parlor first. Manners would never have permitted him to walk by an old family friend.

  "Judge."

  Gerald turned, and the stern, contemplative lines of his face relaxed fractionally when he saw Cade. "I was hoping I'd have a chance to speak with you this morning. I hope you can spare me a minute."

  "Of course." Cade stepped in, gestured to a chair. "I hope you're well."

  "A little arthritis, acts up now and again. Old age." Gerald gestured it aside as he sat. "Never think it's going to happen to you, then you wake up one day and wonder who the hell that old man is in your shaving mirror. Well." Gerald laid his palms on the knees of his trousers. "I've known you since you were born."

  "So there's no need to pick your words," Cade finished. "I'm aware my mother has spoken to you about some legalities and changes in her will." "She's a proud woman, and she's concerned for you."

  "Is she?" Cade lifted his eyebrows as if fascinated by that information. "She needn't be. I'm fine. More than fine. If her concern is for Beaux Reves," he continued, "it's also misplaced. We're having a very good year. Better, I think, even than last."

  Gerald cleared his throat. "Cade, I knew your father most of my life, was his friend. I hope you'll take what I have
to say in that spirit. If you would postpone your personal plans, take a bit more time to consider. I'm fully aware of a man's needs and desires, but when those desires are put ahead of duty, of practicality, and most of all ahead of family, it can never come to good."

  "I've asked Tory to marry me. I don't need my mother's blessing, or yours, for that matter. I can only regret those blessings aren't forthcoming."

 
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