Carolina moon, p.7
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       Carolina Moon, p.7

           Nora Roberts

  "What are you afraid of, Faith?" Everything, she thought, as he walked away. Just everything.

  Restless now, she uncurled herself and paced to the tall front windows. Gone now was the languorous southern belle. Her movements were quick, almost jittering with nervous energy.

  Maybe she would go into town, she thought. Go somewhere. Maybe she'd just leave altogether.

  And go where?

  Nothing was what she thought it would be when she left Beaux Reves. No one was how she thought they would be. Including herself.

  Every time she left she told herself it was for good. But she always came back. Every time she left she told herself it would be different. That she would be different.

  But she never was.

  How could she expect anyone to understand that everything that had happened before, everything that had happened since, all hinged on that one night when she—when Hope—had been eight?

  Now the person who connected the night with all the others was back.

  Standing, looking out over the lawn and gardens going silver with dusk, Faith wished Tory Bodeen to hell.

  It was nearly eight when Wade finished with his last patient, an elderly mixed breed with failing kidneys and a heart murmur. His equally elderly owner couldn't bring herself to put the poor old dog down, so Wade had once again treated the dog and gently soothed the human.

  He was too tired for the diner and thought he'd just slap together a sandwich or open a can.

  The small apartment above his office suited him. It was efficient, convenient, and cheap. He could have afforded better, and so both of his parents continually reminded him, but he preferred to live simply and shovel the profits of his practice back into it.

  He had no pets of his own at the moment, though he'd had quite a menagerie as a child. Dogs and cats, of course, and with them the prerequisite wounded birds, the frogs, the turtles, the rabbits, and once a runt pig he'd called Buster. His indulgent mother hadn't drawn the line until he'd wanted to bring home a black snake he'd found stretched across the road.

  He'd been sure he could talk her into it, but when he'd come to the kitchen door with a plea in his eyes and four feet of wiggling snake in his hands, his mother had screamed loud enough to bring Mr. Pritchett from next door leaping over their shared fence.

  Pritchett had sprained his hamstring, Wade's mother had dropped her beloved milk glass pitcher on the kitchen tiles, and the snake had been banished to the river outside of town.

  But bless her, Wade thought, she'd tolerated everything else he'd dragged in with hardly a word of complaint.

  Eventually he'd have a house and yard and the time to indulge himself. But until he could afford a larger staff, most of his workdays ran ten hours minimum, and that didn't count the emergencies. People who didn't have the time to devote to pets shouldn't have them. He felt the same way about children.

  He headed into the kitchen first, grabbed an apple. Dinner, such as it was, would wait until he'd washed the dog off him.

  Crunching into the apple, he flipped through the mail he'd carried up with him as he walked to the bedroom.

  He smelled her before he saw her. That hot wave of woman hit his senses, scattered his thoughts. She stirred on the bed, a rustle of silky skin against the sheets.

  She wore nothing but an invitational smile.

  "Hello, lover. You worked late."

  "You said you'd be busy tonight."

  Faith crooked a finger. "I intend to be. Why don't you come over here and occupy me." Wade tossed the mail and the apple aside. "Why don't I?"


  It was a pitiful thing, Wade supposed, for a man to be hung up on one woman all of his life. More than pitiful when that woman insisted on flitting in and out of that life like a careless butterfly. And the man let her.

  Each time she came back, he told himself he wouldn't play the game. And each time she hooked him in until he was too deep into the pot to fold his hand and walk away.

  He'd been the first man to have her. He had no hope of being the last.

  He was no more able to resist her now than he'd been over ten years before. That bright summer night she'd climbed in his window, and into his bed while he slept. He could still remember what it had been like, to wake with that sleek, hot body sliding over his, that hungry mouth smothering him, devouring him, clamping over him until he was rock hard and randy.

  She was fifteen years old, he thought now, and she'd taken him with the quick, heartless efficiency of a fifty-dollar whore. And she'd been a virgin.

  That, she'd told him, had been the point. She didn't want to be a virgin, and she'd decided to get rid of the burden with as fuss as possible, and with someone she knew, liked, and trusted. Simple as that. For little Faith it had always been simple.

  But for Wade, that summer night, weeks before he'd gone back to college, had layered the first of many complicated tiers that made up his relationship with Faith Lavelle.

  They'd had sex as often as they manage that summer. In the backseat of hi car, late at night when his parents down the hall, in the middle of the day when his mother sat on the veranda gossiping with friends. Faith was willing, eager, ready. She'd been a young man's wet dream sprung to life.

  And had become Wade's obsession.

  He'd been sure she'd wait for him.

  In less than two years, while he'd been studying fiercely and planning for the future, their future, she'd run off with Bobby Lee. Wade had gotten drunk and stayed drunk for a week.

  She'd come back, of course. To Progress and eventually to him. With no apology, n tearful plea for forgiveness.

  That was the pattern of their relationship He detested her for it, nearly as much as h detested himself.

  "So . . ." Faith climbed over him, tugged a cigarette from the pack on the nightstand and straddling him, lighted it. "Tell me about Tory."

  "When did you start smoking again?"

  "Today." She smiled, leaning down to give him a little nip on the chin. "Don't give me grief on it, Wade. Everyone's entitled to a vice."

  "Which one have you missed?"

  She laughed, but there was an edge to it, an edge in her eyes. "If you don't try them out, how do you know which ones fit? Now, come on, baby, tell me about Tory. I'm just dying to know everything."

  "There's nothing to know. She's back."

  Faith let out a huge sigh. "Men are such irritating creatures. What does she look like? How does she act? What's she up to?"

  "She looks grown-up, and acts very much the same. She's up to opening a gift shop on Market Street." At Faith's cool stare, he shrugged. "Tired. She looks tired, maybe a little too thin, like someone who hasn't been altogether well just lately. But there's a sheen on her, the kind you get from city living. As for what she's up to, I can't say. Why don't you ask her?"

  She trailed her hand over his shoulder. He had such wonderful shoulders. "She's not likely to tell me. Never liked me."

  "That's not true, Faith." "I oughta know." Impatient, she rolled off him, off the bed, graceful and contrary as a cat, drawing deep on her cigarette while she paced. The moonlight shimmered over her white skin, lending it a faint and exotic blue cast. He could see fading smudges on her, the shadows of bruises.

  She'd wanted it rough.

  "Always staring at me with those spooky eyes, hardly saying boo, except to Hope. She always had plenty to say to Hope. The two of them were all the time whispering together. What's she want to move back into the old Marsh House for? What's she thinking?"

  "I imagine she's thinking it'd be nice to have a familiar roof over her head." He rose, quietly closing the curtains before one of the neighbors saw her.

  "You know what went on under that roof as well as I do." Faith turned back, her eyes glittering when Wade switched the bedside light on low. "What kind of person goes back to a place where they were trapped? Maybe she's as crazy as people used to say."

  "She's not crazy." Weary now, Wade tugged on his jeans. "She's lonely. Sometim
es lonely people come back home, because there's no place else."

  That hit a little too close to the heart. She turned her eyes away from his, tapped out her cigarette. "Sometimes home's the loneliest place of all."

  He touched her hair, just a light stroke. It made her yearn to burrow in, cling tight. Deliberately she lifted her head, smiled brilliantly. "Why are we talking about Tory Bodeen, anyway? Let's fix ourselves some supper, and eat in bed." Slowly, her eyes on his, she drew down the zipper of his jeans. "I always have such an appetite when I'm with you."

  Later, he woke in the dark. She was gone. She never stayed, never slept with him in the most simple way. There were times Wade wondered if she slept at all, or if that internal engine of hers forever ran, fueled on nerves, and on needs that were never quite met.

  It was his curse, he supposed, to love a woman who seemed incapable of returning genuine feelings. He should cut her out of his life. It was the sane thing to do. She'd only slice him open again, and every time she did, it took longer to heal. Sooner or later there’d be nothing left of his heart but scar tissue, and he'd have no one but himself to blame.

  He felt the anger building, a black heat that bubbled in the blood. Leaving the lights off, he dressed in the dark. His fury needed a target before it turned inward and imploded.

  It would have been smarter, more comfortable, God knew more sensible, to have booked a room in a hotel for the night. I would have been a simple matter to have accepted her uncle's hospitality and slept one of the overly fussy, decorated-to-death bedrooms Boots kept ready in the big house.

  As a child, she'd often dreamed of sleeping in that perfect house on that perfect street where she'd imagined everything smelled o perfume and polish.

  Instead, Tory spread a blanket on the bare floor and lay awake in the dark.

  Pride, stubbornness, a need to prove her self? She wasn't sure of her own motives for spending her first night in Progress in the empty house of her childhood. But made her bed, so to speak, and was deter mined to lie in it.

  In the morning there would be a great deal to do. Already that evening she'd gone over her lists and made a dozen more. She needed to buy a bed, and a phone. New towels, a shower curtain. She needed a lamp and a table to put it on.

  Camping out wasn't quite the adventure it used to be, and having simple tastes and needs didn't mean she didn't require basic comforts.

  Lying there in the dark she used her lists in much the same way she had used the sheer white wall. Each item mentally ticked off was another brick set in place to bloc out images and keep herself centered in the now.

  She'd go to the market and stock the kitchen. If she let that go too long she'd fall back into the habit of skipping meals again. When she neglected her body, it was more difficult to control her mind.

  She'd go to the bank, open accounts, personal and business. A trip to the Progress Weekly was in order. She'd already designed her ad.

  Most of all, while she set up the store in the next weeks, she needed to be visible. She'd work on being friendly, personable. Normal.

  It would take time to weather the expected whispers, the questions, the stares. She was prepared for it. By the time she opened for business, people would be used to seeing her again. More, much more important, they would become used to seeing her as she wanted to be seen.

  Gradually, she'd become a fixture in town. And then she would begin to explore. She would ask questions. She'd begin to look for the answers.

  When she had them, she could say good-bye to Hope.

  Closing her eyes, she listened to the night sounds, the chorus of peepers, so cheerfully monotonous, the sharp and jarring screech of an owl on the hunt, the soft groans of old wood settling, the occasional sly riveting of mice making themselves at home behind the wall.

  She'd have to set traps, she thought sleepily. She was sorry for it, but she didn't care to share her space with rodents. She'd put mothballs under the porches to discourage snakes.

  It was mothballs, wasn't it? It had been so long since she'd lived in the country. You put out mothballs for snakes and hung soap for deer and protected what was yours, even though it had been theirs first.

  And if the rabbits came to nibble at the kitchen garden, you laid out pieces of hose so they thought it was the snakes you shooed away with the mothballs. Else Daddy'd come home and shoot them with his .22. You'd have to eat them for supper, even though you got sick after because you could see how cute they were twitching their long ears. You had to eat what God provided or pay the price. Getting sick was better than getting a beating.

  No, don't think about that, she ordered herself, and shifted on the hard floor. No one was going to make her eat what she didn't want to eat, not ever again. No one was going to raise a strap to her or a fist.

  She was in charge now.

  She dreamed of sitting on the soft ground by a fire that snapped and smoked and burned the marshmallows she held into the flame on a stick. She liked it burnt so that the outside was black and crackled over the gooey white center. Lifting it out, she blew on the fire that came with it.

  She singed the roof of her mouth, but that was all part of the ritual. The quick pain, then the contrast of crisp and sweet sugar.

  "Might as well eat charcoal," Hope said, turning her own candy so that it bubbled gold. "Now, this is a perfectly toasted marshmallow."

  "I like them my way." To prove it, Tory got another from the bag and stabbed it onto the pointy end of her stick.

  "Like Lilah says, 'To each his own, said the lady as she kissed the cow.' " Grinning, Hope nibbled delicately on her marshmallow. "I'm glad you came back, Tory."

  "I always wanted to. I guess maybe I was afraid. I guess I still am." "But you're here. You came, just like you were supposed to." "I didn't come that night." Tory looked away from the fire, into the eyes of child-hood.

  "I guess you weren't supposed to."

  "I promised I would. Ten thirty-five. Then I didn't. I didn't even try." "You have to try now, 'cause there were more. And there'll still be more until you stop it."

  The weight was lowering again so that her eight-year-old chest strained under it. "What do you mean, more?"

  "More like me. Just like me." Solemn blue eyes, deep as pools, looked through the smoke and into Tory's. "You have to do what you're supposed to do, Tory. You have to be careful and you have to be Victoria Bodeen, girl spy."

  "Hope, I'm not a girl anymore."

  "That's why it's time." The fire climbed higher, grew brighter. The deep blue eyes captured glints of it, specks of wild light.

  "You have to stop it." "How?" But Hope shook her head and whispered "Something's in the dark."

  Tory's eyes shot open. Her heart was thundering in her chest, and in her mouth was the taste of fear and burnt candy.

  Something’s in the dark. She heard it, the echo of Hope's voice, and the rustle, like a tail of the wind through the leaves, just outside her window.

  She saw it, the faint shifting of the light as someone stepped into the path of the moon.

  The child inside her wanted to curl up, to cover her face with her hands, to will herself invisible. She was alone. Defenseless.

  Whoever was outside was watching, waiting. Even through the fear she could feel that. She struggled to blank her mind, to bring the face, the form, the name into it. But there was only the sheer glass wall of terror. Not all the terror was hers. They're afraid, too, she realized. Afraid of me. Why? Her hand trembled as she slowly reached out for the flashlight beside the blanket. The solid weight of it helped her beat back the worst of the fear. She would not lie helpless. She would defend herself, she would confront, she would take charge. The child had been a victim. The woman wouldn't be. She swung up to her knees, flicked at the switch, fumbled, nearly screamed when the beam flashed on. She aimed it at the window like a weapon. And there was nothing there but shadows and moon. Her breath came in pants, but she got to her feet. She rushed to the door, slapped on the overhead lights. Whoev
er was outside could see her now. Let them look, she thought. Let them see she wouldn't cower in the dark.

  The beam of light bobbed as she hurried from the bedroom into the kitchen. Again, she switched on the overheads. Let them look, she thought again, and grabbed a carving knife out of the wooden block she'd unpacked. Let them look and see I'm not defenseless.

  She'd locked the doors, a habit she'd developed in the city. But she was well aware how useless such a precaution was here. One good kick would spring the locks.

  She stepped out of the light, into the shadows of the living room. With her back to the wall, she willed herself to regulate her
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