Murder Most Foul


Lois Cloarec Hart and C. Paradee


Disclaimer: We originally wrote a shorter version, then decided to revisit the story because we wanted to know what had gone before for our older pair of lovers. We hope that readers were curious too, and will enjoy the completely revised, rewritten and expanded version. If you find women in love disturbing, this isn’t the story for you. Off you go. Move along. Bye-bye.

Acknowledgements: As always our deepest thanks to our fabulous beta reader, Day, aka Goddess of Punctuation, Grammar and Style. Additionally, we were lucky enough to have Betty join us for this endeavour, and lend her keen eyes to the story. Thanks for the feedback, Betty! And what would a story be without Lois’ mother’s eagle eyes checking it twice. (Lois’ note: Nothing slips by that woman...but then speaking from forty plus years of experience, nothing ever did. <g>)

If you’d like to comment, we can be reached at:


Murder most foul, as in the best it is,

But this most foul, strange, and unnatural - Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 5


Part One


Chapter One

June, 1961

The crooked, old wharf, its pilings green and slimy from decades of immersion in the lake, was the only remnant of the old homestead that had once stood on this shore. Mrs. Stanton Hawthorne III had eradicated every vestige of the original house when she’d decreed, twenty-five years previously, that Lake Sivert would henceforth be the Hawthorne’s summer retreat from the swarms of tourists that annually infested Boston.

When her husband, Stanton Hawthorne III himself, suggested instead that they use his parents’ home on Martha’s Vineyard as a family retreat, Virginia Hawthorne recoiled at the notion of such intimacy with her mother-in-law, a woman far more formidable than her irresolute son. Lake Sivert, a small, isolated jewel of a lake northeast of Boston, was already home to Virginia’s brother, Hannibal, as well as an adequate smattering of Boston’s upper crust; so Stanton accepted his wife’s dictates and acquiesced to the construction of an edifice commensurate with his wealth and her ambitions.

The old wharf had only survived because it was tucked behind some trees, and Mrs. Stanton Hawthorne never actually went down to the lake where she could be aggravated by the eyesore. It was enough, in her opinion, to see the sun setting over the water from afar as she and her cronies sipped their martinis on the summer home’s patio, surrounded by elaborately landscaped gardens. There was even a Mediterranean-blue pool set amongst faux-Greek statues for those guests who absolutely demanded a venue for bathing. Mrs. Hawthorne had never deigned to get so much as one toe wet, but she had allowed her three children to use the pool when properly supervised by their nannies.

At the moment, Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne’s middle offspring was contentedly sitting on the end of the old wharf beside her best friend. Their dangling feet stirred tiny eddies that rippled outwards, dissipating in the clear waters of Lake Sivert. Patricia Hawthorne, the taller of the two young women, sighed deeply, leaning back on her hands, straight, golden, shoulder-length hair swinging gently as she stared up at the cloudless sky.

Her shorter, stockier, chestnut-haired companion watched her with an affectionate grin, chiding amiably, "The summer’s just starting. You can’t possibly be bored yet, Patty."

Lazily, Patricia swiveled her head, large hazel eyes taking in her friend’s teasing grin. "You know, Dee, if my mother ever heard you call me Patty, she’d have a heart attack. To this day I can still hear her telling me on the very first day of school, ‘Don’t you ever let anyone call you Patty, young lady. That’s simply not acceptable.’ I think she issued strict orders to the headmistress that no one was ever to shorten my name."

Delia chuckled. Her best friend had captured her mother’s scolding intonations perfectly. "I know, and you learned your lesson well. Even Andi never dared to call you Patty again after you chewed her out in fourth grade, and no one ever intimidates my sister. She always said you should’ve been a Southern belle, all manners and style on the outside, with a lethally sharp tongue on the rare occasions you decided you use it. I still don’t know why you let me get away with it."

"Hah, like I could stop you!" Patricia kicked a small wavelet of water at Dee’s freckled legs.

The two friends laughed and fell quiet again, letting the soporific effects of the warm sun wash over them. Inwardly, however, Delia exulted over the fact that she was the only one permitted the liberty of the nickname, enjoying the further confirmation of their deep, intimate bond.

Finally Patricia broke the companionable silence. "Speaking of mothers, is yours still twisting herself into knots over Andi’s wedding?"

"God, yes!" Delia gave a melodramatic shudder. "Just before I escaped this afternoon, she and Andi were arguing over what kind of flowers to have in the church."

Patricia shook her head in bemusement. "You know, I never suspected Andi would go in for all that wedding fanfare that our mothers thrive on, but I don’t think I’ve had one conversation with her since we got home from Smith that doesn’t revolve around their wedding."

"And Thom," Delia added sourly.

One elegant eyebrow shot up appraisingly. "You really don’t like your brother-in-law to be much, do you, Dee?"

She grimaced. "What’s to like about Thom with an h? He’s a rigid, humourless prude, who marches around like he’s got a poker up his..."

"Delia Barrington!"

Dee subsided, but refused to apologize for or withdraw her scathing words about her twin’s fiancé.

Drawing her feet out of the water, Patricia turned to face her frowning friend, laying one hand on Dee’s arm. "Honey, is it possible that you just don’t like him because he’s taking your sister away? He is awfully handsome, you know, and he sure seems to love her a lot."

Delia felt a rush of pleasure at Patricia’s rare endearment, but tried to focus on her question. She shook her head vigorously, sending her thick, close-cut dark waves flying. "No, that’s not it. After all, with us being up at Smith, it’s not like I’ve gotten to see Andi that much anyway for the last three years. I just think she could’ve done far better for herself. Besides, her husband is going to be the father of my nieces and nephews, so naturally I want good bloodlines."

A peal of laughter split the still, warm air. "For heaven’s sake, Dee, you sound like Uncle Hannibal evaluating his latest stable of jumpers!"

Abashed, Delia dropped her head. "Aw, you know that’s not what I meant. I couldn’t care less if her husband was a prince or a chimney sweep, as long as he was a decent guy who loved Andi and was good to her. I just flat out don’t like Thom."

A long arm slung around her shoulders and she gratefully allowed Patricia to pull her close, enjoying the sun-warmed scent and feel of her friend. "I know you’re not a snob, Dee; that’s the last thing anyone would say about you. Heavens, you didn’t even want to participate in the debs’ ball with the rest of us until Andi and I twisted your arm; but I really think you have to give Thom a chance. He and Andi are going to make a life together, and you don’t want to cause her endless grief by having to try to placate both her husband and her twin."

Safely within the circle of Patricia’s arm, Dee sighed heavily. "I know you’re right. He doesn’t like me any better than I like him, but I guess I can at least be polite from now until the wedding. After that, they’ll be living in Toronto, so I won’t see him much anyway." She let her head drop against her friend’s narrow shoulder. "I won’t see her much, either."

Long slender fingers worked their way through her short hair, caressing and comforting. Patricia whispered, "I know it won’t be easy, but you’ll still have me."

Delia pulled back far enough so that her blue eyes met Patricia’s loving gaze. Fervently she declared, "Thank God! I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost you."

"You never will," Patricia promised softly. With a quick glance about to ensure that there was no one around, she gently pressed her lips against Delia’s.

The kiss ended far too soon to suit the shorter woman—as they always did. After growing up together, enduring the trials of puberty side by side, and going off to Smith College for Women where they’d shared a room in Sessions House for the past three years, Delia and Patricia had finally acknowledged their feelings for each other several months previously. Neither seemed to know quite what to do once their declaration of mutual love was out in the open, and their relationship hadn’t progressed beyond furtive kisses, limited explorations, and nights spent wrapped in each other’s arms, their dorm room securely locked against intruders.

The young women were well aware of the serious complications their flirtation presented. Delia, more free-spirited and less oppressed by parental expectations, was keen to explore the nuances of their altered well as her best friend’s body, but respected Patricia’s hesitation and understood its source.

Patricia had long been subject to a continual barrage of maternal urgings to make a proper marriage to an approved suitor. She had had to fight tooth and nail to even be allowed to attend Smith College where her best friend had been accepted into the Sociology program. Her parents considered it a waste of time and money, especially as her older sister was already married, and her younger brother would be attending Harvard in a year’s time.

When the elder Hawthornes had finally agreed to higher education for their unusually rebellious middle child, they had initially insisted on her attending Radcliffe College so that she could move in the same social circles as the eligible young men of Harvard. Delia never knew how her normally placid friend had managed it, but after weeks of uncertainty, Patricia had announced that she would be joining Dee in Northampton to major in Classical Studies.

They had only completed their junior year several weeks previously, and were intent on enjoying their summer at the lake before returning for their senior year. Left unspoken was the question of what the two would do upon graduation the following year.

In her darkest moments, Delia knew that it would take immense inner strength to go against their parents and societal mores. Flush with passionate new love, she was certain she could do it, especially as she had a trust fund to draw on, but a niggling doubt remained whether Patricia would find the will to defy and break with her family—for it would be a complete break. The young Sociology student knew that the Hawthornes would never accept such aberrant behaviour from one of their progeny. Their best hope lay in maintaining the façade of simply being friends, while warding off any would-be suitors.

Dee hoped that eventually their families would consign them both to the dustbin of spinsterhood, and allow them to live quiet, unnoticed lives. She didn’t consider it an untenable hope. Everyone in their families and social circles had long considered she, Andi, and Patricia inseparable, and thought nothing of the three of them spending all their time together. However, now that her twin was leaving the trio to get married, there would be increasing pressure, particularly on Patricia, to do the same.

For the moment, though, with her best friend close at her side and the early June sun signaling the beginning of another long, lazy summer at the lake, Delia was content to let her thoughts drift. As it so often did, her mind returned to the night the women’s true feelings had first emerged.


Mid-January, 1961

Delia straggled back from the commons room, reluctant to return to her room where a mountain of homework awaited her. Patricia, less gregarious and more studious than Dee, had resumed her studies immediately after the customary sit-down dinner, while the Sociology major had lingered to gossip with some of the other residents of Sessions House. Now, however, the knowledge that she had to face Professor Abernathy’s Soc 311 class first thing in the morning, as well as a desire to see what her best friend was doing, drove her back up the stairs of the 18th century residence.

Flinging open the door of the room they had shared since entering the college as freshmen, Delia waited for Patricia to turn from her desk with an indulgent smile before throwing her arm across her forehead and rendering a mock swoon.

Patricia giggled as Delia slumped to the floor. "All right, what is it this time? Did Lucy chase you up the stairs?"

Dee sat upright and grinned at the mention of the fabled house ghost. "Nope. Didn’t see the old General prowling around, either." Legend had it that the eldest daughter of the original owners of the house used to meet her lover, General Burgoyne, in a secret staircase. After being separated in life, it was said that the heartbroken General still pursued his lost love in death, two hundred years later.

"So, why the melodramatics, then?" Patricia smiled as her wayward roommate stood up and closed the door.

"Abernathy." Delia gave a pronounced shudder on naming the baneful professor. His Contemporary Sociological Theory was a required course, but after one week of his class, she knew that she would have changed her major if she’d had him in her first year. His theory of teaching was—in a word—humiliation, and he was known for verbally savaging the women unlucky enough to end up in his class. Dee had to admit that fear was unquestionably a motivating factor, but he was roundly hated, to the point that mock Abernathy-assassination plots were rife in the various Houses.

Patricia, who had lucked out of ever encountering the dreaded professor, gave an unsympathetic grunt. "Hah! I’ll trade you Latin 317 for Abernathy’s class any day!"

Delia held up crossed fingers to ward off the thought and backed away to her side of the room. In their freshman year, she had taken Beginning Latin as an elective, just to be with Patricia; but after wrapping her brain around months of endless conjugations and verb tenses with very mixed results, she swore the closest she would ever get again to the "dead" language would be passing under the school’s seal.

Blithely oblivious to the mound of clothes piled on the end of her bed, Dee burrowed under the furniture, searching for the text she was sure she’d tossed there before dinner. Triumphantly emerging with book in hand, she waved it at her best friend and, opening it to a dog-eared page, sprawled on the bed to begin studying. Patricia smiled and returned her attention to her own work.

A couple of hours passed, with only the sound of turning pages, a scratching pen, and the occasional eloquent mutter from Delia to break the silence. Finally there was the sound of a heavy text hitting the floor, and Patricia looked around to see Delia bouncing across the room. The Sociology student flung herself on her roommate’s neatly made bed.

"I can’t take any more, Patty. Everything I read is leaking out my ears. I’ll just have to take my chances in his class tomorrow. With any luck, he’ll call on Hennessey. She’s always sniffing around, trying to get on his good side."

Pushing her worksheets aside in acknowledgement that the evening’s studies had ended, Patricia asked wryly, "Does he have a good side?"

Delia groaned. "If he does, it’s hidden deeper than a pirate’s treasure." She rolled over and looked pleadingly at her friend. "Head rub time, pleeeaase?"

Laughing, Patricia made her way to the bed, sliding her long legs under Dee’s head as she rested her back against the wall. Her roommate sighed in contentment as slender fingers began massaging her temples. Dee closed her eyes in bliss, loving the way they ended so many of their days together.

A low chuckle sounded, and she opened her eyes to see Patricia regarding her with amusement. "You know, you remind me of an old spaniel Uncle Hannibal once had. All you had to do was rub that dog’s ears, and he was in heaven."

"Hey, I’ll have you know there is a very practical application for this," Dee protested, never moving an inch from the gentle attention.

"And that would be?"

"You’re working all that hard-earned knowledge deep into my cranium so it can’t fall out before exams." A firm tug on her ear caused her to yelp. "It’s true, I swear it. I did a scientific survey that showed my GPA has gone up 27% percent since you started doing this after study periods."

"You wouldn’t know a scientific survey if it bit you in the nose," Patricia teased.

"Mmmmm. Probably right," Dee admitted, her body languid under the combination of the massage, the warmth of the legs she rested on, and her friend’s subtle scent. She knew that Patricia thought she was just a pleasure hound, but she mostly treasured these late night indulgences for the chance to be physically close to her best friend. She drifted mentally, allowing her sybaritic impulses free rein for a moment, before idly asking, "Do you ever wonder what happened to break up the General and Lucy?"

The fingers slowed for a moment, then resumed their pace. "I suppose Lucy’s parents didn’t approve of the General as a suitor and ordered him away."

"I guess, though you’d think they’d jump at the chance to marry their daughter off to a general."

Patricia gave a bitter chuckle. "I know my parents would."

Delia felt her heart clench. Opening her eyes, she stared at her abruptly morose friend. "Patty?"

Her roommate slid away, pulling out from under Dee’s head and sitting on the edge of the bed, her shoulders tense. Alarmed, she rose up on one elbow and placed a comforting hand on Patricia’s rigid back.

"Hey, Patty, what’s going on? Did something happen over the Christmas holiday that you didn’t tell me about?"

Delia’s father had taken his family and Andrea’s fiancé on a Christmas jaunt to Italy so that Thom could get to know the family he was marrying into. Dee hadn’t seen her best friend from the day they arrived back in Boston to the day before they were to return to Smith, but Patricia hadn’t said much about the festive season at all, so she had assumed all had gone as per usual.

Patricia was silent so long that Delia was beginning to panic, but finally she spoke, her voice low and strained. "Four brought his best friend home for the holidays."

Dee sat up, nodding at the nickname for Stanton Hawthorne IV, Patricia’s younger brother who was a sophomore at Harvard. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat close to her friend, murmuring encouragement to continue.

"Mother fawned over this fellow like he was the second coming of Christ, for heaven’s sake! She went on and on about how handsome he was, and did I know that his grandfather had been a senator, and was I aware that he was president of the sailing club and played rugby and was on the debate team. She kept encouraging us to take long walks together, seating us beside each other for dinner, and even had Jamison chauffeur us downtown to go dancing one night. The only way she could’ve been more obvious about wanting to get us together would’ve been to actually produce an engagement ring."

Delia froze, but only asked, "So what’s this paragon’s name?"

"Gareth Edwards."

Slightly reassured by her friend’s scathing utterance, Delia pressed her to go on.

"Lord knows why, because I sure didn’t give him any encouragement, but Gareth seemed determined to spend every moment he could in my company."

"Can’t say I blame him," Delia muttered ruefully.

Patricia turned to look at her squarely. "By the end of the vacation, I was using every excuse I could think of to dodge him. I even faked an illness for two days just to get some time to myself. When he came sniffing around, I told him it was ‘female troubles,’ and he shot out of there like the room was on fire."

Relieved that her friend obviously had no interest in the man, Delia managed a chuckle. "Wow, you really must have been desperate. You never even faked being sick to get out of school."

Sighing, Patricia leaned back on the bed until her head was touching the wall. Delia promptly followed suit, so that they were lying side by side on their backs.

"It’s not that I hated him or anything. I mean, he seemed very charming...sort of...and he was handsome enough...I guess, but I just wasn’t interested in dating him."

"Well, don’t worry. It’s not like your mother can force you to marry him. After all, this is 1961, not 1861," Delia reassured her friend. Trying for a casual, cheerful tone, she added, "Besides, true love is waiting for you out there somewhere. You don’t want to take second best just because your mother is impatient."

Patricia was quiet for a long moment, then she asked, "Do you really think there’s such a thing for everyone? True love, I mean?"

Flustered, Delia blurted, "Sure, of course there is. I mean all the books say so, right?"

"Do you think we’ll know it when we see it?"

"Umm, I sure hope so." Delia was feeling somewhat uneasy with the direction of the conversation, and her friend’s next words stunned her.

"It doesn’t seem like you’re looking for it, Dee. I mean, since we’ve been here, you’ve turned down at least five dates with Northampton boys that I know of. Why is that?"

"Uh, they weren’t right for me?" Delia offered tentatively, aware that her voice had squeaked.

Patricia’s serious eyes were regarding her intently from mere inches away, and Delia felt the air in the room become charged with an unfamiliar tension. When gentle fingers brushed the hair back on her forehead, she almost gasped.

"No, they weren’t right for you. I can’t picture the man who would be," Patricia mused, her fingers still caressing Delia’s face. "I never have been able to. I mean, I wasn’t surprised in the least when Andi got involved with Thom, even though he didn’t really seem like her type. I always knew that she’d get married and be a fabulous mother to a whole brood of kids, but not you."

Convinced that she was going to pass out from hyperventilation, Delia managed to slow her breathing enough to ask, "What...what do you visualize for me?"

Looking pensive, Patricia continued her hypnotic stroking. "You, my dearest friend, you won’t take a conventional path. It’s not your way. You’re a lot like your father in that. They laugh at him, you know. Benjamin Barrington, the old money millionaire who’s more interested in birds than banknotes. I mean, he probably could’ve owned half the country if he’d wanted, but instead he chose the anonymity of ornithology. I’ve always admired that about him. He travels to the ends of the earth to do his research, and then spends years writing just one chapter in his massive tome that might actually get published some day before he dies; but he’s happy. That’s pretty rare in our circles. I don’t know what your path is going to be, but you’ll follow it with absolute dedication and disregard for anyone else’s opinion."

Entranced by the unprecedented insight into the way her friend saw her, Delia forced out another question. "And will I walk that path alone?"

Patricia’s soft eyes became contemplative. "I don’t know, Dee. I hope not, but it will take a strong person to walk with you."

"Would you walk with me?"

Shocked that the words had escaped her mouth, Delia tried to roll away, but was stopped by the arm flung instantly across her chest. Gentle pressure forced her back to look at Patricia. There was no condemnation on those sharply defined features, no revulsion or agitation. The eyes that regarded her were still loving, not angry.

"I wasn’t sure...I didn’t know..."

Delia held perfectly still, swiftly analyzing Patricia’s words. What isn’t she sure of? How I feel about her? How she feels about me? If such a thing is even possible?

Her roiling thoughts were stilled and her breath caught as Patricia leaned closer, kissing first one side of her mouth, then the other, then the tip of her nose, as if not confident enough to kiss her full on the lips. Delia exhaled gustily and, acting on pure instinct, threaded her hand through fine, golden hair and pulled her friend down for a long but tentative kiss.

Gently they explored, lips barely brushing as they breathed each other’s air. Tongues touched and retreated, then returned for more. As their kisses became more confident, their bodies reacted too, unconsciously straining together. Delia became aware of her friend’s breasts pushing against her own and one leg lodged between hers a split second before there was a knock on the door and the sound of Lee-Ann’s raucous hail.

Springing guiltily apart, they had barely separated before their friend and neighbour from down the hall burst into the room. Excited about her news, the tiny redhead rushed over and plopped herself down on the bed between the two roommates.

"Hey, did you two hear about Hennessey being caught with a man in her room last night? I hear her parents were called to come pick her up, and she’s out of here on her keister as soon as they get here."

Fortunately their oblivious housemate needed little encouragement to relate the juicy gossip and quickly filled in the rest of the story, giving Delia and Patricia time to regain their composure.

Keeping half an ear on Lee-Ann’s chatter, Delia tried to process what had just happened. Patricia had kissed her. Well, okay, it was more that I kissed Patty, but she started it! God, what happens now? What do I want to happen now?

Surreptitious glances at her roommate let her know that Patricia had been as affected as she was. She knew the signs were too subtle for anyone to see who didn’t know her friend extremely well, but she saw the minutely dilated pupils and the now-fading high color her friend exhibited. She also saw the slight tremble in those slender hands, disguised as Patricia tucked them casually under her thighs.

Both roommates made appropriate sounds of shock and interest as Lee-Ann’s story wound down. Eager to pass the news along to the next party, the vivacious redhead jumped up and ran out the door with a hurried, "See you two later!" thrown back over her shoulder.

Quietly, Patricia went to the door and locked it. Then she turned, and leaning back, asked, "What now?"

Delia shrugged helplessly, at a complete loss on how to answer that simple, yet incredibly complex question.

Drawing a deep breath, Patricia suggested, "It’s late. Why don’t we go to sleep, and see what the morning brings?"


What the morning had brought, after a sleepless night for both of them, Delia mused as she kicked up a small geyser in the lake, was more of the same. They’d been drawn together like magnets, missing breakfast in the exhilaration of discovering new sensations. Dee had failed Abernathy’s classroom interrogation abysmally, particularly without the disgraced Hennessey to take the heat off, but all she could think of was how long it would be before she could get back to her room, and her roommate.

They had been careful to lock the door after that, but even in that, they’d had to exercise discretion. Unlocked doors were the norm, even during sleeping hours; so often, evenings were spent in pent-up emotional turmoil as they awaited the lights out. When that signal came, they would quietly lock away the outside world and retire to one of the beds. Afraid of discovery, they kept their nightwear on, but curious, eager hands roamed as they explored each other’s upper bodies. An unspoken taboo had kept them from descending further to seek out the wet heat that radiated between their legs, as if acknowledging what they wanted would be final confirmation that they were indeed different...and that there would be no going back.

More than once, Delia had left lunch early for a few private moments in their room, where she could quickly relieve the unrelenting pressure of their semi-abstinence. She had no idea if Patricia did the same, and wasn’t about to ask. She didn’t want her friend to feel at all pressured into something she wasn’t ready for. So she accepted the unspoken limits, even as she longed for them to be lifted.

The women had become adept at sleeping double in the narrow beds, though Delia had occasionally woken up on the floor. They’d had a couple of near-misses, but the only serious threat of discovery came on the night of the fire drill. After rousting them by hammering on the door, when it was opened the proctor had joked about Patricia’s bed still being neatly made. They passed it off with a tale of her still being up studying and the proctor didn’t hang around long enough to question it. From then on, however, they’d made a point to mess up the sheets on both beds every night.

Delia was distracted from her memories by Patricia’s abrupt edging away to a discreet distance. Looking around to see the reason, she noticed a familiar blue MG convertible pulling into Hannibal York’s estate across the small lake.

"Oh, I see your cousin Charles is slumming for the weekend."

Patricia snorted. "Hopefully he’s only here long enough to pick up his check from dear old dad, and then he’ll be back to Boston."

Delia shook her head with disgust. "You know, I never could figure out how a fellow as nice as your Uncle Hannibal had such a snake for a son."

Charles was only three years older than they were, and had spent as many summers at the lake during his childhood as they had, as his divorced parents shared custody of him. Her first memory of Patricia’s nasty cousin was the day he had broken into the three little girls’ orchard picnic with a barrage of hard, green apples. He had taunted them, calling them the "three little pigs;" and from that moment, the war had been on. Dee, Andi, and Patricia had gotten even on that occasion by planting tadpoles in his bed. He had retaliated by stealing Andi’s bike and throwing it in the lake, though they didn’t have any proof that would convince the adults. Attacks, counterattacks, and assorted dirty tricks had ebbed as they all grew older, but there was still an undercurrent of relentless hostility between the young women and their childhood enemy.

"Hey!" Patricia sat bolt upright. "Is that someone with him?" She shook her head. "He must have brought another of his doxys with him. Uncle Hannibal will be so thrilled. The one Charles brought home last time just about drove him nuts, smacking her gum and draining his best sipping whiskey."

Delia, not as far-sighted as her friend, squinted, but wasn’t certain until Charles got out of the car and went around to open the passenger door, offering his hand to a woman to step out.

The two friends gaped at each other, before Delia sputtered, "Charles? Using good manners? This we have to investigate!"

Springing up, they slipped their feet into their sandals and began the short walk around the beachfront to Uncle Hannibal’s place.

"Huh. Charles opening the door for a lady. Who’d have thought it?" Patricia said with bemusement.

"This one must be different from his usual trollops," Delia responded. "Though you have to wonder who in their right mind would have the abysmal taste to go out with him." She glanced up at her friend with mischief sparkling in her eyes. "Wonder how long it’ll take him before he’s got her out in the boat."

"The luuuuuvvvv boat?" Patricia snickered. "You’d think he’d try something different after all this time."

"Nah, why would he change his tried and true modus operandi?"

Laughing at Charles’ predictable romantic maneuverings, they neared the manicured lawns of the large, sprawling, two-story white ranch house with the capacious stables and acres of fenced in pastures stretching out behind. Patricia turned to her friend with a gleam in her eyes. "So, what’s the plan, Dee? Do we ruin his reputation immediately, or give him time to hang himself?"

Delia gave that a moment of thought. "If she’s a decent sort, we’ll enlighten her as quickly as possible. If she’s a miserable witch, we’ll quietly rejoice that he’s getting what he so royally deserves and not interfere one whit. Agreed?"


The two turned under the arbor and entered Hannibal’s estate, gleefully plotting Cousin Charles’ comeuppance.

Hannibal opened the door himself. A bald, jovial man with a large girth, bright brown eyes, and a booming laugh, he was bowlegged from decades on his beloved horses. "Patricia! Delia! What a delightful surprise!" He beamed at the appearance of his favorite niece and her best friend. The girls, along with Andi, had spent almost as many hours at his home as at their parents’ summer homes, particularly after he started teaching them to ride. "Please come in, my dears. We have company, and I’m just arranging for tea. Do say you’ll join us."

"Of course, Uncle," Patricia said, returning his enthusiastic hug. "We’d be delighted."

They trailed after Hannibal, exchanging smiles as their old friend rambled on exuberantly about his latest purchase.

"Fine lines, I must say. His sire is Rupert’s Fancy, and his dam took top honors at the Kensington National Open three years ago. He’s a bit on the small side, but I do believe breeding will show through once he’s properly trained." Rounding the corner, Hannibal stepped aside and motioned the women into the great room. "Come along, my dears. There’s someone special I’d like you to meet."

Delia and Patricia strode into the sun-filled room, secretly enjoying the immediate scowl on Charles’ face as he rose to his feet at their approach.

"Introduce your guest, son," Hannibal prompted his reluctant scion.

Stiffly, the young man complied. "Lady Lillian, this is my cousin, Patricia Hawthorne, and her friend, Delia Barrington."

The guest rose gracefully to her feet and extended her hand to both women. With a warm smile, she corrected her host, "Just Lillian Westchester, please. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance."

She was the picture of an English aristocrat, right from her plummy accent, to her impeccable manners, to her tailored tweeds and sensible shoes. And although Delia considered Patricia the most beautiful woman she’d ever met, she had to concede that Lillian came a close second with her fair complexion, huge blue eyes, and light brown hair that fell in perfect waves around a heart-shaped face.

At that moment, the housekeeper arrived with a silver teapot and a tray of small sandwiches and pastries. Hannibal bustled about ensuring everyone was served, before sinking back in his favourite chair and smiling beneficently at the small gathering.

Delia and Patricia quickly learned that Lillian had only recently arrived in their country and was staying with an aunt in Boston for the summer. She had met Charles at the home of a mutual friend, and he had invited her up to the lake for the weekend.

It was readily apparent to the young women that Lillian simply regarded Charles as a friendly new acquaintance, while Charles had much more complex designs on the Englishwoman. He hung on her every word, and hastened to cater to her slightest desire before she could even voice it. His obsequiousness was in direct contrast to his outright rudeness to the recent arrivals, and more than once Lillian frowned at sharp words he directed at his longtime nemeses. When he noticed that it offended her, however, he immediately adjusted his behaviour and even went so far as to inquire sweetly after Patricia’s studies that year.

It didn’t take long for Delia and Patricia to decide that Lillian was a good egg, and must be rescued from Charles’ web before she succumbed to his charms, threadbare though they considered those to be. When they departed an hour later, they barely made it out the door before they were discussing plans.

"We have to get her to see him for what he really is," Delia insisted.

Patricia agreed. "I know. I mean, I think she glimpsed that when he was so obnoxious to us, but unfortunately he was on his best behaviour by the end, so she might write it off as a momentary lapse."

"Timing is going to be a problem," Dee mused. "Hannibal invited her back for his Fourth of July party, but that gives Charles a month to work his wiles in Boston. If she doesn’t see through him by then, we’re going to have to do something dramatic that weekend to shake things up."

Implicitly acknowledging her friend’s lead role in their years of high jinks, Patricia laughingly asked, "Any ideas, oh sly and wily one?"

"Not yet...but I’m working on it."

Chapter Two

The dark-haired man touched the match to the end of his cigarette and inhaled deeply. Despite the fact he was lounging in a rattan wing chair tucked in the corner of a spacious porch on a lazy, hot summer morning, nothing about him bespoke relaxation. His long legs, clad in sharply creased dark blue trousers, were crossed casually at the ankles, but one highly polished shoe twitched uncontrollably, as if tapping the air itself with impatience. His dazzling white shirt had lost its earlier crispness, though the young man had been sitting semi-concealed by draping ivy in the cool shade since he’d left his hosts’ breakfast table. The ashtray on the floor at his side overflowed with butts, evidence of nerves that had not unwound despite the bucolic surroundings. And as they had for the past half hour, calculating brown eyes were studying the two young women laughing with each other as they waded along the beach below the luxurious summerhouse.

"Oh, there you are, Gareth! I was wondering where you’d gotten to." A slender, stylishly dressed, middle-aged woman stepped out onto the porch and smiled at the young man, tilting her head engagingly.

Gareth sprang to his feet, and nodded his head courteously at his hostess. "Mrs. Hawthorne. What a pleasure to see you this morning. You’re looking even more beautiful than usual."

The woman waved dismissively at the soft pink dress she wore as if she had merely thrown on the first thing at hand, but in truth the elegant cut and expensive silk did perfectly suit her fine bones, delicate complexion, and rigidly styled blonde hair. "This old thing? Why, Gareth, you’re just too kind."

She waved him back into his seat, while taking the chair beside him. Apologetically, he moved his ashtray to the opposite side and stubbed out his cigarette.

"Terrible habit, I’m afraid," he offered repentantly. "I really should quit."

"Oh, not at all." She laughed brightly, her voice as soft and musical as a child’s.

Gareth wasn’t fooled. He had seen his hostess in action, verbally eviscerating those fools who dared cross her with an elegant savagery that left her victims cowering in abject servility and properly restored to their place. Such rendering was always done in high-Boston idiom without ever raising her voice. The young man was well aware that she could be a lethal enemy—or equally, a powerful ally. He knew he was currently in her good graces because she had plans for him. Fortunately his plans coincided with hers, and he was determined to stay on her good side.

"My husband enjoys a fine cigar after dinner himself, and I certainly would never begrudge him one of his little pleasures. After all, he works terribly hard and should have an indulgence or two to lighten his load."

Gareth nodded agreeably, though he knew that the current generation of Hawthornes had inherited their substantial fortune, and Stanton III had done little to increase it.

Mrs. Hawthorne’s cool blue eyes were assessing Gareth even as she engaged smoothly in small talk. "Is that son of mine still abed at this hour?"

Smiling, the young man nodded. "Yes, ma’am. I’m afraid he was very tired after driving up from the city last night."

An almost unladylike snort escaped the thin lips before the society matron caught herself. With a terse smile and a raised eyebrow, she mildly disagreed. "More likely my son was exhausted from partying all week in the city."

A small noncommittal chuckle was her only answer as Gareth decided that discretion was best called for when discussing her son and his best friend. Changing the subject, he said pleasantly, "I really appreciate you and Mr. Hawthorne having me up for the holiday weekend. It’s always a pleasure to indulge in your hospitality."

Obviously deciding her son’s shortcomings were best dealt with at another time, the woman smiled at her guest. "Not at all, Gareth. You’re always welcome." Shooting a glance down at the beach where Patricia and Delia were now skipping stones, she frowned slightly then turned back to the young man. "After all, you’re Four’s best friend, and virtually part of the family already." With a small chuckle she added, "Who knows, from the way my daughter’s been looking at you, you may be one of the family very soon."

There was underlying steel in the soft, cultured voice; and though Gareth knew that Patricia had never looked at him with anything but casual courtesy in her eyes, he understood the implicit message and ducked his head in acknowledgement.

"It would be my greatest honour should I be fortunate enough to ally myself with your wonderful family in the future, ma’am." Gareth projected his most sincere smile. Then with a patently rueful glance at the two women on the beach, he added softly, "I do hope I can get a chance to spend some time with your lovely daughter this weekend and let her get to know me better before I return to Boston."

This time Virginia Hawthorne made little effort to conceal her disdain as she eyed the young woman who was now laughing and splashing her daughter in a lively water fight. "I’m sure Patricia would be delighted to have someone other than...Miss Barrington to spend time with." She turned her icy gaze on Gareth. "She does come from a good family, but I’m afraid she’s not always been the best influence on my daughter."

"Perhaps I could escort Patricia to your brother’s July 4th celebration? I understand that’s always a wonderful party."

With a tight, half-smile, the woman agreed. "My brother is renowned for his parties. People plan their entire summer vacations around his patriotic soirees. I have no doubt that Patricia would love to go with you this year."

Patting the young man firmly on the knee as if they had just concluded an agreement, she rose gracefully to her feet. "Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an engagement in the city this afternoon and I’ve kept the driver waiting long enough."

Well aware that she would keep the driver waiting ’round the clock if it suited her, Gareth nonetheless took the hint and quickly jumped to his feet, smoothly ducking around her in order to open the door. She nodded her thanks, flashed him a coquettish smile, and slipped soundlessly past him into the house.

Gareth stared after her for a moment, then returned his gaze to the beach where the two women had begun to wander off in the direction of the Barrington summer home. Leaning on the porch railing, he tapped another of the endless line of cigarettes out of his pack, and flicked a match into life with his thumbnail.

"Patricia, Patricia, Patricia," he murmured through the smoke ring he’d exhaled. "Patricia Hawthorne Edwards." He tried the name on as if rolling a fine wine around his mouth, but there was no affection in the brown eyes focused on the retreating figure of the tall, slender, young blonde. His expression was more that of an accountant, toting up columns of figures and calculating a vital bottom-line.

An errant wisp of wind blew cigarette ash onto the sleeve of his shirt and he brushed it away absently, frowning when he saw that the edge of the cuff was faintly frayed. His jaw tightened as he regarded the evidence of his sinking fortune. He worked hard to maintain the illusion of wealth, knowing that if his friends and associates in the upper levels of Boston society became aware of his family’s reduced circumstances, they would abandon him in a heartbeat, as if penury were contagious.

Gareth had the good fortune of being able to draw on the Edwards’ position as longtime stalwarts of New York society. A whiff of scandal two years previously when his father and uncle were implicated in stock manipulations had been quickly hushed up, covered over so rapidly that most wrote it off as simply the usual business dealings—perhaps slightly shady, but perfectly in line with the normal trading standards, and certainly not something to be discussed in the finer salons of society.

The young man, who had been in his freshman year at Harvard, was shocked to learn that his family’s fortune had evaporated almost overnight in the reparations that were the cost of keeping his father and uncle out of prison. At an emergency family summit, it was decided that all the chips would be placed on Gareth, the eldest son. Through the discreet sale of family possessions and holdings, his continuing education at Harvard was financed. The clothing, lodging, and vehicle supplied him were creditable enough not to raise eyebrows among his set, though perhaps not as fashionable as they might have been. Familial pressure on him to make, maintain, and exploit contacts with wealthy young men and women was immense. The amiable party boy, Stanton Hawthorne IV, had already been a casual friend, but after the Edwards’ summit meeting, Gareth cultivated him assiduously and used their friendship to acquire a summer position in Hawthorne Industries, Inc.

One day, while waiting in his friend’s suite for Four to get ready for a night on the town, Gareth had noticed a small family photo and the beautiful blonde woman standing between Stanton IV and another young woman holding a fussing baby. Casual questioning elicited that the blonde was one of Stanton’s sisters, still unmarried and not, to Four’s knowledge, seriously involved with anyone. Subtly wangling an invitation to join Four at the family estate for Christmas, Gareth had been introduced to Patricia for the first time, and on balance decided that she met all the criteria to be his wife. She came from a very wealthy family, would undoubtedly eventually inherit a good portion of that wealth, had extensive social connections through her family, would be an attractive ornament on his arm, and was ostensibly malleable enough that she wouldn’t hinder his lifestyle unduly. When the elder Hawthornes made their approval of his obvious intentions known with a figurative wink and a nod, Gareth turned on his considerable charm. He’d had to return to Harvard with his ambitions temporarily frustrated, but he’d kept tabs on Patricia through Four, who was amused but helpful with his best friend’s matrimonial crusade.

Forced by necessity to return to his summer job at Hawthorne Industries, Gareth used any opening to ingratiate himself with Stanton senior, as well as partying with Stanton junior and his cronies at every opportunity. His campaign had run into a snag when Four, having far too much fun in the city, dragged his heels about making the trip out to the lake where Patricia was spending her summer. Much to the young hustler’s consternation, the July 4th long weekend was the first time he’d had access to the young blonde since Christmas, and he was determined to make the most of it. At breakfast, he had been delighted to see that only he and Patricia were at the table, and he’d worked hard to charm and flatter her. She hadn’t turned a cold shoulder, but when he had suggested a walk after breakfast she’d politely turned him down, explaining she’d already made plans.

Which led to him covertly watching the two young women from the haven of the summerhouse porch. The friends had now disappeared around a bend in the shoreline, and Gareth spat in frustration.

"Don’t get used to leaving me behind," he muttered fiercely. He briefly considered following the two women, but had little inclination to soil his gleaming shoes with sand. He turned several plans over in his mind, even as he considered the "competition" for his quarry’s company. Gareth’s research on his bride-to-be, albeit sketchy given that Four was his main source, had revealed the identity of his rival. Patricia had a best friend...well, two best friends, but one was apparently getting married and would soon be out of the picture.

Gareth frowned; puzzled at the blonde’s apparent unwillingness to ditch the Barrington girl for him, as that had never been a problem with other women he had dated. Lighting a new cigarette off the old one, he pondered whether this might present a serious problem. Deciding to walk down to the pool, the young man descended the steps and followed the pinkish granite paving stones that wound along the front of the house through lush, manicured gardens to the azure pool. By the time he lowered himself into a deck chair beside the water, he’d decided that he couldn’t simply dismiss this threat to his plans. He could not allow Delia Barrington to interfere. There was simply too much at stake.


Delia glanced back over her shoulder, scanning the Hawthornes’ porch uneasily as they walked away from the summerhouse. When she turned back, she found Patricia regarding her with amusement.

Defensively, she asked, "What?"

"He’s not Beelzebub, you know, Dee. He’s just Four’s best friend, and he’ll be heading back to the city with him after Uncle Hannibal’s picnic."

Patricia’s tone was one of playful indulgence, but Delia couldn’t shake the uneasiness she had felt from the moment she’d arrived at Patricia’s door that morning. She knew that her best friend had missed it, but she had seen the flash of raw anger across the young man’s face when Patricia bid him a cheerful goodbye and turned to her. It had vanished almost instantaneously, but Dee was left with the unmistakable impression that he considered her a most unwelcome trespasser.

They rounded the bend in the shoreline that would lead to the Barrington summer home, and Patricia tucked her arm inside her friend’s. Determined not to let Gareth ruin their day together, Delia smiled up into loving eyes and pushed the memory of that malevolent glare to the back of her mind.

"I should probably warn you that Mother is just waiting for the first opportunity to shanghai you into a dress fitting," Delia warned. "She’s already had me pinned and poked and primped to the nines in those damned bridesmaid’s rags, and now it’s your turn."

Patricia groaned. "Just tell me that Andi didn’t choose chartreuse."

Delia snorted. "She might as well have. Actually, the dresses are lilac. The color is all right, but there are way too many ruffles and frills. You can probably carry it off since you would look great in a gunnysack, but I look like a refugee from the Ziegfeld Follies. I asked Andi how she could do this to someone who had shared a womb with her, but she patted me on the head like I was a puppy and totally ignored my opinion. I’m going to feel like an idiot standing in that thing in front of three hundred people!"

The indignant recitation had Patricia in stitches, and Delia was delighted by her friend’s mirth, even if it was at her expense. It was easier to forget her earlier apprehension when the woman she loved was laughing at her side as they walked along a beautiful shore on a hot, summer morning. Suddenly she grabbed her friend’s hand and tugged her away from the water’s edge toward the tree line.

Momentarily startled, Patricia quickly caught on and the two of them darted into the shade and privacy of the dense brush. Delia pressed her very willing friend up against a thick tree trunk.

The taller woman wrapped her arms around Dee’s shoulders and smiled knowingly. "Are you trying to take advantage of me?" she whispered huskily.

That sound sent a thrill right through Delia’s body and she murmured, "Mmmm, maybe..." Then words became superfluous as they lost themselves in the renewed pleasures of kisses and intimate touches.

It was only when Delia realized her damp shirt was half off and her hands had strayed down the back of Patricia’s shorts, well on their way to unexplored territory, that she found the will to pull back from their torrid encounter. Gently she released the warm, firm flesh she’d been stroking and stilled her lover’s hands, halting the delicious torment that had her nipples—and the rest of her body—screaming for relief. Sucking in deep breaths, she watched as Patricia fought for the same control. If the fervid look in her lover’s eyes was any indication, they could have consummated their relationship right then, but Delia wanted more than a quick, fumbled liaison in a thoughtless, stolen moment. She wanted the luxury of time and of privacy, but mostly she wanted to be absolutely sure that this was what Patricia wanted. For all the pleasures and delights her imagination conjured for them to enjoy together, the dark flip side was picturing an uncertain and guilt-ridden lover running away from her...perhaps for good.

She would wait.

Patricia smiled at her sheepishly. "Um, sorry. Got a bit carried away there."

Delia returned the grin as she buttoned her shirt. "We got a bit carried away, but this probably isn’t the best time or place."

"Mmm," the tall blonde agreed, tugging her clothes back into some semblance of order. "Good thing Gareth didn’t decide to invite himself along."

A quick glance around reassured Delia that they were alone, and she chuckled shortly. "Wouldn’t that have been an eyeful!"

Propriety restored, the young women resumed their walk, leaving the sanctuary of the thick forest for the easier path along the shoreline. Within ten minutes they came into sight of the Barrington summerhouse. Far less ostentatious than the Hawthorne estate, the large, old, two-story log residence had a relaxed, inviting air. Expansive picture windows overlooked a wide wraparound porch, and a massive stone chimney formed most of one end wall. A broad stretch of beach fronted the property where a canoe and a wooden, lapstrake runabout were tied up to a wharf that had seen better days. A deep fire pit lined with native stones was halfway between the lake and the house, and rustic Adirondack chairs littered the property. Rather than emulating the overly planned gardens and manicured lawns of many of its neighbours, the Barrington grounds were allowed to grow unfettered. Wildflowers and long, natural grasses competed for space, while untrimmed aspen, elm, and white ash overhung the house so that the faded log structure almost seemed one with them. Decades of Barrington progeny had worn paths from the house to the water, but the only thing that even resembled a paving stone was an asymmetric piece of concrete that one Theodore Barrington had long ago chiseled his name into, and which served as a perfectly good doorstop.

As the friends approached the house, another young woman stepped out onto the porch and waved excitedly. Smiles broke out on Patricia and Delia’s face at the sight of the third member of the once inseparable trio, and they waved back.

The woman waiting impatiently for them was clearly Delia’s identical twin with the same short, sturdy build, bright blue eyes and chestnut hair, though she wore her hair long in contrast to her sister’s short, practical cut. When they had been children, they had often been mistaken for each other, except by their parents and Patricia. Delia had once asked her best friend how she could tell the difference, and the taller girl had simply said, "By your smiles." For a while she had studied her smile in the mirror looking for the telltale differences, but, never detecting what Patricia saw, had finally given up.

"I’ve been waiting for you two," Andrea said as the newcomers mounted the steps. "Mother wants to see you, Patricia. She said to send you right in."

Delia shot her friend a commiserating look as Patricia reluctantly headed for the back room that had been turned into "Wedding Central" by the twins’ mother. Her eyes followed the tall blonde as she disappeared around the corner, and she heard her mother’s exuberant welcome. Knowing that her strong-willed mother would occupy the reluctant bridesmaid for at least an hour, she turned to her sister, only to be met by an amused smile and knowing eyes.

"What?" Delia demanded, even as Andrea began dragging her up the stairs to their bedroom.

"What what?" Andrea answered blithely, with patent disingenuousness.

Delia snorted, trotting up the stairs behind her twin. "What was that look all about?"

Andrea paused on the threshold, serious now as she turned to regard her sister. Puzzled, Delia waited for her to speak, but her twin just shook her head and beckoned her to follow.

Slightly bewildered by the odd, unspoken exchange, Delia trailed her sister into their room. Perching on her bed, she leaned back on her elbows and watched as Andrea absently picked up items on her dresser and mindlessly set them back down again. Knowing with a lifetime of experience that her twin was working up to something, but would take her time before revealing her thoughts, she let her eyes drift around their room.

It was a very large room, taking up a full third of the upper floor with three big dormer windows that overlooked the lake and flooded the inviting room with sunshine. Two double sleigh beds were narrowly separated by a battered, pine night table. Thick, solid beams braced the vaulted ceiling, supported by sturdy log walls, worn smooth by the passage of years. Generations of Barrington children had etched their initials into the corner wall behind a dresser, each unconsciously marking the inexorable course of time. Ugly, comfortable, paisley armchairs abutted a huge, rough-hewn wardrobe that had harbored everything from children’s swimming suits and pajamas to an unlucky snake smuggled in by the twins’ father when he was ten. When the girls turned twelve they were offered one of the guest rooms as a means to split up and each have their own bedroom, but after a moment’s consideration they refused. Neither could bear to give up whispered midnight confidences, or the way the stars shone just so when they lay with their heads against the footboards and watched the universe through the clear glass. Their father had smiled gently, perhaps remembering a time when he and his younger brother had turned down a similar offer.

"Delia..." Andrea’s voice trailed off, then she began again. "Dee, I..."

Again she stopped, and her sister stared at her in bewilderment. There had never been anything they couldn’t share. Drawing in a deep breath, Andrea turned and marched determinedly over to her bed, sitting down opposite her lolling sister.

Delia sat up, and with their knees touching, teased her uncharacteristically tongue-tied sibling. "So what it is, Andi? Need some advice on your wedding night?"

At that, Andrea laughed and cuffed her twin lightly. "Not likely! Thom and I will manage just fine, thank you very much. Besides, somehow I doubt that Thom would appreciate any expert advice you might have to offer."

It was an offhanded acknowledgement of the tension between Delia and her future brother-in-law, and the young woman wondered if that was what was bothering her sister. Remembering Patricia’s advice, she decided to extend an olive branch.

"You two make a great couple, and you’re not going to need anyone’s advice, I’m sure."

Andrea smiled wryly, but chose to accept her sister’s overture. "Thanks, Dee. I know Thom can be a little...stiff at times, but he’s really good to me; and I do love him."

"Then that’s all that matters," Delia replied, resolving to put aside her reservations about Andi’s stiff-necked future husband.

"Yes, it is...and speaking of which, are you ever going to tell me?"

Delia blinked at the apparent non-sequiter. "Um, tell you?"

Andrea shook her head and sighed. "About the love of your life, of course."

She froze at her twin’s words, unsure if her sister had discerned her feelings for their friend, reluctant to admit it if she didn’t know, but also unwilling to deny her heart’s truth.

A warm hand curled around hers and a gentle smile reassured her. "It’s not like I haven’t known for years, Dee. I used to wake up sometimes when she slept over and find the two of your curled around each other like a pair of puppies, even up to last week. You gravitate to each other no matter who else is in the vicinity, and the way you look at each other, you’d think the sun and moon revolved around you both."

Delia felt the rise of panic. If they had been that obvious, who knew how many others were privy to their secret.

Reading her like an open book, her sister hastened to reassure her. "It’s okay. I really don’t think anyone who doesn’t know you as well as I do would’ve noticed. After all, we’ve all been best friends since we were little, so no one thinks twice about our hanging around together all the time." Growing more somber, Andrea continued, "But you have to be careful, Dee. Once the wedding is over and I’m gone, there’s bound to be more attention focused on you and her."

"I know, but we’ll be going back up to Smith at the end of the summer." Delia sought comfort in that thought, before hesitantly asking, "Do you think Dad and Mother would understand?"

"I’m not sure they would understand, but I don’t think they would make your life a living hell over it either. Mrs. Hawthorne on the other hand..." Andrea shuddered visibly. "You weren’t around to see the fall-out after Patricia got her father’s permission to go to Smith. Her mother was livid in that oh so subtle, well-bred way of hers. Her youngest daughter had crossed her once and gotten away with it; I’m not so sure it would be conceivable a second time. And you know there’s just no possibility that they’d accept you two as lovers."

"Do you?" Delia stared at her hands, awaiting her twin’s judgment.

Andrea sighed deeply. "At first I had a lot of trouble believing it was happening. Then when I accepted that it was and that it went both ways, I got scared for you and her. I wished that it could be different, because I can’t see how you two can have a happy ending and I love you both so much." Squeezing her twin’s hand, her voice softened. "But falling in love with Thom opened my eyes. There’s just nothing like this feeling, is there?"

Delia looked up in relief. "No, there isn’t."

"For what it’s worth, Dee, you have my blessing. I’ve always considered Patricia one of the family, anyway. If there’s ever anything I can do for either of you, just let me know, but please, please be careful."

The sisters leaned forward and met in a fierce hug. Drawing back, Andrea smiled ruefully. "It would be best if you didn’t tell Thom about this, all right?"

Delia chuckled and nodded her acquiescence. It wasn’t like she was about to begin sharing confidences with her prudish brother-in-law to be anyway.

More relaxed now, Andrea stretched out sideways on the bed, fixing amused eyes on her sister. "You do realize that I’m putting up with all Mother’s fuss just for your sake?" she quipped.

Recognizing her sister’s attempt to lighten the mood, Dee responded with mock outrage. "My sake? How in heaven’s name is it for my sake?"

Grinning, Andi explained. "I’m letting her sate herself on my wedding so she doesn’t bother you to come up with a fiancé too."

"Oh, like you’re not loving every moment of it," Delia scoffed. "You and Mother are having the time of your life debating every infinitesimal detail of the ceremony."

Apparently deciding no verbal response was required, Andrea sprang up and launched herself at her twin, bearing Delia to the mattress under a flurry of tickling fingers. The battle ended in a draw, with both sisters laughing themselves into helplessness as usual. Contented, they lay across the double bed, idly contemplating the sun-dappled ceiling.

"I’m going to miss this," Andrea murmured.

Delia sighed in response. "Won’t be the same without you, that’s for sure."

They fell silent, but before melancholy could overtake them, Andrea elbowed her twin. "Shall we go rescue Patricia from Mother’s clutches?"

Nodding, Delia rose to follow her sister, still warmed by Andi’s loving acceptance but unable to shake a niggling uneasiness that overshadowed her joy. If they didn’t tread very carefully, Mrs. Hawthorne would be a formidable obstacle to any future with Patricia.

Chapter Three

"There’s only one shot left on the film, Dee. Hold still so I can finish it off, please?"

Patricia cajoled her impatient friend as she fiddled with her Brownie Cresta 3. Ever since her parents had given her a Baby Brownie Special a decade earlier when she was eleven, she’d been an avid photographer. Her mother encouraged her interest, hoping that the genteel hobby would dissuade her daughter from less ladylike pursuits with Dee and Andi.

Instead, Patricia’s succession of Brownie cameras had caught hundreds of images of the three friends as they grew and romped together. One of Patricia’s favorite pictures had been snapped of Charles’ outraged face when he discovered his new sports car egged by the trio in retaliation for him squealing on Andi when the girl had snuck out to meet a boy at a forbidden dance.

"Let me take the next one of you," Delia urged, obviously tired of being the subject of her friend’s obsession. "We’ll take the horses back, go down to the pavilion, and cool off in the lake."

Patricia hesitated. In her opinion she could never have enough pictures of Dee, but long experience had taught her to read the signals of impatience. Reluctantly she lowered the gray plastic box and was met with a relieved grin.

Dee snagged the reins of Sunburst and Traveler, two of Hannibal’s older horses—long past their competitive jumping days, but perfectly suited to desultory ambles on hot summer days. Passing Traveler’s reins to Patricia, Dee expertly swung up on Sunburst, a tall chestnut with a wide girth.

Taking a moment to admire her friend’s athleticism, the blonde stowed her camera in the bay’s saddlebag and mounted up. The horses automatically started back towards the ranch, following the wide path that edged the meadow where they had picnicked earlier. Riding side by side, Patricia felt the occasional brush of her bare leg against her friend’s. The contact, brief and intermittent though it was, was enough to make her shift in the saddle, seeking an unnamed relief.

Nearing the edge of the meadow, they entered the stretch of forest that separated them from Hannibal’s ranch. Cantering ahead, Delia took up the lead on the narrowed path, and Patricia was grateful for the opportunity to observe her friend undetected. She considered the tousled hair, just a few shades lighter than Sunburst’s sweat-darkened flanks. Her eyes trailed over the sturdy shoulders and solid thighs that gripped the horse securely. Her memory summoned up a picture of their bodies surging together in one of their many late night trysts.

Closing her eyes and trusting Traveler to follow his stable mate, she allowed her mind to conjure up the sensation of warm, supple flesh straining against her own as hands and mouths frantically sought each other out. She almost groaned aloud as she recalled how much harder it was to stop each time they came together. Patricia knew Dee only held back because of her fears, and she was well aware that it was only her anxieties that prevented them from moving beyond her imposed limits. The first time Delia’s hand had slipped under the waistband of her pajamas, she’d frozen, desperate for her lover to continue and equally desperate for her to stop. With exquisite tenderness, the other woman had pulled back and whispered, "When you’re ready, my love."

I’m ready. Oh, God, am I ever! Patricia slid back then forward in her saddle, trying to calm the incessant longing that was driving her to distraction. With the intensity of their studies over for the time, and the two young women together constantly on the long, lazy summer days, the blonde was being driven half-mad with longing. However, her fears were still ascendant. She was terrified that her parents would learn the true nature of her feelings for her longtime best friend, and couldn’t begin to imagine what they’d do if the truth emerged. The only thing she knew for certain was that they’d separate the lovers if they could, and the mere thought of that was enough to sicken her.

At that moment, Delia glanced over her shoulder, flashing Patricia a broad grin. "Did I tell you that I came up with a plan to thwart Charles’ romantic aspirations?"

Breathing a silent prayer of thanks for the diversion, Patricia shook her head. "No, you didn’t, oh fearless and sneaky leader. So, what are we going to do? Kidnap him? Kidnap her?"

Laughing, Delia shook her head. "No, we’re going to show Lillian the true nature of Charles’ pusillanimous and perfidious character."

"Wow, pusillanimous and perfidious...I like it already." Patricia chuckled gleefully. "And how exactly are we going to demonstrate this?"

Delia ducked under a branch overhanging the trail before answering. "What do you think would be the likelihood of Charles following the ancient maxim of ‘Women and children first,’ if his precious life was in danger?"

Patricia snorted derisively. "Zero to none."

"Exactly what I thought. So what would happen if he took Lillian out on the boat, and it began to sink?"

A wide smile spread over Patricia’s face. "Oh, you’re evil! You know Charles hates to swim."

It was true. The trio had learned early that the best way to escape Charles’ torment was to spend summer days on the raft anchored in the middle of the lake, as Charles was an awkward, inept, and fearful swimmer, unlike the girls who were virtually water nymphs. Unfortunately, Hannibal had turned his attention from his precious horses long enough to acquire a Lyman 15 foot outboard runabout several years before.

Charles had taken to the boat with gusto, using it to torment bathers and fishermen all over the lake until his father, alerted by angry neighbors to his son’s activities, clamped down on him. Charles was now more careful, but the boat was a stock part of his romantic repertoire. Lake Sivert had crystal clear waters, abundant sheltered coves and inlets, and thickly forested slopes on the eastern end. There were even a few old, abandoned cabins that Charles and his conquests were undoubtedly familiar with.

"So what’s the plan?" Patricia loved the sparkle of mischief in Dee’s bright blue eyes as she began to outline the scheme.

"According to my mother, who was talking to Uncle Hannibal, Charles is bringing Lillian to the lake tomorrow evening. Everyone will be gathered on Tuesday for the traditional July 4th celebration, and I’m sure your dear cousin will seize the opportunity to take her out for a little ride on the lake. Monday night, you, Andi, and I sneak out and loosen a couple of the boards just above water level towards the stern where he’ll be sitting. If I’ve got this calculated right, when they both sit down in the boat, they’ll lower it in the lake enough so that water will soon start rushing in. You know Charles always roars away from the dock, so by the time he clues in to what’s happening, they should be halfway across the lake."

Patricia considered the plan carefully. "But doesn’t it seem unfair to Lillian to get her soaked, too? And what if she can’t swim?"

"I’ll bring our boat over on some pretext and have it standing by when they go out. Plus, we’ll insist that she wear a life jacket. Look at it this way, Patty: we’re saving her from a lifetime of having to put up with Charles. Surely that’s worth a couple of wet feet."

The blonde thought about it. Did the ends justify the means in this case? She had seen numerous young women fall for her cousin’s good looks, money, and veneer of charm, only to be tossed aside like yesterday’s trash when he got bored. While Lillian seemed far too levelheaded to be taken in, Charles was obviously making an extra effort to woo her. She shuddered at the thought of anyone having to endure her cousin for a lifetime of wedded sorrow.

Patricia gave her answer. "All right, I’m in." Then she frowned. "The only fly in the ointment might be Mother. She’s already made it plain that I’m expected to accompany Gareth to the party, and I’m not sure how to get out of it."

Delia scowled fiercely over her shoulder, and the blonde was taken aback by the intensity of her reaction. She strained to hear what her friend muttered under her breath, but was unable to decipher the angry rumble.

The horses had reached the edge of the forest where the path widened before paralleling the white rails of the far pastures. Dee reined in Sunburst and waited for her friend to join her. Patricia guided Traveler up beside the chief plotter and reached out a hand to squeeze Delia’s knee.

"Hey, don’t worry about it, Dee. I’ll think of something." She thought for a moment and brightened. "I know! I’ll tell Mother that Uncle Hannibal wants me to stay with Lillian tomorrow night, as he doesn’t feel it’s proper to have a young lady in the house with just two men and an old, half-deaf housekeeper. I’ll lay it on thick about her being English aristocracy, and Mother will eat it up. You know how she is about titles and propriety."

Delia stared at her admiringly, her pique fading rapidly. "Oh, you’re good. You know all the right buttons to push, don’t you?"

Patricia chuckled. "I should by now."

"What about at the party itself? Is she going to expect you to hang on Gareth’s arm the whole time?" Delia’s voice was worried, and her friend hadn’t missed how she had spat the man’s name.

"I don’t think so," she answered hesitantly. "After all, there’ll be plenty of people around for him to hang out with, including Four and his buddies. I think she was just being polite to a visitor. I’ll make sure I go over and say hello at the party, and that should satisfy Mother."

"The only thing that’s going to satisfy your mother is to see you in a white dress standing at the altar with that man."

The words were soft and sad, and alarmed Patricia more than Delia’s earlier anger.

"Whoa! That’s not going to happen! I’m not in the least interested in Gareth. I thought I’d made it perfectly clear where my heart lies..."

The two women stared at each other for a long moment, then Delia nodded noncommittally before signaling Sunburst to begin moving. Feeling a rush of panic, Patricia urged Traveler forward and grabbed Delia’s reins, halting both their horses in an awkward entanglement.

"Listen to me," Patricia insisted hotly. Then seeing she had Delia’s complete attention, she gentled her voice to an intense whisper. "Nothing and no one is going to separate us. I won’t let them." And as she uttered the words, she knew them for the truth. She would brave her family’s censure—she would brave society’s condemnation—she would brave anything the world could throw at her for the joy of being in this woman’s arms. "I love you. I want to be with you forever, no matter what it takes."

The smile spreading across Delia’s face engendered a wild giddiness that flooded through Patricia. Quickly she dismounted and ran around to Sunburst’s side, reaching up as the shorter woman slid off the saddle and into her eager arms. Relying on equine bulk to shield them from the distant ranch house, they embraced feverishly, bodies straining together and lips seeking reaffirmation of their love.

Lost in each other, they failed to notice that the edge of the tree line thirty feet behind them was broken by an irregular shadow, a shadow that didn’t fit the natural contours of the forest’s edge or move even slightly as a breeze rustled past.

The heady joy that had fueled their embrace finally subsided and the women drew apart, smiling with the pure, undiluted pleasure of young love on an endless summer’s day. Remounting, they cantered off in the direction of the ranch house, the sound of their laughter floating behind them.


Stanton Hawthorne IV looked up as his best friend rounded the corner of the summer home. The slight, blonde man was the picture of indolence as he lolled in a deck chair by the pool, dressed in dazzling white from head to foot. The only splashes of color about him were his pale blue eyes, a red ribbon on his foppish straw boater, and a yellow silk cravat knotted loosely around his throat. Long slender fingers held an almost empty martini glass as he lazily saluted Gareth’s approach.

"I was wondering where you’d gotten to. Come join me in a drink. You’ll need the fortification. Julianne and her squalling brats are due to arrive within the hour."

Gareth shook his head as he took the chair next to his friend. "No thanks, not in the mood."

"Nonsense. Trust me. No one should have to deal with my sister’s children without liquid reinforcement." Stanton gave a dramatic shudder and sipped his drink before casting a jaundiced eye at the new arrival. "Besides, you look positively pale, old man. What have you been doing?"

"Just walking about. Exploring the lake." Gareth’s words were clipped, but it didn’t faze the young hedonist at all.

"Well, that’s the problem, then. Exercise and afternoon sun simply don’t go together." He signaled a servant who had been discreetly waiting in the shadow of the pool house. "Two more of the same, Randall. Actually, bring out a pitcher while you’re at it."

The servant nodded and walked quickly back to the main house.

Gareth raised an eyebrow. "You might want to take it easy, Four. I got the impression your mother wasn’t exactly happy about our delayed arrival on Friday night."

The young man grimaced. "I know. I’ve already been lectured up one side and down the other. I got the whole spiel about how my current behaviour affects my future, and how I can’t afford any scandal whatsoever if I’m going to be President some day. She even issued directives on whom I’m to talk to at Hannibal’s party. Seems mummsy and dear old dad prevailed on my uncle to invite some GOP bigwigs. Apparently they feel it’s none too soon to start grooming me and getting my toes in the door." He waggled one loafer derisively and drained his drink, letting the empty glass dangle loosely.

"You don’t seem too keen about the whole idea," Gareth commented, his dark eyes searching his friend’s face.

"Well, it certainly was never my brilliant idea to become leader of the bloody Free World. Too damned much work, if you ask me."

The brief emotional outburst seemed to drain the young man and he sank deeper in his chair, a sullen look distorting his handsome features. The squall quickly passed, however, as Randall returned with a tray holding a crystal decanter set in a bowl of ice, two fresh glasses, and a small silver dish of olives. Stanton roused himself enough to exchange his empty for a new drink, then settled back, sighing with satisfaction before dismissing the servant with a brief nod. Randall departed, leaving the two men to their martinis and conversation.

Gareth poured himself a drink, but unlike his friend, did not settle comfortably into his chair. Instead he held himself stiffly on the edge of his seat, one leg folded awkwardly under the other, rigid fingers gripping the glass tightly. He allowed himself a small sip before asking, "So, if you don’t want to be President, what do you want to be?"

"I don’t want to be anything but what I am...obscenely, independently wealthy." Stanton waved a graceful hand at his surroundings. "I am the consummate wastrel, the crowning achievement of generations of careful breeding—rather like one of Hannibal’s jumpers, if you will. I can dance like Fred Astaire; I can mix a perfect martini; I have an excellent serve and an adequate backhand; I know the difference between baccarat and chemin de fer; and I can charm ladies of all ages from grande dames to teenaged girls... In short, I serve a purpose. I am the one invited when a dinner party is one body short, when a foursome is required for tennis or bridge, or when an elderly aunt must be persuaded that her nephew is really a decent, hard-working chap, even though he’s run through most of his fortune at the track. I am seen at the best places with the best people. I am a friend to one and all—providing they can afford my company, of course. After all, do you ask a Monet to be more than a painting? Of course not. It is what it is, and therein lies its intrinsic value."

Shaking his head at his friend’s cheerful cynicism, Gareth posed a question. "But what happens if your parents won’t permit you to live the life of leisure you want? I can’t see your mother giving up on her dream of you being President too easily. If you don’t cooperate, won’t they close the bank vault to you?"

"Ah, I see Mother has you wrapped around her elegant pinky, too." Stanton chuckled lightly, one blonde eyebrow raised disdainfully. "You only have to learn how to handle her. You let her think she’s getting her way, while quietly having your own. For instance, on Tuesday I will attend Hannibal’s party, stone cold sober and dressed to the nines. I will be the bright, ambitious, up and comer that she deludes herself I am. I will converse intelligently and knowledgably with the men she’s arranged to have at the party, paying them the compliment of hanging on their every word. They’ll leave thinking I’m quite the fine chap, one with a sterling future, though far too young to take seriously yet, and Mother will be satisfied. She’ll back off, and I’ll return to my normal ways until the next time her ambition raises its ugly head."

"But eventually she’s going to catch on," Gareth insisted, his brow furrowed. "What are you going to do then?"



"Absolutely nothing." The young man beamed with self-satisfaction. "You see, as much as Mother wants to be First Grandmama, that lust is overshadowed by her biggest fear."

"Which is?"

"Scandal." Stanton tipped his boater back and smirked. "For Mother to disown me would be a tacit admission that all was not perfect within the hallowed walls of her family. She would rather slit her throat than concede that vile possibility. And since she knows I’d make a huge stink if I were forced to become useful," he shuddered at the very thought, "she’ll simply fold her cards and find another venue for her ambitions."

Gareth nodded thoughtfully, impressed with his friend’s analysis. He hadn’t expected that depth of thought from the self-indulgent young man. "So, what—you’ve never had a scandal in the family?"

Stanton cocked his head slightly and pursed his lips. "Well, there was the time my Great-Uncle Jonathon briefly took up with an Italian comtessa while on a summer jaunt to the Continent, but Great-Grandmama quickly put a stop to that, so I don’t think that would count. He had the good sense to expire young, because the family was still haranguing him about his misdeeds until the day he died, a dissipated and disappointed bachelor."

The young man finished his drink and poured another, raising an inquisitive eyebrow at Gareth’s barely touched martini. Gareth hastily swallowed it down and allowed his friend to refill his glass, intrigued that this cocktail hour was turning out to be much more informative than he’d anticipated.

"So, when I was walking about, I noticed your sister out horseback riding with her friend—what’s her name again?" Gareth asked casually.

"Well, it’ll either be Andi or Dee. Never could tell those two apart." Stanton smiled benevolently at his friend. "You’ve really got it bad for Patricia, don’t you?"

"I think she’d be perfect for me." Gareth forced enthusiasm into his voice and rushed on. "She’s really everything I’ve been looking for in a wife, you know? I mean she’s gorgeous and bright and sweet."

"And loaded."

Gareth looked up sharply, but Stanton just smiled placidly and sipped his drink.

Uncomfortable with his friend’s insight, he steered the conversation carefully.

"Well, of course, you never know how these things will go. She might have her eye on someone else."

"Like that’s ever stopped you before," the blonde man yawned. "Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my sister get serious about anyone, so the field is probably clear for you."

"Mmm," Gareth murmured noncommittally. "Is Andi the twin that’s getting married next month?"

"Uh huh. She’s hitching up with some Canadian preacher-type. He doesn’t look like he’d know a good time if it hit him over the head. Still, it should be a great party. The Barringtons are old money, and I hear Mrs. B is sparing no expense on her daughter’s soiree."

"So the other twin—Dee, is it? Is she seeing anyone that you know of?"

Stanton chortled. "Covering all your bases, old man?" When Gareth straightened indignantly, he raised a placating hand. "Didn’t say I blamed you, but in all honesty, I have no idea if Dee’s seeing anyone. She’s always just been Patricia’s best friend and not exactly my type, so I never made inquiries. She and my sister go to Smith College, so she may have someone there. Hell, ask her out. That’s one way to find out."

"I’m really not interested in her," Gareth denied stiffly. "I’m only interested in what kind of friends Patricia has. You know, what interests her and what they like to do for fun."

"Oh, I get it. Get the best friend on your side, and it’ll make the path of romance smoother. Yes, I’ve worked that angle myself. Hmmm, well she’s the sturdy, outdoorsy type. Not my cup of tea at all, though she’s a pretty good egg. Plays a mean game of tennis, she does."

"Outdoorsy? What do you mean—like hiking in the woods and such?" Gareth’s eyes narrowed speculatively.

"Dunno. More likely riding. She’s always spent a ton of time at Hannibal’s, and my uncle had all three of them riding almost as soon as they could walk. One time when I was little, I thought sure she’d broken her damned neck. She was sailing over fences on this gigantic beast when it stumbled and threw her off. Turned out it just knocked the wind out of her, but it scared the hell out of me!" Stanton heaved a melodramatic sigh and took a deep sip of his martini to punctuate his story.

"A bit of a daredevil, is she? Likes to take chances?"

The blonde man shrugged carelessly. "Well I don’t know about that. She does take her father’s old motorcycle into town all the time, and if you ask me, riding that piece of junk is living dangerously. I think Mr. B’s father brought it back from the First World War. You sure wouldn’t get me on that deathtrap for all the gold in Fort Knox."

Just then a loud honking was heard at the end of the long driveway, and a huge blue sedan drove into view. Stanton scowled and drained his glass. "God, the rabble has arrived." Picking up the crystal pitcher, he stood. "This pool will be crawling with squalling brats within moments. If I were you, I’d retreat. Join me in father’s study, if you like. They’re not allowed in the sanctum sanctorum. It’s about the only place in the house that’s safe."

He strode away with unaccustomed haste as Gareth looked after him speculatively.

"So, it’s a deathtrap, is it?"

The murmured words were lost in the clamour of small children piling out of the sedan, and Gareth quickly decided discretion was the better part of valour. Moving swiftly, he followed his friend into the summerhouse, abandoning the field to the newly arrived juvenile interlopers.


"Shhh, not so loud!"

Patricia’s caution was met with a smothered giggle as Delia resumed tapping her small chisel lightly between the planks of the runabout. They’d dragged the boat out of the water onto the dock and had spent the last twenty minutes working on loosening several of the stern boards by the light of the stars and a small flashlight.

"There! That should do it," Delia whispered as she set aside her tools. "Let’s slide it back into the water and see what happens."

The women eased the boat back into the water, wincing as it splashed, though none were awake to hear it at two in the morning. Intently they studied the small vessel as it rocked gently beside the dock, their handiwork above the waterline.

"Looks okay," Patricia said hopefully.

"Uh huh, this should do the trick," her fellow subversive responded with satisfaction. "We just have to make sure that no one uses it before Charles and Lillian, especially the kids."

"Why don’t we take them out in your boat first thing, and then we’ll be out on the lake when it happens, in case Lillian needs any help," the blonde woman suggested, helping to gather up the tools.

"Good idea," Delia agreed, casting a glance over to where she and Andi had tied up on the opposite side upon their arrival earlier in the evening. "Now, let’s get these back to the stable and sneak back into bed."

The co-conspirators trotted back up the beach and across manicured lawns, dodging around the picnic tables, chairs, and umbrellas festooned with red, white and blue bunting in preparation for the Fourth’s festivities. Stowing their ill-gotten equipment in the stable’s tool shop, they swung the big door shut as quietly as possible, grateful that Hannibal insisted on rigid maintenance of all the barns and outbuildings.

Once outside they stood for a moment, inhaling the sweet night air and listening to the song of the frogs and crickets. Patricia glanced sideways, enjoying the way the soft moonlight caressed her friend’s face. Delia smiled up at her, then took her hand, gently tugging her in the direction of the ranch house.

Hand in hand they walked back to rear of the sprawling, two-story, white building. Their plans had gone perfectly so far. Hannibal had enthusiastically embraced the idea of the three friends joining Lillian in a sleepover, and Patricia’s mother had reluctantly acquiesced to the propriety of not leaving the English guest alone with her brother and nephew. Andi had jumped on her twin’s plan with glee, delighted to see Charles’ get his comeuppance one last time before she left the Three Musketeers for life in Toronto.

The three women had spent a pleasant evening with Hannibal and the foreign visitor, ignoring Charles’ scowls as Lillian made her delight in their company readily apparent. Then Andi and Lillian had retired to one guestroom, as the other two had taken their customary room down the hall. Both rooms were in the opposite wing from Hannibal and Charles, and housed the elderly housekeeper too, but she was unlikely to be wakened by less than the sound of a cannon outside her bedroom door and they’d had no problem sneaking out.

Relishing the feel of Delia’s hand in hers, Patricia’s mind drifted idly to earlier that evening and Andi’s conspiratorial wink at her twin as she’d quickly volunteered to sleep in Lillian’s room when it had come time to retire.

Suddenly cognizant that that wink might have had more meaning than just an unspoken alliance between conspirators, Patricia pulled her companion to a halt. Startled, Delia turned to see why.

"Does Andi know about us?" Patricia asked, unsure which answer she hoped for.

Dee nodded.

"And she doesn’t... I mean, she’s not mad at us or anything?"

The shorter woman smiled. "She said she wondered what took us so long, and that she knew ages ago."

Patricia’s eyebrows rose at that, and as they resumed their walk, she pondered the implications. Finally, she sought reassurance. "She won’t say anything to anyone, will she?"

They had reached the back trellis that they would have to climb to reach their room. Delia paused, then took both Patricia’s hands. "This is Andi we’re talking about, Patty. She’s one of us; you know that. She doesn’t recommend telling the world, but she would never betray us. Trust her, sweetheart, like I do."

The taller blonde touched on the deeper implications, her voice trembling. "If Andi knows, do you think anyone else does? Have we given ourselves away somehow?"

"My concern, too; but she says not." Delia stepped closer, pulling the other woman into her arms and hugging her fiercely as she whispered, "We’re safe, love."

Patricia relaxed into the embrace, her fears pushed aside by the pleasure of the moment. Without even her usual instinctive glance around, she lowered her head and touched her lips to Delia’s. What began as a light buss to bolster her confidence quickly escalated to passion as the adrenaline of the night’s activities spurred them on. Only the sound of Dee’s low gasp recalled Patricia to her senses enough to pull back. Swallowing, she indicated the trellis.

"Up," she croaked unsteadily.

Delia stared at her, eyes dark with emotion, then she turned wordlessly and began to climb. The trellis was a familiar route for the women, one they’d used since childhood when staying with Uncle Hannibal, so Patricia didn’t have to consider where to place her feet. That left her mind free to appreciate the body climbing ahead of her, and by the time she slithered in over the windowsill, she was feverish to hold her lover.

Frenzied, they came together, fingers fumbling with zippers and buttons, shedding clothes until finally they fell together naked on Delia’s bed. And as Patricia rose above her lover, she knew this time she wouldn’t stop—couldn’t stop. With everything that she was, she needed all that the other woman could give.

Straddling the shorter body, she took Delia’s hand and guided it to where she had longed for it. As the strong fingers slid firmly across soft, swollen flesh and into her wet depths, she moaned with pleasure, her hips moving of their own accord. Forcing her eyes open, she drank in the loving delight on Dee’s face, the eyes that adored her even as they devoured her. Swamped by the physical and emotional overload, she found herself quickly on the edge and unable to hold back. Moving frantically, she tried to stifle her cries as the powerful waves pulsed through her. Finally falling forward, she collapsed into welcoming arms.

"I’m sorry. Too fast."

The panted words were muffled by Delia’s hair, but her lover seemed to understand them. "Shhhh," she whispered, carefully rolling Patricia over onto her back and beginning a slow, gentle stroking from her lover’s face down to slender thighs and back again, sparking a resurgence of desire in the exhilarated woman. "We have all the time in the world, my love. Don’t worry about a thing."

And as Delia’s head lowered and lips closed firmly around her nipple, Patricia’s body arched and her mind let everything else go, content to live for the moment in the idyll they’d created for themselves.

Chapter Four

Gareth kept pace with Stanton IV as they walked from where his friend had parked his red convertible behind the stable to Hannibal’s lakeside party, already in progress though it was barely noon. Despite the shortness of the walk around the lake from the Hawthorne summer home to Hannibal’s ranch house, Stanton had insisted on taking the car to preserve the brilliant shine on his oxfords. True to his word, the young man was dressed to the nines in sharply creased light gray trousers, a dark blue blazer over a crisp white shirt, his Harvard tie knotted far less flamboyantly than normal, and his blonde hair slicked back in a conservative collegial style.

Even his demeanour had undergone a radical change. Absent was the airy insouciance of the previous day. Yesterday’s hedonist now strode purposefully across the lawn, his carriage erect, and his expression resolute and serious—the very picture of an ambitious young statesman.

Still marveling at the transformation in his friend from aesthete to ascetic, Gareth slowed and watched as Stanton veered towards the small group of middle-aged and older men loosely grouped around Stanton Sr. and Virginia, their beverages and spouses readily at hand. He had no doubt that these were the Republican eminences grise whom Four had been firmly instructed to impress.

He couldn’t help chuckling to himself as he watched the reaction of the senior Hawthornes when their usually indolent scion smoothly infiltrated the gathering and embarked on his campaign to dazzle. Stanton III watched his son with open amazement, while his subtler spouse merely arched one eyebrow, then nodded briefly in approval.

Hearing the roar of a boat motor, Gareth turned towards the dock, watching idly as a man powered his runabout out into the lake. His attention was distracted by another boat not far away and his eyes narrowed as he recognized Patricia with several small, life-jacketed children. A scowl covered his face for an instant as he recognized who was driving. The bitch! Refusing to accord Delia the status of rival, he had settled on simply viewing her as an odious impediment.

Before Gareth’s thoughts could continue in that vein, his attention was drawn back to the first boat by shouts and wild curses as the boat slowed to a halt, its momentum stalled by an increasingly apparent wallow. Startled, he watched as the boat clearly sank lower in the rear and the man bailed frantically. Obviously giving it up as a lost cause, the driver jumped frantically from the craft and flailed towards shore, abandoning his hapless passenger.

Within seconds, the other boat pulled alongside and the woman gingerly transferred to Patricia’s runabout, shaking her soaked feet. Gareth reluctantly had to admit to himself that Delia handled her craft skillfully, as she came about and snagged the lead rope. Navigating carefully, she slowly steered back towards shore, towing the damaged boat, which having been relieved of its human cargo, had risen slightly higher in the water.

Gareth watched Delia slow the boat alongside the floundering swimmer in the water, but a resounding "No," drifted across the water. Amused by the exclamation and emphatic gesture that the one-time passenger gave her wet, would-be paramour, the dark-haired man lit a cigarette and settled into a lawn chair to watch the little drama. He had no idea who the rescued female passenger was, but now recognized the man in the lake as Four’s cousin, to whom he’d briefly been introduced at a party in the city.

After the three women and children disembarked, Delia secured both boats while Patricia accompanied Lillian back to the house. Gareth eyed his intended as she passed within feet of him without so much as a nod of acknowledgement, but then his attention was dragged back to the shore, where Charles was wading from the water, glaring at the target of his wrath who stood calmly on the beach.

Livid, the sodden man screamed at Delia. "You fucking bitch! You sabotaged my boat!"

The picture of innocence, Delia merely smiled and cocked her head at her accuser. "Now why would I do something like that?"

Charles' carefully styled blonde hair was plastered to his forehead, rivulets of water tracking down his face. He savagely wiped the water from his eyes and came to stop in front of Delia. Towering over the short woman, his face a mask of rage, he snapped, "Because you couldn’t stand the thought that I’d found someone to make me happy, when no man in his right mind would ever want you!"

Delia’s laughter rang out and her words could be clearly heard throughout the crowd, which was now avidly watching the confrontation. "Temper, temper, Charles. Remember your father's rules when taking a boat out? Always do a safety inspection. Did you forget, Chucky? I hardly think you can blame me for your total disregard for safety."

"Don't call me that! I know you were behind this... You and those other two hags. You just wanted me to look bad in front of Lillian." Furiously, Charles grabbed for Delia's arm, but she deftly avoided his hand.

Tauntingly, she danced back out of his range, as his wet feet had become mired in the soft sand. "You didn’t need our help, Charles. You made yourself look bad. As usual, you only cared about yourself. That’s all you’ve ever cared about. Lillian’s just lucky we were out in our boat, because she obviously couldn’t depend on your less-than-chivalrous nature for any help. "

"That's my point! It's just a little too convenient that you just happened to be there." Charles pulled a dripping pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket and flung them at Delia, who easily avoided the sodden missile.

Listening to the feuding nemeses as he joined the crowd of partygoers who had gathered near the dock, Gareth mulled over potential ways to use Charles' fury to his advantage. It was obvious the man was convinced Delia was behind the boating mishap. While Gareth had little patience for the shallow, egotistical blueblood, and couldn’t have cared less about their apparent feud, Charles' anger at Delia might make him useful.

Gareth approached the pair. "Hey, Charles, what rotten luck. What happened?"

Pointing at Delia, who had turned and was casually walking away, Charles said, "That witch sabotaged my boat." Staring after Delia, he called out, "You'll pay for this if it's the last thing I ever do!"

The crowd began to dissipate once they saw no one was hurt. Quiet laughter followed, and whispered comments about Charles’ petulant behavior was the primary source of conversation.

Gareth placed a placating hand on Charles' shoulder. "How about getting cleaned up? Lunch is going to be served shortly. You can tell me what happened on the way up to the house."

Frustrated and obviously embarrassed that the other guests had witnessed the humiliating affair, Charles nodded in agreement. "Fine. But she will pay. I have had quite enough of the twins from hell, and Patricia, too."

"Patricia? You think she was involved in this?" Gareth asked innocently.

"Those three are inseparable and they hate me. I know Delia was the instigator. Patricia doesn't have the devious mind that bitch does, and Andrea just goes along with anything her sister suggests." Charles wrung out the bottom of his shirt, scowling as water dripped to the sand. Picking up his rant, he spat, "She's just jealous because I have a date for Father’s party and she doesn't."

While Gareth seriously doubted that was the motivation behind the sabotage, if in fact it was sabotage, he nodded in agreement. "Maybe so. No sense dwelling on it right now, though. You've got to make amends with Lillian."

Charles' shoulders slumped. "She wouldn't even let Delia stop to pick me up on the way to shore. Everything is ruined – just ruined!"

Gareth silently agreed that Charles relationship with Lillian was ruined; but despite his animosity towards Delia, he inwardly acknowledged that it was because of the man's own ignoble actions, not anything she might have done. Nonetheless he offered encouragement. "The day's still young. You've got plenty of time."

Looking at him hopefully, Charles asked, "Do you think she'll…"

Putting on his most sympathetic face, the dark haired man reassured the wet, despondent man. "Forgive you? I don't know, but the only way to find out is to apologize. Besides, women love groveling. If you grovel sincerely enough, it just might work. You certainly don’t have anything to lose."


Leaning against the hallway wall, Delia grinned broadly. "Charles is so predictable. He never even thought of Lillian, and she finally got to see the real deal."

"Do you think he suspected anything?" The question echoed concern. Patricia was well aware that Charles wouldn't let any real or imagined transgression go unanswered.

Delia shrugged negligently. "Oh, he accused me of sabotaging him, but I pointed out he was the one who left Lillian to fend for herself." Looking at Patricia's worried face, Delia placed a comforting hand on her arm. "Don't worry. He can't prove a thing."

"I know and I'm not sorry we did it, but I think we'd better be on our guard." The blonde bit her lip slightly as she cautioned her lover. "No telling what he'll come up with for revenge."

"True, but he hasn't gotten the best of us for a long time. He has no imagination." The two friends chuckled over the truth of that observation. Charles’ wrath was predictable, but so were his methods. He was sneaky, but he had little subtlety; and they were confident that they could out maneuver him.

The bedroom door opened and Lillian emerged, with dry footwear and a change of clothes. She smiled at the two waiting women. "I can't thank you enough for rescuing me. I can swim, but I prefer to do so in a bathing costume."

"You're welcome. I'm glad we were around so you didn't have to get totally drenched. Ready to go rejoin the party?" Patricia asked, falling in on Lillian’s left side as they walked down the hall.

"Absolutely. I'll be going unescorted though, I dare say. I wish to have nothing to do with that scoundrel Charles."

Delia smiled sympathetically. "I don't blame you. He was so inconsiderate."

Her eyes blazing, Lillian said, "To say the least! I shall inform Charles in no uncertain terms that we are finished. Honestly, are there no American gentlemen left?"

Patricia and Delia simultaneously replied, "There is one."

Looking at them curiously, Lillian asked, "Who?"

Casting a quick glance at her best friend, Patricia baited the hook. "His name is Gareth Edwards. He’s my brother’s best friend—single, wealthy, very handsome, and quite the charmer. My mother seems intent on us making a match, but he’s really not my type, if you know what I mean." At Lillian’s interested nod, she continued, "If you like, I can introduce you two. You may hit it off, and at the very least, you’ll drive Charles quite mad with jealousy."

That prospect appeared to delight the Englishwoman, and she linked arms enthusiastically with her companions. "Well, ladies, I do believe introductions are in order." Suddenly recalling her roommate of the previous evening, she asked, "By the way, where did Andi get to? I haven’t seen her since breakfast."

"She went into town to meet her fiancé. He was coming in on the morning train from Boston. She’ll be around later, though," Delia assured their friend. "There’s no way she’d ever miss the fireworks."

"I’m quite looking forward to that myself," Lillian said, then added with a grin, "I think perhaps there may be additional fireworks this year, though. Shall we see what kind of mischief we can stir up?"

Laughing together, the three women descended the stairs and headed outside to rejoin the party.


Gareth's eyes searched the crowd for Patricia even as he made small talk with his new acquaintance. While he was flattered by Lillian's attention, he could not afford to waste time on a woman who didn’t fit his matrimonial prerequisites, particularly as he had caught Virginia Hawthorne frowning at him only moments ago as the beautiful Englishwoman hung on his arm. He was well aware that her newfound interest in him was just for Charles’ benefit, and he was worried that he would lose his edge with Four’s cousin if the man saw him making time with his erstwhile sweetheart. Luckily Charles had not yet reemerged from the house, and Gareth fervently hoped that he would take his time licking his wounds.

Suddenly seeing Charles emerge from the house, he felt a stir of desperation. Quickly he called out to his best friend who had finally fled the political gathering around his parents. Having done his duty, the younger Stanton was making a beeline for the bar set up under one of the oak trees.

"Four! Four, old man, have you met Lady Lillian?"

Stanton stopped in his direct route to the nearest martini and detoured towards them. Taking the Englishwoman’s hand, he bent slightly in a graceful bow as he greeted her.

"Indeed, I’ve not had the pleasure. It’s beyond me how I missed the opportunity, however. Surely my eyes must be going dim to have overlooked this fair English rose."

Lillian smiled at Stanton’s outrageous flattery, but allowed herself to be led away as Four winked over his shoulder at Gareth and mouthed, ‘You owe me!’

Gareth heaved a sigh. It was a temporary solution, but it left him free to seek out Patricia. He had been pleased when she’d come up to him in Lillian’s company, but less happy when she’d foisted the Englishwoman off and slipped away. He had caught several glimpses of her, but always in the company of the damn Barrington bitch. Their incomprehensible bond absolutely eluded him, and he shook his head in frustration. Looking about, he saw Charles approach Stanton and Lillian. With eyes narrowed, he watched Four’s cousin get a very obvious and public brush-off. Deciding it was the perfect time to approach his potential ally, he followed Charles to the bar.

Coming up beside the disconsolate man, he asked quietly, "Did you apologize?"

Charles tossed back the amber contents of a highball glass before answering. "Yes, but she said I’d behaved disgracefully and she wanted nothing whatsoever to do with me—ever!" He slammed his glass down on the bar and motioned the bartender to pour another. "I’ve lost her, and all because of that bitch, Delia. She's going to pay, if it’s the last thing I do!"

Signaling for another of the same, Gareth asked neutrally, "What do you mean?"

Charles looked at him cagily. "I'd rather not say. I don't want her tipped off."

Gareth chuckled reassuringly and put a fraternal hand on the man’s shoulder. "You don't have to worry about me tipping her off. I’ve been trying to get a date with Patricia for months, but she is too busy with her 'friend.' Delia is not on my list of favorite people right now."

Grunting, Charles shook his head and finished his second drink. "I think you could do better than my dear cousin, but it’s your funeral." He snorted contemptuously and accepted the third highball Gareth nudged in front of him. "I wouldn’t want to have to bed her for a lifetime, but I s’pose you may as well lay down with a rich bitch as a poor one. After all, who can tell the difference when the lights are off, right? When they spread their legs, they’re all the same."

Slightly taken aback at the man’s crudity, and worried that he’d become too drunk to talk at the rate he was throwing them back, Gareth steered Charles away from the bar, but not before the other man snagged the half-empty bottle from a surprised bartender. Subtly bringing the conversation back where he needed it, the dark-haired man continued.

"You’re right, of course; but I do think Patricia will be fine once I get her away from Delia’s influence. Once we’re married, I have no intention of allowing that woman into my home. Patricia will be expected to keep much more appropriate company and set a good example for our children."

Charles lifted his glass in a toast. "Good for you. Put your foot down, that’s what I always say. A woman’s gotta toe the line—listen to the head of the household—show respect..."

"Absolutely. Not like that Delia, that’s for sure. What she did to you! Why she humiliated you in front of everyone, and she probably cost you the love of your life."

Belatedly Charles returned to the subject of his wrath. "Damn straight! Gonna get her for that. You can bet your last ten dollars on that, my man."

Ruefully, Gareth acknowledged that it might actually come to his last sawbuck if his plans didn’t come to fruition, but outwardly he coaxed, "So, what have you got on your mind, Charles?"

Blearily, Charles tapped the side of his nose and smirked. "Well, you never know. One of these days, she might just have an accident. She’s always taking chances. Christ, lots of people have broken their necks riding horses; and the way she goes hell bent for leather...who knows? Anything could happen. And that old motorcycle she insists on riding into town. Everyone knows that women don't ride motorcycles. There's something unnatural about her. It would serve her right if that old bike up and threw her on her ass. Might just teach her how to be more of a lady."

"She is rather independent for a woman, but I doubt she's just going to go away or have some bizarre accident and disappear." Gareth watched his companion speculatively and wondered how much of the man’s vengeance fantasies were just talk, and how far he might be able to push Charles into action. "Delia's made us both look like fools. She's an obstacle to my interest in Patricia, and you've lost Lillian because of her. I know if she weren't always around, Patricia would welcome me with open arms. As it is now, she spends every spare moment with that woman."

Charles sneered. "You know it. Bloody inseparable, those two."

Over the man’s shoulder, Gareth spotted Patricia near the punch bowl. Heartened by their exchange, he decided the seed had been planted and he needed to give it time to ripen. For now, he had other fields to cultivate. Slapping Charles congenially on the back, he told him, "I’ll get back with you later, all right? At the moment, there’s a lady that awaits my attentions."

More interested in his bottle than Gareth’s departure, Charles just shrugged. "Yeah, sure, whatever..."

Gareth began weaving through the crowd towards his quarry, when he felt a hand on his arm and looked down to see a smiling Lillian at his side.

"Gareth, why don’t you join Stanton and me for lunch?"

Glancing toward the punch bowl, Gareth watched Patricia walk away and hand Delia a glass of punch. Inwardly steaming, he put on his best face as he accepted the invitation with a smile. "Certainly. It would be my pleasure, Lillian."

As he trailed her over to where Four lounged on a chequered blanket in the shade, surrounded by the trappings of a picnic, he reflected on the apparent impossibility of getting time alone with Patricia, but it merely reinforced his determination to remove Delia from the equation all together. For now, he would bide his time and cultivate allies. A chess player since he was a small boy, Gareth knew he simply could not afford to lose this game. The consequences were unthinkable, but if he handled all the pieces precisely...

He knew Virginia Hawthorne was the queen, and his most powerful backer, but perhaps the bumbler, Charles, might have his uses. For that matter, even the oblivious Four could be a valuable pawn if properly handled.

Reaching the tree, Gareth helped Lillian get seated on the picnic blanket, then grinned at his best friend and accepted the offered martini. Sipping slowly and listening half-heartedly to his companions’ small talk, his gaze drifted over the crowd, drawn magnetically to the sight of Patricia and Delia enthusiastically greeting some new arrivals. He repressed the automatic scowl, but found solace in one thought.

It’s not even close to end game, yet.


Delia and Patricia rose a couple of hours past dawn the next morning. They had agreed to meet up at Hannibal’s for an early horseback ride before his remaining guests were up and about. There had been precious little opportunity for them to share any private time throughout the previous day’s festivities, and they exchanged ardent greetings inside the safety of the stable’s four walls.

They quickly saddled their mounts and, leading them from the barn, swung up with practiced ease. Intent on getting away and spending time together, they failed to notice a figure watching them from Hannibal’s ground floor study window.

Taking the lead on Traveler, Patricia called back over her shoulder, "Lillian was great at the party yesterday, wasn’t she? She kept Gareth busy all day."

Patting an unusually skittish Sunburst on the withers to calm him, Delia distractedly agreed. "Mmm, yes, she sure was. He barely even had time to glare at me."

Reluctant to deal with the subject on such a fine morning, Patricia nonetheless revealed her concerns. "I’ve been noticing that, Dee. He really seems to dislike you for some reason. He's always been very nice to me, but I sure don’t like his attitude towards you. And it’s certainly not like he’s going to make points with me by being nasty to my best friend. You have to wonder what’s going through his mind. Oh well, he’s gone now. I was relieved that he decided to go back on the night train instead of waiting for Four to drive him in this morning. I’m glad to have him out of my hair."

"I’m glad to have him out of your hair, too," Delia said wryly, as Sunburst shied sideways. "Hey, you, what’s gotten into you? Get a little loco weed in your oats this morning?"

Casting off any worries, Patricia felt her own spirits rise in response to the fine summer morning and the movement of the bay horse under her. "Hey, race you to the woods," she called, as she urged Traveler to a gallop.

Grinning at the challenge, Delia wasted no time and soon had her mount abreast of her friend. Approaching the edge of the woods, they pulled up, and Delia settled back comfortably into the saddle only to find herself gripping the reins tightly as the chestnut horse reared. She spoke soothingly to the strangely high-strung horse, but Sunburst whinnied and jerked his head up and down. Puzzled by her favorite steed's behavior, Delia halted him and slid off, only to have the horse calm down immediately.

Patricia joined her on the ground. "What's wrong? Sunburst never acts like that. He’s always been the mellowest one in the stables, not to mention that he just about purrs when you come around. He’d never try to hurt you."

Delia ran her hands over the tall gelding’s flanks. "I don't know." Suddenly her eyes narrowed. "Charles!"

Patricia looked at her in puzzlement. "Charles, what?"

But Delia was already removing the saddle from the chestnut’s back. After carefully examining it, with Patricia looking over her shoulder, she set it aside and removed the saddle blanket. She saw nothing on the outer side and turned it over. "Damn him!"


"Look what that bloody fool did! He embedded a burr in the blanket. It's obviously a payback for yesterday. He's such an ass. Poor Sunburst. Any other horse would've thrown me with that digging into their back."

Closely examining the gelding’s back, she found a small spot where the burr had rubbed his coat off and his skin was scratched and oozing. Delia shook her head furiously and pointed to the mark.

"Look at this! A little longer and this would have been a full-fledged sore. Charles didn't even care about hurting an innocent animal. All he cares about is getting even." She rubbed around the open wound gently before digging a handkerchief out of her saddlebag and folding it carefully to cover the sore. "Damn, I'm so glad Lillian got to see his true colors. How in God’s name did you ever end up with a blood relative like him?"

Patricia smiled at the rhetorical question and answered anyway. "We can pick our friends, but not our family. His mother was just as bad, and I think even Uncle Hannibal was glad the day she left him. Maybe someday Charles will learn, but I'm not holding my breath."

Dee snorted. "It's a good thing. No one can hold their breath that long."

Patricia chuckled. "At least Sunburst is okay. Here, give me your saddle and blanket. I'll put them on Traveler and we can walk back."

Dee looked around at the beautiful morning, the sun still low in the sky, shaking her head regretfully at the forced cancellation of their plans. "All right, but after we get Sunburst taken care of, we’re going to have a little talk with that skunk.


Charles watched the women return from his father's study, where he had taken refuge after a disastrous breakfast. His residual anger of the previous day was now further fueled by the ice-cold reception he had received from Lillian that morning, and the news that she planned to depart immediately afterward.

He wasn't sure if he was angrier at having a woman dump him, or at Delia and Patricia for setting him up; for Charles was certain that was exactly what had happened. With the exception of Gareth, not one person had believed his claims of sabotage, and he had become the laughingstock of the party. Even his father had simply sighed and offered half-hearted sympathy, though he had dismissed his son’s charges against the women as an emotional overreaction.

Once they’d tended to the horses, the two young women came into the house looking for Charles. Hannibal directed them to the study, his usually cheerful eyes distressed. Delia felt a pang of guilt that the older man was being discomfited by the antics of the younger generation, but her remorse was quickly displaced by fury at Charles’ actions.

Reaching the study, Delia wrenched opened the door, intent on giving her old enemy a piece of her mind. "Charles, you ball-less jackass! How dare you take your anger at me out on an innocent animal! I cannot believe you would harm one of your father's horses to exact your petty revenge. How low can you sink?"

Charles narrowed his eyes balefully. "I have no idea what you are talking about, and I want you out of here now."

Advancing on the man, Delia glared at him menacingly. "Not before you and I have this out once and for all. Just how do you think your father would react if he found out what you did? You know he has zero tolerance for anyone who abuses animals."

Less aggressively, Patricia added, "That really was mean, Charles. Sunburst never did anything to you. Whatever you think we may have done, you’ve no call to injure a helpless horse!"

"I told you, I don't know what you're talking about. Now leave me alone!" Charles had not yielded an inch, and was now face to face with a fuming Delia. They glowered at each other for a long moment before Patricia stepped in and urged her best friend away.

"C’mon, Dee. We’ve got better things to do than hang around this...this...weasel!"

The women turned and left, Delia still steamed at what had happened to Sunburst. They had decided to omit telling Uncle Hannibal about the incident, not to protect Charles, but rather to prevent the whole matter from escalating out of control. They hoped that now that Charles had struck back at them, he would let the whole incident go and return to Boston as quickly as possible.

"He's such a lowlife," Delia muttered. "He won’t face up to what he’s done even when we have him dead to rights."

"Did you expect him to, Dee?" Patricia reasoned as she led the way back outside. "I’ll bet he was counting on you to come back all banged up so he could publicly harangue you about not being able to ride an elderly gelding. It would have given him great pleasure to see you embarrassed in front of the remaining guests just the way he was humiliated yesterday, especially since he knows you can outride him on your worst day."

"I still think he's a total jerk."

Holding the door open for her frustrated friend, Patricia nodded her agreement. "So do I. We're going to have to keep an eye on him, though. He's so angry he could be dangerous. Stop and think about it, Dee. Charles knew you’d take Sunburst, because you always do. What he didn’t bank on was that Sunburst would never throw you because you’ve got that big chestnut wrapped right around your little finger. Anyone else, and Sunburst would've thrown them in a heartbeat. Maybe Charles really did intend to hurt you badly."

Delia gave that some thought as they made their way through the detritus of the previous day’s party and down towards the lake. "I don’t know, Patty. I don't really think Charles meant for me to get seriously injured. I think you were right the first time about him just wanting to embarrass me."

Patricia said nothing, but a minute, unconscious shake of her head spoke volumes.


Delia rolled her father's vintage BMW R32™ from its berth in the garage out into the driveway. She hadn't ridden it since before the 4th of July party, and was eager to take it into town. She was preoccupied as she checked the gas and oil mixture, adding a bit from the canister in the garage, and then doing a visual inspection of the motorcycle, even as her mind worried relentlessly at the situation between Patricia and her mother.

In the weeks since the party, Mrs. Hawthorne was monopolizing more and more of Patricia's time, insisting that her daughter join her for tea, or be present when she invited some of her cronies for brunch. Delia knew her lover's mother was doing everything she could do to keep them apart. To make matters even worse, Gareth was present every weekend whether Four came home or not; and even though Patricia slipped away every chance she got, the Hawthorne matriarch enforced a distasteful degree of togetherness for her daughter and their guest, infuriating and frustrating the young women. They had even taken to writing letters, surreptitiously posted without return addresses and filled with their love, longing and plans for a future together. Delia cherished those letters and read them over repeatedly, but they couldn’t compensate for the scarcity of time she’d had with her lover over the last couple of weeks.

Banishing such gloomy thoughts, Delia swung her leg over the BMW™ and settled comfortably in the seat, her short stature allowing only her toes to reach the ground. She pulled out the choke, and a moment later the motorcycle was idling smoothly.

Looking forward to the ride, she pushed off, coasting down the long driveway until she could accelerate onto the road to town. The woods on either side of the road were rife with wildlife in the early morning hours. Dee caught the occasional glimpse of a rabbit, and smiled at a deer and its fawn alongside the road.

The wind blowing her hair back and the sun illuminating her freckled face, she let her thoughts turn to the previous few weeks. She had unaccountably become very accident-prone lately, and Delia knew Patricia was worried about her. At first, she had attributed the strange events to Charles trying to exact additional revenge, but the incidents had continued even after he returned to Boston.

Delia still questioned whether it had been Charles who had fired a shot from the woods right over her head as she rode Sunburst along the beach one Saturday evening, but he had vehemently denied it and blamed it on an out of season hunter. She couldn’t deny that overeager and illegal hunters had done such things in the past, and it had been getting dark when the incident happened; though she found it hard to believe they’d been taken for a deer. The trellis she used to sneak into and out of her room at Hannibal’s had mysteriously broken one night when she attempted to scale it after a rendezvous with Patricia in the woods behind her parents’ house. Fortunately, Andi, who was sleeping over with her, had covered with a story that she’d accidentally locked her twin out of the house. Delia sported a bruised shoulder and tender ribs for days after that fall. Later that week, a large rock, near boulder size, suddenly crashed out of the woods and into her path while riding Sunburst. It had taken all of her skill to stay aboard the frightened horse. Only the previous day, she had discovered Sunburst’s bit was broken, the leather mysteriously parted at a stress point. With Charles gone, the incidents appeared to be nothing more than a series of bizarre coincidences, but they were troublesome. Shaking off the memories, she consciously focused her thoughts on a much more pleasant subject—Patricia.

Rounding a curve only a mile from home, Delia saw what appeared to be some debris in the roadway. Expertly shifting the motorcycle a few inches to the right to avoid the rusty metal, she tapped her brakes to avoid a squirrel crossing the road.

The bike responded sluggishly; and Delia tapped the brake again, intending to stop and see what the problem was. Vintage or not, the motorcycle had always stopped on a dime, but this time it had barely decelerated when she'd applied the brake. Exerting more pressure on the foot brake, she simultaneously applied the hand brake, suddenly releasing it as she realized the foot brake was not functioning at all and she was likely to stand the BMW™ on end with only the hand brake. She began downshifting to reduce her speed, and gently pressed the hand brake to aid in slowing the motorcycle.

Several long minutes later, Delia was able to stop; and she removed her helmet, mopping her sweaty forehead with one sleeve. When her heart rate slowed to normal, she dismounted and bent down to survey the brake line of the motorbike. A gentle tug left her with the end in her hand, but there was no fluid coming from the line and it was severed too cleanly to have broken from wear.

Delia settled onto her knees and quickly ran her mind through her preparations before starting out. She was positive there had been no brake fluid around the motorcycle. Whoever had cut the line, had removed all evidence of the tampering. This was obviously not an accident. Or was it? Could her father have taken the bike out and somehow gotten the line severed, and he just hadn't gotten around to fixing it? It would be just like him. He tended to be quite absentminded when it came to mechanical things. He might have sighted one of his beloved birds and totally forgotten about any problem with the motorcycle.

She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but that explanation just didn’t feel right. Setting the puzzle aside for the moment, Delia slowly stood and climbed back aboard the bike. She turned it around and very slowly drove back to her house, deciding as she did, not to tell Patricia. Her lover was already upset at the series of near misses, and Delia had no intentions of worrying her further. Nonetheless, she cautioned herself to be extra careful henceforth.

Chapter Five

"Can you believe that by this time next week, Andi will be Mrs. Thom MacLaren?"

Delia looked up from where she had her head resting in Patricia’s lap. "I know. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Lord, I can remember like it was yesterday when our kindergarten teacher was bawling her out for eating paste. And now she’s about to walk down the aisle and out of our life."

Patricia shook her head chidingly. "Not out of our life, Dee. We’ll still see her often. You just know she’ll be bringing her children to the lake to see their grandparents and favorite auntie all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if she spent most summers here; it has to be better than a hot, dirty city. And if I know Andi, she’ll be so keen to start her family that she’ll have us both changing diapers within a year."

Yawning, her companion stretched lazily and smiled up at the thick foliage dangling over them and effectively concealing them from any prying eyes. "Andi as a mother—now if that isn’t a sobering thought."

"You know, I think she’ll make a great mother. I hope she has half a dozen kids. She always said she wanted that many."

"Mmm, so did Mom. She always claims she wanted babies so badly that she got pregnant with us on her honeymoon, but she had to stop with just us two."

Patricia tickled her lover lightly, eliciting a giggle. "That’s because the two of you were more than enough for one woman to handle!"

Delia grabbed the offending hand and kissed the slender fingers one by one. Sighing, Patricia leaned back against the tree, running her other hand through her lover’s dark hair. The women enjoyed the familiar caresses for long moments before the blonde spoke again.

"We have to talk, Dee."

Both the words and the serious tone instantly distracted Delia from the pleasurable task of counting the scant smattering of summer freckles on the back of her lover’s hand. Looking up, she studied the eyes that were watching her gravely. A nervous frisson rippled down her spine, but she fiercely pushed it away, responding instead with a steady, "All right."

Patricia took a deep breath. "Things are getting worse at home, my love. Last night I overheard mother telling one of her bridge cronies that Gareth and I were madly in love, and that she wouldn’t be surprised if we eloped at any minute."

Given how Mrs. Hawthorne had been pushing Gareth’s company on her lover, Delia wasn’t exactly surprised at the disclosure, but the implications of the matriarch’s words were deeply worrisome.

"Did you confront them, or at least have a word with your mother later?" She’d been trying very hard not to push Patricia to take a stand, especially when her lover was already enduring so much pressure at home; but her instincts were warning her that they couldn’t ignore the situation much longer.

"I did—well, once mother was alone anyway. I tried to explain gently, but firmly that Gareth really wasn’t my type and I had no interest in marrying him."

Delia’s keen eyes read the frustration lurking on her lover’s face. "I take it that went over like a lead balloon?"

Patricia snorted and unconsciously tightened her hand in Delia’s hair. "You could say that. It’s like she’s got these blinders on, and she’s so hell bent on our getting married that she can’t even consider the possibility that he and I aren’t meant for each other. She told me not to worry if I wasn’t madly in love when I got married—that that kind of nonsense was overrated anyway, and love would come with time, just as it did for her and Father. She lectured me for an hour on how he was a good and suitable match, and that it was high time I settled down, just as Julianne had by my age. She even said that Gareth would probably let me finish Smith if I really wanted to. Hah! Let me!"

Gently loosening the fingers entangled in her hair, Delia rolled to a sitting position and turned to face her lover. Feeling as if she were navigating a minefield, she asked hesitantly, "What can I do to help? What do you want us to do about this?"

Her companion’s lovely face tightened and her eyes shone with determination. For a split second, Delia saw the mother reflected in the daughter’s countenance.

"You know the only reason I got away today was because Mother unexpectedly had to go to Boston. It’s driving me crazy: having to act like an undercover agent in my own home just to get some time with you. For God’s sake, I even had to bribe Randall to make sure I get my mail before my parents see it. Dee, I think we need to get serious about our plans, maybe even change them radically."

"Change? You mean you want to head back to Smith right after the wedding instead of waiting until the end of the month?" Delia really didn’t mind that idea at all. She would gladly even give up the last two weeks of summer at her beloved lake if it meant getting away alone with Patricia.

Her lover leaned forward, placing both hands on Delia’s knees and staring at her intently. "Honey, what would you think about skipping a year before we went back to Smith?"

Baffled, Delia cocked her head and looked at her questioningly. "Skip a year? Why? Don’t you want to get away from your mother and Gareth?"

"Yes! That’s exactly what I want," Patricia exclaimed, squeezing Delia’s knees harder. "But it’s not going to be enough to just return to college. We have to get further away. I was thinking we could go on a cruise to Europe, do a grand, year-long tour like your mother did just before she got married."

Delia couldn’t help grinning. "Okay, but remember that World War II broke out three months after she got back. I’m not sure that’s the kind of precedent we want to follow."

"And World War III is going to break out here once Mother finds out she’s not going to get her way," came the snappy retort. "Far better for us if we’re thousands of miles and an ocean away when that happens. Give her a year and hopefully she’ll have calmed down, or at least given me up as a lost cause and gone on to run Four’s life or something."

Sobering, Delia nodded her head slowly. There was merit in Patricia’s idea, though she was disappointed to have to delay her senior year.

"There’s another thing, love." Patricia looked her squarely in the eyes, a slightly defiant air about her. "There’s a very good chance that my folks might disinherit me for going against their wishes, even if they don’t know about you and me. If that’s the case, you may have to return to Smith without me while I find work somewhere in Northampton."

"Oh for heaven’s sake! Like I care whether you’re an heiress or not," Delia snorted dismissively. "I’ve got enough to put both of us through Smith, go onto graduate school, or even live a life of indolence if that’s what we wanted. Don’t even give that another thought."

Patricia sighed deeply. "I knew you’d say that, and in truth it’s not the loss of my inheritance that concerns me. I’d gladly wait tables for the rest of my life if it meant I could come home to you every night."

Seeing the sadness in her lover’s eyes, Delia asked gently, "What is it, Patty? What’s bothering you so?"

She didn’t answer for a long moment, and when she finally spoke, she did so in a voice so low that Delia had to strain to hear.

"For all the insanity—for all of Mother’s blind willfulness and Father’s lack of spine, they’re my parents, you know? It’s hard sometimes to think that I might be cut off from my family altogether. I love my siblings, and I adore my nieces and nephews. I’d really miss watching Julianne’s children grow up, or seeing who finally manages to pin my brother down in matrimony." She looked up at Delia, her eyes shining with unshed tears. "Why can’t things just be easy for us, Dee? Why can’t they just let us alone to live our lives the way we want?"

It was Delia’s turn to sigh as she mulled over Patricia’s words. Am I asking too much? God, I don’t ever want to hurt her! Maybe...maybe I should just let her go..."

"Don’t even think it!"

Surprised out of her reverie, Delia glanced at her lover to find Patricia staring at her fiercely. "Um, what?"

"Don’t even think what you were thinking!" Patricia pounced on the startled woman, pinning her to the ground. "Don’t you dare even consider walking away from me! I don’t care what the cost is, Delia Jaye Barrington. You’re worth everything and anything to me, and don’t you forget it! If I have to walk away from my family, I will. If I have to give up my fortune, I will. If I end up living in a hovel on the wrong side of the tracks just to be with you, I will!"

Still reeling at the abrupt change from melancholy to militancy, Delia could only blink at the fierce hazel eyes boring into her own. "So, what you’re saying then..."

"Is that I want to be with you forever, whatever it takes. And I don’t want to put off our life together any longer, Dee. I want to be with you now—now and forever."

Patricia’s voice had grown soft, and the gaze that now caressed her was gentle and loving. Delia was able to ease her hand out from under her lover’s, and she reached up to push back the curtain of pale silk that dangled tantalizingly against her face. Smiling at the woman stretched out on top of her, she said, "I do believe you just proposed, Miss Hawthorne."

Squirming a little, Patricia settled herself more comfortably on her lover’s body and smiled. "Why, I do believe you’re right, Miss Barrington. And will you do me the honor of accepting my proposal?"

Delia used both hands to cup Patricia’s face and gently pull her down. "Yes," she murmured as she kissed her lover softly. "Yes, I accept." Hearing the low, satisfied hum her words elicited, she deepened her kiss and carefully rolled Patricia over. Never losing contact with her lover’s lips, she deftly began unfastening the woman’s buttons. When she felt a giggle vibrate through her lover’s body, she drew back slightly, though her fingers continued their progress.

"You laughed?" she drawled as she parted Patricia’s striped, sleeveless shirt, pushed up her bra, and bared the soft, white flesh beneath to her wandering hands.

"Why, Miss Barrington," Patricia smirked, "are you trying to take advantage of me? And before we’re properly hitched? I’m shocked!"

The dark-haired woman noticed that her lover’s "shock" didn’t preclude her raising her hips so that Delia could slide shorts and panties down long, slender limbs and toss them aside. She chuckled when Patricia’s mock protest was lost in a moan as she ran her hand up the inside of a naked thigh and danced her fingers lightly over moist, velvety flesh. Too eager now to take time to remove her own clothes, Delia quickly scrambled into the valley formed by legs that had spread with alacrity to accommodate her. Lowering her head, she let herself get lost in the rapture of loving her mate, letting thoughts of insistent suitors and obdurate mothers drift away...for now.


Gareth pulled another file toward himself, casting a jaundiced eye at the stack in his in-box that never seemed to get any smaller. His name and social connections may have gotten him in the front door of Hawthorne Enterprises, but so far they hadn’t gotten him any further than this tiny, windowless closet of an office where he labored every day over shipping invoices as a junior clerk.

The only thing that made it possible for him to continue in this menial post was the knowledge that it wouldn’t last forever, was only a stepping-stone to his higher aspirations. Once he was married to Patricia, he would be elevated to the boardrooms, ten stories above his current position. Gareth knew he had what it took to compete in the cutthroat world of commerce. He even believed that he could make it on his own without marrying into the Hawthorne empire; but unfortunately, time was of the essence, as he was embroiled in a race to see which would last longer—Patricia’s stubbornness or his family’s rapidly dwindling fortune.

The erstwhile clerk was about to open the Lake Superior Timber Company file when he heard a noise at his door. Glancing up, Gareth was shocked to see Virginia Hawthorne standing in the doorway, looking distastefully around at the shabby surroundings.

"Mrs. Hawthorne!" Gareth sprang to his feet and hastily donned his suit jacket. Bringing his chair around the desk with him, he offered his visitor the least uncomfortable chair in the office, taking its dangerously unbalanced mate for himself. "I had no idea you were going to be in Boston this week."

"I wasn’t aware I would be coming in myself, however something has come up." Cool blue eyes pinned him in his chair, and Gareth felt uncomfortably like a boy called to the headmaster’s office.

"May I get you something to drink?" Gareth offered. "I can send up to your husband’s secretary for tea or coffee."

"No, I don’t wish Stanton to know I’m here quite yet." Virginia crossed her legs and folded her hands, a stern expression on her face.

Intrigued, Gareth maintained an attentive posture, waiting for his unexpected guest to reveal the purpose of her visit. He was surprised when he noted a fleeting look of regret cross her face, but it was quickly replaced by an expression of steely determination.

"Close the door."

"Yes, ma’am." Gareth jumped up to do as he was bid, then resumed his seat. Burning with curiosity, he hung on her every word.

"What I’m about to say is to go no further than these four walls, is that clearly understood, Gareth?"

A lesser man might have quailed under the fierce glare directed his way, but Gareth simply nodded. "As you wish, ma’am. I’ll never repeat a word."

Virginia had not moved so much as a muscle since she had taken her seat, but Gareth got the impression she was exerting tremendous force of will to contain her emotions.

"I had a rather interesting conversation with my daughter last night. Would you care to guess the contents of what we discussed?"

Choosing his words with utmost care, Gareth offered, "Was it concerning your daughter’s future?"

That got him a thin-lipped smile of approval at his delicacy. "Indeed, Gareth, you might say that. More precisely, we discussed her future marriage to you." She waited for any sign of reaction, but he schooled his face to impassivity and remained silent. Again he was rewarded with her cool, half-smile of approval.

"I’m pleased to see there will be no sentimental nonsense between the two of us, no talk of undying love, romantic passion, or other such tripe." She leaned forward slightly, her pale eyes never leaving his. "We are of a kind, Gareth. We both see clearly and refuse to be hindered by emotional flummery. You need to marry my daughter—I need you to marry my daughter."

Cautiously Gareth offered, "I do care for Patricia, ma’am."

Virginia waved a dismissive hand. "And I expect you’ll be good to her and to my grandchildren. I trust that is well understood?"

"Absolutely, ma’am. They’ll have the best that I can give them," Gareth assured her.

She smiled coldly. "They’ll have the best that Patricia’s inheritance can offer them." Gareth’s face tightened, but he wisely chose not to rebut the bald statement. "I’m well aware of your family’s pecuniary state, young man. I would never consider a woman in your position as a suitable spouse for my son, but Patricia...Patricia is a different case."

His mind’s eye flashing back on the passionate embrace between his intended and her best friend, Gareth wondered if Mrs. Hawthorne knew exactly how different her daughter was. He didn’t have long to wait.

Reaching into her purse, the woman extracted a single sheet of paper. It had obviously been crumpled and discarded, then smoothed out again. "I dislike requiring my servants to spy on my offspring, but there are times that it is necessary. Two weeks ago, the upstairs maid found this under my daughter’s bed where she must have overlooked it, and quite properly brought it to me immediately. I suspect that its contents will not come as a complete surprise to you."

Accepted the proffered paper, Gareth saw it was half covered with a woman’s fine script, and although there were no names mentioned in the lines he read, it was easy to deduce that it was a note between lovers.

"...and I count the moments until I’m in your arms again, my darling. I yearn for the feel of your hands on my naked body—stroking, caressing, driving me mad with boundless passion. Even now I feel your breasts pressed against mine and your loving fingers slipping between my..."

The note ended there with a glob of ink, and the writer had obviously decided to rewrite that page. Gareth shifted uncomfortably, half repulsed and half aroused by the vivid descriptions on the page. Swallowing slightly, he looked up to find Virginia’s nostrils flaring with disgust.

"Were you aware of my daughter’s perverted activities with that Barrington girl?"

Gareth had a split second to decide whether to tell the truth or lie, but even as his mind processed his possible replies, he knew it would not be wise to prevaricate with this woman. "I suspected, ma’am. I once saw them in an embrace that appeared to me more than a hug between friends, though I never knew for certain."

That last was a small deception. He may not have actually seen them making love, but it did not take a genius to detect the emotional bond between the two; and he’d had no doubt whatsoever that they had already acted on their feelings. The physical connection between them was least to someone who was looking for it.

Virginia’s eyes became calculating. "It will undoubtedly come as no surprise to you that my daughter is adamantly opposed to marrying you."

No, it was no surprise, but obviously Mrs. Hawthorne did not think that barrier insurmountable, or she wouldn’t be sitting in his shabby little office. For the hundredth time Gareth gave thanks that she was on his side, and his confidence grew. "No, ma’am, that doesn’t surprise me, given the circumstances; but perhaps I should make it clear that I’m still willing to marry her, despite her...perversions."

A satisfied smile greeted that statement and Virginia relaxed almost imperceptibly, as if a hurdle had been cleared. "Good, and I can promise you that you won’t regret it. Patricia comes into her trust fund when she’s 25, or upon her marriage if that comes first. I’m of the firm opinion that she simply doesn’t have the experience necessary to oversee the management of her wealth, and will need someone with a sound grasp of economics to do it for her. Legalities will be in place to ensure that if you leave her, you also leave that management position." She gave him a shrewd look, then cast her gaze about the unprepossessing surroundings. "I’ll have a word with my husband today. A future member of the family deserves windows, at the very least. Further, I believe that there may be lucrative openings in our New York offices for your father, as well as your younger brothers when they come of age." She fixed her canny eyes on him. "I assume that would be to your liking?"

Gareth felt a surge of triumph, as he nodded. Not only would his family be taken care of, she had as much as guaranteed him control of Patricia’s vast fortune. He was on his way! But then reality brought him back to earth. Feeling his way carefully, he said, "There is still the problem of Patricia’s refusal to marry me, ma’am. Perhaps you would offer some suggestions on how I might best change her mind?"

The look of ice-cold calculation she directed his way sent an uncontrollable shiver run down his back. I will never, NEVER cross this woman!

"I’ll do better than that, young man. I’ll give you carte blanche." She rose to her feet and he joined her, still uncertain of her intent. "We will be attending the Barrington girl’s wedding in one week. I will expect you to have secured Patricia’s acquiescence to your engagement by the time the reception is done. You may do so by any means you deem questions asked. Is that understood?"

Gareth stared at her in disbelief. Was she really telling him what he thought she was telling him? A careful examination of the aristocratic features left no doubt that was exactly what had happened.

"Should you require any...extraneous assistance with your project, you’re to come directly to me." She took a large envelope out of her purse and laid it on his desk. "Additionally, you will not wait for a grand, society wedding, even though one would normally be expected. It will be much more efficacious for the two of you to elope. The groundwork is already laid in that regard, and it will be viewed as a romantic escapade by a young couple so in love that they simply couldn’t wait. You will cement this impression by leaving immediately on an extended and isolated honeymoon."

Trying hard not to gape at the woman’s back as she turned and walked to the door, Gareth was still stunned at her parting words.

"You understand that I believe in the sanctity of marriage, though I have no problem with...extracurricular activities as long as they’re discreet. However, I don’t want Patricia to indulge in any notions of leaving you in years to come. I believe it would be best, under the circumstances, to start your family immediately. I doubt she would ever contemplate leaving her children, especially knowing that she would lose them under the circumstances. After all, fit mothers do not leave their husbands for another woman, and no court in the country would disagree. My daughter is an intelligent woman, and you’ll ensure that she understands her position with absolute clarity."

She sailed through the door without waiting for his strangled agreement. Stumbling back to his chair, Gareth sank into it, his mind furiously processing what had just happened. Virginia had given him permission to...what? Kidnap her daughter? Blackmail her?

"Jesus!" Gareth’s stomach turned over. He hadn’t exactly been hampered by scruples in his recent campaign against the Barrington bitch, but he saw that simply as the fortunes of war. Her actions were reprehensible, and if she had to bear the penalty for them; she had no one to blame but herself. However, he could not picture himself abducting his future bride. "It’s the 20th century, for God’s sake. How in the hell does she think I’m going to get away with that!"

He fumed silently for a few minutes, then remembered the envelope Mrs. Hawthorne had left on his desk. Picking it up, he felt its weight. Puzzled, he opened it to find a sheaf of typewritten pages, as well as a series of lurid black and white photographs. His mouth dropped open as he realized what he was viewing. Oh my God! How the devil did she get these? He studied them, vaguely aware that his interest was more prurient than clinical. He admired the way the photographer had obscured the identity of Delia’s lover, while making it crystal clear that she was having and enjoying sex with a woman.

Turning the incriminating photos over, he examined the rest of the papers. The cover sheet was simply information—what Justice of the Peace would be on call for a quick, quiet marriage ceremony; airline details for their flight to Los Angeles; what arrangements had been made for a month-long honeymoon on a South Pacific cruise and where he could pick up the tickets.

The next part of the information packet was even more interesting. It appeared to be several clinical studies examining the deviant behaviour of homosexuality. He noticed extensive discussion of the theories of Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, which argued that homosexuality was a pathological disorder. The medical community at large seemed united on the view that such behaviour was maladaptive and self-destructive. Treatments such as psychotherapy, lobotomy, and electric shock were debated and sanctioned.

Gareth gave a moment’s consideration as to whether his future wife would require such treatments to correct her behaviour, though the possibility was not enough to dissuade him. He truly believed that Patricia only needed to be wrenched away from Delia’s corrosive influence, and she would be cured. Whether it was instantaneous or took several years was irrelevant to him.

As he read, the full impact of the ammunition Virginia Hawthorne had knowingly placed in his hands began to sink in. When he reached the final page, again a simple typed sheet of information, he began to smile. It wouldn’t be necessary to kidnap his bride at all. She would come with him most willingly.


"How do I look?" Patricia asked as she brushed off the incriminating leaves.

"Gorgeous," Delia sighed, her eyes half-lidded with dreamy satiation.

The blonde put her hands on her hips and looked at her lover with mild exasperation. "I mean: will I pass inspection? Do you think anyone will have any idea what we’ve been doing for the last couple of hours?"

"Hmmm," Delia murmured as she did a circle around her companion. Coming to a stop, she looked up and snickered. "Nope, no one will have the slightest idea you’ve been rolling around the forest floor in the throes of passion."

Aiming a light slap at her impudent companion, Patricia reminded her. "I wasn’t exactly rolling around by myself, you know."

"Of course not. That would’ve been kinky," Delia retorted cheerfully, eliciting a chuckle from her lover. "Seriously, honey, you look just fine."

Patricia linked arms with her best friend as they began to make their way out of the forest glade that had become their favorite summer rendezvous. "So, what’s our story for today?"

"We were looking for ferns for Andi to include in the wedding decorations." Delia stepped over a fallen log and watched carefully as Patricia followed suit.

"Ferns? Shouldn’t we have collected some, then?"

"We did." Delia’s cocky grin was back in place.

Patricia raised one eyebrow. "Darling, I don’t know what you were doing this afternoon, but I can assure you that I wasn’t gathering any ferns. I may have done a little hunting through bushes..."

Delia burst out laughing. "I can NOT believe you said that!"

"God, I can’t believe it, either," muttered the blushing blonde. "You are such a bad influence on me."

"Oh sure, blame me," Delia teased, then relented. "Andi actually picked all the ferns she’ll need yesterday and stored them in the basement cool room at the house, but she said we can take credit for them if we need to."

"She’s a good friend," Patricia said seriously. "We’re going to miss our best ally when the wedding is over."

Her mood sobered, Delia nodded her head. "I know. Look, Andi and I are going into the city on Tuesday. Why don’t you come along, and we’ll go see a travel agent and book our reservations? We can put them under Andi’s name and no one will think twice. They’ll just assume they’re for the honeymoon."

Patricia groaned. "I’d love to, Dee, but Mother apparently has plans for me just about every day this week. I may not even get to see you until next Saturday. I’ll try to get away Friday, though, and stay overnight with you. I’ll tell Mother that you and I are helping Andi with last minute preparations."

Frowning at the thought of having to go a whole week before seeing her lover again, Delia sighed. "I suppose it’s best we don’t make waves this close to our departure." Cheering up, she turned and took Patricia in her arms. "Besides, we’re going to have our whole lives together. It’s probably a good idea for you to spend some time with your family. It might be a while before you see them again."

"Mmmhm," Patricia agreed as she leaned into her lover’s embrace. "You’re probably right, but I sure am going to miss you."

"I’ll miss you, too, but it won’t be for long." The women indulged in a prolonged kiss, then parted as they prepared to leave the sheltering forest for the open beach. Reaching the parting point between their houses, Delia gave Patricia a wink. "See you on Friday, love. Don’t let your mother get to you too badly this week."

"I won’t," Patricia assured her. "Get us a good cabin on the ship, okay? One with portholes."

"And a double bed," Delia said laughingly. "Not to worry. I know exactly what we want."

They smiled at each other, then turned in opposite directions, walking away with frequent looks over their shoulders. One last wave was exchanged before Patricia disappeared around a bend. Casting a wistful glance in that direction, Delia comforted herself with a single thought. Won’t be long now.

Chapter Six

Delia waited anxiously for Patricia to arrive. It seemed like an eternity had passed since she'd last seen her lover, and the Hawthorne matriarch had managed to intercept all but two of her phone calls over the past week, heightening Delia's anxiety considerably.

Pacing back and forth across the living room as the endless minutes dragged by, Delia’s concerns grew. She knew Patricia would have gotten word to her if she couldn't make it, but Mrs. Hawthorne may have fabricated some excuse to keep her daughter from leaving the house at all. She asked herself the same rhetorical question that always came to mind when she thought of the cold-hearted woman. How could Patricia be the same bloodline as that bitch?

"You need to relax, sister of mine. It's only just after one. I’m sure Patricia will be over sometime this afternoon."

Ruefully, Delia turned to her twin, who had been watching from the comfort of an old sofa, and nodded. "I know. But it's been the longest week."

Smiling understandingly, Andi reassured her sister. "For her, too; I know Patricia wants to see you just as badly. Quit worrying. She'll be here once she wriggles free of her mother's clutches."

Beginning to pace again, Delia said emphatically, "That woman is such an evil hag!"


Delia saw her sister trying to hide a smile and teased, "Oh, like you don’t think so too. You’re just practicing to be a prim and proper wife. Good act, Andi."

Chuckling at her unrepentant twin, Andi retorted, "Oh hush. I’ve seen you out proper a nun, when you want to."

Voicing her concern, Delia said, "Good thing, because I'm going to have to put on the act of my life at your reception. Not only am I losing my twin, Gareth will undoubtedly be all over my lover like an unpleasant rash."

Andi crossed the space between them, and wrapped her arms around Delia, pulling her into a bear hug. "You're not losing me. I'll always be here for you if you need me. You know that."

Embarrassed at the unintentional slip, Delia searched Andi's face for any hurt or anger. "I'm sorry, Andi. I didn't mean it that way. I'm just so…"

Her fumbled apology was met with a gentle smile. "So in love. And I understand that. Don't forget, I feel the same about Thom as you do about Patricia."

Delia met her sister's eyes and saw that truth reflected in them. She returned Andi's hug, at peace for the first time with her sister's decision to marry Thom. What she thought of him personally no longer mattered—what was important was that Andi loved him and he made her happy. "I know you do, and I'm very happy for you."

At the sound of the door chime, Andi grinned. "Looks like your wait is over." But Delia was already gone, and her twin was amused by the sound of the front door banging open with such force it was as if a hurricane had been unleashed on it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Gareth settled back into the train seat for the short ride from Boston to Lake Sivert. He had declined Four’s offer of a ride to the lake, citing the need to take care of some pressing business matters. His lip curled up in a smile as he reviewed those matters and mentally inventoried the contents of the envelope in the inner pocket of his suit. It contained two sets of tickets he had picked up the day before: one set for the flight from Boston to the embarkation port in Los Angeles, and the other set for their month-long cruise to the South Pacific.

He had also put his and Patricia's passports in the envelope, hers having been delivered to his office by a private courier a few days before along with fifty crisp 100-dollar bills. Gareth was still irritated by the shopping list accompanying the passport and money, feeling it beneath his dignity to have to shop for clothes for his future wife. But knowing he had no choice in the matter, he had done as he was bid. His only defiant act had been to buy himself an equivalent assortment of new clothing, justifying it as necessary for a Hawthorne son-in-law to be properly attired.

While waiting for the train, Gareth had notified Virginia’s Justice of the Peace to expect them early Sunday morning during their layover between connections. He had initially planned that they would take the morning train to Boston, but his future mother-in-law had decreed that the family chauffeur would drive them into the city. As she had delicately put it, Patricia might not be in a fit state to be seen in public until she had adjusted to the reality of her new circumstances. Gareth had been impressed anew at the older woman’s penchant for thorough planning.

The would-be bridegroom smiled, satisfied with the arrangements. The envelope Virginia Hawthorne had provided him with on her visit was securely locked in his suitcase. He'd already decided which items to have on his person at the reception, in the likely event that Patricia should need any persuasion to see things his way.

He experienced a fleeting desire that Patricia would accept his proposal on its own merit, but the sentiment was short-lived. Gareth was not a romantic, and coolly assessing the situation, he knew that scenario was unlikely, although he was determined to give it his best shot. It grated unbearably that his future wife preferred the Barrington bitch to him, but he decided it wasn't worth dwelling on. Delia would be out of the picture soon enough and of no future concern of his or his wife’s.

* * * * * * * * * *

In the forest behind the house, where Delia had impetuously led them, Patricia embraced Delia tightly. "I missed you so much. I didn’t think I was ever going to get away from Mother today."

Delia kissed her companion passionately, then drew back, greedily absorbing the welcome sight of her lover’s beautiful face. "Neither did I. How did you?"

Patricia leaned back a little, a rueful expression on her face. "It was the strangest thing. At first, she was doing everything she could to keep me from leaving the house. It’s amazing how many things she urgently needed to consult me on today."

Her best friend couldn’t help snickering at the dry tone. "I trust you offered her the best advice you could muster?"

"Oh yes. I think I single-handedly mapped out Four’s ascension to the head of Hawthorne Enterprises, closely followed by his marriage to a suitable woman—to be chosen by our dear mater of course—then his rapid rise in political circles to the Oval Office. Additionally, we decided on future marriages and careers for all of Julianne’s children. I also helped plan Father’s retirement, where he and Mother will live; and oh, did I mention that I achieved world peace while I was at it?"

By this time Delia was convulsed with giggles, grateful to set aside her underlying worries about Mrs. Hawthorne for the moment. "So I guess that means you’re bound for a post at the United Nations, then?" she teased.

Patricia sobered instantly. "That was the weird thing, Dee. We talked about everyone’s future but mine. After all the harping she’s done on me all summer, she didn’t say one word about me."

Both women stopped to ponder that, then Delia said hopefully, "Maybe she’s given up on the idea of you marrying Gareth, since you told her point blank that you don’t want to."

That got her a wry look. "Sure, love. My mother always yields gracefully when she doesn’t get her way."

Biting her lip, Delia acknowledged that it was highly unlikely. She knew it was far more probable that Mrs. Hawthorne had simply made a tactical retreat for the moment, and would approach her daughter again from a different angle. Hesitantly she asked, "Then how did you get away?"

Shaking her head in puzzlement, Patricia told her. "We’d just finished lunch, and all of a sudden, out of the blue, she stood up from the table and said, "You'd better get over to the Barrington’s to help with the wedding details. I’ll see you when you get back."

Delia’s face mirrored her surprise. "You can't be serious. Your mother said that?"

"Yes, she did. Strange, isn’t it?"

"That's too weird, Patty. Why would she all of a sudden send you over here with her blessing when she wouldn't even let us talk on the phone for most of the week?"

Gazing at Delia's worried face, the blonde answered, "I don't know, but let's just be glad for the time together. I won’t be able to stay over tonight and tomorrow's going to be long enough, since I’ll be stuck dodging Gareth most of the day."

Groaning at that thought, Delia just shook her head. "Well, at least you’ll only have to fend him off for a little while longer." Growing more animated, she said, "All the arrangements are made, love. In two weeks, when we’re supposed to return to Smith, we’ll actually be taking the train to New York. If anyone questions us, we’ll just say we’re going to Fifth Avenue to shop for a new wardrobe for school. The Cunard’s Queen Mary departs for Southampton on the 27th and we’ll be in England before anyone realizes we’re not back in college. I thought we should send a telegram to Smith from New York explaining that we’ve had to postpone our final year due to events beyond our control, but that we’ll be back for the fall semester in ’62."

Patricia ran a teasing finger between Delia's breasts. "Mmm, you’ve thought of everything, haven’t you?"

"I hope so." A troubled expression flashed across the open, freckled features. "We just have to lie low and try not to rile your mother. You know, I was thinking..."

Her words trailed off and her friend stared at her in puzzlement. "You were thinking what, sweetheart?"

Delia hung her head and toed the grass at their feet. She didn’t want to bring this up, but she was keenly aware of the need to keep Mrs. Hawthorne from getting suspicious about them.

"Honey? What is it?"

Drawing in a deep breath, Delia summoned her resolve. "I really hate to suggest this, but it might be best if you were nice to Gareth tomorrow."

"Nice?" Patricia’s shock was apparent. "You want me to be nice to him? How, and more importantly, why? If Mother is giving up on her obsession with him, the last thing I want to do is renew her hopes for matching him and me."

Shuddering at the mere suggestion, Delia shook her head vigorously. "I just want to keep her off-balance, sweetheart. If she sees you talking and dancing occasionally with him, then maybe she’ll think she only has to back off a little and let nature take its course. That could give us the breathing space we need until we leave. Besides, it’s not like you and I will get to dance together anyway, and you might as well have some fun."

Delia easily read her lover’s expressive face as Patricia considered her words. She knew she had won when the other woman nodded reluctantly.

"I see your point, Dee. I guess I could ‘make nice’ with him for one day if I have to, though dancing with him isn’t exactly my idea of fun."

"That’s my girl," Delia said approvingly, even as her heart sank. Watching her lover in Gareth’s arms, even just for a few dances, was going to be hellish, but she reminded herself it was only for an evening and that soon all of their evenings would be spent together, away from Gareth, away from Mrs. Hawthorne, and away from any further meddling in their lives. That was worth any price they had to pay.

As if reading her mind, Patricia smiled knowingly. "Very soon, my love. And tomorrow, just remember that even if I’m dancing with him, I’m loving you."

Leaning up to capture her lover’s lips, Delia murmured, "I know. I won’t forget."

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday dawned beautiful as the first rays of the sun reached out across the sky, lightening the landscape. Sunbeams reflected off the glistening dew on the grass and surrounding foliage, piercing the light blanket of fog covering the lake.

"Wake up, Delia."

Delia turned sleepy eyes to the sound of her sister's voice and saw the excitement on her twin's face. Rolling over, she looked at the clock and protested, "Andi, it's only 6:00 a.m."

"I know, but I couldn't sleep."

Delia sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, as she acknowledged that she probably wasn’t going to get any more sleep this morning. Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she stared blearily at her beaming sister. Andi’s excitement was contagious and she couldn’t help smiling herself, despite the obnoxiously early hour. "Gee, you’d think today was something special," she teased. Yawning and stretching, she asked, "Is Mom up yet?"

"Yes. The caterers got here around five, and she's down in the kitchen giving them last minute instructions." Andi bounced across the short space between their beds and plopped down by her sister. "Can you believe it, Dee? I’m actually getting married today!"

Grinning at her twin’s enthusiasm, Delia wrapped an arm around Andi’s shoulders and hugged her tightly. "Yeah, just think. From now on, you’ll be waking up to Thom’s bristly face every morning."

Andi sighed happily at the thought, then teased, "Well hopefully he won’t snore, like a certain someone I’ve been sleeping with all my life."

"Hey!" Delia said in mock indignation. "I don’t snore." Then grinning, she added, "At least Patricia never complained."

Laughing, Andi pulled her twin backwards so that they were both looking up at the beamed ceiling. "Dee, Patricia wouldn’t complain if your every second word was a belch and you only bathed once a year. That girl is so gone on you."

"Yeah, she is, isn’t she?" Delia sighed happily. "It’s going to be a long two weeks until we can leave together."

Rolling over on her side to face her twin, Andi said soberly, "You two be careful now, okay? Don’t be taking any stupid chances when you’re this close."

Delia turned her head, meeting the serious blue eyes that were identical to her own. "I promise, Andi. We’ll both be on our best behaviour, even if we don’t get to see each other much until we leave." Unwilling to dwell on the unpleasant prospect of not seeing her lover for a couple of weeks, she changed the subject. "So, is Thom looking forward to going to Hawaii as much as you are?"

Andi smirked. "I think Thom is looking forward to the honeymoon, period. I doubt he’d care if we were in a cave in Borneo as long as it had a bed in it."

Slapping her hands over her ears, Delia sputtered, "Eeuuuww! Too much information!" Then laughing, she lowered her hands and rolled onto her side. Curiously she asked, "So you two haven’t...?"

Blushing slightly, Andi shook her head. "No. Thom’s pretty hung up on propriety and stuff. He insisted we wait until we were married."

Snickering, Delia poked her twin. "That would explain why you always come back from the shower shivering with cold, huh?"

Pouncing, Andi tickled her sister as Delia fought back ferociously, fingers flying as they both probed for familiar, vulnerable spots. Finally both collapsed in a heap, laughing helplessly.

"God I’m going to miss this," Delia murmured when she was finally able to speak again.

"Me, too."

The twins sighed together, both very conscious that this day had brought endings as well as beginnings to their lives.

Andi reached for her sister’s hand, holding it tightly. "Dee, I’ve already talked this over with Thom, and he’s agreed. We’d like to name our first child after you, and have you be his or her godmother."

Deeply touched, Delia joked weakly, "If it’s a boy, he’s going to hate being called Delia."

Chuckling, Andi corrected her. "No, silly. We’d name him Jay, after your middle name."

"Thom agreed, really?" Delia was genuinely curious, for as much as she’d inwardly vowed to get along with her new brother-in-law, she doubted that he had resolved the same thing.

"Really," Andi said firmly. "Dee, I love Thom with all my heart, but he has to accept your place in my life, too. I was very proud of him for agreeing to name our baby after you. I really think he’s loosening up a lot; and the more he gets to know you, the more he’ll like you."

"Um, well, maybe not if he knows everything about me," Delia demurred.

Andi nodded, then spoke firmly. "I’ve given that a lot of thought, too. I will tell him eventually, but not until we’ve been married for a while. He’ll probably fuss, but I’ll make it clear that you’re a part of me and nothing will ever change that. You just leave it to me, Dee."

Her twin’s unwavering support touched Delia deeply, and one of her unspoken fears dissolved. She would have given up anything to be with Patricia, but it would have devastated her to lose her sister. Andi’s reassurance sent her spirits soaring, and left her free to dream about a golden future with her lover.

"Besides," Andi continued with a grin, "I think he’s more interested in actually making the babies than what we name them."

With a groan, Delia launched herself at her sister and the battle resumed, until their mother’s cheerful voice from outside their door summoned them to breakfast.

* * * * * * * * *

Gareth woke up in one of the guest rooms at the Hawthorne mansion and gazed out the window at the lake. Victoria had cornered him upon his arrival the previous afternoon to ensure that everything was in place for her daughter's elopement and honeymoon.

He had been surprised to learn that Patricia was over at the Barrington's, but suspected it was precisely so that he and Virginia could review their plans and ensure nothing had been omitted. At any rate, he had maintained an impassive expression knowing that Victoria would take any outward reaction as a criticism of her judgment, which was the last thing he intended. His future and that of his family was at stake, and he wasn't about to do anything to jeopardize that.

The night before, he had stood in front of the mirror and gone over his marriage proposal repeatedly, wanting it to be perfect. He still preferred that Patricia willingly accept his offer to share a future together, however Gareth knew that he had no qualms about ensuring her acceptance with any and all means at his disposal. While he didn't know with absolute certainty how the events would unfold, he did know that he would not fail.

He began to dress carefully for breakfast. The church ceremony wasn't until four that afternoon and he intended to spend every moment he could charming his future wife. It would be expected of him, and he knew Mrs. Hawthorne would be watching closely.

* * * * * * * * * *

Patricia woke up early. Today would probably be one of the longest days of her life, but it was worth it to know that once it was over, she and Delia would be one step closer to being together forever. She could even bear Gareth’s intrusive company for the day with good grace, knowing that after the wedding he would have less excuse to be around. She didn’t doubt that his weekend visits would continue, but she had decided that she would simply continue to politely keep him at arm’s length until it was time for her and Delia to leave.

Since they had a houseguest, her mother had insisted she attend a formal breakfast with the family that morning. Patricia was too excited to be hungry, but she didn't resent the mandate as much as she normally would have because it was a way to pass the time, even if it meant an early start in dealing with Gareth's overly solicitous attentions.

Throwing on a casual dress and leaving most of her toilette for later, Patricia walked downstairs and into the formal dining room. Sitting down in the chair Gareth pulled out for her, she smiled her thanks at the earnest young man.

Picking at her food, she kept one ear on the conversation in case she had to respond, but her thoughts remained focused on Delia and their upcoming trip. Seeing her mother glare at her, she tried to concentrate more on Gareth’s conversational gambits, but with only partial success, as her heart simply wasn’t in it.

Breakfast passed without incident, and after finishing one last cup of coffee, she excused herself, saying she had to get ready for the wedding, leaving her parents, brother, and Gareth to entertain each other. She knew her mother would disapprove of her quick departure, but Patricia had exhausted her fund of small talk and had no interest in her father and Gareth's shop talk. The younger man had been on his best behavior and had made repeated attempts to draw her into the conversation, but eventually had given up and turned to his employer, who proved a much more receptive conversationalist.

Running lightly up the stairs, Patricia realized she was looking forward to the wedding. She was excited and happy for Andi, and as a bridesmaid, would be near Delia for most of the proceedings. It would be a welcome respite on a day that promised to be trying if Gareth continued trying to monopolize her time.

* * * * * * * * * *

Delia felt her eyes well up with tears of happiness for her twin when Andi proudly said, "I do," at the end of the wedding vows. She glanced over at Patricia as the new couple kissed, and saw her lover was wet eyed as well. Walking beside Thom’s best man and usher, they followed the bride and groom down the aisle, outside to the waiting guests who showered the couple with rice.

Smiling, Delia congratulated Andi and Thom warmly, before stepping aside to allow other family members and guests access to the newlyweds. She turned to Patricia, "Wasn't that beautiful?"

Sighing happily, Patricia agreed, "Oh yes, and Andi looks so happy."

"I know. Just think..." Delia's eyes darkened when she saw Gareth weaving through the crowd, quickly approaching them. Her voice laced with sarcasm, she whispered, "Oh, Lord. Heads up, he’s on his way."

Patricia rolled her eyes and softly repeated her mantra, "Only a few more hours, only a few more hours..."

Thom’s usher, Brady Zellwick, cocked his head. "Did you say something, Patricia?" When she shook her head, he just shrugged and returned his attention to the bride and groom.

Delia winked at her lover, then turned to greet the unwanted intruder. "Hi, Gareth." He stared at her blankly for a moment as if surprised to find her there, then obviously remembering his manners, nodded courteously.

"Delia. You look lovely today."

Remaining at Patricia's side, Delia said, "Thanks. You clean up pretty nicely yourself."

It was true. As much as Delia might have wished Gareth transported instantly and permanently to Outer Mongolia, she couldn’t deny that he cut a dashing figure in his tailored, dark blue suit with matching tie, starched white shirt, and brilliantly shined shoes.

He gave her a neutral smile, then dismissed her as he turned the full force of his charm on Patricia. "You are absolutely radiant today, my dear. You may even have outshone the bride in all her glory. Surely Aphrodite herself has descended to Earth for the occasion."

Delia suppressed a smirk at the lavish flattery, but couldn’t disagree. Even the questionable color that Andi had chosen for the bridesmaid’s dresses couldn’t diminish her lover’s beauty.

Patricia smiled politely. "Thank you, Gareth. You look very handsome, too."

Gareth’s next words caused Delia to stiffen imperceptibly. "Your parents sent me over to collect you for the ride back to the lake." He gestured to the curb where the Hawthorne limousine was waiting.

"Thank you, but I should really ride with the wedding party as we’re going to having photographs done before the reception. I’ll meet you and my parents back at the Barrington’s."

Patricia’s firm, yet courteous refusal went a long way to reassure Delia, but she didn’t miss the momentary annoyance on the young man’s features before his face smoothed into an agreeable smile.

"Certainly. We’ll see you back there, then." He grinned cheerfully, focusing completely on Patricia to the exclusion of everyone else standing around. "Please don’t forget that the second dance is mine, and as many after that as I may beg from you."

Delia’s eyes sourly tracked the man as he briskly strode back to the limousine. Her mood only lightened when Patricia leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Remember, it was your idea to make nice with him. It’s still and always you that I love."

Those words put a huge smile on her face, and Delia was able to direct her attention to her twin and her maid of honor duties without further qualms.

* * * * * * * * * *

By the time the wedding party arrived back at the Barrington home, caterers had set up large fancy tents in the new orderliness of the usually untamed yard between the house and the lake. Multicolored banners reading Just Married were draped across the front of the house. A beautiful bouquet of red and white roses sat centered on each of the white linen covered tables ensconced beneath the tents; and a short distance away the cooks were putting the final touches on a buffet fit for a king. The band was setting up next to the large wooden platform erected for dancing, and was beginning to tune their instruments.

Delia looked around at the spread of food the caterers were preparing. Brisket of beef and whole racks of baby back ribs slow cooked since early that morning were being placed in serving dishes. Her mother had ordered stuffed Cornish hens and grilled swordfish added to the menu for those with an aversion to red meat, and a large assortment of accompanying dishes was being placed on the tables. Delia savored the smells, eyeing the dishes of long grain wild rice garnished with watercress, steamed broccoli and carrots, and a large oven filled with baked potatoes and corn on the cob.

She plucked a shrimp canapé off one of the trays of hors d’oeuvres sitting on small lawn tables. Taking a bite, she looked around to see if Andi and Thom had come out of the house yet, and where Patricia had gotten to. Not seeing any of them, she walked over to look at the wedding cake again.

Her mother had ordered it from the best bakery in Boston, and it had been delivered the day before. It was a traditional four-tier cake, but Delia thought it was the most beautiful wedding cake she’d ever seen.

The bottom of the cake mimicked the fall of the bridal grown and was girdled with a rose surround. A ribbon and four large bows encircled the second tier, each bow separated from the next by a rose, the third layer of the cake completing the flower motif. The piece de resistance consisted of a dancing bride and groom atop a music box placed in the center of the fourth tier, the final accent a rose beribboned arch showcasing the bride and groom.

Seeing Andi and Thom emerge from the house, she began walking toward them, passing a glaring Charles who was standing with his father next to the tables that had been set up as a bar. Delia smiled sweetly, chuckling when his face reddened at the unexpected reaction. She felt far too good to allow her old foe the satisfaction of matching him scowl for scowl. Joining her sister and brother-in-law, she circulated among the guests, greeting old friends and meeting Thom’s friends and family. Patricia, having been held up by her mother’s fussing, caught up with the wedding party part way through their promenade. A short time later, after the newlyweds had greeted the last of the late arriving guests, they led the way to the feast and sat down at the bridal party table. Delia was delighted to see that her name card was next to Patricia’s rather than Louis Richelieu’s, Thom’s best man, and she flashed a quick smile at her twin. Andi shot her an understanding nod before demurely taking her place beside her new husband.

Dinner was a comfortable, cordial affair and, lost in the pleasure of the event, Delia almost forgot that Patricia wasn't attending the wedding solely to be with her. The only time she was reminded was when she glanced up to see Gareth’s gaze focused on her beautiful companion. There was something uncomfortably possessive in his dark eyes, but as soon as he caught Delia watching him, he turned his attention to Four, who was sitting beside him at the table nearest the bridal table.

Finally, unable to draw out the meal any longer since most of the guests had already left the table, Patricia and Delia reluctantly parted, much to Gareth's obvious delight as he stepped forward to claim his dancing partner. Delia had already danced the first dance with Louis, and having completed the formalities, looked forward to reclaiming Patricia as soon as possible. In the meantime, she wandered through the throngs of guests, stopping to speak to many, aware it would be the last time she saw them for a long time. She didn’t know how many might shun her and Patricia when they returned from their European sojourn, but it was possible that even some of her closest friends and relatives might reject her if the nature of her relationship with Patricia came to light.

"May I have this dance?" The soft words rumbled behind her and Delia turned to smile at Uncle Hannibal, accepting his proffered hand.

"I’d be delighted."

He proved to be an accomplished dancer, and by the time the fast song was over, they were both laughing and breathless.

"You're a good dancer, Delia."

"Thanks, Uncle Hannibal, but I think the award goes to you."

The jovial man chuckled. "Maybe in my younger days, but thank you." Looking over Delia's head, he said, "Ah, there's Virginia. I haven't danced with her yet. Would you please excuse me, my dear?"

"Certainly, and thank you for the dance."

Delia watched him walk toward his sister, noticing that the matriarch was pointedly ignoring her. She shrugged inwardly, cognizant of the fact that the only reason she even tried to be cordial to Virginia was because she was Patricia's mother. It wouldn’t be much longer before they left her constant disapproval behind, so she decided she would simply ignore the older woman’s coldness.

Searching the crowd for Patricia, she saw her standing near the dance floor with Gareth. Delia was wondering if her lover would feel her gaze when the blonde met her eyes for a lingering look of love. She smiled warmly when Patricia excused herself from her escort and began weaving her way toward her best friend.

Delia greeted her with a sympathetic look. "How's it going?"

Patricia discreetly rolled her eyes. "He’s trying so hard to be the perfect date. He’s nice enough, but I just wish he’d give it up. You’d think he’d know by now that I’m not interested, but instead, he hangs on every single thing I say. It’s a good thing we're leaving soon, so that he can concentrate on finding someone who will love him back."

"You're way too kind. I think he's fortune hunting, and you’re the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." Delia knew she was being cynical, but the whole situation with Gareth hadn’t felt right from the beginning.

"Oh, Dee, don't be so paranoid," Patricia softly chastised. "His family has money, too, you know."

Unconvinced, Delia challenged, "Then why did he take that menial job your father offered him?"

Mildly exasperated, Patricia offered a possible explanation. "I imagine he wanted to learn the business from the ground up, so to speak. He’s already gotten a promotion. I had to listen to Mother go on and on about how Father is so impressed with Gareth that he moved him to one of the nicest offices in the building. Heaven knows that Four isn’t interested in the family business, so maybe Father is looking elsewhere for a successor."

It was plausible enough, but Delia remained skeptical. "Well, I still don't trust him."

Patricia smiled warmly at her suspicious lover. "It won’t be much longer, and then he’ll only be a footnote in our lives."

"None too soon!" Delia commented with quiet emphasis.

Chuckling, the blonde quickly looked around, and seeing no one near, whispered, "I couldn't agree more. I love you."

"I love you, too, my heart."

They shared an intensely private look, before Patricia reluctantly said, "I’d better go before Gareth comes to drag me back to the dance floor. I’ll see you later, sweetheart."

Delia nodded, her eyes following Patricia back to Gareth's side. Glancing around for her mother, she saw her standing with her father. She began making her way toward her parents, skirting a small group of older women with whom Mrs. Hawthorne was talking animatedly.

"Oh, you know how it is with young love. I wouldn’t be surprised if they announce their engagement within days. Heavens, they’d probably have announced it already except they didn’t want to overshadow Andrea’s wedding. I know my daughter's mind, and she’s definitely found the one for her."

Glancing at Virginia, Delia felt a sharp pang of fear at the smug look directed her way. She quickly shook off the feeling as ridiculous, knowing that Mrs. Hawthorne was just spouting off wishful thinking. But Delia was unable to shake the lingering uneasiness.

Virginia Hawthorne had made her pronouncement with such certainty.

* * * * * * * * * *

Patricia managed to share several other fleeting moments with Delia as the evening progressed. Once when Gareth left to dance with the bride, they had retreated briefly to the woods for a heated encounter; and on one joint trip to the bathroom they had managed to steal a kiss or two.

Gareth had asked her to accompany him on a walk around the lake, which she had politely declined, concerned that he might get the wrong idea. She was wrestling inwardly with whether she would be better to simply take him aside, confront him about his intentions, and firmly put him off once and for all, when her mother approached the pair.

With a smile that never quite reached her eyes, the older woman asked, "Are you two enjoying yourselves?"

Gareth had jumped up at her approach and pulled out a chair. "Yes, ma'am, we certainly are. Would you care to join us?"

Virginia accepted his offer and sat down gracefully before turning to her daughter. "How about you, Patricia? Is this young man showing you a good time?"

Irked, but determined to remain calm, Patricia responded mildly, "Yes, Mother. Gareth has been nothing but a gentleman."

With the faintest trace of a smile, the matriarch asked, "So, why are you two sitting all alone over here? Shouldn’t you be out with all the other young folk dancing?"

Smiling at Victoria, Gareth said, "I was trying to get Patricia to take a walk around the lake with me."

"What a wonderful idea. Well, don't let me keep you. Off you go then."

Frowning slightly at her mother’s meddling, the young woman demurred. "I'd really rather not. I don't want to miss Andi and Thom's departure."

"Don't be ridiculous." Virginia’s voice sharpened. "They have much more interesting things on their minds than bidding each guest farewell. Quite frankly, I'm surprised they haven’t left yet. Go along, dear. It's a beautiful night, and a walk will do you good."

Patricia caught the undertone of steel in her mother's voice and knew she would continue to be badgered until she agreed. She looked around quickly for Delia and saw her dancing with Thom. She couldn’t help a little grin at the stilted body language of the pair as she reflected that Andi must have insisted that they dance together. Dragging her gaze away, she looked at Gareth and acquiesced.

"A short walk would be fine. I really do want to get back before Andi and Thom leave, however." She ignored the tightening of her mother's face. "Shall we go now?"

Gareth quickly stood up and pulled out Patricia's chair. "If you'll excuse us, Mrs. Hawthorne?"

Smiling shrewdly, Victoria said, "Of course. Have a nice time."

* * * * * * * * * *

Gareth walked at Patricia’s side, and she allowed him to steer her around the rougher portions of the path. Her high heels were an impediment on the uneven surface, and when they reached the beach, she kicked off her shoes, allowing her grateful feet to revel in the soft sand. When Gareth offered to carry her shoes, she permitted her companion the small courtesy.

She was glad that he chose to remain silent and not disturb the tranquility of the night with gratuitous small talk. Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, Patricia wished she were sharing the peaceful walk with Delia, but reminded herself that there would be many such nights in faraway places for them to enjoy together.

They had passed Hannibal’s ranch and were ambling down the far shore, before he finally spoke. "You seem so distant. What are you thinking about, if you don't mind me asking?"

Patricia glanced at Gareth and smiled, easily voicing a deception. "I was just thinking about how happy Andi and Thom were, and how nice the wedding was."

"Andrea was indeed a lovely bride, as I’m sure you’ll be when your time comes."

The words were casual enough, but Patricia couldn’t help glancing sharply at her companion. Gareth’s expression was neutral and his eyes continued to focus on their path, so the young woman relaxed slightly. As they continued around the lake, conversation was desultory, limited mostly to the beauty of the night and the celebration they’d left behind.

They had covered over half the circumference of the small lake when her companion came to a stop before a barely perceptible break in the forest. She wasn't familiar with this path, though she assumed she and Delia had passed it often in their explorations.

Gareth turned to her with a smile. "I’d love to show you something that I discovered by accident on one of my visits here with Four. It’s not far, and I’m sure you’d enjoy it."

Not keen on doing anything to extend the walk, but unwilling to hurt Gareth’s feelings, Patricia decided to accept his invitation. She returned his smile, saying, "Sure," and accompanied him up the narrow path.

* * * * * * * * * *

Delia had lost track of Patricia while she danced with her brother-in-law, then her father, Brady, and Louis. Eventually her best friend’s absence, coupled with underlying worry over Mrs. Hawthorne’s bold pronouncement about her daughter's imminent engagement, prompted her to begin searching for her missing lover, a search that grew more frantic as a rapid trek through the house and grounds failed to turn up Patricia, and no one was able to say they had seen her recently.

Finally, filled with foreboding, she approached Mrs. Hawthorne, certain the matriarch would be aware of her daughter’s whereabouts. "Mrs. Hawthorne?" When Virginia looked at her, she asked politely, "Do you know where Patricia is?"

"Yes. She wasn't feeling well, so she went back to the house. Now, if you’ll excuse me…"

Staring after the matriarch, Delia puzzled over the maliciously triumphant look the woman had leveled at her before she abruptly turned and walked away.

She immediately left the reception and headed for the Hawthorne mansion. Something was wrong. Patricia had looked fine the last time she’d seen her, and had said nothing about not feeling well. Delia acknowledged that it was possible Patricia hadn’t been able to notify her before leaving, but try as she might, the young woman was unable to shake a sense of foreboding.

* * * * * * * * * *

Patricia stared at the small waterfall with delight. She couldn’t believe she and Delia hadn’t discovered it in all their wanderings, but it was quite far off the beaten path, and Gareth had had to assist her over many fallen trees and up a small cliff to reach it.

"It’s gorgeous," she breathed. She could hardly wait to tell Delia about the lake’s hidden treasure.

Gareth smiled charmingly. "I knew you'd like it. I wanted to bring you someplace special."

"Thank you, Gareth. It truly is lovely." She took a long moment to admire the view, then turned back to her companion. "It was well worth the walk, but we'd better be getting back now. I really do want to see Andi and Thom off."

Startled, she watched his reaction to her words as he dropped to his knees in front of her and gently grasped her hands, looking up at her intently. "Patricia, I think you know how I feel about you. I think you’re a beautiful, gracious, kind woman, and if you give me the chance, I will cherish you and hold you in the highest regard, always. Would you do me the very great honour of marrying me?"

Even in the midst of her consternation Patricia was dimly aware that he had not declared his love. Trying desperately not to hurt the man, she said gently, "Oh, Gareth, please stand up. I’m so sorry, but I can’t accept. I think you’re a lovely, sweet man, but I’m just not in love with you."

He rose to his feet, still grasping her hands. Urgently he declared, "You could learn to love me, Patricia. Many couples begin their lives with only simple affection between them, yet make long and prosperous marriages. I believe with all my heart that we’re a perfect match, and I swear I’ll always take care of you. You and our children will want for nothing. I know both our families will approve; it’s an eminently suitable match from all standpoints."

"I'm sorry, Gareth, but no." Patricia sighed, trying gently to pull her hands free. "I don't want to get married for convenience or practical reasons. I want to be in love when I get married. You deserve to have a wife who loves you, too, and I’m just not that person. I really am so sorry. I never wanted it to come to this, and I never wanted to hurt you."

The young man released her hands and drew himself erect. Patricia felt a slight shiver go through her body as the look in his dark eyes hardened. She uttered a brief prayer that he wouldn’t make it any more difficult than it had to be. Searching for words to console him, and make him understand, she almost missed his low-pitched utterance.

"I’m afraid your answer is unacceptable, both to your mother and to me. We know all about what you and your perverted friend do together, and we can’t allow the situation to continue. I’m willing to overlook your unfortunate deviance, but I’m afraid I must insist that we marry immediately."

His voice was so calm and matter of fact that Patricia almost had to pinch herself to believe in the reality of what was happening, but as his words sank in, she could only stare at him in horror.

Oh my God! Oh my God! Delia!!

Chapter Seven

Years before, when Patricia was only ten, one of Hannibal’s jumpers, a nasty tempered mare named Guinevere’s Pride, had kicked the young girl in the stomach as she tried to unsaddle her. She had long ago forgotten the sensation of agonized breathlessness, but it surged back with a vengeance as she stood staring at the man who had just destroyed her world with his calm, prosaic affirmation.

Feeling as if she were wading through a thick, impenetrable fog, Patricia finally managed to force a "No," through frozen lips.

Gareth sighed. "As I said, no is simply not acceptable. Everything is already arranged. We’ll be taking the limousine to Boston in the morning and will be married immediately by a Justice of the Peace. From there we’ll fly to Los Angeles and board the Sea Breeze II on Monday for a month long honeymoon in the South Pacific. You don’t even need to worry about appropriate clothing for the cruise as I have your suitcase packed and ready."

Reeling at his presumption, Patricia shook her head. "No, you don’t understand. I can’t...I won’t marry you. My mother--"

"Is quite in accord with our marriage, I assure you. In fact, she’s been very helpful in making the arrangements, and even had your passport sent to me."

He wasn’t gloating, but she was deeply shaken by how matter of factly he made his statements, as if it were already fait accompli. Anger began to penetrate the numbness that had overwhelmed her. She was going away with Delia. She was going to spend her life with the woman she loved, not this man who was barely more than a stranger!

Indignation fueling her resistance, Patricia stiffened, eyes flashing. "I repeat, Gareth, I will not marry you! I don’t care what you may think is going on between my best friend and me. This is not the 16th century where you and my mother can arrange my life, so please, just forget the whole matter and we’ll return to the reception."

She made to walk past him and down the path, but he laid a firm hand on her arm.

"I’m afraid you don’t have the whole picture, my dear." Gareth’s voice was resolute, but not unkind. "And speaking of pictures..." He reached inside his jacket and extracted an envelope. Shaking out several photographs, he handed them over, flicking his lighter open so she could clearly see the subject of the pictures.

What she saw shocked her all over again. A nude Delia had been caught on film, her head thrown back, her body arching under the hands of another woman. Patricia recognized their glade and knew it was one of their encounters, but the photo had been strategically blurred so that the identity of Delia’s lover was obscured, though her gender was more than apparent. Hands shaking, she shuffled through the pictures, her gorge rising as it became clear that she and her lover had been caught in every stage of intimacy. Instinctively she began to tear them up, furiously shredding them into strips as Gareth watched, making no move to stop her.

When she was done and stood there panting with fragments of ragged paper drifting to the forest floor, Gareth remarked mildly, "You know, of course, that the negatives are still intact."

She whirled on him and lashed out, her hand striking him hard across the face. He flinched, but didn’t back off.

"How could you!" she spat at him, revolted that he had intruded on something so private and so magical.

"Actually, I didn’t," he retorted. "Your mother did; but she was kind enough to share the results of her investigation."

Patricia shrank back. "My mother did this? I don’t believe it." But she did believe it, intuitively knowing it for the truth.

"Well I don’t think she was exactly out there in the brush with her little Brownie shooting the photos herself, but obviously one of her minions was."

"How can you be so blasé?" Even as she demanded an explanation, Patricia was frantically searching for a way out—a way that would ensure her lover wasn’t hurt.

"Blasé?" For the first time Gareth’s voice began to rise. "I’d hardly call myself blasé. After all, I’ve only just found out that the woman I intend to marry, who will bear my children, cavorts naked in a forest fucking another woman. If you think I’m blasé about my future wife degrading herself with such a pervert, you’re sadly mistaken."

"Degrading!" She advanced on him furiously, forcing him to step back. "I’ll have you know I love what we do together. I adore being her lover, and I adore her. And if she’s a pervert, then so am I. I doubt very much that you want a pervert for your wife."

Visibly struggling for control now, Gareth shot back, "No, I don’t, but your mother has assured me that you’re merely misguided, that that bitch has corrupted you. We know that it’s just a matter of getting you away from her destructive influence and you’ll straighten right out. And believe me, once we’re married, you’ll never see her again!"

Patricia laughed bitterly. "You two have no idea what you’re talking about. I love her, you idiot. Can’t you get that through your thick head? I will never leave her, never!"

Gareth smiled in cold triumph and Patricia felt a shiver ripple uncontrollably through her body. Very deliberately he slipped his hand inside his jacket and came out with the envelope. This time he took out a piece of paper.

"On here are the names and numbers of a doctor and judge, friends of your mother actually, who are standing by awaiting her call. If they get that call, they will begin to process the necessary paperwork to do two things. One, they will arrange for Miss Delia Barrington to be whisked away to a mental hospital, where she will undergo treatment to cure her of her perversions. Two, charges will be filed alleging that she seduced and corrupted an innocent woman... That would be you, my dear. I’m sure you’d refuse to testify, but the originals of these pictures pretty much speak for themselves, and certainly your mother and I would regretfully have to confirm the charges."

"No! They won’t let you get away with it!" Patricia gasped.

"Who? Her parents?" Gareth shrugged. "I’m sure they’ll be able to bail her out eventually, but treatments are set to begin on her immediately, as we wouldn’t want to waste any time in trying to effect a cure. After all, the goal is to return her to society as a moral, upstanding citizen." He looked at Patricia with mock sympathy. "Unfortunately, she may be a babbling idiot by then, but she’ll definitely be moral. They’re doing wonderfully corrective things with electroshock and lobotomies, according to the research your mother gave me."

She shrank from him aghast, her mind awash with an image of her lover blank-eyed and slack-jawed from the horrific treatments he had cited.

Relentlessly, he went on. "Of course, even if she comes through the treatments with her mind intact, she’ll still have to deal with the criminal charges. I know her family can afford the best lawyers, but what a scandal it will cause, don’t you think? Her father will be ostracized. Her mother will never be able to set foot in Boston again, and let’s just thank God that her sister will be in another country, because she’ll never be able to show her face around here, either." He shook his head in feigned remorse. "It’s always a shame to see such a promising young life come to such a poor end."

Unable to bear anymore, Patricia crumpled to the ground, burying her face in her hand as she wept hot tears for the future she and her lover would never have. Gareth remained silent as she wept, finally kneeling beside her, but not touching her.

Lifting her tear ravaged face, she asked in a broken whisper, "How could you do this? What did we ever do to make you hate us so?"

His voice weary, he answered, "I don’t hate her. I hate what she made you do, but she’s irrelevant. And I certainly don’t hate you. We’re going to have a good life together, Patricia. You’ll forget all this in time. She could never give you what I can: the respect of society, a husband who will always provide for you, children who will make us proud."

Shattered, she mourned. No, she only gave me her love, her heart, and soul...and now I have to crush them. Oh Delia, my Dee, forgive me, my dearest love. I’ll never forget you...never! Don’t forget me, my darling. I love you...I’ll love you always.

Numb, she didn’t fight when he took her hand and pulled her to her feet. They’d been walking for ten minutes before she realized that he was leading her away from the lake. She didn’t care enough to ask where they were going. She only knew where she wasn’t going...back to Delia’s arms...ever again.

A short while later, Gareth halted in front of an old cabin and, pushing open the creaky door, he tugged her inside. Torpid, she followed him, her eyes dully taking in what she could see of her surroundings in the dark. He walked by her and lit a candle on the table, feebly illuminating the gloomy interior of the old, one-room, woodsman’s cabin. Aside from the table, a chair and a bed were the only other furniture. All were hand-hewn and of gray, timeworn wood. It took a moment before it sank into Patricia’s mind that the small bed was incongruously made up with white sheets, a pillow, and a thick blanket. Instantly alarmed, she whirled around to confront her new fiancé.

"I’m not...surely you don’t think..."

Her voice trembled as she pointed at the bed, and Gareth shook his head disdainfully.

"Of course not, but we’ll be staying here tonight; and you might as well be comfortable for the next few hours." He pulled out the chair and sat down, throwing one leg up on the tabletop and tilting back. Unbuttoning his jacket, he eyed the woman still standing unmoving in the center of the small room. "You can stand there all night if you want, but we still have to walk about a mile in the morning to the pick-up point, so you might as well sit down, if nothing else." His voice edged with sarcasm, he added, "Your precious virtue—whatever is left of it, anyway—is safe with me."

Patricia turned back to the bed, staring at it unseeing. Lost in grief, she almost missed the soft words that came next.

"Tomorrow night will be another matter, my dear. We will be legally married, and I trust you will honour your vows in every respect."

Stunned with horror at the implication, the young woman took a stuttering step then another and another, backing away from the bed and towards the door.

Gareth never moved. He didn’t need to. All he did was take the envelope out of his jacket and lay it quietly on the table. The rustle of paper jerked Patricia to a halt as effectively as any leash. The memory of the very real threat that hung over her lover’s head froze her feet in place, only inches away from the door that opened up on the freedom of the forest.

She felt as if she were caged in a nightmare, unable to move in any direction, with her mind frantically seeking a way out that didn’t exist. Asked, she could not have said how long she stood there rooted to the spot, though at some point she became aware of Gareth’s firm hand guiding her to the bed and urging her to lie down. Numbly, Patricia complied, pulling the musty pillow tightly to her chest, eyes staring sightlessly at one dark corner of the cabin as images of her lover consumed her. Sometime before dawn she finally began to cry, and when Gareth roused her and led her out into the early morning hours, making his sure-footed way through the forest to a narrow, gravel road where a limousine awaited them, she was still weeping.


Delia stood on the beach, staring up at her lover’s bedroom, as if the intensity of her gaze could summon Patricia to the window. But the window remained stubbornly dark and closed. The sounds of the wedding reception could be heard faintly in the distance floating over the water, but the merriment was lost on the young woman.

She had already knocked on the Hawthornes’ door, only to be greeted by an obviously annoyed, pajama clad Randall, who informed the midnight visitor that when Miss Patricia had come in, she had left orders not to be disturbed, as she wasn’t feeling well. That news should have reassured Delia that her lover was safely in her own bed, but the fear that had settled into the pit of her stomach refused to recede. It had not escaped her that the usually cordial and pleasant Randall had not met her eyes when he relayed the information, and had cut short her attempts to talk her way into the house, politely but firmly closing the door on any further conversation. She tried to attribute it to the lateness of the hour, now well past midnight, but the whole encounter had an undercurrent of falseness that unsettled her.

Casting around for a logical next step, Delia could only come up with waiting for the morning and returning as early as possible. Disconsolate, she turned away from her lover’s house and trudged down the beach, back towards the wedding festivities. Before rounding the point that would put her in sight of her home, she suddenly stopped and dropped gracelessly down on the sand. Staring out across the dark water, the young woman attempted to soothe herself with the soft sound of waves lapping rhythmically against the shore. Anxious eyes drifted up to the sky, but the beauty of the stars was lost on her troubled heart.

"Patty, I don’t know what’s going on, but this feels wrong." Her whispered words barely disturbed the night air. "If I could only talk to you, I know things would be all right." She forced a smile. "But hey, what am I worrying about, right? You always manage to sneak away. I wouldn’t be surprised to see you sitting at Mom’s breakfast table when I get up in the morning, teasing me that you’ve already eaten the last of the pancakes." Her voice turned stern as she lectured her absent lover. "I’m telling you now, though, you’d better have a darned good excuse for making me worry so!"

Delia’s face softened as her mind conjured an image of her remorseful lover. "Mmm, as if I could ever stay mad at you, sweetheart." She shook her head wryly. It was the truth. On the rare occasions that she and Patricia had had a dispute, the blonde could always end it with nothing more than a winning gaze, which invariably melted her best friend like ice cream in the summer sun.

The noise from the wedding party had diminished, and Delia supposed that Andi and Thom had departed, followed by many of the guests. She felt guilty that neither she nor Patricia had been there to bid the newlyweds farewell, but she knew that Andi would assume that the two of them had stolen away for some private time together and would cover up their absence as she always did.

She knew she should probably return to the celebration. She didn’t want to disquiet her parents on this evening of what should be undiluted joy, but she couldn’t summon the will to move. Instead she allowed the summer night to work its magic, calming her unquiet mind and finally lulling her into a light doze as she burrowed into the sand, heedless of her wedding finery. Her last conscious thought was a mental reminder to clean up and change before she went over to see her lover in the morning, so that Patty didn’t think she’d been up all night worrying about her. She didn’t want her lover to feel guilty for abandoning her at the reception without a word. After all, she was certain that there was a good explanation for it all.


The civil service was mercifully short and concise. The Justice of the Peace did not waste time on pleasantries or flowery words, and even Gareth was startled at how quickly he and Patricia were married. His wan bride’s only reaction to the court officer’s pronouncement of their newly wedded state was a violent shudder that coursed through the slender body.

Gareth had kept a firm arm around his bride, as much to ensure that she remained on her unsteady feet as to prevent any last minute bolt for freedom. He had worried only once, when it came time for her to say "I do" and the words had gotten stuck in her throat. The Justice of the Peace, who had judiciously ignored the bride’s lack of enthusiasm, merely glanced at Gareth— who gave a slight nod—then continued with the proceedings.

Ten minutes after they had entered the chambers, they were officially man and wife, though Gareth doubted that anyone would recognize his bride’s faltering signature on the wedding documents. Still, it was entirely legal, and he was eager to be gone. When he tried to pay the man, the Justice of the Peace shook his head.

"Not necessary, Mr. Edwards. Mrs. Hawthorne has already taken care of the fee."

Not surprised in the least, and certain that the fee had far surpassed any normal charges, Gareth merely exchanged a knowing glance with the other man and returned his wallet to his pocket. Taking his wife’s hand, he led the silent woman out of the chamber. Once outside on the steps of the courthouse, he guided her to the waiting limousine. He was about to announce their destination to the chauffeur when he realized it would be superfluous. The man had obviously already been well instructed on his day’s duties, and would doubtlessly take them directly to the airport.

Settling back in the plush seat, Gareth glanced at the woman beside him. She could have been a statue: her expression immobile, and vacant eyes staring out the window. She had not said a word to him since they had left the old cabin in the predawn hours. He hadn’t missed the desperate look she had shot at the longtime family chauffeur when they had exited the woods to find the limousine waiting for them on a narrow, gravel back road, but the man’s patent disregard for her anguish seemed to drive home that there would be no help from any quarter.

When the chauffeur, addressing himself only to Gareth, announced that their bags were stored in the trunk and that a change of clothes was hanging inside for them to change during the drive, Patricia seemed to shrink into herself. The silent tears that had tracked endlessly down her face for hours finally ceased. She hadn’t resisted when he had ordered her to change her clothes, discarding the soiled bridesmaid dress for a light blue summer sheath with matching pumps. She hadn’t even bothered to pretend to any modesty, stripping out of her clothes as if he mattered less than a dressing room chair.

That had bothered him more than he could say, and for the first time Gareth had qualms about his actions. No matter what her fortune and family connections, it would hardly serve his purpose if his wife didn’t learn to act like a caring spouse. It would be bad for his image.

Grimly he reminded himself that he held all the cards, and that his bride would toe the line or else. Handing over the small make-up case that was with the garment bag, Gareth gruffly instructed Patricia to brush her hair and make up her face. She did as told, but never once looked at him. Once he was satisfied with the results, he ignored her and allowed her to maintain her sullen silence. There would be time enough later on to remind her of the consequences of her behaviour. He no longer doubted that she would do anything he demanded in order to protect her former lover.


Delia was running, her feet churning up the sand wildly as she fled down the beach. Fear propelled her—fear for her lover and fear for their future.

She had presented herself at Patricia’s door at eight a.m., rapping firmly and quite prepared to bully her way past any obstacles that stood between her and her lover, including the formidable Mrs. Virginia Hawthorne.

But she never got the chance. No one came to the door, though surely her pounding must have roused the entire household. After ten minutes of fruitless knocking, she finally turned away. Glancing back as she plodded down the ornate stone stairway to the beach, she saw a curtain in the dayroom tweak, as if someone had been standing there watching her departure.

Suddenly sickened, Delia tore off down the beach, running towards the sanctuary of her home. She wasn’t even aware she was crying until she reached the house and was met at the front door by her alarmed mother.

"Dee! My heavens, what’s wrong?" Grace Barrington wrapped her arms around her distraught daughter. Delia just shook her head, unable to voice her fears to her worried parent. She just greedily soaked in the comfort of the familiar arms, burying her face in the soft shoulder.

Grace gave her daughter time to regain some poise, then led her to the swing seat on the porch. Nestling Delia under her arm and holding her close, the older woman pushed softly with her foot, setting the swing into gentle motion.

She made no demands, and when the younger woman finally calmed down, she listened carefully to the tangled tale.

"They’re doing something, Mom," Delia concluded insistently. "Something bad, I just know it. Patty wouldn’t take off without telling Andi and me, and they won’t let me see her this morning. They wouldn’t even answer the door!"

"Honey, they wouldn’t harm Patricia. Surely you don’t think that." Grace shook her head in dismay.

"Then why won’t they let me see her?" Delia pleaded with her mother.

Grace thought for a moment, then patted her daughter’s leg. Her voice firm and decisive, she announced, "I’m going to go call Virginia right now. We’ll get to the bottom of this, one way or another." Standing up, she marched into the house, Delia’s grateful gaze following her.

It seemed like an eternity until Grace returned, but Delia was heartened by her cheerful smile.

"What did you find out, Mom?" she asked eagerly.

"Everything’s fine, dear," Grace assured her daughter. "I talked to Virginia and she told me that apparently Patricia suddenly felt poorly last night, and when she wasn’t much better by early this morning, her father took her down to Boston to see their family doctor. Not to worry, though. Stanton called and said that the doctor told them that it was nothing serious, and everything was going to be fine. Patricia should be back out at the lake in a few days."

Puzzled, Delia shook her head. "Then why didn’t they answer the door and tell me that when I was there."

"Because you were just too early, honey. Virginia told me that after all the excitement of the night, between the wedding and Patricia’s illness, they were all exhausted and didn’t hear you. She hadn’t even gotten up when I called." Grace cocked her head at her daughter and grinned. "Now, my little worrywart, why don’t you come in and have some breakfast before your father finishes it all?"

Delia gave her mother a slow nod, her brow still furrowed as she considered Virginia’s words. "Okay, Mom, I’ll be there in a moment." As her mother left the porch, she pondered what she had been told. I guess it could’ve happened that way. It’s not like Patty to leave without telling me, but if she got sick all of a sudden...maybe she told her mother to let me know what happened because she couldn’t wait. I wouldn’t put it past that old hag to make me sweat just for the hell of it.

Despite her rationalizations, Delia couldn’t shake the uneasiness. Nor could she shake the memory of Virginia Hawthorne’s triumphant expression the previous night when she had questioned the woman as to the whereabouts of her daughter. And that curtain that had fallen back into place when she had finally given up and left the Hawthorne summerhouse that morning...someone had been awake, and someone had refused to acknowledge her presence.


The summer morning suddenly lost its warmth, and Delia shivered as she rose to go join her parents.


It had hurt. It still hurt.

But the physical pain of Gareth claiming his conjugal rights couldn’t hold a candle to the spiritual pain she felt as he took what belonged to another.

Patricia stared up at the gilt-edged ceiling of the honeymoon suite. She had tried to mentally remove herself, unwilling to let images of the past be tainted by the present. But her recalcitrant mind was unable to ignore the contrast of her joyful lovemaking with the woman who held her heart—the woman now a continent away—with the determined movements of the stranger probing deep within her.

It felt so wrong. Where Delia’s body was soft and curved, his form was hard and angular, and had none of the silkiness that had delighted her when she touched her lover’s skin. Despite the shower he had taken when they reached their Los Angeles hotel, his body exuded an acrid scent that was a galaxy removed from her lover’s sensual fragrance. There was no love in the dark eyes that pinned her as he roughly fondled her breasts. Worst of all, where Delia had gently stroked and coaxed her lover into ecstasy, Gareth simply took what he wanted.

Patricia had tried to delay the inevitable, taking her time making her evening toilette and donning the thick robe left in the lavish washroom for the use of hotel guests, but when she had finally come out, he was sitting on the bed clad only in pajama trousers. He’d risen at her approach, wordlessly undoing her robe, pushing it back off her slender shoulders and stepping back to admire her nude body. She had endured his glance, just as she now endured his thrusts. She had been so dry that he’d had difficulty entering her, but he’d persevered, ignoring her pained exhalations. She had hoped desperately that he was one of those men her classmates had joked about, that he would finish up quickly then leave her alone in her mourning, but thus far he had displayed remarkable stamina.

Her lips began to move in a silent prayer. Darling, forgive me. I couldn’t let them hurt you. You can’t ask that of me, Dee, no matter what. Please know that I love you. With all my heart, I love you today and always. Don’t forget me, my only love. I’ll never, ever forget you.

As if he could hear her unspoken words, Gareth’s movements became furious, and Patricia shuddered under the assault. His breathing became short and harsh as his hips jerked frantically. Finally it was over, and his sweaty body collapsed on hers. After what seemed an eternity, he rolled off her and came to rest on his back.

"Christ, I’d get more action out of a ninety-year-old crone!" His voice was bitter, and out of the corner of her eye she saw him swing his legs over the side of the bed. "I know for a fact that you weren’t such a dead fish when you were with her." Distantly she watched as he dressed, his movements angry and jerky. As he knelt to tie his oxfords, he snarled, "I’m going down to the bar, my loving bride. Don’t bother waiting up."

When he reached the door, he turned and eyed her. She hadn’t bothered to pull up the sheet and his gaze dragged over her. "Well, it wasn’t all bad. If we’re lucky, Junior got his start tonight." Opening the door, he gave one parting shot. "If not, we’ll just have to work a little harder. Maybe you could even move the next time."

Dull eyes stared at the closed door, then drifted to the phone beside the bed. Involuntarily her hand reached out for it, her overwhelming urge to call Delia, to seek comfort in her lover’s warm voice.

Her hand dropped back to her side. She couldn’t do it. How could she explain what the last 24 hours had wrought in their lives? How and why their dreams had been destroyed? Delia would be out of her mind with rage and worry, and she feared what her lover might do. She knew Dee would cast caution aside in a frantic attempt to rescue her, no matter what the potential consequences to herself; and Patricia couldn’t allow that.

She had agonized over what to do, her overwhelming instinct to protect her lover. In the depths of her grief, she had seriously considered taking her own life, reasoning that any threat to her lover would die with her, but she was unable to give up the fleeting hope that things would work out somehow. She had no idea how, but if there were even a chance, no matter how remote, that some day she and Dee could be together again, she couldn’t give up.

Finally Patricia accepted that, as cruel as it seemed, she had to let this run its course. She had no doubt that her mother would announce her marriage once the new couple was safely out to sea on their honeymoon cruise. Though it was torture to imagine Delia’s feelings when she heard what had happened, it was safer for her lover to learn about it that way than for her to learn the reality of Gareth and her mother’s treachery.

Delia wouldn’t believe that Patricia had entered willingly into matrimony with Gareth. She knew that without question. It was excruciating to think she would never see the other woman again, but she knew she’d never be able to lie if her lover confronted her with a demand for the truth.

Maybe as the years passed...maybe they could at least salvage their friendship.

"And believe me, once we’re married, you’ll never see her again!"

Gareth’s words rang in her mind, and the tears that she had repressed the whole long day began again.

Chapter Eight

Grace Barrington sipped her tea thoughtfully, her mind on her troubled daughter. Delia had shown up at the breakfast table, her face haggard and shadowed from yet another sleepless night. She had announced that she was going to Boston on the afternoon train, then had vanished upstairs to pack. Glancing across the table, she noticed that her husband was fiddling idly with his cold eggs, his mind obviously many miles away. Though she was well used to that, having accepted decades ago that her brilliant, but eccentric mate might as readily be pondering the mating habits of curlews as thinking about her and their daughters, this time was different. She knew that Benjamin was as worried as she was over Delia’s distress.

At first Grace had assumed that her daughter was overreacting, and indeed had been puzzled as to why Delia had so frantically sought out information on Patricia’s whereabouts. But as the days passed and Patricia did not return from Boston where her father had supposedly taken her the morning after the wedding, she began to question what Virginia had told her on the phone. Without telling Delia, she had called again the previous day, only to be startled by the Hawthorne matriarch’s marked coolness. When Grace expressed concern for Patricia’s well-being, Virginia merely said that the girl’s plans had changed and she probably wouldn’t be out at the lake again that summer. Grace had tried to press Virginia for details only to be abruptly cut off.

It was most disquieting, and when she had passed the gist of the strange conversation on to Benjamin, she had seen something odd in his expressive blue eyes. There was concern, certainly, but also a kind of sad comprehension. When she questioned her husband, he merely shook his head and kept his own council. That morning, when Delia had made her announcement and turned to go, Grace had observed her husband’s sorrowfully compassionate expression as he watched his daughter leave the room. When he realized he was being watched, he just said, "Later."

Grace wished fervently that Andi were present. She was desperately worried about Delia, and knew that if anyone could, her twin would be able to get through to her and find out what was going on. However Andi and Thom weren’t due back from their weeklong honeymoon until Sunday. In the meantime, nothing she did seemed to comfort her daughter. Delia hadn’t eaten more than a mouthful or two for days, and she was certain that the girl wasn’t sleeping. She had heard her pacing her bedroom when she’d woken in the early hours of the morning. She’d long ago lost track of the number of fruitless trips Dee had made to the Hawthorne summerhouse to see if Patricia were back yet.

Nothing Grace said seemed to soothe Delia. She had tried logic, pointing out that Patricia couldn’t possibly be in any danger from her own family, and for whatever reasons, she was simply absent for a few days and would return soon. She had questioned her daughter closely, trying to elicit the source of Dee’s obvious fear for her best friend, but the girl had been as close-mouthed as her father could be. She only admitted to a concern that was as powerful as it was formless.

Grace sighed and rose from the table, dumping the dregs of her tea in the sink. She gazed out the kitchen window in the direction of the Hawthorne place. She couldn’t see it, of course, for the forest grew thick and impenetrable between their homes; but she pondered the possibility that something really was wrong with Patricia. She cared for the girl deeply, regarding her almost as another daughter, and she was well aware of the profound bond between the three lifelong friends. Was it conceivable that Dee could sense something wrong with Patricia even in the absence of any solid evidence?

Turning on the taps to begin filling the sink, she contemplated the possibility. Grace had seen enough instances of her daughters’ unspoken communications that she didn’t dismiss it out of hand, but she had always assumed that Dee and Andi had some sort of unique "twin sense" going on. Adding soap to the water, she shrugged. Perhaps Patricia’s years of friendship with the twins had caused some sort of psychic overlapping.

The older woman laughed at herself and shook her head at her own foolishness. If it weren’t that Dee was so distraught, she wouldn’t even be considering such nonsense. Absently she accepted the plates and cup that her husband passed to her, and leaned back into the solidity of his body as he put his arms around her waist.

Benjamin’s voice rumbled from his barrel chest. "I’m going to give Dee a ride into the city this afternoon and maybe stay overnight with her."

"All right, dear," Grace agreed, turning in his arms and wiping her wet hands on her apron. She looked at his dear, rugged face, deeply tanned above his thick, grizzled beard from all the hours he spent outdoors, and smiled. "See if you can get our stubborn daughter to open up about what’s really going on, will you? Whatever it is, it’s just not good for her."

"I will. Maybe you could try Virginia again, or maybe go talk to Hannibal. He might know what this is all about."

Grace raised one eyebrow in disbelief. "Hannibal? Honey, he’s a sweet man, but unless it involves horses, he hasn’t the slightest clue about anything. He may have got the heart in that family, but Virginia got the brains."

Benjamin laughed, the deep sound echoing in the kitchen. Short, but almost as wide as he was tall, with the same dark hair and blue eyes as the twins, he often reminded Grace of a sea captain home from the oceans after a lengthy voyage. "You have a point there. Okay, let me see if I can coax the whole story out of our daughter." He sobered then, and looked at his wife seriously. "You may not like the whole story though, love."

Assuming he meant that something dire might have befallen Patricia, Grace nodded distractedly. She really couldn’t conceive of any circumstances that would have the Hawthornes hiding their daughter away, but then something struck her.

"Oh my goodness, you don’t think Patricia is pregnant, do you?"

"I doubt it."

"Well, it would explain why she’s suddenly vanished, and I remember Virginia talking about how crazy Patricia is about Four’s friend...What was his name?"

"Gary, Garrick...I don’t know, something like that."

Grace smiled. Her husband could remember the Latin names of every species of bird he had ever seen, but he was hopeless when it came to people. "Never mind, dear. Why don’t you run upstairs and tell Dee that you’ll take her into town? I’m sure she’ll be glad for the company."

Turning back to the sink, Grace considered her theory; and the more she thought about it, the more convinced she became. Patricia certainly wouldn’t be the first girl to be whisked away by her family when she got in trouble. It would account for why Delia was so worried about her, too. Patricia had probably confided in her, and in her usual big-hearted way, Dee was trying to make things right for her best friend.

Satisfied that she had reached the correct conclusion, Grace decided that she wouldn’t press Virginia any further for information. The Hawthornes would be keen to cover up their daughter’s disgrace, and any further prying would be most unwelcome. If this ran a normal course, Patricia would reappear in a few days, a little sadder and a little wiser, but able to return to her old life fairly unscathed.

Vigorously scrubbing a frying pan, Grace uttered a brief prayer of thanks that Andi was now safely married, and Dee didn’t seem to have any special boy in her life at the moment. Girls today just seem so...uninhibited. Not like we were in my day, that’s for sure. She shook her head, conveniently forgetting how she and Benjamin had hidden from her parents more than once in those heady days of courtship so long ago.


"Dad, you don’t have to baby-sit me, you know. Why don’t you head back to the lake?"

Delia knew her father loved the lake and was never as comfortable in their Boston home as he was in the old summerhouse.

Settled deep in his leather chair, Benjamin just shook his head, never looking up from the text he’d been marking. "No, sweetie. It’s getting too late now. I’ll drive back up tomorrow."

Glancing first at the massive grandfather clock that had stood in this study for as long as she could remember, then out the expanse of windows where the tenebrous shadows of night had overtaken the long summer twilight, Delia realized that more time had flown by than she’d thought. Their first stop on arriving in the city in the late afternoon was at the Hawthorne mansion, but the courteous butler there informed them that he had not seen Miss Patricia for several weeks and did not know her whereabouts. Since then, Dee had spent hours calling all of her and Patricia’s friends, seeking even a scrap of information on her lover’s whereabouts.

She had been singularly unsuccessful. Everyone she talked to had assumed that Patricia was still out at the lake, and was surprised when Delia said she’d left there unexpectedly. There were lots of suggestions as to where she might have gone, but no one knew for sure. She had thought that Four at least would be able to tell her something, but his roommate said that the young man had been invited to join some friends in Liechtenstein and had left earlier in the week. She had wondered briefly if Patricia might have gone with her brother, but rejected that, knowing that even if her lover had departed unexpectedly, she would’ve left word for Delia.

Almost out of options, Delia had even called Gareth’s apartment, unsure what she would say to the man, but determined to leave no stone unturned. There had been no answer, and she tried not to let that fact add to her trepidation, reasoning that there could be any number of reasons that he wasn’t home. But all the rationalizations had long ago stopped working, and nothing made even a dent in the dread that had only grown as the days had passed with no sight or sound of her lover. She knew that if it weren’t for her father’s presence, she’d be curled up in a little ball, shaking with terror. He had anchored her in her search, never once dismissing her fears as foolish or suggesting that she was overreacting. He had listened calmly and made intelligent suggestions, all of which she’d followed up on, but to no avail.

"Would you like me to go to the police and file a missing person’s report? I’m sure it’s been well over the time limit by now."

Delia smiled gratefully at her father, whose sympathetic eyes were now fastened on her. "Thanks, Dad, but I doubt they’d give it any credence."

He shrugged and set down his textbook. "Well, I’m not without some influence, Dee. I suspect they’d listen at least."

She shook her head reluctantly. "All they’d do is call Mrs. Hawthorne, who would assure them that her daughter is fine, only away on a vacation or something, and that would be that."

Looking away from his daughter now, Benjamin mumbled, "Your mother has a theory."

"She does?" Delia asked curiously. Her mother hadn’t said anything to her before she left the lake, other than to assure her that everything would be all right in time.

His discomfort apparent in the way he avoided her eyes, he nodded. "Yes. She thought perhaps the Hawthornes had smuggled Patricia away to take care of...well, she thought possibly Patricia might be in a family way."

Delia gaped at him, floored by the irony. Finally, in strangled voice she asked, "And you, Dad. What do you think?"

This time Benjamin met her eyes squarely. "I think that’s highly unlikely, don’t you?"

She stared at him. There was urgency in his eyes and determination in his voice. Was he trying to tell her something?

"Dad..." She stopped. What if she was wrong? What if he really wasn’t signaling his understanding of what lay between her and Patricia? Too apprehensive to take the chance, she only said, "I doubt it very much, too."

This time there was no misreading the disappointment in his eyes, but before she could pursue it, he set aside his book and rose to his feet. "I think I’ll call it a night, sweetie. Don’t stay up too long, all right?"

"Um, yeah, okay. I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast before you go." She stared after him with puzzled eyes, reviewing his words and trying to decipher their underlying meaning. Finally dismissing it as wish fulfillment, as the desire to have an ally who fully understood what she was going through, she resumed pondering her options. She was left with only one. She would go to the head offices of Hawthorne Industries in the morning and ask to speak with Gareth. If he wasn’t there, perhaps she could find out where he was or when he was expected back. She knew she was grasping for straws, and that there was no evidence that Patricia’s zealous suitor would have any additional information, but she hoped for at least a clue. And, if he were there, that would eliminate one terrible possibility...the possibility she had refused to allow herself to contemplate...the possibility that wherever her lover was, she was with Gareth.

She snorted, knowing that the odds Gareth would help her were minimal, but she was left with few options and was determined to pursue even the most remote contingencies. In her darkest hours, she was quite certain that the senior Hawthornes had spirited Patricia away somewhere to apply sustained pressure on her to marry Gareth; and she had uttered a thousands pleas to her missing lover to stay strong and resist. Trying to convince herself that Patricia’s parents couldn’t keep them apart forever, especially with college resuming in a couple of weeks, Delia clung to a shred of hope that they would be able to carry through on their plans to go to Europe. The ship sailed in a little over a week, so there was still time, but each passing day increased her despair.

Long after her father had gone to bed, Delia sat in the study, forcing her exhausted brain to rehash the week’s events, searching for any clue that she might have overlooked. Finally she couldn’t fight off the overwhelming fatigue and when her father came down in the morning, he found his daughter dead to the world on the long, leather couch.

He stepped softly out of the room and returned with an old afghan that he gently laid over the sleeping young woman. Then he left the study and went to the kitchen to make a phone call.


"Good morning, Grace. Sorry for calling so early, but I wanted to let you know that I’m going to stay in Boston for a few more days with Dee."

"Alright, honey. Is she okay? Did she find anything out yesterday? Is it what I think it is?"

Benjamin smiled wryly at his wife’s confident tone. "Dunno, love. We didn’t find out anything, and none of their friends have seen hide nor hair of Patricia."

"I’m not surprised, but mark my words, she’ll be back soon, and probably with a story about going to a spa or something." Benjamin could picture his wife shaking her head sympathetically. "Oh well, these things do happen, even in the best of families, and there’s no point in making the poor girl feel bad. What’s done is done, and I know Dee will be there for her. We all will."

Wishing it was that easy, but knowing that it wouldn’t be, Benjamin just murmured his agreement.

"Would you like me to join you, dear?" Grace offered.

"No, that’s alright, honey. I expect we may be here through the weekend, but then I’ll bring Dee back to the lake. I’ll tell you what though, if you hear anything, or notice that Patricia is back, give me a call right away, will you?"

"Of course I will," Grace assured her husband. "And if you’re still there on Sunday evening, maybe you can go out to the airport and pick up Andi and Thom."

"Will do. They’re coming in at 8:30 aren’t they?"

"Yes. Oh, and tell Andi what’s happened, won’t you? I know she’ll want to support Patricia once she’s back too, even though she may be up in Toronto by then."

After a few more moments of conversation, the couple said good-bye and Benjamin hung up the receiver. Quietly he began preparations for breakfast, glad once again that he and Grace had long ago decided they could do without live-in servants. He wouldn’t have wanted to put his daughter through the stress of trying to maintain a good front in front of the staff when her heart was so obviously breaking.

Despite his apparent oblivion to much of the world, an intuitive man when it came to his children, Benjamin was fairly certain he knew why Delia was in such anguish. While on one of his bird watching outings, he had accidentally seen his daughter and her best friend kissing in a manner that was obviously never meant for the eyes of outsiders. He had turned away quickly, not wanting to embarrass the two, though he seriously doubted that they were conscious of anything except each other.

Benjamin was aware that by normal societal standards, he should have flown into a rage and done everything possible to keep his daughter and her lover apart, but he had been defying his culture’s mores for as long as he could remember and he wasn’t going to change now. His extensive international travels had exposed him to many things foreign to his own insular society, and though he feared for Delia in an intolerant world, he simply regarded her and Patricia as one of nature’s quirks, no more unusual than oddities he had seen in Amazon jungles. In his mind, it took more effort to extend acceptance to his less than lovable new son-in-law, than it did to approve of Dee’s relationship.

His only regret was keeping something from his wife, but Benjamin felt that until things were resolved, it was best. For all her wonderful attributes, Grace was still at heart the small town, Midwestern girl he had fallen in love with twenty-five years before. He thought the time was probably drawing near when he would have to sit her down and enlighten her, but decided to wait until he knew it was the right moment.

Until then, he would simply support Dee as best he could; and though he wished that she would trust him enough to tell him the truth, he understood his daughter’s fears. Ever since Patricia had disappeared, he had suspected that someone else may have spotted the young women during one of their forest encounters, and he had known Virginia long enough to know that there was simply no way she would allow her daughter to sully the Hawthorne name.

Even as he clung to the hope that things would work out all right, Benjamin grieved for his daughter, knowing that the odds against the young couple were almost insurmountable.


Delia stood on the sidewalk and gazed up at the gleaming glass and concrete tower that housed Hawthorne Industries. She felt a rush of nausea, but forced it down.

This is no time to get cold feet!

With that stern admonition, she gathered her courage and prepared to brace her rival in his lair. She glanced down quickly, surveying her outfit one last time. She had dressed carefully that morning, determined to convey an impression of old money and social standing. Though not this year’s model, her designer dress imparted exactly that impression. The exclusive cut and fabric would ensure her admittance to Hawthorne’s inner offices, and her pumps added a couple of inches to her less than intimidating height. She had even donned her mother’s pearls for the occasion, and borrowed an expensive handbag to complete her image.

Content that her armour at least was in place, Delia pushed through the heavy glass doors and approached the reception desk.

In an imperious voice, she instructed, "I’m here to see Mr. Gareth Edwards. And no, I do not have an appointment, but I assure you, he’ll see me. Please inform him that Miss Delia Barrington is here."

"Yes, Miss," the receptionist answered courteously, consulting her directory. "His office is number 713. If you’ll just take the elevator to the seventh floor, they can direct you from there."

Spinning on her heel, Delia marched down the carpeted hall to the bank of elevators, almost giggling as she realized that she’d been imitating Virginia Hawthorne’s high-handed manner.

"Whatever works," she muttered to herself, punching the button for the seventh floor. The butterflies in her stomach increased incrementally as the flashing lights signaled the passing floors, and by the time she emerged on the seventh floor, she had to make a stop in the ladies room to pull herself together.

Running cold water over her inner wrists, Delia gave herself a pep talk. Look, it’s not like he can do anything to do you. He may sneer, and he may refuse to tell you what he knows, if anything, but he might also gloat about where Patricia is, and that’s the information you need. It’s worth putting up with the jerk for a few minutes; just don’t lose it. Don’t let him egg you into losing your temper! You can’t afford that...for Patty’s sake. Gotta be cool. Gotta be calm. Okay?

With several deep breaths to shore up her resolve, Delia exited the ladies room and made her way down the hall. The door to 713 was closed, and she rapped lightly before entering.


The office was empty, and by the look of the barren desk, not currently in use.

"May I help you, Miss?"

The voice sounded from behind her and she turned to see a middle-aged gentleman standing in the hall peering at her curiously.

"Please. I’m looking for Mr. Edwards. I was told that this is his office?"

The man’s face cleared and he smiled. "Yes, that’s his office, but Gareth is done for the summer. He’s going back to Harvard for his senior year in a few weeks, and took the rest of the month off to have a bit of a vacation before he hits the books again. I suspect he’ll be back for good once he graduates, though. We’re expecting big things out of young Mr. Edwards, I can tell you. Ambitious lad, that one."

Delia’s shoulders sagged with disappointment, but before the helpful man could inquire further, she simply nodded, thanked him, and walked back to the elevators.

Descending to the ground floor, she leaned against the back wall, drained of energy. Numbly she exited the elevator and walked down the hall to the massive glass doors. Leaving Hawthorne Towers, Delia stood on the sidewalk in the bright morning sun and stared blankly at the bustle of traffic and people.

What now?

She didn’t have any further plans. Try as she might, Delia could not think of any avenue she hadn’t pursued in her search for her missing lover. Gareth had been her last hope, and she had no idea where he might be now.

Despondently Delia made her way back to where she had parked the car. On the drive home, she just let her mind go blank. She was exhausted by the days of mounting fear and panic, and she knew her mind was dazed with fatigue just when she needed most to be clear headed. By the time she pulled into her driveway, she had resolved to try and put it all out of her mind for one night so that she could formulate a new plan in the morning.

There had to be something she was missing, something that would tell her where Patricia was, something that would compel the Hawthornes to reveal their daughter’s location. She ached for the ordeal that her lover must be enduring at the moment, but Delia believed with all her heart that Patricia would resist any pressure her parents put on her. After all, she had already told Delia that she would gladly give up her family, inheritance, and everything else if she had to in order that they could be together, and Dee knew it for the truth. With that kind of resolve, it would only be a matter of time until the senior Hawthornes gave up. Perhaps it would be wiser simply to wait things out. Patricia might even turn up on her doorstep tomorrow, furious at being kidnapped, but none the worse for wear.

Delia smiled at the thought. What a reunion they’d have once they could shut the rest of the world away. Her tired mind embraced the thought; and for long moments she simply allowed herself to drift, anticipating the joy of having Patricia back in her arms.



Pure exhaustion had finally given Delia the semblance of a decent night’s sleep, and she rose on Saturday morning, filled with renewed optimism that it was only a matter of time before Patricia broke away from her parents and came to her. Benjamin, delighted by the break in his daughter’s despondency, made the two of them a large breakfast. Over waffles, strawberries, sausages, and pots of his thick, strong coffee they discussed everything under the sun except Patricia’s possible whereabouts.

Benjamin was in the process of brewing a third pot of his potent coffee when they heard the front door open.

Delia scrambled to her feet, knocking her chair over in her rush. An ecstatic smile on her face, she flew down the hall, convinced that her lover would be standing in the foyer. Instead, she was startled to see Andi and Thom, surrounded by their luggage.

"Hey, you two! I thought you weren’t coming in until tomorrow," Delia exclaimed. Reaching for her twin, she gave her an enthusiastic hug. "Wow, Andi, you look great. Hawaii must really have agreed with you." She grinned, and turned to Thom. "Nice to see you, too. You’re looking well."

"Thanks." Thom’s voice was gruff, and he looked distinctly uncomfortable, but Delia ignored him and returned her attention to her sister who had yet to say anything.

"So how was it in paradise? And what are you doing back early?"

Andi and Thom exchanged glances, and Delia’s brow furrowed in puzzlement.

"Hawaii was wonderful," Andi told her twin, flashing her father a quick smile as he arrived on the scene. "We flew back yesterday, then took the red-eye out of LA. Thom has to work on Wednesday, so we thought we’d get a day’s rest before we start our drive north."

It made sense, but Delia knew Andi far too well to accept that it was the whole story. Before she could inquire further however, her father interjected, "Here, Thom, let me help you with the luggage."

As the men picked up the suitcases, Andi took Delia by the arm and steered her into the living room, closing the French doors behind her.

Delia took a seat and stared at her twin, worried by Andi’s uncharacteristically grim expression and nervous pacing.

"Hey, what’s going on?" Lowering her voice, even though the men had disappeared up the stairs with the bags, she asked delicately, "Did everything go all right—I mean on the honeymoon and all?"

Andi waved her hand dismissively. "Yes, everything was great. Thom was great. The weather was great. The resort was great. Everything was great."

"Uh huh. Everything was great. Good. So why are you pacing like one of Hannibal’s jumpers getting ready to compete?" Delia asked skeptically. When Andi stopped and turned to her sister with a look of profound pity, her fear flared anew. "Andi, what’s going on?"

With the expression of someone who would rather be having root canal, Andi spoke. "At the resort, they give you a complimentary copy of the New York Times every morning. Thom and I hadn’t been paying them much attention because, well, because..."

"Because you were on your honeymoon," Delia contributed helpfully.

"Right, exactly," Andi agreed. "Anyway, Thursday night, I was getting ready for dinner and Thom was catching up on the news while he waited for me."

Delia grinned knowingly, well aware how much time it could take her sister to get ready.

Andi rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I wasn’t taking that long. Anyway, that’s not the important part. He saw something in the paper and showed it to me. When I saw it, I knew we had to get back here right away. Thom didn’t really understand why, but he was good about not complaining. Well, at least not too much; and he really can use a couple of good night’s sleep before we head for Toronto."

Her sister was delaying whatever she had to tell her, and Delia knew it. She also knew whatever it was, it wasn’t good news. She said nothing, gazing at Andi levelly until her twin stopped talking and opened her purse. Extracting a torn piece of newspaper, she handed it over.

"I’m so terribly sorry, Dee. I’d give anything if this weren’t true."

Her hand trembling, Delia accepted the article. It was on the wedding announcements on the social page. Scanning the names, it only took her a second to see what her sister was referring to.

Mr. and Mrs. Stanton Hawthorne III

of Boston

Are pleased to announce the marriage of their daughter

Patricia Elizabeth


Mr. Gareth Anthony Simpson Edwards

Son of Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Simpson Edwards of New York City

The couple was married in Boston on August 12, 1961.

Currently honeymooning in the South Pacific,

Mr. and Mrs. Gareth Edwards will make their home in Boston

where the groom is attending Harvard University. Upon graduation,

Mr. Edwards will be assuming a position with Hawthorne Industries, Inc.



" I’m not really sure why Andi was so set on returning early, but I guess it doesn’t make any difference in the long run," Thom remarked as he followed Benjamin down the upstairs hallway.

The older man, who had only been listening to his son-in-law with half an ear, opened a door and gestured him inside. "We’ll put you two in here. It’s bigger than Andi’s old room, and I’m sure you’ll be comfortable."

Thom edged by his father-in-law, maneuvering the suitcases around him, and looking with satisfaction at the large, attractively decorated room. "It’s very nice," he said approvingly, swinging the largest bag up on the bed.

Benjamin set the suitcase he had carried upstairs on the bench at the foot of the bed, and had just opened his mouth to remind Thom where the guest bath was when an unearthly howl sounded from the lower level. The younger man flinched, and stared at his father-in-law, wide-eyed with apprehension.

"My Lord! What was that?"

He made a move to dart out of the room, but Benjamin stopped him, holding up a hand and shaking his head sadly. "No, Thom, leave it be."

His son-in-law stared at him incredulously. "But someone must be hurt. We have to go see..."

"No, Thom." There was no mistaking the inflexibility in Benjamin’s voice. "I don’t doubt that you’re tired after your flight. Why don’t you lie down and rest for a while. I’m sure Andi will come for you in a bit."

There was no question that Thom was not going to get by his father-in-law. Benjamin had blocked the doorway and wasn’t moving. Finally the younger man sat on the edge of the bed and looked at his host uncertainly.

Benjamin tried to give him a reassuring smile, but his heart wasn’t in it. "Everything’s fine, Thom. Get some sleep."

It was a blatant lie, and even as Benjamin closed the door on his confused son-in-law, he knew it. Everything was not fine, and while he didn’t know the particulars, he suspected Delia now knew what had happened to Patricia. That howl—that horrid, harrowing howl—had signaled the breaking of his daughter’s heart, and his own heart sickened in response.

He stood in the hallway, wanting desperately to go to his daughter, but knowing instinctively that Andi was the best medicine for her twin for now. His time would come later, when he prayed he would be able to help pick up the pieces.

Chapter Nine

Andi glanced sideways at her twin. The twilight view off the upper deck of the stately Queen Mary as it ploughed steadily through the Atlantic on its route from New York to Southampton was spectacular, but it didn’t seem to touch Delia. Nothing had in the two weeks since she had learned that Patricia had married Gareth.

Delia leaned on the railing, staring out over the waves, her gaze distant and bleak. Andi would have welcomed signs of anger or grief, but her sister had shut down. After those first few moments of realization, the sounds of which she knew would ring in her ears forever, her twin had simply withdrawn. It seemed like a thick, impenetrable wall had gone up around her emotions; and nothing, not her family’s love, not the notion of returning to college, not even the thought of confronting Mrs. Hawthorne on her perfidy had drawn Delia out.

Andi feared for her sister’s sanity. She hadn’t left Delia’s side for more than a few moments since she’d broken the news of Patricia’s marriage. A bewildered Thom had been sent back to Toronto without his bride, but with assurances that she would come to him as soon as possible.

The young woman couldn’t help a wry smile as she thought of how her father had efficiently bundled Thom into his car, squelching his protests and his demands for an explanation with firm, but soothing words. Dad’s been a rock. God, I don’t know what we’d have done without him!

Her face turned wistful. She missed her husband deeply, and knew she’d have a ton of explaining to do once she reached Toronto. She only hoped that he would understand that it really had been a matter of life and death. Andi had been terrified that once Delia’s emotional dike burst, she would seek oblivion in suicide. She knew that her father dreaded the same, though they had both been loath to put their fears into words.

It had been Benjamin who had insisted on them taking the cruise once Andi told him of Delia and Patricia’s aborted plans. He felt that she couldn’t heal in Boston, where everything reminded her of Patricia. He also wanted her away from the city before the new couple returned from their honeymoon in mid-September. Andi didn’t hesitate for an instant before volunteering to take her twin away from Boston for however long it took. As much as she missed Thom, she knew she would have the rest of her life with him; but before she could meet him in Toronto, she had to be certain that her sister would have a life to live.

Andi had half expected Delia to object to taking the cruise that was, in effect, to have been her honeymoon cruise, but her sister had simply turned dead eyes on her, then shrugged. The only minor impediment had been Grace, who hadn’t understood why her daughters were gallivanting off on a cruise when Delia was scheduled to return to Smith, and Andi was supposed to be setting up house with her new husband. Benjamin had taken her aside, and though Andi didn’t know what her father had said, it had worked. Despite Grace’s obvious puzzlement, both parents had been at the dock to see them off.

"May I get you ladies anything from the bar?"

A formally clad waiter was standing behind them, and Andi was about to dismiss him with thanks when her sister unexpectedly spoke.

"A black rum, neat."

Andi stared at her twin in surprise, but recovered quickly. "I’ll have a vodka martini, please."

"Certainly. I’ll return in a moment."

"Black rum? Since when do you drink black rum?" Andi asked as the waiter disappeared into the forward lounge.

Delia turned her head and actually smiled at her sister, though there was no mirth in her lifeless eyes. Andi ached with mourning for the irrepressible, animated girl her twin had been such a short time before.


"It’s a sailor’s drink. I’m at sea. It seemed appropriate." Delia turned back to watching the endless waves.

When the waiter returned, Andi signed for the drinks, then watched in amazement as her twin tossed back the potent rum without blinking, then ordered another one. Though unsure that this was a good sign, she had longed for any indication that Delia was ready to re-engage with life, and she decided to hold her tongue.

"So, I reserved a car in Southampton for us on ship-to-shore this afternoon," Andi tried, though Delia hadn’t evinced any interest in their travel plans. "I thought perhaps we could start with London and work our way up to Scotland, then back down through Ireland and Wales. It’s actually a great time to be touring as there won’t be nearly as many people about, and we should have decent weather, at least for a month or so."

There was a long silence, and Andi had resigned herself to Delia’s continued disinterest when she was amazed to hear the soft sound of her sister’s voice, almost lost in the breeze.

"Thank you."

It was little enough, but it warmed Andi all over. Well, that’s a start anyway.

Smiling, she edged a tiny bit closer, resting her arm near her sister’s on the railing. When Delia leaned to the right so that their limbs touched, her optimism, seemingly lost in the dregs of her twin’s misery, was renewed; and she sent up a small prayer of thanks.

Only the whitecaps that signaled the great ship’s progress and broke around the Queen Mary’s bow were visible now in the gathering night, but Andi felt as if she were witnessing dawn break anew. She’s strong. At heart, I know she is. She’ll pull through. She just needs time, and I’m going to give that to her.

No matter what Andi had to do to reassemble her sister’s broken heart and shore up her resolve...Delia would survive. She had to. Anything else was too unbearable to contemplate.


The young woman thrust her hands deep in her pockets and looked around. It was cold this early, so early that the stern Scotswoman who ran the small bed and breakfast they were staying in hadn’t even arisen yet. Andi was still buried deep beneath her thick blankets; and given how much of the local ale she had consumed the night before, Delia didn’t expect her sister to rise anytime soon or be good for much once she did.

Setting out alone, she strode along the rocky path that led up the steep hills that cradled the village in which they had stopped several days earlier. A thin layer of low-lying fog covered the land, but it didn’t deter the hiker. She had woken with a deep restlessness and the need to walk it off, but didn’t plan to go far. She would let her body determine when she’d had enough. For now, she simply needed the surcease of mindless movement.

Mindless movement.

It seemed as if she had been doing nothing else for endless weeks. Looking back, she wasn’t even sure where all she and her sister had stopped, though she remembered the streets of London, looking out over the Channel at Dover, and Andi’s delight in the picturesque Cotswold’s. Delia could not have said exactly how long they had stayed in any one spot, but she was pretty sure that it was at least a month or so since they had docked in Southampton. She had allowed her twin to plot their course, acquiescing to every turn of the map that had them criss-crossing Britain and working their way from south to north. They had avoided the major motorways where they could, sticking to the slower back roads that unveiled hidden treasures along the way.

Andi had reveled in those treasures: an ancient village inn that claimed to have boarded Oliver Cromwell one night in 1651; a quaint, still productive mill beside a winding stream; stopping for lunch in a pub so thick with history that crossing the threshold felt like stepping back two centuries; and trying to decipher the thick accents of townsfolk once they got into the Highlands. Unwilling to dampen her sister’s pleasure, Delia had tried to display some enthusiasm; but it had taken every bit of her meagre emotional reserves, and she knew she hadn’t fooled her twin in the least. Finally she had given up, simply coasting along in the fugue that had been her best defence during these weeks. Intuitively, she’d known that if she didn’t feel anything, then she wouldn’t feel the agony that simmered just below the surface.

But an emotion was finally surfacing—guilt. The previous night, Delia had watched her sister play darts with the locals in the tiny village’s only pub. Andi had seemed to be having a good time, helped along with generous tankards of ale, but it had suddenly occurred to Dee that her sister should be in Toronto starting her life with her new husband, not traipsing around Britain like an aimless gypsy with only the occasional phone call to connect her to the man she loved.

Now, as she hiked up the well-beaten path in the crisp, early morning air, Delia wrestled with her conscience. She knew the decision had to be hers, because Andi would stick loyally by her side as long as she felt she was needed.

Finally cresting one of the hills, Delia stopped to survey the land. Through patches of fog, she could see the narrow road that had first led them to this village, and she let herself begin to remember all the roads that had brought them to this spot. If she had only herself to consider, she would follow endless roads to unknown places for as long as it took to banish the memories that hovered so menacingly, waiting to ambush her and shred her defences.

But she had someone else to consider, and she could no longer be so selfish. Whatever it took, for Andi’s sake, she had to find it inside herself to go home—to face the memories that waited there.

She laughed bitterly, the sharp sound deadened and absorbed by the morning fog. The memories weren’t waiting at home—she’d brought them along with her; and every night as she lay quietly in her bed trying to sleep, she fought a ruthless battle to suppress them. Sleep was unkind, though. It didn’t bring her blessed oblivion; it brought her memories of her former lover: the way Patricia had smiled at her, the softness of her touch, the profoundly loving look in her eyes as she’d gazed down at Delia, worshipping, treasuring, adoring...

That was the hardest part—when Delia woke from those dreams and for a split second confused them with reality, only to remember that Patricia wasn’t hers anymore.

Patricia is married to Gareth.

Delia tried the thought on as one pokes a sore tooth to see if it was healing, and found she could bear the thought as long as she only coasted on the surface of it.

Patricia won’t be in my life anymore.

This thought was harder to accept, for she missed her best friend as deeply and dearly as she missed her lover. She knew instinctively that Gareth would never sanction a continued friendship between his wife and her former friend. There was a time that she wouldn’t have thought anything could separate them, but that was before her lover had bent to the wishes of others, even when they so drastically countered her own. Now Delia had no surety about what Patricia might or might not do.

Even if Patricia did seek her out, Delia knew it would be more than she could bear to see her ex-lover at her husband’s side. You can’t ask that of me, Patty. You know you can’t.

And she wouldn’t. Whatever had changed Patricia’s mind, Delia knew that her ex-lover would never be cruel enough to ask her to simply accept her marriage and continue as if little had changed. She would keep her distance—and Delia would make it easy for her to do so. She didn’t know where the more familiar roads of home would lead her, but she knew they wouldn’t take her back to Boston. Where they might take her instead, she simply didn’t care.

Turning, Delia began the long hike back down the hill, making plans as she walked. She wasn’t quite sure where in Scotland they were, as Andi was the keeper of the maps, but she assumed they could reach Edinburgh in a matter of days. From there they would book a flight to Halifax. It would be hard parting with Andi, but she would insist that her twin continue on to Toronto while she returned to the States. Perhaps she would rent a car and drive down the eastern coast as far as she could go, then possibly traverse the southern part of the country until she could stand at the edge of a different ocean and watch the sun go down. Maybe somewhere along the way, she would even find a place to stop and plant new roots.

For now, though, it was time to roust Andi out of her warm nest and tell her that they were going home. Delia smiled as she remembered how she’d had to coax her twin away from the pub at closing time, and how she had virtually carried her sister up the stairs to their room, shushing her all the way so they wouldn’t wake their formidable hostess.

As Delia drew nearer the bed and breakfast, she was pleased to note smoke emerging from the chimney. If Mrs. MacDonnell was up, then she should be able to beg a cup of black coffee for Andi’s imminent wake-up call.

It was the least she could do.


The door of the downtown Edinburgh hotel room opened, and Delia looked up from the magazine she had been leafing through.

"Did you get hold of Thom all right?"

Andrea nodded. "Mmm hmm. He was glad to hear that I’d be home in another couple of days."

Delia managed a half-smile. "I’ll bet. I imagine you’re going to be pretty glad, too."

Her sister nodded again, but turned away to fuss with her open suitcase. Delia watched curiously as Andi extracted several blouses, refolded them, and tucked them back inside.

"Was there something else?" Even though Andi shook her head, Delia was sure there was. Her sister’s back was stiff and her shoulders were rigid with tension. She was obviously hiding something from her twin. Sitting up, Delia tried again.

"Hey, it’s me, remember? Was Thom angry? If he was, then you put the blame where it belongs—on me. If it hadn’t been for me, you’d have been home weeks ago."

Andi jerked around sharply, frowning. "No, Dee, he wasn’t angry; and even if he had been, there’s no blame to be laid." She sank down on the edge of the bed and studied her loosely clasped hands.

"Soooooo...if it wasn’t Thom, then what’s the problem? Was our flight changed or something?"

"No, not as far as I know, anyway." Andi drew in a deep breath. "I called Mom to let her and Dad know when we’d be returning home."

Delia studied her sister, then understood. "They’re back in Boston," she stated flatly.

"Yes. The Hawthornes threw them a big reception last weekend, and Mom and Dad went."

You can handle this. You knew it would come. Come on, just breathe deeply.

Delia closed her eyes, battling the sharp pain that her sister’s words had inflicted. Fighting back the nausea, she forced herself to ask, "What did Mom say about it?"

There was a long silence, and when Delia opened her eyes, she could see her sister wrestling with what to say. Softly she urged, "It’s okay, Andi. What did Mom say? How did Patricia look?"

Several times Andi opened her mouth to answer, and when she finally spoke, it was like hearing words torn from a tomb. "Mom said that Patricia looked ill, and that when she expressed her concern to Virginia, she was told that Patricia was just having difficulty with the early stages of her pregnancy."

Pregnancy! Delia swallowed hard, fighting desperately against the dizziness that threatened to overwhelm her.

"Mom said that she’d figured that all along, but what she didn’t understand was why when Patricia saw her and Dad, she started to cry and had to leave the room. Gareth just told everyone that the pregnancy had made his bride ultra-sensitive, and not to worry about it. Then he went and brought her back. Mom said...well, she said he was really supportive and never left her side all night."

Delia bolted for the bathroom, unable to repress the sickness that overwhelmed her. Crouched on the cold, white tiles, she spewed up all the grief, all the broken dreams and all the anger that she could not deny any longer.

When she was done, she huddled motionless as Andi pulled the chain, then knelt beside her. With infinite tenderness, her twin carefully wiped her face with a warm, wet cloth. That reached her as nothing else had, and finally, Delia began to cry.

Andi drew her into her arms, and held her tightly, offering no useless words of consolation, but allowing her sister the release of deep, wracking, endless sobs for what had been taken and for what could never be.


Benjamin’s eyes searched the arriving crowd for his daughters. He had flown to Halifax as soon as they got word that Delia and Andi were returning from Britain. Grace had offered to accompany him, but he was still a little miffed at how his wife had casually dropped the bombshell about Patricia’s condition, and had turned her down rather brusquely.

The ornithologist had accepted the Hawthorne’s invitation so that he could evaluate the situation for himself; and unlike his wife, he didn’t write off Patricia’s pale, drawn face to the early stages of pregnancy. Not that he doubted she was pregnant; but he had easily read the sorrow in her eyes when she first saw them. Nor had he missed how Gareth carefully steered his wife away whenever she made the least movement towards them. He knew that no one else would have picked up the significance of Gareth whispering urgently in his wife’s ear, but her sickly nod of agreement and subsequent avoidance of the Barrington’s spoke volumes to him. Whatever had caused Patricia to agree to marry Gareth, it hadn’t been of her own will.

Benjamin grieved for the reluctant bride as much as he had grieved for his heartbroken daughter. It was clear that her husband and family had thrown up a formidable wall to seclude her, and he wasn’t sure if it was even possible to break her free. He had come to Halifax to travel home with Delia, determined to confront her with his knowledge and work out some way to right the obvious wrongs done to the young lovers.

Seeing two familiar figures emerge from the International Customs and Immigration door, he waved vigorously. He was rewarded when identical surprised smiles met him, and his daughters began to push their way through the crowd to where he stood. Benjamin eyed them closely as they approached. Andi was her usual smiling self, if somewhat less than dapper in wrinkled clothes; but a more serious Delia was much thinner than her twin. Her clothes were equally travel worn, but they hung loosely and looked several sizes too large.

Frowning, Benjamin began to worry that the long sojourn in Britain had been for naught, then he looked closer, studying his younger daughter’s face. They were obviously both tired, but Delia’s eyes no longer had that lifeless look that had so terrified him before the twins sailed away.

Thank God!

Before he had time to analyze further, he was smothered with an exuberant hug as Andi flung her arms around him.

"Dad! What are you doing here? Mom never said anything about you coming up to meet us!"

Andi beamed at him, then moved aside to let her sister in. Benjamin drew Delia gently into his arms and held her for a long time. Talking over her head, he addressed his eldest daughter.

"Your mother didn’t know about my plans when the two of you were talking. Kind of decided on the spur of the moment. Thought with you heading on to Toronto, Dee might like some company on the trip back."

Delia drew back and gave her father a knowing smile. Benjamin was struck by how much older she appeared, yet he was also relieved that there was, at long last, a measure of peace in her eyes.

"Thanks, Dad. You really didn’t have to, you know."

Benjamin shrugged. His initial instinct had been to be in place to protect Delia from herself, if necessary; though he knew Andi would not have left her twin if she’d had any fears for her. Apparently they didn’t need to worry about that any longer, but he still wanted the time alone with his youngest to have a serious talk with her. "It’s no problem at all. You know I always enjoy getting one or both of my beautiful daughters to myself."

Both young women were smiling at him in loving amusement. Rolling his eyes a little, he gruffly offered to take their large suitcases. "C’mon, I’ve reserved you a room at my hotel."

His daughters surrendered their bags, and taking them, he led the way out of the airport.

"He’s such a teddy bear."

Benjamin heard Andi’s whisper behind him, but he was so delighted with Delia’s answering chuckle that he gave no indication that he had heard, wanting the moment simply to last. In any case, a large lump in his throat would have prevented speech even if he had wished to protest his daughter’s observation. Instead, he contented himself with a small prayer of thanks that one daughter had been restored to him through the love and constancy of his other daughter. He counted himself a very lucky man.


Delia glanced over at her father, affectionately taking in his habit of gripping the steering wheel as if it might try to escape. They had left Halifax several days previously, after saying an emotional goodbye to Andi when they put her on a flight to Toronto; but hadn’t headed right for the American border. Instead they had meandered through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for a few days, before finally pointing their rented car south. She knew that her father had been surprised by her insistence on driving rather than booking a flight to Boston, but he had quickly entered into the spirit of the road trip, and had taken the opportunity to show her some of the many sites that he had visited on earlier birding expeditions throughout the Maritimes.

She had found herself genuinely enjoying the time with her father. He had been attentive but not overbearing, affectionate but not cloying, and above all he had been an excellent travel companion. His store of knowledge seemed inexhaustible, and she reflected that it was almost like taking a trip with a professional guide. His interest in the natural world wasn’t limited to his passion for birds; and his observations and subtle lessons had entertained her during the long hours they had spent in the car.

There was only one problem. Delia still hadn’t brought herself to tell her father that she would not be returning to Boston.

It would be a hell of a lot easier if I could tell him where I was going instead.

But Delia had no idea where she was going; and as wonderful as her father was, she didn’t think he would approve of her wandering aimlessly and unfocused about the continent, whatever her reason. She was almost certain that he knew and understood what her reason was, but that too they had avoided discussing. However, having crossed the border into Maine hours ago, she knew she couldn’t leave it much longer. Leaning forward, she rested crossed arms on her thighs and broached the difficult subject.



"There’s something I want to tell you."

He shot a quick glance at her before returning his gaze to the road. "Okay. What’s up, sweetie?"

"I can’t go back to Boston." It was finally out, and she waited for her father’s response, noticing that their car had lost some momentum. There was a pregnant moment of silence before he spoke.

"I see. You mean, right now? You want to go somewhere else?"

She noted that he didn’t seem surprised. "No, Dad, I mean ever. I can’t live in Boston anymore."

He nodded thoughtfully, and the car picked up speed again. She wasn’t sure he was going to say anything, and had settled back into her seat by the time he finally spoke.

"Because of Patricia and her marriage."

It wasn’t a question, and Delia shot her father a searching look. He didn’t appear upset, merely resigned.

"Um, yes." It was her turn to hesitate. "You know, Dad?"

"I know enough, sweetie." He sighed deeply. "I know that you and Patricia were much more than friends, and I know that you had planned to be together for the rest of your lives, until she married that man."

She didn’t want to ask him how he knew. It was hard enough hearing her shattered dreams put into words.

"Honey, I also know that she’s deeply unhappy, and didn’t get married because she loved him."

God, that hurts! The thought of Patricia in pain was sharper than the agony of her own loss could ever be. Delia closed her eyes and drew in several deep breaths, trying to calm herself. A large, warm hand closed over her forearm, and she greedily absorbed the offered comfort.

His voice rumbled again. "I’ve been waiting for the right time to bring this up, Dee. Don’t you think that you should talk to Patricia before you make any decisions? Maybe this can be salvaged somehow. You know I’d help any way I could."

Once she had allowed herself to feel again, Delia had turned the events over and over in her mind. She never once doubted that Patricia had loved her, and every avenue of thought proceeded from that primal belief. Whatever had happened...whatever had persuaded her lover to agree to marry another, had to be something so dire that it overshadowed all their mutual dreams. She had contemplated many scenarios, searching for a reasonable solution; but when all was said and done, the bottom line remained the same: Patricia was married, and pregnant.

While she could change the former if she wanted to, Delia knew her best friend would never change the latter. She had worked hard to accept that truth. Now that a baby was involved, there was no way back to what had been between them. She knew without question that Gareth and Virginia would not sit quietly by and allow Delia and Patricia to raise a Hawthorne grandchild together. She had toyed with the idea of somehow breaking Patricia free of her gilded prison and fleeing the country; but she couldn’t subject the woman she loved, let alone her baby, to life as refugees in a strange land.

"I know you would, Dad, and I’ll never be able to tell you how grateful I am for that," Delia murmured without looking at her father. She wiped her face, only now aware that she had been crying. "But you know that we can’t interfere. There’s more than Patricia and me to consider now. All I’d do by talking to her is shatter any bit of acceptance she’s managed to achieve." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I know how hard that is, Dad; and I can’t do that to her."

Benjamin swore under his breath, then ruefully agreed. "I know you’re right, but I can’t stand what this is doing to you...both of you! Isn’t there anything I can do to help?"

"Be my eyes and ears in Boston, Dad. Let me know that she’s all right. Tell me about her life. Tell me about her baby. Just don’t ever tell me about Gareth."

There was a suspicious snuffle from the driver’s side, and her father’s voice was unusually hoarse when he answered. "Will do, sweetie. You can count on me."

"I know, Dad. I’ve always known that."

Knowing that her father needed time to rally and pretend he wasn’t really tearing up, Delia pointed at a small sign a little way up the road.

"I know it’s not that late yet, but why don’t we pull off and find a place to stay for the night? Let’s see where that road leads."

Her father just nodded, then slowed to take the obscure exit. Delia read the sign as they passed it.

Tucker’s Way – 7 Miles

She shrugged. She had never heard of the place, but as long as it had accommodations, it was as good a spot as any to stay the night. The road became worse as they got further from the main highway, and she grimaced as they bounced over another buckle in the pavement.

"I’m guessing this isn’t a tourist hotspot."

Delia laughed at her father’s wry comment, but couldn’t disagree. She was about to suggest that they return to the highway and seek more convenient accommodations when the village of Tucker’s Way came into sight.

It had little to recommend it except for the magnificence of the Atlantic Ocean, which provided a dramatic backdrop to the small township. It was clearly a fishing village, and the dock was the pre-eminent feature of the place. Probably no more than a couple hundred weathered houses, which hadn’t seen fresh coats of paint for many decades, lined the streets that ran parallel, westward from the ocean. The main shopping area of the village appeared to consist of only a handful of businesses and a large fish cannery, but there was a motel down towards the beach displaying a sign reading, "Vacancies," so Benjamin headed for it.

Once they checked in and secured recommendations for the "best seafood you’ll ever eat" at Poseidon’s Loft, which was apparently the only restaurant in the area open in the evening, they split up, making arrangements to meet in an hour. When Delia unlocked her room, she was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t fancy, but it was sparkling clean and featured small touches that made it surprisingly homey. She fingered the bright quilt on the bed, suspecting that it was handcrafted and unique to this room. Perching on the side of the bed, she let herself fall back, testing the mattress for comfort.

Murmuring appreciatively, she decided that she would sleep well that night. Letting her eyes sweep the room, Delia noticed the view through the half opened curtains and whistled. There was nothing between her window and the ocean’s edge except a few feet of grass, then thirty yards of rough sand and driftwood. She dragged a chair over to the window and sat, resting her arms on the sill as her eyes drank in the scene.

Hypnotized by the perpetual slap of waves against the shores, Delia was startled by her father’s knock. A quick glance at her watch told her that she had been sitting there entranced for almost an hour. Opening the door, she gave her father a sheepish grin.

"Sorry, Dad. Give me five and I’ll be ready."

He looked at her in surprise, then teased. "Did I put the wrong twin on the plane in Halifax? You can’t be Dee. Dee’s always ready on time. Now Andi...that’s a whole other story."

She chuckled, knowing she had deserved that, and hurried to clean up. True to her word, she was ready in five minutes, and they walked to the restaurant. There was no point in taking the car as they could have covered the entire village in less than twenty minutes and not missed a street. The restaurant was surprisingly busy, but they didn’t have long to wait; and as promised, the food was excellent: hearty, plentiful, and cooked with an expert hand.

Delia and Benjamin dug in gratefully, their conversation fitful as they concentrated on the thick chowder that the waitress had brought them immediately without even asking. When they had accepted it with curious looks, she just winked at them.

"Just a little som’pin’ to put a dent in that hole while yer waitin’."

As they ate, Delia found herself unconsciously listening to the conversations of the locals. The prime topic appeared to be the sale of someone’s land for nonpayment of taxes, and she tuned in to the table closest to them, where two men, their oilskins slung over the back of their chairs, were chowing down with great gusto.

"I hear that Josiah is gonna take his brood down Bangor way. Guess he’s gotta go where the work is at, but I cain’t see him workin’ inna city, kin you? Prob’ly drive him crazy."

His companion snorted, snapping a claw and sucking it clean with relish before he responded. "Ain’t so much Josiah, but his oldest, Ab, is fit to be tied. Swears up and down he ain’t leavin’ no matter what some guv’ment man says. My missus says that Hannah is worried sick about taking that boy to the city."

"Not surprised. Ab always was a wild one. He’d no more make a city slicker than you or I would. I wonder if maybe there’s a way he can find to buy his daddy’s land back. It’s a damned fine piece, that’s for sure."

"Hell, he ain’t got a pot to piss in, no more’n his daddy or his gran’daddy ever did. No way he can buy spit, let alone that land."

Benjamin reached across the table and tapped his daughter’s arm. She glanced up to see him regarding her mildly. "That’s not polite, sweetie."

She flushed, knowing that he had caught her eavesdropping. She smiled apologetically, and saw the amused twinkle in his eyes. Hastily she asked, "So do you think Andi is settling in all right?"

Her father accepted the conversational gambit, and the next hour flew. By the time they left the restaurant, Delia marveled at the amount of food they had managed to consume. Back at their motel, they played several desultory games of gin with a deck borrowed from the amiable woman at the front desk, then called it a night.

Contrary to her expectations, Delia did not sleep soundly on the comfortable mattress, and dawn had barely begun to break when she grumpily decided there was no point staying in bed any longer. Checking her watch, she sighed, knowing her father would be abed for at least two more hours. Stretching, she ambled over to her window and peered through the curtain. The magnificent view that had soothed her so effectively the night before was barely visible in the dim auroral light.

"It’s your own darn fault for eating like a pig last night," Delia chastised herself. "Might as well get dressed and go walk some of it off."

Bathing quickly, she dressed in her warmest clothes and headed out the door. The stiff gust she encountered almost changed her mind, but she set out in a southerly direction, away from the docks that were already bustling with fishermen preparing to head out for their day’s work.

She soon left the village in her wake, and the walking grew progressively more difficult as the beach became rougher and narrower. By the time she came to a small cove that promised some shelter from the unrelenting wind and the spray off the strong waves, she had been hiking for an hour. Knowing that she had better turn back before her father woke to her absence and worried, she paused to catch her breath, sitting on a small boulder tossed haphazardly there eons ago.

Staring out at sea, she let her mind drift, simply enjoying the power of the ocean and the stimulating coldness of the wind. Unbidden, the conversation she’d overheard the night before came to mind.

"...damned fine piece..."

Amused by where her memory was taking her, Delia shook her head. So some fine piece of land in the area is going up for sale. So what? It’s not like I’m interested in buying it. Besides, the last thing I want is to be caught in some dispute between the government and the locals.

But the longer she sat there, and the more she thought about it, the more enticing the possibility became. She needed to live somewhere. She couldn’t return to her home in Boston, or even to Lake Sivert unless she was certain that Patricia and her husband weren’t there at the same time. The thought of returning to Smith, where she and Patricia had first fallen in love, was too excruciating to even contemplate. No, it had to be some place she had never shared with her former lover.

Tucker’s Way, huh?

It was a backwater, no doubt about that; and it would probably take decades before the locals accepted her as one of their own...but there was no danger of meeting Patricia around any corner, either. If she was to go into exile, then the quiet rhythms of this tiny coastal village suited her fine. It wasn’t so far that her parents and Andi couldn’t reach her easily, yet it was a world away from Patricia’s universe, and she welcomed the challenge of learning to fit in with a rugged environment and a wary populace.

She smiled peacefully. As easy as that, it was decided. She would bid her father farewell and take up residence in this place.

Standing, Delia walked to the water’s edge, heedless of the waves that surged and receded around her boots. Quietly she watched as the grey sky lightened over the green, turbulent water. Determined streaks of pink and orange fought their way through the mackerel clouds, heralding a new day.

"I will never forget you, and I will never stop loving you. They murdered our dreams, sweetheart, and I’ll always live with the pain of what might have been, but my darling, I have to live; and to do that, I have to let you go."

The words were swirled out to sea as soon as they left her mouth, but Delia didn’t mind. It was enough that she had finally said them.

"Goodbye, my love. Be well."

Part Two


Chapter Ten

September, 2002

Jaye MacLaren barely noticed the light rain dripping down the neck of her dark trench coat, as she stood motionless, staring at the gleaming mahogany of her aunt’s coffin. All the other mourners had long since departed the gravesite, but the short, chestnut-haired woman had no desire to join her aunt’s numerous friends at the post-funeral reception. A husky cough disturbed her deep reverie, and she blinked her blue eyes at the man who gazed apologetically at her from across the open grave, a thick-handled spade in his hand.

"Beggin’ yer pardon, ma’am..."

He trailed off, as if unable to give voice to his purpose, but Jaye understood and nodded stiffly. Unable to watch as the mounded earth was shoveled over her beloved aunt’s earthly remains, the woman turned away, her normally brisk gait absent as she plodded back to her vehicle.

Sliding behind the wheel, she closed her eyes in exhaustion. After making all the funeral arrangements by phone, Jaye had driven straight through from Toronto to Tucker’s Way, the small Maine coastal town that had been her aunt’s home for the past forty years. Arriving mere hours before the service, she hadn’t even dropped her luggage at her aunt’s cottage...her place now, she guessed, in the absence of any other living relatives except her own father. Given the cool state of affairs between her American aunt and Canadian father, she doubted that Delia Barrington had left Thom MacLaren anything in her will.

Fumbling with her keys, she turned the ignition, cursing under her breath as the old Jeep’s engine failed to catch until the third try.

"I oughta sell you for scrap, Henri."

The threat was meaningless, but it was second nature to Jaye now. She had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the vehicle that she’d named after an ex-boyfriend who’d been all looks and no substance. More forgiving now that Henri idled steadily, she patted the dash.

"Got me here in one piece, though, didn’t you? Auntie Dee always says..."

A lump rose in her throat and her eyes filled with the tears that were rarely far from surfacing since she had received the news that her aunt had been murdered three days previously. After spending every summer of her childhood under her aunt’s firm but loving care, Jaye couldn’t believe she’d never again wrap her arms around the softly rounded, diminutive frame; never see her own shade of blue eyes sparkling merrily back at her from under a messy halo of white hair; and never tease her Auntie Dee about the older woman’s nightly tot of black rum. That brought a smile, even as the tears rolled down her face. Delia swore that rum, always taken neat, kept the chilblains away.

"Didn’t keep the arthritis away, though, did it, Auntie Dee?"

The anger, held at bay until now, swept through her. If not for her aunt’s worsening arthritis, the viper that had been hired to help Delia would never have been allowed into her home. Jaye quivered with fury at the thought of the woman who had murdered Auntie Dee.

"Lindsay fucking Daniels...may you rot in hell for all eternity!"

Jaye slammed her hand against the steering wheel, causing the horn to blare and momentarily venting her rage. Taking a deep breath, she put the Jeep in reverse, eased out of the parking lot, and began the trip to her aunt’s cottage.

Delia’s cottage was, in fact, a sprawling single story house, with grey siding and white trim, set on the edge of a bluff with a magnificent view of the turbulent Atlantic. Fifteen minutes outside of Tucker’s Way, Jaye’s aunt had owned twenty acres of prime shorefront, an object of lust for more than one developer.

As Jaye turned off the highway and drove slowly up the long, winding, gravel entrance road, overhung with thick dripping foliage turning fall shades, she allowed herself to imagine for a moment that this was just one more of a thousand times she had come home to Auntie Dee’s. For a moment she let herself believe that when she rounded the last corner, she’d see her aunt’s small form standing in the doorway, waving an enthusiastic hand and welcoming her back again. Her imagination furnished the enticing scent of Auntie Dee’s famous homemade peanut butter cookies; and the ache of knowing that she’d never again be welcomed in her aunt’s traditional way threatened to overwhelm her.

Savagely wrenching the gears into neutral, she let the Jeep coast to a stop as her head dropped forward against the steering wheel. Long moments went by as the tears fell to her lap in concert with the rain beating on the canvas roof.

Finally the distraught woman sat up, dashing away the tears. "Enough! You’ve cried enough. Now get on with it."

Even as Jaye instructed herself firmly, she knew she was a long way from the end of her tears. Resolutely, she shifted into first gear and resumed the trip up the driveway. When her aunt’s home came into view around the last bend, she simply bit her lip and tightened her hands around the wheel. She tried not to notice the absence of smoke from the chimney and the forlorn air to the deserted house.

Parking in front, the grieving woman wondered absently where her aunt’s elderly Buick was, but put it out of her mind as she unlocked the front door and pushed it open. On automatic pilot, Jaye hung her trench coat in the hall closet then carried her duffel bag to the room that had always been hers. She tossed the duffel at the chair that had traditionally stood beside the door, only to stare dumbfounded as the bag hit the floor. Blinking, she gazed around the room, noting the pretty green and white bedspread with matching curtains, the new bureau, and the stuffed animals littering the bed--which most certainly weren’t hers.

A brief hurt swept through Jaye as she realized that her aunt had given her old room to the serpent, but then a morbid curiosity about the murderer rose to the fore and she began wandering about the large room, examining Lindsay Daniels’ possessions. There was no chance of being interrupted or rebuked since the woman was safely incarcerated in the Tucker’s Way jail, having been charged with the murder scant hours after Delia’s death.

The Canadian ran her hand lightly over the clothes in the closet, noting absently that the caregiver favored softly tailored clothes in autumn hues. She kicked at an errant hiking boot, whose mate was half under the bed, and made her way to the light oaken bureau. A pretty blue music box sat in the center of the polished top, with delicate crystal knickknacks to the right side. A silver-framed picture sat prominently to the left side, and Jaye picked it up curiously.

Her aunt stood with an attractive, slim, red haired woman on the beach, the green and grey ocean a perfect backdrop for the two. Wind had whipped the younger woman’s abundant, curly red ringlets into a riotous mass about her fine features, and both women were laughing at the photographer. Jaye stared at the photo, entranced by the sight of her aunt’s arm snugly around the taller redhead. The younger woman had her arm resting casually about Delia’s shoulders, and Jaye suddenly slammed the picture against the bureau, infuriated that the evil bitch had taken such liberties...had taken her place in her aunt’s life.

The glass had barely finished shattering and falling when Jaye heard an unmistakable clucking from behind her. Whirling, the broken frame still in hand, she stared in disbelief. Her aunt’s form stood behind her, hands planted firmly on solid hips as she shook her head disapprovingly at her niece.

"Is that any way to behave, Eeyore?"

Jaye gaped at the apparition, part of her numb brain registering the old nickname that had always signaled her aunt’s displeasure before her knees gave out and she sat down hard on the floor.

"Oh for heaven’s sake, girl, you’re going to cut yourself if you’re not careful!"

Auntie Dee’s gently chiding tone sounded vaguely like she was talking from the bottom of a barrel, but the voice was unmistakably the same one she’d heard on countless summer days, waking her up in the mornings and calling her in from the forest or beach in the evenings. Jaye blinked her eyes rapidly, but the preternaturally insubstantial form didn’t disappear. She surreptitiously pinched herself, wondering hazily if grief, exhaustion, and lack of food had conspired to make her hallucinate. When Delia’s thick, white eyebrows lifted in amusement over the same wire-rimmed glasses her aunt had worn for decades, she knew she wasn’t imagining it.

Jaye cleared her throat, trying to erase the embarrassing squeak that had come out on the first try. "Auntie Dee?"

"You were expecting maybe the Pope?" The apparition cocked her head and smiled affectionately at her niece.

"Well, I sure as hell wasn’t expecting you, either!" Jaye protested as she struggled to get up.

Delia pursed her lips. "No, I don’t guess you were. Didn’t suspect I’d be haunting you, either, if you want the truth of it."

Jaye managed to sit heavily on the edge of the bed, still clutching the picture.

"Um, why are you haunting me, Auntie Dee?" She hastened to add, "Not that I’m not glad to see you." Unbidden tears filled her eyes again, and she ducked her head. "I miss you so."

The ghost obviously heard the mumbled sentiment, as her next words were soft and loving. "I miss you too, J-mac. Didn’t expect to be leaving this soon or I’d have insisted you drag your butt home sooner."

"I’m sorry." Jaye raised her head and stared at her aunt remorsefully. "I was planning to come home next month, but I shouldn’t have left it so long." The soft rounded features that were a younger version of her aunt’s own, darkened. "Maybe if I’d come sooner, I could’ve stopped her from hurting you."

"Oh pish!" Her aunt’s tone was indignant now. "Surely you don’t believe that nonsense about Lindsay murdering me. Thought you had better sense than that!"

"But...but they have her in jail for your murder. Her fingerprints were on the murder weapon and you wrote her into your will..." Jaye stopped, unable to deal with further evidence that an outsider had usurped her place in her aunt’s life.

The ghost uttered a most unladylike snort. "Oh, for heaven’s sake! Like there’s never been a false arrest in the history of mankind. Lindsay didn’t even know I’d changed my will to include her. Bill Webster just jumped to the handiest conclusion. He never was the sharpest tack in the box. His daddy was the dumbest thing in a sou’wester, and young Billy didn’t fall far from the tree. I’m telling you that girl never raised a finger to me, except to help. She’s no more capable of murder than that stuffed lion you’re sitting on!"

Jaye jumped and dug the toy out from underneath her. Tossing it aside, she studied the photo in confusion. Troubled, she looked up at her aunt.

"Are you sure, Auntie Dee? Did you see who did do it?"

The ghost glared, but Jaye knew it wasn’t directed at her.

"Some slimy, lily-livered, scum-sucking coward, I can tell you that much! Snuck up behind me after I sent Lindsay back to the house to get the goat puppet, and hit me over the head with my own hatchet. My own hatchet, for crying out loud!"

The shaken woman couldn’t help a tiny grin at her aunt’s indignation. She wasn’t sure if Delia was angrier at the murder or at the insult of being killed with her own implement.

Not quite sure how to broach the subject, Jaye glanced around the room, uneasily aware that her aunt’s shade wasn’t reflected in the mirror, before asking tentatively, "So you still don’t know who... I mean, being where you are and all?"

"Wouldn’t be hanging around if I did, J-mac. Trouble was, I didn’t die right away, so by the time my spirit was released, the culprit was long gone. Saw Lindsay come in and find me, though." The ghost shook her head sadly. "Lordy, I wish she hadn’t had to go through that. Damn near shattered her; and then to have that pinhead sheriff accuse her of the crime...more than the dear woman could handle all at once." Translucent blue eyes focused on Jaye’s with vivid clarity. "I tried to reach her, but I couldn’t get through, so I need you to go to her for me."

"Me?" Once again, as she struggled to deal with the abrupt switch from viewing Lindsay Daniels as her aunt’s rightly incarcerated murderer to accepting her as an innocent victim, Jaye was reminded of her aunt’s inimical ability to reduce her to the level of a recalcitrant teenager.

"Yes, you. You know I’d do this myself if I could, but you’re going to have to be my agent until we solve this murder. Lord knows you’ve seen enough crime scenes in your occupation."

"But I only photograph them!" Jaye protested. The dark-haired woman exhaled explosively and grimaced as she rapidly considered potential courses of action. Finally, shaking her head in exasperation, she looked up and regarded the ghost intently. "You know I’d do anything to help you."

"I know," Delia acknowledged affectionately. "And if anyone can do it, you can. You’ve got a terrific head on your shoulders, even if your taste in men is abysmal." She smiled widely. "Besides, you have me on your side, so you’ll have the edge on the low-life, snake-bellied weasel who did this."

A reluctant grin stole over Jaye’s features. "He really pissed you off, eh?"

"Damn right! I had plans, J-mac, and they sure didn’t include departing to the great beyond for another couple of decades, I can tell you that!"

"Okay, I’m in." Jaye nodded decisively at her aunt, who smiled triumphantly in return. "I’ll just extend my leave of absence from the department and let Ronald know I’ll be delayed getting back."

Delia rolled her eyes. "Don’t tell me you’re still dating that imbecile."

Jaye frowned, part of her well aware that, as usual, her aunt’s perception was dead-on. Ronald was a...convenience at best, but he’d lasted longer than most of the men in her life. Lamely, she argued, "He’s not that bad, Auntie. You just never gave him a chance."

"He’s handsome all right, but he has shifty eyes. Never trust a man who won’t look you squarely in the eye when he shakes your hand," Delia instructed firmly. "You can do way better than that, girl."

Eager to turn the conversation away from her lacklustre love life, Jaye said, "Right, then I guess the first step is to get Daniels released." She could tell by the skeptical look that she hadn’t fooled her aunt for a moment, but Delia allowed her to get away with the switch in topics.

"Yeah. Poor girl’s in such a funk that she isn’t eating or sleeping. I’m downright worried about her!"

"Any suggestions for a good lawyer?"

"Go talk to her first and then ask Ed. He should be able to recommend someone."

Jaye nodded. Ed Romero had been her aunt’s attorney for decades, but only dealt with civil matters.

"Gotta be a pretty flimsy case since I know that she didn’t do it, so it’s just a matter of picking it apart and getting her out on bail until we can track down the real murderer...the yellow swine!"

The younger woman stood, gingerly picking her way through the shards of glass from the broken frame. Catching her aunt’s disapproving eye, she promised, "I’ll clean it up when I get home, honest, Auntie."

She exited to the sound of her aunt’s muttered, "You’d better. You’re not too old to have your backside tanned, you know."

Rolling her eyes in amusement even as she decided it was more prudent not to ask how her aunt’s ghost would accomplish that, Jaye returned to her Jeep in a much better frame of mind than she’d left it. She had a goal, and she had her aunt on her side. Beginning the search for justice was enough to return the spring to her step and the determination to her eyes.

When Henri started on the first try, Jaye chuckled. "Well, that’s gotta be a good omen." Shifting into first, she muttered threateningly, "I’m coming, ya bastard...wherever you are."

Accelerating away from the house, the newly inducted detective didn’t notice the ghostly form perched comfortably on the roof of the Jeep, tipping her white head back and opening her mouth gleefully, as if catching raindrops. The apparition never even wavered as the vehicle side-slipped in the mud then regained its traction with a roar of the engine. As the Jeep disappeared into the thick woods, the shade reached playfully for passing branches, but the foliage moved only under the impact of the falling rain.


Chapter Eleven

Lindsay Daniels sat on the cot in the small cell, staring unseeing at the opposite wall. Her normally bright, sparkling green eyes were dull and red rimmed, her shoulders slumped as the dejected woman grieved deeply for her best friend. Finger-combed only, her long mane of red-gold ringlets was disheveled, limp, and unkempt.

The wan redhead ignored the tray of food that had been shoved inside the door, knowing the deputy would return for it soon. Over and over again, she'd proclaimed her innocence at the time of her arrest, but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. A tear tracked down her face, surprising Lindsay--she hadn't thought there were any left.

She had begged the sheriff to attend Delia's funeral that morning. More tears welled from overflowing eyes as she shuddered at the memory of a baneful face and an incredulous voice snarling, "You've got to be kidding! You kill her, and now you want to attend her funeral?"

The prisoner heard the sound of the door opening and the tray being removed, but didn't bother looking up when the deputy spoke.

"You're gonna starve if you don't start eating, Lindsay. You know Auntie Dee would chew you out for that." The heavily freckled man with the carrot-colored brush cut sighed audibly and removed the tray.

Moments later, Lindsay jumped as the cell bars echoed from a hard blow. Familiar by now with the sheriff's habit of announcing his presence with his night stick, she slowly turned her head to hear what venom was going to be directed against her this time.

Sheriff Webster laughed humorlessly. "You've got a visitor." Inclining his head toward the short, broad-shouldered woman with close-cut dark hair and Delia’s bright, blue eyes who was standing next to him, he added mockingly, "Gonna try telling Jaye here you didn't kill her aunt?" He crossed his arms, obviously eager to witness a confrontation between the murderer and Delia's blood kin.

Briefly glancing at the impassive woman standing expressionlessly next to the thick-bellied sheriff, Lindsay returned her gaze to the wall. She couldn't even summon any interest at the appearance of the woman she'd secretly been fascinated with. There had been a time she had pumped her best friend incessantly for details about her niece, drawn to photos and stories of Delia's twin sister's daughter, but that seemed a distant memory now. It was another life. One of innocence, joy, and simplicity. Now Delia was dead and buried, and the town had convicted her without a trial.

Lindsay instinctively tightened her shoulders against the onslaught she was sure would come.

"Would you mind leaving us alone?"

The words were spoken quietly, but that didn't diminish the request's underlying authority. Lindsay directed her gaze toward her visitor only to find the sheriff glaring at her. She closed her eyes against the malevolent stare and when she opened them again, he was slowly traipsing down the short hall to the outer door separating the two cells from his office.

The prisoner looked up again, searching for condemnation in the intense eyes regarding her solemnly, but finding none. The gaze was troubled and sad, but bereft of anger or hate. She waited for Delia's niece to speak.

"Did you kill my aunt?"

Lindsay met the gaze pointedly, anguished eyes bespeaking her innocence. "I loved Dee. I could never kill her."

Her interrogator nodded slowly. "What happened that day?"

Taking a deep breath, Lindsay recited her account of that awful day. "Every day your aunt read stories to the children at the library after they got out of school. It was part of the literacy project she started years ago. That day we went in early because we were going to set up, then go check out a new novelty shop that had just opened. We unpacked everything, but couldn't find the goat puppet."

Lindsay smiled wanly at Jaye's raised eyebrow and explained. "She used puppets to act out parts in the story. She was going to read Billy Goat’s Gruff. I told her it would only take me a few minutes to go home and get it."

The redhead noticed Jaye's shoulder's tighten and suddenly realized why. "It was my home, too. She insisted on that. I wasn't just your aunt's caregiver; she was my best friend. I loved her and if you can understand that, you'll know that I'm innocent."

"History is rife with murder committed in the name of love."

Gazing sadly at Delia's niece, Lindsay was unable to dispute the observation.

The dark haired woman shifted uncomfortably and looked away from the prisoner’s gentle scrutiny. Clearing her throat, she continued. "Then what happened?"

Haunted eyes stared off into the distance as Lindsay related the scene imprinted indelibly in her mind.

"I walked into the reading room. I remember a very strong feeling that something was wrong; and when I didn't see Delia, I became alarmed and called out her name."

"I remember wondering where she could’ve gone. I hadn't been away more than a half hour, if that. I walked over to the table her props were on, and glanced behind it. I saw Delia laying face down on the floor…"

Lindsay took a deep breath, desperately trying to maintain her composure. Her hands had knotted into fists, knuckles white with the effort of trying to control her emotions.

"There was a big pool of blood beneath her. I ran around the table and knelt beside her, screaming for help. I carefully turned her over, trying to find a pulse, but she was cool…too cool. Then I looked into her eyes…" Lindsay choked back a sob, and buried her face in her hands.

"Oh, God! It was horrible. I was too late… I shouldn't have left her…" Her body was wracked with the pain of remembering and the loss of her friend. Of how she'd cradled Delia's broken head in her lap, knowing it was too late and murmuring over and over again. "Please, no."

Distressed eyes glistening, Jaye nodded abruptly. "All right. If you didn't do it, then I've got to figure out who did."

Forcing herself to regain control, Lindsay clutched the edge of her cot, staring at Jaye, not sure she'd heard correctly. "You don't think I did it?"

Delia’s niece shook her head deliberately, almost as if reluctant to give up her own preconceived ideas. "The sheriff said no one saw you leave the library or come back. Why?"

"There were a bunch of teenagers at the checkout desk when I left, so Sam didn’t see me walk out. When I got back, he was in a heated discussion with Adam Norton, who’s always a pain in the ass, and he never saw me."

Feeling the first tiny glimmer of hope, Lindsay stood up and walked over to the bars. Her deeply shadowed eyes stood out starkly against her pale face. "Do you believe me?" She held her breath, as she waited for the answer, aware that not being seen leaving or returning to the library had convicted her in many of the town's people's eyes.

Pursing her lips, Jaye nodded slowly. "The hatchet…? Supposedly you smuggled it into the back in the book bag, and your prints were definitely all over it."

Lindsay snorted in disgust and replied sharply. "Of course my fingerprints were on it! Who do you think chopped the wood? We were going to drop it off to be sharpened at the hardware store on the way home. It was just laying in plain sight in the backseat, and the murderer must’ve taken it right after we’d gone into the library. I never even noticed that it was gone when I drove back home, but there’s no reason I would’ve. Delia rarely bothered to lock the car, or even the house half the time for that matter. Hardly anyone around here does."

Musing aloud, the other woman commented, "So, whoever murdered my aunt had to know she was alone."

Lindsay nodded in emphatic agreement. "That’s right. Unless it was someone who didn't know about me. But if that's the case, it can't be a local. Dee and I went everywhere together, and everyone knew it. We were either being stalked, or it was just incredibly bad luck that he caught her alone."

The prisoner’s voice broke slightly, and her interviewer sighed heavily as her gaze dropped and she absently toed the hallway floor while pondering the information. Watching her, Lindsay was sharply reminded that the other woman too had lost someone she loved. She found herself able for the first time to look beyond her own grief, and past the unbelievably horrible circumstances in which she’d been trapped. The redhead regarded Jaye intently, wondering if the image she had built up in her mind of Delia’s niece would hold true under the harsh light of reality. Would this woman be as sharp, intuitive, and insightful as the aunt she so closely resembled? Losing herself in her musings for a moment, she almost missed her new ally’s words.

"Well, it can’t have been robbery because Auntie Dee’s purse wasn’t even touched, so there’s got to be some kind of personal motive. Given that my aunt rarely left this place, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out who had it in for her, but the first thing we're going to have to do is get you out of here."

Lindsay snorted mirthlessly, unable to stop a roll of bitter eyes. "Fat chance of that. I’m sure everyone in town thinks I did it. There’s no way I'm going to get bail in a million years."

One dark brow shot skyward, and Lindsay almost chuckled at the characteristic gesture. How often had Delia leveled exactly that same look at her when she had expressed skepticism at one of her benefactor’s more dubious plans?

"Leave that up to me. It might take a little while, but I'll be back. I’m going to have a lot more questions for you before I can figure out who really killed my aunt."

Reaching through the bars, Lindsay extended her hand to Jaye's arm, briefly touching her. "Thank you. I can't tell you how much it means to me to have someone believe me." She was pleased to see that her heartfelt words were apparently accepted at face value. She was relieved that Dee’s beloved niece had given her the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact their first meeting had taken place under such adverse conditions.

Jaye gave her a rueful half smile and shrugged. "Let's just say Aunt Delia would expect no less."

Lindsay furrowed her brow as she watched Delia’s niece turn away without another word. That last comment seemed fraught with hidden meaning, but she dismissed it, more intent now on fanning the tiny flame of hope that the other woman had ignited.

She didn't blame Jaye for being guarded, but Lindsay had no intentions of sitting on the sidelines while the tall woman searched for the real killer. Tapping the iron bars that enclosed her, she wryly acknowledged the obstacles. Providing I get out of here, of course.

Returning to the cot, the redhead stretched out, crossing her arms behind her head and staring at the flyspecked ceiling as she considered her unexpected visitor. In the days since her world had imploded, she had almost given up hope. Wracked with grief and absolute disbelief that anyone would actually believe she would harm Delia, she had existed in a nightmarish dimension where even the deputy’s rough kindness—the only consideration extended her— couldn’t reach her.

She had felt so utterly alone. She had few relatives. Those she did have were in Oregon; and she had little contact with them beyond perfunctory Christmas cards. Aside from being her employer, Delia had also been her best friend, her confidante, and her constant companion. Through Delia she had made many friends in the community, but apparently shocked and confused by the circumstances of Delia’s death, none had reached out to her in her cell. She almost choked on the irony. Delia would’ve marched past Sheriff Webster like he was invisible and taken her right out of this hellhole. If he had dared to challenge her, she would have stared him down with her inimitable and in-born authority. The grande dame of Tucker’s Way could not stomach fools, incompetents, or injustice, and she never backed down from confrontation. Everyone in the small, tightly knit community knew better than to cross Delia Barrington. The diminutive woman had an unshakeable, intrinsic moral authority; and when her wrath was incurred, had been a veritable force of nature.

A force that had been ended—brutally and unexpectedly. Lindsay felt the tears begin again. Tired of the unrelenting grief, the prisoner focused instead on her recent visitor. She didn't understand why Jaye had chosen to believe her when no one else seemed to, but she wasn't about to question it.

"Blood will out, right, Dee?" Lindsay smiled as she conjured a fanciful image of her dear friend hovering close by, silver head cocked sympathetically as she listened. "It stands to reason your kin would be the only one with an open mind in this situation."

The redhead was well aware that Delia had loved Jaye as a daughter, particularly after her twin, Andrea, had died far too young from cancer, leaving a six-year-old Jaye alone with her stern, moralistic father. A large part of the fascination she had developed for the Canadian was due to the endless stories Dee told of the girl who had spent every summer of her youth with her. The older woman’s obvious love and pride, combined with the hundreds of pictures of an attractive, dark haired, clear-eyed, younger version of her best friend, had sparked and maintained Lindsay’s interest over the past year and a half.

"Wonder what you’d say if you knew your aunt loved telling tales out of school on you?" Lindsay mused aloud. She chuckled, remembering one particularly embarrassing anecdote Delia had loved to relate about a seven-year-old Jaye, a cherished Red Sox baseball cap, and Buddy Fischer’s ornery old goat. Allowing her soul the balm of that memory, she began to drift, imagining that she could almost hear the ghostly resonance of Delia’s hearty laugh echoing about the cell.


"I hope you gave that murdering bitch a piece of your mind. She oughta hang from the nearest tree for killing a saint like your aunt."

Jaye brushed past Bill Webster, shaking her head in disgust at the lawman’s lack of objectivity. "She didn't do it."

The sheriff’s jaw dropped in amazement and his pale watery eyes bugged in disbelief. "Are you crazy? ‘Course she did it. She was the only one back there with Delia, and the hatchet's got her prints all over it, not to mention her motive is plain for all to see. She was after your aunt’s money, for Christ’s sake! Thought she’d get away with it too, ‘cause no one would suspect her of doing the deed in such a public place. I can’t believe you’re defending her!"

Having no desire to waste time trying to reason with an impregnably closed mind, Jaye ignored the sheriff and walked out the door, narrowing her eyes at the parting words he spat after her.

"'You're a damned disgrace to your aunt's memory, that’s what you are!"


Jaye analyzed her brief encounter with Lindsay Daniels. It was hard to reconcile the laughing, joyful woman portrayed in the picture she'd broken with the devastated woman she'd witnessed in the jail cell. She knew that Lindsay was actually only a few years older than her own thirty-three years, but grief had painted an extra decade’s worth of lines and shadows on the redhead’s features.

She smiled wryly, remembering the indignation in Lindsay’s voice as she had insisted that Delia’s home was her home too. Unable to completely divest herself of the resentment she’d been holding, Jaye still wasn't sure how she felt about that sentiment, but she grudgingly admired the usurper’s spunk.

Navigating around a group of locals ambling across the street, the Canadian mused over the prisoner’s dramatic change when she realized that Jaye believed her. Lindsay’s whole body had been reanimated, and her startling green eyes had regarded her visitor with equal measures of hope and wariness. Jaye was reluctant to accept the responsibility of bearing the other woman’s tentative trust, but she knew she couldn’t let her down, for her aunt’s sake if nothing else.

She parked the Jeep in front of Ed Romero’s office a few minutes later and entered the small nondescript building that housed his office. Stopping in front of the secretary’s desk, she was mildly surprised not to recognize her. Jaye thought she knew everyone in Tucker’s Way after the many summers she had spent here, even though the town had more than tripled in size since her mother first brought her here as an infant. Clearing her throat politely, she made her request.

"I’d like to see Ed Romero, please."

The secretary nodded, and opened the appointment book, looking up when the stranger standing in front of her desk spoke again.

"Excuse me, but I need to see him right away."

The woman smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid you're going to have to book an appointment. He's not in at the moment. It really would be best if you made an appointment and came back later."

Not in the mood to deal with even a minor obstacle, Jaye struggled with her temper for a moment before forcing herself to ask courteously, "When do you expect him back?"

The woman closed the book and shrugged slightly. "I’m sorry. I’m really not sure. He went to a friend's funeral this morning, and I believe he was planning to go to the wake afterwards."

Hearing the door open behind her, Jaye turned and smiled in relieved recognition. "Ed!" She met him midway across the room and returned his warm embrace, marveling as she always did at the man’s capacious girth.

The elderly lawyer pulled back a little, giving his old friend’s niece a sad smile. "It's good to see you, Jaye. I just wish it were under other circumstances. I didn't see you at Martha's house. People were asking about you."

Jaye shook her head. "I really wasn’t up to dealing with all those people right now, Ed. I’ll try to get around and see all Delia’s closest friends before I head home, though. For now, I have something I need to talk over with you. Do you have a moment?"

Ed nodded, obviously unsurprised. "Always had time for you, Jaye, and I always will. Come on into my office." He ushered her into his inner office and closed the door, then commented, "I didn't expect to see you here quite so soon. Hadn’t planned the reading of the will for another couple of days."

Jaye grimaced in rueful amusement as she took the chair in front of his desk. "I didn't come about the will. I actually need a good criminal lawyer. I know you only handle civil matters, but I figured you’d have the inside scoop. Who would you recommend as the best defence attorney around here?"

Ed stared at Jaye in surprise, running one hand through wisps of gray hair. "A defence attorney? Why? You're not in trouble are you?"

"Not for me. I need to get Lindsay Daniels out on bond. She didn’t kill my aunt, Ed, and she shouldn’t spend one minute longer in that jail."

"I wish you were right." The elderly lawyer leaned back with a sigh, his bulk making the old wooden chair creak ominously. "She always seemed like such a good person, and I know for a fact that Delia loved her like a daughter; but there seems to be a pretty strong case against her from what I’ve heard. What makes you think she's innocent?"

"Have you met her?"

His head bobbed gravely. "Of course. Anyone who knows Delia has met her, and there isn’t a soul in Tucker’s Way that didn’t know Dee. Those two were downright inseparable. It was quite a shock when she was arrested, but money makes strange bedfellows."

Jaye nodded grimly. "True. But I just met with her, and this whole thing doesn't feel right. She says she didn't do it, and I believe her. She’s far too smart not to have figured out a better scheme if she had planned to murder Auntie Dee. How the hell would she ever think she’d get away with it under the circumstances? Nope, this smacks of an impulse killing all the way, though why anyone would want to hurt her is beyond comprehension." Riveting her gaze on her aunt's old friend, she added, "I intend to find out who did do it, but I may need Lindsay’s help. So, who do I get?"

Ed had been following her logic closely, eyes narrowed as he considered her reasoning, and he now answered without hesitation. "Frank Collins. He’s young and new to the area, but smart as a whip. He’d be your best bet not to leave any stone unturned."

Smiling in gratitude, Jaye stood. "Thanks, Ed. Where can I find him?"

"Over on Main Street, next to the courthouse." Heaving his bulk out of his chair, the lawyer trailed the Canadian to the door. Laying one hand on her shoulder, he said somberly, "I hope you’re right, Jaye. It really eats at my craw that someone Delia loved and trusted might’ve done this to her. If Lindsay ain’t the killer, I sure hope you find out who is."

Jaye looked back at him, a determined half-smile on her face. "Count on it."

After a quick stop at the community bank where Delia had established a sizable account for her many years before, Jaye pulled up in front of a small building next to the courthouse. Checking the occupants listed on a placard near the door, she quickly located Frank Collins' name and entered the structure looking for room 107. Pushing open that door, Jaye pulled up short, finding herself facing a young man sporting a thick, black mustache that matched his unruly hair.

Jaye quickly recovered. "I'm looking for Frank Collins?"

The man cleared his voice and smiled boyishly. "That would be me. C’mon on and have a seat. How may I help you?"

Taking the indicated chair and smiling inwardly at his enthusiasm, she hoped Ed knew what he was talking about. The mustache did nothing to age his baby face, but she was encouraged by the warm, intelligent grey eyes gazing at her curiously.

"I need to arrange for bail to be set for Lindsay Daniels."

Frank stared at her in surprise. "Who are you? A relative of hers or something? What you’re asking is going to be just about impossible. She’s accused of killing the most respected and highly esteemed citizen of this town."

Jaye extended her hand and belatedly introduced herself. "Jaye MacLaren." After releasing Frank's hand, she added, "Delia was my aunt."

Sinking into his chair, the young man gaped at her, finally sputtering, "What in the… For God’s sake, she’s accused of killing your aunt! Why would you want her out of jail?"

Jaye shrugged. "Simple. She didn't do it."

The young lawyer tapped his fingernails nervously on the polished desktop, obviously thrown by his visitor’s identity and odd request. "Do you have any proof of that?"

Jaye leaned across the desk, leveling a stern gaze and speaking emphatically. "Let’s just say I have a lot of common sense questions that the sheriff has no answers for. Besides, since when is someone guilty until proven innocent?"

He flushed. "I didn't mean..."

"You could've fooled me." Jaye’s tone was clipped. Bone tired, she fervently hoped this bright, young lawyer wouldn’t prove to be another closed mind. "Webster found the hatchet with her finger prints on it, and is too lazy to look any further. But since the hatchet belonged to my aunt and Lindsay lived there, it only makes sense that it would have her finger prints on it."

Nodding noncommittally, Frank then raised another objection. "True. But the last time Sam saw her was when she and Delia walked into the reading room together, making Lindsay the last one to see Dee alive. Sam would’ve seen Lindsay if she left like she claims. As a general rule, he doesn’t stray too far from the front desk."

Pinning Frank with an intense gaze, Jaye argued, "Even if he was busy with a noisy, trouble-making teen? From what I hear, a herd of elephants could’ve slipped by while they were nattering at each other."

The lawyer pursed his lips doubtfully. "Dunno. To tell you the truth, it seemed like a pretty poorly thought out way to kill someone, but given that Sam didn’t see her leave or return..." His voice trailed off uncertainly.

"But you’ll concede that it is a possibility?" While he remained silent, his gaze turned inward as if he were picturing the proposed scenario, Jaye walked over to the window giving him time to think. She stared out numbly for long moments before finally turning back to the attorney.

"Look, there is nothing I want more than to see my aunt’s murderer brought to justice. But I want the real killer convicted, not an innocent. The hatchet proves nothing. Sam missing Lindsay’s departure and return proves nothing. Now, are you going to help me get her out of jail or have you already convicted her, too?"

The young lawyer frowned in protest. "Of course not!"

"You going to help me then?" Jaye held her breath waiting for his response.

Frank sighed heavily and nodded his reluctant agreement. "This sure isn’t going to make me very popular with the folks around here, but yes, I'll help you. I’ll file for a bond hearing and request it be expedited. If I get it—and believe me, that’s a damned big ‘if’ in Tucker’s Way, given who the victim was—the bond's probably going to be sky high."

The Canadian exhaled in noisy relief. "You get the bond set, I'll worry about providing the money."

"All right." Frank toyed with a stack of files on his desk, then looked at Jaye expectantly.

With a tight grin of acknowledgement, Jaye pulled out the money she had just withdrawn from the bank. "How much?"

He rattled the figures off quickly. "$250.00 to cover court costs for the bond hearing and my fee. Then it'll be a flat $120 an hour until we go to trial. If we do go to trial, we’ll settle my fees beforehand. Deal?"

Nodding, Jaye peeled off the bills, handing Frank the money and waiting while he wrote her a receipt. Once it was handed over, she said, "I’ll call you in an hour to find out what time the hearing is."

He held up a cautionary hand. "Wait a moment. Don’t get the cart before the horse. I’m not even sure the judge will set an immediate hearing."

Jaye gave him an exhausted, but confident smile. "I'm sure you can convince him how shaky this case is and then insist he expedite the bail hearing."

With a wry grin, the young lawyer stood and proffered his hand. "Well you certainly did inherit your aunt’s way with words. Delia could talk a rabbit out of its tail, if she took a mind to. I’m not sure the whole town won’t think we’re a few bricks short of a load by the time we’re done, but I’ll do my best."

Taking his hand and giving it a firm shake, Jaye said, "That’s all I can ask."

Chapter Twelve

Jaye watched as Frank issued instructions to a dazed looking Lindsay. She felt a touch of sympathy for the young woman. Even she’d been surprised at how quickly events had transpired. She had expected that her aunt’s caregiver would have to remain in jail for at least another twenty-four hours, but Frank had succeeded in having her released by the end of the day.

With a little help from Dolan and me. Jaye’s smug reflection was interrupted by a distinct chuckle right beside her ear.

"Not bad, J-mac. You’re off to a fine start."

The Canadian couldn’t help starting as she hissed, "Don’t do that!"

Lindsay and Frank turned to her curiously.

"Uh, a fly, yeah...just a pesky, annoying fly," Jaye blurted, brushing furiously at the air beside her head. "Um, I’m going to go bring the Jeep around."

Without waiting for an answer, she strode off, leaving the mildly bewildered pair staring after her.

"Got a bee in your britches?"

Jaye could hear the amusement in her aunt’s voice. Ducking into an alley that would provide a shortcut to the library’s parking lot, she allowed herself to glance over to where her aunt’s ghost floated along beside her.

She gestured at the open air between the ground and her aunt’s feet. "Do you have to do that?"

Delia chuckled. "Well, I’m finding it rather refreshing. I haven’t been able to keep up with you without double-timing since you were a wee tot with enough energy to fuel a nuclear reactor. Course then you turned twelve and outgrew me—though not by much, I’ll just point out! I may be a little on the short side, but you’re no Wilt Chamberlain yourself. ’Sides, it’s not like anyone else can see me."

Jaye sighed and conceded her aunt the point. Picking up her pace again, she asked, "So you saw what happened today?"

"Yup, every bit of it. I was right proud of you for finding the clues that idiot sheriff overlooked."

"It was hard to go there..." Jaye’s voice trailed off and her throat closed as she recalled going from Frank’s office to the library reading room earlier that afternoon. A veteran crime scene photographer who had shot some of the worst examples of man’s inhumanities, she hadn’t expected to be as deeply affected as she was...

Jaye left the lawyer’s office and paused on the street to consider her options, barely noticing that the persistent rain had finally let up. Getting Lindsay out of jail was her first objective, but aside from employing Frank to begin that process, she was momentarily stumped as to where to go from there.

Sliding into Henri, Jaye sat quietly considering her next course of action. Deciding she needed to see the crime scene, she drove over to the library on the outskirts of town. Parking in the nearly empty lot, she surveyed the area. Thick hedges lined the parking lot and two picnic tables sat amidst a small copse of young trees to one side. The building, surrounded on three sides by old growth forest, was a substantial size for such a small town, and the photographer knew her aunt had played a big part in the drive to build and maintain the fine library.

Steeling herself, Jaye walked to the double front doors, pausing to read a handwritten sign: "Closed for Delia Barrington’s funeral." She frowned but, trying the doors, found the right one open. Entering, she saw a thin young man sitting disconsolately at the checkout desk, idly turning a pen over in his fingers. He didn’t even look up as he called out, "We’re closed."


The librarian’s head jerked up. "Jaye?" He rose and came around the desk, holding out his hand. "I didn’t get a chance to talk to you at the funeral, but I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss...hell, for all our loss. She was a fine woman, your aunt was."

Jaye nodded. "Yes, she was. None better." Firmly pushing the resurgent sorrow down, she asked quietly, "Do you mind if I take a look in the back?"

Sam appeared uncertain. "I dunno, Jaye. They still have the police tape up blocking off the room."

"I won’t touch anything, I promise. I just need to see where..." Helpless to prevent the tears that filled her eyes, she saw Sam duck his head in sympathy.

"Aw, heck, it can’t hurt anything. Go ahead," he said roughly, motioning her on.

Ducking under the yellow crime scene tape that blocked the doorway, Jaye crossed to the table at the front of the room and stopped short at the sight of the large, reddish stain on the tan carpet in front of a magnetic white board, still gaily adorned with blue plastic letters and numbers. She felt a wave of nausea, knowing that stain represented her aunt’s waning moments of life.

Sucking in a deep breath, she forced herself to conduct a dispassionate survey of the room. The children’s reading room was painted in a bright patchwork of yellow and white, with colorful cartoon characters decorating the walls. Short bookshelves filled with children’s stories, games, and puzzles lined the room. Two, large, side windows admitted weak sunlight, filtered through grey clouds that were only now beginning to dissipate.

Thrusting her hands into the pockets of her black, tailored trousers to ensure she didn’t touch anything, Jaye made her way to the windows. If she accepted that Lindsay wasn’t the murderer, which she did—based on her aunt’s words and the young woman’s own demeanour, then whoever had killed Delia had to exit either back through the library—unlikely given that he’d probably been stained with blood—or through one of these windows.

Jaye examined the exterior, noting the proximity of the forest. A killer could have easily vanished there without being detected. Dropping to her knees, the determined woman peered under the metal facing used to raise the window. She felt a thrill as she spied a rust-colored smear on the underside. Halting the instinctive movement of her hand towards the evidence, she rose gracefully to her feet.

"See something?"

Jaye jumped, not having heard anyone approach. Turning, she broke into a broad smile. "Dolan!"

The carrot topped deputy sheriff nodded soberly. "Good to see you, Jaye, but you shouldn’t be in here, you know."

"I know, but I believe a very big miscarriage of justice has occurred, and I had to see if I could find something to set it right."

The deputy’s shrewd brown eyes regarded her intently. "You don’t think Lindsay killed her either."

One chestnut eyebrow shot up as Jaye shook her head. Her onetime boyfriend obviously wasn’t convinced of his prisoner’s guilt.

"No, I don’t. I take it you have your doubts, too?"

Dolan sighed heavily. "Come with me. I want to show you something."

Jaye followed the man outside, and squatted beside him as he knelt on the grass beneath the reading room windows. Flowerbeds lined the building, mostly barren at this time of year except for some hardy perennials, and Dolan pointed at the faint impression of a man’s shoe in the wet earth under the window.

"Took a cast of this the afternoon of the murder, and pictures of these spots." He indicated another couple of blood smears on the exterior of the windowsill. Sighing, he leaned back on his heels. "I’m guessing DNA would show it was Delia’s which won’t help nab the killer, and it’s too smeared to get a usable print, but I found one other footprint that looks the same at the edge of the trees and took a cast of that, too."

Jaye looked at him incredulously. "You had these and you still arrested her? For God’s sake, Dolan, that’s reasonable doubt if nothing else!"

The deputy had the grace to look shame-faced. "I told Bill about these things, but he says the footprints could’ve belonged to one of the workmen who were replacing the gutters last week. Thing is, that’s not a workman’s boot print. From the look of it, that’s a dress shoe."

"And the blood?" Jaye knew her voice had risen in anger, but she was shaken at the realization that Lindsay should never have been subjected to her ordeal in the town jail.

"Aw, shit. Bill claimed that Lindsay panicked and started to escape out the window, then realized she’d be caught, so tried to play it like she found the body."

She stared at him incredulously. "That is the biggest load of—"

Holding up one placating hand, the deputy nodded. "Yeah, and I wasn’t going to let it go, Jaye. I just figured that she’d be safer in a cell than out where the real killer could get her, too. See, I don’t know why anyone would ever want to kill your aunt, and given that those two were practically joined at the hip, I thought if Auntie Dee was in danger, Lindsay might be too."

Jaye’s wrath ebbed as she realized Dolan hadn’t gotten stupid or corrupt in the years since they had dated as teenagers during her summer vacations in Tucker’s Way.

"Sorry, it’s just that it’s so wrong." She shook her head in frustration. "Couldn’t you have gone over that idiot sheriff’s head?"

"Not and kept my job. June and I are expecting our fourth in a couple of months, and I can’t afford to be out of work." Dolan shrugged apologetically.

"I figured I’d just compile all the available evidence and then turn it over to Lindsay’s lawyer."

Standing, Jaye smiled affectionately at the deputy. She’d always admired his rugged stoicism and strong personal code of ethics. Even as a teenager, he’d exhibited a definite sense of what lines they couldn’t cross as they prowled the town after dark looking for excitement.

"She has a lawyer now. Frank Collins. He’s making a bail application this afternoon, and he could sure use what you have to buttress his arguments."

Dolan nodded. "I’ll go see him." He started to walk away, then turned back with a grin. "I think Uncle Jack has the bench this afternoon. Maybe I’ll keep Frank company when he goes to court."

Jaye laughed as she watched the husky man amble away. She’d been away from Tucker’s Way so long that she’d almost forgotten how incestuous small towns could be.

Clearing her throat, Jaye murmured to her aunt, "At least it didn’t take long to get her out once we presented the evidence.

Delia snorted. "And didn’t you just love the look on the sheriff’s face when Jack chewed him out for ‘laying charges precipitously’?"

Jaye laughed. "Yeah, I thought he was gonna have a coronary when the judge ordered him to set Lindsay free on bail." She turned the corner, spotting the library half a block down. "He certainly was nasty about not releasing your car, though."

"That’s okay. It’ll give Dolan more time to check it for fingerprints other than Lindsay’s or mine. Besides, Lindsay will be sticking with you until we solve this, so she can ride along in that junk heap you call a vehicle."

"Hey!" Jaye’s protests over the insult to Henri’s dignity were offset by her aunt’s implications. "Wait a minute...I’m not babysitting her while I try to solve this, Auntie Dee."

"Don’t be foolish, Eeyore," Delia said firmly. "That girl’s mind is just as quick as yours; she’ll be invaluable. She knows what’s been going on around here the last year. You don’t."

That stung, and Jaye maintained a sullen silence until she was seated in her Jeep. She refused to look at the ghost now comfortably ensconced in the rear seat and mumbled, "We’ll talk."

"That we will."

The cheerful answer didn’t reassure her. She’d yet to win one of these arguments with her aunt, and she glumly resigned herself to having an unwanted assistant.

Swinging by the front of the courthouse, Jaye picked Lindsay up and drove back out to her aunt’s house. They said little on the drive back from town, two strangers thrown together by circumstances, and extremely uncomfortable circumstances at that. Jaye noticed Lindsay casting the occasional speculative glance her way, but concentrated on her driving.

Delia had vanished from the back seat to...well, wherever she hung out. The Canadian shied away from considering that too closely. Raised on a mixture of her father’s religious conservatism and her aunt’s unstructured spiritualism, she’d long ago thrown up her hands in confusion and declined to incorporate any theological considerations into her life, preferring to live in the here and now. Just one more thing Dad has against Auntie Dee.

They stopped at the entrance to the property to pick up the four days of mail stuffed in the rural mailbox. Their arrival in front of her aunt’s home shook Jaye out of her somber reverie, as she parked in the driveway. The women entered the house, and Lindsay wordlessly set the mail on the sideboard, kicking off her shoes before heading straight for her room.

The redhead was just reaching for the doorknob when Jaye suddenly called out, "Wait!"

Startled, Lindsay turned, her head cocked curiously.

Blushing faintly with embarrassment, Jaye explained, "Um, I sort of broke something in there. Let me clean up the glass so you don’t get cut."

The Canadian wasn’t sure if she really heard her aunt’s soft "I told you so," or only imagined it, but she grabbed a broom and dustpan and hastened to sweep up the shards of glass from the broken picture frame.

Jaye stood with the pan full of broken glass and, refusing to meet Lindsay’s eyes, muttered, "Sorry."

A hand reached out to stop her as she tried to get by the woman in the doorway. Reluctantly she looked up, startled to see amazing compassion in the soft green eyes regarding her.

"It’s all right. I’d have been just as angry in your shoes."

Jaye ducked her head in acknowledgement.

"I’m going to grab a quick shower. Why don’t you see if there’s anything in the kitchen we can heat up for dinner? I think I left some stew in the freezer."

Relieved that the incident hadn’t caused any further difficulties between them, Jaye took the debris to the kitchen and dumped the broken glass into the large dustbin. Suddenly aware that her stomach was reminding her that she’d eaten almost nothing since being notified of her aunt’s death, the famished woman eagerly rummaged in the freezer and dug out a loaf of frozen bread and a plastic container labeled "beef stew".

By the time Lindsay made her appearance, her hair still damp from the shower, and dressed in jeans, moccasins and a fisherman’s knit sweater, Jaye had managed to scoop enough of the frozen mixture into a pot to satisfy them both. The loaf was warming in the oven, and the kettle was on for tea.

They consumed the simple meal in relative silence, but once it was done and the dishes cleared away, they settled in to compare notes. After reviewing the basic facts of the case as they knew them, Jaye asked, "Did Auntie Dee have any run-ins with anyone lately?"

Lindsay considered the questions. "Well, there was Ab Saunders, but she’s been feuding with him for years. We chased him off about a month ago, but I don’t think more than a few weeks go by at a time that we don’t have to run him off again. I really can’t see him committing murder, though."

Jaye nodded, thinking of the cantankerous, old outdoorsman whose family had once owned Delia’s property. Ab had never reconciled himself to the loss of his boyhood land, even though his father had lost it for failure to pay taxes over forty years before. He’d been a thorn in Delia’s side for decades, sneakily poaching and using the land like it was still his own. Her aunt occasionally got angry enough to have Ab arrested, but the slaps on the wrist he received never deterred him for long. Ab was a mouthy eccentric who alternately bragged about his activities and swore vengeance on Delia for imagined crimes, but the dark-haired woman was pretty sure he was all talk.

"Yeah, if he was going to do anything, you’d think he’d have done it years ago. Why would he wait until now? Still, it doesn’t hurt to look into what he’s been up to."

Lindsay got up and found a notebook in a kitchen drawer, then returned to the table, Jaye watched, amused, as the redhead neatly labeled the first page, "Ab Saunders", then diligently noted down dates and incidents going back a year.

When she was done, Lindsay looked up and smiled a bit sheepishly. "I can’t help it. I’m a compulsive note taker. Delia used to complain that I left stickies all over the house."

The pair sobered at the thought of the absent woman, before Lindsay sighed and carried on.

"Anyway, as near as I can recall, these are the approximate encounters we had with Ab since I’ve lived here."

Jaye looked them over and nodded her approval. If nothing else, it would give them ammunition to pass on to Dolan. "So, anyone else? Anything recent that you can think of?"

Lindsay furrowed her brow in concentration and the shorter woman remained silent, giving her time to think. The redhead bit her lip in frustration and ran a slender hand through her hair.

"I can’t think of anything. I mean, she had a pretty nasty exchange with Derek Mains a little while ago, but she hasn’t heard from him since."

The name was unfamiliar to Jaye. "Derek Mains?"

The other woman waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, just a land developer who was trying to convince Delia to sell. He wanted to build a resort or something on her land, but of course she turned him down flat."

Her normally amiable eyes hardened as Jaye said slowly, "Tell me more about this Mains character."

Before answering, Lindsay turned a page and labeled the new one "Derek Mains". Writing as she thought, she filled her companion in.

"He first approached her about three months after I came here to live, so that would be a little over a year ago. Delia let him give his spiel, and he promised her everything under the sun if she’d sell; then she politely told him she wasn’t interested. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, though. Kept writing, phoning, and approaching her on the streets."

Jaye laughed. "Oh yeah, I can see where that would’ve gone over well."

Lindsay chuckled in response. "Uh huh. Delia was about to spit nails by the twentieth time she’d said no. Then Mains got the bright idea that she wouldn’t deal with him because he was an ‘outsider’, so he enlisted local help."

A groan greeted the recounting of that brilliant ploy. "I’ll just bet Auntie Dee was impressed by that!"

"No kidding!" Lindsay giggled. "And it didn’t help that he hooked up with Mary Reynolds."

"Reynolds, Reynolds... The only Reynolds I remember was Neal and Tessa Reynolds and their bunch of kids."

"Well, Stu Reynolds is their third son and he’s married to Mary Fessler, now Mary Reynolds."

"Not one of the Fesslers?" Jaye shook her head remembering a perpetually whining, discontented brood. "Do they all still have badly dyed hair piled to the skies?"

Lindsay grinned at her. "I take it you’re acquainted with the Fesslers?"

"Unfortunately, yes. Serena Fessler was my age. She had her eye set on Dolan, so when he and I were dating, she kept trying to come between us. Just about drove me crazy one summer!"

To Jaye’s surprise, the younger woman’s good humour seemed to vanish instantly, and she picked up her narrative in a subdued tone. "Anyway, Mary is a local councilwoman, and she tried approaching Delia on the basis that this new resort would be great for the community, and shouldn’t that be Dee’s first consideration. She came on really strong, trying to convince Delia that she was being selfish. Honestly, if her arthritis hadn’t been particularly bad that day, I swear Dee would’ve picked the woman up herself and thrown her out on her ear. As it was, I was instructed in no uncertain terms to show the greedy money-grubber to the door."

Jaye felt a trace of excitement. "Hmm, so Auntie Dee thought Mary was getting a kickback from Mains?" Money was one of the oldest motives in the book for murder, and the Fessler crowd had never had a scruple to share among them.

"No, not exactly. Actually we talked about that later. It was common knowledge that Mary and Derek were having an affair. They weren’t all that discreet about it. Delia figured Mary thought Derek was going to take her out of this place to live the high life that she considered her proper birthright."

"Money AND sex...even better as motives."

"I suppose." Lindsay looked doubtful. "I don’t particularly like either of them, and I feel really sorry for Stu, but I’m not sure I could see them murdering Delia. How would that help their cause? Would you sell to them?"

"Wouldn’t just be my decision, would it?" Jaye asked, a trifle stiffly. She was coming to like this young woman, but her aunt’s inclination to treat Lindsay like family still rankled.

Puzzled, Lindsay asked, "What do you mean? I thought you were Delia’s only living relative?"

"You really don’t know?"

"Know what?"

Jaye could tell that the younger woman was genuinely puzzled, and any lingering doubts about her innocence vanished. "Delia included you in her will. That was supposed to be your motive for killing her."

Lindsay gaped at her, obviously stunned at the revelation.

Curiously, the dark-haired woman asked, "Didn’t they accuse you of that when they arrested you?"

Saddened eyes dropped. "They accused me of so many hideous things. The sheriff wouldn’t let me clean her blood off me, and he just kept hammering at me hour after hour, trying to get me to confess. I’m afraid I blanked most of it out of my mind. I got the impression that they thought we’d had a falling out or something. They kept asking about arguments we were supposed to have had."

She shook her head, her voice dropping to a whisper. "We’ve never argued once. Not once."

There was a long silence as Lindsay struggled to regain her composure. Finally, trying to lighten the atmosphere, Jaye asked jokingly, "Not even over her nightly tot? I’d have thought that, as her caregiver, you’d have clamped down on that habit."

Jaye was inordinately pleased to see that elicit a small grin as Lindsay shook her head.

"Actually, she got me into the same routine. We used to sit outside and watch the stars come out while we had a glass of rum. I’m not a professional nurse or anything. I just needed a job; and I’d had experience looking after my mother for many years when she was ill so when I saw her notice, I applied and was hired." Her smile grew soft and contemplative. "It was the best decision I ever made. Your aunt was a very special person."

"Mmm hmm. No question there." Jaye realized that the affection she’d sensed from her aunt for this young woman hadn’t been one-sided. The two women had obviously developed a close bond in the year and a half they’d been together. Slowly her jealousy faded, to be replaced by a growing sense of gratitude that her aunt had had such a cherished companion in her final months.

Visibly pulling herself out of her thoughts, Lindsay turned a new page and asked, "What about you? Do you know anyone who hated Delia?"

"Aside from my father, you mean?" The dry question got Jaye a quizzical look and she shook her head.

"No, he’s not a suspect. He and I were having lunch in Toronto about the time Auntie Dee was killed." She paused thoughtfully. "He did thoroughly dislike her, though. He once told me that if my mother hadn’t made him promise on her deathbed to let Delia be involved in my life, he’d have cut her off and never let her see me again."

"Why did he hate her so much?" Lindsay’s head tilted curiously in a gesture that Jaye was coming to recognize as characteristic.

"You know, I’ve never really been sure. I asked him once, but all he’d say was that she wasn’t a proper influence on a growing girl. Still, I have to give him credit. He kept his promise to Mom and let me stay with Auntie Dee every summer." She laughed ruefully. "Mind you, he deprogrammed me rigorously every September. I had to go to church three times a week for the first month after I came back from Tucker’s Way."

Jaye glanced over at Lindsay, only to see an oddly comprehending look on the other woman’s face. She was about to question the origin of the enigmatic look when Lindsay closed her notebook firmly.

"It’s late. I think I’m going to call it a day and enjoy sleeping in my own bed tonight. Those jail cots are gawdawful!"

"Okay. I’m going to go have a few words with Mary Reynolds tomorrow, and see if Derek Mains is around right now, too."

Lindsay paused and turned in the doorway of the kitchen. Fixing Jaye with a stern glance she corrected, "We’re going to go do interviews tomorrow."

Without waiting for a response, she left; and Jaye could hear her walking down the hardwood hallway. The chagrined woman grunted to herself. She hadn’t thought that she’d get away with unilateral action, but she’d had to at least try.

Deciding that she might as well retire herself, she cleared away the teacups, turned out the kitchen lights, and made her way to her aunt’s room. It wasn’t until she was settled in under Delia’s thick down comforter that Jaye remembered she’d forgotten to call Ronald. Feeling mildly guilty that she hadn’t thought of him at all, she justified it to herself. Been a busy day. He’ll understand. I’ll call him tomorrow.

Chapter Thirteen

Lindsay surreptitiously glanced at Jaye as the dark-haired woman maneuvered through the hilly streets to Mary's house. Her companion had been withdrawn that morning, and the redhead wondered if Delia’s niece had changed her mind about her innocence since the previous evening. Deciding not to rock the boat for the moment, she pointed out a pretentiously large brick house up ahead, a white Crown Victoria parked outside the double garage.

Jaye nodded her acknowledgement. "Looks like we timed it just right, her car’s still here. Are you ready for this?"

Drawing a deep breath, the redhead tried to calm the butterflies in her stomach. Then giving her companion a weak smile, she said, "I think so. I just hope that Mary’s greed blinds her to the fact that our visit is very sudden, considering Dee was only buried yesterday."

Jaye grinned back reassuringly, her eyes now warm and supportive. Lindsay drank in the unexpected comfort and tried to ignore the suspicion that they might be about to confront Delia’s murderer. "This always looks so easy in the movies," she muttered as she exited the car, "but I don’t feel much like Mrs. Fletcher."

A chuckle let her know she’d been overheard. "Try being Colombo, then. You’ve got the rain coat for it."

Lindsay gave Jaye a mock glare and shrugged off the garment in question, tossing it into the back seat of the Jeep. It had been showering lightly when they left the cottage a short while before, but the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. Mentally girding her loins, Lindsay marched up to the door, followed closely by her companion. As she pressed the chimes, she quickly ran through the plan they’d devised over French toast that morning.

The door swung open, and a buxom, heavily made up, platinum blonde with hair piled up in an outdated bouffant stared at them in amazement. Giving an exaggerated gasp, the woman pointed a red lacquered fingernail at Lindsay. "Don’t even think about coming in my house, you killer!" Switching her gaze to Jaye, she immediately assumed a look of simpering sympathy. "Oh, my dear Jaye, I’m so, so sorry about your aunt. You must be just devastated, you poor thing. Do come in."

Lindsay grimaced, prepared to remain outside, until Jaye smiled sweetly and extended the bait. "I asked her to come along, Mary. I’m convinced of Lindsay’s innocence and have no doubt she’ll be exonerated with the new evidence that’s come to light. She’s out on bail right now and assisting me in plans to sell my property. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have known you and Derek Mains were inquiring after it."

Mary perked up noticeably, giving both women a coy smile, displaying large, overly white teeth. "Oh, new evidence, you say. Well, that’s different, then. You know I never really believed that you did it, Lindsay. I’m just glad this whole terrible matter is going to be resolved one way or another. And if Derek and I can help you settle up Delia’s estate, then we’d be happy to do that, Jaye. Why don’t you come in and we’ll talk about it. Unfortunately I don’t have much time this morning, but perhaps we can take care of the preliminaries and plan to meet again later."

Jaye took a step towards the door, then stopped and firmly placed her hand under Lindsay’s elbow, guiding her ahead through the doorway. Mary stiffened, but didn’t protest, merely indicating that they should make their way into the living room.

The guests took their place on an immaculate white sofa, while Mary perched on a tapestried Queen Anne chair opposite them.

Flashing Lindsay a quick glance, Jaye set the tone immediately. Looking around the ostentatiously over decorated room, she offered a compliment. "It’s a lovely home you have here. You and Stu have certainly done well for yourselves. And I hear you got elected to the city council, too. Congratulations."

Mary’s face froze at the mention of her husband, but she recovered quickly. "Thank you. It was time to get some of that old stagnant blood out of there. We need to attract newcomers to build up the local economy, and that takes fresh ideas."

Barely pausing for breath, she continued, "That's why I was talking to your aunt about that land. She didn't take kindly to Derek just because he was an outsider, but I know how important it is for this town’s economy to attract developers like him. See, Derek already has all the financial backing in place to build a brand new resort. Think of all the revenue that would generate from well-heeled tourists looking for a pristine hideaway. If this town can't come up with the land, he'll just take his business and go elsewhere."

Smoothly, Jaye interjected, "I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing. He is an outsider, after all. What if he doesn’t have the backing he claims to have? Has anyone checked his background or credentials?"

Mary smirked conspiratorially. "Now don’t you worry about that, dear. He’s definitely got the financing in place." Seeing the indecision on Jaye’s face, she hastened to assure her, "Let’s just say I have some inside knowledge."

Jaye winked knowingly, and with unctuous confidentiality, loudly whispered, "I’ve heard you have more than just inside knowledge. Word’s out that you’ve been getting your information during pillow talk."

Mary’s eyes shone with triumph even as she looked around furtively, placing her finger against her lips. "Shhh. That’s just gossip. Now don’t you go believing every little thing you hear, Jaye."

Lindsay, who had been sitting quietly watching the two women verbally fence, was amazed at the smarmy smile Jaye was able to conjure up as she drawled,

"Well, no, not everything. But hey, when the whole town is saying the same thing..."

A muffled noise came from the back area of the house. Abruptly standing, Mary asked with sudden nervousness, "Would you like some coffee?"

Lindsay shook her head, and Jaye said, "No thanks, but you go ahead."

Mary left hastily, her eyes darting down the hallway. Lindsay leaned close to Jaye, her voice quiet. "Stu must still be here."

"Either that or they’ve got a big mouse problem," Jaye agreed, remorsefully. "Maybe we shouldn’t have said anything. I don’t exactly want to be the one breaking it to Stu that his wife is sleeping around."

Lindsay considered that. She didn’t want to hurt Stu either. She didn’t know him well, but he’d always been polite to her and Delia. Hesitantly she offered, "He may not have heard us, or he may even know about it already. They haven’t exactly been subtle about it. Even Delia knew about it, and she had no use whatsoever for malicious gossip."

"Probably so." Jaye sighed. "I feel so sorry for him, though. I expect since he can’t take her any higher up the social ladder, Mary will discard him like an old dishrag the first chance she gets. I’m betting all Derek had to do was wave a ticket out of town under her nose, and she fell right into his bed. Stu deserves a lot better than that."

Coffee cup in hand, Mary walked back into the living room, carefully closing the double door to the hallway behind her. "So, where were we? Oh yes, I was telling you how good such a development would be for the town. You know, if we could come to some sort of preliminary agreement, I could make the announcement at the next council meeting." She beamed at Jaye.

Lindsay struggled to keep the contempt off her face. The woman was unbelievable. Her self-serving motivations were patently obvious. The only questions were how Derek fit into the equation, and whether the two had schemed to kill Dee. She was amazed when Jaye was able to produce a conspiratorial smile of her own.

"Did you explain to my aunt how vital it was to the town? I'm sure if she had realized the economic potential for Tucker’s Way, she would've been interested in doing her part. She was always a huge civic booster."

The blonde fluttered her thickly mascara laden eyelashes. "Oh, of course, but sadly I think she was living in bygone days when the cannery was the biggest employer in town, which was all well and good, but Tucker’s Way has tremendous potential to grow. We both explained to her how important it was to plan for the future, but she refused to give us the time of day. Why, last time we went to her house, she even ordered Derek to leave and threatened him with bodily harm." Aggrieved, Mary looked at Lindsay who almost gagged at the injured indignation on the woman’s face. "You just ask her. She was there. Your aunt was getting on in age and I think... No, I shouldn't speak ill of the dead. It's obvious that your priorities at least are in the right place, given that you care enough about the town to offer the property."

Jaye leaned back in the soft white cushions and looked at Mary speculatively. "We'll, I wouldn't exactly say I'm offering it. More like selling it. What's the offer?"

"$150,000. That’s top dollar."

The Canadian snorted. "Mary, you insult me. I may not live here, but I know for damn sure that’s only a fraction of what the property’s worth."

With a slightly chagrined chuckle, Mary conceded, "Business is business. Can’t blame me for trying. Derek told me he was willing to go to $200,000, but not a dollar more."

Jaye shook her head scornfully. "Seaside property—I don’t think so. The land is worth a minimum of $350,000 in the private market, and triple that in the commercial market. I think you'd better have another discussion with Derek while I'm in the mood to sell. I could change my mind tomorrow."

Mary held up a placating hand as she set her cup aside. "Now, please, Jaye, don’t be hasty. He’s out of town until tonight, but I’m supposed to meet him at Poseidon’s Loft for dinner. I’ll talk to him then and see if he’ll come up on the bid somewhat."

Giving a noncommittal shrug, Jaye stood, followed quickly by Lindsay who was grateful the distasteful encounter was almost over. "Remind him that I don’t think it would be too difficult to find investors to meet my selling price." At the worried look on the blonde’s face, she added conciliatorily, "Why don't you just set up an appointment for us to meet so we can hash this out?"

Mary nodded vigorously, and offered Jaye her hand. "I’ll do that, and call you tomorrow morning, okay?"

"That would be fine, Mary. Thanks for your time."

Mary escorted them to the door, and both women drew a deep breath of the cool, fresh air once they were safely outdoors. They looked each other, nearly identical rueful expressions on their faces.

"Well, that was a barrel of laughs, wasn’t it?" Jaye commented as she led the way to the Jeep.

Lindsay shook her head disdainfully. "She’s really something, isn’t she? All she cares about is a fast track out of town and a bundle of money to grease the way. That’s garbage about the resort saving the local economy... We have our ups and downs sure, but in general we’re doing just fine. Delia specifically chose not to sell because she didn’t want a big influx of strangers ruining the Tucker’s Way she loved for so long."

Jaye swung into the Jeep, and Lindsay smiled as the balky starter coughed and protested before turning over the engine. Her companion absently patted the dash as she said, "I know, but Mary bought that drivel I was spouting, and that’s all that matters. I need to talk to Derek, too. He just might be in over his head with the investors, making promises he hasn’t been able to keep. If he is, that would give him a pretty strong motive for murder. Mary’s possible motive is obvious, that’s for sure. I don’t think there’s much she’d stop at in her pursuit of wealth and status. Now we just have to figure out if one or the other did it, or if they were in it together. For that matter, we can’t close our minds to other possibilities, either. It could be entirely unconnected to Auntie Dee’s land, though at the moment I can’t imagine what else it might be. We’re just at the beginning; and I suspect we have a long way before we’ll discover the whole truth of what went on."

Lindsay relaxed back into her seat as much as she could in the aging Jeep, enjoying the feel of the clean air on her face as Jaye sped away from the Reynolds house. The encounter with the shallow, calculating councilwoman had left her feeling soiled, and she half-wished that they were heading home so she could shower again.


Stu sank onto the bed in anguish, and lowered his head to his hands. The whole town knew. Jaye hadn’t even been back in town for two day, and she’d already heard the rumors. How was he supposed to face the guys at work, or walk down Main Street knowing the whispers that were going on behind his back? "Stupid, stupid!" Stu pounded his fist against his thigh.

For months now he had tried to ignore the evidence right under his nose, tried to deny that he smelled the scent of an unfamiliar cologne on his wife’s body when she came to bed after late night "business meetings," tried to overlook the furtive phone calls and hide his hurt at the way Mary avoided his slightest touch.

He wracked his brain trying to figure out where things had gone wrong. He worked all the overtime he could get, so that his wife could enjoy the nice things that she coveted so much. He sent her away on exotic vacations that he couldn’t afford to take himself. He had never even so much as looked at another woman since they’d been married. Yet none of it mattered. It was obvious that Mary had no regard for the sanctity of their marriage, and did nothing to hide her indiscretions from the town’s folk.

As Stu rocked back and forth on his bed, his imagination summoned unwanted images of that slimy city slicker fucking his wife, and his agony slowly turned to anger as he pictured the two of them laughing at him, mocking his slow speech and country ways.

When he heard his wife’s car start up, he raised his head, chillingly aware that she no longer even bothered to say hello or goodbye. Standing, he jammed his meaty hands into his coverall pockets and stood by the window watching his wife drive away. His eyes hardened with a new determination. It was personal now. He couldn’t let them get away with what they’d done.


"We’ll be lucky to catch Ab at home. He spends most of his waking hours out in the woods."

Lindsay grinned at Jaye’s words, her spirits uplifted even though they still had to talk to their next suspect. Ab Saunders might be a cranky, crotchety old man, but he didn’t hide his feelings with sweet talk and syrupy sentiments. It would be a relief to deal with forthright nastiness after the earlier interview. "It's still early. We could sit on the front porch and wait for him. I have a feeling he’d know we were there. Ornery as he is, he’ll probably beat feet to chase us off his property for trespassing."

Jaye chuckled at the image. "You’re probably right. I can just see him come storming out of the woods. It’ll be a good way to catch him off guard."

Arriving at the end of the rutted, dirt road, Jaye pulled Henri off the lane and the two women exited, making their way to the simple log cabin. Tall pine trees shaded the dwelling, which was fronted by a neatly cleared area.

Lindsay looked around, surprised. "I’ve never been here before. I didn’t expect..."

"Ab’s always been at one with nature. He wouldn’t harm anything he didn’t need. Even when he poaches on Aunt Delia’s property, it’s only for food. He smokes his own meat and pretty much lives off the land."

"I wonder why he—"

"Hunted on Dee’s land? To irritate her, and to show her he’d do as he pleased no matter how many times she had him arrested." Jaye shrugged. "He's just plain cantankerous."

"I guess." Lindsay sat down next to Jaye, who was already settled on the front steps.

"He should be here any time now. Keep your eyes open. I want to see if he comes from the direction of my aunt's property."

Lindsay nodded, training her eyes on the trees, but very aware of Jaye’s presence next to her.

They didn’t have long to wait. Within moments Ab Saunders came stalking out of the woods, his twelve-gauge shotgun half raised toward his porch.

"Git offa my lan’."

Lindsay glared at him warningly. "Ab, put that gun down. We just want to ask you some questions."

"I ain't answaing none of yah questions. Now git outta heya."

"We can leave now. But if you don’t talk to us, you’ll be talking to the sheriff." Jaye pointed over to the trees. "Over there, where you came out? That’s my property now, and I bet if I go look, I’ll find the dinner you caught for yourself on my land."

"It ain't yah land no mowan it was Delia’s. Bitch waited, plottin’ with the bank to foreclose on it."

Jaye’s angry eyes flashed. "Ab! Now you know that’s a lie. She bought it after your daddy lost it to unpaid taxes, and you damned well know that! If it hadn’t been for her, developers would’ve come in years ago and build it all up. Your precious hunting grounds would’ve been all tennis courts and pools. And don’t be thinking you can have the run of the place now that she’s dead, either! I’ll have the law on your ass quicker than she ever did."

Lindsay looked from one to the other, laying a soothing hand on her companion’s leg before addressing the woodsman. "We only want to ask you a few questions, Ab. It won't take long."

The antagonistic stare down continued until seconds turned into minutes. Lindsay shrugged and briefly touched Jaye's forearm. "Come on then. Let’s go file charges. Bill and Dolan can take care of this."

Nodding, Jaye turned away and began moving toward the Jeep with Lindsay.

Grudgingly Ab gave in. "Wait. What do you want to know?"

Jaye turned around slowly, eying the irritating woodsman while Lindsay questioned him.

"Where were you the afternoon Delia was killed?"

He stared at her incredulously. "Yah gotta be kiddin’ me! Wayah the hell am I every day? Right here at home or ’round these parts. Sure wasn’t nowhere near town, that’s for danged sure." Ab’s grey eyes drilled into Lindsay. "I heard you done it. If’n yah thinkin’ a puttin’ the blame on me, it ain’t gonna work."

Jaye snorted. "You know as well as I do, she didn’t do it. You, on the other hand, have been giving my aunt a hard time for as long as I can remember. I heard she had you arrested for the umpteenth time last month. Maybe you were so pissed you decided to take her out."

He spat eloquently. "Not likely. Old bitch was always calling the cops on me. Now all of a sudden I'm gonna kill her? Don’t think so. ‘Sides, if I wanted her dead, she’d ’a been dead a long time ago."

"She was not always calling the cops on you," Lindsay snapped, feeling her own temper begin to rise. "She cut you more slack than anyone else ever would’ve. I can’t remember how many times she asked you politely not to poach on her land, and you ignored her every time. If she’d gone to the police every time she caught you out back in the woods, you’d have a rap sheet longer than my arm."

"Well, if that’s all you wanted to ask, you come to the wrong place. Now you can both just git off’n my land." He turned around and strode back to the cabin, muttering, "Of all the horseshit, tryin’ to pin a murder on me."

Ignoring his departure, Jaye gazed at Lindsay with concern. "Hey, you okay?"

The redhead kicked at an inoffensive clod of dirt and muttered, "Yeah. He just made me mad." She looked up and met Jaye’s eyes squarely, her voice defiant. "Every word that came out of his mouth about Delia was a lie, and I had just had enough. She never once treated him unfairly, and all he ever did was aggravate her."

"I know. It’s been that way for years. I just don’t see him harming her, though." Jaye’s face turned pensive. "Whether or not he admits it, deep down he has to know that she’s protected the land by not selling out to developers. He wanders into town just enough to get the gossip and slips right back out. He may be a nasty piece of work, but he’s not stupid."

"I didn't really think he’d done it either, but I still don't like him," Lindsay grumbled.

Jaye chuckled. "His bark is worse than his bite. I’d be playing in the woods when I was a kid, and he was always trying to scare me. I got pretty good at outsmarting him, and let me tell you, that didn’t go over very well."

Lindsay smiled, her imagination caught by the image of a small Jaye taunting the ornery woodsman and getting away with it. "No, I don’t imagine it would’ve. How about calling it a day? We can’t interview Derek until he gets back to town, and after meeting with Ab and Mary, I need a break."

"Okay. I need to pick up some groceries, anyway." Jaye looked at the mildly scolding eyes gazing at her from underneath a raised eyebrow and amended, "We. We need to pick up groceries."

It was a small victory, Lindsay knew, but Jaye’s implied acceptance still gave her a warm glow as they drove away. And in the horror that had been this past week, she would gladly accept the tiniest successes wherever she found them.


Jaye tried to ignore the insistent voice of her aunt. In her waking dream she was a child again and trying to sleep in, but Delia kept insisting she get up. Drowsily she hoped that if she kept pretending to be asleep, her aunt might give up.

The voice got louder and more insistent. "Jaye, get up right now! The house is on fire!"

As she reluctantly rose toward consciousness, Jaye smelled the faint tinges of smoke beginning to permeate the air in her bedroom and broke free of the cobwebs of sleep. "What the hell..."

Casting the sheet aside, her feet were on the floor before she realized the ghostly apparition of her aunt was present, and the voice hadn’t been a dream.

Frantically Delia urged, "Come on, hurry up. You’ve gotta wake Lindsay and get out of here."

Jaye slid on her loafers, barely hearing her aunt as she raced to the door and down the hallway into Lindsay’s bedroom. Grabbing the redhead’s shoulder and shaking it hard, she said urgently, "Wake up. The house is on fire." Ignoring the look of alarm on the other woman’s face, Jaye literally pulled her from the bed.

She saw comprehension dawn on Lindsay’s face a nanosecond before the redhead began moving of her own accord, jogging next to her down the hall.

Amidst the thickening smoke, Jaye grabbed Lindsay’s hand as they ran toward the front door. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the redhead grab the phone from the side table, never missing a step. Impressed with Lindsay’s quick thinking, Jaye finally breathed a sigh of relief when they cleared the steps to the front yard.

As she sucked in deep lungfuls of the clear night air, a movement at the edge of the tree line caught her attention. Instincts blaring an alarm, she began sprinting toward a dark figure disappearing into the deep woods, hollering back over her shoulder, "Call the police!"


Lindsay watched Jaye give chase as she dialed 911, hearing the faint wail of sirens already sounding in the distance. She reported the fire, wondering who had already called in the alarm. After requesting the police, she momentarily trained her eyes on the woods where Delia’s niece had disappeared.

As the town’s lone fire truck pulled into the yard, she moved back out of the way. Three of the town's volunteer firemen quickly dismounted and began pulling hoses from the truck, tugging them around the side of the house to the rear where the smoke was the thickest. Within moments, the fire was out, but wisps of smoke continued to drift upward. Lindsay followed the trail of hoses to the back of the house, watching the mop up operations now that the worst of the danger was over.

Chuck Tillman walked up, wiping one sooty hand over his face. "You okay, Lindsay?"

Smiling at the fire chief, she answered, "Thanks to Jaye, I’m fine. I don’t know how she woke up so quickly. The smoke wasn't even that bad until we got out of the place."

"You're both lucky. Much longer, and that fire might’ve really caught on." Chuck gestured toward the still smoking woodbin outside the kitchen door. "Not much damage except for smoke. Where’s Jaye?"

"She saw some guy over there by the woods and took off after him."

"Well, the fire is definitely arson." Chuck pushed back his helmet and scratched his head. "But it doesn’t make much sense to just set the woodbin on fire. You can smell the kerosene on the kindling. If the arsonist had wanted to burn the place down, you’d have thought he’d have splashed that stuff all over the house." He snorted and gazed off to the woods. "I see Jaye hasn't changed. Still rushes headlong into the unknown."

Lindsay smiled wryly. "I think she was pissed."

"Can't say I blame her..."


Jaye reached the wood line within seconds of the man’s disappearance. She paused momentarily to ascertain the direction of his flight. It was obvious by the noise he was making that he was more intent on getting away quickly than on concealing his presence.

The Canadian was no stranger to these woods and smiled knowingly. From the sounds of it, he was headed toward the Back Bay dock. Made sense that he’d come by boat. Gambling that she’d guessed right, Jaye took a shortcut she’d learned as a child and arrived at the clearing just before Stu Reynolds crashed out of the timber.

His eyes wide, Stu started backing into the woods.

Tensing in case he bolted and she had to give chase, Jaye stated the obvious. "It's not going to do you any good to run, Stu. You’re caught red handed."

Stu’s shoulders slumped as he stopped. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

Jaye approached Stu and gestured to the woods. "Come on. You can tell that to Dolan."

As they walked back toward her aunt's house, Jaye mulled over the strange sequence of events. First her aunt was murdered, and now an old acquaintance had bungled an attempt to set the house on fire. The dark-haired woman shook her head gloomily. What dire tide of events had her favorite aunt unwittingly set in motion...and how was she going to stop it?


"Here she comes." Lindsay frowned as she peered at the approaching duo. "That's Stu Reynolds with her. I wonder what..." She trailed off, puzzled.

Bill Webster pulled into the driveway, exited the police car leaving the emergency lights flashing, and sauntered over to the growing group of people. Scowling at Lindsay, he said coldly, "Fire looks under control. Why’d you tell Dispatch you needed the police?"

Lindsay pursed her lips, but was spared from further insult by Jaye’s arrival.

Crossing her arms, Jaye met Webster's insulting gaze with an icy glare. "Last I heard, it’s your job to protect the citizens of this town."

"Yeah. So? In case you hadn’t noticed, the fire’s out."

Chuck interrupted. "The fire was arson."

"I wasn’t tryin’ to hurt anyone. Hell, I even called the fire department and waited to make sure they got out of the house before I took off." The voice was low and apologetic.

All eyes turned to Stu and the sheriff gave an exasperated snort. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Stuie. What the hell was in your mind? This has got to be one of the all time dumbest stunts you’ve ever pulled. Well, let’s hear it. What in tarnation did you think you were going to accomplish here?"

Hanging his head, Stu blurted out, "I heard my wife and that damned developer plotting to murder Delia to get her land. Next thing I know, she turns up dead, and they were just going to walk cuz of Lindsay getting the blame. I had to do something."

Webster spat and shook his head in disgust. "So you try to burn down Delia’s house. What the hell was that supposed to do?"

Still looking down at the ground, Stu muttered, "I was going to frame them for the fire. Had to make them pay for killing Delia somehow. Put some rags and an empty gas can in that rat bastard’s garage and sprinkled some kerosene in my wife’s trunk. I was going to call in an anonymous tip once I was safe at home."

"I've known you, what? More’n thirty years now, right?" When Stu nodded, Bill continued, "So why the hell didn't you just come and tell me what they’d done?"

Stu looked at him in anguish. "Would you have believed me? More likely you’d have thought I was just trying to get back at Mary for having an affair with that pissant."

Shaking his head the sheriff said, "Maybe. Maybe not. Anyway, I’m gonna have to take you in and charge you for this fool plan. If you’re lucky, you might get released on your own recognizance, but I wouldn’t lay any money on it. Damn stupid thing to do, Stu!" Disgustedly Webster glanced at Lindsay and added, "You mighta just got lucky. ’Pears I’m gonna have to haul Mary and Derek in for some questioning." He spat on the ground. "Never had so much trouble before the outsiders came around."

"It would just kill you to say you were wrong, wouldn’t it?" Jaye commented dryly. She grinned mirthlessly as the sheriff ignored her and shepherded Stu towards the cruiser.

Half an hour later, Lindsay stood next to Jaye, watching all the emergency vehicles leave, exhausted and relieved all at the same time. "I still can’t believe Mary and Derek would kill Delia. No land is worth someone’s life, especially not hers." She swallowed hard against the grief that threatened to resurface.

Jaye looked at her understandingly, the same sadness in her eyes. "People have murdered for less." Her voice hardened as she continued. "I hope they both rot in jail for the rest of their miserable, misbegotten lives. It still wouldn’t balance out what they did to Auntie Dee."

Lindsay felt an overwhelming urge to sling a comforting arm around Jaye’s shoulders, as she’d done countless times with the woman’s aunt. Resisting the impulse, she cautioned, "It’ll depend on what evidence they come up with. I doubt they’re just going to confess, and Stu’s statement will be weak. He was right about that. The defense will play up the jealous husband aspect."

Jaye sighed. "Yeah. But you can testify about Derek's interest in her property, and how he refused to take no for an answer. That should count for something."

Lindsay nodded, then glancing at Jaye, she tried unsuccessfully to swallow a chuckle.

The Canadian looked at her in surprise. "Something funny?"

Trying not to laugh, Lindsay commented, "Tweetie bird pajamas?"

Jaye glanced down at herself and deadpanned. "Hey, at least I had the bottoms on this time."

Chuckling, the two women walked into the house to survey the smoke damage.

Chapter Fourteen

Exhausted from the previous night’s excitement, Jaye slept uncharacteristically late and woke to the wonderful aroma of bacon and potent coffee. Smiling, she rolled onto her back and stretched luxuriously. Reflecting on the events of the last few days, she was mildly surprised that her overwhelming grief at her aunt’s death had subsided to a dull ache.

Nailing her killers helped. So had the company of a certain green-eyed woman. When they had returned from their interviews and grocery shopping the previous day, the two women had spent the afternoon hiking over Delia’s land and along the beach. The sustained activity had pulled Jaye’s focus away from her sorrow for a while, and Lindsay’s tales about her aunt served to further distract her.

The more time the Canadian spent with her aunt’s companion, the more she realized how well matched the pair had been. They were both sharp-witted, strong, insightful women. Neither was naïve about the ways of the world, but both had a rugged optimism about life in general.

In the evening, Lindsay and Jaye had poured a ritual glass of black rum, taken it out under the stars and toasted Delia’s life. By the time the chill air drove them back inside to a warm hearth, Jaye’s original rancor had faded entirely and she found herself genuinely enjoying the other woman’s company. The crackling fire was the perfect backdrop to Lindsay’s stories as she regaled the Canadian for hours on end.

Jaye could have sworn she had heard her aunt laughing delightedly at the redhead’s astute but amiable dissection of Tucker’s Way inhabitants and culture. Her affection for the locals was apparent, even as she related their quirks and antics. For all her stories, though, Lindsay had said very little about her own past, other than that she came from Oregon, and her mother’s death after a long illness had propelled her into the job with Delia. Even when Jaye had told her about her job as a crime-scene photographer and her relationship with Ronald, the younger woman hadn’t reciprocated with any personal details.

Ronald! Damn. Jaye groaned inwardly, reluctantly tearing her mind from the pleasant memories of the previous night. For all her good intentions, she had forgotten to call her boyfriend again yesterday. Well, it’s not like he bothered to call me, either. Sighing, she dismissed the petulant thought and rolled over to check the clock. Deciding he’d just be getting ready for work, she picked up the bedside phone.

When a woman’s voice answered after a couple of rings, Jaye’s first thought was that she’d misdialed, but then she heard Ronald’s voice in the background.

"I told you not to answer the damned phone!"

"But Ronnie, you were in the shower." The woman’s whine was cut off as Ronald came on the line.

"Hello? Hello?"

Without a word, Jaye hung up the phone and stared at the receiver. When it rang, she knew he had used his Caller ID to identify her. When the jangling stopped abruptly, she guessed that Lindsay had picked up the kitchen extension. Her supposition was validated when a soft tap came at her door.

"Jaye? Are you awake? There’s a gentleman calling for you."

"Tell him..." Jaye hesitated. What did she want to tell him? Well, nothing that Lindsay would probably want to repeat. "Tell him I’m not accepting his calls."

There was a brief silence and then a muted, "Um, okay. Breakfast is almost ready if you are."

Jaye grunted an acknowledgement, then pulled a pillow over her head to muffle an aggrieved yell.

"Told you he was a lowlife, J-mac. It’s in the eyes. Always check the eyes."

She groaned and tossed the pillow aside, eying her aunt’s ghost perched comfortably at the foot of the bed. Scowling, she pushed herself upright and clasped her knees.

"Oh, don’t give me that look. You couldn’t care less that he’s messing around with some bimbo. Your pride is just hurt, that’s all."

Jaye let her head drop against her knees and considered her aunt’s words. She had to admit Delia was right. Ronald’s cheating wasn’t exactly breaking her heart. If anything, she should be grateful to the anonymous bimbo for pushing her into a decision she’d been procrastinating over for many months. Her relationship with her now ex had been anemic at best. She had to search her mind to remember what she’d ever seen in him...and when she’d last seen it.

Refusing to give her smug relative the satisfaction, however, she snapped, "I do so care." Then ignoring Delia’s skeptical expression, she continued in a milder tone, "I wasn’t sure if I’d see you again, now that we caught your killer."

A troubled look came over the weathered features, and Delia shook her head. Jaye was fascinated by the way the white waves of hair rippled just as they had in life. She almost stretched out her hand, before sad realization checked her movement.

"Something doesn’t feel right, but I’m not sure what it is. I just get a sense of something left undone."

Jaye cocked her head curiously. "But we got the killers, Auntie Dee. Stu implicated Mary and Derek after we caught him red-handed last night. I mean, we don’t know which of them actually did it, but I’m sure one of them will crack and spill the beans eventually."

The ghost rubbed her forehead in frustration. "I know, and you two did well..."

"But?" Looking expectantly at her aunt, Jaye waited for further explanations.

None came, and when she sought elucidation, Delia waved her off.

"Oh, it’s probably nothing, J-mac. Why don’t you go have breakfast? I happen to know that Lindsay is an excellent cook." With those words, she just vanished; and Jaye shook her head in bemusement. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to her relative popping in and out so abruptly.

Making her way out to the kitchen, she paused in the doorway to watch Lindsay work over the stove. The woman’s movements were deft and graceful as she divided a large omelet onto two plates, added bacon, hash browns and toast and turned to carry them to the table.

The Canadian was warmed by the smile that greeted her when Lindsay saw her. She’d half expected displeasure after she’d used the other woman to convey the brush-off to Ronald.

"Coffee’s ready. Why don’t you pour a couple of mugs?"

They were halfway through the excellent breakfast before Lindsay remarked casually, "Want to tell me what happened this morning?"

Jaye glanced up sharply, but didn’t see anything except uncritical curiosity in her companion’s face. As she studied the clear green eyes, her aunt’s word resounded in her ears.

It’s in the eyes. Always check the eyes.

Lindsay’s eyes were compassionate, intelligent, and guileless. And given her unquestionable attractiveness, Jaye wondered again at the absence of romance in the other woman’s life. Shaking off that line of thought with a touch of puzzlement, Jaye related the details of her abortive phone call to Ronald.

A slender hand stretched across the table and covered her own. "I’m so sorry."

The simple words crystallized things for Jaye. "I’m not. Auntie Dee was right. He is an idiot, and I’m better off without him."

Lindsay said discreetly, "He wasn’t exactly one of her favourite people."

"That’s putting it mildly," Jaye chuckled ruefully. "She thought he was all style, no substance, and a few bricks short of a full load to boot...She was right. But then, that’s the story of my life." She sighed melodramatically, inwardly delighted when Lindsay laughed out loud.

"She did think your taste in men was..."

"Wretched, pathetic, unbelievably off-base?"

"Flawed." Lindsay gently corrected Jaye’s helpful suggestions with a smile.

Jaye grinned. She suspected her salty-tongued relative had used somewhat more emphatic words, but she appreciated Lindsay’s attempts to soften the well-merited assessment.

Finishing off the last of the fluffy omelet, she asked, "So, what about you? Is your judgment any better than mine? Any rocky romances in your past?"

"Oh, you know," Lindsay said casually, "everyone has things they regret. My last relationship just sort of petered out when my mother got sick, and I haven’t really been looking since."

"Mmm." Jaye wasn’t surprised at the noncommittal answer. For someone who spoke easily and openly, the other woman definitely had her off-limits areas.

"So what did you have on the agenda for today?" Lindsay asked, successfully steering them away from any potential awkwardness.

"I want to go through Auntie Dee’s papers and get a grasp on any matters that need to be cleared up." Even as she answered, Jaye was conscious of an acute curiosity about the other woman. She attempted to justify her burgeoning fascination with Lindsay through the rationale that she could get a better idea of her aunt’s last months by learning more about her constant companion; but in her more honest moments, she knew there was more to it than that.

Nodding her understanding, Lindsay began to clear the table, demurring when Jaye offered to help.

"Why don’t you start with her desk? She always did her own paperwork, so I’m not sure what is where, but I assume you’ll find her files in there." She hesitated, then added, "Would you mind driving me to the graveyard later? I’d like to..."

Her words trailed off, and Jaye regarded her gently. "Say good-bye?"

The other woman just nodded and, head lowered, busied herself at the sink.

"Just let me know whenever you’re ready to go," Jaye said softly before turning away to allow her new friend the privacy of her grief.

Leaving Lindsay to tidy up the kitchen, Jaye returned to her room to grab fresh clothes before she showered. Once cleaned up, she toured the exterior of the house to confirm her initial impression that Stu’s arson attempt had done little real damage. Daylight showed that part of the woodpile had been destroyed and the adjacent wall was smoke damaged, but the integrity of the building itself hadn’t been undermined. Satisfied, she made a mental note to clean up the affected area later, and made her way inside to the small den which had served as her aunt’s office.

Seating herself on the creaking wooden swivel chair in front of the ancient roll top, Jaye smiled at a childhood memory of spinning circles in her aunt’s chair until she was dizzy. She pushed off and spun once around in homage before settling in to examine her aunt’s record keeping. Luckily, Delia had been a meticulous accountant, and all the household expenses and receipts were carefully filed. A large, old, brown ledger recorded each item through the years in progressively shakier script. The evidence of her aunt’s increasing debilitation saddened the Canadian, but she knew if asked, Delia would have dismissed any such sentiments. The older woman had enjoyed her life to the fullest, and even severe arthritis hadn’t dampened that pleasure.

Looking for the tax records, Jaye pulled open a lower drawer and paused when she saw a metal lockbox inside. Wondering what her aunt had considered valuable enough to consign to lock and key, she pulled out the box and set it on the desk. The dull and dented metal spoke of its age, and although she couldn’t see a key anywhere, the lock quickly yielded to persistent prying with a letter opener.

Seeing an assortment of ribbon bound letters and old photographs, Jaye shuffled through the contents curiously. Pulling a letter out at random, she saw it was addressed to her aunt at the Lake Sivert summer house. Checking the postmark, she was surprised to see the letter was over forty years old.

Ignoring a twinge of conscience, Jaye pulled three sheets of brittle paper out of the envelope. Smoothing them open carefully, she scanned the pages. A smile spread over her face as she realized that she was reading a love letter.

"Why, Auntie Dee, you old dog! So you did have a chequered past after all." Jaye chuckled as one eyebrow shot up at a particularly provocative passage. Curious to see who the mystery man was, she flipped through the pages to the final passage.

My darling Delia, I know the world will never understand the love between us, and I pray that I may find the strength to stand firm and claim my place beside you. Know that whatever happens, I will always love you with everything that I am. Beloved, wait for me, for I will come to you when I can.

Forever yours,


Jaye’s mouth dropped open and she stared at the signature, unquestionably a woman’s elegant cursive. Delia’s mystery lover was a woman! Stunned, she dropped the letter and fumbled for another. Pawing frantically through letter after letter, she realized that they were all from Patricia, and all proclaimed without equivocation, the romantic attachment between the two.

"Find everything that you were looking for?"

The casual question from the doorway caused Jaye to jerk and whirl about. "Did you know that my aunt was a lesbian?"

Lindsay flinched at the harsh accusatory tone, but nodded. "Yes, I did."

"I can’t believe this!" Jaye threw the letter she’d been holding atop the pile on the desk. Standing, she paced angrily. "I bloody well can’t believe this!"

Lindsay edged by her and gingerly picked up one of the letters. The soft smile that came over her face when she read the contents irrationally infuriated Jaye, and she snatched the papers out of the other woman’s hand. Shaking the crumpled letter in Lindsay’s face, she snarled, "Is that why she thought you walked on water?"

Obviously shaken, Lindsay stood her ground. "We were never lovers, if that’s what you mean."

Her quiet words calmed the angry woman slightly, and somewhat shamefaced, Jaye mumbled an apology. "Sorry. I didn’t mean to accuse you." Still reeling, she blurted, "How did you know?"

Lindsay regarded her steadily, obviously considering what to say. Finally she said, "I found Delia’s ad for a companion-assistant in The Rainbow’s End." When Jaye stared at her blankly, she sighed and clarified, "It’s a national gay magazine."

"Uh, so then you’re..." Jaye stumbled over the words.

With a wry smile, Lindsay nodded. "Gay, yes."

Stunned at the unreasonable jealousy and sense of betrayal that swept over her, Jaye spun and stomped out of the room. Blindly, she grabbed her jacket and keys from her bedroom and rushed out of the house. Driving in an emotional maelstrom, she found herself on the highway out of town heading north. Without a conscious decision, she’d taken the route leading her back to Toronto.

"Running away, Eeyore?"

Jaye started violently, then scowled at her aunt’s ghost in the passenger seat.

"Go away!"

Delia’s voice was sad but determined. "Can’t do that."

Pointedly ignoring her aunt, Jaye focused fiercely on the road, pushing Henri well past the speed limit.

"Dolan’s got a speed trap about five miles up. You might want to slow down to a sane speed."

Jaye glared at Delia, who just shrugged. "I’m already dead, J-mac, but I’d hate to see you join me before your time."

Sucking in a deep breath, Jaye forced her foot to ease off the gas pedal.

"So what’s got your knickers in a knot? The fact that I had a past, the fact that it was with a woman, or the fact that I never told you about it?"

Her aunt’s voice was neutral, but the Canadian was stung by the implication of juvenile behaviour. Rather than answering directly, she asked, "Why didn’t you ever tell me?"

Delia sighed heavily. "Because part of the conditions your father imposed for allowing me to stay in your life was that I never mention anything ‘improper’ in your presence, and my youthful indiscretions were most assuredly considered off-limits in his estimation."

Jaye considered that silently. It did explain a lot of things: her father’s dislike of her aunt, his reluctance every summer to send her back to Tucker’s Way, and his rigid insistence on her church attendance when she returned to Canada. "Okay," she admitted slowly, "I can see that, but why didn’t you tell me after I’d grown up? He couldn’t have kept us apart then."

"He had you for ten months of every year. I had you for two. I wasn’t sure how much he’d indoctrinated you to his way of seeing things, and I didn’t want to take the chance of alienating you, particularly as it was irrelevant to my life by then."

Sneaking a glance at her aunt, Jaye muttered, "I’m not prejudiced, you know."

"Could’ve fooled me by the way you were behaving back there."

Delia’s sharp words stung. "I...I was just...I dunno, confused, I guess. I mean you told her, and you never told me." Jaye knew that she sounded plaintive, even to her own ears, and she ducked her head in embarrassment.

"Silly old Eeyore." Her aunt’s words were affectionate, even as they softly chided her. "Considering that Lindsay and I initially connected because we’re both gay, doesn’t it make sense that we knew these things about each other? It doesn’t mean I loved you one bit less. Don’t you know that you were the daughter I never had, especially after your mother died?"

Jaye squirmed a little in chagrin, trying for the first time to understand the source of her jealousy and anger. Was it truly that she was hurt because Delia had never told her, or did it have more to do with what she imagined Delia and Lindsay’s relationship to be? "You two really weren’t involved?"

"Lindsay and I?" Delia’s surprise was evident. "Good heavens, no, child. She’s just a baby, for crying out loud."

Not really. Jaye’s wry thought was accompanied by a mental image of the woman she’d abandoned in such haste, but she forced her mind out of that path at her aunt’s pensive follow-up.

"I lost my heart long ago, J-mac, and I never took it back."



Hesitantly, Jaye asked, "Did my mother know about you and your..." She stumbled, not sure what to term the unknown woman from her aunt’s past.

"Lover. Yes, your mother knew. Patricia had been our best friend since we were all little girls together, and Andi loved her just about as much as she loved me."

Delia’s voice had grown soft and when Jaye glanced over at her, the older woman’s faraway gaze was lost in a distant past. However, before Jaye could ask the rest of the questions that were bubbling over in her mind, Delia changed the subject.

"Are you done running, yet? ’Cause there’s a very special woman whose feelings you hurt pretty badly, and you’ve got an apology to make."

Jaye began to decelerate and pulled Henri over to the side of the road. Glancing at her aunt, she admitted, "Guess I do at that."

"Good." With that one terse word, Delia popped out, and left Jaye shaking her head in exasperation. She had so many things she wanted to ask her aunt, but she obviously wasn’t going to be afforded the opportunity right now.


Lindsay sat in the old wooden chair, her fingers resting on the lockbox and her mind a thousand miles away. The redhead was deeply shaken by the realization that such an extreme reaction from Delia’s niece meant that her own long-term fascination with the woman was severely misplaced. She couldn’t believe that anyone who had grown up with Delia’s influence in her life could have turned out as a raging homophobe, but she didn’t know what other interpretation to put on the woman’s angry words and abrupt departure.

Trembling hands had tidied up the mess Jaye left, carefully folding letters back into their envelopes and organizing them by postmark dates before stacking them back into the metal box. Part of her mind noted that the most recent postmarks were only weeks old, but she was too disturbed to follow up on the thought.

"I’m an idiot."

It was Lindsay’s turn to spin slowly at the words and regard the chagrined woman standing in the doorway. Silently she watched the Canadian squirm under her steady gaze.

"I shouldn’t have run out, and I apologize. I never meant to...I mean, I’m not...I just wasn’t expecting that," she nodded at the lockbox, "and I overreacted. I really am sorry, Lindsay."

It wasn’t a polished apology, but as far as Lindsay could tell, it was genuine. The redhead nodded neutrally. "All right." Having been burned once, she was determined to maintain enough distance not to let it happen again. When she didn’t say anything more, Jaye sidled into the room and gingerly took a chair beside the desk.

"So, um, are you okay?"

Lindsay shrugged. "Why wouldn’t I be? It’s not like I’ve never dealt with bigotry before." It was a well-aimed shot, and she could actually see Jaye flinch at the blunt words. Instead of making her feel better however, she simply felt tired and drained.

"I’m not..." Jaye stopped and sighed. "Look, I understand why you’d think that, but it really wasn’t that Auntie Dee was involved with a woman; it was that I didn’t know anything about that part of her life. I mean, she obviously cherished this woman enough to have kept her letters all these years, yet she never said one thing about her to me."

"Your father..."

"I know. She explained that."

Lindsay stared in surprise. "She explained that?"

"Oh shit!" Jaye had a distinct deer in the headlights look. "I mean, I guessed that...that my dad probably censored what she could tell me."

Frowning, the other woman accepted the ad-lib, but she didn’t miss how nervously Jaye was avoiding her eyes. Finding no reasonable explanation other than perhaps remorse over her abrupt departure and angry words, Lindsay allowed the matter to drop.

"So, what’ve you got there?" Jaye nodded her head at the old photographs under Lindsay’s hand that she hadn’t gotten around to replacing in the lock box.

"I’m not sure. Pictures of Delia and this Patricia, I guess. I haven’t really looked through them." Fanning the photographs across the desktop, Lindsay looked closer at them, smiling when she saw a young Delia with a tall, slender blonde woman in most of the photos, and a third woman, unmistakably Delia’s twin and Jaye’s mother, also included. Many of the pictures were taken in outdoor locales: picnicking, in a boat, at a fair; but the most striking one had been taken in a lakeside gazebo.

The blonde woman was leaning against one of the upright wooden columns. The light of an afternoon sun illuminated her face and shone off her pale hair. The expression on her face left no doubt that she was enchanted with the photographer, as the camera had caught her eyes soft with love and her lips parted as if waiting for the kiss she knew would soon come.

Staring at the photo, Lindsay murmured, "I know this woman."

"You do?" Jaye gently took the picture from her grasp and examined it. "She certainly was beautiful, but then Mom and Auntie Dee were pretty good looking themselves."

Lindsay focused on the picture now in Jaye’s long fingers, trying to clear her mind and picture the woman as she might look now. Suddenly, as if a fog lifted, the pieces fell into place.

"Oh my God, she was here!" Excitedly, Lindsay tapped the picture. "She was right here in this house not four months ago!"

"Patricia was here?" Jaye’s surprise was evident. "When? What happened? What did Delia say?"

Controversy forgotten, Lindsay turned to the other woman eagerly. "It was at the beginning of the summer. I remember, because we were concerned about a late frost affecting the seedlings in the garden. We were out looking them over when a big car pulled up out front. We weren’t expecting anyone, so both of us were curious. We went out to greet our visitors, and a man in his early forties and an older woman, about Dee’s age, got out. For a moment, I thought Delia was having a dizzy spell because she kind of swayed. I put an arm around her, but she shook me off and walked up to the pair. It was obvious that she and the woman knew each other. They greeted each other stiffly, but with familiarity."

Jaye had been following the narrative avidly, leaning forward until her knees were almost touching Lindsay’s. "So, was it Patricia?"

Lindsay nodded. "Uh huh. And the man was her son, Gareth Edwards, Jr." She curled up her lip in distaste and Jaye chuckled.

"Not one of your favourite people, I take it?"

"He was a jerk. He monopolized the conversation through the whole visit, couldn’t stop talking about his political ambitions and the fact that he had his whole career plotted out, and that powerful backers were already talking about his future in the Oval Office."

"But what did Delia and Patricia say to each other?"

"Not a lot. Like I said, Gareth pretty much monopolized the whole conversation. I could tell Delia was irritated because he cut her off every time she tried to talk to his mother, and he was terribly condescending to both women."

"And you?"

Lindsay gave a wry grin. "Me he treated like the hired help." She closed her eyes, trying to recall details of that late spring day. "You know, when they left, I asked Delia who Patricia was. I remember her looking very sad as she told me, "An old friend." Then she went to her bedroom and didn’t come back out until the next day."

"Wow. So Patricia came back into her life after all these years," Jaye mused out loud. "I wonder if they stayed in touch after that."

Lindsay’s eyes widened, and she turned to the letters she had stacked back in the lockbox. Shuffling through the envelopes, she extracted a handful. "These are postmarked from this summer. They must have started writing after that visit."

She handed the letters to the other woman, who hesitated before carefully opening the earliest one and reading it. Lindsay was surprised to see tears gather in blue eyes as Jaye perused the pages.


The other woman looked up at her and gestured with the letter. "Patricia was apologizing for not being strong enough, for allowing her mother to force her into marriage rather than running away with my aunt as they had planned to all those years ago. She says she’d never stopped loving her, and finally had to see her again. She asks forgiveness if she’s upset Delia’s life, but prays that they can be friends again."

Lindsay found her own eyes suspiciously moist as she thought about her friend losing her beloved and retreating to Tucker’s Way for the rest of her life. "Do you think they might have gotten back together again?"

"Well, she says in here that her husband died four months ago, so there wouldn’t have been any impediment to it."

"Except for Gareth." Lindsay felt a sour taste in her mouth at the memory of the obnoxious, overweening would-be politician. "I doubt he’d react happily to the thought of his mother coming out and living openly with her female lover."

The same thought struck both women at the same time.

"You don’t think..."

"What about..."

"Gareth?" they chimed together.

"But last night, Stu implicated Mary and Derek," Lindsay protested unconvincingly.

Jaye shook her head. "Yeah, but Stu had reason to hate both of them, so I’m not sure we can accept him at his word."

"So, where do we go from here?"

The Canadian thoughtfully tapped the return address on the envelope she held. "Well, we know where Patricia lives." Her eyes troubled, she continued. "We really should let her know about Delia’s death if she hasn’t heard; and maybe talking to her will give us some indication if Gareth was even aware of the connection between his mother and my aunt."

Lindsay nodded absently. Something was niggling at the back of her mind, something related to the neat stack of letters in the lockbox. Suddenly the picture came into focus. "There’s another one!"

Jaye glanced up from the second recent letter she’d begun reading. "Huh? Another what?"

Excitedly the other woman explained. "Another letter! The day Delia died, we picked up the mail as we headed into town. I remember her taking an envelope out of the stack and slipping it into her purse with a curious little smile. I just assumed it was something she wanted to read later in private, but I’ll bet you anything it was a letter from Patricia!"

Blue eyes crackled with excitement. "I’ll bet you’re right! Do you know where it is now?"

"If Delia never took it out of her purse, then it must be with her personal effects. Did they turn those over to you at the funeral home?"

Jaye shook her head. "It’s more likely they’ve got them locked up as evidence."

"Then let’s go sweet talk our way into the evidence room." Lindsay noted the raised eyebrow that got her. "What? You don’t think we can sweet talk the sheriff?"

"I’d think we’d have a better chance sweet talking a mongoose out of his snake dinner," Jaye muttered as she tossed the envelopes back onto the desk and rose to follow her companion.

Hearing Delia’s old maxim from her niece’s mouth somehow gave Lindsay a tentative reassurance that they would be able to work together despite the earlier hitch. But as she led the way out of the room, she couldn’t repress a tiny sigh for unborn dreams.

Chapter Fifteen

Lindsay sighed in relief as they pulled into the parking lot at the Sheriff’s Department. "Good, only Dolan’s car is here. We’d never get anything out of Webster except a parking ticket."

A snort signaled Jaye’s agreement, as she exited the Jeep. "I can’t believe this town keeps electing him."

"Habit...inertia. Actually I don’t think anyone else ever wanted the job. Dolan only started with the department two years ago after he quit fishing with his dad, but I think once he gets a little more experience, Bill is going to have a fight on his hands to stay in office."

Pulling open the office door and gesturing for Lindsay to precede her, Jaye commented cryptically, "Can’t happen soon enough."

Lindsay grinned in agreement, pleased when her companion’s frown morphed into an answering smile. Realizing her intent to maintain a safe distance had faltered, however momentarily, she renewed her resolution to stay strictly businesslike, and quietly led Jaye through the waiting room toward the sheriff’s office.

Dolan spotted the two women coming down the hall and rose from his seat behind the desk. Crossing the office, he wrapped his arms around Lindsay in an exultant hug.

"I knew they had the wrong person." Smiling widely, he released her. "You should’ve seen Bill’s face when he told me to go haul in Derek and Mary. Like he’d bitten into a lemon."

Jaye interrupted the celebration. "Did he arrest them?"

Dolan shook his head and perched on the corner of his desk. "Nope. Told ’em not to leave town, though. Bill said he couldn’t arrest them on Stu’s testimony alone, and he’s got a good point. We’re gonna need more than the word of a cuckolded husband."

Raising one eyebrow, Lindsay looked at Dolan pointedly. "He didn’t have any trouble arresting me on circumstantial evidence."

Having the grace to look chagrined, the deputy rubbed his gingery crew cut. "I know, and I do apologize for that, but you know how he is. He’s afraid to make any wrong moves because Mary is a councilwoman and Derek has money and influence behind him. I sat in when they were questioned, and they both said Stu was lying and must have found out about their affair. It was pretty funny when Bill told ’em it wasn’t exactly a secret around town."

Jaye snorted wryly. "Mary wasn’t exactly subtle about it. She knew damn well it wasn’t any secret. Hell, she was flaunting her latest conquest in our faces."

"Yeah, that sounds like Mary all right," Dolan agreed. "So what brings you both here? Not that I’m not glad to see you," he amended hastily.

Lindsay’s face became pensive. "Could we see Delia’s personal effects? Everything that was confiscated for evidence?" When Dolan started to object, Lindsay asked pleadingly, "Then just her purse? Jaye never got to say goodbye, and I thought it might help if she could just touch the last things Dee touched."

Shifting uncomfortably on the desk, Dolan rubbed his jaw speculatively. "You know I really ain’t supposed to let no one touch the evidence."

Two sets of wistful eyes met his gaze, as Jaye promised solemnly, "We won’t take anything, I swear. I just want to see her things."

Dolan sighed audibly. "Oh, all right. But don’t take too long. I want you both long gone before Bill gets back."

"Don’t worry. We’ll be quick." Lindsay smiled and added, "Thanks, Dolan."

Grabbing the keys from the desk drawer, the deputy shrugged. "Aw, you’re welcome. Lost my grandma last year and I’da given anything just to touch her and talk to her one more time, so I know how you feel."

The three walked into the evidence room, and Dolan went to a shelf marked with the case number assigned to Delia’s murder. He removed the purse, visible in the clear plastic bag in which it was sealed, then carefully recorded his initials next to each item that had been catalogued when the purse was admitted as evidence. Carrying the entire bag over to a desk, he set it down gently in front of the women.

Dolan gestured to the box of surgical gloves on the table. "Make sure you put those on before you touch anything. When you’re done, just pick up that phone and dial one. I’ll come back and check it in."

Lindsay blanched as she stared at the red stained envelope that Jaye extracted from the purse. She’d forgotten the letter had fallen from Delia’s purse in the library, and her mind began playing a cinemascope of gruesome pictures: Delia sprawled on the floor…the blood pooled under her head contrasting with the unnatural white complexion of her face. So still, unmoving. Like an observer in a gory horror show, Lindsay saw herself fall to her knees next to Delia, scream for help and begin CPR. Blood...So much blood. Blood everywhere. Dee just needs a doctor. She’ll be okay. She has to be okay. She can’t die...

Tears began running down her face, yet her vision remained inward, glued to the montage of horrific images in her mind, totally oblivious to her surroundings.

"Lindsay?" Jaye raised her voice slightly. "Hey, Lindsay?" She walked around her companion until she was facing her, then laid a hand on the other woman’s shoulder, her relief apparent when Lindsay raised wet eyes to meet her concerned gaze.

"I’m sorry. I just… The blood. The memory…it’s still so vivid."

Jaye instinctively pulled Lindsay close, hugging her and murmuring, "I’m sorry. I should’ve come alone." Suddenly stiffening, she patted Lindsay’s back awkwardly, and then released her. "How about if you go wait in Dolan’s office. I’ll tell you what the letter says."

Lindsay shook her head, grateful for the offer, but needing to see the letter too.


My darling Delia,

I’ve missed you so much, and the longing to be with you is a constant ache in my heart. Last night I broke the news of our planned reunion to Gareth, and we had a terrible row about it. I had really hoped it would go better, but he is so deathly afraid of a scandal that he can’t see beyond his fear. Sometimes I wonder if he’s too ambitious for his own good. I blame his grandmother for that. You remember how she pushed and pushed Four to be who she wanted him to be? When she couldn’t force him into the mold she’d envisioned, she turned her ambitions to her son. Gareth is so like his father in many ways. I had hoped to moderate his and Mother’s influence over the years, but I supposed I was predestined to lose the battle for my boy’s heart and mind.

I’m still reeling over my own son’s accusations that I would deliberately undermine his political career. I’ve always supported him no matter what he chose to do. Would you believe he had the audacity to inform me that I owed him the respectability of being a normal mother? You’d think I planned to dye my hair in rainbow shades and march half-naked in a Pride parade rather than simply moving quietly to a small town to live out my life with an old friend. It’s not like anyone need know the nature of our relationship, and I certainly don’t see how my happiness threatens his future aspirations.

My poor boy knows so little about love, Dee. Perhaps that’s why his own marriage ended after such a brief period, despite his best efforts to save it. I can’t help wondering if it’s all my fault, for I never loved his father, nor did he love me, though we managed an amicable co-existence over the years. Perhaps lacking the example of profound, passionate love, Gareth missing learning a vital lesson. But oh, my darling, the lessons he could’ve learned from us, for I never, ever stopped loving you. It would have been my most cherished dream to have made a life with you and grown old together. It’s so ironic. Had we raised my son, he would’ve been an entirely different man—a joyful, loving, generous man. Yet there is no point or value in dwelling on possibilities past, is there, love? It is enough that I have found you again, and my son must now forge his own path in life.

I only wish that Gareth would be more accepting. I don’t want another confrontation like last night. He ranted and raved for over an hour, bombarding me with the most outrageous accusations to try and make me feel guilty about my feelings for you. When I explained to him that I was completely and irrevocably committed to renewing our relationship, he stormed out of the house and hasn’t been back since. I knew he would be upset, but I didn’t expect such an extreme reaction.

I love my son, dearest Dee, and I want to give him a little more time to get used to the idea of us together. I ask for your understanding that we proceed slowly. You’ve waited so patiently for me for so many years, beloved, that I hate to ask you to wait just a little longer. I was afraid before, for so many reasons, and I did us both an injustice. No one will ever stand in our way again.

Gareth just returned and I suspect it will not be a pleasant evening, but I will weather it because any anguish is worth knowing that we’ll soon be permanently reunited. I do so long for that day. The weekends we have shared this summer have been wonderful, but I want so much more. Soon, darling, we will be waking together every morning, sharing the sunrise and toasting the sunset with your atrocious black rum. I only tease you a little, my sweet woman. We have so much time to make up for that when I am so blessed to return to your house—to our home, I shall never again be away from your side for a single moment. Just remembering the feel of your arms around me and the magic of your touch gives me the strength to do what I must.

I leave you with the poet’s promise – Look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.

My dearest love, you carry my heart in your hands. I love you today, yesterday, and forever,


"That rotten, lousy, no good sonofabitch! What a fucker!"

Lindsay snickered. Despite Jaye’s obvious forthrightness, she hadn’t expected the emphatic, albeit off-color, explosion.

"Well, he is!"

Nodded vigorously, the redhead agreed. "You won’t get any argument from me!"

Jaye folded up the paper, put the envelope back in the evidence bag and began shoving the letter into her pocket. Lindsay laid a hand on her arm. "What are you doing? We can’t take that. Dolan will get in trouble."

"If I leave this here, anyone could see it."

Resigned eyes met Jaye’s sheepish gaze evenly. "Do you really think Delia would care?"

Jaye glanced at the papers, and then ruefully looked away, unable to meet Lindsay’s eyes squarely. "Well, she might…"

Soft laughter, audible only to one of the room’s inhabitants tinkled across the room. What’s the matter, J-mac? Afraid someone might think it’s hereditary?


Lindsay stopped pulling off her gloves and looked at Jaye, startled. "No, what? What’s wrong?"

Her face crimson, Jaye muttered, "Nothing." She reluctantly returned the letter to the envelope and replaced everything in the evidence bag, as Lindsay called Dolan. Once the deputy arrived, Jaye stalked out of the room followed by her bewildered companion.


Once behind the wheel, Jaye began a silent diatribe directed at Delia, hoping her aunt could hear her thoughts. What are you trying to do? Lindsay’s going to think I’m crazy or something. I wish you wouldn’t pop in like that. At least let me see you first.

Delia appeared next to her window, moving evenly with the car. "Sorry dear, but I couldn’t resist. My body didn’t have time to catch up with my mouth." Shrewdly, she added, "Besides what do you care what Lindsay thinks? You’ll be out of here at the first opportunity."

Jaye opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. She did intend to leave once they got to the bottom of things. What she didn’t understand was why she wasn’t particularly looking forward to it.

Lindsay was watching Jaye curiously. "We should let Patricia know that Delia’s dead."

"I know. Boston’s only four hours from here. Do you want to head down there today, or wait until tomorrow?"

The redhead considered for a moment, then said thoughtfully, "Why don’t we go today? If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to talk to Gareth, too. It’s hard to believe that the woman in those letters could bear such a son, but speaking from personal experience, that man’s ego could drive him to just about anything. I hate to say it, but I have a bad feeling that he has far more motive than Mary and Derek for wanting Delia dead."

"Yeah, I think you’re right on the money," Jaye agreed, taking the turn that would lead to the interstate. "Besides, even if we don’t get to see the son, it’s only right that Delia’s kin should break the news to the love of her life. You know, as terrific as she was, I always wondered why she never hooked up with anyone. I used to ask her, and she’d always joke that she had to stay single because it was a fulltime job keeping an eye on me; but I knew there was more to it than that."

Lindsay had reached into her purse and pulled out the return address she had copied down before leaving the evidence room, but she stopped to consider her companion’s words. "One night when we had had a couple more black rums than we probably should’ve, we compared romantic histories. I mean she never told me about Patricia, except to intimate that there had been someone special to her in her youth, but she did say that she had had two or three encounters over the years."

Perking up with interest, Jaye glanced quickly out the side window, relieved to note that her aunt’s ghost had departed. "Really? Did she say who or where?"

"Mmm, not really. I got the impression that they had been romantic interludes while she was vacationing abroad, but she never went into detail. Just said that nothing could ever compare to the real thing, and left it at that." Lindsay had a soft smile on her face, and Jaye wondered if she was remembering a "real thing" of her own. "Anyway, I could rarely even get her out of Tucker’s Way, so I guess her traveling days were long over. I tried to talk into a weekend in Boston last year to do some Christmas shopping and see some shows, but she flat out refused. She’d have me take her to Bangor now and then to see old friends, but that was about it. I guess she’d traveled enough in her youth that she didn’t feel like it any more."

Jaye shook her head. "No, it was just Boston itself. You couldn’t get Auntie Dee to set foot in that town for some reason. I loved the Red Sox when I was a kid, and she was great about letting me go to the games with Dolan and his dad, but she’d never come along, no matter how much I begged. Strange too, because she took me lots of other places. Heck, she even once took me to New York City, though she said there were as many rats of the human kind there as the four-legged variety. Said it was important for me to understand both sides of my heritage. I still have the souvenirs from that trip somewhere. Even when we went to see Grandpa Ben and Grandma Grace, we always went to Lake Sivert, never their Boston home."

"We went to Lake Sivert last fall. What a beautiful place! It’s amazing how well it’s resisted being overdeveloped all this time," Lindsay exclaimed enthusiastically.

"Well, it helps to have most of the lakeside property concentrated in few hands. Mind you, Great-Uncle Hannibal’s son, Charles, couldn’t sell off his father’s land fast enough once he passed away, but at least the developers that bought it didn’t trash the area too badly." She cocked her head, smiling in remembrance. "He was such a sweetie—Hannibal, I mean. He wasn’t my real great-uncle, but he always liked it when I called him that. He always had a treat for me in his pocket when Auntie Dee would take me over there, too. To this day I associate the taste of Lemon Heads with the scent of horses."

"Mmm, I never got to meet him, but Dee and I did have the misfortune of running into Charles when we were there." Lindsay grimaced, pursing her lips as if at a bad taste. "Honestly, next to Gareth Edwards, Jr., Charles was the most obnoxious man I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting; and he and Dee literally bristled at the sight of each other. I thought I was going to have to physically pull them apart."

Jaye chuckled. "I know what you mean. We’d occasionally run into him in passing at the lake, and it was like two bulldogs circling each other. Auntie Dee always said that he was a prime example of the old maxim that you get the face you deserve as you age because he was such an ugly old bugger."

"That sounds like Dee, all right." Lindsay laughed and shook her head.

"Should’ve seen her when Charles sold his father’s land to the developers. She was madder than a wet hen! Mind you, she said he probably needed the money to pay alimony to all six of his ex-wives." Jaye noted with pleasure how easy it was to talk to her companion, and how the miles were flying by as they chatted amiably.

"I’m amazed he managed to marry even once. Can’t imagine who would put up with him," Lindsay commented. Then glancing at Jaye, she postulated, "I guess your grandparents’ summerhouse at the lake will pass to you now."

"S’pose so. I’m the only living heir in the direct Barrington line, though Grandpa Ben left some of the property for a bird sanctuary once he and Grandma passed on." Jaye hadn’t thought much about her inheritance, but as she reflected on all the great times she had enjoyed at the lake with her grandparents and aunt, she was glad that one day she would be able to take her own children there. She smiled ruefully. Of course, given how good I am at picking men, the chance of children is growing more remote by the day.

Turning her thoughts from the hapless Ronald, Jaye glanced over at her companion, smiling before returning her eyes to the road. There was something about the redhead that she was finding increasingly appealing. Or more like a lot of somethings. Lindsay was genuinely warm and outgoing, but beneath her sunny demeanor, there was a sharp mind that missed little.

"Did your parents take you to the lake much?"

Jaye drew her mind away from her companion’s charms and back to the conversation. "No, I don’t remember ever going there with them, but then I barely remember my mother. I was only three when she came down with cancer, and she passed away just before my sixth birthday."

Lindsay gazed at her sympathetically, but Jaye just shrugged. "In all honesty, about the only thing I remember from those years is that Auntie Dee was more of a mother to me than Mom was able to be. She came up from Tucker’s Way a lot to look after Mom and me, and that was really when I bonded with her. The morning I got up, went downstairs and found Dad and Auntie Dee crying, I knew Mom was gone, even as young as I was; but I was more upset when Auntie Dee left a few weeks after the funeral."

"Did you and your father get on all right with her gone?"

"Most of the time." Jaye couldn’t help a wry grin as she remembered her father’s efforts to be both mother and father to her. "He learned quickly, and he really was a good father. Mind you, I lived for the summers when I got to go to Maine, because Auntie Dee was a lot more fun."

"Oh yeah, I can easily see that," Lindsay agreed. "I had a wonderful time with her, and I saw how the town’s children adored her. You know, it’s a shame she never had any of her own, because she’d have been a fabulous mother."

"She was," Jaye said simply; and both women fell silent, remembering and honoring the woman whose life and death had set them on their current path.

Then something occurred to the Canadian.

"Lindsay, did you say you took Auntie Dee to Bangor to see old friends?"

The redhead glanced at her curiously. "Yes. Why, is that significant?"

"Only in that I never knew her to know anyone in Bangor." With growing excitement, Jaye sat up straighter. "Patricia’s letter mentioned something about the weekends they’d shared together this summer. You don’t suppose the "old friend" she was meeting in Bangor was Patricia, do you?"

A smile grew on Lindsay’s face as she considered the possibility. "You know, it very well might have been. I never saw whomever she was staying with. She would just have me drop her off at an apartment, and tell me to enjoy my weekend off. She always paid for my room in a fancy hotel, and I’d just enjoy getting into the city for a while. Monday morning I’d pick her up and we’d come back to Tucker’s Way."

"When did these visits to Bangor start," Jaye asked eagerly.

Lindsay looked at her delightedly. "It was after Patricia and Gareth dropped by that time. I remember because I’d taken a weekend to go out to a cousin’s wedding in Oregon a few weeks after that visit, and I was worried about leaving Dee alone. She scoffed and said that she wasn’t an invalid and she’d be fine, but I called her a couple of times while I was out there to check on her anyway. She didn’t say much except that she was doing well, but she sounded really distracted and I got the impression that she had company. She was really close-mouthed about her weekend when I got home, but it was shortly after that we started making regular trips to Bangor."

"Auntie Dee, you old devil," Jaye said in amusement, hearing the echo of a smug chuckle in her ear.

Lindsay laughed approvingly. "Oh, I’m so glad that they had some time together at least. They deserved it."

Sobering, Jaye nodded. "They deserved to spend the rest of their lives together." Their eyes met in melancholy comprehension as the message they were carrying to Patricia sank in. "God, this really sucks!"

"Yes, it does," Lindsay agreed sadly. "They waited almost their whole lives and all they got out of it was half a dozen weekend trysts. It’s just not fair."

The women fell silent then as they mulled over the injustice of it all, and as the miles passed, Jaye’s thoughts strayed back to the evidence room. She carefully examined what she’d refused to think about then - how good it felt when Lindsay’s body was pressed against her own. She had quickly relinquished the embrace because her physical reaction to the contact had startled her, and she had been shying away from revisiting the moment ever since.

Before she could pursue that disconcerting train of thought, Jaye was pulled from her reverie by the sound of Lindsay’s voice.

"Are you okay? You got pretty quiet on me there."

With forced negligence, Jaye shrugged. "I’m fine. Just thinking about this and that, mostly what we’re going to say to Patricia. How about you? Are you doing okay? It’s been a helluva few days for you."

Lindsay smiled shyly, obviously pleased at the consideration. "I’m better. Thank you for asking."

Returning the smile warmly, Jaye switched on the radio. Determined to banish her troubling thoughts, she began singing along with the tune on the radio. Lindsay quickly joined in, and their harmonies made the journey swift as they headed for Boston.


Pulling into the driveway of a massive stone house, complete with faux Southern white pillars, a wrap-around porch, and a widow’s walk, Lindsay noted the extensive grounds bordered with well-groomed, evenly shorn hedges and dotted with maple trees well on their way to losing their summer foliage. A detached three-car garage matching the design of the house could be seen further down the brick driveway, which looped in a graceful curve around the side of the mansion.

Getting out of the car, the redhead gave a low whistle, impressed in spite of herself. "This is some place!"

Jaye rounded the car to follow Lindsay up the walk. "No kidding. There’s definitely money in this family, but it’s far too formal looking for me. I like my aunt’s place much better."

"So do I," Lindsay agreed. "Though to be fair, Dee’s home was such an extension of her personality that it just couldn’t help being a warm, cheerful, welcoming place." Mounting the stairs ahead of her friend, she reached the landing first and pressed the doorbell.

An aristocratic, slender, mature woman wearing an open-necked white silk blouse and dark blue pants answered the door almost immediately. Her shoulder length hair was an attractive mix of blonde and silver. She was still a beautiful woman with fine boned facial features and large, friendly hazel eyes. She smiled at Lindsay, then as her gaze took in the redhead’s companion, her expression turned to shock.

"Oh, good heavens!" The older woman stared at Jaye in amazement. ", of course, you must be Jaye. My Lord, you’re the spitting image of your aunt. Please, won’t you come in?" She looked past the younger women, as if looking for someone else. "Is Dee with you?"

The two younger women glanced at each other as they accepted the older woman’s invitation to enter. Lindsay, feeling sickened at the news they had to impart, suggested quietly, "Why don’t we sit down somewhere? We need to talk to you."

Fear flashed across the woman’s face and she reached out a trembling hand. "It’s bad news, isn’t it? Is she sick? Where is she? I can be packed in five minutes if you’ll just take me to her. Please, I need to be with her!"

Hating what they had to do next, Lindsay laid a comforting hand on Patricia’s arm and steered her toward the couch visible in the adjoining room. "Let’s sit down, Mrs. Edwards."

The older woman’s face was deathly pale, but she offered no resistance as Lindsay urged her to a seat beside her on the sofa. Glancing over to where Jaye had settled into a chair opposite them, she secured a slight nod of approval to proceed. Knowing there was really no way to ease into it, the redhead simply said, "I’m terribly sorry to have to tell you this, but Delia was killed last Thursday."

The older woman’s face lost what little color remained, and she shook visibly. "No! Please...please tell me this is some kind of sick joke. She can’t be dead. Not now. Not when we were so close," she implored.

Filled with compassion for the stricken woman, Lindsay reached for one of Patricia’s hands and patted it gently. "I’m so sorry. We didn’t know, or we’d have come sooner. We just found your letters today." She looked over helplessly at Jaye, who had been watching the scene with quiet intensity.

Heavy tears were tracking down Patricia’s face. Recognizing Lindsay’s unspoken plea, Jaye retrieved a nearby box of tissues and carried it over to the heartbroken woman, who was now wracked by deep sobs.

Curled in on herself with agony, Patricia mourned. "Why? Oh, sweet God, why now? I never even got to say goodbye. All this wasted time, and I wasn’t even there for her at the end. I never got to tell her one last time how much I always loved her."

Kneeling in front of Patricia, Jaye offered the tissues and said softly, "She loved you, too, you know." Startled at the unqualified acceptance, Lindsay glanced across the older woman. The Canadian gave her a slightly abashed look, then rose and returned to her chair. Setting aside her surprise, the redhead concentrated on comforting and calming their hostess. It would be a long time before Patricia’s tears eased, as the two younger women quietly lent their support.


Jaye had no idea how long they had been sitting there, the only sound in the room Patricia’s sobs and Lindsay’s soft murmurs. Wanting to be of assistance, but instinctively aware that the redhead was much better at this than she could be, the Canadian had been staring at her shoes for what seemed like an eternity. Finally lifting her eyes, she was startled by the shimmering figure of her aunt next to the grieving older woman. Delia was looking at Patricia, her features soft with love and her eyes overflowing with boundless devotion, apparent even from across the room.

Overwhelmed by the intense emotion emanating from her aunt’s spirit, the empathy Jaye had held at arm’s length since learning of Delia’s long-ago lover began to burgeon, flooding her with awareness. These two women had shared a very special love for one another. How could that be wrong? She remembered expressing her contempt when one of her friends had talked about finding her soul mate, dismissing it as sentimental claptrap.

She had been wrong. Her disdain and cynicism had grown out of a personal history devoid of meaningful relationships and replete with casual encounters with superficial men. Jaye felt the burdensome yoke of bigotry she’d unwittingly absorbed from her father slip away in the face of the unearthly scene unfolding in front of her. This wasn’t wrong. One thing she’d heard was true. Love truly was blind. Love came from the heart, without regard to the physical manifestation of the human being. Love was love, and knew no boundaries.

She could see her aunt speaking softly in Patricia’s ear and wondered if the distraught woman could hear Delia, even as she felt like an interloper on a scene of profound intimacy. Jaye wistfully wondered what it would feel like to have someone look at her that way and whisper sweet words into her ears.

Patricia’s tears began to slow and she stood up, Delia’s ghostly form joining her. Wiping her red, puffy eyes, she murmured apologetically, "Excuse me just a minute."

Sadly the younger women watched her leave the room. Her own eyes brimming, Lindsay said, "That had to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It almost felt like Dee was dying all over again. I wish there were something...anything, that I could say to make her feel better."

Knowing that the only one who could make her feel better was already at her side, even if Patricia couldn’t see her, Jaye just shook her head. "There’s not much we can say. It’s just going to take time—lots of time."

"Do you still think it’s wrong?"

Though it wasn’t a challenge and her voice was mild, Jaye felt Lindsay watching her so intently that it seemed as if she were trying to peer inside the other woman’s soul. The Canadian met those piercing eyes squarely.

"No, I don’t."

She was inordinately pleased to see the delight that her answer put in her friend’s eyes, and in the midst of the unbearably difficult thing they had come to do, she felt a measure of peace.


Patricia returned a short time later carrying a tray with a teapot, three cups and a small key. After pouring them each a cup of tea, she walked over to a bookcase and unlocked a large, lower drawer. Rummaging through a multitude of photo albums within, she selected one and carried it back to the couch. Face drawn with grief, she laid a hand on the book and managed a tremulous smile.

"Your aunt and mother and I grew up together, and when Dee and I finally acknowledged our feelings for each other, it was like my eyes opened for the first time and I could see all the beauty that my camera had been capturing all along. Delia used to tease me all the time about taking an endless number of pictures, but I’m very glad I did. In the years that followed, it helped to have these to look back remember a time when we were both so young and so full of love and life. I know that even today many people simply can’t understand, but she was the only one in the world for me, and I know she felt the same."

Lindsay saw Patricia study their faces as she spoke, and she wondered if the older woman was searching for any signs of condemnation. She felt an urge to assure their hostess that there was no reason for concern, but from the woman’s half-smile decided that she must have seen their understanding for herself. Leaning forward, the redhead made her request.

"Won’t you show us, please? We’d love to see all the old photos. It’ll be almost like having a good visit with Dee." From the corner of her eye she caught Jaye’s vigorous nod of agreement.

Patricia gave them a full smile, then cocked her head as if struck by a sudden realization. "She never changed, did she? She was just as special to you two as she was to Andi and me all those years ago."

"Was she ever," Lindsay declared fervently. When Jaye didn’t say anything, she glanced over, only to see blue eyes filling with tears. She and Patricia shared a look of understanding, before the redhead went over to her companion and gave her a quick hug. She got a grateful, if somewhat teary smile in response.

Patting the sofa beside her, Patricia invited them both to come sit with her. When they did so, she opened the album, tracing her finger gently over the old black and white photos on the first page. There, caught for all time, laughing little girls still played at the edge of a lake.

Staring at the pictures, the older woman murmured, "We rarely returned to Lake Sivert after I was married. My husband had a great dislike of the place, so we began going to Martha’s Vineyard instead." Her smile sad and wistful, she turned the page, inviting them to travel back in time through her memories.

The hours passed quickly, as Patricia delighted her guests with tales of days gone by. With each story the older woman told, she seemed to let go of a tiny piece of her sorrow, her lightly lined face becoming radiant as she recalled the halcyon days of their youthful love. She barely touched on her decision to bow to her parents’ wishes and marry Gareth Edwards, Sr., and unwilling to exacerbate her grief the younger women didn’t question her further; but it was clear to her visitors that her love for Delia had never faltered, not even four decades after they were torn apart.


The three women looked up on hearing a car pull into the driveway, and Patricia hurriedly closed the album, scrambling to gather those photos scattered about during the long afternoon and relocking the drawer only seconds before her son walked into the living room.

Gareth stopped and stared at them in surprise. "Mother? Who’s your company?"

Lindsay regarded the rugged, expensively clad man now standing in the entranceway. She noted that her initial impression still rang true. He had barely glanced at the two younger women, but apparently deciding that they were of no import, he did nothing to conceal the arrogance on his handsome face. Even his body language conveyed his imperial sense of entitlement, and the redhead couldn’t help wondering wryly if he required the unexpected visitors to curtsey.

Just short of six feet, Gareth nonetheless had a formidable presence, and he was obviously accustomed to making an impact on people. When his mother frowned at his initial rudeness, he immediately turned on an artificially bright smile, which faltered when he finally met Lindsay’s eyes. Had she not been watching him so intently, the redhead knew she would’ve missed the shock that flashed through his eyes and the brief hesitation in his stride.

Mollified by her son’s smile and apparently unaware of the by-play, Patricia made introductions. "Gareth, dear, you remember Lindsay, don’t you? She was Delia’s assistant." When her son nodded curtly, she continued, "And this is Jaye, Delia’s niece."

Chameleon-like, Gareth’s attitude shifted swiftly; and he greeted each woman warmly, shaking their hands and giving them a charming smile, before coming to his mother and kissing her lightly on the cheek. Drawing him down beside her on the couch opposite to Lindsay, Patricia drew in a deep breath and quietly gave him the news.

"Darling, they came to tell me that Delia was murdered last week. Some suspects have been questioned, but as yet, no charges have been filed."

Instantly Gareth gathered his mother up in a hug, rubbing her back gently as she settled her head on his shoulder. His voice low and sympathetic, he murmured, "Oh, Mother, I’m so very sorry. I know she was an old and dear friend."

Lindsay had to bite her tongue. She could see the man’s eyes above his mother’s head and there was no warmth or sincerity in them, even as he mouthed the appropriate words. His apparent indifference to the news vaulted him to the top of the redhead’s suspect list, and she wondered again how a woman as genuine and warm as Patricia had produced a son ostensibly devoid of even ordinary compassion.

She glanced at Jaye, noting the Canadian’s quickly concealed frown. She had no doubt that when they compared notes, they would be in accordance regarding Patricia’s son.

His arms now more loosely around his mother, Gareth spoke over his shoulder to the visitors, his voice stern and protective. "I think it would be best if you left now. My mother’s suffered a terrible shock, and she needs to rest."

Patricia pulled back, shaking her head. "No, son. It’s over four hours to Tucker’s Way and much too late for them to leave now." She turned her attention to Jaye and Lindsay. "Please stay here tonight as my guests."

The entreaty in her eyes was clearly visible to both women, and Jaye answered for both of them. "If you’re sure we’d be no bother, then we would appreciate it. Thank you."

Scowling, Gareth snapped at the unwanted visitors. "For God’s sake, I would think you’d have the decency to see that my mother is in no condition to entertain visitors, and just go."

It was Patricia’s turn to glare at her son. "Gareth! I’ll have you remember that this is my house, and they are welcome guests in it." She turned to the younger women apologetically. "Please, don’t listen to him. He’s just being his usual overprotective self."

Lindsay glanced from Gareth’s tightly clenched fists to his rigid features, watching as he visibly forced himself to relax back into the plush sofa cushions. Yet when he spoke again, his tone was calm and accepting, and the redhead marveled at the amazing dissonance between his voice and the anger still apparent in his eyes. Patting his mother’s hands, he murmured, "Of course, Mother. You’re right, of course. You know I was only worried about you, as always. Please, all of you, forgive my rudeness and allow me to offer my deepest condolences. I’m sure Miss Barrington was an exceptional woman and you must miss her terribly."

Unsure that she would be able to stomach much more of the man’s patented sympathies, Lindsay groaned inwardly at the thought of an evening spent in his unctuous company. Stealing a sidelong glance at her companion, she noticed that Jaye looked as if she had just bitten into something bitter. Aware that they mustn’t alienate either mother or son if they were to elicit the information they needed, she simply nodded her acceptance of Gareth’s apologies and was pleased to see the less subtle Canadian follow suit.

Patricia offered her son a forgiving smile, then turned to her guests. "Luckily I’ve had ribs slow-cooking since this morning. They’re Gareth’s favorites, and there’s more than enough for all of us. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go finish the preparations and we’ll eat shortly."

Lindsay rose to her feet, offering to help out. Patricia accepted graciously and the women adjourned to the kitchen, leaving Jaye and Gareth together in the living room. The redhead smirked inwardly, hoping her occasionally abrasive friend could avoid coming to blows with their chief suspect. She was amused when Jaye sidled into the kitchen ten minutes later with a pleading look in her eyes. Taking pity on her, Lindsay handed her a paring knife and allowed her to join in on peeling potatoes. In a muttered aside she asked, "Did you leave him in one piece?"

With a quick glance to where Patricia was checking the ribs, Jaye replied sotto voce, "Just barely. Five more minutes, and I wouldn’t have been responsible for my actions."

Lindsay choked back a laugh, glad that her friend had exercised her small reserve of tact. The diplomatic skills of both women were tried throughout dinner as Gareth monopolized the conversation and managed in the same breath to extol his own ambitions, while proclaiming with transparent pretension that he was simply answering his country’s call for leadership.

Patricia, obviously long versed in listening to her son with half an ear, appeared unaffected by his braggadocio, but once dinner was finished and they had lingered over coffee for a while, she dismissed him with gentle firmness, telling him it was time for him to go home. When he protested, she simply took him by the arm and with unexpected resoluteness ushered him to the door, hugging him affectionately before bidding him a fond goodnight.

Turning to her bemused guests, she smiled. "Now, where were we?"

When Lindsay attempted to collect the dinner dishes, she was waved off and summoned to join the other two in the living room. As Patricia curled her legs up underneath herself, she fixed her gaze on her guests and implored, "Tell me everything...everything that you can remember Dee ever saying and doing. I have a lot of years to fill in."

Settling beside her, Lindsay sensed that it would be many hours before they saw their beds that night.

Chapter Sixteen

Jaye leaned back in her chair, approaching exhaustion from the long hours of conversation. Lindsay had already retired for the night but, sensing that her aunt’s lover still needed to talk, Jaye had stayed up with their hostess. Now, however, she noted that the older woman had drifted off into her own thoughts, and she remained quiet, allowing Patricia the comfort of her memories.

Tired eyes shifted to her aunt’s ghost. Delia had been a constant presence since Gareth’s departure, hovering close to Patricia as if to offer ethereal solace. The spirit raised her eyes and met Jaye’s, sorrow mixed with a curious contentment in the wise, old gaze. The younger woman couldn’t help wondering if Delia’s shade would remain at Patricia’s side for whatever years the elegant woman had left.

"I almost feel like she’s I can still feel her love surrounding me."

Patricia’s wistful remark startled Jaye out of her torpor and without thinking, she blurted, "She is. She’s sitting right beside you."


Hazel eyes had widened in shock and Jaye’s immediate instinct was to quickly recant, but Delia’s nod and half-smile encouraged her.

"My aunt. Well, her spirit anyway...she’s sitting beside you and has been all evening."

"You can see her?" Patricia’s voice was a mixture of skepticism and desperate hope.

Jaye nodded. "I’ve been able to since the day of her funeral. I almost had a coronary when she first showed up, but she was so pissed off at being murdered when she had big plans for her life that she insisted I find out who did it. She knew Lindsay had been wrongly accused, and wasn’t about to sit still for that kind of injustice."

Patricia laughed. "That’s sounds like my Dee." She turned to stare at the spot to which Jaye had gestured. Sadly she reported, "I can’t see her."

"Tell her to close her eyes, J-mac. Tell her to clear her mind and just let herself feel."

Obediently, Jaye repeated her aunt’s words, watching as Patricia followed the instructions, an expression of wary hope on her aristocratic features.

Delia raised both hands, cupping her lover’s face and smoothing her thumbs over the lines around her eyes and mouth. Bending forward, she touched her lips to Patricia’s, lingering as if tasting a long-ago sweetness.

Hazel eyes flew open. "I felt her! I really felt her!"

Jaye laughed, delighted that her aunt had gotten through.

Patricia turned eagerly to the younger woman. "Can I talk to her?"

"I’m not sure. I mean, she can hear what you say, but I’m not sure if you’ll be able to hear her replies. Give it a try. I’ll translate if necessary."

The elegant woman turned back to face the unseen wraith. "Dee...darling, I’m so sorry. If only I hadn’t delayed. Maybe if I’d been with you..."

"No, Patty. You might have gotten hurt, and I couldn’t have borne that."

Jaye had never heard such tenderness in her aunt’s voice, not even when Delia had comforted her after numerous childhood scrapes. She felt like a voyeur, but when it became clear that Patricia still couldn’t hear her lover’s words, she repeated them.

A strangled half-sob met her recitation. "Only Dee ever called me Patty. I never let anyone else get away with that nickname." Tears spilled down her cheeks, but her eyes were luminous with joy. "Oh God, she’s really here. Please tell her how much I miss her and how dearly I love her."

Jaye’s vision was unaccountably misty. "She knows. She can hear you." She cocked her head as she listened to her aunt. "She says to remember what she told you on the beach, that she always knew, even after you left. She never for a moment doubted your love, and she never blamed you."

Patricia wept bitterly now. "My mother...Gareth..."

Deciding discretion was in order, Jaye decided not to convey the oath that burst from Delia’s lips at the mention of the two people who had destroyed the young lovers’ dreams. Setting aside her curiosity about the reference to the beach, she frowned at her aunt, silently urging her to let the past go and focus on the despairing woman beside her. She was pleased with Delia’s next words.

"My aunt asks if you remember the time of your Uncle Hannibal’s annual July 4th barbeque."

Sobs slowed, and a tiny smile curled Patricia’s lips.

"She wants to know if they ever proved your cousin’s rowboat was sabotaged."

Jaye was startled to hear Patricia giggle and watched as Delia grinned too. She frowned in puzzlement, wondering what memory was amusing the two lovers.

Noting her confusion, Patricia explained.

"My cousin Charles was an obnoxious snob, and he had his sights set on a wealthy, young Englishwoman. Dee and I liked the girl, and we didn’t want her to get stuck with Charles for life when all he was after was her money and position, so we set out to ensure that she saw the real Charles before she was swept away by his smarmy charm. We knew Charles would take Lillian out on the lake during Uncle Hannibal’s picnic, because that was his standard approach to courting. The night before, Dee and I snuck out and loosened a couple of the boards in the boat. He only got about twenty feet off the dock before the water started pouring in. Not only did he make an utter ass of himself squawking like a terrified child, he abandoned Lillian in the sinking boat and scurried back to shore like the proverbial rat. Well, needless to say, by the time she made it back to land, her feet soaked and livid about his desertion, there was no danger that she’d ever consider Charles as suitable husband material."

Through gales of laughter, Delia managed to gasp, "Charles suspected us, but he was never able to prove anything."

Jaye joined in the laughter, feeling vaguely sorry for the would-be Romeo. She suspected he hadn’t stood much of a chance against these two.

"So who was the brain behind that operation?" Jaye asked, when the hilarity subsided a bit.

"She was!" Patricia’s declaration was instantaneous.

"Hah, like she wasn’t right in there with me!" Delia protested with a wide grin.

Not at all surprised that her aunt was fingered as the instigator, Jaye chuckled as the lovers playfully blamed each other for the long-ago mischief. But as she absently continued conveying Delia’s words, inwardly approving of how her aunt had lifted Patricia’s spirits, she couldn’t help being distracted. Her traitorous thoughts cast Lindsay and herself in the older women’s shoes—friends become lovers in a disapproving world. She found herself musing on what they would do in the same position, if her father forbade such a relationship and threatened to disown her. She wondered if she would have the strength to stand against him, and give up the only family she had left for the woman she loved. Startled at her train of thought, Jaye forced herself to set it aside and concentrate on her role as interlocutor.

With memories and loving words exchanged between Delia and Patricia, another hour passed before Jaye finally called a halt. Yawning widely, she apologized. "I’m sorry, I can’t keep my eyes open any more. I’m going to have to say goodnight."

Patricia stood as Jaye did, and surprised the younger woman with a fervent, grateful hug.

"Thank you. You have no idea what a gift you’ve given me tonight. I can never repay you."

"No need to. I was glad to help." Jaye smiled, then glanced over to where her aunt still sat.

"Goodnight, J-mac. You’re a good girl, and I’m damned lucky to have you as my niece."

Her aunt’s gruff approval warmed Jaye, and she bade the lovers’ goodnight. On her way to the stairs, she detoured through the dining room. Patricia had insisted that they leave the dishes, saying that the housekeeper would clear them away in the morning and that they had more important things to do. That suited Jaye perfectly as she carefully wrapped Gareth’s wine glass in a linen napkin and carried it upstairs to her room. Carefully stowing it in her bag, she wearily stripped off her clothes and threw on an oversized t-shirt that Patricia had loaned her.

She had opened the bedroom door on her way to the washroom when she heard Delia’s voice from behind her. Turning, she saw her aunt sitting on her bed. Without any preliminaries, the ghost said, "I want you to leave off this investigation, J-mac. It doesn’t matter who killed me. What’s done is done, and some day, whoever did it will have to answer to the ultimate justice."

Momentarily speechless, Jaye stared at her aunt, before bursting out, "Not bloody likely! We’re right on the verge of solving this thing, and you know it!"

"Don’t know anything of the kind, Eeyore." Delia’s stern voice echoed in the large bedroom.

"Like hell you don’t! We both know Gareth had the strongest motive, and Lindsay and I are going to prove opportunity tomorrow."

Delia stood abruptly, all the earlier gentleness gone from her sharp eyes. "Jaye Andrea MacLaren...I said let it drop!"

Jaye used every bit of her meagre height in a fruitless attempt to intimidate her aunt as she snapped, "I will not. There’s no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to let that miserable bastard get away with killing my favourite aunt."

The ghost shook her head in exasperation, even as her gaze softened slightly. "You don’t understand..."

"I do understand." Jaye’s voice had dropped in volume too. "You’re willing to let Gareth get away with it, because you don’t want to hurt Patricia. I understand that, Auntie Dee, but..."

"No buts. That’s the only thing that matters to me, J-mac. She’s suffered so much pain in her life that I can’t bear for her to hurt anymore, particularly because of me. Can’t you understand? Nothing else matters to me."

"I do understand," Jaye insisted, her new awareness of the vital, powerful love between the older women foremost in her mind. "That doesn’t mean I’m willing to let a murderer get off scot free."

"Damn it, girl! If you don’t leave it alone, I’m going to haunt you forever. I’ll do it, you know," Delia threatened.

Jaye laughed outright, half-chagrined at the thought and half-hopeful that her aunt would stay around. She just prayed that talking to an invisible shade for the next four or five decades wouldn’t eventually land her in the loony bin.

Delia stamped her foot, but it lost any impact when it didn’t even disturb the thick carpet. Abandoning her first approach, she resorted to pleading. "Please, J-mac, please. Won’t you do this for me? It’s the last thing I’ll ever ask of you. If you love me..."

Groaning, Jaye rolled her eyes and hung her head, helpless against the unprecedented pleas. Her aunt had rarely asked her for anything, except to investigate her death, and she couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her.

Exhausted to the point of being unable to think straight, she said simply, "Let me sleep on it, Auntie, all right?"

Delia bit her lip, then nodded. "All right. Go to sleep, girl. We’ll talk in the morning."

As her aunt’s ghost faded, Jaye turned wearily to the door, only to stop short at the sight of a sleep tousled Lindsay staring at her from the doorway.

"Oh shit! Uh, what are you...I mean, what did you...?"

Lindsay cocked her disheveled head and regarded her with bemusement. "I heard yelling, so I came to see what was going on, only to find you having a very intense conversation with thin air. Care to explain?"

Jaye groaned, stumbling to the bed where she flung herself down and covered her eyes with an arm. "You wouldn’t believe me if I told you." She felt the mattress dip as Lindsay sat on the edge of the bed.

"Try me."

Lying quietly, Jaye processed the simple words, wondering if Lindsay could possibly believe her. She finally lifted her arm and peered up at patient eyes. Suddenly the need to take this woman into her confidence outweighed any fears of being ridiculed.

"I was arguing with Delia’s ghost over whether or not we should pursue the murderer any further. She doesn’t want Patricia hurt if we nail Gareth for the killing."

Lindsay nodded slowly, obviously chewing over her words. "’re telling me, you can see and talk to Delia."



Wryly, Jaye thought she should at least be grateful that her companion hadn’t run screaming out of the room. She rolled onto her stomach and buried her head in her arms, too tired to do more than let the truth hang there, waiting for Lindsay’s evaluation.

"How long?"


"How long have you been able to communicate with Delia?"

"She came to me after the funeral. She was angry that you’d been unjustly imprisoned, and she wanted me to find the real murderer."

"Mmm hmm."

There was a long silence, and Jaye almost drifted off before she felt a hand gently rubbing her back. She held still, enjoying the soft touch even as she wondered if Lindsay was conscious of what she was doing.

"So what are we going to do? Should we back off on Gareth?"

Unseen, Jaye’s eyebrow shot up. She rolled over again, coming to rest pressed up against Lindsay’s thigh. "Just like that. You believe me?"

The redhead smiled. "Well, you hardly seem like the sort to see things that aren’t there, and it does explain some things that have happened. Delia and I occasionally talked about the occult, and we both thought there was more to the world than the eye could see. She told me once that she thought she could feel the presence of her twin, your mother, especially when you were spending the summers with her."

Jaye gaped at her companion. "Well, I’ll be damned."

Lindsay laughed out loud. "I hope not, but in the meantime, what do we do about Gareth?"

Stunned at how readily she’d been believed, Jaye shook off her weariness to explain the evening’s events with Patricia and the gist of the argument with Delia. By the time she was done, both women were sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing each other, with their knees touching. Jaye tried desperately not to be distracted by the feel of warm, smooth flesh against her own, but found herself hoping that this would be a lengthy conversation. When her eyes strayed to the shadowed thighs under Lindsay’s stretched nightshirt, she had to forcibly wrench her attention back to her companion’s words.

Apparently oblivious to Jaye’s dilemma, Lindsay tapped her finger on the other woman’s knee as she reviewed their case against Gareth.

"We know that Gareth had a powerful motive, but so far, we don’t have any evidence to support our suspicions. Just because we dislike the jerk, we can’t automatically assume that he’s the one."

"No, but I may have the smoking gun," Jaye said with satisfaction, gleeful when that caused Lindsay to squeeze her knee excitedly.

"You do? What?"

"I’ve got Gareth’s wine glass with his prints on it. I know that the killer escaped out the library window, because Dolan and I both found footprints and smears of blood. Odds are that Gareth panicked and wasn’t thinking clearly, which could well mean that he left fingerprints when he went out the window. All we need to do is turn the glass over to Dolan and explain our theory. He can also check and see if it matches with any prints from the car."

"Hmm, that’s good, but I think we should see what else we could find to buttress our arguments. Gareth is an influential man, and they’re going to want a solid case to indict him."

Jaye nodded her agreement. "When I went out to the Jeep earlier, I got his make of car and license plate too, so maybe Dolan can check and see if Gareth got a ticket or a gas receipt or anything to put him on the road to Tucker’s Way. It’d be circumstantial, but every little bit helps." She hesitated. "That presumes that we’re going to go forward with this against Delia’s wishes."

The two women were silent as they pondered their options. Troubled green eyes met worried blue, as Lindsay spoke softly.

"I think we have to, Jaye. Think of what Gareth was saying tonight. He has his eyes set on the Oval Office eventually. I get the feeling he has some pretty powerful backing to get there, too. Do we really want him as the leader of the Free World?"

Jaye shuddered at the thought, very glad that she was Canadian, but knowing that whoever was in the White House affected every country in the world, including her own. "God, no!"

"Then we have to stop him now. We simply can’t let him get away with this, no matter how much it hurts his mother."

Lindsay’s words were urgent and persuasive. Jaye couldn’t deny their truth, but the distressing thought of hurting that lovely woman, not to mention incurring her aunt’s wrath, was hard to bear.

She murmured sadly, "If only you could’ve seen them together tonight." She raised anguished eyes to meet Lindsay’s compassionate gaze. "They truly loved each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the least not in my life."

A moment of crystal clarity passed between the two women: a fragile moment of unspoken dreams, of a future bright with possibilities, yet fraught with pitfalls; of joy untold for those with the courage to seize it, yet too ephemeral for the fearful to grasp.

Jaye only realized she’d been holding her breath when she saw Lindsay suck in a deep draught of air and jerk her head as if shaking off a prolonged fugue.

"Um...uh, what about a compromise?" Jaye suggested, trying to reorient herself. "What if we gather whatever information we can while we’re here in Boston, and leave the decision about what to do with it until we’re back in Tucker’s Way?"

"Yeah...uh, that sounds good," Lindsay agreed, as she fussed with her borrowed nightshirt and edged towards the side of the bed. "Well, I’ll let you get some sleep now. Talk to you in the morning."

She left hastily, closing the door behind her. Jaye stared after her, wondering what had just happened, and certain that no matter how tired she was, sleep would be elusive tonight.


Jaye bit her lip as her eyes drifted around the hotel room. Despite the two queen-sized beds, she couldn’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been wiser to get two rooms...not that she’d argued when Lindsay had suggested getting one to save on expenses.

They had parted from Patricia that morning, leaving her with promises to stay in touch and the impression that they were heading directly back to Tucker’s Way. Instead, they’d found a hotel and taken up temporary residence. One phone call had confirmed that Gareth was in court all day, and now Jaye was waiting for Lindsay so they could pay a call on their prime suspect’s legal firm.

Her companion had gone out an hour earlier, citing the need to look appropriate for their visit. Jaye had passed the interval trying to read the complimentary newspaper and flipping aimlessly through TV channels. She’d attempted to discipline her thoughts and focus on their mission, but her mind kept returning to that single revelatory moment the previous evening. She was torn between trying to pin down exactly what she was feeling toward Lindsay, and half-hoping, half-fearing that Lindsay was feeling the same way.

There was no way to tell from the redhead’s demeanour. She’d been friendly since they’d met for breakfast at Patricia’s, but nothing more. Or was there... Jaye had glanced up unexpectedly at one point to find puzzled eyes focused intently on her, but Lindsay had immediately averted her gaze and struck up a conversation with their hostess.

Hearing the sound of someone at the door, Jaye looked up expectantly, her eyes widening as she saw the woman who entered, carrying a large shopping bag. Lindsay was now outfitted in a smart, tailored, expensive-looking dark gray suit. A form-fitting jacket with a cream, silk, cowl-necked blouse underneath complemented a slightly flared, knee-length skirt. Matching pumps, earrings, and clutch purse completed the outfit; and her mass of riotous red-gold curls was drawn back in a conservative French twist.

"You like?" Lindsay asked, twirling to give the full effect of the outfit, then setting the bag down.

"Well, yeah...but why the costume?" Jaye felt slightly dazed by the contrast between the serious business professional that stood in front of her and the casual companion of the past few days.

Lindsay sat carefully on the straight chair nearest the window, crossing her legs primly at the ankles. "Camouflage. When I get to Gareth’s office, I don’t want his secretary to see me as anything out of the ordinary, just another busy professional blending in with the endless stream of people through her boss’ office."

Jaye mulled that over, then clicked to Lindsay’s choice of pronoun. "Hey! What do you mean when you go to Gareth’s?"

The redhead chuckled. "I was wondering when you’d pick up on that." Getting serious, she leaned forward, fixing her gaze on her companion. "Jaye, I’m not trying to cut you out, but you have to admit that between the two of us, I’m better at handling people. I think I can get his secretary to open up much more easily, not to mention that if I go in alone, I’m just one more anonymous, potential client. In this outfit, I’ll hardly stand out in a crowd."

Jaye considered the argument and had to concede its merits, though she bit her lip to keep from protesting that Lindsay would so stand out in any crowd. Disliking the thought of the other woman going in alone, she had to agree about her friend’s superior ability to get people to open up. Reluctantly she nodded.

"All right, I guess you have a point. What’s your plan?"

Lindsay stood and paced in front of Jaye. "Well, we need to determine Gareth’s movements on the day Delia was murdered, so I thought I’d come across as piqued because he stood me up that day for a business luncheon, and not entirely sure that I’m willing to rebook, especially with so much money at stake in the deal I was to propose to him. If I work it right, with just the right mix of irritation and snootiness, his secretary will offer excuses and apologies in an effort to keep her boss out of trouble, and hopefully, whatever she says will give us the information we need."

"Sounds good. While you’re playing Nancy Drew, I’m going to find a Net access and track down a picture of Gareth in the newspaper archives. From what he was saying last night, I have a hunch it won’t be difficult to find pictures of him in the society pages. Once we have that, we can show it around Tucker’s Way and see if anyone spotted him last week."

Beaming, Lindsay impulsively threw her arms around Jaye and hugged her enthusiastically. "That’s excellent! Witnesses to place him in Tucker’s Way on the right day, a strong motive, and fingerprints to place him at the murder scene should provide a solid case against him."

Her eyes widened in pleasant shock as Jaye absorbed the feeling of Lindsay’s warm body against hers. Far too soon for her, the other woman abruptly released her grasp and stepped back, a blush coloring her fair skin.

"Um, well, I should really get going to Gareth’s office. Shall we meet back here around noon?" Lindsay’s head was lowered as her fingers played nervously with her purse.

Gently Jaye reached out and tipped her chin up, looking deep into chagrined eyes. She held those eyes for a long moment, resisting mightily the urge to reassure her companion with a kiss. Instead she simply said, "Thank you." Then, smiling, she withdrew her hand and wished the redhead luck.

She watched Lindsay hasten from the room, exhilarated by the sensations coursing through her body and wistful that neither of them yet had the confidence to pursue what was developing so rapidly between them. The Canadian sighed. Could it be that this was a case of foxhole lust? Had the circumstances and the manner in which they’d been thrown together simply engendered a temporary attraction between them?

Even as her mind posed the questions, her heart rejected that theory. Jaye had occasionally gone straight from a gruesome crime scene shoot to the nearest bar, looking for anyone to remind her for a few hours that she was alive. But this...this feeling that Lindsay so effortlessly aroused was unprecedented in the Canadian’s experience. Even as she longed for time to explore this, Jaye couldn’t help wondering if she would have the courage to take the first step.

God knows after the way you reacted to finding out about Auntie Dee and Patricia, she’s not going to initiate anything! What I wouldn’t give to have those few moments back to do over.

With that vexing thought in mind, Jaye turned to get ready for her detecting excursion, only to see a grave-eyed Delia leaning against the window sill, the sunlight apparent through her form. The Canadian groaned inwardly, knowing that the confrontation was going to come sooner than she’d hoped. Steeling herself, she met her aunt’s eyes squarely.

"We can’t. You know we can’t. Remember when I was nine, and you tanned my behind for not stopping Tommy Fessler from picking on that Campbell kid?"

"I remember. Hughie Campbell was a born target for bullies like Tommy Fessler, too slow to understand meanness and too sweet to stand up for himself."

"And you told me Martin Niemoeller’s words for the first time? You made me memorize them and recite them over and over again that whole summer." Jaye closed her eyes, searching her memory. "Now how did it go... Oh yeah, I remember." Reciting slowly, her brow furrowed in concentration, she uttered the words her aunt had burned into her mind. "In Germany the Nazis came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Delia smiled wanly. "You would remember that at the most awkward time." She sighed heavily. "I know what you’re saying, J-mac, but it’s going to kill her to find out that her son is a murderer."

Somberly, Jaye agreed. "And I’d give anything if it weren’t so, but you hammered those ideals into my head at an early stand up for what’s right, no matter what, and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. Auntie Dee, we can’t just let him get away with this. He’s already proven himself an immoral, opportunistic bastard. Who knows how many innocents he’ll hurt on his climb to the top of the political ladder, and God knows what he’d do with all that power once he was there."

Reluctantly, the words sounding as if they’d been literally dragged out of her, Delia conceded. "All right. You do what you have to do. All I ask is that you go to her when it’s time and stand by her side. Will you do that for your old aunt, J-mac?"

Jaye nodded solemnly. "I give you my word. We’ll make sure we’re with her when they arrest Gareth." She hesitated a moment, then asked the question that had been on her mind since the previous day. "Um, Auntie Dee? Was it Patricia you were meeting in Bangor?"

Delia smiled with gentle remembrance, and nodded.

Jaye grinned at her aunt. "I’m so glad." Then with an apologetic shrug, she added, "I’d better be off to do my sleuthing. I’ll talk to you later." Retrieving her wallet from the bedside table, she left the room, intent on finding one more piece of the puzzle that would nail Gareth Edwards, Jr.

Wise old eyes followed her exit, then became distant as Delia remembered her reunion with her former lover after forty years. She didn’t count the first, stiff visit when Gareth Jr. had accompanied his mother, but joyfully, she allowed the memory to carry her back over three months ago to a warm June day...


Ruefully Delia forced her eyes back down to the ledger that lay under her hand on the desk. The neat, if shaky, columns of figures had been abandoned as her mind drifted off in much more pleasurable pursuits.

Delia had been daydreaming. She laughed quietly, knowing that Lindsay, currently out in Oregon, would’ve been surprised to see that, but then the real shock would have been if her younger companion had known the contents of those daydreams.

"Snow on the chimney doesn’t mean the fire’s out, does it, you old bat?" Delia chided herself lightly, amused by the erotic paths her mind had been traveling. It happened with more and more regularity, and she could pinpoint the exact date long-dead dreams had resurfaced.

May 4th. The day that Patricia had walked back into her life, accompanied by a son who was the spitting image of his father. It hadn’t been the comfortable reunion of long lost friends. There was too much water under the bridge, and too many things left unsaid. She had grasped instantly that a large part of Patricia’s reticence could be attributed to her son’s presence, and she had played hostess with a calm cordiality that gave lie to the turmoil within.

Yet Patricia had sought her out...after all these years, and to Delia’s eyes, her former lover was even more beautiful than she had been as a young woman.

When mother and son departed, Delia had retired to her room, shaken by the encounter and trying to decipher what it meant. Was her former lover merely checking to see if she was well and that was the end of it? It was certainly a possibility. Delia wasn’t fond of the modern term, ‘closure’, but perhaps with the death of Patricia’s husband, the widow had felt a renewed need to come to terms with her past, and lay it to rest once and for all.

Delia had persuaded herself that was all that the visit implied, when the first letter arrived several days later. Her arthritis had been bad that day, and she’d had to get Lindsay to open the envelope before she went to her study to read it in private. The letter had left her in tears, but they were cleansing, healing tears.

Finally after all these years, Delia knew why Patricia had left her to marry Gareth. She wasn’t at all surprised that her lover had sacrificed everything to protect her, though she wished with all her heart that Patricia had run from Gareth and come directly to her that fateful night. Still, what was done, was long done, and she couldn’t even find it in herself to hate the architects of her distant heartbreak. Gareth and Virginia were both dead, and she firmly believed that they would have been called to answer for the misery they had caused the young lovers. What mattered was the present, and in the present, Patricia sought to renew their friendship. She didn’t ask for anything more, and Delia could read her old friend’s hesitancy between the lines. She knew that it must have taken a great deal of courage to make the first move, not knowing if the gesture would have been thrown back in her face.

That first letter had begun a regular correspondence, as the two women cautiously found their way back to friendship. It wasn’t the impulsive, fiery, tempestuous friendship of their youth. Experience, maturity, pain and joy had shaped the women differently, and the forty years lost between them was a chasm that they could only bridge with slow resolution. Some topics were off limits. Delia never discussed the weeks after Patricia had left her, and her former lover never talked about her mother or late husband after the initial explanation. Yet despite those minefields, something magical had happened.

Delia had fallen in love all over again, and she knew from Patricia’s eloquent letters, that she was feeling the same. The bond that had been so callously severed, began to reweave itself and the two women drew closer with each missive. Recently, there had been more urgency in the Bostonian’s letters, but as yet Delia was unable to overcome her fear.

She had long ago learned to live with her lover’s loss, but she had been young and resilient then. What if it didn’t work out this time either? What if she let herself love Patricia, only to lose her once again? She had built a satisfying life in Tucker’s Way, filled with friends and purpose. She loved her home, and Lindsay was a sheer delight to live with. The only minor quibble in her life was the too infrequent visits from her niece, though Jaye e-mailed and phoned constantly.

Yet for all her contentment, nothing had ever filled the hole that Patricia had left in her heart. She hadn’t spent the intervening years entirely celibate, though she kept her affairs discreet and well removed from the transparency of Tucker’s Way, but no other woman had ever reached her in the same all-consuming way that her first and truest love had.

In the end, no amount of rational, carefully considered, clear-eyed logic could make the decision. Delia knew she had to trust her heart, and that stubborn entity was steadily pushing her right back into Patricia’s arms.

She laughed again, resting a gnarled hand on the stack of letters she normally kept locked in a tin box. It amused her that in a world of instant, long distance communications, they had rekindled their romance via the old-fashioned method of the handwritten word. She wondered if Patricia remembered when their mutual passion for letters had first begun. She had long ago forgotten their third grade teacher’s name, but she still remembered the woman’s insistence on her students learning all the correct forms for formal and informal correspondence, and practicing them over and over. She, Andi and Patricia had taken great delight in writing each other letters, even though they spent hours of every day in each other’s company. Andi had eventually gotten bored, but where other girls confided in their pretty, little diaries, she and Patricia had poured out their hearts in writing to each other for years. And now they had begun the process again, secure in the belief that the confidences of old age would be as readily protected as the secrets of youth had been all those long years ago.

Reluctantly Delia pushed the letters aside and tried to refocus on her monthly accounts and investment statements, when, through the window opened to the warmth of the spring day, she heard a car driving up the lane towards the house. Curious, because she hadn’t been anticipating company, she went to the window. The sight of the big, white Lincoln approaching set her heart pounding, and she hastened to the front door.

Standing on the stoop, she adjusting her glasses, trying to see if there were one or two people in the car, but the glare reflecting off the windshield prevented that. When a nervously smiling Patricia stepped from the car alone, Delia gave a relieved sigh. Her old friend’s obnoxious son had not accompanied her this time.

Delia descended the steps and walked towards her visitor. "Patty! How wonderful to see you. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?"

Without a word, Patricia stepped towards her and wrapped her in a tight hug. For a long moment the two women simply stood, greedily absorbing the contact, then Delia heard a whisper.

"Because I was afraid that you’d tell me not to come." Patricia drew back and caressed Delia’s face with a soft hand. "When you told me that Lindsay was going away for a few days, I knew I had to take the chance."

"The chance?" Delia’s words trembled as she gazed at the woman she had loved so long ago—and still loved.

"The chance that you might not feel the same. The chance that you no longer wanted me in your life as other than a friend. I wouldn’t blame you if that were the case, but I..."

Delia pressed her stiff fingers across Patricia’s lips and smiled. "Thank you for taking the chance, my love."

She watched the blossoming delight in the other woman’s eyes, and shyly asked, "Will you stay the weekend with me?"

"Yes, oh yes!" Patricia pulled Delia back into her arms and held her close. Delia’s eyes were wet as she simply reveled in the sensation of being in her love’s arms again. She had no idea how long they stood there for, but finally she pulled back with a chuckle.

"The squirrels are going to think we’re a pair of garden statues, at this rate. Why don’t we take your things into the house?"

Nodding, Patricia popped the trunk and pulled out an overnight bag. As they walked back to the house, she reached for Delia’s hand. For a brief second Dee feared that her arthritic knuckles and gnarled fingers would repulse her friend, but the other woman was looking at her with such warmth in her eyes that she abandoned the fear and simply enjoyed the feeling of being linked with someone again. It had been so very long...

Not wanting to misread the other woman’s intentions, Delia hesitated when they entered the main hallway, but Patricia just smiled and led the way to the master bedroom. Leaving her suitcase inside the door, she suggested, "How about a walk on the beach, Dee?"

Relieved that they weren’t going to rush into anything, Delia eagerly agreed and they made their way out to the stone staircase that led down the bluff to the beach below. Once on the sand, they walked slowly, Delia’s arm tucked inside Patricia’s.

They hadn’t gone far when Patricia stopped and turned to face Delia, taking both misshapen hands in her own. Her eyes solemn, and her voice intense, she began. "I owe you a world of apologies, my darling. I’ve never forgiven myself for hurting you the way I did."

Delia shook her head. "No, Patty. Even when I didn’t know why, I knew it wasn’t your choice, and I never doubted your love, just as I never stopped loving you."

That elicited a harsh sob as Patricia visibly tried to control her emotions. Soothingly, Delia went on.

"What’s done is long ago done, sweetheart. We can’t change what happened, and we can’t get those years back. The only thing that matters now is what we want today."

Biting her lip, her eyes bright with unshed tears, Patricia asked, "What do you want, Dee?"

"You, for whatever time God has left for us." This time Delia took the initiative. Cupping the face that was still so delicate, even with the imprint of age, she gently touched her lips to Patricia’s. It was a kiss as fragile as a butterfly’s wing, and as immortal as the ocean they stood beside. It was a beginning to something that had never ended.

When finally they drew apart, there was no need for words. Those would come later, but for now, they would be an intrusion on the perfection of the moment. It wasn’t until hours later, when the women had settled in front of a fire after dinner that they began to talk...truly talk. No topic was now off limits and they began by recalling those painful days of their wrenching apart. Delia told Patricia how her sister and father had saved her. Patricia skimmed over the beginning of her marriage, unable even forty years later to do more than touch on the pain of that time, but her lover had no problem reading between the lines, and her heart ached for what the other woman had endured.

Just as easily, Patricia read the expression on Delia’s face. "No, sweetheart, don’t think the whole time was that bad. Gareth and I eventually came to an understanding. We knew we didn’t love each other, but for our son’s sake, we made a decision to at least get along." She smiled bitterly. "After my third miscarriage, he left our bed for good. I was glad. He was discreet in his affairs, and made no demands on me other than that I publicly uphold the image of a devoted wife."

"And you, love? Was there ever anyone else for you?" Delia asked tenderly, awkwardly stroking the hand she held.

Patricia shook her head. "No, never. I thought the only woman I loved was long lost to me, and I could never summon up interest in anyone else." She smiled. "What about you, sweetheart? Did you ever love again?"

"I wouldn’t say I ever loved again, but if you mean did I ever have, then the answer would be yes. For many years there was a woman in Paris who made time for me when I visited. She knew I didn’t love her, but gallantly accepted the limits of our relationship." Delia cocked her head, remembering. "She once told me that she would gladly have returned all the gifts I’d given her over the years, for one genuine night of love, but that she knew I didn’t have that in me to give." She shrugged. "There were a few others along the way, but I never gave my heart again."

"In a way I’m very sorry to hear that," Patricia said quietly. "You had so much love in you to give."

Delia smiled at her. "I still had love in my life, darling. Andi, my parents, Jaye when she came along, my friends here and overseas...I’ve been lucky."

The silver-blonde head ducked. "I wanted so much to come when I heard about Andi, but I knew you’d be at her side and I didn’t feel it was fair to put you through that on top of what was happening. I cried for days and days when I learned of her passing."

Her voice faraway, Delia mused. "You know, one of the last things Andi said was about us. She told me that if I ever had another chance, I was to take it, no matter what." She looked at her companion apologetically. "The thing is, I couldn’t have after Andi died, because I couldn’t jeopardize my place in Jaye’s life. She was so young, and she needed me. Thom’s rules for our relationship were stringent, and I couldn’t chance him cutting us off." She chuckled ruefully. "Trips to Paris grew more infrequent after that."

"Gareth died of cancer too. Bone cancer. It was an ugly death, and for all that he had done to us, I felt badly for him. No one deserves such a thing. By the end he was on such high levels of pain killers that in effect he stopped living two months before he stopped breathing." Patricia shook her head sadly. "My son took it very badly, particularly as he’d lost his grandmother only six months before. He and Mother had been boon companions. I can remember her telling him when he was just six years old, that some day he was going to sit in the Oval Office and she would be there the day that he was inaugurated. I think it was the greatest disappointment of her life when she finally realized that she wouldn’t live to see that."

Delia wasn’t surprised to hear that Virginia had begun early to inculcate another generation with her drive and ambition, and she supposed it went a long way to explain the man’s character. "So I guess she finally gave up on Four, did she?"

That got a genuine laugh. "Oh, honey, you wouldn’t believe what happened to my little brother."

Smiling at her lover’s mirth, Delia asked, "What?"

"In 1965, he was in an accident. One of his drunken buddies lost control and wrapped the car they were traveling in around a light pole. Anyway, Four ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and a badly broken leg. He was in for quite a while, and in the course of his recovery, he fell in love with his nurse."

"No! Four fell in love?" Delia was vastly amused that the shallow young man she remembered had finally succumbed to Cupid’s arrows.

"Yes!" Patricia responded gleefully, "But that’s not the best part. Her name is Antonia, and she’s a tough, no-nonsense, first generation Italian, Bronx broad—that’s what she calls herself, even now. He was head over heels, and she wouldn’t give him the time of day. Told him to get his snooty self off her ward and quit bothering her. Well, she always says that he just finally wore her out, and she agreed to marry him just to shut him up. Mother, of course, was absolutely horrified, and did everything she could to stop the relationship, but Four wouldn’t give Antonia up for anything, not even when Mother had his trust fund cut off."

Delia stared at Patricia in amazement. "Four without a trust fund? You’ve got to be kidding!"

"No, I’m not. And not only that, Antonia told him bluntly that she wasn’t about to put up with him lazing around their house all day doing nothing so he better get his skinny ass out of the house and get to work. He spent over thirty years as an insurance adjuster, raised six kids in a New York apartment, and was as happy as any man could be. You can tell he adores his wife to this day from the look in his eyes when he watches her. She loves him too, even if she still calls him a "good for nothing sissy pants" when he ticks her off."

"Oh my God! Your mother must have just about had a heart attack," Delia gasped between peels of laughter, then it struck her. "Oh gosh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean..."

Patricia smiled reassuringly. "No, it’s okay. Mother did eventually die of heart disease, but frankly I think it was more because of all the venom she’d spewed over the years than the fate of her only son."

Delia looked at her curiously. "How did you and your mother get along...I mean after..."

"After she callously wrecked my life?" Patricia shook her head. "Truthfully I’d have been glad never to see her again, but Gareth wouldn’t allow that and insisted I maintain at least a cordial relationship with her. I guess over time, just as Gareth and I did, Mother and I worked out a way to get along. I never fully forgave her, but once my son arrived, things changed. She doted on Gareth Jr., and that gave me a lot more leverage than I’m not ashamed to say I used. I got her to attend Four and Antonia’s wedding by threatening to withhold visiting privileges, and I even got her to reinstate Four in her will though she never would bend on giving him back his trust fund. Ironically, I think he became a much better man because of it."

Still shaking her head at Four’s most unexpected life, Delia pushed herself up off the couch and walked to the sideboard. "Can I interest you in a nightcap, Patty?"

"Sure, what are you having?"

Delia smiled, and glanced back at her lover. "Black rum, neat. It’s kind of my own personal tradition."

"Black rum? You?"

She poured two shots of the dark liquid and carefully carried them back to the couch, passing one glass to a doubtful looking Patricia.

Sinking down, she tapped her glass against her lover’s. "Cheers," she said softly, and tipped the rum back, enjoying the familiar bite.

Hesitantly Patricia followed suit, only to grimace at the first sip. "God, Dee, that’s horrible. I can’t believe you like this stuff."

"A long time ago I was at sea. It was a time of endings and beginnings. It was the first time I’d tasted real sorrow, and the first time I tasted rum," Delia said quietly, gazing at the fireplace where the flames had subsided to embers. "I drink rum to this day because I never want to forget that time. It’s my way to honour what we had, and what we lost, for those thing should never be forgotten." Then smiling a little to lighten the mood, she added with a shrug, "Besides, it puts fire in these old bones."

Patricia gently turned Delia’s face towards her and their eyes locked in profound understanding. Solemnly she raised her glass, saluted her lover, and drained the liquid in one smooth swallow. Rising, she took both glasses and replaced them on the sideboard. Turning back, she extended her hand and said tenderly, "Let’s go to bed, sweetheart."

Delia had thought of this moment often since Patricia had first re-entered her life, and she had worried about many things. She hadn’t made love with anyone in a long time, not since her arthritis has gotten so bad. She feared that her touch would be harsh and clumsy where she wanted to be gentle. She was also concerned that Patricia would be remembering the girl she once was, and might be repulsed by the physical changes four decades had wrought.

When Patricia led her into the bedroom, turning on the bedside lamp for muted light, Delia joked weakly, "You might want to turn that off. The darkness is much kinder to this old body."

Her lover studied her for a long moment, then, reading Delia’s insecurities easily, shook her head. "Darling, by all rights we should’ve grown old together, let the years age us together, and dealt with each inevitable change as it came on us. Do you think, had we been together, that as we passed forty, or fifty, or sixty we would’ve been bothered by the fact that the other no longer looked like a twenty-one year old?"

Delia shook her head mutely.

"Then how can you think that it bothers me now, love? We were denied the chance to age together, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find you as beautiful as the last time we made love."

"But you’re still..."

Patricia stopped her with a long, deep kiss, and when she ended it, Delia smiled. "You always did win arguments that way." She raised one hand and rested it on her lover’s blouse. "I can’t manage buttons any more, sweetheart."

"Not a problem," Patricia whispered, and she stepped back, slowly and deliberately beginning to undo her blouse. Delia swallowed deeply as she watched the tantalizing sight. She barely breathed as the other woman peeled off her clothes, revealing a body that had stood up remarkably well to the passing years.

Once Patricia was nude, she pulled the bedding back and looked over expectantly. That galvanized Delia, and she moved quickly to shed her clothes. Because she avoided buttons, she was able to tug her garments off quickly and set them aside, along with her glasses. Self-consciously, she avoided her lover’s eyes as she walked to the large bed and slipped under the covers, pulling them up high.

Patricia slid over next to her and gently pushed the bedding down. Delia was sure her heart would pound out of her chest as she felt the silky warmth of the woman she loved for the first time in over forty years, and tasted rum on lips that were strange yet so familiar. Soft hands stroked and caressed her, gently coaxing her into setting aside any last inhibitions.

"You are so beautiful, Dee," Patricia murmured as she eased her body over her lover’s. Delia urged her higher, eagerly seeking out the breasts that dangled so temptingly over her. Murmurs of delight drew her deeper into the moment, and she forgot the hands that could no longer stroke her lover’s flesh with the same surety they once had, and the back that ached from the long evening sitting on the couch. All that mattered was in the eyes that looked down at her with such overwhelming love.

Memories of what once had been mingled with the joy of what was now in a symphony of pleasure for both women. Though their bodies no longer moved with the fury and flexibility of youth, they still drew on the same deep passion to fuel their lovemaking. Gently, patiently, they relearned the touches that had once set them on fire. If their satisfaction was slower in coming, it was all the more rewarding for the delicately intense build up. Delia found that despite her worries, her hands posed little impediment in conveying her desire and appreciation to her lover, and she reveled as much in Patricia’s cries of delight as she did in her own release.

It was long after midnight when they finally relaxed into each other’s arms, exhausted, satiated, and blissfully grateful for their rediscovered love. In the days that followed, it sometimes seemed as if no time had passed since they were girls, and often as if they had been granted the grace of growing old together. The intimacy of body and soul they had once taken for granted was now something to be treasured. They often caught each other peeking at the other as if to ensure she was really there, then laughing out loud in sheer exultation. As the pain of the past fragmented and drifted away like an early morning fog, their old playfulness returned. Both were deeply appreciative that they had not only reclaimed their lover, but also their best friend.

When it came time for Patricia to leave, the days had passed far too quickly for both of them, and they made plans to meet again as soon as possible. They had ruled out Boston, both because they didn’t want to confront Gareth yet, and because Delia still hadn’t overcome her ingrained antipathy to the city. Settling on Bangor for the convenience of flying in and the anonymity of a strange place, Patricia promised to secure them an apartment for their rendezvous, and though they parted reluctantly, they did so knowing they would soon be together again. Left unspoken was the desire to make their union permanent, but both women knew it was only a matter of time. There were issues to be dealt with, but when Patricia promised Delia that this time even her son’s objections wouldn’t separate them, she knew it for the truth.


Yeah, but we didn’t bank on the lengths he’d go to keep us apart. The ghost shook her head sorrowfully. Delia knew that she should be grateful to have had the time that they did, for each time they met in Bangor was as wonderful as the first time, but she hadn’t been able to overcome the sense of being cheated.

We were so close...

Chapter Seventeen

Lindsay walked down the hall of the modern building, mentally comparing its stark, impersonal appearance with the small, comfortable layout of the City Hall in Tucker’s Way. As she neared Gareth’s office, she went over her strategy one last time before entering the large room.

A brown-haired woman in business attire smiled pleasantly at her. "May I help you?"

Glancing at the nameplate, which read "Beverly Lindstrom," Lindsay stifled her natural urge to smile warmly and replied brusquely yet politely, "I’d like to see Mr. Edwards."

"I’m sorry. He’s in court all day today. Did you have an appointment?"

Forcing her body language to convey impatience, Lindsay commented acerbically, "I had one last week and it certainly didn’t do me any good. Mr. Edwards never showed."

The secretary sighed and opened the weekly planner on her desk. "Was it last Thursday, ma’am?"

"Yes, it was. I had a luncheon engagement to discuss a donation one of my clients wanted to make for his upcoming congressional bid. I’m having second thoughts now. I’m not accustomed to being stood up without the courtesy of a phone call or an apology." Lindsay felt a fleeting sense of guilt for harrying the secretary, but reminded herself of the importance of what she was doing.

Frowning as she studied the planner, the secretary shook her head in confusion. "I was sure that I’d contacted everyone in his calendar and rescheduled all the appointments." Glancing up from the planner, Beverly asked, "What was your name again, please? There was no one penciled in for lunch that day."

"Diane Calvin." Lindsay placed a hand on her hip and allowed irritation to creep into her voice. "And I can assure you that I had an appointment. I spoke with Gareth myself."

Her voice placating, the secretary apologized. "I am very sorry, ma’am. He must have forgotten to tell me. He’s totally booked this week, but I can reschedule you for next Monday, if you’d like."

Lindsay commented curtly, "Is he always so irresponsible about his schedule? I would think he would go out of his way to curry favor with financial backers."

Startled, the secretary leapt to her boss’ defense. "Mr. Edwards, irresponsible? Oh no. Never! He’s extremely reliable. His day is meticulously planned from start to finish, and he’s always on time for appointments. Last Thursday was highly unusual. He was called away unexpectedly. I’ve worked for him for five years, and that was a first. Usually his business trips are planned weeks in advance."

Tightly controlling the surge of elation the woman’s words caused, Lindsay softened her tone, giving the informative Ms. Lindstrom a sympathetic smile. "It must have been a rough day for you, then."

"You’re not kidding. I didn’t even get any advance notice." The secretary’s voice had taken on a slightly querulous tone at her boss’ unusual behaviour. "He called at nine in the morning and without so much as a word of explanation, just said he wouldn’t be in. I suggested he call some of his more important clients himself, but he insisted I handle it. The way some of his clients reacted, you’d have thought the cancellations were my fault." A longsuffering sigh concluded her narration.

"Goodness, he doesn’t sound like a very nice guy to work for," the redhead encouraged, her voice now warmly empathetic.

"Oh no, he’s usually great. That was totally out of character for him. Gareth is normally punctilious to a fault," the secretary said firmly. "Heavens, we could all set our watches by him in this office." She shook her head solemnly. "No, whatever his commitment on Thursday, it was obviously an important and unexpected matter. By the time he came in that night, he was quite distressed."

Lindsay raised her eyebrow, her voice conveying nothing more than polite curiosity. "So he did come into work after all?"

"Yes, but it was late. I was still waiting for a return call from one of his VIP clients." Beverly’s voice had dropped as she leaned forward to impart a confidence. "Really, you should’ve seen him, Ms. Calvin. He was terribly distraught, and so pale that I thought surely he must have been in an accident. I’d never seen him in such a state. He wouldn’t even talk to me, just told me to go home. Seriously, he’d never have stood you up if it wasn’t a personal emergency of some sort."

Nodding understandingly, Lindsay said, "Okay. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt this time. I have to go out of town next week. When I get back, I’ll give you a call to reschedule."

Smiling, the woman said, "Thank you for understanding, Ms. Calvin. I can assure you it won’t happen again. Whatever the emergency was, it really upset him. He wasn’t himself for days afterward."

Returning Beverly’s smile, Lindsay left, her mind racing. She felt badly about misleading Gareth’s secretary, but her desire to help bring Delia’s murderer to justice overshadowed her discomfort at misrepresenting herself. The pieces were beginning to fit together very nicely, and she could hardly wait to find out what Jaye had discovered.


Jaye waited patiently for the picture of Gareth to finish printing out. Although there had been ample pictures of the aspiring politician on local news websites, it had been more difficult to find a close up facial shot.

Her visit to both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald’s offices had yielded a wealth of information on their primary suspect. The newspaper databases had been well maintained and were easy to search. Jaye printed out a few of the more comprehensive articles to share with Lindsay, then headed for the downtown branch of the Boston Public Library.

After spending over an hour perusing microfiche and the library database of the smaller local papers, Jaye had gathered what she considered to be a fairly complete picture of the public persona of their primary suspect in Delia’s murder.

She mentally recapped what she’d learned about the man who was following closely in his father’s footsteps. Gareth Senior had made two abortive tries for Congressional seats before apparently resigning himself to his successful business career. Gareth Junior had attended his father’s alma mater, then gone on to a distinguished career as a lawyer with a prominent Boston firm, before he too turned his attention to politics. The man’s apparent charisma, erudition, and respected community standing had made him a popular speaker in local political circles. He had appeared frequently at fundraisers for GOP candidates for district, state, and federal offices for the past several years as he patiently laid the groundwork for his own Congressional bid.

Gareth’s intention to run on the Republican ticket in 2002 had been temporarily short-circuited by a public and highly messy split with his wife the previous year, but he was obviously courting the right people again with a view to future elections. He had developed a solid following, particularly among the Young Turks of the GOP party. The larger newspapers spoke favorably of his staunch fiscal conservatism, but some of the smaller independent papers denounced his stance on civil liberties and environmental affairs, in which he favoured repealing laws that saddled businesses with added costs and responsibilities.

Jaye had been particularly struck by Gareth’s virulent campaign against gay rights. He had urged his followers to combat the "unhealthy and unholy" trend towards equal rights for homosexuals at every turn, stridently preaching the need to stop and repeal even the mildest pro-gay state and federal laws. She was puzzled, as his outspoken views obviously predated his mother’s intentions to resume a relationship with Delia. The Canadian was certain that Patricia would not have come out to her son before she was free to be with her long-ago lover, but she made a mental note to question the older woman.

She picked up the picture, staring at it. The big question was why? Why would an aspiring and ambitious politician commit murder? Her immediate dislike of Gareth had escalated proportionally with her discovery of his caustic stand against gays. Jaye shook her head ruefully. A week ago, she would never have paid any attention to political candidates’ views on gay rights. Now she was filled with unanswered questions. The palpable love between Delia and Patricia, her burgeoning feelings for Lindsay—these things were causing her to examine her longtime assumptions about so many things.

Jaye grabbed her jacket, anxious to return to the hotel room and the woman who’d barely left her thoughts since they’d parted earlier that morning. She was as eager to explore her nascent feelings for the redhead, as she was to share her findings on Gareth. Concentrating on the microfiche at the Boston Globe had been difficult as her thoughts continually strayed to her sleuthing partner. It had only been with great effort of will that she’d been able to drag her mind off Lindsay and back to the search for a murderer.


Lindsay glanced up from the TV at the sound of the door opening. She’d been back in the hotel room for over two hours and the time had crawled by. Smiling, Lindsay stood up, trying to ignore the butterflies that were now a regular occurrence on seeing Jaye. "So, how’d it go?"

"Gareth’s an interesting character study." Jaye laid the copied articles on the table. "Wait until you see some of this. Turns out he really does have friends in high places, and he’s very popular with many of the locals. Unfortunately his plans for high office aren’t so far-fetched, not that I’d ever vote for him."

Picking up on the disgust in Jaye’s voice, Lindsay quickly fanned through the articles, scanning headlines. "I take it you didn’t like what you found out?"

Jaye snorted. "That’s putting it mildly! Not only does he consistently put big business issues before everything else, even to the detriment of the environment, Gareth is also radically anti-gay rights. He’s actively campaigned for a repeal of the most basic laws that are in place to protect those living an alternative lifestyle, and has publicly sworn to fight any future pro-gay initiatives. The man’s an ass!"

Stifling a smile at her friend’s newfound vehemence, Lindsay said, "You won’t get an argument out of me. I have no use for people who use vulnerable minorities to terrorize gullible majorities. They’re the worst kind of manipulators; not that I have much respect for people who buy into that propaganda, either."

The Canadian glanced down at the floor, but not before Lindsay saw the reddening of her cheeks. Extending a hand, she said gently, "I wasn’t talking about you, Jaye."

Chagrined eyes rose to meet hers. "Less than 48 hours ago you could have been. I’m as much of an ass as Gareth is."

Lindsay shook her head with a smile. "Not even close, my friend. Hey, come on. You apologized. Forget about it."

"Have you?"

Caught off guard and knowing the question referred to far more than Jaye’s mistaken attitudes, the redhead momentarily looked away, only to find her gaze drawn back by intense blue eyes that riveted her to the spot and refused to release her. Lindsay’s heart began racing as the surrounding room faded until she was only aware of the woman standing in front of her. A small ripple in time became an eternity as a primal connection - forged from the depths of their souls - diminished the space between them.

Lindsay finally regained control of her roiling emotions enough to turn away with a noncommittal shrug. Chastising herself for the slip of control, yet confused by the definite interest mirrored in Jaye’s eyes, she struggled for a casual tone.

"How about if we check out and head back to Tucker’s Way? There’s nothing else we can do here, and we can bring each other up to date on the ride back. Then we’ll be able to start showing Gareth’s picture around first thing in the morning."

Jaye nodded slowly. "Okay."

The flicker of disappointment that crossed the Canadian’s face further unsettled Lindsay, but she didn’t want to have to handle sleeping only a few feet away from the other woman that night. Right now she needed some space to try and figure out what to do about her growing feelings for Jaye.

Firmly reminding herself that Delia’s niece would be returning to Toronto once the murderer was brought to justice, Lindsay admonished herself that there was no future in giving her feelings free rein. She grabbed the plastic bags in which they had stored their newly purchased toiletries and underwear after their impulsive departure from Tucker’s Way the previous day sans luggage.

Gathering up their few belongings, Lindsay prattled nervously. "It’s really nice today, don’t you think. Hard to believe it’s already October. Why, I bet it’s at least 78 out there. We really couldn’t have picked a better day for driving. I really love fall in the northeast." The new suit she’d so neatly hung up only hours ago was tossed haphazardly into the bag. "Do you think that Dolan will believe us when we tell him what we found out? I really don’t think we should even approach the sheriff with our evidence. Knowing him, he’d bury it and maybe even break the glass with Gareth’s fingerprints on it. Dolan at least will give us a fair hearing."

With the bags stuffed to their limits, Lindsay glanced up to find Jaye watching her with a bemused expression on her face. She felt a blush rise on her cheeks. "Um, sorry. I guess I was babbling."

"No." Jaye snagged the papers off the table and tucked them down the side of one bag. "Just not giving me any time to answer. You ready?"

With an inward sigh of relief that her companion had chosen not to press matters, Lindsay nodded.

They arrived back in Tucker’s Way at dusk and drove straight to the Sheriff’s Office, both relieved when only Dolan’s old truck and a patrol car were in the parking lot. The ginger-haired deputy smiled when the women walked in.

"What are you two up to now? I thought you’d be hanging over my shoulder every step of the way. Not to worry, though. I’ve got Denny and Wade keeping a close eye on our suspects," Dolan assured them, referring to the other two members of the tiny Tucker’s Way police department.

Jaye shook her head. "I hate to tell you this, my friend, but we don’t think they did it."

Frowning, Dolan narrowed his eyes at the pair. "You don’t think... Well, hell, you heard Stu’s statement."

"Yeah, and Stu had a perfect motive for setting them up," Jaye reminded him. "Revenge. We think we can make a stronger case for a different culprit."

"Huh, ’zat so? So who do you think did it, then?"

Relieved to see that he wasn’t immediately rejecting their hypothesis, Lindsay spoke up. "We think a man named Gareth Edwards may have done it. Jaye’s got a glass with his fingerprints on it. I bet if you run them, they’ll match fingerprints on the window sill of the library and Delia’s car."

Dolan studied them speculatively. "That name sounds familiar. Are you talking about the guy that’s always making the political pages in the Boston newspapers?" When they nodded, he shook his head in repudiation, skeptically ticking off the flaws as he saw them. "He’s not even from around here. There’s no possible motive that I can see. It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree, ladies."

Lindsay countered with their primary evidence. "Gareth never showed for work the day Delia was killed. He called in unexpectedly that morning, leaving his secretary to deal with all his irate clients, never offering any explanation for his absence. She said when he came back in late that evening he was visibly upset."

"So? I’m sure there are thousands of people who called off work last Thursday; and he could have been upset about anything from a bad doughnut to a tax audit."

Lindsay glanced at Jaye when she laid a hand on her arm, understanding that her companion wanted to explain the underlying reason, as they saw it.

"Dolan, my aunt and his mother were in an intense romantic relationship many years ago. Gareth’s father passed away early this year and they resumed contact this summer, planning to get back together permanently. He was appalled that his mother would consider a lesbian liaison, and furious that it might imperil his career aspirations. He is absolutely fixated on his political future and we don’t think he’d let anything stand in his way, even if it destroyed his mother’s happiness."

Lindsay watched Jaye closely, looking for any sign of embarrassment or discomfort as she related Gareth’s motive to Dolan, but saw no evidence of either. She hid a smile at the startled look on the deputy’s face as he listened.

"Are you sure?" Dolan ran a hand through his hair. "I just never… I mean she didn’t seem…"

Smiling gently, Lindsay asked, "Seem like what?"

"I never suspected that’s all. Did you know?"

Lindsay nodded. "I did. Jaye didn’t."

Uncomfortably, Dolan eyed Jaye. "Um, so, how do you feel about all this?"

"I don’t have any problem with it." The Canadian smiled ruefully. "At least, not now."

Sitting back in the chair, Dolan shrugged. "Neither do I, I guess. It was just a shock, that’s all. Do you have any other evidence? Webster’s never going to buy this."

Jaye nodded. "There’s a letter in her purse in the evidence room. It verifies what we’ve just told you. Plus, we have dozens more at the house, all of which confirm their past relationship and intentions to resume it as soon as possible. We know they were meeting regularly this summer and planned to live together permanently once Gareth’s mother could calm him down enough to accept the situation."

The deputy sighed as he lifted his cup of coffee. "Bill is still going to be a hard sell."

"Even Webster can’t ignore the evidence if those fingerprints match," Lindsay interjected.

"Good point." He stared up at the ceiling for a moment, then smiled. "Think we’ll do a little end run around the good sheriff. I’ve got a contact in the lab in Portland who owes me a favour. I’ll give him a call and ask him to expedite this. He won’t do it on the weekend, but it shouldn’t take him long once he gets on it. I’ll give you a call when I get the report."

Lindsay gave him a grateful grin. "Thanks, Dolan. I knew we could count on you."

"No problem. It is my job after all, no matter what certain parties may think." His sarcastic tone gave the women insight into his frustration with his boss. "Besides, I want Delia’s killer brought to justice just as much as you two. If this guy did it, he’s gonna go down for it, no matter who he is."


After a mostly quiet drive back from town, Lindsay looked over at Jaye as the Canadian downshifted the Jeep and made the turn into Delia’s property. "You know, you have to give Dolan credit. He really maintained an open mind about all this. A lot of police officers would’ve jumped all over us for interfering where we didn’t belong."

"Yeah, he’s one in a million, that’s for sure. Now all we gotta do is find someone who saw Gareth that day. My fear is that he’ll wriggle out with the help of some high-priced defense attorney, so I want an iron clad case to present to prosecutors."

"Well, I think we’re well on our way; and if Dolan comes through for us, we’ll have the bastard nailed." Lindsay sighed as they drove up the long driveway and Delia’s house came into view. "I’m sure going to miss this place. Have you decided what you’re going to do with it when you go back to Toronto?"

Jaye hesitated. "I haven’t really thought about it."

Seeing the troubled look on the other woman’s face, Lindsay said, "I didn’t mean to pry or anything."

"No. It’s not that," Jaye assured her as she parked and put on the emergency brake. "There’s just been so much going on, that I haven’t had much time to think about anything at all."

Trailing her companion to the front door, Lindsay wondered if that included what had happened between them in the hotel room. She ached to bring it up herself, but hadn’t been able to summon the courage. Where would she start? What would she say? What if she was wrong? The moment had been so intense, but so ephemeral. Shaking her head in frustration, she followed Jaye into the house and closed the door behind them.


The amateur detectives were forced to delay their investigations for a couple of days, reasoning that because it was the weekend, it would be hard to catch up with many of the people who might have seen Gareth. They deliberately set aside their quest and spent the next two days relaxing and getting to know each other better. Jaye spent hours showing Lindsay the sites of her childhood adventures, and in turn, the redhead began to open up about her own past, much to the Canadian’s apparent delight. Both had regrets when Monday morning arrived and they had to turn their attention from each other to the task at hand.

They were up early that morning, and over breakfast they plotted their route for the day, intent on hitting every possible place that Gareth might have stopped the previous Thursday. They started out with high confidence that they would find a witness somewhere, but hours later, tired and discouraged, they pulled into Blevins’ gas station located on the route to the interstate beyond the outskirts of Tucker’s Way.

"Damn it," Jaye swore. "I can’t believe no one saw him. In a town this size, he had to be seen. He’d stick out like a sore thumb, for God’s sake, and it’s not like a lot of folks drive Beamers around Tucker’s Way."

Just as crestfallen as her companion, Lindsay nevertheless tried to soothe the Canadian. "If the fingerprints match, that will put him here whether anyone saw him or not. If he did it, he’s not going to walk, Jaye."

"He did it. I know he did!" She slapped the steering wheel in frustration, then calmed as Lindsay covered her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Ruefully, she said, "Have I mentioned that I don’t take disappointment well?"

The redhead chuckled and withdrew her hand. Gesturing toward a group of three men sitting inside the garage next to a heater, she asked. "Shall we?"

Jaye plucked the picture from the backseat and with renewed determination in her voice assented. "Let’s do it. These guys know everything that goes on in this place. If he was here, they had to have seen him."

Hank Blevins, the longtime proprietor of the dilapidated station, looked up at the women’s approach and gave them a yellowed smile. "Hiya, Jaye, Lindsay. Be right with you."

Waving him back to his seat, Jaye smiled. "We’re not here for gas this time, thanks." She held out the picture. "Any of you guys ever seen this man?"

Hank peered at the photo. "Not that I can recall. Why you askin’?" He handed the picture to the elderly, pot-bellied man sitting beside him.

Unwilling to blurt out their suspicions prematurely, Lindsay prevaricated. "We think he might have information relating to Delia’s murder. He would’ve been through this way last Thursday, probably driving a dark blue, late model BMW." She waited hopefully while the men examined the photo, but her heart sank as they each looked at it and shook their heads.

When it came back to Hank, he handed it back. "Nawp, sorry, ladies. Just don’t recall seeing him at all."

With an audible sigh, Jaye accepted the picture and glancing at Lindsay, reluctantly admitted, "That’s it, then. We’ve covered the town. Might as well head home."

As they reached the Jeep, Ned White pulled up to the tanks in his rebuilt 1956 Chevy truck, his two coon dogs grinning from the bed. Despite her frustration, Lindsay couldn’t help smiling at the sight. "You never see Ned without his dogs. I’ll bet they even shower with him." Pleased that she’d made Jaye chuckle, she suggested, "Hey, why don’t we ask him if he saw Gareth? He usually hangs out here, too."

"Might as well. It sure can’t hurt. God knows we’ve tried everyone else."

Lindsay could hear the resignation in her companion’s voice, and she whispered a quick prayer as she trotted over to where Hank was now filling up the old truck. Patting the dogs that clamoured for her attention, she greeted the grizzled trapper. "Hey, Ned, how’s it going?"

Scratching his chin, the old man gave the question careful thought. "Fair to middlin’, thanks. Bit of rheumatiz, but nothin’ I cain’t live with." Nodding his head at Jaye who had slowly followed the redhead, he said, "Damn sorry to hear about your aunt, Jaye. She was a good woman."

"Thanks, Ned. She surely was."

Lindsay took the picture from Jaye and handed it to the new arrival. "Have you ever seen this guy around here?"

Ned scratched his head and examined the photo closely. "He looks very familiar. Who is he?"

Feeling a surge of excitement, the redhead repeated her explanation, adding, "We’ve been showing the picture all around town today, but so far, no one’s seen him."

Narrowing his eyes, Ned said, "Wait. I ’member him. I’d just come from Doc Farley’s office. Had to put Old Blue down that day. ’Bout broke my heart, but the cancer was eatin’ away at him, and he was in mortal pain. I stopped in to talk to the boys on my way home. That guy pulled in a few seconds after I got here. Had to be around noon or so, mebbe a little earlier. City feller...din’t have no manners atall. You’da thought we was all put on earth just to serve him, the way he acted. He’s in such an all fired hurry that he wouldn’t even wait for his change. Gave Hank’s boy a twenty for fifteen dollah’s worth. Young Tommy thought he’d died and gone to heaven." The trapper shook his head in sardonic amusement. "Must be nice to have that kinda money to throw ’round."

Holding her breath, Lindsay demanded, "Are you sure it was last Thursday, Ned?"

"Ayup. I remember what day it was because your aunt was killed the same day I had Old Blue put down," the trapper stated with complete assurance.

Eyes sparkling, she beamed triumphantly at Jaye, then had to stifle an urge to hug the stuffing out of the Canadian. "I knew it! Thanks, Ned. You’re a godsend!"

His weathered face creased with a smile as he absently stroked one of his hounds. "Anytime. Glad I could help."

Armed with their information, the women returned to the sheriff’s office. Catching Dolan about to go out on patrol, they brought him up to date. He promised to call the moment the lab contacted him with the results, and they began the drive back to the house, content with the results of their investigations.

As they drove, Lindsay became pensive, pondering the implications of their hard work. She was keenly aware that the closer they came to bringing in Delia’s killer, the shorter their time together became. She could feel Jaye’s occasional glance as they traversed the distance in mutual silence, but was still unable to work up her nerve to broach the subject uppermost on her mind—was Delia’s niece feeling the same odd mixture of confusion and elation that she was? All the time they had spent together over the weekend had brought them closer than she could’ve hoped for only a few days ago, but they had both shied away from any truly intimate conversation. Had that moment of soul-deep connection between them been in her imagination, or was it as real to the Canadian as it was to her?

Knowing there would likely be no answers for her soon, Lindsay resigned herself to yet another restless night filled with longing, turmoil, and trepidation.

Chapter Eighteen

Neither woman was up when the pounding on the door began early the next morning. By virtue of her room being closest, Lindsay made it to the door first.

Flinging it open, she had to cover her eyes to protect them from the bright morning sun. Peeking out between fingers, she saw Dolan grinning at her.

"Good morning, Lindsay. Great day, isn’t it?" Dolan beamed broadly, his eyes cheerfully flicking past the befuddled woman to the other figure coming down the hall. "Morning, Jaye. ‘Bout time you got up."

"What rooster bit you in the butt?" Jaye muttered, querulous at being wrenched from a marvelous dream about Lindsay in a tropical paradise. She’d been admiring the very tiny bikini her dream companion was wearing when a large, obnoxious parrot had begun tapping on their beach umbrella. She’d woken to the sound of Dolan’s knocking and wasn’t about to readily forgive her friend for the intrusion.

Chuckling, Dolan brushed by the women, waving a file folder in the air. "Trust me, you’re gonna wanna see what I’ve got here."

Lindsay and Jaye exchanged puzzled glances, then trailed after Dolan as he marched down the hall toward the kitchen.

The deputy sheriff looked around hopefully. "Got any coffee in here?"

Bemused at the normally laconic man’s obvious excitement, Jaye started for the coffee pot, only to be stopped by a gentle hand.

"I’ll get it," Lindsay murmured, smiling. "Why don’t you sit down with Dolan and see what’s going on."

The brief, light touch was all it took to send a thrill rushing through Jaye’s body, and she had to force herself to turn away. Joining her old friend at the kitchen table, she slid into the chair opposite him and tried to still the tingling of her nerve endings.

"So what’ve you got?"

"A match. I’ve got a match on the prints!" Gloating like he’d just won the lottery, Dolan opened the folder and snatched out the top sheet of paper. Slapping it down in front of the Canadian, he pointed at the summary paragraph.

"We’ve got the bastard, Jaye. Two complete and one partial on the window ledge, and an almost perfect set on the car’s passenger side rear door handle. Identical match with the glass you gave me. My buddy at the crime lab faxed the report to me late last night."

Jaye hooted victoriously as Lindsay joined them, leaning over the other woman’s shoulder to read the summary for herself.

"We got ‘im! All right!"

Jaye and Dolan exchanged high fives as Lindsay laughed delightedly. Elated, the Canadian asked, "What’s next?"

Dolan sobered rapidly. "Well, there’s a fly in the ointment."

"Let me guess," Jaye snorted. "Its name is Bill Webster."

"Got it in one. Yeah, once I had this report, I got Ned White to sign a statement swearing to his identification of Edwards on the day of the murder. Then I took all the evidence to the sheriff at his home, including the letter from your aunt’s purse." The deputy shook his head in disgust. "All he did was rake me over the coals for having the nerve to go off on my own. Wouldn’t even stop rantin’ long enough to look at what I had. Told me if I didn’t stop defying his authority, I could damn well look for a job as the school janitor."

Jaye shook her head in exasperation. "Bloody idiot! All he cares about is his image. God forbid he might actually solve a crime!"

"Oh, Dolan, I’m so sorry," Lindsay exclaimed. "We never meant to get you in trouble with this."

"Aw hell, if doing my job right is gonna get me in trouble, then I’m in the wrong job anyway." Dolan’s chin jutted pugnaciously and Jaye recognized the familiar sign of obstinacy in her old friend. "That jackass’ ineptitude isn’t going to mess things up this time. I’ve got a friend in the Portland DA’s office, and I’ve already talked to him. He wants me to bring everything we have on Edwards to a meeting this afternoon. If he likes the look of it, he’ll convince his boss to issue a warrant that the Boston PD can execute. With the solid evidence we have, we’ll get that murderer extradited to Maine in no time to stand trial. I could use your testimony at the meeting, though, ‘cause it isn’t gonna be easy convincing the DA to go after one of Boston’s leading citizens."

"We’re with you."

Jaye glanced up, seeking confirmation of her words from Lindsay. She was rewarded with a reassuring smile.

"Of course we’ll go." Warm eyes regarded Jaye affectionately as Lindsay softly added, "Besides, we have a promise to keep, remember?"

Overcome with emotion, Jaye simply nodded. She was profoundly moved that Lindsay took her promise to Delia as seriously as she herself did. She wouldn’t have expected less from the compassionate woman, but the redhead’s unwavering loyalty, and her acceptance of a ghostly presence she couldn’t even see, still touched her deeply.

Dolan was looking from woman to woman in confusion. "Promise?"

Lindsay shook her head. "Private matter. Don’t worry about it." Briskly, she patted Jaye’s shoulder. "I’ll be ready in ten."

Two sets of eyes followed her as she left the kitchen.

"Good woman," Dolan said approvingly. "I’m sure glad we have the evidence to clear her once and for all."

"Yeah, me too," Jaye agreed, standing up. "I’d better get a move on too. Help yourself to the coffee. Should be just about ready."

Returning to her room, the Canadian’s thoughts turned to Patricia. This was going to be one of the hardest days of that elegant woman’s life, and she hoped that her and Lindsay’s presence would help ameliorate the pain.


Jaye shifted uneasily in her chair, her eyes sweeping the dark-paneled office as she half-listened to Dolan’s friend, Clint Rouen, debate with the district attorney, Samuel Bradley. When they first arrived in Portland, Clint had listened carefully to their story and examined all the evidence. Convinced there was a case, he had taken them to meet his boss.

Initially the second meeting had not gone well, as the DA, a corpulent, sharp-eyed man, had evinced strong reluctance to indict Gareth Edwards, particularly when he heard the putative motive for the crime. His distaste for the interference of amateurs had been clear from the beginning, and his attitude towards Lindsay and Jaye had been dismissive at best. However, with backing from Rouen, Dolan had carefully laid out the circumstances, including the forensic evidence. Now, Bradley was sitting upright and paying close attention.

The Canadian could see the DA practically salivate over the promise of the high-profile case. She knew he was well aware of the career enhancing potential of such a conviction. The motive, which the attorney had initially dismissed as unsavory, now sounded like a prime ingredient for a sensationalistic, headline-grabbing coup. Even if the ultimate aim was the capture and conviction of her aunt’s murderer, Jaye found the meeting increasingly repugnant. She hated to think of what effects the lurid, invasive publicity would have on Patricia.

Finally losing patience, she spoke up. "Are you going to issue a warrant for his arrest or not, Mr. Bradley?" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lindsay smother a smile and Dolan roll his eyes.

The DA looked at her patronizingly. "Now, now, Miss MacLaren, we can’t just rush into this willy-nilly. We have to ensure that all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed first."

"But you will eventually issue that warrant?" Jaye persisted, determined to pin the slippery man down to an answer.

Dolan laid a soothing hand on her arm. "Gareth isn’t going to get away with this, Jaye."

Lindsay joined in. "Of course he isn’t, Jaye. After all, the press would have a field day if they heard that a murderer got off just because he had political connections."

Jaye almost laughed out loud at the instant alarm on Bradley’s face, and inwardly she saluted her quick-witted friend.

"Now, now, there’s no question that anyone’s going to get away with anything." Bradley turned to his assistant, who had been listening intently.

"Clint, what’s your opinion on this? Do we have enough to convict?"

Rouen nodded. "I believe so, yes. They’ve laid a solid foundation, and I don’t doubt that once we get our people on it, we’ll be able to lock it up. I recommend that we at least pull him in for questioning."

Bradley pursed his lip in apparent deep thought, but Jaye could tell from the gleam in his eye that it was already a go. Standing, she nodded at the men. "If you’ll excuse us, we have things to do. Dolan has our contact information whenever you need to get hold of us."

Lindsay rose silently and followed her companion out of the office. As they walked down the hallway, Jaye apologized. "I’m sorry if I was abrupt, but I really think we should get on the road as soon as possible. It’s a couple of hours to Boston, and we’re going to need time to prepare her for what’s about to happen."

"I know." Lindsay bit her lip. "Do you think she’ll try to warn Gareth before the warrant is served?"

"It’s a risk, but one I think we should take. It’ll only be a matter of a couple of hours anyway, and I don’t think Gareth would even run. I get the feeling that Delia was an impulse killing. He’s not a career criminal and he won’t think like one. Even if his mother did warn him, he’d be more likely to try and ride it out."

"She probably won’t believe us in any event. It’s not going to be easy to persuade her that her only son is a murderer, let alone that he killed the love of her life."

There was compassion in the younger woman’s voice and Jaye felt a surge of gratitude that she wasn’t alone in this. She knew she’d need every bit of Lindsay’s grace and tact for what was to come next.


As Jaye turned the corner onto the wide, tree-lined street, she noticed a white Lincoln pulling into Patricia’s driveway.

"That’s her," Lindsay said. She glanced across at Jaye. "Are you ready for this?"

The Canadian shook her head. They had spent much of the drive from Portland going over how to tell Patricia, but hadn’t arrived at a decision. Jaye wanted to simply lay the facts out bluntly, but Lindsay favored a more subtle approach, arguing that the woman needed time to absorb and accept her son’s criminal behaviour.

Steering Henri into the driveway, Jaye parked behind the Continental, acknowledging Patricia’s welcoming wave. With a whispered, "Let’s wing it," she climbed out of the Jeep, Lindsay right behind her.

Patricia was pulling several shopping bags out of the trunk, and the two younger women hastened to help her. With a rueful smile, she allowed them to relieve her of her burden.

"Honestly, I’m not usually such a shopaholic, but I needed something new to wear to Gareth’s fundraiser next week, and I got carried away." Patricia led them up the curving brick walkway. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? I’d hoped to see you again soon, but I didn’t think it would be this shortly." She opened the door and stepped aside so they could enter, adding, "Not that I’m not delighted to see you, of course. Will you stay the night with me? We could go out for dinner if you like, or stay home if you prefer."

Jaye set the bags she was carrying on the hallway floor, and Lindsay followed suit. Both women shifted nervously as Patricia looked at them curiously.

", we have something serious we need to speak to you about."

Looking gratefully at Lindsay for taking the initiative, Jaye nodded her agreement.

Tilting her head inquisitively, Patricia extended a hand towards the living room entrance in invitation. "Why don’t we go in there, then?" Once the three women were settled, she asked politely, "May I get you some tea, or perhaps some coffee?"

Jaye twitched uncomfortably, aware that they’d automatically taken the same seats as on their first visit. Lindsay was sitting on the couch, half-turned to face their hostess, and the Canadian was opposite them in an easy chair. The redhead reached out and took Patricia’s hand. She was drawing a deep breath to begin when Jaye blurted out, "We know who murdered Delia!"

Lindsay shot her a reproving look, but quietly agreed. "We do have conclusive evidence, Patricia, and the Portland DA will be issuing an arrest warrant very soon."

Patricia drew in a sharp breath, responding gamely, "I’m glad. It was horrible enough that Dee was murdered, but to have her murderer go unpunished would’ve been unbearable. Tell me...who was it?"

Unable to sit still during this, Jaye sprang to her feet and began pacing. She listened as Lindsay carefully began to lay out the facts of the case.

"You know, at first we couldn’t figure out who would want to kill Delia. She’d spent over forty years in Tucker’s Way and knew everyone. She certainly had a sharp tongue at times, but she was a well-respected and genuinely liked member of the community."

Patricia nodded at Lindsay’s statement. "I know. I simply couldn’t believe it when I heard it. Who could’ve hated Dee so much?"

Jaye interjected, "Someone with a very personal motive."

"But..." Patricia shook her head in puzzlement.

In a level voice, Lindsay requested, "Just hear us out, okay? Let me go through the whole thing and set it out for you step by step."

With a little shrug Patricia agreed, casually extending an arm along the back of the couch as Lindsay released her hand. Ticking off the points one by one, but leaving out Gareth’s name for the moment, the redhead went through the discovery of the incriminating footprints and fingerprints, access to the murder weapon, proof of a motive, and the identification of the suspect on the day in question.

"So you’re saying that there’s no question that this man, whoever he is, killed her?"

"None whatsoever."

"Well, who is he? And why did he do it?" Patricia looked from one woman to the other, a confused look on her patrician features.

Jaye sank to one knee in front of her. "He did it because he thought he had a lot to lose if the truth about your relationship with Auntie Dee came out. He did it because he believed that the scandal would ruin his future and his political aspirations."

Dawning comprehension broke over Patricia’s face, swiftly followed by horror and denial. "You’re saying you think Gareth murdered Dee? No! That’s impossible! He’d never do such a thing!"

She pulled back in revulsion, sinking further into the cushions and holding her hands up as if to repudiate the accusation.

Her voice firm but compassionate, Jaye insisted. "There is no doubt, Patricia. Gareth’s prints are at the crime scene, and he was positively identified as being in Tucker’s Way that day. He’s the only one who had a motive—to stop you and Delia from getting back together."

A strangled noise from across the room interrupted them, and Jaye whirled on one knee, shocked to see Gareth in the hall entrance pointing a gun at the trio.

"Gareth!" Patricia stood up, stepping around Jaye. "What are you doing? Put that thing down!"

"I can’t, Mother. Please—step aside." Gareth was sweating visibly, red splotches prominent on his pale face, and his crisp, white shirt stained under the armpits. He waved the revolver, trying to get his mother to move out of the line of fire, but she advanced steadily towards him.

Her voice firm, Patricia reassured him. "Son, there’s been some kind of mistake. We’ll get all this resolved, but you need to put that away. Where in heaven’s name did you get a gun, anyway? You know I don’t approve of them in the house. And when did you get here? I didn’t even hear you come in."

"It was Dad’s gun, Mother. He knew you didn’t like guns, so he kept it locked away in the basement." Gareth took a step to the side, but Patricia matched his movements, continuing to block his line of fire to the younger women. "I got here half an hour ago. You weren’t home."

Jaye didn’t move. She knelt on the floor in front of Lindsay, determined to protect the other woman as best she could, and felt the redhead’s hand close hard on her shoulder. If only she could get close to Gareth...but he was too far across the room. She could see the gun waver in his grip, but she knew that at that range she wouldn’t stand a chance; and if she were killed, Lindsay would be next. All she could do was hold her breath for the moment and hope Patricia could talk some sense into her son.

"Gareth, I know you would never do something like what they’re saying..."

"I didn’t want to, Mother!" Gareth wiped his sleeve over his face. "I only went there to talk some sense into her. Get her to leave you alone. Then they were driving off just as I got there so I followed them to the library. I only took the axe because I thought I could scare her a little when she came out, but then that one left and things got out of hand. I didn’t mean it to happen, Mother, I swear it!"

Patricia stopped short in her tracks, the anguish apparent on her face. "Oh God, no, Gareth... Tell me you didn’t kill Dee! Tell me you wouldn’t do that to the woman I loved."

Even as her words begged for reassurance, Jaye knew the reality was sinking in. She shifted discreetly, drawing her leg under her in preparation, waiting for an opening as Gareth’s attention was transferred to his mother.

Ignoring his mother’s denials, Gareth disjointedly continued. "When Beverly told me someone had been around asking questions, I just knew it was that one from the description. I can’t let them ruin things now. I’ve come too far...but I can fix things. I can fix everything..."

Patricia drew back in revulsion and frantically, the distraught man pleaded for understanding. "I had to, Mother! Don’t you see? It would’ve ruined everything I’ve worked for...everything we’ve worked for all these years. I was going to put us in the White House...but you almost spoiled that."

His tone grew petulant now, angry words spitting out at his mother. "You’re the perfect lady. You would’ve been a star on the campaign trail! But no, you wanted to throw it all away. And for what? So you could shack up? Jesus, you’re not a kid! What the hell was I supposed to do? Introduce you two to everyone as my mom and her geriatric lesbian lover? For God’s sake, Mother! I’d have been the laughing stock of the party. They’d never have put me on the ticket."

Patricia drew herself up regally. "I have a right to a life of my own, son. I gave up the one person I ever loved when your grandmother and father forced me to marry him to protect Delia. I wasn’t going to waste the final years of my life without her." She softened her stern tone and extended a conciliatory hand towards her progeny. "We would’ve been discreet, Dee and I. We would’ve stayed out of the limelight."

"Stayed out??" Gareth’s voice rose to a shriek. "There’s no such thing in today’s world! They’d have found you. There would’ve been headlines in all the major newspapers about the dyke’s little boy and his foolish political dreams! They’d have laughed at me, Mother! They’d have laughed!! My life would’ve been ruined!"

Jaye wondered if he was going to have a stroke. She could practically see the froth around his lips and a vein was pulsing wildly in his temple. She desperately hoped he would just pass out, even if only for a few seconds, so she could get the gun away. Her hopes were dashed when he calmed himself with an effort, sucking in deep breaths and steadying the gun with both hands.

"I’m sorry, Mother, what’s done is done. But don’t worry; I don’t blame you. Dad told me all about her kind years ago. He told me how he had rescued you after she had seduced you into her evil ways. She almost lured you back again, but I fixed that and I can fix this too. Nobody knows they’re here. I just have to get rid of them and everything goes back to normal. Everything will be fine again."

Jaye wondered if Gareth truly believed that. Gazing at his eyes, she shuddered. The fanatical, faraway look in them seemed to indicate that he had disconnected from reality, which didn’t bode well for her and Lindsay. She coiled her muscles, prepared to do whatever she could to at least save the woman who had come to mean so much to her in such a short time. She felt a fleeting regret for what might have been, then pushed it aside so she could focus.

"You’re wrong, Gareth. The Portland District Attorney’s office is issuing a warrant for your arrest even as we speak. Killing us will only add more counts to the murder indictment."

Lindsay’s quiet voice startled Jaye, and she eagerly looked to see if the words had made any impact on their captor.

"No...No, you’re wrong," Gareth insisted. "If I get rid of you two, I can make the rest of it go away. I know people."

"You can’t make me go away, son. I know what you did, and you have to answer for it. Put the gun down." Patricia’s tone was sorrowful, but implacable.

Jaye felt the fingers on her shoulder squeeze and she nodded almost imperceptibly. They were both ready to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself, but the two main players seemed oblivious, focused only on each other.

"No, I’m not going to listen to you. You always did this to me. Made me make amends and stuff." Gareth’s voice was distinctly whiny now. "Dad and Grandma never did. That’s why I always went to them. They knew how to fix stuff. They’d have known how to make this right."

Patricia stood firm, her voice laced with deep sadness, but resolute. "There is only one way to make this right, Gareth. I’ll stand by you. I’ll testify in your behalf, but you have to put the gun down. I won’t let you hurt these women."

Just then the sound of a car pulling into the driveway could be heard and Gareth swung wildly towards the door. Patricia grabbed for his hands, and the gun boomed. Jaye lunged to her feet, crossing the room in three bounds as Gareth clutched at his mother, the two of them slipping to the floor. He barely seemed to notice when the fury wrenched the gun from his hand, ejecting the clip and sliding it across the floor to where Lindsay now stood, frantically dialing the phone.

"No, Mom, no!! Mother, please...I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to, Mom." He rocked his mother in his arms, her blood staining his white shirt crimson. Looking up frantically at Jaye, he begged, "Help her! Please help her."

Tears in her eyes, Jaye knelt beside the woman, her eyes quickly assessing the damage. Patricia had taken the force of the blast full in her chest. Jaye had seen wounds like that before and knew that death would only be a matter of moments in coming. She felt Lindsay come up behind her and she looked up, shaking her head at the mute question in grieving green eyes.

Patricia tried to raise one hand...tried to say something to her son, but the vitality ebbed from her eyes and her body stilled. The detectives who had arrived looking for Gareth to execute the warrant, swarmed over the scene scant seconds later, finding him still cradling her body, muttering, "I didn’t mean to, Mother. I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry, so sorry." The monotonous repetition didn’t stop even when they pulled him away, giving the newly arrived EMS access to the already cooling body.

When Jaye finished giving her preliminary statement to one detective, he jerked a thumb at where Gareth was huddled against the wall, guarded by an officer as he rocked back and forth, mumbling his endless apology to his dead mother.

"Looks like a prime candidate for the loony bin. Anyway, we’ll need you and your friend to come down to the station. We’ve got the Portland warrant, but he’ll be charged and tried with this murder first before any extradition to Maine."

The detective moved away, and Jaye wearily leaned against a massive oak hutch as she watched the frenzy of activity. The crime scene experts who had been called in were snapping photographs and collecting evidence. Lindsay was still talking with the other detective, and Gareth was finally being led away in handcuffs. She closed her eyes for a moment, drained by the events of the day. Silently she mourned Patricia’s death, wishing she could have done something to change what had happened, but at the same time grateful that the woman had saved them.

When exhausted eyes flickered open, Jaye started in surprise. Across the room, beyond the flurry of activity around the body, stood her aunt’s shade...but this time she wasn’t alone. Two old lovers, finally reunited, stood in a tight embrace. Delia sported a brilliant smile on her worn face, but Patricia’s joy was moderated by the sorrowful, loving gaze she directed after her son. As Jaye watched, despondency and delight battling inwardly for ascendancy, she could have sworn that they grew younger amidst the radiance that surrounded them. Entranced, she didn’t even notice Lindsay crossing the room towards her until the redhead burrowed into her arms as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Jaye wrapped her arms around the taller woman, holding her securely as Lindsay wept. She didn’t interrupt, knowing that the tears were necessary, but after a long moment, she leaned up and whispered in one delicate ear.

"They’re together, sweetheart."

Lindsay’s head jerked up, hope in her wet eyes. "You can see them?"

Nodding, Jaye smiled. "Delia and Patricia. Together. I can see them."

She gently turned Lindsay in her arms until the other woman faced the right direction. The redhead shook her head in frustration, and Jaye knew that only she’d been gifted with the ability to see them. She rocked Lindsay gently, consoling her even as she enjoyed the warmth and softness of the other woman’s body leaning back against her own.

The ghosts regarded Jaye and Lindsay, luminous smiles conferring a benediction on the younger women as they began to disappear. Jaye could’ve sworn her aunt winked, a slightly smug twinkle in her eye. Long after the last image had faded, the Canadian held Lindsay tight, both of them deriving comfort from the embrace.

Chapter Nineteen

Jaye squinted until the driver of an oncoming vehicle dimmed their headlights. She’d forgotten how dark the Maine turnpike was at night, lined on both sides of the highway with dense woods and an occasional ‘Moose Crossing’ sign.

Her concerned eyes flickered over at Lindsay, who was barely visible in the passenger seat. Jaye had been horrified by Patricia’s death, but the redhead was still recovering from the trauma of finding Delia and had been hit even harder.

"Are you doin' all right?"

Lindsay smiled wanly. "Yeah. What a nightmare. I just don’t know what Gareth was thinking. He must have been completely out of his mind." Shaking her head, she added, "How else could he possibly believe that he could shoot us and just walk away to continue his life?"

Grimly, the Canadian stated, "Too damn bad he didn’t shoot himself and save everyone the trouble."


Jaye quickly glanced at Lindsay. "He wanted to kill us." She shuddered, remembering her fear of losing Lindsay forever at the hands of that madman.

"Don’t you see? Gareth needs treatment. He’s sick. You heard him. He wouldn’t even shut up when the police read him his rights."

"I heard him all right." Jaye clenched the steering wheel tighter, the memory of the man’s shrill and disjointed confession fresh in her mind. "He assumed we were on to him because you were at his office, so the first thing he does is go to his mother’s house to get a gun to kill us. It was like three murders were nothing more to him than swatting flies."

"See what I mean? No sane person would think that killing us would automatically solve everything. He had to be crazy to think he could get away with it."

Jaye shook her head. With all that Lindsay had been through, including being charged with murdering Delia, she could still find some compassion for the actual killer, even knowing how coldly he’d planned their demise.

"I think if he’s sane enough to premeditate murder, he’s sane enough to stand trial. For God’s sake! His whole motive revolved around his public image." The Canadian had never ceased to be amazed at the things that would drive people to murder. She had once photographed a crime scene in which a man had driven a fork through his wife’s heart because she bought the wrong brand of coffee, but Jaye was unable to distance herself from the raw immediacy of Gareth’s motives and couldn’t help contemplating various nasty endings for the killer.

Lindsay briefly laid her hand on Jaye’s arm. "But it’s over now. The cop I was talking to told me that if he were found competent to stand trial, he’d be charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing Patricia. Add to that, probably second degree murder for killing Delia, and he’ll be behind bars for years."

"That suits me just fine," Jaye said with great satisfaction. "It couldn’t happen to a more deserving politician."

Lindsay chuckled. "You’re incorrigible."

"Only…" Jaye clamped her mouth shut, finishing the sentence in her mind. When someone I care about is threatened.


She could feel Lindsay’s eyes on her, but resisted the urge to look at her. "Nothing. It was nothing, really."

Lindsay waited a beat to see if her companion would expand, then asked, "Do you think you’ll see Delia any more?"

The Canadian gave that some thought, her heart still warmed by her final sight of the two old lovers. Finally, with mixed emotions, she shook her head adamantly. "No. I think she’s at peace now."

"I’m glad she’s not alone. I mean, I’m really sorry Patricia had to die, but I’m glad they’re finally together. They were true soul mates."

Jaye shot a look at Lindsay before returning her eyes to the road and nodding. "Yes, they were." She felt an inchoate longing deep within, but shied away from trying to define it, even to herself.

Lindsay smiled in the darkness of the Jeep. "So, you are a romantic."

"Me? A romantic? Nah. You won’t ever see me reading those mushy books and…"

Quiet laughter filled the vehicle. "Okay. Whatever you say."

The sound was contagious, and Jaye began chuckling. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"I don’t think anyone but a romantic would so readily recognize those two as soul mates."

"I’d have to have been blind not to. I’ve never seen two people so much in love. If you could’ve seen them…"

Lindsay spoke softly. "I didn’t need to. The way you described them was enough."

The Canadian shrugged, unsure of how to answer that. She didn’t consider herself particularly romantic, but lately—every time she looked at Lindsay—she wanted to hold her and whisper endearments into her delicate ears. She wanted to taste her sweet lips...

"Jaye! You’re gonna miss our exit."

Slamming on her brakes, Jaye eased the car into the exit lane. Thankful that the darkness disguised her red cheeks, she muttered, "Must be more tired than I thought."

They arrived at Delia’s house a short time later, worn out from the tumultuous events of the day and the strain of repressing their escalating feelings for each other. With a bare goodnight to each other, they parted and tumbled into their beds.


Jaye woke early, after spending a fitful night. She lay in bed gazing at the rising sun across the calm ocean, unable to see the beauty in the orange-tinged waves and sky. It was the beginning of the end. A deep, soul-shattering loneliness threatened to consume her. Lindsay had turned her whole life topsy-turvy, and the idea of leaving the redhead filled her with despair. She fought to come up with an idea to delay their parting.

"All you have to do is tell her how you feel."

Jaye started. She’d been so deeply immersed in her thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed the welcome materialization of her aunt’s ghost. She smiled wistfully, delighted to see Delia again even as she balked at her relative’s forthright advice.

"I’m not sure how I feel…I don’t know…" Jaye shook her head in frustration.

"J-mac, what am I going to do with you?" Delia settled onto the side of the bed and gazed fondly upon her niece. "Are you going to keep fighting it until it’s too late?"

"Do you have to talk in riddles?" Jaye muttered peevishly, though she knew precisely what her aunt was referring to.

Delia raised one eyebrow in a carbon copy of her niece. "No need to take that tone with me, Eeyore."


Delia waved her hand dismissively, then smiled gently. "You shouldn’t be afraid of love, J-mac."

Jaye sighed. "I’m not."

"Then why are you fighting so hard against what your heart is telling you?"

"You make everything sound so simple. It’s not like that. God knows it wasn’t for you and Patricia. Besides, I don’t know how she feels."

"So that’s what you’re afraid of--rejection." Delia placed her finger over Jaye’s lips, stilling her protest. "Let me finish."

Jaye nodded.

"Life’s a gamble, J-mac. If you don’t take chances, you aren’t living, you simply exist; and you’ll go through life unfulfilled and unhappy. I love you like my own daughter, and I don’t want that for you. If you run away now, you’ll always wonder about what might have been."

Jaye turned troubled eyes to her aunt. "It’s not rejection I’m worried about, so much as my ability to love her like she deserves to be loved. What if I can’t? It’s not exactly like I have a great track record in that respect, and I sure don’t want to hurt her."

"What about Lindsay? Doesn’t she get any say-so?" Delia gazed at Jaye compassionately. "Nothing would make me happier than knowing my two beloved ‘daughters’ will find the same love that Patricia and I share."

Patricia shimmered into place next to Delia, placing a comforting hand on her lover, who concluded, "This is a decision you have to make, J-mac. Make it with your heart, and you’ll be okay. I promise you, you will." She glanced up at her companion and the two women exchanged knowing grins. Turning back, Delia regarded her niece intently. "Trust yourself, dear. That’s all I ask." Standing, she slipped her arm around Patricia’s waist and said softly, "I have to leave you now, Jaye."

"Wait. Don’t go yet." Jaye beseeched the fading figures.

Delia smiled gently. "It’s time. Remember how much I love you…always."

Jaye’s parting image was a vision of the two women looking lovingly at each other as they disappeared for what she knew was the final time.


Auburn ringlets lay disheveled across the pillow, and green eyes underlined with dark smudges gazed around the room. Lindsay was in no hurry to get up.

Would they say goodbye today?

She’d totally failed at her attempt to maintain a distance, and was completely, utterly in love with Jaye. Her infatuation with the woman that had lived in Delia’s stories had blossomed, even against her will, into something wild and powerful. Desire for the Canadian burned within, but no brief affair, no matter how torrid, would slake the longing that consumed her. Nothing less than a lifetime’s commitment would satisfy the bone deep yearning that suffused her.

She knew Jaye felt something for her, too. Lindsay had seen it in her eyes, but was it enough? She fought the urge to go to Jaye’s room and tell her how she felt, fearing her heart would never recover from a second rejection.

Pondering her limited options, Lindsay struggled to overcome the irrational fear. I’ve never been afraid to take chances before, why is this time so different? She sighed, knowing the answer. She’d never been in love before. Not like this. If she lost Jaye, she would lose part of her heart and soul.

Lindsay narrowed her eyes, and fervently vowed, "If I lose you, it’s not going to be because you didn’t know how I felt." She grabbed the bedding to throw it aside, then suddenly froze as she heard feet padding along the wooden floor of the hallway.


Jaye leaned against Lindsay’s doorframe, her eyes lingering on the sleeping woman as her thoughts turned inward. She’d only intended to go make coffee, but her rebellious feet had brought her to this open door, and no cool, rational logic could drag her away.

The fear that had bedeviled her—fear of Lindsay’s reaction, fear of her own emotional inadequacies, even fear of loving a woman romantically—all ebbed away as her gaze caressed the disheveled red hair and the slender hand curled around the edge of the quilt. In its place, the love that had been steadily growing with every moment spent in Lindsay’s presence eradicated the last remnants of doubt. A peaceful acceptance settled over her, and she welcomed the overpowering feeling that almost staggered her with its intensity.

Consumed by her own thoughts and emotions, Jaye hadn’t immediately noticed that soft eyes were now focused on her. Her breath hitched as she realized she’d been caught, her heart so clearly on her sleeve that there could be no more dissembling about her feelings. Momentary panic welled, then dissipated, as she read Lindsay’s unspoken welcome. Eyes that reflected her own inviting smile that echoed promises her body thrilled outstretched hand that coaxed her to leave her last reservations at the door...

Never breaking their shared gaze, Lindsay sat up—slowly, deliberately, unfastening each button of her nightshirt until it hung loosely, the pale inner swells of her breasts clearly visible through the opening. Jaye felt all the moisture in her mouth dry up, and she took one stuttering step towards the bed then another, her eyes now glued to the tantalizing sight.

Moving on instinct, Jaye’s trembling fingers grasped the bottom of her pajama shirt and pulled it up over her head. She was gratified at Lindsay’s audible intake of breath as she fully exposed her upper body.

Ardent eyes widened, and the redhead’s mouth parted slightly as she watched the other woman’s slow approach.

In unmistakable overture, Lindsay drew back the quilt in invitation. Reaching the bed, Jaye sank down on the edge, drawing one leg up so that it was touching her lover’s. The distance between them shrank to nothing as Lindsay leaned forward, one hand on Jaye’s pajama clad thigh and the other tracing a line down her throat, across her nude torso, and around the outer edge of her left breast.

Jaye arched into the longed for touch, silently pleading for more, but Lindsay took her time, cupping and teasing the pliant flesh gently until the other woman thought she would go mad with want.

Laying one hand on Jaye’s chest, Lindsay cocked her head as if listening to the thunder of her lover’s heart. She smiled joyfully and slowly drew the dark head down until their lips touched.

Frozen, Jaye could do nothing but revel in the sensation as a warm tongue flicked across her lips in an undemanding request for entry. Eagerly she inhaled Lindsay’s scent and the taste of her kiss. She was so lost in a sense of wonder, that she almost missed the husky words whispered into her mouth.

"I love you. I will always love you."

Tears filled her eyes, and she pulled back enough to cup Lindsay’s face, her strong fingers gently caressing the delicate features.

"Oh, Lindsay, I love you too. I was such an idiot..."

"Shhhh...Nothing else matters now."

Jaye nodded wordlessly, her throat choked with emotion. Suddenly overwhelmed with the need to feel Lindsay’s skin against her own, she gently pushed the other woman’s shirt back off her shoulders. Shrugging out of it, the redhead tossed it heedlessly to the floor and drew herself up proudly under her lover’s awed gaze.

"My God..."

Jaye was familiar with the naked female form in every media of artistic expression, but she was certain she had never seen such sheer beauty. She knew she’d never in her life been so overwhelmed with desire as her eyes took in Lindsay’s nude body.

Stunned into immobility, she was only brought back to herself by the sound of Lindsay’s low chuckle. Obviously deciding that her partner needed some prompting, the redhead drew Jaye down on the bed and eased on top of her lover’s solid frame.

Jaye groaned at the exquisite sensation of breast against breast, then moaned even louder as Lindsay began a slow, thorough exploration of her body. She closed her eyes and simply absorbed the feelings—the suckling pressure on her rigid nipples, the fingers tracing the lines of her body, the warm, wet tongue blazing a trail straight down from her navel...

Mindlessly, she allowed Lindsay to ease the pajama bottoms off, instinctively spreading her legs as her lover slipped between them. Fingers tenderly explored her, driving her half-mad with anticipation. When finally Lindsay granted her the touch she was burning for, Jaye nearly screamed her pleasure. She was sure that relief was only seconds away, but her lover played her skillfully--bringing her to the edge only to back off—until the Canadian’s hips were straining upwards, begging for the culmination Lindsay withheld.

Kept on the knife-edge of desire by a very adept tongue, Jaye was almost shocked when a tidal wave of ecstasy swept through her, leaving her limp and trembling with aftershocks. Lindsay crawled up the inert body, wrapping the other woman in a tight embrace as she nestled her head into her lover’s neck. Boneless, Jaye simply remained motionless, absorbing the delicious, loving warmth.

When moments later she tried to raise up, intent on giving Lindsay the same delicious pleasure, the redhead just chuckled and murmured soothingly, "Rest for a bit. There’ll be lots of time."

Jaye sank back into the bed gratefully. Lots of time. Yeah, there will be lots of time now. Lots and lots and lots of time. Turning her head to gaze down at the lithe body curled around hers, she smiled...a euphoric, blissful smile...a smile that acknowledged the absolute rightness of their union.

What God...and ghosts...hath joined together...

The End

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