Daring to dream, p.27
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       Daring to Dream, p.27

         Part #1 of Dream series by Nora Roberts
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  of him. I can still smell him. Wet wool and fish and man."

  She tried to picture it, her mother young and laughing, caught up in strong arms and wildly in love. "I thought… I assumed that you'd married him because you had to."

  "Well, of course I had to," Ann began, then stopped, eyes wide. "Oh, had to. Why, my father would have thrashed him within an inch of his mortal life. Not that he didn't try, my Johnny," she added with a quick smile. "He was a man, after all, and had his ways. But I had mine, as well, and went to my wedding bed a proper, if eager virgin."

  "I wasn't—" Margo picked up her glass, took a bracing sip. "I wasn't the reason he married you?"

  "I was the reason he married me," Ann said with a lilt of pride in her voice. "And I'm sorrier than I can say that you had that thought planted in your head, that I didn't realize it until this very moment."

  "I thought—I wondered…" How to put it, Margo wondered, when there were so many emotions spinning? "You were so young," she began again. "And in a strange country with a child to raise on your own."

  "You were never a burden to me, Margo. A trial many a time," she added with a wry curve of her lips. "But never once a burden. Nor were you a mistake, so get that idea out of your head for good. We had to get married, Margo, because we loved each other. We were desperate in love. Sweet and desperate and so young, and it was all that sweet and desperate love that made you."

  "Oh, Mum, I'm so sorry."

  "Sorry? I had more in those four years God gave us than a less fortunate woman could pack into two lifetimes."

  "But you lost him."

  "Yes, I lost him. And so did you. You didn't have much time with him, but he was a good father, and, God, he adored every inch of you. He used to watch you sleeping and touch your face with his fingertip, as if he was afraid he'd break you. And he'd smile so it seemed his face would split open with it." She pressed a hand to her mouth because she could picture it too well, still. Feel it too well, still. "I'm sorry I never told you that."

  "It's all right." The weight was off her chest now, but it welled full of tears. "It's all right, Mum. You've told me now."

  Ann closed her eyes a moment. How could she explain that grief and love and joy could carry in a heart for a lifetime? "He loved us both, Margo, and he was a fine man, a kind one, full of dreams for us, for the other children we were going to have." She fumbled in her pocket for a tissue and wiped away her tears. "Silly to cry over it now. Twenty-five years."

  "It's not silly." To Margo it was a revelation, a beautiful, wrenching one. If there was grief after a quarter of a century, then there had been love. Sweet and desperate. And more, enduring. "We don't have to talk about it anymore."

  But Ann shook her head, blinked her eyes dry. She would finish and give her child, her Johnny's child, what should have been her birthright. "When they came back that night in the storm. Oh, God, what a storm it was, wailing and blowing and the lightning breaking the sky into pieces." She opened her eyes then, met her daughter's. "I knew—I didn't want to believe but I knew he was lost before they told me. Because something was gone. In here." She pressed a hand to her heart. "Just gone, and I knew he'd taken that part of my heart with him. I didn't think I could live without him. Knew I didn't want to live without him."

  Ann linked her fingers together tight, for the next would be harder still to speak of. "I was almost three months along with another baby."

  "You—" Margo wiped at tears. "You were pregnant?"

  "I wanted a son for Johnny. He said that would be fine because we already had the most beautiful daughter in all the world. He kissed us good-bye that morning. You, then me, then he laid his hand on me where the baby was growing. And smiled. He never came back. They never found him so I could look at him again. One last time to look at him. I lost the baby that night, in the storm and the grief and the pain. Lost Johnny and the baby, and there was only you."

  How did anyone face that and manage to go on? Margo wondered. What kind of strength did it take? "I wish I had known." She took her mother's clasped hands in hers. "I wish I had known, Mum. I would have tried to be… better."

  "No, that's nonsense." After all these years, Ann realized, she was still doing it wrong. "I'm not telling you enough of the good things. There wasn't only grief and sorrow. The truth is I had him in my life for so many years. I first set my eyes on him when I was six, and he was nine. A fine, strapping boy he was then, Johnny Sullivan, with a devil's laugh and an angel's eyes. And I wanted him. So I went after him, putting myself in his face."

  "You?" Margo sniffled. "You flirted with him?"

  "Shamelessly. And by the time I was seventeen, I'd broken him down, and I snapped up his proposal of marriage before he could finish the words." She sighed once, long and deep. "Understand and believe this. I loved him, Margo, greedily. And when he died, and the baby died inside me, I wanted to die too, and might have, but for you. You needed me. And I needed you."

  "Why did you leave Ireland? Your family was there. You must have needed them."

  She could still look back to that, to rocky cliffs and tempestuous seas. "I'd lost something I'd thought I would have forever. Something I loved, something I'd wanted all my life. I couldn't bear even the air there without him. I couldn't breathe it. It was time for a fresh start. Something new."

  "Were you frightened?"

  "Only to death." Her lips curved again, and suddenly she had an urge for a taste of champagne herself. She took her daughter's glass, sipped. "I made it work. So maybe there's more of me in you than I thought. I've been hard on you, Margo. I haven't understood how hard until just recently. I've done some praying over it. You were a frighteningly beautiful child, and willful with it. A dangerous combination. There was a part of me that was afraid of loving you too much because… well, to love so full again was like tempting God. I couldn't show you, didn't think I could dare, because if I lost you I'd never have been able to go on."

  "I always thought…" Margo trailed off, shook her head.

  "No, say it. You should say what's inside you."

  "I thought I wasn't good enough for you."

  "That's my fault." Ann pressed her lips together and wondered how she could have let so many years slip away with that between them. "It was never a matter of that, Margo. I was afraid of and for you. I could never understand why you wanted so much. And I worried that you were growing up in a place where there was so much, and all of it belonging to others. And maybe I don't understand you even now, but I love you. I should have told you more often."

  "It's not always easy to say it, or to feel it. But I always knew you loved me."

  "But you haven't known that I'm proud of you." Ann sighed. It was her own pride, after all, that had kept her silent. "I was proud the first time I saw your face in a magazine. And every time after." She drank again, prepared to confess. "I saved them."

  Margo blinked. "Saved them?"

  "All your pictures. Mr. Josh sent them to me and I put them in a book. Well, books," she corrected. "Because there got to be so many." She smiled foolishly at the empty glass. "I believe I'm just a little tipsy."

  Without thinking, Margo rose to get the bottle from the refrigerator, took off the silver cap, and poured her mother more. "You saved my photos and put them in scrapbooks?"

  "And the articles, too, the little snips of gossip." She gestured with her glass. "I wasn't always proud of those, I'll tell you, and I have a feeling that boy held back the worst of them."

  Margo understood that Josh was "that boy," and smiled. "He would only have been thinking of you."

  "No, he's always thought of you." Ann inclined her head. "There's a man blind in love if ever there was one. What are you made of, Margo? Are you as smart as your mother to latch on to a strong, handsome man who'll make you dizzy in bed and out?" She caught herself when Margo snorted, and she struggled for dignity. "It's the drink. It's sinful to be drinking in the middle of the day."

  "Have another and take a cab home."
>
  "Maybe I will, at that. Well, what's your answer then? Are you going to leave the man dangling or reel him in proper?"

  Dangling had seemed a fine idea, the best idea. And now she wasn't sure. "I'm going to have to give that some thought. Mum, thank you for giving my father to me."

  "I should have—"

  "No." A little surprised at herself, Margo shook her head. "No, let's not worry about'should haves.' We'll be here all day pitching them back and forth between us. Let's start with now."

  Ann had to use her tissue again. "I did a better job with you than I've given either one of us credit for. I have a fine daughter."

  Touched, Margo pressed her lips to her mother's cheek. "Let's say you still have a work in progress. And speaking of work," she added, knowing both of them were about to start weeping again, "you enjoy the rest of your wine. My lunch break's over, and I have to go down and open up."

  "I have photographs." Ann swallowed hard. "I'd like to show you sometime."

  "I'd like to see them. Very much like to see them." Margo walked to the doorway, paused. "Mum, I'm proud of you, too, and what you've made of your life."

  Josh heard the sound of girlish laughter as he circled the east terrace toward the pool. The squeals and splashing lightened his heart. As the curved sweep of water came into view, he grinned. A race was on.

  Obviously Laura was holding back, keeping her strokes small and slow. When she was serious about her pace, no one could beat her. It used to infuriate him, having his little sister outdistance him. But then as captain of her swim team, she'd gone All-State and had even flirted with the Olympics.

  Now she was letting her daughters overtake her, all but crawling to the edge as Ali put on a furious burst of speed.

  "I won!" Ali bounced in the water. "I beat you to the side." Then her bottom lip poked out. "You let me."

  "I gave you a handicap." Laura ran a hand over Ali's slicked-back hair, then smiled as Kayla surfaced, her mouth working like a guppy's. "Just like you gave your sister a handicap because you're bigger and faster and stronger."

  "I want to win on my own."

  "The way you're going, you will." She bent to kiss Kayla between the eyes. "Both of you swim like mermaids."

  The thought of that made the mutiny die out of Ali's eyes and Kayla swim backward with a dreamy smile. "I'm a mermaid," Kayla claimed. "I swim all day with the dolphins."

  "I'm still faster." Ali started to push off, then caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She saw a man, tall, the suit, the glint of hair. Her heart speared up. But when she blinked her eyes clear of water, she saw it wasn't her father after all. "Uncle Josh!"

  "Uncle Josh! Uncle Josh is here." Kayla kicked her feet to send water flying. "Come in and swim with us. We're mermaids."

  "Anyone could see that. I'm afraid I'm not dressed to play with mermaids. But they're fun to watch."

  To entertain him, Kayla did handstands, somersaults. Not to be outdone, Ali rushed to the board to show him how her diving had improved. He whistled and applauded, offered advice as Laura climbed out and toweled off.

  She'd lost weight. Even a brother could see that. He had to concentrate on keeping his smile in place for the girls and not allowing his teeth to grind together.

  "Got a minute?" he asked her when she'd bundled into a terry-cloth robe.

  "Sure. Girls, shallow end." That brought groans and complaints, but both of them paddled in. "Is there a problem at work?"

  "Not precisely. You mentioned you wanted to take a more active part." The frown came as he wandered toward a gar denia bush. He wanted to be out of the girls' hearing. "You've got a lot on your plate, Laura."

  "I don't want your job, Josh." She smiled and combed her fingers through hair that the water had curling wildly. "I just think it's time I paid attention. I let things slide by me before. It's never going to happen again."

  "You'll piss me off if you start blaming yourself."

  "It takes two people to make a marriage." Laura sighed, making sure she kept her daughters in view as they walked along the edge of the garden. In the distance were the stables, the lovely old stucco and dark-beamed building, tucked behind the slope of the uneven land. She wished there were horses inside, or frisking in the paddock. She wished she had the time to tend to them as she did when she was a girl.

  "I'm not taking it on, Josh. What Peter did was inexcusable. It was bad enough that he ignored his children, but then to take what was theirs—"

  "And yours," he reminded her.

  "Yes, and mine. I'm going to make it back. It's going to take a while, but I'm going to make it back."

  "Honey, you know if you need money—"

  "No." She shook her head. "No, I'm not taking money from you or Mom and Dad, I'm not using Templeton money I haven't earned to pay for my life. Not as long as the girls aren't doing without." She smiled a little, running a hand over his arm as they walked. "Let's be realistic, Josh. The three of us have a beautiful home, food on the table. Their tuition's paid. There are plenty of women who find themselves in my position and have nothing left."

  "It doesn't make your situation any less rotten. How long are you going to be able to pay the servants, Laura, and the tuition if you're determined to use only your share of profits from the shop?"

  She'd worried about the servants. How could she let them go when most of them had been at Templeton House for years? What would Mrs. Williamson or old Joe the gardener do if she had to cut the staff?

  "Pretenses is bringing in money, and I have the dividends from Templeton stock—which I intend to start earning. I've got time on my hands, Josh, and I'm tired of filling it up with committees and lunches and fundraisers. That was Peter's lifestyle."

  "You want a job?"

  "Actually, I thought I might be able to work part time. It's not that I'm destitute, it's that it's long past time that I started to make my own way. I look at Kate and the way she's always worked toward what she wanted. And Margo. Then I look at me."

  "Just stop it."

  "I've got something to prove," she said evenly. "And I'm damn well going to do it. You're not the only Templeton in this generation who knows hotels. I know about putting events together, catering, entertainment. I'd have to juggle time with the shop and the girls, of course."

  "When can you start?"

  She stopped dead. "Do you mean it?"

  "Laura, you have just as much interest in Templeton as I do."

  "I've never done anything for it, or about it. Not for years, anyway."

  "Why?"

  She grimaced. "Because Peter didn't want me to. My job, as he told me often, was being Mrs. Peter Ridgeway." It would, she understood, always humiliate her to admit it. "You know what finally occurred to me a year or so ago, Josh? My name was nowhere in there. I was nowhere in there."

  Uncomfortable, he looked over toward the pool where his nieces were having a contest to see who could hold her breath longer. "I guess marriage is a loss of identity."

  "No, it isn't. It shouldn't be." It was salt in a raw wound to admit it, but… "I let it be. I always wanted to be perfect. Perfect daughter, perfect wife, perfect mother. It's been a hard slap in the face to realize I couldn't be any of those things."

  He laid his hands on her shoulders and gave her a little shake. "How about perfect sister? You won't hear any complaints from me."

  Touched, she rested her hands on top of his. "If I were the perfect sister, I'd be asking you why you haven't asked Margo to marry you." She tightened her grip when he would have slipped his hands away. "You love each other, understand each other. I'd say you have more in common than any two people I know, including fear of taking the next step."

  "Maybe I like the step I'm on."

  "Is it enough, Josh? Really enough for you, or for Margo?"

  "Damn, you're pushy."

  "That's only one required element of the perfect sister."

  Restless, he moved away, stopped to toy with a pale pink rosebud. "I've thought a
bout it. Marriage, kids, the whole package. Pretty big package," he murmured. "Lots of surprises inside."

  "You used to like surprises."

  "Yeah. But one thing Margo and I have in common is an appreciation for being able to pick up and move whenever we like. I've lived in hotels for the last dozen years because I like the transience, the convenience. Hell." He broke off the bloom, handed it absently to Laura. "I've been waiting for her all my life. I always figured after the wait was over, I'd bide my time. A year or two of fun and games—which is exactly what she expects of me. How she thinks of me. Then I'd sneak the idea of marriage in on her."

  With a half laugh, Laura shook her head. "Is this a chess game or a relationship, Josh?"

  "It's been a chess game until recently. Move and counter-move. I finessed her into falling in love with me."

  "Do you really think so?" Laura clucked her tongue and slid the rosebud into the lapel of his jacket. "Men are such boobs." She rose on her toes to kiss him lightly. "Ask her. I dare you."

  He had to wince. "I wish you hadn't put it like that."

  "One more element of the perfect sister is knowing her brother's deepest weakness."

  Blissfully ignorant of the plans afoot, Margo watched a satisfied customer walk out the door. The way her feet were aching she was relieved that Laura would be putting in a half day tomorrow. As it was five-forty-five, she considered cashing out for the day, maybe nipping out just a few minutes early to go back to the suite and make herself beautiful for the fabulous dinner Josh had promised her.

  The advantages to her new life were just piling up, she decided as she swung around the counter and slipped out of her shoes. Not only was she proving that she had a brain as well as a body, but she had discovered a whole new aspect of her background to explore.

  Her parents had loved each other. Perhaps it was foolish for a grown woman to find such comfort and joy in that. But she knew it had opened something in her heart. Some things do last forever, she thought. Love held.

  And tonight, she was going to tell Josh what she knew, what she believed, and what she wanted. A real life, a full life.

  A married life.

  It made her laugh to imagine his face when she proposed to him. She would have to be clever in her phrasing, she mused while she transferred cash out of the till into the bag for deposit. A subtle challenge, she decided. But not too subtle.

  She would make him happy. They would travel the world together, go to all those exciting places they both loved. And always come back here. Because here was home for both of them.

  It had taken her much too long to accept that.

  She glanced up as the door opened, pushed back impatience with a shopkeeper's smile. Then squealed.

  "Claudio!'' She was around the counter in a dash, her hands flung out toward the tall, handsomely distinguished man. "This is wonderful." She kissed both of his cheeks before drawing back to arm's length to beam at him.

  He was, of course, as stunning as ever. Silver wings flew back from his temples into thick black hair. His face was smooth and tanned, set off by his long Roman nose and the light in his chocolate-brown eyes.

  "Bella." He brought both of her hands to his lips. "Molta bella. I was set to be angry with you, Margo mia, but now, seeing you, I'm weak."

  Appreciating him, she laughed. "What is Italy's most successful film producer doing in my little corner of the world?"

  "Looking for you, my own true love."

  "Ah." That was nonsense, of course. But they had always understood each other perfectly. "Now you've found me, Claudio."

  "So I have." And he could see immediately that he need not have worried. She was glowing. "And the rumors and buzzing I heard when I returned from location were true after all. La Margo is running a shop."

  With a challenging gleam in her eye, she lifted her chin. "So?"

  "So?" He spread his hands expressively. "So."

  "Let me get you a glass of champagne, darling, and you can tell me what you're really doing in Monterey."

  "I tell you I come to search for my lost love." But he winked at her as he accepted the glass. "I had a bit of business in Los Angeles. How could I come so close without seeing you?"

  "It was sweet of you. And I am glad to see you."

  "You should have called me when there was trouble for you."

  It seemed a lifetime ago. She only shrugged. "I got through it."

  "That Alain. He's a pig." Claudio stalked around the shop in the long, limber strides he used to stalk a soundstage. His burst of gutter Italian termed Alain as a great deal more, and less, than a mere pig.

  "I cannot but agree," Margo said when he had run down.

  "If you had called my offices, the studio, they would have gotten word to me.
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