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The Calhouns: Suzanna and Megan

By Calvin Washington,2014-11-04 22:06
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Atop the rocky coast of Maine sits the Towers, a magnificent family mansion that is home to a legend of long-lost love, hidden emeralds -- and four sisters determined to save their home against all odds. Suzanna's Surrender - Burned-out and tired as hell, all ex-cop Holt Bradford wanted to do was relax. But when beautiful single mom Suzanna invaded his solitude to search for the missing Calhoun emeralds, he couldn't say no. Holt had changed from a bad-boy teen to a dangerously sexy man, but Suzanna couldn't risk her well-ordered life for a man who made her mouth go dry . . . Megan's Mate - Calhoun sister-in-law Megan O'Riley and her young son had traveled far to become the Towers' newest residents. Cool as an Atlantic breeze, Megan buried her passions and vowed never to let her heart contr Published by Harlequin on 2005/03/01

Suzanna’s Surrender, by Nora Roberts

    Prologue

    Bar Harbor, 1965

    The moment I saw her, my life was changed. More than fifty years have passed since that moment,and I'm an old man whose hair has turned white, whose body has grown frail. Yet my memories arefull of color and strength.

    Since my heart attack, I am to rest every day. So I have come back here to the island – herisland – where it all began for me. It has changed, as I have. The great fire in '47 destroyedmuch. New buildings, new people have come. Cars crowd the streets without the charm of thejingling carriages. But I am lucky to be able to see it as it was, and as it is.

    My son is a man now, a good one who chose to make his living from the sea. We have neverunderstood each other, but have dealt together well enough. He has a quiet, lovely wife and ason of his own. The boy, young Holt, brings me a special kind of joy. Perhaps it is because Ican see myself in him so clearly. The impatience, the fire, the passions that were once mine.Perhaps he, too, will feel too much, want too much. Yet I can't be sorry for it. If I couldtell him one thing, it would be to grab hold of life and take.

    My life has been full, and I'm grateful for the years I had with Margaret. I was no longeryoung when she became my wife. What we shared was not a blaze, but the quiet warmth of a bankedfire. She brought me comfort, and I hope I gave her happiness. She's been gone for nearly ten

years, and my memories of her are sweet.

    Yet it is the memory of another woman that haunts me. This memory is so painfully clear, socomplete. No amount of time could dull it. The years have not faded my image of her, nor havethey altered by a single degree the desperate love I felt. Yes, feel still – will always feelthough she is lost to me.

    Perhaps now that I have brushed so close to death, I can open myself to it again, let myselfremember what I have never been able to forget. Once it was. too painful, and I lost the painin a bottle. Finding no comfort there, I at last buried my misery in my work. Painting again, Itraveled. But always, always, was pulled back here where I had once begun to live. Where I knowI will one day die.

    A man loves that way only once, and only if he is fortunate. For me, it was Bianca. It hasalways been Bianca.

    It was June, the summer of 1912, before the Great War ripped the world apart. The summer ofpeace and beauty, o fart and poetry, when the village of Bar Harbor opened itself to thewealthy and gave refuge to artists.

    She came to the cliffs where I worked, her hand holding that of a child. I turned from mycanvas, the brush still in my hand, the mood of the sea and the painting still on me. There shewas, slender and lovely, the sunset hair swept up off her neck. The wind tugged at it, and atthe skirts of the pale blue frock she wore. Her eyes were the color of the sea I was sofrantically trying to recreate on canvas. They watched me, curious, wary. She had the pale andluminous skin of the Irish.

    The moment I saw her, I knew I had to paint her. And I think I knew, as we, stood in the wind,that I would have to love her.

    She apologized for interrupting my work. The faint and musical lilt of Ireland was in the soft,polite voice. The child now in her arms was her son. She was Bianca Calhoun, another man'swife. Her summer home was on the ridge above. The Towers, the elaborate castle Fergus Calhounhad built. Even though I had only been on Mount Desert Island a short time, I had heard ofCalhoun, and his home. Indeed I had admired the arrogant and fanciful lines of it, the turretsand peaks, the towers and parapets.

    Such a place suited the woman who stood before me. She had a timeless beauty, a quietsteadiness, a graciousness that could never be taught, and banked passions simmering in herlarge green eyes. Yes, I was already in love, but then it was only with her beauty. As anartist, I wanted to interpret that beauty in my own way, with paint or pencils. Perhaps Ifrightened her by staring so intently. But the child, his name was Ethan, was fearless andfriendly. She looked so young, so untouched, that it was difficult to believe the child washers, and that she had two more besides.

    She didn't stay long that day, but took her son and went home to her husband. I watched herwalk through the wild roses, the sun in her hair.

    I couldn't paint the sea anymore that day. Her face had already begun to haunt me.

    Chapter One

    She wasn't looking forward to this. It had to be done, of course. Suzanna dragged a fifty –pound bag of mulch over to her pickup, then muscled it into the bed. That small physical taskwasn't the problem. In fact, she was pleased to be able to make the delivery her second stop onher way home.

    It was the first stop she wished she could avoid. But for Suzanna Calhoun Dumont, duty couldnever be avoided.

    She'd promised her family that she would speak to Holt Bradford, and Suzanna kept her promises.Or tried to, she thought, and wiped a forearm over her sweaty brow.

    But damn it, she was tired. She'd put in a full day in Southwest Harbor, landscaping a newhouse, and she had a full schedule the next day. That wasn't taking into account that her

    sister Amanda was getting married in little more than a week, or that The Towers was massconfusion in preparation for the wedding and with the remodeling of the west wing. It didn'teven begin to deal with the fact that she had two energetic children at home who would want,and deserved, their mother's time and attention that evening. Or the paperwork that was pilingup on her desk – or the fact that one of her part – time employees had quit just thatmorning.

    Well, she'd wanted to start a business, Suzanna reminded herself. And she'd done it. Sheglanced back at her shop, locked for the night with the display of summer blooms in the window,at the greenhouse just behind the main building. It belonged to her – and the bank, shethought with a little smile – every pansy, petunia and peony. She'd proven she wasn't theincompetent failure her ex – husband had told her she was. Over and over again.

    She had two beautiful children, a family who loved her and a landscapingand – gardeningbusiness that was holding its own. She didn't even suppose Bax's claim that she was dull couldapply now. Not when she was in the middle of an adventure that had started eighty years before.

    There certainly wasn't anything mundane about searching for a priceless emerald necklace, orbeing dogged by international jewel thieves who would stop at nothing to get their hands on hergreat – grandmother Bianca's legacy.

    Not that she'd been much more than a supporting player so far, Suzanna mused as she climbedinto the truck. It had been her sister C.C. who had started it by falling in love with TrentonSt. James III, of the St. James Hotels. It had been his idea to turn part of the financiallyplagued family home into a luxury retreat. In doing so, the old legend of the Calhoun emeraldshad leaked to the ever – eager press and had set off a chain reaction that had run a coursefrom the absurd to the dangerous.

    It had been Amanda who had nearly been killed when the desperate and obsessed thief going bythe name of William Livingston had stolen family papers he'd hoped would lead him to the lostemeralds. And it had been her sister Lilah who had had her life threatened during the latestattempt.

    In the week that had passed since that night, the police hadn't turned up a trace ofLivingston, or his latest known alias, Ellis Caufield.

    It was odd, she thought as she joined the stream of traffic, how The Towers and the lostemeralds had affected the entire family. The Towers had brought C.C. and Trent together. ThenSloan O'Riley had come to design the retreat and had fallen in love with Amanda. The shyhistory professor, Max Quartermain, had lost his heart to Suzanna's free – spirited sister,Lilah, and both of them had nearly been killed. Again, because of the emeralds.

    There were times Suzanna wished they could forget about the necklace that had belonged to hergreat – grandmother. But she knew, as they all knew, that the necklace Bianca had hidden awaybefore her death was meant to be found.

    So they continued, following up every lead, exploring every dusty path. Now it was her turn.During his research, Max had uncovered the name of the artist Bianca had loved.

    It was a story that never failed to make Suzanna wistful, but it was just her bad luck that theconnection with the artist led to his grandson.

    Holt Bradford. She sighed a little as she drove through the traffic – jammed streets of thevillage. She couldn't claim to know him well – wasn't sure anyone could. But she rememberedhim as a teenager. Surly, bad tempered and aloof. Of course, girls had been attracted by his go– to – hell attitude. The attraction helped along, no doubt, by the dark, brooding looks andangry gray eyes.

    Odd she should remember the color of his eyes, she mused. But then again, the one time she hadseen them up close and personal he'd all but burned her alive with them.

    He'd probably forgotten the altercation, she assured herself. She hoped so. Altercations madeher shaky and sweaty, and she'd had enough of them in her marriage to last a lifetime.Certainly Holt wouldn't still hold a grudge, it had been more than ten years. After all, he

    hadn't been hurt very much when he'd taken a header off his motorcycle. And it had been hisfault, she thought, setting her chin. She'd had the right of way.

    In any case, she had promised Lilah she would talk to him. Any connection with Bianca's lostemeralds had to be followed up. As Christian Bradford's grandson. Holt might have heardstories.

    Since he'd come back to Bar Harbor a few months before, he had taken up residence in the samecottage his grandfather had lived in during his romance with Bianca. Suzanna was Irish enoughto believe in fate. There was a Bradford in the cottage and Calhouns in The Towers. Surelybetween them, they could find the answers to the mystery that had haunted both families forgenerations.

    The cottage was on the water, sheltered by two lovely old willows. The simple wooden structuremade her think of a doll's house, and she thought it a shame that no one had cared enough toplant flowers. The grass was freshly mowed, but her professional eye noted that there werepatches that needed reseeding, and the whole business could use a good dose of fertilizer.

    She started toward the door when the barking of a dog and the rumble of a man's voice had herskirting around to the side.

    There was a rickety pier jutting out above the calm, dark water. Tied to it was a neat littlecabin cruiser in gleaming white. He sat in the stern, patiently polishing the brass. He wasshirtless, his tanned skin taut over bone and muscle, and gleaming with sweat. His black hairwas curled past where his collar would be if he'd worn one. Apparently he didn't find itnecessary to cover himself with anything more than a pair of ripped and faded cutoffs. Shenoticed his hands, limber, long fingered, and wondered if he had inherited them from his artistgrandfather.

    Water lapped quietly at the boat. Behind it, she saw a fish hawk soar then plummet. It gave acry of triumph as it rose up again, a silver fish caught wriggling in its claws. The man in theboat continued to work, untouched by or oblivious to the drama of life and death around him.

    Suzanna fixed what she hoped was a polite smile on her face and walked toward the pier.“Excuse me.”

    When his head shot up, she stopped dead. She had the quick but vivid impression that if he'dhad a weapon, it would have been aimed at her. In an instant, he had gone from relaxed to fullalert, with an edgy kind of violence in the set of his body that had her mouth going dry.

    As she struggled to steady her heartbeat, she noted that he had changed. The surly boy was nowa dangerous man. There was no other word that came to mind. His face had matured so that it wasall planes and angles, sharply defined. The stubble of a two – day beard added to the rough –and ready look.

    But it was his eyes once again, that dried up her throat. A man with eyes that sharp, thatpotent, needed no weapon.

    He squinted at her but didn't rise or speak. He had to give himself a moment to level. If he'dbeen wearing his weapon, it would have been out and in his hand. That was one of the reasons hewas here, and a civilian again.

    He might have forced himself to relax – he knew how – but he remembered her face. A mandidn't forget that face. God knows, he hadn't. Timeless. In one of his youthful fantasies, he'dimagined her as a princess, lost and lovely in flowing silks. And himself as the knight whowould have slain a hundred dragons to have her.

    The memory made him scowl.

    She'd hardly changed, he thought. Her skin was still pale Irish roses and cream, the shape ofher face still classically oval. Her mouth had remained full and romantically soft, her eyesthat deep, deep, dreamy blue, luxuriously lashed. They were watching him now with a kind ofbaffled alarm as he took his time looking her over.

    She'd pulled her hair back in a smooth ponytail, but he remembered how it had flowed, long andloose and gleaming blond over her shoulders.

    She was tall – all the Calhoun women were – but she was too thin. His scowl deepened at that.He'd heard she'd been married and divorced, and that both had been difficult experiences. Shehad two children, a boy and girl. It was difficult to believe that the slender wand of a womanin grubby jeans and a sweaty T – shirt had ever given birth.

    It was harder to believe, harder to accept, that she could jangle his nerves just by standingten feet away.

    With his eyes still on hers, he went back to his polishing. “Do you want something?”

    She let out the breath she hadn't been aware she was holding. “I'm sorry to just drop in thisway. I'm Suzanna Dumont. Suzanna Calhoun.”

    “I know who you are.”

    “Oh, well...” She cleared her throat. “I realize you're busy, but I'd like to talk with youfor a few minutes. If this isn't a good time –”

    “What about?”

    Since he was being so gracious, she thought, annoyed, she'd get right to the point. “Aboutyour grandfather. He was Christian Bradford, wasn't he? The artist?”

    “That's right. So?”

    “It's kind of a long story. Can I sit down?”

    When he only shrugged, she walked to the pier. It groaned and swayed under her feet, and shelowered herself carefully.

    “Actually, it started back in 1912 or '13, with my great – grandmother, Bianca.”

    “I've heard the fairy tale.” He could smell her now, flowers and sweat, and it made hisstomach tighten. “She was an unhappy wife with a rich and difficult husband. She compensatedby taking a lover. Somewhere along the line, she supposedly hid her emerald necklace. Insuranceif she got up the guts to leave. Instead of taking off into the sunset with her lover, shejumped out of the tower window, and the emeralds were never found.”

    “It wasn't precisely –”

    “Now your family's decided to start a treasure hunt,” he went on as if she hadn't spoken.“Got a lot of press out of it, and more trouble than I imagine you bargained for. I heard youhad some excitement a couple weeks ago.”

    “If you can call my sister being held at knife point excitement, yes.” The fire had come intoher eyes. She wasn't always good at defending herself, but when it came to her family, she wasa scrapper. “The man who was working with Livingston, or whatever the bastard's callinghimself now, nearly killed Lilah and her fiancé.”

    “When you've got priceless emeralds with a legend attached, the rats gnaw through thewoodwork.” He knew about Livingston. Holt had been a cop for ten years, and though he'd spentmost of that time in Vice, he'd read reports on the slick and often violent jewel thief.

    “The legend and the emeralds are my family's business.” “So why come to me? I turned in myshield. I'm retired.”

    “I didn't come to you for professional help. It's personal.” She took another breath, wantingto be clear and concise. “Lilah's fiancé used to be a history professor at Cornell. A coupleof months ago, Livingston, going under the name of Ellis Caufield, hired him to go through thefamily's papers he'd stolen from us.”

    Holt continued to polish the brightwork. “Doesn't sound like Lilah developed any taste.”

    “Max didn't know the papers were stolen,” Suzan – na said between her teeth. “When he foundout, Caufield nearly killed him. In any case, Max came to The Towers and continued his researchfor us. We've documented the emeralds' existence, and we've even interviewed a servant whoworked at The Towers the year Bianca died.”

Holt shifted and continued to work. “You've been busy.”

    “Yes. She corroborates the story that the necklace was hidden, and that Bianca was in love,and planning to leave her husband. The man she was in love with was an artist” She waited abeat. “His name was Christian Bradford.”

    Something flickered in his eyes then was gone. Very deliberately he set down his rag. He pulleda cigarette from a pack, flicked on a lighter then slowly blew out a haze of smoke.

    “Do you really expect me to believe that little fantasy?”

    She'd hoped for surprise, even amazement. She'd gotten boredom. “It's true. She used to meethim on the cliffs near The Towers.”

    He gave her a thin smile that was very close to a sneer. “Saw them, did you? Oh, I've heardabout the ghost, too.” He drew in more smoke, lazily released it. “The melancholy spirit ofBianca Calhoun, drifting through her summer home. You Calhouns are just full of – stories.”

    Her eyes darkened, but her voice remained very controlled. “Bianca Calhoun and ChristianBradford were in love. The summer she died, they met often on the cliffs just below TheTowers.”

    That touched a chord, but he only shrugged. “So what?”

    “So there's a connection. My family can't afford to overlook any connection, particularly oneso vital as this one. It's very possible she told him where she put the emeralds.”

    “I don't see what a flirtation – an unsubstantiated flirtation – between two people someeighty years ago has to do with emeralds.”

    “If you could get past this prejudice you seem to have toward my family, we might be able tofigure it out.”

    “Not interested in either part.” He flipped open the top of a small cooler. “Want a beer?”

    “No.”

    “Well, I'm fresh out of champagne.” Watching her, he twisted off the top, tossed it toward aplastic bucket, then drank deeply. “You know, if you think about it, you'd see it's a littletough to swallow. The lady of the manor, well – bred, well – off, and the struggling artist.Doesn't play, babe. You'd be better off dropping the whole thing and concentrating on plantingyour flowers. Isn't that what you're doing these days?”

    He could make her angry, she thought, but he wasn't going to shake her from her purpose. “Mysisters' lives were threatened, my home has been broken into. Idiots are sneaking in my gardenand digging up my rosebushes.” She stood, tall and slim and furious. “I have no intention ofdropping the whole thing.”

    “Your business.” He flicked the cigarette away before jumping effortlessly onto the pier. Itshook and swayed beneath them. He was taller than she remembered, and she had to angle her chinto keep her eyes level. “Just don't expect to suck me into it.”

    “All right then. I'll just stop wasting my time and yours.”

    He waited until she'd stepped off the pier. “Suzanna.” He liked the way it sounded when hesaid it. Soft and feminine and old – fashioned. “You ever learn to drive?”

    Eyes stormy, she took a step back toward him. “Is that what this is all about?” she demanded.“You're still steaming because you fell off that stupid motorcycle and bruised your inflatedmale ego?”

    “That wasn't the only thing that got bruised – or scraped, or lacerated.” He remembered theway she'd looked. God, she couldn't have been more than sixteen. Rushing out of her car, herhair windblown, her face pale, her eyes dark and drenched with concern and fear.

    And he'd been sprawled on the side of the road, his twenty – year – old pride as raw as theskin the asphalt had abraded.

    “I don't believe it,” she was saying. “You're still mad, after what, twelve years, forsomething that was clearly your own fault.”

“My fault?” He tipped the bottle toward her. “You're the one who ran into me.”

    “I never ran into you or anyone. You fell.”

    “If I hadn't ditched the bike, you would have run into me. You weren't looking where you weregoing.”

    “I had the right of way. And you were going entirely too fast.”

    “Bull.” He was starting to enjoy himself. “You were checking that pretty face of yours inthe rear – view mirror.”

    “I certainly was not. I never took my eyes off the road.”

    “If you'd had your eyes on the road, you wouldn't have run into me.”

    “I didn't –” She broke off, swore under her breath. “I'm not going to stand here and arguewith you about something that happened twelve years ago.”

    “You came here to try to drag me into something that happened eighty years ago.”

    “That was an obvious mistake.” She would have left it at that, but a very big, very wet dogcame bounding across the lawn. With two happy barks, the animal leaped, planting both muddyfeet on Suzanna's shirt and sending her staggering back.

    “Sadie, down!” As Holt issued the terse command, he caught Suzanna before she hit the ground.“Stupid bitch.”

    “I beg your pardon?”

    “Not you, the dog.” Sadie was already sitting, thumping her dripping tail. “Are you allright?” He still had his arms around her, bracing her against his chest.

    “Yes, fine.” He had muscles like rock. It was impossible not to notice. Just, as it wasimpossible not to notice that his breath fluttered along her temple, that he smelled very male.It had been a very long time since she had been held by a man.

    Slowly he turned her around. For a moment, a moment too long, she was face – to – face withhim, caught in the circle of his arms. His gaze flicked down to her mouth, lingered. A gullwheeled overhead, banked, then soared out over the water. He felt her heart thud against his.Once, twice, three times.

    “Sorry,” he said as he released her. “Sadie still sees herself as a cute little puppy. Shegot your shirt dirty.”

    “Dirt's my business.” Needing time to recover, she crouched down to rub the dog's head. “Hi,there, Sadie.”

    Holt pushed his hands into his pockets as Suzanna acquainted herself with his dog. The bottlelay where he'd tossed it, spilling its contents onto the lawn. He wished to God she didn't lookso beautiful, that her laugh as the dog lapped at her face didn't play so perfectly on hisnerves.

    In that one moment he'd held her, she'd fit into his arms as he'd once imagined she would. Hishands fisted inside his pockets because he wanted to touch her. No, that wasn't even close. Hewanted to pull her inside the cottage, toss her onto the bed and do incredible things to her.

    “Maybe a man who owns such a nice dog isn't all bad.” She tossed a glance over her shoulderand the cautious smile died on her lips. The way he was looking at her, his eyes so dark andfierce, his bony face so set had the breath backing up in her lungs. There was violencetrembling around him. She'd had a taste of violence from a man, and the memory of it made herlimbs weak.

    Slowly he relaxed his shoulders, his arms, his hands. “Maybe he isn't,” he said easily. “Butit's more a matter of her owning me at this point.”

    Suzanne found it more comfortable to look at the dog than the master. “We have a puppy. Well,he's growing by leaps and bounds so he'll be as big as Sadie soon. In fact, he looks a greatdeal like her. Did she have a litter a few months ago?”

“No.”

    “Hmm. He's got the same coloring, the same shaped face. My brother – in law found him half –starved. Someone had dumped him, I suppose, and he'd managed to get up to the cliffs.”

    “Even I draw the line at abandoning helpless puppies.”

    “I didn't mean to imply –” She broke off because a new thought had jumped into her mind. Itwas no crazier than looking for missing emeralds. “Did your grandfather have a dog?”

    “He always had a dog, used to take it with him wherever he went. Sadie's one of thedescendants.”

    Carefully she got to her feet again. “Did he have a dog named Fred?” Holt's brows drewtogether. “Why?”

    “Did he?”

    Holt was already sure he didn't like where this was leading. “The first dog he had was calledFred. That was before the First World War. He did a painting of him. And when Fred exercisedthe right de seigneur around the neighborhood, my grandfather took a couple of the puppies.”

    Suzanne rubbed suddenly damp hands on her jeans. It took all of her control to keep her voicelow and steady. “The day before Bianca died, she brought a puppy home to her children. Alittle black puppy she called Fred.” She saw his eyes change and knew she had his attention,and his interest. “She'd found him out on the cliffs – the cliffs where she went to meetChristian.” She moistened her lips as Holt continued to stare at her and say nothing. “Mygreat – grandfather wouldn't allow the dog to stay. They argued about it, quite seriously. Wewere able to locate a maid who'd worked there, and she'd heard the whole thing. No one was surewhat happened to that dog. Until now.”

    “Even if that's true,” Holt said slowly, “it doesn't change the bottom line. There's nothingI can do for you.”

    “You can think about it, you can try to remember if he ever said anything, if he left anythingbehind that could help.”

    “I've got enough to think about.” He paced a few feet away. He didn't want to be involvedwith anything that would bring him into contact with her again and again.

    Suzanna didn't argue. She could only stare at the long, jagged scar that ran from his shoulderto nearly his waist. He turned, met her horrified eyes and stiffened.

    “Sorry, if I'd known you were coming to call, I'd have put on a shirt.”

    “What –” She had to swallow the block of emotion in her throat. “What happened to you?”

    “I was a cop one night too long.” His eyes stayed steady on hers. “I can't help you,Suzanna.”

    She shook away the pity he obviously would detest. “You won't.”

    “Whatever. If I'd wanted to dig around in other people's problems, I'd still be on theforce.”

    “I'm only asking you to do a little thinking, to let us know if you remember anything thatmight help.”

    He was running out of patience. Holt figured he'd already given her more than her share for oneday. “I was a kid when he died. Do you really think he'd have told me if he'd had an affairwith a married woman?”

    “You make it sound sordid.”

    “Some people don't figure adultery's romantic.” Then he shrugged. It was nothing to himeither way. “Then again, if one of the partners turns out to be a washout, I guess it's toughto come down on the other for looking someplace else.”

    She looked away at that, closing in on a private pain. “I'm not interested in your views onmorality, Holt. Just your memory. And I've taken up enough of your time.”

    He didn't know what he'd said to put that sad, injured look in her eyes. But he couldn't lether leave with that haunting him. “Look, I think you're reaching at straws here, but ifanything comes to mind, I'll let you know. For Sadie's ancestor's sake.”

    “I'd appreciate it.”

    “But don't expect anything.”

    With a half laugh she turned to walk to her truck. “Believe me, I won't.” It surprised herwhen he crossed the lawn with her.

    “I heard you started a business.”

    “That's right.” She glanced around the yard. “You could use me.” The faint sneer cameagain. “I ain't the rosebush type.”

    “The cottage is.” Unoffended, she fished her keys out of her pocket. “It wouldn't take muchto make it charming.”

    “I'm not in the market for posies, babe. I'll leave the puttering around the rose garden toyou.”

    She thought of the aching muscles she took home with her every night and climbed into the truckto slam the door. “Yes, puttering around the garden is something we women do best. By the way,Holt, your grass needs fertilizer. I'm sure you have plenty to spread around.”

    She gunned the engine, set the shift in reverse and pulled out.

    Chapter Two

    The children came rushing out of the house, followed by a big – footed black dog. The boy andthe girl skimmed down the worn stone steps with the easy balance and grace of youth. The dogtripped over his own feet and somersaulted. Poor Fred, Suzanna thought as she climbed out ofthe truck. It didn't look as though he would ever outgrow his puppy clumsiness.

    “Mom!” Each child attached to one of Suzanna's jean – clad legs. At six, Alex was alreadytall for his age and dark as a gypsy. His sturdy tanned legs were scabbed at the knees and hisbony elbows were scraped. Not from clumsiness, Suzanna thought, but from derring – do. Jenny,a year younger and blond as a fairy princess, carried the same badges of honor. Suzanna forgother irritation and fatigue the moment she bent to kiss them.

    “What have you two been up to?”

    “We're building a fort,” Alex told her. “It's going to be impregnant.” “Impregnable,”Suzanna corrected, tweaking his nose.

    “Yeah, and Sloan said he could help us with it on Saturday.” “Can you?” Jenny asked.

    “After work.” She bent to pet Fred, who was trying to push his way through the children forhis rightful share of affection. “Hello, boy. I think I met one of your relatives today.”

    “Does Fred have relatives?” Jenny wanted to know.

    “It certainly looked that way.” She walked over to sit with the children on the steps. It wasa luxury to sit, to smell the sea and flowers, to have a child under each arm. “I think I methis cousin Sadie.”

    “Where? Can she come to visit? Is she nice?”

    “In the village,” Suzanna said, answering Alex's rapid – fire questions in turn. “I don'tknow, and yes, she's very nice. Big, like Fred's going to be when he grows into his feet. Whatelse did you do today?”

    “Loren and Lisa came over,” Jenny told her. “We killed hundreds of marauders.”

    “Well, we can all sleep easy tonight.”

    “And Max told us a story about storming the beach at Normally.”

    Chuckling, Suzanna kissed the top of Jenny's head. “I think that was Normandy.”

    “Lisa and Jenny played dolls, too.” Alex gave his sister a brotherly smirk.

“She wanted to. She got the brand – new Barbie and her car for her birthday.”

    “It was a Ferrari,” Alex said importantly, but didn't want to admit that he and Loren hadplayed with it when the girls were out of the room. He inched closer to toy with his mother'sponytail. “Loren and Lisa are going to Disney World next week.”

    Suzanna bit back a sigh. She knew her children dreamed of going to that enchanted kingdom incentral Florida. “We'll go someday.”

    “Soon?” Alex prompted.

    She wanted to promise, but couldn't. “Someday,” she repeated. The weariness was back when sherose to take each child by the hand. “You guys run and tell Aunt Coco I'm home. I need toshower and change. Okay?”

    “Can we go to work with you tomorrow?”

    She gave Jenny's hand a quick squeeze. “Carol – anne's watching the shop tomorrow. I havesite work.” She felt their disappointment as keenly as her own. “Next week. Go ahead now,”she said as she opened the massive front door. “And I'll look at your fort after dinner.”

    Satisfied with that, they barreled down the hall with the dog at their heels.

    They didn't ask for much, Suzanna thought as she climbed the curving stairs to the secondfloor. And there was so much more she wanted to give them. She knew they were happy and safeand secure. They had a huge family who loved them. With one of her sisters married, and twoothers engaged, her children had men in their lives. Maybe uncles didn't replace a father, butit was the best she could do.

    They hadn't heard from Baxter Dumont for months. Alex hadn't even rated a card on his birthday.The child support check was late again – as it was every month. Bax was too sharp a lawyer toneglect the payment completely, but he made certain it arrived weeks after its due date. Totest her, she knew. To see if she would beg for it. Thank God she hadn't needed to yet.

    The divorce had been final for a year and a half, but he continued to take out his feelings forher on the children – the only truly worthwhile thing they had made together.

    Perhaps that was why she had yet to get over the nagging disillusionment, the sense of betrayaland loss and inadequacy. She no longer loved him. That love had died before Jenny had beenborn. But the hurt...Suzanna shook her head. She was working on it.

    She stepped into her room. Like most of the rooms in The Towers,

    Suzanne's bedroom was huge. The house had been built in the early 1900s by her great –grandfather. It had been a showpiece, a testament to his vanity, his taste for the opulent andhis need for status. It was five stories of somber granite with fanciful peaks and parapets,two spiraling towers and layering terraces. The interior was lofty ceilings, fancy woodwork,mazelike hallways. Part castle, part manor house, it had served first as summer home, then aspermanent residence.

    Through the years and financial reversals, the house had fallen on hard times. Suzanna's room,like the others, showed cracks in the plaster. The floor was scarred, the roof leaked and theplumbing had a mind of its own. As one, the Calhouns loved their family home. Now that the westwing was under renovation, they hoped it would be able to pay its own way.

    She went to the closet for a robe, thinking that she'd been one of the lucky ones. She'd beenable to bring her children here, into a real home, when their own had crumbled. She hadn't hadto interview strangers to care for them while she made a living. Her father's sister, who hadraised Suzanna and her sisters after their parents had died, was now caring for Suzanna'schildren. Though Suzanna was aware that Alex and Jenny were a handful, she knew there was noone better suited for the task than Aunt Coco.

    And one day soon they would find Bianca's emeralds, and everything would settle back to whatpassed for normal in the Calhoun household.

    “Suze.” Lilah gave the door a quick knock then poked her head in. “Did you see him?”

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