Authors: Kathryn Cushman
Copyright © 2011
Kathryn J. Cushman
Cover design by Dan Thornberg, Design Source Creative Services
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
E-book edition created 2011
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
To Lee Cushman
I’m glad I get to walk through this life with you.
Love you lots and lots!
In loving memory of Carl Parrish
I’m grateful for every
single day I had with you.
The Santa Barbara Wharf was the perfect place to get lost from reality for a few hours—the smell of salt air, the smiles of tourists, the Ty Warner Sea Center to enthrall my son, and the complete absence of anything resembling my normal life. We climbed out of my car and Dylan ran immediately to the safety rails lining the edge of the pier. “Look, Mama,” he said as he pointed toward the churning water below.
My sandals made a contented scuffling sound against the wooden deck as I moved to his side. At the mouth of the harbor, a long blue sailboat was cutting through the water on its way into the marina, several people hurrying around its deck folding and securing the sails. Yes, this had been a brilliant idea. “Isn’t that awesome?” My mood was already improving.
“Yep, now let’s go pet a shark.” Dylan turned and started skipping in the general direction of the Sea Center, his dark brown hair bouncing with each step.
“Dylan, wait for Mama.” I hustled toward him, almost laughing with the lightness of the day. “Hold my hand, sweetie. We have to be careful of the cars.”
“Aww, Mom, holding hands is for little kids.” He said this with every bit of his four-year-old dignity, but he did hold up his hand for me to take. His head drooped just a fraction. “I wanted to skip.”
“Well, I can skip, too. Come on, let’s do it together.”
“Really?” He looked at me, the left side of his mouth curled under in doubt. So completely adorable. “How come I’ve never seen it?”
I skipped forward in response. “Come on, slowpoke.”
He laughed as he tried to skip faster than me. I was so intent on looking down and watching him that it was almost too late when I looked up and saw them.
Martin Bale and his wife, Juliana, were just ahead, their hands clasped as they looked into the window of a souvenir shop. Oh no. So much for escaping from my present reality. Well, I could still avoid it. I planted my feet, inadvertently jerking Dylan to a stop in the process.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” He looked up at me with those huge chocolate eyes. “Why aren’t ya skipping anymore? Is it too hard for old people to skip that long?”
Any other time I would have defended my twenty-five years as still being young. Right now, there wasn’t time. “I was just thinking . . .” I looked quickly around me, grasping for an excuse that he would accept quickly enough to get us out of here without being seen. The closest building to me was also the most likely place for instantaneous success. “How about some ice cream?”
“Ice cream!” Dylan squealed the words out in the way that only a four-year-old who rarely gets junk food can scream. “Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream!” He jumped up and pumped his fist in the air, effectively removing his hand from my grasp.
“We have to do it now. Right now.” I hurried toward the open door, knowing he would follow.
He didn’t, just passed me in a blaze of gray T-shirt and long blue denim shorts. By the time I hurried safely inside, Dylan had already begun perusing the double row of ice-cream selections through the window. “How many scoops, Mama? Three?”
“Aw, come on. Two?” He tilted his head slightly to the side and looked up at me from behind his long, curly lashes. “Please? I’ve been a good bo-oy.” Dylan’s charm in full form was almost impossible to resist.
Still, we hadn’t even had lunch yet. “I think one is more than enough.”
I glanced through the window and saw Martin and Juliana casually strolling in our direction. We just needed to stay in here long enough for them to get to the parking lot; it shouldn’t be difficult at all. Or at least it wouldn’t have been if a perky-looking redhead hadn’t come along. She hugged Juliana, and I could see them both talking at once like long-lost friends. This might take a while. I was going to have to stall.
“You know what, Dylan? Today’s a special day. Why don’t you have two scoops?”
“Woo-hoo!” He went back to looking through the curved glass. “Can I taste the pink one?”
“Sure, pardner.” The man behind the counter grabbed a tiny pink spoon and pulled up a sample serving. “This one’s bubblegum.”
“Ooh!” Dylan’s eyes grew even rounder.
I only allowed him to chew gum on special occasions and only under strict supervision. Of course ice cream and bubblegum in one package would sound extra especially like something he wanted.
“Two scoops of bubblegum, please.”
I ruffled the top of his hair, looking over my shoulder to check on the Bales’ progress toward the parking lot. I didn’t see them anywhere—probably still talking. “Dylan, why don’t you pick two flavors, instead of two scoops of one flavor?”
“I like bubblegum.”
“Dylan, the whole point of getting two scoops is to get two flavors. You need to choose a second flavor if you want the second scoop.” Personally, I couldn’t have cared less about whether he chose one flavor or two; I just wanted to prolong the process.
“Oh-kay.” His glum expression lasted about a millisecond, until he turned back to the man behind the counter with a gleam in his eye. “Can I taste the vanilla?”
“Sure can.” The man handed him another sample spoon. “You want to taste the berry blitz? It goes well with bubblegum, I think.”
“Sure. And can I try the orange sherbet, too?” Dylan didn’t dare look my direction, knowing that I usually shut him down after a couple of samples. Since I still hadn’t seen the Bales walk past, I wasn’t going to do that today.
I glanced over my shoulder again and saw them walking straight toward the door of the ice-cream shop. Oh no!
“Okay, Dylan, tell the man what you want. We’ve got to get going.” But even as I said the words, I knew it was already too late. I turned so that my back was to the door, blocking Dylan from view.
“Grace. Is that you?” Juliana’s question ended my last pretense at hope.
I turned slowly. “Hi, Juliana. Hi, Martin.”
“Doesn’t it just figure that the one day I play hooky from work, I run into half the people I know?” Martin reached out to shake my hand. “I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad, though, since you seem to be doing the same thing, hmm?”
Not wanting to prolong the conversation, I didn’t bother to tell him that Jasmine had given me the day off to compensate for excessive overtime. I simply held up the palms of both hands and said, “Guilty.”
“I always suspected there was a rebel buried somewhere in there.” He nodded approvingly. “I’ve been telling Steve that all along, haven’t I, Juls?” The question was hardly out of his mouth when his expression froze. He looked toward his wife, panic in his eyes.
Juliana’s cheeks turned pink and she reached forward and hugged me. “I was so sorry to hear about you and Steve. I always thought you two were perfect for each other, didn’t you, Martin?”
I held my breath with the question. I hadn’t yet told Dylan that Steve and I wouldn’t be getting married. This was certainly not the way I planned for him to hear about it. I turned toward him, only to find him happily sampling yet a fifth flavor of ice cream. I found myself rubbing my ring finger with my left thumb. It still felt strange to have nothing there, a sad reminder of all that had gone wrong of late.
Martin reached out to shake my hand. “Good to see you, Grace. I am sorry that things didn’t work out for you two.” Then, almost under his breath, he said, “And I’m
sorry things didn’t work out with the Blue Pacific.”
“What do you mean?” My voice got loud enough with this question that even Dylan and the ice-cream-counter guy stopped what they were doing and looked toward me.
“You know, the buyout. Now that you . . .” He paused, looked toward Dylan, and cleared his throat. “I thought Steve made clear that immediate family always had priority. Now that things have . . . changed with you guys, Roger’s pushing the group toward investing in that boutique Phoebe wants. I hate it, because that girl has never worked a hard day in her life.”
“But why won’t you continue with the deal for Blue Pacific? It’s a great idea.”
He nodded. “I was excited about it. But once Roger got wind of what had happened . . .” Martin shifted his gaze just away from me and shrugged.
“But Jasmine has already begun making plans to move to Texas. Her son needs to be near that autism center.” As the reality sank in, my panic began to rise. This was a disaster. A complete disaster. How could I ever explain to Jasmine that I had ruined everything for her, and her son?
Martin shrugged. “I know. I wish it could be different.”
So did I. About a lot of things.
Dylan hurried through the door of our condo, excited to put his new dolphin snow globe on the shelf in his bedroom. The phone was ringing before I had the door closed behind me.
“You’re never going to believe this one.” Jasmine practically sang the words, something so out of character for her serious demeanor.
“What won’t I believe?”
“I just had the real estate agent come look at my house, and he said that homes in this price range are starting to move right now. With a little bit of work, he thinks we should be able to get more than I was expecting.”
“That’s . . . great news.” Jasmine obviously had not yet been told that the Blue Pacific deal had fallen through. That there was no reason to sell her house, because she was not going to be moving to Texas after all, no specialized treatment for her son. “Jasmine, have you—”
“Got to go. The Randalls just arrived. See you Monday.” The phone clicked before I had the chance to finish the sentence I didn’t want to finish. How could I possibly tell her that, thanks to me, her last hope for her son had just vanished?
I knew that intellectually she wouldn’t blame me for this—a business deal was no reason to prolong an engagement that was doomed to fail—but this had all been my idea. Selling the Blue Pacific Bed and Breakfast had never entered her mind. Until I suggested it two weeks ago.
It had been a quiet day at work, the bed-and-breakfast only three-quarters full, with most of the guests part of a big group from back east somewhere. The husbands left for golf early every morning, the wives a few hours later for shopping and trips to the spa. There was an unusual lack of workload.
“Look at this,” Jasmine had said while looking at something on her computer screen.
I walked over to see a screen full of writing, including the headline: “Full-Time Program.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a center in Texas that focuses on treating autism. It’s a totally different approach, but I just read an article about the success they are having. I’d give anything if I could take Collin there.”
“Why don’t you?” I supposed I already knew the answer.
“Can’t afford it. The full-time treatment option would require me moving to Texas—at least for a year or so. I’d have to pay someone to replace me here. It wouldn’t work.”
I knew she was right. The costs for her son’s therapy already were staggering. She couldn’t possibly take the extra time off work and pay an employee to take her place. “Oh, Jasmine, I’m sorry.” I stared at the screen, at the picture of a father lifting his smiling four-year-old over his head. A picture that parents of the severely autistic would give anything to attain. The problem was, Jasmine had already given more than she could afford.
Half an hour later, Steve walked into the office. “Greetings, ladies.” He nodded toward Jasmine, who barely looked up from the computer, still lost in her impossible dream.
“What are you doing here?” I stood from behind my desk and walked toward him, already noticing the crease in his forehead. “You look tired. Rough day?”
“As of this second, it just got a lot better.” He kissed my forehead and drew me into his arms.
“What was rough about it?” I nestled against his shoulder, the wool of his sports coat rough against my cheek.
“Will you two take it outside? Some people are trying to work in here.” Jasmine’s teasing sounded halfhearted at best. Steve pulled away from me and looked toward her, then back at me, a question in his eye.
I shrugged in that it’s-a-long-story way and took his hand. “What
you doing here, by the way?”
“The investment group just had a meeting at Daniel’s office. I figured since I was in Ventura anyway, I’d drop in and see my favorite office manager.”