Authors: Nora Roberts
It was a long way for a man to travel. Not only the miles from San Diego to the cliffs outside of Monterey, Felipe thought, but the years. So many years.
Once, he had been young enough to walk confidently along the rocks, to climb, even to race. Defying the fates, celebrating the rush of wind, the crash of waves, the dizzying heights. The rocks had bloomed for him in spring once. There had been flowers to pick for Seraphina then, and he could remember, with the clear vision of age looking back to youth, how she had laughed and clutched the tough little wildflowers to her breast as if they were precious roses plucked from a well-tended bush.
His eyes were weak now, and his limbs were frail. But not his memory. A strong, vital memory in an old body was his penance. Whatever joy he had found in his life had been tainted, always, with the sound of Seraphina's laughter, with the trust in her dark eyes. With her young, uncompromising love.
In the more than forty years since he had lost her, and the pan of himself that was innocence, he had learned to accept his own failings. He had been a coward, running from battle rather than facing the horrors of war, hiding among the dead rather than lifting a sword.
But he had been young, and such things had to be forgiven in the young.
He had allowed his friends and family to believe him dead, slain like a warrior—even a hero. It had been shame, and pride, that caused him to do so. Small things, pride and shame. Life was made up of so many small blocks. But he could never forget that it was that shame and that pride that cost Seraphina her life
Weary, he sat on a rock to listen. To listen to the roar of water battling rock far below, to listen to the piercing cry of gulls, the rush of wind through winter grass. And the air was chilled as he closed his eyes and opened his heart.
To listen for Seraphina.
She would always be young, a lovely dark-eyed girl who had never had the chance to grow old, as he was old now. She hadn't waited, but in despair and grief had thrown herself into the sea. For love of him, he thought now. For reckless youth that hadn't lived long enough to know that nothing lasts forever.
Believing him dead, she had died, hurling herself and her future onto the rocks.
He had mourned her, God knew he had mourned her. But he hadn't been able to follow her into the sea. Instead, he had traveled south, given up his name and his home, and made new ones.
He had found love again. Not the sweet first blush of love that he had had with Seraphina, but something solid and strong, built on those small blocks of trust and understanding and on needs both quiet and violent.
And he had done his best.
He had children, and grandchildren. He had a life with all the joys and sorrows that make a man. He had survived to love a woman, to raise a family, to plant gardens. He was content with what had grown from him.
But he had never forgotten the girl he had loved. And killed. He had never forgotten their dream of a future or the sweet, innocent way she had given herself to him. When they had loved in secret, both of them so young, so fresh, they dreamed of the life they would have together, the home they would build with her dowry, the children they would make.
But war came, and he left her to prove himself a man. And proved himself a coward instead.
She had hidden her bride gift, the symbol of hope that a young girl treasures, to keep it out of American hands. Felipe had no doubt where she had hidden it. He had understood his Seraphina—her logic, her sentiment, her strengths and weaknesses. Though it had meant that he was penniless when he left Monterey, he had not taken the gold and jewels Seraphina had secreted
Now, with the dreams of age that had turned his hair to silver, that had dimmed his eyes and lived in his aching bones, he prayed that it would be found one day by lovers. Or dreamers. If God was just. He would allow Seraphina to choose. Whatever the Church preached, Felipe refused to believe God would condemn a grieving child for the sin of suicide.
No, she would be as he had left her more than forty years ago on these very cliffs. Forever young and beautiful and full of hope.
He knew he would not return to this place. His time of penance was almost at an end. He hoped when he saw his Seraphina again, she would smile at him and forgive a young man's foolish pride.
He rose, bending in the wind, leaning on his cane to keep his feet under him. And left the cliffs to Seraphina.
There was a storm brewing, marching across the sea. A summer storm, full of power and light and wild wind. In that eerie luminescent light, Laura Templeton sat content on the rock. Summer storms were the best.
They would have to go in soon, back to Templeton
House, but for now, she and her two closest friends would wait and watch. She was sixteen, a delicately built girl with quiet gray eyes and bright blond hair. And as full of energy as any storm.
"I wish we could get in the car and drive right into it," Margo Sullivan laughed. The wind was fitful and growing stronger. "Right into it."
"Not with you behind the wheel," Kate Powell sneered. "You've only had your license a week, and you already have a rep as a lunatic."
"You're just jealous because it'll be months before you can drive."
Because it was true, Kate shrugged. Her short black hair fluttered in the wind. She took a deep gulp of air, loving the way it thickened and churned. "At least I'm saving up for a car, instead of cutting out pictures of Ferraris and Jaguars."
"If you're going to dream," Margo said, frowning at a minute chip in the coral polish on her nails, "dream big. I'll have a Ferrari one day, or a Porsche, or whatever I want." Her summer-blue eyes narrowed with determination. "I won't settle for some secondhand junker like you would."
Laura let them argue. She could have defused the sniping, but she understood it was simply part of the friendship. And she didn't care about cars. Not that she didn't enjoy the spiffy little convertible her parents had given her for her sixteenth birthday. But one car was the same as another to her.
She realized it was easier, in her position. She was the daughter of Thomas and Susan Templeton, of the Templeton hotel empire. Her home loomed on the hill behind her, stunning under the churning gray sky. It was more than the stone and wood and glass that composed it. More than the turrets and balconies and lush gardens. More than the fleet of servants who kept it shining.
It was home.
But she had been raised to understand the responsibilities of privilege. Within her was a great love of beauty and symmetry, and a kindness. Aligned with that was a need to live up to Templeton standards, to deserve all she'd been given by birthright. Not only the wealth, which even at sixteen she understood, but also the love of her family, her friends.
She knew Margo always fretted at limitations. Though they had grown up together at Templeton House, as close as sisters, Margo was the daughter of the housekeeper.
Kate had come to Templeton House when her parents had been killed. An eight-year-old orphan. She was cherished, absorbed into the family, as much a part of the Templetons as Laura and her older brother, Josh.
Laura and Margo and Kate were as close as—perhaps closer than—sisters who shared blood. But Laura never forgot that the Templeton responsibility was hers.
And one day, she thought, she would fall in love, marry, and have children. She would carry on the Templeton tradition. The man who came for her, who swept her up in his arms, who made her belong to him, would be everything she'd ever wanted. Together they would build a life, create a home, carve out a future as polished and perfect as Templeton House.
As she pictured it, dreams budded in her heart. Delicate color bloomed on her cheeks while the wind tossed her blond curls around them.
"Laura's dreaming again," Margo commented. Her grin flashed, transforming her striking face to stunning.
"Got Seraphina on the brain again?" Kate asked.
"Hmm?" No, she hadn't been thinking of Seraphina, but she did now. "I wonder how often she came here, dreaming of the life she wanted with Felipe."
"She died in a storm like the one that's coming. I know she did." Margo lifted her face to the sky. "With lightning flashing, the wind howling."
"Suicide's drama enough by itself." Kate plucked a wildflower, twirled the stubby stem between her fingers. "If it had been a perfect day, with blue skies and sunshine, the results would have been the same."
"I wonder what it is to feel that lost," Laura murmured.
"If we ever find her dowry, we should build a shrine or something to remember her by."
"I'm spending my share on clothes, jewelry, and travel." Margo stretched her arms up, tucked them behind her head.