Read Evening Stars Online

Authors: Susan Mallery

Evening Stars (9 page)

Averil stared into the dog’s brown eyes. She was white with brown spots after all. Part King Charles Spaniel, the vet had said. Part who-knows-what. She’d endured the exam and the bath without protest and seemed resigned to whatever fate had to offer. Averil knew the most sensible solution was to leave her at the shelter.

She fingered the dog’s soft fur. “I’ll take her,” she said. “Can I do that?”

“Sure.” The other woman smiled. “She seems like a sweetie. Do you know what you’re going to name her?”

“Penny.” Averil touched the dog’s head. “Hey, Penny. Want to come live with me?”

Brown eyes regarded her solemnly.

“You’ll need some food,” the tech said. “We have a brand that’s good for sensitive stomachs. That will help her ease into having regular meals. Feed her about half a cup, four times a day for the first few days. Then you can go to a cup twice a day. Maybe mix in a little canned food. If you want to change brands, do it over time or she could get sick.”

The woman wrote down a few instructions. “Once you get where you’re going, she’ll need to be vaccinated. She’s already been spayed. I think there’s an old collar and leash in the lost and found box. Let me go grab them.”

She left the room. Averil continued to pet Penny. “It’s okay. You’re going to live with me now. I’m pretty sure I can handle a dog.”

Penny stared at her, her expression still fearful, but at least she’d stopped shaking. Soft brown eyes seemed to ask if that was the best Averil could offer.

“You’re right,” she said quietly. “I need to make a commitment. I
take care of you. I promise.”

The tech returned with a leash and cloth collar, along with a couple of old towels. Averil thanked her, paid the bill and walked to her car. Penny had accepted the collar and leash without complaint and now walked beside her. When they reached the car, Averil opened the back door.

Penny looked from her to the seat.

“Come on, Penny. Can you jump?”

Penny did as requested.

Averil laughed. “Good girl,” she said. “You’re smart, you know that? All right. Let’s make you a bed.”

She folded the towels into squares and placed them on the seat. Then she unfastened the leash. She patted the soft fabric.

“Come on, Penny. This is for you.”

Penny placed one paw on the towel.

“Good girl. Yes, you get comfy for the rest of the drive, okay?”

Penny turned twice on the towels, then laid down with a sigh. Averil stroked her a couple more times before closing the door and walking around to the driver’s side. By the time she pulled onto the freeway, the dog was asleep.

* * *

The afternoon had started to wane by the time Averil made her way over the bridge leading to Blackberry Island. Penny had slept for most of the drive north. They’d stopped at a couple of rest stops so they could both use the bathroom, and Averil had given the dog light meals. It turned out that Penny was also a big fan of burgers, so they’d shared lunch at a McDonald’s just south of Portland.

Now they were nearly done with their drive.

Averil was both relieved and oddly tense as she took in the familiar sights on the island where she’d grown up. As a kid she’d ridden her bike over nearly every foot of road here and had explored vineyards and coasts. She’d swum in the ocean, eaten at most of the restaurants and stands and knew at least one kid from all the local families.

Blackberry Island had always been home. It was the place that made the most sense to her. It was where she always knew who she was.

She supposed that was part of the problem. In Mischief Bay she had many roles. She was a reporter, a writer, a wife. In Mischief Bay, she was a grown-up. Here she was Nina’s little sister. Bonnie’s youngest. There weren’t expectations.

In her head she knew that running back home wasn’t exactly a testament to her maturity, but she could live with that. The truth was, somewhere along the way, she’d gotten lost, and now she didn’t know what she wanted.

About a mile from the house, she pulled off the main road and parked by the beach. She collected Penny’s leash and walked around to the passenger-side back door. Penny sat up, waiting for her. Her long tail thumped steadily.

“So you like me now, do you?” Averil asked with a grin. “It was the burger, wasn’t it?”

She clipped on the leash, then stepped back. Penny jumped to the ground and started to sniff.

“There’s a doggie area over there,” Averil said as she pointed to the square of gravel just off the beach.

Penny used the facilities, then the two of them went for a walk along the rocky sand. The air was warm, the sun bright in the sky. Due west was the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That body of water separated Washington’s northwest peninsula from Vancouver Island. Somewhere in the middle of the strait was the line between the United States and Canada. About sixty miles due west was open ocean.

Averil remembered her friends staring out at the strait and talking about getting on a boat and sailing away. To see what was out there. She’d been less interested in leaving and found little appeal in the thought of days or weeks at sea. Nor had she wanted to go to UCLA. That had been Nina’s dream for her. But she’d made it sound so wonderful that Averil had agreed.

Now she was home—whatever that meant.

“I’m not making much sense, am I?” she asked Penny.

The dog glanced at her and gave a tentative tail wag.

“Come on, Penny. Let’s go face the music.”

They walked back to the car. Penny settled on her bed, and Averil started down the familiar road.

When she saw the house, her eyes began to burn. Nothing had changed, she thought with relief. Not the street or the neighborhood. Everything was as she remembered.

Emotions tore through her. She fought against them, not sure if she was happy, sad or desperately confused. By the time she’d parked the car, she was crying.

Nina opened the front door and walked out. Averil stumbled to her feet and rushed toward her.

“Hey, it’s okay,” her big sister told her. “You don’t have to cry.”

But it was too late. Averil hung on tight, sobs tearing through her. She cried without knowing why, but now that she was home, that was okay, too.

* * *

Nina stood in the center of the bedroom. Averil had been home all of thirty minutes. She’d carried her suitcase into her old room, changed into PJs and climbed into bed. From the looks of things, she didn’t plan on getting out any time soon. Nina had brought her water and a sandwich. Averil had consumed both, then stretched out with her eyes closed.

“Thanks Nina,” she said, her voice sleepy. “You’ve been great. I feel a lot better.”

Nina sat on the edge of the bed, still not sure why her sister was home and what would happen now that she was. Nina stroked Averil’s hair and felt a rush of affection. They were sisters. They loved each other. Despite how they fought like cats and dogs, that wouldn’t change. And speaking of which...

“Tell me about the dog,” she murmured.

Averil opened her eyes and smiled. “Her name is Penny and she’s sweet.” She explained about finding her. “I’ve fed her and she went to the bathroom before we got here. I’ll set my phone to wake me up so I can take her out in a couple of hours.”

“What about bowls and a bed?”

Averil yawned. “She’s been on her own for at least a month. She isn’t expecting much. I’ve got food and I’ll get the rest tomorrow. I love you, Neenie.”

Nina smiled. She hadn’t been called that in years. “I love you, too, kid.”

With that, she rose and walked out of the room.

Once in the hall, she hesitated. Should she shut the door? Penny followed her, watching with her big, brown eyes.

“You’re unexpected,” Nina told the dog.

Penny’s tail wagged, and she followed Nina into the kitchen.

Averil had left her luggage in a pile in the living room. One suitcase was open, with half the contents spilling out over the floor. In the kitchen was a bag of food and some instructions.

“You’ll need to eat soon,” Nina said as she read over the notes. “Small meals several times a day. Canned would be good.” She looked through the luggage Averil hadn’t dragged to her room. There were a couple of ratty towels and a jacket, but no dog food beyond the small bag that was about a third gone. No bed, either.

“My sister isn’t much of a planner,” Nina told the dog. Penny thumped her tail.

Nina grabbed her purse and headed for her car. While there wasn’t a pet store on the island and she didn’t have time to make the drive across the bridge, there was a large general store with a decent pet section.

She bought canned food, a bed and another bag of the dog food. While she was heading toward the checkout line, she grabbed a couple of chew toys and a ball.

A sizeable credit card purchase later, she was on her way home. The usual evening traffic jam caused her to watch the clock in the car nervously. Her date with Kyle was in an hour. She’d already showered, and her makeup wouldn’t take long, but she would need some time to obsess about what to wear. She needed to look good without being overly dressy. It was cool enough that she would need long sleeves, or a jacket, or both.

Ten minutes later, she parked and grabbed her purchases. Penny met her at the door.

“Hey, you,” Nina said, giving the dog a pat. “You now have possessions.”

She put the bed in the living room and the dog dishes in the kitchen. After filling a bowl with water, she measured out a little canned food and the permitted amount of dry. Penny waited patiently until she was served, then gobbled down her dinner. She followed Nina into the back bedroom and watched as she went through her various clothing options.

“I was thinking blue,” she said, holding up a cobalt-blue dress. “I know it’s plain, but I have these great shoes that go with it.”

Penny stared at the dress. Nina did, as well. The neckline was slightly scooped but didn’t flash any cleavage at all. Still, the tailored lines were flattering and it was long-sleeved, which meant she could avoid the whole ugly coat issue.

The shoes—black and cobalt-blue suede—were three-inch heels and had cost more than the dress. Even at Nordstrom Rack, where they’d been marked down 70 percent.

She put the dress back in her closet. “There’s also basic black.”

She pulled out a sleeveless classic LBD. The hemline was a tad shorter than she thought her thighs could handle, but if she put on black tights, they would look firmer.

Penny stretched out on the carpet and yawned.

“Too predictable?” Nina asked. “I’m not really a dress person. But I doubt Kyle wants to see me in cartoon scrubs.”

She looked at her two best options. “What if I wear the suede pumps with the LBD?”

She dug out the tights and shimmied into them. They had a control top which would cut into her ability to eat dinner, but made the dress look great. She shrugged on a robe and went into the bathroom to touch up her makeup. When she came out, Penny was standing in the hallway, staring intently.

“What?” Nina asked. “He can’t be here yet.”

Penny started for the kitchen, then looked back at Nina, as if inviting her along. Nina trailed after her. At the back door, Penny scratched the small rug.

Understanding dawned. Nina opened the back door and let the dog out. The backyard was fenced. Even so, she waited until Penny had done her business and hurried back in. Together, they retreated to the rear of the house.

“You’re impressive,” Nina told the animal as she brushed out her straight hair. “Maybe you can teach Averil responsibility.”

When her hair was smooth, she slipped on the dress and pulled up the zipper. She added gold hoop earrings, lip gloss and a ten-year-old cropped leather jacket. Fortunately, it was plain enough that it didn’t look too out of date.

She’d barely had time to smooth her skirt when the doorbell rang.

Nina was surprised to feel her stomach lurch. The slightly tingly feeling of anticipation was sadly unfamiliar, she thought as she crossed the worn carpet and opened the front door.

Kyle, all six feet of blond godlikeness of him, swore under his breath.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“You’re not supposed to look that good. I thought I’d prepared myself. I wasn’t close.”

This guy was too much,
she thought to herself. She reached for the small clutch she’d left by the door. At this point, she didn’t even care if he was lying. He was exactly what she and her battered ego needed. For one night she was going to forget about all the responsibilities in her life. She was going to go on a date with a hot, younger guy and toy with the idea of letting him sleep with her. If there were consequences—and there always were—she would face them in the morning. She’d been doing the right thing for a very long time, and she deserved a reward. Kyle was just the man to make sure she got one.

Chapter Seven

NINA CHECKED TO make sure the door was locked, then started down the two stairs to the walkway. As she moved, Kyle stepped next to her and put his hand on the small of her back. The light pressure was unfamiliar, reminding her that it had been months and months since her last date. Nerves kicked up in her belly, as she realized this night might not be as easy as she’d first thought. Inappropriate guy or not, little Kyle had grown up into a handsome man.

She spotted his car and laughed out loud at the low-slung two-seater convertible.

“Seriously?” she asked with a chuckle. “That’s what you drive?”

“A land jet,” he told her. “Chicks love it.”

“I doubt you need the car to get the girls.”

He stepped in front of her to open the passenger door. “Every little bit helps. Especially with you. I need to keep my edge.”

“Very smooth,” she told him. “You’ve had a lot of practice.”

She’d thought he might protest, but instead he grinned. “All the better for you,” he said easily. “You get to take advantage of all I’ve learned.”

“A man who loves women. And whom women love back.”

He shrugged. “It’s a flaw, but one I can live with.” He moved a little closer. “Tonight is all about you, though.”

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