Authors: Marcia King-Gamble
By Marcia King-Gamble
Eden's Dream Â© 2016 by Marcia King-Gamble
Enchantment, an imprint of Brown Girls Books, LLC
: 978-1-944359-05-8 (Digital)
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means including electronic, mechanical or photocopying or stored in a retrieval system without permission in writing from the publisher except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages to be included in a review.
First Brown Girls Publishing LLC trade printing
Manufactured and Printed in the United States of America
This is a work of fiction. All the characters, organizations, and events por-trayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It is reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped” book.
his book is dedicated
to my Pan Am friends lost in the senseless tragedy that was Lockerbie.
den Sommers' hands
caressed smooth flesh. Slim pickings, but better than nothing.
She sighed, then mumbled, “Hardly the cream of the crop, but certainly edible.” With that, she dropped a half-dozen sickly looking yellow tomatoes into her shopping cart and headed up the aisle.
At such a weird hour, who would have thought there'd be so many people out? She consulted her list and tried desperately to ignore the tightness in her chest and the sound of her own hollow breathing. Hands clasped around the handles of her cart, she squeezed her eyes closed, willing the dizziness to go away.
The first time she'd experienced the lightheadedness and the flutters in her chest was the day she'd learned of Rod's death. That time she'd thought it was a heart attack. But six months and several sessions in therapy had given the peculiar feelings a name. Panic attacks.
Eden felt herself losing touch with reality. The roaring in her ears was almost deafening, and though the temperature in the grocery store was close to arctic, she felt a fine layer of sweat beading her upper lip.
Determined not to give into the weird sensations, Eden plowed down the aisle.
Reality slowly came into focus when a man yelled, “Hey, watch out.” The sound of metal against metal reached her. She'd rammed into the man's shopping cart.
A warm hand covered Eden's. She looked up into eyes that could only be described as the bedroom variety. Emerald green with long lashes. Cat's eyes her mother would call them. Eden preferred to term them greener than green and built for seduction. Eden's free hand reached to cover her mouth. She'd been confronted by a ghost. One word escaped. “Rod?”
“I beg your pardon.”
The voice wasn't Rod's. Still staring, Eden realized she'd made a mistake. The man's complexion was a shade darker, his hair a touch curlier. And Rod didn't have laugh lines around the edges of his eyes.
A gravelly voice penetrated, worried and a little anxious. “Are you all right? Can I get you something? Water?”
Eden shook her head, willing the vision to disappear. At a third glance, he didn't look much like Rod, though he sure reminded her of him. She was sure she'd seen him someplace before. Where? She would have remembered the height, the regal bearing. She would have remembered those eyes.
To cover her confusion, Eden focused on his shopping cart. A half-dozen cans of tuna fish, a package of low-fat muffins, a carton of skim milk, magazinesâthe kind that told you how to take care of your bodyâtoilet paper, and stacks and stacks of TV dinners.
She jolted back to the present when a hand waved inches from her face and a puzzled voice asked, “Are you on some kind of medication?”
Refusing to meet his gaze, Eden flushed. It would be a logical conclusion to come to, given her sweaty appearance and disoriented state. She couldn't blame him for thinking she was on drugs. The average person didn't shop after midnight, nor did they ram a shopping cart full of contradictions into someone else. Already she'd acquired lettuce, a half-dozen tomatoes, potato chips, dip, yogurt, milkâthe fattening kindâassorted candy bars, canned goodsâthe kind that needed heating upâcat food, and cigarettes.
“I think I know you from somewhere,” Eden began hesitantly.
A flicker of something sparked those emerald eyes. An actual smile surfaced. Flashes of white against ebony. “That's what they all say.”
Oh, God. He thought she was trying to pick him up.
He came to her rescue before she could crawl into her cart and wheel herself away. A hand, the nails meticulously trimmed squares, clasped hers. “Noel Robinson. I'm your next-door neighbor.”
So that's where she'd seen him, next door, though not very often. He, too, seemed to come out only at night. Eden gulped a huge mouthful of air. “Eden Sommers. Nice to meet you, Noel. Sorry about running into your cart. I'm usually not this scatterbrained.”
He smiled another gut-wrenching smile, one that went directly to her heart. “No harm done. Are you all settled in?”
“Gardening must be taking priority then.” His smile took the sting from his words. Maybe he was spying on her, or how else would he know that she was up early, before even the first jogger, hacking away at the soil? Gardening had replaced therapy, though she wasn't about to tell him that.
Instead she said, “The weather's been so beautiful. When the sun's out in Seattle, it's hard to stay indoors.”
Noel Robinson nodded. Laugh lines around those magnificent orbs fanned out. For the first time she noticed the cleft in his chin and squelched the urge to trace it with her fingers. “I know what you mean. This is truly God's country.”
“Are you a native?”
Noel's smile disappeared. His eyes no longer sparkled. A beat later, he grudgingly said, “No, I guess I'm somewhat of a gypsy. I'm from here, there and everywhere.”
Translation: Mind your own business. She'd been firmly put in place. Eden sensed he'd shut down. What she couldn't fathom was why. Had she been too forward? She pressed on, for some unknown reason prolonging the conversation. “Gee, I'd pegged you for a Northeasterner.”
Noel remained silent as if waiting for her to go on. His eyes held hers for a second too long. Eden felt the heat in her cheeks, a flutter at the base of her gut. Something about the man made the insides of her mouth go dry. Could be the regal bearing. Those long, long legs, stuffed into tight Levi's. The wide chest, muscles rippling under plaid. Or was it simply that he reminded her of Rod? For something to do, she bent over, ripped open the package of potato chips and offered him one.
With another flash of white, he declined the chip she proffered. “Sorry. Never touch the stuff. It's a cholesterol nightmare. See you around.” He moved off, leaving her staring at his tight, denim-clad behind.
Eden expelled the breath she'd been holding and made an attempt to get it together. What had possessed her? She hadn't been interested in men since Rod, her fiancÃ© had been pronounced missing, then dead. She'd felt that a large piece of her heart died with him. Her faith in men too. Still, she'd focused her energy on finding out everything she could about that crash. Now, here she was acting like a love-starved teenager, drooling over some stranger.
Eden wheeled her cart down the aisle, following Noel Robinson's rolling gait. Even from the back, he made an attractive figure. To still the thoughts that rotating butt set loose, she buried her head in the grocery list. When she looked up, he'd disappeared.
Panic attack totally under control, Eden paid for the groceries then loaded her bags into her gray Jeep. Minutes later, she pulled up in front of the tiny house on Mercer Island inherited from Grandma Nell. As a child, she remembered it being a little more than a cottage, but as she grew older, and real estate prices shot sky high, it had undergone a metamorphosis. Necessary renovations had been completed, and the cottage slowly evolved into a dream home. Today, every imaginable modern amenity filled the redwood interior.
Designed to bring the outdoors in, floor-to-ceiling windows ran the length of the house, and perfectly positioned skylights gave a feeling of spacious airiness. The moon's rays illuminated the open-floor plan, making the house appear larger than its fifteen hundred square feet. Both kitchen and bath had been updated, and outside, a secluded terrace held a redwood hot tub and comfortable chairs.
Whistling softly, Eden balanced a couple of recycled paper sacks on one hip and turned the key in the lock. She headed for the L-shaped kitchen and unloaded her bags. No sooner had she set down her packages than a hairy bundle of fur shot across her ankles meowing pitifully. Eden bent over and scooped up the cat. “Hungry, Kahlua?”
The feline, knowing she could easily con her mistress, played it to the hilt. The meow became a heart-stopping wail, forcing her to set the cat down on the counter and open a can of sardines. Eden swigged an open bottle of spring water as the animal gobbled up her food. Outside, a car pulled up. Eden heard the door slam and the sound of muffled voices. Immediately, she guessed it to be the same men who visited next door usually once a week, and at a late hour. Still, curiosity drove her onto the poorly lit terrace to watch the men climb Noel Robinson's winding front steps.
Like detectives in B movies, both were swaddled in dark trench coats. One wore a fedora low on his brow, the other a cap. They darted furtive looks around before stealthily climbing the stairs.
Noel's front door cracked an inch, then wider. His head poked out. He threw the door open. Not for the first time, Eden wondered what type of business would be conducted at such an ungodly hour. It seemed odd for men to arrive late at night, spend an hour or less, then leave. She had a sneaking suspicion they weren't there to play chess.
Eden glanced at her watch. The illuminated face put the time at a little after one. Her gaze returned to the house as she rested her rear end against the covered Jacuzzi, sipped her water, and waited for the scene to unfurl. Noel Robinson's silhouette was still outlined in the doorway. She could swear he looked directly at her.
Inside, the phone rang. Eden cocked an ear in the direction of the sound. Torn, she turned back to the neighboring house in time to see Noel's mocking salute. Too embarrassed to acknowledge his greeting, she raced to pick up.
Just as the answering machine clicked on, she grabbed the receiver and shouted over the message, “Hello.”
“Hi, Mom.” At the sound of her mother's voice, the tension she'd carried up to that moment dissipated.
“Eden, honey, I couldn't sleep. Tell me how are things going.”
Eden twirled a lock of straightened hair around one finger. Things had been going fine until she'd run into Noel Robinson. Only recently she'd been the grieving woman whose heart had been ripped out. Only sheer willpower had pulled her out of the dark funk she'd languished in and made her stop taking the pills the doctor prescribed. She'd finally come to terms with Rod's betrayal and put her guilt to rest. Though the hurt was still there, at least it was manageable, and the panic attacks now came less frequently.
“Eden?” Her mother sounded worried. “Are you all right? I mean you're in Seattle all alone. No family. No means of support.”
“I said I was fine, Mom,” Eden snapped, instantly regretting her outburst. Though her mother tended to be a worrywart, she'd remained the one constant in Eden's life, standing by her through the entire gruesome ordeal: Rod's memorial service, her periodic lapses of insanity when grief clouded her judgment, her indefinite leave of absence. Reaching for the pack of cigarettes she'd tossed on the counter earlier, Eden struck a match.
“You're still seeing Rod's ghost?” Cassie Sommers probed.
Eden inhaled and counted to ten. She'd live to regret the day she'd admitted to having seen Rod. It had been right after he'd died when his face loomed at her from every corner. Eden's therapist had attributed the hallucinations to shock, the mind's savvy way of coping with trauma.
“Eden, please tell me you're not,” her mom pleaded.
Eden took a long drag on the smoldering cigarette, giving in to the habit she'd worked so hard to kick five years ago. She exhaled her words. “No, Mom, I'm not.”
“Are you sure you don't want me to fly out? I worry so about you being alone. Isn't Mama Nell's house sort of isolated? If memory serves me well, that house became her refuge after Pappy died. It became her place to hide from the world. Now you're doing the sameâ¦”
“Please Mom, don'tâ¦” Eden softened her tone. “Mom, you know I appreciate your offer, but I am thirty years old, and I like being alone. It helps me focus.” What Eden didn't add was that she now had time to investigate Rod's murder.
Her mother's frustrated sigh came through loud and clear. A gregarious woman like Cassie Sommers would hardly understand why anyone would enjoy being alone. “Okay. Don't take my head off, but if you change your mindâ¦”
“Have you heard from Bill, Helga, or the kids lately?” Eden asked, changing the subject. Her brother, Bill, had chosen an Air Force career. He'd been stationed in Germany for the past decade or so, married a local girl, and started a family. Eden adored her little niece and nephew.
Fifteen minutes and three cigarettes later, Eden hung up, pleading exhaustion. Needing air, she practically ran back to the terrace.
The black sedan remained in Noel's driveway. A dim light came from the interior of his house. Again, Eden wondered what the men did at such weird hours. Though Noel Robinson didn't exactly fit the drug-lord stereotype, a likely conclusion would be drug dealing. Still, in the brief moment she'd met him, up close and personal, he'd seemed much too clean cut for that. She'd picked up on a definite sense of integrity. But Noel's lifestyle required money; a beautiful house with a full water view didn't come cheap. Judging by square footage alone, utilities had to cost a fortune. Eden had never once seen him go off to work, nor did he leave the house except to go running and apparently shopping. How he earned his money was definitely open to speculation.
A stream of light illuminated the doorway of Noel's house. The men were leaving. Eden lit another cigarette and watched them take the stairs two at a time. Bits and pieces of their conversation drifted her way.
“You need to be more carefulâ¦.”
“I think they might be on to youâ¦.”
Eden didn't hear one word of Noel's reply, but she'd heard enough to confirm her suspicions. She felt strangely let downâdisappointed actually. There'd been something about Noel Robinson she'd liked. He was the kind of man you wanted to get to know better. But not if he was a crook.