Read Haven Creek Online

Authors: Rochelle Alers

Haven Creek

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Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.

—Isaiah 43:18

 

D
idn’t you tell me you were trying to get in touch with Nate Shaw?”

Morgan Dane stared at Francine Tanner, who looked as if she’d been running. She was breathing heavily, and blotches of red dotted her freckled cheeks. Morgan was one of only a few residents on Cavanaugh Island who didn’t call Francine by her nickname, Red. She’d been born with bright, straight, orange-red hair. Over the years her tresses had darkened to auburn and softened into curls, but the nickname stuck. Today, Francine had ironed her hair flat, its blunt-cut strands brushing her lightly tanned, bared shoulders. Her floral-print sleeveless sundress, nipped at the waist, flared around her long legs. Morgan and the redhead had befriended each other in high school, when they found themselves in the same classes. Whenever they had an exam, they alternated between studying at Morgan’s house, in the Creek, and Francine’s, in the Cove. Even after leaving the island to attend college, they’d managed to stay in touch.

“Yes, I did. Why?” Morgan asked.

“I just saw him.”

“Where is he?”

Francine leaned closer. “He’s sitting five rows behind you.”

Morgan stood up. “Would you mind holding my seat? And don’t let anyone sit in the chair with my hat. I’m holding it for David Sullivan.”

Once Francine agreed, Morgan turned, scanning the crowd that had gathered under the large white tent for the man whom she’d called not once but twice, asking that he call her back. She spotted him sitting next to his younger brother. Taking determined steps, she approached Nathaniel Shaw, watching his impassive expression as she closed the distance between them. Twenty years had passed since Morgan had last come face-to-face with Nate, but time had been exceptionally kind to him.

His shoulders were broader, muscled, and there was a liberal sprinkling of premature gray in his cropped black hair. Nate wore the customary Cavanaugh Island wedding attire: slacks, shirt open at the collar, and lightweight jacket.

He rose to his feet when she stood less than a foot away. He was taller than she’d remembered, too. She extended her hand. “I don’t know if you remember me, but—”

He took her hand, holding it for several seconds. “Of course I remember you, Mo.”

Morgan wanted to scream at him. If he remembered her, then why hadn’t he returned her calls? “Is it possible for you to put aside some time for us to talk about a project I’m involved with?” She lowered her voice, then took several steps away from the crowd. He followed her so they wouldn’t be overheard by those staring at them.

“What type of project?”

“If you’d returned my calls, then you’d know.” The retort came out sharper than she’d wanted, and she watched his eyebrows lift a fraction. Morgan had been a month shy of her fourteenth birthday when Nate left Haven Creek to attend college on the West Coast. No one, not even Francine, knew she’d had a crush on the tall, good-lo
oki
ng honor student. At the end of each school year she’d expected him to return to the Creek, but to her disappointment he’d opted to live in California. She’d heard that his father wanted him to come back after he’d graduated to help with the family’s furniture-making business, and Nate’s decision not to return had caused a rift between father and son lasting almost two decades.

“Did you leave a message?” he asked.

She stared up into clear brown eyes, wondering what was going on behind them. “Yes. I left a message on your voice mail at the shop. In fact, I left two messages.”

A slight smile lifted the corners of Nate’s mouth. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t get the messages. Either my father erased them or there’s something wrong with the phone. When do you want to talk?”

“Anytime that’s convenient for you, Nate.”

“Are you going to the reception?”

She smiled, exhibiting a matched set of dimples in her cheeks. “Yes.”

“We can meet there and talk.”

“Are you familiar with the layout of Angels Landing?”

He returned her smile with a mysterious one of his own. “I’ve been there a few times.”

“If that’s the case, then meet me at the duck pond at three. Are you wearing a watch?”

“No watch, but I have this.” Reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket, Nate palmed a cell phone. “I’ll program you in on my cell for three.”

Morgan nodded. “Thank you, Nate.”

“You’re welcome, Mo.”

She walked back to where she’d left Francine. “Thanks.”

Francine gave her a wide-eyed stare. “Well? Aren’t you going to tell me what happened?”

“I’ll tell you after I talk to him.”

Resting her hands at her waist, Francine narrowed her emerald-green eyes. “Now I know you didn’t just dis your favorite girl.”

“I don’t want to say anything, because I might jinx myself.”

Francine leaned close enough for their shoulders to touch. “Remember I’m the one who has visions.”

Morgan felt a chill wash over her body despite the warm temperatures. “Stop it, Francine. You know talk about spirits scares me.”

“One of these days I’m going to tell you your future.” She hugged Morgan. “Let me hurry and get back before my mama sends out a hunting party. After all, we were contracted to do the hair and makeup for the wedding party.”

Morgan watched Francine until she disappeared from her line of vision. Her friend’s mother owned the Beauty Box, and it was Mrs. Tanner who’d suggested that Morgan cut off her braids in favor of a short, natural style. She’d worn the braids for more than three years. Although both styles were low-maintenance, Morgan realized the shorter style was nearly maintenance-free. Her new look was in keeping with the other change going on in her life. She’d recently opened her own architecture and design company.

When the awning over the small shop, bearing the legend
M. DANE ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIOR DESIGN
, was unfurled, people began buzzing about why she’d resigned her position with Ellison and Murphy. One of the partners at the Haven Creek firm had referred to Morgan as a young upstart. When her interview with the editor of the
Sanctuary Chronicle
revealed that she’d been commissioned by Kara Newell to oversee the restoration of Angels Landing Plantation, a property that had been designated a National Historic Landmark, a few of her former coworkers had called her disloyal, a traitor, and much too inexperienced to take on any restoration project, whether large or small. Their words had hurt her beyond belief.

At thirty-two, Morgan felt as if her life were perfect, as perfect as the day’s weather was for a Lowcountry beachfront wedding: brilliant sunshine, fluffy white clouds, and a cool breeze blowing off the Atlantic. It also appeared as if all of Cavanaugh Island had turned out to witness the marriage of their sheriff to a young woman with ties to the island’s most prominent family. As she looked around, she noticed there were very few empty chairs set up under the enormous white tent.

Morgan wasn’t the only one who’d decided to arrive early to get a seat close enough to see and hear the ceremony. Most of the island’s permanent residents did not want to believe Taylor Patton had fathered a child, but that conclusion was inevitable once it became known that he’d left his entire estate to Kara Newell, his daughter. The gossip escalated once Kara had managed to snag Sheriff Jeffrey Hamilton, who happened to be one of Cavanaugh Island’s most eligible bachelors. Morgan knew some folks had come to the wedding because of curiosity, but most were there to celebrate the joining of two families whose roots were intertwined with the history of the island.

“I figured none of dem Pattons would show up, but they be here in droves.”

She smiled when she recognized the voice of her parents’ neighbor sitting behind her. Hester Owens was an incurable gossip, known to repeat things she’d overheard while managing to put a spin on the news, making it her own.

Hester’s sister, also sitting behind Morgan, spoke up. “Well, Hester, they cain’t stay mad at that young gal. After all, she is one of dem. She so much like Teddy that it’s downright scary, and that’s why I don’t know why Harlan fix he mout to claim she ain’t one of dem.”

Morgan liked eavesdropping on the older folks, not so much to listen to their conversations as to listen to their occasional lapses into the language spoken for centuries by Sea Island Gullahs.

Gertie, Hester’s sister, continued, “She may look like Teddy, but folks say she ain’t mean like her grandmomma.”

“You right ’bout dat,” Hester agreed.

Morgan wanted to turn around and agree with Hester’s sister, too. Her grandfather had taken photographs of Theodora Patton, and the resemblance between Kara and her paternal grandmother was uncanny.

A shadow fell over Morgan, and she glanced up to find David Sullivan. She smiled at the impeccably dressed attorney. He fit aptly into the category of tall, dark, and handsome, and there was no doubt that he and Jeff were related. Both had the same warm brown eyes and cleft chin. “You made it.”

David sat, leaned over, and pressed a light kiss on her cheek. “Finally. There was a fender bender on the causeway.” He turned around when someone tapped his shoulder, then smiled and nodded at the elderly woman. “How are you, Miss Hester?”

Hester squinted behind the lenses of her rimless glasses. “How come you not in the wedding? After all, you and Corrine’s grandbaby boy are cousins.” Corrine Hamilton was the groom’s grandmother and David’s great-aunt.

Morgan shook her head when David mumbled something about Jeff wanting a military-themed wedding, and even though she wasn’t a gambler she was willing to bet that, before the sun set that evening, there would be talk that she and David were seeing each other.

Once the Newell-Hamilton nuptials were announced, David had called to ask her if she was attending the wedding with a date. She hadn’t hesitated when she said no, quickly informing him that she would meet him there. David had asked her out before, but Morgan had no intention of becoming a substitute for the woman who’d ended a long-term relationship with him because he hadn’t been able to commit. It wasn’t that Morgan didn’t find the attorney attractive, because he was; however, she wasn’t about to become David’s Miss Right Now.

“You cut your hair,” he said in her ear. “I like it.”

She flashed a gentle smile. “Thank you.”

Settling back, David crossed one leg over the opposite knee. “I asked you a question last week, and you said you’d wait until you saw me to give me an answer.”

Morgan gave him a sidelong glance. Many women her age were looking for a single, attractive, intelligent, and professional man to go out with, and here she was ready to turn him down. “I can’t go out with you, David, and you know it. We’re friends. Besides, I know you still love Petra; you’ve even called me by her name a couple of times.”

David met her eyes. “I guess it’s going to take time for me to get over her.”

She patted his hand. “Five years is a long time to see someone exclusively, so I understand what you’re going through.”

Reversing their hands, he squeezed her fingers. “You’re a good friend, Morgan. If you need anything, I want you to call me. And that includes legal advice.”

Morgan nodded. She liked David, but not in a romantic way. “It looks as if everyone on the island is here,” she said, shifting the topic of conversation away from them.

David glanced around the tent. “You’re right. There’s hardly an empty seat.”

Two minutes later, prerecorded music flowed from the speakers attached to the poles in the tent, and those standing around talking to one another craned their necks looking for empty seats.

  

It’d been a little more than six months since Nathaniel returned to Haven Creek, but sitting under the tent brought back memories of his childhood, when he’d accompany his parents to Cavanaugh Island weddings. He didn’t have to know who was getting married. It was just the excitement of seeing everyone dressed in their Sunday best for the beachfront ceremony and then going to the reception that would follow, where he’d eat until his belly felt as if it would explode. That was before his mother took sick, complaining of pains in her stomach. She grew thinner with each passing day, until she barely weighed eighty pounds when she finally passed away.

There had been an open invitation to everyone from Jeff and Kara for their wedding, but Kara had broken tradition when she invited the entire island to come to the reception, which was to be held at Angels Landing. Nate had come because of Jeff. After his shift ended, the sheriff would stop by and they would share a cold beer while reminiscing about the old days. No one was more surprised than Nate when Jeff announced he was getting married. Times had changed and Nate had changed. Twenty years was a long time to be away from his family, friends, and all that was familiar.

“Hey, Nate, where have you been hiding yourself? I was expecting you to come by the club.”

Rising slightly, he gave one of the partners in the Happy Hour, a local nightclub, a rough embrace. “I’ve been busy putting up a barn.” The building that Shaw Woodworking had occupied for decades was not only too small for Nate and his father, especially when they were working on large pieces, but also needed major repairs.

Jesse Grant landed a soft punch on Nate’s shoulder. “Tell your old man to give you time off for good behavior. Look, man, I’d love to stay and talk, but I have to give my cousin a message from her mother. Come by either Friday or Saturday. That’s when we have live music.”

“I’ll think about it,” Nate said, smiling.

“I’ll be looking for you, bro,” Jesse said over his shoulder as he made his way toward the front of the tent.

Nate had no intention of going to a club. Not even one as innocuous as the Happy Hour. The past four years of his life had been a merry-go-round of clubs, and he’d had his fill of ear-shattering music, flashing lights, and people with plastic smiles and surgically enhanced bodies who were either too high or too drunk to remember what they’d said or done the night before.

He retook his seat, watching Jesse as he said hello to Morgan. Nate’s eyebrows lifted slightly. When he’d left the Creek to attend college, she had been a shy, long-legged, wide-eyed, awkward girl. Not only had she grown up, she’d also filled out. She laughed at something Jesse said, dimples winking in her flawless dark brown face.

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