Authors: Deborah Smith
Ten years compressed in the nerve-racking space of a few seconds.
This tall, broad-shouldered stranger was her husband. Every memory she had of his appearance was there, stamped with a brutal decade of maturity, but there. Except for the look in his eyes. Nothing had ever been bleak and hard about him, before. He stared at her with an intensity that could have burned her shadow on the floor.
Words were hopeless, but all that they had. “Welcome back,” she said. Then, brokenly, “
He took a deep breath, as if a shiver had run through him. He closed the doors without ever taking his eyes off her. Then he was at her in two long steps, grasping her by the shoulders, lifting her to her toes. “I trained myself not to think about you,” he said, his voice a raw whisper. “Because if I had, I would have lost my mind.”
“I never deserted you. I wanted to be a part of your life, but you wouldn’t let me. Will you please try, now?”
“Do you still have it?” he asked.
Anger. Defeat. The hoarse sound she made contained both. “
He released her. “Good. That’s all that matters.”
Sam turned away, tears coming helplessly. After all these years, there was still only one thing he wanted from her, and it was the one thing she hated, a symbol of pride and obsession she would never understand, a bloodred stone that had controlled the lives of too many people already, including theirs.
The Pandora ruby.
WHEN VENUS FELL
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
SILK AND STONE
FOLLOW THE SUN
THE BELOVED WOMAN
SILK AND STONE
A Bantam Book/March 1994
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint from the following: Reprinted with permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Company from LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL, by Thomas Wolfe. Copyright 1929 Charles Scribner’s Sons; copyright renewed
1957 Edward C. Aswell, as Administrator, C.T.A. of the Estate of Thomas Wolfe and/or Fred W. Wolfe
TALES FROM THE CHEROKEE HILLS by Jean Starr. Reprinted with permission of John F. Blair, Publisher, Winston-Salem, NC
All rights reserved
1994 by Deborah Smith
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any
information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher
For information address: Bantam Books
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For Nita and Andrea
Whisper the words
Say that name as little as you can
Don’t draw their attention
They can look old or young, man or woman
Beautiful, ugly, kind, mean …
The Mockers take the shape of others
Seeming to be old Grandfather, Grandson
Wife, harmless friend
Sweetly speaking, coming closer
Placing a gentle hand on the forehead
Looking at the helpless one
With pitiless two-hundred-year-old eyes
Waiting, waiting, until heads turn
Until others leave the room
Then, in a flash, ripping out the heart …
These who love life so much
That they would steal it
Are not evil strangers, but kinsmen
And every Raven Mocker
Is one of us
One of us
he had everything ready for him, everything but herself. What could she say to a husband she hadn’t seen or spoken to in ten years:
Hi, honey, how’d your decade go
The humor was nervous, and morbid. She knew that. Samantha Raincrow hurt for him, hurt in ways she couldn’t put into words. Ten years of waiting, of thinking about what he was going through, of
he’d been subjected to it, had worn her down to bare steel.
What he’d endured would always be her fault.
She moved restlessly around the finest hotel suite in the city, obsessed with straightening fresh flowers that were already perfectly arranged in their vases. He wouldn’t have seen many flowers. She wanted him to remember the scent of youth and freedom. Of love.
Broad windows looked out over Raleigh. A nice city for a reunion. The North Carolina summer had just begun; the trees still wore the dark shades of new spring leaves.
She wanted everything to be new for him, but realized it could never be, that they were both haunted by the past—betrayals that couldn’t be undone. She was Alexandra Lomax’s niece; she couldn’t scrub that stain out of her blood.
Her gifts were arranged around the suite’s sitting room; Sam went to them and ran her hands over each one. A silk tapestry, six feet square and woven in geometrics from an old Cherokee design, was draped over a chair. She wanted him to see one of the ways she’d spent all the hours alone. Lined up in a precise row along one wall were five large boxes filled with letters she’d written to him and never sent, because he wouldn’t have read them. A journal of every day. On a desk in front of the windows were stacks of bulging photo albums. One was filled with snapshots of her small apartment in California, the car she’d bought second-hand, years ago, and still drove, more of her tapestries, and her loom. And the Cove. Pictures of the wild Cove, and the big log house he’d built for them. She wanted him to see how lovingly she’d cared for it over the years.
The other albums were filled with her modeling portfolio. A strange one, by most standards. Just hands. Her hands, the only beautiful thing about her, holding soaps and perfumes and jewelry, caressing lingerie and detergent and denture cleaner, and a thousand other products. Because she wanted him to understand everything about her work, she’d brought the DeMeda book too—page after oversize, sensual page of black and white art photos. Photos of her fingertips touching a man’s glistening, naked back, or molded to the crest of a muscular bare thigh.
If he cared, she would explain about the ludicrous amount of money she’d gotten for that work, and that the book had been created by a famous photographer, and was considered an art form. If he cared, she’d assure him that there was nothing provocative about standing under hot studio lights with her hands cramping, while
beautiful, half-clothed male models yawned and told her about their latest boyfriends.
If he cared.
The phone rang. She ran to answer. “Dreyfus delivery service,” a smooth, elegantly drawling voice said somberly. “I have one slightly used husband for you, ma’am.”
Their lawyer’s black sense of humor didn’t help matters. Her heart pounded, and she felt dizzy. “Ben, you’re downstairs?”
“Yes, in the lobby. Actually, I’m in the lobby. He’s in the men’s room, changing clothes.”
“He asked me to stop on the way here. I perform many functions, Sam, but helping my clients pick a new outfit is a first.”
“Why in the world—”
“He didn’t want you to see him in what they gave him to wear. In a matter of speaking, he wanted to look like a civilian again.”
Sam inhaled raggedly and bowed her head, pressing her fingertips under her eyes, pushing hard. She wouldn’t cry, wouldn’t let him see her for the first time in ten years with her face swollen and her nose running. Small dignities were all she had left. “Has he said anything?” she asked when she could trust herself to speak calmly.
“Hmmm, lawyer-client confidentiality, Sam. I represent both of you. What kind of lawyer do you think I am? Never mind, I don’t want to hear the brutal truth.”
“One who’s become a good friend.”
Ben hesitated. “Idle flattery.” Then, slowly, he added, “He said he would walk away without seeing you again if he could.”
She gripped the phone numbly.
That’s no worse than you expected
, she told herself. But she felt dead inside. “Tell him the doors to the suite will be open.”
“All right. I’m sure he needs all the open doors he can get.”
“I can’t leave them all open. If I did, I’d lose him.”
“Parole is not freedom,” Ben said. “He understands that.”
“And I’m sure he’s thrilled that he’s being forced to live with a wife he doesn’t want.”
“I suspect he doesn’t know what he wants at the moment.”
“He’s always known, Ben. That’s the problem.”
She said good-bye, put the phone down, and walked with leaden resolve to the suite’s double doors. She opened them and stepped back. For a moment she considered checking herself in a mirror one last time, turned halfway, then realized she was operating on the assumption that what she looked like mattered to him. So she faced the doors and waited.