Authors: Helen Conrad
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental. All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Copyright © 2013 Helen Conrad
Cover Copyright © 2013 DoorKnock Publishing
Cover images from Shutterstock.com
First Edition April, 2013 published by DoorKnock Publishing
My Little Runaway
Destiny Bay Book 1
By Helen Conrad
He wants answers.
But some secrets are just too painful to share.
Jenny jumps out of airplanes in order to block out the painful memories of what made her run away from her family.
Reid wants to fix the damage.
The only problem is, he doesn’t know how deep it is, and how impossible it will be to cover over.
Will his intoxicating love tempt her to risk it all again? Or will it end up making everything worse after all?
Destiny Bay-Forever Yours
Book 1-My Little Runaway
Book 2-Wife For a Night
Book 3-Too Scared to Breathe
Book 4-Make Believe Wife
Book 5-Promoted to Wife
Book 6-Not the Marrying Kind
Cast of Characters
Destiny Bay Series~Forever Yours
MY LITTLE RUNAWAY
The three sons of
, wealthy attorney,
Martha Grover Carrington.
~ambitious attorney determined to restore the reputation of his family after his father’s scandal almost ruined them.
~grew up next door to the Carringtons, but left in order to save her parents from heartbreak.
Reid brings her back to face a reality she’s not sure she can live with.
~has been gone for years after a rift with his father sent him into undercover work in Los Angeles.
He now owns hotels in Hawaii.
~always a rebel, Grant went against his father’s plans for him and became a race car driver whose championship career is now in jeopardy
A Few Others
~their cousin, younger and more adrift, he lives mostly on his boat and avoids all risk of becoming a responsible adult.
~owner and proprietor of Mickey’s on the Bay, a local café where the Carringtons tend to hang out.
She’s in love with Tag but can’t admit it, even to herself.
~Mickey’s adorable three year old
Table of Contents
Cast of Characters
CHAPTER ONE: Tempting the Fates
CHAPTER TWO: Picnic In The Park
CHAPTER THREE: Have I Ever Kissed You?
CHAPTER FOUR: Going Home
CHAPTER FIVE: Memories of a Golden Boy
CHAPTER SIX: Tennis Anyone?
CHAPTER SEVEN: Tender is the Night
CHAPTER EIGHT: Jumping Out of Airplanes
CHAPTER NINE:The Perfect Dive
CHAPTER TEN: Runaway Home
Also in the Destiny Bay series
Excerpt from Wife For A Night
Excerpt from Dead Furst
Tempting the Fates
“Don’t look down.”
Jennifer froze and forced her gaze back from the open doorway of the little airplane.
“Why not?” she asked the tall, dark-haired man seated next to her, trying not to let fear sound in her voice. “Isn’t that where I’m going?”
He threw his head back and laughed, the epitome of utter confidence. “Wait until you’re hanging out there under your canopy,” he advised. “Then you can look around all you want. But until you get out of the plane, you don’t want to be reminded of how far it is to the ground. You just might not be able to make the jump if you look.”
Jennifer tried to grin, hoping she didn’t look
quite the death mask she felt like.
“I’ll make the jump, Eddie,” she promised faithfully. “Have I failed you yet?”
He reached out and squeezed her hand. “Never,” he agreed. “Though it did get a bit dicey that time on the Colorado River when the whitewater got a little rough.” He smiled at her. “But you hung in even then, green as you were.”
“Green!” She still got a queasy feeling even thinking about that horrible day. “I felt like chopped spinach. Very old and moldy chopped spinach.” She shuddered. “But I stayed with my kayak, and I’ll do this, too.”
No matter how scared I am
, she added silently to herself.
“Here we go,” the jumpmaster called back to the four passengers. Each of them was fitted with a parachute and crouched, waiting by the open door of the plane. “Target below.”
Jennifer’s stomach flip-flopped, then somersaulted again. Her icy fingers felt useless. How was she ever going to pull the line to activate her reserve if her main didn’t open? She closed her eyes, gave herself a quick mental kick in the pants, then rose to meet her fate.
“Those of us about to die salute you,” she mumbled to herself.
“What?” Eddie asked, but she shook her head and followed him to the takeoff position by the door.
Why was she doing this? Despite her fear, she found herself smiling. She always asked that same question— but only as she stood on the brink of some new potential disaster. Why was she doing this? What was it that kept compelling her to challenge fate, to find new thrills?
“Out you go,” Eddie ordered, his hand firmly against the parachute on her back, and she stepped out onto the platform under the wing, gasping as the wind hit her face.
She was moving in sheer terror now, a numb white void in space. If she lived through this, she would never, never do it again!
“Go!” he ordered, and she didn’t think but obediently stepped back and away from the wing, just as she’d been taught in ground school.
She felt as though her nerves had been stripped away in one long, screaming instant. Then the static line automatically pulled the ripcord on her parachute, just as she’d been promised it would, and suddenly, the fear was over and pure enchantment began.
She was floating like a lazy balloon. The only sound was a small rushing wind. Looking up, she could see the white canopy taut and full above her, holding her safe. Down below, the mountains rimmed a landscape stretched out like a giant game board.
All fear forgotten, she laughed with delight and found her shroud control lines, pulling first on one set, then the other, to make herself flare out and turn, a merry dance in the skies.
So this was what it was all about. This was why people loved it! It was
She was hooked!
The ground came closer. She could see the target area, the building and fenced-in spectators’ gallery where the small crowd of onlookers—mostly passersby who’d stopped to watch and potential jumpers trying to get up the nerve to try it—was gathered. And there were the telephone wires off by the highway. She knew she had to avoid them at all cost, along with the duck pond that ran along the side of the landing field.
She pulled on her shroud lines again. She was really getting pretty good at directing her fall. Wouldn’t it be something if she actually hit the target?
She bit her lip, concentrating hard and trying to aim. The ground was very near now. She’d have to make an allowance for wind. Pulling hard on the right shroud, she found herself suddenly caught up in a dive toward the highway. She pulled hard again, but the dive only deepened. Suddenly, the ground was there, sweeping away at a frightening rush around her, and she landed with a muddy splash.
She was up again in a flash, but the harness that attached her to her soggy parachute held her back, and she couldn’t get free.
She looked back toward the field, hoping no one had noticed where she’d landed. The humiliation! She could see Eddie landing right on target, hundreds of yards away. If only she could get out of this swamp before anyone came.
The first thing to do was release the capewells. She fumbled but found them, and they came open easily enough, then she was free.
She stumbled, trying to walk through the thick mud at the bottom of the pond and pull her soggy parachute behind her. What was light as a butterfly’s wing in the sky now felt like a lead balloon. With a tremendous effort she pulled the muddy fabric free and sank to her knees on solid ground.
Sitting down with a weary thump, she leaned forward to begin working at her boots, trying to pull them off her soggy feet.
Suddenly she was aware that someone had walked over from the spectators’ gallery and was standing near, watching her. Her head was bent over her work, but she could see a pair of highly polished shoes, attached to expensive, neatly creased slacks.
She let out a long sigh. She’d been found out. There was certainly no use trying to hide what she’d done. She only hoped there wasn’t a water lily sitting atop her muddy helmet or a water snake down her jumpsuit.
“It’s a new sport,” she said, not looking up but attacking the knotted lace on her other boot. “It’s called pond diving. I’m the world’s leading authority, as things stand right now.”
The shoes didn’t move but managed to convey an air of impatience nonetheless. The person attached to them spoke.
“Jennifer Thornton, when are you going to grow up?”
His voice was familiar enough to capture her complete attention. She gazed up at the man, but the late afternoon sun was behind him, wrapping him in a mantle of light spears. All that stood out was a set of very wide shoulders and the vague outline of dark glasses hiding his eyes.
“Who says I have to grow up?” she asked lightly, reaching under her chin to unclip the strap on her helmet, then pulling the hard hat from her head and shaking her full head of chestnut curls free. “I learned long ago that grownups never have any fun.”
She peered into the shimmering light, trying to see his face. That voice was so familiar
“There’s a lot more to life than fun,” he scoffed. “You must be twenty-five years old by now. Haven’t you learned that yet?”
“Twenty-six,” she corrected automatically. She knew who it was now. Leaning back, she let loose the natural smile that so many called irresistible.
“Reid Carrington,” she said slowly. It had been a long time since she’d said that name aloud, but she’d never forgotten it. A bubble of happiness rose in her throat. “You always were trying to teach me something, weren’t you?”
“Was I?” He stepped closer, and she could see the outlines of his handsome face. “The way I remember it, you were the one trying to teach me.”
Despite herself, Jennifer blushed, then bent to hide her smile. If he was going to bring up the embarrassing way she used to chase him when she was a kid, she’d deny everything.
What a crush she’d had! Every summer, she’d spent the long, lazy days mooning over the handsome older boy next door. She must have made his life miserable.
“It has been a long time,” she said softly, wishing she could see him better. “Seven years.”
“You look the same.” His voice had a curiously flat sound, and she frowned, wondering why. “Just the same.”
“You look different.” She pulled herself up to stand before him, and now she could see his face clearly. All of it except the blue eyes. They were still covered by the dark glasses. “You look very Junior Chamber of Commerce, now.” She grinned, examining his wrinkle-free slacks and the expensive pale blue shirt with the little polo player over the pocket. “Or is that an insult? Should I say Junior Stockbroker?”
She laughed softly, enchanted with seeing him again. He brought back all the good memories of the past. The misery, the unhappiness, that she tried so hard to blot out, had nothing to do with Reid. She’d often wondered over the years what had happened to him.
One night, after helping to drink a whole bottle of champagne to celebrate a friend’s engagement, she’d even dialed his number, long distance. The maid who’d answered said only that Mr. Carrington was “not at home,” and she’d never had the nerve to try again.
She remembered his smile from all those long-ago summers. His hair was cut shorter now, but it still gleamed just as dark, with silver highlights glistening in the afternoon sun. Were his eyes still that bright deep-sea blue?
“I can remember when you had long, shaggy hair and never went anywhere unless you could wear your old patched jeans,” she said softly,
wanting to reach for him, to touch him, as though to make sure he was real. “What ever happened to those jeans? Remember the patch I sewed on for you, the one that said, ‘If Today Was a Fish, I’d Throw It Back”?”
“I got rid of them,” he broke in coolly. “Ever hear that old saw about putting away childish things? Most of us live by it.”
She drew back, stung. They’d always argued in the old days—but never with malice. What had happened to the warmth between them?
There was a time she’d wished Reid could be her big brother instead of Tony. Then she’d grown up a little and realized Reid would be much better for another role in her life. Through all the changes, he’d always been a friend.
Why was he so distant now?
His strange attitude made her wary, exposing a bit of her old pain. She’d lost so much, more than she cared to think of. Had she lost him, too?
“It’s nice to see you.”
“What are you doing out here at Elsinore?” she asked, hoping with sudden desperation that he would loosen up and be his old self again.
He shifted his weight, but whatever he was thinking was hidden behind the sunglasses.
“I’ve just spent the week at Palm Springs with friends,” he replied shortly. He gestured toward the gallery, and she could see three people standing apart, as though they were waiting for him. Two women and a man—all three of them looking as highly bred and well groomed as thoroughbred racehorses. Their clothes reeked of expensive taste.
“We’re on our way back to Destiny Bay now. We stopped by to watch a little of the skydiving, and then I saw your name on the roster.”
She licked her lips, no longer smiling. His voice was so cold. He was like a stranger.
“Were you surprised?” she asked, wishing she could see his eyes. Why was he so hostile? What had she done to make him angry? She couldn’t imagine.
Before he answered, she could see the muscle along his jawline tightening. She could feel his contempt as though it were a physical force that could slap at her and leave a scar.
“No, I wasn’t surprised,” he said flatly. “Nothing you do surprises me anymore.” He stepped closer. “Other people’s lives don’t seem to mean much to you these days. Why wouldn’t you risk your own for a cheap thrill?”
For just a moment she was shocked, but she held back the quick retort that jumped to her lips. She wasn’t sure why he was attacking her.
But then she stopped.
Of course she knew.
Why try to fool herself?
Still, she couldn't admit it to him.
“What is it, Reid?” she asked, wariness quivering along her spine. “What’s the matter?”
He looked back toward his friends, then down at her again. “Why haven’t you been back, Jennifer? You know your parents need you.”
She swallowed hard and looked down at her wet and muddy parachute. It had looked so light and silky —gossamer like—when she was sailing down through the sky. Now it looked like dirty laundry. Nothing good ever lasted.
“I didn’t see you at Tony’s funeral,” he added shortly. “You might at least have shown up for that.”
She looked away, hiding the pain that was an open wound now.
“Funerals are depressing.” She tried to keep her tone light, but she didn’t succeed very well. “I didn’t want to ruin my weekend.”
Couldn’t he tell she was lying? Couldn’t he hear the agony in her voice?
No, obviously not. He took her words quite literally, and despised her for them, while she tried hard not to care.
“So you ruined your parents’ lives instead.” He said it calmly, as though he really believed it.
Her pain was cutting like a knife in her chest, and she had to get him out of here. She swung her head up, glaring at him.
“Listen, Reid Carrington, what I do is really none of your business. Why don’t you just go back to your high-class friends and leave me where you found me?”
Barefooted, she faced him, positioning herself so that the light wasn’t blinding her any longer. He was only a few inches taller than she was, but he had the athletic build of a professional diver, with shoulders wide enough to hold up the sky and slim hips that seemed made especially to show off his beautifully made slacks. She wished she had the nerve to pull the shades from his face so that she could see his expression.
Damn those sunglasses anyway!
He was taking his time answering her, and he didn’t look like he was about to follow her angry advice. Disconcerted, she turned away and took hold of the zipper on her muddy jumpsuit, pulling it down the length of her body.
And then she wished she had waited until he’d gone.
There he was, staring at her, while she began to peel the coverall away like a butterfly shedding a bulky cocoon. In no time she stood before him in the very brief denim shorts and skimpy tank top that she wore underneath.
This was how she dressed.
She’d never thought twice about it before.
But with Reid watching her, his gaze touching every inch of her, she suddenly felt almost naked.
The breeze blew her curly hair across her eyes, and she sneaked another look at his face.
He was gazing at her steadily, and for one brief moment, she thought there’d been a softening about his mouth, as though he remembered how they’d once been—and remembered that she wasn’t a prodigal at heart. He took a step closer, though he didn’t touch her.
“Why did you do it, Jenny?” he asked at last, his voice low and husky. “Why did you run away? Why didn’t you ever come back?”
Inexplicably, her heart was thumping in her chest, and she put a hand over it as though to keep him from hearing. There was something in the low, velvet timbre of his voice that haunted her senses. Turning away, she remembered, belatedly, that it always had.
Suddenly his hand was on her upper arm, the fingers firm but gentle. “We all miss you, Jenny,” he said softly, looking into her dark brown eyes. “We want you back, if only for a visit. Come up to Destiny Bay with me. Come now.”
She closed her eyes. He didn’t know how impossible that was. He’d always been close to Tony, her older brother. Obviously, Tony hadn’t explained what had happened. But that didn’t surprise her. In fact, in some ways it reassured her. She wouldn’t have wanted him to know.
His fingers tightened on her arm.
“Tony wanted you to come back,” he said. “Just before he died, he asked me to try to bring you back. I haven’t done anything all these months because I didn’t know where to find you. But now ...”
So Tony had felt guilty at the end. No. She closed her eyes for just a second, sorry she’d thought that. Of course he felt guilty. It hadn’t really been his fault either. He’d been too weak to tell her parents the truth. But she’d never wanted him to, had she? It was a truth her parents wouldn’t have wanted to hear.
She lifted her head defiantly. “That’s all in the past,” she replied, frowning fiercely to hold back the memories. “I can’t go back. I’m living a whole new life now.”
“So I see.” His voice hardened again, and he made a sweeping movement, gesturing to all of the air sports going on around them—the sailplanes and the hang gliding and the skydiving. “Making a meaningful contribution to society, are you?”
A meaningful contribution to society. How that phrase brought back the days when they’d lain side by side on the beach and talked for hours. That had been their goal then. Doing something significant with their lives.
“Just as you said,” she responded breathlessly, “I still haven’t grown up.”
He still had hold of her arm, and his grip was no longer quite so gentle. “Then grow up, Jennifer,” he said, his voice like gravel. “Grow up and do something for someone else, instead of only thinking of yourself.”
She stared up at him, wondering why he was taking such an intense interest in what she did or did not do. He’d never wanted to interfere before. She remembered the times she’d run to him, wanting a friend, wanting a shoulder to cry on, and he’d listened and sympathized, but he’d never taken sides. Why was he doing that now? Was it because Tony had asked him to? But before she could ask, Eddie arrived.
“Hey, Jennifer!” The shout was like a wave of ocean water dousing the tension between them. Jennifer turned to greet him, twisting out of Reid’s grasp.. “Hey, Jenny-baby!”
Eddie had finally found her, and he descended with his usual eager energy, racing up to sweep her into his arms.
“You did so great!” He whirled in place, holding her high against him. “I saw you below me, how you adjusted yourself. You’re a natural, sweetheart.” He put her down and laughed delightedly.
“Eddie,” she protested, trying to catch her balance, “give me a break! I landed in the pond.”
Eddie turned to glance at her limp parachute. “Yeah, well, you can’t win’em all. At least you landed, huh?” He grinned at them both. “Come on, there’s plenty of light left. What do you say we pack up these chutes and do it again?”
She laughed. “Speaking as the pond-diving champion of Southern California, I stand ready to teach you all my tricks in exchange for a quick rundown on some of yours. Like, why didn’t my shroud lines work right as I approached the ground?”
“Don’t worry about that stuff. I’ll give you a lesson before you jump again.” Eddie grinned. “You wanna?”
Jennifer glanced at Reid. “Why not?” she agreed impetuously. Right now the dangers of skydiving seemed a lot safer than anything Reid Carrington represented.
She noted that Reid’s jaw tightened as she spoke. “Why don’t you try it, too?” she suggested, her voice almost a taunt. “Have you ever jumped out of an airplane?”
“Not when it was moving,” he drawled sarcastically, his attention on her companion. “I was always taught to eat my vegetables, say my prayers, and fasten my seat belt.”
Eddie laughed. “The prayers you still need,” he told Reid. “But forget the rest. Half the fun in life is taking chances.”
“And the other half, I suppose, is recovering from them.”
Jennifer bit her lip. She heard the contempt in Reid’s tone. “Eddie, meet Reid Carrington, an old, old friend of mine. Reid, this is Fast Eddie”—she grinned at him—“my new friend.”
“Hiya, Reid.” Eddie stuck out his hand and shook Reid’s with enthusiasm. “You gonna try jumping with us?”
“Not a chance.”
His voice was condescending, and to Jennifer, it hurt. He’d always thought everything she did was silly. He’d always seemed so much older, so much more mature and in control of himself and his environment. Maybe that was why she always seemed to be all thumbs in front of him.
“Then why don’t you go back to your friends?” she asked, her voice soft but her eyes searching the black panes that hid his. “Why don’t you just leave me alone?”
His head went back.
Her words cut into his composure.
She’d always had a knack for getting under his skin, but it used to be a pleasantly provocative sensation when she teased him.
This was barbed with acid.
“Not yet,” he said.
He hesitated for a moment, then very deliberately took her by the arm again, looking down at where his fingers held her tanned flesh. She seemed so much the same . . . and yet so different. The adorable girl next door had grown up into a lovely woman, only it seemed she hadn’t realized that yet. It felt raw and rough to be lecturing her this way.
If only she would listen to reason.
They’d been friends.
Somehow he had to get back to that place again.
But first she had to understand how her careless attitude had hurt her family. She had to stop it.
He felt a tremendous responsibility toward Tony and her parents. They’d been there when his family had needed them. Now it was his turn to help them. And as far as he could see, getting their daughter back for them was about the best way to do that. Convincing her to give up her wild life was going to be the only problem.
“Let your friend take care of your parachute,” he told her. “I’ve got some things I want to say to you.”
She refused to budge, digging her heels into the soft dirt. “Then you can say them right here," she said brightly, pretending to smile.
"Eddie and I are good friends. We don’t have many secrets.”
He glanced at Eddie, who was watching curiously.
“All right.” His hand slid down her upper arm, the feeling more a caress than a threat, but still potent.
“This is what I think, Jennifer.
This is my advice to you."
He took a deep breath.
"You’ve had your fun. You’ve had your fling. Now it’s time you came home and took care of your responsibilities.”
What were those, exactly?
If he only knew.
But she could never tell him the truth about why she’d left. It was best to try to make him think she was nothing but an unrepentant runaway, just like so many of the young who littered the streets of Southern California. That way at least the questions might stop.
“Home?” she repeated bitterly. “What’s that? I don’t believe I ever had one of those.” A blatant lie, but in a way it had almost become true.
He swore softly, lips thinning. She could feel the anger building in him, but she’d started this tack. She had to finish it.
“Are you talking about that sweet little cottage by the sea where a dear little gray-haired couple waits for their only living child to return?” Tears were stinging the rims of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. “Is that the home you’re talking about, Reid? Because you can take that cute little cottage and dump it into the ocean as far as I’m—“
Fury overcame Reid, and he grabbed her hard. Eddie was alarmed, moving forward and putting a restraining hand on Reid’s shoulder.
“Hey, man, take your hands off her!”
Reid turned on the other man, as though hoping to find an outlet for his anger, and suddenly, he looked twice as big as he had before.
“Why don’t you mind your own business?” he asked, his voice deceptively casual, steel gleaming beneath velvet, his hands still holding Jennifer in a viselike grip.
Eddie’s eyes widened, then shifted. “Just don’t hurt her, okay?” he said more mildly, dropping his hand away from Reid’s shoulder.
“Hurt her?” Reid snapped coldly, looking into her wide brown eyes. “There’s no way to hurt someone with skin this thick.” But his fingers loosened.
“I’ve been thinking about you for a long time, Jennifer,” he said evenly. “What you’re doing to your parents isn’t right. Now that Tony’s gone, they have nothing. They need you more than ever, and you’ve deserted them.
You’ve got to face reality at some point in your life.
Someone ought to make you come home and do just that.”
His attack had stunned her into uncharacteristic silence, but now she had her tongue back. She knew she had to cut him off or they were going to regret it. If he pushed too hard, the truth was likely to come out. And that was what she’d been dreading all these years.
“Someone like you?” she retorted as tauntingly as she was able, hoping to make him wash his hands of her once and for all. “Some brave Lone Ranger crusading for justice? Don’t make me laugh, Reid. You don’t know a thing about what happened between me and my parents—and you never will.”
Reid’s friends had come out across the field from the gallery, arriving uneasily, obviously as alarmed by Reid's uncharacteristic behavior as Eddie was.
“Say, Reid,” the neatly dressed auburn-haired man called over, “is there some problem here?”
Reid glanced their way, then looked back at Jennifer.
“Nothing I can’t handle,” he said softly.
“Reid”—one of the women, a tall, slender blonde with hair as smooth as silk and a face made for a magazine cover, called to him now—“it is getting late, darling. We’re due at the club for dinner.”
Jennifer glanced at her. She knew the type, only too well. It was a type she’d been expected to use as a pattern for her own life, only she’d never fit the mold.
“You’re late for the club, Reid,” she said with artificial cheerfulllness. “Don’t let your friends down."
"Making your own meaningful contribution to
He swore softly just under his breath, shaking his head as he looked down at her, but he let her go. “I’ll be back, Jennifer,” he told her coldly. “Now that I know where to find you, I’ll be back.”
He touched her cheek with the back of his hand, just barely grazing the skin, then turned on his heel and strode toward his friends.
The four of them walked quickly toward the parking lot. Jennifer watched them go, aware that she was shaking like a leaf but unable to do a thing to stop it.
“Are you sure that guy’s a friend of yours?” Eddie said, only half teasing.
“Maybe you have him mixed up with some other guy.
Someone actually friendly.”
Jennifer pulled her arms in tightly over her chest, shuddering.
“Are you okay?” Eddie asked anxiously. “What was wrong with that creep, anyway?”
“Creep?” Jennifer felt a thread of hysteria in her forced laugh. “That’s probably the first time Reid Carrington was ever called anything like that,” she mused, more to herself than to Eddie. “But maybe that’s part of his problem.”
“All I know is, that guy was hardcore.
I thought he was going to throw you over his shoulder and go find a cave somewhere.”
She turned her face away so that he wouldn’t see how red her cheeks had gone from his obviously sex-filled allusion. Suddenly, she was breathless and not sure why.
She bent to scoop up her soggy boots and looked tiredly at her wet parachute. “Sorry, Eddie. But I don’t think I’ve got the energy for another jump today.”
“You go on,” he said gently, grinning at her with obvious affection. “I’ll take care of this.”
She smiled her gratitude. “Thanks.” Waving to Martha, another friend who was coming out to help Eddie, she started the long trek back to the preparation room.
Reid stood by his car.
He watched her walk away and felt the knot tighten in his throat. She was laughing back at Eddie. Her legs were as long as a dancer’s, her hair a shower of curls that caught the light and turned it into sparkling stars.
He assumed she was preparing to jump again, and he wanted to go back to her, to stop her. She was always poking at fate with a sharp stick. One of these days, fate was going to strike back. Why couldn’t he protect her from that? If he could only take her in his arms and hold her ...
He smiled ruefully, his gaze still following her progress. He’d never been able to catch her. She was always dancing just out of reach. Trying to take her in his hand would be like trying to catch a sunbeam.
She disappeared into a building, and he slumped down against the car, impressed with his own analogy.
That’s just what she’s like
, he thought.
A sunbeam. You could bask in her warmth when you were lucky enough to find it, but there was no way to capture her, to hold her down.
And any other light seemed strained and artificial. Until he’d seen her, mud-spattered and beautiful, he’d forgotten how important she had been in his life.
“Reid, are you coming or not?”
He looked up, startled. He’d forgotten the others. They were waiting, already seated in the car.
“Yes, I’m coming,” he said, slowly straightening
and pulling away from where he’d been leaning. Despite the aching longing seeing her had set up in his chest, he
wasn’t going to stay to watch her challenge the sky
Jennifer came out of the building, glanced toward the road, and noted the sleek silver Mercedes gliding out of the parking lot and heading for the highway. “
Now that I know where to find you, I’ll be back,
” he’d said.
“Oh, God,” she whispered, closing her eyes for a second, “I hope he didn’t mean it.”
Picnic in the Park
Jennifer was almost able to lull herself into believing his words had been a bluff. As the days went by, the chances that he meant what he’d said seemed to grow smaller. After all, Destiny Bay wasn’t all that far from where she lived in Los Angeles. A two hour drive and he’d almost be there. If he’d really meant to come, he’d have done it by now.
So she tried to tell herself as she went about her daily business. She’d gone to work on Monday expecting to see him around every corner, but when Friday rolled around and he still hadn’t made an appearance, she began to relax.
After all, knowing she was in the LA area wasn’t the same as knowing where she lived.
He probably still couldn’t find her.
Working helped. She wondered if he realized she had a job. He seemed to have some idea that she spent all her time playing. She did her share, but work was just as important to her.
Work meant The Magnificent Munch, a gourmet food shop she’d started three years before with Eddie and another friend, Martha Barnes. They’d all been working at Sheffield Gourmet, a ritzy place on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, when they’d had the idea of a gourmet shop for regular people.
“We won’t tack on the markup that most of these places charge,” she’d argued successfully to Eddie and Martha. “We won’t make as much profit, but we’ll have a lot of fun.”
They’d found a little hole-in-the-wall on Melrose just at the start of the New Wave clothing boom, and before they knew what was happening, they were part of what was “in” with the young people of the area. Even without the huge markup, they were doing very well. They specialized in providing interesting, unusual foods with knowledgeable service at a bargain-basement price.
They worked long hours to do it. Jennifer was in charge on Friday. At opening time she was hurrying from station to station, making sure every section of her store, from the bakery, with its oven right in the middle of the floor so that customers could see their goods being baked, to the wine rack with its special supply of vintage vinegars, was ready for customers. The Magnificent Munch was a success partly because of this attention to detail.
“Tilly,” she said reprovingly to the girl who worked behind the chocolate counter, “look at those mint truffles. They look all gummed together.”
all gummed together,” the plump, pink-cheeked blond wailed. “One look from these hungry eyes of mine and they begin to melt like butter. Jennifer, you’ve got to move me out of here! I’m blowing up like a blimp. All I have to do is breathe the chocolate fumes and I gain another pound.”
Jennifer smiled sympathetically. “I know, I’m working on it. But you’re the best chocolatier we’ve got. You know so much about the subject ...”
“Yeah, and how do you think I learned?” She patted her rounded tummy. “I’m a regular example of on-the-job training.” She reached out and took Jennifer’s hand. “Please give me the produce section! Or pate. I hate pate.”
Jennifer gave her a hug and laughed. “I can’t have you work in a section where you hate the product. Our customers expect expertise with their service.”
“I’ll be an expert—I promise! I’ll learn everything there is to know about pate. Just as long as you don’t make me eat it.”
Jennifer assured Tilly that she would find her a place in another section of the store, then she hurried to the counter they called “Custom Food to Go.” Danny Lopez, their regular picnic preparer, was out sick, and she was taking over for the day.
At exactly ten o’clock the doors opened, and the customers began streaming in. Friday was their busy day, as so many people wanted something special for entertaining over the weekend or a picnic basket to take along on a trip. Jennifer took orders by phone and had a delivery boy for most of the baskets she was making up.
She loved setting up picnic baskets—lining the sides with a checkered tablecloth, filling the bottom with cold crab claws in cocktail sauce or artichoke hearts vinaigrette, some sliced smoked salmon or cold lemon chicken, a French pastry or a tin of baklava, some imported cheese, and freshly baked rolls. Then, of course, there was the chilled wine, along with highly polished wineglasses. Plates, knives, forks, and napkins were fitted into the top, and the basket was ready to make some couple happy out in the country, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, or at the Hollywood Bowl, waiting for the orchestra to tune up.
Meanwhile, she still had to keep things rolling in the rest of the store.
“The distributor is here for that new line of pasta. You want to take a look?” Jimmy Buffer, one of her oldest employees, asked as she fitted a box with raspberry tarts.
“I’ll let you make the decision,” she told him with a smile. “You know more about that than I do.”
“Hey, Jennifer, shall I weed out some of these slower-moving canned goods?” he asked her a bit later. “These escargots are just about es-car-gone.”
“Do,” she agreed. “And make room for a new line of natural fruit juices I want to bring in.”
As noon drew closer, people began coming in off the street for lunchtime food as well, and pretty soon there was a line snaking through the store.
“Help!” she whispered to Fred, the produce man, as he delivered more sliced tomatoes, torn lettuce, and alfalfa sprouts. “How does Danny keep up with this crowd?”
“He gets someone else in here to take the orders, for one thing,” he reminded her.
“You’re hired,” she announced with a grin. Pretty soon she’d drafted Tilly, too, and it was almost one thirty before the line had dwindled to just a few more hungry customers.
“What can we do for you, sir?” she vaguely heard Fred ask the last man in line.
“I’ll have a ham sandwich,” came the answer, and at the sound of Reid’s voice, she straightened, her breath coming just a little faster.
Here he was, and she realized she’d been waiting for him all week. She hadn’t been sure what would happen once he arrived, but she’d known all along she would have to find out.
“Better make that Black Forest ham,” she told Fred without looking around, her pulse flickering in the hollow of her throat, “with plenty of hot mustard.”
She turned and smiled at Fred, still avoiding looking at Reid. “Why don’t you go on back to produce?” she said. “Thanks for all your help. I think I can handle it now.”
Tilly left, too, and Jennifer pulled the ham out of the deli case.