Authors: Andrea Hurst
All rights reserved.
First edition printed July 2012
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the author, except in the context of reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are a product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
ISBN 13: 978-1478163145
ISBN 10: 1478163143
Cover Design: Audrey Mackaman
Copy Editor: Audrey Mackaman
Interior Design: Brian C. Short
Cover photo courtesy of Auberge on the Vineyard B&B
Madrona Island, Washington
of light danced across Margaret’s eyelids as the afternoon sun filtered through the lace curtains of her bedroom, causing her to wake. She had been dreaming of her granddaughter again. A young Lily had pranced around on the old front porch like a little pony, her golden hair soaring behind her as it caught the breeze. But all she had left now were her memories and her good friends.
Margaret propped some pillows behind her and inched her way upright in the old mahogany, four-poster bed. She glanced at the ceramic clock on the nightstand: 3:00 PM. Napping in the afternoon; when had that started? Mary, her housekeeper turned nurse, had been by fussing around her earlier in the day, trying to get Margaret to eat something. But even Mary’s buttery shortbread did not tempt her now. Food was a necessity in order to take the medication the doctor had prescribed for, what he called, comfort and quality of life.
Even into her late seventies, she’d felt energetic and kept the inn thriving. Her last decision, closing the doors to her beloved bed and breakfast, was one of the most difficult things she’d ever done. With a low moan of pain, she turned, reached into the antique nightstand, and removed the leather-bound volume: The Guestbook. She stroked the embossed cover and gold leaf lettering: Madrona Island Bed & Breakfast.
Each entry was special to her, each life that crossed her path a gift. A smile broke across the wrinkled surface of her face as she flipped open the book and randomly chose
an entry from a young couple who’d lodged in the Rose Suite a few years ago.
We can’t tell you how much our stay has meant to our marriage.
Feeling the love here in this dazzling place helped us find the love for each other again. Thank you for all the little details, from the scrumptious cookies to the fresh baby roses and herbal bouquets. We’ll be back.
~Lorna & James
Margaret shivered and tears threatened to surface. It was so hard to say goodbye. Her life had been rich, finding love again late in life and owning this piece of heaven. Was it just this morning John had stopped by to read to her? She flipped through the well-worn Guestbook, savoring the sweet smell of dried lavender lingering between the pages. In the back, where she kept her special keepsakes, was an old photo of Lily.
“What a sweet girl,” whispered Margaret as she gazed at the picture of her only grandchild. Lily had been about nine years old in this one.
Her lanky child’s body was draped over the old porch swing, her broad smile facing the camera…Lily’s last visit. Even now it broke Margaret’s heart and anger warmed her cheeks at the wasted time apart.
Silly old woman, she thought, surely by now you have learned to accept the past.
Margaret’s mind drifted back to her son Jerold. She’d been so pleased when he’d
married Catherine, and when Lily was born a year later, her heart overflowed. How she’d hoped and prayed he would change when he became a father. In the end, he’d left them all.
She could not go down that “if only” road again. She sighed, long and hard, as her shoulders fell back onto the down pillows. So long ago, so pointless a loss, she mused.
Now, more than ever, she knew the only thing that really mattered was being with the ones you love.
Her lawyer and friend, Mike, had delivered the legal papers for her estate today. “Are you certain this is what you want now, Maggie?” he’d asked. She’d only nodded. With all her heart, she hoped that willing the Madrona Island Bed and Breakfast Inn to Lily would bring the same joy to her beloved granddaughter that it had brought her. The ballpoint pen had quivered in her hand as she signed the final document.
The legal papers were stacked neatly on the nightstand, the Guestbook tucked back into the drawer. Margaret pulled the down comforter up to her chin, and the old bed creaked softly as she turned onto her side. As she drifted back to sleep, she was comforted by the thought that John would be by in the morning to check on her.
on silk cushions, nestled in the dormer window, Lily watched the rain from her favorite spot in the massive bedroom, a reclusive tower overlooking the winter gardens. In her mind’s eye, she saw raindrops seeping deep into the soil, bringing nutrients and working their magic on her dormant plants.
The bedroom door snapped open, interrupting her reverie.
“Lily, it’s almost seven and you’re not even dressed.” Brad, immaculate in a charcoal suit, flung open her closet doors and pulled out a sleek black Dolce & Gabbana dress and Dior evening sandals. “Here, wear these,” he said tossing them on the bed. His gold cufflinks shone in the overhead lighting. “And hurry.”
“Yes, Brad, I will,” she answered for the thousandth time.
He turned to leave. “And wear the diamond necklace I gave you for your birthday.”
Lily lifted the delicate dress over her head and slipped her feet into the flimsy shoes before making a last check in the full-length mirror. She prodded the glass surface with her fingers, reassuring herself that it was solid. How could such a complete—and unwanted—transformation take place without her even realizing it was happening? The flawlessly coiffed woman staring back at her was not someone she recognized. The precise arc of her eyebrows conformed to the downturn of her frown, and her wide-set eyes lined in midnight blue were empty of light. Expertly cut blonde hair touched her shoulders and completed her carefully constructed appearance.
Scanning the room, Lily assessed the sterile beige-on-beige master suite with the massive marble fireplace. Everything was in its perfectly designated place, from the signed artwork on the walls to the European crystal vases filled with pale orchids. No detail was left to chance. Brad had made sure of that. The years had flown by like a whirlwind, sucking her in slowly then building momentum as the eye of the storm claimed her.
“Enough of the drama, Lily,” she said shaking her head. She pushed her feelings aside and walked downstairs to finish the preparations for the meal ahead. There would only be one VIP guest tonight. She could handle that herself.
The ringing phone barely stirred her as she glided down the staircase. She was not expected to answer it.
At the bottom of the stairs, in the marble entry, Brad
stood holding the phone in his hand.
“Your mother is on the phone again. This is the third time she’s called.” He covered the mouthpiece. “Make it fast.”
Lily took the handset and walked over to the window, turning her back to Brad. “Hi, Mom.”
“Are you all right, Lily? I’ve left two messages already.”
“Sorry, Brad didn’t tell me. You caught us just before a dinner party we’re hosting.”
Brad paced and pointed emphatically to his watch.
“I’m sorry, Mom; our guests will be arriving soon. I’ll have to call you back later.”
Lily hung up the phone and glared at Brad. “Why didn’t you tell me my mother has been calling?”
He shrugged. “So what was it that couldn’t wait?”
Lily stepped back and laid the phone on the table. “You didn’t give me time to find out, not that it would interest you anyway.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, moving down the hall. “I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
Lily was in her element. Her sparkling stainless steel kitchen boasted simmering pots releasing an herby aroma complemented by the yeasty smell of fresh bread. She kicked off her shoes and let her stocking-covered feet take a break. The pungent smell of garlic flooded the room, soothing her frayed nerves.
She glanced at the clock; Brad’s new client would arrive in about an hour, and there was still plenty to do. Steadying herself with a deep breath, she prepared the second appetizer tray of crab-stuffed portabella mushrooms smothered with buttery fontina cheese.
A knock at the kitchen door startled her. Her neighbor, Roma, popped her head in. “May I have permission to enter your revered domain?”
Lily wiped her hands on a dishtowel and drew Roma into a hug. “Couldn’t be happier to see you.”
“Need a taster?” Roma leaned over a simmering pot, inhaling deeply.
Lily held up a spoon. “Sure, try this Bolognese and let me know if it needs anything.”
Roma moaned. “Divine, as always.”
Roma took a seat at the breakfast bar. She pointed to Lily’s bare feet and patted the stool next to her. “Come, sit down. You’re the hostess, not the maid here.”
“Tell Brad that, would you? He has me on a tight schedule tonight.” Lily drizzled the endive and calamari salad with black truffle oil. She arranged heavily crusted Italian bread and placed the olive paté next to the basket.
“That man,” Roma continued. “I suppose he picked out the too-tight dress under your apron as well.”
“I don’t think my jeans and sweatshirt would have gone over too well tonight,” Lily answered.
Roma giggled. “I would love to have seen that.” She helped herself to a stuffed mushroom. In a lowered voice she asked, “So, how’re the dog rescue capers coming along?”
“Wonderful,” Lily whispered, glancing over at the door. “Our group rescued a dog right off the freeway. It was so cute I just wanted to bring it home.”
Roma moved over to the stove and watched Lily stir fresh garlic into a pan of sizzling olive oil followed by succulent cubes of lobster. “I know Brad’s afraid of dogs, but why didn’t you just bring this one home and let him get over it?”
Before she could answer, Brad leaned his head through the kitchen door. “Lots of talking going on in here with you girls, any cooking?” He placed his briefcase down on the table and walked over to the stove.
Lily turned her back to him and continued cooking.
He hovered over her shoulder then proceeded to move through the aromatic kitchen
like a general inspecting the appetizer trays, considering wine choices.
“Do your best,” he whispered in her ear.
She looked up into his chestnut eyes. How they used to melt her down. “Of course, Brad.”
He kissed her cheek. “Did you remember the Dom Perignon I asked you to pick up?”
Lily caught her breath. She rarely forgot anything he requested, but lately it was difficult just to remember what she was doing next. The Christmas holiday had been a blur. One more party and the season was over.
“No, Brad, I forgot, but we have plenty of excellent champagne in the cellar.”
His voice rose. “I told you specifically this client only drinks that label.”
“So what do you want me to do, leave the dinner on the stove and go pick some up?”
“Never mind, I’ll go,” he said, grabbing his keys off the hook by the back door and stamping out.
“Looks like you’re in trouble,” Roma said with a nervous wink. “Think I’ll head home and order take-out.” Roma waved as she closed the door behind her.
Lily leaned over the sink, feeling sick; she could not play this part one more time. In the beginning, Brad had been so charming and self-assured. The promises and compliments never seemed to end. She could still hear his words: “Lily, I will take care of you and give you everything you could ever want.” Love and security were dangled in front her, a twenty-two-year-old girl starved for affection.
Thirty years old at her last birthday, and what did she really have to show for it? No children, not even a dog. Brad would not allow the interference in their lifestyle or the mess. So much for being rescued by Prince Charming, she thought. I should have left that fantasy in the fairytale books where it belongs.
The sound of rapid bubbling from the stove pulled her out of her daydream. Adeptly, she lowered the flame and stirred the simmering cream sauce. She rubbed her temples, hoping to stave away the pounding headache that had been threatening throughout the evening.
A chiming sound resonated from the direction of the table. Lily went over to investigate and found Brad’s iPhone lit up next to his briefcase. “Text Message from Ashley” flashed across the screen. “Missed Call from Ashley” was indicated below it. Lily started to walk away, but the phone chimed again, prompting her to take a closer look. Ashley again, this time with a picture.
Lily tapped the screen and the message lit up: “Brad, what time do you think you will be able to get away tonight? xoxo Ashley.”
She laid the phone back on the table. That was strange. Brad had a dinner party here tonight and it would probably last pretty late, yet he still had plans for after. Lily thought about all the late night calls and trips back to the office. No one named Ashley worked at the office, not that she knew of. And what about the xoxo? Her stomach tightened as she dropped the phone back on the table and returned to the meal. Lily warmed her hands over a simmering pot of lobster bisque. It was a particularly cold December for southern California, and the thick soup would take care of that. She stirred the soup, trying not to turn back to the phone.
Perhaps she should take a peek at the second message? She wandered back to the table and turned the iPhone over in her hand. The phone never left Brad’s side unless he was asleep, and even then it was at his bedside. It was not her style to go through his
things, but… She pressed the power button and the IMs popped up. She expanded the screen to get a closer look at the photo. A statuesque woman smiled out at her. She looked like she just stepped out of the pages of Vogue: white-blonde hair accented high cheekbones and kohl-lined sapphire eyes. Not a day over twenty-five, Lily thought, studying the black suede boots and body-hugging sweater. Two fingers were raised to her lips, as if to send a kiss.
“See you tonight,” was all it said.
Lily scrolled back, amazed by the long list of previous messages from the same woman. Each was inviting; some thanked him for a great night, others promised favors to come. Her mind swirled as her heart picked up its beats. Mindlessly, she started to count the messages, twenty, thirty, fifty. When she reached over a hundred in less than a month, she stopped counting. She had seen enough. All these weeks with him never around, too busy to deal with her, judging every move she made. He must have been out with this woman.
She placed the phone back on the table. The marriage had been ending for a long time, she just hadn’t wanted to face it. But this still hurt, like being sliced open with one of her razor-sharp kitchen knives. One by one, she turned off the burners then washed her knives and placed them back in their cases.
The sound of Brad’s Porsche speeding up the front drive caused her to flinch. Lily slid into her shoes and threw off the apron.
Footsteps resounded in the hall before Brad rushed into the kitchen holding the champagne. “I only managed to find two bottles. If you had done what I asked—”
Lily held up his iPhone. “You have some messages.”
He snatched it from her hands and checked the screen.
“Too late, Brad, I’ve already read them,” she said.
“How dare you, Lily.”
,” she said, holding her ground. She pointed to the half-cooked items on the stove and counter. “You better call your important client and arrange to take him out to dinner, because I won’t be catering your meals anymore.”
She watched his face morph from anger to bargaining. All she wanted was to get away from him before he saw her burst into tears. A hundred plus text messages. Why had she counted them all?
“Let me explain, Lily, you’re over-reacting, it’s nothing…”
“Save it, Brad,” she said, pushing past him, heading toward the front door.
“Wait,” he said, following behind. “Ashley is our new corporate attorney; we’re planning a merger.”
“I bet you are,” Lily said, beginning to laugh. “The xoxo merger, right? Either get out of my way or
He put his arms out to her, his eyes pleading forgiveness. “It’s you I love, Lily, from the first day I saw you.”
“Right, the first day you saw me and realized what a moldable pawn I would make!”
“Alright,” he said, pulling out his keys. “Just know, this is
Lily stood in the foyer and leaned against the wall to catch her breath. Hands freezing, body rigid, an unreal quality took over as she watched her husband walk out the front door and slam it behind him. The sound of Brad’s Porsche screeching out the driveway sent a quiver up her spine. Her legs gave way as she crumpled onto the cold
marble floor. Immobile, she glared at the oversized carved wooden door. Another ostentatious, unattractive, overbearing piece of décor Brad had chosen. It had been alternately her fortress and her prison, keeping her in this false palace, barring both entrance and exit.
She ripped off her Dior heels and threw them at the door. “I hate these shoes, this house, this marriage…” The long-held tears shook her body. Every accusation Brad had dismissed as her “overreacting” was finally answered with the truth. Why hadn’t she trusted herself and left long ago? She let the tears flow.