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Still Lake


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“All right.” He wasn’t going to argue with her. He was probably glad he was going to get rid of her without a scene.

“I assume you’re leaving,” she said stiffly.

Silence. Then, “Do I have any reason to stay?”

She had no idea whether that was a rhetorical question or not. Was she supposed to ask him to stay? Tell him she’d fallen in love with his lying, treacherous face and wicked hands? Not to mention his mouth.

“I can’t imagine why you’d want to.”

Another silence. “Okay,” he said, and she didn’t know what he was agreeing with. “I’ll go give Marge a call and make sure she’s coming out here.”

“If you want.”

Silence. When she looked again he was gone.

She sat down on the end of the dock, putting her feet into the cool water. She’d lost her barn boots along the way, though she couldn’t remember when, and the water felt wonderful. Maybe she should just slip into the lake, let the water wash the soot and sweat and sex from her body.

And maybe she didn’t want to lose the last trace of him. She sat staring at the lake, telling herself what a fool she was.

22

“So what are you going to do with your life?” Marge Averill asked her one morning two weeks later. “It’s not that I don’t love having you here, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like, but the rest of your family is nicely settled, and you’re still wandering around like a lost soul.”

Sophie managed a wary smile. “They don’t need me anymore.”

“No, they don’t,” Marge agreed tactlessly. “Madelene Laflamme will take good care of Marty and make sure she doesn’t get into trouble. She couldn’t have found a better place to stay. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

“Yes,” Sophie said. “She’ll probably end up marrying Patrick and having a dozen babies.”

“Isn’t she a little young?”

“Davis women are like that. We only fall in love once, and no one else will do. At least Marty chose wisely.”

“It doesn’t seem to me as if your mother has spent her entire life faithful to one man,” Marge observed with some asperity.

“Actually she has. He died before she met my father, and she decided to make do. She’s been making do ever since, but that’s all.”

“And what about you? What about your lost true love?”

“I don’t have a lost true love.”

“True enough. He’s still here.”

Sophie looked up sharply. “What are you talking about?”

“What do you think I’m talking about? Thomas Griffin’s back in town. He was only gone for a couple of days, and then he came back. He bought the Whitten place, and he’s been working on it.”

“I hope he’ll be happy.”

“I don’t think so. He’s been snapping everyone’s head off. I figure the fact that you won’t talk to him might have something to do with it.”

“There’s nothing to say.”

“Oh, I imagine there’s quite a lot to say. I don’t know what went on between you two, but I can imagine.”

“Well, don’t. Read a romance instead.”

“That hot?” Marge said with a lascivious grin. “Lucky girl.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“All right, we won’t talk about it. What are you going to do today? I’ve got to show a house later this morning, and I’ve got some office work to finish up. When are you going to decide what you want to do with the land? At least you were smart enough to insure the hell out of the place. You could probably pay off your mortgage and even build something smaller.”

“And do what?”

Marge shrugged. “You’ll figure it out. You’ve still got your freelance writing.”

“I want a home.”

“So find one. Make one. It was just a house, Sophie.”

And all her dreams. She rose, plastering a phony smile to her face. “You know what they say—when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. I need some new clothes. There isn’t much in my style locally.”

“If you call that a style,” Marge said with a sniff. “You dress like an old lady.”

“I feel like an old lady,” she said stubbornly.

“There’s a Victoria’s Secret in Burlington.”

“Go to work, Marge.”

The summer had vanished, and autumn had descended with a vengeance. The air was crisp and cool, with a freshly washed look to it. Leaves had come down in the wind, as well as a number of branches, and when Sophie drove back into town, just after seven, she could see the bright color tipping the trees surrounding the lake. The seasons were changing, and the nip in the air promised sharper and colder days to come.

And she had to figure out what the hell she was going to do. Her suddenly sane and vibrant mother was leaving for a trip to Paris, and she could go with her. Gracey had always wanted her to travel with her, and Sophie had always refused, too caught up in being responsible. Now there was nothing to be responsible for, but Gracey no longer seemed as eager to have her come along. She was off in Boston, planning her next trip, and for some reason she seemed to think Sophie was better off staying in Vermont. As if there was anything here left for her.

Even Marty didn’t need her anymore. She was living under the strict maternal eye of Madelene Laflamme. Her hair was no longer fuchsia, her skirts were marginally longer, and her language had cleaned up considerably. She’d even given up cigarettes.

She was planning to stay there, helping out with the farm, and then go to UVM with Patrick. Everyone seemed to think it was a fine idea. Everyone except Sophie, who needed someone to need her.

She dumped her bags of clothing on the twin bed in Marge’s guest room and headed for the shower. Her hair had been singed in the fire, but the salon owner, Tracy, had managed to salvage it with a shorter, feathery cut that suited Sophie’s face but not her clothes.

She knew what she was going to do. She’d figured it out during the long drive to Burlington, and as the hours went on she’d known that she really had no choice. There was only one person left for whom she was responsible. And that was Sophie Davis.

She dried herself, smoothing gardenia-scented cream on her skin. She shaved her legs, then pulled on the scanty teal silk underwear. The black dress came next, clinging to her curves, showing much too much of her long legs. At least they were good legs, she had to admit it. Her butt was too big, but so was Jennifer Lopez’s. Her boobs were too big, but he’d seemed to like them well enough. He’d wanted to see her in something slinky.

His time had come.

She even had high heels, though they weren’t really made for the rocky Vermont terrain. At the last minute she chickened out, grabbing Marge’s raincoat before she climbed back into her rental car and headed around the lake.

She drove first to what was left of the inn. The sun was just setting over the lake, and she pulled up in front of the ruins, staring at them. They weren’t smoldering any longer—two weeks and three rainstorms had put out any lingering ember. The entire structure had collapsed in on itself. The only thing left standing was the walk-in cooler in the basement.

She looked out over the lake. It was a beautiful view, and she missed her porch. Missed the kitchen and the pottery jars of flour and sugar. Missed the wallpaper she’d slaved over, missed the wood floors she’d refinished.

But most of all she missed Griffin. And she was tired of being a coward.

The driveway to the Whitten place was in worse shape than ever before. The rainstorms had taken their toll, and it looked as if some heavy equipment had been brought down there in the last few weeks. She pulled the car up beside the Jaguar, cursing. She’d been hoping she wouldn’t have to do this, that Marge had been wrong, and he’d left, and she could find some other way to get on with her life.

But here he was. Hopefully alone.

The night was chilly, with the bite of fall in the air, and smoke was coming out of the chimney. A good smell, not like

the gasoline-fueled stench of the inn.

Lights were on inside, making it look welcoming, but she had no illusions. Her future lay in there, for good or bad, but she wanted nothing more than to run away again.

Keeping the coat wrapped tightly around her, she climbed out of the car. One high-heeled shoe twisted underneath her, nearly spraining her ankle, and she kicked them off, cursing. Okay, barefoot was all right. Make it easier to run away if he didn’t want her.

She knocked, but there was no answer. So he wasn’t home. She could come back another day.

But she knew she wouldn’t. The door wasn’t locked, and she pushed it open, stepping into the warmth and light of the cottage.

She glanced at the rug, remembering exactly what she’d done there just a few weeks ago. She was out of her mind coming here—she’d done so well in ignoring him. But if she didn’t face this, face him, then there was no getting on with her life. She crossed the room and sat down in the chair by the fire, keeping her coat wrapped tightly around her.

She heard his footsteps on the porch. She had no doubt that it was anyone but him—she’d know his step anywhere. He would see her car parked there, and be prepared to find her. That is, if he recognized the car she’d been forced to rent while her Subaru was being repaired.

He pushed the door open and stepped into the room, carrying an armload of firewood. He barely glanced at her, kicking the door shut behind him, closing out the chilly darkness, and dumped the logs on the stone hearth. He squatted by the fire and added a couple of logs, then tilted his head to glance at her, huddled in her borrowed raincoat.

“It’s about time,” he said in an even voice.

Somehow she found her voice. “You weren’t here.”

“I was gone for exactly two days. And stop looking at me like I’m Jack the Ripper. I’m not a murderer, remember?”

He seemed almost lighthearted, which annoyed her. How could he sound almost cheerful when she was squirming with miserable uncertainty?

“I wouldn’t think that would be something to joke about.”

“I’m dead serious.”

He sat back on his heels, looking at her. She’d forgotten just how gorgeous he was, with his gray-streaked curls, the thin glasses perched on his nose, the big strong hands and wicked mouth…

She was getting hot, and she wasn’t about to dispense with the raincoat.

“Why are you here? Just come to say good-bye, or was there something you wanted?”

“I can leave…” she said, starting to rise.

Mistake. It made him put his hands on her, just for a brief moment, to shove her back into her chair. She’d forgotten how powerful the feel of his hands was.

“No, you can’t,” he said. “Not until we figure out what we’re going to do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are we going to keep fighting, or are we going to go upstairs? We haven’t tried a bed yet. It might add a refreshing sense of adventure.”

“Do you think about anything besides sex?”

“It does tend to be foremost in my mind when I look at you. When I don’t look at you, when you’re shut up somewhere refusing to see me, I tend to think about how annoying you are, what a total pain in the butt you can be, and how I can’t stand not seeing you.”

“That’s not enough.”

“You want me to tell you I’m madly in love with you, Sophie? Hey, I’m a lawyer—I can lie with the best of them.”

She blinked. There it was out in the open, under the harsh glare of light. Except that the light wasn’t harsh at all, it was a soft glow from the fire and the old lamps.

“Then we’ve got a problem,” she said softly.

“Do we?”

“Because I’m in love with you.”

He didn’t look particularly happy to hear it. “It’s just sex, Sophie.”

“So why did you come back?”

He shrugged. “Unfinished business? Lust? A latent sense of decency?”

“You said you’re a lawyer. No such thing.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Why don’t you tell me what you want from me?”

He hesitated. “I want you.”

“Yes,” she said, gently encouraging.

“I want you in my bed. I want you in my house. Hell, Sophie, I want you in my life. I want to take you upstairs to that nice big bed and make love to you, very slowly, and then I want to sleep with you, which is weird as hell because I don’t like to sleep with the women I have sex with. I want to wake up with you in the morning, I want to fight with you in the afternoon, and I want to make love on any and every available surface in this place. And then I want to do it all over again. Come upstairs with me, Sophie. I’ll keep you warm. I’ll keep the darkness away.”

She was beginning to melt. “We have nothing in common,” she said.

“I know.”

“We’ll fight all the time.”

“But then we’ll make up.”

“True,” she said. “You’re going to marry me.”

He blinked at that. “Yeah,” he said morosely, “you’re right.”

“And you’re going to love me.” She stood and dropped the raincoat in the chair behind her.

He rose, towering over her, and he put his big, strong hands on her shoulders and pulled her to him. “God help me, you’re right about that, too.”

And he kissed her.

ISBN: 978-1-4268-4937-4

STILL LAKE

Copyright © 2002 by Anne Kristine Stuart Ohlrogge.

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, MIRA Books, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.

MIRA and the Star Colophon are trademarks used under license and registered in Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, United States Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.

Visit us at www.mirabooks.com





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