row his puppy clumsiness.
“If you'd had your eyes on the road, you wouldn't have run into me.”
“I didn't—” She broke off, swore under her breath. “I'm not going to stand here and argue with you about something that happened twelve years ago.”
“You came here to try to drag me into something that happened eighty years ago.”
“That was an obvious mistake.” She wouldAave left it at that, but a very big, very wet dog came bounding across the lawn. With two happy barks, the animal leaped, planting both muddy feet on Suzanna's shirt and sending her staggering back.
“Sadie, down!” As Holt issued the terse command, he caught Suzanna before she hit the ground. “Stupid bitch.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Not you, the dog.” Sadie was already sitting, thumping her dripping tail. “Are you all right?” He still had his arms around her, bracing her against his chest.
“Yes, fine.” He had muscles like rock. It was impossible not to notice. Just, as it was impossible not to notice that his breath fluttered along her temple, that he smelled very male. It had been a very long time since she had been held by a man.
Slowly he turned her around. For a moment, a moment too long, she was face-to-face with him, caught in the circle of his arms. His gaze flicked down to her mouth, lingered. A gull wheeled overhead, banked, then soared out over the water. He felt her heart thud against his. Once, twice, three times.
“Sorry,” he said as he released her. “Sadie still sees herself as a cute little puppy. She got your shirt dirty.”
“Dirt's my business.” Needing time to recover, she crouched down to rub the dog's head. “Hi, there, Sadie.”
Holt pushed his hands into his pockets as Suzanna acquainted herself with his dog. The bottle lay where he'd tossed it, spilling its contents onto the lawn. He wished to God she didn't look so beautiful, that her laugh as the dog lapped at her face didn't play so perfectly on his nerves.
In that one moment he'd held her, she'd fit into his arms as he'd once imagined she would. His hands fisted inside his pockets because he wanted to touch her. No, that wasn't even close. He wanted to pull her inside the cottage, toss her onto the bed and do incredible things to her.
“Maybe a man who owns such a nice dog isn't all bad.” She tossed a glance over her shoulder and the cautious smile died on her lips. The way he was looking at her, his eyes so dark and fierce, his bony face so set had the breath backing up in her lungs. There was violence trembling around him. She'd had a taste of violence from a man, and the memory of it made her limbs weak.
Slowly he relaxed his shoulders, his arms, his hands. “Maybe he isn't,” he said easily. “But it's more a matter of her owning me at this point.”
Suzanne found it more comfortable to look at the dog than the master. “We have a puppy. Well, he's growing by leaps and bounds so he'll be as big as Sadie soon. In fact, he looks a great deal like her. Did she have a litter a few months ago?”
“Hmm. He's got the same coloring, the same shaped face. My brother-in-law found him half-starved. Someone had dumped him, I suppose, and he'd managed to get up to the cliffs.”
“Even I draw the line at abandoning helpless puppies.”
“I didn't mean to imply—” She broke off because a new thought had jumped into her mind. It was no crazier than looking for missing emeralds. “Did your grandfather have a dog?”
“He always had a dog, used to take it with him wherever he went. Sadie's one of the descendants.”
Carefully she got to her feet again. “Did he have a dog named Fred?”
Holt's brows drew together. “Why?”
Holt was already sure he didn't like where this was leading. “The first dog he had was called Fred. That was before the First World War. He did a painting of him. And when Fred exercised the right de seigneur around the neighborhood, my grandfather took a couple of the puppies.”
Suzanne rubbed suddenly damp hands on her jeans. It took all of her control to keep her voice low and steady. “The day before Bianca died, she brought a puppy home to her children. A little black puppy she called Fred.” She saw his eyes change and knew she had his attention, and his interest. “She'd found him out on the cliffs—the cliffs where she went to meet Christian.” She moistened her lips as Holt continued to stare at her and say nothing. “My great-grandfather wouldn't allow the dog to stay. They argued about it, quite seriously. We were able to locate a maid who'd worked there, and she'd heard the whole thing. No one was sure what happened to that dog. Until now.”
“Even if that's true,” Holt said slowly, “it doesn't change the bottom line. There's nothing I can do for you.”
“You can think about it, you can try to remember if he ever said anything, if he left anything behind that could help.”
“I've got enough to think about.” He paced a few feet away. He didn't want to be involved with anything that would bring him into contact with her again and again.
Suzanna didn't argue. She could only stare at the long, jagged scar that ran from his shoulder to nearly his waist. He turned, met her horrified eyes and stiffened.
“Sorry, if I'd known you were coming to call, I'd have put on a shirt.”
“What—” She had to swallow the block of emotion in her throat. “What happened to you?”
“I was a cop one night too long.” His eyes stayed steady on hers. “I can't help you, Suzanna.”
She shook away the pity he obviously would detest. “You won't.”
“Whatever. If I'd wanted to dig around in other people's problems, I'd still be on the force.”
“I'm only asking you to do a little thinking, to let us know if you remember anything that might help.”
He was running out of patience. Holt figured he'd already given her more than her share for one day. “I was a kid when he died. Do you really think he'd have told me if he'd had an affair with a married woman?”
“You make it sound sordid.”
“Some people don't figure adultery's romantic.” Then he shrugged. It was nothing to him either way. “Then again, if one of the partners turns out to be a washout, I guess it's tough to come down on the other for looking someplace else.”
She looked away at that, closing in on a private pain. “I'm not interested in your views on morality, Holt. Just your memory. And I've taken up enough of your time.”
He didn't know what he'd said to put that sad, injured look in her eyes. But he couldn't let her leave with that haunting him. “Look, I think you're reaching at straws here, but if anything comes to mind, I'll let you know. For Sadie's ancestor's sake.”
“I'd appreciate it.”
“But don't expect anything.”
With a half laugh she turned to walk to her truck. “Believe me, I won't.” It surprised her when he crossed the lawn with her.
“I heard you started a business.”
“That's right.” She glanced around the yard. “You could use me.”
The faint sneer came again. “I ain't the rosebush type.”
“The cottage is.” Unoffended, she fished her keys out of her pocket. “It wouldn't take much to make it charming.”
“I'm not in the market for posies, babe. I'll leave the puttering around the rose garden to you.”
She thought of the aching muscles she took home with her every night and climbed into the truck to slam the door. “Yes, puttering around the garden is something we women do best. By the way, Holt, your grass needs fertilizer. I'm sure you have plenty to spread around.”
She gunned the engine, set the shift in reverse and pulled out.
The children came rushing out of the house, followed by a big-footed black dog. The boy and the girl skimmed down the worn stone steps with the easy balance and grace of youth. The dog tripped over his own feet and somersaulted. Poor Fred, Suzanna thought as she climbed out of the truck. It didn't look as though he would ever outg
“Mom!” Each child attached to one of Suzanna's jean-clad legs. At six, Alex was already tall for his age and dark as a gypsy. His sturdy tanned legs were scabbed at the knees and his bony elbows were scraped. Not from clumsiness, Suzanna thought, but from derring-do. Jenny, a year younger and blond as a fairy princess, carried the same badges of honor. Suzanna forgot her irritation and fatigue the moment she bent to kiss them.
“What have you two been up to?”
“We're building a fort,” Alex told her. “It's going to be impregnant.”
“Impregnable,” Suzanna corrected, tweaking his nose.
“Yeah, and Sloan said he could help us with it on Saturday.”
“Can you?” Jenny asked.
“After work.” She bent to pet Fred, who was trying to push his way through the children for his rightful share of affection. “Hello, boy. I think I met one of your relatives today.”
“Does Fred have relatives?” Jenny wanted to know.
“It certainly looked that way.” She walked over to sit with the children on the steps. It was a luxury to sit, to smell the sea and flowers, to have a child under each arm. “I think I met his cousin Sadie.”
“Where? Can she come to visit? Is she nice?”
“In the village,” Suzanna said, answering Alex's rapid-fire questions in turn. “I don't know, and yes, she's very nice. Big, like Fred's going to be when he grows into his feet. What else did you do today?”
“Loren and Lisa came over,” Jenny told her. “We killed hundreds of marauders.”
“Well, we can all sleep easy tonight.”
“And Max told us a story about storming the beach at Normally.”
Chuckling, Suzanna kissed the top of Jenny's head. “I think that was Normandy.”
“Lisa and Jenny played dolls, too.” Alex gave his sister a brotherly smirk.
“She wanted to. She got the brand-new Barbie and her car for her birthday.”
“It was a Ferrari,” Alex said importantly, but didn't want to admit that he and Loren had played with it when the girls were out of the room. He inched closer to toy with his mother's ponytail. “Loren and Lisa are going to Disney World next week.”
Suzanna bit back a sigh. She knew her children dreamed of going to that enchanted kingdom in central Florida. “We'll go someday.”
“Soon?” Alex prompted.
She wanted to promise, but couldn't. “Someday,” she repeated. The weariness was back when she rose to take each child by the hand. “You guys run and tell Aunt Coco I'm home. I need to shower and change. Okay?”
“Can we go to work with you tomorrow?”
She gave Jenny's hand a quick squeeze. “Carol-anne's watching the shop tomorrow. I have site work.” She felt their disappointment as keenly as her own. “Next week. Go ahead now,” she said as she opened the massive front door. “And I'll look at your fort after dinner.”
Satisfied with that, they barreled down the hall with the dog at their heels.
They didn't ask for much, Suzanna thought as she climbed the curving stairs to the second floor. And there was so much more she wanted to give them. She knew they were happy and safe and secure. They had a huge family who loved them. With one of her sisters married, and two others engaged, her children had men in their lives. Maybe uncles didn't replace a father, but it was the best she could do.
They hadn't heard from Baxter Dumont for months. Alex hadn't even rated a card on his birthday. The child support check was late again—as it was every month. Bax was too sharp a lawyer to neglect the payment completely, but he made certain it arrived weeks after its due date. To test her, she knew. To see if she would beg for it. Thank God she hadn't needed to yet.
The divorce had been final for a year and a half, but he continued to take out his feelings for her on the children—the only truly worthwhile thing they had made together.
Perhaps that was why she had yet to get over the nagging disillusionment, the sense of betrayal and loss and inadequacy. She no longer loved him. That love had died before Jenny had been born. But the hurt...Suzanna shook her head. She was working on it.
She stepped into her room. Like most of the rooms in The Towers, Suzanne's bedroom was huge. The house had been built in the early 1900s by her great-grandfather. It had been a showpiece, a testament to his vanity, his taste for the opulent and his need for status. It was five stories of somber granite with fanciful peaks and parapets, two spiraling towers and layering terraces. The interior was lofty ceilings, fancy woodwork, mazelike hallways. Part castle, part manor house, it had served first as summer home, then as permanent residence.
Through the years and financial reversals, the house had fallen on hard times. Suzanna's room, like the others, showed cracks in the plaster. The floor was scarred, the roof leaked and the plumbing had a mind of its own. As one, the Calhouns loved their family home. Now that the west wing was under renovation, they hoped it would be able to pay its own way.
She went to the closet for a robe, thinking that she'd been one of the lucky ones. She'd been able to bring her children here, into a real home, when their own had crumbled. She hadn't had to interview strangers to care for them while she made a living. Her father's sister, who had raised Suzanna and her sisters after their parents had died, was now caring for Suzanna's children. Though Suzanna was aware that Alex and Jenny were a handful, she knew there was no one better suited for the task than Aunt Coco.
And one day soon they would find Bianca's emeralds, and everything would settle back to what passed for normal in the Calhoun household.
“Suze.” Lilah gave the door a quick knock then poked her head in. “Did you see him?”
“Yes, I saw him.”
“Terrific.” Lilah, her red hair curling to her waist, strolled in. She stretched out diagonally on the bed, plumping a pillow against the tiered headboard. Easily she settled into her favorite position. Horizontal. “So tell me.”
“He hasn't changed much.”
“He was abrupt and rude.” Suzanna pulled the T-shirt over her head. “I think he considered shooting me for trespassing. When I tried to explain what was going on, he sneered.” Remembering that look, she tugged down the zipper of her jeans. “Basically, he was obnoxious, arrogant and insulting.”
“Mmm. Sounds like a prince.”
“He thinks we made the whole thing up to get publicity for The Towers when we open the retreat next year.”
“What a crock.” That stirred Lilah enough to have her sitting up. “Max was nearly killed. Does he think we're crazy?”
“Exactly.” With a nod, Suzanna dragged on her robe. “I couldn't begin to guess why, but he seems to have a grudge against the Calhouns in general.”
Lilah gave a sleepy smile. “Still stewing because you knocked him off his motorcycle.”
“I did not—” On an oath, Suzanna gave up. “Never mind, the point is I don't think we're going to get any help from him.” After pulling the band out of her hair, she ran her hands through it. “Though after the business with the dog, he did say he'd think about it”
“Fred's cousin,” she said over her shoulder as she walked into the bath to turn on the shower.
Lilah came to the doorway just as Suzanna was pulling the curtain closed. “Fred has a cousin?”
Over the drum of the water, Suzanna told her about Sadie, and her ancestors.
“But that's fabulous. It's just one more link in the chain. I'll have to tell Max.”
With her eyes closed, Suzanna stuck her head under the shower. “Tell him he's on his own. Christian's grandson isn't interested.”
He didn't want to be. Holt sat on the back porch, the dog at his feet, and watched the water turn to indigo in twilight.
There was music here, the symphony of insects in the grass, the rustle of wind, the countermelody of water against wood. Across the bay, Bar Island began to fade and merge into d
usk. Nearby someone was playing a radio, a lonely alto sax solo that suited Holt's mood.
This was what he wanted. Quiet, solitude, no responsibilities. He'd earned it, hadn't he? he thought as he tipped the beer to his lips. He'd given ten years of his life to other people's problems, their tragedies, their miseries.
He was burned out, bone-dry and tired as hell.
He wasn't even sure he'd been a good cop. Oh, he had citations and medals that claimed he had been. But he also had a twelve-inch scar on his back that reminded him he'd nearly been a dead one.
Now he just wanted jto enjoy his retirement, repair a few motors, scrape some barnacles, maybe do a little boating. He'd always been good with his hands and knew he could make a decent living repairing boats. Running his own business, at his own pace, in his own way. No reports to type, no leads to follow up, no dark alleys to search.
No knife-wielding junkies springing out of the shadows to rip you open and leave you bleeding on the littered concrete.
Holt closed his eyes and took another pull of beer. He'd made up his mind during the long, painful hospital stay. There would be no more commitment in his life, no more trying to save the world from itself. From that point on, he would start looking out for himself. Just himself.
He'd taken the money he'd inherited and had come home, to do as little as possible with the rest of his life. Sun and sea in the summer, roaring fires and howling winds in the winter. It wasn't so damn much to ask.
He'd been settling in, feeling pretty good about himself. Then she'd come along.
Hadn't it been bad enough that he'd looked at her and felt—Lord, the way he'd felt when he'd been twenty years old. Churned up and hungry. He was still hung up on her.
The lovely, and unattainable, Suzanna Calhoun of the Bar Harbor Calhouns. The princess in the tower. She'd lived high up in her castle on the cliffs. And he had lived in a cottage on the edge of the village. His father had been a lobsterman, and Holt had often delivered a catch to the Calhoun's back door—never going beyond the kitchen. But he'd sometimes heard voices or laughter or music. And he had wondered and wanted.
Now she had come to him. But he wasn't a love-struck boy any longer. He was a realist. Suzanna was out of his league, just as she had always been. Even if it had been different, he wasn't interested in a woman who had home and hearth written all over her.
As far as the emeralds went, there was nothing he could do to help her. Nothing he wanted to do.
He'd known about the emeralds, of course. That particular story had made national press. But the idea that his grandfather had been involved, had loved and been loved by a Calhoun woman. That was fascinating.
Even with the coincidence about the dogs, he wasn't sure he believed it. Holt hadn't known his grandmother, but his grandfather had been the hero of his childhood. He'd been the dashing and mysterious figure who had gone off to foreign places, come back with fabulous stories. He'd been the man who had been able to perform magic with a canvas and brush.
He could remember climbing up the stairs to the studio as a child to watch the tall man with the snow-white hair at work. Yet it had seemed more like combat than work. An elegant and passionate duel between his grandfather and the canvas.
They would take long walks, the young boy and the old man, along the shore, across the rocks. Up on the cliffs. With a sigh, Holt sat back. Very often they had walked to the cliffs just below The Towers. Even as a child he'd understood that as his grandfather had looked out to sea, he had gone someplace else.
Once, they had sat on the rocks there and his grandfather had told him a story about the castle on the cliffs, and the princess who'd lived there.
Had he been talking about The Towers, and Bianca?
Restless, Holt rose to go inside. Sadie glanced up, then settled her head on her front paws again as the screen door slammed.
The cottage suited him more than the home he'd grown up in. That had been a neat and soulless place with worn linoleum and dark paneled walls. Holt had sold it after his mother's death three years before. Recently he'd used the profits for some repairs and modernization of the cottage, but preferred keeping the old place much as it had been in his grandfather's day.
It was a boxy house, with plaster walls and wood floors. The original stone fireplace had been pointed up, and Holt looked forward to the first cool night when he could try it out.