Fate calls heiress Sabrina Windham to her grandmother’s hospital bed where she hears a confession of betrayal and death. Sabrina learns of another, heartbreaking family legacy: the Zephyrus. Built by Don Windham and Derek West, the classic sailboat is lost to time.
Is Destiny leading her on a twisted path? Her search for the original boat takes her to Rhode Island and into the arms of Jay West, the embittered grandson of her grandfather’s partner. Will Jay help restore the Zephyrus and, in doing so, restore his family’s honor? Can Sabrina help Jay forget his brutal life, a poor orphan because of Rose Windham’s selfish desires?
Despite their undeniable attraction and Sabrina’s belief in fate, Jay thinks its misfortune knocking on his door.
This 38,000-word short novel contains content that may not be suitable for young readers 17 and under. It also contains the first three chapters of “Distracted” and “East of Eaton,” Books one and Two in the first Eaton Romance Series.
Read an Excerpt
James Weaver tilted a brass watering can over the small garden at his property line. “No, I haven’t seen her today,” he said to his wife. “How am I supposed to know if she’s okay?”
Ida Weaver stood on their neighbor’s front porch, where she alternately rang the bell, knocked on the door and tapped on the window.
“Well, she never goes anywhere,” Ida said, keeping her voice low so the elderly woman inside wouldn’t hear. “She hasn’t driven the Cadillac for at least a month.”
“Just try the door then. I doubt it’s locked.” His sage advice delivered, James went back to tending his flowers.
Ida visited Rose Windham a few times a week, getting as close as any neighbor could to the reclusive old lady. It was mid-morning, so Rose shouldn’t be in bed. Ida hesitated, then twisted the knob and opened the door of the Victorian mansion.
James dropped the watering can on his toe at the sound of her scream.
* * *
Sabrina’s heart pounded as she groped for the telephone.
“Sabrina?” Her mother’s husky voice still carried a slight Portuguese accent. “Are you awake?”
“I am now,” she said, swinging her legs off the side of the bed. “What’s wrong? Is Daddy okay?”
“Yes, he’s fine. It’s Grandmother Rose.”
“What’s happened?” Sabrina rubbed her face, wiping sleep from her heavy lids.
“She’s in the hospital. She fell. Daddy’s on the cell phone with her neighbor now. Doctors say she may have had a stroke.”
Sabrina had limited experience with illness. Her parents were healthy and Rose seemed invincible. These three made up her small family.
“We need you to go to Eaton.”
Sabrina exhaled. Here it came. “Isn’t Daddy going?”
“We’re leaving for Tibet in two days, Sabrina. We can’t change our plans now. We have our visas and tickets. Our itinerary isn’t flexible.” Her mother’s voice rose, no longer husky.
Sabrina heard the threat of tears. She wondered if they were for Grandmother Rose, unconscious in a hospital on the East Coast, or if they were for Marta, herself, busy planning yet another trip to the Orient.
Her parents, Norman and Marta Windham, were bohemian writers, renowned more for their eccentric personalities and fantastic destinations than for the quality of the books they wrote as a team. For more than twenty years, their popular series of “Tread Lightly” travel guides sold well. They wrote about backpacking the Himalayas, rafting the Amazon, floating across Africa in a hot air balloon, and snowshoeing through British Columbia. They retained the “eco-friendly” attitude that attracted them to each other as young college students, sipping green tea, dining on hummus and lentils, favoring Birkenstock shoes and all-cotton clothing.
As the daughter of aging hippies who smoked who-knows-what in their Hookah, Sabrina mutinied in her youth. At the age of thirteen, fighting her way out of a lifestyle embellished with the exotic artifacts of her parents’ travels, Sabrina begged to enroll in an all-girl, Catholic preparatory school in Maryland. At the time, the family still lived in northern Virginia, close to Washington, D.C., where her parents worked as freelance writers and co-hosted a show on public radio. They now lived in Boulder, Colorado, a bastion of aging “free spirits.”
Their young, conservative daughter amused Norman and Marta and they smiled when she rebelliously dressed in plaid skirts, knee-high socks, leather loafers, white shirts and cardigan sweaters. They understood her need to “buck the establishment.” The same need drove them into finding their destiny as teens, albeit with tied-dyed T-shirts and hemp sandals.
While her parents rambled, Sabrina grew up self-reliant and reserved. She spent most summers at Grandmother Rose’s home in Eaton, Pennsylvania, while her parents rode elephants in India and Land Rovered through the Australian Outback. If anything, Norman and Marta were relieved that Sabrina wanted to attend a boarding school. It freed them of one more item on their checklist when traveling: Where to put Sabrina.
She sighed, pushing a weary hand through her dark, rumpled hair. “Alright; calm down. I’ll go,” she said.
“Good girl. I’ll have Daddy text message you the details. Which hospital …”
“There’s only one hospital in Eaton, Mom,” Sabrina said, recalling the summer she broke her wrist. It prevented her from swimming at the community pool just when she learned how to dive. After the cast came off in August, her grandmother enrolled her in tennis lessons to build her wrist muscles. For the next few weeks, until she returned to Virginia for seventh grade, she swooned over Robert Hall, a pre-law college student who taught tennis at the rec center during summer vacations.
“Fine. Let me take care of a few things and I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“You mean tonight,” her mother said.
Sabrina looked at her clock. The red digital numbers clicked to six a.m. and the alarm buzzed. Reaching out to slap the snooze button, she groaned. “Yes; I mean tonight. Good bye, Mom.”
* * *
Sabrina worked from her apartment, the second floor of a 19th century row house remodeled into three levels of living. The landlord lived in the basement apartment, and an elderly married couple rented the first floor. The property owner’s hobbies included gardening and he kept the small front yard blooming nearly year round. Instead of landscaping the backyard, he built small decks for each unit and filled them with potted trees, container gardens and patio furniture.
Renters appreciated the airy feel inside each apartment, thanks to the ivory walls and French doors opening onto the deck patio. Built-in oak shelving glowed, six-foot windows filled the rooms with light, and the kitchen was decorated in a Tuscany style. The effect was chic, yet homey, and the rent enormous, even for Baltimore.
Sabrina used her second bedroom as a home office where she operated her small financial consulting firm. Photographs from her parents adorned the walls. There were vistas of Mount Fuji, underwater shots of colorful fish and coral at the Great Barrier Reef, a photo of Norman and Marta in front of Stonehenge, and another of Marta racing the steps of a Mayan pyramid. There were no photos of Sabrina; she was never included in their journeys. Instead, they shuffled her to Grandmother Rose’s home in Pennsylvania, or various college students would take turns house- and daughter-sitting for the Windhams.
She hated to leave her home, so after showering and packing a suitcase, Sabrina knocked with reluctance on the basement door.
“Mr. Brothers; it’s me, Sabrina Windham,” she called through the steel door, knowing from experience that he rose early.
Ricardo Brothers opened the door, a steaming mug of coffee in one hand.
“Good morning, Sabrina. What can I do for you?” His steady gaze dropped to the suitcase.
“I have to go to Pennsylvania for awhile. I’m not sure how long. My grandmother is in the hospital,” she said.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Ricardo took a sip of his coffee. The aroma of freshly ground Columbian beans filled the hallway.
“Would you please collect my mail and forward it to me? Here is the address,” she said, handing him an envelope. “I’ve included some cash for postage. Also, will you take care of the plants? I watered them on Saturday, so they’re good for a few more days.”
“Certainly. Anything you need. You have my phone number and my e-mail, so please keep in touch. I hope your grandmother is better soon.”
She nodded her thanks. A car honked.
“There’s my taxi. I have to run. Thank you, Mr. Brothers, I appreciate this.”
Ricardo nodded, and then sipped his coffee as he watched Sabrina hurry up the concrete steps. His orange tabby cat wound through his ankles and meowed.
“Morning, Sally. Ready for your breakfast?” He closed the door and followed the cat into his tidy kitchen.
* * *
The small airplane dipped below the clouds then touched down. The tube shook and ill-fitting cabinet doors rattled as the wheels roared down the runway. It coasted to a stop and the seatbelt light snapped off. Sabrina waited for the other passengers to leave. She preferred to wait since the limited headroom on the “puddle jumper” plane meant she would have to crouch until others disembarked.
Across the aisle, a young mother cradled a sleeping infant over her shoulder. “You go ahead,” she whispered as her harried husband struggled with the car seat.
Sabrina slid out of the cramped seat, opened the overhead storage and removed her briefcase. Packed with her notebook computer, cell phone, books and folders of pending work, the case weighed at least twenty pounds. She grunted, then shifted it in front of her, hoping it wouldn’t throw her off balance as she exited the plane. She paused at the top of the folding stairs and looked around.
The small airport squatted in a valley, nestled between green mountains with fog-shrouded peaks. The Appalachians were old, their shoulders rounded from millions of years of wind and rain. Sabrina viewed this same scene for many summers, coming to and going from Grandmother Rose’s house. Always, she made the trip alone.
The woman, who minutes earlier used orange-tipped flashlights to guide the turbo prop commuter, now drove an ATV with a trailer to the rear of the airplane. The steward opened the locker in the plane’s belly and placed suitcases on the tarmac. The young woman, spry in a green, one-piece jumpsuit and yellow safety vest, slung the suitcases into the trailer.
The steward nodded and then tippled his fingers, miming a drink.
“Yeah, sure. I get off at four. See you at the pub?”
“I’ll be there. I’ve got a couple of days off, so …”
Their voices lowered as they moved closer. The woman laughed and pushed at the young man’s chest. “Perv!” She quickly kissed him and then sprang onto the seat of the tractor. “Gotta get these bags to the terminal. See you tonight.”
Sabrina walked across the tarmac and entered the airport. In the lobby, people hugged and chatted with arriving passengers.
“Well, it’s not much, but it has the right ingredients,” Sabrina thought, glancing at the single security gate and the lone ticket window.
She headed for baggage claim, joining the other passengers in front of a set of garage doors. The metal dividers lifted noisily and Sabrina watched as the young woman from the ATV tossed the baggage onto a low-slung counter. She’d driven the tractor about fifty yards from the plane.
Sabrina found her bag, and then headed for the car rental counter when a short, elderly man stepped into her path.
“Excuse me, miss. Are you Sabrina Windham?”
Puzzled, she nodded. The man twisted a worn baseball cap in his hands. “I’m James Weaver; Rose’s neighbor. The visiting nurse said you were coming in this afternoon and that I should offer you a ride.”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Weaver,” Sabrina said. “But, I’m going to need a car while I’m here in Eaton, so I’ll rent one.”
“Well, here’s the thing. Miss Rose has a nice car and the nurse said you’re to use that while you’re here. It’s a real nice one. Miss Rose always gets a new car every few years. It’s right out front.”
He shuffled towards a sliding glass door that parted when he passed its electric eye. Parked at the curb sat a Cadillac, its motor running and the radio tuned to a conservative talk show.
Sabrina smiled at the small-town charm that allowed people to leave cars running when performing brief chores. Locked doors in Eaton are rare.
James pushed the key fob and the trunk popped opened. He took her suitcase and hefted it into the voluminous trunk, then slammed the lid. Scooting to the passenger door, he opened it, gallantly standing to the side.
”Thank you,” Sabrina said, sliding into the elegant, full-size automobile that flouted her parent’s ideology of hybrid fuels and conservation. She caressed the leather interior. I am, she thought, my grandmother’s daughter.
In only fifteen minutes, her plane landed, she claimed her luggage and was on the road. Small towns have their rewards and a lack of traffic and tiny airports are the best, she reflected.
“Have you ever been to Eaton?” James tried to restart the car, the ignition system grinding. He grimaced. “Oops. Forgot it was already on.” He slipped the gearshift into drive and without looking over his shoulder, made a quick U-turn and drove out of the airport parking lot.
“Yes,” Sabrina said. “My parents traveled a lot, so I spent most of my summers here with Grandmother Rose.”
The old man nodded, not really paying attention to her chatty reply. He drove along River Road toward Eaton. “River’s up,” he commented.
Sabrina glanced at the water, its ripples glinting in the late afternoon sun. “Has it been a wet summer?”
He nodded, then spent the next few minutes recounting the increasing number of storms. “One good thing about the rain,” he added, “is the fall leaves will be grand. That should bring more visitors.”
He turned into a quiet neighborhood lined with Victorian mansions and spreading maple trees. Some houses were modified into apartments for college students, others into offices for lawyers and doctors.
The local preservation foundation owned a few historic houses, selling them to wealthy residents who could afford the restoration and the upkeep. Most were included on the foundation’s annual Victorian homes tour. Rose owned such a house, with each rose-themed room decorated in a different color. Sabrina stayed in the yellow “Lord Mountbatten Rose” room when she visited.
Sabrina studied the elderly man as he drove. He seemed to be in his mid-seventies, possibly eighties, but appeared strong. She wondered who he was and how he knew her grandmother. She didn’t know James Weaver, although she hadn’t been to visit for a few years.
“Do you know anything about her accident?”
He glanced at Sabrina apologetically. “Not much. She was alone. Doctors say she had a stroke. She was on the floor all night until my wife stopped by the next morning. She saw her at the bottom of the staircase. ‘Bout had a heart attack, herself. She thought the poor old woman fell down the steps and killed herself. Doctor thinks she was sitting on the bottom step, trying to catch her breath when she keeled over.”
Sabrina’s eyes filled with tears. Grandmother Rose had always been kind to her, although Sabrina could well imagine her as the evil stepmother in a cartoon. She was tall, rail thin with silver hair swept into a chignon. She always wore haute couture, despite the fact that she rarely left her house.
To Sabrina, Grandmother Rose seemed a haunted woman who denied herself the pleasure and love of people, but not the pleasure of things. She seemed to enjoy her oriental vases and bronze statues more than her own son and his family.
As a beautiful and wealthy young widow, Rose Windham should have been the belle of the ball. Instead, after she moved to Eaton in 1976, the town’s residents learned that the haughty woman didn’t want friends.
Sabrina knew that her father felt slighted by Rose. She shuttled him off to prep school the year his father died, and then sent him to a military academy for college. In his junior year, he withdrew, making a list of the top ten liberal colleges in the nation and applying to all.
He chose Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, for its particularly open-minded reputation. There, he reveled in socially conscious, left-wing repartee and indulged in artistic expression, majoring in theater with a minor in psychology.
At Hampshire, he met the love of his life, Marta, a beautiful Brazilian exchange student majoring in creative writing. Throughout their bohemian life, they managed to rear their daughter, Sabrina, in turn, rebelled against her parents and sought education at a private girls’ prep school. She followed that with Harvard’s business school and studied finance.
She blinked back her tears as James pulled into the alley behind the mansion, parking the car in the carriage house.
“We’re not going to the hospital?”
“She refused to stay. She’s been released and has a nurse to take care of her at home.”
* * *
Nothing could have prepared Sabrina for the sight of the fragile, pale woman. Rose’s body barely mounded the quilts of the hospital bed, incongruous in the dining room.
The crystal chandelier above Rose’s head cast a yellow and ghastly light. Her nose, once aristocratic, now seemed hawkish, her mouth encircled with deep lines. Glazed blue eyes pinned hers when Sabrina walked to the bed and gently picked up the bone-thin hand.
“Sabrina,” the elderly woman whispered, a tear rolling down the tissue-thin cheek.
“I’m here, Grandmother.”
“Norman?” The old woman’s eyes darted behind Sabrina, falling upon her neighbor, James.
“He couldn’t come, Grandmother. They’re in Tibet,” she lied.
Rose Windham closed her eyes and sighed. A moment later, her fingers tightened. “Thank you, darling girl.”
Sabrina sat by Rose’s bed for several silent minutes, watching as the woman fell asleep. Then, she went looking for answers.
She found the nurse in the kitchen. The steaming teakettle stopped whistling as the young woman lifted it from the flame. She looked up briefly, nodded at Sabrina, and then concentrated on filling her teacup with the boiling water.
“Hello. You must be Miss Windham,” she said, setting the kettle back on the stove. After wiping her hands on her blue hospital scrubs, she extended one to Sabrina. “I’m Shirley Piper. I’m an R.N., and I’ll be taking care of your grandmother.”
Sabrina nodded, pleased by the woman’s confidence. “Call me Sabrina, please. It’s nice to meet you.”
“And call me Shirley. You’ll want an update on your grandmother, but can I fix you a cup of tea first?”
Sabrina recognized fragrant chamomile and grimaced. After drinking herbal tea all her childhood, she forswore it as an adult.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’ve got bottled water in my bag.”
Shirley nodded and leaned against the counter. She lifted the cup to her lips and blew.
“Your grandmother fell, injuring her pelvis. Or, at her age, her pelvis may have fractured first, causing the fall.”
“Excuse me? How does that happen?”
“Your grandmother has severe osteoporosis, also called brittle bone syndrome by some people. It is a wasting away of the bone that happens as women age. Bone breaks down more quickly than it is replaced, so bones weaken and may fracture. There are medications that prevent or treat osteoporosis, but she has not been taking them.
“She also suffered a transient ischemic attack. You may have heard them called mini-strokes. These occur when the supply of oxygen is cut off to an area of the brain. Unlike a stroke, which is often permanent, the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack last less than a day, usually less than ten minutes.”
Sabrina took a deep breath. It was the first piece of good news she’d heard today.
Shirley sipped her tea again. “The problem is that anyone who has a transient ischemic attack is at risk of developing a stroke in the future. Your grandmother is at risk, and a major stroke can be crippling, or even cause death.”
“What can we do?”
“She refuses to stay at the hospital, and since she has plenty of money and her doctor under her thumb, she’s insisted that we take care of her here. The problem with that is the limited amount of medical equipment available. We have established a hospital-room setting here, with oxygen and a heart monitor. I’ve started an I.V. to make sure she has her liquids. She’s also on a blood thinner. We have contractors coming in tomorrow to modify the downstairs bathroom, to make it more accessible.”
“Do you think she should be in the hospital? Do you want me to try to talk her into going back?”
“You can try if you like, but I’ve known Miss Rose for a few years, and I’ve never met a more stubborn, hard-headed woman. You see, my daddy is Dr. Piper, the physician under her thumb.” Shirley gently added, “You need to understand that Miss Rose is getting old, and she is a frail woman. We can take care of her to a certain degree, but her biggest battle is time and nobody wins that one.”
Sabrina nodded. “I understand, and you’re right. It’s important to make her comfortable. Is this a hospice situation? Is Grandmother Rose dying?”
“No, nothing like that. She can recover from this and live many more years. On the other hand, she could suffer more TIAs until she has a major stroke. There are no guarantees. She knows that. That’s why she wants to be home. I suggest you make the most of the time that’s left. Do you plan to stay awhile?”
“I really don’t know. I haven’t made any plans. I found out this morning that she was ill, so I hopped the next available flight out of Baltimore.”
“Well, I can take care of her body. Only you can help her soul. Seems to me, that’s what’s been causing her the most pain.”
Sabrina thanked the young nurse, wise beyond her years. She returned to her grandmother’s bedside and, for the next hour, held her hand, comforting the old woman.
At midnight, Shirley Piper went off duty and another nurse, an older woman with beefy arms and a kind face, began the late shift. Rose would have around-the-clock care.
Sabrina stood and stretched. She looked for her suitcase and briefcase, and found them by the front door where she dropped them. Exhausted, she dragged them upstairs to her yellow rose room. Too tired to undress, she kicked her shoes off and climbed under the covers. Within moments, she was asleep.
For the next few days, Sabrina visited quietly with her grandmother. She gave the nurses the space and privacy they needed as they developed a routine for caring for the elderly woman. Rose slept for hours, thanks to the scheduled morphine shots to ease her pain. Sabrina filled her free time wandering around the mansion, organizing books on shelves, dusting knickknacks, and rearranging photographs of Norman and Marta in foreign locales.
Ricardo Brothers began forwarding her mail, and she arranged an alcove in the sitting room as her new office. The kindly landlord also adopted her houseplants, keeping them on his patio until her return. She had few clients since her business was new, and for one-on-one consultations, she referred them to a reliable financial pro. She hoped they would reconsider her services when she returned.
One afternoon, bored and snooping, she discovered a scrapbook and a collection of letters and journals tucked in the antique chest in her grandmother’s dressing room.
Sabrina felt guilty as she untied the lilac ribbon that encircled the letters. She seldom ventured into her grandmother’s bedroom as a child, intimidated by the lavender gloom and the overwhelming scent of roses. It reminded her of a mausoleum.
This afternoon, however, she pulled the long, heavy drapes away from the window, turned on the bedside lamps and spread the items on the satin coverlet. Some of the letters were in her grandmother’s handwriting. Others were from Don Windham, Rose’s late husband. There were some letters with no return name on the envelope. Sabrina didn’t know where to start, and her stomach flip-flopped.
I’m not meddling. I’m researching family history, she told herself.
She sorted the letters according to the dates on the postmarks. They ranged from 1955 to 1975, twenty years of Rose’s life. She also organized the journals, starting with the earliest. They began in 1965, and ended in 1975.
“As if she stopped living when Grandfather died,” Sabrina murmured. “Why? What happened?”
Sabrina never knew her family’s history. Norman preferred to live in the present, never mentioning his father, never talking about his own childhood. Marta talked about her childhood, but it was a bittersweet story of a young Brazilian orphan brought up by affectionate Catholic nuns. Marta did not know her mother or father, and had no family until she met Norman in college. It was an important connection: Both felt abandoned, alone, until they found each other. The difference was, Norman did have Rose, a wealthy, yet distant, mother.
When Sabrina was born, the thrilled couple had no idea how to form a family. Instead, they viewed Sabrina as a toy, almost a pet.
Impatient, Sabrina picked up the last letter, dated December 12, 1975. It was a small, creased envelope with no return address. With shaky fingers, Sabrina extracted the one-page note. The edges were torn, the blue ink faded and, in some parts, stained. Tears?
“I must see you again. It can’t end this way. Meet me tonight. Believe me, Rose. We can do this. We deserve this. D.”
Sabrina frowned, then re-read the letter.
“D?” Don Windham? Was she planning to leave him? Had she already left him and he wanted her back?
She picked up another letter, this one a brief note from Don Windham.
“Rose, Delivered the boat. It handled well, even in Force 8 winds off Bar Harbor. Be home soon. Love, Don.”
Sabrina glanced at the postmark on the envelope: September 21, 1975. She picked up the first letter and held one in each hand, comparing the script. They were dissimilar. Even the paper and the envelopes were distinct, although that wouldn’t make much difference.
The style of writing and the context were different. One was passionate and pleading, the other, matter-of-fact and upbeat. Two men: A lover and a husband, and she lost both sometime in 1975, because Sabrina knew that Rose moved to Eaton, alone, in 1976. Norman, enrolled in a prep school in Virginia, seldom came home.
She opened several more letters, three from the mysterious “D” and two from Don Windham, dating from 1974 to 1975. Again, “D” wrote short love letters begging her to meet him, while Don Windham wrote of various business contacts he made while traveling throughout New England, including boat orders, and sea conditions.
Sabrina didn’t bother reading any of the other, older letters. Instead, she picked up the latest journal and tabbed through the pages to the final entry.
“December 10, 1975. Christmas shopping today. I’m in New York at the Plaza, loving every moment. Macy’s is fantastic and I had the best time at FAO Schwarz. I picked up a Pong game for Norman, some kind of video game that connects to the television. Now that he’s fifteen, he doesn’t want to play with his action figures anymore. I also found a pretty cashmere sweater for Margaret. Don wouldn’t come. Said he had work to do and couldn’t afford the time. He infuriates me. He certainly can afford the time; he just will not do it. He refuses to use any of daddy’s money, as usual. Obstinate man. We could be living in a beautiful home instead of a hovel. I’m so tired of doing without, when we have my inheritance just sitting in the bank. He won’t let me invest a dime in the business, saying its ‘the man’s job to take care of the family.’ At least he couldn’t stop me from sending Norman to school. It felt so good to spend money today without Don asking to see my checkbook. I’m glad he didn’t come with me. I’m going to take a long bubble bath, and I’ve ordered champagne and dinner for two. I damn well intend to enjoy my last night in New York. D will be here soon. I’m sure he’ll appreciate my shopping today.”
Sabrina flipped through the journal, checking entries for the initial “D,” and finding it on nearly every page.
“Grandmother Rose! I can’t believe what I’m reading,” she said, biting her lip.
Sabrina picked up the scrapbook and slowly turned the pages filled with newspaper clippings, postcards and photographs; each carefully taped or anchored with black corners. This book also stopped in 1975.
It’s as if she died, too , Sabrina thought. Then, she found a folded newspaper article, shoved between the last two pages. She read the headline and gasped.
“Boat Builder, Partner Killed in Midnight Blaze, Factory Destroyed in Three-Alarm Fire.”
There was no date at the top of the clipping. She read the rest of the article.
”NEWPORT – Boat builder Donald N. Windham, 45, and his partner, Derek F. West, 44, died Friday in a midnight blaze that destroyed the Zephyrus Boatyard and injured one person, Rose Windham, 35.
Three fire companies and the local police responded to the tragedy, which is still being investigated. Fire Chief Flip Jenkins reported that the inferno started in an office, perhaps by a faulty kerosene stove, and spread throughout the shop quickly. Fifty-gallon barrels of resin and stacks of plywood, used in the manufacturing of fiberglass boats, were “like jet fuel on the fire. The Jakes (fire fighters) couldn’t get close enough to put it out,” Jenkins said.
Fire fighters were forced to battle not only searing flames and choking black smoke but also a lack of water. Jenkins said that there were no fire hydrants nearby, and the plant’s water supply was inadequate for fighting such a massive fire. The roof and all but one wall of the two-story metal building collapsed, forcing fire fighters to flee the structure.
Rose Windham was treated for smoke inhalation and second-degree burns at the scene. Police responding to the fire said she will be questioned later and that, at this point, she is the only eye-witness to the tragedy.”
Sabrina stared, open-mouthed, at the newspaper article. She assumed that Don Windham had died of natural causes. No one volunteered details and she never asked about her family’s history.
Her hands shook and she wanted to call her father, but he and Marta were already in Tibet, wandering about on the backs of ponies. How much does he know? He must know all, Sabrina reasoned. But why hadn’t he ever told her?
* * *
That evening, Sabrina sat quietly at her grandmother’s bedside. Together, they watched the news and then the cable’s travel channel with Rose hoping for a glimpse of her famous son. His and Marta’s documentaries were popular reruns.
Sabina adjusted the bed at a slight incline, enabling Rose to view the large, flat-panel television the contractors installed on the dining room wall. Sabrina wondered how long the 150-year-old plaster walls would support the heavy screen.
The nurse placed a nightstand with a portable telephone and a pitcher of violet-scented water next to the hospital bed, and plumped satin cushions behind Rose’s back. Morphine and glucose water dripped steadily into the back of the old woman’s blue-veined hand.
A hairdresser had washed and styled Rose’s hair. Wearing a frilly lavender nightgown, her silver hair combed into its smooth chignon, she appeared to be on the mend.
“Grandmother,” Sabrina said, then cleared her throat. “May I speak to you about something personal?”
Rose flinched, then closed her eyes. “Of course you can.”
“Do you miss my grandfather? Do you miss Don Windham?”
Rose’s chest heaved slightly, a deep sigh emanated from the small, shrunken woman.
“Did you love him?”
“Of course I did. I love Norman and you, too. Is that what you want to know?”
“No, Grandmother. I know you love me,” Sabrina said, reaching out and stroking Rose’s quilted leg. “I know you love Daddy, too. It’s just that you never talk about my grandfather, and I’d like to know about him. I’d like to know what your life was like when you were a young woman.”
“I see.” Rose paused, licking her thin, pale lips. “Well, I’m not sure where to begin. It’s been such a long time.”
“Why don’t you tell me how you met?”
“Please, would you hand me a glass of water?”
Sabrina complied, and Rose sipped, her forehead puckering thoughtfully.
“Well, I was very young, barely seventeen when I first saw Don. He was a ten years older than me, and working at a boatyard in Rhode Island. That’s where he was born. That’s where Norman was born.”
Sabrina nodded, but said nothing.
“My family lived in New York City and spent summers on Long Island, in the Hamptons. Oh, not the fancy side of the Hamptons. We had a cottage in West Egg like in the ‘Great Gatsby.’ I loved that novel.”
Sabrina waited. Rose closed her eyes as if seeing her childhood home again.
“Daddy ordered a new sailboat and a handsome young skipper delivered it from Rhode Island. Daddy asked me to handle the jib, and the three of us sailed all afternoon. Don Windham was so serious and capable. I still remember how his hair curled and whipped in the breeze. He was supposed to return to Rhode Island by ferry, but we kept him on the water so long, that he missed the last one. Daddy invited him to stay for dinner and the night. He slept on the boat.”
Rose sipped her water.
“That night, I went to him and we talked for hours under the stars. We sat in the cockpit until dawn. When he kissed me goodbye, I knew I had to have him.
“Of course, Daddy was not happy about that. He had other plans for me. He wanted me to marry the son of his banker. A moron. I told him I wanted to marry Don. We wrote to each other. He would come to New York on the train and I’d meet him at a hotel. This went on for about a year, then Don said I needed to make a choice. Either I stand up to Daddy and marry him, or else.”
“Or else, what?” Sabrina asked when Rose paused.
“I didn’t want to know what else,” she said. “I was eighteen and could legally marry, so we went to the justice of the peace that afternoon. We told Mother, and she called Daddy. He never forgave me, and he refused to come home as long as Don was there.”
“What did you do?”
“I packed a couple of suitcases and caught the train to Rhode Island with Don. We lived in a small cottage by the bay while he worked at one boatyard after another until he was able to open his own. I didn’t see Daddy for two years, not until after Norman was born.
“Then, when Norman was five, my father died and I received my inheritance. We were suddenly rich. But Don wouldn’t take any of the money. He wouldn’t use it to build the business. You see, my father said terrible things to me after the wedding. He broke my heart and Don never forgave him.
“I forgave him. I would take baby Norman home to New York and visit my parents. We would go shopping or skating in the winter, and in the summer, we sailed around Long Island and played on the beach. It was almost like being a girl again, this time with Norman as a little playmate. But Don was never with us.”
“I thought so, at first. Then I became angry. Don was stubborn and proud, even after my father died. He resented the man when he was alive, and more so when he was dead. He once told me he wished that I’d never inherited the money, that it only cursed our family.”
“How did it curse the family?”
Rose glanced at Sabrina, then frowned. “What? Oh, I’m sorry, dear. I’ve been rambling. I’m very tired now. Would you turn out the light?”
Rose’s recollections had been clear and she seemed eager to share. Sabrina speculated about the abrupt dismissal, but didn’t want to upset her.
“Sure, Grandmother.” Sabrina reached for the lamp and tugged on the cord. She picked up the remote control and placed it on Rose’s lap. “Here; just in case you want to watch TV for awhile. Goodnight,” she said, and kissed her grandmother’s cheek.
Rose placed a trembling hand on Sabrina’s face. “Goodnight.” She closed her eyes.
* * *
Two days passed and Sabrina wanted to speak with Rose again. She read all of the letters, read the journals, and finished the scrapbook. She had a suspicion that the mysterious “D” was Derek West, but she wanted Rose to confirm it.
More than that, for the first time in her life she felt a family connection, a legacy. During the night, as she turned past events over in her mind, a plan evolved. Excited, she wanted Rose to approve of her idea.
She couldn’t wait to get started, but she dreaded telling Rose that she pried into her personal letters.
Hoping that breakfast would pave the way, she carried a tray with two cups of coffee and toasted English muffins into the dining room.
“Good morning, Grandmother,” she said, smiling. She placed the tray on the nightstand and picked up her coffee mug. “Mmmmm, this smells good.”
Rose picked up her dainty, rose-embellished cup. She sipped, then placed it back on the tray. “Thank you, dear. Muffins? You have more faith in my teeth than I do.” She tore off a corner and popped it in her mouth.
“I want to talk to you about something. Something I think is important.”
“What is it, dear?” Rose asked.
“First, I have something to confess, and second, I have a plan I’d like to discuss. I’ve done something inexcusable, and you need to know. You also need to understand that I’m not sorry for what I’ve done; I’m only sorry that it may hurt you.”
“Oh my goodness, what have you done?” Rose, thoroughly alarmed now, struggled to sit up.
Sabrina placed a restraining hand on her tiny shoulder. “No; don’t get up. I found your journals and your letters. I’ve read them.”
Rose collapsed onto the soft pillows, her eyes confused. “My letters?”
Rose’s mouthed twisted, her eyes darted back and forth, then rested on Sabrina. “You mean you’ve only now found them? You never were a nosy child, were you?”
It was Sabrina’s turn to gawk. “You mean, you don’t mind?”
Rose laughed gently. “I’m on my deathbed. Well, it could be my deathbed. My secrets have haunted me all my life. Do you think I want to take them to my grave?”
Sabrina leaned closer to the bed. “Tell me about my grandfather. Then tell me about the fire. Tell me about Derek West and his family. Why did you move here to Eaton?”
Rose sighed. “Well, that’s going to take awhile. I told you about my father, and how Don stubbornly refused to speak with him. This went on for many years, and after my father died, Don still refused to acknowledge or visit my mother.
“I was lonely and angry and wanted to punish him. Derek and Don were childhood friends, closer than brothers were. I wanted to hurt Don, so I came between them. It was ….” Rose paused and wiped a tear. “It was a tragic decision. I killed the man I loved, and I killed his best friend. I can never forgive myself for that.”
With this, Rose bowed her head and tears fell silently into her lap.
“Grandmother! What are you saying?” Sabrina sat back in the chair, thunderstruck.
“You read the newspaper clipping about the fire? Why do you think they died and I didn’t? Don followed me that night and they fought. I got between them but they pushed me away. I must have fallen and hit my head. I blacked out and, to this day, I don’t know how the fire started. The police said a kerosene stove had been knocked over. The next thing I knew, I was in the boatyard and the building was on fire. I saw Don running back in, calling to Derek. Then, the roof collapsed and I never saw either of them alive again.
“It’s so strange to tell it aloud. For thirty-five years, I’ve replayed the scene in my head. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Don, and about Derek, and how my foolish, selfish heart killed them both. How could I forgive myself?”
Sabrina let out a deep breath. “My God, Grandmother. All these years, the burden you’ve been carrying.”
“It’s mine, child. I’ve none to blame but myself.”
“It was an accident, Grandmother. You didn’t start the fire.”
“If I hadn’t been unfaithful, if I hadn’t been with Derek that night, they wouldn’t have fought and the fire wouldn’t have started. They would not have died. Those are the facts, Sabrina.”
“Does my father know?”
“I’m sure he does. He was fifteen then, almost a young man. He read the papers. He knew Derek’s family. At the funeral, Faye West, Derek’s wife, was hysterical, screaming that it was my fault, that I was a whore and a murderer. I suppose that Norman figured something was wrong when I grabbed his hand and we ran for the car. I never returned. I kept driving until we reached New York. Soon, I bought this house and moved to Eaton. Norman returned to school. We never spoke about it.”
Sabrina rocked back and forth in her chair, her arms crossed over her chest.
“It must have been a nightmare for you.”
“It still is.”
* * *
That evening, Rose suffered another mini stroke and was rushed to the emergency room. Sabrina paced the hospital hall, biting her lip and brushing away tears.
At the sight of Shirley Piper, she nearly collapsed.
“How is she? Is she going to be alright?”
“It’s not a serious episode, but like I told you, these TIAs are leading to a major stroke.”
“It’s my fault,” Sabrina wailed, her hands shoved into her jean’s pockets.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Shirley said. “Your grandmother has enjoyed being with you. I’ve never seen her so happy.”
“No, I mean today, I … she … we were talking about my grandfather and it brought up bad memories. I should never have spoken to her about him.”
Shirley patted Sabrina’s arm. “Honey; you’re here to be with your grandmother through the good and the bad. You both need this time. You’re not to blame for the tiny blood clots that move through her brain. Those are the cause of her strokes, not talking to you about the past. Why don’t you go in and see her? She’s awake and asking for you.”
With a deep breath, Sabrina opened the hospital door. Blue-tinged neon light bathed Grandmother Rose. The clear vinyl tube attached to her nose hissed as it fed oxygen into her bloodstream.
Rose’s eyes opened and she rested her dreamy gaze on Sabrina.
“Hello. I suppose it happened again?”
“Yes. I’m worried about you. I’m so sorry. I should never have brought up the past.”
“Nonsense. It’s never far from my mind. I am actually relieved that you know. You’re my confessor now.”
“Grandmother, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You can’t, Sabrina. By the way, you never told me your plan.”
She cringed. “It’s nothing, really.”
“Tell me. I need the diversion.”
Sabrina squirmed. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’ve already changed my mind, anyway.”
Rose sighed. “Tell me.”
“All right. I was thinking about finding Grandfather’s first boat, if it still exists, and buying it. I think, if I have something he created, I could feel a connection.”
Rose’s eyes flew open. “How amazing.”
“I told you it was a bad idea.”
“Indeed, I think it’s a great idea. I’ve often wondered what happened to all those boats. They were quite popular, although the run was short. Your grandfather was a genius, and his boats were beautiful.”
“Then you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. I wish I’d thought of it.”
Tremulous, Sabrina smiled. “Thank you, Grandmother.”
The gaff-rigged sail of the graceful catboat filled as it slid from its mooring on the Warren River in Rhode Island. The young boy tacked back and forth in five-knot winds.
On the shore, the boy’s father watched. “She’s beautiful, Jay. Just like the day my daddy bought her for me,” he said, emotion making his voice crack. “Brady’s been pestering me for a boat of his own, and I’m glad you talked me into restoring her instead of buying a new dinghy.”
Humbled, Jay West shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. “You’re welcome, Sam. We enjoyed working on a classic Marshall, and the Sandpiper is a nice little boat.”
Pride warred with worry in the mother’s eyes. “You don’t think it’s too much for him, do you?” she asked Jay. “Are you sure he can handle it?”
“Catboats are very stable thanks to their wide beam, Melinda. He’ll do fine in these winds, but I wouldn’t let him go out in anything above ten knots. At least, not until he’s a bit more experienced. Swimming is a great teacher. Just make sure he wears a life jacket and stays on the river,” he said.
“I can’t wait to sail her,” Sam enthused. “Thanks again,” he said, shaking Jay’s hand.
“You’re welcome.” Jay looked at his watch. “Well, I have to lock up now. He’s sailing it home, right? You want us to deliver the trailer?”
“Yes; that’d be great. We’re going to keep it at the dock for the summer, so just leave the trailer by the garage.”
“Right; I’ll have Brett drop it off later. See you, folks,” he said.
Walking back to the boatyard, Jay whistled under his breath. Sam was a good customer. As commodore of the local yacht club, he often referred Jay’s boatyard to its membership.
In the two years that he and Brett Story operated the Warren Boatyard, they kept busy, but busy wasn’t enough. The yacht club had plenty of members and many aging sailboats, but they wanted the big, dramatic restoration jobs. The jobs that brought national attention and mentions in popular sailing magazines.
Brett looked up from the rope he’d been splicing. “How’d it go?”
“Perfect. Thanks for giving their son lessons last week. You should have seen their faces. I swear, they almost cried watching him sail off into the sunset.”
“Makes it worthwhile, doesn’t it?”
Jay patted the folded check in his T-shirt pocket. “That and four grand.”
* * *
A weekend spent searching the Internet gave Sabrina’s spirit a boost. It turned out that the Zephyrus was now considered a “Classic Plastic,” and enjoyed a cult following. She learned that Classic Plastic is another way of saying a well-built fiberglass boat, and the West Wind-designed Zephyrus had timeless appeal. She found several photographs of the double-ended daysailer, each identified by hull number. An advanced search yielded nothing about Hull Number One, her quest.
She drove downtown to Sullivan’s, the local bookshop, but found in its place a new store named East of Eaton. She snickered at the shop’s name, a play on words and homage to John Steinbeck’s classic novel “East of Eden.”
She pushed open the heavy oak door and entered a bibliophile’s wonderland. Her eyes widened at the view that included rows upon rows of new bookcases. A staircase wound its way up to a cafe. The aroma of fresh ground coffee beans and chocolate chip cookies assaulted her senses. As she let the door close, she glimpsed a customer behind her. Too late, she extended her arm to hold the door and instead struck the man in the shoulder.
“Oh, excuse me,” she murmured, then froze at the sight of her girlhood crush.
Robert Hall glanced at her with impatience, then paused. “Sabrina?” he asked. “What brings you to Eaton?”
She flushed and fumbled with an apology. “Oh, so sorry. Robert Hall? It’s been years since I’ve last seen you. Rose had a stroke and she’s in the hospital. I’m here to take of her.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Robert said, stepping aside to allow yet another customer in the store. “Will she be alright?”
Sabrina chewed her bottom lip and twisted her head to hide eyes bright with unshed tears. Robert watched as she shrugged, the simple gesture was heart wrenching.
“Let’s step over here,” he said, his hand light on her elbow. He led her to a quiet area of the shop, shielding her from curious customers’ view with his broad shoulders.
Not wanting to speak about Rose, afraid she would lose control and cry, she lifted her chin and asked, “How are you, Robert? Did you finish law school?”
He recalled the gangly girl from his summer job at the local rec center. “Yes. Do you still play tennis?”
Sabrina rolled her eyes and shook her head. “No, sorry. Your lessons were wasted on me.”
“Where do you live now?” he asked, his appreciation growing for the exotic, beautiful woman.
“I have an apartment in Baltimore where I run a small financial business,” she said, pausing when Robert looked over his shoulder at the woman at the front counter. He nodded once, as if in silent agreement with her.
Sabrina assessed the woman, noting her delicate beauty even from half across the store. Unruly, dark brown hair crowned her oval face; dark brown eyes watched her curiously.
“Is she your girlfriend?” Sabrina asked, inclining her head.
Robert flashed a grin. “No, that’s Erica Moore. We’re business partners.”
“So you’re part owner of this bookstore?” Sabrina asked, surveying the elegant yet practical furnishings. “Why am I not surprised?”
He looked at his watch, already withdrawing. “I have to meet with a client in a few minutes, but I’d like to see you again. Would you have dinner with me while you’re in town? Say, Friday?”
Was Robert Hall asking her on a date? Her lips parted as her breath hitched. “It depends upon Rose. How she’s doing by then. Why don’t I give you a call later this week?”
Robert pulled a small silver case out of the inner pocket of his expensive suit coat and withdrew a business card. Using a slim Cross fountain pen, he scratched a note on the embossed card. “Here’s my cell phone number if you can’t reach me at the office,” he said, holding out the card.
As Sabrina reached for it, he cupped her hands. Leaning forward, he brushed a soft kiss upon her cheek. “I am sorry Rose is ill.”
A bit stunned by his closeness and sudden attention, Sabrina could only lift her head and nod. He squeezed her hands gently, then let her go. Whether it was small-town friendliness or something more, Sabrina’s knees nearly buckled. She tucked the business card into her back pocket, then walked away, covertly watching as Robert approached the woman at the counter. They spoke for a minute or two, then he patted the woman’s hand. One again, he reached into his suit pocket and this time extracted some folded documents. He placed them on the counter then left the shop, but not before glancing across the stacks at Sabrina. She flushed as he caught her eye. Busted, she thought. Pretending she hadn’t been gawking, she lifted her hand in a gesture of farewell.
Frozen with indecision, Sabrina looked at the bookcase in front of her. Why was she here? What was it she wanted? A few moments later, the shop owner ambled over and extended a hand in greeting.
“Welcome to East of Eaton. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
Sabrina blinked to clear her vision. “I’m looking for books on sailboats.”
Erica pointed towards the back wall. “There’s not a lot on that topic since we’re a mountain town, but I do have a few. They’re in the sports and recreation section.”
Sabrina thanked her and wandered in the opposite direction. Eventually, she made her way to the back of the shop and perused the titles. There were a couple of illustrated books on tying knots, another book on trailer sailing, and yet another on fixing old boats. She picked up the ubiquitous yellow-and-black, how-to manual for “dummies” and leafed through the pages. She opted for the handyman book and the how-to manual, then browsed her way to the popular paperback novels. She pulled a couple bestsellers off the shelves, piled them on her growing stack of books and headed for the cash register.
This time, a petite elder woman worked behind the cash register. Her nametag identified her as “June Duval.” She beamed at Sabrina as she placed the books on the counter. The shop owner wandered over while June rang up the sale.
“I see you found a few books,” Erica said, glancing at the titles.
Sabrina nodded. “Yes, thanks. You’re right, there’s not much on sailing but I did find a couple novels since I’ll be in town for awhile.”
“Robert tells me your grandmother is Rose Windham. I hear she’s in the hospital. I hope it’s not serious.”
Sabrina frowned, her eyes bright again with unshed tears. “I hope so too,” she whispered. She nodded her thanks, accepted the paper bag of books and quickly exited the shop.
On the drive home, she thought about the crushingly handsome Robert Hall. She felt a thrill of excitement at the idea of dinner with him. Did he know of her schoolgirl crush? Would he be flattered or feel harassed?
* * *
Several days passed without any clues on the lost Zephyrus sailboat. She created accounts for all the major Internet sailing forums and read comment threads. She placed classified ads in several New England newspapers and even hired a private investigator, hoping he could find some records, any that hadn’t been destroyed in the fire.
Rose, who agreed to stay in the hospital temporarily, monitored her granddaughter’s search. “You should look in the attic. I kept several boxes of Don’s paperwork that he stored at home. Maybe you can find an old invoice.”
Sabrina needed the breakthrough. She located the boxes and after opening one, inhaled the aroma of cherry tobacco, Old Spice and paper. She recognized the carved mahogany pipe that her grandfather clenched between his teeth in every old photograph. She pressed a handkerchief to her cheek, reveling in the cologne that still clung to the linen fabric.
She created piles, sorting the papers into stacks of invoices, receipts, lists and business correspondence. The earliest invoice for the selling price of a Zephyrus, $5,000, was dated March 1969, paid in full by someone named Blair.
It’s a start , she thought, and tucked the invoice into her pocket. Later, again on the Internet, she searched the online telephone directory for any Blairs living in Rhode Island. She quickly narrowed her search to those living along the coast. She assumed that anyone with a boat needed a place to put it.
She found forty listings and printed the list.
She started with the Blairs (she assumed it would be a man) who lived closest to Warren, where the Zephyrus had been built. On her seventh call, she reached an elderly man. Having polished her speech, Sabrina launched into a quick introduction.
“Hello, my name is Sabrina Windham. My grandfather, Don Windham, designed the Zephyrus sailboat. I’m trying to locate a Mr. Blair who may have purchased one. Do you know anything about this boat?”
She paused. After a second or two, the querulous voice responded. “Sailboat? Eh? You looking for Don Windham’s sailboat?”
Finally, a lead in her quest. Sabrina’s heart raced. “Yes, do you know anything about a Zephyrus sailboat?”
“Sailboat, eh? Yes, I have one. It’s in sorry shape, girly. You don’t want this one.”
Excited, Sabrina paced the sitting room ignoring his comment about the boat’s condition. “You have a Zephyrus? May I ask you, which year?”
“Eh? Speak up, girly. I don’t hear so well.”
“Sorry,” she raised her voice. “What year was the boat built?”
“Why, the first year, girly. Don Windham owed me money for a truck and trailer, so he traded me a new boat for it.”
Sabrina pumped her fist excitedly.
“Mr. Blair, I would like to visit you and look at this boat. Is that okay? Will you allow me to see it?”
“Sure; I don’t mind. She’s been sitting by the barn for nearly twenty years now. Put ‘er in storage after I retired. Kids didn’t want it, and I’m too old to sail a fast boat.”
Sabrina confirmed his address and told him she would be in Rhode Island on Saturday. Again using the Internet, she made a hotel reservation near Mr. Blair’s zip code. Then she hurried to the hospital to update Rose.
“I don’t know, Grandmother. This could be it,” she said, her cheeks flushed.
Rose raised a weak hand, which Sabrina grasped.
“I hope so, dear. Mr. Blair? I don’t remember him, but I do remember Don coming home one night with a dreadful truck and trailer. The thing was a rust bucket. It had a dragging muffler and it backfired when he revved the engine.”
Rose closed her eyes and smiled, as if reliving the joy of an argument with her long-gone husband. “Don had just started building boats, and he said he needed a truck to move them to the dock. I don’t remember if he traded the first one they built.”
“I’m going to see Mr. Blair this weekend. He lives near Warren, Rhode Island. That’s where you and Grandfather lived, isn’t it?”
Rose nodded. “Yes. It’s a small town on the Warren River, north of Narragansett Bay. Not many people lived there, but it was close to Providence, as well as Newport and Bristol. And, we could afford the rent.”
“May I use your car, Grandmother?”
“Certainly, dear. I’m not going anywhere.”
* * *
Friday approached and she decided to keep her dinner date with Robert Hall. She felt a bit guilty, going out while Rose lay in the hospital, but the old woman insisted.
“I don’t want you rattling around in that old, drafty house every night,” Rose cautioned.
Sabrina acquiesced, but pointed out the obvious. “You rattle around in it and have for decades.”
“That’s different. I’m an old woman and I deserve to live with my ghosts. You, on the other hand, are young and beautiful and it would be a waste of your spirit. Now go,” she said, squeezing Sabrina’s hand. “Robert Hall is quite a catch.”
“I’m not looking for romance,” Sabrina said, blushing at Rose’s gentle teasing.
“That’s exactly when it looks for you,” the old woman warned.
Early Friday evening, Sabrina stood before the cheval glass mirror in her bedroom, critically examining her outfit. She hadn’t brought many clothes with her but at the last minute, she tucked a fancy cocktail dress in a suitcase. The blue strapless gown featured a sweetheart neckline and pleated bodice. A matching silk shawl complemented the tea-length gown, wrapping around her long neck and trailing softly down her back. She styled her long, dark hair casually, letting it flow over her bare shoulders. She applied a slick of lipstick and then blinked her eyes, making sure the blackened lashes were dry. No need to look like a raccoon.
She felt a thrill of panic when the doorbell rang. It had taken nearly ten years, but Robert Hall had arrived.
His eyes assessed her as she stood in the open doorway. Did he find her lacking, she wondered. He raised a corsage for her to inspect, and lifted her left hand. He slid the white rosebud onto her wrist and stepped back. Sabrina gazed at the delicate flower, attached to a diaphanous bracelet of thin, stretchy ribbon. Then her eyes lifted to measure Robert.
No, he did not lack. He wore a hand-tailored black suit, lavender shirt and hand-painted silk tie. His short dark hair and smooth cheeks completed the image of a male model. Sabrina leaned toward him and inhaled. He even smelled like power, his tantalizing cologne stirring her senses.
“You look lovely tonight, Sabrina,” he said. “Shall we go?”
Sabrina nodded and shut the door behind her, locking it and dropping the house key into her small evening bag. Robert’s hand barely touched her elbow as he guided her to a sleek Audi sports car.
“Now this is lovely,” she said, breathless.
“Do you like cars?” he asked.
“Well, I like this one.”
As she sank into the luxurious interior, she caressed the butter-soft leather seat and admired the simple artistry of the expensive machine.
Robert slid behind the wheel, turned the ignition and the formidable motor growled. “It’s only a few blocks, so we’ll take it easy. But if you like, after dinner, we can take a drive to Breakthrough Lake. I’ll show you how fast it can go.”
Sabrina gripped her lower lip between small, white teeth. They practically glowed against the red gloss. Robert noticed and thought about her lush mouth opening beneath his.
Unaware of his tension, she continued to worry her bottom lip. “I’m a bit of a conservative, Robert,” she admitted. “I don’t think I would care to drive too fast.”
Robert let the topic drop and within a few minutes, parked in front of the town’s best Italian restaurant, Dante’s. Sabrina waited for him to open her door, then she swept long legs out of the car, placed her hand in his, then stood. She flipped the matching shawl back in place, the teal band encircling her slender neck, the ends snaking down her bare back.
Oblivious to the feral look in his eyes, Sabrina clasped her purse in front of her. “I’m famished.”
As they walked through the restaurant towards Robert’s reserved table, he paused at a booth where a couple sat intimately sipping wine and whispering.
Sabrina nearly plowed into Robert’s back. Curious, she peeked around his wide shoulders at the couple and saw the friendly young woman from the bookstore.
“Robert! How nice to see you,” Erica said.
He looked pointedly at the man sitting next to her.
Erica caught his message. “Oh, excuse me. This is Clay Knight. Clay, this is Robert Hall.”
The man stood, nodded at Robert and extended his hand. They shook and exchanged brief greetings.
“Nice to meet you.”
Robert, always suave and polite, stepped to the side and slid a possessive arm around Sabrina’s waist. “Erica, you recall Sabrina Windham. From the bookstore,” he said.
Erica nodded and smiled engagingly. Clay extended his hand again. “Nice to meet you, Sabrina.”
Robert frowned, then subtly pulled Sabrina towards his chest. “Please, enjoy your dinner,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Erica.”
Then he escorted Sabrina to his table where the restaurant owner and the waitress fawned over him.
As she studied the menu, Sabrina realized that Robert Hall led an extraordinary life, surrounded by people in awe of his breathtaking good looks and elegant style. He seemed to expect it, as if he considered it his due. It must be difficult, she thought, to be so beautiful. It’s as if everyone wants a piece of him, wants to touch him, to taste him. She recalled seeing his younger sister, Katrina Hall, and having the opinion that both were so startling beautiful, they were almost unreal. She wanted to lay a comforting hand on his, but then she would be like all the rest of them. Wanting to touch him.
As dinner progressed, her heart continued to lighten under his compliments and admiring glances but she couldn’t stop thinking about leaving for Rhode Island in the morning. Her quest to find the Zephyrus took priority over her companion’s charms.
Declining his offer of a late-night drive along the lakefront, Sabrina soon found herself back on the doorstep, the house key in her hand. Spending time with Robert was everything she dreamt of as a young girl, but her trip to New England dominated her thoughts. He took her hands in his, brushed his lips against her cheek and said goodnight.
“Please give Rose my best wishes. Perhaps I’ll see you again while you’re in town?”
Distracted, she nodded. “I will. Thank you for a lovely evening, Robert.” Then she slipped inside, closing the door on her youth.
West Wind by Madeline Sloane
West Wind by Madeline Sloane
Madeline Sloane's books include elements of her passions -- travel, boating, history and archaeology. The characters are generally from idyllic Eaton, a fictitious town in Pennsylvania, although most of her books feature exciting and exotic cities her heroines (and their lovers) visit during the course of their romantic journey. Travel with the women and men of Eaton as they explore the world, and themselves, in the Eaton Romance Series.
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