‘How much farther do we have to go?’
‘Another couple of miles, if I remember rightly.’ Colby Daken glanced at the seven-year-old boy sitting slouched beside him. In the dim light from the Jeep’s dashboard, he could see tousled black hair, shadow-smudged dark eyes, a drooping mouth. ‘Tired?’ he asked softly.
‘Tired? Gosh, Dad, no—why should I be tired? The trip from Melbourne only took us from Wednesday till Friday, then we only took two hours to get through Toronto Customs, and we only got stuck in traffic for two hours getting out of the city. Now it’s only—’ he squinted through his glasses at the square watch strapped around his thin wrist ‘—five after midnight. Why should I be tired?’
The sarcasm in his son’s tone set Colby’s teeth on edge, but he decided this was neither the time nor the place to have a confrontation. Besides, Jamie was having a hard time dealing with his mother’s death; Colby knew that only too well, and took the fact into consideration. This trip to Canada had been at the suggestion of their family doctor, after Colby had expressed his deep concern that although Eleanor had now been gone for six months, Jamie didn’t seem to have made any steps toward accepting his loss.
‘Your son, I believe, is feeling very much adrift,’ Dr. Franks had said. ‘He needs to have his roots reaffirmed—needs to get a sense of the continuity of things. Could you get away for a while—take him to Canada, show him where you grew up? Perhaps even spend some time at your cottage in Ontario—you did tell me you’d hung onto it, didn’t you?’
Yes, he still owned the cottage, Colby had acknowledged. But he didn’t explain to the doctor that the only reason he hadn’t sold it when he’d flown to Ontario eight years ago for his father’s funeral was that Eleanor had announced—while they were actually at the lake—that she was pregnant; and he—impractical in his delight—had decided to keep the place, in case the coming child might one day want it.
Who would have thought then, Colby reflected with a bitter twist of his lips, that Eleanor would die before her thirty-first birthday, and that he would one day be bringing that child here alone, in an attempt to bridge the wide gulf between them.
He felt something nudge his elbow, and looking down, saw that his son had fallen asleep and was lolling against him. Small, vulnerable...and defiant in his grief. Colby felt a powerful surge of love. Lifting a hand from the steering wheel, he carefully pulled the thin body into a more comfortable position.
As he glanced up again, the headlights danced among the trees ahead, illuminating three boards nailed to a post, at the entrance to a narrow track. On each weathered board was a name, burned into the wood:
Something sharp seemed to jab Colby’s heart.
And as he swung the Jeep off the road, he frowned and moved restlessly in his seat. When he’d decided to make this trip, it had been for Jamie’s sake; he hadn’t given any thought to how he himself might be affected by this journey backward. Now he felt memories stumble from their hiding places, blink in the unaccustomed light and gradually evolve from their misty state into clearly visible form.
Memories of Greer.
Oh, God...he brushed a shaking hand over his eyes. Despite the years between, he could see her now as clearly as if she were walking along the track before him.
He’d always had a soft spot for the girl, but that last summer, the summer of her seventeenth birthday...
She’d been at Lake Trillium with her grandmother for a week before he and Eleanor had driven up there, and when he’d caught his first glimpse of her in three years, he’d felt a peculiar tightening in his throat. She had already acquired a lovely tan—the contrast between the nut brown of her skin and the stark white of her bikini had been breathtaking—but what had really struck him was the change in her hair. In the past, she’d always worn it in a ragged urchin style. Now it hung around her shoulders in a pale heavy sweep, the blunt-cut ends skimming like rich satin over high breasts that were already almost too lush for the sleek slenderness of her body.
She had, he realized, turned into a rare beauty.
But despite her new maturity, her green eyes had sparkled like sun-struck emeralds when she’d seen him, and with a delighted shriek she’d run up the beach and hugged him as enthusiastically as she’d always done as a child.
She was truly beautiful, and—he had thought—still as sweetly innocent as she had always been.
Which had made it all the more painful when he’d found her only three nights later with Brad Pierson—discovered her making love with the yuppie lawyer in a shadowed corner of the moonlit beach ... actually heard her moan and cry out in ecstasy at passion’s peak...
And all the while Brad’s wife Lisa was in a Toronto hospital waiting to give birth to their third child.
Colby breathed out a harsh oath as the memory slashed through his heart.
Something had died in him that night. He’d never been able to tell what it was; he just knew it was some part of him that he would never find again. Oh, he’d been furious with Greer for her betrayal of Lisa—a true friend with whom they’d both had a warm and longtime relationship—and the following evening, when he’d at last caught Greer alone, he’d given vent to his rage and contempt with words he’d never used to a woman before.
He had also been unutterably disappointed in her; he had acknowledged that—though only to himself. But beyond that rage and contempt, and beyond that disappointment, there had been more. Something that had glittered at the edge of his consciousness, too far away, too nebulous, to grasp...
His headlights picked out the black and silver gleam of the lake ahead, and blowing out a self-derisive sigh, he gathered his thoughts back to the present. Lifting his foot from the accelerator, he let the Jeep coast down the slope toward the beach, braking gently as he rounded the corner, and guided the vehicle into the carport.
Only three cottages sat at this end of the lake, and his was closest to the track. Beyond it, behind a high cedar hedge, lay the Westbury cottage, and beyond that, separated from the Westbury’s by birch trees and bushes, lay the Pierson’s.
The place was deserted. No lights shone, no music played, no voices drifted through the fragrant night air... not like in the old days, when—
Memories. Oh, memories...
Jerking his thoughts away from the images beginning to press in again so mercilessly, he undid his seat belt, and Jamie’s, and then he rounded the Jeep, opened the passenger door and scooped the sleeping child up in his arms.
‘What...what...?’ Jamie’s voice was muffled against Colby’s denim shirt. ‘Mommy...?’
‘It’s all right, son.’ Heart clenching, Colby tightened his arms around the slight body. ‘We’re here, at last.’
And as he dug into his hip pocket for the key to the cottage, he sent up an aching prayer that this little corner of paradise would achieve what he, on his own, had so far been unable to do.
Greer was glad she had come.
Relishing the feel of the dry white sand under her bare feet, she strolled along the deserted beach early Saturday morning. The day, she mused, was going to be a scorcher—the sky was forget-me-not blue and cloudless, the sun already drawing up a shimmering haze from the lake.
She felt relaxed... far more relaxed than she had ever imagined she could feel here again, in this place...and she knew why it was so.
It was because Colby Daken wasn’t here.
Despite having assured herself last night on the drive north that he was in Australia and chances of bumping into him at the lake were nil, she had still felt as if she were balancing on a tightrope of tension that had become more and more nerve-racking with every mile that had gone by. On arrival at the foot of the track, she’d directed a swift apprehensive gaze in the direction of the Daken cottage, and her relief at finding the place boarded up had been so intense she’d become light-headed. As she and Jem had shared a pot