Grace Green

Colby's Wife

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of coffee outside after a late dinner, she’d been unable to keep that relief from showing.

      ‘I’ve been foolish to stay away so long,’ she’d admitted with a rueful smile. ‘This—’ she waved a hand around the veranda, its deck and white-painted Adirondack chairs washed pink by the final rays of the setting sun ‘—has got to be the most relaxing spot in the world.’

      ‘You were afraid of facing up to the past’ was Jem’s blunt reply. ‘But we all have our own garden of memories, darling, and just as in a garden—where we have to tear out invasive weeds so they won’t choke the flowers we want to grow—in life we must haul all our darker memories out into the light...where they will, it is to be hoped, gradually die, allowing our sweeter memories room to flourish.’

      Their eyes met, and there was so much compassion and understanding in her grandmother’s that Greer felt a rush of love so profound it left her shaken. She pushed herself up from her low-slung chair and crossed to the railing, so her grandmother wouldn’t see her tears. Hands cradling her mug, elbows on the rail, she blinked hard to clear her blurred vision as she looked out over the shadowy lake.

      From the opposite shore could be heard the faint lilt of laughter, intermingling with the drifting strains of a tender love song; and in the gathering twilight, in air headily scented with the sweet fragrance from some unseen bush, fireflies flickered like tiny spurts of flame.

      ‘So,’ Jem’s voice came to her quietly, ‘do you think you’d like to keep the cottage after all?’

      For a long moment, Greer didn’t speak, and then, finally, she said in an equally quiet voice, ‘Let me think it over, Gran.’

      She turned and leaned back against the railing, meeting her grandmother’s steady gaze in the dusk. ‘I’ll sleep on it,’ she said, ‘and I’ll give you my answer tomorrow.’

      And now tomorrow was here.

      Greer walked a little way into the water. Sliding her hands into the pockets of her white shorts, she wandered along the fringe of the lake, lost in her thoughts.

      Tomorrow was here...and yes, she had made up her mind.

      Just after midnight, she had been wakened by some sound outside, and had found herself unable to get back to sleep. She had set herself to thinking about her grandmother’s offer... her ultimatum...and in the end, after tossing and turning and agonizing for hours, she had made her decision.

      Undeniably it did hurt to be here, but the alternative—to see the cottage fall into a stranger’s hands—would hurt even more.

      Besides, Jem was right—unhappy memories should be hauled out into the sunlight, and left in the scorching heat to wither and die—though she admitted she wasn’t ready to face that task. Not yet. Perhaps later in the summer she would come back to the cottage on her own, with the sole purpose of confronting her memories and by doing so, finally heal the aching wounds in her soul...

      And what a joy—and a triumph—that would be.

      She stopped, with her back to the shore. Raising her face to the sky, her eyes closed against its brightness, she threaded her fingers through her hair and lifted it from her nape.

      ‘Yes!’ she said aloud, determinedly. ‘Oh, yes!’

      ‘Yes what?’

      Greer spun round as the voice came from behind, a voice tinged with curiosity, but also edged with hostility and perhaps a trace of sullenness.

      The child standing at the water’s edge, feet planted challengingly apart, was a boy of about seven. He had an untidy sweep of black hair, and hazel eyes that glinted at her assessingly from behind a pair of dark-rimmed glasses. He was poking those glasses back up to the bridge of his nose, the movement automatic, as if habitual. His body was very thin and lightly tanned, and clothed only in a pair of multicolored baggy shorts that hung low on his hips.

      ‘Yes what?’ he repeated, scowling.

      Greer waded out of the water, but when she reached the child, he stepped back, his gaze flicking over her hair, and over her face. Then, to her astonishment, she saw his eyes widen, his lips start to tremble. Good Lord, she thought, was she so terrifying a figure—or had the boy perhaps been overly cautioned to be wary of strangers?

      ‘Hi,’ she said, with what she hoped was a reassuring smile. ‘Where did you come from? I thought I was alone.’ She glanced along the beach toward the Trillium Lodge, a gracious mansion that sat atop a foundation of Precambrian rock about a mile and a half away. It had been built in the thirties by a wealthy New Yorker, as a summer home; now it was owned by a French couple, and run as an exclusive hotel. The boy, Greer decided, must be staying there.

      ‘Why were you talking to yourself?’ he demanded.

      She shrugged. ‘I’d been trying to make up my mind about something, and I’d finally decided my answer was going to be yes. Don’t you ever talk to yourself?’

      ‘Sometimes’ was the grudging response.

      Greer’s tube top had slipped a little when she’d raised her hands to lift her hair; now as she felt the sun’s heat begin to burn the tender skin on the upper swell of her breasts, she tugged the top back into place.

      ‘I’m going in now, for a coffee,’ she said, ‘but first I’ll walk you back along the beach. Your mother’s probably worried about you.’

      ‘I don’t have a mother.’

      Greer heard a quiver in his voice. ‘Your dad then?’

      ‘He’s busy. He’s making pancakes.’

      He had an intriguing accent. English? South African? She found herself wondering why his father would be cooking breakfast if they were staying at the Lodge. ‘You are at the Trillium Lodge, aren’t you?’ Frowning, she rested her hands lightly on her hips.

      ‘No,’ a cool male voice came from behind, ‘he’s at the cottage. With me.’

      Australian. That was what the child’s accent was. But now that she had finally fixed it, it was too late...

      ‘Hello, Greer.’

      Feeling as if her heart had stopped, Greer braced herself, braced every muscle in her body, and turned slowly.

      ‘Colby.’ It should have surprised her to see him, but somehow it didn’t. That he was at the lake, after all, seemed now as inevitable to her as the rising and setting of the sun. ‘What are you doing here?’


      ‘SAME thing as you, I expect. Having a holiday.’ Colby’s eyes, black-fringed and even more strikingly blue than she remembered, locked with hers for a long moment, in a look so penetrating she had to brace herself not to flinch from it; and just when she was about to blink, his gaze fell to her mouth...making her wish, too late, that she had earlier applied a concealing coat of lipstick.

      ‘Jamie—’ he kept his gaze fixed steadily on her mouth as if he found it endlessly fascinating, and it was only with the greatest effort that Greer kept herself from running the tip of her tongue nervously over the vulnerable flesh ‘—your pancakes are ready. Maple syrup’s on the table.’

      ‘Okay.’ Slouching, the child set off up the beach.

      Colby frowned. He shifted his gaze, focused it on the small departing figure. ‘Jamie?’ His tone was sharp.

      The child hesitated, glanced back, muttered a strained “Thanks’ and then took off again, this time at a run.

      ‘My son,’ Colby said tersely. ‘Jamie.’

      His shirt was unbuttoned and as he slid a hand inside and rubbed his ribs in a frustrated gesture, Greer’s gaze was drawn to the shadow of dark hair on his chest, hair that curled crisply and arrowed down beyond the low-slung waistband of his faded shorts. Dangerous, she decided with a tightening of her throat muscles, to venture further...

      She forced her gaze up again, and drank in the absolute perfection of this man to whom she had long since gifted her heart. He seemed taller than before and leaner; wider of shoulder