Grace Green

Colby's Wife

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slightly more powerful of neck. His jaw was unshaven and his black hair carelessly swept back, the rakish effect making Greer’s equilibrium wobble like Jell-O in an earthquake.

      ‘Yes.’ She kept her tone light, ‘I gathered that.’

      ‘How have you been?’

      As he spoke, his bold gaze skimmed down over her figure, making Greer uncomfortably aware of how much flesh was revealed by her skimpy shorts and clinging tube top. ‘I’m fine.’ She tugged up the top though she had just minutes ago adjusted it and knew it was snugly in place. ‘How about you, though? How are you coping? Jem and I...when we heard about was such a shock—’

      ‘Yes, it must have been a shock.’

      ‘The funeral—we felt we should have been there, but-’

      ‘The service was private—Eleanor wanted it that way. At any rate, she and your grandmother were never close—you were Jem’s favorite, always—and as for your relationship with your cousin...’ Colby’s eyes held a cynical expression that was more eloquent than any words could have ever been.

      Greer knew what he was thinking—he believed that she was the one responsible for the split between herself and Eleanor. If only he knew the truth. But he never would. Only three people had been aware of what had really happened that night in the shadowy corner of the moonlit beach—Eleanor, Brad...and herself. Eleanor was now gone, Brad would never tell...and she, Greer, had sworn to herself that she’d protect Colby from the truth forever because his happiness was the most important thing in the world to her.

      ‘I didn’t introduce you to Jamie because I have to talk with him first.’ Colby’s tone was cool. ‘I had no idea you’d be here. When Jem wrote your aunt this spring, she mentioned to Cecilia that she was thinking of selling the cottage, so I expected it to be empty...or occupied by strangers. Eleanor never spoke of you to Jamie. I’ll have to explain to him that you are related.’

      ‘He seems...unhappy.’

      ‘He’s going through a rough time. That’s why we’re here.’ Colby’s lips twisted in a self-derisive smile. ‘I used to be happy here—I thought perhaps he could be, too, in this Canadian Eden.’

      Greer met his gaze. ‘It was once an Eden,’ she said, very quietly.

      ‘But in every Eden there’s a snake.’

      He might as well have stabbed her in the heart.

      At seventeen, wildly in love and irrational because of it, she’d felt a bitter resentment toward Colby for having judged and condemned her on evidence that though damning, was circumstantial; in view of their many summers together at the cottage she felt he should have known she wasn’t that kind of girl. Men were so blind, she’d raged inwardly. So stupid. So easily fooled by the superficial.

      Her cousin Eleanor with her baby-soft voice, her affected feminine fragility, her fake sugar-sweet smile, had fooled Colby into believing she was something she was not. He had fallen in love at first sight, bedazzled by the halo of outward beauty of a female who had in reality been—

      Greer cut her thoughts off sharply. She should not be thinking ill of the dead. And of course she knew now that her resentment of Colby had been totally irrational. What else could he have thought, discovering her with Brad the way he had? She could even find it amusing, with a sort of black humor, that he had thought her capable of having a fling with a married man. After all, she’d been only seventeen at the time, and—sexually—as green as grass.

      And wouldn’t it surprise him to know, she reflected with a wryly self-deprecating smile, that even now, at the grand old age of twenty-five, she was still a virgin!

      ‘You find that funny?’ he rasped.

      Greer blinked. ‘Sorry... ?’

      ‘It amused you that—’

      ‘Oh, the snake thing.’ Greer twirled her index finger around a glossy strand of hair that had fallen over her bare shoulder. ‘No,’ she said lightly, ‘I don’t find that amusing. I was thinking of...something else.’

      ‘Something else...or somebody else?’ Colby’s voice had a taunting edge. ‘You’re here with a man, of course.’

      Deliberately, she threw him a flirtatious look from beneath her silky eyelashes. ‘Hang around,’ she said, her taunting tone an echo of his own, ‘and you’ll find out.’

      Her left hand lay at her shoulder, the coil of hair loose around her fingers. Taking her by surprise, Colby reached out and, slipping her hand free, grasped it firmly. He inspected it, and raised one eyebrow.

      ‘No ring?’ His upper lip curled. ‘He hasn’t staked a claim yet?’

      Greer snatched her hand back, dismayed by the current of electricity that had shot up her arm. ‘A man can stake a claim without having to spend money on diamonds—’

      ‘No ring, no claim,’ Colby retorted. ‘So...the field is wide open, mmm? Prize available to the highest bidder?’

      Stunned at this side of Colby, a side she’d never known before, Greer was searching her mind for some snappy put-down when she heard her grandmother call to her.

      ‘Greer, darling, coffee’s ready. My goodness, is that Colby Daken? Hello there, you dear boy—what a delightful surprise! Come and join us, won’t you?’

      Colby grinned as he waved to Jem, who was standing on her veranda, her hair twisted up in a topknot, her spare figure adorned in an oversize shirt and drainpipe jeans. ‘Hi, there, Mrs. W,’ he called back. ‘I’ll take a rain check if I may—catch you later.’

      His smile transformed his face, changed it to the face Greer knew of old—eyes twinkling, teeth sparkling white, deep grooves bracketing his beautifully sculpted mouth. She felt something melt inside her, and it had nothing to do with the growing heat of the morning sun.

      But as her grandmother went inside again, his smile faded, and his lips were compressed tightly as he looked at Greer. ‘You’re here with your grandmother?’

      ‘That’s right. No man in tow.’ Greer wrinkled her nose. ‘Disappointed?’

      ‘A little,’ he returned, and went on smoothly, ‘The chase is always more challenging when there’s competition. A woman always seems more interesting when someone else wants her, too. And I’m sure you feel the same way about men. After all, wasn’t that the appeal Brad Pierson held for you—he belonged to someone else?’

      ‘I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to come to the cottage this weekend.’ Greer found her words coming out with exactly the right edge of weary boredom she wanted to express. ‘There was always the chance you might be here.’

      He ignored her jibe. ‘You’re here only for the weekend? You’re going back to town tomorrow?’

      ‘That’s right,’ Greer said coolly. ‘I’m here only because Jem asked me to come with her.’

      ‘Is she going to sell the cottage?’

      ‘That’s going to be up to me.’

      Colby raised his eyebrows.

      ‘My grandmother doesn’t like spending time here on her own any more,’ Greer explained stiffly. ‘At least, that’s what she told me. I think there’s more to it.’

      ‘Such as?’

      Greer shrugged. ‘Gran sold her Buick in February, around the time her driving licence was due for renewal, and I suspect the Motor Vehicles Branch may have called her in for a test that she failed...her eyesight’s not as good as it once was...and she’s too proud to admit it. At any rate, she no longer has transportation to get here, so she’s told me the property is mine, if I want it. And if I don’t—’

      ‘Then she’s going to unload it.’ Colby’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Greer. ‘So...what are you going to do?’

      I thought I knew...but now that you’re here, Lord knows what my decision’s going to be! ‘I haven’t made up my mind yet. I told Jem I’d let her know today. If I don’t take her up on her offer, we’ll get the place ready for sale. Now—’ Greer turned to walk away