‘—if you’ll excuse me—’
‘Wait.’ He caught her arm.
‘What?’ She was so close she could smell the musk of his hair, the dizzying scent of his skin ... so close that if she wanted to, she could have run her fingertips over the hard sculpted angle of his jaw. And she wanted to. Oh, how she wanted to.
‘I’ll bring Jamie over, after breakfast, to meet his great-grandmother. And because you’re here, I’ll have to introduce him to you, too—’
‘Well, sorry about that,’ Greer snapped, snatching her arm free, ‘but yes, I think that would be a good idea. He was taken aback when he saw me...I realize now it was probably because of the family resemblance. I must remind him of...his mother.’
Their eyes locked, and in Colby’s she saw something she hadn’t noticed before. A look of deep and private pain.
Greer felt a sudden stab of remorse, remorse that twisted her heart, and she had to ram her hands deep into her pockets to keep from reaching out to comfort him. Oh, how she ached for a return of the days when she could have done just that...
But those days were gone. Long gone.
And they would never return.
‘Colby, I’m sorry,’ she said, huskily. ‘It must still hurt, I know, to talk about Eleanor. You must miss her so.’
Fighting back a welling of tears, she turned away quickly so he wouldn’t see her distress, and set off up the beach toward the cottage.
This time, he didn’t try to stop her.
‘So...Colby is here.’
‘Yes.’ Greer tried to keep a lid on her roiling emotions as she met her grandmother’s shrewd azure gaze unflinchingly across the pine kitchen table. ‘He’s here.’
‘Jamie is with him.’
‘Mmm. And missing his mother dreadfully, I should imagine.’
‘Seems that way.’ Greer moved restlessly on her chair. ‘His father said he’s been having a rough time. He hopes, I think, that a summer at the lake will help Jamie come to terms with his loss.’
‘And Colby? How does he seem?’
Her grandmother raised her eyebrows.
Greer frowned, feeling unaccountably irritable and impatient. ‘He’s—’
She broke off, searching for a word that would describe Colby’s attitude toward her, without giving too much away, but before she could find one, Jem said, in a questioning tone, ‘Grieving?’
‘When he came back here after his father died, he was grieving.’ Greer fidgeted with the beaded edge of her place mat. ‘But he was still...nice.’ Oh, Lord, had he ever been nice! He had...during those first three days at the lake, before the Bradley Pierson affair...treated her like a cherished and dearly missed friend.
‘Colby sounded pleasant enough when he spoke to me.’
‘Oh, yes, the man can be pleasant when—’
Greer blinked. ‘Sorry?’
‘Colby.’ Jem lifted the coffeepot from its spot on the table and refilled her mug. She added a spoonful of sugar, and stirred it in, before saying, in a gentle voice, ‘His name is Colby, dear. It won’t hurt you to say it.’
‘I don’t want to say it!’ The outburst was childish, and Greer was ashamed of it...and of herself. She was twenty-five, no longer a child of seventeen, hurting and lonely. She pushed back her chair and got to her feet. ‘Jem, about the cottage. I thought this morning that I’d really like for us to keep it in the family...but now that...he...is here, I’m going to need some more time.’
‘Time for what?’
‘Time to find out what his plans are. If he intends to be here every summer, it would be an impossible situation. I could never relax, with him around...treating me like some sort of a...leper.’ Her voice cracked, and she crossed to the window. Gripping the edge of the countertop, she looked out...
A mistake. Straight ahead, slung between two ancient birch trees, was the hammock where she and Colby had cavorted together many times in happy summers gone by. Oh, Lord...
‘You love it here, just as much as I do,’ Jem said. ‘Greer, I’ve been thinking. The cottage, as you reminded me when we talked in your office, has been in the family for generations. Five generations, to be exact. Let us not make any hasty decisions. Now that I’m here, I’d like to stay, for the rest of the summer—’
Greer whirled around, aghast. ‘Gran, I can’t possibly stay with you! I’ve told you how busy I am—’
‘Darling,’ Jem soothed, ‘I’m not suggesting that. What I am suggesting is that you join me on the weekends. You say Colby and my great-grandson are going to be here all summer—what a splendid opportunity it will be for me to get to know the child! And it will be good for him to get to know me.’
Her eyes had a spark of excitement that Greer hadn’t seen there in a while, and as she saw it, guilt stung her conscience. Oh, she didn’t neglect her grandmother—in fact, she made a point of seeing her several times a week, and she took her to the theater on a regular basis—but she had to admit her work took precedence. She’d buried herself in it for years, in an attempt to shut out her painful memories; and now she realized with a shock that she hadn’t given as much of herself as she perhaps should, to this wonderful, generous woman who had done so much for her.
She crossed to her now, and bending down, gave her a tight hug. ‘You’re right, Gran—it’s not the kind of thing that should be decided overnight. And especially it’s not the kind of thing that should be decided on the basis of who our next-door neighbors might be! If you’re sure you won’t mind being on your own through the week, that’s fine with me. I can’t promise, though, that I’ll be able to make it every single weekend, but I’ll try.’ She straightened, and managed a bright smile. “There, how does that sound?’
A loud rat-tat rattled on the screen door, and when Greer looked around and saw Colby on the veranda, she felt a surge of dismay. How long had he been standing there? How much had he overheard? But before she could recall exactly what she’d been saying, Jem had scooped up her cane and moved across the room, clicking up the latch and opening the door.
‘Well, Colby,’ she began, pleasure warming her voice, but before she could go any further, Colby had swung her up in his arms and enfolded her in a bear hug.
‘You’re a sight for sore eyes, Jem Westbury.’ His voice was gruff. He dropped her gently to the floor, but took her hands in his and looked down into eyes that were hazed with tears. ‘Lord, it’s good to see you. Jamie—’ he put an arm around the shoulders of the boy trying to hide behind him, and pulled him forward ‘—I’d like you to meet your great-grandmother, Jem Westbury. Jem, my son, Jamie.’
Jem looked long and searchingly at the boy. In the end, she nodded, her expression satisfied. ‘You’re a Daken,’ she said bluntly, ‘and that’s good.’ And as Jamie pressed back against his father, she added, chucklingly, ‘Oh, you needn’t worry that I’m going to hug you and kiss you the way your father has just done with me. Mind you, I liked it, but that’s because I’m a woman, and we love to be fussed over. Maybe one day, though, when we get to know each other better, you’ll feel like giving me a hug. I’ll welcome it when you do. Now what do you want to call me, young man? Great-grandmother’s a bit of a mouthful, don’t you think?’
‘Your name’s Mrs. Westbury,’ Jamie said in a flat voice. ‘That’s what I’ll call you.’
If she was taken aback, Jem showed no sign of it. ‘That’ll be just fine,’ she said. ‘Now, you’ve already met my granddaughter, Greer... Greer Alexander, who is—’
‘Dad told me. She’s my mother’s cousin.’
And Greer guessed, from the indifference