Red lily, p.6
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Red Lily, p.6
Download  in MP3 audio

         Part #3 of In the Garden series by Nora Roberts

  “It’s crazy. I know it’s crazy.” Hayley dropped her hands. “I know it’s not right, it’s not even on the table. But I . . . forget I said anything. Just highlight and hit delete.”

  “I didn’t say it was crazy, it’s just unexpected. As far as not being right, I don’t follow you.”

  “He’s Roz’s son. Roz, the woman who took me in off the street.”

  “Oh, you mean when you were penniless, naked, and suffering from some rare, debilitating disease? It was saintly of her to take you in, clothe you and spoon-feed you broth night after night.”

  “I’m allowed to exaggerate when I’m being a fool,” Hayley snapped. “She did take me in, she gave me a job. She gave me and Lily a home, and here I am imagining how I can get naked and sweaty with her firstborn.”

  “If you’re attracted to Harper—”

  “I want to bite his ass. I want to pour honey all over his body then lick it off an inch at a time. I want to—”

  “Okay, okay.” Stella held out one hand, laid the other on her heart. “Please don’t put any more of those images in my head. We’ll just agree you’ve got the hots for him.”

  “Major hots. And I can’t do anything about it because we’re friends. Look how screwed up things got for Ross and Rachel. Of course Monica and Chandler’s a different story, but—”

  “Hayley.”

  “And I know this isn’t a television show,” she muttered over Stella’s roll of laughter. “But you know how life imitates art? Besides, he doesn’t think about me that way.”

  “The honey-licking way?”

  Hayley’s eyes went blurry. “Oh God, now I’ve got that image in my head.”

  “Serves you right. Anyway, are you sure he doesn’t think of you that way?”

  “He hasn’t made a move, has he? It’s not like there haven’t been opportunities. And what if I made a move on him, and he was just, like, horrified or something?”

  “What if he wasn’t?”

  “That could be even worse. We’d have ourselves some wild jungle sex, then after we’d both be . . .” She lifted her hands into the air, waved them wildly. “Oh God, what’ve I done, and all awkward with each other. And I’d have to take Lily and move to Georgia or somewhere. And Roz would never want to speak to me again.”

  “Hayley.” Stella patted her on the shoulder. “This is just my impression, just my opinion, but I’m fairly sure Roz knows Harper has sex.”

  “You know what I mean. It’s different when he’s having sex with women she doesn’t know.”

  “Oh yes, I’m sure she’s perfectly delighted that her son has sex with strangers. Strangers to her, anyway,” she added with a laugh. “And naturally she’d be appalled to learn that he might be intimate with a woman she knows and loves. Yes, that would be a real knife in the heart.”

  “It’s a kind of betrayal.”

  “It’s no kind of betrayal. He’s a grown man, Hayley, and his choices in relationships are his own business. Roz would be the first to say so, and the first—without a doubt—to tell you she doesn’t want to be one of the angles in this triangle you’ve formed.”

  “Well, maybe, but—”

  “Maybe, maybe, but, but.” Stella waved them all aside with such enthusiasm, Hayley had to duck and blink. “If you’re interested in Harper, you should let him know. See what happens. Besides, I think he’s had a crush on you from the get-go.”

  “He has not.”

  Stella shrugged. “Just my opinion, just my impression.”

  “Really?” The quick bump under her heart at the idea was painful and nice. “I don’t know. I think if he has a crush on anybody, it’s Lily. But I could think about maybe giving it a little push, see what happens.”

  “Positive thinking. Now, let’s get these dish gardens done.”

  “Stella.” Hayley poked a finger in the dirt. “You swear you won’t say anything about this to Roz.”

  “Oh, for God’s sake.” Stella held out her palm and, mimicking the sacred rite she’d seen her sons perform, spat in it.

  When offered the hand Stella held out, Hayley stared at it, and said: “Eeuuww.”

  IT MADE HER feel better. Having somebody else know what she was thinking and feeling took a weight off. Especially when that somebody else was Stella. Who hadn’t been shocked, Hayley reminded herself. Surprised, sure, but not shocked, so that was good.

  Just as it was good to take a couple of days and think about it. In fact, she was thinking about it, a little dreamily, when with Lily down for the night, she stretched out on the sitting room couch to unwind with some TV.

  Idly, she channel surfed and decided how nice it was to have nothing to do for an hour. Still, reruns, repeats, and other summer dreck, she decided, wasn’t what she wanted for a lazy hour of entertainment.

  She flipped to an old black-and-white movie, something she didn’t recognize. It seemed like some kind of romantic drama, where everyone wore gorgeous clothes and went dancing every night at elaborate clubs where they had orchestras and voluptuous girl singers.

  Everybody drank highballs.

  Why did they call them highballs? she wondered, yawning as she snuggled down. Because the glasses were tall, okay, but why were the glasses called balls? She should look it up sometime.

  What would it be like to wear those incredible gowns and glide around a dance floor with everything all Art Deco and glittering? He’d be wearing a tuxedo, of course. She bet Harper looked awesome in a tux.

  And what if they’d both come with someone else, but then they saw each other. Through all that silk and shine, their eyes met. And they just knew.

  They’d dance, and everything else would wash away. That’s the way it was in black-and-white. It didn’t have to be complicated; whatever separated you could be vanquished or overcome. Then it all washed away except the two of you together as the end music swelled.

  And when it did, you’d be in each other’s arms, your face tipped up to his as your lips came together in that movie-perfect kiss. The kind you felt all the way down to the soles of your feet, the kind that meant you’d love each other forever.

  Soft, soft kiss, so tender as his hand brushed over your hair, then deepening, heating just a bit when your arms locked around his neck. Up on your toes so your body leaned to his.

  Line, angle, curve, all beautifully fitted.

  Then after it faded to black, his hands moved over you, touching where it tingled and ached. Stroking over silk and skin so that your mouths met now with little gasps and moans.

  The taste of that kiss was so potent, so powerful, the flavor of it streamed through your whole system, woke everything up, made everything swell.

  And everywhere you’d felt cold and tired warmed again because you wanted, and were wanted.

  Candles were flickering. Smoke and shadows. Flowers scented the room. Lilies, it had to be lilies. The flowers he’d brought her, bold and red and passionate. His eyes, deep brown, depthless brown, told her everything she wanted. That she was beautiful to him, and precious.

  When they undressed each other, her gown melted away into a pool of glittery white against the black of his jacket.

  Skin to skin, at last. Smooth and soft. Gold dust and milk. His shoulders under her hands, the length of his back, so she could feel those muscles tense as she aroused him.

  The way he touched her, with such need, filled her with excitement so that when he gathered her up in his arms—oh—she was quivering for him. He laid her on the bed, the big white bed with sheets as soft as water, then sank into it with her.

  His lips skimmed her throat, captured her breast so appetites quickened, and the tug, that long, liquid pull in her belly made her moan out his name.

  Candlelight. Firelight. Flowers. Not lilies, but roses. His hands were smooth—a gentleman’s hands. Rich hands. She stretched under them, arched, adding throaty purrs. Men liked their whores to make noise. She stroked her hand along the length of him. Ready, more than ready, she thought. But sh
e’d tease him a bit longer. It was wives who lay passive, who let men do what they willed, to have done with it.

  That’s why they came to her, why they needed her. Why they paid.

  She brought her shoulders off the mound of pillows, so her curling mane of golden hair spilled back. And she rolled with him, lush breasts and hips to entice, rolled him over on the bed to slither her way down, to nip and lick her way down his body to do what his cold-blooded, prim-mouthed wife would never do.

  His grunts and gasps were her satisfaction.

  His hands were in her hair now, gripping, twisting while she pleasured him. His body was trim, and she could gain some enjoyment from it, but had he been fat as a pig she’d have convinced him he was a god to her. It was so easy.

  When she straddled him, looked down at his handsome face, saw the greedy desperation in his eyes, she smiled. She took him into her, fast and hard and thought that nothing fit so well inside her as did a rich man’s cock.

  Hayley bolted up from the sofa as if she’d been shot out of a cannon. Her heart clanged, hammer to anvil, in her chest. Her breasts felt heavy as if, oh God, as if they’d been fondled. Her lips tingled. Panicked, she grabbed at her hair and nearly wept with relief when she felt her own.

  Someone laughed, and had her stumbling back, rapping up against the couch and nearly spilling onto it again. The television, she saw as she crossed her arms protectively over her breasts. Just the television, sophisticated drama in black-and-white.

  And oh, God, what had happened to her?

  Not a dream, or not just a dream. It couldn’t have been.

  She dashed out of the room to check on Lily. Her baby slept, snuggled with her stuffed dog.

  Ordering herself to calm, she went downstairs. But when she reached the library, she hesitated. Mitch sat at the library table, tapping away at the keyboard of his laptop. She didn’t want to disturb him, but she had to check. She had to be sure. Waiting until morning just wasn’t in the cards.

  She stepped inside. “Mitch?”

  “Hmm? What? Where?” He looked up, blinked behind his hornrims. “Hi.”

  “I’m sorry. You’re working.”

  “Just some e-mail. Do you need something?”

  “I just wanted to . . .” She wasn’t shy, and she wasn’t prudish, but she wasn’t sure how to comfortably relate what she’d just experienced to her employer’s husband. “Um, do you think Roz is busy?”

  “Why don’t I call up and see?”

  “I don’t want to bother her if . . . Yes, yes, I do. Could you ask her to come down?”

  “All right.” He reached for the phone to dial the bedroom extension. “Something happened.”

  “Yeah. Sort of. Maybe.” To settle one point, she walked to the second level, behind the table and studied the pictures on Mitch’s work board.

  She stared at the copy of the photograph of a man in formal dress—strong features, dark hair, cool eyes.

  “This is Reginald Harper, right? The first one.”

  “That’s right. Roz, can you come down to the library. Hayley’s here. She needs to talk to you. Right.” He hung up. “She’ll be right down. Do you want something—some water, some coffee?”

  She shook her head. “No, thanks. I’m okay, just feeling a little weirded out. Ah, when Stella first came here, when she was living here, she had dreams. That’s when it really started, right? I mean, before that there were . . . incidents. Sightings. But nothing much ever happened—at least not that Roz heard of—that was dangerous. Regarding The Bride, I mean.”

  “That seems to be the case. There’s been a kind of escalation, which seemed to start when Stella moved in with her boys.”

  “And I came a few weeks after. So it was the three of us here, living in Harper House.” Her skin still felt chilled. She rubbed her bare arms and wished for a sweatshirt. “I was pregnant, Stella had the boys, and Roz, well, Roz is bloodline.”

  He nodded. “Keep going.”

  “Stella had the dreams. Intense dreams, which we have to believe were somehow plugged into her subconscious by Amelia. That’s not a very scientific way of putting it, but—”

  “It’s good enough.”

  “And when Stella and Logan—” She broke off as Roz came in. “I’m sorry I dragged you down here.”

  “It’s all right. What happened?”

  “Finish your thought out first,” Mitch suggested. “Line it up.”

  “Okay, well, Stella and Logan got involved, and Amelia didn’t like it. Stella’s dreams got more disturbing, more pointed, and there were violent incidents, culminating in how she blocked us all out of the boys’ room that night—that first night you came here, Mitch.”

  “I’ll never forget it.”

  “She told us her name that night,” Roz commented. “Stella got through to her, and she gave us her first name.”

  “Yeah. Wouldn’t you say she’s left Stella be pretty much since then? She’d have told us if she had dreams still, or if anything happened to her directly.”

  “The focus transferred to Roz,” Mitch said.

  “Yeah.” Pleased they seemed to be traveling the same road, Hayley nodded. “And it was even more intense, right? Like waking dreams, Roz?”

  “Yes, and an escalation of violent behavior.”

  “The closer you got to Mitch, the crazier she got. That’s the kind of thing that pisses her off. She nearly killed you. She rode to the rescue, you could say, when you were in trouble, when push came to shove, but before that she attacked you. But since then, since you and Mitch got engaged, got married, she’s backed off.”

  “Apparently, at least for the moment.” Roz stepped over, ran a hand down Hayley’s arm. “She’s moving on you now, isn’t she?”

  “I think so. I think that the three of us being in the house—you and Stella and me—maybe that pushed her out of pattern.” She looked toward Mitch, lifting her hands. “I don’t know how to put it, exactly, but things really got rolling then, and the ball seems to pick up bulk and speed, if you get me.”

  “I do, and it’s interesting. The three of you—three women at varying stages of life—all unattached at the point you came together. Your connection made a connection to her, we could say. And as Stella, then Roz became emotionally, romantically involved, it caused Amelia’s behavior to deteriorate.”

  “Honey, did she hurt you?”

  “No.” Hayley pressed her lips together, then looked from Roz to Mitch. “I know we’re supposed to, like, report anything, so Mitch has it on record. I just don’t know how to say all this. At least not delicately. It’s a little bit embarrassing.”

  “You want me to step out?” Mitch asked her. “So you can talk to Roz about it?”

  “No, that’s just dumb—of me, I mean. She’ll just tell you anyway.” To brace herself, Hayley blew out a long breath. “Okay, so I was taking an hour to relax, watch some TV upstairs in the sitting room. And there was this old movie on, and I was daydreaming, I guess. All those fabulous clothes, you know, and the beautiful lighting, and the fancy clubs where people went out to dance and all. I was imagining what it would be like, how I’d be all dressed up, and I’d see someone.”

  She trailed off a moment. She didn’t have to say the someone was Harper. That didn’t have to be relevant.

  “Anyway, we’d dance, and fall in love, and have that big movie kiss? You know what I mean.”

  Roz smiled. “Absolutely.”

  “Well, then I guess I was drifting off some, and I was thinking about what happens after The End? Thinking about sex, I guess,” she said and cleared her throat. “Just a fantasy thing, candlelight and flowers and a big white bed, being in love. Making love.” She lowered her head, put it in her hands. “This is mortifying.”

  “Don’t be silly. Healthy girl like you didn’t think about sex, I’d be worried.” Roz gave her shoulder a little shake.

  “It was nice. Romantic and exciting. Then, it changed. Or I changed. And it was calculating. I was thi
nking about how I’d do these things. I could feel the skin and the form and the heat. There were roses. I could smell roses, but I had lilies in the fantasy, and now there were roses, and firelight. And his hands were different—soft and smooth. Rich, that’s what I thought. And I thought the guy’s wife wouldn’t do what I’d do, and that’s why he came to me. How he’d pay. And I felt my hair, and I could see it. Long and blond and curly. I saw it when it fell over my face, not like I was watching, but like I was there. It was me. And I saw him. His face.”

  She turned to the board and pointed at Reginald. “His face. He was inside me, and I saw his face.”

  She let out another long breath. “So.”

  After a moment of silence, Roz spoke. “I don’t think it would be that unusual for your mind to weave that sort of thing together, Hayley. We all spend a lot of time thinking about these people, trying to put it all together. We know she was his mistress, we know she bore him a child, so we know they had sex. And for her, we can assume or at least speculate that it was, at least in part, a kind of business arrangement.”

  “You know how your body feels when you’ve been fooling around? Physically. Not just the buzz you get from a sex dream, but how you feel physically when you’ve been with a guy. Maybe I haven’t been with one since before Lily was born, but you don’t forget how it feels. And that’s where I was when I woke up, or came out of it. Roz, I smelled those roses. I know how his body was shaped.”

  She had to take a breath, had to swallow hard. “I felt him inside me. Inside her, I guess, but it was like being her while it was happening. She liked being with someone handsome and skilled. It wouldn’t have mattered if he’d been ugly as homemade sin and a dud in bed, but this was like a bonus. Rich was the bottom line—the rest was icing. I know that, because I was right inside her head. Or she was in mine. I didn’t imagine it.”

  “I believe you,” Mitch told her.

  “We believe you,” Roz corrected. “You’re the closest to her age when she died, at least the age we think she was. Maybe she’s relating to that, to you, and trying to go through you to tell us what it was like for her.”

  “Possibly.” Mitch tipped back in the chair when Roz arched her brows at him. “It could give us more insight on her, on what happened and why. What else can you tell us about her?”

  “Well, I don’t think she got that much of a rush out of sex—from the power, the control, yeah, but not the rest of it. It’s just what she did, and from his, um, response, she was good at what she did. Her body was a lot better than mine.”

  With a sheepish smile, she held her hands in front of her breasts to mime someone well-endowed. “And she was cold inside. The whole time they were doing it, she was thinking about what she’d get out of him. There was a derision—that’s the best way to describe it—for the wives of men like him. I guess that’s about it.”

  “Hardly her best side. Or maybe it is, from her point of view,” Mitch considered. “She was in charge, doing what she’d chosen to do. Young, beautiful, desired by a powerful man and controlling that man through sex. Interesting.”

  “Creepy’s what it was. And if I get to have sex, I’d like to have it with my own body. But anyway, I feel better, getting all that out. I think I’ll go back up, maybe do some yoga. I don’t think she’s going to bother me while I’m trying to twist myself into the warrior position or whatever. Thanks for hearing me out.”

  “Anything else happens, I want to hear it,” Roz told her.

  “That’s a promise.”

  Roz waited until Hayley was gone, then turned to Mitch. “We’re going to have to worry about her, aren’t we?”

  “Let’s not skip straight to worry.” He took her hand. “Let’s start with we’ll keep an eye out for her.”

  five

  FROM STELLA’S KITCHEN window, Hayley could see the spread of the back gardens, the patio, the arbor, the treehouse Logan and the boys had built snugged into the branches of a sycamore.

  She watched Logan push Lily on a red swing that hung from another branch while the boys tossed an old ball for Parker to chase.

  It was, she thought, a kind of moving portrait of summer evening. The sort of lazy contentment that only comes on breathless summer days right before the kids are called in for supper and the porch light goes on. Yellow glows to chase the moths away and to shine a circle that says: We’re home.

  She remembered, so clearly, what it was to be a child in August, to love the heat, to rush through it to snatch every drop of the sun before it went down.

  Now, she hoped, she was learning what it was to be a mother. To be on the
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll