Persuade Me Again

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I thought a sweet and funny treat was in order for Halloween, and I think this will fill the bill. It has all the fluffy, gooey goodness of Romantic mind candy without the trouble of trick-or-treating. Or the calories.

Thank you to Gayle Mills for all her editing help, and writing one of the best lines of the story!

I hope you enjoy, Persuade Me Again

 

8:30 PM shined red from the dash. Anne rested her head on the steering wheel. Cannon Beach at last. She had to put off full-on relaxation until after she talked to him. Then she could find a hotel and rest.

A prolonged layover in Denver for repairs had netted Anne a voucher for a free ticket, redeemable anytime. Or so the airline had assured her. The hellacious traffic through Portland, and all along the highway to the Oregon coast, had given her a pounding headache. Thankfully it was the off season and there should be plenty of rooms available. Maybe she could even swing a discount.

So this was Tillamook County, Oregon. Before Anne had sneaked away from her home in Monkford, Missouri, she’d done a quick search of property records. This gave her the address of a five-bedroom house owned jointly by Edward, Sophia, and Frederick Wentworth.

Proper names could be tricky, and in this case, an embarrassing thing. The man Anne Elliot knew as Rick Wentworth was actually the grandfatherly-sounding Frederick. There had been nothing grandfatherly about him when they were engaged, and she didn’t imagine he’d changed all that much in the fifteen years that had passed.

As she stretched her tense muscles, she smiled. Frederick Wentworth. Their engagement had amounted to only a few weeks several years ago, so there had been no time for him to reveal his secret name shame.

I’ve got nothing to brag about with the middle name Hortense.

When it came to old fashioned names, Frederick and Hortense were very likely at the top of the “Be Thee Gone Old Fashioned Names” list. She had just assumed his given name was Richard. She’d never told him how she was the living tribute to a long-gone grandmother.

Live and learn.

When she sat up, she realized she was parked under a gigantic spruce tree. Others of its size and bigger, surrounded all the houses on the short block. And they all swayed weirdly with the blowing wind. If the lights were to go out, it would be pretty spooky. It would also be pretty spooky for her if one fell on the rental car. She had waived the 30-dollar-a-day insurance to save money.

Time to get this over with.

She checked the map she’d printed. Fortunately for her, all the houses had quaint, carriage-style lights around them. She spotted the house number on a plaque mounted on the fence. A grainy picture from Doodle Street Peek showed the house to be a silver-shingled, lumbering affair with two-and-a-half stories tucked into this mini spruce forest. It sat at the end of a dirt street, lined with other odd, ill-matched houses. It was the biggest and the closest to the beach.

Anne struggled to put her purse across her body.

Blasted steering wheel. Get out of the car first, idiot.

Her nerves were making even simple decisions impossible. She hauled out the box of case notes her friend Tricia had gotten from the office of her sister Elizabeth’s attorney.

“If Charles Hayter finds out I’ve given these to you, I’m sunk, Anne. Please promise you’ll have them back by the end of the weekend. And that they will be in the same order.”

She’d given her word.

Anne’s entire world had changed when her sister had been involved in a car accident that killed the son of a family friend and almost killed her father. Her family’s resulting situation was crazy now, and it was under these circumstances that Anne could rationalize coming to Rick Wentworth for help.

“Trick or treat!”

As she crossed the road, she was accosted by two ghosts and a pirate. They shouted as they hopped around her, holding up open pillow cases.

“Hey, kids, leave the lady alone.” A woman in a heavy sweater and a flashlight walked up. ‘Go on up to the Wilsons.’” Sorry, it’s their first Halloween in town here, and everyone gives great stuff. They are very excited.”

“Could you help me a minute?” Anne set the heavy box down.

The kids were already at the gate of the next house, and their guardian stopped.

“Sure.”

“Do you know if this is the Wentworth house?” Anne pointed.

The woman paused. She leaned in close. “It is.” She motioned with the flashlight. “This line of houses has some major players staying here. Lots of money and lots of parties.” She straightened and sniffed the air. “I’m sure they’re gearing up for a blowout tonight. A pit-roasted pig. My daughter cried when I explained to her what that smell is. I have to go and get my goblins. I hope that helps.” She was gone calling after the kids.

Lots of parties. Anne sniffed the air. A barbeque. This is a very bad idea.

Elizabeth.

Anne took a deep breath and picked up the case notes. An old-fashioned wire and picket fence surrounded the Wentworth house. The ornate wrought iron gate stood open to the stone path leading to the porch. There was no porch light on, but there were lights on in the house.

Maybe he’s not home.

Just stop it, Anne. Pull yourself together and quit thinking like that. So why can’t I move?

A figure passed by a bow window on the side of the house.

Someone’s there. It’s him, I’ll bet. Here goes nothing.

She passed through the gate and snagged her heavy jacket. Monkford had been shrouded with thick frost every morning for the past seven days. Fall was finished, and winter was coming. The weather in Oregon was balmy in comparison. If he asked, she’d say she was sweating because of that and not mention her nerves. The fence went sprong when she tugged her coat loose. The light from the street barely reached the stairs to the porch and kept her from tripping.

Anne stood motionless. The moment should have been fraught with moist hands and a dry mouth. But the sounds from inside the house kept them from setting in.

“Mocha-choco-lata. Ya. Ya.”

Lady Marmalade? Disco? Really, Frederick?

Blast! I’ve got to knock that off. What if I say it out loud?

The crazy noise became the background music to every terrible scenario that could possibly play out between old …

We weren’t lovers. There wasn’t time to get that far.

They had never even been “lovers” in the physical sense, not that he hadn’t been moving steadily in that direction.

We are, old … acquaintances. Acquaintances meet in the grocery store and chat for a few minutes over the freezer case and then go about their lives.

Frederick—Rick needed to be something more to her. She needed him to be the sort of old relationship that obligated him to help her in her time of need.

Time of need. What am I? A cat stuck in a tree?

Sort of.

Anne took a deep breath of the cool, fresh sea air and stepped around the shapes of flower pots at the edge of the porch. No longer in range of the street light, she bumped into something that clattered. Feeling around, she realized it was a small bistro table and two wire chairs in front of a large window. Light glinted off a large ornate knocker in the center of the paneled front door. All she had to do was set the box down, use the knocker, and everything would be set in motion.

She to the side, touched the cold brass knocker, lifted it, and let it drop. Twice more seemed just right. Not too insistent.

“Hold your horses,” filtered through the Bee Gees wailing.

She smiled, imagining Frederick—Rick singing—and dancing—to “Stayin’ Alive.”

Great, now I can’t get that name out of my mind. He’ll never help me if I slip and call him that to his face.

The door whipped open, and a young woman, facing away from Anne, called to someone in the house, “Hurry up, O Mighty Chief of the Beer Keg!” She turned to Anne.

A gorgeous red-head flashing a megawatt smile stood in the doorway. She was dressed in a pith helmet, khaki shirt and shorts, and what looked to be a small mosquito net draped around her shoulders. They stared at one another for a long moment.

You’re a little old to be trick-or-treating, aren’t you?” She turned again and called into the house, “Hey, Grassy Ass, there’s someone at the door for you.”

The girl stepped aside.

“I’m coming, Bwana. Quit your bit—”

The door widened. “Welcome to my kingdom!”

A man stood before her—magnificently backlit from the hallway—in a defiant warrior’s stance. Muscled legs firm beneath a swaying grass skirt. A coconut bra, brown and bulbous, pressed against his well-defined pecs. Unfortunately, his face was covered by a weird wooden mask that made him look like a tiki idol.

“Uga! Hey little girl, want a beer?” He held up a brown bottle and waggled it. “It’s Cannon Beach Ball Ale. Favorite of all us natives.”

He stopped waggling the beer as his hand slowly went up to the mask and pushed it back over his head. “Oh my god.”

The door slammed in her face. The knocker bounced and clicked when it fell back against the door.

The voice was his. It was Frederick-Rick, and now her worst fear had come true. One look at her, and he shut her out completely. Under normal circumstances she would be crying. Fortunately for Anne, the thought of his outrageous costume made her laugh out loud. She laughed even harder when she heard his raised voice going back and forth with the redhead on the other side of the door.

The door flew again, and this time, a calmer, mask-less Rick opened it wide.

“I’m sorry about that.” He tried to gesture for her to enter, but one arm was caught in the straps of his costume.

“Thanks.” Anne stepped around the box. She came in the door and closed it.

“Here, let me help you with your coconuts.” She started to laugh again.

“Ruby,” he looked from Anne to the red-head. “Can you—”

Ruby put up her hands. “Huh uh, Rick. Helping you undress is not part of my job description.” She smiled and side-stepped him. She looked over at Anne. “I’ll let you two sort this out. Later, Boss Man.” The door closed quietly behind her.

They looked at one another for a moment. “Can I help you now?” she asked.

“Yes. Please.” He turned around.

She unhooked the strap. “Lift your arm … there you go.” The coconuts and straps popped off his chest and clattered to the floor, rolling around for a second.

He bent, grabbed up the costume, and turned to Anne. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I know I always feel better at the end of a long day—” She laughed even harder looking at his chest. What looked like two bright red eyes were now tattooed on each side.

“I can’t believe it’s you, Anne.” He scowled and looked down at himself and grabbed a blue windbreaker hanging on an antique hall tree. His arm got caught in that as well.

She grabbed the arm of the jacket, holding it out to help him. “Did I interrupt your date?”

“No date. Ruby’s my personal assistant. We were going to a party together, but it’s not a date.”

“Are you sure?”

“Very. I’m sure her Marine husband, who could crush me with his bare hands, frowns on post-wedding dating.”

“Too bad, she’s very attractive.”

He raised a brow but didn’t respond to her observation. “I’m pretty well single right now.

You?”

“Yes, single. The same as ever.”

“Again, I’m sorry about the mix-up. I don’t usually answer the door dressed like this.”

“Well, it is Halloween.”

He raised his right brow. “It is, huh? I hadn’t noticed.”

Nothing had changed. In nearly fifteen years, he was still quick, and funny, and a little crazy. Until that moment, she didn’t realize how much she had missed laughing.

“How did you know I wasn’t a trick-or-treater? I was accosted by two very young ghosts and a pint-sized pirate on the way in. I doubt offering them a beer would be considered good form in a small town like this.”

“No,” he said, and pointed to the ceiling of the porch. “The light is off. That’s the national symbol of ‘don’t bother, no candy.’” He extended his hand. “So, would you like one?”

Anne took the beer with no intentions of drinking it. “Thanks.”

“Let me have your coat, and we can go in and sit down.”

So far, so good. He’s not throwing me out.

The tight hallway opened, and they turned a corner into the gracious living room.

“I think we can do without ‘Greatest Disco Hits of All Times.’” He silenced the player with a tiny remote. Donna Summer would have to work hard for her money some other time.

Anne came fully into the room and was met with a wall of glass facing into the darkness.

There was just enough light from a couple of the streetlamps to reflect off the foamy surf moving on the smooth, gray beach. It was mesmerizing. Fortunately, no one had tried to fight the natural view. There were no curtains except filmy white sheers, and all the furniture was oriented towards the water. There was no trouble finding a place to keep it in sight.

She gratefully sank into a wide, ox-blood-colored occasional chair. The leather was soft like an old flannel nightie. Taking a rest in it was heaven after flying, waiting, and driving for the past 20 hours.

“What can I do for you, Anne?” The sound of his easy, friendly tone had to fight for her full attention.

Finally, she looked at him, surprised to see he’d taken the chair right next to her.

“I need your help with something. Something personal.”

His right eyebrow lifted.

He’s interested. He hasn’t changed a bit.

“So, tell me—” the knocker clanked for attention. He grimaced. “I have to get rid of someone. Back in a minute.” The grass skirt swished and crackled as he got up to answer.

Before he got out of the living room, the door it opened. “Hey, Ricky Ticky, did you know there’s a documents box on your porch? Are you coming or what? The pig is out of the pit, and the limbo pole is calling for the most flexible man on the coast.” Another woman’s voice filled the hallway.

Rick’s voice was low in response, and Anne couldn’t hear what he said. She got up and went closer to the wall dividing the rooms.

“I’m kind of busy. A friend unexpectedly dropped in from out-of-state.”

“Bring him along. The more the merrier. You know I like to be merry.”

“Not a guy friend.”

“Ooo, a lady. Should I be jealous, Ricky?” The woman laughed. “I do believe you’re blushing.”

“Look, Grierson, she just needs me to help her out. She’s the one who got away.”

“And you want to help her out.” Her voice was low and serious.

“Yeah, but I’m sure I’m nothing to her anymore.”

Anne took a chance and peeked around the corner. The woman was dressed like Rick, only her coconuts left little to the imagination. Their grass skirts crackled together as she gave Rick a kiss on the cheek. She opened her eyes, saw Anne, and winked at her.

“I bless you with all the powers of the tribe. Go and woo.” The woman laughed as she backed out the door. “And don’t blow it this time,” drifted into the hall.

Anne hurried back to her seat. Eavesdroppers didn’t usually fare so well and often heard some pretty terrible things about themselves. Anne had done alright. She smiled.

So, I’m the one who got away.

Rick came around the corner with the box. “I take it this is what you need help with?”

He didn’t wait for her response. He sat down and opened the lid.

“I’m sorry I messed up your date.”

“Huh? Oh, Grierson’s not a date either. Believe it or not, we were just going to the same party. We know all the same people. She’s an occupational ex-pat like me.”

“Occupational ex-pat?”

“Yeah, a lot of us telecommute. Grierson is a code writer for a security company in Virginia, but her parents need help, so lives here with them.” He paused. “Heck, I don’t even remember her first name. She told me when we met, but I’ve forgotten. For me, L. A. is kind of like living in a wood chipper. Just can’t stand it.” He took out the first file.

“See, my sister Elizabeth, you remember her—”

“I know about it.” He didn’t look up. “Car wreck, dead neighbor, she’s accused of trying to kill daddy, his sexy young girlfriend, or both. These will tell me all I need.”

Well, it seems he’s been interested for a while now.

Anne dozed off and when she woke, Rick was still transfixed, reading through a sheaf of what must have been Hayter’s hand-written notes. While she was asleep, he had already begun to separate the notes and documents on a large table on the other side of the room. The orderly mind of the lawyer was already sorting and putting them into a coherent arrangement.

I hope this doesn’t get Tricia fired.

She got up and went right to the window. The beach and waves continued to fascinate her.

She watched them for a while and then realized she was famished.

Since the accident, between worrying about Elizabeth and trying to manage the affairs of a failing Elliot Enterprises, she’d lost weight. To feel hunger, like the laughter, was an unexpected bonus of the trip.

She glanced at Rick. He was so engrossed he hadn’t noticed her at all. Or the fact she was wandering around, familiarizing herself with his home.

A huge clock on the wall read 11:38. Rather late, but the nap had brought her back to life.

She thought about asking if he wanted something to eat, but decided to rummage some more.

The kitchen was stark and modern. Again, the view of the ocean was the focal point with nothing to obscure the view. There were no upper cabinets so the white tile around the counter went to the ceiling. The only colors were dashes of primary red, blue and yellow tiles sprinkled randomly. An enormous basket of fruit sat on an old table used for a prep island.

The only appliance to grace the space was a huge copper espresso machine that left a significant footprint on the counter. The counters themselves, black granite, surrounded a bright white farm sink and graciously curved brushed nickel faucet. The designer had taste. And restraint.

She pulled open the massive door on the Sub-Zero refrigerator and was greeted with Chinese take-out boxes, square Styrofoam clamshells, clear deli boxes, foil bundles, and a couple of mysterious paper bags toward the back.

Let the adventure begin.

“Rick, it’s time to eat.”

Anne brought out a tray loaded with small dishes and put it on the couch, rather than disturb his piles of paper on the coffee table. He hadn’t heard her, so she touched his shoulder.

“Ok, just a sec.” He didn’t look up from the page but reached up, took her hand, and kissed it absently. He let her go and followed a line of text with his finger. “I just have to fin … ish this.” He looked up, smiled, and put the page on a particular pile.

Should she be insulted that he didn’t even notice what he’d done? She rubbed the spot, not knowing whether or not ignorance was bliss in this case. The tray dipped a little when she sat, and they bumped hands steadying it.

“It’s late, and I’m hungry. I hope you don’t mind that I made myself at home.”

He looked away but was smiling. “Any time. And I’m starving. There was a roast pig for the party. I’d been saving space for it all day.” He frowned as he looked over the contents of the tray. “You’ve found out my dirty little secret.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t cook. I don’t keep anything but leftovers in the house.”

She laughed and handed him a napkin. “No, you don’t. As a single person myself, I can tell you that most of us at least keep some eggs and milk. Not you though.”

“Nope, not me. I’m within walking distance of too many restaurants to bother.”

“Oh, I found these in the laundry room.” She tossed a pair of jeans and tee shirt on the arm of his chair. “Your little grass skirt has a couple of thin spots. The red boxers are a nice touch though.”

He stood and pulled the grass aside. “They’re not boxers. They’re bike shorts.” He looked down and back at her.

“They just look like underwear to me. It’s a good thing you didn’t go native.”

“Not with that crazy bunch. If I had gone to the party, I figure the skirt would have been up the flag pole by now. You have to dress for all contingencies.”

Anne didn’t say anything about where Grierson’s skirt might be right about now.

She looked away when he pulled up the jeans and buttoned them. She did, however, look back when he pulled off the windbreaker and put on the tee shirt. The tattoos were gone.

“The food looks delicious. It beats a roasted pig by a long shot.”

“You left me a lot to work with, but not enough of any one thing to make a meal. So I came up with what I’m calling Oregon Tapas.” She passed him a plate. “Oh, and I got rid of everything I thought was close to voting age.”

“Dinner and a clean refrigerator. Can’t beat that.” He took a few bits from each of the plates and started with small wedges of pizza topped with an unidentified cheese and finely chopped salad. “This is fantastic. I don’t remember you ever cooking for me when we were together.”

He was first to refer to their time together.

“I haven’t really done so now. I’ve just rearranged for you.”

He laughed, took a bite of sweet and sour chicken wrapped in a leaf of arugula. His eyes caught hers, and they stared at one another. The intensity was the same as it had been years before when they were openly in love and wanting nothing more than to be together forever. If Anne had possessed more courage, she’d ask him what he was thinking. All she could manage was to wipe red gooey sauce from his lower lip.

Their companionable silence was driving Anne nuts, so she asked, “What do you think? Is Elizabeth in a lot of trouble?”

He nodded as he wiped his mouth. “Yes. A lot.” He put the plate down and dropped the napkin on it. “Let me ask you—do you think she tried to kill your father? Or his lover, one Mrs. Penelope Clay?”

“Penny Clay is divorced.”

“Yes, but she still uses her married name and title. The prosecutor will point that out if he’s smart.”

“He wasn’t. Marvin Baldwin—the first prosecutor is out. Gall bladder problems are forcing his retirement. A new guy from St. Louis was appointed by the governor. My friend in the law offices told me he’s sharp and takes no prisoners.”

“William Elliot.” He took a drink of Cannon Beach Baller. “I saw his name on various motions. He is sharp. He’s not piddling around like Baldwin. He wants a conviction as soon as he can arrange one.”

Anne couldn’t deal with the consequences of a conviction. “No, I don’t think she did it. Do you?”

“I haven’t seen her for years. She didn’t like me much, but I don’t think she’d kill your father.”

“You’re right, Elizabeth isn’t capable of murder.”

Rick paused. “I didn’t say that. I think most people can do the act. The question here is; Is the payoff worth the risk? In this case, no. She loves your dad, and she was his favorite. A woman like Elizabeth doesn’t willingly remove that sort of adulation from her life.”

Anne hated that he knew her family so well from his past, very short association with them. And she hated that nothing had really changed over the years.

“How is Walter doing with all this?”

Why would you care?

“Not well. He was so embarrassed by it all, he just sold the house and took a place close to Mary up in the city.”

You know all this.

His sister and her husband had bought the house and were converting it to a B&B. She was living there for crying out loud.

“Cases like this are tough on everyone in the family.”

No kidding.

“Why are you here? What do you want from me?”

Make everything better. Love me again.

“I want you to give me some advice about Elizabeth’s case. My godmother, Jane, thought Charles Hayter would be a good choice because of all the Musgrove connections around the state. But watching this thing drag on, I’m not sure he has the chops to handle it.”

They stared for a while. “Fair enough. You’re right; this guy is a train wreck. His notes are disorganized, and he’s pursuing a baseless line of defense that almost guarantees your sister will spend a significant amount of time, if not the rest of her life, in prison.” He glanced at the coffee table with the papers and took one. “Here for instance. He’s brainstorming. He doesn’t even think to bring up the fact that she was driving the car at the time of the accident.”

Anne closed her eyes, every word coming back to her with crystal clarity. “I’m driving, Anne, and that’s all there is to it.” The night of the accident, Elizabeth had commandeered the keys to the Mercedes and demanded they all ride together. “I don’t want to be alone with them canoodling in the backseat. It’s bad enough we have to go to a Barry Manilow concert; I refuse to be the third wheel to my father and my ex-best friend on a date.”

Anne had made an uncharacteristic wisecrack; Elizabeth had stormed off and left her to find her own way to the concert.

“You mean that if she was responsible, she’d risk getting killed if she drove the car.”

“Bingo, unless she’s a trained stunt driver. Which I doubt she is. Elizabeth risking herself hasn’t occurred to lawyer Hayter. He’s not too bright.”

“No, but he’s a cousin in a round-about way. We can afford him.”

“Elizabeth can’t afford a guilty verdict.”

“No, no she can’t.” Dinner was finished. Anne went to the kitchen to clean up, and Rick went back to the documents.

It wasn’t long before Anne was drowsy again. The next thing she knew, Rick was nudging her shoulder.

“You should go to bed.”

She sat straight up and fumbled for her purse.

“Doodle said there were some hotels up the road.” She stood and swayed.

He stood next to her and took her by the shoulders. “No need. There’s a fine bedroom right up the stairs, to the left. It’s in the front of the house.”

Anne couldn’t think of anything to say, so she climbed the stairs.

When she got to the landing, she looked back down. He was still at the bottom of the stairs, watching her.

“That way?” She pointed.

“That’s the one. Pleasant dreams.”

“Pleasant dreams.”

She flipped the light switch and kicked off her shoes. The room was large with another wall of windows. This one was covered with bamboo blinds on either side of wide French doors. The rest of the room was a mix of boyhood mementoes and the belongings of a man.

Everything was neat, but nothing seemed at home. Rick didn’t want to settle in. A garment bag hung from the closet door, but was empty. And two large soft side bags, also empty, sat slouching against the large dresser. He was ready to go at a moment’s notice.

She’d had to take the document box on the plane as carry-on luggage, and she couldn’t justify paying $25 to check a bag for two days. In the middle of the security screening area, she’d frantically pulled out some things, stuffed them into her purse, and sent the overnight case home with the friend who’d driven her to the airport.

Bad plan. A toothbrush, fresh underwear, and three odd socks she had, but no nightgown. For an instant the thought of sleeping on his sheets nude—

Ha, clean laundry.

A tidy pile of folded tee shirts sat on the foot of the neatly made king bed. They reminded her of the neat piles of papers downstairs.

Anne picked up a bright blue tee. “Cannon Beach” was emblazoned across an odd hexagon. She went to the door to yell down and ask his permission, but decided that dinner went well by her own initiative, so she’d just presume on his hospitality.

The bathroom was as modern as the kitchen with a marble-walled spa shower surrounded by etched glass panels, a giant whirlpool tub—with a view—and heated floors to boot. For an old house it was up-to-date in all the creature comforts.

Soaking in the tub was pure pleasure. It didn’t do anything to alleviate her worry about Liz, but it was the perfect way to get rid of the miles of travel. Too bad there would be more piled on tomorrow when she went home. She flipped the drain lever with her toe just as Frederick—Rick tapped on the door.

Anne slipped back into the water. This wasn’t a romantic movie with her provocatively covered in bubbles. Nice clean, clear hot water only.

“Yes.”

“I just came up to tell you you’re welcome to take a bath.”

She couldn’t see him, but that didn’t mean the same was true for him. “Thanks. It’s been lovely.”

“I didn’t see a suitcase. Is it in the car? I can go down and get it.”

“Very short trip. Toothbrush and documents.”

“My sister has some stuff here. You’re welcome to a night gown.”

She remembered his absently kissing her hand. “I thought I’d wear a tee shirt I found on the bed.”

He was moving around. “This old thing? Come to think of it, I wore it a couple of times when we went out.”

Fifteen years? No way.

“I doubt it.”

He was quiet for a long time. “I did.”

She believed him.

“I’m going to finish up downstairs. I promise to take you for a decent breakfast. Sleep well.”

His good wishes were said in a hurry. She could hear him on the stairs.

The shirt was hanging on the door knob when she came out.

She dressed and got her teeth brushed. The reflection in the mirror was tired but calm. No scowl like usual. Anne looked at the tub and noticed the wash cloth. As the water dripped while she twisted it, all she could think about was Rick coming to tell her he’d found a way to free Elizabeth, finding her there, warm and wet … well …

Enough.

She straightened the Egyptian cotton towels and fingered the ancient tee shirt. Maybe it wasn’t the first time they’d been together. She was about to turn off the light when a bottle of barely blue liquid caught her eye.

“Custom blended for Frederick James Wentworth, Cavendish Scents, London.”

“Frederick James. The things you learn.” Anne opened the plain silver top and took a sniff. The scent was fresh and pure—no florals, spices, or counterfeit nature scents. It reminded her of his clean laundry. It was like him: open, no false fronts. She dabbed some behind each ear and a line down her throat ending in her cleavage.

It’ll be gone by morning.

She heard a noise and fumbled to get the cap screwed on. She stood still and listened.

Nothing.

My guilty conscience.

She carefully placed it precisely where she’d found it and left the bathroom.

The bed being made gave no clues as to which side he slept on. But, the bedside table nearest on the window side of the room had a clock radio, a book, a man’s watch, and a bottle of pain reliever on it. That’s his side. Anne slid between the white smooth sheets and felt guilty indulging in her fantasy of being with Rick.

Rick. He was the first thing to come to Anne’s mind. The flight from Kansas City. Driving from Portland. His wild greeting at the door. Dinner the night before. Crisp white sheets.

And that never-ending sound. She’d heard it in her dreams all night. It was always there.

Anne opened her eyes. The ocean view was a life-size painting. The sun was as bright as a summer day, and the blue sky made her smile. She sat up and watched the waves, endlessly leap-frogging along the sand. The clock on the nightstand read 8:17. 10:17 at home.

The carpet was warm on her feet as she made her way to the windows. The sun warmed her bare legs. Anne was tempted to go out on the balcony that ran the width of the house. But, it was November first, and she knew Rick’s tee shirt would be no match for the blowing wind. The tall spruces were swaying in an aerial show. She settled for leaning against the casement and letting the spectacle soothe her.

A stair creaked in the hallway, accompanied by a clinking sound. She finally turned to see two steaming mugs sitting on the bedside table, but no Rick. Maybe he went down to bring up breakfast.

He promised me breakfast out. Oh well.

A seagull landed on the balcony railing and stared at her. Anne stuck her tongue out and laughed as it minced from side-to-side, barely keeping its balance in the wind.

The creak returned. “Put this on, please.” She turned just in time to catch a bundle of magenta, teal, and lime material flutter her way. “You would think, because I’m a lot taller than you, my tee shirts would cover … adequately.” Rick joined her. “But they don’t.” He was wearing the jeans she’d brought him the night before. There was a day’s beard on his face, and his hair was what you’d expect for a man who had been awake most of the night.

Instantly, she was warm from embarrassment. “Ah,” was all she could say while trying, simultaneously, to pull down the shirt and put on the robe.

“Bike shorts. They are the way to go.” He smiled and raised his arm to lean on the window frame. Anne had never seen anyone so perfect a fit to his environment as Rick in that moment. She could only hope to feel so comfortable, so harmonious someday.

The raw silk of the sleeve tickled her arms as she slid it on. “Nice robe. Is this leftover from your last girlfriend?”

What a lousy thing to say after he’s been so nice about all this.

“I have a sister. She and George come here a couple of times a year, and she’s left plenty of her stuff around.” He still watched the waves.

Anne laughed. “I know Sophy; she’s my landlady.”

“She told me.” He turned to her and leant against the frame. “She said you’re great. And she’d let you live there for free if she didn’t have to turn some sort of profit.”

Thank God that I’m likeable.

“They’re restoring the house, and it makes me happy to see it.” Anne turned back to the ocean. She didn’t want to think about Missouri or anything to do with her reasons for coming.

“It’s amazing. And louder than I’d imagined. I heard it in my dreams.”

Nodding, he said, “It is. I don’t notice the sound anymore. I hope you don’t mind, but living here has made me an ocean junkie, and I came up to get my fix.” He brought the coffee from the bedside. “I did bring an offering to gloss over my rudeness.” Their fingers lingered together on the warm cup.

She finally took it. “No need to gloss. Did you use that high-falutin’ expresso machine for this?”

He laughed. “Yes, I did. And don’t try sounding like a hick, it doesn’t suit you.” He looked away to the surf.

Knowing she had to leave later made watching him painful. The surest way to kill the mood was to ask, “Now that you’ve been so kind as to read the file, does my sister have any hope at all?”

They were silent for a while, and then he spoke. “I think so. There are quite a few points that, if Hayter’s notes are complete, he could focus on to bring more than enough reasonable doubt.” He turned to her. “I think there are even a couple of things I would try to get the charges dropped.”

“Really? Dropped completely?”

“A couple of things. They aren’t sure fire, but they are things that might give a prosecutor reasons to rethink going to court. Suffice to say there are weaknesses in the case so far.” He sighed and crossed his arms. “Law is not always about justice; it’s about the better strategy. Sometimes the better argument, but mostly long-term strategy.”

When they were younger, Rick’s optimistic passion, almost obsession, to defend what he saw as right and good, drew—no, ensnared—Anne’s mind and heart. The years had evidently taught him some hard lessons, and he was now more pragmatic. And cautious maybe.

We’ve both learned things.

It was the best breakfast she’d ever had. Or she thought it was anyway. She’d eaten it with him, and that was all that mattered. They were walking the beach now

When he’d led her to a stairway down to the sand, she was almost afraid to follow. The beach was perfect when she looked out the windows of the house. She didn’t think she could handle the disappointment if it didn’t meet her expectations. In truth, perfection didn’t matter, she was walking with Rick, and that would never be disappointing. Besides, she had leave soon. The free ticket was open, and it would likely take time to find a flight with an extra seat for her. It was time to start distancing herself.

“I have to be going in a little bit.”

He took her by the hand and led her to a large and twisted tree half-buried in the sand. It sat close to the sea wall so the niche was warm from the sun’s reflection and sheltered from the wind somewhat.

“Have a seat.”

The sound of the waves occupied the space where she thought a conversation should be. She was nearly hypnotized by the warmth on her back while the sound and motion of the waves played out before her.

A hand on her knee brought her back to the beach. She didn’t hesitate to put her hand over his.

Without looking at her, he asked, “I asked once before, and I’ll ask again, what do you want me to do for you?”

That was the question. She’d put money she couldn’t afford, along with emotions she couldn’t spare, on the line to come and lay bare her family’s shame and scandal before a man who had every right to hate her. He didn’t hate her. He was wonderful. Still wonderful. But what did she want from him?

“Give me some pointers. Give me something to tell Mr. Hayter. Tell me how to get my sister out from under this nightmare.”

“I really do want to do that, Anne. But, this case is far too complicated for me to just send some notes to her lawyer. We are a proud people, lawyers, and no matter how dimwitted, we don’t want pointers from other lawyers.” Again he kissed her hand. This time he looked her straight in the eye and knew full well what he was doing.

When the electricity of the touch of his lips passed, all the wonder of seeing him again dimmed. The reason for her trip was slipping away. “Of course, you’re right. I’m sorry I bothered you.” She let go of his hand and stood. It took her a minute to orient herself and start back to the house.

“Anne.” Rick joined her. “I can’t promise anything, but I think I can help in a more substantial way than sending notes to Lawyer Hayter.”

She stopped. “Could you consult with him? Can I tell him he can call you, or you could Skype with him maybe?”

He frowned and looked to the ocean.

It was coming to an end. Both the geographic and emotional distance from her problems fooled her. Being away from home, everything seemed possible. Rick was a kind man, but not a man looking to put a long-dead love affair back on track. Anne was a desperate woman looking for any help she could find.

“Thank you for your hospitality. I’m sorry I made you miss your party.”

“I didn’t miss anything. In fact,” he took her hand and started walking, “I think I had the best Halloween ever.” He put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “I have to tell you, coming to ask for help for your sister—a sister, if I recall right, was never all that close to you—makes you look very noble.”

Noble. I’d rather be sexy.

“Thank you. I wasn’t looking to be noble.”

They were nearly to the stairs up to the house. He slowed, then stopped. He kept her close and faced her. “You look noble.” He kissed her. “Selfless.” Another kiss. “Caring, loving, and kind. Never underestimate kindness.” One more kiss.

Why is he dragging this out? Open your eyes.

“I won’t.” The minutes were ticking down. His hands around her, his face so sweet.

I don’t want to go.

“I better be going now.”

“Yeah, we better get you packed up and ready.” She tried, but he wouldn’t let go of her. “Do you know where your ticket is?”

“In my purse. I thank heaven for weather delays, mechanical delays, and delays of many kinds. Have voucher, must be going.”

No one knows where I am. I could stay. I could.

“You can use it today? Some of those things have waiting periods.”

“I don’t know. Anyway, I have to get back as soon as possible, so I’ll just sit at the airport until they let me use it.”

Come sit with me, Rick. Please.

He nodded, let her go, and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “I want you to have this.”

She unfolded it and read. “It’s a first class ticket, leaving at five.” He’d bought her a ticket.

He really wanted to be rid of her. The limits of his kindness had been reached. But why the kisses? “Thank you. Any other time I’d refuse, but right now, I need this.”

I need you, Rick.

“And…” He handed her another sheet. It was another first class ticket. With his name on it.

“You’re coming back with … me.” Tears stung her eyes, and she could feel a smile taking over.

“Sure. The case is intriguing. And all my other cases are in the cloud. As long as I have my laptop, I’m still one of the hottest lawyers in L. A., no matter how far into the hinterlands I trek.”

Anne read his ticket again and checked her own.

He’s coming!

She could feel her cheeks warming—“10/31/14, 10:22, PM. You bought these last night, before I even went to bed.” She looked into his eyes.

He nodded, took her hands and put them around his waist. “I love you and can’t stand the thought of you flying away from me ever again.” He pulled her close and kissed her neck. He inhaled a deep breath, and she felt his lips smile against her skin. “And another thing.”

She held her breath.

“Nice cologne.”

She heard the ocean roaring all through the kiss. But, she was getting used to it.

Why yes, we DO want a piece of your mind. ;-)

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