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Zach Torr was back in town, stirring up trouble for her, and because he was, a tumult of dark emotions consumed her.
Summer Wallace parked her rental car in front of Gram's rambling, two-story home. Sighing because she dreaded the thought of tangling with her grandmother and her brother over Zach, she took her time gathering her bag, her purse and her briefcase. Then she saw the loose pages of her script on the floorboard and the slim white Bible she kept with her always. Picking them up, she jammed them into her briefcase.
When she finally slammed the door and headed toward the house she saw Silas, Gram's black-and-white cat, napping in the warm shade beneath the crape myrtle.
"You lazy old thing."
A gentle wind swayed in the dogwood and jasmine, carrying with it the steamy, aromatic scent of the pine forest that fringed her grandmother's property. Not that Summer was in the mood to enjoy the lush, verdant, late-August beauty of her childhood home. No, she was walking through the sweltering heat toward a sure argument with Gram. About Zach, of all people.
Fifteen years ago, when she'd run away after her mother's death, she'd felt sure he was out of her life forever.
Then Gram had called a week ago.
It had been late, and Summer had been dead on her feet from workshopping an important new play.
"You'll never guess who's making a big splash here in Bonne Terre, buying up property to develop into a casino," Gram had said in a sly tone.
Gram had a habit of calling late and dropping her little bombs in a seemingly innocent way, so, wary, Summer had sunk into her favorite chair and curled up to await the explosion.
"And who do you think bought the old Thibodeaux place and hired your brother Tuck as his pool boy and all-around gopher?" her grandmother had asked.
Tuck had a job? This should have been good news. Gram had been worried about him after his latest run-in with Sheriff Arcenaux. But somehow Summer had known the news wouldn't be good.
Summer had frozen. Her brother, who had poor judgment in nearly every area of his life, could not work for Zach, who couldn't possibly have her family's best interests at heart. Not after what had happened. Not when their names would be forever linked in the eyes of the media and, therefore, the world.
She'd become too famous and he too rich, and their tragic youthful love affair was too juicy. And every time the story was rehashed, it always surprised her how much it still hurt, even though she was seen as the innocent victim and he the villain.
From time to time, she'd read about how hard and cold he was now. She'd never forget the story about how ruthlessly he'd taken revenge on his stepmother.
Any new connection between Zach and her family was a disaster in the making.
"You're not the only former resident of Bonne Terre who's famous, you know."
Summer's breath had caught in her throat as she'd struggled to take the news in.
"Zach's a billionaire now."
Summer had already known that, of course. Everybody knew that.
"Even so, he's not too busy to stop by to play Hearts with an old lady when he's in town or to tell me how Tuck's doing on the job."
Zach had been taking the time to play cards with Gram? To personally report on Tuck, his pool boy? This was bad.
"Gram, he's just trying to get to me."
"Maybe this isn't about you. You two were finished fifteen years ago."
Yes, it had been fifteen years. But it was about her. She was sure of it.
Summer had tried to make Gram understand why Tuck had to quit his job, but Gram, who'd been exasperated by all the stunts Tuck had pulled ever since high school, had refused to hear anything against Zach, whom she now saw as her knight in shining armor. Then she'd punched Summer's guilt button.
"You never come home, and Zach's visits are fun. He's awful good with Tuck. Why, the other night he and Nick took Tuck shrimping."
"A billionaire in a shrimp boat?"
"Yes, well he did buy Nick a brand-new boat, and his men are remodeling Nick's shack. And you should see Zach. He's lean and fit and more handsome than ever."
Lean and fit. Rich and handsome. She'd seen his photos in the press and knew just how handsome he was. Oh, why couldn't he be the no-good homeless person her stepfather had predicted he'd be?
"Rich as he isan old lady like me with a beautiful, unmarried granddaughter can't help wondering why a catch like him is still single."
"Gram! We have a history. An unsavory, scandalous history that I'm sure he wants to forget as much as I do! Not that that's possible when there are always reporters around who love nothing better than to rehash the dirt in celebrities' lives. Don't you see, I can't afford to have anything to do with him."
"No, your stations in life have changed. You're both enormously successful. Your career would threaten most men, but it wouldn't threaten Zach. Whatever happened to letting bygones be bygones?"
"Not possible! He hates me!" And with good reason.
"Well, he's never said a word about that scandal or against you. You wouldn't be so dead set against him, eitherif you saw him. The townspeople have changed their narrow minds about him. Well, everybody except Thurman."
Thurman was Summer's impossible stepfather.
There was no arguing with Gram. So here Summer washome in Bonne Terreto remove Tuck from his job and, by doing so, remove Zach from their lives. She didn't want to confront Zach, and maybe, if she could get through to Tuck and Gram, she wouldn't have to. All it had ever taken for Summer to remember the secrets and heartbreak of her past, and the man who'd caused them, was to visit Gram.
Nothing ever changed in Bonne Terre.
Here, under the ancient cypress trees that edged the bayou, as she listened to a chorus of late-summer cicadas and endured the stifling heat, the wounds to her soul felt as fresh and raw as they had fifteen years ago.
Unlike Tuck, Summer had been an ambitious teen, one who'd decided that if she couldn't have Zach Torr, she had to forget him and follow her dreams. That's what had been best for everybody.
She'd worked hard in her acting career to get where she was, to prove herself. She was independent. Famous, even. And she was happy. Very happy. So happy she'd braved coming back to Bonne Terre for the first time in two years.
Summer pushed the screen door open and let it bang behind her.
Upstairs she heard a stampede of footsteps. "Gram, she's here!"
Yanking earbuds from his ears, Tuck slid down the banister with the exuberance of an overgrown kid. She was about to cry out in fear that he'd slam into the newel post and kill himself, but he hopped off in the nick of time, landing on his feet as deftly as a cat.
"Come here and give me a hug, stranger," she whispered.
Looking sheepish, with his long hair falling over his eyes and his baseball cap on backward, Tuck shyly obliged. But then he pulled away quickly.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were even taller," she said."
"No, you're shorter."
"Am not!" she cried.
"God, this place is quiet without you here to fight with."
"I do have a career."
"It must be nice," he muttered. "My famous sister."
"I'm doing what I love, and it's great," she said much too enthusiastically. "Just great. I'm here to try to teach you about ambition."
"I got a job. Didn't Gram tell you?"
Gram walked into the room and took Summer into her arms before Summer could reply.
"I was wondering what it would take to get my Babygirl home."
"Don't you dare call me that!" Summer smiled, fondly remembering how she used to be embarrassed by the nickname when she was a teenager.
"Set your bag down and then go sit out on the screened porch. Tuck, you join her. I'll bring you something you can't get in that big city of yours, Babygirla glass of my delicious, mint-flavored tea."
Summer sighed. "Gram, I don't want you wearing yourself out waiting on us. Tuck, we're going to help her, you hear?"
Tuck, who was lazy by nature, frowned, but since he adored his big sister, he didn't argue. He trailed behind them into the kitchen where he leaned against a wall and watched them do everything.
"At least you're going to carry the tray," Summer ordered as she placed the last tea cup on it.
Tuck grabbed a chocolate-chip cookie instead.
Then the phone rang and he shrugged helplessly before disappearing to answer it.
As Summer took the tray out to the porch and set it on the table, she sank into her favorite rocker, finally taking the time to appreciate the deep solitude of the trees that wrapped around Gram's big old house. In New York or L.A., Summer's phones rang constantly with calls from her agent, producers and directors and, especially of late, reporters.
She was A-list now, sought after by directors on both coasts. She'd worked hard and was living her dream.
She had it all.
Or so she'd believed. Then her costar and sometimes lover, Edward, had walked out on her. The night their hit play closed, he'd declared to the entire cast that he was through with her. That had been a month ago. Ever since, nosy reporters had been hounding her for the full story, which she still didn't want to share. That night, back in her apartment after the wrap party, she'd tried to tell herself that Edward's departure hadn't made her painfully aware of how empty her personal life had become.
No well-known Broadway actress was ever alone, especially when she was under contract for a major Hollywood film. Even when she was between shows and movies, she couldn't walk out of her apartment without some stranger trying to take her picture or get her autograph. She was always multitaskingjuggling workshops, PR events, rehearsals and script readings. Who had time for a personal life?
She was thirty-one. Forty, that age that was the death knell to actresses, didn't seem quite so far away anymore. And Gram, being old-fashioned and Southern, constantly reminded Summer about her biological clock. Lately, Gram had started emailing pictures of all Summer's childhood girlfriends' children and gushing about how cute they were.
"Where would I be without you and Tuck? Mark my words, you'll be sorry if you end up old and alone."
Gram's longings were part of the reason Summer had let Hugh Jones, the hottest young actor on the west coast, rush her into a new relationship not two weeks after Edward had jilted her so publicly. Had she actually felt a little desperate at realizing how alone she was?
Not wanting to think about her personal life a moment longer, Summer picked up her glass and drank some of her iced tea.
Where was Gram? And what was taking Tuck so long on the phone?