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I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten
Lyndon Point, Washington State
Lucie Adams slammed on the brakes. A car honked behind her.
The sight of the crumbling Victorian at the corner of
Main and Sea Breeze Way stole her breath. uMa-maaaa!"
When the panic in her five-year-old daughter's voice registered, she murmured, "Sorry, Chloe, honey. It's okay. You can relax."
Lucie stared some more. Then, wearing a satisfied grin, she eased her foot off the brake.
So far so good.
As she rounded the corner, excitement bubbled inside her. She continued to stare in her rearview mirror at the housethe very shabby, once-upon-a-time magnificent Queen Anne Victorian she had discovered on this, her first drive through her soon-to-be new hometown.
The house was perfect, but it needed so much work. She only had five months' worth of funds in her savings account. She'd thought that would see her through, but now she'd need to make it stretch. She'd have to rethink the pricey extended-stay suite hotel where she and Chloe were rooming.
Her excitement grew.
Up ahead, real estate agent Edna Lyndon's zippy, red convertible continued down the street. In her final peek in the mirror as she followed Edna, Lucie spied the corner of the wraparound porch, the turret above, the rusted iron fence hemming in the overgrown garden, and fell totally in love.
"It's perfect," she whispered.
While the place was a mess, with peeling paint, faded and sagging shutters, broken gingerbread trim on the porch and missing fish-scale shingles on the pitched peak of the turret, Lucie knew she could turn the place into the home of her dreams
Nope! I don't have to turn it into anything.
The Victorian already was the home of her dreams. Lucie wanted a fixer-upper with lots of character for her and Chloe to live in, and to be the site for her new endeavor, the quilt and fabric shop she planned to open in Lyndon Point. This bedraggled treasure would clean up great.
Her heartbeat sped up and hope kicked into high gear. She couldn't wait to ask Edna about the place.
The sixty-something Realtor pulled into a small, crowded parking lot on Sea Breeze Way, across from the Victorian on the corner. Lucie followed. As they crawled past the lines of cars, they found an empty spotthe only onein the farthest row. Edna gestured for Lucie to roll down her window.
"You take this one, dear," she called out. "Shirley Wilcox will let me park behind her Tea & Sympathy shop about a block awayit's a wonderful little place. You'll have to stop in when you get a chance." She waved toward the parking spot. "Go ahead. Take this one. It'll only take a minute for me to get back. I'll meet you girls inside."
Since Lucie had to wrestle her hungry five-year-old out of the booster seat and herd her into the diner, one of those complex mothering maneuvers she performed hourly, she thanked Edna and focused on squeezing in between the SUVs on either side of the parking space. She grabbed her purse, freed Chloe, gripped the little hand and turned toward the quaint eatery.
At Lucie's side Chloe hippety-hopped, her pink sun hat flopping along, practically swallowing her little face in its shadow. Chloe loved the hat. Lucie? Not so much. But in view of their cross-country move to Washington State and all the disruption it had forced on the five-year-old, Lucie figured the hat wasn't worth a battle.
"Mama! I want chicken nuggets." Chloe rarely whined, but she was coming close now. "D'you think they got"
"They have, Chloe."
"Oh, goody! That's what I want. With barber cube sauce."
Sigh. "I don't know if they have chicken nuggets. I meant the right way to say it is 'Do you think they have,' not 'D'you think they got'"
"But, Mama!" Chloe's voice rose in pitch and volume. "It's all the same."
"The meaning may be the same, but how you say it matters, too."
Chloe yanked her hand free, crossed her arms and squared her chin. She glared, and when Lucie didn't react immediately, she stomped over to the bubblegum dispenser at the left of the diner's door. But Chloe rarely forgot an ultimate goal. "I want nuggets," she shot over her shoulder. "With barber cube sauce."
Lucie got down to her hungry and cranky daughter's level. "I can't promise nuggets with barbecue sauce. They might have them, and they might not. But I know they'll have at least one yummy lunch choice for you. And, after we eat, how about we go down to the beach?"
Chloe's distinctive blue-gray eyes widened. "The beach?"
"Mmm-hmm. We can go right after we eat."
"Can we swim?"
"Oh, I don't think you want to do that. The water here's awfully cold." Lucie straightened and, grabbing Chloe's hand again, turned toward the diner's door. "Let's check it outoof!"
She'd crashed into a wall. With hands. That held her by the shoulders. Kept her from falling. Sent shivers right through her. "I'm so sorry "
As she looked up, her stomach took a sickening dive. Her words dried in her throat.
Oh, no. Nonononono
This was too soon, too fast. She wasn't ready yet. Would she ever have been?
From the moment she'd seen the mayor's picture on the Lyndon Point webpage, Lucie had known this time would come.
She never thought it would come almost the minute she arrived.
She stared, her stomach knotted and she felt as though the blood in her veins had turned to ice. Everything around her slowed. The brilliant blues and piney emerald greens of the Pacific Northwest faded to gray. Nothing existed but the man staring at her, holding her shoulders.
Long, strained seconds oozed by. Lucie felt the urge to run, to grab Chloe and hide her, to protect her daughter from the potential pain she might face. But she couldn't run. She had nowhere to go. This was why she'd come so far, the real reason behind her move.
Lucie stood frozen in place, staring into the familiar blue-gray eyes, eyes her daughter had inherited from.
From the man before her.
The man Lucie hadn't seen in six years, hadn't managed to find in all that time. The guy she'd finally located in Washington State.
She'd crossed the continent to introduce him to his daughter.
An eternity later, the warmth of his strong, steady hands penetrated the chill in Lucie. Among the myriad of emotions at odds within her, she identified one she hadn't expected. Yearning opened up, tugged at her, teased her memory, reminding her of the fragile new love she'd once felt.
No! She couldn't go there. That all had died the day Lucie shuddered, breaking the spell he'd cast on her. Eyes glued to the face from her past, she longed for the time she'd hoped to have to prepare herself and Chloe, but that had now vanished. Her past and her present had collided.
"Ryder," she whispered.
Confusion crossed his features. His intense eyes narrowed. A hint of a smile brightened the ruggedly handsome features when he made the connection. "Cindy.?"
As his rich baritone voice sounded out the name no one else called her, Lucie tried to draw breath, but her lungs felt squeezed dry. She shook her head, unable to tear her gaze away from the man she'd never forgotten. She wanted to speak, but knew nothing would come out.
"My mama's not Cindy, mister. She's Lucie. Lucie Adams."
Ryder's blue-gray gaze shot down to Chloe. His eyes widened in shock, homed in on the little girl.
In the long, slow moments that followed, he continued to stare, from Lucie to Chloe, who'd moved back to the bubblegum machine. His jaw gaped. He snapped it shut and narrowed his gaze.
That icy stare lasered into her. "Her. mama?"
Lucie stepped between Ryder and Chloe to protect her daughter, if only momentarily. She tipped up her chin.
He ran a hand down his face, drew in a rough breath, pinned her with a piercing glare. "I don't need my accounting degree to do this kind of math. I might not know much about little kids, but what's adding up here doesn't take a genius to figure out. You really do flit around like the butterfly you once said you felt like. Didn't take you long to replace me, did it?"
Lucie felt gut-punched, hurt to the very core. She shook her head, fought back the tears, but because Chloe was with them, she couldn't argue in her own defense.
Before she could muster the strength to speak, Ryder broke the long silence with a hard, cold voice. "How old is she?"
Lucie pulled herself together. She stiffened her spine, drew back her shoulders, aiming for a bravado she didn't feel. "Five."
Chloe poked her head around the side of Lucie's hip. "I'm s'more months more'n that."
Ryder's jaw tightened and his Adam's apple jerked as he swallowed. "And your mother's name is Lucie?"
The floppy hat bobbed as Chloe nodded three times.
Lucie hated the emotional currents eddying around her, the sadness, the anger, the heartache. Time to get a grip.
Who cared if her heart beat harder than an orchestra's gong or whether she could barely squeeze air into or out from her lungs? She wasn't so much a coward as to let her daughter speak for her. Not now, not to him, not about this.
She met Ryder's gaze full-on. "My name is Lucinda Marie Adams. I go by Lucie rather than Cindy. I always have."
A muscle in his granite jaw twitched again. "Not always."
Her heart threatened to fail, and her cheeks burned. No, she hadn't called herself Lucie when they'd met. She'd thought it so chic, so sophisticated to have no past, only a present that allowed for a wild, spontaneous week without strings.
In her mind, a Cindy had felt more like the carefree woman who would have that kind of vacation. Lucie, on the other hand, was a woman burdened with a family's spi-derweb of duty and expectations. The memoriesno!
She couldn't afford those memories. "You're right. I didn't go by my name that week. But, Ryder, you didn't, either. The town website said your name is"
"Matthew Ryder Lyndon." His eyes lighted on her face before it darted to a nearby tree. He looked at the blue sky, the diner's dooranywhere but at her. "No, it's not the same. Not really."
As she waited for his explanation, his hands fisted. He cleared his throat. "You see, everyone's always called me Ryder. Matthew's my legal name, of course, so I use it for official business and legal documents like driver's license, passport, the mayor's webpage "
To her surprise, the confident athlete she remembered had gone missing. The adult and obviously uncomfortable Ryder slipped his hands in his pockets, shrugged. "I amI mean I've been Ryder my whole life."
Lucie clamped her lips tight to keep from speaking. She wasn't ready to say anything, didn't want to blurt out something that might make things worse. It appeared their encounter was rattling him as much as it was her. His rambling explanation revealed something. She hoped it meant he recognized his part in the mix-up.
As soon as she'd seen the mayor's page on the Lyndon Point website, she'd realized the middle-name thing explained why she'd failed every time she'd tried to find him. No one by the name of Ryder had been registered at any Baja hotel. Nor had any Ryder made airline reservations, either. Now Matthew Lyndon, Matthew R. Lyndon, M. R. Lyndon ? Any of those might have, but she hadn't known to look for them, and the people she'd asked hadn't volunteered any more information than they'd had to.
Ryder had hidden his identity, blurred it by the use of his middle name, if not necessarily on purpose. It wasn't that different from what she'd done. Not really.
Well, maybe it was. She'd given him a different version of her name, one she'd adopted that spring vacation her senior year in college for the sake of an out-of-character, superficial encounter.
Lucie sighed. She could do nothing to change the past now. All she could do was commit to make the future better.
As though from a great distance, an insistent voice penetrated the haze around them. "Ma-maaaaa!"
They both turned to Chloe. Lucie took advantage of the distraction to escape the unnerving warmth of Ryder's gaze. She'd missed his presence when they'd parted years ago. After that week of almost constant closeness, the loneliness that had enveloped her when they'd parted had eased over time, but seeing Ryder again. He hadn't changed much, and the pull of attraction surprised her.
A lump filled her throat.
She swallowed hard against it.
As she faced her little girl, she reminded herself that those memories and feelings didn't belong in the moment. All of that could wait until she felt less vulnerable and until the time was right. For her daughter, of course.
Right then, Lucie had something more urgent to deal with. Like nuggets with barber cube sauce.
"I'm sorry, Chloe," she said. "I know you're hungry, but I took a few minutes to say hello to" she glanced up, but the look on Ryder's face made her turn back to her daughter right away "the gentleman. I'm done now, so let's go eat."
With Chloe's hand back in her clasp, and the hat casting its protective shadow over the child's face, she stood and stepped toward the door.
One of Ryder's warm hands dropped onto her shoulder again. "Not so fast."
She slanted him a glance, fighting hard not to show how much his touch unsettled her. "Yes?"
"Don't you think we have plenty more to discuss? Like your vanishing act" he shot a pointed look at Chloe "among other things?"
He was right. They did have plenty to discuss. Like his own silence at their parting. And the promiscuity of which he'd accused her. She could see how someone, a stranger looking at their one-week relationship, who didn't know the truth about Chloe, might come to that conclusion. But she would have thought Ryder had come to know her better than that even in just their short time together.
"You're right," she said. "We do have a lot to discuss. I knew we would when I decided to come to Lyndon Point. You're umm one of the reasons I'm moving here. But I'm sure you can see this isn't the best time to go into that."
His face revealed the many questions he had. But he only nodded in response. "Of course. What do you suggest?"
"That we meet later or another day. When we can talk, try to catch up."
Five years of Chloe's existence were going to take a whole lot of catching up, much longer than one simple dinner might last. That was why Lucie intended to move to Lyndon Point. While she could open her quilt shop in any of dozens of small towns, only one, Lyndon Point, offered her the chance to make up for some of the harm her thoughtlessness years ago had caused.