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Standing on the rough wood porch of the beach house, David paused. He could hear the wind whispering around him, rising to moan and howl as if it, too, mourned.
David clutched the raw wood railing and stared out at the water, a blue so deep that it almost appeared black today, roiling against the rocks and sand, whitecapped and thunderously brooding. The day was overcast, a storm threatening.
And that, too, seemed right. Peter Lane had loved storms. He'd loved the wind; he'd loved the sea and the tempest of the waves.
Standing there, David closed his eyes. His knuckles went white where they gripped the rail. Pain lashed through him like the onslaught of the waves, and he clenched his teeth together to keep from crying aloud with anguish. Peter had been old; this was not a tragedy, just the natural way of life.
At length David's grip on the rail relaxed. He smiled a little bitterly. It was just the beach house. It brought so much back. Days when he had been a kid; when his father had taught him to fish and to swim, to endure the cold water, to love the wind.
They had quarreled here too. Ferociously. In the library, in the kitchen, in the bedroom—they'd quarreled throughout the house. Both stubborn, determined, and willful men.
David turned to stare at the house. Leaning against the rail and staring into the parlor through the windows, a wistful curve touched his lips as he saw his father's rocker. He could almost imagine it moving.
"Hey, Dad," he whispered softly, "I was only being your son. You taught me to follow my mind. To stand up for my ..." His words faded as he groaned deeply and pressed his temples between his palms. "Oh, God, Dad! I miss you so much! Why ...?"
The anguish of the question hung on the wind for a moment, then seemed to be swept away by it. David squared his shoulders, stiffened, then relaxed. He smiled again and ran his hand over the railing. This place was Peter Lane. All the good, all the memories.
He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the little ring of keys to the place. He opened the screen door, then the wooden one, and stepped into the foyer. Instinctively he turned left to the library. His father's desk sat there, massive cherry wood, the swivel chair behind it slightly out, as if the desk awaited its owner.
David walked around and sat at the desk. He folded his hands prayer-fashion and touched his forefingers to his lips, surveying the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that covered two walls. Everything imaginable was held in those shelves, from Sophocles to Chaucer, Steinbeck to Poe.
Peter Lane had loved the written word. Books had been his life.
David's eyes roamed as he turned the swivel chair. Directly behind him was a dog-eared copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Smiling with affection and sadness, he plucked the book from the wall; large, strong hands roamed over the engraved cover, and the man remembered how the boy had loved it, how he had sat on his father's lap and listened, entranced, to the story.
David replaced the book. His eyes were watering when they fell, unseeing, to the top of the desk.
He stood restlessly and idly paced around the desk to perch on its corner as he picked up his father's old corncob pipe, the stem well chewed. Peter had owned a vast range of pipes, exquisite and exotic and beautiful pipes. Anyone who had known him and wanted to give him a gift had given him a pipe.
But the old corncobs were the ones he had loved most.
David glanced up, fingering the pipe. On the one wall not covered by windows or bookshelves was a large portrait. His father, his mother, and himself. An eager-looking ten-year-old. Peter had already been thoroughly gray; he'd been fifty at the time.
"Gray, but damned good-looking," David said aloud to the portrait. "You were one distinguished man, all right!"
And he had been. Lines had wizened his face; his nose had been something of a beak, but fierce arctic-blue eyes had ruled his face, and the simple character of his features had made him striking. Tall, lean, and proud. And why not? He'd fought his way from a penniless Irish immigrant to the owner of a book publishing house, and he'd done it all honestly, never once losing sight of his principles or beliefs.
Once again David stood restlessly and walked around to sit in the swivel chair. There was brandy in the bottom left-hand drawer. David leaned down and pulled it out, ignoring the crystal glasses beside it. He stretched his legs out over the desk, leaned back in the chair, and took a long swig.
They'd always quarreled. As a kid, David had fought for independence. Having had his own wild fling in his teens, Peter had been determined to curb his son. Then it had been the war. David's friends all had been heading for Canada. Peter had insisted that David enlist.
"I don't believe in it, Dad, and damn it, you told me not to do what I didn't think was right!"
"Not to the exception of the law!" Peter had thundered back. "This country has been good to us; it's given freedom, succored and sustained us ..."
And besides that, there had been some trouble in David's last year of high school: growing pains, peer pressure. Everyone had been experimenting with sex, drugs, wild driving, irresponsible drinking.
"The service is just what you need," Peter had determined, despite all of David's mother's tears. "You either sink or swim, son, and right now you're going to do one or the other!"
In a fury, David had run out and enlisted in the Air Force. Peter had been right—it was sink or swim, and so he learned the hard way how to swim. He also knew that his father had been right: if he'd stayed with a certain crowd, he'd have likely wound up in a prison cell, addicted, or dead on a highway. And so he'd served his time, learned even more about life on a certain leave, and then come home changed and matured—and more like his father than ever.
He'd wanted to get into the business then. There had been another argument, this one about the benefits of education. And so, in another huff of fury, he'd returned to school, managing to finish six years of education in three. All to get a start in the company at the lowest pay scale, in the most menial clerical capacity.
"If you don't learn to work the hard way, David, you're in a bind when hard times come along!" Peter had warned him.
He hadn't minded working "the hard way." He had done so with a dogged determination to best everything—all on his own. Every year of his life more of the resentment faded and was replaced by respect. They still argued over almost everything, but they became debates with intelligent reasoning on both sides. It was often difficult to be the son of a living legend; all a man could do was become a legend in his own right.
And then had come the time when they'd finally come close again, really close. The year his mother had died. She'd always been the quiet one, soft and gentle, Peter's shadow.
Or so it had seemed. Because with her gone, Peter had become the shadow. He had turned the reins of the company over to David completely and closed himself away from life in the beach house with all that he had left to love in life—his books.
And in the decade that followed, he had roused himself to a few lively debates with David, but in the end he had always waved a hand, saying, "Ach! Make your own mistakes in life. Pay for them and learn!" And then he would berate David again for not producing a few grandchildren, nice respectful bairns he could dangle on his knee and entrance with a rendition of Tom Sawyer.
"Dad, I'd do anything in the world for you," David would swear, "except get married when it wasn't ... right. And you wouldn't want me to do that, now would you?"
"What have you got against marriage?" Peter would demand. And David would scowl and tell Peter to get off his back, determined that his father would never know about one of the mistakes he had made in life, the mistake that had taught him so much about women.
They were great people. To talk to, have fun with, enjoy. But not to trust and not to love.
He'd learned that lesson well—Peter apparently hadn't.
With that thought David scowled, his dark brows meeting over the straight line of his nose with the intensity of his sudden fury.
The last argument they'd had had been over a woman! And not one of his choosing, one of Peter's.
It had come up over lunch in the city. Peter had flown into New York for a week. He'd come into the office, taken an interest in everything, gone to a few shows, and had dinner every night with his son. On Friday afternoon they'd sat together over Nedick's hot dogs—Peter had loved them all his life—and Peter had told David all about Susan.
David had been stunned at first. There had been a time when he had tried to introduce his father to women, someone to ease the loss of his mother, someone with whom Peter could share the silver years.
But no one had ever appealed to him. "I was a one-woman man, David. Your mother, God rest her soul, was the only one for me, and God willing, we'll meet again in another world."
Then suddenly, out of the clear blue, Peter was talking about Susan. And during the conversation it became clear that Susan was not a gentle widow but a young woman. Peter talked of her glowingly. "You should taste a cup of tea that Susan has made!"
"Oh, Dad!" David had said with a groan.
"What?" was Peter's belligerent reply.
David had hesitated, rubbing a thumb over his can of soda. He didn't want to hurt his father, but it made him furious to think that some young ... parasite ... was using a man as renowned as his father. A man once strong who was now old and lonely.
"Dad ..." He sighed deeply. "If this girl's so young and perfect and beautiful—"
"What's she doing with me. Is that what you're trying to say?"
"That's it, isn't it?"
"Don't swear at me, lad!"
And ice-blue eyes had flashed at ice-blue eyes across the table.
"All right!" David had snapped angrily. "There's no fool like an old fool! Can't you see, Dad? She's using you! You're old, lonely, and rich! She's after something."
"You're a damned cynic!"
"Don't swear at me, Dad!"
Peter's jaw set into its stubborn angle, and he stared heatedly at his son. "You went off to war and came back hard, lad. Then you took over the company and came out harder still. You're smart as a whip, sharp as a tack—and I think you'd dare the devil himself. I've been proud of you many a time, David. Real proud. Even when we were at odds. Hell, I wanted to give you the world. I wanted to give you everything that I never had. And somehow I managed to keep you from the most important things: trust and love."
"Ah, Dad! Come on. She loves you?"
"Love comes in many ways, David. And in her way, yes, she loves me." He'd leaned across the table eagerly. "Come up to the beach house, David. Meet Susan. You'll understand."
"No, Dad. I can't tell you what to do, but I can't come up and meet this ... girl and be polite."
"David, she makes me happy."
"Then I'm glad."
Peter had left New York. His calls and his letters had been full of Susan. "Bought Susan a pair of emerald earrings the other day—they match her eyes. Hope I can get her to keep them," or, "Susan and I flew over to Paris on the spur of the moment—just for dinner!"
The next thing David knew, Susan had gone on the payroll as a personal companion. David had signed her checks out of the separate corporate account twice a month, and every time his fingers moved the pen across the paper, he'd been furious and ill and—a feeling totally alien to him—helpless.
But somehow David had swallowed it all. And finally he had met her—or almost met her. He learned to just keep quiet when his father talked about her; he told Peter that the business kept him in the city—that, sure, he'd meet her sometime. Peter seemed happy with that.
She had come into the city with his father, determined to see David alone, to bleed them further, it seemed. What else would she be doing in his office?
He hadn't wanted to look at her. When his secretary had led her in, he'd kept his eyes on the contracts on his desk.
"Yes. What do you want? If it's more money you're after, talk to my father. You're his mistress—not mine."
He'd had a glass of water sitting there. The next thing he knew, it was splashing down his face. He'd started up with an astonished oath to see her sable-coated back disappearing through the door.
He'd almost run after her, but then remembered that his father was growing older and that Peter loved her—though the love she returned was bartered and bought. Clenching his teeth, he sank back into his chair and mopped the water from his hair and face.
Swallow it, swallow it all, he had cautioned himself painfully. And he had—until Peter had come to New York the next time. "Come on, David. Susan would love to meet you."
Susan has met me, David had thought. Apparently she'd had the good sense not to mention the meeting.
Then he had exploded. "Don't you understand, Dad? I love you! I just can't watch it! It hurts to see you make a fool of yourself over some little bitch!" Immediately he'd been sorry. Not over his opinion; only because he really wouldn't hurt his father in any way. "Oh, Dad, I didn't mean ..."
Peter had been calm and dignified. "She isn't a little bitch, David, and I'd appreciate your not saying so again."
"If she makes you happy, then fine. I just don't want to meet her, okay?"
"It's not fine." Peter had sighed. "I wanted so badly for you two to get to know each other. You'd be friends. She knows books, David. She writes. She's good."
"Dad, please!" David had winced. Oh, Lord! The woman wasn't just a parasitical whore, she wanted Peter to use his influence for her!
"Okay, Dad. Sometime I'll come up, okay?"
And so the rift had been patched. And in the end David had promised to come to Maine for the Labor Day weekend.
Except that his father hadn't lived that long. A heart attack had claimed him—when he was with Susan.
Susan, perfect Susan. She had telegrammed immediately following his father's death to ask what funeral arrangements he wanted. He'd telegrammed back telling her to ship the body and then get the hell out.
He had to tolerate her when his father was alive. But his father was gone now, and he didn't ever want to see Susan.
David took another long swig of the brandy, closed his eyes, and rubbed his forehead. Regrets ... were they always part of grief? All Peter had wanted was a grandchild. Someone to toss on his knee. David had denied him that simple pleasure.
"Not on purpose," he whispered aloud. "Ah, Dad, I loved you! I would have been with you—"
He started suddenly. He had been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn't heard the doors, but now he did hear the click of heels on the polished wooden floor of the foyer.
And then he was staring at a woman in the library doorway.
She was as startled as he at the confrontation, but she was quicker to recover.
He stared quite bluntly, his eyes narrowing speculatively. With contempt and dismay he realized that Susan Anderson was even younger than he had expected, not more than twenty-five. She was tall and slim, the height of fashion in a sleekly cut red suit, cream blouse, matching red felt-brim hat and heels. Her nails were as long as talons, blood-red to match the suit. Her hair was russet, which should have made the outfit awful, but it didn't. It was swept cleanly from her features in some sort of a knot beneath her hat. Her eyes were green—the emerald his father had mentioned, David decided acidly—and her features were flawless: stubborn chin, wide, generous mouth; small nose.
She was beautiful. The perfect sophisticated woman. She could sashay into any city office with that little nose in the air and attract the eyes of any man.
But no, she had lit on his father like a smooth vulture. Her clothing should have been in the height of fashion—Peter Lane could afford the best.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly. Even her voice was perfect. Melodious. How long had she practiced to get just that tone? "I had no idea that you were coming here. I wouldn't have interrupted you."
"Interrupted?" he heard himself ask coolly.
She flushed slightly. "I heard you ... talking."
Everything in him seemed to explode. She'd been listening to him, heard him, in a private moment of grief. A moment that was his by right while she ...
And he was sitting here, tears still misting his eyes, a brandy bottle in his hand, his legs sprawled on the desk.
Excerpted from Handful of Dreams by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1986 Heather E. Graham. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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