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Two Years Later
Hands clenching the wheel of her Honda Civic, Lori Jarret followed the twists of the asphalt-paved easement road, searching for the driveway to her friend Sadie's lakeside chalet. The thick forest of pines, cedars and redwoods lined the road on either side, filtering the last of the day's sunshine. Yellow beams speared through the canopy of trees, dotting the dark pavement with light.
The trip from the Bay Area to South Lake Tahoe had been a piece of cake. She'd gotten out of the city by two and the traffic was sparse on Interstate 80 and Highway 50. The late-spring weather was perfect, the skies clear and brilliant blue after an early morning rain.
But the closer she drew to Sadie's chalet, the tighter the tension wound inside Lori. As she traversed the last few dozen yards it was all she could do to continue forward instead of turning tail and running.
Most people escaped to the mountains to relax. Lori had come here to confront her demons.
She finally spotted the driveway, one of three feeding from the easement road, and made the turn. The graveled drive led to a large parking area in front of the sprawling one-story cedar and glass house. A flight of stairs led up to a broad redwood deck that wrapped around the chalet. Incense cedars and ponderosa pines surrounded the house on three sides, the fourth side overlooking the crystalline blue waters of Lake Tahoe.
Lori had been here once before, had made a fool of herself at a party on the back deck. She'd nearly upended herself over the waist-high railing, would have plummeted down the hillside that dropped sharply behind the chalet if Sadie's husband Tyrell hadn't grabbed her just in time.
The memory only added to Lori's anxiety, setting off a churning in her stomach. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all. She'd thought two weeks away from the city, beyond the pull of the old and familiar, would have cleared her mind and lightened her heart. Instead, it just seemed to remind her of the nightmare her life had once been.
She pulled up next to the pickup that no doubt belonged to the handyman Sadie said Tyrell had hired to do some work around the chalet. Sadie had in-tended to talk to her husband about postponing the repairs to the deck and plumbing until after Lori's visit. Apparently the handyman hadn't gotten the word yet -- no doubt due to Sadie's crazy hours as a surgical nurse and Tyrell's even crazier hours as an LAPD detective.
The strap to her Hermes bag slung over her shoulder, Lori eased from the silver sedan and started for the stairs. Her sensible rubber-soled sneakers thudded softly on the redwood steps as she climbed them. Her lungs, accustomed to a sea-level atmosphere and still recovering from a decade of cigarettes, labored in the thinner mountain air.
Exhaustion lay heavily on her shoulders as she fumbled in her bag for Sadie's key ring. She still had the suitcase to retrieve from the trunk, but simply couldn't face another trip down and then up the stairs. She could think only of finding a bed and dropping down onto it for a desperately needed nap. It seemed she spent half the daytime hours napping, trying to make up for the restless nights of broken sleep and the new demands on her body.
Pushing the front door open, Lori stepped into the spacious great room with its high vaulted ceilings and warm wood paneling. To her right, two plush sofas sat angled toward an entertainment unit complete with television, DVD and stereo system. A woodstove with a stack of split oak beside it sat near enough to warm the conversation area.
A dining table had been set up on the other side of the room, with the kitchen just beyond it. A wet bar stood in the corner between kitchen and dining area, bottles visible inside the glass-fronted cabinet. She blanked her mind before she could even think about what those bottles were filled with and turned her focus away.
Her stomach rumbled and she realized she hadn't eaten since breakfast when she'd only nibbled on rye toast. She'd intended to stop at the Safeway in South Lake Tahoe to pick up a few groceries, but when she'd pulled into town she didn't have the energy for even that simple chore. Doubtless there were a few staples in the kitchen -- some soup, maybe some crackers. But even heating a can of soup seemed beyond her.
She slid the chain lock into place on the front door, then pointed herself toward the master bedroom. Door shut behind her, she scanned the comfortable room. A thick comforter in forest-green swirled with cream covered the king-size bed. Sliding French doors led out to the deck and the last few rays of the sun gilded the gold trim on the fireplace opposite the bed. The blond oak dresser and nightstands matched the four-poster. A smaller entertainment unit beside the dresser housed a television and DVD player.
Swinging her purse to the dresser, she turned the thumb lock on the bedroom door. No doubt the handy-man had keys to the house; Lori would just as soon the man not intrude on her privacy while she was napping.
The soft mattress and plump pillows felt heavenly when she eased herself under the comforter. If she could keep the usual invasion of remorse and second thoughts at bay, she would be able to sleep.
But in the quiet of the room, the faint soughing of the wind outside a bare whisper, a familiar companion closed in -- regret. The mistakes she'd made, memories of the people she'd hurt badly hounded her. And the centerpiece of her shame: the irremediable wounds she'd inflicted on her own daughter.
She wouldn't cry. She'd manipulated her world with tears and tantrums for far too long and it had led her to one disaster after another. Everyone who had given in to her, from her parents and sister to her ex-husband, had done her no favors. There was no one here to catch her -- and it was time she stopped expecting someone to break her fall.
Breathing deeply, she did her best to wash away the guilt, turning her focus briefly to the eighth of the twelve steps. Become willing to make amends... If there was any way to make amends, if she hadn't burned those bridges completely.
As she finally drifted off, a distant memory lingered, a thin thread maintaining consciousness. A man holding tight to her arm, guiding her, keeping her from stumbling into darkness. She hadn't thought of him since that night, had had too many days soaked in gin and whiskey intervening before she finally crawled toward the light. But somehow, his nearly forgotten face swam in her mind's eye a moment before she let herself slide into sleep.
Excerpted from His Baby To Love by Karen Sandler Copyright © 2005 by Karen Sandler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 24, 2006
Lori Jarret had first met tough deputy sheriff Gable Walker when she¿d been in the grip of a terrible disease. He¿d seen her at her worst- and helped her onto the road to recovery. Though he¿d saved her, one encounter was enough¿ for both of them. So as luck would have it, who else would be the surprise guest already in residence at a supposedly ¿empty¿ chalet Lori had rented from a mutual friend? Quiet time to reflect turned into something quite different with the handsome lawman around- especially after he discovered that his ¿roommate¿ had another secret she was keeping.
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