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I'll Find You
By NANCY BUSH
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Nancy Bush
All rights reserved.
Callie Cantrell slid open the door to her balcony and immediately felt the sweltering humidity of Martinique. She'd grown accustomed to it these past months, though when she'd first arrived on the Caribbean island she'd been limp, exhausted, and certain she would never become acclimated.
Or maybe that was just because she was mentally and physically spent. Numb. Lost. She'd lived in Los Angeles for most of her adult life and normally would have been able to handle the change in temperature, but ever since Sean's death nothing was normal.
One year ago. A little over, now.
Leaning her forearms on the wrought-iron railing, she purposely pushed those dark and anxious thoughts aside, like she'd done nearly every moment since she'd decided she wanted to try to get better, to try to live again. Dwelling on his death was dangerous to her. She hadn't needed a therapist to tell her that, but she'd needed one to bring her back from the edge, to help her begin the journey into the next phase of her life, to convince her she still had a life.
It had taken a month in a hospital and then continual sessions with Dr. Rasmussen to get her to start eating again, get her out of the house she'd shared with her husband and son, get her to accept that this was her new reality. She hadn't truly been suicidal, though they'd thought she was. She'd simply been too destroyed to function in any positive capacity. Depression. Survivor's guilt. Abject misery. Yep, she had them all. When she'd finally gotten up the gumption to take charge of her life, she'd told the Cantrell family lawyer that she was going to the island of Martinique for an indefinite stay. He'd objected. It was too soon. She was too fragile. What would he tell Derek and Diane, Jonathan's grasping brother and sister? When was she coming back?
Now she gazed over the rooftops of the apartments and tenements on the hill below her, looking beyond the telltale signs of humanity toward the crystalline waters of Fort-de-France Bay. She should really appreciate its beauty more than she did, although she did recognize that the slow pace, French language, and sense of being in a different world were helping her slowly come back.
Looking below, down the crooked cobblestone alley that led to the road, she saw a little boy, no more than five years old, racing around the corner waving his dust-grimed arm frantically.
Callie grinned and waved back. Tucker, the only other resident of the area she knew who spoke her language, was heading in her direction full tilt. "What are you doing up so early?" Callie called, leaning over the rail.
"I come to see you." He flashed her a huge smile and scampered up the cracked concrete steps to the apartment house's front door.
Callie walked back inside and wondered, not for the first time, how Tucker could have so much freedom. It was barely six A.M., for Pete's sake, and the child ran loose among Martinique's narrow streets and alleys until way after dark. Callie rarely saw Tucker with an adult, and she'd only met his mother once. Aimee Thomas had regarded Callie with suspicion and had ordered in French—Martinique's native tongue—for Tucker to leave the room. She then explained in broken English to Callie that she was Tucker's mother and that she had tried very hard to keep him in line but it was difficult. She didn't mention Tucker's father, and Callie couldn't tell if there even was one.
Callie had privately felt Aimee was just making excuses for being so lax, but since she hadn't wanted to alienate herself from her she kept her opinions to herself. Tucker was too important to Callie for her to object too strongly. In fact, Callie realized, Tucker was the reason she was still here, almost a month after her initial date of departure. Was he a replacement for the son she'd lost? Almost assuredly, but in that she didn't give a damn. If she wanted to lavish all her love and attention on the boy, what the hell was wrong with that? And Tucker's innocence and unbridled enthusiasm were a tonic she eagerly drank. She was slowly, ever so slowly, getting better.
Tucker impatiently rattled her apartment door and Callie hollered, "Hold on. I'm coming."
"Hurry! I brung you something."
"That's 'brought,' Tucker, and no, I will not accept any more gifts. You've got to take this one back," Callie said sternly, glancing toward her bedroom and the bracelet on her dresser as she made her way to the front door.
She slipped the chain off the lock and opened the door. Tucker, like the bundle of pure energy he was, hurled himself inside and held out his hand triumphantly. "See?" he demanded.
Cupped between his palms was a tiny, bluish-tinted starfish.
"Ahhh ..." Callie put the starfish in her own palm, examining it critically as she looped an arm around Tucker's thin shoulders. "You've been beachcombing."
"Yesterday. And I goes today, too."
"You're going today?"
Tucker bobbed his dark head. His eyes were a fine, clear blue and they stood out dramatically against his dark hair and skin. Callie had grown used to the way he mangled his verbs; in fact, it was amazing he spoke English as well as he did, considering his mother was so poor at it. Or at least that's what she wanted Callie to believe.
"I go to the pier and waits around." Tucker glanced over his shoulder as if he expected someone to materialize in the open doorway. He moved still closer to Callie. "I have to go first with Maman, though."
Tucker's dislike of doing anything with his mother was another piece of a growing puzzle. It's none of your affair, she reminded herself, but she hugged Tucker extra hard. "Well, I have to go out this morning too," she said, straightening. "I'm going grocery shopping and I promise to bring you back something from the bakery."
"You bet," he repeated, grinning.
She laughed, surprising herself. When was the last time she'd done that?
"Take me with you," he said suddenly, begging her with those beautiful eyes.
Callie had to fight herself from buckling under. "You are a heartbreaker," she scolded him lightly. "But your mom's waiting for you and I've got a million and one things to do that you'd think would be no fun. Now," she added briskly, before he could put forth another protest and weaken her resolve, "let's talk about that other gift you gave me. The one I have to give back." She strode into her bedroom and picked up the unusual silver bracelet with its rings of purple stones—They couldn't be amethysts, could they?—that Tucker had bestowed upon her. Callie had been bowled over by the gift and done her best to refuse it. From all accounts Tucker lived in near squalor, and when he'd unceremoniously dropped the bracelet in her lap one afternoon, Callie had done a classic double take. She was certainly no expert, but ... even if it was a fake, it was an expensive one. It must belong to his mother. She'd tried to refuse but Tucker had been adamant, his eyes filling with unshed tears at her insistence that she couldn't accept it. Sick at heart that she'd hurt his feelings, Callie had said she would keep the bracelet for a few days. Those few days had passed and now she was anxious to give it back.
She stretched out her arm to him, the bracelet hanging from her fingers. "It's beautiful and I love it, but it's too expensive of a gift." She wondered again how he'd ever come to possess it, then decided she was probably better off not knowing.
"You don't wear it," he said, hurt.
"I can't. It's too precious. I think you should ... give it back to your mother."
"It mine!" he said swiftly, almost angrily. "You wear it."
Callie stared at him in consternation. Something wasn't quite right, but she couldn't figure out what it was.
"I'll wear it today," Callie said, as a means to pacify him, "but only if you promise to take it back later. Deal?" She passed the bracelet to her left hand and stuck out her right.
Normally Tucker jumped at her Americanisms, soaking them up and adding them to his vocabulary. But now Tucker just stood in injured silence, his gaze on the floor. Callie squatted down to his level and lifted his chin. "If I could, I would wear your gift every day. Believe me. But sometimes adults can't accept certain gifts. It just wouldn't be right. What would your mother think if she knew you gave me this bracelet?"
"It mine," Tucker insisted again, but doubt had crept into his tone.
"If I put it on now, promise me you'll let me give it back later." She waggled the fingers of her right hand and he reluctantly reached out and shook it.
"Deal," he mumbled.
"Good. Then I'll put it on right now." Callie ran the bracelet up her left arm and gave Tucker a quick kiss on the top of his head. "Now scoot home before we get in hot water with Aimee."
She put her palms on his shoulders and turned him in the direction of the door, but he twisted his neck around. "Hot water?" he asked.
"Just another expression. It means 'big trouble'—the kind that neither of us wants."
"Hot water," he repeated, turning fully around again to face her, his expression lightening.
"You just love those idioms," she said, laughter in her voice. "I think—" she began, when he suddenly threw his arms around her waist and pressed his face into her stomach, his thin body tense with emotion. They stood in silence for a moment and Callie felt her heart beat painfully in her chest. She had to leave very soon, she realized, or it would be impossible to. It nearly was already. She thought of Sean and for a terrible moment couldn't picture his face. All she could see was Tucker and it stopped the breath in her throat.
Tucker ended the embrace a moment later. He was quick to display affection but also quick to sense when he needed to pull back. With a wave and slight smile he headed out the door, the clattering of his footsteps down the wooden stairs sounding more like an army than just one small boy.
"Let me walk you home!" she called after him.
But it was already too late to catch up with him. Curbing her natural instinct to mother him, Callie pulled herself together and let him go. This was his accepted way of life. He would be on his own again—alone—soon enough anyway. It was crazy, but it was out of her hands.
She inhaled deeply, then let out a slow breath. Tucker belonged to Aimee and not to her. He was an endearing boy, but she was nothing other than a friend to him. This was a transitory relationship, one that had certainly done its magic in bringing her back to the land of the living, but she couldn't build on it.
Though Callie understood perfectly why she found Tucker so attractive, she was less sure of why he had been drawn to her. She was just another tourist in a city overflowing with them, and though she had purposely moved from her hotel, stretching her meager French vocabulary to rent this apartment on the hill above Fort-de-France, that was the only remarkable aspect about her.
Grabbing up the plastic beach bag she used as a carryall, she stepped onto the third-floor landing, locked the door, then headed down the stairs and out to the narrow, cobblestone street lined with tall, whitewashed buildings that meandered down the hill.
She planned to go to the open market and buy some produce, maybe a bouquet of flowers. Ever since the accident, she'd felt like she was in a colorless world and subconsciously the part of herself that had been buried so long but was determined to survive gravitated to bright hues.
As she walked along she felt a shiver shimmy down her spine, as if someone were spying on her. Immediately she looked behind herself but the street was empty.
Something's wrong, she told herself, then just as deliberately shoved the thought aside, one she kept having no matter what she seemed to do. Of course something was wrong. Her whole world had been upended and torn apart. That was it. That was all. That was enough.
From the moment she'd first woken up in the hospital, bleary and confused, she'd felt there was something she was missing. Something she'd forgotten or had almost known, and she kept experiencing a kind of déjà vu in odd moments. When she was reading the overhead menu at a coffee shop. When she was pulling money from her wallet. Each time she fought the emotional wrench of saying good-bye to Tucker and then turning her thoughts to her own life.
She had no memory of the accident itself, a common occurrence she'd been told, but she could remember the sense of anxiety and uneasiness that had plagued her for weeks prior to the accident. Was it because Jonathan had turned so mean-spirited and reckless? Was it her fear that he was keeping something from her? Or was it because of this something she'd known and then forgotten, something that felt like it was teasing just outside her consciousness? A sense that if she fell into a half dream it might well to the surface and she might be able to reach out and grab it?
Now, as she reached the open market, she shook her head, like she had so many times before. The harder she tried to nab it, the farther it seemed to recede from her grasp.
Someday, she told herself, fighting back the building frustration, but her mind wouldn't quit traveling down that twisted path. She'd been told their car plunged off a cliff as they were driving on Mulholland. No one knew quite how it had happened but Callie, even though she couldn't fully remember, simply blamed Jonathan for driving too fast. He was always driving too fast. And yes, she'd heard that there was another car abandoned at the scene. A stolen car with a broken headlight and smashed right, front fender. The theory was the two cars had been racing. She'd adamantly refused to believe Jonathan would have raced someone with both Sean and her in the car, but then, how much had she really known about the man she'd married?
She'd also been told she was lucky to be alive. Maybe ... but she'd wished, more than once, that she had died with Sean. Those months afterward, the excruciating minutes that ticked by so slowly while she recovered from broken ribs and lacerations along her right arm and torso, had been long and hard. And then the month in the mental ward ...
Jonathan's sister and brother, Diane and Derek Cantrell, had taken care of the funeral arrangements. Callie, who barely knew them, vaguely registered their hostility, thinking they blamed her for their brother's death. Later, she'd come to realize that they blamed her for inheriting the Cantrell family fortune. Later still, she discovered that fortune was about a tenth what it had once been, that Jonathan had practically run the company into the ground. She'd been thinking of taking a trip to Martinique, to the island where she and Jonathan honeymooned and Sean was conceived, a vague plan that had roots in the fact that she wanted to just run away. With Diane and Derek's increasingly hostile attitude after they examined Jonathan's financial records and realized the money just wasn't there, Callie had taken off. She had kept her own checking account and she used funds she'd saved on her own.
She told William Lister, a man she'd felt she could trust even though he was the Cantrell family attorney, that she was leaving on a trip. She didn't tell him where. He advised her against it; there were a dozen legal matters to attend to, to which Callie told him that Diane and Derek could have everything, save what she had in her own account. She didn't care. She just needed to leave.
Derek caught up with her before she took off and tried to wheedle out of her where she was going. He intimated that she was stealing their inheritance, which pissed her off no end. She didn't give a damn about the money, or him, or anyone. She'd lost the only person who was important to her. Derek also implied that Jonathan had bought her jewels and designer clothes and other lavish gifts. That's where he felt the money had gone, and he wanted those gifts returned.
To that Callie said, "Bite me." She didn't have the money or the mythical gifts. She took off for Martinique and left her cell phone behind so they couldn't reach her. She was sick of the lot of them. In the end she'd called Lister a time or two, mostly to let him know she was still alive and okay and to keep him from sending the hounds after her.
Excerpted from I'll Find You by NANCY BUSH. Copyright © 2014 Nancy Bush. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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