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Cynthia Kittredge Roark's death put any thought of a moving day onto the back burner of Marshall's life. Instead, he escorted his wife's body back to Northern California, where it was reported she was to be laid to rest in the Kittredge family mausoleum.
It was another two weeks before Genevieve heard from Marshall again. Upon his return, he called from the bed-and-breakfast Oaklea Mansion and Manor House in the nearby piney woods town of Winnsboro where he'd been staying whenever he and Cynthia had driven in from Dallas. He asked Genevieve if her offer still stood to help him get situated. Genevieve didn't hesitate; she assured him that he only had to give her a day and time and she would arrange to be at the Lake Starling house.
The movers finally appeared four days later. Concerned by the extra time the place had sat empty, Genevieve arranged for—with Marshall's blessing—a thorough cleaning using the reliable service she employed herself, as did her mother. By the time the massive eighteen-wheeler backed onto the cement driveway on the third Friday in August bearing the Roarks' furniture and personal belongings, she was able to direct them through a house that sparkled in welcome.
Thank goodness another early morning delivery had been possible. By eight o'clock, the temperatures had already climbed beyond the overnight eighty-three degrees despite the supposed cooling lake breeze. At least the new double-door stainless-steel refrigerator was in place and the electricity was on. The ice machine was up to speed, and Genevieve—using a key that Marshall had left with her—had one shelf stocked since the previous afternoon with bottled water and soft drinks for the crew, which she pointed out to them before they started unloading.
She had dressed partly for a day of labor, determined to make things as easy as possible for Marshall, but wasn't quite able to give up on her need to be prepared for an office emergency. Her jeans were the ones she saved for attic filter changes and the serious refrigerator cleaning, her sneakers the same ones she used at the gym. But her gauzy caramel-colored top was dressier. She'd brushed her shoulder-length blond hair into a no-nonsense ponytail, yet her gold hoop earrings were unmistakably the real thing. In the Escalade were stylish heels and a white cotton blazer that could get her ready for a sudden business meeting within minutes if the need arrived.
With her clipboard in hand, her BlackBerry clipped to it, and her own bottle of water on the black-speckled quartz breakfast bar, Genevieve was ready for whatever the day would throw at her. What she hoped was that her staff would be able to handle anything that surfaced back at the office, so that she could get Marshall somewhat set up with the bare essentials before too late in the afternoon. That would mean having to work more overtime at the office in order not to fall behind with her other clients, but it was something she wanted as much as felt a need to do.
From the beginning, well before the Carsons had listed this house, it had been a favorite of hers among the luxury lake houses. The design was a mix of modern and contemporary, a gray-speckled brick, the focal point being the family/great room that was enhanced by a partial second story of lead-glass windows and a giant fireplace to provide both light under almost any weather conditions and warmth throughout the house. More lead-glass windows looked out to a wrap-around porch, an open-tiled courtyard in back, and beyond that a covered peninsula that faced the lake, pier and boathouse. The country kitchen was state-of-the-art, the elegant counters echoing the shimmering outside brick, and a copper stove hood added dramatic contrast. The split-bedrooms design featured a huge master suite, and on the other side of the house were three other bedrooms. A formal dining room and sizable office with many built-ins rounded out the main floor plan.
It was a house for professional or active people and perfect for entertaining; nevertheless, it was still a thousand square feet smaller than her mother's residence located two properties to the right. What concerned Genevieve was that Marshall's house was undeniably large for one person, particularly someone newly grieving with no one close to help him through the first rough weeks and months.
Although he was on the premises, Marshall had made it clear that he would be grateful to hold to their previous agreement that she handle most of the decisions and issue the directives as to what was put where. His trust was the highest form of flattery; however, Genevieve worried that he'd bestowed her that authority simply because he no longer cared. Was that reflective of the house itself, himself or both?
As the master bedroom furnishings began to be unloaded, Genevieve saw him sitting on the back patio wall, his BlackBerry in hand. He wasn't talking or texting, he was simply staring off across the lake. She remembered that pose well from her early days after Adam's death and knew if Marshall was able to think at all, he was wondering if his mind would ever function reliably again. Only he could resolve his "alone" and "now what?" issues. Thankfully, decisions about the rest of his life didn't have to be made today. As for the unpacking, Genevieve reasoned that if he decided to put the place back on the market, it would show much better if it was furnished. Secretly, she couldn't keep from hoping he would give the house—and Oak Point—a chance.
Throughout the morning, she stayed busy with the movers. While she had kitchen boxes stacked on the counters and in the huge pantry, and boxes marked "Marshall—bedroom" and "linens" delivered to the master suite, she had everything with Cynthia's name delivered to the first bedroom on the west side of the house. In between answering questions from the supervisor named Benny, she found the boxes that would initially allow Marshall to make coffee, and eat off something besides paper plates and drink out of glass and porcelain instead of plastic.
When the workers were done in the master suite, she found a box of linens to make sure Marshall had a bed ready to sleep in and towels for his bathroom. She had to resort to her own "emergency" bag of brought-along supplies to finish things. They included essentials like bathroom tissue, soap, toothpaste and shampoo to keep him well stocked for several days.
Whether it was the heat or guilt, eventually Marshall came inside and attempted to show some interest in how things were coming along. He was astounded at her progress in the master suite, but when he spotted Cynthia's boxes in the other bedroom, the look he shot her almost broke her heart. Right after that he retreated to the office and closed the door. Genevieve managed not to interrupt him again until the desk and file cabinets were ready to be placed in there.
And then it was done. Once she signed the paperwork and handed Benny the tip Marshall had provided, she made sure he and his men took more refreshments for their return trip to Dallas and waved them off.
The sound of the big diesel engine rumbling back to life brought Marshall from some remote part of the house and he joined her in the kitchen. With an understanding smile, she pointed to the receipts on the counter. "Mission accomplished—and without too much damage. There's a table scratch, which can probably be rubbed out, but I made them initial for it here—" she pointed to the appropriate page "—and for a chip out of the bed's headboard." She pointed to the second initial.
"Those are both my fault, not theirs," Marshall said.
Genevieve nodded, experience allowing her to read between the lines. She, too, had been grateful for everyone's kindness and help during her darkest days, but there came a time when she began wishing that she lived in a bigger city that would provide anonymity because she didn't think she could bear even one more pitying or curious look, or "chin up, life goes on" lecture. At her lowest point, she'd lived to get home and release some of that pressure.
"I broke a clock against our fireplace mantel," she confessed. She added a sheepish smile. "Frankly, it was the ugliest wedding gift we'd received, and I wasn't sorry to see it go. I'll give the company a call immediately and tell them that the notations are nonissues."
"The headboard happened right after we contracted on this place and I caught Cynthia sneaking a cigarette," Marshall said with equal chagrin. "I was frustrated and angry. I threw a gift, too. A silver picture frame. I'll handle the call, Genevieve."
Wedding photos were often in silver frames, she thought. Hers were. For weeks after Adam's death, she couldn't bear to see a photo of him without falling apart and for a while had put them facedown, until seeing them that way would make her feel guilty so she would place them upright again, until she had to hide them behind books and in drawers because it hurt too much to look at his dear face. But she'd never wanted to throw a photo of him. The box containing his flag maybe, because she'd been as angry with the military as she'd been with the radical militants who'd killed him. The thing was that being a soldier had been in his blood and she'd married him knowing that. Wasn't it the same for Marshall with Cynthia? From what they'd told her, they'd met in college and she'd been a near life-long smoker.
"Okay, then…" Realizing that she had no more reason to stay, Genevieve tucked her pen into her bag and pulled out something from the bottom of the clipboard that she'd worked up for him. "Well, the good news is that you can take your time from here on. Here's a sheet with service phone numbers."
"I told you that you were incredible. The gift that keeps on giving," he murmured.
His admiring gaze had her feeling as if she was one step away from blushing. Determined to keep to her professional script, she focused on the paper she passed to him. "A simple printout of what I already have in the computer. These are people we hire repeatedly at the office and you can feel free to use my name, although by now everyone knows yours, so you probably won't have any trouble getting quick service. Also your address is a dead giveaway."
"Does that mean I should tip them double? Not that I mind if they're as good as you say," Marshall added with a shrug, "but I don't want to immediately become the hated one on the street by the rest of my neighbors."
Those neighbors included her mother, a fact that he had been informed of back when he and Cynthia first looked at the house. "If I recommend someone, you can pretty much trust that you won't be dealing with padded invoices, so tip as you see fit."
Placing the paper on top of the receipt, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "How do I thank you? You've gone above and beyond what I intended or imagined."
"Full disclosure time—fun for me is playing decorator, and I have the best job to feed that because I get to see so many styles and ideas. The muscle boys had the hard work." Seeing the new potential in the place, she tried to infuse him with a little of her excitement. "Do you like it so far?" What Genevieve really wanted to ask was, "Do you think you could consider staying despite what's happened?"
"What's not to like?" Marshall replied. "It's a fabulous house and you've done the most with what you had to work with. In bad weather, I can even jog using the wrap-around patio. With luck, I can crack open my skull slipping on sweating concrete and quit worrying about what I'm supposed to do with myself here alone."
"Marshall." His last words shook her almost as much as when he took that awful call weeks ago outside of the title company. Genevieve couldn't keep from fingering the delicate gold cross her paternal grandmother had given her at her christening. Loss that cut soul-deep opened one to so many dangers.
He held up his hand to entreat her patience. "I'm being a self-pitying jerk. Ignore me, please. I'm used to knowing immediately what to do when and the protocol involved. I could arrange for dinner for a surprise visit by a foreign dignitary or celebrity with barely any notice, but right now just this small talk with you is almost making me break out in a cold sweat."
She understood completely. "Then I should leave."
"Don't. I mean, I wish you wouldn't."
Having started to reach for her things, Genevieve hesitated. "But you just said—"
"What I meant was that I was editing myself mute. It's been a progressive thing…mostly to avoid conflict with Cynthia, because getting upset was the last thing she needed given her prognosis. Increasingly, I've found the tendency is bleeding into the other parts of my life."
The admission that Cynthia was so addicted to nicotine that even when on oxygen she would light up was bad enough; Genevieve couldn't begin to imagine how difficult it was for Marshall—trying to help her when she would not or could not be helped. "I must admit when we first met, I thought you a bit difficult to read, but I soon concluded that was simply your desire for privacy, combined with your first-rate professionalism."
Marshall looked away and rubbed his nape. "Bless you. At least now you know how wrong you are."
"No, I don't think so."
When he looked back at her, he shook his head and smiled. Although it was a sad smile, it was the first time she saw something close to a natural reaction from him— other than one of pain—and the tenderness of it almost took her breath away. He had a face that made her think of brooding Irish poets and brave Greek gods, nothing like today's air-brushed cover-model perfect images, but a face full of character and intelligence earned by some life-altering bumps and blows along the way. Suddenly she saw a new layer of the charisma that he was capable of, and Genevieve was grateful to have the counter to hold on to. Combined with his penetrating eyes, she felt almost as weak-kneed as one of her mother's fictional heroines.