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It Takes Two
By JANET DAILEY
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Thanks for the ride, Tobe," said Amanda, bending down to peer in the car window, her red hair shining in the rays of the late afternoon sun.
"Be sure to have Brad call me tonight." He nodded as he revved the engine and backed up the car.
"Will do," she promised. "See you!"
With a wave of her hand, she watched him roar down the street and then she turned toward the house, smiling a little as she imagined the face her mother would make at the racket. No matter how many times her mother reprimanded Tobe for driving so carelessly, he still did it-mostly, Amanda thought, to annoy her mother, who treated him like one of her own sons.
Amanda was convinced that was the reason he spent so much of his time at their house, because he felt like part of the family. Tobe and her brother Brad had been inseparable friends ever since their first day of kindergarten.
The Petersons had made a lot of money developing land once used to raise cotton, amassing a family fortune exceeded only by the Colbys, of Colby Enterprises, but Tobe's supposedly superior status in the community didn't interest him one bit. All of the Bennetts, including Amanda, tended to forget who his family was. His clothes and car were more expensive than theirs, and that seemed to be the only difference.
She took the porch steps two at a time, swinging open the screen door of the large two-story house and letting it slam behind her. "Mom! I'm home!"
"Ssh!" Her mother appeared in the dining room archway. "Your grandfather is taking a nap."
"I was," came a grumpy voice, "until that young fool blasted out of the driveway."
"That was Tobe," Amanda announced unnecessarily. "He gave me a ride home. Don't let me forget-he wants Brad to call him tonight." She walked swiftly to the elderly man who appeared in the doorway, his broad shoulders stooped with the weight of his years. "Hello, Grandpa." She planted a kiss on his leathery cheek. "How are you today?"
"Ah, my hip is acting up on me again," he grumbled, but his eyes were twinkling as he looked at his granddaughter. "Must be going to have a change in the weather."
"There's lemonade in the refrigerator," her mother spoke up.
"Does anyone else want a glass?" Amanda called over her shoulder as she walked toward the kitchen.
"Not me." Her grandfather shook his head.
"I'll have one." Her mother followed her out to the kitchen. "How did it go today?"
"Hectic." Amanda sighed, removing two glasses from the cupboard and filling them from the refrigerator ice-maker. "For a while this afternoon I was almost wishing the term wasn't over and I was still taking finals."
"Please don't wish that on me." Her mother laughed, shaking her dark auburn head, which was just beginning to be streaked with gray. "With all three of your brothers and you in college, and Bonnie in high school, and all your final tests falling in the same week, I don't know if your dad and I could live through that again."
"It was pretty wild around here, wasn't it?" Amanda smiled, a tiny dimple appearing in each cheek. "All of us staying up too late and fighting over the leftovers."
"At least you each had your own computer. Remember when you used to share one? That was not fun."
Amanda nodded. "At least working at Oak Run let me pay for my own. And now I'm teaching three new girls the ropes."
"I'm proud of you, honey. Usually Mrs. Matthews insists on doing the training herself."
Amanda poured the lemonade. "I've been a guide there since I was seventeen. I know as much about that ol' plantation as she does. Besides, she's all wrapped up in the plans for the cotillion. Which was another reason things got out of hand today. She was there with the florist trying to decide which flowers should go where, etcetera."
"Talking about the cotillion," Mrs. Bennett said, "you should try on your dress. I basted it together this morning. We can see how it fits and get the hem. Leave your lemonade here," she added quickly as Amanda started to walk out of the kitchen with the glass in her hand. "Don't bring it into the sewing room. I don't want to spill anything on that taffeta."
"Are they having that dance at Oak Run?" her grandfather mumbled as they passed through the dining room on their way to the small room that Bernice Bennett used as a sewing room.
"They do every year, Grandpa," Amanda answered, exchanging a knowing look with her mother.
"Jefferson Davis would turn over in his grave if he knew," the old man declared angrily. "It's an outright crime to celebrate the birthday of a Confederate general in that damn Yankee's house!"
"It's a tradition," her mother replied soothingly. "And Oak Run belonged to a fine old Southern family long before Colonel Colby bought it."
"That makes no difference! A Yankee owns it now. They should find somewhere else to hold their cotillion."
"Oh, Grandpa," Amanda scolded teasingly, waving away his dislike of anyone born north of the Mason-Dixon Line. "If it weren't for Mrs. Matthews and the Colby money, there wouldn't be any cotillion. Try to forget who owns the plantation and just figure that Jeff Davis is too dead to care. The way you carry on sometimes about Yankees, a person would think you'd fought in the Civil War yourself."
"My great-grandpappy did," he answered testily.
"That was more than a hundred and forty years ago," Mrs. Bennett said.
"But not forgotten," said the old man. "Not here in Georgia, leastways. If they had, you wouldn't be having any cotillion to celebrate Jeff Davis's birthday," he retorted smugly.
Mrs. Bennett lifted her shoulders in an expressive shrug and Amanda smiled. There wasn't any reasoning with her grandfather. There was the North and the South, and if he had his way, never the twain would meet.
"Come on, Amanda," her mother gestured to her, "let's try that dress on."
Amanda followed her into the sewing room while her grandfather began whistling "Dixie" as loud as he could. "Stubborn old cuss," she said fondly under her breath, shutting the door with a faint click. Then she saw the gown on the dressmaker's dummy. "Mom, it's beautiful!"
"You'll have to put the hoops on so I can make sure it hangs right. I don't think it will matter if you do without the petticoats for now."
Eagerly Amanda stripped down to her underwear and stepped into the wide-hooped underskirt while her mother carefully removed the old-fashioned ball gown from the dummy and placed it over her daughter's head. She stood impatiently while her mother stuck a few pins in strategic places here and there. Then she dashed to the full-length mirror.
"You're a genius, Mom," Amanda vowed. But while she was admiring her reflection, Bernice Bennett was frowning as she took in excess material with a tuck or two.
"With six children to clothe and feed and send to college, I'd better know how to sew," she said. "I made every party dress, prom gown and Halloween costume you girls needed. Of course the boys didn't much care. One flannel shirt was the same as another to them and it wasn't as if I could sew jeans." She adjusted the shoulder straps, which had been designed to look like cap sleeves. "We couldn't afford to buy a gown like this."
"It's just plain gorgeous," Amanda answered fervently. "I look like a genuine Southern belle."
The material was a rich green that shimmered from emerald brilliance to a deeper forest shade where the many folds draped over the hoops to her small waist. The bodice artfully molded her breasts and set off her creamy skin and the redgold of her hair.
"The neckline is a bit too low," her mother declared.
"No, it's not," Amanda protested, her liquid brown eyes dancing with mirth. "It's daring, that's all."
"Just don't lean forward too much," her mother said, laughing. The front screen door slammed. "Is that you, Brad?" Mrs. Bennett called, turning briefly away. "I'm in the sewing room."
"Is Amanda there?" her brother answered, his voice coming nearer. "Cheryl is with me."
"I'm in here, Cheryl," Amanda answered. "Trying on my gown for the cotillion."
A dark-haired girl opened the door and peered around it. "Are you decent?"
"Not according to Mom, but come on in," Amanda replied.
"Oh, Mrs. Bennett, you didn't make that, did you?" Cheryl exclaimed. "It's gorgeous! With that beautiful red hair of yours fixed back in ringlets, you'll look fantastic, Amanda! What a shame you don't have green eyes."
"Amanda wouldn't want to trade in her spaniel eyes," her brother teased. "She enjoys having men drown in those liquid pools of brown."
"I wish I could drown you, brother dear!"
"Hush, you two," their mother intervened. "And hold still, Amanda, so I can pin this neckline."
Amanda cast a look of pretend sorrow at Cheryl. "Mom thinks the neckline is too low."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Bennett, don't raise it," the darkhaired girl protested. "Those old gowns always had some cleavage showing."
"Well, this new gown is going to show a quarterinch less," Amanda's mother said emphatically. "That's all I can add without ruining the line."
"I wish I didn't have a tan." Cheryl sighed. "I have white streaks where my straps were."
"I tried to pull them down but you wouldn't let me," said Brad.
"Ha, ha," said Cheryl. "You shouldn't talk like that in front of your mother."
"Believe it or not," Mrs. Bennett said with a patient sigh, "I am aware that many men, including my son, do try to remove as much clothing as possible from women from time to time."
"Try covering the white marks with makeup," Amanda said.
"It might look blotchy," Cheryl fretted. "I can't dance if I look blotchy."
"I'll keep my hands on your shoulders," Brad said.
Amanda and her mother exchanged an amused look. "All done," Mrs. Bennett announced. "Brad, why don't you and Cheryl run out to the kitchen while Amanda changes? There's lemonade in the refrigerator and cookies in the jar."
"Hurry, Mandy," Cheryl urged. "I just found out the most fantastic thing. I'm dying to-"
"I'll be right there."
"Careful," her mother admonished. "It's only tacked and basted."
Once the gown was safely off and on the dummy again, Amanda put on her jeans and top. "I love it, Mom. Maybe when Tobe sees me in that, it'll make up for the fact that his parents are making him go to the cotillion."
"I think it was sweet of him to ask you to go."
"Heaven knows, I've talked about it enough." Amanda grinned. "It's been my dream to go. Guess I can consider myself lucky that Tobe is between girlfriends right now."
"He certainly plays the field," her mother agreed with a wide smile. "You'd better hurry out to the kitchen before Cheryl forgets what it is that she's dying to tell you."
Amanda winked at her mother before hurrying out to the kitchen. Cheryl did tend to exaggerate and overreact, but they had always been close friends and had become even closer since Cheryl had started dating Brad. For all the comments everyone made about her talkativeness, Cheryl could keep a secret to her dying day, as she liked to say. And there were many secrets shared between them.
"Here I am," Amanda said, walking into the kitchen where Cheryl and Brad were sitting at the table. "What were you going to tell me?"
"Sit down, sit down." Cheryl motioned at the chair beside her, which Amanda took. "Well, you know that Colby Enterprises transferred their computer and data-processing operations to Atlanta last year, and their electronics plant here in Oak Springs will be completed in June-next month."
"Yep. But everybody knows that." Amanda gave the brunette an inquiring look. "Everybody knows everything in this little town, come to think of it."
"Here's something new-" Cheryl paused to ratchet up the suspense a little. "Rumor has it that Jarod Colby is moving to Georgia. And he's going to live in Oak Springs, at the Winter House."
"Are you sure?" Amanda's heart gave a funny little leap. She hoped that the fleeting twinge of excitement she felt didn't show.
"Positive." Cheryl made the motion of crossing her heart. "And I even heard that he resigned as CEO from that steel company in Pennsylvania. He's centralizing all his companies here in Georgia. And-are you ready for this?" Cheryl leaned closer. "He's going to be the official host at the cotillion this year!"
"Now I find that hard to believe," Amanda said dryly.
"Supposedly he's going to announce his decision to live here permanently."
"He might as well," Brad said with a cynical laugh. "He practically owns the whole town. I suppose when we're introduced to him at the dance, we'll be required to bow in his royal presence."
"Who's that?" old Mr. Bennett demanded as he limped into the kitchen to catch the last of Brad's statement.
"Jarod Colby, who else?" he replied.
"Why would you be introduced to that Yankee carpetbagger?"
"He's going to be at the cotillion," Cheryl explained, darting a sparkling glance at Amanda. "Isn't it exciting?"
"Humph!" her grandfather snorted. "If it was me meeting him, I'd spit in his eye."
"Considering the fact that Dad manages some of the Colby real-estate holdings, it's a good thing you don't meet him, Granddad," Brad chided.
"And if I was your dad, I'd find me a better job and not work for no Yankee." The old man took a handful of cookies from the jar and ambled out.
"The South will rise again," Brad murmured, watching him go. "So long as Grandpa has enough chocolate-chip cookies." He went to the jar and scrabbled through the remaining cookies-looking for the biggest one, Amanda knew.
"Just think, Amanda," said Cheryl, lowering her voice to a whisper, "you're finally going to get to meet him!"
Once Amanda would have been thrilled by that idea, but that was a long time ago.
"No biggie," she said.
Cheryl drew in a breath before a knowing smile appeared on her face. "You don't mean that."
"Actually, I do," Amanda replied.
Brad returned his attention to them. "What are you two talking about?"
"We're talking about the dance," Cheryl said quickly. "Trying to decide what jewelry Mandy should wear with her gown."
"A diamond and emerald choker would do nicely," Amanda said. "Of course, I don't happen to have a million dollars to buy one."
"Oh, I know you have something nice," Cheryl said. Amanda knew her friend wanted to get her alone. "Let's go upstairs to your room and look through your jewelry box. Brad, you stay here and keep an eye on those cookies."
"Yes, ma'am," Brad said with his mouth full.
"Now, tell the truth, Amanda," Cheryl said as they went up the stairs to the second floor where the bedrooms were. "Aren't you excited about meeting Jarod Colby?"
"No, I'm not.
Excerpted from It Takes Two by JANET DAILEY Copyright © 2005 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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