Lady Luck's Map of Vegas

( 3 )

Overview

A successful Web designer, forty-year-old India has a fabulously hip life in Denver and a sexy Irish lover in New York who jets out to see her on bi-weekly visits. The long-distance romance suits India just fine: Though Jack is the only man who has ever made India feel truly alive, she doesn’t want things to get too serious. But then her father passes away, and India must honor the promise she made to him: to look after her mother when he’s gone.

Suddenly India finds herself ...

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Lady Luck's Map of Vegas

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Overview

A successful Web designer, forty-year-old India has a fabulously hip life in Denver and a sexy Irish lover in New York who jets out to see her on bi-weekly visits. The long-distance romance suits India just fine: Though Jack is the only man who has ever made India feel truly alive, she doesn’t want things to get too serious. But then her father passes away, and India must honor the promise she made to him: to look after her mother when he’s gone.

Suddenly India finds herself back in Colorado Springs with the woman who both intrigues and infuriates her. Eldora is sixty something and exquisitely gorgeous, but her larger-than-life personality can suck the air out of a room. True to form, Eldora throws India a curveball, insisting that they hit the road to look for India’s twin, Gypsy, a brilliant artist who lives a vagabond’s existence in the remote mountain towns of New Mexico. It looks like India can’t avoid her mother’s intensity any longer, especially after she discovers stunning secrets from Eldora’s past.

Thirty years ago, Eldora regaled her twin girls with glamorous stories about her days as a Las Vegas showgirl– stories of martinis and music at the Sahara, back when Frank and Sammy ruled the town. But the story of how she really ended up in Sin City, and the unsavory life she’d run from with her daughters in tow, is full of details she’s never seen fit to share–until now.

As mother and daughter sail down Route 66, the very road Eldora drove those many years ago, looking for Gypsy, while passing motels, diners, and souvenir shops, Eldora must relive a lifetime of memories that have tormented her before she can put them to rest once and for all. . . .

Award-winning author Barbara Samuel brings us a heartfelt story of second chances and unexpected detours. As two women come to terms with themselves and each other, the past unravels and the future spreads out before them like the open road.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR BARBARA SAMUEL

Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas

“Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas is my favorite kind of novel–a fun, fabulous, fast-paced story that takes me right to the heart of what it means to be a family. A magical road trip . . . a pair of unforgettable women on a quest to understand their own lives . . . and a drop-dead gorgeous man looking for love. What more could a reader want? This is a complex, beautiful, and moving story that will resonate with you until long after you’ve finished the final pages.”
–Kristin Hannah

The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue
“A compelling emotional portrait . . . Samuel’s writing is a gift to readers, her voice, a demand for us to feel everything in our lives and to meet it with courage. . . . Samuel has crafted a truly luminous novel.”
–Contra Costa Times

“Barbara Samuel’s writing is, quite simply, splendid. . . . These women are as familiar as your next-door neighbor and as exotic as the goddesses who archetype their lives. Samuel soars with genius in the humanity of her storytelling.”
–BookPage

A Piece of Heaven

“A deep and wise love story . . . Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters–there’s something wonderful here for every reader.”
–Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Bad Girl Creek and Along Came Mary

“Barbara Samuel is irresistible. She writes compelling, poignant stories that will touch the heart of any woman.”
–Susan Elizabeth Phillips

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345469137
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/25/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 584,246
  • Product dimensions: 5.27 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

BARBARA SAMUEL is the author of several novels, including The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, A Piece of Heaven, and No Place Like Home. She lives in Pueblo, Colorado, with her two sons, where she is currently writing her next novel.

Visit the author’s website at www.barbarasamuel.com

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

India The sun is setting over Pikes Peak when I get home Tuesday afternoon. The play of pink light is as delicate as a teacup, so beautiful that a muscle in my neck untwists. The mountain feels like a relative. I find myself checking in with it a thousand times a day, glancing over to see where the light is, whether the snowy cap is white or gray or pink, whether I can see a hidden valley.

My passion for it surprises me. I grew up with it, after all, looked askance at the tourists crowding into town every summer, shooting endless, endless photos of it. It was, in those days, only a mountain. I didn’t understand the appeal. Now its burly steadiness against the horizon is something I can count on, unlike life.

I fit the key into my front door and take one last glance at the Peak before carrying my load inside. The canvas bag of supplies goes on the breakfast bar between the kitchen and the sparse living room that I’ve not decorated with much of anything because I’m not planning to stay. The mail I hold in my hand, because it is my policy to handle each piece of mail only once. The bills go in one pile, the junk—most of it—in another, the business letters in a third pile.

Two are from clients, and I take the time to open those first. They are checks. One is a retainer for a site I’ve agreed to design for a Denver photographer, the other a hefty—yes—final payment for an enormous, complicated site for an eccentric old writer. I smile, thinking of him. Paul David Walters, a grizzled adventurer with four ex-wives, led me on a merry chase for three months, changing his mind every ten minutes, but his wits were sharp and his insights into the function of the Web were brilliant. It’s the best site I’ve designed in years and it is in my portfolio. The payment, too, is quite sweet. Solvency for another three months, four if I’m frugal.

Tucked between the utility bill and a flyer for a new restaurant down the street is a postcard from my twin sister, Gypsy. I glance involuntarily at the bag of groceries on the counter, then pick up the card for a closer look.

It’s an index card with a miniaturized version of one of Gypsy’s paintings on the blank side. She works mainly with descansos, the roadside crosses planted at the sites of accidents, and graveyards, and this is an abstract graveyard with a blur of pinks and yellows and stylized crosses, so odd and beautiful it draws the eye almost against one’s will. Gypsy’s paintings invite the viewer to come closer, lean in, hear a secret, a mystery. I stare at this one a long time, wishing I really could.

On the back, where the lines are, is a message scribbled in Gypsy’s pointed, spidery hand. Unfortunately, the only thing I can read is my name, India, and the date, which she’s written in numbers at the top. Last week. That’s a good sign.

The rest is written in a language I wished I remembered, the one we created as babies and used between ourselves until we lost it at around eleven or twelve—which is actually quite late; most twins stop using their secret languages by first or second grade—or rather, I lost it. Gypsy kept it, and when she is delusional, as she is now, it is the only language she uses to communicate with me.

I stare at the words with great concentration, as I always do, sure that the veil between past and present will lift one of these days, and I will suddenly remember the code. I even went to a hypnotist once to see if she could help me. It hadn’t worked.

And no miracle occurs now, either. The only clue I can gather from the card is the postmark: Tucumcari, New Mexico. It’s something.

I put it down on the counter, take off my coat and hang it in the nearly empty coat closet, then I go back to the kitchen to put away the groceries—a can of Eagle-brand condensed milk, maraschino cherries, paraffin, baking chocolate; chicken breasts and coriander; onions, basmati rice; the whole milk Jack likes in his tea. The cherries, so very red and round, are irresistible, so I open the jar and take three of them by the stem, popping them into my mouth one at a time. Then the bottle goes into the fridge, on the door, next to the olives I keep for my mother. The milk is slightly out of place, and I nudge it into its place beneath the light.

At the back of my neck I feel the lure of Gypsy’s card, and close my eyes, trying—in the way of twins, not some new-age fruitcake—to sense her, sense her mind. It’s not there.

And there, at the bottom of the grocery bag, is a box, tapping its foot while it waits for me to face it. I’ll hear that little tap all evening unless I answer it, so I carry it into the bathroom and close the door. Gypsy once laughed uproariously when she found out I close the door even when I’m alone, but there are some things that just require privacy. I’m not like her and my mother, who don’t have a single body secret in the universe. I’m sorry, but I don’t need to share or know any of those things.

I read the directions on the box twice to be sure I understand them, then, safe behind the closed door, I follow them. I wash my hands and wait.

It doesn’t take very long. In minutes, the lines on the pregnancy test form a distinct, undeniable plus sign.

Pregnant.

Carefully, I wrap up the stick and the box in lengths of toilet paper, as if there is someone else here who might see it in the trash, then carry it out to the kitchen and throw it away safely under the sink.

Pregnant.

I’m swept with an intense dizziness, and put a hand over my belly. It’s a weird thing to do, considering my horror, but it’s involuntary. Am I trying to sense it? Repulse it?

But instead, for one long, yearning second, I see my lover against the screen of my eyelids, his black hair, his quirky smile—and for one single flash of time, I imagine a daughter with tumbling black curls and a tilt to her eyes.

No.

With a sense of seasickness, I open my eyes, list sideways and pick up the postcard from Gypsy. It contains all the reasons I cannot take the chance no matter how much I might wish it.

My mother no longer drives, so two hours later, I am sitting in the dark at the parking lot of Winchell’s Doughnuts on Eighth Street, waiting for her bus to arrive from Cripple Creek. There is a nearly full moon pouring down on the Peak, making the snow shine. I think again that the mountain is beautiful enough to make up for a lot of things I’ve had to face about living in Colorado Springs again.

I’m sitting in my mother’s car, since she refuses to ride in anything else. It reeks of cigarettes and old leather, and I turn on the heater full blast and roll down the window. A man passing by turns his head and whistles quietly. Over the car, not me. It’s a 1957 Thunderbird, turquoise, which Eldora has owned since it rolled off the lot, and it’s in cherry condition since one of the last things my father did before he died was restore it, top to bottom. I’m fairly certain my mother loves this car more than she loves me.

I’m a little early, so I spend the time going through my purse, which I’m persnickety about. It’s been a day or two since I’ve had a chance to organize it, make sure everything is in its place. There are three sections and two small, zippered pockets. In one section are my comb, lipstick, small mirror in a rubberized pocket that keeps it from breaking, a fingernail clipper, and an emery board. All in their places. In the middle section that zips, I keep three pens with caps, a small notepad, and a calculator. The tops are off two of the pens and I replace them firmly, zipping the pocket. In section three is my wallet, and I open it to be sure all the cards are in their places—the grocery store cards in one section, the credit cards in another. I also keep my keys in the third section, but they’re currently in the ignition.

In one of the smaller zippered pockets I keep a ChapStick and my cell phone. In the other, inside the bag, are the usual female supplies—I open it and look at the tampons and realize with a shock that I might not need them for a while. What would that be like? A hollow feeling goes through me.

The bus lumbers in. It’s the early evening service, so everyone getting off is over the age of fifty. They go to gamble early before the casinos get too smoky and then return home by nine so they can take their evening medications and have a good night’s sleep, the binging and ringing of slot machines dancing in their heads. The lucky ones are easy to spot. They’re laughing and joking, jingling change in their cotton jackets.

I know when Eldora will be next because there is a handsome, Mediterranean-looking senior, dapper with silver at his temples, who gets off the bus and turns around to hold out his hand to the woman behind him. She steps down carefully in her high heels and slim slacks, her perfect red hair shining beneath the streetlight. Even in the dark, I can see her long acrylic nails, nails she has done every other week by a Vietnamese boy at the local strip mall. Technically, she’s a senior like the rest of them, sixty-three, but my mother has been the most glorious female in any room since they laid her in a nursery and all the other fathers wished that she was their baby instead of the plain one they got.

She laughs her throaty laugh at something the man says and lifts a graceful hand in farewell. He’ll think about her for weeks.

As she comes toward the car, she waves at me, too, but doesn’t hurry her long-legged walk any. In the dark, it would be easy to mistake that body for one thirty years younger. Legs long as a spider’s, shoulders straight and square beneath her neat, boxy jacket. A diamond at her throat catches the light and winks at me as she climbs in, smelling of bourbon and Tabu and cigarettes. “I,” she says in her whiskey voice, “had a very good day.”

“Did you?” I start the car, glare at her when she takes a cigarette out of the pack.

She makes a noise. “I haven’t had one for two hours, India! And it is my car.”

I put my hand on the gearshift and just look at her. She puts it back, snaps her case closed. “You are such a fuddy-duddy.”

“Ah, well. So you won a lot, huh?”

“Six hundred dollars!”

I blink. “Wow. Was it that Monopoly machine?”

“No! That blasted thing isn’t paying worth a squat these days. No, this was a quarter machine in the back of the Midnight Rose. It paid and paid and paid, and I finally hit the big one.” She fidgets, opens her purse, closes it. “That nice man you saw at the bus was sitting right beside me, bringing me luck.”

“Did you give him your phone number?”

“Oh, don’t be silly. After Don Redding, all other men are just shadows.”

Don is my father, who died six months ago. This pierces me because until he died, I never thought Eldora was particularly besotted, and I feel guilty for hoping she’ll find another husband to dote on her so I’m off the hook. “Well, at least you got out and had a good time.”

“I did. It was nice.”

At a stoplight I hand her the postcard I got in today’s mail. “I heard from Gypsy.”

My mother looks at it, her mouth working as she tries to deci- pher it.

“Don’t worry,” I say, “I don’t know what it means, either.”

“I can’t see the postmark in this light. Is it readable?”

“Tucumcari,” I say. The word is layered with meaning. For me, for my mother, and for my poor, schizophrenic sister.

Eldora is quiet for a moment. At a red light on Colorado Avenue, not six blocks from the house I grew up in, she says, “You know, I was thinking about her up there. Had a little brainstorm.”

“Pray tell.”

“You’re gonna argue with me, so I don’t want you to say yes or no right now, all right?”

“Mom—”

“Don’t start arguing before I even say it!”

The light turns green, thank God. If I hurry, I can be at her house before she gets it all out, and then I can pretend to forget about it. “Go ahead.” I try to sound more patient than I feel.

“I want you to drive me to Las Vegas.”

“No.”

“I said don’t answer yet. Just hear me out.”

“No.” What I don’t say aloud is no friggin way. No way am I driving across the country with my mother and her cigarettes and her penchant for bourbon on some wild quest that will lead nowhere.

“What I was thinking is that maybe we could look for Gypsy.”

I ignore her. The house is straight ahead, a plain ranch style in Pleasant Valley, near the Garden of the Gods. My father bought it for her just after my sister and I were born, and it has quadrupled in value since. It’s been paid off since 1979, so she’s sitting on a small fortune. There is a light in the window, showing a crystal lamp shining on a red- velvet piano shawl that decorates the back of a chair upholstered in deep blue, one of the pockets of beauty that fill my mother’s house. It looks welcoming.

Without waiting for her, I get out of the Thunderbird, lock the door, and head toward my own vehicle, a slightly less dramatic dark blue Toyota sedan. Her high heels tap behind me.

“I can see you’re in a bad mood. We can talk about it later.” She nudges my arm.

“What?”

She leans her cigarette into the lighter she’s had at the ready since she got off the bus, blows a plume of smoke politely away from me, and presses a crisp hundred-dollar bill in my hand. “Go to the spa for a day, sugar. It’ll make you feel better.”

“Mom!” I try to give it back, but she’s already going up the walk, waving a hand behind her. “I don’t need your money, I swear!”

“Oh, just take it, baby!” She turns around but keeps walking backward. The tip of her cigarette glows red. “That man’s coming in to see you tomorrow, isn’t he? Buy something wicked.” She waves. “Night!”

For a long moment, I stand there at the foot of her driveway, the bill in my hand. We all say this, but in my case it’s true. My mother is a wacko with absolutely no sense of reality.

Las Vegas. I shudder. Chapter Two

India There are no messages on my machine when I get home, just as there have been no calls on my cell this evening. That’s because I have no life in Colorado Springs—a place I had vowed never to return.

Until six months ago I had a perfect life. A town house in the Capitol Hill area of Denver, a beautiful old place with twelve-foot ceilings and the original wood moldings, plenty of work pouring in, lots of interesting friends, many of them in the arts or the computer industry—a pungent mix when I stir them together at parties. I’m good at parties, which I say without arrogance. I love them; love the work of getting all the details just right, the food and drinks and people and music and settings. There are often people sleeping on my couch the morning after.

The good old days, I think, flipping through my CDs. There’s the Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin I used for a Rat Pack party I threw last summer. We all dressed up in A-line dresses and turquoise eye shadow with false eyelashes and danced to Frank’s love songs. It was great. I got the idea from my mother, actually, who’d spent quite a bit of time in the old Las Vegas and loves to share tales of Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank and all the others at the bar of the Sahara or the Sands. That’s where she met my father, at the Sands, playing blackjack. I wonder if that’s why she wants to go there now.

Tugging my hair into a knot at my neck, I keep flipping through the CDs. I don’t want Frank or Dean tonight, and choose a Dido CD that’s been a big favorite lately. I’m on a kick with female soloists—Natalie Merchant and Dido and K. D. Lang. I tell myself it’s because I can do my work while listening to it, not because I’m in love.

At that Rat Pack party last summer, my life had been exactly where I wanted it. Jack and I had had several long weekends together by then, one in Colorado, one in New York City; we were in the very first flush of a love affair—always the best part. My sister, Gypsy, had been stable and on her meds for more than two years. She’d recently been in town for an opening and had sold all but two of her paintings the first night. My father, eighty years old and vigorous enough to walk an hour every day, rain or snow, doted on my mother, leaving me free to live seventy miles away from her oxygen-sucking presence. I spoke to him on the phone the day after the party and he told me about a surprise getaway he was planning for her sixty-third birthday party.

Two days later, he went for his daily walk and collapsed beneath the Kissing Camels, dead from a massive heart attack. We all said the same thing—that if you had to go, that was the way to do it—but the reality has been difficult for me. It proved impossible for Gypsy, who went off her meds and disappeared two months ago, in spite of the fact that I’d seen it coming and tried to get her space in a boarding home for a little while. There wasn’t anywhere for her to go—cutbacks in the state budget meant all the private facilities were full to the brim and then some.

And my mother simply retreated into a bottle. She’s always been fond of her bourbon, but within a week of the funeral she was disappearing nightly into a fifth. Too much. Since my father once made me promise that I would care for Eldora after his death, I had no choice but to sublet the apartment in Denver and come back to the Springs to get her stabilized.

Which, happily, she appears to be. I’ve been thinking I can move back to Denver within a month or two. Go back to my perfect life. Work I’m actually crazy about. My beautiful apartment. Weekends once a month with Jack, alternating between New York and Denver, weekends that have been wildly romantic and never too threatening.

I think of the plus sign on the pregnancy test.

With Dido in the background, I sign on to collect e-mail, and there is a satisfyingly huge amount of it. Here is where most of my social life takes place these days—online. There’s a note from Jack, but I leave it to last and sort through the rest. Ads for penis enlargement and the latest letter from an alleged African minister begging for help go in the trash. I flag a discussion about writing and designing for the living Web, collect all the business-related e-mails into a file for morning, when I’ll be fresh enough to give them the attention they deserve.

There are a couple of chatty e-mails from friends in Denver. Alice is having a party on the twenty-fifth and wants the pleasure of my company. “C’mon, India,” she writes. “We miss you! It’s a forty-minute drive!”

There is another from Hannah, my best friend, she of the throaty voice and designer shoes. “What’s going on, Redding?” she writes. “You’ve been ducking me for a week. Call me. Right now. I mean it.”

I glance at the clock, pick up the phone. Hannah answers on the third ring. “Okay, what’s going on?”

“Hannah, I am so sorry. I’ve just been swamped. Jack is coming tomorrow and my mother has been having me drive her all over the universe and I’ve been working my head off. How are you?”

“I don’t believe you,” she says. “You only do the recluse thing when you’re upset about something. Are you depressed about Gypsy?”

It’s a good cover, and I leap on it. I can’t bear to tell her about the pregnancy test yet. “I am depressed about her,” I say, and I realize that it’s true. “I really thought she might make it this time, that she wouldn’t get delusional anymore. It sometimes happens when people get to their forties and fifties.”

“I know, sweetie.” Hannah, a gallery owner, had been instrumental in getting Gypsy’s work into the world, and she owns several of her paintings. “I think about her a lot.”

“I got a postcard from her today, in our twin language. I’ll save it for you—there’s a pastel drawing that’s just fantastic.”

“How’s Jack? How’s your mom?”

“Fine and fine. My life is boring right now, Hannah. Tell me about yours. Have you met any interesting men lately?”

“Well,” she purrs. “Now that you mention it, there are a couple of interesting prospects.”

I smile. Hannah loves men and they love her back, but the prospects angle is a joke. A man caught her in marriage for three years in her twenties, and afterward she swore off marriage forever. Since she’s nearly six feet tall, with red hair and natural, double-D breasts, there probably won’t be a shortage of suitors anytime soon. “Tell me,” I say.

She does, and I’m happily enfolded in her adventures for a while. By then, I’m ready for bed and the e-mail I’ve saved for last. It’s from Jack and it’s only one line: “I am thinking of the red shoes with great pleasure.”

I’m seasick again and put my head down on the desk.

It’s funny how the moments that change your life sneak up on you. The night I met Jack, saucer-sized feathers of snow were falling out of a heavy pink sky. I walked to the pub, not minding the kink the moisture would give my hair. There’s nothing quite like the soft air of a falling snow. Light from the pub, with a proper Irish name—O’Connell’s—spilled yellow onto the sidewalk through a mullioned window. I could hear the rush of voices inside, and there was an agreeable sense of happiness in my chest. New work. That was what I was thinking about.

We’d only communicated by e-mail, Jack and I. He’d seen my Web designs and wanted to talk to me about putting together something for his magazine, a publication for adventure travelers. I had a picture in my mind of a jowly Irish American, an Ernest Hemingway type, hard drinking and hard living, with fists like hams and white hair. It was some face my brain sent up from central casting to go with “Jack Shea, magazine publisher and outdoorsman.” He’d been skiing at Aspen and had hired a car to bring him into Denver for the night.

All great for me. It was plain he had deep pockets and wanted a substantial site.

I pulled open the heavy wooden doors to the pub. Air heavy with a heady mix of cigarettes and ale, perfume and old nights enveloped me. From the jukebox came the sound of a heavy, fast Celtic drum, which lent a sense of excitement to the room. It was crowded, but I’d asked him to meet me by the main taps, and I pushed through the college students and businessmen.

Spying Jack, I knew right away it was him, even though he was so very different from the picture I’d had in my head. He had a pint of something dark in front of him, and he wore a black leather jacket with many years of wear on it, not battered, but comfortable to the last degree. He was digging in the pocket of his jeans for a bill to give the bartender, and a lock of that thick black hair was falling on his face. I had a glimpse of a sharply cut white cheek, and light glanced off the crown of his head, and I swear, it had been years and years, but my heart flipped.

It scared me. I stopped and thought about leaving. I stood there for a minute, waiting for him to raise his head. His nose was strong and straight, that elegant right angle, and his mouth was generous, which is a sort of requirement of mine.

What surprised me was the aura of rough-and-tumble about him. The well-worn boots, the jeans, the scuffs on his leather coat, his too-long hair. Not a bad boy—he was tougher than that. Bad boys were posers where he came from.

And how do you know all that about a person in three seconds? I don’t know, but we all do it. And sometimes we know we’re right.

I had the advantage when he looked up and saw me. His face didn’t show a damn thing, but his eyes—and this was the first time I’d seen them, so clear and even a gray, the exact color of the ocean on a cloudy day—flickered.

He said, “Your picture does you no justice.”

“You’re Irish Irish,” I said without thinking.

One side of his mouth lifted. A thin white scar cut through his left eyebrow. The eyes were spectacular up close, flecked with darker gray. “So I am. Galway.”

“Sorry,” I said, and stuck out my hand. “That was pretty idiotic. Jack Shea, right? I’m India Redding.”

His hand went around mine, white and strong, with scatters of dark hair on the back. His nails were clean, oval, neat; a contrast to his hair, which seemed curiously untended, a little shaggy, too long across his forehead. The blackness pointed up the gray of those eyes, which were having a conversation with me, sweeping my face, my lips, my breasts—but in the right way, admiring without leering.

He looked at me. Not politely. Not with any expectation. Just looked, and I felt it all through me, as if he really could see everything I was, all I’d ever been. After a moment, he lifted his chin. “I am very pleased to meet you, India.”

I admit it, the accent slayed me. Who could resist that brogue, ruffling the Rs and frolicking through ordinary words like “very” and “pleased.” I gave a passing imitation of someone with a brain, however, and gestured him toward a booth. “It will be quieter over there. We can talk about what you’re looking for.”

He followed me over. Not so tall, I noticed, but graceful, light on his feet. We settled across from each other, both of us shedding our coats, then leaning forward over the table. There was a moment of collision, almost shocking, when our eyes met. I was arrested for a moment, and the air was thinner—all those things that sound absurd. Wonderful. Terrifying. Electric.

“Well,” he said, clasping his hands around his glass, “I’m flummoxed. You’re beautiful, and I don’t know what to say.”

I smiled at that, ease coming back into my chest. “So are you.”

“Now that I know is a lie,” he replied, and I noticed his finger stroked the scar on his eyebrow. “But it’s a nice one, so I thank you.”

We made small talk until the waitress brought me an ale. I was going to order Guinness, but I was afraid he would think I was trying to curry favor, and ordered a microbrew instead. The waitress cooed over him.

“I just love that accent,” she said.

“Thank you.” He smiled at me, and cocked his head a little as she left. “It’s Irish Irish, you know.”

In my younger days, I would have blushed. Instead, I inclined my head in return, smiling to acknowledge his little insider joke. “Now, how can I help you, Mr. Shea?”

One brow lifted. “Well, Ms. Redding, I’d like a Web page.”

I had a steno pad and took notes. It was a quick, straightforward exchange; he spoke clearly and directly. I asked for clarification, he gave it. I sketched, he shook his head; I sketched again, he began to nod, tapped the page with his index finger.

I leaned back, poked the page with my pen. “The demographic is not the twenty-something, then. You’re looking for a market share among an older set.”

“Exactly. A fit fifty-year-old who wants to hike to Machu Picchu or take an adventure cruise in New Zealand.”

“Excellent.” I sipped the ale, made a note to myself to check some of the other magazines in this age group. “What about the financial demographic?”

“Sensible, not luxury.”

“Arthur Frommer, not Condé Nast?”

Again that quirky half smile. “Right.”

“Interesting. I think I can come up with a few ideas for this. I’ll require a retainer, but it will apply toward the final bill if you hire me.”

“Fair enough. I’d also like you to meet some of my staff and get their ideas as well. Is that possible?”

“In New York?”

“Sure. It shouldn’t be a long trip, but it should be face-to-face. I’d be happy to put you up—we keep an apartment.”

What the heck. I hadn’t been anywhere in ages, and it would be tax deductible, and, well, how awful would it be to listen to him talk a little more? “I’m sure I can arrange that.”

“Good.” He raised a hand for the waitress, and patted the notebook. “End of business, then. We’ll just be ourselves now. Is that all right? May I call you India?”

“Please.”

When the waitress appeared, he said, “What’ll you have?”

“I didn’t want to be patronizing before,” I said, and grinned, “but I’d really like a Guinness.”

A little breeze of surprise over his mouth. “Make it two.” When she’d gone, he said in that musical way, “My kind of woman.”

“Tell me about yourself,” I said, leaning forward. “You’re from Galway. How did you get here?”

“That is a long and tangled story, girl.”

“All right. Tell me a little bit of it then.”

He fingered the scar again, and seemed to notice me noticing. “Beer bottle when I was seventeen.” He mimed fisticuffs. “I had a bit of a temper in those days.”

“Rakish. You could be a pirate.” The pints of Guinness came, black and frothy. I sipped mine and sighed. “They always say it doesn’t travel well, but it tastes fine to me. I love it.”

“It’s better in Ireland, but it’s not so bad here.” He raised his glass. “Cheers.”

I clinked the glass. “So you were a wild young man?”

“Sure, I was,” he said. And he spun a tale, cheerful and funny, of his youth in a neighborhood of council houses in Galway. His fa- ther worked for the railyard, his mother as a clerk for the local grocery. Both were quite religious and dragged him to mass far too often for his pleasure. There were seven brothers and sisters, of which he was the eldest. “There were too many of us in that house, and I signed on with a freighter going to Australia. Didn’t have to go to mass anymore.”

I laughed.

He traveled the world and made his way into travel writing, and made a good living for himself.

The story unrolled in a droll voice that poked fun at himself and his life, and had the ring of an oft-told tale, which I didn’t mind. It was funny and punctuated with bits of trivia. On a trip to San Francisco, for example, he fell to drinking with a group of young computer geeks. He did an article on them, and one sent him a thank-you with an offer to invest in a software product they thought would revolutionize certain business practices.

Jack paused, lifted his glass. That heavy lock of black hair fell on his forehead and he tossed it off. “It was a bloody coup. I made a fortune. Bought the magazine, and here I am.”

“Never married?”

“Sure, I was married.” A darkness crossed his face, the expression I recognized could probably be thunderous. He said, “Everyone marries, don’t they? But I prefer not to think about it.”

“Fair enough.”

“Now your story, India. No husband? No children?”

“Nope. Not interested.”

His gaze went through me, seeking the truth of that. I didn’t look away. “Unusual.”

I told him then, up front. “I have a twin sister who is schizophrenic. It seems wiser not to have a child.”

“I see.”

Something was drawing me under his spell again. The agreeable atmosphere, the shimmer of those gray eyes, the lure of putting my hands in his hair. I wanted to touch him, very badly. I wanted even more to kiss him. He looked at my mouth.

Bad idea.

“I think I’m going to have to get going,” I said lightly.

“So soon?”

“Early morning,” I lied. I was afraid if I stayed I would end up sleeping with him. A very bad idea, considering how much I wanted the contract to design his Web pages. I stood, held out my hand. “It’s been wonderful talking to you, Jack. Really.”

He dropped some bills on the table. “I’ll walk you out.”

So we put on our coats and went out into the saucer-sized snowflakes, falling like fake snow to lie in little fluffy piles in corners. I held out my hand to shake his, and he gave me that little half smile as he accepted it.

Then he drew me forward, closer and closer, just our hands held, and he lifted up his other hand and cupped it on my face.

And kissed me. His mouth was hot as a bubbling dessert, sweet as blackberries. A voice in the back of my mind said Be cool, be cool, but instead I moved a little into a more comfortable position, and put my arm around his shoulder, and we kissed some more.

I finally raised my head. “Um . . . I have to go.”

He moved his thumb over my lower lip. “I’ll see you again, India. Good night.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

India The sun is setting over Pikes Peak when I get home Tuesday afternoon. The play of pink light is as delicate as a teacup, so beautiful that a muscle in my neck untwists. The mountain feels like a relative. I find myself checking in with it a thousand times a day, glancing over to see where the light is, whether the snowy cap is white or gray or pink, whether I can see a hidden valley.

My passion for it surprises me. I grew up with it, after all, looked askance at the tourists crowding into town every summer, shooting endless, endless photos of it. It was, in those days, only a mountain. I didn't understand the appeal. Now its burly steadiness against the horizon is something I can count on, unlike life.

I fit the key into my front door and take one last glance at the Peak before carrying my load inside. The canvas bag of supplies goes on the breakfast bar between the kitchen and the sparse living room that I've not decorated with much of anything because I'm not planning to stay. The mail I hold in my hand, because it is my policy to handle each piece of mail only once. The bills go in one pile, the junk—most of it—in another, the business letters in a third pile.

Two are from clients, and I take the time to open those first. They are checks. One is a retainer for a site I've agreed to design for a Denver photographer, the other a hefty—yes—final payment for an enormous, complicated site for an eccentric old writer. I smile, thinking of him. Paul David Walters, a grizzled adventurer with four ex-wives, led me on a merry chase for three months, changing his mind every ten minutes, but his wits were sharp and his insightsinto the function of the Web were brilliant. It's the best site I've designed in years and it is in my portfolio. The payment, too, is quite sweet. Solvency for another three months, four if I'm frugal.

Tucked between the utility bill and a flyer for a new restaurant down the street is a postcard from my twin sister, Gypsy. I glance involuntarily at the bag of groceries on the counter, then pick up the card for a closer look.

It's an index card with a miniaturized version of one of Gypsy's paintings on the blank side. She works mainly with descansos, the roadside crosses planted at the sites of accidents, and graveyards, and this is an abstract graveyard with a blur of pinks and yellows and stylized crosses, so odd and beautiful it draws the eye almost against one's will. Gypsy's paintings invite the viewer to come closer, lean in, hear a secret, a mystery. I stare at this one a long time, wishing I really could.

On the back, where the lines are, is a message scribbled in Gypsy's pointed, spidery hand. Unfortunately, the only thing I can read is my name, India, and the date, which she's written in numbers at the top. Last week. That's a good sign.

The rest is written in a language I wished I remembered, the one we created as babies and used between ourselves until we lost it at around eleven or twelve—which is actually quite late; most twins stop using their secret languages by first or second grade—or rather, I lost it. Gypsy kept it, and when she is delusional, as she is now, it is the only language she uses to communicate with me.

I stare at the words with great concentration, as I always do, sure that the veil between past and present will lift one of these days, and I will suddenly remember the code. I even went to a hypnotist once to see if she could help me. It hadn't worked.

And no miracle occurs now, either. The only clue I can gather from the card is the postmark: Tucumcari, New Mexico. It's something.

I put it down on the counter, take off my coat and hang it in the nearly empty coat closet, then I go back to the kitchen to put away the groceries—a can of Eagle-brand condensed milk, maraschino cherries, paraffin, baking chocolate; chicken breasts and coriander; onions, basmati rice; the whole milk Jack likes in his tea. The cherries, so very red and round, are irresistible, so I open the jar and take three of them by the stem, popping them into my mouth one at a time. Then the bottle goes into the fridge, on the door, next to the olives I keep for my mother. The milk is slightly out of place, and I nudge it into its place beneath the light.

At the back of my neck I feel the lure of Gypsy's card, and close my eyes, trying—in the way of twins, not some new-age fruitcake—to sense her, sense her mind. It's not there.

And there, at the bottom of the grocery bag, is a box, tapping its foot while it waits for me to face it. I'll hear that little tap all evening unless I answer it, so I carry it into the bathroom and close the door. Gypsy once laughed uproariously when she found out I close the door even when I'm alone, but there are some things that just require privacy. I'm not like her and my mother, who don't have a single body secret in the universe. I'm sorry, but I don't need to share or know any of those things.

I read the directions on the box twice to be sure I understand them, then, safe behind the closed door, I follow them. I wash my hands and wait.

It doesn't take very long. In minutes, the lines on the pregnancy test form a distinct, undeniable plus sign.

Pregnant.

Carefully, I wrap up the stick and the box in lengths of toilet paper, as if there is someone else here who might see it in the trash, then carry it out to the kitchen and throw it away safely under the sink.

Pregnant.

I'm swept with an intense dizziness, and put a hand over my belly. It's a weird thing to do, considering my horror, but it's involuntary. Am I trying to sense it? Repulse it?

But instead, for one long, yearning second, I see my lover against the screen of my eyelids, his black hair, his quirky smile—and for one single flash of time, I imagine a daughter with tumbling black curls and a tilt to her eyes.

No.

With a sense of seasickness, I open my eyes, list sideways and pick up the postcard from Gypsy. It contains all the reasons I cannot take the chance no matter how much I might wish it.






My mother no longer drives, so two hours later, I am sitting in the dark at the parking lot of Winchell's Doughnuts on Eighth Street, waiting for her bus to arrive from Cripple Creek. There is a nearly full moon pouring down on the Peak, making the snow shine. I think again that the mountain is beautiful enough to make up for a lot of things I've had to face about living in Colorado Springs again.

I'm sitting in my mother's car, since she refuses to ride in anything else. It reeks of cigarettes and old leather, and I turn on the heater full blast and roll down the window. A man passing by turns his head and whistles quietly. Over the car, not me. It's a 1957 Thunderbird, turquoise, which Eldora has owned since it rolled off the lot, and it's in cherry condition since one of the last things my father did before he died was restore it, top to bottom. I'm fairly certain my mother loves this car more than she loves me.

I'm a little early, so I spend the time going through my purse, which I'm persnickety about. It's been a day or two since I've had a chance to organize it, make sure everything is in its place. There are three sections and two small, zippered pockets. In one section are my comb, lipstick, small mirror in a rubberized pocket that keeps it from breaking, a fingernail clipper, and an emery board. All in their places. In the middle section that zips, I keep three pens with caps, a small notepad, and a calculator. The tops are off two of the pens and I replace them firmly, zipping the pocket. In section three is my wallet, and I open it to be sure all the cards are in their places—the grocery store cards in one section, the credit cards in another. I also keep my keys in the third section, but they're currently in the ignition.

In one of the smaller zippered pockets I keep a ChapStick and my cell phone. In the other, inside the bag, are the usual female supplies—I open it and look at the tampons and realize with a shock that I might not need them for a while. What would that be like? A hollow feeling goes through me.

The bus lumbers in. It's the early evening service, so everyone getting off is over the age of fifty. They go to gamble early before the casinos get too smoky and then return home by nine so they can take their evening medications and have a good night's sleep, the binging and ringing of slot machines dancing in their heads. The lucky ones are easy to spot. They're laughing and joking, jingling change in their cotton jackets.

I know when Eldora will be next because there is a handsome, Mediterranean-looking senior, dapper with silver at his temples, who gets off the bus and turns around to hold out his hand to the woman behind him. She steps down carefully in her high heels and slim slacks, her perfect red hair shining beneath the streetlight. Even in the dark, I can see her long acrylic nails, nails she has done every other week by a Vietnamese boy at the local strip mall. Technically, she's a senior like the rest of them, sixty-three, but my mother has been the most glorious female in any room since they laid her in a nursery and all the other fathers wished that she was their baby instead of the plain one they got.

She laughs her throaty laugh at something the man says and lifts a graceful hand in farewell. He'll think about her for weeks.

As she comes toward the car, she waves at me, too, but doesn't hurry her long-legged walk any. In the dark, it would be easy to mistake that body for one thirty years younger. Legs long as a spider's, shoulders straight and square beneath her neat, boxy jacket. A diamond at her throat catches the light and winks at me as she climbs in, smelling of bourbon and Tabu and cigarettes. "I," she says in her whiskey voice, "had a very good day."

"Did you?" I start the car, glare at her when she takes a cigarette out of the pack.

She makes a noise. "I haven't had one for two hours, India! And it is my car."

I put my hand on the gearshift and just look at her. She puts it back, snaps her case closed. "You are such a fuddy-duddy."

"Ah, well. So you won a lot, huh?"

"Six hundred dollars!"

I blink. "Wow. Was it that Monopoly machine?"

"No! That blasted thing isn't paying worth a squat these days. No, this was a quarter machine in the back of the Midnight Rose. It paid and paid and paid, and I finally hit the big one." She fidgets, opens her purse, closes it. "That nice man you saw at the bus was sitting right beside me, bringing me luck."

"Did you give him your phone number?"

"Oh, don't be silly. After Don Redding, all other men are just shadows."

Don is my father, who died six months ago. This pierces me because until he died, I never thought Eldora was particularly besotted, and I feel guilty for hoping she'll find another husband to dote on her so I'm off the hook. "Well, at least you got out and had a good time."

"I did. It was nice."

At a stoplight I hand her the postcard I got in today's mail. "I heard from Gypsy."

My mother looks at it, her mouth working as she tries to deci- pher it.

"Don't worry," I say, "I don't know what it means, either."

"I can't see the postmark in this light. Is it readable?"

"Tucumcari," I say. The word is layered with meaning. For me, for my mother, and for my poor, schizophrenic sister.

Eldora is quiet for a moment. At a red light on Colorado Avenue, not six blocks from the house I grew up in, she says, "You know, I was thinking about her up there. Had a little brainstorm."

"Pray tell."

"You're gonna argue with me, so I don't want you to say yes or no right now, all right?"

"Mom—"

"Don't start arguing before I even say it!"

The light turns green, thank God. If I hurry, I can be at her house before she gets it all out, and then I can pretend to forget about it. "Go ahead." I try to sound more patient than I feel.

"I want you to drive me to Las Vegas."

"No."

"I said don't answer yet. Just hear me out."

"No." What I don't say aloud is no friggin way. No way am I driving across the country with my mother and her cigarettes and her penchant for bourbon on some wild quest that will lead nowhere.

"What I was thinking is that maybe we could look for Gypsy."

I ignore her. The house is straight ahead, a plain ranch style in Pleasant Valley, near the Garden of the Gods. My father bought it for her just after my sister and I were born, and it has quadrupled in value since. It's been paid off since 1979, so she's sitting on a small fortune. There is a light in the window, showing a crystal lamp shining on a red- velvet piano shawl that decorates the back of a chair upholstered in deep blue, one of the pockets of beauty that fill my mother's house. It looks welcoming.

Without waiting for her, I get out of the Thunderbird, lock the door, and head toward my own vehicle, a slightly less dramatic dark blue Toyota sedan. Her high heels tap behind me.

"I can see you're in a bad mood. We can talk about it later." She nudges my arm.

"What?"

She leans her cigarette into the lighter she's had at the ready since she got off the bus, blows a plume of smoke politely away from me, and presses a crisp hundred-dollar bill in my hand. "Go to the spa for a day, sugar. It'll make you feel better."

"Mom!" I try to give it back, but she's already going up the walk, waving a hand behind her. "I don't need your money, I swear!"

"Oh, just take it, baby!" She turns around but keeps walking backward. The tip of her cigarette glows red. "That man's coming in to see you tomorrow, isn't he? Buy something wicked." She waves. "Night!"

For a long moment, I stand there at the foot of her driveway, the bill in my hand. We all say this, but in my case it's true. My mother is a wacko with absolutely no sense of reality.

Las Vegas. I shudder. Chapter Two

India There are no messages on my machine when I get home, just as there have been no calls on my cell this evening. That's because I have no life in Colorado Springs—a place I had vowed never to return.

Until six months ago I had a perfect life. A town house in the Capitol Hill area of Denver, a beautiful old place with twelve-foot ceilings and the original wood moldings, plenty of work pouring in, lots of interesting friends, many of them in the arts or the computer industry—a pungent mix when I stir them together at parties. I'm good at parties, which I say without arrogance. I love them; love the work of getting all the details just right, the food and drinks and people and music and settings. There are often people sleeping on my couch the morning after.

The good old days, I think, flipping through my CDs. There's the Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin I used for a Rat Pack party I threw last summer. We all dressed up in A-line dresses and turquoise eye shadow with false eyelashes and danced to Frank's love songs. It was great. I got the idea from my mother, actually, who'd spent quite a bit of time in the old Las Vegas and loves to share tales of Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank and all the others at the bar of the Sahara or the Sands. That's where she met my father, at the Sands, playing blackjack. I wonder if that's why she wants to go there now.

Tugging my hair into a knot at my neck, I keep flipping through the CDs. I don't want Frank or Dean tonight, and choose a Dido CD that's been a big favorite lately. I'm on a kick with female soloists—Natalie Merchant and Dido and K. D. Lang. I tell myself it's because I can do my work while listening to it, not because I'm in love.

At that Rat Pack party last summer, my life had been exactly where I wanted it. Jack and I had had several long weekends together by then, one in Colorado, one in New York City; we were in the very first flush of a love affair—always the best part. My sister, Gypsy, had been stable and on her meds for more than two years. She'd recently been in town for an opening and had sold all but two of her paintings the first night. My father, eighty years old and vigorous enough to walk an hour every day, rain or snow, doted on my mother, leaving me free to live seventy miles away from her oxygen-sucking presence. I spoke to him on the phone the day after the party and he told me about a surprise getaway he was planning for her sixty-third birthday party.

Two days later, he went for his daily walk and collapsed beneath the Kissing Camels, dead from a massive heart attack. We all said the same thing—that if you had to go, that was the way to do it—but the reality has been difficult for me. It proved impossible for Gypsy, who went off her meds and disappeared two months ago, in spite of the fact that I'd seen it coming and tried to get her space in a boarding home for a little while. There wasn't anywhere for her to go—cutbacks in the state budget meant all the private facilities were full to the brim and then some.

And my mother simply retreated into a bottle. She's always been fond of her bourbon, but within a week of the funeral she was disappearing nightly into a fifth. Too much. Since my father once made me promise that I would care for Eldora after his death, I had no choice but to sublet the apartment in Denver and come back to the Springs to get her stabilized.

Which, happily, she appears to be. I've been thinking I can move back to Denver within a month or two. Go back to my perfect life. Work I'm actually crazy about. My beautiful apartment. Weekends once a month with Jack, alternating between New York and Denver, weekends that have been wildly romantic and never too threatening.

I think of the plus sign on the pregnancy test.

With Dido in the background, I sign on to collect e-mail, and there is a satisfyingly huge amount of it. Here is where most of my social life takes place these days—online. There's a note from Jack, but I leave it to last and sort through the rest. Ads for penis enlargement and the latest letter from an alleged African minister begging for help go in the trash. I flag a discussion about writing and designing for the living Web, collect all the business-related e-mails into a file for morning, when I'll be fresh enough to give them the attention they deserve.

There are a couple of chatty e-mails from friends in Denver. Alice is having a party on the twenty-fifth and wants the pleasure of my company. "C'mon, India," she writes. "We miss you! It's a forty-minute drive!"

There is another from Hannah, my best friend, she of the throaty voice and designer shoes. "What's going on, Redding?" she writes. "You've been ducking me for a week. Call me. Right now. I mean it."

I glance at the clock, pick up the phone. Hannah answers on the third ring. "Okay, what's going on?"

"Hannah, I am so sorry. I've just been swamped. Jack is coming tomorrow and my mother has been having me drive her all over the universe and I've been working my head off. How are you?"

"I don't believe you," she says. "You only do the recluse thing when you're upset about something. Are you depressed about Gypsy?"

It's a good cover, and I leap on it. I can't bear to tell her about the pregnancy test yet. "I am depressed about her," I say, and I realize that it's true. "I really thought she might make it this time, that she wouldn't get delusional anymore. It sometimes happens when people get to their forties and fifties."

"I know, sweetie." Hannah, a gallery owner, had been instrumental in getting Gypsy's work into the world, and she owns several of her paintings. "I think about her a lot."

"I got a postcard from her today, in our twin language. I'll save it for you—there's a pastel drawing that's just fantastic."

"How's Jack? How's your mom?"

"Fine and fine. My life is boring right now, Hannah. Tell me about yours. Have you met any interesting men lately?"

"Well," she purrs. "Now that you mention it, there are a couple of interesting prospects."

I smile. Hannah loves men and they love her back, but the prospects angle is a joke. A man caught her in marriage for three years in her twenties, and afterward she swore off marriage forever. Since she's nearly six feet tall, with red hair and natural, double-D breasts, there probably won't be a shortage of suitors anytime soon. "Tell me," I say.

She does, and I'm happily enfolded in her adventures for a while. By then, I'm ready for bed and the e-mail I've saved for last. It's from Jack and it's only one line: "I am thinking of the red shoes with great pleasure."

I'm seasick again and put my head down on the desk.



It's funny how the moments that change your life sneak up on you. The night I met Jack, saucer-sized feathers of snow were falling out of a heavy pink sky. I walked to the pub, not minding the kink the moisture would give my hair. There's nothing quite like the soft air of a falling snow. Light from the pub, with a proper Irish name—O'Connell's—spilled yellow onto the sidewalk through a mullioned window. I could hear the rush of voices inside, and there was an agreeable sense of happiness in my chest. New work. That was what I was thinking about.

We'd only communicated by e-mail, Jack and I. He'd seen my Web designs and wanted to talk to me about putting together something for his magazine, a publication for adventure travelers. I had a picture in my mind of a jowly Irish American, an Ernest Hemingway type, hard drinking and hard living, with fists like hams and white hair. It was some face my brain sent up from central casting to go with "Jack Shea, magazine publisher and outdoorsman." He'd been skiing at Aspen and had hired a car to bring him into Denver for the night.

All great for me. It was plain he had deep pockets and wanted a substantial site.

I pulled open the heavy wooden doors to the pub. Air heavy with a heady mix of cigarettes and ale, perfume and old nights enveloped me. From the jukebox came the sound of a heavy, fast Celtic drum, which lent a sense of excitement to the room. It was crowded, but I'd asked him to meet me by the main taps, and I pushed through the college students and businessmen.

Spying Jack, I knew right away it was him, even though he was so very different from the picture I'd had in my head. He had a pint of something dark in front of him, and he wore a black leather jacket with many years of wear on it, not battered, but comfortable to the last degree. He was digging in the pocket of his jeans for a bill to give the bartender, and a lock of that thick black hair was falling on his face. I had a glimpse of a sharply cut white cheek, and light glanced off the crown of his head, and I swear, it had been years and years, but my heart flipped.

It scared me. I stopped and thought about leaving. I stood there for a minute, waiting for him to raise his head. His nose was strong and straight, that elegant right angle, and his mouth was generous, which is a sort of requirement of mine.

What surprised me was the aura of rough-and-tumble about him. The well-worn boots, the jeans, the scuffs on his leather coat, his too-long hair. Not a bad boy—he was tougher than that. Bad boys were posers where he came from.

And how do you know all that about a person in three seconds? I don't know, but we all do it. And sometimes we know we're right.

I had the advantage when he looked up and saw me. His face didn't show a damn thing, but his eyes—and this was the first time I'd seen them, so clear and even a gray, the exact color of the ocean on a cloudy day—flickered.

He said, "Your picture does you no justice."

"You're Irish Irish," I said without thinking.

One side of his mouth lifted. A thin white scar cut through his left eyebrow. The eyes were spectacular up close, flecked with darker gray. "So I am. Galway."

"Sorry," I said, and stuck out my hand. "That was pretty idiotic. Jack Shea, right? I'm India Redding."

His hand went around mine, white and strong, with scatters of dark hair on the back. His nails were clean, oval, neat; a contrast to his hair, which seemed curiously untended, a little shaggy, too long across his forehead. The blackness pointed up the gray of those eyes, which were having a conversation with me, sweeping my face, my lips, my breasts—but in the right way, admiring without leering.

He looked at me. Not politely. Not with any expectation. Just looked, and I felt it all through me, as if he really could see everything I was, all I'd ever been. After a moment, he lifted his chin. "I am very pleased to meet you, India."

I admit it, the accent slayed me. Who could resist that brogue, ruffling the Rs and frolicking through ordinary words like "very" and "pleased." I gave a passing imitation of someone with a brain, however, and gestured him toward a booth. "It will be quieter over there. We can talk about what you're looking for."

He followed me over. Not so tall, I noticed, but graceful, light on his feet. We settled across from each other, both of us shedding our coats, then leaning forward over the table. There was a moment of collision, almost shocking, when our eyes met. I was arrested for a moment, and the air was thinner—all those things that sound absurd. Wonderful. Terrifying. Electric.

"Well," he said, clasping his hands around his glass, "I'm flummoxed. You're beautiful, and I don't know what to say."

I smiled at that, ease coming back into my chest. "So are you."

"Now that I know is a lie," he replied, and I noticed his finger stroked the scar on his eyebrow. "But it's a nice one, so I thank you."

We made small talk until the waitress brought me an ale. I was going to order Guinness, but I was afraid he would think I was trying to curry favor, and ordered a microbrew instead. The waitress cooed over him.

"I just love that accent," she said.

"Thank you." He smiled at me, and cocked his head a little as she left. "It's Irish Irish, you know."

In my younger days, I would have blushed. Instead, I inclined my head in return, smiling to acknowledge his little insider joke. "Now, how can I help you, Mr. Shea?"

One brow lifted. "Well, Ms. Redding, I'd like a Web page."

I had a steno pad and took notes. It was a quick, straightforward exchange; he spoke clearly and directly. I asked for clarification, he gave it. I sketched, he shook his head; I sketched again, he began to nod, tapped the page with his index finger.

I leaned back, poked the page with my pen. "The demographic is not the twenty-something, then. You're looking for a market share among an older set."

"Exactly. A fit fifty-year-old who wants to hike to Machu Picchu or take an adventure cruise in New Zealand."

"Excellent." I sipped the ale, made a note to myself to check some of the other magazines in this age group. "What about the financial demographic?"

"Sensible, not luxury."

"Arthur Frommer, not Condé Nast?"

Again that quirky half smile. "Right."

"Interesting. I think I can come up with a few ideas for this. I'll require a retainer, but it will apply toward the final bill if you hire me."

"Fair enough. I'd also like you to meet some of my staff and get their ideas as well. Is that possible?"

"In New York?"

"Sure. It shouldn't be a long trip, but it should be face-to-face. I'd be happy to put you up—we keep an apartment."

What the heck. I hadn't been anywhere in ages, and it would be tax deductible, and, well, how awful would it be to listen to him talk a little more? "I'm sure I can arrange that."

"Good." He raised a hand for the waitress, and patted the notebook. "End of business, then. We'll just be ourselves now. Is that all right? May I call you India?"

"Please."

When the waitress appeared, he said, "What'll you have?"

"I didn't want to be patronizing before," I said, and grinned, "but I'd really like a Guinness."

A little breeze of surprise over his mouth. "Make it two." When she'd gone, he said in that musical way, "My kind of woman."

"Tell me about yourself," I said, leaning forward. "You're from Galway. How did you get here?"

"That is a long and tangled story, girl."

"All right. Tell me a little bit of it then."

He fingered the scar again, and seemed to notice me noticing. "Beer bottle when I was seventeen." He mimed fisticuffs. "I had a bit of a temper in those days."

"Rakish. You could be a pirate." The pints of Guinness came, black and frothy. I sipped mine and sighed. "They always say it doesn't travel well, but it tastes fine to me. I love it."

"It's better in Ireland, but it's not so bad here." He raised his glass. "Cheers."

I clinked the glass. "So you were a wild young man?"

"Sure, I was," he said. And he spun a tale, cheerful and funny, of his youth in a neighborhood of council houses in Galway. His fa- ther worked for the railyard, his mother as a clerk for the local grocery. Both were quite religious and dragged him to mass far too often for his pleasure. There were seven brothers and sisters, of which he was the eldest. "There were too many of us in that house, and I signed on with a freighter going to Australia. Didn't have to go to mass anymore."

I laughed.

He traveled the world and made his way into travel writing, and made a good living for himself.

The story unrolled in a droll voice that poked fun at himself and his life, and had the ring of an oft-told tale, which I didn't mind. It was funny and punctuated with bits of trivia. On a trip to San Francisco, for example, he fell to drinking with a group of young computer geeks. He did an article on them, and one sent him a thank-you with an offer to invest in a software product they thought would revolutionize certain business practices.

Jack paused, lifted his glass. That heavy lock of black hair fell on his forehead and he tossed it off. "It was a bloody coup. I made a fortune. Bought the magazine, and here I am."

"Never married?"

"Sure, I was married." A darkness crossed his face, the expression I recognized could probably be thunderous. He said, "Everyone marries, don't they? But I prefer not to think about it."

"Fair enough."

"Now your story, India. No husband? No children?"

"Nope. Not interested."

His gaze went through me, seeking the truth of that. I didn't look away. "Unusual."

I told him then, up front. "I have a twin sister who is schizophrenic. It seems wiser not to have a child."

"I see."

Something was drawing me under his spell again. The agreeable atmosphere, the shimmer of those gray eyes, the lure of putting my hands in his hair. I wanted to touch him, very badly. I wanted even more to kiss him. He looked at my mouth.

Bad idea.

"I think I'm going to have to get going," I said lightly.

"So soon?"

"Early morning," I lied. I was afraid if I stayed I would end up sleeping with him. A very bad idea, considering how much I wanted the contract to design his Web pages. I stood, held out my hand. "It's been wonderful talking to you, Jack. Really."

He dropped some bills on the table. "I'll walk you out."

So we put on our coats and went out into the saucer-sized snowflakes, falling like fake snow to lie in little fluffy piles in corners. I held out my hand to shake his, and he gave me that little half smile as he accepted it.

Then he drew me forward, closer and closer, just our hands held, and he lifted up his other hand and cupped it on my face.

And kissed me. His mouth was hot as a bubbling dessert, sweet as blackberries. A voice in the back of my mind said Be cool, be cool, but instead I moved a little into a more comfortable position, and put my arm around his shoulder, and we kissed some more.

I finally raised my head. "Um . . . I have to go."

He moved his thumb over my lower lip. "I'll see you again, India. Good night."
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2006

    Loved it!

    This fast-paced novel takes mother and daughter, Eldora and India, down Route 66 in search of India¿s schizophrenic twin sister, Gypsy. India is not pleased to leave her work and long distance lover, Jack, to take her mother on a road trip down memory lane in her mother¿s cherished 1957 Thunderbird. But she promised her father before his death that she would take care of her mother, and so she agrees to the trip hoping that the time on the road will help her to reconcile issues in her own life and also to help her make the most important decision of her life. Eldora, who has been living with the regrets and mistakes she made many, many years ago, wants to make peace with one daughter as she searches for the other one. Eldora is faced with revealing her true self to India and in the process risks losing her daughter forever. Both India and Eldora each tell their own story as they travel the same fateful route they took several years ago and try to reconcile their past to their present and dare to hope for a future but ultimately discover that in life and love there are no guarantees. ***** I thoroughly enjoyed Barbara Samuel¿s heartwarming story of a mother and daughter who both dare to risk their current tolerable relationship for a chance to really understand one another. The realness of these two characters makes the reader feel deeply connected with what both India and Eldora are facing. This novel needs to be a movie because India and Eldora¿s stories would be wonderful played out on the big screen. I highly recommend taking this real and endearing and ultimately hopeful journey with India and Eldora along Route 66. *****

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 3, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Touches the Heart

    It's a moving story about searching for those you love--whether figuratively or physically lost--and discovering long kept secrets. I enjoyed the book so much, I read it in two days.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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