Read an Excerpt
SURROUNDED BY CHINTZ and needlepoint, David McKay stood in the middle of his grandmother's living room and spread his hands in desperation. Somehow, he just had to get through to her.
"Please," he said. "I'm begging you for the last time. Don't do this."
Geneva McKay exhaled a little sigh. She folded another blouse into the tapestry carpetbag that sat open on the sofa. "I'm sorry, David. I've listened for almost an hour now, and this discussion is becoming quite tiresome. Really, dear, you shouldn't have flown out here."
At just a tad over five feet two, Gran might be dwarfed in his presence, but David knew she was hardly intimidated. He was—as she liked to put it—a big-shot Hollywood producer in an expensive suit, but she'd always see him as her little boy, eating mud sandwiches in the backyard and kissing the dog on the lips.
Since his arrival in Broken Yoke this morning he'd been relentless in his arguments, but nothing he said seemed to make any difference. Her mind was made up. Probably had been from the day her darling Herbert—David's grandfather—had breathed his last. In her words, only that silly problem with her heart last year had kept her from carrying out his wishes. Stubborn old woman.
"This is insane!"
"Don't be impolite," she admonished without glancing his way. "It's not insane at all. My friend Shirley says it's carmel."
"That's karma, and it's no such thing." David raked a distracted hand through his hair, hair he'd paid a fortune to have groomed on Rodeo Drive yesterday. He frowned and gave his grandmother a probing look. "Isn't Shirley the one who thinks aliens are trying to contact her through her toaster?"
"Not since she sold it in a garage sale."
He pressed his lips together and begged ethereal gods for patience. "Gran, if you're absolutely set on doing this, let me charter a plane. We'll fly to this Devil's Smile area and you can scatter Grampa Herb's ashes all across the state of Colorado if that's what you want."
"Oh, that's just like you, David. So practical. And unsentimental." She shook her head regretfully. "But I'm afraid it just won't do. I've waited far too long as it is."
She walked over to the fireplace, where, in an oddly ornate carved box, her husband's ashes held a place of reverence on the mantelpiece. Lovingly her fingers drifted across the sealed lid.
"Two years poor Herbert's been sitting here, and every time I look at this box I remember his last request. Don't you?" She sighed wistfully, and her pale blue eyes lost their focus as she revisited old memories. "Gennie," he said, "those two weeks of our honeymoon were the most precious days of my life. Don't file my ashes away in some vault like a forgotten library book. Take me to the Devil's Smile." She straightened her thin shoulders. "So I'm going back to that canyon. And don't take this the wrong way, David, but you can't stop me."
Thoroughly frustrated, David moved to capture his grandmother's slim body between his hands. He didn't have time for this. There were already meetings long overdue and more to be scheduled. How could one old woman be so hardheaded?
He let his features settle into creases of concern. "Physically you're in no condition to do this."
"Oh, pish. I'm not decrepit, you know. Miranda Calloway went white-water rafting with her family, and she's seventy-six. Three years older than I am."
"Miranda Calloway didn't have heart surgery, did she?"
She gave him a perky smile, satisfied as a robin who'd just spied a fat worm in the grass. "No. So you see, I'm in better shape than she is. Do you think there'll be room on the pack mule for my sketch pad?"
"A week on horseback to get into the canyon. A week to get out. Sleeping in a tent on the ground. This won't be easy."
"I'll be fine. Before Herbert retired and we moved here, we traveled all the time. We were pioneers. Why, when we lived in Arizona, wild Indians were still a threat."
"Pioneers!" Incredulity escaped David in a short laugh. "Gran, you lived in a three-bedroom tract home in the suburbs. And if the Indians were hostile, it's because you probably cheated at reservation bingo."
His grandmother placed her hands on her hips to give him a scalding gaze he remembered well from childhood. "You're being quite impertinent, young man. It's that dreadful Hollywood influence.You never used to be so disrespectful when you lived here."
David thought he was pretty tough. So how could this old lady manage to scissor him up in ten seconds flat without mussing a single white hair on her head?
"I apologize," he muttered. Then he added, "I'm just worried about you. I love you, Gran."
Her eyes full of love, she touched a wrinkled hand to his cheek. "Oh, David. You really are a sweet boy. Always have been. I remember when—"
"Don't change the subject. This tour company that's taking you out to the Devil's Smile—have you at least checked them out?"
Geneva waved away that concern with a ruffle of bony fingers. "That wasn't necessary." Returning to the sofa, she held a pair of flowered golfing shorts against her reed-thin body. "Do you think these are too busy? I don't want to look like a tourist."
"My God, you don't even know if this company is reputable? I can just see some tobacco-spitting cowpoke dragging you out into the middle of nowhere, stealing your purse and then leaving you in a cloud of dust."
"Don't be silly," his grandmother replied with an absent frown. "Why would I take a purse on a camping trip?"
David's teeth were starting to ache from being ground together. "What do you know about them?"
"Everything I need to. I'll be in excellent hands." Before he could say anything more, their dispute was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell, followed by a playful knock.
She seemed momentarily flustered. "Oh, dear. Right on time, and I'm not ready yet."
She hurried to the door, and with a disgruntled groan David turned away to look out the wide front window. He couldn't see much of the driveway, just the tail end of a white van. No logo from what he could tell. Not much of a recommendation.
Gran opened the front door wider. David glanced over his shoulder, prepared to dislike what he saw.
He'd expected a man, but it was a woman who came into the house. She wore tight jeans and had legs that went on forever, almost a dancer's body. As she took off her Stetson, a cascade of black hair swung free to slide across her shoulders and glint in the sunlight.
"Good morning," the woman said in a bright, sweet voice. "Isn't this a great day to start an adventure?"
David's mouth parted in surprise.
This was no stranger who'd come to cart his seventy-three-year-old grandmother out into the wilderness. He knew this woman. Intimately. Or at least he had ten years ago.
The woman chatting with Gran in the foyer was Adriana D'Angelo.
His first love from high school. The woman he might have married once upon a time. Until they'd both discovered that they wanted very different things out of life. Until she'd accused him of being willing to do anything to make his way to the top.
He felt a stirring of interest zip through his veins. He hadn't seen her since they'd had their last argument at Lightning Lake up at her parents' resort. Even though he'd occasionally come back to Broken Yoke to see his grandparents, to help out his grandmother after his grandfather had passed away, he'd managed pretty successfully to steer clear of Addy.
But now here she was, about to get as big a surprise as he had.
Why hadn't Gran said anything about Addy being involved? She'd known their bust-up had been acrimonious. Had she intentionally kept it a secret?
Before he could decide, Addy followed his grandmother into the living room. He moved out of the shadows and into the center of the room, determined to put up a good front.
She'd been smiling at something Gran had said—and then she saw him. That smile froze in an expression of shock that he knew must be the mirror image of his.
"David?" she said, stopping dead in her tracks. She stared at him hard. He met her eyes with an impact that was like a head-on collision.
He couldn't get out more than that. Some damned malfunction in his throat. All the harsh words between them were as fresh in his brain as today's news. So was the way it felt to hold her, how her lips tasted. The memory of firelight on her skin.
Funny how you could fool yourself. Go ahead, climb the greasy pole of success. Make money hand over fist. Take risks and turn people's lives inside out. It could still come down to this. One look, and whatever your life had been before was up for grabs.
As though aware of the uncomfortable silence, Addy found her voice. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
Was there a trace of annoyance in her tone? He wasn't sure, but he felt irritated enough to harden his response a little. He lifted his brow. "What? I'm not allowed to visit my grandmother?"
"Well, you hardly ever do." The words must have come out with more feeling than she'd wanted, because he watched color crawl up her neck. "I mean, what are you doing here right now? Geneva and I are heading out on a two-week camping trip starting tomorrow."
"Not if I have anything to say about it."
"Oh, don't listen to him, Addy," Gran said with a dismissing wave of her hand. Turning to him, she added in a pained voice, "David, dear—"
He'd finally had enough. "Don't 'David, dear' me. It was one thing to think of you taking off in the company of some grizzled cowpoke, but there's no way you're trotting off into the Colorado wilderness just the two of you. I forbid it."