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Chandra Eaton slumped against the rear seat in the taxi as the driver maneuvered away from the curb at the Philadelphia International Airport. She felt as if she'd been traveling for days. Her flight from Belize to Miami was a little more than two hours. But it was the layover in Atlanta that had lasted more than eight hours because of violent thunderstorms that left her out of sorts. All she wanted was a hot shower, a firm bed and a soft, fluffy pillow.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, she'd spent more than two years teaching in Belize. She'd returned to Philadelphia twice: once to attend the funeral of her eldest sister and brother-in-law, and three months ago to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of her surviving sister, Belinda. Now, at the age of thirty, she'd come home again. But this time it was to stay.
Her father called her his gypsy, and her mother said she was a vagabond, to which she had no comeback. What no one in her family knew, her parents in particular, was that she'd been running away from the tragedy that had befallen one of her students, followed by her own broken engagement.
Thankfully, her previous homecoming and this one would be more joyful occasions. Belinda had married Griffin Rice in June and two months ago her brother Myles had exchanged vows with Zabrina Mixon-Cooper after a ten-year separation. She also looked forward to meeting her nephew for the first time.
She opened her eyes and sat up straighter, her heart slamming against her ribs. The cabbie had swerved to avoid hitting another vehicle drifting into their lane. Her purse and leather tote slid off the seat and onto the floor with the violent motion, spilling their contents. Bending over, she retrieved her cell phone, wallet, passport and a pack of mints. Then she checked the tote to make certain her laptop was still there.
"Are you all right back there, miss?" the driver asked over his shoulder.
Chandra exhaled audibly. "I'm good," she lied smoothly.
She wasn't good. If she'd been a cat, she would've used up at least one of her nine lives. It was going to be some time before she would be able to adjust to the fast pace of a large urban city. Living in Philadelphia, even in one of its suburbs, was very different from living and teaching in a small town in Northern Belize.
The cabdriver took a quick glance in the rearview mirror. "Let me try and get around this clown before I end up in his trunk."
Settling back again, Chandra closed her eyes. When she'd called her mother to tell her that her flight had been delayed, Roberta Eaton had offered to drive to the airport to pick her up. But she'd told her mother she would take a taxi to the subdivision where her parents had purchased a two-bedroom, two-bath town house. Aside from her purse and tote bag, she had checked only one piece of luggage. The trunk with most of her clothes was scheduled to arrive in the States at the end of the month.
It appeared as if she'd just fallen asleep when the motion stopped, and she opened her eyes. Chandra missed the six-bedroom, four-bath farmhouse where she'd grown up with her sisters and brother. She understood her parents' need to downsize now that they were in their sixties. They didn't want to concern them selves with having someone shovel snow or mow t h e lawn, or deal with the exorbitant expense of maintaining a large house.
What she'd missed most was opening the door leading from the main house and into the connecting space that had been Dr. Dwight Eaton's medical practice. Her father didn't schedule patients between the hours of twelve and one; the exception was in an emergency. It had been her time to have her father all to herself. Gathering her purse and tote, she paid the fare, opened the rear door and stepped out of the taxi as the driver came around to retrieve her luggage from the trunk, setting it on the front steps.
Roberta Eaton stood in the entryway. The smile that parted her lips caused the skin around her eyes to crinkle. She prayed that this homecoming would be Chandra's last. She thought she knew all there was to know about her youngest child, but Chandra's mercurial moods kept her guessing as to what she would do or where she would go next.
What she'd found so off-putting was that there was usually no warning. It was if her daughter went to sleep, then woke with a new agenda, shocking everyone with her announcements. First it was her decision not to attend the University of Pennsylvania, but Columbia University in New York City. Then she'd declined an offer to teach at a Philadelphia elementary school and instead taught at a private all-girls' school in Northern Virginia. The most shocking, and what Roberta thought most devastating, was when Chandra announced she'd joined the Peace Corps and decided to teach in Belize. Although she'd become accustomed to her daughter's independent nature, it was her husband, Dwight Eaton, who said his youngest daughter had caused him many sleepless nights.
Roberta approached Chandra with outstretched arms, the tears she'd tried vainly to hold back overflowed. "Welcome home, baby."
Her mother calling her baby was Chandra's undoing. She could deal with any and everything except her mother's tears. Roberta was openly weeping—deep, heart-wrenching sobs that made Chandra unleash her own flood of tears.
Pressed closer to Roberta's ample bosom, she tightened her hold around her mother's neck, savoring the warmth of the protective embrace. "Mama, please don't cry."
Roberta's tears stopped as if she'd turned off a spigot. "Don't tell me not to cry when I've had too many sleepless nights and worn out my knees praying that you'd make it home safely."
Easing back, Chandra stared at her mother. Roberta Eaton hadn't changed much over the years. Her body was fuller and rounder, and there was more salt than pepper in her short natural hairstyle. Her face had remained virtually unchanged. Her dark brown complexion was clear, her skin smooth.
"I'm home, Mama."
"You're home, but for how long, Chandra Eaton? I was talking to your father last night, and we have a wager that you won't hang around for more than three to six months before you start getting itchy feet again."
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm home to stay."
Roberta gave her a look that said I don't believe you, but Chandra was too tired to get into an argument with her mother. She'd been up since two that morning for a 5:00 a.m. flight to Miami, with a connecting flight to Atlanta. Sitting in Hartsdale for hours had tried her patience, and that meant she had no intention of engaging in a conversation where she had to defend herself or convince her mother that she didn't plan to leave home again. Once she'd completed her tour with the Peace Corps she'd promised herself that she would stop running away, that she would come home, face her fears and reconcile her past.
"May I please go into the house and shower before going to bed?"
As if she'd come out of a trance, Roberta leaned forward and kissed Chandra's cheek. Within seconds she'd morphed into maternal mode. "I'm sorry, baby. You have to be exhausted. Did you eat?" she asked over her shoulder as she stepped into the spacious entryway.
"I ate something at the airport."
Picking up her luggage, Chandra walked into the house and made her way toward the staircase to the second floor guest bedroom. Methodically, she stripped off her clothes, leaving them on the bathroom floor, and stepped into the shower stall. Her eyelids were drooping by the time she'd dried off. She searched through her luggage for a nightgown and crawled into bed. It was just after six. And even though the sun hadn't set, within minutes of her head touching the pillow she was asleep.
Preston Tucker ducked his head as he got into the taxi and gave the driver the address to his duplex in downtown Philadelphia. He'd spent the past twenty-four hours flying to Los Angeles for a meeting that lasted all of ten minutes before returning to Philadelphia after flying standby from LAX.
He'd told his agent that he had reservations about meeting with studio executives who wanted to turn one of his plays into a movie with several A-list actors. But all Clifford Jessup could see were dollar signs. Preston knew if he sold the movie rights to his play he would have to relinquish literary control. But he was unwilling to do so at the expense of not being able to recognize his play, something he'd spent more than two years writing and perfecting, breathing life into the characters.
He was aware of Hollywood's reputation for taking literary license once they'd optioned a work, but the suits he'd spoken to wanted to eviscerate his play. If he'd been a struggling playwright he probably would've accepted their offer. But fortunately for him, his days of waiting for a check so that he could pay back rent were behind him. What made the play even more personal is that it was the first play he'd written as a college student.
Slumping in the rear seat, he tried to stretch his long legs out to a more comfortable position under the seat in front of him. His right foot hit something. Reaching under the passenger seat, he pulled out a slim black ostrich-skin portfolio with the initials CE stamped on the front in gold lettering. Looking at the driver's hack license, he noticed the man's first and last names began with an M, so he concluded a passenger had left it in the taxi.
Preston debated whether to open it or give it to the taxi driver, who most likely would turn it in to Lost and Found or discard the contents and keep the expensive-looking portfolio for himself. He decided to unzip it and found a cloth-bound journal. Judging from the mauve color of the book, he knew it belonged to a woman.
His suspicions were confirmed when he saw the neat cursive writing on the inside front cover: "If found, please return to Chandra Eaton." What followed was a telephone number with a Philadelphia area code and an e-mail address. Reaching into the breast pocket of his suit jacket, he took out his cell phone to dial the number, but the first sentence on the first page caused him to go completely still.
Dream #9—March 3
I opened my eyes when I heard the soft creaking sound that told me someone had opened my bedroom door. Usually he came in through the window. I held my breath because I wasn't certain if it was him. But who else would it be? I didn't know whether to scream or reach under the bed for the flashlight I kept there in the event of a power failure. I decided not to move, hoping whoever had come would realize they were in the wrong room and then leave.
The seconds ticked off and I found myself counting slowly, beginning with one. By the time I'd counted to forty-three, there was no sound, no movement. I reached under the bed for the flashlight and flicked it on. I was alone in the bedroom, the sound of the runaway beating of my heart echoing in my ears and the lingering scent of a man's cologne wafting in the humid tropical air coming in through the open windows. I recognized the scent. It was the same as the one I'd given Laurence for our first Christmas together. But, he's gone, exorcised, so why did I conjure him up?
Preston slipped the cell phone back into his pocket as he continued to read. He was so engrossed in what Chandra Eaton had written that he hadn't realized the taxi had stopped and his building doorman had opened the rear door.
"Welcome home, Mr. Tucker."
His head popped up and he smiled. "Thank you, Reynaldo."
Preston returned the journal to the leather case, paid the driver and then reached for his leather weekender on the seat next to him. He'd managed to read four of Chandra Eaton's journal entries, each one more sensual and erotic than the one before it. As a writer, he saw scenes in his head before putting them down on paper, and he was not only intrigued but fascinated by what Chandra Eaton had written.
Clutching his weekender, he entered the lobby of the luxury high-rise, which had replaced many of the grand Victorian-style mansions that once surrounded Rittenhouse Square. He'd purchased the top two floors in the newly constructed building on the advice of his financial planner, using it as a business write-off. His office, a media room, gourmet kitchen, formal living and dining rooms were set up for work and entertaining. The three bedrooms with en suite bathrooms on the upper floor were for out-of-town guests.
There had been a time when he'd entertained at his Brandywine Valley home, but as he matured he'd come to covet his privacy. Lately, he'd become somewhat of a recluse. If an event wasn't work-related, then he usually declined the invitation. His mother claimed he was getting old and crotchety, to which he replied that thirty-eight was hardly old and he wasn't crotchety, just particular as to how he spent his time and more importantly with whom.
Preston was exhausted and sleep-deprived from flying more than six thousand miles in twenty-four hours. His original plan was to shower and go directly to bed, but Chandra Eaton's erotic prose had revived him. He would finish reading the journal, then e-mail the owner to let her know he'd found it.
He didn't bother to stop at the concierge to retrieve his mail, and instead walked into the elevator and pressed the button for his floor. The elevator doors glided closed. The car rose smoothly and swiftly, stopping at the eighteenth floor. The doors opened again and he made his way down a carpeted hallway to his condo.
It was good to be home. If he'd completely trusted Cliff Jessup to represent his interests, he never would've flown to L.A. What bothered him about his agent was that they'd practically grown up together. Both had attended Princeton, pledged the same fraternity, and he'd been best man at Cliff's wedding. Something had changed. Preston wasn't certain whether he'd changed, or if Cliff had changed, or if they were just growing apart.
Inserting the cardkey into the slot to his duplex, Preston pushed open the door and was greeted with a rush of cool air. He'd adjusted the air-conditioning before he left, but apparently the drop in the temperature outside made it feel uncomfortably chilly. It was mid-October, and the forecasts predicted a colder and snowier than usual winter.