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A whimper sounded from the back floorboard.
Symon Sinclair shot a glance over his shoulder. "Pipe down now." He returned his attention to steering his black sports car along the streets lined with live oaks and dripping with garlands of Spanish moss. "This is what I came here for."
Hearing the compliant sigh, he continued to reminisce, loud enough for the dictating machine to record his thoughts. Soon, however, his mind moved from childhood to his current surroundings—a city laid out in squares. He was driving along the streets of one of the largest historic districts in the nation, passing churches, mansions, monuments, well-known landmarks and perfectly manicured landscapes.
It had come close to being devastated like Atlanta during the Civil War when General Sherman burned, looted and destroyed. Maybe this city had been too beautiful even for Sherman, who spared it.
The little snatches he knew of Savannah's history intrigued him. He'd need to do research for his project, even though he'd grown up here. Not here, really. He'd been on the outside, looking in. He switched off the recorder he'd dictated into while driving from New York to an overnight stop at a bookstore manager's apartment in Raleigh, and this morning on to Savannah, Georgia. The higher the sun rose in the sky and the closer he got to his exact destination, the more excited and apprehensive he became.
He hadn't seen Miss B in four years. He'd come back two years ago, but that had been to pour his dad's cremated ashes into the creek. He hadn't tried to see Miss B then. She probably hadn't known he was on the property since he had gone to a part of the creek where he wouldn't be visible from the house. Then he'd hightailed it back to New York—on a jet plane.
Turning onto the property, he rolled down the windows and the aroma of growing, blooming foliage assaulted his senses. His eyes couldn't believe the sight of the lush green lawn that looked more like a shag rug than a velvet carpet.
His dad would never have allowed that. To his dad, the lawn had to be perfect. He had believed in and taught Symon the secret of prevention. Do the job before it's needed, he'd say, or you end up with twice the trouble.
Symon felt a smile form. Miss B had applied that secret to him and his fertile mind. There was no telling what her instruction and nurture had prevented in his life.
He drove past the caretaker's cottage and continued up the long drive to the antebellum mansion with its porch, on which she had cultivated his storytelling ability. His glance lifted to the branches of the huge oaks laden with Spanish moss that formed a canopy overhead.
He needed to tell Miss B what he thought of her. That the lessons had really got through to him. That he had learned which part of his life was the lie and which was the truth.
Like when he was a child, the truth was always the hardest. But he had to face it or end up a pile of alcoholic ashes floating down a creek. And at age twenty-nine, this seemed the time to give it serious thought.
With hardly a glance at the house, he resisted the urge to stop, race up to the front porch and lean against the tall white column and prop a foot on the top step. Oblivious to any changes that might have occurred through the years, he parked in a clearing near the back patio, under an oak bearded with the pale gray fringe of moss. Seeing his traveling mate eager to be released from the confines of the backseat, Symon exited the car and opened the door for Mudd to squeeze out from behind the driver's seat. His companion hesitated, displaying the same kind of misgiving in his eyes that Symon felt.
"Come on, boy. Everything's all right."
The dog apparently believed him and jumped down. He sauntered away with the slight limp of his left back leg.
Symon slammed the car door and strode down the yard, wondering if his eyes deceived him. He stopped in his tracks. Where was the cherry tree? He could not have forgotten where it should be, halfway between the brick patio and the wooded area.
If that doesn't beat all "Who cut down the cherry tree?"
"I think it's a well-known fact that George Washington did it."
That didn't sound like Miss B. Symon turned quickly, having had no idea anyone was around.
That didn't look like Miss B either.
Standing about three feet from him on the wide green croquet lawn was the prettiest just-ripe Georgia peach he'd seen in a long time.
Not only did her soft Southern drawl indicate it, but so did the way she complemented her midthigh white shorts and red T-shirt. Her dark brown hair, golden-touched by the sun, was bound into a thick tress that fell over one shoulder. Her lifted chin and steady gaze made him feel as if she'd caught him with his foot stuck in a picket fence.
That reminded him of Miss B, along with the unusual color of what his dad would have called amethyst eyes. He'd thought that was a cuss word—still wasn't sure he could spell it—until years later he learned it was a color somewhere between blue, purple or violet. He thought hers might be a wee bit lighter than Miss B's. And not at all as inhibiting, despite her apparent efforts.
She was sweet tea and apple pie all rolled up into one, standing there in the warm, humid afternoon.
Amethyst eyes kept gazing at him, waiting for him to comment on George Washington, he reckoned. In New York, he'd suppose, but being back in Georgia made him reckon.
Forcing his mind from the Georgia peach to the cherry tree stump wasn't the easiest thing to do, but his livelihood depended upon it. He held out his hand to the stump. "This ruins everything."
"Well, it's gone, mister. And I think that might be a good idea for you, too, unless you have a good reason for being here."