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Glory Rossi saw him coming. He seemed to materialize out of the storm.
It was a blustery Monday morning in mid-January and she stood at the bay window in the family room at the front of the house. She stared out at the snow that had started coming down only a little while ago.
The wind whistled under the eaves outside, catching the thick, white flakes and carrying them sideways in drifts and eddies, so the world out there was a whirling fog of white. She couldn't see much beyond the bare box elder tree in the front yardnot the bridge across the street that spanned the river, not the houses on the other side. She knew her hometown of New Bethlehem Flat, California, like she knew her own face in the mirror, but the snow obscured it now. She thought how empty the house seemed, how lonely and lost the wind sounded as it sang under the eaves.
And then she caught a hint of movement within the white. She frowned. Squinting, she leaned closer to the glass.
No doubt about it. There was someone out there, a tall, broad-shouldered figure coming up the front walk. The figure mounted the steps.
Glory turned to look out the side window in the bay. It gave a view of the porch. A man, definitely. She couldn't see his face. His head was hunched into his down jacket and a watch cap covered his hair.
He stood at her front door and raised a gloved hand to ring the bell.
And right then, as the doorbell chimed, she knew.
It couldn't be. It wasn't possible. And yet, she was absolutely certain.
As if he felt her watching him, he turned her way. And he saw her, standing there at the window, her hand on the hard, round bulge of her belly, staring at him with her mouth hanging open.
Her mind rebelled. Why now, after all this time? It made no sense. She must be dreaming.
He looked different, the hard planes of his face more sculpted than before. He looked older. Which he was. By more than six years.
Older and sober. The gorgeous blue eyes were clear as the Sierra sky on a cloudless summer day.
Dreaming. Yeah. This had to be a dream.
She looked away from him, counted to five and then glanced back. Dream or not, he was still out there at the front door, watching her. Maybe if she did nothing, if she just stood there, frozen, refusing to move or even breathe no matter how many times he rang the bell
Maybe he would give up and go away.
But she knew he wouldn't. In his eyes she saw a strange, calm determination. He wasn't going to simply turn and leave.
Seeing no other choice, Glory went to let him in.
In the foyer, she paused with her hand on the doorknob, certain that when she pulled open the door, there would be nothing on the other side but wind and snow. He would have vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared. She could return to her life as she had come to know it, could snap herself out of the funk that had gripped her that morning, and go about the mundane tasks that waited for her: doing the laundry and loading the dishes into the dishwasher.
Glory opened the door.
Snow blew in on a gust of wind, stinging her cheeks with icy wetness. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered.
He was still there. He was absolutely, without-a-doubt real.
A soft cry tried to slip out of her throat. She swallowed it down and hitched her chin high. Beyond seeming taller and broader than she remembered, he also struck her as more.formidable, somehow.
"Hello, Glory," he said. He regarded her solemnly. His voice was the same, only deeper, richer.
A shiver went through her. It wasn't because of the cold.
Her heart rebelled. It wasn't right. Wasn't fair. After everything. All these years. After her sweet Matteo, who had shown her what peace and happiness could be.
It wasn't right. But apparently, rightness had nothing to do with it.
Six and a half years since he'd vanished from her life, Glory gazed up at Bowie Bravo and she knew that she still felt it for him. Even big as a barn with her lost husband's unborn child, she still had that thing for him.
She despised herself at that moment. And him, too.
"Are you going to let me in?" He asked it calmly. Gravely, almost. He seemed so different from the crazy wild man she used to know.
She considered simply closing the door in his face.
But what good would that do? In the end, since he had come, he would have to be dealt with.
She stepped back. He took off the watch cap as he crossed her threshold and she saw he'd cut his long blond hair. He wore it cropped close to his head now.
He removed his gloves and shrugged out of the down jacket. Underneath the jacket, he wore a faded chambray shirt with the sleeves rolled to reveal his corded forearms. His jeans were faded, too. "Where's Johnny?" he asked, sticking the gloves in a pocket of the jacket.
Her heart rate accelerated. Was she in for a custody battle? Was that what this sudden, out-of-the-blue visit meant? "He's in school."
"In this storm?"
Oh, please. Suddenly he was worried about Johnny? That was rich. "It's supposed to blow off by early afternoon."
"It's pretty wild out there."
"Yeah, well. The school will call if they decide to close. Besides, it's Trista's turn to pick up the kids." Trista was second-born of Glory's eight siblings. "She has four-wheel drive and some serious snow tires." Glory took his hat and jacket and hooked them on the coat tree at the foot of the stairs. Then, reluctantly, she offered, "You want some coffee?"
She led him through the door at the rear of the hall, into the kitchen in back, where she gestured at the table in the breakfast nook. "Have a seat." He sat down and she made quick work of loading up the coffeemaker. "It'll be a few minutes."
"Are you hungry?"
"No, thanks. Just the coffee would be great."
She took the chair opposite him, lowering herself carefully into it, feeling huge and awkward in her maternity pants and a baggy shirtand hating that she even gave a damn how she might look to him. "So have you been to see your mom?" Chastity Bravo owned the Sierra Star Bed and Breakfast down at the other end of the block, where Jewel Street met Commerce Lane.
"Not yet," he said. "I came here first."
Besides his mom, two of his three brothersBrett and Brandstill lived in town. She'd never asked any of the Bravosnot even her own sister Angie, who was Brett's wifewhere Bowie was or how she might reach him. In fact, after he'd been gone a year and a half, when she'd finally accepted that he wasn't coming back, she'd made it painfully clear to all of them that she was moving on with her life and she didn't ever again want to hear his name.
But that didn't mean that his family hadn't kept him up to date on her and Johnny. Somebody had told Bowie where she lived. She'd been getting checks from him for more than four years now, every month. Regular as clockwork.
Checks with a Santa Cruz postmark, checks that kept getting larger as time went by. Checks that scared her a little, if the truth were known. Where did he get all that money? It wasn't as though he'd ever managed to hold down a job.
And when she'd married Matteo and she and Johnny moved into this beautiful old house at the top of Jewel Street with him? Right away, that first month, Bowie's checks had started coming to their new address.
Bowie said, "How are you doing, Glory?" The question, which did sound sincere, fell into the long and painful silence between them. The silence of broken hearts. The silence of loss and love gone bad. The silence that happened when the best two people could do was to stay away from each other. And move on.
Bad enough, since I lost my husband. Worse, since you showed up.
She reminded herself that there was nothing to be gained by antagonizing him. "I'm all right." But she wasn't, not really. And already she was beyond tired of sitting here, trying to talk reasonably when the pain of the old wounds felt all too fresh and new again, when the truth of his desertion hung like a dirty gray curtain in the air between them.
The baby kicked. She winced and put her palm to her side.
He frowned and sat up a little straighter. "You okay?"
She blew out a breath. "Babies kick, but I guess you wouldn't have a clue about that."
He studied her from under those sun-gold eyebrows. "You're bitter. I can't say that's a big surprise."
"What do you expect, Bowie?"
"Of you? Nothing. Of myself? A lot more than I used to."
What was that supposed to mean? Her pulse pounded hard in her ears and her stomach felt queasy. She wanted to jump up and order him out of her house. Instead, she rose with slow care and went to the coffeepot. It was still dripping. But there was more than enough for a cup. She filled a mug, carried it back to the table and pushed it across to him.
"Thanks." He took it and sipped.
She lowered her bulging body into the chair again. "Look, can we just get real here?"
He rested one rough-knuckled hand on the tabletop. She watched as he traced a seam in the wood. And then he slanted her another of those strange calm looks. "I am being real." His voice stayed level, as composed as his expression. It scared her a little. Was this really Bowie sitting across from her? Bowie Bravo never stayed calm.
"What's up?" she demanded. "Just tell me. Why are you here?"
He took his sweet time answering that one, first picking up the cup again and taking another sip, then setting down the cup, then tracing that seam in the tabletop some more. "I figured it was about time I got to know my son."
Long past time, she thought, but she didn't say it. Over the years, she'd learned a little self-control, too. "Why now, exactly?"
"I've been" he seemed to seek the right words "trying to decide when the best time would be. Finally, I realized there was no good time." No good time. Well, at least she agreed with him there. "So I chose today." He added, "I heard you lost your husband. Matteo Rossi was a good man."
"Yes, he was," she shot back too fast and too angrily. New Bethlehem Flat, aka "the Flat" to everyone who lived there, had a population of around eight hundred. The Rossi family was an old and respected name in the Flat. Matteo had run Rossi's Hardware Emporium for half of his life. And before him, his father, Christopher, had owned the store.
Bowie said, "I'm.sorry that he's gone."