Discover romance across America with Janet Dailey’s classic series featuring a love story set in each of the fifty states.
Lainie MacLeod’s mother wanted her to have the best of everything. And for a while, she did. Lainie lived in an exclusive enclave of Denver, Colorado, with her handsome, loving husband, Rad. But that was then. These days, Rad is gone—having shattered Lainie’s heart when he left—and her mother is tragically ill. Now the woman who once had it all is ready to collapse from the strain of getting by.
But on a rare night out, Lainie sees two men she thought she’d never see again: her charming childhood crush, Lee—and Rad, looking as gorgeous as ever. Caught between the two of them, Lainie wonders if she should explore the romantic path not taken or give the love of her life another chance.
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After The Storm
The American Series: Colorado
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
OUTSIDE THE SKY was a pale blue as if it had been bleached by the searing sun. The trees that lined the street wore thick coverings of rich green leaves. Neighboring lawns with nurtured grass and immaculately trimmed shrubs contrasted sharply with the gleaming oyster shell coloring of pavements and driveways. Behind the gleaming brick and wood homes lived the staid, affluent and cultured society of Denver, Colorado.
Lainie MacLeod stared through the gauze of white sheer curtains, her arms crossed and her hands rubbing her elbows in a gesture of nervousness. A bright yellow dandelion looked back at her from its solitary location on the front lawn. Her hazel eyes noticed the intruder as she sighed wearily. What they really needed, she thought dejectedly, was a part-time gardener, but she knew there was no way to stretch the budget to include him. Somehow she would just have to find time to do it herself, just as she had done with so many other things.
There was really no need to keep up any pretense that the income in this home even came near to equaling that of others on the block. Lainie was sure their neighbors were fully aware of the precarious financial position they were in. No matter how discreet she had tried to be, there was no way they could have missed seeing the consistent removal of priceless objects from the home. Only Lainie's pride refused to allow the outward appearance of the home that she had been reared in to show the true state of their affairs.
A shiny sports convertible turned into their driveway, its driver stopping the car and running her hands through her silky brown hair before hopping out of the car. Lainie smiled as she moved to the front door, glancing up the open staircase toward her mother's bedroom. The last thing she wanted was for the front doorbell to ring and rouse her mother, who had just drifted off to sleep.
It would mean endless explanations as to the reason for Ann Driscoll's visit, and Lainie wasn't ready to explain. Her mother had never approved of her friendship with Ann, insisting that Ann did not exhibit the breeding and culture that had always been expected of Lainie. It was immaterial that Ann's parents were wealthy people, or that Ann had married well. Mrs. Simmons considered Ann's outlook bohemian and treated her as such. But Lainie's own determination had kept their friendship intact.
Lainie knew Ann as the only true friend she had, the only one who had stood by her in any crisis. So when she greeted her at the door, her welcome was genuinely warm. Ann's greeting was just as fervent as always, her emotions mirrored in her eloquent blue eyes which never failed to reflect her feelings whether they be happy, sad, flirtatious or angry. Yet for all her elation at meeting her best friend, Lainie still remained subdued, her eyes straying to the door at the top of the stairs.
As the pair retreated to the kitchen at the rear of the house, Ann's eyes studied Lainie with concern. To a stranger, she would have seemed an enchantingly haunting woman, but to Ann, who had known her for over ten years, the telltale signs of strain were very apparent. The dark circles under her eyes, which heightened the incredibly dark lashes and the almond-shaped hazel green eyes, revealed nights of interrupted sleep. The tan and white checked skirt hung loosely around her waist, and the short-sleeved white linen blouse with its scooped neck accented the prominence of her collarbones. Both indicated the weight loss that was robbing Lainie of her energy. Even her dark hair, which had once been so well cared for that it gleamed with a satiny sheen, was now dull. Now that Lainie had so little time to care for it, she had drawn it away from her face and caught it at the back of her neck with a gold clasp. The severe style further emphasized her always prominent cheekbones, but with an uncomplimentary result.
But Ann also knew that any expression of her concern would be wasted, so she blinked away her anxiety and smiled as she accepted the tall glass of punch offered her.
"How's your mother? Did the doctor stop in this morning?" Ann watched the fleeting frown pass across Lainie's smooth forehead before she replied with deliberate lightness.
"Yes. He seemed very pleased with her, which irritated mother considerably." Lainie sighed heavily as she seated herself at the round table. "She complains so often of the pain that it's difficult to know how serious her condition is at times. And poor Doctor Henderson swears she reads father's medical books just to come up with new symptoms for him to diagnose."
"But everything is all set for tonight?"
"I mentioned it to him." Lainie met the questioning glance, indecision in her own eyes. "He felt as long as there was someone competent staying with mother, it would be all right."
"Who could be more competent than a registered nurse?" Ann shrugged airily.
"I just don't feel right about it." Lainie tapped the edge of her glass nervously. "Mother is so uncomfortable with strangers around. I think it would be best if we postponed it until another time."
"Listen, we've done nothing but talk about this concert for a month now. It's all settled. Adam has bought the tickets and everything. You just can't back out now!"
Little sparks of blue fire flashed out of Ann's eyes as Lainie hedged at meeting her gaze. She chose instead to lean an elbow on the table and rub her forehead.
"I have been looking forward to the concert," Lainie admitted, "but I just can't help worrying about mother."
"You ought to start worrying about yourself for a change," Ann retorted sharply. "The worst mistake you ever made was coming back here to Denver when your mother became ill. You should have put her in a nursing home instead of knocking your brains out trying to take care of her yourself. In the seven months you've been back, how many times have you been out of this house? And I'm not referring to trips to the pharmacy or grocery store."
"I don't know. A few times," Lainie replied reluctantly.
"I'll tell you exactly. Three times! Once to have dinner with us, once to go shopping with me, and once to the cinema." Ann curtailed her growing anger and leaned forward to plead, "Lainie, if you don't make some time for yourself you're going to have a breakdown."
"Don't be melodramatic!"
"I'm not. You'd just better look in the mirror and discover that you aren't Florence Nightingale. You're not indispensable. Someone else can look after your mother just as adequately as you."
"Oh, Ann!" Lainie's generous mouth curved into a smile. "If only I could be as sensible as you, perhaps I wouldn't feel so guilty."
"It's your mother who's making you feel guilty. She's running your life just as she's always done. Those three years spent in Colorado Springs have forced her to change her tactics and use emotional blackmail to retie the umbilical cord."
"I had no choice," Lainie replied, her pride stiffening her chin. "There was no money left from father's estate and mother had allowed her insurance to lapse. She may not be the kind of mother that ... that I would like her to be, but I would never humiliate her by forcing her to accept someone else's charity."
"And how long will your money last?" Ann asked quietly.
"It doesn't matter." Lainie couldn't bring herself to tell her friend that her money had run out over a month ago and the bills were still coming in. The little income her mother received combined with Lainie's monthly check from Rad were the only things that were keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads.
"All right, it doesn't matter and it's none of my business." Ann's cupid bow lips pursed into a tight line. She leaned over the table toward Lainie, the frustrated urgency she felt visible in her expression. "But you must come to the concert tonight. The chances of Curt Voight returning to Denver in the near future are terribly small. I won't let you miss it if I have to drag you there!"
Voight was a superb pianist, one Lainie had admired for several years. She knew she would be foolish to turn down an opportunity to see him perform in person, especially in the face of Ann's opposition. In the last several years there had been few occasions when she had been able to attend such exclusive events, not since Rad ... There was a sharp, vigorous shake of her head at the unwanted memory.
"I'm going," Lainie said quietly, while Ann wondered what had caused the flicker of pain in the hazel green eyes.
The nurse, Mrs. Forsythe, arrived at six that evening so that she would be able to assist Lainie with her mother's dinner and allow Mrs. Simmons an opportunity to adjust to her daughter's absence that evening. Lainie had refrained from informing her earlier because she knew her mother would not be in favor of the idea. And she was absolutely correct.
"Oh, Lainie darling, please don't leave me." Her mother clutched her hand tightly as Lainie seated herself on the bed. Her dainty, superbly feminine features were drawn in petulant lines.
"You're going to be just fine, mother," Lainie soothed her, glancing over at the sympathetically raised eyebrows of the nurse. "Mrs. Forsythe is a very competent nurse. She's been trained to take care of people in your condition."
"But you are my daughter." Her white chin trembled fretfully. "What if something should happen to me? What if I should die? I want you to be here with me."
"Nothing is going to happen to you," Mrs. Forsythe inserted in a comforting voice. "And with as much spunk as you're displaying, I think it's highly unlikely that you'll die tonight."
Mrs. Simmons immediately reversed her tactics and sunk weakly against her pillow. Her lashes fluttered toward Lainie to show how little strength she had.
"Mrs. Forsythe knows exactly how to get in touch with me. I can be home in minutes if necessary, but either way I promise you I'll come straight home after the concert."
"You won't dally around with that wretched girl, will you?"
"No, mother, I'll come straight home."
Her eyelids closed slowly as if to show Lainie that she was making the supreme sacrifice by allowing her daughter to leave her in the hour of her death. Not even the aging wrinkles on her face could take away the remnants of Mrs. Simmons's youthful beauty, nor her ability to portray the helpless female. Lainie knew this sudden show of emotion was supposed to make her feel guilty at leaving. It succeeded admirably, but it didn't change her mind.
A hand touched her shoulder and Lainie turned.
"Perhaps it would be best if you left her with me," the nurse whispered.
Lainie nodded and retreated quietly from the room. Her mother feigned sleep, but Lainie wasn't deceived. It was merely another ruse that would force Lainie to return to her room before she left for the concert and thus allow Mrs. Simmons another chance to persuade her not to go.
Lainie fought the forces of guilt that assaulted her, refusing to give in to the blackmail her mother was so excellent at providing. The only trouble was that her only weapon was self-pity, which could do little to bolster her already dying desire to attend the concert. This concert had been the only thing she had looked forward to in nearly five years and now she doubted if she'd even enjoy it.
Her lips twisted bitterly at the realization. What a thing for her to admit at twenty-six, she thought. Once she had been the toast of Denver society, the most sought-after girl in the state. And now what was she? A recluse? Forced to care for her mother while the years passed by? How selfish and cynical such thoughts sounded, as if she were totally unmindful of the seriousness of her mother's condition. Yet she did care, Lainie decided sadly. She didn't object to nursing her mother. It wasn't that at all that made her so depressed at times. It was the knowledge that she would never know the happiness of love again.
Once Lainie had blamed her mother for that; now she shouldered the blame herself. It was her own ignorance and inexperience that had persuaded her to listen to her mother, just as she had listened to her in the past. Lainie stared at her reflection in the mirror while brushing her long, thick hair with indifference. She remembered well the summer of her seventeenth year when her mother began "remaking" her. The words drifted back as clearly as if they had been spoken yesterday.
"It's a pity you didn't inherit my looks." Mrs. Simmons studied her daughter with regal indifference. "Beauty is what's going to move you ahead in this world, Lainie. So don't ever be afraid to trade on it, to use it to get what you want."
Lainie had stared at her petite, dainty mother, every short inch of her displaying confidence and dominance.
"I'll never be as beautiful as you," Lainie had sighed wistfully, looking at her own discordant features and tall frame.
"Yes, you will," her mother had replied. "Yours will not be the wholesome beauty of a female, but the striking looks of a woman. First of all, there's your hair—a rich sable brown and your most important asset. You will wear it long," she had ordered, "and we'll pull it out and away from your face. Your cheekbones are much too prominent to hide, so we'll emphasize them ...
So it had gone on, her mother taking each feature and instructing Lainie on the way to show them to the best advantage. Her lips were generous, so they must always be shiny and inviting. The almond shape of her eyes was to be emphasized to make them different from the round innocent eyes of her friends. The green in her hazel eyes was to be accented to make it more noticeable. Lainie's wardrobe had consisted of only the simplest and most superbly cut dresses, nothing that would detract from her face.
The result was that Lainie was the most arresting strikingly beautiful girl in her group. She had been popular beyond her wildest dreams, the envy of other girls who could no longer bring themselves to be friends with a girl who provided them with so much competition. All except Ann, who simply admired Lainie's looks and didn't see her as a threat to her own future happiness.
Lainie knew of only two people who had ever liked her for herself. Ann was one. Her fingers trailed over the picture on her dresser as she studied the fun-loving blue eyes that beamed out at her. And her father had been the other, with his smiling eyes and iron gray hair as thick and full as her own. He had been a surgeon of incomparable abilities who had been taken from them in a plane crash nearly two years ago. He had only wanted happiness for her, never desiring to trade on her success as her mother had. He had admired Rad so much and he had been so upset with Lainie when ... She refused again to allow those memories back.
Instead she hurried to the bathroom off her bedroom, forcing her mind to concentrate on the evening at hand. But the past kept returning with incredible persistence. Although Lainie's wardrobe was extensive, all her gowns seemed to be a size too large because of her recent weight loss. She knew of only one dress that would not accent her thinness, and it was pushed to the rear of the closet. Her hands trembled as she withdrew the black lace gown. It had always been Rad's favorite. She had promised herself numerous times that she would give it away or burn it, but it had remained tucked away, out of sight but never out of mind. For one brief moment she almost thrust it back before she chided herself for letting such an association prevent her from wearing the only gown that was becoming to her.
By the time Ann and her husband had picked Lainie up, driven to the concert hall and parked, it was nearly time for the performance to start. It was nearly impossible for Lainie not to remember the times she had been in the hall before. The memories brought the familiar hollow feeling inside as the trio were escorted to their seats. Not until Voight was on stage and had started playing his second piece was Lainie able to push aside her recollections and give herself up to his music.
The intermission came all too quickly. Yet the classically beautiful music had uplifted Lainie's spirits. Her face was more vibrantly alive than Ann had seen it in several years. Her footsteps were eager and her smile generous as she joined Ann and Adam in the exodus to the lobby. Lainie nodded easily when Ann excused herself to phone home to check on her four-year-old daughter, Cherry. The perfection of her contentment was so complete that when a shoulder jostled her roughly, Lainie turned her pardoning expression on the culprit. A blond head tilted toward her inquiringly as a slow smile spread across the handsome face.
"Lainie," he breathed softly. "It is you!"
"Lee!" she echoed in the same stunned voice he had used, allowing him to retain her hand in a fiercely gentle grasp. "It's been ages!"
"You're more beautiful than I remembered." His light blue eyes traveled admiringly over her face. "Where have you been hiding? The last time I heard, you were in Colorado Springs."
"I've only been back in Denver a short time." Lainie smiled as she studied the strong, quiet features. She couldn't help wondering how many more of her old crowd were here.
Excerpted from After The Storm by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1975 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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