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I've always been a white-knuckle flier.
Normally the most rational of people, I have trouble trusting any law of physics that expects me to believe that a fifty-ton aircraft loaded with two hundred people is going to stay in the air because of something having to do with lift and thrust and air currents. In my narrow world view, gravity wins out every time. Every ounce of common sense tells me that the only possible outcome to such a scenario is for the plane to plummet from the sky, carrying me, and 199 other passengers and crew members, to a fiery death.
The flight from L.A. to Boston had taken about eight hours, and somewhere around Pittsburgh, we'd hit turbulence in the form of a hurricane that was battering the Northeast. I'd been forced to close my eyes to keep from seeing lightning tap dance all around the 747's wing tips. Eventually, the thunder and lightning gave way to rain, and I relaxed a little. But it was more than the storm, more than my customary terror of falling from the sky in a ball of fire, that had my fingertips pressing permanent prints into the armrest of my first-class seat; it was the fear of what waited for us on the ground.
The plane began its descent into Boston. Beside me, Tom sat calmly leafing through an in-flight magazine as though he did this kind of thing every day. Thomas Larkin, OB/GYN, small-town New England doctor, widower, father of two and all-around heartthrob, was my new husband. And I still couldn't believe it.
Julie Larkin. Julie Hanrahan Ixirkin. I kept mentally trying out the name, just to see how it sounded inside my head. What it sounded like most was disbelief. We'd met on a cruise ship, off the coast of Barbados. The trip had been a birthday present from Carlos and the girls at Phoenix, the L.A. boutique I managed. Because thirty was a significant birthday, and because the last couple years of my life had been a complete train wreck, my bighearted co-workers had thrown me a birthday bash, complete with black balloons, a male stripper and a ticket for a Caribbean cruise. They'd joked with me about finding Prince Charming somewhere on that floating palace. He would look like Johnny Depp minus the eyeliner and the swordand have more money than Donald Trump.
I'd gone along with the joke, even though I wasn't in the market for a man. After the unimaginable losses of the last two years, I'd made it my mission to fill the empty void inside me with work. I had no roomor desirefor romance. After my divorce from Jeffrey, I'd expected to take a lengthy hiatus from the dating scene. Like maybe the rest of my life.
But, as John Lennon so famously said, life is what happens while you're making other plans. Eighteen hours into the cruise, I found myself seated next to Dr. Thomas Larkin at dinner. Tom fit all the romantic stereotypes: He was tall, dark and handsome. Smart and witty and charming, with vivid blue eyes and a smile that drove like an arrow directly into my heart. Best of all, he made me laugh, when I hadn't laughed in a very long time.
There were other things I also hadn't done in a very long time. Following the guiding principle that what happens on the Princess line stays on the Princess line, I threw myself wholeheartedly into a shallow, scorching, unabashedly shameless shipboard romance. Ten days, I reasoned, and I'd be back in L.A., selling rhinestone bracelets to anorexic young blondes who played tennis and spent half their lives at the beach. In the interim, a little sun, sand and sex were just what the doctor ordered.
Except that, somewhere along the way, what was supposed to be no more than a shipboard fling turned into something else. And on the morning when Tom, his hair as rumpled as my bed sheets, pulled out a blue velvet box that held a single diamond solitaire, I realized he was offering me more than just marriage. He was offering me a second chance. A fresh start. And the opportunity to leave L.A., and all its sorrows, behind.
There was nothing left for me in L.A. Dad was gone. Jeffrey had moved on to bigger and better things. And Angel, the baby I'd lost, was nothing more than a sweet, painful memory. For a while, I'd been thinking about quitting my job, climbing into my beloved yellow Miata, and driving off alone into the sunset.
But Tom offered me so much more than that.
Anybody who knows me will tell you that I'm a born cynic. After all, I'm Dave Hanrahan's daughter. He taught me pretty much everything I know, and if there was one thing Dad didn't believe in, it was romance. Right now, he was probably spinning in his grave over the knowledge that his only daughter, high on moonlight and hormones and God only knew what else, had stood on a white-sand Bahamian beach at midnight, a month after her thirtieth birthday, and married a man she'd known for five days.
I was still having trouble believing it myself.
Beside me, Tom turned a page. "How can you do that?" I said.
Without looking up, he said, "Easy. I just lift the corner with my finger, and"
"Ha, ha. Very funny. Aren't you nervous?"
"Why should I be?" He flipped another page. "Seems as though you're nervous enough for both of us."
"With good reason. I'm serious, Tom. It's not every day your firstborn son comes home from a Caribbean cruise with a brand-new wife in tow. What if your mother hates me?"
He closed the magazine and looked at me. He smiled, and the corners of his eyes crinkled, and my heart did this funny little thing it'd been doing since the first time he smiled at me. "She's not going to hate you," he said. "Even if she did, it wouldn't matter. I'm thirty-eight years old. A little too old for my mother to be running my life. Besides, she'll love you."
"Why should she love me?"
He leaned and placed a kiss on the tip of my nose. "Because I love you. Stop worrying."
Easy for him to say. He wasn't the one who was uprooting his entire life, leaving behind friends, coworkers, career and home, to move to some tiny town in Maine, all in the name of love.
He must have seen the expression on my face. "Having second thoughts?" he asked.
God knows, I should have been. What I'd done was so out of character, I still couldn't believe I'd really done it. In spite of being Dave's daughter or maybe because of itI'd never done anything this crazy. This was risk-taking behavior, something I'd spent the last decade avoiding. This was stepping off the edge of a cliff into free fall, without a parachute or a safety net to slow my plunge. This was insanity at its terrifying, spine-tingling, exhilarating best.
The days we'd spent aboard ship had been heaven, days of sparkling turquoise water and ice-cold margaritas, days we'd spent lying on matching chaises, fingers loosely clasped in the space between his chair and mine as we soaked up the sun's rays, nearly purring with mindless contentment.
And then, there were the nights.
In light of my legendary cynicism, it seemed farfetched that the word besotted kept coming to mind. It sounds so undignified. So junior high school. And I'm a woman who has walked a hard road to maturity. But none of that seemed to matter, because at that particular moment, as we touched down smoothly on the runway at Logan International Airport on an early September afternoon, it was the only word that came close to describing how I felt about my new husband.
Tom was still looking at me, still waiting for an answer, his blue eyes pensive, as though he wasn't quite certain what my response might be. Was I having second thoughts?
Was he out of his mind?
I grinned and said, "In your dreams."
Nobody was at the airport to meet us.
"I don't get it," Tom said. We stood with our baggage, lone islands in a sea of arriving passengers who flowed around us like salmon swimming upstream. "I told Mom what time we'd be landing. Which gate we'd be coming through. Where to meet us." He flipped his cell phone closed. "There's no answer at the house."
"Maybe she's running late because of the weather. She could've hit traffic. Does she have a cell phone?"
A vertical wrinkle appeared between his eyebrows. "In spite of my constant nagging, she's too stubborn to buy one."
Until now, I'd never seen him frown. I hoped it wasn't an omen. I couldn't help wondering if his mother's failure to arrive on time was a deliberate snub aimed at me, her new daughter-in-law. Tom had described his mother as formidable. Intimidating. Difficult. All of which went a long way toward explaining the unease I'd been feeling ever since we took off from Los Angeles. I'd already built up a picture of her in my mind, one that involved horns, a tail, and sharp teeth.
But I was determined to win her over. After all, Jeannette Larkin was the woman whose DNA would be passed on to my children. "I'm sure she'll be along shortly," I said.
"Maybe." But he didn't look convinced, which did absolutely nothing to alleviate my apprehension. "You have to understand my mother," he said. "She's a bit set in her ways. This wouldn't be the first time she's done something off-the-wall just to prove a point."
In other words, maybe my theory was right. Great. "Okay," I said, trying to focus on the primary problem at hand. "If she doesn't show up, how do we get home?" We still had at least a hundred miles to go.
Scanning the crowd, he said, "We'll have to rent a car. Damn it, I knew I should've driven down by myself and left my car in long-term parking. But you can't imagine how much I hate to do that. You never know what you'll find when you get back. Scratches, dents, slashed tires, graffiti"
I patted his arm in a gesture of comfort. "She could be wandering around the airport, lost. Maybe you should try having her paged."
Some of the frustration left his eyes. "Right," he said. "Good idea, Jules."
Nobody in my entire thirty years had ever gotten away with calling me Jules. Until now. A lot of firsts going on here.
"You stay with the bags," he said, and began moving in the direction of the American Airlines ticket counter. He'd taken just a couple of steps when a male voice separated itself from the babble and hum of the crowd.
"Tommy! Yo, Tommy-boy!"
We both swung around. The face that belonged to the voice wasn't hard to pick out, since most of the crowd was moving in the opposite direction. Even with the aviator glasses covering his eyes, the family resemblance was unmistakable. He was a slightly younger, slightly watered-down version of my husband. Not quite as tall. Not quite as dark. Not quite as smooth.
Just plain not quite as.
"What the hell are you doing here?" There was an edge to Tom's voice, one he smoothed over so quickly I would have missed it if it hadn't been so uncharacteristic of the man I'd married. He shot me a brief glance before continuing. "I thought you were in Presque Isle."
"Finished the job early. Heard you needed a ride, sovoil ! Here I am."
Tom's eyes narrowed, and something passed between them, some kind of animosity that they weren't quite verbalizing. They rubbed each other the wrong way. Even I, a virtual stranger, could see it. "Lucky us," he said.
Instead of rising to the bait, the guy laughed. He turned his attention to me, all trace of hostility gone. His smile was genuine, warm and welcoming. "And this must be Julie." He pulled off the glasses and held out his hand. "I'm Riley. Tom's black-sheep brother."
Tom hadn't mentioned that he had a brother. Judging by the sour expression on my husband's face, he must have had good reason for that omission.
I shook Riley's outstretched hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Where's Mom?" Tom asked.
"She didn't come."
The two brothers exchanged a look that was layered with meaning. I tried to decipher one or two of those layers, but it was impossible.
In an attempt to inject some levity into the atmosphere, I said, "Maybe we could just settle here instead of going all the way to Maine. I hear Boston's nice in the fall."
Tom's frigid demeanor instantly thawed. "Christ, Jules," he said, "I'm sorry. Don't worry about it, honey. Mom's just being Mom. She'll come around."
"Tommy's right," Riley said. "It's nothing personal. It's just that" he slid the aviator glasses back on his face "nobody's ever been quite good enough for our boy here."
The look Tom gave him could easily have frozen water. "Just cool it," Tom said. "Okay?"
"Whatever you say," Riley said easily, bending and picking up my suitcases. "After all, you're the boss. I'm just a lowly chauffeur."
In the rear seat of the Ford pickup, Tom rode in silence. I sat up front with Riley, who spent most of the two-hour drive regaling me with family stories and childhood memories. I half listened to him, made appropriate responses at the appropriate times, but for the most part, as we drove steadily northward through a drizzling rain, I simply stared out the window at the passing foliage. Was northern New England made up of nothing but trees? This had to be the most godforsaken, isolated place on the planet. What the hell was I thinking? Was it too late for me to change my mind, hop back on a plane and fly home to California?
Not that I would have left Tom behind, not for an instant. But I had myself halfway convinced that we'd gotten it backwards, that I wasn't supposed to uproot myself and move to the end of the earth. That instead, it was Tom who was supposed to be moving his medical practice to some thriving metropolis nestled snugly in the heart of the sunbelt.