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By Karen Ball
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 Karen Ball
All right reserved.
Chapter One"From childhood's hour I have not been As others were-I have not seen As others saw ..." "Alone," Edgar Allen Poe
"May the God of peace ... equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you ... all that is pleasing to him." Hebrews 13:21
Two Months Earlier August 24-A Red Clover Day (Green and Rose)
The woman in the mirror was dressed for a wedding.
If anyone had told her a year ago that she'd be standing here, dressed like this, ready to walk down an aisle, flowers in hand-
"You look beautiful."
She turned and felt the joy in her smile as she faced her brother. She was so used to seeing him in his deputy uniform-either that or jeans and a T-shirt-that the sight of him in a tux nearly took her breath away. "So do you."
Dan arched one brow and came to stand beside her, slipping his arm around her waist. "I, my dear sister, am not beautiful. Stunning. Handsome. Debonair. Drop-dead gorgeous, yes. But beautiful?" He flicked the end of her nose. "I think not."
A low, offended rumble drew their attention down, and Annie giggled. "I believe Kodi is still miffed at us."
Dan shook his head. "I still can't believe Shelby let you talk her into using your German shepherd for the flower girl."
Annie kneltbeside her dog and adjusted the flowers woven into the shepherd's collar. "Hey, it wasn't my idea. It was hers. She knows Kodi is part of the family." Annie angled a look at her brother as she stood. "Does Shelby know she's marrying such a hunk?"
His grin was equally playful as he tugged at the front of his tux. "Why do you think she said yes?"
"Well, I thought it had something to do with you wearing a gun ..."
"Brat." He nudged her with a hip and stepped away. "So where's the other bridesmaid?"
"You mean our beloved Sister-Mommy?" His lips twitched at her nickname for Kyla. "She's making sure everything is running smoothly, of course. And by the way, she's not a bridesmaid. She's the maid of honor."
"Of course." He looked out the window at the back yard. "You've really done a great job, Annie. It looks great down there."
She joined her brother at the window and nodded. Rows of chairs had been arranged in two sections beneath a large canopy. A long white runner ran down the middle aisle between the chairs, leading to front. Cascades of fresh flowers adorned the front, providing the backdrop for the coming ceremony.
It was perfect. "Kyla oversaw most of it, of course."
"All except the flowers."
Annie squeezed Dan's waist, then let him go. "All except the flowers. Well, I'd better go down and see how your bride is doing. Kyla would never forgive me if she found out I was up here twiddling the morning away."
"Go to it, then. Since I'm just the groom, I'll go hold up a wall someplace."
She laughed. "See there? You're getting back into the swing of married life already."
Annie hurried down the stairs, Kodi at her side, doing her best to avoid anyone as they made their way across the yard to her studio, which had been turned into the bride's dressing room. Annie had been delighted when Shelby and Dan asked to have their wedding at her home.
"Your garden is just so beautiful," Shelby said. "I'd love to be surrounded by all those flowers as we're saying our vows."
Annie couldn't argue. Her garden was her pride and joy. Well, one of them. And the flowers had outdone themselves this year-almost as if they knew they were going to be part of something special.
That's what this wedding was. Special. She could hardly believe it had been just over three years since Dan's first wife, Sarah, died. Annie hadn't been sure he would recover from that loss.
She opened the studio door and stepped inside. The sight that met Annie stopped her in her tracks. Shelby, in all her bridal glory, stood in front of a full-length mirror.
She turned to look at Annie as she drew close, and when their eyes met, Annie saw such joy in Shelby's gaze. "Do I look okay?"
"Okay?" Annie's laugh was choked with emotion. "You look amazing." She embraced the woman God had used so wonderfully in Dan's life and heart. "I'm so happy for you. And for my brother."
Shelby returned the hug.
"What are you doing? You'll wrinkle the dress!"
The two women jumped apart and turned guilty gazes to Kyla, who stood there watching them. It took a second for Annie to realize the sternness in her sister's eyes was teasing. "Oh, you!" She swatted at Kyla, who laughed and came to join the hug, careful not to squash the two bouquets she held.
Kyla stepped back. "Everything's set. The place is packed. Dan's standing up there looking all excited and nervous. Jayce is at his side, looking particularly dashing in a tux."
"The flower girl is ready." Annie patted Kodi's head and met Kyla's bland stare. Annie knew it took all of her sister's self-control not to protest again. And from the wink Shelby sent her, her sister-to-be knew it too.
Kyla handed one of the bouquets to Annie, then lifted the large, beautiful bridal bouquet and extended it to Shelby. "So, what do you say, Miss Shelby? You ready to join this crazy family?"
The warmth of Shelby's smile enveloped Annie and Kyla. "Just try to stop me."
Annie eased into her office chair, glad to be out of the bridesmaid dress and back into jeans.
The wedding had been wonderful. But she couldn't deny she was glad it was over, that everyone was gone. Crowds just weren't her thing.
She glanced at the calendar. August 24. A day of joy for Dan and Shelby. A day of green and rose.
The warm colors shimmered behind the twenty-four on the calendar, shading the day with a rich, contented mood.
Annie leaned back in her chair, eyes closing as her thoughts drifted.
She liked green. It was friendly, alert, vibrant, and alive. Green had a way of infusing Annie-and the day around her-with excitement. As though something good was coming.
Yes, that was it. Green was the color of anticipation. How appropriate for her brother's wedding day.
"Daydreaming again, Annot?"
Annie stretched and looked at the elegant woman standing at the end of her bed. "Don't you know it's rude for a houseguest to wake the hostess when she's dozed off?"
"I'm not a guest; I'm family."
Annie grimaced at her older sister. Everything about Kyla, from her perfect thick hair to her oh-so-coordinated clothes to her insistent use of Annie's proper name, proclaimed her controlled outlook on life.
Hard to believe they were related.
Where Kyla was tall and willowy, Annie was short and athletic. Where Kyla's eyes shared the pure green of emeralds, Annie's were an odd mix of gold and brown. Kyla called them hazel; Annie called them indecisive. Then there were their personalities. As different as night and day, white and black, relaxed and obsessive-
A grunt beside Annie drew her attention to the large black form lying on the floor next to her. Annie reached out a hand to pat her dog's broad head. "You have to admit it, Kylie, our flower girl here did a great job."
"I'll give her this: she was the most obedient flower girl I've ever seen. Of course, she's also the only flower girl I've ever seen who sheds." Kyla sniffed. "Do you know that it takes me weeks to get rid of all the dog hair that adheres to my clothes after I've visited you? I thought German shepherds didn't shed."
It was on the tip of Annie's tongue to say something sarcastic, like, "Yeah, and I'll bet you still believe in fairies too." But it would be a waste of breath. Kyla hadn't ever believed in fairies.
"Now shut that silly computer down and come eat. I've called you twice to let you know dinner was ready."
Annie straightened in her chair. "Okay, okay, Sister-Mommy, I'll be there in a minute."
Kyla's generous mouth thinned. Amazing how stern her sister could look when she wanted to. She must make contractors shake in their steel-toe boots.
"How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?"
"You don't have to tell me at all." Annie leaned her elbows on her computer desk. It never ceased to amaze her that Kyla could be so ... hard-edged at times when her color was such a soft, warm rose. "I'll stop calling you Sister-Mommy when you stop acting like one."
"Hmm. I'll stop acting like one when you stop needing someone to do so." Kyla eyed Annie's wrinkled clothes.
Annie had changed as soon as the limo bearing her brother and his new wife was out of sight. She hung up the bridesmaid dress with careful attention, then grabbed the clothes she'd dumped on the floor earlier that day. So what if they were wrinkled? The wedding and reception were over. It was time to relax.
Kyla's clothing, of course, wouldn't dare sport a wrinkle. Poor things were pressed to within an inch of their lives.
"It was a beautiful ceremony, wasn't it?"
Annie nodded. "It's been a while since I've seen Dan that happy."
"He deserves it."
No argument there.
"So, are you coming downstairs?"
Drawing in a breath of patience, Annie took hold of her computer mouse. "Just let me finish what I'm doing here."
"Checking my e-mail to be sure there isn't something I need to deal with. You know, something from search and rescue or Killian."
"Annot, when are you going to realize there's more to life than that dog and your work?"
Annie ran her hands through her short-cropped hair. "Meaning?"
"You need a man."
Oh, please. Not again. Today of all days. Annie had been so sure Kyla would be too focused on Dan and Shelby and the wedding to get into this again.
"I don't want to hear it."
"Whatever excuse you've come up with." Kyla's tone was as forceful as her stance. Hands planted on slim hips, trim shoulders cocked in a don't-argue-with-me-young-lady stance, chin jutted out.
The picture-perfect Sister-Mommy.
Fire sparked in Kyla's eyes. "Don't."
"Don't you dare call me that horrendous nickname again. Just because I care about you doesn't mean I'm pushy."
Annie eyed her sister. "You? Pushy? Why would I ever think you were pushy?"
"Ha ha. Now come on and eat."
Rather than point out how Kyla had just proven her point, Annie followed her sister out of the bedroom and down to her kitchen. At least, she thought it was her kitchen. It was hard to tell, what with everything so sparkling and spotless.
Kyla strikes again. "I take it you've eaten already?"
"Of course." Kyla poured coffee into a mug and handed it to Annie then grinned. "But I can always have some wedding cake and coffee while you eat dinner."
Kyla turned toward the fridge, almost taking a nosedive over Kodi. "Must your monster be in the middle of the kitchen?"
As though sensing Kyla was talking about her, Kodi jumped up and leaned against Kyla's leg, looking up at her with those big puppy-dog eyes. Kodi adored Annie's older sister.
Pity Kyla didn't return the sentiment. She peered down at Kodi. "Listen, beast, I am not your leaning post."
Kodi's thick tail whomped against the kitchen cabinets. Annie took a sip of her coffee. "I keep telling you, Kylie, if you don't want Kodi lovin' on you, don't talk to her. Attention is her favorite treat."
Kyla didn't reply. Just kneed Kodi away and opened the refrigerator to pull out a plate of food. She set it on the table in front of Annie. "Now, what were we talking about?"
No point trying to avoid it. "My need for a man. Of course, I don't see you waltzing down the wedding aisle, and you're considerably older than I am. So which of us, me at my tender age, or you at your ripe ooold age-"
Kyla spun, piercing Annie with a glare.
"-should be more concerned about finding a man?" Annie delivered a smile so sweet it would choke a honeybee and blinked her wide-eyed innocence.
Kyla managed to hold the glare for another few seconds, then dissolved into laughter. "Annot, you are incorrigible."
"Spell that." Annie pulled the plastic wrap from around her plate.
"I-n-c-o ... rrigible."
"Close enough." Annie played with her fork. "So how 'bout you give me a break on the 'go get married already' speech? Just for today."
Kyla opened her mouth, resistance in her features, then clamped her lips together. "I only talk about it because I care."
Annie sat back with a sigh. "You know I'd love to get married, but there's this little detail of finding a man I actually like, let alone love."
"It might help if you tried this really fascinating little thing called dating."
Annie grimaced. "Fascinating. That's another word for revolting, right?"
"I have tried it." She lowered a hand to scratch Kodi's head. "Remember Frank?"
Kyla had the grace to bite her lip. "That really was a disaster, wasn't it?"
"How you could ever think I'd be interested in a man like that?"
"Frank is a nice man."
"He hates animals." 'Nuff said. But Annie went on anyway. "Especially big dogs."
"But I didn't know tha-"
"And then there was Bruce. I believe he was another one of your setups."
"What on earth was wrong with Bruce? He loved animals-"
"Sure, if their heads were mounted on the wall of his den. Besides which, he had no sense of humor, was barely an inch taller than I am, and was just this side of bald-unless you count that oh-so-manly comb-over." Annie held her hand out to her sister. "Would you care to bless this feast, or shall I?"
Kyla took Annie's hand and closed her eyes. "Father, thank You for the blessing of food and shelter and for the blessing of family. Let our time together please You."
"And show Annot she's being far too picky about men. Amen."
Annie's glare went unnoticed as Kyla focused on stirring the perfect amount of cream into her coffee.
"You know I only hound you because I care about you, Annot."
"I look at you and see someone with so much love to share, so much talent and passion ..."
Annie set her fork down. "You know what I see when I look at me? A warm marigold. Know what I see when I look at you? A rich rose. And Dan?"
Kyla leaned back in her chair. "Marigold." She sighed. "I'm your sister. Heavens, I helped you plant your garden with flowers and plants that have your colors. I know about your condition."
"You know about it, but you don't really understand it. You don't understand what it's like to see shadows of a person's color when you look at or think of him. That even though I'm not always conscious of it, I see pink whenever I look at you."
"Well ..." Kyla cupped her hands around her coffee mug. "No, I guess not."
"Don't you see? That's the point. I'm different." Annie looked down at the food that had seemed so mouthwatering moments ago.
"Just because you have synesthesia ..."
"No. That's only part of it." Annie crossed her arms, hugging herself. "Yes, I have synesthesia. Yes, I perceive things others don't-"
Kyla rested her chin in her hand as she chewed. "Colors in numbers and letters. I'd really like to see that."
"Don't be so sure. It's not always fun, Kylie. Remember grade school, when the teachers thought I was just this side of crazy because I told them I didn't like the number one?"
Kyla's lips twitched. "Oh, right. It was too arrogant."
"A total snot, to be exact. Thinking it was all that just because it's first-" Annie caught herself, then offered a sheepish grin. "Okay, so I still don't like the number one much. And therein lies my problem. I see things others don't. I feel things others don't. And it's not just the synesthesia. I'm thirty-six and I still cry when I see an animal dead on the side of the road."
Excerpted from KALEIDOSCOPE EYES by Karen Ball Copyright © 2006 by Karen Ball. Excerpted by permission.
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