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Linny's Sweet Dream List
By Susan Schild
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Susan Schild
All rights reserved.
It was four thirty in the morning, and the sunrise wake up alarm clock cast honeyed light on the room. Already awake, Linny rolled over and watched her handsome husband with the sun-streaked hair and muscled back roll out of bed and pad toward the bathroom in his blue-and-white striped boxers. Buck was hitting the shower and getting ready to drive down to the coast for the big King Mackerel Tournament.
Linny gave a contented sigh, and thought about their talk last night. She was so glad it was over, and so grateful about the outcome. Yesterday, she'd been restless, almost sick with nerves all day because she'd decided to confront Buck over supper.
At dusk, they'd sat at an outside table at Sweet Gardenia Restaurant. The white flowering bushes around the garden were in bloom, and a fragrant breeze riffled her hair, but Linny had hardly noticed. Her heart had slammed against her ribs and her hands were icy. What if he told her something she couldn't bear?
His eyes fixed on hers, Buck gave her a slow smile, and touched her foot with his under the table. For a moment, Linny felt a melting warmth. But she clasped her hands together, gazed directly at him, and blurted out, "Buck, is there someone else?"
Buck had flinched, and in a low, fierce voice, said, "No. Never."
Weak with relief, her resolve ebbing, she'd made herself persist. With a shaking voice she'd asked, "You're late coming home, and you seem so distracted. Who keeps texting you in the middle of the night?"
Frowning, Buck sent her a reproachful look. "It's business, Lin." He'd pulled his phone from his pocket, scrolled and held it out to her. "See for yourself. Clients text me 24/7."
But before she had a chance to read the screen, he'd pulled it back and pocketed it.
He held his palms up as if he'd made his point. "We're finally making money again. We live a good life. You should be glad we're busy at work."
"I am glad," she'd said hurriedly, and started to feel guilty, but had caught herself and felt a flash of anger. This wasn't about her being ungrateful. Linny had leaned forward and, in a voice hoarse with emotion, said, "Materially, you give me everything, but what I want most is to trust you and feel close to you." Her eyes had brimmed with tears and she'd brushed them away, not wanting him to see her so vulnerable. Buck had taken her hand and kissed it, and they'd talked. Good talk. Real talk. Glancing at his strong face softened in the light of the flickering candles, Linny had felt buoyant, safe, loved.
She hoped that in this morning's light last night's optimism about their relationship made sense. They'd only been married for six months, and, even at their age, newlyweds went through adjustment periods, she reassured herself. They still had a lot to learn about each other. Sinking deeper into her mattress, Linny remembered her first meeting with Buck.
Finally worn down by her mother's reminders that she couldn't "wear widow's weeds forever" and needed to "get out there" — wherever there was — Linny let Macy, a friend from work, talk her into volunteering. She signed on to a project with Builders for Betterment, a local charity run by people in the construction trade helping low-income citizens with housing. That Saturday, they were to work on rebuilding a Senior Center that had been damaged by a hurricane that had hit North Carolina in the fall.
Just before 7:00 a.m., Macy introduced Linny to the other volunteers, and they stood around the building site, murmuring softly to each other, sipping steaming coffee and eating sausage biscuits that one of the women had brought. Linny glanced around nervously. She'd really wanted to stay home and read, but she'd made herself come. Macy said that quite a few of the volunteers had been daily visitors to the Senior Center before the storm. Linny's mouth turned up as she watched a man with a gray ponytail yank up the tool belt that threatened to pull down his pants. Older men did tend to lose their bottoms. He caught her eye and gave her a chagrined smile. A skinny white-haired woman wearing a T-shirt that read This Senior's Still Got Sass approached Linny, smiled, and cocked her head. "Good morning, young lady. First time volunteering?"
Linny nodded, enjoying being seen as young. "Yes, ma'am."
"We appreciate your coming out." The woman patted her shoulder. "You'll have a good day, and wait until you meet Buck, our volunteer coordinator." She raised and lowered both silvery brows meaningfully, and said sotto voce, "Hubba, hubba."
Linny grinned. Working with these good folks might even be fun.
A few moments later, a vintage Cadillac convertible with long, gleaming fins wheeled into the parking lot. The driver stepped out, and strode toward the group. "Morning, Buck," someone called, and the man raised a hand in greeting. So this was the hubba-hubba Buck, Linny thought, and eyed him. In a bright yellow Builders for Betterment T-shirt, knee length shorts, and sturdy-looking boots, he didn't look that special. But Macy gave Linny an elbow jab and wolf-whistled softly as Buck gathered the volunteers around him. Linny got a better look at him, and quietly drew in her breath. Up close, the man reminded her of Michelangelo's statue of David. Buck had sculpted arms, long legs with muscled thighs and calves, and full head of tousled brown hair laced with gold. Among the women volunteers, Linny sensed a quiet surge of hair tossing and pulling in of stomachs.
He gave the group a dazzling grin. "Morning, folks. My name's Buck, I'm a custom builder here in town, and I'm your volunteer coordinator for the day. Thank you for helping us out on this project. I hear you are a talented group, and you're certainly good looking." He gazed at them all, his eyes twinkling. Volunteers hooted and chuckled, and he went on. "Today, we'll work on doors, windows, and framing." He paused, and said, "Let's work hard today, drink a lot of water, and be safe. We need three person teams ..." He detailed their tasks, and as the volunteers found their work areas, Linny watched the women on the crew twinkling at him, and even the men casting admiring looks.
As Linny gathered her tools and walked outside to join her fellow framers, she vowed she'd keep at least twenty paces from Buck. She didn't know if she'd ever want a man again, and any man with as much charisma as Buck had could only be Category 5 hurricane type trouble.
Later that morning, Linny was enthusiastically hammering away when a wasp flew down the neck of her T-shirt and buzzed around. Startled, she'd pounded her fingers instead of the nail. She yelped, and dropped her hammer. No sting, but she'd hit the heck out of her fingers. Blinking back tears, Linny shook out her fingers trying to ease the pain, feeling foolish as she watched the befuddled wasp fly away. In a moment, Buck was by her side, his brows knit with concern. He reached for her hand and Linny grew still as he carefully examined her fingers. It was the first time in three years that a man had touched her so tenderly.
Buck said, "I think you're okay, but I don't like one bit seeing you hurt. Let's get ice on it."
She'd blinked, watching him stride off. He didn't like to see her hurt? Linny felt weak with gratitude ... and flooded with a longing to have a man be concerned about her again.
Buck came back with a soft ice pack, and, as he wrapped the cold pouch around her hand, his fingers touched hers again. Linny's heart banged against her chest, and she just stared at him. She felt like she was falling off a cliff.
She'd worked through the end of her shift, darting and dodging all around the Senior Center to try to avoid him. He'd walk into a room, she'd scurry out a side door. He'd approach to check the progress of the framing, and she'd peel off for a water break. It was finally close to five, quitting time. Linny was walking fast, looking over her shoulder and congratulating herself on having avoided Buck, when she came around a corner and plowed right into him. She was going so fast that she almost bounced off of him, and he caught her shoulders as she toppled backward. Pulling her upright, he steadied her, barely hiding his smile. "You're a little thing, but fast. Just like The Roadrunner. I like that."
Flushing with embarrassment — and the surge of attraction that she didn't want to feel — Linny thought about what he'd said, and burst out laughing.
So the romance began. Buck was so focused on her, so protective. Here was a man with whom she could build a safe and happy life. After a dating whirlwind, they sat on a hill in the glamorous Cadillac with the top down and gazed at a pink and coral sunset over the Raleigh skyline. He'd pulled a stunner of a ring from his pocket and proposed. Fervently thanking God for second chances, Linny had breathed out a "yes." They'd married three weeks after their first meeting.
Linny loved that memory. Glancing around the room, she saw the wallpaper with the rabbits chasing foxes that the designer said was whimsical, the pale yellow linen love seats she was afraid to put her feet up on, and the wall-mounted fireplace they never used. The whole room left her cold. Most women would be thrilled to live here, but the house didn't feel like home.
Linny and Buck rattled around in this six-thousand-square-foot house — way too much house for two people. With an infinity oasis tub in the cavernous bathroom, two master suites, web-controlled security inside and out, and a She Shed out back with a pottery wheel she didn't know how to use, the former model home had all the bells and whistles. A Low Country beauty with gracious, sweeping porches and floor-to-ceiling windows, it sat at the entrance of Buck's new development and was designed to get buyers dreaming of the good life they'd lead if they bought here. Buck was a gifted dream weaver, and Southern Haven was almost sold out. Linny heard Buck in the shower singing falsetto to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and grinned, feeling a fluttering hopefulness about him ... about them. He'd actually listened to her this time.
Linny glanced at the glossy iridescence of three jewel beetle prints on the wall beside the bed, and shuddered. Stupid bugs. Squinting her eyes, she tried not to think about Tutu Beauregard — the impossibly chic interior designer who wore her lacquer-black hair in a china girl cut, and made pronouncements like, "Copper is back!" "Coral hues rule!" and "Botanicals and insects are trending upward!"
During their last meeting, Tutu kept shooting Buck smoldering glances, and Buck acted like a hunting dog on point — all with Linny right there watching. Afterward Linny had called him on his flirting. Buck had sworn that nothing was going on with "that crazy woman," and insisted he just sometimes forgot to turn off his schmoozing salesman mode. Last night Buck had agreed to stop for good on the charming act.
She took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. She'd stop worrying, and get up to see her fisherman off. Yawning, she rolled out of bed. Seeing the prints, she felt a burn of irritation. She marched over, unhooked them, and put them on the floor, the three shiny bugs facing the wall. With a triumphant smile, she pulled a pink seersucker robe on over her cotton gown and walked barefoot to the kitchen.
She sniffed the earthy smell of the Kenyan coffee as she scooped it out, and gazed out the window, startled when she caught a glimpse of her new white Volvo. She was still getting used to it. The car's ding-less exterior and gleaming shine made her nervous, and she'd had a crazy thought about rubbing dust in it so it didn't look so flashy and new. She shook her head, halfway smiling.
The day after the Tutu incident, Buck had come home from work early. "I've got something for you, darling," he'd said. He made her close her eyes as he led her outside. The Volvo was wrapped in a giant bow, just like in one of those TV commercials at Christmas. Classic Buck. He had an uncanny sense of when she was fed up, and would do something grand to try to reel her back in.
Linny thought about what happened next, wondering if all women wished their husbands got them better. Later that day, Buck had a tow truck come to haul off her trusty old car. When the man drove off in his rig with her little faded Honda Civic strung up behind it, Linny had burst into tears. Buck had looked baffled, and then hugged her.
He wasn't sad to see that car go. He'd point at it, exasperated, and remind her, "We sell up-market lifestyles. That's not what that car says." With 176,000 miles on it, the Civic was banged up, but it had been dependable over the years when she was on her own. As Linny found her favorite mug, she felt a wave of compassion for him. She knew the battered car mostly annoyed Buck because it reminded him of all the rutted dirt roads that he'd left behind.
Linny poured half-and-half in her mug, took a sip, and let the coffee linger on her tongue, enjoying the dark, creamy taste. After pulling food from the fridge, she switched on her XM radio, and found the station that played classic country — perfect. Patsy Cline sang the achingly beautiful lament, "Sweet Dreams." Linny sang along quietly as she put the bacon on to sizzle and cracked brown eggs into the bowl, separating them. She adjusted the heat on the skillet.
But last night's talk had been different than any they'd ever had. After so humbly, so ardently reassuring her of his love, Buck had gently touched the side of her face and said in a low tone, "I'll do better, Lin. I won't let you down."
Linny grew wistful just thinking about the sweetness of that moment.
Her heart squeezed. For all her brave talk to her sister about divorcing Buck if she found he was cheating, Linny wanted this marriage to work. She loved Buck, but she'd been shattered by Andy's dying on her, and she didn't know if she could bear being alone again. The thought terrified her. Shivering, Linny just hoped that she wasn't being a fool to let Buck reel her back in.
Johnny Cash was singing as Buck walked into the kitchen, the air drifting around him smelling of sandalwood soap and clean man. He kissed her on the top of her head, and she smiled as she flipped the omelet. While he clunked around in the garage collecting his coolers, rods, and fishing gear, she slipped the egg-white omelet, turkey bacon, and whole wheat toast onto a plate and set it on the kitchen table. Mug in hand, she pulled up a chair and sat down, feeling a sense of peace steal over her.
With comb tracks still in his wet hair, Buck slid into his seat, looking sharp in the faded pink golf shirt that she kept trying to put in the Goodwill pile and he kept retrieving. "Everything we eat is so danged healthy," he'd grumbled as he wolfed it down. "What does a man have to do to get some biscuits with gravy and home fries?"
"Get better numbers at the doctor's?" she'd suggested, but he'd picked up his tablet and was studying the fishing report. Linny smiled wryly. When he was going fishing not much else got through. In his mind he was probably already flying down the glittering water in his beloved boat, heading out to the ocean, roaring with laughter at a joke made by one of his merry men, and hooking the big one that got away last time.
Barefooted, she walked out with him and breathed in the earthy scent of the warm August morning. Leaning against the side of the Caddy, Linny half smiled as she watched him finish loading the SUV that served as his work and weekend truck.
As he closed the cargo door, he'd pulled her into an extravagant hug, and lifted her feet off the ground. He nuzzled her neck and kissed her, hard. "Be good, baby," he said, his gaze holding hers. "I'll be home before you know it, and I'm going to do better. I'll change, I promise." Stepping into the car, he switched on the ignition. She heard a Jimmy Buffett song. Buck's radio stayed tuned to Radio Margaritaville.
Linny shook her head as she waved. Her husband was a pirate, Puck, and King of the Good Ole Boys Who'd Done Well. He was a rascal, but he practically shimmered with his delight in life. When he kissed her like that, she felt every cell in her body respond, believed every word he told her, and remembered why she'd married him.
Back in the kitchen she sipped her cooling coffee and thought as she scrubbed stuck-on egg out of the cast iron skillet. She'd best curb her optimism. Marriage with Buck could have as many highs, lows and whipsaw turns as one of those adrenaline rides at the State Fair. He could give her an exhilarating top-of-the-world high, but the free fall drops that sometimes came afterward could break her heart.
Excerpted from Linny's Sweet Dream List by Susan Schild. Copyright © 2016 Susan Schild. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 - Fresh Starts,
CHAPTER 2 - Wild Turkeys,
CHAPTER 3 - Roy Rogers,
CHAPTER 4 - Diamond Rings and Heartaches,
CHAPTER 5 - Falling Stars,
CHAPTER 6 - Potluck,
CHAPTER 7 - Hits and Misses,
CHAPTER 8 - Running on Fumes,
CHAPTER 9 - Dog Days,
CHAPTER 10 - Fix Up,
CHAPTER 11 - Trouble,
CHAPTER 12 - Family Secrets,
CHAPTER 13 - Working Girl,
CHAPTER 14 - Baby Barbecue,
CHAPTER 15 - Runaway,
CHAPTER 16 - Lost and Found,
CHAPTER 17 - Indian Summer,