Read an Excerpt
By Jane Peart
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Two days after Lenora Sherwood's death, Bernessa Williams let herself into the Greenbrae, North Carolina, house where she had been housekeeper for the past thirty years. The family would begin arriving for the funeral soon, and Bernessa wanted to have everything in readiness. She knew how Miss Nora liked things done and she was determined to do them even though her mistress had passed. Fresh linens on all the beds in the four upstairs bedrooms, towels in the two bathrooms, downstairs the silver polished, china and crystal washed and ready for refreshments for the friends who would come to offer their condolences after the graveside ceremony.
Bernessa sighed as she got out her cleaning supplies from the cabinet in the big, sunny kitchen. She and Miss Nora had spent many an hour in this room, preparing food for family gatherings, canning the luscious peaches from the hillside orchards, baking dozens of holiday cookies and cakes to be taken to local nursing homes and shut-ins who were in Miss Nora's special care.
Looking around, Bernessa remembered as well the many other times they had just sat at the scrubbed pine table, drinking tea or coffee, talking. Been through a mighty lot together, she and Miss Nora.
Yes, Lord, good times and bad. They had shared their troubles, joys, sorrows and bewilderment at the ways of life. She glanced at the framed tri-cornered American flag in its place of honor over the desk. Bernessa remembered the day Miss Nora had received the news that her youngest son, a navy pilot, had been killed. It was the only time Bernessa had ever seen Miss Nora give way.
Now there were only two of her sons left to mourn her. The oldest, Randall, a lawyer, was in charge of all the funeral arrangements. He and his wife, Adele, were coming from nearby Larchmont. Their daughter, Lesley, would drive over from Wadesboro where she taught kindergarten.
Bernessa's gaze moved over to the photograph on the mantel taken when the three Sherwood sons were in their teens, handsome, blond, smiling. Miss Nora had set great store by those boys. Bernessa had watched them all grow up. Looked as alike as peas in a pod, yet each was as different from the other as day from night. Children! You just never knew. No matter how you tried to raise them, they all had their own paths to tread, as she knew well from her own.
"All we can do is pray, Bernessa," Miss Nora would say over and over at some news or other concerning one of her sons. She had grieved about Chandler's young widow and child after the plane crash that had taken his life. She'd taken Curtis's divorce hard. Miss Nora considered marriage a from-this-day-forward promise. She had worried particularly about Bretnay, only five at the time of her parents' breakup. "What's to become of a child growing up without a father - a father who chose to leave?" she would ask Bernessa. Not that she didn't worry about Anne, too, also growing up in a fatherless home. Lesley, her third granddaughter, seemed better off with two parents, even though she'd been fussed over too much by the mother, who had waited nearly eight years for a child.
When Bernessa told Miss Nora that she couldn't carry the weight of the world on her shoulders, she'd laugh and say, "You're right, Bernessa. Let go and let God. Keep reminding me of that, will you?"
In spite of Bernessa's repeated warnings about her taking on too much, Miss Nora went ahead and did as she pleased. Like the first year she invited all three grandchildren to spend the summer at her beach cottage, Spindrift.
At that announcement Bernessa had exclaimed "Now, Miss Nora, you don't want to do that! Summer's your time to relax. Three ten-year-olds! Why, they'll be full of beans, hoppin' and jumpin' and wantin' to be taken places, and there goes any chance you'll get of having yourself some rest. No Garden Club ladies luncheons to fix, no Missionary Society meeting, no choir practice - all your winter doin's."
But Miss Nora paid her no mind. The little girls came. Anne, all the way from California, a quiet child, with her father's long-lashed eyes and shy smile. Bret, smart, sassy and never still a minute. Bernessa couldn't rightly recall exactly where that child was living or which parent had custody just then. Lesley looked like one of those chubby tykes on the soup cans, rosy cheeked, curly-haired. Her mama had brought her, along with a jar full of multivitamins and a suitcase packed with pastel T-shirts and matching shorts.
Down on her knees now shining the brass andirons and fire screen, Bernessa chuckled. Don't think Lesley wore more'n two of those sets the whole summer.
Bernessa sat back on her heels. After that first year it became a regular thing. Every June the children arrived and stayed until Labor Day.
Those summer visits ended the year after the three graduated from high school. Of course, Lesley often came to visit Miss Nora here in Greenbrae with her parents. Her father, Randall, managed his mother's business and legal affairs. But none of the three granddaughters ever spent another summer at Spindrift. Not for ten years.
Whenever Bernessa asked about the girls or wondered out loud why they didn't visit or even write more letters to their grandmother, Miss Nora would hush her.
"Nonsense, Bernessa, they're busy young women with their own lives. College and careers and all sorts of interesting things to do, places to go. Why would they want to spend summers at a little cottage in an isolated beach town?"
Bernessa had shaken her head but not said more. She had her own opinion about the fact that the three didn't come. But she knew better than to say any more about it.
With some effort Bernessa got to her feet. A little stiff, these days. Well, what could you expect at sixtyseven? She went into the hall, got the vacuum out of the closet and plugged it in. Ten years. Hadn't seemed that long and yet time crept up on a person.
What were Anne and Bret like now that they were all grown up? What was it Miss Nora told her Anne did - worked at a college? And that scallawag Bret - what on earth had she been up to all these years? Plenty, Bernessa guessed, recalling some of her carryings-on that last summer at Spindrift. Of all the girls, it was Bret who troubled her grandmother most. Lesley, on the other hand, had lost her baby fat and become a lovely looking young lady. But way too thin. No bigger than a broomstick. Didn't eat enough to keep a bird alive. Even turned down Bernessa's biscuits and the banana pudding that used to be her favorite dessert the last time she was over to dinner with her grandmother. That was when she brought that fine young man she was engaged to. Funny thing, though, Miss Nora hadn't been too sure of that match. "I hope Lesley's doing what will make herself happy, Bernessa, not just pleasing her mother."
Excerpted from Sandcastles by Jane Peart Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.