|Product dimensions:||5.72(w) x 6.68(h) x 1.13(d)|
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Joanna Cameron Lawrence applied the brakes and slowed her elderly but immaculate Mercedes convertible to a crawl, carefully turning onto the narrow, twisting road that led up into the Santa Cruz Mountains. She'd been on the road before, but it had been a long time. Not long enough for her to forget that it was exceedingly dangerous, however, like the road to her own house in Aptos, nearby in the mountains.
Although it had two narrow lanesin theory at leastin many places part of the road was washed out due to the inevitable mud slides during the heavy winter rains. Because the slides often left a mere sliver of blacktop, stop signs announced impending washouts so that traffic hopefully could come and go on the single remaining lane without major collisions.
She inhaled the cool, eucalyptus-scented air. To her left the mountain rose straight up from the road, its side adorned with houses that clung to it perilously. To her right, a ravinea small canyon reallyplunged dramatically, in places a hundred feet or more deep, to a creek that rose and fell with the seasons. Cypress trees, towering redwoods, eucalyptus, and pines created a canopy that permitted the sun to enter only at intervals.
Across the ravine, perched like commodious birdhouses on the mountainside opposite, she spotted occasional houses, rustic cottages most of them. They were isolated from one another, placed on large, almost vertical pieces of property. Most of them were reached by footbridges, some of which had been washed out in the winter floodsor dislodgedbythe periodic earthquakeand hung limply into the ravine. The inhabitants of these magical cottages had to park somewhere on this side of the ravine, then walk across the bridges to their homes.
They must be an intrepid breed, she decided, and she liked that about them. They dared to be different, to deal with all sorts of inconveniences to live in this dramatic setting.
She looked at the house numbers on the roadside mailboxes and saw that she was nearing her destination. The woman she was going to see had told her there was room to parkjustnear her footbridge.
On the right she saw a big old rusty cream Jeep Wagoneer, parked on the narrow shoulder off the road. It was the car the woman had told her to look for. Joanna slowed down and eased over onto the shoulder behind the Wagoneer, creeping as close to it as possible. She put on her parking brake and killed the engine.
Looking into the rearview mirror, she grabbed a brush from her big leather and canvas carryall and quickly ran it through her wind-tousled hair. There, that's good enough, she thought, inspecting it in the mirror once again. Then, grabbing her carryall, she threw her car keys into it, slung it across her shoulder, and slid out of the silver sports car.
I'll leave the top down, she decided. It's not going to rain, and it's nice and shady here so the interior won't get too hot. Plus, it ought to be safe.
She walked around the Wagoneer to the footbridge, and stood staring at it for long moments. It was about sixty feet across to the other side, and if there was anything in the world Joanna Lawrence feared, it was heights.
Oh, jeez, Joanna, she thought, cringing inside, you've done it now, old girl. You have to walk across this thing. High up in the air over that deep, deep ravine. Nothing below your feet but a few puny-looking old boards.
Taking a deep breath, she slowly put her right foot out onto the bridge, and at the same time she grabbed hold of the rustic wooden railing with all her might. She followed suit with her left foot, then stood still for a moment, exhaling. She could feel the bridge move slightly under her weight. She could also hear it creak.
Oh, Lord, she prayed, protect me now!
She remembered that someone had once told her to stare straight ahead under such circumstancesdon't look down whatever you do!and proceed slowly and steadily. Easier said than done.
She took another deep breath, looked firmly at the adorable cottage on the other side, and moved one foot in front of the other, slowly at first, then faster, faster, holding her breath and white-knuckling it all the way.
Reaching the other side, she stopped and shivered with relief. The shortbut oh, so long!trip was over. She turned slightly and looked back at the ravine. Harmless, she told herself. She hated this irrational fear, any kind of fear, but had never learned to conquer it. Straightening her shoulders, she glanced over at the cottage.
Like the footbridge, it was a gingerbread structure of batten board, weathered the color of the bark on the pines around it, with dark green shutters. Window boxes held cheerful red geraniums. The cedar-shingled roof was weathered a silvery brown, and the stone chimney and foundation were covered with moss and lichen. Fretwork decorated the eaves and the screened-in front porch, and vines grew all over the little house. A narrow stone path, which led to the front door, was bordered by all kinds of shade-loving shrubbery.
What a lovely, romantic place, Joanna thought.
She walked up the stone path to the front door. There was no doorbell, so she lifted the door knocker, a shiny brass pineapple that denoted hospitality, and knocked twice.
The door was opened almost immediately by a tall, slim woman about her own age, early thirties. She had sandy, shoulder-length hair and bright, alert eyes the color of tortoiseshell, a rich brown shot through with a golden yellow and amber. High cheekbones, beautifully arched eyebrows, a straight nose, and full, sensual lips were set off by healthy, very lightly tanned skin.
"Mrs. Lawrence?" she asked with a friendly smile. Her lively eyes took in Joanna's crisp oyster linen blouse, matching trousers, and espadrilles. Casual but elegant.
"Joanna, please," the visitor said.
"And I'm April Woodward," the woman said. "Come on in."
She held the door wide, and Joanna stepped into the cottage. In the tiny entrance foyer, she noticed a wrought-iron stand, filled with assorted umbrellas, some with amusing animal heads as handles, and walking sticks of various lengths. A small pine console, over which a simple pine mirror hung, held a Staffordshire bowl with keys. On the floor was a kilim rug, old, faded, and multicolored.
"Joanna," April asked, "would you like something to drink? There's green tea, and I have some mineral water."
"Oh, I love green tea," Joanna replied. "If it's no trouble."
April shook her head. "None at all," she said. "Sugar? Honey? Sweetener?"
"A touch of honey would be perfect," Joanna said.
"Make yourself comfortable," April said. "I'll be right back."
Joanna watched her stroll out of the room, noticing that April wore no-nonsense khakis, a pinstriped shirt, and loafers. Joanna headed for the big, comfortable-looking sofa in front of the stone fireplace, and sank into its deep cushions. She liked the feel of its slipcover fabric, which looked like natural linen.
She placed her carryall on the floor and glanced around the small room. It was paneled in knotty pine with built-in bookshelves that were filled to bursting with all sorts of books, well read from the looks of them. The big stone fireplace dominated one wall. It was a warm, cozy, and inviting room, to her mind in the best of taste. Charming, simple, and unpretentious, she thought. Like April herself appears to be. A wonderfully romantic cottage, but not cloyingly sweet or overdone. Not extravagantly expensive either.
April appeared with a small tray. On it were a teapot, cups, saucers, and a pot of honey. She sat it on the coffee table, then took a seat on the stone hearth.
"You didn't have to go to so much trouble," Joanna protested.
"It's no trouble," April replied. "I enjoy doing it." She poured their tea, put a small dollop of honey in each, and handed Joanna hers.
"Thanks, April," she said.
"You're welcome." April smiled and took a sip of the tea. "Now, then," she said. "Let me get this straight. You told me you're interested in doing a sort of grotto?" She looked at Joanna with curiosity.
Joanna nodded. "Yes," she said. "I've brought some pictures with me. I tore some of them out of magazines, and some of them are color Xeroxes from books I've got. They'll give you an idea of the sort of thing I have in mind."
She set her tea down on the table and reached into her carryall, pulling out a large manila envelope. "I guess it sounds a little crazy," she went on as she opened the envelope and extracted the pictures, "but I think you'll see what I mean."
She handed the pictures to April, who slowly looked through them, one by one. When she was finished, she put the pictures down on the coffee table and smiled.
"These are fabulous," she said excitedly, her tortoiseshell eyes sparkling. She tapped the pictures with a hand. "And you're really serious about this?"
"Absolutely," Joanna said, returning her smile. She was gratified that the pictures had excited April. "I saw the fountain and garden walls you did at Ingrid and Ronald Wilson's house, and I loved them. They have such a sense of fantasy about them."
"Thanks a lot," April said.
"Anyway, something told me that you could do this," Joanna said.
"Amazing," April said. "Nobody does this sort of thing anymore."
"I do," Joanna said, laughing. "At least I want to. Even if it is a little crazy. There's this old stone building on our property that used to be a stable. It's not too big, but it has a great view of the mountains."
"A grotto's usually a cave, isn't it?" April said. "Or like a cave."
Joanna nodded. "Yes, in the strictest sense. But I want this to be a sort of garden pavilion, not a real grotto. I guess I call it that because I want the whole room encrusted with seashells and pebbles. Walls, floor, and ceiling. With murals and architectural detail. Like the rooms you see in these pictures."
April clapped her hands and laughed again. "This is wonderful," she enthused.
Joanna smiled. "But I don't want to copy the pictures," she said. "I want us to come up with a plan of our own." She paused and looked over at April. "Hear that? I've already got you saying yes to the project, don't I?" she continued.
"Anyway, I have a few ideas. My husband and I are in the orchid business, and I want the murals to reflect that. You know, orchid murals made out of seashells and pebbles, that sort of thing?" She looked at April questioningly.
April took a sip of her tea, then set it down. "Why don't I show you my portfolio?" she said matter-of-factly. "I think you ought to have an idea of the kind of things I've done."
"That would be great," Joanna said.
"Excuse me just a minute," April said. "I'll just run and get it."
As she left the room, Joanna noticed small watercolors on the walls that she hadn't seen before, and got up to look at them. There were several beach scenes, the dunes and sea, and some landscapes, featuring the local mountains.
April came back into the living room, carrying a large leather folder. "Oh, I see you've discovered my little hobby," she said. "Or one of them."
"They're lovely," Joanna said. "Really lovely."
"Thanks," April said, looking at them with a maternal eye. "I'm working on botanicals now. Local flora. I'll show them to you before you leave if you like."
"I'd love to see them," Joanna replied. "I love botanicals. In fact, I have a few in the car that I'm getting framed."
"Really?" April said. "Well, anyhow, in the meantime, let me show you some of the work I've done with shells and stones."
They sat back down, both of them on the sofa, and April put the big portfolio down on the coffee table. She opened it and began flipping pages, showing Joanna photographs and drawings of various projects she'd worked on.
"This is fantastic," Joanna said, pointing to a garden path created entirely of little pebbles set in elaborate patterns.
"Ummm ... thanks," April murmured. "As you can see I haven't done a great deal, at least not with seashells, and most of it has been outdoors. Terraces, walls, paths, fountains, and such. But a lot of this work is along the same lines as what you're thinking about. Creating a formal layout, then designing the patterns to fill it in. Sometimes with tile and stone. Whatever people want." She looked at Joanna. "I'm sure I could do the same thing with seashells and stone. I have done one room sort of like you're talking about, but I don't have pictures."
"Why's that?" Joanna asked.
"The client was this enormously rich man in Los Angeles," she said, "and he didn't want any photos taken. He didn't want them 'leaked,' as he put it. He was a little paranoid, I think."
"You must deal with all sorts of people," Joanna said.
"Oh, yes," April replied.
Joanna nodded, then looked back down at the portfolio again. "I see that some of your work is neoclassical, some of it's baroque or rococo."
"Whatever the client wants," April said with a smile. "But I do try to put as much of myself into the work as possible. Making suggestions and such."
"Well," Joanna said, looking back up, "I like what I see very much, April. The work is truly beautiful. I could go on all day about it, but I know you've heard it all before."
She paused and took a sip of her tea. "Do you think you'd be interested in my grotto?" she asked.
April nodded. "Definitely," she said, "but I would like to have a look at the building first."
"Great," Joanna said enthusiastically. "I just know it'll work out."
She ran a hand through her hair, looking thoughtfully off into the distance. Then she turned her gaze to April. "I've been collecting shells and pebbles for years. I have boxes and boxes and ... well, you wouldn't believe!"
She laughed, her violet eyes dancing with light. "You'll probably think I'm crazy when you see. Anyway, I've got catalogues from wholesalers, so I could order whatever we don't have that we need."
"From the sound of it," April said, "the catalogues will come in handy, because this project is going to take a lot. Probably more than you realize. But, of course, I need to see the building first to get a better idea."
"Well," Joanna said, "you can see it anytime that's convenient with you. How about tomorrow? I'd like to get started as soon as possible. That is, if you agree to take it on."
"Let me check my appointment book," April said. She rose to her feet. "Why don't you come on back to the studio with me? You can look at those botanicals I was talking about."
"Great," Joanna said. She got up and followed April down a short hallway and into a small, high-ceilinged room that Joanna thought was probably added on to the cottage as a conservatory or garden room. It had windows on three sides, with French doors allowing access to the garden, and the ceiling was almost entirely skylights. It had been designed to allow as much natural light as possible. The room was dominated by a large worktable covered with jars filled with artist's tools: brushes, pencils, pens, charcoal, and such. Watercolor paper in various sizes lay helter-skelter all over it, and books were piled all around. Rolled-up blueprints filled tall urns, and little vases of flowers were everywhere. An enormous easel had a small watercolor in progress clipped to it. Some sort of flower, Joanna noticed.
"What a wonderful room," she said.
"The heart of the house," April replied, picking up her leather appointment book and flipping to the correct page. She studied it for a moment, then looked over at Joanna. "Tomorrow's fine," she said. "Anytime you like."
"How about around noontime, then?" Joanna asked. "We could look over the building and have a bite of lunch?"
"Lunch?" April hesitated a moment, then smiled. "Sure," she said, "why not?"
"About twelve-thirty, one-ish, then?" Joanna said.
"Okay," she said. "I'll be there."
"Is this one of your botanicals?" Joanna asked, indicating the watercolor on the easel.
"Oh, yes," April replied. "Obviously not finished. This is a type of verbena. I've got the correct name written down."
"I love the detail," Joanna said, looking at it closely. "Oh, and I love the little bugs you've put on it. How clever!"
April blushed slightly. "Thanks," she said. "Let me show you some finished ones." She opened a large leather portfolio on the table and started flipping pages.
Joanna drew up to the table beside her and looked through it. "They're really lovely," she said. "My favorite thing, though, is your imagination. Doing the flowers so correctly, then adding the little bugs and dewdrops and things."
"Doing the flowers right is the easy part," April said. "It's making them interesting that's the difficult part. Hence my little additions."
Joanna smiled. "I'm so glad to see you enjoy doing these," she said. "Especially since I want to incorporate some of our orchids into the grotto."
"It's a brilliant idea," April said.
"I hope so," Joanna said in a self-deprecating voice. "Sometimes my ideas don't work out very well, but Ingrid Wilson assured me that you would at least understand me."
"I don't think that'll be a problem," April said.
"I don't either," Joanna said. "I can see by the way that you liveI mean, the way you've decorated your cottage and allthat we have very similar ideas and tastes. I meet very few people like that."
"Surprised?" April asked with a little laugh.
"Sort of," Joanna said honestly. "And Ingrid told me you'd been married to Roger Woodward, that famous actor. So I guess I expected somebody more ... oh, I don't know ..."
"More glamorous?" April supplied, smiling. "Somebody more Hollywood and with it?"
Joanna reddened slightly, then nodded. "I guess you're right," she said. "Isn't that awful of me?"
"No," April said. "It happens a lot ... when people find out I was married to Roger." She looked at Joanna with a serious expression. "But that was another world, a lifetime ago. Now I have a life that's entirely of my own making, and I like it very much."
"That's wonderful," Joanna said. "I don't think many people can say that." She paused, then said: "I guess I'd better get on my way. It's been wonderful to meet you, and to see your house. It's so charming."
"I look forward to tomorrow," April said, smiling somewhat shyly.
"I'll just get my bag," Joanna said, turning toward the hallway.
In the living room, Joanna picked up her carryall and slung it over her shoulder. "Would you like to keep the pictures to study?" she asked. "Or should I take them home with me?"
"If you could leave them, that'd be great," April said.
"That's fine," Joanna said, and went to the front door. She turned to April. "See you tomorrow."
April opened the door. "Yes, see you then," she said.
"'Bye, April, and thanks," Joanna said, starting down the little stone path to the footbridge."
"'Bye," April said. She closed the door, then glanced out a window, watching Joanna approach the bridge and cautiously step onto it, holding on to the railing for dear life.
What a lovely, lovely but odd woman Joanna Lawrence is, April thought. And what an exciting but odd project she's come up with.
Odd and wonderful, she thought, shaking her head.
Little did April know that her life was about to be changed forever by Joanna Lawrence.
Joanna reached her Mercedes and, leaning over, heaved her carryall over onto the passenger seat. Then she opened the door and slid in. She threw her head back and took several deep breaths, trying to calm her racing heart. She could feel her pulse beating against her ear.
The trip back across the rustic footbridge had been no less frightening than the first time, and now, added to her adrenaline-generated fear, was the spark of excitement that coursed throughout her body.
After a few minutes her breathing began to slow and her heartbeat gradually returned to normal. She tested her hands on the steering wheel. They didn't shake, although they felt somehow electrified. She strapped on her seat belt, then extricated her sunglasses from her carryall and put them on.
She started the car, its powerful motor purring expensively. Then she carefully backed up on the thin shoulder and, after looking both ways, turned around on the narrow road.
She drove slowly, the wind whipping her hair about her face, the cool, scented air refreshing, stabilizing, although she still felt the excitement of her discovery coursing through her. The mountain's almost sheer side rose to her right, and the ravine, like a gigantic scar in the earth, lay on her left. She gradually picked up speed as she felt mere confident of her driving. She had been negotiating these roads all of her life and had never had an accident.
Today won't be any different, she told herself, but then she remembered that so much had been different lately, that, in fact, her whole life had irrevocably changed.
Suddenly she laughed into the wind, tapping the steering wheel lightly with her hand. You never know what fate has in store for you. She shivered with excitement. She was watching the road ahead, but all she could see was the face and long, lean body of April Woodward shimmering before her in the dappled sunlight like some sort of chimera, enticing, alluring, and seductive, those tortoiseshell eyes of hers like a siren's call.
I think I've found her, she told herself. At long last.
She abruptly realized that she had reached the bottom of the mountain and would be back in lots of traffic, not far from the road that would take her back up into the mountains, back up to her own mountaintop aerie. But she wasn't going home yet. No, not now. She would go on down to Capitola, to a little custom framing shop she had used before, and finally get those botanicals properly matted and framed.
She headed north on the expressway, then took the Capitola exit, cruising slowly down into the little beachside village, chockablock with its lovely pastel Victorian cottages. She spotted the framing shop on the little main street and pulled over and parked. Reaching behind her seat, she retrieved the heavy folder that she'd stored the botanicals in.
A bell tinkled when she opened the door to the little shop. But, looking around, she didn't see Woody. She began looking at the hundreds of framing choices, many of them mounted on the walls, others glued to heavy board on large revolving racks. She bent over to look at an interesting piece of molding in a stack propped against the wall, and suddenly felt as if someone were watching her. She jerked up and looked around.
A young man stood regarding her, his darkly tanned muscular arms folded across his chest. His dark eyes traveled up and down her body, and Joanna felt herself blush under the weight of his assessing gaze.
He's undressing me, she thought, or he sure seems to be. He had done this on the several other occasions she had come, and she supposed she should feel flattered, but it made her uncomfortable. At least he knew his business.
"Oh, hello," she said. "I didn't see you when I came in."
"I was in the back," Woody said, maintaining his pose.
"I've got some botanical prints," Joanna said, indicating her big folder. "Six of them, and I want them matted and framed identically."
Woody's demeanor changed to one more appropriate to a shopkeeper. "Let's have a look. Over here." He turned and walked over to a large, well-lit table.
Joanna followed him to the table and began pulling the prints out of the folder. She spread them out, then looked over at him.
"Nice," he said, nodding his shaggy black curls. He came around to her side of the table to get a better look. "Yeah, real nice."
"We're in the orchid business, you see," she said, "and these are hand-colored prints from about 1815. I'd like to put them in my husband's"
Suddenly she felt the heat and weight of his body press against hers and the light but definite brush of his hand across her buttocks.
Joanna turned steely eyes on him, and said, "Stop that. Please."
There was a smirk on his face. "Hey," he said, spreading his hands wide in a "Who me?" gesture. "Don't get the wrong idea. I didn't mean anything."
She quickly gathered her prints and placed them in the folder, then turned to leave. "I think I'll have somebody else do these," she said, and headed toward the door.
"You do that," the young man said in a snarl as she opened the door.
As she stepped out and closed the door behind her, she heard him add: "Bitch."
Joanna hurried to her car and got in, stowing the folder behind her seat. What a bastard! she thought, ignoring the Victorian charms of the little village as she headed back toward the expressway. He wasn't like that before.
But as she sped homeward, toward Aptos, her thoughts turned from the unpleasantness of the encounter to April Woodward.
April she thought, is the right physical type. Tall, slim, and elegant, but not hard or brittle-looking. She wasn't a fashion victim striving too hard for chic. She simply had it. Her sandy hair, probably once blond, was well-cut, and those tortoiseshell eyes of hers were beguiling. Her features, while not traditionally pretty or beautiful, were striking. And her bearing, her attitudes and interests! They couldn't have been more perfect. She was extremely creative, but down to eartha very important quality in the young woman she'd been looking for.
Still, Joanna thought, there's no way to predict what will happen, whether or not she's actually perfect for my plan. But something told her she wouldn't be disappointed. April Woodward seems like the perfect young woman for what I have in mind.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the Santa Cruz Mountains near Monterey, California, Josh and Joanna Lawrence run an internationally acclaimed orchid business. Besides the success of their enterprise, observers clearly can see that the couple loves each other and will FOREVER. However, a serpent enters the picturesque lifestyle of the Lawrences when Joann learns she suffers from brain cancer that leaves her with a few months of life left. Knowing she will love Josh TILL THE END OF TIME, Joanna establishes two goals to complete before she dies. She wants to build a grotto and find her replacement so that Josh goes on with his life. She hires artist April Woodward to accomplish her first aim and to fulfill the role of the second objective as Josh¿s SECOND LOVE. TIME TO SAY GOOD-BYE is a heart wrenching relationship drama centering on a terminally ill person accepting her impending death with a grace and an unselfish love by placing her spouse first. When the story line focuses on the triangle, the tale is warm and sensitive. However, when Judith Gould adds unnecessary elements of suspense caused by a teaming up of Joanna¿s envious sister and a despicable business rival, the tale loses some of its momentum and charm. In spite of this insipid sidebar, Ms. Gould provides her readers with a tribute to the power of love. Harriet Klausner