Her Fate was sealed with one kiss…One kiss, one innocent embrace was all it took for Tisha’s father to jump to all the wrong conclusions and demand that Roarke Madison do the right thing by his daughter. Tisha knew she would not be able to move her father from his adamant stand, but surely Roarke would put a stop to this ridiculous talk of marriage. But Roarke was no help at all. First he accused Tisha of engineering the whole thing to trap him. Then he presented her with the most beautiful diamond solitaire engagement ring . . .
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Valley Of the Vapours
The Americana Series: Arkansas
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
"WHAT do you mean you gave Kevin Jamieson permission to marry me?" Tisha Caldwell demanded angrily. Long hair flew about her shoulders at the sudden pivot that brought her glaring eyes to bear on her father.
"I gave him permission to ask you to marry him." His reply was drawn through tightly clenched teeth.
"With your full support and blessing!" she finished, not attempting to disguise the caustic sarcasm rising so bitterly in her throat.
They stared at one another, two forceful personalities, each trying to make the other give in first. Richard Caldwell was a tall, handsome man with a muscular physique that hadn't varied one inch since his college days. The years had only added character to his already handsome face and some dignified feathers of grey to his dark hair.
Tisha Caldwell did not have the striking looks of her father. In repose, her oval face was only ordinarily attractive. But when animated by laughter or anger, as now, she was compellingly beautiful. Her inheritance of her father's volatile personality and stubborn independence made the flashes of beauty occur frequently. And most of the time, it was her father who ignited the sparks.
"Yes, Kevin received my support and my blessing," Richard Caldwell retorted sharply, his temper rising in conjunction with what he labeled his daughter's insolence. "He's a respectable and respectful young man, which is more than I can say for those other "things" you go out with!"
"He certainly isn't like any of the other boys I date!" Tisha agreed fervently. "I get the feeling when he kisses me goodnight, he runs home to take a shower in case he's got dirty."
"I assure you he is a normal healthy male who merely has his emotions under control." His index finger was pointed in an angry gesture towards her. "At least you don't come in from a date looking as if you've been pawed by some over-sexed beast when you are out with Kevin."
Her hands doubled up into fists. "You make me so angry I could scream," was her muttered answer. "Only a couple of the boys I've gone out with have ever stepped out of line. None of my dates have ever made a practice of pawing me, as you put it."
"You're darn right they don't." he snapped, his brown eyes snapping with anger as he stared into the stormy sea green ones of his daughter. "Because before they ever leave this house with you, they know they're going to have to face me if they so much as lay a finger on you!"
"I'll be twenty years old next month, Father," Tisha sighed in exasperation. "Will you stop treating me like a child? I'm old enough to decide if I'm going to marry and whom I'm going to marry without any advice from you. I'm capable of deciding whom I will date and defending myself if necessary!"
"No woman can defend herself against the superior strength of a man," he scoffed with an authoritative ring of personal knowledge in his voice. "It's up to her father and subsequently her husband to protect her."
"Oh, heavens, that sounds like something from the Dark Ages! That chauvinistic attitude went out with the Ark," she grumbled.
"It's time it made a nostalgic comeback," Richard Caldwell muttered. He was about to expound further when the doorbell rang.
Tisha darted a baleful glance at him. "I suppose you told Kevin to come round this afternoon," she accused. "All I can say is I certainly hope he didn't waste his money buying me a ring, although it would give me great satisfaction to throw it in his face."
"You keep a civil tongue in your head, girl!" A finger again waved angrily in the direction of her back as Tisha stomped around the room divider to the mock foyer of the front door.
With an impatient hand she swept her dark auburn, nearly waist-length hair behind her back as she flung the door open, ready to lash out with her tongue at the man she expected to see on the stoop. The woman standing there arched an inquisitive glance when Tisha's mouth snapped shut in a grim line. A bemused smile tilted the corners of the woman's mouth.
"I have the feeling I should come back another time." Brown eyes glittered with laughter.
Tisha stepped away from the door, the movement allowing the woman to enter, which she did. Crinkling laugh lines were around her eyes and combined with the faint wrinkles on her forehead and throat indicated the woman's age to be more than the first glance would suggest. The feathery cap of short dark hair possessed a startling streak of white that looked artificial unless the hair roots were examined.
Tisha didn't wait for the woman to follow as she left the slender woman standing inside the door while she stalked back around the divider.
"It's only Blanche," answering the unasked question in her father's arched brows, not sure whether she was sorry or glad that it wasn't Kevin as she sank into the cushions of the flowered sofa.
The muscles in his jaw jumped convulsively, signaling that his anger, like Tisha's, seethed just below the surface. "You will address your aunt as your aunt and not some acquaintance," her father growled. "You will show respect for your elders."
"If she calls me Aunt Blanche, I'll clobber both of you!" But laughter still lurked behind the sternly voiced reprimand as Blanche Caldwell walked around the divider.
In her bright red slacks and equally bright red and white flowered blouse, she looked the complete opposite of what a spinster aunt was supposed to be like. Unmindful of her brother's quelling look, Blanche Caldwell covered the short distance that separated them and planted a quick kiss on his cheek.
"And I'm delighted to see you, too, Richard," she said dryly.
"I'm glad you are here," he said emphatically, shifting his position slightly so his gaze could take in his sister and his daughter. "I'm trying to talk some sense into this girl's head and she won't listen to me."
"Sense!" A bitter sound that bore little resemblance to laughter came from Tisha. A hand waved airily in her father's direction. "He's trying to convince me that I should marry some man who gives me the creeps simply because he's decent!"
"I am not trying to force you to marry Kevin Jamieson!" her father shouted.
"What do you call it, then?" she demanded.
"Do you see what I mean?" Richard Caldwell turned to his sister, his hands raised in a frustrated, beseeching gesture for understanding. "She deliberately twists everything around, puts words in my mouth that aren't even there. I only said he was a nice boy and that she could do worse."
"No matter who I picked to marry, Dad, you wouldn't be able to stand them. You'd find something wrong with them even if it was only the colour of their eyes." Now it was Tisha who turned to Blanche. "He doesn't believe a woman is capable of knowing what or who is good for her. It's his responsibility to interfere in my life!"
"Considering the type of boys you go out with, it's no wonder that I feel the need to step in once in a while," he replied quickly. "Most of your dates only have one thing in mind, and if I didn't play the heavy-handed father waiting with the shotgun, they probably would have got it."
"If you had your way, I wouldn't date anybody until you found the man you wanted me to marry," Tisha retorted. "You try to tell me what clothes to wear, how much make-up to put on, who my friends should be. Why won't you accept the fact that I'm an adult?"
"That's because you don't act like one!"
"Only because you don't let me," leaning forward to enforce her words. "When we sit down to a meal, you still ask if I washed my hands. I'm not a child!"
Blanche Caldwell had been watching the interchange silently, her gaze shifting from one to the other like a spectator at a tennis match.
"Oh, Richard, you don't do that, do you?" she laughed softly.
He looked momentarily disgruntled. "Well, sometimes she forgets to wash the oil palm from her hands and it makes the food smell bad," he mumbled gruffly.
"How many times have I done that?" Tisha demanded. "Once? Twice? Not more than that. I know."
"We're getting away from the topic of this conversation," her father stated, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"No, we are not!" Tisha affirmed angrily. "We're talking about the way you're trying to run my life! The way you keep dictating what I wear, who I see and where I go!"
"I'm your father. I have a right to do it."
"And I'm a person with a right to some privacy and to make my own mistakes!" Strange olive green flames burned in her eyes, opened wide so the thick, dark lashes didn't veil her wrath.
"As long as you live in my house and eat my food, I have some say in the matter."
"Well, maybe that's the solution," Tisha stated coldly. "Maybe I should just move out."
"You can think again, young lady," but there was a substantial subsiding of his anger. "You aren't earning enough money to live on your own and I still control the small trust fund your mother set up for you until you're twenty-one. Without that income, you'd be lucky if there was any food in your hand when it got to your mouth, not on what little you make."
"I'm beginning to understand what oppression is. I'd almost rather starve to death than to live under this roof where you can order me around!" she cried out bitterly.
"If you're going to persist in talking to me with that kind of disrespect, you can go to your room." His face was being drawn into grimmer and sterner lines as he made a superhuman effort to control his temper.
"I'm not a child. I won't be ordered to my room as though I were!" For all the outward show of defiance, there was an inward cringing at the fury in her father's face.
"Patricia Jo Caldwell, you're not too old to be taken over my knee," he threatened.
A laughing sigh from Blanche spliced the crackling air between father and daughter. "You're ten years too late with that remedy, Richard." Her gaze twinkled sympathetically towards her brother, then moved to her niece with a warm, understanding light in their depths.
A disgusted frown marred the handsome face. "What else are you supposed to do with a headstrong, rebellious child like mine?" he asked absently. "If her mother was alive, maybe she could reason with her. I'm only trying to do what I feel is best."
"But what about what I feel, Dad?" Tisha demanded, the mention of her mother dulling the sharpness in her voice.
"If you'd listen once in a while instead of arguing all the time," Richard Caldwell began only to close his mouth on the rest of the statement. "You never were one to take advice. You always had to find out for yourself whether the fire was hot."
"It could be a case of like father, like daughter," Blanche suggested quietly.
"Heaven forbid!" Tisha declared, rising to her feet.
"Where are you going?" demanded Richard Caldwell.
"To my room, because I," adding emphasis to the word, "want to go there. And if Kevin calls tell him the answer is no, I'll never marry him. Nor do I ever want to see him again!"
"I never said you had to!" Frustration mixed with his anger to wring the declaration from his throat.
Tisha paused in the doorway, half-turning to look over her shoulder at the handsome man who was her father. Her back was still arched, but some of the turbulence had gone from her sea green eyes.
"No, Dad, you never order me to do anything," she agreed grimly. "You use charm and emotional blackmail until I find myself in a situation like this where you've led a man that you know I don't care for to believe that I would consider marrying him. It's always what you think is best for me."
"Is that so wrong?" he demanded, but with the suggestion of wheedling charm in his voice as he managed a conciliatory smile. "You haven't really given Kevin a chance. In time, you may find that you'll grow to love him."
A sadly wistful smile curved her mouth. "You won't give up, will you? I mean it, Dad. I can't and I won't marry him. If I ever marry, and I'm beginning to seriously doubt that I'll ever want to, it will be to someone I choose and you'll have nothing to say about it."
"Don't be absurd!" A frown creased his forehead. "Of course you're going to get married. What other future does a woman have? A husband and children are the ultimate fulfilment for a woman."
"Is that right?" There was a mocking lift of Tisha's brow. "I think Blanche would disagree with you. I don't think I've ever seen any wife and mother as content as your sister is with her life and career. I envy Blanche her freedom. Not even you try to dictate to her."
This time Tisha didn't give her father an opportunity to reply as she stepped into the hallway that led to her room, knowing this was the moment to end the argument when the last point was hers. Blanche's untrammeled laughter followed her, as did her father's sputtering anger.
A few seconds after Tisha had entered her room, there was a light rap on the door. "Come in, Blanche," she called.
The older woman's face wore a smile of half-humorous understanding when she walked into the room. Tisha's lightning-quick temper that had lent voice to her anger had vanished, but the deep-seated look of rebellion was still there.
"I'd apologize for that unpleasant scene you just witnessed," Tisha spoke, "but you've known your brother a lot longer than I have."
The brown cap of curling hair moved downward in a nod of agreement. "There are times when Richard can be overbearingly male," Blanche acknowledged. "A case of too many females pandering to his ego in the past."
"Including me," Tisha sighed, picking up a jacket tossed over a chair and walking across the bold orange and gold tweed carpet to hang it in her wardrobe. The decor of the room was a reflection of her own gregarious personality, sunny and bright with bold splashes of colour. "When I was growing up, he was Mr. Everything-strong, and powerful, loving and kind, handsome with a touch of the rugged individualist about him. I used to dream of meeting a man just like him." A wry grimace chased across her face. "Thank goodness I never did! Now I understand why Mom and Dad used to fight, so much."
"As I recall," her aunt said idly, wandering into the small alcove of the bedroom remodeled to serve as a private studio for Tisha, "those arguments between Lenore and your father always ended in laughter and kisses. A weaker woman couldn't have brought him the happiness he knew with your mother. Richard couldn't dominate her. That's why he loved her."
"Well, I wish he'd stop trying to dominate me!"
Blanche smiled. "I don't believe he'll ever succeed at it. You're too much like your father and your mother."
"Why can't he see that? Why can't he accept that I know my own mind?" she demanded.
"There are two reasons for that, Tish. The first and underlying cause is that reformed rogues always make the strictest parents. And my brother sowed a lot of wild oats before he met Lenore." She paused to watch the acceptance of her words revealed on her niece's face and continued when she received the recognition. "Secondly, the loss of your mother when you were only fourteen increased Richard's sense of responsibility towards you. He knows he can't take your mother's place, but he feels he must actively involve himself in your life, more so than if your mother was alive or if you had an aunt that only showed up when it suited her."
"Oh, Blanche!" A radiant smile immediately took possession of her features. "I wouldn't have any other aunt but you. You always seem to be here when I need someone to talk to, to put all my little problems in their proper perspective."
"I'm glad I can be helpful once in a while."
"You are," Tisha affirmed. "Now tell me, what brings you out of your Ozark Mountain hideaway in Hot Springs all the way to Little Rock? I'm sure you didn't come to act as a referee for me and my father."
"I'm using the excuse that I came to pick up art supplies." There was a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. "But I was really motivated by a sense of guilt that it had been too long since I'd seen my family—you and Richard. I tend to lose track of time."
"It wasn't much of a welcome we gave you." Chagrin clouded the green eyes looking into the gentle brown light of her aunt's gaze.
"I hope I haven't been gone so long that I require trumpet fanfares and red carpets," Blanche laughed easily. As if to change the conversation away from herself, the slender woman turned to the array of paintings haphazardly scattered about the alcove. "Your father indicated that you weren't having much financial success in your work."
Excerpted from Valley Of the Vapours by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1976 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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