Holding the Dream

Chapter Twenty-one

"And your point is?" Margo said after a long moment.

"What do we need them for, anyway? What possible purpose do they have other than procreation, and with advances in technology we'll be taking care of that in a lab soon."

"Very pleasant," Laura decided and poured another cup. "Perhaps we don't need them for sex, but I still depend on them for large-insect disposal."

"Speak for yourself," Margo put it. "I'd rather kill spiders than give up sex. What crime did Byron commit, Kate, or do we get to guess?"

"The sneak, the conniving son of a bitch. I can't believe I was idiot enough to fall into a relationship with a man like that. You never really know a person, do you, never really know what's behind their beady little eyes?"

"Kate, what did he do? Whatever it is, I'm sure it's not as bad as you think." As Kate tore off her coat, Laura's gaze settled on the bruises. She was on her feet in a blink. "Dear God, Kate, did he hit you?"

"What? Oh." She dismissed the bruises with a wave of the hand. "No, of course he didn't hit me. I got this bumping into something warped at Bittle. Byron wouldn't hit a woman. It's too direct an approach for someone like him."

"Well, what for Christ's sake did he do?" Margo demanded.

"I'll tell you what he did. I'll tell you what he did," she repeated as she stormed around the room. "He asked me to marry him." When this was met with silence, she whirled. "Did you hear what I said? He asked me to marry him."

Laura considered. "And he has, what, a closet full of the heads of his former wives?''

"You are not listening to me. You are not getting it." Struggling for calm, Kate breathed deep, pushed at her hair. "Okay, he cooks, pushes vitamins on me, gets me working out. He gets my juices all stirred up so I'm ready to fall onto any handy surface and have incredible sex. He goes to see Kusack, he's been working with Josh behind my back, tries to get all the worry out of my life. He sees to it that I have a closet so that I can just start leaving my clothes over there. Of course, he's bought that house," she continued, pacing. "And those damn dogs that anyone with half a heart would fall for. My car hasn't run better since the day I drove it off the lot. And regularly, so you hardly notice, he brings flowers home."

"Not flowers." Margo pressed a hand to her breast. "Good God, the man is a fiend. He must be stopped."

"Just shut up, Margo. I know you're not on my side. You're never on my side." Certain of Laura's loyalty, Kate dropped down on her knees in front of her, clutched her hands. "He asked me to go with him to Atlanta over Thanksgiving and meet his parents. He says he loves me and wants me to marry him."

"Darling." All sympathy, Laura pressed Kate's hands. "I can see that you've been through an ordeal tonight. Obviously the man is deranged. I'm sure Josh can arrange to have him committed."

Stunned, Kate yanked her hands away. "You have to be on my side," she insisted.

"You want me to feel sorry for you?" The flash of anger in Laura's eyes had Kate blinking.

"No - yes. I - no. I just want you to understand."

"I'll tell you what I understand. You have a man who loves you. A good, considerate, thoughtful man who's willing to share the burdens of living as well as the pleasures with you. Who wants you, who cares enough to make an effort to make you happy, to make your life run a little more smoothly. One who wants you in bed and out. One who cares enough to want you to meet his family because he loves them and wants to show you off to them. And that's not good enough for you?"

"No, I didn't say that. It's just..." She got to her feet, staggered by the heat. "I didn't plan - "

"That's your problem." Laura - small, delicate-boned, and furious - rose as well. "It has to be in tidy order in Kate's plan. Well, life's messy."

"I know. I meant - "

Riding on a fury and frustration she herself hadn't guessed at, Laura barreled over Kate's protest. "And if you don't think yours is adequate, try mine. Try having nothing." And her voice was bitter. "An empty marriage, a man who wanted your name more than you and didn't even pretend otherwise after he had you. Try coming home every night knowing there's not going to be anyone there to hold you, that all the problems that need fixing come to you, that you have no one to lean on. And having your daughter blame you for not being good enough to keep her father under the same roof."

She stalked over to stare at the crackling flames of the fire while her friends watched in silence. "Try feeling unloved, unwanted, and crawling into bed every night wondering how you're going to make it work, how you can possibly make it right again, then come crying to me."

"I'm sorry," Kate murmured. "Laura, I'm so sorry."

"No." Exhausted and ashamed, Laura moved away from Kate's comforting hand and sat again. "No, I'm sorry. I don't know where that came from." She leaned her head back against the cushion a moment, her eyes shut as the last of the temper drained away. "Yes, I do. Maybe I'm jealous." She opened her eyes again and managed a smile. "Or maybe I just think you're stupid."

"I should have moved back in here after Peter left," Kate began. "I should have realized how much you were dealing with alone."

"Oh, stop. It's not about me. I'm just a little raw." Laura rubbed her aching temples. "That wasn't the first go-round Ali and I had today. It makes me edgy."

"I can move in now." Kate sat down beside Laura.

"Not that you're not welcome," Laura told her, "but you're not moving in."

"Blocked that escape route," Margo murmured.

"I'm not looking for escape." Kate struggled to get a grip on her tumbling emotions. "I could help with the girls, share the expenses."

"No. This is my life." Laura grimaced. "Such as it is. You have your own. If you don't love Byron, that's one thing. You can't tailor your feelings to suit him."

"Are you kidding?" Margo reached for the coffeepot. "She's been cross-eyed over him for months."

"So what? Emotions aren't any guarantee when it comes to something as big as marriage. They weren't enough for Laura." Kate sighed, shrugged. "I'm sorry, but they weren't."

"No, they weren't. If you want guarantees, send in your warranty card when you buy a toaster."

"Okay, you're right, but that's not the whole point. Can't you see he was playing me? He's been handling me all through this relationship."

Margo made a low feline sound. "Being handled by a strong, gorgeous man. Poor you."

"You know very well what I mean. You'd never let Josh push all the buttons, make all the moves. I'm telling you that Byron has a way of undermining things so that I'm sliding along in the direction he's chosen before I realize it."

"So change directions if you don't like the destination," Margo suggested.

"He called me a detour once." Remembering, Kate scowled. "He said he liked taking long, interesting detours. I actually thought it was sort of charming."

"Why don't you go back and talk this out with him instead of arguing?" Laura tilted her head, well able to imagine the scene that had taken place in Byron's kitchen. "He's probably feeling just as unhappy and frustrated as you are."

"I can't" Kate shook her head. "He told me to pick up my things at my convenience."

"Ouch." Margo looked at Kate with genuine sympathy now. "In that polite, mannerly tone of his?"

"Exactly. It's the worst. Besides, I don't know what I'd say to him. I don't know what I want." At a loss, she buried her face in her hands. "I keep thinking I know what I want, then it shifts on me. I'm tired. It's too hard to think rationally when I'm tired."

"Then talk to him tomorrow. You'll stay here tonight." Laura rose. "I have to put the girls to bed."

"She's made me so ashamed," Kate murmured when she was alone with Margo.

"I know." Margo slid closer. "At least all she made me feel was like killing Peter Ridgeway if he ever shows his sorry face around here."

"I didn't realize she was still so hurt, so unhappy."

"She'll be all right." Margo patted Kate's knee. "We'll see to it."

"I'm, ah, not going to go into another accounting firm."

"Of course you're not."

"Everybody seems to know what I'm going to do before I do" Kate griped. "Bittle offered me a partnership."


"I turned him down this afternoon."

"My, my." Margo's million-dollar smile flashed. "Haven't we had a busy day!"

"And Roger Thornhill is the embezzler."

"What?" Margo's cup clinked into its saucer. "That slimy weasel who two-timed you with your own client?''

"The very same." It pleased Kate to see that she could say something that got a rise out of Margo. "It was the way he acted when I ran into him at Bittle today. He's smart enough to have figured out how to siphon funds, and I was his main competition for the partner slot. He gets a little playing money and screws me at the same time."

"You've been to Kusack with this?"

"No, apparently Byron, the cop, and your husband, whom I will deal with shortly, already knew."

"And left you in the dark." Understanding perfectly, Margo pulled Kate to her feet. "Occasionally men have to be reminded that they are no longer hunting out of caves, fighting dragons, or blazing trails west while we huddle around the fire. I'll help you remind Josh."

At nine forty-five the next morning, Kate opened the till at Pretenses. She would run the shop alone that morning. She took some pride in her competence. Laura was at her office at the hotel, and Margo remained on maternity leave. She decided to relish these last few minutes before she unlocked the door, turned the sign to Open.

She'd brought her own CD's. Margo preferred classical. Kate preferred the classics. The Beatles, the Stones, Cream. After putting the music on, she went into the powder room, filled the copper watering can. She was going to enjoy the pleasant little duties of nurturing an elegant business, she told herself.

She was not going to think about Byron De Witt.

He was in the penthouse suite by now. Probably in some meeting or on a conference call. He might be glancing over an itinerary for a trip to San Francisco. Didn't he say he had to fly up?

Didn't matter, she reminded herself, and stepped out on the veranda to water the tubs of pansies and impatiens. He could fly anywhere he wanted - to the moon, for that matter. Her interest in his affairs was over. Finished. A closed book.

She had her life to worry about, didn't she? After all, she was beginning a whole new phase. A new career with a new goal to aim for. She had dozens of ideas to improve and expand the shop floating around in her head. Once Margo was back in gear, they would have a meeting. An efficiency meeting. Then there was the fashion show right around the corner. The advertising had to be placed. They needed to discuss other promotions for the holidays.

What they needed was a regular weekly brainstorming and progress meeting. She would set it up, fix it into the schedule. You couldn't run a successful business without regular structured meetings. You couldn't run a life without structure, without specific plans and goals.

Why the hell couldn't he see that she had specific plans and goals? How could he have thrown marriage at her, knocking down all of her carefully placed pins?

You didn't marry someone you'd known barely a full year. There were stages to a relationship, careful, cautious, and sensible stages. Maybe, just maybe, after two years, after you'd worked out the kinks in the relationship, after you fully understood each other's faults and foibles and had learned to accept them or compromise on them, you began to discuss the possibility of marriage.

You had to outline what you wanted out of marriage, assign roles and duties. Who handled the marketing, who paid the bills, who took out the trash, for God's sake. Marriage was a business, a partnership, a full-scale commitment. Sensible people didn't just jump into it without first fine-tuning the details.

And what about children? It was obvious who had the children - if there were going to be children - but what about assignment of responsibilities? Diapers and laundry, feedings and doctors' appointments. If you didn't nail down the details of responsibilities, you had nothing but chaos - and a baby needing to be taken care of by a responsible adult.

A baby. Oh, God, what would it be like to have a baby? She didn't know anything about having a baby. Think of all the books she would have to read, all the mistakes she was bound to make. There were so many... things you had to have for a baby. Strollers and car seats and cribs.

And all those adorable little clothes, she thought dreamily.

"You're drowning those pansies, Ms. Powell."

She jerked back, slopping water on her shoes. She stared blankly at Kusack while her mind whirled. She had just all but named a baby she hadn't conceived with a man she didn't intend to conceive it with.

"Daydreaming?" His lips curved in that now familiar paternal fashion.

"No, I - " She wasn't a daydreamer. She was a thinker. A doer. "I've got a lot on my mind."

"Bet you do. Thought I'd catch you before you opened up. Do you mind if we go inside?"

"No, of course not." Still fumbling, she set the watering can down and opened the door. "It's just me today. My partners are - aren't here."

"I wanted to talk to you alone. I didn't mean to spook you, Ms. Powell."

"No, that's all right." Her speeding heart seemed to have settled back to a reasonable rate. "What can I do for you, detective?"

"Actually, I just came by to catch you up on the progress of the investigation. I figured after the trouble you went through, you deserve to know how it panned out."

"Well, that makes one of you," she murmured.

"Your boyfriend nudged me toward Roger Thornhill."

"He's not my boyfriend," Kate said quickly, then set her teeth. "If you're referring to Mr. De Witt."

"I am." He smiled a bit sheepishly and tugged on his ear. "I never know how to refer to these kinds of things. Anyway, Mr. De Witt nudged me toward Thornhill. Fact is, I was already looking in that direction. You don't look shocked speechless by the news," he commented.

"I figured it out yesterday." She shrugged her shoulders, discovering it simply didn't matter any longer.

"Thought you would. Thornhill's got a little gambling problem. Gambling's one of the best reasons to need quick money."

"Roger gambles?" That did shock her. "You mean he bets on horse races, that sort of thing?"

"He bets on Wall Street, Ms. Powell. And he's been losing steady for the past couple of years. Overplayed his hand, so to speak, and lost his ante. Then there was his personal relationship with you. Then add in the information about your father and the fact that he was the one who found the newspaper article in your office and passed it to Bittle."

"Really." She nodded. "I didn't know that."

"A little too pat, to my way of thinking. Connections usually aren't coincidences in my line of work. You had a little run-in with him yesterday at Bittle."

"And how do you know about that?"

"Ms. Newman. She's got good eyes and ears, and a sharp nose." He grinned. "I asked her to report any unusual incident, officewise. She's another who didn't like the way Thorn-hill smelled, so to speak. And she stood by you from the start."

"Excuse me?" Kate tapped her ear as though her hearing had gone suddenly off. "Newman stood by me?"

"First interview I had with her on this business, she said if I was looking in your direction I was looking in the wrong one. She said Katherine Powell wouldn't steal so much as a paper clip."

"I see. I always thought she disliked me."

"I don't know whether she likes you or not, but she respects you."

"Are you going to bring Roger in for questioning, then?"

"Already have. I had to move a little quicker after I learned you'd had a face-off with him. So I paid him a little visit last night. He was already packed and on his way to the airport."

"You're kidding."

"No, ma'am. Had reservations for a flight to Rio. He's been living on the edge since you were cleared. Whatever you said to him at the office yesterday broke his nerve. He lawyered himself pretty quick, but we figure to cut a deal by the end of the day. They call this sort of thing a victimless crime. I guess that's a misnomer this time around."

"I don't feel like a victim," Kate murmured. "I don't know what I feel."

"Well, I'd feel right pissed - if you'll pardon my French. But..." He shrugged his shoulders. "His career's in the toilet, and he's going to be paying off fines and his lawyer for a long time to come. And the federal government is going to have him as their guest for a while."

"He'll go to prison." As her father would have gone to prison, she thought. For a mistake, an error in judgment. A moment of greed.

"Like I said, we're cutting a deal, but I don't see him walking away without doing some time. You know, the way things work today, you could sue him yourself. Defamation of character, emotional pain and suffering, all that. Your lawyer would tell you."

"I'm not interested in suing Roger. I'm interested in turning the page."

"I figured that." He smiled at her again. "You're a nice woman, Ms. Powell. It's been a pleasure meeting you, even under the circumstances."

She thought about it. "I suppose I have to say the same, Detective Kusack. Even under the circumstances."

He stepped toward the door, stopped. "It's about opening time, isn't it?"

She glanced at her watch. "Just about."

"I wonder..." He tugged on his ear again. "My wife's got this birthday coming up. Tomorrow, actually."

"Detective Kusack," she beamed at him, "you've come to the right place."

Kate told herself she felt wonderful, revived. All of her troubles were behind her. She was starting the next phase of her life.

There was no reason to be nervous about going to Byron's. It was the middle of the day - lunchtime. He wouldn't be home. She would simply pick up her things, as he'd requested, and thereby close that chapter cleanly.

She would not regret. It was fun while it lasted, nothing lasted forever, all good things came to an end.

And if another cliche popped into her mind, she would scream.

She pulled into his driveway. The key she had meticulously removed from her own ring was in her pocket. But when she reached in to pull it out, she found herself holding Seraphina's coin. Baffled, she stared at it. She would have sworn she'd put that in the top drawer of her jewelry box.

She turned it in her hand. The sun caught the edge and shot out dazzling light. That was why her eyes watered, she told herself. It was the reflection off the gold, and she'd taken off her sunglasses. It wasn't because she felt a sudden, wrenching connection to that young girl, standing on the cliff, ready to throw her life away.

Kate Powell was not throwing her life away, she told herself firmly. She was facing it. Only the weak tossed away hope. She had years of happiness left in her life. Years. And she was not going to stand here and cry over some old coin and a misty legend.

This was reality. She blinked back tears. Her reality, and she knew exactly what she was doing.

She found the key, replaced the coin in her pocket. But it was harder than she'd imagined to use the key, knowing it would be the last time.

It was just a house, she thought. There was no reason for her to love it, no reason to feel this aching sense of welcome when she opened the door. There was no reason at all for her to walk to the glass doors and want to weep because the pups were napping in the sunshine.

And geraniums were blooming in gray stone pots. Wind chimes of copper and brass sang in the breeze from the sea. Shells that she had gathered with Byron from the beach were arranged in a wide-mouthed glass bowl on the redwood table.

It was so perfect, she realized, so simply perfect. That was why she wanted to weep.

When the dogs' heads popped up in unison, and they scrambled up to bark and race, she realized she hadn't heard the car. But they had. They reacted just that way whenever they recognized the sound of Byron's return home.

Jolted with panic, she turned around and faced the door as he came in.

"I'm sorry," she said immediately. "I didn't realize you'd be home early."

"I don't suppose you did." But he'd known, thanks to Laura's call, that she would be there.

"I came to get my things. I... I thought it best to come by when you were at work. So it would be less awkward."

"It's awkward now." He stepped toward her, eyes narrowed. "You've been crying."

"No, not really. It was..." Her fingers slid into her pocket, touched the coin. "It was something else entirely. And then I guess it was the dogs. They looked so sweet sleeping in the yard." They were at the door now, tails waving furiously. "I'll miss them."

"Sit down."

"No, I really can't. I want to get back to the shop, and... and I do want to apologize, Byron, for shouting at you the way I did. I really am sorry for that, and I'd hate to think we couldn't at least be civil." She closed her eyes on her own absurdity. "This is very awkward."

He wanted to touch her, badly wanted to touch her. But he knew his own limitations. If he so much as brushed his hand over that short cap of hair, he would want to touch more, have to touch more until he was holding her against him and begging

"Then let's try being civil. If you won't sit, we'll stand. There are a few things I'd like to say." He watched her open her eyes, saw the wariness in them. What the hell did she see when she looked at him? he wondered. Why couldn't he tell?

"I'm going to apologize as well. I handled things badly last night. And at the risk of getting kicked in the teeth again, I admit that you weren't that far off the mark in some of your, let's call them... observations about my character."

He walked to the doors, jingling the change in his pocket. The dogs, still hopeful, sat sentry on the other side of the glass. "I do plan things out. We have that in common. I admit I eased you into living here. It seemed to me that it would help both of us get used to it. Because I wanted you here."

When he turned back to her, she struggled for a reply, but found none.

"I wanted to take care of you. You see vulnerability as a weakness. I see it as a soft, appealing side of a strong, intelligent, and resilient woman. It's in my nature to protect, to fix - or at least try to fix - what's wrong. I can't change that for you."

"I don't want you to change, Byron. But I can't change either. I'm always going to resist being guided along, however well intentioned it might be."

"And when I see someone I love stressed out to the point of illness, taken advantage of, hurt, I'm going to do whatever it takes to turn it around. And when I want something, when I know it's right, I'm going to work toward making it happen. I love you, Kate."

Her heart swam into her eyes, filled them. "I don't know how to handle this. I don't know what to do. I can't figure it out."

"I've figured it out. You know, every once in a while it doesn't hurt to let someone else figure it out."

"Maybe. I don't know. But there were points in all of this I had to come to myself. I didn't even realize some of them. They've arrested Roger."

"I know."

"Of course you do." She tried to laugh, then turned away. "When Kusack came by and told me, I wasn't sure how I felt at first. Relieved, vindicated - but there was more. I thought of my father. He'd have gone to jail, just as Roger will go. It's the same crime, the same punishment. They're both thieves."

"Kate - "

"No, let me finish. It's taken me so long to get here. My father made a mistake, a criminal mistake. As much as it hurts me to know that, I also know that he never tried to shift the blame, implicate anyone else. He wasn't like Roger. He would have faced what he'd done, and he would have paid for it. I realized today that that made all the difference. I can live with that, and forgive, and remember what he was to me for the first eight years of my life. He was my father, and he loved me."

"You're a beautiful woman, Katherine."

She shook her head, brushed away tears. "I had to get that out. It seems I can always pull out what's inside me and hand it to you. It worries me how easy it is to do that."

"You worry too much. Let's see if I can help there. We'll try a simple logic test. I'm thirty-five years old. I've never been married, never been engaged, never formally lived with a woman before. Why?"

"I don't know." She dragged her hands through her hair, fighting to use intellect over emotion as she turned back to him. "There could be a dozen reasons. You resisted commitment, you were too busy sampling southern delights, you were too focused on your career."

"It could have been any of those," he agreed. "But I'll tell you what it comes down to. I don't like to make mistakes any more than you do. I'm sure there are other women I could be happy with, build a decent life with. But that isn't enough. I waited, because I had this image, this dream about the woman I'd share my life with."

"You're not going to tell me I was that image because I know very well I wasn't." She stared blankly at the handkerchief he offered. "What?"

"You're crying again." When she snatched it away and mopped at her face, he continued. "Some of us are more flexible in our dreams and can even enjoy when they take a dif ferent shape. Look at me, Kate," he said gently and drew her gaze to his. "I've been waiting for you."

"That's not fair." She pressed crossed hands to her swelling heart as she backed away. "It's not fair to say things like that to me."

"We said civil. We didn't say anything about fair."

"I don't want to feel this way. I don't want to hurt this way. Why won't you just let me think?"

"Think about this." He did touch her now, drawing her in until their faces were close. "I love you." And kissed her. "I want to spend my life with you. I want to take care of you and be taken care of."

"I'm not the kind of woman people say those things to." She thumped her hand on his chest. "Why can't you see that?"

He'd have to make sure she got used to hearing those things, coming from him. His lips curved as he ran his hands up her back.

"No.I see it." She jerked back out of reach. "I can actually see that look come into your eyes. Kate needs to be soothed and stroked and eased into it. Well, it's not going to work. It's just not going to work. I've just got things sorted out," she fumed, stalking around the room. "I've got the shop. Isn't it enough of a shock to deal with that I love being there? How am I supposed to suddenly adjust to all of this? There aren't any rules to being in love. Oh, I figured that out all right, tossing and turning all night because you'd told me to pick up my things at my convenience." She spun back and seared him with a look. "Oh, that was low."

"Yes, it was." He grinned at her now, delighted with the image of her spending as miserable a night as he had. "I'm pleased to see it hit the mark. You hurt me last night."

"See? That's just what happens when you get tangled up in love. You hurt each other. I didn't ask to be in love with you, did I? I didn't plan it. And now I can't bear the idea of being without you, of not sitting at the table in the morning watching you cook breakfast, or listening to you tell me to concentrate when you've got me lifting those damn weights. Walking on the beach with you and those mangy dogs. And I want a baby."

Stunned, he waited a beat. "Now?"

"You see? You see what you've done?" She sank onto the couch and buried her face in her hands. "Listen to what I'm saying. I'm a mess. I'm insane. I'm in love with you."

"I know all that, Kate." He sat beside her, pulled her into his lap. "It suits me just fine."

"What if it doesn't suit me? I could really screw this up."

"That's okay." He kissed her cheek, nuzzled her head on his shoulder. "I'm good at fixing things. Why don't we look at the big picture and work on the details as we go along?"

She sighed, closed her eyes, and felt blissfully at home. "Maybe you'll be the one to screw it up."

"Then you'll be there to put everything back in place. I depend on you."

"You - " Those words, the look in his eyes that showed he meant them, were more powerful to her than any declaration of love. "I want you to. I need to know you do, and will. But marriage - "

"Is a practical, logical step," he finished and made her smile.

"It is not. And besides, you never asked me."

"I know." He smiled back at her. "If I asked you, there's a possibility you would say no. I'm not going to let you say no."

"You're just going to ease me into it until it's a done deal."

"That's the idea."

"It's pretty smart," she murmured, feeling the beat of his heart under her palm. Fast and not quite steady, she realized. Maybe he was just as nervous as she was. "I guess since most of my stuff's here already anyway, and I love you so much and I've gotten used to your cooking, it isn't such a bad idea. Being married, I mean. To you. So, it looks like your idea worked."

"Thank God." He pressed her hand to his lips. "I have been waiting for you, Kate, all my life."

"I know. I've been waiting right back."

He tilted her head back and smiled into her eyes. "Welcome home."

Copyright © novelfull thefreeonlinenovel.com All Rights Reserved.