morganashbury.com

Hello, and welcome to my "free fiction" page. I'm using the word 'free' in more than one context. First, of course, it's free for you to read.

Secondly, it's 'free' of any constraints. That means, what you find here may be erotic romance, or it may be sweet romance, or it may be a story that isn't romance at all. Since it's my site, I'm free to write whatever I like.

I hope you enjoy the read.

 

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Random Chance

An original short story copyright 2012 Morgan Ashbury

 

Chapter One

Robert Donovan hung up the phone, fixing it with an annoyed stare. He wasn’t a man accustomed to being thwarted. And yet, apparently, he had just been.

At least for the moment.

Restless, his fingers beat out a staccato rhythm on his desk as he reviewed the conversation he’d just had, and his options.

He’d waited a long time to find a property that was as fresh and rich as Random Chance. He was tired of making films that had a lot of flash and no substance. True, he’d been successful with enough meaty dramas and character studies that he was now considered a serious producer of serious films. The problem was there just weren’t that many really good, meaty, serious scripts floating around, waiting to be produced. Too many times, the major investors – namely the major studios – only wanted to back projects oozing with car chases, gore and sex. Why those kinds of films were considered ‘high concept’ was something he would never understand. If he had his way, they’d be called ‘gutter concept’. Still, he played the game, producing some, directing some, and, may God forgive him, even acting in some. And all the while he’d been waiting for the next treasure.

His best friend, Patrick, who worked in a Toronto, Ontario publishing house, had delivered that treasure to him via courier just a few short days before. Random Chance would not appear on bookshelves for another two months. He knew for a fact that aside from his friend, who was the book’s editor, and the author herself, no one else had read it. That meant he needed to secure the film rights, and he needed to do that now. A matter of lawyers negotiating with lawyers. A simple matter, really. Or it should have been. He shook his head as the conversation he’d just finished replayed in his mind.

“What do you mean, she doesn’t have a lawyer? Everyone has a lawyer.”

“Everyone in your part of the world may have a lawyer,” Patrick had said. “Not so here.”

“Patrick, help me out, please. You sent me the galleys to read, knowing that I would begin to salivate at the thought of creating a brilliant screen adaptation. True?”

“True.”

“All right, then. I’m salivating.”

“Good. I love it when I’m right.”

“Wonderful. I’m so glad I could contribute to your feeling of personal accomplishment, friend. I have just one question. How am I supposed to option the film rights if the author doesn’t have a lawyer?”

“Hmm. I see your point. Well, I suppose you could submit an offer in writing, courier it to me, and I’ll see that she gets it.”

Robert had been perfectly willing to entrust the negotiations to lawyers. That was how things were done in a civilized society. But for reasons he was loath to examine too closely, he was not prepared to put the same process into the hands of his lifelong friend.

“Suppose you just give me her address and phone number? I’ll contact her myself.”

“No way.”

“Excuse me?”

“Look, Robbie, I know you’re excited about Random Chance and I know how much your art means to you. But Sara Jane – well, this is her first book. She’s lived a sheltered life. She is a really, really nice lady. Naïve, but in all the good ways, you know what I mean?”

“Good Lord, Patrick! I intend to present her with a business proposition, not an indecent one!”

“I know that. I also know that when you get the bit between your teeth, you can be down right intimidating. Quite frankly, Sara Jane wouldn’t stand a chance. Look, I’ve got to run; I have a meeting in five. Why not think about my offer to stand as go-between? I’ll put in a good word for you, I promise. Get back to me in a day or so. Okay?”

Not likely, Robert thought now.

Pulling a pad of paper close to him, he picked up a pen and began to list all the facts he had in his possession about one Sara Jane Cantrell, novice novelist. When he had finished he looked at the amazingly detailed list. He smiled when he realized that Patrick had likely forgotten, as most of his friends tended to, that he had an exceptionally fine mind for details. Some had even said he had a photographic memory.

Robert studied the list for another few minutes. He had enough information that locating Ms. Cantrell would take almost no time at all. He could call Ted Gorman, his lawyer, instruct the man to etch out a contract, hire an investigator, and have him knocking on Ms. Cantrell’s door before the end of the week.

Robert hesitated.

Patrick was his best friend and had obviously taken Ms. Cantrell under his wing. Ted was one hell of a good lawyer, one who always put his client’s best interests first, no matter what, and no holds barred.

But he was also a pit bull. He’d make mincemeat out of the lady.

Random Chance was a novel that was filled with gentle humor and timeless wisdom. He envisioned Sara Jane Cantrell, probably a small, round grandma who had taken a lifetime of experiences and created a literary gem. The longer he sat and thought about it, the more certain he became that he, himself, should be the one to talk to Sara Jane. True, he had upon occasion been a bit enthusiastic once his mind had been set. That was only to be expected. He was, after all, an artiste. He did resent Patrick’s characterization of him as some sort of Hollywood bulldozer. He could certainly behave with propriety and decorum toward an elderly grandmother-turned-author.

Nodding as if having won an argument with himself, he picked up the phone and called the airline.

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A continent away, in Toronto, Patrick Crenshaw was sitting back in his chair, hands folded behind his head, a smile on his face. That was very nicely done, if he did say so himself.

If he knew Robert – and he did – it would take the man about five minutes to realize that he had enough information at his fingertips that he should be able to find Sara Jane, and contact her personally. He closed his eyes and envisioned the moment when the irresistible force met the immovable object.

Man, I wish I could be there to watch the show.

 

Chapter Two

Sara Jane brushed the hair out of her face and gave the small piece of junk disguised as a lawn mower a condescending glare. It was just a damned machine while she was a strong, capable, talented, aggressive woman.

All right, so she wasn’t really aggressive. Her coffee table stood in mute testimony as to how many magazine salespersons she could turn away – which was none, to date. Strong? She winced and honestly admitted she likely couldn’t out arm-wrestle anyone over the age of six.

But she was capable, and she was talented. Just not necessarily when it came to yard work. Sara Jane checked to make sure the throttle – if that was what the thing was called – was in the ‘start’ position. She knew the machine had gas in it because she’d had to go and wash her hands after filling it.

That had probably been a mistake, because now her newly decorated downstairs bathroom smelled more like a garage than the lavender potpourri she preferred.

Shaking her head to bring her thoughts back to the task at hand, she gave the machine one more severe frown to ensure it knew she meant business. Then she placed one foot on the platform, and grabbed the starter-cord with both hands. Inhaling deeply, she gave a mighty yank.

Sara Jane shrieked as the cord snapped and she landed on her pride in the unkempt grass.

“You probably didn’t realize this,” she addressed the machine calmly from her position, on her ass on the lawn, “but that was your last chance. I see your future, chum, and it isn’t pretty. Come next Monday, there you will be, parked out on the side of the road, awaiting the trash man. If you’ve led a charmed life – which, quite frankly, based on our short, but rather eventful association, I doubt – you might get scooped up by someone who likes to tinker and would have the patience to put you back together. Otherwise, I’m afraid it’s the metal compactor for you.”

She got to her feet, dropped the cord over the handle of the lawn mower, and walked gracefully back toward the house.

The sheer beauty of the building flooded her senses. She stopped and just simply drank it in. When she had made the offer for this property, the place had been in sorry disrepair. The steps and most of the verandah had needed replacing, and all the trim of the stone house cried out for scraping and repainting. The roof needed shingling, too. Inside the structure had been sound, just begging for a lot of love and refurbishing. Some of the work she’d hired out, but a lot – especially the interior – she’d done herself. The hard work had been sheer joy, and had made the completed newly renovated home more hers than simply plunking down cash to see it all done ever could have.

The graceful Doric columns once more proclaimed elegance in a lovely, pastoral setting.

Or it would be pastoral, Sara Jane thought as she shot an annoyed look over her shoulder, if the rambling lawns had that ‘manicured’ look.

Shaking her head, she marched into her house. Stopping long enough to pour herself a cup of fresh coffee in the kitchen, she headed to the second floor and her office.

Along the way, her eyes beheld the polished beauty that surrounded her, and her soul was fed anew by the peace, charm and ambience of her home. She was thirty-five years old, single, and sole owner of this amazing estate. More than a house, more than a home, it was every dream of permanence and stability she’d ever dared to dream.

Inside her office, coffee at her elbow and comfortably ensconced in her leather chair, she opened her household accounts file on her computer, scanned it, then began searching the web. She hadn’t needed to see if she had the funds available to purchase a brand new lawn mower. She knew she did. Shaking her head, she acknowledged that she probably should have done this in the first place. It was impossible, sometimes, to let go of the penny-pinching habits of a lifetime.

It wasn’t the money she’d wasted that irked her; it was the principle of the thing. She had purchased that soon to be squashed hunk of metal at a garage sale last month, and the pervious owner had sworn that it worked like a dream.

“He probably meant I’d be dreaming if I thought it would work,” she commented now. It took her only a few minutes to complete her business. A quick browse through a couple of hardware suppliers had her locating the best buy in brand new lawn mowers. The selling point for the one she finally chose was an electronic ignition, and three-day delivery. She could have purchased a riding lawn tractor and she did consider it for just a moment. But getting up and walking as she cut the grass would give her much needed exercise. A few clicks of the mouse, and sold!

Shopping done, she closed those files and brought up her latest manuscript. It had taken her a while to start this one. Random Chance had been different, in the writing of it. The idea for it had occurred to her one night when she had been at home, a rare night off. Indulging her love of reading with a novel touted as a best seller, she was disappointed when the story failed to grab her interest. As her mind had wandered from the text, she’d begun to think about the kind of story she would like to read. She didn’t believe in doing anything without there being some benefit in the doing of it, and she thought that if she was going to invest precious time reading a book for entertainment, there ought to be something more to it than a thin plot and gimmickry.

Before long, she was making notes on a pad of paper. That gave way to the purchase of a computer when she kept misplacing her notes.

From first word to completed novel had taken her only three months. She had let it sit for another month. Then, one Sunday, she’d printed it out and read it from start to finish.

She thought it was pretty good. But what did she know? She’d had to leave high school and get a job after grade eleven. Unlike her two younger siblings, she had no university degree. The next evening, she was surfing the web, toying with finding someone who would read, and give her an opinion of her manuscript. What she found was a ‘submission call’ from a Toronto publishing house. Before she could think her actions through, she submitted her work, electronically.

She never expected to hear back from the publisher. In truth, she’d only sent it off in order to justify having spent so much time on it in the first place. Every action, in her mind, really did have to have a purpose, or a benefit.

She was shocked to receive an phone call asking her to come to Toronto, and meet with an editor. That had been her first ever trip to the major city. Yes, she had been thirty-four at the time and Toronto was only a forty-five minute drive away. But there had never been any reason for her to go there before.

She wasn’t sure at the time if she made a favorable impression on Mr. Crenshaw. They’d had tea, and he’d asked her about her research for Random Chance. It was a credit to his people skills, she mused now, that during the course of that two-hour meeting he’d managed to pull from her her entire life story. Shaking her head, she realized that from that moment on that he treated her as if she was fragile. She wasn’t, of course, but if he wanted to think as much, so what?

She left that meeting with a contract she had only to have a lawyer review before she signed, and the slow-to-dawn realization that she was about to become a published author.

That had been nine months ago. The advance check had made her eyes pop open wide. She had earned this, with much more to come, without even working.

Well, she was working now. Mr. Crenshaw – Patrick – had asked her when her next novel would be ready for him to see. That had panicked her. Next novel? She was far from certain there could even be a next novel. In fact, she had convinced herself that Random Chance had been aptly named, all the way around.

But…she let her mind turn over the concept of writing another book, and before long she was actually writing. This was work, but of a different sort than she’d been used to since the tender age of twelve. This was easy on the legs and the back, didn’t wreck her hands, with no on-the-job politics involved.

Until two months ago, she’d kept working the same two jobs she’d had for years. Sitting back, taking a fresh view of her life, she realized that it was time for a change. She’d quit both jobs, bought this house, leaving behind the small apartment that had been home since the family settled in Dundas more than fifteen years before. Now, she lived in a rural setting, and was a fulltime author.

Hard Choices, her current novel, was almost uncomfortably autobiographical. It chronicled the rise of a woman from poverty and devastating loss to power in the corporate world. True, she really knew squat about the corporate world – just what she’d picked up working in the local office of a multi-national company, as well as waiting tables and listening to executives over beer and pretzels at an upscale pub for more than a dozen years. But the focus of the novel was on the heroine, on her struggle to secure her family’s survival and her constant battle with herself to make those hard choices.

She completed two chapters and sent them off to Patrick. There had been a part of her that was convinced he would tell her it was crap. His one word e-mail in response had tripped her heart, put a smile on her face, and bolstered her shaky self-confidence. That one word? Wow!

Bringing herself back to the present, Sara Jane scanned the last few pages she had completed in chapter six. She took a sip of her now tepid coffee and scrolled down to begin a new paragraph. Pausing a moment, her eyes took in the view from her window but her thoughts were turned inward. Then, with an ease that would have surprised her if she’d thought about it, she began to write.

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Robert brought his rental car to a halt at the end of the long lane way. The name on the mailbox was ‘Cantrell’. The waitress at the tavern, when she had gotten over being flustered by his celebrity, had given him good directions, after all.

The search for Ms. Cantrell had taken a little longer than expected. It was now two days since he had spoken to Patrick. It was late afternoon, and Robert knew he would likely have to be content with a brief, introductory meeting now, and then find himself a place to stay. There were certainly any number of hotels in the near-by city of Hamilton. He’d cleared his calendar for the next two weeks. Not that he expected to be here that long, but it had occurred to him, as he’d been making his travel arrangements, that he’d had no time off in months.

Shelving thoughts of a little r & r, he stepped on the gas and negotiated the lane. The old stone home had been newly painted, and with the columns put him in mind of a southern plantation house. He wondered if this is where Sara Jane had raised her children, if the farm had been in her family for generations. He smiled as he spotted the pair of rockers on the porch and envisioned her surrounded by grinning, happy grandchildren and probably a dog or two.

It certainly seemed the sort of setting designed for children and pets.

He passed an old lawn mower, abandoned where it had apparently broken down. Robert knew that, as a new author, the advance Sara Jane would have received wouldn’t have been much. He had no doubt that her novel, once released, would shoot to the top of the best-seller lists and stay there a long, long time. She would eventually make a fortune in royalties. But he also knew that it would be at least a year before she saw any of those payments.

He could offer Sara Jane money today. Probably, he mused immodestly, more money than she’d ever imagined having at one time before.

He was almost certain of the approach he would use, too. Despite his most recent thoughts, he knew a woman of Sara Jane’s character – he felt he knew her quite well through her book – would not be swayed by mere money. At least, not in its raw form. But as a legacy for her children and grandchildren? Probably. The movie as a vehicle to reach even more people with her message of hope and love? Yeah, that sounded damn good, too.

He parked the car and got out. Braced, he listened for the sound of barking. There was none. Still smiling, he made his way to the front porch, and knocked on the door.

 

Chapter Three

Sara Jane swore softly at the sound of the intrusion. She wasn’t in the habit of receiving visitors. Despite having lived in the general vicinity all her life, she had few friends. It wasn’t a dislike for people or snobbery that isolated her. It was shyness. And, until her sister, and then brother had left for university, she’d been flat out too damned busy for much of a social life. When she was finally on her own, constant work had become too much of a habit to stop.

Even now, she was having trouble with the inactivity in her life since quitting her jobs. Concentration was proving difficult not only to develop but to maintain. She simply wasn’t yet used to the luxury of being able to focus on one thing at a time.

The knock sounded loudly again. Heaving a sigh, acknowledging that it was likely a salesperson at the door, she saved her work and headed down the stairs.

Robert was about to turn from the door when he heard the footfalls. Before he could draw his next breath the door opened and he was facing a pixie.

“Yes?”

“Hello. I’m looking for Ms. Cantrell.”

“I’m Ms. Cantrell,” Sara Jane answered, unable to keep the tiny thread of impatience from her voice. Who the heck else had he expected to answer the door, Mrs. Santa Claus?

He’d been geared up to meet Mrs. Santa Claus, and instead was facing a very impatient elf.

“No, you’re not. I’m looking for Sara Jane Cantrell.”

“I’m Sara Jane Cantrell. Look, if you’re selling something, I don’t care what the sacred guild of salespersons told you. I’m turning over a new leaf. Beginning right now. I am full up on magazines, gadgets, and whatnots and I do all the rest of my shopping on the Net.”

“I’m not here to sell anything. I’m here to buy something. And it’s the Sara Jane Cantrell who wrote Random Chance that I need to speak with. So if you would just be a good little girl and go get your grandmother, you can get back to whatever it is that has you tapping your foot in impatience.”

She looked down at her rapidly tapping foot and mentally ordered it to cease. Then she flashed him an annoyed look. “Wait here one moment, please.”

He watched as she walked down the hall and stopped in front of a mirror. She seemed to be admiring herself, his request totally forgotten.

Sara Jane turned one way and then the other, examining her features critically. She had been told she had a youthful appearance, but she had never considered her features to be child-like.

Going back to the front door, she considered her visitor for a long moment. “I’m the Sara Jane Cantrell who wrote Random Chance. You can’t buy it, because it’s already been sold. I’m thirty-five, by the way, and not vain in the least, so I don’t particularly appreciate being mistaken for a child. Has anyone ever told you that you bear a slight resemblance to Robert Donovan?”

“I am.”

“You are what?”

“Robert Donovan. I know that Random Chance has been sold, as my best friend is also your editor. I don’t want to purchase the publishing rights. It’s the motion picture rights I’m interested in. And I’m happy as hell you’re not a child. I’ll be even more delighted if you tell me you’re not married.”

“No husband. Motion picture rights? I own them?”

“Didn’t you read your publishing contract? Usually it’s just first serial rights an author sells. What about a ‘significant other’?”

“I read the contract. Sort of. And no, there’s no one.”

“Uh huh. Do you have it? The contract? I could go over it for you and verify that you still hold the motion picture rights.”

“Do you have any I.D.? So far, there’s just a vague resemblance and your word to go on as to who you claim to be.”

Robert closed his eyes for a moment, and couldn’t honestly say if he was praying for patience or trying not to laugh. He opened them again, reached into his inside jacket pocket.

“I am only doing this so as to put paid to Patrick’s claim that I am a Hollywood bulldozer. I am not a bulldozer.”

“Of course not. Bulldozers don’t ask personal questions of women they’ve just met. Neither do they carry photo I.D. proclaiming themselves to be,” she paused long enough to look at the driver’s license he’d handed her, “Robert Ignatius Donovan. Ignatius? Ok, I’m convinced. No one would willing make up a middle name for themselves like Ignatius.”

“If you tell a soul, I’ll have to kill you. Not even Patrick knows my middle name.”

Sara Jane laughed, handing him back the document. “I think we’ve tortured each other enough for the moment. If you’d like to come in, I’ll put on a fresh pot of coffee, and go get that contract.”

“Only if you give me fair warning when round two is about to begin?”

Sara Jane closed the door behind him and offered him a mischievous smile. “If you can’t figure that out for yourself, Mr. Donovan, you don’t deserve to be in the ring.”

“Point taken. Lead me to your coffee pot.”

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Twenty minutes later they were sitting at Sara Jane’s kitchen table, enjoying fresh coffee. She remained silent as Robert scanned her contract. Her curiosity was caught when he let out a low whistle.

“What?”

“I’m proud of Patrick. That was a much larger advance than usual. He must have great confidence in your future as an author.”

“Along with the innate ability to nag without appearing to do so.”

“He is a stickler for details and having his ducks in a row is our Patrick,” Robert commented as he continued reading.

“He thinks I’m fragile.”

“I’ll have to have a talk with that boy. Fragile, you’re not.”

“I trust you meant that as a compliment?”

“An observation. Okay, here it is. See? You did just sign first serial rights.”

Sara Jane read the section that Robert indicated.

“What does that mean, exactly?”

“It means they only have the right to a first printing. Probably…yeah, here, see? A two million-copy limit. If they want to do a second printing – which is quite often in paperback form – they have to renegotiate with you. As well, if you’re not happy with the treatment you’re receiving from them at that time, you’re free to sell the second printing rights to another publisher.”

“Oh. Ok. So I do own the motion picture rights?”

“Yes,” he confirmed, folding the contract back up, returning it to the brown envelope, and handing it back to her. “And I would like to buy them.”

“I could be fragile. How do you know I’m not?”

“Patrick didn’t want me to come here on my own. He told me I can be as intimidating as hell, and he’s right. Fragile would have been intimidated. You weren’t. You even had the nerve to ask me for I.D., for crying out loud.”

“I personally thought that was a nice touch.”

“So did I.”

“So, if I’m not fragile, what am I?”

Robert had been in enough different kinds of relationships with all sorts of women in his lifetime to realize that he was suddenly standing in the middle of a minefield. Fortunately, he had learned a great deal from past mistakes.

“I’d say you were capable. A woman who knows her own mind.”

Sara Jane smiled as if he had just pronounced her the most beautiful woman in the entire world.

“Thank you. For that, you may stay for dinner.”

Robert narrowed his eyes. “What’s on the menu?”

Sara Jane took a quick mental inventory of her freezer. “Pork chops baked in apple sauce and hash brown casserole.”

“Can you cook?”

“Can you act?”

“Thank you for the gracious invitation. I’ll be pleased to stay for dinner. But I’ll need to use your phone, and your phone book. I have to find a room for the night.”

“Waste of money. You can stay here. The place has five bedrooms, besides mine. All fully furnished. Take your pick.”

Robert turned to look at her. He knew people almost as well as he knew filmmaking. One steady study of her face told him volumes.

Patrick had been right. She was naïve. But Robert wasn’t sure at the moment that there was anything good about it. The businessman took over. Proximity equaled success.

“The money isn’t an issue, but being recognized is. Thank you, Sara Jane. I’ll take the room, too.”

She waited on the porch while he got his suitcase out of the car, and then gave him a tour of the house. She was very open about her business, he thought, telling him how she had purchased this property just a few months before. As he was taking in the furnished bedrooms on the second floor – one equipped with bunk beds – he shot her a knowing smile.

“Nesting, were you?”

“Nesting? No. No more kids for me.”

“Kids? You have kids?”

“Sorry, that was misleading. A sister and a brother, ten and eleven years younger, respectively.”

“I’ve heard others say that having grown up with siblings, even much younger ones, bears no resemblance whatsoever to being a parent. Take Patrick, for example. He and his brother still don’t get along, but he told me that being a father is one of the best things he’s ever done.”

“I’ve heard the same thing. But I wasn’t talking about sibling rivalry. I raised them both from the time they were both still in diapers.”

Robert stopped walking and stared at her, disbelieving. “You couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen!”

“I wasn’t. I was twelve. Have you decided upon a room?”

Speechless, he pointed to the last room she’d shown him, which happened to be the one across the hall from her own.

“Great, I’ll just grab some fresh sheets for the bed, and…”

“Sara Jane, just show me where they are. I can make the bed myself.”

“Oh. All right. The linen closet is just down the hall. All the sheets on the second shelf are king sized so take your pick. There are towels there, as well. If you’d like to take a shower and relax for a bit, dinner should be ready in a couple of hours or so.”

“How about I make quick work of the bed then join you in the kitchen, and we make dinner together?”

“Ah…sure. If you like.”

Robert watched her retreating back as she headed down the stairs. If any other woman had offered him the use of a spare room, he probably would have been suspicious. But Sara Jane didn’t seem to realize that her generosity could be misinterpreted, or that it was, in fact, unwise. She sure didn’t seem to have picked up on the fact that he was as attracted as hell to her.

Sara Jane Cantrell was one surprise after another. Trouble was, the more he learned about her, the more he wanted to know.

 

Chapter Four

Robert made it down to the kitchen in twenty minutes. Sara Jane was actually surprised by his speed. She was even more surprised when he relieved her of the potato peeler and proved to her that he did indeed know his way around a kitchen.

What she didn’t seem to know was how to work in a kitchen when she wasn’t working alone, a fact Robert noted and filed away for later. Aside from a few accidental bumps – and a few that weren’t so accidental – they managed to get dinner on the table in less time than Sara Jane had predicted.

“I’m thinking that you can cook a whole lot better than I can act,” Robert said as he helped himself to seconds of everything.

“I’m flattered. You’re a very talented actor. I’ve seen a great many of your films, and in each one I forget you’re you and think of you as the character. That’s why it took me a few moments to recognize you.”

“That’s funny. When you asked me for I.D. I was certain that you really didn’t know who I was at all.”

“It would have been pointless to dither. I needed recovery time and secured it in the most efficient way possible.”

Robert studied her for a moment. “I admire efficiency. I take it that much maligned trait is one you ascribe to as well?”

“Almost religiously. I couldn’t have survived without it.”

“I’d like to hear your life story.”

Sara Jane looked at him, her expression serious. “That’s hardly something to be shared with a casual acquaintance.”

“Efficiency,” Robert returned. “We’re going to be a hell of a lot more to each other than mere acquaintances.”

“Ah yes. You want to buy the movie rights to Random Chance.”

“That, too. Any reason we can’t do both?”

“What both?”

“Have a personal relationship as well as a business one?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about that. I’ve never had one before.”

“Never had one what?” he asked cautiously.

“A personal relationship. With a man.”

As late as yesterday, Robert would have sworn that there was definitely nothing good about this sort of naïve. As late as this morning, his entire psyche would have gone on red alert being faced with attraction to a woman who could claim absolutely no experience in the game of love.

What he felt instead of alarm at the moment was a deep and growing desire to not only be Sara Jane’s tutor, but the only man with whom she ever explored the concept of man-woman relationships. It was suddenly no longer a game.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Bur for what are you thanking me?”

“For waiting for me.”

“I didn’t realize that I had.”

Their gazes held for a long moment. “You realize it now. Don’t you?”

“Perhaps.”

Her one-word, whispered answer was accompanied by the unwittingly seductive gesture of licking her lips. Robert felt his blood heat, felt his body’s reaction. His male instincts ordered an immediate breaching of the ramparts. What the hell did they know? It had been thousands of years since they had been fashioned in such a way as to ensure the survival of the species at a time when life was short and the future uncertain. He had always believed that he was evolved a few levels above the Neanderthal.

He hated being proved wrong.

Robert inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. Through sheer force of will he got his body under control.

“Let’s take this one step at a time. First, we clear away our dinner debris. Then we discuss the motion picture rights to Random Chance. Not,” he said quietly, pinning her with an intense stare, “that business is more important. I just want to get it taken care of and out of the way.”

“You don’t want there to be any confusion with regard to your motives.”

“That’s right. Any objections?”

Sara Jane looked at him for a long moment. “I’ll wash. You dry.”

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The night was balmy. After the dishes had been washed, dried and put away, Sara Jane brewed a fresh pot of coffee. They took their cups out to the verandah, each settling into a rocking chair, together absorbing the darkness and the quiet.

“There weren’t many moments during my life when I had the luxury to dream about the future. But if I had, I never could have dreamed that I would be a writer.”

“That surprises me. You’re a gifted storyteller. I couldn’t put Random Chance down – and I’m known as an incredibly hard sell.”

“Your praise astounds me. And humbles me. Thank you.”

Despite his earlier claim that he wanted to get business out of the way, the need to know more about this woman was huge. “Talk to me, Sara Jane.”

The sound of crickets was a melodious chorus in the background, bathing the night in an earthy sensuality.

“There was never any time for dreams, really. There was just survival. I didn’t dare look ahead, to the future, to a time when I would be on my own.”

“Because if you did, you might not have had the strength to do what had to be done, day after day?”

There was enough ambient light from the moon for Robert to see the look of pleasure on Sara Jane’s face. In that moment, he knew that not many people had ever indicated that they understood her.

“Yeah. I had to quit high school after grade eleven. I was already a couple of years behind, at eighteen, because of all the moving around. That was painful. But dad had suffered a stroke, and there were the kids to see to.” Since the decision had been made to share, she decided to go back to the beginning.

“When I was twelve, my mother…left. She went out to fetch a few groceries one day and never came back. Dad was devastated. At first he was convinced that something had happened to her – that she’d been kidnapped, or murdered – but she’d simply deserted us. Elaine was three, and Chad two. And Dad – he was never the same after that. The heart just went right out of him.”

“He had three children to care for,” Robert said quietly.

“He never saw that.” She looked over at him, and he was struck by the gravity of her expression. “My father died when I was twenty-eight, but he began to die the day his wife deserted him.”

“Did you ever hear from her?”

“No.”

Even after all these years, the anger still could simmer if she let it. It took Sara Jane a long moment before she could resume her tale.

“He drank a lot, couldn’t hang on to jobs. We had to move in the dead of night to escape landlords and bill collectors. We never stayed long in one place. Dad worked some, so we never starved - but when it came to the kids – well, he didn’t want much to do with them. I had to take care of everything –the cooking and the cleaning, the kids – right from the beginning. Some of it is difficult to remember. I don’t mean difficult, emotionally, though there is that, too. I mean there are blocks of time that I simply can’t recall.

“When I turned fourteen, I got my first job – I lied about my age and Dad signed a form backing me up. Pumping gas at a twenty-four seven gas bar. I had to take the eleven p.m. to six-thirty a.m. shift – it was the only way I could manage everything.”

“You mean everything but sleep. Or being a kid yourself.”

“Yes, well. Dad and I made a deal. He signed over all his checks to me, but got a third of it and a third of what I made. His to do with as he pleased, which usually was drink. That agreement would remain in force as long as he kept working.”

“That was a shitty deal for you.”

“Yeah, but it was better than what had gone before. Anyway, when I was eighteen we’d arrived in Dundas. Dad got sick, so here we stayed. I got two full time jobs – office work during the daytime, a job that didn’t pay well but had much needed benefits – and waiting tables at a pub five nights a week to make the extra we needed to pay for a part time nurse for dad, and then for the nursing home when he had a second stroke.”

There had been an edge of defiance in Sara Jane’s voice. Robert heard it, but more, he understood it. Reaching over, he picked up her hand, brought it to his lips and kissed it.

“Do I think what happened to you and your family was unfair? You bet. Do I pity you? Hell, no. I don’t think I have words that could adequately convey the amount of respect… of awe I feel when I realize what you were able to accomplish.”

Such sentiments were foreign to Sara Jane. No one had ever shown much appreciation for her, let alone respect and awe. Her throat felt tight, burning. Still, she was able to whisper, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

For a long time they sat in eloquent silence. Robert still had hold of her hand, which was fine as far as she was concerned. For the first time in her life she didn’t feel alone. It was an attractive feeling.

“Tell me about movie rights.”

“It’s as simple as it sounds. For an agreed upon sum of money, I would have the right to make a movie based on your manuscript.”

“So…there would have to be a screenplay written?”

“Yes.”

“Who would do that?”

“I would.”

“I guess you’d have to change it – my book – to do that.”

“Not so much change, honey, as edit.”

“But my book, itself, wouldn’t change.”

“No, it would always be yours.”

The chairs made a slight swoosh sound as they rocked in unison.

“Your sister and brother must be very proud of you.” When his declaration was met with only silence, he turned his head to look at her closely.

“Aren’t they?”

“They don’t know. I haven’t told them.”

“Why not?”

“It’s…just never come up.”

“Sara Jane…they do call you, don’t they?”

“They have busy lives. Elaine has her Masters degree in sociology and she and her husband – a PhD – have a private practice in Vancouver. They also have two beautiful little children. And Chad has recently relocated to Edmonton. He’s a software designer, and doing very well. He’s dating a lawyer, and I think there may be another wedding soon. They call, when they can.”

When Robert just stared at her with a mixture of incredulity and outrage, she squeezed his hand. “You have to understand. I was their sister who acted more like a drill sergeant. I was the ogre who made them keep their rooms neat, wouldn’t let them stay out passed midnight, insisted they get good grades, washed their mouths out with soap. I was the one who had to say no to the vacation trips and new clothes at all the best stores.”

“And if you hadn’t where the hell would they be today? Who paid for their university educations?”

“They each won partial scholarships, and they each took part time jobs.”

“For spending money, I bet. You paid the lion’s share, didn’t you?”

“How could I not?”

Oh, so easily, Robert thought. Then, as he caught sight of a small grin, he sat back and began to put things together.

“You worked two jobs – the second being in a pub that caters to the business crowd. Businessmen can be pretty good tippers when they’re into their cups. In more ways than one.” He watched Sara Jane’s smile widen slightly. “You’d been frugal all your life, spending judiciously, saving every penny you could.”

“Yes.”

“Investing?”

Sara Jane spread her hands. “I had to do something. Elaine was looking forward to university and Chad would only be a year behind her. I was damned if they were going to be faced with rotten, low paying jobs. I wanted them to be able to have a chance, and choices. So I listened, and I learned and I…took a few chances at the right time.”

“My God…and they never knew?”

“No. They still don’t. They never questioned how I could come up with the money they needed. I just always had. I could easily have provided them with enough cash that they didn’t need the part time jobs. But by then they were acting so superior – after all, they were in university, they were going to make something of their lives. They weren’t going to waste away in dead end jobs with no hope for the future. I figured they needed some good old-fashioned hard work.

“I love them, Robert. But that doesn’t mean I can’t resent their attitude, even if that attitude is based in fact. They don’t call that often, no. But when they do they always offer to send me money, and I always refuse.”

“Sara Jane…just how well off are you?”

“I’m not well off. I passed well off just after Elaine got married. I kept on working out of habit. Steady work was always tied to my definition of stability, which when I was a kid was my Holy Grail. As for the investing – I found out I kind of have a knack for it.”

“And you’re still frugal, which is why there’s a broken down old lawn mower on the front lawn.”

“I’ve ordered a new one. It’ll be here in a few days.”

“When are you going to tell your family? About the money, and the book?”

“I’m not. I’ll bet you ten bucks that when they see Random Chance in the book stores, they’ll think it’s a strange co-incidence that an author has the same name as their sister.”

“And if they ask?”

“I’ll tell them the truth. Because their asking would mean that they’ve finally grown up.”

Robert knew there was a hell of a lot more going on with his emotions than just desire where Sara Jane was concerned. He wanted to grab her sister and brother, one in each hand, and knock their heads together. How dare they think themselves superior to her? Because they had university degrees, which she had paid for?

“I can feel your anger all the way over here, Robert. I appreciate it, because it means that you really do respect me, and care about me. But let it go, please? It won’t change a damn thing, and it feels terrible inside to be so angry.”

He exhaled deeply, squeezing her hand. “I’ll try. I guess you’ve had lots of practice with getting rid of anger.”

“Most of my life, and sometimes more successfully than others. I was angry with mother for deserting us. I was angry with dad for trying to find solace in the bottom of a bottle. I was angry when he got sick, and angry when he died. The list goes on and on. But the anger never helps. It just makes everything harder. Teaching myself to let it go is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.

“I finally realized that everything I was angry about didn’t matter, in the end. I hadn’t deserted the family. I had done all I could for dad, and the kids. I’d made a life for them and for myself. And now, with Random Chance, and my new manuscript, Hard Choices, there is a future for me and it’s terrific.”

“Standard rate for a first time author selling movie rights is around a half million dollars all told. Fifty thousand dollars is payable up front as the optioning portion of the payment. If the movie goes to production, the balance is paid. If the movie then proves to be a hit, the second sale could be into seven figures. Your first novel, Random Chance, deserves top dollar of the first category. If you agree, I’ll call my bank and have the fifty thousand wired to your bank.”

“That much? Good heavens, I feel like a fraud. So much money, all in all, for doing something that didn’t even seem like work.”

“Please say yes, Sara Jane. I will do my damnedest to do right by your art, I promise. Say yes, and then we’ll go inside, write it down, and sign it.”

“You’re in a hurry all of a sudden.”

“That’s just efficiency on my part. You see, as soon as we both sign that piece of paper, I’m going to carry you to my bed – or yours, I really don’t care which – and spend as much of the next week as possible making love to you. Somewhere in that week, when we can no longer function without assistance, I’ll convince you to marry me.”

“If we can’t function without assistance, who is going to help us?”

“I’ll help you if you help me.”

 

Chapter Five

“Don’t be afraid, Sara Jane.”

She smiled up at him, and with one finger stroked his face.

“I’m not afraid. I’m mostly…chagrinned.”

Robert’s smile was wide. Then his eyes raked her from head to toe. She was absolutely, gloriously naked, spread out on the bed – they’d opted for hers – and he didn’t think he would ever tire of looking at her.

“No, you’re not. You’re beautiful.”

“So are you,” her eyes returned the favor. She reached out and tenderly stroked his chest.

Robert sucked in air, grabbed her hand in his, then kissed it and her long and hard. “Keep those hands to yourself, please. I want this to be perfect for you. You keep touching me like that and I’m going to lose control.”

“Just from my hand on your chest?”

“See how you like it,” he challenged.

Sara Jane gasped and groaned softly as his hand made a gentle exploration of her breasts. When her nipples beaded, he bent forward and suckled her.

“Mmm. Yes. But it might not be the same. Let me put my mouth…”

“I’ll come if you do,” he said gently. He stretched out on the bed next to her and gathered her close against him. His lips took hers in a quest that began as tenderness and ended as hotly carnal.

Sara Jane couldn’t help the convulsion of her hips against him. Robert groaned, and laid her flat on her back. He used one knee to gently nudge her legs apart. She bowed off the bed when his fingers found her hot, wet, and ready for him.

“Why are you chagrinned?” he asked as his lips and tongue teased her breast while his fingers continued to explore her molten core.

“Thirty-five years…not a single…mmm…relationship. Then…the same day…please, Robert…I meet you and I’m…”

“Mine.” He said as he covered her and thrust into her.

The pain was sharp but fleeting. Much more memorable was the wave of ecstasy that had Sara Jane wrapping herself around him, arms and legs, as she was battered by the purest pleasure she had ever known.

“Yours,” she whispered as she floated down to earth again.

“I came inside you, sweetheart,” he whispered as he placed gentle kisses upon her. “And I didn’t wear a condom. Could you be pregnant?”

Sara Jane’s eyes opened slowly, and she looked at the hopeful expression on his face. It took her only a moment’s thought to realize that it was “Possible.”

“You’re it for me, Sara Jane. I will love you always and leave you never. We’ll raise our children together, and I promise that you will never feel alone again.”

“Could I get that in writing?” she asked, smiling at him shyly.

“You bet. It’s called a marriage license. And we’re getting one.”

The next day they were in Sara Jane’s office. They’d spent the morning in bed, but despite Robert’s promise of a full week of incarceration there, they’d just returned from Hamilton where they had applied for their marriage license. Patrick, with whom they’d just spoken, was wrapping things up in his office and then would be on his way. He promised that by the time he arrived he wouldn’t be quite so speechless.

“We need champagne,” Robert said as he pulled her onto his lap and kissed her soundly.

“I don’t have any. But if you’re set on it, we’re only a few minutes from town.”

“I am. You stay. You’re exhausted.”

“You caused my exhaustion.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Are you going to spend our entire married life looking smug?”

“Married to you? You bet.”

divider

Sara Jane opened her manuscript when Robert left, hoping to get some work done. She’d been at it for only a half hour when there was a knock at the door. Prepared to tease her lover about being silly, she yanked open the door with a wide smile on her face. A smile that faded as she faced the trio that stood on her verandah.

It had been more than a year since she had set eyes on either Elaine and Mark, or Chad. But there they were, big as life, at her front door.

The sight of Robert’s car coming down the lane drew her attention for only a moment, and gave her the boost she needed.

“What a nice surprise,” she said, her smile not faltering despite the stern expression on her siblings faces.

“You shouldn’t be surprised, Sara Jane, after sending us those post office change of address cards. We’ve all been worried about you. Who’s that?”

Elaine looked very elegant, very En Pointe in her Dior business suit. The hair that Sara Jane had spent countless hours gently brushing was now neatly tamed into a chic style.

“That’s Robert, come to call. Now, don’t mention that he looks like that actor, Robert Donovan. He’s sensitive.”

She lifted her gaze and saw that he’d heard her comment. His eyes twinkled as they promised retribution. Then he turned his attention to the visitors.

“Look, Robert, this is my little sister, Elaine, and her husband Mark. And this strapping young man is my baby brother Chad. Isn’t it wonderful? We were just speaking of them, and here they are.”

Elaine huffed in response to her sister’s smarmy tone, then pushed her way into the house as if she owned it. Mark followed, and Chad, shaking his head, did the same.

“You obviously didn’t know they were coming.”

“No, and they look loaded for bear. Stay close. I think that anger I told you I’d licked is about to rear its ugly head.”

“I hope you don’t expect me to hold you back, sweetheart?”

“No, darling. But it might turn into a tag-team event. There are three of them.”

Her unexpected guests were in her living room, surveying the furnishings. Sara Jane realized that Elaine had calculated the cost of every stick of furniture and piece of fabric in the room.

“Would you care for some coffee?”

“Shouldn’t we have that in your quarters?”

“My…quarters?”

“Your room, then.”

Her sister’s suggestions made no sense. “You want to have coffee in my bedroom?” It was the sudden rigidity of Robert’s posture that clued her in. She felt her own spine stiffening in response.

“I’ll put on a pot of coffee sweetheart, if you promise not to begin the flaying till I’m back to watch.”

“Then hurry. I don’t know how long I can hold off.” She turned her attention back to her siblings.

“Please, sit down. I’m sorry if you’re confused, though how you could possibly be escapes me. You did see my name on the mailbox by the road, there?”

“Well yes. But we thought…”

“You thought, love,” Mark gently corrected, as he sat back, a gentle smile on his face. “Elaine and Chad both immediately assumed that this was the estate of a wealthy recluse, who wanted to remain anonymous, and hence your name was on the box.”

Sara Jane’s eyes had widened. “I see. Wow. Creative writing runs in the family. Well, I hate to disappoint you and burst a perfectly good fantasy. But the truth is I’m the only one who lives here. This is my house.”

Robert came back into the room and sat on the love seat next to Sara Jane.

“How can you afford the rent? You sling beer for a living.”

Chad’s comment was delivered without rancor. Nevertheless, Sara Jane put a comforting hand on Robert’s leg. It was both a sign of affection, and one of restraint.

“I don’t rent this house. I own it. I bought it some months ago.”

“Sara Jane, was that wise? I mean, sure, you may still be working two jobs, but there’s not much future with such dead-end…”

“Actually, I have to correct you again. I quit both jobs just after I moved in. Golly, there was just so much work to do here, renovating, cleaning that I didn’t have time…”

“You can’t do that!” Chad exploded, jumping to his feet. “You just buy a house and then you quit working? Look, I know you’re not very smart, but still even you should be able to realize…”

“Hold it right there!” Robert’s fierce tone not only shut Chad up, it had Elaine gasping, a hand fluttering to her chest.

“What,” he asked carefully, “makes you think your sister isn’t very smart?”

Chad looked uncomfortable for a moment, as if a family secret was finally out. Which, to his mind, was likely true. This was something understood, but never voiced. He grimaced as he looked at his eldest sister, and that grimace could either have been an apology, or a sign of distaste. Then he fixed his attention on the man who did look like Robert Donovan.

“She just barely managed to get her grade eleven, and she was nearly twenty when she did that.”

“And you, with your superior intelligence and masters degree in computer sciences deduced your sister wasn’t very smart?”

“That’s what daddy always said,” Elaine jumped to the defense of her brother.

Sara Jane looked hurt. Robert sensed that she wasn’t as much surprised by this revelation, as she was disappointed to finally have proven something she’d always suspected.

“I reminded him too much of mother,” she said to Robert quietly. “After the stroke, especially, he became ornery, taking out on me…well, taking it all out on me.” She turned her attention back to the others.

“What else did Daddy tell you?”

“That he let you rule the roost to make up for the fact that you were too dumb to have your education paid for out of the trust fund.”

“Trust fund? What trust fund?”

“That was left after momma died.” Elaine’s last sentence was spoken quietly, as if, for the first time, she was beginning to question what she’d always believed.

The silence that filled the spacious room was heavy with emotion. Sara Jane closed her eyes, every ounce of her will focused on control. When she opened them again, Robert could see that she’d made a decision.

“In the beginning, I never spoke of her, because the one time I did, Dad flew into a rage. Over time, he convinced himself of a lie, and it was easier all the way around to let him have his way in this. I never thought to tell you the truth after he was dead, because there was really no point to it. You had no memory of her, either of you.” She reached out, unsurprised when the man she loved grasped her hand gently. He had promised her she would never feel alone again, and he was keeping that promise.

“Our mother didn’t die,” she said softly, “she simply left us. When I think back to the weeks and months leading up to that day, what I remember most was her almost constant crying. Today, doctors diagnose postpartum depression. They treat it. But twenty-three years ago, it wasn’t considered to be much more than an affectation some women took on. I didn’t know that at the time, though. I was only twelve when she left. Dad was shattered. I should have taken you both aside when you were old enough, told you the truth. But quite frankly, by that time I’d been so angry with her for so long, I’d banished her from my thoughts. In a very real way, she was dead to me.

“I don’t know how much of those first few years you remember. Dad didn’t work much, he was drunk most of the time. When I turned fourteen, I issued an ultimatum. He either got working and kept working, or I’d call the cops on him. Not only would we be taken by Children’s Aid, he’d be charged, and jailed.

“With all the moving, and all the work I had to do at home just to keep things going, I did fall behind in school. Then when dad had his stroke, I quit school to work two jobs. I had no choice. We needed the money and the health benefits, to put food on the table, pay the rent, and pay for the nurse that came every day.

“There was never any trust fund? Then who paid for our educations?” Chad asked, bewildered.

“And you consider yourself smart,” Robert shot back disparagingly.

“Your sister did,” Mark supplied quietly. “I never made an issue of Elaine’s fussing and complaining about you,” he said to his sister-in-law, “I just figured her attitude was traditional sibling rivalry, and she’d grow beyond it, eventually. We’ve had several conversations, you and I, and I knew you weren’t stupid. And now I understand the apprehension I sensed in you when we first met, and when I asked Elaine to marry me.”

“I knew that was my problem, not yours. I had no idea you picked up on it, though. Sorry.”

“If you’re so smart, why did you quit your jobs just when you’ve taken on a mortgage?” The question was asked in the petulant tone of a child, and was Elaine’s attempt to re-establish the reality she’d always lived.

“I said I bought the house. I didn’t say anything about a mortgage.”

”You paid cash? How…how is that possible?”

When Sara Jane simply stared at her younger brother, Mark began to chuckle. “Mutual funds, or straight stocks?” he asked.

“Actually there was this new thing happening just after I got into mutual funds called ‘dot coms’.” She surveyed her siblings. “I could easily have provided you both with whatever it was you needed – or wanted – while you were pursuing higher education, but by that time…”

“We were both being pretty snotty to you.”

“Yes, Elaine, you were.”

“If not for your sister’s sense of duty, if not for her integrity, where would you two be? Elaine, Sara Jane tells me you have two children?” Robert’s voice was quiet.

“Connor and Nicole,” just saying their names but a glow on Elaine’s face. “They’re four and two.”

“Raising children isn’t easy, is it?”

“Heavens, no. Mark puts in more time in our practice than I do, and we have a nanny to help, but even working just part time I feel most nights as if I’ve been run ragged.”

“You’re a grown woman with the help of a nanny and a supportive spouse. Sara Jane was only a child herself when you and your brother were the ages of your children. And she had no help.”

Robert’s statement, so matter-of-fact and softly spoken, hit Elaine like nothing else ever had. She put her hand up to her throat as she realized, for the first time, what the past must have been like through her sister’s eyes.

“Oh, my Lord,” she said softly. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at Sara Jane. “I…I never thought…you were always just so damn bossy – which, all things considered you had to be – and I was just so resentful. And then there were times when Daddy would say…why would he say those things, Sara Jane? He lied to us. Why did he do that?”

“I don’t really know, Elaine. I do know he was a very bitter, and very unhappy man. After his first stroke, he sometimes got confused, directing his anger with mother towards me. It doesn’t matter anymore. This is the conversation we should have had years ago. I’m as much to blame for the misunderstandings between us as you are.” Then she cast a glance at Robert, who nodded.

“And speaking of misunderstandings, there is one more that I perpetrated today that I ought to clear up.”

Mark laughed then looked at Robert. “You really are Robert Donovan, aren’t you?”

“Guilty.”

“How do you know Sara Jane?”

Robert smiled at the younger woman, his feelings toward her softened now. “We met when I came to option the motion picture rights to her first novel. We’re getting married on Friday.”

“Novel?”

“Married!”

Robert grinned at Mark. “May I assume that in your haste to arrive here today, you’ve neglected to book rooms for the night?”

“You may. My dear one insisted on all haste.”

“Sara Jane?”

She knew what Robert was asking, and nodded.

“Let me help you with your bags,” he said to Mark. “There’s plenty of room here for all of you.”

 

Chapter Six

“You all right?”

“I am now.”

Robert chuckled as he held Sara Jane closer and nuzzled her neck. Their hearts were returning to normal rhythm after a fabulous bout of love making, but he wouldn’t place any bets that they’d stay that way.

The house was quiet now. The travelers from out west were settled in their beds, and Robert had no doubt that jet lag was only a part of the reason they had retired early. Emotional exhaustion was the rest of it.

He and Mark had not only brought in the luggage and settled the question of bedrooms. They had made dinner as well. From time to time he had looked in on his lady and her siblings – more out of concern for her than curiosity.

A great deal of healing had taken place in this house today. He especially recalled one moment when Chad, his arrogance gone, asked Sara Jane, “Did you ever find out what happened to her?”

He found it telling that the young man hadn’t said ‘mother’ but ‘her’. But it was the answer given that impressed him most. It was an answer that reflected the depth of Sara Jane’s compassion.

“No. I do know that there have been no death certificates issued in any province for a Lorraine Cantrell – or a Lorraine Marsden, which was her maiden name. After I discovered that, I contacted a private investigator. He told me that he’d try, but that it was unlikely that he could find her after all this time, especially if she didn’t want to be found. I asked him if he could check the various institutions across Canada – thinking that if it was something more than postpartum depression, she might not have recovered from it. He came up empty on that, and after a year I stopped the search.”

Now, Robert caressed her back. “What if she contacts you after the book is out?”

Sara Jane didn’t ask him to elaborate. “I really don’t know. That’s a possibility I haven’t even let myself consider. But it doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have you. And with you, I can face anything.”

“I think that is the most wonderful thing anyone has ever said to me.”

“Oh. Rats. I was hoping my next words would be.”

“And they are?”

“I love you Robert. You’re it for me, too.”

He flipped her onto her back and kissed her long and sweetly. Hunger took over, and when her arms slipped around him, he slipped into her.

“You win. Those are the most wonderful words I’ve ever heard. I love you too, sweetheart. Very much.”

It took some time before breathing and heart rates returned to normal again. When Sara Jane protested Robert’s pending withdrawal, he maneuvered them so that they were on their sides, facing each other, still joined.

“We’re going to have a house full tomorrow. Added to the three guests we now have will be one niece, one nephew, one nanny and a girlfriend.”

“That’s why you bought a house with so many bedrooms, though, isn’t it? You were hoping there would come a day when you could have all your chicks under your roof again.”

“Yeah. But I never dreamed that it would be this soon, or that I’d have someone of my own to share it with.”

“Well you should have.”

“How so?”

“You’re a writer. How are you supposed to end a good fairy tale?”

“Ah.”

“Aren’t you going to say it?”

“I realize that fairy tales are fiction, and that I am a writer of fiction.”

“Sara Jane…”

“All’s well that ends well?”

“You’re pushing it.”

“You want the words so badly, you say them.”

“Nah. How about we just take them as a given.”

“Sounds good to me.”

The End

 

 

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