Suzannas surrender, p.1
Part #4 of The Calhouns series by Nora Roberts
Suzanna’s Surrender, by Nora Roberts
The Calhouns # 4
Suzanna Calhoun and her sisters simply HAD to find the priceless emeralds hidden somewhere in their ancestral home. The jewels were the key to the deadly mystery that had threatened them for so long. And for Suzanna they were something more - her link to a man whose past was tangled with hers in ways she was only beginning to understand.
Holt Bradford had loved Suzanna for more years than he cared to remember, loved the laughing girl she'd been and the gentle, fragile woman she'd become. He'd never once told her what was in his heart, but now he had no choice...He had to protect her from the shadows swirling around her, and he had to make her his at last.
Bar Harbor, 1965
The moment I saw her, my life was changed. More than fifty years have passed since that moment, and I'm an old man whose hair has turned white, whose body has grown frail. Yet my memories are full of color and strength.
Since my heart attack, I am to rest every day. So I have come back here to the island—her island-where it all began for me. It has changed, as I have. The great fire in '47 destroyed much. New buildings, new people have come. Cars crowd the streets without the charm of the jingling carriages. But I am lucky to be able to see it as it was, and as it is.
My son is a man now, a good one who chose to make his living from the sea. We have never understood each other, but have dealt together well enough. He has a quiet, lovely wife and a son of his own. The boy, young Holt, brings me a special kind of joy. Perhaps it is because I can see myself in him so clearly. The impatience, the fire, the passions that were once mine. Perhaps he, too, will feel too much, want too much. Yet I can't be sorry for it. If I could tell him one thing, it would be to grab hold of life and take.
My life has been full, and I'm grateful for the years I had with Margaret. I was no longer young when she became my wife. What we shared was not a blaze, but the quiet warmth of a banked fire. She brought me comfort, and I hope I gave her happiness. She's been gone for nearly ten years, and my memories of her are sweet.
Yet it is the memory of another woman that haunts me. This memory is so painfully clear, so complete. No amount of time could dull it. The years have not faded my image of her, nor have they altered by a single degree the desperate love I felt. Yes, feel still—will always feel though she is lost to me.
Perhaps now that I have brushed so close to death, I can open myself to it again, let myself remember what I have never been able to forget. Once it was. too painful, and I lost the pain in a bottle. Finding no comfort there, I at last buried my misery in my work. Painting again, I traveled. But always, always, was pulled back here where I had once begun to live. Where I know I will one day die.
A man loves that way only once, and only if he is fortunate. For me, it was Bianca. It has always been Bianca.
It was June, the summer of 1912, before the Great War ripped the world apart. The summer of peace and beauty, of art and poetry, when the village of Bar Harbor opened itself to the wealthy and gave refuge to artists.
She came to the cliffs where I worked, her hand holding that of a child. I turned from my canvas, the brush still in my hand, the mood of the sea and the painting still on me. There she was, slender and lovely, the sunset hair swept up off her neck. The wind tugged at it, and at the skirts of the pale blue frock she wore. Her eyes were the color of the sea I was so frantically trying to recreate on canvas. They watched me, curious, wary. She had the pale and luminous skin of the Irish.
The moment I saw her, I knew I had to paint her. And I think I knew, as we,stood in the wind, that I would have to love her.
She apologized for interrupting my work. The faint and musical lilt of Ireland was in the soft, polite voice. The child now in her arms was her son. She was Bianca Calhoun, another man's wife. Her summer home was on the ridge above. The Towers, the elaborate castle Fergus Calhoun had built. Even though I had only been on Mount Desert Island a short time, I had heard of Calhoun, and his home. Indeed I had admired the arrogant and fanciful lines of it, the turrets and peaks, the towers and parapets.
Such a place suited the woman who stood before me. She had a timeless beauty, a quiet steadiness, a graciousness that could never be taught, and banked passions simmering in her large green eyes. Yes, I was already in love, but then it was only with her beauty. As an artist, I wanted to interpret that beauty in my own way, with paint or pencils. Perhaps I frightened her by staring so intently. But the child, his name was Ethan, was fearless and friendly. She looked so young, so untouched, that it was difficult to believe the child was hers, and that she had two more besides.
She didn 't stay long that day, but took her son and went home to her husband. I watched her walk through the wild roses, the sun in her hair.
I couldn't paint the sea anymore that day. Her face had already begun to haunt me.
She wasn't looking forward to this. It had to be done, of course. Suzanna dragged a fifty-pound bag of mulch over to her pickup, then muscled it into the bed. That small physical task wasn't the problem. In fact, she was pleased to be able to make the delivery her second stop on her way home.
It was the first stop she wished she could avoid. But for Suzanna Calhoun Dumont, duty could never be avoided.
She'd promised her family that she would speak to Holt Bradford, and Suzanna kept her promises. Or tried to, she thought, and wiped a forearm over her sweaty brow.
But damn it, she was tired. She'd put in a full day in Southwest Harbor, landscaping a new house, and she had a full schedule the next day. That wasn't taking into account that her sister Amanda was getting married in little more than a week, or that The Towers was mass confusion in preparation for the wedding and with the remodeling of the west wing. It didn't even begin to deal with the fact that she had two energetic children at home who would want, and deserved, their mother's time and attention that evening. Or the paperwork that was piling up on her desk—or the fact that one of her part-time employees had quit just that morning.
Well, she'd wanted to start a business, Suzanna reminded herself. And she'd done it. She glanced back at her shop, locked for the night with the display of summer blooms in the window, at the greenhouse just behind the main building. It belonged to her—and the bank, she thought with a little smile—every pansy, petunia and peony. She'd proven she wasn't the incompetent failure her ex-husband had told her she was. Over and over again.
She had two beautiful children, a family who loved her and a landscaping-and-gardening business that was holding its own. She didn't even suppose Bax's claim that she was dull could apply now. Not when she was in the middle of an adventure that had started eighty years before.
There certainly wasn't anything mundane about searching for a priceless emerald necklace, or being dogged by international jewel thieves who would stop at nothing to get their hands on her great-grandmother Bianca's legacy.
Not that she'd been much more than a supporting player so far, Suzanna mused as she climbed into the truck. It had been her sister C.C. who had started it by falling in love with Trenton St. James III, of the St. James Hotels. It had been his idea to turn part of the financially plagued family home into a luxury retreat. In doing so, the old legend of the Calhoun emeralds had leaked to the ever-eager press and had set off a chain reaction that had run a course from the absurd to the dangerous.
It had been Amanda who had nearly been killed when the desperate and obsessed thief going by the name of William Livingston had stolen family papers he'd hoped would lead him to the lost emeralds. And it had been her sister Lilah who had had her life threatened during the latest
In the week that had passed since that night, the police hadn't turned up a trace of Livingston, or his latest known alias, Ellis Caufield.
It was odd, she thought as she joined the stream of traffic, how The Towers and the lost emeralds had affected the entire family. The Towers had brought C.C. and Trent together. Then Sloan O'Riley had come to design the retreat and had fallen in love with Amanda. The shy history professor, Max Quarter-main, had lost his heart to Suzanna's free-spirited sister, Lilah, and both of them had nearly been killed. Again, because of the emeralds.
There were times Suzanna wished they could forget about the necklace that had belonged to her great-grandmother. But she knew, as they all knew, that the necklace Bianca had hidden away before her death was meant to be found.
So they continued, following up every lead, exploring every dusty path. Now it was her turn. During his research, Max had uncovered the name of the artist Bianca had loved.
It was a story that never failed to make Suzanna wistful, but it was just her bad luck that the connection with the artist led to his grandson.
Holt Bradford. She sighed a little as she drove through the traffic-jammed streets of the village. She couldn't claim to know him well—wasn't sure anyone could. But she remembered him as a teenager. Surly, bad tempered and aloof. Of course, girls had been attracted by his go-to-hell attitude. The attraction helped along, no doubt, by the dark, brooding looks and angry gray eyes.
Odd she should remember the color of his eyes, she mused. But then again, the one time she had seen them up close and personal he'd all but burned her alive with them.
He'd probably forgotten the altercation, she assured herself. She hoped so. Altercations made her shaky and sweaty, and she'd had enough of them in her marriage to last a lifetime. Certainly Holt wouldn't still hold a grudge—it had been more than ten years. After all, he hadn't been hurt very much when he'd taken a header off his motorcycle. And it had been his fault, she thought, setting her chin. She'd had the right of way.
In any case, she had promised Lilah she would talk to him. Any connection with Bianca's lost emeralds had to be followed up. As Christian Bradford's grandson. Holt might have heard stories.
Since he'd come back to Bar Harbor a few months before, he had taken up residence in the same cottage his grandfather had lived in during his romance with Bianca. Suzanna was Irish enough to believe in fate. There was a Bradford in the cottage and Calhouns in The Towers. Surely between them, they could find the answers to the mystery that had haunted both families for generations.
The cottage was on the water, sheltered by two lovely old willows. The simple wooden structure made her think of a doll's house, and she thought it a shame that no one had cared enough to plant flowers. The grass was freshly mowed, but her professional eye noted that there were patches that needed reseeding, and the whole business could use a good dose of fertilizer.
She started toward the door when the barking of a dog and the rumble of a man's voice had her skirting around to the side.
There was a rickety pier jutting out above the calm, dark water. Tied to it was a neat little cabin cruiser in gleaming white. He sat in the stern, patiently polishing the brass. He was shirtless, his tanned skin taut over bone and muscle, and gleaming with sweat. His black hair was curled past where his collar would be if he'd worn one. Apparently he didn't find it necessary to cover himself with anything more than a pair of ripped and faded cutoffs. She noticed his hands, limber, long fingered, and wondered if he had inherited them from his artist grandfather.
Water lapped quietly at the boat. Behind it, she saw a fish hawk soar then plummet. It gave a cry of triumph as it rose up again, a silver fish caught wriggling in its claws. The man in the boat continued to work, untouched by or oblivious to the drama of life and death around him.
Suzanna fixed what she hoped was a polite smile on her face and walked toward the pier. “Excuse me.”
When his head shot up, she stopped dead. She had the quick but vivid impression that if he'd had a weapon, it would have been aimed at her. In an instant, he had gone from relaxed to full alert, with an edgy kind of violence in the set of his body that had her mouth going dry.
As she struggled to steady her heartbeat, she noted that he had changed. The surly boy was now a dangerous man. There was no other word that came to mind. His face had matured so that it was all planes and angles, sharply defined. The stubble of a two-day beard added to the rough-and-ready look.
But it was his eyes once again, that dried up her throat. A man with eyes that sharp, that potent, needed no weapon.
He squinted at her but didn't rise or speak. He had to give himself a moment to level. If he'd been wearing his weapon, it would have been out and in his hand. That was one of the reasons he was here, and a civilian again.
He might have forced himself to relax—he knew how—but he remembered her face. A man didn't forget that face. God knows, he hadn't. Timeless. In one of his youthful fantasies, he'd imagined her as a princess, lost and lovely in flowing silks. And himself as the knight who would have slain a hundred dragons to have her.
The memory made him scowl.
She'd hardly changed, he thought. Her skin was still pale Irish roses and cream, the shape of her face still classically oval. Her mouth had remained full and romantically soft, her eyes that deep, deep, dreamy blue, luxuriously lashed. They were watching him now with a kind of baffled alarm as he took his time looking her over.
She'd pulled her hair back in a smooth ponytail, but he remembered how it had flowed, long and loose and gleaming blond over her shoulders.
She was tall—all the Calhoun women were—but she was too thin. His scowl deepened at that. He'd heard she'd been married and divorced, and that both had been difficult experiences. She had two children, a boy and girl. It was difficult to believe that the slender wand of a woman in grubby jeans and a sweaty T-shirt had ever given birth.
It was harder to believe, harder to accept, that she could jangle his nerves just by standing ten feet away.
With his eyes still on hers, he went back to his polishing. “Do you want something?”
She let out the breath she hadn't been aware she was holding. “I'm sorry to just drop in this way. I'm Suzanna Dumont. Suzanna Calhoun.”
“I know who you are.”
“Oh, well...” She cleared her throat. “I realize you're busy, but I'd like to talk with you for a few minutes. If this isn't a good time—”
Since he was being so gracious, she thought, annoyed, she'd get right to the point. “About your grandfather. He was Christian Bradford, wasn't he? The artist?”
“That's right. So?”
“It's kind of a long story. Can I sit down?”
When he only shrugged, she walked to the pier. It groaned and swayed under her feet, and she lowered herself carefully.
“Actually, it started back in 1912 or '13, with my great-grandmother, Bianca.”
“I've heard the fairy tale.” He could smell her now, flowers and sweat, and it made his stomach tighten. “She was an unhappy wife with a rich and difficult husband. She compensated by taking a lover.
Somewhere along the line, she supposedly hid her emerald necklace. Insurance if she got up the guts to leave. Instead of taking off into the sunset with her lover, she jumped out of the tower window, and the emeralds were never found.”
“It wasn't precisely—”
“Now your family's decided to start a treasure hunt,” he went on as if she hadn't spoken. “Got a lot of press out of it, and more trouble than I imagine you bargained for. I heard you had some excitement a couple weeks ago.”
“If you can call my sister being held at knife point excitement, yes.” The fire had come into her eyes. She wasn't always good at defending herself, but when it came to her family, she was a scrapper. “The man who was working with Livingston, or whatever the bastard's calling himself now, n
“When you've got priceless emeralds with a legend attached, the rats gnaw through the woodwork.” He knew about Livingston. Holt had been a cop for ten years, and though he'd spent most of that time in Vice, he'd read reports on the slick and often violent jewel thief.
“The legend and the emeralds are my family's business.”
“So why come to me? I turned in my shield. I'm retired.”
“I didn't come to you for professional help. It's personal.” She took another breath, wanting to be clear and concise. “Lilah's fiancé used to be a history professor at Cornell. A couple of months ago, Livingston, going under the name of Ellis Caufield, hired him to go through the family's papers he'd stolen from us.”
Holt continued to polish the brightwork. “Doesn't sound like Lilah developed any taste.”
“Max didn't know the papers were stolen,” Suzan-na said between her teeth. “When he found out, Cau-field nearly killed him. In any case, Max came to The Towers and continued his research for us. We've documented the emeralds' existence, and we've even interviewed a servant who worked at The Towers the year Bianca died.”
Holt shifted and continued to work. “You've been busy.”
“Yes. She corroborates the story that the necklace was hidden, and that Bianca was in love, and planning to leave her husband. The man she was in love with was an artist” She waited a beat. “His name was Christian Bradford.”
Something flickered in his eyes then was gone. Very deliberately he set down his rag. He pulled a cigarette from a pack, flicked on a lighter then slowly blew out a haze of smoke.
“Do you really expect me to believe that little fantasy?”
She'd hoped for surprise, even amazement. She'd gotten boredom. “It's true. She used to meet him on the cliffs near The Towers.”
He gave her a thin smile that was very close to a sneer. “Saw them, did you? Oh, I've heard about the ghost, too.” He drew in more smoke, lazily released it. “The melancholy spirit of Bianca Calhoun, drifting through her summer home. You Calhouns are just full of—stories.”
Her eyes darkened, but her voice remained very controlled. “Bianca Calhoun and Christian Bradford were in love. The summer she died, they met often on the cliffs just below The Towers.”
That touched a chord, but he only shrugged. “So what?”
“So there's a connection. My family can't afford to overlook any connection, particularly one so vital as this one. It's very possible she told him where she put the emeralds.”
“I don't see what a flirtation—an unsubstantiated flirtation—between two people some eighty years ago has to do with emeralds.”
“If you could get past this prejudice you seem to have toward my family, we might be able to figure it out.”
“Not interested in either part.” He flipped open the top of a small cooler. “Want a beer?”
“Well, I'm fresh out of champagne.” Watching her, he twisted off the top, tossed it toward a plastic bucket, then drank deeply. “You know, if you think about it, you'd see it's a little tough to swallow. The lady of the manor, well-bred, well-off, and the struggling artist. Doesn't play, babe. You'd be better off dropping the whole thing and concentrating on planting your flowers. Isn't that what you're doing these days?”
He could make her angry, she thought, but he wasn't going to shake her from her purpose. “My sisters' lives were threatened, my home has been broken into. Idiots are sneaking in my garden and digging up my rosebushes.” She stood, tall and slim and furious. “I have no intention of dropping the whole thing.”
“Your business.” He flicked the cigarette away before jumping effortlessly onto the pier. It shook and swayed beneath them. He was taller than she remembered, and she had to angle her chin to keep her eyes level. “Just don't expect to suck me into it.”
“All right then. I'll just stop wasting my time and yours.”
He waited until she'd stepped off the pier. “Su-zanna.” He liked the way it sounded when he said it. Soft and feminine and old-fashioned. “You ever learn to drive?”
Eyes stormy, she took a step back toward him. “Is that what this is all about?” she demanded. “You're still steaming because you fell off that stupid motorcycle and bruised your inflated male ego?”
“That wasn't the only thing that got bruised—or scraped, or lacerated.” He remembered the way she'd looked. God, she couldn't have been more than sixteen. Rushing out of her car, her hair windblown, her face pale, her eyes dark and drenched with concern and fear.
And he'd been sprawled on the side of the road, his twenty-year-old pride as raw as the skin the asphalt had abraded.
“I don't believe it,” she was saying. “You're still mad, after what, twelve years, for something that was clearly your own fault.”
“My fault?” He tipped the bottle toward her. “You're the one who ran into me.”
“I never ran into you or anyone. You fell.”
“If I hadn't ditched the bike, you would have run into me. You weren't looking where you were going.”
“I had the right of way. And you were going entirely too fast.”
“Bull.” He was starting to enjoy himself. “You were checking that pretty face of yours in the rear-view mirror.”
“I certainly was not. I never took my eyes off the road.”
Suzanna's Surrender by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on40 votes