Excerpt from Stargazey Nights

Chapter One

Cab Reynolds nursed his scotch and looked out at the nighttime skyline of Atlanta. It was his kind of skyline, modern, geometric, minimal. Like his apartment—like his life.

He could hear Bailey in his bathroom, the hum of her hair dryer, the clink of the perfume bottle against the marble counter top. She never rushed. Even when they were late. Which they were. A big celebration, the kickoff of a new project, an MPR, a master plan resort, a self-contained resort community in the middle of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A party of sorts. Lots of laughter, champagne with satisfied colleagues and clients.

Tomorrow night it would be a fund raiser held by Bailey’s parents. Cab took a sip from his drink and turned from the window. The smell of scotch was the last thing he remembered before Bailey came out of the bedroom and the telephone rang.

He put his drink down, tempted to ignore the phone. Bailey had that affect on him. Made his blood race and desire shoot through every part of his body. But he knew better than to muss her hair or her tiny dress or makeup when she was ready to go.

He answered the phone.

“Cabot Reynolds?”

“Yes?” Who would be calling him at eight o’clock on a Thursday night? He was on every do not call registry on record. The firm wouldn’t give out his number, so . . .

“This is Beau Crispin . . . from Stargazey Point . . . South Carolina. Didn’t mean to bother you . . . .”

The slow drawl oozed on. Stargazey Point. Stargazey Point. Cab hadn’t been there for years, but there had been a time it had been his playground, his refuge . . . his home.

“Didn’t expect you to be at your office this late. I was goin’ to leave a message. I don’t know if you remember me or not . . . .”

Beau Crispin. Of course Cab remembered him and the piece of wood he was always carving but never let anyone see. One of his Uncle Ned’s best friends.

“Of course I remember you. Is anything wrong?”

“Oh, no, no. Your secretary handled everything just fine, but Silas and Hadley and I got to talking and thought you’d want to know that everything looks real good, the casket’s mighty fine and the flowers are somethin’ to behold. So you don’t worry that things weren’t done right. We’re just sorry you won’t be able to make the funeral. He would have liked that.”

“What funeral?” Cab thought Beau Crispin must be crazy. He’d always been “deep” as Ned would say. But this was full blown lunacy.

Beau Crispin was silent.

“Beau?” Cab said more calmly. “Whose funeral?”

“I’m sorry, son. It didn’t occur to any of us—Your uncle died two days ago.”

Ned? Died? Of all the absurdities of this conversation, Cab’s only thought was, I don’t have a secretary.

At the end of the line, Beau Crispin cleared his throat. “Well, you must be anxious to get on home, so I won’t keep you.”

He was home. And none of this made sense. “Don’t hang up,” he said quickly. He was beginning to remember Beau, really remember. And he wondered if behind the uncertainty in that old voice, had he heard just an undercurrent of censure?

Cab was vaguely aware of the bedroom door opening. Bailey’s scent preceded her into the room.

“I wasn’t aware. A miscommunication.”

“Of course, we all understand, son. Sorry to break it to you like this.”

No you don’t understand, Cab wanted to say, but he was beginning to.

Bailey’s arm appeared before his unfocused eyes, one beautifully manicured nail pointed to the Rado watch he’d given her for Valentine’s day. She was ready to go.

He turned away from her. His uncle Ned had died. How was that possible? He couldn’t be that old. Cab tried to do the math, but his brain didn’t seem to be working.

The watch appeared under his nose again. This time he walked away, knowing that if he didn’t get away, she would take the phone and hang up on whoever was calling. He used to think it was sexy the way she did that. Not tonight.

How had this happened? He hadn’t heard from his uncle for . . . He hadn’t gone to visit since—Oh God, it had been years. He meant to go but he just hadn’t found the time for the man who had been a second father to him, especially after the first one had stopped being a father at all. And he’d died without Cab even knowing he was sick.

Bailey reached for the phone and he wanted to slap her. And that was unfair. He held up a finger. One minute. It would pissed her off. But Bailey pissed off usually led to sex. Which is where most things with Bailey led.

“Cabot? Are you alright, son?”

“Yes. Yes. Sorry. Of course. Yes. What time?”

“Two o’clock.”

“I’ll be there. Tomorrow. Yes.”

Another of those long silences that were typical of Beau. And suddenly Cab was hurled back to his boyhood. Long quiet sits along the seawall with Beau trying to teach him how to carve. Fun nights at Silas’s barbeque shack with Ned and Hadley and Beau. Closing up the carousel with Ned and both of them looking up at the stars. Ned saying, “There’s a million wishes out there, boy. One of em’s yours.”

“You want me to call down to the Inn and tell Bethanne to fix you up a room so you’ll have a place to rest and all?”

“Yes. Please.”

“Cabot?”

“Yes?”

“Ned was real proud of you. Everybody will be real glad to see ya.”

Cab hiccupped. “Thanks.” He hung up.

“I hope whoever that was doesn’t expect you to work late tomorrow,” Bailey said as she took the phone from him and returned it to its base. “It’s mamma’s fundraiser auction at the Peachtree Club. She’ll expect you to be there, showing your handsome self around and getting all the ladies to spend their husband’s money for a good cause.”

Cab mumbled something, checked his bow tie in the foyer mirror and helped her into her coat. He snagged his keys off the side table and opened the door. Closed it again.

Bailey’s expression changed. It was subtle. It always was. Sometimes he had to guess what it was. Tonight he didn’t care.

“Did you know that my Uncle Ned had died?”

“Ned Reynolds. Why yes, they called the other day. I took care of everything.”

“You took care of—”

“Honey, that’s what wives of successful men do.”

“Without telling me?” She wasn’t even his wife yet.

“Well it slipped my mind. I’ve been so busy.”

“Didn’t you think I might want to go to the funeral?”

She looked mildly surprise. “Well, no. It’s not like you’ve ever mentioned him. And I sent an enormous flower arrangement in case there was anybody who mattered there.”

Mattered? They all mattered. And he must have talked about Ned with her. Hadn’t he? Or had he gotten so caught up in his successful life that he’d just pushed his uncle aside. He felt humiliation roil through his stomach. And now his uncle was dead.

He wanted to kick himself for not making the trip while Ned was alive. He should have kept in touch. Introduced him to Bailey. Thanked him for all the things he had done for him. He owed the man that. Hell, he owed the man just about everything. And he’d been so full of himself, his education, his career, his life, his trophy fiancée that he’d let the most precious thing slip away unnoticed.

Bailey plucked the keys from his hand. “Stop dawdling. We’re going to be late.”

She stood at the door, waiting for him to open it for her. He did. Stopped to key in the security code then walked her to the elevator.

“Don’t you dare let Harold Bloomquist drag you away the minute we get there. At the last one of these, his wife talked my head off until I claimed I had to go to the loo. And for a horrifying second I thought she was going with me. Awful creature.”

Cab wasn’t really listening, though usually he found it fascinating that the nastier Bailey got the sweeter her expression and the softer her accent became. It was a gift, he guessed.

Was it what wives did? Well in Cab’s case, his fiancé. Arrange funerals for an in-law she’d never met, and then not tell her husband about it? He thought about his father and stepmother. It was something she might do.

He glanced over at Bailey as they waited for the elevator.

There was no way he could drive the six and half hours to Stargazey Point, go to the funeral and drive back in time for the party tomorrow. But he would be going. Already part of him was pulling him there. He had to go. It was the least he could do. And as it turned out, he hadn’t done more. But he wouldn’t tell Bailey until after the party tonight. He had enough on his plate without that.

“Well?”

The elevator doors opened and he motioned Bailey inside. “What? Sorry?”

“I said, the wedding planner and the mater are conspiring for an antebellum wedding theme. I said absolutely not. I’ve already got my dress and it requires a more sophisticated setting than some Tara revival. Really, sometimes mother makes me wonder.”

“Hmm.”

“Well, don’t you have an opinion?”

Cab blew out air. He didn’t have an opinion. Not about venues, or color schemes, or what kind of cake to serve. Hell, it was a year and a half away. They could all get hit by a bus before then. That’s what his Uncle Ned had always said. Live today, you might get hit by a bus tomorrow.

“What are you smiling about? You don’t have an opinion, do you?”

“Sure, I say whatever you want.”

“You are so provoking.”

She took his arm as they rode down the twenty four floors to the garage. Looked up at him with those dark sultry eyes, a playful smile on her full lips. If this had been the end of the party instead of the beginning of the evening, he knew where that expression would have led. As it was, she was just teasing him. A promise of what he could look forward to later.

And he wondered for the first time, if he’d made the right choice.

 

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