Makin miracles, p.2

Makin' Miracles, page 2

 

Makin' Miracles
 



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  Zola laughed. “No. Sometimes it’s worse. Some of the natives make an obvious effort to walk around me or make a sign when I go by.”

  “Wutless!” Maya lapsed into another Jamaican phrase, meaning worthless.

  “Sometimes I get gifts left at my doorstep, like offerings. Hibiscus blossoms, shells, breadfruit, or mangos. Once I actually got a black pearl a diver found. It was a thank-you gift for a word of knowledge that helped to save the man’s child.” She gathered up their dishes thoughtfully. “I was only seven years old when that happened. Mama made the pearl into a necklace for me. I still have it and wear it.”

  “Your mama respected your gift and she encouraged it.” Maya dumped their dishes and plastic spoons into the paper sack from the café. “She was a good mother. I’m sorry you lost her so young.”

  “Me too.” Zola fingered the pearl around her neck as she remembered her mother. “She told me it was like receiving a pearl of great price to be given the gift of being a seer. She said never to misuse it or to take profit from it or I could cloud its beauty and dishonor God.”

  Maya made a spiritual sign Zola didn’t recognize. “May she be blessed for encouraging you.”

  Zola nodded. “I’ve been fortunate, too, that my grandparents are accepting of my gift. It would have been hard if that hadn’t been so, since they raised me most of the years after Mama died. I know I told you she lost her life in a small plane accident, coming back from a trip to her sister’s in New Zealand when I was twelve. Nana Etta became sort of my substitute mother after that.”

  “Ahhh. And well you know I am fond of Mother Etta.” This was what Maya always called Zola’s grandmother, Etta Garnett Devon.

  Maya carried their trash out to the back Dumpster, along with the store trash that had accumulated behind the counter. When she returned, the two caught up on the little things of their lives—as friends love to do.

  Zola glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost seven now, only two more hours until she could close the store. “You go home now, Maya,” Zola said, patting her on the arm fondly. “You have to work eight hours tomorrow. And your girls will be back soon. I’ll finish up here and close the store.”

  Two hours later when Zola had counted out the register and was locking the store to leave, she thought of the man again. She had seen clearly he would be robbed tonight by the lovely blonde on his arm.

  Zola frowned. She wondered if the man would remember the warning she gave him or if he would be taken advantage of. The woman was very beautiful, but beauty on the outside was not always an indication of beauty on the inside.

  Zola shook her head. “As You will, Lord,” she said as she flipped out the lights to go home. “As You will.”

  CHAPTER 2

  It was impossible for Spencer not to think of the odd Tahitian woman off and on through the evening. Leena wore the turquoise pareu wrapped seductively around her lush curves during their dinner together. Just looking at it brought the episode at the gift shop constantly to mind.

  Now Leena sat draped across Spencer’s couch in the big living room of his mountain home, tapping her red-tipped fingernails to the music lilting out of Spencer’s stereo. He watched her from the kitchen, where he was cleaning up the dishes from their dinner of grilled shrimp, Cajun rice, and salad.

  “It’s such a sweet thing having a man to cook for me.” Leena’s voice was sultry and seductive. “I’ll have to think of some sweet way to reward you back. You’ve been particularly good to me today.”

  The undertone of her suggestion was certainly not subtle. Spencer frowned, remembering the words of the shopgirl again and recalling the slow flush that had crept up her face and neck when she alluded to a more intimate encounter between him and Leena.

  “Darling, do bring me another glass of that lovely Riesling, would you? It would be nice after our dinner.” Leena patted the sofa beside her as she caught his eye. “And come and sit with me. We can talk and watch this lovely fire together.”

  Spencer poured out two glasses of the white wine. He had planned this dinner with Leena Evanston for some time, and he hated that events occurred to put a damper on it. Leena was a decorator out of Atlanta who bought his prints for her business customers when they wanted naturalistic photography in their décor. She appreciated Spencer’s work and often recommended him to important clients. Spencer felt flattered when Leena suggested she might come for a visit, and he’d offered to host her for dinner at his newly completed home on the mountain. A subtle flirtation had flickered between them for some time, and Spencer hoped their relationship might move to another level during her visit.

  He brought the glass of wine over to Leena and sat down beside her on the couch. She was a handsome woman. Any man would be happy to be in his shoes with her tonight. The fact that she insisted on wrapping herself in the new pareu, with evidently no other clothing underneath, boded well for the evening to follow.

  She smiled lazily at him and traced a finger down his arm. “Most men who are as successful as you, Spencer Jackson, are either old or have inherited their wealth. You do impress me with what you’ve already accomplished with your photography at only thirty years old. You’ve established a national reputation as a naturalist photographer, have published five coffee-table books that my clients simply drool over, and own your own gallery here in the mountains.”

  Leena looked around the room. “This is a lovely mountain home you built up here on the ridgetops.” She gave him a wide smile, showing perfect white teeth. “But it must get awfully lonely here. Personally, I think I’d need the pace, noise, and happenings of the city to stay happy, but this would certainly be a nice little retreat when I wanted to get away from it all.”

  He scowled. It vexed him how Leena so readily dismissed his new home. He’d planned and saved for it for a long time, and it had taken him many hikes and exploration trips before he found the perfect spot to construct it on.

  She stretched languidly. “If your reputation continues to build, Spencer, you could open another gallery in Atlanta. I think it would go very well. I would certainly help you to promote it. And we could find you a stunning apartment or town house downtown, perhaps in Buckhead.” She traced a red-tipped nail up his arm again. “We might see each other a lot more often if you lived closer to me.”

  Her message was obvious—that she could hardly see herself living happily here. Spencer stood up, slightly irritated that she kept flippantly devaluing the life he loved. “I’ve got to run back to the bathroom, Leena. You enjoy your wine until I get back.”

  She giggled and ran a hand down his thigh as he stood up. “I think you’ll find what you’re looking for in the drawer right beside your bedside table, darling.”

  As Spencer walked back through the house into his spacious master bedroom, he thought about her comment. How did she know where he kept anything? Was that a guess or had she rummaged around in the drawers in his bedroom?

  Spencer felt a shiver crawl up his spine. The shopgirl’s words from earlier in the day floated through his mind again. In the bedroom now, Spencer began to methodically search his drawers, closets, and possessions.

  When he returned, he walked casually toward Leena with a smile, leaned over to kiss her, and then picked up her designer briefcase and purse to carry across the room with him to a side table.

  “I doubt those would have been in the way, darling.” Her eyes followed him, filled with amusement.

  As he put both on the table, he started to rummage through them.

  Leena’s eyes flared. “Whatever are you looking for, Spencer?”

  He pulled out a roll of hundred-dollar bills from her purse and then two gold chains he discovered in her makeup case. In a side pocket in her briefcase, he found the small velvet box he’d been looking for.

  Spencer held them up. “Are you short of money, Leena, or do you simply have one of those psychological compulsions to steal from people?”

  She shrugged, unruffled by his accusation.
I thought I might get a little of your jewelry valued. People seldom realize what their things are worth.”

  Spencer rolled his eyes in exasperation. “And did you intend to get my money valued, too?”

  She gave him a haughty glare. “What makes you think that isn’t my money, Spencer? I always carry cash with me. Many small businesses still don’t accept credit cards.”

  “Nice try.” Spencer opened the roll of hundreds and peeled through them. “Except that I always keep a lucky two-dollar bill rolled up in my cash roll.” He held it up for her to see. “It’s not likely you would also do that, Leena.”

  She gave him a pouty look. “Fair is fair, Spencer. You’re getting something for yourself tonight. I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t take away a little something for myself, too.”

  “A call-girl fee?” Spencer blew out a breath. “Usually that is agreed on up front when it’s appropriate.”

  “So fine. Be difficult.” She flounced off the sofa with a sulky expression. “It’s too bad you had to go snooping and mess everything up. We might have enjoyed a really nice time tonight. I’ve found artists are generally good lovers.”

  Spencer winced. “I could call the police, Leena. Theft is a serious problem, especially if you do it often.”

  She walked over smoothly to pick up her briefcase and purse. “I’m usually generously compensated without needing to add any extra. But I wasn’t sure with you. You seemed like the quiet, ethical, frugal type.” She shrugged. “I’ll go change and you can take me back down the mountain to my hotel. I’ll get the limo to the airport on my own in the morning. We’ll just let this little episode be forgotten between us.”

  Leena studied him with candid eyes. “We both have too much to lose to do anything else, don’t we, Spencer? I have rich clients you need, and you have a rich talent I can present to them.”

  Spencer watched, stunned, as she walked back toward his bedroom.

  She turned and smiled at him. “Don’t worry. There isn’t anything else I want in there.” She gestured toward his bedroom. “You don’t really have much of value here, you know, darling. You’re a rather Spartan man from what I can see. It’s doubtful we would have done more than enjoyed a night of fun together.”

  Leena began to untie the pareu as she walked back to change her clothes.

  Anger and resentment flickered through Spencer’s system at her words. He clenched his fist as Leena nonchalantly closed the bedroom door.

  Zeke, Spencer’s German shepherd, picked up on Spencer’s emotions and growled softly. Zeke never growled unless there was real danger threatening his owner.

  Spencer turned to the dog, who’d risen from his bed by the fire, his fur beginning to bristle. “It’s all right, boy. We’ve just entertained a high-class thief here tonight.”

  Spencer put the bills, necklaces, and ring box into the drawer of the side table. The only thing he would have deeply regretted losing was the ring. His maternal grandmother, Lillian Chatsworth, who he stayed with through his college years in Savannah, had given it to him. She said she wanted him to give the ring to the woman he would marry one day. The ring was an old family piece that could hardly be replaced, whether Spencer ever married or not.

  An hour later, Spencer had driven Leena back to her hotel and he now sat brooding by the fire in the dark, thinking about the evening. He could have called the Gatlinburg police chief, Bill Magee, and had Leena Evanston picked up and booked. He still could. He wasn’t sure why he hesitated to do so. Perhaps because of the situation. It was embarrassing to have entertained a thief for dinner. And to have hoped for further intimacies with the same thief.

  Truthfully, Spencer felt like a royal ass. He obviously had shown no discernment of character in this situation. Yet some little shopgirl had seen it all coming. That rankled, even though Spencer knew he had the girl to thank that he’d become suspicious of Leena Evanston at all and not lost his money, jewelry— and possibly more—to Leena before the evening was said and done. It wasn’t true that he didn’t have other valuable things in the house. She just hadn’t found them.

  He motioned to Zeke to come over for an affectionate scratch. Seeming to read his master’s disappointment, the shepherd wagged his tail with friendly enthusiasm and gave Spencer a consoling nudge. He petted the big dog with pleasure, grateful for the animal’s genuine devotion and loyalty. These qualities seemed to be a rare commodity in this world today.

  The phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. Spencer picked it up and heard his brother Bowden’s smooth voice on the line. Great. Just what he needed tonight.

  “Hey, Two Spence, what’s up with you?” He used one of the old derogatory nicknames he’d always used for Spencer. This one had come from a time when Spencer’s grandfather, Stettler Jackson, said Spencer was a smart kid but not worth two cents in sales and public relations. Of course, he’d turned immediately, laid his hand on Bowden’s shoulder, and said Bowden was a regular chip off the old block and a born natural with the public.

  Spencer sighed. “To what do I owe the honor of this call, Bowden?”

  “No need to get testy, Spence. I am your big brother, after all. I should be able to call my little brother to say hi—and I ought to get a warmer welcome in return.”

  Spencer struggled to make an effort to be cordial. “How are Mother and Dad, Bowden? Is everyone well?”

  “We’re all fine. Not that you would know since you never darken any of our doors.” He paused. “That’s why I’m calling, Spence. Mother and Dad are having their big fortieth anniversary this summer, and it would mean a lot to them, to all of us, if you would come.”

  Spencer hesitated.

  He heard Bowden blow out an irritated breath. “Brother, it’s time to let bygones be bygones with old grudges. We are your family, after all. You need to act like a grown-up and come home to wish your parents happiness on this occasion.”

  Easy for you to say, Spencer thought. You always fit into the family business like a glove. You were Grandfather Jackson and our parents’ favorite child. And you married Geneva. You could have had anyone, but you had to marry the one girl I loved. Had to steal her away from me while I was away at college. And now you expect me to come home and act like everything is still the same? I don’t think so.

  Bowden seemed to sense his thoughts in the silence. “Mother and Dad will send you an invitation for their anniversary later, but I wanted to call and ask especially that you would come. It would mean a lot to them, Spence. To all of us. It’s been twelve years since you’ve really been home for a visit with the family. It’s time, buddy.”

  A peculiar thought went through Spencer’s mind that Bowden would have been impressed to see him with a girl like Leena Evanston tonight. To see a girl like that coming on to him, interested in him. She was the kind of girl who used to always notice Bowden and completely overlook Spencer. He had an odd wish that Bowden could have been here to see Leena slinking around in her turquoise wrap, running her fingernails up his arm. He’d have liked for Bowden to see that.

  “I’ll think about it, Bowden,” he said. “I’ll see what my schedule is like later. Check whether I can get away from the gallery.”

  He heard Bowden laugh. “You mean you’ll try specifically to see that you’re too busy to come, don’t you? That’s been the pattern so far through every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and family occasion since.”

  Spencer was silent.

  “You shouldn’t make Mother and Dad pay for your being mad at me, Eagle Boy.” It was another of Bowden’s taunting nicknames, based on Spencer’s young dream to become an Eagle Scout. He’d made it, too. He’d fulfilled a lot of his dreams—despite his family’s lack of support or encouragement.

  Spencer shook his head in the dark room. None of them ever seemed to realize how hurt he’d been when Bowden married Geneva. Or even cared how he felt. It had always been about Bowden. Whatever Bowden the golden boy wanted, Bowden the golden boy got.

  A flame spurted up in t
he fireplace and then died down. Spencer watched it thoughtfully. Nothing had changed. He saw no reason to go home again.

  “When is the anniversary?” Spencer asked, knowing he had no intention of going to it. “I’ll make a note of it and see what I can do.”

  He mentally noted the date in early June and then, after a few more words with Bowden, managed to get off the phone.

  There was a full moon out, and Spencer wandered onto the porch at the front of his house. Hungry to get a closer look at the moon, he started down a short trail by the house, whistling to Zeke to follow.

  The trail led through a grove of trees and then out onto a rocky ledge overlooking the valley below. Even in the dark, he could see the shadows of the mountains in the distance. The views from the ridgetop here were spectacular. It was a special place. The night was clear, and a world of stars lay scattered across the sky like shimmering crystals against black velvet.

  Tucked up against a rocky cliff at a point the locals called the Raven’s Den, Spencer found the makeshift structure. It had attracted him from the first day he explored this property. A series of rough beams held up a simple roof of wood boards, sticks, and thatch. At the front of the structure, a crude, stone wall had been erected, and over it lay a wide shelf of boards. From the rafters above the wall hung a motley array of bird feeders and wind chimes. Rickety benches and chairs had been brought into the hut, along with a rough worktable.

  Spencer smiled as he saw it again in the moonlight. A child’s playhouse, he’d decided. But the animals and birds loved it. They obviously held happy memories of being fed here in times past. As soon as he bought the property, Spencer began to put out seed, suet, and dried corn for his visitors. When the house builders measured off the property and asked if he wanted the shed torn down, he said no. It looked too much like the playhouses of his own youth he’d built and treasured.

  “I escaped out of doors many times to a hideaway like this to think and dream,” Spencer told the dog, who followed a few steps behind him.

 

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