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Late Bloomer

Late Bloomer

by Fern Michaels

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Buried secrets and past betrayals, old friendships and new beginnings are at the heart of this rich, compelling bestseller from Fern Michaels, one of today's most popular novelists.

Twenty years after a childhood accident left a permanent shadow over her life, Cady Jordan has returned to her Pennsylvania hometown. Her beloved grandmother Lola, a retired movie star, needs Cady's care—but soon after arriving at Lola's lavish estate, it's clear that the colorful actress will be Cady's mentor to living life to the fullest. Cady wants nothing more than to come out of her shell, but to do so means resurrecting her lost memories of the day when a foolish stunt ended with a young bully's death and Cady's serious injury—a tragedy for which her friends held Cady responsible. They're adults now—a lawyer, a businessman, a stay-at-home mom. And a police chief: Boomer Ward, whose flaring attraction works on Cady's guarded heart. Now, Cady must determine who can be trusted as she draws closer to Boomer and confronts those who wish she'd never returned. Old wounds may be healed, but can Cady close a door on her heartache and embrace a bright new life?

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743477536
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 02/11/2003
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 2,449
File size: 927 KB

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels has a passion for romance, often with a dash of suspense and drama. It stems from her other joys in life—her family, animals, and historic home. She is usually found in South Carolina, where she is either tapping out stories on her computer, rescuing or supporting animal organizations, or dabbling in some kind of historical restoration.


Summerville, South Carolina

Place of Birth:

Hastings, Pennsylvania


High School

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Brentwood, California

Twenty Years Later

Cady Jordan felt sick to her stomach and wasn't sure why. She looked down at the pizza she was eating as if it were the culprit. She'd already consumed four slices. Two would have been enough. She couldn't ever remember eating four slices, much less five. She dropped the wedge in her hand into the box. It wasn't just a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach she was experiencing. She was jittery, too, her right eye twitching, something that only happened when she was under a great deal of stress. She sighed as she swigged from a can of Coca-Cola. Just what she needed, caffeine for her already jangled nerves.

Cady tucked her yellow tee shirt into her worn, faded jeans. Her favorite jeans. They had to be ten years old at least. Holes in both knees, the back pockets long since gone. She would never give them up because they were like an old friend. Like Pete, Andy, and Amy. She decided to make a fashion statement and tied a yellow ribbon she plucked from the doorknob around her ponytail. Now, she was ready.

The sounds of the movers seemed exceptionally loud to her ears. Maybe that's why she was jittery. No one liked to pack up and move. She thought of all the hours she'd spent packing her belongings, being extra careful to wrap the dishes and glassware securely. Her books, mostly hardcover novels and reference books, had taken up an unbelievable twenty-five boxes. Brentwood, California, was a long way from Indigo Valley, Pennsylvania, where her grandmother had grown up and returned to live after being away for so long.

The grunts and groans of the movers in the living room reminded her that she still had some miscellaneous packing to do before the movers left. She got up and took the last of the small appliances out of the pantry.

Her grandmother needed her, at least that's what her mother had implied. Not that she really paid much attention to what her mother said these days. Then she thought about her grandmother's age, and the fact that she'd been in the hospital. That alone couldn't be good. It was time to pay her grandmother back a little for all the wonderful things she had done for her. Her grandmother had always been there for her, even putting her own life on hold to take care of her after her accident. Now it was her turn to put her life, such as it was, on hold. How could she not head back to Pennsylvania to help in whatever way she could?

If it wasn't that her grandmother needed her, she probably would have stayed right where she was for the rest of her life. New places, meeting new people intimidated her. When she bought the house in Brentwood five years ago, she'd thought she was putting down roots. What she was really doing was picking a nice safe haven where she could work at her own pace and not have to get involved too much with people. Writing technical manuals for Integrated Circuits, Inc. part-time allowed her the freedom to choose her own hours as well as her own workplace, thus enabling her to work on her dissertation and still remain independent of her parents and grandmother. She might have thought she was putting down roots, but what could she possibly know about that process? She had never been rooted anywhere when she was growing up because her mother and father had always lived like gypsies, moving from town to town, preaching the gospel according to Asa Jordan.

On her eighteenth birthday, when her parents had announced they would be moving again, right after her high school graduation, Cady had made the decision to stay where she was, get a job, and work her way through college. She had graduated from UCLA with a master's in English and was just months away from getting her doctorate. Now she would have to put that goal on hold.

At least she wouldn't have to give up her job. Although writing technical manuals for a Los Angeles-based electronics firm wasn't the writing career she had dreamed of, it paid the bills.

One of the movers popped his head into the kitchen. "That's the last of what's in the front, miss. Do you have any last-minute items you want to go into the truck?"

"Just this stool and a few boxes there by the pantry. I guess I'll see you in Indigo Valley in seven days. You have my grandmother's phone number, right? And the name and address of the storage company where you'll be delivering my things?" The man nodded and she handed over a check and waited while the driver scribbled his name and logged in the check number and recorded the amount. He ripped off a yellow copy that said Recipient on it and handed it to her. She shoved it into her purse.

She could feel tears burn her eyes when the door closed behind the mover. How empty everything looked. She knew if she shouted, the words would echo around the entire house. Moving was such a sad business. She swiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt before dumping the empty soda can into the pizza box that she would deposit into the trash when she closed the door behind her for the last time.

The house, a 1930s California bungalow, was ready for its new owner, a young professor and his wife. She'd lucked out when she posted a notice on the university bulletin board and was able to sell the house without going through a Realtor. She'd also made a handsome profit in the bargain.

Now it was time to go. Time to get into the car and drive cross-country. She wished she had a dog. She'd always promised herself that she would get a dog when the time was right. A lot of things could happen to a young woman traveling alone across the country. A shudder rippled up and down her body. Fear was a terrible thing. She should know, she'd lived with it almost her entire life.

The fear hadn't entered her life gradually. It had grabbed hold of her when she'd woken up in the hospital to the agonizing pain, with no memory of what had happened to her. The fear had stayed with her for the next three years as she'd fought and struggled to learn how to walk all over again. She might have had a chance of conquering the fear had she been allowed to stay with her beloved grandmother but that hadn't happened. The day the doctors told her she could leave, her parents had whisked her away.

And now she was returning to the town where she'd had the accident she couldn't remember. Just the thought made her jittery and nervous. Or was it her fear returning all over again?

Cady stood in the open doorway staring at the empty rooms. She hadn't entertained much while she'd lived there. That was her own fault since she didn't have any real, true friends. She had a friend she jogged with. A friend she played tennis with and a friend she went out to dinner with on occasion. The plain and simple truth was, she preferred her own company to making small talk and pretending to be interested in people's lives that were just as boring as her own. As for men friends, there had been a few. None of them made her want to walk down the aisle.

Was it because she really wasn't interested in pursuing relationships or was it because she was afraid? She'd had friendships with guys when she was younger, and look what it had gotten her. When she got this far along in her thoughts, she backtracked, and convinced herself she was content being by herself. Why did she need to fight off guys on the prowl and listen to her female friends plot and seek ways to snatch a guy from some unsuspecting friend only to lose both in the end? She liked her life just the way it was, thank you very much.

She looked down at her watch. If she wanted to, she could go to the SPCA and rescue a dog. She tried to talk herself out of doing it, unsure if her timing was right or wrong. What if the dog got sick in the car? What if the motels she stopped in wouldn't allow a dog? What if...a lot of things. An animal lover friend of hers had once lectured about how many dogs and cats were destroyed every year because their owners had either lost them or just didn't want them anymore.

She had never been one to spout ideals or get involved with causes. She had more or less skated through life after the accident, keeping to herself and doing her own thing. But the idea of saving a dog was suddenly very appealing.

Cadwell Sophia Jordan, named after her maternal and fraternal grandmothers, never made a decision until she talked it to death, made a blueprint, then ran it up an invisible flagpole to see if it was a decision worth saluting. It was always better to err on the side of caution. Predictability was her philosophy. It all came down to that one word again, fear.

Cadwell Sophia Jordan, a.k.a. Cady Jordan, ignored her own credo for the first time in her life and climbed into her four-by-four. Her destination, the SPCA.

Thirty-five minutes later she was staring into the dark eyes of a mangy, filthy, scrawny German shepherd named Atlas. "I'll take him."

"Good choice. He's about three years old. He was picked up on the street. He was wearing a collar that was little more than a string, and his name tag was matted into his coat. That's how we know his name is Atlas. He's a good dog," the young boy said. "Once he's cleaned up and a vet checks him over, I'd say you got yourself a great dog. Give him a good life, and he'll love you forever. That's fifteen dollars for the leash and five dollars for the dog."

Cady handed over a twenty-dollar bill. The dog cowered when she reached out to him. She dropped to her knees and whispered softly. "I know how you feel. If you trust me, we'll be okay. I'm just going to put this leash on you, and we're going to a vet I know. It's okay, Atlas. I'll never hurt you."

"He has some scars on his back, miss. My thinking would be, somebody mistreated him along the way. Good food, some vitamins, and a lot of love will make him right as rain."

"Okay." Physical abuse, mental abuse, what was the difference? she thought. Abuse was abuse.

"I'm sorry he doesn't have any gear. I can't even give you any food. We're short on rations here. I guess you know we depend on donations." His voice sounded as hopeful as he looked.

"I see. I guess I'm not thinking clearly. I'd like to make a donation. How does two hundred dollars sound?"

"Two hundred dollars sounds great. We can buy a lot of dog food and a lot of Clorox with that much money."

Cady wrote out the check and handed it over. She felt better than she'd felt in a long time. "Okay, Atlas, it's time to start your new life. Maybe we can do it together. We're going to Indigo Valley by way of Burger King, the vet, and a pet store."

Atlas settled his bony frame in the passenger side of Cady's Mercury Mountaineer. He looked tired and wary as he dropped his head onto his paws. He didn't perk up until she swerved the four-by-four into the drive-through lane at Burger King. The smell of grilling hamburgers permeated the air. She ordered five double cheeseburgers, a large Coke, a bottle of water, and an empty cup.

"Okay, I'm going to pull into one of these parking spaces, and we'll eat here." For some reason she expected the dog to wolf down the food, but he didn't. He ate slowly and methodically. He drank almost the entire bottle of water, then he whimpered. "I get it. I get it. You gotta go. Listen, Atlas, I've never had a dog before, so you're going to have to help me here. You know, bark, whine, whatever. I know you're going to have accidents, but we'll work on that. Careful, careful, it's a drop to the ground. Do your thing," she said, letting go of the retractable leash to give him room to roam, which he did. When he was finished he walked to the door of the truck and waited until Cady opened it. He hopped in, settled down, and went to sleep.

Two hours later a disgruntled Atlas climbed back into the truck. This time he was exhausted from being bathed and groomed and his trip to the pet store, where Cady bought everything the salesgirl said she would need. She even bought a seat belt harness that Atlas did not like at all. He settled down when she scratched his belly and spoke soothingly to him. At one point, he licked her hand in appreciation. Tears blurred her vision as she slipped the Mountaineer into gear.

Getting Atlas was the first unorthodox, serendipitous thing she'd done since she was a little kid back in Indigo Valley. She decided she liked what she was feeling. Maybe it was time for her to do more unorthodox, serendipitous things.

"I think we can drive for about five hours, then we'll stop. I'll turn on the radio for company since you're going to sleep." The dog opened one sleepy eye, then closed it, knowing he was in safe hands.

Six days later, Cady stopped the car along the side of the road and pulled out her map. She should know the area. After all, she had lived there for ten years when she was growing up, but it all looked so different, with little clusters of housing developments, fast-food outlets, and new roads. She'd looked for familiar landmarks on the drive in, but the only thing she'd recognized was the town square and St. Paul's Church. She looked up from the map to see Atlas slapping at the car window with his paws. "Twenty years ago this was my hometown. I don't know if I love this place or hate it. I should be feeling something, but I'm not," she muttered to herself.

Where was her grandmother's house? Her mother had told her it was the only house on a street called Indigo Place. A street that her grandmother had named when she had had her house built. She wondered how that could be. She saw it then, a curlicue of a street that appeared to be tucked behind what looked like some high-end real estate. The sign said it was a gated community. She slipped the Mountaineer into gear and drove slowly, paying careful attention to the street signs.

Cady sucked in her breath. It wasn't a house. It was probably called an estate. Or, maybe, a creation would be a better word. Whatever it was, it was certainly befitting of Lola Jor Dan.

"This is it, Atlas. Our new home. I told you all about Lola on the long drive here. She used to be a famous movie star. She was wild and wicked during her heyday. They called her a sex symbol even back then. She had six husbands and buried them all. My father was so ashamed of her, he would never tell anyone she was his mother. Mom pretended she didn't exist, but that was because of my dad. I think she secretly admired Lola. Dad said she was a disgrace to the name Jordan, and that's why she changed it to Jor Dan. I loved her. Still do." Atlas barked to show he understood.

Cady reached across the console to tickle the shepherd behind the ears. She'd only had the big dog a little more than six days, but they had bonded that first night when they'd slept together in the cargo hold. He'd put on a few pounds, and his eyes were now bright and alert. She loved him as much as he loved her.

She stopped the car in front of a pair of huge, green, wrought-iron gates. "I guess we're supposed to press this buzzer, and maybe someone will open those huge gates. Boy, if this place is as big as it looks, you are going to have some playground to romp around in."

"Yes?" a woman's hollow voice sounded through a grille in the stone wall next to the gate.

"I'm Cady Jordan. I'm here to see my grandmother."

Inside the house, Mandy Ebersole, retired stuntwoman and lifelong companion to Lola Jor Dan, looked at Anthony Borellie, another lifelong friend of Lola's, and grinned. "She's here! That should perk Herself up a bit, don't you think?"

The retired film director grinned and nodded. "Some young blood around here is just what we need. Let's see what she's made of."

"Do you have an appointment?" the faceless voice asked.

"No. Do I need one?"

"Yes, you need an appointment. Miss Jor Dan does not receive callers. She's retired and likes her privacy." Cady thought she could hear the woman sniff.

"She'll see me. Tell her if you don't open these gates, I'll plow them down. Now, hop to it. My dog is getting antsy," Cady said with more bravado than she felt. It was the second most unorthodox, serendipitous thing she'd ever done.

"Dog?" Inside the house the two conspirators looked at one another. "She's got some spit to her. Lola's going to love this. She is, isn't she, Anthony?" The director nodded uneasily.

"D-o-g! Dog. It rhymes with log or bog or hog. Take your pick. Please tell my grandmother I'm here. I'll give you five minutes, or these gates are going to go down."

Atlas woofed his agreement. "I sounded tough, didn't I? I didn't mean it, though," Cady whispered. Atlas woofed again just as the gates swung open.

Cady drove a mile up a long winding road that was lined with poplar trees. The grounds were lush and well tended with what looked like acres of flowers and carefully pruned topiary. Her jaw dropped. Outside of a movie set, she'd never seen anything so beautiful. Off to her right she could see a tennis court and a grottolike swimming pool. Did her eighty-two-year-old grandmother play tennis and swim? Maybe in her younger years. So, who availed themselves of these sumptuous surroundings? Why did her grandmother need a six-car garage? Who lived in the two Hansel-and-Gretel-looking cottages in the back? So many questions.

The car came to a grinding halt in front of the house. She craned her neck to stare at the imposing white columns and was reminded of pictures of Tara. Lola had a soft spot in her heart for anything concerning Gone With the Wind. She remembered her grandmother telling her how she'd missed out on playing Scarlett because her studio wouldn't let her out of her contract. Lola had a story for everything.

Cady's heartbeat quickened as she got out of the car. Surely her mother had notified Lola that she was on her way. On the other hand, Agnes Jordan might have felt it was her husband's place to tell his mother she was on her way. If it had been left up to Asa Jordan, then this visit was going to come as a total surprise to her grandmother.

Lola did love surprises. Cady hoped she was going to like this one. She'd played with the idea of calling her grandmother and always ended up saying, no, she'll try to talk me out of making the trip. Cady figured that if she sold her house, packed her stuff, and just came, Lola would have to let her stay and take care of her. If there was one thing she knew about her grandmother, it was that she liked being independent. Thus, the element of surprise. Lola would never turn her away. Never.

She wished she knew more about her grandmother's health. All she had to go on was her mother's phone call. That in itself was reason enough for alarm because her mother never called her. When she'd asked what was wrong with Lola, her mother had said, she's old, things go wrong when you get old. Her voice had been so controlled, so onimous-sounding, Cady had felt fear race up her arms. She knew in that one split second that she had to go to her grandmother. If it turned out to be a hangnail, so be it.

Cady opened the door for Atlas. She attached the leash to his collar and walked up the four steps that led to the wide verandah. The huge double doors opened just as she reached the fourth step. She stopped and pulled Atlas to her side. "I'm Cady Jordan, Lola's granddaughter."

"Yes, you did say that back at the gate. Come in. You should have called ahead, Cady. Miss Lola doesn't like surprises."

"I thought my mother or father called. I guess they forgot," Cady said lamely. "Is my grandmother all right?"

"Now that depends on what you mean by all right. Well, don't stand there, come into the house. That's a sorry-looking excuse for a dog. Don't let him mess in the house."

"Just a minute, whoever you are. You can say what you want about me, but leave my dog out of it. He was beaten and starved before I got him. He's doing fine now, thanks to me. My grandmother likes dogs. Who are you?"

"I'm Mandy. I'm the housekeeper, the companion, and the secretary, plus a lot of other things. You're just a visitor, so you shouldn't be asking questions. Do you have a problem with all of this?" A round butterball of a man stood behind the housekeeper, his eyes sparkling as he listened to the verbal exchange.

The housekeeper had to be as old or almost as old as her grandmother. She had a mouth on her just like her grandmother's. "I remember now. You were Lola's double. She used to tell me about you. She said you were the greatest stuntwoman to come out of Hollywood, and she would never have been the actress she was without your help." Cady's hand shot out. "I'm very pleased to see you again. And you must be Anthony, Lola's director. She said no one but you were fit to direct her. It's a pleasure meeting you, too." Not to be outdone, Atlas barked and held up his paw.

"Herself said that now, did she?" The woman and man seemed evidently pleased with Cady's compliment. Mandy seemed to be debating something with herself before she finally spoke. "You haven't seen Lola in over a year. She's not doing all that well. She lies and says she's fit as a fiddle. She can walk, but mostly she stays in her wheelchair. Part of it is pure stubbornness and to some extent laziness. She has osteoporosis. I saw her X rays. And she has a heart condition. Neither is life-threatening at this time. She claims to be ready to die, but that's a lie, too. What's the dog's name?"

"Atlas. They have medicine for osteoporosis. The wife of one of my professors had it, and I remember him mentioning it to me."

"You'll have to talk to Herself about that. She's in the sunroom. I told her you were here, and she's excited. I haven't seen her this excited since we moved here ten years ago. Please try to be cheerful, and don't be shocked by her appearance."

A feeling of dread settled over Cady as she led Atlas forward.

She knew the sunroom was beautiful because Lola liked beautiful things. Later, when she wasn't in such shock, she would peruse the entire house. Right now, all she could see was her once-beautiful grandmother huddled in her wheelchair, an outlandish Dolly Parton wig on her small head. She was made-up, but then she was always made-up, and often boasted that none of her six husbands had ever seen her without her makeup. Now, though, the expensive, theatrical makeup only made her look more gaunt and haggard. Her green eyes were bright and alert when she smiled at her granddaughter. "What a lovely surprise! How are you, precious? If you had called to tell me you were coming, I would have rolled out the red carpet for you. It's wonderful to see you, Cady."

"I'm fine, Lola," Cady said, hugging her grandmother. "Are you saying you didn't know I was coming? Mom told me someone from the hospital called her and said you needed your family. Dad's not well, and Mom has her hands full with him. I decided to come instead. I up and sold my house, got myself this dog, then drove cross-country. I still can't believe I did that. But I'm here, and that's all that matters."

"What you're saying is Asa couldn't be bothered to come or even call me, is that it?"

Cady shrugged. The bad blood between her father and her grandmother was legendary.

"I cut him out of my will. He doesn't deserve to have me as a mother. That poor excuse of a mother of yours isn't much better. I still can't figure out how you turned out so well. If you discount that little episode when you were a child. I'm delighted that you're here, child. I truly am, but to answer your question, no, I did not know you were coming. Hospitals call family because they feel...well, whatever it is they feel. I told them not to call, but obviously they didn't listen to me."

"I can get an apartment in town. I have Atlas now."

"Nonsense. This house has seventeen rooms, and the two cottages in the rear have five rooms each. We have plenty of room. If I seem less than enthusiastic, it's because I'm shocked to see you. I missed my trips to Los Angeles last year because I opted to go to Europe to see if they could help me. Aside from an entire bone transplant, there was nothing they could do for me."

"I should have come here. I didn't know there was anything wrong, Lola. I thought you were just too busy to visit. Why didn't you say something? I would have come sooner."

"You're a young woman, Cady. You don't need to be saddled with an old woman. I don't want to be a burden on anyone. You have your own life to live. You are living it, aren't you? Oh, don't tell me you're still hibernating and living in that little community because it's safe and oh-so-boring. Is there a young man in your life?"

"Absolutely." Cady grinned as she pointed to Atlas.

"So you aren't over it. Cady, Cady, when are you going to start to live? Ever since that accident, you haven't been the same. I think you might have had a chance if your parents had allowed me to keep you. But no, they came and got you and took you to all those different towns -- in how many different states? -- before they settled in that backwoods place in Vermont. I was good enough for them for the three years it took for your rehabilitation, but after that, I was just a glitzy movie star who'd had one face-lift too many and shamed them. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge one minute of those three years. I thought I was going to die when they took you away. You cried so hard my heart broke."

"Let's not talk about Mom and Dad or...that time. Let's talk about you. I want to know how this all happened, and I want to know what I can do for you."

Lola grimaced. "Years of decadent living, I guess. The condition is irreversible, so let's not waste our time talking about it. I had a great life, and if I had it to do all over again, I'd do it all the same way. I lived every single minute of my life. As to what you can do, well, you can help me with my memoirs. Mandy said she has many capabilities, but writing isn't one of them. I had previously thought about talking into a recorder and sending you the tapes. That was on my good days. On my bad days I decided no one would be interested enough in an old film star to buy the book. I've outlived all the people I would include in the book, so there isn't anyone left to sue me if I go ahead and decide to write it. What do you think, Cady?"

"I think it's a wonderful idea if you tell everything. Are you prepared to do that?" Cady grinned.

"Your father will dig a hole and crawl into it if I do that. How did you survive living in that household with all that sanctimonious crap the two of them spout? What's wrong? You're white as a ghost."

"What...what did you just say?"

"Mandy, get the child some brandy. I just said your father would dig a hole and crawl into it. He would, you know. He's my son and he hates me. I don't much care for him either. The truth is, he doesn't like anyone, not even your mother."

"No, no, you said something else. You said...you said sanctimonious. I...know that word. It means something to me."

"I guess you would know it having lived with them." Lola leaned forward in her chair, her green gaze locking on Cady. "Or, do you mean the word has something to do with that episode in your life that you can't remember?"

Cady shivered, her eyes miserable. Atlas moved closer to her leg. She fondled his ears. "You know what I think, Lola. I think I'm just tired from the cross-country trip. I got all wired up when the movers came. All of a sudden I felt like something was hanging over my head, and it's stayed with me. I can't seem to shake it loose."

"Never try to force anything. Maybe coming back here after all these years, you'll finally get your memory back. They say you can't go home again, but that isn't true. I came back to Indigo Valley. And now you've come back. When I left, there were four stores and sixteen houses. I think the population was around three hundred. Now the little town is a city of forty thousand people. I imagine it's changed even more in the twenty years since you've been here.

"Cady, dear, I know that we've talked about this in the past and I know how you feel about Indigo Valley. I know why you never wanted to come back here, and it's all right. That's why I always visited you in California. I knew it would be a trauma for you to come here. And now you're here. I think I always knew you'd come, I just didn't know when. I told Mandy and Anthony the day would finally come when you would want to explore your past. I think that time is finally here. I'm just so very glad to see you.

"Mandy, show Cady to her room. It's time for my nap, too. Give her the Ginger Rogers suite. Dinner is at seven-thirty. Would you like Mandy to make something special for your dog? He looks like he could use some good food."

"He pretty much eats what I do. I tried dog food, but he won't eat it." Cady dropped to her knees in front of her grandmother's wheelchair. "I wish you had told me you weren't feeling well. There was nothing keeping me in California. I can study and do my job anywhere. Just because Mom and Dad..."

"Shhh," Lola said, putting her finger to her lips. "It's all right. In all fairness to your father, I wasn't a perfect mother. Hell, I wasn't even a good mother. Oh, well, that's all in the past. I'm so glad you're here, Cady."

"Me too, Grandma."

"None of that Grandma stuff. You always called me Lola from the time you were able to talk. Don't stop now. I don't need to feel any older than I am. Go along and take a nice shower and a little nap. We can talk all night long if you want."

Cady kissed her grandmother's wrinkled cheek. She was appalled at how thin and bony her shoulders were. She could feel tears start to burn her eyes. She should have come sooner. A lot sooner.

"This is the Ginger Rogers suite," Mandy said, opening the door and standing aside for Cady to enter. "I'll have your bags brought up shortly. If you want or need anything, just press the buzzer on the phone console. It's clearly marked."

"Thank you. We'll be fine."

While Atlas meandered around the suite of rooms sniffing and growling, Cady checked out her surroundings. Aside from a pair of silver, sequined dancing shoes in a glass case, there were no other indications that Ginger Rogers had ever slept there or even visited. She felt disappointed.

It was a showy room straight out of a decorator's portfolio. She sniffed, trying to identify the strange smell. Wallpaper paste, she thought. Everything looked new, unused, and incredibly expensive. The carpeting was thick and hugged her ankles. The drapes were raw silk and brocade to match the custom bedcoverings on the huge four-poster complete with lace canopy. She couldn't help but wonder if Ginger would have been comfortable in a bed you needed a ladder to get into.

Ginger must have liked the color of champagne since the whole room was done in delicate tones of white and gold. A champagne-colored chair with burgundy cushions beckoned her. She just knew Fred Astaire would have loved the chair. She sank down gratefully and swung her legs over the arm. From her position in the chair she could see the sitting room and what was probably a dressing room. Same carpet, same drapes, same chairs.

She hopped off the chair to check out the bathroom. It was blinding in its whiteness. Every single thing was white. She blinked, wishing for sunglasses. She picked up a towel and was surprised at how heavy and thick it was. Not to mention expensive.

Lola had always liked fine things, costly things. She smiled when she remembered some of the presents her grandmother had sent her over the years. Things that were for looking at, not playing with. Things like rare porcelain dolls, fancy jeweled fans from the Orient, a kimono with a fire-eating dragon on the back stitched in gold thread, silver jewelry from Africa, jeweled combs, a sable hat and mittens from Russia. Then there were the wonderful storybooks, her first makeup kit, the pretty cashmere sweaters, the designer handbags, real leather gloves, fine jewelry and perfume. And then there was the time a big truck had pulled up in front of the house with a pony named Edgar. Everything, even Edgar, had been snatched away by her father. She'd never told Lola, though, because she didn't want to hurt her feelings. She'd always sent long thank you notes. She wondered where those wonderful things were now. If she could only regain her memory of that long-ago accident. Atlas whimpered at her feet when he heard her sigh. She reached down to pet him. "I think I need to call my mother and let her know I arrived safely."

Cady fished in her purse for her cell phone and dialed her parents' number. Her mother picked up on the third ring, sounding breathless. "Mom, it's me, Cady. I just wanted you to know I got here safely."

"I knew you would. You're a cautious driver. I was wondering if you would call."

"I said I would, Mom. I got a dog before I left. He was a great car buddy on the trip. Mom, where are all the presents Lola gave me when I was a kid?"

Her mother's voice turned chilly. "We gave some of them away to less fortunate children, and the rest were sold. They were decadent, not appropriate for a child like you."

"Did you ask me if it was okay to do that?"

"No, I don't believe I did. Is it important? Don't tell me Lola wants them back."

"No, Mom, she doesn't want them back. I just wanted to know where they were. For some reason I thought you might have saved them. Did you save anything of mine?"

"No, not really. We moved so often, we had to travel light."

"Aren't you going to ask how Lola is? You said Dad was going to call her to tell her I was coming. He didn't call, Mom. I felt like a fool barging in here. Couldn't he have called her, Mom?"

Cady didn't think her mother's voice could get any colder, but it did. "Obviously Lola is well, or you would have said something straight off. I'm no hypocrite. I don't like her, and she doesn't like me. Your father said he was going to call. I want to say he did try and there was no answer. I can't be sure, though. If he was having a bad day, he probably didn't try a second time. I have a cake in the oven, Cady, and I hear your dad calling me, so I have to hang up now."

Cady ignored her and kept talking. "How is Dad?"

"He's the same. Parkinson's disease doesn't get better, only worse. He has good days and bad days. He prays a lot. For some reason God doesn't seem to be responding to his prayers."

"Maybe that's because God knows he's a sinner. He is, you know. Look at how he treats his own mother. Let's not forget the way he treated me when I returned home after the accident. I wish you had left me with Lola."

"That will be enough of that, young woman. I have to hang up now, Cady."

Cady switched off the cell phone before she threw it at the bed. She slid off the chair and sat down next to Atlas. "They're my parents, and I don't even like them. I don't think they like me either. You know what, Atlas, I don't care. Someday I'm going to remember all about that time, and then I'll have the answers to a lot of things. At least I hope I will. C'mon, let's check out the grounds and see if there are any places where you can dig a hole."

Copyright © 2002 by First Draft, Inc.

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