To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still.
She woke in the body of a dead friend. She was eight, tall for her age, fragile of bone, delicate of feature. Her hair was the color of corn silk, and slid prettily down her narrow back. Her mother loved to brush it every night, one hundred strokes with the soft-bristled, silver-backed brush that sat on the graceful cherrywood vanity.
The child's body remembered this, felt this, each long, sustained beat with the brush and how it made her imagine herself a cat being petted. How the light slanted over the pin boxes and the bottles of crystal and cobalt, and struck the silver back of the brush as it flashed over her hair.
She remembered the scent of the room, smelled it even now. Gardenia. Always gardenia for Mama.
And in the mirror, by lamplight, she could see the pale oval of her face, so young, so pretty, with those thoughtful blue eyes and smooth skin. So alive.
Her name was Hope.
The windows and French doors were closed because it was high summer. Heat pressed its damp fingers against the glass, but inside the house the air was cool, and her cotton nightgown stayed so crisp it crackled when she moved.
It was the heat she wanted, and the adventure, but she kept those thoughts inside as she kissed Mama good night. A dainty peck against a perfumed cheek.
Mama had the hall runners taken up and rolled into the attic every June. Now the loblolly pine floors with their coating of paste wax felt slick and smooth under the young girl's bare feet as she wandered out, down the hall with its panels of bald cypress and paintings in thick frames of dull gold. Up the sharp, winding curves of the stairs to her father's study.
There her father's scent. Smoke, leather, Old Spice, and bourbon.
She loved this room, with its rounded walls and big, heavy chairs with leather the color of the port her papa sometimes drank after supper. Here the circling shelves were jammed full with books and treasures. She loved the man who sat behind the enormous desk with his cigar and his shot glass and his ledgers.
The love was an ache of the heart in the woman inside the child, a shaft of longing and of envy for that uncomplicated and complete love.
His voice boomed, his arms were strong and his stomach soft as he enveloped her in a hug that was so different from the gentle and restrained good-night kiss from Mama.
There's my princess, going off to the kingdom of dreams.
What will I dream about, Papa?
Knights and white chargers and adventures over the sea.
She giggled, but rested her head on his shoulder a bit longer than usual, humming a little in her throat like a purring kitten.
Did she know? Somehow did she know she would never sit safe on his lap again?
Back down the stairs, past Cade's room. Not his bedtime, not yet, because he was four years older and a boy and could stay up late on summer nights watching TV or reading books as long as he was up and ready for his chores in the morning.
One day Cade would be the master of Beaux Reves, and sit at the big desk in the tower study with the ledgers. He would do the hiring and firing and oversee the planting and the harvest and smoke cigars at meetings and complain about the government and the price of cotton.
Because he was the son.
That was fine with Hope. She didn't want to have to sit at a desk and add up figures.
She stopped in front of her sister's door, hesitated. It wasn't fine with Faith. Nothing ever seemed to be all right with Faith. Lilah, the housekeeper, said Miss Faith would argue with God Almighty just to irritate Him.
From Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts. (c) January, 2000, Nora Roberts used by permission.
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