Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

  Mark, the oldest, had been appointed as Holly’s guardian, and he had asked Sam to help him raise her.

  “I don’t see how that could work,” Sam had told Mark. “I don’t know the first damn thing about being a family.”

  “You think I do? We had the same parents, remember?”

  “We have no business trying to raise a kid, Mark. Do you know how many ways there are to ruin someone’s life? Especially a little girl’s.”

  “Shut up, Sam.” Now Mark had begun to look worried.

  “What about parent-teacher conferences? Taking her to the men’s room? How do we do stuff like that?”

  “I’ll figure that out. Just let us live here.”

  “What about my sex life?”

  Mark had given him an exasperated glance. “Is that really your priority, Sam?”

  “I’m shallow. Sue me.”

  But eventually, of course, Sam had agreed to the arrangement. He owed it to Mark, who was dealing with a tough situation he’d never expected nor asked for. And even more, he owed it to Victoria. He’d never been close to her, never been there for her, so the least he could do was help her orphaned daughter.

  What Sam hadn’t counted on was that Holly would have stolen his heart with such ease. It had something to do with the artwork and pasta necklaces she brought home from school. And the glimpses of Victoria that he saw in her, the crinkle-nosed grin, her absorbed gaze as she made a box out of Popsicle sticks and glue, or read a book about talking animals. Having a kid in your life changed you before you were even aware of it. It changed your habits and opinions. It changed the things you worried about and hoped for.

  And it made you do dumbass things like adopt an ugly bulldog with eczema and hip problems when no one else wanted him.

  “Here you go, buddy,” Sam said, lifting Renfield from the truck and placing him carefully on the ground. The dog lumbered after him as he walked to the front porch.

  Alex huddled in a battered wicker chair, drinking a beer.

  “Al,” Sam said casually. He kept a close eye on Renfield, who was lumbering up a specially built ramp. Bulldogs and stairs were never a good combination. “What are you doing here?”

  Alex was dressed in frayed jeans and an ancient sweatshirt, completely unlike his usual businesslike attire. His unshaven face was cast with the sullen shadow of a man who’d been drinking steadily for most of the afternoon.

  An unpleasant chill chased down the back of Sam’s neck as he remembered how often their parents had worn that glazed look. It had seemed as if they’d been drinking a different kind of alcohol than everyone else. The liquor that made other people cheerful, relaxed, sexy, had turned Alan and Jessica Nolan into monsters.

  Although Alex had never sunk to that level, he was not his best self while drinking. He became the kind of person Sam wouldn’t have had anything to do with if they weren’t related.

  “Took the afternoon off,” Alex said, raising the bottle to his lips, draining the rest of the beer.

  He was going through a divorce after four years of marriage to a woman he should have known better than to get entangled with in the first place. His wife, Darcy, had managed to chew through a prenup like a beaver through balsa wood, and was now in the process of dismantling the carefully ordered life Alex had worked so hard to build.

  “You met with your lawyer?” Sam asked.


  “How’d it go?”

  “Darcy’s keeping the house and most of the money. Now the lawyers are negotiating for my kidneys.”

  “Sorry. I’d hoped it would work out for you.” Which wasn’t exactly the truth. Sam had never been able to stand Darcy, whose sole ambition in life was to be a trophy wife. Sam would have bet the vineyard that his brother was being traded in for a more affluent husband.

  “I knew when I married her that it wasn’t going to last,” Alex said.

  “Then why’d you do it?”

  “Tax benefits.” Alex glanced quizzically at Renfield, who was butting his head against his leg, and he reached down to scratch the dog’s back. “The thing is,” he said, turning his attention back to Sam, “we’re Nolans. None of us will ever have a marriage that lasts longer than the average house plant.”

  “I’m never getting married,” Sam said.

  “Smart,” Alex said.

  “It has nothing to do with being smart. It’s just that I always feel closer to a woman knowing I can walk away from her at any moment.”

  At the same time, they both detected the smell of something burning, drifting from the open windows. “What the hell is that?” Sam asked.

  “Mark is cooking,” Alex said.

  The front door opened, and Holly rushed outside, giving a little squeal as she saw Sam. He laughed and caught her as she hurled herself at him. When they saw each other at the end of the day, Holly always acted like they had been apart for weeks.

  “Uncle Sam!”

  “Hey, gingersnap.” He gave her a noisy kiss. “How was school?”

  “Miss Duncan taught us some French words today. And I told her I already knew some.”

  “Which ones?”

  “Rouge, blanc, sec, and doux. Miss Duncan asked where I learned those words, so I told her from my uncle, and he’s a winemaker. And then she said she didn’t know the French word for ‘winemaker,’ so we looked it up in the dictionary and we couldn’t find it.”

  “That’s because there isn’t one.”

  The child looked aghast. “Why not?”

  “The closest word they have is ‘vigneron,’ which means vine grower. But the French believe that nature is the winemaker, not the guy who tends the vineyard.”

  Holly touched her nose to his. “When you start making wine from your own grapes, are you going to name one after me?”

  “Of course I am. Should it be a red or a white?”

  “Pink,” Holly said decisively.

  Sam pretended to be appalled. “I do not make pink wine.”

  “Pink and sparkly,” Holly insisted, giggling at his expression. Squirming free of Sam’s embrace, she crouched down to Renfield, who had padded over to her.

  “What is Mark making for dinner?” Sam asked.

  “I can’t tell,” Holly said, scratching Renfield’s neck. “It’s on fire.”

  “It’s fish taco Friday at the Market Chef,” Sam said. “Why don’t you run back in and ask him if he wants to go out to eat tonight?”

  Holly sent Alex a hopeful glance. “Will you come too?”

  Alex shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”

  The child looked concerned. “Are you still having your divorce?”

  “Still having it,” Alex said.

  “When it’s over, are you going to get married again?”

  “Only if I manage to forget what it was like to be married the first time.”

  “Don’t listen to Uncle Alex,” Sam said hastily. “Marriage is great.” He did his best to sound sincere.

  “Marriage is like getting a box of raisins on Halloween,” Alex said. “Someone tries to convince you it’s a treat. But when you open the box, it’s still raisins.”

  “I like raisins,” Holly said.

  Sam smiled at her. “So do I.”

  “Did you know that if you leave grapes under the couch for a really long time, they turn into raisins?”

  Sam’s smile faded, and his brows lowered. “How did you find that out, Holly?”

  A brief hesitation. “Never mind,” she said brightly, and disappeared into the house with Renfield hustling after her.

  Sam considered his brother with a frown. “Alex, do me a favor. Don’t share your opinions about marriage with Holly. I’d like to preserve her illusions until at least the age of eight.”

  “Sure.” Alex set the empty beer bottle on the porch railing and stood. “But if I were you, I’d be careful what you tell her about marriage. At worst it’s a mindfuck, and at best, it’s an outdated institution. The fact is, there probably isn?
??t someone out there who’s just right for you, and if you do find that person, it’s not likely the feeling will be mutual. So if you’re raising Holly to think that life’s a fairy tale, you’re setting her up for some painful lessons in reality.”

  Sam watched his brother walk to the BMW parked on the graveled drive. “Dipshit,” he muttered affectionately as the car drove off. Setting his back against one of the sturdy porch columns, he looked from the closed front door to the planted fields beyond the house, where a former apple orchard was now crossed with rows of young vines.

  He couldn’t help agreeing with Alex’s view of marriage—it was a losing proposition for a Nolan. Whatever genetic combination was required for a person to maintain a lasting relationship, Nolans didn’t have it, with the possible exception of their older brother, Mark. As far as Sam was concerned, however, the risks of marriage far outweighed the potential benefits. He genuinely liked women, enjoyed their company, and he had a hell of a great time in bed with them. The problem was that women tended to attach emotions to the sex act, which always messed up the relationship. And so far even the ones who had claimed to share Sam’s desire for a simple, uncomplicated affair eventually got to the point when they wanted commitment. When it became clear that Sam couldn’t give them what they wanted, they broke up with him and moved on. And so did Sam.

  Luckily he’d never found a woman who had tempted him to give up his freedom. And if he ever did, he knew exactly how to handle it: Run like hell in the opposite direction.


  As the rain worsened, Lucy headed to the place she always went when she wasn’t sure where to go. Her friends Justine and Zoë Hoffman ran a bed-and-breakfast in Friday Harbor, just a two-minute walk from the ferry terminal at the port. The bed-and-breakfast, named Artist’s Point, was a converted mansion with wide porches and picture windows with views of Mount Baker’s blunt crown in the distance.

  Although Justine and Zoë were cousins, they were nothing like each other. Justine was slim and athletic, the kind of person who liked to test herself, see how far she could bike, run, swim. Even when she was sitting still, she gave the impression of being on the move. She was incapable of coyness or dishonesty, and she approached life with a kind of cheerful fortitude that some people found slightly off-putting. When confronted with a problem, Justine didn’t like to dither, she took action, sometimes before she had thought everything through.

  Zoë, on the other hand, measured her decisions as precisely as the ingredients she used for her recipes. She loved nothing more than to loiter at open markets or produce stands, choosing the most perfect organic fruits and vegetables, buying jars of berry jam, lavender honey, crocks of freshly churned butter from an island dairy. Although she had earned a culinary degree, she also relied on instinct. Zoë loved hardcover books and classic movies, and writing letters by hand. She collected vintage brooches and pinned them on an antique dressmaker’s mannequin in her bedroom.

  After Zoë had married and divorced a year later, she had let Justine talk her into helping her run the bed-and-breakfast. Zoë had always worked in restaurants and bakeries, and although she had toyed with the idea of starting her own café, she didn’t want the responsibility of management and accounting. Working with Justine was a perfect solution.

  “I like the business side of it,” Justine had told Lucy. “I don’t mind cleaning, and I can even fix the plumbing, but I can’t cook to save my life. And Zoë’s a domestic goddess.”

  It was true. Zoë loved being in the kitchen, where she effortlessly turned out confections like banana muffins topped with snowy mascarpone cheese frosting, or cinnamon coffee cake baked in an iron skillet with a melting crust of brown sugar. In the afternoons, Zoë set out trays of coffee and sweets in the common areas. Tiered plates were piled with pumpkin cookies sandwiched with cream cheese, chocolate brownies as heavy as paperweights, tarts heaped with shiny glacéed fruit.

  Zoë had been asked out by various guys, but so far she had refused them all. She was still getting over her disaster of a marriage. To Zoë’s chagrin, she had been the only one surprised by the revelation that her husband, Chris, was gay.

  “Everyone knew,” Justine had told her bluntly. “I told you before you married him, but you wouldn’t listen.”

  “Chris didn’t seem gay to me.”

  “What about his obsession with Sarah Jessica Parker?”

  “Straight men like Sarah Jessica Parker,” Zoë said defensively.

  “Yes, but how many of them use Dawn by Sarah Jessica Parker as an aftershave?”

  “It smelled like citrus,” Zoë said.

  “And remember when he took you to Aspen on that ski trip?”

  “Straight men ski in Aspen.”

  “During gay ski week?” Jessica persisted, which Zoë had admitted had probably been a giveaway.

  “And remember how Chris always said ‘everyone has a little gay in them’?”

  “I thought he was being sophisticated.”

  “He was being gay, Zoë. Do you think any straight guy would say something like that?”

  Unfortunately Zoë’s father was against divorce for any reason. He had insisted that everything would have worked out if they had gone into counseling, and he’d even suggested that Zoë should have done more to keep Chris interested. And Chris’s family had also blamed Zoë, saying that Chris had never been gay until he’d gotten married. For her part, Zoë didn’t blame her ex-husband for being gay, only for having made her an unwitting casualty of his sexual self-discovery.

  “It’s so humiliating,” Zoë had confessed to Lucy, “having your husband leave you for another man. It makes you feel like you’ve let down your entire gender. Like I was the one who finally sent him over to the other team.”

  Lucy reflected that a feeling of shame was often a result of being cheated on. Even though it wasn’t fair, you couldn’t help but take it as a sign that you were lacking something.

  “What is it?” Justine asked with a frown as she opened the back door to let Lucy in. As usual, Justine was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, her hair pulled up in a swingy ponytail. “You look terrible. Here, come to the kitchen.”

  “I’m all wet,” Lucy said. “I’ll mess up the floors.”

  “Take off your shoes and come in.”

  “I’m sorry. I should have called first.” Lucy slipped out of her mud-caked sneakers.

  “No problem, we’re not busy.”

  Lucy followed her into the big, warm kitchen. The walls were covered in wallpaper printed with cheerful clusters of cherries. The air was filled with good smells: flour, hot butter, melting chocolate. Zoë was taking a muffin pan from the oven, her hair drawn to the top of her head in a knot of golden curls. She looked like an old-fashioned pinup girl, her figure curvy and small-waisted, her cheeks pink from the heat of the oven.

  Zoë smiled. “Lucy. Want to be a taste tester? I just tried a new recipe for chocolate ricotta muffins.”

  Lucy shook her head dumbly. Somehow the cozy warmth of the kitchen was making her feel even worse. She raised a hand to her throat to soothe away a sharp twinge of misery.

  Justine stared at her in concern. “What is it, Luce?”

  “Something really bad,” Lucy managed to say. “Something awful.”

  “You and Kevin had a fight?”

  “No.” Lucy drew in a shivering breath. “He dumped me.”

  She was immediately guided to a chair by the table. Zoë gave her a wad of paper napkins to blot her wet hair and blow her nose, while Justine poured a shot of whiskey. As Lucy took a sip of smooth liquid fire, Justine poured another shot in a new glass.

  “For heaven’s sake, Justine, she hasn’t even finished the first one,” Zoë said.

  “This isn’t for Lucy, it’s for me.”

  Zoë smiled, shook her head, and brought a plate piled with muffins. She took the chair on Lucy’s other side. “Have one,” she said. “There’s hardly any problem that a warm muffin can’t help.”

  “No, thank you, I can’t eat anything.”

  “It’s chocolate,” Zoë said, as if that gave it medicinal value.

  With an unsteady sigh, Lucy took a muffin and broke it open, letting its damp heat filter through her fingers.

  “So what’s the deal with Kevin?” Justine asked, biting into a muffin.

  “He’s been cheating on me,” Lucy said dully. “He just told me about it.”

  “That jerk,” Zoë said in astonishment. “That slime, that … that…”

  “I believe ‘dickwad’ is the word you’re looking for,” Justine said.

  “I wish I could say I was surprised,” Zoë said. “But Kevin’s always seemed to me like the kind of guy who might cheat.”

  “Why do you say that?” Justine asked.

  “He’s a looker, for one thing.”

  “Just because he’s handsome—” Justine began, but Zoë interrupted.

  “No, not that kind of looker. I mean he looks at women. I always catch him looking at my chest.”

  “Everyone looks at your chest, Zoë. People can’t help it.”

  Zoë pointedly ignored her cousin as she continued. “Kevin’s not built for a sustained relationship. He’s like one of those car-chasing dogs. The dog doesn’t really want the car. It’s the chasing part he likes.”

  “So who did he cheat on you with?” Justine asked Lucy.

  “My sister, Alice.”

  The cousins gave her identical wide-eyed stares.

  “I can’t believe it,” Zoë said. “Are you sure Kevin’s telling the truth?”

  “Why would he lie about something like that?” Justine asked.

  Zoë gave Lucy a concerned glance. “Have you called Alice to ask her about it?”

  “What if she says it’s true?” Lucy asked miserably.

  “Then let her have it. Tell her she’s a turbo slut, and she deserves to rot in hell.”

  Lucy lifted her glass of whiskey and drained it. “I hate confrontation.”

  “Let me call her,” Justine offered. “I love confrontation.”

  “What are you going to do for tonight?” Zoë asked Lucy gently. “Do you need a place to stay?”

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