Silk and Stone

Silk and Stone
Deborah Smith

June 2017 $18.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-770-0

Our PriceUS$18.95
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He was home from prison.
Ten years compressed in the nerve-racking space of a few seconds.
This tall, broad-shouldered stranger was her husband. Every memory she had of his appearance was there, stamped with a brutal decade of maturity, but there. Except for the look in his eyes. Nothing had ever been bleak and hard about him before. He stared at her with an intensity that could have burned her shadow on the floor.
Words were hopeless, but all that they had. "Welcome back,” she said. Then, brokenly, "Jake.”
He took a deep breath, as if a shiver had run through him. He closed the doors without ever taking his eyes off her. Then he was at her in two long steps, grasping her by the shoulders, lifting her to her toes. "I trained myself not to think about you,” he said, his voice a raw whisper. "Because if I had, I would have lost my mind.”
"I never deserted you. I wanted to be a part of your life, but you wouldn’t let me. Will you please try, now?”
"Do you still have it?” he asked.
Anger. Defeat. The hoarse sound she made contained both. "Yes.”
He released her. "Good. That’s all that matters.” Sam turned away, tears coming helplessly. After all these years, there was still only one thing he wanted from her, and it was the one thing she hated, a symbol of pride and obsession she would never understand, a blood red stone that had controlled the lives of too many people already, including theirs.
The Pandora ruby.

Deborah Smith is the NYT bestselling author of A Place To Call Home and the Kindle No. 1 bestselling author of The Crossroads Café.


Coming Soon!




North Carolina

SHE HAD EVERYTHING ready for him, everything but herself. What could she say to a husband she hadn’t seen or spoken to in ten years: Hi, honey, how’d your decade go?

The humor was nervous, and morbid. She knew that. Samantha Raincrow hurt for him, hurt in ways she couldn’t put into words. Ten years of waiting, of thinking about what he was going through, of why he’d been subjected to it, had worn her down to bare steel.

What he’d endured would always be her fault.

She moved restlessly around the finest hotel suite in the city, obsessed with straightening fresh flowers that were already perfectly arranged in their vases. He wouldn’t have seen many flowers. She wanted him to remember the scent of youth and freedom. Of love.

Broad windows looked out over Raleigh. A nice city for a reunion. The North Carolina summer had just begun; the trees still wore the dark shades of new spring leaves.

She wanted everything to be new for him, but realized it could never be, that they were both haunted by the past—betrayals that couldn’t be undone. She was Alexandra Lomax’s niece; she couldn’t scrub that stain out of her blood.

Her gifts were arranged around the suite’s sitting room; Sam went to them and ran her hands over each one. A silk tapestry, six feet square and woven in geometries from an old Cherokee design, was draped over a chair. She wanted him to see one of the ways she’d spent all the hours alone. Lined up in a precise row along one wall were five large boxes filled with letters she’d written to him and never sent, because he wouldn’t have read them. A journal of every day. On a desk in front of the windows were stacks of bulging photo albums. One was filled with snapshots of her small apartment in California, the car she’d bought second-hand, years ago, and still drove, more of her tapestries, and her loom. And the Cove. Pictures of the wild Cove, and the big log house he’d built for them. She wanted him to see how lovingly she’d cared for it over the years.

The other albums were filled with her modeling portfolio. A strange one, by most standards. Just hands. Her hands, the only beautiful thing about her, holding soaps and perfumes and jewelry, caressing lingerie and detergent and denture cleaner, and a thousand other products. Because she wanted him to understand everything about her work, she’d brought the DeMeda book too— page after oversize, sensual page of black and white art photos. Photos of her fingertips touching a man’s glistening, naked back, or molded to the crest of a muscular bare thigh.

If he cared, she would explain about the ludicrous amount of money she’d gotten for that work, and that the book had been created by a famous photogra­pher, and was considered an art form. If he cared, she’d assure him that there was nothing provocative about standing under hot studio lights with her hands cramping, while beautiful, half-clothed male models yawned and told her about their latest boyfriends.

If he cared.

The phone rang. She ran to answer. "Dreyfus delivery service,” a smooth, ele­gantly drawling voice said somberly. "I have one slightly used husband for you, ma’am.”

Their lawyer’s black sense of humor didn’t help matters. Her heart pounded, and she felt dizzy. "Ben, you’re downstairs?”

"Yes, in the lobby. Actually, I’m in the lobby. He’s in the men’s room, changing clothes.”

"Changing clothes?”

"He asked me to stop on the way here. I perform many functions, Sam, but helping my clients pick a new outfit is a first.”

"Why in the world—”

"He didn’t want you to see him in what they gave him to wear. In a matter of speaking, he wanted to look like a civilian again.”

Sam inhaled raggedly and bowed her head, pressing her fingertips under her eyes, pushing hard. She wouldn’t cry, wouldn’t let him see her for the first time in ten years with her face swollen and her nose running. Small dignities were all she had left. "Has he said anything?” she asked when she could trust herself to speak calmly.

"Hmmm, lawyer-client confidentiality, Sam. I represent both of you. What kind of lawyer do you think I am? Never mind, I don’t want to hear the brutal truth.”

"One who’s become a good friend.”

Ben hesitated. "Idle flattery.” Then, slowly, he added, "He said he would walk away without seeing you again if he could.”

She gripped the phone numbly. That’s no worse than you expected, she told her­self. But she felt dead inside. "Tell him the doors to the suite will be open.”

"All right. I’m sure he needs all the open doors he can get.”

"I can’t leave them all open. If I did. I’d lose him.”

"Parole is not freedom,” Ben said. "He understands that.”

"And I’m sure he’s thrilled that he’s being forced to live with a wife he doesn’t want.”

"I suspect he doesn’t know what he wants at the moment.”

"He’s always known, Ben. That’s the problem.”

She said good-bye, put the phone down, and walked with leaden resolve to the suite’s double doors. She opened them and stepped back. For a moment she considered checking herself in a mirror one last time, turned halfway, then realized she was operating on the assumption that what she looked like mat­tered to him. So she faced the doors and waited.

Each faint whir and rumble of the elevators down the hall made her nerves dance. She could barely breathe, listening for the sound of those doors opening. She smoothed her upswept hair, then anxiously fingered a blond strand that had escaped. Jerking at each hair, she pulled them out. A dozen or more, each unwilling to go. If it hurt, she didn’t notice.

She clasped her hands in front of her pale yellow suit-dress, then unclasped them, fiddled with the gold braid along the neck, twisted the plain gold wedding band on her left hand. She never completely removed it from her body, even when she worked. It had either remained on her finger or on a sturdy gold chain around her neck, all these years.

That chain, lying coldly between her breasts, also held his wedding ring.

She heard the hydraulic purr of an elevator settling into place, then the softer rush of metal doors sliding apart. Ten years compressed in the nerve-racking space of a few seconds. If he weren’t the one walking up the long hall right now, if some unsuspecting stranger strolled by instead, she thought her shaking legs would collapse.

Damn the thick carpeting. She couldn’t gauge his steps. She wasn’t ready. No, she would always be ready. Her life stopped, and she was waiting, wait­ing....

He walked into the doorway and halted. This tall, broad-shouldered stranger was her husband. Every memory she had of his appearance was there, stamped with a brutal decade of maturity, but there. Except for the look in his eyes. Nothing had ever been bleak and hard about him before. He stared at her with an intensity that could have burned her shadow on the floor.

Words were hopeless, but all that they had. "Welcome back,” she said. Then, brokenly, "Jake.”

He took a deep breath, as if a shiver had run through him. He closed the doors without ever taking his eyes off her. Then he was at her in two long steps, grasping her by the shoulders, lifting her to her toes. They were close enough to share a breath, a heartbeat. "I trained myself not to think about you,” he said, his voice a raw whisper. "Because if I had, I would have lost my mind.”

"I never deserted you. I wanted to be part of your life, but you wouldn’t let me. Will you please try now?”

"Do you still have it?” he asked.

Anger. Defeat. The hoarse sound she made contained both. "Yes.”

He released her. "Good. That’s all that matters.”

Sam turned away, tears coming helplessly. After all these years, there was still only one thing he wanted from her, and it was the one thing she hated, a symbol of pride and obsession she would never understand, a bloodred stone that had controlled the lives of too many people already, including theirs.

The Pandora ruby.



Part One

Chapter One


THE LIVING ROOM of the old Vanderveer family home, Highview, had been transformed into a glorious wedding chapel of white satin bows, enor­mous white urns filled with flowers, and, at the end of the aisle between rows of white wooden chairs, a white wooden trellis strung with garlands of white or­chids. Judge Vanderveer’s wedding was the biggest social event the town had seen in decades. Life moved slowly in Pandora; the mountain gentry rarely ventured into the lowlands to find brides.

Mountain people were clannish. Indian or white, they looked down on the rest of North Carolina in more ways than one.

The bride, swaddled under a white veil and miles of pearl-encrusted white satin, floated up the aisle, as perfect as Doris Day. Standing beside the trellis with a bouquet of orchids trembling in her fists, Sarah Vanderveer Raincrow stared in horrified disbelief. This couldn’t be happening.

Held by a delicate gold setting, shimmering in the light, the Pandora star ruby gleamed at the end of a long necklace on the bodice of Alexandra Duke’s wedding gown.

Sarah felt smothered by disbelief, as if the pink tulle and satin of her ma­tron-of-honor’s dress had become a hot blanket.

My ruby. My heirloom. A gift from my husband’s ancestors. William gave it to her. No, no, no—how could he, like this, without even an explanation or warning? There must be some terrible mistake. Her head swam. Her brother would not ignore generations of tradition. But he has.

There were gasps from the Vanderveers and Raincrows. The Dukes re­acted with awkward, stony silence. Rachel Raincrow gaped at Alexandra as if she’d grown horns and a tail. Sarah had never seen anything rattle her mother-in-law’s serenity before.

Sarah turned toward Hugh desperately.

He stood under the trellis beside her big redheaded, red-faced, stern brother, and next to William he looked lean and exotic and achingly handsome in a black tuxedo. His dark gaze was already on Sarah. Her husband seemed as stunned and betrayed as she.

In the electric silence the minister cleared his throat. People waited, fidget­ing. Sarah gave her future sister-in-law a venomous stare. Alexandra returned it.

Five minutes later Alexandra Duke took a giant step up the social ladder, and became Alexandra Vanderveer.

THE PARLOR DOORS were shut, a hundred guests milling outside, confused and curious. William looked uncomfortable but firm, his eyes shifting away from Sarah’s wounded, condemning questions. His new wife kept one hand in his and the other delicately posed over her ruby in elegant horror. "I didn’t realize Alexandra would wear the necklace today,” William said gruffly.

"Oh, William, I’m sorry,” Alexandra answered. "You said Sarah would under­stand. I thought you were going to discuss it with her after the rehearsal dinner.”

"I decided to wait until after we returned from our honeymoon.” William looked away, scowling. "This is a damned mess. My fault.”

Sarah cried out harshly and pointed at Alexandra. "You let her talk you into this. You’d never hurt me this way otherwise.”

William had tears in his eyes. "I believe—" he cleared his throat and his trou­bled gaze went to Sarah—"I believe, because our parents are dead and there are only the two of us to carry on, Sarah, that an invaluable heirloom should remain with the one of us who bears the family name. You’ve never expressed much interest in the ruby. All these years it’s been locked away in my office safe, and you don’t care for jewelry—”

"This isn’t about a piece of jewelry, it’s about trust. And our family’s tradi­tions.” She turned toward Hugh, who stood beside her, somber and alert, one broad hand pressed against the small of her back in silent support. "And about Hugh’s family traditions too,” Sarah added urgently.

"Will, you’re as fair a man as I’ve ever known,” Hugh told him grimly. "This isn’t right. Not to Sarah, and not to me. My people gave that ruby to yours. The Vanderveers have always passed it down from mother to daughter. It belongs to Sarah.”

"William, I don’t want your sister to be jealous of me,” Alexandra inter­jected. She slid her fingers up the necklace, fingering the clasp. "I’m certainly not trying to steala family heirloom. It’s just that I’m so proud to be your wife, to be a Vanderveer, and when you showed me the ruby, I admired it for what it meansto you, William.” Her mouth trembled. "To me, it symbolizes a very dear, fine old family—one I want to be part of.” She undid the necklace. "Here. Sarah, please—take it.”

William, who looked protective and upset at her speech, grasped her hand. "No.” He glared at Sarah. "Sister, I’ve raised yon and looked after you, and to do it the best I could, I gave up dreams I had of traveling—seeing the world, being footloose and fancy-free. Now I ask this one thing of you—not to throw family traditions in my face when I’ve upheld the best traditions a family can hope for. I’ve done my duty. You will always be my sister, and I love you, and there’s no call for you to feel threatened because I’ve brought Alexandra into this house.”

Sarah gasped. "You think I don’t want you to have a wife? Good Lord—no. But not a wife who’d deliberately make trouble between you and everyone who respects you.”

"You’re the one who’s making trouble, sister. You’re ruining my wedding day, and that is the legacy people in this town will remember—that you de­stroyed the happiest day of my life with your bickering.”

Sarah’s hand rose to her throat. Stricken with betrayal, she gazed at Alexandra. "Why did you marry my brother? You had dozens of boys at college.”

"I have to explain why I cherish your brother? He’s so much more of a man—a gentleman—than anyone else I’ve ever met. How can you imply that I have ulterior motives? I love him.”

"Liar. William is crazy about you—blind in love with you. But you don’t love my brother—you love his name, and his title, and his money. And having our family’s heirloom is a way you can show everyone that you’ve moved up in the world—you’ve got more respectability than any Duke could earn with a thousand mills. You aren’t a Duke anymore—not a money-grubbing, slave- driving Duke. That’s what my brother and my ruby mean to you.”

"Those are damned lies,” William shouted. "Sarah, you apologize!”

Sarah stared at him in heartbroken defeat. "I was born and raised in this house. My mother sat in this very room and told me the story about the Pandora ruby, and how it would belong to me someday. If you don’t honor that, I’ll never set foot in this house again.” Her brother’s mouth moved silently. His agony was obvious. Alexandra touched his arm, and he looked away from Sarah. "I’ve done what I think is best. Please try to honor that.”

"No. I can’t.” She walked toward the door. "Hugh, stop her,” William said, starting forward, then halting, looking from his sister to his wife, who gave him a beseeching stare.

"She’s right,” Hugh said. He followed Sarah out of the parlor.

Hugh’s mother commanded a place of honor in the middle of the crowded hallway. Small, wide, and calm, she balanced an enormous paisley handbag on the lap of her print dress. An outlandish blue hat decorated with a single spring daffodil sat jauntily on her head, above a coiled braid of graying black hair. Around her neck hung a half dozen strings of garnets and rose quartz stones, all of which she’d collected herself over the years.

Rachel Raincrow’s bright-black eyes nearly disappeared under folds of honey-colored wrinkles when she squinted at Sarah and Hugh. "Is that woman keeping the stone?”

Hugh nodded.

"She’s a thief, then. And William is a fool.” Rachel Raincrow, daughter of a white road-construction engineer who’d passed through on a Roosevelt WPA project during the Depression without leaving her his name, was a first-class rockhound. No one understood quite how she did it, but she had an uncanny knack for finding anything that glittered. She’d supplied Pandora’s jewelers with local stones for years. A few of her more illustrious finds had paid Hugh’s way through medical school.

And no one took her pronouncements lightly. Alexandra’s reputation was doomed among the old-timers.

Sarah caught Alexandra’s kid sister, Frannie, looking at them miserably. Frannie Duke was a little blond beatnik, a truly odd, gentle character among the Dukes, which was why she was the only one of the clan Sarah would have welcomed as a sister-in-law. Too bad Frannie was only seventeen and didn’t have Alexandra’s Barbie-doll beauty. Too bad that quiet, sweet, aging-bachelor William had fallen in love with the wrong Duke sister.

"I’m sorry, Sarah,” Frannie said tearfully.

Sarah bit her lip and refused to answer. Hugh pressed his fingertips against her spine and smoothly guided her up a hallway to the front door. She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. "I’m not greedy or jealous. This isn’t about the ruby—it’s about broken promises.”

"I love you,” Hugh answered. "Let’s go home.”

FRANNIE CREPT into an upstairs bedroom as Alexandra was changing into her traveling suit. Her sister was alone, standing like some slim, perfect manne­quin before a full-length gilded mirror in nothing but her ruby necklace, white silk panties and a white bra with cups as pointed as nose cones on rockets. Alexandra could kill somebody with those big, pointed bosoms. Frannie felt, as always, as if there were only so much space in the world for egos, and Alexandra had taken both their shares long ago. Frannie had always been in awe of her willpower. Alexandra had alternately defended her and ignored her, all their lives.

Frannie was the black sheep—a mousy little daydreamer, not good poten­tial for upgrading the family’s position by snaring an important hus­band—a mission for which both she and Alexandra had been instructed all their lives.

Alexandra was crying silently, tears sliding down her face in streaks of pink rouge. Frannie couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her sister in tears. When Alexandra heard her close the door, she pivoted, wiping her face quickly, frowning. "What do you want?”

Frannie took a deep breath. "What you did was wrong.” There. It was said. For the first time in her life she’d overcome cowardly inertia and confronted her sister. Like a boulder pushed over the crest of a hill, her courage rolled out of control. "I know how you operate,” Frannie continued breathlessly, straighten­ing her back, hands knotted by her sides, defiant. "You act so inno­cent, but you’re always thinking of yourself first. You... you persuaded Judge Vanderveer to give you his family heirloom, even though you knew it shouldn’t be yours. You don’t care at all that you came between him and Sarah.”

"You’re right—I don’t.” Alexandra sank wearily into a chair. "Nobody cares about my happiness. Why should I have any pangs of conscience about making other people miserable?”

Frannie knelt beside her and awkwardly touched one of her hands. "I care about your happiness. I thought marrying Judge Vanderveer is exactly what you want.”

Alexandra laughed bitterly but clasped Frannie’s hand. "You live inside your books and your daydreams. You think you’re safe from reality that way. You don’t have the foggiest idea what’s going on, do you?”

"I know that you didn’t have to marry him if you didn’t want to.”

"Don’t you understand? I want to be somebody. I was raised to want that—it’s all I know. Either a girl marries well, or she’s nothing.”

"You sound just like Mom and Dad.” Frannie tugged at her hand. "But there’s so much more. Women don’t have to be measured by their husbands’ importance.”

"Oh, hell, Frannie, what else can we be measured by? I wanted to go to law school. You know what I was told—it wouldn’t do me any good, it was a waste of time, forget it. End of discussion. Men have all the choices. Women have only one—pick your targets, get what you can, use it before you get fat and wrinkled and nobody gives you a second look. Well, that’s what I intend to do—and everybody better get out of my way.”

Frannie rocked back on her heels, staring at her older sister with open-mouthed distress. "You didtalk Judge Vanderveer into giving you that ruby.”

"Hell, yes, I did. Just to prove that I could. And I’m never letting it out of my cold-blooded little fists either. Sarah Raincrow has more than she deserves already. Nobody keeps her from doing what she wants. Good God, she got to marry the man she loves, and he’s an Indian.”

"Do you want to make your own husband take sides against his sister?”

"I want him to do exactlywhat I tell him to do. That’s the only power a woman has, and I intend to use it.”

"You don’t love him. Alexandra, you took vows, but you lied.”

"It makes no difference to him. He wanted a prize, and he got one.”

"No, he loves you. He really does.”

"He’s forty years old and about as exciting as stale bread. He doesn’t love me—he loves the idea that he can have me.”

Frannie’s shock turned to righteous anger. Dropping Alexandra’s hand, she stood. "I know about you and that law student. I know you sneaked out to see Orrin Lomax even after you got engaged.” She shivered with frustration. Her shoulders slumped, and she turned numbly toward the door. "You could have married Orrin.”

Alexandra was silent. Her eyes shimmered with new tears. "Orrin has a lot of ambition but no money, and no clout. If I married him, I’d have to give up my horses. We couldn’t afford them.”

Her horses? Alexandra was an avid rider, and her two Arabians were cham­pion stock, and she doted on them, but to marry money just to keep them.... Frannie shook her head in dull amazement. "You love Orrin, but you can marry somebody else so you can keep your horses.”

Alexandra stiffened. "Do you think your future is going to be better than mine? You think you can just traipse off and do as you please?”

"I can try.”

"Frannie, Carl Ryder was the first in a series of long, hard lessons you’re go­ing to learn about reality.”

Frannie stared at her. Even the mention of Carl’s name brought an ache to her chest. In a small, shattered voice she asked, "What do you mean?”

"I mean that Mom and Dad arranged to have your soldier transferred out of state. Did you really think they’d let you meddle around with the son of mill workers? You can mumble about social equality all you want—you can turn up your nose at the family’s money and call us all a bunch of snobs, you can talk about brotherhood and freedom until you’re blue in the face, but you not only can’t do anything about it, you don’t even suspect what you’re up against. They’ll have your soft little hide nailed to a respectable altar by the time you turn my age. I made the best of my choices, and so will you.”

Frannie stumbled to the door and held its cold, crystal knob for support. "They got rid of Carl?”

"Of course they did. And the same thing will happen with anyone else who isn’t good enough for a Duke. They threatened to disown me if I even talked about marrying Orrin. If I can’t get around them, why in the world would you assume you can?”

"But... but why do you have to care about being disowned?”

"Because I won’t be a nothing,you idiot. I won’t struggle along in a cheap apartment with a law student and be treated like a fool!”

Cold sweat trickled down Frannie’s back. She jerked at the door, opened it, and looked back at her sister miserably. "I’m not going to lose Carl. And I’m not going to be like the rest of this family—patronizing and narrow-minded. You’re just taking the easy way out,” Frannie whispered. "You know it, and you hate it, and it’ll make you sorry.”

Alexandra rubbed her arm across her swollen eyes, a bitter, girlish gesture that made her look vulnerable for just an instant. But when she lowered her arm, her gaze was hard, set. "Just keep my secrets for me, Frannie. I’ll worry about the rest.”

Frannie nodded. "You’re my sister.”

She left Alexandra alone with that small vow, and fled.

FRANNIE HUDDLED miserably in the azalea garden beyond the backyard lights at Highview. The house blazed with lights and music as Dukes danced with Vanderveers and all were impeccably polite to one another. Alexandra and Judge Vanderveer had left hours ago in the judge’s shiny Edsel, showered in rice and confetti. Frannie’s last image of her sister was burned deeply in her mind: smiling, as sleek as a model in her beautiful white suit, looking like a blond Jackie Kennedy, with the ruby dangling prominently down the front of her jacket.

Frannie had been reduced to hiding from their parents and thinking about Carl Ryder. They’d met last year at a dance hosted by the Raleigh Young Ladies’ Progressive Club. The club performed its civic duties by busing fresh-faced second lieutenants up from Fort Bragg.

Carl was no second lieutenant; he was a sergeant who’d been assigned to drive the bus. The club matrons let him into the dance but were in high lather over the situation: He was not elite pickings for progressive young ladies.

He was, in fact, the orphaned son of mill workers, and he’d been on his own since he was sixteen, had joined the army at eighteen—four years ago— and loved it dearly. His one ambition in life was to be a soldier. But when he saw Frannie across the dance floor, and she saw him from her corner behind the punch table, where she was trying furtively to read Jack Kerouac without anyone noticing, it was love at first sight She could almost hear "Some En­chanted Evening.”

He’d walked up to her, spit-and-polished, very formal and polite, and then he’d bowed and said, "You’re a sight for sore eyes, miss.”

It was love at first sight on both sides, and they found ways to meet in se­cret, until her parents discovered them and put a stop to the romance. Dukes didn’t carry on with mill workers, they’d said, as if Carl were destined to be a mill hand simply because of his bloodlines.

She’d vowed not to forget him when he was transferred to Fort Benning, down in Georgia. His letters came every week, squirreled away for her by her parents’ sympathetic housekeeper, and Frannie feasted longingly on his earnest, simple, carefully spelled words for months.

She doubted she’d ever see him again. Knowing now what her parents had done to get him out of her life, she hated them.

"Frannie.” Her name came out of the darkness beyond a row of juniper shrubs. Her name, spoken in Carl’s deep drawl. She ran to him, astonished, frightened, and ecstatic. They held each other and kissed with frantic welcome. "What are you doing here?” she whispered. He was dressed in trousers and a plaid shirt. "Carl, you didn’t desert, did you?”

"Of course not. What kind of man do you think I am? I’m on leave, Frannie. I got a week. I borrowed a car and drove the whole way from Georgia without a stop. I had to come find you. I’m getting shipped over to Germany.”

"Oh, no.”

He got down on one knee and took her hands. "We don’t have much time. I know this sounds crazy, but... come with me. I love you. Marry me. Please.”

Her mind whirled. What did she have to look forward to here? College, next year, but she wanted to study philosophy and her parents had already said no because they thought it was ungodly and maybe even Communist. No one thought her worthwhile; she wasn’t a go-getter like Alexandra, and didn’t want to be.

But more than any of that, she adored Carl Ryder. "I—I—I—of course. Cer­tainly. Yes.” She dropped to her knees and kissed him. He threw back his head, on the verge of whooping, and she clamped a hand over his mouth. "How?” she asked.

Carl kissed her hand and murmured thickly, "I’ll go in and just tell your folks that’s what we’re going to do, Frannie. That’s how. They can wail and carry on all they want about my pedigree, but this is the U-nited States of America, which I signed up to protect and serve along with all its freedoms, and, well, hell, Frannie, you and me having the freedom to get married is what this coun­try’s all about.”

His passionate and simple ideas about constitutional rights wouldn’t hold a drop of water in a debate, but she loved Carl’s way of looking at things, loved him right to the bottom of his honest, red-white-and-blue soul. "No, no, no. You don’t understand.” She clasped her throat. "They’ll lock me in a room and have you carted away. By the time they let me out again, you’ll be speaking German like a native.”

"I’m no coward. I’m not about to carry you away like a thief—”

"You’re no thief. Believe me, I know what a thief is like.” She cupped her hands to his face. "I love you. If you really want to marry me, then let’s go. Let’s just go. It’s the only way. My clothes are at a motel in town. I’m staying in a room with two of my cousins and an aunt. I have a key.”

He scowled. "Frannie, if I take you away from your family like this, they’ll say I didn’t have the guts to do right by you. They already think I’m after the Duke money.”

"I don’t need them. I don’t care if I ever see any of them again. I’ll write to them when it’s safe. After we’re married. They can’t do anything about it then.” She looked at him firmly. "I love you too much to risk losing you again. If you love me that much, then don’t you take the chance either.”

He pondered this in grim silence, then sighed and said, "Frannie, are you sure?”

"Yes. Are you?”

"I was sure the second I laid eyes on you. Still am. I’ll be good to you. I don’t have a bad temper, and I don’t drink, and I work hard, and—”

"I know.”

"But I don’t think we’ll ever be rich on a sergeant’s pay, Frannie.”

"I don’t like rich.In fact, I hate rich.”

"Don’t go crazy, now.”

"Crazy about you.”

"That’s good, then.” He stood and helped her up. They looked at each other in solemn consideration. "I wish we could have a wedding like this,” he said, nodding toward the house. "You deserve what your sister has.”

Frannie shuddered. "I hope not,” she answered. She grabbed his hand. They disappeared into the darkness, and she never looked back.

SARAH LAY DEEPLY entwined in Hugh’s arms, but even his warmth and the peaceful darkness of their bedroom couldn’t comfort her. She tried to concen­trate on the sounds of the old comfortable log house—the soft creak of an oak limb against the second-story roof, the murmur of spring crickets out­side the open window, the faint, tinny drone of Rachel Raincrow’s radio com­ing from the bedroom across the hall.

Hugh stroked her shoulder. Dr. Hugh Raincrow. What a lovely piece of work he was. There had been plenty of gossip when they married, lots of "He’s a credit to his race, but...” talk, and she hadn’t ever listened. He loved her as much as she loved him, and the world was opening up for couples such as them. Camelot had arrived with the Kennedys.

Sarah curled closer to him, his bare thighs warm and hard under her leg, his chest rising and falling slowly under her palm. He stroked her hair, each soft caress absorbing her misery. She was thinking that there was one story in the history of Pandora that deserved special reverence: The friendship between the Vanderveers and the Raincrows, and the Pandora ruby. Two families, two cultures, one symbol of loyalty, stretching back more than 120 years. There might be no Raincrows left in Pandora if the Vanderveers hadn’t helped them hide when the army rounded up the Cherokees for removal.

The ruby had been a gift from the Raincrows for that friendship. Genera­tions of Vanderveers had cherished the heirloom, and each passed it down to the next generation through the eldest daughter. Where there was no daughter, it had passed to a Vanderveer niece.

Next year, when she turned twenty-one, it should have come to her.

But not now.

Her thoughts turned to the woman who had appropriated her brother—and her ruby. Alexandra Duke had more kin than a dog had fleas. The Dukes were a respectable-looking bunch: Sarah gave them that. They had money all right, a potful of it, but they were social outcasts, and they knew it. They liked to hint that they were distantly related to the tobacco-dynasty Dukes who’d endowed Duke University, but everyone knew that was just wishful thinking: This Duke clan had scratched its way upward in the textile mills, paying their workers slave wages for long hours at the looms, holding their people hostage during the hard years of the twenties and thirties. Some of the ugliest strike-busting in the historyof the state had occurred at Duke mills.

Society didn’t forget stories about mill workers being beaten and threat­ened. To Sarah, like most self-sufficient people born and bred in the mountains, the idea of controlling other people’s lives, or being controlled, bespoke a sinis­ter loss of grace.

Plus the Dukes were lowlanders, and that conveyed a lack of proven durabil­ity in the eyes of mountain people. Life in the rolling, accessible regions of the piedmont, with its big cities and industries, was easy and safe compared to the existences people carved out among mountain peaks and steep gorges. In every sense of the word, the Dukes were on their way up now. But she didn’t want her brother, Judge William Vanderveer, to be one of their ladders.

William was nearly twenty years older than she—shy around women, schol­arly, infinitely strict but honorable. Their parents had died when she was a child; William had raised her like a father. William had put that responsibility ahead of his own social life, she realized sadly, and now, with her grown and married, he was desperate to make up for lost time. Too desperate.

Hugh’s deep, sympathetic voice distracted her. "Is the stone worth alienat­ing yourself from your brother?”

Sarah sighed. "How can I face our children if I won’t fight for what’s theirs?”

"Sarah, when we have children, they’ll know what’s important, just like you ought to, and I know—”

"You ought to listen to your mother. She says it’s a medicine stone.”

"I know, I know.” Hugh kissed her, his breath feathering her face softly. He recited dryly, as if his mother were speaking, "And if I used real medicine instead of white medicine, I’d appreciate its power. But I can’t work both sides of the road. If I start chanting and tossing tobacco to the four winds whenever a patient walks into my office, I suspect I’ll lose my practice. And my medical license. The old ways are useless, sweetheart. They won’t get the people any­where.”

Because she was tired and depressed, she blurted out, "Is that why you mar­ried me? To get ahead?”

He raised himself on one elbow and looked down at her. A trace of moon­light glittered harshly in his eyes. He was the most gentle, loving man in the world, slow to anger, quick to forgive. At the moment he was angry. "I lost a dozen white patients in town when I married you. And when I made my rounds at Cawatie after our wedding, one of the Keehotee boys slashed my tires. Slashed my tires, even though my brother died in the same platoon with their uncle in Korea. My own aunt Clara trotted out of her house and threw a bean dumpling at me.”

"You never told me,” Sarah whispered.

"Because I didn’t want to hurt you. When you hurt, I hurt. That’s why I don’t want you to brood over the damned ruby. I want you to forgive your brother and tolerate Alexandra, even if she’s a first-class—”

"Witch. She’s a witch.” Sarah hissed the words. "Your mother says witches are real, and I believe her.”

"She’s a horned toad, for all I care.”

"William’s the one who hurt me.” She swallowed hard, her throat on fire. "He was always so much older—after our parents died, he was... he’s more like a father than a brother.” Her voice rose. "She’s going to make him misera­ble, Hugh. He loves her and he can’t see that. And if I let her run over me too, I’ll be helping her ruin him. No. I won’t pretend it doesn’t matter.”

"I understand, but—”

"No, you don’t. I’m pregnant.”

After a startled moment, Hugh pulled her closer and kissed her. They mur­mured questions and answers to each other softly, joy mingled with the day’s poignant disappointment. For a while he thought she’d forgotten about her brother’s blind betrayal. Touches, kisses, small smiles, segued between them, and she seemed content. He drew her head into the crook of his neck and sighed happily.

But she breathed against his ear, "Your mother told my fortune. She says we’re having twins. That ruby is theirs too.”

Exasperation strained his serenity. "It’s just a rock when you get down to the facts. An expensive rock.”

Hugh moved over her, stroking her belly with one hand, then settling be­tween her thighs when she shifted under his teasing fingers. Sarah shoved lightly at him. "What are you doing?”

"Paying a visit to our babies. Distracting their mama so they can get some sleep.” He brushed a kiss over her mouth. "Do you want their first words to be ‘Where’s my ruby?’”

"No.” Sarah put her arms around him and buried her face in the crook of his neck. Yes, she admitted silently.

Depending on which story a person liked best, their beloved North Carolina town had been named for a Greek myth or a local whore, or both.

Today she was inclined toward the Pandora whore story. It seemed appro­pri­ate, considering the woman her brother had just married.

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