to the third book of the Seascape Trilogy, three mystical romance-mystery novels by bestselling author Vicki Hinze.
New love isn't on the agenda for widower Bryce Richards, who comes to the peaceful Seascape Inn with his three children, hoping the ethereal setting will help them recover from the death of their mother. Likewise, fellow inn guest Cally isn't looking for romance either; she's recovering from an emotionally abusive marriage. It will take all the matchmaking skills of innkeeper Hattie Stillman and her ghostly assistant to bring Bryce and Cally together.
Vicki Hinze is the award-winning author of 24 novels, 4 nonfiction books, and hundreds of articles, publishing in as many as sixty-three countries. She is recognized by Who's Who in the World as an author and as an educator. For more information, please visit her website
You can visit Vicki here:
Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/vicki.hinze.author
Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/vickihinze
"…a whimsical engaging tale as the paranormal matchmaker and his human partner must do much more than just work their magic on the commitment phobic couple." -- Klausner’s Bookshelf – Midwest Book Reviews
"…offers readers characters to care about, a setting with strong sensory and emotional appeal, and a touch of the paranormal…if you like your romances tender, your setting significant, and your paranormal light, you will find much to enjoy…" -- Janice Rholetter, Just Janga Blog
"…has a perfect mix of drama, romance, humour, mystery and paranormal. I loved reading about the children's antics! I enjoyed the trilogy and wish it was an ongoing series." -- Joanne Hanson
The child was going to drown.
The truth slammed into Tony Freeport
with the force of a sledge. A stunning truth, considering she lay tucked safely
in bed in the Shell Room of Seascape Inn and, in his fifty years as a ghost
working with his beloved Hattie in assisting others here to heal, he’d never
before seen anyone come to harm under the inn’s roof. But in Suzie Richards’s
dream, all the signs of real-life drowning were evident: panic, an inability to
breathe, and fear. So much fear...
Dream or reality, if Tony didn’t do
something quickly, the nine-year-old daughter of Bryce Richards and the
deceased photojournalist, Meriam, was going to drown.
What could Tony do? What should he
do? Suzie taking on the burdens of family no child should ever have to carry
had been the catalyst insisting he intercede this far. But to intercede into
her dreams? Did he dare?
This had to be a near-miss warning. Had
He looked through the closed bedroom
door, out into the upstairs hallway. The paneled walls deepened the night’s
shadows and the only light was that seeping through the bank of mullioned
windows centered inside a small vaulted alcove at the far end of the hall. Tall
hand-carved mahogany bookshelves flanked those windows. Tony couldn’t clearly
see the books in them, but he didn’t have to see them to know each book’s
title, to know each spine stood straight. Nor did he need to see the pillows on
the thick cushions of the window seat nestled between those shelves to know
they’d been fluffed. Hattie Stillman nurtured everything in her care, which
included all of Seascape Inn, most of Sea Haven Village, and, at one time, him.
He scanned the polished plank-wood floor
from the far end of the hallway back toward the end where he stood. On the
left, facing the Atlantic Ocean, was the master bedroom, dubbed the Great White
Room years ago, and the bath. On the right, the L-shaped staircase leading down
to the first floor, and the Cove Room where Bryce Richards should have been
sleeping but wasn’t. Instead, the man dozed slumped on the hallway floor, his
head lolled back against the paneled wall, his slippered foot rumpling the edge
of the white Berber rug that stretched from the stairway’s landing nearly all
the way down to the Shell Room, about a yard from Tony’s feet.
Bryce was a man on a mission. Two sets
of his friends from New Orleans, T.J. and Maggie MacGregor and John and Bess
Mystic, had found "magic” at Seascape Inn, and Bryce had come here with doubts
but hopes that enough magic remained to grant his daughter peace from the
emotional demons haunting her sleep since her mother’s death two years ago. But
even in sleep, Bryce was despairing; Tony sensed it. Despairing that, though
armed with its angelic innkeeper, Miss Hattie, the charming old inn couldn’t holdthat much magic and, without it—God knew Bryce had tried everything
else—Suzie’s nightmares would be an endless source of her suffering.
And Bryce despaired that she’d dream
and, asleep in the Cove Room across the hallway, he’d not hear her cries, not know
to come and comfort her. For reasons of his own, he had forsaken sleeping in
the comfortable stuffed chair in her room or in the luxury of a soft king-size
bed and had chosen to stand guard on the hallway’s oak floor outside her door,
listening, waiting, and praying he wouldn’t be needed.
The agony of the situation had broken
Tony’s heart, and he’d aided the quiet of the house in lulling the reluctant
Bryce to sleep, agreeing with his darling Hattie’s assessment that Bryce was
worn to a frazzle. But who wouldn’t be? Worried sick about his three children
overall, Suzie and her nightmares in particular; fighting a constant battle of
wills with that dour-faced Mrs. Wiggins, whom Bryce’s wife had hired to care
for the children when Jeremy had been born four years ago; and then—right on
the heels of the narrow-miss divorce between John and Bess Mystic—that blasted
Tate divorce case. It was a wonder Bryce Richards was still upright!
In the days since their arrival at
Seascape Inn, Hattie had mumbled repeatedly that no more a devoted father than
Bryce ever had graced the earth, and Tony wholeheartedly agreed with his
beloved on that appraisal, too. Bryce was a fine father, a fine man, and a fine
Yet that hadn’t spared him from
As if he hadn’t had enough on his plate
already, he’d been tossed a moral dilemma on the Tate divorce case that would
have brought even the most avid believer, the most confident man in the world,
to his knees. A shame he had represented Gregory Tate. Not only disagreeable,
the man had proven himself unscrupulous and coldly calculating. Though the
divorce had been granted and the case was behind Bryce now, it had left him
weary, his opinion even more jaded about the odds for successful, happy
marriages—and it’d left him admittedly curious about the mysterious Mrs. Tate.
So was Tony. He leaned against the
doorjamb, propped the toe of his shoe against the floor, then rubbed at his
neck. Why had the woman never once appeared in court? Never once attended the
attorney/client meetings with Bryce, Gregory, and her own attorney? Her
behavior was curious.
Tony grimaced. Now, because he had given
Bryce this brief but much-needed respite of sleep, Suzie fought the fiendish
nightmare alone. Tony shouldn’t intercede further—dream intervention was
expressly forbidden—but she was suffering uncomforted, and that was his fault.
He couldn’t deny responsibility and condemn her to this. Hattie would never
forgive him. Worse, he’d never forgive himself.
Protocol be damned. Tony shoved away from
the wall. Rules and regulations, too. What more could be done to him? Already
he lived in the house with his beloved Hattie and yet he couldn’t talk directly
with her, couldn’t hold her, couldn’t love her as a man should love a woman—as
he would have loved her had he been given the chance. What could be more
challenging? And a child’s life hung in the balance. Likely her father’s,
too—if anything should happen to her.
Theoretically, people didn’t actually
die just because they died in their dreams. But what if Suzie did? In Tony’s
experience, dreamers always had awakened prior to actual dream-state
death. So why wasn’t Suzie awakening? Soaring heart rate. Gasping something
fierce. She might not drown, but she could have a heart attack. Drowning or a
massive coronary, dead was dead.
He tried several tactics to nudge her
Having no idea, Tony scowled, feeling
inept and agitated. The bottom line was Bryce Richards had little more left to
lose. Tony had to intercede.
He stepped into Suzie’s nightmare, into
a raging storm.
The wind stung, bitingly cold, whistling
through crisp brown leaves that had fallen from the poplars and oaks near the
shore. Familiar poplars and oaks. Familiar low stone wall running along the
rocky ground to the pond. And familiar white wrought-iron bench, north of a
familiar, freshly painted gazebo.
Criminy, Suzie was in the pond behind
Did she realize this yet? That her
recurring dream actually took place here?
Odd. Before three days ago, Suzie never
had seen Seascape Inn or its pond, and yet she’d suffered this same nightmare
for the past two years.
Agitated by the blustery wind, Tony
squinted against the darkness and glimpsed the shadow of a little rowboat—the
very boat he himself with his lifelong friends, Hatch and Vic, had fished from
as boys. Rocking on turbulent waves, the boat dipped low, took on water.
And—sweet heaven, it was empty.
"Suzie?” Where was she? "Suzie?”
The wind tossed Tony’s words back to him. Nearing the water’s edge, he called
out again and stumbled over a giant oak’s gnarled roots.
His foot stung.
Startled, he winced. Physical pain? How
peculiar. It’d been half a century since he’d felt physical pain...
He frantically scanned the dark water.
Later, he’d think about the pain. He had to find Suzie now—before it was too
Midway across the pond, something
flashed white. Her nightgown? No. No, it wasn’t. Just froth from a wave. Fear
seeped deeper, into his soul. Where was she?
Straining harder, skimming, probing, he
spotted her. Near the bow of the boat, floundering in the water, arms flailing,
head bobbing between the waves.
Oh, God, she really was going to
drown. Unlike her other dreams, this one wasn’t a near-miss warning!
He cupped his hands at his mouth. "Suzie!
Hold on to the boat. I’m coming. Just hold on to the boat!”
"I can’t!” she shouted back. Swallowing
in a great gulp of water, she choked.
The sound grated at his ears, tore at
his heart. Why in the name of everything holy did she feel it vital to hold on
to the oars? Though wooden, they wouldn’t offer enough stability in the
turbulent water to keep her afloat. Still, she held them in a death grip.
He had to find out why. Though
dangerous—fear of him, in addition to the fear and panic she was suffering already,
could worsen her situation dramatically—to help her, he needed to understand
She screamed. A shattering scream that
pierced his ears and reverberated in his mind. A chiseled hollow in his chest
ached. Whatever the risks, damn it, he had to take them.
Focusing, he tapped into the child’s
You have to get both oars in the water
and keep them there, Suzie.
Not her voice. A memory. Something she’d
been told by a woman. Someone older—twenties or thirties maybe. And that
accent—definitely not anyone from Sea Haven Village, or from Maine. Southern.
The child took a wave full in the face,
sputtered, then coughed.
He hurried toward her, resenting that in
her dreams he obviously lacked his special gifts, his abilities and talents
with the physical, that would allow him to fish her out without getting so much
as a toe wet. In dreams, it appeared he was as weak or as strong as a normal
man. And while at times he’d love to again be a normal man, when Suzie was
clinging to life by an oar wasn’t one of them.
What did it all mean?
He returned his cupped hands to his
mouth. "Suzie, let go of that oar right now and grab hold of the boat. Do it!
Do you hear me? Do it!”
Her wet hair swept over her face and
clung to her tiny cheek in a clump, her eyes wild with fear. "I’ve got to keep
both oars in the water! I’ve got to, or I’m not gonna get better.”
This was new ground, and Tony waffled on
what to do. His heart told him to go get her. His logic warned if he touched
her, with her body temperature as low as it surely was already from the frigid
water, the cold could result in pneumonia and she’d die. But if he didn’t
physically get her out of the pond quickly, she’d die, too. Simply put, he was
in a lose/lose situation here. Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.
He had years of experience. He just had
to not panic. Had to think about this. He cleared his mind, then weighed the
pros and cons, mentally searching for alternatives less risky to Suzie.
There were none.
He hated any but win/win situations, yet
the core in this one rested right where it had before he’d begun his search:
She had a fighting chance with pneumonia. She didn’t with drowning.
Tony dove in. Hit the frigid water that
sucked out his breath, then stroked furiously toward her.
The lack of true physical exercise for
too many years had him winded and tiring quickly. Soon, his arms and legs felt
like lead and he couldn’t seem to get enough air to feed his starving lungs.
They throbbed and ached, and the physical sensations of weight and gravity and
oxygen deprivation had him sluggish, tired, moving about as quickly as a
hypothyroid snail. Without his special gifts, could he get to her in time?
"Please, don’t let her die. Please, help
me help her.” She was so close. So close... "Please!”
He dug deep, scraped the remnants of his
reserves and pulled a mighty stroke.
His fingers snagged the collar of her
He tugged, grabbed her more securely
with his left hand, the boat with his right, then curled her tiny body to his
and hugged her to him. She latched her arms around his neck, squeezed so hard
he sensed she was trying to crawl into him. And then she began to cry. Deep,
heart-wrenching sobs that jerked viciously at his heartstrings. "Shhh, it’s
okay, little one. I’ve got you now. I’ve got you now.”
She breathed against his neck, her voice
a rattled whimper of sound. "Promise?”
This crisis, she’d weathered. This time,
she’d survived. Awash in gratitude and relief, he swallowed hard. "I promise.”
Water swirled, tugging at his clothes.
Awareness stole into him and he recalled stubbing his toe on the gnarled oak’s
root. His foot actually had stung. And now, more awareness of the physical
dragged at him. Her moist, warm breath at his shoulder. Cold as she was from
the frigid water, the warmth of her tiny body. The feel of her fingers digging
into his neck. His own need for oxygen, for rest. The weight of his uniform.
His hands began to shake. Awed, humbled,
he shook all over. He’d not felt any physical sensations since he’d returned
home from the battlefield for burial back in World War II and, because he
hadn’t, now he couldn’t be sure which of them, he or Suzie, groped with greater
She was alive.
And, for the first time in half a
century, he was feeling the actual touch of another human being.
His eyes stung and a tear—a tear—slid
onto his cheek.
An uneasy niggle nagged at him. He’d
been in many situations in the past fifty years and had felt nothing physical.
So why now? True, he’d never before entered anyone’s dreams—and he fully
expected to pay a steep penalty for trespassing into Suzie’s now—but there had
to be some deeper reason for this. His sixth sense screamed it. And it screamed
that something about these particular "special guests” made this intercession,
and their situation, different from the hundreds of other special guests he and
Hattie had assisted at Seascape Inn.
Suzie wheezed. Feeling the rattle
against his chest, he prayed Seascape would protect her from almost certain
pneumonia. Over the years, many had called the inn the Healing House, and how
fervently he hoped its reputation proved prophetic for Suzie.
These special guests are different. A woman’s voice echoed through his mind.This situation is different.
She sounded urgent, yet calm and
dispassionate. Who was she?
Who I am doesn’t matter. My message is
what is important, Tony.
You’ll have to find the answer to that
yourself, I’m afraid.
No, you don’t. That’s part of the
problem. But you will, Tony. I’m rather, er, persistent.
Just what he needed. Another stubborn
woman to contend with. Well, I’ll have to figure it out later. Right now, I
need to get Suzie out of this water and wind before she freezes to death.
Ah, I’m encouraged. The woman sighed.
Excuse me? Kicking his feet, he steered toward the
shore, holding on to Suzie and the boat for fear his strength would fizzle.
You’re mired in a quandary yet still
putting Suzie’s needs first. I’m encouraged by that. And, yes, I expect you will
figure it out—eventually.
Terrific. Stubborn and snooty. A barrel
of sunshine. I’m encouraged that you’re encouraged.
Save your sarcasm, Tony. The woman laughed, soft and melodious. You’re
going to need your energy.
He wanted to kick something. Actually,
he wanted to kick "Sunshine.” Wicked of him, but did she have to be right about
the energy bit, too? His muscles were in distress; he didn’t have the energy
for this verbal sparring—or the time for it. Not right now. Suzie had stopped
crying, but she still clung to him as if she feared he’d forget and let go of
her. He’d promised, but promises didn’t hold much value to Suzie Richards; that
much was evident. At least not those aside from her father’s. In the chaos of
what had been their family life, Bryce somehow had retained his children’s
trust. That in itself, considering the circumstances, was a miracle.
To reassure her, Tony smoothed her frail
back until her shudders eased. When they subsided, though vain, a sense of
satisfaction joined those of relief and gratitude inside him. He’d catch hell
for breaking protocol, but feeling Suzie inhaling and exhaling breath made
whatever price he had to pay worth it. The last thing she needed was more
tragedy in her life. It wouldn’t do Bryce any good, either. The man had
suffered his share of challenges and then some.
Unfortunately, from all appearances, he
was fated to suffer a few more, but at least those challenges wouldn’t include
the death of his oldest daughter.
They might, Sunshine commented.
Tony’s skin crawled. Not if there’s
any way in the world for me to stop it.
You might want to recant that statement,
A shiver rippled up his backbone. Images
raced through his mind. Images of Suzie again in the little boat, trying to do
something with the paddles and falling into the pond. Images of her in the
water during a storm, gasping. Drowning. And images of Tony standing alone on
the shore, his hands hanging loosely at his sides, his shoulders slumped,
watching and yet powerless to help her.
Powerless? Shock streaked through him. But he’d
never before been powerless here. Never...
Sunshine’s softly spoken warning
thundered through his mind. His knees collapsed. He locked them,
stumbling and shuddering hard. God help them all.
This wasn’t an ordinary dream.
The more things change, the more they
stay the same.
Sitting on the sun-dappled ground in a
Biloxi, Mississippi, cemetery, Caline Tate swept that thought from her mind,
her hair back from her shoulder, and looked at the weathered headstone of Mary
Beth Ladner, the stranger buried next to her grandmother.
Mary Beth didn’t feel like a stranger to
Caline. For as long as she could remember, after Sunday services at First
Baptist Church, she had visited here with her father. And nearly as long
ago—the winter she turned seven—it had dawned on Caline that Mary Beth Ladner’s
grave never had flowers on it. Not on Christmas. Not on Memorial Day. Not on
any day. And why it remained barren perplexed Caline as much now as it had the
first day she’d noticed.
Someone once had loved Mary Beth.
Someone once had mourned losing her. They had to have mourned losing her to
have had chiseled into the stone: She was the sunshine of our home. Where
had they gone that they couldn’t bring a woman so special to them so much as an
Biting her lip, Caline placed one of two
yellow carnations near the base of the stone. Years ago, the florist had told
her carnations meant joy and, considering it only right that a woman who’d
brought joy in life should have joy brought to her in death, Caline had made a
tradition of bringing Mary Beth a carnation every Sunday and pausing to whisper
a few kind words over her grave. Before she’d realized it, those pauses had
grown to visits, and those few kind words had lengthened to chats. And,
somewhere along the way, those chats had become her refuge, her safe haven to
discuss her hopes and dreams, and her troubles. Troubles far too private to
discuss with her parents or even her best friend.
Now that Caline was thirty-two, married
and recently divorced, little had changed. She still came to Mary Beth’s grave
to talk through her troubles.
"Life’s funny, isn’t it, Mary Beth? We
set our sights on what we want and we make all our decisions with our wants in
mind, and just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, life slips us a
curve ball and—wham!—we end up with everything we never wanted.
Why is that?”
Caline stared off into the branches of
the winter-barren oaks, the twisted pines that were a familiar sight in
hurricane country. "I just don’t get it. I knew what I wanted the first time I
saw your headstone. I wanted to be the sunshine of my own home. And I thought
I’d have that with Gregory, eventually, but...”
An empty ache seized her chest and a
lump swelled and blocked her throat. He’d made promises to her. Sacred vows.
And he’d broken them all.
Why had he done that? Why?
Tears gathered on Caline’s lashes and
the oak limbs distorted and blurred. "I loved him, Mary Beth. I might have been
a terrible wife—God knows he told me I was often enough that I have no choice
but to believe him—but I did love him with all my heart. My love just wasn’t...
A squirrel scampered up the trunk of the
oak then leapt from one barren branch to another. The time had come for her to
"I came to tell you I’m going away for a
while,” she said, rummaging through her purse for a tissue. "The divorce is
final now and I need to decide what to do with my life.”
Pulling a crumpled tissue free from the
clasp on her wallet, she stiffened her shoulders then swiped at her eyes. "I’m
going to drive up to a friend’s cabin in Nova Scotia and stay there for a few
months. My parents think the change of scenery might do some good. I’m hoping
they’re right. I’m about as scared as scared can get, Mary Beth. I never
thought I’d be starting over at thirty-two with nothing I ever wanted.”
Gregory had given her no choice. He’d
given her even less. Sometimes she hated him for that. Sometimes she hated
herself for it.
A streak of hopelessness snaked through
her stomach. Fighting it, Caline stood up, then brushed angrily at the blades
of dead grass clinging to her skirt. "Dad will bring your carnation on Sunday
when he visits Grandma Freemont’s grave. I didn’t have to ask him. He knows
it’s important to me that you know you’re not forgotten.” Tears again welled,
and Caline traced the edge of the worn stone with her fingertips. "You’ll never
She shouldn’t say it. Shouldn’t even
think it. But she couldn’t hold back from Mary Beth. Caline never had. "This
trip is kind of a pilgrimage. The truth is, I’m sorely lacking courage and a
whole lot more right now. With the divorce final and Gregory already remarried
to that woman, I’m thinking that for fourteen years I let him rob me of the
things that make me who I am. All except one. I don’t want to lose it, too.
It’s weak. Just a flicker of a spark. But it’s still there. And I’m not sure if
I’ve got the guts to nurture it. I can’t hurt like this again, Mary Beth. I
Caline drew in a deep, steadying breath.
"That’s why I need the courage. Because that tiny spark inside me still craves
being what you were—the sunshine of my home.” The tears shimmering in her eyes
splashed onto her cheeks. "And I don’t know if I’m strong enough anymore to go
She dabbed at her eyes and sniffed,
irritated with herself for soggying up yet again. "I know I have to try. If I
don’t, I’ll hate myself. I really don’t want to hate myself, Mary Beth. So if
you’ve got any pull up there, I’d really appreciate some help.”
he wouldn’t do for a little help here.
Leaning against a small desk, Tony raked
a hand through his hair, took one last look through the window at the gardens
outside the inn and the forest beyond them, then glanced back over his shoulder
across the Shell Room to Suzie. Sitting Indian-style on the spool bed and
surrounded by plump, ruffled pillows, she brushed at her hair in long, smooth
strokes. Nearly dry, it gleamed glossy brown. She’d refused to lie down until
it had—she’d catch pneumonia, she’d said—but she had compromised and tucked to
the knees beneath Hattie’s colorful patchwork quilt.
Suzie liked the Shell Room. The
hodgepodge decor appealed to Tony, too. Old and new blended with the painted white
antique dresser, chest, and desk that somewhere along the way had been
stenciled around the edges in blue. Suzie liked blue best.
Tony didn’t like much of anything right
now. Hattie would give him hell for his attitude, but he was in the same royal
snit he got into every year as Thanksgiving inched closer. And this year,
considering Suzie’s situation, his snit could be even worse because, no matter
how much he’d prefer to think it, Suzie’s couldn’t be an ordinary dream.
Wet hair from a dream? Him feeling
lifelike sensations? Her drowning, and him powerless? It had to be a
He glanced at her reflection in the
window to the left of the bed. Through a copse of wind-blown trees, lights from
Sea Haven Village winked in the distance. Could he countermand a premonition?
Were his special skills and talents enough? His physical gifts didn’t exist in
dreams, yet that’s where her troubles resided. How could he help her without
his special gifts?
She sighed, and he sensed more than
heard the weak rattle in her chest. Hopefully by morning the pneumonia scare
would pass. Not that he could do anything more about it. He couldn’t.
Shivering, he let his gaze slide back
out the window into the night.
Recognizing Sunshine’s voice, he again
wondered who she was and why she was here. He could ask, but she’d already said
her identity didn’t matter and innately he knew she wouldn’t answer. She might
even take off again. Yes?
Hasn’t it occurred to you yet that I’m
here because this challenge isn’t just about these special guests?
The thought has crossed my mind. His feeling physical sensations proved
something was different. The question was, What? So why are you here?
To bring you a message.
A message? That too was odd. Not unprecedented, but
unusual enough to give him the willies. Okay. I’m all ears.
Actually, you’re about eighty percent
attitude. I’m just hoping I can lasso the other twenty percent long enough to
do my job here so I can go home.
I didn’t ask for your help.
No, Tony. You didn’t. But you need it.
Is that what’s grating at you? That you need my help?
It was, but he wouldn’t admit it. He
could blame it on the Thanksgiving thing, but the truth was it was a matter of
pride. Seascape Inn was his domain, his and Hattie’s, and Sunshine was an interloping
trespasser. He didn’t like it, would be lying if he said he did, so he said
The message is that your challenge in
this case isn’t only with the emotional demon haunting Suzie’s sleep and with
Bryce’s trials, though you must assist with both of those, of course. Your
challenge is with you.
Thanksgiving is always a challenging
time for me. Tony
looked down to the floor where it met the white baseboard, fearing this had
nothing to do with Thanksgiving but figuring it was worth a shot to not have to
admit that, either.
True, but I’m afraid that isn’t the
He’d known, and yet he’d foolishly hoped
she’d let him slide by with it. He stuffed a hand into his pocket. It’s
about me fearing and doubting my ability to help Suzie alter her personal
history—if in fact her nightmare is a premonition of her personal history.
In a sense, yes, it is about fear and
doubt. But you’ll have to dig deeper, Tony. Otherwise, you’re in major trouble
Why am I getting the feeling that if I
fail myself, I’ll also fail Suzie and Bryce?
I can’t answer that.
Can’t, or won’t? He asked, but wasn’t at all sure he
really wanted the answer.
Suzie’s dream has to be a premonition,
That, too, you must determine. This is
your turf. I’m just a... temporary guest.
She knew his feelings about her being
here. And, while she might prove persistent and/or contrary, she’d been
gracious; he had to give her credit for that. Though he’d be wasting his time
asking, he had to do it anyway. What exactly is your mission?
You’d best focus on your own challenges,
Whatever her mission was, it couldn’t be
as vital as Suzie and Bryce, and Tony did have troubles enough of his own to
resolve without worrying about Sunshine’s, too. Okay, consider your message
Very well, Tony. Good-bye.
Thoughtful, he rubbed at his lip with
his forefinger and thumb. If Suzie’s nightmare wasn’t a premonition, he didn’t
have a clue what it was, or what it’d take to help her. And that sorry truth
would scare the socks off a saint, much less him, a mere ghost.
He should be asking Suzie questions,
gaining her insight on the background material he already had about her family,
but he couldn’t make himself do it. Not yet. Though children readily accept
oddities—and as much as Tony hated to admit it, he was an oddity—in Suzie’s
current state, he just couldn’t take the risk she’d wonder how he’d gotten into
her dream, and then wonder who he was, which inevitably would lead to that
godawful question he most hated: What are you?
"You didn’t lie.” Suzie looked up at
him, her eyes wide and curious but no longer riddled with the fear they’d held
in the dream.
He paused pacing near the foot of her
bed. "I won’t ever lie to you, Suzie.”
She wanted to believe him; it radiated
from her. But she couldn’t let herself. Not yet. She reached over to the
nightstand beside the bed and set down her hairbrush. "What’s your name?”
Resilient. A damn shame she’d had to be
resilient to survive this long. Feeling tender, he smiled down at her. "Tony.”
"I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” She
looked at his Army uniform, at his jacket’s shiny brass buttons, then focused
on the carnation at his lapel. "You were the man at Uncle T.J. and Aunt
Maggie’s art gallery. I saw you when I looked at the picture of that house.”
"Did you come here for vacation, too?”
"We did. Daddy says me and him and
Jeremy and Lyssie, my baby brother and sister, need quality time together. I
think Daddy mostly needs a nap.”
"I think you’re probably right.” Tony
chuckled. "I live here all the time.”
"Seascape Inn looks like the house in
Uncle T.J.’s painting.”
A test, pure and simple, to see if Tony
would tell her the truth. "That’s because it is the same house. Your uncle T.J.
has visited here a couple of times.”
"He likes it here. He tells Daddy so all
the time.” Looking pleased by the truth, she grabbed up the covers bunched at
her knees, then lay back against the pillow. Soft light from the bedside lamp
slanted over her feet. "I do, too.”
"I’m glad.” Would she keep on liking it
here? Once she realized the pond was the one in her dream, she’d probably hate
it. And the thought of anyone hating his beloved home turned Tony’s stomach.
"I like you, too. You help me here. At
home, I’m by myself.” She dipped her chin, again focusing on the flower at his
lapel. "I don’t like being by myself in the water, Tony.”
"I know.” His insides twisted. "But I’m
here now. That’s a promise.”
She had that look in her eye; the Doubting
Thomasette in her had reared its ugly head. With a we’ll-see lift of her
brow, she half covered her mouth with her hand, then yawned. "Nobody except me
could see you then—at Uncle T.J.’s. How come?”
Surprise streaked up Tony’s back.
Evidently, even after her harrowing experience, she was more ready than he for
questions and answers. "I’m... different. That scares some
"I don’t like being scared.”
"I doubt anyone does.”
"Do you get lonely?”
Tony thought of Hattie. Of seeing her
day in and out and yet never getting to really live with her, of the lifetime
of love and memories they would have shared, of the Christmas wedding they’d
planned that never had come to pass. And he thought of the children, the
blessings they’d dreamed of raising together which destiny had denied them. Oh,
they’d reconciled themselves and compensated as best they could—and he was
grateful for all they did share. Yet, at times, and especially now when feeling
the physical, he ached for all he’d lost. And a part of him hurt even more
deeply for Hattie because he now knew she had suffered these physical pains
he’d been spared until today each and every day of her life. "Yes, Suzie.” His
voice cracked. "Sometimes I get so lonely I don’t think I can stand it.”
"Me, too,” she confessed in a whisper.
"But taking care of Jeremy and Lyssie and Daddy makes me feel better.” Solemn
and serious, she looked up at his eyes. "Do you take care of anybody—besides
Caring. His salvation. Hattie’s, too. A
touch of serenity returned and a smile skimmed over his lips. "Yes, I do. I
call them special guests.” When he saw the question in her eyes, he went on to
explain. "Sometimes people who are hurt inside come to visit Seascape Inn and
Miss Hattie and I try to help them. That makes us feel better—like you with
"Does Miss Hattie see you too, then?”
His heart plunged to his stomach like a
hollow rock. "No. I’m afraid that would just make us both sad.”
"You loved her.”
Gazing at Suzie’s fuzzy pink slippers
beside the bed, Tony looked up.
"My daddy is sad.” Suzie shrugged. "He
loved Meriam and she died.”
Meriam. Not Mom, or Mother. Meriam. Was
Suzie still that angry at her mother for dying? It would explain the
nightmare—if it were a nightmare and not a premonition.
Tony picked up Suzie’s brush then moved
it to the dresser. Its hard bristles grating against his thumb felt good. He’d
loved Hattie Stillman heart and soul for sixty years. "You’re very observant.”
Despite feeling depressed to his
toenails, he grinned, then turned to face Suzie. "Only you can see me—at least
for a while.”
She mulled that over, then cocked her
He leaned back against the dresser,
crossed his legs at his ankles, then rubbed at his temple with his forefinger.
"That’s kind of hard to answer.”
"My friend Selena says difficult stuff
is always hard to answer—she’s a grown-up—but I don’t think it is. I think you
just have to say the truth. If you lie, stuff’s hard, but the truth is easy.”
Out of the mouths of babes. "I agree.
But sometimes people have the devil’s own time accepting the truth, especially
if they don’t understand it.”
Weak winter moonlight slanted in through
the window and over Suzie’s face. Her lips weren’t blue and her teeth weren’t
chattering anymore. He was glad to see it. He straightened up, walked over,
then tucked the quilts up under her chin. "And on that fine note, I think it’s
time for you to go to sleep.”
Fear slammed through her, made her pale
cheeks pasty white. "I—I don’t want to sleep.”
When she slept, she dreamed. A tender
knot hitched in his chest. Being alone in the dreams frightened her. "You don’t
have to be afraid anymore, Suzie. I’m here to help you now, and you won’t be
alone in any more nightmares—not at Seascape.”
She frowned up at him. "I was.”
"But you won’t be anymore.”
"Because I’m going to be with you. I
didn’t know enough about your dream before, but now I do.” He debated, then
went on. "Seascape is a healing house. That’s why you’re here. Your dad and
Jeremy and Lyssie, too.”
"Seascape is magic,” Suzie said with the
authority only a nine-year-old can muster. "Aunt Maggie said so, and Jimmy told
me, too. But I didn’t think they meant it really was magic, but now I
think it must be.”
She wanted to believe, yet, as with the
promises, she feared being disappointed. "Who’s Jimmy?”
She reached down for a little yellow
flowered quilt. One not quite big enough for a bed, but perfect for dragging on
the floor behind tiny feet and cuddling, one clearly made by Hattie. Tony
recognized her stitching, and the yellow carnation she’d appliquéd on its corner.
Suzie tugged it close. "Jimmy Goodson.
Don’t you know him? Miss Hattie says Jimmy’s the bestest mechanic in the whole
world, and Daddy says Jimmy’s kind of like Miss Hattie’s son. I helped him
plant a yellow tea rose bush in the garden today. He showed me how to not cut
my foot with the shovel.”
"Ah, I see. I wasn’t sure if you meant a
Jimmy from home or from here.” Tony smiled. So the bulletin board bets on
Seascape Inn’s special guests continued down at the Blue Moon Cafe, Jimmy
continued to win them, and he had indeed bought Hattie the yellow tea rose bush
with his winnings on the John and Bess Mystic bet, just as he’d planned. "Well,
a girl nine, I would say, surely does need to know how to use a shovel.”
"Uh-huh.” More relaxed now, Suzie’s
eyelids grew heavy. "Do you think Seascape is magic?”
"In a way, I suppose it is.”
"Daddy took me and Jeremy and Lyssie to
the Blue Moon Cafe for ice cream and I asked Miss Lucy, the lady who works
there, and she said Seascape is magic, too. She said it’s a place where people
come to heal broken hearts or spirits or dreams because the lady who built it
loved everybody so much, and love fixes broken stuff.”
Tony’s mother, Cecelia Freeport. A
healer, she had loved well. And, yes, far stronger than death, love lingers. His
very presence here proved that. "Lucy told you all this?” Tony rubbed at his
neck. A born romantic, Lucy usually just went on and on about the legend, or
tried to draw others into her family debate on whether angels were spiritual
beings or humans passed on. Likely she’d spared Suzie both because of her
"If Lucy Baker said so, then I guess it
must be true.”
"That’s what Mr. Baker said. He said
Miss Lucy can’t abide lying.” Suzie blinked slowly as if puzzling something
out. "I’m not sure what ‘abide’ means but I guess it’s that she doesn’t like
lying. No grown-ups do. Do you know Mr. Baker? He’s got a gold ring that looks
like a lump. I asked what it was and he said a nugget. I’m not sure what that
means, either, but it’s pretty.”
A scrape on the floor out in the hallway
claimed Tony’s attention. Bryce had awakened. "We’ll talk more tomorrow. You
need to rest.” Tony drifted his hand down over her face. "Sleep, little one.”
She clenched her jaw to resist, but by
the time his fingertips touched her chin, her expression had gone lax and she
Tony slipped into the hallway with a
lengthy list of questions and too few answers, then tapped into Bryce’s mind.
Generally men weren’t as sensitive as women to the intrusion. More often than
not, they thought Tony’s comments or suggestions were their own consciences.
But this time Tony’s invasion wasn’t to guide, it was to explore. Why was Suzie
having this dream? Why was it always the same—her falling out of the boat, then
drowning? And Bryce had been coping, so why now was he seemingly at wit’s end?
Wading through Bryce’s thoughts, Tony
sensed intense frustration. Futility. Feelings of failure ran rampant through
the man. He loved his children—that emotion burned deeper and stronger than all
the others combined—and he wanted the best for them.
Tony opened himself further to the man’s
pain, to his longings and desires. And, staggering from the intensity of
Bryce’s inner conflicts and feelings, Tony concluded one simple truth: Bryce
Richards believed heart and soul what he most needed was a mother for his
Suzie, Jeremy, and Alyssa did need a
mother—a special one who’d love them unconditionally. But, immersed in focusing
on his children, Bryce didn’t realize he was also in dire need. Nor did he seem
likely to realize it anytime soon. Meriam had been dead for two years, yet he
still loved her as if she were alive—or thought he did.
Tony sighed. The man had yet to face
some hard truths about their relationship. And those realizations, Tony well
knew, wouldn’t come easily. Learning life’s lessons rarely did. But he and
Hattie would do all they could to make the challenge easier.
A woman began crying.
Deep inside his own mind, Tony heard her
clearly. Yet all the leaf-peepers had gone home. Bryce, his children, and Mrs.
Wiggins were the only guests at the inn. Perplexed, Tony let his thoughts drift
from Bryce toward the distant sound.
The vision hazy at first, he focused on
a woman driving a rental car, a white Chevrolet Caprice. She was pretty, petite
and blond, and crying. Not deep, racking sobs. Silent tears. Ones that sprang
from a wound so deep inside her, just looking at her was painful. She was on a
highway—Tony scanned the area—near Bangor. The map on the seat beside her had a
snaky pink-highlighted path drawn to Nova Scotia—from New Orleans.
Bryce and the children were from New
Tony tapped into her thoughts. Though
scattered enough to make him dizzy, he soon pieced together that she was recently
divorced and mourning someone. Not her ex-husband. Someone important to her,
though. A yellow carnation was pinned to a floppy hat that lay on the
passenger’s seat beside her and, for some inexplicable reason, a phrase ran
through her mind time and again: She was the sunshine of our home.
It seemed associated to someone named
Mary Beth. So close to the name of Tony’s own deceased sister, Mary Elizabeth.
Was this Mary Beth the woman’s mother? The woman mourned?
She was the sunshine of our home.
Criminy, this was Bryce’s mysterious
Mrs. Tate! And she was here in Maine.
To meet Bryce? Was that why Tony had
heard her crying?
As she drove, Tony checked the street
signs. Sea Haven Highway. The road to Sea Haven Village from Bangor. Well, that
clinched it. Where it’d lead, he hadn’t a clue—never before had he been lured
like this to a potential special guest—but already he’d been warned these
special guests were different, so he’d follow through and see to it that the
mysterious Mrs. Tate would have the opportunity at least to come to the inn and
meet Bryce Richards.
Concentrating hard, Tony urged her to
turn, mentally luring her to the inn as he had so many others—and he met with
surprisingly strong resistance.
Wonderful. Just wonderful. Not only
mourning. Not only wounded from the divorce. Caline Tate faced even more
challenges. Thanks to that ex-husband of hers—Bryce’s client, no less—the woman
was sure to be reluctant if not in downright refusal mode. With Bryce’s
realizations about his marriage to Meriam yet to come, and Cally’s own
emotional demons to be confronted, this was going to be a doozy of a case. But,
by gum, Tony and Hattie had faced challenges before, and Suzie was worth the
extra effort. Bryce and Caline, and Jeremy and Lyssie, too. Tony just prayed
his and Hattie’s guidance would be enough. Though they always tried their best
to aid special guests, unfortunately, they weren’t always successful. And he
couldn’t shake that image of himself from Suzie’s dream. The one of him as powerless.
"Tony?” Suzie called out. "Tony, are you
The Doubting Thomasette had
awakened. He paused a second longer, and glimpsed Caline Tate taking the turn
to exit onto Sea Haven Highway. Ah, she had chosen to come to the inn. Good.
Good. He could lure, encourage, but the special guests had to make their own
decisions, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Smiling, he returned to Suzie. "I’m
"I know Seascape has magic.”
Sober-eyed, she nodded against her crisp white pillowslip.
Just this moment, he was happy to agree.
"Why is that, little one?”
"Because I called and you came—and
because I smell your carnation even though I see right through you.”
His smile fell to a frown and his skin
knitted between his brows. "I won’t hurt you.”
"I know that.” She clicked her tongue to
the roof of her mouth and rolled her gaze ceilingward. "You came to help me.”
Acceptance. Sweet acceptance. He savored
it for a long moment and, when he answered her, his voice sounded unusually
gruff. "Yes, I did.”
"Well, then, what I want to know is if
you can get us a new mom. Selena says...”
Joy bubbled in his chest. God, but he
loved children. A pang of longing, of wishing he and Hattie had had the chance
to have their own, slid through him. He shunned it. Their situation wasn’t
perfect, but at least he was here with his beloved—more or less. "Who’s
Selena?” Suzie had mentioned her earlier.
"My grown-up friend. Uncle John’s little
sister. Do you know John Mystic and my aunt, Bess?”
"Yes, I do.” Boy, had those special
guests given Tony a run for his money. They’d narrowly escaped divorce. He and
Hattie had been thrilled with the outcome of that case.
"Selena’s old. At least
Tony repressed a smile by the skin of his
teeth. "Twenty-five. Well, that’s old, all right. So what does Selena say?”
"My dad says time makes things better.
My doctor does, too. We talk and talk every week but I still keep having the
dreams, anyway. That’s how I know time won’t work. They’re not lying though,
just wrong.” Suzie fidgeted. The covers under and over her crinkled. "But
Selena says the only way to get better is to get and keep both oars in the
water. I think she’s right. If I can get Jeremy and Lyssie a new mom who’ll
love them, then maybe that’ll fix things. Lucy Baker said love fixes broken
stuff, and not having a mom is kind of being broken, don’t you think?”
Tony wanted to hug the child. To wash
the hurt away. But he couldn’t. Yet he could help her to learn to live more
constructively with the hurt. "I’d say it can be.”
"It is,” Suzie said. "I’m hoping Miss
Lucy is right. I don’t know if she is or isn’t. But Jeremy’s four and
Lyssie—Alyssa—is two. They’re little. Other people can love little kids easier
than big kids, and they don’t even remember Meriam. She was kind of our mom but
she didn’t like us calling her that so we called her Meriam. Well, me and
Jeremy did. Lyssie was too little to talk when Meriam went to heaven.”
Suzie paused for breath, giving Tony
time to mentally catch up, then pulled her quilt closer and rubbed her thumb
over the appliquéd carnation’s petals. "Jeremy and Lyssie are little so they
really need a mom. I don’t ‘cuz I’ve never really had a mom and I’m nine now,
so it doesn’t matter to me—as long as she loves them.” With a telling shrug,
Suzie stared at the ceiling, clearly seeing far beyond the swirls of white
plaster. "But if she bakes peanut butter cookies like my friend Missy’s mom
does, then I wouldn’t mind having one, though. Mrs. Wiggins won’t let us have
cookies. Meriam told her not to—sugar rots your teeth—but Daddy does,
sometimes. Mostly when Mrs. Wiggins isn’t home. She fusses, and he’s too tired
to listen to it.”
A knot squared in Tony’s throat. Suzie
wanted a mom more than anything in the world. He hadn’t missed that she’d been
hurt at having to call her mother by name. Nor had he missed the tremor in her
voice on admitting she’d never really had a mom, or her obvious distaste for
Mrs. Wiggins, the old battleaxe of a nanny who’d arrived at the inn three days
ago with Bryce and the children. Every morning over coffee Bryce read Wiggins’s
list of Jeremy’s previous day’s infractions. He was just four, for pity’s sake.
Tony bent down beside Suzie’s bed then
clasped her little hand in his big one. "We’ll have to wish really hard for a
mom, then—for Jeremy and Lyssie.”
Suzie nodded. "How come your fingers are
He stared at them. What could he say? I have no life. And the absence of life
renders the absence of warmth? Would she accept that?
"Tony? You promised never to lie.”
He tried, but he couldn’t make himself
meet her eyes and maybe see her condemnation of him reflected there. "Being
alive makes you warm, Suzie.”
"Outside.” She touched his jacket over
his heart. "But you’re warm in here. That’s where it’s important—Selena said.”
To Suzie, Selena obviously was the ultimate
authority. "She’s a wise woman.” And with the gift Suzie’d just given him, if
he’d ever doubted it, Tony now had seen it proven true: Seascape was a
magical place. And how he prayed he had the skills to bring Suzie a gift she’d
treasure as much as he did her acknowledgment that he had heart: a new mom.
He and Hattie certainly would do
everything possible, and they’d pray hard—more than hard, if he knew his
beloved, and he certainly did—that the special guests did their part.
"I lied to you.” Suzie blinked furiously
then forced her gaze up to his. Guilt radiated from her in pulsing waves. "I
really do want a mom.”
"I know.” Understanding what that
admission had cost her, he swallowed down a hard lump from his throat and
stroked her sleep-tangled hair. "Sometimes when something’s really important to
us, well, we all tell ourselves it isn’t important so it won’t hurt so much if
we don’t get it.”
"Even me.” He met her big brown eyes,
thinking of Hattie. "But I’ll share a secret with you. If we wish really hard,
you might just get a new mom.”
Remorse slithered through him. He
shouldn’t have told Suzie that. He hadn’t meant to, but the longing in her had
struck a chord in him, the same chord that reminded him of all those nevers
between him and Hattie, and it had just slipped out.
Suzie’s eyes sparkled and her mouth
dropped open into a big O. "Honest? You’re not just telling me that? Grown-ups
do that sometimes. I don’t like it.”
How could he recant after that? "No, I’m
not just saying it. It could happen, Suzie, but it could not happen,
too. That’s why we have to wish hard. It all depends on your dad and, er, the
lady who’s coming.”
"She’s coming here?” When he nodded,
Suzie’s eyes stretched even wider. "But what if we don’t know it’s her? She
could go away, and Jeremy and Lyssie—”
"You’ll know her. I promise.” Tony
touched a finger to the flower at his lapel. "She’ll be wearing a yellow
carnation, just like this one.”
"Shh, it’s time to sleep now. And,
remember. No nightmares, not at Seascape.” He tucked the thick quilt up under
her chin then tapped a fingertip to her nose. "Miss Hattie would pitch a fit.”
"Miss Hattie doesn’t do that.” Suzie
giggled, then sobered. "Mrs. Wiggins might, though.”
Tony grunted. The battleaxe surely
might. "I want you to listen carefully, Suzie. This is very important, okay?”
"We can’t interfere with your dad and
the lady who’s coming here.” He dropped his voice to a soft whisper and spoke
straight to the child’s soul. "But—and this is a promise—if only one has the
courage to believe, miracles can happen beside a dreamswept sea.”
Suzie looked awestruck, then frowned,
clearly worried. "But I don’t believe in miracles anymore. I even told Missy
The child had grasped the significance
of his words to her; no doubt about it. "Then you’ve got to try to believe in
them again. So you’ll heal.”
For a long moment, the child stared at
his jacket buttons and worried her lip with her teeth. Then she looked back at
his eyes, her own filled with resolve. "I can’t promise, but if you say it’s
true, then I’ll try hard to believe it. I really will, Tony.”
Her leap of faith touched him. "Why?”
"Because you promised, and you didn’t lie.”
Her mother. It had been her broken
promises, so many of them, which had taught Suzie skepticism and a fear of
believing anyone but her father. Yet Tony couldn’t judge Meriam harshly for it;
the poor woman had fought her emotional demons, too. How well Tony knew she had
from her visit here. She’d, unfortunately, been one of his failures; too far
gone before she arrived to trust in herself, to trust in him, and to heal.
"Thank you, Suzie.” He placed a fatherly kiss to her soft brow, and whispered a
silent prayer that he wouldn’t fail her as he had her mother. "Sleep peacefully
He started to disappear, thought better
of it, then walked toward the door.
Gripping the doorknob, he looked back
over his shoulder at her. "Hmm?”
"A yellow carnation. I won’t forget.”
She wouldn’t. She’d be more attentive
than Batty Beaulah Favish next door with her goofy binoculars. "Good girl.”
"Will it be soon—that my new mom will
The longing in Suzie’s voice cut through
him like a knife. "Very soon. But, remember now, she won’t know she might be
your new mom. We don’t know for sure, either. We have to let her and your dad
figure it out.”
"Why can’t I just tell them?”
"Won’t work, little one.” Tony had tried
that often enough to know it for fact. "Some things grown-ups have to figure
out for themselves. That’s how love operates. We can encourage, but they have
Tony raised his brows.
"Well, sometimes grown-ups take too
He supposed they did. "Then we’ll have
to be patient.” He winked. "And wish hard that they hurry.”
Suzie squeezed her eyes shut and clamped
her jaw, putting her heart into it. Tony grinned. If wishes alone could do the
trick, this case already would be a done deal.
But with Bryce and Caline’s challenges,
their healing enough to maybe find love would take far more than wishes; it’d
take a fistful of miracles. And Tony only hoped they’d find them, and that this
case would become a done deal. For Suzie, and Jeremy and Lyssie, but also for
Bryce and Caline. Their odds weren’t the greatest, but then if they were, they
wouldn’t be here. Both seriously need loving. Desperately needed loving. And
just as desperately, they both needed to love.
Tony eased into the hallway. Slumped
between wall and floor, Bryce shivered in his sleep. Eons ago, Tony had grown
accustomed to his presence cooling temperatures, though, truthfully, it still
rankled. He visualized Hattie’s crocheted afghan, draped it over Bryce, then
stepped back to study him. If the man held his head at that weird angle long,
he’d awaken with a heck of a crick in his neck. "Well, why not?” Tony thought. "In
for an ounce, in for a gallon.” He visualized a pillow, too.
After situating it under Bryce’s head,
Tony straightened up, then walked down the hallway. There was a consolation to
him chilling rooms. As soon as Suzie spilled tonight’s events to Miss
Hattie—which would most likely be at the crack of dawn—Tony figured his beloved
would be glaring at the ceiling and railing, heating up his own ears plenty.
A smile curved his lips. Heading up the
stairs to his attic bedroom, he rubbed his hands together, hardly able to wait.
Few things held the appeal of a righteously indignant Hattie Stillman. Even if,
in this instance, she had every right to be furious. He never should’ve told
Suzie that "new mom” bit. Never should’ve interceded into her dream without
first knowing the costs. Yet he’d had no other choice. None he could live with
anyway. And again he wondered. What would be the penalty for interceding?
And who will be penalized? Sunshine asked in a phantom whisper.
Fear trickled down his spine. Tony came
to a dead halt, clutched the banister in a death grip. Why hadn’t he considered
that his actions could affect someone else? Could affect Hattie?