California man - the author's cut edition

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California Man

The Author's Cut Edition

 

by

 

EC Sheedy as Carole Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

By payment of required fees, you have been granted thenon-exclusive,non-transferable right to access and read the text of this eBook. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of copyright owner.

 

Please Note

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

The reverse engineering, uploading, and/or distributing of this eBook via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

 

Copyright 1992, 2011 by Edna Sheedy. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

 

Cover by Angela Oltmann ofangieocreations.com

 

eBook design by eBook Prepwww.ebookprep.com

 

Thank You.

 

 

 

 

 

Always Tim.

And Pat, my sister and best friend.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Quinn Ramsay stood on the foredeck of the ferry staring at the island of his retreat. It was small, green, and tranquil—and it was a long way from L.A.

Six weeks. What the hell was he going to do here for six long weeks?

He zipped up his jacket and stuffed his hands into the pocket of his slacks, the act half in resignation to his immediate future and half in defense against the cool wind blowing through the narrow channel.

What was it Paul called this place?

* * *

"Salt Spring Island is a jewel, Quinn," Paul said. "A real jewel. Right up your alley. There's cycling, hiking, scuba diving—and great fishing. No problem for you to occupy yourself."

"I'll pass on the fishing, thanks, but the cycling will be good—and maybe the hiking. I could use the time to get in shape."

Paul Severns looked across the lunch table at him and chuckled. "Yeah, you're falling to pieces, big guy. Anyone can see that. The star of my latest picture should look so good," he finished.

"Maybe so, but the last six months have been nothing but one damned meeting and one jet after another. I've spent so much time in elevators, offices, and underground parking lots, I'm beginning to feel like a caged chicken."

Quinn looked out over the beach in front of his Malibu home. His gaze slid disinterestedly over a perfectly sculptured California body then down to his watch.

Relax,he told himself.It's Sunday afternoon. Your schedule is clear until tonight.Then? Another plane to catch. He was sick to death of his schedule. "So tell me more about this island jewel."

"It's off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. I found out about it from a guy on the lighting crew when we were shooting up there a couple of years ago. He took a bunch of us fishing—I ended up spending a week. It was fantastic. As a place to mull things over—get out of the glare—it'll be perfect. I think the population is seven, maybe eight thousand. There's no night life to speak of." Paul spotted the bikini and paused to take a drink and a look, then continued, "I guess the best word to describe it is peaceful."

Quinn mulled over Paul's description.Peaceful...Not entirely sure how much of that he could take.

Paul went on, "My place is on the waterfront at the north end. The whole island can't be more than twenty miles in length, so it doesn't take long to get anywhere. There's a caretaker and his wife, Zach and Blanche, who live on the property year-round, but they're in a separate cabin, so you'll have your privacy. I've told them you're coming, so they'll have everything ready for you. If you get bored, you can hop a ferry or seaplane to Vancouver or Victoria, but I doubt you will."

Quinn wasn't so certain. Wasn't one man's paradise another man's hell? He drank his coffee in silence.

Paul seemed to hesitate before asking, "Are you going to call Gina, let her know where you're going?"

"No."

"She'll ask, you know."

"She can ask all she wants, but my plans for the next few weeks don't include Gina Manzoni."

"What will I tell her?"

"Tell her whatever you want. She's your star. You'll think of something—just leave me out of it."

* * *

The ferry bumped itself into place at Vesuvius Bay, and Quinn returned to his Range Rover. He took another quick look at the map Paul had drawn for him before driving off the ferry.

Although he was grateful for the use of the house, he was more than a little worried about the solitude. All Paul's talk about peaceful made him edgy. Used to a crazed schedule and a lot of action, he wasn't sure he could cut it.

Stow it, Ramsay. You're here to think about an offer on your company in the eight figures—action enough for any man.

He spotted Dogwood Lane and turned left. Paul's house number was carved into a piece of driftwood that marked the entrance to a long driveway shadowed by tall cedars. He turned in and saw the caretaker cottage to his immediate left.

When he knocked on the door, he was greeted by a tiny woman with long brown hair and a big smile. He introduced himself, and she extended her hand.

"I'm Blanche. We've been expecting you." Turning her head a bit, she called out, "Zach, he's here."

Zach stepped into the room, his smile friendly. "Carry on down the driveway a bit, Mr. Ramsay, and you'll see the house. I'll get the key and be right behind you."

Zach arrived at the house a minute or two behind Quinn, who was already starting to unload the car. He was taking out two mountain bikes when Zach arrived carrying a plastic container.

"Blanche thought you might like a snack. It's a bit of stew and a couple of buns. If you've eaten, she says you can save it for tomorrow." Zach opened the door and headed for the kitchen. He put the container down and helped Quinn with his luggage. That done, he turned to go.

"If there's anything you need, or want to know, about the island, Mr. Ramsay, let me know. I was born here, so there aren't too many questions I can't answer. Paul said to make sure you were comfortable, and Blanche and I intend to do just that."

"Thanks. But if you really want me to be comfortable, call me Quinn."

Zach looked relieved. "Quinn it is. I'm away then. The phone number for our place is tacked up on the fridge if you need anything."

Quinn followed him to the door and watched him disappear behind the row of cedars. He stowed his luggage in the spacious master bedroom, gave silent thanks for the king-sized bed, and walked through the rest of the house. As with his own home in Malibu, its focus was the waterfront. A wall of glass framed the narrow channel of water separating tiny Salt Spring from its large neighbor, Vancouver Island. But unlike the wide sandy beach at Malibu, here the shoreline was rocky, defining itself in craggy, misshapen stone beyond a tall, twisted arbutus tree.

He opened a sliding glass panel and stepped onto the deck overlooking the pool and then the ocean. The air was cool and fresh against his tanned face as he watched the slow sinking of the sun. So this was Paul's jewel.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

For the first time, he started to look forward to the pure uneventfulness of the coming weeks.

* * *

"Em, will you watch the store while I run to the post office?"

"Sure. Get me some stamps while you're there?" Emily put her book down and popped open her till while Grace propped the door open between the two shops.

She walked toward Emily's counter. "What a fabulous day!"

Emily raised her head from the till and looked out the window. "It is, isn't it? I think May on Salt Spring is the best month of the year."

"Why don't we lock up at twelve and have lunch in the park? What do you say?"

"I don't know..." Emily was tempted, but she did have accounts payable to take care of.

"Come on," Grace wheedled. "In another month neither of us will be able to play hooky. The tourists, bless them, will be upon us. We'll have to at least pretend to be responsible businesspeople. I say we goof off while we still can."

"Okay. Why not?" Emily handed her a couple of bills for the stamps. As she did, she heard the jangle of the brass bell over Grace's shop door. Grace sighed.

"Wouldn't you know it. I haven't sold a muffin in over an hour, and the minute I plan a quick trip to the post office, the hordes arrive."

Emily laughed. By leaning over her own bookstore counter, she had a clear view of the cash register in Grace's store. "Hardly the hordes you might like. It's Mrs. Duncan. So scat, go to the post office. I'll take care of her."

"Bless you." With that Grace was gone.

In the next second, Emily was behind Grace's counter. "What can I do for you. Mrs. Duncan?" she said with a smile.

"One of those raspberry ones, dear." The elderly lady pointed to a metal rack filled with fresh muffins. "And a cup of tea, please," she added before taking a seat at a table near the window.

As Emily heated a muffin and readied Mrs. Duncan's tea, she thought about her play that would be staged by the Salt Spring Theatre Group in four weeks' time. It was calledA Change in Christine.How had Grace described it again? A wonderfully warm and funny Pygmalion story. She liked that. The cast was well along in rehearsals, and Emily got excited every time she thought about it. They'd looked good last night, terrific in fact, and Granger, the director, was convinced it would be a success. Damned if his enthusiasm wasn't contagious. If it hadn't been for Grace pushing her, she'd never have had the courage to submit it.

After Grace reminded her for about the thousandth time that there was no point in writing plays if nobody ever performed them, she'd taken a deep breath and sent it in. She'd been terrified of rejection—rejection that, this time, didn't come. She dared and won. It was a whole new experience.A turning point,she'd told herself. A definite turning point.On that positive note, she turned her attention to Mrs. Duncan.

"Here you are." She placed the tea and muffin on the tiny round table. "Anything else?"

"No, thank you, dear." The elderly woman added sugar to her tea and asked, "Have the new romance novels arrived yet?"

"Not yet. I expect them next week sometime. Do you want me to call you?"

"Would you? That would be very nice."

Emily smiled and nodded.

Mrs. Duncan, eighty and counting, was a longtime customer of Welland Books. Every month, without fail, she bought six romance novels. In the summer months, when the island bulged with tourists, Emily, even though she didn't share her belief in the romantic, put copies aside for her.

Romance, Emily believed, was for more adventuresome people. Her own three-year relationship with Bill Davis after high school surely didn't qualify. Seven years ago now, she'd been twenty when it ended, and she'd be twenty-eight in a few months. Her throat constricted.Seven years. And there'd been no one since.Feeling a pity party in the offing, she veered away from thoughts on her scant romantic history. So what if her love life, or lack thereof, bordered on pathetic, she had a great life and treasured friends. No point in wanting something you'd never have.

Good thing I wasn't around when old Noah was filling his ark,she thought, a rueful smile playing across her lips.Or the human race would be in serious trouble.

Instantly her visual imagination, her playwright vision, kicked in with an image of herself standing at the ramp to the ark patiently waiting for Noah to find her mate. As he tried, it kept raining and the water kept rising until finally Noah said to her, "Sorry, Em, old girl. Gotta go. There doesn't seem to be anyone out there for you. Too bad."

The image shattered when Larry Enderby rattled through the door, all denim, belt, and keys. He would be disappointed Grace wasn't here, she thought. Emily put her head down and wiped the counter, careful to avoid his eyes when he spoke to her. He made her nervous. Men made her nervous.

"Hey, Em. Did Grace make any of those banana-raisin ones today?"

Emily scanned the muffin racks and found what he wanted. "Yes. How many?" she asked, keeping her back to him.

"Two. Oh, and two coffees to go." He fished into his tight jeans for change.

Emily handed him his muffins and coffee but missed his friendly smile. She'd already lowered her eyes.

"Thanks. Tell Grace to keep making these. They're great."

As Larry went out, Grace came in.

"Hi, Larry. Bye Larry," she said as they passed each other in the door and exchanged grins. She looked across the tiny shop at Emily. "See, what did I tell you? Hordes! Hi, Mrs. Duncan, how are you today? Is that a new hat? It's great."

Emily smiled as her friend handed her the stamps and change. She wished she could be as easy around people as Grace. Why couldn't she banter and tease, make small talk? Why did people make her freeze up and choke on her words? Oh, she was better, perfectly fine with people she knew well or in her store behind her counter. But why couldn't she toss a few bright words Larry's way?Because he was a man, that's why,she told herself honestly. The people who made her panic the most were invariably male. She headed for her shop, stopping for a moment at the sound of Grace's voice.

"See you at twelve, Em. Do you want a muffin today?"

"Good idea, considering that I forgot my lunch. How about one of those strawberry ones?"

"You got it."

Emily owned Welland Books and half of Milly's Muffins. It was Emily who encouraged Grace to make her living from her talents as a baker, and when the shop next door to hers became available, the two women seized the opportunity. Emily supplied the money from part of the inheritance her uncle left her, and Grace provided the skill and labor. The adjoining door was a bonus that allowed each of them the freedom to leave their shops for short periods while the other covered. It worked beautifully. Emily was delighted to have her sparkling friend so close by.

* * *

At twelve-fifteen the two women sat at a picnic table watching the boats in Ganges Harbour. All light and blue shine, the breeze-tossed ocean glinted and rolled under the May sun. Emily was glad she came. She loved her bookstore, but it did feel a bit like a cage on days like today, and this was not a day to be caged. She munched silently on her muffin.

"Larry asked me to go to Victoria with him this Sunday. Do you think I should go?" Grace asked, pulling a strip of shredded lettuce from her sandwich.

"Heavens, why ask me?"

"I was wondering what you thought of him, that's all. I get the impression you don't like him much."

"I like him well enough. He's... nice."

"Nice! You think everybody's nice. Nice is nothing. Nice is boring."

Emily watched Grace pull another piece of lettuce from her sandwich. "What are you doing to that poor thing?" She pointed to the wrecked sandwich. "And what's the matter with being nice?"

"Nothing I guess, but sometimes don't you want something—or someone—who's more than just nice? Like maybe exciting, thrilling, titillating—"

"Titillating?" Emily laughed.

"Stimulating, provocative, arousing—" Grace was on a roll.

Emily held up a hand, still laughing. "Enough already. You might as well look for Xanadu."

Grace gave her a vacant look.

"Coleridge?" Emily prompted with a widening grin.

"I hate it when you do that!"

"Do what?"

"Quote some very obscure,very deadperson."

"Sorry. Just making the point that you might as well search for a mythical Xanadu as look for 'exciting, thrilling, or arousing' on Salt Spring. All are pure fantasy. And titillating? Not a chance."

"Maybe, but there's nothing wrong with a little fantasy. The trouble with you, Em, is you're too easily satisfied. You've made an art of contentment... of placidity. As for me, there are times this islandreally, reallygets to me." She shook her head. "It's such a small piece of the world."

Small and safe,Emily thought to herself, denying her own midnight dreams of exotic countries and wild adventures. She knew they weren't for her; she'd only freeze up and panic. Even if she could leave here, she knew she'd always come back. It was home. But the word placid rankled. She didn'tfeelplacid.

When Emily didn't answer, Grace probed again. "Don't you ever want to go anywhere else? Wouldn't you like to meet a fantastic man, maybe travel, live in other places?"

Emily was about to answer when her interest was caught by a cycler coming toward them on the waterfront walkway. She couldn't make him out clearly, but she knew he wasn't local. He stopped a few feet away and got off his bike. For a moment he glanced their way, and a brief, friendly smile flashed across his face before he turned away to prop up his bike.

Emily shut her eyes tight and opened them again, convinced he wasn't real. Until this minute, if you would have asked her if men like this even existed, she would have said no, not without the magic of film and camera work. Never, never in the flesh. But there he was—and just looking at him made her slightly breathless. A breeze tossed the ends of his dark, wavy hair, oddly sun bleached in the front. Deeply tanned, aviator style sunglasses hid his eyes. Had to be an early tourist. No one here was that bronzed this early in the year. She wondered what color his eyes were behind those shadowy lenses. Finally, Grace's voice seeped through her fog.

"Talk about arousing! Is he incredible or what?" Emily wasn't the only one who noticed. Grace's tone was positively reverential. "Em, are you looking?"

Emily looked away. They were gawking like a pair of open-mouthed adolescents. When she pulled her eyes from his long, muscular body, it was as if she disconnected herself from a dream.

"Look, he's coming this way," Grace whispered. "He is. He really is."

Emily's gaze shot back to the stranger. Hewasmoving toward them.Oh, no...The bile of panic rose in her throat, closed it, and she lowered her eyes to fix on her pale hands.

"Excuse me?" he said. "Can you give an island newcomer some direction?"

"Glad to," Grace answered. "You can't be lost really. The island isn't big enough to do that—unless you work at it." She teased.

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