The oyster shell gravel crunched beneath the worn tires of Caroline’s Jeep Cherokee as she pulled into the long driveway of the huge plantation home. She squinted through the torrential downpour to compare the address on her map to the golden numbers strategically placed between the majestic columns. Caroline had never seen rain like this. She’d grown up in Arkansas, only one state away, but the raindrops here were different. They were gargantuan and the intensity had strengthened since she’d stopped. Great.
Her heart still pounded from the almost-accident she narrowly avoided just after crossing into the tiny town of Golden Meadow, Louisiana. That would’ve been a fun one to explain. “Honest officer, I swerved so I wouldn’t hit the person standing in the
road. . .in the pouring rain and darkness. . .in the middle of nowhere.” Unbelievable.
She still had no clue who it was or why he or she was there, but when she’d stopped screaming and looked out her back window, whoever she’d nearly creamed had vanished. Yet another creepy incident to add to her list of unexplainable episodes. Caroline couldn’t ignore the hairs standing at attention on her arms. This spooky bayou was already getting to her and she hadn’t even stepped out of the car yet. She had to pull herself together. No time for crazy right now. As much as she dreaded it, she had a mission to accomplish. She was about to rock Eddie Fontenot’s world.
It was nearly impossible to see the house number for the giant raindrops slapping her window like water balloons, but she finally confirmed she was at the right place and groaned. She instantly wished she’d stayed at her mother’s house in Arkansas. Damn Trevor for making me do this! Damn him!
After two years together, you would think she’d be used to the spontaneous, sometimes moody architect’s crazy ideas, but since she’d accepted the two-something carat rock weighing her finger down, she had to admit Trevor had been a different person. Caroline stared at her ring finger and wiggled it so the diamond caught the light from the nearby gas lamp. It was fabulous. Not quite square, more rectangular and it sparkled like the stars on a moonless night.
Caroline remembered something her best friend said in an argument over three months ago. Kristy’s words still stung as if she’d just said them.
“Perhaps you should look up a more accurate definition of gentleman. He most certainly does manipulate you. You’re just too blinded by the rock to see it.”
Was she blinded by the rock? No, she didn’t care about material things. Maybe Kristy was right, maybe Trevor did manipulate her sometimes, but Caroline loved him. She’d been with him long enough to know she was in love with him. She and Trevor had a great relationship.
He had talked her off the ledge every time she thought she’d had enough of college. His patience while pulling all the late nighters tutoring her in advanced math, the romantic dates and high-end concerts of her favorite bands, and his ability to keep her focus on the goal. He’d pulled some strings through his friends who now worked at the University to help her get the professors she really wanted. Also, the never ending physical attention and awareness she absorbed every second they were together. They trusted each other, rarely fought, and she loved him. Every defined inch of the naturally bronze skin he’d inherited from his Native American ancestors.
Her body tingled remembering their last date before she left when he described the deliciously erotic ways he would rock her world on their wedding night. He could hardly keep his hands off her when they were together. Her heart thrummed with anticipation, and nerves, of their wedding night, but she had no doubt Trevor could handle her with care. “This ain’t my first rodeo” were his exact words. She forced herself not to think about the number of rodeos that helped him perfect his ride.
Just to be cautious, and to prevent her discussion with Eddie from focusing on her new bling, Caroline slipped the ring off her finger and tucked it safely in the inside zipper pocket of her purse. She wanted the focus of this meeting to be why Eddie left, not Trevor’s money or the assumption she was shallow and blinded by lavish gifts. Trevor loved Caroline and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her; it just so happened he came from money and had a great career. Sparkly rings and wealth weren’t important to Caroline, and clearly not why she agreed to marry him.
However, Trevor’s temper had reared its ugly head more since she accepted the lovely token than it had the whole two years they’d been together. Curt texts and voicemails when he couldn’t get hold of her, she’d overheard an unsettling phone conversation between him and his dad, and worst of all, he’d booked a church and reception hall without even talking with her—the bride, about it!
Caroline sighed, fogging her windows a little. Perhaps he’s been this way the whole time and she only noticed now since she’d promised to be with him forever. She wondered about the real motivation behind him sending her down here. Trevor explained it as wanting her to make amends with her estranged father before they got married so there would be no surprises in the future. No skeletons in the closet or unfinished business. Whatever. Caroline shook her head and rubbed the twitching muscle in her eyebrow. She could respect that, but had a feeling his reasoning stemmed from the contents in his boxers.
She stared at the beautiful home she never had a chance to enjoy—or even visit! Her heart raced with anxiety as she clenched her jaw. She loved her fiancé, but this was ridiculous. Love doesn’t have conditions, right? Why did Trevor care if her father was included in their lives anyway? He hadn’t been in her life in twenty-three years, why should it matter now? Why was she sitting in Eddie’s driveway having this crazy internal battle?
She knew why. Her uncontrollable curiosity. She wanted to meet him. She needed an explanation. Answers. She needed to know why he never felt the desire to know about her or how she was doing. She needed closure.
Time to finally hear his side of the story. Her mother said he offered her money, but she wouldn’t take it. Emily hadn’t wanted a pity-driven severance package, and her mother, Caroline’s grandmother, was ill, so she moved back to Arkansas to be closer to her parents. That was Emily’s side of the story. Caroline wondered if her mom’s version of the story was, in fact, influenced by her role as the woman scorned. She assured Caroline her father wasn’t the coward she’d made him out to be. That he was a good man easily influenced by his pushy family.
Apparently Eddie was fine with Caroline not being in his life, and now she expected him to what? Open his arms and accept her into his home for an extended period of time? She at least wanted to know why he hadn’t pressed for joint custody rather than moving on with his posh lifestyle pretending she never existed.
She had the whole summer to work things out with him, but hoped all would be resolved in less than a week. Maybe that’s all it would take and Caroline could get on with her life. Maybe even as quick as the weekend.
Her mom’s encouragement to form her own opinion of her dad and his family was understandable, but Trevor’s suggestion to stay the whole three months and come back just before the fall semester was insane! She already missed him and his comforting embrace. Besides, what could she possibly have to talk about with the man who abandoned her, obviously still doesn’t care about her existence, and lives in a gigantic house full of people she doesn’t know? At least, she assumed it was full. It’s awfully big for him to live there alone.
She swallowed the stinging ball of nerves at the realization of not knowing if she had a step family. That part had her almost as nervous as confronting the man she never cared to meet at all. Almost. She would just play it by ear and gauge his reaction to her presence.
Caroline admired her father’s home and wondered how long it had been there. Had to be at least a century. It reminded her of the recurring dreams she’d had, like a scene from Gone with the Wind. She sighed. Maybe Trevor was on to something. Caroline could understand where he came from in one sense. It’s best to clear the air and start with a fresh, clean slate. No sullen, bitter past haunting them. Trevor had a good relationship with both of his parents, from what she could tell by the two or three occasions she had seen them. In the long run, when she and Trevor had kids, it would be nice for them to have both sets of grandparents. Okay, enough stalling.
As she opened her car door, the stinging rain battered her exposed skin. She tried to open the faulty umbrella, but it wouldn’t latch to stay open. She grumbled under her breath and opted to run to the porch. So much for making a good first impression. She’d look like a drowned rat by the time she reached the front door. On her third step off the crushed shell surface of the driveway, her boot sank in about three inches of mud.
“Gah! Great. Fan-freakin-tastic!” She held the broken umbrella over her head to protect as much of her hair as possible, but it was no use. Nothing was going her way. She glanced up at movement from the corner of her eye and squinted through the rain. Someone observed her, completely motionless, from a dark third-story window. Terrific. So much for no one witnessing my embarrassing moment. Oh well, might as well go all in and finish the humiliation. Caroline slung the mud from her boot the best she could as she limped her way toward the house.
She approached the broad, extravagant front porch, and studied the old mansion. It reminded Caroline of her latest dream of the auburn-haired girl dressed in a flowing white nightdress who wept uncontrollably while frantically scribbling in a journal. The details of the one she’d had a few nights ago stuck with Caroline despite the blinding headache that always accompanied these particular dreams. She had admired the mahogany canopy bed and the sheer white material cascading from the beams. A perfect complement to the exquisite matching dressing table and mirror. The immaculate fixtures and decor were stunning and very elegant.
Before the girl busted into the room, Caroline had peeked out the bedroom window to the male voices she’d heard below outside. Men stood in the yard smoking cigars and wore skinny bow ties, and a couple had on bowler-style hats. Like in her previous dreams, the characters were dressed in fashion reminiscent of the mid 1800s.
Caroline peered through the darkness to see if the yard looked the same, but the much-too-brief slack in the rain prohibited her from seeing much past the porch. Unable to shake the niggling déjà vu feeling, she faced the house again and soaked in the ambience of the historical home. The flickering gas lamps flanking the front door lit the area enough for her to see that the black paint covering the wooden shutters couldn’t hide the scars from years of abuse provided by Mother Nature. Though somewhat battered, they reflected the care and hard work it took to preserve the brilliance and luster of the historical structure. Caroline brushed her fingertips across the clean, white paint that covered the regal columns and admired the matching white rocking chairs.
Amazed by the grace and beauty of the home, Caroline peeled the tail of her soaked shirt from her skin to ring out the saturated fabric, and knocked the remaining mud from her boot. She flipped her head over and fluffed her wet hair, tossing it back again to smooth it while she silently stoked her courage. Procrastinating, her eyes scanned the structure one last time. The house had obviously been built to last. Man, Trevor would die over this incredible architecture. If the gorgeous outside provided any indication of how prestigious the inside would be, Caroline was way out of her league. And she was about to find out.
With a deep breath and a silent prayer, Caroline blindly wiped beneath her eyes to remove any possibly smudged mascara and murmured, “Here goes nothing.”
Another deep breath, she finally knocked. After a few moments, the beautiful solid wood door slowly opened. A small-framed woman in her mid-forties stood at the threshold. Her deep blue dress matched her vibrant eyes and contrasting pale skin. Her hair was swept up in a French twist, but the shiny, dark spiral curls that framed her petite features didn’t hide her unmitigated surprise. She stared at Caroline for a long moment as if she recognized her. The tiny woman’s eyes never left Caroline’s face, and she shook her head like a child shaking an etch-a-sketch toy.
“Um, hi there. I’m looking for Eddie Fontenot.” Caroline tried to force herself to smile, but the nerves made it difficult.
The woman stared blankly. “Certainly, wh-who may I tell him is calling?”
“Um, you may tell him his daughter is here.”
The lady, with her mouth still hanging open, hesitated. “Uh, sure, one moment please.”
As the woman turned to go get him, Caroline heard a man’s voice. “Who is it Delia?” The door still open, she could see him coming down the stairs. Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. When the woman didn’t answer him, he asked her again, “Delia, who’s at the door?”
Delia said nothing and turned to look at her through the open door. Caroline’s heart threatened to burst from her chest. His eyes followed Delia’s and he stopped cold when he saw her.
Delia choked out a whisper, “She says she’s your daughter, sir.”