Mark wheeled his suitcases along the cobblestone path leading from the inn to the cottages. The Sisters Curious walked beside him. Though matters weren’t going as he’d planned he intended to stay until his questions were answered and he spent some time with his son.
He wanted to return to the desk and grill Christa. He didn’t know the boy’s name and he had no intention of asking his younger escorts. Had Christa walked beside him they could have negotiated an agreement. He knew of one reason that wouldn’t work. There’d been no compromise in her stance. She had drawn her line and dared him to make a move. He would and soon. Backing off wasn’t part of his nature.
A two story house with white clapboard siding stood on a half circle with five cottages strung like the tail of a kite. A garden lined both sides of the path. He noticed pumpkins, clusters of mums in variegated colors and an apple tree with a few dangling red fruit. The rest of the garden showed shrubs and bushes with brown or colored leaves.
His guides pointed to the last cottage. “That’s yours.”
Mark chuckled. Christa wasn’t making this easy but ten years ago, their first few encounters had challenged him. He had won then and he would now. He pulled his luggage to the door of cottage number five.
The taller of the two young women touched his arm. “I’m Stella. The runt is Peggy. If Christa keeps icing you we won’t. We can show you some fun.”
The second smiled. “We could help you settle in. Show you where everything is. Even fill you in on what Christa’s been doing.”
“No help needed.” He slipped the card into the slot. “I’m sure you have things to do.”
“Helping won’t be a problem,” Peggy said. “We have hours before we’re due at the inn. I run the cash register and Stel’s the hostess for the dining room.” She stepped closer. “We don’t work on weekends.”
“What does Christa do?”
“Acts like the inn belongs to her and no one else,” Stella said. “Oversees the kitchen, the rooms, handles reservations and keeps the books.”
“She’s a workaholic,” Peggy said. “Even though we both have business degrees she won’t let us help.”
He imagined they didn’t offer to help. He’d seen their kind of behavior in some of his friends from years past. He opened the door and pulled the luggage over the threshold. He closed the door leaving the sisters on the other side. Looks like Christa has more problems that the one he’d handed her.
He paused to survey the room. Polished wood floors. Cream colored walls. A large fireplace. A huge screen television. There were two couches that opened into beds. An archway led to the kitchen where a half wall divided the area between cooking and eating. He put the beer in the refrigerator and the tin of cookies on the counter. In the cupboard he found sturdy pottery dishes, closed canisters, tea, coffee and powdered creamer.
Mark pulled his luggage down the hall. One door led to a room with three sets of bunk beds. The second revealed a bathroom with a shower stall. The third door opened into a spacious bedroom with chest, dressers and a king-sized bed. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi. He opened a suitcase. As he unpacked he wondered how he could lure Christa into the bed.
Plans for a second seduction simmered in his thoughts. As the scheme unfolded his body reacted. He released a long held breath. He felt as hard as he had the first time he’d seen her. Scenes from their weekend of live-making flowed. They had spent more time in the raw than clothed. For four days they’d made love in every room of the apartment.
When he found his hand hovering over the zipped of his slacks he groaned. Though he ached for satisfaction he had to be subtle and cautious. Years ago there’d only been Christa. Now there was his son.
That thought shattered his erotic daydream. He put sweaters and underwear in drawers and hung slacks and jeans in the closet. He left his robe on the foot of the bed.
With unpacking completed he set up his computer in the dining alcove and plugged in the charger for his phone. He needed to check emails, call his brother to cancel their weekend plans and start his attorney searching for information.
There were no voice messages. As he started to leave one for his brother, Matt came on the line. “What do you mean you’re out of town indefinitely?”
“Exactly what I said. Something I need to deal with barged into my life.”
Matt laughed. “Something or someone?”
“You could say both.”
“Interesting. Thought you were a love and leave them kind of guy. Want me to join you and aid in the hunt?”
“Leave off, bro. I’ve founder and this time I plan to keep her.”
“Whoa. You’ve gone weird.”
“Then good luck and be careful. Remember hunts can be traps.”
“Not this time. I’m doing the trapping and I’m always careful except once.” Years ago he had been captured. After that weekend he’d been granted immunity to the women he’d dated. “How’s the Home Make-Over contest going?”
“One more place to check. I’ll head there next weekend.”
“Have fun.” Mark laughed. “Maybe this time instead of a house you’ll find the woman of your dreams.”
“Doubtful. I’ll leave love and marriage to our sisters.”
“Don’t count us out. You never know when the Blakefield Curse will strike. Ciao.” He hung up and hit speed dial for his attorney.
“I’ll see if he’s available,” the secretary said. Moments later he heard his friend’s and lawyer’s voice.
“Mark, what’s up?” Tony asked.
“Need some advice.”
“Social or legal?”
Mark explained where he was and why he’d driven to northern
Vermont. “Haven’t seen
my son yet but when you see the picture you’ll have no doubt I’m his father.”
“You say he’s about nine. We were in our last year around the time he was conceived. Never knew you had anything serious going on back then.”
“How can you be sure?” Tony asked. “You were never one to take chances.”
“Let’s say there was one time. Remember the long spring break weekend. You went to the beach and I stayed at school.”
Tony whistled. “And were a wreck when I returned. So you found her again. What do you want me to do?”
“Her name is Christa Parsons but she goes by Sommers now. She was a junior at the
is Green Mountain Inn. Let me know what you learn.”
“Will do. Be careful. Sign no papers. Don’t make a verbal agreement or a promise. Might be a good idea to return home until we have the facts.”
“Not going to happen. Talk to you soon.” He hung up and started a new file on his laptop and typed an outline and questions for a feature on the inn.
He glanced at his watch. “Nearly three-thirty. Wonder if he’s home from school.” Mark grabbed his jacket and stepped outside. He glanced toward the house where he felt sure his son lived with Christa. Mark grinned. He could march to the house, pound on the door and announce himself. Not a wise move. He had to wait until he and Christa had their talk.
Feeling too restless to return to the cottage he set out to walk off some of his edgy energy. Just beyond the cottage he chose one of the paths starting on the level and then led up a small hill. At the top he stopped to survey the scenery.
A meadow spread from the slope to the edge of the lake. He noticed the wooden boat house and a pier. Across the lake he noticed a blaze of color. Splotches of orange and yellow flowed across a background of green. In the center of the display was a circle of scarlet. Were those sugar maples? Did Christa tap the trees to make syrup? That would add a note of interest to the feature if she agreed to have one done.
Would she or would she want him gone? Why hadn’t she told him about the pregnancy? He would have married. He’d been ready to take that step. Her disappearance had brought a cascade of emotions…fear for her, puzzlement and anger. His attempts to find her had been frustrating. There’d been no record of a Christa Parsons at the University. He’d begun to believe she had some scheme that had gone awry.
He leaned against a tree and fought a resurgence of that emotional storm. When had she changed her name? He drew a deep breath. He would learn the answer and the answer would define what he would do. He still wanted her and he wanted his son. Persuading her was the problem.
He pushed away from the tree and strode toward the lake. As he left the shade sunlight blinded him. When his vision cleared he saw a boy at the edge of the lake. The boy’s hair was blond. Mark’s heart hammered against his chest. He wanted to grab the boy and demand his name but caution was needed.
Mark continued forward. He saw a model boat skim across the water to the shore. The boy scooped the vessel and turned. Mark stared. There was no question of paternity. Mark faced himself at a younger age.
The boy halted. “Are you a ghost?”
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“You look like the man in a picture my mom has in her wallet. Was one of my dad. But you’re older.”
Mark swallowed. Christa had taken some snapshots during their time together. What had she told the boy? “What happened to your dad?”
The child shrugged. “I’m not ‘zactly sure. I wasn’t supposed to see the picture but my half aunts snuck it out and showed me. They thought they were funny.”
“Half aunts.” Mark held in a laugh.
The boy stood with the boat in one hand and the control in the other. “They’re Mom’s half-sisters so that makes them half aunts. When my grandfather and their mother died Mom had to take care of them.”
Mark sucked in a breath. Was that the reason Christa had left school so suddenly. That didn’t explain why she hadn’t told him about the pregnancy. “I can see why you call them that. Very inventive.”
“I’m glad they’re only half. They’re always bothering Mom for money and things, especially since Peggy finished college and they came here to live. Mom does all the work.” He started up the path and turned. “If you’re not a ghost, who are you?”
“Mark Blakefield.” Though he wanted to identify himself as the man in the picture he couldn’t. Not until he and Christa talked.
“See you.” The boy ran off.
“Wait.” But his son had vanished. Did the boy suspect the truth? What was his son’s name? The encounter made the talk with Christa imperative. He turned and strode to the inn. A green Jeep pulled out of the lot.
When he entered the lobby the elderly woman seated behind the counter looked up. “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Christa.”
“You just missed her. Do you want to leave a message?”
Matt shook his head. “I’ll catch her later. He turned from the desk and returned to the cottage.
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