One for Sorrow, Two for Joy [MultiFormat]
Click on image to enlarge.
by Cheryl Cooke Harrington
Description: Eight months ago, apprentice chef Nikki Larssen's biggest worry was whether or not the chocolate soufflï¿½ would rise. Now, hiding a baby and guarding a dangerous secret, she's got a whole lot more to worry about--staying alive, for instance. A secluded house in a small Ontario town seems like the perfect safe haven for Nikki and the child she's sworn to protect ... until a stranger shows up to complicate their lives. With six years and ten thousand miles behind him, reporter Gren Wilder finally faces the truth--you can't run fast enough or far enough to leave the past behind. His career in ruins, Gren returns to Vinegar Hill, ready to pick up the shards of his life and make peace with the ghosts that haunt him. What he needs is a little solitude, a place to work with no distractions. What he gets is a ready-made family, a constant reminder of the past he's tried so hard to forget. Gren forms a reluctant liaison with the enigmatic woman and child who've laid claim to his home--and his heart. But Nikki is keeping secrets. And Gren has a nose for news. Will any of them survive his quest for the truth? [Cover art Mary Z. Wolf]ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 1999 HSWF
Hard Shell Word Factory Release Date: March 2003
22 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [MultiFormat - What's this?]: eReader (PDB) [185 KB], ePub (EPUB) [207 KB], Rocket/REB1100 (RB) [153 KB], Portable Document Format (PDF) [751 KB], Palm Doc (PDB) [171 KB], Microsoft Reader (LIT) [262 KB], Franklin eBookMan (FUB) [202 KB], hiebook (KML) [432 KB], Sony Reader (LRF) [253 KB], iSilo (PDB) [143 KB], Mobipocket (PRC) [177 KB], Kindle Compatible (MOBI) [233 KB], OEBFF Format (IMP) [233 KB]
Reading time: 144-202 min.
Microsoft Reader (LIT) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
Portable Document Format (PDF) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud DISABLED
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"An extraordinary story of two people with a past worth forgetting and a future to remember. Ms. Harrington has weaved a story of suspense that will brighten your day and make you thankful for your own life. 4 Stars!"--Just Views Reviews
"ONE FOR SORROW, TWO FOR JOY is a terrific book. It has a touch of gothic, a heap of mystery, and tons of romantic suspense. Ms. Harrington keeps the reader on the edge of her seat with just a touch of humor to relieve the tension. Very Highly Recommended!"--Under the Covers Book Reviews
"Cheryl Cooke Harrington keeps you on the edge of your seat with this gripping novel full of suspense and secrets needing to be told. One for Sorrow, Two for Joy is a spellbinding story of one woman desperately fighting to hide the truth about her past, and a man's quest to learn the secret she is hiding. It's definitely a story any reader will have trouble putting down before the end."--Sharpwriter.com
It rolled up the valley on a new breeze. A sudden chill, heavy with the scent of green, growing, woodsy things. A freshening that shivered its way through town, fluttering curtains, rustling leaves, eddying dust and scraps of yesterday's paper along the cobbled gutters of Main Street. It meant there'd be rain before nightfall. A real thunder-boomer. A sure thing. Noble Bateman said so.
If there was one thing Nikki had come to count on in the eight months since she and Claire had arrived in Vinegar Hill, it was Noble Bateman's word. So it wasn't a bit surprising when the cloudless summer sky, blue as a robin's egg and ablaze with sunshine, grew dark and ominous just after seven. Not surprising that, by nine, the woods and fields beyond town were silent, deserted, as if every living thing had taken shelter from the swiftly approaching storm. Not surprising, but damned unsettling.
Maybe it was just her imagination playing tricks on her -- understandable after months of watching her back, running from every shadow. Was she wrong to let herself feel safe again? she wondered, running her mental checklist for what seemed like the millionth time. Had she left a trail? No way. No credit, no letters, not even a phone call. She'd disappeared without a word to anyone. Not that there was anyone left to care. Had she slipped up, used their real names, even once? Not a chance. Sometimes she almost forgot she'd ever had another name. Nikki and Claire Larssen were second nature to her now.
So relax. No mistakes. It was just the wild August weather that had her nerves on edge. Just the threatening rumble of thunder making those goose bumps prickle up the back of her neck. Spooky feeling. But life in this particular house had more than its share of spooky moments, even in the bright light of day.
Nikki hesitated at the bedroom window, twisting a strand of hair around her finger, afraid to watch but equally afraid to turn away, as the storm swept out of the northwest. Not just rain, but a wind-borne river of water, as if the air itself had turned to liquid. Lightning blazed across the sky, raw power, so nerve-rackingly close that each clap of thunder set the windowpanes rattling.
It was nothing short of a miracle that Claire managed to sleep through the din, she thought, forcing herself to pull the shade and draw the heavy curtains across the window. She'd been meaning to take those curtains down, replace them with something bright and airy. But, for tonight at least, she was almost glad to have the green velvet drapery with its old-fashioned tassels holding the storm at bay.
Surely Mr. Wilder wouldn't mind if she brightened up the baby's room a bit. The man couldn't possibly be as grim and humorless as the portrait that graced the parlor wall downstairs. Could he?
Another roll of thunder shook the house, made her jump, edgy as a cat in a canoe, as Noble would say. The man had a folksy saying for everything. What was it he'd said about Grenville Wilder? That his life was a sorrowful story... break your heart, like a sad country song. Someday he'd get around to telling her all about it. Hopefully before Mr. Wilder decided to stop his wandering and show up on her doorstep. His doorstep, that is.
Forget someday. She'd make a point of asking about Grenville Wilder's sorrowful story -- tomorrow. If anyone knew the truth about old man Wilder and his gloomy house, it would be her neighbor, Noble Bateman. At seventy-three he was a walking, talking history of Vinegar Hill. Proud of it, too. There wasn't a local saga, rumor or true, that Noble hadn't told, or had a hand in creating. Except, as he'd so often complained, for her own.
Too bad, she thought, tucking the well-twisted strand of hair behind her ear. Noble was a good man -- solid, sensible, trustworthy -- the first and only person she'd really felt she could trust since this whole, awful mess had begun. Someday, maybe, she'd be able to answer his questions, once she was sure the truth wouldn't put him in danger. In the meantime, if the worst happened, she might be very glad of a friend like Noble Bateman.
Another crash, another rattle of windows. Propping her elbows on the crib rail, Nikki rested her chin in her hands and marveled once again that Claire was still sleeping, one little thumb tucked into her mouth, one tiny finger curled over the end of her turned-up nose. Angelic... at least in sleep, with plump rosy cheeks, and a mop of curly black hair that shone like a raven's wing in the sunshine. Whoa! Where the heck had that come from? She was even beginning to think like Noble.
Thunder rolled, followed a split-second later by the sharp and unmistakable slam of the kitchen door. Just the wind? Or was someone in the house? Impossible. She was absolutely certain she'd locked that door.
Another bump, a sudden wash of light at the bottom of the stairs, and every doubt vanished. They weren't alone.
Breath caught in her throat as she turned toward the nursery door, every fibre of her being focused on the stairwell beyond, waiting for the first footfall, the first creak of old wood... the beginning of their end. No! Tearing her gaze away from the doorway, she stared at Claire for a moment, then at the telephone on the dresser. Help was just minutes away, but did she dare make the call? Would things really be any different here? She crossed the room, jerked the receiver out of its cradle. What choice did she have?
White-knuckled, Nikki clutched the phone to her ear. No dial tone. Just hollow... empty... nothing. This couldn't be happening. Not now. Fear kept her rooted to the spot. But only for an instant, a single missed heartbeat. Then instinct kicked in. It wasn't over. Not yet. No matter what happened, she had to protect Claire, keep her safe, survive. She would not give up without a fight.
Crossing the room, swift and silent, Nikki paused only long enough to lock the nursery door, slipping the key into the pocket of her jeans as she tiptoed across the hallway. She paused again at the top of the stairs, trying to make sense of the growing disturbance in the kitchen. Comfortably domestic sounds, a slammed cupboard door, the clatter of pots and pans. And a faint, tempting aroma, as if... was somebody actually making coffee?
No way. People didn't break into a house to make coffee. But, if her instincts were right, this wasn't just any intruder. Make that intruders. He wouldn't come alone. No, he'd bring someone else along to do his dirty work. And make his coffee. Her mind raced. She had to get down to the kitchen, find out exactly what she was up against. Trouble was, they'd be certain to hear her coming. The creaky old staircase would announce her presence the moment she set foot on the first tread. Unless....
Holding her breath, she flattened herself against the wall. She'd be ready at the next flash of lightning, time her flight down the stairs to the thunder's roll, let the storm cover the sound of her approach. Then, unless one of them happened to be looking directly at the kitchen door when she got to the bottom, she'd be able to take cover, to see without being seen.
As if on cue, another bolt split the heavens, close enough that the answering boom of thunder was immediate, and loud. Another window rattler. The kitchen lights dimmed as her foot hit the last step. Dimmed, flickered weakly, and died. She hugged the doorjamb and steadied her breath -- or tried to. If she gave them what they wanted, would they leave her alone? Would they try to take Claire?
"Well, damn," growled a low masculine voice, then someone in the kitchen struck a match. A faint glimmer of light drew Nikki's gaze. Broad shoulders and gleaming wet flesh held it. She watched as the stranger lit the trio of candles she kept on the counter by the sink, watched the flickering light play across his bare arms and muscular back, heard him gasp when the flame singed his fingers. He muttered another curse, then finished peeling off his shirt.
Naked to the waist and dripping wet, the man looked more like a lost lifeguard than one of Frank Medici's hired thugs. Her gaze followed the tangle of hair that straggled down his neck, lingered on a cluster of shimmering droplets caught in the small of his back, strayed lower to worn denim jeans, clinging damply to lean hips and long, powerful legs. Legs that could probably span the distance between them in two strides.
Forcing herself to look away, she scanned the room. A pair of hiking boots, muddy and worn at the heel, lay just inside the door, with sodden socks and a sorry-looking hat tossed in a heap beside them. The only other item of note, an enormous canvas duffel bag, had been dumped in the middle of the floor, blocking passage to the dining room. Despite all the clatter a moment ago, she could find no hint that the broad-shouldered stranger had brought any backup. Small favor. The man was formidable enough on his own. And, with only one way down from the second floor, there was absolutely no way she'd ever sneak past him with Claire.
He reached for a towel and Nikki made her move. Arming herself with the largest, heaviest, meanest-looking cast-iron frying pan from the rack on the wall, she crept silently across the room.
He threw the towel over his head as she drew near, using both hands to wring the rainwater out of his hair. He seemed even bigger with his arms raised. Was she completely crazy? What if she missed? How hard did you have to hit someone to knock them out? And what if she hit him too hard? Would she kill him? Definitely crazy. But it was too late to turn back now. She drew a deep, silent breath. Aware of the faint musky scent of him, the slow ripple of his muscles in the candlelight, she tightened her grip on the skillet.
The man breathed a low sigh, rolling his shoulders and neck in a long, easy stretch as he dropped the wet towel into the sink. He yawned, fumbled with his belt buckle, obviously about to shed the rest of his wet clothes.
It was now or never, she told herself, imagining his fingers on the zipper, his jeans sliding slowly to the floor. Stop him! Her heart clattered against her ribs, blood roared in her ears, loud enough to drown out the sound of the storm that still raged outside. Do it. Do it now!
She swung, grimacing with effort, wielding the skillet like a baseball bat as the stranger turned toward her. Nikki saw him register an instant of surprise, or maybe fright, before the heavy pan connected with his skull. It made a sound like an overripe melon dropped on the sidewalk. She sucked back a scream.
He didn't fall right away. Just tottered unsteadily for a long, breathless moment. And he didn't look dead. Far from it. He looked... he looked really pissed-off.
The man took a single step toward her, groaned, then crumpled like Claire's favorite rag doll and sank slowly onto the floor.
Now what? Move! Too late. His well-placed kick swept her feet right out from under her. She hit the floor with a thud that jarred her teeth and drove the breath from her lungs.
"Ow, uh-uhhh." The stranger groaned again as he rolled awkwardly toward her. Wrenching the frying pan out of her hands, he sent it skittering across the wet floor. Cold fingers tightened around her wrist as he leaned close.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "And what the hell are you doing in my house?"
"Your house?" Twisting free, Nikki scrambled to her feet. "What do you mean, your house?"
He was holding his head in his hands now, still groaning, but she'd seen enough to be certain he was not Grenville Wilder. Not unless he'd found the fountain of youth, or had some kind of Dorian Gray thing going with that old portrait in the parlor.
Another clap of thunder shook the house, quickly followed by a loud moan from the man on the floor, and a shrill cry from the room above.
Oh, please, not now, thought Nikki, willing the child to be quiet for just a while longer. No use. Claire's frightened cry erupted into a full-fledged wail as the lightning flashed again.
The stranger stopped groaning and listened. Watching his expression, she had the fleeting impression of pain -- not the kind of pain inflicted by a cast iron pan, but a deeper, more personal sort of pain. He looked up at her as he struggled to his feet, and the moment of vulnerability vanished.
Nikki kept her distance, backing slowly toward the stairs. The man staggered across the room, stopping to rest with one hand on the fridge door. He sure knew how to act as if he owned the place. Was it possible? A glimmer of hope sparked to life. Maybe her worst nightmare hadn't come true, after all. Maybe the cover she'd so carefully created to protect little Claire was still intact. But if the half-naked man in her kitchen wasn't a Medici thug, who was he? And what did he want?
"You nearly took my head off," he grumbled, pulling a tray of ice from the freezer, wincing with the effort of turning to face her again. Upstairs, Claire howled.
"Well?" he snapped, "What are you waiting for?"
"What? I--" Nikki glared at him as the heart-stopping fear of a moment ago gave way to anger. A much more useful emotion. What did he expect her to do? Beg for their lives, maybe? Or clear out in the middle of the worst rainstorm of the century with a nine-month-old baby in tow? He'd wait a long time on either count.
"Well?" he repeated, moving slowly back to the sink. "Are you going to take care of that squalling brat, or do I have to do it myself?"
"You stay away from her! And from me!" Cool it! Why was she letting him push all her buttons? Even if it really was his house, the man had no business barging in the way he had, unannounced, in the middle of the night. She wasn't the one in the wrong, here. Grabbing another skillet from the rack, she waved it in his direction. "I want you out of here. Right now!"
The stranger stared at her for a long moment, seemingly mystified. Then, muttering under his breath and obviously in pain, he slowly turned his back. Nikki watched as he pulled a plastic bag out of the drawer beside the sink and dumped the tray of ice cubes into it. Giving the top a twist, he held it ever-so-gingerly to the side of his head.
"Hear this," he said at last, turning slowly back to face her. "Somebody's going to be leaving this house tonight. But, Lady, it won't be me."
"It's okay, pumpkin, it's okay. See? I brought us a twinkle light." The flame shivered as she placed the tiny, glass-sheathed candle on the dresser, sending ripples of light and shadow dancing across Claire's tear-streaked face. Arms outstretched, the baby gave another shuddering sob.
"It's just a noisy old storm. Nothing to be afraid of." Nothing but a raving lunatic in the kitchen, that is. Nikki scooped the whimpering child into her arms. She wasn't about to leave the man alone down there, but she couldn't leave Claire alone, either. The two of them would just have to face the intruder together.
"Ga-ga, Ga-ga," demanded Claire, between sobs.
"Uh-oh. Did you lose him again?" Dutifully retrieving Raggedy Man from the floor beneath the crib, she tucked him under the baby's arm. For the last few months, the old rag doll had been Claire's version of a security blanket, and she latched onto it now, clutching its yellow, woolly hair with one fist and the collar of Nikki's white T-shirt with the other. "Ga-ga," she said again, forgetting to cry this time.
Lightning flashed, thunder rolled. A bit farther away now, but the rain still hammered against the windowpanes, the wind still howled around the eaves. Content to be held, Claire seemed oblivious.
Fleetingly, Nikki let herself consider how wonderful it must be to have someone you knew you could count on, someone to make everything all right, to keep you safe. And then she sighed resignedly. In all her twenty-four years, at least all that she could remember, there hadn't been a single soul who'd fit that bill. Not one person who hadn't let her down. No one to count on but herself.
She drew a deep breath and squared her shoulders, offering up a silent prayer that Claire would never regret counting on her, that her instincts about the man in the kitchen were right. Would a thug bother to kick off his muddy boots at the door? Would a man with murder on his mind take time to dry off and make coffee?
Who are you, and what the hell are you doing in my house? If he was lying, the man was one heck of a good actor.
"Guess we'd better get you a dry diaper, eh, pumpkin? And then we're going downstairs. You, me, and Raggedy Man. We've got some company to take care of."
His house. If it was, she'd have some explaining to do. If not, she'd be ready to run, ready to fight, ready to do whatever it took to keep Claire safe.
The baby yawned. In another minute or two, she'd probably remember she was hungry and demand her midnight bottle. How the heck did you warm up a bottle during a power failure? No stove, no microwave... no water. The pump would be off line, too. Nikki sighed again as she fastened the diaper. It was one crisis after another in the 'mommy' business, and things were definitely learn-as-you-go. Kids should come with operating instructions. And a warning... assembly required.
Leaving the candle twinkling on Claire's dresser, she felt her way across the dark hallway and down the stairs, cradling the baby in one arm. It seemed their uninvited guest was managing quite well on his own, she decided, as they neared the kitchen door. Apparently he'd found the stash of emergency candles she kept under the sink, because the room was now aglow with warm light, alive with playful shadows. She noticed his big duffel bag next. It seemed to have exploded, spewing socks, shirts, and who-knew-what-else in a jumble across the floor. His wet jeans had been added to the pile of sodden clothing at the door.
Oh, please, don't let him be standing there in his undershorts, she thought, striding bravely into the room -- at least, as bravely as her hammering heart would allow. She found him lounging comfortably on a chair at the end of the kitchen table, wearing another pair of tattered jeans, topped with a wrinkled, half-buttoned, red plaid shirt. His tousled hair had dried in a honey-colored tangle that disappeared under his collar. Legs crossed at the ankle, he rested his slender, bare feet on the rungs of Claire's highchair.
"Making himself right at home, isn't he, pumpkin?" she whispered, watching as he poured a generous serving of Mr. Wilder's twenty-five-year-old Scotch whisky into a crystal tumbler, a combination that sparkled like gold and diamonds in the flickering candlelight. Before she could comment on his terrible manners, he popped one of her specialty crab rolls into his mouth and smiled contentedly.
"Mmmm," he said, reaching for another. "That hit the spot."
"What are you doing? You can't eat those!" Balancing the suddenly wide awake and wide-eyed Claire on her hip, Nikki raced across the room to snatch the plate of food off the table. She'd worked all afternoon on those crab rolls, intended for tomorrow's garden party at Ravensleigh, not a quickie midnight snack. And if the food order was short, even by two tiny crab rolls, Mrs. Beckett would be sure to complain.
"Tasted perfectly edible to me," he said, taking a long, easy swallow of whisky.
"You might have asked first! What do you think you're doing, scarfing down my hors-d'oeuvres and guzzling Mr. Wilder's good Scotch? Who do you think you are, anyway? And you'd better tell me the truth this time, or... or I'm calling the police."
"Be my guest," said the stranger, with a magnanimous wave toward the telephone. "But I wouldn't get your hopes up."
He knew. "D-dead?" Damn! Why had she let that tremor creep into her voice. She made herself stand a little straighter. If he could act tough, so could she. "Storm must've knocked it out."
"I suppose. In any case, there'll be no police running to the rescue of either one of us tonight, I'm afraid."
Without another word, the man unfolded his legs, pushed to his feet, and strode away from her, carrying his glass and Mr. Wilder's bottle of Scotch.
"Where do you think you're going?"
He turned, raising one eyebrow, as if surprised to be asked. "I'm going to gets ome sleep, Miss.. whoeveryou-are. Perhaps you should do the same."
"You are not going to sleep in my house!"
"Your house?" Both eyebrows arched this time.
"Well, I... I'm responsible for it. The owner's counting on me to--"
The stranger cut her off with a low, rumbling laugh, as darkly disturbing as the thunder still rolling overhead. "I'm counting on you, am I? Don't know about that. What I am doing, I'd say, is taking a chance on you. You can stay... just for tonight... but don't thank me. Thank the storm. Nobody deserves to be put out in that."
All right. Enough was enough. This guy needed some serious straightening out. Nikki settled Claire and her Raggedy Man into the highchair and turned to confront him again.
"I've had enough of your attitude, Mister. Tell me who you are, right now. And don't think you can fool me. The owner of this house is a famous author."
"Famous? Well, thank you very much, I'm sure. That's probably the nicest thing anyone's said to me this year." Wearing a wry little smile, he crossed the room again. "Gren Wilder, at your service. And you are?"
Nikki found herself backing away as he moved toward her, backing away until her hips touched the edge of the counter and she could go no farther. He didn't stop, advancing until he stood mere inches from her suddenly trembling body. So close....
She stared at his chest, at a row of tortoiseshell buttons on a sea of plaid, watched them rise and fall with each breath he took, remembered him shirtless, dripping rainwater, gleaming in the candlelight. Too close! She could feel his heat through the red flannel.
Forcing herself to look up at his weary, stubbled face, she studied the eyes that stared inscrutably back at her. It was impossible to guess their color. By candlelight they seemed black and utterly bottomless, circled by deep, darkening hollows. It must have been a very long time since he'd slept, she thought, unable to look away. She could smell the Scotch on his breath, apple-sweet and sharp. Maybe that explained the haggard expression. Maybe whisky was a habit.
Nikki's breath caught in her throat as he leaned toward her, his tongue sliding across his lips in a slow, seductive gesture. He pressed closer. Move!
Ducking under his arm, she skipped out of reach, watching as he set the crystal glass on the counter beside the sink. Was that all he'd intended to do? Just get rid of a dirty glass? Nothing threatening about that, was there? So why on earth was she still trembling?
Planting herself firmly between Claire and the scruffy stranger who claimed to be Gren Wilder, she tried her best to look brave, or at least composed. She felt anything but. Her heart stammered and her mouth felt cottony-dry. And to make matters worse, the man was smiling again, as if seeing her so thoroughly uncomfortable was the highlight of his day.
"You are not Grenville Wilder," she said, trying to recall every detail of the portrait in the parlor. "Grenville Wilder is an old man. He writes boring, stuffy books about... about economic theory and... and...."
The stranger laughed. "My father was a well-respected authority on economics. And those boring, stuffy books of his are still required reading in some of the best schools."
Offering his hand, he grinned, almost mischievously. "Gren Wilder, son of the famous Doctor Grenville Wilder. Also a writer... not quite so famous... somewhat less boring. I hope, anyway."
Nikki felt her jaw drop and, when it did, Gren Wilder laughed again. "I haven't spent much time here lately, but this is my place now. My father passed away nearly ten years ago." Sinking back onto his chair, Gren picked up the makeshift ice-bag and held it to his head.
"Ga-ga!" Claire leaned forward in her highchair, pointing at him and bouncing happily. "Ga-ga, Ga-ga, Ga-ga," she repeated, at the top of her lungs.
Nikki frowned. Gren Wilder did, indeed, look a lot like Raggedy Man, she decided, comparing his straggly honey-brown hair, red shirt, and threadbare jeans to Claire's beloved ragamuffin doll. And, in that instant of forgotten anger before his smile faded away, she could almost imagine him loveable. Almost.
Gren studied the baby for a long moment, a puzzled, wistful expression on his face, then took another swig of Scotch, straight from the bottle this time.
"The way I see it," he grumbled, "you're either a trespasser, and a damned good liar, or you're the new Mrs. Hoskett. So? Which is it? And be careful what you say. I expect proof."
Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Cooke Harrington