Fate calls heiress Sabrina Windham to her grandmother’s hospital bed where she hears a confession of betrayal and death. Is Karma answering her call when she also finds Jay West? Will he help restore the Zephyr and, in doing so, restore his family’s honor?
Fate calls heiress Sabrina Windham to her grandmother’s hospital bed where she hears a confession of betrayal and death. Sabrina learns of another, heartbreaking family legacy: the Zephyr.
Designed by Don Windham and Derek West, the classic sailboat is lost to time. She searches for the original Zephyr and finds it, falling to pieces and forgotten in a pasture.
Is Karma answering her call when she also finds Jay West? Will he help restore the Zephyr and, in doing so, restore his family’s honor? Can Sabrina help Jay forget his brutal life, a poor orphan because of Rose Windham’s selfish desires?
Despite their undeniable attraction and Sabrina’s determination, Jay thinks its misfortune knocking on his door.
James Weaver tilted a brass watering can over the small garden at his property line. “How am I supposed to know if she’s okay?”
Standing on their neighbor’s front porch, his wife, Ida, had alternately rang the bell, knocked on the door and tapped on the window for the past five minutes.
“Well, she never goes anywhere,” Ida said, keeping her voice low so the elderly woman inside wouldn’t hear. “She hasn’t driven the Cadillac for at least a month.”
“Just try the door then. Doubt if she locks it.” His sage advice delivered, James went back to tending his flowers.
Ida visited Rose Windham a few times a week, getting as close as any neighbor could to the reclusive old lady. It was mid-morning, so she shouldn’t be in bed. She twisted the knob and slowly opened the door of the Victorian mansion.
James Weaver dropped the watering can on his toe at the sound of her scream.
* * *
Sabrina’s heart pounded as she groped for the telephone.
“Sabrina?” Her mother’s husky voice still carried a slight Portuguese accent. “Are you awake?”
“I am now,” she said, swinging her legs off the side of the bed. “What’s wrong? Is Daddy okay?”
“Yes, he’s fine. It’s Grandmother Rose.”
“What’s happened?” Sabrina rubbed her face, wiping sleep from her heavy lids.
“She’s in the hospital. She fell. Daddy’s on the cell phone with her neighbor now. Doctors say she may have had a stroke.”
Sabrina had limited experienced with illness. Her parents were healthy and Rose seemed invincible. These three made up her small family.
“We need you to go to Eaton.”
Sabrina exhaled. Here it came. “Isn’t Daddy going?”
“We’re leaving for Tibet in two days, Sabrina. We can’t change our plans now. We’ve got our visas and tickets and our itinerary isn’t flexible.” Her mother’s voice rose, no longer husky.
Sabrina heard the threat of tears. She wondered if they were for Grandmother Rose, unconscious and injured in a hospital on the East Coast, or if they were for Marta, herself, busy with yet another trip to the Orient.
Her parents, Norman and Marta Windham, were bohemian writers, renowned more for their eccentric personalities and fantastic destinations than for the quality of the books they wrote as a team. For more than twenty years, their popular series of “Tread Lightly” travel guides sold well. They wrote about backpacking the Himalayas, rafting the Amazon, floating across Africa in a hot air balloon, and snowshoeing through British Columbia. They retained the “eco-friendly” attitude that attracted them to each other as young college students, sipping green tea, dining on hummus and lentils, favoring Birkenstock shoes and all-cotton clothing.
Sabrina, the daughter of aging hippies who smoked who-knows-what in their Hookah, mutinied in her youth. At the age of thirteen, fighting her way out of a lifestyle embellished with the exotic artifacts of her parents’ travels, Sabrina begged to enroll in an all-girl, Catholic preparatory school in Maryland. At the time, the family still lived in northern Virginia, close to Washington, D.C., where her parents worked as freelance writers and co-hosted a show on public radio. They now lived in Boulder, Colorado, a bastion of aging “free spirits.”
Norman and Marta were amused by their young, conservative daughter, who rebelliously dressed in plaid skirts, knee-high socks, leather loafers, white shirts and cardigan sweaters. They understood her need to “buck the establishment.” The same need drove them into finding their destiny as teens, albeit with tied-dyed T-shirts and hemp sandals.
As the daughter of ramblers, Sabrina grew up self-reliant and reserved. She spent most summers at Grandmother Rose’s home in Eaton, Pennsylvania, while her parents rode elephants in India and Land Rovered through the Australian outback. If anything, Charles and Marta were relieved that Sabrina wanted to attend a boarding school. It freed them of one more item on their checklist when traveling: Where to put Sabrina.
She sighed, pushing a weary hand through her dark, rumpled hair. “Alright; calm down. I’ll go,” she said.
“Good girl. I’ll have Daddy text message you the details. Which hospital …”
“There’s only one hospital in Eaton, Mom,” Sabrina said, recalling the summer she broke her wrist. It prevented her from swimming at the community pool just when she learned how to dive. After the cast came off in August, her grandmother enrolled her in tennis lessons to build her wrist muscles. For the next few weeks, until she returned to Virginia for seventh grade, she swooned over Robert Hall, a pre-law college student who taught tennis at the rec center during summer vacations.
“Fine. Let me take care of a few things and I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“You mean tonight,” her mother said.
Sabrina looked at her clock. The red digital numbers clicked to six a.m. and the alarm buzzed. Reaching out to slap the snooze button, she groaned. “Yes; I mean tonight. Good bye, Mom.”
* * *
Sabrina worked from her apartment, the second floor of a 19th century row house remodeled into three levels of living. The landlord lived in the basement apartment, and an elderly married couple rented the first floor. The property owner’s hobbies including gardening. He kept the small front yard blooming nearly year round. Instead of landscaping the backyard, he built small decks for each unit and filled them with potted trees, container gardens and patio furniture.
Renters appreciated the airy feel inside each apartment, thanks to the ivory walls and French doors opening onto the deck patios. Built-in oak shelving glowed, six-foot windows filled the rooms with light, and the kitchen was decorated in a Tuscany style. The effect was chic, yet homey, and the rent enormous, even for Baltimore.
Sabrina used her second bedroom as a home office where she operated her small financial consulting firm. Photographs from her parents adorned the walls. There were vistas of Mount Fuji, underwater shots of colorful fish and coral at the Great Barrier Reef, a photo of Charles and Marta in front of Stonehenge, and another of Marta racing the steps of a Mayan pyramid. There were no photos of Sabrina; she was never included in their journeys. Instead, they shuffled her to Grandmother Rose’s home in Pennsylvania, or various college students would take turns house- and daughter-sitting for the Windhams.
After showering and packing a suitcase, Sabrina knocked on the basement door.
“Mr. Brothers; it’s me, Sabrina Windham,” she called through the steel door, knowing from experience that he rose early.
Ricardo Brothers opened the door, a steaming mug of coffee in one hand.
“Good morning, Sabrina. What can I do for you?”
“I have to go to Pennsylvania for awhile. I’m not sure how long. My grandmother is in the hospital,” she said.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Ricardo took a sip of his coffee. The aroma of freshly ground Columbian beans filled the hallway.
“Would you please collect my mail and forward it to me? Here is the address,” she said, handing him an envelope. “I’ve included some cash for postage. Also, will you take care of the plants? I watered them on Saturday, so they’re good for a few more days.”
“Certainly. Anything you need. You have my phone number and my e-mail, so please keep in touch. I hope your grandmother is better soon.”
She nodded her thanks. A car honked.
“There’s my taxi. I have to run. Thank you, Mr. Brothers, I appreciate this.”
Ricardo nodded kindly, and then sipped his coffee as he watched Sabrina hurry up the concrete steps. His orange tabby cat wound through his ankles, meowing softly.
“Morning, Sally. Ready for your breakfast?” He closed the door and followed the cat into his tidy kitchen.
* * *
The small airplane dipped below the clouds and touched down gently. The tube shook and ill-fitting cabinet doors rattled as the wheels roared down the runway. It coasted to a stop and the seatbelt light snapped off. Sabrina waited for the other passengers to disembark. She preferred to wait since the limited headroom on the “puddle jumper” plane meant she would have to crouch until others disembarked.
Across the aisle, a young mother cradled a sleeping infant over her shoulder. “You go ahead,” she said as her harried husband struggled with the car seat.
Sabrina gracefully slid out of the cramped seat, opened the overhead storage and removed her briefcase. Packed with her notebook computer, cell phone, books and folders of pending work, the case weighed at least twenty pounds. She grunted, then shifted it in front of her, hoping it wouldn’t throw her off balance as she exited the airplane. She paused at the top of the rolling stairs and looked around.
The small airport squatted in a valley nestled between green mountains with fog-shrouded peaks. The Appalachians were old, their shoulders rounded from millions of years of wind and rain. Sabrina viewed this same scene for many summers, coming to and going from Grandmother Rose’s house. Always, she made the trip alone.
The same woman who used orange-tipped flashlights to guide the two-engine turbo prop commuter now drove an ATV with a trailer to the rear of the airplane. The steward opened the locker in the plane’s belly and placed suitcases on the tarmac. The young woman, spry in a green, one-piece jumpsuit and yellow safety vest, slung the suitcases into the trailer.
The steward nodded and then tippled his fingers, miming a drink.
“Yeah, sure. I get off at four. See you at the pub?”
“I’ll be there. I’ve got a couple of days off, so …”
Their voices lowered as they moved closer. The woman laughed and pushed at the young man’s chest. “Perv!” She quickly kissed him and then sprang onto the seat of the tractor. “Gotta get these bags to the terminal. See you tonight.”
Sabrina walked across the tarmac and entered the airport. In the lobby, people hugged and chatted with arriving passengers.
“Well, it’s not much, but it has the right ingredients,” Sabrina thought, glancing at the single security gate and the lone ticket window.
She headed for baggage claim, joining the other passengers in front of a set of garage doors. The metal doors lifted noisily and Sabrina watched as the young woman from the ATV tossed the baggage onto a low-slung counter. She’d driven the tractor about fifty yards from the plane.
Sabrina found her bag, and then headed for the car rental counter when a short, elderly man stepped into her path.
“Excuse me, miss. Are you Sabrina Windham?”
Puzzled, she nodded. The man twisted a worn baseball cap in his hands. “I’m James Weaver; Rose’s neighbor. The visiting nurse said you were coming in this afternoon and that I should offer you a ride home.”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Weaver,” Sabrina said. “But, I’m going to need a car while I’m here in Eaton, so I’ll rent one.”
“Well, here’s the thing. Miss Rose has a nice car and the nurse said you’re to use that while you’re here. It’s a real nice one. Miss Rose always gets a nice, new car every few years. It’s right out front.”
He shuffled towards a sliding glass door that parted when he passed its electric eye. Parked at the curb sat a Cadillac, its motor running and the radio tuned to a conservative talk show.
Sabrina smiled at the small-town charm that allowed people to leave cars running when performing brief chores. Locked doors in Eaton are rare.
James Weaver pushed the key fob and the trunk popped opened. He took her suitcase and hefted it into the voluminous trunk, then slammed the lid. Scooting to the passenger door, he opened it, gallantly standing to the side.
“Thank you,” Sabrina said, sliding into the elegant, full-size automobile that flouted her parent’s ideology of hybrid fuels and conservation. She caressed the leather interior. I am, she thought, my grandmother’s daughter.
Since the fifteen minutes when her plane landed, she claimed her luggage and was on the road. Small towns had their rewards and a lack of traffic in the airport and on the road, was the best, she reflected.
“Have you ever been to Eaton?” James Weaver tried to restart the car, the ignition system grinding. He grimaced apologetically. “Oops. Forgot it was already on.” He slipped the gearshift into drive and, without looking over his shoulder, he made a quick U-turn and drove out of the airport parking lot.
“Yes,” Sabrina said. “My parents traveled a lot, so I spent most of my summers here with Grandmother Rose.”
The old man nodded, not really paying attention to her nervous, chatty reply. He drove along River Road toward Eaton. “River’s up,” he commented.
Sabrina glanced at the water, its ripples glinting in the late afternoon sun. “Has it been a wet summer?”
He nodded, then spent the next few minutes recounting the increasing number of rainstorms. “One good thing about the rain,” he added, “is the fall leaves will be grand. That should bring more visitors.”
He turned into a quiet neighborhood lined with Victorian mansions and spreading maple trees. Some houses were modified into apartments for college students, others into offices for lawyers and doctors.
The local preservation foundation owned a few historic houses, selling them to wealthy residents who could afford the restoration and the upkeep. Most were included on the foundation’s annual Victorian homes tour. Rose owned such a house, with each rose-themed room decorated in a different color. Sabrina stayed in the yellow “Lord Mountbatten Rose” room when she visited.
Sabrina studied the elderly man as he drove. He seemed to be in his mid-sixties, possibly seventies, but appeared strong. She wondered who he was and how he knew her grandmother. She didn’t know James Weaver, although she hadn’t been to visit for a few years.
“Do you know anything about her accident?”
He glanced at Sabrina apologetically. “Not much. She was alone when she fell. Doctors say she had a stroke. She was on the floor all night until my wife stopped by the next morning. She saw at the bottom of the staircase. ‘Bout had a heart attack herself. She thought the poor old woman fell down the steps and killed herself. Doctor thinks she was sitting on the bottom step, trying to catch her breath when she just keeled over.”
Sabrina’s eyes filled with tears as she thought about the old woman, injured and alone. Grandmother Rose had always been kind to her, although Sabrina could well imagine her as the evil stepmother in a cartoon. She was tall, rail thin with her silver hair swept into a chignon. She always wore haute couture, despite the fact that she rarely left her house.
To Sabrina, Grandmother Rose seemed a haunted woman who denied herself the pleasure and love of people, but not the pleasure of things. She seemed to enjoy her oriental vases and bronze statues more than her own son and his family.
As a beautiful and wealthy young widow, Rose Windham should have been the belle of the ball. Instead, after she moved to Eaton in 1976, the town’s residents learned that the haughty woman didn’t want friends.
Sabrina knew that her father felt slighted by Rose. She shuttled him off to prep school the year his father died, and then sent him to a military academy for college. In his junior year, he withdrew, making a list of the top ten liberal colleges in the nation and applying to all.
He chose Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, for its particularly open-minded reputation. There, he reveled in socially conscious, left-wing repartee and indulged in artistic expression, majoring in theater with a minor in psychology.
At Hampshire, he met the love of his life, Marta, a beautiful Brazilian exchange student majoring in creative writing. Throughout their bohemian life, they managed to rear their daughter, Sabrina, who, in turn, rebelled against her parents and sought education at a private girls’ prep school and then at Harvard’s business school studying finance.
She blinked back her tears as James Weaver pulled into the alley behind the Victorian mansion, parking the car in the carriage house.
“We’re not going to the hospital?”
“She refused to stay. She’s been released and has a nurse to take care of her at home.”
Nothing could have prepared Sabrina for the sight of the fragile, pale woman. Rose’s body barely mounded the quilts of the hospital bed incongruously placed in the dining room.
The crystal chandelier above Rose’s head cast a yellow and ghastly light. Her nose, once patrician, now seemed hawkish, her mouth encircled with deep lines. Blue eyes pinned hers when Sabrina walked to the bed and gently picked up the bone-thin hand.
“Sabrina,” the elderly woman whispered, a tear rolling down the tissue-thin cheek.
“I’m here, Grandmother.”
“Norman?” The old woman’s eyes darted behind Sabrina, falling upon her neighbor, James Weaver.
“He couldn’t come, Grandmother. They’re in Tibet,” she lied.
Rose Windham closed her eyes and sighed. A moment later, her fingers tightened. “Thank you, darling girl.”
She sat by Rose’s bed for several silent minutes, watching as the woman fell asleep. Then, she went looking for answers.
Sabrina found the nurse in the kitchen. The steaming teakettle stopped whistling as the young woman lifted it from the flame. She looked up briefly, nodded at Sabrina, and then concentrated on filling her teacup with the boiling water.
“Hello. You must be Miss Windham,” she said, setting the kettle back on the stove. After wiping her hands on her blue hospital scrubs, she extended one to Sabrina. “I’m Shirley Piper. I’m an R.N., and I’ll be taking care of your grandmother.”
Sabrina nodded, pleased by the woman’s confidence. “Call me Sabrina, please. It’s nice to meet you.”
“And call me Shirley. You’ll want an update on your grandmother but can I fix you a cup of tea first?”
Sabrina recognized fragrant chamomile and grimaced. After drinking herbal tea all her childhood, she forswore it as an adult.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’ve got bottled water in my bag.”
Shirley nodded and leaned against the counter. She lifted the cup to her lips and blew.
“Your grandmother fell, injuring her pelvis. Or, at her age, her pelvis may have fractured first, causing the fall.”
“Excuse me? How does that happen?”
“Your grandmother has severe osteoporosis, also called brittle bone syndrome by some people. It is a wasting away of the bone that happens as women age. Bone breaks down more quickly than it is replaced so bones weaken and may fracture. There are medications that prevent or treat osteoporosis, but she has not been taking them.
“She also suffered a transient ischemic attack. You may have heard them called mini-strokes. These occur when the supply of oxygen is cut off to an area of the brain. Unlike a stroke, which is often permanent, the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack last less than a day, usually less than ten minutes.”
Sabrina took a deep breath. It was the first piece of good news she’d heard today.
Shirley sipped her tea again. “The problem is that anyone who has a transient ischemic attack is at risk of developing a stroke in the future. Your grandmother is at risk, and a major stroke can be crippling, or even cause death.”
“What can we do?”
“She refuses to stay at the hospital, and since she has plenty of money and her doctor under her thumb, she’s insisted that we take care of her here. The problem with that is the limited amount of medical equipment available. We have established a hospital-room setting here, with oxygen and a heart monitor. I’ve started an I.V. to make sure she has her liquids. She’s also on a blood thinner. We have contractors coming in tomorrow to modify the downstairs bathroom, to make it more accessible.”
“Do you think she should be in the hospital? Do you want me to try to talk her into going back?”
“You can try if you like, but I’ve known Mrs. Rose for a few years, and I’ve never met a more stubborn, hard-headed woman. You see, my daddy is Dr. Piper, the physician under her thumb.” Shirley gently added, “You need to understand that Mrs. Rose is getting old, and she is a frail woman. We can take care of her to a certain degree, but her biggest battle is time and nobody wins that one.”
Sabrina nodded. “I understand, and you’re right. It’s important to make her comfortable. Is this a hospice situation? Is Grandmother Rose dying?”
“No, nothing like that. She can recover from this and live many more years. On the other hand, she could suffer more TIAs until she has a major stroke. There are no guarantees. She knows that. That’s why she wants to be home. I suggest that you make the most of the time that’s left. Do you plan to stay awhile?”
“I really don’t know. I haven’t made any plans. I found out this morning that she was ill, so I hopped the next available flight out of Baltimore.”
“Well, I can take care of her body. Only you can help her soul. Seems to me, that’s what’s been causing her the most pain.”
Sabrina thanked the young nurse, wise beyond her years. She returned to her grandmother’s bedside and, for the next hour, held her hand, comforting the old woman.
At midnight, Shirley Piper went off duty and another nurse, an older woman with beefy arms and a kind face, began the late shift. Rose would have around-the-clock care.
Sabrina stood and stretched. She looked for her suitcase and briefcase, and found them by the front door where she dropped them. Exhausted, she dragged them upstairs to her yellow rose room. Too tired to undress, she kicked her shoes off and climbed under the covers. Within moments, she was asleep.
For the next few days, Sabrina visited quietly with her grandmother. She gave the nurses the space and privacy they needed as they developed a routine for caring for the elderly woman. Rose slept for hours, thanks to the scheduled morphine shots to ease her pain. Sabrina filled her free time wandering around the mansion, organizing books on shelves, dusting knickknacks, and rearranging photographs of Charles and Marta in foreign locales.
Ricardo Brothers began forwarding her mail, and she arranged an alcove in the sitting room as her new office. The kindly landlord also adopted her houseplants, keeping them on his patio until her return. She had few clients since her business was new, and for one-on-one consultations, she referred them to a reliable financial pro. She hoped they would reconsider her services when she returned.
One afternoon, bored and snooping, she discovered a scrapbook and a collection of letters and journals tucked in the antique chest in her grandmother’s dressing room.
Sabrina felt guilty as she untied the lilac ribbon that encircled the letters. She seldom ventured into her grandmother’s bedroom as a child, intimidated by the lavender gloom and the overwhelming scent of roses. It reminded her of a mausoleum.
This afternoon, however, she pulled the long, heavy drapes away from the window, turned on the bedside lamps and spread the items on the satin coverlet. Some of the letters were in her grandmother’s handwriting. Others were from Don Windham, Rose’s late husband. There also were some letters with no return name on the envelope. Sabrina didn’t know where to start, and her stomach flip-flopped.
I’m not meddling. I’m researching family history, she told herself.
She sorted the letters according to the dates on the postmarks. They ranged from 1955 to 1975, twenty years of Rose’s life. She also organized the journals, starting with the earliest. They began in 1965, and ended in 1975.
“As if she stopped living when Grandfather died,” Sabrina murmured. “Why? What happened?”
Sabrina never knew her family’s history. Norman preferred to live in the present, never mentioning his father, never talking about his own childhood. Marta talked about her childhood, but it was a bittersweet story of a young Brazilian orphan brought up by affectionate Catholic nuns. Marta did not know her mother or father, and had no family until she met Norman in college. It was an important connection: Both felt abandoned, alone, until they found each other. The difference was, Norman did have Rose, a wealthy, yet distant, mother.
When Sabrina was born, the couple was thrilled, but they had no idea how to form a family. Instead, they viewed Sabrina as a toy, almost a pet.
Impatient, Sabrina picked up the last letter, dated December 12, 1975. It was a small, creased envelope with no return address. With shaky fingers, Sabrina extracted the one-page note. The edges were torn, the blue ink faded and, in some parts, stained. Tears?
“I must see you again. It can’t end this way. Meet me tonight. Believe me, Rose. We can do this. We deserve this. D.”
Sabrina frowned, then re-read the letter.
“D?” Don Windham? Was she planning to leave him? Had she already left him and he wanted her back?
She picked up another letter, this one a brief note from Don Windham.
“Rose, Delivered the boat. It handled well, even in Force 8 winds off Bar Harbor. Be home soon. Love, Don.”
Sabrina glanced at the postmark on the envelope: September 21, 1975. She picked up the first letter and held one in each hand, comparing the handwriting. They were different. Even the paper and the envelopes were different, although that wouldn’t make much difference.
The style of writing and the context were different. One was passionate and pleading, the other, matter-of-fact and upbeat. Two men: A lover and a husband, and she lost both sometime in 1975, because Sabrina knew that Rose moved to Eaton, alone, in 1976. Norman, enrolled in a prep school in Virginia, seldom came home.
She opened several more letters, three from the mysterious “D” and two from Don Windham, dating from 1974 to 1975. They were similar. Again, “D” wrote short love letters begging her to meet him, while Don Windham wrote of various business contacts he made while traveling throughout New England, boat orders, and sea conditions.
Sabrina didn’t bother reading any of the other, older letters. Instead, she picked up the latest journal and tabbed through the pages to the final entry.
“December 10, 1975. Christmas shopping today. I’m in New York at the Plaza, loving every moment. Macy’s is fantastic and I had the best time at FAO Schwarz. I picked up a Pong game for Norman, some kind of video game that connects to the television. Now that he’s fifteen, he doesn’t want to play with his action figures anymore. I also found a pretty cashmere sweater for Margaret. Don wouldn’t come. Said he had work to do and couldn’t afford the time. He infuriates me. He certainly can afford the time; he just will not do it. He refuses to use any of daddy’s money, as usual. Obstinate man. We could be living in a beautiful home instead of a hovel. I’m so tired of doing without, when we have my inheritance just sitting in the bank. He won’t let me invest a dime in the business, saying its ‘the man’s job to take care of the family.’ At least he couldn’t stop me from sending Norman to school. It felt so good to spend money today without Don asking to see my checkbook. I’m glad he didn’t come with me. I’m going to take a long bubble bath, and I’ve ordered champagne and dinner for two. I damn well intend to enjoy my last night in New York. D will be here soon. I’m sure he’ll appreciate my shopping today.”
Sabrina flipped through the journal, checking entries for the initial “D,” and finding it on nearly every page.
“Grandmother Rose! I can’t believe what I’m reading,” she said, biting her lip.
Sabrina picked up the scrapbook and slowly turned the pages filled with newspaper clippings, postcards, locks of hair, and photographs. This book, too, stopped in 1975.
It’s as if she died, too, Sabrina thought. A folded newspaper clipping had been shoved between the last two pages, unlike the others that were carefully taped or anchored with black corners. She read the headlines and gasped.
“Boat Builder, Partner Killed in Midnight Blaze, Factory Destroyed in Three-Alarm Fire.”
There was no date at the top of the clipping. She read the rest of the article.
“NEWPORT – Boat builder Donald N. Windham, 45, and his partner, Derek F. West, 44, died Friday in a midnight blaze that destroyed the Zephyrus Boatyard and injured one person, Rose Windham, 35.
Three fire companies and the local police responded to the tragedy, which is still being investigated. Fire Chief Flip Jenkins reported that the inferno started in an office, perhaps by a faulty kerosene stove, and spread throughout the shop quickly. Fifty-gallon barrels of resin and stacks of plywood, used in the manufacturing of fiberglass boats, were “like jet fuel on the fire,” Jenkins said.
Firefighters were forced to battle not only searing flames and choking black smoke but also a lack of water. Jenkins said that there were no fire hydrants nearby, and the plant’s water supply was inadequate for fighting such a massive fire. The roof and all but one wall of the two-story metal building collapsed, forcing firefighters to flee the structure.
Rose Windham was treated for smoke inhalation and second-degree burns at the scene. Police responding to the fire said she will be questioned later and that, at this point, she is the only eye-witness to the tragedy.”
Sabrina stared, open-mouthed, at the newspaper article. She assumed that Don Windham had died of natural causes. No one volunteered details and she never asked about her family’s history.
Her hands shook and she wanted to call her father, but he and Marta were already in Tibet, wandering about on the backs of ponies. How much does he know? He must know all, Sabrina reasoned. But why hadn’t he ever told her?
* * *
That evening, Sabrina sat quietly at her grandmother’s bedside. Together, they watched the news and then the cable’s travel channel with Rose hoping for a glimpse of her famous son. His and Marta’s documentaries were popular reruns.
Sabina adjusted the bed at a slight incline, enabling Rose to view the large, flat-panel television the contractors installed on the dining room wall. Sabrina wondered how long the 150-year-old plaster walls would support the heavy screen.
The nurse placed a nightstand with a portable telephone and a pitcher of violet-scented water next to the hospital bed, and plumped satin cushions behind Rose’s back. Morphine and glucose water dripped steadily into the back of the old woman’s blue-veined hand.
A hairdresser came by after lunch and washed and styled Rose’s hair. Wearing a frilly ivory nightgown, her silver hair combed into its smooth chignon, she appeared to be on the mend.
“Grandmother,” Sabrina cleared her throat. “May I speak to you about something personal?”
Rose flinched, then closed her eyes. “Of course you can.”
“Do you miss my grandfather? Do you miss Don Windham?”
Rose’s breast heaved slightly, a deep sigh from a small, shrunken woman.
“Did you love him?”
“Of course I did. I love Norman and you, too. Is that what you want to know?”
“No, Grandmother. I know you love me,” Sabrina said, reaching out and stroking Rose’s quilted leg. “I know you love Daddy, too. It’s just that you never talk about my grandfather, and I’d like to know about him. I’d like to know what your life was like when you were a young woman.”
“I see.” Rose paused, licking her thin, pale lips. “Well, I’m not sure where to begin. It’s been so long ago.”
“Why don’t you tell me how you met?”
“Please, would you hand me a glass of water?”
Sabrina complied, and Rose sipped thoughtfully.
“Well, I was very young, barely seventeen when I first saw Don. He was a ten years older than me, and working at a boatyard in Rhode Island. That’s where he was born. That’s where we lived when Norman was born.”
Sabrina nodded, but said nothing.
“We lived in New York and spent summers on Long Island, in the Hamptons. Oh, not the fancy side of the Hamptons. We had a cottage in West Egg like in the ‘Great Gatsby.’ Oh, I loved that novel.”
Sabrina waited. Rose closed her eyes as if seeing her childhood home again.
“Daddy ordered a new, beautiful sailboat and a handsome young skipper delivered it from a boatyard in Rhode Island. Daddy asked me to handle the jib, and the three of us sailed all afternoon. Don Windham was so serious and capable. I still remember how his hair curled and whipped in the breeze. He was supposed to return to Rhode Island by ferry, but we kept him on the water so long, that he missed the last one. Daddy invited him to dinner and to stay the night. He slept on the boat.”
Rose sipped her water.
“That night, I went to him and we talked for hours under the stars. We sat in the cockpit until dawn. When he kissed me goodbye, I knew I had to have him.
“Of course, Daddy was not happy about that. He had other plans for me. He wanted me to marry the son of his banker. A moron. I told him I wanted to marry Don. We wrote to each other. He would come to New York on the train and I’d meet him at a hotel. This went on for about a year, then Don said I needed to make a choice. Either I stand up to Daddy and marry him, or else.”
“Or else, what?” Sabrina asked when Rose paused.
“I didn’t want to know what else,” she said. “I was eighteen and could legally marry, so we went to the justice of the peace that afternoon. We told Mother, and she called Daddy. He never forgave me, and he refused to come home as long as Don was there.”
“What did you do?”
“I packed a couple of suitcases and caught the train to Rhode Island with Don. We lived in a small cottage by the bay while he worked at one boatyard after another until he was able to open his own. I didn’t see Daddy for two years, not until after Norman was born.
“Then, when Norman was five, my father died and I received my inheritance. We were suddenly rich. But Don wouldn’t take any of the money. He wouldn’t use it to build the business. You see, my father said terrible things to me after the wedding. He broke my heart and Don never forgave him.
“I forgave him. I would take baby Norman home to New York and visit my parents. We would go shopping or skating in the winter, and in the summer, we sailed around Long Island and played on the beach. It was almost like being a girl again, this time with Norman as a little playmate. But Don was never with us.”
“I thought so, at first. Then I became angry. Don was stubborn and proud, even after my father died. He resented the man when he was alive, and more so when he was dead. He once told me he wished that I’d never inherited the money, that it only cursed our family.”
“How did it curse the family?”
Rose glanced at Sabrina, then frowned. “What? Oh, I’m sorry, dear. I’ve been rambling. I’m very tired now. Would you turn out the light?”
Rose’s recollections had been clear and she seemed eager to share. Sabrina speculated about the abrupt dismissal, but didn’t want to upset her.
“Sure, Grandmother.” Sabrina reached for the lamp and tugged on the cord. She picked up the remote control and placed it on Rose’s lap. “Here; just in case you want to watch TV for awhile. Goodnight,” she said, and kissed her grandmother’s cheek.
Rose placed a trembling hand on Sabrina’s face. “Goodnight.” She closed her eyes.
Two days passed and Sabrina wanted to speak with Rose again. She read all of the letters, read the journals, and finished the scrapbook. She had a suspicion that the mysterious “D” was Derek West, but she wanted Rose to confirm it.
More than that, for the first time in her life she felt a family connection, a legacy. During the night, as she turned past events over in her head, a plan evolved. Excited, she wanted Rose to approve of her idea.
She couldn’t wait to get started, but she dreaded telling Rose that she pried into her personal letters.
Hoping that breakfast would pave the way, she carried a tray with two cups of coffee and toasted, buttered English muffins into the dining room.
“Good morning, Grandmother,” she said, smiling. She placed the tray on the nightstand and picked up her coffee mug. “Mmmmm, this smells good.”
Rose picked up her dainty, rose-embellished coffee cup. She sipped, then placed it back on the tray. “Thank you, dear. Muffins? You have more faith in my teeth than I do.” She tore off a corner and popped it in her mouth.
“I want to talk to you about something. Something I think is important.”
“What is it, dear?” Rose asked.
“First, I have something to confess, and second, I have a plan I’d like to discuss. I’ve done something inexcusable, and you need to know. You also need to understand that I’m not sorry for what I’ve done; I’m only sorry that it may hurt you.”
“Oh my goodness, what have you done?” Rose, thoroughly alarmed now, struggled to sit up.
Sabrina placed a restraining hand on her tiny shoulder. “No; don’t get up. I found your journals and your letters. I’ve read them.”
Rose collapsed into the soft pillows, her eyes confused. “My letters?”
Rose’s mouthed twisted, her eyes darted back and forth, then rested on Sabrina. “You mean you’ve only now found them? You never were a nosy child, were you?”
It was Sabrina’s turn to gawk. “You mean, you don’t mind?”
Rose laughed gently. “I’m on my deathbed. Well, it could be my deathbed. My secrets have haunted me all my life. Do you think I want to take them to my grave?”
“Tell me about my grandfather. Then tell me about the fire. Tell me about Derek West and his family. Why did you move here to Eaton?”
Rose sighed deeply. “Well, that’s going to take awhile. I told you about my father, and how Don stubbornly refused to speak with him. This went on for many years, and after my father died, Don still refused to acknowledge or visit my mother.
“I was lonely and angry and wanted to punish him. Derek and Don were childhood friends, closer than brothers were. I wanted to hurt Don, so I came between them. It was ….” Rose paused and wiped a tear. “It was a tragic decision. I killed the man I loved, and I killed his best friend. I can never forgive myself for that.”
With this, Rose bowed her head and tears fell silently into her lap.
“Grandmother; I’m so sorry.”
“You read the newspaper clipping about the fire? Why do you think they died and I didn’t? Don followed me that night and they fought. I got between them but they pushed me away. I must have fallen and hit my head. I blacked out and, to this day, I don’t know how the fire started. The police said a kerosene stove had been knocked over. The next thing I knew, I was in the boatyard and the building was on fire. I saw Don running back in, calling to Derek. Then, the roof collapsed and I never saw either of them alive again.
“It’s so strange to tell it aloud. For thirty-five years, I’ve replayed the scene in my head. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Don, and about Derek, and how my foolish, selfish heart killed them both. How could I forgive myself?”
Sabrina let out a deep breath. “My God, Grandmother. All these years, the burden you’ve been carrying.”
“It’s mine, child. I’ve none to blame but myself.”
“It was an accident, Grandmother. You didn’t start the fire.”
“If I hadn’t been unfaithful, if I hadn’t been with Derek that night, they wouldn’t have fought and the fire wouldn’t have started. They would not have died. Those are the facts, Sabrina.”
“Does my father know?”
“I’m sure he does. He was fifteen then, almost a young man. He read the papers; he knew Derek’s family. At the funeral, Faye, Derek’s wife, was hysterical, screaming that it was my fault, that I was a whore and a murderer. I suppose that Norman figured something was wrong when I grabbed his hand and we ran for the car. I never returned. I kept driving until we reached New York. Soon, I bought this house and moved to Eaton. Norman returned to school. We never spoke about it.”
Sabrina rocked back and forth in her chair, her arms crossed over her chest.
“It must have been a nightmare for you.”
“It still is.”
That evening, Rose suffered another mini stroke and was rushed to the emergency room. Sabrina paced the hospital hall, biting her lip and brushing away tears.
At the sight of Shirley Piper, she nearly collapsed.
“How is she? Is she going to be alright?”
“It’s not a serious episode, but like I told you, these TIAs are leading to a major stroke.”
“It’s my fault,” Sabrina wailed, her hands shoved into her jean’s pockets.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Shirley said. “Your grandmother has enjoyed being with you. I’ve never seen her so happy.”
“No, I mean today, I … she … we were talking about my grandfather and it brought up bad memories. I should never have spoken to her about him.”
Shirley patted Sabrina’s arm. “Honey; you’re here to be with your grandmother through the good and the bad. You both need this time. You’re not to blame for the tiny blood clots that move through her brain. Those are the cause of her strokes, not talking to you about the past. Why don’t you go in and see her? She’s awake and asking for you.”
With a deep breath, Sabrina opened the hospital door. Blue-tinged neon light bathed Grandmother Rose. The clear vinyl tube attached to her nose hissed as it fed oxygen into her bloodstream.
Rose’s eyes opened and she rested her dreamy gaze on Sabrina.
“Hello. I suppose it happened again?”
“Yes. I’m worried about you. I’m so sorry. I should never have brought up the past.”
“Nonsense. It’s never far from my mind. I am actually relieved that you know. You’re my confessor now.”
“Grandmother, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You can’t, Sabrina. By the way, you never told me your plan.”
She cringed. “It’s nothing, really.”
“Tell me. I need the diversion.”
Sabrina squirmed uncomfortably. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’ve already changed my mind, anyway.”
Rose sighed. “Tell me.”
“All right. I was thinking about finding Grandfather’s first boat, if it still exists, and buying it. If I have something he created I could feel a connection.”
Rose’s eyes flew open. “How amazing.”
“I told you it was a bad idea.”
“Indeed, I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’ve often wondered what happened to all those boats. They were quite popular, although the run was short. Your grandfather was a genius, and his boats were beautiful.”
“Then you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. I wish I’d thought of it. It’s a lovely idea.”
Sabrina smiled tremulously. “Thank you, Grandmother.”
The gaff-rigged sail of the catboat filled as it slid gracefully from its mooring on the Warren River in Rhode Island. Soon, the teen tacked back and forth in five-knot winds.
“She’s beautiful, Jay. Just like the day my daddy bought her for me,” the boy’s father said, emotion making his voice crack. “Brady’s been pestering me for a boat of his own, and I’m glad you talked me into restoring her instead of buying a new dinghy.”
Humbled, Jay shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. “You’re welcome, Sam. We enjoyed working on a classic Marshall, and the Sandpiper is a nice little boat.”
Melinda’s eyes filled with pride, and she hugged her husband.
“You don’t think it’s too much for him, do you,” she asked Jay. “Are you sure he can handle it?”
“Catboats are very stable thanks to their wide beam, Melinda. He’ll do fine in these winds, but I wouldn’t let him go out in anything above fifteen knots. At least, not until he’s a bit more experienced. Swimming is a great teacher. Just make sure he wears a life jacket and stays on the river,” he said.
“I can’t wait to sail her,” Sam enthused. “Thanks again,” he said, shaking Jay’s hand.
“You’re welcome.” Jay looked at his watch. ”Well, I have to lock up now. He’s sailing it home, right? You want us to deliver the trailer?”
“Yes; that’d be great. We’re going to keep it at the dock for the summer, so just leave the trailer by the garage.”
“Right; I’ll have Brett drop it off later. See you, folks,” he said.
Walking back to the boatyard, Jay whistled under his breath. Sam was a good customer. As commodore of the local yacht club, he often referred Jay’s boatyard to its membership.
In the two years he and Brett operated the Warren Boatyard, they kept busy, but busy wasn’t enough. They wanted the big, dramatic restoration jobs that brought national attention and mentions in popular sailing magazines. The yacht club had plenty of members and many aging sailboats.
Brett looked up from the rope he’d been splicing. “How’d it go?”
“Perfect. Thanks for giving their son lessons last week. You should have seen their faces. I swear, they almost cried watching him sail off into the sunset.”
“Makes it worthwhile, doesn’t it?”
Jay patted the folded check in his T-shirt pocket. “That and four grand.”
Steamy Romance (B&N)
Fate may have been what called heiress Sabrina Windham to her grandmothers hospital bed - but it opens the door for a spellbinding romance. Sabrina looks for a boat that was instrumental, along with her grandmother, in destroying the life of Jay's family. He is now a man who finds it difficult to put the past behind him and help to restore the Zephyr. This is a very sizzling romance with a too quick ending, but I found it to be a story that is mesmerizing.
Well written romance with a twist (Kindle Edition|Amazon)
West Wind is is a lovely well developed story with beautiful characters. My only criticism would be that I felt the relationship between Sabrina and Jay happened incredibly fast with Sabrina completely trusting this strange man who she had only just met. Apart from that minor detail this book has an intriguing storyline, plenty of romance, just enough juicy bedroom scenes to keep the reader racing to the next page and a FANTASTIC twist at the end which I didn't see coming. Ending came a little too soon but I guess that's what keeps a reader coming back for more
I like the interesting careers the characters have. Plus, I like the way the characters interrelate with each other and how realistic they are.