"About what happened over at the house yesterday," she said. "You shouldn't have had to see your father and me behave like that. Henry is a little tense lately. But he really appreciated your help moving the heavy furniture out of the room."
Not wanting to get anywhere near the middle of their relationship, he said, "Glad I could help," and then, "How's his business going?"
"Good. More and more people are moving here from the city who want to build or remodel, although he's increasingly picky about which projects he'll take on."
"And your graphic design clients?"
"I'm still working for about as many as I did when you lived at home." She looked a little nervous. "Speaking of home, we were hoping you could come to dinner tonight. It's been so long since your father and I got to spend some quality time with you. We don't know anything about your life. How your job is going. If you're dating anyone."
"Sorry," he immediately said, "I need to work the desk tonight." A smart man wouldn't have let her crestfallen expression crawl beneath his armor. But ever since coming back to Summer Lake, Liam had been anything but smart, hadn't he? "Tomorrow night might work, though."
His mother's smile was so bright, so big, it completely transformed her face. And despite himself, Liam felt a part of his heart soften.
The minute Christie walked into Lakeside Stitch and Knit, she breathed a sigh of relief. She desperately needed a refuge for a little while from the emotions swirling around inside of her. She was a late convert to knitting, but found it wonderfully calming.
Denise Bartow, Sarah's mother, was busy helping a customer, and as Christie ran her fingers down a display of soft yarn, she was glad for the chance to focus on something other than the Kane brothers.
Although the real truth was that Liam was the only Kane brother she was focusing on at the moment...
Lost in her forbidden desires, she accidentally knocked into a display. She was scrambling to catch the cashmere skeins before they hit the floor when Denise rushed over to help.
"Sorry." Christie picked up a stray ball that had rolled across the wood-plank floor. "I'm afraid I wasn't paying enough attention." Because she couldn't stop thinking about a man she shouldn't be thinking about at all.
Denise waved away her apology. "Sarah always tells me I try to fit too much in a small space. And she's right. But I love all the yarns so much I can't stand to keep them in boxes in the back."
Christie adored Sarah's mother. Denise's open smile made her long for her own mother, for the warmth of arms that had held her since she was a baby. And yet, hadn't she just told her mom not to come visit for a while?
The problem was, Christie's mother saw everything. With five daughters, she had to. And Christie didn't want her to see how close to the edge of disaster she was. She promised herself that as soon as she'd turned everything around--when the Tapping of the Maples Festival went off without a hitch, when Wesley finally returned, when Liam left the inn on another exotic trip to the other side of the world--she would invite her mother and father and sisters and their husbands for a wonderful Summer Lake weekend.
"We just got in the most wonderful new pattern book," Denise said, drawing her attention to the photographs and patterns in a coffee-table-sized book. "Look at these."
Christie's eyes widened at the knitted lingerie, beautifully soft nightgowns--even super-sexy bra and panty patterns that made her blush.
"I'd love to knit up something from the book as a sample," Denise said, "but with Sarah away on her honeymoon, I'm backlogged enough as it is."
"I'll do it." The offer was out of Christie's mouth before she realized it.
"Would you really?" Denise looked positively gleeful at the prospect of some knitting help. "I just know this book will fly off the shelves if people can see the designs brought to life."
"The thing is, I--" Christie was unable to get the words out--how she was already overloaded and shouldn't have made such an offer. Denise had been so kind since day one. How could she let her down on one small favor? "I was looking for a new project anyway," she finally said. And it was true. She just hadn't planned to start something new while she had so much else going on. "I left my wallet at the inn, so I'll come back tomorrow with the money for the yarn and pattern book."
"Oh no, you're helping me out. Of course everything is on the house." This was exactly why Christie loved Summer Lake so much. She'd known Denise less than a year, but she was treated like family anyway. Somehow, she'd find the time to knit a sample for the store. "Why don't you have a seat while we wait for everyone else to get here? You can thumb through the book to decide which pattern you might like to tackle. Although," Denise said, flipping through to a picture of a knitted slip that was both sexy and sweet at the same time, "this is the one I keep going back to."
"It's beautiful," Christie murmured. She could easily see herself wearing it, could feel the softness of the yarn as it skimmed over her curves like a second skin.
Denise clapped her hands. "Great! I'll get you everything you need."
While Denise gathered the proper gauge needles and yarn for her, Christie set out wine glasses for the knitting group members. Women were coming in now, one and two at a time. Ten minutes of small talk later, most of the regulars had arrived.
Christie was glad to see them all, but made it a point to sit next to Jean, Wesley and Liam's grandmother. She usually went by her cottage once a week for tea, but she'd been so busy since Wesley's disappearance that she'd neglected something they both enjoyed.
"I'm sorry I haven't been over to see you more in the past few weeks," she said as she cast on her new project.
"Cashmere," Jean said softly as she reached across to stroke Christie's new yarn between her thumb and forefinger. "My favorite."
Christie knew that conversations with Jean didn't always go in a straight line. Some people found the gray-haired woman a bit eccentric because of this, but it was one of the many things that drew Christie to her. As far as she could tell, Jean lived her life according to her own rules and no one else's. After all, look at the construction business she'd built up and passed on to her son, who also worked closely with William Sullivan. For a woman who'd started her career back in the forties, Jean's business success was nothing short of extraordinary.
"I'm knitting up a sample from this book for the store," Christie told her.
Jean's eyes went from the book to Christie, and her eyes filled with a sudden gleam. "Yes. That should work out just right."
Hmm. Nothing should have been strange about that. And yet, it kind of was. "Could I ask you something, Jean? The old ghost stories about the inn...when did they start being told?"
"You've felt something, haven't you?"
Christie didn't want to come across like a crazy person, so she began her answer by saying, "I'm sure it's nothing, but my new bedroom in the old honeymoon suite is so cold sometimes, even when the other rooms are perfectly warm. And a couple of times, I could have sworn there was something else, some kind of energy in the room with me." She shook her head at her own foolishness. "Listen to me. Telling you I think my bedroom might be haunted." She smiled at the woman beside her. "Clearly, I've been working too hard."
But Jean didn't smile back. Instead, the hint of loss, of sorrow that Christie had always felt was hiding behind her green eyes, rose to the surface.
"I knew this would happen," Jean said. "I told Wesley not to refinish that room. There's a reason it was closed off for sixty years."
"Wesley never said anything to me about potential problems with it." Then again, there were plenty of things her friend hadn't talked to her abo
ut, weren't there?
Christie was just about to ask Jean what had happened sixty years ago, when Suzanne Sullivan burst through the door.
"Sorry I'm late! Roman had to throw a couple of balls of yarn at me to even make me look up from my computer screen."
"How is that hunky bodyguard of yours?" Helen wanted to know.
The other women nodded, all obviously interested in living vicariously through the beautiful computer genius. No doubt about it, Roman Huson was quite a man. Big. Strong. Gorgeous. And head over heels in love with Suzanne.
Since she and Suzanne had become friends over the past months, Christie had learned firsthand that although Suzanne and Roman were perfect together, it hadn't always been easy for them. Especially considering that Suzanne's brothers had hired Roman to be her bodyguard, even though they knew she didn't want one. From what Suzanne had told her, despite their unorthodox beginning, their growing love had been both undeniable and irresistible.
Christie smiled thinking about how grumpy Suzanne's oldest brother, Alec, could still be about his sister's new boyfriend. As far as Alec was concerned, no one was good enough for Suzanne. Thankfully, he was coming around to the idea that she had found real love with Roman--a man who had been Alec's trusted friend for years.
"Roman's good," Suzanne said with a blush as she took an open seat on the other side of Christie, then pulled her yarns and needles out of her bag.
Christie was glad to see her friend looking so happy. And yet her chest clenched, the way it had when she was with Sarah before her wedding. It wasn't jealousy, she swore it wasn't. She didn't need her own love in order to be happy that her friends had found theirs.
Suzanne broke into Christie's thoughts as she turned to her and said, "I want to knit Roman a sweater." She pointed to a pattern for an Aran sweater. "What do you think of this one? Am I out of my mind for even thinking of tackling it?"
"I'm no expert," Christie said, "but I honestly don't think you'll have any trouble with it." Suzanne had only just recently learned to knit, but with her brilliant computer brain on task, she'd picked it up with remarkable speed.
"Oh good. Because I can already picture Roman wearing it...and then me having the pleasure of stripping it off him."