She still did. But now, with the petition...
She sighed and leaned against one of the maples, pressing her palm flat against it. Maybe there was a reason for all of this. For Wesley leaving and Liam appearing and Mr. Radin trying to stop her festival. What was it people always said? That when one door closed, a window opened? That sometimes the best things in life sprang from the most difficult?
She'd always been optimistic. Some might say blindly so, given her track record with jobs and men. But these past weeks were certainly doing their best to test that optimism.
She nearly jumped out of her boots at the shock of finding Jean at her side. More than once Christie had thought the woman was as silent as a ghost. Just like her grandson, in fact.
"You really remind me of Liam," she told Jean. "You're both really good at sneaking up on people." When Jean laughed with obvious delight, Christie did the same. "And you both make me laugh at the most unexpected times."
"Liam makes you laugh, does he?" Jean raised an eyebrow. "Well, then. That's certainly something, isn't it?"
Christie didn't know how to respond. Instead, she said, "I haven't been able to stop thinking about what you told me yesterday. About your husband, Thomas. And how he disappeared just like Wesley."
"Well, there were quite a few differences. You and Wesley were never going to get married, for one."
"How did you know that? He didn't say anything to you before he left, did he?"
"Oh, honey, he didn't have to. Anyone with any sense knew it."
"Why didn't somebody tell me, then?"
"Some things you need to figure out for yourself," Jean said as they slowly headed through the trees toward her cottage. "Just like I needed to figure things out for myself way back when."
For three days, and two more long and lonely nights, Jean told no one that Thomas was gone. Everyone assumed they were simply having a perfect honeymoon when they didn't even come out of their rooms for meals.
She picked up the food left outside the door three times a day and flushed most of it down the toilet so that no one would know there was only one person in the honeymoon suite. She stared out the window for hours, keeping watch for him, even though she'd know the second he was back, would feel it deep in her soul.
Every day the room grew colder. And every night, as she dozed in the chair by the window, she dreamed she heard crying coming from the walls and woke up with tears on her cheeks.
When the sun rose on the fourth day, she held her head high as she carried her suitcase downstairs, then turned in her room key at the front desk. She knew people had long thought of her older sister, Olive, as the strong one. But Jean had hidden reserves of strength she'd never had to tap into.
"I need to leave my things here for now," she told the innkeeper, a lovely young girl who was new to town.
"Of course. Will your husband be back for them later?"
Jean simply said, "Thank you," before turning and heading for the door.
She walked the mile to her father's house along the beach, but she saw little of the beauty around her, barely noticed the sun beating down on her back.
Olive, who was visiting their parents, saw her first. "Did you walk from the inn? Where's Thomas?" Her sister stepped closer. "Have you been crying?"
Jean put her fingers to her cheek and wiped the moisture away. "I need to speak with Father."
"He's in the middle of a meeting with--"
But Jean was already moving past her sister, heading for the study. She'd thought the next time she walked through these doors, her husband would be beside her. Where was he? Was he hurt? She prayed he was okay.
"Father." She'd been told her voice had a lyrical quality, that she might have been a professional singer if she'd had any interest in it. Today it was flat as she stepped into the room. "I need to speak with you."
Three middle-aged men stood up quickly, their eyebrows rising as they took in her sleepless, tear-stained face. Smoke from their pipes swirled and curled up to the ceiling.
"Gentlemen, this is my daughter, Mrs. Thomas Kane." Still gracious despite her interruption, he said, "I'm in the middle of a meeting, honey. I'll come find you later."
She shook her head. "I need to speak with you right away." After three days in the inn's honeymoon suite, waiting and praying and hoping for the miracle of Thomas's reappearance, she'd decided that if her husband was, in fact, in trouble, she needed her father's help now, not later.
"If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I'll be back shortly." She could tell her father was upset with her by the hard set of his jaw, the tight way he was holding his shoulders. He waited until they were out of earshot. "You embarrassed me back there."
"Thomas is gone."
Shock stopped him in his tracks. "What do you mean, gone?"
"I woke up the morning after our wedding and he had disappeared."
"He disappeared three days ago?" When she nodded, he all but yelled, "Why on earth did you take so long to tell me this?"
"I was waiting. Waiting for him to come back."
She looked up to see myriad emotions cross her father's face. Empathy for her, disappointment, confusion. And, finally, anger.
"I gave him my money." With her father's help, Thomas had planned to start a new business in town. "Have you checked the account?" he asked.
"No." She hadn't thought about money. But now, she did. And she suddenly knew what her father would find when he went to speak with the bank manager. But there was relief there too. Because if Thomas had disappeared with her father's money, then it was less likely that he was hurt, wasn't it?
"Wait here," he commanded.
She knew he was going into his office, that he was rescheduling his meeting. She stood perfectly still, not moving a muscle as the three men filed out of the study to the front door.
"Come with me, Jean." He wasn't calling her honey anymore.
Thirty minutes later, all was confirmed. Thomas had come into the bank the morning after their wedding and withdrawn all of the funds but one hundred do
Jean silently followed her father out of the bank and down to the public dock next to the inn. On this cool spring day, despite the bright sunshine, they were the only two people out on the lakeshore.
"You should have known better." His words were uttered through gritted teeth. All of them had been taken in by Thomas. Her father's pride would never live that down.
"We don't know why he took the money," she said, instinctively defending her husband.
"He took it because he's a crook."
But Jean could have never fallen in love with a bad man. "What if he isn't? What if he's in trouble? What if he needs our help?"
"That money he stole from me is the last help he'll ever get," her father vowed. "He was a con man. You were his target. The perfect, innocent little target."
Only, though Jean's heart was aching, she couldn't believe that it had all been a lie. Yes, she could accept that perhaps Thomas might have come into their lives as a con man. And, yes, she might have been his target. But by the time they had their wedding night, she knew with absolute certainty that their love had been real. Which meant there had to be another reason he'd left.
"We will have the marriage annulled right away," her father decreed.
She'd never talked back to her father. Never really stood up to him. But something had happened to her between that first kiss with Thomas and saying I do, between the love they'd made in the inn's honeymoon suite and waking up alone in an ice-cold room.
"The marriage was consummated, Father." He blinked in shock at her plain speech. "Thomas will always be my husband, even if he never comes back to me."
Her father's face twisted with disgust. "Listen to me, and listen close. From this moment forward, your new husband died in an unfortunate car accident. You will move back into our house and grieve him for an appropriate period of time. And then we will all forget this ever happened."
But six weeks later, she threw up her breakfast. And by the end of the week, her mother proclaimed it morning sickness.
Jean was pregnant with Thomas's baby.