Love ain’t easy. Kate is getting ready to find that out the hard way!
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The smells of salt water drifted gently across the banks of Charleston as the sleepy town started to come alive for the day. A soft breeze carried the scents of the local marsh, intoxicating everyone with the sweet fragrance of Summer in the South. Swarms of seagulls soared noisily above, anxious to get to the docks where the local fishermen were already unloading their nets from early morning forays into the Sound. The city was slowly waking, and within a few hours the streets would be filled with an abundance of hurried and excited sightseers. The charm of Charleston was potent. It surrounded you like a soft warm blanket on a cold Winter’s night. Culture, food, history and Southern hospitality all rolled into one quaint and picturesque package. But, to Kate it was simply home. A place where she sought refuge to restore a damaged heart. She had left this beloved South Carolina town as simply Katherine Parker, romance writer. She returned as Kate, slightly fragmented and burdened with the weight of dashed hopes and love.
As she had hoped, her home and her garden became her solace. She delved into her work and remarkably, was able to finish her book within a matter of weeks. Flying back to the States on that fateful night months ago, Kate wasn’t sure how she would be able to process enough words to make complete sentences much less finish her novel. Somehow, she did. On the same afternoon she finalized her manuscript and emailed it to Harriet, she grabbed a glass and a bottle of Cabernet and headed to her garden. Sinking into her favorite Adirondack chair overlooking the small koi pond, she finally managed to take a deep breath for the first time in what seemed like ages. Then she cried. Kate cried until she could cry no more. She grieved for the love she lost when David passed away, and she grieved for the love that could have been with Andrew.
Kate had tried to resume a degree of normalcy whenever she arrived back home from England. Performing small. everyday tasks kept her focused and allowed her to keep her emotions in tact as much as possible. The morning after Kate arrived home, she had called Jillian to inform her that she was home.
“Home? You mean your cottage home?”
“No, darling, I’m here in Charleston. I got in yesterday afternoon late.”
“Why didn’t you call me to let me know you were coming home? I could have met you at the airport.”
“It was a sudden decision. I took a taxi.”
“What’s wrong, Mom? I’m coming over. Something is wrong and don’t deny it.”
“I’m fine, Jillian. Just super tired. You know I don’t handle jet lag well,” she lied.
Jillian refused to accept that her mother was only suffering from lack of sleep and too many hours on an international flight. Within the hour, she was walking into her mother’s front door, baby Tyson on her hip.
“Hellooooo? Anyone home? There’s a handsome, little blue-eyed boy who has missed his Grandma,” she called, walking towards the kitchen.
Kate heard her daughter’s voice and almost ran to meet them. She grabbed them both in a tight embrace as soon as they came into sight. “Oh, I have missed you both so much. I didn’t know just how much until now.” Tyson held his little arms out to Kate and she immediately settled him to her chest, caressing his blond curly head and burrowing her face in his tiny neck.
“Did you miss Grandma? Do you remember me?” The baby returned a huge grin and threw up his arms in the air. “Oh, you want Grandma to smooch your belly like I used to do?” Diminutive giggles ensued and briefly, Kate felt a blessed moment of peacefulness and normalcy.
“I was going to fix some lunch. Have you and the baby eaten yet?”
“I fed Tyson right before we came over. Is it okay if I lay him down for a nap?”
Kate kissed her beloved grandson on the forehead. “Sleep well, my darling. Grandma will be here when you wake up.” As Jillian tucked her son into his portable crib set up in the guest room, Kate took out the ingredients for a chef salad. She gathered some sparkling water and glasses and filled a large tray with the salads and drinks and headed out to the back patio.
“Oh, this is nice. I’ve missed this, Mom,” Jillian announced as she joined her mother outside.
“Did the baby go down fast?”
“He’s out like a light. Hey, do you think you could watch Tyson for a few hours while I go to the doctor tomorrow?”
“Absolutely. Jillian are you okay? Is something wrong?”
“No, Mom, I’m fine. Just a check up. But I need to run a few errands afterwards and thought you’d like to spend time with Ty, plus it would help me out, too.”
“You know you don’t have to ask me twice. I’d love to. I may be out in the garden when you bring him over. I have the book club meeting this weekend and thought I would serve drinks outside so I need to tidy things up.”
“You’ll be happy to be back in your garden, huh?”
“You know it’s my happy place,” she smiled forcibly.
“England was your happy place, too, Mom. Now would you like to tell me what happened, since you didn’t want to tell me on the phone.”
“Jillian, please don’t go there. Not today. That chapter of my life is closed.”
“Why, Mom? What happened with Andrew? Did you guys fight? I can see a sadness in you I haven’t seen since Dad died. Are you ever going to tell me what happened?”
“It’s in the past now and I have to concentrate on moving forward with my life. I’ll start my book tour in a few months. For now, I just need to work my way through some turbulent emotions, but I will be fine.” Kate needed to change the subject quickly before her sorrow overcame her again. She refused to let her daughter see the depth of her despair. “So, tell me how life in Charleston has been since I have been gone.”
The late Summer months in Charleston could test even the strongest of Southerners. Humidity hung heavy in the air like a damp blanket, muggy and moist. There was no escaping it and any activity outside resulted in your clothes sticking soddenly to your body as perspiration pooled all over you. This was the South. Kate knew she should have been used to it after almost 50 years of dealing with this weather, but this particular Summer it made her irritable and surly. She actually looked forward to a few months away during her book tour, where she could get a reprieve from the stifling heat. Kate gathered her garden gloves and tools from the shed and looked around for something to carry them all in. That is when she noticed her trusted, vintage gardening basket and a sudden surge of emotion swept through her. It reminded her so much of sweet Imogen and the market basket she had given Kate soon after her arrival in England. Kate had considered bringing the basket back home with her to Charleston but it was too bulky to carry on the plane and, in the end, the memories associated with it were too raw. She thought that time would have eased the hurt that was entombed in her heart, but there were days when the pain was still all too real. Several times over the past weeks, she had caught herself picking up her phone to call Andrew. A few days ago, she even went so far as to call Imogen and Jasper’s pub, but hung up as soon as she heard Jasper’s cheerful voice. Kate didn’t know what to say or even where to begin. In many ways, she was ashamed at how she had left in the middle of the night. The circumstances surrounding her departure made it that much harder to explain. Kate’s way of convincing herself that she had done the right thing was the solace that Caroline would hold true to her word and not ruin Andrew’s daughter’s life, even it meant dealing with her own pain in the process. She had lamented to Harriet earlier how she was a little anxious about the book tour, and as always her trusted Editor and long time friend soothed all of her distress.
“Kate, everything has been taken care of down to the last detail. The public relations team has worked out all of the particulars of your book tour and the finalized schedule has been emailed. You should be receiving a package with the first round of airline tickets today. We had to add a few new locales this time around because we have had such a huge request for you to be there. I think this is going to be your most successful book yet. Are you packed and ready?”
“I will be. I have a few lose ends to tie up here today.”
“The first round of signings this week will be smaller. Those will get you warmed up for New York City. That’s big time, Kate. You have worked very hard for this, and you should be proud of yourself.”
“Thanks, Harriet. I appreciate the trust and patience you have had with me. I know I haven’t been easy to work with these past few months.”
“Don’t be silly, you’re my friend. Kate, have you heard anything from Andrew? A call or a letter or anything?”
“No, and I don’t expect to. I ran out on him in the middle of the night with only a note to try to explain why. If that had been done to you would you want to speak to that person?”
“No, I see your point. I just hope that Caroline bitch gets what she deserves. You couldn’t create a more fictional villain if you tried. I wish you would let me make some quiet inquiries? Just a small and discreet probe to see if they are together.”
“Absolutely not,” Kate laughed. “Harriet you don’t ever do anything small or discreet either for that matter.”
“True. Well then, can I send a box of poison ivy to her with my special regards?”
“Harriet! Let it go. That’s in the past now.”
“Hey, how did your date go the other night?”
“What? Why? Your friend who set you up declared he would be perfect for you.”
“That’s what she claimed but I don’t think I am perfect for him. I am not sure I would be perfect for anyone right now. Besides, I have been working on the outline for my next book and my mind is a bit preoccupied.” Kate was not being totally honest with Harriet. The truth was she wasn’t ready to become involved with another man yet. It was too soon. “Oh, by the way, will Sir Jack still be in New York City for the signing?”
“According to his secretary he will. He and his new wife and another couple have been in New York City a few weeks and are taking a red eye out the night of your signing, so the timing is perfect.”
“His wife? Sir Jack is married?”
“I assume so. But, that’s a good thing for you. At least he won’t be hitting on you like he did during your first meeting,” Harriet joked. “Oh, by the way he can’t make the actual signing but has asked if you would join him and his wife and friends for dinner that night.”
“Ugh. Must I? Can’t I suddenly come down with some unexplainable writer’s disease?”
“You’re a grown woman, Kate. You don’t have to go, you know. But, I think its beneficial that you stay on his good side. Think of all the books you can sell in the UK.”
“Okay, one dinner won’t kill me I suppose.”
“Okay then, I will see you in Toronto after New York City. Don’t forget to pack your passport. Oh yea, and the manager at the Barnes and Nobles in Providence said your book has already sold out twice, so she is expecting a large crowd. Go get ‘em, Kate!”
The rest of the day was filled with menial tasks that always had to be completed prior to any trip. Stopping the mail, cleaning out the foods in the fridge that would spoil, making sure the lawn would be mowed and the plants would be tended to. Kate’s memory could not help but recall these same exact motions she had gone through prior to leaving for England. So many things in her life had changed since then. Kate was pulling out the last of the dairy products from the fridge when her phone rang again. The name and number on the screen caught her off guard. She stared at her phone for a few rings, contemplating if she would rather let the call go to her voicemail when finally she answered.
“Hello, this is Kate.”
“Hi Katherine, how are you?”
“Mark, I am fine. How are you?”
“Good, good. Look, I have been meaning to call you for weeks now since I found out you were home. It’s been crazy at the firm since we expanded to Savannah and I have been spending a lot of time going back and forth. I’m sorry I am just now calling.”
“It’s fine, Mark. I understand totally and didn’t expect you to call me.”
“I know we settled everything between us the last time we talked, but I was just wondering if you would like to have dinner, or maybe just coffee one day soon?”
“I don’t know, Mark. Maybe when I get back from my book tour next month.”
“Oh, congrats by the way. I heard your new book was out. When are you leaving?”
“In the morning bright and early. I still have a million things to do before I fly out.”
“Okay, then I won’t keep you. Katherine, I am sorry from the depths of my soul for what I did. It was stupid and I can’t believe I allowed myself to sink to that level of deceit.”
“Mark, you don’t have to keep apologizing. We have both said our peace and I am not angry at you.”
“I’m not with Honey, in case you are wondering.”
She wasn’t wondering. In fact, it had not even crossed her mind. “That’s a good thing, I suppose?”
“Yes, it is a good thing. It didn’t take me long to figure out she was a poor substitute for you.”
Kate was beginning to feel uncomfortable with where the conversation was going. “Well, I wish you nothing but the best of luck on your new expansion, Mark. I know you have worked very hard for this. Maybe when I get back we’ll run into each other.”
That was the best she could promise at this point and not risk putting thoughts into his mind that there was an inkling of chance for their relationship to rekindle.
“Take care, Katherine. It’s good talking to you.”
“You, too, Mark.”
Kate could not help but feel a bit of sympathy for Mark. He was a good man, and had made some poor decisions. She was beginning to think that maybe she wasn’t meant to love again. The last two gentlemen in her life had certainly not worked out very well.
The clock on the wall showed it was much later than she realized. She hurriedly pulled the last few bits of food she was giving to her elderly neighbor from her fridge, and headed out the door.
New York City. Bright, loud, boisterous and always alive. Kate was a small town Southern girl to her core but there was something about New York City that always excited her spirit. She and David would often spend a long weekend here whenever she had to come up for meetings at Heart Publishing headquarters. They had seen a number of Broadway shows and always enjoyed dining at new and different restaurants afterwards. Harriet would not be accompanying her during this leg of the book tour. This particular event coincided with a newer author’s tour dates so Kate insisted Harriet go to support him. Book signings were almost second nature at this point. Even though she had experienced some momentary misgivings about the tour prior to leaving Charleston, Kate admitted now that she enjoyed them immensely. It gave her the chance to meet and greet her fans and hear the reviews of her latest novel in person. Not all of the commentary she received was always good. She remembered years ago during one particular event when an older lady approached her with a thick manuscript, and handed the stack of printed pages to Kate.
“Mrs. Parker, this is for you,” she proclaimed, abruptly placing the packaged pages into Kate’s hands.
“For me? May I ask what this is?” Kate inquired, curious as to what she was holding.
“It’s a rewrite of your book. I think you should sit down and take time to read it as soon as possible, maybe tonight. I even highlighted in yellow all of the changes which I have made for easier reading. The pink highlights denote where I think you failed in properly explaining the scene or character. The blue highlights are additions I think would make the storyline much better.”
“Oh….,” Kate stumbled, not fully knowing quite how to respond. “Thank you? I think?”
“It’s the least I can do. I have been told several times by my book club that I should write novels, but I feel my forte’ is in editing. I think you will agree when you read this.”
“Roberson. Delia Roberson.”
“Mrs. Roberson, the book has already been published. It’s too late for rewrites at this point.” Kate hoped this obvious admission would put to rest any expectation that there was a hope of any changes being made.
“Hogwash. The edits can be rewritten and the book can be republished. Easy peasy. I would expect a small compensation and of course, credit given to me on the front cover. Small font is acceptable, right under your name.”
“Well, I will give this to my Editor since she is responsible for my rewrites.”
“My contact information is on the last page. If she wishes to speak to me or has any questions I would be happy to oblige. I have a green highlighter that I could always use if she needed clarification of any parts.”
“Yes, I’m sure you do,” Kate smiled. “Thank you for all of your time and trouble. Did you want me to autograph a book or take a picture with you?”
“No, no. I will wait for my rewrite to come out and then you can autograph a copy for me. Have a great day, Mrs. Parker.”
Luckily, that had been the strangest fan encounter Kate had endured. Most were simply excited to meet her in person and have their picture taken. David had always assisted Kate with keeping the lines moving. She would miss his supporting presence.
The New York City events were always active and overflowing. Kate hoped to get in a nap before this afternoon’s signing, especially if she had to face Sir Jack afterwards, but she had instead opted to walk to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle for David. After a moment’s hesitation, she lit another for Andrew. Walking out of the Cathedral, she felt lifted and vibrant as she always did.
By the time Kate had signed the final book, posed with her last fan and thanked all of the book store employees for their kindness and assistance, she was exhausted to the bone. Even though book tours required no physical energy, it still required a certain amount of mental stamina to always be happy and smiling and energetic. Kate truly felt that if someone had driven to a book store and stood in line for hours, she owed it to each of them to be at her best. She gathered her purse and met the driver Harriet had arranged to pick her up at the bookstore and take her to the restaurant where she would be meeting Sir Jack and his party.
“Katherine, hello. You look wonderful, as always.”
“Thank you, Sir Jack. How are you?” she replied, reciprocating the standard double “air kisses” British Aristocrats accorded in greeting.
“Fabulous. Just fabulous. We are enjoying our trip to New York City. It’s Julia’s first time here. Julia, this is Katherine. Katherine, meet my wife Lady Julia Burnham.”
“Lady Julia, it’s a pleasure to meet you and welcome to New York City.”
“Thank you, Katherine I have heard all about you. I can’t wait to read your new novel.”
“Katherine! Fancy meeting you here!” Kate heard someone say to her side. She looked in surprise to see Callum James, one of Andrew’s best friends she had met previously in Bourton.
“Callum, hello. Are you here with Sir Jack?” she asked, surprised.
“Yes, my wife and I decided to accompany Jack and my sister here since it had been years since we had visited New York City.”
“Your sister?” she looked at Callum confused. “Is Julia your sister?”
“I’m afraid I do have that dubious honor, Katherine,” Julia spoke up, smiling at her brother. “But I guess I can forgive him all his brotherly wrongs since he was the sole cause of my uniting with the love of my life.” Julia gazed longingly into Sir Jack’s eyes and Katherine was quite surprised to see the love was returned. It was obvious that Sir Jack had finally met the woman who could hold his attention for more than a night and lead him to the alter.
“Shall we sit?” Sir Jack indicated, while pulling out a chair for his wife and then for Kate.
“Katherine, I already took the liberty of ordering a bottle of champagne to celebrate your success. Harriet tells me your book is flying off the shelves. How was your signing tonight?”
“Huge. Even more readers than I expected. That’s why I was late arriving here. I could not possibly leave until I had spoken to everyone who took the time to attend.”
“Of course not. So when are you coming back to England? We have some future book writing plans to discuss.”
Kate’s face fell. When was she coming back to England? The thoughts made her anxious. She knew she could easily go to London and never worry about running into either Andrew or Caroline, but the possibilities made her queazy. “I don’t know, Sir Jack. I haven’t given it much thought. Besides there is this new invention called the computer and Skype. We could always utilize that,” she joked.
“Rubbish! There is nothing like a good old fashioned in-person meeting. I abhor speaking to a computer screen when I can speak to someone right across from me over a brandy and a good cigar.”
“I’ll pass on the cigar if it’s all the same to you. Let me get through this book tour and we can talk, okay?”
Callum had been sitting and patiently waiting for her and Jack to finish their discussion, but curiosity was killing him.
“So Katherine, may I ask you something? What happened with you and Andrew? Broke the chap’s heart, you know.” Obviously, beating around the bush was not one of Callum’s traits.
Katherine was suddenly silent. She felt four pairs of eyes staring at her, all anxious to know the answer to the question. She wasn’t sure she was ready to have this conversation, especially with Andrew’s friends.
“I had a family emergency back home,” was all she could think of at the time.
“Surely you could have let everyone know why you were leaving?” Callum inquired.
“Callum!” his wife admonished. “Don’t be so rude.”
“You’re right, darling. But I had never seen Andrew so happy as he was right before you left.”
“Callum, its a long story,“ Kate started. “I don’t think you want me to go into all of it here at dinner, especially when it’s your last night here in New York City.”
“Oh, we don’t mind,” Julia piped in. “You can tell us.”
Kate looked at each of them, noting the intense curiosity in their eyes. “I had to make some decisions which I knew would hurt both Andrew and I, but if I didn’t – Andrew and another innocent party would have been affected for life.”
“Katherine, does this have anything to do with Caroline?” Callum asked.
Kate’s eyes grew wide. How could he have known that? Nothing she just said gave any indication that Caroline was involved.
“Why would you ask that, Callum? Why would you bring up her name?”
“Because a month or so ago, there was a rumor floating around that Caroline had suddenly left England for a lengthy stay in Italy. Word is she had attempted to blackmail Andrew.”
Kate was stunned. Caroline’s desperation level must have reached the lowest point. She must have felt that Andrew would bow down to her demands, just as Kate had done.
“Yes, it had everything to do with Caroline. I couldn’t and wouldn’t be the cause of Andrew getting hurt. I had to leave to make sure that didn’t happen. It was Caroline’s demands that forced me to leave.”
Julia reached over and placed her hand on Kate’s. “Dear Katherine, I am so sorry she did this to you. Why didn’t you go straight to Andrew?”
“It’s easy to look back now with a more sensible approach. I know I should have gone straight to Andrew with the information she was using to blackmail me into leaving England and him. I even called her out and said it was all a lie. But she said that in an aristocratic society, the news she would release would be very detrimental, wether it was true or not. I believed her.”
“Andrew has truly been heartbroken. If possible, I think he is worse off than when his wife left him. I don’t know what this information Caroline had on him was, but I can assure you that Andrew has dealt with it. I have never seen a man so furious.”
“Is he mad at me, also?” Kate asked expectedly.
Callum didn’t quite know how to answer that without telling her the truth. “In many ways, yes. You should talk to him, Katherine. Tell him exactly what happened and make him understand you did it to protect him.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say. I have picked up my phone to call him several times and chickened out. I was worried he would hang up on me as soon as he heard my voice.”
Julia’s face brightened. “I have a brilliant idea. Tell him in person.”
All eyes looked at her, trying to figure out what she was thinking.
“In person?” Kate repeated.
“We’re taking the red eye out tonight. Fly back with us and tell him in person.”
“I’m in the middle of a book tour, Julia. I have to be in Toronto in a few days. I can’t just up and fly to England.”
“Why not?” Jack asked. “Do you have your passport? If so, then there should be no reason why you can’t hop over and get back in time for your Toronto signing.”
“Jack, that’s crazy. Fly eight hours to speak to a man who may or may not ever want to see me again after I broke his heart?”
They all looked at each other, and smiled. “Yes!” they all said in unison. Kate stared back at them, astounded at such a prosperous idea, and ashamed she had not thought of it herself. “Do you think he will really see me? This is silly. I don’t even know if I can get a flight. If you think I have a chance, though, I will try.”
“If you cannot get a flight, Julia and I will fly back tomorrow and you can have our seats and ticket. Now there is no excuse,” Jack proclaimed.
“Okay then, should we skip dessert?” Kate suggested.
“Cheers!” Jack said aloud, holding up his glass of champagne. “Here’s to love and forgiveness and new beginnings.”