|Mass Market Paperback (Reissue)||2018-06-26||$7.99||368|
|Library Binding (Large Print)||2013-08-01||$36.95||391|
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By Nancy Thayer
Published by Ballantine Books on 2018-06-26
Mass Market Paperback: $7.99
FICTION / Romance / Contemporary, FICTION / Romance / Historical
Nancy Thayer returns to her beloved Nantucket in a highly emotional, wholly entertaining tale of three sisters forced to confront the past over one event-filled summer on the island.
Charming ladies’ man Rory Randall dies with one last trick up his sleeve: His will includes a calculating clause mandating a summer-long reunion for his daughters, all from different marriages—that is, if they hope to inherit his posh Nantucket house. Relations among the three sisters are sour thanks to long-festering jealousies, resentments, and misunderstandings. Arden, a successful television host in Boston, hasn’t been back to the island since her teenage years, when accusations of serious misbehavior led to her banishment. College professor Meg hopes to use her summer to finish a literary biography and avoid an amorous colleague. And secretive Jenny, an IT specialist, faces troubling questions about her identity while longing for her sisters’ acceptance.
To their surprise, the three young women find their newfound sisterhood easier to trust than the men who show up to complicate their lives. And if that weren’t problematic enough, their mothers descend on the island. When yet another visitor drops by the house with shocking news, the past comes screaming back with a vengeance. Having all the women from his life under his seaside roof—and overseeing the subsequent drama of that perfect storm—Rory Randall might just be enjoying a hearty laugh from above.
Nancy Thayer’s novel insightfully illustrates how the push and pull of family altercations make us whole. It’s how the Randall sisters come to forgive, and learn to open their hearts to love.
Praise for Island Girls
“Nancy Thayer is one of my favorite writers, and Island Girls is one of her best. The Randall sisters are like your own family members or your best friends: funny, smart and emotional, infuriating and good-hearted. Here is a book to be savored and passed on to the good women in your life.”—New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs
“Full of emotion and just plain fun, this novel is delightful.”—Romance Reviews Today
“In this touching summer read, forgiveness benefits both the person bestowing it and the recipient.”—Kirkus Reviews
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Praise for Nancy Thayer 'In this touching summer read, forgiveness benefits both the person bestowing it and the recipient.' ''Kirkus Reviews, on Island Girls 'Nancy Thayer is the queen of beach books.' .' .' .' All [these characters] are involved in life-'changing choices, with all the heart-'wrenching decisions such moments demand.' ''The Star-'Ledger, on Summer Breeze 'Readers will delight in these women's struggles to reconcile their desires and dreams with the cards they've been dealt.' ''Publishers Weekly, on Summer Breeze 'Filled with intrigue and romance, this novel shows how women's unique bonds can survive even the most tempestuous times.' ''Woman's Day, on Summer Breeze 'This beautifully written novel examines the lives of three women who have recently become neighbors. With unflinching honesty and perspective, the story delves into life-'changing decisions that most women can relate to. The characters are wonderful, and the voice and pace of the story pull the reader in right from the start.' ''Romantic Times, on Summer Breeze
'Vintage Nancy Thayer'.' .' . Enjoy Heat Wave along with a cool drink'.' .' . and plenty of sunblock.' ''Huntington News, on Heat Wave ''A heartwarming novel that will take readers on an emotional roller coaster full of family connections, hysterical summer guests and the drama of everyday life.' ''Nantucket Today, on Heat Wave 'Thayer's sense of place is powerful, and her words are hung together the way my grandmother used to tat lace.' 'dorothea ? benton frank, on Beachcombers
ay e r A Nantucket Wedding Secrets in Summer The Island House A Very Nantucket Christmas The Guest Cottage An Island Christmas Nantucket Sisters A Nantucket Christmas Island Girls Summer Breeze Heat Wave Beachcombers Summer House Moon Shell Beach The Hot Flash Club Chills Out Hot Flash Holidays The Hot Flash Club Strikes Again The Hot Flash Club Custody Between Husbands and Friends An Act of Love Belonging Family Secrets Everlasting My Dearest Friend Spirit Lost Morning Nell Bodies and Souls Three Women at the Water's Edge Stepping Ballantine Books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions or corporate use. Special editions, including personalized covers, excerpts of existing books, or books with corporate logos, can be created in large quantities for special needs. For more information, contact Premium Sales at (212) 572-2232 or email email@example.com.
ISLAND GIRLS a novel Nancy Thayer Ballantine Books? '? New York
Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized. If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as 'unsold or destroyed? and neither the author nor the publisher may have received payment for it. Island Girls is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 2018 Ballantine Books Mass Market Edition Copyright ? 2013 by Nancy Thayer Excerpt from A Nantucket Wedding by Nancy Thayer copyright ? 2018 by Nancy Thayer All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Ballantine and the House colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, in 2013. ISBN 978-? 0- ? 525-'61835-'5 Ebook ISBN 978-'0-'345-'53883-'3 Cover design: Eileen Carey Cover images: Ralf Schultheiss/Corbis/Getty Images (girls), Alex ? Br amwell/ Getty Images (umbrella) Printed in the United States of America randomhousebooks.com 9? 8? 7? 6? 5? 4? 3? 2? 1 Ballantine Books mass market edition: July 2018
For Linda Marrow
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am fortunate and extremely grateful to work with the superlative team at Ballantine. I send my sincere thanks to my editor, the peerless Linda Marrow, and to Libby McGuire, Gina Centrello, Junessa Viloria, Dana Isaacson, Kim Hovey, Quinne Rogers, Alison Masciovecchio, Mark LaFlaur, and Penelope Haynes. My gratitude once again goes out to the true blue island girl Meg Ruley, my excellent agent. Also I thank Peggy Gordijn, Christina Hogrebe, and everyone at the Jane Rotrosen Agency. Finally, a brief explanation: I realize that in my novels women meet wonderful men on Nantucket. Honestly, this is simply a matter of fiction imitating fact. Thirty years ago I came to Nantucket to visit a friend. She introduced me to Charley Walters. We've been married for more than twenty-'eight years, some of them relatively challenging, pun intended. Charley is my constant inspi-
acknowledgments ration for all good men. He is my companion, my champion, my cavalier, and the steady center of my soul. Thank you, Charley. Maybe everyone should be an island girl, at least once.
ONE Arden's half-'hour television show for Channel Six, a local Boston station, was called Simplify This, which Arden privately knew was a ridiculous title because, really, nothing in life was simple. She couldn't remember when she'd last had a vacation, and even when she had a weekend off, she worked, tapping away at her laptop or considering DVDs prospective entrants had sent her, or reviewing call sheets or expenses. Even watching television was work because she recorded and savagely studied competing shows, comparing theirs to hers, searching for what she was missing, what she could improve. Reading books and magazines: same thing. Even exercise was work for Arden because she had to keep her thirty-'four-'year-'old body in shape for the merciless cameras that made everyone's butt look ten inches wider and ten pounds heavier. Same with having her nails and her hair done. She was fairly certain she worked when she slept.
nancy thayer Simplify This expressed her hard-'won life's motto: to simplify your life, to stuff useless old family heirlooms like grandmothers? tea sets and framed photos of relatives so distant you couldn't remember their names into neat cardboard boxes, tidily labeled and piled in the attic or basement, or given away to the secondhand shops so you could claim a tax deduction. As you did this, you vanquished the ghosts of the past, the should-'haves and could-'haves, the expectations of parents, the dreams of childhood. Then your present life was clear and spacious, facing forward, not back. Arden had spent her adult years simplifying. She had created a television show and her own life's battle cry out of the desire to simplify her odd, complicated family (if you could even call it that), which was like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces scattered by the winds. Today she parked her posh little Saab convertible in her reserved spot in the station's lot, whipped through the glass doors, nodded to the security guard, and strode down the corridor to her private lair. She unlocked it, stepped inside, leaned against the door, and kicked off her high heels. It was a hot day for early May. Arden stripped off her suit jacket and unzipped her tight skirt. She collapsed in the wonderfully padded chair behind her desk, put her feet up, and listened to her voice mails. Messages: The dry cleaner said the stain wouldn't come out of the lavender silk dress. The masseuse reminded her she'd changed the time of her appointment. Marion Cleveland understood that all entries to Arden's wonderful show should be sent by mail with a DVD, but
island girls 5 Marion was a close personal friend of Ernest Hilton, the program director of Channel Six, and so Marion thought Arden wouldn't mind Marion phoning directly because Marion's house would be perfect for Simplify This. Four forceful thuds sounded at her door, and before she could speak, Ernest Hilton barged in, followed by a tiny wide-'eyed brunette. 'Ernest.' Arden swung her legs off her desk and straightened in her chair, yanking her shirt down over the undone zipper of her skirt. 'Arden.' Ernest hauled a chair from the corner of the room, moved the stack of folders off it onto the only empty space on Arden's desk, and set it next to the visitor's chair facing Arden. He gestured to the size zero to sit. I'm not going to like this, Arden thought. She knew Ernest well enough after six years of working with him. He was fifty, jovial, and fat, and he never appeared in front of a camera. 'I'd like you to meet Zoey Anderson.' Arden smiled. 'Hi, Zoey.' The young woman was dazzling, with enormous dark eyes and long dark hair clipped loosely to the back of her head. Her dress was a simple sleeveless sheath of linen, at least two sizes smaller than what Arden wore, and Arden was slim. 'So here's the deal,' Ernest continued, after Zoey gave a brief smile. 'Channel Six has been bought out. New management. Now new show.' He held up his hands and spread them in a banner. 'Simplify This from A to Z. Get it? From Arden to Zoey.' Arden's heart turned to ice.
nancy thayer 'What the numbers are telling us, see, Arden, is that we're not getting any of the younger demographic. You've captured the marrieds, the empty nesters, the first new homes in the suburbs, but no one under thirty watches ST.' 'I wouldn't say no one,' Arden objected. 'Time to move on, any old hoo.' Ernest slapped his hands on his mammoth thighs. 'Things get old fast. Gotta change.' 'ST has excellent ratings,' Arden reminded him. 'The ratings show''? 'Of course, of course,' Ernest interrupted. 'But they could be even better, and they will be once we've got Zoey on board. She can work with the under thirties. Who needs help simplifying more than they do? They live in lofts, share apartments, don't know how to do their taxes or keep records, trip over all the wires for adapters for their thousands of devices.'.'.'.' Zoey spoke up for the first time. Her voice was high pitched and girly girl. 'One week I'll do the youngies, and the next week you can do the oldies.' Arden was surprised Zoey didn't put her finger in her dimpled chin. The youngies, Arden thought, inwardly moaning. The oldies. Another tap at the door. Once again it opened before Arden could speak. Sandra, her secretary, stuck her head in. 'Sorry, Arden, but you've got an emergency phone call.' Arden stared. She had no husband, no children. She
island girls 7 didn't even own a pet. 'Thanks, Sandra.' She nodded toward Ernest. 'Excuse me. I'd better take this.' Her mother spoke. 'Arden? Honey'? Her voice sounded different. It didn't crack with its usual take-? charge, You know I've found the perfect house for you, Boston real estate agent's pizzazz. 'Mom? Are you okay'? 'I'm fine, darling. But, Arden,'.'.'. your father died.' 'My father died,' Arden repeated in robot tones, ? trying to make the words compute. 'Oh, that's so sad.' Across from her, Zoey's enormous eyes filled with real tears. 'He died on the island,' Nora continued. 'I've 'spoken with Cyndi and Justine. The funeral will be on Monday.' 'Mom, can I call you back'? Arden asked. 'I've got people in the office. I need just a minute.'.'.'.' Her mother clicked off. 'I have to go to Nantucket,' Arden reported in a stunned monotone. 'My father died. The funeral is Mon? day.' Ernest nodded lugubriously and got to his feet. 'Terrible thing, terrible thing,' he intoned, although for all he knew, Arden's father could have been an ax murderer. 'Take all the time you want, Arden. In fact, you've got a lot of vacation due you. Why not take a month. Or two. Or three? I'm sure Zoey can handle it. The timing is just right; she can start her part of the series, and then in the fall we can segue you back in.' Arden sat dumbfounded, staring at her boss and his new, young, discovery. She knew how Ernest worked. With some degree of accuracy, she could interpret his
nancy thayer every mouth crimp or eyebrow lift. Terror struck: Was she losing control of her own show? That would be a horrible thing, a betrayal of her and the years she'd put into Simplify This, and into this station, but as Arden sat quietly smoldering, there stood little Zoey with her eyes full of tears. Lucky little Zoey, who wept when someone's father died. Obviously, Zoey's father had never abandoned her and her mother. Arden could imagine Zoey's life clearly: parents who adored each other and never divorced, brothers and sisters who were real siblings, a father who was a strong disciplinarian but fair, a mother who attended the school plays where Zoey had the leading role. Nothing like Arden's mess of a life. Or like Arden's oh-'so-'charming disaster of a father. She had always assumed she would somehow get more of him later. My God, Rory Randall was only sixty and in good health. He golfed, he played tennis, he swam! How could he be dead? Arden still had so much to say to him, so many difficulties needed to be discussed and settled'? he had so much to say to her, she knew he did, she knew! She was his first daughter, his first child. Because of that, she was special! Her mother had made a mistake, someone had gotten their information tangled; Rory Randall might be ill, perhaps in the hospital with a minor heart attack, but not dead. Emotions shifted within her like fractures in the earth, warning of a tidal wave surging her way. Arden reminded herself she was a pro. Some people in the station considered her practically a goddess; she was gorgeous, clever,
island girls 9 energetic, invincible. If she allowed herself to display anything except expertise bordering on disdain, everyone in the station from the janitor to the CEO would think she'd broken down because of Zoey's arrival. It wouldn't matter that Arden's father had died. Everyone knew Arden's only love was her work. She would not humiliate herself. 'I'll pencil in another meeting for next Wednesday,' Arden said decisively. 'I've got to leave now.' 'Of course.' Ernest and Zoey went out, closing the door respectfully behind them. Arden zipped up her skirt, then grabbed her purse and jacket. She slipped her feet back into her murderous high heels and trotted out of her office to her secretary's desk. 'Sandra, I've got to go to Nantucket for a week. My father died. You can reach me by cell.' 'Oh,' Sandra began, 'I'm so sorry''? But Arden didn't trust Sandra. She knew the moment she was out of the building, Sandra would be gossiping about her with the other employees and interns. Really, there was no one you could trust. Atop those impossible heels, she stalked, head high, out of the station. She got into her car, fastened her seat belt, and drove away. She didn't allow herself to cry.
TWO Meg Randall sat in her ancient Volvo tapping her fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as she waited for the car ferry to bump into its place in the pier so the vehicles could be unloaded. She considered herself one of the most moderate, gentle, easy'going women she knew, but at this moment she felt as impatient as Secretariat stalled behind the starting gate. The steamship Eagle rumbled, shuddered, and groaned into its berth. Chains clanked as the dockworkers raised the ramp into place, jumped aboard, and waved the cars off. With a flash of triumph, Meg drove onto Nantucket. She was here before Arden! It had been years since she'd been on the island. She'd never been old enough to drive here before, but her car carried her with perfect assurance down Steamboat Wharf, through the cobblestone grid of town, and along the wind? ing narrow lane of Lily Street, into the driveway of her father's house.
island girls 11 She stepped out into the sunshine and looked around. The street, with its houses clustered closely together, its narrow brick sidewalk, and tidy trimmed privet hedges, lay in timeless peace beneath the morning sun. It was very quiet. Meg stretched. She had actually arrived before Arden, and she passionately wanted to have first choice of bedroom. That was why she'd hardly slept last night, and had left Boston before six a.m. to make the nine thirty ferry from Hyannis. Meg was going to claim the back bedroom overlooking the yards, lawns, and rooftops of the other houses in the village. She beeped her station wagon locked, reached into her pocket, and took out the small key to the front door. It lay in her hand like an icon, like a treasure. It was a treasure. She had never had a key to this house before. Even though she had lived here, she had never belonged. White clapboard, three stories high, with a blue front door sporting a bronze mermaid door knocker, the house was similar to the others in the neighborhood. The driveway next to the house was short, ending at a privet hedge centered by a rose-'covered arbor. Already some of the pale roses were blooming. On either side of the front door, blue hydrangeas blossomed, and pink impatiens spilled from the white window boxes. A storybook house. A house with many stories. Meg went up the eight steps to the small porch, took a deep breath, and opened the door. Cleaners had been in; she smelled lemon polish and soap. Ignoring the first floor, she took the stairs to the second floor two at a time. Like all old Nantucket houses,
12 nancy thayer this one rambled oddly around, with rooms that had fireplaces or closets built in at odd angles. But the path to the bedroom, her bedroom, was embroidered into her memory like silk thread on muslin. Here it was, at the back, with the morning glory wallpaper and two walls of windows gleaming with light. An old-'fashioned three-'quarter mattress lay on a spool bed, covered with soft old cotton sheets and a patchwork quilt in shades of rose, lemon, and azure, echoing the colors in the hand-'hooked rug covering most of the satiny old pine floor. An enormous pine dresser stood against one wall, still adorned with the posy-'dotted dresser scarf that had been there when Meg was a child. This room had no closets, only hooks for clothes, but that had never mattered to Meg. She had cherished the room because of the slightly warped, ink-'stained wooden desk and creaking cane-'bottom chair placed against the back window, where she could sit and write or contemplate the starry sky and dream. When she was a girl, for a year this had been her bedroom. Then Arden got into one of her jealous snits, claiming that since she was the oldest, she got first dibs. Meg had to take the side bedroom, which should have delighted her. It was twice as large as the odd back bedroom, and actually decorated. The theme was mermaids, and Meg's mother, Cyndi, who at the time had been the current Mrs.'Randall, had gone a bit wild, draping the windows with mermaid curtains, covering the twin beds with mermaid sheets and comforters, softening the floor with a thick Claire Murray mermaid rug. Even the bedside lamps
island girls 13 were held up by mermaids. It should have been a young girl's paradise. It just made Meg cranky. She wouldn't give her older, snotty half sister Arden the satisfaction of showing she preferred the back room, and she really wouldn't beseech Arden to exchange rooms with her. She just accepted it. She was used to acceptance as a way of life. Then their father married Justine and adopted Jenny, and Meg got to spend one blissful summer there. The next summer was when what Arden and Meg called The Exile began. After Justine took over, Meg and Arden didn't get invited to spend any time at all at their father's house, not one summer month, not one summer day. But that was then, and this was now, a new stage in life, a new day. Years had passed. Meg would pretend to be selfless, thoughtful, taking the small back bedroom, allowing Arden one of the big front rooms. Jenny had the other front bedroom, years ago done up in pinks and greens. She needed to unpack quickly, before anyone else got here. She needed to spread her belongings out all over the room, claiming her territory. She clattered down the stairs and out the front door to the car. She regarded the number of cardboard boxes filling the open hatch, took a deep breath, reached in, and hefted the first heavy box. Most of what she'd brought to the island was either books or notes or steno pads filled with research. In spite of the terrifying fact that she'd have to spend three months living with the two women who disliked her most in the world, Meg was thrilled to be here, because at last she'd
14 nancy thayer be able to focus completely and solely on writing her book. Because it was the last day of May, the humid heat of island summers had not yet arrived. Still, after Meg made a few trips up and down the steps carrying the boxes, her clothes were damp with sweat. She sank down on the top step of the stoop to catch her breath and gather her long, wild strawberry-'blonde curls into a clump high on her head. The cool air on her neck felt sensational. A soft breeze drifted over her skin, tickling her slightly, making her senses stir in the most pleasurable way. Leaning back on her elbows, she sighed deeply, closed her eyes, and breathed in the salty island air. And allowed herself to think of Liam. She'd been in her cramped office in the liberal arts building of Sudbury Community College, bowed over her desk with a pile of English composition exams. Occasionally she tilted her head to face the ceiling and relieve her neck and shoulders. She sometimes stood up and loosened her stiff back with some light exercises, knee bends, waist bends, arm swings. But mostly she worked steadily, not allowing herself to look out her window at the green lawn where students lolled in the warm sunshine. Meg had been happy. Okay, if not exactly happy, she'd been content. She enjoyed her work; was amused, challenged, and annoyed by her students; and spent a lot of time wondering whether the semicolon and colon would
island girls 15 fairly soon disappear from common usage, or at least blur and blend. In the Twitter age, punctuation was an endangered species. So, she prized her work. But she missed having a love life. She was afraid she'd end up like the head of the department, Eleanor Littleton, PhD, a charming if rather homely single woman whose entire world revolved around the English department and her two Yorkshire terriers. Meg's desk was of battered metal with three drawers down each side and a shallow drawer in the middle where she kept pens, rubber bands, scissors, breath mints, and Scotch tape. Its top was layered with blue books, exams, and e-mails she'd printed out because she got tired of staring at her computer screen. She sat on a basic government-'issue secretary's chair with a squeaking back that provided little support. She kept calling maintenance about it; they kept promising to bring her a better chair. 'Big fat liars,' she muttered. 'Who'? Meg didn't have to look up to identify the man standing in her open office door. She knew Liam's voice all too well. That was a pleasure and a problem. Liam Larson. Liam Larson, PhD. Professor Larson, full professor of English, author of the well-'received Nineteenth-'Century American Poets, a poet himself, published in several online and university reviews. Liam Larson, tall, fair, Camelot handsome, and five years younger than Meg. The first time she'd seen him walk down the hall, she'd said under her breath, 'Oh, come on. Really'? Probably five pounds lighter than Meg, too. At twenty-'
16 nancy thayer six, Liam was six three and as slender as a marathon runner. At thirty-'one, Meg was five four, and while no one would call her fat, they might say''men had said''that she had a fine full figure. A big bust, wide hips, all of it highlighted by her white skin. She let her pale red hair grow past her shoulders and often wore it loose, trying to make her hair seem equal in volume to the rest of her body. She camouflaged her shape with khaki slacks and baggy skirts, corduroy jackets, tailored shirts buttoned to the neck. In the summer, she wore shapeless tunics. If she was ever going to get tenure at this college, she had to appear professional. Academic. Liam looked academic and sexy at the same time. Chinos, white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, blue tie to set off his blue eyes. Meg smiled at him. Leaning back in her chair, she stretched her arms and yawned. 'The maintenance men,' she explained. 'They've been promising to bring me a decent chair for two weeks.' 'Let me take a look.' Before she could object, Liam was in her space, filling up her incredibly small office. He squatted behind her chair and fiddled with the knob, trying to tighten it. His breath stirred her hair. His knuckles brushed her shoulders. Please don't say I'm too big for this chair, Meg prayed silently. She knew the chair was too small for her; it was too small for almost anyone. She guessed the college ordered these chairs because they were cheap or had been discarded by some other university system. 'This thing is hopeless,' Liam decided. Standing up,
island girls 17 he leaned over Meg and picked up her phone. He hit a few numbers. 'Maintenance? Professor Liam Larson here in LB20. I need a new desk chair. This one's broken. Immediately. Thank you.' Hanging up the phone, he grinned at Meg. 'The word professor has got to be good for something.' 'You could have said Dr.'Larson,' Meg told him. 'Nah. Then I'd have to take out his appendix.' Liam pushed a stack of papers out of the way and slid his slender butt onto Meg's desk. His long legs dangled down in front of her three drawers. Meg shoved her chair away from the desk. And Liam. 'Thank you.' 'We'll see if anything happens.' Liam looked down at her piles of work. 'Exams'? 'Always.' 'Only three more weeks till end of semester. What are you doing this summer'? Meg rubbed the back of her neck. 'I'm going to work on my Alcott book. I'm determined to finish it.' 'Seriously? You're not teaching summer school? But you're the best teacher we've got. The students will be devastated.' Meg rolled her eyes in reaction to his compliment, but she knew he meant what he said. She was a favorite of the students, and Liam admired her for it. 'Liam, I've scrimped for a year to save enough money to live on for three months. I'll subsist on cereal and water. No movies. No frills. No clothes. Just work.' A lopsided smile crossed his face. 'No clothes? How about letting me come be your editorial assistant''
18 nancy thayer Meg felt herself blush. 'I mean I won't buy any new clothes. Austerity is the rule for the summer.' Liam lowered his eyelids into a bedroom eyes stare. She hated when he did it; it made her all shivery and silly feeling. 'I'd better plan to take you out to dinner at least once a week. For the sake of the college. We don't want our professors dying of starvation.' Her resolve almost melted in the warmth of his smile. She reminded herself that Liam was five years younger than she was''significant years, impetuous, impulsive, romantic years, when you were allowed to make mistakes. That Liam was intellectually, academically mature was obvious. He'd skipped grades in elementary school and high school, sped through his BA and MA, won his PhD, and published his book of poems to great acclaim by the tender age of twenty-'six. But emotional maturity was different, and brilliant scholars were often emotionally stunted. She could tell he had a crush on her. True, they were the best of friends and they both were dedicated teachers. They read each other's essays in draft form and expertly critiqued each other. But Meg couldn't allow it to go any further. Liam was so handsome'he was almost beautiful. It would be easy to allow herself to respond to him. That would lead her, she was certain, to heartbreak. Her phone rang. Literally saved by the bell. She snatched it up. 'Meg? Sweetheart, it's Mommy.' Meg straightened in her chair, alerted by her mother's voice. 'Are you okay, Mom'? 'Meggie, I'm fine. Listen, though, I have to tell you
island girls 19 something. It's a hard thing to say. Meggie, your father died.' Seated on the front steps of the house on Lily Street, Meg blinked away the memory of her mother's phone call. Since that day, time had accordioned into a blur of action: Packing for the island. The funeral. The reading of the will in Frank Boyd's office and her father's bizarre and manipulative last letter, so typical of Rory Randall, a lightning bolt from the hand of the all-'powerful Zeus who even after his death arranged the lives of his daughters, without, as usual, asking their opinions, and especially without, as usual, being there to respond to the emotional fallout. All right, Meg couldn't control it, but she could contain it. She could use it. She needed three months to work on her book. Now she had them, and in a historic house on a magical island. That her half sister and stepsister were going to share the house did not mean this would be hell on earth. She would be polite but aloof. She would be poised, dignified, restrained. So would Arden and Jenny. The three of them were adults, after all.
THREE As a child, Jenny had been sad not to have a father. She hadn't been embarrassed, because several other kids at school didn't have fathers, or had fathers who lived far away and never visited. But she minded not having even a photograph of her father. Her mother would say only that she didn't know who Jenny's father was, and that was that. For years as a little girl, Jenny daydreamed about meeting her father someday. Her mother had such glossy black hair, and Jenny's was dramatically black, too. She wondered if her father's hair was also black, like a pirate's or a Gypsy's. When she was ten, her mother married Rory Randall. He legally adopted Jenny, and he loved her as much, he promised, as he loved his biological daughters, Meg and Arden. He made her mother happy at last, which relieved and thrilled Jenny, and as the years went by, she didn't wonder about her 'real? father so much. For long stretches of time, she never thought about him at all.
island girls 21 She did mind that Rory Randall had red hair and so did his first two daughters, while Jenny's was black. So when the three were together with their father, everyone assumed that Arden and Meg were Rory's daughters, which, of course, they were. Jenny was his daughter, too, his chosen daughter. If she could have worn a sign on her chest stating that she was Rory Randall's daughter, she would have. It was wonderful to have a father. Having sisters had been wonderful, too''for a while. Jenny was exactly Meg's age, three years younger than Arden. The first year of their life together was chaotic, with Arden and Meg living mostly at their mothers? but staying at the Nantucket house for the summer. The second year had been the year of The Exile, and since then, although they saw one another, Arden and Meg had not accepted Jenny as a real sister. Well, they would have to now. They had to live with her for three entire months in the same house. As if they were family. Jenny had seen Arden's and Meg's faces when the lawyer read their father's letter. Meg had gone white. Arden's lips had thinned in anger. Then Arden and Meg looked at each other and something passed between the two of them, an unspoken message they did not even think to share with Jenny. It was partly her mother's fault, Jenny knew. She could understand why Justine told Rory the other two girls were not allowed to come to the summer house anymore, and back then, when she was eleven years old, she'd been smugly, foolishly glad. That made Rory all hers. He had chosen her, he had adopted her, and then, as if in a fairy
22 nancy thayer tale, the stepsisters had been whisked out of sight, out of mind. She hadn't cared about Meg and Arden's feelings. Well, Jenny had paid for her mother's decision and for her own childish sense of triumph. Twenty years had passed, and she'd been raised as an only child. During those years, their father did 'get his girls all together? from time to time in Boston, taking the three of them out to lavish meals in la-'di-'da restaurants or treating them to The Nutcracker ballet at Christmas. But even though, in front of their father or any of their mothers, the three behaved politely, Jenny had no doubt Arden and Meg hated her. Jenny was hoping they'd do better this summer. Since their father's letter had decreed they spend three months together, it wasn't unreasonable for her to expect that slowly, gradually, Arden and Meg would get used to Jenny's presence, and start to like her just a little, and then accept her a little more, and then, eventually, welcome her into their sisterhood, for they were all, one way or another, daughters of Rory Randall. Jenny had e-mailed the other two to inform them she had a Jeep Cherokee, so they wouldn't need to bring a car to the island. The house was in town, an easy walk to the post office, library, even to Grand Union. They could share the Jeep. But Meg had insisted on bringing her Volvo over because she had so many boxes of books. Arden had, through e-mail, sided with Meg, stating that having two vehicles at their disposal would prevent any awkwardness if more than one person absolutely needed a car at the same time. So fine. The short drive next to the house had just enough room for two cars.
island girls 23 As for bedrooms, Jenny had already staked her claim. One of the two spacious front bedrooms had been her bedroom for more than twenty years. After college, when she first had started up her computer business on the ? island, Rory and Justine still came down from Boston for summers and holidays. Jenny had installed her bank of computers, printers, and monitors at one end of her ? bedroom in order not to invade her parents? space. Jenny had informed Meg and Arden of her possession of the front bedroom in her last e-mail. In a moment of guilty private gloating, she'd Express Mailed them newly copied keys in case she wasn't there when they arrived. Because she had keys to the house and they didn't. It was like being schizophrenic! Half the time Jenny longed for her sisters? affection; the other half of the time she battled to one-'up them. And she was thirty-'one years old. When did a person ever outgrow childish behavior? Today she'd certainly stormed the citadel of selflessness. She'd gone to all the markets and stocked up on baskets of fresh vegetables, bags of staples, and wine. By the time she'd finished the shopping, it was past noon, and she arrived back at the house to discover a Volvo in the drive. Her heart thumped. Meg was here. 'Hello!' Jenny called as she elbowed the back door open and humped the bags of groceries through the mudroom and into the kitchen.
24 nancy thayer Footsteps clattered down the back stairs. Meg appeared. She looked younger than she had at the funeral'? well, of course she would, they all would, they had all been so formal and somber at the funeral and the reading of the will. Meg had her amazing golden-'red hair pulled back in a bushy ponytail. She wore a pale lime sundress that set off her blue-'green eyes. Her skin held the pallor of an academic who never did sports, or in Meg's parlance, the radiance of a virtuous maiden. Whatever, she was dazzling. Jenny wore jeans and a white cotton shirt. She thought she looked practical, capable, independent, adult, all that. Meg skidded to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. 'Oh. Jenny. Hi.' Her smile was anxious. Jenny had warned herself it would be this way; it would be weird if their first interactions weren't lukewarm at best. She was certain Meg was hoping it was Arden she'd see first, that Arden would be here so the two of them could gang up on Jenny just like always. Jenny had steeled her heart. No chance of any sort of sisterly hug. With considerable effort, Jenny tried for a light, friendly tone. 'Meg. You're here! Hi! Come in. Well, of course you can come in whenever you want to, I mean, because'.'.'.' She was already tongue-'tied. 'I bought groceries. Stuff for breakfast and bread. Sandwich and salad makings. Some wine. To get us started.' 'What a good idea.' Meg hesitated. 'Um, any more in the car that I could bring in''
island girls 25 'Yeah, that would be great.' The screen door banged as Meg slipped outside, and banged again as she returned, arms loaded. 'You got a lot of food,' Meg said, setting the groceries on the counter. 'I'll have to reimburse you for my share.' 'Yeah, let's wait till Arden's here and we can sit down and draw up a weekly meal menu and shopping list.' Again, a pause. 'Oh, okay. Although I plan to take care of my own meals. I need to watch my weight. I intend to get in shape.' Progress, Jenny thought. Meg was sharing something personal. Turning around, she said, 'Please. You already have a shape like Marilyn Monroe's.' Meg snorted. 'I wish. No, I need to lose weight. But mostly I'll focus on my work.' 'Don't you teach at a college'? 'I do, but I've got the summer off. I'm going to write a book about May Alcott.' 'Oh, Louisa May Alcott. I read her''? 'No, May Alcott. Her younger sister. She was a brilliant artist and no one knows about her.' Meg came alive as she spoke, her cheeks pinking, her eyes sparkling. 'She was so talented, her work was chosen over Mary Cassatt's to be exhibited in the 1877 Paris Salon.' Jenny arched her eyebrows, trying to express her interest in this, although really she had no idea what Meg was going on about. Realizing that Meg wanted some kind of response, she racked her brain. 'Um, isn't there a Meg in Little Women'? 'Yes, there is, Jenny. But I'm not at all like Meg. And
26 nancy thayer Louisa May Alcott's real sister, May Alcott, the youngest sister, had an amazing life!' Jenny bristled. 'My life isn't so very unamazing.' 'W-what'? Meg sputtered. 'Oh, I didn't mean to imply that'.'.'.' She frowned. 'I'd better get these groceries put away.' 'Right,' Jenny agreed. 'It's not really hot yet, but I did buy some ice cream and some yogurt. I don't know which bag it's in. Also some fruit, watermelon and grapes that need to be cold.' She was babbling now, kicking herself for reacting so defensively to Meg's remarks instead of just keeping her mouth shut and listening. For a few minutes they worked side by side in something like companionship, wordlessly dividing the task so that Meg put away refrigerated items and Jenny put away everything else because, understandably, Jenny knew what each cupboard held and Meg didn't. 'Now!' Jenny set her hands on her hips and looked around the room. 'I think we should make some iced tea and enjoy a nice cool glass in the backyard.' 'Oh.' Pause. Meg looked at her watch. 'Okay.' Jenny set about putting the kettle on to boil and filling the old brown teapot with Lipton bags. 'Have you unpacked'? she asked over her shoulder. 'I have. I took the back bedroom.' Jenny paused. 'The back bedroom? For heaven's sake, why? It's the smallest room and the furniture is so shabby.' 'I think it's adorable. I want to sit at the desk by the window and work on my book.' 'The desk is awfully rickety. I'm not even sure the air-'
island girls 27 conditioning reaches back that far.'.'.'.' Jenny poured the boiling water into the pot to steep the tea. Meg got out the ice tray and two glasses. 'I won't mind the heat. I prefer that little room.' 'I think you should take the other front bedroom,' Jenny told her. 'It's much bigger and brighter. Or take the mermaid room. It's so cheerful. That back bedroom's like a nun's cell. Do you want sugar or artificial sweetener? I put Sweet'n Low in this little china bowl. Spoons are in this drawer.' 'I've already unpacked,' Meg said firmly. She watched Jenny lift the hot teapot. 'If you put a knife in the glass, the glass won't break when you pour the hot tea over the ice. It's a trick I learned''? 'These glasses won't break. They've lasted forever.' 'Really.' Meg's voice was cool. 'I've never seen them before. You must have got them after I was banned from the island.' She went out the screen door, letting it slam behind her.
FOUR Arden took a taxi from the airport to the house. She'd considered calling to ask for a ride, but neither Meg nor Jenny had bothered to let her know their plans, so Arden thought Fine, she'd keep her information private, too. Two cars were parked in the driveway. Hefting her purse, duffel, and computer over one shoulder, Arden pulled her rolling suitcase up the walk to the front door. It was unlocked. She let herself in. 'Hello'? No answer. Dumping her luggage by the stairs, she went through the house to the kitchen at the back. The window over the sink neatly framed the backyard, where Meg and Jenny sat sipping iced tea and talking. How cozy. Be nice, Arden told herself. You need this gig. First of all, she couldn't return to her Boston apartment because, with her mother's help, she'd rented it for
island girls 29 the summer to a French couple, and the money was superlative. Second and much more important, she'd come up with a strategy for juicing up her part of Simplify This. She'd do second-'home segments, starting with Nantucket! She'd spend the summer making contacts and scouting out sexy locations, fab old mansions that needed face-'lifts, family summer homes bought by corporate entrepreneurs and techy trailblazers. Perhaps by August she could start shooting, get some of the cameramen down here.'.'.'. First things first. Arden scanned the kitchen, found the necessities, made herself a glass of iced tea, and carried it outside. 'Hello, ladies.' She sauntered toward them in the ? yellow linen Fiandaca suit that she could never have afforded. Designers often gave her clothes to wear on the show. She chose this for her first appearance with the sisters. She was the oldest, the most successful, the most polished. 'Good, Arden, you're here!' Trust Meg to act as if this summer were some kind of sorority camp. Meg jumped up and lightly kissed Arden's cheek. 'Hi, Arden.' Jenny greeted her cheerfully enough but ruined it by adding, 'Would you mind removing your shoes? The heels are digging divots in the lawn.' Arden bit back a sarcastic response. 'Sure.' She took a wicker chair, sipped her tea, sighed, and looked around the yard. Only after a few moments did she remove her heels. She had to admit it felt good to take them off. 'I didn't hear you arrive,' Meg said.
30 nancy thayer 'I came in a taxi just now. Dropped my luggage in the front hall.' 'I saved the front bedroom for you,' Meg announced. 'Oh, I don't want the front bedroom. I want the little bedroom at the back, the one I always had.' 'Well, actually,' Meg said, 'I had it, too. I had it first. Then you wanted it.'.'.'.' Arden waved a careless hand dismissively. 'That was years ago. Who can remember? Anyway, I'll take the back bedroom.' 'I've already unpacked.' Meg looked just slightly pleased with herself. 'The front bedroom is the master bedroom!' Jenny cut in, obviously trying to make peace. 'Meg.' Arden leaned forward. 'I really want the back bedroom.' Once upon a time, long ago, Meg had been in awe of Arden, who was three whole years older and sassed her mother and knew how to wear nail polish and needed a bra long before Meg did. In the earliest years, Meg's mother still felt guilty for stealing Rory away from Nora, leaving three-'year-'old Arden without a daddy in the house, so she worked hard to encourage Meg to be kind to Arden. To let Arden have what she wanted. A lot had changed since then. 'Arden.' Meg smiled over her glass of iced tea. 'So do I.' Jenny shifted uneasily in her chair. She bore the largest burden of guilt because it was her mother, Justine, the third and longest-'lasting wife, who had instigated The Exile, banning Arden and Meg from the Nantucket house.
island girls 31 'The front bedroom has an en suite bathroom,' Jenny reminded the others. Before she could enumerate its qualities, Arden cast a hooded-'eye glance her way. 'Yes, and it's where my father slept with your mother.' She shuddered. Jenny's breath caught in her throat. So they were going to continue to punish her for their father's behavior.'.'.'. Well, and Jenny's mother's, too. They did have a point. Meg leaned past Jenny. 'So you want me to sleep there? Thanks, Ard.' Arden glared at Meg. Meg glared, chin lifted defiantly, back at Arden. 'Fine.' Arden capitulated. 'I'll take the mermaid bedroom.' 'Oh, Arden,' Jenny protested. 'That's so much smaller than the front bedroom.' Arden relented, softening her tone. 'Enough. I can't sleep in their bed. It's just too grisly to think about. I'll take the mermaid bedroom, but I've got work to do, too, so I'll use the front bedroom to work in. I'm sure there's some table I can use for a desk.' 'Good. That's settled, then.' Jenny relaxed, but only for a moment. 'Now. About food. I thought we might make a plan about meals. I bought a ton of food to get us started, all the staples and some wine, too, but I don't know what you all like to eat''? 'I'll eat out mostly,' Arden said. 'I hate to cook. I never cook at home. I'm too busy, and I go out a lot to meet people for work.' 'I told her I'd take care of myself, too,' Meg agreed, nodding. 'I'm going to diet.'
32 nancy thayer 'Oh, come on.' Jenny shook her head. 'Don't tell me you want to live like grad students with food divided into different shelves of the refrigerator. That's ridiculous. Plus, we need to talk about keeping the kitchen clean. I'm not going to do it all.' 'I thought Justine had a housekeeper,' Arden countered. 'She does. Clementine Gordon. She'll come once a week for the heavy stuff, but we have to do our own dishes. For heaven's sake,' Jenny continued, 'let's be adults about this. Do we have to buy three coffeemakers and each make our own coffee in the morning? That's just silly.' Arden studied Jenny for a long moment. Jenny the Enemy. Jenny who stole their father's love and ripped away all the Nantucket summers just when Arden would have enjoyed them most. Although, to be fair, it had been Jenny's mother, Justine, who had banned Arden and Meg from the house. 'I can understand,' Arden said in her soft, calm-'the-? client-'down voice, 'why you feel as if this house is yours and that you have the right to tell me and Meg what to do, and how to live our lives here. But this house was left to the three of us equally. Isn't that right'? When Jenny didn't answer immediately, she persisted: 'Don't you agree'? Jenny flushed, which made her look like Snow White, with her dramatic dark hair and eyes and her pale skin. 'I certainly wasn't trying to tell anyone what to do.' She blinked several times''was she blinking back tears? 'I
island girls 33 apologize if that's what you think. I was only offering to devise some organization for the three of us.' Arden wasn't surprised when softhearted Meg chimed in. 'Jenny, I'm not sure I know what kind of work you do. Do you work on the island? I mean, will you have to keep to a schedule, like nine to five or something'? Jenny smiled gratefully at Meg. 'I own a computer tech company. My clients are both on-? and off-'island, but I usually work from home, troubleshooting on my computer. My workstation is in my bedroom. I've got three screens up and going all the time. May Alcott would probably faint.' Meg and Jenny laughed. Arden thought: Huh? What were they laughing about? Who was May Alcott? Some neighbor who'd stopped by before Arden arrived? It unnerved her that Meg and Jenny were allies. 'So, food,' Arden said, bringing them back to the topic. 'I suppose Jenny's idea has merit. It sounds like we're all going to be working here, and it's not like I'll be able to send my assistant for some takeout''? 'You have an assistant'? Meg was impressed. 'How glamorous, Arden.' 'Yes, well, a lot of it is glamorous,' Arden agreed casually. 'And a lot of it is boring, repetitive slog. Anyway, here we're a good two or three blocks from the nearest caf? or restaurant, and in the summer everything's jammed. So, yeah, I think it would be more efficient to organize some kind of food buying and meal cooking.' 'What if we took turns'? Jenny suggested. 'Each of
34 nancy thayer us take a day to be in charge of buying groceries and preparing dinner and cleaning the kitchen.' 'Only dinner,' Meg put in. 'I think we can handle breakfast and lunch ourselves.' 'As long as someone makes a big pot of coffee,' Arden added. 'Great!' Jenny clapped her hands, pleased with herself. Arden thought Jenny looked like a damned Girl Scout; she might as well have a kerchief around her neck and badges on her shirt. 'Look, Jenny,' Arden said, 'most of the time I'll probably take my food up to my room to eat while I work.' Jenny tossed her head. 'Fine with me. I'll probably be out most nights myself, at cocktail parties.' Arden's eyes widened. 'Cocktail parties? What kinds of cocktail parties'? Sensing Arden's interest, Jenny was arch. 'Oh, you know, the kind where people drink cosmopolitans and martinis and the caterers pass munchies.' Arden leaned forward. 'Jenny, you know I have a TV show. Simplify This.' No point mentioning the dreadful Zoey. 'I want to do a Nantucket version. I need to meet people with fabulous homes who might like to be on the show.' Jenny nodded thoughtfully. 'A lot of the richest people wouldn't dream of having their intimate space broadcast all over the air,' she said, and then, realizing too late that she'd insulted Arden, she hurried to add, 'But I'm sure some of them would glory in the publicity.' 'Well, I'm not going to get right in their faces first
island girls 35 thing,' Arden began defensively. 'I'll talk to them, get to know them, see what they're like.'.'.'.' Jenny's smile was very cat/canary. 'I get that. Hey, I'm going to a party tonight, Arden, a fund-'raiser for a local artists? coalition. Do you want to come with me'? 'Yes,' Arden replied. After a moment, she added, 'Please.'
FIVE The Nantucket parties Arden remembered from when she was fourteen, and for a while when she was fifteen, when her hormones were on red alert, had been beach parties. In shorts and a bikini top, she'd danced barefoot in the sand with girlfriends, giggling idiotically and stealing sips from abandoned beer bottles. Princess Diana had still been alive, and Arden had been young. The party Jenny took her to tonight was different. Well, of course, it would be; they were all grown-'up now, even if the salty ocean breeze made her feel fresh, sassy, and eager for all that summer could bring. It was held at a house on the cliff. Bars were set up both inside the house and out on the lawn overlooking Nantucket Sound. Waiters passed trays of canap's and a bluegrass band played. Jenny wore a simple red dress that set off her striking dark hair and eyes. She wore a sleek pair of red sandals, too, with stones glittering across the straps as she easily
island girls 37 crossed the lawn, not making divots in the grass. In the car on the way over, Jenny told Arden she'd broken up recently with a hunk named Bjorn. Jenny was ready for a new romance. When they arrived at the party, Jenny spotted someone and, with a careless 'I'll be right back? to Arden, hurried away through the crowd, leaving Arden alone. Arden had only her basic everyday beige sandals''she had brought all her four-'inch heels for parties, but had decided not to wear them tonight because Jenny told her they'd be mostly outside. She wore a simple sea-'green shift that accentuated the green of her eyes. Not many people had true green eyes; Arden did. She knew she looked good, and she was comfortable in large groups, not afraid to be alone. Anyway, it was the house itself she was interested in. She took a glass of wine off a tray and wandered through the open French doors to the living room. It was a true old summer house with wide-'board floors slanting unevenly and faded curtains and sofas that had apparently been there forever. Framed photographs cluttered the bookshelves, crammed in with golf and tennis trophies and dozens of ordinary shells, no doubt treasures discovered by grandchildren. She peeked into the kitchen, where the caterers were working hard and fast, and grinned. Ah, what a find. An original kitchen, no doubt a horror to work in, the only new appliances a microwave set on an antique walnut table and a roll-'away dishwasher with an adapter at the end of its electric plug. Fire hazard waiting.
38 nancy thayer 'I know who you are, and I bet I know just what you're thinking.' The voice was low, sensual, deeply masculine. Arden turned. Early thirties, tall and elegant in an expensive pink Brooks Brothers shirt and a Rolex watch. Arden asked, 'We've met'? 'No, we haven't met, but I've seen you plenty of times on your TV show. Simplify This.' Humor brightened his brown eyes, as if he knew exactly what her reaction was and found it amusing. 'Ah. So that explains why you know what I'm thinking.' He leaned forward, ostensibly to survey the kitchen, touching her shoulder with his. 'You want to get in there and modernize that kitchen. Am I right'? A waiter swung toward them with a giant tray. Arden moved back into the dining room. 'You're right,' she admitted reluctantly. He was arrogant, another self-'satisfied conquistador. Yet she found him oddly compelling. He held out his hand. 'Palmer White.' His name was familiar. She put her hand in his. 'Arden Randall.' He took his time about releasing her hand. 'How do you know the Beaudreaus'? 'I don't. My, um, sister Jenny does. She brought me along.' They slowly strolled through the house toward wide doors opening to the lawn. 'How do you know them'? 'Oh, Ivan's been a partner of mine in crime for a long time.' A glint of complacence edged his voice. 'What do you do''
island girls 39 'I'm in television. I own air space and so on.' Arden's interest flared. 'Do you own Channel Six'? 'I do now. Among others.' He slid his hand through her arm and bent close to her, whispering in her ear. 'I'll give you a hint. Don't waste your time on the Beaudreaus. Genevieve Marie is emotionally attached to every dust bunny and paper clip in this house. Plus, they wouldn't dream of having their home exposed to the public on a show like yours.' Arden bridled at his insult and yanked her arm away. 'A show like mine'? 'Aimed at the upper-middle section of the demographic span''and understandably so, that's your audience. But people like to dream. More than that, they like to see how the rich live. We all do. It's human nature. Your ratings are beginning to fall''? Insulted and frankly shocked that this stranger was so brash about what was intimate professional information, Arden took a step back. 'Don't bother worrying about my television show. I know what I'm doing.' 'Do you'? Palmer White inquired. All Arden's professional life, she'd been plagued with men who thought because she was good-'looking and relatively young, they could tell her what to do. They were wrong. 'Excuse me,' she said, and blindly strode away. She wove through the crowd, jaw clenched. She didn't see Jenny anywhere in the crowd. She thought she might just walk home. She didn't know anyone here, she was tired from packing and making the trip to the island, and Palmer White had started her summer off with a blast of bad juju.
40 nancy thayer Somehow she managed to get stuck in the crowd. She turned sideways, trying to squeeze her way through. Someone stepped, crushingly, on her foot. 'Ouch! Holy damn!' Instinctively, she hopped on her good foot, holding the injured one off the ground. Not the most elegant pose. 'Oh, excuse me,' a man said. 'I stepped on your foot. I'm so sorry. Are you all right'? She looked up. And up. The man had to be six four, his blue blazer marvelously delineating a slim, muscular torso while accentuating his blond hair and blue eyes. He wore a red tie with sailboats on it. She liked men in ties. 'I'm fine,' she replied politely. 'If I could just get over to a bench'.'.'.' 'Let me help.' She allowed herself to be ushered gently, his hand on her elbow, through the crowd to a wrought iron bench by the lily pond. She sank onto the seat. To her amazement, the man knelt down, taking her foot in his hand. 'I think it's swelling,' he said. 'You may even get a nasty bruise.' His blond hair was thick. His hands were long and elegant. His Nantucket red trousers were faded from age in a way that would impress even Ralph Lauren. He eased her sandal off and gently touched her toes. In spite of herself, Arden flinched. 'Ouch.' 'Yep,' the man said. 'I did a thorough job.' He looked up at her ruefully. 'I am awfully sorry.' 'Don't worry about it,' she babbled. 'Happens all the time in mobs like this. Really, it's fine.'
island girls 41 'I'll get some ice.' Before she could object, he disappeared. Arden inspected her foot. It was swelling. What a way to start the summer! Laughter and snippets of conversation drifted her way through the warm evening to where she sat, alone and in pain. She knocked back the rest of her wine''for medicinal purposes. 'Here we go.' Suddenly he'd returned, with ice wrapped in one of the caterer's white napkins. 'Can you hold it against your foot? That should keep the swelling down.' She felt like an idiot, sitting in such an unalluring position, with one leg up, knee to her chin, as she held the ice on her foot, trying to keep her dress tucked tidily beneath her thigh. He sat next to her. 'I'm Tim Robinson, and my clumsy feet are the bane of my existence.' She laughed. 'Arden Randall.' Companionably, they eyed his feet, neatly shod in tasseled leather loafers. 'You do have big feet,' she remarked gently. 'Size twelve. You'd think by now I'd be used to them. I've had them all my life.' Arden laughed. It seemed natural to ask, 'What do you do'? 'Computers,' he told her. 'I'm 'the computer guy.' That's the name of my store here on the island: The Computer Guy. I sell computers, printers, accessories, and I repair computers. I make house calls to help people when their computers are being obstinate.' 'You must be the most popular guy on the island.'
42 nancy thayer 'I'm not sure popular is precisely the right word,' Tim joked. 'By the time people call me, they've worked themselves up into a state of four-'letter fury that makes them completely inarticulate. It usually takes me more time to understand what the problem is than to fix it.' Arden laughed. 'Oh, I know. Nothing makes me as angry as my computer.' For some reason, she thought of Palmer White. 'Well, almost nothing.' 'When computers do work, things happen so quickly that it makes everyone short tempered when a problem isn't fixed instantaneously.' He looked at her ice-'covered toes. 'How's your foot'? 'I think it will be okay,' she told him. 'Nothing broken.' 'That's good. I hope you don't have to lead a hiking tour tomorrow.' 'I'm on vacation,' she assured him. 'I'll lie in the sun and recuperate from my terrible injury.' 'Where do you live when you're not here'? 'Boston. But I'll be on the island for the entire summer.' 'Three months vacationing on the island? Nice.' She shifted to face him. He was a handsome man to face. 'It's a bit more complicated than that,' she said. 'I'm actually drawing a salary while I'm vacationing, plus I'll be doing some research for the television show I host in Boston.' 'You host a TV show? Impressive. What is it'? Before she could reply, he hurriedly explained, 'I don't watch television much anymore. I get my news on the computer and play DVDs when I have the time.'