The day was as flawless as only Groves Point could be in the summer. The golden sun shone brightly from a sky as clear as the Caribbean Sea. Angie Robinson stood outside the hotel. Her fingers toyed nervously with the room key in her pocket as she glanced down Main Street.
Nothing was different, but everything had changed. A traffic signal had been added in front of Garland Pharmacy, and the JCPenney store had installed a colorful awning to shade the display windows. The beauty shop was in the same location, but the neon sign flashed a new name—Cindy’s.
Drawing in a deep breath to calm herself, Angie walked toward the bakery at the end of the block. A quick survey inside revealed that the small Formica tables and the ever-full, help-yourself coffeepot were still there. But Angie didn’t recognize the middle-aged woman behind the counter. The clerk caught her eye through the large front window and smiled. Angie’s smile in return felt stiff and unnatural.
She crossed the street and was halfway down the second block before she noticed that the bank had put up a sign that alternately flashed the temperature and the time of day. For a full minute she stood in a daze, watching, as if it could tell her what would happen once she walked inside the double glass doors.
Angie had expected to feel a surging wave of anger, but none came. Only a blank, desolate feeling. A hollow emptiness that was incapable of echoing in the dark emotion that had dictated her life these past twelve years.
She took a step in retreat, swiveled, and walked away. Not yet, she thought. She’d been in town only a few minutes. A confrontation so soon would be unwise.
Crossing the street at the light, Angie’s quick-paced steps led her to the beauty salon. Cindy would tell her everything she needed to know. Cindy had been her friend. Her best friend. She’d loved working with hair and talked one day of opening her own salon. This must be Cindy’s salon.
“Can I help you?” A blue-eyed blonde at the reception desk glanced curiously at Angie. The girl transferred a wad of gum from one side of her mouth to the other as she waited for Angie’s response.
“Is Cindy available?” she asked, trying to keep her voice even.
“Sure, she’s in the back room. If you’ll wait a minute, I’ll get her.”
The girl slid off the stool and headed for the back of the salon. Empty chairs and a stack of magazines invited Angie to sit down, but for now she preferred to stand.
The bead curtain that covered a rear doorway made a jingling sound as a tall brunette appeared. Two steps into the room she paused in mid-stride. “Oh my heavens, Angie.” A rumbling laugh followed. “Good grief, girl, where have you been all these years?” Before another moment passed, Angie was hauled into open arms and hugged as if she were a lost child returned to a worried mother. “I don’t believe it.” A hand gripping each shoulder pushed Angie back. “Let me look at you. You haven’t changed at all.”
A smile lit up Angie’s soft brown eyes. Cindy was one person she could always count on to welcome her. “Neither have you.”
The musical sound of Cindy’s laughter followed. “When did you get in town?”
“Just a few minutes ago.” Angie felt breathless and a little giddy. Her friend looked wonderful. Cindy had been the tallest and thinnest girl in class; now she possessed the womanly curves that rounded out her height.
“Can you stay?”
“I’m only here for a couple days.”
“Angie, Angie,” Cindy murmured, and released a long, slow sigh, “it’s good to see you.”
Her friend’s unabashed enthusiasm for life had always been infectious. Angie had often thought that if someone could tap into Cindy’s knack for seeing the bright side to everything, the world would be a much happier place. “Tell me about everyone. I’m dying to know what’s been going on in Groves Point.”
“Filling you in on the last . . . twelve years . . . Has it really been that long?” Cindy shook her head in slow amazement. “Mimi, I’ll be at King Cole’s. Call me if something disastrous comes up.”
Mimi smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll hold down the fort.”
King Cole’s was one of three restaurants in town. The food had always been moderately good and relatively cheap. Angie’s father used to take her there for dinner once a month on payday. She’d never told him that she would have preferred hamburgers at the A&W on the outskirts of town.
“Bernice,” Cindy cried out, as they slid into the vinyl booth. “Bring us a pair of javas.”
“You got it.” The slim waitress in the pink uniform brought out two cups of coffee.
“You remember Bernie, don’t you?” Cindy prompted. “She was a couple of classes behind us.”
For the life of her, Angie didn’t, but she pretended to, smiling up at the waitress, who looked as blank as Angie. “Good to see you again, Bernice.”
“You, too.” She set the beige mugs on the Formica tabletop. “You want cream with this?”
With a slow gait, Bernice returned behind the counter.
“We tried to get hold of you for the ten-year reunion,” Cindy said with a hint of frustration. “But no one knew where you were.”
“Really? Bob and I were there just this summer.”
“You married Bob.” That deduction wasn’t one of her most brilliant. Cindy and Bob had dated exclusively their senior year.
“Going on eleven years now. We’ve got two boys. B.J.’s ten and Matt’s eight.”
“Wonderful.” Angie couldn’t have meant that more. Her childhood friend deserved a life filled with happiness.
“Bob was in the service for a time and I went to beauty school in Fayetteville and lived with my aunt.” Her finger made lazy circles around the rim of the mug as she spoke. “What about you? The last thing I remember is that you were working as a clerk at the pharmacy.”
Angie stared into the dark depths of the coffee cup. “Dad and I moved the February after graduation.” Neither mentioned that she had left Groves Point without a word or a forwarding address. Not in twelve years had she contacted anyone.
“Remember Shirley Radcliff?”
Angie wasn’t likely to forget her. Simon’s mother had been furious when he’d asked Angie to the junior-senior prom instead of Shirley.
“What ever became of Shirley?” The muscles of her stomach knotted. If Mrs. Canfield had gotten her way, Shirley would have married Simon.
“She married a guy in real estate. From what I understand, they’re living the good life in Savannah. No kids, mind you. It would ruin their lifestyle.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Angie’s mouth. No, Shirley wouldn’t be the type to appreciate children.
“Gary Carlson’s a lawyer in Charlotte. He’s married and has a daughter. And Sharon Gleason’s a flight attendant.”
“I don’t believe it.” Angie couldn’t control a soft laugh. Sharon had always been overweight and extremely shy.
“What about you, Angie? Are you married? Do you have children?”
For an instant, one crazy instant, she hesitated. “No to both.” Averting her gaze, fearing what her eyes would reveal, Angie asked, “What about Simon? Whatever happened to him?”
“You two were really thick for a while, weren’t you?” She didn’t wait for Angie to reply. “He married a girl from college. I can’t recall her name offhand . . . Carol, I think. It didn’t last long—two, three years. Simon’s kept to himself since.”
“Is he at the bank?” The question was unnecessary, Angie already knew without having to ask, but she had to do something to disguise the pain. So he had married. She’d known it, in her heart she’d always known it. Angie had assumed that after all these years what Simon did couldn’t hurt her anymore. But she was wrong.
“His daddy’s the president and Simon’s the vice president. But these days I think Simon runs most everything. He’s gotten to be a real stuffed shirt, if you know what I mean.”
Angie did. Simon had become the mirror image of his father in spite of his best intentions.
Cindy downed the last of her coffee. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to the shop. Mrs. Harris, my two-o’clock appointment, is due any minute. Can you come to dinner tonight? I’ll see if I can get a few of the ol’ gang together.”
“That’d be great. But don’t go to any trouble.”
“Are you kidding, I haven’t got time. Come around six-thirty. We’re in the old Silverman place across the street from the park.”
“Sure, I remember it. I’ll see you tonight.”
Cindy pulled some change from her pocket. “Coffee’s on me.”
Angie left King Cole’s with a sense of exhilaration. After everything that had happened in the past twelve years, she had thought she’d hate Groves Point. But it wasn’t in her. The best times of her life had happened in this small community. As much as she’d wanted to blot out the past, it was impossible. Glenn had tried to explain that to her, but she hadn’t understood. Now she did. He had been right to tell her she had to confront the past before looking to the future. She’d known that, too, but the past was so painful that it had seemed simpler to ignore the hurt and go on with her life.
The urge to talk to Glenn directed her back to the hotel. Her room was clean but generic. A double bed, a nightstand, a dresser, and chairs made up the room’s furnishings. The one window looked over Main Street, and from where she stood, Angie could see the sign above the bank. An indescribable pain flashed through her. Angie reached for her phone.
The warm familiarity of his voice chased the chill from her blood. “Angie Robinson here.”
“Angie,” he said softly. “How was the trip?”
“And Groves Point?”
She smiled gently. “The same. I looked up an old friend who clued me in on what’s been happening. The class brain’s a lawyer and the shyest girl at Groves Point High is a flight attendant.”
“I thought you were the class brain,” he said with a chuckle.
“Gary and I shared the honors.”
A short silence followed. “I miss you, babe.”
Angie always felt uncomfortable when he called her that, but she’d never told Glenn. “I miss you, too.”
“I wish I could believe that.” A trace of impatience tinged his voice, but he disguised it behind a cheerful invitation. “When you come home I’m going to cook you the thickest steak in Charleston.”
“I’ll look forward to that.”
“Good. Have you finished . . . your business yet?”
Glenn didn’t know exactly what it was she had to do in Groves Point, and Angie had never explained. That lack of trust had hurt Glenn, and she felt a twinge of guilt. Glenn was the best thing to happen in her life in twelve years. “I’ve only been in town an hour.” But it had to be today. The banks were closed on weekends.
“Will you call me tomorrow?”
“If you want.”
“I want you for the rest of my life, Angie. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she echoed softly. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Gently, she ended the call.
Talking to Glenn reinforced her determination to be done with the purpose of her visit. A quick check in the mirror assured her that she was now a composed, mature woman. Simon Canfield Senior would be incapable of destroying her as he had so long ago.
Not once on the walk to the bank did Angie hesitate. Her heart leaped to her throat as she pushed the glass door that opened into the interior. That, too, hadn’t changed. Marble pillars, marble floors, marble hearts.
The woman gave no indication that she recognized her, but Angie remembered Mrs. Wilson, who had been with Groves Point Citizens Federal for years, working as Simon’s father’s assistant.
“I’d like to see Mr. Canfield,” she announced in a crisp voice.
Mrs. Wilson’s lined face revealed nothing. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No, but I’m confident he’ll see me.” She wasn’t the least bit sure, but Mrs. Wilson didn’t know that. “Tell him Angie Robinson is here.”
Again Mrs. Wilson’s features remained stoic. “If you’ll wait a moment.” She left Angie standing on the other side of the counter as she walked the length of the bank and tapped against a frosted glass door. She returned a minute later, her face a bright red hue. “Mr. Canfield suggests . . .” she started, then swallowed with difficulty. “He would prefer not to see you, Ms. Robinson.”
How dare he! Angie fumed inwardly, but she gave a gracious smile to Mrs. Wilson. “Thank you for your trouble.”
The older woman gave her a sympathetic look. “Nice seeing you again, Angie.”
Her heels made clicking sounds against the marble floor as she turned and walked toward the exit. How dare he humiliate her like this! He had no right. None. With one hand against the metal bar on the glass door, Angie forcefully expelled her breath. She wasn’t scum he could walk over. She wouldn’t let him.
With an energy born of anger and pride, she pivoted sharply and walked the length of the bank lobby, her chin tilted at a proud angle. She wasn’t a member of the country club, nor had she been a member of the upper class, but she was going to have her say to Simon Canfield Senior whether he wanted to hear her or not.
Not bothering to knock, Angie let herself into the office. “Excuse me for interrupting . . .” She stopped and swallowed back the shock. It wasn’t Simon’s father who rose from the large oak desk to confront her, but Simon. Time had altered his dark good looks. The gray eyes that had once warmed her with his love were now as grim as the storm-tossed North Sea. Tiny lines fanned from them, but Angie was convinced he hadn’t gotten them from smiling. He was so cold that in his gray flannel suit he resembled a stone castle whose defenses were impenetrable. Cold and cruel. The edge of his hard mouth twisted upward.
“Simon.” The oxygen returned to her lungs in a deep breath.
Neither spoke again. The chill in the room was palpable, Angie mused, and a smile briefly touched her eyes. It hadn’t always been that way with them. Years ago, the temperature had been searing and they couldn’t stay out of each other’s arms.
“Something amuses you?”
“No.” If anything, the thought should produce tears. But Angie hadn’t cried in years. Simon had taught her that. She lowered her gaze to the desktop. Crisp, neat, orderly.
“You wanted to see me?” he began, in starched tones.
“I wanted to see your father.”
“He isn’t well. I’ve assumed most of his duties.”
They were speaking like polite strangers . . . No, Angie amended the thought. They were facing each other like bitter adversaries.
“I’m sorry to hear about your father.”
“Are you?” He cocked a mocking brow.
“Yes, of course.” She felt flustered and uneasy.
“I’d have thought you hated him. But then, it must be difficult to dislike someone who has been so generous with you in the past.”
Simon’s biting comment was a vivid reminder of the reason for her being in Groves Point. The color flowed from her face, leaving her sickly pale. “Taking that money has always bothered me,” Angie confessed in a weak voice that she barely recognized as her own.
The pencil Simon was holding snapped in two. “I’ll just bet it did. Ten thousand dollars, Angie? I’m surprised you didn’t want more.”
“Want more?” she repeated, her heart constricting painfully. “No.” Slowly, she shook her head from side to side. She wouldn’t bother to explain that it’d nearly killed her to accept that.
Her fingers fumbled at the snap of her purse and were visibly shaking as she withdrew the narrow, white envelope. “I’m returning every penny, plus ten percent compounded interest. Tell your father that I . . .” She hesitated. “No. Don’t tell him anything.”
“I don’t want your money.” Simon glared accusingly at the envelope on the edge of his desk.
“It was never mine,” Angie said, her voice laced with sadness. “I took it for Clay.”
“My, my, aren’t you the noble, self-sacrificing daughter?”
The words hurt more than if he’d reached out and slapped her. Involuntarily, Angie flinched. “It bought you your freedom,” she managed awkwardly. “I would have thought you’d treasure your marriage more. You paid enough for it.”
It looked for a moment as if Simon wanted to physically lash out at her. His fists knotted at his sides, the knuckles whitening.
“I didn’t mean that,” she whispered, despising their need to hurt each other. “I know you won’t believe this, but I wish you well, Simon.”
He didn’t answer her; instead his troubled gaze narrowed on the envelope.
“If you don’t want the money,” she murmured, her gaze following his, “then give it to charity.”
“Maybe I will,” he said, and his lip curved up in cynical amusement. “I believe that was my father’s original intent.”
To her dismay, Angie sucked in a hurt gasp. Slowly the ache in her breast eased so that she could speak. “Oh Simon, you’ve changed. What’s made you so bitter?”
His short laugh was mirthless. “Not what, but who. Leave, Angie, before I do something we’ll both regret.”
With an inborn dignity and grace, Angie turned and placed her hand on the doorknob. But something deep within her wouldn’t allow her to walk out the door.
“Go ahead,” he shouted.
“I can’t,” she murmured, turning back. “It’s taken me twelve years to come back to this town. Twelve years, Simon.” Her voice was raised and wobbled as she fought to control the emotion. “I refuse to have you talk to me as though I did some horrible deed. If anyone should apologize, it’s you and your family.”
“Me?” Simon nearly choked. “You’re the one who sold out, so don’t play Joan of Arc now and try to place the blame on someone else.”
“I did it for you,” she cried.
His harsh laugh was filled with contempt. “Only a moment ago you did it for Clay, or so you said.”
Angie swallowed back the painful lump that tightened within her throat. Sadly she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Simon, sorry for what happened and sorry for what you’ve become. But I won’t accept—”
“Our love had a price tag—ten thousand dollars,” he shouted. “It was you who took that money and left. So don’t try to ease your conscience now.” Leaning forward, he rested the palms of his hands on the edge of the desk. “Now I suggest that you leave.”
He didn’t answer, but turned and faced the window that looked out onto the parking lot.
The door made a clicking sound as she let herself out. Several pairs of eyes followed her progress across the marble floor. Undoubtedly her sharp exchange with Simon had been heard by half the people in the bank. A rush of color invaded her pale face, but she managed to keep her unflinching gaze directed straight ahead as she returned to the hotel.
The key to the hotel room wouldn’t fit into the lock as Angie struggled to steady her hand. She felt as if her legs were made of rubber. By the time she’d manipulated the lock, she was trembling and weak.
A soft sob erupted from her throat as she set her purse on the dresser. Angie’s hand gripped the back of the chair as another cry threatened. Tears blurred her eyes so that the view from the third-story window swam in and out of her vision.
At first she struggled to hold back the emotion, disliking the weakness of tears. Her fingers wiped the moisture from her cheek as she began to pace the room, staring at the ceiling. Soon every breath became a heart-wrenching cry for all the pain of a love long past. She fell across the bed and buried her face in the pillow, crying out a lifetime of agony. She cried for the mother she had never known. And the weak father whom she loved. She cried for the empty promises of her father’s dreams, and the Canfield money that had given him the chance to fulfill them. And she cried for a town divided by railroad tracks that made one half unacceptable to the other and had doomed a love from the start.
Fresh tears filled her eyes. Glenn loved her enough to force her to settle the past. He loved her enough to want her for his wife.
Twisting around, Angie stared out the window at the blue sky. She wept for Glenn, the man she wasn’t sure she could marry.
And for Simon, the man she had.
Copyright © 2015 by Debbie Macomber. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.