It was no more than a glimpse of movement on a street corner that caught Rachel's attention. She turned her head more or less automatically, drawn as always by the glint of sunlight off silvery blond hair. She expected to see, as she always had, a stranger. Just one more blond man who would, of course, not be who she wanted him to be.
Except that it was Thomas.
She stood frozen, with four lanes of cars filling the space between her corner and his, and when their eyes met, she almost cried out. Then the light changed, and traffic began moving briskly, and a noisy semi blocked her view of the corner. When the truck had passed, Thomas was gone.
Rachel stood there until the light changed again, but when she rushed across the street, there was no sign of him.
No. No, of course there wasn't.
Because it hadn't been him.
Realizing that her legs were actually shaking, she found a table at a nearby sidewalk café where she could keep an eye on that corner, and ordered a cup of hot tea.
It hadn't been him, of course.
It was never him.
"Are you all right, miss?" the waitress asked when she returned with the steaming cup. "You look sort of upset."
"I'm fine." Rachel managed a smile she doubted was very reassuring, but it was enough to satisfy the young waitress. Left alone again, she dumped sugar into the tea and fixed her gaze once more on the corner.
Of course it hadn't been Thomas. Her mind knew that. It had been only a stranger with a chance resemblance that had seemed stronger because distance had helped it seem that way. And perhaps a trick of the light had helped, as well as her own wishful thinking. But it couldn't have been Thomas. Thomas had been dead nearly ten years. No, they had never found a body, or even the wreckage of the plane, but Thomas's life had certainly ended somewhere in the impenetrable depths of a South American jungle.
Even though he had promised to come back to her.
Her knees were steady once more when Rachel finally got up nearly an hour later and left the café. And she didn't let herself stop or even pause when she passed the corner where a memory had so fleetingly stood. Knowing that she was late helped her to walk briskly, and common sense pushed the memory back into its quiet room in her heart.
It was after three o'clock on this warm and sunny Tuesday when she went into a building in downtown Richmond. She went up to the fourth floor, entered the law offices of Meredith and Becket, and was immediately shown in to see Graham Becket.
"Sorry I'm late," she said at once.
"Rachel, you didn't have to come down here at all," Graham reminded her as he moved around the desk to take her hand and kiss her lightly on the cheek. "I told you I'd come to the house."
"I needed to get out." She shrugged, then gently reclaimed her hand and sat down in his visitor's chair.
He stood looking down at her for a moment, a somewhat rueful expression on his face, then went back around the desk to his own chair. A tall, dark, good-looking man of thirty-eight, and a highly successful attorney, he was accustomed to female interest.
Except from Rachel. He knew Rachel fairly well. He had been her father's attorney for nearly ten years and one of the executors of the estate after Duncan Grant and his wife had been killed eight months ago. But knowledge didn't stop Graham from hoping that one day she would notice he was a man who was closer to being one of her contemporaries than her father's.
And a man, moreover, who had been half in love with her for years.
Today, she hadn't noticed.
"More papers to sign?" she asked, her slight smile transforming her serene and merely pretty face into something haunting.
Graham had tried to figure out what it was about that smile that made Rachel instantly unforgettable, but to date had been unable to. Her features, taken one by one, were agreeable but not spectacular. Her pale gray eyes were certainly lovely, but the dark lashes surrounding them were more adequate than dramatic, and her nose might have been a trifle large for her heart-shaped face.
Gleaming auburn hair framed that face nicely, but it was unlikely that fashion mavens would copy the simple shoulder-length style. Her mouth was well-shaped and her teeth even and white, but there was nothing especially memorable about either.
Despite all that, Rachel had only to smile that slow smile of hers to become a stunningly beautiful woman. It wasn't only Graham who saw the transformation; he had heard more than one man and a number of women comment on it over the years.
And even then, her smile was only a shadow of what it had once been. Before Thomas Sheridan's death. Until the loss of her fiancé had changed Rachel so fundamentally, she had smiled often, her face so alive that strangers had stared at her on the streets. Afterward . . .
He recalled his wandering thoughts and opened a file folder on his desk. "Yes, more papers to sign. Sorry, Rachel. But I did warn you that Duncan's estate was complex."
"It's all right. I'm just wondering when it'll all be over."
He looked at her across the desk. "If you intend to keep a hand in the business, it'll never be over. But if you mean to accept Nicholas Ross's offer to buy you out . . ."
"I'm still thinking about that. Do you think Dad would have wanted me to sell out, Graham?"
"I think he expected you to. The past few years, your life hasn't been in Richmond except for holiday and vacation visits home, and those were brief. Ever since you moved to New York, I think he realized it wasn't likely you'd come back here to live."
"Yes--but I don't have to live here to keep the business. I could hire a manager to run my half, you know that. Between you, Nicholas, and a manager taking care of things day to day, I'd have to show up only periodically for board meetings."
He nodded. "True enough."
"I don't know beans about investment banking, so I could hardly be a hands-on boss anyway. And all those investments Dad had personally, they're so diverse, there's no way I could keep track of them on my own." She seemed to be arguing with herself, frowning a little. "At the same time, several of the companies Dad invested in aren't in a position to buy out his interest right now, so I'd have to find other investors if I wanted out--that, or take a loss. Either way, it means time and trouble."
Graham looked at her searchingly. "In a hurry to get back to New York? I thought you said you'd taken a leave of absence and didn't mean to go back until summer."
"That's what I said, and what I meant. But . . . I don't know, I'm getting restless, I guess." She shrugged. "I'm not used to being idle, Graham."
After a moment, he said, "But it's more than that, isn't it? It's memories. The house is getting to you."
Rachel got up and went to stand before a window that offered a view of the busy street below. Graham remained in his chair, but turned it to keep watching her, and when she remained silent, he went on quietly.
"After Thomas was killed, you couldn't wait to get out of that house. Went back to college first and then to New York. And your visits home even then were always brief, because you were always busy."
"Trying to make me feel guilty for neglecting my parents?" Her voice was a little tight.
"No. They didn't feel neglected, if that's been worrying you. They understood, Rachel."
"How much of your past was bound up in Thomas. How old were you when you first knew you loved him? Twelve? Thirteen?"
Rachel drew a breath. "Ten, actually. He came to pick up Mercy from my birthday party, and he kissed me on the cheek. I knew then."
It required an effort, but Graham kept his voice dispassionate. "And since his sister was your best friend, you saw a lot of him. I imagine he was at the house quite often even before you two began dating. You were sixteen then, weren't you?"
She didn't seem surprised by his knowledge, probably attributing it to her father and casual conversation rather than any extraordinary interest in her. "Yes."
"So Thomas spent a lot of time at the house. Years, really. All the time you were growing up. Eating meals in the dining room, sitting with you in the den, listening to music in your bedroom, walking by the river. That place is filled with him, isn't it?"
She turned and leaned back against the window casing. She was smiling just a little, wistful, and it made her beautiful again. "Yes, the house is filled with him. And even now, after all these years, it hurts to remember him."
"Of course it does. You never really let him go, Rachel. You couldn't. There was no funeral where you could say good-bye, just a memorial service months later when his parents had finally given up hope. And, by then, you'd bolted off to college, where there weren't any memories of Thomas. For you, there was never any . . . closure."
She looked at him almost curiously. "You knew him, went to school with him. Was it so easy for you to accept his death?"
"Easier than for you, because I was never close to him. I wasn't . . . emotionally involved. His death was a tragedy and I was sorry, but no memories haunted me."
She hesitated, then let out an unsteady laugh. "Haunted. That's a good word. I thought I saw him today."
"On a street corner while I was waiting for the light to change. I looked across--and there he was. I could have sworn it was Thomas."
"A truck went past, and when I could see the corner again, he was gone. I ran across and looked, but . . . My imagination, I guess."
"Well. My imagination of course."
"Or just a man with blond hair," Graham said steadily.
"Yes. I know."
"But this isn't the first time you thought you saw him."
Lightly, she said, "I'm going nuts, is that what you're saying?"
"What I'm saying is, don't let memories and wishful thinking become an obsession, Rachel. Thomas is dead. Don't you believe that if he were alive, he would have somehow gotten word to you, that he would have managed to come back to you?"
"Yes. Yes, I do believe that. Because he promised he'd come back to me." And because he came back to me once, came back from death to say good-bye to me.
But she didn't say that, of course. She had never told anyone about that, not even on that horrible dawn when she had awakened both her parents insisting her father try to get in touch with Thomas's boss because she was certain something terrible had happened.
"Then you know that what you saw was simply someone who looked a bit like Thomas." Graham's voice was still matter-of-fact.
Rachel felt a faint flicker of amusement as she left the window and returned to her chair. "I think you really are worried about my sanity, Graham. Well, don't be. I was shaken at first, but my common sense asserted itself pretty quickly. I know I didn't really see Thomas on a street corner."
Except for that first instant, when she had been sure . . .
"I'm glad. But, Rachel, if you need someone to talk to--"
"Thanks." She was grateful for his concern and the offer, and it showed in her affectionate smile. "But I think it's just as you said. I never got the chance to say good-bye to Thomas, and I've never faced up to all the memories at home. He's just very . . . alive to me right now. It's something I'll have to work my way through, that's all." She smiled at him. "Now--didn't you say something about papers to sign?"
The house where Rachel had grown up was an elegant Georgian mansion built on extensive acreage on the James River. The house was more than two hundred and fifty years old, and had been in the Grant family for much of that time. Remodeled from time to time by various Grants, it now contained such luxuries and conveniences as carpet, closets, and bathrooms, as well as modern wiring, central heating, and air-conditioning. Yet it had maintained its graceful air despite those changes, and was considered one of the most beautiful houses in Richmond.
Rachel got out of her mother's sedan at the front drive and stood for a moment, studying the house. Not for the first time she wondered if she was being hasty in even considering selling the place. Yes, the house was far too large for one young woman who didn't care for entertaining and didn't have to in her work--the only real excuse for a single person to own such a place. And, yes, there were too many memories here, many of them painful. And her uncle Cameron wanted it, would enjoy it, and would keep it in the family at least a while longer.
But . . . it was her home. She had actually been born in this house, with a doctor in attendance, since her parents had been determined to uphold that tradition. Until she had gone away to college and then moved to New York, Rachel had always lived here, just as her father and grandfather before her. Her roots were here.
Did she really want to give it up? And if she did, were her reasons the right ones? Or was she just being cowardly in wanting to run away once more to New York without facing the pain of loss?
Not questions that were easily or simply answered, she knew. Shrugging them off for the moment, Rachel went into the house. She was greeted just inside the door by the housekeeper, Fiona, who was as dour as usual. A part of the Grant family for more than twenty years, Fiona moved more slowly these days in late middle age, and her superstitious nature could be a trial at times, but she loved this house and took excellent care of it.
Rachel went to her second-floor bedroom in the east wing and stood at the doorway, looking down the hall toward her parents' bedrooms. Though she had gone through her father's desk here at the house as a business necessity, she hadn't yet been able to sort through his and her mother's personal belongings. It was something she knew she had to do, not a chore she could assign to anyone else. It would take time and require decisions as to what to do with clothing and so on, and so far Rachel had simply not been up to the task.
And still was not. She shied away from opening those doors just as she had shied away from any other chore that threatened her control. She wasn't ready yet. Not yet.
She went into her bedroom, a room she had been allowed to furnish for herself when she was sixteen. Since Rachel had inherited her mother's elegant taste in antiques, even as a teenager she had not been fond of the fads and often peculiar color combinations in vogue with her friends; her room was decorated in quiet tones of blue and gold, virtually all the furniture Louis XV pieces, delicate and lovely.
Rachel was comfortable in the room, and after so many years took the stunning antiques for granted. She went into the adjoining bathroom and turned on the faucets to fill the big oval tub, deciding that a hot bath might ease her tension and soothe the restlessness she couldn't seem to get rid of. It only half worked, but half was an improvement, and by the time she climbed from the tub thirty minutes later, Rachel definitely felt better.
She wandered back out into her bedroom wearing a silk robe, and went to stand at a window that looked out over the front drive and lawns. Plans for the evening were simple; dinner, probably with her uncle Cameron, who was currently staying in the house, and then television or a book. It had become her routine since she had come home two weeks ago.
"Jet-setting heiress, that's me," she murmured to herself wryly.
The irony, of course, was that she could have jetted off to wherever she wanted--and simply had no interest in doing so. Money was not one of the things Rachel had ever had to strive for, and so it was not something that represented success or achievement. Not to her.
Achievement, to Rachel, was bound up in whether the designs she had created would successfully adorn the fashion runways when next year's spring collections made their debut. She had apprenticed herself to one of the best New York designers, and after years of hard work had the satisfaction of knowing that her designs would be shown under her own name.
But that was months and months away, and in the meantime she had to decide just how much of her past she wanted to abandon.
Rachel sighed and began to turn away from the window, when a flicker of movement down by the front gate caught her attention. There was considerable distance between the house and the gate, but what Rachel saw was clear enough.
And definitely real.
A man with silvery blond hair was standing at the gate, looking up toward the house. He was very still for a moment, and then, with a hunching movement of his broad shoulders that might have been a shrug or some gesture of indecision, he turned and walked away, hidden immediately by the high brick wall and numerous tall trees.
Rachel lifted a hand as though to stop him, but her flesh touched nothing except the cold glass of her window.
Excerpted from Haunting Rachel by Kay Hooper. Copyright © 1998 by Kay Hooper. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.