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As You Wish

Chapter One

Summer Hill, Virginia

Present day

Regret, Olivia thought as she looked about the little restaurant. On a TV talk show she’d seen that morning, the young, perfect-looking interviewer, her hair unnaturally shiny, asked the old actor if he had any regrets about his long life in show business.

Of course he said no. He’d had a great life and wouldn’t change a thing. What else could he say? That he regretted his marriage to wife number two, who took everything he’d worked for during his forty years in film? That he wished he hadn’t made the three really bad horror movies when he was broke? What about the twelve years he’d wasted when he was in a drugged-out, alcoholic stupor? But then the critics agreed that he was a better actor when he was drunk. After rehab, he became seri­ous and dull. A costar notoriously said that bourbon seemed to be his fuel to joy.

But he said he regretted nothing. I’ll drink to that! Olivia thought.

What would she say if that interviewer, her dress tighter thanthe skin of a snake and about the same size, asked Olivia what she regretted in her life?

“Sex,” she’d say. “I missed out on those precious years of young sex. Shoved up against a wall, slamming away in the front seat of a car with the gearshift ramming into your back, sweat dripping off your noses, the sun coming up and you’ve been at it all night, and the next day you’re so sore you can hardly walk. That’s what I regret missing in my life. One summer of it was not enough!”

She imagined the interviewer’s face, her HD makeup that made her look plastic, freezing in place. Would she be stern and say, “That’s not what you’re supposed to answer”? Would the network bleep out what Olivia had said? Would Robin Williams smile down from Heaven and say, “You go, girl”?

To Olivia, one of the great mysteries of life was why young people believed that sex wants, needs, thoughts, cravings—any and all of it—disappeared with age. When did a person go from being “hot” to “cute”? “They’re such a cute couple.” That’s what kids automatically said about people past the age of… She wasn’t sure when that was reached. And at what age were you supposed to forget that you’d ever had sex? Forget those days you spent naked by the pond. The smell of the grass crushed under your body. The water so warm and seeping into crevices, then him licking it away. Kids were shocked if a person over fifty men­tioned anything sexual. At what age did a person revirginalize?


She looked up to see a big, tall young man—at least young to her—midthirties, possibly older. He was quite good-looking, and his eyes had a kind of feral energy that Olivia guessed would get him whatever he wanted. The shirt and trousers he wore looked casual, but she could tell that they’d been custom-made for him. But the smooth outward appearance of him seemed studied, as though he were an actor playing a role.

“Are you Mrs. Montgomery?” His words were spoken in anewscaster’s voice, with no real accent. But she would put money on it that it wasn’t the way he spoke when he was a kid.

“I am. And you’re from Dr. Hightower?”

“Yes. Do you mind?” Politely, he waited for her to motion for him to take the chair across from her. He sat down, then nodded for a waitress to come to him. As Olivia had guessed, the young woman arrived quickly. When he gave his order for black coffee, Olivia was glad to see that his eyes didn’t linger on the pretty young waitress. Nor did he speak until she’d left. “Jeanne—Dr. Hightower—said you would take us to the house.”

“I will, but we need to wait for the other tenant, Elise, to get here. I got a text from her and she should be here in a few minutes.”

When the waitress put the coffee before the man, she set down a plate of little lemon cookies. “They’re on the house. For—”

She glanced at Olivia. “For both of you.”

Olivia knew the girl’s mother and it took only a quick squint of her eyes to make the girl go away. When she looked back at the man, she wondered if he was as oblivious to the attention of the waitress as he seemed.

“I guess Jeanne told you that I’m Ray Hanran.”

“I was told little more than your names, but I did assume that you and Elise are friends.”

“Oh no,” he said, “I’ve never met my new housemate. There was supposed to be an older woman staying with us, but she dropped out.”

Olivia couldn’t help frowning. “I know that the other guest is quite young.”

“Is she? I have no idea. You know Jeanne. She tells you little about anything.”

“Actually, I don’t know her. It was my husband, Kit, who asked me to escort you two to the Camden Hall estate.”

“Estate? That sounds bigger than I thought it was.”

“Jeanne’s summerhouse is one of four small houses on what used to be a fairly grand property.” Olivia was concerned about the arrangements. “Does this young woman, Elise, know that she’s spending the weekend with a man she’s never met?” She gave a pointed look at the wedding ring on his left hand.

The way he smiled showed that he knew what was in Olivia’s mind. “I don’t know what she’s been told. None of this was my doing. It took Jeanne weeks to make me believe I should stop work and go to some cabin nestled in the woods.” His eyes wid­ened. “You don’t think this is like a dating service, do you? Meant to match me up with some lonely young client of hers?”

The way he leaned back in his chair made Olivia think he was going to leave—which would disappoint Kit greatly. “I re­ally don’t know anything,” she said quickly. “My husband was called away to DC and he sent me an email saying a psycholo­gist, Dr. Jeanne Hightower, was sending two of her clients here for a long weekend. He asked if I would please meet you two in this restaurant and lead you there. It’s not easy to find.”

Ray frowned. “I don’t understand any of this. I’m having…” He took a drink of his coffee and seemed to consider whether or not to confide in her. “I’m having some serious marital prob­lems and Jeanne was recommended to me. I’ve been going to her for weeks, but I haven’t made any progress in my decision about what to do. I was planning to quit therapy, but then Jeanne started nagging me to go to Virginia to spend some time at her summerhouse. I finally gave in and here I am.”

Suddenly, a look of abject terror came onto his face. “This isn’t one of those retreats, is it? Where I’m supposed to wear a white robe and talk about my…my feelings?”

Olivia couldn’t help a laugh at the fear in his voice. “It’s not. The house is a pretty little three-bed, three-bath, and it was empty for years. I wasn’t even aware that it’d been sold. I’ve lived in Summer Hill all my life but I’ve only been on the grounds of Camden Hall once, and that was many years ago. But now that I live there—”

“You live there, but you’ve only seen it once?”

Olivia didn’t like talking about her personal life, but she knew she had to say something to keep this man from leaving. In her calmest voice, the one she often used with strangers, she said, “You see, I’m a newlywed.” She waited for his astonishment. Young people seemed to think older women were born married. He did look surprised, but he recovered quickly. “At our wed­ding, my husband gave me the deed to a house on the Camden estate. He and I were together years ago when we first saw the old River House on the property so he knew I liked the place.” She paused to remember that blistering hot day when the two of them were naked. Young, strong bodies glistening in the sun.

She looked back at Ray. “My husband bought the house for me, but I didn’t see it. We left from the wedding to go on a six-month-long honeymoon to see the places where he’d worked during his life as a diplomat.” Places I should have seen with him, she thought, but didn’t say. Kit had also recently introduced her to people she should have known for the last forty-plus years.

“As soon as we got back to the US, Kit got a call from some­one in DC and had to leave, so I returned to Summer Hill. I spent last night at the house of a friend. After I get you and young Elise settled at Dr. Hightower’s house, I’m to go to the home my husband bought for us. It’s at the other end of the estate.”

He looked at her for a moment, seeming to consider this in­formation. “Isn’t a groom supposed to carry his bride over the threshold of the new house?”

If Olivia hadn’t asked herself that very thing, she would have laughed. But her disappointment showed on her face. The first time she saw the inside of the house she wanted to be with Kit. Part of the reason for their long honeymoon had been so the old house could be repaired, painted, and furnished. Every day they’d delighted in seeing the photos the decorator and the work crew sent them. They’d begun with cobwebs and mice, a rac­coon in the attic, and 1940s electrical. But underneath the filthhad been beautiful old beams and stone fireplaces, and giant windows that looked out onto a pretty pond with an island in the middle. It was all going to be perfect!

But as much as she’d enjoyed the traveling and buying things for their house, there were times when such deep waves of re­gret flooded Olivia that she’d been unable to move. Kit and she had known each other for so very long and they should have been together all that time. She should know the best places to shop in Istanbul. She should be able to speak Arabic because she should have lived with Kit when he was stationed in Egypt. She should—

When she looked at Ray, sitting quietly and watching her, his eyes were almost glittering with interest in her every word. It took her a moment to recognize that look. “You’re a sales­man, aren’t you?”

Ray let out a laugh that almost sent coffee spewing, but he grabbed a napkin and covered his mouth. “What gave me away?”

“‘A lean and hungry look,’” she said, quoting Shakespeare. “So what is it that you’re using all this concern to try to sell me?”

“Stay with us.”

“What do you mean?”

“Jeanne sent me here to give me time to think. When I’m at work in the city or at home with my wife, Kathy, I can’t stand back and look at what’s going on. Jeanne said she wants to give me time away so I can make what will be the biggest decision of my life.”

He paused for a moment. “But things have changed. I thought two women were going to be there and they could…”

Olivia watched him take a cookie and slowly eat it. “They could do the cooking and entertain each other so you’d be free to do whatever you want.”

Ray laughed. “Sure you’re not Jeanne’s sister? So yeah, I’m spoiled. Kathy and I have no kids so I’m sort of…” He shrugged.

“You’re everything to her?”

“Pretty much. Kathy doesn’t really have a life of her own. It’s just me.”

“So what’s wrong? Something at work?”

Ray took a deep breath. “I want a divorce but I don’t know how to tell my wife.”

“Oh,” Olivia said. “That is a problem. And I can see your need to think long and hard about that.”

“Yeah, but if I’m alone in this house with her, that girl might get the wrong idea about me.”

It was the opposite of what Olivia had thought, but he did have a point. He seemed to attract women to him.

“Stay with us,” Ray repeated. “It’s just for a few days, then when your husband gets back, he can carry you over the thresh­old. As he should do.”

“Hmmm.” For a moment, Olivia acted as though she were contemplating the idea. She leaned toward him. “Are you dying to ask me if I can cook?”

Ray was serious. “If you can’t, I’ll be condemned to live on pizza.”

“And mess up that perfect waistline of yours? That would be a true tragedy.” Olivia was making jokes to cover what was going on in her mind. When she first saw the fabrics and colors that she and Kit had chosen, she wanted him to be with her. She wanted laughter and…

Memories, she thought. The two of them were in their sixties now. How many years did they have left to make the memo­ries that should have been theirs for the last forty-plus years? She well knew that was time enough for children to grow, for grandchildren to have reached their teen years. But she and Kit had missed out on all of that. Those memories didn’t exist.

“Are you all right?” Ray asked.

“Sure,” Olivia said. “I think we should wait for Elise to get here before we make any decisions.”

“Good idea,” he said. “But just so you know, if she’s some little lost lamb looking for a daddy figure, I’m out of here.”

Olivia blinked at what he’d said, but she knew he was right. She’d seen the way the waitress glanced at him. That Ray wasn’t returning the girl’s looks of I’m-willing-if-you-are raised him in her estimation.

When his cell phone buzzed, he pulled it from his pocket and looked at the ID. “This is Kathy, so I…” He was asking her permission to take the call in private.

“Of course. Take your time.”

When he spoke into the phone, his face changed to one of concern—and unless Olivia missed her guess, there was love. As she watched him go out the side door of the little restaurant, she didn’t envy his situation. He was married to a woman who had dedicated her entire life to him. Olivia had seen that many times. The woman had no children, no job, no close friends, so the husband became her reason for living. No doubt every decision she made, everything she did, was controlled by Will Ray like this?

From Olivia’s experience, men tended to like that. And way too often, men demanded that kind of subservience.

But she’d never thought of it from the perspective of a man who didn’t want that clingy attention. A man who didn’t want a wife who depended on him for everything. Olivia imagined the wife’s panic when her husband got home late from work. Hysteria at a creaking floorboard. The incessant phone calls. The constant need for his approval.

And there would be misery if Ray didn’t give her his total at­tention. Would there be tears over Ray’s neglect? “I spent all day cooking this dinner and you can’t even give me a compliment?”

As Olivia ate one of the lemon cookies, she thought about Ray’s problem. Yes, it would be a difficult decision to leave a woman like that. Walking away from anger would be easier than dealing with all those tears.

Olivia looked out the window to see Ray on his cell phone. He was smiling in a gentle, kind way, as though talking to a dear friend. Yes, he had a very difficult decision in front of him.

When she turned away, she saw a young woman enter the restaurant through the front door, and Olivia was sure she was the other tenant. She was in her twenties, tall, thin, and natu­rally blonde, with a very pretty face. She had on worn jeans, a T-shirt, and sandals. The regular attire of her generation.

But this girl was different. For one thing, she was perfect. Not just physically perfect, but in that flawless way that only a lifetime of money could achieve. When the girl turned, Olivia looked into her extraordinarily blue eyes and saw nannies and cooks, heavy silver serving pieces, Ivy League schools, and a girls’ lacrosse team.

It was in that second that Olivia made her decision. Yes, she’d stay at the summerhouse with Ray and this girl. Maybe he thought he had no interest in other women, but she’d seen the ambition in his eyes. It was better not to tempt him.

The girl came to her table. “Are you Mrs. Montgomery?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Great. I’m Elise Arrington.” She dropped her small canvas bag to the floor, took Ray’s chair, then saw the coffee cup. “Is someone sitting here?”

“Your housemate.” Olivia nodded toward the big window. Ray was still on the phone, his handsome face smiling in a sweet way.

Olivia watched Elise when she saw Ray. Would she be like the waitress? But the only sign Elise gave was a slight widen­ing of her eyes. She has those deeply ingrained manners, learned from childhood, Olivia thought.

“He’s rather large, isn’t he?” Elise said. There was a tiny bit of disdain in her voice.

Olivia was glad there was no attraction. “I don’t know if Dr. Hightower told you, but one of the three occupants dropped out.”

Elise leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I’m to share a house with just him?”

“Ray asked if I’d mind staying there too. If it’s all right with you, that is.”

“Yes, I’d like that.” With a sigh of relief, Elise turned to the waitress—who made a point of ignoring her.

Olivia leaned back against her chair. She wasn’t sure if this was getting interesting or if she should run away. Actually, she’d been dreading this time away from her new husband.

They hadn’t yet figured out what they were going to do with their lives. Kit was retired—sort of, since he still got called back to DC now and then. Olivia had spent most of her life manag­ing some appliance stores and trying to make a home for her late husband and his son. She’d thought she’d done a good job, but on her husband’s deathbed, she’d been told that he’d willed the stores to his son, which meant that she was without a job.

Olivia watched as Elise got up and went to the counter to place her order. The woman at the register, who Olivia knew owned the little restaurant, apologized for the lack of service. The moment Elise turned away, the owner went to the wait­ress and snapped at her.

When the waitress glared at the back of Elise’s head, Olivia had to repress a smile. Ah, the age-old fight for the dominant male. Ray was a man to be won and the waitress saw Elise as a rival.

As Elise sat back down, she nodded toward Ray. “Who’s he talking to?”

“His wife.”

“I’m glad he’s married.” The owner put a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat and an iced tea in front of Elise, who thanked her. After the woman left, Elise said, “If you don’t want to stay, please tell me of a hotel or a B and B in town.”

“I think I’d like to stay with you two, but you should know that Ray seems very nice. Not a predator at all.”

“But he’s here as part of his therapy, so there has to be some­thing wrong with him. I wonder what he did to get sent here?”

“Not to be unkind, but couldn’t the same be said about you?”

Elise had her mouth full and waited while she chewed. “I didn’t do anything. Jeanne rescued me from a mental institu­tion.”

“Oh.” Olivia tried to keep her eyebrows from going sky­ward. She wanted to fire questions at the girl. Was she bipolar? Schizophrenic? Did she have violent episodes? “Should you…?” she began, but didn’t know where to go from there.

“It’s okay,” Elise said. “I didn’t hurt anyone. They think I tried to commit suicide so they had me locked up.”

“Who did?”

“My parents and my husband. This sandwich is really good. Quite fresh.”

“You tried to commit suicide?” Olivia’s voice was soft and caring.

Elise took a long drink of her tea. “No, I didn’t. I was so angry at my husband, Kent, that I couldn’t sleep, so I took one of his sleeping pills. What I didn’t know is that he had crushed four of them and put them in the drink he made for me. When I woke up in a hospital, Kent was crying and begging me to forgive him for slipping me the extra pills and nearly killing me. I told him I wanted a divorce. In the next minute, in came my parents with a therapist who was telling them that I’d tried to commit sui­cide. My throat was so raw I couldn’t talk but I looked to Kent to tell them the truth. But he lied and said I’d taken the pills by myself. And of course no one was going to believe me because I’d just tried to kill myself, right? So anyway, I was locked away for ‘protection’ and talked to for weeks about my suicidal depres­sion. Only Jeanne believed me when I said that if I was going to kill anyone it would be my husband and not myself. Do you think they have any pie? I haven’t eaten much lately because I was hidden inside the trunk of Jeanne’s car for so long, then I was too angry to eat. Is there a restroom here?”

Olivia was blinking so hard she had trouble reacting. Hiding in the doctor’s trunk? She very much wanted to hear this story. She pointed out the restroom door, then raised her hand to the owner. She came to the table as Elise left.

“What do you need, Olivia? And I’m sorry about the wait­ress. She broke up with her boyfriend and is looking for a new one.” She glanced up as Ray came back in. “Is he available?”

“No. Not at all. Could you bring us a slice of every kind of pie you have?”

“There are six of them.”

“That’s great. One of each, and put everything on Kit’s bill, with a twenty-five percent tip.”

“You got it.” She was watching Ray as he started back in­side. “If I were ten years younger…” With a sigh, she took the empty dishes and left.

Ray sat down across from Olivia, then looked at Elise’s glass of tea. “Did she show up?”

“She did.” Olivia was still trying to digest all that she’d heard.

“Is she crazy? I mean, she is one of Jeanne’s patients.”

“She’s not crazy at all,” Olivia said. “Would you like to have some pie? I’ve ordered rather a lot of it.”

“I’d love some.”

Copyright © 2018 by Deveraux Inc.

As You Wish
by by Jude Deveraux