Good morning and welcome to this week’s instalment of Tuesday Tales, a blog where a select group of authors share with you from their w.i.p. Today, I present to you the last taste you’ll get of Candy Kayne’s Christmas. This story has been upgraded and will become a whole novel to be released later this year, most likely in time for Christmas 2017 under the title, Kissing Cousins. I had so much fun working with this that I decided I needed to add more to it to deal with all the wonderful, crazy plot twists my muse gave me. I want to thank everyone who takes the time each week to comment on my efforts. It’s always good to know I’m not boring you. Next week, we’ll return to Wedding Bell Blues.
This week’s word is TRAIN.
“Go home? With you? Like hell I will! Not that it matters to you,” Candace answered defiantly, too upset by his words to take into account that they were airing their dirty family laundry in front of a virtual stranger. “I am home. This has been home to the New York Kaynes for one hundred and forty years. If the family didn’t want Ezekiel then, what makes you think I want them now?”
“It’s a beautiful place, one I hope to make my own home in a few weeks, but you’re wrong. No everyone turned their backs on Ezekiel. Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to meet the rest of the family or are you just as mule-headed as old Tobias? It’s time to get to know your roots.”
She laughed so hard, she snorted. “That’s rich. Exactly which roots would that be? I married a man who traced his bloodline back to the Mayflower. When I wanted to start a family, he insisted on DNA testing. I was surprised, but it was all the rage at the time, and I naively went along with it. I knew it would reveal my Irish-French-Native-American bloodline, that’s never been a secret, but I wasn’t prepared for the other bombshell, and neither was Judson.” The memory brought with it all the pain she’d endured at the time.
Bill stood there silently, letting her rant, and that was a good thing since she would probably smack him if he dared to interrupt her now.
“My husband was so upset,” she continued, knowing she should shut up, but unable to. “He accused me of lying about my ancestry. The doctor insisted that it didn’t change anything and that 17 percent of all Americans have mixed blood, but that hadn’t mattered to my purist husband, and I doubt it’ll affect whoever it is who sent you to find me. For the record, dear cousin,” she continued, sarcasm dripping off her tongue along with whatever cold germs she still harbored. “I’m 39 percent British Isles, 24 percent French, and 17 percent Native American, as expected, but I hadn’t anticipated the 17 percent Senegambia, with 3 percent uncertain tacked on for good measure. That 20 percent, which incidentally leads back to where most American slaves were ripped from their homes, was the killing blow to my marriage. Judson moved out and filed for divorce. It seems irreconcilable differences covers a multitude of sins including bigotry and racism. I’ll bet the current patriarch of the high and mighty Georgia Kaynes won’t be too happy to be related to me now.”
Bill raised his eyebrows momentarily and then shrugged. “I doubt Grandpa will care about your infamous 20 percent. You think your ex-husband is racist? I think you’re just as bigoted as he was. Where do you think those Senegambia genes came from?”
She frowned, confused by his acceptance of what had been the most painful event in her life. “I assumed it was Agnes, the woman from Louisiana Ezekiel married. There are a few Creole in the area who escaped from the south at the onset of the war, some light enough to pass for white. She must’ve been one of those. She was an only child, so we’ll never know. My grandfather’s wife was part Mohawk from the Syracuse area. I never knew what her other parts were. It didn’t matter when I was a child, and it doesn’t matter to me now.”
“Louisiana wasn’t the only place where rich masters coerced female slaves. Some of the paler children born to those helpless women were often passed off as legitimate sons by wealthy plantation owners whose wives failed to produce the necessary healthy heirs. As that doctor said, 17 percent of all Americans carry mixed blood. Who’s to say that 20 percent didn’t come from old Tobias himself?” He stopped talking for a minute and eyed her up and down. “So, are you going to cut off your nose to spite your face, or will you give me a chance to explain myself?”
Humbled and embarrassed, Candace nodded. “Fine. If I’m going to get up on my soapbox, I should have the decency to listen to your argument first, but tell me, is this whole resort thing just a Ponzi scheme, or some other fool way to get me to agree with you?”
“If you’re asking me if the resort plans are blackmail, then the answer is no. If you’re impugning my character and accusing me of being some kind of shyster, then the answer is a resounding no,” he answered, defiance and determination in his voice. “I came up here a couple of years ago and fell in love with the place. That was before I even knew you existed. I thought it would be a good place to raise my son. When I found out about you, it gave me a chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do. First and foremost, I’m a father and then a businessman, with too many years invested in the family company to blow their track record of success on a losing proposition. Reconnecting with you was the original reason for my visit, but everything I’ve done this week, what I’ve said to the people of Willow Grove and the contracts I’ve signed are real, and I intend to follow through on them. I have your contract in my bag. You’re the one who brushed me off, remember?”
Candace looked away. She’d barely heard another word after “raise my son here.” Of course he was married. Why wouldn’t he be? And he was family—a cousin for God’s sake. What was wrong with her?
“In that case, maybe we should move this upstairs.” She glanced down at his feet and remorse filled her. Talk about boorish manners. “And you must be wet right through. Follow me. I’ll let you change into something dry.” Turning to Sally, she smiled, trying to ignore the curiosity on her friend’s face. “I don’t expect we’ll be too busy today, but call up if anyone comes in.”
No doubt she couldn’t wait to get on the phone and spread the news through town.
The price you paid for living in a small town was a rumor mill that moved at light speed. This would be all over Willow Grove before the snowstorm ended.
She pressed the button, and the wall opened to reveal the freight elevator.
“I live upstairs.”
“I’ll bet that cuts the commute down nicely,” he said, no doubt trying to lighten the leaden atmosphere.
“It does. I was living out on the North Road, and felt it was just too isolated at times. The Jessup place is a gorgeous house. You’re out of town a bit, but by no means secluded. Your wife will love it there.”
“My wife was killed three years ago,” he answered bluntly.
“I’m so sorry,” she mumbled, not sure how she felt. Killed could mean anything from a viral infection to murder. If she’d been sick, wouldn’t he have used a softer word? Pushing the button for the loft, she looked away.
Don’t think that makes any difference, her conscience warned. He’s still a blood relative.
The elevator doors opened and she stepped out.
“You can take off your wet coat and boots and leave them here. The boot tray is heated, so they should be dry by morning. If you’re really planning to stay here, you’re going to need better gear.”
He chuckled. “I figured that out earlier.”
He hung his coat on the hook and took off the shoe-boots.
“Follow me. I’ll show you the guest room. You can change into dry clothes.”
“I appreciate this, Candace. I’d planned to fly back to Georgia this afternoon. If I’d known the weather was going to be this bad…”
She laughed. Leave it to the tourists. “Around here we joke that if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour, and see what happens.” She shook her head. “Don’t feel too badly. This is worse than expected.”
“So were you really sick, or did you just blow me off?” he asked.
His eyes, the color of dark amber, were filled with curiosity, but she saw no anger there.
“Definitely sick,” she answered truthfully. She opened the door to the guest room. “Make yourself comfortable. Come back to the main area when you’re ready. I’ll make coffee. I suppose we need to talk.”
“We do.” He reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper. “Will you read this while I get changed? It might explain some of why I’m here.”
“What is it?”
“Proof that everything isn’t as black and white, if you’ll pardon the expression, as you think. Not everyone rejected Ezekiel.”
She nodded, too the paper he held out and prepared to leave the room.
“By the way, watch out for my cats. Coal and Pearl like to ambush people. They’ll probably just come into the kitchen if I’m there, but…” She shrugged. “They’re into the climbing stage, and I haven’t been able to train them not to go up my pant legs.”
Candace hurried back into the sanctuary of the empty kitchen. Mechanically, she put on a fresh pot of coffee and then sat down the read the paper he’d given her, surprised when she saw the date. It was a photocopy of two separate messages.
God has answered my prayers. Hattie Lewis has brought me a letter from Ezekiel while Tobias is in Savannah. I can’t show it to him. Even after all this time, he refuses to discuss what happened. My heart aches to hold my son in my arms once more, but I must be content with his words. I may try to send him a letter. I know Hattie would mail it for me, but even as I write this, my health fails me. It is my deepest wish that someday the family can be reunited.
It is my sincerest prayer that you will receive this letter. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Twin Oaks, but it is my deepest desire to return to my home one day. I trust this finds you well. I’ve married. Agnes’s parents came north from Louisiana after the war. My wife is of French ancestry, an aristocrat if my mother-in law is to be believed. We’ve become shopkeepers and are happy with our lot in life. God has blessed us with a son. Anthony Tobias has his mother’s coloring, but he’s got your green eyes. I wish you could see him.
Should you receive this and wish to correspond with me, you can send the letter to General Delivery, Willow Grove, New York.
Your loving son,
Ten minutes later, when Bill joined her in the kitchen, carrying Coal in one hand and Pearl in the other, she’d managed to dry her tears. No doubt her nose was still red.
“Yours?” he asked, having the good grace not to comment on her appearance.
“Yes. Where were they?” She reached for the kittens and put them on the floor next to the food bowls she’d filled, pleased her voice sounded almost normal. “That should keep them busy. Where did you get this?” She held up the sheet of paper.
“We found it when we were making renovations to the mansion. It was hidden beneath the floorboards in one of the bedrooms. We assume Eliza hid it there. She died the following month. If she didn’t answer the letter it wasn’t because she didn’t want to. It was because she couldn’t.”
Nodding, Candace poured coffee for them and set the mugs on the table.
“Are you hungry? I made some soup last week. I can heat some up.”
“I don’t want to be a bother.” He hesitated. “Can I call you Candy? I noticed some people do.”
She chewed her bottom lip. Few people had earned the right to use the short form of her name. Judson had hated it.
“As long as you don’t make fun of it, go ahead. It was my mother’s name. My dad called her Candy because she was the sweetest thing on this earth.” Her cheeks heated. It had been a long time since she remembered listening to her father talk about her mother.
“I think it suits you,” he said. “From what I can see, you’re the perfect blend of sweet and peppery.”
Candace stared into his gaze, examining all the nuances on his face, and burst out laughing.
“You almost had me there. Peppery? More like the hottest tabasco you’ve ever tasted. I’m nobody’s fool. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll go back to Georgia with you tomorrow, not for you or for any of the Georgia Kaynes but because of what I read in Ezekiel’s letter. He would’ve wanted me to do this. I don’t know if we’ll ever be kissing cousins, whatever that actually means, but since you plan on going ahead with the ski resort, the least I can do is meet you halfway. Now, do you want a bowl of soup or not?”
Bill smiled and years seemed to drop off his face. “I do. Thanks, Candy. You’re going to make an old man very happy.”
She shrugged. “Like I said, I’m not doing it for him.” It seemed she was going to be spending Christmas with family this year after all.
Santa has a strange sense of humor.
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