o deal with right now. But you can’t bury yourself.”
To the mountains I live in,
and the people who love them.
“What the hell are you doing in a place like this?”
Maggie, on her hands and knees, didn’t look up. “C.J., you’re playing the same old song.”
C.J. pulled down the hem of his cashmere sweater. He was a man who made worry an art, and he worried about Maggie. Someone had to. Frustrated, he looked down at the sable-brown hair twisted untidily into a knot on top of her head. Her neck was slender, pale, her shoulders curved slightly forward as she rested her weight on her forearms. She had a delicate build, with the kind of fragility C.J. had always associated with nineteenth-century English aristocratic ladies. Though perhaps they, too, had possessed endless stores of strength and endurance under frail bones and porcelain skin.
She wore a T-shirt and jeans that were both faded and slightly damp from perspiration. When he looked at her hands, fine-boned, elegant hands, and saw they were grimy, he shuddered. He knew the magic they were capable of.
A phase, he thought. She was just going through a phase. After two marriages and a few affairs, C.J. understood that women went through odd moods from time to time. He brushed at his trim, sandy mustache with one finger. It was up to him to guide her back, gently, to the real world.
As he glanced around at nothing but trees and rocks and isolation, he wondered, fleetingly, if there were bears in the woods. In the real world, such things were kept in zoos. Keeping a nervous lookout for suspicious movements, he tried again.
“Maggie, just how long are you going to go on this way?”
“What way is that, C.J.?” Her voice was low, husky, as if she’d just been awakened. It was a voice that made most men wish they’d awakened her.
The woman was infuriating. C.J. tugged a hand through his carefully styled, blow-dried hair. What was she doing three thousand miles from L.A., wasting herself on this dirty work? He had a responsibility to her and, damn it, to himself. C.J. blew out a long breath, an old habit he had whenever he met with opposition. Negotiations were, after all, his business. It was up to him to talk some sense into her. He shifted his feet, careful to keep his polished loafers out of the dirt. “Babe, I love you. You know I do. Come home.”
This time Maggie turned her head, looking up with a flash of a smile that involved every inch of her face—the mouth that stopped just short of being too wide, the chin a bit pointed, the sweep of cheekbones that gave her face a diamond shape. Her eyes, big, round and shades darker than her hair, added that final spark of animation. It wasn’t a stunning face. You’d tell yourself that while you tried to focus in on the reason you were stunned. Even now, without makeup, with a long streak of topsoil across one cheek, the face involved you. Maggie Fitzgerald involved you because she was exactly what she seemed. Interesting. Interested.
Now she sat back on her haunches, blowing a wisp of hair out of her eyes as she looked up at the man who was frowning at her. She felt a tug of affection, a tug of amusement. Both had always come easily to her. “C.J., I love you, too. Now stop acting like an old woman.”
“You don’t belong here,” he began, more exasperated than insulted. “You shouldn’t be grubbing around on your hands and knees—”
“I like it,” she said simply.
It was the very simplicity of the tone that told him he had a real problem. If she’d shouted, argued, his chances of turning her around would’ve been all but secured. But when she was like this, calmly stubborn, changing her mind would be like climbing Mount Everest. Treacherous and exhausting. Because he was a clever man, C.J. changed tactics.
“Maggie, I can certainly understand why you might like to get away for a while, rest a bit. No one deserves it more.” That was a nice touch, he thought, because it was true. “Why don’t you take a couple weeks in Cancun, or go on a shopping spree in Paris?”
“Mmm.” Maggie shifted on her knees and fluffed up the petals of the pansies she was planting. They looked, she decided, a bit sick. “Hand me that watering can, will you?”
“You’re not listening.”
“Yes, I am.” Stretching over, she retrieved the can herself. “I’ve been to Cancun, and I have so many clothes now I left half of them in storage in L.A.”
Without breaking stride, C.J. tried a different turn. “It’s not just me,” he began again, watching as she drenched the pansies. “Everyone who knows you, who knows about this, thinks you’ve—”
“Slipped a gear?” Maggie supplied. Overdid the water, she decided as the saturated blossoms drooped. She had a lot to learn about the basics of country life. “C.J., instead of nagging me and trying to talk me into doing something I’ve no intention of doing, why don’t you come down here and give me a hand?”
“A hand?” His voice held the slightly appalled note it might have if she’d suggested he dilute prime scotch with tap water. Maggie chuckled.
“Pass me that flat of petunias.” She stuck the small spade in the ground again, fighting the rocky soil. “Gardening’s good for you. It gets you back in touch with nature.”
“I’ve no desire to touch nature.”
This time she laughed and lifted her face to the sky. No, the closest C.J. would come to nature would be a chlorinated pool—solar-heated. Up to a few months ago she’d barely gotten much closer herself. She’d certainly never attempted to. But now she’d found something—something she hadn’t even been looking for. If she hadn’t come to the East Coast to collaborate on the score for a new musical, if she hadn’t taken an impulsive drive south after the long, grueling sessions had ended, she never would’ve happened on the sleepy little town tucked into the Blue Ridge.
Do we ever know where we belong, Maggie wondered, unless we’re lucky enough to stumble onto our own personal space? She only knew that she’d been heading nowhere in particular and she’d come home.
Maybe it had been fate that had led her into Morganville, a cluster of houses cupped in the foothills that boasted a population of 142. From the town proper, it spread out into farms and isolated mountain homes. If fate had taken her to Morganville, it had again taken her past the sign that listed the sale of a house and twelve acres. There’d been no moment of indecision, no quibbling over the price, no last-minute doubts. Maggie had met the terms and had had the deed in her hand within thirty days.
Looking up at the three-story frame house, with shutters still hanging crooked, Maggie could well imagine her friends and colleagues wondering about her mental state. She’d left her Italian-marble entrance hall and mosaic-tiled pool for rusty hinges and rocks. She’d done it without a backward glance.
Maggie patted the dirt around the petunias, then sat back. They looked a bit more spritely than her pansies. Maybe she was beginning to get the hang of it. “What do you think?”
“I think you should come back to L.A. and finish the score.”
“I meant the flowers.” She brushed off her jeans as she rose. “In any case, I am finishing the score—right here.”
“Maggie, how can you work here?” C.J. exploded. He tossed out both arms in a gesture she’d always admired for its unapologetic theatrics. “How can you live here? This place isn’t even civilized.”
“Why? Because there’s no health club and boutique on every other corner?” Wanting to temper the words, she tucked a hand through C.J.’s arm. “Go ahead, take a deep breath. The clean air won’t hurt you.”
“Smog’s underrated,” he mumbled as he shifted his feet again. Professionally he was her agent, but personally C.J. considered himself her friend, perhaps her best friend since Jerry had died. Thinking of that, he changed his tone again. This time it was gentle. “Look, Maggie, I know you’ve been through some rough times. Maybe L.A. has too many memories for you t
“I’m not burying myself.” She put her hands on his forearms, squeezing for both emphasis and support. “And I buried Jerry nearly two years ago. That was another part of my life, C.J., and has nothing to do with this. This is home. I don’t know how else to explain it.” She slid her hands down to his, forgetting hers were smeared with earth. “This is my mountain now, and I’m happier here, more settled, than I ever was in Los Angeles.”
He knew he was beating his head against a wall, but opted to give it one more shot. “Maggie.” He slipped an arm around her shoulder, as if, she thought ruefully, she was a small child needing guidance. “Look at that place.” He let the silence hang a moment while they both studied the house on the rise above. He noticed that the porch was missing several boards and that the paint on the trim was peeling badly. Maggie saw the sun reflecting off the window glass in rainbows. “You can’t possibly be serious about living there.”
“A little paint, a few nails.” She shrugged it away. Long ago she’d learned that surface problems were best ignored. It was the problem simmering under the surface, not quite visible, that had to be dealt with. “It has such possibilities, C.J.”
“The biggest one is that it’ll fall down on your head.”
“I had the roof fixed last week—a local man.”
“Maggie, I’m not at all convinced there are any local men, or women, within ten miles. This place doesn’t look fit for anything but elves and gnomes.”
“Well, he might’ve been a gnome.” Her sense of fun spurred her on as she stretched her back muscles. “He was about five foot five, stocky as a bull and somewhere around a hundred and two. His name was Bog.”
“He was very helpful,” she went on. “He and his boy are coming back to deal with the porch and some of the other major repairs.”
“All right, so you’ve got a gnome to do some hammering and sawing. What about this?” He swept his hand around to take in the surrounding land. It was rocky, uneven and overgrown with weeds and thickets. Not even a dedicated optimist could’ve considered any part of it a lawn. A burly tree slanted dangerously toward the house itself, while thorny vines and wildflowers scrambled for space. There was a pervading smell of earth and green.
“Like Sleeping Beauty’s castle,” Maggie murmured. “I’ll be sorry in a way to hack it down, but Mr. Bog has that under control, too.”
“He does excavation work, too?”
Maggie tilted her head and arched her brows. It was a look that made anyone over forty remember her mother. “He recommended a landscaper. Mr. Bog assures me that Cliff Delaney is the best man in the county. He’s coming by this afternoon to take a look at the place.”
“If he’s a smart man, he’ll take one look at that gully you call a road leading up here and keep on going.”
“But you brought your rented Mercedes all the way up.” Turning, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate that or the fact that you flew in from the Coast or that you care enough to be concerned. I appreciate all of it. I appreciate you.” She ruffled his hair, something no one else would’ve gotten away with. “Trust my judgment on this, C.J. I really do know what I’m doing. Professionally, my work can’t do anything but improve here.”
“That’s yet to be seen,” he muttered, but lifted a hand to touch her cheek. She was still young enough to have foolish dreams, he thought. Still sweet enough to believe in them. “You know it’s not your work I’m worried about.”
“I know.” Her voice softened, and with it her eyes, her mouth. She was not a woman who guided her emotions, but one who was guided by them. “I need the peace here. Do you know, this is the first time in my life I’ve gotten off the merry-go-round? I’m enjoying the solid ground, C.J.”
He knew her well and understood that there was no moving her, for the moment, from the position she’d taken. He understood, too, that from birth her life had been ribboned with the stuff of fantasies—and of nightmares. Perhaps she did need to compensate, for a time.
“I’ve got a plane to catch,” he grumbled. “As long as you insist on staying here, I want you to call me every day.”
Maggie kissed him again. “Once a week,” she countered. “You’ll have the completed score for Heat Dance in ten days.” With her arm around his waist, she led him to the end of the uneven, overgrown path where his Mercedes sat in incongruous splendor. “I love the film, C.J. It’s even better than I thought it would be when I first read the script. The music’s all but writing itself.”
He only grunted and cast one look behind him at the house. “If you get lonely—”
“I won’t.” With a quick laugh, Maggie nudged him into the car. “It’s been enlightening discovering how self-sufficient I can be. Now, have a nice trip back and stop worrying about me.”
Fat chance, he thought, automatically reaching in his briefcase to make certain his Dramamine was there. “Send me the score, and if it’s sensational, I might stop worrying … a little.”
“It is sensational.” She backed off from the car to give him room to turn around. “I’m sensational!” she shouted as the Mercedes began to inch around. “Tell everyone back on the Coast that I’ve decided to buy some goats and chickens.”
The Mercedes stopped dead. “Maggie…”
Laughing, she waved at him and backed down the path. “Not yet … but maybe in the fall.” She decided it was best to reassure him, or else he might get out and start again. “Oh, and send me some Godiva chocolates.”
That was more like it, C.J. thought, and put the car in gear again. She’d be back in L.A. in six weeks. He glanced in his rearview mirror as he started to drive away. He could see her, small and slender, still laughing, against the backdrop of the overgrown land, greening trees and dilapidated house. Once again he shuddered, but this time it wasn’t from an offense of his sensibilities. This time it was from something like fear. He had a sudden flash of certainty that she wasn’t safe there.
Shaking his head, C.J. reached in his pocket for his antacids as the car bumped noisily over a rock. Everyone told him he worried too much.
Lonely, Maggie thought as she watched the Mercedes bump and wind its way down her excuse for a lane. No, she wasn’t lonely. She was as certain as she’d ever been about anything that she’d never be lonely here. She felt an unexpected sense of foreboding that she shrugged off as ridiculous.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned in two slow circles. Trees rose up out of the rocky hillside. The leaves were hardly more than buds now, but in a few weeks they would grow and spread, turning the woods into a lush cover of green. She liked to imagine it that way and to try to picture it in the dead of winter—white, all white and black with ice clinging to the branches and shimmering on the rocks. In the fall there’d be a tapestry outside every window. She was far from lonely.
For the first time in her life, she had a chance to put her own stamp on a place. It wouldn’t be a copy of anything she’d had before or anything that’d been given to her. It was hers, absolutely, and so were any mistakes she made here, any triumphs. There’d be no press to compare this isolated spot in western Maryland with her mother’s mansion in Beverly Hills or her father’s villa in the south of France. If she was lucky, very, very lucky, Maggie thought with a satisfied sigh, there’d be no press at all. She could make her music and live her life in peace and solitude.
If she stood very still, if she closed her eyes and didn’t move, she could hear the music all around her. Not birdsong but the ruffle of air through branches and tiny leaves. If she concentrated, she could hear the faint trickle of the narrow creek that ran along the other side of the lane. The quality of silence was rich, flowing over her like a symphony.
There was a place for glitz, she mused, and for glamour. She simply didn’t want that place any longer. The truth was she hadn’t wanted that place for a very long time but hadn’t known
the way out. When your birth had been celebrated by the international press, your first step, your first words, cataloged for the public, it was natural to forget there was another way of life.
Her mother had been one of the greatest blues and ballad singers in America, her father a child actor turned successful film director. Their courtship and marriage had been followed religiously by fans around the world. The birth of their daughter had been an event treated like the birth of royalty. And Maggie had lived the life of a pampered princess. Gold carousels and white fur coats. She’d been lucky because her parents had adored her, and each other. That had compensated for the make-believe, often hard-edged world of show business, with all its demands and inconstancy. Her world had been cushioned by wealth and love, rippled continually with publicity.
The paparazzi haunted her on dates through her teenage years—to her amusement but often to the boys’ frustration. Maggie had accepted the fact that her life was public domain. It had never been otherwise.
And when her parents’ private plane had crashed into the Swiss Alps, the press had frozen her grief in glossies and newsprint. She hadn’t tried to stop it; she’d realized that the world had mourned with her. She’d been eighteen when the fabric of her world had torn.
Then there had been Jerry. First friend, then lover, then husband. With him, her life had drifted into more fantasy, and more tragedy.
She wouldn’t think of any of that now, Maggie told herself as she picked up her spade and began to fight the tough soil again. All that was really left of that portion of her life was her music. That she would never give up. She couldn’t have if she’d tried. It was part of her the way her eyes and ears were part of her. She composed words and music and twined them together, not effortlessly, as it sometimes seemed from the fluid finished result, but obsessively, wonderingly, constantly. Unlike her mother, she didn’t perform but fed other performers with her gift.
At twenty-eight, she had two Oscars, five Grammies and a Tony. She could sit at the piano and play any song she’d ever written from memory. The awards were still in the packing boxes that had been shipped from L.A.
The little flower plot she was planting in a spot perhaps no one would see but herself was a labor of love with no guarantee of success. It was enough that it gave her pleasure to add her own peculiar spot of color to the land she’d claimed as hers. Maggie began to sing as she worked. She’d completely forgotten her former feeling of apprehension.
Normally he didn’t do the estimating and initial planning on a job himself. Not anymore. For the past six years Cliff Delaney had been in the position of being able to send one or two of his best men out on the first stage of a project; then he would fine-tune. If the job was interesting enough, he would visit the site while work was in progress, perhaps handle some of the grading and