Key At Sea

Mary Stella

key of sea mary stella ebookPrice: $3.49

In her youth, Dora Lee Hanson set her dreams on distant goals. A more exciting life waited, if not over the rainbow, then at least somewhere out of the quiet Florida Keys. The twenty-something beauty left home for a modeling career, but a wealthy magnate swept her off her ostrich-plumed mules. Unfortunately, after more than a dozen years of marriage, the wicked wretch kicked her to the curb. Facing a very uncertain future, she returns to her beloved grandfather and the home she eagerly left behind all those years before.

Successful Keys fishing guide Bobby Daulton has the life he always intended, with one notable exception. He never caught Dora Lee, the love of his youth. After all these years, he never expected her to blow back into his world with tornado force, but he’s a far cry from the kid who once let her slip the line and escape.

When an ex-trophy wife with a mid-life crisis hooks up with the hot guy whose heart she unknowingly broke years before, the passionate pair rock more than the romance boat. Dora Lee has her eye on a brand new dream.  Bobby has his eye on Dora. He’s fallen for her again, hook, line and sinker, and this time she won’t swim away.

Reviews…

“Mary Stella’s Key of Sea is an absolutely wonderful feel good  book! I laughed so hard it hurt. Sit back and enjoy a roller-coaster of fun. I guarantee you’ll smile!” Heather Graham, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

“Four and 1/2 stars! Key Of Sea is sensuous, poignant, humorous and wonderful. Mary Stella has created a generous cast of eccentric, memorable characters, and the author demonstrates her gift of capturing the rhythm of life in the Florida Keys. This is a lovely and heartfelt story of finding your way back home and wondering why you ever left.” Affaire De Coeur Magazine

“A faultless five hearts and a must read! If you only get to read one contemporary romance this year, please, make it Key Of Sea.” Janalee, The Romance Studio

Chapter 1

Dora Lee Morrison finally realized her marriage was over the day she experienced a true bonding moment with the dead tarpon mounted on her husband’s wall. She and that fish had a lot in common. Both of them had been caught by J. Walter Morrison III, scion of the department store conglomerate created and expanded on by JWMs senior and junior. Both, for many years, had been proudly displayed. The trophy fish hung as no-longer-living proof of his skill for reeling in the big ones. She, the trophy wife, confirmed his skill for reeling in the younger ones. After fourteen years, J. Walter was throwing her back.

The tarpon gaped as if astonished to be in this predicament. Right back at you, fella, Dora thought. She hadn’t seen the divorce demand looming on the horizon. When J. Walter informed her that he wanted to “dissolve their union”, she’d stared, every bit as pop-eyed and frozen, while her heart shook and her brain struggled with the words. He’d droned on about their “satisfying partnership having run its course” and “the need to investigate new ventures”. He graciously assured her that their pre-nuptial agreement would “tide her over” while she explored her options. He then packed his overnight case and left their Treasure Coast mansion for a four- day fishing trip in the islands. Like the acquiescent wife he expected, she’d quietly followed him to the door and watched him drive away in his late-model black Porsche. Then, pure terror punched her in the chest and she’d sunk, gasping, to the floor.

A few months later she still wrestled with the new reality. She struggled to sit upright in a deep arm chair in his British Indies-colonial inspired-office. Leather-bound first edition Hemingway novels sat on the shelves of his credenza. More trophies displayed to impress, she realized, since J. Walter would never dream of taking a reading break in the middle of a work day. Where had he put the picture of the two of them, the one that used to sit on his desk positioned so that guests would naturally see it when they first sat down?

Quality leather and expensive cologne scented the air. Hopefully they covered the rank odor of fear surely seeping like garlic from her pores. Her lawyer argued that after more than a dozen years of devoted marriage, she was entitled to a larger amount than the money agreed upon before they’d wed. She forced herself to breathe evenly when J. Walter’s lawyer firmly countered that the financial settlement was more than generous. After all, she’d moved into homes he already owned and, in terms of holdings or income, she’d brought nothing substantial to the marriage.

He couldn’t have portrayed her as more of a gold digger if he’d handed her a miner’s hard hat and pick axe.

“Nothing? I brought myself.” Dora squashed a shriek. “I’m a good wife, Walter. A helpmate, you said. Who’s at home every night to hear about your day?” She thought back on years of entertaining business associates and friends. “Think of the charity functions I worked on because you said it was important for your wife to be involved. How many events did we attend so that Morrison’s Stores were properly represented?” How many cool looks, barely- polite smiles and snide whispers had she endured that never let her forget she’d begun her association with him as a lingerie model for his family’s stores?

“Work days and business deals that you barely understood. How many of those charity meetings and events have you attended since we separated?” J. Walter cut her off with a condescending smile. “Calm yourself, Dora. There’s no need to make this transaction ugly.”

“Transaction? This is our marriage. We aren’t talking about a business deal!”

“Aren’t we?”

His coldness froze the air in her lungs. What happened to the witty, sexy charmer who’d so dazzled her when they first met at a Morrison’s-hosted fashion show? The man who’d swept her off her ostrich-plume mules almost from the minute he’d invited her to join him for champagne after the fashion show, smiling into her eyes and ignoring the fact that she was wearing scraps of satin and lace under a transparent silk baby-doll nighty.

Now, the expression in his eyes scorned her as if she wore bargain-basement rags instead of a custom-tailored, cool linen suit.

“Dora, you had nothing when we met. You got what you wanted when we first married and are now leaving with far more than even you could have dreamed. Be a good girl. Don’t be greedy.”

Be a good girl. How many times had she heard that over the years? Dora, you won’t have time to volunteer for the animal shelter. Be a good girl. You need to join the hospital ball fundraising committee. He made it sound so essential that, of course, she understood. You want your grandfather to stay with us over Christmas? Dora, the old man would be no more comfortable here than I’d be staying at his little marina. You know my family expects us in Aspen. Be a good girl and visit him another time.

It was important to Walter that she got along with his family. She’d choked down the slight to her beloved Grampa Willie and gone to see him in the Keys the week before the holiday instead.

Dora, I’m almost 50, Walter had said a few years into their marriage. My sons are grown men. I don’t want any more children. Be a good girl and don’t make this an issue.

That edict hurt worst of all, but again she’d agreed. The day she became Mrs. J. Walter Morrison III, she’d left behind Dora Lee Hanson of the Florida Keys. In the process she’d worked her butt off to be the woman he wanted, the wife he expected, and she’d succeeded from the top of her trendy hairstyle to the tip of her uncomfortable but gorgeous Jimmy Choo slings. Memories bounced around in her brain so fast, she couldn’t concentrate. Apparently taking her silence for agreement, Walter nodded his approval.

“Sign the papers, Dora. I’ll write you the first check.”

He made it sound like severance pay for an employee he’d fired. Or worse. If he thought their marriage all came down to money, then…

“I wasn’t a gold digger. I was in love with you.”

All four of the room’s other occupants stared. Walter arched a single brow, his fallback expression when anyone dared to disagree with him. His attorney looked smug. Her lawyer’s face twitched with the effort to stay neutral. Only the tarpon appeared sympathetic. At that

moment, she understood fighting the divorce was useless. Although they’d lived separately for months, in her heart of hearts she’d still cared for him and nurtured the hope that they’d work things out. Now she knew the truth. Her marriage couldn’t be saved.

She’d never known that it was possible for love to die in an instant, but Walter had killed it as surely as he’d bludgeoned the tarpon to death. Whatever emotion or affection might have lingered evaporated in the rising heat of anger. There in the tasteful, “old money” office, something snapped. He wanted out of this marriage? He’d get his wish, but she wouldn’t completely surrender her pride.

She narrowed her eyes and leaned forward, gripping the edge of the desk to keep her hands from trembling. “Fine. If this is a business deal, let’s negotiate. You can have the divorce, but these are my terms. Increase the amount of the pre-nup by fifty percent.”

He opened his mouth to protest and she ran right over him, adrenaline propelling her like a racer to the finish line. “You can afford that amount if you divorce twenty wives, Walter, and that’s my fee for making this convenient.”

“I’m prepared to be generous, but only to a point. We’ll adjust it, say, ten percent.”

“You pay more to your tailor. Forty percent.”

Walter’s lawyer broke in. “Mrs. Morrison, you signed the original agreement in good faith. He doesn’t have to raise it at all.”

Obviously feeling in control and willing to be magnanimous, Walter beamed. “I’ll go as high as an additional fifteen percent.”

Magnanimous her ass. She was fighting for her life. “You’ll go to thirty percent. If you don’t agree, I’ll drag this out as long as possible and then…” She aimed and fired a shot in the dark. “…you’ll have to wait that much longer to go public with your new girlfriend.”

That at least wiped the smile from his face. He abruptly sat back and nodded at his attorney. Score! Dora snorted. “Does this one at least break thirty? Does she know you carry an AARP card?” She shook her head, disgusted at both of them, having long ago realized that her comparatively youthful twenty-five had been a big part of the attraction when he’d culled her out of the crowd.

“Next, I keep the jewelry you bought me.” At the moment, she loathed the idea of wearing any of it, but gemstones could always be sold.

“And my Mercedes.”

Judging by the furious look in his crows-feet framed, Lasik-corrected eyes, she’d reached his limit.

“Agreed, but that’s as far as I’ll go, Dora. It’s more than enough and much more than you deserve.”

Bullshit. Her entire settlement didn’t match what he paid in clubhouse fees every year. He was getting off light and both of them knew it. A dull buzz filled her head and drowned out the fear. She needed something else. A symbol. Not money. He could afford that without breaking a sweat. No, she needed something he prized. Something he would really hate to lose.

Got it! Coolly, she sat back in her chair and smugly smiled. “There’s one more thing and this is absolutely non-negotiable.” She pointed to the wall behind his head at her new-found comrade.

“I’m taking your fish.”

The purple splotches that mottled his tanned skin told her she’d chosen well. He tried to refuse, but she waved him off and glared at her silent attorney.

“Earn the fee my soon-to-be-ex-husband has to pay you. You’ve all heard my terms. Write it up, or whatever you lawyers do, and we’ll settle.”

As soon as the man opened his mouth, Walter and the other attorney jumped in. They could fight about it for the next two billable hours if they chose. She was leaving as soon as she claimed her prize. The fish was mounted on a polished wood board that was bolted into the wall. Her Prada bag didn’t hold any power tools, but damned if she’d let that interfere. She picked up Walter’s silver letter opener and attacked the first bolt.

“Stop that immediately.”

She ignored him.

“Dora!”

“I’m busy, Walter.” The letter opener slid out of the bolt and ripped a four inch gash in the expensive wall paper. “Whoops. That’s what you get for distracting me.”

“Damn you, I said stop. If you don’t, I’ll call Security.”

“Go ahead. I’m sure the society editors will love the story of J. Walter Morrison throwing out his low-rent wife over a plastic-coated, dead fish.”

“You wouldn’t dare make fools out of the two of us.”

Fourteen years of complacency and acquiescence dissolved like sugar in the rain. She whipped around, waving the letter opener. “I couldn’t possibly make a bigger fool out of myself than you have already, but I’ll be more than happy to even the score. Face it. You now have much, much, MUCH more to lose than I ever will.”

Returning to the fish, she again attacked the bolt. “Go ahead and call Security, but you’d be better off contacting Building Maintenance. Tell them to hurry up here with a real screwdriver. The sooner they help me get my tarpon off the wall, the sooner I’ll get out of your life.”

***

Maybe it was the surprising resolve in her voice or her novel don’t-mess-with-me attitude.

It could have been whatever his attorney whispered to him or, more likely, the way she brandished the letter opener like a dagger. Whatever the case, he finally caved and in minutes two uniformed maintenance men arrived to liberate the tarpon and tote it out of his office down to her car.

Mercedes sedans were not designed to carry one hundred-and-twenty pound fish as passengers. The men almost gleefully set about finding some sturdy cord to secure her booty to the roof. After tipping them generously, she drove out of the store’s parking garage. With a two-fingered wave, she saluted the attendant as if there were nothing the least bit unusual about her roof ornament.

Two blocks away, the fear returned in a swelling, choking wave, forcing air from her lungs. Nausea roiled in her stomach. A cold sweat broke out on her skin and the shakes set in. She pulled over into the first open parking space, turned off the car and rested her head on the steering wheel.

Divorced? Oh my God! She’d promised to vacate the house within a week. In seven days she’d not only be husbandless, but also homeless. Her settlement, while it would support her for awhile, wouldn’t fund a home in this exclusive area. Not when she now also had to pay for basic necessities and all the extras. She might have been living the good life for the last dozen plus years, but she’d never forgotten the early days when every dollar was allotted even before it was earned. Her hands trembled, drawing her attention to her long elegant fingers enhanced by a perfect French manicure. How quickly priorities changed. Forget weekly pampering. She needed a place to live.

She needed a job, but she hadn’t worked in years and demand was non-existent for thirty- nine year old former underwear mannequins.

What in the world was she going to do now that she was no longer the glossy, polished wife of J. Walter Morrison III? One swipe of her signature on a legal decree and it was almost like the last fourteen years had never existed. All of a sudden she was back to being that nobody Dora Lee Hanson from Nowhereville in the Florida Keys.

She fumbled for her cell phone and pressed the buttons for her grandfather’s marina. Years ago, she couldn’t wait to leave her hometown behind. Right now, at this quaking, nauseating, mind-numbing moment of truth, home was the only place she could think of to go.

***

The day was winding down to dusk when she finally pulled into the marina complex parking

lot, exhausted. After several days of packing, hauling what she didn’t immediately need to storage, and the long drive down, her body was so stiff that when she got out of her car, her bones crunched like the pea rock underneath her tires.

Hanson’s Marina and Mall read the entrance sign. The mall part was optimistic at best. This small row of weather-beaten stores was as far away from being a mall as it was from being a space colony on Mars, but Gramps had his own brand of humor.

“Gotta make the tourists feel at home, Dora Lee,” he’d told her with a wink. “I reckon any place that holds more than one shop counts as a mall in the Keys.”

Considering the only department store within fifty miles was a Big K, he had a point.

She’d hoped to get here earlier, but a boat-hauler with a flat had backed up the Eighteen Mile Stretch between Florida City and Key Largo and put her behind schedule. Now the shop owners were no longer busy with customers. Some of them were already seated in a cluster of resin chairs and ramshackle rockers on the creaky porch. For as long as she could remember they’d gathered like this, with their pop-top beers or iced teas, to watch the sunset and swap stories about the day. The nightly ritual continued, even though faces had changed over the years. Right now every one of them watched her instead.

She tugged at the knotted waist of her linen blouse and smoothed the front of her walking shorts. Why were they staring? She glanced back at her Mercedes. For its own protection, she’d wrapped and tied a plastic tarp around her prize, but the ends had flapped free on the drive. Even in the Keys, the bundle made a pretty strange sight. That must be it. She smiled and strode forward, only to wobble in her high-heeled sandals. Damn! She’d forgotten that heels and pea rock went together like sand and silk. She should have worn flats. Gamely, she slowed her steps to avoid tripping and smiled again.

“Good evening, everyone. Nice night for sunset. Is Willie here?”

“Who wants ta know?” barked a bald man with a grizzled beard and leather vest open across his barrel chest.

He was new. Judging from the fire-breathing dragon running the length of his arm and the spider web pattern across his skull, he must be Leo of Leo’s Tattoo and Piercing Palace. That store had been a boat canvas shop during her last visit.

“Willie ain’t come up front yet,” said the skinny woman beside him. Good Lord, she sported at least a dozen earrings in each ear and a stud in her nose for good measure. A miniature barbell glinted in her tongue when she asked, “Kin we help ya?” Wariness shaded the words and her eyes, with their matching brow rings, were narrowed.

The munchkins hadn’t acted this suspicious when Dorothy’s house crash-landed at the entrance ramp of the yellow brick road.

Dora stopped short of the steps, suddenly cautious about entering their territory. “I came to see Willie. I’m…”

A door creaked open. “Dora Lee? That you?”

Finally, someone she recognized. Mack Ricks had owned the bait and tackle shop since Jimmy Carter was in the White House—and had the snapshot of himself with the President after a fishing trip to prove it. He dispensed advice as easily as he did live shrimp and ballyhoo. If fish were biting within twenty nautical miles on either side of the island, he’d know where and could tell you what bait you needed to catch them.

He was a little older now, his wiry terrier hair a little grayer, but the gap-toothed grin was genuine. He was also her grandfather’s oldest friend which made it easier to smile in return. “Yes, Mack. It’s me.” On steadier footing, she hurried up the steps and gave him a quick hug. “I’ve come for a visit with Gramps.” A breather and a chance to regroup was more like it, but she kept that news to herself.

“He’ll be glad to see you. Been awhile,” he scolded.

“Yes. I know.” She resisted brushing her shoe in the gravel like a chastised teen. Nobody scuffed two-hundred dollar shoes.

Tattoo-man knocked back a swig of beer, and then gestured at her with the can. “This the fancy-pants granddaughter he always talks about? Didn’t think she came ’round here much.”

“Hush, Leo,” admonished his companion.
He swigged again and belched in reply.
Mack swung around and placed a broad hand on Dora’s back. “Leo and Tilda biked down to the Keys and opened up the tattoo place mid-summer last year.”

She nodded and smiled. “Nice to meet you.”

Before she could ask again about her grandfather, a newcomer bustled out the door of another unfamiliar store. Island Aromatics Emporium read the lettering on the broad pane window. Candles, bottles, and jars were displayed on draped scarves in all the vibrant colors of a tropical sunset.

“Rosa, say hello to Willie’s granddaughter. Dora Lee, Rosa Sanchez.”

The woman was maybe five-feet-tall with long chestnut hair, liberally streaked with gray, all gathered in a long braid down her back. A loose lavender gauze top layered over a purple and aqua flowered broomstick skirt that hung down almost to her sandaled feet. When she came forward to shake hands, the delicate fragrance of jasmine scented the air.

Her hand and her face were surprisingly smooth given her obvious age. “Hola.” Nut-brown eyes appraised. “You know, I make a botanical cream that will take care of that crease in your forehead. Sí. It is better than Botox for smoothing worry lines.”

A forehead crease and worry lines? Dora’s hand shot up to her face. No way could the stress of the last week have already wiped out years of skin-pampering facials and expensive lotions. Since when had insults replaced salesmanship? “Thank you, but I have my usual skin care regimen with me.”

The woman’s eyes cooled and the porch crowd harrumphed. Okay, maybe that had been a little harsh. Dora winced and softened her words. “But any cream that can do what you say is certainly worth trying.”

Satisfied, Rosa nodded like a doctor confirming a diagnosis. “Woman your age better see to her skin properly. I’ll fetch a sample of my Key lime exfoliator, too. My products are all natural. Worked wonders for Tilda here.” She slapped the pierced lady affectionately on the shoulder in passing. “When she first came here, her face was rough as the bark on a palm tree. Now look.” With that she re-entered her store.

Dora glanced around. “Mack, do Bitsy and Vince still run the Marina Mart?”

“Yes, ma’am. They’ve got some good help, so they’re up in Ocala for a week. Little Ginny had another baby girl. They went on up to help out and spoil the rest of the kids.”

“That’s sweet.” If she remembered right, their daughter Ginny had been several years behind her in school.

The sun sank lower in the sky and with it, her energy level. Her whole body wanted to sag inside her clothes. “You know, I think I’ll go find Gramps.”

“He oughta be around about now.” Mack cocked his head and listened. “In fact…”

A cheerful, slightly off-key whistling reached them right before her grandfather came around the corner, carrying a fishing pole like Andy Griffith strolling through Mayberry.

When he caught sight of her, the whistling stopped, replaced by a happy shout. “There’s my baby girl!”

Seeing that grin split his face lifted her spirits like nothing else could. As if she really was still a girl, she ran down the steps. His arms wrapped around her and squeezed. Nobody on earth hugged like her grandfather. Held snugly to his chest, she breathed in the smell of fresh soap, mingled with a trace of machine oil and a splash of Old Spice.

“Hi, Gramps.” For the first time in days, the cold dread clogging her lungs eased. “You look great!”

He did, from his battered dock shoes and work shorts up to the brown, craggy face and full head of silver hair. Eyes the deep yellow-gold of polished amber crinkled at the corners as he stepped back and studied her in return. “As beautiful as the day you were born. But…” He stroked his thumb down the side of her mouth and lifted her chin. “You look tired, darlin’. Rough drive?”

She glanced away and nodded. “Rough couple of days.”

“You didn’t say much, but I could tell something was troubling you when you called to ask if you could visit.” Keeping an arm around her shoulders, he turned her toward the porch. “Like you had to ask.” He shook his head, chiding her softly. “Tell your grandpa what’s wrong.”

If she started talking now, she’d blubber like a baby in a minute flat. Right now, all she wanted was to hide inside his hug and forget everything else.

She sighed, the sound like air escaping from a balloon. “I will, Gramps, but tomorrow, okay? Let’s just enjoy the sunset.”

“Okay, baby girl. You’ve met everybody, right?”

At her nod, he sat them both down on the top step, leaned against a column, and pulled her against his shoulder. “We’ll watch the show, and then get your things indoors. I opened up the cottage for you. After that, Ruby’s coming over for dinner. Bet it’s been awhile since you had stone crabs fresh from the ocean.”

They were one of her favorites, but her appetite had disappeared along with her wedding ring. Still, she wouldn’t disappoint him. “More like forever. I never order them in restaurants.”

“Not the same as your own catch.” He chuckled. “As long as the season’s still on, I’ll take you out pulling traps one day and…” He straightened and peered at her car. “Dora Lee, is that a fish tied on your roof?”

If her laugh was a little weak, nobody commented. “All part of the story.”

“This’ll be something to hear.” He rubbed her back and whispered so nobody else would hear. “Whatever the problem is, we’ll take care of it. Don’t you worry.”

She nodded automatically, but fear snuck in another jab to her stomach. This wasn’t something anybody could easily fix. In any event, it could wait another day.

Wide strokes of rose, peach and mauve painted the sky and shimmered on the water. The sun turned a glowing gold. A soft breeze kissed her face and the quiet calmed her skipping nerves. With a last flaming glow, almost as if it was taking a bow, the sun slipped below the horizon. The small audience applauded and Dora clapped along with them, just as she had hundreds, no maybe thousands, of nights before.

Eso luse tan bonito,” Rosa said.

“Pretty enough,” was Leo’s comment. His chair groaned as he boosted upright and pitched the empty beer can into a recycling bin. He reached for his wife’s hand when she rose. “Come on, woman.”

“See y’all tomorrow,” she said as they left, heading for the full chrome Harley parked on the side of the building.

“I’ll drop you off home, Rosa, and save you the bike ride,” Mack said. He rolled her bicycle toward a battered, but still-sturdy pickup, hoisting it easily into the truck bed.

They were pulling out onto the Overseas Highway when a truck towing a flats boat turned in. The driver waved out his window and Mack honked the horn in answer.

“This guy must not know everyone’s already closed down for the night, Gramps.”

“Oh, he knows all right. He’s just getting home a little later than usual.” Willie stood, pulling her up with him. “Get ready to say hello to another old friend of yours, darlin’.”

“A friend of mine?” Mindful of the newly discovered forehead crease, Dora forced away a frown.

The truck stopped in front of the porch. As the occupant got out on the far side, she glimpsed a baseball cap and mile-wide shoulders but the vehicle’s roof obscured the man’s face. He rounded the hood and she caught her breath.

“Bobby Daulton? Is that you?”

It sure was, in a living, breathing, grown-up version. Deep-water tanned skin stretched over high cheekbones. Eyes she knew were sea-green gleamed in the remaining light. Lines fanned at their corners, accenting their shape. Straight nose, full lips bracketed by slashing dimples. A square jaw with a small cleft.

Good Lord. He’d always been a cute kid. Now handsome didn’t even come close to an adequate description.

It was more correct to say that Bobby was the brother of her oldest, dearest friend. Dora smiled thinking of Jo Jo. As children and teens they’d spent more time with each other than with anyone else. Years ago, Bobby had teased, bothered and annoyed them, as only younger brothers could. Just before she’d left town, he’d shifted from boy to man, at least in his mind. He’d taken to giving her long looks when she came over and even flirted a time or two. At twenty-five years old, she’d been flattered by his puppy crush, but he was Jo Jo’s kid brother. Was he even eighteen the last time they’d seen each other? Even though he had the makings of a world-class charmer, she’d nipped his little experiments in the bud.

The warm memory of an old friendship brought a smile to her face and propelled her off the porch toward him for a hug. “Bobby, what a nice surprise! Proverbial long time no see.”

Before she reached him, he stepped back, leaned against his truck and crossed forearms roped with muscle across his broad chest. Beneath his cap’s brim, he regarded her steadily. A jerk of his chin acknowledged her greeting.

“Dora Lee.”

His voice was deeper than she remembered, and colder than ice in a bait box. For some reason he was anything but glad to see her, and wasn’t that awkward as hell? Stung, she dropped her arms to her sides and struggled not to show her disappointment. “So, um, how’ve you been?”

“Well enough.”

Who are you? she wanted to ask. What have you done with friendly, enthusiastic, talk-a- mile-a-minute Bobby?

Maybe a crowbar would pry more words out of him. She sure wasn’t having any luck.

Thankfully, her grandfather joined them. His warm hand on her back was as comforting as a blanket in winter.

“Evening, Bob,” he said. “Good day?”

Shrug. “First-timers.”

Gramps laughed. “More cash than experience, huh?”

She’d forgotten her grandfather’s knack for saying a lot with very few words. Maybe it was some kind of guy-code because Bobby didn’t waste one more syllable than necessary either. “Yeah, but they boated some.”

“Taking ‘em out again tomorrow?”

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “They’d rather play golf. Probably spend the whole day talkin’ about their big day on the water.”

Wow. Two whole sentences. Encouraged, she jumped into the conversation. “I can’t wait to see Jo Jo. How is she?” “Good.”

Bam! Mr. Freeze returned. Darned if she knew why, and right then she was too tired to care. She gave him an overly bright smile. “Please tell her I was asking for her and I’ll call soon.”

“Yeah, she’ll be glad to hear you’ll find time to see her while you’re slumming.”