Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again. He probably should have written that you can go home again, but it won’t be pleasant.
For Meredith Godwin, coming back to Manitou Springs stirred up memories best left to rest. For five years, she had been free of her grandmother’s—Miss Frances’s—iron rule. No matter how hard she tried, the rules stuck even now that her grandmother was dead. One thing that wasn’t on the to-do list this trip was visiting Miss Frances’s house. There was no need now that she was dead and the house sold to developers who turned the grand old Victorian into apartments. Maybe the new tenants were able to exorcise the ghosts Meredith had been unable to outrun when she moved to Ft. Lauderdale. Some ghosts, like some habits and her grandmother, were impossible to outrun. The past caught up with her and dragged her back to deal with a legacy that hadn’t been part of grandmother’s will. It involved a legacy left in trust by her father Stuart Godwin. It should have been settled twenty-five years ago when her parents died, but had been overlooked. The worst part was that it couldn’t be handled long distance, necessitating a return trip to a place Meredith had sworn she’d left behind.
The snowy streets of Colorado Springs passed in a blur of colored lights and red and green banners. Tourists and shoppers darted in an out of antique stores and shops on Colorado Avenue looking for post-Thanksgiving holiday bargains. Past the shops of Old Colorado City and the fast food restaurants, the wide, well maintained four-lane city street dwindled down to a two-lane highway pitted with potholes filled with dark, slushy water. The road curved off the main drag and under an overpass for Route 24 past aging motels that had seen better times and down into the narrow streets of Manitou Springs. Turning off 24 onto Manitou Avenue and then onto Ruxton, Meredith pulled up in front of Victoria’s Keep and parked.
The air was sharp and cold, laced with the smell of wood fires. Meredith closed her eyes and breathed in. Oh, how she had missed the crisp, clear air and the brilliant blue skies. Florida’s skies were a pale blue smudged with pollution and exhaust that seldom freshened even on the white sand beaches. Pikes Peak dominated the landscape in Manitou as it dominated the southwestern horizon everywhere in Colorado Springs. Rising above the snow dusted pines of the lower peaks, Pikes Peak’s craggy sides were solid white. The wind raked tears from her eyes. Meredith set her jaw and dashed them away with one gloved hand while she unlocked the trunk and pulled out her luggage.
She was not going to cry. There was no reason. If Miss Frances taught her anything, it was to keep her emotions buried. “No sense putting on a show, Meredith. It only makes you look weak and foolish,” her grandmother told her over and over. She branded the lesson by giving Meredith something to cry about, usually a sharp backhand and exile to her room without supper as a small child and withering disapproval when she was eleven or twelve.
Inheriting her father’s tall stature gave Meredith an edge over Frances Godwin’s five-foot-five height, but no amount of height could stand up to the glacial silences and iron determination that gave everyone who faced her grandmother in a boardroom or in any establishment the length and breadth of the Front Range. No one stood against the Godwin money or influence for long unless they were simple-minded or foolhardy, and Meredith was neither. All she wanted was to get the legacy business finished and go back east.
For now, breakfast, a hot bath and a few hours of sleep was what she needed before facing Lawrence Charlton at three. With luck and fortune on the side of the angels, in two days the wintery slopes of the Rockies would be little more than a memory in the balmy breezes and afternoon showers back in Florida. Two days, she could handle that.
After an ample breakfast and a hot bath in the Parlor Suite, Meredith turned down the bed and set the travel alarm. Out the window, the Miramont Castle looked like the inside of a snow globe dusted with falling snowflakes that whirled around the turrets and gables. Pulling back the drapes for a better view, Meredith climbed into bed and watched the soft drifting snow dance outside.
One of the few things she missed about her childhood was high tea at the castle with her grandmother. Although wearing white gloves that never seemed to stay clean for more than a few moments and frilly dresses and hats were out of character, Meredith endured the weekly ordeal of bathing and dressing just for the privilege of a half hour prowling the rooms after a delicious tea. She would have endured more to be able to savor the delicious cakes, sandwiches, Earl Grey tea and a walk through the castle rooms instead of the simple and bland daily fare Miss Frances considered proper for a child.
Meredith often wondered how her father turned so unaffected and happy. Where Stuart was concerned, his mother believed he could do no wrong. She doted on him and never hemmed him in with rules and social convention. Stuart had been a happy child with a winning personality and easy disposition, so there was no need to restrict him—until he fell in love with Daisy Yarborough, a nobody transplanted from Berkeley, California. Worse yet, Daisy was the daughter of artists working her way through college.
It didn’t matter that the Yarboroughs owned a successful gallery or that Daisy ran it at a profit, attracting celebrated artists from around the world. All that mattered was that Daisy came from the wrong kind of family.
For the first time in her life, Frances Godwin didn’t get her way. Stuart and Daisy were married in a quiet ceremony in the Garden of the Gods among the “riff-raff” and two years later Meredith was born. From what Meredith remembered, they were a happy family. Life was full of color and laughter until the day of her sixth birthday when Frances swooped down on the celebration with the news that Meredith’s parents had been killed flying home from a show in Montreal. Stunned by the news and before they could gather themselves, the officious little man in black tagging along behind Frances served the Yarboroughs with custody papers while the chauffeur swooped in and hustled Meredith in a Lincoln Town Car and away toward a cold stone and glass mansion built into the bloody-faced cliffs overlooking Manitou. The Yarboroughs were allowed to visit once a year on Meredith’s birthday, but the visits stopped three years later. The Yarboroughs just stopped coming. Miss Frances told Meredith her grandparents moved away and left no forwarding address. By that time the nine-year-old knew enough not to ask questions or make a fuss. There was no point.
Meredith glanced at the clock: eleven o’clock. At this rate, it would be time to get up and dress. Pounding the pillow into shape and closing her eyes, she counted her breaths in an attempt to relax. With nerves strung tighter than a drawn bow, sleep stayed out of reach. One and two and three and four and one…. She focused on her toes, tightened and relaxed, moving upward counting each breath. One and two and three and four and…. Heartbeat slowed and knotted muscles loosened and the first drifts of sleep fuzzed her mind.
A tinny jangle seeped into dreams where Meredith wandered through chilly rooms and fireplaces burned with cold blue flames. Tears froze on her cheeks.
Meredith reached out and knocked over the travel alarm. Somewhere a bell jangled insistently. She sat bolt upright unsure where she was for a moment. Out the window snow piled up on the sill and the solid stone angles of a castle appeared and disappeared amidst a whirling white vortex. Right. Back in Manitou and back to the old dreams. A strident bell jangled again. The phone.
“Miss Godwin, you have an urgent message from Mr. Charlton’s office. Your appointment has been canceled due to the storm. His secretary suggested you call and reschedule in a couple of days.”
“Yes, miss. The city is shut down. We’ve had over a foot of snow in the last hour and the forecast is for two to three feet.”
Resisting the urge to scream and curse, Meredith thanked the woman.
“Since none of the local restaurants will be open, until the storm is over and the roads are clear, we will serve lunch and dinner.”
“I appreciate that. Thank you.” Two days. Stuck for two days. Just what she needed. At least work wasn’t going to be a problem.
Meredith got up, dug her cell phone out of her coat pocket and called her assistant. “Clear my calendar for the next week. I’ll be here longer than I expected.”
“I heard about the storm. Tough luck, Meri.”
“No doubt, Carla. I can tell your heart just bleeds for me.” Meredith stifled a giggle picturing her assistant looking over the books and trying to figure out which of the shoots she thought she could handle on her own. She’d been promising Carla a chance to try her hand at one of the easier sessions, but only if she could be there to keep an eye on things. Carla had talent, but she needed seasoning and a year out of school wasn’t seasoning enough. “No, before you even ask, you cannot take the gallery shoot.”
“It’s an easy job.”
“Not that easy, especially not working with Francois.” There was no doubt that the reason Carla wanted to work with Francois had nothing to do with photographing the show and everything to do with schmoozing Francois. He was good looking—too good looking—and he was married, a fact that didn’t seem to matter to Carla or the dark and brooding Frenchman. No, Carla wasn’t ready to go out on her own, not when she still hadn’t learned not to mix business and pleasure.
“I can handle Francois.” Carla practically purred.
“There’ll be no handling of Francois. Clear my calendar and take the rest of the week off. I’ll call Francois and explain the situation to him.” Carla’s pout was obvious even over the crackle of static. “Don’t forget to set the alarm. I’ll call if there are any changes.”
“Right. Yeah. Whatever.”
There were times when Meredith wondered why she had hired such a novice, times like this when Carla’s lack of experience, youth and attitude were so evident. She wanted everything now and had little to no self control, especially where men were concerned.
There had never been time for men, or boys for that matter, growing up. Life consisted of school and study. Dances were forbidden and dates were out of the question, even if there had been time for dates. Miss Frances supervised all activities and chose the curricula and the one extra-curricular activity allowed: skiing. To bed at nine and up at five-thirty. After school there were lessons in how to behave and endless lectures on cultivating a public persona. College was chosen for her, as were classes and wardrobe, and Meredith did as she was told. Fighting her grandmother wasn’t an option. It’s no wonder classmates thought her odd and out of step; she was.
After Miss Frances broke her hip during senior year at college, Meredith dutifully visited the hospital and then the rehab center while her grandmother recuperated and regained her strength. It was a short reprieve and Meredith determined to make the best of it, accepting an offer to go to one of the professor’s gallery showing and ended up feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Her classmates seemed so polished and worldly, so at ease in tight, short skirts and cleavage-baring, skin tight tops. It wasn’t just the clothes—she had beautiful clothes, her grandmother saw to that—it was the way the girls flirted and wound themselves around the men like opportunistic ivy, slipping into dark corners or into the shadows out on the street to kiss, fondle and exchange numbers. She’d never been comfortable around boys, or men, half afraid Miss Frances would dust her for fingerprints.
The only time she had been allowed on a group date at seventeen, Miss Frances made the boy brave enough to walk Meredith to the door come in and watch while she checked her neck, shoulders and breasts for love bites. At least the boy, Trevor, was safely gone before her grandmother lectured on the evils of premarital sex while grilling her about where and how Trevor had touched her and then shoving a hand between Meredith’s legs to check for evidence of arousal. Humiliated and furious, she had endured it all until allowed to get a shower and go to bed. After that, turning down offers of dates was easy. All she need do was conjure up her grandmother’s rough poking and prodding hands and any thoughts of dances or dates or getting close to any boy died a quick death.
There was no way she’d be able to retain her sanity shut up in this suite for two days. Being in Manitou was bad enough. Not here even eight hours and already she had fallen back into maudlin thoughts and old habits. Lunch was over and dinner was a few hours away.
Wind howled and whistled down the chimney in the parlor. Ghostly golden lights winked against the sheer white of the storm. She’d never make it the two blocks to downtown in the storm, but she had to do something.
Dressing quickly and tucking the room key in a side pocket of her purse, she shouldered the bag and walked out into the lobby, locking the door.
“Miss Godwin, lunch is still laid out in the dining room if you’re hungry. There’s coffee and tea on the sideboard and I can whip up some hot cocoa if you’d prefer that.” The owner led her into the dining room. “There are movies and quite a few books in the parlor if you’re interested.”
“It’s so quiet.”
“Well, there’s only one guest other than you.”
The buffet was laden with sliced ciabatta and sourdough bread, cold meats, cheeses and an assortment of condiments and sandwich fixings. A large bowl held fresh strawberries, apples and a fruit compote. Meredith made up a plate while the owner went to the kitchen to fix a pot of hot cocoa and sat down at a table near the window looking out onto the wraparound porch. The bread was fresh and the fruit compote a fresh and delicious contrast to the silky richness of the cocoa.
“There’s more if you’d like.” The owner topped up the cocoa.
“I didn’t realize how hungry I was.” Meredith thanked her and turned down seconds, lingering over the hot cocoa as she watched the snow pile up against the window and bury the cars parked on the street. For the first time since arriving, she felt at ease and comfortable.
Taking the drink into the parlor, Meredith looked at the books and movies on the shelves, choosing a documentary on the Trojan war. And then she spotted it, a romantic comedy Gavin took her to see on their first date. The idea of watching a movie wasn’t so appealing any more.
Heady with a first taste of freedom since her grandmother died, Meredith had ventured onto the social scene with a few friends from college intent on cheering her up. Six months was long enough to mourn they said, never suspecting she wasn’t sad or depressed, quite the contrary. She was free, but leery of enjoying that freedom too much. There was the ever present fear that Miss Frances would appear with a chilly smile and look down her long, straight nose with a disappointed and disapproving frown, one perfectly sculpted eyebrow disdainfully arched and Meredith would tuck her tail between her legs and follow ashamed and contrite to accept punishment for having smiled or laughed or thought for one second she was free to do as she pleased. Taking a chance, Meredith agreed to meet her friends in Vail for a ski weekend.
She’d gone on ski weekends when Miss Frances was alive, but always with her grandmother, never alone. It was a safe first venture.
The night before, a storm dropped a little over two feet of powder and the lodge and slopes were crowded with snow bunnies. Managing a couple of good runs before the slopes got too crowded, Meredith and her friends met in the main lodge. After lunch, Sheila and Frederica decided to lounge in the hot tub. They agreed to meet for drinks before dinner and Meredith decided to run into town to get her bindings tightened. She hadn't expected to run into Gavin White Wolf.
Or to come face to face with the past.