Sunday, August 02, 2015

REMEMBER MY LOVE

Here's a bonus for readers of my books, especially the ones set in fictional Drake Springs, Florida. In Reclaim My Life, Sam Drake, brother to the hero, had just broken up with Victoria Draper. Later, in Return to Drake Springs, the heroine helps her mother cater their wedding at Drake Oaks. What happened to reunite Sam and Victoria?

The answer is in the short story (no longer in print, it originally appeared in the anthology All Bets Are On!) Remember My Love. If you missed this story and are curious about what happened to the characters from the three Mustang Sally Books (Restore My Heart, Reclaim My Life, and Rebuild My World), you're in luck.

Here is the story in its entirety. Enjoy!


REMEMBER MY LOVE
Cheryl Norman

Samuel Drake moved toward the entrance to Churchill Downs, feeling more a part of an Easter parade than a sporting event. Suddenly he froze and stared at the woman ahead of him, a vision in pastel blue. A bit of blond hair—with unusual reddish striping he’d seen on only one woman, although she had called it highlighting— peeked out from beneath the hat that matched her dress. If only she would turn and show her face. The familiar figure couldn’t be Victoria, could it?

His brother Wilson bumped his back. “What’s the holdup, Sam?”

Samuel nodded toward the woman just as she turned and showed her profile. “I thought I saw someone I know—” He gasped. It was her! “Victoria Draper.”

“Your ex?” Wilson crowded beside him and followed his gaze. “Where?”

“And why would she be here?”

“Duh.” Sofia, Wilson’s Louisville-native wife, chuckled behind them. “Same reason everyone is here—to see the Kentucky Derby.”

Wilson held hands with his very pregnant wife. “I don’t think Sam and Victoria parted on the best of terms.” An understatement, indeed.

Sofia eyes twinkled with mischief. “Introduce us, Sam.”

He mentally rehearsed his approach. But he needn’t bother. His gregarious brother saved him the trouble and called out, “Victoria!”

She turned, facing them, and smiled at Wilson. “Sheriff Drake.” Her smile tightened almost into a grimace. “Samuel. This is a surprise.”

Sofia reached past Samuel, offering her hand. “I’m Fia Drake.”

“Victoria Draper.” She shook Sofia’s hand. “So you’re here to see the big race, too?”

Sofia moved forward and walked beside Victoria. “This is Sam’s first Kentucky Derby. Mom lives here, and I helped fill her house with guests this week.”

Victoria winced. “Poor Mom.”

“Oh, on the contrary. She loves company.”

“Sofia’s mother is a most hospitable hostess and fabulous cook, too,” Samuel said, but Victoria avoided his gaze. “She graciously gave me her Derby ticket.”

“How generous.” She directed her smile at Sofia.

Sofia gave a dismissive wave. “Mom doesn’t enjoy the derby since Dad died. My brother’s wife is way pregnant and the last thing she wanted was to dress up and face this crowd. He won’t leave her side.”

Victoria gestured toward Sofia’s abdomen. “You appear ‘way pregnant,’ too, and Wil dragged you here.”

“Hey, this was her idea, darlin’.”

Samuel tried again to capture Victoria’s attention. “Perhaps we’ll see you in the clubhouse.”

She finally met his gaze, and her smile slipped. “Perhaps.” The chill in her voice said otherwise.

Samuel didn’t blame her. Three years ago he had dumped her, with appalling behavior. Victoria fled town before he’d had the good sense to make amends, and he had suffered since. Never one to be romantic, Samuel had been frightened by the truth. He’d chased away the only woman he loved. Could fate be handing him a second chance? Or was he three years too late?

Victoria gave a finger wave. “Nice meeting you, Fia. I need to catch up with my friend.”

Friend? Or lover? Samuel’s gut twisted with jealousy. His gaze stayed glued to her bonnet as she moved toward the steps. She plowed through the crowd as though determined to escape. He must not lose sight of her. Friend or no friend, he had to talk to her alone.

Wilson nudged him. “You gonna let her get away?”

“Are you suggesting I chase after her?”

Wilson snorted. “If it were Fia, I’d already be shoving and elbowing my way through this mob.”

*

Victoria’s stomach fluttered with nerves and her hands shook. After all this time, Samuel still had the power to rattle her composure. He’d hardly changed. He was still distinguished and oozed Southern blueblood, although now his reddish hair grayed more at the temples. But it was his piercing green eyes that stole her breath. She clung to the memory of their last meeting. He’d been a pompous, intellectual snob. How could she find such characteristics appealing?

She’d almost gotten over him. Out of sight, out of mind. Seeing him again resurrected too many memories. Fate could be cruel. She hurried to catch Jonie, her friend who had persuaded her to attend the Kentucky Derby, shoving her nemesis from her mind.

A firm grip on her elbow slowed her. “I need to talk to you.”

Samuel. She didn’t turn to face him. She couldn’t. He’d see how upset she was, and she’d be damned if she would give him the satisfaction of witnessing her mortification again. Once was more than enough, thank you very much.

“Victoria, please.” His voice pleaded with desperation and something more. Vulnerability?

She could stay angry at haughty, confident Samuel, college dean from a pedigreed Southern family. But vulnerable Samuel melted her resolve. She turned to face him. “What could you possibly have to talk to me about?”

“More than you might imagine. Can we get a drink or something?”

“I suppose.” She sighed, motioned Jonie ahead, then turned back to Samuel. “You can buy me a mint julep. I’ve always wanted to try one.” And right now, she could use a stiff drink.

His face relaxed into a smile. “Splendid. I’ve wanted to try one as well.”

His hand on her elbow, he steered her away from the seats toward the interior, probably to Millionaire’s Row or some such elite area where she’d be out of her element. But wasn’t that the crux of the matter? With Samuel, she always was in over her head, and he’d never let her forget it. He seemed determined to talk to her, however, so she’d hear him out. He undoubtedly wanted to apologize for his brusque dismissal of her three years ago. She’d give him closure, pretend indifference, then rejoin Jonie in their seats.

*

Samuel had no idea where one wined and dined at Churchill Downs. He finally settled for the third floor concession area, where he and Victoria stood with their drinks. A mint julep turned out to be bourbon, sugar, and water served over ice and muddled fresh mint leaves. He took a cautious sip, although Victoria had already downed half of her drink. She’d hardly imbibed three years ago. Was he now driving her to drink?

She’d changed. Stunning, Victoria turned heads in the concession area. She had more poise, an air of confidence. Her familiar fragrance hadn’t changed, though. Like a subtle but delicious blend of Oriental spices, it never failed to fuel his hunger for her. His imagination raced ahead, picturing her at his side at faculty functions, at home sharing an intimate meal, at the altar... Whoa! First he had to engage her in a dialogue so he could convince her he’d changed, too.

“You look very nice, Victoria.”

She leveled her blue-eyed gaze at him. “Thanks. So do you.”

“Is this your first Kentucky Derby, too?”

She nodded. “I’ll admit I didn’t know so many other activities surrounded the race. Jonie took me to a balloon race, a steamboat race, the Pegasus parade—”

“You stood in that rain?”

“It was worth it. Besides, it quit right before the parade started.” She took another sip of her mint julep. “You were there?”

“Yes, against my better judgment. Sofia’s mother insisted, and I have a feeling few people say no to Lucinda Desalvo.” He found it easy to comply with the family matriarch’s demands. “My brother is fortunate to have her for a mother-in-law. She’s a lovely lady.”

“Fia’s a lovely lady, too. I gather her mom is excited about having two new grandbabies.”

“Ecstatic.” Pregnant women typically made Samuel uncomfortable, but being around Sofia and her sister-in-law Sally this week had infected him with an unfortunate case of envy. Here he was forty years old with no prospects of a family of his own. He cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So where have you been since you left Drake Springs?”

“Sacramento for two years. I had a job as an assistant to one of the state representatives.” She held up her julep cup as if proposing a toast. “A step up from running your campus bookstore, eh?”

“I’m not sure what you’re implying. No one since has been able to replace you, so I’m not surprised by your success.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Certainly not—”

“Let’s not kid ourselves, Samuel. The last time you spoke to me, you made it clear I wasn’t good enough for you.”

“That wasn’t my intention.” He hung his head, unable to deny her accusation. “I was an ass.”

“Yes, you were.”

“I’m sorry, Victoria. Genuinely sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” She finished her drink and stepped back. “I wish you well. Now don’t you think we should rejoin our friends?”

“Wait.” Something akin to panic squeezed his chest. If she left him, he might never again find her. “I don’t know how to reach you or find you, and I really want to talk awhile. Several races precede the Derby, so we won’t miss it. Please stay.”

*

He’d said please, and for the second time. Victoria caved. “All right.”

“Good. So you said you worked two years in Sacramento. Then what? Did the state representative lose reelection?”

She shuddered. “Actually, she died in office. Assassinated.”

“How dreadful.” He snapped his fingers. “Shelia Woosley?”

“Yes.” She would never forget the horror of standing next to her boss and mentor just as her head exploded from the assassin’s bullet. “Did you see it on the news?”

“Of course, but also Taylor was living in California when it happened. Her photographs helped police solve the case.”

Right. The Pulitizer-prize-winning little sister. Another reminder that she, Victoria, didn’t fit in the Drake family’s world. “I didn’t realize that.”

Sofia seemed outgoing, though. Her off-the-rack maternity dress was expensive, but hardly designer fashion. And no one was as down to earth as her husband, Wil, the antithesis of his brother. Could Samuel be the one out of his element instead of Victoria? The thought took root and lingered.

“You said two years. What about lately?” he asked.

“Mom wanted me to stay with her while she had knee replacement surgery, so I’ve been in Tampa the past year. Now I’m sort of at loose ends.” She gave a humorless laugh. “I don’t have to tell you about the tight job market.”

“Tampa. I wish I’d known.”

Yeah, right. “You didn’t try to find me, Samuel, so don’t pretend otherwise.”

Samuel gave a hangdog look. “Candidly speaking, I wasn’t proud of my conduct toward you. I wasn’t sure you’d welcome my overtures.”

Candidly speaking? Overtures? Good grief. Why couldn’t the guy talk like a normal person? She’d call him pretentious, but such vocabulary rolled naturally from him. He was clueless how stiff he sounded. “So I wasn’t worth taking a risk.”

He shrugged. “It isn’t like that. You know I’ve never been a risk taker.”

“Whatever. We’ve both moved on—”

“Have you? Is there someone in your life, Victoria?”

How did she answer? After you crushed my ego and my heart, I couldn’t put myself out there again. No. She wasn’t about to expose her feelings. Instead she asked, “Have you?”

He shook his head. “No one’s measured up—”

“No surprise there.”

“I mean, no one can measure up to you.” He stabbed his drink straw repeatedly into the mint leaves. “I regret every pompous, arrogant word I said to you.”

She lifted her julep cup to take a drink only to find it empty. “Whew. I’ve never seen this side of you, Samuel.”

“Much has happened in the past three years, and I’ve seen the error of my ways. Truly. If you would give me the chance, I’d show you how I’ve changed.”

Her heart pounded, racing with hope she dare not recognize. But still. He’d said give me the chance. “What do you mean?”

He stepped closer, so close the subtle scent of his expensive citrusy cologne filled her senses. “I want you in my life, sweetheart.”

Caution overruled hope. Long ago, he’d led her to believe she was special to him, then he’d back-peddled. He couldn’t expect a few words of remorse to erase the pain of his rejection. “You’re right, Samuel. Much has happened in three years, and I’ve changed, too. I’m not the starry-eyed grad student overwhelmed by the handsome college dean. I can’t pick up where we left off.”

“I don’t want to resume what we had, because I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t appreciate it. Victoria, the powerful bond I had with you frightened me beyond reason and I panicked.”

“Frightened you?” So he’d pushed her away. Had she overreacted by running? She’d loved him, but pride wouldn’t let her stay in town. “I never suspected.”

“Earlier you accused me of not searching for you, of not taking a chance. But you didn’t gamble on me, either.”

“For a college dean, you have a poor recollection of the facts. I told you”—she lowered her voice—“that I loved you. I exposed my feelings. We both know how that ended. If that’s not taking a risk—”

“But you blindsided me. You should have stuck around and given me time to—”

“Time to what? Humiliate me further? No thanks.” A tiny voice in the back of her head said he had a point, though. Had she overreacted, too? Should she have fought for him?

*

That fire hadn’t been in her eyes three years ago. Now fierceness laced her tone and her scowl. Victoria had changed, indeed. For the better. He wanted, needed her in his life. How could he convince her? He couldn’t shake it’s-now-or-never syndrome.

“I apologized for that. Can’t you forgive me, ever?”

The public address system blared with a voice announcing the first race. Victoria flinched, but whether from his question or the loudspeaker, he couldn’t say. “I do forgive you, Samuel.”

“I’m asking for another chance. I’ve missed you.” He held his breath for her response.

She shook her head. “Forgiveness is a long way from reconciling. We aren’t the same people we were. Who says we’d be good together?”

“I say.” What more could he say to erase the doubt in her eyes? This was no time to play it safe. He had to bet it all. “I’m talking about going the distance, Victoria. I want to marry you, raise a family with you, spend my life with—”

“How can you say that, Samuel?” She looked around then lowered her voice. “You bump into me at a horse race and decide to propose? Even an educated man like you can see how ludicrous that is.”

“Point taken.” He drained the last of his mint julep. “I guess I deserve to lose you.”

“Lose me? Listen to yourself.”

“I’m not a charming man like Wilson. I may be educated, but I know zero about romance. I know I’ve made mistakes, but—as clich├ęd as it sounds—I promised myself if I had a second chance with you, I would move heaven and earth to make amends.”

“You’re calling a random encounter at Churchill Downs a second chance?”

“I’m hoping it is.”

Her cell phone rang, derailing whatever she was about to say. She checked the display then answered. “Hey, Jonie.” She opened her race program. “Yeah. Put twenty on Remember My Love to place.” 

Another pause. “I know it’s a long shot...Okay...See you soon.”

Remember my love. Samuel picked up on the irony. He wanted Victoria to remember his love. Then it hit him. She didn’t know! He’d never said the words. How obtuse could he be?

She closed the phone and shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a sucker for a long shot.”

“I suppose I am, too. I’d bet everything on you. On us.”

She blinked then flashed him a dazzling smile. “Oh, my. And you said you knew nothing about romance.”

“I also said I wasn’t much of a risk taker.” He took a deep breath, but it failed to steady his jittery hands or his racing pulse. “You are worth the risk, though, Victoria. I love you.”

“You love me?”

“I love you.” He took in his surroundings. A public concession at the Kentucky Derby was hardly the right milieu for such an intimate moment, but what choice did he have? “It took three lonely, agonizing years to accept the truth, but there is no one else for me.”

Victoria held his gaze and gave him a sad smile. “I’m speechless.”

“I ask only for a chance.”

*

He’d said the magic words. He loved her! Not that she’d run and jump in his arms, marry him on Monday, and do anything crazy and impulsive, but...he loved her! Pure joy filled her with giddiness.

“All right, Samuel. We’ll give it a shot. As I said, I’m a sucker for long shots.”

His shoulders relaxed, and he smiled. “This time, sweetheart, you’re betting on a sure thing.”

“We’ll see,” she said, but hope filled her. This was not the man she’d left three years ago. This Samuel was tender, sincere, and loving. They could make it work.

They left the concession area, Samuel’s hand possessively at her back emerging in the stands in time to see Remember My Love win the race.

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