Shannon's son Jamie Page begins to understand his lifelong yearnings but fears his family will never accept them. His first love affair with a nefarious character nearly costs his life, but brings to light his hidden desires. Happiness continues to elude the family, as if a dark shadow of evil has settled over the family estate.
Larkin City, Maine
BROSE LARKIN SPRINTED DOWN the path to the beach, perspiration beading down his forehead. He ran bare-chested, the denim cut-off shorts accentuating his muscled thighs. His longish blond hair was plastered to his head, the darker sideburns glistening with water drops. He doused himself in the swimming pool before taking his daily run, and now he was ready for the ocean.
The beach was white and hot, pristine in the sunlight. Brose ran through the surf, diving into deeper waters and swimming out to sea. The water was cool, and he loved the feel of it. He turned himself to face the beach, where he admired the view of the lighthouse, the keeper's cottage and the winding path to Banshee's Point and the jutting rooftop of the mansion.
Then Brose spied his cousin Jamie Page running down the footpath. He came toward the beach and soon joined his cousin in the water. The two young men swam around each other for a few minutes, and then floated on their backs in the gently rippling ocean.
"Do you have a date tonight?" Jamie wanted to know.
"Hah," Brose replied. "Why?"
"Let's go to The Coven," Jamie suggested. "I haven't been there in ages. I had a rough week at the clinic and I need a night out."
Brose swirled salt water in his mouth and spewed it over Jamie's head in a steady stream. "Sure. In the mood for drinking, are you? Or are you looking to hook up?"
"Just some drinks, nothing more."
"What happened at the clinic?" Brose wanted to know.
"I had to put down an old dog," Jamie replied sadly. "He was riddled with arthritis and blind in one eye, and the owner was beside himself. I had to talk him into letting his pet go because he was suffering." He angrily slapped the water with both hands. "It's the one part of my job that I dislike. I hate putting animals to sleep, whether they're old and infirm or because they're strays without hope of adoption. One of these days soon I'm going to open a no-kill animal shelter in Larkin City, and I don't care if it costs me every penny I have in the bank."
"It's a very noble cause," Brose agreed. "And not impossible."
"It's a goal of mine," Jamie said firmly. "I won't stop until it's realized."
Brose allowed himself to float on the water, lost in his own thoughts. Although he was older than Jamie by one year, Brose always felt a fierce protectiveness for his cousin. Jamie was an easy character, open and friendly to everyone, more often than not with a smile on his face. At times, he exuded a less than manly air because of his natural gentleness, possessing none of Brose's blunt manner and rough edges.
More than once during their childhood, Brose had to defend Jamie on the playground at school. The bully faction seemed drawn to Jamie, and while no coward he was always trying to find a way to resolve conflict peacefully rather than with violence. The random hounding continued in high school, although by Jamie's senior year he was left alone for the most part because of Brose's aggressive stance, which eventfully grew to legend.
Brose sensed Jamie was gay long before his cousin recognized his own sexuality. He never seemed interested in girls except as friends, and he gravitated to gentle pursuits rather than typical rough-and-tumble male activity. When he grew older, Jamie dated local girls sporadically to keep any suspicions about him at bay. Brose knew Jamie was terrified of disappointing his parents, afraid they would reject him if he revealed the truth about himself.
Brose tried to tell his cousin he was wrong. "Scott and Shannon would never turn away from you," he insisted. "You're their son, their flesh and blood. They love you unconditionally. Besides that, your parents aren't like some of the bigoted assholes floating around Larkin City. They don't judge people for being different, so they would never do that to you."
Jamie remained unconvinced. He was perhaps more reluctant to shock his father, knowing deep down that Shannon would never turn her back on her son. Instead of creating emotional upheaval with a "coming out," Jamie decided to keep silent. Brose respected his choices, but knew his cousin would eventually have to come clean.
Brose righted himself in the water, swimming closer to Jamie. "Are you coming to the mansion for dinner?"
Brose splashed water on his cousin. "I'm in dire need of a shower, so I'll see you then."
Jamie splashed him back. "I'll see you then."
SHANNON KNEW HER SON was gay with a mother's instinct, but it didn't bother her. What bothered her was Jamie's denial of his true self, although she realized she could never press him into action. So she waited patiently, secure in the knowledge that he would confide in her someday.
Scott did not have clue, of course. Even if he did, he would never encourage Jamie to come out in the open to claim himself as gay. An admission of homosexuality by his only son would devastate Scott, making him feel less of a man and a failure as a father. That bothered Shannon, too, and was perhaps the only blemish in her husband's otherwise flawless character.
She was still thinking about her son's private dilemma as she prepared dinner one sultry evening in June. The family was all-in tonight, apart from Angie and Tom who were in New York, and Shannon wanted to cook a special Friday meal. Everyone had been working hard all week, the Clamshell maids had left the mansion spotless, and the weekend stretched out invitingly for all of them.
Deciding to go exclusively Mexican, Shannon began simmering pork loin in vegetable broth and seasonings. On the butchers block, she chopped and sliced onion, tomato, lettuce and green olives, and then grated large mounds of cheddar cheese. She also prepared guacamole using a dozen avocados, and defrosted several containers of homemade salsa from the freezer.
After the pork cooked through, Shannon separated the meat in shreds and then placed the pieces in a large frying pan. She added salt, pepper, instant minced onion, chili powder, paprika, dried red pepper, oregano, cumin, cornstarch and instant minced garlic. She allowed the pork to simmer in its juices for another thirty minutes, and then warmed flour and corn tortillas in heated dish towels.
Dana entered the kitchen just as Shannon was placing the taco condiments into serving bowls.
"I'm sorry I'm late," Dana said breathlessly. "We had a last-minute event schedule for tomorrow. It took me forever to get off the telephone."
Ever since Dana had taken over Harbor View Catering last year, she had been kept incredibly busy. She loved the work, but she was becoming increasingly annoyed by the long hours. It was keeping her from her husband Sean and their thirteen-year-old twins, Derek and Diana.
Shannon held up her hand. "Don't worry about it, Dana. It's not a problem. And no, before you ask me for the millionth time, I do not want a part-time job at HVC. It's bad enough Carly stole most of my recipes and claimed them as her own. Her little catering venture is your quandary now."
Dana made a face at her friend as she stirred the simmering pork on the stove. "I wasn't going to ask you again, never fear. I know how busy the mansion keeps you. I've been there and done that. The Larkin's are a demanding lot." She inhaled the steam rising from the pork. "God, this smells delicious. You'd think in running a catering and food product company I might get a bite now and then, but I missed lunch. I'm starving."
"It's almost ready," Shannon assured her.
"Anything I can do?"
"Sure," Shannon said. "Fill up the pitchers with beer and take them to the dining room. I bought a few cases of Old Thumper Ale at the store today, which is a perfect food pairing for the tacos."
Dana emptied twenty-four amber-colored bottles of the ale into several glass pitchers, which had been pre-frosted in the large walk-in freezer, and carried them on trays to the dining room.
Before long, the family sat down to dinner. Jamie arrived from the cottage with Foofer, freshly showered and wearing khaki slacks and a white polo shirt. Every time she saw her son, Shannon was taken aback by his physical perfection, most specifically his striking handsomeness and stunning smile. Prior to sensing his preferences, the mother in Shannon always thought: "Whoever lands Jamie someday will be one lucky girl." In recent years she had amended her notion to "one lucky young man."
Foofer settled comfortably at his master's feet, patiently waiting for tidbits he knew Jamie would sneak to him under the table.
Kevin poured beer for everyone, passing glasses to his left and right. "Great spread as usual, Shan," he enthused. "Your tacos are my absolute favorite."
"Where's Mariko?" Liam wanted to know from across the table.
"She had a staff meeting after work," Kevin replied, taking a long sip of beer. "I'm going to meet her in Larkin City later, and we're going to see a movie."
"Which movie?" Derek piped-up from his place further along the table. Derek Larkin was a remarkable replica of his father Sean, with black hair and blue eyes. At thirteen, he was tall and gangly with pale, almost translucent skin.
"I'm not sure yet," Kevin admitted. "I usually let Mariko decide."
"Try Twister or The Nutty Professor," Derek advised maturely. "They're really great movies."
Kevin nodded slowly, trying to keep a straight face. "We'll seriously consider both."
"Are you going to marry Mariko?" Diana asked from next to her twin Derek. Tall and dark like her brother, she giggled, knowing how Kevin loathed the question.
Kevin turned to Sean. "Your daughter takes after you," he said pointedly. "Any way you can fix that?"
"Actually, Diana takes after you," Sean retorted good-naturedly. "You were a horrible influence on her."
"Now you sound like Liam," Kevin said, squinting one eye as he looked at his cousin.
"It can't be helped in this house," Jamie muttered as he bit into a taco, shaking his head. He slipped Foofer a piece of pork under the table, grinning as his family continued their harmless verbal banter.
BRIDGET GALLAGHER WAS AN amazon. Six-foot-three in her stocking feet, she towered over most men and with her bulky yet fit frame, could take on most of them and win. She had flaming red hair sometimes dyed blonde that fell to her shoulders in a perpetual frizz, blue eyes and a pale complexion that burned repeatedly during the summer months. She could not be called beautiful or even attractive, but her size and coloring usually made her the focal point in any social situation. Her nose was slightly bulbous, but her cheekbones were high and chiseled, and she had generous, pouting lips.
Her physical body was large-boned but taut, which in part was due to her work on the construction crew for Larkin City. She worked hard during spring, summer and early autumn, but spent winters at her small house on Elm Road. Her parents died in a car accident shortly after she graduated from high school in 1991, after which she was left to her own devices in the home she had been raised in, alone for the most part.
Bridget loved wintertime. She had plenty of money to live on from her city construction salary, and loved nothing better than spending her time reading mysteries and crime dramas, cooking, ice-fishing and tending to her menagerie of six formerly stray cats: Buffy, Noel, Gene, Rhoda, Kermit and Lance.
She also frequented The Coven every weekend whether she was working or not, and was a familiar and welcome sight at the club. She was loud, bubbly and self-assured, especially after a few gin and tonics, but she was also a down-to-earth and kind-hearted woman to her core. She brooked no foolishness from men, letting no one dominate her, and was known to have dated frequently over the years but without a lasting romance.
In high school she had been obese, which was where Brose Larkin first took notice of her. While the butt of many cruel jokes because of her weight, no one dared taunt her to her face because of her otherwise intimidating presence. By her senior year, Bridget had thinned although she never lost the impression of size because of her big-boned frame. She took an interest in sports, excelling at girls basketball and football. Brose knew her casually, but never looked upon her in a romantic light. His predictable type consisted of petite blondes and the occasional raven-haired beauty.
Bridget arrived at The Coven on a Friday night in June 1996, dressed in tight blue jeans and a bright yellow tank-top. The shirt gave display to her nicely muscled arms and generous breasts, and emphasized her frizzy dyed-blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. She loved to play pool, and after ordering a gin and tonic, engaged a few local lads in several paying games.
She hardly noticed when Brose walked into The Coven with his cousin Jamie Page an hour later. Being a lifelong resident of Larkin City, Bridget was not overawed or impressed with the local founding family and their wealth. In fact, she never thought about them at all.
After winning a few billiard games - and tucking away the winnings in her jeans back pocket - Bridget went to the bar and ordered another gin and tonic. She felt good, only slightly buzzed, satisfied that her reputation as a pool shark was intact. Brose sat with Jamie at the bar, both of them nursing beers and deep in quiet discussion.
Brose glanced at Bridget as she ordered another drink. She nodded in recognition, but said nothing. She tapped her fingertips on the oaken bar, waiting as the bartender mixed her gin and tonic. Jamie excused himself to use the men's room, leaving Brose alone momentarily.
His proximity to Bridget forced Brose to make small talk. "I see you're still cleaning house at the pool table," he said to her.
Bridget looked at him, surprised that he was addressing her. True to form, she recovered quickly. "Some nights are quicker than others," she replied politely. "The locals know me too well, but when someone new comes in it's a lot easier."
"How so?" Brose wanted to know.
Bridget grinned. "Most men assume women don't know how to play pool. Their assumptions are to my benefit."
He laughed. "True." Brose was suddenly struck by Bridget's smile, and the ease and confidence in which she handled herself. He was used to lovely, frail creatures full of insecurities and vicious jealousies. Bridget was not a great beauty, but she was like a breath of fresh air. He had never really paid her any mind in the past - she was just there - but suddenly his interest was piqued and he wasn't sure why.
"I'm game," he began. "I know what a good player you are, and make no assumptions to my detriment. I'll go a few rounds with you."
Bridget chuckled, sipping her gin and tonic. "I hope you brought money." She winked. "I'm on my A-game tonight, and I don't accept IOU's."
Before Brose could reply, Jamie returned to the bar. He smiled at Bridget in greeting as he took his seat.
Brose turned to his cousin. "I'm going to play pool with Bridget," he said. "Will you be okay for a bit on your own, runt?"
Jamie sighed. "Of course I will. Jesus, Brose, I'm not a kid. In fact," he said pointedly. "I'm older than you."
Brose snorted. "Yeah, whatever. See you later." He slid off the barstool and followed Bridget to the billiard area.
Jamie watched them with interest as they began to play. He had known of Bridget Gallagher since high school, just like everyone else in his class, but no one really knew her. She was probably friends with her co-workers on the city construction crew, yet she never seemed to socialize with other women. She was a vivacious character in an amazon package, just like Brose, and equally as difficult to condense in a few words.
They moved easily around one another as they played pool, both of them concentrating on the game and not on each other. Jamie sipped his beer, fascinated with their natural interaction. Anyone looking at them who didn't know better would say they were old friends, or maybe even long-time lovers.
Jamie laughed to himself. Bridget was definitely not Brose's physical type. He typically lusted after petite blondes without brains in their heads, or the occasional fiery Latina with black hair and flashing eyes. Bridget was neither one of those stereotypes. In fact, Jamie was hard-put to place her in any category. She was an island unto herself.
Despite the obvious improbabilities, Jamie had a strong feeling that Brose was unknowingly stepping into an extraordinary sway with Bridget Gallagher that would change his life forever.
BRIDGET WON BOTH EIGHT-BALL games against Brose, delighted with her $200 haul. He didn't balk at the $100-per-game bet she proposed, certain he could win at least one of them. But it was not to be, and Brose had to admit she was the better player.
She was not one to gloat, or to display poor sportsmanship. "Maybe next time," she said kindly as she and Brose returned their pool cues to the wooden rack near the table.
Brose snorted. "Not likely, unless I practice for a month beforehand."
"You're actually pretty good," Bridget admitted. "Better than some of the lads I play most weekends, anyway. You almost had me a few times."
"When?" he wanted to know.
"When I had to make the angle shot," she told him. "That was dicey."
"Yeah, but you did it anyway," he pointed out.
"True," she grinned. "Thanks Brose, you're a good sport. Seriously, I'd love to play you again sometime."
"Sure," he said casually. Then he looked at the rack of cues in front of him. "How is it that someone as good as you doesn't have her own special pool cues?"
She shook her head. "They're too expensive. I can afford them, don't get me wrong, but I'm just not willing to fork over four hundred dollars for a fancy case and designer cues when I can use the ones here at The Coven."
Brose shrugged. "You should think about it someday. I know you work construction, but surely you could make a killing in the winter months. Hell, they have pool tournaments all over the state."
Bridget laughed. "I'm not interested in turning professional. I play just for fun."
He patted her shoulder. "Whatever makes you happy. Maybe I'll see you again sometime."
"If you come to The Coven, you'll see me," she said. "Either that, or holding signs on the road as we repave this summer."
He nodded, waving behind him as he walked away and returned to Jamie at the bar.
"She kicked your ass, didn't she?" Jamie asked as Brose sat down.
Brose looked sheepish. "And then some. She's really, really good."
"Not your type, though."
"Bridget Gallagher is not your type," Jamie replied.
Brose was puzzled. "Where did that come from? Of course she's not my type! We just played a few games of pool. It wasn't a date, for chrissakes." He took a long swig of beer. "I mean, come on." He lowered his voice. "Look at her, Jamie. She's as tall as I am and built like a brick firehouse. Her face is okay, friendly enough, but it's not what I'd call breathtaking."
"She's a lot more interesting than the typical bimbos you hitch your wagon to," Jamie declared. "With Bridget, you can have a decent conversation and she's not mean and spiteful like most of your women seem to be."
"Again, where on earth is this coming from?" Brose asked, bewildered. "What gave you the idea that Bridget would be someone I'd want to date?"
"I watched the two of you as you played pool," Jamie responded. "There's an even flow between you; it's very easy and natural. Of course you didn't notice because you were paying more attention to the balls on the table."
"That's why we were together in the first place," Brose said patiently. "We were playing a game of pool, not having a dinner date."
"Maybe you should think about asking out her on a dinner date," Jamie said bluntly. "I'm telling you, I sense something good here."
"And I think you've got a screw loose," Brose declared, ordering another beer. "Let me make myself clear, cousin. I am not interested in Bridget Gallagher in any sort of romantic way." He paused. "The thought of tangling with her in bed makes me cringe. She'd probably kill me. Have you ever seen her on the road crew? In a pair of shorts? Her thighs are like steel. She'd strangle me like a Black Racer snake, squeezing the very life out of me."
"So you've considered the possibility, then?" Jamie smirked.
"I'm a man, aren't I?" Brose countered. "Naturally I've considered the possibility, but as I've just explained to you I'm not anxious to become embroiled with a woman who probably has more physical strength than I do."
"It might come in handy," Jamie pressed.
Brose groaned. "Let's change the subject, shall we?"
Jamie drained his beer, a slight smile playing around his lips. "Whatever you say, cousin. Whatever you say."
DESPITE HIS PROTESTATIONS TO the contrary, Brose found himself thinking about Bridget Gallagher over the weekend. She would pop into his head unbidden, whereupon he tried to dismiss all thoughts of her. He was puzzled by his own behavior, wondering why Bridget kept reappearing in his fanciful line of vision where he had never given her fleeting notice before now.
By Monday morning, he decided to give in to the relentless notions. Brose drove into Larkin City before lunch and went directly to the sports shop on High Street, near the university. He was intent on finding Bridget a pool table accessory kit, and he found one almost right away. It included four cues with Irish linen wraps, pro balls, table and under-rail brushes, a wall rack with a bridge clip, an 8-ball triangle, 9-ball rack, bridge stick, a cherry-colored table cover, tri-color chalk with a holder, and a repair kit.
It cost Brose nearly $400, a pretty penny for a woman he really didn't know. He refused to dwell on his impulsive action, but rather arranged for the sports shop to deliver the kit to Bridget's house late that afternoon. He scribbled a note to be included with the kit, making it short and sweet.
He almost changed his mind at the last minute. Bridget would surely think he was a lunatic after receiving the gift, or she might assume he was after an expensive roll in the hay.
Perhaps both were true.
HEARTS DESIRES ©Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved.
"Hearts Desires" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Hearts Desires" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.