The Widows of Sea Trail- Vivienne of Sugar Sands

The Widows of Sea Trail- Vivienne of Sugar Sands

Prologue

The Covenant Revisited . . .Again

My, it was cold. Something about a witch’s . . . uh nose, came to mind. And how appropriate as I was shivering in a golf cart with my two best buds on the way to chant an incantation to an old tree. It hardly ever snowed in coastal North Carolina, especially as far south as we were, but today, it sure looked like it could. There was a dank feeling emanating from the low-lying clouds and just watching them whipping across the eerily dark sky gave me the heebie jeebies.

I hated that I had to be out in this awful weather, but as I was the main attraction for the event at the tree, I had to be here. Odd that at this same time last year the three of us—Catalina, Tessa, and myself—had all been widows.Then shortly after completing this stupid ritual we’d come up with, Cat and Tessa had met and married new loves— fabulous men really, both of them. Maybe that’s why I’m so cross, discounting the weather of course. I truly had no hope for the same outcome.

Even though my mom fancied herself to be a modern- day witch and had exposed me to all manner of home-style sorcery from the cradle, I just couldn’t believe in all this hooey! But I loved Cat and Tessa; they had been with me during the worst days of my life. So . . . here I was, humoring them on a cold Friday in February, a Friday that incidentally, was the 13th, the best day for this Affecting Spell to work.

“Yahoo!” Cat called out as her cart hit a series of ruts in the cart path caused by the gnarly roots of the old Live Oaks overstepping their boundaries. “Gonna lasso us a man for our sweet little Vivienne!” She waved her long, colorful, boa scarf at me as she turned and pointed to “our” tree. The oldest Live Oak on the plantation, and believed, at least by us, to be the tree that Merlin slept inside.

Legend had it that Vivienne, my namesake, was an apprentice sorceress in the days of yore, and had been Merlin the Magician’s favorite student. Many in their witch and warlock circle thought he had even been in love with the enchanting Vivienne. And for that very reason, he had neglected to be firm enough to instill the right attitude of wizardry in her. Vivienne, having decided that Merlin did not practice magic as she believed he should, that his was not the true wizardry, imprisoned the Great Merlin for all eternity in an oak tree. She had come upon him sleeping under it and without much ado, had waved her wand and performed her dark magic. From that day forward, Merlin’s spirit was melded with the wood of the tree. I know, I know, who believes in this stuff? Apparently we do, as we’re freezing our ninnies off out here doing this.

Tessa, Cat, and I have come here to chant the words to a spell known as “Vivienne’s Circle.” We are going to call on Merlin through the elf living in the tree to, as Cat said, “lasso” me a new love. Merlin, it was said, had the power to bring true love, because he knew all that love should be, and all that it should not be. As strange as this seemed, it was uncanny how it had worked for both Cat, short for Catalina, and Tessa, short for Contessa. I am Vivienne, also known as Viv—the idiot who is out in the freezing cold, on a deserted golf course, in February, to humor her friends. It takes a lot to shut down a course here at Sea Trail Plantation in the normally sunny town of Sunset Beach, ‘cause generally golfers are idiots. Today we are the only idiots in attendance.

“Here we are!” Tessa called from her cart. Tessa and I had elected to “borrow” our carts for this expedition; Cat was using one she and Matt owned. We all lived in different sections of the plantation and were coming from clubhouses that were poles apart. Cat and Matt had two houses, one in the Live Oaks section that had been hers and was now rented, and one in the Discovery Lakes area. Tessa and Roman owned a house on Crooked Gulley, the one she’d lived in since moving here. Roman also had a house on St. Thomas as well as a yacht, so they managed to flit between all three. I had a nice little sugar shack, in Sugar Sands. It was perfect for me. Actually, it had been perfect for the two of us, my husband Dale and I. He’s been gone almost five years now, and I miss him all the time.

“You have everything?” Cat called over as she stepped out of her cart and onto the path leading to the number ten tee box.

I scooted out of my cart and waved the tote bag that contained the philter, a small bottle of rose oil that had some olive oil mixed in, and a crystal saltshaker. Tessa waved an olive branch she had brought back from her honeymoon in Spain, and Cat pulled a baggie out of her coat pocket containing two pieces of cloth and a bright green thumb tack.

“Here,” she said as she handed them to me, “it’s your turn to attach them to the tree, so I’ll do the oil and salt mambo around the tree.”

I relinquished my tote and took her baggie—the magic was about to begin! And although I didn’t believe in this, not one whit, I felt just a bit giddy. What if it worked? I had to smile at the thought. What if it really and truly worked?

The wind blew just then, uncovering our heads as our hoods were whipped off, sending our hair flying. Tessa’s short blonde curls were battered around her face while Cat’s long blonde ponytail, weighted down by three inches of plaiting at the end, hardly fluttered. Mine, its trademark white stripe contrasting with my otherwise black tresses, rose high into the air, the ends fanning out to make what I’m sure was a nimbus around my face.

“C’mon! Let’s hurry, it’s freezing out here!” Cat hollered as she fought the wind and made her way to the tree. I followed, eager to get this over with so I could have a nice warm Bloody Mary made with tomato soup as I sat by the propane-driven fire in my living room. My body could no longer tolerate the cold and I was sure I was freezing from the outside in.

As Tessa joined us at the tree, we all looked up and stared at the fasteners that were still there from our last incantations. The fabric had disintegrated, or if you believed in magic, poofed into nothingness, but one pushpin and one thumbtack still stood sentinel.

“Attach the pieces of cloth, mating the unicorn with the dove of the fairy flags, and start chanting!” Cat said over the roar of the wind. We were all eager to get out of this weather.The dove and the unicorn represented the female and the male, and they were placed against a dark green background, the best color to guarantee the success of a Venus project such as this. After all the years of putting my mom down and ridiculing her for doing crazy things like this, I could hardly believe that here I was doing it myself. This was so not like me.

I did as she said and pushed with all my might while beginning the chant.

“Oh wise Merlin, mighty wizard of Pendragon, magical defender and wise enchanter of the sword Excalibur, use your power to bring a love that is true to the woman holding the pin and pricking your skin.”

Cat drew a tiny hammer from her coat pocket and handed it to me as she made her way around the tree sprinkling the rose oil mixture. Tessa waved the olive branch and sprinkled the salt around the base of the tree. The rose oil combined with the olive oil symbolized mating, and the olive branch and the salt were for truth and peace. We all chanted, loud and boisterous now, as we had absolutely no fear of being overheard for the deafening wind screaming all around us. Three times we chanted the verse, three times we circled the tree, three times I smacked the end of the thumbtack, embedding it deeply into the bark.

As soon as we were done, we ran for our carts. I sprinted around my cart to slide in when something shiny by the front wheel drew my attention, something gold glittering in the meager light. I bent down to see what it was. It looked like a tiny charm. Leaning closer, I saw that it was a locket, a tiny golden locket. It was too damn cold to check it out now, so I picked it up, brushed off the dirt that was covering one side of it and shoved it into my pocket. Then I got in the cart and followed my friends around to number 15, for all purposes, the road to the back entrance to my house. We parked haphazardly between the out of bounds markers, hopped out of the carts, and then ran to my back door. Tessa, the last one in, slammed the sliding door shut behind her, creating a blessed silence. Except for the clock ticking on the mantel it was eerily quiet. Then we all began laughing, our shrieks and guffaws melding as we hugged and let our mirth warm us.

The crock-pot had already heated up my concoction of tomato soup, Worcestershire Sauce, and hot sauce to the exact right temperature; all I had to do was add the vodka, which I generously did. Then we all sat on the sofa in front of the fire sipping my winter version of a Bloody Mary.

“I think we did that in record time,” Tessa said.

“I think my nose is an ice cube,” Cat chimed in and thenhad to swipe at it because the steaming drink she held under her chin to warm her face had given her the sniffles.

“Well if ever there was a night I needed a man to warm my bed, it would be tonight, so this had better work really quickly,” I muttered as I sipped on my drink.

“Speaking of working . . .” Cat said, then stopped. “What I mean is . . .”

Tessa jumped in. “In order for this to have the best possible chance . . .”

“Just what are you girls trying to tell me? Spit it out, it can’t be that painful.”

“Well . . .” Cat began.

“What?” I barked at her.

“Tessa and I were thinking that in order to give this magic a fair chance, you could help it along somewhat.”

“Somewhat?” I asked. “What is somewhat?” “You should lose a few pounds, Viv. You’re a very prettywoman, beautiful in fact. But you’re a tad overweight. There I got it out,” Cat said with a sigh and then gave Tessa a high- eyebrowed stare as if beseeching her to continue.

“Yeah, just a little, that’s all, five, ten, fifteen pounds. Shouldn’t be too hard to do,” Tessa said then finished with,“we’ll help.”

I was completely deflated. I went from sitting up nice and tall to folding into myself and slumping into one of the couch cushions. “Do either of you know how hard it is to lose weight? You’re both tall and, well . . . Tessa, you’re willowy. Cat, you’re statuesque. I’m all of five-foot three, I’m short and squat.” I wasn’t angry, just sad. It was a fact of life for me, and had been ever since the first whisper of the word menopause.

Tessa heaved a big sigh. “You’re petite, and yeah you’re not willowy, but I know you can lose some weight and reshape yourself a little. These days, guys, no matter how old, like their women slim. Blame it on the media and all the new TV shows. Hell even the older women in the Cialis and Viagra commercials look slim and trim when walking arm- in-arm with their Lotharios on the beach, or sitting in their side-by-side bath tubs watching the sunset. Nary a jiggle in those underarms, ever notice that? Thin is in, chunky is funky, and if you’re a size 4 with 42s on your chest you’re never going to be without a man no matter how old you get.” She looked over at Cat, “You’re the perfect example, but I wasn’t thinking of you when I said that, really, I wasn’t.”

We both looked at Cat. It was no secret that Matt was more than fond of those ample breasts she sported. But I wasn’t jealous, well, not terribly. Truth be told I had my own 42s, but I didn’t have that nice indentation around the waist that served to set them off. If anything I was 42-42-42.

“I can’t lose weight. No matter what I do, no matter what I eat, it just doesn’t drop off anymore.” I told them straight, I’d been on this road before. Many times.

“I printed off this new diet. It’s easy to do and they guarantee you won’t go hungry. And it’s healthy. If you follow it they say you’ll lose ten pounds in eleven days. You could have this licked in a little over a month,” Cat said. “I know some women who swear by it.”

“Will it make you happy if I try it?” I sighed.

“Yes!” Both women shouted in unison.

“Okay, I’ll try it. But today, I’m finishing what’s in that crock-pot, I don’t care how fattening it is.”

“We’ll help!” Again in unison.

“Well, you two certainly are serious about helping me aren’t you? If you’re so willing to gobble up the food that I probably shouldn’t be eating, you two are going to lose your willowy and statuesque status pretty quickly. And what will your new husbands have to say about that?”

“They’ll say it’s for a good cause,” Tessa said, tipping back her mug for the last dregs.

“Yeah, no one wants to see you happily married more than Matt and Roman.”

“Really? And just why is that?” I asked.

“Well we’d rather hang out as three couples. You always say no when we ask you to come places with us now.”

“It’s because I think you guys would rather be alone. I’m just a fifth wheel now.”

“See, that’s how you think. So let’s nip this in the bud and find you a guy of your own.”

“Fine. I’m game.”

“You’ll follow the diet and lose some weight?”

“I’ll try. No promises, but I’ll try. To be honest, I haven’t really cared too much about my weight since Dale died, but just a few days ago I was actually thinking it might be time to get back in shape.”

“Your shape’s not all that bad really. You don’t want to lose those fabulous Jane Russell curves you’ve got going on.”

“Yeah, you just want to define them a bit,” Tessa murmured as she appraised me with a critical eye. “In fact, maybe just some toning would be all that’s needed, I could get Nicole to design a workout plan.”

“Now wait a minute, I never said anything about exercise . . .”

“We’ll make it fun, you’ll see.”

“Well you’d better make it quick because you are both scheduled to go out of town soon.”

“Not ‘til next month for me,” Tessa piped up.

“April for me. We’ve got time,” Cat added.

I went to refill my mug. “If we’re starting tomorrow, I’m ordering a pizza and drinking the rest of this.”

Both women raced over and dipped their mugs in before I could. “Not if we finish it first!”

Two hours later, the meager remnants of the pizza were tossed out and the crock-pot was washed and put away. The golf carts had been returned, and Tessa and Cat had gone home. I was sitting on my sofa looking at the picture inside the tiny locket I had found.

There was a tiny, grainy snapshot of a woman behind an oval of glass, and she seemed to look a lot like me. Her long, black hair looked similar to mine, except I had a white streak in mine that started just to the left of my widow’s peak and fanned back toward the crown of my head. It’s called poliosis and I’ve had it since I was fourteen. Men think it’s sexy, in that Yvonne DeCarlo kind of way. My mom of course, took it as a sign and tried all day to get me to levitate myself. Lily Munster I am not.

The lady in the portrait had full rosy lips and arched eyebrows that were much the same as my own, and her eyes were the exact same shape. It could have easily been a younger version of me, I thought. She definitely did not have the pudge in her cheeks I had though. She was gorgeous.

I sighed. Maybe if I really made the effort this time. Maybe I could lose some of the weight I’d gained since moving here. Maybe I could get back in shape. If so, I could look like that again.

How odd it was that the woman in the picture looked so much like me. Except that the woman in the picture did not appear to be happy. In fact, she looked rather melancholy. I had to smile at myself. sure was a happy soul, even if I was a bit on the chunky side.

I walked down the hallway and into the garage. I tucked the picture into a zippered compartment on the side of my golf bag so I could turn it in the next time I played golf on the Maples Course. I looked out the window of the garage and sighed. Were those snowflakes? From the look of things, it appeared it could be a long time before I had those clubs in my hands again.

Chapter One

Mmm . . .beans for breakfast

This is by far the strangest diet I have ever been on. Yesterday I had triple chocolate frozen yogurt and a bowl of red and green vegetables for breakfast, shrimp and sausage links for lunch, ham slices and low fat milk for dinner, and a bowl of green beans for a late night snack. Today, I started with a bowl of pinto beans and a bowl of oatmeal and I can’t wait for lunch, as it’s turkey slices with bacon and a fresh orange.

The diet regimen Tess and Cat gave me is called the eleven-day diet or something like that, but it’s really fourteen days—the last three days being free days. This is my second cycle so it’s almost been a month now. The first eleven days I lost ten pounds but gained three back on the free days. That’s not too shabby as far as diets go, but tomorrow starts my free days and this time I am not going to go hog wild and eat freely just because I can. With luck and will power, I will drop twenty of the thirty pounds I’ve targeted in only three cycles. Of course exercise has helped. I know, I said I wouldn’t, but I did.

The girls are making it easy for me. Most days they collect me at 7:30 and we ride over to the island. Bundled up to beat the band we walk from the pier to the beginning of Bird Island, or until our noses freeze, whichever comes first. I am amazed at the difference—I have finally lost my belly.

On a man it’s called a beer gut, or a paunch, and they swagger with it out front, tucking their belt under it with pride, oblivious to astonished stares because they look six months pregnant. On a woman it’s called a belly and when it makes itself known, it’s the beginning of a timeworn battle with support hose, girdles, and constricting spandex. For the first time in years I do not have to wear a girdle or slimming underwear. It is so nice to breathe freely, to actually be able to take a full, deep breath again.

Tessa and Cat are on their way over for lunch and they say they have a surprise for me. Their last surprise was this diet, and although I wasn’t thrilled at the time, I can appreciate how hard it was for them to broach the subject and launch me into this very strange food odyssey. The four little meals a day, which thankfully, allow for one glass of wine, haven’t been all that hard to take. Of course, I fill the biggest wine goblet I have—to the very rim. Interestingly enough though, I am finding that lately I can’t even finish it. I also have more energy and a niggling desire to have sex, which confounds me, as I’m not sure how to begin this process again. But I’m working on it—in a selfish, one-sided kind of way—if you get my drift.

The doorbell rings and I run to answer it. I can’t wait for my surprise.

“I know you said noon, but we thought we’d come a little early, we just couldn’t wait!” Tessa said, waving a newspaper in front of her face.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A hoot is what it is,” she replied.

“Or a motive for murder,” Cat mumbled, following her in. Then she added, “Just remember this was her idea, not mine . . .”

“What?” I asked, trying to take the paper from Tessa’s hand. She hid it behind her back. “No, not yet. Let’s have lunch first since there is the distinct possibility that you will kick us out when you hear what we’ve done.”

“Again, it’s not really we. Remember that when you go for your gun,” Cat said and then asked, “It is locked in a gun case without bullets so we can have a head start, right?”

I was starting to get a frisson of worry inching up my spine. “What have you done? You didn’t put a personal ad in the paper on my behalf did you?”

Almost immediately there was an awkward pause. Both of them hesitated in their stride toward the back of the house where the kitchen was, and looked askance at each other.

“Tessa! Cat!”

Tessa turned around and walked backward, still keeping the paper behind her back. “Not exactly.” She broke into a huge grin and winked at Cat who was putting her purse on the counter.

“Cat, tell me what’s going on. And please, please don’t tell me my picture’s plastered on that paper with a Man Wanted sign over my head.”

“Sit, sit. While I pour the iced tea Tessa will fill you in.” Cat went to the fridge and took out the pitcher of tea I had made that morning, rounded up the prerequisite yellow paper packets, and the bowl of sliced lemons I’d left on the counter.

“You will be pleased to know that we did not place a classified ad for you,” Tessa began.

“But . . .” I urged her to continue, waving my hand frantically.

“But we answered one!” she practically sang out.

“Oh no!” I moaned as I sank into a chair and let the breath I’d been holding whoosh out of me. “Oh no,” I repeated. Visions of toothless geezers rotated in my mind, one with wisps of white hair over each ear, one with a severe comb over, and one with a ridiculously bad toupee.

“No, it’s all good. Wait ‘til you see.” Tessa pushed the newspaper in front of me but held her hand over the bulk of it. Words were gushing out of her at warp speed so I knew she wasn’t about to let me read this for myself.

“He lives in Charlotte. He’s fifty-nine. He’s a professional and he wants a wife, a fabulous wife. He’s very picky so he’s hired this woman from New York to interview women who have all the necessary qualifications. It’s like a casting call. And guess what? You’ve been asked to audition! Someone’s going to be calling you tomorrow!”

“What?” I was clearly flummoxed.

“We responded on the matchmaker’s website, answered all the questions, checked all the appropriate boxes, and wrote a little something. And yesterday, we got an email back. He or one of his assistants is going to call you here—tomorrow! And, they’re bypassing the matchmaker’s screener. He wants to talk to you directly!” Cat, who up to now had been fairly laid back about this, was now becoming something akin to a squealing teenager. “You’re in!”

“Oh. Dear. God.” I slumped even further into the seat. “I don’t believe this, you’re joking right? Why would you do this?”

“No. This is no joke. This multi-millionaire, who’s supposedly way too handsome, and way too busy to find his own wife, wants to talk to you!”

“What the hell did you tell him?”

“The truth,” Tessa said, and looked at me with her head tilted to the side and her eyebrows arched high as if even suggesting they’d lied was beyond the pale.

“Well, maybe . . .” Cat interjected.

I grabbed the paper from Tess and sat up to read it. Key phrases from the ad they’d answered jumped out at me:

Mature and emotionally ready for a lifetime commitment Marriage to a compatible mate is the ultimate goal-there can be no impediment to marriage.

Prefer someone close in age. Mid-fifties to early sixties Looking for well-educated, sophisticated, yet down-to-earth individual

Someone who loves to travel and who is active

Must be attractive Must have a great sense of humor

Please no whackos

Screening by email

Phone interview for fifteen finalists

Blind date for five chosen women

Romantic inclinations essential/sexual compatibility a must—forward thinking in this regard mandatory

Picture required

No cost to apply

“I am hardly the fabulous wife this man has in mind.”

“Oh yes you are!” Tessa replied. “Yes, you are. You’re beautiful. You’re the right age. You’re educated, sophisticated, and down-to-earth. Well, you don’t love to travel exactly, but you don’t hate it, you’re active—now at least. And you have a great sense of humor. The sexual compatibility thing will just have to work itself out, but we’ve kind of left him wanting there.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s that?” I hollered. “Exactly what did you tell him?”

Cat had the decency to look contrite. Tessa looked down at her hands.

“Well?”

“We uh, kinda . . . told him that you used to be a stripper.”

“You what!”

“Well you said that you worked at a topless bar to raise money to stay in college that one time. But had to give it up on the very first day when one of your clients, namely Dale, forced you to quit and marry him. We thought telling him that you had been a stripper once was a more interesting past and would show you had a forward thinking mind with regard to sex.”

I groaned. I could not believe my best buds were doing this to me! “What picture did you use?”

Tessa hopped up and down on her seat. “That’s the best part, the one taken at my wedding reception. Remember how flattering that one was? You were wearing that really slimming sheath dress and you and Roman were dancing, both in profile, and he was smiling at you with a sexy grin and you were laughing and smiling up at him. You never would tell me what he said to you to make you laugh so hard, and he absolutely refuses, saying, ‘It was a private conversation, if you don’t mind.’ Are you ever going to tell me what it was he said to you that day?”

I was defeated in more ways than one right now, so I mumbled my answer hoping they wouldn’t hear it. “He said, ‘I can feel your quim shivering against me, you naughty girl.’ Can you blame me? For five minutes there, I was dancing with sex personified.”

Tessa snorted. “Been there, done that. It’s almost as if you have no choice when that man holds you in his arms. The juices just flow. Quim, huh? I wonder if that’s European slang for the whole labial area or for the clit itself. I’ll have to ask him about that.”

“Don’t you dare! And don’t tell him that I told you what he said. I mean it Tess! I’ll never be able to face the man if you do.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll go online as I am incredibly curious.”

Meanwhile,” Cat said, “we have to get you ready for this interview tomorrow.”

“Why is it so important? I don’t need a rich, handsome, man of the world. I just want Joe Schmoe.”

“Let’s just try this one out shall we? If nothing else, it’ll be good practice.” These were Cat’s words of wisdom, but I wasn’t at all ready for this. I wanted to lose ten more pounds before being thrown to the wolves.

“Do you even know this man’s name?” I asked.

“The email said a Mr. Philip Camden would be calling. So I Googled him. Would you like to see his picture?” Tessa asked with a huge all-knowing smile.

“No. Absolutely not. I’ll do far better on the phone if I haven’t seen his picture. I can imagine him as Daffy Duck, and that way, I’ll have the upper hand.”

“Trust me, he’s no Daffy Duck. He’s Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Rutger Hauer all rolled into one.”

“That combination doesn’t even sound good to me,” I said reaching for the picture. “Oh let me see the damned thing!”

I snatched the paper from her and looked down. “Oh dear God.” An older version of that stunning Swedish- looking Chaps model you see in all the high-class magazines stared back at me. Only his blonde hair was a bit shorter and had steel grey threads liberally mixed throughout. But the blue of those eyes, the full arrogant lips, the high, chiseled cheekbones, and the scruffy two-day beard were exactly the same. He was a beach bum from the 70s dressed in Armani and I could practically smell the Chaps cologne as if this was a scratch-and-sniff photograph.

“He’s really quite marvelous isn’t he?” Tessa said with a broad grin.

Cat picked up the folded newspaper and began fanning her face. “Believe me, I’m perfectly content with Matt, but there’s something about this man, something primal. Just looking at him makes you want to be touched in all those special places.”

“You got that right,” I blew out in long exaggerated syllables. And I felt a ridiculously delicious tingle go throughout my entire body. “What time did you say he was calling tomorrow?”

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