All our answers lie in dreams…
Charlotte “Chickie ” Coates is a modern woman in her mid-forties. Independent, she’s never been married. Although caring and loving, she’s never had children. She doesn’t have time for a steady boyfriend, which is okay with her. The men she dates are all over the age of seventy and nothing more than friends and corporate confidantes, anyway.
She’s a still-beautiful ex-supermodel who does seem to have everything else. She’s the CEO and owner of a billion-dollar empire that’s made her one of the richest, most powerful businesswomen in the world.
You’d think that spiritual things don’t matter to her. Wrong. Her entire childhood was shaped by the trusted power of the unseen and the metaphysical. Her grandmother was the personal stenographer for the greatest psychic medium of all time: Edgar Cayce. Chickie’s been raised and surrounded by spiritual women all her life.
And that life is about to change in astounding ways.
The recent death of her Aunt Gladys has brought Chickie to beautiful Mackinac Island, Michigan, a place steeped in times gone by where peaceful souls and mischievous spirits still linger together. With one innocent ferry ride across Lake Huron, Chickie goes from New York City town cars and taxis to horse-drawn carriages and prophetic dreams that magically transform everyone she meets—most of all, Chickie herself.
There’s something strange about Aunt Gladys’s island mansion, and it’s borne of some mystical energy and producing amazing prophecy that seeps into Chickie the minute she steps inside.
But mystery is not the only thing Chickie is destined to greet. Love waits. Love beckons. Love keeps its own magical promise.
And even though Chickie doesn’t want to get swept away by a man who’s fourteen years her junior named Benjamin Carlisle, and she doesn’t want to fall in love with his two children, Georgie and Grace, and she really doesn’t want to inherit a Golden Retriever named, “Amber”… destiny has already made up its mind.
In this scene, Chickie is introduced to the three of them for the first time by the island doctor, the rascally Norman Beaney, on the front lawn of Aunt Gladys’s home…
Chickie’s jaw dropped and every speck of saliva in her mouth dried up. Everything faded, blurred. Everything except him. It was like he’d stepped through a portal from another dimension and took form before her very eyes.
It took a lot of man to make her look twice, so this was a historic event.
He should have come bounding into this scene riding a big black horse, his mane of flowing dark hair swishing in slow motion on the wind. Chickie shook her head and blinked, but the real scene didn’t change. The children’s father all but strutted his way toward them. He was reaching inside the small cooler he carried, not even noticing them yet. He knew how to move, she’d give him that, with a natural grace and a smoldering style every photographer she’d ever known desired in a male supermodel.
He was a vision to behold. Loose-hipped, long, and rock-solid. He was tall, several inches over six feet, which in reality made him too big to be a model. He was wearing a ratty old black tank top that revealed his buffed arms and wide shoulders, his sun-browned skin glistening with beads of perspiration and what looked like flecks of white paint. His jeans were old and frayed, with holes not at the knees like any self-respecting scruffy jeans should be, but over the shin of one leg, and up on his thigh on the other. He moved fluidly, forcefully, long strides and masculine muscle carrying him forward.
But it was his hair. That hair didn’t belong on some common laborer on some innocent northern Michigan island. It flowed over his shoulders and down his back in dark sable waves like a romantic rake, a sensuous libertine, a pagan god of some hedonistic kingdom. She didn’t know what she’d expected him to look like, but it sure as hell wasn’t this.
He wasn’t watching where he was going, and he stepped in a hole. He stopped whistling with an “oops.” Instead of cursing the childish perpetrators, though, he laughed, and then he looked up, straight into her eyes. He halted, his smile disappearing like a splash of brilliant sunlight that had been attacked by a cumulus cloud. In one sweep, his eyes licked their way up her entire body. She felt the moistness of his recognition, and somehow she knew it was a familiarity that would go beyond what was being born right now. How odd that her long-dormant intuition and spiritual nature should leap awake at this moment, but then she felt the chill of the Michigan breeze whisk through her and remembered where she was: on the turf of her aunt’s holy ground. She blurted out what had been her first thought when she’d seen him. “If it isn’t Fabio.”
Beaney guffawed and smacked her with optimistic force on the shoulder. “Good one, missy. Hi, Benjy.”
“Hi Doc,” he replied.
“Who’s Fabio?” Grace asked her dad.
“He’s a figment of a million women’s imaginations.”
“What’s a figment?”
“A fantasy sported by delusional females.”
“Hey…” started Chickie.
Grace broke in. “His name is Benjamin, but a lot of people just call him Benjy.” She took Chickie’s hand. “Dad, look. Aunt Chickie.”
Chickie and Benjamin said it together:
“I’m not really your aunt.”
“She’s not really your aunt.”
“Well, neither was Gladys, but we called her aunt,” Grace pointed out.
“Good point,” said Beaney. “Come on, everybody.” He grabbed Chickie’s arm and led her over while the kids scrambled ahead with the dog. “Our long-awaited Charlotte has finally arrived, Benjy.”
Since he just stood there, she stuck out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He pulled out a plastic juice carton with the straw attached and handed it to Grace, then he gripped Chickie’s hand and squeezed. “Charlotte.”
“Call me Chickie, please,” she replied. His hand was hot in the palm and cold at his fingertips, his grip sure and bold. He was a study in contrasts.
“Call me Benjamin.” He let go and reached in for another carton, then dropped the cooler on the grass, all without breaking eye contact.
Georgie pulled on his arm when he didn’t hand him his drink. “Daddy, juice, please.”
Benjamin looked down at his son. “Oh. Sorry, buddy.” He detached the straw, then ripped the covering off with his straight white teeth and spit it into the cooler. Plunging the straw into the carton, he handed it over. “Here you go.” He went back to Chickie and did an even more thorough scan this time, from her stylish navy flats, up her mile-long legs, past her still-narrow waist, over those—Holy God—still-young-looking breasts, up the milky arch of an unwrinkled neck, and then on to the banquet of delicious features that hit him square in the gut, just like he’d been afraid they would do. Amazing, since she was dressed like an uptight CEO—in a high-end couture number from the Bluesuits Collection, if he wasn’t mistaken, or maybe it was one of her own designs—but he was sure of it. She was trouble. Big trouble. There was a blemish on her check. It was the only mark of normality on an otherwise blessed landscape. And her hair. It was longer than his and ten times as lush. His heart gave one great leap of lust and burst into the air on one of his infamous smiles. “Gladys was right.”
Chickie let out a breath and fought for more. That smile of his was sucking the spirit right out of her body. “About what?”
“You are almost as tall as me.”
“Does that surprise you?”
His grin grew. “Not hardly.” Reaching into his back pocket, he brought out a bottle of Guinness. He twisted the cap off and took a contemplative drink. “Disappointed?”
“Not hardly,” she tossed back.
Benjamin laughed. “She’s funny, Beaney.” He thrust the bottle in her hand while tossing the top down into the cooler. “Here, you look parched.”
Chickie studied the bottle and then thought, why not? Taking a long, slow drink, she lowered her eyelashes and gave him the come-hither look she’d perfected when she’d been eighteen and doing it for European photographers. His pupils dilated, and then it hit her: What in the world was she doing? He must be a decade younger than she was—she took in his kids—and married, for heaven’s sakes, and apparently reliving his teenage years by flirting, verbal sparring, and sporting wild hairdos. Not wanting to deal with him like this any more, she looked up the front steps to the house and more grief flooded her. “Aunt Gladys.” Blindly, she handed him back his bottle and covered her lips with her fingers. It was really true: Aunt Gladys was actually gone.
Noticing her impending meltdown, Benjamin set the beer bottle in the cooler. “Listen, kids, while you help Beaney take the horses back to the stable, I’m going to help Aunt Chickie get settled.”
“Yes, boys and girls, let’s get to it, shall we?” Beaney said, taking Georgie’s hand.
“Come on,” Benjamin murmured, cupping her elbow. “I’ll show you in.” He started walking her up the steps. “Take Amber with you, too,” he said to Grace.
“Okay, Daddy. Come on, Amber, let’s go for a ride.” She and the dog ran to the carriage and clambered up on the seat, but Georgie pulled away and followed his father up the stairs.
“Aunt Chickie,” he said in his hoarse little voice.
She looked down.
He patted her thigh. “Don’t worry. Aunt Gladys is watching over us. Daddy says.”
Chickie’s smile had never felt sadder. “Thank you, Georgie. I’ll try to remember that.”
“Go on with Beaney now, honey,” Benjamin murmured. He met Chickie’s gleaming eyes, so close to him now. She was an astonishingly beautiful woman, something else Gladys had been right about. “I loved her, too,” he stated simply, his eyes starting to shine in spite of his will to contain any and all emotion in front of this woman.
She nodded, not wanting to speak. He was even younger than she’d first thought. No deep lines around his dreamy brown eyes, the lashes thick and dark. No sagging skin at his jaw line, just a supple roundness that made him seem boyishly romantic. And his body wasn’t one that wore the march of time yet. It was hard-looking and smelled like fertile, earthy air. Compared to the older men she’d always dated, this guy was foreign and entirely new. When they came to the door, he reached into his pocket and took out a key. It turned easily in the keyhole. “You have your own key?” she asked.
Benjamin studied it in his hand, surprised by her question. “Of course.” At her look of cautious civility, he frowned. “Gladys and I were good friends. I watched out for her, took care of the little odds and ends around here. By the way,” he added, “I noticed that loose shutter. I’ll fix it as soon as I can.”
Chickie was starting to wonder just what all this so-called closeness was really about. She straightened her shoulders, her raw emotions back under control. He was probably worried about losing out on the income. “Thank you. Please bill me for any expenses, or did Aunt Gladys have an account you use?” If it were possible, he grew five indignant inches in height.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Oh, wasn’t he righteous all of a sudden? “I’m sorry if I offended you. I’m just trying to get the lay of the land.”
Benjamin stepped closer. She stepped back. “Well, if you ask me, Charlotte, you’re doing a lousy job.” He shoved the leaded stained-glass windowed door open so it banged into the wall, then he grabbed her hand, slapped the key in her palm, and without waiting for her to go first, he sauntered inside the sun porch like he owned the place. Yanking one of Grace’s hair ties out of his pocket, he pulled his hair into a ponytail. Thank God he was getting it cut later today because it was driving him crazy. He faced her, spitting out his words like a march to war instead of as a simple explanation. “This was one of her favorite parts of the house. She told me when she couldn’t sleep or she needed to figure out some puzzling notion, she never failed to find comfort out here.”
Chickie stepped into a wide slash of sunlight burning across the white-painted wooden floor. It was an enormous porch, with large-paned windows that gleamed, offering a crystal-clear view of the Straits of Mackinac that was spectacular. She watched with growing amusement as he boldly took control and opened a side window and let in a crisp breeze that still managed to surprise her by its stark purity. The furniture was white wicker with thick royal blue cushions on the chairs. A white wicker birdcage hung in the corner, empty. Thank God, she hadn’t inherited another pet. There were a couple Tiffany lamps on wrought iron end tables, and next to the wall was a curious piece facing the water: a dark green velvet couch. It was backless and a very simple design. “How odd,” she murmured and went over to it.
“How so?” he asked and joined her there.
She leaned over and pushed down a couple times. The fabric on the long tufted cushion was faded where bodies had rested many times over the years. There was a dip in the middle to confirm that. “This daybed doesn’t fit in with the rest of everything out here.” She sat down on it and sank into softness and ageless time. It was comfortable, but totally out of place. “Maybe it had some sentimental value,” she mused.
Benjamin was tired. Remembering he was filthy, he grabbed a folded afghan and placed it on the couch before he sank down beside her.
“Your wife has taught you well.” Chickie remarked.
He frowned over at her. “What?”
She waved her hand at the blanket. “Not to get anything dirty with outside grime.”
“Oh.” Chickie swiped at remnants of dog gunk. “I’m sorry.”
Benjamin leaned his forearms on his thighs. “Don’t be.”
“For the children then.”
He rubbed his hands over his eyes and sighed. “Yeah, for them, certainly. But we do all right.”
He sat up straight and turned back. “You do?”
“You have adorable, lovely children.”
Benjamin smiled. His fine-hewn instincts told him she was being sincere. Maybe she wasn’t so unapproachable after all. “Thanks. It’s nice that you noticed.” His smile faded. “I didn’t help Gladys for the money.”
“I know that, and I’m sorry I made such an accusation. I’m just overwhelmed by losing her.” She looked at the key in her hand, then placed it on the cushion between them and slid it toward him. “You can have this back.”
Benjamin studied it for a couple seconds. He could tell she wasn’t wholly comfortable giving him access to what was now hers. He slid it back. “Keep it. I have to get used to the fact everything’s changed.” He stood and towered over her. She’d definitely broken past his fortified barrier and was swiftly moving in to more vulnerable territory. He felt the pull of her in his heart, in his gut…lower. He’d been expecting it. “Gladys told me…”
Chickie looked up, way up. And the daybed beneath her seemed to vibrate, but then she realized it was an awakening from a deeper place somewhere inside her. “What did she tell you?” He only shook his head and then went over and opened another window. Chickie looked for something to focus on and noticed the wrapped present on the end table. “What’s this?” She reached over and got it. Checking the small attached card, she saw her name, written in her aunt’s handwriting. “For me?”
He looked over. “I found it up in her room. She was always giving people presents. She gave me one just before she died.” How she’d known the name of his favorite poet should have surprised him, but it hadn’t. He thought of something else he figured Chickie should know. “I think you’re going to find letters addressed to you all over the house in there.”
She gazed up with wide eyes. “Really? Did she tell you that, too?”
He shook his head. “I found one in the main parlor, and I have a feeling there are more. And while I have no proof of this, I also believe Gladys knew for several months her time was drawing near.” He stuck his thumbs in the back pockets of his jeans. “Why don’t you open it?”
“Okay.” She ripped open the paper and found a worn but in-excellent-condition book of poetry. She turned it over in her hands, then opened it to where there was a feminine Victorian book mark. She put her fingers to her lips. “He’s my favorite.”
He took the book from her. It matched the one he’d received.
“Yeats,” she explained, “an Irish poet who was a prominent figure in twentieth century literature.”
Benjamin almost tossed it back in her face. She thought he was too stupid to know on his own. “Is that so?” He handed it back. “It’s a first edition, I bet.” Just like his copy.
Chickie checked. “It is.” She hugged it to her chest, then realized he probably thought she was hopelessly old and out of style. Oh, who cared what he thought? And maybe she was condemning him without a trial, but she stood, wanting him gone so she could change her clothes and regroup. “Well, I don’t want to keep you. I’m sure you have better things to do than babysit me.”
At her curt dismissal, he decided she was a pain after all. Why did she make him feel like an uncultured, dimwitted fool? The hell with this. He did have work to finish. “You’re right,” he said, marching for the door.
Chickie thought of something. “Wait, Benjamin.”
He turned, all but stamping his scuffed, uncouth work shoe. “Yeah?”
“Do you by any chance know Mr. Carlisle?”
He slowly walked back to her. “Who?”
“Mr. Carlisle. The older gentleman who owns the infamous Melisande Hotel.”
Benjamin had just known it. She was a typical big-city gold digger, looking for the deepest stake on the island—and she thought he was nothing more than the local handyman. “Of course. Everyone knows the old codger.” She totally missed his sarcastic tone.
Chickie smiled. “Beaney says he’s an enigma.”
Benjamin grinned, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I’d agree with that assessment. As for old Mr. Carlisle, go to his dining room for dinner tonight. He reserves a table there in Gladys’s name. She ate there almost every evening. He’ll extend the same courtesy to you, I’m sure. If you’re lucky, he’ll stop by your table, and you can check him out yourself.”
Chickie wasn’t certain, but that gleam in his eyes seemed to have an evil intent to it. “Are you leveling with me?”
Benjamin shook his head. “You’re some piece of work. Figure it out yourself.” He headed outside as she sank onto the daybed again and picked up that stupid key. Just to be contrary, he stuck his head back in. “Hey, Chickie Baby.” When she looked over, with great relish he quoted one of his favorite poetic lines: “I bring you with reverent hands the books of my numberless dreams.”