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Authors: Luanne Rice

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BOOK: Home Fires
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The captain circled the feeding grounds along with several other companies' boats. It might have felt hokey or commercial or exploitive, but to Anne it felt spectacular. She lowered the binoculars. She wanted a large field of vision, to take in the whole scene. Cameras clicked and whirred, and the passengers exclaimed every time one of the whales came to the surface.

At some point during the show, Thomas's arms came around her. They encircled her from behind, and Anne felt his mouth against her ear. He whispered something.

She couldn't hear his words above the noise of the crowd and the big diesels, but she felt his warm breath. She half turned, just enough to brush his cheek with her lips. She wanted to ask him to repeat what he had said, but finally she did not. Turning back to the whales, she believed she already knew. Only, she wasn't quite ready to hear.


a hot June afternoon, with the sun high in the sky, in the tall grass between his yard and the potato fields, Ned Devlin lost his virginity. He saw shooting stars. For the first time in his life he made love to a girl. Or, rather, Maggie made love to him.

Lying in their bathing suits on a blanket, Ned exulted in the sun beating down on his body. His outer thigh touched Maggie's, sticky with sweat, Ned felt the happiest he had ever been in his life. Without opening his eyes, he reached over for Maggie's hand. Where the bottom of her bathing suit should have been, he felt bare skin.

He raised his head to look.

Bare skin. Head to toe. She was on her stomach, her arms folded under her head. She was looking at him with that very Maggie smile that told you she had a secret. He could see the plump white curve of her breast peeking out above the blanket, her bottom a round, firm mound with tan lines.

Ned had never seen full-body tan lines before.

“Hi,” she whispered.

“Hi,” he whispered back, paralyzed practically all over, but not quite. He hardened instantly, and he felt her watching.

“I'm glad I decided not to go on the whale boat,” she said.

“So am I. Um, what happened to your bathing suit?”

“It fell off while your eyes were closed.”


Playfully, she tugged his waistband.

“Maybe if you close your eyes again,” she said, “yours will fall off, too.”

But first, Maggie inched over, to kiss him on the lips. Their eyes open, they watched each other. Ned felt her soft mouth covering his, her tongue teasing him. Then she stopped.

“Now close your eyes,” she said.

Blood pounding in his ears, Ned obeyed. He felt her fingers, cool against his skin, untying the drawstring. Then, easing his suit down his legs, her fingers trailed along his buttocks. Involuntarily, Ned moaned, arching his back.

Before he could open his eyes, he felt hot, moist velvet caressing his penis. A magic fabric, it enveloped him totally with softness and friction and wet heat. Only, it wasn't cloth of any kind. It was Maggie's mouth. She slid her lips up and down, taking every inch of him, stopping now and then to encircle the tip with her tongue, all the while fingering his balls with a featherlight touch.

Ned hadn't believed that such arousal could be possible. Opening his eyes, he saw Maggie. Their bodies were naked together, and she was kissing and sucking his penis. He was actually seeing this, feeling this, happen to him. Maggie, with her plump creamy white breasts and bottom, was crouched over Ned with an expression of joy on her face.

By the time she crawled up the blanket, to press her body full-length against his, rockets were going off in his head.

“Maggie,” he whispered, kissing her lips, her eyelids. Very shyly, he cupped her breasts in his hands.

“Kiss them,” she whispered.

“I—” Ned began. He couldn't believe he was doing this. He had never seen a live woman naked, he had never dared to feel a girl's breasts. Here was the woman he had fantasized over for months now offering her breasts to him.

She gave him a warm, steady gaze, to let him know it was okay. Then, hardly able to breathe, Ned lowered his lips to her left nipple. It was a pink diamond, so erect he couldn't believe it. He kissed it. He kissed her right nipple. A tentative lick, and then he let himself suck it.

“Mmm,” Maggie said, squirming in his arms.

Did that mean he was doing it right? Ned wondered. Almost instinctively, he touched his own nipple, to see how it felt. The pressure made him feel even sexier than before.

“Make love to me,” Maggie whispered.

Ned raised himself up on one elbow. He pushed a lock of hair out of Maggie's feverish eyes. Suddenly she looked worried, even frantic. For some reason, knowing that he needed to reassure her, Ned relaxed a little. He kissed her eyebrows. Gazing deep into her eyes, he felt himself drawing the tension out of her.

“I love you,” he said in a clear voice.

The worry lines left her eyes.

“You do?”

“I'll never say anything to you I don't mean,” Ned said.

“Let's promise we'll never lie about love,” Maggie whispered. A tiny tear trickled out of the corner of her eye, and tenderly Ned licked it away. Who could hurt a girl like this?

“I promise,” he said.

“Make love to me,” she said again.

Then, as if Ned had done the act many times, as if the act was programmed into him, he gently raised his body above Maggie. She reached for his penis, guiding it between her legs.

This was the most amazing thing Ned had ever known. Surrounded by her slippery wetness, he let himself glide in and out. He lowered his body against hers.

She cried out, and at first he was afraid he was crushing her. But when he looked at her face, he saw the pleasure. They moved together, embracing, their eyes locked. Electricity tingled in his penis, charging through his body. He felt it flooding into Maggie, as her little pussy expanded and contracted with each of his thrusts.

He'd been in control, but suddenly he felt himself losing it. Each time he pushed down, he felt her silky breasts against his chest, teasing and nuzzling, the image of her diamond nipples scalding his brain. His eyes closed, his teeth clenched, Ned let go and let gallons of white-hot come explode from his body.

Collapsing on top of Maggie, he somehow had the presence of mind to keep from squishing her. Gasping for breath, seeing stars, he held himself one inch aloft on his elbows.

“I love you,” he said. “I love you.”

Maggie rubbed his back, holding him close. She seemed to be massaging him into an enchanted dream-world; drugged by their sweat and musk, he was about to fall asleep when he heard her whisper.

“Please?” she asked in an impossibly small voice. “Could you do me?”

“Oh, sure, I'm sorry,” Ned asked, totally flustered. His hands moved nervously, unsure of how to use them.

Girls didn't come the same way as boys, he knew. He'd read about that spot on their bodies, the clitoris, and he even knew, from looking through
approximately where to find it. But what did you do with it? Boys had seven inches of nerve endings to work with, and girls had a distinct epicenter.

He didn't have to worry. Without any inhibitions, Maggie guided his fingers to her pussy. She let him hold the back of her hand while she showed him the exact spot and the right rhythm with her own middle finger. After a moment he eased her hand away. He felt, rather than saw. There it was, just as prominent as a tiny penis. He rubbed, as she had done, and when his finger dried and the friction seemed too great, he licked his own finger.

They lay in the tall grass, naked and sweating, with Ned bringing Maggie along until she relaxed her back and screamed, startling a flock of starlings. The birds took off in formation, like a great black cape being shaken over the field. Enfolding Maggie in his arms, Ned was overcome with emotion.

After many minutes had passed, he whispered his confession: “That was my first time.”

And she whispered hers: “It was mine, too. No boy has ever cared enough to do that for me.”

“I do,” Ned whispered, and he kissed her lips to seal the promise.


a limousine on the way to JFK Airport, Matt Davis glanced through the travel section of Sunday's
New York Times
. He was on his way to Monaco, a quick twenty-four-hour trip, to meet with an exiled Hungarian countess, best known for her scandalous love life and a surprisingly successful series of exercise videos. Now she wanted to launch her own perfume.

The travel section featured Monaco in the “What's Doing” column, and Matt's secretary had thoughtfully tucked the paper under his arm as he had left the office. Scanning the article, he saw that it rounded up the usual suspects: the casino, the Grand Prix, the Vieux Port, the aquarium, Jules Millet's three-star restaurant. Since Matt had been to Monte Carlo more times than he wished to remember, he flipped past the column.

Maybe it was time to think about summer vacation. This would be his first year without Anne or Karen, without going to the island. Well, there was always Maine. He could take a cottage at Port Clyde, where he had summered as a child. Or something even more remote, like Swan's Island or Bass Harbor. But when he came to the country-inn section, his eyes were drawn to the listings on Anne's island.

He read each one: Atwood's Inn, the Surf Hotel, Harwood's B&B, and Fitzgibbons'. His mouth dropped open as he read:

FITZGIBBONS': Sea views, ocean breezes, warm family atmosphere, best island breakfasts. Contact Gabrielle Vincent.

With his eyes glued to the paper, he reached for the cellular phone and dialed the familiar digits, the same old number that had always rung at the big house.

A young woman, whose voice Matt did not recognize, answered on the fifth ring.

“I'd like to make a reservation,” he said. “For this weekend.”

“You're in luck,” the girl said. “We have just one room left. It has single beds.”

Karen's room, Matt thought. The room that had been Anne's as a child. “That would be fine,” he said.

“For how many people?”

“Just one. For Friday and Saturday nights.”

“Your name, please?”

“Ventura,” he said, using the first and most ironic alias that came to mind: Anne's obstetrician. When Anne found out what he had done, she would warm to the fact that he'd booked the room under Dr. Ventura's name.

“Great, Mr. Ventura,” the girl said spiritedly. “See you in two nights.”

“I can't wait,” Matt said.

Chapter 18

ver since seeing the whales with Thomas, Anne had spent most of her time thinking about him. She could list the reasons to be apart, and each of them was valid. Neither she nor Thomas liked rocking the boat, they cared deeply for the people in their lives, they didn't want anyone to be hurt. When they had met, Anne had been in free fall, and she didn't believe she should be with another person until she found herself on solid ground. But then she'd remember how it felt to hold him, and all the rest would turn to mush.

The truth was a blue star, blazing brighter than any other in any constellation: Anne Davis and Thomas Devlin were meant to be together. Fire and sorrow had brought them to each other, and love had developed from there.

It was Friday, four days since they had returned to shore after whale watching. Sitting in her office, Anne couldn't wait for a momentary lull in the action so she could call Thomas.

Two couples from Providence were standing at the counter, telling Anne about the whales they had seen. Their eyes wide, gesturing with extravagance, they were all talking at once. One couple looked about sixty, twenty or so years older than the other two, and Anne guessed that they were the younger woman's parents.

Grinning at their pleasure, she listened to the descriptions and remembered what she and Thomas had seen.

“Excuse me,” she said just as they were leaving. “I know it's none of my business, but are you related?”

“Why, yes,” the older man said. “This is our daughter and her husband.”

“You look like your mother,” Anne said, smiling at the younger woman.

When they had waved good-bye, now discussing where they should have dinner that night, Anne thought of how lucky they were. On vacation together, obviously enjoying each other's company, a family making their way through life all together. You saw it all the time, without realizing how extraordinary it was: men and women who stayed married to each other, children who watched their parents grow old, parents whose children outlived them, sisters who stayed close through thick and thin.

Very slowly, feeling lucky to have Gabrielle, Anne called Thomas.

“Hello,” came the familiar deep Boston accent.

“Hi,” she said. “Are you busy?”

“Not one bit,” he said, and she heard metal hitting metal, as if he had dropped something in his workshop.

“I had such a great time on Monday. I've been thinking about you ever since.”

“You didn't mind me taking Maggie's place?”

“The opposite, in fact. It was wonderful. I was wondering . . . would you like to come over tonight?”

“Oh, we're doing fire drills at six,” he said, disappointment heavy in his voice. “Ned's just joined the squad, and we made plans to grab some supper with the other guys.”

“How about afterward?” Anne asked.

“Afterward would be fine,” Thomas said.


trying to run an inn and a catering business at the same time, perhaps Gabrielle had bitten off more than she had imagined. But
she said to Steve and Maggie, more than she could chew. They were huddled in the laundry room at Fitzgibbons', having a family conference, the washer's spin cycle keeping their words from earshot of the employees.

“Learning to delegate is the most important part of running a successful business,” she said.

“You're here all the time, babe,” Steve complained. “Maggie's always working here or out with her boyfriend. We have no home life anymore.”

“Steve, you know the season is short. We're banking double what we did last June, and that's all there is to it. What I need from you is support, not criticism. You make me feel guilty if you act all neglected.”

“Do you know his name?” Maggie asked sullenly.

“Huh?” Steve asked, a whipped expression in his washed blue eyes.

“I have a new boyfriend,” Maggie said. “I was just curious about whether you've noticed or not.”

“You're young,” Steve said. “You don't need to settle down with one guy. Have a ball—life's too short.”

“That's what I thought,” Maggie said. “You haven't noticed.”

“The preppie. I've noticed.”

Maggie turned her back, heading out the door.

“Here—take these,” Gabrielle said, hoisting a plastic basket laden with wet sheets. She heaved it over to Maggie. “Get one of the other girls to help you hang them on the line.”

Wordlessly, Maggie took the basket and left.

Gabrielle had a thousand things to do. She had to run into town, pick up brochures and ad proofs from the printer. Tonight the Wickershams were having fifty for cocktails, and Gabrielle was doing lobster strudels, sugar snap peas filled with mint cream, and oyster fritters with coriander-pepper sauce. But first, she had to set Steve straight on Maggie.

“Maggie wants you to notice the boys she goes out with,” Gabrielle said.

“I've noticed. Dev's son. She went to his graduation. Why does she have to get nasty about it?”

“Because she's trying very hard, Steve. You know how hard it is to grow up out here. And it's
times worse for her than it was for us. Ned's a smart kid. He's not into drugs, he really likes Maggie. She wants you to see the difference between him and that rotten Kurt.”

“Well, I just think Ned's a little stuck-up. That's all.”

“He's shy,” Gabrielle said, but she could see by Steve's scowl that he wasn't buying it. Exasperated, she started pulling towels out of the washer.

“So, what's the job you want me to do?” he asked huffily.

“Make a sign. All the guests tell me they drive past, looking for us. I thought something discreet, blue and white, with just ‘Fitzgibbons',' for the end of the driveway.”

“It's great, pushing forty-five, with your wife making all the money,” Steve said to the ceiling. “And your daughter dating rich kids, looking down on you.”

“Put your damned ego aside!” Gabrielle said. “You show her no encouragement at all. You treat her the same when she flunks as when she shines.”

“I love her no matter what.”

“That's not what I mean, and you know it. She needs praise for the good choices she makes. She spent last year in very rocky water. Kurt was bad news, and he was taking Maggie right down with him.”

“Maggie's a good girl. You worry too much,” Steve said, beginning to page through a discarded tool catalog, as if he'd already forgotten the job he had agreed to do.

“Listen, if you don't want to make the sign—” Gabrielle said, her temper rising.

“I'll make it, I'll make it. What the hell? No one's building anything anymore—it's not like I'm rolling in work.”

Gabrielle listened to him slam the door. She shook her fist at the air behind him, swearing out loud. She knew Steve was insecure about not finishing high school, never moving off the island, unable to provide for his family the way he wanted. During their leanest times, she had resented him for those things and more.

But Steve was her husband, and she loved him. She also loved her daughter. She wanted to set an example for Maggie, to show her that women could succeed as well as or better than men. Above all, they were a family. In time, Steve would realize that Fitzgibbons' was a family business, his as much as anyone's, and maybe he and Gabrielle could start to work together. Instead of resenting each other.


mother had appointed her chief chambermaid. For that she got paid seventy-five cents more an hour than anyone else, and she got first priority on the schedule. Also, she got to hand out the assignments. In other words, she got to boss the other chambermaids, including Vanessa, around.

Usually she stayed out of Vanessa's way, but today she felt like talking. Most of the other girls were in different grades at Consolidated or summer kids who lived most of the year off-island—girls she didn't know very well. So for help in hanging the sheets out to dry, Maggie called Vanessa.

Early-morning fog had lifted, and the day was turning hot and muggy. In her official uniform (white shorts and navy-blue polo shirt), Maggie carried the laundry basket out back and began pinning a pillowcase to the line.

“It's so humid. These'll never dry,” Vanessa said, coming slowly across the grass.

“Eventually they will.”

“Why doesn't your mother just use a dryer, like everyone else? This is so much more work.”

“Like that's important,” Maggie said. “She wants the bed to have that fresh-air smell.”

“God, you have changed,” Vanessa said with potent disgust, shaking the wrinkles out of a sheet. “What Mommy says, Maggie agrees with. Didn't used to be that way. I suppose these preppie suits were your idea, too.”

“Not quite,” Maggie said. She had fought her mother tooth and nail to be allowed to wear cutoffs and a halter, but her mother had definite standards you couldn't argue her out of. Maggie should have known, after years of watching her mother iron the little black dresses and starched white aprons she made her waitresses wear.

“I can't believe you gave up Kurt for Ned Devlin. He's not even cute.”

“That's your opinion,” said Maggie, who found Ned a) adorable, b) sexy, c) super smart, and d) in love with her. Kurt had possessed only the first two qualities, and Maggie had found they definitely weren't enough.

“You just never seemed like the type who would turn your back on your friends.”

“I still want to be friends,” Maggie said.

“It hasn't seemed it.”

“Well, I do. It's just, why is everyone out here so afraid of someone changing? What's so bad about wanting to do better in life?”

“Better than who?”

“Better than no one!” Maggie said. “I'm not talking about competition. I mean, doing the best you can. I feel as if people like me better when I'm stoned and stupid. Even my father.”

“Your father?” Vanessa asked, her mood improving. Parent bashing had always been one of their favorite pastimes.

“Yeah, you know. He's still the same.”

“Hitting the Bud while your mother does the work?”

“Pretty much,” Maggie said, feeling a tickle of guilt for saying so. “He doesn't like Ned either. I don't think he wants me going out with someone who might do better in life than him. See what I mean? Everyone out here has the same complex.”

“So, what's Ned doing for the summer?”

“Learning to be a fireman. He just started, and already he got to go to a sort-of fire. Some stupid renters lit a fire in the fireplace without opening the damper, and it smoked them out.”

“I'm just glad you're not turning your back on everyone else,” Vanessa said, returning to what she considered the important stuff. “We miss partying with you.”

“Yeah,” Maggie said noncommittally. Before Ned arrived for the summer, she had missed partying with them, too. The temptation of beer and pot and old friends was strong, and she didn't yet know if she had the willpower to keep it under control. To resist getting swept over her head.

“Well, it's Friday,” Vanessa said, “and Eugene and Kurt are picking me up after work. We'll probably head over to the cave to party, if you want to come.”

“Thanks anyway,” Maggie said.

“Tomorrow, then. Or whenever. Ned should give you one night off to hang out with your old friends.”

“I'll see,” Maggie said, even though the answer was, and would be, no.


to within an inch of his life, Matt Davis ran from JFK's Air France terminal to the waiting helicopter. He'd been planning to fly to La Guardia, where he would catch a shuttle to Boston and make that day's last scheduled flight to the island. He had been traveling for forty-eight hours, back and forth through the time zones so fast his head was spinning.

His meeting with Countess Nazarena Splagda had been surreal, in her compound full of exotic animals and waited on by her staff composed entirely of midgets—not dwarves, as she had haughtily informed him. The meeting had been attended by her bodyguards, lawyers, business manager, literary agent, sons, ex-husband, and current lover, the wife of a prominent Texas heart surgeon.

A full day's worth of that, and then a slew of transatlantic lies to Tisa, telling her that negotiations were stalled, that he would be home on Monday. Three days late. Then the plane from Nice to New York.

Buckling himself into the helicopter's front seat, Matt settled back. He could go straight to sleep. But the flight to La Guardia was just ten minutes long.

“Is this for hire?” he asked the pilot.

“The aircraft?” the mustachioed pilot asked sternly, with a tankload of military behind the voice.

“Yeah, the aircraft.”

“Let me call control,” the pilot said.

Matt heard the rotors slapping overhead. His eyelids fluttered, and he felt himself drifting off.

“It ain't cheap,” the pilot said, quoting Matt the price.

“Fine,” Matt said, not even opening his eyes. “Take me to the New Shoreham airport.”


didn't happen often—maybe three or four times a summer. But when the Island Volunteer Fire Department got together for burgers and beer after a drill, you could bet the farm that things would get rowdy. Wives and girlfriends were excluded. Although most of the women considered themselves lucky, some of the men complained that their wives gave them a hard time, that they resented being left out.

BOOK: Home Fires
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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