In the Land of Milk and Honey
Nell E.S. Douglas
Publication date: January 17th 2018
Genres: Adult, Romance, Suspense
When Gabrielle “Bree” Valentine awoke in a hospital bed with a newborn baby, she centered herself and rebuilt. Bree didn’t think about her mental breakdown, lost memories, or the features of a stranger emerging daily in the face of the son she is raising alone. Five years later, on a weekend in the Hamptons, a chance encounter with a man unlike any other jars her—bone deep. Daniel Hawthorne Baird II, wealthy, dangerous, British aristocrat, gravitates to Bree like caviar on crostini. In his relentless obsession with Bree, their lives entwine despite Bree’s resistance. With the unconditional support of friends she calls ‘family’, Bree confronts the most difficult questions of her life. Unearthing the painful mysteries behind who fathered her child, who the real Daniel Baird is, and the irrepressible desire driving her towards a man destined to be the end of them both.
August tiptoed in around three a.m. and I finally fell asleep around six. When I awoke, almost six hours later, I found the note he’d left telling me he was in a meeting in one of the conference rooms and would meet me on the patio at lunch. I called Tristan and apologized for not calling first thing, but he sounded happy and distracted. He was playing horseshoes with Ian and Jill and getting ready for a cook-out at her townhouse. I told him I loved him (and Jill promised to take lots of pictures).
I showered and quickly dressed myself in a tailored white blouse, minimal gold jewelry and dark slim jeans. Women here typically wore pearls and boucle skirt suits, but I had my limits. I blew dry my long, straight, dark-chocolate color hair until it glossed, and applied a little make-up before heading out the door.
Just my luck, as I hurried through the halls I bumped (literally) into a little red haired girl who was crying. She told me she lost her big brother so I led her up to the front desk where the girl told us her name was Amy and that she knew her Mom was at the spa. They sent out a page for a lost Amy, and an irate looking woman in a white robe, slippers and a face mask marched up.
“I told you to stay with your brother! Can’t I get a facial without having a crisis? It took me days to get this appointment…” she ranted to the little girl as she held her hand, dragging her behind. Maybe she was better off lost.
Outside, on a massive paver deck, they’d set up food stations with chefs serving lunch, a la carte. I was hungry from having missed breakfast and made a beeline for the meat-carving table. Most of the wives and girlfriends had the same idea, and the tables were filled with ladies who lunch.
I grabbed the first vacant seat I found, only one other woman sat at the table. I was bad at introductions, but she didn’t raise her eyes from her magazine, so we ate silently. She had a short blonde bob and was very polished in (what else?) a light blue Chanel boucle dress and multi-strand pearls. All she was missing was a wide brimmed hat with a bow. We wouldn’t have anything to talk about anyway, I concluded.
“Daniel!” she called out, waving her hand in the air, flagging someone down. Within seconds, there stood Mr. V-neck himself—Danny—flanked by two other dark haired men. He was dressed more casually than the other men, who wore full suit and tie. He looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep and I noticed for the first time his hair color was a rich, beer bottle brown.
I smiled warmly in greeting, but his face was stony and he turned away. I guess Danny and I weren’t friends when others were around.
“Join me, gentlemen,” blonde bob implored. She was English too, and clearly knew how to play her role here. I realized then she was the other half of the V-neck Crew from the lobby— Danny’s other half. As she waved her hand, I also noticed the giant sparking canary yellow diamond on her hand.
Danny’s nod was a directive; the two men filled the chairs between us as he sat at the end, the blonde at his side. As the men took to discussing financials, I picked up they were all English. I was not impressed when they placed special orders to the kitchen, apparently too good to plate their own food or eat what the rest of us did.
“Bree!” I heard, and turned the sound of charging footsteps. I spun just in time to see little Amy barrel into my chair, giggling. Everyone had turned towards the disruption, eyeing her disapprovingly. Well, except Danny, whose eyes were closed and his brows were knitted together as if he’d just been poked with a needle. She wedged herself between the snobby suit guy, bumping his elbow, and fired away.
“Did you know my Mom wears a wig sometimes?” she announced, panting heavily from her run. I laughed inappropriately loud before covering my mouth. She took that as encouragement.
“And sometimes, at night, I hear her in her bedroom shaving her legs all by herself. Buzzz, buzzz, buzzz, allllnight. That’s what it sounds like. Yep,” she mimed while nodding, smiling brightly. I was wide-eyed as I surveyed the table. The blonde was aghast, as was the suit directly opposite her, but the guy to my side was laughing and Danny observed her as though she were a curiosity.
“Little one, I don’t know if I’d share that with anyone else today, okay?” I suggested amusedly as a pulled a stray hair from her face.
“She won’t care,” Amy shrugged.
“Let’s keep it our little secret, anyway,” I whispered.
“Cool,” she whispered back, liking the idea of a secret.
“What’s your name little girl?” the Suit next to me asked.
“Amy, I’d like you to give your mother my card. Tell her it’s in case she needs any help shaving tonight,” he said smugly, flicking out his hand. She snatched the card. I hoped he was kidding when I saw the wedding band on his finger.
“Okay! You two can come play with me now if you want?” she exclaimed to myself and Suit one, bouncing on her heels. I wondered if her mother had fed her bars of chocolate to placate her. Or possibly uppers.
Her eyes bounced back and forth from the suited man and me expectantly, he raised an eyebrow that said how preposterous, and I took a cue; even his eyebrow seemed to have a snooty British accent.
“Amy, I think the nice man has business to do, but maybe I’ll come and play later.”
“I’ll be on the hill.” She pointed beyond the pool down to the sloping grassy hills beyond and then she bolted for it. I snickered, observing her stumble once, her legs not fast enough for her body.
I checked my watch, wondering where August could be. As I did, the overcast sky parted for just a brief moment, a few beams of sunlight rebelliously breaking through the grey and lavender clouds, the rays falling like tiny radiant spotlights and in the corner of my eye, I caught a glimmer of cognac—just like a spark—and an errant thought raced through my mind, too quickly to catch.
I felt suddenly tense, like I needed some air; air somewhere else. I rose from the stuffy table and smoothed out my shirt, and by the time I looked up Danny had risen from his chair, the other men abruptly followed suit. I was puzzled by the gesture but I snapped out of my daze, my inner tension returning, when the blonde grabbed his forearm and gave him a look like he’d just stood for the maid.
I turned, heading for the hill where Amy played and stood watching from the edge of the patio, trying to clear my head. Several children were chasing each other and I smiled, thinking of my son, but somehow I still felt… troubled.
I turned back searching for August and finally I spotted him. Of all things he was standing beside Danny’s chair, smiling and talking vividly—reassuring the troops, I’m sure. But as soon as he walked away he began rubbing his forehead with the back of his hand. He spotted me and rushed over.
“Bree,” he said hurriedly. “I’m so sorry I missed lunch. I’ve been doing damage control all morning.”
“Anything I can help with?”
“It’s beyond helping. A total disaster.” I was going to ask more, but it seemed out of my depth.
“Don’t worry about me. Go do what you need to,” I said firmly, leaning on tiptoes to kiss his cheek in hello and goodbye.
“Are you sure?” He laid his hands on my shoulders.
“Yes. Now go be a superhero,” I teased, shooing him off. He smiled, dropping a kiss on my cheek before hurrying off.
My old distress was replaced with worry for August. Amy ran up and asked if I’d be “home base” in their game of hide and go seek. I laughed, agreeing to the distraction. Several rounds in, she ran up to me, sticking out her little leg.
“Will you tie my shoes?” she asked, cutely, so I bent down to lace them.
“You’re pretty, Bree,” she sang smiling and blinked. I smiled back and patted her head before she ran off screaming to the hiders “you’re in trouble now!”
“You have an admirer.” I turned to see Danny standing a few feet behind me.
“Uh, no, just a little friend,” I replied, confused by his sudden presence.
“You make friends easily,” he supplied. I laughed at the irony; I would have made more friends sitting at the children’s table than at his (because it clearly became His table once he sat).
“I found her in the hallway,” I explained. “She was lost.”
It looked like the rest of his group was gone, which explained why he was talking to me again. I was beginning to think the parallel I’d drawn between his face and a sculpture was truer than I’d realized. His face was always perfectly stoic, but he shook his head briefly as if to say Of course.
“I think they’ve got a sixth sense, you know?” I mused, watching the children play.
“About safe places to run?” I smiled at his odd guess. He obviously wasn’t a kid person.
“No. Well, sort of,” I paused, wondering how long he’d been watching the game. “I think they can sense other mothers. They seem to automatically trust us,” I clarified, watching Amy maul a boy to the ground. She reminded me of Violet. He didn’t reply so I checked to see if he was there. He was looking at his loafers.
“You have a child,” he intoned solemnly.
“Yes,” I replied with pride. “I have a little boy.”
Finally he spoke. “I am…happy for you,” he said. I thought he was being sarcastic but when he raised his gaze and his eyes met mine, but there was honesty there.
“I’m pretty happy for me, too,” I replied, thinking of my amazing little son.
“Bree! I won! I won! I caught them all!” Amy ran up and flung herself at me. I grabbed her just in time before she knocked us both over, laughing.
“See, doesn’t this just make you want to take one home?” I turned, and said to the thin air where Danny had formerly been standing.
Eat your heart out, Houdini.