Crossed Hearts is the second novel in beloved bestselling author Barbara Delinsky's Matchmaker trilogy about a woman who makes up crossword puzzles for a living-and a man who just might be the answer to L-O-V-E in her life...
Leah Gates always enjoys a good challenge-with words or otherwise. Still, she should have known better than to leave New York City for this. Knee-deep mud, lashing rain, a burned-down cabin...so much for the R&R that she hoped to find in rural New Hampshire. What had her friend Victoria Lesser been thinking?
Woodsman Garrick Rodenheiser was stunned and wary when Leah turned up shivering on his porch. A beautiful woman, miles from nowhere, spelled trouble for him. But he couldn't just slam the door in her face-or shut out the storm of passion that raged between them...
Originally published as Twelve Across.
About the Author
BARBARA DELINSKY is the author of more than twenty New York Times bestselling books, including Before and Again, The Scent of Jasmine, and Love Songs. She has been published in twenty-eight languages worldwide. A lifelong New Englander, Delinsky earned a B.A. in psychology at Tufts University and an M.A. in sociology at Boston College. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, more books than she'll ever be able to read, two tennis racquets, and enough electronic devices to keep in close touch with her children and their families.
Date of Birth:August 9, 1945
Place of Birth:Boston, Massachusetts
Education:B.A. in Psychology, Tufts University, 1967; M.A. in Sociology, Boston College, 1969
Read an Excerpt
Leah Gates made a final fold in the blue foil paper, then studied her creation in dismay. "This does not look like a roadrunner," she whispered to the woman at the table beside her.
Victoria Lesser, who'd been diligently folding a pelican, shifted her attention to her friend's work. "Sure, it does," she whispered back. "It's a roadrunner."
"And I'm a groundhog." Leah raised large, round glasses from the bridge of her nose in the hope that a myopic view would improve the image. It didn't. She dropped the frames back into place.
"It's a roadrunner," Victoria repeated.
"It looks like a roadrunner."
"It looks like a conglomeration of pointed paper prongs."
Lifting the fragile item, Victoria turned it from side to side. She had to agree with Leah's assessment, though she was far too tactful to say so. "Did you get the stretched bird base right?"
"I thought so."
"And the book fold and the mountain fold?"
"As far as I know."
"Then there must be some problem with the rabbit-ear fold."
"I think the problem's with me."
"Then with you," Leah scolded in the same hushed whisper. "It was your idea to take an origami course. How do I let myself get talked into these things?"
"Very easily. You love them as much as I do. Besides, you're a puzzle solver, and what's origami but a puzzle in paper? You've done fine up to now. So today's an off day."
"That's an understatement," Leah muttered.
"Ladies?" came a call from the front of the room. Both Leah and Victoria looked up to find the instructor's reproving stare homing in on them over the heads of the other students. "I believe we're ready to start on the frog base. Are there any final questions on the stretched bird base?"
Leah quickly shook her head, then bit her lip against a moan of despair. The frog base?
Victoria simply sat with a gentle smile on her face. By the time the class had ended, though, the smile had faded. Taking Leah by the arm, she ushered her toward the door. "Come on," she said softly. "Let's get some coffee."
When they were seated in a small coffee shop on Third Avenue, Victoria wasted no time in speaking her mind. "Something's bothering you. Out with it."
Leah set her glasses on the table. They'd fogged up the instant she'd come in from the cold, and long-time experience told her that they'd be useless for several minutes. The oversize fuchsia sweater Victoria wore was more than bright enough to be seen by the weakest of eyes, however, and above the sweater were the gentlest of expressions. It was toward these that Leah sent a sheepish look. "My frog base stunk, too, huh?"
"Your mind wasn't on it. Your attention's been elsewhere all night. Where, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
Leah had to laugh at that. In the year she'd known Victoria Lesser, the woman had on occasion been far bolder. But not once had Leah minded. What might have been considered intrusive in others was caring in Victoria. She was compassionate, down-to-earth and insightful, and had such a remarkably positive view of the world that time spent with her was always uplifting.
"Guess," Leah invited with a wry half grin.
"Well, I know your mind's not on your marriage, because that's been over and done for two years now. And I know it's not on a man, because despite my own considerable —" she drawled the word pointedly "— efforts to fix you up, you refuse to date. And I doubt it's on your work, because crosswords are in as much of a demand as ever, and because just last week you told me that your contract's been renewed. Which leaves your apartment." Victoria knew how much Leah adored the loft she'd lived in since her divorce. "Is your landlord raising the rent?" "Worse."
"Oh-oh. He's talking condo conversion."
"He's decided condo conversion."
"Oh, sweetheart. Mucho?"
"When's it happening?"
"Too soon." Idly Leah strummed the rim of her glasses, then, as though recalling their purpose, slipped them back onto her nose. "I can look for another place, but I doubt I'll find one half as nice. Waterfront buildings are hot, and most of them have already gone condo. Even if there were a vacancy in one of the few remaining rentals, I doubt I could afford it."
"Thank you, New York."
"Mmmm." Seeking to warm her chilled fingers, Leah wrapped her hands around her coffee cup. "Prices have gone sky-high in the two years since I rented the loft. The only reason I got it at a reasonable rate in the first place was that I was willing to fix it up myself. It was a mess when I first saw it, but the view was ... ineffable."
"Indescribable. It isn't fair, Victoria. For weeks I scraped walls and ceilings, sanded, painted, and now someone else will reap the fruits of my labor." She gave a frustrated growl. "I had a feeling this was coming, but that doesn't make it any easier to take."
Victoria's heart went out to this woman who'd become such a special friend. They'd met the year before in the public library and had hit it off from the start. Victoria had enjoyed Leah's subtle wit and soft-spoken manner. Though at the age of thirty-three Leah was twenty years younger, they shared an interest in things new and different. They'd gone to the theater together, tried out newly opened restaurants together, taken classes not only in origami but in papier-mâché, conversational Russian and ballet.
Victoria had come to know Leah well. She'd learned that Leah had been badly burned by an unhappy marriage and that behind the urban adventuress was a basically shy woman. She also saw that Leah had constructed a very tidy and self-contained shell for herself, and that within that shell was a world of loneliness and vulnerability. Losing the apartment she loved would feed that vulnerability.
"You know," Victoria ventured, "I'd be more than happy to loan you the down payment on that condo —"
The hand Leah pressed over hers cut off her words. "I can't take your money."
"But I have it. More than enough —"
"It's not my way, Victoria. I wouldn't be comfortable. And it's not as much a matter of principle as it is the amount of money involved. If I had to make loan payments to you on top of mortgage payments to the bank, I'd be house-poor. Another few years ... That's all I'd have needed to save for the down payment myself." It might have taken less if she'd been more frugal, but Leah lived comfortably and enjoyed it. She took pleasure in splurging on an exquisite hand-knit sweater, a pair of imported shoes, a piece of original art. She reasoned that she'd earned them. But a bank wouldn't take them as collateral. "Unfortunately I don't have another few years."
"You wouldn't have to pay me back right away."
"That's bad business."
"So? It's my money, my business —"
"And our friendship. I'd feel awkward taking advantage of it."
"I'm the one who's made the offer. There'd be no taking advantage involved."
But Leah was shaking her head. "Thanks, but I can't. I just can't."
Victoria opened her mouth to speak, then paused. She'd been about to suggest that Richard might help. Given the fact that Leah had been married to him once and that she had no other family, it seemed the only other option. He had money. Unfortunately he also had a new wife and a child. Victoria knew that Leah's pride wouldn't allow her to ask him for a thing. "What will you do?"
"Look for another place, I guess. If I have to settle for something less exciting, so be it."
"Are you sure you want to stay in the city? Seems to me you could get a super place somewhere farther out."
Leah considered that idea. "But I like the city."
"You're used to the city. You've lived here all your life. Maybe it's time for a change."
"I don't know —"
"It'd be good for you, sweetheart. New scenery, new people, new stores, new courses —"
"Are you trying to get rid of me?"
"And lose my companion in whimsy? Of course not! But I'd be selfish if I didn't encourage you to spread your wings a little. One part of you loves new experiences. The other part avoids them. But you're young, Leah. You have so much living to do."
"What better place to do it than here? I mean, if New York isn't multifarious —"
"Diverse, as in filled with opportunities, okay? If New York isn't that, what place is?"
"Just about any place. Perhaps it'd be a different kind of experience ..." The wheels in Victoria's mind were beginning to turn. "You know, there's another possibility entirely. If you were willing to shift gears, if you were game ..." She shook her head. "No. Maybe not."
"It'd be too much. Forget I mentioned it."
"You haven't mentioned anything," Leah pointed out in her quiet way. But she was curious, just as she was sure Victoria had intended. "What were you thinking of?"
It was a minute before Victoria answered, and the delay wasn't all for effect. She hated to be devious with someone she adored as much as she did Leah. And yet ... and yet ... it could possibly work. Hadn't a little deviousness brought two other good friends of hers together?
"I have a place. It's pretty secluded."
"The island in Maine?"
"There's that, but it wasn't what I had in mind." The island was totally secluded. She didn't want Leah to be alone; that would defeat the purpose. "I have a cabin in New Hampshire. Arthur bought it years ago as a hunting lodge. I've been up several times since he died, but it's a little too quiet for me." She shook her head again. "No. It'd be too quiet for you, too. You're used to the city."
"Tell me more."
"You like the city."
"Tell me, Victoria."
Again Victoria paused, this time entirely for effect. "It's in the middle of the woods, and it's small," she said with caution.
"We're talking mountain retreat here."
"There are two rooms — a living area and a bedroom. The nearest town is three miles away. You'd hate it, Leah."
But Leah wasn't so sure. She was intimidated by the idea of moving to a suburban neighborhood, but something rustic ... It was a new thought, suddenly worth considering. "I don't know as I could buy it."
"It's not for sale," Victoria said quickly. "But I could easily loan —" "Rent. It'd have to be a rental."
"Okay. I could easily rent it to you for a little while. That's all you'd need to decide whether you can live outside New York. You could view it as a trial run."
"Are there people nearby?"
"In the town, yes. Not many, mind you, and they're quiet, private types."
So much the better, Leah thought. She didn't care to cope with throngs of new faces. "That's okay. I could do my work at a mountain cabin without any problem, and if I had books and a tape deck —"
"There's a community of artists about fifteen miles from the mountain. You once mentioned wanting to learn how to weave. You'd have the perfect opportunity for that." Victoria considered mentioning Garrick, then ruled against it for the time being. Leah was smiling; she obviously liked what she'd heard so far. It seemed that reverse psychology was the way to go. "It's not New York," she reminded her friend gently.
"It'd be a total change."
"A few minutes ago you said you didn't want to leave New York."
"But my apartment's being stolen from under me, so some change is inevitable."
"You could still look for another apartment."
"Or move to the suburbs."
Leah's firm head shake sent thick black hair shimmering along the crew neckline of her sweater.
"I want you to think about this, Leah. It'd be a pretty drastic step."
"True, but not an irrevocable one. If I'm climbing the walls after a week, I can turn around and come back. I really wouldn't be any worse off than I am now, would I?" She didn't wait for Victoria to answer. She was feeling more enthused than she had since she'd learned she was losing her loft. "Tell me more about the cabin itself. Is it primitive?"
Victoria laughed. "If you'd had a chance to know Arthur, you'd have the answer to that. Arthur Lesser never did anything primitive. For that matter, you know me. I'm not exactly the rough-it-in-the-wild type, am I?"
Leah had spent time in Victoria's Park Avenue co-op. It was spacious, stylish, sumptuous. She'd also seen her plush summer place in the Hamptons. But neither Manhattan nor Long Island was a secluded mountain in New Hampshire, and for all her wealth, Victoria wasn't snobbish. She was just enough of a nonconformist to survive for a stretch on the bare basics.
Leah, who'd never had the kind of wealth that inspired total nonconformity, liked to go into things with her eyes open. "Is the cabin well equipped?"
"When last I saw it, it was," Victoria said with an innocence that concealed a multitude of sins. "Don't make a decision now, sweetheart. Think about it for a bit. If you decide to go up there, you'd have to store your furniture. I don't know how you feel about that."
"It shouldn't be difficult."
"It'd be a pain in the neck."
"Being ousted from my apartment is a pain in the neck. If movers have to come in, what difference does it make where they take my things? Besides, if I hate it in New Hampshire, I won't have to worry about my furniture while I look around back here for a place to live."
"The green room's yours if you want it."
Leah grinned. While she'd never have taken a monetary loan, the use of that beautiful room in Victoria's apartment, where she'd already spent a night or two on occasion, was a security blanket she'd welcome. "I was hoping you'd say that."
"Well, you'd better remember it. I'd never forgive myself if, after I talked you into it, you hated the mountains and then didn't have anywhere to turn." Actually, Victoria was more worried that Leah would be the one without forgiveness. But it was a risk worth taking. Victoria had gone with her instincts where Deirdre and Neil Hersey were concerned, and things couldn't have worked out better. Now here was Leah — tall and slender, adorable with her glossy black page boy and bangs, and her huge round glasses with thin red frames. If Leah could meet Garrick ...
"I'll take it," Leah was saying.
"The green room? Of course you will."
"No, the cabin. I'll take the cabin." Leah wasn't an impulsive person, but she did know her own mind. When something appealed to her, she saw no point in waffling. Victoria's mountain retreat sounded like a perfect solution to the problem she'd been grappling with for seventy-two hours straight. It would afford her the time to think things through and decide where to go from there. "Just tell me how much you want for rent."
Victoria brushed the matter aside with the graceful wave of one hand. "No rush on that. We can discuss it later."
"I'm paying rent, Victoria. If you don't let me, the deal's off."
"I agreed that you could pay rent, sweetheart. It's just that I have no idea how much to charge. Why don't you see what shape things are in when you get there? Then you can pay me whatever you think the place merits."
"I'd rather pay you in advance."
"And I'd rather wait."
"You're being pertinacious."
Victoria wasn't sure what "pertinacious" meant, but she could guess. "That's right."
"Fine. I'll wait as you've asked, but so help me, Victoria, if you return my check —"
"I won't," Victoria said, fully confident that it wouldn't come to that. "Have faith, Leah. Have faith."
* * *
Leah had faith. It grew day by day, along with her enthusiasm. She surprised herself at times, because she truly was a died-in-the-wool urbanite. Yet something about an abrupt change in life-style appealed to her for the very first time. She wondered if it had something to do with her age; perhaps the thirties brought boldness. Or desperation. No, she didn't want to think that. Perhaps she was simply staging a belated rebellion against the way of life she'd known from birth.
It had been years since she'd taken a vacation, much less one to a remote spot. She remembered short jaunts to Cape Cod with her parents, when she'd been a child and remote had consisted of isolated sand dunes and sunrise sails. The trips she'd taken with her husband had never been remote in any sense. Inevitably they'd been tied to his work, and she'd found them far from relaxing. Richard had been constantly on, which wouldn't have bothered her if he hadn't been so fussy about how she looked and behaved when she was by his side. Not that she'd given him cause for complaint; she'd been born and bred in the urban arena and knew how to play its games when necessary. Unfortunately Richard's games had incorporated rules she hadn't anticipated.
But Leah wasn't thinking about Richard on the day in late March when she left Manhattan. She was thinking of the gut instinct that told her she was doing the right thing. And she was thinking of the farewell dinner Victoria had insisted on treating her to the night before.
Excerpted from "Crossed Hearts"
Copyright © 1987 Barbara Delinsky.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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