“It’s not Lilly, Gran, it’s Maizie. Lilly was my mom.” During one of her spells, it was almost impossible to talk to Gran.
“I know that,” Granny huffed. “Haven’t gone completely off my rocker. You sound like her, is all.”
“Okay.” Maizie would have to try to be more sensitive next time. No one liked being reminded that their mind was slipping.
“Can’t blame me for hearing Lilly’s voice. I always think of her when I’ve spent the day with Riddly.”
Silence settled through the phone connection while Granny’s explanation sunk in. “Umm…” How to put this? “Did Daddy visit you today?”
“He didn’t tell you he was coming?”
“No, he didn’t. I haven’t talked to him in a long time.” The back of her throat dried, made it hard to swallow and her eyes stung. She wouldn’t cry.
“Well, don’t be angry with him, Little Red. He’s so busy these days. Doesn’t even have time to play a round of Kings.” She tsked, and Maizie could picture her shaking her head. “He’s just so wrapped up in work. Not good for the boy. He didn’t used to work so much. And now he’s worried about you.”
“Me?” A bitter smile trembled across her lips and she swiped at a runaway tear. “Why’s he worried?”
“Same as always. Thinks you’ve spread your finances too thin. Worried you’ll sacrifice the bakery to keep the cottage for me.” Granny stopped talking, but it didn’t feel like she’d finished her thought.
“He thinks I should sell the land, Maizie. I told him you said the business was doing fine, but…”
What if Anthony Cadwick was right and Gran was holding on to the land for Maizie because she didn’t know what else to do for her? Why else would she keep having these delusions about Riddly coaxing her to sell?
“Gran, you know you can’t live in the cottage alone anymore, right?”
“Of course, dear. Don’t get around as well as I used to.”
“And you know I want to live here. In the city. Near the bakery?”
“Yes, Little Red, I know how much you think you love the city.”
Think? Maizie smiled at that. Gran always believed she knew Maizie better than she knew herself. “That means no one will live in the cottage.”
“Yes, dear. I understand.”
“Then tell me the truth. Why is it so important to hold on to the land?”
“Because I made a promise, of course.”
“To who? To Dad?” Maizie asked.
“Your father? No. Riddly never understood. He still doesn’t believe. No, dear. I promised the wolf. My beautiful silver wolf. Our land stands as a buffer between his world and ours. I promised he’d always have that buffer.”
Maizie’s breath caught, memories swamped her brain, that silky fur, those hypnotic eyes, the erotic dream. She pushed the distracting thoughts away.
The wolf didn’t want her to sell. A few weeks ago she would’ve rolled her eyes at the statement, but having met the mysterious beast it didn’t seem so farfetched.
Maizie didn’t care why Granny wanted to keep the cottage. She didn’t want to sell. Maizie wouldn’t allow it to be sold. Simple as that. It was the very least she could do for a woman who’d given her the last good years of her life.
“Yeah, Gran. I’m still here.”
“He said you’ve been late on your loan payments. Next week will make you a full month behind. Is that true?”
An uneasy weight sank to the bottom of her belly, sat there like bad seafood. How could Gran know her payment history? “Who told you that?”
“Is it true?”
Yeah, it was true. She’d make the payment, but there’d be a late fee, which would only make finances tighter. There was no way Gran could’ve known though. Someone must have told her. Someone not made of twisted memories and wishful thinking. Someone real.
“I’m making the payments. Everything is fine. Now who’ve you been talking to?”
“Riddly. It was Riddly. He said…” Her voice was soft, unsure. And when her words trailed off, Maizie knew she was realizing her mind must have been playing tricks.
“Gran, Dad’s dead. He couldn’t have told you what’s going on with my loan. Think. Who was it?”
Whoever was feeding her personal financial information about Maizie was obviously after the land. He’d use whatever means necessary, including making an old woman feel guilty for aging. But impersonating her dead son? That was beyond low.
“He said he was Riddly. I didn’t believe him at first. But I get confused sometimes. He looks like Riddly…a little. I just miss my boy.”
“I know. I miss Dad too. But it’s not him. Someone’s trying to trick you into selling the land and I think I know who it is. I’ll talk to Clare, at the front desk. We’ll figure it out.”
Thoughts of Gray Lupo pulled Maizie in two different directions. Her belly soured. Gawd, she’d always considered herself a pretty good judge of character. How could her instincts and libido be so off?
Maybe Gran meant someone else. Gray had seemed happy when Maizie told him she wouldn’t let anyone get their hands on Granny’s land. If she didn’t know better she’d swear he really cared about Granny.
Ugh. I’m grasping at straws.
“You’re sure you don’t need the money, Little Red?” Granny sounded suddenly lucid. “I promised the wolf, but he’d understand my granddaughter’s needs come first.”
“I’m sure. The wolf can relax. I won’t allow the land to be sold either.”
“Ah, what a strange twist of fate,” Granny said.
“All those years protecting the two of you from each other and here you are. Each protecting the other from the world.”
“Yeah. Twisted alright.” Maizie couldn’t help thinking her life would’ve been a lot easier if the big, bad wolf had stayed in the misty world of bedtime stories where he belonged.