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Holiday in the Hamptons

 “I’m young, free, single and living in New York City. What more is there? I have the world at my feet. Life is perfect. I mean, seriously, could life be any more perfect?”

Harriet looked at her steadily. “You didn’t do it, did you?”

Fliss’s heart started to pound. Her appetite vanished.

This, she thought, was one of the disadvantages of having a twin. She could hide the way she was feeling from everyone else in the world, but not from her sister.

She put her yogurt down and decided she needed to work harder at it. She didn’t want Harriet to know that she was terrified. It would make her anxious. “I was going to, I really was. I had the building in sight and I’d memorized what I was going to say—”


“My feet wouldn’t go that way. They were glued to the spot. Then they turned around and walked in the opposite direction. I tried arguing with them. I said, ‘Feet, what do you think you’re doing?’ But did they listen? No.” And since when had she been so pathetic? She gave what she hoped passed for a careless shrug. “Please don’t say what I know you’re about to say.”

“What was I about to say?”

“You were going to gently point out that it’s been three weeks since Daniel bumped into him—”

“Seth,” Harriet said. “At least say his name. That would be a start.”

The start of what? She didn’t want to start something she’d worked hard to put behind her.

And she couldn’t blame her sister for pushing be­cause she hadn’t been honest, had she? She hadn’t told Harriet how she felt.

“Seth—” His name stuck in her throat. “It’s been three weeks since Daniel bumped into him—Seth—at the vet practice. The plan was that I’d take control of the situation and go and see him in order to avoid an awkward encounter in the street.”

“You’ve changed the plan?”

“Not officially. It’s more that the plan isn’t work­ing out. It’s awkward.” It was okay to admit that much, wasn’t it? Finding something awkward wasn’t as bad as finding it terrifying. “And I don’t think an encoun­ter in the street could be any more uncomfortable than a face-to-face in the clinic.”

“I can imagine it feels a little awkward, but—”  

“A little awkward? That’s like calling a hurricane a light breeze. This isn’t a little awkward, it’s mega awkward, it’s—” She floundered for a description and gave up. “Forget it. No word has been invented that cor­rectly reflects this situation.” And even if it had, she wouldn’t be using it. She didn’t want Harriet to know how bad she felt.

“‘This situation’ being bumping into your ex.”

“You manage to make a highly complex and delicate situation sound simple.”

“That’s probably the best way to look at it. Don’t overthink it.” Harriet lowered the puppy to the floor and stood up. “It’s been ten years, Fliss. I know it was a traumatic time.”

“No need to dramatize it.” Why was her mouth so dry? She took a glass from the cabinet and poured her­self some water. “It was fine.”

“It wasn’t fine. But everything that happened is all in the past. You have a whole new life, and so does he.”

“I never think about it.” The lie came easily even though a day rarely passed when she didn’t think about it. She also thought about what Seth’s life might have looked like if he hadn’t met her and occasionally, when she was indulging herself, what her life with Seth Car­lyle could have looked like if the circumstances had been different.

Harriet studied her with a mixture of concern and exasperation. “Are you sure? Because it was a big deal.”

“As you say, it’s been ten years.”

“And you haven’t been seriously involved with a man since.”

“Haven’t met anyone who interested me.” Anyone who measured up. Anyone who made her feel the way Seth had made her feel. There were days when she won­dered if what she’d felt had been real, or if her teenage brain had augmented those feelings.

“It upsets me when you don’t share your feelings with me. I can understand why you hid everything from Dad, and even from Daniel, but this is me.”

“I’m not hiding anything.”


“All right, maybe I hide some things, but there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s the way I am.”

“No. It’s the way you learned to be. And we both know why.” Weary, Harriet stooped to remove Fliss’s shoe from the puppy’s mouth.

Fliss stared at her sister, the urge to confide momen­tarily eclipsing her quest for privacy. “I—I think about it sometimes. About him.” Why had she said that? If she opened the door a crack, her emotions were likely to come pouring out and drown everyone around her.

Harriet straightened slowly. “Which part do you think about most?”

That fateful birthday. The kiss on the beach. His mouth and hands. The laughter, the sunshine, the smell of the ocean. Passion and promise.

She could still remember it vividly. Almost as viv­idly as she remembered everything that had followed.

“Forget it. I don’t really think about it.”


“All right! I think about it. All of it. But I was deal­ing with it pretty well, until Daniel told me he’d seen Seth here in New York.” You were supposed to be able to leave your past behind. What were you supposed to do when it followed you? “Do you think he knew I was living here?”

New York was a city of eight million people. Eight million busy people, all running around doing their thing. It was a city of possibilities, but one of those pos­sibilities was to live here anonymously, blending in. It had been perfect, until the day Seth Carlyle had taken a job in the vet practice they used regularly.

“In New York? I don’t know. I doubt he knew he’d be this close to you. It’s not as if you’ve been in touch.”

“No. Never been in touch.” It was the only way she’d been able to cope. Put it behind her. Move on. Don’t look back.

He hadn’t been in touch with her either, so presum­ably he’d been taking the same approach.

Harriet lifted the puppy back into his basket. “I know it feels difficult, but you’ve built a whole new life, and he has, too.”

“I know, but I wish he hadn’t chosen to move his life onto my patch. I should be able to walk the few blocks around our apartment without having to peer around street corners like a fugitive.”

“You’re doing that?” The shock in her twin’s eyes made her wish she’d kept that information to herself.

“I was talking hypothetically.”

“If you’d done what you planned to do and just walked in there and said, ‘Hi, good to see you again,’ you would have cleared the air and you wouldn’t be glancing over your shoulder. Things will feel easier when you’ve actually seen him.”

“I have seen him,” Fliss muttered. “He was standing in Reception when I made my first attempt to approach the building last week.” It was his hair that had caught her eye first, and then the way he’d angled his head to listen to something the receptionist was saying to him.  

He’d always been a good listener. It had been ten years since she’d touched him or stood close to him, but ev­erything about him was achingly familiar.

Harriet was gaping at her. “You saw him? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Nothing to tell. And don’t worry, he didn’t see me.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I dropped to the ground like a navy SEAL on a secret mission. I didn’t move until I was sure he’d gone. I had to stop a passerby calling 911, which was both annoying and reassuring because usually New Yorkers are too busy doing their own thing to pay much attention to a body on the ground. Why are you gap­ing at me?”

“You dropped to the ground. And you’re trying to pretend you’re fine with this?”

“No pretense necessary.” She ground her teeth. Didn’t her sister have a dog to walk or something? “You’re right. I have to do this. I have to meet him and get it over with.” The thought of it made her heart and pulse thunder a protest. It was a fight-or-flight response, and her body seemed to be choosing flight.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“What I really want is for you to pretend to be me so that I don’t have to do it at all.” She saw Harriet’s eyes cloud with worry and cursed herself for saying too much. “I was joking!”

“Were you?”

“Of course. If I let you do that I’d lose the last shred of my self-respect. I have to do this by myself.”

“Remember what Molly said. You should control the meeting. Make an appointment for one of the animals. That way you have a reason to be there and something else to talk about. If it’s awkward you can keep it pro­fessional.”


“Memorize one line. ‘Hi, Seth, good to see you. How are you doing?’ I can’t believe I’m saying this to you. You’re the one who is great with people. I’m the one who is tongue-tied and awkward.”

“You’re right. It should be easy. So why isn’t it?”

“Probably because you left so much unresolved.”

“We’re divorced. How much more resolved than that can you get?”

“You were in love with him, Fliss.”

“What? Don’t be crazy. It was a teenage crush, that’s all. Sex on a beach that got a bit more hot and heavy than we’d planned—” Her voice tailed off as she met Harriet’s unwavering gaze.

“You’re doing it again. Hiding your feelings from me.”

“Believe me, you don’t want a dose of my feelings.” She stiffened as Harriet stepped forward and gave her a hug. “Oh. What’s that for?” She felt her sister’s arms tighten around her.

“I hate seeing you hurt.”

Which was why she never let her twin see the true extent of her hurt. “Of course you do. You’re the good twin. I’m the bad twin.”

“I hate it when you call yourself that. I would love to have your qualities.”

“You don’t have room for any more qualities. You’re already loaded with them.”

“I hate it when you call me ‘good.’ I’m not good, and one of these days I’m going to do something really bad to prove it.”  

“You couldn’t be bad if you tried, although if you ever decide to give it a try I hope you’ll call me. I’d like to see it. You’re strangling me, Harry. I can’t handle af­fection before I’ve had at least two cups of coffee.” And because she didn’t trust herself not to say more than she wanted to say. Harriet’s affection was like a key, un­locking a part of herself she preferred to keep secured.

“You’re not bad, Fliss.”

“Try telling that to Seth and the rest of the Carlyle family.” And to her father. “He had a glowing future until I came along.” She poured herself another glass of water.

“He’s a vet. His future looks just fine from where I’m standing. And why do you take all the responsibility for what happened? He made a choice, Fliss.”

Had he? Remembering the details, Fliss felt color flood her cheeks. There were things she hadn’t even told her twin. Things she hadn’t told anyone. “Maybe. That’s enough talking for one day.” She felt unsettled, like a snow globe that had been shaken, leaving her previously settled feelings to swirl madly around in­side. How could she still have so many feelings after so long? Weren’t they ever going to fade? It was annoying and unfair. “If Seth is going to be living here, maybe I should leave New York. That would be a solution.”

“That’s not a solution, that’s avoidance. Your busi­ness is here. Your life is here. You love New York. Why would you leave?”

“Because now he’s here I’m not sure I love it any­more.”

“Where would you go?”

“I’ve heard Hawaii is pretty.”

“You’re not going to Hawaii. You’re going to chan­nel your inner warrior and go see him. You’re going to say, ‘Hi, Seth, how’s the family?’ And then you’re going to let him talk. And when he’s finished talking you’re going to notice the time and leave. Done. How do you know he won’t be pleased to see you?”

“Our relationship didn’t exactly end in a good way.”

“But it was a long time ago. He will have moved on, as you have. He’s probably married.”

The glass slipped through Fliss’s nerveless fingers but fortunately didn’t break. “He’s married?”

Why did she even care whether he was married or not? What relevance did it have? What was wrong with her?

“I don’t know he’s married. I was just putting it out there, but clearly I shouldn’t have.” Ever practical, Har­riet retrieved the glass and started mopping up water.

“You see? I can’t possibly talk to him because I’m not in charge of my emotions. But you are. You should definitely pretend to be me. That way you could have this conversation and get it over with and you won’t feel awkward.”

Harriet straightened. “I haven’t pretended to be you since I was twelve.”

“Fourteen. You’re forgetting that time when I pre­tended to be you in biology.”

“Because that sleazy creep wouldn’t stop torment­ing me about my stammer. Johnny Hill. You punched him. How could I have forgotten that?”

“I don’t know. It was a great day.”

“Are you kidding? You had to have eight stitches in your head. You still have the scar.”

“But he never touched you again, did he? And nei­ther did anyone else.” Fliss grinned and rubbed her fin­gers along the scar hidden under her hair. “You got a reputation for being scary. So you owe me. Go and see Seth. Be me. It’s easy. Just do and say everything you’d never do or say and you’ll be convincing.”

Harriet gave a wry smile. “You’re not such a bad girl, Felicity Knight.”

“I used to be. And Seth paid the price.”

“Stop it.” Harriet’s voice was firm. “Stop saying that. Stop thinking it.”

“How? It’s the truth.” But she’d paid it, too, and it seemed as if those payments never stopped. “If I could find a way to avoid seeing him, I would. I have no idea what to say to a man whose life I ruined.”

Four blocks away Seth Carlyle had his hands full of moody cocker spaniel.

“How long has he been like this?”

“Like what? Angry?”

“I meant, how long has he been limping?”

“Oh.” The woman frowned. “About a week.”

Seth examined the dog thoroughly. The dog snarled, and he eased the pressure of his fingers. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt you. Just need to take a good look and see what’s going on here.” He kept his voice and his touch gentle and felt the animal relax under his hands.

“He likes you.” The woman looked at him with sur­prise and dawning respect. “Dr. Steve says you’re help­ing him out. Said you were a big-shot vet who worked in some animal hospital in California.”

“I don’t know about the first part, but the second part is true.”

“So why leave California? Tired of all that sunshine and blue skies?”

“Something like that.” Seth smiled and turned his attention back to the dog. “I’m going to run some tests and see if those will give us the answers we want.”

“Do you think it’s serious?”

“I suspect it’s a soft-tissue injury, but there are a few other conditions I need to rule out.” He gave some instructions to the vet technician, ran some tests and checked the X-ray. “We should limit his exercise.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“Make sure you keep him in a small space.”

“No more walks in Central Park?”

“Not for the time being. And give him some time in his crate.”

Once he’d completed the notes, he walked to Re­ception.


“Hi, Dr. Carlyle.” Her face turned pink, and she dropped the magazine she’d been reading under the desk. “Is there something I can do for you? Coffee? Bagel? Anything at all? You just need to ask. We’re so grateful to you for stepping in and helping out.” It was clear from the look in her eyes that anything wasn’t an exaggeration, but Seth ignored the unspoken invitation and the hopeful look in her eyes.

“I’m good, thanks. Did I miss any calls while I was in the clinic?”

“Yes.” She checked the notepad in front of her. “Mrs. Cook called to tell you Buster’s wound is looking better. One of the vet techs took the call. And Geoff Hammond called about his pooch. I put him through to Steve.”

“That’s it?” He felt a stab of disappointment, and Meredith checked again, desperate to please.

“Yeah, that’s it.” She glanced up. “Why? Were you expecting someone in particular?”

My ex-wife.

“No.” His reason for asking wasn’t something he intended to share.

He’d been waiting for her to come to him. Think­ing about it, he realized he was treating Fliss much the same way he’d treat an injured, frightened animal. With patience. No sudden moves.

He couldn’t even pretend that perhaps she didn’t know he was here. He’d run into her brother, Daniel, on his second night in Manhattan. It had been an un­comfortable encounter, and it had been obvious from the tension heating the air that the animosity Daniel Knight felt toward him hadn’t diminished over time. Daniel would have told Fliss that Seth was in Man­hattan. The Knight siblings were so close they might as well have been sutured together. He suspected that part of the reason for that was their stormy family life. Growing up they’d formed a bond. Seth didn’t blame Daniel for being protective of Fliss. Someone had to be, and it hadn’t been her father.

He’d met her when she’d been a leggy fourteen years old. She’d been part of the group who hung out together on the beach during those long, blissful summers in the Hamptons. At first glance she was indistinguishable from her twin, but anyone who spent a few minutes in their company would have known which twin they were talking to. Harriet was reserved and thoughtful. Fliss was wild and impulsive and attacked life as if she was leading an army into battle. She was first into the water and last out, swimming or surfing until the final rays of the sun had burned out over the ocean. She was bold, brave, loyal and fiercely protective of her quieter sister. She was also a daredevil, but he’d sensed a level of desperation to her actions, almost as if she wanted someone to challenge her. He’d had the feeling some­times that she was living life just a little too hard, de­termined to prove something.

He’d known nothing about her family life that first summer. Her grandmother had owned the beach house on the bay for decades and was well-known in the area. Her daughter and children visited every summer, but unlike his own mother, who was actively involved in the local community both at the beach and back in their home in upstate New York, Fliss’s mother was virtu­ally invisible.

And then one day the rumors had started. They’d trickled along the narrow lanes and into the village stores. A couple of people passing had heard raised voices and then the sound of a car driving too fast along the narrow island roads toward the main highway. The rumors spread from person to person, whispers and questions, until finally Seth heard them. Marriage prob­lems. Family problems.

Seth had rarely seen her father. Almost all his im­pressions of the man had come from Fliss and Harriet’s reaction to him.

“Dr. Carlyle?” Meredith’s voice brought him back to the present, reminding him that his reason for being here was to move forward, not backward.

Since he’d arrived in New York he’d seen Fliss twice. The first time had been in Central Park on his first day in Manhattan. She’d been walking two dogs, an exu­berant Dalmatian and a misbehaving German shepherd who had seemed determined to challenge her skills.  

She’d been too far in the distance for him to engineer a meeting, so he’d simply watched as she’d strode away from him, noticing the changes.

Her hair was the same smooth buttermilk blond, pinned haphazardly at the top of her head in a style that could have been named “afterthought.” Lean and athletic, she walked with purpose and a touch of impa­tience. It had been her attitude that had convinced him he was looking at Fliss and not Harriet.

She’d grown into a confident woman, but that didn’t surprise him. She’d never been short of fight.

He was desperate to see her face, to look into those eyes and see the flare of recognition, but she was too far away and didn’t turn her head.

The second time he’d seen her had been outside the office. The fact that she was hovering indecisively con­vinced him again that this was Fliss and not her sister. He guessed she’d been trying to summon up courage to confront him, and for a moment he’d believed maybe they were finally on their way to having the conversa­tion they should have had a decade before. He’d also witnessed the exact moment she’d lost her nerve and fled.

He’d felt a burst of exasperation and frustration, fol­lowed by an increased determination that this time they were going to talk.

The last time they’d seen each other the atmosphere had been full of emotion. It had filled the air like thick smoke from a fire, choking everything. Maybe, if she’d been different, more willing to talk, they could have stumbled their way through it, but Fliss, as always, had refused to reveal her feelings, and although he had more than enough feelings for both of them, he’d not known how to reach her. The brief intimacy that had connected them had vanished.

He refused to believe that connection had been purely physical, but it had been the physical that had devoured their attention.

If he could have wound time backward he would have done it all differently, but the past was gone and there was only the present.

They’d had no contact for ten years, so this was al­ways going to be an awkward meeting for both of them, but it was a meeting that was long overdue, and if she wasn’t going to come to him, then he was left with only one option.

He’d go to her.

He’d tried leaving it alone. He’d tried pushing it into his past. Neither had worked, and he’d come to the con­clusion that tackling it head-on was the only way for­ward.

He wanted the conversation they should have had a decade before. He wanted answers to the questions that had lain dormant in his head. Most of all, he wanted closure.

Maybe then he could move on.

Holiday in the Hamptons
by by Sarah Morgan

  • Genres: Fiction, Romance
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books
  • ISBN-10: 0373803990
  • ISBN-13: 9780373803996