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Charming Grace [MultiFormat]
eBook by Deborah Smith

eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Romance novel by Deborah Smith

eBook Publisher: BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, Published: Hardcover, 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2008


4 Reader Ratings:
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"What is it about Southern writers that makes their words on paper become audible voices in readers' heads? Pat Conroy does it, with long, languorous sentences and poetically phrased prose. Roy Blount uses folksy characters and good-old-boy humor. And countless others have earned a voice over 200 years or so. Add to that list Deborah Smith."--The Colorado Springs Gazette

"Smith is an exceptional storyteller ... Exciting and heartwarming." APTCH, Booklist "A storyteller of distinction."--BookPage

"Deborah Smith is one writer who definitely has become a standard of excellence in the arena of contemporary women's fiction."--Harriet Klaussner, Amazon.com's top reviewer

"Readers of the novels of Anne Rivers Siddons will welcome into their hearts Deborah Smith."--Midwest Book Review

"[Deborah Smith] ... just keeps getting better."--Publishers Weekly

"For sheer storytelling virtuosity, Ms. Smith has few equals."--Richmond Times-Dispatch


Chapter 1

"Grace Bagshaw Vance will end up in jail, in the gutter, or drunk on martinis in some fancy nut hatch for ex-beauty queens," people whispered about me. "Bless Her Heart."

It was true. By the day Stone Senterra came to my Georgia home town to make a movie about my husband, Harp Vance, I was ready to kill him and accept the consequences. I'd become a deadly, determined, Bless Her Heart kind of Southern belle. A cracked belle, you could say. Grieving can take over a person's life like a sinister charm, inspiring good causes and noble dedication at the expense of true healing. It's possible to both pity and fear a mourner who's gone just a little bit funny and more than a little bit dangerous. I qualified on both counts. In the South, the dreaded BHH is attached to your name with admiring sympathy but also a dollop of fear. You are no longer a dependably entertaining person, and may even stoop to becoming an embarrassment.

Be afraid, Dahlonegans whispered. Be very afraid. Bless her heart.

Two years ago, Harp, an agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, tracked down a killer the media had dubbed the Turn-Key Bomber. After months of cat-and-mouse games through the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, Harp and the serial-killing psychopath faced off on the roof of one of the largest hospitals in Atlanta. And there, on a hot summer morning when the sun rose over the city like an orange eye, my husband stopped the crazy bastard from exploding a bomb that would have killed a lot of people. Harp took six bullets to the chest before he sank a hunting knife into the Turn-Key's throat. His police methods had never followed the rules. Neither did his death. The only rules he ever believed in were the ones I imposed on him out of love.

Helicopter cameramen from CNN's Atlanta headquarters and the local TV stations broadcast the death-fight with the bomber as it happened, and so the whole world watched Harp sacrifice his own life to save the hospital. I watched, too, in horror, from my hostess chair on the set of a silly morning talk show called Atlanta A.M. My husband had been a loner and a damaged soul and an idealist and a cynic and a lover and my best friend since we were kids. I got to the emergency room only in time to cry my heart out and whisper, "It's all right. Don't be afraid of the dark. I'll always be there with you," before he took his last breath.

I had been there, in that darkness, fighting to keep a light burning for him, ever since.

So, on a cool May morning while Stone Senterra cruised up the mountain interstate in his limousine, I planned my ambush. Senterra and his people were scheduled to start on-location filming from an old campground Senterra Films had leased as a base of operations. I intended to block Stone's way with the one material he respected. Stone.

"Stand back. I'm dropping the whole load on the count of five," I called out the dump truck's window. My Grandmother Helen--known to her three children and ten grandchildren not as Grandmother, Grandma, or Granny, but as the elegant and indomitable G. Helen, tucked her pearls inside her cashmere-trimmed denim jacket, fluffed graying auburn hair, then motioned to Harp's teenage niece, Mika DuLane. "Five means 'four and a promise' to your impatient Aunt Grace," G. Helen warned the sixteen-year-old.

Mika nodded. "Let's boogie."

My tall, elegant, Irish-pale grandmother sashayed briskly alongside the short, cute, mocha-skinned Mika, whose idea of fashion was an army jacket covered in computer game logos. When she and G. Helen reached the side of the steep road Mika called back, "Aunt Grace, maybe you should wait while I do some calculations to estimate the area of spillage based on the tonnage and the maximum angle of the dump truck's bed." She reached inside the army jacket for her Palm Pilot.

"Aim for the center line and let 'er rip," G. Helen called. Then to Mika, "Sweetie pie, sometimes we just have to dump our load and get the hell out of the way."

I pulled a lever. The truck's bed upended and gray dust gushed out as tons of silver-gray gravel spilled onto the asphalt. When I finished, a small mountain of rocks blocked both lanes of the only paved road that led to Stone Senterra's mountain production headquarters. The road's grassy shoulders dropped immediately into deep gulches filled with boulders and laurel. Stone Senterra wouldn't be able to reach his luxury house trailer or his Quonset-hut film editing lab or his picnic-pavilion-turned-personal-gym. He'd have to deal with me.

Face-to-Stone Face.

I climbed atop my barricade of metaphorically crushed Stone Senterra, pulled Harp's favorite leather-brimmed hat low over my forehead, laid G. Helen's antique shotgun across my updrawn knees, and set a magnificent wild orchid beside me in her moss-stained clay pot. A pink, pouch-shaped bloom, as delicate as a ballet slipper, hung from the orchid's slender stem. She had bloomed that morning as if she knew Harp and I needed her support. There was no way past me, the shotgun, and the native ladyslipper orchid Harp had named Dancer.

The morning grew quiet as the deep shush of settling rock faded away. Ridges of pines and greening hardwoods marched toward a horizon of rounded, fog-gray mountains and deep, mystic hollows. Deer and bear sniffed the air as if sensing the impending aroma of city slickers.

"I'm set," I called to G. Helen and Mika. "Go home and call that list of media contacts I gave you, all right? Dancer and I'll take care of the situation here. Don't worry about me. A grand jury of Lumpkin County folk will vote a no-bill on the attempted homicide charge so fast they'll be home in time for the lunchtime reruns of Matlock on A&E."

"If you do shoot," G. Helen said, "At least don't aim for Senterra's head."

I nodded. "It wouldn't do any good. He has no brain."

G. Helen rolled her eyes. Mika stared at me, her eyes dark with amazement. She came from the very rich, very elegant DuLanes of Detroit, Michigan. In Detroit, tasteful people didn't shoot at movie stars. They also didn't name their orchids and talk to them. "I'll visit you in prison," she called.

G. Helen and Mika left in G. Helen's dark-blue Lincoln. My hands sweated on the stock of shotgun, where a silver plate was engraved with words that summed up everything G. Helen had taught me about life.

Always fight back. And aim higher than you need to.

I bent my head and prayed. Harp, I'll never stop defending you. Please let me know that I'm doing it the right way. Please let me know that Dancer bloomed this morning as a sign to keep fighting.

Silence. Harp was whispering to me less and less, lately. Plus he'd never had a way with words and never believed in telling other people, or wild orchids, how to live their lives, as long as they hurt no one but themselves. Waiting for Harp to come back to life was no use. Of course I knew that. But I had no idea he was about to send me a stranger named Boone Noleene with his answer. Or that maybe Boone was the answer.

Poor, brave man.

Bless his heart.

* * * *

Ask Grace 'Who's Boone Noleene and what job does he do for Stone Senterra?' and she'd have given you one of her solemn, beauty-queen-being-polite-in-the-interview looks while she thought it over.

What would I do to achieve world peace? I'd spread more love, everywhere!

Who is Boone Noleene and what job does he do for Stone Senterra?

"I believe I read in People Magazine that he walks Stone's pig," she'd have said.

And she'd have been right.

His name--the pig's--was Shrek. He'd been named by Stone's little girls, who doted on the sway-backed, Vietnamese, pork-bellied snot-snout.

"What's Shrek's Cajun name, Boonie?" the girls asked me all the time, just to hear my answer in French. Sweet little darlin's, just six and eight. They called me Boonie, Boo, the Boo-man. They didn't understand the fading tattoos, the busted nose, the bullet and blade scars from New Orleans street fights. I was just Boonie, the tall man Papa trusted to guard them. Stone knew I'd take a fist in the gut for their sakes. For his sake, too. For his nice-kid teenage son, Leo. For his smart-tough-classy wife, Kanda.

Stone, who liked to brag that he'd played more lawmen than John Wayne and Clint Eastwood combined, had picked me out of Louisiana's Angola Federal Prison three years ago to be his little rehabilitate-a-paroled-con project. It looked good for his image, he said. Stone never liked to come across as sentimental. But let me tell you what he did for me, and why I respected him.

I walked out of Angola without a penny to my name and nothing but denim blues on my back. There he was, Mr. Superstar, waiting for me in a limo. Him and Kanda. I guess he didn't want me to think he was hittin' on me. Anyway, a limo. And his wife. A man doesn't just present any old so-and-so to his wife. Stone introduced me like I was a regular somebody, and then Kanda, who's a combination of Jewish Wisconsin farm-girl, Hollywood businesswoman, and soccer mom, hugged me. Hugged me--a paroled con she'd just met.

"First we're going to fly to L.A.," he said, "and then when we get there, the first thing, we're going shopping. You need some threads, mister. Then, once we get you spiffed up, you and me are going to a private mass in honor of your new life."

"And then I'm taking you to meet my rabbi," Kanda added. "If you don't mind."

I was dazed, drunk on fresh air and freedom, stunned by the turn my life had taken. All I remember saying to Kanda was, "I got nothing against going to mass or visitin' rabbis. But I'd appreciate it y'all would have your priest and your rabbi call my brother, Armand, and give him a good word or two, I'd appreciate it, merci bien. I kind of hate leaving him here in prison, alone."

She looked at my kindly. "Of course."

Stone planted a big, movie-star hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry about Armand. The day he walks out of here, I'll be waiting for him, too."

Imagine that.

I kept trying to say thank-you-why-are-you-doing-this? But he brushed me off. He launched into a long, rambling story about how his old man deserted their family when he was a kid, just like mine and Armand's had, but how he couldn't complain because at least his mother hadn't died when he was a kid like ours had, no, she'd remarried and kept a roof over the family's head, although the man she married was a big, mean dockworking bastard, so Stone had had a hard time living with him, the step-papa, growing up, and grown up fighting for everything plus defending a baby half-sister, Diamond, from the old man.

"See?" Stone finished. "You and me, Noleene, we're both survivors. We're tough guys. We're simpatico." He paused. "By the way, if you screw up this chance I'm giving you? I'll kill you."

"I won't screw up," I said.

Even now, three years later, I still didn't know why Stone Senterra, a wealthy, famous stranger, felt the need to treat me like his new best friend and tell me his personal story, other than the fact we'd both been deserted by our papas as kids, and we both came from good Catholic mamas. Once we got past those basics, he was a movie star born in New Jersey, and I was an ex-criminal born in New Orleans. Not much else in common.

But I knew this much: He'd given me a future. More than that, he'd given me a family--and by association, my bro, Armand, too. Armand would be out of Angola by fall, paroled a year early thanks to Stone's attorneys. A family. One worth honoring, serving, and protecting.

What's Shrek's Cajun name, Boonie?

"Le Snout Du Oink, ma petite cheres."

They laughed every time.

But if you asked Stone, the pig's name changed depending on who the Stone Man's box-office competition was that season. Lately the pig had been Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel, and The Rock, but most of all, more than anyone else, forever-and-ever-Amen, the pig was Mel Gibson.

"Mel Gibson took a dump on the Turkish rug again, today." Stone liked to say. Or, "The maid caught Mel Gibson eating out of the kitchen garbage again this morning."

Stone envied Gibson the way cheese envies cream. It was a mark of distinction to be Stone's pig. It meant you were a threat. Mel was the ultimate pig threat; the others were only satellites in Mel's pig-threat orbit. Arnold Schwarzenegger called once and asked when the hell he was going to be the pig, again.

Stone told him to get in line.

* * * *

"I feel like a fool, Noleene. This ambush of Grace Vance had better work."

Beside me, squatting in the Dahlonega woods on the heels of Burmese snake-skin cowboy boots, Stone was muttering. He'd been muttering for an hour. Let's just describe the Stone Man this way: Picture John Wayne playing Vito Corleone on a hike wearing an Armani suit.

When ten of your films have made 300 million dollars--that's each, not total--you tend to start thinking you deserve anything you want, including the right to film the life story of a dead GBI agent you admire, even if the agent's widow keeps threatening to kill you. So the Stone Man was not happy to be hiding in the bushes like a wuss, waiting for an introduction.

"The hell with this. I'm just going up there and talk to her. She wants to like me. She wants to be happy that I'm here to make a movie about her husband. I know she does. What's not to like?"

I shook my head. "Boss, you agreed to let me handle the introductions. You promised Kanda, too. For her and the kids. Besides, if you go up there and Grace Vance shoots you, it'll make me look bad. I might have to give up my parking spot at the bodyguard union hall."

Stone glared at me the way gorillas do when they're about to rip a banana off a tree, but he knew I was right. I'd done a good job taking care of his and his family's safety at home, on movie sets in jungles and on mountaintops, and even at the Oscars (he was afraid of Joan Rivers, so I had to body-block her while he walked up the red carpet.) Finally, he sighed and nodded. "All right, but this better work. I'm getting an itch in my hair plugs. You get up there and sweet-talk Grace Vance. Get the gun away from her, then I'll pop out of the woods and make nice. Go."

I got up and began climbing through the laurel. Inside orthopedic Hush Puppies, my left foot ached like a hangover. A beady-eyed parish cop had shot me in the foot when I was twelve. The bullet broke the joint of my big toe and it never healed right. Armand had cried over it. Ah, the glamour of the criminal life. Twenty-five years later, my foot throbbed its Hail Mary's.

When I reached the edge of the road I stopped in awe. Grace Vance. My first unhindered look at her. Mon Dieu, she was incredible--a long-legged redhead in hip-hugger jeans and a heavy blue sweater that held on like a glove, with a face like a good-looking stripper, a houseful of body with plenty of back porch and attic, and the smart green eyes of a bayou wildcat. She'd been crowned Miss Georgia in the late 1980's. If she hadn't ducked out on the pageant biz to marry Harp Vance, she's have probably won Miss America, too. I didn't doubt it. Grace Vance was every fine woman I'd ever regretted losing. Every classy meal I'd ever stolen from a New Orleans dumpster as a kid. Every ideal I'd hung onto in prison. Every dream of the good life I still dreamed.

La femme, la joi, la vie. Woman, joy, life.

But armed. Sad-looking. Dangerous. Beautiful. Maybe crazy. Sitting on a queenly mountain of pulverized stone. Next to a wild pink orchid. In a pot.

I took one life-changing breath in rhythm with her, then stepped into the open road and headed for her gravel pile.

If she shot me, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad way to die.

* * * *

We turn our best face to the world every morning. We look toward what we expect is coming our way, and we put on a stoic smile, and we hope no one guesses how scared we are. Every day since Harp died, I'd been afraid to look at the future. So I focused on the road below my gravel pile, waiting for the Senterra limo caravan I expected.

"Mrs. Vance. Your husband only killed to save other people, and so I'm bettin' you won't shoot me in his name. I hope."

I jabbed the stock of G. Helen's shotgun into my shoulder and swung toward the voice. Its owner stood at the base of my gravel mountain, his long legs ending in the gravel-dusted weeds. He'd walked out of the forest like a hunter, without rustling a leaf, big and lean and dark-haired, dangerous-looking. His face was both rough and handsome; everything about him was a little tailored but rumpled, from his wrinkled brown leather jacket to his dark trousers, ending in suede lace-ups that would have looked tame and academic on a man who didn't have an alligator tattooed on the back of his right hand.

A man.

You have to understand--there was no such thing as a man in my world anymore, only people of the opposite sex who weren't Harp.

The stranger seemed just as transfixed by me as I was by him. He frowned up at me sadly, more troubled looking than aggressive, as if someone had forced him to wash his dirty laundry in front of me. "If you shoot," he drawled, "make it a clean kill. I'm a fan of old-fashioned open-casket funerals. I want to lay there lookin' pretty while a street band plays Dixieland jazz and my friends get drunk on bourbon. If you shoot me in the head, it'll put a damper on the festivities."

The voice was deeply Southern but not mountain-grown; dialects and accents in the South are as varied as chocolate, and this one came from some lowland coast where English duked it out for dominance. It made an exotic melody on a cold Thursday morning atop plain gravel.

"Who are you?" I demanded.

"My name's Noleene. Boone Noleene. I work for Mr. Senterra." He slid a wallet from the pocket of his jacket. "I have I.D." His hand stopped in mid-air when I raised the tip of the shotgun toward his head. He looked from it to me. "You can take my word for it." He put the wallet away.

"What do you do, besides spy on me from down in laurel thickets?"

"Some people say I'm in charge of Mr. Senterra's personal security. I say I'm just a bodyguard. Either way, it's my job to let you shoot me instead of him."

Trickles of ice ran down my spine. No limo caravan. A tattooed thug steps out of the woods. He doesn't look surprised to see me and my gravel blocking the road. He works for Stone Senterra. I've been had.

"I'd prefer to shoot Mr. Senterra. And his spies."

"Yeah, I know. But you won't. You planned this thing here to get his attention. You've tried everything else. You never give up. Your history with your husband shows that. When push comes to shove, you'll risk everything for a showdown. But you're not a law-breaker, Mrs. Vance. Even if you were, your husband wouldn't want to see you in jail, and you'll honor his memory."

"You're wrong. The ends justify the means."

The tall, breathtaking Boone Noleene didn't budge. "You're not mean," he said. "And this isn't the end."

I tucked the shotgun deeper into the crook of my shoulder and aimed at his crotch. "It is for you, if you take one more step."

He slowly eased one soft shoe in the edge of the gravel, then another. When I didn't fire he began to climb. I stopped breathing, but refused to lower the shotgun. He never took his gaze off mine. His eyes were dark and thickly lashed, almost boyish in a face that had been used to break some fists. I was thirty-four. He might not be much older, except for that gladiator face.

He reached the top and stopped no more than an arm's length away me. "Okay," he said, "If you're not going to shoot me, let's talk. You're a smart woman. You know how to work the media. You used to be a TV reporter. You can get what you want without pulling a trigger."

I kept the gun trained on his crotch. "I was just a beauty queen running a morning talk show. Not a journalist. A glorified party hostess. More reckless and less ethical than you think."

"No. I've seen the tapes of your show. There was a lot more to you than good looks and a big smile."

"You think better of me than I do."

"Must be mutual. Otherwise, you'd have shot me by now. Since you haven't, I'm goin' to sit down right there. Nice and easy. Don't worry; you keep the shotgun, and I'll keep my distance."

He slowly sat down beside me. Only Dancer, the wild pink orchid, separated us. I was left pointing the shotgun at empty air. After an awkward moment, I lowered it to my knees and frowned at him. He looked at the ladyslipper. "Hello, Dancer."

He knew the name of my orchid.

The amazing stranger, this Boone Noleene, propped his long, brawny forearms on his updrawn knees and focused with what appeared to be polite patience on the gray-green mountains in front of us. "Believe it or not, Mr. Senterra wants to honor your husband. He wants do right by him."

"His idea of right. His idea of making a serious drama instead of a head-banging cartoon. He thinks he can direct a movie and start an artsy new phase of his show biz career. That people will forget he's just turned forty-five and his hair's falling out."

Noleene coughed or laughed. Hard to say which. "All that may be true. But he wants to meet you on your own terms, and then he thinks you'll come around."

"The only way I'll 'come around' is if he agrees to drop this project."

"Is it so bad to have a big movie star want to show the world how great your husband was?"

"Yes. If people don't own their memories, what do they have left?"

Silence. When he didn't answer, I shot a furtive glance at him. He frowned and kept his eyes on the mountains, but idly massaged the crude tattoo on his hand. "Some people would be happy to unload their memories," he said.

A pang of curiosity made me forget to clutch the shotgun. I let the barrel droop. A second later, he had my shotgun in his hands. The grab and snatch was so quick my fingertips tingled. I leapt to my feet, called him several lovely names, and ended with "Give it back," which was pathetic.

"You don't know how sorry I am to have to do this." He deftly snapped the shotgun open and reached for the shells. Only there were no shells. My face began to burn.

"Hmmm," he went. "Huntin' movie stars with nothing but hot air. Might work. Who knows?"

I spent a moment struggling to look defensive and appalled, then gave up. "My husband was killed by a man using a gun. Unless it was a matter of life and death, I would never point a loaded gun at another human being." I paused. "Though Stone Senterra doesn't qualify as human."

"Matter of opinion. No harm done." Noleene held the gun out.

I took it, sat back down, and faced forward, embarrassed. "Where is Sir Dumb-a-lot hiding? Tell him to come out."

Noleene raised a hand and signaled someone in the woods. The laurel thicket began to shake wildly. A tall, handsome, thick-necked bruiser plowed out of hiding and climbed up to the roadside. He had the well-preserved skin of a California tanning bed, a skull cap of receding brown hair clipped in a Caesar, and an aging, bodybuilder physique encapsulated in the kind of pin-striped suit that comes with its own fleet of Jaguars. The eager, Fred-Flintstone-Wilma-I'm-home expression on his face almost made me hesitate out of kindness. Almost.

I stood, jammed the empty shotgun into my shoulder, and pointed it at Stone Senterra's head. "You're dead," I called calmly. "You movie-making sonuvabitch."

Senterra threw up both hands and stepped back. An unlucky placement of one lustrous, reptile-skinned cowboy boot on some loose gravel sent him sprawling. He flailed his arms in a desperate effort to right the laws of physics, but it didn't work.

Stone Senterra went back into the laurel faster than he'd come out, feet in the air and ass first.

I lowered the shotgun. Limbs rustled high in a fir tree across the road. A camo-suited man leaned out of the tree enough to wave at me. "Got it! Beautiful!" He peered at a nearby cluster of pines. "Ramone, did you get it, too?" The top branches of the pine rattled. The man named Ramone poked his head out, grinning. "Si! Perfect!" Both men waved at me.

I nodded grimly then pivoted to meet the eyes of Stone Senterra's betrayed bodyguard. Boone Noleene stood up slowly, staring at the thicket where his employer had disappeared into the mountain equivalent of quicksand. His only show of shock was a sardonic lift of dark, winged brows and an intense expression of disbelief, which he turned on me in a way that made heat rise in my face.

"Photographers," I explained. "From The National Enquirer. Mr. Noleene, you have your spies, but I have mine, too. I wasn't sure what Stone was up to, today, so I set up a situation that would work to my advantage either way. If he'd driven up in a limo I'd have pulled the shotgun salute on him just the same, hoping he'd give the tabloid guys something to photograph. It worked like a charm. He's just as stupid as I thought."

The laurel rattled some more. The deep voice of a laurel-entrapped, enraged movie star roared out, "Noleene, goddammit. This was your idea."

Noleene studied me with what appeared to be both admiration and a deep desire to take my empty gun away and spank me. "Next time, just shoot me." Noleene's backroads-been-there face shifted into some semblance of a smile, parting his lips like a slow zipper over a sliver of ferocious white teeth. "I better go before he gets a twig stuck in a spot twigs don't belong."

"I'm sorry," I told him quietly. "For your sake."

"I can go a long way on that. Thanks."

"Noleene! If she hasn't clubbed you with a rock you better be on your way down here!"

"Au revoir, Mrs. Vance." Leaving that hint of deep-fried French perfume on his resume, he squared his shoulders, turned away, and went to pry Br'er Rabbit Senterra out of a mountain briar patch. The tabloid photographers climbed down from their trees, shrank back at the menacing look Noleene gave them, then toasted each other with a high-five. Next week everyone with a buck-fifty to invest would see photos of the world's biggest macho action star doing a backward belly-flop in a haze of shotgun-induced terror, courtesy of yours truly and Boone Noleene, a brave man caught up in bad circumstances, who appeared to expect better of me but would tolerate worse.

You did wrong by that bodyguard, Harp whispered to me. Now, he was talking.

I picked up Dancer and cradled her to my breasts. Without much victory I whispered, "I know. But all's fair in love and movies."

* * * *
HERO
DIRECTOR'S NOTES AND SCRIPT
CLASSIFIED PROPERTY--STONE SENTERRA
I MEAN IT! STAY OUT OF MY COMPUTER AND STOP TRYING
TO STEAL THIS SCRIPT, WHOEVER YOU ARE!

SCENE: DEEP MOUNTAIN WOODS, SPRINGTIME

Ten-year-old Grace Bagshaw, late-1970's, a beautiful and well-dressed little girl, clutches her Farrah Fawcett knapsack as she hikes nervously through the wilderness and stops to peer through tall mountain laurel down into a beautiful glen.

GRACE
(talking aloud to herself)

This is it! Ladyslipper Lost! This is where my mother and daddy were hiking ten years ago when I was born! I was born right here! And this is where Grandmother Helen comes to find the secret flowers for her greenhouse!

TAKES A FEW STEPS FARTHER DOWN THE HILL. LOOKS AGAIN. GASPS.

Oh my.

Pan to bigger view of glen. Now she sees hundreds of pink ladyslipper orchids in bloom.

GRACE (CONT'D)

(awed)

This is it. The home of the ladyslippers. Look at them! Just look! Harper Vance has to be hiding here. It's a magic place, just like Grandma Helen said.

(Calls loudly.)

Harper Vance! Harper Vance, are you in these caves around this magic hollow somewhere? I've come to save you, Harper Vance! I know you're still alive! Please, Harper Vance, don't run away again! I'm not just a rich little girl from a family who never pays attention to poor boys like you! I'm lonely and noble--just like you! And I've come to rescue you!"

Silence. Holding her knapsack tighter, Grace sniffs back tears and continues down the hill toward the glen filled with rare orchids.


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