The afternoon class at Tanglewood Women’s Prison was a spectrum of tension, as separated and splintered as a beam of light refracted through a prism. Cascade Preston held her student’s template assignment up to the light overhead, and spoke carefully on the quality of the stained glass project.
“With two lights, or openings, Brenda, I would say your idea of a church window for this one would be correct.”
Sighing, the student replied, “So you think I’m making progress?”
“Of course.” She tossed her honey-colored curls behind her shoulders. “Don’t you?”
Brenda snorted. “Heck, no. I’m in here for domestic assault. What do I know about progress? My life is over.”
This stopped Cascade in her tracks. “Look, we all make mistakes. God has told us that the sinners should flock to him. What do you think? ”
Brenda shrugged. “God has his own agenda. We’ll see what the parole board says about mine in two weeks.”
“For now, let’s focus on next week’s class. Bring me a flower for that one.”
“Where are we supposed to get a flower?” someone muttered.
“Draw one, stupid,” Brenda answered.
“Bye, ladies. Take care.”
“See you.” Sad-eyed, Brenda gave her a high-five as Cascade walked past her.
Cascade’s heels clicked efficiently with her every crisp step, as she made sure to shuttle as closely as possible alongside the beefy guard who was escorting her from the holding room. Getting into her Corolla, she whispered a prayer. “I don’t think I’m doing any good here, Lord, but I feel you telling me to stick with it. So I will. Maybe this is the kind of thing that saved my mother.” She tried to block the images of her mother’s bruises from her mind, but they wouldn’t go away. They never did.
The drive back into Boston passed by quickly, without too much traffic. “Lean on Me” blasted from her audio system, and she sang along with all her heart. At twenty-seven, she knew it was technically an oldie, but to her, it was fresh and filled with meaning.
Cascade wondered as she sang what it would feel like to have someone to lean on, because she had always been alone.
“There’s only one thing that could make tonight perfect,” she mused as she pulled into the parking area for her condo complex, “and that’s not going to happen, for sure.”
Images of her long-gone fiancée, Kevin, came into her mind and heart. Where was he this fine June evening? More importantly, why were things so much better for him without her in his life?
A form crossing her path brought her back to reality. Her eyes narrowed as she noticed someone walking towards her car. A guy — a big guy she did not recognize.
She shaded her eyes from the late day sun. Dark hair and outdoorsy looks. Work boots. “Nope,” she murmured to herself, “I don’t know him.”
Hopping from her car, she said, “Can I help you?”
“If you’re Cascade Preston, you sure can.”
He folded his arms across his chest. With all those muscles moving, Cascade could only imagine the stress put on the seams of his light blue cotton shirt.
“And you are…”
“Dan McQuay.” He extended his arm towards her. “From the site.”
“Hi.” Cascade pumped his strong hand, lost in his sky blue eyes. “What site?”
He tilted his head. “The construction site.”
“I’m not following you.”
He looked at her steadily. “I’m Project Manager for the retrofit on the church in Sterling Lakes. The one that you’re doing the windows for.”
Cascade felt her heartbeat quicken. Just hearing the name of the town where she grew up made her anxious and tense. “It seems there’s been a misunderstanding. No way am I working on anything in Sterling Lakes.” She started to bustle past him. “Now if you’ll excuse me?”
“Don’t run away, Ms. Preston. There’s a problem here.”
His tone of voice got her attention. He sounded like he cared…about her. That was crazy. She was a total stranger to him.
She nodded. “Apparently there is a problem, you’re right. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Like I said, I’m not doing any work in Sterling Lakes, and I never will. That’s the last place in the world I ever would go.”
He gave a slow whistle. “Well, that’s a loaded speech if I ever heard one.”
In spite of herself, she smiled. “I didn’t mean to get all hot and huffy, but it is how I feel, and I have my good reasons.”
He eyed her intently before he finally spoke. “Understood. The thing is, your name is on the plans that I have, and my crew is ready to get going. We haven’t heard from you, and we need to have a job meeting. Mostly, we need your specs.”
Cascade noticed the strong line of his jaw when he spoke, and oh, those bluer than blue eyes of his were so easy to get lost in. She swallowed.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not contracted for that job. Your Project Executive should be able to answer your questions.” She toyed with the zipper on her oversized leather shoulder bag as she watched thunderclouds roll across his handsome face. “Look, why don’t you give me his name? I’ll check things out at my studio in the morning and get in touch with him. Maybe I can get to the bottom of this.”
“Yup.” He took his hands out of his pockets. “Here’s my business card, and here’s his. Try and remember, every day is money to me.”
“Okay, I know. I’m in business, too, so I get it. I know every job I’m on, and this one is not on my list. Let me see if I can find out why I’m on the list of subcontractors…if I really am.”
“I shouldn’t be, so there’s a mistake. I never even sent in a bid.”
“At least we found out something tonight,” he said with a shrug. “Other than you being a whole lot prettier in person that all those magazine articles and newspaper stories about you.”
Cascade could feel her face warm up at his compliment. “Now you’re trying to butter me up.”
“Just stating the truth, plain and simple like I always do, Ms. Preston. That’s my way. Thank you for your time.”
He started walking over to his truck. “Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Right. And there’s one more thing.”
He questioned her with a wondering look.
“Please call me Cascade.” Her smile lingered as she watched him drive off into the Boston twilight. Too bad this job was in Sterling Lakes. It might not be that bad to do a job with Dan McQuay. Not bad at all.
Great, thought Dan as he drove along Route 9 back to his hotel. Another fruitcake artist type who doesn’t have any touch with reality. Not a clue. He sighed.
Yet Cascade Preston seemed completely together. Tons of talent, well-spoken, and successful. Not to mention those gorgeous green eyes and honey-colored curls. What could be the glitch?
He hit speed dial on his cell phone Smart Phone. Mike Davis, his Project Executive, had to know. After two rings, Mike picked up.
“Hey Mike, it’s Dan. Remember I asked you to check on that stained-glass artist, Cascade Preston? You know, that famous one who hasn’t been showing up to the job in Sterling Lakes?”
“Yup, we did. She’s on, Dan. Signed everything.”
“Yeah, okay. The funny thing is, I just met her, and she didn’t know what I was talking about. She’s leveling with me, I can tell.”
Mike snorted. “What can I say? She’s it. Unless someone else signed her name and didn’t tell her,” he chuckled. “See you.”
“Thanks, Mike,” Dan said.
Lightning struck, sirens blared, and red flags went off in Dan’s mind. Mike had been kidding around, but his words hit the nail on the head.
Why hadn’t he thought of that? Someone else had signed Cascade’s name to those papers. But who would do that? And why?
Nothing’s ever easy. All I want to do is finish the job, get my money and move on, Forged papers, a complete lack of interest, plus a possible lawsuit with a world-famous artist spelled disaster for his project plans. They’d better have another glass artist lined up, because this one wasn’t going to do it, and the schedule had to kept, no matter what. Thirty-one years old. He needed this?
He signaled for the exit off Route 9, and as he met drove West, facing the beautiful twilight, all of a sudden Cascade’s smile flashed in his mind’s eye. Seemed like a shame she wasn’t really on board, because it might not be that bad to do a job with her. Not bad at all.