"Drake!" Galen Ashcroft stopped short in the kitchen doorway, her long, aristocratic face lighting in delight. She quickly put down the empty, crumb-strewn platter she had evidently come in to refill, and hurried to wrap her arms around him. "How in the world did you sneak in so quietly?" She laughed as she stepped back, keeping a hold on his upper arms and looking him over, as she always did after a long absence, as if she thought he had changed drastically.
"Wasn't hard, Mom." Drake finally put down his coffee cup, though he regretted missing out on the last two mouthfuls. Although now that he had stopped inhaling it, he noticed it was one of those flavored coffees his mother loved and his father endured. Something nutty and spicy. Not too bad, but Drake preferred plain coffee, heavy on the sugar, if anything.
"What do you mean, not too hard?" She brushed a kiss on his cheek and turned to pick up the platter.
"You didn't hear the doorbell ring, through all that chatter in there." He tipped his head in the direction of the living room, where laughter rose up as if in response to his words, almost loud enough to make the kitchen chandelier vibrate.
"Don't tell me you rang the doorbell at your own home?"
"No, but the delivery guy from Macy's did. He left a pile on the front step. Di's making out like a bandit. She and Troy are gonna need to rent a second house on base, with all the junk they're getting."
"You can blame darling Gretchen for that," his mother said as she slid pieces of cheese-and-fruit pastry squares onto the platter. She tipped her head toward the cabinet with the dishes and Drake hurried to get a dinner plate. She slid the last four squares onto the plate for him and he thanked her with a kiss.
"Blame her for what, exactly?"
"She decided Dinah was cheating herself by asking for sensible things and money, so she went out and registered her at all the department stores in town. I know the girl means well, but Dinah is too busy as a Navy nurse, working to become a surgeon, and now a newlywed with a military husband to worry about entertaining. They certainly don't need lead crystal goblets and Lenox china ornaments. Especially when we have enough dishes and silver and linens in this house to outfit you and Dinah and a dozen distant relations without even noticing the lack. The girl's a darling, but sometimes I think she doesn't have a lick of sense."Drake bit his tongue against commenting that it wasn't a lack of common sense in Gretchen, but her refusal to let anybody contradict her. If she thought Dinah needed to be outfitted like a princess, then she would make sure of it, no matter what all the Ashcrofts said to the contrary. Drake wondered how she and Stacy were getting along. Gretchen had gone through a number of phases when they were in elementary and middle school, either being best buddies with Stacy or fighting to "put her in her place," as if the old, stuffy social rules meant anything and the housekeeper's granddaughter was supposed to be seen and not heard. In high school, she had been stuck in the "Stacy is social trash" phase, and had spent all her time trying to get Dinah to snub her and run with the "best crowd." Drake had been just as surprised as Dinah when she ran into Gretchen a few years ago and found her so changed -- warm, generous, and with a good sense of humor, according to his sister.