Standing in front of the garage, wearing Dan’s oversized gloves, hands on hips, Grace regarded the garage door like a dragon ready to roar down sulfur and fire upon her.

“Get a grip,” she muttered under her breath. “You can do this. You’ve done everything else—you can tackle a garage door, too.” Okay, first she had to find the manual and the necessary tools. Dan was always so proud of his workbench. He had every gadget imaginable. Yet he hadn’t taken a single one with him when he walked away. Like everything else about his disappearance, this baffled her.

Was this other woman so incredible, so amazing, that she provided for his every need? Or did the things that used to matter to him no longer mean anything? He’d left behind his clothes, his tools, even his wedding band. He’d taken nothing more than the clothes on his back.

Grace didn’t know where she’d find the manual. She thought Dan kept his various instruction books in a box somewhere in the garage. She saw a stack of boxes piled beneath the workbench; she slid the top one out. Kneeling on the concrete floor, she opened the lid. Instead of the manual, she found the thick woolen shirt she’d bought him last Christmas. She lifted it and gasped. The shirt had been shredded. It looked as though Dan had taken a pair of scissors to it and systematically cut the fifty-dollar shirt into strips. All that remained intact was the collar and cuffs.

Grace remembered asking Dan about the shirt, remembered him telling her it was his favorite, but she’d never seen him wear it. After a while, it had completely slipped her mind.

Another box revealed a second ugly surprise. Kelly had given Dan a highly touted book on World War II for his birthday. He’d thanked her profusely and said he’d read it. But he hadn’t. Instead it, too, had been destroyed, the pages ripped from the binding. Grace discovered two more boxes of his carnage. It was as though he’d planted them there for her to find. Dan couldn’t have shouted his hate more loudly had he been standing directly in front of her.

Shaken to the core, Grace discarded the boxes in the garbage and sat down on the back porch steps. Her first reaction was anger. How dare he do such a thing. How dare he! Then she felt the overwhelming urge to weep. Tears stung her eyes, but she refused to give in to them. She refused to hand her husband the power to reduce her to a sniveling, spineless weakling.

Buttercup joined her and seemed to sense Grace’s distress.

“What would make him do this?” she asked her golden retriever.

Buttercup looked up at her with big, soulful eyes.

“I don’t know either, girl. I just don’t know.” Needing to hold someone, Grace put her arms around the dog’s neck and buried her face in Buttercup’s fur.

She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, feeling intense anger, regret and simmering emotion. After a while she got to her feet. The garage door wasn’t going to fix itself.

In the process of digging through the neat stack of boxes, she eventually happened upon the manual. She flipped through it and quickly read over the information. The book offered suggestions for troubleshooting, which she studied in detail. Again and again she reminded herself that she could handle this.

She’d just positioned the stepladder when a pickup truck pulled into the driveway. Grace recognized Cliff and hesitated, her feet on the fourth rung up.

“Hi,” he called, climbing out of the truck. Buttercup trotted over to greet him. While friendly, the golden retriever was protective of Grace and wasn’t keen on letting strangers into the yard. To Grace’s surprise, Buttercup greeted Cliff as if he were family.

“Hi,” she said, wishing now that she’d worn a newer pair of jeans and a less faded sweatshirt.

“Charlotte mentioned that you had a problem with your garage door,” he said, bending down to scratch her dog’s ears.

Grace blinked, unsure how Olivia’s mother had known about her problem, but then Charlotte always did have a way of finding out things.

Cliff straightened and seemed to await her invitation. “I came to see if I could give you a hand.”

At this point, Grace wasn’t about to refuse help. “I’d be grateful if you’d look at it. I’ve been reading the manual but I haven’t had a chance to check out the mechanism yet.”

“I have a knack for stuff like this.” He glanced around. “I’m gifted at cleaning leaves out of rain gutters, too.”

Grace laughed. “You must be an angel in disguise.”

“I don’t think so.” He helped her down from the ladder and even before Grace could get inside the house to brew a pot of coffee, he had the garage door working again.

“What was wrong?” she asked, astonished that it had been so easy.

“The wheels jumped out of alignment. I just put it back on track. Nothing to it.”

While Cliff carried the ladder over to the house, Grace reached for the rake and started gathering together a huge pile of oak leaves. When she’d finished, Cliff helped her pack them inside plastic bags.

“Are you ready for that coffee?” she asked, when they’d tied the last bag.

“That’d be great.”

She welcomed him into her kitchen and set out two big mugs. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

He studied her a moment, then grinned boyishly. “I’ll think of something,” he teased.

“I’ll bet you will.” Grace laughed—and suddenly realized that just a couple of hours earlier, she’d been fighting back tears. The contrast was all the more apparent when she saw the way Buttercup had warmed to Cliff.

“Buttercup normally isn’t friendly with strangers,” she told him.

Cliff petted the dog. “She probably smells the horses.”

Grace propped elbows on the table. “I’d forgotten you raise quarter horses.”

“They’re a big part of my life. Do you ride?”

Grace shook her head. “I haven’t been around horses much.”

They chatted for a while, the ebb and flow of their conversation completely natural. Rarely had Grace felt more at ease with a man. More than once, she had to remind herself that legally she was still married to Dan. While he might have run off with another woman—or at any rate, run off—she intended to remain true to her vows.

As he was getting ready to leave, Grace saw Cliff glance toward the living room. A framed family photograph stood on a bookshelf. “That’s Dan?” he asked.

She nodded.

Cliff walked over to the bookcase and picked up the photograph, which had been taken almost twenty years earlier. Both girls were teenagers then, and Kelly was in braces. Dan’s gaze had been somber as he stared straight into the camera, not revealing any emotion.

After an extraordinarily long moment, Cliff replaced the faded color photograph.

“I don’t know why he left,” Grace whispered. “I just don’t know.”

Cliff didn’t say anything.

“It’s the not knowing that’s dreadful.”

“I can only imagine.”

She swallowed tightly.

He brushed the hair from her cheek. “I don’t want you to feel guilty about me being here this afternoon. This wasn’t a date.”

Grace smiled tremulously.

“If you’re going to suffer pangs of remorse, then you should worry about how much I want to take you in my arms right now. If you’re going to feel guilty, then do it because I’m having one hell of a time not kissing you.”

Grace closed her eyes, knowing that if she looked at him, Cliff would realize it was what she wanted, too.

Sighing, he stroked her cheek with his knuckle before he turned away.

Eyes still shut, she heard him open the door and leave.


Janice Lamond had been a valuable addition to Zach Cox’s office staff. She’d taken on more and more duties and had developed an excellent rapport with his clients. He appreciated her attitude and her strong work ethic. When it was time for her six-month evaluation, Zach called her into his office.

“Sit down, Janice,” he said, gesturing toward the chair across from his desk.

Janice sat on the edge of the chair and met his look with a tentative smile, almost as if she were nervous about what he might say.

“You’ve been with the firm half a year now.”

“Has it really been that long?”

It felt as though she’d always been part of his office team. She was well-liked and fit in smoothly with the firm’s other employees. Eager to please, she wasn’t quick to rush out the door at the end of the day. He appreciated the effort she took to make the clients who visited the office feel welcome.

“As you know, we review employee performance twice a year.”

Janice squeezed her hands between her knees. “Is there an area where I can improve?” she asked.

If there was, Zach didn’t know what it would be. She was about as perfect an employee as he could find. “No, no. You’ve done an excellent job.”

“Thank you.” Her eyes shone at his praise. “It’s a pleasure to come into work each day. I like my job.”

She made it a pleasure for Zach to come into the office, too. Janice was organized. Her desk was orderly and she kept his appointments running like clockwork. When he arrived at the office in the morning, Janice was there to greet him, the coffee was made and the mail was on his desk. It was a stark contrast to his life at home. With so many committee appointments, Rosie often left the dinner dishes on the table or stacked in the sink overnight. The house was a continual mess, and even the most mundane tasks just never seemed to get accomplished. Still, Rosie was his wife and he loved her.

“I’d like to give you a ten-percent raise,” Zach told Janice. “The other partners are in agreement.”

“Ten percent?” she repeated as if she’d misunderstood him. “After just six months?”

“We’ve learned that if we want to keep good employees, we need to compensate them adequately. We’re happy with your work here at Smith, Cox and Jefferson. We hope that you’ll be part of our team for many years to come.”

“I’d like that very much.”

Zach didn’t have anything more to add. He stood, and Janice did, too. He walked her to his office door.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she said.

“I’m the one who should be thanking you.”

“A ten-percent raise,” she added excitedly, covering her mouth with both hands. “This is just great.”

Before he could react, Janice threw her arms around his neck and gave him a hug. As soon as she realized what she’d done, she blushed and hurriedly left. Zach figured it was just an impulsive gesture from a warm, emotionally generous woman.

But Zach enjoyed that little hug, and found himself smiling for the next few minutes.

At five-thirty, when the workday was technically over, he remained behind to finish up some paperwork. He wasn’t in a hurry to get home these days. Rosie was generally busy with some volunteer project or other, and Allison and Eddie were involved with their own friends and activities. Janice was closing down her computer as he walked out of his office at six o’clock.