“I didn’t know you were still here,” he said, glancing at his watch.

“I wanted to review these numbers one last time before I put the Mullens Company report in the mail.”

He smiled at her. It was exactly this attention to detail that had earned her the raise. “Good night, Janice.”

“Good night, Mr. Cox, and thank you again.”

As Zach turned off Lighthouse Road

and headed toward Pelican Court

, the smile left him. It was doubtful Rosie would have dinner ready. In all likelihood, she was preparing for some function outside the house. She never seemed to plan ahead for such events, and as a result she went into panic mode, shoving something that passed for dinner onto the table. Most likely, the meal would consist of some packaged crap she’d bought at the grocery store, something that could be slapped together without any effort. Some nights she brought home dinner from the deli. There was nothing he liked less than Chinese food that had been sitting under lights all afternoon. The deli-roasted chicken wasn’t half-bad, but he was as tired of that as he was of pizza.

Zach parked the car in the garage and loosened his tie as he entered the kitchen.

“You’re late,” Rosie said, rushing to place silverware in the center of the table. “Dinner’s ready.”

“What are we having?”

She reached for a container on top of the garbage can and read the label aloud. “Lasagna.”

“Is it cooked all the way through this time?” The last entrée she’d served was still frozen in the middle.

“It should be. I had it in the microwave for twenty minutes.” Then without a pause, she turned her head and yelled for the kids. “Dinner!”

“Are you going out?”

“I told you this morning I have my book club tonight.”

“Did you read the book?”

“Who has time? But I want to hear what everyone else has to say.” There was a decided edge to her voice, as though she disapproved of him questioning her about her activities.

Zach picked up the mail and sorted through it. He stopped at the VISA bill, which he’d paid off a month earlier. Slipping his finger under the flap, he slit it open. To his dismay he found a three-hundred-dollar charge from Willows, Weeds and Flowers.

He asked Rosie about it.

“Oh yes, I forgot to tell you. I used the card to buy flowers for the ladies’ auxiliary luncheon at the hospital.”

“Three hundred dollars for flowers?”

“The committee’s going to reimburse me.”


“Don’t take that tone of voice with me, Zach,” she snapped. “I’m sure I’ll have the check by the end of the week.”

“That card is for emergencies only.”

Rosie glared at him, her hand on her hip. “That was an emergency. The lady delivered the centerpieces for the banquet, and the treasurer hadn’t arrived yet. She had to be paid. Surely even you can understand that?”

“So you volunteered?” Zach didn’t know why his wife found it necessary to leap in and rescue the world.

“Someone had to. Why are you so upset about this?”

“It’s more than just this one incident,” Zach said. “It’s everything. I’m sick of the dinners you throw together because you’re in a hurry to go somewhere else. I’m sick of you rushing out the door every night, sick of the house being a mess.”

Tears filled Rosie’s eyes, and her cheeks turned a deep shade of red. “You have no appreciation for everything I do around here.”

Zach glared right back. “Everything you do? Tell me, exactly what is it you do all day, except race from one unpaid venture to another? In the meantime, your family’s eating garbage. Our home is a mess and I haven’t seen you for more than ten minutes all week.”

“Are you suggesting I care more about my committees than I do my family?”

“I’m suggesting nothing. I’m saying it outright.”

“You don’t get it, do you?”

“Wrong,” he shouted. “I’m definitely getting the message and so are our children. The kids and I are running a distant second in your life. You fill up your days with volunteer work so you’ll feel valued and important, and frankly I’m sick of it.”

He suddenly saw that Allison and Eddie had walked into the kitchen and were standing frozen in the doorway. Zach hated fighting in front of the children, but these negative emotions had been corroding inside him far too long.

Rosie looked at him as if he’d physically struck her, then burst into tears and stormed into their bedroom.

For a stunned moment Zach stood there as his children accused him with their eyes. He didn’t understand why his home life was in constant turmoil. It was little wonder that he preferred being at the office with its well-organized environment.

Needing time to clear his head, Zach removed his tie and headed toward the garage.

“Where are you going, Dad?” Eddie called after him.

Zach didn’t know. “Out.”

Neither of his children said anything to stop him and the truth was, Zach didn’t want to be delayed. Once in his car, he drove around for a while until his stomach rumbled. It’d been a long time since lunch, and returning home to a half-cooked frozen entrée held no appeal.

It was nearly eight by his watch. Zach stopped at the Taco Shack on the outskirts of town. The Mexican restaurant was better than scarfing down fast food, but at this point he didn’t much care. Zach decided he’d order a couple of tacos and eat them in the car.

As he stepped up to the counter, he noticed a woman sitting by herself at a table. He didn’t think anything of it until he realized she looked familiar. Turning, he gave her a second glance.


“Mr. Cox, what are you doing here? I mean—I didn’t know you ate here.”

“I do every now and then,” he said. The teenage girl working the counter hurried over to take his order. Zach examined the menu and decided on a chili relleno and a cold drink. While he waited for his meal, he sauntered back to where Janice sat.

“What brings you to the Taco Shack on a Tuesday night?”

She looked sweet and pretty when she smiled up at him. “I’m celebrating my raise.”

“By yourself?”

She nodded. “My ex-husband has our son on Tuesday nights, and I was too excited to go home and sit in front of the television all by myself.”

Zach’s order came a few minutes later, and he went to collect it. “Do you mind if I join you?”

“No. I mean, that would be great.”

Zach lingered over his dinner and they both ordered coffee afterward. The tension that had been with him all evening dissolved and he found himself laughing and enjoying this visit.

When Zach finally returned to the house it was almost ten. Rosie was in bed, pretending to be asleep. She lay on her side, her back to him. He stared at her for a moment and debated whether he should apologize. No, he mused, he was finished apologizing to his wife. She was the one who needed to make amends. But if she wanted to give him the cold shoulder, that was fine with him.

Jack sat at his desk at The Cedar Cove Chronicle and stared at his computer monitor. The cursor blinked accusingly back at him from a screen that was almost blank. This article about the bond issue for the local park should have been finished two days ago. Jack didn’t lack an opinion on the subject. He had plenty to say, and he’d write it out in fine form, just as soon as he chased Olivia from his thoughts.

It’d been almost a month since he’d canceled her birthday dinner. These had to be the longest thirty days of his life. The fact that Eric was living with him had complicated everything. His routine, his hard-won peace of mind, his productivity had been shattered all to hell.

This was what Jack got for dwelling on life’s regrets. He wanted to be a good father to Eric; he longed to make up for the lost years, and here was the opportunity. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

Naturally Eric would decide he needed a father at the same time Jack was falling in love and wanted to spend every spare moment with Olivia Lockhart. The first week Eric was with him, Jack had spent hour after hour listening to his son’s woes. It seemed Eric had at least fifteen years of hurt and doubt that he needed to release. Patiently Jack had listened and when he could, he offered comfort and advice.

When Jack eventually did have a chance, he’d phoned Olivia, dying to see her, dying to take a break from his son’s troubles. He’d hoped that an hour or two with Olivia would rejuvenate his spirits. Instead he’d hit rock bottom when she wasn’t home. He waited around all night for her to return his call. She didn’t until the next morning, and by then he’d left to cover the Christmas Bazaar for the newspaper’s Neighbors Section.

They finally did connect, early the following week, and Jack noticed that her feelings for him appeared to be cooling. It wasn’t anything she said, exactly. Her son-in-law was back from Alaska, and she was working with Charlotte on putting together a wedding reception for Seth and Justine.

Every time he’d talked to Olivia since then, she was busy. Too busy to see him. Even their Tuesday night get-togethers had fallen by the wayside. Just how much trouble could a wedding reception really be? It seemed Olivia constantly needed to run somewhere or talk to someone. Someone other than Jack.

The hustle and bustle of this wedding reception aside, what worried Jack was her changing attitude toward him. Yes, there was a decided cooling. Whenever they managed to chat, Jack braced himself, half expecting her to suggest they break it off. It was this expectation—the feeling that she was looking for a kind way to tell him to take a hike—that prevented him from giving her the bracelet. He was afraid she’d view the expensive gift as a means of manipulating her and so he’d held on to it, not knowing what else to do.

The cursor on his screen continued to blink, and Jack wheeled his chair around, gazing out the window. This wasn’t going to work. He needed an AA meeting and a talk with his sponsor.

He found a meeting near Bangor, but because he was in unfamiliar territory, he sat at the back of the room and listened to the speaker, who had over twenty years of sobriety. At the end of the session, when the group stood, joined hands and said the Lord’s Prayer followed by the Serenity Prayer, Jack’s voice rose and blended with the others. These people were family. They might be strangers but they all shared a problem that bonded them.

On the drive back to the office, Jack stopped at Thyme and Tide, the bed-and-breakfast on the waterfront owned by his sponsor and friend, Bob Beldon, and his wife, Peggy.

Bob was busy tinkering in the garage with one of his woodworking projects when Jack pulled into the driveway. Bob came out of the garage to meet him.

“How’s it going?” Jack asked, not quite ready to launch into his reason for visiting.

“Good. How about you?”

Jack shrugged.

Bob smiled knowingly. “I figure if you’re coming by to see me in the middle of the day, something’s up. Want to talk about it?”