Maryellen pulled out a chair and sat down across from Grace. She took her mother’s hands, clasping them tightly. “I don’t know why Dad left,” she whispered, “but whatever the reason, it wasn’t because of anything you did or didn’t do. You’re a wonderful mother and you were a good wife.”

Grace hung her head, watching as her tears dripped onto the quilted place mat. “Thank you, sweetheart.” She wished she could believe Maryellen, but she didn’t think men walked away from long-term marriages if they were content.

She sniffled and made an effort to put the phone calls out of her mind. Maryellen released her hands, passing her a tissue to wipe her eyes.

“I wish Cliff Harding was here,” Maryellen said forcefully. “That would shake Dad up, wouldn’t it? It’d serve him right if a man answered the phone.”

Grace smiled shakily. “That it would.”

The potato water had begun to boil over, and Grace leaped up to turn down the burner. She used those few seconds to compose herself and when she returned to the table, she was smiling.

“Mom,” Maryellen said hesitantly. “What about you and Mr. Harding? Are the two of you going to start dating now that the divorce is final?”

Grace had been thinking about this for weeks, unable to arrive at a firm decision. In fact, she’d put Cliff off once already. “Probably not,” she told her daughter.

“You should,” Maryellen urged. “I like him. I know Kelly might have a hard time accepting another man in your life, but she’ll get used to it.”

“It isn’t because of what Kelly will say—or you or anyone else, for that matter,” Grace confessed. “Don’t misunderstand me, I like Cliff, but I’m not ready to enter the dating world.”

“But Mom…”

“It’s too soon. I still feel too raw. I thought…I hoped I’d find some closure when the divorce became final, but I can see now that isn’t going to happen. I have to know, Maryellen. I need answers. Where’s your father? Why couldn’t he tell me where he went or why? What deep, dark secret is he hiding from us?”

Grace knew very well that life didn’t always supply the answers. Perhaps one day she’d find peace. But for now there was none. Instead, the uncertainty and the anger and grief raged inside her, as strong as they’d been the day her husband disappeared. Not that her life was devoid of happiness or that she didn’t still have plenty to be thankful for. She had her daughters, her friends, her job, but—

“You have to, Mom. You have to.”

Her daughter said this with such urgency Grace didn’t know how to respond.

“If you don’t, I’m afraid you’ll end up like me.”

“And what exactly is wrong with you?” Grace asked sharply.

“Look at me!” Maryellen cried. “I’m thirty-five and I’m terrified of falling in love again. I don’t trust my own judgment. I practically have a panic attack if a man wants to kiss me. I’m so afraid of what might happen that I refuse to allow any man close to me. I look at Kelly and Paul, and they seem so happy and so normal. Why couldn’t my marriage have been like that?”

“Oh, Maryellen…” Grace had no idea what to tell her daughter. Maryellen so rarely spoke of her marriage that she felt at a loss as to how to comfort her.

“I love little Tyler so much. But I’m never going to have a child of my own.”

“Don’t say that. You’re still young,” Grace insisted.

Maryellen shook her head. “Don’t let your divorce do to you what mine did to me,” she repeated. “Please, Mom. You have a lot of good years ahead of you. If you get another chance at love, take it! Promise me you’ll take it—and that you’ll be happy. Otherwise I don’t think I’ll ever find any kind of contentment myself.”

Thanksgiving with her mother had been one of the most disturbing days of her life, Maryellen thought as she opened the gallery first thing Friday morning. She still felt emotionally drained from it. If she could’ve taken today off, she would have. But she expected to be swamped with customers in what was traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.

With so many people stopping by the gallery, it was almost two before she had a chance to eat her leftover-turkey sandwich. The only reason she had a moment to herself then was due to her assistant, Lois Habber-smith, who’d agreed to work the afternoon with her. The gallery’s absentee owners, the Webbers, lived in California and trusted Maryellen to handle all aspects of the business.

Sitting on a stool in the back room, Maryellen crossed her legs and had just taken the first bite of her sandwich when Jon Bowman entered the room.

“Jon…” She hadn’t expected him. Already her heart was hammering wildly. He’d phoned twice since the Halloween party and she’d managed to avoid speaking to him both times.

“Still running away?” he asked.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she lied.

He grinned, letting her know she hadn’t fooled him. “Could you use some more pictures?”

“Yes,” she said, eager for as much of his work as he was willing to let her have. “That last group completely sold out.”

“Can I get them to you this evening?”

She wondered why he hadn’t brought them now. “Yes, that would be fine. What time?”


The gallery closed at six. “I can wait for you here,” she told him. She’d hang the photographs right away so they’d be ready for sale tomorrow.

“I want you to pick them up at my house,” he said matter-of-factly. “I promise you, the drive will be worth your while.”

Maryellen frowned. How clever of him to make sure she didn’t have a previous commitment. “I’d prefer to have you bring them here.” That was how their arrangement had worked in the past.

“I know you would, but not this time. I’m making dinner for you. If you want the pictures you’ll be at my place at seven.”

She started to argue, to tell him she wouldn’t be blackmailed, but he didn’t give her the opportunity. He simply walked away. If she was going to argue, she’d have to follow him into the crowded gallery, and he knew she wouldn’t do that.

Twice that same afternoon, Maryellen had inquiries about Jon’s work, and she found herself promising they’d be available the next day. His pictures sold almost as fast as they appeared on the walls. If she wanted more, he’d made it plain she’d have to come and get them herself.

At seven, muttering under her breath, Maryellen drove down a dark country road, using a flashlight to check addresses on mailboxes, searching for Jon’s driveway. When she finally located the proper drive, she turned into the dirt-and-gravel lane and drove another mile. Just when she was about to give up, the two-story house came into view.

She parked in the back, climbed out and stopped to look over the dancing lights of Seattle twinkling on the other side of Puget Sound. His home must be close to the waterfront. A ferry, with lights blazing, glided across the water in the distance.

“I wondered if you’d come,” Jon said from somewhere in the darkness. He emerged from the shadows to welcome her.

“You didn’t leave me much choice.” She wasn’t happy about this and she wanted him to know it.

“No, I didn’t,” he agreed. “Come inside.”

“I…I can’t stay for dinner. I hope you didn’t go to any trouble.”

“I went to a tremendous amount of trouble. I’d like you to stay. Please.”

“But…” He left her no option but to follow him into the house.

The interior was only partially finished, she noticed. Pieces of furniture were positioned on bare floors. The walls were mostly framed in although unpainted. The kitchen had new appliances and white-tile countertops, but only a plywood sub-floor. A linen-covered table with candles sat in what must be the living room. The light was dim, coming entirely from a couple of small table lamps and what spilled through from the kitchen. Large picture windows revealed a staggering view of the Seattle skyline.

“Let me take your coat,” Jon said.

Maryellen wanted to resist, she really did. Instead she slipped the coat from her shoulders. Jon took it and walked over to a closet without doors and placed it on a hanger.

“Would you like to see my home?” he asked.

She nodded. “Who’s the builder?”

“Me,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m doing everything myself.”

She remembered Jon telling Terri he was a jack-of-all-trades. Now she realized how accurate that statement was. He led her through the house. The only room with a door was the bathroom. The master bedroom was upstairs and had a balcony facing the water.

“I sit out there in the summer with my morning coffee,” Jon told her.

Maryellen could imagine it—the peace and silence, the clear, fresh beauty of Puget Sound in early morning.

“I have five acres here,” he continued. “Before you wonder how could I afford this property, I should tell you the land belonged to my grandfather. He purchased it back in the 1950s for practically nothing. When he died he left it to me.” A timer rang in the kitchen. “Dinner’s ready.”

He helped her down the stairs, leading the way and clasping her hand in his own. Once back in the main part of the house, he escorted her to the table and pulled out a chair.

“Can I do anything?” she asked.

“No,” he assured her.

First he lit the candles. The he poured the wine, a spicy Gewurztraminer. After that, he brought out a salad—lettuce with sliced fresh pear, shaves of Roquefort cheese and wonderful honey-coated roasted walnuts. The dressing was a delicate raspberry vinaigrette.

“Oh, my,” Maryellen whispered after one taste. “This is incredible.”

“It’s only the beginning,” Jon promised.

They had one glass of wine with the salad and another before the entrée of baked salmon with a dill sauce so creamy Maryellen closed her eyes to savor the first bite. Dessert was an apple-and-date torte.

Between courses, Jon filled her wineglass again, opening a second bottle, and when they’d finished dinner, Maryellen was warm and slightly dizzy. He brought her to a comfortable sofa. A classical CD—she recognized Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”—played in the background.

“I’m going to need lots of coffee,” she told him.

“It’s already brewing.”

She could smell the rich aroma. Feeling flushed and utterly content, she leaned her head against the back of the sofa and looked out over the astonishing view. Lights twinkled like fireflies in the distance, and the dark water reflected a three-quarter moon. Jon had turned off the lights, so her own image wasn’t mirrored in the glass. There was nothing to interfere with the view.

He sat down next to her. “That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” Then as if she might misunderstand the question, he added, “Being here with me, I mean.”