One minute away from her phone and she’d missed talking to her husband.
“I’m home.” Zach Cox let himself in the back door off the garage and stepped into the kitchen. His jaw tightened at the mess that greeted him. The sink was piled high with breakfast dishes, and the milk from this morning’s cereal was still on the countertop.
“Who left out the milk?” he demanded.
His two children—conveniently—didn’t hear him. Fifteen-year-old Allison was sitting at the computer in their home office, cruising the Internet, and Eddie, who was nine, lay prone on the family-room carpet in front of some mindless television program.
“Where’s Mom?” he asked next, standing directly over his son.
Eddie lifted one arm and pointed wordlessly toward the sewing room.
Zach ambled in that direction on his way to the bathroom. “Hi, Rosie, I’m home,” he told his wife of seventeen years. “What’s for dinner?”
“Oh, hi, honey,” Rosie said, glancing up from the sewing machine. “What time is it, anyway?”
“Six,” he muttered. He couldn’t remember when he’d last come home and found dinner in the oven. “The milk was left out again,” he said, thinking it would need to be dumped after sitting for ten hours at room temperature.
“Eddie fixed himself a bowl of cereal after school.”
Okay, he figured, the milk might be salvageable.
She lined up the shiny black material and ran it rapidly through the machine, pulling out pins as she went.
“What are you sewing?” he asked.
“A Halloween costume,” she mumbled with four or five pins clenched between her lips. “By the way—” she paused and removed the pins “—Eddie’s school is having an open house tonight. Can you go?”
“Open house?” he repeated. “You can’t be there?”
“No,” she said emphatically. “I have choir practice.”
“Oh.” He’d had a long, trying day at the office and had hoped to relax that evening. Instead, he was going to have to attend this event at his son’s school. “What’s for dinner?” he asked again.
His wife shrugged. “Call for a pizza, okay?”
It was the third time in the last two weeks that they’d had pizza for dinner. “I’m sick of pizza.”
“Doesn’t that new Chinese place deliver?”
“No.” He should know; he’d had Chinese just that afternoon. Janice Lamond, a recently hired employee, had picked up an order of sweet-and-sour shrimp for him. “Besides, that’s what I had for lunch.”
“What do you want then?” Rosie asked, busying herself with the cape that was part of the Harry Potter costume Eddie had requested.
“Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and a fresh salad.”
Rosie frowned. “I think there’s a meat loaf entrée in the freezer.”
“Homemade meat loaf,” Zach amended.
“Sorry, not tonight.”
“When?” he asked, cranky now. It wasn’t too much to ask that his wife have dinner ready when he came home from work—was it? As an accountant, Zach made enough money to ensure that Rosie could stay home with the kids. This arrangement was what they’d both wanted when they started their family.
At one time, Zach had assumed that when Allison and Eddie were in school, Rosie would come and work in the office with him. The firm of Smith, Cox and Jefferson often required additional staff. Rosie had always intended to get a job outside the home, but it just never seemed to happen. The school needed volunteers. Then there was Brownies when Allison was eight or nine, and now Cub Scouts for Eddie. And sports, after-school clubs, dance lessons…It soon became obvious that the demands on Rosie’s time wouldn’t be alleviated as the kids grew older. Because they both believed their children’s needs should come first, they’d decided Rosie shouldn’t re-enter the work force.
“I’m tired,” Zach told his wife, “and I’m hungry. Is it unreasonable to expect dinner with my family?”
Rosie took a deep breath, as though she was struggling to hold on to her patience. “Eddie’s got open house at school tonight, Allison’s coming with me to practice with the junior choir and I’ve got to finish this Halloween costume before Friday. Eddie needs it for his soccer team’s party. I can only do so much.”
He could hear the annoyance in his wife’s voice and resisted asking her what she’d been doing all day while he was at work.
Rosie glared at him. “If you want me to stop everything right now and fix you dinner I will, but I have to tell you, I think you are being unreasonable.”
He considered her words, and then feeling defeated and a bit guilty said, “Fine. I’ll order pizza.”
“Be sure and tell them no green peppers,” she said, refocusing her attention on the costume.
“I like green peppers,” he muttered, not realizing Rosie could hear him.
“Eddie and Allison hate them—they prefer black olives. You know that. Now stop being difficult.”
“All right, I’ll order sausage with olives on one half and green peppers on the other.”
His wife rolled her eyes expressively. “I’m not all that fond of green peppers myself, you know.”
So, in addition to being unreasonable, he was selfish. Well, at least he was batting a thousand. “Sausage and black olives, then,” he said.
“Great.” He walked over to the kitchen phone, having memorized the number for Pizza Pete’s. He placed the order and made his way to the master bedroom.
“Where are you going now?” Rosie asked as he passed the sewing room.
“To shower and change.”
“Do you have to?” she muttered.
“What’s wrong with that?” he demanded.
She pushed away from the sewing machine and stood up. “I thought you might wear your suit to the open house.”
“Why?” He’d been waiting all afternoon to remove his tie.
“It’ll make a better impression if you meet Eddie’s teacher wearing a suit. Mrs. Vetter will know you’re a professional.” She coaxed him with a smile, then brushed a piece of lint off his shoulder and smoothed away a wrinkle. “You look so handsome in your suit,” she said, smiling. “Maybe you should shave, though.”
Zach ran his hand down his face, feeling the bristle scratch against his palm. She was right. “If I shower and shave, then I’m changing out of this suit.”
Rosie’s frown deepened. “I don’t know why you have to be so difficult.”
“If I had a decent dinner every once in a while, maybe I’d be more inclined to do as you ask,” he snapped. He couldn’t help remembering how pleasant lunch with Janice had been. She’d joined the staff the first of the month and had already proved herself as far as Zach was concerned. She was a quick learner, competent, cooperative. Twice she’d gone out of her way to make sure he had what he wanted for lunch. Only that afternoon she’d insisted on driving over to Mr. Wok’s for the shrimp dish.
Sitting on the end of the king-size bed, Zach yanked off his jacket and laid it beside him. Unfastening the buttons at his wrist, he rolled up his shirtsleeves and headed into the bathroom.
He was running hot water for a shave when Rosie came into the room. “Do you have enough cash for the pizza guy?”
“I think so,” he said. “Check my wallet.”
His wife met his gaze in the mirror. “I’m sorry about dinner.”
“It was crazy today,” Rosie said, sitting on the edge of the Jacuzzi tub. They’d special-ordered it when the house was built three years earlier and it’d taken months to arrive. Rosie had wanted it badly enough to give up using tile on the hallway and kitchen floors. Zach would have opted for the tile floors but he hadn’t been able to refuse his wife this small luxury. Yet he couldn’t remember the last time Rosie had actually used the tub. Like him, she was in and out of the shower, rushing from one obligation to the next.
She went on to tell him about her day, the committee meetings, Allison’s dental appointment and some library function she’d agreed to coordinate. “I don’t know how mothers who work outside the home get everything done.”
“I don’t either,” Zach said, although he suspected that his associates’ wives put dinner on the table at night and still managed to work forty hours a week. He also suspected those other wives were better organized than Rosie.
“I’ll cook dinner tomorrow night,” she promised.
Zach spread shaving cream across his face. “Meat loaf and mashed potatoes?” He didn’t hold out much hope, but it sounded good to hear the promise.
“Whatever you want, big boy.”
Despite his irritation, he grinned. Maybe he was just being difficult.
The credit card must belong to the woman who’d sat across the restaurant from him last Monday, Cliff Harding decided. He’d noticed her. It wasn’t like he could have missed her; they were the only two people in the PancakePalace that afternoon. The lunch crowd had left and it was too early for dinner.
She was attractive and about his age, but she seemed distracted, caught up in her own thoughts. He’d be surprised if she even remembered he was there. They’d paid for their meals at about the same time and that was when it must have happened. His bill was correct, but it was Grace Sherman’s credit card he’d slipped back inside his wallet. She apparently had his.
All week he’d gone about his business, oblivious to the fact that he was carrying someone else’s VISA card. If an attentive clerk at the pharmacy hadn’t pointed it out, he might not have noticed for that much longer.
As soon as he was home, he’d looked up Grace Sherman in the phone book with no luck. However he did find a listing for a D & G Sherman at 204 Rosewood Lane
, Cedar Cove. The voice on the answering machine was that of a woman, so he left a message and waited for her to return his call. Thus far, no one had phoned and he suspected he had the wrong Sherman. What he should probably do was give the credit card to the manager at the PancakePalace and request a replacement for his own.
Lately Cliff had found plenty of reasons to drive into Cedar Cove. Charlotte Jefferson had called him in June regarding the grandfather he’d never known. Cliff certainly didn’t have any warm feelings toward Tom Harding, even if he was the famous Yodeling Cowboy, popular from the late thirties to the mid-fifties. Tom Harding had deserted Cliff’s father and grandmother in his quest for fame. Toward the end of his life, Tom must have regretted the pain he’d caused his family but by then it was much too late. Cliff was his only grandson and—at least according to Charlotte Jefferson—the old man had intended to contact him.
Charlotte had to be in her seventies, but she was a woman with plenty of spunk. She’d befriended his grandfather while doing volunteer work at the CedarCoveConvalescentCenter and had taken a liking to the old man. They were friends, Charlotte explained.