Grace looked sheepish. “Have I done it that often?”

He merely shrugged, smiling a little.

“I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just that every time I’m convinced that seeing you is the right thing, something happens that causes me to question myself.” She stared at her hands.

“What was it this time?”

Grace gently petted Buttercup’s head. “Do you remember when you came that one Saturday last fall and fixed the garage door and cleaned the gutters for me? I was grateful in more ways than the obvious. For the first time since Dan left, I felt like I could go on—that I could let go of my marriage.”

Cliff had been encouraged that day, too. He’d hoped it would be the first of many such visits….

“Then shortly afterward—on Thanksgiving Day—I heard from Dan.”

Now Cliff was completely confused. To the best of his knowledge, Dan had disappeared last April. No one, not Grace or either of her daughters, and from every indication no other friend or family member, had heard from him since then. There’d apparently been a brief sighting in May, but that was it.

“You spoke to Dan?” he asked.

“No,” she clarified. “But he phoned the house. He didn’t say anything. He just…let me know he was there.”

“How can you be sure it was him?”

“I can’t prove it,” she said and straightened, clasping her hands again. “It’s instinct. Early Thanksgiving morning, the phone rang and there was no one on the other end. It was Dan—I know it was him.”

Bad enough that Cliff had to deal with an ex-husband who’d vanished into thin air; now he was stuck with ghosts as well.

“Then after you and I went to dinner in Tacoma, I felt so good about seeing you. I really believed we could have a relationship.”

“So do I,” Cliff insisted. “We’re right together.”

“I thought—oh Cliff, that night was magical. I enjoyed everything about it.”

“The kisses?” His ego demanded that she admit to enjoying their kisses as much as he had.

“Those most of all,” she whispered.

Cliff’s reaction had been the same. He’d dropped her off at the house and he’d felt ecstatic, full of anticipation, looking forward to seeing her again. Then silence, followed by various lame excuses. He hadn’t known what to think.

“A little more than a week ago, something else happened. This Dan issue refuses to go away.”

“Did he phone you again?”

“No—this time I got a call from Joe Mitchell. He’s the medical examiner. Recently a man died while staying at the Thyme and Tide bed-and-breakfast.”

Cliff remembered reading about that in The Cedar Cove Chronicle. It was a strange story, one that didn’t make much sense. Apparently the man hadn’t been identified yet. “He was carrying false ID, right?”

“Yes. Joe said the dead man had gone through extensive cosmetic surgery, too.”

“He’d altered his appearance?”

Grace nodded. “Joe noticed he was about the same age as Dan and had a similar build. He was playing a hunch when he contacted me.”

Understanding came in a flash. “The medical examiner thought it might be Dan?”

She briefly closed her eyes and Cliff realized how traumatized and upset she must’ve been to receive such a call. “Joe thought I might be able to identify him.” She gave a perceptible shudder. “Going to the morgue was awful. Just awful…”

Cliff slipped closer to the edge of the chair cushion. “But it wasn’t Dan, was it?”

Grace lowered her gaze and shook her head. “No.” She swallowed tightly. “God forgive me, I wish it had been—not that I want him dead but I need answers. I need to know why he left and if he ever intends on coming back.”

Her knuckles were white, and it was hard for Cliff to stay where he was. The urge to hold her grew stronger by the minute.

“First the calls on Thanksgiving and now this. It’s almost as if—”

“Calls?” Cliff repeated. “There was more than one?”

“Actually there were three, and every time we answered, all we heard was static. I felt the eeriest sensation, and I knew it had to be Dan. It had to be. Who else would phone not once but three times and then say absolutely nothing?”

“Wait a second.” Cliff raised his hand, his thoughts swirling frantically. “Who else?” he echoed. “What about me?”


Cliff cleared his throat. “That was me.”

“You phoned—and didn’t say anything?” Her voice was raised in accusation.

“Remember the blizzard I told you about? I tried to call you all day, and I did manage to get through on three different occasions. But the first two times, the only thing I could hear was static. The third time no one picked up and I didn’t leave a message.”

“That was you?” Grace pressed her hands to her lips. “But I thought…I believed it was Dan.”

Tears filled her eyes, and Cliff didn’t care what she thought, he had to hold her. Moving onto the sofa beside Grace, he wrapped his arms around her. “I’m sorry. I would’ve mentioned it earlier, but I didn’t know.”

“I felt as if Dan was reaching out to me—as if he was saying how sorry he was. A year ago, we’d had a wonderful Thanksgiving and this year…this year it was only Maryellen and me and…”

Cliff brought her closer still and rested his chin gently on her head. She felt warm and soft in his embrace. More than that, it seemed so right to hold her. He savored these moments, treasured them. He yearned to tilt her face toward his, to lower his mouth to hers, but he didn’t want Grace to turn to him in grief. When they kissed again, he wanted it to be in discovery. In mutual passion. In shared affection.

The front door opened suddenly, which shocked them both. Grace jerked away and inhaled sharply. “Kelly…”

Her youngest daughter stood in the room, holding Tyler in a baby carrier, her eyes huge and angry. “What’s he doing here?” she demanded.

“Kelly, this is Cliff Harding, the man I told you I was seeing,” Grace said, recovering quickly. She left the sofa and crouched down to look at her grandson. Little Tyler was sound asleep.

“Your mother invited me to lunch,” Cliff added, wanting it understood that he hadn’t stopped by without a reason.

Kelly remained tense, standing there, glaring at them both.

“Please, sweetheart, sit down.” Although her daughter was clearly furious, Grace remained courteous.

Kelly did as her mother asked, but reluctantly. “Why didn’t you tell me about Maryellen?”

Grace sighed and looked away. “It wasn’t my decision not to tell you. It was Maryellen’s.”

“My own sister is pregnant, and I’m kept entirely in the dark?”

This was news to Cliff, too, but now didn’t seem the time to mention it.

“I suggest you take this up with Maryellen,” Grace said. “The last thing I want to do is get between the two of you. I will say that I didn’t agree with Maryellen, but the choice was hers.”

“She told you, though.” Kelly’s hurt was evident. “She didn’t trust me? She left me to figure it out for myself, like…like I don’t matter?”

“I’m sorry, but it was your sister’s choice,” Grace repeated.

“How many other people know? Am I the only one who doesn’t?”

“I guessed she was pregnant,” Grace admitted. “She didn’t tell me voluntarily.”

Cliff could see that Grace and her daughter needed to talk, and his being there wasn’t helping. “Why don’t I leave for a while?” he said, getting to his feet.

Grace reached for his hand and gazed up at him, her eyes appealing. “You will come back?”

“If you want.”

“Give us an hour,” she said.

Cliff nodded, and after bidding Kelly farewell, he headed for the front door. He wasn’t halfway out when he heard Kelly tear into her mother.

“How could you date again?” her daughter cried. “We don’t know what’s happened to Dad and already you’ve got yourself a boyfriend. I can’t believe you’d do such a thing. First Maryellen keeps her pregnancy from me, and then I learn my mother has a few secrets of her own. What’s happened to our family? Nothing’s been right since Daddy left. Nothing.”

Then it sounded as though Kelly burst into tears.

Sunday afternoon, Olivia stood inside the main terminal of Sea-TacAirport, awaiting her brother’s arrival. She glanced at her watch; Will’s flight was due at three o’clock and she had plenty of time. After several telephone conversations, it was agreed that he’d fly in for their mother’s surgery, which was scheduled first thing the following morning.

Olivia had a good relationship with her older brother. They’d kept in frequent touch through the years, and he’d lent a willing ear during that terrible summer back in 1986. Will had been as shocked as Olivia when Stan remarried so quickly following the divorce. Lately, though, it seemed that with their busy careers, brother and sister spoke less often. They’d started e-mailing each other, but usually those e-mails were just a means of passing along jokes, news articles and statistics; they conveyed little that was personal.

Charlotte’s cancer had badly shaken Olivia. Her mother had always been healthy, vigorous, full of energy. In the last few months, she’d watched Charlotte decline right before her eyes, but she’d been so caught up in her own life that she hadn’t realized the seriousness of what was happening. She’d attributed her mother’s growing frailty to old age.

At precisely the time he was expected, Will came through the secure section of the airport. He paused to look around. When he saw her, his eyes lit up and she walked into his warm embrace.

“You’re as beautiful as ever,” he said.

“And you always were a liar,” she returned. Already she felt better, knowing that Will would be with her on Monday. “How’s Georgia?” Her brother had been married for more than thirty years. Georgia was a career woman—an advertising executive—and hadn’t wanted a family. Will had reluctantly agreed, but Olivia wondered if he regretted that decision. If so, he’d never mentioned it to her.

“Like me, my wife leads a busy life.”

The oddly stilted words bothered Olivia, as did his detached tone. She suspected trouble in the offing, but this wasn’t the time to ask him about it. She sensed that Will was not okay, or at least his marriage wasn’t.

Once they’d collected Will’s luggage and paid for parking, they headed out of the airport and toward the freeway that led to Cedar Cove.

“My, my,” Will commented when they turned out of the airport parking lot. “Where did you get that bracelet?”

Olivia had hesitated before wearing the diamond tennis bracelet Jack had given her, fearing it might invite questions. “It was a birthday gift from Jack Griffin.”