“The newspaper man? Mom told me you were seeing him.” He glanced at her pointedly. “From you, however, I’ve heard almost nothing on the subject.”

Olivia hadn’t fully identified her feelings toward Jack and wasn’t sure what to say about their relationship. “Actually I like him quite a bit.” She felt her brother studying her and briefly let her eyes leave the road in order to meet his.

“If that bracelet is any indication, he feels the same way.”

“I hope he does.” Feeling more comfortable about discussing Jack, she added, “His son’s living with him just now and that’s been a challenge.” Eric seemed to be in constant turmoil, miserable one moment and elated the next.

“I’m glad Justine is happily married,” Will said. “Not so long ago, Justine laughed in my face when I mentioned the word marriage. She claimed she wasn’t interested.”

“Not only is she married, she’s pregnant.”

“You’re joking! As I recall, her laugh got a whole lot louder when I suggested she might want a family one day.”

Olivia beamed at him. “I’ve never seen her happier. I love Seth all the more because of that. Oh, Will, I want you to meet him.”

“And James’s marriage is going well?”

She nodded. “Stan and I were shocked at how quickly it all came about, but I’ve met Selina and she’s a good match for him. I’ll bore you with the latest pictures of Isadora Delores the minute I get a chance.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

They entered the freeway, and Will reached for his cell phone. He punched in a number, held the phone to his ear for a moment, and then clicked it off. “I thought I’d let Georgia know I’ve arrived. She must be out.” He said it as though he wasn’t surprised, but Olivia wondered why he didn’t leave a message. Later, when Charlotte’s operation was over, she’d talk to him about it.

“Is Mom emotionally ready for this surgery?” Will asked.

Olivia couldn’t tell. Judging by outward appearances, Charlotte was calm and confident. A few days earlier, however, Olivia had gotten a glimpse behind the mask and for a few fleeting seconds witnessed raw fear.

“Did you know Grandma Munson died of the same form of cancer?” Olivia asked her brother. Charlotte had brought up that fact the day she’d been so worried, and Olivia knew she was terrified that history was about to repeat itself.

“I barely remember Grandma Munson,” Will said.

“Mom’s putting on a good face but she’s frightened.”

“She’s afraid colon cancer will kill her, too?”

“I think so,” Olivia told him. “She wants to be strong. It’s funny, but when she first told me about the cancer, I panicked. The crazy part is Mom’s the one who comforted me. She gave me the information she’d printed off the Internet.”

“Mom goes on the Internet?”

“Occasionally. One of the knitting ladies she meets with at the SeniorCenter took a computer class. As soon as Bess heard Mom had cancer, she invited her over. The two of them went on a search to find all the information available on colon cancer.”

“Mom’s certainly one of a kind,” Will said. “Remember all that business with the Yodeling Cowboy—how she removed his effects and hid them in her underwear drawer?”

Olivia laughed, and it felt good to be with her brother.

“How’s Grace doing these days?” he asked suddenly. “Any news on Dan’s disappearance? He’s never come back?”

“A couple of times Grace was convinced he’d returned to the house, but that was early on.”

“How would she know?”

“Working in the forests all those years, Dan smelled like evergreen. Twice when she returned from work, the inside of the house had the scent of a Christmas tree. The only way that could’ve happened was if Dan had shown up.”

“Anything since?”

“Not a peep. She thought he might’ve phoned on Thanksgiving, but eventually found out it was Cliff. He’s that friend of Mom’s Grace has been seeing on and off.”

“A friend of Mom’s,” Will echoed. “I’d think he was too old for Grace.”

“Oh, no—Cliff’s the grandson of Tom Harding, the cowboy actor.”

“Right. I’d forgotten his name.”

There was a silence and then Olivia said, “You know when we were growing up, I always thought you had a crush on Grace.”

“I did.”

“You never asked her out, though.”

“No,” he said, “but that’s because I was shy.”

“You!” Olivia didn’t believe it for a moment. “I know she would’ve loved it if you had asked her.” And maybe things would have turned out differently for both of you.

“You’re joking.” Will sounded surprised. “I think Grace is one of the most incredible women I’ve ever met.”

His admiration was sincere and equaled Olivia’s. “I do, too. Even through all this craziness with Dan, she’s been solid as a rock.”

“Does anyone know what happened to Dan? Any evidence at all?”

Olivia shook her head. “I wish there was, but no.”

“What about a calculated guess?”

“The truth?” She glanced away from the road long enough to gauge his reaction. “Everyone assumes there’s another woman involved. He bought a ring just before he disappeared and then later he was seen in town with a woman. It was almost as if he was flaunting his affair.”

“But that’s not what you think?”

“No,” she said. “It doesn’t add up.”

“How so?”

“Well, Dan wasn’t exactly Mr. Personality. He was never the same after Vietnam. Sometimes, for no obvious reason, he went into these depressions and closed out the world. He’d be completely unresponsive—sometimes even cruel. When he was like that, he made life miserable for Grace.”

“Why did she stay with him all those years?”

Olivia wasn’t entirely sure, but she had her own theory, based on her long friendship with Grace. “She’s an honorable woman. When she said her vows, she meant them. For better or for worse. But Grace got the worse a lot more often than she got the better—and a lot more often than either of us will ever know. Still, she loved Dan and in his own way, Dan loved her.”

Olivia exited the freeway at the second Cedar Cove off-ramp and drove toward her mother’s home. “When we get to Mom’s, beware of Harry. He’s pretty protective of her.”

Will chuckled. “Don’t tell me Mom’s got a man living with her.”

Now it was Olivia’s turn to smile. “Wait and see.”


While reading the February 7th issue of the Bremerton newspaper, Jack surreptitiously watched his son out of the corner of his eye. They’d just finished a dinner of microwave lasagna and ice cream. Immediately afterward, Eric had begun to pace the small, compact living room of Jack’s waterfront rental house as though he found it impossible to keep still. The boy had been getting on Jack’s nerves for weeks. They’d had more than one verbal confrontation during the months since Eric had moved in with him. Ironically, instead of driving them apart, their arguments seemed to have cemented their relationship as father and son.

When Eric had first arrived, they’d both been careful, each afraid of saying or doing something to upset the other. That awkwardness soon dissipated when what was supposed to be only a few days had stretched into nearly five months. There was definitely a degree of irritation, but at least it was honest and they’d finally moved beyond the superficial.

“Would you stop pacing!” Jack shouted when he could tolerate it no longer. He closed the newspaper and tossed it on the footstool as Eric glared at him from across the room.

“I can’t help it,” Eric muttered. “I think better on my feet.”

Jack expelled his breath in a rush, his patience in short supply these days. Briefly he wondered how Eric’s co-workers handled his bursts of nervous energy. He wished he had Olivia to distract him, but she was busy with her mother. If she wasn’t at the hospital, then she was entertaining her big brother. Jack hadn’t seen her in almost a week and damn it all, he missed her.

“What’s your problem now?” Jack barked.

Eric looked mulishly back at him and said nothing.

It went without saying that it had to do with Shelly and the twins. Jack had never seen anyone agonize over a woman more than his son.

“Are you getting her anything for Valentine’s next week?” Jack ventured.

Eric whirled around. “You think I should?”

“When was the last time you talked to her?”

Eric glanced away. “A week ago. I called to see how she’s doing.”

“I thought you’d decided to walk away.” Jack didn’t agree with that decision, but this was his son’s life, not his. He wanted to support Eric in whatever he decided about Shelly and these two babies. But as far as Jack was concerned, it didn’t matter if Eric was the biological father or not; these twins were going to need a daddy. After meeting Shelly and getting to know her, he was convinced the children were Eric’s, despite medical evidence to the contrary. Shelly simply wasn’t the kind of woman who’d fool around and it was clear she still loved Eric, regardless of everything that had happened.

“I tried to forget about her,” Eric snapped. “But I can’t stop thinking about her.”

Jack felt he had to help his son. “You know, Eric,” he said calmly, “those babies could be your own flesh and blood.” He’d pointed it out before; after all, the doctor at the fertility clinic had acknowledged there was a slight—make that minuscule—chance. But it was still a chance.

Eric flopped down on the sofa and buried his face in his hands. “You think I haven’t prayed for that? I wish to hell I’d never gone and had my sperm checked.” He hesitated, shoulders hunched forward, and when he spoke again his voice was so low Jack had to strain to hear him. “Last week when I talked to Shelly, I suggested we get married and raise the babies together.”

“That’s terrific,” Jack said before he realized Shelly had obviously turned him down. Otherwise his son wouldn’t be moping around, as miserable as he’d ever been.

“It would be terrific if she’d agreed.” Eric’s voice throbbed with pain.

Jack wanted to kick himself for being so insensitive. “I’m sorry.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Women can be unreasonable.”

“You’re telling me?” Eric asked.

Jack chuckled.

“You and Olivia seem to be getting along okay, though. I like her, Dad. She’s good for you.”

“I like her, too.” They got along exceptionally well—or had until recently. In the last few months, it seemed that life kept getting in the way of their developing relationship.