“I’m trying a few new recipes,” she told Maryellen, busily arranging vegetables, cans and other ingredients on the counter. “Have you had dinner?”

“Not yet. I’m still full from brunch.” Her appetite was gone, but it had more to do with her churning thoughts than an empty stomach.

“What’s wrong?” her mother asked.

“What makes you think anything’s wrong? It’s Mother’s Day, and I’d like to spend some extra time with my mother. That doesn’t mean anything’s wrong, does it?”

Grace tore a strip of aluminum foil from the box and covered a small casserole dish she’d just withdrawn from the oven. “If you don’t mind my saying so, you sound defensive.”

“Maybe I should just go home.” Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. Her mother could read her far too well.

“Did you see him?” Grace shocked her by asking.

Maryellen didn’t bother to ask who she meant. That was obvious. “No,” she said. “No.” For emphasis, she shook her head.

Setting the teakettle on the burner, Grace heated water. It seemed that every time they had something important to discuss, her mother made tea. It signaled that her mother considered whatever was to follow significant, something that required her daughter’s close attention.


“Sit down and don’t argue with me,” her mother said briskly. She pulled out the kitchen chair and gave Maryellen a slight shove in its direction.

All too soon, the tea was steeping, and the pot rested in the center of the table. “You already know I was pregnant with you when your father and I got married.”

Maryellen knew this and wasn’t interested in learning whether her parents would have married had her mother not been pregnant.

“Getting married was the thing to do in those days.”

“Times have changed,” Maryellen felt obliged to remind her. Statistics said that a third of all children were now born outside wedlock. Other women had raised their children alone and so would she.

“He’s an artist, isn’t he?”

“Mom.” The questions exasperated her. “I’ve already told you I’m not answering any questions to do with the baby’s father, so please don’t ask.”

“You’re right, you’re absolutely right.” Grace tapped the table, as though angry with herself for meddling. “I didn’t mean to do that…. Actually, I’d planned to talk about your father and me. We spent more than thirty-five years together and…well, I don’t know if I was the best wife for him. I think he might’ve been happier with another woman. For all we know, that could be the reason he left.”

“I doubt it,” Maryellen said, grateful for the chance to speak honestly about her father. She couldn’t do that with Kelly, who viewed him as virtually a saint, without fault. Kelly refused to recognize the truth about their father; for some reason, she was incapable of seeing him in any other way. “You know, I can hardly remember a time when Dad was happy. He went into those dark moods, and both Kelly and I knew to avoid him.”

Grace nodded.

“He seemed to get so self-involved.” Maryellen’s memories of her father weren’t all bad, but in the months since his disappearance, those were the ones that drifted to the surface. “You can’t blame yourself, Mom.”

“I don’t,” Grace said, looking flustered. “What I’m trying to say, and doing a poor job of, is this.” She released a deep breath. “When it comes to the father of your baby, my advice is to follow your instincts. Don’t do what everyone else thinks is best, do what your own heart tells you.”

“I am, Mom, I am.”

“Then that’s all I can ask.”

Maryellen smiled and leaned over to clasp her mother’s hand. “Thanks, Mom—I needed to hear that. Now, how about some of that pasta casserole over there? I suddenly feel hungry.”

Almost a week later, on Friday afternoon, Grace was still thinking about her conversation with Maryellen. She prayed she’d said the right things. If Maryellen had decided to keep the father out of her life, there had to be a reason. At times she sensed an uncertainty in her daughter—as if she doubted her own decision—but if so, Maryellen didn’t discuss it with her. After the baby was born, Maryellen might well have a change of heart.

Her assistant, Loretta Bailey, got to the library early so Grace could leave for what she’d vaguely termed an “appointment.” As soon as Loretta showed up, Grace grabbed her sweater, eager to depart before she was barraged with unnecessary questions.

“Thanks, Loretta,” she called back as she headed out the door.

“Oh, no problem. Are you seeing that nice man friend of yours?”

She must have something taped to her forehead, Grace thought with a sigh, because Maryellen had asked her the same thing earlier, when they’d met for lunch.

“Cliff asked me to drive him to the airport.” After everything he’d done for her over the past months, it was a small thing to request. “He’s taking some of the memorabilia from his grandfather’s estate to a museum in Arizona.”

“Oh, that’s right, his grandfather was a famous Hollywood cowboy, wasn’t he?”

“The Yodeling Cowboy, Tom Houston himself.”

“I’m too young to remember his television show, but I certainly remember hearing about the Yodeling Cowboy,” Loretta said. “My brothers used to try yodeling, and all it did was frighten the neighborhood cats.”

Grace laughed and went out to the parking lot reserved for library employees.

By the time she arrived at Cliff’s place, he was packed and ready. The neighbors would be taking care of his horses and Cliff returned the favor for them when they were away.

She was a few minutes early, so Grace walked out to the paddock where several of his quarter horses grazed. As she stood by the fence, a lovely tan-colored mare trotted toward her. “Hello, Brownie,” she said, stroking the mare’s long sleek neck.

“You could have her eating out of your hand if you wanted,” Cliff said from behind Grace. “Just the same as you have me.”

He said things like that just to make her blush; Grace was convinced of it. “Ready to go?” she asked, turning away from Brownie. It was easier to ignore the comment than respond to it.

“Anytime you are.”

He loaded his suitcase into the back of her car, then got in on the passenger side. Grace pulled out of the yard, a trail of dust behind her. Two geldings raced along the fence line with her, and she admired their speed and beauty. Grace understood why Cliff chose to live this far outside town. She felt a serenity whenever she visited his small ranch. She suddenly realized that after all the years she’d spent living in town, she wouldn’t mind life in the country. She’d never expected to even consider such a thing.

“Thanks for doing this,” Cliff said as she turned onto the road.

“It’s the least I can do. You’ve done so much for me.”

Without missing a beat, Cliff said, “If you feel obligated, then I suggest you think seriously about our relationship—about where we could go.”

He said it in a joking way and she replied in a similar fashion. “Where we’re going is the airport. Now, would you cut it out?”

“Probably not. Would you like it if I did?”

She smiled and kept her gaze focused on the road ahead. “Probably not.”

Cliff chuckled. “How’s Maryellen?”

“Wearing maternity clothes now. I wouldn’t have wished this on her, but I’m amazed by how happy she is. She’s very excited about the baby.” She paused, then thinking aloud, said, “I’m pretty sure the father is one of the artists she knows.” Initially she hadn’t intended to, but Grace told him about the conversation she’d had with Maryellen on Sunday.

Cliff listened intently. “I admire the way you can be open and honest with your daughters.”

“You aren’t with Lisa?”

Cliff didn’t answer right away. “Not really. We avoid the subject of her mother. It’s as if Susan’s a phantom woman. I think Lisa’s afraid of saying something that’ll hurt me, although I doubt my ex-wife has that power anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Although Grace didn’t want to pry, she was curious about his marriage. He’d made occasional remarks, but nothing that gave her a real picture of what his life had been like before the divorce. In a way, information about the marriages—and divorces—of others helped put her own marriage in perspective.

“I think one of the reasons you attracted me is because of Susan.”

This instantly alarmed Grace. “You mean I resemble her?”

“Not in the least. You couldn’t be more different. Physically, for instance. She’s tall and thin, whereas you’re short and…pleasingly round.”

“Thanks a lot,” Grace muttered under her breath. He hadn’t intended to be insulting, but then a man didn’t understand the effort it took to keep her weight down to “pleasingly round.” Glancing over, she found him studying her with an amused look. “It’s my thighs, isn’t it?”

He laughed at that. “Too bad you’re driving, otherwise I’d find an excuse to kiss you right now.”

“You most certainly will not!”

“Not for lack of interest.” He shook his head. “Don’t you know how attractive I find you?”

Her hands gripped the steering wheel a bit more firmly. “Just explain that comment about Susan.”

“All I meant is that you and I have a great deal in common.”

“What, exactly?”

“Well, for one thing, I know what it is to have the person you love get involved with someone else. It’s an emotionally damaging experience—as if every inadequacy, every doubt, I’d ever had about myself was true. If Susan had an affair, it was because there was something lacking in me.”

She merged with the traffic, heading over the NarrowsBridge. She lowered her speed as she drove onto the mile-long expansion bridge. “You mean a man thinks like that, too?” she asked, surprised by the revelation.

“Of course—but then we do what we can to compensate in other areas.”

“Such as?”

He shrugged. “For me, I got involved with horses. I ignored what was going on behind my back, because that was the only way I could deal with it. A man isn’t supposed to feel pain, you know?” he added wryly.

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Yes, well, I learned that pain comes out one way or another. I think if Susan and I had gone on as we were, it would’ve eventually killed me. She was braver than I was and decided to end our marriage. The funny part is, I was actually grateful.”

“What does any of this have to do with me?” Grace asked.

“Oh, yeah—that was the point of this conversation, wasn’t it?” He grinned. “When we met that first time—”