Her husband had been close to Tanni, and their daughter had never recovered from his death.

Shirley would never recover, either.

It was almost a year now. A very difficult year.

As long as she lived, Shirley would remember that January afternoon, when the young officer from the Washington State Patrol rang her doorbell. She’d been in her art room in the basement, working on a new quilt, and the interruption had annoyed her. Jim, a pilot for Alaska Airlines, had left for the airport two hours earlier. He usually flew the Seattle-Anchorage route. As he often did, he’d taken his Harley-Davidson motorcycle rather than his car.

At first Shirley couldn’t figure out why there was a patrolman at her door. She had trouble taking in his words—that there’d been an accident and her husband had not survived.

Even then Shirley hadn’t understood. There must be a mistake, she’d said. Two hours ago Jim had kissed her on the cheek, not wanting to disturb her work, and set out for the airport. Two hours earlier, the man she’d spent twenty years of her life with had told her he’d see her the following night.

Now he was dead? It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.

The officer, apparently accustomed to this sort of reaction, had asked if there was someone he could contact on her behalf, a family member, a pastor or perhaps a friend.

Closing her eyes, Shirley tried to force her thoughts away from that horrible afternoon, a time that had forever changed her life and the lives of her children.

Of the three of them, Nick seemed to have adjusted the most successfully to the loss of his father. He was protective of both Shirley and his younger sister. He’d stepped into that role in a way that astonished her. Jim would’ve been so proud of their son. Over Christmas, when Nick was home from school for a couple of weeks, Shirley planned to talk with him about Tanni.

Tanni wasn’t the same after Jim’s death. Unlike her brother, she’d withdrawn from her friends and family, especially Shirley. In fact, Tanni seemed to blame Shirley for the accident; she’d said as much. If Shirley had made more of a fuss, perhaps Jim wouldn’t have bought that stupid motorcycle. Shirley should’ve insisted he take the car that afternoon. She should’ve known, should’ve stopped him, should’ve done something. On and on. That was pretty well the extent of any conversation with Tanni. Shirley had stopped trying to defend herself. There was no point. These days, their daughter was immersed in her art, spending hours alone in her room. She talked to Shirley as little as possible and refused to show her anything she’d drawn.

In the beginning, Tanni’s relationship with Shaw had encouraged Shirley. For the first time since her father’s death, Tanni had shown some enthusiasm for life. She had a friend, someone who was important to her. They’d met around Thanksgiving and been practically inseparable ever since.

Shaw always picked her up in front of the house and dropped her off there. Whenever he pulled up she shot out the door with barely a word and didn’t return for hours. That left next to no opportunity for questions. When Tanni did get home, she hated what she called “the inquisition” and ignored her mother completely.

“Just leave me alone.” That seemed to be her daughter’s mantra.

But Shirley couldn’t do that. Her fear was that in her vulnerable emotional state, Tanni would become physically involved with Shaw. Her imagination ran wild with distressing scenarios, from teen pregnancy to disease to substance abuse. Tanni was too young for such an intense relationship. Too trusting, too naive, too hurt.

Shirley felt helpless. Every time she tried to talk to her daughter, Tanni shut her out.

The phone rang, and it caught Shirley off guard. She reacted with a physical jerk, then reached for the receiver.

“Hello?” She hoped she’d hear her daughter, calling with a reason for being late. Or, better yet, a promise to get home soon.

“Is this Shirley Bliss?” It was a male voice, one she didn’t recognize.

“Yes,” she said anxiously. Her pulse raced. Worried as she was about Tanni, she was terrified that this stranger had bad news. After all, if it had happened once, it could happen again.

“Hello, Shirley. I’m Will Jefferson.”

The name seemed familiar, but she couldn’t immediately recall where she’d heard it before. Then it came to her.

“I hope you don’t mind my contacting you like this.”

She thought the new gallery owner sounded a little too smooth and polished. “What can I do for you, Mr. Jefferson?” She spoke in a businesslike tone.

“Please, it’s Will.”

Shirley rolled her eyes. “You called because…”

“I recently purchased the Harbor Street Gallery.”

“Yes, I know.” She was grateful the gallery had found a new owner and that there’d be an outlet for her work. Many of the local artists depended on the income generated there.

“I was told you’d be a good person to talk to,” Will explained. “I’m interested in showing your work, of course, but I also have some ideas for renovating the gallery. I hoped we might have a chance to chat. I’d appreciate your feedback.”

“Yes, well…”

“I realize this is Saturday afternoon and it’s a very busy time of year, but I was hoping we could get together early in the week. Would that work for you?”

“I suppose.” Shirley raised her head as she heard a car door closing in the distance.

“How about Tuesday?”

“Ah, sure.” At this point she just wanted to get off the phone.

Will suggested they meet at the gallery and she noted the date and time on her calendar.

“I look forward to seeing you again,” Will said, as they ended the conversation.

She frowned. “Again?”

“Yes, we met briefly a couple of weeks ago when you picked up the check for the sailboat piece—the fabric collage.”

Oh, yes—they had met. Shirley remembered exactly what he looked like now. Will Jefferson was strikingly attractive—and his reputation had preceded him. Apparently he’d been born and raised in Cedar Cove and was a known ladies’ man, although he’d been back in town for only a few weeks. But she didn’t generally pay much attention to gossip; she preferred to form her own opinions.

The front door opened.

“I’ll see you later, then,” she said quickly.

“Great. Thanks, Shirley.” There was a significant pause. “I have the feeling we’re going to become great friends. See you Tuesday.”


Shirley stared down at the phone as she hung up. Their conversation, however short, had left her with the impression that he had an elevated view of himself and his charms.

Tanni went directly to her room and closed the door.

Shirley followed and knocked politely.

“What?” her daughter demanded.

Rather than ask questions that would only be resented, Shirley took another approach. “Dinner’s ready.”

“I already ate,” Tanni said without opening the door.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like some company. Eating by myself every night is boring.”


She waited several minutes and then, dismayed, walked back to the kitchen. Earlier that afternoon, Shirley had made a soup that had been one of Jim’s favorite’s—cauliflower, potato and cheese. It was the perfect meal for a cold winter night.

She ladled a scoop into her bowl, then sat down at the kitchen table. As was her practice, she bowed her head for a brief prayer, adding a request for help in reaching her daughter.

When Shirley raised her head, Tanni was entering the kitchen. Rather than reveal any satisfaction, she shook out her linen napkin and placed it on her lap.

“What’s that?” Tanni asked, gesturing at the Crock-Pot.


“Well, duh, I can see that. What kind?”

At another time, Shirley would have reacted to Tanni’s rudeness; for now she’d disregard it. She knew its source, and knew it was more important to leave herself open and available. So she answered mildly, “The cauliflower recipe.”

Tanni’s eyes showed the first sign of pleasure Shirley had seen in weeks.

“Want to join me?” she asked, then instantly wished she could cancel the invitation. Anytime she showed any desire for her daughter’s company, Tanni withdrew.

“I said I already ate.”

“Sorry, I forgot.”

Her daughter lingered in the kitchen, which encouraged her. Shirley dipped her spoon into the soup, afraid to say anything more.

She couldn’t resist for long. “Did you and Shaw have a good time?” The question was a risk but Shirley hoped it was benign enough not to offend her daughter. She took another spoonful of soup—and did her best to ignore the hickey on Tanni’s neck.

Tanni shrugged. “I guess.”

She wanted to ask where they’d gone, but decided not to jeopardize this opportunity for communication.

“I was on the phone when you came in,” Shirley said pleasantly. “The man who bought the Harbor Street Gallery wants to meet with me next week.”

“I heard the gallery sold,” Tanni murmured. “What does he want to talk to you about?”

“The renovation he’s got planned. Apparently he’s interested in my ideas.”

“Oh.” Tanni pulled out a chair and sat down across from her.

Shirley tried to conceal her surprise—and relief. Then it dawned on her that if Tanni was willing to talk, it was probably because she wanted something.

“Do we have plans for Christmas?” she asked.

“Yes.” Shirley didn’t elaborate.

“Like what?” The question sounded more like an accusation than a request for information.

“Your brother will be home and—”

“Big deal.”

“And,” Shirley added pointedly, “we’re going over to see your grandparents.” Jim’s parents lived in Seattle, and Shirley felt it was important for their sakes, as well as Nick and Tanni’s, that they keep in touch.

“I can see them anytime,” Tanni protested.

“True, but unless you set a date, it doesn’t happen. They’re really looking forward to our coming.”

Frowning, Tanni glanced down at her hands; she seemed to be struggling, caught between duty and desire.

“Did you have someplace you’d rather go?” Shirley asked without censure.

Her daughter shrugged. “Shaw and I…” She didn’t complete the thought.

“Would you like to invite him to join us?”

Tanni raised her head. She seemed to seriously consider the question. “I might.”

“He’s welcome.”

“He’s talented, Mom.”

Shirley didn’t want to appear dense, but she had no idea how this supposed talent manifested itself. “In what way?”

“Art.” She sighed as if it should’ve been obvious.

That explained a great deal. Tanni was gifted, too, although she hadn’t let Shirley see her work in ages. No one was more surprised than Shirley when she learned that her daughter had won a local art competition. Tanni’s teacher had entered the drawing and hadn’t told her. Tanni had been upset, insisting the whole thing was “meaningless.”