She was right, of course. In retrospect it was perfectly idiotic. He was asking her to see him on the sly, and that must have seemed contemptible to her. But much as he wanted to spend time with Faith, Megan could never know. His motives were entirely selfish.

His suggestion might not have been very honorable, and yet if he wanted to see her, there was no other option.

He loved Faith. He was convinced she loved him, too. However, she wasn’t going to let him into her life a third time when he’d already broken her heart twice.

Troy couldn’t blame her.

“Have a nice holiday, Faith.”

“You, too,” she whispered with a catch in her voice.

Troy paid for his purchases and carried the bags out to his vehicle. If it hadn’t been completely clear before, it was now—he’d lost any chance he’d ever had with Faith.


Tannith Bliss didn’t want to attend the Thanksgiving bonfire at the high school on Wednesday evening. She hated school. The only reason she’d agreed to go was to get her mother off her back. Anything was better than staying home and pretending their lives were normal.

Nothing would ever be normal again. Sometimes her mother acted like her dad hadn’t died, like he might walk through the door any second, and that upset Tanni. A lot. She didn’t understand why her mother was working so hard to make this stupid Thanksgiving dinner. It was senseless to bother with turkey and dressing and all that stuff when it would only be the three of them.

Thanksgiving was just the start of it. Soon it would be Christmas and that was another nightmare in the making. Their first Christmas without Dad.

She was late, so the school parking lot was already full. Tanni didn’t know why she was even looking for a space. Wishful thinking, she supposed. The only place left was on the street and she was fortunate to find that. With her hands deep in the pockets of her full-length black coat, she hunched her shoulders against the bitter wind and trudged up the hill toward the football field.

As she neared the fence she could hear the laughter and the shouting. This was going to be even worse than she’d thought.

“Tanni, over here!” Kara Nobles called when Tanni reached the field.

She acted as if she hadn’t heard. Kara was one of those bright, bouncy girls Tanni found annoying. Keeping her head lowered, she weaved through the crowd and walked to the opposite side of the field, as far away from anyone who might recognize her as she could get. No one else acknowledged her, which suited her just fine.

A goth group stood close by. Tanni wasn’t one of them. She dressed in black most of the time simply because she liked black. It matched her mood and her disposition. She was in mourning, after all. Her mother might want to pretend but Tanni didn’t. Her father was dead. He wasn’t going to come home the way he used to at the end of a flight, hug them all and bring her small gifts. Everyone else in their family might want to forget Dad, but not her.

Standing by herself, Tanni stared into the fire. The flames were mesmerizing as they crackled and sizzled, thrusting orange-and-yellow tongues toward the night sky.

One of the guys from the goth crowd separated from the group and walked in her direction. She didn’t want to look at him for fear that would encourage conversation. Still, she gave him a brief surreptitious glance but didn’t recognize him. That didn’t mean much, since Tanni tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible. She didn’t want or need anyone’s attention. If she could’ve found a way to get out of school altogether, she would gladly have taken it. All she wanted was to be left alone.

The boy didn’t say anything. If he’d spoken a single word, she would’ve told him to go away.

Instead he just stood there, silent as a rock.

She glared at him.

He ignored her.

“Hey, Shaw, you gotta see this,” one of the other goths shouted.

This was Shaw Wilson? Tanni had heard plenty about him. He wasn’t a student at Cedar Cove High anymore. Rumor had it that he’d never graduated. He hung around town and drove a blue Ford station wagon that everyone seemed to think was cool. The little Tanni knew about Shaw she liked.

The whole school had taken sides when Anson Butler was accused of starting the fire at The Lighthouse Restaurant two years ago, when Tanni was a freshman. The arson had been the main topic of conversation for months.

Shaw was Anson’s best friend; he’d defended him no matter what anyone said. Allison Cox had, too, since she was Anson’s girlfriend.

Later, when it turned out that Anson was innocent and some crooked builder had been responsible for the fire, most of the kids said they’d believed Anson from the get-go. Yeah, right. The same people who were ready to hang Anson out to dry were now claiming to be his close personal friends.

Other than Allison, the only person who’d been loyal from the very beginning was Shaw. He’d been the one real friend Anson had, and if no one else remembered that, Tanni did. She valued that kind of loyalty and hoped Anson appreciated everything Shaw had endured on his behalf.

“You’re Shaw?” she asked, looking directly at him.

“Yeah. You’re Tanni, right? Tanni Bliss.”

She nodded. Trying not to be obvious, she stepped closer to Shaw.

“I’ve seen you around,” he said. Like her, he kept his hands buried in his coat pockets.

“I’ve seen you around” was another way of saying he’d noticed her. Despite everything, Tanni felt pleased. If she had to be noticed, she wanted it to be by someone like this.

“Why aren’t you with your friends?” he asked.

She shrugged rather than explain that she didn’t really have friends. Okay, she had a few sort-of friends, Kara for one, but she didn’t consider any of them good friends. Her old pals had drifted away after her father died in a motorcycle accident. Well, actually she’d pushed them out of her life because most of them seemed to think there was a prescribed amount of time to grieve and then she was supposed to snap out of it. It hadn’t even been a year. But apparently Tanni was taking longer than they deemed necessary.

One so-called friend had said she should just “get over it.” The thing was, Tanni didn’t want to get over losing her father. She wanted to cling to every precious memory, remember every detail she could.

“I saw your pencil drawing,” Shaw said, breaking into her thoughts. “You’re good.”

“Thanks.” His words flustered her. The graveyard sketch had been a project her art teacher had praised. Without Tanni’s knowing it, Mrs. White had entered the sketch in a local competition. Then, at some art fair sponsored by the community, Tanni had been awarded top prize. She didn’t really care. The attention embarrassed her. Besides, her mother was a fabric artist who sold her stuff at the local art gallery, and Tanni was afraid that some friend of hers might have been a judge and given her the prize out of pity. She didn’t need pity. What she needed was her father.

Not only that, Tanni preferred to avoid being identified with her mother. They’d never gotten along well, and it was worse now than ever. The last thing she wanted was any comparison between her art and that of the great Shirley Bliss.

“I draw, too,” Shaw said. He must have regretted saying anything, because he added, “My drawings aren’t nearly as good as yours, though.”

Tanni didn’t comment. Drawing came easily to her; it always had. Some people were smart at algebra and others struggled with it. Drawing happened to be her particular skill—and her escape.

She could sit in class, any class, and act as if she was taking copious notes when in reality she was making little sketches. Doodles—geometric and circular designs—and tiny portraits of the people around her. Trees and flowers and horses and dogs. She’d filled notebook after notebook with these drawings. No one had ever seen them, not even her mother. Especially not her mother. If her dad was alive, she might’ve shown him, but no one else. Shortly after her father died, she’d destroyed a bunch of those notebooks in an act of grief and rage.

“Hey, Shaw, you comin’ or not?”

Shaw glanced over his shoulder and then at her. “See you, Tanni.”

“Sure.” As he started to leave, Tanni realized she didn’t want him to go. “How’s Anson?” she asked quickly.

Shaw hesitated, then turned back with a shrug. “He’s okay.”

“I heard he’s working with Army Intelligence.”


“That’s impressive. What about Allison?”

“She’ll be around this week. You know she’s going to the University of Washington, don’t you? In Seattle.”

“Yeah.” Tanni’s brother was coming home from college, too, and their mother was making a big fuss about that. Still, Tanni would be glad to see Nick. He was supposed to arrive this evening, driving over from Washington State University in Pullman. By the time Tanni got back to the house, Nick would probably be there.

She missed her brother, although she’d never expected to. They used to fight constantly, but after the accident they’d established a fragile peace while they dealt with the upheaval in all their lives. Nick was the one person she talked to about her dad, the only person who felt the way she did.

Shaw took one step toward her. “I was thinking, you know, if you want, I could show you some of my drawings.”

“Yeah, sure.”


“When?” she asked.

“You doing anything after the bonfire?”

It wasn’t like she had to check her social calendar. “Not really.”

“I could meet you at Mocha Mama’s in an hour.”

Tanni looked at her watch. Mocha Mama’s was new in town. She hadn’t been inside yet but she knew where it was. “Okay.”

He smiled at her and she smiled back. Despite the cold wind, she felt a rush of warmth that didn’t come from the blazing fire.

After a few minutes, Shaw and his goth friends took off. Tanni watched the bonfire for another twenty minutes. Her mood had improved since she’d talked to Shaw, so she walked over to where Kara stood with a group of friends.

Tanni wasn’t sure why she hung out with Kara at all. Kara and the others were cheerleader types, although none of them was likely to make it onto any squad. They weren’t really part of the popular crowd. But then, neither was Tanni.

Half an hour later, she parked in front of Mocha Mama’s on Harbor Street. She entered the café, looking around with interest. The decor was typical coffeehouse, with lots of dark wood and old-fashioned lamps. There were only a few other customers—a couple engrossed in their conversation, heads close together, and two older men. Shaw sat at one of the half-dozen tables positioned near the window, nursing a cup of coffee. He’d dyed his hair black but his blond roots were showing. He used to wear it spiked, but he didn’t anymore. While attending Cedar Cove High he’d sometimes worn dark, garish makeup; he didn’t do that anymore, either.

He raised his head as she approached the table. “Want anything?” he asked.

She did if he was buying. “Coffee, I guess.”