She carried the test kit into the kitchen with her and set it down on the kitchen table in front of her husband. “Is this a hint?”

“As broad as I can make it,” he said, and finished his glass of orange juice. “For the love of heaven, let’s get this agony over with.”

It was then that Leah knew.

In the beginning she was afraid he was worried about her building her hopes upon a foundation of sand. But it was more than that. Andrew was suffering the torment of the unknown himself.

For years, Andrew had disguised his feelings, not allowing her to guess how very much he wanted children.

He was studying her now, his features sharp and anxious. “How much longer will you wait?”

She wanted to make some flippant reply, some casual remark that they could both laugh away, but it wouldn’t work.

“If it’ll ease your mind,” she said, disliking even this small compromise, “I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Benoit right away.” The physician, however dear, produced a flood of unhappy memories. She couldn’t think of him and not remember the months of hormone shots, the ultrasound, and everything else they’d attempted over the last seven years.

“All right, call your doctor friend,” Andrew said, but he didn’t sound especially pleased. He wanted to know. The sooner the better.

Not so with Leah. She’d already received all the confirmation she needed.

Monica had been standing in the cold, sounding the bell for charitable donations, for nearly forty-five minutes. She was cold, her feet hurt, and she was almost convinced Chet wouldn’t show.

Not after her father had caught him walking out of their yard in the dead of night. Worse, she’d been left to speculate what had happened. Her father had remained uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the incident. She’d tried once to pry information from him, but to no avail. Any further questions and he’d guess that her interest was more than normal curiosity.

Monica felt Chet’s presence several seconds before he came into view. Her body was developing a kind of sonar when it came to locating him. Her spirits lifted immediately and she drew in a deep breath and whispered a soft prayer of thankfulness.

“Hello,” she whispered, when he strolled up to the bright red pot and slipped a twenty-dollar bill inside.

“We need to talk,” he murmured, not looking at her.

“I know.”

“Can you meet me afterwards?”

“Of course.” She was in love and a woman in love would do whatever was necessary to be with her man. “Your apartment?” she asked, loving to tease him.

“No.” The word was sharp and instant.

Monica couldn’t help it, she laughed. “Where?”

“Pier Fifty-six. I’ll be waiting for you at the restaurant. There’s a table way in the back, closest to the water.”

She nodded eagerly. “I shouldn’t be much longer.”

“I’ll see you there,” he murmured, and before she could say another word, he was gone. The man was like a magician. He could appear and disappear at the drop of a hat, or so it seemed.

Twenty minutes later, Monica was hurrying downhill, toward the Seattle waterfront. She raced across the street, promising herself she’d stop on her way to the bus stop and look at the Christmas display in Nordstrom’s window. She’d heard it was angels this year, perched atop a train set that circled a frothy cloud. Stars shone bright from above. Another window was the traditional Santa’s elves at the North Pole and Mrs. Claus baking sugar cookies.

Chet was sitting at the table, waiting for her. Puget Sound showed through the huge plate-glass window behind him. The sky was blue and clear and the ferry had just pulled away from the dock. The scene was lovely and for a moment she studied the tranquil waters.

“I’m so glad to see you,” she said. She slipped out of her coat and waited a moment, wondering how long it would take Chet to notice her new dress, but he seemed preoccupied and said nothing. Monica was a bit hurt, but let it pass.

“I’m dying for a cup of coffee,” she said.

Chet waved for the waitress, who carried the glass pot over to the table. “Do you want something to eat?” he asked Monica.

She shook her head. “Just coffee for me, thanks.”

“Me too.” The waitress refilled his cup and poured hers.

Chet smiled over at her and the same intense look was back, the one she’d noticed earlier. His frown deepened as if he’d become aware of a change.

“Something’s different,” he said, studying her.

Monica beamed proudly. He had noticed. “I’m wearing a little makeup,” she whispered, leaning toward him. “Out of the blue I got a call from Donna Watkins, a lady from church. She invited me to lunch. Donna’s wonderful with clothes and scarves and pretty pins. . . . I didn’t always think so, but that doesn’t matter now. She claimed she was getting dressed that morning and had the irrepressible urge to call me and invite me out.

“After lunch she took me shopping. I bought the dress and”—she tossed back her head to expose her earlobes—“these. They’re lovely, aren’t they?”

Chet’s eyebrows shot toward his hair line at the sight of the small gold earrings. “I thought you claimed jewelry was a tool of the devil.”

She might have thought that at one time, but would never have said so, at least not publicly. “Don’t be ridiculous. I said that if a woman opted to wear jewels, then whatever she chose should enhance a meek and gentle spirit.”

“Earrings do all that?”

He was teasing her, but she didn’t mind. “I think so. Donna did too, but then she had on these huge Christmas tree decorations. They’re wild. As far as I can see, each woman is left to her own interpretation of this.”

She took a sip of coffee, grateful for the warmth it offered her. “Do you like the dress?” She tried to make light of it, but her heart was dangling precariously on her sleeve. Everything she’d bought that afternoon had been with Chet in mind. Each time she stepped before the mirror, her first thought had been what he would think when he saw her.

“It’s very pretty.”

It wasn’t much as compliments went, but enough. “It’s the first thing I’ve had in years that isn’t black, gray, or navy blue. Donna says I’m a summer, if you know what that means. I didn’t until she explained, but basically I should be wearing pastels, pinks, pale blues, and the like.”

Chet nodded, but looked distracted, as if this summer business were beyond him.

“I’m sorry,” she said, setting her cup down hard in the saucer, “I didn’t mean to get sidetracked. Tell me what happened with my dad.” She was breathless with anticipation. “He didn’t say a word to me.”

“Nothing happened.”

Chet certainly seemed to be uncommunicative this afternoon. “Nothing?” she demanded. There was more to this than met the eye.

“I explained I was a private investigator and had cut through his yard. I apologized for the intrusion. As far as I could tell he believed me. After he’d read over my license he went back into the house.”

“That was it?” Surely there was something more. It wasn’t her imagination, her father had been unnecessarily quiet all morning. He seemed preoccupied and absentminded. When she mentioned meeting Donna for an early lunch, he’d encouraged her, and even sounded pleased. He insisted she needn’t come back to the office when she’d finished. Since she was volunteering downtown, she should go directly there.

“You seem so quiet,” Monica said after several moments of silence. She’d never seen the serious side of Chet. She’d seen him angry and frustrated, aroused and flippant, but never serious.

He didn’t seem to hear her. “I don’t think I ever realized how truly beautiful you are.”

Unaccustomed to compliments, Monica felt herself blush. Her heart was so full, it felt as if it were ready to burst. Love must do this to a woman, she decided, but she wouldn’t change this incredible feeling for the world.

He leaned forward and reached for her hand, gripping her fingers hard with his own. “I’ve been doing some thinking.”

“About us?” Her chest tightened as though she already knew what he was going to say. In that same moment she recognized that no amount of arguing would change his mind.

Chet nodded. “It has to end, Monica. I never intended matters to go this far. You’re bright and beautiful and someday you’ll meet a—”

She stopped him from saying anything more by pressing the tips of her fingers against his lips. She knew her eyes were wide and pleading. They stung with the effort to hold back a wall of tears.

“Don’t say it,” she pleaded softly.

His hand gripped her wrist and he closed his eyes as if this were causing him as much pain as he was inflicting upon her. He kissed her fingers and slowly moved her hand away.

She lowered her gaze. “There’s this song,” she whispered in fractured tones, having trouble speaking. “Michael plays it on the piano. It’s from some musical. I don’t know which one . . . it’s about two people who must end their affair, and the girl who’s singing asks only one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“All she wants is to choose the time and place where he tells her good-bye. She wants it to be on a Sunday at the zoo. I don’t know why she chose there, but she did.” She forced herself to smile and realized a toddler would have seen through the effort. “I always thought that was the most ridiculous song. The only reason Michael played it was that he knew it irritated me, and now . . . now I think I understand.”

Chet didn’t say anything for several minutes. Monica couldn’t.

“The time is now,” he said. “It’s over.”

She nodded. “At least let me choose the place. Not here in some fancy restaurant with half the world looking on. Let’s go outside to the end of the pier. Tell me there you don’t love me. Tell me there you never want to see me again.”

She didn’t wait for him to agree or disagree, but stood, taking her coat. With her head held high, she walked out of the restaurant and down the long pier, stopping when she’d reached the farthest corner.

The wind blew hard against her as she stood at the railing looking out over the green, murky waters. It amazed her that she could be so outwardly calm and still hurt this badly.

For a moment she feared Chet would choose to leave her there alone, but she was wrong. Soon he joined her. Standing beside her, he braced his elbows against the railing, and looked out over the water. Dusk was setting, and a soft shade of pink brightened the horizon. The wind whistled softly in the background.

“I can’t say I don’t love you, if that’s what you’re looking for.” The words were almost accusing, tight with pain.

Monica’s hands were buried deep in her coat pockets. She turned to study him. The wind slapped the loose tendrils of her hair about her face. “Why are you doing this?”