As we make our way into the family room, my gaze widens at the massive kitchen in the open floor plan. It has enough French country decor to have been Julia Child’s wet dream. Christee snags a glass of white wine off the makeshift bar on the counter and hands it to me.

“It’s so light, it’s practically water,” she says with a wave of her hand.

After foisting the wine on me, she doesn’t even wait for me to take a sip before dragging me into the center of the family room where at least thirty women—not the fifteen or twenty Angela said might be here—are gathered.

“Everybody,” she says in a voice loud enough to be heard back in Manhattan. “This is Angie’s friend Mallory. She went to school in Brunswick with Angie back in… Well, we don’t talk about anything that could give away our age, now, do we?” Everyone chuckles. “She’s spent the last several years living in the city, but she’s back home now. So let’s everybody give her a warm welcome, okay?”

“Hi, Mallory,” answers all the other thirty-some women in one breath—which isn’t creepy at all.

I wave a little nervously, then step back to hang with Angela as Christee starts chattering to the group about all the great Stella & Dot merchandise her “oldest and dearest friend Valerie” brought to share with us.

A huge “ooh” goes up from the crowd as Valerie opens her trunks. Then Christee announces that everyone gets to pick one piece to take home for free with a one-hundred-dollar purchase and, just like that, there is a high-heeled stampede to the center of the room, with Angela leading the charge. While a few toes get stepped on and more than a few elbows get thrown, it only takes about two minutes before women are settled, shoulder to shoulder, around all four of the different trunks.

I, on the other hand, ease backward a little, until I can find a place to drop my unwanted glass of wine. If I’m lucky, the riot over the jewelry will last awhile, and I can just hang here on my own and observe.

Besides, it’s a lot of fun to watch the blonde in the tiger-stripe sequins go at it against the brunette in the red sequins over a heavy gold chain necklace with a multi-stoned pendant. I’m putting my money on the brunette. She’s shorter but definitely scrappy, and—

“Looks like I’m not the only one afraid to dip my toes in the Stella and Dot pool,” says an amused voice from directly behind me. I turn to see a much younger woman with her hair pulled into a no-nonsense ponytail practically the same shade of brown as mine and, shockingly, there is nary a sequin to be found on any item of her clothing. In fact, she seems a little shy for this group.

“It’s a pretty intense group,” I say, and we both laugh. “My great-aunt Maggie would have loved these women, though Angela seemed to think she was taking a chance inviting me, since she said the jewelry wasn’t exactly Aunt Maggie’s style.” I thought the comment was odd at the time, but admittedly, nearly everything about Aunt Maggie was a little odd.

“Definitely an intense group. Then again, Christee is intense about everything. She always has been.” It’s said without an ounce of malice.

Considering Christee is currently involved in a tug-of-war with one of her guests over a silver necklace loaded with rhinestones, I’m not about to disagree.

“How do you know her?” I ask.

“We used to work together at the salon. She managed the place, and I do hair.”

“Oh, you’re a stylist!” I say. “I’ve just moved back to Jersey to live in my aunt’s house, and I’m definitely in need of a good salon. Plus, I’m thinking about doing something new with my hair. If you’re taking on first-time clients, that is.”

She smiles, and then a woman squeals in triumph so we both look over at the scrum. The woman raises a pair of dangly earrings above her head like a trophy, and we both chuckle. “Breakup or baby?”

I glance back at her. “I’m sorry?”

She gives me a slow up-and-down, her head slightly tilted. “Your hair looks great. It’s healthy and shiny and the style is super flattering on you. So why change it unless—”

“Breakup or baby,” I repeat, nodding slowly as realization dawns. “I get it.”

She lifts a brow. “So which is it?”

“Breakup.” I reach for my discarded wineglass and take a sip, then instantly regret it. “Divorcing my husband, actually.”

“Fuck him,” she says with surprising vehemence. “You seem like a great person, and if he let you go, then I say fuck him. He’s not worth it.”

“Oh, well…” I search for something polite to say but end up just grinning instead. “Yeah, pretty much.”

She reaches into her bag and pulls out a card. “I’m not taking a lot of new clients right now because I’m super booked up. But I like you, so give me a call, and we’ll work something out.”

Her card is sleek and black, with silver writing on it. “Sarah Bianchi?” I read aloud.

She raises one brow. “And you are…?”

“Oh, right. Sorry. I’m Mallory Martin Bach. Well, soon to be just Mallory Martin.”

“Mallory Martin.” For a second, a look of shock flits across Sarah’s face, but then it disappears as quickly as it came. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too. Thanks for saving me from becoming a wallflower.”

She takes a long sip of her wine, eyeing me over the rim of her glass. And in that moment, as her hazel-colored eyes stay leveled on me, she looks really, really familiar. I don’t know why, though. I’m 99 percent sure I’ve never met her before, and yet something about her tugs at something inside me. Most likely, Karl’s law office did some work for her at one point—which would also explain her weird reaction to my name.

That has to be it—maybe I even validated her parking or helped her with paperwork at one time or another. I dealt with so many clients through the years that they all blend together. God, I hope she didn’t sleep with my husband. That would really be a setback to this whole making-friends thing we have going on. Plus, I really do need a new stylist.

“So,” she says as we both look back toward the women and the jewelry chests. “The skirmishes seem to have died down some.”

“They have,” I agree.

She smiles hesitantly and takes a step closer to the melee. “Want to wade in, see what’s left?”

With visions of my meager bank account floating in my head, I start to tell her to go ahead. But then it hits me just how long it’s been since I bought anything for myself just for fun. At least a year, maybe—probably—more.