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Locking the child gate at the bottom of the stairs, she went into the kitchen and began setting the table. As always, she kept half an eye on the boys while she worked.

"Mom!" Marah shrieked. "They're here!" She thundered down the stairs, jumped over the childproof gate, and ran for the window, pressing her little nose against it.

Kate sidled up to her daughter, pushed the curtains aside. Headlights cut through the darkness. Johnny's car was first; behind it a black limousine crept down the long, treed driveway. The two cars parked in front of the garage.

"Wow," Marah said.

The uniformed driver got out of the limo and came around to the back passenger door, opening it.

Tully emerged slowly, as if she knew she was making an entrance. Dressed in low-rise designer jeans and a crisp white men's-style blouse beneath a navy blazer, she was the very definition of casual chic. Her hair, cut in layers and probably styled by the best hairdresser in Manhattan, was a gorgeous auburn hue that shone in the light from the garage.

"Wow," Marah said again.

Kate tried to suck in her stomach. "I wonder if there's time for lipo-suction."

Johnny got out of his car and went to Tully. They stood close enough together that their shoulders were touching. Laughing at something the driver said Tully looked up at Johnny, pressing her hand to his chest as she spoke.

They looked perfect together, like models pulled from the pages of a glossy fashion magazine.

"Daddy sure likes Aunt Tully," Marah said.

"He sure does," Kate muttered, but Marah was already gone. Her daughter opened the door and ran to her godmother, who scooped her up and twirled her around.

Tully came into the house like she did everything: in a maelstrom of sound and light. She hugged Kate fiercely, kissed the boys' pudgy cheeks, handed out more gifts than a Ryan family Christmas, and demanded a drink.

All through dinner, she entertained them, told them stories about being in Paris for Y2K and the panic that preceded it, about the recent Oscars ceremony she'd attended and how they'd taped the dress over her boobs and how the adhesive had failed her at a party when she did a straight shot.

"Everyone in the room got a shot," she said, laughing, "if you know what I mean."

Marah hung on Tully's every word. "Was it an Armani?" she asked.

Kate was absolutely dumbfounded to hear Tully say, "Yes, it was, Marah. I see you know your fashion designers. I'm proud of you."

"I saw pictures in the magazine. They said you were one of the best dressed."

"You have to work at that," Tully said, beaming. "A whole team of people work to make me look good."

"Wow," Marah said yet again. "That's so cool."

When Tully had exhausted the celebrity fashion topics, she turned to world politics. She and Johnny debated the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and the press coverage of it in fierce detail; Marah jumped in at every lull with endless questions about teenage celebrities Tully knew personally and Kate had never heard of. Frankly, the boys were such a handful it took all of her concentration and effort to keep them quiet. Kate kept meaning to say something, add a comment or two, but the boys picked tonight to throw food at each other, and she had to be vigilant to keep them in check.

The dinner seemed to last a nanosecond. When it was over, Marah, in a pathetically transparent attempt to impress Tully, cleared the table.

"I'll do the dishes," Johnny said. "Why don't you and Tully get some blankets and sit outside?"

"You're a prince," Tully said. "I'll make a pitcher of margaritas. Katie, you put Huey and Louie to bed and I'll meet you outside in fifteen minutes."

Kate nodded and carried the boys upstairs. By the time she was done bathing and dressing and reading to them, it was close to eight o'clock.

Feeling a little weary herself, she went downstairs, where she found Marah curled on Tully's lap.

Johnny met her at the bottom of the stairs. "The margaritas are in the blender. I'll put Marah to bed."

"I love you."

He patted her butt, then turned to his daughter. "I know. Come on, Bunny. Bedtime."

"Aw, Daddy. Do I hafta? I'm telling Aunt Tully about Mrs. Hermann."

"Hop up the stairs and get your pj's on. I'll be up in a minute to read you a story."

Marah hugged Tully tightly, kissed her cheek, and plodded over to where Johnny and Kate stood.

Perfunctorily she kissed Kate goodnight, then went upstairs.

Tully got up and stood by Johnny. "Okay, I've been very patient, which as you know is not my strong suit, but the kids are gone now, so spill the beans."

Kate frowned. "What?"

"You look terrible," Tully said softly. "What's wrong?"

"It's just hormones. Or lack of sleep. The boys exhaust me." She laughed at the ordinary string of excuses. "I'm fine."

"I don't think she knows what's wrong," Johnny said to Tully, as if Kate weren't even here.

"How's the writing going?" Tully asked her.

Kate winced. "Great."

"She isn't writing," Johnny said, and Kate could have coldcocked him for that.

Tully looked disbelieving. "Not at all?"

"Not that I can tell," Johnny said.

"Quit talking about me as if I'm not here," Kate said. "I have a ten-year-old drama queen who plays every sport on the planet, takes dance lessons three times a week, and has a busier social calendar than the Sex and the City girls. And don't forget about twin boys who rarely sleep at the same time and break everything they touch. How the hell am I supposed to do all that, make dinner, do the laundry, clean the house, and write a book at the same time?" She looked at them. "I know what you both think. What everyone seems to think. I'm supposed to make time to search for my authentic self. I'm supposed to need more than motherhood—and I do, damn it—I just don't know how I'm supposed to do all that and still be in the carpool lane on time."

In the silence that followed her outbreak, a log dropped in the fireplace, made a crackling thump.

Tully looked at Johnny. "You asshole."

"What?" He looked so perplexed, Kate almost laughed.

"She cleans the house and picks up your laundry? Can't you get someone to clean, for God's sake?"

"She never said she needed help."

Kate hadn't realized until that moment how overwhelmed she'd felt. Relief swept through her, loosened the muscles in her back. "I do," she finally admitted to her husband.

Johnny pulled her close and kissed her, whispering, "All you had to do was say something," against her lips. She kissed him back, clung to him.

"Enough making out," Tully said, grabbing her arm. "What we need are margaritas. Johnny, bring them to us on the deck."

Kate let herself be led outside. Once there, she smiled at her friend. "Thanks, Tul. I don't know why I didn't just ask for help."

"Are you kidding? I love bossing Johnny around." She sat down into the nearest Adirondack chair. In front of them, just beyond the ragged yard, lay a silvery ribbon of foamy surf. The quiet, whooshing sound of the water's rise and fall filled the night.

Kate sat in the chair beside her.

Johnny returned, gave them each a drink, and left again.

After a long silence, Tully said, "I say this because I love you, Katie: you don't have to go to every field trip and bake sale. You need to make time for yourself."

"Now tell me something I don't know."

"I read the magazines and watch television. At-home moms are forty percent more likely to—"

"No. I mean it. Tell me something I don't know. Something fun."

"Did I tell you about Paris at the turn of the millennium? And I don't mean the fireworks. There was this guy, a Brazilian . . ."

On the first of July 2000, Tully's alarm clock went off, as it did every weekday morning, at three-thirty. With a groan, she smacked the snooze button, wishing just this once she could sleep for ten more minutes, and snuggled back up against Grant. She loved waking up near his arms, although she rarely woke in them. They were each too solitary to meld well, even in sleep. In the years of their on again/off again relationship, they'd been all over the world together, attended dozens of glittering parties and black-tie charity events. The press had dubbed him Tully's "sometime love" and she had always thought it was as apt a nickname as any. Lately, though, she'd been reconsidering.

He wakened slowly, rubbed her arm. "Morning, love," he said in the scratchy, raspy voice that meant he'd smoked cigars last night.

"Am I?" she asked quietly, angling up onto one elbow.

"Are you what?"

He stopped just short of rolling his eyes, but the effect was the same. "That talk again? You're thirty-nine. I know. It doesn't change who we are, Tully. Let's not ruin a good thing, shall we?"

He acted as if she'd asked him to marry her, or knock her up; neither of which was true. She rolled out of bed and walked through her spacious apartment toward the bathroom. There, she turned on the lights.

"Oh, God."

She looked like she'd slept in a Dumpster. Her hair, cut short now and highlighted with blond streaks, stuck out all around her face in a way that only Annette Bening or Sharon Stone could pull off, and the bags under her eyes were carry-on-sized.

No more red-eye flights from the West Coast. She was too damned old to party all weekend in Los Angeles and be at work Monday morning. She hoped no one had snapped a photo of her coming home last night. Ever since John Kennedy, Jr.'s tragic death, the paparazzi had been swarming. Celebrity—and pseudo-celebrity—news was big business.

She took a long, hot shower, washed and dried her hair, and dressed in a pair of designer sweats. By the time she emerged from the steamy room, Grant was waiting for her at the door. In his suit from last night, with his hair messy in a studied way, he looked incredibly handsome.

"Let's play hooky," she said, sliding her arm around his waist.

"Sorry, love. Got a flight to London in a few hours. I'm to see the folks."

She nodded, unsurprised. He always found a reason to leave. Locking her door, they went to the elevator and rode down together. At their separate black town cars, parked one in front of the other on Central Park West, she kissed him goodbye and watched him leave.

She used to love the way he came and went in her life, always arriving unexpectedly and leaving before she could get bored or fall in love. In the past few months, though, she felt as lonely with him as without him.

Her uniformed driver handed her a double-shot latte. "Good morning, Ms. Hart."

She took the coffee gratefully. "Thanks, Hans," she said, getting into the car. Settling back, she tried not to think about Grant or her life. Instead, she stared out the tinted window at the dark streets of Manhattan. This time of day was as close as the city came to sleeping. Only the hardiest of souls were out—garbage collectors, bakers, newspaper deliverymen.

For more years than she wanted to count, she'd lived this routine. Almost from her first day in New York, she'd been waking up at three-thirty A.M. for work. Success had only made long days longer. Since CBS had lured her over, she'd had to include afternoon meetings in addition to her morning broadcasts. Fame and celebrity and money should have allowed her to slow down and enjoy her career, but the opposite had occurred. The more she got, the more she wanted, the more afraid she was of losing it, and the harder she worked. Every job that came her way, she took—narrating a documentary on breast cancer, guest-hosting a super new game show, even being a judge for the Miss Universe contest. And then there were her guest appearances on Leno, Letterman, Rosie, etc. And holiday parades that needed a grand marshal. She made sure no one could forget her.