said. “If you give me one I’ll take it back.”

“You are no fun.”

“Because I don’t want birds chirping in my kitchen?”

“No, because you won’t try anything new.”

Clearly, she was delusional. Maybe that fish oil supplement she’d started taking was giving her bizarre side effects. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re stuck in the mud. Content with the status quo. A woman destined for ruts.”

I shoved the menu into my voluminous purse. If it didn’t take long to put the final touches on my upcoming PTA presentation, maybe I’d have time to work on the menu during lunch. “Need I remind you that in the last two years I’ve divorced a husband of two decades, brought my bookstore solidly into the land of profits, become secretary of the Tarver Elementary PTA, and helped put a killer behind bars?”

“All thanks to me.” She nodded, congratulating herself so thoroughly that her hair scrunchie fell out. “Some people would be weeping with gratitude.”

If I was going to be completely honest with myself—and I always tried to be, even if I hardly ever succeeded—there was a lot of truth in what she said.

It had been Marina’s shove that pushed me to run for PTA secretary, and now I was glad to be making a difference in Tarver Elementary School. Providing bookstore customers with hot cider had been Marina’s very successful brainstorm, and she had unquestionably been influential regarding my role of putting away the person who’d murdered Tarver’s former principal.

“Some people might call you an interfering busybody.” I opened the closet door and took out my coat. “Jenna? Oliver? I’m leaving!”

“But with a heart of gold.” She cast her eyes heavenward and clasped her hands together. “And the best intentions in the world.”

“You know what they say about intentions. The road to you-know-where and all that.”

“Pish.” Marina waved off the aphorism. “They also say that a wide brown stripe on woolly bear caterpillars means an easy winter.” She frowned and put an index finger to her lips. “Or is it a narrow stripe?”

“You and the kids can make finding out today’s mission.” I buttoned my navy peacoat.

“Plans for the young brood are already afoot.” She waggled a large and imaginary pipe.

“Do I want to know?” Much as I disliked leaving the kids on Saturdays, they were enjoying their outings with Marina and her youngest son. Jenna was eleven, Oliver eight, Zach was ten, and the trio were slowly forming a friendship that, with some nurturing and a lot of luck, would last a lifetime.

Marina put her nose in the air. “Tell you now and spoil the stories upon your return from the trenches? I think not.”

“Bye, Mom!” Jenna yelled from the family room. Sadly, her freely given hugs were diminishing in quantity.

“Bye, Mrs. Kennedy!” Zach called.

“Yeah, bye, Mom!”

And Oliver was following suit.

I stifled a sigh. Why did growing up require growing away? I put the thought into a distant corner of my mind and picked up my purse. “There is one new thing I’ve done absolutely positively all by myself.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“I found Evan.”

Marina laughed and flapped her hands at me. “Oh, get to work.”

I left, and an Evan-induced smile stayed on my face all the way downtown.

Though Wisconsin is wonderful in many ways, the state isn’t at its best in late fall. The bright leaves are gone, the days are dark and dreary, and windy nights hint broadly of the coming winter. Matter of fact, the only good thing about this time of year is Thanksgiving.

After all, what could be better than a day of cooking when it was growly and wet outside? What could be better than gathering your loved ones round and giving thanks for the year’s blessings? What could be better than a holiday for which you didn’t have to exchange presents, cards, or cookies, and at the end of which you waved good-bye to your family and bolted the door behind them?

My pencil gouged a hole in the menu. Bad Beth! I scolded myself. You don’t really mean that.

Around me, the bookstore was quiet. It was almost closing time and I’d finally had time to think about the coming holiday. Last year Mom had announced that she’d cooked her last Thanksgiving dinner, and it was time for us kids to step up to the plate.

Through a process of elimination, my place had been chosen for the event. I lived in a pseudo-Victorian house in Rynwood, a small town just east of Madison. Kathy and her husband lived in a Tennessee condo. Darlene lived in Michigan, not too far from Mom, but she and her husband, Roger, had moved recently, and they were still unpacking. Their children were grown and scattered from California to Virginia. If any of them showed up to Aunt Beth’s for dinner it would be a minor miracle.

Also in the Not-Enough-Room-to-Host-Thanksgiving category was my brother Tim. When they’d divorced a few years back, he and his ex-wife had renovated their house southwest of Chicago into a duplex. It made the custody arrangements with their teenage son a little odd, but it seemed to work for them.

Not that I’d know. Long ago my physicist brother had been nominated the World’s Worst Correspondent. When he’d been married, his wife hadn’t cared much about cultivating Emmerling family relationships other than sending the obligatory Christmas card, and since their divorce, we didn’t even get those. I came across my nephew on Facebook every once in a while, but I suspected all those properly spelled posts were on the sanitized Max page he showed to his parents and not the real Max page he shared with his friends.

How old was Max these days? I tapped my teeth with the pencil. Thirteen? Fourteen? I tried doing the math in my head and came up with twenty-six, which had to be wrong. I scribbled dates next to “Green bean casserole,” subtracted, and came up with fifteen. Good heavens, the kid was almost old enough to have a driver’s license. How on earth had that happened? Wasn’t it last year that—

“It’s ten after.”

Shrieking, I jumped straight up out of my chair, tossing the menu and pencil high. I tried to speak but my fluttering breaths wouldn’t let me get out more than a word at a time. “I—didn’t—hear—”

Evan retrieved the paper and writing implement and laid them on the counter in front of me. “Didn’t hear the bells jingle as I came in? Didn’t hear me call your name? Twice?” He smiled at me.

Smiled down at me, actually. If I stood on tiptoe I could look him directly in the chin. While I wasn’t short, I wasn’t tall, either, and learning how to kiss a man with such a height differential had given me a stiff neck more than once.

We were the same age—a smidge over forty—and had attended the same kindergarten class. I’d been the Goody Two-shoes and he’d been the kid to point out that the rules for adults should be the same as the rules for children. But that long-ago classroom had been in Indiana. Was it fate that had allowed us to meet up again when we were both single? It was a question I pondered when I should have been sleeping.

Now his smile, instead of slowing my rapid pulse, was making it pound faster. Though our first official date had been months ago, I still wasn’t used to the physical closeness of a male. Especially one this good-looking. Last year I’d tried to quell my romantic feelings for Evan by remembering my oft-proven theory that Beautiful People were jerks. I leaned over the counter for a quick kiss and was glad that Evan had proven to be the exception to the rule.

“Sorry,” I said. “Last time I looked at the clock it was a quarter to.”

He’d returned the sheet of paper without reading it, and I wondered how many people could have done that. Not me. Certainly not Marina. Though maybe the action of nonlooking was a leftover from his former profession.

Not that I knew much about the habits of lawyers. To me, the law was a big scary thing, and I tried to stay as far away from it as possible. I pushed the menu back over to him. “Thanksgiving. I know you can’t be there, but see what you’re going to miss?”

“Hmm.” He scanned the paper. What had once been a simple, straightforward listing of food items was now

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