One Year Later


The first pages of my handwritten notes were filled with quotes from concerned parents. Each succeeding page had an increasing number of doodles. Every person talking had said the same thing, over and over, the same thing I’d heard on the phone all day. And I’d probably had dozens of e-mails on the subject, too.

My own eyes were drooping when I reached the proof-reading stage at one in the morning. Yawning, I printed a hard copy and decided to look at e-mail. After subject lines such as “Tarver Addition,” “Agnes Must Go,” and “Legal Action Called For,” there was a series of e-mails from Marina. “Call me,” said the first one. Then, “Call me—urgent.” There were more with increasing numbers of capital letters and exclamation points. The last message had been sent less than five minutes ago.


“Why didn’t you call me yourself?” Grumbling, I picked up the phone, but there was no dial tone. “Oh . . .

Thirty seconds after walking in the door, the phone had rung. Carly, mother of Thomas and Victoria, had wanted to know how we were going to stop Agnes. After I’d finished with her, I’d pulled the cord out of the phone jack. Voila, no more calls.

I went into the kitchen and dialed Marina. “Sorry. I unplugged the phone. You wouldn’t believe how many people have called. What’s so important?”

“It’s Agnes.”

My fear vanished. Annoyance replaced it. “Oh, geez. What’s she done now?”

Marina breathed into the phone. Short, tension-filled puffs. “She’s dead.”

To my parents, who gave me life, love, a college education, and a voracious appetite for reading. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.


No book is written in a vacuum, and this book is no exception. My heartfelt gratitude goes to about a zillion people, but I’d like to mention a few by name. Thanks go to Lorraine Bartlett (aka Lorna Barrett) for poking and prodding, and to Peg Herring for Thai lunches and writerly conversation. To my fantastic editor, Jessica Wade, and to my intrepid agent, Jessica Faust. To the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime, because if it weren’t for the Guppies, I wouldn’t have persevered. To the Plot Hatchers for plotting and hatching, and to Julie Sitzema for her knowledge of Girl Stuff. To my husband for his expertise in All Things Sports (and for a few other things that I’d list except I don’t want to be responsible for the deaths of so many trees). Thanks, everyone!

Chapter 1

“You need to get out more,” Marina said.

As I was in her backyard, my best friend’s comment was obviously incorrect. “I am out.”

“Don’t be a putz.” Without turning, she spoke to a five-year-old playing in the nearby sandbox. “Andrew, don’t whack your sister on the head. It’s not good for you, her, or that piece of processed petroleum stamped into a plastic toy shape in China by underpaid employees and brought to this country on a containership undoubtedly carrying illegal aliens.”

Marina and I stood in the late-September sunshine of Rynwood, Wisconsin, enjoying the warm weather. There wouldn’t be many more days like this before the cold of winter set in, and Marina was a big believer in outside play for the children in her home day care.

“You know what I mean, Beth,” she said to me. “Socially out.”

On the inside I was shrieking, No! It hasn’t been long enough! The kids aren’t ready! I’m not ready! On the outside, my lips tightened an infinitesimal fraction of an inch.

“Now, don’t look like that.” Marina shook her finger at me; she was the only person outside of a sitcom I’d ever seen actually do such a thing. “It’s been a year since the divorce.”

A year and eight days of sleeping alone, but who was counting?

“Which makes this a perfect time to get back into action.” A wisp of Marina’s light red hair fell out of her ponytail and across her plump cheek. We looked across the yard to where my ten-year-old daughter, Jenna, had barricaded herself in a tree fort and was dropping bits of maple leaf onto the head of my seven-year-old son. Oliver was red faced and grunting from the effort of trying to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

Ripping apart their young lives with divorce had been the hardest thing I’d ever done. Jenna had taken it on the chin, but Oliver had started sleeping with a pile of stuffed animals big enough to smother him, and every single one had to be given a kiss good night. Bedtime took forever in our house. I knew I should start weaning him off the animals, just as I knew I should start talking to Jenna about the “wonders of womanhood.” After Christmas, I thought. Why rush things?

“Know what?” Marina pushed back the stray hairs. More, and then more, would fall out of the ponytail without her noticing, and finally the full glory of her reddish locks would cascade over her shoulders. The hair scrunchie would be on the floor, or in the yard, or in the car, or on the kitchen counter. Marina dropped hair scrunchies like Hansel and Gretel dropped bread crumbs. “I ran into Dave Patterson the other day—” Her extrasensory powers reasserted themselves. “Nathan! Don’t climb the fence.”

“But my mom’s here!” Young Nathan jumped, trying to swing his legs over the white picket fence.

“Wait for your mother to open the gate.”

Nathan jumped again.

“Gate!” Marina’s sharp command was like a whip. The boy dropped to the ground.

“Hey, Marina.” A slim blond woman walked up the side yard’s stone path and stood at the gate. “Wonderful day. Oh, hi, Beth. Got a new name for that bookstore yet?” Debra-don’t-call-me-Debbie O’Conner grinned at me.

If I’d been blessed with quick wit instead of quick alphabetizing skills, I would have come up with something clever enough to silence Nathan’s overly perfect mother. But since I hadn’t come up with anything better than the current “Children’s Bookshelf” since I’d bought the store two years ago, I just shrugged. “Not yet.”

Debra opened the childproof latch with one hand, a task that took me two hands and a considerable amount of sotto voce cursing. “Let’s go, kiddo,” she said to her son. “See you ladies later. I’d love to stop and chat, but the book club is at our house tonight, and I need to fill the cream puffs I baked last night. Bye!”

Cream puffs? No one made cream puffs. You bought them from the bakery or thawed them after getting a box out of the grocery store’s freezer. I climbed the stairs to the deck and sat in a plastic green chair, feeling inadequate. Cooking I could do, but baking? The last thing I’d baked from scratch had

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