An Excerpt From


Eden crawled into the living room, the rough carpet burning her chubby knees and hands. As boots slapped the hall floor, she went still, holding her breath. Had he heard her?

The footsteps stopped. She leaned back around the doorway and peeked down the dark hall. There was no sign of him. Not yet. But he’d come for her. He always did.

She crept a little farther, resisting the urge to leap to her feet and run. He’d hear her if she ran.

Once she was past the big chair, she stopped and looked around. The long table in front of the sofa had a cupboard. She opened the door, wincing at the click. The space was big enough to squeeze into, but it was full of books and magazines.

She glanced back at the big chair. It was too far from the wall. If she hid behind it, he’d see her as soon as he came around the corner. But the sofa? Yes! She flattened onto her stomach. Then she wriggled backward until her legs were all the way under and—

Her bum hit the frame and stopped her. She tried again, squirming madly, but she couldn’t get under. Maybe if she went in headfirst. She tugged herself forward and—

She was stuck. She wiggled as hard as she could, the carpet burning her knees, but she couldn’t get loose, and she was sure any moment now he’d—

She popped out. She took a second to catch her breath. Then she turned around to go in headfirst and—

Her head wouldn’t fit under, either.

What about behind the sofa? If she could move it out a little, she could get in there. She grabbed the leg with both hands and pulled. It wobbled but didn’t move.

The footsteps started again, slow and steady. Coming her way? She swallowed and tried to listen, but her heart was pounding so hard she could barely hear.

She skittered from between the table and sofa and glanced at the hall leading to the bedrooms. Lots of hiding places back there. Better hiding places. If she could—


She dove for the sofa and pushed it forward just enough so she could squish in behind. She tried to look back to make sure her feet were hidden, but she couldn’t tell. She wiggled in a little farther, and then she pressed her hands to her mouth. If she made any noise—any at all—he’d find her. She lay on the carpet, trying not to sniff the old cat pee as she made herself as small as possible.

Footsteps thudded into the room. And stopped. When Eden squeezed her eyes shut, she could hear the slight rasp of his breathing. She pictured him there, brushing his shaggy blond hair from his eyes as he scanned the empty room.

“Eden?” he called.

His boots swished on the carpet as he took a few more steps. He sucked in a breath. “She’s gone. Oh my God, Pammie, our baby’s gone!”

Eden pressed her fist into her mouth to stifle a laugh. Mommy’s soft sigh wafted from the kitchen as she told Daddy— again—not to use language like that in front of their daughter.

“But she’s disappeared!” he said. “Call the police! Call the fire department! Call the clown brigade!”

“Speaking of clowns . . .” her mother teased.

Eden’s body shook with silent giggles.

“Our baby is gone! All that’s left is this shoe.” He dropped to his knees by the sofa. “Wait, there’s a foot in it.”

Eden twisted around, pulling her leg in.

“Oh, no! Now she’s completely disapp—”

Eden backed out of her hiding place and launched herself into Daddy’s arms. He scooped her up and twirled her around. She closed her eyes as the air whipped past, smelling of Daddy’s spicy aftershave. Much better than the cat pee from the old owners, but when she was spinning, the smell made her tummy spin, too. She didn’t tell him to stop, though. She’d never tell him to stop.

Daddy tossed her onto the sofa. The bright red pillows scattered as she landed. He picked up one and tucked it under her. Then he bent on one knee.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I have to leave. I’ve got a big day ahead of me, helping a special girl celebrate her half birthday.”

“Me!” Eden bounced on the cushions, singing, “Me! Me! Me!”

“Really? Are you sure?”

More shouting. More bouncing.

Today she turned two and a half. Last night, she’d barely slept, just curled up under the covers and stared at the mural Mommy had painted on the ceiling, a carousel of horses and swans and lions. Usually, if she couldn’t sleep, she pictured herself on the black horse with the white mane, and she’d go around and around until she drifted off. That hadn’t worked for a long time last night.

Then, when Mommy came to wake her up, Eden heard an owl hooting outside her window, and her tummy had started to hurt. She didn’t like the owl—not in the daytime. It sounded scary, and it made her worry that Mommy and Daddy would forget it was her half birthday. But that had been silly. They’d never forget.

“Is it time?” she said, still bouncing. “Is it time?”

“It is. We have a big surprise planned. Do you know what it is?”

“No, she does not,” Mommy said as she walked in. “That’s the concept of a surprise, Todd.”

Daddy leaned down to Eden’s ear and whispered, “Pony ride!”

Eden shrieked. Her mother rolled her eyes and pretended to be mad, but she couldn’t stop smiling.

“Let’s get your hair brushed,” Mommy said as Eden jumped into her arms. “We’ll want to take lots of pictures when you get your big surprise.”

“Pony ride!” Daddy said.

“I think we should put him on a pony,” Mommy whispered in Eden’s ear.

When Mommy finished brushing her hair, Daddy grabbed Eden again and swung her up onto his shoulders. “I think I’d make a good pony.”

He snorted and pawed the ground. Mommy laughed and slapped him on the bum.

Then the door crashed in.

It happened so fast that nobody moved. Not Mommy. Not Daddy. Eden heard the crunch of breaking wood, and she saw the door fly right off its hinges, and she thought it was a storm like in the movie with the girl and her dog. Only it wasn’t a storm. It was monsters.

Huge monsters, all in black, with helmets on their heads and masks over their faces. They swarmed through the broken door. They shouted and yelled and waved black things in their hands.

Eden screamed then, and Daddy stumbled back and Eden started to slip off his shoulders. Mommy caught her before she fell.

One of the monsters shouted. Eden couldn’t understand him. Mommy and Daddy did, though. They stopped moving. Then Daddy backed up, arms going wide, shielding Mommy and Eden. Two monsters grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him to the floor.

Eden screamed again. Screamed as loud as she could, her mouth open so wide that her eyes squished shut and she couldn’t see. When Mommy’s arms wrapped around her, she could feel Mommy’s heart pounding. Heard her panting. Smelled something bad and sour that was not like Mommy’s smell at all.

“It’s okay,” Mommy whispered. “Don’t look, baby. Just don’t look.”

Then Mommy shrieked and everything spun. Eden’s eyes flew open. One of the monsters had Mommy. Another yanked Eden away. Mommy grabbed for Eden, her nails raking Eden’s arm as she tried to get her back. Eden fought just as hard to get to her, kicking and screaming and clawing.

One of the monsters said Mommy and Daddy’s names, then started saying other names, a whole bunch of them. Mommy stopped fighting then. So did Daddy, who was pinned to the floor under two monsters.

“Wh-what?” Mommy said, her voice so squeaky it hurt Eden’s ears. “Those poor couples in the papers?” She glanced at Daddy. “What’s going on?”

“I-I don’t know.” He looked at Eden. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I know this is scary, but it’s just a mistake. A bad, bad mistake.”

A woman appeared then. A normal woman, dressed in a jacket and a skirt, like the kind Grandma Jean wore to work. Only it didn’t matter if she was smiling and talking in a nice voice. Not when she took Eden away from Mommy and Daddy.

Eden struggled and kicked and howled.

“Enough of that, now,” the woman said. “You’re going to hurt yourself—”

Eden bit her. Chomped down on the lady’s arm as hard as she could, tasting something bad and hot filling her mouth. The woman shrieked and let go, and Eden tumbled to the floor, then ran toward Mommy and Daddy as the monsters hauled them away.

Mommy twisted around and reached out. Eden threw herself at her, but a monster grabbed her dress and held her back as another dragged Mommy out the door.

Chapter One

I waited in the shelter drop-in center for my next appointment. The murmur of children’s voices wafted in from the play area. Low murmurs, hesitant, fractured. Guilty giggles, cut short, as if the children weren’t sure they had anything to giggle about. The faint smell of bleach from the toys, washed nightly, was almost overpowered by the sickly sweet smell of lilies. Vases on every table. A hundred dollars’ worth of flowers. Money better spent on shampoo and baby wipes. But the donor meant well. They always did.

People say that volunteer work is rewarding in ways no paid job can match. I wouldn’t know about the paid part. Barely a year out of college, I’ve never held a paying position. I know what I get out of volunteering, though, and it isn’t the usual sanctimonious thrill of helping the less fortunate. It’s the mirror they provide, reflecting me in ways that aren’t always comfortable.

My 2:15 appointment was Cathy, who apologized for being late even as I assured her she wasn’t. She’d slid into the room with her head down, prodding her two-year-old ahead of her.

“Hey, Joey,” I said. “Are those new boots? Spider-Man, huh?

Very cool.”

A furtive glance my way. A quick nod. I like kids. Can’t say they feel the same about me. I think they can sense I was an only child, only grandchild, too, growing up in a world of adults.

Cathy headed for a rickety wooden chair, but I patted the spot beside me on the sofa. She perched on the edge of the worn red vinyl. Not the prettiest piece of furniture, but it was bright and cheery and washable. Did the clients look at all the vinyl and wood and plastic, and imagine us after hours, bleaching down everything in sight, cleaning off the contagion of their desperate lives?

“Did you leave Amy in the playroom?” I asked.

Cathy stiffened. “Yes. The lady said it was okay—”

“I was just asking. They’re doing crafts at two thirty and I know she loves crafts.”

She relaxed and nodded. She had two children under the age of four. Another on the way. And she was three months younger than me. Not that she looked it. If I saw her on the street, I’d have added ten years. She certainly had that extra decade of life experience. Kicked out of the house at sixteen. Married by eighteen and divorced by twenty-one. A dozen jobs on her résumé, often more than one at a time.

Nothing could be further removed from my own experience. I live with my mother in a house bigger than the entire shelter. I have a master’s degree from Yale. I work as a volunteer, and I don’t even need to do that. Do I appreciate it? No. On good days, it chafes, like a dress with a scratchy tag. On bad ones, I feel like a bobcat caught in a trap, ready to gnaw my foot off to escape. Then I look at someone like Cathy, and a wave of guilt and shame stifles the restlessness.

“Thank you for seeing me, Miss Jones,” she said.

“Olivia, please. And I’m here whenever you need me. You know that.”

Cathy nodded and wound a lock of hair around her finger. Hair dyed blond almost a year ago, dark roots now to her ears; she’d refused to color it again because the dye job had been his idea. The guy who’d left her with those blond ends, a missing tooth, and another baby in her belly.

“So, Melanie has been helping you look for a job,” I said. “How’s that going?”


Her gaze stayed fixed on my chin. It always did, unless she got worked up enough, like when she’d declared unbidden that she wasn’t fixing her hair. Brief shows of defiance. Achingly brief. Frustratingly brief.

There was more in that lowered gaze than deference, though. I could sense it. Feel it, thrumming through the air between us.

“Did—?” I began.

Joey raced past wearing a tattered backpack in the shape of an owl. It reminded me of the one that hooted outside my window that morning. A bad omen. If you believed in omens.

“Joey!” Cathy said. “Stop running and sit down.” Then, to me, “Sorry, Miss Jones.”

“No, he’s fine. I was just admiring his backpack.” I tore my gaze away. “Did the bakery ever give you that reference?”

She shook her head. I cursed under my breath. Cathy’s last job had been at a bakery. Owned by the cousin of the man who’d left her pregnant. Her old boss now couldn’t seem to recall how good an employee she’d been and thus sadly could not give a reference.

I had the name of the bakery in my wallet. More than once, I’d been tempted to help the woman remember Cathy. I had a few ideas for how to accomplish that. It’s a satisfying image to contemplate, and it would be so much more feasible if I wasn’t Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of Lena Taylor, renowned Chicago philanthropist, and Arthur Jones, owner of the iconic Mills & Jones department store. But I am, and as such, I have other avenues of attack, equally effective, if somewhat lacking in drama.

“Let’s leave that for now. I’m sure she’ll change her mind.” Very sure. “We’ll grab a coffee and have a look through job postings.”

After Cathy left, I flipped through the stack of job printouts. I told myself I was making sure I hadn’t missed a suitable one for Cathy, but I was really looking for myself. Pointless, of course. In so many ways.

My mother had always expected me to follow her example. Marry well and devote myself to volunteerism and philanthropy. Leave paid work for those who need it. Dad had been more amenable to the idea that a young woman in my position could have a career beyond organizing fund-raisers. My mother came from money—she was the daughter of minor nobility, raised in English society. Dad had been brought up in the business world, where you were expected to work until you couldn’t. Or until you had a fatal heart attack at the age of sixty-one, leaving behind a daughter who, ten months later, couldn’t look at your picture without missing you so desperately it hurt.

I always thought I’d work for Dad someday. Take over the family business eventually. It didn’t matter if the store bored me to tears. I’d be working with him and that would make him so happy. Except now he was gone, and I couldn’t bear to step through the store’s front doors.

For now, I intended to go back to school in the fall and get my doctorate in Victorian lit. No idea what I’d use that for in the real world, but it would give me time to figure out what I wanted.

I hadn’t told my mother my plans. No use stressing her out when her dream was about to come true—her only child married, and married well. As for my fiancé, James . . . I hadn’t told him, either. First I was checking out my options for local schools. Once that was set—and before the wedding—I’d tell him. He’d be fine with it. He didn’t expect me to sit home and keep house for him. Not unless I wanted to. I most certainly did not want to.

When I finished tidying up, I stepped outside the front doors, and the city hit me. The screech of tires and growl of engines. The stink of exhaust and the tang of roast pork. The flash of colors—bright shirts, neon signs, blinding blue sky.

Our family doctor used to blame my hypersensitivity on my upbringing, raised in a quiet house in the suburbs. But years of city exposure didn’t seem to help. I’d walk onto a busy street and every sight, sound, and smell assaulted me, my brain whirring as if trying to make sense of it all. I’d learned to adjust—it was part of my life. Usually it passed in a moment, as it did now. I took a deep breath and headed to the gym.

The photographer stepped back into the shadowy doorway as the young woman approached. Once she was abreast of him, he lifted his camera and held down the shutter button, silently snapping photos.

Amazing how much she looked like her mother.

Chapter Two

You’re lucky I love you,” I whispered as I leaned over. “Or I would be so out of here.”

He smiled, a blazing grin that had every woman at the table swooning. CEO of Chicago’s fastest growing tech firm, and son of a former senator, James Morgan isn’t gorgeous, but that grin had landed him a spot on the city’s most eligible bachelors list for three years running. Sadly, he wouldn’t be eligible next year. Well, sadly for everyone else.

“Another hour,” he whispered. “Then Penny has instructions to phone me with an urgent message.”

Good. As charity dinners went, this one ranked about average, which meant somewhere between uncomfortable and excruciating. The cause was excellent—New Orleans reconstruction. The food was just as good—Creole by someone who obviously knew how to cook it, which meant it was heavy on the spices and not nearly as appreciated by the older crowd. Most of it got left on the plates, which had me looking around the sea of tables, mentally calculating how far that wasted food would go in some Chicago neighborhoods. But they’d paid handsomely for it, eaten or not, and that was the point.

James’s father had been asked to give a speech tonight. James was doing it in his stead. That happened a lot lately, as his father aged, to the point where the organizers would be surprised— and probably disappointed—if James Senior showed up instead.

So James was a guest of honor, which meant everyone at this table wanted to make his acquaintance, and he couldn’t spend the meal chatting with his fiancée. While he conversed with everyone in turn, I entertained the others. Every few minutes, his hand would brush my leg, sometimes a flirtatious tickle but usually just a pat or squeeze, a reminder that he appreciated me being there.

Finally dessert was served: Doberge cake, a New Orleans specialty, a half-dozen layers of chocolate cake with lemon and chocolate pudding between them. The meal was coming to an end, and conversation was hitting the stage of desperation.

“So how did you two meet?” asked the woman on my left.

“Their families know each other.” A man across the table answered before we could. “Mills & Jones department stores. James Mills Morgan and Olivia Taylor-Jones.” He sat back, looking smug, as if he’d just uncovered a secret—and somewhat shady—connection.

“Our grandfathers founded the company,” James said. “Mine sold our shares to Liv’s dad before I was born, but our families still get together a few times a year. Liv was always there. Usually getting into trouble.”

A round of obliging laughter.

The woman on my left patted my arm. “I bet you had a secret crush on him.”

“Er, no,” James said. “She was seventeen before she remembered my name.”

“Only because you look like your cousin,” I said.

“Who’s a half foot shorter than me and fifty pounds heavier.” James turned to the others. “Let’s just say Liv’s complete lack of interest kept my ego in check.”

“You were older,” I said. Then hurried to add, “Out of my league.”

“Nice save, darling. Truth is, by the time she was old enough to notice me, I’d gone from a gawky teenager to a boring businessman. Liv prefers fighter pilots.”

I sputtered a laugh. “He was a computer tech in the air force.”

“Close enough. The point is, she was not easily wooed. I’ve launched hostile takeovers that were easier.”

James spoke after dinner, making an impassioned plea for donations. I would say it was a lovely speech, but that would be arrogant, considering I wrote it. I could point out that a master’s degree in Victorian literature hardly qualifies me to write speeches about contemporary disasters, but I never did. If James was going to be my husband, I was going to be more than a bauble on his arm.

I hadn’t planned to marry so young. I’m not sure if I planned to marry at all. My parents had a great relationship but, well, it lacked what is to me an essential component of a partnership. Namely the partnership. Dad ran the business, Mum did her charity work. Never the twain shall meet. James has let me into the business side of his life from the start, and I appreciate that. So if he asks me to write him a speech, I do.

I will say, then, only that the speech was successful. Checkbooks opened. As they did, James made his way through the crowd, with me at his side. Then, so deftly that even I hardly noticed, we ended up in the back hall.

“I think the party is that way,” I said.

“Which is why we’re going this way. You looked like you needed a break.” He swung me into an alcove. “And I wanted to thank you for the speech. Perfect, as always.”

He pressed me back against the wall, lips coming to mine in the kind of deep, hungry kiss that had, a year ago, made me decide James Morgan was a lot more interesting than he looked.

When I finally needed oxygen, I pulled back and whispered in his ear, “If you want to thank me properly, I noticed the east wing was cordoned off.”

He chuckled. “Dare I ask how you noticed that when we came in the west doors?”

“I wander.”

The chuckle deepened, and he lowered his hands to my rear, pulling me against him as he kissed my neck.

“But it should probably wait,” I said. “You are a guest of honor, and it would be most improper—”

“I like improper.”

He let me down and we zipped along the hall toward the east wing.

I leaned against the wall, skirt hiked up my hips, legs still wrapped around him.

“I definitely need to write you more speeches,” I said.

A rough laugh. “I definitely need to find more occasions for you to write me speeches.”

We rested there. It was peaceful—the white walls, the distant voices blending into a monotone murmur, the stomach-churning mix of perfume and cologne reduced to the spicy scent of his aftershave. I buried my face against his neck, inhaled, and relaxed.

He kissed my hair. “Speaking of speeches . . .”

I lifted my head. He adjusted his stance, lowering me to the ground.

“I need to ask you something.” He cleared his throat. “This isn’t quite how I planned it. I was going to take you to a fancy dinner and pop the question . . .”

“Uh-huh. While I’m flattered that the sex was so good it caused temporary amnesia, we’re already engaged.”

He smiled. “Yes, I know. This is a proposal of another sort. Equally terrifying in its own way. Neil Leacock came to see me today. My dad’s former campaign manager. He—they—the team and its supporters—would like me to consider running.”

A moment passed before I could find my voice. “For junior senator?”

“Yes, but not right away. They want to wait until I’m thirty-five. For now, they’d just like me to start heading in that direction. Grooming me.” He took my face in his hands. “I don’t want to hit you with this after the wedding, Liv. I know you might not want a life of endless speeches and endless dinners.”

A senator’s wife? I swore I could hear the trap snap shut on my leg. I leaned against James, hiding my reaction.

Just relax. Don’t say anything. You need time to think this through. Play along for now.

It took a moment, but I found a smile that would fool James. I’d minored in drama in my undergrad years. My instructors always said I was a natural. No big surprise there. Sometimes I felt as if I’d spent my life faking it.

I smiled up at him. “In other words, no more sex in the back hall?”

“Er, no . . . Actually, I was hoping that if I promised more sex in the back halls it might make the rest more tolerable.”

I put my arms around his neck. “If you’re willing to make such difficult concessions, then I can probably make some, too.”

“Because it is difficult.”

“I know, and I appreciate it.”

He laughed and kissed me.

Chapter Three

We’d just made it back to the party when my cell phone beeped. My mother hates to text, but if the alternative was having me do something as crass as talk on my phone at a charity event, she’ll make an exception.

I need to speak to you, Olivia. Will you be coming home after the dinner? Mum never lowers herself to text speak.

“What’s up?” James asked.

“Mum needs to talk to me about something.”

“Meaning you’re not staying at my place.”

“Sorry. You know how she gets.”

When my dad died, I’d been home from college and planning to move into my own apartment. But then my mother needed me at home. I’d expected that. I hadn’t expected the nonstop frantic calls to resolve every curve ball life threw at her. Last week, she’d called me home from James’s place at 2 a.m. because she’d “heard something.” It turned out to be a raccoon on the back deck. I would have been a lot more sympathetic if the housekeeper hadn’t been right downstairs, as she was every night I stayed with James.

We’d already arranged for the housekeeper to move in permanently after I got married. We’d also decided to hire a full-time chauffeur to double as a security guard. I still wasn’t sure it would be enough.

“Go on,” James said. “I’ll call a car to the back. I hear something’s going on around front.”

“A protest?”

He shook his head. “Just a couple of paparazzi. There must be a media personality here.”

He lifted his cell phone then stopped. “Are you okay with going out the back? It’s not the door you came in.”

I shot him a glare.

He grinned. “Sorry. I’m just checking, because I know it’s bad luck—”

“Once,” I said, lifting my finger. “It was one time, and you’re never going to let me forget it, despite the fact we just celebrated our engagement with a bottle of Cristal, and I could barely find the door.”

“And the time in Cozumel, when you insisted on turning our pillows around so we wouldn’t have nightmares?”


“Alcohol isn’t the cause. It just reveals your adorably superstitious self.”

I don’t know where my superstitions come from. A nanny, I suppose. It really does take alcohol—in copious quantities—for me to mention one. James think it’s adorable. The only thing I can do is to change the subject fast, which I did.

Twenty minutes later, I slipped into the car’s leather backseat, feeling faintly ill. James wanted to run for senator. I should have seen that coming. Soon after we’d started dating, I’d asked whether he had any plans to follow his dad into politics. He’d laughed it off but never really answered, and I hadn’t pursued it.

I hadn’t dared. I’d been falling for James Morgan, and I didn’t want to hear anything that might interfere with that.

I could fake a lot of things. A politician’s wife, though? I might be able to pull it off for a month or two. Years? Maybe even a lifetime? Never. I’d grown up in these circles. I knew what came with the position. What would be expected of me. I could not do that. It was like masquerading as a paramedic and then suddenly being promoted to chief of surgery.

As the town car headed into the suburbs, I called James.

“I’m going back to school,” I said when he answered.

A long pause. “You’re going . . . ?”

“Back to school. For my doctorate. In the fall if I can.”


That’s all he said. Okay. My heart rate slowed.

“Where did this come from?” he asked.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I was going to tell you after I looked into it some more, but now with your news . . .” I took a deep breath. “I wanted to be upfront about my plans, too. I’d really like to go back to school. Get my PhD in English.”


I leaned back against the seat, eyes closing in relief.

“There’s no reason you can’t, Liv. Like I said, it’ll be a few years before the campaign starts. I won’t need you full time until then.”

My eyes opened. “But I’m going back to school for a job. I want a career.”

“With an English doctorate?”

Yes, with an English doctorate,” I snapped.

“Sorry,” he said. “Of course you could do something. Maybe you could write.”


“Mysteries. I know you love mysteries. You could be the next Arnold Conan Doyle.”

I resisted the urge to correct him. Arthur Conan Doyle had been the subject of my master’s thesis. James hadn’t read a novel since college, but when he’d discovered my area of study, he’d read two volumes of the Sherlock Holmes stories, just for me.

“Fiction writing isn’t really my thing,” I said.

“Don’t be modest, Liv. You’re a great writer.”

I’d meant that I had no interest in it as a career. I wanted to get out and do things, not tell stories about other people doing them. But at least he understood I needed a job. It was a start.

After we hung up, I relaxed into the seat again. I’d been overreacting. Even if he did run for senator, there was nothing to say he’d win. He wouldn’t even run for five years anyway. Lots of time for me to persuade him this wasn’t the path for us.

I was lost in my thoughts when the driver said, “Is this it, miss?”

I looked out the side window at the familiar gates. Manicured flowering shrubs softened the “keep out” message of the fence. My mother’s touch. Dad always said if you’re uncomfortable with the message a massive fence sends, then you damned well shouldn’t put one up.

“Yes, this is it.”

“Nice place.”

Our house was actually modest for the neighborhood. The driver was impressed, though, which meant I had to give him a generous tip in addition to the standard gratuity on James’s bill or he’d whine about the “cheap Mills & Jones brat.”

As the driver did his paperwork, I walked to the front door. The rich scent of lilacs floated past, and I took a moment to enjoy it, the smell prompting memories of evening garden parties and late-night swims.

I glanced up at the sky. A perfect May evening, warm and clear. Still time for a swim if I could resolve Mum’s problem fast enough. I might even get her into the pool if I promised to wear my suit.

I was still digging out my keys when our family lawyer flung open the door and practically dragged me inside, not an easy feat for a man who looks like Ichabod Crane, so pale and gaunt he breaks into a sweat climbing stairs.

“Howard?” I said as I escaped his grip. I sighed. “Let me guess. The board of directors wants Mum’s feedback on something, and she’s in a tizzy. How many times have we told them not to bother her?”

“It’s not that. This is . . . a personal matter, Olivia.”

My mother appeared in the study doorway.

“Olivia,” she said in her soft British accent. “I hope my message didn’t bring you home early.”

“No,” I lied. “James needed to leave, and I wouldn’t stay without him.”

Normally she’d have gently praised me for making the socially correct choice, which wasn’t always my default. But she only nodded absently. She looked exhausted. I walked over to give her a hug, but she headed for the front door, double-checking the lock.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“Come into the sitting room.”

As I was following her down the hall, the doorbell rang. I glanced down the hall to see a tall, capped figure silhouetted by the porch light.

“The driver’s back,” I murmured. “What did I leave in the car this time?”

My mother sighed. “You really need to be more careful.”

“I know, I know.”

As I reached for the handle, Howard hurried over.

“Olivia, allow me—”

“Got it.”

I swung open the door to see, not the driver, but a middle-aged man in a fedora. Behind him was a woman with a camera.

“Eden,” the man said. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”



A Cainsville Novel

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