THIRTEEN

Since when do you own a waffle iron? Nola stood on a chair in front of the tall bank of kitchen cabinets, staring at the appliance in wide-eyed wonder.

I’ve had it forever. I make waffles for Aidan nearly every Sunday. Kat straightened up, removing her head from inside the large packing carton, and corrected herself. OK, I /used/ to make him waffles, back when he could actually stand to have a meal with me.

He’ll snap out of it. Nola placed the gadget toward the back of the top shelf, next to the mixing bowls. You’re his mother. He loves you.

Kat let out a giant sigh. She’d been telling herself the same thing now for about a month, every time she called Aidan and got his voice mail, but the truth was, she was no longer her son’s only parent. Aidan had Riley now, too, and from everything she’d heard, their relationship was growing more solid every day. Maybe Aidan didn’t need her now that he had a father.

Reassuring herself that such thinking was total crap, Kat unwrapped the wooden salad tongs, placing them on the mound of utensils she’d have to run through the dishwasher before she organized the kitchen drawers.

This was only the second time in her life she’d moved, if she didn’t count running away, which she didn’t. Her first move was from the row house to the apartment, which took two trips in Phyllis’ little red hatchback to get Kat settled. This move was mind-numbing in comparison, and she’d had the movers pack up only her kitchen things, a few favorite framed posters and photos, clothes, books, CDs, linens, her TV, sound system, and computer. She left most of her furniture at the apartment and she’d shoved her beloved houseplants into the back of the Jag.

Everything else would be brand-new and arriving that afternoon from an upscale mailorder companytwo bedroom sets, a couch, chairs, ottomans, tables and cabinets, rugs, a dining set, and lamps. This little bungalow was going to look like a showplace.

She heard the front door creak open without a knock and a man’s voice called out, Hello? I’m looking for the hottest babe in West Virginia. Is she here?

In the kitchen, hon, Nola answered, giggling.

Matt poked his head into the archway, his face plastered with the kind of mischievous smile Kat had seen on Aidan’s face a thousand times. God, how she missed her boy.

Matt took a quick peek at Nola’s jeans-clad backside, then looked at Kat. Need a hand? I’m on my lunch break and thought I’d check on you.

Kat tried not to laugh because Matt had already been kind enough to check on them first thing that morning, then check in with Nola three times on her cell, and had arranged to have them over to the Bohland House for dinner that night. It was like he couldn’t bear to be away from Nola for ten minutes. Fortunately for everyone in Persuasion, the day had been light on crime.

Absolutely I can use a hand, Matt. Kat pointed to the half-unloaded cardboard box. You can finish this one for me if you don’t mind, and I’ll take a quick break.

No problem.

Kat winked at Nola as she left the kitchen, knowing full well that whatever happened in that room would be completely unrelated to unpacking. Almost immediately, Nola let out a playful scream of surprise and Matt was already murmuring under his breath.

Kat smiled as she headed toward the living room, once again appreciating her good fortune. Even stripped bare, the renovated house was inviting and warm. It had French doors, natural woodwork, and gleaming oak floors, not to mention high ceilings and two totally refurbished baths.

But her favorite feature of the house was the stained-glass windows flanking the fireplace, now radiant with midday light and spreading a cheerful glow through the room. It was the second house Kat had looked at when she arrived in Persuasion last week, and she’d signed a year-long lease on the spot. She would use whatever she needed of the year to reacquaint herself with Riley and her own life story. If things didn’t work out, she could leave and start over back in Baltimore, or anywhere else she chose.

She said a silent, /Thank you,/ to Phyllisup in heaven claiming the ultimate jackpotfor her generosity. What she’d bequeathed to Kat was no less than freedom itself.

She breathed deeply, her feet solid beneath her. She was now a resident of Persuasion by her own free will, and she planned to get to the bottom of the girl she was and the woman she’d become. The only heaviness in her heart was the knowledge that she’d have to go through Virgil Cavanaugh to get there.

A howl jarred Kat from her thoughts, and she looked out the picture window to see Riley and Loretta coming up the walk, the dog in the lead.

Kat raced to the door to greet them. Riley displayed a large paper sack and an even larger grin.

Brought us something for lunch. He stepped through the threshold as Kat held the door open. Loretta barked, sniffed the floor, then trotted toward the kitchen. Riley placed a sweet kiss on Kat’s lips as she accepted the bag.

Matt just brought Nola a little something for lunch, too, and he’s in there giving it to her as we speak.

Riley closed his eyes and shook his head. Looks like we’re dining al fresco today.

After Kat grabbed a sweater, they opened the door and plopped down on a sunny spot on the porch steps, Riley immediately wrapping his arm around her shoulders. I think Matt’s got it bad, he said, whispering in her ear. He’s usually such a cool customer when it comes to women.

Kat snuggled into Riley’s side, contentment settling in her bones.

Nola’s pretty gaga, too. I’m trying not to get involved one way or the other. I can’t stand the thought of either one of them getting hurt.

Riley kissed the top of her head. I guess we’re the last people on earth who should be advising anyone about how to run a relationship.

Hmm, Kat said, pulling open the paper bag. Maybe someday that will be different. She opened the top of the sack and was hit with the smell of grease and breading, and her eyes widened in glee. Fried chicken and apple fritters? From the Sunset Diner? Holy hell, RileyI hope you like plump girls.

I like /you,/ so eat up. He gave her rear end a proprietary pat and then fished out paper plates and napkins. He served her a big piece of chicken. You look really pretty today, Kat.

She’d just ripped a chunk of white meat from the bone, caught off-guard by his compliment and aware she looked like the subject of a documentary on carnivorous jackals.

He laughed. You’re going to have to bear with me, because I’ll probably be a real goof for a while, spending most of my free time sitting around staring at you until I’m convinced you’re real.

How long do you figure that will take? Kat asked, trying not to talk with her mouth full.

Decades, most likely.

She wiped her smiling mouth with a napkin, and then reached up to wipe his. She planted a playful kiss on his lips and pulled away, grinning at him. When their eyes met, time halted or it turned back or it never mattered at allit was impossible to graspbut for that suspended moment, Kat understood that their love was as ancient as it was brand-new. She understood that the fun-loving boy was still right there inside of Riley, alongside the lustful man, and she was destined to be the safe haven for both of them.

Riley smiled at her, and the smile was filled with so much tenderness and desire that she was overcome with longing for him. She wanted to comfort his soul, soothe the places of loss inside him, especially the ones she was responsible for. She wanted to get her hands all over his perfect tush and his silky chest.

Riley’s eyelids grew heavy and his nostrils flared. Your beds get delivered yet?

Kat chuckled. I can’t believe you can think of sex when we haven’t even touched the apple fritters.

You were thinking the same thing and don’t try to lie to me.

Another day, another round of brutal honesty. Kat took a bite of chicken. The beds should be here in the next couple hours, actually.

Just planning ahead. No pressure.

They talked while they ate, Riley sharing with her the latest delays with the clinic, conversations he’d had with Aidan, and the fact that Matt had spent much of the morning preparing that evening’s dinner for the four of them.

Obviously, the man doesn’t punch a clock, Kat said.

He /is/ the clock. It’s the perfect career for Mattlots of unstructured time to think about women and food.

Kat licked her fingers. Would’ve been fun to be a fly on the wall during that job interview.

What interview? Riley laughed under his breath. He got his criminal justice degree from Mountain Laurel and his last name is Bohland. He had his choice of being director of campus security or the town’s chief of police, and one day he’ll probably be mayor.

Hmph. Kat rummaged around for an apple fritter. Speaking of the college, I was looking at their catalog earlier, checking out classes I could audit.

Riley stopped chewing and his eyebrows went up. Anything interesting?

Don’t laugh. She looked out over the small front lawn, onto Laurel Lane.

Psychology. Maybe child psychology. It was just a thought.

Riley grabbed her hand. Don’t ever sell yourself short. You have a brilliant mind and you could do whatever you wanted to do. You’ve got the money and the time nowwhy audit classes? Have you considered working toward your bachelor’s degree?

I think about it all the time.

Then do it, Scout. Riley put a finger under her chin and raised her eyes to meet his. I’ll cheer you on in whatever you decide to do.

A loud crash came from the back of the house, followed by Loretta’s howl. We’re good! Matt called out, as if to prevent any sudden inspections of the kitchen. Within seconds, Loretta was using her snout to push at the front door, ready to retreat to a calmer location.

Riley got up to let her out. As he returned to his perch, he said, You’ll never guess who I ran into at the diner.

Carrie?

Riley shot Kat a sideways glance as he rooted around inside the bag for his fritter. Don’t even joke. Nobody’s heard a peep from her since the protective order was issued, and I’m praying it’ll stay that way.

Who then?

You dad’s sister, Rita.

Kat put the pastry down. Oh yeahI was going to go rip her a new asshole when Nola and I were here last month, but I just didn’t get around to it.

Riley’s eyebrows arched in surprise.

She was the first person I told about being pregnant that day. I went to her house right after I got the test results, and do you know what that woman told me? Kat shook her head, remembering how it had stung. She said I’d have to drop out of school the minute I started to show. Then, as my aunt and not my principal, she told me that whatever I did, I should not tell my father anything about my situation.

Riley shook his head. Jesus, that’s brutal. He tossed the half-eaten dessert back into the bag and sighed. At least there are agencies working to keep girls in school nowadays, unlike your experience, but the pregnancy rate here is still a huge problem. In fact… Riley looked at Kat without finishing his thought.

What?

Well, I wanted to start a reproductive health outreach center as part of the clinic. It’s kind of pie in the sky at the moment, but I’m hoping we can find a way to make it happen. Riley scooted closer so that his long, lean thigh pressed up against hers. Hey, Kat?

She nodded.

Whenever you’re ready to talk to Virgil, I’ll go with you. Promise me you won’t go alone.

Kat looked up at those bottomless blue eyes and was caressed by the earnestness and love that lived in them. Suddenly, hope filled her up, and it was the kind of hope that was big enough to spread wide and wrap its arms around both of them. No wonder she’d never found a man like Riley in Baltimore or anywhere elsethere was just one of him, and he’d always been right here, waiting for her to come home.

The door opened behind them.

Got a possible drive-away at the Sunoco, Matt announced, weary with the burden of authority.

A what? Kat asked.

That’s when a motorist fills the tank and drives off without paying, Matt explained. Been happening a lot more lately with gas prices the way they are.

Kat was appalled. You mean you don’t have pre-pay in this town? You still actually trust people?

Matt laughed. Maybe not for much longer. He clomped down the porch steps. See y’all tonight! Bring your appetites!

Nola appeared a moment later, the part in her thick brunette hair askew and one earring missing. I’m moving to Persuasion, she mumbled.

Because you don’t have to pre-pay? Riley asked with mock innocence.

Nola stared out toward the street, her eyes unfocused. No, because your brother is ass-kickingly hot.

Kat winced, knowing it was her duty to remind Nola of her convictions, since she seemed incapacitated at the moment. Kat turned to Riley and asked in a loud, clear voice, Does Matt have a beer can collection by any chance?

Riley looked nonplussed. It’s bottles. Why?

Virgil hadn’t come up with a decent piece in more than twenty years and he knew it. Sure, the lamebrains down at the gallery took whatever he gave them, and they’d sell something every once in a blue moon, so they were happy enough. But he knew he’d been producing nothing but trash for decades, resting on whatever renown he once had. There was no longer any flow in his work, no essence, no energy, and it didn’t matter if it was marble, wood, or even that fiberglass-reinforced fake cement shit that he could usually pawn off to the gallerynothing had been good in his art, or his life, since January 1988.

His last truly beautiful creation, his only near masterpiece, was the clay model and rough-cut marble bust of Eleanor Erskine. She was the D-cupped wife of West Virginia’s goofy governor, who happened to be the brother of Mountain Laurel’s chancellor. That’s how Virgil had gotten what was to be the biggest commission of his lifethe twists and turns of coincidence. When the state wanted a bust of the big-busted first lady and was willing to pay $250,000 for it, the Mountain Laurel art professor got thrown a bone. He took it happily, and got to bone the governor’s wife as a bonus. Unfortunately, Kat saw him do it.

Virgil fidgeted with the business card in his hand, staring at the name of that dipshit doctor who’d bulldozed her way onto his property a few weeks back. He should call her. Get her to come out here and sit for him right this minute. He wanted to see a beautiful woman completely naked one last time before he died, and she’d reminded him a bit of Eleanor, anyway. If she was anything like the governor’s wife, the doctor was haughty because deep down she was naughty. Virgil smiled at his clever turn of phrase and sighed with pleasure. Eleanor Erskine had been a good lay; maybe the doctor would be, too.

He put down the business card and looked around him at the debris, the graveyard of his career. He didn’t even know why he bothered coming out to the studio anymore. Nothing more than habit, probably, and the need to get away from the TV for a while. Too much violence. Virgil rose from the stool and wandered toward the back of the garage, looking for something in particular. He knew he’d put it on a cart back there somewhere, back when BettyAnn had first gotten sick. He never wanted her to see it.

His hands encountered the cool, smooth surface of the form of his daughter. He wheeled the cart to the worktable, and sat back on the stool. It was always better to work from a live model, of course, because there were nuances in the personality and expressions that a sculptor could get only from life itself. But he’d remembered so much of Katharine. With the old photos BettyAnn thought she’d hidden away, and his many detailed memories, he hadn’t done a half-bad job.

Katharine had been a beautiful baby, and he remembered being deeply relieved by that. She’d been born with blond curls and flawless pink skin and those strange citrine-colored eyes. He’d always thought they looked feline, and they made him vaguely uncomfortable. BettyAnn had reassured him that Katharine would grow out of the unusual eye color.

She didn’t. Luckily, people accepted them and even thought they were lovely, and didn’t question who among the Cavanaughs had such coloring.

From what he could tell from her short visit in the ER, Katharine had grown into a stunning woman. What was she nowthirty-seven? She still had a sexy shape for a woman her age. She’d always had a nice curvy and petite shape.

Virgil shook his head, as if to knock some sense into himself. He stared at the unfinished bust and decided he would complete it. He’d make her all grown-up. He’d give her that smirk of disdain he’d seen on her face in the studio window twenty years ago, the same one she’d shown in the hospital room just last month. Next, he’d flesh out her cheeks and thicken the fall of her hair. But he’d leave her throat just the way it was, dainty and vulnerable.

God, he hadn’t meant to, but he’d beaten the shit out of BettyAnn that night. It was like he couldn’t stop himself. He’d come home to find her trying to scrape up his $250,000 commission from this very floor. Then she lied to him, saying she’d accidentally knocked it over. He knew better. He’d seen the betrayal in Katharine’s eyes as she peeked in the window, and he knew she’d ruined the clay model to get her revenge.

BettyAnn was hysterical, begging for him not to go after their daughter. /Take it out on me!/ she screamed. God, he hated when she got like that, so protective, like he was some kind of monster, like he’d ever hurt his daughter. He was a good man! A damn good father! And that little cat-eyed bitch had been ungrateful from the day she was born, because she didn’t know the truth. /She just didn’t know./ Virgil let his head fall into his hands. He reached blindly for the tumbler of vodka he’d left on the worktable, brought it down to his lips, and sucked down half of it. BettyAnn had made it out of surgery just fine, and the scars around her eyes eventually healed up so they were hardly noticeable, especially if she wore that special mail-order makeup. But as ridiculous as it sounded now, he’d actually ended up spending three nights in jail, where he’d been forced to endure a visit from the King of Persuasion himself. Aidan Bohland had put his finger in Virgil’s face and told him that if he ever touched BettyAnn again, he would lose everythinghis tenure, his home, his reputation. Virgil hated that holier-than-thou bastard. What did he know about keeping a wife in line? Nothing, obviouslyEliza Bohland was known for making a complete fool of herself when she’d had a little too much to drink, which was daily.

Then Big Dopey Bohland had the balls to inform Virgil that Katharine was a special young lady who deserved more attention from her father. Virgil had laughed because it was just so damn ironic, and told Bohland to fuck himself.

Virgil got out of jail on a Saturday. With BettyAnn in the hospital and then laid up at homeand with all the legal rigmarole that had gone into getting the charges against him droppedit was a good two weeks before they reported their daughter officially missing.

And now, twenty years later, she finally found her way back to Persuasion, unashamed of the fact that she couldn’t keep her legs together any better than her mother could. Just today, Rita told him that Katharine had rented a house off-campus and that some expensive furniture and whatnots had already been delivered.

Virgil stared at the pretty clay face frozen in time and felt the old craving course through him. It surprised him how strong it was, considering the lid had been on it for twenty years. It was the vodka.

The vodka always triggered his urges. And his urge for Katharine had always been the strongest.

He drank what was left in the glass, feeling the heat lollygag through his bloodstream. He allowed himself to remember how it used to be. Oh, how he’d enjoyed the act of hitting BettyAnn. It was a sweet, sweet agony. A taboo rapture. And it was the only way he’d ever found to dampen the flames, since it wouldn’t be right to touch Katharine the way he longed to.

He looked down at his pants and laughed. By God, he was getting peckerwood! He didn’t even think that was possible anymore, what with all the medicine he was taking.

Suddenly, he was certain she was spying on him again. His eyes shot to the window, but there was nothingno blond curls, no cat eyes. Then he realized it was the bust on the worktable that was mocking him.

Virgil raised his tumbler, found it empty, and threw it against the wall. BettyAnn had betrayed him. She’d always known Kat left here pregnant with Bohland’s child. That was BettyAnn’s big secret the day she died. Virgil had spent the last few days systematically ripping the house to shreds in search for what else that ungrateful bitch might have kept from him. He found nothing.

Virgil cried. A man needed to know he controlled some part of his life, and Virgil’s life’s greatest pleasure had always been the absolute knowledge that he controlled dumb little BettyAnn absolutely. But she’d been fooling him all along. Underneath it all, she was a lying slut, just like all the rest.

Virgil studied the unfinished bust through his tears, circling around the table, looking from every angle. Something about the way the image danced and distorted in the teardrops made him smile. Then he began to laugh. It was incredible! A miracle!

In the eleventh hour of life, he’d finally found the inspiration for his masterpiece.

Kat stepped out into the crisp morning with a smile on her face and determination in her heart. Today was going to be all about schoolwhen she’d finished the registration process at Mountain Laurel she planned to pay a little visit to Principal Cavanaugh.

Kat chugged up the hill to campus, struck by the charm of its Gothic limestone spires, its ornate wrought-iron front gate, and its tidy fall landscape. It looked magical to her that morning, and welcoming.

Things went smoothly in the admissions office. She picked up a class schedule and orientation package, and though Kat was told it would be several weeks before all her transcripts were transferred, it would leave her plenty of time before winter quarter began in January.

While there, Kat ran into no fewer than five women she’d known in school. She chatted briefly with each of them, giving each enough to satisfy her appetite for gossip. They all wanted to know where she’d been and if she’d come back for Riley Bohland, and she gave them the basics, adding that she was looking forward to catching up with old friends, including Riley. She knew every word of it would be all over town by supper time.

As Kat wandered the campus, it became painfully obvious that everyone there was Aidan’s age. Her heart suddenly felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, a big, thousand-pound stone of loneliness for her son.

It was almost comic now. Every morning she would call Aidan and talk to his voice mail. He never answered and he never called back. As Kat strolled down the hill toward town, she decided it was time for her daily exercise in futility.

She got Aidan’s voice mail, of course, and had readied herself to leave another message about Thanksgiving dinner at her house when she heard a real, live voice.

Hey, Mom.

Kat froze. She looked around for a place to sit and chose a small stone planter in front of a hair salon, where she managed to prop herself.

Sweetheart, she said. Are you all right?

Look, Mom, I just need some time. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’m fine, but I need some space.

Kat nodded in silence, realizing that she’d asked Riley for the exact same thing, for the exact same reasonforgiveness is a process, not something you can pick up at the drive-thru. She dared not say another word. She didn’t want Aidan to know she was crying.

I know you’re crying, Mom. Don’t try to hide it. It’s time to stop hiding shit from me, OK?

I know. I know. She sniffed. I miss you so much!

Well, I miss you, too. Look, I’m late for class. We’ll catch up later.

All right, Aidan.

Hey, Mom?

Yes? Her heart began to pound with anticipation.

I’m bringing Rachel up over break. Dad said that would be OK, so if I decide to accept your dinner invitation, she’ll be coming along.

Kat punched a fist into the air, stomped her feet, and mouthed a silent, /Woo hoo!/all of which was witnessed by four ladies gawking from under their hair dryers. This, too, would be around town by supper time.

Rachel is always welcome, she answered Aidan, trying to sound casual.

He laughed, almost as if he’d witnessed her little break dance of joy.

You’re too much, Mom. Talk to you later.

I love you.

He’d already hung up, but she didn’t care. She’d talked to her boy. He was coming. And he’d just referred to Riley as Dad!

With the bounce restored to her walk, Kat headed south on Main and stopped in the coffee shop, a long sleek space with modern bistro tables, colorful couches, and some kind of Latin jazz floating down from the ceiling. Every student in the place was on a laptop and/or a cell phone. The rich smell of roasting coffee filled her head. /This was Persuasion?/ Kat laughed out loud.

She got a cafй au lait to go and headed north. She hadn’t called Rita in advance but figured if she wasn’t available she could still have a look around Underwood High for laughs. She walked at a leisurely pace, catching little changes in the town that she hadn’t noticed the last time. The clock tower on the square actually displayed the correct time.

The sidewalks on Main Street were twice as wide as they once were, and trimmed in a fancy redbrick basket-weave pattern. Streetlights designed like old gas lamps lined the length of the shopping district, each one sporting a hanging basket of autumn annuals. Kat hummed to herself in approval.

As she reached the intersection with Forest Drive, she stopped cold, all the cheerfulness gone in an instant. She dared herself to look.

It was just a house. A squat, ugly, yellow brick ranch house with a tacky 1950s door and a trashed yard. Her eyes flickered to the garage studio, and the sight opened a gaping hole in her belly.

One day soon she would go back there. She would open the door to the studio and look her father in the eye and say her fill.

Just not today.

She moved along for six more blocks, knowing her sights were set on a smaller fish. Kat opened the door to the school, followed security warnings for visitors to report to the office, and encountered the same secretary at the same desk, wearing an outfit Kat swore was right out of 1987.

Kat felt awful because she couldn’t remember the secretary’s name. As it turned out, she didn’t have to.

She’s here! the woman called over her shoulder.

Within seconds, Kat’s aunt appeared, offering her hand and a courteous smile. I’ve been expecting you, Katharine, she said.

You owe me.

You sound deranged, was Carrie’s reply. I’m concerned for your well-being.

Madeline began laughing so hard she thought she’d pee her pants, considering that that came from a woman who had pranced around in a wedding dress in this very kitchen not even three weeks ago, holding up her boobs and saying she looked like Grace Kelly.

When Madeline could finally stop laughing, she tucked the phone under her chin and methodically scraped the cake batter in the Bundt pan. She was trying a new recipe that called for a dash of amaretto, which she thought would be lovely.

Well, here’s the deal, Carrieyou manipulated me, lied to me, and made a fool of me in front of the Bohlands. And now you owe me. It’s pretty simple.

I’m very busy these days. Now that the wedding is off, you’d be amazed how much time I have to pursue other things. I’m taking tai chi. I’m in therapy.

Madeline snorted. That’s just great. So, how do you plan to do it?

Do what?

Make it up to me?

Carrie let loose with a giant sigh of exasperation. I really don’t have time for this kind of thing. I’m testifying in front of the legislature next week on domestic violence prevention initiatives.

Madeline let loose with a snicker.

Besides, I’m turning over a new leaf. This junior-high stuff you seem to bring out in me has got to stop. At any rate, you ratted me out to Matt.

You’re a gossip, and that is a crippling dysfunction. I would recommend a Co-dependents Anonymous meeting.

Madeline rolled her eyes, reaching into the pantry for the confectioners’ sugar and the roasted almonds she’d be using to garnish the cake.

I really have to go, Carrie said cheerfully. Take care.

Oh no, you don’t. Madeline dropped the baking supplies on the countertop. She was never going to take this kind crap from Carrie Mathisor anyone elseagain. It was time for Madeline Bowman to be on top.

Maybe I’ll go straight to the state medical board with your secret to weight loss.

Silence.

I know all about your problems, Carrie. I cleaned up after you every time you were a guest here, remember? I’m not stupid. I snooped around in the garbage and in your luggage, too, which helped flesh out the overall picture, no pun intended.

Carrie gasped.

If the big boys in the statehouse knew they had a bulimic, laxative-munching ephedrine addict like you in charge of changing the freaking /copier toner/ at the health department, they’d kick your skinny ass all the way to Kentucky. But you’re the state’s poster child for wholesome living, Carrie! You’re on TV every damn day, telling the entire state of West Virginia how to be healthy! Can you /imagine/ how embarrassed that will make your bosses?

Don’t you dare threaten me, Carrie said.

Then just do what I ask. It’s your turn to do some of the dirty work around here.

That’s blackmail.

No, Madeline said matter-of-factly. Blackmail would be if I threatened to let everyone know you’re a stalker by telling the Charleston newspaper about a little ole restraining order that’s tucked away up here in the Randolph County Courthouse files.

Carrie gasped. How did you hear about that?

The county clerk is my former sister-in-law.

What do you want?

I’d like you to use all your considerable talents to get Matt Bohland’s new girlfriend to dump him flat. And I want it done by Thanksgiving.

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