ack soon,” Jane called to Daniel, who smiled and waved from the office doorway. Then she turned and ran across Center Street onto the village green. Stanley, who had preceded Jane by less than a minute, was nowhere in sight.
She giggled. He must be hiding. A silly thrill building inside her, she started down one of the paths that transected the green, walking slowly and peering behind the trunks of the massive oaks that rose from the snow. “I know you're here somewhere.”
But there was only silence, broken occasionally by the whoosh of cars passing on Packer Road, far to her right.
The ornate white Victorian bandstand came into view. Could Stanley be hiding in there? She squinted but saw no one.
Something hit the back of her coat, hit hard. “Ow.” She spun around, not liking this game anymore. Stanley was laughing, his sand-colored hair blowing in the chill wind. Clapping his gloved hands together, he ran toward her, his camel coat hanging loose and open on his broad shoulders. When he saw her face, his smile vanished. “Sorry. Did that hurt you?”
“Yes,” she said petulantly. “You didn't have to throw it so hard.”
“I'm sorry.” He put his hand on her shoulder and turned her toward him. His dark brown eyes were tearing in the cold. He kissed her on the lips. “Forgive me?”
She regarded him for a moment. Such a sweet man, so often like a boy. “Yes,” she said at last. “Fine behavior for a police detective.”
“Excuse me,” he said with a disbelieving laugh. “You're the one who said she loved snowball fights at Christmas.”
“True. I just don't like to be the one getting hit.”
He shook his head. “Not exactly the kind of behavior one would expect from Shady Hills' own literary agent, either.”
“I think this town knows me better than that.” With a grin, she took his arm and cuddled against him, and they began to walk.
They were nearing the other side of the green, where Center Street continued in its U shape. Across the street, the window of Whipped Cream, the cafÃ© where they planned to have lunch, twinkled red and green and blue. Ginny always insisted on colored lights, dismissing with a laugh the opinion of many Shady Hills residents that white lights were more appropriate for the upscale village.
“Pretty, isn't it?” Jane said as a black Mercedes passed in front of them and drove slowly around the green. She scanned the line of mock-Tudor shops that ran around Center Streetâhalf-timbered, with steeply pitched roofs and a profusion of gables. With their coating of snow, they looked like something out of a fairy tale. “I do love this town.”
From behind them came the sound of car brakes suddenly applied. Jane and Stanley turned. The black Mercedes had stopped in front of Jane's office, and now a man and a woman got out. From this distance, Jane couldn't tell if she knew them.
“Probably out-of-town shoppers,” Stanley said, and they turned again toward lunch.
“Jane. Jane, is that you?”
It was a voice Jane had thought she'd never hear again.
Jane spun around. The woman who had gotten out of the car was waving broadly.
Jane squinted. Could it be? She drew in her breath sharply.
“Who is it?” Stanley asked.
A violent shiver ran through her. “It's Ivy,” she said in a marveling tone. “Ivy Benson. You remember, Marlene's mother.”
“Ivy Benson?” He looked shocked. “But I thought you twoâI mean, didn't sheâ”
“Not want to be friends anymore?” she finished for him. “That's right. At least, that's what she said.”
And Jane couldn't blame Ivy. A little over two years before, Ivy's daughter, Marlene, had come east to work as nanny to Jane's son, Nicholasâand wound up dead. Though Marlene had brought about her own demise by means of a chain of lies and deceptions, Ivy had blamed Jane for Marlene's death. And a friendship that had begun when the two women were college roommates had ended. At least, Jane had thought it had.
Ivy was running along the path toward Jane, waving frantically. As she approached, Jane could see that this was indeed the same old Ivy, compact but curvaceous, a thick mop of tightly waved blond hair crowning a round, sweet face with huge blue eyes. Even in her amazement at seeing Ivy, Jane couldn't help noticing that her old friend was looking exceptionally well. What had appeared to be her usual mass of hair was actually an artful cut, her once-untended brows appeared to have been professionally tamed, and the simple gold drop earrings and belted black cashmere coat were definitely several steps up from the old Kmart stuff that had once been her trademark.
Ivy, quick-stepping toward Jane in her high heels, was crying, and Jane found herself crying too as she welcomed Ivy into her arms.
“Ivy Benson,” she said at last, drawing back. “What are you doing here?”
Ivy wiped away her tears with a black-gloved hand. “I was worried you wouldn't want to see me again. After what I said to you when . . . after what I said. But you're my best friend, Jane. I never felt right after what happened. And now that I'm living in New Yorkâ”
“You're living in New York?” Jane asked, incredulous. “Ivy Benson, who said she'd never leave Detroit?”
Ivy shrugged. “People change,” she said brightly. “You wouldn't be
how I've changed. I've got my own
apartment, a great job working for a newspaper, and . . .” She turned toward the man who had gotten out of the car and who was now strolling up the path. Jane turned to look at him, too, and found herself gaping. Good heavens, this man, whoever he was, was handsome. He was of medium height, lean, with an abundance of wavy black hair around a strong-boned face with refined, aristocratic features. He looked about thirty-five, vital and youthful against Ivy's forty. He reminded Jane of an updated Tyrone Power.
“Jane,” Ivy said formally, gesturing for the man to come over, “I'd like you to meet my
”âshe placed special emphasis on the wordâ“John Baglieri.”
John came forward and took Jane's hand, his lips parting in a beautiful white-toothed smile. “Pleasure. Call me Johnny.” There was nothing refined about the way he spoke, which was with an accentâBrooklyn? The Bronx? Jane couldn't be sure. It was what she would have called a New York “street” accent.
Stanley approached them, smiling politely.
“And this,” Jane said, “is
boyfriend, Stanley Greenberg.”
Stanley shook their hands enthusiastically. “I believe we've met, Mrs. Benson. At the police station, after your daughter . . .”
Ivy's face darkened. “Yes, of course we have.”
“So,” Jane said, eager to change the subject. “Ivy, you still haven't told me what you're doing here.”
“Like I said, I've missed you, Jane. There I was in New York Cityâwhat, twenty-five miles away?âand you and I weren't even speaking. It was killing me. So I said to Johnny, âHey. It's four days before Christmas. I've got the day off. Let's go see Jane. Surprise her. If she won't see me, I'll understand, but at least I'll have tried.' So here we are. Johnny and I thought we'd take you to lunch.” Ivy shot a quick glance at Stanley. “Both of you, of course.”
“Actually, we were just on our way to have lunch,” Stanley said, indicating Whipped Cream.
“Perfect,” Ivy cried in a high squeak, and they all crossed the street and entered the shop. Jane's friend Ginny, Whipped Cream's only server, was clearing a table when they entered. With a curious smile she approached the small group, and Jane introduced Ivy and Johnny to her. Then they settled at a table near the cafÃ©'s great crackling fireplace.
“I can't believe it,” Ivy said to herself as she perused her menu. “Here I am with my old friend Jane.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “Can't believe it.”
Jane watched her old friend. Hair, brows, jewelry, and clothing notwithstanding, she hadn't changed, not really. Though pretty, she still had a cheap edge to her, an indefinable . . . flooziness.
Ivy, who hadn't removed her coat, now let it slip from her shoulders to reveal a summer-weight ivory cotton blouse. She shivered, folding her arms and rubbing her upper arms for warmth. “Cold in here.”
Inwardly Jane laughed. Ivy never dressed warmly enough.
“Would you like to sit here by the fire?” Stanley asked.
“Nah, thanks, Stan, I'm fine.” Ivy gave Jane a fond look. “As Jane'll tell ya, I'm always cold.” She opened her bag, stopped, and looked quickly around the table. “Is it okay to smoke in here?”
Ginny approached the table. “Forgive me for eavesdropping, but Charlie and Georgeâthey're the ownersâdon't allow smoking in here.”
“Not a prob,” Ivy cried, hands raised, then snapped her bag shut. Johnny was shaking his head. Jane's gaze was drawn to his white shirt, tight enough to reveal strong, smooth musculature. A few darks hairs curled at his open collar.
As if sensing her gaze, he looked up suddenly, and Jane felt herself blush. “So, Jane,” he said, setting aside his menu, “Ivy was trying to explain what it is you do, but I still don't get it. Why don't you explain it to me?”
“Oh, Johnny,” Ivy cooed.
“Of course,” Jane said. “I'm a literary agent. I represent writers, sell their books to publishers, negotiate their contracts, manage their careers.”
“I get it, ” Johnny said. He shot Ivy a look, as if to ask what was so complicated about that. “Pretty simple, really. Andâif you don't mind my askingâdoes that make a nice living for you?”
Stanley looked up from his menu in surprise.
“I can't complain,” Jane replied smoothly.
“What do you do, take a piece of the action?” Johnny asked.
Jane couldn't help making a little frown. Ivy saw it and nudged Johnny. “That's kind of
sonal . . .”
“Okay, sorry. Sorry, Jane.” Johnny held up his hands.
Jane said, “No problem, I don't mind. I'm on commission, actually, so yes, I guess you could say I take a piece of the action. I've never quite thought of it that way.” Laughing breezily, she turned to Stanley, who was not laughing at all, not even smiling, but watching Johnny in a most disconcerting way.
“Stanley,” Jane said, a bit too loudly, and he snapped out of his stare. “Why don't you tell Ivy and Johnny what it is you do?”
“Sure,” Stanley said, forcing a small smile, “sure. I'm a police detective. Right here in town. Shady Hills Police Department.”
For the merest fraction of a second, Johnny's eyes widened. Then he appeared to collect himself. His mouth turned up at the corners, though Jane wouldn't have called it a smile exactly. “Now
must be interesting work,” Johnny said.
Ivy turned to Johnny with a frown. “You knew that's what he does. He just said he met me after the whole thing with Marlene.”
“Sure, right,” Johnny said absently, and occupied himself once again with his menu.
“What about you, Johnny?” Jane said. “What kind of work do you do?”
“Huh? Me?” Johnny looked up with a blank expression, as if he'd never been part of the conversation. “I guess you could say I've got my irons in many fires. Kind of a jack-of-all-trades.”
“I see,” Jane said, though she didn't see at all. She looked at Stanley. He was staring again.
Mercifully, Ginny appeared. “May I tell you about our specials?”
“Yes, please,” Jane said, looking up attentively.
initely,” Ivy said, “and bring us some rolls or something when you get a chance, would you, hon? I swear I could eat a cow.”
“Was that Ivy Benson?” Daniel asked, the minute Jane and Stanley entered the office. Sitting at his desk in the reception room, he had spun away from his computer, amazement on his handsome brown face.
“The one and only.” Jane hung her coat in the closet, then took Stanley's.
“What did she want?”
“To see me again.” They had exchanged phone numbers.
Jane frowned. “Because she's my oldest friend. She wanted to see me again. I think it was very brave of her.”
Daniel shook his head and nibbled thoughtfully on the inside of his lower lip. “She wants something.”
“Why do you say that?” Jane asked, finding herself becoming upset.
“Don't you remember the things she said to you? She
you for Marlene's death, when in truthâ”
“I know what happened. You don't have to remind me, believe me. ” Jane shrugged. “As Ivy herself said, people change. She wants to be friends again. It was good to see her.” She turned to Stanley, who sat in Daniel's visitor's chair, lost in thought. “All right, out with it.”
Stanley looked up as if startled. “Hm? I was just thinking about that young fellow, Johnny. Bad news, if you ask me.”
“Why?” Jane demanded, exasperated. “What is
Stanley put up his hands defensively. “I could be wrong. It's just a feeling I got.”
“Why, because he's a little rough around the edges?”
“No, it's not that. It was the way he was looking at me after he found out I was a cop. AndâI don't know, the way he carries himself. I can just tell, Jane, the same way you can immediately tell a good manuscript from a bad one.”
Jane didn't want to hear any of this. She wanted Ivy to be happy. Years ago, when Jane and Ivy were eighteen years old, freshman roommates in college, Ivy had confided to Jane that all she wanted was a good man and a good life. A man who loved her, asleep on the next lounge chair, while Ivy sipped extra-tall piÃ±a coladas served by beach boys in brightly colored shirts. Somewhere hot. With palm trees. That was how Ivy had envisioned the good life.