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I am so never wearing a thong again. Poppy swears they're comfortablewhich probably should've been my first clue.
"OMIGAWD, JANE," Ava screeched. "Oh, my, gawd. It's official!"
Jane pulled the phone away from her ear. Her friend's voice had gone so high she was surprised the leashed dachshund sniffing the light standard down on First Avenue didn't start barking. But she clapped the receiver back to her ear as excitement danced a fast jitterbug in her stomach. "Probate finally closed, then?"
"Yes, two minutes ago!" Ava laughed like an escapee from a lunatic asylum. "The Wolcott mansion is officially ours. Can you believe it? I sure miss Miss Agnes, but this is just too thrilling. Omigawd, I can barely breathe, I'm so excited. I have to call Poppy and tell her the news, too." She laughed again. "We've gotta celebrate! Do you mind coming to West Seattle?"
"Lemme see." Stretching the telephone cord as far as it would reach, she stepped out of her cramped sixth-floor office at the Seattle Metropolitan Museum to peer through the director's open door two doors down. The coveted corner office showcased a panoramic view from Magnolia Bluff to Mount Rainier, with the Olympic Mountains rising dramatically across Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. Not that she could see more than a fraction of it from her angle, but she wasn't trying to scope out the scenery, anyway. Traffic flow was her objective. "No, that oughtta work. The freeway looks pretty clear your way."
"Good. Let's meet at the Matador in an hour. Overpriced drinks are on me."
She found herself grinning as she changed into her walking shoes and threw her heels into her tote in preparation to leaving. Swinging her butt to the happy dance song playing in her head, she freshened her lipstick, tossed the tube back in her purse and stuffed it into the tote as well.
"You look jazzed."
Jane let out a scream. "Good God!" She slapped a hand to her racing heart and whirled to face the man in her doorway.
"Sorry." Gordon Ives, her fellow junior curator, stepped into the room. "Didn't mean to startle you. What was the little dance for?"
Ordinarily she wouldn't consider telling him. She had a strict policy of keeping her private business out of the office that had worked well for her over the course of her career and saw no reason to change it now.
Part of the inheritance was going to impact the museum, so it wasn't as if he wouldn't soon find out anyhow. And the plain truth was, she was excited. "I'm getting the Wolcott collections."
He stared at her, his pale blue eyes incredulous. "As in Agnes Bell Wolcott's collections? The Agnes Wolcott, who traveled the world wearing trousers when her generation's women stayed at home to raise the kids and didn't dream of stepping outside the house attired in less than dresses, gloves and hats?"
"Yeah. She didn't wear only trousers, though. She wore her share of dresses and gowns, as well."
"I've heard about her collections forever. But I thought she died."
"She did, last March." And grief stabbed deep for the second time today at the reminder. There was an unoccupied space in her soul that Miss Agnes used to fill and she had to draw a steadying breath. Then, perhaps because she was still off balance, she heard herself admitting, "She left them to me and two of my friends." Along with the mansion, but Gordon didn't need to know that as well.
"You're kidding me! Why would she do that?"
"Because we were friends. More than that, actu-allyPoppy and Ava and I were probably the closest thing Miss Wolcott had to family." Their original visit eighteen years ago had led to monthly teas and a friendship that had deepened as the fascinating, wonderful old lady took a hands-on personal interest in their lives and accomplishments, treating the three of them as if they were somehow equally as fascinating. She'd always gone the extra mile for them, making a fuss over their accomplishments in a way no one else had ever donewell, at least in her and Ava's lives. Like the celebratory dinner she'd thrown at Canlis the evening Jane had landed her job here.
She rubbed a hand over her mouth to disguise its sudden tremblethen sternly pulled herself together again. This wasn't the place or person in front of whom she wanted to indulge her emotions. "Anyhow," she said briskly, "I'll only be around in the mornings for the next two months. A couple of the collections are being donated to the museum and Marjorie's letting me work afternoons at the Wolcott mansion to catalog them."
"The director knew about this?"
"I'm surprised no one else here heard, then."
She looked at him in surprise. "Why would they?"
"Well, it's justyou know. Nothing ever seems to stay a secret in this place."
"True. But this was a private inheritance that came as a complete surprise to me and my friends. Then there were months of probate before it was finalized. It's been all we've been able to do ourselves to figure out how this all works, and I only told Marjorie because one of Miss Agnes's bequests directly affects the museum. I saw no reason to talk about it with people not involved in the matter."
Sensing her curious co-worker was about to ask what the bequest was and perhaps even who else had received one, she looked at her utilitarian leather-banded, large-faced watch. "Oops, gotta go. I've got a bus to catch." She grabbed up her tote and ushered him out of her office, closing the door behind her.
Emerging onto the street a few minutes later, she pulled on her little black cashmere sweater against the brisk wind and her sunglasses against the bright October sun. She'd only mentioned the bus to get Gordon out of her office, but after a quick mental debate she decided against going home for her car and hiked up to Marion Street to catch the 55 instead.
As the bus approached the Alaska Junction a short while later she changed back into her heels, smiling down at the leopard-skin, open-toed construction. She loved these shoes and knew this would probably be one of the last times she'd get to wear them this season. According to the KIRO weatherman on the news this morning, their sunny days were numbered.
She beat Ava and Poppy to the restaurant, but even though it was a weeknight and early yet, the Matador's tequila bar was starting to fill up. She bought herself a club soda at the stained-glass-backed bar and staked out one of the few free tables.
She'd never been here before and spent a few minutes admiring the open-concept flow of bar into restaurant and the intricate metalwork on display. She killed another minute perusing the menu, but people-watching soon proved more compelling and she gave herself over to checking everyone out.
It was mostly a twenty-something crowd, but in the restaurant end of the room was a quartet of men who kept drawing her gaze. They ranged from late twenties to maybe forty and were holding what appeared to be an intense conversation across the room. Every now and then, however, they'd all shout with laughter, instigated for the most part, it appeared, by the redhead with the seam-threatening shoulders.
She'd never been particularly attracted to redheaded men, but this guy was something else. His hair was the dark, rich color of an Irish setter, his eyebrows blacker than crow feathers and his skin surprisingly golden instead of the creamy pale she associated with that coloring. Influenced, no doubt, by years of hanging around Ava.
Despite repeatedly redirecting her attention, it kept wandering back to him. He seemed very intent on the conversation with his friends, leaning into the table to speak, those dark brows pulled together in a frown one moment, then relaxing as he grinned and gestured animatedly the next. He talked with his hands a lot.
Big, tough, hard-looking hands with long, blunt-tipped fingers that could probably
Jane jerked as if someone had clapped hands right in front of her face. Good God. What on earth was she doing thinkingwhat she was thinkingabout some stranger's hands? This was so not like her.
And wouldn't you know he'd choose that exact minute to look across the room and catch her staring? She froze as he talked to the other guys at his table while his gaze skimmed her from the top of her head to the tips of her shoes, which he studied for a couple of heartbeats before beginning the return journey. When he reached her face once again, he tossed back a shot without taking his eyes off her, then pushed back from the table and climbed to his feet.
Was he coming over here? Ooh.
No! What was she, eighteen? She wasn't here to troll for a dateand wouldn't choose a bar if she had been.
"Hey, Jane, sorry I'm late. Poppy's not here yet, I take it."
She looked up to see Ava approaching the table and noticed that damn near every male head in the bar turned to follow her friend's progress. The redhead across the room was no exception. He checked Ava out for a moment before glancing at Jane again. For just a sec he stood there rubbing the back of his neck. Then he hitched a wide shoulder and headed in the direction of the men's room.
His butt was as nice as the rest of him. But giving it a final lingering glance before turning her attention to Ava, who was pulling out a chair, she noticed the telltale hesitancy in his step of a man who's had too much to drink.
"Well, shit." Her disappointment was fierce, which was pretty dumb considering she'd never even talked to the guy.
"What?" Ava tossed her Kate Spade clutch on the table and slid gracefully into the chair.
"Nothing." She waved it aside. "It's not important."
Ava just looked at her.
"Okay, okay. I was doing the eye-flirt thing with this buff redhead over in the restaurant part of the room anddon't turn around! For God's sake, Ava. He went to the can, anyhow."
"Eye flirting is goodespecially for you, since you don't do nearly enough of it. So why are you cursing?"
"He's drunk. I didn't realize it until I saw him walking away."
"Aw, Janie. Not everyone who gets a little lit is a problem drinker. Sometimes it's just a once-in-a-while kind of thing."
"I know," she said, partly because she did but mostly because she really didn't want to argue tonight.
Ava knew her too well, however, and instead of letting it go, she leaned over the table, her bright hair swinging forward. Scooping it back, she tucked it behind her ear. "You've seen Poppy and me indulge a bit too much on occasion and you don't hold it against us."
"Yeah, because I know your history, and I know it's a rare thing for either of you to drink to excess." She gave an impatient shrug. "Look, I know I'm not completely rational on the subject and I don't need to put some shrink's kids through college to understand that Mom and Dad's drinking is the reason why. By the same token, Av, you know you're not going to change my mind. So let's just drop it, whataya say? We're here to celebrate."
Deep dimples indented her friend's cheeks. "Omigawd! Are we ever! Are you as excited as I am?"
"And then some. I'm so psyched at the thought of getting my hands on those collections I can hardly think straight. I didn't get a chance to talk to Marjorie this afternoon, but unless something special comes up at the Metand it's been pretty quiet on the curator front for the past week or soI'm hoping to dive right in and start sorting them on Monday."
"Sorry I'm late." Poppy arrived breathless at their table.
Ava made a rude noise. "Like we'd know how to act if you were ever on time. Where did you guys park, anyhow?" she asked as Poppy dumped her oversize handbag onto the floor and collapsed into the chair next to her. "Did you find a place on the street or park in the lot above the alley?"
"I'm in the lot," Poppy said.
"I took the bus."
Both her friends stared at her openmouthed, and she blinked. "What?"
"You're crazy, you know that?" Poppy shook her head.
"Why, because I'm a public transportation kinda gal?"
"No, because bus service drops way down in the evening and it can't be safe to hang around bus stops in the dark."
"Oh, as opposed to walking through a dark alley to get your car, you mean? Besides, I can always call a cab. I don't see what the big deal is. Ava said meet in an hour and I didn't think I could make it here in time if I went home first."
"And like Poppy's never on time, you're never late," Ava said.
She shrugged. "We all have our little idiosyncrasies. Shall we talk about yours?"
"We certainly could
if I had any. But I like to leave those to my lesser sisters." Serenely she waved over the waitress and ordered one of the tequila specials.
Poppy ordered tequila, as well, then turned to Jane. "How about you, Janie? Do you want your club soda freshened?"
"No, I think I'll have a glass of winewhatever the house white is," she added to the waitress.
Her friends whooped and drummed the table and generally made a huge fuss over her unusual selection and Jane leveled a look at them when the waitress left with their order. "Contrary to popular opinion, you two, I do know how to make an exception on occasion," Then she grinned. "And this is definitely the occasion."