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October 9, 2006
"Oooh, and don't forget this baby." Angie Viero took the black dress out of Grace's bedroom closet and held it at arm's length. "No vacation is complete without a sexy little number like this one." She was a short, compact woman of thirty-five with a lovely, expressive face and thick, curly black hair everyone loved except Angie.
Grace McKenzie snapped the dress from her friend's hand and hung it back on the rack. "I'm going to Napa Valley to visit my father, not to audition for an X-rated movie."
"How will you ever find a man if you don't advertise?" Angie lamented. "You've got a great body, girl. Show it off."
Grace took two pairs of blue jeans, both faded and soft as silk, and tossed them on the bed. "I swore off men, remember?"
"It's been two whole months since you broke up with what's his name."
Angie made a face. "The name alone should have been a red flag. Anyway, just because Preston was a world-class jerk doesn't mean that all men are created equal. Look at me. I found Mr. Right. So will you."
"I'm not interested in finding Mr. Right."
"Girlfriend, you're about to change your mind." Grace let out a groan as Angie took a photograph out of her pants pocket and dangled it in front of Grace's nose. "What do you think of that? Is he a dreamboat or what?"
Grace glanced at the photograph of a good-looking man in tight shorts and a T-shirt that emphasized his impressive torso. "Where did you find that one?"
"On the Internet. There are dozens--hundreds--of dating services out there, did you know that? No, ofcourse you don't. You don't want to make the effort, Grace. That's your problem."
"My problem is that when it comes to choosing men, I suck. And I'm not talking just about Preston. There have been other fiascos. It's enough to make me want to become a nun."
"No need to do anything so drastic, not when you have me to act as your screener. What do you say? From now on, no more losers for Grace McKenzie."
"What do you think of this silk blouse? To wear with the jeans?" Grace held the garment against her chest.
"Good men don't fall out of trees, you know."
"Or maybe the white pants? No. Too New England." Angie held the hunk's photograph in front of Grace's nose. "His name is Chuck. Now that's a man's name. He's a marathon runner, likes to kayak, and plans to climb Mount Everest. Oh, and he cooks. You need a man who cooks, Grace."
"I noticed that you left out his IQ. Wasn't that listed in his résumé?"
"He graduated from college. Isn't that enough?" She wiggled the picture. "Tempting, isn't he? Come on, would you take another look?"
Grace put the white pants back and opted for a navy jogging suit instead. "No, I won't. Your brand-new career as my official matchmaker has just ended."
"You didn't give me a chance!"
"That's because finding myself a man is not what I want. End of discussion. And before you tell me that the clock is ticking, I'll remind you that I'm only thirty-four."
"And the world is full of twenty-year-olds." Grace laughed and tweaked her friend's cheek.
"Stop worrying about my love life."
"Someone has to."
Although some people might have found Angie's concern for her friend's love life intrusive, Grace didn't. Born and raised in the United States, Angie came from a family with strong, if somewhat outdated, Italian values and traditions. In the Viero household, family came first, and career second--at least for the women.
Angie and Grace had met four years ago when Grace had become the new curator at the Griff Museum of Modern Art where Angie worked as an archivist. Sharing a passion for art, cannolis and old movies, they had become instant friends.
Grace's foray through her closet was interrupted by the sound of the buzzer. She walked over to the bedroom intercom and pressed a button. "Yes, Sam?"
The lobby attendant answered right away. "You have a visitor, Miss McKenzie. A Mrs. Sarah Hatfield?"
Grace heard Angie gasp and had a difficult time containing her own shock. Ten years ago, Sarah Hatfield had been a breath away from becoming her mother-in-law. "What could the mighty Sarah possibly want with you after all these years?" Angie whispered.
"I have no idea. I wasn't aware that she knew where I lived."
Angie made a spooky face. "Sarah knows all. Me? I'm outta here."
"You're not going to leave me alone with her."
"Sorry, kiddo. You're on your own. I can't stand the woman."
"You've never met her!"
"Her reputation precedes her." She gave Grace a peck on the cheek, whispered a quick, "stay cool," and was gone.
"Miss McKenzie?" Sam sounded concerned.
"Should I send her up?"
Peeking from behind the silk screen that separated the bedroom from the rest of the apartment, Grace threw a quick look at the living area. Two empty mugs sat on the glass coffee table beside a half-eaten bagel, several pages of The Boston Globe were scattered on the floor and yesterday's unread mail was still on the sofa where she had tossed it last night. The place was a mess. When was the last time she had dusted?
"Miss McKenzie, should I tell her this is a bad time?" Yes, Sam, you do that. In fact, tell her that I moved and didn't leave a forwarding address. Tell her that I've died. She took a deep breath. "It's all right, Sam. You can send her up."
She released the intercom button and ran back to the living room, grabbing items at random and throwing them behind the silk screen. Sarah hated clutter. It was one of the things, among many, that she had despised about her future daughter-in-law--the clutter. Grace, on the other hand, couldn't live without it. "It's an artistic thing," she had told Sarah. The older woman's reply had been a haughty lift of her right eyebrow, an expression that had once sent chills down Grace's spine.
The front doorbell rang, cutting short her anxieties. Forcing herself to remain calm, she walked over to the door and opened it.The years had been kind to Steven's mother. Although she must now be close to seventy and was completely gray, the short stylish haircut made her look years younger. Her hazel eyes were still as sharp as ever, although Grace detected something else in them, something she couldn't quite identify.
"Hello, Grace." Sarah inspected her from head to toe, taking in the slender figure, the short, tousled blond hair, the Number 12 football jersey with the name Tom Brady on the front, and the blue jeans, ripped at the knees.
Grace gave an awkward nod. Even now that she no longer had to please her, being in the same room with this bastion of Philadelphia society still made her uncomfortable. "Sarah." She cleared her throat. "This is quite a surprise."
"I'm sure." Then, because Grace still hadn't invited her in, she added, "Have I caught you at a bad time?"
"Sort of, but it's all right. Come on in, and don't mind the mess."
Once inside, the inspection continued, moving from the chintz sofa and matching chairs to the authentic Tiffany lamp and the bright throw rugs scattered over the hardwood floor. Her gaze stopped on the stale bagel. "Did I interrupt your lunch?"
"That was breakfast. Cold pizza is on the menu for lunch. If you care to stay."
Sarah's sense of humor was practically nonexistent, but a corner of her mouth curved a little, mimicking a smile. "I won't stay long."
Grace removed an art magazine from one of the chintz chairs and set it on the coffee table. "Please, sit down. Can I get you anything?"
"No, thank you." Only then did she notice the suitcase Grace had taken down from the living room closet earlier. "Are you going somewhere?"
"Napa Valley, to visit my dad."
"He lives in California now?"
"He finally gave in to a lifelong dream of becoming a winemaker. He moved out west a few years ago."
"Please tell him I wish him well."
"I will." Why all this civility? Grace wondered. And why hadn't Steven warned her that his mother was planning on paying her a visit? Unless he didn't know. Sarah loved catching people off guard.
"Grace." Sarah removed her black leather gloves, one finger at a time. "I need your help in a little matter."
That was another surprise. Sarah had a slew of people who took care of her "little matters"--attorneys, close friends, servants. And even if she didn't, Grace would be the last person she'd come to. From the moment Steven had brought her to meet his mother, Sarah had made it clear that she didn't approve of his choice for a wife. Grace was a working girl, a commoner, and as such, she would never understand what it took to be a Hatfield, to stand by her man, to keep a perfect home, to give lavish parties and to sit on the board of half a dozen organizations.