When coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi awakens on a bench in Washington Square Park, she has no idea she's been missing for the past week, or that her friends and family have been frantic with worry. Now that she's back, everyone is overjoyed, including a handsome NYPD detective who claims to be her fiancé. But to Mike Quinn's crushing distress, Clare doesn't remember him, or much of anything about the last decade of her life.
Clare's missing memory is tied to a crime she witnessed. An acquaintance of Clare's elegant employer—and fellow member of an exclusive Gotham circle known as “The Ladies Who Brunch”—invited Clare to her posh hotel to sample gourmet wedding cakes. The pair took a stroll after their indulgent tasting and, according to security camera footage, a masked figure snatched the hotel heiress at gunpoint with Clare looking on. Did the kidnapper take Clare, too? The camera went dark, just like Clare's memory. Soon authorities grow suspicious. Is Clare really a victim? Or merely acting like one? Evidence is mounting that she set the woman up.
To clear her name, Clare must find a way to reclaim her memories and rescue the heiress before this high-stakes crime ends in tragedy. Otherwise, instead of walking down the aisle, Clare may find herself perp-walking to prison as an accomplice to kidnapping and murder.
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I like coffee because it gives me the illusion that I might be awake.
Two months later
I awoke in darkness, curled in a shivering ball. I'd been a restless sleeper since my divorce, and I assumed I'd kicked off the blankets. So why was something still covering my face? Heavy and stiff, it was definitely not my well-worn J.C. Penney comfort quilt.
A blaring horn and a string of angry expletives sat me up fast. A coat fell away from my face, and I blinked against a misty-morning sun peeking through naked branches.
Feeling dizzy, I rubbed my eyes before deciding-
This is no dream. This is real.
I tried to rise but my joints were stiff. My right arm was so numb that I had to shake it out. More troubling was the fact that somehow-and I could not for the life of me remember how-I wasn't in my nice warm bed in my cozy little bedroom in New Jersey. I was sprawled across a hard, cold bench in a public park, close enough to the street for me to hear a cabby cursing out the driver in front of him, which sounded an awful lot like Manhattan.
My suspicion was confirmed when I spied the towering arch of white marble that marked the start of Fifth Avenue.
I'm in Washington Square Park.
The triumphal arch gave me a triumphant rush of relief. I knew where I was-Greenwich Village, but . . .
"How in heaven's name did I get here?"
My baffled whisper emerged as a cloud of vapor.
Still shivering, I donned the coat that covered me. It fit perfectly, though it wasn't mine. I went through its pockets for a clue to its owner but found no ID or personal items, beyond a single right-hand glove. Its mate was missing.
The tan leather had a red-brown stain on the palm, about the size of a shot glass rim. Blood. I knew because I'd seen enough of it dried on clothing from scuffed knees and elbows after Joy's soccer matches.
I was tempted to start spit-scrubbing the stain but instead tucked the glove back in the pocket.
Rising to my feet, I felt wobbly and blamed the unsteadiness on my footwear. There was a theme here, because the high-end, high-heeled boots weren't mine, either-ditto for the cashmere sweater set and tailored slacks. If I hadn't been in public, I would have checked to see if I recognized my underwear!
Did I go on some wild shopping spree with my Jersey friends? If I did, where are they now? And why is it I don't remember? Cupping my hands, I blew warm breath into them and took a sniff. I detected no scent of alcohol. Okay, so I didn't get tipsy and have a blackout.
I sat back down on the cold bench to orient myself. While I retied my deconstructing ponytail, I realized my purse was nowhere in sight. I dug through every pocket, pants first and coat again. No wallet. No house keys. No car keys. All were gone.
I felt panic rising.
Okay, Clare, pull it together. You'll figure out what happened, but right now you've got to get home to your little girl.
With no watch on my wrist, I called out to a young man who was cutting through the park.
"Could you tell me the time, please?"
"Sure." He pulled an odd device from the pocket of his NYU hoodie. "It's six fifty-five, ma'am."
"Wow, that's really something you've got there."
He grinned, proudly displaying the black rectangle. Its glowing screen was crowded with colorful icons.
"I got it yesterday, first day of release," he said. "Everybody in my lab is jealous . . ." He rattled off a series of its "features," which sounded more like a shopping list in a foreign language. Then he cackled when all I did was ask if this amazing device would be made available to people like me.
"You're funny, lady. Give it a year. You can buy one used."
As he moved on, I took a breath and reassessed.
Okay, it's the crack of dawn. I have no money, no ID, no keys to anything. Panic began to rise again, until I remembered. This was the Village, my old neighborhood, and there was one place I'd always be welcome-
The Village Blend coffeehouse.
Even better, I could get some decent coffee there. In my experience, there weren't many problems a good cup of coffee couldn't help solve.
As I started my stroll, a strange feeling came over me. The city's sights and sounds always energized and grounded me, but today I couldn't shake a creeping sense of displacement.
I'd moved out of Manhattan mere months ago, yet the city appeared to have changed impossibly since I'd packed up my young daughter and left. For years, Washington Square had suffered from neglect, its monuments scrawled with graffiti, its central fountain inactive. Now the white marble arch gleamed, the greenery was tidy, the paths newly paved, the fountain spraying rainbows in the morning light.
The sight should have cheered me. Instead the surreal sense of uneasiness only worsened as I walked. At the corner of West Fourth and Sixth Avenue, I saw the basketball court was still there, but the skeevy head shops, bodegas, and pizzerias around it had been replaced by slick storefronts and upscale eateries.
I tried to shrug it off. After all, New York never did stand still. The only constant in this town was change.
Crossing Sixth, I passed people with devices similar to the one that NYU student had shown me. They were staring, almost hypnotically, at their screens as they walked. Some were even talking into them!
Who were these people talking to at seven am? And what could they be talking about? Was there an advanced-technology convention at the university? Or was this some kind of rehearsal for performance art-it certainly looked bizarre enough to be an avant-garde spectacle.
I passed a convenience store with no magazine rack, just a colorful display for something called vaping. The only two newspapers on sale carried similar headlines:
HOTEL HEIRESS MISSING
MYSTERY AT PARKVIEW PALACE: ABDUCTION OR MURDER?
The stories appeared to be about some wealthy woman named Annette Brewster, who owned the famous Parkview Palace hotel. She had disappeared days ago. Evidence pointed to foul play.
Staring at the headlines, I felt dizzy again, as if something was clawing at the edges of my mind, trying to get in. Then, whatever it was slipped away, like a dream disappearing as you wake.
Left only with a lingering frustration, I tried to shake my thoughts clear and suddenly remembered my young daughter, home alone. What was I doing wasting time on headlines that had nothing to do with me?!
Stepping up my pace, I made it to Hudson Street and felt an instant sense of calm at the sight of the Village Blend. Thank goodness nothing had changed there. The French windows were closed, but the blinds were open and front entrance unlocked.
I followed a pair of customers inside. Hearing the familiar bell above the door was reassuring; and the roasted coffee, freshly brewing, smelled like ambrosia. That surprised me-and, I admit, made me a little jealous.
I'd taken pride in my former work here as a master roaster. My mother-in-law said she'd never met anyone who had my touch with the Probat or talent for creating exceptional blends. Except her, of course, but right now Madame was in Europe with her second husband, Pierre.
I'd have to sample a few sips to be sure, but from the aroma (and the raves from the customers in line), I knew I'd been replaced. Madame had obviously found someone else who knew how to handle her son's specially sourced beans.
A line was forming at the coffee bar, but I didn't want to wait. I was anxious to call my daughter, so I approached a zaftig young woman wearing a blue Village Blend apron and black-framed glasses, which dominated her pleasant round face. She looked distracted, hurriedly setting up caf tables for the day. (Tables that should have been set up by now-not a good reflection on the new management.)
"Excuse me," I said, tapping her shoulder. "I used to work here and I'm in a fix. May I use your phone?"
The young woman froze a moment, staring into space as if she'd heard a voice from the great beyond. Then she dropped the wrought iron chair, whirled around, and screamed.
Every person in the coffeehouse stared. Embarrassed, I stepped back, assuming I'd startled her.
What she did next more than startled me.
"Clare Cosi!" she shouted, giving me a smothering hug. "YOU'RE BACK AND YOU'RE ALIVE!"
I rolled my eyes. Would city people never change? Move out of Manhattan and you no longer exist? Sheesh!
"Omigod, omigod!" the girl kept chanting. When she finally broke her mother-bear clutch, I actually saw tears in her eyes.
What is wrong with this person?
I noticed her necklace displayed the name Esther in silver letters. "I'm sorry-Esther, is it? I assume Madame told you about me, maybe showed you my photo, but the joke's over, okay."
"Joke?" The baffled barista took a step back. "Boss, what are you talking about? This is no joke. You've been missing for days!"
I stared in confusion at the young woman named Esther. "I've been missing?"
She nodded emphatically. "We were sick with worry about you. We looked everywhere but there was no trace. We feared the worst. Now here you are, perfectly okay, talking about a joke. Are you saying your disappearance was some kind of prank?"
Before I could answer, another barista-this one male and wiry-emerged from behind the marble counter and threw his tattooed arms around me.
"Stop!" I cried, pulling away from the young man's apron. "I don't recognize you. Who are you?"
"See, Dante!" Esther smirked at him like a mocking sister. "I told you not to grow that beard. He's just trying to look cool for his big art competition next week."
"Sorry, Boss Lady. I should have waited and asked you," the young man said, sheepishly scratching his facial hair. "I wasn't sure you'd approve with all the catering we do. But Mr. Boss okayed it, since you weren't around."
I blinked. "Of course I wasn't around, Mr. Dante. I don't work here anymore."
Esther scowled. "You mean you're quitting? Is that what the disappearing act was all about? So it had nothing to do with the Parkview Palace murder-?"
"Or maybe just an abduction," she said. "You would know better than any of us-"
"Clare! You're back!"
Finally, the sound of a familiar voice.
Madame Blanche Dreyfus Allegro Dubois, the elegant owner of this legendary coffeehouse, enveloped me in her arms. "Thank God my prayers have been answered." Tears choked her voice. "Oh, my dear child, I was beginning to fear I'd never see you again. But I never gave up hope. Nobody did."
"It's good to see you, too . . ." I was buoyed by this reunion with my former mother-in-law, my mentor, and my dearest friend. But I was completely confused by her overblown emotions. After all, we'd just seen each other a few weeks ago.
"What are you doing back?" I asked her. "I thought you were in Europe with Pierre."
Madame pulled away; her violet gaze, damp with tears, began to study my face. As she did, I took in hers.
Matt's mother occasionally indulged in makeovers with updates to her wardrobe, hairstyle, and cosmetics. Her taste was impeccable, and the new looks always took years off her age.
But not this time.
Yes, her tailored pin-striped pantsuit was chic, cut from the finest cloth, and her blunt pageboy flattered her high cheekbones. This time, however, she'd let her hair color go completely silver. And whatever she'd done with the change to her makeup had left her looking more wrinkled than I remembered. Searching for reasons, I tensed.
Had some health issue reared its ugly head? Was that why she'd come back to the States before the holidays?
"Madame, how are you feeling?"
"I was about to ask you that very question."
"She's lost her mind!" Esther declared. "She told me she's quitting the Village Blend. That's like quitting her family!"
"You can't quit," Madame said. "I've made this coffeehouse your legacy."
"You have? When?" I shook my head. "I don't understand. I already quit. Months ago. The same day I left Matt . . ."
Legend has it that if you speak of the devil, he will appear. In this case, the legend was right. The bell over the front door jangled, heralding the arrival of one of the world's most talented coffee hunters, Madame's son, and my ex-husband.
Like mother, like child, I decided at the sight of him. It appeared that Matteo Allegro had remade himself, too. His usual shaggy hair was close-cropped now, and he'd grown a beard-full and dark around his straight white grin. With Matt, however, some things never changed. That deep tan, no doubt from some intrepid expedition in the tropical belt, was still in place, along with his obnoxious swagger.
"Damn, Clare, where have you been? I was afraid the next time I'd see you was on the side of a milk carton!"
It took every bit of my willpower not to lash out and slap him as he attempted to embrace me. I didn't want to resort to violence, but I did push free of his despicable grip.
"You've got a lot of nerve, trying to put your hands on me. And to answer your ridiculous question, I've been living in New Jersey, with an eleven-year-old daughter who adores you-and you've been neglecting!"
"Don't act like you haven't heard this before. You've only visited Joy twice since we split. She's just a little girl, Matt. What is wrong with you?"
There it was again! That expression of confusion.
"What is wrong with you, Clare?" His tone wasn't angry at all, just concerned. "We've been divorced for over fifteen years-"
Fifteen years? Matt kept talking, but he made no sense. Then that surreal feeling returned. The displacement I'd experienced, after opening my eyes on that park bench, flowed over me with disturbing force.
I took in the anxious looks around me: the worry on Esther's face; the confusion on Mr. Dante's; the absurdity of Matt's dopey stare. Even Madame appeared upset, almost frightened, and I realized I was as unnerved as they were.
That's when something went haywire, like a delayed reaction from a bar-crawl bender. The coffeehouse began to spin, and my knees went weak.