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"The Widow Swift?" Lucy made a face as she absorbed her daughter's latest tidbit of gossip. "Who calls me that?"
Madison shrugged. She was fifteen, and she was doing the driving. Something else for Lucy to get used to. "Everyone."
"Like, the six people who live in this town."
Lucy ignored the light note of sarcasm. The Widow Swift. Good Lord. Maybe in some strange way this was a sign of acceptance. She had no illusions about being a "real" Vermonter. After three years, she was still an outsider, still someone people expected would pack up at any moment and move back to Washington. Nothing would suit Madison better, Lucy knew. At twelve, life in small-town Vermont had been an adventure. At fifteen, it was an imposition. She had her learner's permit, after all. Why not a home in Georgetown?
"Well," Lucy said, "you can just tell 'everyone' that I prefer to be called Lucy or Mrs. Swift or Ms. Swift."
"A name like 'the Widow Swift' tends to stick."
Madison seemed amused by the whole thing, so much so that she forgot that parking made her nervous and just pulled into a space in front of the post office in the heart of their small southern Vermont village.
"Wow, that was easy," Madison said. "Okay. Into park. Emergency brake on. Engine off. Keys out." She smiled at her mother. She'd slipped into a little sundress for their trip to town; Lucy had nixed the flimsy slip-on sandals she'd wanted towear. "See? I didn't even hit a moose."
They'd seen exactly two moose since moving to Vermont, neither en route to town. But Lucy let it go. "Good job."
Madison scooted off to the country store to "check out the galoshes," she said with a bright smile that took the edge off her sarcasm. Lucy headed for the post office to mail a batch of brochures for her adventure travel company. Requests from her Web site were up. Business was good to excellent. She was getting her bearings, making a place for herself and her children. It took time, that was all.
"The Widow Swift," she said under her breath. "Damn."
She wished she could shake it off with a laugh, but she couldn't. She was thirty-eight, and Colin had been dead for three years. She knew she was a widow. But she didn't want it to define her. She didn't know what she wanted to define her, but not that.
The village was quiet in the mid-July heat, not even a breeze stirring in the huge, old sugar maples on the sliver of a town common. The country store, the post office, the hardware store and two bed-and-breakfaststhat was it. Manchester, a few miles to the northwest, offered considerably more in the way of shopping and things to do, but Lucy had no intention of letting her daughter drive that far with a two-week-old learner's permit. It wasn't necessarily that Madison wasn't ready for traffic and busy streets. Lucy wasn't ready.
When she finished at the post office, she automatically approached the driver's side of her all-wheel-drive station wagon. Their "Vermont car," Madison called it with a touch of derision. She wanted a Jetta. She wanted the city.
With a groan, Lucy remembered her daughter was driving. Fifteen was so young. She went around to the passenger's side, surprised Madison wasn't already back behind the wheel. Driving was all that stood between her daughter and abject boredom this summer. Even the prospect of leaving for Wyoming the next day hadn't perked her up. Nothing would, Lucy realized, except getting her way about spending a semester in Washington with her grandfather.
Wyoming. Lucy shook her head. Now that was madness.
She plopped on the sun-heated passenger seat and debated canceling the trip. Madison had already voiced objections about going. And her twelve-year-old son, J.T., would rather stay home and dig worms. The purported reason for heading to Jackson Hole was to meet with several western guides. But that was ridiculous, Lucy thought. Her company specialized in northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes and was in the process of putting together a winter trip to Costa Rica where her parents had retired to run a hostel. She had all she could handle now. Opening up to Montana and Wyoming would just be spreading herself too thin.
The real reason she was going to Wyoming, she knew, was Sebastian Redwing and the promise she'd made to Colin.
But that was ridiculous, too. An overreactionif not pure stupidityon her part to a few weird incidents.
Lucy sank back against her seat, feeling something under herprobably a pen or a lipstick, or one of J.T.'s toys. She fished it out.
She gasped at the warm, solid length of metal in her hand.
She resisted a sudden urge to fling it out the window. What if it went off? She shuddered, staring at her palm. It wasn't an empty shell. It was a live round. Big, weighty.
Someone had left a damn bullet on her car seat.
The car windows were open. She and Madison hadn't locked up. Anyone could have walked by, dropped the bullet through the passenger window and kept on going.
Lucy's hand shook. Not again. Damn it, not again. She forced herself to take slow, controlled breaths. She knew adventure travelcanoeing, kayaking, hiking, basic first aid. She could plan every detail of inventive, multifaceted, multi-sport trips and do just fine.
She didn't know bullets.
She didn't want to know bullets.