In the big house—and Shelby would always think of it as the big house—she sat in her husband’s big leather chair at his big, important desk. The color of the chair was espresso. Not brown. Richard had been very exact about that sort of thing. The desk itself, so sleek and shiny, was African zebra wood, and custom-made for him in Italy.
When she’d said—just a joke—that she didn’t know they had zebras in Italy, he’d given her that look. The look that told her despite the big house, the fancy clothes and the fat diamond on the fourth finger of her left hand, she’d always be Shelby Anne Pomeroy, two steps out of the bumpkin town in Tennessee where she was born and raised.
He’d have laughed once, she thought now, he’d have known she was joking and laughed as if she were the sparkle in his life. But oh God, she’d dulled in his eyes, and so fast, too.
The man she’d met nearly five years before on a starry summer night had swept her off her feet, away from everything she’d known, into worlds she’d barely imagined.
He’d treated her like a princess, shown her places she’d only read about in books or seen in movies. And he’d loved her once—hadn’t he? It was important to remember that. He’d loved her, wanted her, given her all any woman could ask for.
Provided. That was a word he’d often used. He’d provided for her.
Maybe he’d been upset when she got pregnant, maybe she’d been afraid—just for a minute—of the look in his eyes when she told him. But he’d married her, hadn’t he? Whisked her off to Las Vegas like they were having the adventure of a lifetime.
They’d been happy then. It was important to remember that now, too. She had to remember that, to hold tight the memories of the good times.
A woman widowed at twenty-four needed memories.
A woman who learned she’d been living a lie, was not only broke but in terrible, breathtaking debt, needed reminders of the good times.
The lawyers and accountants and tax people explained it all to her, but they might as well have been speaking Greek when they went on about leveraging and hedge funds and foreclosures. The big house, one that had intimidated her since she’d walked in the door, wasn’t hers—or not enough hers to matter—but the mortgage company’s. The cars, leased not bought, and with the payments overdue, not hers, either.
The furniture? Bought on credit, and those payments overdue.
And the taxes. She couldn’t bear to think about the taxes. It terrified her to think of them.
In the two months and eight days since Richard’s death, it seemed all she did was think about matters he’d told her not to worry about, matters that weren’t her concern. Matters, when he’d give her that look, that were none of her business.
Now it was all her concern, and all her business, because she owed creditors, a mortgage company and the United States government so much money it paralyzed her.
She couldn’t afford to be paralyzed. She had a child, she had a daughter. Callie was all that mattered now. She was only three, Shelby thought, and wanted to lay her head down on that slick, shiny desk and weep.
“But you won’t. You’re what she’s got now, so you’ll do whatever has to be done.”
She opened one of the boxes, the one marked “Personal Papers.” The lawyers and tax people had taken everything, gone through everything, copied everything, she supposed.
Now she would go through everything, and see what could be salvaged. For Callie.
She needed to find enough, somewhere, to provide for her child after she’d paid off all the debt. She’d get work, of course, but it wouldn’t be enough.
She didn’t care about the money, she thought as she began going through receipts for suits and shoes and restaurants and hotels. For private planes. She’d learned she didn’t care about the money after the first whirlwind year, after Callie.
After Callie all she’d wanted was a home.
She stopped, looked around Richard’s office. The harsh colors of the modern art he’d preferred, the stark white walls he said best showed off that art, and the dark woods and leathers.
This wouldn’t be home, and hadn’t been. Would never be, she thought, if she lived here eighty years instead of the scant three months since they’d moved in.
He’d bought it without consulting her, furnished it without asking what she’d like. A surprise, he’d said, throwing open the doors to this monster house in Villanova, this echoing building in what he’d claimed was the best of the Philadelphia suburbs.
And she’d pretended to love it, hadn’t she? Grateful for a settled place, however much the hard colors and towering ceilings intimidated. Callie would have a home, go to good schools, play in a safe neighborhood.
But there hadn’t been time.
Just as there wasn’t a ten-million-dollar life insurance policy. He’d lied about that, too. Lied about the college fund for Callie.
She put that question aside. She’d never know the answer, so why ask why?
She could take his suits and shoes and ties and his sports equipment, the golf clubs and skis. Take all those to consignment shops. Take what she could get there.
Take whatever they didn’t repossess and sell it. On damn eBay if she had to. Or Craigslist. Or a pawnshop, it didn’t matter.
Plenty in her own closet to sell. And jewelry, too.
She looked at the diamond, the ring he’d slipped on her finger when they got to Vegas. The wedding ring, she’d keep, but the diamond, she’d sell. There was plenty of her own to sell.
She went through files, one by one. They’d taken all the computers, and those she didn’t have back yet. But the actual paper was tangible.
She opened his medical file.
He’d taken good care of himself, she thought—which reminded her to cancel the memberships at the country club, at the fitness center. That had gone out of her mind. He’d been a healthy man, one who kept his body in tune, who never missed a checkup.
She needed to toss out all those vitamins and supplements he’d taken daily, she decided as she turned over another paper.
No reason to keep those, no reason to keep these records, either. The healthy man had drowned in the Atlantic, just a few miles off the South Carolina coast, at the age of thirty-three.
She should just shred all this. Richard had been big on shredding and had his own machine right there in the office. Creditors didn’t need to see the results of his last routine blood work or the confirmation of his flu shot from two years ago, paperwork from the emergency room from when he’d dislocated his finger playing basketball.
For God’s sake, that had been three years ago. For a man who’d shred enough paperwork to make a mountain range, he’d sure been possessive about his medical receipts.
She sighed, noting another, dated almost four years ago. She started to toss it aside, stopped and frowned. She didn’t know this doctor. Of course, they’d been living in that big high-rise in Houston then, and who could keep track of doctors the way they’d moved every year—sometimes less than that. But this doctor was in New York City.
“That can’t be right,” she murmured. “Why would Richard go to a doctor in New York for a . . .”
Everything went cold. Her mind, her heart, her belly. Her fingers trembled as she lifted the paper, brought it closer as if the words would change with the distance.
But they stayed the same.
Richard Andrew Foxworth had elective surgery, performed by Dr. Dipok Haryana at Mount Sinai Medical Center, on July 12, 2011. A vasectomy.
He’d had a vasectomy, without telling her. Callie barely two months old and he’d fixed it so there could be no more children. He�
�d pretended to want more when she’d begun talking about another. He’d agreed to get checked, as she got checked, when, after a year of trying, she hadn’t conceived.
She could hear him now.
You’ve just got to relax, Shelby, for God’s sake. If you’re worried and tense about it, it’ll never happen.
“No, it’ll never happen, because you fixed it so it couldn’t. You lied to me, even about that. Lied when my heart broke every month.
“How could you? How could you?”
She hadn’t wanted to take the baby to the city—he’d known she wouldn’t. He’d made all the arrangements. Another surprise for her. He’d sent her back to Tennessee on a private plane, her and her baby.
So she could spend some time with her family, he’d said. Show off the baby, let her mother and grandmother spoil her and spoil Callie for a couple of weeks.
She’d been so happy, so grateful, she thought now. And all the while he’d just been getting her out of the way so he could make certain he didn’t father another child.
She walked back to the desk, picked up the photo she’d had framed for him. One of her and Callie, taken by her brother Clay on that very trip. A thank-you gift he’d seemed to value as he’d kept it on his desk—wherever they’d been—ever since.
“Another lie. Just another lie. You never loved us. You couldn’t have lied and lied and lied if you’d loved us.”
On the rage of betrayal she nearly smashed the frame on the desk. Only the face of her baby stopped her. She set it down again, as carefully as she might priceless and fragile porcelain.
Then she lowered to the floor—she couldn’t sit behind that desk, not now. She sat on the floor with harsh colors against hard white walls, rocking, weeping. Weeping not because the man she’d loved was dead, but because he never existed.
• • •
THERE WAS NO TIME TO SLEEP. Though she disliked coffee, she made herself an oversized mug from Richard’s Italian machine—and hit it with a double shot of espresso.
Headachy from the crying jag, wired up on caffeine, she combed through every paper in the box, making piles.
Hotel and restaurant receipts when viewed with newly opened eyes told her he hadn’t just lied, but had cheated.
Room service charges too high for a man alone. Add a receipt for a silver bangle from Tiffany’s—which he’d never given to her—from the same trip, another five thousand at La Perla—the lingerie he preferred she wear—from another trip, a receipt for a weekend spent in a bed-and-breakfast in Vermont when he’d said he was going to finalize a deal in Chicago, and it began to solidify.
Why had he kept all this, all this proof of his lies and infidelity? Because, she realized, she’d trusted him.
Not even that, she thought, accepting. She’d suspected an affair, and he’d likely known she had. He kept it because he’d thought her too obedient to poke through his personal records.
And she had been.
The other lives he’d lived, he’d locked away. She hadn’t known where to find the key, would never have questioned him—and he’d known it.
How many other women? she wondered. Did it matter? One was too many, and any of them would have been more sophisticated, more experienced and knowledgeable than the girl from the little mountain town in Tennessee he’d knocked up when she was nineteen, dazzled and foolish.
Why had he married her?
Maybe he’d loved her, at least a little. Wanted her. But she hadn’t been enough, not enough to keep him happy, keep him true.
And did that matter, really? He was dead.
Yes, she thought. Yes, it mattered.
He’d made a fool of her, left her humiliated. Left her with a financial burden that could hound her for years and jeopardize their daughter’s future.
It damn well mattered.
She spent another hour going systematically through the office. The safe had already been cleared. She’d known about it, though she hadn’t had the combination. She’d given the lawyers permission to have it opened.
They’d taken most of the legal documents, but there was five thousand in cash. She took it out, set it aside. Callie’s birth certificate, their passports.
She opened Richard’s, studied his photo.
So handsome. Smooth and polished, like a movie star, with his rich brown hair and tawny eyes. She’d so wished Callie had inherited his dimples. She’d been so charmed by those damn dimples.
She set the passports aside. However unlikely it was she’d use hers or Callie’s, she’d pack them up. She’d destroy Richard’s. Or—maybe ask the lawyers if that’s what she should do.
She found nothing hidden away, but she’d go through everything again before she shredded or filed it all away again in packing boxes.
Hyped on coffee and grief, she walked through the house, crossed the big two-story foyer, took the curving stairs up, the thick socks she wore soundless on the hardwood.
She checked on Callie first, went into the pretty room, leaned down to kiss her daughter’s cheek before tucking the blankets around her little girl’s favored butt-in-the-air sleeping position.
Leaving the door open, she walked down the hall to the master suite.
She hated the room, she thought now. Hated the gray walls, the black leather headboard, the sharp lines of the black furniture.
She hated it more now, knowing she’d made love with him in that bed after he’d made love with other women, in other beds.
As her belly twisted she realized she needed to go to the doctor herself. She needed to be sure he hadn’t passed anything on to her. Don’t think now, she told herself. Just make the appointment tomorrow, and don’t think now.
She went to his closet—one nearly as big as the whole of the bedroom she’d had back in Rendezvous Ridge, back home.
Some of the suits had barely been worn, she thought. Armani, Versace, Cucinelli. Richard had leaned toward Italian designers for suits. And shoes, she thought, taking a pair of black Ferragamo loafers off the shoe shelf, turning them over to study the soles.
Moving through, she opened a cupboard, took out suit bags.
She’d take as many as she could manage to the consignment shop in the morning.
“Should have done it already,” she muttered.
But first there’d been shock and grief, then the lawyers, the accountants, the government agent.
She went through the pockets of a gray pinstripe to be certain they were empty, transferred it to the bag. Five a bag, she calculated. Four bags for the suits, then another five—maybe six—for jackets and coats. Then shirts, casual pants.
The mindless work kept her calm; the gradual clearing of space lightened her heart, a little.
She hesitated when she got to the dark bronze leather jacket. He’d favored it, had looked so good in the aviator style and the rich color. It was, she knew, one of the few gifts she’d given him that he’d really liked.
She stroked one of the sleeves, buttery soft, supple, and nearly gave in to the sentiment to set it aside, keep it, at least for a while.
Then she thought of the doctor’s receipt and dug ruthlessly through the pockets.
Empty, of course, he’d been careful to empty his pockets every night, toss any loose change in the glass dish on his dresser. Phone in the charger, keys in the dish by the front door or hung in the cabinet in his office. Never left anything in pockets to weigh them down, spoil the line, be forgotten.
But as she gave the pockets a squeeze—a habit she’d picked up from her mother on washing day—she felt something. She checked the pocket again, found it empty. Pushed her fingers in again, turned the pocket inside out.
A little hole in the lining, she noted. Yes, he had favored the jacket.
She carried the jacket back into the bedroom, got her manicure scissors out of her kit. Carefully, she widened the hole, telling herself she’d stitch it up later, before she bagged it for sale.
Slipping her fingers in the opening, she drew out a key.