Not a door key, she thought, turning it in the light. Not a car key. A bank box.
But what bank? And what was in it? Why have a bank box when he had a safe right in his office?
She should probably tell the lawyers, she thought. But she wasn’t going to. For all she knew, he had a ledger in there listing all the women he’d slept with in the past five years, and she’d had enough humiliation.
She’d find the bank, and the box, and see for herself.
They could take the house, the furniture, the cars—the stocks, bonds, money that hadn’t been nearly what Richard had told her. They could take the art, the jewelry, the chinchilla jacket he’d given her for their first—and last—Christmas in Pennsylvania.
But she’d hold on to what was left of her pride.
• • •
SHE WOKE FROM SHIVERY, disturbing dreams to the insistent tugging on her hand.
“Mama, Mama, Mama. Wake up!”
“What?” She didn’t even open her eyes, just reached down, pulled her little girl onto the bed with her. Snuggled right in.
“Morning time.” Callie sang it. “Fifi’s hungry.”
“Mm.” Fifi, Callie’s desperately beloved stuffed dog, always woke hungry. “Okay.” But she snuggled another minute.
At some point she’d stretched out, fully clothed, on top of the bed, pulled the black cashmere throw over herself and dropped off. She’d never convince Callie—or Fifi—to cuddle up for another hour, but she could stall for a few minutes.
“Your hair smells so good,” Shelby murmured.
“Callie’s hair. Mama’s hair.”
Shelby smiled at the tug on hers. “Just the same.”
The deep golden red had passed down from her mother’s side. From the MacNee side. As had the nearly unmanageable curls, which—as Richard preferred the sleek and smooth—she’d had blown out and straightened every week.
“Callie’s eyes. Mama’s eyes.”
Callie pulled Shelby’s eye open with her fingers—the same deep blue eyes that read almost purple in some lights.
“Just the same,” Shelby began, then winced when Callie poked at her eye.
“I bet. What does Fifi want for breakfast?” Five more minutes, Callie thought. Just five.
“Fifi wants . . . candy!”
The utter glee in her daughter’s voice had Shelby opening her bloodshot blue eyes. “Is that so, Fifi?” Shelby turned the plush, cheerful face on the pink poodle in her direction. “Not a chance.”
She rolled Callie over, tickled her ribs and, despite the headache, reveled in the joyful squeals.
“Breakfast it is.” She scooped Callie up. “Then we’ve got places to go, my little fairy queen, and people to see.”
“Marta? Is Marta coming?”
“No, baby.” She thought of the nanny Richard had insisted on. “Remember how I told you Marta can’t come anymore?”
“Like Daddy,” Callie said as Shelby carried her downstairs.
“Not exactly. But I’m going to fix us a fabulous breakfast. You know what’s almost as good as candy for breakfast?”
Shelby laughed. “Close. Pancakes. Puppy dog pancakes.”
With a giggle, Callie laid her head on Shelby’s shoulder. “I love Mama.”
“I love Callie,” Shelby replied, and promised herself she’d do whatever she had to do to give Callie a good, secure life.
• • •
AFTER BREAKFAST, she helped her daughter dress, bundled them both up. She’d enjoyed the snow at Christmas, had barely noticed it in January, after Richard’s accident.
But now it was March, and she was thoroughly sick of it, and the bitter air that showed no sign of thawing. But it was warm enough in the garage to settle Callie into her car seat, to haul all the heavy garment bags into the sleek-lined SUV she probably wouldn’t have much longer.
She’d need to find enough money to buy a secondhand car. A good, safe, child-friendly car. A minivan, she thought, as she backed out of the garage.
She drove carefully. The roads here had been well plowed, but winter did its damage however exclusive the neighborhood, and there were potholes.
She didn’t know anyone here. The winter had been so harsh, so cold, her circumstances so overwhelming, she’d stayed in more than going out. And Callie caught that nasty cold. The cold, Shelby remembered, that had kept them home when Richard took the trip to South Carolina. The trip that was supposed to be a family winter break.
They would’ve been with him on the boat, and hearing her daughter chattering to Fifi, it didn’t bear thinking about. Instead she concentrated on negotiating traffic, and finding the consignment shop.
She transferred Callie to her stroller and, cursing the biting wind, dragged the top three bags out of the car. As she fought to open the shop door, keep the bags from sliding and block Callie from the worst of the wind, a woman pulled open the door.
“Oh, wow! Let me give you a hand.”
“Thank you. They’re a little heavy so I should—”
“I’ve got them. Macey! Treasure trove.”
Another woman—this one very pregnant—stepped out from a back room. “Good morning. Well, hello, cutie,” she said to Callie.
“You got a baby in your tummy.”
“Yes, I do.” Laying a hand over it, Macey smiled at Shelby. “Welcome to Second Chances. Do you have some things for us to consider?”
“I do.” A quick glance around showed Shelby racks and shelves of clothes and accessories. And a very tiny area dedicated to men’s clothes.
Her hopes sank.
“I haven’t had a chance to come in before, so I wasn’t sure what you . . . Most of what I brought in are suits. Men’s suits and shirts and jackets.”
“We don’t get nearly enough menswear.” The woman who’d let her in tapped the garment bags she’d laid on a wide counter. “Is it all right to take a look?”
“You’re not from around here,” Macey commented.
“Oh, no. I guess not.”
“Are you visiting?”
“We— I live here in Villanova right now, just since December, but—”
“Oh my goodness! These are gorgeous suits. Pristine condition so far, Macey.”
“Forty-two Regular. And there must be twenty of them.”
“More?” both women said together.
“Shoes—men’s size ten. And coats and jackets, and . . . My husband—”
“Daddy’s clothes!” Callie announced when Cheryl hung another suit on a holding rack. “Don’t touch Daddy’s clothes with sticky hands.”
“That’s right, baby. Ah, you see,” Shelby began, looking for the right way to explain. Callie solved it for her.
“My daddy went to heaven.”
“I’m so sorry.” One hand on her belly, Macey reached out, touched Callie’s arm.
“Heaven’s pretty,” Callie told them. “Angels live there.”
“That’s absolutely right.” Macey glanced at Cheryl, nodded. “Why don’t you go out, get the rest?” she told Shelby. “You can leave— What’s your name, cutie?”
“Callie Rose Foxworth. This is Fifi.”
“Hello, Fifi. We’ll watch Callie and Fifi while you bring the rest in.”
“If you’re sure . . .” She hesitated, then asked herself why two women—one of them about seven months along—would run off with Callie in the time it took her to get to the car and back. “I’ll only be a minute. Callie, you be good. Mama’s just getting something out of the car.”
• • •
THEY WERE NICE, Shelby thought later as she drove off to try local banks. People were usually nice if you gave them the chance to be. They’d taken everything, and she knew they’d taken more than maybe they might have but Callie had char
“You’re my lucky charm, Callie Rose.”
Callie grinned around the straw of her juice box, but kept her eyes glued to the backseat DVD screen and her ten millionth viewing of Shrek.
Six banks later, Shelby decided the luck may have run out for the day. And her baby needed lunch and a nap.
Once she had Callie fed, washed and tucked in—and the tucking-in part always took twice as long as she hoped—she geared up to face the answering machine and the voice mail on her cell phone.
She’d worked out payment plans with the credit card companies, and felt they’d been as decent as she could expect. She’d done the same with the IRS. The mortgage lender had agreed to a short sale, and one of the messages was from the realtor wanting to set up the first showings.
She could’ve used a nap herself, but there was a lot she could get done in the hour—if God was kind—Callie slept.
Because it made the most sense, she used Richard’s office. She’d closed up most of the rooms in the big house, cut the heat back wherever she could. She wished for a fire, glanced at the black and silver gas insert under the black marble mantel. The one thing she’d enjoyed in the overwhelming house was being able to have a fire—the warmth and cheer of it—at the flick of a switch.
But that flick cost money, and she wouldn’t spend it just to have gas flames when the sweater and thick socks kept her warm enough. She got out the list she’d made—what had to be done—called the realtor back, agreed to the open house on Saturday and Sunday.
She’d take Callie off somewhere, get them both out and leave that business to the realtor. Meanwhile, she dug out the name of the company the lawyers had given her that might buy the furniture so she could avoid repossession.
If she couldn’t sell it in a swoop, or at least a good chunk of it, she’d try doing pieces online—if she ever had access to a computer again.
If she couldn’t get enough, she’d have to face the humiliation of having it repossessed.
She didn’t think the neighborhood ran to yard sales, and it was too damn cold anyway.
Then she returned the calls from her mother, her grandmother, her sister-in-law—and asked them to tell the aunts and cousins who’d also called that she was fine, Callie was fine. She was just real busy getting everything in order.
She couldn’t tell them, not all of it, not yet. They knew some, of course, and some was all she could share right that minute. Talking about it made her angry and weepy, and she had too much to do.
To keep busy, she went up to the bedroom, sorted through her jewelry. Her engagement ring, the diamond earrings Richard had given her for her twenty-first birthday. The emerald pendant he’d given her when Callie was born. Other pieces, other gifts. His watches—six of them—and his army of cuff links.
She made a careful list, as she had with the clothes she’d taken to the consignment shop. She bagged the jewelry with their appraisals and insurance information, then used her phone to search for a jewelry store, as local as she could manage, that bought as well as sold.
With the boxes she’d picked up while they’d been out, she began packing up what she considered hers, and important to her. Photographs, gifts to her from family. The realtor had advised her to “depersonalize” the house, so Shelby would do just that.
When Callie woke from her nap, Shelby kept her entertained by giving her little tasks. As she packed, she cleaned. No more housekeeping staff to scrub and polish the endless miles of tile, of hardwood, of chrome, of glass.
She made dinner, ate what she could. She dealt with bath time, story time, bedtime, then packed more, hauled boxes to the garage. Exhausted, she treated herself to a hot bath in the soaking tub with its soothing jets, then crawled into bed with her pad, intending to write out the next day’s agenda.
And fell asleep with the lights on.
• • •
THE NEXT MORNING she headed out again, with Callie and Fifi and Shrek, and Richard’s leather attaché case holding her jewelry and its paperwork, his watches and cuff links. She tried three more banks, widening her area, then, reminding herself that she had no room for pride, parked in front of the jewelry store.
She dealt with a three-year-old cranky at having her movie interrupted again, and bribed Callie into submission with the promise of a new DVD.
Telling herself it was business, just dollars and cents, she pushed Callie into the shop.
Everything shone, and seemed as hushed as a church between services. She wanted to turn around and go, just go, but made herself move forward to the woman wearing a sharp black suit and tasteful gold earrings.
“Excuse me, I’d like to talk to someone about selling some jewelry.”
“You can speak to anyone here. Selling jewelry is what we do.”
“No, ma’am, I mean to say I’m selling. I’d like to sell some pieces. It says you buy jewelry, too.”
“Of course.” The woman’s eye was as sharp as the suit, and carved Shelby down, top to toe.
Maybe she wasn’t looking her best, Shelby thought. Maybe she hadn’t been able to camouflage the dark circles under her eyes, but if there was one thing her granny had taught her, it was that when a customer came into your place, you treated them with respect.
Shelby stiffened a spine that wanted to buckle, kept her eyes direct. “Is there someone I should speak to, or would you rather I take my business somewhere else?”
“Do you have the original receipts for the pieces you’re interested in selling?”
“No, I don’t, not for all, as some were gifts. But I have the appraisals and the insurance papers. Do I look like a thief, one hauling her daughter around fancy jewelry stores trying to sell stolen merchandise?”
She felt a scene rising up in her, a dam ready to burst and flood hot and wild over everything in its path. Perhaps the clerk sensed it as she stepped back.
“One moment, please.”
“Mama, I wanna go home.”
“Oh, baby, so do I. We will. We’ll go home soon.”
“May I help you?”
The man who stepped up looked like somebody’s dignified grandfather, the sort in a Hollywood movie about rich people who’d been rich forever.
“Yes, sir, I hope so. It says you buy jewelry, and I have some jewelry I need to sell.”
“Of course. Why don’t we go over here? You can sit down, and I’ll take a look.”
She struggled to keep that spine straight as she crossed the shop to an ornate desk. He pulled out a chair for her, and the gesture made her want to blubber like a fool.
“I have some pieces my—my husband gave me. I have the appraisals and all that, the paperwork.” She fumbled open the attaché, took out pouches and jewelry boxes, the manila envelope