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First pages

Mark

“You need a wife.”

The waiter had just refilled his glass, and, as Mark Stuart raised it to his lips, taking a deep drink of water, his mother spoke, causing Mark to gag. He plunked the glass onto the table, snatching the napkin from his lap and covering his mouth, barely preventing the liquid from spewing out. Then he lifted his head to see his mother sitting back in her chair as if prepared for a fight.

Mark’s eyes met hers. He now understood her dinner invitation, why his father had not accompanied them to the restaurant, and the reason she had chosen the Plantation House, with its tuxedoed waiters, soft music, and thirty-dollar midday entrees—a place only a woman like Elizabeth Stuart would have selected as the scene for a confrontation concerning her son’s need for a wife.

Surely, he would not make a scene, not here, not in public, not as he had each time she had broached the subject in the past.

That was, without a doubt, what his mother would be hoping.

His eyes stayed fixed on hers as he took a deep breath, internally debating his response. Mark placed his knife and fork across his plate and reached for his glass—a goblet of wine—this time, taking a long, slow sip, returning the glass to the exact spot from which he had lifted it. Then, he rested one forearm on the table and leaned forward, primed to meet his mother’s attack.

Her hand quivered and a few drops of water sloshed over the rim as she lifted her glass for a drink, but she did not look away.

“Tell me, Mother, why do I need a wife?”

He almost smiled as her head snapped up, surprise written on her face. His question was uncharacteristic. Generally, he led with a denial.

“Mark, we’ve been through this so many times.” She sighed as she reached out to pat his hand. “You need a wife to help you in your career. A college is not solely an educational institution, you’ve seen that for yourself. It’s social. It’s political. You’re a brilliant mathematician, Mark, but if you want to be a department head, or president of a university, you must do more than teach and write papers. You’ll be expected to attend parties and dinners, court donors. You’ll always be expected to bring someone with you, a date, perhaps, but preferably your wife.

“If you do need a date, well, you are twenty-nine years old and practically all of your friends are married. You’ll soon find yourself recruiting your sister to be your date.”

She held up a hand as he began to respond. “Moreover, you’ll be expected to give parties and dinners, and you know nothing about such things. You need a wife who can help you.”

She paused, apparently waiting to hear his rebuttal. It would have been one she had heard before—his assertion that teaching was a noble calling, that he was happy to have received that call, and that he had no ambitions beyond the classroom.

But Mark knew she would counter each of his arguments and the back-and-forth would continue until they both were tired and angry, neither daring to mention the woman he had almost married—the real reason he had no interest even in dating, much less in marriage.

So, today, he did not rise to her challenge. He waited.

Seeming to take his silence as agreement, his mother continued.

“You’re lonely.”

Mark shook his head.

“Yes, you are. You live alone, you dine out by yourself. You love photography, you love hiking, and they are both solitary pursuits. You depend on me, your father, and your sister to listen when you want to talk. We love to see you, Mark, but, as I said, Emily is getting married, soon she’ll be busy with a family of her own. And your father and I, we’re getting older…” She opened her arms, palms up, as though her point should be obvious. “You need a wife.”

Again, Mark did not respond. His mother smiled, a jungle cat sensing a win. Still, she pounced for the victory move. “It’s expected, Mark. People will think something is wrong with you if you aren’t married.”

“You’re afraid they’ll think I’m gay?”

“If they thought that, it might be different, but you’re not,” his mother rolled her eyes, “so they will think you’re weird, or antisocial, or that you’re so disgusting no one will have you. Mark, you need a wife.”

Argument was pointless. His mother’s mind was made up and, knowing her, she had a plan of some kind, a plan he might as well hear now. In any case, he had not even dated in over three years so agreeing with her would not send him hurtling toward the altar.

“You may be right.”

Mark almost smiled as half a cup of water poured onto the floor as his mother’s glass thumped onto the table, sending an observant waiter dashing forward with a towel. His mother ignored the waiter, shrugging off his offer of assistance.

“I am? I mean…I mean…good…good. Yes. Well, then, I’m glad you’ve seen the light.”

Mark took another bite of his steak and closed his eyes as the flavor filled his mouth. Then, when he could prolong the silence no longer, he spoke.

“Which woman should I choose? I mean, there are so many…” He swallowed, staring toward the ceiling, as if waiting for inspiration. As his mother began to respond, he continued.

“We have a couple of unmarried secretaries in the dean’s office, and the barista at the coffee shop formed a heart when she poured milk into my latte this morning. Rumor has it that, just last semester, the students, the female students, voted me ‘hottest professor on campus,’ and the last time I went barhopping I ran into three women from my gym. Attractive, healthy, fertile…Two of them volunteered to have my baby that very night.”

He knew he shouldn’t bait his mother. None of the women he mentioned would remotely be what she had in mind.

“Plenty of candidates.” He pretended to cough and he covered his mouth to hide his smile at the look of horror on her face.

“Don’t be silly,” she huffed. “You’ve never been barhopping in your life. And a secretary? A waitress? You can’t date a student.” She rolled her eyes. “This is serious. None of those women will be equipped to help you in your career.”

“All right. Where do I find her? The woman of your dreams.”

Mark’s eyes drifted toward the entrance pretending to scan for his wife to be, and he started as a tall woman with auburn hair appeared in the doorway.

Lucia?

Mark began to rise, but he caught himself, realizing it was not her, and he sank back into his chair, disappointed, wondering once again what brutal flaw of his had driven her to treat him the way she had.

“She’s not here, Mother. So, where do I find her?” he repeated.

“If you were going to find her, I’d have grandchildren already. I’ll take care of it.”

“Oh, right. You’re Yenta, the Matchmaker.” He shook his head. “Mother, this is the United States, and it’s two thousand fourteen, the twenty-first century. We don’t do arranged marriages.”

“Of course we have arranged marriages.”

“We marry for love.”

“Oh, pooh. Marriage for love has been around for only a hundred years or so. A newcomer on the marriage scene.” She patted his hand. “Mark, many marriages are arranged today, perhaps not as openly as in the past, but, nevertheless…”

“Name one.”

“Your father and I.”

“Thirty years ago…and you loved each other.”

“Since you’ve known us we have loved each other.”

Mark sighed. He had no inclination to listen as his mother retold the story of how his grandfather had feared his wild, empty-headed daughter would bring home a long-haired, unwashed ne’er-do-well who wore love beads, smoked pot, and flashed peace signs while boycotting classes as he protested the war in Viet Nam. And how, as a result, he had selected a man for her to marry and presented him to her for approval. Her account of their courtship had grown so elaborate over time that he was no longer certain how much of the story was true.

Although he could easily imagine that his grandfather might formulate such a plan, he had difficulty picturing his mother as either wild or empty-headed, and he was still as amazed as he had been when he had first heard the story almost twenty years ago, that his strong-willed mother would go along with it.

“So who are we talking about?”

She smiled a smile that told him she had come prepared.

“We had lunch with Margaret Wingate a couple of weeks back. Remember?”

Mark nodded. He recalled having lunch with Ms. Wingate—though he hadn’t the foggiest why he’d joined his mother and her friend for lunch. But the baked flounder had been delicious, and he had eaten every bit of it.

He glanced at the table, wishing he could finish his meal today.

“Margaret was quite taken with you, you know. Now, she has a daughter. Karen is twenty-five, four years younger than you. She majored in art at Mary Stevens College, loves to paint, and is employed at the museum.”

An artist with a degree from a women’s college in rural Virginia? Mark rolled his eyes. He was a mathematics professor with a doctorate from MIT.

Artists gushed over beautiful sunsets, lived in cluttered lofts, were flighty at best, and followed their feelings like puppies trailing after a fresh bone. Mathematicians stood in awe of elegant proofs, craved order, and embraced logic.

Artists and mathematicians were polar opposites. He had not so elegant proof.

Lucia was an artist.

Lucia was an artist…

He shook his head and dismissed that thought.

“She’s very attractive.”

“Who is?”

His mother gave him the look she reserved for when she thought he hadn’t been paying attention, and then she reached for her purse and withdrew a small brown envelope.

“Here. See?” She opened the envelope and handed him several photographs—Karen Wingate in an evening gown, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, bundled in a ski parka, lying by a pool in a bathing suit. Mark wondered if Karen knew that her portfolio was being shown to a prospective groom for his approval.

His head was beginning to ache and he gently massaged his right temple, recalling, again, their dinner with Margaret Wingate. At the time, he had thought it resembled a job interview. Apparently it had been just that.

“Now I haven’t talked with Karen yet, although I’m assured she is a simply wonderful girl. Polite, well organized, a good conversationalist, intelligent but not geeky, and you can see she’s nice looking. Not a great beauty of course, but then you don’t want someone who would attract the attention of other men. She’s everything you need in a wife.”

Mark glanced again at the photograph in which Karen wore the bathing suit. He thought she was beautiful. He took a sip of wine and turned back to his mother.

“They call her the Ice Queen.”

“They call her what? Who does?”

“She went to school with Emily. They’re still friends, you know.” Mark wondered if his sister knew what their mother was up to. “Her friends call her the Ice Queen.”

“And what does that mean? What does it have to do with anything?”

He looked at his plate. New York Strip steak, potatoes au gratin, and cucumber salad—not Mark’s typical midday meal, and he intended to enjoy it despite the direction in which the conversation had turned. He let his mother wait while he savored the last of his potatoes.

“You know perfectly well what it means, Mother.” He cut the remaining piece of steak in two. “No guy has ever made it past first base with her and most are tagged out as they step away from home plate.” He smiled, enjoying the taste of the rib eye.

“Well, that’s good. I’m sure you’ll hit a homerun your first time at bat.”

Mark had just swallowed, and he choked, again snatching the napkin from his lap to cover his mouth. He reached for his water and gulped.

“What? What did I say? As a boy you were quite good at baseball, as I recall.” His mother squinted at him as she tried to understand his reaction.

Mark coughed and cleared his throat. “I’ll have Em explain it to you.”

“All right…Anyway, she’s a nice girl. Besides there are other things more important in marriage than…than sports.”

“All right, then. What is important? What should I be looking for in Karen Wingate, in my barista, or in anyone else who might be in the running?” He took the last piece of his steak, placed his knife and fork on his plate, and waited.

Elizabeth cocked her head to one side.

“The most important thing is that you like each other and enjoy being together. Your father understood my sense of humor, and you know most people don’t. It’s like yours.”

Mark nodded.

“We liked the same movies, the same books. We had friends in common. Your father was kind. I knew he would never hurt me, he would never hit me or humiliate me or make me feel stupid.”

“So you liked him, enjoyed being with him, and he was a nice person. That’s why you married him?” He raised his eyebrows in disbelief.

“If those things are true, then you can easily get past any problems.” His mother shook her head. “Ice Queen,” she huffed.

“What attracted him to you?”

“The same things, I think. Then, too, I was the perfect corporate wife.”

Mark rolled his eyes. Her argument always circled back to a wife’s influence on her husband’s career.

“Well, I was. Still am. I can throw a party on a moment’s notice. I can talk with anyone about nothing. I’m nice looking if I do say so…”

“You’re beautiful, Mom.”

“Thank you, dear. I am attractive, but I’m not one of those…bimbos who you see at parties and receptions. The ones who flirt with every man present, who have bleached hair and dark red lipstick and low-cut tops and…and…breasts as big as…as…footballs and…”

Mark smiled at the image, his first real smile since they had arrived, and his mother blushed. He glanced a third time at the photograph of Karen in the bathing suit, which lay among the others on the table before him, much like photos of a house that an agent might place on his website to be viewed by prospective buyers.

“At least she doesn’t have that problem.”

“Oh, Mark, let me talk with her. If she seems right, will you just give her a try? Three dates.” She held up three fingers. “Just three. If you don’t like her, you need not see her again. Please? I want you to be happy, Mark. Please do it for me.”

Mark quietly processed his mother’s request.

After a moment of silence, she excused herself to go to the restroom. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief as she left the table, and a wave of guilt swept over Mark. A good son would never make his mother cry.

Mark leaned back, noticing for the first time the painting hanging on the far wall, a picture of Drayton Hall, one of the old plantations up the Ashley River, not far from Charleston. A woman with auburn hair walked toward the front steps beside a man wearing a riding habit.

They could be Lucia and me, he thought. Had I been enough for her…

He shook his head. He’d had no interest in dating for almost three years now, not since he and his fiancée had parted ways.

“My almost-fiancée,” he whispered.

He drifted off, back to his junior year abroad, when he’d met Lucia in Cambridge…

 

Mark sat at a table in the corner, studying. As he stared through the window watching the fading evening light, he felt someone plop into the chair beside him and lean against his right arm.

“What are you looking at?”

Hearing a woman’s voice, he turned and his head bumped against hers.

She laughed as she pulled back from him. “Sorry. Just trying to see. What are you staring at so intently?”

“The light. It’s ten o’clock and the sun is just setting.” He shook his head. “Strange.”

“Oh, you’re a Yank, aren’t you? Not accustomed to late twilight.”

Mark regarded the girl. Auburn hair, blue eyes, pale skin.

“Scots?” he guessed. “Or Irish.”

“Scots. Born and bred in Inverness. Know where that is?”

“Of course.” Mark nodded.

“If you want to see a late sunset, you ought to come home with me in a couple of weeks. Seems like it never gets dark in early summer.”

Mark’s eyes wandered back to his book.

“So, you are a Yank?” she asked again.

“I’m from the United States, the southeastern part of the country. You should know that calling me Yank is like my calling you English.” He smiled as a frown crossed her face, and he explained to her how Southerners felt about those called Yankees.

“I’ll not make that mistake again. English, indeed,” she muttered. “I’ll tolerate being called a Brit—but English?” She shook her head then turned toward the window and leaned her body across his as she gazed into the twilight, searching for the sun.

“Completely gone now.” She motioned toward where the sun had been a moment earlier. She raised an eyebrow. “I prefer winter, you know. Dark early. More time to snog your boyfriend, and no one objects if you’re cozy because you need the warmth.” She moved off him, but did not move away.

“Snog?”

She laughed. “Kiss. Kiss and cuddle…’Course my mother took exception when she found Robin and me snogging in my bedroom one evening last January. Thought we were a bit too cozy.”

“Robin your boyfriend?”

“Not since my mother chased him from the house waving a birch branch above her head.” She laughed. “My mother is rather old-school, you know. Threatened to use it on me, but…” She shrugged.

They sat without talking for several moments.

“Tell me, how is the UK different from the States?”

Mark glanced at his books again. He really needed to study. Then his eyes cut back to the girl. She was beautiful, and he was lonely.

He closed his book and pushed it away. He could study later.

“We don’t have a queen, we don’t have roundabouts, and y’all have accents.”

“Y’all?” she exclaimed. What kind of a word is y’all? And we’re English so you have the accents.”

“I thought you were Scots.”

“I am…I mean…but…”

She seemed so flustered that Mark laughed.

“Where I live, y’all is the plural of you. You know, you all, all of you. A lot easier to say.”

“Strange word.” She wrinkled her nose.

“So is snog. It sounds like your nose is dirty.”

Mark playfully touched the tip of her nose and ran his finger across her cheek as they both laughed.

“What’s your name? Or is it British custom to flirt with complete strangers in pubs?”

“So we’re flirting, are we? Speak for yourself.”

He smiled. “Just an observation.”

“Well there’s nothing wrong in that actually, but my name is Lucia. Lucia McClelland. What’s yours?”

“Mark Stuart.”

“So you’re Scots, too.”

He shrugged. “’Way back, I suppose.”

“Well now that we’ve been introduced…” She snuggled against him. “Let’s get acquainted. What are you doing in the UK?”

He pointed at the books on the table. “Studying.”

She began to play with his hair, which reached low, over his collar. “Studying what?”

“I was trying to study British history, but I was interrupted.”

As he put his arm around her shoulder, she tipped her head back as if she wanted him to kiss her. His eyes slid down, focusing beneath her peasant blouse.

“Ah, so that’s what you’re really here to study.”

Mark looked away. He could feel himself blushing.

“Let me tell you,” she continued. “Professors’ lectures can be dull and dry sometimes, but I’ll be glad to give you some after-hours tutoring if they’re not all that you’d hoped for.”

“I…I’m sorry…” Mark glanced at her from the corner of his eye. She had not moved and his eye flicked down, just below the top of her blouse.

“You’re not at all sorry.” Her eyes sparkled and she rubbed her hand across his cheek.

“Not at all.” He smiled just before kissing her.

An hour later, he walked her home. He’d discovered she was an art student, fun to talk to, and not at all shy.”

“I have a difficult time talking to guys,” she said as they stopped outside of the flat she shared with two other students.

“Right. I noticed.”

She blushed.

“My roommates bet me five pounds that I wouldn’t go over and talk to you tonight. I’m glad I never refuse to take a dare,” she whispered as he kissed her good night.

“Never?”

She shook her head.

As he kissed her a second time, his hand slipped down her back, brushing across her bottom, pressing her body firmly against his.

 

“Please don’t say no.”

Mark’s head snapped up. His mother had returned, taking her seat and leaning across the table toward him. The sight of her was enough to clear his mind of thoughts of Lucia.

“Just three dates.” She was pleading with him, a tone in her voice Mark had never before heard. “If you’ll do this for me, I’ll never bring it up again.”

“Can I get that in writing, Mother?” He half-smiled, an indication he was not actually expecting a signed statement.

“I’ll retire as a matchmaker.” She crossed her heart and held up two fingers as though giving him an oath.

Three dates. It wouldn’t matter if it were ten. Karen Wingate was not Lucia. She could never be Lucia.

Mark sighed. What would it really cost him? Three nights of television? He could do three dates with any woman if it would make his mother happy. And if it would prevent her from raising the question of marriage again…

“Okay. Three dates. Let me know if she gets your seal of approval.”

Three and out, he thought, as his mother beamed with her perceived victory.

***

As Mark left the restaurant, he observed each woman as he passed her. Most of them were nice looking. Some were quite attractive. One smiled at him, just as Lucia had smiled that night at the pub.

He paused and looked down, rubbing his eyes as if to erase the image, and a young woman hurrying along the walkway almost plowed into him.

“Sorry. Sorry.” He looked up, apologizing, but the woman had already moved on.

He began to walk again. His mother had been badgering him ever since Lucia had left.

She’s not the only fish in the pond…

I don’t know what you saw in that little tramp anyway…

You need to find a nice girl…

You need a wife…

And his personal favorite—I told you so…

He stepped off the curb, not realizing where he was going. A horn blared, and a car swerved to avoid him, the driver shouting as he sped past. Mark practically jumped out of the street.

Each time, his mother had brought it up he had changed the subject, put her off, told her to mind her own business. Today, he’d agreed.

What had changed? Why had he agreed to her plan?

People would think him weird?

Mark smiled. The college abounded in eccentric professors. Not a reason for marriage.

Companionship?

His mother had been correct. It was lonely, rattling around in a three-bedroom house by himself, requesting a table for one at restaurants, walking around the shopping malls, seeing couples laughing and talking as they went from store to store. Was that reason enough to take a wife?

His work?

Despite his denials, he did harbor some ambition, far down the road, perhaps, for something more than simply teaching. Aside from a desire for advancement, though, he did receive invitations to parties, dinners, and receptions. His mother had been correct, again. Such events did not adapt well to singles, and he was weary of recruiting friends to accompany him. Was enhancing his career reason enough to marry?

Someone to sleep with?

Mark snorted. Even a decade earlier many men would have believed it to be an excellent reason for marriage, but a wedding was increasingly no prerequisite for a roll in the hay. Had he been so inclined, he’d have no problem satisfying that need, so was it reason enough for marriage?

His mother’s eyes had lit up, and she had smiled as she’d described her plan. Mark shook his head as he reached his car and opened the door, ready to get back to school.

He should have known she would have a plan.

What was important in a wife? What did his mother say? Oh, yes. She should be a nice person. He should like her, he should enjoy spending time with her, and she should be an asset to his career. Sounded easy.

And she must be appropriate—come from an appropriate family, have appropriate opinions, behave in an appropriate manner. His mother had not mentioned those criteria. They were understood.

He turned the key in the ignition. At least he’d only agreed to three dates. He could suffer through three evenings with any woman to please his mother if it would get her off his back.

Not that it would matter. He had intended that Lucia and he would become engaged, marry, have children together. He had dreamed of years of happiness.

He must have a serious problem, one neither he nor his mother could identify, if, after the years he and Lucia had spent together, she had done what she had.

Ergo, neither Karen Wingate, nor any other woman, would be interested either.

Karen

The Low Country Grill was set on the river, just upstream from Charleston harbor. Elizabeth had arrived early, requesting a table on the covered deck, and Margaret had walked in several minutes later. The two women had sipped white wine as they waited for Karen, enjoying the cool breeze from the river, watching the sunlight sparkling on its surface, and listening as seagulls called to each other, circling high overhead before flinging themselves toward the water in search of dinner.

Margaret’s head snapped up as the restaurant’s front doors swung open, but when a man and a woman entered together she sighed and dropped her eyes. “Karen must have been held up at work,” Margaret said. “She told me they were very busy this week, a new exhibit or something…”

She glanced anxiously at her watch. “Karen is never late,” she added defensively, as if she feared Elizabeth would think Karen was commonly tardy.

In truth, Elizabeth was beginning to wonder about that very thing, but it was still too early to make snap judgments. She gazed out over the water and spied a sailboat gliding past, and she watched the ferry approaching the shore, carrying tourists from a hotel on the other side of the river. Her eyes followed as an ocean-going cruiser, large enough to sleep an entire family, pointed its bow toward the harbor as it moved away from its dock. She sighed contentedly.

Margaret tapped her hand idly on the table, causing Elizabeth to glance in her direction as Margaret picked up her wine and began to take a drink. She paused with the glass in midair, glancing at Elizabeth from the corner of her eye, then she set her glass on the table.

“Perhaps we should go ahead and order,” she suggested.

Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m in no hurry…are you? Let’s enjoy the view. It has been so warm for the last couple of weeks and the breeze feels wonderful.” She pointed to the cruiser. “Henry Jamison was telling me just the other day how he and his wife were planning a trip to Bermuda. I didn’t realize they were departing so soon, though.” She watched as the boat drew away before turning back to Margaret. “I’m sure Karen will arrive in a few minutes.”

Margaret had approved Mark as a possible husband for her daughter. Today, it was Elizabeth’s turn. She would interview Karen to determine if she would make a good wife for Mark.

“Karen’s father believes our plans are absolutely crazy,” Margaret said. “What does your husband think about Karen and Mark?”

“Men.” Elizabeth shook her head. “They haven’t a clue how to handle matters such as these. This morning Richard informed me that Mark has shown no interest in dating anyone seriously in a long time. As if I hadn’t noticed,” she huffed.

“Even should he and Karen like each other, they still may not want to date,” he said. “Even should they date, they may balk at the marriage you and Margaret have planned.” She rolled her eyes. “I told him he should support my efforts to assure his son’s happiness—that Mark needs a wife, and since he won’t find one himself, I’m having to do it for him. He gave me one of his infuriating smiles.” She lowered her voice and imitated her husband. “Be warned,” he said, “Mark, has the disturbing habit of thinking for himself.”

Both Elizabeth and Margaret chuckled.

The sound of other laughter drew Elizabeth’s attention to the front entrance, and she spied a large group of women, twelve, at least, entering the restaurant, carrying presents wrapped in white paper with blue bows. One of the women waddled like a giant duck, one hand on the small of her back, the other resting on what could have been a beach ball beneath her dress.

“That’s Sue Anne Waring, Alice Waring’s daughter,” Elizabeth told Margaret. “You know Alice. She’s a volunteer with the Preservation Society. I sat next to her in church on Sunday and she told me that Sue Anne is due any day now. They certainly cut it close on the date for the shower.”

As the last of the group made it through the door, Margaret’s head perked up. “Here’s Karen.” She motioned toward a young woman slipping in behind the others and looking around as if searching for her dinner companions.

As Margaret rose to attract her daughter’s attention, Karen smiled and raised her hand in greeting. She spoke to the host, and, a waiter leading the way, she began to wind between the tables, making her way through the main dining room, toward the deck.

Elizabeth studied Karen’s progress. She was dressed in trousers, a white shirt, and sandals. Elizabeth glanced around the deck. The Low Country Grill did not cater to casually dressed tourists, and every other woman in the room was wearing either a dress or a skirt.

Karen’s auburn air fell to her shoulders, but it was pulled back in a loose ponytail, a black scrunchie holding it in place, and Elizabeth could imagine it parted in the middle and hanging straight on each side of her face. Just like that folk singer from her college days. What was her name? Joan Baez?

“Karen, I’m so glad you could join us today.” The expression on Margaret’s face indicated she felt embarrassed by her daughter’s late appearance, but she kissed Karen on the cheek before turning toward Elizabeth. “You remember Elizabeth Stuart, don’t you? Emily Stuart’s mother?”

“Of course. How are you, Ms. Stuart?” Karen’s blue eyes sparkled as she reached out to shake hands.

Elizabeth stiffened as she reciprocated—only in the business world did women shake hands.

Mrs. Stuart and I were just reminiscing about when you and Emily were in high school.” Margaret reached over to brush a strand of hair out of Karen’s face.

Karen turned away and tucked the offending strand behind her ear herself. “It’s windy, Mother.”

“I know.” Margaret smiled. “Do you remember Sandra Williamson? Mrs. Stuart was telling me that she lives in New York now and just married an investment banker. A huge wedding at a church on Park Avenue.”

“I do remember Sandra, and Mrs. Stuart is correct. The wedding was at Saint Bartholomew’s. I was invited, but we’re simply so busy with our new Monet exhibit that I couldn’t get away.” She looked down at her clothes, and brushed at some dust on her pant legs. “Sorry. We’re between exhibits, one moving out, the other moving in. I wore work clothes today.” She glanced around at the other tables. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.” Elizabeth shook her head, pleased that Karen at least realized she was not dressed appropriately. As long as one knew the rules, it was all right to break them for a good reason.

The waiter offered menus while Elizabeth and Margaret ordered second glasses of wine, and Karen requested iced tea.

“I would be drowsy all afternoon,” she said when her mother urged her to have wine too. “I’m way too busy to take a nap today.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

We recently moved to our new home near Charleston, South Carolina. Four of my books are set in Charleston, and I’ve always enjoyed the Carolina beaches. I now have the opportunity to walk on the beach almost every day and to photography the ocean, the sea birds, and the marshes that I love. I went to school for much longer than I want to admit, and I have degrees in psychology and education. In an “earlier life” I was director of research for our state’s education department.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
I write romance because I believe true love exists, and the search for love and acceptance is one of the basic themes in my books. I find it difficult to write scenes in which obstacles block the characters' paths to finding the love they want and need.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
I would want Dan Stevens to play Mark and Emma Watson to portray Karen. Yes, I know they appeared together in Beauty and the Beast, but they would be terrific in Just Three Dates!

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