Preview of Touch of a Woman

UPDATED 11/12/2015: Now shipping, and now available for download. For those who love their Kindles, it won’t be available from Amazon for several weeks. But that’s an easy fix — buy it from Bella Books in mobi format, send the downloaded file to your Kindle account, and it’ll show up on your Kindle like all the rest. Happy reading, and thanks for coming along for the ride.


ToW_coverFirst, a huge THANKS to those of you who donated to Lambda Literary during our Fall Challenge fundraiser. If you haven’t gotten your copy of The Touch of a Woman yet, please let me know and I’ll track it down. Those of you across the pond may have to wait a few more days.

Paperbacks will be shipping soon (another week or so), and I expect the ebook to become available any day from Bella Books. This one kicks off with a prologue that sets the dramatic tone for the book, and I’ve posted the first chapter as well so you can meet both of the main characters, Ellis and Summer.


Ellis Rowanbury snatched the leather folio from the waiter’s hand before he could drop it on the knotty pine table. “Don’t even think about it, Roxanne.”

Her friend leaned back and folded her arms. “My, my. When did you get so aggressive?”

“You left me no choice. You’ve paid…what? Three months in a row?”

“If you say so. I certainly don’t keep track.” Roxanne pulled a compact from her purse and touched up her lips with pink gloss that gave the outward impression she was soft. Nothing could be further from the truth. “They probably wouldn’t appreciate a wrestling match over the bill in the middle of their dining room.”

On the contrary, Ellis thought. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching a pair of women in high heels get down in a hair- pulling catfight? Smart money would be on Roxanne because her hair wasn’t long enough to pull. And because she’d cheat.

Ellis fished a small stack of bills from her wallet and tucked them inside the folio, smiling with the knowledge that it was her money, not part of what Bruce gave her for the household budget. “Did you catch my feature last month on chiropractors? I was amazed at what they’re treating these days with spine adjustments.” She ticked the ailments off on her fingers: “Obesity…depression…addiction. I had no idea.”

“I have a copy of Vista on my credenza. I’ll check it out when I get back to my office.”

As if someone in Roxanne Sternberg’s position had an extra minute in her busy day to peruse a city magazine. It was a testament to their thirty-year friendship that she still made time once a month to meet at Buck’s in Woodside, halfway between her Silicon Valley office and Ellis’s home in San Francisco.

Ellis looked forward to their monthly dates, relishing the chance to step out in a stylish business dress or suit, something she didn’t often have occasion to do. Her part-time work for the magazine was freelance. There was no reason to dress up when she worked at home, but she knew Roxanne would be decked out as usual in something that said power.

“Your assignments always sound so interesting, Ellis.” This coming from a woman whose job title was Vice President of Leisure Innovations at a dot-com company. “I’d give anything to have the freedom you have. Other than a frantic trip to Beijing, I haven’t been out of my office in a month.”

It was hard to feel sorry for Roxanne. At forty-seven, she was a millionaire several times over, thanks to timely career moves that always included stock options. Petite with dark hair and brown eyes, she hardly looked her years. Plus she had perks that added to her cosmopolitan image—a personal shopper who dressed her in the finest career wear, a trainer who came to her house, even a woman who did her nails in her office while she busied herself with conference calls.

A glamorous, high-powered career had been one of Ellis’s dreams too, but she wouldn’t have lasted a year in a pressure- cooker job like Roxanne’s. Deadlines didn’t bother her. Nor did she mind taking on intellectual challenges. Where she would have struggled was with demanding personalities. Too easily intimidated, too quick to defer—the total opposite of Roxanne, who took on everyone in her path.

Ellis was better suited to freelance work, where she rarely encountered office politics or power struggles. Still, she could have had a successful career at Vista. With easygoing publisher Gil Martino on her side, she could have been editor by now had she not stepped away to raise her children.

“Less than a year to go, Roxie. Then Allison’s off to college and I go back to full-time at the magazine. Gil’s been begging me to do that for years but I promised myself I’d wait till my last one finished high school.”

“You should go for it. Allison will be fine. She’s a tough cookie…like her Aunt Roxie.”

In many ways, that was true. Allison had long looked up to Roxanne as a prime example of how women could rule the workplace.

“I can’t. I promised myself to be there for her. Every volleyball match, every drama club skit. I did it for the boys, so it wouldn’t be fair to bail on her.”

“Who do you think you’re kidding, Ellis? You’re only following her around so she won’t sneak off and get anything else pierced.”

The studs in her daughter’s chin and brow had horrified her, but at least the holes would close once she outgrew her rebellious phase. “Believe it or not, I can handle her putting holes in her body. It’s the tattoos I’m worried about. I’ve put my foot down over that one but she’s counting the days till she turns eighteen. That happens in May.”

“Just don’t let them spell something wrong. She’ll end up going viral in one of those Internet memes everybody posts on Facebook.”

Ellis groaned with exasperation. “Let’s just hope she doesn’t try to outdo Jeremy.” Her son’s neck and left arm looked like someone had left their crayons on a hot sidewalk.

“At least you have one child who hasn’t defiled his body.”

That would be Jonathan, Jeremy’s fraternal twin, younger by eighteen minutes and his polar opposite in every way imaginable. A political science major at Stanford, he was bent on getting into law school.

Roxanne stood and straightened her gray sheath dress, then swung a blazer around her shoulders. “I’d give anything to stay and hang out, but I have a call this afternoon with the Tokyo office.” She dropped a twenty-dollar bill on the table. “You can give this to Pete for me.”

Ellis collected their leftovers in a cardboard container the waiter had left behind. For the past several years, she’d been feeding Pete Proctor, the homeless man who’d claimed the corner of Diamond Heights Boulevard and Gold Mine Drive.

As they left, she returned the polite smiles of two middle-aged men, appreciating the fact that, even as she and her friend neared the half-century mark, they still turned heads.

“Our time always goes by so fast, Roxie. What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

“Mom wants me to come to Palm Springs, but I don’t think I can stand being with Arthur all day. He’ll have Fox News blaring in the background.”

“Ugh. I don’t blame you. Jonathan’s started watching that crap too. We make him go to his room and close the door.”

“Amazing. You and Bruce are about the most liberal rich people I know. I can’t imagine how that nonsense crept into his head in the first place.”

Their liberal roots had been planted as students at Cal- Berkeley in the early nineteen-eighties. The rich part came much later through Bruce’s work as an investment planner. Still, they were hardly rich by Bay Area standards, not with all the dot-com billionaires buying up San Francisco’s real estate.

Ellis donned her sunglasses as they stepped outside. “Come to the City. I’m doing a big turkey. We can hide in the kitchen and drink wine.”

“Now you’re talking. Let me look at my calendar and make sure I don’t have a call to Mumbai or something. They don’t celebrate the Pilgrims, you know.”

Walking through the parking lot arm in arm, they reached Ellis’s car first, a black Lexus SUV.

“Is this new?”

“You know how Bruce is about buying cars, whether we need one or not. I’d just gotten used to which button did what on the Escalade.”

“Hard to begrudge a husband who spoils you like that.” They shared a final hug, and as Roxanne walked away, she shouted over her shoulder, “If there were more Bruces in the world, I might have gotten married too.”

Roxanne was already married—to her job. Yet another reason Ellis couldn’t handle having such an ambitious career. Bruce wasn’t perfect, but he’d always supported everything she did job-wise, including her decision to turn the sitting room in their master suite into a home office. She was happy with her life just the way it was.

As the driver’s seat hummed to her programmed position, she lowered the mirror on her visor to check her appearance. No wonder the men had smiled. Like Roxanne, she wore her years well. Though she had to work at it—facials, waxing, moisturizers…whatever it took to keep her skin looking young. She’d been blessed with thick dark hair, which Antoine had tinted with auburn highlights and cut in a long bob that curled into a point below her chin. She still was a woman men noticed.

With a touch to her steering console, she activated her phone. “Call Bruce.” He’d like hearing that Roxanne was considering joining them for Thanksgiving. As regional manager for investment giant Kerner-Swift, he found her expertise on the world market for technology invaluable.

Four rings, then voice mail. Probably in a meeting.

The ride home was gorgeous along Interstate 280. Hills and meadows on both sides, green from the autumn rain. The Crystal Springs Reservoir sparkling in the sun, the San Francisco International Airport peeking through the trees from Millbrae. As far as she was concerned, the Peninsula was the most beautiful place on earth—except for the traffic, which was building as she approached the City.

Another button on her wheel turned on the AM radio, set to a local news channel with traffic reports every ten minutes.

“…dozens of emergency vehicles swarming the area. No other traffic is being allowed in at this time.”

Jolted by the urgency in the announcer’s tone, she turned up the volume.

“If you’re just joining us, police are on the scene of what they’re calling an office shooting in the Financial District. Witnesses report hearing shots inside the Transamerica Pyramid, but it’s unclear at this time exactly which floors are involved. Tenants of the Pyramid include Merrill Lynch, URS Corporation, Kerner-Swift…”

In a panic, she redialed Bruce, only to get his voice mail again. “Bruce, I’m just hearing the news. Call me the second you get this. I mean it!”

Traffic had slowed to a crawl, pinning her on the freeway more than half a mile before an exit that could take her close to downtown.

The City had suffered this horror before, twenty-some years ago when Gian Ferri had killed eight people at the Pettit-Martin law firm. She and Bruce had been vacationing with their toddler twins at his mother’s house in Napa, and she’d felt no guilt at all for being grateful it was someone else and not Kerner-Swift.

The bulletins came quickly. Conflicting reports of casualties. Still nothing on the specific location inside the building.

At the risk of missing an update, she placed a third call, this time to the main number at Kerner-Swift. That too went to voice mail.

“Of course,” she said aloud. “They’ve probably evacuated the whole building.”

“The scene here is still tense, Marty. I’m calling from behind a police barricade that’s been set up on Jackson Street. What I can tell you is that heavily armed SWAT teams entered the building about ninety minutes ago. They’ve been clearing floors and evacuating the occupants through the emergency exits. I spoke moments ago with one of the workers who says she was trapped in her office for over an hour. She reported hearing sporadic bursts of gunfire…”

The sound of sirens in the background drowned out the reporter’s words.

“Tamara, did the woman you spoke with indicate which floor the shots were coming from? I know our listeners are anxious about loved ones who work in the Pyramid.”

“Excuse me, Marty…we’re just seeing several emergency medical teams rush inside the building. That would seem to indicate the shooting has stopped.”

“Goddammit! What floor?” Ellis screamed and pounded her steering wheel.

She was midway through another call to Bruce when she had a horrible thought: What if he’d been hiding from the shooter and his ringing cell phone had given his position away?

“Marty, police are now confirming that at least six people have been killed, but that number may go higher. Also, they’re saying the shooter is reportedly among the dead. No word yet on whether he was killed by police or took his own life. SWAT teams continue to sweep the building in search of victims and people who may have been hiding throughout this horrifying episode.”

Her hands shook so hard she could barely hold the wheel. Somehow she made it to the freeway exit and raced through the Mission District to Market Street. Too much traffic. A jog up Gough and she could take California all the way downtown.

With the assurance the shooting was over, she dialed again, and nearly cried with relief when the call connected after only two rings. “Bruce? Thank God! I’ve been listening to the news. Were you anywhere near the shooting?”

“Hello?” It was a woman’s voice, unfamiliar. “This is Sergeant Lynn McLeod of the San Francisco Police Department. To whom am I speaking?”

Chapter One

“Uh-oh.” The last thing Summer Winslow expected to see in her quiet apartment complex on a Sunday night was flashing blue lights. With above-average rents, River Woods was an enclave of young families saving for the down payment on their first home, white-collar professionals just starting out, and established singles like herself, stuck between relationships and not ready to commit to another mortgage.

So which of her neighbors also represented the criminal element?

Courtney Meyer stopped her car near the gate. “I’ll let you out here if that’s okay. I don’t want to get mixed up in that.”

“I hear you,” Summer said. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Thanks for the movie. Next time it’s my treat.”

She hobbled across the parking lot, careful not to put weight on her pinky toe, which she’d broken two weeks earlier in a game of Twister with her friends. The sidewalk in front of the adjacent building was blocked by the ramp of a moving truck. She noted dismally that her new neighbors, the ones unloading the truck, were young, early twenties. That likely would mean friends, parties, cars and noise.

The Sacramento Police Department cruiser was parked behind her car, but it was the sight of the familiar Jeep Cherokee in a nearby guest space that set her on edge. What did Rita hope to accomplish by showing up uninvited? She couldn’t possibly think she’d be welcome, not after their last confrontation.

Cringing at the obnoxious flashing lights, she continued gingerly toward her door. As she passed Rita’s car, she anticipated the face-off.

No, you can’t come in. No, I don’t want to talk.

A police officer intercepted her, shining a flashlight into her face. “Excuse me, are you Summer Winslow?”

She looked away to avoid the glare and only then noticed Rita sitting in the backseat of the cruiser. Shit. So that’s why he was here. What had she done? “I am.”

“And do you know Rita Finnegan?”

For an instant, she considered saying no. “I’m afraid so. What has she done?”

The muffled sound of Rita yelling interrupted his reply. Clearly she was under the mistaken impression they could hear her plainly through the rolled-up windows of the cruiser.

Summer knew in an instant she was drunk. Her wavy red hair had come loose from its tie and was hanging around her face, streaked with mascara from her tears.

The stone-faced officer drew her away from the car, ostensibly to get out of Rita’s earshot. “We got a complaint from one of your neighbors that she was banging on your door and yelling. Some pretty bad language, apparently. She told me she lived here and lost her key. Your neighbor didn’t think that was right.”

Oh, the temptation. If she told the truth—that Rita was her ex and was stalking her—then he might haul her to jail for the night, which would serve her right. As much as that would have pleased her, she couldn’t let it go that far. Rita worked as an auditor for the State of California, and an arrest could get her in a lot of trouble.

Still, a part of her wondered if it would take something as drastic as getting arrested for Rita to finally see herself as Summer did. After fifteen years of sobriety, she’d convinced herself her drinking was under control. It’s about moderation, Summer. Except moderate drinkers didn’t get rip-roaring drunk at least once a month, and they didn’t end up in the back of police cars.

“Let me make this easy for you,” the officer said, dropping the businesslike tone in favor of a folksy cadence. “It’s obvious your friend’s been drinking. Now I didn’t actually see her drive so I can’t charge her with DUI, but I can’t take a chance of her getting back behind the wheel tonight. If you’re willing to take responsibility, I’ll release her to you. But do not let her drive.”

She didn’t want to be responsible for Rita. That’s why she’d walked away after twenty-one years together. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she persuaded him to let her make a call. She’d put Rita’s fate in the hands of their mutual friend, Queenie Sullivan. If Queenie thought she needed a night in jail, so be it.

“Jesus,” Queenie said, echoing Summer’s frustration. “I had no idea she’d end up at your place. She was over here late this afternoon. Sam told me she smelled alcohol on her breath, but she wasn’t drunk.” It was clear she didn’t want to be dragged into this.

“She’s plastered now and sitting in the back of a police car. Apparently she’s been outside my apartment screaming at me for the last half hour. I was at the movies with Courtney. She must have seen my car and figured I wasn’t answering the door. No wonder my neighbors called the cops.”

“What do you expect me to do?”

Queenie and her wife, Sam Lotti, were probably the only ones who cared enough about Rita to consider the consequences. “I need you to come over here and drive her home. I’ll follow and bring you back.”

“Why can’t you take her?”

Limping along the sidewalk as she paced, Summer held up a finger to let the impatient-looking officer know she’d only be another minute. “You know I can’t be around her when she’s like this. Not anymore. I’ve had it. There’s no point in talking to her. She’s too drunk to be rational. Besides, that’s what she wants— to talk to me—and if she gets it this time, she’ll do it again.”

Queenie groaned, but Summer knew she agreed with her. They all knew Rita too well.

“Man, I wish you guys could work this out. It’s getting to be such a drag.”

Summer decided not to push back on that one. She was well aware how inconvenient it was for their friends to arrange parties and get-togethers, always having to be careful not to invite both of them. The only way they’d ever “work it out” would be for Rita to get professional help. Even then, the best anyone could hope for civility. Their romance was over.

“Look, my only other option is to let the police take her away. I’m okay with that if you are.”
After a string of muttered expletives, Queenie agreed to the deal.

As Summer waited for the officer to escort the stumbling Rita from the patrol car to the passenger seat of her Jeep, she strolled along the sidewalk to get another look at the moving van next door. A woman walked out of the apartment, apparently to retrieve something from her car, a black luxury SUV. From the golden-hued lights in the parking lot, she appeared to be older… Summer’s age, maybe. Maybe this was her new neighbor, not the youngsters. Either way, it made for a lousy first impression to have a police car in the apartment complex.

The whole episode was embarrassing as hell. Which of her neighbors had called it in? Rita had a foul mouth, especially when she was drinking, so it must have been quite a show.

The woman, only twenty feet away, glanced in her direction to find her staring, and momentarily froze.

“Sorry about this,” Summer said. If only she could add that it wouldn’t happen again. Unfortunately, Rita was too unpredictable to guarantee it.

She returned to the Jeep, where the officer met her with the keys. “Hold onto these, and hide them from her when you get her home. You can call her in the morning and tell her where they are.”

“Wait, you’re not leaving her with me,” she pleaded. “Can’t you wait until my friend gets here?”

He shook his head. “She just threw up in the back of my cruiser. I need to get it cleaned out before it sinks into the upholstery.”

If history was an indicator, that actually was good news. Summer tentatively approached the passenger side of the Jeep and confirmed that Rita had passed out.


Eighteen-year-old Allison, now a freshman at UC-Davis, crammed the kitchen drawer full of tea towels, potholders and linen napkins with no regard for how they wrinkled. Not surprising, since she handled her clothes the same way. Her long dark hair was pulled into a ponytail and looped through the back of a denim ball cap that matched her ragged jeans. Every time she raised her arms, her T-shirt rose to reveal a dark green vine crawling diagonally from her hip, its edges still red from the trauma. The tattoo she’d always wanted.

“You should sleep under your mattress, Mom. That would give you an extra layer of protection from flying bullets.”

Her brother Jeremy snorted before covering his face.

“Stop it, both of you,” Ellis snapped. Ever since the police car had pulled up out front, they’d been teasing her about her new crime-ridden neighborhood. For all she knew, they were right. “It’s probably some kind of domestic issue. Those are just as dangerous as drug deals.”

“I didn’t see anyone get arrested. The cop let that woman go.”

It didn’t matter to Ellis. Civilized people controlled their behavior. They certainly didn’t drag their dirty laundry out for everyone to see.

Jeremy swung his colorful arm around her shoulder and squeezed. “I’m sure it’s not that bad. At least your neighbor had the courtesy to come over and apologize.”

They’d actually only met in passing. The woman had looked embarrassed.

Bruno Peretti, Jeremy’s boyfriend of two years, joined them from the master bedroom, where he’d been hooking up her second TV. “Just be glad she was nice about it. Some people don’t care about their neighbors at all.” Though he worked as a legislative aide at the capitol, in his free time he always wore shorts—regardless of the weather—and an open shirt with a T-shirt underneath. He was clean shaven and buff from working out.

Ellis liked Bruno, as he was a calming influence on her son, who’d asserted his wild side in high school as a way of grappling with challenges to his masculinity. Since moving in with Bruno after dropping out of college two years ago, Jeremy had stopped adding tattoos and given up his motorcycle.

They made an attractive couple. Jeremy took after her side of the family. He had her father’s receding hairline and kept his hair short so no one would notice when he started to go bald. Blue eyes like hers, and he even had the same brown spot in the iris of one. Though he’d been raised in San Francisco, he loved Sacramento and had every intention of making his life here.

Ellis was resigned to her move from the City, where she’d lived since graduating from Berkeley twenty-six years ago. With her finances in utter disarray after Bruce’s death—and two kids still in college—she’d jumped at Gil’s offer to be assistant editor of Sacramento Vista, an offshoot of his San Francisco franchise. She’d desperately needed the steady income. Plus it was cheaper to live in the capital, and she was closer to Jeremy and Allison. However, it was farther from Jonathan, who was now a senior at Stanford.

She peered out the window and was relieved to find the parking lot clear of trouble. “River Woods might turn out to be a little dicey, but I guess it’s better than the Tenderloin.”

“Or the Financial District,” Allison muttered.

“Not funny,” Jeremy said sharply.

“That was irony, dipshit. Look it up.”

“Three months in college and now you know everything.”

“Yeah, so I can drop out now, just like you did.”

“Enough, you two,” Ellis said. She was used to playing referee between Jeremy and his brother, but Allison rarely pushed anyone’s buttons.

The shooting had changed all of them, but it had been especially hard on her daughter in her final year of high school. Spurts of anger, extended bouts of self-pity. Even with a fresh start in college, she was still struggling to escape the nightmare.

Jeremy too had suffered with depression, but Bruno steered him into a community counseling program and stood by his side with comfort and support. Only Jonathan had managed to hold it together, losing himself in his studies.

“I think we’ve done enough damage for one day,” Ellis said. “That’s everything off the truck. Let’s call it a night.”

Boxes of clothes, dishes and miscellaneous household items remained stacked in the small living room, but she didn’t want anyone else putting those things away—she might never find them again. Besides, she had plenty of time on her hands after work and no extra cash to go out, even if she had somewhere to go. Tomorrow was the first official day of her grind toward retirement.

Allison immediately slung her backpack over her shoulder, as if she’d been waiting hours for permission to quit. “Can you take me back to campus, Mom? And I could use a few extra bucks if you have it.”

Before she could answer, Bruno spoke up. “We can take you, but we need to swing by and drop off the truck.”

After something between a whine and a groan, Allison slogged toward the door like a child being marched to the principal’s office.

“Hold on, honey. I’ll get you some spending money. Jeremy? Bruno?”

“None for us, Mom. We’re good.”

She’d figure out another way to thank the boys for their help. A home-cooked dinner, or maybe Jeremy’s all-time favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. Allison had gone vegan and was too picky to feed. She wanted cold hard cash.

Ellis walked back to her bedroom for her purse and immediately noted her next task was getting sheets on the bed so she’d have a place to sleep. Though it was only nine thirty, she needed to be fresh for her first day at her new job.

“You ought to make time to come see Mom on the weekends,” Jeremy said, his voice carrying clearly all the way down the hall. “I know you’re busy at school, but she needs us right now.”

“I see her all the time. Jon’s the one who can’t be bothered.”

“I’ll talk to him too. We all have to step up. I’m worried about her. This is a big change. She’s done everything for us but nobody’s been there for her.”

She felt guilty for listening but the conversation was mesmerizing. A woman of forty-eight had no business expecting her grown children to take responsibility for her.

Allison sniffed loudly, a sign she was ready to burst into tears, something she’d done often since the shooting.

“I know, Allie. It’s been harder on you than anybody. But you’re going to love college. Put those dweebs from Balboa High in the rearview mirror.”

“It’s already easier…just being away from there.” Normally she pushed back against the boys when they tried to give her advice, but there was nothing in her voice this time that gave off defiance.

“And I’ll try to slip you some money. It won’t be much, but you can’t keep going back to Mom, not till they figure out the settlement.”

That was enough. She couldn’t let Jeremy take over her obligations, no matter how strapped she was for funds. It wasn’t his fault the lawyers were taking their sweet time with the negotiations.

“Here you go, sweetie. Eighty bucks.”

“I don’t need that much. Just twenty.” She gave her brother a sidelong glance. “Or forty.”

“Take it all. And now I want both of you to do me a big favor. I need some space. I know I’m closer now and you’re going to be tempted to drop in. But how about giving me a couple of weeks to get myself sorted out here? Make some friends, learn my way around, get a new routine. Can you do that for me?”

Jeremy looked surprised. “Are you sure, Mom?”

“Absolutely. I’ll call if I need help with anything. But I want all of you here for Christmas dinner. No excuses.” She shooed the three of them out and walked with them to the truck, rubbing her arms against the night chill as they drove away.

At the building next door, a car pulled up where the police car had been earlier. Two women got out, and one of them left immediately in another car. Ellis recognized the other as the woman who’d apologized.

She’d turned to go back inside when the woman called out.

The sound of her approaching footsteps was firm, but uneven. Boots with heels, and she was limping.

Ellis paid closer attention this time. The woman had on jeans with a white shirt, its starched collar standing up and out of a dark pea coat. A nice look for someone her height, which she guessed at barely five feet. Light curly hair with wispy bangs she pushed from her eyes, and wire-rimmed glasses. It was only when she was a few feet away that Ellis noticed her age— late forties, she guessed. Not the scruffy sort she might have expected to be involved with the police.

“Hi, I’m Summer Winslow.”

Ellis nodded. She didn’t need friends who attracted trouble.

“Was it you who called the cops?”

“It was not.”

“I guess that’s good…except now I have to go find whoever it was so I can apologize to them too.” She smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry I made such a rotten first impression. That’s not a normal thing, I swear. It’s never happened before…and I hope to hell it never happens again.”

What could she say? That it was all right? It wasn’t. That it didn’t bother her? It did.

“Anyway…I just wanted to tell you again that I was sorry. I think you’ll like River Woods. Just hit the reset button tomorrow and start over.”

It was rude to stand there in silence. The least she could do was acknowledge the woman’s obvious embarrassment and pretend not to be judging her. This was her neighbor, someone she’d likely see again. “Thank you. I’ll give that a try.”


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