Reggie was jolted from the deep tranquility of nursing her baby as her husband banged through the kitchen door and thumped a canvas sling overflowing with vegetables onto the counter. “And that’s just for starters,” he said. “I can hardly keep up with it all. Good job I didn’t go ahead with the bigger plan, you would have found me out there buried in squash vines.”
She smiled at him from her seat at the kitchen table, their two-week-old daughter cradled in her arms, asleep but still attached to her breast, every now and then making dreamlike sucking motions. Her dog sat, as always, protectively close to her, leaning against her thigh.
Watching her husband unpack the vegetables from the carrier – zucchini, beets, new potatoes, peppers, eggplant -- Reggie admired the gorgeous colors and the abundance he had produced from their land. He had big plans for the garden and had spent a lot of time reading up on organic farming methods. He had even looked into getting a permit for keeping chickens -- “Just for the eggs,” he reassured his vegetarian spouse. “You know I could never kill an animal.”
He washed his hands and came to sit beside her, patting the dog and leaning over to kiss first Reggie, then the baby.
“Lost a job today,” he said. “But, no worries.”
He told her.
She frowned. “Our neighbor?” The sleeping baby had finally released her nipple; Reggie pulled her shirt down and wrapped the flannel blanket around the little form. Her husband extended his arms and she handed the bundle to him.
“The same,” he said.
“But why? Your dad has been taking care of his property for decades. And you’ve been doing a good job for him for the past year.”
“Seems his new wife has other plans. That don’t include me.” He was smiling wryly, his blue eyes holding hers in a significant way that puzzled her.
“I had no idea he got married,” she said. “Who’s his wife?”
“Take a wild guess.”
Reggie went still, dread spreading through her. “No.”
He nodded. “Yep. She-who-will-not-be-named. Seems he fell for her -- charms.”
“Lies and tricks, more like it,” Reggie said. “How’s that going to affect us, her being one house away?”
“The houses are far enough apart,” he said. “We may see her down at the lake, maybe sometimes in town, but we won’t have to interact with her. She wouldn’t dare violate the restraining order. I’m not worried. I hope you won’t be.” He placed a warm hand on her forearm.
“No,” Reggie said without conviction, “not worried for us, but concerned for that poor man. He’s nice, and she’s bound to make his life hell.”
“Yeah. I could tell he felt bad about firing me.” He rested his hand on his daughter, the span of his palm and fingers covering her entire chest. One baby arm thrust up from the blanket in a dream impulse, then slowly lowered.
“She’s only interested in people she can get to believe her crazy claims,” Reggie said, trying to reassure herself. “Anyone or anything that threatens to expose the truth about her she just pretends doesn’t exist. So she probably won’t want anything to do with us.”
“Right enough.” He nodded and sat silent for a moment. Then he handed the baby back to her and stood. “Let me just bring in another load and then I’ll mind the wee one so you can take the furry one for an outing.” He avoided using the dog’s name and the word “walk,” to prevent premature excitement.
“Thanks, honey.” It was nearly four o’clock and, as was typical of this new phase of her life, she had not yet been able to squeeze in a shower or clean the kitchen after lunch, much less give her dog any exercise or much attention.
She carried the infant back to the nursery and laid her in her crib, then stood, looking down at the small being who brought her such joy but also a vast new vulnerability.
The woman who had tried to hurt her and everyone dear to her had not moved to New York City, or back to England, or even to Monte Carlo, as Reggie had believed for the past nine months, but in fact was a mere five-minute walk away. Would she be content to stay within the boundaries of her new position as the wife of one of the town’s richest and most influential men? Or would she use her proximity to try to inflict more pain, to punish Reggie and her husband for the supposed wrong they’d done her, and to keep them from revealing the truth about her?
One thing was certain: there was very little that Reggie would put past her former friend, the beautiful, talented, treacherous Clarissa.