Together she and Savannah made their way inside, as one
by one, neighbors Caroline hadn't seen in a decade brought
sympathy along with their best casseroles. Thanking each
for both, she set the food out in the dining room . .
"My dear," someone said sympathetically, tapping
Caroline's shoulder as she set a third dish of ambrosia
salad on the buffet. Unbelievably, there was no more space
on the antique Georgian table, even with its six feet of
"Well, hello, Miss Rose!" Caroline exclaimed. "How
lovely to see you!" There was no pretense in the greeting.
Rose Simmons's wrinkled face brought back memories of
Caroline's earliest years in this old house, the only good
ones she could recall.
"Gracious! I wouldn't have missed it," Miss Rose
said. "Your mother was a wonderful woman. Such a lovely
funeral!" she added with unreserved approval. "I hope my
children will pay their respects so beautifully!"
A prick of guilt jabbed Caroline. Everything had been
prearranged. It was the one thing she could thank her
mother for: Flo wasn't the sort to leave unfinished
business. She skirted the compliment. "Well, I'm glad you
could make it," she offered with a smile, and then caught a
glimpse of the figure standing in the entrance to the
dining room and all thoughts flew out of her head at once.
"Oh, before I forget, I brought the greens!" Miss Rose
declared. Caroline blinked, her gaze fixed on the man she
had nearly married ten years before. "Greens?"
His eyes were as vivid a blue as she recalled, with
points of light that dimmed or brightened based on the
intensity of his smile. Right now, they were practically
electric and Caroline could barely focus. "I don't know the
Greens, Miss Rose. . . ."
Miss Rose chuckled, gently cuffing Caroline's
forearm. "Well, of course you do! You always asked after
them and I remembered and brought them!"
Caroline gave the old woman a confused smile, and
noticed Jack was smirking, those lights in his eyes dancing
impishly. The familiar, playful grin annoyed her far more
than it should have.
Miss Rose clasped a hand to her breast. "Poor sweet
dear! It must be the shock," she declared. "That's quite
understandable." She patted Caroline's arm
consolingly. "Flo's death was so unexpected!" She shook her
head. "Your mother will be sorely missed, but it should
cheer you to know they are talking about planting a garden
in Waterfront Park in her honor. I hope they do!
"The Florence Willodean Aldridge Memorial Garden," Rose
continued, but Caroline was no longer listening. The old
woman peered over her shoulder to see what had captured
Caroline's attention and a sudden look of comprehension
crossed her features. She smiled knowingly. "Well,
goodness! I understand. I shall leave you to your guests,
my dear girl. Just make sure you put some of them greens
aside for later. I cooked them up just the way you like
them, with a nice big ham hock!"
It dawned on Caroline suddenly that the "greens" were
not people. Miss Rose had brought mustard greens. And
truthfully, she hated them intensely but vaguely recalled
being five at Miss Rose's daughter's baptism celebration
and feeling incredibly guilty about wanting to spit them
out. With a quelling look from her mother, she had
reluctantly swallowed them and complimented Miss Rose's
greens emphatically—obviously, much too emphatically.
Miss Rose clucked at her, shaking an admonishing
finger. "You always were too thin!"
Caroline's cheeks heated as her mother's neighbor
ambled away, leaving her completely at Jack's mercy.
The old woman gave Jack a nod on her way out of the
dining room and said pleasantly, "Afternoon, Jack."
Jack greeted her with a smile and a nod. "Afternoon,
Miss Rose. You look lovely as ever."
Miss Rose ducked her head shyly and giggled like a
schoolgirl. The instant she was out of earshot, Jack turned
the full impact of hisroguish smile on Caroline. "Just make
sure you put some of them greens aside for later," he
teased, stirring from the doorframe and strolling into the
room with a languor that was both infuriating and
reassuring in its familiarity . . .
Jack had the decency to look uncomfortable. Hands in
his pockets, he peered down at the floor. "We still need to
talk to Sadie," he offered. "Finalize the report."
"Well, I'm sure you'll find her in the kitchen."
It was Sadie, their mother's housekeeper, who had
discovered Flo sprawled at the foot of the stairs. Doped
out on clonazepam, Flo had apparently tripped over a loose
board at the top of the stairs.
"It's just a formality," he assured. "It can wait."
She'd rather believe he was here because he was doing
his duty for work, not because of some misplaced sense of
obligation to their past. "So you're working?"
"I came to pay my respects, not upset you. Sorry,
At one time, Caroline couldn't have imagined anyone
else she'd rather be comforted by. Now she didn't even know
how to talk to him. "Thanks for coming, Jack."
He took a step backward. "You're more like her than you
realize," he said quietly, removing his hands from his
pockets. He hesitated, clearly wanting to say more.
Instead, he turned and left.
Ignoring the surreptitious glances from their guests,
Caroline turned her back on him. Trying hard to be casual,
she stabbed a silver spoon into a dish before following
Jack out into the hall to watch his retreat.
He edged his way through the crowd, somehow avoiding
human contact despite the breadth of his shoulders. He
never once looked back. Without a word, he opened the front
door, stepped out into the afternoon light and closed it
quietly behind him.
Caroline choked on a wave of emotion. "Shit," she said