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Authors: Susan Andersen

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“First, though, I want to go over a couple of things while the camera gets up to optimum running speed. You all met Justin while he was wiring you for sound. What he’s holding now is a boom mic.” Justin held up a big black microphone attached to the end of a twelve-and-a-half foot fish pole for them to see. “It’s going to be overhead during the interview and will be moving back and forth to catch what each of you says while you’re saying it, so do your best to ignore it.

“And speaking of ignoring, let me introduce you to our director of photography. Ava, I know you two have already met, but Jane, Poppy, this is Louie. Louie, meet Poppy and Jane.” They exchanged greetings, then he said, “Now I want you to ignore him.”

“Well, that’s rude,” Poppy said.

“I know, and people tend to be polite, which means including the cameraman when they’re telling an anecdote or answering questions, because he’s right there in their line of vision. But trust me when I tell you it doesn’t play well, so look at me and only me.”

Unless it’s each other if you get a dialogue going,
he silently added, but didn’t bother saying aloud. Because face it, that would only happen if they could forget that the camera was there—and then it would be instinc
tive, not something he’d need to choreograph. The fewer directions he gave, he generally found, the better.

Scooting his chair a little closer to them, he felt that little buzz he got whenever he started a new interview. He nodded to his AD, who called out, “Quiet on the set, please.”

Conversations ceased and while his key grip, gaffer and makeup girl stayed handy in case they were needed, everyone except the DP cleared away from the camera. He glanced at Louie. “Roll camera, please.”

“Speeding,” the DP replied, and Cade turned back to the women.

“How did the three of you meet Agnes Wolcott?”

“We met at a musicale when we were twelve,” Poppy said.

“At Ava’s,” Jane added before turning to Ava. “Remember how jazzed your mom was that Miss A was attending?”

“Pretty hard to forget,” she agreed, then looked back at him to explain. “Miss Agnes was renowned for turning down more invitations than she accepted, so it was a big deal coup when she RSVPed that she’d attend my mother’s event.”

“The three of us likely wouldn’t be sitting here, though, if Ava’d had her way,” Poppy said with a crooked smile. “She thought the musicale was the dumbest idea ever and campaigned to blow it off and do an overnighter at my house instead.”

“Well, it was very Jane Austen, wasn’t it—that whole music in the parlor gig?” She flashed her dimples. “I was heavily into Kurt Cobain at the time, so singers accompanied by harpsichords and violins just struck me as so last millennium. Plus, Poppy’s parents always let us have s’mores and told us to have fun. My mother’s
events were always accompanied by endless rules.” She grimaced. “Don’t eat more than one tea cake, Ava. Don’t spill anything, Ava. Make sure your friends are quiet, Ava. And for God’s sake, don’t embarrass me in front of my guests.” She shrugged. “The usual, in other words. I was expected to be one of those throwback kids who was seen but not heard—

“Crap.” She looked at Cade in dismay. “What am I thinking? Can you edit that out?”

Even as he agreed, then asked Louie for a change in framing, Cade studied her, seeing in his mind’s eye the overweight kid she’d been then. Knowing the role he’d played in contributing to her miseries didn’t stop him from disliking her mother and her fucking rules. Who said money bought happiness? He and Ava could sure as hell dispel that myth.

“Still, you gotta give your mom props for drumming those beautiful manners into you,” Poppy said and grinned at Cade. “Since that’s how we
really
met Miss A.”

Jane nodded agreement. “Ava dragged us over to where Miss Agnes was sitting, kind of off by herself, and introduced the three of us.” She got a reminiscent look in her eye, and Cade signaled Louie to go in close. “She was different than any grown-up we’d ever met—and I’m not just talking about that foghorn voice of hers, which God knows was distinctive.”

“We thought she was nice enough at first, but nothing really special, you know?” Poppy said.

“Then she asked us what we thought of the music,” Ava contributed. “And those manners Poppy likes to razz me about? I followed the party line and gave a standard, polite response.” She grinned, all bright eyes and dimples. “And Miss Agnes blew us away by saying
that personally, she found it nice…but it was certainly no ‘Material Girl.’”

Poppy laughed. “We discovered over time she had the driest sense of humor. She said things with this kind of deadpan delivery that just cracked us up. And that first night, almost before we knew it, we’d spent the whole evening talking to her.”

“Yeah, my mother wasn’t thrilled with me for monopolizing her guest of honor,” Ava said. “But I didn’t care. Miss A had liked us.
Really
liked us—she’d made us feel as if
we
were the fascinating ones. And before she left that night, she invited us to join her for tea at the Wolcott mansion.”

“Which turned out to be the start of almost twenty years of teas with her,” Jane said. “Like I said, she was different from any grown-up we’d ever met.”

“And she was sooo interesting,” Poppy added. “She’d been to places I’d only ever heard of—hell, to places I’ve
still
never seen outside of movies or books.”

“No fooling,” Ava agreed. “And not just the usual places, like Paris or Madrid or London, either. She’d been to Africa and Madagascar and the Amazon and…oh, just everywhere.”

“And she’d done everything,” Jane added. “Did you know she flew her own plane? I always regretted we didn’t meet her until a few years after she’d given that up, because wouldn’t that have been a kick in the pants? To soar through the sky with her? And her collections! Oh, my God, those fabulous collections.”

“Yeah, it’s because of Miss A that Janie’s a curator.” Ava gave her friend an affectionate smile. “She’s not exaggerating, though—Miss Agnes did have the most amazing stuff, not the least of which was her wardrobe. She was a total clotheshorse and had suits and gowns
and dresses from every couture house you’ve ever heard of.” Her eyes went dreamy, and again Cade sent Louie a hand signal for an extreme close-up. “My favorites were her vintage gowns.”

“She let all of us dress up in them,” Poppy said. “But she particularly liked dressing up Ava in her thirties, forties and fifties gowns. Ava would sometimes get down on herself about her appearance, but Miss A always said that she was simply born in the wrong era—and was exquisite just the way she was.” She shot Ava a stricken look. “God, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that on camera.”

“No, it’s okay. She did make me feel beautiful,” Ava concurred. “This style you see today?” Her fingers traced an elegant outline in the air above her voluptuous torso. “Admire it or detest it—it got its start upstairs in Miss Agnes’s dressing room.”

Cade was thinking that he, for one, admired the hell out of it when Poppy said, “She let me paint her walls in colors of my choosing.”

“Yeah, this place was all white inside before Poppy got her hands on it,” Ava said. “But that was the genius of Miss A. She encouraged our passions and helped us to build on our strengths.”

“In my case it was allowing me to spend hours messing about with her collections,” Jane said, then laughed and shook her head. “It wasn’t until I was in college that I understood how much they were worth—and she just let me play with them like they were Wal-Mart toys.”

Remembrances tumbled out with nonstop gusto, one piling atop another as the three women discussed their friend and mentor with unbridled affection. “That first time she had us for tea, she called us a sisterhood. I thought that was so cool.”

“She gave us our first diaries that day, too. We all still keep one to this day.”

“She was in attendance at every event that had any meaning in our lives.”

Cade was jazzed as he directed the DP to go wide to catch Ava leaning forward with smiling intensity as she related a memory, or Poppy wedging herself into the corner of her seat and folding a leg under her on the settee, talking with her hands as she described an event. He signaled him to pull in close when Jane, the quietest of the three, threw back her head and laughed as if someone had just told her a really great dirty joke.

Since he wouldn’t be a part of the finished product, which meant the audience wouldn’t hear his questions, he often needed to repeat them in order to get complete, powerful sentences out of his subjects regarding something they’d already talked about. But except for follow-up questions to flesh out a newly introduced topic and some queries that got the three women talking about how they’d felt when they’d discovered they were Agnes Wolcott’s heirs, he rarely interrupted, instead letting them take their reminiscences to organic conclusions.

“Are you getting all this?” he demanded sotto voce to Louie as Molly stepped in for a moment to powder Jane’s forehead and Ava’s nose.

“Yeah. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, dude. They sure were crazy about that woman. And their enthusiasm…? We’ve got some stuff here that’s beyond good.”

“That’s what I’m seeing, too.” He could already envision spots where he could cut away to some kind of visual: to one of Agnes Wolcott’s richly textured collections or some articles of her haute couture. It would be cool to find some old pictures of Wolcott with the
three girls at different stages in their relationship, as well. He made a mental note to ask Ava if any old photo albums existed and to sic Beks on them if they did.

They went back to the shoot but wrapped up a short while later. When Cade called the final cut, the entire crew whooped their appreciation for the interview, and he thanked the women with wholehearted sincerity.

As his crew immediately began to get ready for the next interviewee and Beks led away Poppy and Jane, he pulled Ava aside to ask about the albums.

“I’m sure there are,” she said. “Miss Agnes was interested in everything, and that included photography, so she took lots of pictures. Let me talk to Jane—she’s most likely to know.”

“Thanks. And I know I’ve said it before but I just can’t say it enough—you and your friends really rocked that interview. You can take it from me, Spencer, you look incredible on camera.” He grinned when she actually flashed her dimples at him with obvious pleasure over either the compliment or maybe just the fact that the shoot was over and had been an unmistakable success. “I promised I’d let you see for yourself, though, so if you’d like to see how you came across, I can probably get to it later this week.”

“Later this week! What’s wrong with right now?”

“Aside from the fact that we’re moving right on to the next shoot, you mean? Look, I’m not shining you on here. If I finish up before you’re ready to go home, I’ll see if I have time to go over it with you. But don’t hold your breath, Ava. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be putting in a long day.”

She studied him for a moment, then nodded and blew out a breath. “Fair enough. But I’m dying to see how I turned out.” She grinned. “It was a lot less stressful
than I anticipated, and I gotta admit, I’m totally revved up. So I’m going to go feed my friends and celebrate having it behind me. I’ll let you get back to work. Oh, by the way—” she gave him a smile “—you were right. You are a good interviewer.”

And about-facing on a black stiletto heel, she headed across the room to where her two friends awaited her at the entrance to the hallway, leaving him staring after her and listening to that damn infectious laugh that trailed in her wake.

CHAPTER SEVEN

I’m so lucky to have Jane and Poppy. But there are still times when I just feel so damn alone.

“T
HANKS AGAIN
for dinner, you guys,” Ava said to Jason and Poppy as she stood in their front doorway the next evening, hugging two fat leather albums to her breasts. She shot her blonde girlfriend a wry smile. “The apple sure didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to cooking—your stroganoff’s every bit as mean as your mama’s.” Then, noticing Jase pulling a jacket out of the closet and shrugging it on, she zeroed in on him.

“You better be telling me you got called in to work,” she said, narrowing her eyes at the tall, dark-eyed man she and Janie had dubbed Detective Sheik, because he had that same compelling air about him as the fantasy man the sisterhood had created to titillate themselves in their tweens.

“I’m walking you to your car,” he said with the authoritarian don’t-mess-with-me voice he probably used on the snitches and burglary suspects he came into contact with. “Deal with it.” Reaching out, he relieved her of the albums.

She knew him well enough by now not to fight him for possession. The man was programmed to protect—and was downright implacable once he got his mind set
on something. Plus it wasn’t as if she’d ever once won the you-don’t-need-to-walk-me-to-my-car arguments. So, knowing it drove him crazy, she gave him the Big Sigh instead. “You are such a cop.”

That merely earned her an incredulous stare and an, “Uh,
yeah
.”

Laughing, Poppy raised onto her toes to give her husband a peck on the lips. She grinned at Ava when she settled back on her heels. “If you think telling him
that
is going to rattle his cage, you picked the wrong boy. Being a cop is Jason’s entire reason for living.”

Jase softly stroked the tips of his long fingers down his wife’s temple and along her jaw. “No, Blondie, that would be you.”

“Oh.” Poppy, a woman not normally given to blushes, rosied up and her brown eyes glowed with pleasure. “Good answer.”

Ava was struck dumb by the sheer tenderness in Jason’s gesture, in his dark eyes when he gazed at his wife. It gave her a sharp pang of loneliness. But forcing a smile, she shoved it aside, kissed her friend and allowed him to escort her to her car.

She quit fooling herself on the drive home, however. She was so happy for Poppy and Jane because both her friends were wildly happy with their lives, and she wanted that for them more than anything. Yet she couldn’t help the pea-green envy she occasionally felt around them. They both had such good men who loved them unconditionally, while she had…nothing, really. God, it had been forever since she’d even been out on a date.

But she could change that, she thought determinedly. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t asked out on a regular basis—
she just got busy and tended to let that portion of her life slide.
And “nothing” is a bit melodramatic.

She had her friends, and it was no small deal that the group had grown by two great guys. Plus she loved her home to pieces. Which, okay, maybe wasn’t the best example, considering she was currently fighting to hang on to it. Casting about for something else, for an affirmation to hoist her out of this abruptly pessimistic mindset, she latched onto the obvious. There was her job.

The instant she thought it, however, a wild laugh escaped her. “Oh, God, my job,” she sputtered.

Working for the guy who’d slept with her on a bet.

“Crap.” If this were thirteen years ago, the downturn in her mood would’ve called for a hand-packed half gallon of Husky’s Mocha Almond Fudge.

She sat up taller in her seat as she took the Harbor Avenue exit off the West Seattle bridge and turned right toward the Duwamish Head. Because this
wasn’t
high school and she knew her current case of the poor-pitiful-me’s would soon pass. She did adore her job. And she would save her condo. Plus, she was almost home. Just a few more minutes and she could climb into her jammies, grab a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich, or—hell—go hog wild and make herself a cup of cocoa. Then she’d light a few candles, turn on the fireplace and put on some music to help her unwind.

Tomorrow, she would likely wonder what the hell she’d been all worked up about.

Right this minute, however, she just felt so knee-walking lonesome she could cry.

 

I
T HAD BEEN
another long day. Cade was dog tired but had no desire to go home to his empty rental. So he
headed over to West Seattle to see if he could talk to the owner of Easy Street Records. Every L.A. music buff who’d heard he was heading to Seattle had instructed him not to miss it, an opinion that had been endorsed by Ava just this afternoon when he’d asked her what she considered the best music store in town. Everyone seemed to agree Easy Street was one of the most highly regarded independent record stores in the U.S.

According to Ava, in the nineties when various members of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden lived in the West Seattle neighborhood, the record shop had been the go-to spot for the thriving Seattle grunge movement. And apparently more than a few big-name bands still stopped by for impromptu jam sessions when they were in town.

Cade hoped to cop a few minutes with the owner to pick the guy’s brain about some music ideas he had for Agnes’s documentary. And knowing Ava lived a mile or two from the record shop and having time on his hands—not to mention his Mac with yesterday’s footage in the back of his rental—he decided he might as well swing by her place and show her the great job she and her friends had done in their interview. Strictly so he could check that task off his to-do list.

Hey, he knew how anxious she was to see the results of the shoot for herself.

This time, however, it would probably be smarter not to drop in unannounced. Pushing the phone button on the OnStar program in his rental car, he gave Ava’s name at the automated prompt. As he waited for it to connect him, he crossed California at Alaska Street, cruised past Easy Street’s forties-era brick building and started looking for a place to park.

Then she picked up, he heard her voice…and felt something beneath his skin strum.

Ignoring it, he said, “I took your advice and am stopping by Easy Street.”

“Really? Matt’s working tonight?”

“Damned if I know, but—”

“Wait. You didn’t even call first?”

“No, but that’s not the point.
That
would be the fact that I’m in your ’hood, and was thinking that after I talked to the guy—”

“If he’s even there,” she interrupted.

“Yeah, yeah, if he’s there,” he agreed impatiently. “Jeez, you’re a buzzkill. I thought as long as I’m in the area anyway, I might as well stop by your place when I’m done and—”

She cut him off yet again. “Tonight’s not good for me, Gallari.”

“Why, you got a hot date?” Then he jerked upright in his seat. Because, Jesus, maybe she did.

Not that he’d care or anything. But it would sure blow his bagging two crows with one bullet agenda.

“No,” she said in a civil tone several degrees chillier than it had been a second ago, “I do not have a date, hot or otherwise. But neither am I in the mood for company. Especially
your
com—”

“I’ve got my Mac in the back, Spencer,” he said, happy to be the one doing the interrupting this time. “And it’s got some seriously good footage of you and your posse on it.”

He heard her swear under her breath. Then she gave one of those big, attenuated sighs only women were really good at and said begrudgingly, “Okay, fine. Whatever.”


There’s
those beautiful manners I’ve heard so much about.”

She invited him to do something men simply weren’t built to do and, laughing, he hung up.

Less than an hour later, he was in the foyer outside Ava’s penthouse condo, jacked up on the conversation he’d had with the record store proprietor.


Thank
you,” he said as soon as she opened the door. Barely giving her time to step back, he strode into her place. “I stopped by Easy Street like I said I was gonna and you were wrong, Matt was there. But you were also right in what you told me this afternoon—he couldn’t have been more helpful. The guy’s knowledge of music is amazing and he gave me some great ideas for Miss Agnes’s sound track.”

Remembering the owner’s directive, Cade shot her an I-know-your-secrets grin. “He told me to say hi, by the way. Said you were an excellent customer and confirmed what you told us yesterday—that you really
were
a freakin’ huge Kurt Cobain fan.”

“Did he rat me out for going all fangirl on him the first time I went into his store?” She charmed him by blushing as she invited him, with a sweep of her arm, into her living room.

Then she laughed when he nodded his agreement. “Well, color me officially embarrassed. I’d heard he was tight with that whole grunge/punk scene, so when I met him I went on and on ad nauseam about how much I’d loved Cobain. He delights in not letting me live it down.”

As she spoke, her gaze traveled to his MacBook Pro and latched onto it with bright-eyed interest. Without taking her attention off the only thing that had gotten
him through her door, she asked, “Would you care for something to drink?”

She clearly wanted him to say no and get on with showing her the footage. Now that he was here, however, he found himself in no big hurry to jump straight into the business that had landed him on her doorstep. Not when he knew damn well he’d just have to turn right around again and head back to his quiet condo as soon as he had. “That’d be great,” he said, carefully setting the laptop on her coffee table. “Got any beer?”

“No, sorry. I’m not a beer girl. Well, except for a Belgian maybe once a year.” She waved a hand in a but-that’s-neither-here-nor-there erasing movement. “I’ve got a nice Cab from a Yakima winery and I’ve got tea, club soda or water.”

“Well how ’bout that, we’ve got a lot in common. I’m not a wine or tea guy—not even once a year.”

“And this gives us a common interest, how?”

“We’re both not-a-somethings. I’ll take the club soda.”

He watched her walk away, noting her softly draped black loungewear with its wide-legged bottoms and the band of semi-see-through lace that showed hints of ivory skin where it circled the tunic just above her waist. Remembering his last visit here, he’d put money down she’d put her bra back on in the wake of his phone call.

And wasn’t that a crying shame.

He wandered around her place while she was in the kitchen. It looked like her, all lush and warm and built for comfort. Although the sun had long since set, between the buttercream walls, white woodwork, golden hardwood floors and the bank of windows overlooking the sound and Olympic mountains, he knew it would
be light and airy during the day. Even with those windows shuttered, it had a spacious feel that opened a guy’s lungs and made it easier to breathe.

She’d furnished the place in an uncluttered medley of styles that had nothing in common yet somehow worked together. A big overstuffed couch in a black-and-white print and two surprisingly comfy-looking mid century modern ruby chairs created a conversational area around a three-drawer, leather-trimmed silver metal steamer trunk that she used as a coffee table. The dining area was defined by a beautiful Persian rug, on top of which sat a glossy Stickley-style dining set from an earlier era than the arrangement of starburst clocks on the wall above it. Other retro accessories mixed happily with antique collectibles, plants, pictures and girlie stuff on a series of multilevel bookshelves. Eclectic art provided pops of color over the fireplace and couch.

“Here you go.” She plunked his drink down on a coaster on the steamer trunk. “Have a seat. Drink up. Let’s see that seriously good footage you promised me.”

Wondering if he should be insulted that she clearly wanted to see the footage and get him the hell out of here—or be grateful that for once she wasn’t killing him with her damn unsmiling, meticulous courtesy, he joined her at the couch. Dropping down in the middle in front of his computer, he pulled his Mac over. Ava sat at the far end. “You’ve got a nice place here,” he said as he booted up the laptop.

“It’s the same stuff that was here the last time you showed up.”

“I guess I didn’t pay much attention to it that night.” He kept to himself the fact that once he’d seen she was braless, he’d been pretty much blind to everything else.
“But this is awesome. You’ve got a real eye—it’s much homier than my place in L.A.”

“Thanks. I love it.”

He patted the cushion next to him. “Move down here. It’s a laptop screen. You’re not going to be able to see anything from that angle.”

He kept his attention on the program he was bringing up as she scooted closer, but was conscious of her warmth when the cushion he sat on depressed as she moved in to see the screen. For a second, the side of her shoulder, hip and thigh pressed heat against his. Then it was gone as she shifted to put an inch or two between them.

“Because it’s on my laptop instead of the main computer, these are only 1K reference movies. But it should still give you a clear idea of how you and your friends came across, which was kick-ass excellent. Keep in mind that it’s rough. I don’t edit until I’ve pieced together all the interviews to tell the story. That’s why I kept asking you the same questions in different ways during yours—to get the strongest, most complete answers without inserting myself in the documentary.” He turned his head to look at her, and discovered she was close, her eyes alight as she leaned forward.

“Rough,” she agreed impatiently. “Got it.”

“But still rocks. You ready?”

“Yes!”

He couldn’t help but smile at her eagerness as he hit the key to start the QuickTime player.

“Wow,” was the first thing she said as she leaned further forward to take everything in. “We do look pretty good.”

“Told you. Louie knows how to light. And it doesn’t hurt that you’re a good-lookin’ bunch to begin with.”

He didn’t bother to give the screen more than an occasional glance himself. He’d seen most of the women’s interview on his monitor as it had been unfolding and had checked it out after he’d transferred the footage from the RED camera’s hard drive to his computers—he knew it was good. He watched Ava as she watched it instead. Heard her laugh at something Poppy said on-screen. Saw her eyes go round and her lips quirk up when something delighted her—usually in regard to one of her friends. Listened to her gasp, then breathe, “Oh, look at Janie,” when a particularly good close-up of the brunette appeared.

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