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The Merry Widow [MultiFormat]
eBook by Adriana Kraft

eBook Category: Erotica/Bisexual Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: For recently widowed accountant Merry Delaney, sex didn't stop at forty--it stopped in her mid thirties, shortly after her husband was diagnosed with M.S. Now it's time for a change. A sizzling kiss from her best friend Camille St. Jermaine introduces Merry to Girls' Night Out, but she's hardly going to stop there! Chicago Detective Jim Barnes solicits Merry's help with a mob funds-skimming case, spies on her while she entertains female and male lovers, entices her into hot phone sex, and finally takes her wildly in her foyer. Can the scorching passion that soon smolders between Merry and Jim survive the escalating mob threats of exposure?

eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, Published: 2008
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2008

13 Reader Ratings:
Great Good OK Poor

"The Merry Widow is one very merry romp. The heat sizzles and burns off almost every page ... The romance between Merry and Jim is nothing short of sweet, well, okay, if you overlook the sultry blaze that lights up at every encounter ... Definitely a good read, but one that will leave the reader hot, hot, hot!"--Zee, Enchanting Reviews

Chapter 1

The lips pressing against hers were soft and pliant. They tasted of peaches. The tip of a tongue slipped out to trace the contour of her mouth, wetting her lips, causing Merry Delaney to fold in upon herself.

It had been far too long. With eyes shut tight, she parted her lips slightly, responding in kind. A gentle sweep of passion filled her with warmth.

The lips of peach became more eager, more insistent. A hand settled over Merry's breast, and she focused her entire awareness on the nearly forgotten tingling sensation of her pebbling nipple. Good God, she'd missed that so.

Practiced fingers wove their way underneath her blouse and inside her bra until they cupped a breast. Merry frowned. The kiss intensified and she redirected her attention to tasting those lips.

An arm gathered her close. Breasts crushed against breasts.

Merry's eyes blinked and then sprang wide. She jerked out of the embrace and moved a foot or so down the length of the couch, away from her lifelong friend, Camille St. Jermaine.

"What are you doing?" Merry felt her face flush with embarrassment.

Camille patted her thigh. Merry shrank away.

"Come on, Merry. It wasn't just me. You were reveling in that kiss. I could feel it. So why did you stop?"

Merry shook her head. Her shoulder-length hair failed to provide an adequate screen for hiding. "You're right. I was enjoying it. But we've known each other since grade school."

"And for over thirty years I haven't hit on you. I figured it was about time." Camille blew raven bangs off her forehead. "Damn it, Merry, you can't stay wrapped up in your self-made cocoon forever. Dan died eighteen months ago. I know for a fact you didn't have sex for five years before that. M.S. killed Dan, Merry--don't let it kill you, too. You stood by your husband. You sacrificed. You put your life on hold. Now it's time to let go--try some new things. Take some risks. Live the life you've got left."

"You've said all of that to me ad nauseum since before Dan died." Merry licked her lips. "But you've never kissed me--never tried to seduce me before."

"Maybe I got tired of talking." Camille traced a pattern on the couch between her thigh and Merry's. "You've known I'm bi for years. You never seemed to have a problem with that."

"Of course not. You're my best friend." Merry's voice caught in her throat. "That'll never change. But--" Her eyes rounded.

"But you never thought of me in that way."

Merry shook her head.

"You never thought of yourself with another woman."

"Not really."

"But you're not repulsed by the thought of it."

Merry shrugged. "I'm not sure."

Camille chuckled and placed a hand on Merry's thigh. Merry did not move. "I know you pretty well, girl. Sometimes maybe better than you do. You need to take that pretty blond accountant head of yours and go and figure things out. That's fine with me. You know where I am."

Camille rose to her feet and reached back toward Merry, who let Camille pull her up from the couch. Camille kept both of Merry's hands in hers. "You need to know I've wanted you for years. I'm not just coming after you to open you up, although I hope that happens. I'm coming after you because I love you and always will." She shook her head. "I'm not seeking a permanent relationship--we already have that. I want to taste you and let you taste me. I want to show you how a woman can love a woman--totally and completely. I even want to help you find a man."

Merry scowled.

"Don't look so horrified. I'm not trying to keep you for myself. I'm just trying to coax you out of that cocoon of yours, and maybe have a little fun along the way." Camille's dark eyes lit up. "I don't know if I ever recall you speechless. Come. Let's send you on your way."

Camille led Merry to the front door, hand in hand.

Merry turned to face her friend, struggling with what to say. How could she make an exit that wouldn't insult her best friend?

Camille leaned forward, and her lips brushed across Merry's. Marshalling all of her strength, Merry resisted returning that kiss.

"Go, girl," Camille insisted, "before I do something I'll regret. Let me know when you're ready or want to talk."

Merry nodded and opened the door. Camille patted her on the rear as she stepped outside.

* * * *

It wasn't until she was driving down the street toward her house that she allowed herself to breathe again. What was she going to do with Camille? They'd been best friends since the third grade, when they'd formed a bond to help each other withstand the threats of boys and the verbal abuse of girls. And now her friend wanted to make love to her. Good grief.

She didn't have any compunction about women being with women; she'd simply never thought of herself as being one of those women. But if the impact of that kiss was any indicator, she might have to reassess her thinking.

Camille was right about one thing. It was time for her to get on with her life. That wasn't news. She just hadn't gotten around to doing anything about it. Inertia had set in, and it wasn't easy battling inertia.

Even her twenty-three-year-old daughter had been on her case for the past year about getting back into the dating scene. Merry shivered. She hated the thought of that. She'd never known what to do, even in the old days. And today? What did a forty-two-year old do on a first date--or on a tenth date, for that matter?

She wasn't a prude, but she didn't have vast experience, either. She'd dated casually in high school. Daniel had been her first serious boyfriend--her first lover. She was barely out of high school when she discovered she was pregnant. There hadn't been any men before him and none after. Merry winced. And there hadn't been any women, before or after, either.

They'd had a pleasant life. Daniel was not a reluctant husband. He'd been as excited about having the baby as she was. He was able to finish his accounting degree in four years, working part-time in the evenings. It had taken her nearly a decade to do the same, but she'd been tenacious about it. Their sex life had been ho-hum, certainly not demanding. There might not have been as many bells and whistles going off for them as Camille and others talked about, but she knew she was loved, and she'd expected the two of them to share a long and happy life together.

Until disaster struck. Until the doctor pronounced those ugly words: multiple sclerosis. There had been many adjustments. Initially, to the very idea itself. Dan tried to be accepting, but that became harder day by day. First, there was the cane. And then a walker. And then a wheelchair. And then a bed. And then death. It was over too quickly. It took far too long, destroying much of the relationship they had worked so hard to foster.

She'd set up her own business, operating out of their house so she could be nearby to take care of Daniel's needs. There came a time when she regretted that decision. She'd needed to get away--just for a cup of coffee with Camille--but she felt guilty even thinking about being out of the house for an hour.

But she'd survived all of that. Oh, she had plenty of scars left. There was still some guilt, but she'd survived. And her daughter and Camille were right. It was time to break out of her shell and join the world. Had she forgotten how to function as a whole woman? Had she ever really known?

Sex. Merry laughed bitterly. She hadn't had sex for much longer than Camille realized, and it wasn't just due to Daniel's physical limitations. He'd withdrawn emotionally long before he would've had problems physically. And that had hurt her more profoundly than anything else. She could've helped him, but he wouldn't allow it. She could clean his bed and later his diapers, but he wouldn't allow her to give him any pleasure. And thus he denied her the same.

Merry slammed a fist against the steering wheel and fought back tears. For years, she'd cried more than enough tears to go around. She pulled onto her street. Yes, it was more than time to get out of the house and kick up her heels.

But what was she going to do about Camille? Their friendship wasn't at stake. Camille would handle a rebuff with grace. Her friend was offering her something, and she wasn't entirely clear what that was. All she knew for certain was that she'd trust Camille with her heart and soul. Merry chuckled. Would she trust Camille with her body?

* * * *

Merry parked the red Lexus in her Glencoe driveway. She got out and breathed deeply. She loved the richly fragrant springtime air. One of the best decisions she and Daniel had ever made was purchasing this acre of land with its large old two-story house. Mature oaks and maples added to the sense of purpose and security of the place. This was home. Her home. And if she did kick up her heels and fall on her face in the process, she'd always have this place to return to.

She stopped by a lilac bush and sniffed. She closed her eyes and let the scent waft into her nostrils. This would do. Life would be just fine. Camille loved lilac as much as she did. It was another passion they shared.

Merry shook her head. Was she acting like a skittish teenager? She'd have to put her best friend out of her mind. They'd seen each other's bodies nude countless times, so why was she now imagining Camille's in such a tantalizing way?

The crushed rock driveway crunched under the tires of a car entering. Merry cranked her head around as if she'd been caught doing something naughty.

She compressed her lips. She didn't recognize the modest gray sedan or the brawny dark-haired man prying himself out of the driver's seat. He gave her a crooked smile and a nod and walked toward her. Sauntered, she corrected herself.

"Mrs. Delaney? Mrs. Merry Delaney?" the man asked, reaching into his inner coat pocket and pulling out a badge.

"Yes, I'm Merry Delaney." Her breath caught. "What's wrong? Is it Tiffany? Has something happened to my daughter?"

The man shook his large head. He could pass for a Chicago Bears linebacker. His dark eyes penetrated. Was he staring into her soul? Was he stripping her naked? Where had that thought come from? So maybe he was just the first man to show up since she'd decided it was time move on.

"I'm Detective Jim Barnes of the Chicago Police Department, Mrs. Delaney. I'm investigating a case that you may be able to shed some light on." He looked around the front yard. "If it's not too much trouble, could we step inside? This conversation might draw less curiosity if we conduct it indoors."

"Of course, Detective Barnes. Forgive me." She reached for her keys and unlocked the front door. "Come on in. I'll make some coffee."

"Don't bother on my account."

"No problem. It's already made; I just have to push a button. I almost always have some ready to go." Now why was she rattling on so? Was it because she was unsure what questions he was going to ask? Or was it his physical presence? He was a solid male specimen--no question about that. And she couldn't quite get away from him long enough to collect her thoughts. He'd followed her into the kitchen. That was okay. She was more comfortable in her kitchen than most anywhere else in the house.

It was a large kitchen with every convenience she could get her hands on. She liked to cook--maybe that's why Tiffany was establishing a catering business. She was a little self-conscious about the kitchen's size. She knew some families lived in apartments not much larger. But she loved the large island sitting in the middle with pots and pans hanging overhead. She didn't have a lot of time for cooking, so when she cooked she wanted her space well-organized and efficient.

She noticed the detective taking in the entire setting. If he was impressed he showed no sign of it. His eyes raked up and down her body. Her red blouse and the white skirt that fell just above her knees should be conservative enough even for a cop. He seemed to focus on her lips. Could he tell those lips had just been kissed--by a woman?

"You've got a real nice place here, Mrs. Delaney. You must like to cook. Or do you have a live-in cook?"

Merry shook her head and grinned. "No, never that. I enjoy my privacy too much, even if I could afford it. And I do like to cook, when there's time. And please call me Merry. Mrs. makes me feel older than I like to think I am."

"You don't look too old," he assured her. His lips thinned, perhaps passing for a smile.

She wished she had some inkling of what was going on in the man's head. This was beginning to feel uncomfortable. She reached into a cupboard for cups and poured coffee, then directed him to a stool at the island and pulled out one for herself. "So what can I do for you, Detective? I'm fairly certain you didn't come here to just admire my kitchen."

Detective Barnes sipped his coffee and nodded. "You're right about that. Damn, this is delicious coffee, ma'am." He flushed slightly. "Sorry."

"Don't be. I've heard the word before, that and a few worse actually."

"You do audits for a mid-size firm downtown called Fire and Ice Optics?"

"Of course. Even though I work out of my home office, most of my accounts are with downtown firms. So what is this about?"

"We've checked you out, Mrs. Delaney. You seem to be an above-board accounting agency."

"I should say so, Detective Barnes." What was he after? And what kind of information had they collected? "I hope you're not insinuating I'm a crook."

"You don't carry unusual debt. You don't make large cash deposits. You seem to have conservative tastes. You don't appear to be living beyond your means."

Merry felt the color rising in her cheeks. "I should probably resent being so thoroughly investigated. Perhaps I should hire a private investigator and check you out."

Detective Barnes barely chuckled. "Doubt you'd find much that's interesting about me. So no scandals, Mrs. Delaney?"

"And that surprises you?"

"That makes you potentially helpful in cracking the scum behind Fire and Ice Optics."


"We have a lot of circumstantial evidence that the mob may be using the firm as a front to skim funds for other mob-related activities."

Merry scowled. Wouldn't she know if that were the case? Maybe not.

"We need someone on the inside with knowledgeable eyes and ears."

"Why are you even telling me this? How do you know you can trust me?" Her eyes widened. "That's why you've investigated me. You thought I was a crook."

"Now don't get your dander up, lady. Of course we had to clear the accountant responsible for financial auditing. That person is always an obvious suspect. Sometimes he or she is the crook. We're quite confident you aren't. The question is, will you help us?"

"Why should I?" Merry huffed. "You invaded my privacy. You impugned my client."

"We could talk about civic duty."


"Or we could talk about running state audits on every firm you work with. Maybe even federal audits."

Merry folded her arms and grunted, "That'd only give me more work, more income."

"As your firms got wind of everyone being audited," Detective Barnes smirked, "and I can guarantee they would, you might find yourself scrambling to keep your accounts."

"That's blackmail," Merry said, her voice rising. "You can't do that. I'm a law-abiding citizen."

Detective Barnes raised his hands, palms up. "Be that as it may, we need someone on the inside, Mrs. Delaney."

She saw him hesitate. Maybe he was deciding on his next tactic with her. The beast. How could he do this to her? Threaten and cajole.

"Mrs. Delaney." He shook his head. "Mrs. Delaney, we believe the skimmed money is being used to sponsor drug dealers and pimps working the elementary schools."

Merry gasped. "Elementary schools! You mean--"

"Precisely. Eight, nine, ten-year-old girls. Get 'em hooked on drugs and when they reach puberty, if not before, you have a precious commodity to sell over and over again. You raised a daughter, didn't you, Mrs. Delaney?"

"Of course I did. You know I did." She rubbed her temples. Images of Tiffany during her elementary school years flashed behind her eyes. The detective had pushed the right button to get what he wanted, and they both knew it. "What do you want me to do?"

"Nothing obvious. This is a long-developing case. You could blow it if you appear too eager or do things that are unexpected. We hope with this new info you might scrutinize the agency's financial dealings through a slightly different lens. Often we don't see something unless we anticipate seeing it. You may not recognize subtle fraud unless you're expecting to find it."

"Yes, I think I know what you mean. How long do I have?"

"As long as it takes. Here's a card with my numbers. My cell phone and home number are probably best. Don't hesitate to call at any time. I'll check in with you at least weekly." Detective Barnes stood to leave.

Merry studied the man. He'd gotten what he wanted, but at least he wasn't being smug about it. This was what he did for a living. So, he did it well.

"Mrs. Delaney?"

"You can call me Merry, remember? Now that you got what you came after, I guess we're sort of partners, so please don't call me Mrs. Delaney."

"Okay, Merry. I probably shouldn't do this. It's against departmental policy, but if I'm going to call you Merry it'll seem odd to have you calling me Detective. My name is Jim."

"Okay, Jim. I've never been much for formality and titles."

"Merry, I do apologize for twisting your arm that way."

"No, you did what you had to do. I probably would have resisted otherwise." She glanced at the detective's whitening knuckles clenched on the edge of the island and frowned, raising her eyes to meet his.

"You haven't asked me about the danger level, Merry."

Merry's hand flew to her throat. "Oh. I guess I'm so used to dealing with numbers and paper I didn't think about it. So should I be frightened?"

"Just be cautious. There are dangerous people behind the scenes. They seldom want to show themselves. The bigger risk is that they'll get wind of our interest and just fade away into another gutter hole."

"So I should be discreet." Merry rose to her feet to show the detective out.

"Yes. This investigation has to stay between the two of us. Don't tell your friends. Don't let anything untoward slip at Fire and Ice Optics. Or else."

Merry opened the door for the man and laughed softly. "The way you say that--maybe I should be more frightened by you than by the mob."

The glower he gave her was undecipherable.

"I'll be in touch next week."

Merry closed the door behind the inscrutable detective. The mob. Had she been inadvertently aiding and abetting the mob? Judas Priest!

She walked toward her first-floor office. The man had been downright intimidating at times, and she wasn't easily intimidated. Or else. What the hell had he meant by that? And how thoroughly had he investigated her? Apparently quite thoroughly. Conservative tastes. She scrunched her mouth. She'd never thought of herself as having conservative tastes. Was that how the outside world saw her?

Once in her office, she pulled the Fire and Ice Optics file. She thumbed through the pages. Nothing leapt out at her. She hadn't really expected it would. She was trying to calm her nerves by staying busy.

Detective Barnes and Camille on the same morning. The kiss. She absently ran a finger across her lips. She'd completely forgotten about Camille. She still could taste peaches. Maybe she hadn't entirely forgotten her seductive friend. For such a conservative woman, she certainly felt like she was blindfolded, picking her way across a minefield. There was the mob. There was Camille's enchanting embrace. And then there was the strange detective with the commanding presence.

* * * *

Detective Jim Barnes sat in his favorite stuffed chair watching the images flicker across his television screen. There was no sound. He preferred to watch baseball without the annoying patter of announcers. And the lack of noise gave him more room for thinking. He'd nearly fried his brain with thinking since leaving Merry Delaney's house.

He'd hated having to be so firm with her. He'd been surprised by the woman's spunk. If he hadn't played his trump card, she'd never have cooperated. Even the threat of full-scale audits hadn't fazed her, not that he'd meant to do that so early in the process. It pleased him that the images of innocent girls getting turned on to drugs and sex had done the job. All the same, he didn't like exposing the straight-laced Merry Delaney to the underbelly of the city.

Yeah, he'd done his homework well on her. The captain never would've agreed with his harebrained scheme if he hadn't. He'd turned over every rock he could find before confiding in her. Her daughter was a bit of a loose cannon, but other than that everything about the woman had checked out without suspicion. And she'd had a tough life--what with caring for a dying husband and all.

He squinted at the TV. For a woman of forty-two, she'd stayed in pretty good shape. Many a younger woman would be jealous of her perky breasts and curvy ass. Not that he'd been looking at her in that way.

She looked hot in that red blouse and white skirt. She probably didn't even realize that. He lifted a bottle of beer to his lips and swallowed. What the hell was he thinking about? Merry Delaney would go to her grave with one love in her heart--her dead husband. He knew for a fact she didn't date.

So what? Neither did he. There hadn't been a woman for two years. If he had to work closely with the Delaney woman, he might have to go out and get laid. That might take care of his raging hormones. Not that they raged as often at forty-six as they had at twenty-six.

Shit. He should retire and move to Arizona. He had enough time in. Younger officers could pursue the mob. Christ, the mob was going to outlast all of them anyway.

A woman shouldn't be blessed with that kind of body unless she was going to use it.

"Calm down, old man. Cool your jets." He sure hoped they could crack this case quickly. Then he could leave the shapely blond with sparkling eyes to take care of her mausoleum. That was a huge house for one woman to rattle around in.

The question remained, how much could he trust the woman? If he hadn't thought she was trustworthy, he would never have solicited her help. Still, it never hurt to cover his ass. Maybe he'd better follow her closely for a few more days, just to be certain she wasn't running to the mob with her new information.

* * * *

Merry stared in disbelief at her daughter. "What did you say?"

"I said, Mom, why don't you get that vibrator out of the old cross-country ski sock and try it out? I'll bet you never opened it!" Tiffany stood in the kitchen with her hands on her hips, glaring back at her mother. "You're becoming more difficult to be around, Mom. If you don't want a man, at least take care of your needs yourself."

"How did you know about the vibrator?" Camille had bought it for her years ago. She'd never bothered to open it. Using it would have sent her on a deeper guilt trip. How could she satisfy herself, if she couldn't satisfy her husband? She'd forgotten the damn thing was still buried in a sock deep in a drawer, away from prying eyes. Or so she'd thought.

Tiffany cocked her head to the side. Her close-cropped blond hair looked so sophisticated. Merry was a little jealous of her daughter's looks and carefree spirit. How could that be right?

"Mom, adolescents pry. Don't you remember? You don't know how many times I checked to see if you'd opened it. I wanted to try it out so badly, but there was no way I could use it if you didn't rip it out of its package first." Tiffany lips turned up in a half-smile. "If you must know, I haven't checked in a number of years." She arched her eyebrows in a smug look. "I haven't had to. I got my own."


Tiffany shrugged her shoulders. "Sixteen, I think. Yeah, you got yours when I was fourteen. You've had it for nine years and haven't used it yet! I waited two years and couldn't wait any longer."

Merry slumped against the kitchen island. She couldn't believe this conversation. "How?"

"Aunt Camille. She understood."

"I'll bet she did." Merry froze. "Has Camille ever hit on you?"

"Mom, of course not. No way, no how! She's like family. I may get about a fair amount, but I've never thought of Camille in that way. Why?"

Merry cringed under her daughter's close examination. "Nothing."

"Nothing. Bullshit!" Tiffany smiled a knowing look. "Now wouldn't that be something. You and Aunt Camille. That'd be perfect."

"How can you say such a thing?" Merry put on her oven mitts, opened the oven door, and pulled out the dinner rolls.

"They look great, Mom. If there's anyone who can help you get beyond the past several years, it's Camille. She's a gem."

"But she's bi."

"What do you think I'm talking about? Do I look like an idiot?"

"Of course not." Merry shook her head and removed the oven mitts. "Sometimes I think the world is passing me by. I'm not sure I could date in today's environment even if I wanted to."

"You'll manage. Let me drain the pasta. Whatever you do don't rush into a--quote--'lasting relationship.' You need some time for yourself. To explore. To decide what you want--not what some man wants."

"You sound like the voice of experience. I thought these mother-daughter conversations were supposed to go the other direction."

Tiffany chuckled. "You were always a year or two behind with them."


"So maybe we're making up for them now."

"You know I tried my best, but with your father--"

"I know, Mom. Believe me, I know. Let's enjoy this newfound mother-daughter relationship. I really do believe I've gotten to know you much better since Dad died." She frowned. "I'm not saying it was good for him to die."

"Of course not." Merry moved to enfold her daughter in her arms. "But he died. And now there's only us."

"Not true, Mom. Yes, there's us, and there's whoever I let into my life and whoever you let into yours. I've always thought Camille had the hots for you. She has such a tight body. It must be from all the jogging she does."

"Tiffany." Merry tried not to sound exasperated. "I wish you wouldn't talk about Camille that way. There's nothing between us."

Tiffany's mouth twisted into a smile. "I'll bet that's not her fault."

Merry threw up her hands. "So now I'm at fault for not going to bed with Camille?"

"Don't go psycho on me, Mom. I didn't mean it that way."

Merry closed her eyes. She squeezed the bridge of her nose. Where was this conversation going? She opened her eyes and stared at the blank look on her daughter's face. She pointed the serving fork at her. "So, Miss Know-It-All, have you been to bed with a female?"

Tiffany laughed and hugged herself. "I was wondering if you'd find enough courage to ask. Yes--not often. But it was lovely each time. Less hassle and pressure than I've found with most guys."

She placed an arm around her mother's waist. "It's okay, Mom. If you want to be with Camille, do it. If not, that's okay too. Though I personally think that would be a loss. But the most important thing is get out of this house and away from your bedroom. Have you ever thought of moving to a different bedroom? There are six in this big old house. I'd move if it were me. I've always liked the old solarium--you know, the dance room."

"Really? I haven't stepped into that room for ages." Merry smiled wistfully. "We did have some good times in there."

"You were always a better dancer than me, Mom. Do you ever wonder how your life might have been different if you had gone on to Julliard instead of having me?"

"I'd make the same choice. You are the most special person in the world to me, Tiffany."


"No buts. Dance was a career option I chose not to take. We don't even know if I'd have been any good at it."

"Julliard must have thought so to offer you a full ride. Anyway, there's that big old room. Pretty much empty last time I peeked in there. I love the way it opens onto the gardens and that you put in three mirrored walls for my dance practice." Tiffany stuck the tip of her tongue out at her mother. "Those mirrors have all sorts of possibilities."


"Erotic possibilities."

"Oh. Tiffany, will you stop, please!" She paused. Why hadn't she thought of the solarium? It had been her favorite room before she'd turned it over to Tiffany. Maybe she should consider moving her bedroom. She could always remove the mirrors. She glanced at her daughter's telltale grin. Or not. "I'll think about the solarium. It does have a beautiful view of the back gardens. Maybe that'd help some."

"Hell, I might even sell the house, if it were me."

Merry's hand flew to her mouth. "I couldn't do that. This place is part of my soul."

Tiffany nodded. "I understand, just don't let it be a millstone. If you're going to keep it, then bring lovers here so it truly becomes your place--not something you share with a ghost."

"Tiffany! That's enough! This conversation is finished. If I want any more advice regarding my love life, I'll ask."

"That's fine, and please do. Let's eat." Tiffany grabbed a plate and began ladling food. She glanced back up at her mother. "Remember. Lower right dresser drawer all the way to the back. In a big old cross-country ski sock, the silver bullet awaits."

Merry couldn't stay vexed at the young woman who beamed at her with such hope and confidence. How had Tiffany survived those difficult years to turn into such a fine young woman? She'd tried to be the best mother she could, even with all the demands on her time. Camille had helped a lot. She'd gone to school plays even when Merry couldn't. She'd helped with a lot of homework assignments. And apparently she'd been a better sounding board on sexual matters. Of course, that wasn't saying much.

Camille. Merry sighed and watched her daughter pull out a chair at the dining room table. She couldn't seem to get away from the woman. And she had her daughter's blessing! Now wasn't that a hoot?

* * * *

At least the supper conversation had been less intrusive. Merry surveyed the leftovers. She'd have enough for lunch tomorrow. "Do you want to take some leftovers back with you?"

Tiffany shook her head. "You know how much I hate leftovers. You enjoy them." She stood to clear the table. "Do you want me to bring the books over this month, or do you plan on stopping by the shop?"

"I'll come by. I like spending time at the shop. You have some very creative people working for you." Merry beamed at her daughter. "Have I told you lately how proud I am of you and your business acumen?"

"Yes, just about every time we talk. You know I get it from both you and Dad. You'd think with two accountants for parents I'd be able to do my own books."

"You could do them, if you wanted to. You just try to keep me involved in the business some."

"Well, you should be. You're the partner who provided the start-up money. I'm sure Dad never heard about that."

Merry ducked her head. "No, there was no need to trouble him about such things at that time."

Tiffany glanced at her watch. "I've got to run, Mom. I've got a date at nine."

"At nine. Isn't that awfully late for a date?"

"Hardly. Who said there was a rule about when a date should start?" Tiffany grinned broadly at her mother. "When you do get back on the dating scene, you need to try a couple of young studs and maybe even some older guys. Don't get stuck in old routines."

"Enough! Run along and let me think in peace and quiet."

"Okay, Mom. I love you. Give Camille a hug for me when you see her next."

"Right." Merry watched the door close behind her daughter and then retreated to her kitchen to finish cleaning up.

It didn't take long before she had the dishes put away and the kitchen spotless. She'd been unable to put the conversation with Tiffany out of her mind--or, for that matter, the lingering taste of peaches that still mysteriously clung to her lips.

She'd been in the middle of a huge decision when that detective had arrived. What to do about Camille?

What had her daughter said? Lower right-hand dresser drawer, way in the back, stuffed in a red-and-white cross-country ski sock.

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