Chapter One

“Good evening on this, yet another snowy Friday night. This is Sable turning on Nightlight for all you hardy women of Cape Cod. Let’s hunker down and keep each other company with some good music and intimate conversation.” She tipped the extended microphone more directly to her lips. “So. What’s on your mind tonight? Winter’s not a month old and you’re sick of the snow already? Ready for something…hotter, perhaps? Have a dedication you’d like to make? As always, we’d love to hear from you, right here at 555-201-1112 at WCCD’s Provincetown studio. Or, if you’d rather just listen, send a little good karma to those in need. We can never get too much of that, right? So while you fluff those pillows in your comfy chair and settle in with your special someone, your dog, or your favorite beverage, we’ll let Cris Williamson’s “Woman” lead us into Nightlight.”

Taking her cue from her engineer, Razor, disc jockey Murphy Callahan removed her headphones and rolled away to reach the coffee she’d absently set on the studio’s rear table. She took a quick sip before kicking off her UGGs and fumbling beneath her counter for the fuzzy Elmo slippers. She couldn’t care less that, at forty years old, she cherished them as much as her L.L. Bean floppy-eared hat. Comfort was everything, especially when working the ten-to-two time slot in the dead of winter on a New England seacoast.

“How bad were the roads?” Razor asked, her voice that of some omniscient deity emerging from the ceiling speaker.

“Horrible.” Murphy poked her keyboard several times to cue up two commercials as Williamson’s song wound to a close. “I was all over the place. I left a half hour early and I still just made it in time.”

“I noticed. Supposedly, there’ll be five inches out there by the time we’re off.”

“Swell. I’m buying a team of huskies tomorrow.”

“Better than the Chihuahuas who pull you around now.”

“Hey. Don’t make fun of my Beetle.”

“Right. Ten seconds.”

Murphy ran both hands through her disheveled hair and reset her headphones with a glance at her call monitor. A single light blinked. She had hoped to ease into this shift, catch her breath through a couple of tunes before things picked up. Maybe this will just be a song dedication.

Razor feigned shooting her with her fingers and the studio fell silent. Murphy raised her mouth to the mike that scissored toward her from the opposite edge of the counter.

“Cris Williamson. Timeless, always beautiful. And speaking of time, we have our first caller of the evening standing by, so let’s not waste any of it.” She clicked the call button. “Hi. This is Sable and you’re on Nightlight.”

“Hi, Sable. Love your show. We look forward to it every night.”

An early-twenties local. After two years on the job, Murphy could usually “see” her callers quite well. To pass the time, Razor kept a completely haphazard tally and currently had Murphy at approximately eighty percent accuracy.

“That’s so nice to hear. Thank you.”

“Friday nights, especially. The four of us hang at my place and tune you in. This is the first time we’ve called, though. We need another opinion on a…a situation.”

“We love first time callers. Hope you’ll become a regular with us. Give us a name, if you want.”

“Okay, um…I’m…I’m Bangles.”

“Nice to meet you, Bangles. Now, what’s your situation?”

“Well, see, my girlfriend finally got her dream job in town, but…her new boss is coming on to her already.”

“How so?”

“Well, first there were the ‘looks,’ y’know? The extra long ones that say ‘Can you guess what I’m thinking?’ And then she started with the touchy-feely stuff, the hand on the back, the shoulder bump. But today she actually took her by the hand—until my girl pulled away. I want to scratch the bitch’s eyes out.”

Murphy grinned at the mike. “Your girlfriend must want this job very badly.”

“You know how hard it is to get winter work around here.”

“You realize you’re probably talking about sexual harassment. There are laws—”

“Yeah, right, and that’ll kill the job.”

“Your girlfriend has made things clear to her boss?”

“Yeah, Sable, but this woman thinks it’s all a joke.”

“Is it feasible for the two of you to speak with her, as a couple?” Two lines came to life on her monitor. “Say, at the end of her workday?”

Bangles hesitated, apparently considering the idea.

“Well…um…I suppose, but…See, I…I tend to get…”

“Excited?”

“Yeah. Excited.”

“Our listeners might offer some ideas, but I suggest you rein in that excitement—for your girlfriend’s sake—and give talking to the boss a serious try.”

“Hm. I guess. Yeah, okay.”

“Good. You can do it. And let us know how things turn out?”

“Sure. Thanks, Sable.”

“Good luck. And thanks for the call.”

Murphy clicked on the next button.

“Hi. This is Sable. Welcome to Nightlight.”

“Hi. I say the girlfriend better start job hunting. Sounds like trouble.”

“Let’s hope not. Is this Digger?”

“That’s me. Hi, Sable. You know I can’t go a night without calling.”

“You’ve worked in the area a long time, Digger. You can’t blame Bangles and her girlfriend for trying to avoid a job hunt.” She grinned at Razor and shook her head. Digger and her sandpaper voice could always be counted on to pop into conversations, when she wasn’t starting debates of her own. In her late thirties, Digger worked for the Provincetown Highway Department year-round, one of the fortunate few to land such secure work, and as such, had appointed herself Nightlight’s expert on local employment.

“Times are tough, I know, even when it’s not January,” Digger went on, “but bosses like that one are trouble. I mean, it almost figures, y’know? Woman in charge, has a hot one on her payroll, a newbie practically eating out of her hand. She’s bound to be tempted eventually.”

“Come on, Digger. That’s over the top.”

“Call ’em as I see ’em, that’s all.”

“First of all, your ‘woman in charge’ premise—”

“Hey, I’m old-school and I do think women give in to temptation easier. They’re softer. Of course, that’s also a wonderful thing.”

“Okay, so we have one vote for changing jobs. So noted.” She refused to be baited into inviting another of Digger’s chauvinistic diatribes. “Let’s see what other listeners think. Thanks for the call, Dig.” Murphy disconnected the call and clicked the next button.

“Hi. This is Sable. You’re on Nightlight.”

“Ah…hello,” a breathless female began. “Look, I just think Bangles’s girlfriend should tell the boss to cut the crap.”

Murphy looked up and found Razor shaking her head. “I see. And risk losing her job?”

“I’d tell her I would spread her name all over town. It’d be a stalemate.”

“Sounds like you’ve figured this all out.”

“Pretty simple. That’s all I got. Thanks.”

Murphy connected the other waiting call.

“Hello. This is Sable. Welcome to Nightlight.”

“Hello.” The easy alto caught her ear. She stopped scrolling through song titles on her monitor and stared at the lone light, waiting. “Yeah…hi. If I were in that girlfriend’s shoes, I’d ask the boss out.”

“Would you? As in call the boss’s bluff?”

“As in, be waiting with my girlfriend when the boss arrives.”

“Intriguing idea.” She drew her mike closer. “Any chance you’re speaking from experience?”

She enjoyed this woman’s relaxed delivery, the richness of her voice, and wanted to hear more. The pause lengthened, though, and she checked to see if their line was still open, the light still lit.

“A chance? Oh yeah.”

Murphy picked up on a brief muffled laugh. “Care to enlighten Nightlight listeners with your story?” She pressed her right earpiece to her head tighter, but heard only silence. “No pressure here. You don’t—”

“Let’s just say I learned my lesson. The police chief made it pretty clear I’d missed his wife’s signals.”

“Whoa.” She straightened in her seat, inadvertently rolling slightly away from the mike. She gripped the edge of the counter and pulled herself back into position. “Police chief?”

“Smart, I know.”

“You missed or ignored the hints?”

The answering snicker was unmistakable. “Ignored, I suppose.”

“So…the police chief, the tactic worked on you.”

“It did.”

“What lesson did you learn?”

“To be a very good listener.”

Smart woman. “We treasure good listeners. And we love it when they call in.”

“It’s a first for me. I guess…I wanted to get that off my chest.”

“Sounds like it’s bothered you for quite a while. How long ago did this happen?”

“Many years ago. I was young and foolish and ruined a very good relationship of my own.”

“Oh. You were with someone at the time you…Young and foolish, I’d have to agree. And since then? Those days are behind you now, correct?”

“They are. Gone but not forgotten, if you catch my drift.”

“I think I do.” Murphy imagined this woman alone in her living room, dwelling on the past. “However, we move on.” She tried not to hear herself. “Have you?”

“I try. It made me a much different person, someone who values depth in a relationship more than I ever did. That can be hard to find today.”

“That’s true, but commendable. It takes strength and it sounds like you have more than you give yourself credit for. Patience and self-respect go a long way and they will for you, I’m sure.”

“Thanks, Sable. Thank you for listening.”

Murphy could listen to this woman all night. Sometimes weeks went by without a caller who actually learned a life lesson, who spoke well and knew her mind, who made the fine hairs on the back of Murphy’s neck stand at attention. This one did. “Well, I hope it won’t be your last call. We’re always here to listen. I’m glad you called.”

“Me, too. Have yourself a good night.”


Chapter Two

“I figured that’s what you did. Jesus, RB. You parked that damn Jeep halfway up the snowbank last week, too, and brought the cops in here.” Didi’s meaty arm jiggled as she shook her finger. “You know what I think of that.”

“No place else to park, Didi.” Riley Burke stroked the back of Didi’s hand, overtly teasing. “I wasn’t about to let that keep us apart.”

Didi yanked her hand away. “You and your bedroom eyes just keep on dreamin’. You won’t be smirking when the cops shut down this hideout, now, will ya?”

“Relax.” Riley pulled on her black knit cap and slapped a twenty-dollar bill onto the bar. “They only came looking for me because my back bumper blocked the street. I didn’t block it tonight. Besides, it’s only been an hour.”

Riley stood and zipped her thick, hooded jacket. “Nobody will give you trouble and you know it.” Didi shook her head, reaching for Riley’s empty shot glass, and Riley rapped the chubby hand with her gloves. “Hey, Deidre’s Den is the hideout all of us late-nighters can’t live without.”

“Right. And don’t you forget it.” Hands on her broad hips, Didi narrowed her eyes. “Hear that?” She tossed a thumb up toward the portable radio next to the Glenlivet on the top shelf. “Damn snow’s not going to break till lunch time tomorrow. Wish Sable had more juicy drama tonight instead of depressing weather updates.”

“It’s only midnight. She’s got another two hours to get you all hot ’n bothered.”

Didi’s belly laugh rolled through the tiny basement bar. “Never would’ve pegged you for a follower of the show, RB.”

Riley shrugged. “The show keeps me company whenever I fall into one of these late-night jobs.”

“Uh-huh. Wouldn’t have anything to do with Sable’s pillow talk voice, I’m sure.”

“Sexy and sophisticated. I’ll give you that.”

“Oh, Jesus, yes.”

“And I like recognizing the places, a caller now and then.”

Didi checked to see if the other two patrons in the room could overhear and leaned toward her from behind the bar. “My money says it was Digger who plowed through the door at Nina-and-Pinto’s Café. Wonder if she’ll admit it on the air.”

“We’ll have to stay tuned to find out.”

“She hasn’t been on yet tonight that I’ve heard.”

“So she’s probably still out plowing and might not have time to call in. The plows will be out all night with this storm.”

“Nah. Digger’s a regular Nightlighter. She’ll call from the damn truck.”

“Good point. She’s on a lot. Sable’s very patient.”

“With everyone, actually.” Didi buffed her reflection in the six-foot oak bar top. “So, you headed home now or off to another job?”

“Home,” Riley said and drew her hood up over her hat. “Hopefully, nobody else will call with a crisis. Sealing up the café in the blowing snow was enough for now.”

“Until the next plow jumps a curb.”

“Shit, at this hour, Didi? Don’t even think that.” She headed for the door. “I’ve got a hot shower and a comfy bed waiting.”

“Bed already warmed up?”

“No.” Riley sighed and knew Didi would never pass up the opportunity for a smartass quip.

“Still? Bad time for a dry spell. Valentine’s Day’s just a week away.”

Riley gripped the doorknob, focused on returning to the third snowstorm in two weeks. No way would she engage Didi on the subject of her non-existent love life. “You just watch it getting home.”

“You’re the one who’s slipping, RB.”

“Yeah, yeah. See ya, Didi.” Ducking her head, she leaned out into the sideways snowfall and shut the door quickly. Snow had filled her inbound footprints, and she grabbed the mangled aluminum shovel by the door and did a rush job on the steps.

Deirdre’s Den operated a few hours beyond its license for the handful of the town’s true nightshift workers and, just like them, Riley treasured the little place. But she never shared too much of herself. Some things Didi didn’t need to know. The fact that Riley still occasionally reeled from a year-old break-up was one of them, and even though her pride was a bit dented these days, her self-respect remained intact. The dream of saving to buy their own home had shattered when her partner declared that “another woman” promised more than Riley’s obsession with work. Riley emerged from that nightmare, shaken and wary, but all the more determined to build her own home, to fill each day with work, if necessary, and create her own happiness.

She tested the snowbank’s density with an adamant boot stomp and climbed up and over to her driver’s door. Damn snow. With six new inches on top, this old stuff underneath probably won’t melt till June. She found the snow brush behind her seat and, hunched over and head bowed, slipping, squinting, and sinking in the snow, she rounded the vehicle and cleared all the windows. Finished, she swiped the snow buildup off her arms, shoulders, and hood, slashed at her jeans with the brush, and dove into the Jeep.

Her cheeks burned and her nose dribbled. “Jesus. Summer, where are you?” She took a moment to let the adrenaline subside, then pushed off her hood and dug in her jacket pocket for her keys.

Radio conversation about the storm filled the confined space, picked up where she’d left it in the bar, and she drew a moment of comfort from the talk and the minimal illumination of the gauges. Pretty much the same as home. She clicked on the heater and defroster, and her heavy sigh formed a stream of frosty air onto the dashboard.

She guided the Jeep down off the banking and onto the snow-packed alley—an official street in this compact town, one not yet plowed. Too many snowy nights, she mused, too much time to think about her too-empty loft apartment.

Riley’s rebellious streak reared its head, something she hadn’t permitted in ages. She shifted out of four-wheel drive, tapped the accelerator, and slid the Jeep around the corner onto Commercial Street.

She loved the look of Provincetown’s main street at any time of year, but this scene was always particularly striking. Riley stopped the Jeep. This was a living postcard, the heart and soul of a little village cherished by so many, now deserted and under siege by Mother Nature and the Atlantic Ocean. Half caked in white, streetlamps mustered only an eerie, filtered light that took strength from the snow’s reflective power but cast no shadow. And like silent and brave survivors of summer, storefronts stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the battering and soldiered on through the windswept snow.

She never tired of looking, of appreciating, of feeling that she was a tiny part of it all. Capturing one of these rare solitary moments, as only she bore witness between swipes of her windshield wipers, she felt singly entrusted with the heart of this fragile, isolated world. The respect she held for it humbled her, and instead of submitting to its pervasive helplessness on this night, she realized that she, like this dogged little street, didn’t battle these elements alone. They battled the elements here tonight. Maybe that’s why it always feels so personal, so intimate.

Wishing she had the skills of an artist, Riley simply shook her head at the dusty white scene before her and imprinted it to memory one more time. A friend would razz her for waxing romantic, she thought with an inward laugh. A lover would relate.

A calm, reassuring voice spoke from very close range. “You know I’m only a phone call, a keystroke away. Nightlight shines on, regardless of the weather.”

Riley stared at her radio as if she could see the woman behind the words.


Chapter Three

“Mm-mm. Well, I’d say Nightlight is really beaming now, wouldn’t you? That reading raised the temp in here by twenty degrees.” Murphy grinned at the two women sharing a microphone opposite her. Although rare, having guests in the studio was a nice change, even if they had to sign a confidentiality agreement regarding Sable’s identity. “What a great selection to read on this Valentine’s Day evening, terrific dialogue in a very romantic scene. Thank you to local author Rose Keegan and her wife Nancy Rich. Reading from Banking on Love like a script was a delicious tease.” She gestured to the blinking lights on her monitor. “Looks like listeners can’t resist.”

Tightness in Murphy’s chest subsided just a bit once she connected a caller to her guests. Their conversation allowed time for memories roused by the reading to withdraw, back into storage where she kept them. The steamy scene paralleled a happier time for her, distant some three years now, but nonetheless vivid in its passion and longing. Rose assured the caller that the novel, like her first, had a happy ending, and Murphy wished her own love story had featured less tragedy.

“That’s what we search for in romance, isn’t it?” she said, endorsing Rose’s statement. “A happily-ever-after ending means so much.”

“The buildup is the tough part,” Rose added. “Coming up with just the right scene, setting the mood with just the right amount of romance, can be harder than you’d imagine.”

“Now that’s worth exploring,” Murphy said. “How about that, Nightlighters? Give us a call at 555-201-1112 or drop a note. Have you set a scene similar to that in Banking on Love? What kind of scene would you or have you set for a romantic moment?”

“Rose almost used one of our moments in the book,” Nancy said. “Many years ago, I think we’d only been dating a couple of months, we thought we’d scalp some tickets for a concert near the beach.” She eyed Rose as she spoke into the mike. “Well, we didn’t have any luck, so Rose set up a picnic, blanket and wine, the whole shebang, right outside the venue in the sand.” She squeezed Rose’s arm. “It was a very romantic evening.”

Murphy’s thoughts strayed. She had enjoyed many such evenings at Herring Cove and other beaches along the Cape, nights that featured sunsets and moonrises, and kisses broken by whispers of future plans. But after just nine years, illness swept Bryce and those dreams from her life, and Murphy hadn’t spent an evening on any beach in the three years since Bryce’s passing.

Two more lights sparked to life and seized her attention. Grateful, she clicked on one.

“Welcome to Nightlight. This is Sable and you’re on with Rose Keegan, author of Banking on Love, and her wife Nancy.”

“Hi, Sable, and hi to your guests. I bought your first book and I’m buying this one as soon as it comes out. My wife set me up in a way similar to your story, but that’s not why I’m going to buy it, though.” The caller laughed. “My wife’s nodding at me right now. She told me she once wrestled with just the right thing to do…you know, to…make the moment perfect.”

Rose chuckled. “It can be just as difficult to create on the screen as it is in real life.”

“It is!”

Murphy leaned into her mike. “So…tell us? What did she do?”

“Oh, Sable! She wanted to propose on the deck of this fabulous beach house, so she finagled a way to get hired as the house sitter. She dealt with the homeowner’s Realtor and everything, just to have the perfect spot.”

“I like the way your wife thinks.” Rose chuckled. “My protagonist bought her lover the house.”

They all laughed and Murphy connected the next caller.

“Hi. This is Sable and you’re on Nightlight with local author Rose Keegan and her wife Nancy Rich.”

“Hi, ladies. This is Belle, Sable. It’s been a while.”

“Good to hear from you, Belle. To our guests and Nightlighters, Belle may be familiar to many of you as one of the outstanding summertime DJs at the Boatslip. You’ve got a romantic setup to share, Belle?”

“Well, maybe not the most romantic, but it certainly was great. Terri was deejaying at the Labor Day tea dance and the place was packed, bouncing off the walls. Well, right in the middle of a song, she stopped the music dead—and proposed over the PA system.”

“Wow!” Rose exclaimed.

“Yeah, a big wow!” Belle said. “And God, the whole dance scene turned into this wild engagement party!”

“Well, Banking on Love doesn’t have a huge party scene like that,” Rose said, “but it does have some special moments on the dance floor.”

“I’ve read my advance copy,” Murphy offered, “and I can attest to those scenes. Both sweet and hot.”

“Excellent,” Belle said. “I’m sold. Good luck with the book. And good talking to you, Sable.”

“Same here, Belle. Thanks for the call.” Murphy clicked the next blinking light. “Good evening and welcome to Nightlight. This is Sable and you’re on with author Rose Keegan and her wife Nancy Rich. Do you have a setup for us tonight?”

“How about outside in a light snow, like the one falling now. Alone beneath the streetlamp at town hall, say…the wee hours of the morning?”

Murphy stared at the illuminated button, taken by the same easy, relaxed alto that had struck her several weeks ago. She glanced up to find Rose gesturing toward Murphy’s microphone, urging her to respond.

“Sounds like an intimate rendezvous.”

“Could be the end of an evening…or…”

With an amused look at Rose and Nancy, Murphy added, “Or the beginning?”

“Or the beginning, yes.”

“I see. Not many options at that hour, are there? Do you envision anything in particular?”

A gentle sigh came through the line. Murphy was sure this was the intriguing caller who had encountered a police chief’s wife, and she was delighted to have her on the phone again.

Rose leaned away from her mike and whispered, “Keep her going.”

“In your scene, is this the couple’s first meeting or…a makeup meeting? Maybe a final meeting?”

“Hm…A first meeting.”

“Accidental?”

“Sure.”

“And what’s accomplished in this intimate first meeting?”

“A date for a second.”

“Oh, I like it,” Nancy said, and elbowed Rose.

“I do, too,” Rose said. “I’d run with that for sure. The concept is exciting.”

“Are you a writer?” Murphy asked into the mike.

“God, no. But I do work with my hands.”

All three in the studio chuckled.

“Have you ever encountered someone in such a setting?”

“No, Sable. Have you?”

Murphy sat back in thought, touched by the unexpected personal question. Despite Rose and Nancy egging her on, she chose to avoid it. “So you think this would be romantic, as opposed to…opportunistic?”

She heard the familiar muffled chuckle. “Definitely.”

“Well, it’s certainly a unique addition to our list of ideas tonight. Do you have a romantic setting of your own to share?”

The caller paused. “A chance meeting at Race Point. It was a long time ago, but I do remember the full moon.”

“Oh,” Rose said with a dreamy sigh. “Now, that’s almost too perfect.”

“I suppose it was,” the caller said, her voice dipping. “The ex of my ex. Just one night of mindlessness and we went our separate ways.”

The lowered tenor of her voice piqued Murphy’s interest further. “Have you met since?”

“No. She went back to my ex, and last I knew, they were living in Chicago. Like I said, it was a long time ago.”

Nancy sighed at Rose. “Where would we be without the drama of our exes?”

“Some scenarios we can do without,” Rose told her.

Murphy leaned closer to the mike. “Sounds like you feel it was…it was an opportunity lost.”

“No regrets, Sable. I think it was just one of those moments in life that you have to pass through to get where you’re going.”

“Well said. I like your attitude.”

“And I like yours. You make Nightlight a good friend to us all. Thanks for doing what you do and doing it so well.”

“Well, I…I’m moved by that. Thank you very much,” Murphy said, about to stumble. “You’ve called Nightlight before, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so. Don’t be a stranger. Please call again.”

“Thanks. You have yourself a good night.”

“And you do the same.” Murphy disconnected the call and, with the signal that they were off the air, Murphy set a string of commercials to play.

“Three minutes,” Razor said.

“Well.” Murphy dropped her headphones onto the counter and ruffled a hand through her hair.

Rose and Nancy clapped, relaxing in their seats.

That was interesting,” Rose said. “You get many calls like that at this hour?”

Murphy took a long drink from her bottle of water. “Lord, no. Once in a while after midnight but not in the ten-to-eleven hour.”

“Great voice,” Nancy said.

“Plays with the imagination, doesn’t it?” Rose asked.

Murphy nodded, still taken by the caller, still hearing that voice in her ear. “It certainly does.”

 

 

Swirling wind off the ocean had built a two-foot drift of snow on her doorstep by the time Murphy saw her driveway at three o’clock. The usual fifteen-minute trip had taken an hour on the slippery roads, and she had precious little energy left after such a long, rather emotional night. But adrenaline, necessity, and the prospect of bed pushed her onward. Gunning her engine and summoning courage, she rocketed up and just barely over the barricade created by an earlier pass of a plow, and managed to deposit her Beetle in her driveway with an exhausted, relieved sigh. Next challenge, she thought grimly, shoveling out the damn front door.

Twenty minutes later, she exited the hottest shower she could stand and took a cup of tea to bed. “Enough with the snow, already,” she grumbled to the empty house, and settled in, listening to the storm rattle her windows.

Light from the nightstand lamp flickered, and she groaned at the likelihood of losing power. The most serious storm in memory here, several years prior, had dropped the seaside neighborhood into darkness for a week, and she just as easily remembered snuggling up to Bryce in front of their roaring fireplace. They weathered all kinds of storms back then, all kinds, except for the one that mattered most, Bryce’s recovery that never came. And times like this tested her resolve.

Recalling those happier, carefree days, she met Bryce’s excited eyes in the framed picture of them on her bureau. “I’m getting all weepy again, aren’t I?” She wiped her misty vision with a tissue. “Sorry. Don’t give me that ‘I told you so’ look. I’ve been doing better and I know you’re proud of me. I’ll always be proud of you, too.” She sipped her tea and tried to set those special recollections aside as she usually did, and look ahead, giving thanks for what used to be and for the opportunity to carry on.

Unbidden, the smooth alto of that caller replayed in her head. The pensive, maybe winsome air about her threatened to tap memories and tug them back out of hiding. Murphy sipped her tea again and realized she’d welcomed the replay. She shook her head at herself, lying there, musing about the caller, her physique, her past… Abruptly, she tossed aside the bed covers and went for the novel in her briefcase.

“Like you should get swept away by a caller’s voice,” she mumbled, studying the book’s cover as she slid back into bed. It had been too long since she’d let herself escape into fictional romance, but tonight she sensed that another Rose Keegan novel would fit the bill perfectly.

And it did. When blinding sun greeted her at ten thirty the next morning, she wondered where she’d ridden with the tall, dark-eyed Texan in the smoky duster, why her body yearned, and how she ended up with spilled tea on her expensive comforter.


Chapter Four

Riley unplugged the extension cord from the portable power pack behind her driver’s seat, coiled it up as fast as she could, and tossed it into the back of the Jeep with her tools. Snow had fallen steadily as she boarded up the broken window for the night, and now she left an impression almost four inches deep as she climbed the steps to the beachfront rental. She left the keys to the unit on the little table just inside and shut the door, testing the knob to make sure it was secure.

She brushed her vehicle windows and herself free of snow and drove out onto Commercial to head home. It was twenty minutes to four, and she knew Didi had closed the Den more than an hour ago, so there was no sense drooling over a fiery shot of schnapps to warm her bones.

Here she was again, she thought, moved by the isolation on Commercial in yet another blustery storm. A week into March. The winter that has no end. Her windshield wipers built long, thin snow barriers at the apex of their reach, narrowing her field of vision. To concentrate, she turned off the 1930s radio drama airing on WCCD. I know you’re done, Sable, but at this hour, I could use more of you, not that.

She crossed to Bradford Street and headed east, trying to remember if she had any of her landlord’s beef stew left over. The Angel’s Landing repair call had been her third since six thirty, and her stomach had been complaining since four that afternoon. Just get to bed, she told herself, and worry about eating on a normal schedule tomorrow.

She slowed cautiously as she reached the top of one of Bradford’s many hills and the tiny lane to her loft, but before she began the turn, her headlights reflected off a taillight halfway down the slope. The vehicle sat tilted severely over the snowbank, completely covered in new snow. “How long have you been there? Little shit car out in this…What’d you expect?”

Riley motored down slowly, careful not to slide past, and stopped alongside. The Volkswagen was dark and Riley grabbed her flashlight off the floor and shone it into the driver’s side window. Empty. She checked the road ahead as far as the blowing snow would allow and saw no movement, no house lights where a neighbor might have been awakened to help. And she’d seen no one walking as she’d driven along Bradford this far.

She shifted into four-wheel low and climbed the snowbank in front of the Beetle, well off the road, and snapped on her flashers.

“Nothing like asking for trouble.” She drew her wet hood over her cap, zipped up her jacket, and pulled on her gloves. “One more for the road. Hope you’re watching, Santa.” She trudged up the hill and onto the banking to the car.

The window was down an inch and she pressed her flashlight to the opening. A red gloved hand slapped onto the glass, and Riley leaped back so fast, she lost her footing and fell onto the street.

“What the fuck!” She snatched up the flashlight and shone it at the car. “Hey, you in there!”

“I’m so sorry!” A woman’s ruddy face enclosed by a furry hat and earflaps appeared in her light. The spoken words fogged the glass and blurred Riley’s view of the woman’s features. “I can’t open the doors,” the woman said. “I…I sank.”

Riley shined her light along the side of the car and found it had indeed sunk into the snowbank. The driver’s side sat sealed from the bottom up by nearly a foot of snow. She knew the other side was a lost cause, angled downward into deeper snow.

“Are you okay? I mean, are you hurt or anything?”

The face moved sideways in Riley’s light. “Just humiliated. And cold.”

“Okay. Hang on. I’ve got a shovel.”

Riley hurried to the Jeep, her head down against the biting snow. “What are people doing out in this shit?” She pulled out a shovel and headed back. “God knows what. Same as you, stupid.”

The woman spoke from the window opening. “Thank you so much! I can’t believe this. And I’m so sorry I startled you.”

Riley didn’t bother looking up. She started shoveling with abandon.

“Really, I’m sorry,” the woman tried again, her voice raised against the wind. “I come this way in all kinds of weather and I’ve never had trouble.”

“Bad storm,” Riley said, breathing hard now. “Can you open the window?”

“My battery is dead. No.”

“You have a phone? Did you call for help?” Riley’s words came out sporadically as she tossed one load of snow after another over the car’s hood.

“I forgot it.”

“Big surprise,” Riley grumbled, heaving another shovelful.

By the time she’d cleared the length of the vehicle, Riley felt like a pack-a-day smoker who’d gained thirty pounds. Snow had accumulated on her head, shoulders, and arms, and she imagined she looked like a yeti tromping around in the Great White North.

She returned to the driver’s door and the woman’s face reappeared at the window.

“Gotta free the front end next, before I can try pulling you out. Meanwhile, you should come sit in the Jeep and get warm. Leave the car in neutral.” She opened the door, and the woman shifted the car out of park before accepting Riley’s hand.

“Jesus. I can’t believe this happened. You’re my savior. Thank you so, so much.”

“Look, I can’t help but ask. What the hell were you doing out in this mess at this hour?” Riley stomped a path into the banking to reach her own passenger door. The woman followed dutifully, arms wrapped around herself. The hem of her quilted parka dragged through the snow.

“I work late. I knew it was bad and I thought I was prepared, dressed for it and all, but…I…just slid.”

Riley helped her up into the seat, shut the door, and climbed around to get in and start the engine. The woman held her palms to the heat vents.

In the dim light of the dashboard, her profile was all Riley could see of her face. That funky skull cap and earflaps, gray-ish imitation rabbit fur, she guessed, hid most of the woman’s features, save for an aristocratic nose and slight chin. Long, graceful eyelashes tipped with drops of melted snow fluttered as she sighed.

“How long have you been stuck here?”

“About an hour or so. I thought I’d see a police cruiser or a plow, but no one’s come by.” She turned abruptly, biting her lower lip. “I can’t begin to thank you.” She extended a handshake. “I’m Murphy Callahan. What’s your name, please?”

Riley shook her hand, her own thick leather-covered fingers enclosing the smaller knitted glove. “Riley Burke. You sit a while. I’ll be back.” A humble smile grew across Murphy’s lips, and some of the anxiety appeared to ease from her features.

Riley spun out of the Jeep, back into the gale, and spent another fifteen minutes shoveling out the front end of the Volkswagen and a sizeable portion of the snowbank.

“No phone,” she mumbled as she returned to her Jeep. “Jesus Christ. When it goes bad, it really goes bad.” She opened the tailgate and pulled a thick coil of rope out into the snow, aware that Murphy watched from the front seat. “I’m going to drag the car to the edge of the banking, close enough to the street so I can push it free. I don’t want to try towing you downhill and have you slide down into my rear end.”

Murphy nodded and Riley almost grinned at her own words. She shut the tailgate and connected one end of the rope to her Jeep with an industrial-strength steel hook, then took the other end to the Beetle, dropped onto her back, and attached a similar hook to its frame. She returned to the Jeep, shook off most of the snow on her body, and jumped in.

The heat was oppressive and she broke out in a sweat. She pushed her hood off and fought back a shiver.

“Please buckle up, just to be safe.” She eased the Jeep forward and crept off the banking until the rope drew taut. “This is where we pray for a little traction,” she said. Murphy just nodded, her hands folded in her lap.

The Jeep’s rear axle sank several inches as her tires dug in, and Riley released a heavy sigh of relief when both vehicles moved forward. Inching steadily onto the street, she looked back to see the Volkswagen roll through the snow and level off. She stopped gently, turned her wheels into the banking, and set the brake.

“Stay here.”

She hustled out and unhooked the rope, then opened the Beetle’s door. Snow blew into the car and swirled around her face. She fumbled to find the ignition, but managed to turn it on and angle the steering wheel slightly toward the street. With a hand on the wheel and one braced on the open doorframe, she set her boots firmly and pushed. The car resisted, and Riley eased up, then pushed again, and then repeated the actions until the rocking motion set the car free.

Riley jumped behind the wheel as the Volkswagen began to move. She turned the key, but nothing happened. Silently, the car picked up speed, rolled past her Jeep. Riley turned the key again. On the third try, the engine kicked in, and she revved it up as she coasted to a stop at the bottom of the hill. She held the accelerator down slightly, keeping the motor active, its alternator supplying power to the dead battery.

Murphy and her furry hat appeared at the window and Riley jumped.

“Oh my God. You’re a magician!”

“You’re supposed to stay in the Jeep!”

“But the car’s good to go now, right? It’s run—”

“I doubt this will last if I take my foot off the gas. How far away do you live?”

“Wellfleet. Just twenty…Well, tonight, probably a lot more.”

“No kidding. Your battery needs a jump.” As if proving her point, the car died when she stepped out. “Come on. We’ll bring the Jeep down and get you hooked up.”

Within ten minutes, Riley had her vehicle positioned nose-to-nose with Murphy’s, both hoods raised slightly, and jumper cables transfusing life into the dead battery. To pass the time, they relaxed in the Jeep’s dashboard light, while the snow whirled outside and the silence inside lengthened. Riley removed her gloves and tried to ignore the irony of the moment, two women connected by an electric lifeline.

“Water?” She produced a bottle from a cooler behind Murphy’s seat.

“Thanks. Again.” Murphy tugged off her furry hat and then her gloves and stuffed them into it. She ran long, manicured fingertips through her hair and shook her head. “I’m surprised you don’t have an espresso machine in here. You’ve got everything else.”

Riley wiped condensation off the windshield with a paper towel. “The thermos of coffee I started out with was gone by five. Sorry.” Tempted to get a good long look at her now, Riley fussed with the heater instead. She shut off the fan, figuring it wiser to stick to business than to get distracted by tousled dark waves. Besides, the temperature in the Jeep was unsettling. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck.

Murphy sipped her water. “So, you’ve had a very long night. Do you make a living rescuing people?”

“Property maintenance,” she answered, settling back and opening her own bottle. She gestured to the window. “Winter’s never been this bad. We’ll probably set a record for snow.” She rubbed another paper towel across the back of her neck. What she wouldn’t give for a shower right about now, she mused, and almost chuckled out loud at her present situation. Not long ago, I’d have taken you home. It’s less than a half-mile away. And encouraged you to stay. Don’t look now, Didi, but maybe I am slipping.

“Well,” Murphy set her hand on Riley’s arm, “tonight you’re my knight in shining armor, Riley. No doubt about it.”

“Glad I could help. But…you’ve got to be more careful.” She met Murphy’s eyes evenly then, and swallowed hard when they took hold in the poor light. They were deep and soft, and narrowed when those glamorous cheekbones rose. Riley forced herself to make a point. “Forgetting your phone was a big mistake.”

“Tell me about it.” Murphy brought her water bottle to her lips, and Riley watched her drink, noted the smooth glide of her cheek, the sway of her throat as she swallowed. The temptation to touch suddenly rose from nowhere, and Riley hurried to think of something to say.

“Were you sleeping when I pulled up?”

Murphy shrugged. “It seemed harmless. I mean, someone was bound to come along.”

“Are you always so…brave?”

“Brave?” Murphy laughed, a bright, spirited sound rather out of place, considering, but Riley liked it nonetheless.

“Well, I wanted to say reckless. Are you?”

“God, no. I’m not reckless. It was just a crazy evening and I guess I wasn’t thinking.”

“You could’ve been hurt out here, you know.”

“I know. You’re right. And I’m thankful.”

“What if you’d rolled over? Did you notice how close you came?”

“Oh, trust me. I noticed.”

“If you hadn’t sunk in the snow, you would’ve gone right over, and there’s a hell of a drop on the other side. Out here in this…this mess, you could’ve ended up unconscious for who knows how long. It’s after four in the God damn morning, for Christ’s sake.”

“Hey, whoa.” Murphy held up a palm. “Hold your horses, there, Rough Rider. Sounds like a lot of ‘would haves’ and ‘could haves’ in there. I was lucky, I know, and luckier still that you arrived.”

“I take it there’s no one waiting for you? Who’d come looking?”

Murphy arched an eyebrow, her look challenging and rather irritated. “As a matter of fact, no.”

“I bet you don’t even have an emergency blanket in your car.”

Murphy turned in her seat and squared off with her. The dim light allowed only the side of her face to show, but Riley could tell from the keen look in one eye that she’d probably overstepped.

“As a matter of fact, I do have a blanket in the car. In the spare compartment beneath the carpet in back. Which, as you well know, I could not get to.”

“Through the backseat,” Riley countered. “You could have. More than an hour in a blizzard dropped the temperature in there so low—”

“I’m well aware of how cold it was, thank you. I’m not an idiot.”

“I didn’t call you an idiot.”

“Just because I don’t know how to turn a car inside out, doesn’t make me a fool.”

“I didn’t say that it did.”

“Well, you certainly implied as much.”

“Okay, look. I’m sorry. I’m not in the mood to argue.”

“Neither am I.” She tightened the cap on her bottle. “How much longer will this take?” She jutted her chin toward her car.

Riley adjusted her hat and pulled up her hood. This conversation was over. “Should be enough.” She got out and shut the door. “Better be,” she mumbled into the wind.

She thanked God when the Volkswagen purred. Fifties music blared from the CD player. Cool, she likes the old stuff. She shut off the music and dashed back outside and unhooked the cables. She jumped back in, switched off the heater fan, and disconnected the useless cell phone charger from its port. Around her, an empty coffee cup and wrappers from two breakfast bars littered the passenger floor. A bulging laptop case sat on the seat, and she wondered how much comfort it provided as a pillow.

Could have had a few sweet moments getting to know a very alluring lady. But no. Now, she’s pissed off. Nice work, knight in shining armor. Rough rider. She grinned at the term.

The driver’s door opened abruptly and wind and snow barged in. Murphy bent down, earflaps on that funky hat loose and swinging at her cheeks.

“What’s the verdict?”

Riley nodded as she unfolded herself from the small car. Murphy backed up to let her out and they stood toe-to-toe, squinting at each other, shoulders hunched.

“You’re good to go, but take it slow and steady.” Riley stepped aside and unconsciously guided Murphy by the arm into the driver’s seat. She leaned into the opened doorway, blocking the storm. “Don’t use any accessories. Just the defroster on low, if you have to.”

Murphy nodded at the gauges, then reached for her laptop case.

“I want to pay you for all you’ve done.”

“No.”

“Yes.” She put a checkbook and pen on the dash and pulled off her gloves. “Don’t argue.”

Riley reached in, grabbed the checkbook, and tossed it onto the passenger seat. “No. Now, do you have enough gas to get home?”

Murphy glared up at her. “Jesus, Mom. Are you always this stubborn?”

“Yes.” Riley bent closer to check the gas gauge herself, and her cheek brushed the top of Murphy’s furry hat. The faint scent of sweet spring rain reached her, a perfume seductive and welcoming, and she withdrew immediately. What did the fuel gauge read?

“Listen, Riley.” Murphy touched her arm again and the sensation struck her as tangibly as if her arm was bare. She suddenly wished she wasn’t wearing three layers of clothing beneath her thick jacket. “I do thank you. Maybe we’ll see each other around town—under different circumstances?”

Hungry, wet, exhausted, and even a bit irritated, Riley heard sincerity in Murphy’s words and thought of how wrong it was that no one was out there losing her mind, worrying, waiting for Murphy Callahan to come home.

“You’re welcome. Maybe we will. Take care now.”

She shut the door and backed away, back to her Jeep, where she stood in the snowy wind and stared after the disappearing taillights.


Chapter Five

Murphy opened her front door. Razor looked her up and down, and the piercings above her right eye glittered in the porch light.

“Sweats. Nice outfit. Surprised there isn’t a line of butches sniffing around your door.”

“God, you’re gross. Get in here. You’re scaring the neighbors.”

“You don’t have any.” Tall and ridiculously thin in baggy jeans and olive fatigue jacket, Razor and her deadpanned humor were as striking as the gold and red stripes in her spiked hair. She headed for the kitchen, raising and lowering a large Spiritus pizza box as proof she could open and close the straight edge razor tattooed down her left arm.

“Figured you’d be staying in tonight.”

“I’ve been working here all day and I’m beat.” Murphy leaned over the box and inhaled. “And I’m starving.”

“Tell me you have beer.”

“Help yourself and grab my wine.” She put plates and napkins on the table. “Want to go over that Easter theme show for next week while we eat? Or wait?”

“Wait.” Heineken in hand, Razor retrieved a wine glass for Murphy and sat. “It’s Saturday night, for God’s sake. Besides, mixing religion with pepperoni makes me vomit.”

“Good point.” Razor could always be counted on to make them—like everything else she did—graphically. Murphy opened the box and laid a broad slice on each plate.

Being a transplanted New Yorker, Razor folded the crust in half and aimed the point of her slice at her mouth. “Are you really going to be able to unload all that crap you have out there?” She tipped her head toward the cluttered living room as she bit off the first couple of inches.

“It’s not crap, and yes, I will. Shoes and handbags are big sellers. Sorry the room’s such a mess. I was taking inventory.” She pointed at her as she raised her own slice. “How many times have I told you that you, too, could make money by running an eBay store?”

Razor spoke around a mouthful of food. “You spend your free time collecting other people’s junk and cleaning it—hoping it’ll sell. Now that’s appealing. Fumigate your dinky little car lately?”

“Stop picking on me. It’s not junk and it’s not disgusting work. Bryce and I had a ball getting it off the ground and it’s paid off.” She filled her glass and took a sip. “And you love this place, my little piece of heaven on the water. It’s not just Nightlight paying the bills.”

“Speaking of Nightlight…Have you checked your email today?” Murphy shook her head and took another bite. “Well, go fire up the laptop. Management dropped an email bomb this morning.”

Murphy stopped chewing. WCCD management never interfered with what the DJs put on the air. In fact, when she and Razor proposed Nightlight and landed contracts two years ago, they hadn’t dreamed of winning such creative freedom. Management had only required anonymity for the Sable character, and all parties had readily agreed. An “email bomb,” as Razor put it, really piqued her curiosity.

Murphy wiped her mouth and hands and hurried into the little room off the kitchen for her laptop. “What’s going on?” She returned just as fast, pushed the pizza box aside to make room, and opened her mail.

“I’ll let you see for yourself.”

Murphy snorted after just a couple seconds. “They want us to participate in Carnival Week?” She took another bite and pointed her pizza slice at the screen. “Looks like every business in town is listed here, doing something. What are we…?” She sat back. “A live broadcast? How’s that supposed to work if we’re—”

“Read the whole thing.”

After a few more seconds, Murphy looked up again. “God. A masquerade party.”

“Yup.”

“Oh, I don’t know about this, Razor. How will Sable still be the aloof, secret friend to listeners if they can get up-close and personal, even in costume?”

“Doesn’t look like we’ve been given a choice.” Razor reached for more pizza. “Actually, I think it could be pretty fun.”

“Well, it’s for a good cause. I’m all for raising money for HOW, but I’m not thrilled about the whole damn town knowing who I am.” She closed the laptop with finality. “I like our privacy just the way it is.”

“We have till August to come up with costumes, Murph.”

“Costumes. It’s going to take suits of armor to keep us anonymous. Nightlight is a smash for a reason.” Murphy drank half her wine at once. “I don’t like messing with a good thing.”

“You don’t like going out any more, period. And you know it. A hot, single woman dropping out of circulation,” Razor posted air quotes with two greasy fingertips, “is never a good thing.”

Murphy went to the counter. “Don’t start.” She refilled her glass, scowling. “I’ve recovered well since Bryce died, thank you very much. That has nothing to do with exposing Sable to the world.”

“Listen a sec.” Razor leaned back. “Jesus. I hate it when you make me think like an adult.” She waited for Murphy to take a mouthful of wine before continuing. “You work around here all day and play Sable at night. You don’t date. You don’t even go out with Tina and me unless it’s some special occasion. Want to show me your little black book?”

“You’re pushing, Razor.”

“I’m your best friend. I’m entitled.” She saluted Murphy with her beer bottle. “What if, just to get out of the damn house, mind you, you picked up a little part-time job?”

“Seriously?” Murphy set her glass down hard. “Maybe I can flip burgers at McDonald’s for the social stimulation.” She folded her arms across her chest.

“We don’t have a McDonald’s around here. Eat your pizza. Just give the idea a little thought, that’s all.” Razor put on the oblivious, cavalier act, which irritated Murphy even more. “For instance: You like animals, and I doubt the CASA shelter would turn away a volunteer. Oh,” she raised her slice triumphantly, “the senior center—”

“Stop it. Next you’ll have me in training as a home health aide.”

“Hey, you have the heart for that, Murph. Remember, the organization that came here all the time for Bryce was looking for help.”

“I don’t believe you!” Murphy threw up her hands. “Am I a recluse now? Jesus, Razor.”

“Calm down. You’re not Miss Social Butterfly, either.”

“Too damn bad. I’m not interested in hooking up, which is what you’re not very subtly aiming at.”

Razor concentrated on her pizza, repositioning slices of pepperoni to make sure she got at least one with each bite. Murphy watched the meticulous process until she couldn’t stand it any longer.

“So, are you finished harassing me?” On the verge of her next bite, Razor obviously wasn’t going to respond verbally. “Don’t eat that. Speak.”

“Okay. I’m you’re bestie, remember, so here’s the deal.” She put the slice down. “I know you’ve made progress, Murph, and I’m proud of you for it, but, seriously, your head and heart are still in Bryce’s world here.” She swung her arm around at the room. “I worry because the rare times you venture out, you go somewhere anonymous and safe.”

“You think I’m hiding? Is that it?”

“Are you? That caller with the creamy voice, you’re very comfortable with her. And she’s anonymous and safe.”

“Oh, please, do not go there.”

“You do get a little—”

“I get a little what?”

“Well…I don’t know, soft.” Razor took a quick swig of beer. “I have to watch your levels when you chat with her. You…you soften up.”

Murphy rolled her eyes. I don’t believe this. “Not true.”

“It is, and I think you relax because she’s—”

“Yeah, yeah. ‘Anonymous and safe.’ Couldn’t be because she’s got the most seductive alto in freaking America.”

“You do realize she calls at least once a week now. She likes you, too. A lot…and I think it’s pretty obvious.”

“Razor Delaney. You put something in that Heineken? We have a lot of regular callers. There’s nothing different about—”

“Oh yes, there is and you know it.”

 

 

“Patent leather shoes. With straps that cut into the tops of your ankles.” The woman’s craggily voice belied her amusement. “I mean, torture on Easter? Was that supposed to be appropriate or something?”

Murphy laughed as she nodded toward her mike. “Another line just lit up, Grunt. You’ve touched a nerve. I remember them well, too. God forbid our mothers ever realized that patent leather reflected up.”

Grunt chortled. “You got that right, Sable. Thanks for letting me chip in.”

Murphy reached for the next call but heard Razor cut in.

“After church, I wore high-tops with my dress all day.”

Still laughing when she hit the blinking button, Murphy fumbled over the air. “H-hi. Hello. This is Nightlight. Welcome.”

“Hello, Sable.”

Murphy’s head swiveled to the monitor. That easy alto was back. Mentally, she scurried to compose an image, as always, whenever that voice tripped her senses.

“Well, hello. Glad you could join us tonight.” Distantly, she wondered if her voice “softened,” as Razor claimed.

“Same here. I just couldn’t resist this topic. I want to contribute a Swiss dot dress that scratched and itched. Along with those damn patent leather shoes that hurt. White ones.”

“Oh, my.”

“And the broad hat with little flowers in the band.”

Murphy had yet to formulate a clear picture of this woman but somehow knew the Easter outfit didn’t suit her. She chuckled. “Wide satin ribbon flowing from the hat?”

“You got it. Really, really awful.”

“And what’s more evil than Swiss dot?”

“Exactly.” The smooth voice broke into a muffled laugh. “Nothing is.”

“And the stiff, ruffled slip underneath.”

“Aw, hell, yes. Like a bristle brush.”

“I bet you begged to get out of it.”

“I had to suffer through Easter dinner in it. That’ll ruin a kid’s appetite in a big way.”

“And after dinner, you were in play clothes, outside getting dirty.”

“Baseball in the neighbor’s backyard. Happiest memories of Easter. Do they still make Swiss dot?”

“They do. And little girls are still subjected to it.”

“Hopefully, fewer than years ago. Moms are more tuned in these days.”

“A well-deserved shout-out to smart moms everywhere. I was forced into the navy blue dress with the white trim, patent leathers, the hat, the tiny white purse—for a whole day. We were up and out from eight till dark visiting relatives. No time for this girl to go out and play.”

“And now you’re this bewitching woman, crooning to an adoring audience that takes you in every night. All sight unseen.”

Murphy just looked at the mike, lost for words. She glanced at Razor and received a sideways, cautionary look back.

“Well, ah, thank you, but, more accurately, it’s the ex-folk / rock DJ who counts her blessings that she has such thoughtful, generous listeners.” She blew out a breath toward her lap, relieved she’d overcome her fluster and produced some worthy response without accruing too much dead air.

“Thanks for taking my call, Sable. You have a good night.”

Murphy disconnected the call with a touch of reluctance.

“Time for Nightlight to pay some bills, everyone. We’ll be back for more Easter delights after this break, so stay close.”

“Four minutes.” Razor’s voice settled her nerves.

“I need coffee.”

“I just made a fresh pot,” Razor said, “and a kick of sambuca should bring you back to earth, crooner.”

“Who is that woman?” She still sat in her chair, staring at the monitor. “And…yes, she knocks me off my stride.”

Razor chortled over the speaker. “She wishes you a good night with each call.”

“She does, doesn’t she?”

“Very sleepy voice,” Razor said, coming in with coffee. “She needs a name.”

“She doesn’t.”

“We’ll call her Sleepy, then.”

“No, you won’t. I doubt she’s one of Snow White’s—”

“Then you give her one.”

“Will you stop? If she wants to be known by something, she’ll tell us. Besides, I’d feel funny asking.”

“Since when?”

“Since her mother put her in Swiss dot. Damn, that’s awful.”

Razor laughed as she returned to her booth, but Murphy knew she’d admitted to feeling differently about this caller.