Giselle knew she had made a mistake as soon as she sat down at the table. Across from her, Mary Nelson, the woman Giselle had had a crush on when they were eighteen, sat smiling as she raised her glass.
“Glad you could join me, Giselle. I heard you rarely come into town, so I take this as a compliment.” She winked at Giselle and sipped from whatever strange green cocktail she was having.
“I work a lot,” Giselle managed to say as a waiter approached them. “Some mineral water, please.”
“Ah, come on. Mineral water here at La Mer Turquoise? You’ve got to have some of their famous red wine at least.” Mary crinkled her nose and turned to the waiter. “A glass of the house red for my, um, friend.” She giggled and shook her head as if Giselle were a child who simply didn’t know any better.
Giselle wasn’t thrilled that Mary had ordered her something she didn’t want but decided to let it slide. Perhaps Mary was nervous too. Granted, she didn’t appear ill at ease, but she might just be able to hide it better. Giselle’s palms felt damp, and her pulse had to be at least a hundred beats per minute.
The waiter returned with her glass and some more water. “I hope you’ll like it, ma’am.” One lingering look at Giselle and then he was hurrying to another table.
“You still got it, Gissy.” Mary winked at her. “Any ideas what you’d like as a starter? Want to share some calamari?”
Giselle wouldn’t, but since Mary had her heart set on it, she didn’t want to be the perpetual downer. “Fine. Why not? And what do you mean by I ‘still got it’?” She honestly had no clue.
“Aw, come on,” Mary said and giggled. “You were turning all the boys’ heads twenty years ago. Little did they know you were a lesbian. And neither did I, for that matter. When I moved back to East Quay three months ago, I was floored when I heard you came out.” Laughing, Mary patted Giselle’s hand.
Giselle wanted to pull her hand free, but anything that could escalate into a scene would harm her sense of inner stability. “You were braver than I was,” she murmured. “You were always out.”
“I was, wasn’t I?” Laughing even louder now, Mary looked pleased. “I always did go my own way. That’s what took me to New York, LA, and then back to East Quay. I heard this town has managed to produce some of the world’s most talented musicians right now. Including you!”
Giselle cringed. “I’m hardly a household name,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “I’m very much behind the scenes.”
“Which is a shame.” Tilting her head, Mary winked. “I mean, you are the one writing the music and the lyrics. Without you, the vocalists couldn’t perform.”
The altogether-too-familiar buzz began to echo in Giselle’s head as she noticed how some people at the closest tables began turning their heads in her direction. She tried to convince herself that everyone around them was watching the stunningly beautiful Mary, but that attempt didn’t slow Giselle’s pounding heart. “Please,” she murmured. “I prefer to work like that, and I’m not fond of too much attention.”
Clearly Mary thought she was playing it coy, because she gave a loud laugh that drew even more attention from the other patrons. “Oh, no. Don’t give me that. Of course, you should demand credit where it’s due. You’re a genius. I know some people in the music industry, and they sing your praises, no pun intended. That’s partly why I looked you up, you know. I had to see for myself how the shy girl from school could have changed so fundamentally. I mean, you were mostly homeschooled as well, which added to your mystery.”
“I really haven’t changed, Mary.” Palms damp now, Giselle experienced the all-too-familiar tunnel vision that often preceded a full-blown panic attack. Anxiety rose like hot bile inside her, and she gripped the napkin on her lap. “I honestly am the same person.”
“Aw, come on. I find it hard to see how someone who’s written songs for the most famous names in the industry both here and in Europe could be cut from the same cloth as little, scrawny Giselle from twenty-some years ago.” Mary tilted her head and scrutinized Giselle. “Are you all right though? You look pale.”
“I’m fine. I just need to visit the restroom.” Giselle stood but moved too fast, and her chair fell backward, hitting the hardwood floor with a resounding clatter. Flinching, Giselle knew it was too late for breathing into her ever-present paper bag in the restroom now. She gasped for air, and the familiar excruciating pain erupted in her chest. She was certain she’d faint.
“Giselle!” Mary was suddenly by her side and grabbed her arm. “What’s wrong?”
“Must…get out of here…have to go home.” Sounding husky and barely getting the words out, Giselle tried to feel her way toward the exit. Instead, she misjudged her position and bumped into an unknown woman, who gave a startled yelp.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going, lady.” A male voice rose above the noise in Giselle’s head.
Giselle took several, rapid steps backward and stumbled into something that fell to the floor with a loud bang. Small, bitter cold projectiles hit Giselle, and the last remnant of calmness in her mind suggested they were ice cubes. Frigid water splashed against her thin blouse.
Standing there unable to move, Giselle was now hyperventilating and whimpering. Hands, which she surmised belonged to Mary, nudged her toward the exit.
“Let’s go, Giselle. You need some air.”
It should be reassuring to recognize Mary’s voice, but instead, Giselle withdrew.
“Easy. You’re having some sort of panic attack or something.”
“Must go home.” Giselle tried to free herself, but Mary kept a firm grip of her left arm as they exited the restaurant.
“I’ll take you, okay? You’re not doing too well.”
Giselle blinked several times, trying to clear her vision. The pity in Mary’s voice coincided with the expression on her face.
“No. Just leave me alone. I should have…known better. I’ll go to my car and…and just wait it out. It’ll pass. It always does.”
Giselle freed herself, but then the male voice from the restaurant sounded again.
“I have called an ambulance,” he said, apparently calmer now. “She clearly needs help.”
“No ambulance,” Giselle pleaded. Now when her vision was back, she could tell people had gathered around her on the sidewalk, and the restaurant patrons were staring at her through the window.
“Just sit here,” Mary said, pushing her down onto a bench. “It’s a great idea to have a doctor examine you.”
Fury and fear battled inside Giselle, and she locked them all out of her mind and withdrew again. Her shell seemed to become increasingly impenetrable with time. This was her worst episode yet, and she would make sure she didn’t have any more, even if that meant retreating into her house or garden.
She would never subject herself to this type of humiliation again. Never.
Tierney stepped off the bus and retrieved her large backpack from its belly. Hoisting it, she looked around, pleased with the lovely scenery and picturesque main street. East Quay had looked awesome on the map on her cellphone, and so far, it didn’t disappoint.
Gazing around, Tierney found a message board with tourist information and began walking over to it. The trees on either side of Main Street were almost in bloom. Small green leaves flickered in the faint breeze, bathing the street in a green light.
Tierney ran her fingertip against the first notes, humming. Clearly the inhabitants of East Quay posted everything from missing pets and garage sales to temp jobs on this message board, much like people did in similar towns all over the US. Aware she had only eighty-some dollars left in her wallet, she had to find something fast. She didn’t need money for accommodations, as she had her lightweight tent and her brilliant find in a thrift store in Stowe, Vermont—a high-end sleeping bag. It would keep her warm even if the temperature dropped below zero. Granted, she hadn’t tested it in such extreme weather, but the review in a hiking magazine she had read at a library claimed that was true. It was still only September, and a persistent Indian summer had made it a moot point so far.
Pulling off a few tabs asking for someone to walk dogs and trim hedges, as well as one wanting someone to paint a garden shed, Tierney couldn’t help but overhear two women talking. The one to the left—curvy, middle-aged, and with jet-black hair—shook her head.
“I was walking Timo along past her place last week. Speaking of Timo, I’m still trying to find a decent dog walker.” The dark-haired woman shrugged. “Like that’s going to happen in this town. Anyway, I saw her standing there, just outside the door, tearing up a note. I swear she was trembling.”
“Really,” replied the other woman, a brunette in her thirties. “Well, can you blame her? She hasn’t left that place by herself in ages. Losing Frances must be a blow. Should we offer to grocery-shop for her?”
The first woman raised her head as if warding off such an idea. “I wouldn’t stick my head into her garden, let alone her house. She doesn’t know how to accept true human kindness. Remember how she tore poor old Mrs. Craig to pieces for suggesting she needed a gardener and perhaps some of those happy pills?” Shrugging, the woman snickered, a thoroughly unpleasant sound. “I mean, the nerve. She may be pseudo-famous, but that doesn’t give her the right.”
“Excuse me?” Tierney interrupted the two women before they ripped the woman they were talking about to pieces. “Did you say you need a dog walker?”
“Yes?” Looking suspiciously at Tierney, the dark-haired woman placed a hand on her hip. “And who might you be? I’ve never seen you around East Quay.”
“My name is Tierney Edwards, and I just arrived in town.” She put on her best winning smile that usually did the trick. The women before her appeared to relax marginally. Good. Time to reel them in with a well-thought-out lie. “I’m checking out colleges and have to do it on my own, since my parents can’t afford to take time off from work to drive me.” Donning a pensive look that she had rehearsed in the bathroom mirror many times, she allowed her voice to mimic her expression. “I just didn’t realize how expensive even backpacking is. Got to earn some cash whenever I can. I’m very reliable.” Tierney knew she looked several years younger than her twenty-seven. Adding how innocent she could appear if need be, she usually could fool people. Her old social worker at the CPS had often stated that Tierney could manipulate anyone to give her the key to their safe after knowing her only fifteen minutes.
“I’m Leanne Walters,” the dark-haired woman said, looking quite taken in by Tierney’s story. “You poor girl. Kudos for still trying for an education. If I can help with that by letting you walk Timo, that would be a win-win situation, wouldn’t it?”
“It sure would!” Tierney didn’t have to fake the relief streaming through her. She had a foot in the door now. “If you know of anyone else needing help around the house or other chores, could you please let me know?”
Leanne exchanged furtive glances with her friend. “What do you say, Daphne? This could be a way to help Ms. Bonnaire without her knowing we’re behind it.” If she hadn’t looked entirely gleeful, and if Tierney hadn’t listened in on the tacky conversation from before, she would have assumed the two women were really looking out for a friend.
“You know of someone?” Tierney blinked, making sure she appeared unassuming.
“Yes. We do, actually. A woman living on the outskirts of East Quay, in the countryside. She just lost her housekeeper/gardener and might be looking for a replacement.” Daphne nodded, as if to emphasize how important this information was.
“Surely I’d need references to land that type of job?” Tierney thought the two women might be naive to think they could spring her on someone who appeared unlikely to accept a new employee.
“I know!” Leanne clapped her hands, making Tierney suck her lower lip in between her teeth and bite down in order not to let loose the loud guffaw that was threatening to spoil everything. “Why don’t you just say that Frances recommends you? Before Ms. Bonnaire has time to check your credentials with Frances, who’s on her way to Europe as far as I know, you will have made yourself indispensable.”
Tierney wondered if Ms. Bonnaire had any serious problems, since these women were jumping through hoops to get her a new housekeeper. Hoisting her backpack, Tierney tried to rid herself of the fatigue she’d struggled with the last few weeks. Hardly eating anything would do that to you.
“Ms. Bonnaire is very withdrawn and rarely ventures out of her house, let alone her property. She has an amazing park-like garden.” Leanne, the more soft-spoken of the two women, pulled out a small notepad and a pen from her purse. “Now, here’s my phone number and address, and, oh, let me write down Giselle Bonnaire’s. If you can walk Timo for an hour Mondays and Thursdays? My daughter takes him the other days during the week.”
“Sure. I charge fifteen dollars an hour, no matter what service I provide. As for dogs, I don’t have any formal training, but they are my favorite people.” Tierney blasted off another broad, toothy smile. “Especially big dogs. What kind of dog is Timo, by the way?”
“An American cocker spaniel,” Leanne said, and her features softened. “He’s quite headstrong but walks well on a leash.”
Thank God. “Sounds great. Today’s Tuesday. I’ll call you Wednesday evening to set up a time for the first walk.”
“I hope you realize I will have my husband run your name for any potential priors. He’s the chief of police in East Quay.” Leanne looked apologetic. “I just can’t take any risks with my baby.”
Tierney knew there was nothing to find—at least not in this state. Her only run-ins with the police had taken place in Chicago more than ten years ago and were in sealed juvenile records. “Absolutely.” She nodded eagerly. “I totally understand.”
“If you prove trustworthy with Leanne’s dog, I might need you to babysit my two-year-old in a few weeks.” Daphne didn’t offer Tierney a business card but merely looked at her as if she might turn into a tentacle-swinging alien at any given time. Odd that neither of them thought twice about giving her this Bonnaire woman’s name and address. Was she really that good at putting on her best face, or were these small-town women that gullible? Or, worse, did they enjoy making trouble for Giselle Bonnaire—and if that was the case, why?
Either way, Tierney couldn’t afford to let the opportunity of a steady income pass her by, and she washarmless, even if Daphne and Leanne couldn’t possibly know that fact.
“Thanks.” Tierney always carried handwritten notes with her cellphone number in the breast pocket of her army-surplus jacket, and now she handed one to each woman. “Just call me if you need something done.”
“Thank you, dear.” Leanne tucked the note into her purse. “Talk to you Wednesday, then.”
Tierney nodded and fastened the buckle of her backpack. A quick map search on her phone showed the location of Giselle Bonnaire’s home and gave the walking distance as one hour and ten minutes. At one time that would have seemed very far, but these days it was nothing. Placing the earbuds to her phone in her ears, Tierney pulled up her favorite playlist. She’d illegally downloaded the music off the internet at a library in Detroit, and now she referred to this playlist as her marching music. With the upbeat songs in her ear, she could appreciate walking for more than an hour.
As she strode along the picturesque streets of East Quay, the beat of the music urging her forward, she was already imagining scenarios that might unfold at Bonnaire’s house. She had to pick her best approach, and if successful, she might have weeks of a real salary, perhaps even somewhere to stay. Giving herself pep talks was another of her habits.
But though Tierney was a major fan of the art of visualization, she wasn’t prepared for someone like Giselle Bonnaire.
Giselle closed the lid over the keys of her Steinberg grand piano. She loved the instrument her father had given her when she graduated from Juilliard. Nowadays she could barely remember when she had lived in an apartment with three other students. Granted, the apartment had been located close to the school, so she didn’t have to suffer the crowd in the subway, but living there and being out on her own had given her a certain freedom.
She stood and walked into her bright white-and-yellow kitchen. Her former housekeeper, Frances, had claimed it was one of the most nauseatingly cheery kitchens she’d ever seen. Giselle missed Frances and her matter-of-fact humor. The utterly maternal way Frances acted toward her had somehow worked for Giselle in a manner she never would have expected. Frances was extremely loyal and equally protective of her. Now on her way to stay with her recently widowed sister in London, Frances might be gone a long time. Perhaps she would even decide to stay in Europe.
Pushing such depressing thoughts away, Giselle ran the water, filled the electric kettle, and started it. She was a coffee person, but the caffeine might trigger an anxiety attack that she normally could avoid. She indulged in one small cup in the morning, usually, but any more than that later in the day set her up for failure.
Something curled around her legs, and she looked down at the duo sitting there. Her dog, a black retriever mix named Charley, and her red-and-white cat, Mister, looked up at her with equally pleading eyes.
“You’re joking. You two work in pairs now?”
Charley gave a sound that sounded almost like a purr, while Mister managed to produce what could only be described as a growl.
“Seriously?” Giselle opened a container where a divider kept the dog and cat snacks separate. With both of her furry friends sitting at attention, she gave them a piece each, which disappeared in half a second. “Good Lord. You’re voracious creatures. Eating me out of house and home.” The last sentence reminded her that it was time to buy new pet food.
Normally Frances would take care of that task while grocery shopping, but now Giselle had to figure out how to do it. Perhaps she could call the pet store and find out if they delivered? Eventually she would need groceries as well, and she was pretty sure the local whole-food store didn’t do that.
Groaning, she poured herself a tall glass of strawberry iced tea. She truly hated to be so dependent on her housekeeper, but she couldn’t figure out how to fix her dilemma. The mere idea of getting into the car and driving to the center of East Quay, or worse, the mall just south of town, made her nauseous. When she needed a break from her work, she sometimes took the car and drove into the countryside, stopping at favorite places but never leaving the vehicle. Sometimes other cars would be parked at the beautiful sites, and then she would return home, angry at herself and dismayed at the disappointment coursing through her. Why couldn’t she function like everybody else?
Sighing, she picked up her cup of Earl Grey, walked out onto the front steps, and sat down. She blew on the hot beverage she was cupping and then carefully sipped it. Her garden was looking nice, and she loved spending time reading in her hammock when she wasn’t working in her music study. She felt safe venturing only as far as her white picket fence, afraid another attack would hit.
Once, Frances had persuaded her to ride along with her to an outdoor coffee place. It was uncrowded and provided plenty of space between tables. The outing went quite well to begin with, until a busload of senior citizens flooded the shop and loud chatter filled the entire place. Frances had taken one look at Giselle, no doubt spotting the complete panic written across her face, and dragged her off to the car like a rag doll.
After that, Giselle had flat-out refused to go anywhere where people might gather, whether it was one person or a hundred. Nothing Frances could say would make her risk having the panic that felt like death claim her. No matter what anyone said, Giselle was sure it was entirely possible to die from such fear.
Something moved to the left, behind her fence. A person was walking along the gravel road leading from the main road to her property. As the figure neared, Giselle saw it was a young woman dressed in khaki pants and what looked like an army-surplus jacket, carrying a large backpack and a messenger bag. She stopped at Giselle’s gate, pulled off the backpack, and placed it on the ground. Spotting Giselle, she waved and smiled broadly.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. My name is Tierney Edwards. I’m looking for Giselle Bonnaire,” she called out.
Giselle gripped her mug harder. “Why?”
“I’m here to inquire about a job.” The woman, Tierney, didn’t attempt to open the gate, which helped Giselle relax, if only marginally.
“Nobody is hiring here. I’m sorry.” Giselle stood on shaky legs but remained on the steps, curious about Tierney. “Who sent you?”
Tierney looked hesitant. “I heard from an acquaintance of yours in East Quay that your housekeeper had to leave.” Tierney then told Giselle a story about visiting colleges and needing to earn some extra cash. “Are you Ms. Bonnaire?” Tierney placed her hands on the gate but kept her distance.
“I am. And as I said, I don’t need to hire anyone.”
“That lawn and those flowerbeds beg to differ. I’m good with my hands. Gardens and pets are my specialty, but I can take care of a house too, if need be.”
As if on cue, Mister and Charley came from the back of the house, no doubt after hearing a strange voice. Charley rushed over to the gate and rose on her hind legs to greet the newcomer with a wagging tail.
“Traitor,” Giselle muttered. Mister stayed by Giselle’s side, looking regal where he sat, regarding the fool of a dog with whom he only deigned to cooperate when something was in it for him. Like treats.
“Hi, girl. What’s your name?” Tierney scratched Charley’s head and under her chin. “Oh, here’s a tag. Ah. Charley. That your name, pretty girl? Charley?”
Charley now wagged her tail as if it was attached by a hinge to her body and gave a muted woof as if to confirm her name.
“Such a pretty girl.” Tierney massaged Charley’s ears with both hands. “Good girl.”
“Charley, come here.” Annoyed, Giselle called her dog over, which under the best circumstances worked fifty percent of the time. This wasn’t one of the better attempts. Charley turned her head over her shoulder and glanced at her, grinned with her tongue lolling out between her teeth, and then returned her attention to her new friend.
“No.” Tierney took a step back. “Return to your mom. Go back.”
Charley’s tail dropped so fast, Giselle felt the corners of her mouth threaten to turn up. Charley tried her charm by barking and wagging her tail again, but Tierney pointed at Giselle and said, “Go back to your mom” as she took another step back. Charley sat down and looked between the two women, clearly confused now. “Call her again,” Tierney said.
Giselle wanted most of all to go back into the house and leave her dog to socialize in her absence, but as that seemed beyond childish, she raised her voice. “Charley. Come here!” She added more of the same stern tone that Tierney had used, and to her amazement, Charley slowly turned around and walked back to her as if she expected to be scolded.
“Now tell her to sit and then praise her. Maybe give her a treat if you have one. Or a toy.” Tierney remained a few steps from the gate.
Now Giselle was reluctantly interested. “Charley. Sit.” She snapped her fingers as she spoke the last word, which usually worked. Charley sat down with a thud, wagging her tail again.
“Good girl.” Having spotted Charley’s favorite ball within reach, Giselle took it and gave it to the easily forgiving dog. “That’s a good girl.”
Charley bounced around with her ball near the flowerbeds, while Giselle got on her feet and slowly approached the gate. “You do know your way around dogs.” She stopped two yards away from it. “A Jack-of-all-trades?”
“Pretty much.” Tierney remained where she was. “You sure you don’t need some help with that rascal as well as the garden? I
charge fifteen dollars an hour. If you offer room and board, then I charge half.”
Giselle gaped. She hadn’t offered this woman anything! “Who referred you to me?”
“Actually, two rather chatty women in town set me up. One of them hired me to walk a dog, and the other one mentioned something about babysitting a kid once her friend’s chief-of-police husband checks my nonexistent priors.” Tierney looked unwaveringly into Giselle’s eyes. “They told me you’d lost your housekeeper and said you’d give me a job if I said Frances sent me. I’d never dream of telling such a blatant lie.”
“Dear God.” Giselle had to put her mug down or she might shatter it. She was furious at the women Tierney was talking about. They were clearly up to their old tricks, sticking their noses where they didn’t belong. “I’m sorry you walked all the way here for nothing.”
Of course, Charley had to return for a repeat performance. She sat down between them, looking happily from Giselle to Tierney and back again. She barked and then tossed herself onto her back and waved all four paws in the air.
“Retrievers. They’re such clowns, it’s unbelievable.” Tierney laughed.
It was such contagious laughter, a sound like nothing Giselle had ever heard before…and something she wished she could have replicated at the piano. She smiled reluctantly.
“They sure are. I’m pretty sure I got the silliest one in the litter, as she was the only one left out of nine puppies.” Giselle shook her head.
“Can’t you give me a try? Please? It’s not like you have to let me stay in the house. I have a tent. I can camp in your backyard or in the woods over there.” Tierney pointed toward the small forest behind Giselle’s house. “I’m sure you could use me to do something.”
Giselle meant to turn Tierney down once and for all. She opened her mouth and intended to begin her next sentence with “Sorry,” but instead she heard herself say, “Can you make a decent plain omelet?”
Tierney shot her a blinding smile. “Sure. I saw the movie with Meryl Streep about that chef. I’m not through Julia Child’s entire cookbook, but when I get a chance, I try a new recipe. The French omelets were the first one I tried.”
Nothing Tierney had just said made sense, but she looked so cute when she talked about Meryl Streep and some cookbook, and she might at least stick around to help Giselle stock up on enough food for her to be all right for a while. If Leanne Walters’s police husband was going to check her record out, that would be an adequate safety measure.
“You don’t have to use your tent.” Giselle pointed to the left of her house. “Up there is a guesthouse. You can stay there for a few nights. Then you have to find something else. This is just temporary.”
“All right! Thank you!” Tierney carefully extended her hand. “This is awesome.”
Pulling herself together, Giselle took Tierney’s hand for a few seconds. “Good. I hope you have a driver’s license?”
“Good.” Walking back toward the house, Giselle called over her shoulder. “The key to the guesthouse is under the flowerpot by the door. Once you finish putting your things away, you can make us some omelets.”
“Sure. No problem.”
Giselle reached her front door and stood there watching while Tierney hoisted her backpack and entered through the gate. A beeping noise next to her showed that the alarm worked, and Giselle punched in her code to mute it. All the entrances to her property were connected to the alarm system. Was letting a perfect stranger inside the alarm’s perimeter an even bigger mistake than she feared?
Tierney found it odd that Ms. Bonnaire merely left her to her own devices. She walked along the long flagstone path to the guesthouse that lay nestled against a large group of maples. As her new employer, well, of a sort anyway, had said, the key to the house, which was bigger than the last apartment Tierney had stayed in, was hidden under a flowerpot. She unlocked the blue door and stepped inside. Gawking, she forced herself to close her mouth. This had to be the cutest, most Goldilocks-inspired house she’d ever seen. Who was she kidding? She’d never even come close to seeing something like this cottage in real life.
With pine floors covered in pink and white rugs, white furniture, and geraniums in the windows, it was beyond adorable. Tierney picked the bigger of the two bedrooms that boasted a queen-size bed with a lilac quilt as a bedspread. Opening the two closed doors outside the bedrooms, she found a family-style bathroom. An antique five-feet-long hip bath, something she recognized from historical movies, looked inviting. The small washer-dryer set was even more enticing. She hadn’t had time to wash her clothes in a couple of weeks, and with this setup she could at least start out with clean stuff when Ms. Bonnaire didn’t want her there anymore.
As she went back for her backpack and pulled out her dirty clothes, she focused on the woman up in the big house. Giselle Bonnaire wasn’t beautiful in the classic sense of the word, but she sure was striking. Her white-blond hair reached her collarbones, and she was wearing it pulled back from her face with a blue hairband. Dressed in light khaki pants and a white golf shirt, she looked like a thoroughly preppy woman. Her frame was slender, and if it hadn’t been for wiry, defined muscles in her arms, she would have seemed frail. Tierney guessed Giselle was in her late thirties. Piercing blue eyes seemed to scrutinize the person she was talking to and had made it impossible for Tierney to pull her usual happy-go-lucky routine. What had worked effortlessly on the two women in town wouldn’t go down well with Ms. Bonnaire. Of that Tierney was certain.
After changing from her dusty pants into her last clean pair of jeans and donning a white T-shirt, Tierney pulled her sneakers back on. She checked the washing machine to make sure it was set to the correct cycle, locked the door to the guesthouse behind her, pocketed the key, and headed back toward the main residence.
The garden was indeed like a small park. A vast lawn stretched between maples, birch trees, and copper beeches. Flowerbeds with perennials ran along the paths in front of the house. Now, as the sun was out, the golden light rendered the garden a fairy-tale ambiance, much like the guesthouse had.
After Tierney knocked on the front door, she opened it and stepped inside. She was going to have to find her own way around Ms. Bonnaire’s home, and her most pressing concern was to make some French omelets. At one point, she had to search for the elusive woman, and her curiosity spiked when she thought of why she was nowhere to be seen. Was she hiding?
The kitchen turned out to be located to the left of the front door. It was meticulously kept, which suggested that either Ms. Bonnaire was a neat-freak or she didn’t cook. Tierney rummaged through the fridge and decided on the latter. She found eggs, milk, vegetables, but no meat. The freezer contained four microwave-ready meals and some ice cream. The bottom shelf contained a few packages of frozen pet food. It certainly looked like the dog and the cat ate better than their owner.
Tierney started the coffee brewer and used a lemon to make a fresh jug of water, which she placed in the fridge. After she cracked two eggs, she added water, salt, and pepper, poured them into a skillet, and barely stirred the mixture as it cooked. Soon she had two omelets and a salad ready and went to look for Ms. Bonnaire. She passed the foyer and entered a large living room. Rectangular, it held a dining area over by the window and a sofa group in the inner part of the room. A fireplace made from flat stones created an ambiance of formality. Did Ms. Bonnaire have a separate TV room? She didn’t see an entertainment center in this one. No doubt this was the posh room meant for entertaining. It looked pristine to a fault. Did her temporary employer do much, if any, socializing?
Walking farther into the room, she spotted a closed door at the other end at the far-left side. Only when she neared it did she hear faint piano music. Was Ms. Bonnaire in there listening to music, or perhaps playing? She didn’t recognize the melody, but it was beautiful. She knocked on the door and waited for a response. Not hearing anything, she was just about to knock again when the door opened. Ms. Bonnaire stood there, her expression even more reserved, no, downright haughty, than before.
“Lunch is ready, Ms. Bonnaire. Where would you like me to serve it?” Tierney folded her hands behind her, a habit since her childhood whenever she felt uneasy. Not a smart idea to let anyone see her fidget.
“For heaven’s sake, call me Giselle. And the kitchen is fine. You will eat too, yes?” Giselle strode past Tierney and headed for the kitchen.
“Sure. I made plenty.” She was starving. Tierney hadn’t eaten anything but very cheap cheeseburgers in the last week. If she didn’t come across a hamburger within the foreseeable future, that would be fine with her.
The kitchen had a nice breakfast nook, and the windows boasted yellow curtains. The sunny atmosphere they gave the room contrasted with its owner’s sullen expression. Or perhaps not sullen but more like darkness tinged with frustration. Tierney was blessed, or cursed, with a powerful radar for other people’s emotional states, and Giselle sent out her exasperation on full volume.
“You’re a musician?” Tierney asked as she carried the food over to the table, wanting to break the silence.
“Yes.” Giselle sat down and served herself some of the omelet and the salad. “This looks nice.”
“I hope you like it.” Tierney wanted Giselle to elaborate about the music, but her employer seemed interested only in the food. Tierney ate in silence for a few minutes, but then she couldn’t stand her own curiosity. “Concert pianist?”
Giselle flinched. “God. No. Composer.” She gripped her utensils harder.
“Oh. That’s fantastic. What genre?”
Tierney leaned forward, curious now. “Please. I love music. Always have. What genres? Pretty please? I’m dying to know if I’ve heard any of your compositions.”
“Fine.” Giselle scowled, clearly thinking Tierney was a nuisance. “Soundtracks for films. Musical numbers. Occasional pop songs. A few jazz or blues pieces.” She shrugged.
Tierney knew she was staring, but she couldn’t help herself. “For whom?” she asked, then realized that this question was too intrusive. It sounded like she doubted the truth in Giselle’s words. “Sorry. Now I’m being too forward.”
“Oh, well.” Giselle waved her hand dismissively. “Noelle Laurent. The Maddox movies. Right now, I’m working on several pieces for Chicory Ariose’s new album. Those are the best known ones. I’ve worked with some local choirs and jazz orchestras as well.” She still spoke matter-of-factly, as if she were recounting her grocery list.
“That’s impressive. Do you enjoy composing?” Tierney had forgotten about her food, but now she scooped up some of the fluffy omelet.
“I do.” Giselle put her fork down and shifted her gaze to the bay window. “Music is such a savior, honestly.” She looked out toward the garden for several moments.
“I agree. I’ve used music as a pick-me-up ever since I was a little kid.” Tierney wasn’t sure why she felt she could tell Giselle that. Normally, she kept such things, no matter how trivial, to herself. If someone needed to know something personal about her, she had no qualms about making it up. She was an excellent liar.
“Most people can claim that. The look in your eyes suggests that it means more to you than just a way to meditate.” Tierney’s noncommittal response clearly didn’t impress Giselle.
“All right.” Tierney held her fork tight enough to make a permanent indentation in her hand. “I’m an orphan. Someone left me in a hospital bathroom when I was a few months old. Growing up in the system made music my number-one escape.”
“Tierney.” Giselle closed her eyes briefly. “I’m sorry I pried.”
“Hey. I started the prying, so no big deal.” Wanting Giselle to relax again, she donned her broad smile. “So, music it is. The more the better.”
“What kind?” Giselle returned her blue gaze to Tierney.
“Most kinds, though I have a tough time stomaching too much accordion.” Tierney smirked.
“I’m like that too,” Giselle said, now smiling faintly. “Though I find the concertina quite charming when played by a virtuoso.”
“What’s a concertina?” Tierney ate the last of her salad and reached for her glass of water.
“A small, hexagonal accordion that has a very special tone. I think it reminds me of my childhood, as its tone is quite happy. My grandfather played it.” Frowning now, as if she’d caught herself saying something personal and regretting it, Giselle stabbed a piece of lettuce with her fork.
“Do you play any instruments other than the piano?” Tierney hoped to distract Giselle, which was baffling. Why did she care if Giselle was in a bad mood? Sooner, rather than later, she would be on her way. She just had to make some money first. Once she reached Boston, she hoped to find something that lasted a little longer. Sure, East Quay was nice, unless you counted Leanne and Daphne, who had strange ideas about how you helped someone.
“Not at the same level, but I can play the guitar and the violin fairly well. And you?” Giselle asked. “Play any instruments?”
Surprised that Giselle really wanted to know anything about her, Tierney blinked. “Piano, very amateurish. Guitar, very badly, if you mean the classic way. I prefer to play it percussion style.”
Giselle’s eyebrows did a detour toward her hairline. “Percussion style?”
“Yes. Slapping on the front and on the strings.”
Giselle looked reluctantly intrigued. “Perhaps you can show me. I mean, before you leave.”
“Sure. If you don’t mind me beating the shit out of your guitar.” Tierney smiled broadly, and she could sense the expression being genuine rather than her manipulative grin, which she normally used.
“I doubt you would damage an instrument. At least if you truly love music as you say you do.” Giselle stood and placed her empty dish in the dishwasher. “I’m going to return to work. When you’ve dealt with the dishes, I need you to drive to town and buy enough food for Charley and Mister for three months.”
“And how do I pay for it?” Tierney also rose and began straightening up after them.
“I have an account there. If you give the owner my name, he’ll give you exactly what I need.”
Tierney hesitated. “You know, I’m not exactly known around here. They have no reason to trust me. For all they know, I could be scamming them for pet food.” She shrugged awkwardly. “Perhaps you want to tag along? I’m sure it’ll be a quick trip.”
Giselle pressed her lips together until they paled. “Not an option. I’ve got to work. They have my cell-phone number. I dislike being interrupted, but if there’s a problem, they can call me, and I’ll verify that you’re working for me, if only temporarily.”
“All right. Thanks. I won’t be making any money dog-walking in East Quay if they think I’m a thief.” Tierney placed the rest of the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and stood, pushing her hands into her jeans pockets. Why had Giselle gone gray and fidgety when Tierney had asked if she wanted to join her?
“Good. Car keys are in that cabinet, marked Jeep.” Giselle pointed at a small, white metal cabinet. “It’s an automatic.”
“Okay, though I’m quite good at driving a stick shift.”
Nodding, Giselle walked toward the hallway. “I trust you, Tierney.”
A pleasant buzz erupted at the sound of her name from Giselle’s lips. Her alto voice was stark and cropped, but the way she spoke her name, pronouncing it properly, was…well, strange, somehow. Some people called her Tinny, while others dared to pronounce it Timmy and, worst of all, Turney. Some kids she’d shared a foster home with had heard their foster dad say that to her and kept changing it to Turkey. “I do have a license, and it’s up to date.” This was true. She’d managed to renew it during a very brief return to her home state. It had taken her quite the finagling to have it delivered to her last address since she had to keep watch over the new tenant’s mailbox to get it.
“Well, then.” Giselle merely turned and returned to her music room.
After taking care of the kitchen, Tierney removed the keys to the Jeep and walked to the garage south of the main house. She saw what looked like a brand-new, forest-green metallic Jeep sitting there looking spotless. After she climbed behind the wheel, she started the car with ease and drove down the driveway. The gate went up automatically, but she spotted a remote on the visor that she surmised would open the gate from the outside.
Driving into town took only twenty minutes. Walking from East Quay to Giselle’s place had taken Tierney two and a half hours with her large backpack and tent. Humming to the radio, she let her strong voice fill the car along with Noelle Laurent, who was singing her latest hit song. Tierney had admired the charismatic and beautiful singer for a decade, and when Noelle had begun singing her own material, Tierney would have done just about anything to be able to do that. She had several notebooks filled with her own song lyrics. She was good with words but found it hard to come up with original and catchy melodies to accompany them.
The pet-food store was located on the outskirts of East Quay, close to the new mall. She didn’t see many cars in the parking lot and hoped to complete her errand quickly. She grabbed a shopping cart and pushed it through the doors. The place was huge. She’d been to many pet stores, but this was one of the biggest, perhaps thebiggest. As she looked around for someone who could assist her, she didn’t pay attention to where she was going. She bumped her cart against someone else’s and winced.
“I’m so sorry,” Tierney said in a gush. “I should watch where I’m going.”
“I would say the same, but that would be wishful thinking,” the woman holding onto the other shopping cart said, sounding amused. “No harm done.” She was blond, curvaceous, and wore very dark sunglasses. And held a white cane. Shit.
“Vivian?” a younger voice said, and a tall, dark-haired woman dressed in black jeans and a blue chambray shirt appeared. “You okay, sweetheart?” She placed her arm around the middle-aged woman’s waist and kissed her on the temple.
“I’m fine. This young woman apologized profusely.”
“Only right,” Tierney said. “I was too busy looking for a staff member. Glad I didn’t actually hit you, ma’am.”
“Oh, good Lord. Do call me Vivian.” The blond woman smiled warmly. “I think Mike was doing the same thing. Did you find someone, darling?” She turned to the other woman, who had to be this Mike.
Wait…Vivian? Mike? Tierney’s mind whirled. As in Mike Stone and Vivian Harding? For a few seconds, Tierney contemplated pretending she hadn’t recognized either of them, but perhaps this thing of being up front with Giselle was becoming a habit. “I’m Tierney. I admire your music, Vivian, Mike, and listen to it often.” She almost added that their music was very good to take one’s mind off having to sleep outdoors, barely sheltered from the rain.
“Ah. That’s wonderful.” Vivian nodded regally. “Now, if you and Mike could scare up a staff member so I can buy the special food the vet recommended for my boys, I’d be happy to sing for you.”
Mike snorted. “You’ll get us in trouble if you teach those parrots over there to sing one of your arias.” Turning to Tierney, she motioned for her to come along. “Leave the cart with Vivian. I thought I heard someone in the back.”
Still stunned, Tierney followed Mike to the back of the store, where they finally found a stocky, thin-haired man hauling large sacks of dog food from the fork lift. Mike asked for a special brand of food, which he quickly guided her to.
“And you, miss?” the man said politely, looking curiously at her. He had clearly known who Mike was but now regarded Tierney as if she was a rare entity.
“I’m currently employed by Giselle Bonnaire, and she asked me to pick up three months’ worth of food for her cat and dog. And charge it to her account.”
The manager’s eyebrows slanted down toward the bridge of his nose as he gave her an apprehensive look. “How would I know you’re who you say you are? Normally Frances shops for Ms. Bonnaire.”
“Frances is in Europe. I’m filling in for a while.” A long while, Tierney hoped. “You can call Ms. Bonnaire and double check. She said you have her cellphone number.” This wasn’t going well. Tierney could feel a major déjà vu from her teens. Back then, if something was amiss in any way, the foster kid got the blame. The one without parents, without a real home to call her own, and the one who had every reason to shoplift or steal something from someone at any given time had to be guilty.
“I most certainly will.” The man pulled out his phone and scrolled down with a short, stubby index finger.
“Something wrong? You’re pale.” Mike showed up with a shopping cart and two large sacks of dog food.
“He’s just checking so I don’t rip him off. Or my employer,” Tierney said, trying to sound casual and facetious. “You know. I’m new at my job, and he’s got to make a living.”
“Well, so do you, I would imagine.” Mike remained where she was.
A rhythmic clicking sound approached from an aisle to their left, and then Vivian came into view. “I couldn’t help but hear the entire exchange, Tierney. I understand he needs to check, but he didn’t have to sound so condescending and downright suspicious.” Vivian clearly wasn’t impressed. “We know Giselle very well, and though I’m surprised Frances isn’t with her, I’m glad she found someone to help her in the meantime.”
“I didn’t hear that part. Here he comes now. All smiles.”
Thank God. Tierney saw the man hurry toward them, looking benevolent and service-minded now. Well, perhaps he was just a gruff sort of man who always sounded brusque when he talked to his customers.
It took the manager ten minutes to stack the large amount of dog and cat food, kitty litter, and treats in her shopping cart. As she signed for the purchase, he offered to help her load it into the car. Perhaps it was his way of smoothing things over, but Mike, who had waited with Vivian until Tierney was done, interrupted.
“I can help you, Tierney. No problem.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Tierney was strong, but it would go easier with Mike’s help. “I’ll help you with yours.”
“Brilliant!” Mike grinned at her as they left the store.
After placing their pet supplies in the respective cars, Vivian tugged Mike’s sleeve. “Give Tierney our card, darling.” She turned to Tierney. “Just in case you need something. We’re coming to Giselle’s on Sunday to listen to some of her work. It’ll be nice to get to know you better, dear.”
Tierney clutched the card. “I’d like to get to know you too, but I won’t be there on Sunday. I’m a very temporary employee. Just for a day or two.” Furious at how her throat constricted, Tierney forced one of her broad and blinding smiles onto her lips. “After this job, I intend to try to find more dogs to walk in East Quay for as long as possible. Perhaps your dogs need walking?” She refused to sound pitiful and injected as much cheer in her voice as humanly possible.
“A day or two?” Mike gaped. “But what will Giselle do after you move on? You can’t quit after two days.”
“I think you misunderstand,” Vivian said quietly. “If I’m not mistaken, it’s Giselle who’s set the time—the far-too-short a time—for Tierney’s services.”
“What—oh.” Mike tapped her chin with her fingertips. “Go figure. Stubborn as hell.”
“As stubborn as she is ingenious.” Vivian extended her hand to Tierney and shook it in her usual firm way. “Don’t tell Giselle about this conversation. I plan to call her later today, and I’ll make sure she realizes how much she needs you. You’re young, much younger than Frances, but my radar tells me you’re a good person. I’m rarely wrong.”
“She truly isn’t.” Mike shrugged. “So just hang in there and, in the meantime, try to make yourself indispensable. That is, if you truly want to stay on as Giselle’s assistant?”
“I do,” Tierney said quickly. “But I’m more like her housekeeper.”
“Nonsense,” Vivian said. “You’re replacing Frances, and she was her assistant.”
“All right.” Tierney could smile easier now. “Thanks to the both of you. I’m so glad I ran into you.”
“Literally, as it were,” Vivian said brightly. “So, if all goes well, we’ll see you Sunday.” She waved and climbed into the passenger seat. “I think I’ll let you drive this time, darling,” she said to Mike, who groaned at what must be a very old private joke between them.
“Ha-ha. You kill me, Harding.” Mike rounded the car and waved at Tierney before she took the driver’s seat.
Tierney did the same, and on the way back to Giselle’s place, she asked unnamed deities to let Vivian be successful. She truly didn’t want to be on the road again, but that wasn’t the most important part. Something about Giselle made Tierney want to really assist her in a meaningful way by training Giselle’s retriever to be a good, reliable kind of service dog. An emotional-support dog. Something told Tierney that Giselle needed exactly that.