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Page 22

“How could I forget?” He gave her a yearning glance. “Are you bringing back any leftovers?”

Maggie began to laugh. “You are shameless. I’ll make an extra ramekin of mac and cheese for you. Would you like me to make a pie for you, too?”

“Would you?”

“What kind? Pumpkin…apple…pecan?”

“Surprise me,” he said, and stole a kiss from her, so fast that she had no time to react.

The day before Thanksgiving, Maggie picked up Holly from the house at Rainshadow Vineyard, and brought her to her bungalow.

“Am I invited, too?” Sam had asked before they left.

“No, it’s just for girls,” Holly had told him, giggling.

“What if I wear a wig? What if I talk in a really high voice?”

“Uncle Sam,” the child said cheerfully, “you’re the worst girl ever!”

“And you’re the best,” Sam said, kissing her noisily. “All right, you can go without me. But you’d better bring me back a big pie.”

Taking Holly to her house, Maggie put on some music, lit a fire in the fireplace, and tied one of her aprons around Holly. She showed Holly how to use an old-fashioned bell-shaped cheese grater, the kind with four sides. Although Maggie was going to use a food processor for most of the cheese, she wanted Holly to have the experience of grating some of it by hand. It was touching to see the child’s delight in kitchen tasks of measuring, stirring, tasting.

“Here are the different cheeses we’re going to use,” Maggie said. “Irish Cheddar, Parmesan, smoked Gouda, and Gruyère. After we grate all of this, we’re going to melt it with butter and hot milk….”

The air was filled with good smells, with heat and sweetness, and a whiff of flour dust. Having a child in the kitchen reminded Maggie what a miracle it was that a few basic ingredients could be combined and heated into something wonderful. They made enough mac and cheese to feed an army, and topped it with bread crumbs that had been lightly browned in a pan with butter. They made two pies—one with satiny pumpkin filling, one with plump pecans—and Maggie showed Holly how to crimp a pie crust. They cut the extra scraps of dough into shapes, sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon, and baked them on cookie sheets.

“My mother calls those scrap cookies,” Maggie said.

Holly looked through the oven window at the pie-dough shapes. “Is your mother still alive?” she asked.

“Yes.” Maggie set aside the flour-coated rolling pin and went to Holly. Kneeling behind her, she put her arms around the child, and together they looked into the oven. “What kind of pies did your mother make?” she asked.

“I don’t think she made pies,” Holly said reflectively, “but she made cookies.”

“Chocolate chip?”

“Mmm-hmm. And snickerdoodles…”

It helped, Maggie knew, to be able to talk about those who were gone. It was good to remember. And they continued to talk as they baked, not in a long protracted conversation, but in little here-and-there sprinkles, the spice of memories mingling with the fragrance of warm pie crust.

When Maggie dropped Holly off in the evening, the child put her arms around her waist and held on for an extra-long hug.

Holly’s voice was muffled against Maggie’s front. “Are you sure you won’t have Thanksgiving with us tomorrow?”

Maggie’s tormented gaze went to Mark, who was standing nearby.

“She can’t, Holls,” he said gently. “Maggie’s family needs her to be there with them tomorrow.”

Except that she could, and they didn’t.

Guilt and worry began to crowd out the good feelings that had blossomed during the afternoon. As she looked from the top of Holly’s head to meet Mark’s vaguely sympathetic gaze, Maggie comprehended how easy it would be to fall in love with both of them. And how much she would have to lose then, more than she could ever survive. But if she could somehow keep from getting seriously involved, she wouldn’t have to risk having her heart broken beyond all hope of repair.

She patted Holly’s back and gently disentangled herself from the child’s enthusiastic grip. “I really have to go to Bellingham tomorrow,” she said briskly. “Bye, Holly. It was a fun day.” She bent and kissed the soft cheek, slightly flavored with cinnamon sugar.

On Thanksgiving morning, Maggie flat-ironed her hair, dressed in trouser jeans, booties, and a spice-colored sweater, and took the large foil-covered casserole dish out to her car.

Just as she began to back out of her driveway, her cell phone rang. Stopping the car, she fished around in her bag until she found the phone amid the clutter of receipts, lip-gloss tubes, and spare change.

“Hello?”

“Maggie?”

“Holly,” she said in instant concern. “How are you?”

“Great,” came the little girl’s cheerful reply. “Happy Thanksgiving!”

Maggie smiled, relaxing slightly. “Happy Thanksgiving. What are you up to?”

“I let Renfield outside to go to the bathroom, and then he came back in, and I put food in his bowl and gave him some water.”

“I can tell you’re taking good care of him.”

“But then Uncle Mark made both of us leave the kitchen while they cleared out the smoke.”

“Smoke?” Maggie’s smile faded. “Why was there smoke?”

“Uncle Sam was cooking. And then they called Uncle Alex and he’s taking the oven door off.”

Maggie frowned. Why in the world would Alex be removing the oven door? “Holly…where is Uncle Mark?”

“He’s looking for his safety goggles.”

“Why does he need safety goggles?”

“Because he’s helping Uncle Sam cook the turkey.”

“I see.” Maggie looked down at her watch. If she was fast, she had enough time to drop by Rainshadow Vineyard and still make the late-morning ferry to Anacortes. “Holly, I think I’m going to stop by your house before I go to the ferry terminal.”

“Great!” came the enthusiastic reply. “Except…maybe you shouldn’t say that I called you. Because that might get me in trouble.”

“I won’t mention that part,” Maggie assured her.

Before Holly could reply, a male voice in the background asked, “Holly, who are you talking to?”

Maggie said, “Tell him it’s an opinion poll.”

“A lady is doing an opinion poll,” she heard Holly say.

A brief muffled consultation, then Holly said importantly, “My uncle says we don’t have any opinions.” A pause, and a few more muffled words. “And,” Holly added severely, “we’re on the do-not-call list.”

Maggie grinned. “Well, I’ll just come over, then.”

“Okay. Bye!”

It was cold and a little blustery, the perfect weather for Thanksgiving because it brought to mind images of cozy fireplaces, a turkey in the oven, and watching the Macy’s parade on TV.

There was a BMW in the driveway, immaculate and sleek. The vehicle undoubtedly belonged to Alex, the Nolan brother she hadn’t met. Feeling a little like an intruder, but driven by concern, Maggie parked and went up the front steps.

Holly met her at the door, dressed in corduroy pants and a long-sleeved tee featuring a cartoon turkey. “Maggie!” the girl cried, bouncing up and down, and they hugged. Renfield came up to them, panting and wheezing happily.

“Where are your uncles?” Maggie asked.

“Uncle Alex is in the kitchen. Renfield and I are helping him. I don’t know where anybody else is.”

A distinct odor of scorched food tainted the air, becoming stronger as they went to the kitchen. A dark-haired man was in the middle of disassembling the front of the oven, a power drill in his hand and a ponderous tool box beside him.

Alex Nolan was a smoother, more polished version of his older brothers. His features were handsome but remote, his eyes the crystalline blue of glacier ice. Like Sam, his form was lean and elegant, not quite so broad in build as Mark’s. And his polo shirt and khakis, while casual, had the look of expensive garments.

“Hello,” he said. “Who is this, Holly?”

“This is Maggie.”

“Please, don’t get up,” Maggie said hastily, as he set aside the drill and made to stand. “Obviously you’re in the middle of…something. Can I ask what happened?”

“Sam put some food in the oven and accidentally pushed the self-cleaning cycle button instead of the bake button. The oven incinerated the food and automatically locked, so they couldn’t open the door and get the stuff out.”

“Usually an oven unlocks when the temperature lowers to five or six hundred degrees.”

Alex shook his head. “It’s cooled down, and the door still won’t open. It’s a new oven, and this is the first time the self-cleaning cycle’s ever been used. Apparently the locking mechanism is screwed up somehow, so I have to disassemble it.”

Before Maggie could ask another question, she was startled by a flare of light, then an explosive rush of flame beyond the back door accompanied by a billow of smoke. Instinctively Maggie turned to shield Holly, and ducked her head with a gasp. “My God. What was that?”

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