"The buzzer rang, Mom," Hope called from the door.
"Thanks, honey," Rachel murmured, adding several last strokes. "Will you take the casserole out and turn off the gas?"
"I already did." Hope was at her side now, studying the canvas. "I thought you were done."
"Something wasn't right." She stood back for a longer view and was satisfied.
"Better." Still eyeing the canvas, she set her palette aside, reached for a solvent cloth, and wiped her hands. "I'll clean up and be right there." She looked at Hope. "Did Samantha set the table?"
"She's on the phone again?"
"Still," Hope said so dryly that Rachel had to chuckle.
She hooked her baby's neck with an elbow and gave a squeeze. "Five minutes," she said and sent her off.
As promised, five minutes later Rachel was in the kitchen doling out lasagna and salad. Twenty minutes after that, digesting her meal along with a blow-by-blow of the late-breaking news that Samantha had received from her friends, Rachel gave out cleanup assignments. Fifteen minutes after that, having showered herself free of paint smells and put on fresh clothes, she ran a brush through her hair. Then she paused and looked wildly around for the book she had read the weekend before.
She searched the chaos of her bedroom without success. Thinking she might have already set it out, she returned to the kitchen and looked around. "Is my book in here?"
The girls were doing the dishes, Samantha washing, Hope drying.
"I'd look," Samantha said with little grace, "but you told me not to do anything until these were done."
Rachel shifted a pile of mail, mostly clothing catalogues addressed to the self-same woman-child. "I was referring to the telephone," she said, checking in and around cookbooks. She doubled over to search the seats of the chairs pushed in at the table. "I remember having it in my hand," she murmured to herself when that search, too, proved fruitless.
"You're not organized," Samantha charged. Rachel regularly preached the merits of organization.
"Oh, I am," she mused, but distractedly. She went into the living room and began searching there. "I just have a lot on my plate right now."
That was putting it mildly. With her show three weeks away and closing in fast, she was feeling the crunch. Okay. She had finally hit gold with the sea otters. But there was still the background to do for that one and six others, and eighteen in all to frame -- which would have been fine if she had nothing but work to do in the next three weeks. But there was a dress to buy with Samantha for her first prom, an end-of-the-year picnic to run for Hope's seventh-grade class, dentist's and doctor's appointments for both girls, a birthday party to throw for Ben Wolfe, who owned the art gallery and was a sometime date, and a share-your-career day to spend with three fifth-graders she didn't know.
She had splurged last night. She shouldn't be going anywhere tonight.
But last night had been for the girls and their mother. Book club was just for her. She loved the women, loved the books. Even if it added pressure to an already hectic work schedule, she wasn't missing a meeting.
Hope materialized at her shoulder. "I think it's in your studio."
Closing her eyes, Rachel conjured up the studio, which lay at a far end of her rambling house. She had left it for the day, then returned for an unexpected little while. And before returning? Yes, she'd had the book in her hand. She had carried it there and set it down.
"Thanks, sweetheart." She cupped Hope's chin. "Are you okay?"
The child looked forlorn.
"Guinevere will be fine," Rachel said softly. "She ate, didn't she?"
Reproduced with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
Copyright © 1998 by Barbara Delinsky.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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