Covetous of others' possessions,
he was prodigal of his own.
Who in the world am I?
Ah, that's the great puzzle!
A HEROIC BELCH OF THUNDER followed the strange little man into the
shop. He glanced around apologetically, as if the rude noise were
his responsibility rather than nature's, and fumbled a package
under his arm so he could close a black-and-white-striped
Both umbrella and man dripped, somewhat mournfully, onto the neat
square of mat just inside the door while the cold spring rain
battered the streets and sidewalks on the other side. He stood
where he was, as if not entirely sure of his welcome.
Laine turned her head and sent him a smile that held only warmth
and easy invitation. It was a look her friends would have called
her polite shopkeeper's smile.
Well, damnit, she was a polite shopkeeper—and at the moment
that label was being sorely tested.
If she'd known the rain would bring customers into the store
instead of keeping them away, she wouldn't have given Jenny the day
off. Not that she minded business. A woman didn't open a store if
she didn't want customers, whatever the weather. And a woman didn't
open one in Small Town, U.S.A., unless she understood she'd spend
as much time chatting, listening and refereeing debates as she
would ringing up sales.
And that was fine, Laine thought, that was good. But if Jenny had
been at work instead of spending the day painting her toenails and
watching soaps, Jenny would've been the one stuck with the
Darla Price Davis and Carla Price Gohen had their hair tinted the
same ashy shade of blond. They wore identical slick blue raincoats
and carried matching hobo bags. They finished each other's
sentences and communicated in a kind of code that included a lot of
twitching eyebrows, pursed lips, lifted shoulders and head
What might've been cute in eight-year-olds was just plain weird in
Still, Laine reminded herself, they never came into Remember When
without dropping a bundle. It might take them hours to drop it, but
eventually the sales would ring. There was little that lifted
Laine's heart as high as the ring of the cash register.
Today they were on the hunt for an engagement present for their
niece, and the driving rain and booming thunder hadn't stopped
them. Nor had it deterred the drenched young couple
who—they'd said—had detoured into Angel's Gap on a whim
on their way to D.C.
Or the wet little man with the striped umbrella who looked, to
Laine's eye, a bit frantic and lost.
So she added a little more warmth to her smile. "I'll be with you
in just a few minutes," she called out, and turned her attention
back to the Twins.
"Why don't you look around a little more," Laine suggested. "Think
it over. As soon as I—"
Darla's hand clamped on her wrist, and Laine knew she wasn't going
"We need to decide. Carrie's just about your age, sweetie. What
would you want for your engagement gift?"
Laine didn't need to transcribe the code to understand it was a
not-so-subtle dig. She was, after all, twenty-eight, and not
married. Not engaged. Not, at the moment, even dating particularly.
This, according to the Price twins, was a crime against
"You know," Carla piped up, "Carrie met her Paul at Kawanian's
spaghetti supper last fall. You really should socialize more,
"I really should," she agreed with a winning smile. If I want to
hook up with a balding, divorced CPA with a sinus condition. "I
know Carrie's going to love whatever you choose. But maybe an
engagement gift from her aunts should be something more personal
than the candlesticks. They're lovely, but the dresser set's so
feminine." She picked up the silver-backed brush from the set they
were considering. "I imagine another bride used this on her wedding
"More personal," Darla began. "More—"
"Girlie. Yes! We could get the candlesticks for—"
"A wedding gift. But maybe we should look at the jewelry before we
buy the dresser set. Something with pearls? Something—"
"Old she could wear on her wedding day. Put the candlesticks and
the dresser set aside, honey. We'll take a look at the jewelry
before we decide anything."
The conversation bounced like a tennis ball served and volleyed out
of two identical coral-slicked mouths. Laine congratulated herself
on her skill and focus as she was able to keep up with who said
"Good idea." Laine lifted the gorgeous old Dresden candlesticks. No
one could say the Twins didn't have taste, or were shy of heating
up their plastic.
She started to carry them to the counter when the little man
crossed her path.
She was eye to eye with him, and his were a pale, washed-out blue
reddened by lack of sleep or alcohol or allergies. Laine decided on
lost sleep as they were also dogged by heavy bags of fatigue. His
hair was a grizzled mop gone mad with the rain. He wore a pricey
Burberry topcoat and carried a three-dollar umbrella. She assumed
he'd shaved hurriedly that morning as he'd missed a patch of
stubbly gray along his jaw.
He said her name with a kind of urgency and intimacy that had her
smile turning to polite confusion.
"Yes? I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"You don't remember me." His body seemed to droop. "It's been a
long time, but I thought..."
"Miss!" the woman on her way to D.C. called out. "Do you
"Yes, we do." She could hear the Twins going through one of their
shorthand debates over earrings and brooches, and sensed an impulse
buy from the D.C. couple. And the little man stared at her with a
hopeful intimacy that had her skin chilling.
"I'm sorry, I'm a little swamped this morning." She sidestepped to
the counter to set down the candlesticks. Intimacy, she reminded
herself, was part of the rhythm of small towns. The man had
probably been in before, and she just couldn't place him. "Is there
something specific I can help you with, or would you like to browse
"I need your help. There isn't much time." He drew out a card,
pressed it into her hand. "Call me at that number, as soon as you
"Mr...." She glanced down at the card, read his name. "Peterson, I
don't understand. Are you looking to sell something?"
"No. No." His laugh bounced toward hysterical and had Laine
grateful for the customers crowded into the store. "Not anymore.
I'll explain everything, but not now." He looked around the shop.
"Not here. I shouldn't have come here. Call the number."
He clamped a hand over hers in a way that had Laine fighting an
instinct to jerk free. "Promise."
He smelled of rain and soap and...Brut, she realized. And the
aftershave had some flicker of memory trying to light in her brain.
Then his fingers tightened on hers. "Promise," he repeated in a
harsh whisper, and she saw only an odd man in a wet coat.
She watched him go to the door, open the cheap umbrella. And let
out a sigh of relief when he scurried out into the rain. Weird was
her only thought, but she studied the card for a moment.
His name was printed, Jasper R. Peterson, but the phone number was
handwritten beneath and underscored twice, she noted.
Pushing the card into her pocket, she started over to give the
traveling couple a friendly nudge, when the sound of screeching
brakes on wet pavement and shocked screams had her spinning around.
There was a hideous noise, a hollow thud she'd never forget. Just
as she'd never forget the sight of the strange little man in his
fashionable coat slamming against her display window.
She bolted out the door, into the streaming rain. Footsteps pounded
on the pavement, and somewhere close was the crunching sound of
metal striking metal, glass shattering.
"Mr. Peterson." Laine gripped his hand, bowed her body over his in
a pathetic attempt to shield his bloodied face from the rain.
"Don't move. Call an ambulance!" she shouted and yanked off her
jacket to cover him as best she could.
"Saw him. Saw him. Shouldn't have come. Laine."
"Left it for you. He wanted me to get it to you."
"It's all right." She scooped her dripping hair out of her eyes and
took the umbrella someone offered. She angled it over him, leaned
down closer as he tugged weakly on her hand.
"Be careful. I'm sorry. Be careful."
"I will. Of course I will. Just try to be quiet now, try to hold
on, Mr. Peterson. Help's coming."
"You don't remember." Blood trickled out of his mouth as he smiled.
"Little Lainie." He took a shuddering breath, coughed up blood. She
heard the sirens as he began to sing in a thin, gasping
"Pack up all my care and woe," he crooned, then wheezed. "Bye, bye,
She stared at his battered face as her already chilled skin began
to prickle. Memories, so long locked away, opened. "Uncle Willy? Oh
"Used to like that one. Screwed up," he said breathlessly. "Sorry.
Thought it'd be safe. Shouldn't've come."
"I don't understand." Tears burned her throat, streamed down her
cheeks. He was dying. He was dying because she hadn't known him,
and she'd sent him out into the rain. "I'm sorry. I'm so
"He knows where you are now." His eyes rolled back. "Hide the
"What?" She leaned closer yet until her lips almost brushed his.
"What?" But the hand she had clutched in hers went limp.
Paramedics brushed her aside. She heard their short, pithy
dialogue—medical codes she'd grown accustomed to hearing on
television, could almost recite herself. But this was real. The
blood washing away in the rain was real.
She heard a woman sobbing and saying over and over in a strident
voice, "He ran right in front of me. I couldn't stop in time. He
just ran in front of the car. Is he all right? Is he all right? Is
he all right?"
No, Laine wanted to say. He's not.
"Come inside, honey." Darla put an arm around Laine's shoulders,
drew her back. "You're soaked. You can't do anything more out
"I should do something." She stared down at the broken umbrella,
its cheerful stripes marked with grime now, and drops of
She should have settled him down in front of the fire. Given him a
hot drink and let him warm and dry himself in front of the little
hearth. Then he'd be alive. Telling her stories and silly
But she hadn't recognized him, and so he was dying.
She couldn't go in, out of the rain, and leave him alone with
strangers. But there was nothing to be done but watch, helplessly,
while the paramedics fought and failed to save the man who'd once
laughed at her knock-knock jokes and sung silly songs. He died in
front of the shop she'd worked so hard to build, and laid at her
door all the memories she thought she'd escaped.
SHE WAS A BUSINESSWOMAN, a solid member of the community, and a
fraud. In the back room of her store, she poured two cups of coffee
and knew she was about to lie to a man she considered a friend. And
deny all knowledge of one she'd loved.
She did her best to steady herself, ran her hands through the damp
mass of bright red hair normally worn in a shoulder-sweeping bob.
She was pale, and the rain had washed away the makeup, always
carefully applied, so freckles stood out on her narrow nose and
across her cheekbones. Her eyes, a bright Viking blue, were glassy
with shock and grief. Her mouth, just a hair too wide for her
angular face, wanted to tremble.
In the little giltwood mirror on the wall of her office, she
studied her reflection. And saw herself for what she was. Well, she
would do what she needed to do to survive. Willy would certainly
understand that. Do what came first, she told herself, then think
about the rest.
She sucked in a breath, let out a shudder, then lifted the coffee.
Her hands were nearly steady as she went into the main shop and
prepared to give false testimony to Angel's Gap's chief of
"Sorry it took so long," she apologized as she carried the mugs to
where Vince Burger stood by the little clinker fireplace.
He was built like a bear with a great shock of white-blond hair
that stood nearly straight up, as if surprised to find itself on
top of the wide, comfortable face. His eyes, a faded blue and
fanned with squint lines, were full of compassion.
He was Jenny's husband, and had become a kind of brother to Laine.
But for now she reminded herself he was a cop, and everything she'd
worked for was on the line.
"Why don't you sit down, Laine? You've had a bad shock."
"I feel sort of numb." That was true enough, she didn't have to lie
about everything. But she walked over to sip her coffee and stare
out at the rain so she wouldn't have to meet those sympathetic
eyes. "I appreciate your coming in to take my statement yourself,
Vince. I know you're busy."
"Figured you'd be more comfortable."
Better to lie to a friend than a stranger, she thought bitterly. "I
don't know what I can tell you. I didn't see the actual accident. I
heard...I heard brakes, screams, an awful thud, then I saw..." She
didn't shut her eyes. If she shut them, she'd see it again. "I saw
him hit the window, like he'd been thrown against it. I ran out,
stayed with him until the paramedics came. They were quick. It
seemed like hours, but it was only minutes."
"He was in here before the accident."
Now she did close her eyes, and prepared to do what she had to do
to protect herself. "Yes. I had several customers this morning,
which proves I should never give Jenny a day off. The Twins were
in, and a couple driving through on their way to D.C. I was busy
when he came in. He browsed around for a while."
"The woman from out of town said she thought you knew each
"Really?" Turning now, Laine painted a puzzled expression on her
face, as a clever artist might on a portrait. She crossed back, sat
on one of the two elbow chairs she'd arranged in front of the fire.
"I don't know why."
"An impression," Vince said with a shrug. Always mindful of his
size, he sat, slow and careful, in the matching chair. "Said he
took your hand."
"Well, we shook hands, and he gave me his card." Laine pulled it
out of her pocket, forced herself to keep her attention on Vince's
face. The fire was crackling with warmth, and though she felt its
heat on her skin, she was cold. Very cold. "He said he'd like to
speak with me when I wasn't so busy. That he might have something
to sell. People often do," she added, offering Vince the card.
"Which is how I stay in business."
"Right." He tucked the card into his breast pocket. "Anything
strike you about him?"
"Just that he had a beautiful topcoat, and a silly
umbrella—and that he didn't seem like the sort to wander
around small towns. Had city on him."
"So did you a few years ago. In fact ..." He narrowed his gaze,
reached out and rubbed a thumb over her cheek. "Still got some
stuck to you."
She laughed, because it's what he wanted. "I wish I could be more
help, Vince. It's such an awful thing to happen."
"I can tell you, we got four different witness statements. All of
them have the guy running straight out into the street, dead in
front of that car. Like he was spooked or something. He seem
spooked to you, Laine?"
"I wasn't paying enough attention. The fact is, Vince, I basically
brushed him off when I realized he wasn't here to shop. I had
customers." She shook her head when her voice broke. "It seems so
The hand Vince laid over hers in comfort made her feel foul. "You
didn't know what was coming. You were the first to get to
"He was right outside." She had to take a deep gulp of coffee to
wash the grief out of her throat. "Almost on the doorstep."
"He spoke to you."
"Yes." She reached for her coffee again. "Nothing that made much
sense. He said he was sorry, a couple of times. I don't think he
knew who I was or what happened. I think he was delirious. The
paramedics came and...and he died. What will you do now? I mean,
he's not from around here. The phone number's New York. I wonder, I
guess I wonder if he was just driving through, where he was going,
where he was from."
"We'll be looking into all that so we can notify his next of kin."
Rising, Vince laid a hand on her shoulder. "I'm not going to tell
you to put it out of your mind, Laine. You won't be able to, not
for a while. I'm going to tell you that you did all you could.
Can't do more than all you could."
"Thanks. I'm going to close up for the day. I want to go
"Good idea. Want a ride?"
"No. Thanks." It was guilt as much as affection that had her rising
on her toes to press a kiss to his cheek. "Tell Jenny I'll see her
HIS NAME, at least the name she'd known, was Willy Young. Probably
William, Laine thought as she drove up the pitted gravel lane. He
hadn't been her real uncle—as far as she knew—but an
honorary one. One who'd always had red licorice in his pocket for a
She hadn't seen him in nearly twenty years, and his hair had been
brown then, his face a bit rounder. There'd always been a spring in
Small wonder she hadn't recognized him in the bowed and nervy
little man who'd come into her shop.
How had he found her? Why had he?
Since he'd been, to her knowledge, her father's closest friend, she
assumed he was—as was her father—a thief, a scam
artist, a small-time grifter. Not the sort of connections a
respectable businesswoman wanted to acknowledge.
And why the hell should that make her feel small and guilty?
She slapped on the brakes and sat, brooding through the steady
whoosh of her wipers at the pretty house on the pretty rise.
She loved this place. Hers. Home. The two-story frame house was,
strictly speaking, too large for a woman on her own. But she loved
being able to ramble around in it. She'd loved every minute she'd
spent meticulously decorating each room to suit herself. And only
Knowing, as she did, she'd never, ever have to pack up all her
belongings at a moment's notice to the tune of "Bye Bye Blackbird"
She loved being able to putter around the yard, planting gardens,
pruning bushes, mowing the grass, yanking the weeds. Ordinary
things. Simple, normal things for a woman who'd spent the first
half of her life doing little that was normal.
She was entitled to this, wasn't she? To being Laine Tavish and all
that meant? The business, the town, the house, the friends, the
life. She was entitled to the woman she'd made herself into.
It wouldn't have helped Willy for her to have told Vince the truth.
Nothing would have changed for him, and everything might have
changed for her. Vince would find out, soon enough, that the man in
the county morgue wasn't Jasper R. Peterson but William Young, and
however many aka's that went with it.
There'd be a criminal record. She knew Willy had done at least one
stint alongside her father. "Brothers in arms," her father had
called them, and she could still hear his big, booming laugh.
Because it infuriated her, she slammed out of the car. She made the
house in a dash, fumbled out her keys.
She calmed, almost immediately, when the door was closed at her
back and the house surrounded her. Just the quiet of it, the scents
of lemon oil rubbed into wood by her own hand, the subtle sweetness
of spring flowers brought in from her own yard stroked her frayed
She set her keys in the raku dish on the entry table, pulled her
cell phone out of her purse and plugged it into the recharger.
Slipped out of her shoes, out of her jacket, which she draped over
the newel post, and set her purse on the bottom step.
Following routine, she walked back to the kitchen. Normally, she'd
have put on the kettle for tea and looked through the mail she'd
picked up from the box at the foot of the lane while the water
But today, she poured a big glass of wine.
And drank it standing at the sink, looking through the window at
She'd had a yard—a couple of times—as a kid. She
remembered one in...Nebraska? Iowa? What did it matter, she thought
and took a healthy gulp of wine. She'd liked the yard because it
had a big old tree right in the middle, and he'd hung an old tire
from it on a big thick rope.
He'd pushed her so high she'd thought she was flying.
She wasn't sure how long they'd stayed and didn't remember the
house at all. Most of her childhood was a blur of places and faces,
of car rides, a flurry of packing up. And him, her father, with his
big laugh and wide hands, with his irresistible grin and careless
She'd spent the first decade of her life desperately in love with
the man, and the rest of it doing everything she could to forget he
If he was in trouble, again, it was none of her concern.
She wasn't Jack O'Hara's little Lainie anymore. She was Laine
Tavish, solid citizen.
She eyed the bottle of wine and with a shrug poured a second glass.
A grown woman could get toasted in her own kitchen, by God,
especially when she'd watched a ghost from the past die at her
Carrying the glass, she walked to the mudroom door, to answer the
hopeful whimpering on the other side.
He came in like a cannon shot—a hairy, floppy-eared cannon
shot. His paws planted themselves at her belly, and the long snout
bumped her face before the tongue slurped out to cover her cheeks
with wet and desperate affection.
"Okay, okay! Happy to see you, too." No matter how low her mood, a
welcome home by Henry, the amazing hound, never failed to lift
She'd sprung him from the joint, or so she liked to think. When
she'd gone to the pound two years before, it had been with a puppy
in mind. She'd always wanted a cute, gamboling little bundle she'd
train from the ground up.
But then she'd seen him—big, ungainly, stunningly homely with
his mud-colored fur. A cross, she'd thought, between a bear and an
anteater. And she'd been lost the minute he'd looked through the
cage doors and into her eyes.
Everybody deserves a chance, she'd thought, and so she sprung Henry
from the joint. He'd never given her a reason to regret it. His
love was absolute, so much so that he continued to look adoringly
at her even when she filled his bowl with kibble.
"Chow time, pal."
At the signal, Henry dipped his head into his bowl and got
She should eat, too. Something to sop up some of the wine, but she
didn't feel like it. Enough wine swimming around in her bloodstream
and she wouldn't be able to think, to wonder, to worry.
She left the inner door open, but stepped into the mudroom to check
the outside locks. A man could shimmy through the dog door, if he
was determined to get in, but Henry would set up the alarm.
He howled every time a car came up the lane, and though he would
punish the intruder with slobber and delight—after he
finished trembling in terror—she was never surprised by a
visitor. And never, in her four years in Angel's Gap, had she had
any trouble at home, or at the shop.
Until today, she reminded herself.
She decided to lock the mudroom door after all, and let Henry out
the front for his evening run.
She thought about calling her mother, but what was the point? Her
mother had a good, solid life now, with a good, solid man. She'd
earned it. What point was there in breaking into that nice life and
saying, "Hey, I ran into Uncle Willy today, and so did a Jeep
She took her wine with her upstair. She'd fix herself a little
dinner, take a hot bath, have an early night.
She'd close the book on what had happened that day.
Left it for you, he'd said, she remembered. Probably delirious. But
if he'd left her anything, she didn't want it.
She already had everything she wanted.
MAX GANNON slipped the attendant a twenty for a look at the body.
In Max's experience a picture of Andrew Jackson cut through red
tape quicker than explanations and paperwork and more levels of
He'd gotten the bad news on Willy from the motel clerk at the Red
Roof Inn where he'd tracked the slippery little bastard. The cops
had already been there, but Max had invested the first twenty of
the day for the room number and key.
The cops hadn't taken his clothes yet, nor from the looks of it
done much of a search. Why would they on a traffic accident? But
once they ID'd Willy, they'd be back and look a lot closer.
Willy hadn't unpacked, Max noted as he took stock of the room.
Socks and underwear and two dress shirts were still neatly folded
in the single Louis Vuitton bag. Willy had been a tidy one, and
he'd loved his name brands.
He'd hung a suit in the closet. Banker gray, single-breasted, Hugo
Boss. A pair of black Ferragamo loafers, complete with shoe trees,
sat neatly on the floor.
Max went through the pockets, felt carefully along the lining. He
took the wooden trees out of the shoes, poked his long fingers into
In the adjoining bath, he searched Willy's Dior toiletry kit. He
lifted the tank lid on the toilet, crouched down to search behind
it, under the sink.
He went through the drawers, through the suitcase and its contents,
flipped over the mattress on the standard double.
It took him less than an hour to search the room and verify Willy
had left nothing important behind. When he left, the space looked
as tidy and untouched as it had when he'd entered.
He considered giving the clerk another twenty not to mention the
visit to the cops, then decided it might put ideas in his
He climbed into his Porsche, switched on Springsteen and headed to
the county morgue to verify that his strongest lead was on
"Stupid. Goddamn, Willy, I figured you for smarter than
Max blew out a breath as he looked at Willy's ruined face. Why the
hell did you run? And what's in some podunk town in Maryland that
was so important?
What, Max thought, or who?
Since Willy was no longer in the position to tell him, Max walked
back out to drive into Angel's Gap to pick up a
IF YOU WANTED to pluck grapes from the small-town vine, you went to
a place where locals gathered. During the day, that meant coffee
and food, at night, alcohol.
Once he'd decided he'd be staying in Angel's Gap for at least a day
or two, Max checked into what was billed The Historic Wayfarer's
Inn and showered off the first twelve hours of the day. It was late
enough to pick door number two.
He ate a very decent room-service burger at his laptop, surfing the
home page provided by the Angel's Gap chamber of commerce. The
Nightlife section gave him several choices of bars, clubs and
cafes. He wanted a neighborhood pub, the kind of place where the
towners knocked back a beer at the end of the day and talked about
He culled out three that might fit the bill, plugged in the
addresses for directions, then finished off his burger while
studying the printout map of Angel's Gap.
Nice enough place, he mused, tucked in the mountains the way it
was. Killer views, plenty of recreational choices for the sports
enthusiast or camping freak. Slow enough pace for those who wanted
to shake the urban off their docksiders, but with classy little
pockets of culture—and a reasonable drive from several major
metro areas should one be inclined to spend the weekend in the
The chamber of commerce boasted of the opportunities for hunting,
fishing, hiking and other manner of outdoor recreation—none
of which appealed to the urbanite in Max.
If he wanted to see bear and deer in their natural habitat, he'd
turn on The Discovery Channel.
Still, the place had charm with its steep streets and old buildings
solid in their dark red brick. There was a nice, wide stretch of
the Potomac River bisecting the town, and the interest of the
arching bridges that spanned it. Lots of church steeples, some with
copper touches gone soft green with age and weather. And as he sat,
he heard the long, echoing whistle of a train signaling its
He had no doubt it was an eyeful in fall when the trees erupted
with color, and pretty as a postcard when the snow socked in. But
that didn't explain why an old hand like Willy Young had gotten
himself mowed down by an SUV on Market Street.
To find that piece of the puzzle, Max shut down his computer,
grabbed his beloved bomber jacket and headed out to go
Excerpted from REMEMBER WHEN © Copyright 2003 by Nora
Roberts/J.D. Robb. Reprinted with permission by Putnam, an imprint
of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.