Read Ladies' Night Online

Authors: Mary Kay Andrews

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women

Ladies' Night

 

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In memory of my brother, John Joseph Hogan, who left this world too soon.
Miss you, Johnny.

 

Acknowledgments

Gale H. Moore of Largo, Florida, and Jean Higham of St. Petersburg, Florida, as well as Beth Fleishman of Raleigh, North Carolina, gave me good legal advice for the research for this book—but in the interest of fiction and plotting, I kept some of what they gave me and made up my own rules of law where needed, so don’t blame them if you don’t think my plot is plausible! Many women were generous with tales of their own divorce wars, but Martha Woodham and Melita Easters was especially gracious with their time. On the homefront, Grace Quinn was as essential and good-natured as always—in the face of looming disasters and tax deadlines. The women of Weymouth—where this book was initially conceived and eventually delivered, were amazing, and I owe them all—Alexandra Sokoloff, Bren Witchger, Diane Chamberlain, Katy Munger, Margaret Maron, and Sarah Shaber, a huge debt of gratitude. Thanks also to the amazing team at St. Martin’s Press, including but not limited to Sally Richardson and Matthew Shear, my fabulous editor Jennifer Enderlin, publicist John Karle, and many more, including Michael Storrings, who always gives me such a delicious book jacket. Meg Walker at Tandem Literary gets huge thanks for her marketing genius and great Facebook advice. I am so blessed to have the best damn literary agent in the business—Stuart Krichevsky, and to him and the folks at SKLA, including Shana and Ross, I send hugs and kisses—and virtual pound cakes. Lastly but never last, the biggest thanks go to my family, Tom, Katie and Mark, Andy, Molly and Griffin, who make everything possible. I may write about divorce and heartache, but in real life, my champion, my hero, my best friend, Mr. MKA, aka Tom Trocheck, is the inspiration for every good guy in every book.

 

Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Epilogue

Also by Mary Kay Andrews

About the Author

Copyright

 

1

 

If Grace Stanton had known the world as she knew it was going to end that uneventful evening in May, she might have been better prepared. She certainly would have packed more underwear and a decent bra, not to mention moisturizer and her iPhone charger.

But as far as Grace knew, she was just doing her job, writing and photographing Gracenotes, a blog designed to make her own lifestyle look so glamorous, enticing, and delicious it made perfectly normal women (and gay men) want to rip up the script for their own lives and rebuild one exactly like hers.

*   *   *

She peered through the lens finder of her Nikon D7000 and frowned, but only for a moment, because, as Ben had told her countless times, a frown was forever. She made a conscious effort to smooth the burgeoning wrinkles in her forehead, then concentrated anew on her composition.

She’d polished the old pine table to a dull sheen, and the available light streaming in from the dining room window glinted off the worn boards. With her right hand, she made a minute adjustment to one of the two deliberately mismatched white ironstone platters she’d placed on a rumpled—but not wrinkled—antique French grain-sack table runner. She replaced the oversized sterling forks, tines pointed down, at the edge of the platters. Should she add knives? Maybe spoons? She thought not. Spare. The look she was going for was spare.

Edit, edit, edit, she thought, nodding almost imperceptibly. Less was more. Or that’s what Ben always claimed.

Now. About that centerpiece. She’d cut three small palmetto fronds from the newly landscaped driveway … No, she corrected herself. The builder’s Web site referred to it as a motor court. The palmettos were giving her fits. She’d arranged them in a mottled, barnacle-crusted pale aqua bottle she’d plucked from a pile of random junk at the flea market the weekend before. They should have looked great. But no. They were too stiff. Too awkward. Too vertical.

Grace replaced the palmettos with a cardboard carton of lush red heirloom tomatoes. Hmm. The vibrant color was a good contrast against the nubby linen of the runner, and she loved the lumpy forms and brilliant green and yellow stripes on some of the irregularly shaped fruits. Maybe, if she placed the container on its side, with the tomatoes spilling out? Yes. Much better.

She grabbed a knife from the sideboard and sawed one of the tomatoes in half, squeezing it slightly, until seeds and juices dribbled out onto the tabletop.

Perfect. She inhaled and clicked the trigger on her motor-driven shutter. Click. Click. Click. She adjusted the focus so the pale gel-covered seeds were in the foreground. Now, she zoomed out, leaving the tomatoes as red blurs, so that the old ironstone platters were in focus, their age-crazed crackles and brown spots coming into sharp relief.

“Very pretty,” a voice breathed in her ear.

Grace jumped.

Ben rested a hand lightly on her shoulder and studied the vignette.

“Is that for tomorrow’s ‘Friday Favorites’ post?” he asked.

“Mm-hmm,” Grace said. “I tried the palmetto fronds and, before that, a basket of seashells, and then some green mangoes, but I think the tomatoes work best, don’t you?”

He shrugged. “I guess.”

“What?” Grace studied his face, as always, craving his approval. “The tomatoes don’t work for you?”

“They’re nice. In an artsy-fartsy kind of way,” he said.

She pushed a strand of light brown hair off her forehead and took a step back from the table. She’d spent an hour putting the table together, and she’d been fairly pleased with the effect she’d achieved. But Ben didn’t like it.

“Too country-cutesy?” she asked, glancing at her husband. Ben’s trained eyes missed nothing. He’d been in the ad business forever, and no detail was too small or too insignificant. It was why they made such a great team.

“It’s your blog,” he reminded her. “And your name is on it. I don’t want business stuff to impinge on your editorial freedom. But…”

“But what? Come on. I’m a big girl. I can take it.”

“The Aviento folks sent us a big crateful of pieces of their new fall line,” Ben said, hesitating. “Treasures of Tuscany, the new pattern is called. It’s for the giveaway you’re doing on Monday. I was thinking maybe you could put the tomatoes in one of those bowls they sent.”

Grace wrinkled her nose. “That is seriously the ugliest pottery I have ever seen, and it looks about as Italian as a can of Chef Boyardee.”

“You don’t have to set the whole table with it. Just maybe put some of the tomatoes in one of the bowls. They
are
spending a lot of money advertising with us now, and it would be good if they could see their product … you know.”

“Stinkin’ up my ‘Friday Favorites’ tablescapes,” Grace said, finishing the sentence for him. “Did you promise them I would use it editorially? Tell me the truth, Ben.”

“No!” he said sharply. “I would never try to influence you that way. But would it hurt to maybe try a couple shots with one of the bowls. Or a plate?”

“I’ll try it out. But if it looks as crappy as I think it will, I’m not going to run it. Right? I mean, you promised when we monetized the blog, we wouldn’t be whoring me out by using the advertisers’ product in a way that would compromise my aesthetic.”

“It’s your call,” Ben said, picking up one of the tomatoes and examining it. “These are weird looking. What kind are they?”

“Don’t know,” Grace said, gently taking the tomato from him and replacing it on the table. “J’Aimee picked them up at the farmer’s market.”

“Kid’s got a good eye,” Ben said. He glanced back at the table. “How long before you’re done here?”

“Maybe an hour? I guess I’ll try some shots with the Aviento stuff. Then I need to edit, and I’ve still got to actually write the piece.” She glanced down at her watch. “Good Lord! It’s after six. I’ve been piddling around with this tabletop for hours now. Why didn’t you say something?”

“Didn’t want to interrupt the genius while she was at work,” he said. “But since you brought it up, is there any actual food to go on these pretty plates?”

“Nada,” she said apologetically. “I’m sorry. I completely lost track of the time. Look, I’ll just take a couple more shots with the Tuscan Turds, then I’ll run down to Publix and pick up some sushi. Or maybe a nice piece of fish to grill. I can have supper on the table by seven. Right?”

“Finish your shots,” Ben said easily. “J’Aimee can pick up supper.”

“No, I’ll go. I’ve had J’Aimee out running errands all afternoon.”

Ben dropped a kiss on her forehead. “That’s what assistants are for, Grace.”

“But I hate to bother her,” she protested. “She just went back over to the apartment an hour ago.”

Grace gestured in the general direction of the garage, which was at the back of the “motor court.” J’Aimee, her twenty-six-year-old assistant, had been living in the apartment above the garage since she was hired three months earlier. Her battered white Honda Accord was parked in the third bay, beside Ben’s black Audi convertible.

Their builder had referred to the apartment as a mother-in-law suite, or even a nanny suite. But Grace’s mom lived only a few miles away on Cortez and she wouldn’t have moved to this “faux chateau,” as she called it, at gunpoint. Ben’s mother lived quite happily down in Coconut Grove. And since the fertility specialist still couldn’t figure out just exactly why Grace couldn’t get pregnant, the apartment, for now, was the perfect place to stash an assistant.

“Finish your shoot,” Ben said, settling the matter. “I’ll walk over there and roust J’Aimee. In fact, I’ll ride to Publix with her.”

“Thanks,” Grace said, going back to her camera. “You’re the best.”

Ben gave her a gentle pat on the butt. “That’s my girl,” he said.

Grace went into the kitchen and found the heavy wooden crate with the Aviento shipping label sitting on the polished black granite countertop, pausing, as she always did, to flick a crumb into the sink. She hated the black granite. Even the tiniest fleck of sea salt showed up on it, and she seemed to go through a gallon of Windex every week, keeping it shiny.

But Ben and the builder had ganged up on her to agree to use it, after the granite company offered the countertops at cost in exchange for a small ad on Gracenotes.

She was soon immersed again in her work, barely registering the familiar roar of Ben’s car as it backed out of the garage. Grace looked up in time to see that he’d put the Audi’s top down. He did a neat three-point turn and gave her a carefree wave before he sped down the driveway, his forearm casually thrown across the back of the passenger seat, and J’Aimee’s long red hair flowing gracefully in the wind.

Ben reminded her of Cary Grant in
To Catch a Thief
, a golden boy, elegant, aloof, mysterious, maybe even a little dangerous? She reflected briefly on how unfair life really was. At forty-four, Ben was six years older, but you’d never know it from looking at him. He never gained weight and never seemed to age. He kept his tennis tan year-round. His gloriously glossy dark brown hair still didn’t show a speck of gray, and the faint crow’s-feet around his eyes lent him the look of wisdom, not imminent geezerdom.

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