You've probably heard that my wife has left me. Rachel's pregnant, and she says she can't handle the stress in our household anymore. My thirteen-year-old daughter, Jolene, is jealous of her. Maybe it's my fault. As a widower I spoiled her--
Jolene was reading over my shoulder just now and says that's not true. She claims Rachel ruined everything. But that's not true. The real question is: How can I get my wife back? I don't even know where she is. She's not with Teri Polgar or any of her other friends from the salon. The other question is...when will Jolene grow up and stop acting like such a brat?
Of course, I'm not the only one in town with problems. Linc Wyse's father-in-law is trying to destroy his business. And you know Charlotte Rhodes? Seems she's becoming forgetful, and the family's worried about her and Ben. Lots of other stuff going on--but Rachel is better at keeping up with it than I am.
If you have any idea where my wife is, give me a call. Please.
Sunshine splashed into the windows of the Bremerton waterfront café. Rachel Peyton sat in a booth, gazing out at the street and taking occasional sips of the apple juice she'd ordered. It was Friday, late afternoon, and she'd come here after work to meet a friend. She couldn't stop thinking about her marriage to Bruce, wondering how it had disintegrated so fast. They'd gone from an impromptu wedding last December to separation less than ten months later. She turned her head to look in the direction of Cedar Cove. The town was situated on the other side of Sinclair Inlet but might as well have been across the Pacific.
Rachel felt she couldn't go back home to Cedar Cove--to Yakima Street--and yet she had no other viable choice. She'd left after the latest argument with her stepdaughter, Jolene. Although Bruce was aware of the tension between her and Rachel, he'd never adequately addressed it, believing it would eventually resolve itself. Oh, sure, he'd made a halfhearted offer to go to counseling with, or more likely without, Jolene. But that was too little, too late. Nothing had changed, and, as a result, the stress in their home had become intolerable. Now that she was pregnant, Rachel had decided to leave...for the sake of her sanity and for her own health and that of her baby.
She'd lied to Bruce, saying she had a place to stay--with an unidentified friend. Instead, she'd checked into a Bremerton hotel.
The problem was, she needed her job if she was going to support herself, which meant she'd need to find an apartment in Cedar Cove or at least nearby. Everything was complicated by the fact that this hadn't been an easy pregnancy. She had severe morning sickness and her blood pressure was dangerously high. That was understandable, considering the tension in the house. If not for the baby, Rachel might have found the strength to deal with Jolene. She might've been willing to devote all her energy to sorting out the complicated tangle of the girl's emotions, giving her the constant reassurance she seemed to require.
Since Jolene had learned about the baby, the whole situation had become that much more difficult. Not only did her stepdaughter see her as competition for Bruce's affections, but now Rachel had committed an even worse crime by bringing another child into the family, robbing the girl of his undivided attention.
What shocked Rachel was how close she and Jolene had been before she married Bruce. As a motherless child herself, Rachel had taken a special interest in Jolene, part maternal, part friendly. They'd bonded when the girl was just six, a year after Jolene's mother was killed in a car accident. Bruce had brought Jolene into the salon for a haircut and Jolene had sadly told her how much she missed her mommy. Rachel had been drawn to the child because she'd identified with Jolene. She still recalled in vivid detail how she'd felt when her own mother had died and she'd gone to live with her mother's sister, a woman she barely knew.
Through the years, the closeness between Rachel and Jolene had grown--until she'd made the mistake of marrying Jolene's father. To be fair to the teenager, Jolene had wanted Rachel and Bruce to wait until she'd had time to get used to the idea. Bruce, however, wouldn't hear of it. He'd wanted them married. Well, so did Rachel, although she'd asked Bruce to delay the wedding because of Jolene's qualms. But by then...the momentum of their plans had taken over.
In the beginning, after first meeting Bruce, she hadn't considered him anything more than a friend. He was Jolene's dad. He relied on her help with his daughter. For years there hadn't been the slightest indication of romantic interest on either part. Rachel was...