Elise Amberson’s husbands always die before she can get the marriage momentum going. At least this last one left her with lots of money. Now she can hang out with her dogs, avoid men, and try to keep off God’s radar.
But her dogs are behaving oddly, a pesky pastor can’t keep his hands off her soul, and God is backing her into a corner.
It’s all more than a rich, beautiful young woman should have to bear. But when someone begins targeting Elise, she’ll have to figure out why before she becomes the late Widow Amberson.
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This funeral was so different than the last one. Both drew large crowds to the visitation and service. But the first one had been filled with messy grief, loud sobbing and noisy comfortings. In this regal cathedral with its carved altar, high-backed pews and vaulted ceiling, outward manifestations of grief were unseemly. Even the elaborate stained glass windows transmuted bright sunbeams into particles of understated pastels.
Elise looked at Timothy’s coffin. Pounds and pounds of hothouse flower sprays crawled along its cover. Standing arrangements with pride of place near the open lid reached slouching lilies toward Timothy. Such a futile gesture. His powdered nose couldn’t smell them. Lucky guy. Elise wanted to gag from their stench.
Christopher’s coffin had been closed, nothing but a pressed American flag on top. They all agreed—Elise, Christopher’s parents, his siblings, that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Wounded Warrior Project. The morning of Christopher’s funeral Elise had walked alone down country lanes and gathered armloads of Queen Anne’s Lace, yellow tansy, and sky-blue chicory. The law frowned on picking of wildflowers but she gravitated to those lowly species considered weeds.
The Reverend Lucille Montague began winding down. She’d extolled Timothy’s virtues, his contributions to the betterment of society and the express hope that his soul would live on in his children and grandchildren. Poor Lucille. She hadn’t much to work with in the spiritual realm. Timothy in life remained a devoted agnostic who gave the church great sums of money in its quest for social change. If all went according to Timothy’s plan, he was now, body and soul, really truly dead forever.
The family was being called to come forward before the lid closed on Timothy. As his widow, Elise should have led the procession, but the head pallbearer instead extended an elbow to Timothy’s daughter, Vanessa. At the same time, his brother Palmer leaped from across the aisle and tucked Vanessa’s arm in his. Shaking off both men, and never taking her eyes from the coffin, Vanessa marched forward and in a booming voice to jar the gilded chandeliers, said, “Rest in peace, Daddy.”
Timmy Junior tottered forward. Associate in his father’s law firm, two children of his own, and still known far and wide as Timmy Junior, he had all his father’s handsome features, but on Timmy they looked just this side of finished, a sort of modeling clay version of Timothy. The slightest pressure and his face would be quashed into flatness. Elise snorted at the image and was horrified that she had been audible. She pressed a lacy handkerchief to her nose and hoped anyone in earshot would assume she had been overcome with grief.
They wouldn’t, though. And she wasn’t. At Christopher’s funeral she had maintained a brittle poise and fooled no one. They knew hot grief surged just beneath the frost line. This time the freeze went deep. All the way to the soul Timothy claimed she didn’t have.
Timmy Junior’s wife accompanied him to the casket, gripping his arm as he swayed over his father’s body. When he flung arms wide as though to embrace the cadaver, she dragged him back to the pew. Their two small children hadn’t come. Timothy’s grandchildren must be home with the long-suffering nanny. Elise rose briskly. No matter what the chief of the pallbearers had been told, she intended to go before Timothy’s parents and certainly before his ex-wife. At the coffin she stopped and looked critically down at its occupant. The morticians had done an excellent job. No one would guess the entire back of Timothy’s head was caved in.
The casket cover closed and so did the Celebration of Life. Lucille announced there would be no graveside ceremony in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. Everyone could just follow the family—she hesitated a brief second before nodding coolly at Elise—into the church fellowship hall for a catered meal. Pallbearer-in-chief appeared torn, but parked himself next to the pew where Elise had been sitting in solitary, and she followed the satin-lined mahogany casket down the aisle and out of the church.
In the fellowship hall—surely too homey a term for this drafty, echoing space with its antique wooden tables covered in white linen cloths and gleaming silverware—Elise looked hopefully for someone to sit with. Her parents were in an assisted living center, leaning more on assistance and less on living, and she’d told them they needn’t attend. Her only sister lived in France. But all the friends from high school. Where were they? They’d come out in droves, flocks, herds, to Christopher’s funeral. They’d fluttered around her, sobbing on her shoulder, acolytes begging the chief mourner for comfort.
An arm lifted from a far corner and agitated in her direction. Thanking God for angels among us, Elise waved back. The angel attached to the arm had a high forehead sloping into a grove of bright brown curls, only marginally less dense than in high school. The neon-blue eyes in those years had winked through glasses, usually lopsided or cracked.
“Russ! You got contacts!”
Russell Martinez unfolded his lanky self from the chair and folded her in long arms. Now would be the perfect time to break down and cry. Elise twitched her eyes experimentally. No tear lurked, and she refused to produce false sobs.