In Death's Shadow

Marcia Talley

In Death's Shadow

The fourth book in the Hannah Ives series, 2004

For my kind, funny, most generous friend,

Sara Ann Freed

1945-2003

"Even the death of Friends will inspire us as much as their lives. They will leave consolation to the mourners… and their memories will be incrusted over with sublime and pleasing thoughts, as monuments of other men are overgrown with moss; for our Friends have no place in the graveyard."

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers: Wednesday (1849)

"Come like an evening shadow, Death!

So stealthily, so silently!

And shut mine eyes, and steal my breath."

CAROLINE SOUTHEY (1787-1854),To Death

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A million thanks:

To my husband, Barry, who supports me every day in every way.

To my writers groups-Sujata Massey, John Mann, Janice McLane, and Karen Diegmueller in Baltimore, and Janet Benrey, Trish Marshall, Mary Ellen Hughes, Ray Flynt, Sherriel Mattingly, Bert Brun, and Janet Martin in Annapolis-for tough love.

To my editor, Sarah Durand, who rescued Hannah when she was "between publishers" and loves her as much as I do.

To my agent, Jimmy Vines, who never gave up on Hannah, either.

To Joe Jacobs, who has been an insurance professional for more than two decades, working as an independent broker for many fine companies. If I got it wrong, it's my fault, not Joe's.

To my friends, Bob and Pat McNitt, who lent Mrs. Bromley their apartment, and to my many other friends at Ginger Cove who bear absolutely no resemblance to any of the characters in this book.

To April Henry. There isn't anything she doesn't know about vanity plates, and she writes darn good mysteries, too.

To Barbara Parker, lunch buddy and web maven extraordinaire. (http://www.marciatalley.com)

And to Kate Charles and Deborah Crombie, dearest of friends, confidantes, and advisors, who read every word, sometimes more than once.

CHAPTER ONE

Chemo brain.

That black hole in my cerebellum that's sucked up my PIN number, my password on Yahoo.com, the location of my car keys and the answer to questions like why am I standing in front of the refrigerator holding the door open? How else to explain why I didn't recognize the woman when she bopped up to me in Dr. Wilkins's waiting room with a cheerful, "Well, Hannah Ives! How wonderful to see you!"

I looked up from my magazine-Family Circle was advising me to rub cornstarch on salad dressing stains-into a pair of designer sunglasses that reflected my own startled eyes back at me and the most gorgeous mop of apricot curls I think I've ever seen.

And drew a complete blank.

"Oh, hi!" I enthused, matching her delight for delight. "How are you?”

"Just great," she said, plopping herself down in the empty chair to my right. "And you?"

“Terrific," I said, stalling for time. She'd come from the direction of the staff lounge. A nurse? I nodded toward the lab where one of the hematology technicians had just separated me from several ounces of my blood. "Especially now that Vampira is finished with me."

Frowning, she drew shiny pink lips into an O and peeked under the Band-Aid on her own, gloriously suntanned arm. “Tell me about it."

Not a nurse then. A patient. But where had I seen her before? While she pressed the Band-Aid back into place, I looked her up and down, desperate for clues.

Everything about the woman screamed Sex and the City, like she had a key to Carrie Bradshaw's closet. Late twenty-something, she wore a light blue, distressed denim jacket over a white cotton tank top, the hem of which hovered a good three inches above the waistband of a pair of olive-colored Sharagano low-rise flares with floral patches. Perfectly manicured toes were cradled in a pair of Kors sandals. I checked out her hands. Yup, fingernails to match, and…

a wedding ring!

"So," I ventured, praying she wasn't recently widowed. "How's married life?"

She hugged her handbag, a kidney-shaped leather pouch, to her chest. An envelope from Farmers Bank of Maryland peeked from an outside pocket, and I found myself praying for a diversion-a fire alarm, an earthquake, a total eclipse of the sun-anything that would distract her long enough for me to slide the envelope out and read the name and address, but no such luck.

"Brian has just been incredible," she gushed. "You won't believe what he did!"

Brian. Was she a faculty wife, then? I raised my eyebrows to encourage her to go on with whatever unbelievable thing it was that Brian had done while I skimmed through a mental Rolodex of my husband's colleagues at the Naval Academy. Paul was a math professor. Did he work with anyone named Brian? I remembered a Bruce and a Bob, but no Brian.

"Well, Hannah," she drawled, turning sideways in her chair to face me. She grinned, relocated her sunglasses from the bridge of her nose to the top of her head and threw me an exaggerated wink. In a flash, I recognized her. Valerie Stone. Ovarian cancer. Stage IV. Advanced. The last time I'd seen her, she'd been thirty pounds thinner and completely bald. We'd bonded over a toilet bowl at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

"Valerie! You look absolutely wonderful! I almost didn't recognize you, with… with…" I was tap dancing as fast as I could.

"With hair?"

I laughed. "Yeah. The last time I saw you…" I paused again, searching for the right word.

"The last time you saw me, I looked like an extra for Night of the Living Dead."

"Not exactly." I smiled. "But close."

"The doctors were telling Brian I should get my affairs in order. I took it as a challenge. You know me!"

There was a time when Valerie and I knew each other very well indeed. We'd shared a hospital room during chemotherapy, but after she checked out, she moved back to her parents' home in New Jersey and we'd lost touch. I remembered Brian now, a gangly, fair-haired type. If Sweden had cowboys, they'd look like Brian. The couple had a daughter, too, but we'd never met. The little girl had been shipped off to Grandma's house and hadn't been allowed to visit her mother in the hospital.

"I did it for Miranda," Valerie said, as if reading my mind. "I heard about this clinical trial at NIH, so I applied… and now, praise God, it's a miracle. My cancer's in remission." She giggled. "Heaven will just have to wait!"

"I'm so glad," I said, leaning back in my chair and setting the magazine aside. "My breast cancer's in remission, too. Or so they tell me!"

"Have you gone back to work yet?"

I shook my head. "I got riffed. At first I was in shock. Then I got angry. I was all set to organize the breast cancer lobby and sue Whitworth and Sullivan up one side and down the other. Make 'em pay for laying me off." I sighed and leaned back in my chair. "Now I think losing my job's the best thing that ever happened to me. Life's too short to spend it commuting from Annapolis, Maryland, to Washington, D.C., just so some idiot office manager can dump all over you." I laid a hand on my chest. "I hyperventilate just thinking about it. Now I do volunteer work. Pick up a temp assignment now and then. How 'bout you?"

"I'm staying home with Miranda."

"How old is she now?"

"Four. And I'm going to see that little gal walk down the aisle if it's the last thing I do!"

I have a daughter, too, but Emily is twenty-four. The closest I'd come to seeing her walk down the aisle was a digital picture-sent via e-mail attachment-of Emily and Dante smooching in front of a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. At least there had been no Elvis impersonators mugging in the background. That would be a moment to cherish: "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" performed by a live professional singer from the Las Vegas Strip.

"Miranda's wedding will come sooner than you think," I reassured her. "Kids. One minute you're handing them a pacifier, the next minute it's the car keys." I chuckled. "But you were going to tell me something about Brian."

"Wait till you hear this, Hannah!" Valerie bounced in her chair like an excited child. "Brian took me on a cruise. Around. The. World!" She tapped my hand. "What do you think about that?”

I thought it was absolutely marvelous and told her so.

"On the QE2," she continued. "One hundred and twenty glorious days! And every minute of every day I was pinching myself. I just couldn't believe it!"

While she raved on about the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Hawaii, Pago Pago, and Fiji, I multiplied a couple of hundred bucks a day, times two, times 120, and couldn't believe it, either. Who could afford such a trip? "Pago Pago?" I asked. "There really is a place called Pago Pago?"

She nodded, her bright curls bouncing. "In Samoa. It was

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