Winter’s chill isn’t just in the air. It also runs through the veins of all the women in the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club…
Besides dealing with the politics of the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club, Lorna discovers a secret that will scandalize the members—and perhaps have one them leaving in disgrace. As for Jade, her new part-time job on the UC Berkeley campus allows Reggie to see her in a whole new light—one that will either make, or break, their relationship; Jillian is juggling too much—not just the twins, the growth of Life of Pie, and the details of her wedding, but the guardianship of the infant, Scotty. Will her fiancé, Caleb man up to fatherhood—or will he be scared off by threats of a lawsuit from Rona, the mother her deceased ex-husband, Scott? And Brady’s frustration over Ally’s refusal to commit to marrying him leads him down a slippery slope–into her past.
Finally, Bettina’s idea for a new mobile app may get her out of hock—but will it keep her in the good graces of Daniel Warwick, the Federal agent chasing down Art?
Bettina Connaught Cross abhorred tardiness in any form, especially as it pertained to gatherings of the organization she’d founded: the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club.
The fact that she was already six minutes late to a very important meeting of the club’s Top Moms committee had her seething. Granted, her excuse was valid enough: she first had to walk her daughter, Lily, to kindergarten at the local public school, Lincoln Elementary.
They walked swiftly because the school was in the opposite direction from the Golden Gate Valley Library, where the meeting was taking place. Bettina would have given anything to have driven instead. But, because her deadbeat soon-to-be-ex-husband had embezzled from his financial clients and then skipped town, her car, along with all of their joint assets, had been seized by Federal agents. Despite providing information to the Justice Department investigator assigned to the case—Daniel Warwick—everything would be auctioned off in March.
A statue that held tremendous value to her was among the items seized. Documents containing scandalous secrets were concealed in its base. Bettina was using the files to blackmail the longest-serving members of the club’s Top Moms committee. It assured their votes on the club’s business would mirror hers, as opposed to siding with her sanctimonious co-Chief Executive Mom: her sister-in-law, Lorna.
It had been almost two months since she last heard from Daniel. If she were to be honest with herself, she’d have to admit she found him attractive. Although he’d been the epitome of legal and moral decorum, she thought he’d felt something for her too.
So why hadn’t she heard from him?
Because he was just using me to get to Art, she realized.
My God, get a grip on yourself! You’re acting like a bottom.
Angrily, without thinking she muttered, “My life is all a tangle.”
Lily frowned. “‘All a tangle’? Mummy, is that the same as, ‘O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’?”
Bettina stopped short in order to stare at her daughter. “Where did you learn that?”
“From Professor Pudberry. It’s from an epic poem by…by…Sir Wally Somebody.”
Bettina rolled her eyes. “Sir Walter Scott wrote it. Why, pray tell, did he even mention it, since it isn’t Shakespeare?”
Lily’s nod came with a smile. “He was making a point—that it is often mistaken as a Shakespearean quote. I can see why. Weaving lies gets people into trouble in Romeo and Juliet and other Shakespeare plays.”
“Pudberry—ha!” Bettina declared, while trying hard not to frown. Now that she could no longer afford Botox injections, she was terrified at the thought of getting wrinkles and scaring her daughter.
Time for bangs, she thought miserably, a style that would do nothing for her except hide the evidence of her grief. And since she could no longer afford to go to her stylist, she’d have to cut them herself. Art’s abhorrent actions were enough to give her gray hair, but the thought of using color out of a bottle made her even angrier at her current situation—and at those who seemed to relish in her plight.
Including Reggie Pudberry.
The last time they’d seen him was after an ill-fated trip to the Ikea showroom in Emeryville. To assuage her horror at being recognized in such a downscale emporium so close to Oakland, she and Lily then stopped for lunch in Berkeley, only to run into one of the PHM&T Top Moms: Jade Pierce, who was also Reggie’s new girlfriend. From what Bettina could tell, Jade was spying on Reggie as he ate with his gorgeous teaching assistant. By shouting Jade’s name, Bettina made sure Reggie saw her too. Jade guessed rightly that Bettina was trying to embarrass her. Jade’s way to retaliate was to taunt her regarding some threat that another Top Mom, Kimberley Savitch, had made against Bettina—
Or perhaps Jade was threatening to tell Kimberley something? If so, what could that secret be?
As if reading her mind, Lily asked warily, “Is Oliver’s mommy—Mrs. Pierce—still mad at you?”
Cold dread ran through Bettina’s veins. The thought of Jade in cahoots with Kimberley had her hurrying down the street even faster, despite her very high heels. “Who, Jade? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out today. We must hurry, Lily! I’ve got to get to the meeting!”
“Grandmother would have driven me to school—if you’d have asked her,” Lily gasped as they ran. “You should be nicer to her, Mummy. In fact, you should be nicer to everyone. Maybe they’ll finally start being nicer back to you.”
She told herself that she was too winded to answer. But in truth, for once Bettina was beginning to believe that her daughter might be right.
Not that she’d ever admit that to Lily.
“Mummy, why don’t you ride the bus there?”
Bettina blanched at the thought. “The Connaughts have never taken public transportation,” she sniffed.
“That’s what I told Uncle Matt. He laughed at me. Then he dared me to ride it with him.”
Bettina scowled. “Who does he think he is, putting you in danger like that? The minute I get home from my meeting, I’m calling him to give him a piece of my mind!”
“It wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was fun. And it was quick. My friends at school ride it all the time. They say a bus shows up every few minutes.” She pointed west, toward the next block, Van Ness. “They catch it there. Won’t that take you just a few blocks from the library?”
Lily was right. The bus stopped near Green Street, ten blocks north. Bettina could get off there and walk three blocks to the library. The whole thing would take ten minutes, tops.
“It’s only two dollars and a quarter,” Lily insisted. A sudden insight shifted the look of misunderstanding on her face to sympathy. “Is it that you don’t have the money? It’s a shame you pack a lunch for me every day instead of giving me lunch money. Otherwise, I’d have given it back to you, Mummy. Really.”
“I have the two dollars, thank you very much,” Bettina huffed. The thought of Lily eating a public school lunch was galling enough; that her daughter would have given up her lunch money so that she could ride the bus made her heart break. Smoothing Lily’s hair, she muttered grudgingly, “I’ll…think about it.”
She’d do it, but she didn’t want Lily to know—or worse yet, for her to tell Eleanor or Matt. And certainly not Lorna. She’d never survive such embarrassment.
They reached the school door just as the final bell rang. The last students were streaming in. Lily’s teacher, Liz Vanderbilt, was just about to close the door when she spotted Lily running up to her. Bettina winced as Liz beckoned her over as well.
“I’m so happy I caught you,” Liz said with a smile. “I wanted to ask you a special favor.”
“What is it?” Bettina asked impatiently. “I running late—”
“I’ll make it quick. It seems we’ve lost our volunteer class mother. I was hoping you’d honor us and take on the task.”
“Class mother?” Bettina frowned. “I don’t know, Liz. I mean…I’ve got my hands full with the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club—”
“Oh? But…Lily mentioned you’d relinquished some of your duties there, now that Lily is in school.”
“She has,” Lily insisted. “My Aunt Lorna is now in charge.”
“No, I’m still in charge!” Bettina muttered in a low growl. “She’s just helping out.”
“Which is why you’d be perfect in the role—and the duties are simple, really,” Liz insisted. “You’ll accompany me on our one field trip every month, and encourage the other parents to participate too.”
Me—riding herd over a bunch of welfare mothers? Bettina recoiled at the thought. That will be the day! “Liz, to be honest, I really don’t think it’s a good match,” Bettina said coolly.
Liz shrugged. “Not a problem. I guessed it might have been a long shot, but Lily insisted you’d be just right for it because you’re such a renowned leader.” She held out her hand to the girl. “We had better get to class.”
Bettina bent to kiss Lily, then turned away before her daughter’s pleading gaze made her say something she’d later regret.
She waited just long enough to watch Lily and Liz walk halfway down the hall before running down the street again.
She got to the bus stop just as a bus was pulling out. The driver must have heard her shout because he stopped short.
She scurried up the bus’s steps. She fumbled in her purse until she found two one-dollar bills, but no quarters. He sighed loudly, but let her on anyway. He also handed her a slip of paper.
“What’s this?” she asked warily.
He stared at her as if she were an alien from another planet. “Bus pass. Allows you to ride any bus for the next few hours.”
She nodded and started down the aisle, but almost lost her footing as the bus lurched forward. Every seat was taken, so she held onto an overhead strap.
Noting her pregnancy, a man stood up to offer her his seat. She nodded gratefully and sat down—
But a quick sniff made her realize why the man’s decision wasn’t chivalrous at all. Her seatmate, an older gentleman, probably hadn’t bathed in a week or more. The old man, toothless, smiled at her. Then he lifted a flask from his tattered jacket and took a swig.
Oh, my God, Bettina thought, by the time I get to Green I’ll smell like a brewery!
Realizing that Bettina was staring at him, the man winked and nudged her with the flask. “Wanna drink?”
“Thank you, but I’ll pass,” she muttered, then held her breath to avoid the stench of booze and his body odor.
Bettina’s timing was perfect. A second later, the man let loose with a long, loud fart.
Bettina sat straight up, mortified. To her surprise, no one else on the bus had any reaction at all. They were too busy scrutinizing their cell phones. Are these people inhuman? Where is their sense of decorum? For that matter, where is their sense of smell? I must be in Purgatory!
“Was that me, or you?” The old man’s question to Bettina was loud enough that even the bus driver could hear him, all the way in the front.
The teens in the seat in front of them snickered as they exchanged glances.
“I won’t even dignify that with an answer,” Bettina hissed back.
The old man looked down into his lap. “Did you hear that, Jolly Roger? She thinks she’s better than us.”
Bettina mustered the courage to see what the man was talking to—hopefully, not something that should have been zipped up—and if so, then certainly snipped off for horrifying anyone with whom he came into contact.
To her relief, it wasn’t any part of his anatomy. To her horror, it was a large brown rat.
Her shrill scream sent the rat scurrying off. Bettina leapt up so quickly that she turned over her purse. She grabbed her belongings as quickly as she could before heading toward the front of the bus.
The rest of the ride seemed interminable. If passengers weren’t ringing for stops at every corner, the driver would still somehow miss the next traffic light.
Finally, they reached her stop. She leapt off and practically ran the three blocks to the library, all the while gulping in fresh air to offset the stench of her seatmate. If only it could whisk away the memory of him as well.
She thought she’d pass out before making it to the library’s side door, but she didn’t. I survived, she reasoned. With shoulders straightened and her head held high, she took a deep breath and walked through the door—
Until she smelled it.
Really, not it, but her. She smelled just like the rancid old man.
Just at that moment, all heads turned to her. It was too late to turn back.
She thought, God, I hate being poor! That will have to change.
The sooner the better.
(c) 2016 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher, Signal Press. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Josie Brown has yet to let me down, and she really delivers the excitement and suspense in book six. For those who like a good steamy scene or two, brace yourselves. For those who like things tame, skip over those scenes so you can still enjoy the other juicy aspects. It’s like 90210 meets Desperate Housewives. I really don’t want this series to end with the eighth book. Can we have the Threesies next?!? – Melissa Amster, ChickLitCentral.com, via Goodreads.com
Mary Jane H