Table of Contents
A grin spread over Lindsay’s face, and Cici’s, and Bridget’s. Then Lindsay grabbed the laptop with its scrolling pictures, hugged it to her chest, and cried fervently, “Oh my God, I love this house!”
Cici fell on her, embracing both her and the laptop. “Me, too!”
“I love it more!” exclaimed Bridget as she flung herself into the melee.
They separated after a breathless moment and sat there with fingers entwined, letting the enormity of the moment sink in.
“Okay,” Cici said at last. “This is serious.”
“It’s a huge risk.”
“Imagine that!” Lindsay grinned. “Taking a risk at our age!”
“If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to be committed. We’ve got to promise each other we’ll give it at least a year.”
Bridget said, “It
like starting over. Like getting a bonus life. We can do this, I know we can.”
Cici raised her right hand and insisted, “One year.”
Bridget repeated solemnly, raising her hand, “A year.”
And Lindsay followed suit. “A year.”
They clasped hands in midair, eyes shining, the excitement in the air as thick as honey.
“Okay then,” Cici said. She pulled her legs into a semi-lotus position, took up her legal pad, and picked up her glass of wine. “Let’s make a plan.”
And so they did.
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control
over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2009 by Donna Ball
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form
without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in
violation of the authors’ rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
BERKLEY is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The “B” design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eISBN : 978-1-101-01470-7
1. Female friendship—Fiction. 2. Shenandoah River Valley (Va. and W. Va.)—Fiction.
3. Dwellings—Maintenance and repair—Fiction. I. Title.
This book is for Shannon, Libby, and Janet . . .
Who sat on my porch, listened to my stories,
and said, “You should write a book.”
And for Gisele, who went for a walk one
morning and brought back a fawn
And for Karen, who never stopped believing
And for Jennifer, who extended her reach
And for Jackie, who brought us all home.
You are the women of Ladybug Farm.
In the Beginning
In Which the Ladies of Huntington Lane Go Looking
“Well,” said Cici, stepping slowly out of the car. “It certainly is big.”
“And old,” agreed Lindsay, getting out of the passenger side.
Bridget got out of the backseat and drew in a breath. “Good heavens. It’s—Monticello!”
Cici and Lindsay glanced back at her, then turned their eyes forward again. Cici pushed her sunglasses up into her hair to better assess the megalith of faded brick and painted Corinthian columns that sprawled before them. In the foreground stood a tangled and overgrown rose garden. In the background, sheep grazed in a meadow that seemed to sweep all the way to the Shenandoah mountains. On the deep front porch, which was partially obscured by giant boxwood tangled with Virginia creeper, a woman in a blue pantsuit waved to them. The three women waggled their fingers back.
“Okay,” said Bridget, “we’re just looking, right?”
“Of course we are,” said Lindsay.
“Absolutely,” agreed Cici.
“I mean, this isn’t serious.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Not even close.” Cici flipped the sunglasses back down over her eyes, finger-combed her honey blonde bangs back into place, and straightened her shoulders. “Let’s go.”
Three doors slammed in a rhythmic concerto, three purse straps were slung over shoulders, and three pairs of legs strode forward. Viewed from a distance, they could have been sorority sisters in their designer jeans and walking shorts, slim tanned arms swinging gracefully at their sides, casually coiffed hair glinting in the sunlight. Bridget, the oldest of the three by a couple of years, was shorter and slightly rounder than the other two, but no one could pull off a pair of kitten-heeled sandals and fuchsia toenail polish like she could. Lindsay wore her auburn ponytail pulled through the band of a baseball cap, and a close-fitting T-shirt that barely skimmed the top of her jeans. There was a time when, as a college student, she couldn’t have afforded the special-edition Vera Bradley Sunshine and Shadow quilted backpack bag she carried by one strap across her shoulder, but no more. Cici was blue-eyed and covered in freckles, head to toe. She had the legs of a dancer, which looked twice as long and twice as lean in her CKs, and was tall enough to have been a basketball player. But she wasn’t. In fact, none of them were what they appeared to be from a distance.
It was not their clothes, their sizes, or their accessories that gave them away as they came across the lawn toward the wide front steps of the big house. It was the way they moved: with ease and confidence, and a kind of unconscious pride in being female that no one has when she’s twenty. You’re not born with a walk like that. You have to earn it.
They had already gotten their degrees—in liberal arts, education, business, and good old-fashioned survival. They had not only written mortgages, but had paid them off. Each one of them could soothe a teething baby, write a letter to the editor, and bake a soufflé—usually all at the same time and without interrupting anyone’s dinner to complain about it. They had elected seven presidents, picketed for paid day care, campaigned for national health insurance and secured parental leave policies at workplaces across the nation. They had saved the ozone layer, the whale, and the Southern hemlock, all while keeping their streets safe from drunk drivers, their schools safe from drugs, and their sons safe from war. They had raised families, raised funds, and raised their share of hell.
Now they were moving on.
Just as, upon close examination, a few of Cici’s freckles might have been revealed to be age spots, the ladies could not help noticing that the painted porch, which had looked so stately and inviting from a distance, was actually cracked and peeling. Bare wood was showing through in places on the steps. Cici scuffed up a square of paint with the toe of her sneaker and murmured, “I can fix that.”
The woman in the blue pantsuit came forward with a big smile and her hand extended. “Hi, I’m Maggie Woodall with Woodall Realty?” She said it with an uplift in her voice, like a question.
“Cecile Burke,” replied Cici, returning a firm handshake. “People call me Cici. I’m the one who called. These are my friends Lindsay Wright and Bridget Tyndale.”
They exchanged greetings all around and Bridget said, “It was good of you to come out on a Sunday.”
“Not at all, not at all! That’s what I do!” She beamed at them as she handed out business cards, a heavyset woman with a short red haircut and eyeshadow the color of her pantsuit. “I’m so glad you called. This is such a unique property, I just love showing it. Cici, didn’t you say you were a real estate agent back in Baltimore?”
“Just outside,” agreed Cici, and dug out one of her own business cards.
This seemed to make Maggie very happy. “I offer three percent on referrals,” she said. Her smile traveled from one woman to the other. “So. Which one of you ladies is looking to relocate?”