Today's Reading

Imogene's eyes fell onto the mantel clock and widened. "Oh shoot, that is the time, isn't it? I have to go. I'm headed to a late dinner with George's family, and I have to change my dress...fix my hair... Oof." She patted the perfectly set dark wave over her ear. "Sorry, Viv." She leaned over and gave Vivian a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "How about you meet me for some last-minute shopping tomorrow?" she said sotto voce. "You can fill me in on everything then, and tell me about any detectives you may or may not have contacted."

Vivian rolled her eyes and turned to watch Imogene go. A whirlwind in a skirt, she thought with a smirk.

Graham cocked his head to one side. "Say, you play the piano, don't you? We could get some caroling started—liven this place up a little."

"Oh no." Vivian shook her head. "I never got past the scales. I have horrible memories of having my knuckles rapped by old Mrs. Crenshaw when I deigned to hit the wrong key."

"Poor girl." Graham's dark eyes sparkled as his face lit with a grin. A lock of his thick, black hair fell over his forehead, and Vivian resisted the sudden impulse to brush it back with her fingers. He was matinee-idol handsome, the chiseled planes of his face dark perfection. Graham Yarborough is any woman's dream, Vivian thought absently. Any woman but me. Even so, when he teased her in that husky baritone as he just did, Vivian felt an echo of the attraction she'd once felt for him, and she almost forgot they were only playing at being sweethearts.

"Maybe we can persuade Everett," she said. "He was always so much better with his lessons. Longer fingers..." she said, holding her own hands out and wiggling her small digits.

They both looked toward the divan where Everett was cozying up to his new girlfriend. He'd mentioned her, but Vivian couldn't recall the girl's name. She was another student at Northwestern, and likely the reason Everett had been so busy and away from home so often since the term started.

"Actually, I don't think we're going to be able to pry him away from that warm embrace anytime soon," Vivian said, sighing. "How about I put on a record?" 

"And how about I bring you a refill?"

She'd drained the glass of eggnog without realizing it. So it wasn't only the questions about her father that had her head spinning, she thought. But Graham seemed not to notice. He winked, took her empty glass, and headed in the direction of the punch bowl.

Vivian turned to the extensive record collection housed in a glass-enclosed bookcase. Her mother's taste in music was decidedly more staid than her own. Vivian flipped through various renditions of chorale ensembles, searching for something, anything, recorded in the past ten years. She'd nearly given up hope when she spied Guy Lombardo's version of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." That would do for a start.

She pulled the shellac disc from its paper sleeve, held the edges with the tips of her fingers, and blew any dust off the platter before placing it atop the spindle on the record player. She dropped the needle and smiled with satisfaction as the jaunty sounds of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians poured through the horn-shaped speaker.

She crossed her arms and listened, letting her eyes range over the Christmas cards displayed on the mantel above the crackling fire. She opened one idyllic country snow scene to find Freddy and Pauline scrawled inside in a tight, neat hand—most likely bought, signed, and sent by Freddy's loyal secretary, Della. Uncle Freddy, as Vivian had called him almost her entire life, had shared an office with her father in the Rookery downtown for nearly fifteen years. She wrinkled her brow as she placed the card back on the mantel. Surely Freddy Endicott had been invited to the party tonight. He was always invited, but she hadn't yet heard his booming laugh ring out from the crowd.

"I'm a big fan."

Vivian jumped and turned to find Everett's girlfriend hovering near the phonograph.

Someone had broken that warm embrace after all.

The girl continued in a breathless undertone. "I know Everett wouldn't want me to say anything like that. It would embarrass him no end to have me fawning all over you, but I wanted to tell you that...I truly admire your work." The girl stuttered to a stop and looked at Vivian with wide blue eyes. 

"Well, thank you," Vivian said, searching her memory desperately for the girl's name. She lowered her chin and added, "And don't worry. I won't tell Everett."

This excerpt ends on page 18 of the paperback edition.


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