After arguing with her live-in boyfriend about his inability to commit, Peggy Adams flies to a friend's bachelorette party in Las Vegas, and wakes up next to a man she can't remember. Hung-over and miserable, she sneaks out of the sleeping man's hotel room and returns home to New York, where her boyfriend apologizes for the fight and gives her a Tiffany box containing a pre-engagement ring. Not what she expected, but close enough! The next day she receives a phone call from the Las Vegas one-night stand, Luke, claiming she's already married to him and he faxes her the license for proof! Both are ready for an annulment, until Peggy arrives in quaint New Nineveh, CT, where Luke cares for his Great Aunt, and the old woman makes Peggy an offer she can't refuse.
Release date: May 8, 2009
Publisher: 5 Spot
Print pages: 372
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Mating Rituals of the North American WASP
Karmatz-Rudy, Elly Weisenberg, Miriam Parker, Latoya Smith, Melanie Moss, Tareth Mitch, Sona Vogel, Rick Willett, Claire Brown,
and Allene Shimomura at Grand Central Publishing, and to Tooraj Kavoussi of TK Public Relations. Melanie Murray, thank you
for believing in this book.
Miriam Komar and Sarah Sheppard spent a year helping me shape my story and characters and pushing me to do better. I am indebted
to them and to Carol Goodman, an exceptional teacher and writer. I’m grateful for the support of Davyne Verstandig, director
of the Litchfield County Writers Project.
Thank you to the many who gave generously of their time and expertise, including freelance television cameraman Pete Stendel,
Connecticut divorce lawyer Steven H. Levy, Esq., and Napa Valley wine and port expert Paul Wagner. Lee Lipton, MA, PA-C, provided
medical information. Mary Clare Bland, of East Side Tae Kwon Do in New York City, gave me a crash course in small business
ownership. Tom Herman (Yale ’68) and Marilyn Lytle Herman took me to the Game.
Litchfield, Connecticut, contractor Ben Buck explained how to apply roofing tar. Tedd Rosenstein, my Las Vegas bureau chief,
described the Brooklyn Bridge at New York New York in painstaking detail. Thank you also to Reverend David Rockness, pastor
of the First Congregational Church of Litchfield; docent Rosemary Sant Andrea of the Bellamy-Ferriday House; car expert Jonathan
Welsh; and Stephanie Chang. I assume full responsibility for any mistakes or omissions in, or embellishments to, the information
these sources provided.
The Silas Sedgwick House is modeled on a real mansion in Litchfield County. Russell Barton gave me a tour of his exquisite
home and let me take extensive photographs.
Girls-in-the-know Melissa C. Morris and Sandra Waugh saw to it that the Sedgwicks served the proper appetizers, drank the
proper liquor, and attended the proper church.
The poet and hedge fund manager Lee Slonimsky not only advised me on Luke’s investments but wrote Luke’s beautiful sonnets
and verse fragments (with the exception of the limerick, for which I take full blame). Lee, thank you. I couldn’t have done
it without you.
And without David and James, there would be no poetry in my life. I love you both.
Early Fall, September
Something wasn’t right, and she knew it before opening her eyes.
She’d been having the oddest dream about a man she was sure she’d never met in her waking life, though in the dream he was
as familiar as an old friend. A man she would not be able to recall later, beyond that his presence had buoyed her with happiness.
A man she only understood wasn’t Brock and was in fact someone Brock should never know about. And though she knew the correct
thing to do was to go home to Brock at once and apologize for all of it—the argument, the way she’d left things, and now this—she couldn’t bring herself to break the spell. She and the dream-man were laughing and talking, about what she wouldn’t recall,
either, as bells rang and cheers erupted in bursts, and smiling dream-people stood back to watch them in the manner of wedding
guests ringing the floor for the first dance. Then, just as she and the man were about to embrace, Peggy Adams had a moment
of clarity. Something isn’t right, she thought in her dream, and with that, it all dissolved.
This was one of the many side effects of Peggy’s chronic anxiety: Traveling made her jumpy, and she could not get comfortable
in a strange bed. Not even in a luxury hotel. She’d try to laugh it off—Hello, housekeeping? There’s a pea under my mattress—and go to sleep. But the pillow would be too plump or the fitted sheet would come untucked, revealing an expanse of bare
mattress inches from her face. The rest of the night she’d alternate between imagining exactly what might be on that mattress,
thinking wistfully of her own bed, and chastising herself. When had she become afraid of everything? Why couldn’t she snap
out of it?
But this particular out-of-kilter feeling went beyond the dream and beyond Peggy’s sense that her world was closing in and
it was her own fault. It went beyond her concern that her friends were leaving her behind, moving ahead with their lives while
she remained in the same place. It certainly went beyond being in not-her-bed. The past two mornings, Peggy had awoken not
to the distant growl of Manhattan traffic on Ninth Avenue or, depending on the day, the splash of Brock shaving in their apartment
bathroom, but to the gusty air conditioner in a room at the New York New York hotel in Las Vegas, with Bex Sabes-Cohen—her
best friend, business partner, and fellow bachelorette-weekend guest—rustling sleepily in the other double bed and a view
of a reproduction Chrysler building out their window. It had caught her off guard Friday and Saturday, but it was Sunday,
she’d be flying home later today, and with her everyday life within an afternoon’s reach, the foreignness of the hotel room,
her remaining hours of contrived gaiety in Las Vegas, even her fight with Brock, seemed perfectly manageable.
Still, Peggy wasn’t ready to face any of it. She burrowed into the unyielding pillow, suspecting she hadn’t slept nearly enough.
Her eyes seemed glued shut, and she wondered, Makeup? Had she somehow not washed her face? She ran her left index finger across her lashes. They were gummy and stiff. When she
moved her other hand under the covers, the clasp of her watch caught on the knit fabric of her cocktail dress.
Watch? Usually, Peggy set it on the bathroom counter before brushing and flossing. Why couldn’t she remember brushing and flossing?
Could she have forgotten to, just as she’d forgotten to remove her makeup, her watch, and…this was curious. Was she really
wearing her dress?
She opened her eyes. The curtains were open, and blue white sunlight shrieked in through the window. She shut her eyes, but
not before registering that she was still wearing the low-backed black jersey number she’d chosen for the weekend’s climactic evening of dinner and drinks and
blackjack with Bex and their other former college roommates.
What in the world was going on?
Peggy did remember having faced a wardrobe dilemma. Las Vegas had turned out to be a city of tourists wearing baggy T-shirts
and shorts. Bex had already pointed out that the other bachelorettes weren’t much chicer. Jobs, relationships, and circumstance
had flung their four New York University friends thousands of miles from the city and out into the wide world of sneakers
and sweatpants and logos on everything. For the past two days, Andrea, the guest of honor, had lived in a white tracksuit
with “Bride-to-Be” appliquéd across her backside.
Peggy had had her dress over her head and been about to shimmy it down over her hips when she’d heard Bex come out of the
“Do I look like an alien from Planet Overkill?” Peggy had asked through the layers of fabric. When no response came, she slithered
the dress all the way on, letting it brush silkily around her calves.
Bex was wearing a camisole, black pants so snug that a thong would have left lines, and one skyscraper-heeled, pointy-toed,
patent-leather boot. She laughed. “You’re asking the wrong girl.”
Peggy adored Bex for her brash self-assurance, her unflagging trust in her own choices.
Unfortunately, Peggy did not share these characteristics.
“I’ll wear jeans.” She started to back out of the dress.
“No, you don’t. You’re going to be festive this weekend if it kills us both.…” Bex had gotten a look at Peggy’s face. She
stopped tussling with her other boot. “I know, sweetie. Fights—they’re miserable.”
Peggy let the dress fall back around her and dropped onto the bed. “Thirteen months, Bex.”
“I know,” Bex said.
“Andrea meets Jordan, they go to dinner, they move in together, and poof—engaged.” She held up her palms, mimicking a scale.
“Andie: thirteen months. Me: seven years.”
Bex nodded. “I know.”
“And I shouldn’t have yelled at Brock. I never yell at him. I don’t nag; I don’t push; I give him space. How long am I supposed
“I don’t know. I would have left him already.”
“I’m not leaving him.”
“I know,” said Bex.
Peggy had registered the disapproval in her best friend’s posture and slipped on her shoes. Shoes that she now suspected—
Her heart began to pound. She kicked the bedclothes off her feet.
She was still wearing them.
As for Bex, what had become of her? Bex, along with her bed and the Chrysler building outside their window, had disappeared.
How was that possible? The only bed in the room now was Peggy’s.
But Peggy wasn’t the only one in it.
It took multiple tries to work through this last piece of information. Man. A man. A man in bed. In her bed. No, on her bed.
He lay on his back on top of the coverlet, in a rumpled shirt and a diagonally striped tie, in slacks, socks, and burnished
dress shoes that looked as if they’d been polished and repolished for the past twenty years. He had blond lashes and a peaceful
face. His chest rose and fell gently. He could have been a sleeping boy, except for the red gold stubble on his cheeks.
She had never seen him in her life.
She scrambled to her feet, one high heel leaving a small, three-cornered tear in the hotel sheet, and stood swaying next to
her bed—which, of course, couldn’t really be hers. She’d already forgotten the dream; her imagination was busy doing what
it did best: spinning ghastly scenarios. He’d slipped her a drug, and they’d had wild, condom-free sex all night. He’d won
her trust by dressing like a nice, traditional gentleman, gotten her drunk, and persuaded her to empty out her bank account.
Or what about that urban legend where the traveler wakes up in a hotel room with a kidney missing?
The man mumbled and stirred.
Who is this person? Peggy tried to force down her rising panic, the choking, suffocating sensation that signaled she was especially anxious.
She tapped him on the arm. “Excuse me.” Her voice was barely audible, a twig scratch on a pane of glass.
The man didn’t move. “Excuse me,” she croaked louder, and tapped him again, then jiggled his arm. Nothing happened. I’m practically middle-aged, Peggy thought. She hadn’t done anything like this in her twenties, when it might have been excusable. She was thirty-four
She tottered into the bathroom, hoping despite all odds to find Bex washing her face. There was no Bex, only Peggy’s own reflection:
chin-length hair falling in dirty blond strings across a forehead already traversed with worry lines like her mother’s; dark
circles and the first signs of crow’s-feet. Yet even as Peggy was bemoaning her appearance, she registered the leather Dopp
kit on the otherwise empty counter, and the full impact of the situation hit her.
She’d passed out in a strange man’s room.
Her next thought was, My purse!
She half expected not to find it, but it was there, on a table with a scattered stack of papers, two smudgy champagne glasses,
and a bottle nose-down in a bucket of melted ice. The man’s jacket was draped neatly across the back of a chair. Peggy swooped
up her bag and wrenched it open. Wallet and credit cards—check. The photo of her and Brock at the Sports Emmys—check. Cash—not
as much as she remembered, but a few bills, and the card to her own hotel room.
A blast of electronic music shrilled. Peggy jumped and tripped over her feet to the door, fumbled with the safety latch, and
stumbled out into the hall, holding the door ajar with her elbow. She reached into her purse for her phone and flipped it
open. Mercifully, the music stopped.
“Bex?” Peggy whispered. “Are you okay?”
“Where are you? Brunch, remember?”
Peggy was flooded with relief at the sound of her friend’s voice. She glanced back into the room. All she could see was the
lower eighteen inches of the man’s legs. He didn’t appear to have woken up. She shut the door carefully. “I’ll be right there,”
Peggy said into the phone, steering herself toward the elevator.
“Are you bringing your future husband?”
Peggy made herself walk slower—the corridor was spinning. “What?”
“You told us you were engaged. You were skipping around with that WASPy guy, calling him ‘my future husband.’ The two of you
were all over each other. We couldn’t figure out what had gotten into you, Peggy. You wouldn’t let us take you upstairs. We
finally left you at the roulette table. Did you actually go to his room?”
Peggy pressed “Down,” and an elevator opened as if it had been waiting. There was a family inside—a mother and father and
two children, all bright-eyed and fresh and well rested. “I guess so. I’m coming to ours now.”
“We’re not there. Hilary and I packed and checked out for you. Meet us in the lobby and we’ll go straight to brunch.”
The children were staring at her. The parents were pointedly trying not to. Peggy wished she could vanish. “I have to change
my dress,” she whispered.
“No time, sweets. We’ve all got planes to catch. Meet us down stairs. We’ll wait for you.”
“Thanks, Bex. I owe you.”
“You’ll pay me later,” Bex said. “I expect a full report of last night.”
“All right, then, what about hepatitis?” Peggy worried aloud once the plane was in the air and pointing east. She was in the
window seat, and she lowered the shade against the sun. Every women’s magazine cautionary tale she’d ever read, every casual-sex
exposé about the dangers of letting one’s guard down for an instant, was coming back to her in a dizzying rush. She shook
out a small white pill from a vial in her purse.
Bex tilted back her seat and twirled her black-coffee curls into a chignon, which she secured with a pen from her handbag.
“Come on, Neurotic Nelly, open your shade or we won’t see the Grand Canyon. And don’t take that. There’s nothing to be afraid
of. The pilot knows how to fly the plane. And if you take the Ativan, you’ll pass out, and I’ll be lonely for the rest of
“Then you take one, too.”
“No thanks.” Bex pried Peggy’s fingers from the vial. “From here on out, my body is a temple. No alcohol, no late nights,
no stress. Only organic foods, yoga, and Josh giving me shots in my ass. Sexy, right? Put that pill back in here.”
Peggy dropped it in. “Bex, do you think I’ve caught hepatitis? Or worse?” She was making herself breathless.
“That guy was so conservative, he looked like a 1962 Brooks Brothers ad.” Bex clenched her teeth and finished in a mock upper-class
drawl, “No one like that could possibly be diseased.”
“That’s not true and you know it.”
“And no one has sex and then puts his conservative pants, shirt, tie, socks, and shoes back on before passing out. Therefore,
you don’t have to worry about whether you had safe sex, because you didn’t have sex.” Bex capped the pill vial and returned
it to Peggy’s purse. “If I were you, I’d feel kind of cheated.”
Nauseated. That’s how Peggy felt. “If you knew anything, you’d tell me, right?”
“Only you know what happened. It’s back there in your subconscious. Concentrate.” Bex opened the in-flight magazine.
The plane vibrated. Peggy’s heart jolted. She looked past Bex into the aisle, at the passengers chatting or sleeping, the
flight attendants doling out drinks and bags of pretzels. Just a little turbulence. She made herself loosen her death grip
on the armrests.
Bex set down the magazine. “Did you get his name and number?”
“Why would I want his name and number?”
“He was cute. Did you give him yours?”
“I thought you were going to be quiet.” Of course Peggy hadn’t given out her phone number. Then again, she realized with dismay, how would I know?
“Think back to the last thing you remember.” Bex rustled the magazine so Peggy would see she was reading.
Peggy had gone with Bex to Andrea’s room. There were margaritas from room service. She’d had one, possibly two. Jen, with
whom Peggy had bonded over a mutual love of Wallace Stevens during their freshman honors poetry seminar, had raised a glass:
“Okay, let’s go around the room. When did you know he was going to pop the—” She’d looked at Peggy and winced. “Yikes, Peggy,
sorry.” To shake off the weight of the bachelorettes’ pity, Peggy had busied herself gathering trash and going down the hall
for ice, reciting to herself a stanza from “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”
A man and a woman
A man, a woman and a blackbird
When she returned, Andrea was describing her wedding. It would be in Hawaii—just the bride and groom and their families. The
other bachelorettes clamored to hear about the dress, the food, the flowers. Peggy had poured herself another drink, reminded
herself to be happy for Andrea.
They’d had steaks and martinis and hit the casino. Peggy, by then considerably more cheerful, had played roulette with Bex,
jumping up and down and hollering, “Come on, rent money!” At some point, holding yet another martini, she’d lost her grip
and seen her drink on the floor. She was, inexplicably, on the floor, too.
“Are you all right?” The man had rushed over to her. He’d taken her hand and pulled her gently to her feet. She’d stood, leaning
Peggy tapped Bex’s magazine. “Why was I calling him my future husband?”
“You know,” Bex said. “Because of the tiara.”
It was frightening. Peggy rarely had more than a glass of wine with dinner and never in her life had gotten so drunk that
she’d blacked out. What subconscious, self-destructive impulse had taken over?
“Andie gave us tiaras at dinner. Remember?”
Oh, right. Peggy did, thankfully, remember: The bride-to-be had presented them all with gag veils—froths of tulle attached
to shiny rhinestone tiaras. Peggy had loved hers and worn it into the casino. “What happened to it?” She hadn’t seen it that
morning in the man’s room.
“You must have lost it. Anyway, you told Brooks Brothers you were a bride, and all you needed was a groom.”
“I wouldn’t say that!” It was too hot on this plane. Peggy reached up to the air blower above her seat, but it was already
on. “I respect Brock far too much. Don’t say a word about you-know-what,” she added—she’d just given her friend the perfect opportunity to mention Florida. Considering
the way Peggy had acted last night, she was in no mood to hear Bex, whom she loved with all her heart, dig up a two-year-old
mistake Brock had promised over and over not to make again. Bex’s disdain for Brock never failed to hurt Peggy’s feelings.
“Well, I think it’s great that you broke out of your comfort zone,” Bex said cheerfully. “You should do it more often. And
if you did sleep with Mr. WASP, you can just call it payback.”
“Shut up, Rebecca. I mean it.”
“Let’s change the subject.” Bex took a cardigan out of her bag. Peggy couldn’t understand how Bex could be cold when it was
stifling in here. “How are Max and Madeleine?”
“Remember Dad’s little cough that wouldn’t go away? He went to see some guy in the RV park. A retired veterinarian.” Peggy
rubbed her temples. “He told Mom it was cheaper than paying a real doctor. What if it’s serious? Those two make me crazy.”
“They’re cool—free spirits. All right, work. Think Padma accidentally burned down the store this weekend? Speaking of catastrophes,
how much do you think the Evil Empire will raise our rent? I was sure we’d hit the jackpot in Vegas and our troubles would
Peggy had been struggling all weekend not to fret about the inevitable increase in their store’s rent. It was the exact opposite
of Bex’s way of coping—Bex liked to attack worries head-on. “Ugh, don’t remind me,” Peggy said.
Bex immediately upended her frown back to a smile. “Don’t beat yourself up over last night. You had a fight with Brock, and
you were acting out. Understandably, I might add.”
“I gave him an ultimatum. I said if we weren’t engaged in a year, I’d leave him,” Peggy mumbled.
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Bex said. “To show him you mean business.”
“He knows I’d never follow through. And to top that stupid move with last night’s stupid move—”
“Sweetie, stop. All that happened was you drank too much and had fun with a man and didn’t make it back to our hotel room.
Nothing bad. You’ll go home, and your life will be exactly as it was before. And if you do follow through on that ultimatum,
my offer stands.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Peggy said. Bex, who still lived in the apartment she and Peggy had shared in their twenties, was
always telling Peggy she could move back in anytime. Peggy was usually offended at the suggestion, but she had to think now
that it might come in handy.
“Here, eat.” Bex poked at Peggy’s bag of minipretzels. “And ask what’s going on with me for a change. It’s been Brock, Brock,
Brock, all weekend.”
Peggy opened the pretzels, ashamed of herself. “You’re right. I’m so sorry. When’s your appointment with Dr.…?”
“Kaplan. Guess what New York magazine calls him? The King Midas of fertility—everything he touches turns to gold.”
“So when are you going? Josh will be there, too, right?”
“Tomorrow morning. It’ll just be me. Josh will be in court.” Bex’s husband was a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.
“I’ll go with you.” Peggy was glad for the chance to turn the tables and help Bex. “For moral support. You’re always taking
care of me. I’ll call in Padma to open up the store.”
“Some other time.” Bex helped herself to one of Peggy’s pretzels. “He’s just going to explain the protocol he’s picked for
me. The real fun begins later: hormones and blood tests and more hormones and blood tests.”
“And then what happens?”
“Then they retrieve my eggs. That’s what they call it, ‘retrieval.’ Like the eggs are lost in there. Then they fertilize them
in a petri dish or something, see if any of them take, put those in me, and it’s Next stop, Babyville. I mean, if it works.”
Peggy studied her best friend’s profile, the stubborn set of her chin. She ached for Bex whenever a customer came into the
store with a baby, whenever one of their friends blithely announced another pregnancy. When she and Bex walked together on
the Upper West Side, its sidewalks clogged with young families, Peggy tried to run interference. As if stepping between Bex
and a stroller could shield her friend from the fecundity that mocked from every corner. “It will work,” Peggy said. “It has
“Says the woman who’s sure a thief stole her kidney.”
Peggy laughed for the first time all day. “Then let me do the worrying, so you don’t need to. I’m excellent at it.” She took
Bex’s hand. “Let that be my job.”
It was nearly eleven when the taxi driver hoisted Peggy’s suitcase out of the trunk with a grunt and thudded it onto the sidewalk.
“Thanks, sorry,” she said, and overtipped him.
She stood in the middle of Fifty-ninth Street in last night’s dress and heels. She pressed her left leg against her suitcase,
claiming it, and looked up at the glass-and-granite facade of her building, trying to spot the dark windows of her and Brock’s
apartment on the twentieth floor; and then at the cab speeding off into the late-September night. A part of her wanted to
chase after the taxi and have the driver take her…where, she didn’t know. She reminded herself of what Bex had said: “Life
will be exactly as it was before.” Of course it would. Nothing had happened.
In the elevator, she searched her purse for her keys. Before she’d stormed off to the airport, she was pretty sure Brock had
said he was going to Chicago. Wait, Cleveland. Bengals at Browns. His return flight wouldn’t get in until past midnight. If
you were going to be a sports cameraman’s girlfriend, you had to accept that he’d be away most weeks, from Thursday or Friday
through late Sunday night. It had come to seem normal to Peggy. She spent her weekends minding the shop anyway and often came
home drained from hours of bright-eyed girl chatter, with nothing to talk about beyond the typical store happenings—a European
tourist who’d bought one of every soap, lotion, and shower gel on the shelves; a customer who’d tried to return an empty jar
of body scrub. Tonight, Peggy was downright glad of Brock’s absence. For starters, she wouldn’t have to explain why she’d
flown across the country in a little black dress badly camouflaged with an airport gift shop T-shirt that said “Sin City.”
She stepped out of her shoes at last and dragged the suitcase through the dark living room into her and Brock’s bedroom. A
bath. That’s what she needed to wash away last night once and for all.
In the tub, Peggy channeled the instructor of a meditation course she’d once taken. She imagined Birch—that had been the woman’s
name—in the lotus position with one of the different-colored stick-on bindis she’d change to coordinate with her tank tops, saying, If a negative thought enters your mind, observe it impartially, and let it go.
It was time to let Las Vegas go. Peggy was home, where she was comfortable and knew her place in the world. Tomorrow at the
shop she had two deliveries coming in and was planning to redo the windows and balance the books. A busy day, but she could
do these tasks in her sleep. She’d just spent the weekend with her oldest and most beloved friends. Tomorrow morning, she’d
apologize to Brock for her outburst. The truth was, they had been getting along far better than during the rocky period after
Florida. Maybe that’s why Peggy had been so shaken this morning: She’d barely escaped pulling the rug out from under herself,
upsetting the stability she’d worked so hard to create.
She slid deeper into the tub, tipping her head back into the lavender-scented bubbles. She concentrated on relaxing.
“Hey!” The front door slammed. “What’s for dinner?”
It was Brock’s voice, she knew it as well as her own, but still she shrieked. There were heavy footsteps, and Brock appeared.
“Sheesh!” He had his keys in one hand and a colossal bouquet in the other. “Kidding. I ate already.”
“You scared me!” Peggy’s hands were shaking. “I thought you weren’t back until late.”
“I caught an earlier flight.” He held out the bouquet. “For you.”
So he was apologizing. Peggy reached out both hands to take the flowers—each bloodred rose the size of a child’s fist. She braced
her arms on the edge of the tub. After Florida, Brock had sent bouquets just like this to the store—one a day for twenty-three
days, until Peggy had relented and let him move back into the apartment.
“They’re beautiful,” she told him now.
Brock Clovis was black-haired, blue-eyed, a former high school football star with the shoulders to prove it. People on the
street often mistook him for someone famous. When he smiled, a dimple deepened in his chin. “How do they smell?” Brock bent
to nuzzle his face in the roses.
“Careful, thorns.” Peggy waited for him to apologize so she could, too. Marriage was overrated. She and Brock were in a committed
relationship. What did she need a piece of paper for?
“Huh.” Brock lifted his head. “They don’t smell like
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