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Her hands trembling, Sara McCray slowly flattened the newspaper onto her desk and reread the obituary before her. Alex and Diane dead? Alex and Diane dead? How could it be?
Her brown eyes clouded in her struggle for comprehension. But the printed word wasn't to be denied even upon a third reading. There had been an automobile accident on a slick road just north of San Francisco. Neither passenger had survived the crash.
She sat stunned, shocked into silent mourning for the couple who had been so youthful, so vibrant, so very much in love. They'd been her only friends at a time when it had seemed the world was against her. But she'd left San Francisco eight years ago. She had neither seen them since nor had the opportunity to thank them for their support. The break had been complete...as Geoffrey must have wished it.
Geoffrey. The passage of eight years' time had done nothing to stem the involuntary quickening she still felt at the mention of his name. With an unsteady breath she stood and moved toward the window where the night lights of New York glittered against her own slender reflection.
She'd changed. No longer was she that naive young woman he'd found in Colorado ten years before. The image that met her eyes confirmed it.
Then she'd worn simpler clothes, mostly jeans, sweaters and boots. Now she wore fine-tailored wool slacks, a silk blouse and imported leather pumps. Then her blond hair had flowed in free fall down her back. Now it was loosely twisted and chicly caught up with a comb above one ear. Then the crisp Rocky Mountain air had given her cheeks all the blush they'd needed. Now she was delicately made up to counter the pallor of a city dweller.
Shifting, her gaze moved beyond to focus blindly on the night. Yes, she'd changed. But the memories remained. There were memories of Geoffrey...of his family...of Alex
Disbelieving still, Sara whirled back to the desk to study the blur of two-day-old newsprint. The words were as clear as ever, their meaning as incredibly grievous despite her reluctance to accept them. She would have liked to see Alex and Diane again, to tell them of all she'd been doing, to thank them for their support way back then. But it was too late...too late. Now there were only final respects to be paid.
Her head bowed, she entered the small chapel and slid into an aisle seat in back just as the service was about to begin. The stylish suede hat that dipped low over her eyes hid not only her fatigue from the red-eye flight but the sorrow that had brought her so suddenly west. As for the trepidation she felt, she could only fold her hands in her lap to still their shakiness. It was the first time she'd been back to San Francisco since she and Geoffrey had divorced.
The haunting lilt of the organ tapered off, finally yielding to the minister's low voice. "The Lord is my shepherd... "
Raising her eyes for the first time, Sara looked past rows of mourners toward the front of the chapel and the two brass-edged coffins that stood in stark evidence of tragedy. Alex and Diane. So caring. So giving. So understanding. What had they done to deserve such untimely deaths?
She recalled the first time she'd met them, just hours before they'd stood as witnesses to her marriage to Geoffrey. From the start they'd treated her with warmth and acceptance, toasting her future with Jeff, bolstering her during that private flight back to San Francisco, giving her what encouragement they could in preparation for her inevitable confrontation with the Parker world.
It hadn't been nearly enough. Nothing could have prepared her for that confrontation, a scene neither to be forgotten nor, she'd vowed at the time of the divorce, repeated.
Suppressing a shudder, she let her attention be drawn back to the minister, whose gentle voice had completed a selection of inspirational readings and embarked on an emotion laden eulogy for the couple he'd known and admired. Sara listened intently, seeking justification in his words for what had happened to Alex and Diane. Was it God's will?
When the achingly sweet strains of "Coming Home" filled the chapel, her eyes brimmed with unexpected tears. Lowering her head, she felt first one, then another, trickle slowly down her cheeks. Her gloved hand drew a handkerchief from her purse and pressed it to her lips.
Yes, there was her sorrow at the passing of two friends. But there was more, far more, that the soulful mood of the music inspired. She felt suddenly and overwhelmingly lonely, as she hadn't felt in years. Was it this city, as opposed to New York which held her life, her career, her friends and co-workers? Was it the memory of what she had once hoped for here -- love, family, the warmth of a home filled with children? Or was it the fear that life was short, too short?
The music ended without having supplied the answers to her questions, Yet there was strength in the minister's final words, enough for her to gather her composure and stand with the others while the pallbearers slowly started down the narrow aisle.
She followed their progress intently, her heart beating faster with their approach. Her eye glanced along the first coffin and on to the second. Her fingers clutched at the wooden pew before her. It was inevitable. She'd known it from the moment she'd so hastily decided to attend the funeral. Geoffrey would be here.It would be the first time she'd seen him in eight years.
The pallbearers moved past, then the small group of relatives. Sara's attention barely skimmed them, searching the faces beyond, always beyond. Then she felt a jolt of recognition and caught her breath. There -- shoulders weighted beneath a burden of sorrow...