also be a sweetheart. Zach gave her a hug, reassured her, made a token stab at guessing the hour he would be in for dinner and escaped outside. He found himself thankful gulping in a lungful of fresh air. He hated the smell of ammonia.
The incongruous picture of Bett cleaning behind the refrigerator brought a wry grin for a minute…but the grin faded. He’d already urged Bett to do whatever she had to do to make her mother’s transition to the house easier, and to forget about the farm. In his mind, though, he had anticipated a break for Bett, and had hoped that Elizabeth might take on some of the household jobs that exhausted his wife at the end of an already tiring workday. Liz loved housework, and she wanted to be needed. Inviting her had seemed an honest exchange of needs.
Let them be, Zach thought absently. After all, Elizabeth had only been there an hour. If he felt a sudden trace of uneasiness, it was merely because he was already feeling tired and exasperated. Caruso was waiting.
“Do you like it, Zach?” Elizabeth asked worriedly. “I made it especially for you.”
“Wonderful, Liz. Really.” Zach viewed the slice of salmon loaf on his plate with a haunted smile. Elizabeth had served the dish the first night she was here, and to please her, he had complimented her on it. Five days later, it was being served again, now that she had established it as his favorite.
Bett tossed him just a wisp of an unholy smile. She knew Zach hated salmon. He served himself another helping of green beans. Picking up her fork again, Bett stifled a yawn.
Plum harvest had just started. With both peaches and plums going on at the same time, she barely had time to breathe, even if Zach took on the brunt of the work. In the meantime, she’d spared every free minute she could for her mother…and that included, so far, every single evening. Elizabeth did her best worrying after midnight, after she’d tried to go to sleep and discovered that the house was too quiet.
Now, everything was going well, Bett told herself. Just as she’d been telling herself regularly since the minute her mother had arrived. The two women were getting along splendidly, better than they ever had before. There had been no friction, none of Elizabeth’s tearful crying bouts; her mom’s face had taken on color and animation. Everything Bett wanted for her mother had been happening. And Zach must have told her a dozen times that it was an ideal arrangement, that she should just stop worrying about the farm work that wasn’t getting done and spend as much time with her mother as she wanted.
It would have been very selfish indeed to admit that anything was bothering her. The canaries cheeping at five in the morning didn’t bother her. The fact that making love with Zach had been interrupted twice by their resident insomniac didn’t bother her. Coming home after seven straight hours in the orchards to wash ceilings with her mother didn’t bother her. Her mother’s delicate suggestions that ruffles and padded bras and makeup “would help” didn’t bother her.
Nothing bothered her. Not even tonight. Bett was close to being slaphappy tired. And Zach hadn’t even guessed that something odd was afoot, even though her mother was sitting there in a black linen dress.
Zach viewed his mother-in-law with increasingly suspicious, though hooded, eyes. Elizabeth favored colors that verged on fluorescent. Not black. Elizabeth automatically spent every entire dinner period chattering. Yet tonight she was reasonably silent.
He hardly knew what to do with the peace.
“Are you going out to work after dinner, Zach?” Elizabeth asked idly.
“For a while. Just to tinker with a carburetor for a short time.” Not long. Bett’s eyes had shadows under them. Since his wife, for some strange reason, had given up sleeping this past week, he was determined to get her into bed at a reasonable hour. For one purpose or another. The pale yellow smock she