Chapter Twenty-Six

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Instead of going home, I walked to Claire's. I didn't want to be alone.

The shop was in its late morning lull. Claire was loading up the pastry case with Fiona's gooey cinnamon buns. She glanced up at the sound of the bell on the door, smiling. "I was just thinking about you, Miranda, sweetie," she said, pulling out a cinnamon bun and handing it to me over the counter. "Coffee, too?" Before I could answer, she poured me a cup of hazelnut coffee and added cream and sugar.

I matched her point for point in our game and put exact change down on the counter before she could try to give it to me for free. She took it, smiling even more widely and shaking her head at my stubbornness. "I was thinking you should come over for dinner again tonight," she told me. "Owen is so much happier when you're around."

"He asked me to move away with him," I said.

Claire's eyes widened. "My son wants to leave Fall Island? You're joking. What did you say?"

"I said no."

She patted my hand. "Good girl."

"Really?"

"Yes, really! They caught that young man. Owen's not in any danger here anymore. The main thing is that you shouldn't rush things, after what you've been through."

"Thanks, Claire." It was a relief that she didn't think I was a monster for refusing to go with him. It didn't mean I loved him any less.

A moment passed while I plucked a piece of frosting off my cinnamon bun.

I took a deep breath. "Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot," Claire said.

"Do you know if Suze has any more paintings on the island, besides the ones at the Graveside? Her parents gave a lot of them away, didn't they?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I don't know." I shrugged. "Just wondering."

Claire frowned distractedly at the pastry case. "I have them."

"You? Why?"

"Her parents, Abigail and Harry, were regulars at my shop. We were friends. They never believed any of that nonsense about Owen. So, when they decided to leave, they asked me to go through her paintings. To sort through them all, donate them to wherever would be the best fit, and so on."

"What did you do with them?"

"Well, I gave some of them to the Artist's Lodge. This was before Matthew's time, but there was a nice young woman running it then who was very happy to have them. Most of them I gave to Ellie for the Graveside Gallery. And... I kept the rest. Is that terrible? I kept the ones that Suze wouldn't have wanted displayed, the ones that were unfinished, that kind of thing. I thought she would've wanted Owen to keep those, but he said no, so I kept them myself."

"He said no? But he has a painting of her in his house."

"Oh, yes." Claire's mouth twisted ironically. "The shrine. I keep telling him to take that down. I hope you're not falling under her spell," Claire added, her light blue eyes anxious. "Don't fall in love with Suze, Miranda. We need to let Suze go. Especially after what just happened."

"I know." Our eyes met for a moment. I could sense how much Claire wanted this terrible, interminable chapter of her son's life to finally end.

Claire looked down and drew a huge ring of keys out of her apron pocket. She dropped them on the counter in front of me with a clatter. "My house keys. The paintings are in the attic."

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