“Is there coffee?” she asks.
Tag rises. He’s wearing a waffle-knit cotton robe he snagged from the pool house to put on over his wet bathing suit, but now he wishes for regular clothes. The robe feels too feminine; it feels like a dress. “I’ll get it for you,” he says. “Please, sit and relax. How do you take it?”
“Black,” she says.
Girl after his own heart. Tag pours her a cup of coffee. She takes the seat next to his chair and folds her legs up under herself. Cozy. If Greer saw this, she would not be amused, even considering Merritt is a brunette and therefore theoretically not Tag’s type. But imagining Greer’s reaction turns Tag on. He is most certainly going to hell.
He sits down and considers his half-eaten breakfast. “Can I fix you something to eat?” He is startled by his own offer of hospitality. If this were anyone but a desirable woman, he would go back to his newspaper.
She holds up a hand. “No, thank you.”
“So, are there any stories you can share from last night?” he asks.
Merritt tilts her head and gives him a wry smile. “We were perfect angels,” she says. “It was rather disappointing.”
“Abby threw up on the way home,” Merritt says. “Our Uber driver had to pull over on Orange Street.”
“She overdid it?” Tag says. “Good for her.”
“If you ask me, she’s pregnant,” Merritt says. “I got that vibe.”
“Well,” Tag says. “That would be good news.” And it would. Thomas and Abby have been trying for a baby ever since they got married four years earlier. Conception isn’t a problem. Abby has been pregnant four times that Tag knows of, but each time ended in a miscarriage and one of them necessitated a D and C at Lenox Hill Hospital. However, Tag feels more disloyal discussing Abby’s potential pregnancy than he does looking at Merritt’s breasts. He changes the subject.
“So what do you do for work, Merritt-as-in-the-Parkway?” he asks.
She takes a deliberate sip of her coffee. “Officially, I handle PR for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages all four city zoos and the aquarium. That’s how I met Celeste. The Bronx Zoo has the biggest chunk of our budget so I do all of their press releases and whatnot. And Celeste, you know, is a rising star at the zoo. It’s not every day you see a woman as young as Celeste named assistant zoo director.”
“Right,” Tag says. He’s very fond of Celeste and thinks her career is magnificent. Greer has been less enthusiastic. Why does she have to run a zoo? she said. Why not a museum or a charitable foundation? Something ladylike? However, Greer far prefers Celeste to Benji’s former girlfriend, Jules. Jules Briar lived on Park Avenue, which was good, but the apartment and the money and the daughter, Miranda, were all from the first husband, Andy Briar, a director at Goldman Sachs, which was bad. Greer wanted Benji to find someone without quite that much baggage—and Celeste offers a clean slate. It’s almost as though she spent her first twenty-six years in a convent. Benji is the only serious boyfriend she’s ever had.
“And unofficially,” Merritt says with a bit of a tease in her voice, snapping Tag back to the present conversation—Unofficially, he thinks, she’s a stripper. Or a high-end escort—“I’m an influencer.”
“An influencer?” he says.
“I do work on the side to promote certain brands and events,” Merritt says. “So some of my clothes and shoes and bags are by designers I can’t afford, but I get them for free as long as I post about them on my social media platforms. I stump for nineteen companies.”
“That’s impressive,” Tag says. He can see how she would succeed as an influencer: She’s young, beautiful, cool, sexy. And edgy. She’s an interesting match for Celeste, who doesn’t have an edgy thing about her.
“What do you do for work?” Merritt asks.
Tag laughs; he likes her directness. “I own a hedge fund,” he says.
“Note the look of surprise on my face,” Merritt says.
“It’s terribly boring, I know,” he says. “I started my career at Barclays in London but when the boys finished with primary school, we decided it would be best to move to New York.” He does not mention that the majority of their wealth comes from Greer’s family. The Garrisons owned the mills that produced over half the gin in Great Britain. And Greer’s book royalties are nothing to sniff at either, although sales are steadily declining and Tag has been tempted to suggest she retire before she becomes a parody of herself. Her fan base is nearly down to no one but the devoted cat ladies.
It’s as Tag is thinking about the typical cat lady—tucked away in her Cotswold cottage fixing a cup of tea and preparing to spend a rainy afternoon in an armchair with a tabby spread across her lap as she cracks open the latest exotically located Greer Garrison mystery—that he feels something touch his leg. It’s Merritt’s foot. She is running her toes up his shin as she sips her coffee and pretends to be gazing out the window at Nantucket Sound. Tag immediately gets an erection. He thinks about lifting up her flimsy T-shirt or, better still, tearing the damn thing in half so he can lick the hard points of her nipples until she groans in his ear. Where can he take her? Maybe if he opens his robe and shows her what she’s done to him, she’ll get down on her knees in front of him. Right here in the kitchen. Could they be that brazen?
As he starts to reach for the belt of his robe, Abby comes limping into the kitchen, one hand on her stomach and one on the back of her neck as though she’s trying to hold herself together. When she sees Tag and Merritt, a startled look crosses her face, then something darker flickers through her expression. What must this look like? Tag wonders.
Abby has been raised right. She smiles. “Good morning,” she says. “Sorry I slept so late. I am not feeling well at all.”
“Coffee?” Tag asks.
Merritt stands up. “I’m going to try the outdoor shower,” she says.
When Greer and Celeste return, the girls all head out to the pool in their bikinis. Tag would like to join them but he can’t possibly do so without seeming like a perverted and pathetic old man. He decides instead to go out in the kayak. He waves as he strolls past the pool, taking one long, appreciative look at Merritt, who is wearing a black bikini with a complicated web of straps across the back. The bikini is possibly meant to reference bondage and inspire any man who looks upon the suit to wish for a pair of sharp scissors to snip the straps and get to the luscious body underneath. However, the suit, with its web, also reminds Tag of a spider. A black widow, he thinks. Merritt is dangerous. He needs to stay away.
Tag paddles out to the Monomoy Creeks, a series of waterways that meander through reeds and eelgrass, around floating islands and sandbars. It’s peaceful here. The only sound is the plashing of his paddle against the surface of the water. Up above, an osprey soars, and in the distance, Tag spies sailboats, an approaching ferry, and Commercial Wharf. The sun is unseasonably warm for May. He is tempted to take his shirt off so he can get something vaguely resembling a suntan. He must be bewitched, he thinks, because he hasn’t given two thoughts to a suntan since he lifeguarded at Blackpool Sands in the summer of 1981. He’s fifty-seven years old, likely more than twice the girl’s age. He tries to banish her from his mind and instead focus on everything he already has—a satisfying, if stodgy, career; a beautiful, accomplished wife; and two healthy sons, both of whom are finally starting to get the hang of adulthood. Tag has a five-bedroom prewar apartment on Park Avenue, a flat in London, and this spread on Nantucket. He and Greer first visited Nantucket in the summer of 1997, and with the trust that Greer inherited on her thirty-fifth birthday, they bought the land. It had been quite expensive even then, this remote island of fishermen and free spirits, but Greer had loved it and Tag had loved making Greer happy.
He has grown quite fond of this island, even though his life here now is more fraught. There’s always something happening—a festival, a benefit, houseguests, a cocktail party, a new restaurant Greer insists they have to try, and, in a few weeks, a wedding for which they will host 170 people. But Tag’s favorite way to experience the island is like this, right now—on the water, in his kayak. Nantucket’s charm is most easily found offshore. Tag paddles all the way to the Great Harbor Yacht Club, then he turns around and heads for home. He wills himself to be strong enough for what awaits him there.