Molly Doyle marveled at Bitsy Morgan's composure. She hoped when she reached Bitsy's age she could manage her temper as well. Only a half hour ago Bitsy was spitting mad and planning to throttle Frances O'Brien. The ready smile of an antiques dealer, so second nature to Bitsy, was forced this evening, and Molly could not blame her. In her early seventies, Bitsy Morgan's silver chignon -- tended twice weekly at the salon -- designer clothes, and always perfect makeup were evident this evening as she played the perfect hostess at her Pebble Beach estate. Molly could only imagine the tortures Bitsy was conjuring in her lively mind.

The Sunday evening cocktail party would introduce Frances O'Brien, an exceptionally talented artist, to many of the newer Pebble Beach residents. A Carmel native, Frances had recently returned from a two-year hiatus painting the wine-growing regions of Europe to bury her parents after their auto accident. Bitsy had been a close friend of the O'Briens, and in her generous but busybody way felt obligated to help Frances show off her work, and to ease her grief. Several examples of earlier paintings, many from Bitsy's private collection and the O'Briens's Carmel inn, were prominently displayed throughout the large living room.

When Molly arrived ahead of the guests, she found Josie, Bitsy's housekeeper, overseeing the catering staff from Daria DeMarco's restaurant, Daria's, as they set out a canapé buffet. Josie announced that Madame was furiously wearing a path into the library carpet.

Bitsy Morgan's blazing eyes zeroed in on Molly when she entered the library. "Lucky it's you and not Frances! If I was younger, and Frances wasn't still grieving, I'd turn that little princess over my knee and spank the hell out of her."

Molly hadn't seen Bitsy this mad in a while. "What the hell is wrong? Don't tell me Frances isn't coming."

"Oh, she'll be here all right. I made it clear she owed me at least that. Young, willful women today have forgotten the good manners they were taught by a generation who appreciated good breeding. You can be sure I reminded her."

Moving to Bitsy, Molly steered her to a chair. "Sit down, cool off, then tell me what's going on."

"Frances has put the inn up for sale and is planning to return to Europe, that's what's going on. If she'd had the courtesy to tell me, I wouldn't have invited fifty people, or spent a small fortune with Daria on champagne and a buffet to tempt Jacques Pepin."

"When did you find out?"

Bitsy's eyes were smoldering now. "She called me a half hour ago and tried to beg off. Can you imagine the gall? When I asked why, she told me it was a waste of time to meet potential buyers when she wasn't planning on staying."

Leaning against the desk opposite Bitsy, Molly said, "That is beyond rude. I don't blame you for being furious. Well, there's not much you can do now except put a big smile on your face and let it go. I'm just surprised. I mean, Daria has been saying what a sweet person Frances is, and she seemed awfully nice when we were introduced last week."

"Sweet? Frances?" Bitsy pursed her lips. "Spoiled is more like it. Daria has a soft spot for her. Always did. Frances was very shy as a youngster, and Daria was one of the few who befriended her when her folks moved up here from L.A. Speaking of soft spots, where's my little Emma?"

"She's with Josie in the kitchen."

Yes, Molly thought now as she left the library and moved about the large living room, that smile on Bitsy's face was deadly. She almost pitied Frances when this party was over. Oblivious to Bitsy's dangerous mood, Frances O'Brien flitted from group to group, greeting the many established and newly rich moguls of industry who continued to snap up outrageously priced property in Pebble Beach like lotto tickets.

When Molly's twelve-year-old niece Emma sidled up next to her, Molly suggested she might want to go to the media room and watch a movie until it was time to leave.

"Bitsy bought the new Shrek for me. Will I have time to watch it?" Emma asked.

Molly glanced at her watch. "I think so. If I get too bored, I'll join you."

"I'll save some of the cookies Josie made for me just in case. Has Bitsy yelled at Frances yet? Josie told me all about it."

Molly laughed. "No, of course not! She wouldn't do that in front of her guests. Now scoot."

Watching Emma slip out, Molly's eyes caught sight of Frances chatting away with a dot-com tycoon. Though she was nearly as tall as Molly's five-foot-ten frame, Frances O'Brien was as thin as a waif. Battling her weight as she tried to quit smoking, Molly had a good twenty pounds on her. When she first met Frances last week, she was surprised to learn that she was "Mackie," the artist whose paintings at Daria's had so impressed her. Her extraordinary talent, coupled with a ravishing mane of copper hair and blue eyes, was almost too much. Molly had joked to Daria how easy it would be to hate her.

Now, as Molly mingled, her toes felt pinched and she was aching to remove the heels she infrequently wore. Even the dark forest-green silk cocktail suit she'd reluctantly dug out of her closet seemed uncomfortable. Gone were the designer suits and heels of Manhattan. Her new uniform was flat shoes, sweaters, and slacks on weekdays, and jeans, tee shirts, and sneakers on the weekend.

Declining another flute of champagne from the waiter, Molly hoped Randall would show up soon. After Daria left to check on a private celebration at her restaurant, Molly had lost interest in the cocktail chatter. When you didn't play golf, tennis, or show horses, you had little to say to this crowd. It was almost nine, and . . .