TRURO - Sometime around her 40th birthday, when she finally made the decision to move to the little house in Truro, Christa Worthington put her couture dresses on racks and hid them away on the second floor.
Her much-stamped passport was laid temporarily to rest, the Manhattan apartment vacated, and she set about her last great transformation - into a small-town mom.
But to the two men who romanced her here - the handsome shellfish constable and the soft-spoken author of children's books - Worthington was worth noticing precisely because she was not ordinary.
Tim Arnold, an author and illustrator who had lived with Worthington and her child, said she still lived like the expatriate heroines of her favorite novels.
"I think she tried to construct her life that way," he said.
On Sunday, Arnold said, he walked into Worthington's home and found her dead on the floor in her nightgown, with her curly-haired 2 1/2-year-old attempting to nurse on her. One investigator told the Associated Press that Worthington, 46, may have been dead for up to 36 hours.
As her neighbors took in the terrible details of the crime scene, many said the most disturbing thought is that there could still be a murderer among them. And during the tense days that have followed, her two sometime lovers have become central figures in the investigation that has broken the perfect silence of an off-season resort town.
Yesterday, police said there were no new leads in the investigation, and refused to reveal the results of an autopsy performed Monday. Meanwhile, a friend appeared in Barnstable District Court to take temporary custody of the child. Amyra Chase and her husband, Cliff, agreed about three months ago to become Ava's guardian should Christa die, Cliff Chase said in a telephone interview yesterday.
In Truro, attention swung to the two men who could shed light on Worthington's personal life: Arnold, 45, who is recovering from brain surgery; and 51-year-old Tony Jackett, the local fish warden who had fathered Worthington's child during an extramarital affair. Both men are cooperating with police.
Arnold and Jackett yesterday described their relationships with Worthington, a Vassar graduate who spent years in London and Paris, where she served as European bureau chief for fashion magazines. She wrote for W magazine, Harper's Bazaar, and The New York Times.
Five years ago, she wrote eloquently about her decision to start a family without waiting for marriage: "Now I am reinventing the world," she said. "I can have my life by claiming the decision of whether or not to become a mother. The decision does not belong entirely to time and circumstances, nor does it belong entirely to anyone else."
She moved back to Truro, where her relatives had worked in the local fishnet industry.
On visits to Pamet Harbor in Truro, she met Jackett, and "we kind of cultivated a friendship," he said. Jackett said he was "dumbfounded" when Worthington told him she was pregnant, and kept his paternity a secret from his wife and four children for a year after Ava was born.
"She never asked me to leave my family," he said. "She gave me the chance to be the one to tell my wife."
The Jackett family spoke openly to reporters yesterday about the unusual family arrangement that resulted: A son, Luke, who is 22, said Worthington and her daughter had even come to the Jacketts' house for Christmas. And Susan Jackett, 55, described overcoming her initial hurt to embrace Worthington - and especially Ava, who she hopes will return to their household after the investigation is concluded.
"I love that baby. She's enchanting," she said.
Still, several of Worthington's friends said single motherhood had proven more difficult than she expected, and two said she had been seeking child support payments from Jackett. Chase, now Ava's guardian, said she "would have liked some help, but I don't think she got any money out of him."
During his last conversation with Worthington, Arnold said, she had raised long-simmering complaints about receiving financial child support from Jackett.
Jackett said Worthington and he had negotiated through attorneys last year because she wanted a legal acknowledgement of paternity, but said money had never been an issue between them.
"If there was a problem, she would've taken me to court," he said.
Last Wednesday, she called him anxious about the lapsing of her health insurance, and he assured her that he would continue to cover Ava on his own health insurance policy, Jackett said.
"The last thing I said to her was, `I don't want you to be alone raising this baby,' " he said.
In nearby Wellfleet, Arnold said he had gotten his first full night's sleep since walking in on Worthington's body Sunday afternoon. He described climbing onto her back porch to return a flashlight, then seeing the door ajar. Then he saw Worthington "on the floor with her daughter."
Ava had pulled boxes of cereal from the shelves, and even slipped a movie into the VCR, Arnold said. The child had left bloody handprints on Worthington's nightgown and pulled it off her shoulder, he said.
Arnold had lived in the Depot Road house with Worthington and her daughter for about four months after the two met in 1999.
"I think she thought it would be good for her child to have a father," he said, but after three or four months living together, the two "drove each other crazy and didn't want anything to do with each other," he said. In recent months, however, they had been in regular contact, and they had made tentative plans to meet for dinner on Sunday.
"I found her very beautiful," he said. "She had that quality people sometimes have where you know there's a lot to them. They just kind of radiate that."