Cold Justice (Paperback)

by Kathi Oram Peterson

Cold_justice
Cold_justice

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Product Description

After overcoming missed connections, murder accusations, and years of living lives apart, Regi and Samuel’s happily ever after is finally within reach. On the eve of their wed- ding, however, Samuel disappears, and Regi wonders if he has once again run away from both a life with her and a membership in the Church. Quite the opposite; Samuel has been kidnapped by the Raven Clan, a powerful Alaskan tribe, and is en route to stand trial in front of their justice council for a puzzling crime that happened years ago. When Regi and Samuel’s close friends suspect a kidnapping, Regi—with the help of her sister, Claudia, and friend Wakanda—resolves to follow Samuel to Alaska but soon learns secrets about her fiancé she hadn’t bargained for. While Samuel struggles with his faith and with understanding why he has been accused, Regi risks life and love to set him free.

Product Details

  • Size:  6 x 9
  • Pages:  272
  • Book on CD:  Unabridged

About the Author

Kathi Oram Peterson loves to write edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense and young adult time travel. The constant thread she sews in both genres is faith in a higher power. She works hard to entertain her readers with clean, uplifting stories. Her path to publication took a detour as she raised three children. During those years, Kathi read all the how-to books on writing that she could find. When her last child graduated high school, she went back to college and earned her BA in English. She was fortunate to do an internship for the University of Utah’s Continuum magazine, where she learned to edit and write articles in the “real” world. Shortly after graduation, she was hired by a curriculum publisher to write and edit concept and biography books for children. She worked shoulder to shoulder with artists and computer programmers as she watched her children’s stories come to life. But the desire to write full-length novels called to her. Leaving the workforce, she devoted herself to writing fiction. You can contact Kathi through her website, www.kathiorampeterson.com, and her blog, www.kathiswritingnook.com.

Chapter One

Los Angeles, California
Mary Jane Cranford-Bewkes knew she should be sleeping. She always felt sleep deprived, and by all logic her body was so starved for sleep that it should have dissolved into slumber within minutes given any possible opportunity to lie down. But Mary had learned long ago that little in her life could be added up with any degree of logic. In that respect, her inability to sleep was consistent with a typical pattern for her—in an illogical kind of way. The lure of a sleeping pill was tempting, but knowing it might inhibit her ability to be roused if she was needed, she knew it was better to resist. She consoled herself with the theory that lying down was still some form of rest, and it would surely sustain her. But she knew well enough that a human body needed good hours of REM sleep on a regular basis in order to function properly. However, she had far too many things to worry about to preoccupy herself with her lack of REM sleep. Ironically, her worrying about not getting enough sleep only contributed to her not getting enough sleep. But she was inherently a worrier; she’d gotten it from her mother. And even though she’d seen firsthand how much grief her mother had experienced from her worrying—whether her worries were founded or not—Mary just couldn’t keep herself from doing so. The need to worry felt as ingrained in her DNA as the fact that her eyes were hazel-green and her hair was dirty blonde. She’d gotten those things from her mother, as well.

Mary sighed and got out of bed, making another trip to the bathroom. Then she ambled quietly into her daughter’s room and found Adrienne sleeping peacefully, looking as beautiful in sleep as an angel might. Mary sat on the edge of the child’s bed and gently brushed her thick, dark hair back off of her face. She sighed and glanced toward the framed photo on the bedside table of Adrienne and her twin sister, Isabelle. The picture was barely visible in the mild glow of light emitting from the hallway, enhanced only slightly by a nearby Cinderella nightlight. The girls looked far too much alike for most people to be able to tell them apart, but Mary could tell the difference at a glance. Even in the photo she could look at each face separately, and distinctly know which child was which. But Mary was their mother, and mothers were like that. Even though Mary hadn’t actually given birth to the twins, they had been put into her arms and into her care when they were less then nineteen hours old. She was the only mother they’d ever known, and in every possible way that mattered, she was their mother. The thought provoked familiar tears, but since Adrienne was sleeping soundly, she made no effort to hold them back. They slid silently and painfully down her face, reminding her of the loss in her life that was still too fresh to comprehend. It had only been a few weeks since the funeral, and Isabelle’s absence still felt like a bad dream, an experience that was completely surreal. After having Isabelle a part of her daily life for more than four years, living without her felt impossible.

Mary wiped her tears and pressed a kiss to Adrienne’s cheek. The child’s breathing remained even and she didn’t stir. Mary felt grateful beyond her own comprehension to still have Adrienne in her life. If she didn’t feel needed, if there wasn’t still someone here with her who called her mommy, she felt certain she would curl up in bed and never get out. Of course, her father needed her, as well. But he didn’t think he needed her. Hired nurses had been caring for him for years, and her presence in the house likely wouldn’t be terribly missed by him or the people who cared for him. But Adrienne would notice Mary’s absence. In fact, since she’d lost her sister and her father in one fell swoop, she’d become especially clingy. Mary was fine with that, however, because she felt rather clingy herself. As long as she and Adrienne could cling to each other, they might be able to get through this.

Mary went down a long hall and around a corner at the top of the stairs to peek into her father’s room. His snoring let her know that he too was sleeping peacefully and she crept back to her own room, the same room she’d slept in all through her growing years, when her own mother had been her only real stability in life. But Loretta Cranford had lost her life to cancer the same year that Mary and Simon had adopted the twins. Mary had never quite gotten used to Loretta’s absence. Since she’d been living with her new family in another state, it had always felt as if her mother were just miles away and might be available for a visit at some time in the future. Mary had avoided coming home for two reasons. One was knowing that if she did she would have to face the fact that Loretta was no longer there, and the other was that the mildly cantankerous attitude she’d always known in her father had magnified immensely since Loretta’s death. The people who worked for Walter Cranford, whether as employees of his hugely successful company, or as one of the minimal staff in his ostentatious home, only did so because they were well paid. It wasn’t because anyone actually respected him or enjoyed his company. In fact, Loretta had never seemed to enjoy his company, either. Mary certainly hadn’t. It was desperation that had brought her back home to help care for her father in his physical ailments. There had been no life insurance, and even before her husband and daughter had been snatched from her, finances had been much worse than Mary would have ever let on to her father. And now she was having to live under the same roof with him—an option much better than being homeless, but she certainly paid a very high price. Being charitable in the company of Walter Cranford took a great deal of effort—and patience; one of many reasons that Mary enjoyed the time when he was sleeping. Since she’d come home, he’d insisted that nurses still come in on two eight-hour shifts—from six to two, and from two to ten—because he didn’t want Mary having to do anything for him that would embarrass either of them. Mary was grateful for that, but she had insisted that it was silly for a nurse to be paid for simply being on hand through the night when Mary could certainly handle whatever might come up—whether it embarrassed either of them or not. She’d quickly realized, however, that whether a nurse was available or not, her father seemed to take some kind of perverse pleasure in having Mary nearby and available and willing to do his bidding. It seemed like some kind of continual test, as if her doing whatever he asked of her might somehow prove that she loved him. Well, she did love him. But it was a dutiful kind of love based on the simple fact that he was her father, and he’d been there day in and day out through her life, providing an abundant living for his family, if nothing else.

Mary finally slept but not deeply. She drifted in and out of sporadic slumber with strange dreams laced eerily into the brief stretches of unconsciousness. She came awake to hints of light peering through the curtains. Bizarre images of Simon and little Isabelle clung to her mind, bringing the memories of her dreams to a place in her mind where images of the accident and the funeral were ever-present.

“Mama?” she heard a quiet voice say, and for a tiny second she wanted to believe it was Isabelle calling to her through the veil between life and death. She rolled over abruptly to see Adrienne outlined in the doorway of her room.

“Come here, precious,” she said, reaching out a hand. Adrienne ran and jumped on the bed, worming beneath the covers and into Mary’s arms. “How long have you been awake?” Mary asked, glancing at the clock. It was nearly seven, which meant the day-shift nurse would be here by now, sitting with her father. That alone always gave Mary a feeling of relief. The baby monitor on her bedside table near the clock had a light on that indicated it was working, but the silence was evidence that her father had not yet awakened, and the nurse was likely sitting quietly in his room or in the hall, reading a book or crocheting—depending on which nurse it was. Since shift assignments varied, Mary couldn’t always keep track of who was coming when. She only knew it would be one of four women employed by the home health care company. She had barely become acquainted with them in the short time she’d been back home, but they all seemed friendly and competent. Whatever their personality or skills, if they were willing to put up with her father, she owed them great admiration.

“I woke up at 6:42,” Adrienne said in a voice that bragged about how she was learning to read her numbers.

“Did you have any bad dreams?” Mary asked. It had become a standard question, since Adrienne had been severely traumatized by the loss of her father and sister, and nightmares had been one of the symptoms. Thankfully they were not frequent, but still a concern.

“No,” Adrienne said and Mary sighed, comfortingly relieved as she pressed a kiss to the top of her daughter’s head and stroked her thick, dark hair, tangled with natural curl.

“I’m so glad,” Mary said.

“Did you have bad dreams?” Adrienne asked with great maturity.

“I had very strange dreams, but they weren’t frightening.”

“I’m so glad,” Adrienne said, mimicking her mother’s tone. She was unusually mature for her age, and also very tender and sensitive to her mother’s feelings.

They snuggled in silence for several minutes before sounds on the monitor indicated that Walter was waking up and the nurse was speaking to him. Mary reached over and turned off the monitor then got comfortable again. A minute later Adrienne asked, “Can I go with you to talk with Grandpa after breakfast?”

Mary took her breath in slowly and let it out even slower, measuring her words and trying not to betray any of the infuriation she felt. Still, she was determined to be honest with her daughter and not sugarcoat the situation. “I wouldn’t think you’d want to after the way he treated you last time.”

“You said that Grandpa being unkind to me didn’t mean anything was wrong with me.”

“Yes, I said that.”

“Then it doesn’t matter if he’s unkind to me,” Adrienne said with an amazing self-confidence that Mary envied. If she could have felt that way about her father’s treatment when she’d been a child, she likely wouldn’t be nearly as messed up as she felt now.

“No, it doesn’t matter,” Marry said, “but that doesn’t mean you have to be around him when you know that he likely will be unkind. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Adrienne said, “but I want to go with you.”

Mary thought about it, trying not to be affected by how hurt she felt by the way her father treated her daughter. She wondered if Adrienne was hoping that her own kindness would eventually soften her grandfather. Mary would like to think such a thing might be possible, but she knew better, and she hated to think of the disillusionment the child would face when she had to accept that it never would. Still, she couldn’t dispute the child’s desire to be charitable when it was so perfectly noble. Mary finally said, “Very well. You may come in with me, but if he’s unkind I want you to leave.”

After Mary and Adrienne were both dressed and ready for the day, they shared breakfast, made their beds, and tidied their rooms. When Mary couldn’t think of any other reason to put off checking in on her father, she took Adrienne by the hand and went to her father’s very large bedroom, which was more like a hotel suite. Besides the bed—which was surrounded by medical equipment and cluttered bedside tables, there were two dressers, a table and four chairs, two couches, an enormous entertainment center—fully equipped. There were large sliding glass doors that opened out onto a lovely deck which overlooked the yard below. But Mary’s father never wanted the drapes opened, let alone the doors. Off of the bedroom was a huge bathroom with a sunken tub and a shower. Walter Cranford never left his posh and comfortable suite. He had nurses and servants who saw to his every whim, only because he paid them well.

The door from the hallway was open and Mary stepped inside, holding tightly to her daughter’s hand. She recognized the nurse sitting on one of the couches with her crocheting.

“Good morning, Doris,” Mary said cheerfully.

Doris offered a smile that indicated she had a strong resiliency to having to spend long hours in the same room with her employer. “Good morning, Mary,” she replied. “And good morning to you, little miss,” she said to Adrienne.

“Hello,” Adrienne said.

“He’s just finished his breakfast,” Doris announced a little more loudly, as if to alert Walter to the fact that he had company.

Mary tried to keep the positive aspects of her father’s character in mind as she stepped into the room. “Good morning, Daddy,” she said brightly, knowing that no attempt at putting forth a positive attitude would have any affect on him. But it would help her to contend with whatever he might throw at her.

“It’s no good morning for me,” Walter growled. “It’ll be a good morning when I don’t wake up.”

“I suppose that all depends on whether or not you believe in life after death,” Mary said.

“And which place you end up,” Doris said in an attempt at humor. Mary chuckled but Walter glared at the nurse who returned an apologetic expression then nodded at Mary as she said, “I’ll take a little break while you’re with him.”

“Take your time,” Mary said and opened the drapes over the sliding glass doors as Doris hurried from the room.

“Don’t do that!” Walter snarled.

“Five minutes of daylight won’t hurt you,” Mary insisted. “I only want to visit with you and be able to see you while I do. I won’t stay long if that’s what you prefer.”

“I don’t know what there is to talk about,” he said with spite in his eyes that was sharper than the spite in his voice. Mary wondered what in his life had made him so bitter and angry. He’d always been a hard, unfeeling man. But everything negative in his character had been amplified tenfold since Loretta’s death. Since Mary’s parents had never been close in any way as far as Mary had ever been able to see, she couldn’t see how Loretta’s absence should have made much of a difference. But it had. Mary wished there was something she could say or do to soften him or make a difference, but she’d made up her mind upon returning home that she would not make that a condition for herself. If she spent her days in this house with the continual goal of trying to accomplish something that could never be accomplished she would drive herself mad.

Walter then noticed Adrienne standing just behind and to the side of Mary. His face tightened into a deeper scowl and he actually made an effort to lift his head away from the pillows propped behind his head. “What is that child doing in here?”

“She’s my daughter,” Mary said and took Adrienne’s hand. “For reasons I cannot understand, she actually wanted to come and see you.”

“Well, I don’t want her in here,” he said, glaring at the child as if he were the villain in a melodrama. “You may consider her your daughter, but she’s no granddaughter of mine. No child with—”

“Don’t you dare say it!” Mary said, knowing he was going to utter some deplorable comment about Adrienne’s ethnicity. She and her sister had been born in Mexico; her dark skin and black hair immediately made it evident that Mary shared no DNA with the child. But Mary saw nothing but beauty in both of her daughters, and she loved and honored the people and culture of the land of their birth. Her father’s unreasonable bigotry was one of the widest chasms between them. She didn’t care that her father disagreed with her beliefs. But she did not want Adrienne to be an innocent victim caught in the crossfire.

“If you don’t want her to hear my opinions on having a little wetback under my roof, then don’t bring her in here.”

Mary heard Doris gasp and turned to see that she had returned and was hovering in the doorway. Mary turned back to her father and said with firm solidity, “It’s amazing how such an educated man can be so ignorant. Even if a decent person used such a word—which they would not—they would know that it infers coming into this country illegally. Adrienne is legally and lawfully my daughter.”

Mary could see her father trying to form a retaliation and she knew she needed to get Adrienne out of the room. But she didn’t want to back down and make a hasty exit that might make her look weak. She felt inexplicably grateful when Doris stepped forward, holding out a hand toward Adrienne. “Come along, dear,” she said. “I think I know where Janel has hidden the cookies she baked yesterday.”

Adrienne looked at Mary, asking silently for permission to go with the nurse. Mary was amazed at the apparent unruffled innocence on her face, as if the conversation had gone right over her head and she had no idea what had been said, or its derogatory inferences in regard to herself.

“Go along,” Mary said to her. “I’ll come find you as soon as I’m done here.” To Doris she added, “Thank you. I won’t be long.”

Doris and Adrienne left the room. Mary took a deep breath to inhale her own resolve, and to exhale her father’s words with the well-rehearsed conviction that they had no bearing on her. She didn’t care what he thought; she didn’t care what he said. She was living here on his charity and she was determined to be charitable in return. Simple as that. Fortunately, he never left this room and it wasn’t difficult to avoid him. She simply had to make an appearance at least once a day to know for herself that she was making every possible effort.

Now that Adrienne was out of the room, Walter leaned back against the pillows stacked against the headboard. He apparently had no interest in being obnoxious about his own prejudiced attitudes now that only Mary was here, and he knew they would have no affect on her.

Mary sat on the edge of the bed, which brought a glance of annoyance but no comment. She wanted to tell him that she was grateful that he was allowing her and Adrienne to stay here, but she knew that any attempt to express her thankfulness would only bring on a lecture about the horrible situation she’d gotten herself into that made it necessary to live on her father’s good graces, or if he was in a really bad mood he would threaten her with ending up on the streets and tell her how he’d written her out of his will when she’d married the wrong man and adopted children that had brought shame to his good name and reputation. So Mary kept her appreciation to herself, knowing that in some warped kind of way he respected her more for not acknowledging her dependence on him. Instead she brought up a point that had been on her mind since she’d moved back less than a week earlier.

“Daddy, I want to talk to you about the garden.”

“What about it?” he asked in a tone that implied she had better tread carefully. As if that were not already clear on a continual basis.

“It’s been completely neglected since Mother died, and—”

“And why wouldn’t it be?” he countered. “It was her garden. I’ve got no use for it.”

“I know, but . . . it really looks terrible. It’s so overgrown and the weeds are terrible. I wonder if you’ve considered how it appears to your neighbors. And there is some concern that if the weeds get too overgrown, the seeds from them can blow into the neighbors’ yards and cause problems for them.” She saw the tiniest hint of interest in his eyes and felt gratified at her prediction. He didn’t care about the garden, but he did care what the neighbors thought. Her motivation in this was a combination of honoring her mother’s memory, and creating a place where Adrienne could play and be comfortable—a place where she had spent many hours of her own childhood. But if she even implied her own reasons, she would never get the permission she was seeking, so she stuck to the point of appearances.

“I’ve spoken with Mr. Lostin,” she said and her father’s eyes widened on the border of anger, as if she had no right to speak to his accountant without his knowledge, but she hurried on. “He agrees that the state of the yard and garden is cause for concern, and your financial resources would never feel even a hiccup from the cost of hiring a gardener to put the grounds in order and maintain them.” She hurried to add Mr. Lostin’s argument, certain it would speak to Walter’s kind of thinking. “He pointed out that having the grounds in pristine condition is mandatory should you decide you want to sell the property—which is something you’ve considered.”

Mary didn’t know who he planned to leave all of his money to; she only knew it was not her. But she knew that he prized his own net worth, and the value of his property added to that. She was grateful that Mr. Lostin was someone she’d known well through her growing years. He was a certified accountant, but specifically he had been employed by her father’s corporation for many, many years to oversee every matter of business on her father’s behalf. He even mediated between her father and his attorney and the board that was in charge of his business endeavors since his retirement, due to illness. Mr. Lostin was one of many who put up with Walter because he was paid well, but he still held a deep respect for Walter and had learned to see through the crustiness of the old man and appreciate his strong business sense and deep intelligence. But he had admitted to Mary of his disgust for Walter’s bigoted attitudes and his lack of kindness to his family. In this way he was a great ally for Mary, especially since Walter knew that Mr. Lostin was a trustworthy advocate who would always represent him fairly.

“So, what do you say?” Mary hurried to ask before her father had time to think too deeply over the matter. “Are you alright with my hiring a gardener?”

“What about Melvin?” Walter asked.

“What about Melvin?” Mary countered. “He comes by now and then to fix things when you need it, and he mows the lawn. He has a lot of other responsibilities. Even if he had the time to do more, he doesn’t have the skills to restore such an enormous garden and take care of it. If we have a full-time employee to see to all of the yard work, Melvin will not be put out. He has plenty of work elsewhere to keep him busy. And we can still call on him if there’s something that needs fixing.”

“Fine,” Walter said with an impatient flourish of his hand. “Hire a gardener. Just make sure it’s someone we can trust to be loitering around the yard all day every day.”

“He’ll be working, Daddy; not loitering.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” she said. “I can assure you that I have the intelligence to hire a decent gardener.” He didn’t argue with her which she took to mean some kind of compliment. Silent insinuation was the closest thing to a compliment she would ever get from her father.

“Take care of it, then,” he said. “I’m tired. I need some rest. And shut those blasted drapes!”

“Fine,” she said and stood. “I’ll leave you to your darkness.”

Mary resisted the urge to dutifully tell her father she loved him, or to kiss his face in some silent expression of that duty. But it would have been more duty than anything, and she knew he wouldn’t respond well anyway. So she just closed the drapes and left the room, saying over her shoulder, “I’ll check on you this evening.”

“No need,” he called back and Mary thought of a hundred things she’d rather do this evening than engage in another such conversation with the surliest man she’d ever encountered in her entire life. The problem was that he had been at the center of her life for most of her life, and she wasn’t sure she could ever recover from the impact he’d had on her. She was proud of herself for being able to stand up to him, but deep inside his attitudes made her churn with an unsettled bitterness that she knew affected her outlook on life, and especially on the way she saw herself. It was a conscious hourly battle to keep her father out of her head, but she was determined to fight that battle, and perhaps eventually she would win.

Mary almost felt as if she needed to take a shower to rinse away the negativity she’d been exposed to in her father’s presence. Instead she just paused some distance down the hall to shake out her hands as if she could shake it off. She breathed in a conscious effort to relax and see the good in this day, and she breathed out the memory of her father’s ugly words, knowing they had no bearing on her. Just getting through any day with the grief of losing Isabelle was a challenge in itself. She didn’t need to carry around the burden of her father’s bad attitude.

Mary went down the stairs and to the spacious kitchen, looking forward to the project of hiring a gardener and seeing what a skilled man could do with the neglected remains of her mother’s favorite place in all the world. She found Doris and Adrienne having milk and cookies at the table, and Janel wiping out shelves in the fridge. Janel was in her early fifties and had worked in the household for many years. She’d worked closely with Loretta, and they had in fact been friends. Janel pretty much ran the house and did the cooking, so that Walter and the nurses could have nice meals. Since Mary had arrived she pitched in some with the cooking; she liked to cook when the mood struck her, and she enjoyed cooking with Adrienne, who loved to get involved in projects in the kitchen. Beyond the handful of nurses that came and went on assignment from the home health care company, the only other person who worked in the household was Kristi who put in about fifteen hours a week doing the cleaning projects that Janel didn’t want to do. “Jobs that are more suited to someone younger and more fit,” Janel had often said. Kristi was young and fit. In fact she was rather beautiful and currently going to college at UCLA. She was the daughter of a friend of Janel’s and therefore came highly recommended and from a trusted source. Mary was glad for the things that Kristi did to keep the house clean, and she knew her father was very fussy about strict cleanliness. Even though he never left his room, it was as if he could sense if something wasn’t clean to his standards, which were—quite frankly—much too rigorous for Mary to adhere to. She too liked cleanliness and order, but she didn’t want to devote every waking moment to it. Therefore, Kristi was very appreciated, even though Mary had assessed through their minimal interaction that they had absolutely nothing in common and nothing to talk about. The same was not true of Janel. She reminded Mary of her mother and they were quite comfortable together. Janel had declared that her employment had become much more enjoyable and fulfilling since Mary and her daughter had come to live there.

Adrienne jumped up and hugged her mother at the same time Mary was saying to Doris, “Thank you. You’re a saint.”

“Glad to help,” Doris said.

“Whatever they’re paying you,” Mary added, “it’s not enough.”

Doris laughed softly and stood up, taking a cookie with her. “Believe it or not, he’s not the most ornery patient I’ve worked with, and I actually enjoy what I do. Don’t you worry about me.”

“Like I said,” Mary chuckled, “you’re a saint.”

“Amen,” Janel said and Doris went back upstairs.

“How did it go?” Janel asked as Mary sat down at the dining table and urged Adrienne onto her lap. The kitchen was at one end of a very large common room, with a kitchen at one end, comfortable couches and a television at the other, and a lovely dining table in the center. Glass doors near the table looked out over a patio, beyond which was the yard and garden that were ghastly to behold, which added to Mary’s gratification over answering Janel’s question.

“We have the go-ahead to hire a gardener,” she said triumphantly.

“Oh, that’s marvelous!” Janel said, stopping her work long enough to clap her hands together. “I never dared even ask.”

“Now, how exactly do I go about hiring the right person?” Mary asked.

“On the chance that he agreed to it,” Janel said, “I looked up some numbers for you and wrote them down. Employment agencies.”

“Oh, wonderful,” Mary said, then she asked Adrienne if she wanted to go out and look at the garden. They went outside and wandered around the perimeter of the overgrown shrubberies and out-of-control rose bushes, intermixed with waist-high weeds and un-pruned trees. The air was cool even for March in Los Angeles, but they huddled into their sweaters and enjoyed their time outdoors. Mary told her daughter how it had looked when Adrienne’s grandmother had been alive, and how much fun she’d had playing there when she’d been a little girl. They speculated how it might look when it came to life again, and Mary said a little prayer that she would find the right person for the job. She felt almost as if she were hiring a plastic surgeon to repair some kind of hideous scar. It was a fragile, sensitive job. At least it was to her. She felt as if her mother’s spirit was somehow encompassed in this garden, and bringing it back to life would help her feel closer to the only true strength she’d ever known in her life.

• * * * *

A week later Mary felt downright depressed about finding a gardener. This undertaking in regard to her mother’s garden had become hugely important to her for reasons she didn’t fully understand, and she had to find the right man for the job. She’d talked to multiple agencies and interviewed several applicants. But not one of the men she’d spoken to had felt right. In all but one case, the incompatibility to her and what she wanted done was obvious. The only one that seemed a possibility just didn’t feel right, and no matter how Mary looked at it, she just couldn’t feel comfortable with hiring him.

Mary continued to feel intense grief over Isabelle’s absence, and guilt over the fact that she felt practically no grief at all for the absence of her husband. She was glad to see that Adrienne was doing as well as could be expected. She missed her sister desperately, but she had a simple faith that her sister was not forever lost from her, and they found ways to stay occupied. Adrienne missed her father as well, but he’d not been actively involved in his daughters’ lives, and it was more the absence of her twin sister that was difficult. Sometimes Mary took her father’s Mercedes out and they drove to the beach or went shopping. They cooked and baked sometimes, did some craft projects, watched movies, and completely avoided going into Walter’s room. Mary went in once a day to make her presence known and reassess that he was as ornery as ever. But she refused to let Adrienne go anywhere near that man after what he’d said the last time. She’d talked plainly to Adrienne about the situation and did her best to make certain the child understood how beautiful and wonderful she was, and that Walter Cranford’s attitude and behavior didn’t change that. Adrienne seemed to understand, and Mary was glad the child wouldn’t be exposed to Walter day in and day out as Mary had been through her own childhood.

On a rainy afternoon while Adrienne was occupied with a computer game that helped her learn her numbers, Mary hovered in the kitchen, talking to Janel about her dilemma of finding a decent gardener.

“You know,” Janel said and stopped slicing cucumbers for the green salad she was making, “I remember a man we hired off and on years ago to do some work in the garden. He was amazing! A Mr. Eden, I believe was his name.”

“A gardener with the name Eden?” Mary laughed. “That’s cute.”

The humor seemed lost on Janel. “I think it was Claudia who knew him . . . recommended him. Do you remember Claudia?”

“I do, of course,” Mary said, recalling fondly the woman that Janel had replaced. Janel had worked in Kristi’s position while Claudia had been in charge of the household through much of Mary’s childhood.

“Anyway, he died . . . oh . . . several years ago, but I’ve kept in touch with Claudia, and I believe this man’s son inherited his gift. Would you like me to call Claudia and see if he’s around?”

“It’s worth a try,” Mary said, not feeling hopeful. The friend of a friend who wasn’t likely to even need a job seemed like a poor prospect, but it was better than no prospect.

The following morning Janel told Mary to check her email. She did and found an impressive resume from a man named Whit Eden—impressive as far as gardening, at least. She didn’t see evidence of much education. But it wasn’t a college degree she was looking for. She wanted a man who had a natural touch for growing things, and his resume made it clear that he did. She printed out the resume and called the cell phone number she found there. It went to voice mail but she left a message, saying simply that she would like to set up an interview if he was interested in the job. He called back less than ten minutes later and was very polite on the phone. They set up an appointment for later that afternoon, and Mary made certain that Janel was available to look after Adrienne while she met with Mr. Eden. She hoped his name was a good omen, and she hoped he was the man she’d been looking for.

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