Sunday, October 19, 2014

Finding Mercy by Michael Landon Jr & Cindy Kelley

Finding Mercy
David C. Cook (October 1, 2014)
by
Michael Landon Jr. and Cindy Kelley



Chapter 1

Chapter One



May 1866



The sky was dark as pitch except for the streaks of lightning skittering across the heavens. Fat drops of rain pelted the top of Mercy’s head as she hid from the world inside a vertical tomb. The muscles in her legs, pressed against brick on either side, trembled, and she tried to shift positions even as she listened for noise unrelated to the storm. Faceless men had been chasing her; now it seemed they had found her. She felt the rain run down the back of her neck and shivered. Maybe this is my punishment for leaving the protection of Elijah and Isaac At the moment, wedged into a brick chimney on the second story of a boardinghouse, she regretted that action greatly.

The wind ripped down around her, causing her to look up. Something wasn’t right. She squinted hard at another layer in the darkness—grayer, moving, closer than it should be. She had only a few seconds to think of the possibilities before a surge of lightning backlit a man leering down at her. Thunder followed, and her scream dissolved into the vortex of night noises.

“Come out, come out wherever you are, Miss Mercy.” The singsong tone of his voice mocked her, and her heart hammered. The sheer speed of what happened next took her off guard. A hand shot out and strong fingers wrapped around her arm. She tried to pull free as he tugged and yanked, moving her inch by inch toward the opening. His face was so close at one point she could smell alcohol on his breath as his other hand grappled for purchase anyplace on her body. But still she had the crazy thought that in other circumstances she would think him a nice-looking young man. Not at all like the bounty hunters she’d conjured up in her imagination.

She resisted with all her weight as he tugged, but it wasn’t enough and she could feel the end of her journey coming at her with ferocious haste. Thunder cracked overhead—so close it felt as if it was sitting right on top of them—and the young man seemed startled by it. Mercy seized the opportunity. She pushed upward, giving slack to the man’s grip on her arm, and catching him off-guard. For a second, his hold loosened, and she yanked her arm back with all her might. Without the tension and her weight, he lost his balance, staggered for a moment, tried to grab the edge of the brick, but missed. The angle of the roof lent itself to his swift tumble down the shingles and off the edge. She could hear his scream over the sound of a brief lull in the storm. More telling than the scream from his fall was the way it abruptly ended. An alarmed voice from below yelled out. “Hell’s bells, he’s down!”

Mercy swallowed big gulps of the wet air just before she felt herself slip down the brick toward an even darker place. She struggled against the fall, knees bent, twisting and turning until she thwarted gravity by wedging herself sideways in the chimney. She tried to still her escalating panic and told herself she was safe for the moment. At least, she thought, if anyone else came out on the roof and looked into the chimney, they’d not be able to see her. Now, if they looked up the chimney from the fireplace in the parlor, that might prove to be a problem. She had no idea how far she’d fallen—only that the sky above seemed further away. She wondered about the man who’d fallen from the roof, and wondered how many were left. She’d heard two men whispering in the hall outside her rented room, seen another standing thirty feet below as she’d stood barefoot on slippery shingles and contemplated her escape. Did the man survive his fall from the roof? What kind of people hunt someone for money? How long will they wait to catch me?

* * *

A soft but steady shower of rain hit the young man lying on the wet grass behind the boardinghouse. A man called Gus kneeled beside him. Behind them, three other men stood in an uncomfortable semicircle. Luther and Newt, two ex–Union soldiers who had saved each other on the battlefield more than once, traded sad glances. The third man, Harland, had spent the last four months of the war confined to an army hospital for two bullet wounds. Vengeance for the Confederate who’d shot him had gone unmeted. It was Harland who finally broke the silence.

“He’s gone, Gus,” Harland said. “Let’s get him outta the rain.”

But Gus didn’t move. Harland traded looks with the other men, who shrugged. Luther looked up at the pitched roof and shook his head. “I swear that vixen is half witch. Disappeared is what she did.”

“We need a new plan,” Newt said.

Gus never took his eyes from the man on the grass. “You keep after her,” he said. “I’m taking my boy home to his mother.”

* * * * *

It was the sound of garbled voices that made Mercy open her eyes again. She stared at a triangle of light on her arm and then looked up. Daylight. Broad daylight overhead that left her wondering how on earth she’d passed the rest of the night in the chimney. Her head throbbed, her joints ached, and her back felt as if she’d never be able to straighten it again. She shivered in her damp dress and, ironically, wished she were sitting next to a warm fire. Had she really fallen asleep in such nightmarish conditions?

The sounds below her floated up the flue, which magnified people’s voices. She pictured the interior of the boardinghouse, specifically the parlor with the large fireplace and the worn velvet chairs placed in close proximity to the hearth.

“Really, Mr. Douglas, that is most unkind!”

Mercy recognized the voice of Mrs. Douglas. She and her husband of fifty years had a strange way of addressing each other so formally; Mercy wondered if the two even remembered each other’s first name.

“I am not being unkind, Mrs. Douglas.” The old man’s voice was querulous. “I am simply stating the truth. That young woman was too beautiful for her own good. Beauty like that gets a woman in all kinds of trouble.”

“I liked her,” his wife said. “She was sweet and didn’t gossip.”

“We knew her all of three days. Not nearly enough time to form a suitable opinion of her.”

“You just said she was beautiful,” Mrs. Douglas responded tartly.

“That is not an opinion,” Mr. Douglas said. “It is a fact.” His tone said he regarded the subject closed. “I don’t remember a spring as cool as the one we’re in now, do you?”

If Mrs. Douglas was miffed at being dismissed, the pleasant modulation of her voice gave no evidence of it. “I don’t believe I do,” she said. “Well, maybe the spring of ‘32. Remember how cold it was the day Joseph was born? Positively frosty in April.”

“Yes, you’re quite right. That was a cold spring. And right now, it feels rather frosty in here,” he answered.

From her perch in the chimney, Mercy tried to shift her weight. She tried not to think of her thirst. Then she tried not to think about her other basic needs that needed to be met.

Below her, she could hear Mr. Douglas moving very close to the fireplace. More sounds carried up the shaft. Someone seemed to be stacking kindling as if intending to start a fire.

Mercy looked up at a sky that seemed miles away while she wriggled and turned to get her feet wedged in a better position on the brick. She’d have to climb up. Her legs quivered, muscles protesting every move she tried to make, as gravity seemed to grab hold of her ankles and pull her back down. She heard Mr. Douglas ask Mrs. Douglas for a match. Her nerves frayed to a breaking point, Mercy had a quick mental picture of a fire below her. The thought was so frightening her urgent need for the outhouse vanished and was replaced by sheer panic.

“Don’t light the fire!” Mercy yelled.

Silence from below, then, “Did you hear that, Mrs. Douglas?”

“I think it came from the stairs, Mr. Douglas.”

Mercy yelled again. “It came from in here. Don’t light the—”

She slipped and the hearth of the fireplace came quickly at her. She clawed at the creosote-covered brick to slow her descent, but it didn’t help—she dropped like a rock into the wide opening of the hearth in the parlor. She landed on the stack of kindling feet first, but her legs buckled and she found herself on her backside staring at the astonished faces of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas.

“Good day,” Mercy said.

Mrs. Douglas, holding a teacup, opened her mouth as if to scream, but no sound came out. Mr. Douglas stood rooted to the spot, a box of matches in hand, his jaw dropped in shocked surprise.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” Mercy said, struggling to get out of the hearth.

“What the blazes is this?” Mr. Douglas demanded. “Where did you come from?”

Mercy tried to dust the chimney soot from her dress but then noticed her arms were as black as her dress.

Mercy looked around nervously. “Who else is here?”

“No one,” Mr. Douglas said. He went to the fireplace, braced his hands on his knees and bent to look up the chimney.

“How in the world …?”

“Where is Mrs. Kline?”

Mrs. Douglas seemed to have found her voice. “Bess hasn’t been down yet. It was a late night here. Lots of commotion.”

“She knows it was a late night, Mrs. Douglas,” Mr. Douglas said. “I believe we can surmise the commotion was about her.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Mercy said.

Mrs. Douglas swallowed hard, then pointed a trembling hand at Mercy’s chest. “You … you appear to have a gun in your bosom.”

Mercy pressed a soot-covered hand against the pistol tucked into the bodice of her dress, more to reassure herself it was safe than to apologize for it. “Yes,” she said. “I don’t have pockets.”

Mr. Douglas glanced at her pistol, then caught himself and looked away. “It seems you’re in a tight spot,” he said. He looked at the chimney. “No pun intended, my dear. Let’s get Bess and maybe we can help you figure this out.”

“Thank you for your kind offer, but I’ll be fine,” Mercy said. “No need to wake Mrs. Kline. I’ll just get my things and leave you all in peace.”

Mercy hurried out of the parlor. She tread lightly on the steps, carefully avoiding the two she knew creaked, and made her way toward her room. The door stood open and she could see the splintered wood of the door jamb where the lock had been kicked in. She should probably pay Bess, the landlady, for damages, but she’d spent her last dollar securing the room.

Mercy entered and went straight to the bed, got down on her knees and did a sweep with her hand to feel for her saddlebags and shoes. Nothing. She tried again, pressing herself even closer to the floor so she could extend her arm further—but again, her hand came in contact with nothing at all. She lifted the bed skirt, pressed her cheek to the floor and looked under the bed. She had little in this world—just her pistol, the clothes on her back, a pair of shoes, and a saddlebag. She might have been able to leave without the shoes, but the saddlebag was another matter. She didn’t know if the men had taken it or if it was still in the house. She stood and thought of what to do next, and that’s when it dawned on her—the bed was made. Neat as a pin. Quilt pulled up, pillow fluffed. It certainly didn’t look like the rumpled bed she’d deserted in the middle of the night. It looked like someone had done some housekeeping in the wee hours. Mercy had never been in her landlady’s room, but she knew where it was. She padded barefoot down the hall.




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

Thief of Glory
WaterBrook Press (August 19, 2014)
by
Sigmund Brouwer





Chapter 1


A banyan tree begins when its seeds germinate in the crevices of a host tree. It sends to the ground tendrils that become prop roots with enough room for children to crawl beneath, prop roots that grow into thick, woody trunks and make it look like the tree is standing above the ground. The roots, given time, look no different than the tree it has begun to strangle. Eventually, when the original support tree dies and rots, the banyan develops a hollow central core.

In a kampong—village—on the island of Java, in the then-called Dutch East Indies, stood such a banyan tree almost two hundred years old. On foggy evenings, even adults avoided passing by its ghostly silhouette, but on the morning of my tenth birthday, sunlight filtered through a sticky haze after a monsoon, giving everything a glow of tranquil beauty. There, a marble game beneath the branches was an event as seemingly inconsequential as a banyan seed taking root in the bark of an unsuspecting tree, but the tendrils of the consequences became a journey that has taken me some three score and ten years to complete.

It was market day, and as a special privilege to me, Mother had left my younger brother and twin sisters in the care of our servants. In the early morning, before the tropical heat could slow our progress, she and I journeyed on back of the white horse she was so proud of, past the manicured grounds of our handsome home and along the tributary where my siblings and I often played. Farther down, the small river emptied into the busy port of Semarang. While it was not a school day, my father—the headmaster—and my older half brothers were supervising the maintenance of the building where all the blond-haired children experienced the exclusive Dutch education system.

As we passed, Indonesian peasants bowed and smiled at us. Ahead, shimmers of heat rose from the uneven cobblestones that formed the village square. Vibrant hues of Javanese batik fabrics, with their localized patterns of flowers and animals and folklore as familiar to me as my marbles, peeked from market stalls. I breathed in the smell of cinnamon and cardamom and curry powders mixed with the scents of fried foods and ripe mangoes and lychees.

I was a tiny king that morning, continuously shaking off my mother’s attempts to grasp my hand. She had already purchased spices from the old man at one of the Chinese stalls. He had risen beyond his status as a singkeh, an impoverished immigrant laborer from the southern provinces of China, this elevation signaled by his right thumbnail, which was at least two inches long and fit in a curving, encasing sheath with elaborate painted decorations. He kept it prominently displayed with his hands resting in his lap, a clear message that he held a privileged position and did not need to work with his hands. I’d long stopped being fascinated by this and was impatient to be moving, just as I’d long stopped being fascinated by his plump wife in a colorful long dress as she flicked the beads on her abacus to calculate prices with infallible accuracy.

I pulled away to help an older Dutch woman who was bartering with an Indonesian baker. She had not noticed that bank notes had fallen from her purse. I retrieved them for her but was in no mood for effusive thanks, partly because I thought it ridiculous to thank me for not stealing, but mainly because I knew what the other boys my age were doing at that moment. I needed to be on my way. With a quick “Dag, mevrouw”— Good day, madam—I bolted toward the banyan, giving no heed to my mother’s command to return.

For there, with potential loot placed in a wide chalked circle, were fresh victims. I might not have been allowed to keep the marbles I won from my younger siblings, but these Dutch boys were fair game. I slowed to an amble of pretended casualness as I neared, whistling and looking properly sharp in white shorts and a white linen shirt that had been hand pressed by Indonesian servants. I put on a show of indifference that I’d perfected and that served me well my whole life. Then I stopped when I saw her, all my apparent apathy instantly vanquished.

Laura.

As an old man, I can attest to the power of love at first sight. I can attest that the memory of a moment can endure—and haunt—for a lifetime. There are so many other moments slipping away from me, but this one remains.

Laura.

What is rarely, if ever, mentioned by poets is that hatred can have the same power, for that was the same moment that I first saw him. The impact of that memory has never waned either. This, too, remains as layers of my life slip away like peeling skin.

Georgie.

I had no foreshadowing, of course, that the last few steps toward the shade beneath those glossy leaves would eventually send me into the holding cell of a
Washington, DC police station where, at age eighty-one, I faced the lawyer—also my daughter and only child—who refused to secure my release until I promised to tell her the events of my journey there.

All these years later, across from her in that holding cell, I knew my daughter demanded this because she craved to make sense of a lifetime in the cold shade of my hollowness, for the span of decades since that marble game had withered me, the tendrils of my vanities and deceptions and self-deceptions long grown into strangling prop roots. Even so, as I agreed to my daughter’s terms, I maintained my emotional distance and made no mention that I intended to have this story delivered to her after my death.

Such, too, is the power of shame.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Driftwood Tides by Gina Holmes


Driftwood Tides
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 1, 2014)
by
Gina Holmes




Chapter 1



The lab had either made a big mistake and none of the results could be trusted, or else her world was about to be turned upside down. It was this Libby Slater thought of as she rushed from the stationery store, bag in hand.

The day had started out pleasant enough. The weather was beautiful, she’d met Rob for lunch, and not one of her clients had dropped a shoe box of receipts on her desk, assuming she’d sort it all out. But then, in the mid-dle of her ordinary day, she’d logged on to her online health account to check the results from Rob’s and her premarital genetic counseling workup and gotten the shock of a lifetime.

The results should put her mind at ease, the doctor’s note read, but they did just the opposite. Although her fiancĂ© was a carrier for cystic fibrosis, the disease that had taken the life of his younger sister, Libby was not. This was good news, because apparently it took two to tango. Other than that, all the results were a very positive negative. She would have been relieved if it weren’t for her blood type, listed innocently along with the rest of the results: A positive, which wasn’t positive at all. Both of her parents had O blood types, and two Os couldn’t produce an A child. It had to be an error. Had to.

The screech of sirens ripped Libby from her thoughts. Hunching, she slapped her free hand over her ear and waited for the pulsating red lights to pass. Two city blocks later, her ears were still ringing.

A bus with a giant cell phone carrier ad scrolled across it, dotted by finger-smudged windows, screeched to a halt in front of an empty bench. Pneumatic doors hissed open and passengers hurried off so fast they were almost a blur. After the last passenger filed past, she stepped off the curb to cross the street.

She assumed the approaching cab would stop, or at least not accelerate, but she assumed wrong. Jumping back onto the concrete, she felt a whoosh of exhaust part her long hair. In lieu of an apology, the driver screamed as he flew by. Although she couldn’t decipher what he said, the vulgar hand gesture he thrust out the window gave her enough of a clue.

Soon her heartbeat returned to normal, and traffic broke just long enough for her to make a run for it. Hav-ing crossed the one-lane freeway of death, life and limb intact, she stepped again onto the relative safety of the sidewalk.

As she trudged forward, she could practically taste the tiny particles of soot and smog falling on her like mist, and couldn’t help but wonder if breathing them in was making the inside of her lungs look like a coal miner’s.

At last she reached her mother’s brownstone. It was unfathomable that Caroline had paid almost a million dollars for what basically amounted to an old row home, even if it was located on the so-called Park Avenue of Casings.

Although the city was located in North Carolina, Cas-ings was about as un-Southern as a city below the Mason-Dixon Line could be. This muggier, less-sophisticated parody of New York was a place she’d vowed to escape the second she graduated from college. Of course, that was before she fell in love with a man who just happened to be as dedicated to his job here as he was to her. She tightened her grip on the bag of wedding invitations she carried and couldn’t help but smile at the thought of spending forever with the love of her life. But first they needed to survive this fiasco her mother called a wedding.

She climbed the brick stairs and peered over her shoulder, checking to be sure a mugger hadn’t sneaked up behind her before unlocking the door. Inside, the foyer stood dark except for a rectangle of sunlight streaming down from the stained-glass transit window above. The flip of a switch flooded the hall in artificial light.

“Elizabeth?” Caroline’s shrill voice echoed from the dining room. “You’re late.”

Libby rolled her eyes. “I had to pick up the extra invi-tations,” she said, not quite loud enough for her mother to hear. Though, really, it wouldn’t matter if she yelled it; the only person her mother listened to was herself.

Her Danskos thumped against the marble floor as she made her way through the corridor and into the dining room. Caroline sat at the long table with a stack of invi-tations tall enough to invite the entire state. The fact that she’d called Libby at work to tell her to pick up yet more invitations didn’t bode well for Libby’s vision of a quaint ceremony.

“It’s positively barbaric to be doing this ourselves,” Caroline said. “They have companies that take care of these things.”

It was all Libby could do not to delve right into an in-terrogation about her questionable blood type. It was probably a mistake, but just in case, she didn’t want to put Caroline on the defensive and get stonewalled before she got to the bottom of it.

She sighed as she hung her purse on the back of the chair. “So you’ve said. And as I’ve said, I want to know who’s coming to my wedding, and I want to be the one who invites them.” She eyed the invitations dubiously.

“You don’t trust me?” Caroline asked in a sarcastic tone, but her expression was without humor. They both already knew the answer. “We could at least have hired a calligrapher to make them look pretty. Handwriting was never your best subject.”

Libby gave her mother a dull look as she took a seat across from her. She hadn’t realized how sore her feet were until she was finally off them. She kicked off her clogs and stretched her socked feet. “If I left it up to you and the Internet, my only guests would be the who’s who of Casings.” None of whom would be in the who’s who of her small circle of friends.

A bottle of opened champagne sat in the middle of the table along with two crystal flutes. Caroline slid her ten-nis bracelet back on her wrist, then reached for the bottle and poured herself a glass. When she picked up the sec-ond, Libby shook her head. “Nice try.”

Caroline huffed and flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder, revealing a dangling diamond earring—most likely another bauble from one of her long list of admir-ers. “I just thought it would be nice to celebrate a little while we work.”

“No,” Libby said. “You thought it would be nice to get me a little tipsy so you could sneak more of your debutante friends onto the guest list.”

Caroline brought the champagne to her lips and sipped. “You certainly do think the world of me.” She set her glass down and picked up a fountain pen. “Please tell me you didn’t park that piece of junk out front.”

Libby felt her cheeks flush in anger, but certainly not in surprise, at her mother’s superficiality. “No, Caroline. I took a cab to the stationery store, then walked three blocks and almost got run over, all so the snobs you call neighbors wouldn’t know your daughter drives a Jeep.”

It was Caroline’s turn to roll her eyes. “A Jeep from this century would be fine. Honestly, Elizabeth, you make enough money to afford something less dilapi-dated. I saw an Audi that you would look so—”

“Stop. Just stop,” she said, swallowing the indigna-tion. She’d already fought with her mother three times this week, and what had it accomplished? Nothing but two sleepless nights and a headache. Caroline was al-ways going to be Caroline, and she was paying for the wedding, after all. Something Libby had told Rob they never should have agreed to for this very reason. Be-sides, there were bigger fish to fry tonight.

She reached into her purse, bypassing the test results, and pulled out her guest list. Holding her breath, she set the list of names down on the table and slid it across to her mother like a lawyer offering up a settlement. “I went through this last night, and—”

“I have my own list,” Caroline said coolly as she glanced at her. “Don’t look so glum. I took your requests into consideration.”

Requests? Libby thought. What a joke. It was going to be the biggest day of her life, and she had no more say in who was going to be there than the caterer did. “Is Rob at least on your roll?”

Unfazed, Caroline ran a manicured nail slowly down Libby’s list, pausing every so often to consider a name. “Don’t be smart with me, young lady. It’s my hard-earned money paying for every plate.”

Libby looked away, disgusted. If she had the cere-mony she wanted, she wouldn’t need Caroline’s money to pay for it. Caroline wanted the wedding she never had, and through her only child, she was finally going to get it. It wasn’t fair; but then, as Rob always said, life wasn’t.

“I don’t recognize half these people,” Caroline said as her finger slid to the bottom of the page.

An all-too-familiar pain began to throb behind Libby’s left eye. The sooner this wedding was over, the better. “Of course you don’t, because they’re my friends, not yours.”

Shaking her head, Caroline sighed. “Fine, we’ll add them to the master list, but just so you know, this brings the guest count to three hundred.”

“Three hundred?” Libby heard herself shriek. “I said I wanted a small wedding.”

“It was going to be smallish,” Caroline said, “but here you’ve gone and brought me another fifty names. Whose fault is that?”

Covering her face, she took a deep breath, willing herself not to cry. Two more months of this. That was it. She could do this, she told herself. For Rob, she could do most anything.

“Fine,” Caroline said after a few seconds of uncom-fortable silence. “I’ll just cut out the DA’s office, but if you get into any legal trouble, you’re on your own.”

Libby looked over her fingertips. “Why would I—? Never mind.” She reached into the stationery bag and pulled out a sheet of the fancy return labels they’d cho-sen for the invitations. At least she could get started sticking those on. Any progress was better than none. Her phone rang, and she grabbed her purse off the chair, riffling her hand blindly through it. By the time her fin-gers touched the phone, the ringing stopped. As ex-pected, her call log showed Rob’s number.

“What’s he want now?” Caroline asked, sounding more perturbed than usual.

Finally, the perfect segue. Keeping her tone as neutral as she could, Libby decided this was as good a time as any. “We had our genetic counseling, and the results were posted today. I was supposed to tell him what they—”

“Genetic counseling?” Caroline raised a barely visible eyebrow.

“You know Rob’s sister, Heather, died from cystic fi-brosis.”

Caroline downed the rest of her champagne and reached for the bottle. “Rob had a sister?”

She couldn’t tell by her mother’s blank expression if she was just trying to get her goat or if she really was that oblivious. “That disease is hereditary. He wanted to make sure we weren’t both carriers for it or anything else we could pass on to our future children.”

Caroline finished filling her glass and set the bottle down with a clank. “And?”

“Rob’s a carrier; I’m not.”

“Of course you’re not.”

“But I did find out my blood type—A positive.” She held her breath as she waited for her mother’s reaction to the bombshell she’d just dropped, but Caroline had al-ready lost interest and started writing names on the front of the invitation envelopes.

“That’s good to know,” she mumbled.

Directing her nervous energy toward something pro-ductive, Libby began working like an assembly line, carefully affixing address labels to the top left corners of the envelopes. “Yes, it is.” She finished her stack, slid it to the right, and grabbed another. “Did you and George get genetic testing before you had me?”

Caroline shook her head as she worked. “They didn’t really do that when I was . . .” Her voice trailed off. She never could bring herself to say the word pregnant, as if the thought of Libby inside her was too repulsive. Unless, of course, Libby hadn’t been inside her after all.

“Your blood type is O positive like Rob’s, isn’t it?” Libby asked as nonchalantly as she could.

Caroline finally finished scrolling out the first invite. At the speed she was working, it was shaping up to be an excruciatingly long night. “That’s all we have in com-mon.” Caroline could barely stand Libby’s fiancĂ©, but Libby tried not to take it personally. After George had abandoned them, Caroline pretty much hated all men equally. “How do you know my blood type, anyway?”

“I pay attention.”

Caroline squinted at her.

“Wallet,” Libby said, sliding another small stack of envelopes over to the finished pile. “You gave blood that one time, and you still carry the donor card.” So every-one can see how fabulously altruistic you are, she wanted to add. She carefully peeled another label off the plastic sheet and pressed it onto an envelope. “George’s dog tags say he’s O positive too.” For reasons she didn’t know, she still kept her father’s dog tags tucked away in her jewelry box. The military must have made a mistake. Lucky for him, he never got injured enough to need blood.

“I don’t know what his dog tags say. I thought I threw those out with the rest of his junk.” Caroline checked the first name off her list with a satisfied smile. “I just know his blood type is the same as mine because he donated for my hysterectomy.”

That was it, then; the geneticist had gotten her results wrong. They’d just spent nearly a thousand dollars for results they couldn’t trust. Rob was going to be ticked.

Caroline set her pen down and furrowed her brow in Libby’s direction. “Why are you interested in everyone’s blood type?”

Libby curled her toes. “Two O parents can’t have an A child. It’s impossible.”

Caroline’s face turned as white as the tips of her French manicure.

It was in that moment that Libby’s life flashed before her eyes . . . and she knew.

The baby books with no pictures of Caroline preg-nant. Her mother’s claim that she’d lost not only her baby bracelet, but also the umbilical clamp and crib card. Was this why she hadn’t minded when, as a preteen, Libby had defiantly taken to calling her by her first name? “Why didn’t you tell me?” was all she could manage around the boulder in her throat.

Caroline put on a plastic smile. “Tell you what?” she asked, her voice cracking under the facade. “Don’t be silly. The lab made an error. That’s all.” She was usually such a good liar.

“Fine,” Libby said coldly. “I’ll get another test tomor-row.”

Caroline’s expression hardened. “Why can’t you ever leave well enough alone?”

Before Libby could answer, Caroline left the dining room in stony silence.

So that was it? She didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Typical. Libby walked to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and downed it like a shot, trying to decide what would give her the fastest escape—calling Rob to pick her up or a cab.

Before she could make up her mind, Caroline re-turned, her spiked heels clicking sharply against the wood floor. She closed her eyes and handed Libby a stack of papers.

Glancing down at the raised seal on the top document, Libby tried to process the unfamiliar names typed neatly on the lines.

With her arms crossed, Caroline tapped her nails against her tanned arms. “Say something . . . please.”

When Libby’s gaze fell on the birth date—her birth date—her mouth went dry again.

After parting her thin, red lips, Caroline closed them without saying a word. It may have been the first time Libby had ever seen her mother speechless.

Caroline strode to the kitchen window and pulled open the roman shade. Sunlight flooded the room, casting her face in harsh light, which gave up every fine line. “With you getting married soon, I guess it was about time any-way. I thought about telling you when you turned eight-een, but . . .” Her voice began to crack. “But I chickened out. I was just so afraid you’d find your real parents and you’d . . .” She said more, but all Libby could focus on was the adoption papers she held.

The smell of Caroline’s perfume wafted by, and sud-denly Libby felt as though she might vomit. The hand that held the papers dropped to her side, while her other hand covered her mouth. This was real. This was really happening.

“I actually thought you should grow up knowing, but your father . . .” Caroline looked out the window, sud-denly interested in the Pathfinder pulling into the neighbor’s driveway.

Libby’s father had left them when she was four. It seemed like only yesterday he had sat her on his lap and, with tears in his eyes, told her to be a good girl and look after Caroline. She thought he was just going to the store and couldn’t figure out why he was being so melodra-matic about it. She’d tried to fill the void with friends, sports, and of course Rob. But not a day went by that she didn’t feel the absence of a daddy in her life. No wonder he’d had no qualms about abandoning his daughter . . . because she hadn’t really been his daughter.

“I’m adopted,” she said, more as a statement than a question. The brownstone had always been stuffy, but at that moment the air felt as heavy as the news being dropped.

So it was true after all. She shouldn’t be surprised. She and Caroline couldn’t have been more different. She and all of her family, really. In a gene pool full of girly girls and country-club men, she had always been the black sheep, preferring cutoff shorts and catching frogs to debutante parties and Gucci bags. They had never got-ten along. And now it made sense why. They weren’t cut from the same cloth.

What would have brought relief in childhood felt heavy and cold now. Caroline was far from a storybook mother, but she was all Libby had ever known. Feeling unsteady, she leaned against the counter. She thought she was on the verge of tears until she heard herself laugh.

Caroline whipped around. “There’s nothing amusing about this, Elizabeth.”

She knew the laughter was inappropriate, especially since she wasn’t feeling happy in the least—confused maybe, scared, angry . . . and sad. Very, very sad.

Her laughter slowly died as she searched Caroline’s eyes for any sign this all might be some sort of terrible joke. But Caroline didn’t joke.

Her gaze darted back to the adoption papers—her adoption papers—and her biological mother’s name: Adele Davison. The place where her father’s name should have been was conspicuously blank.

“Who’s my father?”

Caroline licked her lips nervously and slowly shook her head.

The child’s name—her name—had been Grace. And she had been born in Wilmington, North Carolina, not Casings as she had always believed. Her head swam as she tried to process the fact that nothing was what she thought it was. Not even herself.