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To Patricia MacDonald, with thanks for your careful reading, insight, and encouragement.

Chapter 1

12 Years Earlier

I huddled under the blankets in the backseat of the car. Wind rocked the body of our old Ford. Sharp needles of sleet beat against the windows.


"Hush, Katie."

I raised my head, peeking out of the blankets, wondering where we were going in the middle of the night. I could see nothing, not even the headlights of our car.

"Did you fasten Katie's seat belt?" my mother asked.

"She was asleep," my father replied, "so I laid her down on the seat."

"Luciano!" My mother always used his full name when he had done something wrong. "Stop the car."

"Not yet. We haven't cleared the estate. Do you see the main road?"

"I can't see a thing," my mother replied tensely. "Put on the headlights."

"And let everyone know we're leaving?"

My mother sighed. "Quickly, Katie, sit down on the floor. All the way down."

I wedged myself into the seat well, the space between the rear seat and front, where people place their feet. "Why are we leaving?"

There was no answer from the front of the car.

"When are we coming back?"

"We're not," my father said.

"Not ever?" I had liked it at Mason's Choice. "But, I-" "There's Scarborough Road," my mother interrupted.

The car turned and headlights flicked on.

"I didn't say good-bye to Ashley."

For a moment all I heard was sleet and wind.

"Ashley isn't here anymore, remember?" my mother prompted quietly. "Ashley has gone to heaven."

That was what everyone said, but I had trouble understanding how it could be so. I still heard her and played with her. Sometimes I saw her by the pond, though Mommy said they had pulled her out of it. Ashley always scared me a little, but on the big estate there were no other children to play with, and that had made her my best friend. "I want to say good-bye to Ashley," I insisted.

"Luke! In the mirror, behind us!" My mother sounded panicky, and I stood up in the seat well to see.

"Get down, Katie!" my father shouted. "Now!"

I quickly dropped between the seats. Daddy sometimes shouted at the people who hired him to paint portraits of their pets. He'd scream at his paintings, too, when he got frustrated, but never at me. Our car suddenly picked up speed. I pulled the blanket over my head.

"There's ice on the road," my mother warned.

"You don't have to tell me, Victoria."

"We shouldn't have tried this."

"We had no choice," he said. "Do you remember the cutoff?"

"The one that runs by the Chasney farm-yes. About a hundred meters before it, there's a sharp curve."

My father nodded. "We'll get around it, I'll cut the lights, and he won't see us take the cutoff."

Our car picked up speed.

"But the ice-" "Katie, I want you to stay on the floor," my father said, sounding more stern than I had ever heard him. I hugged my knees and my heart pounded. The car motor grew louder. The wind shrieked, as if we were tearing a hole in it by going so fast.

"Almost there."

I wished I could climb up front and hold on to Mommy.

Then the car turned. Suddenly, I couldn't feel the road beneath us. The car began to spin. Mommy screamed. I felt her hands groping behind the seat for me. I couldn't move, pinned against the backseat by the force of the rotating car.

We came to a stop.


"Mommy-" The stillness lasted no more than a few seconds. The next sound came like thunder-l could feel as well as hear it.

"Behind us, Luke," my mother gasped.


"Oh, God!" Her voice shook.

I jumped up to see what was behind us, but my father drove on. All I could see were darkness and a coat of ice halfway up the rear window of the car.

We turned onto another road.

"I've got to keep going, Vic. For Katie's sake."

My mother's head was in her hands.

"If we go back and he isn't injured, we'll walk into a trap. If he's badly hurt, there is not much we can do. The gas station farther up has an outside pay phone. It's closed now-no one will see us. I'll call in the accident."

My mother nodded silently. For a moment I thought she was crying. But she never cried-my father was the emotional one.

"What happened, Daddy? Did somebody get hurt?"

My mother raised her head and brushed back her long yellow hair. "Everything's all right," she said, her voice steady again. "There-there was a herd of deer by the side of the road, and your father was trying to avoid them. You know how they do, Katie, bolting across before you can see them. Some of them crashed into the wood. One went into the little dip next to the road."

"Did the deer get hurt?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," my father answered.

"Of course not," my mother said quickly, giving me the answer I wanted to hear but didn't believe. She unfastened her seat belt and knelt on the seat, facing me, to buckle me into my restraint.

My father drove more slowly now. There was a long silence.

"Victoria," he said at last, "I'm sorry."

She didn't reply.

Sorry for what? I wondered, but I knew they wouldn't tell me.

A chilly loneliness had settled around me, the way a winter fog settles in the ditches along the roads on the Eastern Shore. The silence deepened as we drove north to Canada and, a few days later, flew to England, my mother's birthplace. My mother and father shared a secret-I had known that from the day Ashley died. It was a secret that I was left to discover twelve years later, after both parents had disappeared from my life.

Chapter 2

My dearest Kate.

You are the most wonderful daughter a man could have. You can't possibly know how much I love you. I fear that the last few months of my illness have been very hard on you. and I hesitate to ask any more of your generous heart. Still, I must leave you with two requests.

First, do not forget that your mother loves you as much as I. I know you don't believe me-I see it in your eyes each time I say this-but I was the reason your mother left. It broke her heart to be separated from you. Below is the name and number through which you can contact her. Please do so, Kate.

Right, Dad, I replied silently to his letter, as soon as the, sky falls.

Victoria, as I now refer to my mother, had left Dad and me the day after we arrived in England-left without explanation, simply walked out the door while I was sleeping. I was five years old then and needed her desperately. At seventeen, I did not. I glanced back down at the letter.

Second, in the chimney cupboard. I have left a ring that belongs to Adrian Westbrook of Wisteria, Maryland. I took it the night we left the estate.

Please return it.

I frowned and refolded the letter, as I had done many times in the three months since Dad had died. His second request, and the brilliant sapphire and diamond ring I had found in the cupboard, baffled me. In his career as a painter of animal portraits-horses, dogs, cats, birds, lizards, snakes, leopards-my father had worked for fabulously wealthy people, with access to the homes and estates where these pampered pets lived; as far as I knew, he had never stolen anything. I did not look forward to presenting this piece of missing property to Adrian Westbrook or to seeing a place that I connected so strongly with my mother. But I had to honor at least one of my father's final requests.

I carefully returned the letter to my travel bag and paced the room I had taken at a bed-and-breakfast in Wisteria, Maryland. After airport security, a sixhour transatlantic flight, customs, and a two-hour ride in an airport shuttle to the Eastern Shore town, I longed for a decent cup of tea, but the sooner I got this over with, the better. I headed downstairs to a small room equipped with a guest phone and punched in the number I had found in an Internet directory.



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