Marcella Hollister realized a lifetime of hopes and dreams when she was given custody of a child. A cousin of her half-Seneca husband, Quinn, the baby’s mother was murdered in a political plot—and Marcella, who’s never been able to have children of her own, formed an instant bond with little Kimi.
Then a distant relative comes forward to claim Kimi—and Quinn, who Marcella thought understood her pain better than anyone, allows them to take the baby without a fight.
Confused and deeply wounded, Marcella takes off for Tall Pines, their secluded Adirondack cabin. She hopes the peace and natural beauty of the mountains will help clear her head and decide whether to forgive Quinn…or leave him.
But the situation at Tall Pines is anything but peaceful. Her high school lover, Sky, arrives to help out—and Marcella discovers her old feelings may not be as distant as she thought. Worse, a serial killer is stalking young women in the area. And when a teen girl whose mother works with Sky goes missing, Marcella and everyone she cares for wind up dead center in the killer’s sights.
Losing a child is like losing your soul. Only worse. Especially when you’ve waited your whole life for her.
The judge let me keep Kimi for six months, then abruptly decided there was someone more suitable to raise her: her dead father’s sister, who’d come out of nowhere to drop the bomb on us.
I still couldn’t believe it.
Six months of cuddling, nurturing, bathing with no-more-tears shampoo, washing her tiny outfits with special detergent. Six months of watching her toddle uncertainly toward her favorite black bear teddy, listening to her squeals of delight when Quinn dropped on all fours to play with her.
I pulled the child closer to me, nuzzling her soft curls and holding her chubby hand in mine. She relaxed against me, her dark eyes turned up to mine as if she knew something was wrong.
I held back the sobs.
Six months was not long enough.
With a shaking hand, I reached for my Young Living essential oil bottle of the Valor blend in the slim purple roll-on bottle. I uncapped it and rolled it along one wrist, then the other. Legend says the oils used by Roman troops before battle are combined in this blend, and I knew I’d need all the strength I could muster to get through this dark day.
Dak, my Bernese Mountain dog puppy, lapped my hand. He’d stuck close to me all morning, knowing I was falling apart. I reached down to pat him. “Thanks, buddy. At least you still love me.” His tail thumped the carpet.
I saw the car turn into the driveway and park by the garage. Quinn’s Aunt Paloma and a female officer with a clipboard emerged.
Quinn called from downstairs. “They’re here.”
I bristled, ignoring him.
I’d never forgive him for going along with this.
I traced my fingers gently along the soft cheeks of my baby girl. “Sweet angel. My beautiful little princess.”
She reached for my necklace, tugging. “Mama?”
I almost lost it again, and knew the grief was bubbling up fast. It wouldn’t be long before I was a weeping monster. “Mama loves you, baby girl.”
I loosed a shivery sigh and danced her doll on my knees to distract her. “There you go. Look at your baby.” She reached for the doll and giggled. “Bee bee.”
Quinn’s footsteps on the stairs were slow and barely audible, but I heard them. When I sensed his presence in the doorway, I stiffened, still facing out the window with Kimi in my lap.
“Marcella? My aunt’s here.” He approached, touching my shoulder.
I shrugged him off. “I’m coming.”
I couldn’t meet his eyes, those gorgeous turquoise eyes that had deceived and betrayed me. I’d never look at him the same way again, this husband of mine who was supposed to love me, put me first. This man I’d made love to thousands of times. This man I’d cuddled and comforted when he hurt.
I thought back to the day he discovered Kimi’s mother Birdie had been murdered by Paloma’s husband. Oh, he’d needed plenty of comforting. And I’d seen to it. I’d taken good care of my man.
This man. I seethed inside.
This horrible man.
I stood and looked at him. How could I have thought he was so handsome? So gorgeous? Such an endearing Indian brave?
This man—this stranger—was about to let the Seneca Nation steal my child. Take her back after they’d given her to us to raise six short months ago.
So much for promises. Allegiance. He cared more about his roots than me, his own wife.
I stood with Kimi clutched in my arms. I didn’t trust the words that might spill from my mouth, so I pushed past him out to the hall. Dak followed at my heels.
Six months was not enough time to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a mother. But it was more than enough time to fall in love with Kimi. Heck, I’d done that on the first day.
Oh. And it was plenty of time to learn to hate my husband.
Paloma’s eyes filled as she watched me dress Kimi in her new pink snowsuit.
My hands shook. My jaw clenched. I couldn’t speak.
She handed me the fuzzy pink hat, pressing my fingers with hers. “You know, Marcella, we’re so sorry about this. We never thought Fred’s sister would want to raise the baby. I don’t know how she found out about him…er…raping Birdie. Word got around the reservation, I guess.” She locked troubled eyes with mine. “Even though it was a terrible thing Fred did, Winona is Kimi’s blood aunt.”
We’d learned many secrets last October. Paloma’s brutal husband Fred had attacked and impregnated poor Birdie, my husband’s childhood sweetheart, who turned out to actually be his half-sister. We’d learned that Quinn’s father—a British playwright—had apparently enjoyed wandering the reservation, having affairs with other Seneca women, cheating on his mother, White Dawn. I wondered how many other children in Quinn’s generation had inherited Palmer Hollister’s turquoise eyes.
Birdie had been raising Kimi alone before Fred killed her to keep her quiet. She’d witnessed too many of his secrets and threatened his political future. It had been an awful mess, and the only good thing that had come of all of it was Paloma offering Kimi for Quinn and me to bring up as our own little girl.
I tied the hat under Kimi’s chin, slowly making a perfect bow.
Is this the last time I’ll dress her?
My heart squeezed.
I couldn’t breathe.
Dak jumped on the couch and snuggled beside us, pushing me with his nose. I fervently wished my husband were as empathetic as my dog.
Paloma clucked with sympathy. “You know you can visit her, honey. My sister-in-law has agreed to that.”
“I know.” Sure. One visit on the first Sunday of each month. That’ll be just great. Thank you, Winona.
Quinn stood in the corner speaking with the officer. He glanced at me, then lowered his eyes, turning back to her.
I remembered the look on his face when I told him I wanted to fight for custody, the day we got word that we’d have to go to court.
He’d been quiet. Reserved. All-knowing. I’d screamed at him when he didn’t agree, and he’d looked at me as if I were an outsider. “It will be good for her to be raised Seneca, among her own people.”
Her people? For God’s sake, what about him? He was Birdie’s half-brother. Wasn’t that her people? And why couldn’t I be “her people?” Wasn’t that bigotry? Just because I wasn’t Native American? Was my mishmash of Spanish, Irish, and German heritage not good enough?
Kimi squirmed when I turned her on my lap to put on her boots. She pulled herself up and stood on my lap, laying her head against my chest as if tired of the whole ordeal.
I hugged her, memorizing every part of her: her dark eyes that sparkled with life, her soft mop of black hair, her sweet mouth that curved like a pink ribbon, and the scent of baby shampoo. I inhaled it once more, slowly. I kissed her cheeks, over and over again. “I love you, Kimi.”
She reached for her doll, and held it while I tugged on her snow boots.
“Tell Winona she needs her baby doll at nap and bedtime. She can’t sleep without her.”
Paloma nodded with a sad smile. “Of course.”
Quinn appeared at my side with two packed bags of baby things we’d amassed over the past six months. I hadn’t heard him move, but he was like that. He could steal across a room before you noticed.
I glanced up.
Although his face remained stoic, sadness simmered in his eyes. He reached down to pat Kimi’s hair. “She will be raised among her people. She’ll learn our customs.”
I huffed, rolled my eyes, and stood with Kimi in my arms, walking to the sliding glass doors facing Honeoye Lake. “I just need a minute with her,” I said to no one in particular.
They let me go, but I felt their eyes burning my back.
I walked to the shore. The cold March breeze blew my hair around my face, cooling my flushed cheeks. Lacey whitecaps kissed the slate beach, rhythmic in their slapping sound. Together, Kimi and I faced south, where the three purple hills sulked silently against a gray sky, as if astonished at the injustice of it all.
Somehow, I knew they’d be on my side.
“Sweetie. I promise you, I will do everything in my power to get you back. I’ll go to court. I’ll get a high-priced lawyer.” I brushed back my tears. “I know I’m not your blood, baby cakes, but I love you more than anyone could.”
A pair of Canada geese landed near the dock.
“Duck,” she said with a delighted squeal.
I’d taught her that word last week. At this point a goose was as good as a duck in her world. “Yes, baby. That’s a duck.”
I turned back to the house and straightened my shoulders.
I can do this.