I hope you enjoy … and come back every day before release day (April 11) for more of the countdown!
Note: If you’re coming at this page from Facebook, click HERE to jump immediately to where the snippet left off.
(If you missed yesterday’s post, you can find it here.)
Chapter Two … continued
“Your mother?” Her nose crinkles in confusion.
“Elizabeth Fairchild,” Damien clarifies. “She owns—or used to own—this house.”
“We just closed on it yesterday.” On her hip, the boy squirms, and she lets him slide down her leg, where he stands clinging to her like she’s the safest haven in the world.
“Do you know how long the house was on the market?” Damien asks as the little boy inches toward the Phantom.
Her forehead furrows as she studies Damien. “Wait. I know you. You’re that tennis—”
Another woman’s voice cuts her off, and I jump a bit. Both at the sound of my name and at the familiarity of the voice. I look toward the house, and my heart leaps at what I see. The woman on the porch is cast in shadows, but I recognize her instantly. “Mrs. McKee?”
I hear the tremble in my voice, but I don’t care. I launch myself forward, and by the time I cross the lawn, she’s stepped off the porch and is hurrying to meet me. I fling myself into her arms and let her wrap me in a tight, loving hug. I soak it in, the affection and support from this woman I’ve known my whole life, and who, for so many years, I’d pretended was my real mother. I’d dreamt that sooner or later I’d learn the truth, and Ashley and I would move in with her family. Because how the hell could Elizabeth Fairchild really be anyone’s mom?
When we finally break apart, my cheeks are wet with tears. Damien is beside me again, and I reach out. He takes my hand automatically, then nods at Mrs. McKee. “You must be Ollie’s mother,” he says, referring to my childhood neighbor and one of my two closest friends.
“Please, call me Caroline. And you’re Damien, of course.”
“Oh! That’s it! You’re Damien Stark!”
“This is Misty,” Caroline says, gesturing to the excited young mother. “She and her husband just moved from New Hampshire. I’ve known her father for years.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Damien says, as Misty’s jaw hangs open.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally meet you,” Caroline says to Damien. “And it’s been far too long since I’ve seen you, young lady.” She beams at me with the kind of sincere affection I’ve never seen in my own mother’s eyes. “I had no idea you were in town.”
“I didn’t think to tell you,” I admit. “I didn’t even tell Ollie I was coming to Texas. I’m here for business. I have a meeting tomorrow and—” I cut myself off, frowning. “The truth is, I came here to see my mother. Do you know where she moved?”
Caroline shakes her head. “We didn’t stay in touch once Arthur and I downsized to our condo in University Park. It’s just a few miles, but it feels like the Grand Canyon. But I heard through the grapevine that she wanted a smaller place, too, and when I learned that the house was on the market, I mentioned it to Misty and her husband. That was about two months ago, wasn’t it?”
Beside her, Misty nods. “We only dealt with our real estate agent, though. And the house was already vacant when we first saw it.”
“Mama! Mama!” Her little boy tugs on her hand. “Car! Please! Wanna see the big car!”
“Hush, Andy.” Misty’s voice is as gentle as her smile, but when she looks up at me, it’s confusion I see on her face. “Your mom didn’t tell you she moved?”
“She’s probably in one of those corporate apartments, waiting for her new place to be ready and didn’t want to bother you with a temporary address.” Caroline’s off-the-cuff explanation comes easily, but the tension around her eyes reflects both understanding and commiseration. Because the truth is, Caroline knows more details than most about the rocky relationship between my mother and me. Not that I ever told her—and not that she ever said a word to me—but I’m certain that Ollie shared some of what I’d confessed to him. And I will be forever grateful for the times that Caroline let me stay late at her house under the guise of doing homework, or when she fed me a Hershey’s bar and made me promise to keep it a secret because if word got out, all the neighborhood kids would want one.
In other words, I am certain that Caroline knows damn well that the thought of keeping me up to date never crossed my mother’s mind. As far as Elizabeth Fairchild is concerned, I’m a prop, not a daughter. If she needs to use me, she’ll contact me. Otherwise, out of sight is very much out of mind.
I know it shouldn’t bother me. After all, I don’t want that woman in my life. And yet, as I look at the tender expression on Misty’s face as she kisses her little boy’s forehead, I can’t deny the overwhelming sense of loss that washes over me.
But how the hell can you lose what you never even had?
UPDATE: Continue reading here:
Want more? Be sure to pop back tomorrow for more of Anchor Me, available April 11. Grab your copy now!
And if you’re just now meeting Nikki & Damien, why not grab of copy of Release Me, the book that started it all!