Congratulations to Deanna Dick, winner of last week's featured 1st -chapter book, MIRACLES AND MISCHIEF!
Miracles at Mills Landing, Book 2
Miracles at Mills Landing, Book 2
Rebecca Gillespie gnawed the eraser end of a pencil as her attention wandered to the office window and a row of maples that lined the boulevard beyond. The street, which merely half an hour earlier had bustled with the traffic of people scurrying home from work, was now still. Trees swayed along a smattering of park benches, offering shade from late-afternoon sun. A gentle breeze drifted through the window, carrying the mild scent of changing leaves that signaled the end of lazy summer days. The cozy park beyond was quiet; parents had taken their children home for dinner.
The park and landing, which overlooked the sun-dappled Tennessee River, was one of the main reasons Rebecca had chosen this spot for her preschool—the scenery was stunning and tranquil, perfect for the safety of the children.
Other people’s children.
Stark realization stole Rebecca’s breath. She glanced at a calendar hanging on the wall above her desk. August thirty-first. Hard as she tried, she couldn’t blot out the coming month—September. Had it really been nearly five years since the accident that took her husband, Steve, as well as the child she’d carried? Rebecca’s fingers delved beneath her neat ponytail and ran the length of her hairline. A jagged scar hidden by layers of tamed curls was proof of the injuries she’d suffered and the fact that the daughter she’d longed for—that she’d been told had died that night—was really living somewhere in Mill’s Landing. Another family had claimed her for their own.
Rebecca leaned forward; reaching for a cup of coffee perched on the desk blotter. A delicate silver locket—two hearts intertwined—slipped from the collar of her blouse. As it dangled and swayed, she dismissed the coffee and slid the chain from her neck. Unclasping the locket, she gazed at its emptiness. A pang of frustration punctuated a wave of sadness, and Rebecca chastised herself before she was swept into the riptide. Why should she expect the locket to hold anything more than empty air? Her daughter was still missing—and in only a week or so, she’d celebrate her fifth birthday.
Rebecca opened her desk drawer and thumbed through countless folders until she found a familiar maroon-colored file. The riptide tugged mercilessly as she searched through documents for the letter she knew she’d find sandwiched between sheaves of legalese. Why she read it again now, she wasn’t sure. Maybe she was driven by the fact that someone else, somewhere here in Mill’s Landing, was preparing for a birthday celebration with her daughter—a birthday that should be hers to share. The very thought made Rebecca crazy with longing.
The note was written in a flourish of deliberate swirls on opaque taupe parchment folded into thirds. Rebecca’s belly tangled and her blood rushed at her temples as she scanned the words.
The oncologist has informed me that my time left here on earth is short, so I long to put my affairs in order before the fateful day claims my final breath.
That said, a weight presses heavily on my heart. I have wronged you grievously, my dear, and for my actions I deeply, regretfully apologize. The night that unspeakable automobile accident claimed Steven’s life and nearly yours, as well, holds veiled secrets that must, however painful, now be spoken.
You see, Rebecca, the night remains crystal clear in my memory—from the initial news of the accident to learning that my precious Steven, my only child, was gone to me forever. It was easy to blame you for his demise. I warned him not to get mixed up with you—and then to compound that error by marrying someone fathoms below his social class and bringing a child into the world!
I was consumed by grief and contempt those five months you lay in a coma. It’s true the doctors were forced to take your premature child by emergency Cesarean section. But the child was not stillborn, Rebecca. The opposite is quite true—you gave birth to a healthy, though somewhat premature, baby girl.
As you know, since you had no family to take charge of the situation, except for me, I held the power of attorney for both you and your child. In poor health myself, battling this awful disease, there was no way I could maintain the care of an infant. I had no choice but to place your daughter into a private adoption with a couple living in Mill’s Landing. Whether they still reside there, I have no idea.
I never imagined you would survive your injuries, fully restored to health. My dying wish is for you to have all the happiness you deserve. I hope the inheritance I’ve earmarked for you will help. Please accept the money and do something good with it…something that would make Steven proud. He would have liked that.
Finally, forgive me, Rebecca. I beseech you to pray for my soul.
The letter slipped from Rebecca’s fingers, fluttering across the desk blotter. She brushed tears from her eyes and drew a tremulous breath. Despite countless readings of the note, she continued to struggle with making sense of such shattering words. So much hurt…all unnecessary. From the very start of her relationship with Steve, Rebecca had gone to great lengths to be pleasing to his overbearing mother. Yet, Marilyn had taken an immediate dislike to her, doing her best to destroy the love that Rebecca and Steve shared. Rebecca hadn’t spoken to her since the day Marilyn, still incensed over the marriage and subsequent pregnancy, had insinuated Rebecca was nothing more than a gold-digger, merely after the Gillespie family money. That day had come merely a week before the accident.
Marilyn’s gold-digging assumption was the furthest thing from the truth. Rebecca was still in graduate school when she’d fallen in love with Steve, and admittedly more than a bit naïve about the way the world worked, but she loved Steve, and he’d adored her. A handful of months into the marriage the pregnancy came unexpectedly, yet they both were thrilled with the prospect of becoming parents.
Now he was gone forever and their daughter was missing. How was it possible?
Rebecca crossed her arms over the desktop and settled her head as tears joined the painful memories. Once the initial shock and rage of the letter had worn off, Rebecca prayed for Marilyn’s soul as well as for healing in her own heart. She also used the inheritance Marilyn left to open Precious Miracles. She’d believed if she was patient, her daughter would eventually come home to her. But three long years had passed since she’d first read Marilyn’s confession. No matter which route Rebecca took, she always reached a dead end. Though it was beyond frustrating, she struggled to remain positive. What good would it do to allow anger and despair to devour her?
In her heart, Rebecca also believed that even in this most unbelievable mess, God had a plan. She held fast to that belief. Yet, on days such as this when the memories crept in and stole the light, each breath still sliced like a knife.
Maybe she was trying too hard. She’d spent nearly every waking hour either managing the preschool or searching for clues. Maybe it was time to ease up a bit and let God handle it. Her grandma used
Rebecca eased back in the padded desk chair and lifted her gaze. She clasped her hands and drew a deep, cleansing breath as she offered a silent prayer.
Tell me, Lord…how much pain might I endure? Will I ever find my daughter? And, if I do find her, what happens next, Lord?
“Have you been to the doctor yet?” Cole Siebert loosened his tie with one hand while gripping the steering wheel of the SUV with his other. The handsfree phone device made it easy to navigate traffic while talking to his sister—so much better for multi-tasking. “What did he say, Patty?”
“The babies are doing fine right now, but he wants me to rest more the next several weeks.” Patty’s voice drifted over the line. “I’m glad you’re meeting the preschool director today. I’m pretty sure the doctor is going to put me on bed rest with the next visit.”
“Do you want me to head home now? I could put off the preschool appointment until next week.”
“Next week might be too late, Cole. My appointment is in a few days.”
“Oh, well…” She must have sensed the apprehension in his voice, his hesitation. “You’ll be fine and so will Kimmy.”
“I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about you—“
“Don’t.” He could picture her waggling a finger at him, the way she’d become accustomed to as his older sister. “You know, I think this may be a blessing in disguise.”
“It’s time, Cole, for you and Kimmy to make your own way. Leaning on me is stifling your social life. You haven’t been out in months.”
“I’m not ready to date.”
“I didn’t say anything about dating. I’m talking about getting your life back. You have to plunge back in. Leah would want you to move on…to be happy again.”
“How can I be happy?” The very idea tugged at him. Leah had been his biggest fan. But now she was gone, and he felt like a sundae without the hot fudge. “It’s just not fair.”
“Maybe not, but it is what it is.”
“Oh, sis, I’m so sorry.” Guilt stabbed Cole. “I’ve been selfish.”
“You’ve been hurting…and human. But you need to be strong now. You can’t miss your appointment with the preschool director. You’re already late. Kimmy is depending on you.”
“Can’t she enroll in kindergarten?” He applied the left turn signal and blew around a corner. “She’ll be five next week.”
“No. She missed the age cut-off by two weeks.”
“And they don’t make exceptions, right?”
“No. Not even for big-shot attorneys like you. We’ve both tried.” Cole tapped the brake as the traffic light turned yellow. “What’s Kimmy doing now?”
“Dressing Buttercup to star in her latest play.”
“That poor cat.” Cole shook his head and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. A warm breeze rustled his hair as it whispered through the open driver’s window, carrying the musky scent of fallen leaves. “Give her a kiss for me, and tell her I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“And sit down a bit. Put your feet up.”
“I’ll do that too if you promise to stop by the bakery to order Kimmy’s birthday cake after you leave the preschool.”
“Got it.” The light changed to green again. Cole hit the gas and crested a hill. He coasted through a second light before turning the corner. “Thanks, sis, for everything.”
“Make a good impression on that director, OK?” Patty urged. “And the sooner Kimmy can enroll and get started, the better. She needs someone to play with besides you, me, and the cat.”
“Soon she’ll have twin cousins, as well.”
“Yes, she will.”
Cole heard the happiness in his sister’s voice, which spurred him on. “But, in the meantime. I’ll do my best. I’m almost to the school. Traffic is thinning, thank goodness.” The clock on the dash flashed five forty-three. “Talk to you later, sis.”
Cole disconnected and tapped the gas pedal, pushing the speed limit slightly as he shifted lanes. The sun sank low on the horizon, casting a shimmer of magenta through maple trees that lined the boulevard. He was late for the appointment. Cole offered a silent prayer for the director’s understanding. The school had to work out for Kimmy…and for him. Patty had been more than gracious to help care for Kimmy the past several months while Cole returned to work following Leah’s passing. But Patty was right. The arrangement was never meant to be permanent, and she had sacrificed quite a bit to be there for him. It was time for her to take care of herself and her babies now, and for Cole to find his own way. So, Cole had phoned the preschool director—Rebecca somebody-or-other—that morning, and she’d agreed to meet with him at five this afternoon. There was no more putting off the inevitable. Besides, Precious Miracles was the best of the best preschools in Mill’s Landing. Everyone said so, and even the Mill’s Landing Daily Journal had run a glowing feature story last month. Cole turned the corner, and the school came into view. The brick building, with its generous expanse of windows, beckoned. A powder blue sedan was parked near the rear of the lot.
Cole heaved a sigh. It was minutes before six, and maybe he’d blown the whole opportunity. How was he going to meet with the director and get Kimmy’s birthday cake ordered before the bakery closed at seven?
At the thought of Kimmy’s birthday, a wave of grief swept through Cole. The holiday was bittersweet, marking another first without his wife. She was only twenty-eight. Heart attacks weren’t supposed to happen to women who were young—to mothers with daughters who depended on them and husbands who adored them. Yet, it had. Leah was proof. Eleven months and Cole still struggled to find his footing through the loss. The world had become bland and colorless…whispers of gray punctuated by flurries of black. Yet the creeping phlox in an explosion of fuchsia blooming along the preschool entrance walkway told him there was color to enjoy—and plenty of it. He simply had to figure out how to move past the loss.
Like it or not, there was no turning back now.
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