Excerpt: Practice Makes Perfect

Book 1: Serenity House Trilogy

Practice Makes Perfect by Kathryn ShayApril 1996

Hyde Point, New York

NORA NOLAN struggled to stay calm as she climbed the stairs of Serenity House, Hyde Point’s new home for troubled girls. Behind her were Sergeant Chief Dan Whitman and Jade Kendrick, one of the resident teenagers. They hurried to the first room on the left.

Paige, Jade’s sister, was sprawled across the bed, wearing oversize boxers and an oversize T-shirt to cover her huge stomach; she peered up from her book, The First Nine Months of Life. “What’s wrong?” She spotted her sister. “Jade? What’re you doing home in the middle of the day?” Her eyes narrowed. “Did you get in trouble again at school?”

Bursting into the room, Jade climbed onto the bed with Paige. “No, Dan came and got me.” She sidled in close. “Something’s wrong.”

Paige’s eyes widened; she slipped her hand into Jade’s and looked up at the adults. “What happened?”

“I need to talk to you both.” Nora tried to keep her tone even as she came into the room, followed by Dan. She inched Paige and Jade over and sat on the bed. “I just got a call from the state police. I’m so sorry, girls. There’s been an accident.” Her voice cracked, and Dan put a hand on her shoulder. “Your parents were on a motorcycle. They were killed instantly.”

For a minute everything seemed suspended in time. No one moved. Then tears welled in Jade’s eyes, and she turned her face into Paige’s shoulder. Paige shifted and encircled Jade with her arms. But her own eyes stayed dry. “It’s okay, sis, I’ll take care of you.” Swallowing back emotion, she looked at Nora. “H-how did it happen?”

“They crashed into a utility pole on the way here.” No need to tell them yet that Sam and Sari Kendrick, who had just been released from rehab, had visited their dealer and had been high as kites when they drove their motorcycle off the road.

“No, no,” Jade sobbed, almost hysterical. “They were coming to take us home this weekend.”

“I know they were.” Nora reached out to soothe Jade’s shoulder.

Paige’s hand went to her stomach. “What’ll we do now, Nora?”

“We’ll decide that later,” Nora said, tucking back a strand of Paige’s hair. “Sweetie, it’s all right to cry.”

Shaking her head, Paige lifted her chin. “No, I have to figure this out. We’re alone now. I’ll have to take care of Jade. I’ll have to…” Her face tightened, then blanched. “I, um, don’t feel good.”

Nora cocked her head. “The baby?”

“No. Just…a little sick to my stomach. I gotta go to the bathroom.” She tried to ease away from Jade.

Her sister clung to her. “No, Paige,” Jade said brokenly. “Don’t go.”

Nora pried the younger girl loose. “Let go, Jade. She’ll be right back.” She wrapped Jade in her arms and Paige bolted off the bed and headed to the door. Just as she reached it, she stopped short. “Nora, Nora, my…I…” She looked down at the wet splotches on her boxers.

Nora drew in a breath. “Your water broke.”

“That means the baby’s coming.” Paige gripped the jamb. “It’s a month early.” Her face contorted and she hunched over. “Oh.”

Dan reached her first. “Easy now.” He grasped her shoulder, just before she crumpled. Swinging her up into his arms, he crossed to the bed and set her down. “Nora, call the ambulance.”

“No, Nora, don’t go.” Paige grabbed for Nora’s arm. “Don’t go. The baby’s coming.”

“Okay. I’ll make the call.” Hurriedly, Dan left the room.

“Nora, it’s coming now.”

“Well,” Nora said with a calm she didn’t feel. “I have some medical training. And Dan’s an EMT, so if the medics don’t get here in time, you’re still in good hands.”

Paige’s grip on Nora’s arm intensified. She moaned as a contraction slammed into her. “Ohhh…”

“Breathe in, Paige. Like we learned in class. Let the air out slowly.”

The contraction crested, but another seemed to hit immediately. It was too soon for them to be coming so fast.

Dan returned. “The medics’ll be delayed. The only ambulance is on another call.” Nora tried to hide her concern. Serenity House was located on the outskirts of town; under the best of circumstances, it took at least fifteen minutes to drive out here.

Another contraction. When it finally subsided, Paige whimpered, “I want my mother.”

“I know you do, sweetie, I know.”

“Oh, God, it hurts.”

“Nora,” Dan said, “get some towels and sterilize a pair of scissors.” His voice was confident, cutting through Nora’s panic. “It won’t be long.”

Nora did as Dan asked. By the time she returned, Paige was soaked in sweat and breathing hard. Dan and Jade were at her side. Nora took Dan’s place on the bed, and he went to wash up.

After a fierce contraction, Paige drew in a deep breath and grabbed Nora’s hand. “They’re really dead.”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“Mom said I could keep the baby. That they’d help. They can’t now, right?”

“No, they can’t now. But—”

“Then I don’t want it.”

“Oh, Paige. You don’t have to decide now.”

“I don’t want it.” She lifted her shoulders off the bed, and tightened her hold on Nora’s hand. “Promise me, you’ll take it right away. I don’t even wanna know what it is.”

“Sweetie, now’s not the time—”

Promise me!

“All right, I promise. I’ll take it away until you have time to think about it.”

“I don’t want to know…” Another contraction. “I don’t want to know anything.”

Dan returned, and forty-five minutes later, Nora watched as the tiny infant slipped into his hands. Sirens blared in the background. Paige turned her face to the wall. “Take it away,” was all she said.

Nora’s throat clogged and her eyes blurred, but she wrapped the baby in a blanket and stood holding it by the bed.

“Take it away!” Paige screamed.

Slowly, cradling the newborn to her chest, Nora turned and walked out the door.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE, Practice Makes Perfect

Fifteen Years later

PAIGE FLOATED facedown on a raft in the kidney-shaped pool on the Princess Cruise Liner docked just off the coast of Jamaica. The tropical sun warmed her back and almost lulled her to sleep. Suddenly, incongruously, a ringing pierced the air—a bell of some kind. She moaned and tried to block out the noise, but it persisted. Damned if it didn’t sound like a phone…

“Arrgh…” Paige buried her face in her pillow. Blindly she reached out her arm, fumbling for the intrusive instrument. “Hello.”

“Dr. Kendrick?”

“Yes, this is Dr. Kendrick.” She kept her eyes shut, hoping the call would take only a few minutes and she could go back to Jamaica.

“Just a moment, please. Dr. Chandler would like to speak to you.” Muffled sounds. The woman giggled as she spoke away from the receiver.

A deep, morning-after voice came over the phone. “Hi, Paige.”

“This better be good, Ian.”

A throaty chuckle. “Hmm. Last time a woman said that to me…” The man was a notorious flirt. She remembered that now.

“Cut it out.” Her words were slurred by the pillow.

“Sorry to wake you, Sleeping Beauty. I wouldn’t have called, but one of your fan club just delivered, and she said you said she could call any time—”

Paige’s head cleared instantly. “Kari Linstrom?” Her heartbeat quickened. If the pediatrician was being called in the middle of the night… She glanced at the clock. Okay. Calm down. It’s 5 a.m. Not the middle of the night. And she had told the teenager she could call at any time. “Is the baby all right?” Paige asked.

“Little Alyssa Paige is fine. But she has a hemangioma on her left cheek, and Kari won’t believe me when I tell her it’s just a vascular birthmark and will go away. She wants you.”

Sliding out of bed, Paige crossed to her closet. “I’ll be right there.”

“Just talk to Kari on the phone,” Ian told her. “It’s early. You can catch some more sleep.”

“No, I want to come down.”

“Fine. I’ll tell her you’re on your way.”

“Ian? Did the delivery go smoothly?”

“The second one is usually easier.”

“Spoken like a man.”

Again a sensual chuckle on the other end. God, did he take sexy pills? “See you soon.”

She pulled on navy pants, a white blouse and a light sweater, stuck her feet into a pair of Birkenstocks, and was out the door of her twelve-room house on Spencer Hill and into her silver BMW in less than five minutes. She reached the sprawling Hyde Point General Hospital in record time and arrived at the Birthing Center a mere twenty minutes after being snatched from her Caribbean cruise.

Ian met her outside one of the birthing rooms. Despite the early hour, he managed to look irritatingly handsome in green scrubs, with his long hair the color of mink framing a face that turned grown women into simpering idiots. “What did you do, fly?” he asked.

“Wish I could. It would save time.”

He nodded to the first door. “Sorry about this, but it’s your own fault. All the mothers of your little patients think you’re their mother.”

Mother. She ignored the twinge, though it was hard when she remembered today’s date. And hard, too, because Kari, like Paige, had been a resident of Serenity House when her first child—a son—had been born. Which was why, at Nora Nolan’s request, Paige had agreed to be the Linstrom children’s pediatrician. She said to Ian, “Your patients think you’re Dr. Kildare, so we’re even.”

“Who’s he?” Ian called out to her retreating back; she brushed past him and into the first room without answering.

Kari Linstrom sat on a bed with yellow-covered pillows and sheets, cradling her child. Paige dropped her purse on a table. “Hi, Kari. So she came early?”

The girl’s face glowed, though it was etched with exhaustion—and something else. “Yes.” Her voice quavered. “Dr. Paige Kendrick meet Alyssa Paige Linstrom.”

Paige smiled warmly at her. “I’m honored.” She crossed to the sink. “Let me wash up.” Scrubbing, she asked, “Everything go okay?”

“It hurt.”

“I know, sweetie.”

“But she’s worth it.” Kari was looking down at the child when Paige approached the bed. Bending over, Paige moved the blanket away from the infant’s face. Sprouts of red hair, the exact shade of Kari’s, peeked out from under the gauzy pink cap. Little fingers flexed, and Paige stuck her own pinky into the baby’s hand. Alyssa grasped it and Paige chuckled. “Well, hello there, little one. Welcome to the world.”

Kari whispered, “Dr. Kendrick, look at her face.”

Though the baby’s skin was typical newborn red, a tiny purplish blotch did indeed mar her cheek. “It looks like a fairy’s handprint,” she said, recalling the description in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Birthmark”. “But Dr. Chandler was right. It’s a hemangioma, also known as a strawberry mark.”

Tears clouded Kari’s eyes. “She has it because I’m not married.”

“What?”

“My father said God would curse the baby because I’m not married. Just like Jimmy’s feet.” Kari’s son had been born with club feet and had gone through painful surgery and a full year of casting to correct the deformity.

The young mother began to cry in earnest. Paige sat down on the bed and pulled Kari and the baby into her arms. “Shh, Kari. It’s all right. God hasn’t cursed your baby.”

Damn society. Nineteen-year-old Kari Linstrom had grown up in the projects on the north side of Hyde Point and had spent a year at Serenity House—just as Paige had done. After she’d moved back home, Kari’s very rigid father never let her forget her unwed status.

Paige ran a soothing hand down Kari’s hair. “Listen to me, Kari. Children are often born with these kinds of marks. They mean nothing, and most of them go away within the first two years of life. If they don’t disappear, laser surgery can easily remove them.”

“R-really?”

“Really. But understand this, honey. Even if that wasn’t the case, like with Jimmy’s feet, birthmarks are flukes of nature, not acts of God.”

Kan raised her eyes to Paige. They were still swimming with tears. “My priest doesn’t believe that.”

“Your priest sees things from a more narrow perspective, Kari. I see them in a broader sense.” And more sanely. “Now, I don’t want to hear any more of that bunk about little Alyssa’s pretty face.”

When Kari still looked skeptical, Paige added, “You have to have faith in me. I would never lie to you.”

“I know.” Kari gulped back her tears. “I do have faith in you. Thanks.”

Paige reached for the baby. “Now, hand her over, kid. I want to count my namesake’s fingers and toes.”

Kari glanced past Paige’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you, Dr. Chandler.”

Paige’s head snapped around. She’d been unaware of their audience and was vaguely discomfited. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I didn’t want to disturb you.” He gave her a killer grin.

She scowled back.

“I was wondering if I could see you after you’re done here.”

For a moment Paige hesitated. A shudder of something went through her. Like someone walking over my grave, was how Nora always described similar feelings. Paige shook the notion off. “Sure, I’ll be about half an hour.”

“I’ll be in the doctors’ lounge on this floor.”

“Fine.” She turned her back on Ian. Best to concentrate on the baby. “Now, let me have her.”

As she cradled the child in her arms, Paige felt the same sense of well-being she experienced every time she held a newborn. It was one of the reasons she’d chosen to specialize in pediatrics. She loved all children, but babies especially. And she had “the touch,” her mentor, Elsa Moore, used to tell her.

Smiling, she lay the little girl on the bed and unwrapped the blanket.

o0o

“CAN I MAKE fresh coffee for you before I go on duty?” The petite blond nurse—Sabrina Sherman—smiled at Ian through heavily made-up eyes.

“No thanks, ma’am. My ma learned me good.” He winked at her, and saw those eyes widen. Uh-oh. His brother, Derek, constantly teased him about his effect on women. His mother had other admonitions. Be careful with that charm, young man. God gave it to you to use, not abuse. “Thanks, anyway. I can do it.”

Sidling close to him, Sabrina gave him an I’m yours-if-you-want-me smile, then left

Women. They were the joy and bane of his existence. He chuckled as he washed the pot and assembled the coffee. Take Paige Kendrick. He never would have guessed she could be Ms. Warm and Sensitive. True, he hadn’t seen her work directly with patients in her exclusive practice on the hill, but he did run into her at Hyde Point General, the only hospital in the small upstate New York town; he was an ob/gyn and she was a pediatrician, and they’d consulted a few times, too.

As the aroma of coffee filled the air, he crossed to the table and dropped onto a chair to fiddle with one of the jigsaw puzzles that he routinely brought in here. He didn’t dare sit still or he’d fall instantly to sleep.

Soon Paige walked in. “What are you doing?” she asked, checking her watch. “At 6 a.m.?”

“A jigsaw puzzle so I don’t doze off.”

Paige looked thoughtful. “You ever get used to this?”

“Calls in the middle of the night? Nope. My dad said you never get used to it.”

“Your father was an obstetrician?”

“Yes.” Standing, Ian crossed to pour coffee for both of them. The pain of his parents’ death a year ago was still there, and when he was tired like this, the wound felt raw. “Before he retired, he’d cut back on his practice and was teaching at Elmwood Medical School.”

“Elmwood? I went there.”

“Yes, I know.” He turned and handed her a cup. “Black, right?”

Nodding, she took it from him and glanced at her watch again. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

So much for small talk. It was the one criticism her colleagues had about her. She was cold and standoffish—all business. Some nurses joked that they needed to wear a sweater when they worked with her. Quite a contrast to what he’d just witnessed in the birthing room.

“Come sit down.” He moved past her and sank onto the lumpy cushions of the couch. “You can keep me awake.”

She didn’t smile. Nor did she act as though his every word was a come-on, which frankly he was pleased about; she sat a respectable distance away and sipped her coffee. “Shoot.”

“I want you to join us at the center I’m establishing for young mothers and children.” This was Ian’s pet project—a facility to treat unwed mothers and other young mothers who couldn’t afford medical care for themselves or their children. Pregnant girls from Serenity House would receive pre- and post-natal care, though they would give birth at the hospital.

Paige’s soft-brown eyebrows arched. She didn’t pluck them, he noticed. They were thick and full, like her lashes, which framed eyes the color of the sky in spring. “I thought you were ready to open next month. You have all your personnel, don’t you?”

“We did. But Diane Conklin backed out.” He managed to say it without wincing. He’d had no idea the young doctor had joined for…spurious reasons. “Her husband took a job in Cleveland and she’s going with him.” After Ian had made it clear he didn’t sleep with married women.

“That’s too bad. Diane’s terrific with kids.”

“So are you.”

Paige frowned. “I didn’t respond to your memo the first time, Ian, because I’m too busy with my private practice.”

“Ah, yes. But I wanted you, you know.”

It was subtle, just a slight shifting, but she inched away from him. “Really? Well, nothing’s changed since last year when you sent it around. If anything, I’m busier.”

He drank his coffee; the caffeine was kick-starting his system, and he could think more clearly. “I’ve been assessing your practice, Paige.” He studied her. “You don’t have a lot of underprivileged patients. Your practice is pretty upscale.”

“That’s none of your business.” Her tone was glacial.

“Well, I’m making it my business. The Center is for young mothers who can’t afford good medical care for themselves or their kids. Don’t you think you should give back to a society that’s gotten you where you are?”

“That society did me a lot more harm than good, Dr. Chandler.” She sent him a don’t-mess-with-me look. “Not that it’s really your concern. In any case, I’m simply too busy to help you out.”

Hmm. She was prickly about this. For some reason, it challenged him. “Sounds pretty self-centered to me.”

“Ian, I mean it. What I choose to do isn’t any of your business.”

“Maybe not. It’s just that you’ve been so good with Kari’s kids.”

The genuine compliment seemed to melt her iciness a bit.

“Look,” she said, “I have this resident working with me until the end of the month. As far as I know, he’s not committed after his rotation. You can ask him.”

“I don’t want a resident. You could start by giving us one day,” he said coaxingly. Ian knew that one of his faults was that he was like a pit bull when he wanted something. “Or is it that you don’t agree with the concept?”

“No, of course I agree with the concept.” Her eyes blazed blue fire. “Hyde Point needs good medical care for young girls and their babies. I admire you for doing it.” She frowned. “I just don’t want to be a part of it.”

“Why?”

“God, Ian, are you always such a bulldozer?”

“Only when I need to be.”

“I don’t want to do it.”

She stood, moved to the counter and rinsed her cup in the sink. He watched her, noting the way her pants hugged her curves. He’d rarely seen her in slacks, and he stopped himself before he could tell her how good she looked in them. He wanted to woo her into his center, not his bed. Time for the big guns. The manipulation he was about to engage in caused him a momentary twinge of conscience, but he went ahead, anyway. “Paige, do you know the name of the new center?”

Pivoting, she threaded her fingers through her light brown hair. Lank and silky, it swung around her shoulders. “No. Does it matter?”

“It might to you. It’ll be christened the Elsa Moore Center.”

Paige gripped the cup. “How do you know Elsa Moore? You didn’t go to Elmwood, did you?”

“No, I went to med school out West.” He gave her his best grin. “But I knew Elsa Moore very well. She was my mother.”

o0o

A VISION OF ELSA—small, slender and delicate—swam before Paige’s eyes; Elsa was so unlike the tall, muscular man with linebacker shoulders who was sprawled on the couch. For a moment Paige was speechless. He must look like his father, she thought. “Elsa was your mother? Really?”

“Yes.”

Paige knew Elsa was married to Tom Moore. She’d met him in Elsa’s office, of course. She’d never met Elsa’s sons, although she’d seen scattered photos of two small boys around the office. “I remember her telling me her sons’ names were Derek and Tommy?”

“I’m Tommy. Named after my father. Thomas Ian. It got confusing and Dad and my friends started calling me Ian, but Mom liked Tommy.”

Her brows knitted. “You don’t have your parents’ last name.”

“No. It’s a long story.”

It didn’t add up. “The only pictures I ever saw of you were when you were little. Elsa had those on her desk.”

Gray eyes were briefly shadowed with hurt. “Yes. She said that I was still her little boy even though I’d grown up.”

Paige leaned against the counter. “I never knew.” Her insides knotted. God, she hated surprises. “Ian, I’ve known you for four years. Why didn’t you ever tell me this?”

“For the same reason you never came to our house, spent time with our family, even though you worked for my mother all through medical school.”

Paige had a brief flash of Elsa’s invitations. We’re having a picnic this Memorial Day, dear…You and your sister are welcome to spend Christmas with us, Paige…My husband and sons would love to finally meet you…It’s Tommy’s graduation…

“Paige, are you all right?”

“This is a shock to me.” Her eyes narrowed on him. “What do you mean, for the same reason I never came to your house?”

“My mother said you were a very private person who didn’t want to mix your personal life with your professional one.” He waited a minute. “It’s why you never saw much of her once you opened your own practice.”

“She retired to Florida soon after that.” Paige’s tone was defensive.

“They came up to Keuka Lake every spring and summer.”

“Well, you’re right, really. I still don’t like to mix my personal and professional lives.”

“Yes, everybody knows that about you.”

Paige stiffened.

“Don’t get your back up. I didn’t mean it was the subject of gossip.”

Paige thought of something else and straightened immediately. “Ian, I was doing that physician-exchange program in England when Elsa and Tom died. That’s why I didn’t make it to their funeral.”

His throat worked convulsively. “I know, we got your note.” It had been addressed to “The Moores.”

“I would have said something to you personally had I known you were her son.” When he didn’t respond, she added, “I’m so sorry I missed the funeral. I got back a month afterward.” She hesitated. “I went to the cemetery.” Actually she’d visited more than once.

“She would have liked that.” Ian stood and stretched. The scrubs strained across his chest. Paige was tall, but he loomed over her. “In any case, I’m naming the center after Mom for a couple of reasons. One is personal. But mostly I’m doing it because she was a brilliant doctor who donated her time to worthy causes like this.”

“She worked magic with kids.” Paige had learned the tricks of her trade from Elsa, who’d always accepted nonpaying patients and showed by example how doctors could help society in many ways.

“The touch, she called it. You have it, too. She’d said that, but I never saw you in action before tonight. Watching you was like watching my mother treat patients.”

Paige shook off the compliment, though it warmed her. “I’m dumbfounded.” And…upset that she’d known Ian for years but hadn’t known he was Elsa’s son.

“Good. I’m catching you in a weak moment. Join us, Paige, at the Center.”

“I—”

He raised his hand and she stepped back, afraid he was going to touch her.

“Don’t say no again. Think about it.”

He was something else, but he was starting to get to her. And the last thing she wanted was to work regularly with unwed mothers who reminded her of her own past. Just dealing with the few Serenity House patients as a favor to Nora was difficult. It was why she’d chosen to practice on the Hill—usually the moms were older, married and more established. So she said more firmly, “I don’t have to think about it, Ian.” She crossed to the exit.

“Wait, Paige.”

She halted at the door and faced him He was, after all, Elsa’s son.

“My mother would have loved to see you working with disadvantaged children.”

Exasperated, she said, “Do you always resort to emotional blackmail to get your way?”

“Only when I have to.”

“It won’t work this time.”

“Hmm,” was all he said. But the smug grin on his face unnerved her.

o0o

IT WAS SEVEN that evening before Paige let herself think about Ian’s proposal—and one of his comments, in particular.

My mother would have loved to see you working with disadvantaged children.

She sat in her car, outside Serenity House, where she’d driven as soon as her day—which had begun so early— was over.

She studied Serenity House in the twilight. The gabled three-story structure, set on a hill, had changed over the past fifteen years. It had been painted gray and new steps had been installed. The saplings Dan Whitman had planted that first spring were towering red maples now.

Everything had grown up at Serenity House, including her. She and her sister, Jade, had been placed in Serenity House when their too-wild parents had been ordered into rehab by the courts. Then, on the day they were released, they were killed in a motorcycle accident on their way to pick up their daughters. Paige and Jade had stayed at Serenity for a year, until Paige turned eighteen and was legally able to take care of her sister.

Ian Chandler had rocked her world today, and here she was, reflecting on her life. She closed her eyes and thought about that night exactly fifteen years ago when she’d given birth to her own child. Dan had delivered it. The medics hadn’t arrived in time; there was no good care for the girls all those years ago.

Paige had asked for so little back then. That she get through the baby’s birth and give it up for adoption. And know nothing about it—not even whether she’d had a girl or a boy. Complete withdrawal was the only way she could get through the whole ordeal.

And she never would have survived and made something of herself if it hadn’t been for Nora Nolan and later, Elsa Moore. Both women had given her lifelines: Nora, the nurturing she’d needed to give birth and endure the aftermath, and Elsa, the professional opportunities to become a doctor despite her deprived childhood.

She winced at the recollection of Ian’s words, Don’t you think you should give back to a society that’s gotten you where you are?

A gentle tap on the window drew her from her musings. She recognized the visitor and buzzed down the window.

Nora Nolan’s smile was as warm as the noontime sun. “Hey, sweetie. What are you doing out here?”

“Thinking.”

“Want some company?”

“Only yours.”

Nora slid into the front seat. Just fifty, she had strands of gray in her light brown hair now, which tonight was pulled up girlishly in a short ponytail.

“Have a bad day?” Nora asked. “It’s April sixth.”

Paige sighed. “I survived.”

“You always do, dear.”

“Nora, do you think I’m selfish? Having the kind of practice I do?”

“You are one of the most unselfish people—doctors-I’ve ever known. What on earth gave you that idea?”

“Nothing. I’m just feeling maudlin today, I guess. Tell me what’s new with you.”

For a moment Nora watched her, probably trying to read whether Paige had meant what she’d said. “Well, I was going to call you later about something.” Nora held out her hand, where a diamond ring sparkled.

“Oh, my God.” Paige’s gaze flew to Nora’s face. “From Dan?”

A dreamy smile lit her face. “Yes, of course.”

Paige grinned broadly. Nora Nolan had loved Dan Whitman for years. It had been a favorite topic of the girls of Serenity House. But Dan had been married, his wife suffering from dementia, and his and Nora’s relationship had remained platonic because they were both people of honor. Mary Whitman had died a year ago February.

Like Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Dan and Nora could be together now. The girls had watched the classic movie on TV back then, along with many of the old TV shows.

Like Dr. Kildare. Reruns that Ian, obviously, had never seen.

Though gestures of affection were hard for her, Paige reached over and hugged Nora. “I’m so happy for you.”

Nora returned the embrace. “I’m going to hold you girls to your promise all those years ago.”

Paige drew back and stared at Nora. The original residents of Serenity House—the first six girls to live there in 1996, the year it opened—had pledged that they’d all come back to Hyde Point no matter where they were in the world when Nora got married. Typical of group-home residents, Paige had not kept in touch with her former house sisters. Darcy Shannon O’Malley, the wild redhead with a devil-may-care attitude, had returned to Hyde Point two years ago, and only then had Paige struck up a friendship with her. “I see Darcy occasionally. Do you know where everybody else is?” she asked.

“Yes. Anabelle’s kept in touch.” The youngest and shyest resident, Anabelle had left town, and no one but Dan and Nora had heard from her again.

“And I hear from Taylor and Charly all the time. They live in Elmwood.”

Though Paige wasn’t friends with either of them, she did bump into Charly and Taylor around town occasionally. Charly had become a social worker like Nora and had married an older man. Taylor, who’d come to Serenity House after being found beaten by the side of the road with no memory of who she was, was happily married with three children.

“That just leaves your sister,” Nora said softly.

“I know where Jade is.” Paige couldn’t keep the chill out of her voice.

“She still won’t see you?”

“Nope. Just talks to me occasionally on the phone.” Paige shook her head. “I don’t get it.”

“Well, you can ask her when she comes for the wedding. It’s going to be in July.”

“That should be enough notice for everybody.”

“What’s more, I’m asking all you girls to come a few days early. I want to see how my first flock’s doing.”

Paige breathed in deeply. More surprises. Nora’s wedding. Contact with the other Serenity House residents. And maybe seeing her sister for the first time in more than three years. Add that to Ian Chandler’s little bomb—that he was Elsa Moore’s son and that he wanted Paige to work in the center he’d named for his mother—and it had been quite a day.

Paige wished like hell she really was on that Caribbean cruise.

 

 

 


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