Preview


THE WEDDING PROMISE

 Excerpt

 Chapter One

 

Beth Crandall knew what she was doing even if everyone else in her life didn't believe she did.

Seated in the plastic surgeon's exam room on a mid January morning waiting for a consultation, she felt a little bit anxious.  But in her thirty years she'd known a heck of a lot more fear and anxiety than this.

In the past two months, she'd seen more than a few changes in her life since she'd been reunited with her biological family.  Being reunited with her sister and parents had been daunting.  Moving to York, Pennsylvania, to get to really know them had been a huge adjustment for everyone.  Especially for her adoptive parents.

The door suddenly swished open and a tall, broad-shouldered, lab-coated physician strode in.  From her Internet search, she recognized the specialist she'd come to see, Dr. Samuel Benedict.

Her gaze went to his face and she was taken aback for a moment by his piercing blue eyes.  She looked away, but not before she'd gotten a glimpse of thick black hair, a little longer than most physicians wore it, and a face that was craggily handsome.

He held out his hand and she studied it a moment before she took it.  She didn't give her allegiance, trust, or friendship easily...for very good reasons.

"Beth Crandall?" he asked, making direct eye contact.

This time she didn't look away.  "Yes."

His dark brows furrowed.  "I'm a little confused.  I have two names listed here.  Present day charts from your family physician in Pittsburgh, but then a folder with old records under the name Lynn Thaddeus."

How was she going to explain this in two easy sentences?

He looked down at the name again, then he snapped his fingers.  "My gosh!  You're Max Thaddeus' lost daughter."

"Found daughter now," she said with a small smile, glad this world-renowned plastic surgeon, who traveled from country to country repairing children who had been hurt from bombs, shrapnel, or birth defects, understood at least some of her background.

"Do you know Max?"  She couldn't call Max Thaddeus "Dad," even though he was her birth father.  She called her adoptive father Dad.  It would be all too confusing.

"Max's law firm handles foundation work for Kids Cause and some of my personal matters.  He's generous with his time."

"Kids Cause," she mused.  "I found you because of your work with children.  It took me two months to schedule an appointment."

"My schedule is usually booked when I'm in town," he said matter-of-factly, without any arrogance.

"I was lucky.  Your receptionist called me with a cancellation."

"There are many qualified plastic surgeons in York.  And if you're from Pittsburgh, there are quite a few there."

"This is important, Dr. Benedict.  I wanted the best, and not only the best, but a doctor who cares.  If you take care of children, you care."

When he canvassed her face, she wondered if he could see that little girl inside who'd been kidnapped from her room one dark night, who'd been held captive for three months, who'd been adopted and given a chance at a normal life.

"We should talk about what you think I can do."  He sounded as if she might not know what that was.  But she'd researched him and researched him well.

Pushing her long brown hair aside, she ran her forefinger from the top of a scar at her temple down past her eye to below her cheek bone.  "I'd like this gone."

So many doctors now stared at their computers and didn't make eye contact with their patients when they had an appointment with them.  Instead of heading for the computer on the stand at the counter, Dr. Benedict pulled the stool from the built-in desk and pushed it directly in front of the end of the exam table.  Then he sat on it and studied her face.

"May I?" he asked.

Of course, he wanted to examine the scar.  Of course, he wanted to touch her face.  That's why she was here.

"Go ahead," she said, bracing herself.

However, to her surprise she didn't need to brace herself when his fingertips touched the top of the scar.  In fact, she found herself wanting to lean into his hand.

While he ran his finger over and around the scar, he directed gently, "Tell me about how it happened.  Was this a take-away from the kidnapping?"

Apparently he didn't pussyfoot around a subject, he stomped right into it.  But then he was a busy surgeon.

"No, not from the kidnapping.  I was only three when I was taken."  She stopped, but then went on with, "I don't remember much from those three years.  More is coming back as I spend time with Amanda, Max, and my sister Clare.  I seem to remember Clare more than my biological parents."

"You were close," Dr. Benedict suggested as if he understood.

"I guess.  I felt a bond with her right away.  Maybe it's because we look alike."

He nodded, and as she breathed in, she smelled a citrusy aftershave that was altogether appealing.  Was she attracted to this man?  She almost felt an inner awakening, a part of her coming alive that had been dead for as long as she could remember.

"Are your memories clear after the kidnapping?"

"Is this part of our consultation or your curiosity?"

He leaned back and his hand dropped.  "I'm trying to get to the bottom of where and when you got the scar, and why you want it to disappear.  Plastic surgery isn't just about a surface fix.  I want to be certain that a procedure is necessary, and if it's what you really want.  It won't be covered by insurance.  It's not a medical necessity."

"Max is paying for it," she said honestly.

"He feels guilty for not being able to find you all those years?"

"He and Amanda feel guilty about a lot of things.  But they never could have found me.  My kidnapper changed my name from Lynnie to Beth.  That's the name I gave the police when they found me abandoned at a mall.  Because of a lisp I couldn't even say my last name clearly.  I gave my name as Beth Saddees.  That's what went on my records."

She stopped for a breath, uncomfortable with repeating it all over again.

"You've had to tell the story a lot," he guessed.

"I had no memory of my early childhood, or what happened after the kidnapping, until I saw a television interview with Max, Amanda, Clare, and Clare's daughter Shara.  They'd been thrown into the spotlight because Shara had run away."

"And Max was shot," Dr. Benedict noted, obviously remembering.

"I guess you were in the country then."

"I was."

"What's it like, helping children as you do when you travel?  It must be so rewarding."

"Helping anyone recover from trauma or a physical impairment is rewarding.  Your intake form lists your occupation as a website designer.  Do you enjoy that?"

He must have realized she needed a reprieve from giving him personal information.  "I do.  It's a challenge to fashion a website that's unique to each client."

He studied her carefully once more, from the light brown bangs over her brows, to her white Oxford shirt, to the conservative navy slacks.  "So let's get back to your scar."

Sure, they had to.  He had other patients to see.  "When I was a teenager, I had a best friend."

He waited for her to go on.

"Hannah had moved around a lot.  Her mom was a single mom who had health problems.  Hannah ended up in a group home and came to my school when she was thirteen, after her mom died.  She was a firecracker—all rebellion and attitude.  I was shy and didn't make friends easily."

"But somehow the two of you connected?" he guessed.

"I was being bullied.  Hannah stepped in and confronted the mean girls.  We became a team."

The doctor nodded as if he understood.  "You were kidnapped, and abandoned, and had no connection to anyone in the place where you landed at first.  My guess is that you withdrew inward.  You tried to pretend if no one was out there, then no one was."

No one had ever pinpointed it so well, not even her therapist.

"Yes.  I still do withdraw to some extent.  But Hannah taught me to stand up for myself."

"And what did you teach her?"  His eyes said he knew their relationship had been reciprocal.

"I think I taught her how to hope.  When she came home with me for dinner or an overnight, she could see there were good people in the world—my adoptive parents."

Nodding to her scar, he asked again, "So what happened?"

"Hannah hated the group home.  The facility housed boys and girls.  She felt she always had to be on guard.  She didn't really have friends there.  When I visited her there, my radar was always on alert."

"Radar?"

She shrugged.  "From as far back as I can remember, when I would be around a new person, I'd decide whether they were safe for me to be around...or not."

"An instinct you learned when you were kidnapped."

"I suppose.  Many of the kids at the group home weren't safe to be around.  Especially the boys.  I could tell by the way they looked at Hannah...the way they looked at me."

"Why did you go there?"

"Because my parents didn't approve of Hannah.  I could tell.  She cut class a lot.  She got detention.  But they didn't understand her like I did.  She was my best friend."  Beth's voice caught when she said it.

Dr. Benedict waited for her to go on.

"It was late winter.  I visited her and it was stuffy inside the group home.  We went out back.  It was getting dark and we didn't see the two boys who were smoking.  They started with catcalls.  We tried to go back inside but one of them held the door shut.  The other pressed me against the wall and tried to kiss me.  Hannah jumped him but he pulled out a knife.  He came at me and she stepped between us.  But he was flailing with the knife and it cut my face.  She was fighting off both of them when someone inside saw what was going on."

When she stopped to take a few breaths, Dr. Benedict studied her face.  "Take your time."

Beth squared her shoulders and raised her chin.  "I was clinging to Hannah—I didn't want her to get hurt like I had—when someone pulled me away.  I was taken to the emergency department and I never saw Hannah again."

"Why?"

"The authorities transferred her to another group home somewhere else in the state.  When I asked my parents to find out where she was, no one would tell them.  They'd just say she was moved for her own safety."

Dr. Benedict's jaw set, his mouth tightened, and the nerve along the side of his cheek worked.

"Hannah saved my life that night."

"Have you ever looked for Hannah?"

"I've taken it as far as I can on my own—Google searches, Internet data bases.  In time, that home was closed.  But I've been thinking about pursuing another avenue.  Amanda has a friend who searches for missing persons.  She helped find Max's granddaughter Shara when she ran away in October."

"You want all the loose ends tied up and finding Hannah would do that."

"That's one way of putting it."

"And you want the scar gone because you think that will help you move on."

"Yes."

"Do you want the scar gone to make you feel different when you look in the mirror?"

"You mean to look prettier?  No, that's not my reason for wanting surgery.  Pretty is about so much more than a scar on my face."

"This is about inner healing."

"It is.  So will you do it for me?"

His gaze met hers and when it did, neither of them seemed able to look away.  However, he slid his stool back, stood, and went over to the counter where the computer was located.  He tapped on a few keys, brought up a grid, then turned back to her.

"We can do an EKG and blood work today.  I can schedule you for next Thursday.  Will that work for you?"

It would work.  The sooner she had this done, the sooner she could move on.

 

Copyright © 2016 Karen Rose Smith

 

Her Sister

by

Karen Rose Smith 

 

Prologue

 

Where is Lynnie?  Where did she go?

In her mind, five-year-old Clare Thaddeus called to her little sister—Come back, Lynnie.  Please come back.

The huge policeman crouched down in front of Clare's mother at the sofa and said in a deep, slow voice, "Mrs. Thaddeus, I know you're terribly upset.  But I need details.  We've got an hour before daylight.  If your daughter wandered outside—"

Clare's father, who'd been talking to another man in blue, glanced at her, and Clare huddled down deeper into the big green armchair.  Her dad didn't come to her but rather went to her mom, sank down beside her and wrapped his arm around her.  Then he spoke to the officer.  "Our daughter, Lynnie, is three.  She would never go outside into the dark on her own."

Tell us again where you were last night," the policeman demanded in a not-so-nice voice.

"I worked late, preparing a brief."

"Until five a.m.?"

"Yes, until five a.m.  As I told you, I always check the girls' rooms before turning in.  Lynnie wasn't in her bed.  I woke my wife.  We looked through the whole house and then we called you."

Clare had been sleeping in her brand new room.  They'd moved in here—she studied her hand and counted her fingers—five days ago.  Boxes were still stacked down here and upstairs.  The house was okay.  There were more rooms for her and Lynnie to play hide and seek.  But she didn't like being alone in her own room at night.  She'd liked it better when she and Lynnie had slept in the same room.

Earlier she'd thought she'd heard Lynnie's door open...thought her sister was going to the bathroom and might come in and crawl into bed with her.  But she'd been so sleepy.  She and Lynnie had been running through the hose sprayer all afternoon in the backyard while Mommy unpacked.  She was supposed to watch her sister.  She was always supposed to look out for Lynnie.  That's what big sisters did.

Where had Lynnie gone?

Then Clare remembered the blue car that had driven down the alley in back of the yard lots of times.  The man had stopped once and watched them.  But she'd thought he might be one of their new neighbors who just wanted to say hi.

Should she tell the policeman?

He was so big, and he looked mad.  Her dad looked mad, too, as he asked, "Why do you want to question me and my wife separately?"

"That's just the way we do it, Mr. Thaddeus."

Although she was scared of the two big men in blue uniforms, she knew her mommy and daddy wouldn't let them hurt her.  Policemen helped, didn't they?  They were going to help find Lynnie.

She slipped off of the chair, went over to the sofa and tugged on her mother's arm.  "Mommy, when I was playing—"

The doorbell rang.

"Are you expecting someone?" the policeman asked, his brows arched.

Not sounding at all like herself, her mother answered, "I called a friend."

"Before or after you called us?"

Her mother's face turned red.  "After, of course."

"Mommy."  She tugged on her mother's arm again while one of the policemen went to the door.

Her mother took Clare's hand.  "Not now, honey.  Natalie's going to take care of you for a little while so we can talk to the officers."

"But, Mommy—"

Her mom's best friend, Natalie Barlow, rushed into the living room looking as upset as her mom and dad.  "What can I do?"

Her father answered quickly.  "Can you take Clare upstairs?  And can you call our old neighbors?  Maybe they'll help search.  I've got to get out there looking, but I have to finish answering questions first."

Natalie gave Clare a weak smile and took her hand.  "Come on, honey.  Let's go upstairs for a while."

Her mom kissed her. 

Her dad gave her a nod.

She tried again.  "When I was playing with Lynnie—"

Tears fell down her mom's cheeks.  Her dad said, "Not now.  Go upstairs with Natalie."

What she had to say wasn't important.  The man in the blue car didn't matter.  Only Lynnie mattered.

As Clare followed Natalie upstairs, she got very afraid.  What if the policemen couldn't find Lynnie?  Is that why her mommy was crying?  Because she didn't think they could?  Was that why her dad was mad?

Natalie bent down to her.  "I don't want you to worry.  Everything's going to be all right."

But Clare knew better.  If Lynnie didn't come home, nothing would ever be right again.

***

Chapter One

"I'm not taking it back.  I bought it with my own money."  Shara Thaddeus stared at her mother defiantly, standing her ground.  At sixteen, she was Clare's payback for the trouble Clare had given her parents when she was sixteen, though certainly not for the same reason.

At thirty-two and a single parent, Clare didn't know what to do with Shara any more than her parents had known what to do with her.  She'd rebelled because she'd wanted their attention.  Any of their attention.  All of their attention.  When Lynnie had been around, Clare had loved her and protected her and been her big sister.  But after she'd disappeared, it was as if Clare hadn't existed.  Everything was always about Lynnie.  And Clare had just wanted her parents to realize that although her sister was gone, she was still there.

Shara, on the other hand, had always had all of Clare's attention.  What she didn't have was a father.  She'd been a precocious child, constantly testing her boundaries.  Sometimes Clare just got weary of being a watchdog.  But yet wasn't that what parents were supposed to do?

After taking a deep breath for patience then putting her chin-length brown hair behind her ears, she reached out and took the blouse from Shara's hands.  It really wasn't a blouse, just a stretch lace concoction that her daughter wasn't going to be caught dead in.  "If you wear this out on the street, you'll get arrested.  What did you buy to go with it?"  She meant to keep her tone curious but it sounded judgmental anyway.

Shara produced a pair of black leather shorts that Clare suspected would fit too snugly. 

"The outfit goes back.  It's not appropriate for school.  It's not appropriate to wear to the mall.  It's not appropriate to be caught dusting the house in.  What were you thinking?"

"I'm thinking there are a few boys who would think I'm hot."

Counting to ten had never been a strategy that worked well for Clare, especially when her daughter was deliberately trying to push her buttons.  But she tried it again, nonetheless, not meeting with any more success than she'd achieved the last time.  She prayed for patience, or wisdom or anything that would help deal with her daughter. 

Finally, in a friendly tone she asked, "Care to give me their names?  Maybe I can do background checks."

Shara studied her mother, trying to decide if she was joking or serious.  "Brad said he likes me in black."

"Brad doesn't need to like you in anything.  He's a senior.  You're a sophomore.  We've talked about this, Shara.  He has a reputation and I don't want him giving you a reputation."

"You are wound so tight," Shara mumbled.

Before Clare could deal with that assessment, the telephone rang.  She glanced at it, thought about letting it ring, letting the answering machine take over.  But maybe both she and her daughter needed a few minutes to cool down.  She saw from the Caller ID that it was her mom's home number.  This would probably be a short conversation.  They never had much to say to each other.

Clare watched Shara take the new outfit and her other bags to her room.  "They go back," Clare called after her. 

Her daughter didn't bother to reply. 

Clare greeted her mom with a chipper "hello," wondering what she was going to put together for supper.  As an X-ray technician at the hospital, she usually arrived home after Shara.  Today, however, Shara had asked her if she could stop at the mall for an hour or so after school and Clare had agreed.  It looked as if they'd both be taking a trip after supper to return Shara's purchases.  Maybe they should just leave now and grab pizza there.  The mall on an October Friday night would be busy.

"Clare?"

The tiny crack in her mother's voice made Clare pull in a breath.  "What's wrong?  Has something happened to Dad?"

Although her father and mother had divorced two years after Lynnie had disappeared, Clare had desperately tried to hold onto bonds with both of them.

"I haven't heard from your father in weeks.  The last time I saw him was at the picnic you had Labor Day weekend."

It was really strange.  Her parents had once had a good marriage until Lynnie was taken.  Now they were awkward together whenever they had to be in the same room.  Clare always felt as if she were the cause of that awkwardness, always felt as if she should do something to make it all better, always felt as if she was the neutral territory in the middle of a decades-old war.

After a short pause, her mother explained, "Detective Grove called me.  He already spoke to your father."

Clare's heart skipped a beat.  "Detective Grove?"  The picture of a tall lean man in a rumpled suit flashed in her mind—the man who had taken over Lynnie's investigation after the patrol officers' first visit.

"Do you remember him?" her mother asked gently—too gently—and Clare had a shivery premonition of what could be coming.

"Didn't he retire?" she asked her mom, her heart racing now.

"Yes, he did.  But he's not really keen on retirement and he's been...working a few cold cases."  Her mother's voice was edgier than usual and a little wobbly, too.

"What are you trying to tell me, Mom?"  Clare's hands became sweaty as she thought about all the possibilities.  Lynnie's face at three and a half was still so vivid in her mind—the face they'd used on posters...the face she'd envisioned floating in a river...the face on the body in nightmares that had been buried in a ditch.  The not knowing had always been worse than knowing.  The not knowing is what had torn them all apart.  Clare really believed that if the police had found Lynnie's body somewhere, maybe they could have gone on as a family. 

Maybe.

"He wants to meet with us tomorrow morning.  You, me and your dad.  He thinks he has a lead."

Clare's throat went desert dry.  Even though she'd only been five, she remembered the hope that had filled her parents' faces whenever a new lead had been phoned in, whenever the police had gotten a tip from an informer on the street, whenever there was a chance that Lynnie might have been spotted.  She also remembered the expression on their faces when all those hopes had been dashed and one day had turned into the next without teaching them anything new. 

Except that they were losing each other, hour by hour, day by day, week by week.

"What kind of lead?" Clare asked, trying to control the shakiness in her voice.

"He wouldn't tell me over the phone.  He's working out of his home, so I offered the use of my office at Yesteryear.  Can you be there tomorrow at ten?"

Her father wouldn't like meeting at her mother's shop.  Now and then he'd complained to Clare that her mother was lost in the past.  He didn't like the mustiness of the store or what the old furniture represented—a history that couldn't be changed...a child who would never come home.  Her mother didn't see it that way at all.  Her mother liked to relive every memory she had.  She wrapped herself in the reminiscence of what she told Clare were the happiest years of her life.  More than that, Yesteryear had given her a reason to get up each day, a reason to search for old furniture if not for her daughter, though Clare suspected she still looked for Lynnie everywhere she went.

Trying to prepare herself for the meeting, she shored up her courage and asked, "Did Detective Grove say whether this lead means Lynnie's alive or dead?"

A sharp intake of breath met her question and then her mom answered, "He didn't say, and I didn't ask.  I still have hope, Clare.  I always have."

Yes, her mother had held onto the hope that Lynnie was still alive, that some misguided woman had taken her and raised her for her own.  But a misguided woman didn't steal a child from someone's house in the middle of the night. 

False hope was worse than no hope at all.  Clare and her dad understood each other on that one point, at least. 

"I'll be there tomorrow, Mom, but please don't—"   She wasn't sure how to say it.

"Please don't believe in the best rather than the worst?  Oh, Clare.  Maybe as you get older you'll learn that believing in the best is the only way to get through some days.  I'll see you in the morning, honey."

Clare and her mother weren't on the same wavelength...would never be on the same wavelength.  Just like her and Shara?

She said goodbye, hung up the phone and went to her daughter's room.  Arguing with Shara would postpone thinking about the meeting tomorrow morning...a meeting that could shake up all of their lives once more.

 

 
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