Authors: Susan Anne Mason
Tags: #christian Fiction
Susan Anne Mason
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT 2014 by Susan Anne Mason
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or Pelican Ventures, LLC except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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Contact Information: [email protected]
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version
Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.â¢ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
Cover Art by
White Rose Publishing, a division of Pelican Ventures, LLC
PO Box 1738 *Aztec, NM * 87410
White Rose Publishing Circle and Rosebud logo is a trademark of Pelican Ventures, LLC
First White Rose Edition, 2014
Paperback Edition ISBN 978-1-61116-364-3
Electronic Edition ISBN 978-1-61116-363-6
Published in the United States of America
To my husband, Bud, and my kids, Leanne and Eric, for their constant love and support.
The click of the door echoed as loud as a gunshot through the silent house. Lily Draper's heart battled to escape her chest. She pressed her back against the cool wall of her father's office and made a valiant effort to calm the roar of blood in her ears.
No time for fear. Focus on what you're here for.
The familiar scent of cedar and moth balls threatened to swamp her with nostalgia, causing memories of her beloved mother to spring forth with a ferocity that spiked an ache of longing through her.
Mama, how I wish you hadn't died. If you were here now, my life wouldn't be such a disaster
She pushed away from the wall, grim determination stiffening her resolve. She refused to dwell on thoughts of her mother, knowing how disappointed Mama would be with the drastic action Lily was about to take.
She felt her way in the dark to the desk where she snapped on the brass lamp. Dust motes danced under the short beam of light aimed at the open Bible. With a pang, Lily ran her fingers over the worn pages. She used to love when Mama read her stories from the Bible. But that was before God took her mother away and left her with Tobias. With each punishment Tobias doled out, he cited a judgmental, angry God who waited to punish Lily for the least transgression. Lily wanted no part of a God like that. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and focus on her mission.
Dirty coffee mugs and stacks of newspapers littered the surface as well as much of the floor. Obviously, her father needed a housekeeper, though she doubted Tobias would ever find someone willing to put up with his clutter or his surly personality.
Not her problem. Hadn't been for years.
She pulled open each desk drawer, rifled through the contents, but didn't find what she sought. Where did Tobias keep his emergency money? She fought to recall his routine when she'd lived here. A mysterious, metal box came to mind.
The clock on the bookshelf ticked out its ominous threat.
it seemed to chant. Beads of perspiration slid down her back, gluing her T-shirt to her skin. According to the church website, Tobias' weekly Bible study lasted two hours. Still, she needed to
the money and get out as soon as possible. If she were lucky, he would never even realize the money was missing until she could return it.
Lily scanned the cluttered room, where long shadows danced over the piles of papers and books. The box could be anywhere. Her gaze swept past the long window shuttered by wooden blinds to the closet in the corner. She crept to the other side of the room and opened the door. A puff of stale air wafted out. Lily pulled the cord and a single light bulb flared, revealing an equally messy storage space. She moved the clothes aside, peered on the floor, and found nothing but shoes. She straightened, pushed up on her tiptoes, and brushed her hand over the shelf above. When her fingers met cool metal, her pulse jumped.
She reached up to pluck the box from its resting place and carried it over to the desk. The lock wouldn't be a problem. She had her penknife. One useful thing she'd learned from Curtis before he put a hole in her living room wall.
She jimmied the lock with the thin blade and flipped the lid. The sight of a large stack of cash made her knees weaken in relief. Thumbing through the bills, she estimated over eight hundred dollars. If she were careful and found somewhere modest to live, this money could tide her over for a month or twoâuntil she could put her wreck of a life back together.
Lily didn't know what made her look at the papers underneath. The documents seemed harmless enough, yet as she pulled out the first tattered page, nerves fluttered in her stomach.
Could her self-righteous father have something to hide? Secrets that might prove he wasn't so holy after all? Lily wet her dry lips. After all the torment he'd put her through, she had to find out.
She opened the first page, a newspaper article from more than seventeen years earlier, describing a murder-suicide. A well-known doctor, David Strickland, had shot and killed his wife and two sons before taking his own life. Police found six-month-old Chloe Strickland unharmed in her crib but did not expect five-year-old Addie Strickland to survive.
Lily frowned. What did this have to do with Tobias? She removed the remaining documents from the box. The first, a set of adoption papers, was of little interest. Her adoption was not news to her. The second piece, however, caught her attention. It took a moment to register that she was looking at her own birth certificate. Lily Adelaide Strickland. Mother: Margaret Ann Sullivan. Father: David Allen Strickland.
The blood in Lily's fingers turned to ice water. The man from the articleâthe man who had murdered his familyâwas her biological father?
She snatched the article and re-read it. The older daughterâ¦Addie Stricklandâ¦critical condition. They'd been talking about her. She was the girl not expected to live. But obviously, she had. Another more important detail burned into her brainâa baby girl had survived as well.
Somewhere out there, she had a sister
A slow burn rose up Lily's spine and settled into a tight band across her chest. Tobias had lied to her about so many things. About her birth family, about her real name, about how they'd come to adopt her. Her family hadn't died in a tragic fire as he'd claimedâthey'd been murdered. Worst of all, he'd never told her she had a sister.
The papers floated to the floor as Lily grappled with the enormity of the discovery. Had Tobias kept this information from her mother as well? Or had Mama planned to tell her when Lily was older?
Lily scrambled to the floor to retrieve the papers. Hunched over her knees, she read the article again. The dateâ¦seventeen years ago. Her sister would be almost eighteen by now.
Where? Rainbow Falls, North Dakota. What were the odds that her sister would still be living in the same town all these years later?
The sound of gravel crunching in the driveway seeped through the fog in Lily's brain. A car door slammed.
Lily jerked up from the floor. Tobias was home early.
Panic clogged her throat and threatened to choke her. She jammed the papers and the cash into her purse, yanked the chain to turn off the lamp, and forced herself to think logically. There was no way to reach the back door without passing the front entrance. The only way out was the window.
She wrenched up the blind, flipped the lock, and pushed open the window. With one leg over the sill, she glanced back at the darkened interior and then froze. The metal box sat open on the desk, the closet door ajar. Tobias would realize right away the money was gone.
No time to worry about that now.
She dropped onto the damp grass below the window, thankful for the high row of hedges surrounding the yardâeven more thankful she knew a shortcut through the back alley to the street where she'd left her car.
Ignoring the cold fear in her belly, she sprinted through a gap in the shrubbery and ran.
Lily's steps faltered the moment she pushed through the door into Hank's Tavern. How was she going to do this? Say good-bye to the one person who treated her as though she mattered?
The familiar smell of stale beer and barbecue sauce teased Lily's nose as she crossed the floor. The loud hum of voices competed with the overhead TVs. Lily scanned the room, noting Tracy, the other full-time waitress, lugging a large tray of drinks over to one of the corner tables. For a Wednesday night, Hank's place was uncommonly busyâprobably due to the hockey playoffs. Lily walked farther into the bar, clutching her shoulder bag to her body, as if the unusual amount of cash inside would jump out and proclaim her a thief.
“Hey, kid. You OK?” Hank set a foaming glass on the counter in front of a beefy customer and peered at her. “You look a bit seasick.”
“I'm fine.” Lily attempted a smile to reassure her boss. She didn't want him asking a bunch of questions she couldn't answer.
“That low-life ex of yours isn't bothering you, is he?” Behind the bar, Hank set down the towel he was holding.
“No. Curtis won't be back.” Now that he'd bled her bank account dry and gotten her evicted. Her gaze bounced around the room not knowing where to land.
“Something you want to tell me?”
Two customers seated on stools at the bar did nothing to disguise their interest in the conversation.
Lily swallowed before meeting Hank's gaze. “I'm leaving, Hank. First thing tomorrow.” The heaviness of her lie weighed on her conscience like the leaden wad of cash in her purse. She'd be gone long before tomorrow.
He scowled. “What did you do now?”
It was scary the way Hank could read her. “Nothing you need to worry about.”
Hank picked up a wet rag to scrub the countertop. “You able to work your shift tonight?”
Lily sneaked a glance at the clock over the bar. Had Tobias gone into his office or straight to bed? Lily couldn't take the chance that he'd alerted the authorities. “If you can manage without me, I think I'll call it a night.”
Hank squinted at her. “You sure you're not sick?”
“I'll be fine by tomorrow.”
Hank studied her for a moment longer and then nodded. “Go on. Tracy can handle this crowd.”
“Thanks.” Lily headed toward Hank's small office in the back of the tavern, but her feet stalled. Ever since her landlord had evicted her two weeks ago, Hank had set up a cot for her there. Never once pressured her to get out or grumbled about the food she had eaten. Never even took a penny out of her pay. Hank was a good manâthe only man she trustedâand she owed him everything.
Lily changed directions and moved behind the bar to lay a hand on his arm. The tension in his jaw told her how much the news of her departure worried him. And it wasn't about her job. He could replace her with a new waitress in minutes. Hank was like a father to herâthe one Tobias should have been.
“Thank you, Hank. For everything.”