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Authors: Brenda Novak

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BOOK: The Secret Sister
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Sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor of her empty bungalow, she summoned her courage and called Coldiron House.

* * *

Josephine was carrying her coffee cup back to the kitchen when she heard Pippa on the phone and stopped outside the door to listen. She was pretty sure her housekeeper was talking to Maisey.

“I'm so sorry I wasn't here to welcome you back yesterday...Oh, yes, I'm much better, thank you. Your mother told me you're staying at the bungalows?...Good for you. I hope you like it there...It must've been tough for you to see the damage...We've never had a worse one...Sure, he'll get them all fixed up...That'll give your mother an excuse to do some updating, anyway. She's so good at that...Oh, no doubt! It's beautiful.”

Living in a damaged bungalow could not be more beautiful, or comfortable, for that matter, than living at Coldiron House. Josephine didn't like the fact that Pippa was encouraging Maisey. There were plenty of rooms here at Coldiron House, and Maisey should be staying in one.

Pippa was too soft—on everyone. Her own children had no discipline. But they loved her. Josephine wasn't sure she could say the same. At times, she wondered why she'd had children at all. If it hadn't been for Malcolm, she wouldn't have. She'd never felt a driving need to procreate, not like most women. As far as she was concerned, kids only got in the way, what with all the unruliness and the mess and the constant demands they made. Then, of course, Malcolm had died and left her to deal with their children, and Keith had been so difficult from birth. Nothing he did could surprise her at this point. But Maisey... Maisey had once been a sweet child. She didn't start acting out until she was sixteen. Then even Josephine's “good” child had gone bad.

But she refused to let either of them ruin

She heard Pippa say something about Maisey not having any furniture or groceries and turned away. She didn't want to listen to that, didn't want to hear Pippa's shock and outrage. If Maisey didn't have any food, she knew where she could find it. All she had to do was come home and apologize like she should have done yesterday. It might be true that Josephine held Maisey to a higher standard than Keith. But Maisey was capable of bigger and better things.

Josephine had settled at her desk and was looking at various vases and arrangements on the internet—something she often did to explore new ideas for her flower shop—when Pippa knocked softly at the door.

Although Josephine pretended she hadn't heard it, Pippa didn't go away. She knocked again, louder. Then she poked her head into the room. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said. “Maisey called a moment ago.”

Josephine said nothing, but that didn't discourage Pippa, either.

“She was wondering if Tyrone could bring the truck and help her move a few things. I told her I didn't think you'd mind. I wanted to check with you first, though. Should I send him over?”

Josephine continued to feign total absorption. Pippa should've known Josephine
mind. But Pippa saw only the best in everyone.

“Mrs. Lazarow? Can't you hear me?”

“I heard you.” She rolled her eyes. “What would you say if I said I didn't care?”

If Pippa was shocked, she didn't show it. “Since you
care, I'd say that's no way to improve your relationship with your daughter.”

Josephine swiveled to face her. She was ready to challenge that statement, but Pippa didn't retract it. She returned Josephine's pointed stare without flinching.

“After how she's treated me?” Josephine said. “I should welcome her back with open arms?”

“Where will the alternative get you?”

Josephine released a long sigh. Pippa always managed to put things in a certain...perspective. “Fine. Send Tyrone over to help her, if you think it's my duty as a mother. Once again, I'll step up—regardless of her ingratitude.”

“I'll do that this minute. And...”

“There's more?” Josephine recognized the solicitous tone.

“I thought you might like to invite Maisey over for dinner later, after the move.”

“Since yesterday went so well, huh?”

“With Keith who can say where, you only have each other. You wouldn't want to be cut off from the

“Surely Maisey won't be having another child for quite some time.”

“Resentment can last forever.”

Josephine stiffened. “If I didn't know better, I'd think you were blaming
for the rift between us.”

“I'm not blaming anyone. I'm merely hoping you two can stop hurting each other.”

“She's not hurting me.” Josephine wouldn't allow that.

Pippa didn't argue. “She needs you.”

“So it's up to me to turn the other cheek.”

“Maisey has been through a great deal. I doubt she's entirely herself.”

Josephine shifted her gaze to the garden beyond her window—a place she loved almost as much as her flower shop.

“Having lost a little girl yourself, I'm sure you can understand,” Pippa added sympathetically.

Josephine surged to her feet. She didn't like to be reminded of that child, had no idea how Pippa even knew about Annabelle.
certainly never mentioned her. Were some of the islanders still whispering about that old scandal? “Don't
bring up that subject again.”

The slight flare of Pippa's nostrils suggested she hadn't expected such a harsh rebuke. Normally, they got on quite well. But Josephine had to be firm, had to make sure
left the past alone.

“Does that mean you'd rather I didn't invite your daughter to supper?” she asked.

Her mind now anchored thirty-two years in the past, Josephine sank into her seat again. “Go ahead and have Tyrone bring Maisey back here, if you want. We'll see if we can get through the evening without her walking out on me.”


afe knew something was up when a blue truck with a Love's in Bloom placard on the door stopped in front of the bungalow where he was working. That was the name of Josephine Lazarow's flower shop in Keys Crossing. Anyone who lived on the island would recognize it. But Josephine wasn't driving—thank God. Maisey's mother often spoke to him with an air of condescension. He told himself it was just her way. She'd been rich and privileged her entire life, had no idea how real people behaved. But it chafed all the same. He preferred to avoid her if he could.

Fortunately, this was Tyrone, the groundskeeper Rafe had met at Coldiron House when he'd gone there to have Mrs. Lazarow sign his construction contract. He'd been back at Coldiron a couple of times since, when he'd negotiated the purchase of his own bungalow, and he'd seen Tyrone then, too.

Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Rafe straightened and squinted against the bright sunlight to see if Maisey might be with him.

Nope. Tyrone seemed to be alone.

“Mr. Romero?”

“You got him.” Rafe walked to the edge of the roof so it'd be easier to hear and be heard. “Something I can do for you today, Tyrone?”

“Yes, sir. Miss Maisey sent me to borrow a key to Unit 9. She said I was to tell you we'd bring it right back, so's we don't hold you up none or get in your way.”

Rafe had promised Maisey
help her. He'd been looking forward to it, to taking care of her. But maybe she'd been presented with a more timely opportunity and was anxious to get started. Or maybe Josephine had belatedly realized her daughter was in desperate circumstances and sent over the appropriate help.

“No problem,” he called down, and fished the key out of his pocket. “I can give you a hand with anything too awkward or heavy, if you need it.”

“Don't trouble yourself. Miss Maisey's convinced we can manage. But I do appreciate the offer—yes, sir.”

Miss Maisey
was convinced? These days Miss Maisey didn't look strong enough to carry much of anything, which was why he'd insisted on bringing her luggage into the house yesterday. The dark circles under her eyes reminded him of a castaway who'd had to survive for a long period of time without food. And once he'd gotten her clothes off this morning and seen her ribs, that comparison seemed even more apt. She'd appeared fragile to him then, but beautiful. Although she hadn't been all that attractive at sixteen, she'd really come into her own. “You know where to find me if you change your mind.” He tossed down the key.

“I do.” After catching it, Tyrone held it up, nodded at him, then got back in the truck.

Rafe watched him drive off. He felt he should go over to Unit 9 and help, in spite of having been told it wasn't necessary. He would have, except that he'd started late today, the weather was supposed to turn and he needed to get the hole in the roof repaired before it rained. The bungalows at Smuggler's Cove had sustained enough water damage.

Although he went back to work, his mind remained on Maisey. He could hardly believe she'd let him make love to her earlier. Yesterday, she'd wanted nothing to do with him. Even this morning, she'd acted as if she'd still refuse to go out with him. He'd almost decided she was too much like her mother.

But when he kissed her...

He whistled at the memory. A guy didn't stumble into that kind of encounter every day, especially with a woman like Maisey Lazarow. Her cool reserve hid a powder keg of emotion.

Suddenly realizing that he was just standing there, staring off into space, he shook his head. The sooner he finished here, the sooner he'd be able to see her again.

The moment he was certain the roof on Unit 4 wouldn't leak should bad weather set in, he carried his supplies down the ladder, loaded them into the bed of his truck and drove around to check on Tyrone and Maisey.

He found them trying to carry a couch into her bungalow and jumped out to take her end.

“That's okay. I've got it,” she said. “You've been working all day. You don't need to do this, too.”

Her words were polite, but she wouldn't quite meet his gaze. And when he insisted on taking the couch, she only reluctantly let go.

He stopped her as they were walking out for another load. “You okay?” he murmured, speaking in a low voice so Tyrone wouldn't hear.

Her smile seemed forced. “Of course. Don't worry about me. Go ahead and pick up Laney. I'm sure she's looking forward to seeing, er, being with her father.”

Something felt off, particularly after what had occurred in his bedroom. She was too remote, too anxious to get rid of him. “Should I grab some dinner while I'm in town?” he asked.

“If you want to,” she said absently.

“What kind of food do you like?”

She looked startled. “You mean for

They'd caught up with Tyrone. “For all of us,” Rafe said.

“No, sir.” Tyrone shook his head. “My missus'll have somethin' hot and ready for me by the time I get home. She always do. Like clockwork, that woman. And I'm to bring Miss Maisey back to Coldiron House for dinner. Those're the instructions I got before I left.”

Rafe nodded. “Got it.” As they started down the steps, he put a hand on the small of Maisey's back. He was hoping to get her to turn and smile at him—or do something, anything, to acknowledge the intimacy they'd shared. She could stop by when she got back if she wanted to spend more time with him.

But she moved away as soon as she could and barely glanced up when he said goodbye.

* * *

Dinner at Coldiron House was always a formal affair. Although it was just the two of them, they ate in the dining room. So far, Josephine hadn't mentioned what had happened at yesterday's tea. From what Maisey could gather, they were pretending they'd never argued.

Maisey preferred that approach, too. She was beginning to think pretense had its place in the Lazarow household, especially between her and her mother. Acting as if nothing had happened allowed them to go on without apologizing. Pippa had called to invite her to dinner only minutes after Maisey had decided her mother wasn't capable of being magnanimous, which made Maisey feel a little guilty. It wasn't right that she constantly found fault with her own mother. But wrong as she knew it was to feel so bitter, there was no avoiding certain facts. Josephine had always been a harsh disciplinarian, extremely self-centered and absolutely convinced that her opinion was the only one that mattered. She couldn't be questioned without growing indignant. She demanded absolute control of everyone and everything around her. And if anyone ever hurt her, she claimed she didn't care about that person, anyway.

What was a girl supposed to do with a mother like that? Only extremely passive people seemed capable of getting along with Josephine, and Maisey wasn't passive. She
be passive, even if she tried. So she told herself to find a way to forgive her mother, to focus on the positive. But, considering their history, that was a tall order.

“Do you have all the furniture you need?” Josephine asked as she picked at her beet and goat cheese salad.

Maisey had filled her house with more pieces than she'd originally planned. Tyrone had said she wouldn't be comfortable otherwise. He'd also promised to help her move out when the time came. “I have enough to get by,” Maisey replied. “I don't want to overdo it, since Rafe hasn't done the repairs yet.”


Maisey glanced up from her plate. “Mr. Romero.”

“I didn't realize he called himself Rafe.”

As far as Maisey knew, he'd always been called Rafe. She'd never heard him referred to as Raphael, except by her mother and brother. Perhaps he used his full name for business. Or her mother had read it on his contract.

“Have you had much interaction with him?” Josephine asked.

The image of Rafe, naked above her, flashed through Maisey's mind. Grabbing her wineglass, she drank deeply to cover the blush she felt warming her cheeks. “I had to borrow the key from him to get the furniture,” she said when she put her glass down.

“Oh, right. Of course.” Josephine lowered her voice. “He's attractive, isn't he?”

Maisey couldn't believe her mother would want her to admire Rafe. He was a blue-collar worker, no one Josephine would ever approve of. Not for
daughter. Not if
hadn't been good enough. “He seems...capable,” she said, trying to dodge the question. “I'm guessing he'll do an acceptable job.”

“He should.” She stirred her salad a bit more. “It's sad someone that handsome doesn't have any real prospects, isn't it?”

Ah, here it was. Acknowledging Rafe's looks was a clever device to make her more credible when she pointed out his drawbacks. Josephine didn't want her getting involved with the wrong guy

Maisey imagined how shocked Josephine would be if she blurted out that she'd already slept with him.


She'd waited too long to answer. “He's got a contractor's license, and a business,” she said quickly.

“Which is better than
,” Josephine allowed. “But it'll take constant effort just to cover his monthly expenses. There isn't enough construction on the island for him to do

“He seems happy.” Surely that had to mean something. “You know he has a daughter, right?”

“I do. He brought her with him once.” Apparently finished with her salad, her mother set down her fork. “She's blind, poor thing.”

“I figured that out once I saw the cane. What happened?”

“I have no idea.”

“I don't get the impression her mother's part of her life. Has he ever been married?”

“I doubt it.” Josephine leaned back and folded her hands in her lap. “You know how some people live their lives.”

Some people?
As if
were so much better? As if they hadn't made their own share of mistakes?

That kind of statement drove Maisey crazy, but fortunately Pippa entered the room to collect their plates, creating a distraction. “The salad was delicious,” Maisey said with a smile for her mother's housekeeper. “Thank you.”

“Tyrone did all the real work when he grew the beets,” Pippa responded with a wink.

Maisey waited for Pippa to leave before bringing up the subject she'd been dying to discuss. “Have you heard from Keith?” she asked.

Josephine took a sip of her wine. “Not a word.”

“Neither have I. He won't answer my calls, won't respond to my texts. What set him off?”

“What do you think?” She sounded tired and bored, as though it was just more of the same old thing.

“The two of you got into an argument?”

Taking umbrage at that statement, she lifted her chin. “I was merely trying to talk to him.”

Maisey had a hard time believing it was that one-sided. More likely, Josephine had berated him for something—maybe she'd mentioned the cucumber-sandwich thing again. Why she cared so much about such small things, Maisey had never been able to understand. Or Josephine had gotten upset that he'd supported Maisey by following her out yesterday and then staying gone for so long.

Still, there was no point in trying to make Josephine acknowledge her part in whatever had taken place. She'd justify it somehow. In her mind, she was never at fault. “And he stormed off?”


“Do you have any idea where he went?”

“How would I?”

Maisey turned her wineglass around and around. “I was just...hoping, I guess.”

“He'll call one of us when he hits rock bottom.”

If he didn't do something
drastic. Her mother didn't address that possibility. Maisey wasn't willing to bring it up, either. Josephine might pretend to be glad whenever Keith was gone, but she missed him. They did so much together when they were getting along.

“Are you going to like being back on the island?” her mother asked. The change in subject indicated that she didn't want to continue talking about Keith.

“I think so. I love Smuggler's Cove.”

“You always liked going there when you were little.”

That was another sensitive area, since it hinted at Maisey's preference for her father. She suspected her mother had never forgiven her for being such a daddy's girl.

“I heard from Jack today,” she said.

When her mother stared at her, Maisey felt a measure of surprise herself. She wasn't sure why she'd shared that. Maybe it kept her from thinking about Keith. Or Rafe. Or she simply needed someone to talk to.

“What did
want?” Josephine spat out the pronoun as if she'd eaten something that had left a bad taste in her mouth.

Before Maisey could answer, Pippa came in with their dinner—rack of lamb, mint jelly, scalloped potatoes and asparagus spears. Josephine allowed Pippa to put her plate in front of her but didn't let go of her wineglass.

“He's no longer with the woman he left me for,” Maisey said when Pippa had departed.

“You didn't expect
to last, did you?”

“I guess I did.” She'd assumed he must really love Heather to do what he'd done. That was the only way she'd been able to explain it.

“When did they break up?” Josephine asked.

“Several weeks ago, from the sound of it. But he claims he was having second thoughts for a while.”

Her mother cast her a dubious glance. “Don't tell me you'd ever consider taking him back.”

Maisey hated the tone of her mother's voice. It called her a fool for even being tempted. But she
tempted—in odd moments when she felt weak or lonely or the climb ahead seemed too daunting. She'd been through several moments like that already just since he'd called.

BOOK: The Secret Sister
3.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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