The wall she’d built with years of secrecy started to crack.
Hanna Kessler wrapped trembling arms around her waist and stared through the glass door into her parents’ backyard. A place she’d avoided her whole stay. Sunlight danced in the still water of her mother’s koi pond and highlighted all the landscaping changes Dad had made since Mom’s death.
Hanna closed her eyes against warring memories of past and present. As a child, she’d loved feeding the beautiful orange fish and hearing Mom laugh as the koi swarmed to the food. Now the little pond area was the only bit of her mother remaining. Maybe that was why she’d glanced outside and then stood transfixed. She needed her mom now more than ever.
Swallowing hard, she opened her eyes and focused on Mom’s teakwood dolphin statue and the white rocks around the water, glinting in the late afternoon sun. She reached out to touch the warm glass but couldn’t force herself to open the door. Goose bumps trailed her arms and she shivered.
She couldn’t go outside.
But she had to do something. Had to get away. So she stumbled into the rustic living room, her favorite place in the house. The surrounding family snapshots reminded her of simpler times. Boating on Kentucky Lake. Thunder over Louisville. Playing at Iroquois Park. Times when Mom and Dad and her brother, Steven, had wrapped her in their protection and love.
The front door rattled, then creaked open. “Anyone home?” A man’s deep voice carried through the safe place she’d escaped to months ago. It wasn’t safe anymore.
But her frozen feet refused to move.Where could she hide? Footsteps thundered through the front hall, drawing closer. She had to get out.
Choking down the lump of panic in her throat, she ran back to the sliding glass doors and forced her feet tomove outside, onto the concrete patio. She could get to her car from there. The keys! Turning back to the house, she focused on the tall form stepping out of the house and walking toward her.
“Hanna-girl, what’s gotten into you?”
Her brain snapped to attention. The man in front of her was no threat.
“Daddy!” She ran into his outstretched arms.
Andrew Kessler kissed the top of her head and chuckled. “You looked like you’d seen a ghost. Didn’t you get the message I left this morning?”
Heartbeat still pounding out of her rib cage, she inhaled a few deep breaths before answering. She hadn’t checked messages today. And no way could she admit she’d listened to most of the messages her family had left, never intending to return the calls. “I…I must have missed it. Sorry, Daddy.”
Try as she might to hide it, calling her father Daddy only happened when she was terrified. Or hiding. And she’d done a lot of hiding.
Dad stepped back and tilted his head, still holding her in his arms. “Well, I’m in Louisville for the weekend and had to see my girl. I miss you. So does everyone back in Alexandria.”
Even Michael? She wouldn’t ask. She had no right. Not after ignoring all the calls and letters he’d sent. The ones declaring his love even though she’d run away from everyone after her brother’s wedding. She couldn’t meet Dad’s eyes.
“Hanna, look at me.” He tilted her chin up. She fought to not pull away. “Steven asks about you every day. I’m surprised your brother and Clint and the rest of their FBI friends haven’t hightailed it up here to drag you home.”
“They wouldn’t.” Especially not Michael. Not after almost two months of her frosty silence.
Dad laughed again. He had no idea the pain his questions, his presence here, caused. “Steven’s planned it. So has Michael. But they’re waiting for you to come back, on your terms.” As if that would happen. “Susannah’s birthday party is a week from Saturday. Clint and the rest of us are praying you’ll come. Take pictures. Let us show you how much we love having you in Alexandria.”
A week from Saturday. The twenty-fifth of August. She wouldn’t be there. Couldn’t face Clint Rollins. Not after her negligence had nearly cost Clint’s son his life.
Tears slipped past her clenched eyes.
“Oh, honey.” Dad gathered her back into his arms. “No one blames you, Hanna. No one. You need to let the past go. Everyone is safe now. All the Rollins clan. Even Conor.”
So Sara’s baby was still alive. Just like Steven’s and Clint’s messages had said. Relief rushed through her, causing her knees to wobble. But other guilt arrows pierced her heart. All the lies she’d told Steven and Michael. Dad too. Clint’s son wasn’t the only reason she’d fled Alexandria.
“You’ll be there for Susannah’s party, right?” His hopeful blue eyes begged.
She pulled out of his arms and walked back into the house.Dad followed. “I…I need a Kleenex.” Searching through the oak cabinets in the kitchen didn’t produce any tissues. So she grabbed a paper towel from the counter. “What brings you in town? During our phone calls last week, you never mentioned coming home.”
“If I had, would you have been here?”
Ouch. “Yes, Daddy.” Another lie. “So are you here to check on the Mall St. Matthews coffee shop? I’ve been working there every day, just like you arranged. It’s going well.” And she was babbling.
“I’m here to meet with some old friends on Friday and talk about upcoming business opportunities.”
Old friends. The memories rushing in unbidden surfaced more tears. And more cracks in the wall of secrecy. She needed to get out of the house, out of the neighborhood.Now.Maybe then she could exhibit some self-control.
“Why don’t we grab a late lunch at the Cheesecake Factory? After your long drive you’re bound to be hungry, right?” She forced a smile.
“Okay,Hanna-girl.”He wiped away one of her stray tears. “On one condition.”Please don’t ask about the party, Daddy. Please.
He lifted his bushy graying eyebrows. “Promise you’ll come back to us and take pictures at Susannah’s birthday party next week.”
The very thing she couldn’t do.How would she get out of this without telling more lies or spilling everything? She had to avoid that.Maybe one last fib would get her though the weekend with Dad.
Then she could find somewhere else to run.