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Authors: Sharon Sala

Out of the dark

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Praise forNew York Timesbestselling authorSHARON SALA

“Well-developed secondary characters and a surprising ending spice up Sala’s latest romantic intrigue.”

—Publishers WeeklyonSnowfall

“Spellbinding narrative…Sala lives up to her reputation with this well-crafted thriller.”

—Publishers WeeklyonRemember Me

“Wear a corset, because your sides will hurt from laughing! This is Sharon Sala at top form. You’re going to love this touching and memorable book.”

—New York Timesbestselling author Debbie Macomber onWhippoorwill

“Ms. Sala draws you in from the very beginning. She delivers main characters who will touch your hearts and quirky secondary characters who will intrigue you as you try to figure out whodunit.”

—Romantic Times BOOKclubonButterfly

“Whippoorwillis a funny, heartwarming story, set in a raw, untamed land and rich with indelible characters that will stay with you long after the last page is turned. I didn’t want it to be over.”

—Deborah Smith,New York Timesbestselling author ofA Place to Call Home

“Once again, Sharon Sala does a first-rate job at blending richly developed characters and inspired plotting into an unforgettable read.”

—Romantic Times BOOKclubonDark Water

Also by SHARON SALA

THE CHOSEN

MISSING

WHIPPOORWILL

DARK WATER

SNOWFALL

REMEMBER ME

REUNION

SWEET BABY

MIRA Books is also proud to publishSharon Sala under the pseudonymDINAH MCCALL

Watch for Dinah McCall’s next novelof romantic suspense

THE SURVIVORS

SHARON SALAOut of the Dark

I struggled through the writing of this book in a way that I’ve never done before. The tragedies of incurable illnesses and child abuse seem impossible to comprehend, let alone to find a way to acknowledge. But acknowledge them we must, because they come to us despite every good intention we have.

Once having acknowledged them, we must then strive to find answers, and after answers, solutions. All the money, all the research and all the commitments in the world will not solve a thing until we first search within ourselves to see what it is that makes us look away instead of reach out.

Know that anyone can become a victim of illness or crime; for shame to those who blame and denounce a disease as just punishment for a certain lifestyle, when in truth, disease has no boundaries. And for shame to all who blame crime on poverty and lack of education, when we know it comes from every walk of life.

And so I dedicate this book to those who have been stricken with diseases that have no cures, and to the children who have suffered hell on earth from abuse at others’ hands. Fate was often not kind to you, but know that we have cried for you when you could not cry for yourself.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Epilogue

One

St. Louis, Missouri—1977

It was just after midnight when Margaret Cochrane opened her eyes to look at the face of her sleeping husband. She’d been Sam Cochrane’s wife for seven years and Jade’s mother for four, and once she’d loved Sam Cochrane more than life. But during the past year, she’d struggled unsuccessfully to hide her unhappiness with herself and with life. Times were changing. The country had been at war for years in a land she could barely pronounce. Young men had abdicated their military duty by escaping to countries outside of the U.S. to keep from being drafted. People Margaret’s age had staged sit-ins in protest, burned flags and marched on Washington, D.C. She felt as if life had passed her by. She had so wanted to be a part of it—to make a change in the world. But her responsibilities as a wife and mother had precluded those options. To satisfy her emotional drought, she had decided to enroll in a self-realization course at a local community college.

Then one day, less than two weeks into the course, she had taken a shortcut across the campus greens to the bus stop and found the path blocked by a large gathering of people. She’d seen their kind before, but never up close. Both men and women wore their hair long and hanging loose about their faces. Some had flowers woven into their hair; others carried bouquets and handed out a flower to anyone who wandered by. They dressed like gypsies from some Hollywood movie, in bright, colorful fabrics—the women in dresses that brushed against their ankles, the men in tight pants and long psychedelic print shirts that hung halfway to their knees. They referred to themselves as the People of Joy and were led by a man who called himself Solomon.

Margaret stopped out of curiosity, listening halfheartedly to their talk of free love and making peace, not war, until the man who called himself Solomon stepped off the low wall on which he’d been standing and started toward her.

One look from the dark-eyed, charismatic leader and she’d been hooked. He’d smiled at her, touched her face, then her hair, with the back of his hand. She felt the warmth of his breath as he bent down and placed a flower in her hair above her ear. As he did, the crowd around them had laughed then applauded, and something within Margaret had soared. One day ran into the next, and then the next, until she was at the campus almost daily. Seven days after her first encounter with Solomon, she’d gone again, only this time with Jade.

The People treated her child as if she was a princess, exclaiming over Jade’s stunning beauty, even weaving flowers into her curly black hair and painting a tiny butterfly on the baby doll curve of her cheek. They praised Margaret until she felt as if she’d given birth to a holy child. Within the short space of that week, the emptiness in her heart had been replaced with a false sense of family. And so the brainwashing of Margaret Cochrane had begun.

Six months later, she was about to break her marriage vows to the man she’d sworn to love, honor and cherish. If that wasn’t daunting enough, she was also about to steal away his only child. More than once she’d thought about telling him, but she knew he would never understand.

She slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Sam, then stood within the darkness of the room, looking down at his face. He was so good-looking, and he did love her. But he was always busy, and he didn’t understand her. It seemed to Margaret as if everything mattered more to him than she did. There was a brief moment of hesitation before her eyes narrowed purposefully. Quickly she slipped off her nightgown and dressed, choosing a long, ankle-length dress made of a blue, flowered fabric that she’d purchased yesterday. She picked up her shoes, waiting to put them on until she had stepped into the hall. With a quick backward glance over her shoulder, she hurried next door to Jade’s room and slipped inside.

The baby was sleeping like the angel she was. Margaret thought of what she was about to do and hesitated again. Sam was going to be devastated. He doted on Jade, and it would be easier if she left Jade behind. Margaret knew it wouldn’t be difficult for him to find a nanny. But then she thought of how the People had praised her for giving birth to such a perfect child and was afraid to leave her behind. Jade had become part of her identity with the People.

Having settled that in her mind, she bent down, and as she did, her long blond hair fell forward, hiding her face like a veil. She brushed the dark tangles from her baby’s cheek then whispered softly in her ear.

“Jade…wake up, honey. We’re going for a ride.”

Four-year-old Jade Cochrane rolled over onto her side, subconsciously pulling away from her mother’s grasp.

“No, Mommy,” she muttered, her voice thick with sleep. “Don’t wanna go.”

Margaret glanced nervously over her shoulder, then grabbed the pink blanket that was Jade’s sleeping companion and wrapped her up in a larger blanket before lifting her out of the bed.

“Sure you do,” Margaret whispered. “You’re Mommy’s girl, and Mommy can’t go without you.”

Unaware that the pink blanket had fallen onto the floor, Margaret carried Jade out of the room, then hurried down the stairs of the old family mansion. Within seconds, she was out the door and running down the long drive toward an old blue Volkswagen van parked at the curb. As she approached, the side door slid open. Two bearded men wearing soft flowing robes and ponytails met her with open arms, took Jade out of her arms, then followed her into the van. Within seconds, the door slid shut. There was a moment when Margaret looked up at the two men in the darkness and started to panic. Then one of the men took a hand-rolled joint out of his mouth and offered it to her.

“Here, pretty lady…have a toke.”

Margaret shivered as she put the marijuana cigarette into her mouth. She inhaled sharply, held her breath for a moment to let the drug cycle through her brain, then exhaled through her nose. The kick of the drug silenced her conscience as competently as if she’d put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Two more pulls from the joint and she knew that she was right where she wanted to be.

Jade whimpered. One of the men pulled the covers up over her shoulder, then shifted her to the back of the van as the other man reached for the joint dangling between Margaret’s fingers. He took a long drag, then put the vehicle in gear and sped away.

Inside the house, Sam Cochrane rolled over in bed, felt the empty pillow beside his head and sat upright with a jerk. His wife’s absence wasn’t unusual. She often got up in the night to check on Jade. But there was something about the silence of the house that felt different. There was a vacuum in the space where love was supposed to be.

“Maggie?”

No one answered.

He got up out of bed and hurried next door to their daughter’s room. The room was dark, the door ajar. He shoved it aside and walked in, only to find the bed empty and his daughter gone. When he saw the pink blanket lying on the floor next to the bed and Jade nowhere in sight, his heart skipped a beat. Jade never slept without it. This time, when he called his wife’s name, he was yelling.

“Maggie!”

Still no answer.

He turned on lights as he ran through the house, running up to the third floor, then back through the second, before going down the stairs to the main floor. It wasn’t until he got to the foyer and found the door standing open that reality hit.

They were gone, and while the possibility of foul play couldn’t be ruled out, in his heart, he knew what she’d done. The signs had been right in front of him for weeks, but he’d ignored them, refusing to believe Maggie was that unhappy, unwilling to admit that any part of it was his fault. He’d seen the love beads lying on her dresser, noticed the changes she’d made in her hairstyle and clothes. Last week he’d come home early and seen what society called a “hippie” van pulling out of the driveway. When he’d questioned Maggie about it, she’d shrugged it off by saying it was only people asking for directions. He hadn’t believed her, but he’d been unwilling to broach the subject. And now it was too late.

He ran out onto the lawn and then down the driveway just in time to see a pair of taillights disappearing down the street.

“Maggie! Come back! Come back! For God’s sake…come back!”

His screams shattered the silence of the night as he raced down the street chasing the taillights, but it was no use. The vehicle disappeared. She was gone, and she’d taken their baby with her.

1997

Pink and green reflections from the flashing neon sign outside the bedroom window painted the couple sleeping on the bed in eerie, garish flashes of color, giving their faces a harlequined appearance.

Outside the hotel, a police car sped past with sirens screaming. At the sound, the woman flinched and then started to moan, which quickly roused the man sleeping beside her.

His name was Raphael, and for as long as he could remember, Jade had been the only person he had ever loved. He rose up on one elbow to look at her, wincing as movement caused the room to tilt. Ignoring a slight wave of nausea, he swiped a shaky hand across his face, then looked down at Jade.

She was dreaming again. He could see it on her face. The hell of their childhood had scarred them both in ways no one could know. If he had believed in God, he would have prayed for peace in their hearts, but the way he figured it, God was just a myth. If He had existed, He would never have let happen what had happened to them. So it was up to him to ease Jade’s nightmares.

He bent down until his mouth was only inches away from her ear, then whispered softly, “Jade…Jade…it’s all right, baby…it’s all right. No one’s going to hurt you…not anymore.”

Then he slipped his arm beneath the curve of her neck and pulled her close against his chest.

Somewhere within the depths of Jade’s mind, the familiarity of Raphael’s voice registered. When it did, her panic subsided. She shuddered, then sighed.

“Yes, that’s it,” Raphael whispered, stroking her hair until he felt her body relax. “You’re safe. You’re safe. You’re always safe with me.”

Jade slept again, but Raphael did not. Sleep had become his nemesis, stealing time he was reluctant to waste. There was a knot in his stomach that had nothing to do with the nausea he’d suffered only moments ago. It was fear, pure and simple. Jade was his life—his world—but in his need to protect her from the hell of their past, he’d done something wrong, something that he had to put right. She’d come to depend upon him so much that he wasn’t sure if she would ever be able to function on her own. He hadn’t meant to do it, but it had happened just the same.

Still asleep, she turned in his arms and then laid her cheek against his chest. The warmth of her sigh was a caress upon his skin. He swallowed past the knot in his throat, then threaded his fingers through her hair, unconsciously fisting the length of it in his palm.

“Love you, pretty girl,” he said softly, then turned his head toward the window, waiting for dawn.

 

“Are you sure you want to take this?” Raphael asked, as he steadied the oversized painting Jade had just handed him against his leg.

Jade glanced up from the stack of paintings she was packing, eyed the one Raphael was holding, then shrugged.

“It’s just a painting. We need the money.”

Raphael frowned. “We always need the money, but this is a painting of your mother.”

Jade straightened, then turned, fixing him with a cool, pointed look.

“That’s not my mother. That’s Ivy.”

Raphael’s frown deepened. “They are one and the same, and you know it.”

“No, they aren’t. My mother was a…she…damn it, Rafie, I can barely remember herorIvy. My mother turned into some mushroom smoking hippie named Ivy. When she died, she left me in hell. Why should I care about some stupid picture of her? I don’t even know why I painted it to begin with, so pack it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Jade glared at the smirk on Raphael’s face, trying to maintain her anger, but she couldn’t. Instead they packed up their stuff and headed out the door. A neighbor was giving them a ride in his truck to the street fair. The sun was shining; the sky was clear. It was promising to be a good day.

Jade smiled at Raphael as they rode in the back of the truck, holding on to the paintings she was hoping to sell. He glanced at her and winked, then focused on the stack of canvases he was holding.

Jade sighed. She could never be mad at the man who’d saved her life. He wasn’t just her best friend, he was the other half of her heart. And the fact that she’d taken the last of their savings to pay booth rent at a street fair in downtown San Francisco had been risky. They’d been hungry too often and homeless far more than she cared to count, so saving back any of her paintings, even the one of Ivy, was not only foolish, it was wasteful. Yet as they rode through the busy San Francisco streets, Jade couldn’t help staring at the faces of the people they passed—convinced that one day their past would catch up with them and terrified of what would happen when it did.

 

She had little to no memory of anything before Ivy. Only now and then did she dream about a tall, dark-haired man who had played with her in a wading pool and rocked her to sleep. But the facial features were always vague, and when she woke, the image was always gone.

Most of the time, the face in her nightmares belonged to Solomon. Solomon of the smiling face—who smelled of incense and smoke—who brushed her hair and stroked her face and, the day after Ivy had died, had sold her tiny, six-year-old prepubescent body to a pedophile who preyed on little girls. He had been the first, but certainly not the last, man who’d paid money to ravage her body. And for the ensuing six years, she, like Raphael, became a marketable product for the People of Joy.

She couldn’t remember a time when Raphael had not been part of her life—the young, beautiful boy/child three years her senior who had never known a mother or a father and, to the best of his knowledge, didn’t have a last name. He was a product of the same commune in which Ivy had died and had no existence outside of Solomon’s control. Solomon had been his father figure. He had known nothing beyond obeying the wishes of the charismatic leader—doing anything to garner the rare moments of affection Solomon had bestowed upon him. He’d suffered the “uncles” who Solomon had brought for him to play with, not knowing that there was any other kind of life.

Then one day something happened that shattered his perception. It was a small crack—hardly more than a weakness in the ties that bound him to the world into which he’d been born. But to a child who’d never had a say in one waking moment of his life, it was huge. Raphael hadn’t known it was possible to say no until he’d witnessed Jade throw a screaming fit and refuse to obey Solomon’s demand.

She’d been screaming for her mother, and Solomon had laughed and told her that her mother was gone and was never coming back. Raphael wanted to tell her that it would be okay, that the uncles wouldn’t keep her, that they always left after they were through playing, but he didn’t get the chance.

And even though her tiny rebellion had been futile, it had planted a seed in his head that had slowly taken root. He hadn’t known, until he’d witnessed Jade’s rebellion, that it was okay to have an opinion of his own.

The bond that was forged between the two children grew stronger with each passing year, so that by the time Jade was twelve and Raphael fifteen, they had become inseparable.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jade began to mature. Her body was no longer that of a thin, hairless doll. She was becoming a woman, which made one “uncle” very unhappy.

Frank Lawson had paid Solomon five hundred dollars for an entire night with Jade. He’d been with her numerous times before, but never for the whole night, and not in the past six months. When she’d arrived in his room and he had seen what nature had done to her body, it infuriated him. The sight of her budding breasts and shapely hips had ended his erection in a way that nothing else could have done. Angry and embarrassed that he couldn’t “get it up,” he tried a little acid. Within minutes, her tiny breasts seemed to grow before him, turning colors, then changing shapes, while the terror on her face turned her into a laughing, shrieking bitch.

Horrified by what he was seeing, he lashed out, hitting her over and over with his fists. By now, her body seemed a voluptuous symbol of what he should want but did not. He staggered, and as he did, reached out to steady himself. When his hand closed over a bottle of wine, he grabbed it by the neck and swung. It missed the girl by inches, instead shattering on the bedpost. Wine and glass went everywhere, turning colors and then exploding in Frank’s mind like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Suddenly the jagged neck of the bottle morphed into a sword. He spun abruptly, swinging it toward the shrieking, screaming bitch, wanting to silence her forever.

The slash of glass against skin was sudden—the skin parting like a hot knife through soft butter. Through a drug-induced fog, he saw the woman reaching for her body, then trying to hold it together with both hands.

When the child sank to the floor in a puddle of her own blood, what Frank saw was the body of a headless serpent.

“Yes!” he shouted, and thrust his arm upward in a gesture of victory, still clutching the sword.

Raphael had been awakened by the sound of Jade’s screams. At fifteen, he was already six feet tall and strong beyond his years. With heart racing, he dashed out of his room and then down the hall. He kicked in the door with one blow, saw Jade lying in a pool of her own blood, picked up an overturned chair and swung it across the back of the man’s head. There was a loud pop, then the man went limp, dropping to the floor like a felled ox. Raphael shouted for help. Soon, footsteps could be heard running toward them. Expecting that the help that was coming would be for them, Raphael picked Jade up off the floor.

Solomon was the first in the room, followed closely by two of his trusted assistants. They took one look at all the blood and then at Frank’s limp body.

“You’ve killed him!” Solomon shouted.

“But look what he did to her,” Raphael moaned.

“You stupid bastard!” Solomon said, then kicked a pair of pillows aside. “Fuck this mess.” He grabbed a sheet off the bed, tossed it over Jade’s body, and waved a hand in Raphael’s direction. “Get her out of here.”

Raphael bolted for the door. But this time, something inside him snapped. If she wasn’t already dead, he had only this one chance to save her. So once again, Jade Cochrane was kidnapped—carried out into the night without her knowledge. Only this time, it was to escape the hell into which she’d been thrust.

Raphael laid Jade in the passenger side of Solomon’s van, then ran back into the house, into Solomon’s private room, and stole every penny of the money the man kept in his desk. His legs were shaking as he bolted out of the room and back outside to Jade. She hadn’t moved, but he could hear her groaning. He jumped in the van. With a prayer on his lips, he turned the key. The engine turned raggedly for several tries and then suddenly started.

Solomon came running out of the house, screaming Jade’s name, as Raphael gunned the engine and took off down the driveway. He didn’t know where he was going or how badly Jade had been injured, but he did know that their survival hinged upon escaping the old farmhouse and the People of Joy.

Twelve years later, they were still running, living by their wits and the occasional turn of good luck, but certain that if they were found, they would go to prison for murder.

 

Jade was riding a rare high as she handed over the caricature she’d just drawn of her latest customer and pocketed another ten dollar bill. She’d lost count after her fiftieth customer had come and gone, which meant she’d made over five hundred dollars alone on the simple ten-minute line drawings that had become her stock in trade. Added to that, Raphael had sold nine of her oil paintings, ranging in price from fifty to one hundred dollars. The money they were making today would make the next two or three months a whole lot easier than they’d expected them to be.

“You want something cold to drink?” Raphael asked, as he stepped out from behind her easel.

Jade touched the side of Raphael’s face. He was shivering, although the day was nice and warm, and he looked awfully pale.

“You all right?”

“Sure, baby…lemonade okay?”

She nodded, then frowned as she watched Raphael cross the walkway between the booths to the refreshment stand only a few yards away. It was the first time she’d looked at him—really looked—in ages, and he seemed thinner. She sighed and swiped a weary hand across her forehead, absently swiping a lock of dark hair from her face as she turned around. She was thinner, too. It was what happened when you didn’t have enough to eat. Then she smiled, thinking of the money they were making today. At least they would eat well tonight. Maybe she could talk Raphael into steak. He needed to get some meat back on his bones.

Lost in thought, she was startled when she felt a hand on her knee. She flinched, then saw it was a child, and relaxed.

“Well, hello there,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“Kenny.”

She knelt down. “So, Kenny, would you like me to draw your picture?”

“Yes, please,” a woman said.

Jade looked up. A young woman, obviously Kenny’s mother, was smiling at Jade and handing her a ten-dollar bill. As Jade pocketed the money and set Kenny down on a stool, she saw a man approaching.

“Look, honey,” the woman said. “She’s going to draw Kenny’s picture.”

“That’s great,” the man said. “Sit real still for the pretty lady,” he said, and then gave Jade a friendly wink.

She nodded, then turned to her task, but her thoughts quickly wavered. The man and woman appeared to be so happy. They kept touching each other in brief but tender ways, and the smiles on their faces as they looked at their son were nothing short of stunned, as if they could hardly believe that their love had produced something as wonderful as this child.

Soon she was finished. She rolled the drawing into a tube, fastened it with a rubber band and handed it to the woman.

“Great kid,” she said.

The woman beamed. “Thank you.” And then they were gone.

Jade stood for a moment, unaware of the wistful expression on her face. And while she didn’t assume for a minute that she would ever meet a man who could love her in spite of what she’d been, it didn’t stop her from thinking,What if?

But Jade had long since given up on living a normal life. For now, she was just satisfied that their money troubles were momentarily solved. So she turned back to her easel and began trimming her charcoal pencils for the next customer.

A few minutes later, Raphael set a cup of cold lemonade on the tray beside her, gently stroked his hand down the back of her head as she thanked him with a smile, then walked back to the front of the booth.

There was an empty space on the wall from the last painting he’d sold. He looked around at the assortment of canvases leaning against the table leg for something to replace it. Almost immediately his gaze fell on the painting of Ivy. He hesitated, then turned to ask Jade if she was still sure she wanted to sell it, only to see that she was seating a new customer. Shrugging off the thought, he picked up the painting and hung it on the empty hook.

 

It was tradition for Paul and Shelly Hudson to visit San Francisco during the month of May. Not only was it the city where they had met over twenty-seven years earlier, but it was the place where they’d gotten married. Renewing their emotional ties here every year was part of what had kept their marriage so strong. It had also kept the ties of old friendship alive. Tomorrow they would return to their home in St. Louis, but today had been dedicated to visiting old haunts and old friends, which was why Shelly and her friend, Deb Carson, found themselves in the midst of a street fair, while Paul and Deb’s husband, Frank, were doing a little deep-sea fishing. Only weeks earlier, Deb had taken up photography as a hobby, and today she was snapping pictures left and right. They’d been at the fair for at least a couple of hours when suddenly she paused, letting her camera dangle from the cord around her neck as she pointed toward a nearby table.

“Oh, look at that darling little lighthouse!” Deb said, pointing to a booth with an array of hand-carved objects. She picked it up, eyeing the price and grimacing as she quickly replaced it on the table. “Good grief! One hundred and twenty dollars! It’s notthatdarling.”

Shelly laughed and nodded in agreement. As she turned away from the table, she looked up. Seconds later, the smile died on her lips.

“Sweet mother of God.”

Deb stared at her friend. Shelly was pale and shaking. She slipped her arm around Shelly’s waist and pulled her close.

“Dear…what’s wrong? Are you ill?”

Shelly shook her head, then pointed to a nearby artist’s booth.

“The woman in that painting! I know her…. At least, I did…once.”

“Really? How exciting! How did you know her?”

“She was married to Paul’s best friend, Sam.”

Deb frowned. “Was? What happened to her?”

“She disappeared one night twenty years ago, taking their four-year-old daughter with her.”

Deb’s frown deepened. “How sad.”

Sad wasn’t the word for what had happened to Sam Cochrane’s life. The loss of his wife and daughter had almost destroyed him. As far as Shelly knew, this was the first clue as to where Margaret had gone. She twisted out of Deb’s grasp.

“I’ve got to talk to the artist,” she said, and hurried toward the tall, dark-haired man manning the booth. “Sir. Sir! Excuse me. How much is this painting?”

Raphael turned around. When he saw which canvas the woman was pointing at, his heart dropped. It was the painting of Ivy.

“I’m not sure,” he said.

“The woman in the painting…I know her. At least, I used to. Do you know where she is?”

Raphael stifled a sense of panic. In all their years on the run, they’d never seen even one of the People of Joy. He didn’t remember this woman, but twelve years was a long time. People changed. She could have been with the People. She was definitely the right age. Before he could speak, he sensed Jade’s presence, then felt her hand on his back before she stepped out from behind him.

“You’re interested in buying it?” Jade asked.

It hadn’t occurred to Shelly before, but now it seemed vital that she take back proof of what she’d seen. She didn’t know what Sam would do with it, but she knew he would want it.

“Yes…yes, I am,” Shelly said, then saw the man frown before he slid his arm around the woman’s shoulder. “Did you paint it?” Shelly asked.

Jade nodded.

“The woman in the painting—”

“You mean Ivy? She’s dead. Been dead for years.”

Shelly’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh. Oh, no.” Then she reached toward the painting, gently touching the smooth, un-lined face of the pretty blonde leaning against a trellis of ivy. “I knew her by another name.”

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