Mark and Anna had been on the road for hours before it occurred to her that Mark was uncharacteristically quiet. Typically, he was the one who carried their conversations. When she pouted, he cracked jokes until she forgot why she was pouting. When she lapsed into silence—which usually meant that she had an issue and didn’t have a solution—he knew exactly what to say, and how to say it. He knew her moods and understood her fears.
Since her vacation week, they were rarely apart. They were co-planners and co-hosts for most of the Foundation’s events, so togetherness couldn't be avoided. Recently, he’d been her escort when she was out and about after hours. In reality, she didn’t need protection; she’d been accident-free, and she hadn’t sensed a watcher since Philip had come forward with his explanation.
Initially, Mark set the holidays as the cut-off date for ending his job as protector, and he wouldn’t budge on his decision. She agreed because she enjoyed spending time with him.
She’d suspected when he began to shadow her that it was a bad idea. She’d had a mild crush on him, since the day she met him. It was easy to ignore her feelings in a business environment; harder when they were sitting across the table from each other in a candle-lit restaurant. She was becoming too attached to him. On the other hand, he seemed more emotionally unattached than he had been in months.
He must have sensed her irritation, because he cut his eyes in her direction.
“Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“Every word. I haven’t had anything to add.”
Was silence his way of telling her that he disapproved of her decision to arrive at Beth’s gallery unannounced. For two weeks, they had discussed the pros and cons of contacting Beth Summerfield. Mark listened and made comments, but insisted that the final decision was hers to make. Her parents echoed his words. Anna vacillated for days before finally deciding that arriving at the gallery unannounced was the approach she wanted to take.
“Mark, do you think that it is a mistake to come to Laurel Springs without letting Beth know?”
“I don’t know that there is a right way to handle the situation, but coming unannounced seems unfair to Beth. If you are, as Philip says, Claire's clone, your unannounced appearance will be quite a shock.”
“Now you tell me. Why didn’t you express your concerns during one of our discussions?”
“My role was to play devil’s advocate Decisions concerning your future, can only be made by you.”
Anna felt nauseous. Had she made the wrong decision? If so, was there a way to correct her mistake? She mentally went over her options. “Would you be willing to talk to Beth without me being present?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Give me a minute. Let me think this through.” After a short silence, she mused, “I didn’t want to be rejected, that’s why I made the decision to come unannounced. In my experience, phone conversations with strangers can be difficult. If you are face to face, you get to hear their words, see their facial expressions and interpret their body language.”
“Your decision could be the right one, Anna. There’s really no way to predict the outcome of our visit.”
“I was so concerned about my reaction that I was blind to Beth’s feelings. Who knows? Maybe seeing me will bring back hurtful memories.” She paused before adding, “Since we’re less than a half hour from her gallery, the only solution seems to be to have a third party explain the situation to her.”
“The third party being me, I suppose.”
“Who better? Use that charm of yours, but be honest. Tell her that you know Philip, and that you are in Laurel Springs because of Claire’s portrait. I have a recent photo in my billfold. Show it to her. If she wants to meet me, great. If she says no, we can eat a late lunch and then drive back to Raleigh.”
“You would do that?”
Anna held up three fingers in a girl scout salute. “Scout’s honor. The only thing I ask, is that you learn as much as you can about the Summerfield family. Even if I don’t meet her, I don’t want to keep wondering if the Summerfields are blood relatives.”
“Do you plan to wait in the car, or should I look for a café or coffee shop?”
“Why don’t you drop me off at Granny’s Attic. I saw a sign about a half mile back that read: Visit Granny’s Attic. Period furniture, collectibles, vintage glassware and rare books. I/2 mile ahead. In fact, I see the sign coming up on the right."
“I didn’t know you liked antiques.”
“Only in historical homes, but I can spend hours in a shop that carries rare books. Dad has quite a collection of First Editions. When I find a book that I know he is looking for, I snap it up. There’s nothing he loves more than opening a gift to find a rare book that’s in mint condition.”
Anna spent most of her time in Granny's Attic sitting in a cozy reading area of a room that was filled with books and various collectibles that had to do with books and libraries. The sign on the door read: Granny’s Library. She was so engrossed in the book she was reading, that Mark had to call her name a second time.
She looked up and blinked. “Oh! You’re here.”
“I’m glad to see that you weren’t bored.”
“Hardly. She held up a bag. “I bought a signed copy of Louis Lamour's Yonderling. Dad’s going to love it.” Her voice sounded pleading when she asked, “Well, are you going to keep in suspense?”
“She wants to meet you.”
Anna’s hands were shaking. “I’m not sure I’m ready.”
Mark had learned not to push Anna when she was indecisive. “I’ll browse through the shop until you are ready to leave.”
“Wait. Time isn’t going to make this any easier. I need to return this book I was reading to Mrs. Taggart. First Editions are kept in a locked case.”
Beth was visible through the glass side panel of the shop’s front door. She was standing in front of a display of picture frame molding corners. She turned when Mark and Anna entered the shop. “Welcome to Summerfield’s, Anna.”
Mark put a steading hand behind her back. Her voice was slightly unsteady. “Thank you for seeing me, Beth. I hope that it’s not an imposition.”
“Pardon me if I seem distracted. I'm still getting over my shock. As I told Mark, I have a client who will be coming into the shop in . . .” She glanced at her watch. “Thirty minutes. That should give you time to do a quick tour of the gallery. Mark has accepted my invitation for an early dinner at Churchill’s, a restaurant that is located a short walk from your motel. If you’d like a more leisurely tour of the gallery, we can return to the gallery after dinner.”
“That sounds lovely.”
“Shall we start with my mom’s portrait?”
“Yes, please. I suppose Mark mentioned Philip.”
She laughed. “He did. Philip did not leave the gallery happy. I think I could have named my price for mom’s portrait and he wouldn’t have blinked. As I explained, it took a year to paint the portrait. I would work on it a while, and then have my aunt and uncle take a look. They knew Mom, and my memories are vague.
"Uncle Jamie would say, “Her eyes are a deeper blue.” And then, Aunt Rosalie would add, “Beth, you need to add a little half smile. It’s not your mom without one.” When they finally agreed that the portrait looked like her, I stopped painting.”
They had reached the portrait. Anna took a deep breath. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Except for the hair, she could have been looking at her own portrait. Because of Philip, she knew there would be a likeness, but . . . not the face she was seeing. What did it mean? Was is possible that Claire was related?
Beth’s voice was almost reverent, “Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“Did your mother have a twin?”
“No, but I wasn’t her only daughter.”
“Was, does that mean that your sister is no longer alive.”
“I don’t know. Jessica was kidnapped when she was four.”
“How old would your sister be?”
“Beth mused, "Jessica was a tiny little thing. Ben and I nicknamed her Pixie.”
“My older brother. If you don’t mind, I’m going to let you and Mark browse. I need to get ready for Hannah Costello, my client. I know you have questions, Anna. So, do I. Waiting is difficult, but the extra time will give both of us time to formulate our questions. We'll work through this together.”