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Just inside the door, she stopped to take a look around the apartment to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. This place, like all the others she'd lived in, held no special sentimental value for her. Neither would the next one, she thought. She'd learned a long time ago not to get too attached to anything.
The knock on the other side of the door startled her. She froze, careful not to make a sound. The building super, Mr. McNally, again, wanting the back rent? She should have left earlier.
Another knock. She thought about waiting him out, but her taxi was already downstairs. She would have to talk her way out of the building. It wasn't as if this was the first time she'd found herself in a spot like this.
She opened the door, ready to do whatever it took to reach her taxi.
It wasn't Mr. McNally.
A courier stood holding a manila envelope, a clipboard and a pen.
"Dee Anna Justice?" he asked.
She looked from him to the envelope in his hand. It looked legal. Maybe some rich uncle had died and left Dee Anna a fortune.
He glanced past her into the empty apartment. She'd sold all the furniture and anything else that wasn't nailed down. Seeing him judging her living conditions, she pulled the door closed behind her. He didn't know her. How dare he? He had no idea what kind of woman she was, and he certainly wasn't going to judge her by the mess she'd left in the apartment.
She cocked a brow at him, waiting.
"I need to see some identification," he said.
Of course he did. It was all she could do not to smile. Well, sneer, as she produced a driver's license in the name of Dee Anna Justice. She'd known where to get a fake ID since she was fourteen.
He shifted on his feet and finally held the pen out to her and showed her where to sign.
She wrote Dee Anna Justice the way she'd seen her former roommate do it dozens of times, and held out her hand impatiently for the envelope, hoping there was money inside. She was due for some good news. Otherwise the envelope and its contents would end up with the rest of the trash inside the apartment.
"Thanks a lot," she said sarcastically, as the courier finally handed it over. She was anxious to rip into it right there, but she really needed to get out of here.
It wasn't until she was in the backseat of the cab, headed for the train, that she finally tore open the envelope and pulled out the contents. At first she was a little disappointed. There was only a single one-page letter inside.
As she read the letter through, though, she began to laugh. No rich uncle had died. But it was almost as good. Apparently Dee Anna had a cousin who lived on a ranch in Montana. She ran her finger over the telephone number. According to the letter, all she had to do was call and she would be on her way to Montana. With a sob story, she figured she could get her "cousin" to foot most if not all of her expenses.
She had the cabdriver stop so she could buy a cell phone in the name of Dee Anna Justice. After she made her purchase she instructed the driver to take her to the airport, where she bought a first-class ticket. She couldn't wait to get to Montana and meet her cousin Dana Cardwell.
"You're never going to believe this."
Hilde Jacobson looked up from behind the counter at Needles and Pins, her sewing shop at Big Sky, Montana, and smiled as her best friend came rushing in, face flushed, dark eyes bright. Her dark hair was pulled back, and she even had on earrings and makeup.
"You escaped?" Hilde said. "I don't believe it." Dana didn't get out much since the birth of her twin boys last fall. Now she had her hands full with four children, all under the age of six.
Her friend dropped a packet of what appeared to be old letters on the counter. "I have family I didn't know I had," she said.
Hilde had to laugh. It wasn't that long ago that Dana was at odds with her siblings over the ranch. Family had been a word that had set her off in an entirely different direction than happy excitement.
Last year she'd reunited with her siblings. Her sister, Stacy, and baby daughter, Ella; and brother Jordan and his wife, Deputy Marshal Liza Turner Cardwell, were now all living here in Big Sky. Her other brother, Clay, was still in California helping make movies.
"A cousin is on her way to Montana," Dana announced. "We have to pick her up at the airport."
"We?" Hilde asked, looking out the window at the Suburban parked at the curb. Normally the car seats were full and either Dana's husband, Hud, or Stacy would now be wrestling a stroller from the back.
"Tell me you'll go with me. I can't do this alone."
"Because you're so shy," Hilde joked.
"I'm serious. I'm meeting a cousin who is a complete stranger. I need you there for moral support and to kick me if I say something stupid."
"Why would you say something stupid?"
Dana leaned in closer and, although there was just the two of them in the shop, whispered, "This branch of the family comes with quite the sordid story."
"How sordid?" Hilde asked, intrigued but at the same time worried. Who had Dana invited to the ranch?
"I was going through some of my mother's things when I found these," Dana said, picking up the letters she'd plunked down on the counter and turning them in her fingers.
"That sounds positive," Hilde said, "you going through your mother's things." Mary Justice Cardwell had died nearly six years ago. Because it had been so unexpected and because it had hit Dana so hard, she hadn't been able to go through her mother's thingslet alone get rid of anything. Not to mention the fact that her siblings had tried to force her to sell the ranch after their mother's death because Mary's most recent will had gone missing for a while.
"About time I dealt with her things, wouldn't you say?" Dana asked with a sad smile.
"So you found something in one of these letters?" Hilde asked, getting her friend back on track. Dana brightened. "A family secret!" Hilde laughed. "It must be on the Cardwell side of the family. Do tell."
"Actually, that is what's so shocking. It's on the Justice side." Climbing up on a stool at the counter, her friend pulled out one of the letters. "My mother had a brother named Walter who I knew nothing about. Apparently he left home at seventeen and married some woman of ill repute, and my grandparents disinherited him and refused to have his name spoken again."
"Seriously? That is so medieval," she said, stepping around the counter so she could read over Dana's shoulder.
"This is a letter from him asking for their forgiveness."
"Did they forgive him?"
"Apparently not. Otherwise, wouldn't I have known about him?"
"So you tracked him down on the internet and found out you have a cousin and now she is on her way to Montana."
"Walter died, but he left behind a family. I found one cousin, but there are apparently several others on that side of the family. Isn't that amazing?"
"Amazing that you were able to find this cousin you know nothing about." Hilde couldn't imagine doing such a thinglet alone inviting this stranger to come visitand said as much.
"It's not like she's a complete stranger. She's my
cousin. You know, since I had my own children, I realize how important family is. I want my kids to know all of their family."
"Right," Hilde said, thinking of the six years Dana had been at odds with her siblings. She'd missed them a lot more than she suspected they'd missed her. "I'm sure it will be fine."
Dana laughed. "If you're so worried, then you absolutely must come to the airport with me to pick her up."
"How did you get out alone?" Hilde asked, glancing toward the street and the empty Suburban again.
"Stacy is babysitting the twins, and Hud has Mary and Hank," Dana said, still sounding breathless. It was great to see her so happy.
"How are you holding up?" Hilde asked. "You must be worn out."
Hilde babysat occasionally, but with Stacy, Jordan and Liza around, and Hud with a flexible schedule, Dana had been able to recruit helpuntil lately. Jordan and Liza were building their house on the ranch and Stacy had a part-time job at Needles and Pins and another one working as a part-time nanny in Bozeman. Mary was almost five and Hank nearly six. The twins were seven months.
"I'm fine, but I am looking forward to some adult conversation," Dana admitted. "With Stacy spending more time in Bozeman, I hardly ever see her. Jordan and Liza are almost finished with their house, but Jordan has also been busy with the ranch, and Liza is still working as a deputy."
"And I haven't been around much," Hilde added, seeing where this was going. "I'm sorry."
"We knew expanding the shop was going to be time-consuming," Dana said. "I'm not blaming you. But it is one reason I'm so excited my cousin is coming. Her name is Dee Anna Justice. She's just a little younger than meand guess what?" Dana didn't give Hilde a chance to guess. "She didn't know about us, either. I can't wait to find out what my uncle Walter and the woman he married were like. You know there is more to the story."
"I'm sure there is, but let's not ask her as she gets off the plane, all right?"
Dana laughed. "You know me so well. That's why you have to come along. Dee Anna is in between jobs, so that's good. There was no reason she couldn't come and stay for a while. I offered to help pay her way since she is out of work. I couldn't ask her to come all the way from New York City to the wilds of Montana without helping her."
"Of course not," Hilde said, trying to tamp down her concern. She was a natural worrier, thoughunlike Dana. It was amazing that they'd become such close friends. Hilde thought things out before she acted. Dana, who wasn't afraid of anything, jumped right in feetfirst without a second thought. Not to mention her insatiable curiosity. Both her impulsiveness and her curiosity had gotten Dana into trouble, so it was good her husband was the local marshal.
For so long Dana had had the entire responsibility of running Cardwell Ranch on her shoulders. Not that she couldn't handle it and two kids. But now with the twins, it was good that Jordan was taking over more of the actual day-to-day operations. Dana could really start to enjoy her family.
"I'll get Ronnie to come in," Hilde said. "She won't mind watching the shop while I'm gone with you to pick up your cousin."
"I have another favor," Dana said, and looked sheepish. "Please say you'll help show my cousin a good time while she's here. Being from New York City, she'll be bored to tears hanging around the ranch with me and four little kids."
"How long is she staying?" Hilde asked.
Dana shrugged. "As long as she wants to, I guess."
Hilde wondered if it was wise to leave something like this openended, but she kept her concerns to herself. It was good to see Dana so excited and getting a break from the kids that she said, "Don't worry, you can count on me, but I'm sure your cousin will love being on the ranch. Did she say whether or not she rides?"
"She's a true city girl, but Hud can teach anyone to ride if she's up for it."
"I'm sure she will be. Did she tell you anything about her family?"
Dana shook her head. "I still can't believe my grandparents had a son they never mentioned. Or, for that matter, that my mother kept it a secret. It all seems very odd."
"I'm sure you'll get to the bottom of it. When is she arriving?" Hilde asked, as she picked up the phone to call Ronnie.
"In an hour. I thought we could have lunch in Boze-man, after we pick her up."
Fortunately, Ronnie didn't mind coming in with only a few minutes' notice, Hilde thought as she hung up. Hilde suddenly couldn't wait to meet this mysterious Justice cousin.