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By ANNE RAINEY
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Anne Rainey
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePresent day ...
Catherine sat in stunned silence for several seconds, absorbing all her mother's doctor had just revealed. He'd called early in the morning and asked if he could come over for a visit. He'd said he had something private to discuss with her. Something to do with her parents, he'd explained. Since her parents had died in a horrible car accident only two months before, Catherine couldn't guess what the doctor could possibly want to talk about. Curiosity had won out in the end and she'd found herself asking him over for coffee.
Doctor Cabel had been more than her mother's doctor, of course. He was their family physician as well as a dear friend to her parents for as long as Catherine could remember. The kind, older man with gentle brown eyes had given her her first shots. Still, listening to his rushed revelation, Catherine was beginning to think she'd fallen down the rabbit hole. Surely this was nothing more than a strange dream. Had to be. If that were the case, though, she wished like hell she'd wake up.
"Are you serious?" she asked, emotion causing her voice to shake. "This has to be a bad joke. It's simply not possible."
"I'm sorry, Catherine," Doctor Cabel said, sympathy in his gaze as he looked at her from across the perfectly polished cherrywood coffee table. "I'm very serious. You were adopted."
"How? Why?" She shook her head in an attempt to clear away the fog. It seemed to be descending at a rapid rate with each word the doctor uttered. "How could my mother not tell me?" She thought of her father, the way he used to give her whisker kisses, and her stomach knotted. "How could they not tell me?"
The doctor sat back in the chair and pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. He scrunched up his brows as if he was as confused as she. "I don't know the answer to that. Although, I truly wish I did. All I can tell you is that your mother is not your biological mother, Catherine."
Catherine had been devastated when she'd received the news that she'd lost both her beloved parents in one cruel twist of fate. They were both fifty-five years old, too young to be taken away from her. A drunk driver, the police had said. Catherine had worked herself to the bone to keep from being swallowed up by the grief she'd felt from losing them so unexpectedly. And now this.
"Are you telling me that Mama told you I was adopted but not me?" The betrayal had tears burning her eyes. "Why?"
The doctor shook his head. "No, no." He slumped in despair. All at once Catherine felt sorry for the man. He was only the messenger, after all. "I'm making a mess of this, and I'm sorry. The thing is, Jean never came out and admitted the truth to me. But, Catherine, I was your mother's physician and I examined her on several occasions. What I know for certain is that she never gave birth to a child. Any child."
Catherine wanted to lash out at someone, and who better than the man who'd unwittingly helped keep her mother's secret? Maybe it hadn't been his secret to reveal, but he'd known all these years and he'd never said a word. "Fine. She didn't actually confide in you, but you knew the truth, Doctor Cabel. Why didn't you ever ask my parents about me?" She threw her hands in the air. "I mean, didn't you think I had a right to know the truth?"
Her harsh words caused the doctor's cheeks to turn scarlet. "I didn't know all the facts. At first, I wasn't even sure she was keeping you in the dark. In fact, I could've easily brought it up to you on one of the many occasions you visited my office. Without even realizing it, I could've exposed your parents so easily." He shook his head and frowned. "They got lucky there."
Catherine's anger took on momentum at the doctor's statement. "Lucky? She kept this from me my entire life and you call that lucky?"
He held up a hand as if to stop the runaway train of her fury from running him over. "That's not what I meant. Look, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this. All I can think is that she hadn't figured out the right way to tell you."
Catherine shot to her feet and strode toward the fireplace. She stared at the family portrait that hung above it, feeling the stab of betrayal clear through to her heart. Her smiling mama with the pretty green eyes and fair complexion seemed to mock her. Her father, so strong and trustworthy, stood behind them, every inch the proud husband and father. Catherine let out a breath she hadn't even been aware she was holding.
"I could think of any number of ways," Catherine gritted out as she clenched her eyes tight, as if by doing so she could lock out the pain. "Like, 'Hey, you're adopted, pass the peas.'" Catherine turned and saw the misery on the doctor's face. She really did feel bad for him. It wasn't his fault her mother had lied, Catherine reminded herself. As she stared at him, however, something else struck her. "You're only telling me now because the doctor–patient confidentiality clause ended with her death, aren't you?"
He stood and crossed the room. As he placed a hand on her shoulder, Catherine felt a little better. "That's part of it, yes," he said gently. "But I also felt you should know the truth. I'm not just your doctor, Catherine." He awkwardly patted her. "I wish I could've said something sooner, but I simply couldn't. Please understand, dear, if I could've spared you this pain, I would've."
Catherine tried to smile, but it hurt too damn much so she gave up the effort. "The only person, or persons rather, to blame are gone." She waved a hand through the air. "They're buried, along with all the answers to the many questions running through my head."
The doctor dropped his hands in his trouser pockets and said, "Maybe there is something among your mother's belongings," he offered. "Have you gone through everything already?"
Catherine thought of her parents' bedroom and hope began to take seed. "No, actually. There is still quite a bit I have yet to deal with. I was going to spend today going through some of the stuff in the basement, but maybe I'll tackle their bedroom instead." She'd always thought of that room as their private domain. Catherine had been putting off going in there to sort through their things. Unfortunately, she no longer had the luxury of time. She wanted answers, because clearly there was a lot about herself she didn't know. For starters, Catherine wanted to know who she was and where she'd come from.
He nodded and smiled. "There you go. Maybe you'll find something that will help you understand why your mother chose to wait the way she did."
Catherine shrugged. "Wait? You talk as if she intended to tell me someday when that might not be the case at all."
"You and I both know that your mother wasn't a cruel woman," he gently chastised. "She loved you very much. I know she intended to tell you. I'm sure of it."
"Maybe, but it won't change the fact that she lied to me all these years. Nothing will fix that, Doctor."
"True, but just try and keep in mind that she didn't set out to hurt you."
Catherine was fresh out of things to say. Her heart felt bruised and her mind was in chaos. "Thanks for coming," she said, wrapping her arms around the man, bolstered when she felt him hug her in return. When they parted, Catherine pasted a smile on her face. "I know this had to be difficult. I'm sorry my parents put you in such a position."
"I cared for Jean and Russ. They were good people. My friends. I only hope you find something among their things that might shed some light on all this." He started out of the room, but when he reached the entryway, he turned to her and said, "Remember that I'm your friend as well. Call me if you want to talk. Anytime, Catherine."
"Thank you, I will."
It wasn't until the doctor left that Catherine lost her battle with the tears. She simply dropped into the nearest chair and cried herself dry. It was nearing dinnertime before Catherine was able to pull herself together enough to pick up the phone. Mary, Catherine thought, she would know what to do. She always did.
When her friend's cheery voice came over the line, Catherine nearly lost it all over again. "Mary, it's Cat," she explained, using the nickname her friend had given her when they'd first met back in high school. "Are you busy tonight?"
Mary laughed. "Jesus, no. I'm sitting her matching up socks and watching reruns of Friends. Please tell me you changed your mind about pizza and beer tonight."
Mary had called the night before and offered to come over and hang out. She'd done a lot of that since the news of Catherine's parents. No doubt about it, Catherine would've been lost without Mary these last two months. "I, uh, I'm not sure where to begin."
"What's wrong, sweetie?" Mary asked, suddenly sounding more alert.
Unwilling to get into it all over the phone, Catherine simply said. "Pizza and beer. We're going to need a lot of both."
"I've got it covered," Mary said. "I'll be there in a jiff. Just hang tight."
"Thanks," Catherine said. Her voice shook with emotion, but she was beyond caring.
After hanging up, Catherine sat back and waited. Mary would come and they would tackle this together, the way they'd done so many things over the years. "I'm not alone," Catherine reminded herself. But when she looked up at the family portrait she felt very much alone.
Or was she?
If she was adopted, then who were her biological mother and father? And did she have siblings? Questions swirled around inside Catherine's head until she thought she might be sick. Lies had a way of finding their way into the light, her mama had once said. Catherine shook her head when she thought of her mother imparting that bit of wisdom. She glanced up once more at the portrait of her grinning parents. "If only you practiced what you preached," Catherine bit out.
Chapter Two"Wow," Mary said. "Just ... wow."
Despite the craziness of the situation, Catherine found herself smiling. "Yeah. I was pretty speechless too."
Mary frowned down at the half-empty bottle of beer in her hand. "This calls for something stronger than a Bud Light." Her blue gaze landed on Catherine. "Do you have any red wine handy?"
Catherine curled her legs underneath her as she polished off the last slice of pepperoni pizza. "There are a few bottles on the wine rack next to the microwave." She shrugged. "I don't want any, but help yourself."
Mary stood and brushed at her jeans. "Be right back."
Catherine watched her friend leave the room and shook her head. Once more she wondered how she could possibly survive without the tall, dark-haired whirlwind. From the time they'd met, Mary and Catherine had stood by each other. Mary had been a newbie to Catherine's high school, a transplant from a school up north. She'd been trying to find the physics classroom and Catherine had helped her out. They'd been friends since. Her mother had once described them as twin opposites—as close as sisters but as different as night and day.
When Mary came back into the room she held two full wineglasses. Catherine rolled her eyes as she took one. "I thought I said none for me?"
"After a day like today? You need it, believe me." Mary took a hearty swallow of her own wine, then said, "Okay, let's take this party upstairs. We've put it off long enough."
Catherine stood. "I'm afraid of what I'll find." She winced and admitted, "Or not find."
Mary waved a hand in the air. "Catherine, your parents were awesome people. I don't know what the hell they were thinking by keeping this from you, but they did love you." In a softer voice she asked, "You do know that, right?"
Catherine nodded. "I know, it's just difficult not being able to face them and ask that one all-important question."
"Why didn't they tell you," Mary said, knowing exactly what was on her mind.
"Yeah." Catherine shrugged. "I can deal with being adopted. I can even deal with them wanting to wait for the right moment to tell me. But this feels like a secret. Like they didn't want anyone knowing, not just me." Unable to look at her friend, Catherine instead stared at the ruby liquid in her glass as she asked, "Were they ashamed?"
"Of you?" Mary snorted. "Never in a million years. Your parents were so stinking proud of everything you did. Even when you screwed up they usually found a way to make it out to be a good thing." Mary patted her on the back and said, "No, this isn't about shame. And we won't know anything by standing in the middle of the living room chatting about it either. So, what's our plan? I know you, you have a plan."
Catherine laughed and glanced up at the ceiling and knew she was going to have to go up the stairs and dig through her parents' belongings. "No big plan, not really. I want to go through my parents' bedroom. There might be something there that can help me figure this mess out."
She nodded. "What about a safety deposit box? Could they have records locked away at the bank maybe?"
Catherine took another sip of her wine before saying, "No. Mama never trusted the bank. She was old school." Her fingers tightened around the stem of the expensive crystal. "Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if we found cash under her mattress."
Mary wagged her eyebrows. "So, it's sort of like a treasure hunt."
"You're incorrigible," Catherine said, swatting her on the forearm.
"I'm adorable and we both know it," Mary replied before taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face the stairway. "Now, scoot. We have secrets to uncover."
The nudge was all it took to get Catherine out of the room and up the stairs. As she reached her parents' closed bedroom door, she looked over her shoulder and stuck her nose in the air. "Who knows, maybe I'll discover I'm royalty or something."
"Or, like, a long-lost Mafia princess," Mary whispered, as if imparting some deep, dark secret. "That'd be cool. I have a few people I'd like to take a contract hit out on. My boss for starters." She cursed. "The little weasel."
Catherine rolled her eyes as she turned the knob and pushed the door open. "I highly doubt I have Mafia blood in me. I can't even kill a spider without feeling queasy."
Mary reached over and flipped the light switch. "But it'd be pretty sweet if you were, right?"
Glancing around the large room with the king-size bed, Catherine felt the now-familiar pangs in her gut. Loss. Grief. It was all there. She could never get used to how empty the room seemed. She spotted her mama's blue robe hanging on the bedpost and had to swallow back the pain. If she picked it up it would smell like her. Gardenias. Her mother's favorite scent. "I'd rather be royalty," she said, trying to keep to the conversation and ignore the sadness welling up inside her.
"Well, let's hope we'll find out sooner rather than later."
Catherine heard the worry in Mary's voice and turned toward her. "You don't think Mama and Daddy kept any records here?"
Mary took one last sip of her wine, then placed the glass on the dresser. "There's only one way to find out. Where do you want me to start?"
Catherine placed her half-empty glass next to Mary's and looked around. When her gaze came to the closet, she pointed to it. "Start there. On the top shelf there's a big white box. Mama warned me away from it once when I asked what was in it. Maybe there's something that might help."
"She warned you not to mess with it and you listened." Mary shook her head. "That sounds just like you."
Catherine laughed. "You would've gone right for it the first chance you got."
Mary laughed. "Damn straight."
"I'll start with the desk," Catherine said. For the next hour they searched the room. Mary had found the big white box, but it turned out to be a dead end. The only thing it contained was some of her father's old nudie magazines. Just when Catherine was about to call it a night, Mary yelled her name.
Catherine crossed the room to where Mary knelt over the bottom drawer in her mother's nightstand. "What'd you find?"
Mary stood and moved back a few feet before pointing to the drawer. "Uh, I think you need to see for yourself."
Catherine's nerves were shot and she'd had way too much wine, but the serious tone had her alert and sober in an instant. She knelt down and peered inside, afraid to get too close. As if the contents would reach out and bite her. Catherine frowned when she spotted a stack of letters addressed to her mother and a slip of folded paper sitting next to it. Catherine picked up the letters and the paper, then glanced at Mary. "It's just sitting out in the open. It can't be anything significant."
Excerpted from NAKED GAMES by ANNE RAINEY Copyright © 2012 by Anne Rainey. Excerpted by permission of APHRODISIA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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