Read an Excerpt
I stood outside on the curb, waiting. Sweating, actually.
I’d worn a long-sleeved Red Sox hoodie and jeans, appropriate clothing for late fall in Massachusetts, but clearly too much for semitropical South Carolina. There’d been no time to change after stepping off the plane—unsure whether or not I was late, I’d hurried to baggage claim, dragged my two battered suitcases onto a cart, and then hustled out into the stupefying, unnatural mid-November heat.
And stood there.
Twenty minutes and counting.
Back home in Westborough, we’d be prepping the fireplace soon. Unpacking our winter hats and gloves. Not strolling around in shorts and T-shirts like these blond people surrounding me, radiant in their tanned, athletic perfection as they soaked in the morning sunshine.
The word seared my mind.
I had to stop thinking like that, since I didn’t have one anymore.
I had to stop thinking that way, too.
Unbidden, tears gathered in my eyes. I pushed them back, angry. Determined not to let my emotions overcome me. Not again. Not today. At least not where anyone could see.
I have a first impression to make.
Wiping my eyes irritably, I glanced up at an iron clock bolted to the concrete pillar beside me, just above the taxi line sign. Twenty-five minutes.
Am I going to need a freaking cab?
I slipped out my iPhone, then cursed softly as I remembered it’d run out of juice on my two-hour flight here. Forgot to charge, then one episode of Scrubs too many.
Anxiety crept in. Slowly and stealthily, like a jungle cat.
Everything about this place felt foreign to me. It was more than just the temperature. Scanning the pickup area, I spotted palm trees swaying in the breeze. Heard a symphony of chirping crickets. Complete strangers nodded as they strolled past me, smiling, in no particular hurry. Some even said hello.
This was not how people acted in Boston, the only city I’d ever known. That stuff could get you punched in the face.
Even the name sounded exotic to me.
What did I know about the South? I could count the number of times I’d left the Bay State on one hand, with fingers to spare. Maine. Vermont. Rhode Island that one summer when I was twelve. Familiar, normal New England locales, not so different from my central Massachusetts home.
But this place? I felt like I needed a passport. Westborough seemed a million miles away.
Calm down. You can do this.
The silent pep talk did nothing to ease my nerves. I was about to meet my father for the first time, face-to-face. A person Mom never told me about—not even his name—in all the years we spent together. A man who’d played no role in my first thirteen years of life, right up to the day of my mother’s funeral, when distant relatives began whispering about what was to be done with me.
When everything I’d ever known was ripped from my fingers.
We had spoken over FaceTime, sure. Three times in the last two weeks, while the “arrangements” were being made. Christopher “Kit” Howard was to become my legal guardian. Honestly, he was the only realistic choice.
Other than my great-aunt Temperance Brennan.
How’s that for a shock? Turns out, I’m related to someone famous, and never knew. She’d even offered to take me in, though we both knew it wouldn’t work. The Fates had decreed that Kit Howard would parent me through my high school years.
So now I had a dad. I guess.
Whatever. Only four years until college.
That got me thinking about Mom again—the car accident, the doorbell, the sad-eyed police officer—but I shoved the raw memories away. After two weeks of mourning, I was desperate for a reprieve. My tears were spent.
Another gaggle of passengers exited the airport. They all seemed to have rides waiting.
Where was this new father of mine?
How can you be late to pick up your long-lost daughter?
As if in answer, a mud-streaked Mini Cooper raced around the corner. Tires screeched as the tiny car slowed, then lurched forward, cutting across two lanes to halt directly before me. A boyish-looking man with curly brown hair leaped from the driver’s seat. He wore a Pearl Jam tee, khakis, and the panicked expression of someone who has no idea what he’s doing, but is pretty sure he’s done it wrong.
“Victoria?” he called across the hood. “Er. I mean, Tory? Tory Brennan?”
He winced as if he’d just made a second strike. Which he kinda had.
“That’s me.” Voice flat, trying to keep my roiling emotions in check. “Hello.”
“Hi.” Then he stood there, staring dumbly, as if he didn’t know what to say next. Maybe he’d never gotten this far in his head.
I understood. There was no script for this scenario. No rulebook on how to greet a close family member you’ve never met before but intend to share a home with, effective immediately.
So we stared at each other. Behind him, a shuttle bus roared toward the exit.
“I’m Kit,” he blurted, breaking the awkward silence. “I mean, Christopher Howard. Your father,” he sputtered. Then Kit shook his head, as if certain he’d finally struck out. “It’s nice to finally meet you in person,” he finished lamely.
Spotting my bags, Kit shot forward. But he moved too fast, whacking his knee on the fender as he rounded the vehicle. Kit grabbed his leg, flushing beet red. A four-letter word curled his lips, but after glancing at me, he choked it back.
I suppressed a smile. This guy might be a total doofus, but he was clearly more nervous than I was. Which was oddly comforting.
“Sorry I’m late,” Kit managed finally, still grimacing as he rubbed his injured limb. “Flight status said you’d be delayed an hour, but then it changed suddenly and you were already on the ground.”
He dug out his phone and thrust its screen at my face, as if to prove his point. But the app was displaying the correct landing time, nearly a half hour ago.
“I mean, the stupid info changed. Without warning.” Kit glared at the device as if it had personally betrayed him, then shoved it back into his pocket. “I should’ve come early anyway.”
“It’s no big deal,” I said, trying to give him an out. “We probably made up time in the air. Airlines always get that stuff wrong.”
He nodded in thanks. “Your bags. I’ll get them.”
Before I could warn him, Kit grabbed both suitcases and tried to lift them at once. But he clearly underestimated their weight. The first one dropped like a stone, nearly smashing his foot, while the second bag toppled the cart before slamming into the side of his vehicle.
For a beat, Kit simply stared at the carnage.
“Maybe one at a time?” I suggested. “And maybe open the trunk first?” Internally, I was debating whether I wanted to get into the car with this man. Kit needed to calm down a lot before he could safely drive.
“Right.” Kit shook his head. “Trunk.” He reached for his keys, then realized they were still dangling from the ignition. An exasperated look crossed his face.
Kit closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. Ran a hand over his face. Then his lids slid open and he gave me a wry smile. “I’m going to start this over,” he said, meeting my eye directly for the first time. “Hello, Tory Brennan. I’m Kit Howard. And I’m very sorry I’m late.”
He stuck out his hand. I shook.
There. Meeting my father, complete.