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A psychologist, haunted by the kidnapping of her baby daughter 23 years ago, decides to try adoption. Her missing daughter, now grown up and pregnant, hears of a woman desperate for a child. Thus Eileen Goudge sets the stage for a story rich with drama and delicious family secrets. A LG main selection. Ads in People. Online promo. HC: Viking. Fiction--General
It's 1972 when Ellie, a good girl from the Midwest whose parents kicked her out when she got pregnant (it was her "first time"), returns to the Manhattan apartment where her hooker sister Nadine has been baby-sitting Ellie's infant daughter Bethanne. But to Ellie's horror, while she's been working the late shift selling movie tickets, Nadine's been beaten to a pulp by her pimp, who—worse yet—made off with Betanne (telling Nadine, who later dies of a drug overdose, that blue-eyed babies are hot on the black market). Waspy Kate Sutton—wife of the also blue-blooded Will, co- owner of an antiques store, and someone who's been craving motherhood for years—is so elated when her husband's attorney suddenly "locates" an adoptable baby that she forces herself to ignore the revealing photos and news bulletins about Bethanne's kidnapping. As it happens, the child grows up as Skyler Sutton, a lovely, smart, gifted equestrienne who's been told by the Suttons since the age of six that she was abandoned by her "real" mother. Meanwhile, Ellie's never forgotten Bethanne, of course, but she's managed to put herself through night- and then graduate school, become a psychologist, and marry Paul Nightingale, a neonatologist who has trouble dealing with Ellie's desperate, always doomed attempts to become a mother again. When the 23-year-old Skyler/Bethanne meets Tony Salvatore, a friend of Ellie's and a mounted policeman from the wrong side of the tracks (but with a heart of gold), all hell breaks loose: Secrets leak, wounds reopen, another baby is born—and Goudge plays fix-it with her customary zeal, providing far-fetched but satisfying conclusions.
A relatively guilt-free, toothsome treat: Goudge doesn't aim too high, but then again, unlike overshooters, she hits her mark.
Northfield, Connecticut, 1980
There were times when she could forget. Moments. Hours. Sometimes a whole day would go by and Kate would realize as she was brushing her teeth or easing into bed that it had not once entered her mind—the terrible secret that was as deeply lodged in her as the steel pins in her shattered left femur; a secret accompanied by a shame that, like the pain in her leg and hip, ebbed and flowed in darkness.
Today was one of those days.
Standing at the Stony Creek Farm schooling ring fence, watching eight-year-old Skyler, astride her bay pony, sail over a course of cross-rails and oxers and vertical jumps, Kate Sutton felt not only proud, but, well ... blessed.
My daughter, she thought. Mine.
She remembered Skyler at age two, first time in the saddle, her tiny feet barely reaching the stirrups at their highest notch. From that day on, she couldn't be pried off. As if all along—Who could doubt it? Just look at her!—Skyler had been destined for this. To be her child, and grow up at Orchard Hill, with its century-old stone stable, its acres of green to be galloped across and its boxwood hedges to jump.
And what luck that Stony Creek—one of the finest riding schools in the country—was situated only a few miles from their place, at the north end of the meadow where Willoughby Road forked off toward the village. With Skyler practically living here every summer, and on weekends the rest of the year, Duncan MacKinney had become almost a second father to Skyler—as he had to Kate growing up. Though you'd never know it to hear him barking orders at her now.
"Release! Shoulders back! You're hanging on his bloody neck!"
The former Olympic gold medalist, tall, whippet-lean, with a mane of graying red hair crowning a frame grown more imperial with each passing decade, stood straight as a flagpole in the center of the ring.
Skyler, her small face grim with concentration, shifted sideways a bit and shortened her left rein, cutting Cricket in a diagonal across the ring. At fourteen-two hands, the spirited pony would have been a handful for someone twice Skyler's size—aggressively forward, and forever trying to ride off the bit. Skyler, though, had him perfectly in hand. She sat erect, her narrow back slightly arched as she guided the pony with hand and leg movements so subtle they would have gone unnoticed by an eye less practiced than Kate's.
The picture Skyler made in her boots and breeches, with her hair tucked up under her helmet, brought a smile of recognition. At home, among her collection of faded ribbons and trophies, Kate had photos of herself on her first pony, looking very much as Skyler did now—long-legged and slim as a crop, head high, with her gaze set on some distant horizon as if anticipating that something wonderful would be waiting for her when she got there.
These days, whenever she looked in the mirror, instead of peering anxiously at tiny wrinkles and gray hairs the way another thirty-six-year-old woman might, what Kate saw was the unremarkable brown of her hair, while her daughter's was the pale gold of a Grimm's fairytale child, and her own gray-green eyes in a John Singer Sargent face that bore no resemblance to Skyler's.
I thought I knew what lay ahead, but I didn't have a clue ...
"He was half a stride short on that last jump." Skyler's clear, piping voice punctuated the August heat that had settled over the ring like an upended bowl. "It felt like he was rushing it."
"Try it again. Bring him around at a working trot," ordered Duncan with a maestrolike swoop of his long arm, stirring the dust that hung in the air, as still as the shade of the beech tree under which Kate stood. "Easy does it. Nice and collected. You're hanging on the bit—loosen up."
"I'm taking that one." Skyler pointed toward an ascending oxer at the far end of the ring—three horizontal poles at ascending heights spaced no more than six inches apart.
Kate, with a sharp intake of breath, judged the highest of the oxer's three poles to be between four and five feet.
"Over my dead body." Duncan's face, long like the rest of him and weathered the color of an old girth strap, was ruddy with outrage.
"I can do it." There was nothing defiant in the way Skyler stood up to him. She was stating it simply as a matter of fact. "I've jumped every other one. It's not that much higher than the triple bar."
"When I say you're ready is when you'll be jumping anything higher than my kneecap," he thundered.
Skyler laughed, sending a shiver up Kate's spine. Kate knew that laugh—not insolent, as Skyler's teachers at school insisted. It was just Skyler's way, when brought short by some well-meaning but clearly misguided adult, of showing that she knew better.
But too often there was a gap between what Skyler believed she could handle and what she actually could. An image flashed through Kate's mind: Skyler darting across the avenue in midtown Manhattan during rush hour to rescue an injured pigeon. Six years old, dodging cars and taxis, ignoring her mother's screams as Kate dashed after her.
Now it was Duncan whose shouts Skyler was ignoring as she brought Cricket around in a direct line with the jump. Head up, measuring the pony's stride, giving him the correct signals—she was so damn good, it didn't seem fair to hold her back. Even as Kate's own cry of "Don't!" fought its way free of her throat, she was aware of a familiar tingle spreading through her, a ghost of the adrenaline rush she used to get when approaching a jump.
But along with the remembered thrill, the old terror shot a cold bolt through her chest. She gripped the fence so tightly that she could feel its rough edges driving tiny splinters into her palm.
Kate sucked in a deep breath of air seasoned with the smell of manure and tanbark. Four and a half feet, she told herself. At last month's Pony Club rally, in the under-twelve jumper class, Skyler had taken a vertical almost that high. And she not only just made it over, but added a red ribbon to the blue she'd won in the point-to-point.
Kate nevertheless found her eye straying to the cane propped against the fence post where she stood. Made of plain mahogany, it was sturdy and unpretentious. It didn't draw attention to her physical limitations; it merely served as a reminder of the crippling accident that had resulted, through a bizarre flip-flop of fate, in their adopting Skyler. A kind of talisman.
But no talisman was going to protect her now, she thought, watching in helpless, terrified awe as her daughter urged her pony in to the oxer. Kate, her heart in her throat, watched Skyler lean forward slightly, one hand grabbing a handful of mane, the other forming a bridge with the reins across the pony's crest. Her heels were down, and her little acorn of a bottom rose just enough for a child's fist to have comfortably fit between the saddle and the leather seat of her breeches.
But the damn pony wasn't focusing. With the jump half a stride off, he picked up with a sudden burst of speed ... rushing it ... then braking inches from the first rail and cutting sharply to the left.
In horror, Kate watched her eight-year-old cannon from the saddle, and fly headfirst into the wing stand with a sickening crack.
For a long, dreadful moment, Skyler didn't move. Then, in a quick movement that was more a spasm, she rolled into a sitting position. Her helmet was off, Kate saw. Its chin strap must have popped with the force of the impact.
Kate's paralyzed heart squeezed out a beat. "Don't move!" she yelled.
But Skyler was already on her feet, tottering unsteadily. She took two steps before collapsing, her slender form folding downward with a weird grace, like a dress slipping off its hanger.
Kate fumbled with the latch and was through the gate. Ignoring the pain that sluiced through her left leg like kerosene, she ran ... faster than she would have believed possible, her shadow lurching out over the tanbark. Faster even than Duncan, whom she could see out of the corner of her eye loping in her direction.
By the time she reached the small figure lying unconscious near the center of the ring, Kate's leg and hip were on fire. It would have been agony just to lower herself into a chair, but without a moment's hesitation she was on her hands and knees.
Skyler, sprawled on her back, looked queerly flattened somehow ... and so pale, her mouth an ashy thumbprint in a face the color of bleached bones. An angry red knot the size of a crab apple was forming just below her hairline. Kate, too stricken even to cry out, rocked back on her heels, a hand flying to her chest.
Please ... O dear God let her be all right ... please ...
She was only peripherally aware of Duncan dropping down beside her as she stroked Skyler's hair where it had come loose from its ponytail. She smoothed back wisps as fine as goose down from Skyler's temples. "Sky. Listen to me, baby. You're going to be okay. Do you hear me? You're going to be just fine."
She fixed her gaze on her daughter's still face, willing Skyler's mouth to twitch in the smile that always gave away her game of pretending to be asleep.
"Let me have a look."
At Duncan's clipped command, Kate shifted her gaze to the gaunt form hunkered alongside her. She watched as he expertly ran his hand down the limp arm angling from the sleeve of Skyler's blue-and-yellow Stony Creek Farm T-shirt. His silver-blue eyes, in the creased leather of his face, were bright and hard as buckles.
"Nothing broken." His gravelly voice with its Highlands cadence revealed not even a hint of the panic he surely must be feeling.
In the same way she'd often seen him run his hand down a horse's leg, feeling for a swollen knee or fetlock, or a hot hoof that might lead to lameness, Duncan applied feather-light touches to Skyler's rib cage and legs. Kate, calmed by the gentle motion of the trainer's knotted brown hand, felt her heartbeat slow a bit.
"She'll be fine. She will." Kate heard in her own voice a desperate need to convince herself.
But there were no assurances to be had, and she knew it.
Kate instead found herself anchored by Duncan's steady gaze. "She's a hardheaded one," he said with gruff gentleness. "Like her mother. She'll come out of it all right."
It was that promise Kate clung to as the ambulance shrieked down Hickory Lane under the drowsy shade of spreading oaks, past Constable landscapes of horses and cows grazing in sunlit fields.
God, don't take her from me, she prayed even while cursing the winding road, unpaved in spots, preserved in all its rustic charm by her grandfather and Will's when they'd built their adjoining estates.
Staring down at her daughter's pale, still form strapped to the gurney, it all came rushing back—eight years ago, the morning Kate had innocently dropped by the Stop & Shop for a quart of milk ... and had walked away with a lifetime's supply of heartache. On her way out of the store, glancing at the newspapers stacked below the bulletin board, a frightening headline had caught her eye: PLEASE DON'T HURT MY BABY!
Furtively scanning the story about a distraught young mother whose baby girl had been kidnapped the week before, Kate had grown so dizzy that one of the checkers, Louise Myers, had insisted on escorting her to the employees' lounge. But even sitting down, with a wad of paper towels soaked in cold water pressed to her forehead, Kate had felt her head spin as she refused to accept what her heart knew: the baby girl she and Will had taken home with them just days ago—the blond, blue-eyed angel they'd fallen instantly, passionately in love with—didn't belong to them after all. Their lawyer claimed she'd been found abandoned in a Lower East Side tenement with no birth certificate, no papers of any kind, to identify her; but in truth she was the child of a woman who very much wanted her back.
A closer look at the grainy photo of mother and child that accompanied the article had only confirmed Kate's suspicion.
Oh, how easily deceived she and Will had been! Too dazed by their good fortune to look any further than the sweet-faced infant swaddled in a pink blanket. More questions might have led to answers they didn't want to hear. And, anyway, why should they have doubted their lawyer? Grady Singleton wasn't some sleazy Hell's Kitchen practitioner; he had offices on Wall Street and had come highly recommended by Kate's father. And the document he'd showed them seemed legitimate—an order signed by a judge.
Instead, gazing rapturously at the pink bundle in her arms, Kate had told herself, She was meant for us all along. Four years before, when she'd fallen from her horse going over a vertical at the Hampton Classic, she'd done more than smash her leg. She'd lost the baby she was carrying as well. After the surgery, when she'd been told she would never have another child, Kate had fallen into a depression so deep that whole days would go by when she couldn't get out of bed. Back then, she would not have believed she could ever feel this blessed.
They named her Skyler, after Kate's grandmother, Lucinda Skyler Dawson.
A sharp swerve drove Kate's shoulder into the side of the ambulance with a painful thump. She sat up straight and looked out the window. They'd passed through the village with its quaint Victorian-style shops and eateries, and were fast approaching the south side of town, where the parklike grounds of Northfield Community Hospital loomed like an oasis.
At the red-curbed emergency entrance, the ambulance lurched to a halt. Then hands, so many hands, stirring the air around her, adjusting straps, lowering the collapsible stretcher, lifting, pushing. Hands under Kate's elbow, steadying her, as Skyler's motionless form was whisked down a fluorescent-lit corridor.
Watching her daughter disappear from view, Kate stopped short as abruptly as a bird smacking into a windowpane.
Leaning heavily on her cane to blunt the spur of pain that had settled into her hip, she had to force herself to move, slogging her way through what felt like knee-deep ditch water as she made her way past the half-dozen or so patients clustered near the admitting desk. Behind the counter, a heavyset woman in a light-blue smock coat was helping an elderly man with a form that seemed to be taking him forever to fill out. Kate felt like screaming.
Mercifully, she was spared from doing so by the appearance of a second clerk, a curly- haired young woman with a chipped front tooth. As soon as Kate uttered her last name, nodding wearily in response to raised eyebrows, and saying yes, that Sutton, she was briskly escorted down the hall. When she was younger, it had bothered Kate a great deal, the obsequiousness of the villagers. But she was used to it by now, and at this moment profoundly grateful to Will's great-grandfather, Leland Sutton, for having bequeathed to the township, along with an endowment of three hundred million, the land on which Northfield Community Hospital had been built.
But no amount of family influence could protect Kate against the panic that mounted with each labored step as she neared the waiting area outside Radiology. Limping past cozy groupings of sofas and chairs, she lowered herself onto the molded plastic seat of a pay phone as if it were a lifeboat.
Will. She had to reach Will somehow.
Kate struggled to remember the complicated codes for England before giving up and dialing the operator, to whom she recited the number for the London office of Sutton, Jamesway & Falk.
No answer. When she remembered the five-hour time difference, she called the Savoy, but Will wasn't at his hotel either. Hanging up, Kate wanted to put her head down and cry.
If only someone would tell her what was happening. It was bad, she knew. But just how bad?
Fear surged in on a riptide. I'm being punished. I kept quiet even after I knew she'd been stolen. Now she's being taken away from me.
Kate had no idea how long she sat there in her tanbark-flecked khaki trousers and red- and-white checked shirt, hands knuckled over the curved handle of her cane. It could have been minutes or hours. When the sandy-haired doctor in the white lab coat appeared before her, she blinked in surprise, as if she'd been caught napping.
Excerpted from Trail of Secrets by Eileen Goudge. Copyright © 1996 Eileen Goudge. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted August 25, 2011
I liked the suspense of the book, and the Ellie and Tony characters were goodhearted and kind & you felt for them.
However, I really didn't care that much for the Sutton family. Kate's actions in the hospital at the beginning of the book were cold. Yes, I understood that she really wanted a child, but the fact that she KNEW the truth about Skyler and didn't reveal it was really selfish. Also, I thought that Skyler was a bit of a selfish spoiled brat also, attempting to keep Tony out of her decision about THEIR child. Also, it was unclear to me WHY Skyler even NEEDED to choose adoption, seeing as how she came from a wealthy family. ???
However, I would recommend the book to readers that like suspense and big, juicy secrets.
Posted March 3, 2009
The story was a beautiful plot full of love and devotion to hide deep secrets. The plot brought together many peoples lives hidden by shocking secrets. Discovery and finally knowing dreams do come true brings the story to a final climax. God's "miracle" shows how obstacles can be challenged but come to a final good conclusion.
Three women are linked together as life thrusts upon them hurt, betrayal, and finally love. A true romantic and touching tale.
Each woman shows great compassion and is truly loved by three men. Sexual, showing great passion between these three women and the men who have won their hearts.
It was a timeless romantic plot and loved reading it to the end. Couldn't put the book down until I had to close my eyes and go to sleep.
The book was immediately picked up the next day to continue on with the story to see how it ends.
Posted January 19, 2013
No text was provided for this review.