Read an Excerpt
"All right, I'll play your little game," Jordan Larabee said from between gritted teeth. He paced the carpet in front of Ian Houghton's shiny mahogany desk. "Where is she?"
"I presume you mean Molly?"
Ian could be a real smart aleck, and apparently he'd turned that ability into an art form since their last meeting.
"Might I remind you that Molly is your wife?"
"She's your daughter," Jordan shot back. "You're the one she went to when she left me."
As Ian relaxed in his high-back leather chair, he seemed to enjoy himself. An insolent half smile curved the edges of his mouth. "It was my understanding that Molly's leaving was a mutual decision."
Jordan snickered. "By the time she moved out, there wasn't anything mutual between us. We hadn't spoken in days." Any communication between them had died with their six-month-old son. The autumn morning they'd lowered Jeffrey's tiny casket into the ground, they'd buried their marriage, as well. For eight months afterward, they'd struggled to hold their lives together. But the grief and the guilt had eaten away at them until there was nothing left but an empty shell, and eventually that had crumbled and scattered like dust.
Ian stood, looking older than Jordan remembered. He walked over to the window and gazed out as if the view was mesmerizing. "Why now?"
"It's been three years," Jordan reminded him.
"I'm well aware of how long it's been," Ian murmured, clasping his hands behind his back.
"It's time I got on with my life," Jordan said coolly. "I want a divorce."
"A divorce," Ian repeated. His shoulders sagged.
"Don't tell me this comes as a shock. I should have filed years ago." Jordan started pacing again, the anger simmering just below the surface. His annoyance was unreasonable, he realized, and directed more at himself than his father-in-law. He'd delayed this confrontation far longer than he should have. The divorce papers were in his briefcase, and all he needed was Molly's signature. After three years, he didn't expect any argument. Actually he was surprised she hadn't initiated this herself.
Ian moved away from the window and glanced at the framed picture on his desk. Jordan knew it was a portrait of him and Molly taken shortly after Jeffrey's birth. He remembered it well. He was standing behind Molly, who held Jeffrey in her arms; his hand was on Molly's shoulder and the two of them were smiling down on their son. They had no way of knowing that their joy would soon turn into the deepest grief they could possibly experience.
"I'd always hoped you two would patch things up," Ian said, his voice tinged with sadness.
Jordan pressed his lips together and thrust his hands inside his pockets. A reconciliation might have worked earlier, but it was too late now; the sooner Ian accepted that, the better. "I've met someone else."
Ian nodded. "I guessed as much. Well, you can't blame an old man for hoping."
"Where's Molly?" Jordan wasn't enjoying this any more than Ian was. Time to cut to the chase.
"The East African Republic," Ian told him.
Jordan's head snapped up. "Africa?"
Ian nodded. "She's doing volunteer work with some church group. The country's desperately in need of anyone with medical experience, and working there has seemed to help her."
Jordan splayed his fingers through his hair. "How long has she been there?"
"Over two years now."
"Two years?" Jordan felt as if he'd taken a blow to the stomach. He slumped into a nearby chair. It was just like Molly to do something that impulsive. The East African Republic had been in the news almost nightly, with accounts of rebel unrest, drought and disease.
"I've done everything I can think of to convince her to come home," Ian said, sitting back down, "but she won't listen to me."
"What's wrong with her?" Jordan demanded.
"The same thing that's wrong with you, I suspect,"
Ian said without rancor. "You buried yourself in your work, and she's dedicated herself to saving the world."
"Any fool would know that place isn't safe," Jordan said heatedly, furious with his soon-to-be ex-wife.
Ian nodded. "She says otherwise. She's working in a hospital in Makua City, the capital, for two weeks of every month. Then she commutes into the backcountry to a medical compound for another two weeks."
"Is she crazy, traveling outside the city?" Jordan wished Molly was there so he could strangle her himself. He was on his feet again, but didn't remember standing. "She needs her head examined."
"I couldn't agree with you more. Something's got to be done." He grinned. "And as far as I'm concerned, you're the man to do it."
"Me? What can I do?" Jordan asked, although he was fairly sure he already knew the answer.
For the first time Jordan read a genuine smile in the older man's eyes. "What can you do?" Ian repeated meaningfully. "Why, Jordan, you can go and get her yourself."
It was the evenings Molly loved best, when the compound slept and the night slipped in. She sat outside on the veranda and absorbed the peaceful sounds, allowing them to soothe her exhausted body and spirit. The news from headquarters in the capital had arrived earlier that evening and it hadn't been good. It never was. Each report, no matter where she was in the back-country, seemed filled with dire warnings and threats. That evening's communication had been no different, with a lengthy account of political unrest and the threat of a rebel attack. Headquarters asked that she and Dr. Morton be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice. The identical message came through on a regular basis and had long since lost its urgency. At the end of the week they'd return to Makua City, the same way they did every month.
The black stillness of night was filled with animal noises from the water hole outside the compound walls. The savanna was a refuge for the dwindling animal population. The drought had taken a dramatic toll on wildlife, just as it had on the people.
A week earlier Molly had seen a small herd of elephants tramping across the dry plain, stirring up a haze of red dust. They were moving, looking for a more abundant water supply, Molly guessed.
A hyena yipped in the night, and she smiled to herself. Additional sounds drifted toward her as the antelope and other beasts made their way to the water's waning edge. Over time and with patience, Molly had become adept at identifying each species.
Leaning back in the white wicker chair, she stretched her arms and stared up into the heavens. The sky was illuminated with an incredible display of stars, but she would have traded her inheritance for the sight of a rain cloud.
Unfortunately the sky was clear. Molly couldn't look into the night without experiencing a twinge of sadness. Somewhere, in a world far removed from her current life, were the husband she'd abandoned and the son she'd buried.
She tried not to think about either, because the memories produced a dull, throbbing pain. And pain was something she'd spent the past three years running away from. The gold wedding band on her finger felt like an accusation. She wasn't even sure why she continued to wear it. Habit, she supposed, and to ward off anyone who might think she was interested in romance.
She heard familiar footsteps behind her.
"Good evening." Molly greeted her associate. Dr. Richard Morton was well past the age of retirement, short, bald and lovable, but he didn't know how to stop working, not when the need remained so great. Molly, who was too thin, stood nearly a head taller. With her short blond hair and deep blue eyes, she'd caused a minor sensation with the local children.
"Why aren't you asleep?" Molly asked her friend. They both should have fallen into bed exhausted.
"I haven't figured that out myself," he said, settling into the chair next to her. "Something's in the air."
"I've got a feeling about this last message from
"You think we should leave?" Richard couldn't have surprised her more. Her companion had never revealed any sign of being anxious about their safety in the past, even when the radio messages had sounded far more urgent.
Richard shrugged and wiped his face. "I don't know, but something tells me this time is different."
This past week had been hectic with an outbreak of influenza, and they'd both worked grueling hours, often as many as eighteen a day.
"You're just tired," Molly suggested, searching for a plausible reason for his qualms.
"We both are," Richard murmured and gently patted her hand. "Go to bed and we'll talk about this in the morning."
Molly followed his advice, taking a few extra moments to stroll through the pediatric ward. The nurse on duty smiled when she saw her. Molly's walk through the children's ward had become a ritual for her.
Moving silently between cribs, Molly stopped to check that each child was breathing. This was the legacy SIDS had given her. It was as though she was afraid that terrible scene would replay itself with another child in another time and place. That fear never left her.
Once she was assured all was well, Molly made her way into her own tiny room, not bothering to turn on the light. She undressed and climbed into bed, between the cool sheets. Closing her eyes, she dreamed of what her life would've been like if Jeffrey had lived.
"Sorry I'm late," Jordan said, kissing Lesley's cheek before pulling out the chair and sitting down at the restaurant table across from her. Each time Jordan was with Lesley, he was struck by her charm and beauty. "How long did I keep you waiting this time?" he asked as he unfolded the pink linen napkin and placed it on his lap.
"Only a few minutes."
He was half an hour late, and knowing Lesley she'd arrived five minutes early, yet she didn't complain. This was one of the things he liked about her. She understood his preoccupation with work, because as an architect she was often deeply involved in a project herself.
Jordan reached for the menu, scanned it and quickly made his choice, setting it aside.
"Don't keep me in suspense," Lesley said. "Tell me how the meeting with Ian went."
Jordan shrugged, not sure he wanted to talk about Molly or Ian just yet. He found it awkward to be discussing his wife with the woman he intended to marry. There'd been a time he'd hoped he and Molly could salvage their marriage. But as the weeks and months went by and neither of them seemed inclined to end the silence, Jordan lost hope for a reconciliation.
"Everything went fine," he said, picking up the wine list.
"You don't want to talk about it, do you?" Lesley said after a moment. "Not particularly."
"All right. .I can understand that," she said, and although he could hear the disappointment in her voice he knew she wouldn't pursue the issue. This was something else he appreciated about Lesley. He'd known her for years and couldn't remember her so much as raising her voice, even once.
In the past year they'd started working together on a large construction project on Chicago's east side. She was the architect and he was the builder. Heaven knew he wasn't looking for another relationship. Falling in love a second time held no appeal.
Ian was right when he said that Jordan had buried himself in his work after Jeffrey's death. He went from one project to the next with hardly a breath in between. He didn't know what would happen if he ever stoppeddidn't want to know.
"I realize this is difficult for you," Lesley said, "but you must know what an awkward position this puts me in. I can't continue to date a married man."
"I do understand."
"Nor do I want to force you into a divorce if it's something you don't want."
Jordan frowned. This ground was all too familiar, and he wasn't thrilled to be walking along the same worn path. "The marriage is dead." If he'd said it once, he'd said it a hundred times.
"You told me that in the beginning," Lesley reminded him, "but we've been seeing each other for six months and in all that time you didn't once mention divorcing Molly." This sounded like an accusation.
"I should've filed years ago."
"But you didn't."
Jordan didn't need Lesley to tell him that. "Do you know why?" she pressed. "I was too busy," he said, a bit more heatedly than he intended. "Besides, I assumed Molly would see to it."
"She didn't file for a divorce, either," Lesley pointed out. "Have you stopped to consider that?"
He nodded, and motioned for a waiter, who promptly appeared and took their order. Jordan asked for a bottle of chardonnay and for the next few minutes he was preoccupied as the waiter opened the wine. Jordan tasted and approved it, hoping Lesley would drop the subject of Molly and the divorce, but he doubted she would. Her pretty brown eyes were aimed at him, and they held the same gentle persuasion he'd witnessed the night she'd first said she couldn't date a married man. Rather than lose her, he'd agreed to start the divorce proceedings.
"You're still in love with her, aren't you?" Lesley asked. She was rarely angry with him, unlike Molly who seemed to delight in provoking him. Lesley was subtle and concerned, and her methods worked.
"It's perfectly understandable," Lesley added.
"To love Molly?" He couldn't believe she was suggesting such a thing.
"Yes. What happened to the two of you is tragic."
Pain tightened his chest. "She blamed herself," he whispered, his hand gripping the wineglass with unnecessary force. "With all her medical training, she seemed to think there was something she could've done to save him."
He'd argued with her until he had no voice. It hadn't helped that he'd left the house when she and Jeffrey were still asleep. Apparently Jeffrey had stirred and cried out, but it was early and, thinking she'd get a few more minutes of sleep, Molly had ignored his cry. It was the last sound their son ever made. Molly had woken an hour later to discover him dead.