Priscilla, Devon, and Bailey haven’t been close in years, but when the sisters are forced to come together to settle their mother’s estate, they discover a secret. In an old trunk, they happen upon ownership papers for a house on the Amalfi Coast, along with a love letter to their mother from an anonymous man, promising to meet her in Italy during the summer of her sixty-fifth birthday.
Now they’re questioning everything they knew about her history. In order to get answers about the woman they thought they knew, they’ll have to go back to where it all started. The sisters embark on a trip to the stunning cliffside village of Positano, Italy, to track down the mysterious ex-lover, and figure out who their mother really was.
As Priscilla, Devon, and Bailey unearth the truth, they also experience the magic of Italy, the power of sisterly love, a little unexpected romance, and newfound hope for the future.
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Priscilla Hampton wondered if every daughter who buried her mother suddenly became swamped with regrets.
She'd never been one to question her decisions or linger on actions she'd taken that couldn't be changed. But staring up at her childhood home, facing the task of cleaning out her mom's personal belongings, she was pretty much sick with what-ifs.
The overly large Tudor house still seemed as if it was judging her as she walked up the curvy pathway leading to the sweeping arched doorway. Pris had never liked the way the two giant windows gave off an eerie yellow glow from the sage-green stucco, like eyes stuck in a deep-set face. The balcony dead center reminded her of a flat nose and had been the bane of her mother's existence-a perfect escape route for teen girls to sneak out at night. The lower brick should have lent an elegant, timeless tone, but it all ended up looking like a mishmash of old and new. Still, it was the only family home she'd ever lived in. After the divorce, Dad had given the house up without a fight, moving on and moving in with his newest love interest. She'd blamed him, of course, until she realized her mother hadn't seemed to care, which somehow made Pris angrier with her than with Dad.
It would've been easier if Mom wanted revenge, or insisted her daughters hate him. Instead, she'd snatched Pris's right to bitterness and swept all the messy emotions away with her usual sunny smile, encouraging them to have a healthy relationship with Dad and not worry.
Did her mother ever get exhausted by the endless pursuit of perfection? Always having to be nice, and forgive, and put everyone else first without resentment?
Pris trembled as she thought of her beloved mother alone in her hospital bed. Once again, refusing to ask for help, hating to bother anyone with her issues, even sickness.
And dying alone.
A wave of emotion battered her body, so Pris held her breath, sensing she was on the verge of either a breakdown or a breakthrough worthy of an O Magazine feature article.
Her sister bumped her from behind and Priscilla stumbled forward. "Dude, you're blocking the pathway. Why do you have that dumb look on your face?"
Pris shot her an annoyed look. Her fleeting come-to-Jesus moment departed faster than a conservative trapped in a room with liberals. "I was thinking."
Bailey rolled her eyes and kept walking. "No time to think. I've gotta be at open mic tonight."
The sound of her middle sister's voice floated in the air with a tinge of annoyance. "Really, Bae? We cleared this day to pack up Mom's stuff and be together. You can't even hang with us for one lousy evening?"
"I gave you my day. Don't pretend if you had one of your important meetings that you wouldn't ditch us without a thought."
"Maybe for a job I get paid for," Devon said. "Not to read some crappy excerpt of another poem you'll never publish."
Pris tried not to wince, but once her sisters got going, not even a naked Jason Momoa could stop them.
They stepped through the carved mahogany doors together, their shoulders deliberately bumping, while Pris trailed behind.
"Real nice," Bailey said. Her sleek golden ponytail bobbed in protest. "Go ahead and judge my life, but at least I'm not pretending to be someone I'm not."
"And I'm not wasting mine doing nothing worthwhile while I pretend to search for meaning," Devon retorted.
They'd just arrived and it was starting already. Her temples throbbed with the beginning of one of her migraines. Not today. She refused to let them hijack this day for their familiar arguments. When they'd been younger, Pris had been jealous of her younger sisters' close relationship. Being five years older than Devon forced her to be the leader, even though Devon had always been bossier. But like everything else, Pris had taken on the role believing that was what was needed. It also erected an invisible barrier between her siblings she'd never been able to overcome. "Guys, can we just focus? The estate handlers come tomorrow, so all we need to do is Mom's bedroom. They'll take care of the rest."
"Feels weird to think nothing will be here," Dev said with a sigh.
"Did you ever wonder why Mom never sold this place?" Pris asked. "She always complained it was too big for one person."
Bailey waved her ink-stained fingers in the air. "Us, of course. She told me once there were too many memories to ever give it up. Maybe I'll move some stuff in and live here."
Devon snorted. "Don't think so. You'd turn it into some hostel for your broke friends. We'll sell it and split the proceeds like Mom wanted."
Bailey huffed with her usual drama. "Mom always said I could have the house if I wanted. I bet she'd rather have it stay in the family."
"Did you get that intention in writing?" Dev asked, her gaze sweeping over the spacious foyer to the crystal-dripping chandelier. Pris could practically hear her brain clicking with how much they could get for the place. Her role as tenured professor in the finance department at NYU was impressive, but she had a tendency to see things in stark black and white. Money was serious business, and Devon had made sure they all agreed to sell so everyone would get a fair share.
"Seriously? That's messed up," Bailey said.
"So is this." Devon's gaze cleared, her hazel eyes glinting with a new hardness Pris had never seen before. Like there'd been additional layers that crusted over during the years they'd grown apart. "Let's not pretend this is what any of us want right now."
"Mom's death?" Pris asked, her insides clenching at the rising tension in the air. They formed a semicircle together. A memory flashed of the three of them ready to play hide-and-go-seek-squeezing into a tight knot while they picked who'd be it, back when they not only loved but liked one another.
"No. Being together. I'm not playing the role assigned to me, okay? So, let's just agree to tackle the house piece by piece without getting all sentimental for things that no longer exist."
Even Bailey sucked in her breath, a shadow of pain flickering over her delicate features. "Why are you so cold?" she whispered.
The air shimmered; softened; quieted. Pris waited for the answer too, wondering when the real turning point had been, when they'd decided being apart was better than trying to make the fragments of each of them fit into one clear puzzle. Two years ago? Five? Or had their relationship deteriorated so slowly no one had cared enough to count?
For a second, Dev opened her mouth and the words hung unuttered in the air, like an overfull balloon ready to pop.
Then she turned and the moment floated away.
"We better get started," Devon said.
They watched her climb the grand staircase and disappear.
Bailey muttered something under her breath. "I need to use the bathroom," she said, marching down the hallway. Left alone, Pris looked around, wondering if her mother's presence would show itself. A brush of cold air. A sound. A wave of charged energy that announced Mom's arrival to help smooth all these jagged edges between her children.
But nothing happened. Just a terrible empty sensation in the pit of her stomach and a familiar tension behind her eyes.
Pris dragged in a deep breath, set her shoulders, and headed up the stairs.
Dev muttered a curse under her breath and opened the first empty box. Why did she have to act like such a bitch? At least when Bailey lost her temper, people accepted it as her artistic streak. She'd grown up with her parents shaking their heads at Bailey's tantrums as if they were amused. But when Devon lost it? She was called ugly and out of control.
And right now?
They were right.
She yanked the top drawer of her mother's nightstand and began to sift through an array of junk, making neat piles. One for garbage. One to sell in the estate sale. And one for treasures she or her sisters wanted to keep.
She heard Bailey's stomping footsteps echo up the stairs and tried to push the sliver of guilt aside. Bailey was too old to be treated like a child. Why did everyone cater to her? If Devon hadn't taken control, this house would still be sitting on the market, rotting away like all their potential money. Pris had her rich husband, and Bailey still relied on their father's generous dole outs, but Dev made sure to make her own way.
Living in New York was damn expensive. Sure, being a tenured professor at NYU was a respectable career, with a decent salary. But there was still so much she craved-like scoring that elusive dean position and gaining a spot on the board. Being respected by her bosses, colleagues, and students on a higher level. Dev had a voracious appetite for success and sensed the victory she craved was close.
Dev refocused, finished the top drawer, and started on the next. Most of the stuff was throwaway remnants of cast-off makeup, holiday cards, empty notebooks, broken picture frames, and a mishmash of collectibles that had meant something to Mom once. The calming scent of lavender drifted in the air, soothing some of the jagged edges of a grief she'd not been willing to steep herself in. Not yet. When she got back to her place, she'd take some time to cry and mourn.
"Nice going," Pris drawled, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Crossing her long legs with a natural grace that spoke of all those days she used to dance, her oldest sister gave a deep sigh, clasping her hands on her knees. Dev took a moment to study the large, glittering rock on her finger, her French-manicured nails without a chip. Even at forty, she held a youthful beauty, from her swanlike neck and long blond hair to her wide powder-blue eyes that still shaded an onlooker from her secrets. Pris was the peacemaker but also the most secretive. Dev wouldn't have been surprised if she'd learned her sibling danced in the fairy world when everyone went to sleep and had never breathed a word to anyone.
Both her sisters had inherited Mom's looks-light hair, blue eyes, fair skin. Dev resembled her father with his dark hair and hazel eyes. He was a handsome man, always had been, but somehow the features she'd inherited didn't work on a female as well. Dev always felt a bit too stocky in the hips and bust, a bit awkward in her gait, and a bit dull with her coloring. It was hard growing up with the golden sisters and the constant comments about how Dev looked so different. Sometimes, she'd had to grit her teeth to keep from slugging those nice old ladies who gave her a slightly sympathetic look.
She refocused and shrugged. Time to defend herself for being cruel to Bailey. "Sorry, but we all need to be grown-ups now. It's not good for her to depend on Dad, or have grandiose ideas of keeping this house for fun. Can you work on the closet? I've got some not-for-profits coming to collect her designer labels, but the rest can be donated."
"Don't you want anything?" Pris asked. Her gaze flicked around the room as if cataloguing every personal item. "I'd like some pieces of jewelry she wore. And that red-gold sweater."
Dev lifted a brow. "I think we should all take what means the most to us. I won't fight anyone on it. Why would you want that sweater, though? God, it was awful."
Bailey interrupted their conversation, her ponytail bouncing as she walked into the room. "For once, I agree with Dev. I begged Mom to throw it out every time I saw her, but she'd only wrap it closer. It's old as dirt and ugly as sin. So bright I couldn't even look at her when she wore it."
Pris laughed, walking to the closet to search. "I know, but there was something she loved about it. I think she treasured it more than the few diamonds she owned."
"Can I have her wedding ring?" Bailey burst out. At Dev's sharp look, her pixie face turned stubborn. "Not for the value-because it reminds me of when we were all together. And happy."
The slice of pain surprised her, along with her sister's words. When was the last time they'd felt happy together? Holidays were now strained affairs, with all of them desperate to leave as soon as the turkey was eaten or presents opened. Dad had his own family and always looked uncomfortable when his old and new families collided. As the youngest, Bailey was stubbornly optimistic, seeing the tension through rainbow-colored glasses, which was part of her nature. If only Devon could blot out the bad stuff as easily. But it lay in wait every night, whispering in her ear. Taunting.
"Sure," Dev said. Her sister relaxed, the tension between them slowing from a burn to a slight simmer.
"Found it!" Pris pulled the sweater from the closet with a triumphant grin. The fabric was worn-once a wide, loopy-type knit that reminded Dev of a handmade afghan. It was oversize, and the pattern was a swirling mix of bright sunset colors that was overdone, making an onlooker a bit dizzy. Pris slipped it on. The sleeves stretched out over her delicate hands, and the large rust-colored buttons only added to the clownish image.
Dev and Bailey burst out laughing. "It's just as horrible as I remember," Dev said with a grin.
"I don't care, I'm going to take it," Pris said.
"Enjoy," Bailey said with a wave of her hand. "I'm sure Mom would be happy someone actually wanted it. We'd better get working-I need to shower and change before my reading tonight."
Dev swallowed her retort and reminded herself to relax. It was a short weekend and then she'd be back to her busy life. For Mom's sake, she'd hold her temper. "Why don't you work on the bureau?" Dev suggested.
They focused on the work, mostly in silence. Each object Dev touched was like a sharp memory bursting into her brain, leaving shimmers of grief trickling through her body. She pushed forward with the methodical precision that had served her well. A lone silver-handled hairbrush. Mini albums filled with wallet-size photos collected over the years, mostly stuffed with awkward school pics. A bottle of travel perfume still in its box. Dev removed it and took a deep whiff, the floral scent light, with notes of citrus. Definitely a scent Mom would wear. Perhaps it'd been an extra, thrown carelessly in a drawer for later, because wasn't there always a later? A tomorrow?