Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chapter 1

Of all the ways she could have chosen to spend a Thursday morning, attending a stranger’s memorial service wasn’t at the top of Kelli Jackson’s list.

Especially when that stranger was her own mother.

Kelli faced the front of the open-air amphitheater clasping a completely dry tissue in her lap and trying to ignore the curious glances being cast her way. Apparently everybody wanted to get a glimpse of the outsider who claimed to be Lillian Mitchell’s daughter. As people had filed toward their seats among the rows of semi-circular wooden benches in the moments before the service began, more than one puzzled whisper reached her ears.

“I never knew Lillian had any family. Did you?”

“Can’t say as I did. Looks like her, though. Wonder why Lil never talked about her.”

Kelli kept her face schooled in the detached, professional mask she wore when preparing a tax return for a new client. Wouldn’t do to show dismay at the humiliating affirmation that her mother hadn’t even cared enough to mention to those she worked with that she’d given birth to a daughter twenty-six years before. As person after person stepped up to the podium on the center of the stage to recall incidents from Lillian’s life, Kelli’s gaze kept stealing to the table where the polished wooden box holding her mother’s ashes rested, a single vase of flowers beside it.

The deep roar of a lion exploded in the distance, and a wave of gooseflesh rose along Kelli’s bare arms as the primeval cry reverberated in the air around her. The sound echoed across the years from childhood nightmares she’d thought safely forgotten long ago.

What am I doing here, Lord? This is no place for me.

The man standing behind the podium paused in his tribute and raised his head to listen until the roar died away. His smile swept the crowded amphitheater.

“Apparently Samson would like to speak a few words on Lillian’s behalf. He always was an attention hog.”

The crowd’s chuckle held an indulgent tone. Obviously Samson was a favorite among the mourners. Kelli shifted on the rough wooden bench.

“Actually, it’s fitting that Samson be included in this service to honor Lillian. She dedicated her life to making sure that he and the rest of the animals here at Cougar Bay Zoological Park receive nothing but excellent care and the highest quality of life.”

Of course she did. Kelli’s lips tightened, despite her efforts to keep her expression impassive. She cared more for those zoo animals than she did her own child.


Copyright © 2010 by Harlequin Enterprises
Copyright © 2010 by Virginia Smith

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.


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