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Tranquility Bluffs, Wisconsin Ten years later, 11:45 A.M.
Whenever Sienna Scott thought back to that night—and that was more often than she cared to admit—a single, horrific image jumped out at her, of deep red creeping across brilliant white. As if the entire event had coalesced into a single, terrifying mental photograph.
Sensory memories always accompanied the image. Of every hair on her body standing up in awareness that she had stumbled upon something terribly, horribly wrong. And of cold. Bitter, cutting clear to her bones.
Sienna hunched deeper into her coat, gloved hands curled into tight fists in her pockets. Her heart beat wildly in her chest, same as it had that night. She stared at the spot—where the walkway passed an alcove at the back of the Humanities building. Nondescript. No marker. Nothing to indicate the most shocking crime in the college’s history had occurred here.
How could such violence be erased in ten short years?
God, she wished she could erase it. What would it take to strip the event from her consciousness? Ten years on an entirely different continent hadn’t done it.
But those years away had changed her. One didn’t forget the unforgettable, but time and distance diminished its impact. Memories faded. Details grew fuzzy, then escaped altogether, disappearing into the ether.
Sienna looked up. A petite woman in a light blue down jacket and matching hat stood not three feet away. Blond curls peeked out from under the knit cap and her blue eyes were wide with surprise.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “It is you.”
“Kim?” Sienna smiled. “Kim Meyers?”
“Peterson now. Going on two years. My goodness, you look even more like your mom than you used to.”
Sienna had wondered how long before someone would comment on how she was the mirror image of her beautiful, auburn-haired mother. It used to bother her, the speculative looks, the feeling that they were just waiting for her to go off the rails. As if by inheriting her mother’s features and coloring, she had inherited her mental illness as well.
But the truth was, back then she had been watching and waiting herself. Terrified that her mother’s present was her own future.
Not anymore. She was her mother’s daughter. Not her clone.
“Thanks, Kim. So what are you up to besides being married? Still helping your parents run the restaurant?”
“Gosh, no.” She laughed and shook her head. “After working at The Wagon Wheel my whole life, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I work here on campus. Hey, didn’t I hear you’d become a chef?”
“Sure did.” Sienna smiled. “Fell in love with food. Who knew?”
Kim laughed again and Sienna remembered that she had been that kind of girl, exuberance and giggles, twenty-four seven.
“Wait!” she said, and clapped her gloved hands together. “I just thought of something. If you’re going to stay around, you should talk to my folks. They’re planning to put the restaurant up for sale.”
“No kidding? The Wheel’s an institution here.”
“They’re tired of running it and want to retire and move to Florida. I don’t want to take it over and neither does Rob.” Kim looked at her watch. “Crap, I’ve got to go, I’m late. Welcome home, Sienna. Call me.”
Sienna watched her hurry off, then turned and started for the visitor parking lot. The Wagon Wheel for sale? She had thought of opening her own place, had even fantasized about it being located on Main Street in Old Town. And now, the perfect location could be dropping in her lap? Right off the bat?
Sienna reached her rental car, climbed in, and started it up. While the engine warmed, she flipped down the visor, peered into the mirror. Her mother’s heart-shaped face and classic features stared back at her with large, wide-set green eyes.
She couldn’t believe she’d spent all those years running away from who she might be instead of enjoying who she was. Years wasted on fear.
That was then. Sienna smiled at her reflection, then closed the visor. It wasn’t now.
And she meant to prove it to everyone who thought otherwise.
Starting with her brother. Half brother really, though she’d never thought of him that way.
She grabbed her cell phone and punched in his number.
He answered, sounding worried. Of course he was. Almost ten years older than she, he’d made protecting her his job, from the day she came home from the hospital.
“Half-pint? You okay?”
She supposed she should have warned him she was coming. He’d never liked surprises. “I’m fine. Just excited. I have news.”
“News?” She heard a rustle, probably him checking his watch, doing the math. “What time is it there?”
“Same time as it is in Tranquility Bluffs.” At his silence, she went on. “I’m here, Bradley. In Tranquility. I’ve come home.”
Copyright © 2019 by Erica Spindler