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Excerpt

Andrea Taylor’s SUV swerved as she swung the wheel, changed lanes then headed down the exit ramp. She was late for an appointment to show a house to a new client. She had loaded her smartphone with a tentative viewing schedule for other properties to discuss with the young couple when they met at this first house, which would be in a few minutes if all went as planned.

Because she’d grown up in this small town off I-94 near Kalamazoo, she had personal knowledge of this house, knew its interior features and its beauty. It had belonged to a family whose parents were employed at one of the subsidiaries of a large cereal production company. They had been transferred earlier in the year, leaving behind a spotless, well-staged home that Andrea was certain would appeal to the young doctor and his wife.

Yet what excited her most about this appointment today was personal. She was on track to be top salesperson at her

real estate firm if she made this sale. Reaching her sales goal would boost her confidence, make her feel more a part of

the real estate business as an accomplished professional in her own right. The money would be a great bonus as well. She wanted to take her daughter, Shannon, on a nice vacation as soon as she could afford it.

While waiting for the light at the bottom of the ramp to turn green, she glanced at her face in the rearview mirror, touched up her lipstick and then checked her cell phone for messages. The client had said he’d call when he left his office to pick up his wife. He’d been so insistent that they look at this house today she’d arranged to have her real estate partner, Gina Dowd, take Shannon to her hair appointment.

Andrea glanced again at her phone when she realized Shannon hadn’t responded to any of the messages she’d left, which was odd. Shannon usually returned her calls. Knowing her daughter, she was probably talking to her friend Chloe about their sleepover. That probably explained the silence. Shannon, her sixteen year-old daughter, was considerate and respectful—the best daughter any mother could ask for.

Andrea turned right into the gated subdivision just as her cell phone rang. It had to be either her daughter or her client. Relieved, she checked caller ID.

Cambridge High School? She hit the button. “Andrea Taylor speaking.”

“Mrs. Taylor, this is Mrs. Barton, Shannon’s homeroom teacher. Your daughter has been taken to the hospital.”

Panic pushed against her ribs. “Hospital? What’s she doing there?” she asked, easing her foot off the gas pedal. A horn blasted behind her.

“She’s been…injured.”

Injured? Who would hurt Shannon? It wasn’t possible. She pulled over and put the vehicle in Park. “What do you mean?”

“You need to get to the hospital.” Mrs. Barton hesitated. “I can meet you there if you’d like.”

Andrea couldn’t take in the woman’s words. Shannon couldn’t be hurt. “Was she in an accident?”

“I-I’m not sure. Shannon is in the emergency room,” the teacher said. “They need you there now.”

Emergency room?

“I’ll—” She took a deep breath. “Tell them I’ll be there right away.” Stunned, Andrea ended the call, only to have her cell phone ring again.

“Is this Shannon Taylor’s mother?” a very cool, professional voice asked.

“Yes. Who’s this?” Tension climbed Andrea’s shoulders.

“My name is Karen. I’m calling from the hospital. Shannon has been injured.”

Andrea held the phone closer to her ear as though that could stop her hands from shaking. “Her teacher just called me. Please tell me what’s going on.”

“Your daughter was brought in with abrasions on her arms, face and knees from a fall unto the sidewalk, or so we believe. The doctor is doing a few tests and a chest X-ray for possible injury to her rib cage.”

There had to be some mistake. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Andrea glanced at her watch. Shannon should have been at the hairdresser an hour ago. She would never change her plans without calling first. Andrea had to call Gina to find out what had happened after the salon appointment. “Who is there with her?” she asked, her mind fumbling for an explanation.

“Kyle Donahue. A classmate, I believe.”

Kyle was in Shannon’s class and was her math tutor. He was always polite and kind when he came to the house. Andrea liked him mostly because Shannon was always happy to have him around. Shannon never discussed the boys in her class other than Kyle, leading Andrea to wonder if they were more than friends. “I don’t understand. My daughter is supposed to be at her—”

“Mrs. Taylor, we need you here now.”

“I’m on my way,” she said, her heart racing as she tried to remain calm. She shoved the gearshift into Drive, turned the wheel sharply and did a U-turn in the middle of the street.

She sped toward the interstate as she dialed Gina. When it went to voice mail, she left a message asking Gina to call her immediately. Her friend would be able to fill her in. The accident must have happened after Gina dropped Shannon off at school for volleyball practice.

Andrea called her client, explained the situation and promised to set up another appointment as quickly as possible. Fortunately, as a doctor, he understood the urgency. She called her mother’s house. Edna, her mother’s housekeeper, picked up. “Is Mom there?” Andrea asked without preamble.

“Carrie is landing in Chicago as we speak. Can I give her a message?”

“Tell her to call me as soon as she can.”

“I will. Anything wrong? Anything I can do?”

Andrea hesitated. Edna had been her mother’s housekeeper and a part of Andrea’s life for as long as she could remember. Edna loved Shannon as if she were her own granddaughter. “Shannon’s been hurt. I don’t know the details. I’m on the way to the hospital now.”

“No! That can’t be. I’ll come right over.”

She heard tears in Edna’s voice and tried to hold her own at bay as she responded. “Please don’t. I’m sorry to upset you, but I’m sure she’s okay. Just give Mom the message. Tell her to call me as soon as she can.”

Traffic was backed up on the exit that led to Headley Hospital. Andrea gripped the wheel, waiting. Feeling the tension in her shoulders, she forced herself to breathe deeply and slowly. She had to remain calm and in control. Whatever had happened couldn’t be that serious. It seemed impossible that a fall would injure Shannon severely enough to require a trip to the emergency room. She was cheerleader, a good athlete and a physically strong young woman with good reflexes. She would have protected herself if she fell. This didn’t make sense.

Finally the traffic eased forward. Andrea turned onto the street leading to the hospital then made her way into the parking garage. In a matter of minutes she’d be with her little girl.

She hurried to the reception desk inside the emergency department. “I’m Andrea Taylor. I’m here to see my daughter, Shannon.”

“There is a waiting room for family members. I’ll let the staff know you’re here. Please follow the red dots just beyond the door,” the woman at the desk said.

With a click the doors slowly opened, and Andrea went in, making her way along the wide corridor leading into the brightly lit space.

Inside the waiting room there were groupings of chairs and a refreshment stand with a coffeepot and bottled water. Relieved to see the room empty, Andrea fought back the worry she’d been struggling with.

Moving toward a comfortable chair near the center of the room, she glanced around at the muted blue walls displaying paintings by local artists. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and tried to calm herself.

The clock on the wall behind the sofa clunked at each passing minute. The coffeepot hissed. The muffled sounds emanating from the hospital corridor did nothing to soothe her anxiety. How long would she have to wait? They’d told her to get here as soon as possible. She was here. Where were they? Unable to sit still any longer, Andrea clutched her purse and stood. Sliding her hands up her arms, she walked around the room, looking for a distraction.

Suddenly there was a woman wearing blue scrubs and a white lab coat standing at the door. “Mrs. Taylor?”