Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 51

That thought cooled me off. I took the deputy his sandwich, then went back into the kitchen and channeled my sexual tension into cleaning the counters and the table so we’d have somewhere to eat for dinner.

I decided to go upstairs and figure out the bedroom situation. The beds appeared to have been made, which meant we had bed linens, but judging from the dusty state of the entire house, they would needed to be washed.

As I passed the front living room window, I spotted Mason sitting on a tree stump in the middle of the front yard, watching the gravel driveway as he talked on the phone.

With a sigh, I climbed the stairs. Muffy followed me, her tail wagging. I was pretty sure Mason would want his own room. And given his excitement over the view of the road from the front room, I suspected that was the one he’d choose.

I stripped the bed and carried the sheets and blankets down to the basement, starting the first load. The powdered laundry detergent was hard as a rock, but I broke off a small chunk and tossed it in, hoping some of it would dissolve. Heading back upstairs, I searched the rooms to figure out where I wanted to sleep. I examined two bedrooms with full-size beds and antique dark wood furniture. I also found a bathroom that looked like it had been modernized in the 1970s.

Muffy was waiting for me in the fourth bedroom, curled up in the middle of the canopy bed Mason had mentioned earlier. A small attached bath was off to the left, with a toilet and a giant claw-foot bathtub that I suddenly ached to climb into. The back bedroom wall was covered with huge windows and I was about to turn and leave when something caught my eye through the gauzy curtains. There was a deck or maybe a porch outside the room.

I found the door and opened it, nearly falling to my knees when I realized what it was.

A baby’s nursery.

Chapter Fourteen

The room was painted a pale pink, and a white wooden baby bed was pushed against a solid wall. White gauzy curtains hung from above the many windows. Without finding any evidence to prove it, I knew that this had been my room. I’d slept in that bed against the wall. My birth mother had rocked me in that pink and white plaid rocking chair.

I gasped for breath and tried to hold back my sobs.

Proof of my mother’s love filled the room, from the homemade diaper stack hanging from the wall to the painstakingly stitched comforter and bumper pads in the crib. A cross-stitched throw was neatly folded on top of a dresser. I opened it and saw the final proof: Rose Anne Gardner, November 8 was stitched in scrolling cursive.

I sat in the rocking chair clutching the throw in my lap and cried. How different would my life had been if I’d lived with Dora, the woman who’d given me life and obviously love? How different would my father have been if he hadn’t gone back to Momma? Would I have grown up in a house full of love and acceptance, or would Dora have locked me in the closet like Momma did when I began to have visions?

I closed my eyes and imagined growing up in this house, eating dinner in the dining room with a happy family. I let myself cry for the life I’d always wanted and would never have.

I sat up. That wasn’t true. While I might not have had the family I’d wanted growing up, I could have a family of my own someday. I had thought it would happen with Joe, but while that dream was broken, I could still find happiness with someone else.

I closed my eyes and leaned back in the chair, jolting when I heard Mason’s panicked voice shouting my name.

“I’m in here,” I called out.

He appeared in the doorway seconds later, holding a shotgun. The fear in his eyes faded to relief when he saw me. “I couldn’t find you anywhere. Didn’t you hear me calling for you?”

“No, I didn’t hear anything. Why are you carrying a shotgun?”

“I got worried when I couldn’t find you. The deputy is searching over by the barn.” He pulled out his cell phone and called Deputy Miller to tell him he’d found me. When he hung up, he took two steps into the room, pivoting as he studied the décor. “A nursery?”

I held up the blanket and forced a smile. “Mine.”

From the look on his face, I could tell he understood what that meant to me. “Rose. I’m sorry.”

“I’m okay now, but it came as a shock. For some reason I never suspected that I’d lived here. Uncle Earl called it Dora’s family farm, but of course she would have lived here with me. Which means Daddy probably stayed here too for a while.”

“Do you want me to leave you alone for a little while longer?”

“No. I’ve spent too much of my life alone.” I stood and moved toward him.

He wrapped his arms around my back and rested his chin on top of my head. “I’ve spent the last fifteen minutes searching for you. I didn’t realize this room was back here when I searched the upstairs, so after going through the house without finding you, I grabbed my gun to search the barn. I was going to do one more search of the house while the deputy did a second sweep of the barn before I called Jeff.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. I suspect the kitchen was expanded at some point, and since this space is over the kitchen, they probably added this sunroom over top of the new part. That means this room is built against an exterior wall, so it’s insulated enough to muffle sound, which is why you couldn’t hear me. I about had a heart attack.”

“I thought you said we’d be safe here.”

“I can still be worried.”

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