"A gripping novel with multiple layers," this domestic thriller will touch your heart and stay with you long after the last page. Taryn is searching for her birth mother, but what she finds isn't what she expects. Her quest takes her to the Amish countryside of Lancaster County, PA. How could somewhere so tranquil and serene hold such dark secrets? Named 2019 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors.
Taryn Clark thought she'd outgrown the need to find her birth mother. She thought that a successful career and a comfortable life in the city were enough to be happy. Did she really need to know about the woman who had given her away? She thought she knew the answer, until an accidental discovery awakens old yearnings of being part of something bigger than herself.
Her new quest takes her to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and the heart of the Plain community. Aided by her unique eye color, a healthy dose of luck, and the private investigator she hires, Taryn finds her birth family easily enough, but finding the truth is another matter. In all her musings, she never imagined a scenario where her mother might be Amish. She never imagined that the fabric of her life might be a patchwork of faith and fear, stitched together with a dark family secret.
Taryn is determined to trace her roots, even if it means digging in the mud to do so. Now she's caught in the quicksand of a shocking discovery and the consequences of choices made, almost forty years ago. She'll risk everything-including her life-to uncover the truth.
From the award-winning and best-selling author of Forgotten Boxes and The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series. Readers say this is "her best yet!" Edited for content consistency with Amish input.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.78(d)|
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To my beautiful baby girl,
I was your first mother. Please know I loved you and I loved your father, but a life for the three of us was not in God's plans. I pray for you a good life.
You are my whole heart.
Taryn's hand trembled as she stared down at the distinctive handwriting. The letters were neat and evenly spaced, the cursive styling precise. Time lent the paper a distinct yellow cast and curled its edges inward. A ripple of ink blurred one word and left the letters smudged. From a fallen teardrop?
She turned the letter over, searching for another clue. The empty expanse echoed the barren canvas of her heart.
Forty-five words summed up the whole of her lineage. One simple paragraph to explain who she was and where she came from. Pathetic little to explain this aching void in her soul.
Taryn always wondered what it must be like to have a forever home. Having roots that grew so deep and so strong that one could never tug them free, no matter how hard one tried.
Not, mind you, that she would try. If she were ever lucky enough to have roots, she would never try to dig her way free. This was the first hint of the family tree she so desperately craved. A message from her birth mother, as brief and ambiguous as it may be.
"I finally find a root," Taryn murmured aloud, "but it's not even planted."
"So, Taryn, any idea of what you'll do now?" Molly Shaw asked over dinner.
Taryn Clark twirled a spiral of spaghetti onto her fork, fascinated by the bits of sauce clinging to the noodles. Like I cling to the idea of finding my roots.
"Earth to Taryn. Come in, Taryn. Are you there?" "What? Oh, sorry." Dropping her fork, she tucked her hand beneath the table to keep from playing with her food.
"Are you all right, girlfriend? I thought you were okay with this new phase in your life."
"I am," Taryn hastily assured her best friend. "And stop looking at me like that, because I am. Seriously. They gave me a nice severance package when the firm closed, so I'm not in a financial crunch. And they offered letters of recommendation, even though I'm not ready to look for something new just yet. Seriously, having some extended time off is just what I need right now."
"Then what's that all about?" Molly indicated Taryn's plate, with its series of spaghetti towers twirled in a row.
Taryn shoved the offending plate away with a troubled sigh. "You know how I said this was the perfect time to clean house and go through all my junk?"
"Sure. Everybody says that. But nobody means it," her friend assured her. "Don't beat yourself up over it," she advised.
"The thing is, I did do it. And I found something. Something I'd never seen before."
"What?" Molly smirked. "The floor in your closet?"
"That, too," Taryn admitted with a grimace. She leaned forward to continue. "There was a box up on the top shelf, filled with the few childhood possessions that made it through the round of foster homes." Her sigh bore the weight of a heavy heart. "Needless to say, it wasn't a very large box."
Molly's face lost all trace of humor. "I'm sorry," she said in earnest.
Taryn brushed away her friend's sympathy. "Water under the bridge," she insisted, because there was little else to say.
Teresa and Paul Clark never made secret of that fact Taryn was adopted. Momma even referred to her as their special gift. As a child, Taryn took the words in a literal sense and fantasized about that fated first meeting.
The scene played out like a movie in her young mind. A gaily wrapped box arrives on their doorstep, covered in pretty paper and a huge pink bow. Momma stoops over and lifts off the lid, only to discover the smiling little baby inside, swaddled in pink blankets. Tiny arms reach out and slip around her mother's neck. It's love at first sight.
"Look, Paul!" her mother cries in delight, lifting the baby from the box and holding her close. "Look what someone has given us!"
"Why, it's a baby girl," her father says, his own voice filled with wonder. He comes to stand behind them, sweeping them both into his arms. The heavens smile down upon them, showering the happy little family with balloons and curling ribbons, and magical, sparkling stardust.
It was a sweet fantasy, spun by the mind of a four-year-old. It brought her comfort in the years to come, as the stardust faded. Without the sparkle, it was merely dust. The ribbons lost their curl. The balloons deflated. The magic surrounding their happy little family evaporated, taking the happy away.
The fantasy was all she had left when her parents divorced and when, just six months later, her mother was killed. Taryn often escaped into that fantasy of a gift-wrapped life as she moved from one foster family to another. By the time she turned eighteen, even the gift box in her dream world had become frayed and worn.
Shaking the memories from her mind, Taryn steered her attention back to reality. "There were a few small trinkets and an old doll inside, along with my mother's jewelry box. I remember how she sometimes let me play with it. It was shiny red lacquer with a castle scene etched onto it, and I used to imagine that the castle was my home, and that I was the princess who lived there." She laughed at her own foolish notions.
"Did you find a long-lost gem inside?" Molly asked, her eyes twinkling with interest as she sat up straighter in her chair. "Is that why you're not worried about finding a job just yet?"
"Nothing like that. Costume jewelry, at best. There was also a single gold earring without a mate and what might be a diamond pendant in the tiniest sense of the word. But I did discover a hidden compartment."
"And that's where the gem was hidden!"
Taryn rolled her eyes. "There was no gem, Molly. No diamond. No hidden coins. Just a letter and a receipt." She reached into her purse and pulled both documents from within, sliding them across the table for her friend's inspection.
"What is this?" Molly murmured as she examined the receipt. "It looks like a hospital bill from a Lancaster Memorial Hospital in Lancaster County."
"That's exactly what it is."
"Oh, wow, would you look at that!" Molly let out a low whistle. "It cost me four times that much to deliver my children! When was this from, anyway?" She perused the document until her eyes landed on the date. "Why, this is from January 1, 1980. Hey, that's your birthday, isn't it?"
"So this is from when you were born?"
"Don't be like Noah," Taryn warned, referring to Molly's oldest son. "He would make some wise crack like 'you mean they had pen and paper back then, not chisel and stone?'"
His mother grimaced. "I'm hoping he'll outgrow the obnoxious stage soon."
"Obnoxious or not, he's a great kid. All three of yours are," Taryn said with true affection. Having never had children of her own, she loved the trio almost as much as if she had given birth to them herself.
"They have their moments," Molly said, but her eyes lit with pride. She jiggled the paper in her hand. "Is this where you were born? Lancaster Memorial?"
"I suppose so. Why else would my mother have kept a receipt for labor and delivery on the very day I was born?"
Molly squinted her eyes, trying to make out the blurred print at the top of the page. "I can't see who the bill was addressed to. So, what's this other piece of paper?"
"My one and only connection to the past. Forty-five words of nothing."
Molly scanned the document. "I'd hardly call this nothing, Taryn," Molly softly chided her friend. "Your mother obviously loved you."
Taryn picked up her fork and began playing with her food again. "I suppose so."
"I know so! Listen to the heartache in this line — 'a life for the three of us was not in God's plans.' She obviously wanted what she thought was best for you. She wanted you to have a good life, just as she says here."
"And I couldn't have had a good life with her?" she wondered aloud.
"Maybe not. We have no idea what your birth mother's circumstances were."
Intellectually, Taryn could think of dozens of reasons her mother may have felt compelled to offer her up for adoption. Twenty years before the turn of the twenty-first century, having a child out of wedlock still carried a social stigma; a sense of shame and embarrassment may have contributed to those reasons. Money, or lack thereof, no doubt played a large role in the decision-making process. Even though her mother claimed to have loved her father, perhaps the sentiment was not reciprocated. Perhaps he was married to another woman. Perhaps her grandparents forbade her mother to have the child. Perhaps, Taryn reasoned, her mother chose to first give her baby life, and then to give her baby away, rather than to have an abortion.
Intellectually, any of those reasons — and more — made sense.
Emotionally, the thought of being given to strangers still stung.
Blinking away the sentiments gathering in her eyes, Taryn cleared her throat and sat taller in her seat. "At any rate, both women must have intended for me to one day see the letter. That's why Rebecca wrote it, and why Teresa kept it. No doubt she would have given it to me when I was older, had she lived that long." Her violet eyes grew dewy, but no teardrops fell. Over the years, Taryn had become a master at controlling her tears.
"What a lovely gift they both have given you," Molly said softly. "To be loved by two mothers is quite special."
Taryn made no comment. Her friend's sunny disposition normally brought her comfort. Molly had a knack for finding the silver lining behind every dark cloud. There were times, however, when Taryn embraced the clouds. Times when she wanted the world to be as dim and dismal as her mood.
This was one of those times.
Molly refolded the papers and slid them back across the table before taking up her fork and continuing with her meal. Sensing her friend's mood, she chattered lightly about nothing. When the waitress came back to check on them, Molly ordered Taryn's favorite dessert.
"There's not much that warm bread pudding can't cure," she predicted.
A few bites into the delectable creation, Taryn was apt to agree.
"I've made a decision," she announced abruptly.
"About a job?"
"About my life."
"I'm going to Lancaster County."
Molly stared at her in surprise. "Whatever for?"
"To find my roots."
"But ... how? How will you do it? Where will you start?"
"I'm not sure," Taryn admitted, feeling the tiniest bit of doubt creeping in. "But I'm going to trace my roots." She took a deep breath and her face set with determination.
"Even," she added, "if it means digging in the mud to do so."CHAPTER 2
It was an impromptu decision, but the idea took hold. Driving home from the restaurant, Taryn's mind spun with possibilities.
She finally had her first clues about her birth. She could spare a few days, she decided, to explore her past. Perhaps go to the county courthouse and search birth records bearing the name Rebecca. Check out the hospital and see if they had a legible copy of the blurry bill. Ask a few questions. Surely, someone somewhere would remember her birth mother.
The more she thought about it, the more Taryn fancied the idea of digging for her roots. By morning, her mind was set.
Despite living a scant two hours from Lancaster County, she had been there but once. Almost a dozen years ago, she attended a law seminar in Harrisburg. She and a co-worker lingered for a long weekend, touring the hallowed grounds of the Gettysburg Battlegrounds and touring the famed chocolate town of Hershey. Charmed by the area, she intended to return long before now, but something always kept her tethered to the city.
Most often, that something was her job. Look where that dedication had gotten her. Thirteen years with Carver, Harris, and Harrison Law Firm and suddenly, Taryn's career was over. Carver passed away unexpectedly, Harris was in the latter stages of lung cancer, and Harrison in the midst of a nasty divorce settlement. The entire firm went down faster than a hot-air balloon sporting a jagged rip.
Little Miss Molly Sunshine would point out there was a plus side to obsessive work habits and essentially having no life of her own: Taryn had developed a nice nest egg over the years.
And it was true. She led a comfortable but modest life. She owned a two-bedroom townhouse and a late-model, fuel-efficient car. After attending college on an academic scholarship, Taryn settled into the workforce, soon landing the coveted job with the prestigious law firm. She deftly worked her way up the ladder, earning the title of Senior Legal Administrative Assistant. Long before the firm shuttered its doors a week ago, she had her own office and her own assistant.
In all that time, Taryn had taken only one true vacation and an occasional weekend trip here and there. Even her honeymoon condensed into a weekend getaway in the Poconos, a full two months after the wedding. Three years later, she took another weekend trip to attend her ex-husband's second wedding.
Her gift-giving list was short: Molly's family of five, her next-door neighbors Josie and Stan, and, at Christmastime, whosever name she drew from the office pool.
With little else to spend her earnings on, between her hoarded funds and the firm's generous severance package — proffered, no doubt, by a guilty conscience — Taryn had the luxury of taking her time while looking for employment.
There was no reason, she decided, not to make a vacation of her Amish-country quest. While digging for her roots, she might as well dig through a few quaint shops and farmers' markets. See what all the hoopla was about, especially when it came to quilts and apple butter, and those whoopie pies her friends raved about.
Taryn tugged her virgin suitcase from beneath the bed. A gift from Molly two Christmases ago, it still wore the original plastic wrap from the factory. She felt a stir of anticipation as she peeled away the protective layer and opened the suitcase.
Despite a lifetime of disappointments and fractured dreams, she was surprised to find she still had the capacity to hope.
What if she was successful?
What if she found her birth mother?
What if — she dared to imagine — she had a family?
With what ifs dancing in her head, Taryn hurried to her closet, where she immediately faced her first obstacle.
What if she had nothing to wear? Most of her wardrobe was best suited for the office. Somehow, she doubted that tailored jackets and heels were standard attire for Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Eventually, Taryn found enough outfits to place into her suitcase. The rest, she decided, she could buy. A few last-minute details, and she was all set. Josie would gather her mail and Molly would water plants on Friday. With no pet and no boss to answer to, there was little else to worry about. It was depressingly easy to walk away from her life for a few days.
Long before she reached the city of Lancaster, Taryn punched the address from the hospital receipt into her GPS. The hospital name didn't come up on her screen, but the guidance system offered step-by-step directions to the exact street location.
She wondered if a larger corporation had bought out the regional medical facility and changed the name. The law firm often handled such cases. With medical costs out of control, the smaller clinics had difficulty keeping afloat in a weakened economy. If Lancaster Memorial had caved to a larger entity, she hoped they had kept their records in place. She didn't relish the thought of chasing them down.
Taryn's heart pounded in anticipation as she turned onto Milner Avenue. This was it. The next clue to her past. All she had to do was find a place to park, walk up to the hospital, and ask for the records department.
She nibbled her lip as she pulled into a parking space.
Now to find the hospital.
The structure before her was quite a bit smaller than she expected. Truth be told, it looked more like an office building. But that's good, she assured herself, as she got out and locked the car. A small hospital meant fewer records to search through.
Fewer records meant fewer patients. How many women, she speculated, could have given birth on that particular day? In a facility this small, Taryn was certain she could count them on one hand. Spurred by optimism, she quickened her pace.
As she stepped onto the sidewalk, a ribbon of worry wormed through her. As hospitals went, this one was tiny. Plus, it looked practically new. They had obviously renovated within recent years. Perhaps they were still in the process, she reasoned, because she didn't even see their name above the doors.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Plain Roots"
Copyright © 2018 Becki Willis.
Excerpted by permission of Clear Creek Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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