The father you never knew, has left behind a heartbreaking secret… June Westwood is devastated by the news the father she never met has died. Now the truth about why Jasper abandoned her as a child will be buried forever. Escaping to the secluded beach house she’s inherited, June hopes to spend time bonding with her two little daughters, away from her hectic job and failing marriage. On the wild shores of the Pacific Northwest, her father’s hideaway leaves June breathless. But it’s his oil paintings decorating every wall that surprise her most. How could someone paint other people so beautifully, but reject those closest to him? And why is every drawer in her father’s workshop locked? June hopes her new neighbor—her father’s apprentice Caleb —will provide the answers. But Caleb won’t talk about the past. Then, hidden in her father’s workshop, June discovers a box of newspaper clippings that reveal the shocking reason why her father left years ago—and uncovers Caleb’s own devastating secret… When her old life comes calling, June has an impossible decision to make. Unsure what’s best for her girls, and if she can trust Caleb, will digging deeper into her father’s dark past heal or destroy her precious family? An absolutely heartbreaking and emotional page-turner about the incredible strength of family bonds, how we can hurt those closest to us, and the healing power of love. Fans of Diane Chamberlain, Kerry Lonsdale and Kerry Fisher will devour this powerful read from award-winning author Melissa Wiesner. Read what everyone’s saying about Her Family Secret : “ Stunning. Wow… This was one I struggled to put down until it was finished! Excellent read! ” @read.athon2021 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Beautifully written… a rollercoaster of emotions… so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time… I was absolutely captivated and absorbed throughout… a beautiful page-turner… I was addicted to this gorgeous novel… will take your breath away.” bookworm86 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ I read this book in 24 hours… I loved the authors writing style… just devoured this book… outstanding.” @bookdreamer_51800 “ I just loved this book!… just fantastic… This book has every emotion possible! Loved it.” @oh.happy.reading ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Loved… one of my favorite books I've read so far this year. I would give it fifty gold stars if I could.” Meanderings and Muses ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“A beautiful emotional story… sisterly bonding, romance and second chances set against the beautiful backdrop of America’s Pacific coast… Highly recommended.” Jo Lambert ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: May 17, 2021
Print pages: 350
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Her Family Secret
The phone played a cheerful salsa beat—her daughter Emma’s choice of ringtone—that didn’t match the dread doing a slow waltz in her stomach. June could see the sign for the airport up ahead. All she had to do was park her car, get through Security, and board her plane. It would take an hour, tops. And then, freedom. She’d be on her way to New Orleans, where—after eight years of making excuses, eight years of getting her husband David to agree to watch the kids only for him to back out a few weeks later when he realized he’d actually have to parent his children—she was finally going to meet her college roommates for a weekend away.
For a wild second, she considered sending the call to voicemail, getting on the plane, and letting David deal with the fallout. But no, she couldn’t. June didn’t leave messes for other people to clean up.
With one finger, she hit the button on the steering wheel, answering the call with the BMW’s built-in Bluetooth system. “Hi, Mom.”
Her mother Esther’s voice reverberated through the car’s speakers, as bright and loud as her bohemian scarves and turquoise jewelry. “Junie, honey, I’m glad I caught you. I was worried you might be in another one of those boring meetings and too busy to talk to your own mother.”
Did they really need to do this right now? Esther always had to complain about June’s corporate job before she’d get to the real point of calling, but June wasn’t in the mood for it today. “Mom, when you call me in the middle of my workday, sometimes I have to work,” she snapped.
“That’s silly. You’re the boss’s wife. If you need to take a few minutes for the woman who gave you life, well, nobody’s going to object.”
“I’m not just the boss’s wife. I have an actual role in the company—” June abruptly stopped talking and took a deep breath, like she’d learned in the yoga class she’d attended twice before dropping out because all that mindfulness stressed her out.
Three counts in. Hold for three counts. Three counts out.
Or was it supposed to be four counts? She should’ve paid more attention to the teacher’s gentle instructions, instead of drafting her grocery list and reviewing the girls’ school activities in her head. Another fundraiser? Can’t I write a check and be done with it? And Costume Day in the middle of May? Seriously?
June blew the air from her lungs and gave up on mindful breathing, dragging her thoughts back to steering the BMW toward the airport and moving this discussion with her mother along. Why did she bother to argue about work with Esther anyway? Her mother had never held down a job in her life, unless you counted tarot-card reading and selling yoni eggs at the flea market. Which June most certainly did not.
“Mom, what’s up?” Please let her be calling with one of her whacky ideas for an activity she wanted to do with the girls, and not to cancel on them.
“Honey, I’m calling with great news! Wolf’s painting was accepted into the Santa Fe Artist Collective’s annual showcase.”
June sighed in relief. “Oh… that’s… great.” She hit her turn signal. Four miles to go and the airport would be in sight. Who was Wolf again? There were so many people in and out of her mother’s life, Wolf could be anyone. A boyfriend, a roommate, the person at the next flea market booth. For all she knew, Wolf might be an actual wolf. But who cared, as long as her mother was on her way to Greenwich, Connecticut to babysit for the long weekend.
But her mother kept talking. “The final judging is on Sunday, and we’re packing up the van and heading there now.”
June’s lungs squeezed, and she gripped the steering wheel tighter. “You’re headed to Santa Fe.” It was a statement, not a question. Because if her mother was supposed to pick up the girls in Greenwich in five hours, well, of course she was headed to Santa Fe.
The only reason why David had agreed to her New Orleans trip was if June arranged for help with the girls. There was no way that was ever going to be David’s mother: Clarissa couldn’t stand it when children made noise or messes. So, June had called her own mother, who was fine with noise and messes. But, unfortunately, she was less fine with details—like showing up. June wouldn’t have asked if she’d had any other options.
“Juniper, this painting is a big deal for Wolf. An award of this caliber could alter the trajectory of his career. And he can’t go without me—I’m his muse, remember? I sent you the photo.”
June pressed a palm to her forehead as a vein began to pulse there. She vaguely remembered a text from her mother of a painting depicting a naked woman sitting in a lotus position in the desert. The woman was draped in a red cloth that thankfully covered the graphic bits and June hadn’t done more than write back a generic, Amazing, before promptly shutting off her phone and going back to making dinner for the girls. Now that June thought about it, the woman in the painting did have her mother’s long, blond hair. But she’d also had glowing blue skin, so how was June to know?
This Wolf must be another one of her mother’s boyfriends. Esther had probably met him in the art scene in Philadelphia, where she met most of her boyfriends. Or maybe at her weekly drum circle.
“Mom, I’m about to get on my flight. You promised you’d be here to get the girls.”
“Can’t David pick them up?”
“Maybe he can today.” Although he’d whine about being too busy to leave work early. “But tomorrow’s the first day of summer break, and someone needs to be home with them while David goes to work. The nanny can’t start until next week.”
“I’m sure you’ll work something out, honey. I mean, it’s not like you’re a struggling single mother.”
Here we go again.
June heaved another breath. Damn it, she wished she could remember if it was supposed to be in for three counts or four. Maybe it was in for three counts, out for four? God, she hated yoga.
“You’re lucky you have a husband to support you. I had to do everything myself. Three daughters, all on my own…” It was the same refrain Esther always came back to when June expressed frustration at her mother’s failure to show up for graduations, or weddings, or the girls’ birthday. All the sacrifices she’d made.
June’s jaw clenched and her stomach began to burn. “You did everything yourself?” she snapped before she could stop herself. “I seem to recall it was me doing everything while you were off with your latest boyfriend. Looks like nothing much has changed.” Damn it. How many hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars, had she poured into therapy to learn there was no point engaging with a narcissist when they were rewriting history and making it all about them? And yet, here June was, arguing with her mother again. She sucked in another marginally cleansing breath.
“Well, aren’t you the most ungrateful…”
“Mom, I’ve got to go.” There was no point prolonging this conversation.
“Well, you could at least wish Wolf good luck before you hang up.”
Oh, good Lord—June smacked the steering wheel with her palm to shut off the phone. Deep down, she’d known her mother would bail, but she’d wanted this trip so badly she’d ignored all her instincts. What an absolute waste.
What was she going to do now? As the airport terminal came into view, June pulled over onto the side of the road and flipped on her hazard lights. Her flight was in an hour and a half. Maybe she could still work this out.
She called David’s cell phone, but it went to voicemail.
She tried a text: CALL ME. She wasn’t an all-caps kind of person, so hopefully he’d get the message. Then she tried his office phone, his assistant, and his cell again. Still nothing.
June growled in frustration. For a second, she suspected David was deliberately ignoring her calls because he knew she was about to dump this problem on him. But, more likely, he was in the middle of a project he deemed more important than whatever she had to say.
Somehow, that was even worse.
As she sat and stared at the phone on her lap, waiting for David to get back to her, the clock on the dashboard slowly ticked toward noon, the time her flight was supposed to leave. What if she got on the plane anyway? When nobody came to pick up the girls at 3:30, the school would call David. David might be self-absorbed, but he loved the girls and he’d answer when the school called.
But June pictured Emma and Izzy standing by the building entrance, watching all their friends leave with their parents.
Waiting for someone to show up.
Her stomach churned at that painfully familiar image. It had been more than twenty-five years, but June could still remember the sinking in her chest as she hovered by the school gates while all the other kids filtered out. Of slowly realizing her mother wasn’t coming and wondering if she’d ever show up. She could picture her younger sisters’ faces looking to her to reassure them that everything was going to be okay. Mommy will be here any minute. She used to say it even though she had no idea if Esther had been delayed by traffic, or if she’d forgotten to pick them up entirely.
June’s eyes burned, and she knew she couldn’t do that to the girls. Instead, she called David one more time, and when he didn’t answer, switched over to her text messages.
Esther flaked. I can’t make it.
At least her college roommates knew her mother was unreliable. She’d spent pretty much every parents’ weekend and graduation event with one of their families when Esther no-showed.
The replies came in quickly.
We’ll miss you!
Aw, so sorry to hear.
Damn it, Esther!
She had to wonder if they’d been expecting this text from her all along. June didn’t know what she’d been thinking, expecting Esther to step up when she’d shown time and time again—
June’s phone buzzed in her hand, and she clicked over to her work email. Twenty-two unread messages, just in the hour since she’d left the office. So much for unplugging from work this weekend. June typed in answers to the most pressing inquiries, swearing under her breath at a couple of questions forwarded by her assistant, Keith. Why did she even have an assistant if he couldn’t deal with the most basic of tasks?
Probably because David had insisted. Keith had recently graduated from Yale, and that was good enough for David. Too bad she couldn’t ask Keith to pick up the girls. And there really was nobody else she could call. Both her sisters had shut her down before she’d even asked them to come and help out. Typical. June hadn’t seen either of them in over a year, despite the invitations she’d extended at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
June tossed her phone onto the car seat next to her as her chest began to burn. She dug around in her purse for the antacids her doctor had given her, along with a warning that she needed to get her blood pressure under control. You’re only thirty-eight, June. You have the blood pressure of an octogenarian. But after pulling out a flattened granola bar, a naked Barbie, and two tampons that had lost their paper wrappers, she gave up on the medicine.
June turned the key in the ignition and headed back the way she’d come. When her phone rang a couple of minutes later, she glanced at the clock. Well, David’s timing was perfect. It was too late to make her flight now. She slammed her hand on the steering wheel to answer the phone with Bluetooth.
“David, I’ve been calling for the last forty-five minutes. What if it had been an emergency?”
An unfamiliar male voice rumbled through the car speakers. “I’m sorry, there must be a mistake. My name isn’t David. I’m looking for Juniper Westwood. Is she available?”
June’s first thought was that something had happened to Emma or Izzy, and her hands began to shake on the steering wheel. “This—this is June Westwood. Who’s calling, please?”
“Ms. Westwood, my name is Will Valencia, from the law firm of Valencia and King. I’m calling about your father.”
Relief flooded through her. The girls were okay. She grabbed her coffee from the console and took a long swig to wet her parched throat. But on her second sip, the man’s words began to register. She sucked a gulp of air and breathed in the coffee right along with it. “My—who?” she gasped, between fits of coughing.
“Your father, Ms. Westwood.”
June’s heart pounded in her ears. Was this the call she’d been waiting for? Had her father finally decided to get back in touch with her after all this time? It had taken years for her to stop looking for him, and even longer to let go of the notion that he’d come back and find her. But he was always there in the periphery of her memory. That strong, smiling man who’d always known how to dry her tears or patch up her scraped knees.
At every milestone and important event, and sometimes even in the small, insignificant moments—when she had a fight with David, or when Esther flaked on her again—June’s thoughts would drift to her father before she could stop them. What would he say? What advice would he give?
Her head might have stopped waiting for him, but deep down, her heart never had.
“Did he—” June swallowed hard. “Did my father ask you to reach out?”
“Ma’am, does the name Jasper Luc mean anything to you?”
June shook her head as her mind grasped at the image of a painting depicting two people standing in the middle of a city street, their bodies facing each other in an almost-embrace. Maybe they were about to kiss, but nobody would ever know, because the viewer watched them through the blurred windshield of a car recently smeared with washer fluid.
“Jasper Luc, the artist?” She’d studied his work, along with several other contemporary artists, in her freshman year painting class. That was before she’d switched to major in accounting. What did Jasper Luc have to do with anything?
“Yes, the artist.” The caller paused for a moment. “Ms. Westwood, are you unaware Jasper Luc is your father?”
Was this a joke? Some kind of prank? June squeezed the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. All she’d ever known about her father was the meager information she and her sisters had managed to pry out of their mother.
Esther had met him in Philly and they’d had a whirlwind romance that left her pregnant. From the less-than-complimentary things Esther had to say about the father of her children, June suspected the relationship had been volatile. The rapid arrival of Sierra and then Raven after June had probably been Esther’s way of trying to hold the relationship together. The ploy backfired on her, though, when whoever their father was took off after Raven’s birth.
June had always held the memories of her father like precious heirlooms, and when she was in high school, she’d created a series of paintings to immortalize them. A dark, curly-haired man with a proud smile on his face, standing next to a little girl balanced on a stool to face him. A scene at Christmas-time, when he’d given her a set of her own oil pastels: not one of the cheap brands they made for kids, but the real ones.
June had shown the series at her high school art show, and it was one of the few times her mother had shown up. In the end, June had wished Esther hadn’t come, because she’d rolled her eyes and told June they were better off without him in their lives. And how could June dispute that? How could she say her father had loved her at all? After all, he’d taken off and never come back.
June had always believed her mother didn’t know where to find her father. But Jasper Luc? Esther could have tracked him down anytime she wanted.
All of a sudden, June was shaking with cold, even as beads of sweat pricked her forehead. Cars zoomed by on both sides, giving her a sense of vertigo. She stared out the windshield; everything had a strange, blurred quality to it.
The irony wasn’t lost on June.
“Is it true?” June managed to whisper. Was it possible that her father was Jasper Luc, and after all this time, he wanted back in her life? Maybe it hadn’t been him who left, but Esther who’d forced him out all along.
On the other end of the line, the attorney cleared his throat. “Jasper named his three children—Juniper, Sierra, and Raven—in his will.”
“In his…” June trailed off.
“I’m sorry to tell you your father passed away earlier this week.”
The attorney’s words kicked her straight in the gut. Her father was dead. Before she’d even known who he was. Before she could ever see him again. Her heart pounded like she’d been sprinting up-hill, and she couldn’t quite suck enough air into her lungs. June plunged one hand into her purse, digging around for her antacids again.
“Ms. Westwood.” The caller paused for a moment. “Jasper Luc left everything to you and your sisters. His house, studio and artwork in Wishing Cove, Washington.”
June’s foot hit the brake, and the car screeched to a stop. From somewhere far away, a horn blared. A second later, she heard a loud, metallic crunch, and then everything went black.
Caleb Valencia wasn’t in the mood for visitors. Especially visitors in the form of his twin brother, Will, who was about to step out of his Mercedes and start spouting positivity like some kind of motivational speaker. Caleb looked around for a place to hide, but the only haven along the rocky path leading to the main house and driveway was the door to Jasper’s studio. And there was no way in hell he was going in there.
Caleb sighed and dragged his feet through the gravel as he made his way up the hill. Will had already spotted him, anyway. His brother stood in front of Jasper’s porch in a charcoal gray suit, crisp white shirt, and pale blue tie. Caleb’s gaze skated down to his own paint-splattered jeans and frayed T-shirt. Man, if looking at Will’s face wasn’t like looking in a mirror, he’d have bet money one of them had been switched at birth.
“Hey, bro, how are you?” Will asked.
Caleb shrugged in response. Nobody was going to accuse him of being the talkative twin.
Will held out a hand and Caleb grabbed it, getting that awkward back-slap hug out of the way. Will had come home one day in his senior year of high school having adopted the bro-hug. On a better week, Caleb would give him shit about it. But this wasn’t a better week.
“Listen, Caleb. I don’t want you to start thinking there was something you could have—”
“Thanks for coming. Was there something you needed?” Caleb already knew what his brother was going to say. He’d already heard it from their mother on Tuesday, after she’d seen Jasper’s obituary in the New York Times.
Will paused, giving him that appraising look that said he knew his brother was doing his ‘avoidance thing’ again. Caleb didn’t know what was so terrible about avoidance. Bottling up his feelings had worked far better than letting them explode. Besides, his parents had spent good money when he was a kid to make sure he had a team of therapists and a cabinet full of drugs to keep him from exploding. He was thirty-nine years old now. The ship had sailed on blabbering about his emotions like a Real Housewife.
Will picked up a dark leather briefcase from the porch steps and pulled out a pile of papers. “Yeah, actually, I’m here on business.”
Caleb nodded. Jasper had died five days ago. As Jasper’s attorney, it was Will’s job to deal with the fallout, at least from a financial perspective. Estates, wills, that kind of thing. Caleb was living on the deceased man’s property in Wishing Cove, and he knew at some point that he’d have to figure out what the hell he was going to do next. He wasn’t a backup plan kind of guy; over the past two decades, he and Jasper had co-existed on the five-acre estate just south of town, overlooking Everett Bay, with Jasper living in the main house and Caleb across the field in the smaller guesthouse.
Caleb turned his eyes westward, past the wildflower-dotted meadow to the edge of the cliff dropping off to reveal an expanse of sea below. He and Jasper had shared the studio space overlooking the water. But now he’d have to leave it all.
Caleb couldn’t imagine where he’d go, and what it would do to his work. But he couldn’t imagine no longer having Jasper to challenge and confront and push him to be a better artist, either.
Will nodded toward the wicker chairs on the porch. “Is it okay if we sit here? Or should we go down to your house?”
Caleb gave a wave of his hand and trudged up the steps. “Nah, this is fine.” Better to get it over with. He settled into a chair and watched his brother shuffle the stack of papers.
“Right, so. I guess I should tell you Jasper had three daughters.”
“Yeah.” He’d figured Jasper would leave the estate to them. But still, it stung.
Will’s head jerked up, eyes wide. “You knew?”
Caleb nodded. He’d started working as Jasper’s apprentice when he was practically a kid, mostly doing menial tasks like washing brushes and stretching canvases. But as he’d developed as an artist in his own right, their relationship had evolved from master and student into colleagues, and then friends. After twenty years, Jasper had been family, in many ways closer than Caleb’s own parents, who’d never understood his art; or his brother, who’d always been his polar opposite.
“I didn’t know Jasper told you. When he came to me to draw up his will, he said nobody knew. He didn’t want it ending up in the press, or reporters stalking them for interviews.”
“Yeah, from what Jasper told me, I don’t think they know he was their dad. So good luck with that.”
Will leaned back in his chair and set a shiny leather shoe across his opposite leg. “Oh, they most definitely don’t know. Or they didn’t until I talked to one of them today. The oldest.”
“Juniper. What did she say when you told her?”
“She sounded really stunned, and before I could give too many details, she hung up on me.” Will shrugged. “I’m not sure she believed me, to be honest. The other two sisters didn’t answer their phones.”
Caleb nodded. “Raven’s a photojournalist who could be anywhere in the world right now. But Sierra’s a writer in Northern California, so she probably checks her messages.”
Will raised his eyebrows. “For someone who didn’t want a relationship with his kids, Jasper sure kept tabs on them.”
Caleb ran a palm across the week-old stubble on his cheek. “Yeah, well…” Jasper had had his reasons. Caleb understood them.
Will went back to shuffling his papers. “So, he left the house, his studio, and most of his artwork to his daughters.” His eyes flicked up from the page, as if he were measuring Caleb’s reaction to the news.
Caleb leaned back in his chair, nodding slowly. He hadn’t expected Jasper to leave the property to him, but the news confirmed he’d have to pack up and move on. In one brutal moment, he’d lost his mentor, his best friend, his home. Everything that had saved him, back when he was a runaway train careening toward a cliff.
“But,” Will continued, “the terms of the will dictate the property should be divided at the path leading to the studio. The guesthouse and your part of the studio go to you.”
Caleb’s head jerked up. He wouldn’t have to move. He could stay in the place where he’d grown from an angry, undisciplined kid into an artist.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.” Will leaned in, resting his elbows on his knees. “As his lawyer and the executor of his will, I wanted to make sure I did things by the book. Especially with someone as high profile as Jasper.”
“Yeah, I understand.” Caleb ran a hand over his face. “This is… wow.” Out across the property, purple lupine gently waved in the meadow in front of his little gray clapboard house on the hill. “This means a lot.”
“I’m happy for you, bro. I know how important this place is to you.”
They both knew it wasn’t just the house, or the view. It was the stability, the. . .
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