Twist of Fate: Cottage on Gooseberry Bay
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Ainsley Holloway had come to Gooseberry Bay to find answers about her past. She’d come to find an explanation for the dreams that haunted her after the death of the cop who’d both rescued and raised her. And she’d come to identify the family she couldn’t remember but knew in her heart she’d once belonged to.
Ainsley hoped that by finding these answers, she’d also find healing. She hoped that once she’d resurrected the memories buried deep in her mind, she’d find peace.
The Cottage at Gooseberry Bay is a series about, not only finding answers, but finding hope.
It’s a series about family and friendship.
It’s a series about shared holidays, festivals, and celebrations.
It’s a series about shared heartbreak and hardship.
And it’s a series about the bond that can be forged amongst strangers when tragedy binds two or more individuals with a common goal.
In book 10 in the series, Ainsley is hired to find the twelve-year-old daughter of a woman who was told by her husband, the baby's father, that their baby had died during delivery. Ainsley could see that the decision her client's husband had made had been a difficult one, and that the baby's father had simply been trying to do what was best for everyone, causing conflicting emotions for Ainsley about the job she has agreed to take on.
Release date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 141
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Twist of Fate: Cottage on Gooseberry Bay
Navigating life, I’ve decided, is like navigating a river. At times, the journey becomes difficult, and we’re forced to deal with unforeseen hazards and turbulent waters. While at other times, we’re able to relax and enjoy the scenery as we’re effortlessly carried toward our predestined future. Of course, not every traveler uses the same approach to their journey. There are those who calmly enter the river, seek out the current, and then settle in for the ride, while others consider the voyage a challenge, entering the river intent on setting their own course while fighting every twist and turn along the way.
During the course of my life, I’ve been both types of traveler. It’s hard to say whether one approach is superior to the other. While drifting with the current was definitely the easiest, I’ve experienced the most growth and the highest level of satisfaction during those voyages where I’ve carved out my own route.
“Ainsley Holloway?” a tall woman wearing straight-legged jeans, knee-high boots, and an angora sweater in a deep rusty orange asked after entering Ainsley Holloway Investigations.
I stood up to greet the woman. “Yes, I’m Ainsley. You must be Opal Fallon.”
“Please have a seat.” I motioned toward the chair across the desk from where I’d been sitting.
She glanced at my Bernese Mountain Dogs, Kai and Kallie, who watched from large pillows designated for them.
“They won’t bother you,” I assured the woman who’d called earlier to inquire about my services. “In fact, they won’t even leave their pillows unless instructed to do so.”
The woman, who I assumed wasn’t a fan of my canine friends, hesitated and then slowly walked toward the desk. She sat down and then crossed her legs one over the other.
“I apologize. I should have warned you about the dogs,” I said once the woman was settled. “If you’re uncomfortable, I can ask the owners of the antique store next door to allow them to hang out over there for a while.”
She glanced at the dogs, who hadn’t moved an inch since she’d walked in. “No, it’s fine.” She narrowed her gaze. “They certainly are large dogs.”
“They are, but they’re very well trained.” I decided to get right to the point and hopefully distract the woman’s attention away from the dogs. “You mentioned on the phone that you needed assistance finding your daughter, but the cell service was iffy, so we never got around to discussing the specifics of why this sort of assistance is needed. Has she run away?” I figured the woman would have gone to the police, not a PI if she’d been kidnapped.
“No. It’s nothing like that.” She put a hand to her throat and gently massaged it as if trying to work words loose that weren’t quite forthcoming. “My story is sort of complicated.”
“That’s fine. Just take your time,” I encouraged.
She took a deep breath, wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, and then began to speak. “Twelve years ago, I gave birth to a child. A daughter. Jeremiah and I were so excited to be parents. We’d wanted a baby for so long, but I’d had problems conceiving, so things had progressed slowly. When I found out I was pregnant, I was over the moon with happiness. We both were.” She smiled a sad little half-smile. “Every morning when I woke up, I thanked God for the child growing inside me. We called her our little miracle. And she was. Not only had I finally conceived, but the pregnancy had been fairly routine with the exception of some morning sickness early on, and the doctors felt confident that I’d be able to carry the baby to term.”
She stopped speaking.
“Just take your time,” I encouraged as she struggled to keep her composure.
She nodded and continued. “When I was about seven months along, my doctor told me I’d developed extremely high blood pressure. He was naturally concerned for my health as well as the baby’s and instructed me to find a way to relax. I tried to do as he suggested, but I just couldn’t seem to let go of my anxiety. By the time I was nearing my eighth month, my blood pressure had become so high that my doctor called and spoke to my husband directly. We talked about my growing anxiety, and after a bit of back and forth, we decided that some time away from everything was just what I needed. Jeremiah’s uncle had a cabin up in the Cascade Mountains, so he suggested we go there for a few days.”
Uh oh. That didn’t sound like a good idea at all.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she continued. “The last thing my husband should have done was take his very pregnant wife to an isolated cabin when she was already dealing with medical issues relating to her pregnancy, but, in his defense, I’d always loved the cabin, and I really was stressed out. I wasn’t due to deliver for another five weeks, and it was only a short trip to the nearby town if something did come up, so after a bit of discussion, we decided the potential reward was greater than any risk involved.”
She paused, and I waited. I realized that whatever came next had probably been traumatic, so I let her move forward at her own pace.
“Initially, upon arriving at the cabin, my blood pressure did drop. I was happy and looking forward to the birth of our baby and our future. Jeremiah and I had three perfect days sitting on the porch overlooking the lake as we talked about the life we’d share with our child in the upcoming years. We discussed names and debated whether her hair would be light like mine or dark like his.” She blew out a breath. “We even discussed preschools and the value of reading to our daughter each night before tucking her into bed.” She paused, bowed her head, took several deep breaths, and then continued. “On the fourth day, a storm blew in. It was a cold storm, and snow was expected, but it was early November, and the forecast was for a short weather event that would blow through without much accumulation. We weren’t worried, but as luck would have it, this particular storm not only hit hard but once it was directly overhead, it stalled.
My stomach began to clench as I waited for the story to unfold. I knew that this story wouldn’t include and we all lived happily ever after.
“On the fifth day, my water broke. We had cell reception, but there was no way our small car would make it out with so much snow covering the unplowed roads, so my husband called my doctor. He told us to stay put. He said he would send an ambulance and that I was to stay warm and rest quietly until it arrived. At first, I was fine. I knew help was coming, so I tried to relax, but as luck would have it, just minutes before the ambulance would have crested the summit and started down the other side toward the cabin, the road was closed due to an avalanche. I knew I needed medical attention. My husband knew I needed medical attention. But we really were stuck. I tried to use breathing to slow the contractions. I did everything I could to stop what was happening, but the baby wasn’t willing to wait. My doctor decided to talk my husband through the steps he would need to take should the baby come before help arrived.”
She paused briefly, closed her eyes, and then opened them before continuing. “While Jeremiah was gathering towels and boiling water, I started to bleed. My poor husband was totally freaking out by this point, but the doctor very calmly assured us that while we couldn’t wait any longer to deliver, the baby would be fine.”
“That must have been awful.” I finally said after forcing myself to remain silent for most of the story.
“It was. Jeremiah and I were both so far out of our depth, but delivering the baby was our only choice, so we did as instructed. The doctor talked Jeremiah through it, and it might have been okay, but the baby was coming out wrong, and I began to hemorrhage. Shortly after the baby’s foot appeared, I went into shock and passed out. My next memory is of waking up in a hospital bed. My husband wasn’t in the room, and no one would explain what had happened. I was assured, however, that my husband had been called and was on his way in. When he arrived, Jeremiah tearfully told me he’d done his best but that our baby had died.”
“I’m so very sorry.” I wasn’t sure how a dead baby led to a missing child, but I imagined she’d get around to that.
“It was the darkest time of my life. I was so depressed, and I could see that Jeremiah was devastated, so we never really talked about the specifics. At least not at that time. I knew that after I passed out and the baby was delivered, a life-flight helicopter eventually arrived, and I was transported to the hospital, but that was the extent of my knowledge.”
“You mentioned a missing child,” I decided to try to bring this story back on point. As bad as I felt for this woman, I was having a hard time figuring out how a missing child played into things.
She nodded. “I’m getting to that.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. Go on.”
She nodded, took several deep breaths, and then continued. “Six months ago, my husband was killed in an auto accident.”
I placed a hand over my heart. “I’m so sorry.”
She continued. “After Jeremiah passed, a priest named Father Patrick came to my door. He told me that he had a secret that had been weighing heavily on his mind for many years. A secret he was honor-bound to keep, but now that my husband was dead, he’d decided it was time to share what he knew.”
I leaned forward slightly.
She continued. “According to Father Patrick, Jeremiah had confessed many years ago that while he’d told me our baby had died, she’d actually lived.”
I let out an involuntary gasp.
She continued. “Father Patrick told me the baby had been transported to the hospital along with me. Apparently, in addition to the trauma of the birth, she’d also been born with a heart defect, and she wasn’t expected to live. As a result, my husband was told she had less than a ten percent chance of making it through the week.” She swallowed and then continued. “Jeremiah was offered the choice to allow the doctors to perform an extremely risky surgery our daughter would likely not survive, or to simply allow the medical staff to make our daughter comfortable and let things evolve naturally.”
“Sounds like a tough choice.”
She swiped at a tear. “It must have been. The doctors had managed to stabilize me by this point, but I hadn’t awakened and, due to the amount of blood loss, no one could say when or if I would. The priest shared with me that my husband was overcome with grief and felt unable to deal with the situation relating to our daughter. He was told that even if the baby survived the surgery, she would need specialized care and that additional surgeries would most likely be required.”
I had to admit that my heart went out to this man. I couldn’t imagine having all of that to deal with at once. “So what happened?”
“Eventually, a woman who Father Patrick thought might have been a social worker or advocate of some sort was called in. I’m afraid the priest didn’t know this woman’s title or name, but he did say that once this woman arrived, my husband was offered a third choice.”
She raised her hand to her throat once again. “Jeremiah was offered the choice of relinquishing custody of our daughter and allowing a legal guardian to be named. This legal guardian would make any needed medical decisions, and should the child live, this individual would arrange for a private adoption. My husband felt this was his best choice given the situation, so he agreed and signed the papers.”
“The baby lived,” I realized.
She nodded. “According to the priest, my husband confessed to him that in the beginning, it was touch and go, but she did live.”
“So, was your husband able to stay in contact with her?”
“No, he wasn’t in contact with either the baby or the adoptive parents once he’d signed the paperwork relinquishing custody. The doctor who’d arranged for the transfer of custody did, however, tell my husband that the baby had survived the surgery and that she was in good hands and would be well cared for.”
“Wow. That’s a lot to process.”
She wiped a tear from her cheek. “It is. I was so shocked when I heard. And so angry. How could Jeremiah abandon our baby like that? I thought he loved her as much as I did. And even more importantly, I had to wonder how he could have known of her existence all these years and not tell me. I felt both angry and betrayed. But then I thought about things and tried to put myself in his place. At the time he made the decision to sign away custody, I was in a coma, and no one knew for certain if or when I’d awaken. Add in the responsibility of caring for this tiny baby, who was clinging to life and would likely die. I’m not saying that I would have made the choice my husband did, but I have gotten to the point where I can understand why he might have done what he did.”
“And do you understand his decision not to tell you what had occurred?”
She shrugged. “I think Jeremiah was trying to protect me. What has been done was done. And based on what the priest said, it sounded like my husband felt his decision had been for the best. I imagine he didn’t want to upset me or cause problems for either the child or her adoptive family.”
“Would you have caused problems for the adoptive family?”
She looked me in the eye. “Had I known what had occurred back then, I most definitely would have tried to get my baby back.”
“Is that your intent now? To get her back?”
She hesitated. “I’m not sure. At this point, I just want to find her. If she’s okay and is being raised in a loving home, I’ll likely leave well enough alone. I’m not out to disrupt her life, but I need to know where my daughter is and how she’s doing.” She paused and then continued. “I tried finding her on my own but have had limited success. I called and spoke to the people at the hospital where I’d been taken after I was rescued from the cabin. According to the woman I spoke to, there was no record of a child being admitted under the circumstances I outlined. I have no reason to believe Father Patrick would lie or that my husband would lie to him, but I can’t find a paper trail relating to my child or what happened to her after I passed out in the cabin. I need help. Will you help me?”
I furrowed my brow as I took a moment to think about the situation. I had to admit that the fact there wasn’t any sort of paperwork to verify the story was odd. “Did you live here in Gooseberry Bay when the baby was born?”
She shook her head. “Seattle.”
“So why did you come to me? Wouldn’t a PI based in Seattle be more likely to have the contacts to help you?”
“I considered using a PI based in Seattle, but then I was provided with a piece of evidence that has convinced me that the child is here in Gooseberry Bay. I will share why I believe that to be true with you after we come to an agreement and a contract and confidentiality agreement have been signed. For now, suffice it to say I have my reasons for looking here.”
“Okay. Fair enough.” I honestly had no idea how to respond at this moment. I wanted to help this woman find closure after all she’d been through, but I didn’t want to mess up the life of a twelve-year-old who may or may not even know she was adopted. “I’m going to need a day to think about this and do some preliminary research. If you are agreeable to the idea, I’d like to call you tomorrow afternoon at three o’clock. I’ll give you my decision at that point one way or another. Is that acceptable?”
She nodded. “I know I’ve dumped a lot on you all at once. It took me months to really wrap my head around the whole thing. I can wait another day or two.”
“Okay, great. As I said, I’ll call you with an answer tomorrow afternoon. If I decide to accept the case, we can dig in on Wednesday.”
After the woman left, I got up and crossed the room to the pillows my dogs, Kai and Kallie, had been quietly lying on. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the story the woman had told me, but I figured that, if nothing else, I could check out the specifics. But before doing that, I needed to take Kai and Kallie outside. They’d been very patient as they waited for me to finish my work this morning and deserved an extra-long stroll along the boardwalk.
It was August, and the summer festivities along the main thoroughfare in town were in full swing. In addition to the usual vendors selling food and merchandise, booths with carnival-style games had been set up as a fundraiser for the town’s autumn festival, which would overtake Gooseberry Bay in less than two months. I heard someone call out my name as I paused to watch a group of elementary school-aged kids tackling the ring toss.
“Adam,” I smiled as Kai and Kallie trotted over to say hi to one of their favorite people. “I didn’t realize that you planned to be in town today. I would have arranged for us to have lunch or something.”
He stood up straight after having ruffed both dogs behind the ears. “I didn’t know I’d be in town today until a few hours ago. I’d planned to meet with the architect we are hiring for the gifted school project, but he had to postpone until tomorrow, so I decided to bring Skeet into town to shop for items he’ll need for college.”
Adam Winchester and his brother, Archie, were turning the mansion they’d inherited into a school for gifted yet financially underprivileged high school-aged students. It was a project Adam had been talking about for years, but I suspected the project began to gain steam after Skeet, the teenager who lived with him, announced that he’d been accepted to MIT and would be heading off to college at the end of the summer.
“Where is Skeet?” I asked, looking around for the friendly young adult.
“He met up with Phoenix,” Adam referred to the only female member of the Geek Squad. “I guess they had plans to meet up with the others and go sailing. I was on my way to your office to see if you had a few minutes to chat when I saw you standing here.”
“I have time,” I said. “Did you have anything specific on your mind?”
“Let’s grab a couple cones from the ice cream vendor a few carts down, and I’ll fill you in.”
I had time and agreed with Adam’s plan. The two of us had an odd sort of relationship that I couldn’t quite get a handle on. We were friends; that much was a certainty. Good friends who’d each helped the other out on multiple occasions in the past. At times, it seemed as if we were just friends and would likely never be anything more, but there had been a few instances over the past couple of years where Adam had said or done something that seemed to indicate that moving our relationship forward had been very much on his mind. As a result of those instances, I’d start thinking about the pros and cons of doing just that, but then something would come up, and I’d realize that our relationship had been decisively moved back to the friend zone.
There were times I found this confusing and even frustrating, but then I’d realize that I enjoyed spending time with Adam no matter what our relationship status was and that perhaps I should stop overthinking things and simply go with the flow. It was true that Adam and I were both very busy individuals. Until recently, he’d traveled a lot and had actually been out of town more often than he’d been in Gooseberry Bay. I supposed that so much moving around made it hard to consider a relationship of the romantic sort. And in addition to the amount of time Adam spent traveling, I’d been busy looking for my sister, Avery. My total obsession with finding her had made it hard to spend time thinking about other things. Of course, now that Adam was home and would be for most of the time moving forward, and I’d found my sister, and we’d bonded in precisely the way I’d hoped we would, there would be an opportunity for Adam and me to explore where, if anywhere, we might go from here.
“So, what’s up?” I asked after Adam had ordered a chocolate ice cream cone, I’d ordered a pineapple one, and we’d both settled on an empty bench overlooking the bay.
“Actually, a couple things. First, I’ve decided I want to throw a going-away party for Skeet and the kids before they head off to college, but before I set a date, I wanted to check with you about your schedule. I know Avery plans to be home this month, and I suspect that you’re planning on visiting her at the vineyard like you did the last time she was here, but I really want you to be able to attend the party, so I decided to ask you about a timeline.”
“Avery comes and goes on her own schedule, and, according to Carmen,” I referred to Avery’s adoptive mother, “she never gives anyone a heads up before arriving. Carmen is used to Avery coming and going on a whim and suggested I adopt the same outlook if I don’t want her lack of planning to drive me crazy, so all I really know is that she plans to visit in August. Having said that, I do want to be present for the party, so plan a date that works for all of you, and I’ll be sure to be there. If Avery is home and I’m at the vineyard. I’ll come back to Gooseberry Bay for the weekend. Whidbey Island isn’t all that far away.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to Skeet about it. He’s leaving in less than four weeks, so it will be soon. It will also be small. Really just us, Archie, maybe the peninsula gang, and any friends the kids want to invite.”
“It sounds perfect. If I can do anything to help, just let me know.”
“I will. And thanks.”
I licked the drippy ice cream from the side of the cone. “You said there were a couple things.”
He nodded. “One of the things Archie and I agreed on in terms of converting the house, or at least part of the house, to classrooms and dorm rooms is that the ballroom, library, arboretum, and common rooms along the east wing would be left intact. Our plans include modifying the rooms on the second and third floor as well as the entire west wing. After a lot of discussions, we decided that we’d wait to attack the main body of the house until after the Winter Ball in December and would begin our project by remodeling the west wing, which, as you know, is currently boarded up. The contractor warned me that once the work on that wing got underway, there would be an initial teardown phase, which would be both loud and dusty. Archie and I discussed having Ruth and Moses take a paid vacation for the month or two this phase of the remodeling will be underway,” he referred to his housekeeper and groundskeeper. “Ruth has been making noise about an extended visit with her sister, and Moses has a nephew he enjoys spending time with, so we think this is a feasible plan. Archie plans to head to England during this phase of the project, but I really want to stay in town to keep an eye on things, so I decided to look into renting a place for a couple months. I happened to mention my idea to Hope,” he referred to our friend, my landlord, and the owner of Rosewood Inn, “who told me that Booker was still in Hawaii and would be there at least through the spring. I called and spoke to Booker, who was more than happy to sublet his cottage to me for a few months, saying that it would actually help him out since covering rent for a cottage he wasn’t currently using had become financially difficult.”
“That’s great.” Booker Maguire lived in one of the five cottages Hope Masterson owned on the peninsula along with my good friends, Jemma Hawthorn, Josie Wellington, Tegan Walker, Coop Fairchild, and me. “It will be fun to have you so close.”
“I wanted to check with you to see if you would be comfortable with the situation before committing, and since it sounds like you are, I think I’ll go ahead and take Booker up on his offer.”
“What about the animals?”
“Hitchcock will come with me,” he referred to his dog, “and Hercules,” he referred to his horse, “will board with a friend of mine.”
“It sounds as if you’ve thought everything through. Will you be moving out to the peninsula soon?”
“I want to wait until after Skeet leaves for college, and I want to be back in the mansion by Thanksgiving, so I told the contractor he could have the place during September and October. He thought that was very doable. It isn’t as if they need to complete the entire project by that point; they just need to complete any demolition that will occur on the currently closed wing.”
“You aren’t tearing the whole thing down. Are you?”
“No. Definitely not. We plan to use the wing for dorm rooms, so we want to remove a few walls to make larger rooms. There are also a few rooms with ancient plumbing that needs to be ripped out to make way for new pipes.”
“Will you try to open next fall?”
He furrowed his brow. “No, I don’t think so. There’s still a lot to do. Not only do we need to complete the remodel, but we have staff to hire, permits to obtain, a curriculum to plan, and students to solicit and choose. I suspect that trying to open in just over a year may be pushing it, but we should be ready by the fall after that.”
“How are things going with the permit process?” I wondered.
“Everything is moving along fine so far. The academic consultant I hired recommended that we clearly define the school’s focus. Will we be all about the arts? Science? Technology? Given the fact that we’re only going to take on around twenty-five students at a time, we won’t want to try to do too much. Since it will be a high school, we’ll need to hire someone to teach a general curriculum, including language arts and the social sciences, but assuming that our focus won’t be in these fields, the consultant thought it would work fine to hire a single person to teach classes in both areas.”
“That sounds reasonable.”
“We’ll also need someone to teach mathematics and the hard sciences. If we decide to specialize in these areas, we’ll need to hire specialists, but at a minimum, we’ll need two instructors with degrees and teaching experience in these fields.”
“Which brings you to three.”
He nodded. “Additionally, we’ll also need someone capable of teaching technology on a fairly advanced level. How advanced will depend on our focus. I’ve spoken to Archie and the Geek Squad about defining our purpose. Skeet’s opinion was that we should focus on mathematics and engineering, while Ape was all about the hard sciences. Phoenix thought it would be fun to maintain what our mother had begun in the arts and focus on students going into dance and music, while Chip was adamant that the future was in technology. And Cosmo, surprisingly, felt that not enough emphasis was given to personal development and suggested we spend time exploring psychology, philosophy, and the social sciences.”
“So they all supported a different idea.”
“What did Archie think?”
“Archie doesn’t seem to care. If he had to choose, I think he would focus on the arts like Phoenix. He takes after our mother regarding the arts, although he also mentioned environmental studies at one point.”
“Personally, I was thinking of focusing on classes that would give our students the background they need to get a leg up in the business world. I guess I was imagining we’d be the sort of school to turn out teens who are heading toward law or business school.”
I finished my ice cream cone and tossed the napkin in a nearby trashcan. “It sounds like there are a lot of ways to go, but I will say that I agree with the consultant. Before you get too far into this, defining your objective is imperative. With such a small student body, the key to success will be a finely honed focus. Who are you? Why do you exist? What attributes will your perfect student present? Will he or she be heading toward a degree in law? Medicine? Mathematics? Physics? Or something like the arts or psychology?”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “I really do need to nail that down. I know that focusing on something specific and hiring the best people to hone the skills of the students we determine have aptitude in that area will lend us the best results. Initially, I imagined that the key attribute we’d look for when determining admission was a high IQ, coupled with financial hardship. And while my intent is to provide scholarships to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to reach their full potential, the consultant has made me see that without an academic focus, it will be nearly impossible to staff the school given the size constraints.”
I could see that Adam had a long road ahead of him, but he was a hard worker with the financial resources to carry out whatever plan he ended up instituting. Adam’s idea to develop those underprivileged individuals interested in law or business did seem to fit best with his specific background. And I knew that Archie, like their mother, was all about the arts. I agreed with the members of the Geek Squad that the future would be found in science and technology, but there were a lot of schools focusing on those areas. In the long run, perhaps Adam and Archie would be happiest supporting the development of individuals heading toward a career in an area they were already familiar with.
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