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Finding Clara


by Jannie Lund

Finding Clara

Eve Quinn goes missing. Twenty-seven years later Clara Christensen is found. On her quest to find out who she is and where she comes from, Clara finds a new family and an old love. Trying to combine Clara and Eve, as well as living up to everyone’s expectations of who she should be is difficult. The new family doesn’t help. But the old love does.

Duncan Cantwell has never been able to forget the woman who stole his heart, but he never expected her to stroll back into his life as the long lost daughter of the family who gave him a home when he was a boy.

In the most unexpected way, Clara and Duncan find each other again. They are not just lovers torn apart by circumstance, however. They are in the middle of a family struggling to come to terms with reality. Love has a hard time flourishing, but Clara and Duncan have beaten the odds before.


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Release Date: August 6, 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance


Excerpt

Chapter One

 

Clara studied the house as she walked past it again. It looked just as intimidating as it had the first time. The house itself looked beautiful and almost friendly with the colorful front yard full of asters and the vines climbing the white walls. However, what the house represented, scared Clara enough to keep walking until she reached the end of the street. Pretty soon, someone would notice her walking back and forth and call the cops. Luckily, they knew she was there. There was a park across the road, and Clara decided to go there to gather her courage, which really meant that she was going there to procrastinate.

She sat down on a bench and watched the people passing by—an elderly couple walking arm in arm, a boy on his bike, a woman with a stroller. They all looked so content, while Clara felt uneasy in her own skin. She was a coward. She should have stopped at the house the first time she’d reached it. She should have rung the doorbell so the people inside would be put out of their misery.

Taking a deep breath in a futile attempt to steady her nerves, she thought back over the past months. It felt like she hadn’t been herself since that night in July when she’d abruptly ended a phone conversation with a friend. She’d been watching the news when life as she knew it had come to a noisy stop. Since then, she’d barely been able to do her job—teach the wonderful kids at the high school, who lived and breathed art like she did herself—nor had she picked up a paintbrush.

Frustrated, she rubbed her mitten-clad hands over her thighs. She’d begged the sheriff for the opportunity to confront her unknown family alone. By sitting in the park, she was abusing his trust in her and prolonging the grief of the people in the house on the hill.

Clara was usually only bold when she swung her paintbrushes over a canvas. Otherwise, she wasn’t very brave, but now she needed courage to get through what awaited her. She held the power to alter not only her own life, but also the life of an unknown family, and it was high time she used that power for something—hopefully something good.

Reluctantly, she rose from the bench. No matter how long she waited, she would never be truly ready. With determination she had to conjure with her imagination, she marched back up the road and turned into the flower-lined path leading up to the house. Even though early fall had arrived, asters still bloomed. On the front porch, there were pots with heather and boxwood. The light was on above the door even though it was the middle of the afternoon. Clara knew why—the sheriff had told her—it broke her heart and made her even more uneasy.

With what was supposed to be a deep but ended up a very shallow breath, she rang the doorbell, startled when she heard it chime inside. Even after all this time, she still wasn’t completely sure what to say. A woman her own height with dark hair peppered with a little gray in a loose bun opened the door. She was wearing an apron over slacks and a dark green sweater.

“Can I help you?”

Clara’s thoughts were racing a million miles per hour in her head. “Um, I hope so. My name is Clara Christensen. I’m looking for Grace and Carl Quinn.”

“I’m Grace. Come on inside, dear. Carl is in his office, I’ll just go get him. Are you one of his students?”

Clara shook her head. This woman was her mother, although putting such a title on an unknown woman seemed ridiculous. “Oh, no. I just... I just need to talk to the two of you if that’s okay. I can come back if this is a bad time.”

Grace Quinn smiled pleasantly. “Now is fine. I’ll just get Carl. If you want, you can leave your jacket on the chair and wait in the living room. It’s just through there.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” She’d only been in America a few days, but the ‘sir’s’ and ‘ma’am’s’ came naturally to her already. Back home, everything was less formal.

Mrs. Quinn smiled again and left her to walk down a long hallway. Clara took off her jacket and put it down. She took a look around before entering the living room. It was a beautiful home, big, spacious and thoughtfully decorated. Deep, comfortable-looking furniture in dark wood, a lot of glass and matching colors in white, brown, dark red and green. Out of instinct, her eyes flew almost immediately to the artwork on the walls, and the sight of the oil paintings, pencil sketches and watercolors made her relax a little. This she knew and could relate to. Everything else...

Mrs. and Mr. Quinn came into the living room. Clara struggled to swallow. She had to try three times before she managed it. She was aware that she was staring at them while Mrs. Quinn did the introductions and asked her to sit down. Mr. Quinn was a tall, broad man, also with dark hair. He had mostly grayed, though, and his eyes were a startling green.

“So what can we do for you, dear?”

Mrs. Quinn’s friendliness was a little over the top and familiar at the same time. Clara’s grandmother had been the same way, always inviting people into her home and going out of her way to help everyone.

Clara dismissed the memories. She needed to find the right words—there would be no do-over if she screwed it up. “Even though I’ve thought about nothing else lately, I still don’t know how to start, so I apologize in advance if I get ahead of myself telling you what I have to say. Maybe letting you know that Sheriff Jameson knows I’m here is the best start. In fact, he’s the one who gave me permission. Also your address.”

“Sheriff Jameson...” Mrs. Quinn turned pale and gripped her husband’s hand.

Wringing her own hands, Clara knew she should put them out of their misery, but finding the words was difficult. Maybe she should have let Sheriff Jameson tag along like he’d suggested, but she’d thought it too personal to have strangers—more strangers—involved. “Will you bear with me if I start at the beginning?”

“Of course,” Mr. Quinn replied.

Mrs. Quinn just nodded and clung to her husband’s hand.

Clara took a deep breath and forced herself to relax her tightly fisted hands. “About two months ago, there was a story on the news in Denmark—that’s where I’m from—about a well-known lawyer who had committed suicide. He’d left a confession of sorts behind, and the police released the contents of that confession to the media. For almost forty years, he had been involved in international organized crime involving what you could call ‘white laundering kidnapped children’ so that unsuspecting couples adopted them legally. When I watched that news segment, I recognized the lawyer’s name because I’d seen it on my own adoption papers.”

“Eve...” Mrs. Quinn whispered almost in awe while Clara tried not to flinch at the sound of the name.

“Ssshh. Don’t get ahead of yourself, Grace,” Mr. Quinn said gently, but he never took his eyes off Clara. “Please continue.”

She wanted to let Mrs. Quinn out of her agony, but she knew that if she did, she’d never get to finish her story. “I did some research on the case. I talked to the police, checked the church records, that sort of thing. My birth certificate turned out to be fake. The police kind of pushed me to the back of the line when it came to opening a ‘cold’ case, as they had others with easier leads. The first thing they wanted to do was talk to my parents about their memories of the adoption. But they passed away a few years ago and without them, I guess it was too difficult. I was told that they’d look into my case once they’d gotten leads in some of the other ‘easier’ cases.”

Clara looked away from the tense couple on the opposite side of the coffee table. She didn’t know them or their pain, but she could feel part of it anyway.

“So I started my own investigation. Using the clues I found in the media, I thought I could solve the puzzle myself. But I couldn’t. Instead, I hired a private investigator. I knew from the police that it wasn’t just a Danish thing. There were more than a hundred cases they knew of at that point and they solved a few—a boy adopted by a Danish couple. The boy had been kidnapped in Spain. His mother was told by the hospital staff that he was stillborn and she couldn’t see him because he was too deformed.”

The story made tears run down her cheeks as it had the first time she’d heard it. She cleared her throat. “The private investigator based his search on my skin color and what I could tell him about dates and such. He came up with four alternatives pretty quickly. Four missing girls, born in 1986, who have never been found.”

“Please,” Mrs. Quinn whispered.

Clara nodded, feeling nauseous. “Your daughter was one of them. I contacted the police instead of the families, because I didn’t want to upset anyone unnecessarily. Sheriff Jameson arranged for a DNA test.”

She couldn’t say the words. Instead, she reached for the report in her purse and handed it to Mr. Quinn. It was hard for her to watch as they studied it, knowing that they would find the news amazing, whereas Clara didn’t know what to think. It was not good news, it was not bad news, it was just life-altering news.

It was like an out-of-body experience when Mrs. Quinn hugged her. There were tears, sobs, and praises to a God Clara wasn’t sure she believed in. Mr. Quinn hugged her, too—almost desperately—and while Clara’s brain could understand their relief, her heart was strangely disconnected. The fact that they called her ‘Eve’ didn’t help any.

She wasn’t Eve, at least she didn’t feel like her. She hadn’t missed Grace and Carl Quinn all her life. She hadn’t even known they existed. She had looked at the DNA report again and again; it still hadn’t changed anything for her. She felt horrible for being so cold and detached when the two people who had given her life had just gotten back the child they’d lost twenty-seven years ago.

“I can’t believe it. I’ve hoped and prayed for this moment so many times. All the different outcomes...” Mrs. Quinn stared at Clara to the point where she was uncomfortable. She kept touching her, too, as if to make sure that she was real. “I was so afraid this day would never happen. I even lost hope sometimes.”

Clara couldn’t stop the tears. Mrs. Quinn, who hadn’t stopped crying herself, hugged her again. “It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay now.”

The words made Clara cry even harder. She was embarrassed when she pulled back. “I’m sorry.”

Brilliant smiles met her uncertain gaze. “Don’t apologize for tears.”

Clara bit the inside of her cheek. How could she possibly explain that it wasn’t the tears but the big, empty void inside of her for which she was apologizing?

“I can’t believe you’re here.” Mrs. Quinn smiled and wiped her eyes. “You’re so beautiful, like you were as a baby. You look like Rachel. I should have noticed it, but I’ve had to teach myself not to hope that every girl who looked a little bit like Rachel was you.”

Clara didn’t know who Rachel was, but Mr. Quinn was apparently a bit more levelheaded than his wife was at that point. “Did Jameson tell you anything about our family?”

“Not really. Just the basics of the case.” Which hadn’t been much. Apparently, the only witness had been a little boy who had seen a woman in a car.

“Rachel is your little sister. You have three brothers, too. Practically four.”

At Clara’s no doubt confused look, Mr. Quinn elaborated. “Duncan. He’s not ours by blood or name, but we love him as much as the others.”

Siblings. Clara closed her eyes briefly. How many times growing up had she wished for siblings? Now that she was given four, practically five, she felt like it was too much.

“There is so much to tell you,” Mrs. Quinn said, laughing shakily. “And so many things I want to ask. I don’t even know where to begin.”

Once again, Mr. Quinn was able to think clearer. “How about a cup of coffee and one of those cookies you were making, Grace? I’m sure Eve needs to catch her breath as much as we do.” He smiled. “It’s a big day.”

Clara winced at being called Eve, but none of them seemed to notice. Mrs. Quinn kissed her on the cheek, whispering an almost silent and reverent, “My daughter,” and went to get coffee and cookies.

“I’m sorry your adoptive parents passed away,” Mr. Quinn said. “All these years... I’ve always hoped and prayed that you were alive, that someone was taking good care of you.”

“They did.” Clara could smile now, thinking about Birthe and Erik Christensen, who would always be her parents in her heart. “When I was twelve, they told me I was adopted, but that it only meant they loved me because they couldn’t help themselves—not because they had to.”

Then she surprised herself with her candor. “They would have been horrified if they’d known their happiness was at another family’s expense.” 

Mr. Quinn grabbed her hand and squeezed it. The look in his eyes was kind. “You said yourself that they didn’t know, so they’re hardly to blame. As long as you’re happy, they’d be happy. It’s how any parent would think.”

She nodded, feeling incredibly awkward again. She didn’t know what to say to this man who was her father, according to a DNA report.

Mr. Quinn rose to grab a large, framed photograph from the mantle. He sat down again next to her and held the photo so she could see it. It was a family portrait.

“That there is our oldest, Benjamin. Vanessa, his wife, next to him and their kids, Tommy and Leanne. They’re four and two. Cutest things I ever saw. And our second oldest, Daniel and his wife, Linda.”

Benjamin and Daniel looked a lot alike—tall, lean, dark-haired men with green eyes. Benjamin was impeccably dressed in a dark suit. His hair was short. Daniel, on the other hand, looked more rugged. He had longer hair and whiskers, his clothes were colorful and there was a hole in his jeans. There was something about him that looked familiar, but she dismissed the thought. Vanessa was a pretty redhead, and the kids had inherited their mother’s hair and their father’s eyes. Like Mr. Quinn had said, they were cute. Daniel’s wife Linda was a tall blonde. She looked a little intimidating.

“That’s Lucas,” Mr. Quinn continued, stealing glances at her all the time. “You and he are twins. The white rose he’s holding is for you. He always insists on having one in official family portraits. He’s...”

“Yes?” Clara found the thought of a twin more exciting than she wanted to admit.

Mr. Quinn smiled almost sadly. “He’s always claimed to know that you were alive, even when the rest of us sometimes lost hope. He’s taken some heat for it, too. He’s never been afraid of telling people he could somehow feel you out there somewhere. They haven’t always been very understanding.” 

Clara looked at the picture again. A twin. A brave twin at that.

“And then there’s Rachel. You can probably see that you look a lot alike.”

“Yes.” Clara wanted to feel some kind of kinship with this unknown sister, but it was all in her head. “How old is she?”

“Twenty-one. She’s in college. These days she wants to study psychology, but she changes her mind a lot.” He laughed softly. “Next to her in the picture is Duncan. He wasn’t blessed with parents who knew how to appreciate a child, so we’ve done our best to give him what he needed over the years. We couldn’t love him any more if he’d been ours by blood.”

A little of the ice in Clara’s heart melted. Grace and Carl Quinn had essentially done what Birthe and Erik Christensen had—taken in a child who needed love. She looked at the picture and felt her heart stutter.

Duncan was a little taller than the Quinn men were and had darker hair. His eyes were clear blue and while the others in the photo were smiling, he appeared to be laughing. Clara could only describe him as beautiful. She could also describe him as an asshole. An asshole who had broken her heart more than she had ever wanted to admit to herself. It was not only a small world—it was a microscopic world. Determined not to think of him more than necessary, she looked away. Admitting to Mr. Quinn how she knew Duncan Cantwell was definitely a story for another time. Preferably never.

Her eyes drifted back to the white rose. She’d had a place in this unknown family all along. Although she could only imagine what it was like to have a baby daughter or sister go missing, she almost wished that she had known about it. At least then, she would have been better able to relate.

“You have a beautiful family, Mr. Quinn,” she said truthfully.

“Thank you.” He looked hurt despite her compliment. It took her a moment to realize why. To him, she was Eve. To her, he was Mr. Quinn. Neither liked those titles. However, before she could think of anything to say that would diffuse the situation, a frantic-looking man came running in. She recognized him from the portrait as Lucas. The twin. Her twin.

“Mom? Dad? She’s close! I can feel her.” He stopped abruptly as he spotted Clara on the couch next to his father.

Mrs. Quinn came running. “Luke?”

Lucas never took his eyes off Clara, who had to dig her fingernails into her palms not to squirm. “Eve,” he whispered, unprompted.

 

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