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Runaway! [MultiFormat]
eBook by Nancy Means Wright

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: Her cows gone, Ruth Willmarth takes on goats and foster children, including sixteen-year-old Chance. But birth mother Dahlia kidnaps Chance; Dahlia's former lover is stabbed, her current boyfriend shot--and thinking she herself did it, Chance is on the run. And Ruth, whom Publishers Weekly has called "a courageous and resilient amateur sleuth," is in hot pursuit of Chance--and the bad guys. 6th Ruth Willmarth Mystery by Nancy Means Wright; original publication of Belgrave House

eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, Published: 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2010




Tuesday

For two weeks Dahlia had been practically living in her Chevy Blazer, watching the house, hoping for a glimpse of the girl, a chance to talk. It wasn't easy. There was always a dog barking when she drew in too close, an animal with a kid in pursuit--like today, that boy in dirty jeans, looking goggle-eyed at the car, then limping back with his squawking duck. Once the white duck had wandered near the road. And the woman ran to pick it up, fussing over the creature, so she didn't spot Dahlia there in the bushes.

The woman was the enemy here. Ruth Willmarth, a dairy farmer who'd lost her cows, then taken in Dahlia's child after the adoptive parents gave her up to foster care. Chance, they called the girl--what kind of name was that? How many foster kids lived here, Dahlia didn't know. There was always a raggedy bunch running model trains or throwing a ball--one almost hit Dahlia's car! If they were all foster kids, Willmarth wouldn't miss Dahlia's girl.

It made Dahlia feel better to think so. It somehow justified what she was going to do. What she'd been planning for weeks--years! Sixteen years in fact, ever since she'd had to give up the girl. Such a beautiful baby. Like a cuddly kitten, yeah, she'd wept to see her after the birth. But they'd pulled the child right out of her arms, bound up her breasts. "Mustn't bond," the nurse said, "it won't help either of you. You made your decision, you signed the papers. You're not ready for a child anyway, are you?"

Ready? For godsake, she was only seventeen herself. Who was ready for anything at seventeen? Then her life went downhill. Dropping out of school, the years of drinking, meth.

Eight months in the local jail. No, she wasn't a fit mother back then.

Now she was ready. She'd quit drinking -- had to. She was taking Prozac for the depression, the panic attacks. The meds, she hoped, would keep her functioning. She'd been ready for a year, two years, for that matter, since she'd found who had the girl now.

This would be her chance. Chance. She smiled at the pun. And she had to take it soon. Because Ruth Willmarth, she'd heard, had taken out papers to legally adopt the girl. And that could happen any day.

Her watch read four-thirty-five. The girl would be on the late bus. It usually got here around a quarter to five. This could be the time to grab her, make a run for it. Dahlia had a signal, a whistle which meant: "Come over to the car, we can talk." She was in a layby a quarter mile down the road--one would think she was resting, lost on the network of Vermont dirt roads. The afternoon sun dazzled her eyes; it laid a glaze over the Green Mountains; she shrank back into her seat, the map in her hands.

Eighteen months ago Dahlia had come home to Vermont, taken an apartment downtown just to be closer to the girl--to get rid of the old habits, the entanglements, earn money for a new life. Then old lady luck blessed her with a lottery win. A cool half million, more than she'd dreamed of when she took out the subscription. She quit the job at Wal-Mart, bought a small house in southeastern Vermont, on the outskirts of Springfield.

The only hitch so far was the girl herself. They'd exchanged a couple letters, met once after

School, the girl got in the car with her. Seemed interested, a little nervous, kept jiggling a leg, breathing hard, glancing out the window like somebody was going to grab her and haul her back in the school building. "How do I know you're my real mother?" the girl said, and Dahlia said, "Look at me."

And the girl turned to look and saw the full lips, the slightly crooked nose, the dimple in the left cheek, the way the dark hair curved away from her face, like a wing. She saw the way Dahlia crossed her legs, kept jiggling her left leg. Heard her own husky voice coming from Dahlia's lips.

It didn't take much to see the girl was unhappy. She didn't smile when Dahlia asked how things were at that dairy farm. Just wrinkled her nose and said she hated cows. Dahlia didn't blame her. Big, dirty things, always lifting their tails--and then watch out!

But there were no cows on the Willmarth farm since that mad cow disease scare. So Dahlia translated the nose wrinkle to mean it was the people Chance was unhappy with. Like Willmarth herself. Sure, she'd thought about playing it straight with Willmarth. 'I'm her real mother,' she'd say, 'you tear up those friggin' adoption papers--she's mine.' But the farmer was tough, she had a reputation. She'd get a court order or something, bring up Dahlia's past, the months she spent in prison. Dahlia couldn't risk that.

Four-thirty-nine. Any minute the bus would arrive at the foot of the drive, and she'd have to be nearby. She'd whistle and the girl would come.

The girl was ready, yeah, and Dahlia wanted her back. Jesus, how she wanted her back! Dahlia had a suitcase of clothes for her in the rear. They were near the same size--though the girl was skinnier. Same natural hair color--off-black, Dahlia called it, though now Dahlia dyed hers blond . They'd take right off, stay a few nights somewhere till things cooled down. It was a warm evening, shiny new May leaves on the trees, dandelions popping up everywhere--Dahlia loved the yellow-gold of dandelions. A perfect day for driving. For driving off into a new life.

Four-forty-three. Tipping the rearview mirror, she pinched her cheeks, sucked in her stomach, picked a piece of lint off her pink flowered scarf. She was still pretty at almost thirty-four, wasn't she? Tag said so, her boyfriend--and him only twenty-nine. She wanted the girl to think so. Willmarth, the girl said, was fifty-something and ran around in old sweats and patchy jeans. Didn't care how she looked, for godsake. Drove a pickup pasted top to bottom with bumper stickers: I Brake for Squirrels. Support Stem Cell Research. Save the Bald Eagle. Yes to Civil Unions. Bring Home Our Troops. Don't Let the Feds Control a Woman's Body

Well, Dahlia didn't get the abortion back then, though Bruce wanted her to. Now she was glad she had a daughter. She'd get rid of her roommate--though it wouldn't be easy. Since her lottery ticket had come up gold, Tag was more attentive than ever. Too attentive. She had her suspicions.

Mother and daughter, that was enough. The way it was meant to be. Tonight. This could be the night. She felt it in her bones. The excitement. The adventure of it.

Ruth was hustling. She was a regular tornado. Feed the dog, vacuum the house, scrub the toilets, milk the goats at Flint's farm--she was already late--feed the heifer calf she'd saved from slaughter. Most likely her son, Vic, would show up with a friend to help, they'd want to run the trains afterward. Such a bummer she couldn't put a ruminating animal on her own land for four years! And only two of those gone by.

The list went on. Prepare dinner for Vic, for her partner, Colm, the three foster kids. No, two foster kids and one whirlwind. The whirlwind was the oldest--the girl didn't like the biblical name the adoptive parents had given her, so Ruth called her Chance, and the girl took to it. A second chance for the girl; a second chance for Ruth, who'd lost her beloved cows and had a big house and heart to fill--not to mention the income she needed.

The adoptive parents had to give the girl up: "She's killing me," the woman told the foster people after the girl ran away for the umpteenth time. "She won't read her Bible. She won't go to church. We can't cope."

That was over a year ago, in 2007. And Chance was still a wild thing. "Lacked emotional care in the early, critical years," the foster people said, "might be mildly autistic, that tendency to run." But Ruth didn't agree. The girl was reserved, that's all: she mostly kept to herself.

It wasn't always easy. The girl had come home in handcuffs one time, after the police caught her thumbing a ride on the New York Thruway. Once she hitchhiked to Albany to try out in a teen beauty pageant--she'd swallowed the hype. Ruth found her backstage, weeping mascara--she'd been rejected. There were tears, recriminations. "It wasn't fair, it was fixed," she wept. It took months to wash the strawberry dye out of her hair. When Ruth laughed, seeing the humor in the situation, the girl told her where to get off.

But Ruth wasn't going to be told. She wasn't a quitter. She was going to win this one. There was so much good in Chance, if she could just bring it to the surface. Besides, she was truly fond of the girl. Worried, too. Like the time the girl swallowed a bottle of Advil? Ruth didn't want to think about that. She'd make certain it didn't happen again.

"Go pick some peas and lettuce," she told Beets, the middle boy with the limp--inflicted by his father who, in a fit of anger, threw the boy down the stairs. The mother was dead, the father in jail; he couldn't keep the children. Redhaired Beets, born Bernie, had given himself the nickname. He loved the vegetable when everyone else hated it, including Ruth.

The boy dashed out the kitchen door at her command, his cheeks burning bright. "Wait!" she shouted. "Take a bag to put the veggies in." But he was already out the door. He'd stuff the peas in his shirt, she supposed. Oh well. Save her splitting open the pods.

She grabbed his younger sister before the girl could follow. Ruth hadn't intended to take in more than two children, but the foster people said she couldn't separate a brother and sister, and of course she couldn't.

"Beets doesn't need help," Ruth told Apple, "and Mama-Ruth does." Ruth had three of her own, but Emily was a college senior and Sharon had two children and a separate life. Vic, like Chance, was a high school junior and always on the run. So she had the younger children call her Mama-Ruth. It filled a need. Except for Chance, who called her Ruth, or simply "you."

Things would be different, she was certain, when the girl was legally adopted and sure of a permanent home. The birth mother, she'd been told, was a druggie and an alcoholic. Too bad.

She set Apple to peeling potatoes for a shepherd's pie. Chance liked shepherd's pie, it was one way to get her sitting at the table for more than five minutes. Then if Ruth was lucky, she'd get a few words out of the girl about school. Usually "School sucks" or "Ms. Jakes is a flake." When Louise Jakes was a good English teacher, young but trying, giving the students time and energy. But Chance knew where the teacher's Achilles heel was. The girl had smarts. Everyone in authority was a challenge.

Apple struggled with the potatoes, making little grunting sounds, her round face concentrating on the task. "Look!" she said when she'd done the last potato, and Ruth saw that she'd arranged the peels to look like, well, something more than potato peels.

"Flowers?" Ruth guessed.

Apple shook her head, grinning. "Dancers! See? This one's kicking up a leg. So can I go?"

"Why not. I'll call you when supper's ready."

Ruth cut up the potatoes in small chunks, set them to boiling, and then threw the ground turkey, carrots, celery, corn and onions into the pan. She was no cook; she was a failed dairy farmer, trying to become a goat farmer and cheesemaker. She'd failed other things, too numerous to mention--but she could make an edible shepherd's pie. She was shoving the mixture into the ancient oven when she heard the school bus lumber up to the driveway and come to a gassy, cranky stop.

"It's Chance," she told the dog. "Go meet her, girl. Go on, go!"

For no reason at all, she felt the excitement of a homecoming. At the same time she heard a shrill whistle and wondered what that crazy Beets was up to now.

Dahlia whistled again, and then popped a pill. The girl wasn't hearing, she was tussling with an acne-faced boy who had his arms around her butt. She whirled about and kneed him. Dahlia grinned. Nobody was going to take advantage of her girl. Not like they done with herself, back when she was sweet sixteen and seduced by charming Bruce Kadwell. Forty-three-year-old Bruce, who had a wife he was always going to leave but never did.

When he got into trouble and went bankrupt and the wife left him, he came crawling back to Dahlia. Always loved her, he claimed, yeah, yeah, ever since he saw her getting off the bus in front of the local pharmacy. He was old now, fifty-nine, just wanted a woman to take care of him. Well, she wasn't the one. She had her pride, her new life. "Quit stalking me or I'll call the police," she'd said. And meant it.

The acne-faced boy gave Chance the finger and swaggered down the road in the opposite direction. The bus lumbered off. Dahlia gave a third whistle and this time the girl turned. Dahlia gave a thumbs up and stepped back into the brush. She didn't want anyone on the bus spotting her. She'd seen a row of kids leering out the rear window. At least the Blazer was hidden. She was excited at the thought of the girl coming with her. She felt hot, itchy--she'd break out in hives when she was nervous or upset.

The girl--her girl, walked slowly over to her, head down, hands in the back pockets of her tight jeans. Only two fingers fit in the pockets, the jeans were that tight. She was taller than Dahlia would have thought, at least five-eight--what would she grow into? Dahlia hadn't grown an inch over five-three, maybe lost a half inch from bending over in that cleaning job she had before Wal-Mart.

There were at least two inches of bare skin between the low-slung jeans and the green tee that clung to the girl's breasts. Dahlia tucked in her own pink silk blouse where it had pulled loose. She wanted to look like a mother.

"I wasn't expecting you," the girl said, not looking her in the eye. A dog came trotting over to stand by her legs.

"I didn't know your number, did I?" Dahlia glanced at the cell phone clipped to the girl's belt. "So I thought, well, I'd drive over. I thought we could talk."

"About what?" the girl said.

The girl was obviously in a mood--maybe something to do with that boy she'd kneed. Dahlia smiled. "You did good. I'm glad you got that guy. Showed him what for."

"He's not a bad kid," the girl said, being contrary. "We were fooling around, that's all."

They were silent a minute. The girl said, "I gotta go in. She'll know I'm here.

Gwendolyn'll tell her."

"Gwendolyn's your dog?" Dahlia asked, wanting to keep the girl talking. Dahlia would like to shoo the animal away, but the girl reached down to pat it. Would they have to take the beast with them? Nunh uh. No way.

"I thought we could make some final plans. Today, maybe, I'd thought--I brought some clothes, bought 'em just for you." When the girl frowned: "Well maybe we could meet somewhere. Tomorrow maybe. At the school, someplace in town. You could bring along what you want. We could just go. You done that before, right?"

Dahlia knew about the running. She'd gone to see the adoptive parents--hired a professional to find them. They'd had it with the girl, they said. Said she ran away practically every full moon. Stole things, too, like food and blankets. "The girl will end up in juvenile court," she told Dahlia, "you'll see." Then she looked suspicious at Dahlia, like she thought they were made out of the same bad goods.

When it was Bruce, the father, gave the girl the runaway gene, yeah. He'd run as fast as he could from Dahlia when he found she was pregnant.

The girl backed up a step. She stared at Dahlia like she'd never seen her before. When she knew Dahlia was her real mother. When Dahlia had sent her a copy of the birth certificate and everything. Dahlia had given her a name, too. It was Rosemary, Dahlia's grandmother's name. But the girl didn't buy that when Dahlia told her. Her name was Chance, she said. That was the name she'd answer to. It fit her, she said. So okay, okay, Dahlia would call her Chance.

The girl backed up another step and for a minute Dahlia wanted to grab her, pull her into the car. She was her mother, she had the right. But there was something in the hard, brown eyes kept her from doing it. Don't mess with me, the eyes said. So did the tee-shirt.

"Okay, I understand," Dahlia said, bending her head a little, smiling. She tucked a tongue in her cheek, removed it, said, "It's hard to leave someone you care about. I mean, like that foster mother you got now?"

The girl took the hook. "I didn't say I cared. Actually, I hate it here. I hate what she makes me do. I hate the smelly goats, that old cow Daffodil she makes me milk. I mean, it's just I gotta pull my stuff together. I can't just go on the spur."

"Sure," Dahlia said, keeping up the tremulous smile. "I'll be here tomorrow. You be ready then. You want to sit in the car another minute, we can talk a little? I want to hear about you, how it's been. Tough, I know."

"Not now. Not now, I can't talk." The girl wheeled about when an adolescent boy on a blue bicycle careened into the driveway. Dahlia watched as the girl ran after him, shouting "Vic."

"Tomorrow then," Dahlia hollered, feeling done in, a little sick in the belly. But the girl kept on moving. Not even waving at Dahlia. Not even looking back.

Dahlia would get her though, and soon. She'd think of a way.

When Ruth asked Chance to set the table that evening, the girl burst into tears. When she asked what was the matter, the girl said, "Nothing."

"Nothing made you cry? Nothing?" Ruth said, and Chance said, "Nothing, I said."

"Want to talk about it?"

"I said it was nothing." The girl ran from the room and up the stairs.

"Aaaa!" It was Apple, shouting on the stairs, Ruth ran to look. Apple was upright, but

hanging onto the banister with one small hand, hitting at Chance with the other. "She almost

knocked me down," Apple bawled.

"Stay out of my way then," Chance hollered back. A minute later her door slammed.

Ruth gave Apple a hug. The child was prone to seizures. Even though she took medication, any small trauma could set her off. The resource coordinator had warned that the children had special needs--"issues," she called them, but Ruth was ready to face them. They needed a cheerful home environment, a little understanding--love. A hug now and then, though the older one, Chance, seemed wary of hugs.

"Probably a bad day in school," Ruth told Apple. "She'll come around. You ready to eat, sweetie? She opened a kitchen window and hollered: "Beets? Vic? Colm? Dinner!"

The door opened and her neighbor Willard Boomer came in, stamping his booted feet on the mat. There was the usual shy grin, a hand running through the white thatch of hair. "I got the new sign for Flint's," he said. "Says, Goats 'R Us. Take a look." He dragged in a three-by-six hunk of board with GOATS in bright red paint and 'R US in electric green.

Ruth's partner Colm came in behind Willard, laughing. "They'll think it's a kiddie toy store."

"They may be right," she said, standing on her toes for a kiss. She grinned at the ridiculous outfit Colm was wearing: bright red cotton pants with golf clubs all over them, when he didn't even play golf. Lately Colm had been shopping at the garage sales.

She looked out at the railway Willard had built for the children around the rim of the veggie garden. A two-foot-long black engine and two red passenger cars were puffing along the gauge one track and past the newly planted peas and lettuce. Beets was on his hands and knees watching them. Vic was embracing a red caboose that someone, probably Willard, had brought over.

"Gorgeous," she said, looking at the sign. "You can hang it after dinner. Willard--give the kids out there a holler, will you? Then join us. Shepherd's pie!" she shouted so Chance could hear.

Chance didn't come down, so Ruth saved a large helping on a plate after the others had gulped down their share. She zapped the cooling shepherd's pie in the micro and took it up to the girl's room.

She knocked. Silence. Knocked again, and no reply. "Okay, it's outside the door," she hollered in. "Hot and buttery the way you like it."

When there was still no answer, she said, "Willard's made that new sign about the Goats 'R Us. He'll be hanging it at Flint's for me. Come on out and take a look."

She knew Chance liked Willard. He was one of the few adults, other than Colm and her English teacher, to whom Chance would talk more than five minutes. Once Colm actually got her to laugh.

"Okay," she said, "eat it cold then."

It wasn't always easy to stay patient with the girl. Sometimes she was comfortable to have in the house; other times she was impossible to live with. Ruth hoped adopting the girl would help. She was taking a chance--literally--but she'd risk it. Her daughter Sharon said the foster children were substitutes for the cows she'd lost. Maybe so. But Chance was far more than a cow. She was a human being, with all her vulnerabilities. Ruth wouldn't want to lose her.

Downstairs, Apple was feeding the dishwasher, though she was mumbling something about a spy club meeting in the old barn, and Beets was working on his ant farm for a school science project. The sheltie was surfing the counters with her long nose that stretched like an accordion when she stood up on her hind legs. This was a nineteenth-century farmhouse; floors rose and fell like sea waves. The winter wind crept through the cracks in door and windows and flecked bits of paint off the walls. In summer the upstairs was a sauna bath.

Colm was in the living room with a glass of Guckenheimer whiskey, talking back to the TV reporter. "Marry me!" he shouted when she stuck her head in to tell him to turn it down, and she hollered back the usual: "I'll consider it."

She'd come here with Pete, her bridegroom, whose family farm it was. Three children later, when he defected with an actress from a local film, she stayed on and ran the farm. It was the way the world worked. You didn't have a hell of a lot of control over it.

Now Willard was hollering out in the driveway, trying to shove the Goats 'R Us sign onto his bicycle cart; on principle, he refused to drive a car and add to the toxic emissions. Ruth went out to help. "An inch to the right," she suggested, and when he tipped it: "Perfect. It'll stay."

"Means you got to get a couple more goats, right?" Willard said. "I've only seen three so far. You can't make much cheese out of three."

"Ah, but Zeena is pregnant, Willard, and that means four. Or five or six? Ye gods! I've got to keep reading that book on goats. When do I have time?" She wasn't milking a herd anymore, but jobs seemed to multiply. Parkinson's Law.

When Willard wobbled off down the road to Flint's farm, she walked back toward the house. She had laundry to do, then she'd work on the cheeses she was planning to sell to the local markets. She had nearly eighty in the barn freezer, waiting to be labeled--what--Goats'R Us?

Chance's window was wide open; she could see papers flying about in the wind that had come up since dinnertime. She ran back in and up the stairs: "Laundry time, Chance. Throw it out. This minute. Or I'm coming in."

No answer. She called again, and then opened the door. Bedrooms were one's sanctuary, but there was a limit, oh yes, there was a limit!

Empty. Just the room full of papers and CDs, the open window. The bed with its colorful India print spread, the black beanbag chair she squatted in to do her homework. The colorful Recognize the Abenaki poster hanging by one stick pin on the wall, and fluttering. Chance was one fifth Abenaki on her birth mother's side; she'd lately begun to identify with that ancestry.

The cell phone, Ruth saw, was gone--Chance's coveted sixteenth birthday present. The school books were crammed into the purple bookbag.

Below in the driveway Ruth heard the unmistakable grind of her '93 Ford pickup starting up. She raced down the stairs.

"What's going on?" Colm yelled, "I'm trying to listen to Law and Order."

Ruth had no breath to answer. There was no law and order in this house. Already the car was pulling out of the driveway, the girl had taken Ruth's keys. She shouldn't be driving, she had only a learner's permit--and that was ostensibly because she wanted to learn to drive the tractor.

"Colm!" she shouted. "Got to borrow your car." Colm always left the keys in it. Who'd want to steal it? he'd say, and Ruth had to agree. It was a two-tone blue Horizon, vintage 1992, and ready for the junk lot, but Colm loved it.

Ruth rattled out of the drive, turned left to follow the pickup. The green Ford sped up when the Horizon got close, roared down the road, made a quick turn onto Ridge Road. Ruth hunkered down for the chase. Chance was cruising faster now; she sailed out toward Route 30, turned left, away from town. A trailer truck was pulling out from the snowmobile store. Ruth honked and yelled out her window; the girl swerved around it. The truck stopped, pulled back off the road. There was a crashing sound, and when the air cleared, Ruth saw the girl had veered off into the town hall parking lot--but struck the rear bumper of a small, black truck.

Ruth drove crazily into the lot and slammed out of her car. Chance was just sitting there in the green pickup, her arms folded, staring straight ahead. "You're okay?" Ruth asked, raising her voice over the banging in her chest.

The girl continued to stare out the windshield. She didn't speak. "You're okay then," Ruth said, the fear turning to irritation. The girl sniffed, and nodded.

"But my truck's not okay." Ruth bent to look. There was a new scar where it had run into the black truck. Her beautiful old Ford pickup with the dozen bumper stickers she'd carefully cultivated. The black truck, she saw, was hardly scratched, it was a real oldie. The fellow had come running out of the town hall, was inspecting it closely, like it was a shiny new toy.

"Do you want to report it?" she asked, and he lowered his chin. He probably had a pile of pot in the backseat. He motioned No with his hands. She nodded, and he drove off.

"Go sit in Colm's car," she told Chance. She ran back to pull the keys from the pickup.

The girl obeyed, head down like an ostrich that wanted to hide in the dirt.

"We'll drive it home," Ruth said. "I'll ask Colm to take me back to pick up my truck. Maybe he or Willard can bang out the front a little."

"Well, no one was hurt," the girl said defiantly. She sat huddled against the passenger door, head turned away.

Ruth glanced at her injured pickup, and blinked--she was beginning to break down. "I'm hurt, that's who. I'm hurt." She jammed two fists into her eyes to stem the tide in front of Chance. "You'll have to work this off if Colm can't do it. I won't get any insurance money."

"It's an old truck anyway," Chance said, looking out the window. "I don't know why you're making such a fuss."

Ruth lost it then. "You take my car without my permission, drive it recklessly, cause an accident, and you can't say you're sorry! Well, dammit, can't you? Will those two words hurt to say?"

The girl kept looking out the window, lips pressed together. There was a slight quiver of the shoulders. Still no apology.

"Didn't we take you in when that family gave you up because you were a pain in the butt? Didn't we give you a bed and food? And love--yes, love, too? A permanent home for once in your life?"

The girl made a strangled sound in her throat.

Now Ruth was sorry. She'd spoken out of her anger. She held out a hand but the girl turned away.

"I didn't ask you to take me in," Chance yelled over her shoulder. "If you knew I was such a pain in the butt, it was your bad luck. I hate it here. I hate the chickens you make me clean and I hate the goats over to Flint's and I hate that stupid old cow. I hate everything!" She spun back toward Ruth. "I hate you!"

Ruth had wanted to make amends. Now it was too late, there was no going back. She was a river, overflowing its banks. She was drowning in rage at this young ingrate. "All right then, we'll find another place for you. I'll go see the foster care people, stop the adoption process. Make arrangements. Tomorrow. I can't go today. I--I've other things to do."

They were already at the farm; she veered in, slammed on her brakes. Her heart was a racing car. The girl was intractable. She slammed out of the truck and sprang up the back steps.

"Hey," Colm said, coming to the door. "What happened? Where's your truck?"

"Lightning struck," Ruth said between quick hot breaths. "It hit my truck, and then it hit me."


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