RESORTING TO THE TRUTH
In love we trust…
She may have found the twin sister she never knew she had…but Charlotte Harrington also lost her mother. And now she’s lost her artistic inspiration, too. Escaping to a lush tropical resort is her best shot at getting something of her own back again. She just needs to focus and somehow not let Sam Briton’s guarded smile distract her.
Managing a hotel and single fatherhood puts plenty on Sam’s plate, Charlotte gets that. And the suspicion in his deep blue eyes can only lead to big-time trouble for a woman who struggles with the truth. So why is she driven by the need to convince him that love is worth opening his heart?
Two months ago
Charlotte Harrington sat alone in her living room, clutching the sealed envelope bearing her name, which was written in her deceased mother’s handwriting. The August sun had set a while ago. The only illumination in her Newport, Rhode Island, home was the fluorescent bulb in the lamp on the end table next to her.
She had no idea how much time had passed since her recently discovered twin sister, Allie Miller, had left with Charlotte’s neighbor, Jack Fletcher. They’d helped Charlotte unload her car after she’d returned from her Boston art show and wanted to give her privacy as she read her mother’s last words.
Charlotte placed the envelope on her lap and wiped her damp palms on her jeans. She’d crinkled the edge of the envelope from grasping it so tightly the moment she’d found it buried in a box of ticket stubs and other memorabilia her mother had saved. If not for the phone call that evening from Felicia Malone, a woman who claimed Charlotte’s mother had been seeing Felicia’s husband nearly three decades ago, Charlotte wouldn’t have gone searching for clues to the truth in her mother’s memory box. Charlotte had stored the box under her bed to sort through later, thinking nothing of significance was inside. The way the letter had been hidden under other memorabilia, she could only assume she wasn’t supposed to find it until after her mother’s passing. The idea made Charlotte even more curious about the letter’s contents.
During their phone conversation, Felicia had claimed that once a week, before Charlotte was born, her husband and Charlotte’s mother would meet at a movie theater and then go to a hotel room afterward.
Charlotte sniffed. More than a year had passed since losing her single, adoptive mother, but the grief Charlotte thought she had under control rolled over her like a tsunami.
She ran a finger across her name on the envelope. The stationery was familiar. Her mother had obviously written the letter shortly before her passing. Charlotte had supplied the stationery when her mother had wanted to write notes to friends after her health had begun to quickly decline. Her mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died a few months later.
Turning the pale yellow envelope over, Charlotte noticed the flap was barely sealed. Her lips twitched slightly. Mom had disliked the taste of envelope glue.
Charlotte slipped a finger under the flap and broke the seal. Even before she removed the contents, she could tell there were several handwritten pages.
She wiped her damp hands on her jeans again and pulled the pages from the envelope. She unfolded the letter, which featured a bouquet of white daisies—her mother’s favorite flower—in the upper-right corner of the first page. Charlotte recognized her mother’s tiny penmanship instantly. She swallowed the lump in her throat and began reading.
My dearest Charlotte,
As you read this letter, please know that my love for you knows no bounds. Even in death, which I know is imminent, my love for you will never end.
Tears welled in Charlotte’s eyes, her mother’s words too blurry to read. She blinked a few times and wiped away the tears running down her cheeks. Why hadn’t she grabbed some tissues before she sat down?
She sniffed and continued.
I’ve always been honest with you about your adoption, but there are details I’ve left out. Details I always thought I’d have time to explain, but I don’t want to add to your burden with my illness coming on so quickly. Hopefully, you are reading this after you’ve recovered emotionally.
You and I have talked openly about your adoption. How I brought you home as an infant, and you’ve been the light of my life ever since. But there are things I didn’t tell you. Maybe because I selfishly wanted you all to myself. It was always you and me against the world. I have no excuse that will make up for not telling you that you have a twin sister.
She had known! Charlotte tossed the letter aside, unable to continue as the sudden anger at her mother roiled inside her. No wonder she’d hidden this letter for Charlotte to find later. Her mother must have known how betrayed Charlotte would feel.
Why had her mother kept Charlotte’s twin sister, Allie, a secret? The sisters had lost out on so many years together because they hadn’t known about each other.
Charlotte and Allie had met by accident at a wedding two months ago, twenty-nine years after they’d been adopted by different families. Charlotte’s existence had been a huge surprise to Allie’s adoptive mother, but apparently Charlotte’s mother had always known.
Charlotte stood and paced in front of her sofa, clenching and unclenching her fists. Why on earth would her mother have kept such news from her? The entire time Allie and Charlotte had been looking for confirmation of their relationship, Charlotte had been positive her mother had been clueless about Allie.
Charlotte needed to know more. She picked up the letter from the sofa and continued reading, still pacing the room.
I want you to be able to find your sister, so you need to know that you weren’t born in upstate New York like your birth certificate says, but in Rhode Island. The lawyer who handled your adoption, Gerard Stone, had a forged birth certificate made for you at my request. It’s the birth certificate you’ve used your entire life, and I always dreaded the day someone would realize it was fake. But that never happened. Thankfully, it was never necessary for you to apply for a replacement.
You were born in Cranston, Rhode Island. The lawyer dealt with many female inmates at the correctional institute there who found themselves pregnant while incarcerated and wanted to put their newborns up for adoption. I met Gerry Stone when I worked at Malone and Malone, the CPA firm in the same shopping center as Gerry’s office.
Charlotte and Allie had already uncovered most of this information. The fact that it was the now-deceased Gerard Stone who had arranged for the forged birth certificate was the only new information. Allie and Charlotte had originally suspected they might be cousins and not twins because though they were unmistakably identical and born on the same day, they were born in different states.
Or so they thought until they were able to track down their original birth certificates in the lawyer’s files a few weeks ago. That ascertained they were twins, both born in Rhode Island, and then confirmed by the DNA results she and Allie had received in the mail that very day.
I was well aware that Gerry did things that weren’t quite legal.
No kidding. Forging a birth certificate, selling babies, separating twins. Those were probably only a few of his transgressions. Who knew what else that man had been up to?
I must admit I never would have dealt with him if not for the man who was the love of my life.
Huh? Charlotte’s mother had never mentioned a man. Oh, a few she’d dated in high school and college, but no one she had been serious about. Was she talking about Felicia’s husband?
Hank was a good man, a very good man, and he loved me, too. If he hadn’t already had a wife and children, he would have married me. Instead, I made him choose and he stayed with them. I understood, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. When Hank made his choice, I found another job because he and his wife owned the CPA firm I worked for.
This was all before you were born. I never could have adopted you without Hank’s help. He gave me the money I needed for the adoption. Not a loan, a gift. That’s how much he loved me. He didn’t want me to be alone and knew how much I desperately wanted a child, a family, because, as you know, I have no living relatives.
Charlotte had been a parting gift. Instead of jewelry, he’d helped her mother buy a baby to ease his conscience. A thirty-thousand-dollar payoff.
Hank died a few years ago, and I sat in the back of the church during his funeral. I left before the family filed past so I wouldn’t cause them more pain. As much as I will miss you, I look forward to reuniting with Hank when my time comes.
Charlotte paused. She had felt that her mother had given up after being diagnosed. Was Hank the reason why? She could have gone through an experimental treatment, but her mother had decided not to explore the option.
I hope you can find a way to forgive me for not sharing this information with you years ago. The more time that passed, the harder it became to tell you because I knew you’d be hurt and angry. Losing you and your respect would have been more than I could have endured.
Several years ago, I began a search for your birth mother. I thought you might someday want to know your family medical history. Your mother’s name is Barbara Sherwood. Unfortunately, she died from a drug overdose a few years after you were born. She didn’t name a father on your original birth certificate. I have no idea whether you have any other living relatives or where your twin sister is, but I hope you will take this information and find her so you’re not alone.
Again, I hope you will someday be able to forgive me and remember that everything I have ever done was because of my love for you.
Charlotte read the letter a second time and then dropped it onto the coffee table. She put her hands over her face and shook her head.
Her mother had lied to her. Not just a little lie, but a series of lies that had continued nearly three decades.
No wonder her mother had hidden this letter for Charlotte to find after her mother’s death.
Charlotte had believed her mother was the epitome of honesty. She had recently bragged to Allie that her mother would never have kept her twin’s existence a secret if she’d known about it. She was the kind of person who would return to a store if she’d been given too much change, just to correct the mistake.
Charlotte’s text message alert sounded on her cell phone. She picked up the phone from the dining room table. The message was from Allie.
Checking to make sure you’re okay. Jack and I are here if you need us.
She’d been truly blessed to have found Allie, and their meeting had been purely accidental. Charlotte’s friend Jack had taken her to a family wedding. His cousin was marrying Allie’s younger brother. After Jack confused Allie for Charlotte a few times, both he and Charlotte met Allie. Charlotte found her sister, and Jack fell in love with Allie. Charlotte couldn’t be happier for the two of them. In fact, she and Allie’s mother, who had warmly embraced Charlotte like a daughter, had been instrumental in getting them to face their feelings for each other.
She looked at Allie’s message on her phone again. What should she say? She was too exhausted physically and emotionally to talk right now.
Thanks. I appreciate it. Will talk to you in the morning.
Charlotte sent the message and headed upstairs to bed, leaving her mother’s letter on the coffee table.