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Above Scandal

Clarence Bay Chronicles, Book 1

Author(s): Joan Leacott

Scandals and Secrets


Three generations of Rossetti women are hoarding secrets.

Cathy Rossetti’s secret is Hayley, her outspoken ten-year-old daughter, who’s about to meet her family for the first time. Sadly, it’s taken a terminal illness to bring Cathy back to her hometown.

The elder generation of Rossetti women guards a thirty-year old secret with the power to rock Cathy’s world. Will her mother take their secret to her grave, or will her aunt break her punishing vow of silence?

Hayley hates secrets, so she’s sleuthing around Clarence Bay looking for her daddy. Is it her new BFF’s father or mayoral candidate Ryan Chisholm or Ryan’s handsome campaign manager?

Ryan has a secret, too. He’s still in love with Cathy, his high-school sweetheart. For a man running his election campaign on a platform of honesty, this could cause problems. Will dumping his popular fiancée cost him the election? And if Cathy still loves him after eleven years absence, she’s not telling.


Clarence Bay Chronicles: Where the neighbours will keep your secrets.

Excerpt


Chapter 1. Homecoming

Home. Memories of screaming matches, slamming doors, and bitter tears rose on a sour wave of bile.
Stopped in the driveway of the big red brick house, Cathy unglued her fingers one at a time from the steering wheel and put the idling Lexus in reverse.

“Mom, is this Nonna’s house?” ten-year-old Hayley asked.

Cathy nodded.

“Mo-om, are you okay?”

Maybe. If they let us in.


“Just nervous, Hayley sweetie. It’s been a while.” Eleven years since life had driven Cathy away. Now death drew her back.

Through the rear-view mirror, she glimpsed Ryan’s house across the street. Did he still live there?
Low pewter clouds bustled overhead. If only her memory could be cleansed as easily as the rain washed the dusty roads and sidewalks of Clarence Bay.

Sighing hard and deep, Cathy put her car in park and turned off the engine. She climbed out, smoothed her sleeveless pink blouse over her black jeans, and pushed her eyeglasses up her nose. A chilly raindrop splat on her shoulder and ran down her pristine front. She shivered and groaned at the mess.

Hayley giggled. “Better’n bird poop.”

Cathy’s tension eased just enough to permit a wry huff before snapping back like a hard rubber band. Holding hands, they walked up the front path to the deep porch.

“Well, here goes nothing.” Cathy pressed the doorbell with a trembling finger.

“Don’t worry, Mom. It’ll work itself out.”

Cathy’s jumpy gaze skittered over the old house and its property—the neatly mown lawn, the freshly dug garden without a weed in sight, the sparkling windows. Somebody had a great way with yard tools.

The screen door rattled as the inside door opened. Zia Yola, grown softer and rounder in Cathy’s absence, stood gaping at them.

Ciao, Zia Yola,” Cathy said in Italian and held her breath for her aunt’s reaction.

Zia Yola’s hands fluttered to her pale cheeks, her dark eyes huge above her stubby nails. Her gaze bounced between Cathy and Hayley as if she didn’t quite believe her own sight.

“Are you my grandmother?” Hayley asked.

Zia Yola’s fingers slid to cover her mouth and fisted there. She blinked rapidly and a few tears trickled down her cheeks. After several minutes of struggle, she released a shuddering breath. “No, I am nobody’s nonna. I am your prozia, your great-aunt Yolanda. , Caterina?”

Cathy nodded, distracted by the current of sadness running under Zia Yola’s words. Nobody’s grandmother. How much had her tender-hearted aunt sacrificed to help raise her?

Zia Yola shook herself. “Santo cielo, what am I doing keeping you on the doorstep? Come in, come in.” She stepped back and opened the door wide.

Cathy followed Hayley into the square front hall that seemed smaller and darker than she remembered. The scent of sautéed garlic, ripe tomatoes, and fresh basil hadn’t changed. Here, the upkeep was just as obvious as outside, but not as surprising. No self-respecting Italian homemaker allowed her home to become dirty, no matter the state of her health.

Hayley crossed her legs tightly. “Mom, I need to pee so bad,” she whispered behind her hand.

Cathy pointed down the hall. “The washroom is through the kitchen and on your left.” Hayley’s jean-clad little butt disappeared before Cathy confirmed the location with her aunt.

, it’s still in the same place.” Zia Yola scrutinized Cathy from head to toe, then crossed an arm over her waist and propped the other akimbo in her characteristic stance showing both her strength and her indecision.

“You look well, Caterina. I—we missed you.”

“I—um—I missed you, too.” As she said the words, Cathy acknowledged the truth. She had missed her aunt. Her nerves twisted in sharp anxiety. Afraid to ask, she needed to know. “How’s Mamma?”
Zia Yola shook her head. “As well as can be expected. The cancer is gone, but the chemotherapy wore her out. She is very weak, very tired, always sleeping. And her hair—” Zia Yola ran a jittery hand over her own thick waves and sighed. “She’s asleep right now. I’ll let her know you’ve arrived when she wakes up in a couple of hours.” Neither of them dared to predict her response.

Disappointment, strongly flavoured by relief, slowed Cathy’s chaotic thoughts.

Zia Yola tilted her head in the direction Hayley had gone. “You didn’t—?”

Cathy pushed her glasses up her nose and checked out the web-free corners of the ceiling. “No, I didn’t. My heart forbade me to give her away or destroy her.”

“But your heart let you hide her from us? For ten, nearly eleven, years?”

Cathy stared blindly at her purse strap, wrapping and unwrapping it around her hand, reining in her resentment. She lifted her head, chin jutting. “Yes. Mamma was so ashamed, so disgusted with me, so afraid of the scandal. She didn’t want me—us—here. So, yes, I left.”

Zia Yola gazed at Cathy with sad dark eyes. “You lied to us, sneaking out when we thought you were asleep. Your mother tried to teach you better than that. We both thought you weren’t so foolish as to—” Zia Yola gestured vaguely.

Defensive heat crawled up Cathy’s cheeks. She had done all kinds of things to escape her mother’s haranguing. Especially about sex: dirty, dangerous, forbidden sex. A jolt of near-forgotten desire zinged through her. Sheesh, just being in the same town as her memories of Ryan rattled her nerves.

“So many phone calls from Helen and she said nothing of your child?” Zia Yola’s voice pitched high in doubt. “Such a dear old friend of mine. You went to her, you share a house together—and she said nothing?”

Helen had constantly warned no good would come of keeping Hayley’s birth a secret or Cathy’s relentless stubbornness in staying away. 
“I asked Helen not to tell you. To protect my daughter.”

Zia Yola sniffed a protest. “Does Helen know who the father is? Do you? Did you tell him?”

Cathy’s hands clenched and her mouth tightened. “Yes, I know who her father is. He’s on her birth certificate. And if I didn’t tell you two, do you really think I’d tell him? If my own family—the only family I’ve got—didn’t want me, refused to help me, why should I expect him to help?” Plus, he’d wrestled with his own family troubles at the time.

But things were different now. Her mother’s life-threatening illness demanded at least an attempt at reconciliation before it was too late. Cathy blew a long strained breath to release her defensiveness and laid a coaxing hand on her aunt’s shoulder. Only forty-five, Zia Yola looked every minute as old as her sixty-three-year-old sister Lucia. So much premature grey in her aunt’s hair, so many burdens she carried. Cathy prayed she didn’t add to the heap. “I didn’t come to justify my decisions. I got eight weeks compassionate leave to see Mamma, to help you if you’ll let me. I brought Hayley in case . . .”

Her aunt’s face held rigid for a long unbearable moment then collapsed in soft folds of grief. She stared up the staircase and Cathy followed her gaze. Pale grey light shone through the landing window, skipped over the once-rich tones of the stair runner. Countless times Cathy had stormed down those stairs and out the door in desperate need of the secret comfort of Ryan’s arms.

“What’s done is done.” Zia Yola raised her hands in benediction, grasped Cathy by the shoulders, and planted a solemn kiss on either cheek. The warm belated greeting eased Cathy’s doubt, yet stirred a new regret. Perhaps she should have come back sooner when the situation wasn’t so dire.
Zia Yola crossed herself and tapped her chest over her heart. “Se Dio vuole, Lucia will forgive the secret and be happy to see you. And her nipote.”

Yes, God willing, Mamma would forgive her and greet her granddaughter with an open heart. Cathy huffed a sarcastic breath. As if she actually wanted forgiveness. More like Mamma should beg Cathy’s forgiveness for throwing her out in a desperate time. She killed the useless thoughts.

Hayley skipped into the room, arms swinging, curls bobbing. How did she always manage to lose whatever clip Cathy put in her untameable hair?

Hayley stilled as if scenting distress in the air. She gave Cathy a big grin and stuck out her right hand towards her great-aunt. “Buon giorno, Prozia Yolanda. My name is Hayley Rossetti and I’m pleased to meet you,” she sing-songed her practiced Italian introduction.

Cathy’s aunt took the proffered hand with lifted eyebrows and a kind smile at Hayley’s irresistible charm. “I am delighted to meet you at long last, piccola. You must call me Zia Yola like your Mamma does. Yes?”

“Sure.”

With a puzzled frown, Zia Yola scanned Hayley’s features closely, took her face gently in her palms and tipped it towards the light streaming in the open door. “You remind me of someone from long ago.” She stroked Hayley’s wild mop of sandy ringlets.

Hayley’s eyes sharpened at the comment. Before her aunt speculated any further, Cathy hustled her daughter out to unload the car.

Whom did Zia Yola see in Hayley? Apart from her curly hair and fair complexion, Hayley looked nothing at all like Ryan. She’d taken only her dark eyes from Cathy’s typical Italian face. The origin of her daughter’s other features hung hidden on the family grapevine.

Regardless of some phantom resemblance, dangerous recollections must be circumvented until Cathy’s second goal was accomplished. She needed to know what sort of man Ryan had become.


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ISBN (Print): 978-0992002800
ISBN (Electronic): 978-0992002817
Genre: Contemporary
Date Published: 06/25/2013
Publisher: Joan Leacott

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