"Finding Farrell" is out now (exclusive to Amazon but it'll be going free in a week or so) and yes, it has taken a long, long, long, long time, but it is one of those stories that has a history.
I first wrote a version of it years ago when I was subbing to M&B and getting rejected on a sadly consistent basis by, I am sure, every editor that ever stepped across the threshold of the place. I hope I've chucked out the rejection letters because while a lot of people subscribe to the view that having these vile pieces of paper around where you can see them is a good motivator, I veer toward them depressing the crap out of me. Anyhow, I never really gave up on this story. There was just something about it. Possibly because I remember the day I got the idea for it, sitting on the bus, coming home from university, most likely with baby on my lap, who'd been at the daycare. That's when I got the idea. My father-in-law was a professor (he was actually an "associate" professor but we always referred to him as "The Professor" and discreetly dropped the "a" word) and I had this idea about a fictional professor having a protoge (the hero) and the heroine being his estranged daughter.
The black suit had been pressed to perfection, the shoes polished to a glistening sheen.
Nick Blake assessed his reflection in the dress length mirror. On the surface, he approved.
He turned sharply away as his stomach clenched. The suit cost a fortune, the shoes only slightly less. On the outside, he didn’t look too bad at all.
Inside, his body was solid ice.
He adjusted his tie, even though it needed no adjustment, and wondered belatedly if he should have had his hair cut. It reached beyond his back collar now, and the strands that dipped across his forehead annoyed him. But then, he hadn’t anticipated he’d be here. Forty-eight hours ago he'd been in London, presenting at a law society conference.
He looked down at the sheet of white paper on the table. Soberly, he ran his finger down the length of it, over the blue ink of his handwriting. He knew it off by heart, from the opening stanza to the final word. Yesterday he’d edited one man’s brilliant life down to three minutes. One hundred and eighty seconds. It had been insane. The hardest words he’d ever had to write; they had also been the easiest.
He checked his wristwatch; it was time to leave. Already the chapel would be crammed with colleagues and friends, and as many past students who could fit in to the ridiculously small space for such a memorial. As for family…
Nick picked up the paper. Dean’s family was a mystery to him. What there was of it. Professor Dean Bridgewater had never been much on family, just like Nick had never been big on family either.
He made his way towards the elevator of his apartment. In the years he’d known Dean Bridgewater, the older man had become more than a mentor; he’d become like a father.
When he stepped out of the building, the glare of the mid-day sun made him squint, blasting heat off the path. It was a beautiful Clearlake day.
It was, he thought grimly, as he reached into his pocket for his keys, just one hell of a shame about the circumstances.
Farrell Bridgewater always prided herself on being the cool one. The one her friends could turn to for a sympathetic ear, the one who could calmly multitask while her colleagues morphed into hysterical drama queens; the one who never let her emotions get the better of her.
Though on that last one she was going to have to reassess. A trickle of dread wound its way down her spine. Because from where she sat, the man standing with his back half turned to her looked like Nick Blake. And if it was him, then she had better find a way to get out of here fast.
He turned then, swung a mere 90 degrees but from the definition to his chin, the powerful breadth to his shoulders, to the luscious black hair…
No. Farrell clenched her fists, tried to think rationally over the intense pounding of her heart. It couldn't be. The world was just not that small. This was just some guy who had that 'look' down pat. Had to be.
He stepped up to the lectern, turned to face the congregation, and the blood drained from her body.
It was him.
This was unbelievable. Unbelievably bad.
And the only way out of here was to stand up and walk down that aisle to the back of the chapel where every single person would watch her and wonder why she was leaving when there was still one more speaker to go.
Even slipping on sunglasses was only going to bring attention to herself because this place was funereal and dark enough as it was.
She was going to have to wait until it was over.
She looked back up at him.
He was staring at the sheet of paper in his hand.
For a moment, even from this distance, there was hesitation in his movement. He paused. Took a deep breath. Almost a calming breath.
Interesting. This wasn't like the man she'd been discreetly following in the media the past few years, the man who had taken C.E.Os. to task, and had famously walked out on a televised interview with the city Mayor. His chest rose beneath the black jacket, and she was suddenly aware the silence in the chapel had stilled even further.
As if in slow motion, he folded the paper in half, then half again, set it down on the lectern, and looked out.
"Dean Bridgewater," he began, "was like a father to me…"
I do not need to hear this.
Farrell focused on anything but his words. She scrutinized the heels of her stilettos, flexed her cramped fingers, thought about the meetings she'd postponed so she could be here. And she planned her escape as soon as this memorial was over.
It wouldn't go down well with her mother. Ivy sat to her left, her stepfather, Kirk, to the right, and Ivy wouldn’t so much as dream of running away. Just like she hadn't thought twice about being at the private funeral yesterday with the two other ex-wives. And, of course, Farrell; Dean Bridgewater's only surviving blood relative.
How mature was she right now, planning to run away?
She cast a quick glance up at Nick as his voice washed over her. She suppressed the urge to shiver at the deep tone, and knew she had to stay. What other choice did she have? Yet, the second he saw her, he'd remember. She hadn't told him her real name that night they'd spent together. But of course he'd remember her.
Suddenly, his voice quieted, and the silence was deafening.
"Beautiful," someone murmured behind her, and Farrell automatically looked up at the lectern.
Nick was staring straight at her, his gaze pinned to her.
She registered shock glancing across his face, followed the barest moment later by–recognition?
He didn't move and she barely breathed.
Then he took a step back, the minister closed with a benediction, people began to talk, and she lost sight of him altogether.
Her mother touched her arm. "Are you okay?" Ivy murmured. "You’re pale."
"Mom, I’m fine." Farrell pushed the image of Nick away. It was hard. "It’s just colder in here than I expected. But what about you. How are…" Her words snapped to a halt as her mother dabbed a tissue to her eyes.
How was it that after everything her father had done to her mother, she was–grieving?
Farrell laid her palm across her mother’s fist and squeezed. Of all the things she might have imagined doing here, comforting her mother wasn't one of them.
The day was getting weirder by the second.
She scanned the chapel but there was no sign of Nick. Good.
She reached for her bag and Ivy's eyebrows rose. "Farrell, are you going now? There are so many people to talk to."
"It's best, mom, I know you understand. And you? Are you really sure you want to hang around? You were at the funeral yesterday. No one expects you to stay for this as well."
Ivy gave a wry smile. "You know, I never expected to either, but it’s as if fifteen years of my life is in this room. Friends I never thought I'd see again when your father and I divorced. I’d like to stay. Renew old contacts."
"Farrell?" Kirk gripped her shoulders as she stood. "You’ll come for dinner later?"
"I'm not sure." Unexpectedly she was feeling a little at odds with herself, a little disoriented, which shook her. She'd thought she’d do her duty here, drive away, and slot the whole afternoon in to the extra-curricular activities slot. Now, though, she didn’t think it was going to be that easy to forget.
She embraced Kirk. "Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ll call."
She said goodbye to them both, slung her bag over her shoulder, and made her way out of the chapel. People were already spilling onto the lawns, and the sun beaming down on her black dress was welcome and oddly soothing. It did something to detract from the glances she was getting. These people were her father's friends, his colleagues; people who had featured in his life when she hadn't featured in it at all. Probably wondering just what the great man's daughter was really like.
She reached in her bag for her keys as she headed up the path to the road. Last night Ivy had suggested they travel in together. Farrell was glad she'd refused the offer. She'd figured she wouldn't want to hang around, but she sure as hell hadn't counted on wanting to escape.
Very mature, Bridgewater.
She walked quickly, her heels clicking as she reached the asphalt path even as confusion wrenched at her. Because there was part of her that wanted to turn around and head back to Nick, and put an end to this mystery that was killing her.
How had he known Dean Bridgewater?
Nick was a lawyer, influential. A self-made success focused on his legal practice. Her father was an academic whose life revolved around the past. They lived in completely different worlds, and none of this made any sense.
She should have listened to his eulogy after all.
She reached her car, had just pressed the remote when she heard solid footsteps behind her.
The footsteps stopped, and Farrell's chest tightened in warning.
Please don't let it be him, please do not let it be Nick.
She turned around and her heart plummeted.