Chapter 1

Why hadn't they called yet?

Kaitlyn waited in the nursery, curled in the roomy golden-oak stained chair, rocking, listening, thoughts of possible futures gestating in her mind. The aroma of lemon oil permeated the air as hand-carved runners ticked over polished floorboards, forward, back, forward. She looked down and watched the ruffled hem of her long, pink gauze skirt sweep the floor with every tilt of the rocker. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Kaitlyn didn't really care if it was a boy or a girl—she'd love it either way—just so the barren crib would be filled with life. Gurgling, cooing, crying, joyous life. But Tony was pushing for a boy, of course. Kaitlyn shook her head at the thought of Tony having a son to mold into his own image. He couldn't do that with a girl; so she decided to wish for a girl.

Blue. At Tony's insistence, almost everything in the nursery was blue. Kaitlyn countered by wearing pink as often as possible, her small attempt at tipping the scales of fate toward the possibility of a daughter. A girl. Yes. If they let her choose, she would pick a girl. If only it was that easy.

She lifted the telephone to her ear, and a dial tone reassured her; the phone was working. "Please, please, please."

Terrycloth ducks and bunnies, suspended from a spidery metal frame, dangled over the empty crib and frolicked in the gentle spring breeze that whispered in past white gossamer curtains that twisted and writhed like tormented ghosts. One of the silken panels reached out and cast a momentary shadow over Kaitlyn. A shiver crept across her belly.

The doorbell rang.

Her hand abandoned its urgent grip on the sky blue phone cradled in her lap, then slid to her flat belly. An apprehensive palm felt only her own pulse beating a solitary, lonely rhythm.

Was he home? Did he forget his key? No. The window opened over the front door. She would have heard the Hummer approach.

A deep voice. "Registered mail."

Mail? She dragged a deep breath through her constricted throat. Could the news be so bad they were afraid to call her, embarrassed to tell her in person?

A cramp seized her belly. She doubled over in pain.

The damn bell again. He'll just keep ringing. What if Tony gets home and sees him? She rocketed out of the chair. The phone jangled as it crashed and tumbled across the shining floor.

Taking stairs two at a time, Kaitlyn wheeled down the circular staircase, clinging to the railing, her sweating palm squeaking along the polished mahogany. She teetered across the hunter green, sculptured carpet and stopped in front of the dark oak door, huge knotholes regarding her like suspicious eyes. Her heart beating double-time, she stood on her toes and peered through the peephole. The mail carrier was already leaving. "No!" She yanked the door open, gouging her palm on one of the tumorous, black, iron nail heads that infested its surface.

"Wait! I'm here." She rubbed her lacerated palm on her skirt to ease the pain and felt a warm wetness seep through the webbed fabric. Glancing down, she spotted cherry-colored stains marring her tender pink skirt and realized her palm bled.

With pursed lips, the mail carrier turned and stepped back toward Kaitlyn, his gangly limbs picking carefully along the walkway, as a long-legged insect might. "Here. You have to sign." He handed her a large white envelope and a pen.

Kaitlyn wiped her palm on her skirt again and took the pen. "Here?"

He nodded. She had barely finished scribbling her name when the mail carrier pinched a corner of the envelope and tugged on it. Kaitlyn resisted, the white parchment crackling against her palm.

"Hey, I need the receipt." He tugged harder. Kaitlyn let go, leaving a ruby streak across the envelope. Glowering, the mail carrier tore off the signature tag and handed the envelope back to Kaitlyn. When their eyes met, the mail carrier's expression softened. He nodded and headed back toward the street.

Kaitlyn examined the return address. It was from them. Them. She pressed the envelope to her heart and closed her eyes, then leaned against the door to steady herself. Maybe it would be good news. Please, oh please. Maybe. She slipped past the thick door, and then pushed against it with her back. The heavy iron latch clunked behind her. The finality of the sound sent a chill down her spine. She shook off the memories of bars and locks, then wiggled a trembling finger under the edge of the envelope's flap. Little by little, her probing finger tore tiny fractures in the heavy, white paper. She pushed further, slowly, carefully. Don't ruin it. It could one day become a cherished keepsake. Oh, please.

"Hell!" One quick thrust and the envelope ruptured. Kaitlyn fumbled for the letter as white remnants shuddered to the carpet, looking like clouds hovering over the dark green contours that emulated a summer forest canopy.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Castelli. We regret to inform you——Kaitlyn clenched her fist around the letter, compressing it into an angry, crackling knot. She gathered the scraps of white from the floor and strode into the parlor. "Fuck you all to hell." She pitched the paper into the fireplace and struck a match. A spastic flame waved at her from the hearth as the paper browned and curled. She sank to the floor, wrapped her arms around her shins, and rested her face on her knees. Empty. They were right. She would have made the same decision were she in their place. God would not let her have a baby of her own, so why should an adoption agency do differently. Empty. She deserved to be punished for past sins. And Tony. No place for a baby to grow up. Tears trickled down her legs, tickling like runaway insects. Empty, empty, empty.

The distinctive sound of heavily treaded tires rumbled down the street, slowed, squealed into a turn, and then crept up the driveway. The Hummer!

He was home! So early? She unfurled herself and slapped down the remaining embers, then still on her knees, fanned the smoke with the hem of her skirt.

His footsteps shuffled toward the front door and hesitated. She leapt to her feet and ran to the bathroom——examined herself in the mirror. Red eyes and tear stained cheeks——look away——now. She leaned over the white marble sink and splashed cold water on her face.
The front door slammed.

She clenched her fingers over the gold-plated lever and choked off the water.

"So, where the hell you hiding today?"

She grabbed a deep-purple towel and buried her face in its thick lavender-scented comfort.

"Knock——knock." His voice in the hall.

She felt her muscles tighten. Her knuckles ached as they dug into the folds of the towel. Her stomach cramped.

The bathroom door opened, noiseless on well-oiled hinges.

"Anything you want to tell me?" He stood there, light glistening off his black hair, his head tilted, one brow cocked.

"No." She pressed trembling lips together, avoiding his eyes——eyes that could bore into her soul——but his presence was too powerful. She felt the heat of his breath every time he exhaled. Her lids flickered then disobeyed and allowed his gaze to probe her for the truth.

"Nothing?" He stroked his precisely sculptured beard.

She swallowed hard. "No."

"Hmmmm." He peered at her through narrowed lids. "Upstairs."


"I know. You're not in the mood. So what's new?"


"Shut up. Now. Or else. I do not have any patience for your games today. Remember? Who got you out of jail? Remember who keeps you out of jail?" He paused as if waiting for an answer. "Me. If it wasn't for me, you'd be back on the streets." He shook his head with obvious disgust. And all this," he scanned the area with glistening eyes and shrugged, "All this was for you. This beautiful house. Everything. And what do you do for me in return? Nothing." With one crooked finger, he loosened his scarlet silk tie and walked away.

Kaitlyn watched his monolithic form merge with and disappear into the dark shadow cast by the circling staircase. If only he could disappear from her life so easily. If only she could get away. But she'd tried that and failed, ended up right where she started, on the winter-swept streets of Chicago with winter against her face and empty pockets, with the realization that she was more afraid of the past than she was of Tony. Empty. Always empty.

How could she have been so wrong about him——about all of them? Still clutching the damp towel, she followed to the base of the stairway and looked up. He was already upstairs.

Kaitlyn started up the stairs, this time taking one at a time, savoring the prolonged journey to the bedroom, a journey so much more pleasurable than the destination.

"Move that skinny ass of yours."

Kaitlyn squeezed her lids down over her eyes to help will away memories of the pain of finding a hoard of oversized panties hidden in Tony's closet——trophies of some woman endowed with a bottom at least twice the size of Kaitlyn's. But that was long ago. Now, she felt only gratitude toward any woman who could divert Tony's attention away from her, big bottom or not.

She moved a few more steps up the coiled staircase and listened to his movements. The swoosh of a door sweeping across carpet. His belt buckle clanking against a hook on the closet door. A crystal tumbler ringing as it met the marble tabletop. She took a few more steps.

The bedroom door was open.

Tony stood by the window, wearing his black satin robe.

Kaitlyn shivered——closed her eyes to the past.

A cigar spewing noxious fumes tottered between two fingers
of his left hand. He poured himself a glass of whiskey, tasted the golden-brown liquid, and nodded toward the bed.

Kaitlyn proffered the towel and moved as if to return it to the downstairs bathroom.

"Drop it."

Kaitlyn felt a familiar chill; a haunt from the past wrapped her in a frigid embrace. She knew what to do——the typical procedure all voyeurs requested. Pull back the bedcovers. Take off her clothes, one item at a time, ever so slowly. Fold them carefully, and place them on the chair. Look innocent. Act like nobody is watching. Then slip between the sheets and wait.

She had long ago given up wishing for expressions of affection, the decayed corpse of innocence, entombed so long ago. The best she could hope for was less pain than the time before, and before, and before. But, after all, it was what she deserved——atonement for her sins.

Tony tipped back his head to down the last drop of whisky, then balanced his cigar in a crystal ashtray. As he headed toward the bed, he loosened the sash on his robe and said the same thing he always said.

"Here comes the judge."

Kaitlyn braced herself and sent her mind to her imaginary safe place——a secret clearing in a magical forest where giant fireflies danced, where a golden-haired god would take her into the safety of his strong arms.

# # #

"I know you're awake." Tony elbowed Kaitlyn's ribs.

"Mmmmmm." Pretending sleep never worked, but it was all she had.

"You didn't answer me earlier when I asked you what was new." Tony rose and moved toward the window.

Kaitlyn smelled cigar smoke, heard the clink of a whisky bottle kissing the edge of a glass. Another drink and he would really get mean.

"Start talking."

Kaitlyn licked her lips. "I don't know what you're getting at."

"After twenty years on the bench, I've been lied to by better than you. I can smell a lie better than a hound dog can smell a bitch in heat."

"I don't——"

The floor creaked between the window and the bed, then again, but closer. She rose and grabbed her stack of clothes and held it close, hid behind it. "I'm going for a shower."

Tony blocked her way. "Look at this."

"What?" She tried to walk around him.

He grabbed a handful of her hair, wrapped silvery, pin-straight locks around his fist. "Look."

She forced her eyes to focus on something——a square of green paper?

"I don't——"

"Why was this registered mail notice in the mail box?"

Kaitlyn's lungs deflated. A shallow breath shivered into her lungs. How could she have forgotten to check the box? "I guess the mailman tried to deliver something. I guess I didn't hear him ring. It's no big deal. He'll just leave it tomorrow." She tried to twist away from him. He yanked her back.

"Are you telling me that we received no mail today?"

"I guess so, I——"

He shoved a scrap of white paper under her nose. So what is this then? I found it on the floor near the front door. Looks like a part of an envelope. A fine envelope.

He tightened his grip on her hair, twisted his fist until she dropped to her knees and cried out, still clinging to the pathetic cover of her folded clothes, pink gauze ruffles bursting from her grip.

"So who was it from? What did it say? As if I didn't already know."

He twisted her hair again.

"Noooo. They said no."

Tony yanked her to her feet and leaned down, moved his face so close to hers she could feel the heat of his breath, smell alcohol.

"Of course they said no. No legitimate agency would give a baby to a drug addict, a crack whore, a fucking prostitute. A felon." He shoved her away. She stumbled back and fell over the bed then rolled off onto the floor.

"Look at you. You are useless. You can't even get knocked up. Useless! Yet, the doctors say there is nothing wrong with you. How do you explain that?"

Kaitlyn gathered her things again and looked toward the door.

"Don't even think it. I'm not through with you yet."

Kaitlyn's heart thudded against her chest.

She felt her face flush. Say something. Say something. Say something before you have a heart attack. "So why don't you get yourself a new wife——the one with the fat ass." Her hands trembled over her mouth. How did those words stumble out?

The glass flew from Tony's hand. It smashed on the floor. Glass shards tumbled around her. Whisky spattered her face. She sat back on her haunches. "You can't keep——"

"Oh, yes I can. I can do anything I want. I have the stroke——the power. You, on the other hand, have nothing, you are . . . powerless. And if you were not so Goddamned beautiful, you would still be in prison where you belong. You exist only by my mere whim." He scanned the room with dark eyes. "Have this place in perfect order before I get back."


"Whenever I feel like it. It is all your fault, ice princess. You drive me away from my own home———make me go elsewhere for the comfort a man deserves." He headed toward the door, then turned back and stared at her, his eyes burrowing into her soul. "You're so fucking ungrateful. If it were not for me, you would still be a junkie in the gutter. I am all you have. I cleaned you up and brought you here. And for what? Look at yourself. Useless. Can't do one thing right." He shook his head and left.

Kaitlyn heard the Hummer rumble to life. She held her breath and listened. It pulled away from the house. She waited, then when she was sure he was gone, she let herself collapse to the floor. Fragments of the broken glass bit into her flesh from beneath, but it did not matter. There was no way out. Even her imaginary forest always failed her as soon as she opened her eyes. He was right. Here was better than out there.

# # #

When Kaitlyn had gathered the bits of broken glass on the morning paper, she rolled them up and took the bundle to the bathroom along with the soiled sheets. She tossed the paper into the trashcan and stepped into the shower. Lids dropped, draping her eyes in black, black like a judge's robe, like . . .

She scrubbed her skin with a rough loofah, scrubbed until her flesh stung. Could she scrub hard enough to break capillaries near the surface of her flesh, hard enough to draw blood? No. She stopped, dropped the loofa, and moved her hand to her wrist to feel the stigmata left by other failures. She ran her thumb along the telltale ridges. Maybe today she could do something right. She stepped from the shower, leaving the water running.

Steam fogged the room, obscuring her vision. Had Tony left an old-fashioned razor blade in the cabinet? As if in a dream, she padded over to the cabinet and reached through the fog. The door squealed as she pulled it open. Bottles and tins tumbled into the sink as she ran her fingers along the shelves. No. Nothing but triple safety razors. Then she remembered.

Kaitlyn reached into the trashcan and carefully lifted the newspaper, unrolled it and fingered the shards of glass. One long fragment, pointed like a canine tooth, glistened, taunted her. She drew it away from the rest, held it up to the mist-shrouded light. The shard winked at her like a firefly. Was it sharp enough?

She flattened the newspaper on the white tile floor and touched the crystal blade to it, drew it slowly along a crease. It sliced through the paper with ease. She eyed the lengthening gash in the paper with yearning, imagined it slicing just as easily across her pale flesh, freeing her from her past, from a life of sin, of evil, of failure after failure——all her own fault.

It would work.

One more test. She pressed the shard to her wrist. A glistening drop of blood lazily oozed from the tip of the shard and dropped. She watched is splash onto the paper, stared at it with longing.


Still clutching the shard, she lifted the paper, squinted through the mist, then returned it to the floor.

As if with a will of its own, the shard sliced a square around a small article. Once it was completely encompassed, Kaitlyn lifted it away from the page and moved closer to the light. She blew minute particles of glass off the article and read carefully, her lungs heaving, her fingers trembling.

She read, awstruck.



A chance. A reason to live.

She felt light, as if she could float up off the floor and hover just below the ceiling.

All her prayers had been answered. All her dreams would come true. And she would not need Tony or any other man to accomplish her goal.

She would love and be loved, after all.