Harper sucked in a huge rattling breath. “Thank you, God,” he croaked.
Mason silently seconded that.
Jessica plopped a lopsided head on the snowman. The ball of packed snow bobbled, and the girl slapped handfuls of snow about its neck as mortar. Lacey felt as if the winter was never going to end. It’d been four weeks since the fire, and the snow was still thick on the ground.
“Thank you for not telling the police about her,” Kelly whispered. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if Chris had found out Jessica wasn’t his. Or mine.”
Standing shoulder to shoulder, the two women watched the girl play in the snow from inside Lacey’s home. Against the white background, Jessica was a cheery sight in her red mittens and hat.
“She is yours. Both of yours.” Lacey tried to smile. “Suzanne would be happy to know she’s with you. No one could love her more than you and Chris.”
Kelly’s face fell. “It’s always there. Like a dark cloud around my head. I try not to think of Suzanne. For several years I nearly convinced myself I’d given birth to Jessica.”
“You haven’t had more babies.” It was a question.
At the sharp pain in Kelly’s simple words, Lacey pulled the woman away from the window and sat her on the sofa, giving Kelly her full attention. It was time for some answers. She hadn’t spoken with Kelly since that night at the fiery cabin. Lacey had kept her mouth shut when the police brought up Kelly’s abduction. She’d told the detectives that the kidnapper had kept them apart, that she’d never known Kelly was there. Said she hadn’t believed Kelly was still alive.
Lacey’s voice was nearly back to normal. She’d been hoarse for a long time, speech extremely painful. She’d suffered four cracked ribs, a broken radius, and a severe concussion. A few days in the hospital had helped heal her body. The healing of her mind was taking longer. The nightmares were back. Only this time they were about fire and smoke and evil. In them, she was trapped in the cabin, unable to escape from the hot flames. Or Bobby DeCosta.
Without the killer to question, the detectives pieced together the old Mount Junction deaths the best they could. They believed Dave and Bobby traveled between Mount Junction and Corvallis, dealing death for several years, sometimes together, sometimes alone. Their mother claimed to know nothing. And she claimed she never knew about a missing baby.
Lacey cleared her throat. “Why can’t you have children?”
“Do you remember when I had a miscarriage in college?”
Lacey nodded, the memory very faint.
“At that time they told me I had a bicornate uterus. Usually not a real big deal but I guess mine was a severe type. That’s what caused the miscarriage. They said it was doubtful I could carry a child to term unless I had surgery to repair it. I didn’t have medical insurance at the time and I didn’t want to get pregnant while I was still in college, so waiting on the surgery was fine with me. I told myself that when I was older and ready to start a family I’d get it fixed one day.”
“Did Chris know?”
Kelly shook her head. “It happened was before we dated. Then I couldn’t tell him after I’d got Jessica. What was I to say? ‘By the way, I need surgery to have children and Jessica was just a fluke?’ I just let him believe it was too difficult to get pregnant. We’d try month after month and I’d shake my head in confusion at the difficulty. Finally I started telling him I wanted only one child. How could we improve on perfection?”
“No more miscarriages?”
Kelly dropped her gaze. “I got hormone injections. Still do.”
She’d punished herself for having Suzanne’s daughter. No more children.
“How did you get the baby?” Lacey whispered.
Kelly shifted and her gaze stayed on her knotted hands in her lap. “He gave her to me. I didn’t ask for her. I didn’t even know who she was.”
“Who gave her to you?”
“You did know him. Did you know him before the trial?”
Kelly shook her head, raising pleading eyes to Lacey. “No. I met him during the proceedings. He often sat in the hallway outside the courtroom. He never looked at anyone or talked to anyone. I’d heard he had some sort of mental handicap. That’s why I spoke to him.”
Lacey nodded, understanding. Kelly’s little brother, Patrick, was severely mentally and physically handicapped.
“He never spoke to me but listened as I talked. I tried to be kind because everyone else treated him like dirt. I’d heard he was physically unable to speak, but he seemed bright. I sympathized. Somewhere, in one of our one-sided talks, I’d mentioned I couldn’t have children. I was trying to connect to him, that’s all. He couldn’t talk and I couldn’t have kids. I know being infertile doesn’t compare to not having a voice, but I was trying to show him that no one has everything.
“Several months later he showed up at my door with a beautiful baby girl. Chris and I had fought and broken up. We weren’t speaking and I was horribly depressed and lonely. Jessica gave me my life back, she made me feel whole again, and finally I could look at the future positively. I moved to my aunt’s in Virginia and passed her off as my own.”
“You didn’t ask where the baby came from?” Lacey sat motionless, her voice hoarse.
“I did and for the first time I heard him speak. There was nothing wrong with his voice.” Kelly’s tone grew derisive for a short second. “He told me a friend couldn’t raise her and he wanted me to have a child because I was the only person who had ever been kind to him. He thought he was helping me.”