It was New Year’s Eve. Tonight the Falcones would make their final strike in Chicago. The yacht party would be crawling with police. I knew in my heart that whoever stepped on to that boat wouldn’t make it out alive. I knew in my heart that I would never see Luca Falcone again. Beyond the grief and the sadness, the guilt and the panic, there was a sense of calm. Of numbness.
I had hit rock bottom, and I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Only for Millie. Only for the memory of my mother. Only for the life that Luca wished for me – the one I would have to lead for both of us now.
I dragged my attention from the winding streets where red-brick buildings crowded side by side – hipster cafes, a string of restaurants and an Urban Outfitters welcomed me to Boulder.
I laid my head back and closed my eyes. A split second seemed to pass before the cab door was swinging open and the driver was nudging me awake. I paid him, grabbed my bags from the trunk and stood in front of a small three-storey townhouse. The door was bright purple. It was tall and narrow, like something out of a storybook. There were flowers in the garden, peeking out from the snow. A painted mailbox with golden lettering: Miss Marla Flores. At least the address matched the name. I guessed that was something.
I climbed the three wooden porch steps and paused to welcome a familiar rush of anxiety. There was nothing. Just dullness – a slight ache, a flicker of nerves, and then nothing. I rang the doorbell and a melodic chime rose up behind the door.
It was almost sundown. The birds were still singing. It was cold, but the sun was out, and everything looked brighter than it should have been. I was about to ring the doorbell again when a frantic shuffling of feet galloped behind the doorway, followed by the sound of a lock shifting. I stood straight, going over my introduction in my head. Hi, my name is Sophie Gracewell. I think you knew my father …
The door creaked open, and a little girl peeked her head around it. She had wide grey eyes and thick black hair that hung in ringlets around her face. She smiled at me. Her front teeth were missing. I tried not to be knocked off-kilter by the appearance of an objectively adorable little girl, but somewhere in my mind, I was thinking, Is this my father’s love child? And if it is, who or what am I going to punch?
‘Hallo,’ said the little girl. She didn’t open the door any further, so I couldn’t see behind her.
‘Hello there.’ I smiled, but it was twitchy. She didn’t look remotely like me, but I had been tricked out of a family before. ‘What’s your name?’
She blinked her big eyes. There was something so familiar about them. God. I could almost feel it coming like a freight train. ‘Emilia.’
Emilia. Those eyes … that grin.
‘Where’s your mother, Emilia? Is she here with you?’
Emilia bit her bottom lip and made herself look very guilty. ‘She’s in the bathroom. I’m not supposed to answer the door, but I saw you in the window.’ She gestured to the side window, where a lace curtain had been pulled away behind a potted plant. ‘And I liked your hair, so I thought it would be OK. It’s like the sun.’
She reached up to touch it, but a voice startled her back into the house. ‘Emilia! What have I told you about answering the door? Come inside now.’
Emilia melted back into the house, and a heartbeat later, the front door swung open and I was standing face-to-face with Evelina Falcone.
I grabbed the side of the wooden awning and tried not to pass out.
I was staring so hard my eyes were vibrating. I had seen her photo a million times at Evelina – the one of her beaming on her wedding day, her head resting against Felice’s. I had memorized her oil painting, felt her gaze on the back of my neck every time I went to the library. I had traced the sadness in her eyes a thousand times, and felt it reflected inside me.
She looked the same – just a few more lines around her eyes, a tightness to her mouth.
She was beautiful.
She was alive.
I wanted to reach out and touch her to be sure.
Evelina stood motionless, letting me take it all in.
That’s how I knew she had been expecting me.
I rubbed the shock from my chest. ‘You’re alive,’ I said, coming a little closer, as though she was an apparition. ‘You’re supposed to be dead. My—’ I froze and felt the colour run from my face. My father was supposed to have killed her. But he hadn’t killed her. He hadn’t touched a hair on her head. And if she owed us a favour, that meant he had helped her.
‘You’re really alive.’ And the relief was like ice in my bloodstream. My heart expanded, just a little. My father wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t irredeemable. He wasn’t a stranger, after all.
And someone special, someone who had deserved to live, was still living. ‘You’re Evelina Falcone.’
She sprung into life, hushing me with her hands. ‘I haven’t been Evelina since before my daughter was born,’ she whispered. She ushered me inside, and I went willingly, as though tied to a string. I had a million questions and more.
The hallway was brightly lit, and Emilia was jumping down it with a blue skipping rope.
Those big grey eyes.
Alive and well.
Evelina led me into an airy kitchen with bright green cupboards. ‘Lemonade? You must be thirsty after your journey.’ She didn’t wait for me to answer. She busied herself at the fridge, keeping her back to me. Her hands were shaking, just a little. Strands of hair were wisping out of her long dark braid. ‘Your father said you would come soon,’ she said over her shoulder. ‘He was here with us before … until Christmas Eve, that is …’ She trailed off, her voice dipping.