A Family of Strangers
Emilie Richards is well known for penning engaging tales. Three decades ago she began writing romance novels then segued into women's contemporary fiction with in-depth characterization including subplots filled with mystery and suspense and descriptive detail sure to captivate her readers. A Family of Strangers falls into this category.
Whenever there are siblings there's bound to be some rivalry. Twenty eight years old and single, Ryan Gracey, considered a "change-of-life" baby, is the younger sister to Wendy. She and lives in a tiny duplex, her parents own in Delray Beach, FL, four-plus hours from them in Seabank, FL.
Wendy, 45, has two daughters, Holly, eight, and Noelle, six. Her husband Bryce is deployed at sea on a Navy nuclear submarine. Wendy moved the girls from their Connecticut home to one of the family's rentals to be closer to her folks while he is away.
Producer and host for the podcast, "Out in the Cold," Ryan keeps busy and doesn't concern herself much with her family, though she is worried about her father who just underwent bypass surgery. She's surprised when Wendy texts her to expect a private call from her. Fearing bad news about their dad, Ryan wonders why her mom isn't calling, for Wendy's calls to her are infrequent.
It appears trouble is looming when Wendy cryptically states:
"'Listen,' she said after a pause, 'this is serious. I need your help.'
"I'm suspicious of emotions, including my own, but I felt an unmistakable surge. Delight I was needed, countered by fear something unthinkable had happened. 'Is it Dad?'
"She fell silent again, but when she finally spoke she sounded surprised. 'No. No, last I heard he was doing okay. I'm not in Florida. Remember?'
'It was my turn to be surprised. . . Wendy is Gracey Group's concierge and tour manager, and the story goes that as Dad was being wheeled into the operating room, he demanded that our mother tell her to continue her trip.'
"I hoped I was worrying for nothing. 'When do you get back?'
"'That's the thing. I'm not coming home. I can't, and I don't know when I'll be able to. I need you to go back to Seabank and take care of the girls until things clear up for me.' . . .
"'. . . I don't want to go into detail. Can't you just trust me and do it?' . . .
"'Look, this sounds crazy. You have to tell me more.'
"'Great. Thanks a lot.' For the first time, Wendy choked up as if she was trying not to cry. 'I'm in Phoenix. Okay? There was a murder last night, and I'm pretty sure the sheriff will think I'm involved. I need to disappear for awhile until it's sorted out. Is that enough to get you moving?'"
The two sisters couldn't be any more different—Ryan, introverted and small of stature with curly dark eyes and curls, is the opposite of the tall and willowy Wendy at five-foot-nine with straight blonde hair and blue eyes. Wendy, homecoming princess, National Honor Society member, and star of the drama department in high school is outgoing whereas Ryan is more introverted.
Confiding in her friend, Sophie who is also administrator, researcher, and co-producer to the podcast, Ryan states:
"'Growing up I realized I would never be anywhere near a perfect as she [Wendy] was. I remember feeling so relieved, so I stopped trying and just lived my life. . . .
"'. . . It worked out. I'm happy."
How can she explain Wendy's absence to her folks, especially to her father whom she doesn't want to upset so soon after his surgery? She must come up with something though, so glossing over details, she lets them believe Wendy is scouting out some new investment properties.
Going home isn't easy for Ryan. She hardly knows her nieces, and they act like robots, barely speaking to her and sticking close to each other. They miss their mom (and their dad, too), yet Ryan needs them to trust her while must learn how to deal with the children.
Ryan's past also holds a heartbreaking event—one she does not want to revisit. Four years earlier while researching a story, she interviewed a man who had allegedly been wrongly convicted of murder and is now released from prison. Ryan, dating officer Teo Santiago at the time, warned her not to meet him alone, but Ryan didn't listen. Because of her actions, she was almost killed, and Teo and his K9 dog were severely injured causing Teo the loss of a leg. Later, they parted on bad terms, mostly due to Ryan's guilt over the incident. Now she needs to see Teo again to attain closure as well as advice about her sister. Unfortunately, she still loves him.
Teo, no longer a cop, owns Confidence K-9s, a kennel and training facility. Their meeting is chilly at first, but a spark still glows between them. He recognizes something is bothering Ryan so she relays her sister's puzzling phone call, hoping can offer input. He warns her about sleuthing on her own and suggests she notify the authorities, but she refuses to do so. After all, blood is thicker than water. She and Wendy are basically estranged, and Ryan is considered second best next to her; she wants to help, but does she owe it to Wendy?
It is easy to understand Ryan's feelings. Families usually stick together and will do anything to protect one another, but how is Ryan to assist Wendy if she doesn't know what exactly is happening? Could her "perfect" big sister not be as perfect as perceived?
Family dynamics change as Ryan discerns things are being kept from her and not only by Wendy's current situation. Now her mom suddenly acts more concerned about her than ever before. Is her mother worried about her dad, Wendy, her nieces, or her? Ryan is confused but tenacious about finding answers.
This highly engaging tale delves into mysteries as well as kept confidentialities, heartaches, and deep emotions that turn Ryan's whole upside down. Why do loved ones withhold things? Is it because of fear of hurting one or guilt over past misdeeds? Those we should be closest to are not always the ones we are most intimate with as this aptly novel demonstrates.