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No River Too Wide

Chapter One

In an Oscar-worthy performance, Harmony Stoddard put all the enthusiasm she could muster into her voice. “I just know you’re going to love spending time with your grandma, Lottie.”

In reality she wasn’t sure that her nine-month-old daugh­ter, happily exercising her chubby little legs in her bouncy chair, was going to love the upcoming visit one bit, but she continued the charade.

“And your daddy will be there. You remember Davis, right? You’ve seen him twice. He even held you once.”

Of course, not with any enthusiasm, but Harmony’s job was to ready Lottie to be carried off by strangers and to make her baby girl think this was going to be a terrific af­ternoon. By her own critical standards, she was doing an ad­mirable job, even if she was developing a roaring headache from the effort.

She wasn’t surprised at the good face she was able to put on upcoming events. After all, she had been raised by a mother able to turn a day rimmed with fear and foreboding into an adventure. So many afternoons she and Janine had baked cakes and cookies, or set the dinner table with their best china and carefully folded napkins, pretending they were a normal mother and daughter brightening their happy little home.

In reality, of course, their preparations had only been a pantomime. Pretending all was normal had helped them get through the hours until Rex Stoddard walked through the door to lavishly compliment them or—more memorably—knock Janine to the floor.

Sadly, Janine Stoddard wasn’t the grandmother on her way to see Lottie. That grandmother, Grace Austin, was Davis’s mother. Lottie’s father had only recently gotten around to telling his family about his nine-month-old blessed event. Harmony didn’t know if her ex-boyfriend had been too em­barrassed, or if the baby’s arrival had simply slipped his mind.

Whatever the reason, Davis’s father had no interest in meeting Lottie, but his mother was curious and expected Davis to produce her new granddaughter. So producing Lot­tie was the activity of the day.

“Let’s make sure we have everything you need,” Harmony continued in her own mother’s chirpy counterfeit voice. “Di­apers, just in case one of them is willing to change you. Your sippy cup. Spring water. Snacks you can feed yourself.”

She paused a moment, wondering how that would work. Would Davis and Grace let messy little Lottie experiment with the lightly steamed vegetables Harmony had prepared, the little squares of whole wheat toast? Or would they lose patience and feed her French fries or crumbled-up hamburger from whatever restaurant they took her to?

The mystery was about to be solved. The bell at the bot­tom of the stairs pealed, and Velvet, Harmony’s golden re­triever, who had been sleeping on the sofa, gave one sleepy bark before closing her eyes to finish her nap.

Harmony took a deep breath. For better or worse, Lottie was Davis’s daughter. Harmony had no right to dictate ev­erything he did with her. After all, he did send regular sup­port checks. Of course, if he didn’t, he would have to explain his reasons to his stodgy employer when the state of North Carolina garnished his paycheck.

“Okay, off we go.” She lifted the baby into her arms and settled her into the car seat to carry her downstairs. Har­mony had insisted that Davis check the manuals for his car and the car seat to be sure he could use it safely. Luckily his Acura was new enough that she didn’t really have to worry, which was a good thing, since she doubted he had bothered with his homework.

The doorbell rang again, longer this time, followed by a third blast. She smoothed the wisps of pale brown hair off Lottie’s forehead, then hoisted the car seat and the diaper bag and carried both to the door, nudged it open with her hip and peered down at him.

“It takes a minute to get her into the seat, so next time you can ring once, Davis. If you’d like to take the diaper bag, that would help.”

Davis, good-looking in a brooding sort of way, deepened his perpetual frown, but he came up the steps, stopped just below her and held out a hand. She swung the diaper bag in his direction, and he caught it. She followed him down, taking her time so she could grasp the rail. The stairway up to her garage apartment was wide and as safe as any outside stairway could be, but she always took her time, even when she wasn’t carrying precious cargo.

The woman waiting at the bottom of the stairs was ob­viously Grace. She had the same vaguely dissatisfied ex­pression as her son, the same dark hair, the same impatient, almost jerky, movements. Although she smiled politely, her eyes didn’t change. She was examining Lottie, and not with grandmotherly affection.

“She seems small for nine months,” Grace said. She didn’t bother to smile at the baby, who was playing with a ring of plastic keys Harmony had given her. She continued her as­sessment. “Davis had more hair.”

“I probably had less,” Harmony said, struggling not to dislike Lottie’s grandmother on sight. “She is small, but well within the normal range.”

“Davis was walking by the time he was that age.”

“You must have had your hands full.”

Grace gave a humorless laugh. “We had a nanny until he was five, so my hands were full with better things. His fa­ther and I both traveled frequently for business.”

“I’m sure she took excellent care of him.”

“Of course she did,” Grace said with obvious irritation. “We made sure of it.”

Harmony thought one response was as pointless as an­other, so she gave none at all.

“We’ll bring her back in a couple of hours,” Davis said quickly, as if even he had picked up on his mother’s ani­mosity. “Mother’s flying out early this evening. This is just a brief visit.”

Harmony managed a tight smile. “I’ll be waiting, and I’ll have my cell phone with me if you have any questions.”

“Oh, I think we can manage,” Grace said. “Davis’s sister has two children, and we see them frequently. Of course, that situation is very different. They live in a two-parent family.”

“There’s no point in bringing that up.” Davis sounded annoyed.

“Why not? It’s the truth. Your father and I are happy to be seen with them. We can show them off to our friends.”

The rest of the sentence was unspoken but clear. Not like this one.

“Your son proposed, and I declined,” Harmony said, “so don’t blame him. I hope you won’t punish Lottie. Times have changed, and there are plenty of unmarried parents raising children.”

“I doubt you have any idea what I consider appropriate.”

Enough was enough. Harmony lifted her chin. “I doubt that I want to.”

“Let’s go,” Davis told his mother. “As usual you’ve thrown a damper over the afternoon. Let’s see what we can salvage.”

Grace just smiled, as if his words had been a compliment.

Harmony watched them head toward Davis’s car, and for the first time she felt a twinge of sympathy for Lottie’s father. She’d just gotten a peek into Davis’s childhood, and while the scenery surrounding him had probably been lovely, the actors and script had been B-movie grade, at best.

As Harmony watched, Grace got into the passenger’s seat, leaving her son to set the car seat on the ground, open the rear door and finally juggle it inside to begin the process of trying to fasten it in place.

Like her own mother, Harmony yearned for the best in bad situations, so she had foolishly hoped Grace would wel­come Lottie and shower the baby with unconditional love. Instead, it was clear Grace and Davis would take Lottie to a restaurant closer to Asheville, do their familial duty and re­turn her well ahead of schedule. Their visits—if Grace vis­ited again—would always be short and stressful. Eventually Lottie would refuse to go with them.

Harmony had chosen a real winner when she’d moved in with Davis almost two years ago.


Not for the first time she wished her own mother could be here with her. Without a doubt Janine Stoddard would fold her baby granddaughter into her arms and smother her with all the love she had to give–and was so rarely allowed to.

But that, too, was a bad situation with no “best” to hope for. Right now, in a secluded house in Topeka, Kansas, her mother was probably preparing dinner for Harmony’s fa­ther, hoping as she struggled for perfection that tonight Rex Stoddard would praise what she cooked and otherwise leave her in peace.

Sadly Harmony could only guess, because she hadn’t talked to her mother in over a year. The last time she’d tried, Ja­nine had told her never to call home again.

Copyright © 2014 by Emilie Richards McGee

No River Too Wide
by by Emilie Richards

  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
  • ISBN-10: 0778316343
  • ISBN-13: 9780778316343