If Stephanie Fields was asked to describe herself, she'd say she was ordinary, calm and cautious. Her younger years had been turbulant and now her quiet life was exactly as she wanted it to be, or so she thought, until a mysterious stranger named Jake entered her shop. He had a knack for drawing her out of herself, for pushing her buttons, for making her feel... But now, just when life was getting interesting, someone was watching her, stalking her, leaving threatening messages...Was it just a coincidence that this all started, when Jake entered her life?
Seventy years earlier: March 1938, England
Ivan stood as tall and proud as always, despite his seventy-five years. His dark hair, now liberally sprinkled with grey, was highlighted by the faint mist that fell over the cold, windswept cemetery. It was a typical March day. The trees were still bare and the grass was brown. Only the occasional green shoot poked its head up to offer hope of better days to come.
Listening to the drone of the minister's voice, he absentmindedly watched the little white puffs of vapour that appeared with each breath the man took. The minister meant his words to be comforting, offering hope and solace, but in actuality, they just washed over him, bringing no real relief. His heart beat heavily in his chest, his throat was tight from emotions held firmly in check. It was ridiculous to feel this way; he'd known the inevitable would happen, but the knowledge hadn't made reality any easier to bear. She was gone. His beloved wife of fifty-eight years was dead.
They'd had a wonderful life together, with four children and twelve grandchildren. When they'd immigrated to England from Russia, it had been hard. Natalia had hated leaving her family behind, but he'd sensed the growing political unrest and knew they needed to find a better place to raise their family. England had been good to them. Their home, while simple, had not lacked for the necessities; love and laughter had filled the rooms. A fire had almost always burned in the hearth, while the kettle simmered on the stove, ready to make a pot of tea for anyone who happened to stop by for a visit.
Of course, the children were grown now with their own families and the house had become much quieter in recent years, but as long as his wife had been by his side, it hadn't mattered. However, now that she was gone, the rooms echoed strangely as he walked through them. It had only been two days since she had died, but already the house seemed less inviting, the smell of her cooking and the fresh flowers she had so loved, were already fading away. At night his bed was cold and lonely. There was no one holding his hand as he drifted off to sleep, nor anyone kissing him awake in the morning. With a sigh, he realized that was all over. He had no home now; no one to be his other half. No reason to continue with this life...
"Dad? It's time to go." His eldest son, Daniel, touched his shoulder and he started. Looking around, he realized the others had gone. He hadn't even noticed. Glancing down, he wiggled his fingers, discovering that they were warm and slightly damp from having shaken the hands of family and friends. His wife had been well liked in the community. Many had stopped to offer their condolences before taking leave of the cemetery. Had he even responded to their well meant words? He hoped so. Natalia wouldn't have wanted him to be rude; she'd always been a stickler for manners.
Looking at his son, he met the boy's concerned gaze and gave a brief nod before starting to walk towards the car. His daughter-in-law, Mary, stood beside the vehicle holding three year old Sarah, the youngest grandchild. The girl looked just like her grandmother, and he felt the faintest of smiles appear on his face at the sight of the toddler bouncing up and down beside her mother.
"You will come back to our house, won't you?" Mary asked.
He hesitated. They were trying to be kind, but in reality all he wanted was some time alone to think about the past and to plan his future. Behind him he heard the dull thud of dirt falling on the wooden casket. A shiver ran through him. His fists clenched and he closed his eyes trying to block out the thought of his lovely wife, now lying stiff and cold in the ground. Maybe today was not the day to be by himself after all. The pain was still too fresh. It wouldn't hurt to let himself be surrounded by the warmth of his family for a little while longer.
"All right, I'll come, but just for awhile." His voice sounded gruff, even to his own ears, but Mary just smiled and wrapped her hand around his upper arm. "I'll help you into the car, Grandpa Ivan. Do you mind if Sarah sits with you?" Without waiting for his reply, the little girl was placed on his lap. She immediately snuggled her golden head against his chest and grinned up at him, her blue-green eyes sparkling—Natalia's eyes...
July 2009, USA
Stephanie Fields sat inside the hair salon nervously chewing her lip and looking at her own reflection. Wide blue-green eyes framed by long lashes and straight strawberry blonde hair stared back at her. The stylist was combing her long hair and talking about the benefits of a new cut that would give her face more fullness, her hair more body. Paula, her best friend, stood beside her nodding and smiling. This was Paula's birthday present for her: a cut and style at the new trendy spa that had opened across the street from the flower shop. While Stephanie appreciated the gesture, she wasn't so sure about this. Cutting her hair was a big step for her. Not that she was particularly attached to her long hair, but change of any sort was hard for her to take. She liked things to be stable and thought each step through before taking it. Even selecting a new breakfast cereal could leave her standing in the grocery store aisle for ages as she debated the pros and cons of various choices. She knew it drove people crazy, but she just wasn't the spontaneous sort. Every action had a consequence and she had to be sure she could live with the results of her choices.
"Come on, Stephanie. You've had long straight hair ever since I've known you. Getting an inch off the ends doesn't qualify as a new style. It's your birthday. Live a little. The hair will grow back if you don't like it." Paula was a perky, dark haired, ball of energy, the total antithesis of her best friend and boss. While Paula was short, curvy and outgoing, Stephanie was tall, slim and reserved. Paula embraced life and new experiences, while Stephanie tended to sit on the sidelines observing. People were often surprised to find out that they were best friends but they were, each having characteristics that complimented the other. Stephanie reined Paula in from some of her more outlandish schemes and Paula kept Stephanie from being a complete stick in the mud. Right now, her friend was urging her to take a walk on the wild side—well, at least what Stephanie considered wild. Hmm... Maybe she should get it cut. It was just hair after all, and perhaps a change would be good. It might even perk her spirits after the string of bad luck she'd been having lately.
Almost every day for the past two weeks, she'd been plagued by one problem or another. It had started last Monday with her car. She'd had a flat tire and, after getting it repaired, had managed to run over a nail the very next day. Then on Wednesday, in the middle of making deliveries, she'd run out of gas, even though she was sure she had at least a quarter tank. On Thursday, her dry cleaning had disappeared from her car. Over the weekend, a dog had walked all over her newly planted petunias and then the air conditioner at her house had died. Most recently, she'd developed an allergy of some sort that had her sniffling and sneezing. She was taking allergy pills for the symptoms, but the only effect the medication seemed to be having, was to make her brain fuzzy and give her a slight case of paranoia. A voice seemed to be echoing in her head, and she could swear someone was watching her, which was utterly ridiculous. A person as boringly ordinary as herself would never warrant close observation.
She took a deep breath and made her decision. "All right. Cut away. As you said, it will grow back." Paula literally bounced with pleasure and Stephanie smiled wanly at her, clenching her hands beneath the protective cape the stylist had draped over her. At least one of them was happy about the hair cut she thought, only half listening to Paula chat away about a new style being just the first step towards a whole new life full of excitement ...