Many thanks to Harlequin and Justine Sha for the opportunity. I am delighted to be a part of the blog tour for Ms. Yates newest book.
Only two truly remarkable things had ever happened in the small town of Pear Blossom, Oregon. The first occurred in 1999, when Caitlin Groves disappeared one fall evening on her way home from her boyfriend’s family orchard.
The second was in 2000, when newborn Ruby McKee was discovered on Sentinel Bridge, the day before Christmas Eve.
It wasn’t as if Pear Blossom hadn’t had excitement before then. There was the introduction of pear orchards—an event which ultimately determined the town’s name—in the late 1800s. Outlaws who lay in wait to rob the mail coaches, and wolves and mountain lions who made meals of the farmers’ animals. The introduction of the railroad, electricity and a particularly active society of suffragettes, when women were lobbying for the right to vote.
But all of that blended into the broader context of history, not entirely dissimilar to the goings-on of every town in every part of the world, as men fought to tame a wild land and the land rose up and fought back.
Caitlin’s disappearance and Ruby’s appearance felt both specific and personal, and had scarred and healed—if Ruby took the proclamations of various citizens too literally, which she really tried not to do—the community.
Mostly, as Ruby got out of the car she’d hired at the airport and stood in front of Sentinel Bridge with a suitcase in one hand, she marveled at how idyllic and the same it all seemed.
The bridge itself was battered from the years. The wood dark and marred, but sturdy as ever. A white circle with a white 1917, denoting the year of its construction, was stenciled in the top center of the bridge, just above the tunnel that led to the other side, a pinhole of light visible in the darkness across the way.
It was only open to foot traffic now, with a road curving wide around it and carrying cars to the other side a different way. For years, Sentinel Bridge was closed, and it wasn’t until a community outreach and education effort in the mid nineties that it was reopened for people to walk on.
Ruby could have had the driver take her a different route.
But she wanted to cross the bridge.
“Are you sure you want me to leave you here?” her driver asked.
She’d told him when she’d gotten into his car that she was from here originally, and he’d still spent the drive explaining local landmarks to her, so she wasn’t all that surprised he didn’t trust her directive to leave her in the middle of nowhere.
He was the kind of man who just knew best.
They’d just driven through the town proper. All brick—red and white and yellow—the sidewalks lined with trees whose leaves matched as early fall took hold. It was early, and the town had still been sleepy, most of the shops closed. There had been a runner or two out, an older man—Tom Swenson—walking his dog. But otherwise it had been empty. Still, it bore more marks of civilization than where they stood now.
The bridge was nearly engulfed in trees, some of which were evergreen, others beginning to show rusted hints of autumn around the edges. A golden shaft of light cut over the treetops, bathing the front of the bridge in a warm glow, illuminating the long wooden walk—where the road ended—that led to the covered portion, but shrouding the entrance in darkness.
She could see what the man in the car saw. Something abandoned and eerie and disquieting.
But Ruby only saw the road home.
“It’s fine,” she said.
She did not explain that her parents’ farm was just up the road, and she walked this way all the time.
That it was only a quarter of a mile from where she’d been found as a baby.
She had to cross the bridge nearly every day when she was in town, so she didn’t always think of it. But some days, days like this after she’d been away awhile, she had a strange, hushed feeling in her heart, like she was about to pay homage at a grave.
“If you’re sure.” His tone clearly said she shouldn’t be, but he still took her easy wave as his invitation to go.
Ruby turned away from the retreating car and smiled, wrapping both hands around the handle of her battered brown suitcase. It wasn’t weathered from her own use. She’d picked it up at a charity shop in York, England, because she’d thought it had a good aesthetic and it was just small enough to be a carry-on, but wasn’t like one of those black wheeled things that everyone else had.
She’d cursed while she’d lugged it through Heathrow and Newark and Denver, then finally Medford. Those wheely bags that were not unique at all had seemed more attractive each time her shoulders and arms throbbed from carrying the very lovely suitcase.
Ruby’s love of history was oftentimes not practical.
But it didn’t matter now. The ache in her arms had faded and she was nearly home.
Her parents would have come to pick her up from the airport but Ruby had swapped her flight in Denver to an earlier one so she didn’t have to hang around for half the day. It had just meant getting up and rushing out of the airport adjacent hotel she’d stayed in for only a couple of hours. Her Newark flight had gotten in at eleven thirty the night before and by the time she’d collected her bags, gotten to the hotel and stumbled into bed, it had been nearly one in the morning.
Then she’d been up again at three for the five o’clock flight into Medford, which had set her back on the ground around the time she’d taken off. Which had made her feel gritty and exhausted and wholly uncertain of the time. She’d passed through so many time zones nothing felt real.
She waved the driver off and took the first step forward. She paused at the entry to the bridge. She looked back over her shoulder at the bright sunshine around her and then took a step forward into the darkness. Light came up through the cracks between the wood on the ground and the walls. At the center of the bridge, there were two windows with no glass that looked out over the river below. It was by those windows that she’d been found.
She walked briskly through the bridge and then stopped. In spite of herself. She often walked on this bridge and never felt a thing. She rarely felt inclined to ponder the night that she was found. If she got ridiculous about that too often, then she would never get anything done. After all, she had to cross this bridge to get home.
But she was moving back to town, not just returning for a visit, and it felt right to mark the occasion with a stop at the place of her salvation. She paused for a moment, right at the spot between the two openings that looked out on the water.
She had been placed just there. Down on the ground. Wrapped in a blanket, but still so desperately tiny and alone.
She had always thought about the moment when her sisters had picked her up and brought her back to their parents. It was the moment that came before that she had a hard time with. The one where someone—it had to have been her birth mother—had set her down there, leaving her to fate. To die if she died, or live if she was found. And thankfully she’d been found, but there had been no way for the person who had set her there to know that would happen.
It had gotten below freezing that night.
If Marianne, Lydia and Dahlia hadn’t come walking through from the Christmas play rehearsal, then…
She didn’t cry. But a strange sort of hollowness spread out in her chest.
But she ignored it and decided to press on toward home. She walked through the darkness of the bridge, watching as the light, the exit loomed larger.
And once she was outside, she could breathe. Because it didn’t matter what had happened there. What mattered was every step she had taken thereafter. What mattered was this road back home.
She walked up the gravel-covered road, kicking rocks out of her way as she went. It was delightfully cold, the crisp morning a reminder of exactly why she loved Pear Blossom. It was completely silent out here except for the odd braying of a donkey and chirping birds. She looked down at the view below, at the way the mist hung over the pear trees in the orchard. The way it created a ring around the mountain, the proud peak standing out above it. A blanket of green and gold, rimmed with misty rose.
She breathed in deep and kept on walking, relishing the silence, relishing the sense of home.
She had spent the last four years studying history. Mostly abroad. She had engaged in every exchange program she could, because what was the point of studying history if you limited yourself to a country that was as young as the United States and to a coast as new as the West Coast.
She could remember the awe that she’d experienced walking on streets that were more than just a couple of hundred years old. The immense breadth of time that she had felt. And she had… Well, she had hoped that she would find answers somewhere. Because she had always believed that the answers to what ails you in the present could be found somewhere in the past.
And she’d explored the past. Thoroughly. Many different facets of it. And along the way, she done a bit of exploring of herself.
After all, that was half the reason she’d left. To try and figure out who she was outside of this place where everyone knew her, and her story.
Though, when she got close to people, it didn’t take long for them to discover her story. It was, after all, in the news.
Of course, she always found it interesting who discovered it on their own. Because that was revealing.
Who googled their friends.
Ruby obviously googled her friends, but that was because of her own background and experience. If those same friends had an equally salacious background, then it was forgivable.
But if they were boring, then she found it deeply suspicious that they engaged in such activities.
She came over a slight rise in the road and before her was the McKee family farm. It had been in the McKee family for generations. And Ruby felt a profound sense of connection to it. It might not be her legacy by blood, but that had never mattered to the McKees, and it didn’t matter to her either. This town was part of who she was.
And maybe that was why no matter how she had searched elsewhere, she was drawn back here.
Dana Groves, her old mentor, had called her six months ago to tell her an archivist position was being created in the historical society with some newly allocated funds, and had offered the job to Ruby.
Ruby loved Pear Blossom, but she’d also felt like it was really important for her to go out in the world and see what else existed.
It was easy for her to be in Pear Blossom. People here loved her.
It had been a fascinating experience to go to a place where that wasn’t automatically the case. Of course, she hadn’t stayed in one place very long. After going to the University of Washington, she had gotten involved in different study abroad programs, and she had moved between them as often as she could. Studying in Italy, France, Spain, coming to the States briefly for her graduation ceremony in May, and then going back overseas to spend a few months in England, finishing up some elective study programs.
But then, she’d found that instructive too. Being in a constant state of meeting new people. And for a while, the sheer differentness of it all had fed her in a way that had quieted that restlessness. She had been learning. Learning and experiencing and… Well, part of her had wondered if her first job needed to be away from home. To continue her education.
But then six months ago her sister’s husband had died.
And Dana’s offer of a job in Pear Blosson after she finished her degree had suddenly seemed like fate. Because Ruby had to come and try to make things better for Lydia.
Marianne and Dahlia were worried about Lydia, who had retreated into herself and had barely shed a single tear.
She’s acting just like our parents. No fuss, no muss. No crying over spilled milk or dead husbands.
Clearly miserable, in other words.
And Ruby knew she was needed.
One thing about being saved, about being spared from death, was the certainty you were spared for a reason.
Ruby had been saved by her sisters. And if they ever needed her…
Well, she would be here.
Excerpted from The Lost and Found Girl by Maisey Yates. Copyright © 2022 by Maisey Yates. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
More about this one:
THE LOST AND FOUND GIRL
Author: Maisey Yates
Publication Date: July 26, 2022
Publisher: HQN Books
Author Website: http://www.maiseyyates.com/
Facebook: Maisey Yates
Maisey Yates is a New York Times bestselling author of over one hundred romance novels. Whether she’s writing strong, hard working cowboys, dissolute princes or multigenerational family stories, she loves getting lost in fictional worlds. An avid knitter with a dangerous yarn addiction and an aversion to housework, Maisey lives with her husband and three kids in rural Oregon. Check out her website, maiseyyates.com or find her on Facebook.
The small Oregon town of Pear Blossom welcomes the return of its prodigal daughter Ruby McKee. Found abandoned as a baby by the McKee family, Ruby is the unofficial town mascot, but when she and her adoptive sisters start investigating the true circumstances around her discovery, it soon becomes clear that this small town is hiding the biggest, and darkest, of secrets. A raw, powerful exploration of the lengths people go to protect their loved ones, for fans of Lori Wilde and Carolyn Brown.
Ruby McKee is a miracle.
It’s a miracle she survived, abandoned as a newborn baby. A miracle that she was found by the McKee sisters. Her discovery allowed the community of Pear Blossom, Oregon, broken by a devastating crime, to heal. Since then, Ruby has lived a charmed life. But she can’t let go of the need to know why she was abandoned, and she’s tired of not having answers.
Dahlia McKee knows it’s not right to resent Ruby for being special. But uncovering the truth about sister Ruby’s origins could allow Dahlia to carve her own place in Pear Blossom history… if she’s brave enough to follow her heart.
Widowed sister Lydia McKee doesn’t have time for Ruby’s what if’s – when Lydia’s right now is so, so hard. Her husband’s best friend Chase might be offering to share some of the load, but can Lydia ever trust her instincts around him?
Marianne Martin is glad that her youngest sister is back in town, but balancing Ruby’s crusade with the way her own life is imploding is turning into a bigger chore than she imagined. Especially when Ruby starts overturning secrets about the past that Marianne has spent a lifetime trying to pretend don’t exist.
And when the truth about Ruby’s miraculous origins, and the crime from long ago, turn out to be connected in ways no one could have expected, will the McKee sisters band together, or fall apart?