Tera wore the cloak well now, knew how to stand, how to act, how to obscure herself behind the anonymity. She was older now, wiser and stronger than she had been.
They were all older. They’d aged that day in the cemetery, that day when they’d buried her half-brother.
Still, it had taken her months to build up the courage to face herself, to face what she knew to be truth. It had taken her months to admit, even to herself, that she could possibly love another the way she’d loved Blake.
This time, that small love had had a chance to grow.
Four years after burying her first love, Jamie Cunning married her second. She was eighteen, though she felt older. Zack was already twenty-one. Ace – for she still thought of him that way, even after learning his real name – was twenty-seven. He’d taken her father’s place, taken the place of a man she’d never known, at the ceremony, had presented her to Zack like a trophy or a prize.
But they all knew she was more than that.
Still, it had taken her a long time to prepare for this moment. Tera clutched her child to her chest. Her precious baby girl, Jesse. Ace had cried when she told him, though she didn’t know if they’d been tears of joy or of lingering sorrow.
Now, standing before this house, she wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready. But Zack stood beside her, gave her the strength and support she needed. And so Tera walked to the door, that familiar, familiar door.
They were all there, her close family. Zack, Ace, Olivia, and baby Jesse.
Today they were going to see her uncle, for the first time since she’d left him all those years ago. Tera wondered what he would say, wondered if he would remember her, recognize her, hate her. Fear her.
The door opened after only a moment, and a slightly older, balder version of the man who’d raised her stood before her, peering suspiciously through the small slit.
“Hello, Uncle. I’m home.”
“Jamie?” he asked her, as if shocked. Maybe he’d thought her dead. Or in prison.
“In the flesh. I’ve brought a few friends to meet you. Though you may remember Zes.” She smiled fondly at the memory of Zack bashing her uncle over the head with a vase. Or at least, that was how she recalled it.
“Sir.” Zack reached out and grasped her uncle’s firmly through the crack of the doorway. “I know this is late, but I would like to tell you that your niece is an amazing girl.”
Tera felt herself flush in embarrassment. She’d known he’d do something shameful, had tried to leave him home, but hadn’t been able to come without him. “And this,” she said, pressing forward, “is our daughter.”
At that, her uncle finally pulled the door wide, holding out an arm to signify their welcome. “Come on in, Jamie. It seems we have a lot of catching-up to do.”
“Before that, you should know that they didn’t kidnap me. So if you try calling the police, I will kill you myself.”
Her uncle blinked, then, for the first time that Tera had seen, he smiled. “You sound just like your mother.”
And she threw herself into his arms.
They were not a perfect family, still not complete even after all this time. There were only eleven members, still, but Tera thought she might have found a twelfth.
No, they were not a perfect family. Not a family that might gather round at holidays and discuss the weather.
No, they were a family of blood and death and pain.
And she belonged there, belonged to them. Belonged with them.
Because, Tera knew, this was just the beginning.