When she remained silent, he said, “You might want to consider me the prince of bad, Joanna. I can handle just about anything.”
That made her laugh, then draw a deep breath. “All right. Martin, my husband, was the third and youngest brother. Autumn and I met them for the first time at his funeral.”
“But he couldn’t have been as old as Blessed or Grace, was he?”
“No, he was thirty-six when he died, much younger than both his brothers. Shepherd was in her forties when she birthed him.”
“Your husband died—a natural death?”
Her mouth seamed tight, but the words were pushing to get out. Why didn’t she want to tell him? Was she still grieving too much?
He pulled on a thread hanging down from the left sleeve of his sweatshirt. “An accident of some kind?”
She shook her head, looking hard at him pulling that thread, and the words came out in a burst, but lifeless and without fury or pain. “He died in prison,” she said, her eyes still on that gray thread.
He nearly fell off the sofa with surprise. He stared at her, unable not to. “Why was your husband in prison?”
She shook her head. All right, so she wasn’t ready to face that yet with him. He shifted gears. “So you found his family’s phone number—where?”
“The warden sent all Martin’s stuff to me. There was pitifully little, to be honest. There was this lone phone number in a small black notebook—no name, only an out-of-state phone number—and so I called it to see who it was he knew in Georgia. It was his family.
“I spoke to his mother and told her Martin was dead. She wept, Ethan. Then she begged me to have him buried with his family, not in cold Boston where he hadn’t known anyone except me and his daughter. Did we feel he had any deep roots there? ‘No, not really,’ I told her. ‘Then please,’ she begged me, ‘please bring him home.’
“She begged me, Ethan, and she was crying again, so I said yes because she was right. I didn’t have family in Boston—no family anywhere, for that matter. And so after a memorial in Boston with all our friends, Autumn and I drove Martin’s urn from Boston to Georgia so his mother could bury it in the family cemetery.”
He waited for her to continue, but she didn’t. She sat there as if frozen, as if her words were stuck in her throat.
He said quietly, “Your husband never told you about his family. You never asked?”
“Yes, of course I was curious, but Martin refused to talk about them. They are not the sort of people you want to know, Jo. Neither do I. I ask you to accept that. I remember he once said unwittingly that he’d managed to escape them, that they didn’t know where he was. I didn’t know what he’d meant about escaping them, and he never told me. I suppose I thought it was a runaway-kid sort of thing.”
“He didn’t change his name? He kept Martin Backman?”
“I wonder why he didn’t change his name. With the Internet, you could probably find a missing pet. Didn’t he care if they found him? Bigger question—why didn’t they find him? They found you and Autumn, didn’t they? Real fast.”
She nodded. “They did find us fast, but I don’t understand how they did it.”
“You must have talked to them some about your own family. Did you mention Titusville?”
“I’m sure I didn’t, not directly. When I first met him, married him, I simply let it all go as not being important to me, important to us. I loved him, found him fascinating and funny. But now—it’s obvious I didn’t know him, didn’t know a big part of him at all. Who was the man I married? Believe me, I would really like to know.”
She lowered her face into her hands.
“I’m sorry, Joanna.”
She jerked up and Ethan saw sudden anger and pain radiating off her, like waves of heat laced with poison.
HE ROSE. “I’m going to lock us in for the night, Joanna, then we can go on.”
She followed him out to the foyer, watched him lock and dead-bolt the front door, and turn on the alarm.
They checked Autumn. She was curled up asleep on his bed, Mackie in her arms. Ethan covered her with an afghan.
He got them two mugs of tea and motioned her back to the living room.
“You started to tell me about his mother when you first arrived in Bricker’s Bowl.”
She nodded. “His mother was alone when we drove up. At first I thought she was his grandmother, but she wasn’t. Like I told you, Martin was born long after Grace.