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No Place I'd Rather Be

Cathy Lamb

  Books by Cathy Lamb












  Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

  no place I’d rather be



  All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

  Table of Contents

  Books by Cathy Lamb

  Title Page

  Copyright Page



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17




  To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  KENSINGTON BOOKS are published by

  Kensington Publishing Corp.

  119 West 40th Street

  New York, NY 10018

  Copyright © 2017 by Cathy Lamb

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

  Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

  eISBN-13: 978-1-4967-0982-0

  eISBN-10: 1-49 67-09 82-9

  First Kensington Electronic Edition: September 2017

  ISBN: 978-1-4967-0981-3

  First Kensington Trade Paperback Printing: September 2017

  For Dr. Karen Straight and Marcus and Nancy Sassaman with love, always


  November 1945

  Kalulell, Montana

  Gisela Martindale, future grandmother of Olivia Martindale

  Her hands shook as she held the cookbook. It was old, the leather cover cracked, the pages blackened by fire around the edges. Blood stains were splattered on more than one recipe, words smeared by tears and tea on others. The pink ribbon that tied it together, once bright and clean, was ragged and worn.

  The recipes within it had been handed down through five generations of women, starting with her great-great-grandmother. They were written in four languages, across three countries.

  Inside was her family’s history, with hand-drawn pictures of family members, old and young, some who lived a long time, others who didn’t, whose deaths were a crime. There were pictures of a village in a far-off, distant land, people on horseback, donkeys pulling carts, women with kerchiefs and shawls in the middle of a town square, city homes with red doors and lush gardens, herbs and vegetables, red geraniums, sumptuous cakes and cookies. There were recipes written in the midst of tragedy and stifling fear, and recipes written with a light and joyous heart. She knew the stories behind every one of them.

  Between the pages, she had left the pressed and dried pink rose; two heart-shaped, gold lockets; a charm in the shape of a sun; a white feather; red ribbons; recipes taped onto back pages; the photographs and the poems.

  One day, she would cook from it again. One day. When the book itself didn’t make her feel like crying, breaking down, dying. She pressed the ancient cookbook to her chest, the tears racing from her green eyes down her cheeks, light streaming in from the only window in the attic.

  She tucked it into the bottom of a cardboard box. On top of it she folded a simple, white lace wedding dress and veil; a dark blue dress and matching blue hat with flowers on the brim and a white ribbon, which she would never wear again; and a white nurse’s uniform, also stained with blood.

  She added a tin box, on its lid an old-fashioned picture of ladies in fancy dresses dancing at a ball, that had been hidden beneath the floorboards in another country for many dangerous years. Inside were two red and purple butterfly clips, two charm bracelets, the lost letters from lost people, colored pencils, and a small silver treasure that had survived two attacks. She brought the treasure to her mouth and kissed it.

  She pushed everything down, gently, her tears soaking into the nurse’s uniform, the cookbook, the blue hat. She taped and sealed the box, extra tight, too much tape, way too much tape, as if the grief and terror of her past life would stay locked inside if she could cover it in enough tape.

  When she was done, she pushed the box to the far corner, the darkest corner. The rest of the attic was empty. They didn’t have much. She, certainly, did not have much. In fact, she had next to nothing.

  But the log home that they had built together was finished. It had a view of the winding Telena River and the snowcapped Dove Mountains. When he had asked her what she wanted in their new home, she had cried when she told him why she always needed to see in all directions, why she needed many windows. He had held her hand and told her he understood. Their home was filled with far more windows than a traditional log cabin would have.

  She had also told him why she needed a red door and why she would always plant red geraniums in the summer. He had painted the door red and built flower boxes at every window for her red geraniums.

  He told her he would build her a gazebo in the summer, and he told her why. Dear man, he knew her well.

  It was a new life she had now in Montana, thousands of miles away from where she had been, from what she had seen, from what she knew.

  She bent over the box, her thick, brown hair falling forward, and cried until she could cry no more. Then she dried her tears, pushed her clawing, scraping nightmares back into a far corner of her mind, as she had pushed the cardboard box back into the far corner of the attic, and went downstairs. She put a smile on her face for her new husband. She loved him so.

  The taped box, and the old cookbook, stayed right where she left them for decades.

  Until it rained one winter day.

  Chapter 1

  January 2010

  Kalulell, Montana

  Olivia Martindale

  Do not drive in blizzards.

  Especially in Montana, at night.

  It will make your heart pound as if it’s trying to escape from your chest, your foot on the accelerator shake, and your mind leap in a thousand panicked directions. It’s dangerous, it’s life-threatening.

  It’s stupid.

  I am stupid.

  We left Oregon early this morning. To be honest, I rushed us out of Oregon. I had my reasons. The reasons scared me to my bones and made them rattle. Suffice it to say: We needed out. Immediately. As soon as I had written permission, we left.

  It was cool in Oregon, raining and misting, sweater weather only. We drove east, then north, and all was well, until we had a flat outside of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I hauled out the jack and changed the tire, but we got behind. It started snowing lightly when we sta
rted up the mountains; became worse at the top; and, coming into Kalulell, the snow turned into a blizzard. My phone was dead, so that added to my teeth-grinding anxiety.

  But I was close to home, close to the log cabin with the red door that my granddad and grandma had built together, in 1945.

  I saw a familiar sign announcing Kalulell. It was almost covered with snow, but I knew I had only a few miles to go. The snow fell faster, thicker, and my wiper blades could not keep up with it. My tires, even with chains on, slid sporadically over the ice. The wind that whistled around my car as if taunting me, the sideways snow that made me feel upside-down, and the fact that I could hardly see ten feet in front of my face yanked my fear up to stratospheric levels.

  I gripped the steering wheel with tight hands and tried not to have a panic attack. I breathed deeply, then panicked when I couldn’t breathe deeply again. I tried to breathe shallowly, then panicked when I thought I wasn’t getting enough air. Maybe I was having a heart attack. Oh dear, oh no, I could not have a heart attack now. Not now.

  I had to fix things first. I had to protect them.

  Growing up here in Montana, I learned how to do a lot of things. I can break a horse, no matter how rebellious. I can work outside all day on our property. I can chop wood for hours, I can milk cows, and I can ski on one foot. One time I faced down a bull because I knew I couldn’t sprint to the fence fast enough. He turned away.

  But I don’t drive in blizzards. Call it a personal hysteria button.

  I reclenched the steering wheel, my black cowgirl boot shaking on the accelerator, and saw another sign. I looked away. I knew what lay beyond that particular sign, in a place where the grass was green in the summer, the buttercups a golden blanket. I also knew what was on top of that hill, way across the meadow, with a view of magical sunsets. I felt a thump in my heart and wanted to cry.

  “Stop it,” I whispered to myself. “Stop it now, you baby. Buck up.”

  But I didn’t buck up. I couldn’t. And that’s the problem when you return to a place, a place you called home, and things happened that were shattering and you leave and it’s easier because you don’t have to be reminded of the things you don’t want to think about when you’re gone, but then you come back, and there it all is, like mini lightning strikes to your soul.

  Through the swirling snow I could see the outline of a familiar white fence, which meant that the river was now on my other side. Fence on the left, river on the right. The river would be filled with snow and ice, dangerous and fast, a gray, slithering snake.

  I had driven alongside this fence more times than I could count, and it was a comfort to me in some ways. I knew where I was. And yet seeing it made breathing hard and I tried to inhale and the air seemed to get stuck in my lungs.

  The wind hit my car with a howl out of hell itself, and I felt it shift, snow covering my windshield. Through my silly tears the white twirled all around me, like a snow tornado. It was then that I hit a patch of ice. We skidded, like a marble across a wood floor, careening to the right, then the left, back to the right. I thought of the raging river snake below us.

  I braked, we spun in a final circle, I screamed.

  They woke up and screamed along with me. They had had more than their share of screams in their young lives, and this was not fair. They did not deserve any more screams.

  We tipped, a horrible jerk over the edge of the road, the front of my car pointing down toward the broken ice in the churning river, a skinny tree trunk smashed into my right side.

  We were going to die.

  Oh no. We were going to die.

  * * *

  I had left my job as a sous-chef two weeks ago, after I threw a chicken at my boss.

  “What are you doing, Olivia?” Carter shrieked, turning toward me in his state-of-the-art, cold and sterile stainless steel kitchen.

  It wasn’t a live chicken—that would not have been kind to the chicken—but a whole, plucked chicken. Clearly I was losing my mind. Probably because of the phone calls I had been getting. The underlying threats. “Stop yelling at Brayonna, Carter.”

  “What?” His face, sweaty and flushed, scrunched up in fury. “What?”

  “She burned the crème brûlée, Carter. That’s it. It’s a dessert. Only a dessert. No one was hurt. No one was in danger. She doesn’t deserve to be yelled at.”

  That I interfered in the middle of his swearing tantrum enflamed him and his ego. “It’s not just a dessert, Olivia. It’s my famous crème brûlée.” He stabbed his finger at me. “This is my restaurant and everything must be done flawlessly, perfectly. If she can’t do perfect, she’s out.”

  All of the other chefs were suddenly quiet, standing still over bubbling pots, gas-fired stoves, bowls full of cake batter and soups, thick steaks and shrimp, fresh fruits and vegetables ready to be sliced. Outside the double doors we had customers waiting, people who had sat on waiting lists for weeks, tonight a special event for them.

  “You yelled at Ethan tonight, too, Carter, because you said his sauce wasn’t creamy enough. You berated him until he cried and left.”

  “It wasn’t creamy enough,” he seethed, then slammed down a wooden spoon. “Not. Creamy. Enough!”

  “It’s sauce. It’s not life.” Of all the things to get upset about. Crème brûlée. Sauce. It made me want to cry. These are not things in life to melt down over. “You knocked Georgia’s hat off her head tonight because you said she didn’t add enough butter. It’s butter. That’s all it is. Chill out.”

  “No, Olivia!” His voice spiked as he charged over to me. “It’s not. Butter makes or breaks my recipes, so it makes or breaks my reputation. No one can blemish my reputation!” He threw a dish towel to the floor. “And stay out of this! Who asked you what you thought?”

  “I always say what I think, and what I think is that it’s only butter. From a cow.” I had had it. I knew it at that moment. Carter demeaned people constantly. Everyone hated him, except his henchman, Ralphie, who smirked at me. Every dictator has a right-hand henchman who doesn’t think for himself. I don’t hate anyone, but Carter was one of the meanest people I have ever met. I think that’s why I picked up an egg and threw it at him. He ducked and I missed, which was disappointing. I take pride in my aim—being a Montana girl I knew how to shoot a gun and a bow and arrow—so I threw a second one. Got him. He dodged to the left, then to the right. I pelted an egg at the smirking, nonthinking Ralphie, too. Target hit.

  “What the hell, Olivia?” Carter lurched left. I got him again.

  I wasn’t angry. Some part of my mind couldn’t believe what I was doing. The other part thought that a man who could actually turn into a frothing Tasmanian devil over crème brûlée deserved to have eggs thrown at him. Did he not read the newspaper? Did he not see what happened to people? Now, that was worth melting down over. I myself had had a total meltdown two years ago. It had had nothing to do with crème brûlée.

  “You need to stop yelling at people, Carter. You need to treat people like humans. Don’t be a frightening prick.”

  He gasped. “I do treat them like humans unless they’re screwing up my restaurant! What? Ethan can’t make sauce right after I’ve shown him twice? Brayonna still can’t make crème brûlée without burning it? Are they stupid?”

  “No.” For some reason I thought I should throw a potato at him, so I did, and he ducked and swore, but I had anticipated the duck, so the potato smacked him. I chucked one at smirking Ralphie, too. Dead center. He said, “Ooph.”

  Carter’s was now a popular restaurant in Portland. I had worked for him as his sous-chef since I left Montana, two years ago. I was in charge of the kitchen when Carter wasn’t there. I was in charge of the menu, including all of the specials, and often worked twelve-hour shifts. Carter would not admit it, but his restaurant was not doing well when I arrived on the scene. In fact, he was close to going belly-up.

  He and I sat down and revamped the menu. We cooked together. I showed him my recipes. We made them a
nd he loved them. I had the restaurant remodeled. We had an excellent review in the paper, then another one, and it was word of mouth from then on out.

  I think of it as American fine dining, elegant and plentiful, with a splash of Italian and the colors and spices of Mexico. I needed the job when Carter hired me. I had nothing. He gave it to me and I was grateful, but he was a temperamental and explosive chef, and my frayed nerves couldn’t take him anymore.

  “I’m out.” I turned to the other people, my coworkers, who were equally fed up with crazy Carter, and said, “I’m sorry.”

  Two people closest to me reached over and gave me a hug, then more came. “Please don’t go,” they whispered. “I can’t handle Carter without you . . . don’t do this . . . Leave now, come back tomorrow, please, Olivia . . . I can’t take his screaming with you gone. . . .”

  “Olivia!” Carter yelled at me, his finger waving, egg dripping down his white chef’s coat. “If you leave here, you can never come back! If you come back tomorrow, I will close the door. If you come back in a week, probably I will keep the door shut. If you come crawling back in a month, I will think about letting you back in, so do not leave. I have made you the chef you are. You owe me!”

  I laughed. So did a bunch of other people. It was so patently false that in response I picked up an onion and pitched it at him, and then, my finale, because he had yelled and yelled at me for months, carrots. He dodged and ducked and swore as one after another hit. Ralphie was hiding behind the island. I managed to land an onion on him anyhow. Again: I take pride in my aim.

  I heard the other chefs smothering their laughter.

  I took off my hat, and the net, my brown hair tumbling down my back. I grabbed my bag, all of my recipes that I’d collected in a notebook, and my knives, and I walked out through the front door, waving at the waitstaff, their faces confused.