WINDSWEPT Available For Pre-order now.

WINDSWEPT Available For Pre-order now.

Click HERE to pre-order your copy to be delivered October 1st!





The air was heavy and eerily still for New Orleans. The early November haze of fading warmth shimmered as Sabine walked up the steps of The Immaculate Conception Church on Baronne Street, the click of her heels echoing against the stone floor in the nearly empty foyer. She checked her watch again, her other hand poised on the door handle to the sanctuary. The soft organ music halted as she opened the doors, and heads pivoted in her direction like a flock of owls as Sabine hurried up the aisle, sliding into the empty space beside her sister.

“Here.” Colette handed her a program and returned her gaze to the platinum-toned casket at the front of the sanctuary, the top half open for viewing, the bottom section draped with ornate sprays of pink and ivory roses that nearly touched the floor. “You’re late.”

“And you’re wearing a red velvet dress.” Sabine kept her eyes on the podium as the priest started to ascend the steps. “To a funeral.” She felt her sister’s eyes on her. “And it’s not even December.”

Colette sighed and rubbed her temples with the pads of her fingers. “What do you want me to do?” She hissed, dropping her voice to a whisper when she heard the echo. “One of the boys knocked a bowl of oatmeal into my lap this morning, and I only have one black dress. It was either that or this Christmas dress.”

“Well, at least take off that ridiculous mistletoe pin on the shoulder.” Sabine shook her head as she reached over and unpinned the enameled holiday pin from Colette’s dress and slipped it into her pocket. “That’s a dead giveaway.”

The priest began speaking as soft organ music started again in the background, and Sabine slowly let go of the breath she’d been holding onto like a secret. As if on cue, the heavy length of hair she’d pinned into a slick twist loosened and slid slowly down her back, the two warped pins she’d managed to find on the way out the door that morning reluctantly conceding defeat, hitting the floor behind her with a metallic ping.

“Fuck it,” Sabine whispered as she reached back to pull her waist-length hair over her shoulder. Her aunt Thea wouldn’t care if she didn’t look perfect. Three years ago, they’d been strolling in Lafayette cemetery after church, the heat so dense it undulated in translucent waves over the crypts, when Thea had reached out and run her hand over the edge of a headstone. Sabine knew her aunt had something to say, and it was only a moment before she said it. Apparently, it worried her that Sabine’s hair was always in such a tight knot. Sabine knew what she meant, but nothing was going to change, and they both knew it.

The priest’s monotone voice faded into the background, and Sabine closed her eyes tight against the memory of Thea sitting on a wooden stool backstage at the theater last Christmas, straight pins dangling from the corner of her mouth.

Thea folded and smoothed the costume on the actress standing in front of her as if she were merely a dress form, and then Thea glanced over at Sabine painting a bronze railing detail on one of the set backdrops. Sabine felt her glance and put her brush down before she looked back at her over her shoulder. She knew when Thea had something to say.

“Sabine, you have that beautiful copper hair like a medieval heroine, and no one ever sees it. It’s a damn shame.”

Colette whispered in her direction as the priest paused to shuffle his papers, the words jerking Sabine back to the present like a swiftly turned page. “So how did it go this morning with the grande dame?”

She leaned into Colette’s shoulder, tempering her volume for the mourners behind them clearly trying to catch every word. “Celestine was dramatic, as usual. I was late getting downstairs this morning, so by the time I finally made it, it was past time to leave.”

“And she was showered, dressed, and ready to go?”

Sabine rolled her eyes, mentally pushing back the headache starting to throb behind her temples. “She’d wrapped herself in Thea’s dressing gown and had just finished last night’s bottle of vodka. She said she was ‘just having a mimosa or two, darling,’ but I’m pretty sure those aren’t made with a rocks glass of straight Smirnoff and a mist of orange juice from that damn spray bottle over the top.”

“Shit. I’m sorry.” Colette shook her head and turned to look toward her. “I knew I should have been there. Of course, she’d make today all about her.”

“Oh well.” Sabine slipped her arm into her sister’s. “Same shit…”

Colette smiled. “Different day.”

They both returned their attention to the podium. Sabine’s head pounded softly in time with her heart as she looked around at the pictures of Thea on wooden easels surrounding the casket. Backstage at Les Misérables with a seam ripper in one hand and a glass of chardonnay in the other, then on stage at a cast party in the eighties with the actors and crew, tossing a handful of glitter into the air that sparkled like diamond dust in the stage lights. There were even a series of photos from Manhattan when she was just beginning her career in theater as an apprentice costumer. Sabine smiled, grateful that her sister had chosen those particular photos to take center stage. Those were Thea’s favorite memories.

Sudden sharp voices from behind the foyer doors ricocheted around the stone walls of the sanctuary, and every single head turned to look, with the marked exception of Sabine and Colette. The doors swung open abruptly, as if they’d been kicked, and Colette laid a cold hand over Sabine’s and squeezed. A latecomer was stumbling down the aisle as if she were on her way to collect a Tony award, slurring greetings that were equal parts hushed and deafening as she followed a tilting floor to the front of the church. Silence fell around them as the priest accepted quiet defeat and closed his bible.

Tinted sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows and illuminated her faded blond hair, rooted with steel gray, as she dragged the back of her hand over her mouth and smeared her lipstick across her left cheek. Her black dress was loose, half unzipped, her long string of dramatic pearls caught on the button closure and draped haphazardly down her back. She’d made her way to the front and up the two steps to where the casket was placed when she tripped suddenly and knocked over two of the easels holding Thea’s photographs. She shot slurred apologies over her shoulder at the packed, silent pews as she leaned on the side of the casket with both hands to steady herself. Rose petals drifted to the stone floor of the church as she brushed the arrangement to one side, clearly to get a better look into the casket.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God…” Colette dropped her head into her hands and whispered through her fingers. “What is she doing?

Sabine just shook her head, her gaze locked on the woman rummaging through the casket as she reached through the satin curtain and tugged on Thea’s arm. She turned around suddenly, as if crushed by the weight of the stares behind her, and shouted, her voice shrill and uncontrolled, the words flying from her mouth and clattering one by one across the stone floor.
“It’s mine!” She said it again, as if the shocked silence she’d encountered was direct opposition, then turned back to the casket, finally freeing Thea’s arm and holding it up in front of her. “It’s mine, and she stole it when she dropped dead.”

“Oh, God.” Sabine grabbed the back of the pew in front of her and locked eyes with her sister. “It’s the ring. She’s after the ring.”

It was after dark when Sabine’s mother, Celestine, finally passed out on the couch, both arms dripping over the side like spilled mercury. Sabine usually tried to police her nightly drinking, but after what had happened at the funeral, she was too exhausted to care. She finally managed to lead her to bed sometime after ten, still in the twisted, half-zipped dress she’d refused to take off. Sabine slid the trash can over to the side of her bed next to her and switched out the lights, pulling the door closed softly behind her.

On the way back to the kitchen, Sabine pried out a bottle of pinot grigio she kept hidden from her mother for emergencies and filled a glass pitcher of ice. She wandered out to the back porch of the house that would swallow two people and sank down alone onto one of the porch swings overlooking the shared courtyard. She ran her hand over the peeling white paint on the graying wood railing, the edges thin and sharp under her fingertips. Even in early November, the scent of damp grass still holding the warmth of the late afternoon sun drifted across the porch as she unbuttoned her shirt and let it slip down her back, leaving only the black silk camisole she’d worn underneath. The humidity settled onto her shoulders, finally attracting a breeze so light it felt like breath across her skin.

“Thought I’d find you out here.”

The screen door creaked dramatically as Colette stepped out onto the porch, letting it slap shut behind her, her feet bare against the weathered porch boards. Sabine simply nodded and kicked off her own shoes, pushing them to the side of the swing. The boards were still warm from the heat of the day, and they bent slightly with a lingering creak as her sister sat in the slick enamel chair across from the swing.

Colette had thick, glossy, chestnut hair that their mother had always wanted her to dye blond. Sabine was the only redhead in the family, which had seemed to irritate their mother, although her sister had always been jealous. Once when they were teenagers lying on the porch roof, Colette had hissed that Sabine’s hair always looked “shot through with sunlight, like the damn sun follows you around or something,” which was ironic considering it was exactly nothing compared to Colette’s presence. Her sister was taller than she was, with broad hips that made her look like one of those pioneer women that could mount a running horse without a saddle. She’d always appeared to be the leading lady; Sabine usually felt like she disappeared into the same backdrops she painted in the theater.

Colette nodded at the bottle in a silent question and reached over to pour the pale gold wine into the glass she’d brought outside with her. She settled back in the chair and tucked her hair behind her ear, and Sabine noticed that the tiny lines around her eyes were deeper tonight. Colette looked over at her with tired eyes. “Why the ice bucket?”

“Because I had to hide the bottle in the floorboards. It’s roughly the temperature of bathwater.”

“Lovely.” Colette shook her head and dropped three cubes of ice into her glass. “I thought as much. How is she?”

Sabine didn’t smile, the weariness finally settling silent and heavy onto her shoulders. She flicked a jagged flake of paint off the railing with her thumbnail and watched it float down onto the grass below before she answered. “Can you believe she asked me to make her a martini when we got home from the funeral?”

“She’s out of control.” Colette’s words had jagged edges, as if they’d just been pried from the face of a cliff. She shook her head. “I mean, I expected her to spiral for a while after the accident, but it’s been three damn years.”

“I still can’t believe Dad’s been gone that long.” Exhausted tears burned behind Sabine’s eyelids, and she leaned back in the porch swing to catch more of the breeze coming in from the courtyard. “But losing him in that accident was always going to be too much for her to handle. We knew that.”

“Bullshit.” Colette’s words were louder than her voice as she looked over at Sabine. “He’s dead because she drove them home from the theater drunk that night. She should have used it as a wake-up call to get her shit together. It’s the least she owed him. And us.”

“I know.” Sabine finally clinked a handful of ice into her forgotten glass and poured. She leaned back in the seat and pulled at a fraying thread on the faded blue-and-white-striped seat cushion, winding it around her thumb. “Thea would have hated that I’m still here. I moved back in only to make sure she didn’t drown herself in vodka during the first few weeks after the accident. But every time I talk about traveling or getting a place of my own again, she has a meltdown.” She paused, watching the bats weave a pattern over the courtyard before disappearing under the graying eaves of the Victorian mansion across the street. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” She drew in a breath and held it. “I can’t make her be okay with it, and I can’t leave if she’s like that.”

“She’s a grown woman, Sabine.” Colette waved away a lightning bug as she spoke. “And we live next door, for fuck’s sake. James is always asking me if she needs something done.” She paused, her voice settling slowly into softness. “She’s still acting like she’s the same pampered actress she’s always been, except now she’s using you to avoid reality since Dad isn’t here to help her do it. And you know he and Thea would hate that.”

“But now she’s just lost her sister, for fuck’s sake.” Sabine clinked the melting cubes against the thin crystal sides of her glass, tilting it to capture the shards of gold light from the courtyard lanterns. “I mean, I can’t leave right now.” Her fingertips were tense and white against the stem of the wineglass. “What kind of a person does that?”

“Sabine, you’ve been wanting to take a break from the theater to travel for ages now, and you and Thea were always talking about going to Scotland. I don’t want you to have to stop living because Mom did.” She paused. “I know how you are at work. You’re a take-charge, badass artist. But somehow Mom just manages to take advantage of you. I hate it. And so did Thea.”

Colette started to say something else but thought better of it and looked up at the stars dusted across the sky like blown ash. Children’s laughter tinkled in the distance, and the faint scent of grilling steak still lingered in the air from down the block. “I guess I’d better get home before James puts the kids up for sale.” She shot Sabine a smile and settled her wineglass on the side table. Colette had two sons, ages two and ten, that Sabine happened to know she adored. “Not that I’d blame him.”

Colette stood and hugged her, then turned back once she reached the door. ”I almost forgot.” She reached into the pocket of her jeans and walked back to Sabine. I have something that belongs to you.”

She took the black velvet box from Colette and turned it over in her hand. She followed a streak of dust along the edge with her finger and didn’t look up as she spoke. “But this isn’t mine.”

“Yes, it is.” All the emotion they should have had the chance to feel at the funeral shimmered between them in the darkness. “She adored you. You know that.”

Her answer caught in her throat as she opened the box and saw the antique diamond-and-sapphire band set in white gold. It was simple, but brilliant even in the darkness, and exquisitely made. Thea had worn it for as long as Sabine could remember, and for some reason, her mother had always been obsessed with it.

“Thea wanted you to have it. She gave it to me a few weeks ago when the cancer-treatment center sent her to hospice. She didn’t want it at the house for Celestine to find.”

She nodded, and the cooling night air seemed to warm as she slipped it on her finger. She looked up at Colette. “Thank you for this.”

Colette looked out into the courtyard as she opened the door, tracing a jagged hole in the screen with her finger. “She also said to remind you that”—she paused, as if to line up each word in her head—“only love is real.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

Colette smiled. “I have no idea, and she wouldn’t tell me. Just made me promise I’d pass along her message.”

Colette’s phone pinged with a text from her husband that said simply SOS. She looked up, already rolling her eyes. “Well, clearly something’s on fire, so I’d better find a better place to hide. You want to go to brunch tomorrow?”

“I can’t. I have an appointment in town. She glanced down at the ring on her finger, turning it slowly to watch the stones catch the light. “I don’t know how’ll long I’ll be.”

The screen door squeaked as Colette blew her a kiss and disappeared, already on the phone with her husband. She listened for the front door to close and let out an exhausted sigh that disappeared slowly into the darkness. As if it had never even existed.




Sabine overslept the next day and barely had time to make it downtown into the French Quarter to keep her appointment, twisting her hair into a hurried bun as she walked. Café du Monde flew by on her right as she hurried over the cobblestone streets and dodged a horse-drawn tourist carriage. She had to remind herself twice that even the idea of ditching a meeting with her aunt’s lawyer in favor of the hot, melting deliciousness that was Café du Monde beignets was wholly inappropriate. Still, the rich, darkly roasted scent of coffee drifted across the road and followed closely as a reminder of what she could have if she could muster up the stones to blow off her meeting.

But whatever something like that took, Sabine didn’t have it. She wasn’t a risk taker, and she didn’t like surprises—maybe because her dramatic mother had always provided her plenty of risks and surprises, even as a child, but in any case, it stuck. Sabine was the lead set dresser at The Orpheum Theatre, which her family had owned since it opened its doors for Vaudeville Acts in 1921, and her staff knew to bring any potential problems to her attention immediately so zero surprises occurred on opening nights. She was the boss on every one of her sets, chose every brushstroke of every backdrop, and had been called a control freak more than once, but over the last few years, her life had shrunk around her until it consisted of just the theater and her mother. No one could control the chaos that was Celestine, so any other deviation, especially romantic entanglements, had become too much to even think about.

The Rowan family had also owned two additional theaters for most of Sabine’s life; her father Jacques Rowan had the Orpheum and the Marigny Opera House, but the latter had been sold to a restoration company after Hurricane Katrina nearly decimated the interior. Thea had also purchased the historic and very opulent Joy Theater in the nineties but had quietly sold it for an undisclosed sum the previous year when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Sabine used to secretly dream of getting the hell out of the theater, but over the years she’d grown to love creating sets; she was the first to read the scripts and spent weeks visualizing how she wanted the stages to look. The backdrops for every scene and set change were all hand painted, the stage flowers fresh, and the stage furniture sourced and perfected down to the smallest detail. Sabine even worked with a local perfumier to pipe in scents that drifted over the audience at the perfect moment, like an acrid waft of diesel for a scene set in Manhattan, or a crisp pop of frying bacon for a home kitchen, which dissipated quickly and drifted silently up to the open three-story, gilded ceilings.

Sabine made a sharp turn down a quiet brick alley so narrow she could touch both walls with her arms outstretched. Freshly watered ferns and hot-pink azaleas from the overhead balconies dripped humid moisture down the crumbling stucco walls, and the copper railings were heavy with slivery green patina. The brick buildings on both sides blocked the glare of the morning sun, and she paused to dig the address out of her leather backpack. The strap slid off her shoulder as she watched a waiter at her favorite café roll up its awnings, shaking the dew from the red-and-white- striped fabric. Henri’s.

I could totally still blow this off. Truthfully, she had no idea what this meeting was about, but she assumed it was something to do with settling her aunt’s estate. Her mother was counting the days until the reading of her sister’s will and had said so several times as she was escorted out of Thea’s funeral. Sabine glanced down at the sapphire-and- diamond band on her left hand. She didn’t even know if she wanted to go to the reading; the fact that Thea had wanted her to have the ring was enough for her.

She gave Henri’s another wistful glance as she pressed the brass call button to the left of the black lacquered door. Surely, she was needed for only a signature or something simple, although Colette was the executor of Thea’s estate, and it occurred to her suddenly that if that were the case, it was odd she hadn’t mentioned anything the night before on the porch.

The door buzzed, and Sabine heard the lock click back. She pushed it open and followed a narrow hall to the last door on the left, also painted in a mirror-finish black enamel and with a gold metal plate engraved with Ms. Katherine Boudreaux, Esq. The taller door to her right was the same but marked Private.

She smoothed a wisp of hair away from her face, then sighed and tucked it behind her ear when it slipped back.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” The deep, feminine voice from behind the door was as unexpected as a surly ghost popping around the corner. “Just come on in, Sabine.”

Sabine looked up and spotted the tiny black camera in the nearest corner. She knocked lightly to be polite and stepped into the office, closing the door after her. The woman behind an expansive mahogany desk looked her up and down and, surprisingly, flashed a genuinely warm smile as she invited Sabine to sit. She was in her late sixties perhaps, with wavy silver hair bobbed to her chin. Perfect lipstick that could only be described as a Parisian scarlet was her only pop of color, although it was all she needed. Her ivory skin was luminous, with beautiful lines around her eyes that made Sabine think she laughed loud and often.

“Well,” Katherine said after she’d introduced herself and offered Sabine a coffee. Sabine had politely declined and chosen the glossy tufted-leather chair across from the desk. “You’re probably wondering what all this is about.”

“A bit,” Sabine answered honestly. “Although you mentioned it was something Thea needed from me specifically, so I’m sure she had a reason.”

“You could say that.” Katherine rolled up the sleeves of her French-cuffed, white, button-up shirt and lifted the collar into a delicate frame for her face as she spoke. “You’ll forgive me for the early hour. Thea was quite specific about every detail of this process, so I’m fitting you in before I start seeing my regular clients this morning to ensure absolute privacy.”

Sabine squinted as a sudden beam of golden sunlight fell from the window and across her face. She shifted in her seat and leaned out of its path. “What process?”

“First of all, Thea assured me that you are in possession of a valid passport. Is that correct?”

Sabine watched as she opened a leather portfolio and shuffled the papers inside until she found the one she was looking for. She slid on a pair of slim, black-framed, reading glasses and peered over the stack of papers in her hand at Sabine.

“Oh, sorry.” Sabine pulled herself back into the present. “She’s right, of course. I do have a valid passport, although it’s a waste of paper. I’ve yet to step foot outside the country.”

The office door opened suddenly, and a tall, olive-skinned man with chiseled abs and wet, tousled dark hair stepped in, his gaze fixed on Katherine. He was shirtless, wearing just a faded pair of Levi’s low on his hips, and carrying a mimosa so cold it had already frosted the slim crystal flute.

“Your mimosa, my love.” He held the flute out to Catherine and kissed her hand before he let her take it. No way that guy is a day past twenty-five, Sabine thought as she directed her attention out the window to hide her smile.

“Horatio, darling.” Katherine sat back in her chair and smiled as she gestured to Sabine, whose chair had been mostly obscured behind the door as he opened it. “Please say hello to Sabine Rowan. She’s my first client this morning.”

Horatio turned around in clear surprise and flashed a bright smile. “And a beautiful one, as well.” He paused. “Would you also like a mimosa?”

Sabine smiled in return and shook her head, barely able to contain a subtle snort of laughter until Horatio was safely out the door.

“My apologies,” Katherine said, taking a delicate sip of her drink and setting it at the corner of her desk. “I’m not usually meeting with clients until nine o’clock, so he thought I was alone, I’m sure.”

“No apologies necessary.” Sabine smiled, warming to Katherine in the span of a second. “That’s the most entertainment I’ve had this week.”

“Well.” Katherine set the sheath of papers between them on her desk and placed a blue-enamel fountain pen on top. “Let’s get to it then, shall we?”

Sabine nodded, suddenly very aware of a shift in the energy around them, almost as if Thea had walked into the room and perched on the edge of the desk, her gaze fixed on Sabine. Katherine took her glasses off for a second and looked across the desk, her gaze warm and comfortable, as if they’d known each other for much longer than they had.

“Before I line everything out, I need to tell you that I’m only here to ensure Thea’s wishes are carried out, insomuch as possible. So please know that Thea has approved everything we discuss today, but I can’t provide insight into the reasoning behind it beyond the legalities of the situation.”

“Are you talking about her will?” Sabine asked, suddenly aware that her sister hadn’t mentioned the meeting because she wasn’t made aware of it. “Shouldn’t everyone else be here for this?”

“No. This is just for you. The actual reading of the will isn’t until next week.”

Sabine shifted in her chair, unable to think of anything to say, despite the swirl of questions clouding her mind like a silent dust storm.

Katherine slid her glasses back on face, then peered over them at Sabine. “You look pale, dear. Would you like a glass of water?” Sabine shook her head. “Well, let’s get on with it, then, shall we?” Katherine looked at the brass diver’s clock on her desk and turned it around to face Sabine. “It’s 8:10 a.m. now, and you have a lot to do in the next three hours.”

“What are you talking about? I have to be at the theater in—” Sabine glanced at her bare wrist out of habit. “Well, at some point this evening anyway, and I’m already behind because of the funeral.”

“You may wish you’d said yes to that mimosa after you hear what I’m about to say.” Katherine passed an identical leather folder across the desk to her and waited until she picked it up. “Your aunt is leaving a portion of her estate to your sister, of course, as well as paying off her mortgage and setting up trusts for her children. But for you, she wanted to do something different.”

“She knows I hate surprises.” Sabine felt the blood drain from her face. “Why would she do this to me?”

Katherine walked around to the front of the desk and sat in the other leather chair next to Sabine. “She told me as much. It may make you feel better here that she’s giving you a choice with this bequest.” She paused, clearly choosing her words carefully. “But if you’ll take some advice from someone who knew Thea very well?”

Sabine nodded and glanced at the ceiling, fighting a ridiculous urge to cry.

“Instead of asking why Thea would do this to you—” Katherine reached over her desk for a tissue and handed it to Sabine. “Perhaps consider why Thea would do this for you.”

“Of course.” Sabine nodded, trying to calm her breathing. “I must sound like an ungrateful child.”

Katherine shook her head, her voice softening. “What it sounds like is that you’ve had a lot on your plate for way too long. You’re overwhelmed, and it makes sense that you would be.”

“Oh, God.” Sabine looked up slowly, shame draping itself like a weighted blanket across her shoulders. “You were at the funeral yesterday, weren’t you?”

Katherine nodded, then returned to her chair on the other side of the desk. “I’ll get straight to the point. Your aunt has a proposition for you.” She took one stack of stapled papers out of her leather folder and put it on one side of the desk in front of Sabine. “When you leave this office today, you can choose to stay in New Orleans and return to life as you know it. If you do that, your inheritance from your aunt will be set at the sum of $5,000, which you will receive immediately.”

Sabine nodded. The idea of living returning to normal sounded fine. Whatever that was.

“If you decide to be brave, and I highly recommend you do, the situation will be very different.” She paused as if weighing every word. “In typical Thea style, your aunt has thrown down a challenge for you.”

“A challenge?”

“Yes.” Katherine picked up an engraved chrome pen from her desk and spun it slowly through her fingers. “Starting now, you’ll have three hours to go home, pack a bag, and gather your travel documents. I’ll send a car and driver to collect you at precisely 11:15 a.m. at the door of your house to take you to the airport, where a ticket will be waiting for you. Your driver will have the details of which airline when you get there. You must tell no one that you’re leaving, including Celestine or your sister.”

“No one?” Sabine realized her mouth was open and closed it, shaking her head slowly as if that might clear the fog. “You must be joking.”

“I assure you, Ms. Rowan, that I am not.” Katherine took a sip of her mimosa and then another, pausing to admire it before she set it back down. “Your aunt chose your destination. You’ll stay for the duration of one year, and you’re free to return on November 1st, 2024.”

Sabine sighed and dropped her gaze to the leather folder in her lap. She used to dream of traveling, and Thea had always encouraged her to, but no way in hell was she leaving now.

“In addition, for the next year, you must communicate only with your mother through handwritten letters. You may call or email anyone else at your discretion once at your destination.” She paused, slowly closing the leather folder. “And I will, of course, pay a visit to your family this evening and let them know what’s going on, as well as your employer. I assume you have an assistant set dresser that can take over?”

Sabine nodded. “Work isn’t the issue. I have a capable assistant who is ready to step up. But I can’t just walk out.” She realized too late she was talking more to herself than Katherine. “My mother would literally fall apart.”

Katherine held Sabine’s gaze until it dawned on her, layer by layer, that her mother was the reason Thea wanted her to get the hell out of the country. Her mother was the reason for all of this.

“Rest assured, Thea left directives for proper medical care for your mother, as well as provisions for rehab and counseling should she choose to take advantage of it. But ultimately, it’s her choice.”

“Yeah,” Sabine said, her voice heavy with worry. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“If you follow your aunt’s directions, $500,000 will be deposited into your bank account at the end of the year, whether you choose to stay or leave. In addition, you’ll have a generous monthly stipend while you’re there.”

Katherine pulled a separate sheath of papers from the folder and looked them over before she went on. “Thea signed a contract for the sale of her house a few weeks ago. I understand you and Colette were informed of that fact?”

Sabine nodded, gripping the arms of the chair to stop her mind from spinning.

“That money will be split between you and your sister and will be available to you should you choose to purchase your own real estate either during your year abroad or when you return to New Orleans.” She paused. “I’ll handle those details should that situation arise.”

Thea had always been good with money and investments and had taught Sabine to follow in her footsteps. Money like that could set her up for life if she invested it wisely, and all it would take was a year of her life. The first ripple of excitement moved through her chest like breath, then stilled instantly when she remembered Celestine at the funeral.

Katherine nodded toward the brown leather folder still in Sabine’s hands. “I know this must feel overwhelming, but everything you need to take the first steps is in that folder.” She looked intently at Sabine. “Your aunt set up an account for you with her bank here in New Orleans. You’ll find the debit card inside. I’ll use that account for the stipend deposits, so you’ll have instant access via the card wherever you are.”

Sabine sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. The words felt stuck in her throat. “So, she expects me just to pack a bag and leave for an entire year?” She paused, staring out the window until she could string together the words. “Why would she offer me an opportunity like this when she knows I can’t take it? She knows how bad my mother’s gotten. She’ll drink herself to death if I leave.”

“Sabine.” Katherine stood and came around to lean against the front of her desk. It was a while before she answered. “May I be frank?”

Sabine nodded, half wishing she’d ditched this trainwreck of a meeting and gone to Café du Monde when she had the chance. Katherine met her gaze with kind eyes, and her voice was the type of soft that you offer when you know the words have sharp edges.
“It’s not your job to fix your mother’s alcoholism.”

“But—” Katherine held up her hand, and Sabine had the good sense to close her open mouth.

“I know it feels like that right now, but if you continue to enable her and let her live with no consequences, she will drink herself to death. Celestine must choose to come out on the other side of this and fix what’s really wrong. She either will or she won’t. You can’t do it for her.”

Katherine walked back around her desk and sat, pushing a discreet black, leather-covered box of tissues across the desk to her.
Sabine took two, knowing there was nothing else to say. Katherine and Thea were adamant that she flit off to God knows where; Sabine was certain that wasn’t an option. She saw no middle ground.

“I think I understand everything as well as I can at this point.” She kept her eyes on the folder in her hand. “I’ll think on it.”

“You don’t have long. The driver will be in front of your house at 11:15 a.m. and will wait for exactly five minutes. After that, the opportunity will no longer be available to you.”

“I understand.”

Sabine stood, slipping the leather folder into her bag. Just as she touched the door, she heard Katherine clear her throat, and she turned to look back at her.

Katherine slid the brass cap back on her fountain pen and met her eyes. “It’s not often someone works their entire life to make sure you don’t miss out on yours.” She hesitated. “Don’t let her down.”

Sabine started to reply but had nothing left to say. She stepped through the door and closed it behind her, the click echoing in the empty hallway.


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2 Replies to “WINDSWEPT Available For Pre-order now.”

  1. I am hooked! The writing and development of characters are beautifully orchestrated. How wonderful to be enchanted by your world.