The Road to Rose Bend - Naima Simone

CHAPTER ONE

THERE’S NO PLACE like home.

Huh.

Obviously, Dorothy hadn’t gotten out much.

Sydney Collins stared at the majestic Monument Mountain and Mount Everett, the breathtaking sentinels that soared above the picturesque town of Rose Bend, Massachusetts. Dorothy’s bewildering need to return to boring, sepia-toned Kansas couldn’t be found among the trees that covered their peaks, though.

Sydney could still remember sitting in the living room and watching The Wizard of Oz for the first time when she’d been seven years old. While her parents and her sister, Carlin, had been rooting for Dorothy to click those ruby heels and make it back home, Sydney had jumped to her feet and yelled, “Are you crazy, Dorothy? Keep your ass in Oz!”

Well, her parents hadn’t been too happy with the language—they’d later had words with Uncle Travis about watching his mouth around her—but Carlin, resting in her special recliner, had quietly snickered.

Carlin...

A dusty, too-familiar feeling weaved through Sydney, burrowing deep in her heart. From experience, she knew no amount of meditation, Come-to-Jesus talks or Sunday sermons explaining how “God moves in mysterious ways,” could dig it out.

Sydney’s fingers curved around her slightly rounded belly, the mound and life within keeping her grounded here, in the present.

God. She hadn’t been back home for fifteen minutes, and already the memories were smothering her, seeking to drag her back.

Well, the past wasn’t exactly dragging her back. As of yesterday morning, when she’d left Charlotte, North Carolina, to start the twelve-hour drive to the Berkshires, she’d willingly returned to her hometown located in the Southern Berkshires.

The hometown she’d vowed—eight years earlier—to never step foot in again.

Had it been only about her, she still might be settled in her Ballentyne condo.

But it was no longer only about her.

Sydney splayed her fingers wider over her stomach. Seventeen weeks, her doctor had confirmed the day before yesterday.

Love, so deep, so fierce it was terrifying, welled up inside her as it did every time she thought of the tiny, vulnerable person growing inside her. Love and...fear. Oh God, Sydney was scared. Not only for herself, but for the life she would soon be responsible for. On her own. Yes, it was her choice to raise her child as a single mother, just as it’d been her choice to divorce her ex-husband, Daniel. But those decisions didn’t make the future any less daunting. They didn’t mean she wasn’t questioning if she was doing the right thing.

Shaking her head, as if the abrupt motion could dislodge her doubts, she inhaled a deep breath. Released it.

“I’m doing this,” she said to the mountains. To no one. “I’m really doing this.”

Was she reminding herself...or questioning her sanity? Yeah, she had no clue. But with her apartment lease canceled, all her belongings either packed away in storage or piled inside this vehicle, with her ties cut, she had no choice but to go forward. Literally and figuratively.

She closed her eyes and tipped her head back. Up here, the air didn’t contain the mugginess of the South. Though she’d lived almost a decade in Charlotte, North Carolina, she’d never quite become accustomed to the humidity that clung to her skin like a layer of clothing. Here, though, summer had truly arrived. A high seventies temperature with a fresh breeze that brushed over her skin like a loving caress.

The Southern Berkshires in mid-June were simply...breathtaking. As much as she resented the place where she’d grown up, she couldn’t deny the beauty of it. Centuries-old trees seemed to preen with their vividly green, lush leaves. Wide fields rolled into hills that were only eclipsed by the majesty of mountains and endless blue sky. As a child, she’d stared up at those great sentinels, imagined they’d been stacked there by lightning-bolt-wielding gods and fierce Titans. And as a teen, she’d studied them, dreaming about what lay on the other side. They’d been her friends, her guardians. And they’d been the only thing she’d waved goodbye to as she’d left Rose Bend eight years ago.

But now she was back.

Tears stung her eyes, and Sydney blinked against them. Stupid hormones. She’d never been much of a crier—she’d learned at an early age that tears solved nothing—but since she’d been pregnant, they popped up like stray hairs on a chin.

Family. Acceptance. A sense of belonging. Those had never been hers to have in her hometown. Hell, there was a very good chance they still might not be hers now. But for her baby, it could be different. The burdens of Sydney’s childhood didn’t have to be