The Secrets We Carry - First Two Chapters

Coming July 19, 2022

The Secrets We Carry




Book Description:

1917 - Sofiya and her friend Alina are forced to flee Russia as Tsar Nicholas II abdicates, and the Bolsheviks take control of St. Petersburg. Their parents send them to America, where Alina's distant cousin lives, but soon the girls learn they have traded one danger for another. They are forced to earn a living in the most awful way, and once again, both girls flee for their lives in separate directions. Years later, trapped in a bitter marriage, Sofiya once again finds herself running away to protect her son and the secret she's been hiding since leaving Russia. She wonders if she will ever feel safe again.

2022 - Addison Cameron loves antiques and old homes and has made a career, alongside her boyfriend Zach, of flipping old houses and making them new again. Having lived a life of terror as a young teen, bringing new life to old homes has been her therapy. When Zach finds a cigar box of old letters in an antique shop and buys them for Addie, she is intrigued. Who was the young girl Sofiya, and what was her life like? Soon Addie becomes immersed in Sofiya's past and is drawn to the very house in Portland that Sofiya had fled all those years ago. As she brings the house back to life, Addie relives her own nightmare past and that of Sofiya's. Can she heal her old wounds by restoring the house where Sofiya had once lived?


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Paperback and Audiobook coming on or before July 19th.


Please enjoy the first two chapters


The Secrets We Carry

Deanna Lynn Sletten

Copyright 2022

 

Prologue

Petrograd, Russia

April 1917

 

 

“Maman, I do not understand,” Sofiya said softly as she watched her mother’s hands shake while carefully packing a suitcase. Maria had been adamant that Sofiya take an older leather suitcase, one that wouldn’t appear extravagant if anyone was watching. “Why must I leave? Why can’t I stay here with you and Père?”

Marie’s dark tendrils swayed as she shook her head. “Non, non,” her mother said in barely a whisper. They were speaking French as was common among the aristocrats in Russia despite being born and raised there. “You must leave tomorrow, ma chère. It is not safe for you here now that our beloved Tsar has abdicated.”

“But Maman, Père said we will be safe,” Sofiya exclaimed. Her father had insisted that he and his family would not be bothered by the incoming government because of the highly regarded position he held at the university.

“Your Père is a good and smart man, ma chère, but he is not being realistic. Once those in power learn we are cousins of the Tsar, we will not be safe. That is why I must send you away. I must keep my last living child alive.” Tears filled Maria’s eyes as she spoke, and Sofiya’s heart clenched. Her brother had died fighting in the war, and his death had nearly broken her mother. Even at the tender age of sixteen, Sofiya understood how heartbreaking her brother’s loss was to the entire family. She missed Mikhail greatly.

Maria smoothed the white shirtwaist with her graceful hand after placing it into the suitcase. “I am packing only the essentials for you, chère. Shirtwaists and dark skirts, undergarments, and practical shoes. One of your white cotton dresses, too. And a warm wool coat. Nothing too extravagant that might entice people to believe you are from a well-to-do family.”

Sofiya’s young face crinkled. She was trying desperately to understand what her mother was implying. Nothing too fancy? Well-to-do family? Although she had always known her family was related to royalty, and had been quite close to her cousins, the Tsar’s daughters, Sofiya had not been raised to put on airs. Her father saw to it that she’d been educated in several languages, history, science, and mathematics just as her brother had been, and her mother had taught her all the necessities of being a polite young lady. But Sofiya and her brother hadn’t been raised as spoiled children. They’d had chores assigned to them around the townhouse, had accompanied their parents to do good works at charities, and had never been given excessive gifts or clothing. Now, her mother was acting strange, as if dressing nicely in this new place Sofiya was traveling to would cause a threat to her life.

“Do not frown, my sweet,” Maria scolded. “You do not wish to scar your beauty with such a face.

Sofiya immediately softened her expression. The young girl knew she was no beauty in any sense of the word with her large features, dark brown eyes, and dark hair. Her dearest friend, Alina Henderson, however, was breathtaking. Alina had delicate features with a small nose and rosebud lips. Her hair was so blond, it was almost white, and her eyes were the palest blue, like the sky on a summer day. But Sofiya did not contradict her maman, because she knew how worried she was at this moment.

After filling the suitcase, Maria laid out a plain dark skirt, a white shirt, and a waistcoat for Sofiya. She turned to her daughter, her expression serious. “You will wear this one outfit as you travel. I’ve sewn my emerald necklace and diamond earrings into the waistband. You must keep them with you at all times.”

Sofiya gasped. “Maman! Why?”

Maria clasped her daughter’s hands in her own. “Sweet one, you must listen carefully to me. I do not know what lies ahead for you. I’m preparing you as best I can. Your dear friend, Alina, will travel with you to a place in America where you will be safe and start a new life. Alina’s mother has made all the arrangements along with a distant cousin of hers who lives in Portland, Oregon. Proper travel papers have been secured for you both. You will travel as Alina’s younger sister, and you will say your last name is Henderson and that you are traveling to America from Finland. It is imperative that you never utter the word Russia at any time.”

“But why do I need your precious jewels?” Sofiya asked. If all was arranged, why would her mother give up two of her finest treasures?

Maria’s brows drew together in worry. “Because even the best laid plans can go awry. If you find yourself in a terrible bind, you can sell the jewels. And if you never need to do so, then they will be a beautiful reminder of me.”

Tears filled the young girl’s eyes. She did not wish to lose her family. “Maman, I don’t want to leave you and Père. Why can we not leave together, as a family?”

“Non, we cannot,” Maria said sadly. “We can only risk sending you and Alina. If we all try to leave, something terrible might happen. Madam Henderson has worked hard for months to plan your escape. To save you and her daughter. So, you must do as I say.”

Sofiya pulled a white handkerchief from her skirt pocket and dabbed at her eyes. She nodded her head in agreement, although she wished she didn’t have to leave. America was so far away, and she was frightened. “Can I write to you and Père, so I know that you are safe?” she asked.

A pained expression crossed her mother’s face. “Non, ma chère. It is too dangerous for you to write to us. No one must ever know where you are. Ever. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Maman,” Sofiya said, but her heart was broken. To cut all ties with her family forever was too much to bear.

“Now, my darling. You must listen to my instructions,” Maria said earnestly. “You will go to Alina’s home tonight and depart tomorrow for Helsinki where your journey will begin. It will be a long, arduous trip, but I know that you and Alina will do fine. You both are educated young women. And the fact that you speak many languages will help you on your journey. Once you arrive in America, however, you must speak only English. It is imperative you blend in quickly, so no one is the wiser.”

“Yes, Maman,” Sofiya said, dropping her eyes to the floor. There was no arguing with her mother now that she’d made up her mind.

Marie’s face softened. “Do not worry, darling one. I trust Alina’s mother completely. She is not only our dressmaker; she has been my closest friend nearly all my life just as Alina has been yours.” Marie placed her finger under her daughter’s chin and gently raised Sofiya’s eyes to hers. “I love you more than life itself, ma chère. Please know that. That is why I’m willing to let you go so far away, far from the danger here. I pray you will have a chance for a better life there, possibly meet a nice man and have a family of your own. There is nothing left for you here.”

Sofiya grasped her mother in a hug as tears spilled down her face. She prayed that the turmoil in her beloved country would end so she could one day return and see her parents again. Until then, she would do as her mother wished.

Pulling away, Sofiya once again nodded her assent.

“Good girl,” Maria said, smiling through her tears. “Now, let us go to Alina’s house before it is dark, and tomorrow, you begin your new life.”

“Yes, Maman,” Sofiya said.


 

 

 

Chapter One

Portland, Oregon

April 2022

 

Addison Cameron moved slowly through the cramped antique store, carefully studying every piece it held. Addie loved antiques. Antiques and old houses and anything else that had been cast away and needed to be loved again.

“Look what I found, Addie.” Zachery Walker, her boyfriend, sauntered over to her, his brown eyes sparkling. She loved how boyish he looked when he was excited.

Addie looked at the small box he carried over to her. It was an old wooden cigar box, possibly from the early 1900s. Unlike the many she’d seen before, this one wasn’t rustic, but instead was polished and shone almost like new. Engraved on the top were the words ‘CROOKS, Rum Soaked, Portland, Ore.’

She grinned up at Zach. “You know me too well. It’s beautiful.”

He beamed. “Wait until you see what’s inside—that’s the best part.” Zach lifted the tarnished gold latch and opened the lid. Addie swiped her wispy blond bangs from her eyes and peered inside.

“It’s empty,” she said, disappointed.

“It seems empty but look again.” Zach reached inside and pushed down on one side of the bottom. Up popped the other side. “It has a false bottom.”

Intrigued, Addie took the box from him and set it on an antique table. “There are letters inside,” she said excitedly.

“That’s what makes it so special,” Zach said, obviously proud of his discovery.

She chuckled. “You do know me well.” Lifting the pile of letters, Addie was immediately aware of how old they were. The yellowed envelopes were tied tightly with a faded blue ribbon. “Do you suppose they’re love letters?” she asked.

Zach shrugged. “We won’t know until we go through them.”

Addie carefully replaced the letters and false bottom, then walked over to the counter. “How much for the cigar box?” she asked Robert, the owner. She’d known Robert for years, having bought many items in his store to decorate the houses she flipped.

“For you, sweetie?” the older man said, winking at her. “Thirty-five bucks.”

Addie knew the box alone was worth that price. “What about the letters hidden inside?” she asked. Addie didn’t want to cheat her favorite antique dealer. He’d given her such good deals in the past and she wanted that to continue.

“They were in the box when I bought it, so they go with it,” he said, smiling.

“Here, let me buy it,” Zach said, taking it back from Addie. “It can be an early birthday present.”

“Birthday present?” Robert said. “Well, in that case, it’s thirty dollars. I have to give the birthday girl a little discount.” He winked again.

“Thanks, Robert,” she said, touched by his generosity. “You’re always so sweet.”

“That’s me. The local sweetheart.” Robert wrapped the box in old newspaper and placed it in a bag. “But in all honesty, those letters won’t do you much good. Some are in a different language. Looks like Italian or something. I gave up after looking at a couple of them.”

Addie was disappointed to hear that, but she still wanted the box and letters.

Zach paid for the box and carried the bag out of the store as they called goodbye to Robert. Once outside, Addie turned and hugged Zach. “Thank you for the birthday gift. I can’t wait to look through those letters.”

He kissed her lightly on the temple, his scruffy beard tickling her face. “I knew you’d like it. You love mysteries. And maybe we can get someone to translate the letters if they’re all in another language. I know a couple of people from the university who studied languages.”

A chilly breeze blew up the street and Addie shivered despite her heavy winter coat. She pulled her knit slouch cap from her pocket and placed it on her head. “I thought winter was over,” she said as they walked up the street.

“It’s Portland, sweetie,” Zach said without further explanation. The words spoke for themselves.

Addie chuckled. “Right. Let’s grab a coffee.”

Zach wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close as they turned into a small coffee shop on the corner. They ordered their coffees and then sat down at a table. Eagerly, Addie pulled the old cigar box from the bag and retrieved the letters. As she sipped her hot drink, she untied the pile of letters and carefully sifted through them. Most had only one word on the front of the envelope—Maman.

“Isn’t that mother in French?” Addie asked, looking up at Zach.

“I think so,” he said, leaning closer for a look. “It’s definitely not Italian.”

Growing warm, Addie took off her cap and shook her head so her short hair wasn’t flattened against her head. When she was young, Addie had long blond hair that hung in waves down her back. Now, at thirty-four, she found shorter hair easier, especially with the work she did.

Addie opened a few of the envelopes, but the letters were written in what she thought was French. Disappointed that she’d have to wait to learn their contents, Addie was about to tie the letters together again when she saw an envelope that had no name written on it. Carefully, she opened the brittle envelope and out fell two photos.

“Look at these!” she said, growing excited again. The photos were in black and white on cardboard paper. One was of a young woman holding a baby and sitting on the front porch of a house. The other was of four people standing in a garden across the street from a neighborhood of houses. “They look like they’re from the early 1900s,” Addie added.

Zach set down his phone and looked at the photos. “Interesting. Yeah, they do look that old. See if there’s anything written on the back.”

Addie turned both over, and to her delight, one had writing. It was a photo postcard with a space for writing, a postmark, and a one-cent stamp in the corner.

Zach chuckled. “Look at that. One cent to send a postcard. Crazy.”

“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” Addie said. “The postmark says Ketchikan, Alaska, Nov 10th, 1919.”

“Wow,” Zach whistled low. “I figured these were old, but that’s over a hundred years old.”

Addie nodded as she studied both photos again. “I think the woman with the baby is the same woman standing in the other photo,” she said. “Look.”

Zack studied the photos and agreed. “They must have been friends and then the other woman moved up to Alaska. Is the writing in English?”

Addie turned it over again, and to her delight, it was in English. The writing was in pencil, and it had faded over the years, but she could still make out what it said in its tiny script.

Dear Sofiya,

I’m sorry I haven’t written before this, but you are always in my thoughts. I don’t think you would like Alaska. It rains just awful here, even worse than Portland. Ha Ha. Can you believe I am a mother now? Our sweet baby was born October 9th, and my life has been a whirlwind of feedings and diapers. But I am so happy with little Floriana Sofiya (Florie) and my husband, Clint. He is working hard, running the factory, and we rent a nice house here. It’s more than I thought possible, after the rough start you and I had. I miss you and wish only good things for you. I’ll write more soon.

Love, Alina

“Interesting,” Zach said. “It makes you wonder what she meant by their ‘rough start.’”

Addie nodded. She studied the other photo again. The two women looked more like young girls. They wore white ankle-length dresses and were standing in boy-girl fashion with two men in dark suits. The girls were holding hands in front of one male, despite the distance between them. They weren’t smiling; they looked sad.

“What are you thinking?” Zach asked gently. “That frown tells me something about the photo bothers you.”

“The girls don’t look very happy. They look scared.”

“Yeah, but those guys aren’t that good looking. Maybe they were set up on the double-date from hell,” Zach joked.

“Maybe,” Addie said.

They finished their coffee and Addie carefully placed the photos back into the cigar box. After bundling up, they headed outside and made the long walk home.

“So, have you found your next project?” Zach asked as they walked toward the house on Seventeenth that they’d just remodeled and sold. It was a 1910 small Victorian that they’d brought back to life after years of neglect. “We have to be out of the house by the end of the month.”

“Nothing has caught my eye yet,” Addie said. “It’s getting harder to find good deals on old houses to flip. Everyone wants so much money for run-down homes. Or many of the large older homes have been turned into apartments. It’s sad.”

“I’m sure you’ll find something,” he said encouragingly. “Soon, I hope. Otherwise, we’ll be living on the street.”

Addie’s heart leapt. She knew Zach was kidding, but the thought of living on the street again, even after all these years, scared her.

“It was just a joke,” he said, pulling her close to him as they walked.

“I know,” she whispered. It always surprised her how intuitive Zach was to her feelings. “We can always stay in one of Valerie’s rentals if we don’t find a place to flip. I think the house on Stark is still available.” Valerie Harding was the woman who’d turned Addie on to flipping houses. Addie had been floundering, working in a coffee shop, and trying hard to keep a roof over her head when she’d met Valerie. Noticing the young girl’s interest in her designs as she worked at a table in the coffee shop, Valerie asked Addie if she’d like to come work on the house with her on her day off to see what she was doing with it. Addie had jumped at the chance because it seemed like something fun to do. The two women had a great time discussing house design and decorating. Valerie was thirty when she met nineteen-year-old Addie, and told the teen how impressed she was with her design ideas. That evening, Valerie drove Addie home to her dingy apartment that was over a small corner grocery store in a questionable part of town.

“This is where you live?” Valerie had asked, looking concerned.

“Yes,” Addie answered without enthusiasm.

Valerie had looked at her kindly with her pale blue eyes. “Do you feel safe here?” she asked gently.

Suddenly, tears burst from Addie’s eyes. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “But it’s all I can afford.”

Valerie made the offer in that moment that she’d never once regretted. “I have a nice house with an extra room you are welcome to stay in while we work on the other house,” she told Addie. “Go pack your things.”

Addie had been shocked, but even with her deep-seeded distrust of almost everyone, she immediately sensed that she could trust Valerie. So, she did as Valerie said and never looked back. They had worked together flipping houses for years after that.

Just thinking of Valerie made Addie smile.

“Or maybe we could finally find our own forever home,” Zach said, giving Addie a little side-smile.

Addie remained silent. She loved Zach and trusted him completely, but even after knowing him for seven years and living together for five of those years, she was scared to death of settling down. Fortunately, Zach knew that and never pressured her. But little hints like the one he’d just given her made her heart race.

“I’ll find a house to flip. One will just come to me, like they always do,” Addie said.

Zach nodded, looking disappointed.

 

***

 

Later that evening, Addie curled up in bed with the cigar box and once again began sifting through the letters. As far as she could tell, they were all in French, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t make out enough words to understand what was written. The only thing she could read was the signature—Sofiya.

Puzzled, Addie wondered why Sofiya had written letters that she’d never sent to her mother. The dates at the top of the letters started in May 1917 and continued through the 1940s when they finally stopped. Either Sofiya had finally given up on ever being able to send them to her mother, or perhaps Sofiya had died.

Opening the envelope with the photos again, Addie studied them. The picture of the two women and two men appeared as if they were standing in a park which was across the street from a row of houses. The houses were large and built close together. Addie knew most of the older neighborhoods around Portland, but she didn’t recognize these homes. As she studied the details, it occurred to her that the postcard must have an address written on it.

Excited, Addie turned the postcard over. On the right-hand side—clear as day—was written, Miss Sofiya Henderson, Marshall Street, Portland, Oregon. Addie knew where Marshall Street was—it ran from The Pearl District up into Nob Hill. She studied the address again. No house number. Addie sighed.

“What’s wrong?” Zach asked, striding over to the bed, his long legs covering the space quickly. He dropped on the bed beside her.

“I have an address for the house that Sofiya lived in, but not the house number. It only says Marshall Street,” Addie told him.

He frowned. “Sofiya?”

“The woman who wrote the letters.”

“Oh, that Sofiya.” Zach chuckled.

“Funny,” she mumbled. “There’re houses across the street from the people in the photo. I don’t recognize any of them. I wonder if one of them was where she lived.”

“Let me see.” Zach took the photo and studied it. “Hm. There are a lot of houses in that area that look like these. Is there a park on Marshall?”

“Good thinking.” Addie grabbed her phone and looked at a map of Portland. “There’s Tanner Springs Park between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues on Marshall.”

Zach winked. “Sounds like a good place to start.”

 

***

 

The next day, Addie and Zach drove to Marshall Street and parked near Tanner Springs Park. As they glanced around, they realized that they wouldn’t find houses here matching the ones in the picture.

“I should have known that there were only apartments and businesses around here,” Addie said, disappointed. “It’s close to the river and the property is valuable. I’ll bet there were houses here at one time, but they’re gone.”

“You’re not giving up that easily, are you?” Zach asked. “There may have been other parks on Marshall back in 1919 that are now long gone. Maybe the house is a couple of blocks up the hill.”

“Or maybe they walked down to this park and the house Sofiya lived in isn’t one of these in the picture,” Addie countered. “Without a house number, we have no way of knowing which house it could have been.”

“You know the history of real estate around here as well as I do,” Zach said. “Even if we had the house number from 1919, all the house addresses were changed in Portland in the 1930s. So don’t give up. Let’s walk a few blocks and see what’s here.” He reached for her hand.

“You always look on the positive side, don’t you,” Addie said, a small smile forming on her lips. She took his hand and let him lead her up the sidewalk. Addie loved that Zach was the optimist to her naturally pessimistic personality. She didn’t know how she’d keep pushing through life without him.

The weather was warmer than the day before and it felt nice walking out in the sunshine. Each block they walked, though, had only businesses and apartment buildings. Old warehouses had been turned into apartments and new construction was all around. Corner bars and stores were everywhere. From what Addie could see, it didn’t seem promising they’d find any homes until up past Twenty-Fifth Avenue.

They crossed under the 405 Freeway. “We’re going to be in Nob Hill by the time we find any houses,” Addie complained. “And those are crazy expensive. I just don’t see Sofiya living there.”

“Let’s just go another block or two. Have faith,” Zach said.

Addie grumbled but kept walking.

As they neared the corner of Eighteenth Avenue and Marshall Street, Zach smiled and pointed. “I think I spot a house.”

Addie rolled her eyes but continued on. “But is it the house?”

Zach chuckled.

There were three older homes on one side of the street, and three more on the other. Tall ancient oak and willow trees shaded the street. One of the houses looked worn and tired, but the others had been kept up nicely with fresh paint and new landscaping.

Addie studied the colorless photo in her hand, but none of the houses looked like the one the women were standing in front of.

“Let’s keep walking,” Zach said. “Even if we don’t find the house, it’s a great day for a walk.”

Addie continued walking. Past the homes were more apartment buildings and businesses and a hospital. No parks were in sight. They passed street after street until they were on block twenty-three. “Finally,” she said, letting out a breath. “Here’s where they’re hiding the houses.”

“With all these old trees, they truly are hiding them,” Zach said.

The neighborhood was filled with older homes from the early 1900s. The street was narrow, and the trees were tall and full. It looked like a peaceful, welcoming neighborhood. Addie studied each house on the street as she also looked at the photo.

“Anything match?” Zach asked, looking over her shoulder.

“Not yet. Let’s keep walking.”

They slowly walked past several houses, all from the Victorian era but built in different styles. The homes were very close together with maybe five feet in-between them. Many had a garage added to the front of the house where the porch and lawn had once been. The pointed rooftops, bay windows, and old brick chimneys were proof that these homes were from a bygone era.

Addie took her time, checking each house for details. While some of the homes were similar to the three in the photo, none matched perfectly. They walked two more blocks before she stopped and stared in wonder. Addie could barely believe her eyes.

“Look! I think that’s it.”

Zach stared in the direction Addie was pointing. “The one with the two-pointed rooftop or the one next door?”

“The house to the right of the two-pointed one. It looks exactly like the main house in the photo. And the house with the two-pointed rooftop is exactly like the one in the photo too.” Addie’s voice rose in pitch with excitement.

Zach turned to her. “How are you so sure the middle house is Sofiya’s?”

“I don’t know. I just am.” Addie studied the house. It had a pitched roof with an arched attic window in the center and below that a bay window with an outdoor terrace above the first-floor covered porch. A large, three-window bay was on the first floor, and three white columns held up the upper terrace. Both bay windows had stained-glass transoms above the larger windows. A set of steps on the right side of the house led to a door that looked original to the house. An oval leaded-glass window decorated the door. Painted white with dark green trim, the house looked in need of fresh paint. In fact, as she stared at the house, Addie had the feeling it was no longer occupied. Was it abandoned?

“Let’s get a closer look,” Addie said, already heading across the street.

Zach had to run to catch up with her. “What are you going to do? Just knock on the door and start asking questions?”

She ignored him and did just that. Addie marched up to the door as if she belonged there and knocked. The oval glass in the door was even more beautiful up close. It just needed a good cleaning.

Zach stood behind her. “What are you going to say when someone answers?” he whispered.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t think anyone lives here.” She knocked again, and when that went unanswered, Addie walked over to the bay window and peered inside. The bay window was large and took up half the length of the porch. What she saw was a generous living room, or parlor as it had once been called, with a brick fireplace that also had decorative tile around it. Ornate molding lined both the floorboards and the ceiling, and the floors were original wood in a beautiful honey color. A wide doorway led to what looked like a formal dining room. A chill of joy went up Addie’s spine. As she’d thought, the place was completely void of furniture.

“You won’t find anyone at home,” a voice called out, startling Addie and Zach. The couple looked to the right and saw woman wearing a smart-looking blue suit and tall heels. Her red hair was cut short, and she had serious green eyes. “No one has lived there for a long time.”

Addie smiled up at Zach before walking toward the woman. “Do you live around here?” she asked.

“Yes. I live next door. My teenaged son has been keeping up the lawn for the owners.” She gave Addie and Zach the once over. “I actually handled the sale of this house for the current owners. I’m a real estate agent.”

Addie walked down the porch steps and up to the woman, offering her hand to shake. “Hi. I’m Addison Cameron and this is my business partner, Zachery Walker.”

The woman shook their hands. “I’m Gail Peterson. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Do you know if the current owners are interested in selling this house?” Addie asked. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the surprise on Zach’s face. Addie never jumped into a sale. She took her time and thought things over before making a commitment. Wanting this house—without even looking it over—surprised even Addie.

“They haven’t listed it, but I doubt if they still want it,” Gail said. “They were going to turn it into a fourplex and sell each apartment, but that never happened.”

Addie was thankful they hadn’t. Breaking up this house into four apartments, like so many others on this street, would be criminal as far as she was concerned. “Would it be possible to ask them if they’d be interested in selling?”

“Anything is possible,” the woman said, then she broke out into a smile. “Let me get your phone number, and I can let you know.”

The two women exchanged numbers, then Gail asked, “Are you thinking of flipping it? Because to tell you the truth, these homes around here are expensive. That’s why you see so many of them turned into duplexes and fourplexes. There isn’t much profit in flipping them.”

Addie bit her lip and took a deep breath. She knew the woman was right, but from the moment she saw this house, she had to have it. “Well, let’s see if they want to sell it first, and then I can decide from there,” she told Gail. “Thank you for your help.”

Gail nodded, waved, and headed back toward her house. When Addie turned around, Zach was standing right behind her, staring at her with wide eyes.

“Are you serious about buying this house?” he asked.

She shrugged nonchalantly. “Maybe. I mean, we might get it for a good deal.” Addie walked around Zach and started heading down the street, back toward where they’d parked the car.

Zach caught up with her. “These homes are expensive,” he said. “It might not even have been Sofiya’s house. And we don’t know anything about Sofiya other than she lived on Marshall Street in 1919 and took a few pictures.”

Addie was usually the voice of reason in their relationship, so it felt strange being the impulsive one this time. She turned and faced Zach. “I know. It’s crazy. But I just have a feeling about this house.” She drew closer and ran her hands over his sweater, wanting to feel connected to him. “It won’t hurt to check into it,” she said softly.

Zach took her hands in his and pressed them against his chest. “You’re right,” he said, kissing the top of her blond head. “It can’t hurt.”

She gazed up at him. “Could you check with a friend to have the letters translated? I’d really love to read what Sofiya wrote in them.”

Zach smiled. “Anything for you,” he said. “You know I can’t say no to you.”

Addie chuckled softly. “Hold that thought—you may regret it.” Still holding hands, she turned and looked at the house again. It felt as if it were beckoning her, begging her to buy it. It wasn’t odd for Addie to have a special feeling for a house she decided to buy and flip. Houses spoke to her. But this one was different. It was calling her name.

“I think I may have found our next house,” she said to Zach.

“You’re the boss,” he said.

  



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