“Veronica!” The woman approaching me has long, perfectly straight gray hair that’s parted in the middle and reaches just past her shoulder blades. On anyone else, that hairstyle might say hippy, but this woman manages to pull it off and make it look regal. Maybe it’s the pearls in her ears, the slight upward tilt of her chin, or the air of authority about her. “Thank you for agreeing to meet me before going to the house tonight. I just want to go over a few things I’d rather not discuss in front of my son.” She reaches for my hand and squeezes it between both of hers. “It is such a pleasure to see you again, Veronica.”
“Nic,” I say.
She blinks. “I didn’t realize you went by a nickname. My apologies.”
I shake my head. I’m used to correcting people when they think I’m my sister, but this moment makes me ashamed. Ashamed Veronica didn’t do better, ashamed I have to deliver the news that we’ll be letting this family down. “No, ma’am. I’m sorry, but I’m not Veronica. I’m her sister, Nicole.”
The smile falls from her face. “Is this a joke?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“You look just like her.”
“We’re identical twins.” I pull my shoulders back and take a breath. “I don’t want to go into why, but Veronica isn’t going to be coming.”
“And you’re here to take her place?” She shakes her head. “I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.” Oh, God. Could this be more awkward? “I don’t know who will take her place. That’s not my choice to make, obviously. I just . . .” Oh, damn you, Veronica. My words come out in a rush. “My sister’s not coming to Michigan, and through a series of events I’d rather not go into, I’m here instead, but not to take her place. I’d never be so presumptuous as to . . . I’m sorry if that causes a problem.”
She nods. “Your sister sent you to clean up her mess?”
“No . . . yes . . .” I wince when I realize her words echo my thoughts moments ago. Did Veronica send me to clean this up? She has so many times, but I can’t help but feel partially responsible this time. I took her ticket to Michigan.
Of course, I wouldn’t have had to do that if she hadn’t gotten pregnant with Marcus’s baby.
“It’s complicated,” I say.
“How do I know you aren’t really Veronica and pretending to be a twin to get out of the job?”
“If she would do that, would you really want to hire her?”
“No,” she says. “But I want the truth, regardless.”
“I have no way of proving to you that I’m not Veronica.” I release a huff that might’ve been a laugh if I could find anything about this situation funny at all. “I’m not the one who let you down, and I feel awful. I’d be too embarrassed to face you if I were her.”
She nods thoughtfully. “Fair enough.”
“I didn’t want to come either, but I couldn’t not.”
The barista comes out behind the counter and hands Kathleen a cup. “Here you go, Mrs. Jackson.”
“Thank you, dear.” Kathleen beams at her before turning back to me. “Veronica mentioned she had a sister. In fact, I wanted her to start last week, but she said she couldn’t come up until after her sister’s wedding?” She arches a brow.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“And the wedding?”
“It was canceled.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. And is there any chance Veronica will change her mind and join you in Jackson Harbor later this week?”
I fold my arms. I was trying to be classy and not air my dirty laundry, but since I’m in no mood to defend my sister or explain her choices, I abandon that plan. “Since she just boarded a plane to the Bahamas with my ex-fiancé, I’m guessing not.”
Kathleen’s jaw works, then she snaps her mouth shut. “Well, I’m terribly sorry to hear that.” She lifts her chin farther, and I can’t tell, but I think her eyes are watering. “Do you happen to have experience caring for children?”
“I—” I shake my head. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what’s happening here.”
“Well, I’m trying to decide if you’d be suitable for the position, of course.”
“Really?” It’s tempting to grab this opportunity. To beg her, even, to give me a job so I don’t have to go home. “I worked as a nanny for some local families during the summer while I was in college, and I’ve been working at a daycare up until recently.” Until recently, when I quit because Marcus didn’t like the idea of his wife working. When I said goodbye to the job I loved and the kids I adored because he didn’t think my minimum-wage job warranted taking my attention away from our home.