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Authors: Mary Kay McComas

What Happened to Hannah

BOOK: What Happened to Hannah
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WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH

Mary Kay McComas

Dedication

For my sisters, Karen Aris and Amy Perry.

More than sisters, better than friends.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

 

A+ Author Insights, Extras, & More . . .

Behind the Book
Discussion Topics for Book Clubs
About the Author

Praise for Mary Kay McComas and What Happened to Hannah

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

Chapter One

H
e should have called her three years ago. Now he had no choice.

Opening the center drawer of the old oak desk in his office, Grady removed a folded piece of yellow notepaper and spread it out flat in front of him. He rubbed his damp palms on his khaki pants and sighed out loud.

The creases in the note were pliant and soft from frequent folding, the writing a bit faded. A name and two sets of numbers, nothing more. But how many times had he slipped them from the drawer, dialed all but the last digit and hung up?

She was twenty years and a phone call away, yet there were moments when he could feel her standing next to him, catch the scent of her hair, hear an echo of her voice.

How pathetic is that?

He blew out another long breath and picked up the receiver, trying to ignore the knot in his stomach.

If he thought about her long enough, a familiar guilt would bore holes through the memory; anger would trickle in, pool, and eventually congeal into a sense of hopelessness and failure. Mostly he tried not to think about her—but he couldn’t help being curious.

Leather creaked as he pushed himself straighter in the chair. He should make the call before he remembered too much, before he lost the tenuous hold on his professionalism. Changing his mind was no longer an option.

He dialed the numbers.

He stared at the phone and grappled with his doubts. Who was she now? Still the strong, brave, serious Hannah, so beautiful that a teenage boy would risk his friends and reputation—everything—to be with her? Or was she someone else entirely?

He didn’t know if she’d married or if she had children. Both her business in Baltimore and the private number were listed under her name, but that didn’t mean anything except that she had her own life and her own business.

Well, part of a business.

Insurance, for crissake.

He smiled and let loose a soft private chuckle. Insurance. The night she disappeared he’d feared for her life, prayed desperate prayers that she’d run away. He’d worried himself sick. Then slowly and gradually, as months piled up to years and no word of her returned to Clearfield one way or the other, he still refused to believe what everyone else assumed to be true. She simply couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t be. Bright summer days were still glorious, snowy nights with full moons were still magic, and rainbows still brought her to mind. He had fantasies of her popping up on television or a movie screen or in some magazine showing off her chateau and rich, handsome husband—Clearfield and Grady Steadman an empty lapse in her memory.

But never, not in his wildest imaginings or his simplest dreams, had he pictured her selling life insurance to Main Street, America.

It made perfect sense, of course, and he wasn’t disappointed when he found out where she was and what she’d been doing. Aside from the relief that she was alive, he felt satisfaction, pride even, that she’d been smart enough to hide herself in plain sight. She was living a normal life out in the open, where those who might have hunted for her would never think to look.

A male voice answered, clear and crisp. “Benson Insurance & Investments.”

“No Levitz?” The short response had thrown him.

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s not Levitz and Benson Insurance anymore?”

“No. I’m sorry. Mr. Levitz retired a couple of years ago. My name’s Jim Sauffle. Can I help you?”

“It’s just Hannah now?”

“Hannah and three other full-time agents, but she owns the business. Is there something I can do for you today?”

“No. I need to speak with Hannah Benson.”

“Of course, may I tell her who’s calling?”

Better not. She might refuse to pick up. “It’s a personal call.”

Three years ago, when he’d felt compelled to track her down, he prepared a speech and never used it. Dozens of times since then he’d thought of calling, simply to say hello. Too late for that now. This wasn’t a personal call, not really. He had three times the ground to cover with her, all of it rocky and full of potholes. He’d wing it, he decided. There was no telling how she’d react to any of it, so he’d handle her like he would any other stranger.

He held his breath and listened to the loud pulse in his ears over the soft Muzak on the other end of the line. He reminded himself, once again, that whoever answered next wouldn’t be the same Hannah Benson he’d known so long ago. It would not be a sweet, beautiful young girl, but a grown woman who very likely wasn’t going to be too thrilled to hear from him.

“Hannah Benson.” Her voice soft and expectant, and so familiar. “Hello?”

“Hannah. Hi. You might not remember, it’s been a long time. This is Grady Steadman. We went to school together in Clearfield. Virginia.” He added the state as an extra nudge, in case it was amnesia that had kept her away for so long. A guy could hope.

If some silences were golden, this one was pure lead.

“We used to be friends, Hannah. My mother taught at the high school and—”

“Hello, Grady.” Jesus. That hadn’t changed—the warm chill that ran up his spine when she said his name, the way she dragged on the
r
and went light on the
y
. It rang the same, despite the lack of warmth and welcome.

“Hi. It’s been a long time.” He grimaced. He said that already.

“Yes.”

“I know you’re at work. I tried your home number a couple of times last night and couldn’t reach you. How are you?” He was stalling.

After a brief pause came, “I’m fine. How are you?”

“I’m good. I . . . Okay, I wish I were calling under different circumstances. I wish . . .” What did he wish? That things had turned out different between them? That he’d called three years earlier? That he hadn’t called her at all? He cleared his throat. “I wish a lot of things but, unfortunately, this isn’t a personal call.”

Like an idiot he waited half a second, holding his breath, wondering if she’d make some sound on the other end to convey her disappointment. He couldn’t even hear her breathing.

“Hannah?”

“I’m listening.”

“Hannah, your mother passed away yesterday. I’m sorry. There’s just no easy way to say it.”

He wanted to see her eyes. She had the truest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen—always frank and honest, if you took the time to look. He’d come to know and trust what he saw in those eyes. If he could look into them now, he’d know if she was in pain or indifferent; sorry or glad. The silence told him nothing.

“Doc Kolson says it was probably a heart attack. She died quietly in her sleep.”

Quietly
, like Ellen Benson had done everything else in her life.
Quietly
tolerating years of abuse and regular beatings at her husband’s hand, then just as
quietly
she bashed his head in with a fry pan when she’d had enough. Hannah’s mother had been a very quiet woman.

“Hannah?”

“Yes.” He heard the hesitation in her voice as she gathered her thoughts. “Ah. If you’ll give me an address, I’ll send a check for the expenses.”

As cold as that sounded, it was more than he had anticipated. As far as he knew she hadn’t seen or spoken to her mother since she was sixteen years old, and things were . . . complicated between them before that.

“I wish it was that simple, Hannah. I truly do. But you have to come home.”

“I don’t think so.”

“If it were simply a matter of burying your mother, I might not have called. There’s more to it than that.”

“Look, I appreciate the call. I do. It can’t have been easy to track me down like this, but I’m afraid it’s a waste of your time. I’m willing to pay to see that she has a decent burial and if she has debts I’ll pay them if need be, but that’s all. I can’t go back there, Grady. I won’t.” He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to blurt out the rest of it, but she spoke again. “What about Ruth? If this has to do with half the farm being left to me or something like that, then send me the papers. I’ll sign everything over to her. I don’t want anything except to be left alone. No offense.” She added the last as an afterthought. “It’s nice of you to let me know.”

“I’m not offended. I can’t even blame you. I don’t know what all happened that day or the night you left, but I know it was bad—bad enough for you to risk your life to get away from it and to stay away. But that was a long time ago, Hannah. And now there’s another life on the line.”

There was another short silence. Then in a softer, kinder but still tentative voice she asked, “Is Ruth ill?”

BOOK: What Happened to Hannah
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