And while all the scenarios raced in her head, she grieved. Nadia had been her friend, her roommate, the closest thing Domini had ever had to a sister. Now she was gone. Every single time she thought of that, she cried.
Soft knocking on the apartment door forced Domini to wipe her tears and get off the couch. She shot a look to her bedroom and listened, but the noise hadn’t disturbed Anton.
Domini opened the door to Skylar McKay. Nadia’s boss. Her eyes were swollen, her face was puffy. The second their gazes connected, more tears spilled from Skylar’s eyes.
“Come in,” Domini said. “Anton is sleeping in my bedroom.”
“How is he?” Skylar squeezed her eyes shut. “Stupid question. That poor sweet boy. We’re all just heartsick. I closed the plant for a couple days.”
Nadia had loved working at Sky Blue. She’d gotten close to the other employees after she’d divorced Rex. And because Sky Blue maintained onsite daycare, everyone knew Anton.
Skylar clasped Domini’s hands as she sat across from her. “What can I do?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea what to do first.”
“We should plan Nadia’s memorial service. The girls volunteered to clear out Nadia’s house and bring Anton’s stuff to you, including any paperwork. I doubt Nadia had a will and that brings me to my next question.” Skylar leaned forward. “What happens to him?”
“I don’t know. Nadia had no other family. I have no idea how the American system works, if Anton becomes a ward of the state or what.” Domini looked away, sickness churning in her belly as awful memories from that turbulent time in her life resurfaced. “Right after my parents died in the Ukraine, I was turned over to an orphanage.”
“Oh Domini. I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“It’s not something I’m comfortable talking about. But you can understand why I don’t want him to end up in foster care. Ever. I’ll do whatever it takes to get custody of him, Skylar. I love him. I lived with him for two years. There is no one alive who knows that boy better than me. He needs me.”
“And I think you need him,” Skylar murmured. “That should work in your favor. But I do think you need to hire a lawyer.” She unearthed a stack of post-its from her purse and scrawled a number. “Call Ginger Paulson. You met her at Keely’s party. She’s done corporate legal work for me. Since she’s a single mom, my guess is she’d be a bulldog on this case.”
Domini tucked the note into her pocket. “Thank you. I think Ginger was Nadia’s divorce attorney.”
“Then she’d already have legal paperwork about Rex. It might speed things up.” Skylar glanced at her watch. “I have to run. I’m meeting Indy, AJ, Channing and Libby. We’re going over to see Jessie. Which is just another horrible situation.”
“How awful for her to lose her husband. Cam was really shaken up last night after having to tell her and Luke’s brother. Then he had to come here to tell me about Nadia… Sometimes I think he has the worst job in the world.”
“It boggles my mind. He never wanted to be a rancher because it’s a thankless job, and yet he’s a cop, which is even more thankless.” Skylar squeezed Domini’s hand. “Despite all the bad shit that’s gone down in the last twenty-four hours, I’m—we’re—really glad that Cam came to you last night, Domini. He’s kept his distance from most of his family since returning from Iraq.”
Domini couldn’t fathom why, but she had more things to worry about than Cam’s sticky family situation. “Is Jessie getting a lot of support from Luke’s family?”
“No.” Skylar’s face turned hard. “I never understood the riff between Casper McKay and his brothers, but now I see why—that man is a plain mean bastard. Jessie is the sweetest girl in the world, who’s just suffered a huge loss and she doesn’t deserve any of this bullshit about Luke’s stake in the McKay Ranch…” Tears pooled in Skylar’s eyes. “Sorry. I have to get control of myself. The last thing Jessie needs is more angry people around her.” She stood. “Keep in touch. Please.”
“I will. I promise. Thanks, Sky.”
Domini had barely closed the door, when she heard, “Mom?” drifting from the bedroom.
She took a deep breath and wandered in to the room and perched on the edge of the bed. “Hey. You hungry? I’ve got cookies.”
Anton had a death grip on his fleece blanket. “Where’s my mom? Is she coming to get me soon?”
Domini swallowed a sob. “No, sweetling, your mom had an accident, remember?”
He stared at her. Confused. “I thought it was a bad dream.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not fair.”
“I know it’s not. And I know just how you feel.”
Angrily, he said, “Oh yeah? How do you know?”
“Because when I was eleven both my parents died.”
His mouth made an O of surprise. “Where did you live after they died?”
In hell. She swept the hair from his tear-stained cheek and changed the subject. “Are you hungry?”
Anton shook his head. “Am I gonna live here with you now?”
“I sure hope so. I’ll do everything I can to keep you with me.”
He rolled over to face the wall.
Domini didn’t push. She just stayed with him as he cried himself to sleep once again.
Four days later…
With so many people filing in and out of her apartment, Domini considered leaving the door open. But she would’ve triple locked it if she’d known Social Services would darken her doorstep.
The agency woman resembled every supervisor Domini had dealt with in the Ukraine: older, gray-haired, her sharp eyes were only second to her sharp tongue.
“Sorry for the lack of notice about this visit, Miss Katzinski. The case file from Sheriff Shortbull came to us late.”
Had Cam played a part in delaying the information? Probably not. Since that would’ve been wrong, and Deputy Cam McKay always did the right thing. “I’ve been expecting this visit.”
“Well, then, let’s get straight to the point. Anton DeMarco is currently in your care, following the death of his mother, Nadia DeMarco and his father, Rex DeMarco. Do you consider this a temporary arrangement?”
“No. I intend to file for permanent legal custody of Anton.”
“And what of the boy’s father? Rex DeMarco has no surviving relatives that might be interested in retaining custody?”
“I’m not certain. But I do know that Anton’s mother retained sole custody in the divorce, which was not contested by Rex.”
“I see. And what was your relationship to Nadia DeMarco?”
“She was my best friend. We were housemates for a couple years. During that time I helped take care of Anton.” I helped her raise Anton.
“What is your occupation?”
“I’m general manager of Dewey’s Delish Dish, a family restaurant. It’s right downstairs.”
“How long have you lived in Sundance, Miss Katzinski?”
“Almost four years.”
“Do you own property in Sundance?”
What did that have to do with anything? “No.”
“Where did you live previous to moving to Wyoming?”
“How long were you in residence in Colorado?”
“Where did you live previous to Denver?”
“How long were you in residence in Texas?”
“Where did you live previous to Lubbock?”
“How long were you in residence in Florida?”
“Where did you live previous to Miami?”
“Charleston, South Carolina.”
“How long were you in residence in South Carolina?”
“Where did you live previous to Charleston?”
“How long were you in residence in Pennsylvania?”
“Where did you live previous to Hershey?”
“How long were you in residence in Ohio?”
“Where did you live previous to Cincinnati?”
“How long were you in residence in Illinois?”
“Where did you live previous to Chicago?”
“Kharkiv, the Ukraine.”
“Could you spell that for me, please?”
“You immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine nearly twelve years ago. You became a naturalized citizen of the United States six years ago. In twelve years you’ve lived…eight places. Is that correct?”
“Do you have family in the Ukraine?”
“No. I was orphaned at age eleven.”
“Do you have family in Sundance or any of the other seven locales you listed as former residences?”
“No.” Domini’s hopes were sinking. When faced with the cold hard facts about her nomadic life, even though she had valid reasons for the continual relocation, she felt her chances of keeping Anton were getting smaller and smaller.
Maybe he belongs with a real family.
No! She was his family.
Mrs. Beesman glanced up. “I’d like to speak with Anton now.”
Domini nodded. She poked her head in the small bedroom and gestured for Anton to come out.
Anton sat right next to Domini and gripped her hand. He was trying so hard to be brave but his bottom lip quivered and Domini almost lost it.