Find more from this author on:
About the author:
New storylines are constantly running through her head and she keeps notebooks tucked in pockets of the car, the nightstand and makes voice recordings just about all day long. She’s addicted to true life mysteries and crime shows, both of which marry well with a great romance. Some of her favorite things are long walks, reading in bed, baking and of course, writing her next novel.
Here is a short sample from the book:
My mother’s funeral was well attended, considering that most people didn’t much like her. Thirteen came to see off Ava McGuire, including the good Reverend Samuel Jones, his wife, the church pianist Lucy Hackett, and her husband, Philip. Also in attendance were Sarah Pratique, Lisa Morrow, Phyllis Hiney, Gladys Dunnett, and Devon Wilshire; the five women who owed their livelihood to Ava’s Hair Trap Beauty. Harold Dunkin, an old friend of my father who never hid his attraction to Ava, was accompanied by his daughter Abigail. And Chester Wilcox, my mother’s accountant, and one-time boyfriend, stood in silent repose for a dignified thirty minutes. All the while, my brother Chayne and I appeared satisfactorily solemn.
We stood awkwardly at the graveside accepting the sentiments offered about our mother. Most were lies, but we smiled anyway when Phyllis said Ava was good woman who’d be sorely missed. Suppressing a laugh was nearly impossible when Reverend Jones said my mother was like a saint.
My four siblings and I had a uncomfortable relationship with our mother and the town of Hayden, Kentucky. Thus, Chayne and I had been dispatched by our siblings to represent the family. They were too busy to consider attending their own mother’s funeral.
A nod from the funeral director signaled that the service had ended. We made our way across the cold-hardened ground toward a long, black town car that had been rented for the day. A man stood at the edge of the door talking with the driver, and despite the bitter cold wind whipping around us, I felt warmed by the very sight of him. At the same time, my stomach twisted with dread. So much had happened since the last time we saw each other – things that drove me to turn away and hide, even from him.
I called his name. “Jack Lassiter.”
Jack had been my best friend for as long as I can remember. When we grew up and apart, as people sometimes do, we always came back, anchoring ourselves in the friendship – returning with ease into each other’s lives. It helped that I did love him. Not because he laughed at my bad jokes or shared the same devotion to science fiction and sour pickles. I loved him because, despite the unspoken rules in Hayden that said I was untouchable, unlovable trash, he was still my friend.
Jack smiled. “Honey, I’m sorry about Ava.”
He grabbed my shoulder, pulling me into a hug. My body became rigid in his arms, and I shrugged away from his embrace. Things had changed since I last saw Jack, not for him but for me. Stepping back quickly as he reached around to shake Chayne’s hand, I took the time to calm my nerves.
He didn’t seem to notice anything different, just plowed ahead with, “Mama wants to see y’all.”
Hesitating, I said, “I don’t know.”
Chayne shrugged sheepishly, scratching at the shadow of a beard. “Sorry, Brah,” his pet name for Jack, “I’m flying back home today.” We hated Hayden County, and I knew Chayne wanted to get away as much as I did.
Jack held up a hand to our objections. “Emma won’t hear of it. You know her. She’s had T-Lynn cooking just about all day – glazed ham, sweet potato casserole, new peas with pearl onions, mint and herb rice, apple pie.”
He didn’t need to finish. Chayne and I were hooked.
An everyday meal at Jack’s house always seemed like a feast. The weakest bowl of soup at his table was nothing short of delightful because T-Lynn could cooked like nobody’s business, and there was so much love infused into every dish. I would have spent every night at Jack’s table if I’d been allowed, but Ava said it made us look needy. Aside from a good meal, it would have been nice to see Jack’s mother, which was the only reason I agreed to the change in plans.
Jack insisted that we release the chauffeur and ride with him to his mother’s house. We piled into his one-row pick-up truck. Seated between Jack and Chayne, I tried my best to avoid touching either man, but it was nearly impossible as their knees and elbows bumped into me every time the truck hit a dip in the road.
Touch was normal. Hugs and handshakes are how we humans connect with each other and an embrace had always been the way I greeted Jack. But I wasn’t normal any more. Instead of listening to Jack gossip about Hayden, I concentrated on keeping my hands locked tight in my lap and steadying myself so my body wouldn’t make contact. More than once Jack had to repeat a question to me. I hope he charged my distracted behavior to the sudden loss of my mother. Chayne, I don’t believe, was so easily fooled but ignored me prattled along with Jack, which suited me just fine.
My elation at seeing the stately, white-columned mansion was short-lived when I saw the frail condition of Jack’s mother. Like a dot against a bleached board, Ms. Emma was barely visible. She had been a statue of a woman, standing nearly six feet tall, fine-boned, with emerald greens eyes that shone like jewels. She was polished and refined. Her thick, auburn hair always on the cutting-edge. Whether it was allowed to fall around her shoulders in sultry ringlets or was cut to within a wisp of her scalp, she made it look good. But now she sat in a wheelchair; her thinness apparent even beneath her winter coat and the thick blanket that lay across her lap.
Jack whispered in my ear, his closeness making me jump, “It’s okay. She’s fine.”
By the time we made it to the verandah, T-Lynn had come and pulled Ms. Emma back into the marbled foyer. Her bones may have been twisted and weak, but fire still danced behind Emma’s eyes. She was just as sharp and commanding as ever.
Bending over to kiss her, Jack explained to us, “Mama had a stroke six months ago.”
She smiled up at him and nodded stiffly. “And another one six weeks ago.”
Her voice was clear, but the words came slowly from lips that had been painted a soft peach. “Jack got me this crazy contraption because my legs don’t seem to want to work anymore.” Her right hand curled around a long, red knob on the arm of the electric wheelchair. She chuckled. “Every time I want to go forward, I end up going backward. When I want to go backward, I end up side-ways.” Her eyes softened, and she held up both hands toward Chayne and I. “Come here.”
Biting down on my tongue until I tasted blood, I moved forward, obliging the woman I always wished could have been my mother.
“I am sorry about your loss,” she said, her gentle voice warming me. “I’m not going to lie and say Ava and I were friends, but I know what it’s like to lose a parent regardless of how you feel about them.” Her last words were directed towards me. She smiled softly as she gave my hand a squeeze. Then she called over her shoulder, “T-Lynn, let’s get dinner on the table.”
After dinner, I left Chayne and Ms. Emma at the table and followed T-Lynn to the kitchen, like I had always done as a kid. Once out of Ms. Emma’s earshot, T-Lynn spun around and snarled, “I ought to skin you for leaving like you did.”
Recoiling, I said, “I’m sorry, T.”
Her bottom lip quivered, surprising me a little. “You didn’t call or send a note, nothing. Two years, Quinn! It’s like we didn’t mean anything to you at all.”
Emotions bubbled quickly to the surface, and I tried to hold back my own tears. “I know. I’m sorry.” God, it had been forever since I cried, and now in seconds, I was teetering on the edge. I forced myself to settle down. “I’m sorry,” I said again.
“Don’t apologize to me.” She sniffed. “It’s him you need to be asking forgiveness.” Teresa Lynn worked for Jack’s family since the day he was born. Her soft, brown face was framed by a neat, curly afro and a set of high cheekbones that any model would die to have. She could be a stern woman, but her heart was bigger than anyone I’d ever met.
She looked through the window toward Jack. He had shorn his overcoat and now sat alone on the ancient swing we’d played on as children. “He missed you something awful.” Then, pointing to a coffee mug on the counter, she said, “Why don’t you take that out to him before he freezes to death.”
Doing as I was told, I took the mug, stepped outside and followed the cobblestone path that led to an expansive yard. It tickled me to see the playsets that Jack and I had so adored as kids. The swing set, bright blue monkey bars, see-saw, and trampoline still commandeered the east end of the lawn.
The coffee cup and saucer was heavy, high-quality china from one of Ms. Emma’s collections. Treading carefully on stiletto heels that had been pinching the ends of my toes all day, I was mindful of where I placed my foot, careful not to drop the dishes. Instead of handing Jack the cup by its handle and anchoring the saucer with the palm of my opposite hand, I took hold of the saucer’s edge and held the entire set out to him. When Jack reached around and cupped my hand, I bucked so hard I nearly upended the entire thing, causing the cup to clang against the crème and rose-patterned saucer.
“Oh, shit. I’m sorry,” I said as he tilted the saucer, dumping the spilled coffee on the ground.
Jack was an intentional man who rarely did anything that didn’t serve a purpose. When he trained his shrewd green eyes upward, I realized it had been his aim to touch me. My reaction to his hug earlier hadn’t gone unnoticed.
Taking the swing next to him, I pushed off gently and moved back and forth.
“How long are you going to be home this time?” he asked. There was no reservation in his voice – no indication there had been a break or shift in our friendship. His easy way belied the fact that we hadn’t spoken in over two years.
Shrugging, I said, “Dunno, a couple of weeks I guess. I figure it will take that long to settle Ava’s affairs – sell the house and do something with the salon.”
The answer seemed to satisfy him, and an awkward silence settled between us as an afternoon breeze whistled and tossed dry leaves across the yard. We shared the same birth date, but at thirty-eight, there was wisdom in Jack’s face that made him seem wiser than his years.
I sighed and looked at the sky before speaking. “I’m sorry for not staying in touch.”
He took a sip of coffee and nodded toward me. “And.”
“And…” I hesitated, “you are… my best friend and you deserve more than that.”
He rolled his eyes. “And… you are going to tell me why you disappeared without a word for two years.”
Taking a deep breath, I shook my head slowly before looking at him. “No,” I said quietly. “Not yet. I will tell you one day but not right now.”
Pain and anger darkened the center of his eyes, but just as quickly, his face lifted. He shrugged. “I guess I have to accept that answer.”
Intensely uncomfortable, I swallowed hard and ran my hands through my nest of unruly black curls, wanting so badly to find a way to ease the impact of what I’d done. Offering what I could, I said, “Jack, some very bad things happened, and I didn’t know how to deal with them. I still don’t. I ran away from everything and everybody, and I know that was wrong. You’re the last person I wanted to hurt. I’ll give you answers but just… not right… now.”
“Will you promise not to disappear again?”
Nodding my head, I lied, “Yeah. I promise.” For two years, darkness had consumed my thoughts, sometimes so overwhelmingly that simply getting out of bed had been impossible. The Quinn McGuire that Jack had known was gone.
He stared at me for a moment and then, smiled. “Then, I’ll accept that – for now,” he said with a wink.
Women swooned when Jack turned on the charm, and until that very moment, I’d always imagined myself immune to it. To me, he was just Jack. My friend. My confidant. My buddy. But this time, I felt a thrill in the pit of my stomach that startled me when I looked at him.
He was a handsome man – nearly six foot three, concrete hard muscles, and broad shoulders. Pure Kentucky, Jack had a thick country accent and a habit of nipping off the end of his words, which made me chuckle at times. He had a crooked grin, and his bottom lip tipped up a little like there was a joke or mischievous limerick always just on the end of his tongue. People flocked to him because he was a good man who was honest and humble. He listened fully when someone spoke to him and made you feel like nothing else in the world mattered but you.
When he sat the coffee cup down, I noticed he had let his wavy, brown hair grow long, allowing it to cuff the collar of his dress shirt. The oddest feeling came over me. I wanted to reach out and run my hands through it, but I shook the thought out of my mind.
“Race you,” he said kicking out slightly, moving the swing forward. “First one to wrap ‘round the pole gets the first swig.”
Snorting, I asked, “A swig? You got a jug?”
“Hell, yeah. You’re home which calls for a celebration. You know how we Southerners do it.”
“Victor Beadeu?” I asked.
“Nothing but the best for you.”
Beadeu was a legendary moonshiner who made his money running illegal alcohol across the Kentucky and Virginia mountains.
“You actually bought alcohol – illegal alcohol – from Beadeu?”
“Nope. I acquired it by other means.”
In addition to being my best friend and one of Hayden’s most eligible and wealthy bachelors, Jack was the town, sheriff. It was an unusual occupation for a man who could have been anything. He graduated from college with dual degrees in chemistry and economics, unsure whether he wanted to pursue a career in science or business. He could have done either, but Jack walked away from both pursuits and joined the military. Although I knew he’d never admit it, Jack’s decision was his way of declaring to the world that he controlled his destiny – his future. After the military, he began to make impressive strides in law enforcement, enough so that the Federal Bureau of Investigations eventually come calling for him.
“If I put moonshine in the evidence room, it’s likely to get misplaced. That’s another way of saying that someone on staff will hijack it before it can be destroyed. You see, Dahlin, I’m removing the temptation, minimizing the chance that the good citizens of this town might be provoked into acquiring the devil’s juice.” He pulled himself up on the swing having just mocked the long deceased Baptist minister, Reverend Timothy Pound, who had often preached long sermons on the virtue of sobriety even though he’d been arrested nearly a dozen times for public drunkenness himself.
Throwing my head back, I howled. “You’re so full of shit, Jack Lassiter, it stinks.” I kicked out. “I’m going to beat you!”
The next morning, I hung off the side of the bed, nearly in tears from the drumming in my head when I realized the sound was coming from the front door. With tremendous effort, I slipped to the bedroom floor and crawled to the bathroom, my bladder near bursting. The pain in my skull was so intense I thought I’d pass out. I’m not certain how long it took me to inch my way down the steps, but by the time I answered the door, I had a string of curses sitting on the tip of my tongue, ready to rip apart the idiot who was on the other side.
The sky had barely begun its transition from night to day, forcing me to switch on the porch light to see who stood outside. Opening the door partway and trying to manage with one eye open, I squinted up… at Jack. My last lucid memory was of him removing the jug from the trunk of his cruiser the day before; everything else was a haze. It annoyed me to see him looking completely unaffected by a night of hard drinking. He towered over my 5’5” frame, spit-shine clean, in his uniform.
Trying to find my voice, I moaned in agony as the first syllables cracked through my dusty throat. “You better have a good reason for banging on this door at six in the morning. Else, I’m going to take your gun and shoot you with it, Jack.”
“On any other day, that joke might be funny,” he said.
Something in his voice chilled me, and I shivered from his icy stare, which matched the cold morning air that seeped under my nightshirt and pricked my bare skin. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I arrested Chayne two hours ago. Get dressed so I can take you to the station.”
It took a few seconds for his words to push through my brain which was the equivalent of muddled gray matter. “Arrested? No, he’s in Philadelphia. We followed him to the airport.” Chayne had cut off for home early last night, right after dinner at the Lassiter home.
“Chayne is in my jail, and he’s going to need you. I’m holding him for murder.”