I'll Be There

I'll Be There
Deborah Grace Staley

$14.95 September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61194-047-3

Book #4 in the Angel Ridge series
Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

She thought he looked familiar, but couldn’t be sure. He was tall, dark, bearded.What if he was one of the men trying to kill her?Adrenaline surged through her, and she pummeled and kicked, mindless in her rage. When he suddenly released her, she fell hard.

In Angel Ridge, Tennessee, not much goes on around town in the winter. After Christmas, folks usually hunker down and wait for spring to come to the Smoky Mountains. But given recent events, which included a bombing and newspaper publisher Jenny Thompson’s disappearance, people in town are understandably on edge. Now Jenny’s in hiding on a nearby mountain, waiting for trouble to catch up with her and none too sure it hasn’t, when reclusive mountain man Cord Goins comes to her rescue. Stuck between a beginning and an ending, both she and Cord feel powerless to control the dangerous situation they’ve found themselves in, along with the unexpected consequences of falling in love. 

Deborah Grace Staley lives in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in a circa 1867 farmhouse.  She is hard at work on the next book in the award-winning Angel Ridge series.




Jenny Thompson stood outside the door to Ferguson’s Diner, looking in. She knocked on the locked door without much hope that anyone would be inside. Nearly every citizen of Angel Ridge would be at church on a Sunday morning; everyone but her. She’d been up all night working on an investigative report blowing the top off the crime ring behind the recent break-ins that had occurred in Angel Ridge.

Dixie Ferguson emerged from the kitchen, giving her a wave, then came and unlocked the door. "Jenny! Get yourself in here, girl!”

Jenny smiled and walked into the warm, inviting old-fashioned diner complete with checkerboard tile, green vinyl booths, and a lunch counter. "I’m surprised to see you, Dixie. I thought you’d be in church.”

"And yet you’re here knocking on my door.”

"I had a craving for chocolate ice cream.”

"Never let a good lunch get between a woman and her chocolate.”

Jenny laughed. "Everything okay, Dixie? You look tired.”

Dixie picked up a mug and sipped her coffee. "I could say the same about you, not that you don’t cover it well with that fabulous pantsuit.” She held up her cup. "Can I get you some?”

"Yes, thanks.” She could use a break and the chat with a good friend.

"Susan had a rough night,” Dixie said as she poured.

The mayor’s wife, Susan Houston, was Dixie’s best friend. She’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer. "I’m sorry to hear that Susan’s not doing well.”

Dixie sat at the stool next to Jenny’s. "I know they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’m not so sure. The chemo is brutal.”

They both drank their coffee in silence for a moment. How could something so awful happen to such a young, vital woman with children to raise?

"So what are you blaming your restless night on?”


Dixie shook her head and, amused, Jenny couldn’t help noticing her friend’s hair which was short, spiked and some shade of red not found in nature, but on Dixie, it worked.

"You know what they say, all work and no play...”

"I know, but I found out a long time ago that I don’t have time for the games men play. Anything beyond a couple of dates and they start giving you hell about working too much, but when they work too much, that’s a different matter all together. I don’t need anyone trying to run my life but me.”

Dixie held up her coffee cup in a salute. "Amen to that, but it does get lonely.”

"I wouldn’t know. Too busy,” Jenny joked, but the old familiar ache in the region of her heart called her a liar.

"You have to go to bed sometime and not that I’d know, but I hear there’s something to be said for a long, warm, hard body to snuggle up to.”

Jenny fell into what she did best—putting up a wall with humor. She smiled. "Do tell...” and sipped her coffee.

Dixie sighed. "I would like to try it once, just to say I did.”

"Have someone in mind?”

"I wish.”

The two friends laughed. "So, you must be on the trail of a hot story.” Dixie commented.

"Mmm,” Jenny nodded.

Dixie clapped and rubbed her hands together. "I love a good exposé. Tell me.”

Jenny thought about that for a minute. There were certain aspects of the story that were out there for anyone to find if they cared to dig. Other information, however, she would turn over to the authorities. A lot of people were going to prison because of what she’d found. "Turns out that Candi’s mother lived here twenty-some years ago. Came down from the mountain, pretty as a picture, and had every man in town with a heartbeat falling at her feet, single and married alike.”

Dixie’s eyebrows rose. "I’m listening.”

"You can imagine how the little church ladies in town felt about her.”


"Unable to find a job here, she resorted to working at a gentleman’s club in Vonore.”

"A what?” Dixie exclaimed.

"A private club, tucked away out on some dirt road, where there was all manner of illegal activity going on.”

"Such as?”

"Gambling, drinking, loan sharking, drugs, you name it. Oh, and exotic dancers just to add a little spice.”

"Hold on.” Dixie held up a hand and sat straighter. "Are you saying that sweet little Candi Heart’s momma was an exotic dancer?”

"Well, let’s just say she was a scantily clad performerwho sang and did a passable imitation of Marilyn Monroe.”

"And the men in Angel Ridge...”

"Had front row seats.”


"Indeed, that is until Candi’s momma turned up dead, floating in a back water cove just outside of town.”

"You mean murdered?” Dixie exclaimed.

"Well, officially she drowned, but given the kind she was involved with, I’m inclined to speculate.”

"So what happened to these criminals running the place? Are they still around? Is that who’s been causing trouble for Candi?”

"I suspect so. The club closed not long after Candi’s momma died, but you know how these organizations work. There had to be someone on the outside with money paying these locals involved to run the operation. My guess is that some of them are still around and working at it under the table. Who knows, could be some of the businesses here in town are fronts for illegal activity.”

"No way.”

Jenny shrugged. After she published her piece, she’d turn it all over to the attorney general’s office in Knoxville and let them sort it all out. She should probably get out of town for a few days. She’d been missing her sister, Frannie. Maybe she’d pay her a visit.

"Well, I need to get going.” She stood and lifted her purse to her shoulder.

"Let me get you that ice cream.”


Dixie fixed her treat and handed it over. Jenny juggled to get her wallet out of her purse.

"Stop now. It’s on me. Let me get the door for you.”

"Thanks,” Jenny said.

As she walked down the sidewalk back toward The Chronicle, she swirled her tongue along the point where her ice cream cone met the creamy chocolate that crowned it. Sweets were her weakness, chocolate in particular, in any form. She’d earned the treat after the all-nighter she’d pulled at the paper, not that she needed an excuse. She was a firm believer in living by her own terms, and that meant she had chocolate if she wanted chocolate—no guilt.

The sidewalks were deserted with everyone still in church, but services would be over soon. Jenny pushed her sunglasses up on her head as she stepped out of the warm autumn sunshine into the darkened alley that ran parallel to Main Street, the only major thoroughfare in downtown Angel Ridge. This side of the street housedThe Angel Ridge Chronicle and the older businesses in town, such as Wallace’s Grocery, McKay Bank and Trust, and the Apothecary Shoppe. The slower pace of the quaint little East Tennessee town had appealed to her when she’d moved here three years ago after living in Nashville where she’d worked as an investigative reporter at The Tennessean.

She rotated the cone as she swiped her tongue across the chocolaty treat. It had taken her all of a month to get bored. She’d managed, but she had to admit she’d missed the thrill of breaking big stories. Thanks to Candi Heart, she’d gotten her feet wet again. Given what she’d found, she wondered if she’d been crazy to get involved, but only for a half second. Reveal the truth, and the rest will work itself out—that was her journalistic credo. She hoped that held true for the crime ring she’d uncovered, but seasoned instincts told her that an organization this established and this large wouldn’t go down swiftly or quietly. It’s the reason she hadn’t hit "send” on the email that would place the story on the wire nationwide by morning. She wanted to proof it once more and have a little more time to think. This was a life-changing story; the biggest she’d ever had.

She shook her head and bit into the cone. Three years in this town and she’d gone soft. She’d send the story as soon as she got back to her desk.

She’d just tossed the rest of her cone into a garbage can when an explosion rocked the shops lining the alley. Jenny lost her balance and fell. Covering her head, she crawled behind the garbage can as a shower of shrapnel rained down.

When the ground stopped shaking and debris quit falling from the sky, Jenny chanced a look around her. Her winter white Donna Karan pantsuit was ruined, her Manolo Blahniks were missing a heel, and her ears were ringing. Other than that, she was fine, though her heart beat so hard and fast, she felt like it would burst.

She managed to stand on her broken shoes and walked between the buildings toward Town Square. Good Lord Almighty, it looked like a war zone. People spilling out of the two churches on either end of Main Street were shouting and running in all directions. A man crouched next to an unconscious woman while others knelt in the grass holding their heads. She heard Dixie say, "What happened?” and someone answer, "There’s been an explosion at the newspaper.”

She wobbled on her damaged pumps, ready to run out to confirm or refute what she’d just heard when something stopped her—something that froze in her gut and had her easing back into the shelter of the alley. Someone had blown up the newspaper.

Bud DeFoe, who ran the hardware, said, "First they break into Candi Heart’s new shop, and then not two days later, they blow up our newspaper!”

"Where’s Jenny?” she heard Dixie say.

"Do you think she was inside?”

"I don’t know. She was just with me at the diner, but she’s had time to get back to the paper. Oh Lord—”

"Why would someone want to blow up the newspaper?” Bud asked.

Why indeed? She’d been made. The long inactive crime syndicate that Candi Heart’s arrival in town had stirred up meant to keep her from publishing her exposé. They’d destroyed her newspaper thinking her inside to shut her up—permanently. She retreated back into the alley completely, then made her way quickly to the sheriff’s office, thankfully unnoticed, what with all the commotion of people running in all directions and emergency personnel arriving.

As soon as she entered the back of the courthouse, she walked through the deserted rear offices straight to the jailhouse, which, as usual, was also empty. She pulled the heavy metal door closed that separated it from the front offices, slid to the floor and dug in her pocket for her phone. Jenny dialed the sheriff’s personal cell number.

Grady Wallace had been sheriff in Angel Ridge since long before she’d bought the paper. She wouldn’t call him a close personal friend. The best relationship she could hope for between the press and local law enforcement was cordial, and he was at least that—most of the time. He’d even agreed to work with her on this investigation, but she felt sure that was because he was more than a little interested in Candi.

There’d been a time when Jenny had thought that perhaps he might be attracted to her. As she’d told Dixie, she was not interested in a relationship, and certainly not with an officer of the law. Turns out he’d been powerless to resist this woman of mystery who had them all neck deep in this trouble.


"Grady? It’s Jenny Thompson.”

"Jenny? Thank God you’re all right! What the hell’s going on? Woody just called and said there was an explosion at the newspaper.”

"Well, that seems to be the consensus. I didn’t stick around to investigate. Aren’t you in town?”

"I was on the riverbank with Doc Prescott. I’m on my way back. Where are you?”

"Hiding out at the jail.”

"Good call. I’ll be there soon.”

The call disconnected. Jenny sat on the floor, cross-legged, and waited. What should she do next? Jenny stood when she heard the handle turning in the metal door and saw Dixie’s face framed in its small window.

"Thank God you’re all right. I came over to get Grady, but when I looked back here, I saw you crouched on the floor. Are you okay?”

"I’m fine, but my shoes are ruined.”

Dixie looked at the missing heel on her pump. "Well that is a shame,” she commiserated, "but thank goodness you’re all right. Were you inside the paper when the explosion happened?”

"No. I hadn’t made it back yet.”

"Well thank the Lord for that. Where’s Grady?”

"On his way. He was fishing.”

"Just like a man to never be around when you need him. Here,” she took Jenny’s hand and helped her to a side door that led to a room with a table and several chairs. "You need to sit. You’ve had a shock. Can I get you anything?”

Jenny shook her head, but then took Dixie’s hand. "Yes. Would you stay?”

Dixie sat immediately and squeezed Jenny’s hand with both of hers. "Of course.” After a moment had passed, Dixie asked, "Do you think this has something to do with that investigation you were telling me about?”

Jenny’s heart sank. She’d been thinking the same thing, but hadn’t wanted to put words to the thoughts. So, she just nodded.

Dixie put a hand to her mouth, her eyes wide as she considered the possible implications. Jenny wanted to laugh. She’d never seen Dixie speechless. It had to be a first.

"How can you sit there and smile like that? This is awful. Just awful!” Dixie said.

Oh well. It lasted all of about ten seconds before she found her tongue again. "I was just thinking I’d never known you to run out of something to say.”

"You’re right about that, hon, but this is a unique situation, to say the least.”


"In here, Grady,” Dixie said, standing.

"You okay?” Grady asked as he rushed into the room. His glance slid over Jenny, as if checking her for signs of injury.

She figured a smart-ass reply along the lines of the one she’d given Dixie was in order, so she said, "My pantsuit is ruined.”

Grady chuckled. "I’d say that’s the least of your worries about now.”

Dixie and Jenny exchanged a look.

"Men just don’t get it,” Dixie said.

"What are you doing here, Dix?”

"Looking for you,” she said pointedly with a hand on her hip.

"You can’t expect me to have known what was going to happen when I left to go fishing this morning.”

"If you’d been in church where you should have been, you would have at least been close by when the town needed you.”

Ignoring that, he turned to Jenny and asked, "What happened?”

"You know as much as I do. There was an explosion at the newspaper.”

"Were you there?”

"No. I mean, I was there all night and part of the morning, but I had stepped out to go to the diner.”

"Did you notice any suspicious activity, anyone in town who didn’t belong?”

"No. Nothing.”

He pushed her hair back. "There’s blood coming out of your ear.”

Jenny touched the spot and looked at the blood on her fingers. "Must have ruptured an eardrum. I was in the alley when the explosion happened.”

"We’ll get Doc Prescott to look at you.” He rubbed the small scar on his chin. "Guess you stirred up a hornet’s nest.”

"I knew the risks when I started this. Your butt’s on the line, too, you know.”

"Comes with the badge. You know you can’t go back into town.”

Jenny nodded. "That’s why I came here.”

"What are you going to do?” Dixie asked Grady.

"I called the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Office in Knoxville. They’re on their way.”

"What do they know?” Jenny asked.

"Everything. I called them after we talked yesterday, so they know what we’re dealing with here.”

"I don’t like the sound of this,” Dixie said.

Neither did Jenny. She ran a hand through her hair, letting it all sink in.

"Had you gone to print with your story?”

"No. It would have already been out on the wire for distribution at midnight if I hadn’t wanted to proof it one more time.”

"It’s probably not a bad thing. I guess it’s lost now.”

Jenny didn’t comment. She may have lost the paper, but she backed all her files up on a USB drive she carried in her purse, and she also uploaded a copy of everything to a dummy email file account on the Internet. She wasn’t about to risk everything to see every last one of the criminals responsible go scot-free. She turned, frowning. Where was her purse? Damn it.

"What’s wrong?” Grady asked.

"I lost my purse in the alley after the explosion.”

"I’ll radio Woody and ask him to get it,” he offered. "After the TBI gets here, I’ll have to get back to the...”

His words trailed off. Right. How did one put words to something like this? Jenny had spent most of her adult life reporting scenes and incidents like this, but never would she have thought she’d have to ascribe meaning to something so horrific, so unspeakable, to her own life.

Their eyes met, and Grady surprised Jenny by reaching out to squeeze her shoulder. "You did the right thing, Jenny.”

She nodded and drew in a shaky breath. "I know.”

They both knew what this meant. Years of training and familiarity with police procedure made it clear. She’d delved whole-heartedly into what had started as just another mystery to solve, a story to expose to the light of truth. But this time, there could be a heavy price to pay. Her freedom.

"Dixie, can you stay with her while I go attempt to establish some semblance of order and secure the crime scene?”

"Of course. Go.”

Sometime later, the TBI officers arrived. They swore Dixie to silence and informed Jenny of what would happen now. She watched and listened like an observer hovering above the scene.

Ms. Thompson, thank you for your service to your community. Because of your sacrifice, a crime syndicate that has operated in the south for more than fifty years trafficking prostitutes, drugs, liquor, and stolen goods will be eliminated.

If you so choose, the U.S. Marshal Service will take your application for admittance into the Federal Witness Security Program. While your application is being processed, you will be taken into protective custody. The explosion was really a Godsend. People will assume you were there. When you don’t show up in town, they’ll also assume you died in the explosion. In the interim, we’ll get you to a temporary safe house. After you testify, you’ll be relocated to a permanent location and given a new identity.

Jenny Thompson will cease to exist.


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