Uncertain Past

Uncertain Past
Roz Denny Fox

November 2012 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-2187

Book Two of The Return to Caddo Lake Trilogy

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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Caddo Lake has finally revealed the bones. Nineteen years ago,
Emmy’s foster mother disappeared, tearing their fragile family apart. After years of lonely wandering, Emmy returns to Uncertain, Texas to support her foster brother Jed, who’s been accused of the murder, and solve another mystery from the past—finding the biological mother who abandoned her.

 

 

Riley Gray, her teenage love and now a successful attorney, is the only person who can help her. The old sparks quickly reignite. The romance is as irresistible as before. They never stopped loving each other. But someone wants Emmy to stop asking questions, and is willing to threaten not only Riley but his young daughter, too.

 

 

Roz Denny Fox, (also known as Roz Denny) is the author of more than fifty romance novels. Part of her love for writing came in moving around with her husband during his tenure in the Marine Corps and after that as a telephone engineer. The richness of various cities and diversity in friendships make crafting stories about everyday people a pleasure. Visit Roz at www.Korynna.com/RozFox

 

Return to Caddo Lake

 

Uncertain Fate – Ken Casper

 

Uncertain Past – Roz Denny Fox

 

Uncertain Future – Eve Gaddy


 

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Excerpt

 

Chapter One

Emmy Monday leafed through a three-week-old Shreveport newspaper in search of the classified ad section. Steam curled from her coffee mug, dampening the lower edges of the paper as she considered whether to stay in Louisiana or not. Fortunately, she was resilient. When it came to school, jobs, men, you name it—she had long ago developed the ability to shrug off disappointment and move on. And May, according to her horoscope, was a season of renewal.

Where were those ads?

Depending on what jobs were available, she’d have to revise a résumé that was already eclectic by most employment standards. During her thirty-two years, she’d dabbled at a variety of jobs. She’d waited tables, cleaned houses, traveled with a circus, worked as a gardener, a camp counselor and most recently, dealt blackjack, a job she had a knack for and enjoyed while it lasted.

Letting the paper slip, Emmy scooped four heaping spoonfuls of sugar into her thick black coffee. As she stirred, she mulled over the past day’s events. Richard Parrish had knocked on her door at 2:00 a.m. Not late for him. He owned the casino where she worked, and for three years they’d dated at odd hours. The loose arrangement suited them both, she’d thought, even if Richard had broached the subject of marriage now and again. Emmy had never taken his proposals seriously.

Her mistake, he’d said. A point he made just before he announced his intention of marrying Melanie Fletcher, Emmy’s co-worker. A croupier. A woman Emmy had considered her friend.

Right!

Emmy could have—would have—accepted the marriage. She didn’t love Richard. In fact, she tended to scoff at love and happily-ever-after, which had been another of Richard’s observations. Last night he’d felt compelled to list what he deemed her shortcomings. She didn’t let anyone get close. She’d fenced off sections of her heart. She was afraid of commitment.

Finally, he said none too gently, "Emmy, you’ve gotta find out who the hell you are and exorcize all that nonsense about how there might be evil lurking in your genes. Because,” he’d added, "If you don’t lay those ghosts to rest, you’ll never find happiness. And it’s not fair to any man who really falls for you.”

Then he’d fired her! Oh, he couched the dismissal in sympathetic terms by handing over a severance check that was unprecedented in the field. Or so he’d said. Emmy saw right through him—the weasel. What it boiled down to was that his soon-to-be-wife viewed Emmy as a threat. Melanie had delivered an ultimatum. "Get rid of Emmy.” Which Richard had done, just like that. Emmy snapped her fingers.

The sweet coffee helped cover the bad taste lingering in her mouth. But it did nothing to silence Richard’s accusations. They ran rampant through her head.

Who is Emerald Monday? Who is she, really?

The cup wobbled, sloshing sugary brew all over the paper. As she leaped up and tore a paper towel off the dispenser to blot up the spill, headlines on a wet article jumped out at her, putting a stranglehold on her heart.

Mystery Bones Discovered Near East Texas Lake

Below the headline a town was named. Uncertain, Texas. Emmy’s breath came out in short gasps. Her heart hammered erratically. Were her eyes playing tricks because Richard had probed deep into old wounds? She dropped the soggy paper towel, grabbed the newspaper and quickly read the entire article.

"Uncertain, Texas. The mystery of Frannie Granger’s disappearance may finally be solved. The forty-seven-year-old Harrison County woman vanished nineteen years ago this spring. Her remains were recently found close to an Indian burial ground near Caddo Lake. She is believed to have been murdered.”

A cry burst explosively from Emmy’s tightly compressed lips. She forced herself to continue reading, even though her hands shook so hard she had to lay the paper flat on the table to steady the print.

On March 28th of this year, upon the discovery of human remains obviously not those of a Caddo Indian of the early nineteenth century, archaeologist Tessa Lang turned the skeleton over to the authorities for identification. This week, comparison with local dental records proved the bones to be those of Frannie Granger, a widow who was a housekeeper for various local residents and who provided foster care for unadoptable children in her own home in Uncertain. Granger was well-liked in the community, and her sudden disappearance caused quite a stir. Sheriff Logan Fielder could not be reached for comment. The question remains, who murdered Frannie Granger, and why?

Emmy reread the coffee-marked column, stopping to haul in a deep sob at the part about Frannie taking in unadoptable children. Emerald Monday had been one of those children. The first of three. It’d been a while since she’d allowed intrusive thoughts of her foster siblings, Jed and Will. Or of Mom Fran, for that matter. Emmy had, in fact, worked hard to wall off that portion of her life. Because recalling how it had once been—well, it was just too painful.

Until this moment, she’d never known for sure why Social Services had abruptly jerked her out of the only home she’d ever known to dump her with strangers in Houston. A family whose two natural daughters hated having a new kid in their lives even more than Emmy hated being there.

Mom Fran had left for work one day and didn’t come home. By noon the following day, a woman from the agency had collected Emmy from school. They hadn’t let her say goodbye to Jed Louis or Will McClain, her foster brothers. Until now, Emmy hadn’t known that Mom Fran had never returned home. After her bitter experience with the system, Emmy had judged Fran Granger just another copout. Now she felt guilty for those thoughts.

But good grief! She’d tried hard to learn the truth. Twice she’d run away and been caught hitchhiking back to Uncertain. Three times the state had shifted her into new homes, each a bigger disaster than the previous one. Finally they’d parked her in a group facility in Corpus Christi, and that was the last straw. The fight had gone out of her, leaving only underlying anger. She’d given up on Jed or Will or Frannie ever finding her. Assuming anyone had looked. That, she saw, was at the core of her restlessness.

It was clearer now. Each move she’d made after her mad flight from the group home the day she’d reached legal age had brought her closer to her beginnings. Her roots, murky as they were, lay hidden across the border in Texas.

Emmy hadn’t cried in years. And she didn’t now, because she’d dealt with the grief of losing Mom Fran long ago. But there remained a need to possess the facts. Facts about her past that might come to light if the local sheriff dug for clues to Fran Granger’s murder.

Two days slipped by before she managed to sort things out in her mind. She supposed she owed Richard Parrish—or more likely, Melanie Fletcher—for unwittingly providing her with the time and the resources to go back. Back to a town whose very name described her life—Uncertain.

It took her five days in all to pack and leave Shreveport. Even then, all her worldly possessions fit in a dozen cartons stacked in the back of her aging Ford Ranger pickup. But hadn’t she always traveled light? Anyone who’d bounced around the foster care system for long knew it was asking for heartbreak to get attached to... things. All Emmy had of her past was a single item the caseworkers had inadvertently allowed her to keep. The social worker who’d yanked her out of school and packed her stuff at Mom Fran’s had thrown Emmy’s clothes into what she assumed was a laundry basket. A deep, oval basket in which Emmy had been found as an infant. If she had any link to her past, it was that. She’d clung to it stubbornly—to the point of bloodying one foster brother’s nose when he tried to carry some stupid project to school in her basket.

Emmy smiled at the memory while checking in the rearview mirror to make certain the box containing her treasure was still wedged against the tailgate.

It was.

Her gaze swerved to watch Shreveport, her home for the past few years, recede into the distance. A car horn honked, reclaiming Emmy’s attention. She realized her knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. Part of her wanted to stop, turn back and hide out in her old apartment. Ahead lay unknown risks. It had been infinitely easier to think of Mom Fran as endlessly missing.

But murdered... Emmy shivered. It hurt to think that someone she’d once cared for deeply had been reduced to a pile of bones, her remains unceremoniously dumped in an old Indian burial mound. Who was Tessa Lang, and why did she have to expose a private person like Fran to the prying eyes of the world?

Murder, a little voice nagged. Don’t you want the person responsible to be found? She did; Emmy wanted the person who’d killed her foster mother and shattered her own idyllic childhood to pay and pay big-time.

Jed and Will would want that, too.

Heaven only knew where they were. So many nights she’d waited, expecting one or the other to find her and take her back to Mom Fran’s, where they’d be together again. Jed had assumed the position of man of the family from the moment he’d arrived to live with them at age six. He was solid, reliable. Emmy had liked that about him. Will, a surly thirteen when he came, at first hated everything and everyone in town. He’d pretty much considered Emmy a pest until the three foster kids had forged an us-against-them bond. Will became Emmy’s fierce protector if anyone at school picked on her. The summer before life fell apart, the three had made a pact to stick together no matter what. So why hadn’t Jed or Will come for her, or called, or written?

And what about Riley Gray Wolf? Emmy’s heart skipped a beat even now as she conjured up images of Riley. His family was descended from the Caddo Indians for whom the lake bordering the town was named. Lord, but she’d had the worst crush on Riley. Literally from the age of nine, when she’d seen him at school defending a handicapped kid. Riley hadn’t noticed Emmy nearly as soon, but to her great delight, he’d begun hanging out with Will and Jed. For years, Emmy had tagged along.

Almost overnight, her relationship with Riley had changed. If she let her mind drift, she could still feel the first time he’d kissed her. A kiss that had started out tentative, but quickly became more. She’d been thirteen.

Mom Fran was forever scolding Emmy about sneaking off alone with Riley. A few nights before she’d disappeared, Fran had run Riley off the property, ordering him to stay away from Emmy—who never saw Riley again. But for a long time she’d expected him to turn up like a white knight to save her from a terrifying situation. Jed, Will and Riley had all let her down. Counselors had repeatedly told Emmy to forget the boys. In time, she’d managed to stuff memories of them behind a barrier. It hadn’t been easy then. Or now, as the images crowded back.

Richard obviously didn’t know how painful it would be for her to go rooting around in her past or he wouldn’t have so blithely suggested it. Not that he was the first to recommend she get off her duff and research her background. A professor in a college sociology course had said it was simple these days, with the aid of computers, to find someone who’d put up a child for adoption. He’d offered to help her—said if she found the answers she needed, she might lose her attitude. She’d declined, displaying a lot of the attitude he’d been talking about.

Emmy hadn’t been adopted out. She’d been left in a basket at First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas. Left like some garage sale item to be sold or traded. That was what people did at Trade Days, billed as the largest flea market in the world. So no, Emmy hadn’t been quick to search for the woman who’d abandoned her. In fact, she’d quit the stupid class and dropped out of college. That was her second and last attempt at getting a degree.

Maybe she’d mosey over to Dallas now and enroll in classes. Thirtyish wasn’t too old to graduate in something worthwhile.

It surely wasn’t. But instead of keeping on toward Dallas, Emmy slowed her pickup on the outskirts of Marshall and made the turn that led straight to Uncertain.

When she reached her destination, the town seemed little changed from what she remembered. An unexpected wave of nostalgia hit her. Her throat clogged and she blinked rapidly as her eyes stung. Tears? Impossible. The Emmy Monday she’d become had shed her last tear the day the state removed her from private foster care. That was when she had left foolish, girlish tears behind. And dreams.

Apparently leaving here a girl and returning a woman had triggered a battery of strong emotions. But she could handle this. In a life filled with ups, downs and doubts, this homecoming could be either a ripple or a wave. Emmy hauled in a deep breath and forced an iron grip on unguarded feelings.

She couldn’t decide what to do first. Find a place to rent, pay a visit to the sheriff—a duty call Emmy didn’t find particularly appealing—or buy herself lunch. It was past noon. Maybe the knot in her stomach simply meant she was hungry.

Before doing anything, though, she wanted to drive past Mom Fran’s old house—if it was still there.

It was. Just seeing the little house looking homey with lacy curtains—someone else’s curtains—caused a surge of darker sentiment. She didn’t know why it hurt to see a new roof and freshly painted clapboard siding. Emmy’s fingers flexed on her steering wheel. Several moments passed before she realized there was a For Rent sign in the front window. On legs not quite steady, she climbed from her pickup and followed a winding flagstone path to the porch. She copied down the telephone number of a rental agent—or maybe the owner. The sign didn’t specify.

The house was larger than Emmy would need. There were three bedrooms. Jed and Will had shared the largest. The boys were of such different temperaments that Fran had felt each needed his own space. She’d hired a contractor to close in the porch for Will. Not at first, because Will had a tendency to sneak out at night. But later he’d earned Frannie’s trust. Emmy and Jed had both been envious over that remodeling job. Had it ever been completed? She decided to find out.

She picked her way to the backyard through overgrown shrubs. From there, she could smell the swampy odor of decay. Part of the property sloped to marshy Caddo Lake and part climbed to a vacant lot next door. Only the lot wasn’t vacant anymore. A redbrick house sat smack in the middle with a chain-link fence surrounding its immaculate lawn. As she stared at this unexpected sight, a stem-faced woman pulled a curtain aside and stared right back. Emmy gulped and waved, garnering no response.

The last thing she wanted was for someone to call the sheriff and accuse her of trespassing. Anyway, she’d satisfied her curiosity. The porch room had been completed. It held a white wicker settee and a profusion of plants. "Good,” she mumbled aloud, hurrying back to her pickup. "The place seems to come furnished. Now, if only the rent is reasonable...”

After pulling out her cell phone, she felt her stomach churn. Sweat popped out on her forehead even before she’d punched in one number. A hypoglycemia attack, she figured, pocketing her phone again. She’d skipped breakfast to load the last of her belongings and it was well past lunch. Surely there wasn’t such a huge demand for rentals here that she couldn’t grab a bite before she made the call.

She avoided Catfish Corner where Fran used to take them to celebrate special occasions like birthdays or when Jed won musical awards. The Ferguson family who owned the restaurant had been frying fish there since before the town was named. Emmy preferred not to run into anyone who might recognize her. She was still too shaken by her trip down memory lane, so she chose instead the Caddo Kitchen, which used to be a favorite burger joint of local teens. Tips weren’t great and waitress turnover was high. High-schoolers worked there. Or they did, anyway. With luck, not a soul would know her.

The place was nearly empty. Two men sat at the Formica counter drinking coffee, and a woman with a baby and a boy of about five were seated in the first booth. The woman and boy shared a large chocolate sundae. The baby slept in his carrier. All were strangers. Relieved, Emmy slid across the vinyl bench seat of the last booth. Surveying the café’s interior, she noticed that the decor had changed dramatically. Mounted bass replaced posters of rock stars, and fishing rods and tackle hung on the walls. Netting fluttered under the breeze of overhead fans. The jukebox was gone. Obviously the clientele had changed, or aged. Bass fishing had always been a steady tourist industry for the otherwise sleepy town.

A gum-chewing waitress slapped a glass of water, napkin-wrapped silverware and a menu in front of Emmy "Homemade chicken noodle is the soup of the day. Hey...” the gum cracked twice. "Don’t I know you? My God, it’s Emmy Monday! I never forget a face. I’m Cassie. Cassie Ames, now Morris,” the woman said, plunking herself down on the bench opposite Emmy. "I look different. Got contacts and had my teeth straightened. Oh, and my hair used to be cow-pie brown, not red.” She giggled as she patted her hair. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that Emmy sat there frozen, the woman rattled on, "Look at you, girl. Haven’t changed a bit. That naturally blond hair was the envy of every girl in town. You’re still model-thin—except for the right amount of curves.” Pop went the gum again, and Cassie licked a pink bubble off her lower lip. "That’s why all the girls hated you—especially those in the ‘in’ crowd.”

Emmy blushed and murmured a protest, which didn’t stop Cassie. "You had the greenest green eyes. The rest of us were stuck with blah brown or boring blue. Course, those eyes are what got you the name Emerald, right?” Cassie propped her chin in one hand. "Personally, with a name like Emerald Monday, I always figured you’d end up a movie star.”

Emmy tried not to grimace as she finally stammered out a greeting. Most people thought her name was a result of her eye color. They couldn’t be more wrong. She had no intention of enlightening Cassie or even saying that she hadn’t landed in Hollywood. "The Caesar salad sounds good. I believe I’ll have that and iced tea.”

"Um, sure.” Cassie tucked her gum into the side of her cheek and called Emmy’s order in to the cook. With barely a pause, she babbled on. "Too bad you didn’t drop into town last month, Emmy. We held our first-ever high-school reunion. Of course, the girls who dreamed up the idea were the only ones who had time to diet down to the weight they used to be. Amanda Jennings, but you probably guessed that.” Cassie sucked in her cheeks and crossed her eyes. "She’s dumped three husbands. Other than that, she’s the same old Amanda.”

Amanda’s family owned the local bank. Even as a kid she’d used the power of the Jennings name to her own advantage. She’d lived in a pretentious house, one which Mom Fran cleaned. A fact that never stopped the status-conscious Amanda from shamelessly chasing Jed and Will. Emmy had heartily disliked her. Not solely because she’d let Emmy know she was socially inferior, but also because she’d made fools of her foster brothers. Even Riley had danced to Amanda’s tune. Emmy had never understood what the boys saw in such a phony.

"I wouldn’t have been invited to the reunion,” she admitted guardedly. "I never attended high school here.”

"I started to ask what brought you back,” Cassie interjected. "But I guess it’s because you heard Jed’s the prime suspect in Frannie Granger’s murder.”

"What? Jed? But—but,” Emmy stuttered. "That’s impossible.” She almost dropped the silverware she’d unwrapped. Emmy, who’d wanted the talkative woman to shut up, now waited impatiently for Cassie to elaborate. But the cook yelled, "Order up,” and Cassie went to retrieve it.

However, she didn’t miss a beat after setting the salad and frosty tea glass in front of Emmy. "Yep, Jed’s number one on Sheriff Fielder’s list. Some folks think Logan ought to track down Hank Belmonte. He was the town drunk, remember, who did odd jobs? He did some carpentry work for Frannie and for Amanda’s dad, Ray, around the time Frannie disappeared. Hank never finished either project.”

"Then isn’t he the logical suspect?” Emmy stabbed a forkful of salad. She wanted to ask more about Jed. She didn’t have to; gossip flowed from Cassie. "I guess you know Jed inherited Beaumarais, his uncle’s estate. After college, Jed turned into a regular entrepreneur. His wife is real nice. And brave. I don’t know that I’d marry someone suspected of murder. But marry him she did, about a week ago. Still, she had to know what she was letting herself in for.”

Jed married and living at Beaumarais? Emmy swallowed hard. "The sheriff has questioned others besides Jed, I hope.”

"Sure. All the families Frannie cleaned houses for. Oh, and Riley Gray. But he had an iron-clad alibi.”

"Riley Gray Wolf?” Emmy’s heart stumbled and beat faster.

"He dropped the Wolf part of his name when he became a big-shot business attorney. Now, there’s a guy who looks the same, but who’s really changed. He got married. Has a daughter. A real cutie. She’s four or five—I forget which.”

Emmy felt a kick in her midriff. Riley and Jed both married. "Uh... did... Riley marry Amanda?” Emmy asked weakly. She didn’t think she could stand it if the answer was yes, and yet she had to know.

"Lord, no! And after her last divorce, Amanda took back her maiden name. Some people say it’s so her mom will still foot her bills. About Riley... he married an outsider he met in Oklahoma. Lani Sky. Shortly after you left town, Neva Gray Wolf took sick, couldn’t work and ended up losing the house. She went to live in Oklahoma with her brother. On a reservation, with the last of the Caddo tribe. Riley moved here about six years ago...” Cassie glanced away. "I, uh, don’t like talking about his wife. Something happened there, and he’s split with his whole family.”

"So his sister Josey’s still in Oklahoma? Neva’s okay? You don’t mean she died? Losing his dad in the Gulf War put such a hardship on the family, and especially on Riley. He suffered so much. I can’t bear to think how he’d handle losing his mom.”

"Oh, Neva recovered. And Josey moved back here, too, but I rarely see her. She’s a master potter at the factory over in Marshall.”

Emmy’s senses were on overload. She’d heard enough. Too much. Folding her napkin, she extracted money from her wallet to cover the bill and tip.

"No wonder you’re still skinny,” Cassie said, eyeing Emmy as she stood. "I can have that boxed to go, if you’d like.”

Emmy shook her head. "Thanks, but I have to stop at the bank and then find a place to stay tonight. It’s been great, though, Cassie,” she said politely.

"The Kit and Caboodle Cottages are clean and nice, and the owners will give you a break on monthly rates. They’re across from the St. Cloud Marina. Layla St. Cloud runs it now. Actually, she’s Layla Santiago. She married Rico. Too bad you don’t have more time—that’s another interesting story. I’m sure you remember them.”

"I do. And thanks for the info on the cottages. I have no idea how long I’ll be in town.”

"Then I’m glad you stopped here today. Although,” Cassie said ruefully, "next time you’ll have to tell me what y’all have been doing. Whatever, it’s agreed with you. You look like a million bucks.”

Emmy felt the heat rise to her cheeks again. "Um... I’ve done a little of this and a little of that. I can’t claim any marriages, though.”

Cassie walked Emmy to the door. "Kevin and I have five kids. The oldest is in high school, would you believe? We’ve been married sixteen years this May.”

Emmy vaguely recalled Kevin Morris, a chubby boy who always had his nose in a book. Emmy couldn’t even imagine being a waitress while raising five kids. She’d waited tables and it was hard work. If she did eat here again, she’d be more generous with her tipping. If she stuck around, she’d have to find a job—but not in a restaurant. Main Street, tree-lined and sleepy, had revealed some new touristy businesses. With summer coming, someone might need extra help.

Emmy needed to find a quiet place to digest all of Cassie’s gossip. But the afternoon was slipping away. She had to deposit the check Richard had given her and find out how to transfer her funds from Shreveport—if she decided to stay more than a few weeks. After that, she’d call and inquire how much Fran’s house would cost to rent.

The lobby of Cypress Bank and Trust smelled old and musty. Emmy had been there a few times with Mom Fran. If memory served, it hadn’t changed. The bank and the building itself had all belonged to Amanda’s maternal grandfather. Emmy recalled hearing stories that Ray Jennings had married Catherine for her money. Surely her good looks had played a part. Ray’s wife had been an older, classier version of Amanda, who overdid makeup and bleach. At least she used to.

As Emmy waited to be helped by a teller, Ray Jennings exited his office with an elderly man, a rancher. Ray studied Emmy in passing. His eyes remained on her even after they’d reached the door. Amanda’s dad hadn’t changed at all. He still acted pompous, and he still had a roving eye. The old goat.

Emmy attended to her business, which took longer than she’d expected. In her rush to leave and find a place to spend the night, she dashed from the bank and nearly bowled over a man headed in.

"Whoa! Sorry. I didn’t look where I was going.” The man adjusted his tie as he stepped back and flashed Emmy a dazzling grin. In addition to the knock-out smile, he had liquid black eyes that cruised over her with interest as he gazed down from a lean, six-foot height. The sun blinded Emmy before she had time to assess much more—or to put on her sunglasses.

"Emmy? Holy smokes! Where... when... ?” The masculine voice rose excitedly.

Finding herself snatched close to a broad chest and whirled completely off her feet, Emmy finally managed to identify a once-familiar face. Riley! Lord in heaven, it was Riley. Emmy was quite sure her tongue was glued to her teeth. She barely managed a garbled greeting. She’d known, of course, given the size of Uncertain, that there was a likelihood of their paths crossing if she planned to stay in town. She’d thought she’d have more time to prepare.

"I can’t believe it’s really you,” he said, still hugging her tight. Before reluctantly setting her away, he repeated several times how great it was to see her. Even then, his eyes lingered on her face. "Where have you been? How have you been?”

"I’m, uh, okay.” Except it was a lie, because right now, okay was the last thing she felt. Overwhelmed was more like it. Breathless, she could do nothing but stare up at a face she’d imagined in her dreams for nineteen years. She recognized the lock of straight black hair that fell across his forehead and caught on his impossibly long eyelashes. That hadn’t changed. Lord, the man fulfilled every fantasy she’d ever had of what Riley Gray Wolf would look like as an adult. But, according to Cassie, he’d shortened his name to Gray—and he was no longer Emmy Monday’s best pal. Riley was married and had a child. A coldness she couldn’t explain seized her, and Emmy moved out of his reach.

Riley, who still wore a stunned grin, checked his watch. "I was going to make a deposit, but that can wait. We have half a lifetime to catch up on. God, Emmy, just give me a minute to get my breath. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. Listen, why don’t you join me for a cup of coffee? We’ll stretch it to include dinner if you’re free.”

In this town of rumormongers? With no mention of his wife joining them?

Emmy dragged down the sunglasses she’d shoved up into her hair when she’d entered the bank. She had to cover her eyes before they revealed too much pain. "I’m sorry, Riley,” she said coolly, sidling past him. "I’ve got a list of things to do. Maybe some other time.” Then—to ensure that she wouldn’t break down and say to hell with caution—Emmy all but ran to her vehicle.

With jaw slack and hands in his pockets, Riley watched the woman who had haunted his dreams for years vault into a beat-up yellow Ford pickup. The tailgate was caved in on a row of boxes that lined the metal bed. At least the old vehicle had a roll bar, he thought. Damn, but Emmy looked great. She’d grown into a beautiful woman, as he’d always known she would. Riley shaded his eyes against the blinding shaft of sunlight. She was real, wasn’t she? She hadn’t been a mirage?

A heavy hand clamped his shoulder, breaking into Riley’s confusion.

"Appears you’ve lost your touch with the ladies, Gray.” The bank president’s narrow salt-and-pepper mustache twitched with humor. Ray Jennings followed Riley’s gaze as the battered Ford pulled away from the curb. "I saw her inside the bank. She looked familiar, but I’ll be damned if I can place her.”

"Emmy Monday,” Riley murmured, still shocked by their chance encounter. "She was one of Fran Granger’s foster children. I suppose she’s come to help Jed.”

Ray dropped his hand and turned to peer at the truck until it disappeared around a corner. "Do you reckon Logan tracked her down and brought her back for questioning? Is he also looking for Frannie’s other riffraff foster kid? What was his name?”

"Will. Will McClain. He’d had some bad breaks, but he wasn’t riffraff.”

"Says who? Doesn’t matter. I figure he’s in prison by now. If we’re lucky,” Ray said around a snort. "Jed’s the best of the lot. He’d do well to forget he ever knew those other two. Same goes for you, Gray. A man in your position has to think twice before getting too friendly with a little blond nobody.” As abruptly as he’d appeared, Ray stomped back into the bank.

Riley mulled over his parting shot. Jennings had never had much use for the Native American blood that ran in the Gray Wolf veins. Riley found it almost comical that after all these years, Ray would overlook his origins—now that he didn’t give a damn what Jennings or anyone else in Uncertain thought.

He shouldn’t give a damn that Emmy Monday had given him the brush-off, either. But it was hard to forget those weeks nineteen years ago when he’d gone crazy trying to locate her after Social Services had taken her away. Riley recalled creating such a commotion in the Family Counseling offices, they’d called the police and had him arrested for disturbing the peace. His poor mother had to borrow money to bail him out. If it hadn’t been for old Hamish Abrams, the lawyer who’d been his mentor and whose practice he’d later bought, Riley would have ended up with a juvenile record.

Though he wanted to go after Emmy and demand to know why she’d dropped completely out of sight, Ray might have a valid point. What did anyone know about Emmy Monday? Why had she never tried to contact him or Jed? Granted, they’d both gone off to college within the year, but neither would have been terribly difficult to find. Anyone in town could have pointed her in the right direction.

No, he didn’t know squat about the woman who’d dismissed his offer of coffee and catch-up so easily. And he had a daughter to think about now. To say nothing of a solid, hard-won law practice. One look at Emmy, and he’d apparently forgotten both. Scowling, Riley stalked into the bank to make the deposit he’d been so willing to delay for a woman who obviously didn’t care to renew their friendship.

Hell, it’d been more than mere friendship for Riley. He might’ve been only sixteen, but he’d been head-over-heels in love with Emmy Monday. If she could so easily cast off all they’d meant to each other, then she hadn’t turned into the woman he’d imagined she’d be. Lucky for him that she hadn’t taken him up on his offer.


 

 

Chapter Two

On the drive through Uncertain, Riley consumed Emmy’s thoughts. How good he looked. How successful. How difficult it would be to see him around town. Living in a small town increased the odds of future meetings. Darn, why hadn’t she asked him for Josey’s address? At one time, Riley’s sister had been Emmy’s best girlfriend. Josey threw pots and wove wool and baskets. She and Emmy had spent hours on crafts. The girls had been friends before Emmy took notice of boys. Of Riley in particular.

Angling into a parking spot on the street adjacent to the cottage, Emmy calmed her nerves, took out her phone again and deliberately thrust Riley Gray Wolf, or Gray as he called himself now, firmly into the past where he belonged.

The number she punched in rang three times at the other end before a woman’s lilting voice sang out, "Hello.”

"I’m calling about a house you have for rent. A small place off Moss Road. Is it available? It appears to be vacant.”

"It is, although there are still boxes in a bedroom that need moving. The home belongs to my husband. He’s away on business, but I expect him back by dinnertime. Say, seven-thirty, if you’d care to call then.”

Emmy bit her lip. "Oh. Perhaps I’ll just go ahead and rent one of the Kit and Caboodle cottages then.”

The owner’s wife sounded curious. "You’d rent a house based on a drive-by?”

"I—uh,” Emmy stammered, "—know the place. I used to live there. Although it looks nicer now than it did then.”

"Are you sure you have the correct house in mind? Jed, my husband, has owned the place for some time. He grew up there himself.”

"Jed? Jed Louis is your husband? He owns the old Granger house?”

"Yes. You know him? I don’t believe I caught your name.” The voice sharpened, unless Emmy imagined it.

"He probably had no reason to mention me. My name is Emmy Monday. A long time ago, we both lived there as foster kids.”

"Emmy!” A happy cry followed. "Jed’s told me about you. Oh, he’ll be so pleased when he hears you’ve come home. I know he’ll want you to stay at Beaumarais with us.”

"Oh, I couldn’t.” Emmy recalled what Cassie had said about Jed’s recent marriage. "I heard you’re newly married. Besides, Jed and I haven’t spoken in years. We’re virtual strangers.”

"I guess I understand how you feel. But you two have so much catching up to do. Tell you what, I’ll meet you at the rental. Jed would never forgive me if I turned away the only family he has.” She lowered her voice. "I’m assuming you’ve heard what a mess he’s been thrown into?”

"Bits and pieces. Enough to know that what they’re accusing him of is totally absurd. I’m not Jed’s only family, by the way. There’s Will. Will McClain. Is he around?”

"No. But I’ll let Jed fill you in on everything that’s happened since you, Will and Frannie all disappeared. If you won’t stay with us, Emmy, promise you’ll at least come to dinner tonight. Eight-thirty. I’m ten minutes from the rental. If we meet now and you find the house suitable, that’ll give you time to unpack and rest a bit before dinner.”

"Wait. I’d love to see Jed, but I’ll have to reserve judgment on renting the house.” Emmy felt bowled over, and yet her words reflected a smile.

"Fair enough. A warning, though. I can be very persuasive.”

As Emmy pulled into the driveway, she tried not to form any opinions about Jed’s wife. As it happened, Mrs. Louis beat Emmy to Frannie’s place. Technically Jed’s, but to Emmy the house would always belong to Mom Fran.

She took her time climbing from the pickup and used the extra moments to inspect the woman her foster sibling had married. Before clicking off, Jed’s wife had said her name was Gwyneth; please call her Gwyn, she’d added.

Emmy didn’t know why, but she hadn’t expected her to be so tall. Gwyn topped Emmy’s five foot five by at least four inches. A thick auburn braid slapped a slender waist as she turned the key in the lock. The main thing Emmy noticed was that although Gwyn wore faded blue jeans, dusty boots and a plaid, western-style shirt, she had the carriage and bearing of someone born to wealth. Casual elegance. The kind enjoyed by women who strolled through the Shreveport casino shrouded in an aura of money and power. The genuine article. Not someone out to impress.

Emmy’s instant perception was that Jed was a lucky man.

Gwyn’s "Hi” wafted across the lawn in a low contralto as she beckoned Emmy through an already open door. "We’re birds of a feather, I see.” Gwyn pointed to Emmy’s pickup, then to her own green Land Rover parked by the neighboring fence. "We truck women have to band together. I hope you’re a coffee drinker, too. I brought a thermos and two mugs.” She had them hooked on three fingers of her left hand. A hand flashing a gorgeous diamond wedding set.

Somewhat tongue-tied, Emmy merely nodded. Jed’s wife was a bit of a whirlwind.

Gwyn disappeared into the kitchen, saying she’d pour their coffee. The distinctive aroma reached out to Emmy. Exactly what she needed to fight off waves of nostalgia that struck the minute she stepped inside. Although the living room carpet was new, the furnishings different, the decor modernized, memories of her life here catapulted Emmy back to childhood. Standing there, she realized again that those years had, without doubt, been the best she’d ever known. Why had she waited so long to come home? Only it wasn’t her home—not really. Where did she belong?

"Emmy?” Gwyn extended a steaming cup. "Are you all right? I’ll, uh, wait in the kitchen if you’d prefer to explore on your own.”

Accepting the mug, Emmy swallowed several times and shook her head. "It’s very different from my recollections. Smaller, for one thing.” She rolled stiff shoulders.

"I found it comfortable enough for me and my animals.” Gwyn laughed. "The cat and dog didn’t fight me for the only bathroom. However did four of you manage, though?”

Relaxing minutely, Emmy sipped the strong, black coffee. "We had a schedule. Mom Fran and I showered at night, the boys in the morning. Jed always complained that Will hogged the bathroom and used all the hot water.”

"Jed talks in fits and spurts about that time in his life. Finding your foster mom’s remains on his property was a horrendous shock.”

"I can imagine. No, that’s not true. I can’t imagine it. How did that archaeologist come to be digging there?”

"My fault, I’m afraid. I leased pastureland from Jed for the miniature horses I raise. When he first discovered they were miniature, he hit the roof. He doesn’t consider the breed a horse. You may not know, but Jed raises mammoth Percherons. Tessa Lang, the archaeologist, wanted to dig for Caddo Indian artifacts. Jed believed her excavation would spook his herd, so he refused her request. He and I argued a lot back then.” She grimaced slightly. "I thought Tessa’s project had merit. She had a grant and a deadline. Jed’s decision seemed unfair, so I suggested she petition the court for the right to search for artifacts. I felt absolutely awful when among the first things Tessa found were Frannie’s bones. I’m still sick over it, but there’s no reversing what’s happened.”

"The article I read didn’t mention it was Jed’s land. Oh, Lord, poor Jed.”

Gwyn paced the perimeter of the room. "Yes. Fielder’s convinced the reason Jed made such a fuss over Tessa’s dig was because he killed Mrs. Granger.”

"That sheriff’s a fool. He can’t know Jed if he thinks that.”

Worry lines creased Gwyn’s smooth brow. "The evidence keeps mounting. Do you remember Amanda Jennings?”

"Hard to forget Uncertain’s Dolly Parton lookalike.”

"Yes, well, there is that. According to Fielder’s old notes, Amanda reported that Jed skipped school the day Frannie disappeared.”

"I’ll bet Amanda made that up. She used to tell lies about people to get them in trouble. Then she’d stand back and smirk.”

"She didn’t make it up. I’m sure he’ll tell you himself, but Jed’s felt guilty for years over that. He and your foster mom argued the morning she vanished and he took off for the day. He’s found it really hard, knowing that the last time they parted was in anger.”

"They argued?” Emmy frowned.

"Yes. Some ongoing spat about Jed applying to Juilliard. I gathered Frannie thought music was a big waste of time.”

"And money,” Emmy agreed slowly. "But no one was prouder of Jed’s awards.” Her frown deepened. "Gosh, I may have told the sheriff that Fran fussed at Jed that day. Until you brought it up, I’d forgotten Fielder came to school the next morning and questioned me. I was scared to death.” Emmy ran a finger around the rim of her cup. "Will and I were always slowpokes. Fran was late for work, I think. Jed had a permission slip he wanted signed. Yes, now I do remember. They were turning the air blue as they walked out the back door. I dashed out the front to catch my bus.” Emmy lifted her eyes to meet Gwyn’s. "Will would have covered for Jed if he missed roll call. Will sometimes ditched class. Highly unusual for Jed, though. What’s his story?”

"He took his boat out on the lake and spent the day cooling off. Apparently no one saw him. Without witnesses, it makes him look bad. If you can remember anything else...” Gwyn pleaded.

"I wish I could. It happened so long ago.”

Gwyn turned to dump her coffee down the sink. She stared out the window, saying nothing, but her shoulders were bowed.

"I’m glad Jed has you in his corner,” Emmy said softly. "I don’t know much about the law, Gwyn. Does Jed have a good lawyer?”

Nodding, Gwyn faced Emmy again. "Riley Gray handles Jed’s business needs. The second time Sheriff Fielder questioned Jed in conjunction with the murder, Riley recommended Jed hire someone more experienced in criminal law. I suggested an old family friend, Dexter Thorndyke. He’s well-known for winning difficult cases. Thorny agreed to advise Jed.”

Emmy got hung up on the part about Riley doing legal work for Jed. Back when they all built forts and pretended to be pirates conquering the Caddo swamp, had the boys sneaked off by themselves and discussed what they’d be when they grew up? Emmy had daydreamed about marrying Riley Gray Wolf and caring for their kids while he went off to work. Those were secret dreams she hadn’t shared with a soul. Funny thing about dreams—they hardly ever came true.

"Emmy? You seem miles away.”

"What? Oh.” She blushed. "I... er... don’t think I’ve ever heard of Mr. Thorndyke. Isn’t the evidence Sheriff Fielder has on Jed circumstantial? Surely a good attorney will get him off.”

Gwyn sighed. "I hope so. Anyway, I’ve probably bent your ear enough. Jed can answer any other questions you might have. If the house meets with your approval, I’ll take off and let you get settled. I’m on my way into town. Now, don’t forget—dinner at eight-thirty. I assume you know how to get to Beaumarais?”

"Yes.” Emmy pictured the big white mansion on the hill that Jed used to say would eventually belong to him. Everyone but Will and Emmy had laughed at his prediction. The families of the other kids in the area were involved with timber, oil or cattle. Who could blame them for thinking throwaway kids would never have two dimes to rub together? So true in her case. But Emmy had no clue as to her ancestry, while Jed had always known he was the illegitimate son of a mother whose family was filthy rich.

"Gwyn, shouldn’t you wait and discuss my coming to dinner with Jed? Not to mention the possibility that I might be renting our old house. Give him time to adjust to the idea of dealing with another ghost from the past?”

Gwyn paused at the door. "Frankly, Jed will be overjoyed to see how flesh-and-blood you are, Emmy. Since we got back from our short honeymoon, he’s talked about trying to locate you and Will. I’m not sure, but he may be scared to death Tessa will unearth you and Will from that site next. Of course, Fielder hasn’t given her permission to reopen her dig, although she’s hounding him to lift the ban.”

Emmy followed Gwyn outside. "Since I first read the article, I’ve had a difficult time believing it’s true. I feel as though it happened in another life.” She shook her head. "I was just a kid, but I know Mom Fran was well-liked. She worked hard. Work and us three kids were her life. I’ve racked my brain and I can’t fathom why anyone would murder her.”

"Nor can Jed. He said if it happened today, he’d guess a random act of violence. Nineteen years ago, he said, Uncertain was as safe as any place could be.”

"I’m glad you were here to help Jed through the funeral. I know it’s belated, but I’d like to take flowers to the cemetery if you’ll direct me to her grave.”

Gwyn’s lips contorted. "Fielder refused to release the—the—remains. There hasn’t been a service yet, which makes it doubly hard on Jed.”

"Gwyn, that’s terrible! You know, I haven’t been sure about sticking around. But how can I not stay and support Jed?”

"Oh, Emmy...”

A child’s voice interrupted Gwyn’s struggle to complete her thanks.

Emmy glanced around and saw a little girl hanging over the fence. She had hair the color of midnight gathered on either side of her head in two corkscrew ponytails. Blue jeans tapered over scuffed white sneakers. A frilly pink blouse enhanced a delicate bone structure.

Emmy smiled at the girl. She was no judge of children’s ages, but this one couldn’t be more than four or five.

Gwyn returned the girl’s wave. "Hi, Alanna.”

"Miss Gwyn, are you moving back to the little house?”

"No. Remember, I married Jed Louis? You were the flower girl at our wedding. This is Emmy Monday, Alanna. She’s going to live here.”

"We didn’t discuss price,” Emmy protested. "I may not be able to afford it.”

"Fiddlesticks.” Gwyn brushed aside Emmy’s concerns. "It’s up to Jed, but I’d be surprised if he lets you pay.”

"I’m not here to freeload,” she said firmly. "I have money. Just not a lot. Depending on how long I stay, I’ll probably need to find a job.”

The child at the fence prattled on. "Emmy’s a nice name. And you look nice, not grumpy like Mrs. Yates. Tonight I’ll ask Daddy if you can baby-sit me instead of her.”

Emmy cast a startled glance at the child, then appealed to Gwyn for aid. Emmy had once worked for a temporary agency in Galveston who’d sent her to fill in for a sick nanny. The children were younger than this girl, one a baby and the other a toddler. Emmy had enjoyed the assignment, but she’d never had occasion to repeat it. "Who is this precocious child?” she muttered out of the side of her mouth. Louder, to the little girl, she said, "Your name is pretty, too.”

"Emmy, meet Alanna Gray,” Gwyn said, handling the introductions. "I believe I mentioned her dad is Jed’s friend and attorney on business matters,” she added.

"Riley lives next door? In that house?” Floored by the news, Emmy gaped at the child. Riley’s daughter. She supposed that if she compared them feature for feature, she’d see a resemblance to Riley in the smoky-black eyes and impish grin. The boy Emmy recalled so well had been wiry but strong. Totally masculine. Riley had always walked with an inherent male swagger. Alanna’s girlish attributes obviously came from her mother. Her mother! What had Cassie said about Riley’s wife? Something vague; Emmy couldn’t quite recall it.

"Miss Emmy? Will you ask Mrs. Yates to let me come over and play with your kitty and doggie?”

Still reeling, Emmy responded too sharply. "I don’t have any pets.”

"She’ll be so disappointed,” Gwyn whispered. "Mrs. Yates is terribly allergic. Alanna loved my animals. I’m afraid I let her pretend one of my kittens was hers while I lived here.” She raised her voice again. "Oh, I forgot to say, in addition to raising miniature horses, I’m also an animal agent.” When Emmy failed to comment, Gwyn explained. "I supply many of the pets used in local TV commercials or magazine ads. I’m like a casting agent. I negotiate fees and monitor work hours and schedules. Animals are a lot like child stars. I make sure they’re not exploited.”

Finally, slowly coming out of her stupor, Emmy darted a surreptitious glance at Alanna Gray. "You have an unusual job, Gwyn. It sounds very interesting. I... ah... assume if Alanna stays with a sitter it’s because her mom also works. What does she do?”

Gwyn pitched her reply an octave lower, although Alanna had dropped from the fence to chase after a squirrel. "Her mom died. When Alanna was a baby.” Gwyn followed the child with dark, sympathetic eyes.

"I didn’t know.” Emmy’s brows drew together. "Cassie—someone I knew from before—works at the café in town. She said Riley had gotten married and had a child. I wish she’d told me his wife passed away. I ran into him at the bank. Literally ran into him. He asked me out for coffee. I’m afraid I acted rather rude when he didn’t suggest having his wife join us.”

"You thought he was playing around on her?” Gwyn exclaimed in surprise. "I haven’t known him long, but that doesn’t strike me as Riley’s style. He’s devoted to his law practice and to Alanna. Jed’s had to pry him out of the house for anything social.”

"Obviously he’s changed. The old Riley dated two or three girls at once. Even when he was underage, he played pool and threw darts four or five nights a week at Crazy Jake’s Pub. He was exceptionally social back then.”

The little girl again appeared to swing on the fence. She chimed in on the conversation. "My daddy’s got a pool table and a dart board. I can’t play. Only big people can.” She issued a tragic sigh that made Gwyn and Emmy grin.

"Your daddy taught me to throw darts when I was a kid,” Emmy said. "Because I bugged him. He’s patient, though. He never made fun of my mistakes. Once you’re a bit older, Alanna, I’m sure he’ll teach you.”

"You knew my daddy when you were little?”

Emmy nodded, sharp memories propelling her back to a time when she’d followed Riley around like a stray puppy. He’d eventually grown tired of having her always at his heels and had taught her to throw darts so she’d give him some space. It had the opposite effect. He’d finally noticed her—noticed she was growing up.

Standing here looking at the child he’d created with another woman, Emmy forced her mind off Riley and onto darts. In later years, the game relaxed her, had carried her back to happier times, so she made it a point to play regularly. With each match, she captured bits and pieces of Riley. His muscular brown arm reaching around to steady her hand. His gravelly voice whispering in her ear.

Darn, this wasn’t smart.

Alanna spoke, distracting Emmy from a bout of melancholy. "That’s cool. Did you know my daddy then, too, Miss Gwyn?”

"No. I was raised in a city a long way from here.” Gwyn glanced over Alanna’s head, toward the house. "I hear Mrs. Yates calling you. Tell her I was introducing you to your new neighbor.” Gwyn wagged a hand at the waiting sitter.

Alanna appeared reluctant to leave. She turned several times and resorted to skipping backward on one foot, continuing to wave at Gwyn and Emmy.

Then the older woman came down the steps to meet the girl, and after the two of them had disappeared, Gwyn released a pent-up breath. "If you don’t like children, Emmy, you’ll have to set firm limits. Alanna is grownup for her age, but she’s lonely. Mrs. Yates is getting on in years, and Alanna wears her out. I’m afraid I allowed her to run in and out of my place at will.”

"What makes you think I don’t like children?” A breeze had sprung up and Emmy had to sweep strands of her silvery-blond hair away from her eyes in order to see Gwyn.

"I wasn’t being judgmental, Emmy. But it wasn’t my imagination that you stiffened up when I introduced Alanna.”

Emmy realized she probably had stiffened up. It was a major shock hearing Riley lived next door. That didn’t mean she cared to tell Gwyn Louis every detail involving her history with Riley Gray Wolf. Indeed, the good memories might have existed only in Emmy’s imagination, so the less she said about him the better. Still, knowing how rumors swept through Uncertain, Emmy hated to leave Gwyn with the impression that she didn’t like Riley’s daughter. "I’ve never really known any kids. I spent the last five years on a floating casino dealing blackjack during the witching hours,” she explained. "Otherwise, my experience with children is limited to those I met briefly when I toured with the circus. She seems a darling girl.”

"A blackjack dealer and circus performer? Quite a mix of talents. I definitely want to hear more at our next visit. Call me nosy, but... when you raised your arm a minute ago, the neck of your blouse drooped. Well, there’s no way except to ask straight out. Is that a real tattoo you have... there?” Gwyn’s lips twitched as she brushed a forefinger along the upper edge of her own breast to indicate where she meant.

Emmy rolled her eyes, then laughed. "It’s real. Please don’t tell Jed.”

"Why not? To borrow a phrase from Alanna, it’s cool! Goodness, I really have to run.” Gwyn checked a serviceable watch that was at odds with the rings she wore. Emmy accompanied her as she hurried to the Rover and climbed in. Before closing her door, she impulsively reached out and squeezed Emmy’s hand. "I can’t wait to tell Jed who’s going to be living in his rental. He’ll be so happy.” Her expression grew bleak for a moment. "I’m afraid happiness is something he’s lacked for too long. He still feels he has something to prove to the residents of Uncertain, if not the world. I’m counting on you to help me show him how to have more fun, Emmy. It’ll be good for all of us to have family around.” She nodded. "That’s what you are—his family. And now, mine, too.”

Emmy said little. She pulled her hand away and shut Gwyn’s door. Staring after the rumbling vehicle as Gwyn backed down the lane, Emmy felt the tic beginning under her right eye. For years she’d been plagued with a jumpy nerve. It came whenever tension built. As pleasant as Jed’s wife seemed, Emmy couldn’t buy into the bubbly prediction that the three of them would be a family. The spiraling sense of letdown clutching at her stomach was something she’d had to contend with ever since Social Services dragged her away from here. Jed, at least, had roots. She’d never really belonged anywhere.

As Emmy hauled the first box of her things into a house filled with ghosts, she renewed an earlier vow to initiate a search for her birth parents.

No sooner had the thought struck her than a tan-and-white county police car roared off the main road and came to a halt behind her pickup. The very presence of a police vehicle in this particular drive set Emmy’s nerves roiling.

Hoping she gave an appearance of unconcern, she stacked boxes on her pickup’s tailgate. She manhandled three into the house, recognizing an older Sheriff Fielder as he and a deputy climbed from the car. In spite of knowing she’d done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide, Emmy’s heart sped up. Sweat broke out on her upper lip and her palms.

The leathery-faced sheriff hitched his pants up lean hips and closed a gnarled hand over a holstered service revolver. His scowl hadn’t changed, Emmy thought, but his face had grown craggier. He didn’t wear a hat today, and she saw that his brown hair was now liberally streaked with silver.

"Moving in or out?” the deputy asked inanely.

Emmy supposed she shouldn’t smart off under the circumstance, but she wasn’t known to suffer fools lightly. "Given the efficiency of the rumor mill in this town, I think you already know the answer to that question.”

She bit her lip. Darn, but Fielder had always had the ability to make her feel guilty just by staring at her from faintly accusing eyes. Maturity hadn’t changed that reaction, either. Emmy’s knees knocked inside her jeans.

"Are you the Emerald Monday who lived here with Frannie Granger?” Fielder asked in a gruff voice.

"Yes.” She found her mouth too dry to expand on that.

"My daddy always said bad pennies have a way of turning up again. You’ve been gone a good piece, little lady. What brings you back now?”

"I’m not a little lady, Sheriff. I’m full grown. Thirty-two if Fran got my birthdate correct. That’s one reason I’m here.” She glanced toward the house. "I read a news article that said you’d found my foster mother’s body. I’d hoped while you’re investigating who killed her, some clue might turn up as to who I was... uh... who I am.

The sheriff gave her his famous blank stare. "So that’s your story? Seems odd you’d suddenly get an urge to know at thirty-two. Why not when you came of age?”

Emmy crossed her arms and leaned a shoulder negligently against the door casing. She hadn’t invited her surprise guests inside, nor would she unless they insisted. "At eighteen I worked two jobs to keep from starving. Finding the person or persons who dumped me at Monday Trade Days ranked sort of low on my list of priorities.”

"Humph.” The sheriff feigned interest in a notebook he’d pulled from his shirt pocket. "Where you been living?”

Emmy thought about telling him to find out himself if he was such a hotshot investigator. She discarded that idea almost as quickly as it had come. "Shreveport,” she said. "I worked in a casino owned and operated by Richard Parrish. He’s easy to find if you’d like to check that out.”

"Don’t think I won’t, missy.” He grunted. "Can’t say I’m glad to see you. Trouble had a way of following you, Louis, Gray Wolf and that McClain kid. I suppose he’ll show up next.”

"I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been in contact with my foster siblings since I left town. If you’ve got no other questions...” Emmy made a point of checking her watch before brushing past the sheriff to drag another box from the bed of her pickup.

"Where were you the day Frannie Granger vanished?”

Emmy felt her slippery, sweaty fingers lose their grip on the box. Carefully, she tightened her hold. "When she left for work, I was heading out the front door to meet my school bus. I think you know Jed called all over town that night when she failed to come home. I was terrified. We all were.”

"Why did you three go off to school the next day as if nothing was wrong?”

"Joleen Berber, Fran’s best friend, notified the police. They said we should go on about our business. It was you. You said it.”

"On day two, Jed managed to attend his classes, yet he was truant the day before.”

"I don’t know about that. We attended different schools.”

"It says here you were thirteen. Old enough, I’d think, to ask why the woman who’d served as your mother would just up and run off.”

"Oh, I asked all right. I asked the social worker who yanked me out of class because you reported us. She brought me here and packed my things. I cried. I begged. I demanded to know what was going on. I was told nothing. Zero. That’s it, Sheriff. That’s all I know. Until a week ago I didn’t even know Mom Fran never came home.” Emmy’s voice thinned at that point. She stopped speaking.

"Why did Jed wait so long to phone Joleen? Was Frannie in the habit of staying out? Did she often leave you three kids on your own to fix supper?”

Emmy opened her mouth to flatly deny the last two questions. As to the first, she was thrown painfully back to the night they’d all been so frantic, when Fran hadn’t phoned or come home. Emmy had to clear her throat twice to control her temper at Fielder. She steadied the box filled with her cooking spices and kitchen utensils against the porch railing. "From the tone of these questions, I think I’d prefer to have an attorney present before I answer anything else.”

Fielder slammed his black notebook shut. "Suit yourself. I suppose since you’re moving in next to Gray Wolf he’s probably advised you already. From where I sit, clamming up only makes matters worse. I will get answers.”

"Riley hasn’t advised me. Anyway, I understand his expertise is in the field of business law. I’ll ask Jed to recommend someone when I see him tonight.”

"Your unwillingness just drives another spike in Jed’s shaky defense.”

"That’s ridiculous! You can’t blame him because I want representation. Jed was plenty worried when Mom Fran didn’t come home. But he was the oldest. He had to act brave so Will and I wouldn’t fall apart. What would you have done at seventeen, Sheriff? Jed was very responsible for his age. Now, excuse me, I’m finished with this interview. I’ll phone your office tomorrow and leave the name of my lawyer.”

Sheriff Fielder shook a finger at Emmy. "Just see that you don’t take a hike. Not until I’m satisfied I have answers to every last question. Somebody killed Fran Granger in my town and I’m damn well going to find out who did it.”

"I hope you do, and I mean that sincerely.” Turning her back on the men, Emmy pushed open the screen door with her foot and carried the box into the kitchen. She didn’t realize how hard her hands were shaking until she heard Fielder’s car start and she couldn’t lift the curtain aside to watch him go.

Emmy unloaded the carton she’d brought in, thinking all the while how foolish she’d been to pull up stakes on a whim. The sheriff wasn’t going to help her find out anything about her background. He only seemed bent on pinning Fran’s murder on Jed. Did that mean Jed was in a more serious predicament than Gwyn had indicated?

"Lord,” Emmy groaned. Whatever had possessed her to treat the sheriff in such a cavalier manner? Now he thought she was hiding something. She wasn’t. And she didn’t exactly have the funds to hire an attorney.

On her return to finish unloading her pickup, Emmy was surprised to again see Riley’s daughter draped over the fence.

"Are you in trouble?” the child asked in hushed tones.

"No, honey. The sheriff stopped by to say hello.”

"He sounded mad.”

"I guess he did. But don’t you worry about it, okay?”

"My daddy helps people who got problems. I can ask him to help you.”

"No, don’t,” Emmy said harshly, grabbing for a small box that tumbled from the stack she’d gathered. "I... mean, don’t bother your daddy. I’m sure he has more than enough on his hands.”

"‘kay. Mrs. Yates is washing windows. She said since Miss Gwyn knows you, I can visit. I could help you unpack, Miss Emmy,” the child said in a wistful voice.

"Call me Emmy without the miss, Alanna.”

"That’s not proper, Daddy said.”

"Um.” Manners. Was it moving into this house that reminded Emmy of how hard Fran had worked to teach the three of them proprieties? At times it must have seemed a daunting task. Emmy capitulated with a smile. "By all means, tell Mrs. Yates that Miss Emmy cordially invites you to assist me with the task of moving.”

"Huh? So, can I say you want me to help you unpack?”

Emmy bobbed her head, remembering too well what it was like to be a lonely kid. "I’m only going to unpack my clothes, though. Gwyn invited me to dinner, so I have to allow enough time to shower and dress.”

"You got a pretty dress?” Alanna asked, cocking her head to one side.

"A dress?” Emmy halted on the lower step and half turned, causing her stack of boxes to wobble. She had worn uniforms of a sort at the casino. The few dresses she owned were glittery cocktail wear.

"Me’n Daddy ate there when Miss Gwyn and Mr. Jed got married. Daddy wore his best suit. He bought me a pink dress with lots of ruffles.”

Emmy heaved a sigh of relief as she set the boxes inside the house. "Weddings call for special dresses, Alanna. When you just go to someone’s house for dinner, a fancy dress isn’t necessary.”

"Oh. I like dresses. My prettiest ones are too little now.” She dropped to the ground. "Daddy told Mrs. Yates to take me to the store to buy some. She bought me overalls.” The girl gave a disgusted sigh. "Now I look like a boy.”

Emmy laughed out loud. "No one would ever mistake you for a boy, Alanna. You’re a girlie girl.”

"I am?” she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the noise of an approaching car. "Hey, my daddy’s home!” Alanna ran to the edge of the driveway, jumped up and down and waved madly.

Far from ready to chat over the back fence with Riley, Emmy hurried inside with the last of her boxes. She peered at him through a crack in the kitchen curtains, taking care to not be seen.

A midnight-blue Chrysler convertible slowed dramatically. When Riley parked and leaned over to open the passenger door for his daughter, Emmy saw he’d removed his suit coat and had the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up above his elbows. The man had nicely muscled arms. Emmy had always thought that. She’d been crazy about Riley’s body. There had been something about the broad set of his shoulders and the narrowness of his hips; even at the age of sixteen he’d turned female heads.

Emmy let the curtain fall. She was dwelling far and away too much on the adult Riley’s body. Did he work out to keep fit? Had he grown chest hair? If he ever found out she’d eavesdropped on him and Will one evening, when the two boys were discussing Riley’s lack of chest and facial hair, she’d die of embarrassment. Jed and Will both shaved early. Riley envied them in the worst way. Emmy had felt bad for him. She’d baked his favorite peanut-butter cookies to console him, then lacked the nerve to tell him she’d spied. He’d thanked her for the treat with the half grin that always made her insides queasy. She paused in shuffling boxes to speculate whether peanut-butter cookies were still Riley’s favorite.

"Enough already,” Emmy grumbled, striding into the bedroom to sort out something to wear to Jed’s. She made every effort to blank her mind to all memories out of the past as she let hot water from the shower massage her tight neck.

After trying on and discarding several outfits, she settled on toast-brown linen pants and a buttery-yellow blouse. She clasped her hair at the nape of her neck with a broad gold clasp, and chose a gold herringbone necklace and bracelet Richard had given her for Christmas. She dug a brown cardigan out of a box. It was cashmere—in case Alanna had been right about dinner at the Louis home being dressy.

Emmy started her pickup and let it cough itself into running smoothly before she backed out of the drive. She saw someone lift a blind in Riley’s house. Had Alanna told him she’d moved in next door? Probably. The kid was a chatterbox. Emmy chuckled; people used to say the same about her. She still ran off at the mouth when she got nervous.

Ten minutes later, when she guided her old pickup through the impressive, monogrammed wrought-iron gates at the bottom of the hill leading up to Beaumarais, Emmy’s nerves were jangling. She didn’t recall the house being quite so intimidating. Maybe because, as a kid, she’d only viewed it from afar. No one liked Jed’s Uncle Walter, the old geezer who owned the property. Least of all Jed. He’d felt cast off by his mother’s brother, who referred to Jed as a bastard. Yet now, this all belonged to him.

Horses grazed contentedly in an adjacent pasture. A dog frolicked in the side yard. Lights blazed from tall, mullioned windows, and if she looked closely, she could count the many chandeliers.

Emmy’s battered pickup looked out of place in the broad circular drive. Her knees banged together as she walked to the door to face a man she hadn’t seen in almost twenty years.

Family. Jed is family. And you’re the poor relation, a little voice whispered.

When Emmy’s tentative knock was answered by a regal-looking woman who bade her come in and have a seat in the parlor, Emmy was positive she didn’t belong. She ought to have her head examined for accepting Gwyn’s invitation.

From the parlor, Emmy could see into the dining room. Tapered candles lit a gleaming mahogany table elegantly set with crystal goblets and eggshell-white china. "Alanna was right,” Emmy muttered. This house called for a pretty dress.

 


 


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