Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: HQN Books (June 28, 2016)
As Laurel Ridge embraces a stranger hungry for answers, a sinister truth is awakened
A hard-hitting reporter, Kate Beaumont unearths the deepest lies and brings harsh truths to light. But the story that lures her to the gentle town of Laurel Ridge, Pennsylvania, is closer to her heart than anyone knows. The details of her half brother’s sudden death have never made sense. She owes him justice, yet the one man who can help her is the stubborn sheriff she can’t stand.
Protecting his town is Mac Whiting’s top priority. Everything else—including pacifying a beautiful crusader on a mission best left resting in peace—is secondary. But as Kate’s search embeds her in his world and attracts a skilled criminal, she needs Mac’s protection. Drawn together by deadly secrets, they must find a way to trust each other before a killer silences them both.
The few belongings Kate had brought with her were quickly unpacked and stowed away in the cottage. She slid a suitcase into the back of the bedroom closet to get it out of the way. The rest of her things had gone into storage in Baltimore.
She hadn’t taken anything from Tom Reilley’s house except for Jason’s things. The rest had gone to a sale. The fewer reminders of life there, the better, as far as she was concerned.
Jason had probably felt the same way when he’d left his father’s house for the last time. It couldn’t have held too many happy memories for him. Although she hoped he might have cherished, as she did, the after-school hours they’d spent at home together.
Kate walked back into the living room. The cot tage was small and compact. The living room had just enough space for a television, sofa and chairs in one end and a bookcase and desk at the other, where she’d immediately set up her computer. Jason would no doubt have set up in the same place. He couldn’t bear to be offline, and he wanted a laptop for gaming.
If a person liked cottage style, the place was per fectly decorated, with cheerful chintz fabric on the fur niture, white end tables and Cape Cod curtains on the windows. There was a small kitchen with a nook for a table and chairs, and a bedroom and bath. The shrub bery and vines she’d noted on the outside increased a sense of isolation, especially where they brushed against the windows.
It was quiet—too quiet for her tastes. She was used to the constant noise and movement of the city. This much solitude would take some getting used to.
Jason wouldn’t have minded it, she knew. As in troverted as he’d been, he’d have welcomed it. Close contact with other people stressed him almost beyond bearing. College dorm life must have been a nightmare for him. It had taken time and maturity for her to un derstand that, but Tom never had. He’d always insisted Jason could be like other kids if he just tried harder.
Small wonder Jason had taken refuge in his fantasy world. There, he could be in control. He could shut out the outside world and focus on the voices in his imagi nation. If she’d understood that earlier, if his father had grasped it at all…
She pushed the thought away. She couldn’t go back. All she could do for Jason now was find out why he’d died, and the key to that had to be in his video diary.
Reluctantly, Kate turned her laptop on. The video diary had been Jason’s closely guarded secret. She’d known it existed, but she’d never had so much as a glimpse of it until two weeks ago, when she’d started clearing Tom’s house for the sale. It still felt as if she were violating Jason’s privacy by watching it.
She clicked the diary file, and Jason’s face ap peared on her screen, looking as he’d so often looked in reality—soft brown hair standing on end as if he’d been running his fingers through it, hazel eyes magni fied by his dark-rimmed glasses, his sensitive mouth unsmiling.
The first time she’d watched it she hadn’t been able to get all the way through even one entry—she’d been crying too hard. It wasn’t that much easier now, but at least she was able to control the tears. Now a session of trying to understand just left her wrung out and ex hausted, her throat tight, her eyes burning.
Even if it hadn’t been for the grief, understanding would have been difficult, due to Jason’s refusal to be ordinary in referring to people. He almost never used names, instead dubbing the people he met with the iden tities of the mythic characters from his favorite books and games. Some Kate could understand a little, like the characters from fairy tales or Tolkien’s books, while others left her banging her head against the wall.
Now that she’d met the cast of characters at Laurel Ridge Financial, she might have a chance of identifying the people he referred to. Maybe even begin to under stand what was happening in his life that disturbed him so toward the end of that summer that he would have turned to pills to dull the pain. Or to end it permanently.
She’d like to believe the overdose had been acciden tal. Unfortunately, she couldn’t convince herself of that. Jason had been clean for so long. He knew, if anyone did, the results of combining alcohol with those strong prescription meds.
Telling her stepfather her feelings would just have made the whole situation worse. Better to keep her opin ion to herself until—unless—she knew for sure.
She clicked the video to start it, and Jason’s soft, dif fident voice sounded, wrenching her heart.
“The King was upset today, and I’m not sure why.” Jason’s eyes were serious, concerned. This had been about midway through his internship. She paused the tape and pulled out a notebook to jot down her impres sions.
The King. Well, that would probably be Bart Gor don, wouldn’t it? He seemed to be running things now.
But what had been his position relative to Russell Sheldon? She didn’t know, and such a simple thing could mean a world of difference in interpretation. She noted a query—find out who was in charge when Sheldon was still with the firm. Probably anyone would know. Like Mac Whiting, for instance, but she dismissed the thought. He was the last person she’d go to for help.
A firm knock on the door interrupted her line of thought. Mrs. Anderson again? She’d already been here twice, once with a freshly laundered blanket and again with a loaf of pumpkin bread. It was easy to see why she’d gotten on Jason’s nerves.
Kate got up, then turned back and closed the file she’d been watching. No one need know about the diary, not now, maybe not ever.
She opened the door, prepared to be polite to her landlady, and found the woman from Financial Ser vices, Lina Oberlin, waiting.
“Ms. Oberlin.” She was frankly surprised. She’d hoped the woman meant her comment about getting together, but she certainly hadn’t expected a visit so soon. “Please, come in. How did you know where to find me?” She hadn’t said a word about where she was staying while she’d been in the office, had she?
“It’s all over Blackburn House already, I’m afraid.” With a restrained smile, the woman stepped inside. “Please, call me Lina.”
“Lina,” she repeated. “How would anyone at Black burn House know?” If she sounded a little suspicious, it was nothing to how she felt. Were people watching her?
“Obviously you’re not used to the way news spreads in a place like Laurel Ridge. After all, we’re right next door. I’m sure someone saw you moving in.” Lina shrugged. “People in a small town are interested in their neighbors.”
“Obviously so.” Kate gestured to the sofa. “Please, sit down.”
Lina had apparently come straight from work, since she still wore the tailored suit she’d had on earlier. She sat down, looking around the room with frank curiosity. “This is really quite nice, isn’t it?” Her gaze seemed to linger on the desk, and Kate was relieved that she had closed the file. “I haven’t seen the inside before, but it’s roomier than I’d have expected.”
“You were never inside when Jason lived here?” Kate sat down opposite the woman.
Lina’s lips twitched in what might have been a smile. “I can just imagine the talk that would have spread if I’d come to visit a young male colleague. I’m afraid fi nancial consultants are expected to be models of recti tude in a place like Laurel Ridge.”
“Yes. I’d say Mr. Gordon made it clear that adverse publicity was frowned on.” She couldn’t seem to keep the resentment from her tone. Gordon’s facile sympa thy had disappeared very quickly at any faint sugges tion of fault on the part of the firm.
“That’s really why I’ve come so quickly.” Lina leaned forward, her pale face intent. “I’m afraid Bart reacted badly, and I wanted to explain. It’s not entirely his fault, you know. Our clients didn’t like seeing the newspaper stories about one of our staff in such a situation.” She shook her head, rueful. “Sorry. I don’t want to hurt you, but that’s the truth.”
Kate suppressed her irritation as best she could. “I understand being concerned for the reputation of the firm.” But Bart Gordon had overreacted, it seemed to her, and she really wanted to know why.
“But you think he was over-the-top.” Lina seemed to know what she was thinking. “I’m afraid he was so annoyed because he was the one who suggested taking Jason on as an intern. He talked Mr. Sheldon into it. Ap parently Jason’s adviser was an old fraternity brother of Bart’s, and Bart agreed as a favor to him. Then, when things went badly…”
She let that trail off, and Kate managed not to point out that things had gone far more badly for Jason than for the firm. She hoped to get information from the woman, not antagonize her.
“Aside from the way it ended, how was Jason doing as an intern? I’m sure you have an opinion, working so closely with him.”
“Well, not really all that closely, I’m afraid. It was actually Russell Sheldon who seemed to take the most interest in Jason. He took the time to work with the young man, and according to him, Jason did very well. He always seemed very conscientious to me—almost too preoccupied with his work at times, I’d say.”
That sounded like Jason. He’d focus on a task to the exclusion of everything else.
“I’m glad Jason found a mentor here. I really should thank Mr. Sheldon personally, then. Is he still living in town?” It would be as good an excuse as any to probe into what the man remembered of Jason’s time here.
Lina looked doubtful. “Yes, Russell Sheldon is quite a fixture in town. Everyone knows him. But I don’t know that it’s a good idea for you to visit him.”
She paused, then seemed to realize she’d have to explain further if she expected Kate to drop the idea.
“The trouble is that Russell has been failing mentally for the past few years. He probably should have retired earlier than he did, to be honest, but he had such a good rapport with our older clients that we hated to see him go. They’d trusted him for years, and it wasn’t easy to convince them that they’d be quite safe in Bart’s hands.”
“Surely a short visit with him wouldn’t hurt…” Kate began, but Lina was already shaking her head.
“I understand the poor man is becoming increasingly erratic. Apparently the least disruption of his usual rou tine causes him to react very emotionally. In fact, his son has been trying to get him into an assisted living facility. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to cause Mr. Shel don any distress, and I don’t imagine he even remem bers Jason at this point.”
“I see.” Somehow she didn’t think she wanted to take Lina’s word for it, as helpful as she seemed. “I’ve hoped people who knew my brother during those last weeks might have noticed some indication of trouble. Anything that seemed out of his normal routine, any change in his attitude…”
There had to be something—something that had pushed Jason into his final act.
“I wish I could be of more help.” Lina spread her hands in a gesture of helplessness. “In retrospect I do think Jason seemed a bit more preoccupied than usual toward the end of the summer, but then he’d been send ing out résumés and looking for a position, so that’s only natural.”
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Marta Perry’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Wednesday, June 8th: Reading Reality – review & excerpt
Thursday, June 9th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Friday, June 10th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, June 13th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Tuesday, June 14th: A. Holland Reads
Tuesday, June 14th: Booked on a Feeling
Wednesday, June 15th: Open Book Society
Thursday, June 16th: Diary of a Stay At Home Mom
Friday, June 17th: The Sassy Bookster – excerpt
Monday, June 20th: Romancing the Book – review & excerpt
Tuesday, June 21st: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, June 22nd: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, June 23rd: A Bookaholic Swede – excerpt
Friday, June 24th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Tuesday, June 28th: Write Read Life
Tuesday, June 28th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, June 29th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Thursday, June 30th: Books a la Mode – excerpt