Authors: Denise Moncrief
Tags: #Suspense, #Contemporary
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
An Impostor in Town
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Denise Moncrief
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Crimson Rose Edition, 2013
Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-915-5
Published in the United States of America
Praise for Denise Moncrief
“This is the second book I have read by Denise Moncrief, she has a way of telling a mystery in a short story that keeps you turning the pages.”
~Reviews by Crystal
“Ms. Moncrief isn't afraid to make her characters suffer as she weaves together all the pertinent details in a tight, well-written plot.”
~Ingrid Michaels, Goodreads
“Denise has written a story that is brilliantly constructed so that the reader not only goes along for the ride but feels every emotion this woman is having. Denise does a wonderful job of weaving the tale in such a way that when the book is finished you have to ask yourself...could that really happen?”
~Brenda Youngerman, Ponderings of an Author
(on Deceptions of the Heart)
For Poncho and Chief.
You are dearly loved and sorely missed.
Peyton Chandler entered her house through the carport door and dropped her purse on the kitchen counter. A pile of unwashed dishes awaited her in the sink. Tackling the housework would have to wait another day. Every muscle in her tired body groaned.
She glanced at the envelope in her hand postmarked New Orleans. Johanna’s letters arrived twice a year without fail. The return addresses were always a post office box—the zip codes from all over the country. She ripped the envelope open with a shaky hand. A picture of Jake nestled between the folds of a short note.
I need four thousand dollars. J.
She would have cut the woman off years ago if it weren’t for the boy.
Her eyes riveted on Jake’s likeness. He had slate gray eyes, sandy brown hair, and attractive Powell features like his biological father. Trim and tall. Handsome already. Nothing about Jake resembled her husband, but then Jake wasn’t her husband’s child. She was already pregnant when Mason Osborne married her.
Thoughts of Mason sent shivers down her spine. She wondered if he was still looking for them. His anger with her when he discovered her pregnancy by another man was only the beginning of his animosity toward her. Mason’s abuse only grew harder when he discovered Jake’s biological father was his nephew.
She left Mason before Jake was born, but he’d found her and dragged her back to the ranch with him. He had promised her he’d kill her if she left him again. Worse yet, he’d take her child away from her. She couldn’t let that happen, so she took the chance, got some help from Johanna, and ran anyway.
She counted the years.
Jake would be eleven years old now. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him. He was so young when we left Albuquerque.
She trudged down the hallway to her bedroom and laid the picture on her nightstand. The photo would go in the album with the others—an album she didn’t dare show anyone.
Guilt pressed down on her psyche. She needed a shower. Running the water as hot as she could stand, she scoured her skin until it was raw and allowed the cleansing liquid to sluice over her body and wash her remorse down the drain. But no matter how hard she scrubbed, there was still plenty of regret to stain her conscience.
She stumbled out of the stall and tripped on the surround. The heat dizzied her. She wrapped her robe around her and leaned against the bathroom counter, unwilling to face her reflection in the mirror.
The phone rang in the other room. She raced to catch it before the last ring, but picked up a second too late. Out of breath, she dropped onto the edge of the bed and clutched the comforter. Her skin throbbed from the abuse in the shower. She grabbed a bottle from the nightstand and smoothed on lotion to soothe the abuse. With a weary sigh, she gazed out the window. The nearby mountains rose in the distance, but the scene’s usual therapy provided no comfort. Jake's picture beckoned her to take another look.
Thoughts of her baby snatched at her heart. She wiped a stray tear from the surface of the photo. Everything she did, she did for him—to hide him and protect him from the evil men that would destroy her by destroying him.
Peyton drew in a deep breath, pulled into the only vacant space in the parking lot, and surveyed the scene. A local service organization’s two hundred plus membership supported the annual chili cook-off. Clustered groups of people congregated under tents. Spurts of laughter punctuated a steady buzz of conversation. She had missed a substantial part of the festivities, arriving just in time for the clean up. The large pots used to cook chili were absent. Empty foam bowls and plastic cups lay scattered about the park grounds.
The door of her Chevy Trail Blazer creaked as she shoved it open. She leaned against the vehicle a second and then forced her legs to move. Her nametag bounced at the end of a lanyard with each step she took. A slight breeze promised the chill of an early fall. She fiddled with the last snap on her uniform jacket and avoided eye contact with some of her more nosy neighbors.
Passing a group of partiers, she thought she caught a few knowing looks tossed her way. Did her nonchalant act fool anybody? She had braved the crowd today for one reason—to see Brian Parker. Did everyone on the planet know of her infatuation with the man?
She spotted her co-worker, Emily, deep in conversation with Conner Boyd. Emily waved from across the lawn, a grin creasing her smooth cover-girl features. She plastered on a smile before strolling over to them. After giving Emily a light hug, she turned her attention to Conner because it was the polite thing to do. “How are you?”
“Okay.” He winked at Emily and headed toward the beverage table.
Emily arched one finely chiseled eyebrow before making her announcement. “He’s in the kitchen.”
Could she pretend ignorance? She didn’t think so, but she tried the tactic anyhow. “Who?”
Emily pointed toward the community center before she scooted away.
I wonder if she heard us talking. Oh well! So she’s on to me. Big deal. As long as he doesn’t catch on, what does it matter? I don’t have to find him. I can leave now, and he might never even know I changed my mind and came to this thing anyway.
She didn’t leave. Instead she sauntered toward the building, muttering to herself about Emily’s unspoken insinuations. The clang of large, institutional-sized pots bumping against each other filtered out the door. Standing in the threshold with the brilliant sunshine behind her, she tried to adjust her focus to peer into the dark interior.
A man whistled an inconsistent melody. She couldn’t see him, but she was certain the whistler was Brian Parker. The tune stopped mid-note. “Well, if it isn’t my angel of mercy. I thought you weren’t coming!”
She overlooked the angel of mercy reference. She was no angel. “Well, I changed my mind. A girl can do that, you know.” She shifted out of the glare so she could see his face.
He grinned at her. “How’re things going with you?”
With one smile, he brightened her entire day. She ignored his predictable question, the one he always asked, looked at the mountain of pots and pans next to the double sink, and sighed. His crutches leaned against a nearby table.
Couldn’t someone help the poor guy out? I can’t believe he’s doing this alone.
“Here, let me give you a hand.” Her tired body rebelled, but her willing heart pushed her forward.
He turned to his chore and sunk his hands into the soapy water. “Grab a scrubber and tackle that pan, would you?” He tilted his head toward the other basin.
Looking at the full sink, she hesitated, trying to still her thumping heart. Now that she had made the offer, how was she going to handle it? She didn’t want to pull her watch off. It was cheap and she could replace it. Taking a deep breath, she started to plunge her hands into the water to extract the soiled pan.
“Hey, you’ll get your watch wet.” In a flash he had unbuckled the watchband. The swiftness of his action sucked the breath from her.
His expression turned from silly to serious in a heartbeat. She stared at her scarred wrist in horror and backed away from him—her hands still soapy and dripping. When she got to the open door, she turned and ran all the way to her car, but in her haste she left her handbag behind. Her insides lurched. To retrieve the purse she would have to go back into the kitchen and face him.
When he hobbled up beside her, she was kicking her locked car door. He leaned on his crutches, gulping in ragged snatches of breath. “Peyton—”
“What?” She kept her hot face turned toward her vehicle.
“Listen, I understand—” A ragged cough escaped him.
She twisted to face him. “How could you possibly understand? Unless you’ve survived it yourself, there’s no way you could ever understand.”
He took a step backward and opened his mouth to speak, but she bolted before he could get the first word out and rushed to the kitchen. When she returned, she stumbled as she passed him and the contents of her purse fell to the ground at his feet. She scrambled to recover the spilled items, but they slipped from her soapy hands.
“I think we need to talk about this.”
She crammed the last item in her bag and stood. “No.” She fumbled with her keys and then yanked the door open with a jerk and a pop.
It had been a mistake to go to the cook-off. It was a mistake to crush on Brian. Her life had been a series of one horrible mistake after another. She couldn’t afford to make any more.
As an officer of the law, he would know what the tell-tale scar on her wrist meant. He would ask questions, and that was something she didn’t want. She vowed to put her warm feelings for him aside. She had to do it, not just for herself, but for her son as well. No one in Durango must ever know about Jake.
She threw the car into reverse and left him with a puzzled frown on his face.
Autumn had turned to winter. Peyton rubbed the condensation from the window and studied the icy roadway. Her vehicle had stalled only three miles from the city limits. No matter what she did, the recalcitrant vehicle wouldn’t start. She couldn’t walk the short distance to the hospital in this weather, so she grabbed her cell phone from the cup holder and dialed nine-one-one. After what seemed like an interminable wait, someone knocked on her window. She turned and stared into Brian's eyes. Her stomach flipped as if she’d hit the dip on a roller coaster.
She punched the power window button and ice crackled as the glass retreated into the door. “Battery’s dead.” Her words puffed into the air, barely a whisper.
He nodded and retrieved a set of jumper cables from the trunk of his car. After fifteen minutes, he tapped on her window again. “I think it’s more than the battery. Can I give you a lift?” His voice held none of its usual warmth.
She didn’t want to be alone with him, but she had no choice. Her insides jerked. She got out of her vehicle and slipped on the frozen shoulder of the road as she took her first tentative step. After she regained her balance, she made it a few more feet before she skidded to a stop. He slid on ice and bumped into her. The sudden contact caused her to gasp.
He righted them both by grabbing her elbow. “What’s the matter?”
“I need my stethoscope and my name tag.” She pointed toward the dead vehicle. The scope and the tag dangled from the rearview mirror. Without a word, he took her keys from her hand and retrieved them.
Once they were both settled in his vehicle, he smiled at her. It wasn’t his usual wide grin, but maybe the small offering meant he hadn’t lost all respect for her. Her heart rate slowed until he hit her with his usual greeting. “How’s my angel of mercy?”
She tried to speak, but there was a catch in her voice. His nickname for her made her heart ache all over again. She pointed to her throat. “Laryngitis.” It was a good excuse. Now she wouldn’t have to talk…much.