Marta Perry realized she wanted to be a writer at age eight, when she read her first Nancy Drew novel. A lifetime spent in rural Pennsylvania and her own Pennsylvania Dutch roots led Marta to the books she writes now about the Amish. When she’s not writing, Marta is active in the life of her church and enjoys traveling and spending time with her three children and six beautiful grandchildren. Visit her online at www.martaperry.com.
Buried Sins: The Three Sisters Inn (Love Inspired Suspense Series)by Marta Perry
WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE
Had her brand-new husband been involved in something shady? Before Caroline Hampton could confront him, he was killed in a car crash or so it was claimed. Unsettling incidentsescalating in dangerwarned her he could be very much alive. And so Caroline fl ed for the safety of her sisters' Amish country inn. But… See more details below
WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE
Had her brand-new husband been involved in something shady? Before Caroline Hampton could confront him, he was killed in a car crash or so it was claimed. Unsettling incidentsescalating in dangerwarned her he could be very much alive. And so Caroline fl ed for the safety of her sisters' Amish country inn. But someone who suspected herhandsome police chief Zachary Burkhalterwas waiting for Caroline. Waiting for her to slip up. And watching her every move. Daring her to trust him with all of the truth.
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She was being followed. Caroline Hampton pulled her wool jacket around her, fingers tight on the Navajo embroidery, but even that couldn't dissipate the chill that worked its way down her spine.
Santa Fe could be cold in early March, but the shiver that touched her had nothing to do with the temperature. She detoured around the tour group in front of the central monument of the plaza. Ordinarily, she might stop there to do a little people-watching, her fingers itching for a pad and a charcoal to capture the scene. But not when she felt that inimical gaze upon her.
Evading a vendor determined to sell her a carnita, she hurried across the square, only half her attention on the colors, movement and excitement that she loved about the old city. She was letting her active imagination run wild; that was all. This persistent sense that someone watched her was some odd aftereffect of shock and grief.
She stopped at a magazine stand, picking up a newspaper and pretending to study it as she used it for a screen to survey the crowd. There, see? No one was paying any attention to her, or at least, no more attention than her tousled mass of red curls and artistic flair with clothing usually merited. Everything was fine
Her heart thudded, loud in her ears. Everything was not fine. The man had stopped at a flower stand but his gaze was fixed on her, not on the mixed bouquet the vendor thrust at him. Short, stocky, probably in his forties, dressed in the casual Western style that was so common herehe looked like a hundred other men in the plaza at this moment.
But he wasn't. She'd spotted him beforewhen she was leaving the gallery after work, when she returned tothe apartment she and Tony had shared overlooking the river.
This wasn't grief, or an overactive imagination. This was real.
She shoved the newspaper back on the rack, hurrying toward the Palace of the Governors. It was bustling with tourists, its entrance turned into a maze by the Native American craftspeople who spread their wares there. She'd lose him in the crowd; she'd go back to the gallery .
But he'd been at the gallery. He knew where she worked, where she lived. The chill deepened. Her fingers touched the cell phone that was tucked inside the top pocket of her leather shoulder bag. Call the police?
Her stomach seemed to turn at that, emerging memories of the moment they'd arrived at her apartment door to tell her that her husband was dead. To ask her questions she couldn't answer about Tony Gibson.
She wound her way among the craftspeople, nodding to some of the regulars. Ask them for help? But what could they do? They'd want to call the police.
The knot in her stomach tightened as her mind skirted the older, darker memory that lurked like a snake in the recesses of her mind. She wouldn't think of that, wouldn't let herself remember
She risked a quick look around. The man was no longer in sight. The tour group, apparently released by their guide, flooded to the crafts vendors on a tide of enthusiasm, swamping everything in their path.
All right. She'd slip around the Museum of Fine Arts and make her way to the city lot where she'd left her car. It would be fine. She rounded the corner.
The man stepped from a doorway to grab her arm.
Caroline took breath to scream, jerking against his grip, trying to remember the proper response from the self-defense class she'd taken last winter.
"You don't want to scream." His voice was pitched low enough to hide under the chatter of the passing crowd. Cold eyes, small and black as two ripe olives, narrowed. "Think of all the questions you'd have to answer about Tony if you did."
"Tony." Her mind seemed to skip a beat, then settle on the name. "What do you have to do with my husband? What do you want?"
"Just the answers to a couple of questions." He smiled, nodded, as if they were two acquaintances who'd happened to meet on the street. "We can stay here in full view of the crowds." The smile had an edge, like the faint scar that crossed his cheek. "Then you'll feel safe."
She summoned courage. Act as if you're in control, even if you're not. "Or you can beat it before I decide to scream."
She yanked at her arm. A swift kick to his shins might do ittoo bad she didn't have heels on today. She'd
"Just answer me one thing." His tone turned to gravel, and his fingers twisted her wrist, the stab of pain shocking her. "Where is Tony Gibson?"
She could only stare at him. "Tony? Tony's dead."
Fresh grief gripped her heart on the words. The fact that Tony hadn't been the man she thought him, had lied from the first moment they'd metnone of that could alter the fact that she grieved for him.
Incredibly, the man smiled. "Nice try. Where is he?" The fingers twisted again on her wristher right hand, she'd never be able to finish the project she was working on if he broke it, she
Think. Focus. She'd pray, but God had deserted her a long time ago.
"I'm telling you the truth. Tony died over two weeks ago. His car went off the road up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Check the papers if you don't believe me. They covered the story."
With a photograph showing the burned-out car that was all that was left of her month-long marriage.
"I saw it. A handy accident is a nice out for a man who'd made Santa Fe too hot to hold him." He sounded almost admiring. "Maybe the others will even buy that. Not me." He leaned closer, and she fought not to show her fear. "Your husband owes me a hundred thousand. I want it. All of it. From him. Or from you."
He released her so suddenly that she nearly fell. She stumbled back a step, rubbing her wrist, trying to find the words that would convince this madman that Tony was dead and that she could no more produce a hundred thousand dollars than she could fly.
"Tell Tony." He moved away, raising his hand in a casual goodbye. "Tell him I'll be in touch."
Before she could speak he was gone, melting away in the crowd of camera-laden tourists who rounded the corner. She stood, letting them flow past her, forcing her mind to work.
Run. That was all it would say. That's what you do in a situation like this. You run, you find a new place, you start over.
As she had when she'd come to Santa Fe. As she always did. She shoved the strap of her bag back on her shoulder and walked quickly in the direction of the car park. She could go north, head for Colorado, get lost in Denver. Or west to LA.
An image formed in her mind, startling herpeaceful green fields dotted with white barns, farmhouses, silos. Gray Amish buggies rattling along narrow roads.
She had a choice. For the first time in years she had a choice. She could choose to run home.
Zachary Burkhalter, Chief of Police, pulled the squad car into his favorite place to watch for drivers speeding through his town. The hardware store shielded him from the view of anyone coming east who was inclined to think the residents of tiny Churchville, Pennsylvania, weren't serious about the twenty-five-miles-per-hour speed limit.
They'd be wrong. One of his charges from the township supervisors was to make sure this isolated section of Lancaster County didn't become a speed-way for tourists who were eager to catch a sixty-mile-per-hour glimpse of an Amish wagon or a farmer in black pants and straw hat plowing his field behind a team of horses.
No favors, no leeway, just the law. That was what Zach preferreda nice, clean-cut line to enforce, with none of the gray fuzziness that so often marred human relationships.
Ruthie, with her mop of brown curls and her huge brown eyes, popped into his head as surely as if she were sitting there. She was almost six now, the light God had brought into his life, and he knew that sooner or later she'd start asking questions about how her parents died. He'd rehearsed his answers a thousand times, but he still wasn't sure they were right. He didn't like not being sure.
A blur of red whizzing past brought his attention back to the present. With something like relief at the distraction, he pulled out onto Main Street in a spray of gravel. He didn't even need to touch the radar for that one. Where did the driver think she was going in such a hurry?
He gave a tiny blare on the siren, saw the woman's head turn as she glanced at the rearview mirror. She flipped on the turn signal and slowed to pull off the road.
He drew up behind her, taking his time. New Mexico license platesnow, there was something you didn't see in Pennsylvania every day. For some reason the image stirred a vague response in his mind, but he couldn't quite place it.
Never mind. It would come. He got out, automatically checking the red compact for anything out of place.
The woman's hair matched her car, swinging past her shoulders in a tangle of curls. She had rolled down the driver's-side window by the time he neared it. Her long fingers tapped on the side mirror, as if she had places to go and people to see, and a silver bangle slid along her left wrist with the movement.
Memorable, that's what she was. He sorted through the computer banks in his mind, filled with all the data anyone could want about his township, and came up with the answer. Caroline Hampton, youngest of the Hampton sisters who owned the Three Sisters Inn, just down the road. The one who lived in New Mexico.
"I wasn't speeding, was I?" She looked up at him, green eyes wide.
So apparently they were going to start with innocence. "I'm afraid you were, ma'am. Can I see your license and registration, please?"
She grabbed the oversize leather bag on the seat next to her and began rummaging through it, her movements quick, almost jerky. Irritation, because he'd caught her speeding? Somehow he didn't think that was it.
So Caroline Hampton had come home again. She'd been at the inn at Christmas. They hadn't been introduced, but he remembered her. Any man wouldthat wild mane of red curls; the slim, lithe figure; the green eyes that at the moment looked rather stormy.
"Here." She snapped the word as she held out the cards.
His hand almost brushed hers when he took them. And there was the thing that set his intuition on alert her almost infinitesimal recoil from the sleeve of his uniform jacket.
Sometimes perfectly innocent people reacted as if they were serial killers when confronted by the police. It wasn't unusual, but it was something to note.
"How fast was I going? Surely not that much over the speed limit." She tried a smile, but he had the feeling her heart wasn't in it. "I'm afraid I didn't see the sign."
Amusement touched him at the effort. He didn't let it show, of course. He had the official poker face down pat, but even if he hadn't, generations of his Pennsylvania Dutch forebears had ensured that his stolid expression didn't give away much.
"The speed limit drops to twenty-five when you enter Churchville, Ms. Hampton."
Funny. In spite of some superficial resemblance, she wasn't much like her sisters. Andrea, the efficient businesswoman; Rachel, the gentle nurturer. He'd come to know them over the past year, to consider them acquaintances, if not close enough to be friends.
"You know who I am." Those jewel-like green eyes surveyed him warily.
He nodded. "I know your grandmother. And your sisters."
No, Caroline Hampton was a different creature. Jeans, leather boots, chunky turquoise jewelry that spilled out over the cream shirt she woreshe definitely belonged someplace other than this quiet Pennsylvania Dutch backwater.
"I'm on my way to see my grandmother. I guess I got a little too eager." The smile was a bit more assured, as if now that they'd touched common ground, she had a bit of leverage.
He ripped off the ticket and handed it to her. "I'm sure Mrs. Unger would prefer that you arrived in one piece."
The flash of anger in those green eyes was expected. What wasn't expected was something that moved beneath itsome vulnerability in the generous mouth, some hint of what?
Fear? Why would the likes of Caroline Hampton be afraid of a hick township cop?
For a moment she held the ticket in her left hand, motionless. Then she turned to stuff it in her handbag. The movement to grasp the bag shoved up her right sleeve.
Bruises, dark and angry, even though they'd begun to turn color, marred the fair skin.
"Can I go now?"
He nodded. "Drive safely."
There was no reason to hold her, no excuse to inquire into the fear she was hiding or the marks of someone's hand on her wrist. He stepped back and watched her pull out onto the road with exaggerated caution.
No reason to interfere, but somehow he had the feeling Caroline Hampton wasn't there on an ordinary visit.
"Thank you, Grams." Caroline took the delicate china cup filled with a straw-colored brew.
Chamomile tea was Grams's solution to every ill. Declaring Caroline looked tired, she'd decided that was just what she needed.
The entrance of Emma Zook, Grams's Amish housekeeper, with a laden tray looked a little more promising. One of Emma's hearty sandwiches and a slab of her shoofly pie would do more to revive her than tea.
Rachel hurried to clear the low table in front of the sofa, giving Emma a place to deposit the tray. Since Rachel, her two-years-older sister, and Grams had turned the Unger mansion into a bed-and-breakfast inn, the room that had once been Grandfather's library was now converted into a sort of all-purpose office and family room.
The walls were still lined with books, and Grandfather's portrait presided over the mantel, but the desk held a new computer system. Magazines devoted to country living overflowed a handmade basket near the hearth, and Grams's knitting filled one beside her chair.
Caroline took a huge bite of chicken salad on what had to be fresh-baked whole wheat bread. "Thank you, Emma," she murmured around the mouthful. "This is wonderful."
Emma nodded in satisfaction. "You eat. You're too skinny."
That surprised a laugh out of her. "Most women I know would consider that a compliment."
Emma sniffed, leaving no doubt of her opinion of that, and headed back toward the kitchen and the new loaf of bread she no doubt had rising on the back of the stove.
Grams's blue eyes, still sharp despite her seventy-some years, rested on her in a considering way. "Emma's right. You don't look as well as you should. Is something wrong?"
Since there was no way she could tell just part of the story, she couldn't tell any of it. "I'm fine. Just tired from the trip, that's all. It's good to be here."
"If you'd let us know, I'd have had a room ready." Rachel was ever the innkeeper. "Never mind. It's just good to have you home."
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