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But betrayal turns to terror when Spence skips out on his bail and someone begins vandalizing her horse ranch. Her husband suddenly reappears ...
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But betrayal turns to terror when Spence skips out on his bail and someone begins vandalizing her horse ranch. Her husband suddenly reappears with a story that sounds all too credible and a seductive magnetism Claire has never been able to resist. Is her refusal to turn him in, her need to believe in his innocence, nothing but...The Deadliest Denial
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Predictably, the three-legged Sheltie Spence had brought home
last year barked her fool head off, so Claire's first impulse
was to chase the brown-and-white hairball to the condo's
living room and stop the noise before it woke the neighbors.
Her second was to stare in horror at the door as a wave of
dizziness broke over her and her body trembled like the most
damaged of her patients at the rehabilitation center.
Spence was due home from his shift this morning. But her
husband would never bother knocking. Instead, he would try to
steal in silently - a real feat, considering Pogo's joyful
histrionics whenever she spotted her master returning to the
fold. On those occasions when he managed to slip past their
sleeping pet, he would remove his badge and holster, then
rouse his wife of four years with kisses ... and often
something more. Or at least he'd done that up until his
friend Dave Creighton's death back in October.
When the hammering repeated, she let go of the wriggling
Sheltie and switched on the nearest lamp against the predawn
gloom. Bursting into motion, Claire trotted back into her
bedroom and grabbed her robe, her mind stumbling through the
thought: If Spence's dead, I'm not letting them tell me while
I stand there in one of his old tee shirts.
If Spence's dead ... God, no.
She pulled the robe around her tighter and told Pogo, "If your
dad's just forgotten his keys, I'm going to chew his ears
It would serve her husband right, too, for scaring her to
death. Every cop knew his wife worried, even if it was the
proverbial elephant in the living room they both tiptoed
around, the big dread neither dared to speak of - especially
in the past five months.
And now it's gone and happened anyway, she thought as her
feet, seemingly detached from her free will, carried her to
the door and her traitorous hand fingered the deadbolt.
Pogo quieted, then crouched expectantly on her single foreleg,
her body quivering with the need to either bark or wag,
depending on who stood behind the still-closed door.
A memory tumbled through Claire's mind: her husband's reminder
only last week that this was San Antonio and not her goddamned
wide-spot-in-the-road-of-a-hometown and she'd end up dead as
Dave if she didn't watch herself. He'd been furious at the
moment, but it was the absolute terror shining in his blue
eyes that made her hesitate now, leaning forward to peer
through the peephole, her lips moving in a silent prayer: Be
Spence, be Spence, be Spence.
It wasn't. With a cry, she fumbled through unlatching the
chain and releasing the locks, then threw open the door and
asked the two uniformed men, "Is he dead? Or in the hospital?
Has someone shot my husband? Why are you here - tell me."
Pogo lowered her crouch and whined plaintively at the pair.
Though mismatched both in terms of uniform and appearance, the
men stood shoulder to shoulder, their backs as straight as
steel spikes and their hats held in their hands.
Claire's gaze bored into the smaller and darker of the two,
the newly-divorced sergeant she and Spence had had over for
dinner just last Sunday. Claire had invited him out of
sympathy, but she'd gotten the impression he had accepted to
see how Spence was behaving around her. To make sure what was
happening at work hadn't leached into their home life.
Now, Raul Contreras shook his head before releasing a long
breath through his nose. He looked hard at her, his deep-set
brown gaze so sorrowful that she was reminded of the doctor
who had told her, years before, that her sister Karen's cancer
had spread to the brain.
Claire's pulse thumped wildly. She was going to die, she
thought. Her heart was exploding in her chest. She wished
for a split second that it would hurry up and take her.
"No," Sergeant Contreras told her. "Spencer hasn't been
killed, and he's not hurt either."
At first, she simply stared, unable to move or speak or draw
breath. Had she heard him right, or had her mind manufactured
the words that she most needed?
Hoping for some clue, she looked to the taller man, whose tan
uniform stood out in contrast to the dark blue of the San
Antonio PD. His hair was thick and golden brown and long for
law enforcement; his features were strong, his shoulders wide
and heavily muscled, as if he'd spent his youth alternating
between football fields and weight rooms.
But he hadn't. Claire knew that because she knew him - a
fact that shocked her. What was Joel Shepherd from her
hometown doing here, at her front door?
"Spence isn't dead?" she asked both men. She needed that
confirmation more than she needed answers - or even air to
"He's not dead," Joel answered, his voice deeper than she
remembered, his eyes a golder shade of green. But his
expression remained as grim as the day they'd buried Karen - the
girl he should have married instead of Lori Beth Walters,
one of her sister's classmates. "I swear it."
Closing her eyes, Claire whispered, "Thank God. Thank God.
Anything else she could handle. Anything else she could
But she didn't understand that there were worse things.
Possibilities too dark to fathom. Possibilities she first
heard in the raw emotion of Sergeant Contreras's and Joel
"May - may we come in?" her husband's supervisor asked.
"Can we call someone to be with you?" Joel added, and for the
first time she noticed he wore a sheriff's badge, not a
deputy's, as he did the last time she had heard. "How 'bout
your daddy, maybe, or a friend?"
He was laying on the good old boy a little thicker, playing up
the country lawman comfort in a way that jolted forks of fear
through her midsection.
Shaking her head, Claire backed up, pausing only to snatch up
the fifteen-pound dog and press her lower face into the thick
warmth of Pogo's fur.
All the better not to scream, Claire thought as the two men
entered her living room. Joel closed the door softly, but he
didn't lock it. Perhaps he felt safe with his gun in its
holster, or perhaps he realized, as Claire was beginning to,
that the worst had come already.
"Why don't you sit down?" Contreras asked her.
Lifting her chin from the dog's warmth, Claire felt her temper
boil to the surface. "And why don't you quit patronizing me
and tell me right out - where the hell is Spencer? Why are
you two here instead of him?"
The sergeant took another deep breath. "Last night, your
husband was arrested."
"He's bein' held in Little Bee Creek, in the Buck County
Jail," Joel added. "My jail."
Claire's knees loosened, and the miniature collie yelped in
surprise as she was dropped, then tucked her tail between her
legs and hop-bounced to escape into the bedroom. Before
Claire understood what was happening, the two men grabbed her
arms and steered her to an armchair, where they planted her.
Shrugging off their hands, she cried, "That's a lie. Why
would you say such - such - Spence can't be in Little BC. He
was on patrol last night down by the River Walk. Right here
in San Antonio."
She saw the two men's glances touch, saw how troubled both
looked. When neither answered, she said, "Damn you. Damn you
both - did my husband put you up to this? If this is some
sick joke, it's not funny."
Joel sat on the sofa's edge and angled his long legs in her
direction. Those green-gold eyes skewered her, reminding her
of the cougars rumored to have come back to Buck County.
"This is serious, Claire, and so am I. You're going to need
somebody with you. Tell me now so I can call. And then we'll
explain it to you."
She flipped her red-brown hair free of her robe's collar.
"All of it?"
When both men nodded solemnly, Claire relented. "Call my
father. Please. He's number two on my speed dial."
Number one was the entry she really wanted. Spence's number.
If she could talk to him, he'd clear up this mistake in no
But Joel got up to call her father, then took the telephone
into her bedroom and closed the door behind him. She tried to
listen, but a buzzing in her ears overwhelmed the distant
murmur of his voice.
"My dad's a criminal attorney, and he lives in Little BC," she
told Sergeant Contreras. "He'll know how to fix this. He'll
probably drive over to the jail and call us right back, tell
us it's not Spence in there. You've told me yourself, Spence
is a really good cop. He wouldn't be arrested."
The sergeant took the spot where Joel had been seated and
looked at her from beneath the shaggy overhang of his brows.
Like his hair and his thick mustache, they were salted with
white strands, the only clue the man had recently celebrated
his fiftieth birthday.
"I know this is hard," he said. "It's damned hard for me,
too, first losing Dave and now ... The truth is, Claire,
Spencer hasn't been himself lately. You know that as well as
"He saw a twelve-year-old shoot down a fellow cop." Claire
heard the strain in her own voice, the bitterness that bubbled
through her words - but there was nothing she could do to stop
the torrent. "My husband watched his best friend die over a
forty-nine-dollar video game."
Mall security, who had called police once they caught the
shoplifter, had brought him to their office, but they hadn't
searched his clothes for weapons. When the two uniforms came
in, the kid had panicked, whipping a little .38 out from under
his untucked shirt, killing Dave and wounding the store
detective before Spence shot the boy dead.
"How can you expect him to snap right back like it was
nothing?" Claire demanded. "Aside from losing a close friend,
Spence loves kids. And now he's killed one."
There had been knee-jerk outrage in the Hispanic community,
since the boy was Mexican and Dave, Spence, and the store
detective all white, but the store's video surveillance tape
had cleared her husband of wrongdoing. Still, he'd asked
Claire over and over - sometimes waking her up in the middle
of the night - if there was anything, anything, he could have
done to save either his friend or the kid. Every time, she'd
told him no, then wrapped her arms around a body made
unfamiliar by its tension.
"Spencer said he'd had enough time off, enough of counseling,"
Contreras told her. "And I was keeping a careful eye on him,
"Not careful enough, it sounds like. Not if he really did
leave his patrol to drive over an hour to Buck County last
night. I still don't buy it." She expected her husband's big
frame to fill the doorway any moment, expected to hear Pogo's
cheerful barking to see her master - the man who had once
lifted her from a busy street, where he had found her matted
and bone thin, with one front leg mangled from a run-in with a
"He didn't work last night, Claire. He called in sick before
The shock of it went through her, and she wanted to scream,
Impossible. Would have screamed, if she could speak. Because
she'd kissed Spence goodbye last night and watched him leave
wearing his uniform, his badge ... his gun.
"What did he do, Sergeant?" she asked in a small voice.
"We believe he killed a man in Little BC."
She blinked in surprise at Joel Shepherd, who was standing in
the bedroom doorway. Sheriff Shepherd. She hadn't noticed
him come back from calling her dad. But it was his words and
not his presence that made her mouth go dry.
"No," she told him, shaking her head. "Of course he didn't do
that. Why would Spence kill anyone up there? I mean, that's
where we have our -"
She clamped down on the thought. This couldn't have anything
to do with the Little BC property she and Spence had just
purchased and the horse therapy center she had been planning,
organizing, and raising funds for over the past two years.
This had nothing to do with her dream -
The dream that Spence had asked her to put on hold in the days
following Dave's shooting.
She'd told him no, she couldn't. She'd tried to make him
understand that it was then or never, that if they didn't
close on the acreage before Mrs. Hajek moved into the nursing
home, her heir would be sure to stop the sale. Already, her
realtor nephew -who hadn't bothered visiting his aunt in years
- had accused Claire of taking advantage of a dying woman. If
Mrs. Hajek herself hadn't rallied and threatened to disinherit
the grasping little snot, Claire was sure the whole thing
would have ended up in court. And if the woman's long-missing
daughter, Gloria, had finally turned up ...
"We aren't sure what this is about," Joel said as he crossed
the room to stand beside her. "But we do know this. Adam
Strickland wasn't the only person -"
"Adam - Adam who?" The name struck her as familiar, but
Claire couldn't seem to place it.
"Adam Strickland," Joel answered, pausing only to clear his
throat, "wasn't the only person your husband wanted dead.
There was someone else, too."
"Someone else?" She was still trying to make sense of this -
or find the key that would unlock this awful nightmare and let
her wake up in her bed.
From the bedroom, she heard her alarm go off, an alarm meant
to begin her last day at the rehabilitation center, where she
had worked for the past five years as an occupational
This is no dream, she told herself as Joel Shepherd knelt
before her. No dream, the thought echoed as he took her
ice-cold hand in his.
"It was you," Joel told her. "Your husband, Spencer Winslow,
was planning to kill you."
Excerpted from The Deadliest Denial
by Colleen Thompson
Copyright © 2006 by Colleen Thompson.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 24, 2006
Claire Winslow¿s husband, Spencer, a ten-year veteran of the San Antonio PD, hasn¿t been himself these last six months. Not since he¿d watched his partner gunned down by a shoplifter, and then had to turn his own gun on the twelve-year-old to stop the kid from killing again. Claire knows it haunts him, that the therapy hasn¿t really helped, but she¿s damned sure not going to believe Spence has gone crazy. Crazy enough to hire a hit man to do murder. Even when she¿s shown irrefutable proof the person her husband wants killed ¿ is her. But Spencer Winslow is arrested, not only for conspiracy to murder his wife, but also as a suspect in the disappearance of another man, someone who dared to take a second look at Claire. And while her husband paces his cell like a caged animal, screaming her name, Claire has no choice but to face reality. Her over-protective father, Will Meador, and an old friend, the sheriff of her hometown county, Joel Shepherd, make sure that she does so. Spence is guilty all right. He knows it. In the past six months, he¿s tried to escape the pain eating at his heart. And in that escape, he¿s buried himself in a layer of sludge too thick to clean up. He knows there¿s no way out for him except to drown in the pit of despair he¿s dug for himself. Claire is no stranger to the pain of loss. She lost her mother to a hunter¿s stray bullet when she was only two and her only sister to cancer when Claire was sixteen. But this one, this betrayal of her heart, threatens to destroy her. So she latches onto her new project, with its daily responsibilities to help her face her waking nightmare, one hour, one minute at a time. She returns to her Texas Hill Country home in Buck County, to the Monarch Ranch, a horse therapy rehabilitation center for sick and damaged children, an undertaking she¿s planned, organized and raised funds for over the past two years. The ranch is the realization of her lifelong dream, and now its reality will save her. Or kill her. The beautiful terrain and cliffs above the creek of her property can bring either healing peace or isolated fear. When Spence skips out on his bail and someone begins to vandalize the ranch, Claire¿s heartbreak turns to terror. Could the man to whom she is married, her lover ¿ her very best friend ¿ come home only to destroy her dream? Could Spence, her one soulmate in this life, the one who fathered the child she just found out she carries, be hiding in the darkness waiting to kill her? Claire is a stubborn woman. And even when her husband confesses his sins to her, she will not let him destroy himself. She will not let him sacrifice what they have to try to cleanse his soul. Will her willingness to continue to believe in him end up being her deadliest denial? Author Colleen Thompson leads us once again down a trail of events and plot twists that will have you following her page after page to the end of this suspenseful story of family secrets, love, trust and unconditional loyalty. Her characters are multi-layered and complex, with issues and emotions tied to life events that cannot be avoided, and that, in the end, must be dealt with. I suggest you read this book when you have time to finish it, because Ms. Thompson draws you so completely into the story, you won¿t want to put it down until you find out how it ends. Enjoy the read!
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Posted December 9, 2008
When San Antonio Policy Sergeant Raul Contreras and Buck County Sheriff Joel Shepherd visit Claire Winslow, she fears the worst bring that her beloved husband died in the line of duty as his partner recently did. However, she realizes there are things apparently worse than death when the two law enforcement officials inform her that her police officer spouse Spence has been arrested in Little Bee Creek charged with killing Adam Strickland over gambling debts. In shock, by their accusations, she is further stunned when they insist she was his next target. --- Claire has further problems when someone vandalizes her horse ranch several times. As she panics over why someone is attacking her, Spence skips bail to see her. He pleads with her that he is innocent and plans to prove this he also asks her to trust in their love. Claire wonders if he can be that good of a performer that he seems to be telling her the truth because she knows the two cops who insist her husband wanted her dead and that Spence was psychological struggling with his partner¿s death. Of course she realizes he could have achieved his objective rather easily if that was his true goal so she agrees to help him not knowing the risk from the person who betrayed both of them. --- Though readers know early on that Spence is an innocent fugitive, Colleen Thompson provides a powerful thriller as the beleaguered hero seems unable to prove it (think of Dr. Kimball). The story line is action-packed yet the key lead couple seems genuine especially Claire, who wants to believe, but has doubts. Though coincidence is used to uncover clues, fans of psychological police procedural will appreciate this tense, exciting and entertaining thriller. --- Harriet Klausner
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Posted January 24, 2012
When I read this book, I was happily surprised to find a romantic suspense book where the hero and heroine were married. The plot is so crazy good, I devoured it in one setting. It's my favorite of her books, but The Salt Maiden comes in a very close second. Intriguing plot, steamy romance, hot action, and enough suspense to keep you reading until the last line!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 8, 2010
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