-RT Book Reviews on HOMECOMING
Homecoming (Harlequin Kimani Arabesque Series)by Rochelle Alers
Reporter Dana Nichols has come home to Mississippi, determined to uncover the truth behind her parents' long-ago murder-suicide tragedy and finally clear her family name. The last thing she expected was her instant attraction to handsome, dedicated doctor Tyler Cole. Or that her investigation would cause someone to try to destroy Tyler's career and
Reporter Dana Nichols has come home to Mississippi, determined to uncover the truth behind her parents' long-ago murder-suicide tragedy and finally clear her family name. The last thing she expected was her instant attraction to handsome, dedicated doctor Tyler Cole. Or that her investigation would cause someone to try to destroy Tyler's career and reputation. Now, as they search the past for answers, they must walk a dangerous line between trust and uncertainty that will put their future love at stake.
-RT Book Reviews on HOMECOMING
Read an Excerpt
The day dawned as it had for the past ten weeksearly morning temperatures in the low eighties, a brilliant, cloudless sky and a continuing drought.
The earth that had been rich Mississippi Delta topsoil was bone-dry; water in small brooks and streams had evaporated, revealing their cracked beds, and the once-green shoots from spring plantings lay on the parched ground in seared repose.
The populace of the region looked to the heavens and prayed. The citizenry of Hillsboro, Mississippi, was no exception. They, too, prayed for rain, but for the first time in more than two months they had Johnnie Mack, the undertaker, who told Reverend Wingate, the pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, who in turn informed Deacon Enright that Dr. Harry and Alicia Nichols's daughter Dana had returned to Hillsboro to bury her maternal grandmother.
Two decades ago, Georgia Sutton had taken her granddaughter north to live with her sister following the tragic deaths of Dana's parents. Even now, twenty-two years later, longtime residents still whispered about how Harry Nichols had murdered his young beautiful wife, and hours after he'd claimed he'd discovered her lifeless body, had set fire to his home to cover up the evidence of his heinous transgression.
He'd been found guilty of the crime and sentenced to a term of life in prison. Harry's scandalous criminal act was compounded when he subsequently took his own life. His suicide had coincided with his daughter's eleventh birthday.
A stooped-shouldered figure stood off to the side in Hills-boro's colored-only cemetery, waiting. Eugene Payton watched Dana Nichols as she stood at a freshly covered grave, head bowed, hands clasping a single red rose, and her lips moving silently.
He and Dana were not alone in the cemetery. A few of Hillsboro's curious non-believers and gossipmongers had come with the pretense of placing flowers or saying prayers at the graves of their deceased family members.
Eugene was certain many were as shocked as he was when he saw Dana Alicia Nichols for the first time in more than twenty years. Her resemblance to her late mother was uncanny. Only those who had viewed Alicia up close would've noticed the minute difference in the two women: Dana had a tiny mole high on her right cheekbone.
Not only did Dana look exactly like her murdered mother, but she also inherited the woman's sultry voice. The only difference was their speech patterns. Alicia had spoken with the slow cadence that had come from spending all of her life in the Deep South, while Dana had the flatter, more nasal inflection of upstate New York.
Despite his age and declining eyesight, he'd recognized her immediately when she came through the arrival gate at the Greenville Municipal Airport. She hadn't flown to Mississippi with a carry-on and garments bag, but with a large Pullman case and two other smaller pieces of luggage. As soon as he spied her coming toward him, Eugene knew Dana hadn't come back to Hillsboro, Mississippi, to stay a week. She had come to stay a while. She subsequently told him that she planned to remain in Hillsboro as long as it took for her to discover the truth behind her parents' long-ago murder/ suicide and at last clear her family's name.
Dana finished all of the prayers she'd been taught as a child. She opened her eyes behind the lenses of her sunglasses. Her grandmother would've been proud that she hadn't forgotten the prayers she had taught her. It wasn't that Georgia Sutton was an overtly religious woman, because she wasn't. She'd informed her granddaughter, however, that she was a spiritual person.
Georgia had stopped attending services at Hillsboro's Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, because the church elders had debated for two days whether they would grant Georgia permission to have Alicia's funeral at the church, which had prompted the older woman to have a graveside-only observance. Generations of Hillsboro Suttons had attended the historic church, but the tradition had ended with Georgia. She preferred staying home Sunday mornings, listening to church services on her radio, or viewing them on television. No one ever heard her speak a disparaging word about Mt. Nebo or its pastor. It was as if she'd forgotten their existence.
Bending at the knees, Dana placed the single rose on Georgia Rose Sutton's grave. Georgia's name had been carved into a headstone years before, but now a recent date had been added. Arrangements were made before Dana was born that Georgia would be buried in the same plot as her husband.
"Take care, Grandma," she whispered. "Tell Mama, Daddy and Grandpa I said hello."
Three red roses lay on an adjacent plot with the names of Alicia and Harry Nichols carved into a pale pink limestone headstone. Dana had placed one rose for her mother and one for her father on the grave. The third flower had come from a stranger. Every day of every year since the week following Alicia's burial, the cemetery's caretaker had placed a single flower on the grave. Sworn to secrecy, the man had never divulged who had paid him to place the flower on the controversial woman's tombstone. The ritual was halted oncewhen Harry was buried in the same plot as his murdered wifebut resumed a month later.
Dana turned and smiled at Eugene Payton. The retired attorney had been more than gracious to her since her return. He'd offered the hospitality of his spacious home, but she'd declined, preferring instead to stay at the small house that had belonged to her grandparents.
Closing the distance between them, she curved her arm through his, as much for comfort as to support the older man, accompanying him out of the cemetery to where he'd parked his car.
"I want to thank you for everything, Mr. Payton."
He patted her hand in a comforting gesture. "There's no need to thank me, child. Your grandmother was my friend, and I promised her I would take care of you if anything happened to her."
Dana covered his hand with hers. "And you've kept your promise."
She stole a look at his profile. His once-fair skin now resembled yellow parchment. A profusion of age spots added more color to his angular face. The epitome of an aging Southern black gentleman, Eugene still wore a collar, tie and hat regardless of the temperature. Today it was a light blue seersucker suit, tie, white shirt and a soft Panama straw hat. He had affected the style of turning down the brim on his hat, which afforded him a rakish look that hadn't faded despite his age.
He gave Dana a comforting smile. "I'll give you a few days for yourself, then I'll call and come over to meet with you. There is the matter of your grandmother's last will and testament and a few other legal documents that will require your signature."
Nodding, she smiled. "Thank you."
Lately, it was as if they were the only two words in her vocabulary. She was glad to have a few days to herself. Since the fateful telephone call, she hadn't had more than four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Within hours, she'd informed the owner of the two-family house where she rented an apartment that she had to leave for Mississippi. She'd paid her rent four months in advance, while forwarding her mail and telephone calls to her grandmother's address and number. She'd requested and was granted an emergency leave from her employer at the Carrollton Chronicle, a weekly with a total circulation of less than twelve hundred. The Chronicle had earned a place in publishing annals when it won a Pulitzer for its expose of abuses at a foster home for adolescent girls in nearby Utica.
The abuses were as shocking as those involvedseveral employees at the state-funded facility were related to elected officials in the New York State Senate and Assembly. Dana had gone undercover as a counselor with a detective from the Utica Police Department's Sex Crimes Unit, and for seven months gathered enough evidence to send several involved to jail for lengthy sentences. The ripple effect was felt in Albany after three elected officials had resigned under a cloud of suspicion.
Dana was promoted to associate editor and given a generous salary increase. But she had left the Chronicle and everything familiar behind to return to Mississippi.
She had left Hillsboro at the age of eleven, returning for the first time at thirty-three, and now with the death of her grandmother, there was nothing left connecting her to her place of birth except rumors of scandal, adultery, murder, arson and suicide.
The set of her delicate jaw and the look of determination in her amber-colored eyes were something many in Hillsboro would have been familiar with. It was the same look Alicia Sutton had employed once she had set out to seduce the man she wanted to marry and father her children.
Dr. Tyler Cole had caught snippets of gossip about a family named Nichols from his patients at the Hillsboro Women's Health Clinic. He had relocated to Mississippi as a Johns Hopkins University Medical College-trained obstetrician-gynecologist to participate in a government-sponsored research study targeting infant mortality rates.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services had documented and identified Hillsboro, Mississippi, as having one of the highest rates in the country. He'd accepted the assignment to offer quality prenatal care to below-poverty-level women with the proviso that he live in Hillsboro for five years. It would be the first time since he'd become a doctor that he would spend more than three consecutive years in one city. At forty-one years of age, he was ready to put down roots and call a place home.
A slow smile deepened matching dimples in his suntanned cheeks. He hadn't called a city or state home in twenty-three yearsnot since he'd left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at eighteen for premed studies. He'd become a nomad, moving from city to city whenever he was recruited for a new study. His name and celebrated reputation had become synonymous with medical research.
However, it wasn't small-town gossip that garnered his attention, but pregnant women receiving adequate prenatal care as a requisite to delivering a healthy baby.
The hot morning sun beat down on Tyler's exposed arms as he berated himself for taking the early-morning walk. A layer of moisture coated his exposed flesh. He was Southern-born and bred, having grown up in central Florida, but never in his life had he ever experienced the intense heat holding the inhabitants of the Delta hostage in a savage grip from which there appeared no immediate escape.
What he'd seen of Hillsboro, he liked. It was small, its inhabitants were friendly, and the pace was slow enough to lend it a laid-back ambiance. What he liked most was that it was wholly Southern in character, because his Southern roots ran deep: he had relatives whose families had been native Florid-ians for four generations.
The house he'd commissioned an architectural firm to design was now complete. It was reminiscent of an historic Mississippi mansion. A pillared front, low-pitched roof, recessed entry and intricate railings identified the structure as true Southern-style Greek Revival.
He'd moved to Hillsboro last August, and it was now the first week of June and he'd lived in his house for two weeks. The contracting crew had put the final touches on painting the exterior a week before, while the landscaper had completed the gardens his older sister, Regina Spencer, had designed for him.
Tyler had been anxious to move in because he'd been living in a tiny one-bedroom cottage behind a bed-and-breakfast for nine months. Several times a week he took his breakfast at the B&B, but had made it a practice to prepare his own dinner in the cottage's tiny utility kitchen. After working an average of ten hours a day, six days a week, he coveted his privacy.
Coming over a slight rise now, he spied the two-story plantation house gleaming whitely in the brilliant sun. Slowing his pace, he made his way across a path of rose-pink bricks laid out in a herringbone pattern. Taking long strides, he mounted three steps to a solid oak door painted a distinctive sapphire blue that matched the shutters framing the windows. Wiping his feet on a mat, he unlocked the front door at the same time the cell phone clipped to the waistband of his jeans chimed softly.
A slight frown lined his smooth forehead. The only time his phone rang that early was when his service called him. And that usually meant a summons to the county hospital for the delivery of a baby.
Slipping the phone off his waist, he stared at the numbers showing on the display, his frown fading. The area code and number were familiar. Pressing the talk button, he said softly, "Yes?"
A husky feminine voice came through the earpiece. "Have you deleted hello from your vocabulary?"
"Of course not, Mom. What do I owe the honor of hearing your mellifluous voice so early in the morning?" It was 5:00 a.m. Central Time. He could always identify his mother's sultry voice.
"I just hung up with Arianna. She and Silah have decided to move to the States."
Tyler smiled. His youngest sister had finally married her live-in, Moroccan-born, dress-designer boyfriend earlier in the year.
"She says she wants her baby born on American soil."
His smile was dazzling. "She's pregnant?"
"Yes. She found out last week. At thirty-seven, she's a little anxious about the baby."
"Even though she's now in the high-risk category, she shouldn't worry too much."
"That's what I told her," Parris Cole said. "But I didn't try to dissuade her from coming back home. Just for once I'd like one of my grandchildren to be born in the United States." Her eldest daughter, Regina Cole-Spencer, lived in Bahia, Brazil, and although Regina's son and daughter had elected to come to the States for their higher education, Parris still had not gotten to see them grow up.
"Have they decided where they're going to live?"
"I've offered them the house in Fort Lauderdale. Your father couldn't understand why I refused to let him sell that house until now. Arianna was ecstatic when I told her she could have the property."
Martin and Parris Cole had relocated to West Palm Beach, where they'd taken up permanent residence at the Cole family ancestral estate to care for Martin's 101-year-old mother.
"At least she's coming home to something familiar."
Tyler loved the house where he'd grown up with his two sisters. The sprawling beachfront property was airy, always filled with brilliant Florida sunshine, and exquisitely decorated by Parris Simmons-Cole. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd begun his day with a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. An Olympic gold medal winner, Arianna Cole-Kadir had preferred swimming in the ocean to the family pool.
Meet the Author
Hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today's most popular African-American authors of women's fiction, Ms. Alers is a regular on bestsellers list, and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing and a Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. Visit her Web site www.rochellealers.com
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