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The afternoon wasn't just hot. It was choking hot. Gasping hot. Suck-your-brains-out hot.
Lily Campbell stepped off the curb, feeling the pavement fry her feet even through her thick, cork sandals. It was only two more blocks to the sheriff's office.
She could make it two more blocks without dying, couldn't she? Surely?
She wanted to laugh. She'd been so certain that this trip home to Pecan Valley after twenty years would be horrendously traumatic. Instead, every view so far had provoked a gush of hopelessly happy memories—of her dad pushing her in a creaking swing. Of her sisters shrieking and dancing through sprinklers. Or her being snuggled between her mom and dad on a porch swing, watching the fireflies at dusk.
Somehow, she always remembered the fire. Not the idyllic childhood before it. And for darn sure, she had no memory at all of this killer Georgia summer heat.
She pushed a heap of heavy chestnut hair off her neck, thinking she'd either have to get her long hair cut off or suffer heatstroke, but her real attention focused on Main Street. She passed Annabelle's Bakery, Susan's Secret Treasures, Belle Hair, an insurance office. On the other side of the road, hugging the corner, was Debbie's Diner and a shoe store.
None of the names latched in her memory, yet somehow she remembered other things. A woman with big hair and a white ruffled dress passed by her, nodding a polite hello. An old gentleman snoozed in a white rocker outside a storefront. A couple of giggling girls, sucking on popsicles, window-shopped across the street.
She knew this town. It smelled and tasted and looked like home, even if she hadn't been back since she was eight, even if she couldn't imagine living here ever again. She'd given herself exactly eight weeks to solve a twenty-year-old crime.
Complicating that problem—just a wee bit—was that no one twenty years ago believed there was a crime. Not the police. Not even her sisters. No one.
She'd plotted and planned this trip for almost two years, but back in Virginia the idea had made such sense. She needed to do this. She'd needed to forever. Now that she was here, trudging through this blazing, baking sun, she fully realized that everything about the plan was complete and total lunacy.
A red truck, older than her, stopped at the corner to yield the right of way. The next block echoed the last one. The storefronts were different, but the sleepy, Southern town mood was the same. First up was an old-fashioned pharmacy, then a crafty-type jewelry store—she had to gallop past that one, shielding her eyes, knowing how readily she could sucker into a new pair of earrings. Right now, she'd likely sucker into any conceivable sales pitch to postpone her visit to the sheriff's office.
Lily figured that if a woman was determined to be stupid, there was no point in hanging out half a flag. Might as well go for it all the way. Still, she knew darn well that walking into that old brick building was going to be traumatic times ten.
She ducked under a candy-striped awning, kept going for three steps, then hopelessly, helplessly, backed up. For sure, this place hadn't been around when she was a little girl, because she'd have remembered it. Griff's Secret—Fresh Churned Ice Cream, claimed the sign in the window. The list of flavors for the day included Peachy-Cream, Blueberry-Drizzle, Chocolate-Miracle, Baby-Blue and "as always", Griff's Secret.
She wasn't hungry. And darn it, she hadn't traveled all this way just to back down on a streak of cowardice.
But her right hand seemed to reach out and open the door. Her right foot seemed to step inside. The air-conditioning alone was enough to make her sink to the floor in a grateful puddle. She'd work up her courage again in a few minutes. Right now, nothing in life seemed more important than getting a taste of that ice cream.
* * *Griff was just trolling the sports section for ball scores when the stranger walked in. Granted, he was always prone to noticing a good-looking woman, but this one snared more than a swift once-over.
Posted June 5, 2011
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Posted December 22, 2010
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