When Dr. Blake Hunter discovers Casey Edwards wandering along a Sweetwater, Georgia, road, she's a woman without a past, her memory stripped of the terrifying events that shattered her innocence a decade ago. The scrap of paper she clutches in her hand bears the address to Swan House, the magnificent mansion where Casey's mother lives with her mysteriously ailing husband. But "home" turns out to be anything but a safe haven. . .
Casey is determined to untangle the web of secrets that surround her. The answers lay somewhere within Swan House and its lavish gardens but someone wants Casey out of the way before she remembers too much. It will take the strength she's always had—and the love she's just found—to uncover her past and claim her future. . .
Related collections and offers
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2003 First Draft, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Dust covered the out-of-date eyewear displayed on the rotating rack, and the scent of stale smoke hung heavy in the air. Casey Edwards sneaked a look in the mirror on the sunglasses rack. Long-forgotten ads for Creomoltion cough syrup and Miss Clairol decorated the pea green walls of Reed's Drugs. Tom Clarence and Howard Lynch sat at the snack bar in the back of the store, mugs of coffee in front of them, cigarettes hanging loosely from their mouths. Casey knew they would be telling the story of the Great War the way they did every day of their lives. Howard and Tom were institutions. Each man would tell how he almost didn't make it home. Casey had overheard the story so many times, she knew it by heart. She knew when they would pause, look at one another, then shake their graying heads and continue on. They were as much a part of Sweetwater as the land. Both men raised a hand to her as she walked to the cosmetics counter. She smiled and waved back. She was in no mood for conversation today. She found the cream she needed and hurried to the register.
Today she wanted to be ignored.
It was the last time she'd buy concealer. Covering the bruise from the latest fight had been the clincher. For the second time in three weeks, she'd had to sneak to Reed's Drugs to purchase another tube of heavy-duty cover cream to disguise her latest black eye.
Sheldon Reed, Sweetwater's only pharmacist, had looked at her with suspicion. Laurie Phelphs-Parker—with a hyphen, mind you—who'd never lower her high standards (well, maybe temporarily as she liked to put it) to cashier for Sheldon since Mrs. Reed had died, clucked her tongue as Casey walked to the register. Casey wondered if Laurie remembered how her daddy left her momma high and dry. Took everything with him, too. Ran off with a girl younger than Laurie. Now, she had to work. Everyone in town knew that. Laurie went to work at Reed's about the same time her snooty momma went to work as a teller at Sweetwater Savings and Loan. It was that or starve.
Casey adjusted her sunglasses and placed the tube of concealer on the counter.
"Hmm," Laurie muttered as she punched in the price, her bright red nails clicking on the register's buttons. "Seems like you been buyin' lots a cov-a-cream lately." She looked at Casey with an all-knowing smirk.
"I suppose Kyle wants a feisty woman now. You know when he and I ..." Casey threw the correct change on the counter and grabbed the cover cream. As she opened the door, she heard Laurie's "Well, I nev-uh. ..." followed by the flat slam of the screen as she made her escape.
If Laurie only knew, Casey thought. If she could only tell someone about the horror that had become her life.
The eight short years she lived with Mamaw were perfect. Her father's mother had been her protector and treated her like a daughter. Life was good then. She'd had hopes, dreams, and expectations. As she got older, she learned not to have expectations. That way she knew she'd never be disappointed.
She put the cream in her purse as she hurried along Sweetwater's Main Street. She had to be home before Momma returned from getting her hair done at Ida Lou's, or there would be hell to pay.
Safe in her room, she remembered why she'd risked a trip to town.
Kyle. She couldn't let him see her black eye. He would be shocked, and his parents would look down on her more than they already did. Kyle kept telling her they never meant to make her feel bad, it was just the way they were. She'd only been to Kyle's a few times, and always felt ignorant after leaving their house. Fiona, Kyle's holier-than-thou mother had done her best to make her feel anything but welcome. Kyle had coaxed her into each visit, telling her his parents insisted.
On her first visit Kyle led her to the dining room, where a lady with caramel-colored skin, snow-white hair, and a toothy smile served her a glass of milk along with a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. She'd told Casey her name was Myrtus, the hired help. Speaking over her shoulder as she stood by the door waiting for further instructions, she told Casey her friends called her Myrty and flashed a toothy smile. Kyle laughed as they'd seated themselves at the long, dark table.
"My, Lawd, Myrty, you'd think we was still elementary-school children, serving us cookies an' all." Kyle's words were laced with sarcasm, his Southern drawl dragging the words out. Casey recalled the look Myrtus gave him. Hard and cold as steel.
"If the shoe fits, Mr. Wallace." She'd looked at Casey and winked as she left the room.
"Don't mind that old bitch. She's been tryin' to boss me around for years. I don't understand why Momma keeps her on."
Casey bit into the cookie and thought that reason enough. She'd never had cookies so good, not even her grandma's.
"Excuse me, Kyle," a high-pitched voice shrieked from the hall. Casey looked up from her plate into the flat brown gaze of Fiona Wallace.
Wiping the crumbs from her mouth with her napkin, Casey stood and held her hand out to Mrs. Wallace. Her hand hung there, limp as a hothouse daisy while Mrs. Wallace turned to Kyle. Embarrassed, she jammed her hands in her skirt pocket.
"My goodness, son. I thought we'd agreed you wouldn't bring"—the tall, thin woman whispered and pointed her conelike head toward Casey—"her kind into this house."
Casey felt the heat rise from her neck to her face. She stumbled away from the table. Her awkward movement caused her chair to tilt and fall to the floor. As she ran for the front door, she could hear Kyle shout at his mother. The rest was a blur. And she'd wanted it to remain that way.
She'd stood on the porch taking gulps of fresh air as the screen squeaked, then banged against the wall. Kyle eased next to her, crowding her breathing space. She took a step back and glared at him.
"Casey, I'm sorry, and so is Momma. She thought you were someone else. I know that sounds feeble, but please, sweetheart, come back inside. Give Momma another chance."
Casey stared at him. He was sinfully handsome, with his blond hair, chiseled features, and bright blue eyes. A bit on the thin side like his momma, but still, she thought she was the luckiest girl in Sweetwater to have Kyle as her boyfriend. She wondered how his momma could mistake her for some one else. She had to remember to ask later.
Maybe his momma really thought I was someone else, truly. Kyle had dated a lot of girls. Maybe it was Brenda. Brenda always went for the best-looking guys in school.
"I suppose I should, that being the polite thing to do, but Kyle ..." She'd let the words die as he put an arm around her and led her back inside.
"Momma says to tell you she's sorry. She doesn't see how she could have ..." He never finished the sentence as he led her inside. He immediately excused himself, forget ting he'd invited her to stay. Mrs. Wallace didn't return to apologize, either. Casey knew she wasn't going to apologize when she heard her talking on the hall phone.
"That was some tramp Kyle brought home. Sowing his oats, you know." Fiona laughed. The rest was a blur, and Casey wanted it to remain that way.
Ashamed of herself, she'd walked home. A slow rage burned deep in the pit of her stomach, and each step she took ignited the flame brighter. By the time she'd reached home, she'd calmed down, reminding herself what she stood to lose if she let Kyle get away from her.
Kyle had called the next day to apologize and invite her to dinner. Lately, things had been a little better.
Tonight she'd managed to convince Momma she was ill and had gone to bed early. After half an hour, she climbed out the window, her book bag filled with the only decent dress she owned. She'd stop at her best friend's house to change.
"Dammit, Casey, why do ya put up with that shit? You're almost eighteen, and still you have to sneak out." Darlene's drawl was thick like honey, her words flowing slow and sweet.
Casey looked at her best friend as if she'd lost her mind. "You know why. I don't want to go over this again. Just give me your curling iron, the one that crimps." Casey seated herself at the vanity while Darlene plugged in the cord.
Darlene stood behind Casey and took her time pulling Casey's thick tresses through the crimping iron.
"I can't believe you're still doin' what that mean ol' bitch demands. And that perverted stepbrother of yours. He makes my skin crawl." Darlene gave a mock shiver, the curling iron in her hand positioned like a weapon.
"As soon as Kyle and I get married, it'll be over." Casey told her friend about the beatings, the constant threats.
Darlene tilted Casey's chin and forced her to stare at her reflection.
"Look in that mirror. My Gawd! Why that bastard's hit you again. Why don't you kill him, Casey? Daddy's an attorney. I promise he'd have you outta jail in a minute flat. I'm about ready to go over there and kick his ass myself." Casey smiled at her friend's words.
Darlene was a true Southern belle, blond and barely five feet tall, with just a bit of northern bitchiness. Casey had learned early on never to underestimate her. What Darlene lacked in size, she made up for in opinion.
The day after they graduated, Darlene always said, she was going north to start a new life and she was never, ever, coming back to Sweetwater.
As her best friend brushed her hair, Casey closed her eyes and wondered what her teen life would have been like if she'd had a mother who cared about her as much as Darlene's did. Darlene's room, done in pink, white, and gold, was a young girl's delight. Casey remembered almost to the day when Darlene's mother had redecorated it because she'd been so jealous. She'd confessed her jealousy to Darlene. Then Darlene had promised her that whatever she had, she would share with Casey. After all, weren't they best friends?
"How do I look?" She danced around Darlene's room, the white, gauzy dress billowing around her.
"You look perfect. Go on. Knock 'em dead!"
Darlene gave her a final hug before shoving her out the door. "Git!" Darlene's laughter dimmed as Casey walked along Sweetwater's streets. Dinnertime, all was quiet. She prayed that none of her mother's friends would see her. Not that they'd ever venture to this end of the island, but you never knew.
Stately homes with long, sweeping lawns perched back from the street, their presence commanding respect for all they housed, whether they deserved it or not. Casey passed the gatehouse to the Worthington mansion. Mrs. Worthing ton used to be president of the Married Ladies Club before she died a while back. Casey despised the club. They seemed so petty to her. The Sweetwater Sentinel reported the meet ings as if they were of national importance. Like who wore white gloves, who had a spot on her best white linen table cloth, who had what to eat, who ate too much, and who wore last year's dress. Pathetic.
Casey didn't resent the privileged women their socializing, she just dreaded it when her mother ranted and raved about the secret meetings that went on. Casey knew her mother longed to be part of the monthly dalliances, but marriage to a man of wealth was required. And, unfortu nately for Casey, her momma wasn't remarried, yet, only engaged. To John Worthington, no less.
Her mother used to complain about how they thought they were royalty and thought nothing of snubbin' those who slaved in their carpet mills. "Just remember your father," she'd said, "and remember what it cost him to work for the bastards. A pathetic excuse for a man," Momma had said. "In the end all he could do was die for the bas tards."
Casey paused when she reached Kyle's house. It couldn't compare to the Worthingtons', but it wasn't a shabby dump, either. White brick, it was two stories high. A wraparound porch decorated with white wicker furniture and ferns placed along the porch in huge pots made it look comfortable and yet charming at the same time. Casey thought the place more than adequate, but she wouldn't admit to Kyle that she was the least bit envious of where he lived. She'd keep that thought to herself and maybe someday she, too, would have a home of her own. One that she could be proud of. One that she didn't have to be afraid in.
She rang the doorbell and waited. She hoped Kyle's par ents weren't going to lecture her on the ways of polite society. It was 1987, for God's sake, and they were still acting like they were living in the days of Margaret Mitchell.
Kyle opened the door. When he pulled her close for a quick hug, Casey shuddered. This was something she'd get used to. She had to, if she was going to marry Kyle. She'd just close her eyes and pretend. ...
"Casey, are you listening to me?' Kyle's deep voice silenced her thoughts.
She looked up at the man she was engaged to. Tall and fair, with slate blue eyes, Kyle was a dream. He'd turned many heads before settling on Casey, something he reminded her of quite often lately. Especially when they were parked at Lover's Cove. A part of her wanted to tell him to go after all those girls and leave her alone. The other part of her remembered where she came from. If Kyle wanted to boast now and then, so be it.
"How could I not listen to the best-lookin' man around? I missed you." Casey freed herself from Kyle's embrace and smiled. She knew he approved of her when his eyes sparkled, and his gaze traveled the length of her.
"Good Lord, Casey, where did you get that dress?" Kyle took a step back and continued his appraisal.
"It's my best. Do you like it?" Casey whirled around, giving him a glimpse of well-defined, tanned calves.
"You know I do. It's gorgeous on you, babe. It's just that ... my parents ..."
Casey felt as if she'd been doused with a bucket of cold water.
Somehow, Kyle always managed to bring his parents into their private moments.
For a moment he seemed to be deep in thought.
"What, Kyle?" Casey stood under the soft glow of the porch light, unaware of how attractive she looked in the subdued light.
"Never mind. You're beautiful. Have I told you that lately?" Kyle took her elbow like the Southern gentleman he was and led her inside.
Casey was so nervous she felt like she could jump right out of her skin. What did Kyle's parents want? They knew about their engagement. They knew they wanted to wait until her graduation before they married. Maybe they were going to try to convince Kyle to wait until he finished college.
The evening passed slowly. Casey caught herself stifling a yawn more than once. After two hours of small talk, she finally got up the nerve to say her momma would be worried if she was late. She smiled her apologies and moved quickly to the front hall, Kyle following her.
"I'll drive you home, sweet," Kyle said.
She wished she could just blurt out that her mother would kill her if she found out she wasn't in her room.
"No, really, I prefer the walk. It gives me time to think about us. And other things." In the end she knew he would relent and let her have her way.
"Casey, you're not leaving, are you?" Fiona Wallace called to her as she opened the door to the front porch.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Wallace. I have to get home." A chill ran down her arms when she saw the look that passed between mother and son.
"I wanted to talk to you earlier, Casey, but wasn't quite sure how to approach the subject."
Tall as Kyle and thin as a stick, Fiona Wallace was an unattractive woman, just short of being downright ugly, and with a disposition to match. She reminded Casey of Olive Oyl, except she lacked the friendly personality of the cartoon character. Fiona never bothered with makeup or an updated hairstyle. She wore dowdy clothes and shoes with the heels run-down. Casey was glad Kyle had taken after his father in the looks department.
Steeling herself for what she thought was about to be bad news, Casey was shocked when she heard Mrs. Wallace's words pour out of her thin pursed lips.
"Mr. Wallace and I have decided that you and Kyle might like to have a small wedding. Here at our home."
Casey reached for the doorknob to steady herself. "I don't know what to say," she said miserably. She looked at Kyle, who was leaning against the wall with a cat-that-ate-the -canary look. It was obvious to her that he'd known all about his mother's little surprise.
"I just found out myself this afternoon. I thought it would be best if Mother told you." Kyle looked at his mother, whose thin nose was almost at a ninety-degree angle.
Excerpted from About Face by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2003 First Draft, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.