By Love Betrayed

By Love Betrayed

by Joanna Wilson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477291764
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 04/05/2013
Pages: 386
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.86(d)

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By Love Betrayed


By Joanna Wilson

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2013 Joanna Wilson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4772-9176-4


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Something didn't feel right to Shannon as she approached her aunt's darkened Bucks County townhouse from the driveway. Her aunt had lately taken to leaving lights on when she was away from home. So, why wasn't the crystal fringed lamp lit that sat in the center of the picture window?

On the patio, she fit her key into the lock only to find the door already unlocked. Her aunt never left the house without locking every door. Should I call 9-1-1? she wondered. Yeah, right! And when the police find nothing out of the way, I'll look like a fool.

She flipped the foyer's light switch that lit the ceiling chandelier in the living room—and stood there too stunned to move. Upholstered chairs and carpeting lay, slashed, on the parquet floor, silverware and linens and pillows lay strewn about.

She trembled as reality hit her. A break-in! In this upscale part of Bucks County? Who'd guess? Now she'd call 9-1-1.

But where is my aunt? The unspoken words sounded like a scream inside her head. This is her home, her things. Is she lying somewhere hurt, bleeding? This is a home invasion. Well, Shannon, you think?

She headed for the wall phone in the kitchen unable to turn off the shivers that shook her body. Rounding the corner she turned on the wall light and stopped. A woman lay face down on the floor, blood pooled under her, a knife in her back.

Shannon gagged and tried to scream but it came out as a strangled cry. "Oh my God! No, no, no. Aunt Maureen! Please, you can't be ..." Her stomach pulled apart. Tears streamed down her face. "You can't leave me," she cried aloud. "You know you're my inspiration, my ... my guidance counselor. More than even my mother, you're ..."

She saw a ragged slash of blood along the back of the dark green wool coat that her aunt still wore. Should I pull out the knife? She stepped closer as cold sweat tracked along her spine. God, what should I do? I can't handle this.

Her skin turned clammy as that prickling sensation she knew so well forked its way through her body. Another panic attack on its way. She grasped the cold granite countertop, hoping it would ground her as nausea gathered inside her. Usually, nothing outside of her impeded an oncoming attack. But strangely enough, her breathing had become even.

If I could see her face, she thought, I'd at least know if she's ... who she is. But who else? The coat is my aunt's. That deep brown-red color of her long hair couldn't belong to anyone else. This is my aunt's home, her kitchen ...

Then the unthinkable popped into her head. Could he, the killer, still be here? Wouldn't he have shown himself by now? Oh, damn it, I should have called the police before this. Maybe if I ran next door, Mrs. Nicholson would call.

Then from behind her came the words, "Stay where you are. Keep your hands where I can see them." His voice sounded gritty and hard.

"Are you going to kill me too?" she blurted.

"Turn around slowly. Keep your hands raised."

Her chest ached from what felt like a truss wrapped around her. Why didn't I run when I had the chance? Thirty years old, Shannon, and you still can't act responsibly. Always waiting. For what?

She turned. He wore a black leather jacket and held a gun. With his free hand, he pointed to a silver-tone badge on the front of his jacket. "Police. Who are you?"

Relief gushed through her. His name tag read J. Clarke, followed by a badge number. The patch on the jacket's arm read Birches Glen Police Department. She wondered how the local police department learned about this. She hadn't called. She took a shaky breath. "I'm ... I'm her niece. Shannon Mulcahy. I just got here. Well, a few minutes ago. I found her. She's ... she's not dead, is she? She could still be alive, couldn't she?"

He studied her, turned to the woman on the floor, then back to Shannon who clutched the collar of her black pea coat. He motioned her to stay put with his open palm. His leather jacket crackled as he strode toward the woman and knelt beside her. After holding his fingers at her throat, he muttered into a transmitter something like "... have a DCDS at 10 Cabbage Rose Lane in the borough." He stood and faced Shannon. "I'm sorry." His voice had lost its gruffness.

"I just talked to her. Earlier tonight." She took another step, but Clarke held out a restraining hand. "She's gone. I'm sorry. Come, sit down over here."

He gently guided her toward the pine kitchen table where he pulled out a chair.

"It's gonna get busy very soon. Best you stay here, out of the way, until you can handle things better. There'll be questions. I'll have the EMT's check you. It's good that you called us."

"I didn't call you."

He glanced at her then jotted a few words in a pocket notebook.

Once seated, she felt that creeping threat of nausea again.

"Are you all right?"

"I think I'm going to ..."

He removed a tube from his pocket and swiped it under her nose. "Breathe in. Then lower your head between your legs."

Just as her stomach began to settle, she heard a rush of sound. Looking up, she saw Clarke talking to another officer and a man in plain clothes. He wore a brown trench coat with its flannel collar at attention. A gray-haired red-cheeked man carried a black bag and walked toward the body. Three emergency medical technicians carrying gear followed him.

Seeing them, her trembling worsened. I can't go on without you, Aunt Maureen, she thought. There's no one to take your place, no one who cares in the same way, who gives so much of herself ...

She pulled her coat tighter and crossed her arms on her chest. Cutting a glance toward the dining room, she saw the same destruction; ruby-color carpet and padding slashed, upholstery ripped from chairs, pricey miniature wood carvings that her aunt had collected for years on the floor, expelled from the china closet that had housed them, canvasses ripped from their frames. What had this monster been looking for? Who is he? Certainly no acquaintance of my aunt.

She watched Clarke, tried to read his lips, as he spoke to the trench-coated man who lobbed glances toward her. After hearing him say "... it's the doc's scene now," she watched him make his way toward her.

"Hi. Ms. Mulcahy, is it? I'm Detective Steve Kendall." He flipped open a leather wallet that held his identification. "How are you holding up?"

She shrugged. Was she holding up? She didn't know.

"It's rough, I know," he went on. "It would be hard for anyone to deal with this tragedy, let alone a relative. I know it's bad timing, but could you answer a few questions? The sooner we get some information, the sooner we can start the investigation."

He was tall, six feet, she guessed, with brown hair. Light coloring with blue or hazel eyes that seemed quiet and composed—the eyes of a thinker. His mouth was thin-lipped with a smile always ready to appear. He seemed to be maybe thirty-five, five years older than her.

She rocked back and forth, hugging herself. "I ... don't know anything more than what I told that officer. I ... just came in and found her."

Kendall nodded. "And you are ...?

"Her niece."

"Then you've identified her?"

She balled up the fabric of her sleeves in her hands. "Well, no. But who else?"

Kendall regarded her searchingly. "You said you didn't call the police?" There it was again, that same question. No, she hadn't, she said. Someone must have. But who?

"The officer ... Officer Clarke asked me that, too. I started to call just before he arrived."

"If you could make a formal identification, it would help us begin the proceedings."

She looked away, tears starting. "She's my aunt, not ... the proceedings."

He bit his lip. "I'm sorry. You're right, of course. That was insensitive of me. The technical stuff always slips in. I'm sorry. I apologize."

By now, the people walking the rooms seemed to her to move in slow motion, speaking in hushed tones, brushing table surfaces with powder, placing things in small brown paper bags. A photographer took pictures.

"What ... you mean ... look at her up close?"

He nodded. She shook her head. "I can't do that. I'm sorry, but I can't. She was the dearest ..."

Her lips quivered. Identify a dead woman who's always been there for me? And never would be again? No future. No present. Just past.

She saw the gray-haired man open his bag, then motion to the technicians. They formed a circle around the body. Shannon's stomach lurched. "Who is he? What's he doing?"

"He's the county coroner's pathologist. Either he or an assistant is present at all homicides or suspicious deaths. He needs to get a body temperature to help fix the time of death."

Panic gripped her again. This is all a mistake, she thought. It's someone else's nightmare, not mine. Her mouth felt like sand, the corners splitting painfully. The detective motioned to Clarke who, a minute later, brought her a glass of water. She took it gratefully.

Detective Kendall took her free hand. "I know this was an awful thing to walk in on. And I guess these questions seem ... intrusive, insensitive. And I'm sorry. But they're necessary, as you must realize. We have to learn as much as we can in the first few hours while information is fresh in everyone's mind." His voice had softened. "Are there any other relatives?"

The water tasted cold and delicious. She swirled it around in her mouth, then wet her lips. "My other aunt. I don't know where she is. She left ... years ago. And my mother." My mother! How would she react to all this? Cool and collected, as usual? Or would she finally show emotion.

Kendall opened his notepad. "Can you tell me why you're here, Shannon? Do you mind if I call you by your first name?"

She shook her head, hunching into herself. "For a long time, we'd meet on Fridays after work. It's an end-of-the-work-week observance. Usually pizza and wine." She smiled, remembering her aunt's zero tolerance of winter. "I thought she'd cancel because of the weather. She hates to drive in this." She nodded outside to the light snow still falling. "But she didn't. She said she had something to go over with me."

He scribbled on his pad. "How has she been lately? Anxious? Stressed? Anything out of the ordinary?"

"Lately, she's been nervous, jumpy."

The detective pulled out a chair and sat down leaning over the back, facing her. "Go on."

"She's always 'up', you know? But lately ... she wasn't herself, I guess."

The detective scribbled. "Did you ask her about it?"

"She blamed it on the job." She leaned toward him. He wore a musky scent. "She owns a full-service beauty salon. Busy all the time, but she enjoys it. I hoped tonight she'd tell me what's been bothering her."

She pressed a fist against her chin. "Detective, please, I have a throbbing headache. Can other questions wait?"

"Of course. The chief will want to see you and your mother in the morning. You'll have a statement to go over."

"Tomorrow's Saturday."

"Homicides don't care about weekends. Shannon, can you try for me?" He motioned to the sheeted form on the floor. She tucked her lower lip between her teeth. My aunt's laughter—gone forever. Her off-key humming. Flea markets, Mall-hopping, eating Chinese on the living room floor. Gone. Only ... remembered. She shook her head. "Please ... understand. She was ... I loved her dearly."

Kendall took her hand. "Shannon, we deserve more than a Jane Doe ID. Our identity doesn't end with our death."

She cried openly for a few minutes then finally agreed. He took her arm. "Lean on me." His voice was close to her ear.

The pathologist lifted the sheet and raised the woman's shoulder just enough to expose her face. The knife still lay in place. Shannon stood quietly and stared.

CHAPTER 2

Maureen Doherty, owner of the full-service hair and beauty salon near Lahaska, Bucks County, had been ready to end her day an hour earlier. But she couldn't say no to Sally, a young stylist at the salon, who asked her to do a blow-dry.

"It's my first date with this guy, Maureen, and he's a real hunk. I don't want to look "messy," you know?" Maureen, in her fifties, could remember her youthful dates—until the "man" came along. Then the dating game was over. Along with her life.

It had been a busy day—perms, touch-ups, and 'do's for winter proms—enough, thankfully, to keep her emotional concerns at bay. With both the last client and Sally satisfied and on their way, Maureen retrieved her tan raincoat and hat from the closet behind the reception desk. The hands of the small decorator clock on the desk showed it was after six. "Thought so," she said.

"What's that?" Gina asked. Besides being a stylist, Gina worked as assistant manager.

"My stomach told me it was dinner time. I didn't have time for lunch. A few crackers and coffee."

The lightly-falling snow had continued through the day. As a soft snow, would driving cause her difficulties? Driving in any kind of snow presented her with problems—which she'd have to deal with later. For now, Maureen thought, Gina's eyes were boring into her back. Like a bulldog with a bone, she thought. I want to confide but you're knowing about it wouldn't help either of us. And might be dangerous for you.

"Maureen, you sure you're all right?"

"Gigi, I'm fine." She put her arms into her coat sleeves. "You're a worry wart. Stop it, already." She glanced at the appointment book. "You have an eight o'clock tomorrow? I thought ..."

Gina clicked her tongue. "Maureen, stop that. Stop changing the subject. I'm worried about you. You've been distracted for weeks. And I'm not the only one who's noticed it. I wish you'd talk to me. We've shared before."

Gina took her job at the salon seriously. And at home, as well. At thirty-two, she'd recently become a mom, probably amplifying her natural-born Mother Hen tendencies, Maureen thought.

Oh, how I want to tell you. You'd understand, I know. But it would take more than a sympathetic ear to make things better, to make him disappear. Somebody has to be helping him, but who?

She touched Gina's arm lightly. "Honestly, sweetie, nothing to talk about. We're busy, you know that. And I get uptight ..."

"Maureen, you thrive on being busy. Why are you shutting me out? We've known each other ... how long? You've never done that before."

The less you know, the better off you are. You work with me. That could be detrimental for you. "Shutting you out? Gina, I'm doing no such thing. You're making a big deal out of nothing. Okay, maybe I am a little ... distracted. But the reasons are simple."

She tied the soft belt of her coat with a flourish. "We've been busy this month but our receipts don't reflect that. I'll have to go over the books on the weekend, check for a discrepancy."

You've been so distracted lately ... Gina thought.

"And then there's Shannon. Talk about being distracted ... something's bothering her. We'd planned to get together tonight for pizza and wine, just like any other Friday. But with this weather, I cancelled it. You know her, thinks plans are written in stone. Naturally, she got bent out of shape over that. She thinks her Pathfinder can go through rock. And she can be tedious to be with ..."

"Why? I've never thought that about her."

"She keeps her real self hidden most of the time. Sees herself as boring company. Her low self-esteem makes it hard for her to recognize her own talent. I have to keep buoying her up."

She knew her words hadn't convinced Gina. They wouldn't convince her, either. Now, she gathered her long hair with both hands, tucked it under her hat, and pulled the hat low on her forehead. Flinging a burgundy-colored wool scarf around her neck, she headed for the door. The quicker she got out, the less time Gina had to pose more questions.

"By the way," she said, at the door, "Ceil will be late tomorrow. She's putting her car in the shop. They promised her she'd have it before eleven. You know how that is. If not, they'll provide a loaner. If one's available. At any rate, she's booked for a color at eleven. If that loaner doesn't come through, I'll bring her in since I'm not booked until noon. Now, stop worrying. Everything's fine. Trust me. Okay?"

Gina made a face. "Yeah, okay. Sure. Until next time."

Stopping at the bank in the same strip mall, she deposited the week's receipts then headed for her snow-coated Buick. The drive to her townhouse on Cabbage Rose Drive normally took about fifteen minutes. Tonight, it would take that and longer just to clean off the car.

Once on her way, the monotonous thwack of the wipers and the warmth from the heater made her feel lethargic. She even found herself nodding at times. She opened the window a crack, glad to see that the snowfall had lessened. Letting her mind unbend, she thought how pleasant a mini-vacation would feel, a weekend on the Pocono slopes. It would serve as a respite from ... things. She'd ask Shannon to go with her. Even Gina. Let Tony bond with the little guy.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from By Love Betrayed by Joanna Wilson. Copyright © 2013 by Joanna Wilson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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