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Every nerve in Dede Chamberlain's body was tense as she lay on the narrow bed in the barred, locked room. She listened to the late-night sounds: weeping, an occasional scream, the scrape of a chair leg at the nurses' station down the hall.
Dede knew better than to fall asleep. She'd heard that a new orderly had been hired, and she knew what that meant. She hadn't seen him yet, but she'd heard about him through the whispers of the other patients. A big guy with light gray eyes and a scar on his left cheek. Claude.
She didn't know his last name, doubted he would have used his real one for this job anyway. But she knew Claude would come for her tonight now that only minimal staff were on duty.
But there was no chance of escaping this place. After she'd escaped from the Texas facility, they hadn't taken any chances with her up here in Montana. They'd put her in the criminally insane ward under maximum security, assuring her she couldn't get out—and no one could get to her.
And they thought she was the one who was crazy?
The men after her would get to her. There was no escaping them—not while she was locked up.
The air around her seemed to change. She sensed it, the same way she had sensed her life coming unraveled just months before. No one had believed her then; no one believed her now.
Dede leaned up on one elbow, the metallic taste of fear in her mouth, a taste she'd become intimately familiar with since she'd discovered just how far her husband would go.
Battling back the fear, she vowed she wouldn't make it easy for Claude when he came to kill her. It was all she had left—she would give him one hell of a fight.
From down the hall, she heard a door open and close with the careful stealth of those who lived by secrets and lies. Dede sat all the way up, listening to the cautious squeak of shoe soles as someone crept down the hallway in her direction.
Another door opened with a soft click; another pair of shoe soles sneaked down the hallway.
Furtively Dede rose from the bed and padded to the door to peek out through the bars into the dimly lit hallway.
Two figures moved as quietly as cockroaches. She recognized them as patients and started to turn away. Whatever they were up to, she wanted no part of it.
But then one of them saw her.
From down the hall, Violet Evans shot her a warning look and touched her finger to her lips before dragging it dramatically across her throat.
Dede had seen her the day she'd been captured and brought in. Violet had watched her through the bars of her window. After spending the last month in a psych ward, Dede recognized madness. But when she'd met Violet's gaze that day, she'd known that she'd just seen true insanity.
"Who is that woman?" Dede had asked the armed orderly taking her to her room.
"Violet Evans. We all watch out for that one."
Violet was a raw-boned woman, late thirties, with straight brown hair and a plain face. The other patient beside her now in the hallway was a large buxom woman with a visage like a bulldog. Both seemed to be carrying what looked like a bright red blanket over one arm—only Violet had one over each arm.
As Violet motioned to someone down the hall at the nurses' station on the other side of the steel bars, Dede felt her stomach roil. She'd heard that Violet had tried to escape from here once before and it had gone badly. She was sure it would be worse tonight and wanted no part of it.
Dede started to step back as Violet came alongside her door. But before she could move, Violet stepped in front of the barred, open window. For the first time, Dede was glad that she was locked in.
She touched her finger to her lips to let Violet know she'd gotten the message loud and clear and wasn't about to give them away. Anyone with a brain could see that the woman was dangerous.
Violet nodded slowly, and Dede saw what she was carrying. Not a blanket. Two plush Santa Claus suits. Dede frowned. Were the costumes from the Christmas program she'd heard about that patients on the other side of the hospital were practicing for? But how did Violet—
The sudden blare of the fire alarm made Dede jump.
But it was the closer, quieter sound that sent her heart racing: the soft clunk of her cell door unlocking.
Through the bars of her window, Dede saw Violet smile and mouth, "You're coming with us."
The door swung up, and Violet reached in, grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her out into the hallway. Violet shoved a Santa costume at her before giving her a shove toward the confusion at the end of the hallway.
"Come on, Texas escape artist," Violet said. "Let's see if you can get out of here alive."
Lantry Corbett wasn t used to the phone ringing in the wee hours of morning. Unlike his brother Shane, who was a deputy sheriff, Lantry's business didn't require middle-of-the-night calls.
That's why it took him a few minutes to realize what had awakened him.
"Yeah?" he said after fumbling around half-asleep and finally snatching up his cell phone.
"Lantry?" Shane's voice made him reach for the lamp beside the bed. The light came on, momentarily blinding him. His bedside clock read 3:22 a.m. His pulse took off, and he sat up, scaring himself fully awake.
"Sorry to call you so late, but one of your clients has been arrested and is demanding to see you."
"What?" He threw his legs over the side of the bed and dropped his head to his free hand. "You scared the hell out of me. I thought something had happened to…" He shook his head as he tried to shake off the fear that this call was about their father.
It had been a crazy thought, since the family had turned in early down at the ranch's main lodge, and none of them would have been out on a night like this.
Lantry padded barefoot to look out the front window of his cabin toward the main ranch house a good quarter mile away. Nothing moved, no lights shone, no sign of life. Everyone was in bed asleep—but him and his brother Shane.
Snow covered everything in sight, and more was falling, making the night glow with a white radiance. For a moment, he stared at the snowflakes suspended in the ranch yard light outside, wondering what he was still doing in Montana.
"Lantry, are you listening to me?"
He hadn't been. "There's some mistake. No client of mine is in your jail cell. All my former clients are in Texas." Which was where he should be—and would be, once Christmas was over.
"Not this one. She has the Texas accent to prove it," Shane said. "Look, this is kind of a special case, or I wouldn't have called you at this hour. They're coming for her at first light to take her back."
"Back to Texas?"
"Back to the state mental hospital here first, then back to the mental facility she escaped from in Texas."
Lantry let out a curse. "A mental patient? Why would you believe her when she said she was my client?"
"She asked for you by name."
He shook his head, still half-asleep he assumed, since this wasn't making any sense. "Who is this woman?"
Lantry let out a string of curses. "The woman's crazy. Why do you think she's been locked up? You call me in the middle of the night for this?" He started to hang up.
"She says it's a matter of life and death—yours. She swears your life is in danger because you were involved in her divorce."
Lantry couldn't believe this. "I represented her husband in the divorce. I've never even laid eyes on this woman, and I can't imagine why I would be in danger. Frank Chamberlain was extremely happy with the job I did for him." Lantry thought of how well paid he'd been. "The only danger I might be in is from his lunatic ex-wife. Just keep her locked up until the hospital comes to take her back."
"She said you might need convincing. If you refused to see her, she said to tell you to have someone check the brake line on your wrecked Ferrari."
"My wrecked Ferrari?"
"I know, you don't have a Ferrari," Shane said.
No, but he had owned a Lamborghini. That was, until the accident just before he'd left Texas. His stomach lurched at the memory of losing control of the car. He'd been lucky to get out alive.
"I'll call her a court-appointed attorney," Shane was saying. "Sorry to have woken you for nothing. But she was so convincing, I felt I had to call."
"What time did you say they were coming to get her?"
Just before five o'clock, Lantry walked into the Whitehorse, Montana, sheriff's department brushing snow from his coat. "Is Dede Chamberlain still here?"
Shane looked up in obvious surprise to see him standing in his office doorway. "Yes, but I didn't think you were interested in representing her. Something change your mind?"
"Can I see her or not?" Lantry asked.
"You might want to work on your bedside manner."
"I'm a divorce lawyer, not a doctor, and after being rudely awakened, I couldn't get back to sleep."
Shane picked up a large set of keys. "I had forgotten you get a little testy when you don't get your rest."
Lantry didn't take the bait as he followed his brother through the offices toward the attached jail. He nodded to a deputy who didn't look like he was out of high school, obviously a very recent hire given the fact that his uniform looked straight out of the box.
Shane led Lantry through a door and down a hallway between a half-dozen cells. All but one was empty. He noticed that Dede Chamberlain had been put in the last cell at the end of the row and guessed that was probably because she'd been disruptive and they hadn't wanted to hear it.
Lantry had dealt with his share of young wives married to rich older men. He knew the type. Privileged, spoiled, demanding, born with a sense of entitlement.
As he neared the former Mrs. Frank Chamberlain's cell, he saw a small curled-up ball under what looked like red fake fur. He cleared his throat, and she sat up looking sleepy-eyed for an instant before she became alert.
Lantry had never laid eyes on the woman before and was more than a little surprised. Dede Chamberlain had already been locked up in the Texas mental facility by that time so the only person Lantry had dealt with was her lawyer. When he'd handled her husband's side of the divorce, he'd assumed the fiftyish Frank Chamberlain hadn't been far off base when he'd claimed his younger wife was a gold-digging, vindictive, crazy bitch who was trying to take all of his money—if not his life.
Having seen his share of crazed trophy wives, Lantry had put Dede Chamberlain in the same category. He'd expected Botoxed, health-clubbed and hard as her designer salon acrylic nails.
That's why he was taken aback now. This woman looked nothing like the ex-wives he'd dealt with during his career.
Dede Chamberlain had the face of an angel, big blue eyes and a curly cap of reddish-blond hair that actually looked like her original color. There was a sweet freshness and innocence about her that he'd always associated with women from states that grew corn.
But if anyone knew that looks could be deceiving, it was a divorce lawyer.
She blinked at him as if surprised to see him, then rose to come to the bars. "Thank you so much for coming down here, Mr. Corbett," she said in a voice that was soft, hopeful and edged with maybe a little fear.
"I'm not here to represent you."
"You're not?" She lost the hopeful look.
"If you weren't already locked up and facing life in prison or worse, I would have you arrested for whatever you did to my Lamborghini." He stopped and frowned. "Why are you wearing a Santa Claus costume?"
She waved a hand through the air. No acrylic salon fingernails. Not even any polish on her neatly trimmed bare nails, he thought, distracted for a moment.
"The Santa suit? It's a long story," Dede said. "But you probably shouldn't hear about it since you aren't my lawyer. But for the record, I never touched your car. You can blame Frank for that."
Lantry shook his head. "Why would your ex-husband and my client, who I might add I got a huge settlement for, want to destroy my car?"
"I can understand your confusion, Mr. Corbett. But that's why I had your brother call you. Your life is in danger because of something my ex-husband was involved in."
Lantry nodded, wishing he hadn't bothered to come down here. What had been the point? The woman had escaped from a mental institution. Two mental facilities, actually, and had shown a history of fanatical behavior on the verge of homicidal during the divorce. Had he expected reason from this woman?
He shook his head and turned to leave.
"Why do you think I'm in Whitehorse if not to warn you?" she said to his retreating back. "Why come all the way to Montana? Why not just take off to some place where no one could find me and save my own neck? Isn't that what you would have done?"
That stung, but he couldn't deny the truth of it. He stopped walking away and turned to look back at her, something in her words making him hesitate.
"I would be dead right now if it hadn't been for the two inmates who broke me out with them from the state hospital," Dede said.
"Instead, you came here to save my life."
She nodded, obviously missing the sarcasm in his tone—or ignoring it. "My motives weren't completely altruistic," she said. "I'm hoping you can save us both. But if they—"
He held up his hand to stop her. "Who's they?" he asked, waiting for her to say she didn't know so he could walk out without feeling the least bit guilty. "I thought you said Frank was behind this death wish for me?"
"Actually, it's two childhood friends of Frank's," she said. "I only know them as Ed and Claude. But when they showed up in Houston, that's when Frank began to change. I could tell he was afraid of them, but it was as if they had some kind of hold on him."
This all sounded like a bad B movie, and Dede Chamberlain was writing it from somewhere inside her demented brain.
Lantry had heard his share of pre-divorce stories over the years. He didn't want to hear Dede Chamberlain's, didn't want to feel any sympathy for her. Marriage was a choice, and she'd stupidly married Frank.