Twenty-three years ago, Misty Banner was brutally slashed to death in her home in Virtue Falls, Washington. Her husband was convicted of the murder. Their four year old daughter Elizabeth witnessed the crime, but has no memory of the killing. Now, two decades later, Elizabeth is back in Virtue Falls. She soon discovers her father is innocent. The real killer is still out there. And her investigation has stirred dark and deadly resentments that could provoke in another bloody murder—her own—in this riveting novel from bestselling author Christina Dodd.
About the Author
Christina Dodd is the author of over twenty-three romances that made regular appearances on the bestseller lists, including The New York Times. She has won numerous awards: Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart and RITA Awards.
Read an Excerpt
By Christina Dodd
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Christina Dodd
All rights reserved.
Virtue Falls, Washington State
If Elizabeth Banner noticed the interest with which the townspeople talked about her in low tones behind her back, she gave no indication. And in fact, she didn't notice. For as long as she could remember, she had always been the girl who had watched her father kill her mother with the scissors.
Although Elizabeth hadn't set foot in Virtue Falls for twenty-three years, the memory of Misty Banner's murder was still fresh in many people's minds. That made Elizabeth a local celebrity of sorts, and the news of her return swept the small community as vigorously as the tsunami those crazy scientists were always predicting.
Townsfolk speculated that Elizabeth had come back to reunite with her father, but after one brief visit to the Honor Mountain Memory Care Facility, she hadn't gone back. Instead she spent her time at the ongoing study of Pacific Rim tectonic plates and subduction zones, researching alluvial deposits.
Which made sense — her father was Charles Banner, the man who had pioneered the study, and now here she was, a chip off the old block, a respected geologist at age twenty-seven with lots of official-sounding letters after her name.
A few nasty people in the town darkly muttered that they hoped she didn't follow in her father's footsteps in any matter beyond the sciences.
Most folks didn't think she would; Elizabeth resembled her mother, not her father, with the same white-blond hair, the same wide blue eyes, the same curvy body and a walk to make a man abandon all sense.
Every straight guy in Virtue Falls had tried to catch her attention; she stared at them blankly, and talked about igneous rocks and cataclysmic earth events until even the most determined would-be lover conceded defeat.
Her online profile said she was divorced.
Most men said they knew why; she was boring.
Perversely, most men considered the guy who had let Elizabeth Banner get away to be the biggest dumbshit in the history of the world. It didn't matter what she said. It was the way her full lips formed the words when she said them.
Now she sat at her usual table by the window at the Oceanview Café — when she first arrived, she had noted with interest that the ocean was nowhere in view from this part of town — reviewing her notes from the dig and occasionally sipping on a Fufu Berry Jones soda and wondering why she had ordered it.
She thought she had ordered a root beer. And what was a fufu berry, anyway? Something pink ...
"Here you go, Elizabeth." The waitress slid a plate under Elizabeth's elbow. "Eat up while it's hot."
Elizabeth had finished work at the dig, gone home and showered, and changed into her brand-new Tory Burch sandals and her baby blue cotton jersey summer dress that was one size too big. She wore it like that on purpose. If she didn't, men had a tendency to stare at her boobs.
Well. Men had a tendency to stare at her boobs no matter what, but when she wore loose-fitting clothes, they were sometimes able to meet her eyes.
Rainbow wiped her hands on her apron. "Are you missing your team?"
Elizabeth paused, a fry halfway from the ketchup to her mouth. "Why would I?"
"They've been gone for three days to that conference in Tahoe, and you've been working alone at the site. Three days in that isolated canyon with no one to talk to. Don't you get lonely?"
"No." Elizabeth shook her head for emphasis. "At any rate, the team will soon be back covered with accolades for their research. Andrew is a very capable, if not brilliant, scientific leader."
"I don't know that I would tell him he's not brilliant," Rainbow said.
"He knows that, or he wouldn't lean so heavily on the intuitive suggestions of others." With great precision, Elizabeth spread mustard to the edges of the homemade bun.
"Trust me on this one, honey. There's a world of difference between knowing it and admitting it, and Andrew Marrero is already touchy about the fact he worked for your father and stands in his shadow."
Elizabeth considered that. "Yes. I have read my father's work. Charles Banner was, in fact, a gifted scientist, and I say that without prejudice of any kind. But why that would influence Marrero's opinion of himself, I do not understand."
"I know you don't, honey. But take my word for it, I'm right."
Elizabeth observed Rainbow, head tilted.
Rainbow sighed. "Okay, look. Marrero is a good-looking son-of-a-bitch. Dark hair, dark eyes, swarthy skin, the image of a Latin lover. But he's short. He says five-nine, but he's five-seven, maybe five-eight. Maybe. He's well hung, but he can't tell everybody that, so he wears lifts in his shoes. Short guys just have this attitude."
Elizabeth was fascinated with this unsuspected side of Rainbow. "You've slept with Andrew Marrero?"
"He's not my usual type, but it was interesting. I used to put him on and spin him." Rainbow's eyes half-closed in satisfied remembrance.
Elizabeth blurted, "I thought you were ..." She stopped herself barely in time.
Rainbow's eyes snapped open. "Gay?"
So ... not barely in time.
"Hey, when you're bi, you double your chance for a date on Saturday night." Rainbow chortled, patted Elizabeth's arm, and headed toward the lunch counter.
Elizabeth sank her teeth into the burger while she watched Rainbow charm three sunburned tourists who chattered with great excitement about their day at the beach.
Rainbow had apparently been the waitress here at the Oceanview when Elizabeth was a child. Twenty-three years later she was still the waitress, a fate Elizabeth considered worse than death. Of course, she couldn't even remember whether she'd ordered a root beer or a fufu berry soda, so that was part of it, but being around people all day filled her with horror.
She liked rocks.
She didn't like people. In her experience, most of them were spiteful, or thoughtless, or cruelly curious, and always, always impatient with her lack of interest in them.
But Rainbow interested her, because Rainbow seemed to be an entirely different species of human. For one thing, Rainbow was tall, with big bones, broad shoulders, and a head full of salt-and-pepper gray hair. She was hearty, cheerful, and she seemed honestly fascinated by her customers, tourist or local, always chatting, asking questions, giving unwanted advice.
At first Elizabeth hadn't known what to do with her; every time Rainbow came to the table she would tell Elizabeth stuff. Stuff Elizabeth didn't want to hear because it distracted her from her work.
But Rainbow never needed an invitation to talk. The first time Elizabeth came in for dinner, Rainbow told her, "A lot of people think my name is unfortunate for a woman my age. You know — I was born in sixty-eight in Haight-Ashbury, after the Summer of Love." She paused and seemed to be waiting for something.
Elizabeth belatedly picked up her cue. "Your parents were hippies?"
"Hippies? God, yes. The original hash-smoking, psychedelic-music-playing, free-love-practicing hippies." Rainbow shook her head like a disapproving mom. "Still are, for that matter. After I was born, they decided the city wasn't a good place to raise a baby, so they went into the Sierra Nevadas and learned weaving from a Native American woman who'd learned techniques from her great-grandmother. They're pretty good at it. You've probably heard of them."
"I don't think so."
"They've got one of the temporary exhibits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. My parents are Alder and Elf Breezewing."
Elizabeth's head was spinning. "Which one is Alder and which is Elf?"
"He's Alder and she's Elf, of course. It's the Breezewing exhibit!"
Rainbow put her broad hands on her broad hips. "You really don't know a damned thing about anything except rocks, do you?"
"That is not true. I also understand alluvial deposits and am studying the recently mapped ocean floor off the coast of Virtue Falls for an understanding of why tsunamis are so massive in this area." Elizabeth thought it an intelligent answer.
Rainbow stared at her as if she was speaking a foreign language. "Right. You're like your father. I'll get your dinner. I had the cook put an extra order of fries on the plate."
Elizabeth wanted to ask what she meant about her father. Had Rainbow known him when they lived here?
But Elizabeth had learned, the hard way, never to talk about Charles, so instead she asked, "I asked for mashed potatoes. Didn't I?"
"They're coming, too. You need fattening up."
Elizabeth knew for a fact she didn't need fattening up. She was curvy. Very curvy. For a girl growing up in California, land of the svelte, being built like her was a disadvantage, not to mention it was hard to find clothes. If pants fit her hips, they were loose around her waist, and she hadn't worn a button-up shirt since she was eleven and developed a C-cup. Her aunt said she was built like her mom. Her uncle said she was built like an exotic dancer. But he didn't realize she'd heard him, so she would acquit him of malice. Her uncle wasn't mean; he was overworked and didn't have time for his own kids, much less a niece who never talked much even after she recovered her power of speech.
Elizabeth realized she had a bit of a disconnect from the rest of the world caused by the knowledge that humanity could turn on her in an instant. She recognized the fact she sabotaged her own relationships, and sometimes she really tried to join in with the general populace and talk about the weather. She just never got it right. Not even with Garik.
Especially not with Garik.
Best not to think of Garik.
She bent her head to her reports again, and didn't notice when one of the town's elderly inhabitants held court in the corner, pointed her out to the tourists, and regaled them with the tale of how Elizabeth Banner had seen her father kill her mother with a pair of scissors.CHAPTER 2
"Virtue Falls Resort has already celebrated its hundredth birthday."
The tourists said, "Ooh."
"Built in nineteen-thirteen by John Smith Sr., this elegant four-story boutique hotel and spa perches on a rocky precipice over the Pacific Ocean, and was a profitable addition to the immense Smith fortune, which consisted of a thousand wooded acres, a sawmill, and the mountaintop mansion in which the family lived." Margaret leaned on her cane and listened as the dozen newly arrived guests now said, "Ahh."
They stood in the great room of the resort, on the next to the last stop of the tour. Margaret had probably told this tale to resort guests at least five thousand times — and she loved it. It was her Irish blood that made her a storyteller, and her own self that made her love dealing with people.
She didn't mind that the guests craned their necks to look up at the massive rustic Douglas fir beams supporting the high knotty pine ceiling, or ran their hands over the restored early-twentieth-century furniture. She wanted them to admire the great room. More than that, she wanted to give them the feeling that they were part of the Smith family.
When that happened, they would return. Even now, she recognized one couple; Mr. and Mrs. Turner had first come as honeymooners. Now they brought their teenage son.
That was the kind of connection Margaret liked to see. She continued, "Unfortunately, World War One took the oldest Smith son into battle and he died in the fields of France. Grief killed John, Senior. Mrs. Ida Smith and her son Johnny had not been trained to manage properties, and surviving the Great Depression required more skill than the two of them could provide. By the time Mrs. Ida Smith visited Ireland in nineteen thirty-eight, the Smith fortunes were well on their way to vanishing. Luckily, Mrs. Smith met me." Margaret nodded while her guests laughed. "I was sixteen years old" — a lie, she'd been fifteen — "and Mrs. Smith brought me back to work for her. Eventually, I married her son Johnny" — he'd never had a chance, she'd married him within three months — "and we made a marvelous team."
"How long were you married?" Aurora Thompson was middle-aged and vacationing alone, with a white, untanned line across her wedding ring finger.
Margaret diagnosed her as recently divorced, poor dear, still wallowing in self-pity. "Not quite thirty years," Margaret said. "But no other man has ever tempted me to revisit the marital state."
"I'll bet a lot of men have tried." Josue Torres was no more than thirty, handsome as the devil and with a twinkle in his brown eyes.
"Ah, you are a charmer." Margaret smiled at him and checked for a ring. Married. Where was his wife? Why was he here? Was he one of the philandering bastards she despised? "Are you applying for the job?"
"If I were single ..." He sighed dramatically. "But my wife is joining me tomorrow."
Margaret put her hand on her chest, and she deliberately deepened her Irish brogue as she said, "Ah, you've broken me heart." She straightened, and speaking toward Aurora, she said, "Actually, I find my life without a man of my own quite enjoyable. But then, I'm a pigheaded old woman who likes to do what she wants, and marriage is all about compromise and giving."
Aurora nodded, and the worry line between her brows lessened.
Yes, remember the bad times in your marriage and think on what your life can be now. You'll be happier. Satisfied she'd given the discarded wife something to consider, Margaret continued, "When I arrived here in Virtue Falls, the Smiths' wooded acres and the sawmill had already vanished, but we made the resort world-famous and when Mrs. Smith died in nineteen sixty-seven at the age of eighty-eight, she had the gratification of knowing we had saved the family's fortune. I had lost my dear Johnny the year before, our children were grown and gone, so I donated the family mansion, now a historical home, to the state of Washington, and moved here where I live in a suite of rooms overlooking the ocean. The view is spectacular, but as you've discovered, at Virtue Falls Resort, every view from every room is spectacular."
The guests murmured and nodded.
"Are there any questions before we move on to our last stop on the tour, the Virtue Falls deck, and enjoy a glass of wine?"
The drive up the coast at this time of year was always gorgeous, and one retired couple from the South had been lavish with praise for the scenery and the inn. Now in her warm, soft voice Mrs. Daniels said, "I noticed several prints on your walls that looked as if they had been painted by Bradley Hoff, and I know he says Virtue Falls is his inspiration. Have you met Bradley Hoff?"
"I have not only met him," Margaret said, "I've had him dine here many a time. And those are not prints — those are originals."
Mrs. Daniels turned to her husband. "I told you so."
Mr. Daniels sighed. "Yes, yes, you're right. I still don't want one of those slick paintings stuck on the wall of my office." He seemed to realize he might have offended Margaret, and said, "I hope my opinion didn't offend you, ma'am."
"Not at all. When it comes to art, individual taste rules, and the critics certainly are not kind to Bradley. But as he always says, he cries all the way to the bank."
Everyone laughed, even Mr. Daniels.
"Is he as nice as he seems to be on television?" Mrs. Turner asked.
"He is a lovely person, as is his wife, Vivian." Although Margaret found Vivian a little thin and sharp, like salad dressing with too much vinegar. But Bradley seemed devoted to Vivian, and as Margaret knew, every ass had a seat. "Vivian is his manager and is very protective of Bradley, his time, and his talents. Otherwise, I think, he would paint all the time. So they are the perfect couple."
"She was on the Atlanta morning show with him one day," Mrs. Daniels said, "and she said he has contributed a lot to Virtue Falls."
"He has indeed. You probably heard that he raised funds to rebuild the gym at the high school when it burned down. They named it the Bradley Hoff Facility." Which peeved Margaret more than a little, for over the years she had put a fortune into various causes and charities in Virtue Falls, too. In fact, right now, she was supporting the tiny public library, and no one had named even a brick after her.
Excerpted from Virtue Falls by Christina Dodd. Copyright © 2014 Christina Dodd. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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