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Authors: Brandilyn Collins

Deceit

BOOK: Deceit
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Deceit

A Novel

Brandilyn
Collins

bestselling author

For Sarah Collins,
my beautiful daughter-in-law.

“Would it turn out well if [God] examined you?
Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?”

Job 13:9 (NIV)

“God sees not as man sees,
For man looks at the outward appearance,
But the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB)

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Dedication

Epigraph

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Thirty-Two

Thirty-Three

Thirty-Four

Thirty-Five

Thirty-Six

Thirty-Seven

Thirty-Eight

Thirty-Nine

Forty

Forty-One

Forty-Two

Forty-Three

Forty-Four

Forty-Five

Forty-Six

Forty-Seven

Forty Eight

Forty-Nine

Fifty

Fifty-One

Fifty-Two

Fifty-Three

Fifty-Four

Fifty-Five

Fifty-Six

Fifty-Seven

Fifty-Eight

Fifty-Nine

Sixty

Sixty-One

Sixty-Two

Epilogue

Author’s Note

Kanner Lake Series

Coral Moon
Violet Dawn
Dark Pursuit
Exposure

Praise For Novels by Brandilyn Collins

Also by Brandilyn Collins

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Copyright

About the Publisher

Share Your Thoughts

ONE

FEBRUARY 2010

Some evil shouts from rooftops, some scuttles in the dark. The greatest evil tips its face toward light with shining innocence.

Baxter Jackson shone with the worst of them.

In my sister’s kitchen I focused out the sliding glass door to her backyard. Relentless rain pummeled the night. The weather matched my mood. The
Vonita Times
, our town’s weekly paper, lay on the square wooden table across from me. Its front-page headline glared:
Skip Tracer Accuses Police Chief of Shirking Duty
.

My sister followed my gaze. “Maybe it really was an accident, Joanne.”

I shot her a look of accusation and hurt. “You too?” As if the rest of the town weren’t enough. “I thought you agreed with me.”

She drew a long breath. “I don’t know what to think. Two wives gone does look suspicious, but there’s no proof Baxter did anything. Once Cherisse’s death was ruled an accident—”

“How many people fall down stairs and die, Dineen, even if they are hardwood? That only happens in old movies.”

“But that’s what the coroner
said
.”

“And he’s up for reelection next year, and who do you suppose gave the most to his last campaign?”

“I know, but I just can’t believe any coroner would find signs of a murder and look the other way, especially this man. I mean, I
know
Bud Gidst. So do you.”

I pushed back my chair, picked up my plate, and stacked hers on top. Marched them over to the sink and set them down none too gently. I loved my sister like crazy, always had. She was twelve years younger, and I’d always looked after her. I steered her clear of bratty, bully girls in grade school, the wrong guys in high school. I urged her to fight her self-serving ex in court until he paid the two years’ worth of child support he owed for Jimmy. But the fact was, Dineen had always been too trusting. She just couldn’t believe anything bad about anybody until it hit her in the face.

“Sometimes people don’t want to see the truth, Dineen.” I rinsed the plates, the water hissing. “Autopsy findings are open to interpretation. To say all those bruises and contusions on Cherisse’s head didn’t match a fall down the stairs would be calling Baxter Jackson a liar. Maybe Bud didn’t want to believe that.”

Or maybe his ruling was far more sinister. Baxter Jackson was the richest man in Vonita and practically ran the town. He sponsored a Little League baseball team and personally paid for Vonita’s Fourth of July fireworks. He was everybody’s best friend. Nobody in the county ever spoke against Baxter.

Except me.

I turned off the water. If only I could wring that eavesdropping reporter’s neck. My argument with the chief of police had not been intended for the public’s ear.

“Yeah, maybe.” My sister sounded only half convinced. She pushed a lock of dark hair behind her ears, then hugged herself.

Voices from the TV drifted in from the den. Nine-year-old Jimmy was watching some reality cop show. My head hurt. I walked back to my chair and slumped into it, suddenly feeling old at fifty-two. Dineen pressed her lips together and regarded me with a beleaguered expression. Her hazel eyes held concern. “I’m just sorry you’ve gotten yourself mixed up in this.”

Thursday’s newspaper headline fairly shouted at me. I reached out and flipped it over. “I know.” I gave her a wan smile. “But I shouldn’t be worrying you about it. You’ve got enough to deal with right now, given your stress at work.”

Dineen shrugged. “It’s not that bad. Things are just crazy because Doug’s so wrapped up in the lawsuit. It’s almost over. He’ll win, as usual, and he and his client will walk away with lots of cash. Everybody will be happy again.”

Everyone except the San Jose hospital he was suing.

I made a face. “Including you, I hope. Happy, as in getting a big honking present for all the abuse you’ve taken.” Dineen answered phones at Doug Brewer’s firm, nothing more. She wasn’t a law clerk. She didn’t deserve his snapping temper. But when Doug was fighting a big case,
everyone
around him bore the brunt of his impatience.

“Were things any different for you on Friday, after that came out?” I gestured with my chin toward the newspaper. Doug and Baxter were good friends. I didn’t want my sister taking any heat for me.

My sister fiddled with her hair. “Not really.”

“What does ‘not really’ mean, Dineen?”

She tilted her head. “A few people did ask me what you were thinking. I didn’t even see Doug. He went straight to court.”

Yeah, what
was
I thinking? Who was I to go up against Baxter Jackson?

“Know what?” I sounded sorry for myself, and I hated it. My nerves were just too worn to care. “Right now you and Jimmy are about my only friends in town.”

“Come on, that’s not true.”

“It
is
, Dineen. You should see the looks I’ve gotten the last few days. The disgusted whispers.” Sudden tears bit my eyes. I looked at the table.

Dineen made an empathic sound in her throat. “What about all your friends at church? You’ll see them tomorrow.”

Her words pierced. I shook my head. “I can’t go back there, not now. With Baxter as head elder? Which side do you think would win? And anyway, I don’t want those dear people taking sides. I can’t put them in that position. They loved Cherisse, and Linda before that.” My voice tightened. “They’re like family to Baxter. They’re grieving along with him.”

Cherisse had died only two weeks ago. I could imagine church members’ reactions as they read that newspaper article. Even though they loved me. Even though I’d attended that church for fifteen years, long before my husband, Tom, died of a heart attack. I was the one who always got things done. Led committees, rallied the troops for fund-raisers, taught Sunday school. They knew my heart for helping others. But how
dare
I talk against Baxter Jackson—especially as he mourned the death of his second wife? How could I be so cruel?

Dineen laid a hand on my arm. “I’m sorry. I know how much you miss Linda.”

Yes, I did miss her. Terribly. Linda, the irrepressible woman who encouraged everyone around her. Even in those moments when some inner pain she refused to share fleeted across her face, she would shake it off, flash that dazzling smile of hers. Now, six years later, Linda’s disappearance still haunted me. Baxter claimed she’d left the house one night and never returned. A few days later her car was found some twenty miles away, smears of her blood on the front seat. Her body was never recovered. I didn’t believe Baxter’s story about my best friend—not after what she’d told me. And she hadn’t been herself for weeks before her disappearance, would barely even return my calls.

But Chief Eddington hadn’t listened to me then either.

Indignation bubbled inside me once more. I raised my eyes. “Two wives in six years, Dineen.” One unsolved murder and one
accident
. “A total of one million dollars’ life insurance.
One million
. Why would he even take out policies on his wives in the first place, when neither of them worked?” Linda’s policy had taken three years to come through. The courts had to declare her dead first, aided by the fact that her credit cards, bank account, nothing had been touched since the night of her disappearance. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if Baxter’s influence swayed that legal process as well.

BOOK: Deceit
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