On Sale April 29, 2014
Mass Market Paperback Reissue
The Carriage House Series
Greed and vengeance disrupt the quiet stillness of the Adirondack mountains
Texas Ranger Jack Galway knows his wife Susanna loves him, so when their marriage hits a rough patch, he supports her decision to take their two teenaged daughters to Boston for a break. But when a few weeks turns into several months, Jack heads to Boston to get his family back.
Packing up the girls and her grandmother, Susanna heads to her cabin in the Adirondacks, trying to escape her fears, her secrets and even the man she loves. Little does she know she’s being followed, not just by her husband but by a murderer .
Ex-convict Alice Parker left a mess back in Texas, and she’ll never forgive Jack Galway for killing her dream of becoming a Texas Ranger herself. Obsessed with revenge, she’s got her sights set on Jack’s family.
Trapped in the mountains, Jack and Susanna must find strength in each other if they hope to keep their family together and escape the cabin alive.
Susanna Galway sipped her Margarita and watched the countdown to midnight on the television above the bar at Jim’s Place, the small, dark pub just down the street from where she lived with her grandmother and twin teenage daughters. It had been a fixture in the neighborhood for as long as Susanna could remember.
An hour to go. There’d be fireworks, a new year to celebrate. It was a clear, dark, very cold night in Boston, with temperatures barely in the teens, but thousands had still gone out to enjoy the many First Night festivities.
Jim Haviland, the pub’s owner, eyed Susanna with open suspicion. He made no secret that he thought she should have gone back to her husband in Texas months ago. And Susanna didn’t disagree. But, still, she hadn’t gone home.
Jim laid a sparkling white bar towel on one of his powerful shoulders. “You’re feeling sorry for yourself,” he told her.
She licked salt off her glass. It was warm in the bar, and she wished she hadn’t opted for cashmere. Silk would have been better. She’d been determined to feel a little bit elegant tonight. But Jim had already told her she looked like the Wicked Witch of the East coming in there in her black skirt, sweater and boots, with her long black hair — apparently only her very green eyes saved her. Her coat was black, too, but she’d hung it up and tucked her black leather gloves in her pocket before sliding onto her stool. She hadn’t bothered with a hat since the bar was only a few doors down from Gran’s house.
“I never feel sorry for myself,” she said. “I looked at all my choices for the evening and decided I’d like nothing better than to ring in the New Year with one of my father’s oldest friends.”
Jim snorted. “I know bullshit when I hear it.”
Susanna smiled at him, unrepentant. “You make a pretty good margarita for a Yankee.” She set her glass down. “Why don’t you make me another?”
“Okay, but two’s your limit. You’re not passing out in my bar. I’m not calling your Texas Ranger husband and telling him I let his wife fall off one of my bar stools and hit her head –”
“Such drama. I’m not getting myself drunk, and you’d call Gran, not Jack, because Gran’s just up the street, and Jack’s in San Antonio. And I know you’re not the least bit intimidated because he’s a Texas Ranger.”
Jim Haviland gave her a half smile. “Sixty-eight degrees in San Antonio.”
Susanna refused to let him get to her. He was the father of her best friend in Boston, her own father’s boyhood friend and a surrogate uncle to her these past fourteen months since she’d been on her own up north. He was opinionated, solid and predictable. “Are you going to make me that margarita?” she asked.
“You should be in Texas with your family.”
“I had Maggie and Ellen for Thanksgiving. Jack has them for Christmas and New Year’s.”
Jim scowled. “Sounds like you’re divvying up dibs on the neighborhood snowblower.”
“It doesn’t snow in San Antonio,” Susanna said with an easy smile. She’d put an imaginary, protective shield around her to get her through the night, and she was determined nothing would penetrate it — not guilt, not fear, not thoughts of the only man she’d ever loved. She and Jack had done the holidays together last year. That hadn’t worked out very well. Their emotions were still too raw, neither ready to talk. Not that her husband was ever ready to talk.
“You know,” Jim said, “If I were Jack –”
“If you were Jack, you’d be investigating serial killers instead of making me margaritas. What fun would that be?” She pushed her glass across the bar toward him. “Come on. A nice, fresh margarita. You can reuse my glass. Hold the salt this time if you want.”
“I’ll hold the liquor before I hold the salt, and I’m not reusing your glass. Health laws.”
“There are six other bars within walking distance,” Susanna said. “I have on my wool socks. I can find somebody to serve me another margarita.”
“They all use mixes.”
But Jim Haviland didn’t call her bluff. He snatched up her empty glass and set it on a tray, then grabbed a fresh glass. His bar was impeccably clean. He offered one nightly dinner special and kept an eye on his customers, running his bar in strict accordance with Massachusetts law. People didn’t come to Jim’s Place to get drunk — it was a true neighborhood pub, as old-fashioned as its owner. Susanna had always felt safe there, welcomed even when Jim was on her case and she wasn’t at her nicest herself.
“I shipped Iris and her pals up a gallon of chili,” he said. “How do you like that? Even your eighty-two-year-old grandmother’s having more fun on New Year’s than you are.”
“They’re playing mahjong until five minutes after midnight. Then they’re calling it quits and going to bed.”
Jim eyed her again, less critically. He was a big, powerfully built man in his early sixties who treated Susanna like an honorary niece, if a wayward one. “You went home last New Year’s,” he pointed out softly.
And she’d meant for her and Jack to settle whatever was going on between them, but the one time they were alone, on New Year’s Eve, they’d ended up in bed together. They hadn’t settled anything.
Exactly one year ago, she’d been making love to her husband.
Two margaritas weren’t going to do the trick. She could get herself rip-roaring drunk, but it wouldn’t stop her from thinking about where she’d been last year at this time and where she was now. Nothing had changed. Not one damn thing.
Fourteen months and counting, and she and Jack were still in limbo, a kind of marital paralysis that she knew couldn’t last. Maggie and Ellen were seniors in high school now, applying to colleges, almost grown up. They’d called a couple of hours ago, and Susanna had assured them she was ringing in the New Year in style. No mahjong with Gran and her pals. She didn’t want her daughters thinking she was pitiful.
She hadn’t talked to Jack.
“There’s nobody here, Jim,” she said. “Why don’t you close up the place? We can go up on the roof and catch the fireworks.”
He looked up from the margarita he was reluctantly fixing for her. His movements were careful, deliberate. And his blue eyes were serious. “Susanna, what’s wrong?”
“I bought a cabin in the Adirondacks,” she blurted. “But that’s good. It’s a great cabin. It’s in a gorgeous spot. Three bedrooms, stone fireplace, seven acres right on Blackwater Lake.”
“The Adirondacks are way, the hell up in New York.”
She nodded. “The largest wilderness area in the lower forty-eight states. Six million acres. Gran grew up on Blackwater Lake, you know. Her family used to own the local inn –”
“Susanna. For God’s sake.” Jim Haviland shook his head heavily, as if this new development — a cabin in the Adirondacks — was beyond his comprehension. “You should buy a place in Texas, not in the boonies of upstate New York. What were you thinking? Jesus, when did this happen?”
“Last week. I went up to Lake Placid for a few days on my own — I don’t know, it seemed like a positive thing to do. I needed to clear my head. I saw this cabin. It’s not all that far from my parents’ summer place on Lake Champlain. I couldn’t resist. I figured if not now, when?”
“You and clearing your head. I’ve been listening to that line for months. The only thing that’s going to clear your damn head is marching your ass back to Texas and sorting things out with your husband. Not buying cabins in the freaking woods.”
Susanna pretended not to hear him. “Gran’s practically a legend in the Adirondacks, did you know that? She was a guide in her teens and early twenties, before she and my dad moved to Boston. He was just a little tyke — I’m sure he doesn’t remember. Gran seemed a little shocked when I told her I’d bought a place right on Blackwater Lake.”
Jim shoved the fresh margarita in front of her, his jaw set hard. He didn’t say a word.
She picked up the heavy glass, picturing herself standing on the porch of the cabin, staring out at the ice and snow on the lakes and surrounding mountains. “Something happened to me when I was up there — I don’t know if I can explain it. It’s as if this cabin was just meant to be. As if I was supposed to buy it.”
“Moved by invisible forces?”
She ignored his sarcasm. “Yes.” She sipped her drink, which she noticed was not as strong as her first one. “My roots are there.”
“Roots, my ass. Iris and your dad haven’t lived in the Adirondacks in, what, sixty years?”
He shook his head, plainly mystified by this latest move of hers. He hadn’t liked it when she’d set up her office in Boston with Tess, his daughter who was a graphic artist, then stayed on her own after Tess had moved up to her nineteenth-century carriage house on the north shore with her new family. Office space implied a permanence Jim Haviland didn’t want Susanna to establish in Boston. He wanted her back with her husband. It was the way his world worked.
Hers, too, but life wasn’t always that simple.
Plus, she knew Jim liked Lieutenant Jack Galway, Texas Ranger. No surprise there. They were both men who saw most things in terms of black and white.
Jim wiped down the bar with his white towel, putting muscle into the effort, as if somehow it might relieve his frustrations with her and make him understand why she’d bought a cabin. “The Adirondacks are what, a five, six-hour drive?”
“About that.” Susanna drank more of her margarita. “I got my pilot’s license this fall, Jack doesn’t know. Maybe I’ll buy a plane. There’s a nice little airport in Lake Placid.”
Jim stared at her, assessing. “A cabin in the mountains, a plane, black cashmere — how much damn money do you have?”
Her stomach twisted into an instantaneous knot.
She had ten million as of the first of October. It was a milestone. People knew she was doing well, but few had any idea how well — not even her own husband. She just didn’t talk about it. She didn’t want money clouding anyone’s opinion of her. Of themselves. She didn’t want it to change her life, except maybe it already had. “I’ve made some lucky investments,” she told Jim.
“Ha. I’ll bet luck had nothing to do with it. You’re smart, Susanna Dunning Galway. You’re smart, and you’re tough, and –” He paused for air, which he sucked in, then heaved out in a despairing sigh. “Damn it, Susanna, you have no goddamn business buying a cabin in the Adirondacks. Jack doesn’t know?”
“You don’t give up, do you?”
“That means, no, Jack doesn’t know. What are you doing, trying to piss him off to the point he gives up on you — or comes up here to fetch you?”
“He’s not coming up here to fetch me.”
“Don’t count on it.”
A young couple wandered in and sat at one of the tables, hanging on to each other, not bothering with First Night festivities, Susanna thought, for very different reasons than hers. Jim greeted them warmly and went around the bar to take their order, but he stopped to glower back at her. “Did you tell Iris you were buying a place in her old stomping grounds, give her a chance to weigh in?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “No, you didn’t, because you’re bullheaded and do what you damn well want to do.”
“I’m not selfish –”
“I didn’t say you were selfish. You’re one of the kindest, most generous people I know. I said you’re bullheaded.”
Her head spun. Maybe she should have consulted Jack. His name wasn’t on the deed but they were still married. She planned to get around to telling him — it wasn’t like her cabin was a secret. Not really. When she was on Blackwater Lake, her husband and her marriage weren’t the issue. The cabin was about her, her life, her roots. She couldn’t explain. She’d almost felt as if she’d been destined to go up there, see the lake on her own, that somehow it would help her make sense of the past fourteen months.
Jim took the couple’s order and headed back behind the bar. Before she said another word, he dipped her up a bowl of steaming chili and set it in front of her. “You need something in your stomach.”
“I really want another Margarita,”
“Not a chance.”
“I live up the street.” She stared at the chili, spicy and hot on a very cold Boston night. But she wasn’t hungry. “If I pass out in a ditch, somebody will find me before I freeze to death.”
Jim refrained from answering. Davey Ahearn had come into the bar, easing onto his favorite stool just down from Susanna. Susanna could feel the cold still coming off him. He shook his head at her. “Pain in the ass you are, Suzie, I wouldn’t count on it. We all might leave you in the damn ditch, hope the cold’ll jump-start your brain and you’ll go back to Texas.”
“The cold weather doesn’t bother me.”
Of course, the cold wasn’t Davey’s point at all, and she knew it. He was a big man, a plumber with a huge handlebar mustache and at least two ex-wives. He was another of her father’s boyhood friends, godfather to Jim Haviland’s daughter, Tess, and a constant thorn in Susanna’s side. Tess said it was best not to encourage Davey Ahearn by trying to argue with him, but Susanna seldom could resist — and neither could Tess.
He ordered a beer and a bowl of chili with saltines, and Susanna made an exaggerated face. “Saltines and chili? That’s disgusting.”
“What’re you doing here, anyway?” Davey shivered, as if still shaking off the frigid temperatures. Boston had been in the grips of a bitter cold snap for days, and even the natives had had enough. “Go play mahjong with Iris and her pals. A million years old, and they know how to party.”
“You’re right,” Susanna said. “It’s not a good sign, me sitting in a Somerville bar drinking margaritas and eating chili with a cranky plumber.”
Davey grinned at her. “I eat chili with a fork.”
She bit back an unwilling laugh. “That’s really bad, Davey. I mean, really bad.”
“Made you smile.” His beer and nightly special arrived, and he unwrapped three packets of saltine crackers and crumbled them onto his chili, paying no attention to Susanna’s groan. “Jimmy, how long before we can stick a fork in this year?”
“Twenty-five minutes,” Jim said. “I thought you had a date.”
“I did. She got mad and went home.”
Although she wasn’t hungry, Susanna tried some of her chili. “Davey Ahearn annoying a woman? I can’t imagine.”
“Was that sarcasm, Mrs. Jack Galway?”
Jim intervened. “All right, you two. I’m opening a bottle of bubbly at midnight. It’s on the house. What do we have, a half-dozen people in here?”
He lined up the glasses on the bar. Susanna watched him work, the chili burning in her mouth, the two margaritas she’d consumed on an empty stomach making her a little woozy. “Do you think I had kids too young?” Susanna asked abruptly, without thinking. It had to be the margaritas. “I don’t. I think it was just what happened. I was twenty-two, and all of a sudden, I’m pregnant with twins.”
“I bet it wasn’t all of a sudden,” Davey said.
She pretended not to hear him. “And here I am with this man — this independent, hardheaded Texan who wants to be a Texas Ranger never mind that he went to Harvard. We met when he was a student –”
“We remember,” Jim said gently.
“They were cute babies, Maggie and Ellen. Adorable. They’re fraternal twins — they’re not identical.”
But Jim and Davey already knew that, too. Her chest hurt, and she fought a sudden urge to cry. What was wrong with her? Margaritas, New Year’s Eve, a cabin in the mountains. Not being with Jack.
Jim Haviland checked each champagne glass to make sure it was clean. “They were damn cute babies,” he concurred.
“That’s right, you’d see them when we were up visiting Gran. Her place was always my anchor as a kid — we moved around all the time. It’s no wonder I came here when push came to shove with Jack and me.”
She shut her eyes, willing herself to stop talking. When she opened them again, the room was spinning a little, and she cleared her throat. If she did pass out and hit her head, Jim Haviland and Davey Ahearn would seize the moment and call Jack. No question in her mind. Then Jack would tell them a concussion served her right.
Susanna’s heart raced. “This is only the second time Maggie and Ellen have flown alone.” She narrowed her eyes to help steady the room, imagining Jack there with one of his amused half smiles. She couldn’t remember when she’d had two margaritas in a row. He’d take credit. Say she was lonely. Missed him in bed. She gave herself a mental shake. “I was a nervous wreck the first time they flew alone.”
“Doesn’t look like you’re doing much better this time,” Davey said.
She had to admit that a third Margarita would put her over the edge. She was hanging by her fingernails as it was. That was why Jim Haviland had glowered and chatted with her and served her up the chili — not just to give her a hard time, but to keep her from freefalling.
“What if Maggie and Ellen end up going to college in Texas?” She gulped for air, looking over at Davey. “What if I stay up here? My God, I’ll never see them. And Jack –”
Davey drank some of his beer, wiping the foam off his mustache. “Are there colleges in Texas?”
His wisecrack cut through her crazy mood.
“That’s not funny. What if Texans came up here and made stupid assumptions about northerners?”
“What, like we’re all rude and talk too fast? Maggie and Ellen tell me that all the time. Some of us also eat saltines with our chili.” He winked at her, knowing he’d made his point. “And you’re a northerner, you know, Suzie-cue. I don’t care how many times you moved as a kid. Your dad grew up right here on this street. When Iris can’t keep up with her place anymore, he and your mom will move in with her. They’ll board up the gallery in Austin before you know it.”
“That’s the plan,” Susanna admitted.
“A plumber, a bartender and an artist.” Davey shook his head in amazement “Who’d have thought it? Although Kevin always was good with the graffiti.”
Susanna smiled. Both her parents were artists, her mother also an expert in antique quilts. They’d surprised everyone seven years ago when they opened a successful gallery in Austin, and started restoring a 1930s home, a project seemingly without end. But they still spent summers on The New York shore of Lake Champlain. When Susanna was growing up, they’d moved from place to place to teach, work, open and close galleries and otherwise indulge their wanderlust. They’d been a little shocked when Susanna had gone into financial planning and married a Texas Ranger, but she’d always gotten along well with her parents and had liked having them close by in Austin. They didn’t interfere with her relationship with Jack, but she knew Kevin and Eva Dunning didn’t understand why their daughter was living with Gran. Their response to both Susanna and Jack had been the same: they’d come to their senses soon enough.
Jim examined a frosty bottle of champagne and said idly, as if reading Susanna’s mind, “You’ve never explained what it was that made you come up here. Did you and Jack have a big fight, or did you just wake up one day and decide you needed to hear a Boston accent?”
“Maggie and Ellen had already planned to spend a semester up here –”
“Like it’s Paris or London,” Davey said. “Their semester abroad.”
“Their semester with Gran,” Susanna corrected.
“Yeah, now it’s a year,” Jim said, “and it doesn’t explain you.”
“There was a stalker.” The words were out before she could stop them. “I suppose technically he wasn’t a stalker — he turned up where I was a couple of times, but I can’t prove he followed me. I didn’t even know who he was until he showed up in my kitchen. He said things.”
Davey Ahearn swore under his breath. Jim stared at her, grim-faced, neither man kidding now. “What did you do?” Jim asked.
Susanna blinked rapidly. What was wrong with her? She’d never told anyone this. No one. Not a soul. This was a secret, she thought. “I tried not to provoke him. He wanted me to talk to Jack on his behalf. He said his piece and left.”
Jim looked tense. “Then what?”
“Then . . . nothing. I decided to come up here with Maggie and Ellen. Stay a few weeks.” She almost smiled. “Clear my head.”
Jim Haviland held his champagne bottle to one side and studied her closely while she ate more of her chili, barely tasting it now. Finally, he shook his head. “Jesus. You didn’t tell Jack about this bastard in your kitchen.”
“I know it sounds irrational.” She set her fork down and sniffled, picking up her Margarita glass, noticing the slight tremble in her hand. “I mean, Jack’s a Texas Ranger. You’d tell him if you had a stalker, right?”
“Goddamn right. It’s one thing not to tell Jack about buying a cabin in the mountains, but a stalker –”
“It seemed to make sense at the time.”
Jim inhaled sharply, then breathed out. “Tell him now. You can use the phone in back. Call him right now and tell him.”
“It’s too late. It wouldn’t make any difference.”
“This guy’s in jail?”
She shook her head.
Jim narrowed his gaze on her. “Dead?”
“No, he’s never been charged with anything. He’s a free man.”
“Because you never told anyone he was stalking you –”
“No, no one would be interested in my stalking story. He’d just explain it away. Coincidence, misunderstanding, desperation. The authorities would never touch it, now or then.” She sipped her margarita, the melting ice diluting the alcohol. “They wanted this guy for a much bigger crime than spooking me.”
This got Davey Ahearn’s attention. “Yeah? Like what? What else did he do? Kill his wife?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, Davey, that’s exactly what he did.” Susanna stared up at the television and watched the clock tick down to midnight. Four minutes to go. Three minutes and fifty-nine seconds. Happy New Year. “He killed his wife.”
© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2001 Carla Neggers