printed copy

After Dark

Beverly Barton

ISBN 9781420123944
Publish Date 12/6/2011
Format Paperback
Categories Zebra, Thriller/Suspense, Suspense

When A Shocking Scandal Exposes Southern Secrets…

As the blazing heat of summer gives way to sultry September, a shroud of suspicion settles over Noble’s Crossing, a sleepy Alabama town. Nothing is as it seems—and never will be again. Lane Noble Graham stands accused of murdering her ex-husband. And the one man who can help, Johnny Mack Cahill, vowed never to return to the town that scorned him—or the woman whose love he knew he didn’t deserve.

…No One Is Safe From Cold-Blooded Murder

From the rusted-out trailers on the wrong side of the river to the stately pillared mansions along Magnolia Avenue, everybody has something to hide—but one secret could make Lane and Johnny Mack the next targets of a twisted killer, who’s struck once and is bent on striking again…

“A sizzling, sexy tale that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go.” --Lisa Jackson, New York Times bestselling author

Chapter One

A loud clap of thunder momentarily drowned out the minister's words. Lillie Mae glanced at Miss, standing so proudly at young Will's side, and noticed the way the boy held the huge, black umbrella over his mother's head. Protective. Caring. At fourteen, he was all long legs and arms. And piercing black eyes, so much like his father's.

“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.” Reverend Colby ignored nature's comment on this event as he continued to spiel off the inane words that held little true comfort for anyone who had genuinely cared for the deceased.

A jagged bolt of lightning struck the earth nearby. Several ladies gasped loudly. Her body trembling, her face pale, Mary Martha Graham cried out and moved toward the open grave as if she intended to throw herself onto the coffin again.

Lord Almighty. Lillie Mae groaned silently. That's all this day needed was for that crazy Mary Martha to put on another show for the townsfolk. Hadn't they all endured enough having to listen to her hysterical tirade at the funeral, without having to witness more of her insane grief?

“Oh, Kent, I loved you.” Mary Martha hovered over the steel gray casket. “You know I did. Please, Brother, please come back. Don't leave me.”

James Ware stepped forward and slipped his arm around his stepdaughter's waist, then drew her backward to once again stand between her mother and him. She turned quickly and buried her face against his chest, weeping uncontrollably.

Lillie Mae noticed the look of pity on Miss Lane's face and knew how much she longed to comfort her former sister-in-law. But due to the circumstances, it wouldn't be proper for the suspected murderess to offer a loving embrace to the deceased's grieving sister. Poor Miss Lane. It just wasn't fair that she might be arrested, her a good woman who'd never done an unkind thing in her life.

The downpour continued, growing heavier as the graveside service progressed. A tepid, humid wind blew the rain beneath the dark burgundy tent under which the family had congregated. Lillie Mae stood with Miss Lane and Will, just outside the protective covering. When Will had been asked to join the Graham family, he had declined and instead stayed loyally at his mother's side.

Lillie Mae knew that people would say it was a bad day for a funeral. Some might even imply that the heavens were weeping for Kent Graham. Not likely. She considered the nasty weather a statement on Kent's life—dark, dreary, cold and destructive. That sorry SOB didn't deserve to be put to rest on a bright, sunny day. Indeed if the day and the service had been an honest tribute to Kent, the devil would have popped up from hell, bringing fire and brimstone with him to singe the hallow ground. Then Old Scratch would have personally escorted Kent's twisted soul straight to Hades.

When the service ended and the gathering dispersed, Mary Martha's shrill scream stopped the crowd in their tracks. Lillie Mae glanced over her shoulder in time to see James Ware and Police Chief Buddy Lawler physically restrain Kent's little sister. She struggled with them like a madwoman, her wide-eyed gaze darting in every direction.

Edith Graham Ware tilted her regal head, every strand of her perfectly coiffured red hair untouched by the moisture in the air. She glanced casually at her overwrought daughter, then stabbed Lane with her sharp glare. The accusatory look in her green eyes issued her former daughter-in-law a warning. Lillie Mae didn't think many folks noticed that look. They were too busy watching Mary Martha being dragged, kicking and screaming, from the graveside. A shudder of foreboding racked Lillie Mae's bone-thin body. She knew the power the Grande Dame of Noble's Crossing had—enough to counteract any power Lane's family name possessed.

Lane reached out, slid her arm through Lillie Mae's and gazed pleadingly into her eyes. Miss Lane was cautioning her, once again, that no matter what happened, no matter how difficult things became, nothing mattered except protecting Will.

“Let's go home,” Lane said, then turned to her son. “Do you want to say goodbye to your grandmother before we leave?”

“I don't have anything to say to Grandmother as long as she keeps treating you this way.”

Lillie Mae didn't think she'd ever been prouder of Will than she'd been today. A boy on the verge of young manhood, he was still part child and yet his loving, caring attitude toward Miss Lane said a lot about the man he would one day become, the fine and honorable man his mother had raised him to be.

She closed her umbrella and slid into the back seat of Lane's white Mercedes. When they got home, she'd fix a pot of coffee for them and prepare a light lunch. Miss Lane hadn't eaten enough to keep a bird alive since Kent's death. And no wonder, considering how quickly she had become the number one murder suspect. And even Will's normally voracious appetite had lessened in the five days since life as they knew it had ceased to exist. The more she tried to blot out the memories of that horrible day, the more vivid they became—like a recurring nightmare over which she had no control.

They drove in silence, away from Oakwood Cemetery, down through Baptist Bottoms, past the old trailer park, over the Chickasaw Bridge and straight onto Sixth Street. Lillie Mae's gaze lingered on the rusted gates hanging open to where the trailer park had once existed. She'd lived there in a small two-bedroom trailer for years, with her only child, Sharon. Every morning at five-thirty, she had driven her old Rambler from Myer's Trailer Park on the west side of the Chickasaw River all the way across town to Magnolia Avenue, to the Noble's estate. And every evening at seven-thirty, she's driven home, back across the river that divided the town into the haves and have nots.

She and Sharon had belonged to the have nots, and to this day she blamed herself for the savage, raging hunger that had been inside Sharon—the need to escape from poverty any way she could.

Johnny Mack Cahill had been the most notorious of the have nots. Local society hadn't just scorned the boy, they had hated him. He'd had no respect for their snobbish hierarchy and he'd thumped his nose at them time and again. But when he'd entered their world, bedded their women and laughed in their faces, they had punished him severely.

About Beverly Barton:

Beverly Barton was an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty novels, including Silent Killer, Cold Hearted, The Murder Game and Close Enough to Kill.

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