When Dr. Blake Hunter discovers Casey Edwards wandering along a Sweetwater, Georgia road, she's a woman without a past, her memory stripped of the terrifying events that shattered her innocence a decade ago. The scrap of paper she clutches in her hand bears the address to Swan House, the magnificent mansion where Casey's mother lives with her mysteriously ailing husband. But “home” turns out to be anything but a safe haven…
A near-fatal hit-and-run; neighbors who won't look her in the eye; a sinister man whispering with her mother behind closed doors…each disturbing experience makes Casey more determined to untangle the web of secrets that threaten her future. But someone wants Casey out of the way before she remembers too much. It will take the strength she's always had—and the love she's just found—to save her life….
Dust covered the out-of-date eyewear displayed on the
rotating rack, and the scent of stale smoke hung heavy in
the air. Casey Edwards sneaked a look in the mirror on the
sunglasses rack. Long-forgotten ads for Creomoltion cough
syrup and Miss Clairol decorated the pea green walls of
Reed's Drugs. Tom Clarence and Howard Lynch sat at the
snack bar in the back of the store, mugs of coffee in front
of them, cigarettes hanging loosely from their mouths. Casey
knew they would be telling the story of the Great War the
way they did every day of their lives. Howard and Tom
were institutions. Each man would tell how he almost didn't
make it home. Casey had overheard the story so many times,
she knew it by heart. She knew when they would pause,
look at one another, then shake their graying heads and
continue on. They were as much a part of Sweetwater as
the land. Both men raised a hand to her as she walked to
the cosmetics counter. She smiled and waved back. She was
in no mood for conversation today. She found the cream
she needed and hurried to the register.
Today she wanted to be ignored.
It was the last time she'd buy concealer, Covering the
bruise from the latest fight had been the clincher. For the
second time in three weeks, she'd had to sneak to Reed's
Drugs to purchase another tube of heavy-duty cover cream
to disguise her latest black eye.
Sheldon Reed, Sweetwater's only pharmacist, had looked
at her with suspicion. Laurie Phelphs-Parker--with a
hyphen, mind you--who'd never lower her high standards
(well, maybe temporarily as she liked to put it) to cashier
for Sheldon since Mrs. Reed had died, clucked her tongue
as Casey walked to the register. Casey wondered if Laurie
remembered how her daddy left her momma high and dry.
Took everything with him, too. Ran off with a girl younger
than Laurie. Now, she had to work. Everyone in town knew
that. Laurie went to work at Reed's about the same time
her snooty momma went to work as a teller at Sweetwater
Savings and Loan. It was that or starve.
Casey adjusted her sunglasses and placed the tube of
concealer on the counter.
"Hmm," Laurie muttered as she punched in the price,
her bright red nails clicking on the register's buttons." Seems
like you been buyin' lots a coy-a-cream lately." She looked
at Casey with an all-knowing smirk.
"I suppose Kyle wants a feisty woman now. You know
when he and I..." Casey threw the correct change on the
counter and grabbed the cover cream. As she opened the
door, she heard Laurie's "Well, I nev-uh..." followed by
the fiat slam of the screen as she made her escape.
If Laurie only knew, Casey thought. If she could only tell
someone about the horror that had become her life.
The eight short years she lived with Mamaw were perfect.
Her father's mother had been her protector and treated her
like a daughter. Life was good then. She'd had hopes,
dreams, and expectations. As she got older, she learned not
to have expectations. That way she knew she'd never be
She put the cream in her purse as she hurried along
Sweetwater's Main Street. She had to be home before
Momma returned from getting her hair done at Ida Lou's,
or there would be hell to pay.
Safe in her room, she remembered why:-she'd risked a
trip to town.
Kyle. She couldn't let him see her black eye. He would
be shocked, and his parents would look down on her more
than they already did. Kyle kept telling her they never meant
to make her feel bad, it was just the way they were. She'd
only been to Kyle's a few times, and always felt ignorant
after leaving their house. Fiona, Kyle's holier-than-thou
mother had done her best to make her feel anything but
welcome. Kyle had coaxed her into each visit, telling her
his parents insisted.
On her first visit Kyle led her to the dining room, where
a lady with caramel-colored skin, snow-white hair, and a
toothy smile served her a glass of milk along with a plate
of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. She'd told Casey her
name was Myrtus, the hired help. Speaking over her shoulder
as she stood by the door waiting for further instructions, she
told Casey her friends called her Myrty and flashed a toothy
smile. Kyle laughed as they'd seated themselves at the long,
"My, Lawd, Myrty, you'd think we was still elementary--school children, serving us cookies an' all." Kyle's words
were laced with sarcasm, his Southern drawl dragging the
words out. Casey recalled the look Myrtus gave him. Hard
and cold as steel.
"If the shoe fits, Mr. Wallace." She'd looked at Casey
and winked as she left the room.
"Don't mind that old bitch. She's been tryin' to boss me
around for years. I don't understand why Momma keeps her
Casey bit into the cookie and thought that reason enough.
She'd never had cookies so good, not even her grandma's.
"Excuse me, Kyle," a high-pitched voice shrieked from
the hall. Casey looked up from her plate into the flat brown
gaze of Fiona Wallace.
Wiping the crumbs from her mouth with her napkin, Casey
stood and held her hand out to Mrs. Wallace. Her hand hung
there, limp as a hothouse daisy while Mrs. Wallace turned
to Kyle. Embarrassed, she jammed her hands in her skirt
"My goodness, son. I thought we'd agreed you wouldn't
bring"--the tall, thin woman whispered and pointed her
conelike head toward Casey--"her kind into this house."
Casey felt the heat rise from her neck to her face. She
stumbled away from the table. Her awkward movement
caused her chair to tilt and fall to the floor. As she ran for
the front door, she could hear Kyle shout at his mother. The
rest was a blur. And she'd wanted it to remain that way.
She'd stood on the porch taking gulps of fresh air as the
screen squeaked, then banged against the wall. Kyle eased
next to her, crowding her breathing space. She took a step
back and glared at him.
"Casey, I'm sorry, and so is Momma. She thought you
were someone else. I know that sounds feeble, but please,
sweetheart, come back inside. Give Momma another
Casey stared at him. He was sinfully handsome, with his
blond hair, chiseled features, and bright blue eyes. A bit on
the thin side like his momma, but still, she thought she was
the luckiest girl in Sweetwater to have Kyle as her boyfriend.
She wondered how his momma could mistake her for someone else. She had to remember to ask later.
Maybe his momma really thought I was someone else,
truly. Kyle had dated a lot of girls. Maybe it was Brenda.
Brenda always went for the best-looking guys in school.
"I suppose I should, that being the polite thing to do, but
Kyle..." She'd let the words die as he put an arm around
her and led her back inside.
"Momma says to tell you she's sorry. She doesn't see
how she could have..." He never finished the sentence as
he led her inside. He immediately excused himself, forgetting he'd invited her to stay. Mrs. Wallace didn't return to
apologize, either. Casey knew she wasn't going to apologize
when she heard her talking on the hall phone.
"That was some tramp Kyle brought home. Sewing his
oats, you know." Fiona laughed. The rest was a blur, and
Casey wanted it to remain that way.
Ashamed of herself, she'd walked home; A slow rage
burned deep in the pit of her stomach, and each step she
took ignited the flame brighter. By the time she'd re, ached
home, she'd calmed down, reminding herself what she stood
to lose if she let Kyle get away from her.
Kyle had called the next day to apologize and invite her
to dinner. Lately, things had been a little better.