Lake Henry, New Hampshire, is buzzing over the annual maple syrup harvest...as well as the shocking revelation that long-time resident Heather Malone has been led away by the FBI, which claims the devoted stepmother and businesswoman fled the scene of a fatal accident in California years before. Poppy Blake, her best friend, is determined to prove Heather's innocence, while facing past mistakes of her own: she has never overcome her guilt from the snowmobile accident that killed her partner and left her paralyzed. Investigative journalist Griffin Hughes, whose attraction to Poppy keeps him coming back to Lake Henry, is also secretly responsible for drawing the law closer to Heather. To redeem himself, Griffin sets out to solve the mystery surrounding Heather's predicament and becomes the key to freeing Poppy from her own regrets and showing her a rich new future.
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Barbara Delinsky has written many bestselling novels over the past two decades, including Looking for Peyton Place, The Summer I Dared, Flirting with Pete, An Accidental Woman, The Woman Next Door, The Vineyard, Lake News, Coast Road, Three Wishes, A Woman's Place, and For My Daughters. She is also the author of a nonfiction book, Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors, available from Washington Square Press. Published in twenty-five languages worldwide, her books regularly appear on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly. Delinsky is a lifelong New Englander who loves communicating with her readers. She can be reached at P.O. Box 812894, Wellesley, MA 02482-0026, or visit her website: www.barbaradelinsky.com.
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Jennifer Wiltsie's films includes Wendigo, Uninvited and The Fever with Vanessa Redgrave. She has guest-starred on HBO's The Sopranos and Masterpiece Theatre's Clarissa. On Broadway she has performed with Matthew Broderick in Night Must Fall, and her off-Broadway credits include Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. In London's West-End, she starred in Alan Ayckbourn's revival of Absurd Person Singular.
Within seconds of coming awake, Micah Smith felt a chill at the back of his neck that had nothing to do with the cold air seeping in through the window cracked open by his side of the bed. It was barely dawn. He didn't have to glance past Heather's body toward the nightstand clock to know that, but could see it in the purpling that preceded daylight when February snows covered the forest floor.
The purpling seemed deeper this morning, but that wasn't what caused his alarm. Nor was it any sound from the girls' room that caused him to hold his breath. They would sleep for another hour, he knew, and if not sleep, then stay in bed until they heard Heather or him up and about.
No. What held him totally still, eyes on that inch of open window, was the sound that came from beyond. Even in winter, the woods were filled with live things, but what he heard now was neither deer, nor owl, nor snowshoe rabbit. It was a car, moving very slowly down the snow-crusted drive toward the small house that Micah had built for his family.
Get out of bed, cried a silent voice, but he remained inert. Barely breathing, he listened. Not one car. Two. They inched their way closer, then stopped. Their engines went still.
Do something, cried that silent voice, more urgent now, and he thought of the rifle that was mounted high above the front door, out of reach of the girls. But he couldn't move -- couldn't move -- other than to turn his head toward Heather. She continued to sleep, oblivious to what he heard, unaware of the thoughts that held him there against her warmth.
As he watched the swirl of her long dark hair touched by a generous dusting of silver, he heard the stealthy click of car doors -- one, then a second. He imagined that there might be even more doors opening silently, carefully guided by hands trained in covert operations.
A patch of Heather's pale shoulder showed through the tangle of her hair. He would have touched it if he hadn't feared waking her, but he didn't want that. Once she was awake, once she heard what he heard, once this moment ended, their lives would be changed. He didn't know how he knew that, but he did. A part of him had been waiting for this moment, fearing it for four years -- and it wasn't just a superstition, the idea that because one woman had left him, this one would, too. Heather wasn't like anyone else; she was unique.
The footsteps coming toward the house were careful, making only the occasional crunch on the snow, but a lifetime of living in the New Hampshire woods had trained Micah's ear well. The house was being surrounded. He figured that his rifle wouldn't do much good against the five or six people that he guessed were outside. Nor did he figure gunpower was called for. The people out there weren't intent on violence. And what was happening was inevitable.
A soft knock came at the front door, a sound he might have missed if he'd been asleep. It had begun. He quickly slipped from under the thick down with a grace that belied his height and firm build. Silently he pulled on jeans and left the bedroom. In seconds, he was down the hall and through the living room. Not bothering with a light, he pulled the door open before another knock came, though Pete Duffy's hand was already raised.
Pete was second in command to Lake Henry's police chief William Jacobs, and was a friend of Micah's, which was certainly why he'd been chosen to come. The authorities would want things kept calm. Having Pete there, a man Micah trusted, would help on that score, though the look of regret on the man's face did nothing to ease Micah's sense of dread as his eyes moved past his friend to a second man who stood just behind him on the front porch. Micah didn't know this man, or the two women who were with him. All three wore jeans and identical blue jackets that Micah knew must have law enforcement initials on the back.
"We need Heather," Pete said in an apologetic whisper, with only the smallest jut of his chin toward the threesome with him. "They have a warrant."
Micah swallowed. A warrant was serious. "For what?"
The man with Pete extended both hands. One held paperwork, the other his ID. "Jim Mooney. FBI. I have a warrant for the arrest of Heather Malone on charges of flight to avoid prosecution."
Micah considered the man's words. There were serious charges and not-so-serious charges. He had always known that Heather hid her past. During those times when he had wondered what might have caused her secretiveness, involvement with the law had been worst-case scenario. Now he could only pray that the charges against her were of the not-so-serious kind, though he feared those wouldn't have brought the FBI to his doorstep at dawn.
"Prosecution for what?" he asked the agent.
A sharp breath escaped Micah -- oddly, he felt relief. If murder was the charge, then there surely was a mistake. "That's impossible. Heather's incapable of murder."
"Maybe as Heather Malone. But we have evidence that her real name is Lisa Matlock, and that fifteen years ago she killed a man in California."
"Heather's never been in California."
"Lisa has," the agent informed him. "She grew up there. She was there until fifteen years ago, when she deliberately ran a man down with her car. She disappeared right afterward. Your Heather arrived in Lake Henry fourteen years ago and worked as a short-order cook, just like Lisa did in California in the two years before she left. Heather's face is identical to Lisa's, right down to the gray eyes and the scar at the corner of the mouth."
"There are millions of women with gray eyes," Micah said, suddenly aware of cold air on his bare chest, "and that scar came from a car accident." The words were barely out when he realized what he'd said. But the agent absolved him.
"Not this one. She escaped this accident unscathed, but the man she ran down died -- a man she tried to extort minutes before she ran him down."
"Extort." Micah snorted, more convinced than ever that a mistake had been made. "Not Heather. I don't care what name she uses. She's gentle. She's kind. She'd die herself before she'd kill someone."
The agent was unfazed. "If that's true, it'll come out in a trial. For now, I need her to come out here. Either you bring her to us, or we go in."
"You can't do that," Micah said, straightening his six-foot-four frame. "This is my house."
"We have it surrounded, so if she's trying to slip out the back, she'll be caught."
Pete scowled at the agent. "I told you, Mooney. There won't be any trouble." The look he turned on Micah was pleading. "The law's on their side. We've got no choice."
Still Micah argued. "Eyes and a scar. What kind of proof's that?"
"We have prints," said the agent.
Micah studied the man. "Fingerprints?"
Micah read enough to know a little about the law. "That's not conclusive."
"I'd say you're biased."
"Same the fuck with you."
Pete stepped between the two men. Slowly and deliberately he told Micah, "They have a warrant. That gives them the right to take her. Don't rile them, Micah."
A low light suddenly came on behind him, a lamp near the spot where the living room met the hall. Heather stood there. She had slipped on a robe and held the lapels shut with one hand while with the other she steadied herself against the wall. As she looked at the people beyond the door, her eyes grew wider. Micah turned to look at her. Those eyes weren't just any gray; they were irridescent. From the start, way back, they had made Micah's insides jingle, and they did it again now, holding his in a silent plea.
Responding, he held up a hand to stop the two female agents who started forward, and, instead, went to Heather himself. Slipping his fingers into the hair at her nape, shaping his hand to hold her head, he searched her eyes for a sign of knowledge or guilt. All he saw was fear.
"They say you're someone else," he whispered. "They must be wrong, but they need you to go with them."
"Where?" she asked with barely a sound.
That wasn't the first question Micah would have asked if he had been in her shoes. He'd have wanted to know who they thought he was and why he needed to go with them. If Heather was truly in the dark as to why they were there, she would have wanted to know that.
But she was a practical sort, far more so than he.
"I don't know," he murmured. "Maybe to Willie Jake's office." He glanced over his shoulder at Pete. "They just want to question her?"
Before Pete could answer, the two women approached. "We need to book her," one told him before turning to Heather. "If you want to dress, we'll go with you."
Heather's eyes flew from one woman's face to the other, then to Micah's. She put a hand on his chest, burying it in the hair there as she always did in moments of passion, anchoring her then against abandon, anchoring her now against the terror that had seized her.
"I'll take her to dress," he said, but one of the agents was already grasping her arm and reciting her Miranda rights, as Micah had heard done dozens of times on television dramas. The moment would have been terrifyingly real even without Heather's eyes clinging to his.
Frantic to help her, desperate to do something, but realistic enough to know he was hamstrung, Micah glanced back at Pete. "Someone's gonna answer for this. It's wrong."
Pete came forward as the two female agents ushered Heather down the hall. "I told them that. So'd Willie Jake. He spent most of last night trying to talk some sense into them, but they have the warrant, Micah. It's legal. There's nothing we can do."
Micah turned back to Heather, but she had disappeared into the bedroom. When he turned to go after her, Mooney caught his arm. "You have to stay here. She's under arrest."
"Daddy?" came a soft voice from even farther down the hall.
"Oh God," Micah murmured and turned in alarm. It was Melissa, his seven-year-old daughter. In a voice that was as normal as he could make it, what with a growing panic, he said, "Go back to bed, Missy. Too early to get up."
But Missy, by far the more curious and bold of his tw...
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