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  • Forget Me NotThe Blossom SistersBalancing ActTuesdays ChildBetrayalSouthern ComfortTo Taste the WineSins of the FleshSins of OmissionReturn to SenderMr. and Miss AnonymousUp Close and PersonalFool Me OncePicture PerfectAbout FaceThe Future ScrollsKentucky SunriseKentucky HeatKentucky RichPlain JaneCharming LilyWhat You Wish ForThe Guest ListListen to Your HeartCelebrationYesterdayFinders KeepersAnnies RainbowSaras SongVegas SunriseVegas Heat

    Vegas RichWhitefireWish ListDear EmilyChristmas at Timberwoods

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    Books by Fern Michaels

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    Copyright 2013 by MRK ProductionsFern Michaels is a registered trademark of First Draft, Inc.

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  • C h a p t e r Tw o

    Lucy let herself into her parents house, or,as she thought of it now, the other hatefulhouse. She thought at that moment that thehouse was giving off vibes that the people whohad lived in it were gone. Gone as in nevercoming back. She dropped the house keys, hermothers keys, in a little crystal dish that sat ona table in the massive foyer. She knew theywere her mothers keys because they were inthe purse the police had given her. Everythinghad been in a sealed clear plastic bag. A pursewhose contents were sparse: a package ofKleenex that hadnt even been opened, a cellphone, the keys, a small wallet with two creditcards, a drivers license, an insurance card,and ninety dollars in cash. A small coin purse


  • had $3.47 in change in it. In a smaller plasticbag inside the police-tagged bag were hermothers earrings, her watch, and her weddingring. All that was left of Helene Brighton.

    There wasnt even that much in her fatherspolice bag. His wallet with two credit cards, hisinsurance card, his drivers license, along withthe car registration; a cell phone; and $451.00in bills, plus ninety-four cents in change, whichmust have been in his trouser pocket at thetime of the crash. His watch, his tie clip, his wed-ding ring, and his car keys barely filled the littlebag. It was all that was left of Fritz Brighton, theworlds most respected and renowned heart sur-geon. How sad that her parents had been re-duced to two small plastic bags. Right now, rightthis moment, she couldnt even rememberwhere shed put the two plastic bags. Probably inthe kitchen, which looked like it had never beenused.

    Lucy looked at herself in the foyer mirror.She didnt look like shed just come from a fu-neral. To her eye, she looked the way she al-ways looked. She had pulled her hair back in abun; she was wearing makeup, something shedidnt normally wear during the day. Her dresswas simple, a beige, sleeveless A-line dress witha pair of pearls. Her shoes and handbag were adarker beige. She kicked off her shoes andpadded barefoot out to the kitchen, where shebrewed a pot of coffee. While she waited forthe coffee to run through the filter, she staredout across the deck, which was empty of furni-

    Fern Michaels


  • ture or flowers. The day was gray and gloomy,and if she was any judge of the weather, itwould rain before the day was over. Funeralweather.

    Now, where did that thought come from?What she knew about funerals and weatherwould fill a thimble. Must be from televisionshows. Or perhaps shed read it in a book?That was the best she could come up with foran answer.

    Lucy poked around in the refrigerator, think-ing she should eat something, but she wasnthungry. Maybe later. Instead, she thought aboutthe funeral, which wasnt really a funeralonlya service, since shed had her parents cremated.She hadnt been able to find a will in the house,which would possibly have stated her parentsburial wishes. So shed gone ahead with thecremation since, according to the police, thebodies had been so mangled during the acci-dent that identification was all but impossible.The detective had gone on to tell Lucy itwould be better to remember her parents theway shed seen them last and not the waytheyd died. She remembered nodding as sheagreed with the detective.

    Lucy sipped at her coffee, wishing she couldcry or feel something. When no tears or feel-ings emerged, she sighed and looked aroundthe marvelous kitchen, which had every rightto be featured in Architectural Digest. Every-thing looked bright and shiny new. Barely anystaples in the butlers pantry, little to nothing



  • in the refrigerator. Did her parents eat outevery day? Her mother had never been a cook,and her father had teased her about burningeverything, which was why theyd always had acook while she was growing up. Did her par-ents have a cook here? A housekeeper? If so,where was she? Maybe she needed to talk tothe neighbors, ask a few questions about herparents.

    It was odd, Lucy thought, that none of theneighbors had stopped by to offer their condo-lences. Neighbors did things like that back inNew Jersey. And no one had been at the ser-vice except for herself, the pastor, and some-one named Lucas Kingston, who, the pastortold her, was the developer of Palm Royal, theenclave where her parents lived. An elderlycouple, perhaps her parents age, had sat inthe last pew, but when the service was over andshe turned around, they were gone. Theycould have been neighbors, for all she knew,or they could have been strangers who just at-tended services because they had nothing bet-ter to do with themselves.

    How could her parents have lived here inPalm Royal for five years and not have friendswho would attend their funeral service? It wasall so weird that she didnt know what to think.But thinking wasnt going to get her anywhere;she knew that for certain. Just then, though,she needed to get off her duff and dive intowhat needed to be done until she could figure

    Fern Michaels


  • out if her parents had an attorney, a will, orwhere they kept their records. And she wouldhave to make a decision if she was the one whoneeded to do all the work about putting thehouse up for sale, checking to see if any billswere owed, things of that nature.

    Maybe what she should do was engage theservices of a lawyer and let him handle it all.That way, she could simply pack up her par-ents things and put them in storage or takethem back to New Jersey. She could pack a lotin her fathers Range Rover in the garage anddrive back instead of flying. Maybe she couldsell the house furnished. Then she wouldnthave to worry about donating or selling off thefurnishings, since they were new and lookednew. The Mercedes her parents had been drivingat the time of the accident was, of course, totaled.That meant shed have to deal with the insur-ance company as soon as she figured out whothat company was. Best-case scenario, threemore days before she could leave. Worst-casescenario, at least a week to tidy up all theloose ends and be on her way.

    Lucy almost jumped off her chair when sheheard a boom of thunder. She finished hercoffee and made her way to the second floor,stopping just long enough to pick up her shoesin the foyer. It took her just ten minutes topack up her dress and shoes and put on a pairof faded, comfortable shorts and a T-shirt. Shetied the laces of her sneakers and headed back



  • to the first floor. Start at the bottom and work yourway to the top, a niggling voice said. That meantthe garage first.

    No one has a garage like this, Lucy thought as sheturned on the overhead light. There wasnt somuch as an oil stain on the off-white concrete.Her fathers Range Rover sat silent, its doorslocked. There was nothing on any of the shelves,no jars of nails or screws, no tools, no gas can, noboxes of anything. No lawn equipment. Therewasnt even a trash can. She frowned as she triedto remember if there was one outside. Didntpeople here recycle? Well, if they did, her par-ents werent among those who did their duty forthe environment. She made a mental note tocheck the Rover later, although it was doubtfulanything of any importance would be in thetruck.

    It took Lucy two full hours to check all therooms on the first floor. All she could do wasshake her head at what she didnt find. Thedrawers in the hutch and buffet server wereempty. Every single drawer on the first floorwas empty. The kitchen drawers held nothingbut one notepad, one pen, a screwdriver, asmall hammer, and eight slim candles still inthe box they came in, along with a pack ofmatches tucked inside the box. The candlesmust have been her parents idea of a hurri-cane package.

    Back in the kitchen, Lucy washed her handsand poured a second cup of coffee. Her handshadnt even been dusty, which meant someone

    Fern Michaels


  • had cleaned this house at some point. Thatsomeone definitely was not her mother. Notonly didnt her mother cook; she didnt clean,either. Maybe the house cleaner came onlyonce a week and didnt even know about herparents death, and shed show up on her as-signed day. Anything was possible, she thoughtfretfully.

    Lucy watched the rain slashing at the win-dows. Off in the distance, she could see light-ning as it danced and zipped across the sky tothe tune of the wild thunder. She did take amoment to wonder if a rainstorm like this wasnormal for the time of year. In the end, how-ever, she didnt really care, so she finished hercoffee and headed back up to the second floor.

    Lucy started with her parents bedroom. Itwas lovely, she thought, white wicker with brightaccents of color. It made her think of sunny daysand lush gardens. She couldnt imagine her fa-ther sleeping in such a room, but she had toadmit that she really knew virtually nothingabout his likes and dislikes. The monstrous walk-in closet was a puzzle, though. It was screaminglyneat. Everything, and there wasnt much ofeverything, was neatly arranged. For some rea-son it all seemed staged, and that was the onlyword that came to mind. Seven suits, seven pairsof shoes on her fathers side. Dress shirts, allwhite and seven in number; a heavy parka in aclear dry cleaners bag; two casual jackets withleather patches on the elbows; a Windbreaker;and three zippered heavy sweat jackets with



  • hoods, seven in number again. A pair of stoutcold-weather boots. Seven sweaters in the grayand beige line. A rack with seven ties and sevenbelts. That completed her fathers side of thecloset.

    Her mothers side of the enormous walk-incloset held seven pantsuits, seven dresses, sevenskirts, seven blouses, and seven pastel cashmeresweaters. A heavy outdoor jacket and two longcoats were hanging side by side next to tworaincoats, one gray, one black, and two eveningwraps, one black velvet and one a champagnecolor. Again, seven in number. She counted six-teen pairs of shoes, from flats to mid-heel tospike heels. Jimmy Choo and Ferragamo. Alone pair of snow boots sat in the corner. Twopegs held seven scarves, seven belts, and oneumbrella with a jewel-encrusted handle. Thetop shelf assigned to her mother held designerhandbags: Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Fendi, LouisVuitton, Givenchy, and Bottega Veneta. All ofthem were empty and appeared to be new. Andeven if not new, then barely used.

    A frown built between Lucys brows whenshe realized that there were no suitcases oreven duffel bags anywhere to be seen. And yether parents traveled constantly. Scratch thatthought: They used to travel constantly, beforethey retired five years ago. She had no ideawhat they had done these past years.

    Lucy continued with her search and walkednext to the room that had been used as an of-fice. The desk was a custom rosewood affair,

    Fern Michaels


  • extra long, with two beautiful burgundy er-gonomic chairs side by side. Two laptop com-puters, a fax machine, a copy machine, and aprinter. All separate units. An eighty-six-inchplasma TV hung on one wall. The other wallswere bare. Did her parents sit in the er-gonomic chairs to watch TV? She tried clickingon the laptops, but everything was passwordprotected. Shed need a hacker to get into ei-ther one of them.

    Lucy looked around. Every office had filingcabinets. This home office did not. The deskdrawers were empty, with the exception of abox of paper clips, several gel pens, stickynotepads, a calculator with big numbers, alarge box of staples, and a stapler. The closetwas just that, a closet. But instead of a rod tohang clothes, there were shelves, which heldboxes of copy paper, file folders, and mailingenvelopes. The phone was black and was justan ordinary landline. The fax machine wasalso black.

    Well, this is a bust, Lucy muttered outloud. As if her outburst needed an exclama-tion point, a roar of thunder shook the house.Lightning must have struck something closeby, she thought, as the lights flickered once,then again, but remained on. Lucy walkedfrom room to room on the second floor. Shedalready checked out the bedroom she had sleptin, and it was just a room, with nothing hidden orstuck anywhere. The other bedrooms and con-necting baths were just as bare. All were fur-



  • nished, but that was as far as it went. No clues,no scraps of paper, no hidden messages. Neatand tidy.

    Now what was she supposed to do? Wherewere her parents medical files on their pa-tients? Where were their banking records,their brokerage accounts? What was she goingto tell a lawyer? Hey, guess what, my parentsdied, and I cant find their paperwork? Wereher parents paranoid? Did they hide stuff?And if so, why? I guess I never really knew myparents, she murmured as she walked back toher folks bedroom. She looked around again.Where was her mothers jewelry box, her per-fume? All women, even young girls, had a jewelrybox, even if it was nothing more than a cigar box.Where was the box her father kept his cuff linksin, the dish where he put his change when heemptied out his pockets? She rememberedseeing those things when her parents lived inthe New Jersey house. The tops of the dresserswere bare. The drawers didnt give up any-thing but sleepwear and underwear and socksand, in her mothers drawer, hosiery.

    Next came the his-and-her bathroom, two ofeverything, even two bidets. Lucys eyebrowsrose at the sight. Her fathers shaving kit andtoothbrush were neatly placed on his sink. Hermothers sink held a little morea blow-dryer,curling ironbut they were set into a niche inthe ceramic wall. Night cream, day cream, atoothbrush, a comb, and a brush. In the showershe found ordinary shampoo and conditioner,

    Fern Michaels


  • Dove soap. A back scrubber that looked like ithad never been used hung from the shower-head. Anyones bathroom in the good old USof A. Just like her own back in New Jersey.

    Then something came like a bolt out of theblue. A safe! There must be a safe somewhere inthe house. But where? Lucy looked at her watch.It was almost three oclock, and her stomach wasrumbling. She tried to remember when shedeaten last, and the best she could come up withwas early yesterday morning.

    Back in the kitchen Lucy fixed herself a dry-as-dirt cheese sandwich. She finished off therest of the coffee and promised herself thatshed go out to dinner at the first restaurantshe could find when the rain finally stopped. Ifit stopped. As she sipped and chewed, sheasked herself, knowing what she knew abouther parents, where they would install a safe.Did her father install it himself? Unlikely, sincehe never used his hands for anything excepthis miracle surgeries. Her mother? Ridiculous.Maybe the house came with a safe. Highly un-likely. Shed have to search the rooms again.Wall safe? Floor safe? She just didnt know.And there was no one to ask. Still, she couldntput the house up for sale if there was any pos-sibility there was a safe for the new owners tofind.

    She remembered a mystery novel shed readnot too long ago, where one of the characterswanted to hide something. In plain sight waswhat the character had decided, and in the



  • book it worked for him. Maybe her parentshad read the same book. Or else they weresmarter than the character. Plain sight? Lucywalked over to the door and looked out at thedriving rain. I just want to go home, she mur-mured over and over. I hate this house, justthe way I hate that big house back in New Jer-sey.

    She made a mental note to think aboutgoing to a shrink to find out why she couldntcry, why she didnt feel anything, and why shehated both of the houses her parents had livedin. Why? Why? Why?

    Her shoulders stiff, her face set in grim deter-mination, Lucy started again on the groundfloor, this time to search for a safe. She knockedon walls, looked for recessed buttons that wouldpossibly open a cleverly disguised safe. She gotdown on her hands and knees to inspect any ir-regularity in the floorboards but found nothing.She even checked the fieldstones in the fire-place. She went so far as to poke through the ar-tificial ash on the floor of the firebox. She foundnothing.

    Tomorrow she would tackle the upstairs, be-cause at that moment she was tired, and shewas hungry. She raced upstairs, removed hershorts, and pulled on a pair of jeans. Eventhough it was still raining, she got into herrental car and made it as far as a Burger King,where she ordered two grilled veggie sand-wiches, a milk shake, and a large french fries.She devoured it all in the parking lot, then

    Fern Michaels


  • headed back to Palm Royal. On the ride back,she came to the conclusion that her parentsmust have had a safe-deposit box somewherein town, at one of the many banks. There wereno safe-deposit keys on either her mothers orher fathers key rings. She groaned when shethought about looking under all the differentdrawers in the house. In a movie shed seenonce, someone had duct taped a key to thebottom of a drawer. Checking each drawer andrecessed cabinet could take her hours andhours, if not all day. Her departure time wasgoing to have to be extended to possibly tendays rather than a week. She groaned again asshe swerved into the driveway.

    The house was just as silent as it had beenthat morning, after the funeral service. Sheshould have left the TV on or the stereo unit.She shivered. Now she knew what it felt like tobe in a mausoleum. She walked through therooms, turning on lights, the different TVs, aswell as the Bose system for sound. It hit herthen, right between the eyes. There wasnteven one picture of her anywhere in the wholehouse. Parents always displayed pictures oftheir children, usually candid shots taken hereand there. Back in New Jersey, when she wasgrowing up, there had been a few. One of heron her first pony ride, another with her father,sitting side by side on a bench in some park.They had been on the piano, in shiny silverframes. Where were they? Hadnt her parentscared enough about her to put those same pic-



  • tures on the piano in the living room in thishouse? The thought that they hadnt hurt herheart.

    Lucy flopped down on the sofa, which feltstiff and unyielding, as if no one had ever saton it or broken it in, and drew her legs up toher chin. She stared at the television screen,listening to Charlie Sheen bantering with hiscostar, but she didnt really hear the words.Her thoughts took her back in time to a fond,treasured memory of her father as he playedwith her on the floor in her room before bed-time. She was around five, and he was givingher a ride on his back as he made whistlingsounds like he was a train engine. She remem-bered how shed laughed and giggled and howher father had kissed her on the cheek andhad told her she was his fairy princess. Hermother had stood in the doorway, a hugesmile on her face. And then the hateful wordsevery child detested hearing. Time for bed.Her father had read her a story, kissed hergood night. Then her mother had read her astory, and she had hugged her and kissed herand wished her sweet dreams. She smelled sogood; her perfume was light and pleasant. Shedidnt know what the scent was at the time butlater on realized it was lily of the valley.

    At some point in time over the years, hermother must have changed her scent to oneLucy didnt really likeit was musky and heavy,like a winter scent. Even now, when the lily of thevalley flowers bloomed back home in the flower

    Fern Michaels


  • beds, they reminded her of that particular nightand her smiling mother when she hugged hergood night. It seemed like a hundred yearsago, but the memory was still fresh and hadnever been forgotten. The big question nowwas, why did she have just that one treasuredmemory? Did she just forget the others? Be-cause surely there had been others. And hadshe kept this one because it was so special?Shed never found the answer, even thoughshed asked herself the same question hun-dreds of times over the years. She didnt havean answer now, either.

    Lucy yawned. Time to go to bed. But firstshe decided to make a list of things she had todo in the morning, after she continued hersearch to find a safe, if there was one. An hourlater she looked at the list in dismay. So manyphone calls to make. So much to do. Well,shed just have to tackle it the best way shecould and hope for the best. She wanted to be-rate her parents for putting her through this.She wanted to wail and screech and pound herfists on something. Dammit, why hadnt theytrusted her, their own daughter, to tell herwhat to do in case anything ever happened tothem?

    Why? Why? Why?