Romantic Mystery Novel

Shadows Fall

a whodunit by Barbara W. Klaser

There's a little bit of sleuth in everyone....

Shadows Fall is a romantic mystery set in an old, closed mountain resort, in the Sierra Nevada of California.

Barbara W. Klaser, romatic mystery and whodunit author, photo from 1970s

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Shadows Fall cover art, whodunit, romantic mystery novel

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50

Chapter 12

Peter knocked on Sylvia Maxwell's door, late Thursday morning, and waited. He'd just decided to check the outbuildings when he heard her call. She crossed the road, carrying fly-fishing gear and two fish, which shimmered in the sunlight.

"Doctor Lloyd, how nice to see you again so soon."

"Call me Peter. Nice catch."

"Aren't they? Let me share them with you for lunch." Her eyes shone. "I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed fishing, until you reminded me."

"I reminded you?"

"I've heard what an avid fisherman you are." She dropped her gear on the porch, opened the door and beckoned him inside. "You could've come in, I wouldn't have minded. Remember, when you come again. My door's always open. Have you eaten?"

"I'm expected at the Lodge for lunch, thank you. Maybe next time." He followed her into the kitchen, where she put her fish away. Then she sat at the table with him.

"The other day you told me Beth's father didn't want her to remember. Were you referring to her being locked in a closet as a child?" Her smile vanished, and she nodded. "She told me you were her nanny."

Sylvia's eyelids lowered for an instant. "Yes."

"She must trust you, or she wouldn't have brought Abby here."

Sylvia smiled. "She used to say this was one of her havens."

"Did you ever form a theory about who might've done that to her when she was three?"

She shook her head. "I was hired months afterward, when Vicky was born. I think her father had begun to suspect the incident had a lasting effect. He said Beth had nightmares and didn't like to sleep alone at night. He hired me to care for Beth, not the other children. I lived there and had the room next to Beth's until she was eight. After I moved here, I still worked at the Lodge and spent a good deal of time with Beth, but she was usually with the Handley children when she wasn't in school or with her parents. Even at four and five she was independent and tough to keep up with." Sylvia's eyes focused on another time.

"You love her," Peter said.

She blinked, then met his gaze. "As if she were my own. I sometimes felt I understood her better than her parents did. Her father saw what happened to her when she was three as something ... distasteful. He wanted to pretend her fear didn't exist, to hide it. I used to ask her about her nightmares, but she was afraid to tell me about them. Her father told her it wasn't healthy to dwell on them. He gave her drugs to help her sleep, and he said all else she needed was a firm hand, strict supervision. All she wanted was to know she was loved and accepted, fears and all."

"Her parents loved her. Certainly her mother does."

"Oh yes. I don't mean to imply otherwise. But some parents insist that their children live out the parents' dreams for them, instead of their own. Her father singled her out, almost from birth, for special treatment, special plans. The other children saw it and resented it."

"Why did he do that?"

"I don't know. In appearance, she's more like Emily than the other girls. He made some kind of connection with Beth, from the day she was born. She, Emily and the Lodge were the most important things in his life. None of them fulfilled his expectations. I believe he died a disappointed man."

"How did he die?"

"His brakes went out on that first hairpin turn below the Lodge. He went into the ravine, and his car burned with him in it." She shuddered. "The family was devastated. He was their backbone, and suddenly he was gone."

"How long after that was the Stevens boy killed?"

"Let's see, that was November. Oliver was killed the following August. Nine months."

"Who lived at the Lodge when the murder occurred?"

"All of Beth's siblings, except Holly and Sarah. Sarah was twenty-four, married and living in Wilder. Holly was in nursing school, in Sacramento. She was nineteen. Cornell had gone on to law school, but he'd dropped out a few months before his father died. He came to live at the Lodge again just after the accident. He was twenty-five. He worked in McGuffey at the car dealership he now owns, as a salesman. Jack worked there too, at the time, and lived at the Lodge. He was twenty-three and recently out of college. Vicky, Matt and Rita were thirteen, eleven and three.

"I visited Beth while she was in jail here. When she was sent away, I wrote letters. Later I lost touch with her. She surprised me, showing up here the other day. Do you think she'll stay?"

"Someone's trying to drive her away." Peter told her about the bathroom door, the paint on the car, and Beth and Abby being locked in the shed. "I'd like to figure out who killed Ollie Stevens."

"Duane used to spend a lot of time with Beth, Kelly and Gabriel. They came here together sometimes. I think Duane was infatuated with Beth. I suppose a lot of boys were, and still are." She challenged Peter with a look, eyes sparkling. "You should've seen her then. Full of life, and fearless. The claustrophobia was there, but in the background most of the time. There were a couple of years when she was hardly bothered with it at all, when she was a teenager, and she really wasn't afraid of much else. She was full of passion, sparkle, laughter. Oh, how she laughed. She took delight in everything, and she could make people laugh at themselves and feel good about it. She was the perfect choice to run the Lodge.

"Of course, there were those who resented her. Especially her sisters. She shone so brightly she appeared to dim everyone else's light, and they thought she made them feel inferior on purpose. She didn't even realize it.

"She's mellower now, I think," Sylvia concluded. "More cautious. She's lost so many people, she's afraid of losing any more. She needs them too much."

"And she won't welcome me casting suspicion on her family or friends," Peter said.

"She's likely to defend them with more loyalty than they've granted her."

He glanced at his watch and stood to go. In the front room, he paused, looking around at the spare hodgepodge of furnishings.

He turned to face her. "What do you believe, Sylvia?"

She looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then said, "There's a seed of light and a seed of darkness in every human heart."


"It's there, in the most innocent child. I don't know whether Beth killed Ollie or not, but she was convicted on the testimony of a frightened, grieving boy whose other claims were never verified. She was found with the gun in her hand, but she admitted firing it by accident. The notes she supposedly wrote were never found. She was known to take walks at night, which explained her being there. She was a crack shot. She wouldn't have spent three cartridges to kill him, at that range, and hit him in the arm twice. But she was the only suspect. Anyone is capable of murder if pushed far enough, and she was pushed. If Beth hated and feared anyone it was Ollie Stevens, and who can say how the mind will operate once one has decided to kill? If she did, it's not my place to excuse her. But I love her. Prove her innocent if you can, Peter. I'd like to see that happen."

He continued to the front door, where he grasped her hand. She looked him in the eye. "Did you fall in love with her just this past week?"

"I—" He stopped, at a loss. "I was in love with her before I met her. When I first saw her, it was like recollection, but more complicated, and confusing. I was married at the time, to a woman I loved deeply."

"I hope you persuade her to stay. She belongs here," she said wistfully, and opened the door for him.


Peter listened to his messages, after his shower, when he was torn between eating and sleeping. Sleep was beginning to feel more necessary. When he heard Beth's message, he finished dressing and drove to the Lodge. Matt came out, waved at Peter, and walked over to meet him. Peter got out of his truck.

"I wondered if you'd show up today," Matt said.

"I wondered myself," Peter said. "Beth left a message during the night. She sounded upset but didn't say why."

"She was wakened by a tennis ball."

"A tennis ball?"

"Yeah. I don't understand either. She was awake half the night after that. She crashed right after breakfast, and she's been asleep ever since."

Peter glanced up at the Lodge with its brooding galleries and tower. "It can feel oppressive, Matt, even to someone not being deliberately terrorized."

"Tell me about it. This place has too many staircases, too many dark corners and empty rooms. It ought to be so full of people you can't help running into someone each time you turn around. That tennis ball was the last straw for Beth. She was ready to pack her bags and leave this morning. Now Mom wants me to change the locks on Beth's rooms." He glanced at his watch. "If you're hungry, Faith has sandwiches made up already. I grabbed a couple myself."

Peter's pager beeped, and he groaned involuntarily.


Beth wakened, feeling hung over, and wondered if it was from too little sleep or just the fact that it had been split into fragments. She had a dull headache, her cut hand throbbed, and her mouth felt parched. It took her a minute to realize where she was. Someone was knocking on her door. It was Rita. "You have a phone call. It's Gabriel."

She'd promised to spend the day with him. She called, "Okay!" and reached for the phone, then started apologizing, but he cut her off.

"How about a quiet afternoon together, and dinner at my place?" he said. "I already lined up a sitter. Rita."


Peter arrived back at the Lodge at three, at Duane's request. The white Blazer with its star-shaped insignia and light bar on the roof stood parked askew, nowhere near an actual marked space, directly in front of the steps. Peter found Duane in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee. Faith poured Peter a cup and handed it to him.

"How do you rate?" Duane said. "I have to get my own coffee, and I'm family."

"He pays rent," Faith said.

"You wanted my help?" Peter said.

Duane led the way into the library and closed the door. They sat at the reading table. "Emily will join us in a minute," Duane said. "I want to ask you something first. Beth's been having these nightmares. Her dad used to give her drugs because she couldn't sleep, and she has this claustrophobia. She tried to kill herself once. Holly says Emily used to have nightmares and bouts of depression, years ago. She thinks Beth and her mother may have, uh, some kind of mental problem that's hereditary, only Holly thinks Beth has it worse. What do you think about that?"

Peter looked away, disgusted. "I'm not a psychiatrist. If Holly is worried about them, she should talk to her mother and Beth, find out what's on their minds. Now ask me a question I can answer."


Emily settled into a straight-backed chair at the far end of the library table, with an imposing demeanor that reminded Peter, again, of his ninth grade English teacher. He understood Duane feeling daunted by the prospect of questioning her. But Duane started in, suddenly unabashed and authoritative.

"Doctor Lloyd is here as a favor to the Sheriff's Office," he explained calmly. "Emily, Faith saw you leave the Lodge a little before four-thirty yesterday, through the kitchen door. Where'd you go?"

"I was dusting the dining room, with the windows open, when I heard a noise outside that sounded like a seagull. It reminded me of Santa Barbara. We lived there when we were first married. I think now the sound must have been Beth's first cries for help, before she broke the window. You know, muffled, high-high-pitched and far away. I went out through the kitchen so I wouldn't have to unlock the dining room door, but I didn't hear it again. I was finished in the dining room, so I came in through the lobby. Then I went up to my room and read."

Duane took a drawing of the doll in the pink dress out of his file folder and placed it in front of Emily. Emily donned reading glasses she kept on a chain around her neck, and stared at the drawing. "Where did you get this?"

"Beth drew it," Duane said, with a quick glance at Peter. "That's the doll Abby found in the shed yesterday."

"It can't be." She looked up, the teacher telling a student he'd just given the wrong answer.

Duane pushed the drawing closer to her. "Emily, this is the doll Beth says Abby found in the shed yesterday. Are you saying you recognize it?"

"It's impossible." Emily pushed the drawing away. Her voice cracked. "I threw it out."

Peter remained silent, but it was like watching a brick wall collapse when someone stood too near it.

"Emily, when did you throw the doll away?" Duane asked.

She cleared her throat. "Shortly after Lauren died."

Duane sat up straight. "This doll?"

She nodded. "I remember that smudge on its nose. I never wanted to see it again."

"Whose doll was it?"


"Beth didn't recognize it."

Emily shook her head. "She never saw it. It was a gift from her father for her birthday."

"What birthday?"

Emily shook with sobs, and raised her hands to her face.

Peter glanced around, spotted a box of tissues, and brought them over.

"Emily," Duane said, "I need you to tell me about this doll."

"Beth's father bought it for her third birthday. We were too upset to notice it was missing at first, but after a couple of days, when we realized it was gone, we thought the person took it." She looked at Duane, then Peter. "The person who shut her in the linen closet."

"Linen closet," Duane repeated in an uncertain tone, his eyes wide. "That happened when she was three?"

Emily said to Peter. "This will be confusing to you."

Peter shook his head. "Beth explained."

Duane cleared his throat. "When did the doll turn up again?"

"Shortly after Lauren died, when I went through his storeroom in the clinic. I found it wrapped up in old tissue paper in a box, with that smudge on its nose. I didn't know what to make of it, and I never wanted to see it again. So I threw it away, in the Dumpster."

"Are you certain it's the same doll? Didn't any of the other girls have one similar?"

She put on her reading glasses and studied the drawing of the doll. "I know this doll. I didn't want Lauren to buy it." She glanced uneasily at Peter. She fell silent for two or three seconds, looking down at the drawing. "I didn't like its eyes."


Gabriel set his coffee table for a quiet dinner, with candles and a bottle of Chablis. Soft music played on the stereo, and a fire crackled in the fireplace. He'd prepared spicy stir-fried chicken with vegetables.

"It smells wonderful," Beth said as he poured the wine.

"Not bad for an old bachelor."

They ate seated on the sofa with their plates in their laps, their thighs touching. Beth relaxed, and realized all at once what a relief it was to have a meal without her family present.

She wondered if Peter was eating with the family. She'd meant to call him today, after leaving that cryptic message on his machine.

"Something wrong?" Gabriel watched her face.

She shook her head, sipped her wine and resumed eating. "I was thinking how relaxed I feel here. Things have been strained, at the Lodge."

"Where do you live, Beth?" She took so long to answer he must've thought she didn't intend to. "I'm not going to come looking for you if you don't want me around," he said. "I feel like I can't hold a proper conversation with you, because I don't know anything about your life. Where do you live? What do you do?"

She told him about the business and her artwork, about Dan, Stella, and Abby. There wasn't much to tell about her evenings, she explained. She spent them with Abby, and when Abby was with her father, Beth spent the evenings alone, working, knitting, sewing, reading or painting.

"It sounds boring to anyone but me. Even to me, sometimes."

He grinned. "It sounds lonely, for the girl who used to work at the Lodge, playing hostess to people from all over the country."

"I do that at the office. Dan says I showcase the business. He claims people buy his designs because of me, which is ludicrous. He was a huge success before he hired me."

"I thought you were partners."

"We didn't start out that way. He hired me as a result of a mix-up about what job I was interviewing for. They weren't supposed to send me up to see him." Beth leaned back on the sofa, forgetting her dinner in her lap as she relived that day.


Beth had run up the stairs of the posh office building north of San Diego, late for her appointment. She hadn't counted on needing to take a taxi, and she'd have to pay for another taxi after her interview, so she couldn't afford to eat until she got home. She paused on the third floor landing. Her knee had begun bothering her, so she climbed the last two flights more slowly.

On the fifth floor, in the human resource office of Dan Palmer, she started to explain that she had an interview with Gail Halpern, but a woman interrupted and told her to go up to the sixth floor.

"Check in with Mr. Palmer's secretary. He's interviewing now. One floor up. Hurry, you're late."

Beth returned to the stairs. On the sixth floor she checked in with Mr. Palmer's secretary, who glanced over a sheet of paper on her desk and shook her head. "You're not on my list—"

"There must be—"

"—but I'm sure he'll want to see you." The woman smiled at Beth and added her name to the list. "Have a seat over there."

Beth wondered why she wasn't on the list, but took a seat as directed, too nervous to do more than glance at the others who waited. They were all women, mostly her age, some younger. Some sat, some stood, and others milled around the room. Beth took out her knitting and let the gentle back and forth rhythm of the activity settle her nerves.

She viewed being granted this interview as nothing short of a miracle, owed mostly to Manuelo Gomez, who kept saying he'd guarantee Beth a lifetime job at his restaurant if only he wasn't about sell the place and retire. His college-student daughter had helped him draft a letter of recommendation in impeccable English.

Beth suspected that letter had served as a glowing distraction, and that no one had looked closely at her application, particularly at the line where she admitted being convicted of a felony and having a parole officer.

This was the first interview she'd had in two years for a job with the potential of paying more than minimum wage. She'd admired Dan Palmer's clothing designs for years. The idea of working for him, even as a bookkeeper's assistant, had been no more than a fantasy until now.

"What's it goin' to be?" a lilting voice with a Southern accent said.

Beth looked at the exquisite young woman seated beside her. The woman possessed fine-grained skin and incredible eyes. "Let me guess." She pursed her full lips and placed two fingers under her delicate chin. "A stockin' cap?" she said with a little laugh.

Beth smiled. "A vest."

"Looks like lace."

"Yes, knitted lace."

"Gosh, don't you stop knittin' even to talk? Hold it up."

Beth paused and held up what would be the left front of the vest.

"Oh sure, I see it now. I'm Kate." Beth introduced herself. "Where'd you learn to knit lace? Your grandma?"

"From an old friend." She'd also learned long ago not to tell people she'd had a nanny.

Kate's attention shifted as a man crossed from the inner office to the secretary's desk. Kate sat up straight and whispered behind her hand, "There he is."

The man looked around at each of the women who waited, appraising them. His gaze landed on Kate, then Beth, and she returned his look steadily. His face was young for his age, with brilliant, summer-sky-blue eyes. He wore a crisp tailored suit that appeared just pressed, and his sandy blonde hair looked freshly trimmed. He spoke to the secretary. Then he returned to the inner office.

"He should be in our line of work," Kate said.

Beth puzzled over that. "Why is he interviewing us himself?"

"He hand-picks all his models."

"Models?" Beth stopped knitting and gaped at her. "But we're here for a bookkeeping job."

Kate smiled. "Honey, I'm no bookkeeper, and if you are, you're in the wrong place. Might as well stay though. It's a safe bet this pays better, and he gawked at you longer than he did anyone else."

Beth stuffed her knitting into her bag and started for the door, knees wobbly. She'd wasted a full day off work on this interview, had spent far too much money to get here from LA by bus and by taxi, and now she was not only late, but in the wrong place. This was a disaster!

"Ms. Gray?" The secretary stood and put her hand out as Beth passed her desk. "Mr. Palmer would like to see you first. You can go right in."

Beth froze and stared at the woman.

"You are Elizabeth Gray, aren't you?"

"There's been a mistake. I was sent to the wrong place."

The woman smiled. "He thinks you're in the right place, and he owns the company. Go on in."

Wouldn't anyone listen? Beth realized she'd have to explain the error to the man himself. It was her only hope of rectifying the situation. Who else could excuse her being so late for the legitimate interview? She squared her shoulders and went in. "Mr. Palmer."

"Close the door and have a seat," he said from somewhere she couldn't see. She closed the door, then spotted him hunched over a large drafting table in a corner, with his back to the wide window. "I'll be just a moment."

She sat in the chair in front of the expansive desk and waited. She considered resuming her knitting, but decided he might take it the wrong way. She fidgeted. She looked out the window behind his desk, and glimpsed a cloud of color so intense it brought her to her feet. "Oh!" she uttered and crossed to the window, lost in the view.

Feathery trees, filled with deep lavender blossoms, their color somehow reflected on the grass beneath, held her gaze until she realized the reflections were in fact a carpet of fallen blooms. "What are they?" she murmured, awestruck.

Dan Palmer came over and stood beside her.

"Those trees. What are they called, do you know?" She pointed to the landscaped grounds of the building across the street. "The lavender ones."


"Jacarandas," she breathed, still staring out the window. Then she felt his gaze intent on her. "I'm sorry." She turned and headed back to her chair.

"Stop," he said. "Turn around, slowly." He gave her that appraising look again.

"Mr. Palmer, there's been a mistake."

"No matter. How old are you?" He studied her face.


"Hmm." He frowned, but moved closer. "Have you ever worn your hair longer?"


"Let's have a look at your pictures." He held out his hand, then glimpsed her knitting bag and his frown deepened.

"I'm not a model," Beth said quickly. "I'm here to interview for a bookkeeping assistant's job. I was sent up here by mistake."

"That can be remedied." He reached for the phone. "I'll let them know where you are. We can do this without a portfolio. After all, we have you, don't we? It's just nice to see what the camera does."

"But I don't want to model for you."

He put down the phone and sat on the edge of his desk, facing her. He looked amused. "Sure I can't change your mind about that?"

"Mr. Palmer, you don't want me to model for you. Honestly, it wouldn't work." His ads were seen everywhere. Someone would recognize her. That wouldn't sell clothes, it would raise a scandal.

"Your life's ambition is to be a bookkeeper's assistant?"

"Actually it's—"

"To be a chief bookkeeper?" He chuckled and waved her to the chair.

Her life's ambitions had died an agonizing death, long ago. She was working on basic survival now, like paying for rent and groceries. She looked around his office. It was sensitively arranged. He was an artist, who understood subtlety. She resumed her seat and glimpsed bolts of fabric on a big table near a dress form in another corner. She longed to sit here, invisible, and simply watch him at work. Instead he watched her.

"Elizabeth." Dan Palmer sat behind his desk. "Are you ever called Liz?"


"Why do you want to be a bookkeeper?"

"It pays better than what I've been doing, and I'm a good worker. I have experience. I learn—"

"As a bookkeeper? Where?" He leaned back and folded his arms.

"My father's medical practice, and the inn that's been in my family for generations."

"Where's that?"

She told him about Wilder, the Lodge, and her father. Then she told him about every job she'd held in the past two years, her current employment, the business courses she'd taken, the computer classes. She left out prison and the parole officer, hoping he wouldn't notice the lapse of six years in her chronology. He'd learn about that soon enough. She wanted to impress him. She wanted him to send her down to accounting instead of back to LA to wait tables and sew elastic on underwear.

When she fell silent, he held her gaze. "What is it you really want to do, Liz? If you could do anything."

She hesitated a second, chewing her lip. It wasn't good to tell an interviewer you really didn't like the job you were interviewing for. But she'd already done that, she realized. He was supposed to be interviewing models, and was instead wasting his time talking to her.

"I have no formal training in design, but I love clothing. It's the reason I applied here. It's difficult to explain. I've always loved clothes, and creating something for myself is far more intriguing than buying off the rack. I mean—"

"I never could explain it myself, except by doing it." He leaned forward and cracked a grin. "Who are your favorite designers?"

She listed her favorite artists, dead and alive. There were no clothing designers among them, she realized, and she finally added, smiling, "I love Missoni. Of course I respect your work a great deal. That's why I'm here."

"What would you change, about mine?"

She hesitated, then said carefully, "I would add something less formal to the collection. Women want something they can relax in, something they can wear to shop and take the kids to soccer practice, and still feel beautiful."

"And what have you done?"


"What have you designed? This isn't a passing whimsy I take it, this interest in clothing?"

She stood and showed him the clothes on her back, the skirt of floral-patterned Japanese silk in a deep rose hue, the unstructured olive green silk broadcloth jacket. She removed the jacket to show him her hand-knit shell.

"Not exactly what you'd wear to soccer practice," he commented.

"I can sketch some of the other things I've made."

He directed her to sit at his drafting table and sketch her other clothes, including some ideas she hadn't fully developed yet. He was silent while she worked and while he looked through her quick, rough drawings. She did the talking, peering over his shoulder and pointing, describing fabrics and details, explaining where her ideas came from and how they evolved.

She was explaining how an Andy Goldsworthy photograph had inspired the yellow lace vest she was knitting, when he sighed deeply and she fell silent. He leaned back. "I haven't accomplished anything I set out to do this morning."

She stammered an apology.

"No, no," he said, "You've been delightful, but I do have those other women out there. I wish you'd reconsider modeling for me," he said wistfully. "In any case, interview's over. You're hired, that is if you want the job." He grinned.

"Just like that?"

He looked at his watch. "I've never taken this long to interview anyone else."

"I mean, you don't want to check my background?"

He shook his head, frowned and moved away from the drafting table, abandoning her sketches there. "Gail must've checked your references, or you wouldn't be here. If you have more ideas you'd like to show me, we can have dinner tonight." He turned to face her.

"I'm hired ... as a bookkeeping assistant?"

He sat down behind his desk and appeared to study her. She returned his look in silence, waiting for his answer.

"You don't want to have dinner with me?" He looked disappointed.

"Oh. That would be wonderful, Mr. Palmer, if you really want to see more of my work, but I have to catch a bus back to Los Angeles this afternoon."

"I see. You don't have a car?"

"No, and I'll need to find a place to live, and give notice at my other jobs." She smiled up at his thoughtful gaze.

"If you mean the job as the waitress and the one in the underwear factory, I'd give them about two minutes. I'll pay your moving expenses. Let me see if I can arrange for a car."

"For a bookkeeper's assistant?" She began to wonder about that dinner invitation. What was he offering, and in exchange for what? Was this going to get her in trouble again? "I don't have a driver's license."

He grinned and shook his head. "I like your style and your energy, Liz. You're breathtaking, if a bit unconventional. You sound sometimes as if you've been living in some kind of a dreamland instead of the real world, but I find that refreshing. I can't tell you how weary I am of design school graduates who want to make knock-offs of Chanel suits from the thirties and tell me how things are done on Seventh Avenue, as if I had no choice where I work. I'll teach you the business from the top down. That appears to be how you go about most things. Now, I don't want you to miss your bus. When can you start as my new assistant?"

He stood and offered his hand to cinch the deal. She still tried to fathom exactly what job she was being hired for. She couldn't get past the notion of him paying her moving expenses.

He paused with her hand in his and stared at the scars on her wrist, and she realized he wasn't going to look at her application.

"Mr. Palmer, there is something you need to know about me. It's the reason I can't model for you. When I was seventeen—"

He turned away. "You were a kid, though it sounds as if you didn't get much chance to act like one." He met her gaze again, his own sober. "Call me Dan. Take all the time you need to move, Liz, because once you're settled I'm going to work you as hard as your father did. You have talent and imagination, but you also have a lot to learn."


"A year later we married," Beth told Gabriel. "Two years after that we divorced."

Gabriel placed both their empty plates on the coffee table, leaned back and sipped his wine. "And now you're partners."

"Dan gave me half the business as a divorce settlement. I still don't know why he did it. If it wasn't for him, I'd still be waiting tables somewhere, and Mom would've lost the Lodge a long time ago. I owe Dan a lot."

They heard a car outside, and Gabriel went to the door. A moment later he led Duane and Sheriff Kendall into the living room, both in blue uniforms with darker jackets and hats, both wearing somber expressions.

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