Copper Lake Confidential - By Marilyn Pappano

Chapter 1

Going home alone? Are you crazy?

With her brother’s words echoing in her ears, Macy Howard pulled into the driveway of the house she’d left a year and a half ago and stopped. The garage door slid up at the touch of a button, revealing a space empty but for a few tools and yard-care equipment. The lawn was mown, the hard surfaces neatly edged, the flowers freshly watered. She had no doubt the backyard looked as good, that the pool was sparkling clean, the house and guesthouse dusted and vacuumed and ready to be lived in again.

Not that she would ever live in this house again.

Hands trembling, she eased the minivan into the garage, shut off the engine and watched in the rearview mirror as the door slowly came down. If she closed her eyes, if she relaxed, she could almost believe it was a normal day back before her life had blasted all to hell. Clary would be in the child seat in back, tired after a morning of play and shopping, and the groceries would be waiting to be carried in and put away. She would fix lunch—sandwiches, probably; Clary was in a peanut-butter-and-jelly rut—then she would put her daughter down for a nap before Mark made his usual post-lunchtime call to see how his favorite girls were.

But it wasn’t a normal day.

Clary was in Charleston with her uncle Brent and his bride, Anne.

Mark was dead.

And Macy was fiercely glad he was.

The tips of her fingers began to ache. Taking a deep breath, she forced them to unclench from the steering wheel. Things she used to do without thought now required conscious effort: undo the seat belt, open the door, slide out, close the door. Her footsteps echoing on pebbled pavement, she walked across the garage to the door that led inside, then stopped.

She couldn’t do this. She should have stuck to the original plan: drive up Friday morning with Clary, Brent and Anne. Check in to a hotel. Come to the house with her brother and sister-in-law. Pack what she intended to keep—nothing that would remind her of Mark. Leave and never come back.

But no, she’d wanted to be alone her first time here. Didn’t want an audience for whatever emotions she might feel. Didn’t want to show even the tiniest bit of weakness to people who watched her, every moment, for just that.

She fitted her key in the lock, twisted and opened the door into the laundry room. Though shutting off the alarm system came instinctively, the first step beyond that was like slogging through knee-deep concrete that hadn’t yet set. The second was hard, too, and the third, but finally she reached the pantry, then the kitchen.

Stainless, stone and tile gleamed. Her lawyer must have hired a cleaning service after getting her email that she was returning. A lime-green colander filled with fresh red apples sat on the island. The sweet scent of hazelnut mixed in the air with wood polish, and a vase of rusty-hued flowers occupied the center of the breakfast table. Through the window over the sink, she could see the beds that had been her passion, bright and alive with color, as if she’d never gone away.

Home. She was home. In a place that could never be home again.

Grief swept through her, and she mercilessly squelched it. She’d done all the mourning she intended to do for Mark within the first week of his death. After that, when the truth had come out, she’d sworn to never feel one more moment’s sorrow for him. Her only regrets were for her daughter and herself, and for the sweet little baby he’d caused her to lose. The life she’d lived, the future she’d planned, the past that had been nothing but lies...

A sound startled her before she realized it was her own strangled emotion. Anger, she named it. Anger was good. Anger would carry her through this.

Her shoes clicked on the high sheen of the marble floor as she walked through the house that Mark had built. It had been a happy home, or so she’d believed. A shared home. But all the choices had been his—the style, the materials, the colors.

She thought back to the warm, muggy October day he’d died and shuddered. All the choices had been his. But the question still haunted her: How had she not known? She’d lived with him, loved him, had a child with him and been carrying their second daughter. How could she not have