Fugitive Heart - By Bonnie Dee

Chapter One

Her house. Hers. She’d always known she would end up owning it someday.

Yeah, okay, a recurring dream wasn’t the same as holding a deed, but still. Most of Arnesdale knew that as soon as she had the money, Ames would buy the little farmhouse at the edge of town and move in. Since high school, before that, really, she’d been determined to see it restored to its former eccentric glory.

A couple of years back, before Dad had gotten sick, just after her mother died and Elliot vanished, Ames had considered dragging all her things into the abandoned farmhouse. Granted that was more a matter of desperation than possession. She’d craved getting away from the overly protective busybodies of Arnesdale and, if she couldn’t flee to a big city, then a house in the middle of nowhere would do. But then Dad needed her, and she gave up the plan, temporarily.

Now someone else had moved into the Old Place and, as far as she could tell—which wasn’t far at all—that person had a legit claim.

She poured a cup of coffee for herself and Marty, the other waitress at the Back Porch Diner. Ames slid one cup down the counter, and Marty caught it expertly as she settled on a swivel stool.

Ames leaned a hip against the edge of the counter. If she sat, she’d never get up again. “Of course it’s an outsider. If someone around here had bought it, we’d know who within hours.” The information loop in Arnesdale operated faster than the Internet.

“We’ll have to wait until the name shows up in the Beacon,” Marty grumbled.

Ames drank a mouthful of lukewarm coffee, dreadful slop. “I called Advance Realtors, but Jenny’s in Chicago. I could go look it up at the town hall.”

“Yeah? The clerk will give you that long-suffering look.” Marty sipped, pursed her dark red lips and daintily lowered the mug. She glanced around even though they were alone. “Missy Holmes said that when she went to give the new neighbor her usual ‘welcome to the area’ cake, a car was in the driveway, but no one answered the door.” She snickered. “That long road up to the house—he must have seen her coming. Coward upped and ran away to hide.”

Ames absently tapped the sugar packets back into place. “I didn’t even know the house was for sale. Jenny promised to tell me when the estate finally got around to selling it.”

“Mm.” Marty looked her up and down, and Ames avoided her eagle gaze behind the cat-eye glasses. Any mention of the past and Marty went into full alert. Ames didn’t talk about the past, tried to leave it where it belonged, but everyone in town wanted to know how she coped. Mother dead, father dead, brother vanished without a trace, all gone in two years.

People treated her as if she was an ailing patient and tried to take her temperature, which meant asking a lot of questions to see if she had any symptoms. She hadn’t told anyone to shove that curiosity where the sun don’t shine—only because she knew Dad would have called their response concern and told her to appreciate the fact people gave a darn.

But really, how did she “feel” with her entire family gone? How did people think she’d answer? She felt like a plant that had been uprooted and left to shrivel in the sun. She felt like a woman who’d woken in an alternate universe in some sci-fi movie, wandering around, knocking on doors and not finding her loved ones anywhere no matter how familiar the town looked. Stupid damn question. She wished no one would ever mention her “feelings” again.

Ames sighed and shoved herself away from the counter. “I suppose I wish the new guy luck avoiding Arnesdale’s army of spies.”

“Don’t get all high and mighty. You’re just as curious as the rest of us. We all want to know who tall, dark and handsome is.”

She hadn’t heard any description of the new guy before and lied. “I thought he was an elderly widower?”

“Who told you that? Missy went out to the farmstead because she’d seen him drive through town and as she put it, hubba-hubba.”

Ames laughed. “Seriously? Hubba-hubba? Which century is she from?”

“More like which universe.” Marty carefully rubbed a finger along the edge of her cup, erasing the red splotches of her lipstick.

“Anything more than tall, dark and handsome? Our Missy can do better than that.”

“She said he’s got crappy taste in cars. It was some kind of