The Heart of Lies - By Debra Burroughs
Lies are deceptive little things. Whether they are innocent white lies or the evil midnight black ones, they all have a way of coming back to expose us at the most inopportune moments.
The unsuspecting young woman approached the doorway of the dimly-lit private office. She jerked to a halt, catching sight of the man sprawled on the floor next to his desk, his body motionless, his face bloody and battered. Her hand flew over her mouth. Her other seized hold of the door frame for support, feeling her knees begin to give out.
A plethora of painful emotions roiled in her chest as she stared, eyes wide, fighting to stuff down the overwhelming urge to scream. Perhaps the attacker was still within earshot.
Who did this? Who?
The list of people who might want him dead was long—that much she knew. The only question to be asked was which one actually followed through. She needn’t ask why, though, she already knew that answer.
Hot tears stung her eyes. She fought against the powerful desire to run into the office, to fling herself down and put her arms around him. Under different circumstances, she would have caressed him one last time and kissed him a final good-bye—but not now.
With her heart thudding loudly in her ears, she could hardly think, she remained frozen to the safety of the door jamb. Self-preservation dictated that she could not risk running to him. Someone could discover her there and she would be found out. And if she got his blood on her, she might even be blamed for his murder.
She struggled to hold herself back and cling to the safety of the solid frame, torn between grief, terror, and rage. Nearly choking on the knot in her throat, she whispered a raspy and tearful good-bye. “I’m sorry, James, but I can’t go to prison. Not even for you. Good-bye.”
Her attention was pulled away as she picked up the sound of a car door slamming in the parking lot. Her thoughts flew to the police, who would certainly be coming. Images of them flashed through her mind—finding her there, digging into her background, arresting her. She couldn’t have that.
Her mother always told her that men would come and go, but no matter what, her top priority had to be to look out for number one.
Her instincts to save herself won out.
“Who’s up for the Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed?” Emily Parker asked her cluster of friends as they stood on the sun-drenched sidewalk, watching the end of the Founders Day Parade. The music from the high school marching band began to die down as the last musicians rounded the corner, drifting out of sight.
Emily loved the parade and small town festivities in Paradise Valley, but most of all she loved the interesting women that made up her close circle of friends. After recently taking over her husband’s private investigation business after his murder, no one was more important to her than these three girlfriends were.
They had helped her through her devastating loss, not to mention her transition from real estate agent to lady PI.
A chorus of “count me in” and “me too” rang out from the group, with the exception of one loud dissenter.
“Eeew, fried bull testicles?” Maggie’s face screwed up in a look of disgust. She tucked a strand of long blonde hair behind her ear and rolled her big blue eyes like a teenager half her age.
“Oh Maggie. You’re such a drama queen.” Isabel shook her head. Isabel Martínez was a no-nonsense FBI financial analyst who had seen it all. She and her attorney husband, Alex, had been looking forward to the Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed for months and they clearly weren’t going to let Maggie Sullivan, the Southern belle fitness queen, put a damper on their fun. “They’re delicious, Maggs. You have to put it out of your head what they really are.”
“But they’re fried bull testicles, Isabel.” Maggie frowned. “How can y’all ever get that out of your head?”
“They’re a delicacy, Maggie,” redheaded Camille Hawthorne piped in. As a caterer and event planner, sometimes the spiky-haired diva had to put an enticing spin on some of her unique specialty dishes. “Think of them simply as Rocky Mountain Oysters—that’s what I keep reminding my Jonathan.”
“But the thought, Camille—” Her tall, lanky husband, Jonathan, wore a wincing look on his face. “I feel for those poor bulls—ouch.”
“All right, all right.” Emily waved her hands and shook her head, making her honey-blonde curls dance around her neck. “Enough talk.