Read The Hopechest Bride Online

Authors: Kasey Michaels

The Hopechest Bride

JOE COLTON'S JOURNAL

I'm still reeling from the bombshell that all these months my “wife” was really Meredith's psychotic identical twin sister, Patsy Portman! It makes me see red every time I think about this evil impostor taking over my wife's life while the real Meredith was struggling to get back to me. Yet there was a part of me that always felt in my heart that the woman who was under my roof was not my life's companion and soul mate. Finally being able to hold my cherished wife in my arms again was pure bliss…. Unfortunately, a dark cloud shadows my adopted daughter's happy homecoming. Emily feels responsible for the death of Toby Atkins, who gave his life protecting her during this entire Patsy debacle. Now his revenge-seeking older brother, Josh, has arrived in Prosperino and is making ridiculous accusations against sweet Emily. But underneath the bitter animosity between Emily and Josh is a smoldering attraction that can't be denied. Could there be wedding bells in their future?

About the Author

KASEY MICHAELS

is a
New York Times
and
USA Today
bestselling author of more than sixty books that range from contemporary to historical romance. Recipient of the Romance Writers of America RITA Award and a Career Achievement Award from
Romantic Times Magazine,
in addition to writing for Harlequin and Silhouette, Kasey is currently writing single-title contemporary fiction and Regency historical romances elsewhere. When asked about her work for THE COLTONS series, she said that she has rarely felt so involved in a project, one with such scope and diversity of plot and characters.

Kasey Michaels
The Hopechest Bride

Meet the Coltons—
a California dynasty with a legacy of privilege and power.

Emily Blair:
The younger woman.
Though his brother was killed in the line of duty while protecting her, she thinks that the only thing Josh Atkins wants from her is revenge.

Josh Atkins:
The older man.
He'd come to Prosperino to get even with the cold, heartless witch who had lured his naive brother into a trap. But as he gets to know this sweet, warmhearted woman, could his mission be changing to marriage?

Jewel Mayfair:
The love child.
Having been found by a private investigator, this psychologist is sad to learn about her mother, Patsy, but welcomes the chance to meet her Colton cousins….

Patsy Portman:
The deranged sibling.
Now that the jig is up, the real Meredith turns out to be Patsy's true champion by finding a good lawyer for her unstable twin.

San Francisco Gazette
**BULLETIN**
A Tale of Two Wives

Former Senator Joseph Colton, Wife and Family Live Decade-long Nightmare

by Wanda Harris

(Prosperino; AP) The sleepy town of Prosperino, California woke to a nightmare this morning as it was revealed that esteemed former Senator Joseph Colton has been the victim of a ten-year-long impersonation and tragic hoax that has all but shattered the prosperous Colton family.

Colton, head of Colton Enterprises, has lately been in the national news after two unsuccessful attempts on his life, attempts made allegedly by a disgruntled former business associate, Emmett Fallon. Fallon is now under arrest and awaiting trial.

Details of this new revelation as concerns Joseph Colton remain sketchy, but Detective Thaddeus Law
of the Prosperino Police Department has confirmed that one Patricia Portman, a convicted murderer, had somehow taken the place of her identical twin sister, Meredith Portman Colton, wife of the former senator. Portman successfully impersonated her sister over the course of a decade, until her true identity was revealed upon yesterday's return of Meredith Colton.

Meredith Colton, well-known in the Prosperino area for her various charitable works, has spent that decade in an as yet unidentified locale, reportedly a victim of amnesia. This amnesia, a highly-placed source in the police department reports, made it easy for Portman to slip into her sister's life at the family estate, the Hacienda de Alegria.

For those ten years, Portman was, to family and community, Meredith Colton, and bore Joseph Colton one child, a son, Teddy, age eight. The Senator, however, has been ruled out as a possible willing coconspirator, and there are, at this time, no plans to indict him along with Portman.

Portman, soon to be indicted for, as Law stated, “a laundry list of charges,” is currently being held for questioning at the county jail. Although Law refused to comment further, other sources report that attempted murder and fraud charges are being prepared, with an arraignment to be held at an undisclosed time, possibly as early as this afternoon.

The more bizarre aspects of this case, and there are many, have caused national attention to be drawn to
Prosperino and the Colton ranch, attention that will not soon fade.

(Related stories and photos on the Colton family, holdings and history in Section B, page 1; see TWO WIVES)

One

J
oe Colton threw down the newspaper in obvious disgust, and turned to glare at his oldest son. “All right. Who the hell is this Wanda Harris, and who did she talk to out of Law's office? Damn it, Rand, I can't believe this. It has only been twenty-four hours, and the wire services have already picked up on the story. I can have the phones controlled here at the ranch, but we're going to have a million reporters camping outside the gates like damned vultures! Trucks. Lights. Satellite dishes. Idiots trying to breach the fences. Your mother can't handle this, Rand. We've got to do something.”

Rand bent to pick up the newspaper, laid it on the desk in Joe's study. “Dad, speaking as an attorney
now, there's only so much we can do. Freedom of the press, and all of that.”

Joe wasn't listening. He was too busy pacing, hands clenched into fists, talking to himself. “And Teddy! Damn it, why did she have to mention Teddy? And to say I won't be indicted? Indicted for what? Would anyone actually
believe
that I would have been a willing partner in Patsy's scheme? Hell, obviously that reporter did. She wondered enough to ask the question and print an answer. Because of Teddy, I suppose. What a mess. Harris is making it all sound like some kind of tabloid scandal.”

Rand rubbed at the bridge of his nose and winced. “Yeah, I know. It was bad enough when the news came out about Emmett, but this one
does
have all the makings of a tabloid feeding frenzy. You can keep it low-key on Colton Enterprises stations, and my cousin Harrison won't allow anything sensational in his publications—but this definitely is not going to go away overnight, Dad. You're a former senator and business magnate, your sister-in-law unbelievably impersonated your wife for ten long years, you fathered her child—”

“I did
not
— Oh, God,” Joe said, collapsing into the huge leather chair behind his desk. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly as he looked at his son. “Teddy's not my child, Rand,” he said carefully, looking toward the shut door to the hall. “And that's when I should have known. She—Patsy—came to me, all excited, telling me she was pregnant, but I
knew that wasn't possible. I knew I was sterile, and had been since that bout of mumps years ago. Your mother and I learned that when we tried to conceive after Michael's death and couldn't. But Patsy didn't know. I should have known then,
sensed
something then. Teddy's eight. This mess lasted eight more years than it should have. If only I hadn't forgiven Patsy, believed that she'd made a mistake, had a short affair because I wasn't…because I wasn't paying her enough attention, meeting her needs. God, you're right. The whole thing
does
sound like fodder for the tabloids.”

His son remained silent for some moments, lost in his own thoughts, then asked, “Who is the father? Do you know?”

Joe shook his head. “No, and I don't think I want to know.”

“Teddy might want to know,” Rand put in tightly, avoiding his father's gaze.

Joe pushed back his chair, stood up. “Not now, Rand, don't go all ethical on me now. I can't think about Teddy's parentage now. I can't think about that, or the fact that your mother, when she saw Teddy and Joe, Jr. last night, remarked on how they looked very much like brothers. Because if I were to think that Joe is also— No. Like I said, I can't think about any of this now, about how blind I was, about the mistakes that were made. All I can do is protect your mother, Rand. We
all
have to protect your mother.”

“That's a given, Dad,” Rand said, walking over to
the window and looking out into the courtyard, to where Teddy and ten-year-old Joe, Jr. were kicking a soccer ball. “Joe showed up on our doorstep, just an infant, only shortly before Mom's accident, remember? Just before Patsy took Mom's place here at the ranch. We all know how crazy Patsy is about Joe, about Teddy. It was almost as if the rest of her children, natural, adopted and foster children, were cut out of her life, leaving just those two boys. Could it be? Is it possible that Patsy left Joe on our doorstep, then arranged to move in herself and mother her child?”

Rand turned away from the window and looked at his father. “I think we need DNA tests, Dad. I think we need to know exactly what went on when Joe came to us. For Joe's sake. And if Teddy isn't to grow up believing you to be his father, maybe we need DNA testing on him, too. The last thing we need in this house, Dad, are more secrets.”

Joe slowly nodded his head. “I'll talk to your mother, see what she wants to do. But not yet, Rand. She's too overwhelmed as it is, and very worried about Emily.”

“We're all worried about Emily, and I've been giving something some thought for a few days now, even before we all came here to the ranch. I know I'm rushing things here, but I watched Emily when we were with Mom's psychologist in Mississippi. Dr. Martha Wilkes—a good, caring woman Mom really trusted. I was thinking, Dad, maybe we could get Dr.
Wilkes to come out here for a while, stay at the ranch? Talk Mom past this media circus we're sure to have, help her adjust? And maybe talk with Emily while she's at it?”

“It's one step,” Joe agreed, sighing. “We have to start somewhere, don't we? God knows I feel the need to do
something.
Go ahead, Rand, call the doctor and see if she's agreeable. We'll pay all her expenses, of course, and have her here as our guest. And after that, find out if we can visit Patsy at the jail later today. I have some questions for her, and possibly a deal to make with the woman.”

 

Once upon a time there had been a small toddler-aged girl who was placed in the foster system after the deaths of her parents.

And once upon a time a fairy princess and her big, handsome prince had rescued that little girl from the system, taken her into their fairy-tale palace and raised her as their own. Adopted her, gave her their name while preserving the name of her parents, making sure the little girl still saw her grandmother while that good woman was alive.

Once upon a time that little girl was happy, loved, cherished. She lived in the fairy-tale palace, surrounded by foster and adopted brothers and sisters, adored by her new parents.

And then, when the girl, Emily Blair Colton, was eleven, the wicked witch destroyed all that happiness.

One fateful day, as Emily's adoptive mother, Mer
edith Colton, drove the child toward town, to visit her grandmother, there was an accident. A planned accident that drove Meredith's car off the road, tumbled it into a ditch.

Meredith was knocked unconscious, as was Emily, and when Emily awoke, still strapped into the seat belt in the back seat, she saw
two
mommies. Her good mommy, and the evil mommy. The wicked witch. Frightened as only an eleven-year-old could be, Emily fainted, and woke much later in the hospital, to see just one mommy.

But which mommy?

Not
her
mommy. Oh, no. Her real mommy would never yell at her, put a hand across her mouth to stop her from crying. Her real mommy wouldn't have somehow changed from laughing and loving to cold and accusing. Her real mommy would call her “Sparrow,” and read her stories each night, and never yell, never call her “you bad, bad child.”

Ten years. Ten long, dark years the wicked witch had stayed and the good mommy had been gone. Lost.

Nobody listened, nobody believed. Or did they? Someone finally had believed Emily. Someone had believed her enough to try to kill her, here at the ranch, here in her own bedroom. Someone had felt it necessary to shut up the child who was now a woman, yet still also the child who questioned, who still believed her good mommy had been stolen away by the wicked witch.

Because of that somebody, Emily had nearly died. Three times. And somebody
had
died, had died protecting her, had died saving her…had died loving her.

“It's my fault,” Emily said aloud in her quiet bedroom, the yellow November sun slanting through the windows, onto her coverlet. “Toby's dead, and it's all my fault.”

 

Detective Thaddeus Law pushed a fresh cup of coffee across the scarred wooden table, then waited as Patsy Portman lifted the cup and drank deeply. A department video camera perched on a tripod in a corner of the room was loaded with a fresh tape and ready to go after their lunch break, which had just ended. He hit the remote button, starting the machine, then once more recited his name, Patsy's name, the date, the place, the time. Once more he read Patsy Portman her Miranda rights, which she once again agreed to waive.

Everything was set, ready. He looked to his left, at the two-way mirror, and nodded. He'd begin now, ask the questions the men behind that two-way mirror had suggested.

Patsy Portman was dressed in the royal blue T-shirt and scrub pants imprinted with “Prosperino Jail” on the shirt back and one pants leg. Yet she still held her head high, her perfectly combed hair and makeup-free but still classically beautiful face so at odds with her attire, as were her carefully manicured fingernails.

It was only her eyes that told the true story of Patsy
Portman. Those flat, dead eyes that could flash manic in an instant. Those eyes that held so many secrets, so much sorrow…and more than a hint of madness. She'd asked for her pills, twice, then refused to tell Thaddeus where they were, who had prescribed them. Without her medication, the thin veil of sanity was rapidly slipping away.

The door to the interrogation room opened and Sgt. Kade Lummus stepped inside, clad in his sharply creased navy uniform pants, his crisply starched dark gray department-issue shirt. “Her lawyer's here,” he said with a tip of his head toward the hallway. “You want me to send him in?”

“I don't need a lawyer,” Patsy said, glaring at Thaddeus. “I've done nothing wrong.
Nothing.
I'm the victim here, remember.” Her left eyelid began to twitch, but she kept her hands carefully folded on the edge of the table. Tightly folded, her knuckles white with strain. She was holding on, but she'd soon crack, go to pieces or to a place inside her mind where nobody could reach her.

It was now or never, Thaddeus decided, as soon they'd get nothing from the Portman woman. He looked toward the mirror once more. “Send him in, Kade, and then join us. Ms. Portman,” he continued, leaning his elbows on the tabletop, “I know you waived your Miranda rights. You waived them several times, in fact. But even the innocent are advised to accept the services of a lawyer, and Mr. Roberts is one of the best defense attorneys in the state.”

Patsy gave a toss of her head. “Sure. And who's paying him?
Joe?
The man's demented, lost his mind. Why not just lock me up and throw away the key? And my name is Colton, Thaddeus. Meredith Colton. I was a guest at your wedding, remember? I believe we gave you crystal. Baccarrat crystal. Do try to keep that straight in your head, all right?”

“Kade,” Thad called out as the door opened once more and attorney Jim Roberts entered the room, Gucci briefcase in hand. “Three more coffees, if you please. This is going to take a while.”

“Ms. Portman,” Attorney Roberts said after introducing himself, “I'm advising you not to say another word until we've been able to confer. And I'd like to have you examined by a psychiatrist as soon as possible.”

“Why? Because Joe says I'm nuts? Oh, yeah, he'd love that, wouldn't he? He'd just
love
that. You'd all love that.” Patsy shook her head, then glared up at the attorney, her eyes spitting fire. “No deal. No shrinks. Bring one in here and I'll have the cops throw out the both of you. I can do that, you know. I have my rights.”

“Yes, you do, Patsy. You do have rights. So let's forget the doctor for the moment. We'll take this one step at a time. Detective Law?” the attorney asked, looking at Thad. “I'd like a few moments alone with my client.”

“I am
not
your client,” Patsy said angrily. “There is no way in
hell
I'm going to let Joe Colton pick my
lawyer.” She shook her head, laughed, a hint of the mania Thad had already glimpsed creeping into her voice. “Man, then I
would
be nuts, wouldn't I?” She closed her eyes tightly for a moment, her face contorted, before her features smoothed once again. “Oh, hell, why not? Thaddeus, take a hike why don't you, and we'll see what Joe's offering. He
is
offering something, isn't he? They always do…they always do…they always— What? You're waiting for a bus, Thaddeus? Get out of here!”

Roberts gave a small jerk of his head, indicating that Thad should leave the room, which he did after switching off the video camera, going to join Joe and Rand Colton behind the two-way mirror, but turning off the sound that was piped in from the interrogation room to maintain attorney-client privilege.

“I hope he can persuade her to cooperate before she loses all control,” Thad said, watching as Joe Colton turned away from the glass, his whole posture one of extreme fatigue. “She's hanging on by a thread, you know. Must be all that practice she's had, impersonating your wife.”

“He'll get her to cooperate, Thad,” Rand said, putting a hand on Joe's shoulder. “All of a sudden Silas Pike is singing his lungs out up in Keyhole. He's identified Patsy as the woman who hired him to kill Emily. And then there's Sheriff Toby Atkins. Pike's facing Wyoming's stiffest sentence for killing a police officer, remember? He doesn't have many bargaining chips, and he'd sell his own mother up the river for
a chance at serving his time in the most modern facility available.”

Thad nodded. “Oh, he's singing all right. I got a fax this morning, Rand, one you're not going to like. According to Pike, he was responsible for Nora Hickman's hit-and-run death last year. You know we haven't had any luck solving that one, but Pike knows particulars only the killer would know, so we're pretty sure we've got our man. He says the same woman who hired him to do Emily, hired him to kill Nora, supposedly to shut her up about something. We'll level charges, of course, but it's going to be about two lifetimes before Wyoming is done with him. I'm sorry, Joe. I'm really sorry.”

Other books

The Space Between by Scott J Robinson
Velocity by Abigail Boyd
Anomaly by Peter Cawdron
Muslim Mafia by Sperry, Paul
The Rise of Earth by Jason Fry
A Promise of Tomorrow by Rowan McAllister
Lady of Light by Kathleen Morgan
All Involved by Ryan Gattis