Read What She Doesn't Know Online

Authors: Beverly Barton

Tags: #Suspense, #Contemporary romance, #Fiction

What She Doesn't Know

“I don’t know anything about your missing files,” Max said.
“Do you expect me to believe you?” Jolie asked.
“I don’t expect you to do anything except cause trouble. That seems to be the one thing you’re good at doing. Dredging up old memories, putting people through the misery of reliving a past better left forgotten.”
Jolie took a tentative step toward Max, pausing when only a few inches separated their bodies. “Do you honestly think that anyone involved could ever forget about those brutual murders? If you’d been shot and left for dead beside your mother’s lifeless body, would you ever be able to forget?”
“Probably not,” Max admitted. “But you have no proof that the snooping you and Theron were doing is in any way connected to those men attacking Theron.”
“I don’t need proof. I know in here”—she slapped her clenched fist on her belly—“that somebody wanted Theron stopped before he unearthed any information that might force the D.A. to reopen the Belle Rose case. And so help me God, I’m going to find out who the son of a bitch is. Theron might not be able to continue searching, to keep digging for the truth, but I can. And I will.”
Max uncrossed his arms and eased away from the wall. “If what you believe is true, then you could wind up getting yourself hurt, maybe even killed…”
Books by Beverly Barton
Published by Zebra Books
Beverly Barton
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To my husband, Billy,
my safe harbor in all of life’s storms.
Thank you, my love,
for being at my side, day and night,
when I needed you the most
Ivy wound around the crumbling chimney, gluing itself to the ancient brick. The ramshackle house nestled in the grove of cedar trees, its weathered wood gray from age, remnants of white paint staining only a portion of the surface. Most of the sharecropper shacks had been torn down years ago, along with the old slave quarters that had been located closer to the main house. Now almost totally reclaimed by nature, this one bedraggled structure remained standing. Jolie had overheard family tales about how her great-grandfather Desmond had kept his mistress here, back in the Twenties, and that various men in the family had used the place for clandestine meetings with bad women. Past sexual peccadilloes didn’t really interest her, but one present-day bad boy did.
Maximillian Devereaux
. Sandy had told Jolie that her older sister, Felicia, had given her virginity to Max in this very house. Jolie hadn’t wanted to believe it, but Sandy would never lie to her. They had been best friends since they were in diapers. And Jolie had been in love with Max almost as long. Of course, Max didn’t pay any attention to her. She was sure he thought of her as just a kid, which was probably good, considering he was, and always would be, forbidden to her. But she was fourteen now. Almost a woman. And only four years younger than Max.
Unrequited love hurt—hurt like hell.
She wasn’t supposed to be here. Spying on people wasn’t something she made a habit of doing. Nor was lying. She’d told her mama she was going to walk straight to Sandy’s house, which was three-quarters of a mile up the road from Belle Rose. Mama approved of Sandy as a friend. The Wells family had been a part of Sumarville, Mississippi, as long as the Desmonds had. Jolie’s maternal ancestors had been plantation owners prior to the War Between the States and afterward became part of a certain segment of Southern society Aunt Clarice referred to as the genteel impoverished. It had taken her years to understand what that meant. Her mother’s family had possessed good breeding and a lineage back to Adam, but they had been as poor as churchmice, except for their land and a large decaying mansion.
But her mother had made a good marriage to a rich man. Daddy’s ancestors had been sharecroppers years ago, but Great-Grandfather Royale had started his own business and invested wisely, so his son and grandson became very wealthy. Being rich wasn’t something Jolie thought about much. She’d overheard others referring to her as a spoiled brat or that snobby little princess. But Mama had pointed out that others were jealous of her because she possessed both good breeding and wealth. And Aunt Clarice reminded her to
consider the source
. A Desmond, or in her case the offspring of a Desmond, never paid any attention to what riffraff and underlings said about them.
Jolie really couldn’t explain what had prompted her to take the overgrown path through the woods that lay between the Desmond and Wells property instead of taking the graved road. She’d been daydreaming, a habit Mama said was a foolish waste of time. But Aunt Clarice told her to dream all she could now, while she was young. She’d wondered if that meant when people got older, they couldn’t dream anymore.
As she crept toward the cottage, she thought about what she would see when she peeped in through the dirty windows. Would Max be there with Felicia? Would they be making love? If she caught them together, she knew her heart would break and she’d want to scratch out Felicia’s big brown eyes. That girl had eyes as big as saucers!
No one knew how she felt about Max. Not even Sandy. She didn’t dare share her deepest, darkest secret with anyone. If Mama ever found out…
“That boy’s just like his mother,” Audrey Royale had said on more than one occasion. “And we all know that Georgette Devereaux was a New Orleans whore. How she duped poor old Philip into marrying her and passing off that bastard son of hers as his, I’ll never know.”
Jolie didn’t care if Max really was a bastard or if his mother had been a whore. If Max would ever look at her—truly look at her—and see what was right before him, she would be the happiest girl in the world. If Max were to ever love her the way she did him, she’d defy her mother to be with him. She’d defy the whole damn world.
As she reached the rickety steps that led up to the front porch, Jolie heard laughter. Fluttery female giggles mingled with deeper male chuckles. The sound stopped her dead in her tracks. Someone
inside the house. Was it Max and Felicia? In all the years she’d known Max, she’d never heard him laugh. But if he was having sex, maybe he was enjoying himself enough to laugh.
Well, are you going to look or not?
she asked herself.
Do you have the guts to see for yourself what’s going on in there?
Taking small tentative steps, she eased around to the side of the house, moving in the direction from which the laughter came. Small twigs and dried leaves crunched under her feet, the noise minuscule as it blended with the louder chorus of nature. Within the wooded area, birds chirped, squirrels scurried, and grasshoppers and other insects bounded hither and yon. As she neared the back window on the left side of the structure, her heartbeat drummed loudly inside her head. A sense of dread momentarily halted her, but youthful curiosity urged her forward until she reached the window. Standing on tiptoe, she pressed her face against the cracked pane and peered inside; then she blinked several times, trying to adjust her eyesight. Unable to make out more than two bodies writhing on a metal bed in the far side of the room, she lifted her hands, cupped them to either side of her face to block out the afternoon sun and took another look.
Jolie Royale gasped in disbelief; her shock and anger mixed with dismay. While a plethora of emotions bombarded her young mind and heart, she seemed unable to stop staring at the sickening sight. Her father, whom she adored, straddled the naked black-haired woman beneath him. His bare butt rose and fell as he hammered into the slut. Huge tears welled up in Jolie’s eyes. How could her daddy betray her mother this way? And with
woman? With Georgette Devereaux!
Forcing herself away from the window, away from a sight that she would never forget—not to her dying day—Jolie hurried through the woods as tears streamed down her flushed cheeks. What was she going to do? She couldn’t tell Mama. But she had to tell somebody, didn’t she? Oh, God, did Max know? Did he have any idea what sort of woman his mother was?
A New Orleans whore!
As her mind filled with frantic jumbled thoughts, Jolie ran and ran, until she reached the gravel road. Out of breath, her lungs aching, she stopped to consider her options. Where should she go? What should she do? Go tell Aunt Clarice. She’ll know what’s to be done about Daddy and that awful woman. Aunt Clarice understood matters of the heart. She’d heard more than one person say so. It was because her mother’s older sister had loved and lost years ago and was still devoted to her dead fiancé.
When Jolie reached the iron gates that opened to the driveway that led to the 1846 mansion at the heart of the Belle Rose plantation, she doubled over and took several deep slow breaths. Using her fingertips, she swiped the tears from her face, then wiped her mouth with her hand. Just in case she ran into Mama or Aunt Lisette, she had to appear perfectly calm, as if nothing were wrong. Aunt Clarice wouldn’t be home until later, since this was Saturday and she kept the dress shop in town open until six.
Jolie decided that she’d just have to go to her room and stay out of everyone’s way. Mama and Aunt Lisette probably wouldn’t even notice her. They’d been arguing all week, but Jolie had no idea about what. Every time they realized she was nearby, they both shut up immediately. And there was nobody else around the house today, except probably Lemar Fuqua, who would no doubt be busy in the yard. Her daddy had loaned Lemar the money to start his own lawn service, and part of the repayment was that he come out to Belle Rose on Saturdays to maintain the grounds. The only servant who lived on the plantation was Lemar’s twin sister, Yvonne, who’d been the housekeeper for as long as Jolie could remember, as had Yvonne’s mother, Sadie, before her. But she wouldn’t have to worry about Yvonne today. Saturday afternoon was her time to do the shopping in town.
So, what are you going to tell Mama about not going to Sandy’s? Tell her Sandy wasn’t home. No, that lie could be checked too easily. Say you’ve got a headache and came back home to take some aspirin and to lie down for a while
When she rounded the house and approached the expansive back veranda, Jolie saw Lemar’s old blue pickup parked on the north side. The truck bed held those new lilac bushes her mama had ordered to replace the ones that had died last year. Jolie glanced around, searching for any sign of the tall lanky black man who always greeted her with a smile and a piece of peppermint candy. Maybe he was taking a break and drinking iced tea in the kitchen, as he often did. She liked Lemar. He was one of the nicest people she’d ever known. She considered both Yvonne and Lemar family, as did Aunt Clarice and Aunt Lisette. On the other hand, her mama considered them only as loyal family servants.
As she headed for the back door, she noticed several dark spots, reddish in color and partially dried, splattered on the grass and back steps. Odd, she thought. Maybe Lemar had spilled something, some chemical that he used in his gardening. Jolie entered the house through the back door. From the mudroom just off the porch, she walked down the long center hallway. Suddenly a peculiar sinking feeling hit her square in the stomach.
What’s wrong?
She sensed something odd, then realized the house was eerily, unnaturally quiet. Aunt Lisette almost always kept music playing and when she didn’t, she sang or hummed. And often as not, when left alone together, Aunt Lisette and Mama argued. Especially lately. But there was no music, no singing, and no quarreling.
“Aunt Lisette?”
“Lemar, are you here? I saw your truck outside.”
“Mama, where are you?” Jolie called loudly.
Something was wrong
“Aunt Lisette, please answer me.”
No response.
Oh, God. Oh, God!
Jolie ran down the hallway calling for her mother. She whirled around in the foyer and headed up the wide spiral staircase. When she’d taken only a couple of steps, she glanced up to the top of the stairs. Aunt Lisette! The name echoed inside her head.
Lisette Desmond’s half-naked body lay sprawled on the stairway landing; her diaphanous silk robe hung open, revealing one round white breast and the expanse of a long pale leg. Jolie forced herself into motion. She climbed the stairs quickly, despite the fact that she felt as if heavy lead weights hung about her ankles. As she neared her aunt’s still body, she looked down at Lisette’s billowing platinum blond hair, now stained with red.
Her aunt was dead. In a purely reflex action, Jolie lifted her hand to cover her mouth as she gasped.
“Mama!” Jolie screamed.
No answer.
Jolie thought she must be asleep and having the worst nightmare of her life. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be real. Aunt Lisette wasn’t dead.
Turn around and go back downstairs. Find Mama. She’ll tell you that everything is all right. Once you see her face, you’ll know you’re safe. You’ll be able to wake from this horrible dream
As if in a trance, Jolie turned her back on the gruesome scene and fled down the stairs. She raced from room to room, searching for her mother, calling for her repeatedly. She found no one.
She swung open the door to the only remaining downstairs room, the recently remodeled kitchen, a large square room that overlooked the backyard. She scanned the area from the row of windows across the back wall to the pantry door at her right. As her gaze traveled down toward the glossy wood floor, she noticed first the feet and then the legs. Cold fear consumed her. After entering the kitchen, she made her way slowly toward the round wooden chopping block in the center of the room. Lying there, perfectly still, not a lock of golden blond hair out of place, Audrey Desmond Royale stared sightlessly up at the ceiling, a single bullet wound in the middle of her forehead.
Jolie dropped to her knees and grasped her mother’s hand. A warm hand. Maybe she wasn’t dead. Maybe Mama was still alive!
Call for an ambulance. Now!
When she rose to her feet, she heard movement behind her.
Just as she started to turn to face the intruder, something sharp and stinging hit her hip. Despite the pain, she fell to the floor and rolled, seeking a place to hide or a means of escape. Within seconds she felt another sting as something hit her shoulder, and then a third burned into her back. She knew that this was no dream. Whoever had murdered Mama and Aunt Lisette was going to kill her, too. Only a split second before Jolie passed out, she fully comprehended the fact that she’d been shot. Three times…

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