Authors: Amanda Stevens
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense
Every family has its secrets…Prepare to be shocked and seduced by these three tales of deception, passion, and long-awaited revenge.
The Hero's Son
—Valerie Snow is desperate to clear her wrongfully convicted father of the abduction and murder of the young son of a powerful Memphis family. But the justice-seeking journalist hits a blue wall of silence. The son of the cop who helped put Valerie's father away thirty years ago, Lt. Brant Colter now isn't sure they caught the right man. Can he protect Valerie from a killer determined to bury the truth forever?
The Brother's Wife
—Giving up Jake McClain was the hardest thing Hope ever had to do. But the Memphis PI put his life on the line every day and she couldn't risk losing the man she loved. Marrying Andrew Kingsley was her second mistake. Now Andrew is dead—and a stranger claims he's Andrew's twin brother, vanished for thirty years. But there's something disturbingly familiar about Adam Kingsley…
The Long-lost Heir
–Bradlee Fitzgerald was just a child when her best friend Adam Kingsley disappeared. Rumors of foul play swirled around the Kingsleys’ palatial Memphis estate. Thirty years later, as one man fights to clear his name and another man awakens dangerous desire, what Bradlee inadvertently witnessed comes back to haunt her as she's drawn into an unholy maze of retribution and murder.
The Kingsley Family Trilogy
The Hero’s Son
The Brother’s Wife
The Long-Lost Heir
The Hero's Son
HE BANGING ON THE
front door awakened five-year-old Violet from a deep sleep. Frightened, she called out. Mommy and Daddy were in the next room, watching TV. Why didn't they come?
Her heart pounding, Violet got out of bed and crept to her bedroom door. Mommy and Daddy were standing in the living room, and for a moment, Violet felt safe. Then she saw their faces. They looked the way she felt when she'd had a really bad dream. Or seen something scary on TV. But mommies and daddies weren't supposed to get scared, were they?
The banging at the door sounded again, and someone shouted, “Police! Open up!”
Mommy grabbed Daddy's arm. “Cletus, my God, what's going on?”
Daddy's face was white. He looked sick. “I don't know. I'd better let them in.”
But before he could open the door, it burst open, shattering the wood frame. Mommy screamed as three men rushed in and grabbed Daddy. “Don't move,” one of the men said. “Or we'll blow your head off.”
Hiding behind her bedroom door, Violet shoved a fist against her mouth to keep from crying. She'd never been so scared. Mommy had always told her if she were ever lost or in trouble to look for a policeman. He would
help her. But these men didn't have on uniforms, like Mommy had shown her, and they didn't have the pretty shiny badges that Violet liked so much, either. All they had were guns. And Violet knew guns were bad. Very bad.
All three of the men were scary, but it was the big man with the dark hair that frightened Violet the most. She'd learned about the devil in Sunday-school class, had even seen a picture of him in a book, and that was who she thought of now. The big man didn't have horns or a tail, but her Sunday-school teacher had said the devil could disguise himself in many ways. Even as a policeman.
Please help us.
The television Mommy and Daddy had been watching was still on, and Violet could hear bits of a news broadcast, something about the little boy who had been kidnapped. His picture was all over the news. Violet saw it every time she turned on the TV to watch her favorite shows. She didn't want to think about what was happening, how scared she was, so she tried instead to remember the kidnapped boy's name.
And then she heard someone say it. Adam Kingsley. Yes, that was it. Adam Kingsley had been kidnapped from his bedroom, and no one knew where he was or what had happened to him. Mommy said everyone in Memphis was looking for him.
Violet had been so frightened when she first heard about the kidnapping. What if someone kidnapped
She could think of nothing scarier than to be taken from her mommy and daddy, but then Mommy had told her that Adam Kingsley had been kidnapped because his parents were rich. His father was an important man.
Violet had nothing to worry about. Her daddy was just an out-of-work auto mechanic.
Violet heard Adam Kingsley's name again, and she thought it must be coming from the TV. Then she realized the big man was saying the little boy's name. Saying it over and over as he grabbed Daddy and shouted, “Where is he? Where is he, you piece of scum?”
Daddy's hands were fastened behind his back, like Violet had seen policemen on TV do to bad men. The big man shoved Daddy, and he fell backward, hitting his head against the corner of the coffee table.
Blood ran from the cut on his head, and Mommy screamed. She tried to run to him, but the big man pushed her away. She fell, too, and Violet's heart began to pound, not just in fear, but because she was angry. She ran out of her room as fast as she could.
“Don't hurt my mommy!” she screamed. “Don't you hurt my mommy!”
She tried to grab the big man's arm, but he just pushed her away and turned back to Daddy, who had been pulled to his feet by the other two men.
Blood ran down Daddy's face as he looked at Violet and Mommy. “I'm innocent, Grace. You have to believe me. They're setting me upâ”
“Shut up!” the big man yelled.
The men dragged Daddy across the room. One of them opened the front door, and for the first time, Violet realized there was a crowd outside. The tiny front yard was filled with people, and in the street, lights flashed on top of police cars.
Mommy got up off the floor and ran outside. Violet didn't know what else to do but follow. But there was so much noise outside. So many people. Violet started to
cry. She saw some of their neighbors in the front yard, and they were shouting bad words at Daddy. A bottle shattered against the house, and Mommy began to cry, too.
Violet tried to run to Daddy, but the big man caught her. He knelt and looked into her eyes. Violet began to shake, she was so scared. What if he really was the devil, come to take her to hell?
He reached out for her, and Violet tried to pull away. Somewhere near them, a bright light flashed in her face, and she blinked. She heard an excited voice yell, “Did you get that shot?”
The big man patted her head. In a soft voice, he told her everything would be all right. But his eyesâeyes that looked like the picture in the Sunday-school bookâtold her something else, and Violet backed away from him, away from his touch.
Another man came up beside him. He was dressed in a uniform like Mommy had shown her, and Violet thought he would make the big man go away. That he would help her. But instead, he said, “We found part of the ransom money in the trunk of his car. Just where you said it would be, Sergeant Colter.”
The big man stood and walked away from Violet, but the fear didn't leave her. She knew who he was now, and she knew she would never forget him for as long as she lived.
The devil's name was Sergeant Colter.
HIRTY-ONE YEARS LATER
â¦Sergeant Brant Colter caught sight of the tall brunette in the crowd ahead and quickened his steps, trying not to lose her. Another woman, a petite blonde, walked beside her, but Brant had no interest in her. It was the dark-haired woman he wanted.
He knew very little about her, except that her name was Valerie Snow, she worked as an investigative reporter for the
and she seemed hell-bent on destroying Brant's family.
He grimaced, thinking about the article that had appeared in the
yesterday. According to Valerie Snow, the wrong man had been sent to prison thirty-one years ago for little Adam Kingsley's kidnapping and murder, a crime that was almost as famous as the Lindbergh case.
She claimed that the three detectives who had made the arrestâJudd Colter, Raymond Colter and Hugh Rawlinsâhad planted evidence to frame Cletus Brown and had then suppressed witnesses who could have cleared him.
In short, Valerie Snow alleged that one or all of them had concocted an elaborate conspiracy comparable only to the Kennedy assassination, and all because of their pride; their “hubris,” she called it. They had been hu
miliated by the press and by the FBI, and were desperate for an arrest. Desperate to become heroes. And they
become heroes, Brant thought. The three of them were almost legendary in the departmentâhis father, his uncle and his mentor. The three men who had probably influenced Brant's life the most.
But it wasn't just Valerie Snow's outlandish accusations that were so troublesome. The timing of the article couldn't have been worse. Brant's father was recovering from a stroke; Raymond's son, Austin, had just announced his intention of running for Congress; and Hugh Rawlins, the only one of the three still on the police force, was retiring in another month with full honors and benefits. The last thing any of them needed was to have their names dragged through the mud by some reporter out to make a name for herself.
The two women stopped in front of an expensive boutique and stared at the window display. Brant stepped into a shoe store next door, not wanting to take a chance on being spotted. It was cool inside, and he stood for a moment, enjoying the respite from the sultry humidity.
A middle-aged clerk wearing a bad toupee sauntered up to him. “May I help you?”
“Just browsing,” Brant muttered, waving the man away.
From his vantage point inside the store, Brant could see Valerie Snow clearly. She was still looking at the window display as she chatted with her companion, and Brant took the opportunity to study her.
She wasn't at all what he'd expected. After reading her article, he'd pictured her as a militant-looking woman with combat boots and chopped-off hair, but
she was nothing like that. Tall and thin, with the toned body of a runner, she had legs that went on forever and long, dark hair that shone like polished ebony in the late-afternoon sunlight.
Even standing still, she looked restless. Energy seemed to radiate from her lithe body, making Brant wonder what her temper might be like. She wore a dark blue suit with a fitted jacket and a short, slim skirt. Her nails were unpainted, as was her mouth, but he figured the latter was because she'd chewed off all her lipstick and hadn't had the patience to freshen it.
By comparison, the woman beside her looked cool and serene in a yellow sundress that reminded Brant of a frosted glass of lemonade. Her unhurried movements were that of a true Southern belle. She was the type of woman Brant had always been attracted to, but it was Valerie Snow who drew his gaze now. Valerie Snow who held his undivided attention.
Brant wasn't sure what his original intention had been when he'd followed her from the
's offices. He supposed at some point he would catch up with her, introduce himself, and ask her what the hell she thought she was doing.
Not in an official capacity, of course. She hadn't broken any laws that he was aware of, but stillâ¦. He'd always been of the mind that it was wise to seek out your enemies. Get to know them. Find out
She left her friend at the boutique and started down the street alone. Brant exited the shoe store and fell in behind her. The five o'clock pedestrian traffic was heavy, with people streaming out of the downtown office buildings in a hurry to get home.
As they rounded a corner, Brant almost lost her in the crowd, but then he caught sight of her dark hair in the group of people standing at the intersection, waiting for the light to change. He hung back, not wanting to get too close. But as if sensing his scrutiny, she turned her head, her eyes scouring the crowd, and Brant thought for a moment she'd spotted him. Then she turned and faced the street again.
More and more people joined the throng waiting at the light. Valerie was up front, near the street. Brant kept his eyes fastened on her, but his peripheral vision caught a movement in the crowd. His gaze shifted, and for just a split second, he thought he saw a familiar faceâan informant his father had once used. A man who would sell his mother's soul for a quick buck.
Remy Devereaux had disappeared a long time ago, and if he was still alive, which Brant seriously doubted, he would be getting on in years. He wasn't likely to still be out hustling in the streets.
But if he was, what the hell kind of coincidence had brought him here, to the very street corner where Valerie Snow stood waiting for the light to change?
A bus lumbered down the street, and the crowd automatically stepped back from the curb. Brant lost sight of the man, and when he tried to spot Valerie Snow, he realized he'd lost her, too.
And then someone screamed.
Brant reacted instantly. As he leaped forward, the mass of people seemed to part, and he caught a quick glimpse of dark hair and blue fabric. She lay sprawled on the street, directly in front of the oncoming bus.
With a spurt of adrenaline, Brant lunged forward
again. But the crowd, which had parted a second earlier, now closed in on him. He couldn't move.
“Police!” he shouted, flashing his badge. “Move back!”
Everyone did as they were told, but by the time Brant made his way through to the street, the bus had sped by. Someone screamed again, and with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Brant gazed down at Valerie Snow's crumpled body.
Someone had pulled her out of the way in the nick of time. She lay on her back on the sidewalk, her eyes closed, her hair fanned about her face like a dark halo.
He didn't think she was dead, but he had no idea how badly she might be hurt. Flashing his badge again to ward off the crowd, he knelt beside her and felt for a pulse.
“Is she going to be all right?” a woman asked anxiously.
Instead of answering her, Brant said, “Call 911. We need an ambulance.”
“Oh, God, is sheâ”
“Just make the call. Now!”
The woman's face paled, and her hands trembled as she opened her purse and pulled out a cell phone.
Brant heard someone in the crowd say, “Man, did you see what happened? She just jumped in front of that bus! Must have a death wish or something.”
The stunned rumblings went on and on, but Brant tuned them out. He turned his attention to the woman lying on the sidewalk, so still and silent. A sprinkling of freckles across her nose stood out starkly against her pale skin.
She should have looked vulnerable, but didn't. Somehow, even in repose, she managed to appear strong and intelligent. A woman perfectly capable of pissing off some pretty powerful people in this town.
She stirred and moaned.
“Take it easy,” Brant said. “The ambulance is on its way.”
Her lids fluttered, and then her eyes opened. They were gray, the color of rain clouds.
“What happened?” She tried to sit up, but Brant pushed her gently back to the street.
“You were almost hit by a bus,” someone in the crowd told her.
For the first time, she trained her gaze on Brant, and her eyes widened in shock. Or was it fear? Her lips moved frantically, but Brant couldn't understand what she was saying. He leaned closer to her and got a whiff of an expensive perfume, something as deep and sultry as a hot Southern night.
She tried to shrink away from him. “It's okay,” Brant said gently. “I'm not going to hurt you. You fell in front of a bus, but someone pulled you out of the way in time. You'll be fine.”
She shook her head and mouthed, “No.” She trembled all over, and for a moment, Brant thought she must have gone into shock.
“You'll be fine,” he repeated, whipping off his sport coat to spread over her. “Just hang in there.”
“I didn't fall,” she whispered, shaking uncontrollably.
Her gaze locked onto his. Fear deepened in her gray eyes. “I didn't fall,” she said. “I was pushed.”
* * *
ALERIE SAT ON THE BED
in the emergency room at Mercy General Hospital and tried to corral her racing thoughts.
No way could he have been the same man.
No way could he have remained unchanged after thirty-one years.
And yet she'd seen him with her own eyes!
Her heart had almost stopped when she'd looked up into those black eyes. Eyes just as cold and dark as the ones she remembered.
“Devil eyes,” she'd always called them.
She shivered, just thinking about him. “I have to get out of here.”
“What's your hurry?” Dr. Allen asked her. He was a young, good-looking resident who wore faded jeans and scuffed Nikes and made Valerie feel about a hundred and two. “You just got here.”
“I don't like hospitals,” she muttered.
He looked down at her with a wounded look. “I'm hurt. Truly hurt by that remark.”
“Nothing personal.” She'd been trying to ignore his flirting ever since she'd been brought in, but it wasn't easy. Dr. Allen was nothing if not charming.
“So what's the verdict?” she asked wearily.
“A few cuts and bruises. You're going to be pretty sore for a few days. I'm still waiting to have a look at your X rays, but I don't expect to find any broken bones. You're one lucky young lady, from everything I've heard.”
Valerie supposed it wasn't every day one got pushed in front of a city bus and survived. If she closed her eyes, she could still feel herself pitching forward into the street, could still feel that moment of terror when
she'd looked up to see the bus racing toward her like some huge steel monster. She could actually feel the heat from its engine, like the hot breath of death.
She put a quivering hand to her forehead. She had to get out of here. Find out what was going on.
Find out who wanted to kill her.
“Look, I'm perfectly fine,” she insisted. “Good as new. And I really do have to be going. There's a press conference I have to get to.” She tried to hop down from the bed, but every bone in her body screamed in protest. She groaned and offered only a token struggle when the doctor eased her back down. “I can't stay here,” she whispered, as a wave of dizziness swept over her.
Dr. Allen said sternly, “I'm afraid the press conference will just have to wait. At least until I get those X rays.”
“We're a little short-staffed this afternoon. Could take a while.”
Valerie suppressed another groan. The antiseptic smell of the hospital made her nauseous, and for a moment, she thought she might actually pass out. Not just from the scent, but from the memories. She hadn't been in a hospital since those long, lonely nights six weeks ago, when she'd kept vigil over her mother, waiting for her to die.
Dr. Allen patted her hand. “Don't worry. I'll get you sprung as soon as I can. In the meantime, try to enjoy our hospitality. I've given you a mild painkiller to make you a little more comfortable. Relax and let the medication take effect. Doctor's orders. You look as if you could use a little downtime.”
Downtime? Valerie wasn't even sure she remembered
what that was. She'd been operating on nervous energy and caffeine for so long, she was afraid to stop, afraid that if she did, she might never get going again.
But in spite of her determination to get out of there as quickly as possible, the medication made her feel a bit woozy, and she knew there was no way she could get herself home, let alone to Austin Colter's press conference.
Maybe I should call Julian,
she thought, but even that task seemed too great.
Besides, she didn't feel like dealing with her boss at the moment. He would be more interested in getting a good story than in her welfare, and Valerie wasn't up to any questions. She first wanted to sort out what had happened for herself, but she couldn't seem to stay focused. Her mind began to drift as the drug took effect, and suddenly she was back in the little house in a Chicago suburb where she'd grown up, going through her mother's personal belongings the day after the funeral.
Valerie had wanted to get the painful job over with as quickly as possible. But that afternoon, she'd found more than just possessions in her mother's house. More than just memories. She'd found a truth so devastating, her life had been changed forever.
For over thirty years, Valerie had believed her father guilty of the heinous crime for which he had been convicted. Why else had she and her mother been called such vile and vicious names after her father's arrest? Why else had their home been targeted for terrorism? And more important, why else had she and her mother fled town in the middle of the night? Why had her mother changed their names, hidden their true identi
ties, if not to escape the stigma of being the wife and daughter of a child-killer?
For over thirty years, Valerie had tried to hide from her past; from the shame and self-doubt that were almost consuming at times. She was the daughter of an infamous kidnapper who had taken the life of a child. What did that make
Cletus Brown's blood ran in her veins. Was she like him in any way? Was she, herself, capable of violence?