An abandoned dog. A homeless veteran. A woman on the run. Her life in jeopardy.
Sisters Dawn and Sunny stood together through the trauma of their childhoods and the fame they gained from Dawn’s songwriting and Sunny’s magical voice. But when Sunny marries the son of a cult leader, Dawn’s life is in jeopardy. Taking on the identity of Raine, she goes to ground in a small Wisconsin town with a handsome innkeeper whose upbeat temperament is the antidote to her pain.
Chuck’s always been a good-time guy, and now that he’s come up with a plan to help the town, no one in Trouble Bay thinks he’s up to the hard work. Just as well that he has a new guest to deal with. A woman with secrets. A woman who who makes his heart beat faster. A woman in danger.
**This stand-alone book also has a woman who thought she married a prince but he turned into a snake, and so much more. It’s a powerful and emotional story of love, friendship, dogs, music, and—maybe—murder.
♦ ♦ ♦
READ AN EXCERPT:
“You’re cute, Chuck.” Her face wreathed in smile lines, Angie Hornbuck leaned over her kitchen table to pat Chuck’s cheek, as if he were four years old instead of thirty-one. “But you’re just not a businessman.”
Chuck Pascal’s smile fell. He glanced away from her, at her paintings on the walls of the room and on the tables. Every spare space. And this was her house. Her studio was filled with her paintings, too.
Though Angie looked like someone’s tall, thin grandmother, her paintings were fiery and vital. From April to September, she opened up her studio two days a week for tourists. Like other local artists, she also sold her paintings through galleries.
“Angie, I don’t know how this can be anything but a good thing,” he said. “The Trouble Bay Art Mart won’t take any more of a percentage than the galleries charge, and it’s going to be much bigger. It’s—”
“A giant flea market.” Her long witch’s nose pinched. “I can’t imagine how that will work out.”
He opened his mouth but was stopped by her pursed lips and the sound of her fingers tapping the table. As if he were the idiot child she was trying to humor but she just wished he would leave.
“Okay, I get it.” He stood.
“Oh, now I’ve hurt your feelings.” Her hands flat on the table, she pushed up to her feet. “I wish I could help you. I always did like a handsome man.” She reached up to pat his cheek again. “But, Chuck honey, to be honest, I’m at the age where I just don’t like to try new things. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m established. My paintings have been featured in Reader’s Digest.”
“That’s the reason I came to you first.”
“Maybe you think the art mart sounds like a great idea, but to me, it sounds like one of those discount superstores.” She eyed him sadly. “I like you. I really do. You’re so cute, and if I were younger… Well, I’m not younger, and I just don’t do discount art.”
“Angie, it’s not a flea market.” Even as he spoke, he knew it wasn’t going to change her mind, but he needed to defend his project. “You set the prices, and we don’t change them. It’s the same thing as putting your paintings in a gallery, except more people will come.”
“Maybe more will come, but they’ll be the kind of people who are looking for bargains instead of art.” She shook her head. “It’s just going to be a waste of my time, and, to be frank, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have my name associated with it. Maybe someone else could make it work, but I don’t think you’re that person.”
Her words were belly slams.
“We’re doing just fine in Trouble Bay,” she continued, “and we don’t need a flea market for our artwork. I hate to see you throw away your money. Better to stick with the B and B now that your mom has found a man good enough for her. Even if he is Jewish.”
He took a step back from her. “If you change your mind, let me know.”
As he turned for the back door, she said, “Everyone in town is worried about you jumping into this crazy thing. You know we all love you.”
He didn’t answer. If this was love, then kill him now.
* * *
The memory of that bad time, before the man had found him, never disappeared from Dog’s mind. The time when his human family had pushed him out of the car, then sped away without him. Dog had followed the smell for a long time, until he couldn’t smell it anymore. Even after that, he’d kept looking. For a long, long time he’d looked everywhere for them. Kept trying to catch their scent. Running and running. Smelling and sniffing. Sad noises coming from his throat.
He’d never found them.
Confused, his heart breaking, he didn’t know what to do. Food smells finally drew him to a restaurant. They wouldn’t let him in the front door but he smelled food in the back of the alley, too. A tall boy would sometimes throw him scraps of food before throwing the rest of the food in the giant food holder. Dumpster, the tall boy called it.
Dog still continued to search for his family, but every night he would come back to the alley, though the weather got cold, and sometimes snow came down. He found a place that blew hot air on him, and he huddled by it, one side cold and the other hot. Changing positions all night and sometimes during the day.
He lost hope, but still he searched, because he didn’t know what else to do.
One day, the man stepped into the alley and spotted Dog eating.
A bone in his mouth, Dog backed away. Snarling.
This wasn’t the first man who tried to take away his food. One man had even pointed the loud thing at him. The thing that made a big bang and made a window shatter and left a bad smell in the air.
But this new man hunched down, like a dog trying to make itself smaller. Showing Dog that he wasn’t a threat. “Don’t be afraid,” the man said. “There’s enough for both of us.”
Dog snarled under his breath. He didn’t want to leave. This alley was his place now. His home. And he could smell the man. His scent told Dog that he was living in alleys and eating scraps of food, just like him. That he had no home. That he lived from meal to meal. Just like Dog.
Dog’s heart pounded hard, and he backed against the next building, pressing into it, hoping the man would think he was gone. Then he watched the man upend an old cardboard box and step on top of it, then bend over the big black dumpster. Opening the top and diving down so that it looked as if he’d fallen into the dumpster, where all the smells came from—the good smells and the awful smells.
The man came back up with a whoop, and in his hands was meat. Food. Wonderful-smelling food.
Dog wanted the food so badly that he shook with need. But his fear of humans, after too many betrayals and too many kicks and rocks thrown at him, made him wary.
People were bad. Other dogs looked at him as a rival for food. And cats … well, cats didn’t bother him. He had even curled up with one or two on a few nights. Cats who weren’t afraid of dogs.
But cats were loners and hunters, and they never stayed with him long.
He was a dog who’d had love—or who’d thought he’d had love.
The love had vanished in an instant, like a flower plucked from the ground, then thrown away.
He still didn’t know what he’d done wrong. They hadn’t yelled at him. He’d slept next to their beds. He’d barked at a skunk at night and scared it away. He’d licked the boy’s face, and the boy had laughed.
Why? Why? Why?
Now his ribs were sticking out, and some days he dreamed about food and his old family, only to wake up and realize the family wasn’t there anymore.
So he took the man’s food, but he would never trust a human again…
* * *
“If Dawn accidentally dies, the rights for her lyrics and music will revert to you,” Grant Wellington said in his compelling preacher’s voice.
In the hallway of Grant’s Los Angeles mansion, Dawn Keighly froze. Vince, her sister’s brother-in-law, stood next to her on the other side of the partially open door to his father’s office. Not saying anything. Not rushing in to warn his father that she could hear him.
Dawn started to step forward, and Vince gripped her arm with his long one, holding her in place. Still not saying a word.
“I don’t want Dawn to die,” Sunny said, and her voice sounded weak. Soft.
“We all die sometime, sweetheart,” Jarret, Grant’s oldest son and her sister’s husband, said. “It’s not as if Dawn will disappear. None of us disappear, isn’t that right, Dad?”
“Absolutely.” Grant’s voice rang out with all the conviction of a visionary. “She’ll be in Nirvana.”
Dawn turned her gaze to Vince, a dark-haired man with sharp features that made him look handsome in the way a black jaguar was handsome. He stared back down at her. Still not saying anything. Not needing to say anything. His silence and his stillness said it all.
He’d wanted her to hear this. When he’d led her here, he’d known they would be talking about her.
She was aware that Grant and Jarret wanted the royalties for the lyrics and music that belonged to her. Apparently they had thought that since Sunny was the singer, and her name was associated with the songs, she would have the rights. It was insane, but Grant and his followers had convinced a lot of smart people that the stairway to heaven started with Nirvana Now, the powerful religion that Grant had created out of the sheer force of his personality.
Or perhaps her sister’s father-in-law had taken one look at Sunny’s quieter and younger sister and had thought, Easy prey.
If so, that was a big mistake. A giant mistake. For a long time, she and Sunny had been on their own, and one of them had needed to see through bullshit.
Though she’d been only sixteen, two years younger than Sunny, when they’d fled their mother’s house in Memphis, she’d taken on the role of the mom they’d never really had. At least, not a caring and loving mom.
With her songwriting and Sunny’s singing and golden beauty, they’d done better every year, and the last two years, they’d been on the top of the charts and all the important lists.
But now Sunny had Jarret. Now Sunny didn’t need her.
Her songs, though … apparently her songs were a different matter.
Dawn glanced at Vince, the highest-ranking lieutenant in Nirvana Now.
“You’re the real talent, Sunny.” Grant’s words oozed into the hall as smooth as warm honey. “Everyone knows that.”
“Your voice and your magnetic personality are the reasons the songs are so popular,” Jarret said.
“You are beloved by your fans,” Grant said.
“You are their angel,” Jarret said. “You’re my angel. I knew that the day I first saw you.”
There was silence, and Dawn imagined Sunny’s eyes filling with moisture.
“Once Dawn is in Nirvana,” Grant said, “she’ll be happy for you. She’ll be grateful that you’re getting the adulation you deserve.”
“I’ll pray for her.” Sunny’s voice wobbled, which wasn’t like her. It was thick with tears and something else. As though her tongue were too big for her mouth.
Drugs? Were they drugging Sunny?
Dawn stepped back. She glanced at Vince, who was watching her, his dark eyes shadowed with his own demons and secrets. Her teeth clenched, she snapped around and hurried away. Sad. Angry. Afraid. Shaken.
Vince made no outcry, and no footsteps followed her. But she felt his stare on her back, long after she raced out of the mansion, jumped into her car, and sped away as if a wild animal were chasing after her.
Lyrics from an old song, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” sang in her mind.
She added her own lyrics: Before they kill me.