Lacey vows to uncover the secrets of her lineage, even if it requires her ultimate sacrifice: the loss of her marriage to her beloved Evs.
Her search leads from southern Arizona to the North Carolina Smoky Mountain backwoods, where the shotgun is more respected than the law, and the family may not be what is expected.
HEIR OF DECEIT is set in an area where, even today, hands of tobacco are used as currency and moonshine stills explode.
Lacey encounters a crass and stringy backwoods aunt; a moonshiner uncle; an alluring Cherokee firefighter; a sprinkling of North Carolina’s famous ghosts; and a deliciously horrible bad guy in her desperate quest to wed her tough-as-barbed-wire fiancé, Evs, a rancher from Tubac, Arizona.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 15 HEIR OF DECEIT:
Exhausted, I sat on a fallen tree. The rotten smell of sour corn mash assaulted my senses. I’d heard that the scent of a moonshine still can travel a mile or more. If true, it could be any direction. I followed the path. Fergus needed a route to carry his wares down the mountain, and this could be it.
I hiked the first half of eternity before I came to a dismantled car. Its rusted chassis rested off the path. The hood lay separately near the path, its crumbling insulation black with oil. Ahead I saw a clearing with wooden steps leading to a tree-flanked cabin. I wondered about the safety of the grill burning openly on the wooden porch as I clung to the shadows, deciding how to make my approach.
A grizzled old man opened a dilapidated screen door. He carried a piece of meat on a long fork. He appeared ancient, with stooped shoulders and long white hair and beard. A cigarette hung dead center from his mouth. He flung the meat onto the grill, then drew what looked like a potato from the front pocket of his bib overalls, flipped open a switchblade knife, and deftly sliced the potato length-wise into halves. Coals sizzled and smoke curled upward, stopping at the underside of the tin roof of the porch.
I attempted to appear confident as I strode from my hiding place toward the porch.
The man jumped from his grill and shouted at me. “Don’t come no closer.” He threw the remainder of his cigarette into the grill.
“I’m looking for Fergus Starks,” I said.
“He ain’t here,” said the man.
“I’m Lacey Roberts. My mother was Caroline Starks.”
“Dagnabbit woman! Leave me be,” the man said. “I’ve nothin’ to do with y’all. Stick to yer own bizness and leave me t’ mine.”
I took a few more steps toward him. Despite his denial, I was certain I’d found Fergus Starks. “I’ve spoken to Ruthella.” I stretched the truth a bit. “She suggested you had answers to my questions.”
“Don’t know nothin’, ain’t sayin’ nothin’. Don’t know who you are. Don’t care,” said Fergus.
Friendly lot, these mountain people, I thought. I decided to drop the bomb. “What happened to my grandfather?”
“Missy, yer messin’ where y’ ought not be messin’. Let it rest and git out.”
“I want to find out about my family. I think I have a right to know.”
“Ya don’t. Let it lay.”
“Fergus. Listen. I’m being married, and I need to know if I carry something in my genes—something that makes the women kill their husbands. Will I put my husband in danger? I need to know what has happened to all the men in this family.”
Fergus came down the steps. He looked menacing, bow legged and holding the long-handled fork. “Woman, what d’ya think I’m doin’ in these mountains? I left them loony wimmen years ago without saying g’bye. Roped m’self off and stayed clear o’ the bunch of ’em. If yer any kin o’ theirs, then yer no kin o’ mine.” Fergus stopped short and sniffed the air with a wrinkled nose. “Dag blame it! Ya made me burn m’ dinner.”
Fergus ran up the stairs and stabbed the meat with the fork, then flipped it on the grill. As he poked the potato, a rumble of heavy equipment grew deep. Or was it thunder?
Shouting and swearing, Fergus ran into his house. Waves of panic rose up my spine. I remembered the story about the moonshiner hiding his still, and I knew—
“No!” I shouted. “Fergus, get out!” Not thinking about my own safety, I dashed up the steps and through the door. “Fergus!”
Fergus turned and pushed me backward through the door. I landed on the porch on my backside. I scrambled to my feet and retreated down the steps, stumbling, falling. I sprang to my feet and ran from the house toward the car down the path.
I didn’t make it. An explosive force pushed me forward onto my face. A ball of flames flew above my head with a thunderous roar. I couldn’t hear. The pressure on my ears filled my head with confusion. Stunned, I lay there for . . . how long?
“Fergus!” Panic-driven adrenalin pulled me upright and drove my feet toward the flame-engulfed house. Fergus face up on the porch, unconscious, flames licking close to him.
I dashed up the steps and grabbed Fergus under the arms. “Come on, Fergus, get up!” I received no response. I dragged him down the steps, hefting his head and shoulders near my knees while his boots slammed against each step.
Tinder-dry timbers inside Fergus’ house crashed as a supporting post on the porch buckled threateningly. The house is gone, and trees are on fire! The whole forest is going to go! I tugged Fergus along the ground as a second wave of adrenalin energized my spent body. I made it to the old car hood. With my lungs about to burst, I could go no farther. Insulation! I pulled Fergus past the hood, then lifted it over his limp body. With my last ounce of energy, I slid under the car hood with him, my body protectively over his, and prayed.
My next sensation was that of being lifted upward in strong arms. I was either dead, or dreaming.
Good, I wasn’t dead. I felt an oxygen mask being clapped over my face, while I coughed. Fergus! What happened to Fergus?
“Git that blamed thing offa my face! Nobody toldja t’ save me.” Obviously, Fergus was fine.