JUST RELEASED - AND THEN THERE WAS YOU
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Reeling after falling prey to a Romeo con-artist who just waltzed away with the better part of her belongings, Natalie Maynard works closely with the detective assigned to her case, only the few leads have led nowhere.
Detective Randy Fellowes can’t promise Natalie restitution, but he’s determined to find the culprit and serve up justice. Married to his work, he’s caught off guard when Natalie has his thoughts wandering to more than the case.
Natalie soon seeks refuge in the one thing she still owns ― an old fishing cabin in the mountains of Chestnut Ridge. She quickly falls in love with the town and the eccentric people who are teaching her so much about the area and its heritage.
Through these people, and the determination of Detective Fellowes, she rediscovers her courage, self, and a reason to risk love again.
No matter how wonderful the vacation, there’s nothing better than getting home and sleeping in your own bed.
That was the exact sentiment on Natalie Maynard’s mind as she stared out the window at puffy white clouds from the back of the taxi. The clear blue skies in Cancún the last two weeks had been picture perfect; she’d almost forgotten how beautiful feathery clouds could be.
Missing Marc, who’d had to leave two days early because of a business issue, she couldn’t wait to thank him for insisting she stay.
He’d even scheduled spa appointments to make sure her vacation ended on a high note. He always thought of every tiny detail.
It’s only been two days. To think she’d sworn she’d never get serious with anyone after losing Jeremy following fifteen years of blissful marriage; it still surprised her that things moved so quickly after meeting Marc. As it turned out, her heart had a mind of its own.
Jeremy had been a Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five kind of guy. Now, being with Marc, she realized she’d underappreciated the time she had with Jeremy. Nights, weekends, were all spent together with him. It had taken some getting used to Marc being gone days on end and working late more often than not.
Change. It wasn’t something that had ever come easy to her.
But after being widowed for two years, she’d gotten used to her own company, which probably had made it easier to accept when Marc was called away for work.
Her life with Marc was practically the opposite of her marriage. She and Marc attended fancy parties, ate at the best restaurants, and there were often unexpected surprises, like this trip.
The last two weeks they’d stayed in a swanky all-inclusive resort with shiny marble floors and upscale dining. Morning walks on soft white sand and romantic nights dancing in Marc’s arms had been magical. Somehow, he’d even arranged private time with the hotel biologist to release baby turtles into the ocean under a starry moonlit sky. Bucket list stuff.
There was no comparing Jeremy and Marc, and maybe that’s why it worked.
I’m almost home, Marc. What will you surprise me with tonight?
Wearing the sundress Marc had insisted on buying her at the resort boutique when they first arrived, her insides tingled in anticipation of the way his eyes would twinkle when he saw her. The soft fabric flowed around her body like a whisper, fancier than any outfit she owned.
Life had changed a lot over the last couple of years.
Two years, nine months, and three days.
That’s how long Jeremy had been gone, and as happy as she was now, she still missed him. A scar that would forever be a part of her.
She reached for her heart. The familiar ache pressing on her. Some days it felt like yesterday.
The phone call.
No chance to say goodbye.
The flurry of funeral arrangements that left me unable to process reality until weeks later when autopilot shut down. The day I broke down. Thank goodness Sheila was there that morning.
Leaning back against the vinyl seat, she crossed her legs, settling in for the ride home. Concentrate on today. On the good things.
Finally, thirty minutes later, the taxi driver entered the gated community where she now shared a house with Marc. The high-dollar home had been going into foreclosure when Marc told her he was looking for a partner on it, it had been too good of a deal to pass up. Plus, he knew someone who’d rent her house for more than the mortgage. Profits all the way around. Marc was good with money and the deals had all come together as easy as their own relationship.
Meant to be.
The driver pulled the taxi into the driveway. “Here we are.”
“Feels good to be home.” Out the window she could see that Marc had found the time to finally neaten up the flower beds, even raising the profile of the front trees like she’d been asking him for weeks. The tired-looking pine straw that had once covered the flower beds had been replaced with fresh beautiful hardwood mulch. She’d never been a fan of pine straw.
Her heart danced. He understands my love language. Gifts of service.
“Forty-two fifty.” The driver pressed the button on the meter. “Need a receipt?”
“Oh. Yes.” She tugged her credit card from her wallet and handed it to him. The ruby ring on her finger reminded her that his love language wasn’t all that bad either.
The driver pushed the card into his handheld device, then shook his head. “Didn’t go through.” He handed her card back.
“Do you mind trying again?”
He shrugged and did so, but with the same results. “Sorry, ma’am. You have another card?”
“Um? Here.” She pulled a fifty-dollar bill from the zippered compartment of her purse. “Here you go. Sorry. I was out of the country. Those fraud algorithms can be as much a nuisance as a help.” It was the card they’d been using in Mexico. Maybe it had to do with being in two countries in one day. She tucked her credit card back into her wallet and got out.
The driver followed, wheeling her bags up the sidewalk.
She was so happy with how pretty everything looked. A little landscape love went a long way to improve the curb appeal of their home.
The driver hoisted the bags onto the porch. “I can get those from here,” she said. “Have a good day, ma’am.”
“Thanks for the safe travel.” She put her carry-on bag on top of her big suitcase, then made her way to the tall double doors with an extra snap in her stride.
Natalie unlocked the doors, then stepped inside.
She sucked in a breath. Her eyes darted left, then right, trying to make sense of what she saw. “What?” It was more of a shriek than a question.
Her suitcase slipped from her hand and fell backward with a thud.
The taxi driver was at her side in an instant. “Ma’am. Are you okay?”
She spun toward his voice, still trying to take in the situation. Twisting back toward the foyer. The shiny floors still reflected nothing but sunlight.
The house was empty.
“No!” She swung her arms in the air. “Look.” Her heart raced. “Everything is gone. Something is very wrong. It’s not okay!” She didn’t wait for his response, instead rushing inside, overwhelmed with concern. Had she fallen asleep and this was all nothing but a dream? She opened the hall closet door. Not even a dust bunny.
“Marc?” She called out more in desperation than anything, because if he’d been here she’d have seen him by now. There was nowhere to hide. Not even a place to sit. How does a lifetime of furniture and memories, two really, his and hers, all just go missing?
She grabbed her phone and called Marc. No answer, and she didn’t wait for voice mail.
“Ma’am. Are you sure this is the right house? Maybe I put it in my GPS wrong.”
The cab driver’s voice was slow and steady, but his eyes were wide. He was giving her that slow, over-polite treatment as if she might explode. I’m not crazy.
“I used my key.” Natalie ran to the porch. The Cancún sun hadn’t baked her brain, causing it to misfire and fail her; this was her house. The numbers on the front pillar not only matched, but they were the ones she’d hand-painted on tiles and hung herself.
“I made those.” She stabbed her finger in the air toward them. “What is going on?”
The driver pulled his phone from his shirt pocket. “We have a problem at 4410 Landover Lane.”
“Who are you calling?” she asked.
“The police.” He stepped away, turning his attention to the phone. “I don’t really know for sure. A robbery, I think?” He shrugged, looking to her for concurrence.
“I guess.” Her mind clicked through a virtual slideshow of everything she owned that had been here. From the cherry dining room hutch that had been her grandparents’ to the blond mahogany dresser she’d splurged on with her first real pay- check. Her favorite handbag. More importantly, the things that couldn’t be replaced. The silver frame that held the picture of Jeremy asking her to marry him that stayed tucked in the bottom of her lingerie drawer. Mom’s Bible, and Daddy’s watch that his father had given him when he graduated college.
A tear slipped down her cheek.
Through the cloud of confusion, a moment of clarity flooded her with fear. Things were things, but where was Marc and why hadn’t he answered? Was he in trouble?
Want to continue reading CHAPTERS TWO & THREE
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Copyright © 2022 by Nancy Naigle