Disguise for Death
Royce Thorne always dreamed of having children in a marriage unmarred by infidelity like her parents'. When she learns that her husband, Eddy, fathered their neighbor’s now grown son, she is devastated but vows to keep the secret.
After Eddy is killed in the line of duty, she learns he has left a large sum of money to his son, Palmer, as an apology for failing to acknowledge paternity.
Someone knows Royce’s secret and uses the knowledge to frame Palm for murder. Royce is determined to find the real killer, no matter what the cost. Her search is hindered by a fake FBI agent, an ambitious investigative reporter, and a hostile tv show host—who all have secrets.
Marc, her next-door neighbor, handsome and affable friend, and now her attorney, came out to the reception area and ushered her into his office.
“Read this, Royce, before we get into the will.” He handed her a sealed envelope and his monogrammed silver letter opener.
She glanced from the envelope to Marc’s inscrutable face. He’d remained beside her chair, seemed to be waiting for her to open the letter. “Right now?”
She looked back at the envelope in her hand. Felt its smooth vellum surface. Her name on the front, in Eddy’s handwriting. And underlined. A farewell letter from Eddy. One he’d written in anticipation that this day might come. Whatever message it contained would not bring him back. It could never give them a second chance to do all the things they’d planned. To grow old together. Would only intensify her loss. Could she bear to read it? Marc patted her shoulder and took the chair next to her.
“Yes, these legal routines are hard, Royce. I’m here to help.”
She straightened her back. When she turned the letter over and thumbed the sealed flap, she felt a faint wrinkle in the heavy paper.
Frowning, she looked over at Marc. “Eddy sealed the envelope after he wrote the letter?”
“Yes. Even I haven’t read it, Royce.”
She nodded. With effort, she overcame her emotional resistance and slowly slid the bright edge of the letter opener under the flap. She unfolded the sheet of paper covered with Eddy’s careful script, as familiar as her own handwriting. She felt a sharp contraction in her chest, then her heart settled into a slow, painful beat.
“My darling Royce,
If you’re reading this letter, it means I haven’t had the guts to tell you this myself.”
Her vision blurred and tears gathered. “Tell me what?” She turned to Marc again, and he handed her a large white handkerchief. In one corner was embroidered an ornate S. She studied the dark blue monogram and knew she was seizing at any distraction to avoid reading Eddy’s letter.
“He said the letter was a separate provision from the will. I wasn’t sure it was wise, but he insisted.” She detected a puzzled note in Marc’s voice.
She wiped her eyes with the fine linen handkerchief, wadded it into a ball, and returned her gaze to the letter from her dead husband.
“You’ve been the love of my life ever since, back in Atlanta, I pulled you over in that beater of a car and glimpsed you through the cracked windshield. I can’t explain the things I’ve done, and there is no excuse. The only thing I can say is that some women affected me like a fever, and I couldn’t, or didn’t, resist.”
“No!” Royce crumpled the pages, rejecting what her unwilling mind recalled, her discovery of Eddy’s betrayal over twenty years earlier. Yet she never told Eddy. So why had he left this letter to dredge up that bitter day? The day only her body’s physical weakness had prevented her from grinding Lily Woodstone’s exquisite face to a pulp.
Marc’s lawyer countenance remained impassive, but his hazel eyes reflected compassion. “He warned me you would be shaken. I’m so sorry, Royce.”
“I can’t read this. Can we get on with the will?”
“As I said, Eddy wanted you to read the letter first.”
She closed her eyes for a moment. Could she do this? Smoothing out the crumpled pages, she tried to scan them quickly.
“…resist. I’d never met anyone like Lily. You saw the bruises. We both did. I only wanted to comfort and help her. And it happened. You were both pregnant then, but we lost our baby. I never had the nerve to ask Lily if I was Palm’s father. I only knew for sure after she had gone. She left a note telling me and asking me to watch over him. Marc will tell you about a bank account. Your name is on it. But I’m asking you to give the money to Palm as, I suppose, long-delayed child support. You were so trusting you never questioned any papers I asked you to sign. The money came from job bonuses and my sister. She insisted she owed me because after our parents died, I sent her to the private high school where she earned a college scholarship. And the years since had been financially good to her.”