by Catherine Snodgrass
Mainstream Romantic Suspense
Amber Quill Press www.amberquill.com
ISBN: 1-59279-154-9 (Electronic)
ISBN: 1-59279-886-1 (Paperback)
Despite her mother's warnings, Jenny Matley returns to her birth town to meet the father she didn't know existed accompanied by her father's representative, Jared Russell. Joy turns to terror for both Jenny and Jared as the memory of a twenty-seven year old event struggles to the surface. Its revelation could cost Jenny her life and destroy the love Jared and Jenny have found in each other.
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What Reviewers Are Saying About ALWAYS FAITHFUL
FIVE ANGELS!!! A dark and gripping novel of contemporary suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat and biting your nails until you are down to the last page. Snodgrass has created sympathetic characters who have suffered great tragedies in their lives only to go on living and hoping for the best. The plot is full of so many twists and turns that it will leave you guessing up until the end. Although, DREAMS does delve into some dark subject matter, do not let that stop you from enjoying this phenomenal read. This is Catherine Snodgrass at her finest. She is an instant auto-buy author. This book comes highly recommended. Robyn, Fallen Angels Reviews
FIVE ROSES!!! Captures the reader’s attention and keeps the reader on his or her proverbial toes as the book progresses. The characters help create a deeply moving story about love, loss, and redemption. The horrors that plague Jennifer and the rest of her family establish a sense of empathy that allows the reader to really connect with the story and the characters. Highly recommend this book to warm up those cold winter nights. ~Jen, A Romance Review
FOUR DAGGERS!!! A novel that keeps you guessing right up until the ending. The ending will not only shock you but it also gives you the sense of hope as the characters move on from a tragedy with strength. I would highly recommend this book to any reader who likes a good story of Romance mixed with suspense. If you are looking for a book that you can't put down on a rainy day, pick up this one. ~ Kim Atchue-Cusella, All About Murder
FIVE HEARTS!!! Kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. agripping tale of murder, deceit, and finding love, strength and forgiveness in letting go of the past. ~ Dina Smith, The Romance Studio
You know the old saying "Never judge a book by its cover?" Well, this book is the perfect example. It doesn't look all that appealing, but it is an excellent book. The story is never dull and keeps a good pace, explaining things with out dragging them out. It's a story of a tragic set of events separating a family and also those same events bringing them back together. A interesting read! ~We Write Romance
Jared Russell sighed and scratched the back of his neck where his dark hair scuffed the collar of his shirt. He sure could do with a haircut. He wondered if he could slink out the back door to get one. Frankly, he didn't know how much more of this he could stand.
Why in the world did Martin Ducane drag him into this? Sure they were friends and business associates. And, yes, Jared had known Martin since the day Jared was born. But this was crossing a line. This was personal, family business.
Jared rubbed his weary eyes. Bullshit. That's not what bothered him. Their families had always been close...personal didn't matter. It was the fact Jared knew Martin wanted his support and approval, and that wasn't something Jared could give in this situation. Nope, he had to agree with Martin's sister on this one.
He opened his eyes on another sigh. Verna Ducane hovered over her brother, fists on slender hips, neck jerking forward with every word. She looked like a chicken gone haywire. Jared would have laughed if things hadn't been so serious.
"Martin, this is the most absurd idea I've ever heard. Surely you can't be serious?"
Verna tossed her silver-gray, bobbed hair and gave Martin her back. It was an old ploy meant to belittle the wheelchair-bound man. But Martin simply stared up at her calmly through golden brown eyes bracketed by laugh lines.
In fact, if Verna would only turn around, she'd see the amusement flickering there. It was Martin's defense against the fates that had put him in this situation thirty-four years ago. That and his patience were hard won, Jared knew. He admired the man for many things, but mostly for his honesty on this and his triumph over his own demons. His refusal to feel denigrated only made Verna angrier and more frustrated.
She stomped toward Jared, neck working overtime. "You talk to him. Tell him how crazy this is." She jerked her arm at her brother.
Jared stared into space while he pondered a response to diffuse the situation.
"Jared, please." Verna snapped her fists to her sides
He slowly turned Martin's way. He definitely sympathized with the sixty-year-old man. Losing one of his kids would kill him. And, just like Martin, he'd leave no stone unturned until he found that child. But this?
"I understand how much you want to find Jenny, but I think you may be opening yourself up for a lot of crank calls."
Verna knelt before her brother, resting her palms on the stubs of his thighs. Tears puddled in her brown eyes.
"It's been twenty-seven years, Martin. How can you expect to find her after twenty-seven years?"
Martin ignored her and gave Jared a look so filled with pain Jared winced.
"What would you do if one of your kids disappeared? Wouldn't you use every resource available if it were your child? Cody's almost the same age as Jenny was when I lost her. Just how would you feel if he disappeared?"
What could he say when he'd argued those same points with himself just seconds ago?
Verna shoved to her feet. All pretense of sympathy disappeared. "For crying out loud, Martin, you act as though the child was kidnapped. Her mother ran off with her. I told you Audrey was no good before you married her. You should've divorced her the day she ran off. Why have you bothered to continue the marriage? She was only after your money."
Jared stretched himself to his full height and let his six-two intimidate her as she had tried to do with Martin. "If she was after his money, why would she run away?"
Her reply was a flustered stomp of her foot as she turned away to stare out the patio doors. She acted fourteen, not fifty-eight.
Martin's soft call turned him back to the older man who looked haunted, sad. It took all the willpower Jared possessed not to break eye contact.
"You've got to understand. I've been trying to find Jenny and Audrey ever since they left. I've exhausted every means available to me with no luck. I have to try this. It's my last hope."
From her perch by the patio doors, Verna snorted.
Jared's shoulders sagged. What more could he do? Martin's mind was set. He was going through with this no matter what. The least Jared could do was support him.
"I do understand. Probably more than you realize. And, even though I don't necessarily agree with your decision to have the story told on nationwide TV, I'll support you all I can."
Relief flooded Martin's face. "Will you go on the show with me to tell what you know about that night?"
"Yes...on one condition." He sat on the edge of the coffee table next to him.
Martin leaned forward. "What's that?"
He let his hands dangle between his knees, but never broke eye contact. "Deanna and I discussed this a lot before she died. We decided the only way to effectively protect you from treasure hunters was for me to screen anyone who claims to be Jenny."
Martin touched Jared's knee. "God bless both of you for caring. I agree."
He added a smile Jared didn't return. Martin had to know he meant business.
"Thank you. I'd hate to fight with you about this."
Martin chuckled. "I don't know why. With that determined look on your face, you'd probably win." He pulled back. "The crew will be here day after tomorrow to film...about nine in the morning."
"Dredging up Frank's death will serve no purpose," Verna snapped out. When they merely stared at her, she muttered a curse and stormed from the room. The tension went with her.
Jared glanced at Martin to see if he felt it, too. Martin just stared at the space vacated by his sister.
"You know there are still times I can't believe she's gone." His voice was sad, far away.
Jared clasped his shoulder. "Well, maybe this time you'll find her."
Martin clicked a gaze his way. "I wasn't talking about Jenny. I was talking about Deanna."
Awkwardness settled over Jared like a blanket on a hot summer day. It happened every time someone brought up his wife's death. He knew he'd never really get over losing Deanna. After all, he had loved her for twenty years. But, considering how much she'd been suffering, he couldn't help feeling she was better off passing away.
"It's been almost a year now, hasn't it?"
Jared cleared the emotion from his throat. "Margaret will be a year old in three weeks."
A sigh heaved Martin's shoulders. "At least she died the way she wanted to. I miss her, but I'm glad she's not suffering anymore."
"Yeah. Me, too." He glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner of the airy living room as it chimed the hour of four. "I've got to get back to the ranch. I'll see you Wednesday morning."
Martin saw him to the door. Their discussions now centered on business at Jared's cattle ranch and the oil wells Martin's company had drilled there. But Jared's mind and heart weren't with him. Bringing up Deanna had left him in a solemn mood. During the thirty-minute drive home, his thoughts stayed with her. Grief gnawed a fresh hole in his stomach.
Their marriage was supposed to last forever. They were to have children, build their ranch and oil business, see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and grow to an indeterminate old age before slipping gracefully into infinity together. Fate had a different agenda.
Doctors discovered the inoperable brain tumor shortly after Cody's second birthday, ruining all their dreams. In helpless agony, he'd watched his beloved wife struggle with the increasing pain. She slowly wasted away.
No treatment was too good or too expensive. Despite what doctors said, Jared tried everything to cure her until, one tearful evening, Deanna put a stop to it all. She wanted to die with dignity and the request she made of Jared sparked one of their biggest arguments.
In the end she won--she always managed to win. That same evening Deanna's wishes were granted as Jared reluctantly set out to make her pregnant. It became a nightly ritual until her pregnancy was confirmed. Her doctors insisted on abortion, explaining that pregnancy in her debilitated condition would kill her. Deanna steadfastly refused. She was going to die anyway; why not do so bringing new life into the world?
Jared got none of the joy or expectation out of the pregnancy that he had when his other five children were born. He couldn't forget this child's birth would take from him the woman he had loved.
At times he alternately found himself blaming Deanna, the child, and himself for what was to happen. His feelings did an abrupt turn the day Margaret was born. Deanna summoned the strength to birth her fourth daughter, then smiled with affection when the infant was placed on her belly.
"She's beautiful, Jared."
Then she grasped her husband's hand, and Jared swore he detected an ethereal glow about her face.
"There's no more pain. Jared, the pain is gone! I feel so good. It's beautiful, honey. So beautiful."
She closed her eyes and drifted away from him.
No more pain. That realization alone made everything worthwhile. Deanna died the way she wanted, her pain was gone, and she'd left behind a beautiful baby daughter. It somehow made her inevitable loss easier for him and the children to handle.
Jared flicked away tears as he pulled into the driveway of his sprawling one-story brick house. The kids sure didn't need to see him crying. They had their own grief to work through without being burdened by his. Plastering on a smile, he pushed open the door of his Dodge Ram 4x4.
Sixteen-year-old Kathleen and four-year-old Cody were playing catch in the front yard. Cody dropped his mitt and sprinted toward his father. His tousled blond hair flapped in the wind. Looked like someone else could do with a haircut, too.
Kathleen approached more slowly. Jared reached down to scoop up the boy then smiled at his oldest daughter. She was the image of her mother with flowing waves of chestnut hair framing a delicate heart-shaped face and dark blue eyes that danced with humor. She was going to be a wonderful woman.
"How was your day?"
"It was pretty good." A smirk lifted one corner of her mouth as she cast a shy gaze to the freshly mowed lawn at her feet. "Guess what?"
Before she could answer, Brad bounded from the barn. He wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his arm. "Hey, Dad, did you hear? Isn't it great? Imagine, my sister the homecoming princess of her class."
Kathleen shot her older brother a glare then reached up and twisted her finger around a lock of his mahogany hair. She tugged at it hard enough to make a point.
"Big mouth. I haven't told him yet."
Brad laughed while he extricated his hair from her grasp. "Don't be upset with me, Kath. Can I help it if I'm proud of my little baby sister?"
"Ooooh, sometimes, Bradley Russell, you make me so mad." With narrowed eyes, she shoved her face in front of his. "I'm barely one year younger than you. That doesn't make me your little baby sister."
"Margaret's the baby sister," Cody reminded them all. The other three laughed.
"She certainly is." Jared set him on his feet. "Nice job on the yard, Brad... Homecoming princess, huh?" He swooped Kathleen into a hug.
"And I bet she wins." Brad thumped his chest.
"Looks like we have a busy month ahead." Jared tucked her under his arm.
Cody skipped around. "And don't forget the county fair."
Jared gave him an indulgent smile. "I haven't forgotten."
How could he forget when all twelve-year-old Colleen had talked about for months was entering her calf in the county fair? And Leona had been moping over which preserves to enter in the canning competition.
At that moment the housekeeper lumbered to the front porch. Her large, black body took up a good portion of the doorway.
"Ya'll wanna come eat this dinner or do I throw it out?" She waddled back inside without waiting for a reply.
"Suppose she'd ever carry out that threat?" Brad asked.
"She's been here almost three years and hasn't yet." Jared waved them toward the house. "But let's not tempt fate."
"I'll get Colleen." Cody dashed to the barn a short distance away. Seemed like the boy was always on the move, even in his sleep.
"Pam's in one of her moods again tonight." Brad fell in step beside them.
Jared sighed and studied the ground while he rubbed the back of his neck. How could he deal with a troubled eight-year-old who missed her mother? He sure had no answers, and his patience was wearing thin.
He saw her the moment he crossed the threshold. The double doors to the living room were open and Pam was sprawled on the floor watching television.
"I'm coming." But she made no move to join them.
Jared walked to the television and turned it off, earning a scathing look from his daughter.
"I said now."
She reluctantly pushed herself to her feet and scuffed her way to the dining room-kitchen area across the hall. Jared followed her pouty departure, fighting the urge to paddle her with each step.
When he appeared in the archway, Margaret flashed him a crooked grin from her highchair. His anger faded.
Pam dragged herself into her chair, and he took his seat beside the baby. As he sat, Margaret began a chorus of excited "Daddys," the two small house dogs hovered around his chair, and the four yard dogs took a stance by the glass doors to the patio. Another meal in the Russell house was about to begin.
The meal itself was nothing to brag about--Leona only to knew how to fry meat--but at least they were together.
"Aunt Claire called." Kathleen filled their plates with fried chicken and mashed potatoes. "She said she wants to bake Margaret's birthday cake if you don't mind, Dad."
"I'll call her after dinner."
"I don't see why nasty, old Margaret has to have a birthday party anyway." Pam pushed peas around her plate.
Jared tried to concentrate on feeding Margaret, not his mounting irritation. "We celebrate your birthday. Why shouldn't we celebrate hers?"
She slammed her fork to her plate. Peas and mashed potatoes catapulted across the table. "Because Margaret is a murderer! She killed my mother! I hate her!"
Jared leveled a menacing stare in her direction. "You know that's not true. Your mother was dying long before Margaret came along. Margaret is a gift your mother gave us before she had to leave."
"Then God can take Margaret and give me back my mother." Tears pooled in her angry blue eyes.
"It would really hurt Momma if she heard you say that," Colleen quietly replied as she picked up peas.
Pam hung her head. Tears fell to her lap. The discussion was over for now, but Jared was certain it would come up again.
There was silence at the table for the next several minutes while each person concentrated on food and Pam sniffled. Leaving Margaret to her own determined way of shoving food in her mouth, Jared turned to his own meal and tried to lighten the mood.
"Looks like I might be on TV in a couple of weeks." The comment served its purpose. Even Pam looked up with interest.
"Are you gonna be a TV star?" Cody's face brightened.
Jared chuckled. "No, nothing like that. You know that show that helps solve crimes and find missing persons...America's Mysteries. Well, Martin contacted the producer in the hope of finding his daughter, Jenny. They'll be here day after tomorrow to film and I told Martin I'd tell what I remember about that night."
"Wow," Brad softly exclaimed.
"She's my age. I seen her picture," Cody said.
Kathleen shook her head. "Cody, that picture is real old. It was taken when Dad was a kid. Jenny is all grown up now."
"You mean she's old as Dad?"
Jared tossed out a laugh. "Yes, as ancient as me."
"Oh, Dad, you know what we mean." Kathleen restored order to Pam's plate, then focused on her own meal. "What do you remember about that night? Weren't you and she friends?"
"Yeah, we were. I used to help babysit her. Our parents were good friends even then." He shoved a forkful of potatoes in his mouth.
"So what do you remember?" Brad leaned forward, waiting for an answer.
Jared mulled that over. What could he recall about the night Frank Ducane died and Audrey Ducane disappeared with Jenny? Was it enough to help Martin find his daughter? For some reason he never could clearly remember that night. Trying to dredge up the memories always made him feel...well, odd. Fearful? Vulnerable? Just plain bad?
He tried to shrug off his unease. He'd promised Martin and couldn't go back on that now.
Avoiding the stares that awaited his response, Jared focused on his plate.
"Well, let me see... There was a bad storm that night. Your granddad and Martin were out of town on business. Grandma, Aunt Claire, and I decided to stay at the Ducanes to weather out the storm. The electricity went out. Jenny wanted to sleep with me because she was scared. But when a big clap of thunder hit, she wanted her mother. I took her there.
"Audrey and Verna were on the landing outside Audrey's bedroom. The sliding doors were shattered. Jenny started screaming. My mother told me Frank Ducane had fallen out the window over the railing to the ground...he was dead. Next morning I woke up and Jenny and Audrey were gone."
Something's missing. Something else happened. But...what? He crinkled his forehead as he tried to fill in the blanks.
"Sounds fishy to me." Brad shrugged. "Maybe Audrey gave him a little push."
"That's easy to say if you didn't know her. Audrey was one of the gentlest women I ever knew." She was always ready with a hug or praise. Always the first to boost the ego of an awkward thirteen-year-old.
"How can you know if the person you find is Jenny?" Colleen asked.
"I intend to check her out myself by asking to see her mother and any childhood photos she may have. She also has an identifying scar."
"Where?" they asked in unison.
His children had inherited their mother's sense of humor. No matter how the story came out, he was sure to be teased. He cleared his throat and continued.
"She came down the slide at the park and landed on a broken beer bottle. She had to have stitches. It left a crescent moon scar on her bottom."
Laughter erupted around the table.
"I doubt she'd let you see it now," Brad said.
"Maybe she will, if he pours on that Russell charm." Kathleen nudged her toe against his leg.
Jared shook his head and tried to ignore them. After a few more jabs the badgering stopped.
"I hope the show finds her. It's really sad." Colleen propped her chin in her hand and sighed.
"I do, too...for Martin's sake."
Jared shoved his half-eaten meal away. Flashes of that long ago night had ruined his appetite. Forcing a smile he didn't feel, he helped Margaret find her mouth.
Maybe the show would lead to nothing. Maybe Audrey and Jenny were dead, too. His heart raced at that thought and he quickly shoved it away. But imagining them here and alive was just as unsettling.
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