It’s Preview Friday where you can get a sneak peek of an upcoming release. This week, read Chapter 1 of HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT (A Billy Jo McCabe Mystery, Book 2).
When Billy Jo thought of Carly Thornton, never in a million years had she pictured a white picket fence.
She parked on the street, looking out at the house, a cute two-story craftsman with teal trim and a front porch with two comfy lounge chairs, a welcoming invitation to come sit and visit. She took a second to check whether she had the right address.
This had to be a joke.
She couldn’t pry her hands from where they were wrapped around her black steering wheel, the car still idling. She took in the houses on both sides of the street, the kind of homes that implied family, community, respectability, where people likely spent Saturdays barbecuing with neighbors.
This had to be the wrong Carly Thornton. But then, the trail had gone cold here after so much digging. The curiosity Billy Jo hadn’t been able to shake suddenly turned into anger, which had her turning off the car, yanking on the door handle, and stepping out, unable to pull her eyes from the respectable neighborhood around her.
This was a mistake. Perhaps she had been wrong about the name. After all, Carly Thornton must have been a common name, like Jane Smith. She hesitated as soon as the thought hit her, though. After all her digging, following this cold trail, she knew that the last known location of her mother—scratch that, of the woman who’d given birth to her, was here. And how many people named Carly Jane Thornton, with the same birthdate, with a mother whose maiden name was Holloway, could be living on the island?
The records had huge gaps in time and a ton of inaccuracies, as if Carly didn’t want to be found, but then, with a father like Chase McCabe, who could literally find a needle in a haystack, Billy Jo had learned from the best.
She gave her door a shove closed and left it parked on the narrow street, hearing the sounds of the morning, sprinklers running and a dog barking. She put one foot in front of the other and started walking up to the driveway. The grass was carefully manicured and green even though most of the island was facing a water shortage, and the perennials and bushes appeared well cared for.
She fisted her hands, feeling the curiosity that had driven her building in the pit of her stomach again. Wearing sandals and faded green capris, she looped her baggy purse over her shoulder and took in the car in the driveway, a silver BMW, only a few years old. Everything about the house appeared pristine, neat and tidy, nothing like what she’d expected from an addict.
The inside door was closed, and the screen door was white. Her heartbeat kicked up as she tapped on it, and it rattled. She heard footsteps, feeling her rage building, a frown pulling at her lips. Her heart thumped once, long and loud, as the door opened, and she stared into blue eyes, dark hair, and a smile she hadn’t expected.
“Hello. Can I help you?”
It was her voice, soft. She didn’t appear that old, and she wasn’t much taller than Billy Jo, about five foot two. She pushed open the screen, and Billy Jo glimpsed inside the house behind her, seeing gleaming hardwood and nice furnishings, hearing voices and footsteps from what she thought was the kitchen.
“I’m looking for Carly Thornton. My name is Billy Jo McCabe. I hope this doesn’t sound totally strange, but the searches I’ve done show that this house is where she lives.”
The woman’s smile suddenly faltered, and she didn’t know what to make of her expression.
“Are you Carly?” Billy Jo finally asked.
“You have the wrong house,” the woman said. “I’ve never heard of Carly Thornton. Who are you, anyway—a bill collector, a solicitor? The sign clearly says we don’t accept any here.” She pointed to a sign by the door, No soliciting.
So she didn’t like strange people showing up. Billy Jo knew well when someone was uncomfortable, though. She could tell from the tension in her expression.
“Carly, who’s at the door?” a man called out.
Billy Jo heard his footsteps before he appeared behind the woman. About her dad’s age, he had dark hair and hazel eyes, and he smiled, holding a mug of coffee. His hand rested on the woman’s shoulder.
“Oh, just someone who’s lost and looking for directions, is all,” the woman said. “Can you see that the girls finish breakfast and get ready for school? We’re running late already.”
Billy Jo stood in silence, watching. The man was tall, solidly built, wearing blue jeans, a golf shirt, and a wedding ring. He looked over to her and back to the woman, and the two exchanged the kind of look a husband and wife shared. “Don’t be long, then,” he said. “You said you had to leave earlier for the school meeting, and don’t forget we have the Davidson fundraiser tonight.”
Then he stepped away from the door, and the woman angled her head to him and gave him a smile. As he walked away, though, and she dragged her gaze back to Billy Jo, her face was filled with the kind of unfriendliness she hadn’t seen in a long time.
“So you are Carly?” Billy Jo said, the heaviness inside her now building into a sick feeling.
“Look, I don’t know who you are or what you want, but I asked nicely,” the woman said. “Please go away. I already told you that you have the wrong house.” She actually stepped out and pulled the inside door closed quietly behind her, holding the screen so it wouldn’t slap closed.
Secrets and lies. She knew when someone was holding out on her. Billy Jo had to step back, really taking in this woman, who was of the same height and build as her. Her hair reached her shoulders, and she was dressed casually, much like Billy Jo. The panic and something else in her expression said she didn’t want Billy Jo asking about Carly Thornton.
“I don’t know why you’re pretending you’re not her,” Billy Jo said. “By your reaction, only a fool would miss that you’re hiding something. Let me tell you that finding you wasn’t easy. The trail was hidden and cold, and someone went to a lot of trouble to make it that way. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to say to you, but here it is. I was born twenty-five years ago in a small Nevada town, on June 15th, to a meth addict. I spent my first few months being weaned off the drug. As a baby, I was difficult to care for, and I was in and out of the ER, being bounced around from foster home to foster home. I think, by your face, your expression, your reaction to me, that you’re my mother. I’ve been looking for you for a really long time. But what I can’t understand is this picture-perfect life you have now, or how you just abandoned me to the hell I lived through for fifteen years until I was finally adopted by my parents…”
“Look,” the woman said. “This Carly Thornton you say you’re looking for is not me. She doesn’t exist. I’m sorry for what you’ve been through, and it sounds horrible, but that’s not on me. I would appreciate you not coming back here again. Please leave. I wish you the best of luck finding this woman, but she’s not me. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get back to my family and get my girls ready for school.” She was still holding the door, and the expression on her face was guarded.
“I don’t know what you’re hiding or why you want to pretend this isn’t you, but I think I deserve some answers,” Billy Jo said. “I have a right. No, I demand—”
“You have no right to anything,” the woman said, cutting her off quite sharply. She took a step toward her, letting the screen door close and forcing Billy Jo back closer to the steps. Her voice was low and quiet. “I’m going to ask you just one more time: Please leave, please. I have a good life here, a husband, children. You said you were adopted, you have a mother and father? Good, because they’re your family. It sounds to me as if you’re looking to dig up a problem that should stay buried. Don’t bring this to my doorstep, trying to search for answers down memory lane. It’s not going to happen.” She reached for the screen door and pulled it open, then for the knob of the closed inside door.
“Wait, please,” Billy Jo said. She could feel this slipping away, this opportunity to look the woman she hated in the eye, but this was nothing like what she’d expected. “I know you’re her. I just want some answers, please.”
“Carly Thornton no longer exists. I’m sorry for whatever happened to you, but by the looks of it, you appear to be doing fine. As you said, you have a family who adopted you. That was a long time ago. Please go away—and don’t come back. Please.” There was nothing friendly in her tone, and the way she looked at Billy Jo with such anger, hate, and fear tore open that giant wound inside her that had never really healed.
Billy Jo put her hands on the screen door before the woman could close it, but the woman still moved to open the inside door. “Look, I just want some questions answered. I’ll come back another time so we can talk, but I think I deserve that much.”
All the woman did was step back inside and shake her head, then said in a low voice, “Please go, please, and don’t come back. You’re entitled to nothing.”
Then the door closed in her face.
Billy Jo looked over to the living room window as she turned to take a step down. Two girls, maybe eight and ten, had parted the blinds and were looking out before the woman pulled them away.
She stepped down the two steps from the porch, taking in this perfection, the perfect life this woman now had. So that was Carly Thornton, who was nothing like the meth-addicted woman who’d abandoned her.
Instead of resolving anything, the meeting had left rage bubbling up inside her. Carly had dumped her and had been responsible for her childhood of hell, and now she got a free pass to have a great life?
As she walked back to her car, looking once more at the perfect house, the perfect yard, and the image of a perfect family, she felt like garbage, unwanted. She knew there was no way this woman was getting a pass.
No, she’d keep coming back, and she’d figure out a way to get the answers she wanted, the answers she deserved. There was no way she was going to let herself be a dirty little secret Carly was trying to forget. Billy Jo was going to make damned sure her birth mother told her everything.
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