Alexandra Gaither is a beautiful lawyer who finally has the power to get what she's always wanted: justice. Armed with new evidence that could lead to an arrest and a conviction, Alex revisits the remote Texas town where her mother died twenty-five years ago.
There she confronts the three powerful men who were with her mother the night she died: her former lover, his best friend, and the father figure to them both. Each is charming, each is a suspect, and each has secrets to hide. But none of them can stop Alex's determined search for the truth.
Alex's relentless investigation creates controversy and excitement in this small community. And as she uncovers decades-old intrigues, someone capable of clever lies and remorseless acts decides she must be stopped. Now, with a one-month deadline from the attorney general to either wrap up the case or drop it for good, Alex must work diligently to catch her mother's killer . . . and find a way to stay alive.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:March 12, 1948
Place of Birth:Waco, Texas
Education:Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Texas Christian University, 2008
Read an Excerpt
BEST KEPT SECRETS
By Sandra Brown
Copyright © 1989
All right reserved.
It wasn't so much the cockroach that made her scream as the chipped fingernail.
The cockroach was small. The chip was a dilly. On her manicured nail it looked
as deep and jagged as the Grand Canyon.
Alex swatted at the cockroach with the laminated card that displayed the motel's
limited room service menu. The reverse side advertised the Friday night Mexican
buffet and The Four Riders, a country and western band currently performing in
the Silver Spur Lounge nightly from seven till midnight.
Her swipe at the cockroach missed by a mile and it scuttled for cover behind the
wood veneer dresser. "I'll get you later."
She found a nail file in the bottom of the cosmetic case she had been about to
unpack when the metal clasp had wrecked her fingernail and the cockroach had
come out to inspect the new tenant of room 125. The room was located on the
ground floor of the Westerner Motel, three doors down from the ice and vending
Once the nail had been repaired, Alex gave herself one last, critical look in
the dresser mirror. It was important that she make a stunning first impression.
They would be astonished when she told them who she was, but she wanted to
create an even stronger impact.
She wanted to leave them stupefied, speechless, and defenseless.
They would undoubtedly make comparisons. She couldn't prevent that; she just
didn't want to come out on the short end of their mental measuring sticks. If
she could help it, they would find no flaws in Celina Gaither's daughter.
She had carefully chosen what to wear. Everything-clothes, jewelry,
accessories-was in excellent taste. The overall effect was tailored but not
severe, smart but not trendy; she exuded an aura of professionalism that didn't
compromise her femininity.
Her goal was to impress them first, then surprise them with what had brought her
Until a few weeks ago, the town of thirty thousand had been a lonely dot on the
Texas map. As many jackrabbits and horned toads lived there as people. Recently,
town business interests had generated news, but on a comparatively small scale.
By the time Alex's job was done, she was certain Purcell would capture newspaper
headlines from El Paso to Texarkana.
Concluding that nothing about her appearance could be improved upon short of an
act of God or very expensive plastic surgery, she shouldered her handbag, picked
up her eel attaché case, and, making certain she had her room key, closed the
door to room 125 behind her.
During the drive downtown, Alex had to creep through two school zones. Rush hour
in Purcell began when school dismissed. Parents transported their children from
school to dentists' offices, piano lessons, and shopping centers. Some might
even have been going home, but the sluggish traffic and clogged intersections
indicated that no one was staying indoors that day. She didn't actually mind the
stop-and-go traffic. The delays gave her an opportunity to gauge the personality
of the town.
Black and gold streamers fluttered from the marquee outside Purcell High School.
The caricature of a black panther snarled at the passing cars on the highway and
temporary letters spelled out POUNCE PERMIAN. On the field inside the stadium,
the football team was working out and running plays. The marching band, its
instruments flashing in the sun, was rehearsing Friday night's halftime show on
a practice field.
The activity looked so innocent. For a moment, Alex regretted her mission and
what its outcome would most likely mean for the community. She dismissed her
guilty feelings quickly, however, when she reminded herself why she was here. A
harvest of rejection, as well as her grandmother's harsh accusations, were
stored in her mind if she ever, even for a second, forgot what had brought her
to this point in her life. She could ill afford the slightest sentimental
Downtown Purcell was almost deserted. Many of the commercial buildings and
offices facing the square were closed and barred. Foreclosure signs were too
plentiful to count.
Graffiti was scrawled across plate-glass windows that had once been filled with
enticing merchandise. There was still a hand-lettered sign on the door of a
deserted laundry. Someone had scratched out the r, so that the sign now read, 3
SHI TS/$1.00. It crudely summed up the economic climate in Purcell County.
She parked in front of the county courthouse and fed coins into the meter at the
curb. The courthouse had been built of red granite quarried in the hill country
and hauled by rail to Purcell ninety years earlier. Italian stonecutters had
carved pretentious gargoyles and griffins in every available spot as if the
amount of decoration justified the expense of their commission. The results were
ostentatious, but gaudiness was one of the edifice's attractions. Atop its dome
the national and Texas state flags flapped in the brisk north wind.
Having worked in and about the state capitol of Austin for the last year, Alex
wasn't intimidated by official buildings. She took the courthouse steps with a
determined stride and pulled open the heavy doors. Inside, the plaster walls
showed peeling paint and signs of general disrepair. The aggregate tile floor
had faint cracks in it that crisscrossed like the lines in the palm of an
The ceiling was high. The drafty corridors smelled of musty record books,
industrial-strength cleaning solution, and an overdose of perfume that emanated
from the district attorney's secretary. She looked up expectantly as Alex
entered the outer office.
"Hi, there. You lost, honey? I love your hair. Wish I could wear mine pulled
back in a bun like that. You have to have real tiny ears. Wouldn't you know it,
I've got jug handles sticking out from the sides of my head. Do you put henna on
it to give it those reddish highlights?"
"Is this District Attorney Chastain's office?"
"Sure is, honey. Whatcha need him for? He's kinda busy today."
"I'm from the Travis County D.A.'s office. Mr. Harper called on my behalf, I
The wad of chewing gum inside the secretary's cheek got a rest from the pounding
it had been taking. "You? We were expecting a man."
"As you can see ..." Alex held her arms out at her sides.
The secretary looked vexed. "You'd think Mr. Harper would have mentioned that
his assistant was a lady, not a man, but shoot," she said, flipping her hand
down from a limp wrist, "you know how men are. Well, honey, you're right on time
for your appointment. My name's Imogene. Want some coffee? That's a gorgeous
outfit, so high-fashion. They're wearing skirts shorter these days, aren't
At the risk of sounding rude, Alex asked, "Are the parties here yet?"
Just then, masculine laughter erupted from the other side of the closed door.
"That answer your question, honey?" Imogene asked Alex. "Somebody prob'ly just
told a dirty joke to let off steam. They're just bustin' a gut to know what this
hush-hush meeting is all about. What's the big secret? Mr. Harper didn't tell
Pat why you were coming to Purcell, even though they were friends in law school.
Is it something to do with ME getting that gambling license?"
"Minton Enterprises." She said it as though she was surprised Alex was not
familiar with the name.
"Perhaps I shouldn't keep them waiting any longer," Alex suggested tactfully,
sidestepping Imogene's question.
"Shoot, just listen to me running off at the mouth. Did you say you wanted some
"No, thank you." Alex followed Imogene toward the door. Her heart started
"Excuse me." Imogene interrupted the conversation by poking her head into the
room. "District Attorney Harper's assistant is here. Y'all sure are in for a
treat." She turned back toward Alex. One set of eyelashes, gummy with navy blue
mascara, dropped over her eye in a broad, just-between-us-girls wink. "Go on in,
Alex, bracing herself for the most crucial meeting in her life, entered the
It was obvious from the relaxed atmosphere that the men in the room had been
expecting another man. The moment she crossed the threshold and Imogene pulled
the transomed door closed, the man seated behind the desk sprang to his feet. He
ground out a burning cigar in the thick, glass ashtray and reached for his suit
coat, which had been draped over the back of his chair.
"Pat Chastain," he said, extending his hand. "'Treat' is an understatement. But
then, my good buddy Greg Harper always did have an eye for the ladies. Doesn't
surprise me a bit that he's got a good-lookin' woman on his staff."
His sexist remark set her teeth on edge, but she let it slide. She inclined her
head in acknowledgment of Chastain's compliment. The hand she clasped in a firm
handshake was so loaded down with gold-nugget jewelry it could have anchored a
fair-sized yacht. "Thank you for arranging this meeting, Mr. Chastain."
"No problem, no problem. Glad to be of service to both you and Greg. And call me
Pat." Taking her elbow, he turned her toward the other two men, who had come to
their feet out of deference to her. "This here is Mr. Angus Minton and his son,
"Gentlemen." Confronting them, meeting them eye to eye for the first time, had a
strange and powerful impact on her. Curiosity and antipathy warred inside her.
She wanted to analyze them, denounce them. Instead, she behaved in the expected
civilized manner and extended her hand.
It was clasped by one studded with calluses. The handshake bordered on being too
hard, but it was as open and friendly as the face smiling at her.
"A pleasure, ma'am. Welcome to Purcell County."
Angus Minton's face was tanned and weathered, ravaged by blistering summer sun,
frigid blue northers, and years of outdoor work. Intelligent blue eyes twinkled
at her from sockets radiating lines of friendliness. He had a boisterous voice.
Alex guessed that his laugh would be as expansive as his broad chest and the
beer belly that was his only sign of indulgence. Otherwise, he seemed physically
fit and strong. Even a younger, larger man would be loath to pick a fight with
him because of his commanding presence. For all his strength, he looked as
guileless as an altar boy.
His son's handshake was softer, but no less hearty or friendly. He enfolded
Alex's hand warmly, and in a confidence-inspiring voice, said, "I'm Junior
Minton. How do you do?"
"How do you do?"
He didn't look his forty-three years, especially when he smiled. His straight
white teeth flashed and a devilish dimple cratered one cheek, suggesting that he
behaved no better than any given occasion called for him to. His blue eyes, a
shade deeper than his father's but just as mischievous, held hers long enough to
intimate that they were the only two in the room who mattered. She withdrew her
hand before Junior Minton seemed ready to relinquish it.
"And over yonder is Reede, Reede Lambert."
Alex turned in the direction Pat Chastain had indicated and located the fourth
man, whom she hadn't noticed until now. Flaunting etiquette, he was still
slouched in a chair in the corner of the room. Scuffed cowboy boots were crossed
at the ankles, their toes pointing ceilingward and insolently wagging back and
forth. His hands were loosely folded over a western belt buckle. He unlinked
them long enough to raise two fingers to the brim of a cowboy hat. "Ma'am."
"Mr. Lambert," she said coolly.
"Here, sit yourself down," Chastain offered, pointing her toward a chair. "Did
Imogene offer you some coffee?"
"Yes, but I told her I didn't care for any. I'd like to get to the purpose of
the meeting, if we could."
"Sure enough. Junior, pull that other chair over here. Angus." Chastain nodded
for the older man to sit back down. When everyone was reseated, the district
attorney returned to his chair behind the desk. "Now, Miss- Well, I'll be
damned. During all the introductions, we failed to get your name."
Alex held center stage. Four pairs of eyes were trained on her, curiously
waiting to hear her name. She paused for dramatic effect, knowing that divulging
it would cause a profound reaction. She wanted to witness and catalog their
individual reactions. She wished she could see Reede Lambert better. He was
sitting partially behind her, and the cowboy hat hid all but the lowest portion
of his face.
She took a breath. "I'm Alexandra Gaither, Celina's daughter."
A stunned silence followed the announcement.
Pat Chastain, befuddled, finally asked, "Who's Celina Gaither?"
"Well, I'll be a sonofabitch." Angus flopped backward in his chair like a
collapsing inflatable toy.
"Celina's daughter. My God, I can't believe it," Junior whispered. "I can't
"Somebody want to fill me in, please?" Pat said, still confused. Nobody paid him
The Mintons openly stared at Alex, searching her face for resemblances to her
mother, whom they had known so well. From the corner of her eye, she noticed
that the toes of Lambert's boots were no longer wagging. He drew his knees in
and sat up straight.
"What on earth have you been doing with yourself all these years?" Angus asked.
"How many years has it been?" Junior wanted to know.
"Twenty-five," Alex answered precisely. "I was only two months old when Grandma
Graham moved away from here."
"How is your grandma?"
"She's currently in a Waco nursing home, dying of cancer, Mr. Minton." Alex saw
no merit in sparing their sensibilities. "She's in a coma."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Where have y'all been living all this time?"
Alex named a town in central Texas. "We lived there all my life-at least, as far
back as I can remember. I graduated high school there, went to the University of
Texas, and then, straight into law school. I passed the bar a year ago."
"Law school. Imagine that. Well, you turned out fine, Alexandra, just fine.
Didn't she, Junior?"
Junior Minton turned on his charming smile full blast. "I'd say so. You don't
look a thing like you did last time I saw you," he told her teasingly. "Best as
I recall, your diaper was wet and you didn't have a single hair on your head."
Considering the reason for this prearranged meeting, his flirting made Alex
uneasy. She was glad when Pat Chastain intervened again. "I hate to butt into
such a touching reunion, but I'm still in the dark."
Angus enlightened him. "Celina was a classmate of Junior's and Reede's. They
were best friends, actually. Rarely did you see one of them without the other
two when they were in high school. Crazy kids."
Then, his blue eyes turned cloudy and he shook his head sorrowfully. "Celina
died. Tragic thing." He took a quiet moment to collect himself. "Anyway, this is
the first time we've heard a word about Alexandra since her grandma, Celina's
mother, moved away with her." Smiling, he slapped his thighs. "Damned if it's
not great to have you back in Purcell."
Excerpted from BEST KEPT SECRETS
by Sandra Brown
Copyright © 1989 by Sandra Brown.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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