Olivia Lowell always believed her father's claim that her mother died in childbirth, until the shocking day a lawyer informs her that her mother has just passed away, leaving her a fortune. However, the money comes with a caveat. In her will, Olivia's mother reveals that she and two college friends committed a crime long ago, and now she wants Olivia to track down her accomplices and convince them to come clean.
Feeling betrayed by her father and unsure that she even wants her mother's tainted money, Olivia must decide if she can handle the secrets of the past. Fulfilling her mother's request won't be easy, nor will mending her relationship with her father. But with the help and affections of a handsome young lawyer, and the sweet companionship of her beloved Yorkies, Olivia will come to understand who her mother really was, and who she, herself, was meant to be. . .
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About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
Fool Me Once
By Fern Michaels
Kensington BooksCopyright © 2006 Fern Michaels
All right reserved.
PrologueNineteen hundred sixty-six Oxford, Mississippi
The three of them walked together, their arms linked, as they left the campus of Ole Miss. Their conversation, as they walked along, dealt with the unbearable humidity that blanketed the town-the whole state, for that matter. Their destination was the Moss Teahouse, run by Hattie and Mattie Moss, two spinsters who, if you believed the rumors, had lived forever and were never going to die because they belonged to the Moss Clan, whatever the hell the Moss Clan was.
The reason the trio was headed for the Moss Teahouse wasn't because they craved the watery, flavorless tea or the wilted cucumber sandwiches that the older ladies of the town devoured, but because none of their classmates frequented the teahouse. Who in her right mind wanted to sit in a dusty, moldy-smelling tearoom, staring out grimy windows behind limp ruffled curtains? The reason they were going to the teahouse was that Allison Matthews had something of the utmost importance to discuss with her two best friends. A secret, actually. No, what she wanted to discuss was more than a secret. It was a devilishly clever idea that would put them all on easy street for the rest of their lives. If, and it was a big if, the three of them had the guts to pull it off.
The conversationdrifted to final exams and how prepared each of them was. All were among the top five percent of their class, so there were no worries for any of them. Taking a Saturday off to deal with secret, devilish plans didn't pose a problem at all. Their situation was far different from that of fellow students who had partied and cut classes, and now had to cram around the clock just to graduate from Ole Miss by the skin of their teeth and leave town with their heads up.
There was nothing notable about the trio. They weren't preppie, they certainly weren't pretty, nor were they shapely or fashionable. What they were was bookish-looking. Bookworms. All three wore glasses and no makeup, but, then again, makeup wouldn't have helped Allison's hawkish features or Jill's moon face, which was just as round as the rest of her. Gwen's overbite and full lips would have cried out in protest if makeup had been applied.
The three of them had met in the library and, out of necessity, quickly formed a bond. Four years of college demanded you have someone to pal around with, and they'd had good times, the three of them, even though they all lusted in their hearts to belong.
In addition to their superior intelligence, the trio had another thing in common-they loved money. Late at night, when they huddled together, they'd talk about how someday they would all be rich and famous. Then they were going to meet up, go to their college reunion, and make all their hoity-toity classmates sit up and take notice. It was a dream, but one they knew would come to fruition if they worked hard and kept at it. Allison, their spokesperson, always said if you persevered, you would prevail. Allison never said anything unless it was true. Well, hardly ever.
It was a pretty little town, not exactly your typical college town but close, and it was full of monster trees with hanging moss that at times looked eerie yet beautiful at the same time. The shops along the thoroughfare were quaint, with brightly colored striped awnings and multipaned windows that glistened in the brilliant April sunshine.
The trio walked past Mulvaney's drugstore, where the scent of Chantilly powder wafted through the open door. The girls stopped to look at the SALE sign on the front window. Prell shampoo and Colgate toothpaste were listed. Two for the price of one, but the girls weren't interested. They shrugged as they continued down the shady street, past a hardware store so quaint it looked just as it would have fifty years earlier. Daniel Hawthorn sat on an old rocker under the front window, smoking his pipe. Next to him was a barrel of rakes and shovels, and huge bags of grass seed, the first and only clue that the building was indeed a hardware store. Mrs. Hawthorn believed in starched curtains, as did most of the shopkeepers. But curtains in a hardware store? Puh-leeze.
"Well, girls, here we are," Allison said, her voice sounding jittery. She made a pretext of looking inside the tearoom before sitting down on the white-painted bench in front of a bow window adorned with limp checkered curtains. Half-barrels that had been painted white and were full of flowers so colorful they looked like a rainbow in a circle graced each side of the bench. Everyone said Hattie and Mattie Moss had a green thumb and would have been better off operating a flower shop instead of a teahouse. Of course, no one said that to their faces.
Jill Davis wiped at her perspiring face. Her hair was plastered to her forehead. "Are we going to stay out here or go inside, where it might be a tad cooler? I hate this damn humidity. Look at me, I'm drenched," she complained.
Allison got up off the bench, looking up and down the street. Her hand snaked out to the ornate doorknob. A bell tinkled as she walked through, Jill and Gwen following. She stepped to the side to allow the others more standing room and give her eyes time to get used to the dim interior. Her hand went automatically to her glasses to adjust them on her sweaty face. Her friends did the same.
Allison led the way to the back of the tearoom, where a small cluster of empty tables waited. Overhead, paddle fans whirred noisily. Even in the dimness, dust at least half an inch thick coated the blades as they whirled around. Gwen sneezed, not once but three times, as she took her seat at the small, round wrought-iron table. Her eyes started to water behind her thick glasses.
"We should have gone to Dominic's Pizza Parlor. This place is disgusting," Gwen grumbled as she cleaned her glasses with the hem of her skirt.
"Too noisy at Dominic's. Look around-no one is here. It's the middle of the afternoon, and we have the place to ourselves. We don't actually have to drink the tea or eat the sandwiches. We've been coming here for years when we had important things to discuss. It's a tradition," Allison said, her voice sounding defensive.
"Well, let's get to it so we can get out of here. It's just as hot inside as it is outside. I swear, I am going to move to Colorado first chance I get, and I'm never coming back to this place," Jill whined. "Well, I'll come back for a reunion, but that's it."
Hattie, or maybe it was Mattie, clomped her way to their table, a pad of paper and a pencil in her hand. Her ample bosom heaved with the effort of having walked across the room. "Hello, ladies," she chirped. "What can I get for you today?"
"We'll have three ice teas, and some of your famous rice cakes," Allison said.
"No rice cakes today, ladies. We do have some store-bought cookies if your sweet tooth can tolerate them," Hattie or Mattie chirped again.
"Ah, no. Just the ice tea then."
Hattie or Mattie grimaced as she painstakingly wrote down the order before trundling off to the back of the teahouse.
"Okay, why are we here?" Gwen asked as she patted at her perspiring neck with a paper napkin. She yanked at the collar of her yellow blouse, which looked soaking wet.
Allison looked across the table at her two friends. She sucked in her breath, then exhaled it in a loud swoosh. She took a second deep breath as she leaned across the table. Her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "We're going to rob the bank I work in. I can't do it myself, so that means I need your help, and we split the proceeds three ways. Think of it as three for the money. In this case we're talking about bearer bonds. You in or out?" She flopped back in her chair as her classmates stared at her, their mouths hanging open.
Jill's plump fingers grasped the edge of the table. Her whole body started to shake. "In or out of what?" she gasped.
"With me or against me," Allison said. "Gwen?"
"When you rob a bank, you go to jail. Where did you get an idea like this? I wouldn't do well in jail. I think this state makes women go out in chain gangs. The guards rape women prisoners. I don't think so, Allison. I'm not a brave person. You know me, I'm scared of my own shadow. I won't tell anyone if you want to go ahead and do it. No. My answer is no."
Allison stared at her friends. "What if I told you I've been planning this for a year and can guarantee we'll get away with it. This is not a lark. I'm serious-we can do it. We'll be rich. Not right away, because we'll have to wait till the bonds come due. No one can trace them to us. Bearer bonds, girls. At my bank. I have it all down pat. Come on, for once in our lives let's do something radical. There's not a person within a hundred miles who would ever think we pulled it off. I'm telling you, we can do this and walk away with no one the wiser. You know I'm smart enough to plan this thoroughly."
Jill continued to mop at her perspiring face and neck. Hattie or Mattie set down three glasses of tea whose ice cubes had already melted. Gwen reached for her glass just to have something to do with her hands.
"Tell us the plan," Gwen whispered nervously, after Hattie or Mattie had left.
Allison smiled. "It's so simple, it's downright scary. As you both know, I've worked at the bank part-time since I got here. That's four years of employment. Mr. Augustus depends on me. At Christmastime last year he said he didn't know what he would do without me, said I more or less ran the bank, but that was a joke. He just meant that I know everything there is to know, which is true. You also know that he belongs to that Gentlemen's Club with all those old rich, fuddy-duddy pals he associates with. They are all obscenely rich. Everyone knows that, too.
"So here's the plan. Four times a year, regular as clockwork, someone delivers a package of bearer bonds. The man just drops them off in a brown envelope. It isn't even sealed, just clasped. Then Mr. Augustus divvies them up among the men from the club.
One time the package sat on his desk for a whole week. He never even opened it. Do you believe that? I always thought they were doing something ... something illegal.
"Moving right along here. As you know, Margaret, Corinne, and I are the only employees. My hours are never the same, depending on my classes. Corinne works just three days a week. Only Margaret is full-time. Neither one of them pays attention to anything. They're just tellers, and if the bank is empty, they go in the back and drink sweet tea. If someone comes in to deposit or withdraw, I buzz them. Are you following me here?"
Two heads bobbed up and down.
"Mr. Augustus is going on a trip with the Gentlemen's Club next week. This time they're even taking their wives. The courier is due the day after they leave. Now, this is important. No one touches that envelope but the courier. He personally walks into Mr. Augustus's office and puts it on his desk. He closes the door when he leaves. Usually Margaret signs for the envelope, dates it, and gives me the receipt to file.
"All we have to do is substitute plain white paper for the bonds. I'll do that, wearing gloves of course. One of you will come into the bank and put the bonds in your safe-deposit box. I won't log you in, so there will be no record that you went to the vault. You'll do this when Margaret and Corinne are in the back. You leave. The bonds are safe. We won't move them till after graduation and we're ready to leave town. What do you think so far?"
"Robbing the bank, any bank, is a federal offense," Jill squeaked.
"Why aren't the bonds put in the vault?" Gwen asked.
Allison threw her hands in the air. "I don't know. Mr. Augustus must not think anyone would have the nerve to rob him. Either that, or he's stupid. Like I said, I personally think he and those other men in the Gentlemen's Club are doing something illegal. I haven't quite figured out what, and maybe I never will. It's just the way it is. Look, it's a small, privately owned bank. Mr. Augustus does things his way. This is, after all, Mississippi.
Excerpted from Fool Me Once by Fern Michaels Copyright © 2006 by Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission.
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