They had been six teenage girls in Wheeling, West Virginia. Full of mischief. Acting wild. Having good times. And getting into trouble. They called themselves the Six of Hearts. Then one night things went to far. One of them died. The rest swore to never tell what really happened.
Now, thirteen years later, someone has decided to kill the remaining Six of hearts. The first to die is Angie, a successful New York City actress. And flower-shop owner Laurel Damron, still living in Wheeling, may be next. She has gotten a chilling message in the mail. She knows a killer is watching her. But who? Only by searching the past can she uncover a haunting truth...only by looking deep with herself can she uncover a lost memory...and only by suspecting everyone she knows, does she have one slim chance of staying alive...
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Carlene Thompson has a Ph.D. in English and is a native West Virginian. She lives with her husband Keith in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. She spends her time writing and caring for the many dogs and cats she's adopted over the last twenty years.
Carlene Thompson is the author of Last Whisper, Black for Remembrance, Nowhere to Hide, and Don’t Close Your Eyes, among other books. She attended college at Marshall University and earned her Ph.D. in English from Ohio State University. She taught at the University of Rio Grande, before leaving to focus on her writing full-time. Besides writing, she spends her time caring for the many dogs and cats she's adopted. A native West Virginian, she lives with her husband Keith in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
In the Event of My Death
By Carlene Thompson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Carlene Thompson
All rights reserved.
A circle of girls dancing in the near darkness. Chanting. Light—leaping, growing light. Flames. A scream. A chorus of screams climbing the scale to shattering shrieks. Pain. Then darkness.
Laurel Damron felt herself kicking wildly before her eyes snapped open. She gasped, balling her hands into fists to stop their wild clawing. Her breath came in long, ragged gasps.
Suddenly weight descended on her and she looked down at her prone body to see a long-haired black and white dog, its eyes only inches from her own. "Oh, April," Laurel breathed, unclenching a fist to stroke the dog who always climbed atop her whenever she was having the dream. She never knew whether April's intent was to soothe or to protect. "That was a bad one. Same scene, only worse. The fire ..."
She broke off, her mind wandering back to the terrible flames until she became aware of panting beside her. Alex, April's brother, sat by the bed, stretching his neck toward her. "Did I scare you, too?" She rubbed him under the chin. "It's okay, boy. I frightened you guys for nothing. I know you're sick of my dream. So am I."
Laurel ran a hand over her damp forehead and looked at the bedside clock although she knew because of the darkness in her bedroom that the sun had not yet risen. Six forty-five. Fifteen minutes before the alarm would go off. "An early start on the day," she muttered. "Again." She gave April a final stroke, then shifted beneath her fifty-pound body. "Time to get up, you two. There's coffee to be drunk and dog food to be eaten."
April reluctantly rose and leaped off the bed. Laurel stretched, closed her eyes briefly, then threw off the comforter.
A minute later she stood in front of the bathroom mirror. A thirty-year-old woman shouldn't look this tired after a night's sleep, she thought. Dark circles hovered beneath her light brown eyes and her skin was unusually pale. Her shoulder-length brown hair curled wildly out from her head. She ran her hand through it despairingly. Time for another bout of straightener, she thought. Not that Kurt Rider, the man she'd been seeing for seven months, would care. She often wondered why she even bothered dressing up for their dates. He didn't seem to notice whether she was in jeans and barefaced, or sporting a new dress and a careful makeup job.
Not like her parents. She grimaced, remembering when she and her sister were in high school. Laurel was fifteen, Claudia seventeen. It was school-picture day and they'd both taken pains with their appearance. When they entered the kitchen, their father put down his coffee cup, beaming at Claudia. "Honey, you are a vision," he'd crowed as she pirouetted, bouncing her blond waves. Then his smile flagged slightly. "Laurel, can't you do something with your hair?" When Laurel, hurt, muttered, "I think it looks okay," her mother had glanced up from the eggs she was scrambling. "Leave her alone, Hal," she'd said. "They can't all be beauties. Laurel will make a fine wife and mother someday."
Well, I failed at that, too, Laurel thought ruefully. At thirty she was still single and childless while Claudia had married ten years ago and now awaited her third child.
Ever sensitive to her moods, April pawed at her leg, jerking her back to the moment. Laurel smiled. "Enough of this self-pity. Time to leave the past behind and get on with the day. Who wants Alpo?"
Both dogs knew the word and bolted from the bedroom. Laurel shook her head. They would not respond to "Come," "Heel," "Stay," or "Sit." Any word dealing with food, however, elicited immediate action.
She walked into the kitchen, which always cheered her up with its shining oak cabinets, stretches of pristine white Formica, and carefully placed, lush plant arrangements that gave color and life to what could have been a large, cold room. She put on coffee and while it brewed fixed food and water for April and Alex. As usual they ate as if they'd had nothing for days, April standing graceful and silky on her long legs, Alex small and compact with his short hair and stubby legs. Obviously they'd had different fathers, but exactly what their parentage was, she'd never know. She'd found them one rainy October afternoon, four weeks old, trembling and dirty, deposited under an evergreen tree beside her driveway. Someone had dumped them, and she'd happily taken them in. They'd given her more companionship the last two years than she'd known for a long time.
When the coffee finished brewing, she carried a cup over to the glass-enclosed breakfast nook. The view beyond was chilling. Acres of snow-covered ground and bare tree limbs stretching against a gunmetal gray sky. The radio she'd turned on in the kitchen announced it was thirty degrees. "Looks like we're going to have a white Christmas, folks. Remember, only ten more shopping days to go!" the announcer warned.
So far, Laurel hadn't bought a thing. Usually she had her shopping done by now, but this year had been hectic at the store. At least that's what she told herself. Actually, she just hadn't caught the holiday spirit. A vague restlessness, almost apprehension, had enveloped her for over a week, and she couldn't seem to shake it long enough to enjoy any of her normal activities.
The phone rang and she jumped, then closed her eyes. Mom and Dad, of course. Four years ago they'd bought a small house in Florida near Claudia's. Since her father's heart attack two years ago, they'd moved there permanently, turning over the store and the family home to Laurel. They checked up on her frequently, though.
A moment later her mother was jabbering happily and repeating everything Laurel said to her father. "Hal, she says they have snow. It's thirty degrees there." Back to Laurel. "How will the weather be next week? You will be able to fly down for Christmas, won't you?"
I hope not, Laurel said silently. Christmas Day with her father and Claudia's husband shouting deafeningly at football games on television and Claudia's two ill-behaved children incessantly squabbling was not Laurel's idea of a good time. To top it off, Claudia, expecting her baby in a month, was swollen, nauseated, and cranky as the devil. "I'm sure I'll make it," Laurel said, trying to force some excitement into her voice. "But if the weather does turn nasty, you'll have a good time without me this year."
"Don't be silly," her mother replied quickly. "Your niece and nephew would be crushed." Oh, sure, Laurel thought. The children barely took notice of her except to grab for their gifts. "We'd all miss you. Of course, if you have a good reason to want to stay home ..." Her mother's voice had turned coy, and Laurel inwardly groaned, knowing what was coming next. "How are things with you and Kurt going? Expecting an engagement ring this Christmas?"
"No, Mother, I'm not," Laurel said more sharply than she'd intended. "I mean, we're really not serious."
"You've been seeing each other exclusively for seven months. In my day that meant serious."
"Well, it doesn't necessarily mean serious these days. Look, Mom, I'd planned to go into the store a little early this morning. Tell Dad business is fantastic this year."
"Hal, she says business is good."
Laurel heard her father's voice rumbling in the background, but her mother drowned him out. "Honey, you are still seeing Kurt, aren't you? You two haven't broken up?"
"Everything is fine with us. But I really have to go. Love to you and Dad. I'll be seeing you in a few days."
"Good-bye, sweetie. Take good care of yourself. And don't give up hope. I think there's a ring coming for you this Christmas. I just feel it in my bones."
I hope your bones are wrong, Laurel thought as she hung up. She liked Kurt tremendously, but marriage was another matter. If he actually did present her with a ring, she would have to refuse it, which would cause her mother far more grief than it probably would Kurt.
Laurel let April and Alex out for a short romp in the snow. As she watched them play, she nibbled toast, wondering how she could get out of going to Florida next week, wondering exactly what she would say if Kurt actually started talking about marriage. Finally, she tossed down the toast in annoyance. "Laurel, it's Christmas," she told herself sternly. "You used to love Christmas. This year you're too depressing for words. Snap out of it!"
Half an hour later, showered, dressed in brown wool slacks and a matching angora sweater, a gold and russet scarf tied around her neck, her hair smoothed from a careful blow-drying over a big brush, eyeshadow, blusher, and lipstick in place, she felt and looked better. Relieved, she knew she could face what promised to be a long day. Customers expected to see her bright and cheerful, and her father had taught her to always try to please the customer.
The snow was two days old so roads were clear. Laurel made it from her house to the store in fifteen minutes. As always when she saw it, pride flooded through her. Located in the historic district of Wheeling, West Virginia, Damron Floral inhabited a three-story Victorian structure painted robin's egg blue with ornate white shutters. She was the third generation of Damrons to manage the store. When her grandfather started it shortly after World War II, he and his wife and son lived on the third floor. During the fifties when business flourished and his family expanded to four children, he built the sprawling log home north of Wheeling, near the beautiful Oglebay State Park, where Laurel now lived.
She always entered by the back door and went into the tiny kitchen off the workroom to start coffee before her assistant Mary Howard arrived. She liked the store to seem inviting, even to employees. Especially to Mary. She was the best designer Laurel had ever hired. She was also the younger sister of Laurel's friend Faith. Faith, so beautiful, so insouciant, so bold. Faith, dead now for thirteen years.
Laurel felt a chill and pushed the image of Faith from her mind. Good Lord, was she sinking into some kind of holiday depression? For some reason, she wasn't allowing herself to be happy. She seemed determined to dwell on dark thoughts, the memory of Faith's death being the darkest.
She went through the store turning on lights. She'd recently replaced the bland tan carpet that had covered the floor of Damron Floral for as long as she could remember. Every five to ten years when new carpet was needed, her father chose the same nondescript shade. Now floors of deep smoky blue stretched before her and soft pearl gray walls replaced the former shade of bisque. Her parents planned a trip home in the spring. She hoped her father would approve of her decorating innovations, but she doubted it. Hal Damron didn't like change.
A quick glance out the front window assured her the street was nearly deserted. Good. She wouldn't put up the open sign for twenty minutes, giving her time to go over the day's orders. Aside from the usual holiday trade, three funerals were being held tomorrow. They were swamped with work.
Laurel took a quick inventory of the store's interior. The glass shelves were loaded with lush poinsettias and holiday planters decorated with various colored ribbons and silk flowers. Grape vine wreaths hung on the walls along with the more traditional pine wreaths. Laurel breathed in the scent of pine mixed with potpourri coming from little sachet bags scattered throughout the store. The place definitely smelled of Christmas.
She heard the back door close and in a moment Mary Howard called out, "Good morning, Laurel."
Laurel went to the back. Mary shrugged out of her long, heavy brown coat and smiled at her. She was a tall young woman of twenty-six with pale, frizzy red hair pulled back in a ponytail, light blue eyes, and a smattering of freckles over her high-bridged nose. She was attractive in a strong, rawboned way but certainly not the beauty her sister Faith had been. She didn't come close to Faith's vivid, sensual, almost Rita Hayworth look. Laurel had always thought of Faith as red satin, Mary as blue gingham.
"Hi," Laurel said. "You're early."
"Busy day ahead." Mary held up a bulging white paper bag. "Doughnuts."
"Bless you! I only ate half a piece of toast this morning and I know I'll be starving in a couple of hours."
"Have one now with a fresh cup of coffee. In a couple of hours you won't have time."
Laurel hesitated, then smiled. "Okay. You twisted my arm. Any chocolate-covered ones in that bag?"
"Are you joking? I know they're your favorite."
Mary was right. Two hours later the phone rang every few minutes and three customers browsed. Mary worked on arrangements in the back with Laurel's other designers, Penny and Norma, while Laurel manned the front. She'd just sold a set of artificial holly and pine candle rings when the phone rang for what seemed like the twentieth time. Sighing, she reached for her order pad. "Damron Floral."
A moment of silence spun out before a husky female voice asked, "Laurel, is that you?"
"Yes." The voice was familiar, but Laurel couldn't place it. Some customers were offended when she didn't immediately recognize their voices so she asked carefully, "How are you?"
"I'm fine. Well, actually I'm not fine this morning."
"You don't know who this is, do you?"
God, I hate it when people make me guess their identity, Laurel thought in irritation. It's so rude and I'm so busy ... Suddenly a face with clear green eyes flashed before her. "Monica! It's Monica Boyd."
"Right. Pretty quick after not having seen me for twelve years."
"We were close. Besides, you're a hard person to forget." A woman was holding up two pots of poinsettias, tilting them until dirt began sprinkling to the carpet. Laurel stiffened, wanting to snap, "Watch what you're doing!" Instead she asked pleasantly, "Are you still in New York, Monica?"
"Yes. I'm on my way to making partner at Maxwell, Tate, and Goldstein."
"Wonderful." More dirt fell. Laurel was ready to tell Monica to hold for a moment when Mary came to ask a question, immediately saw the problem, and rushed to the woman's side with a gracious smile and large, firm hands that relieved her of the poinsettias. "Big plans for the holidays?" Laurel asked.
"A change in plans. I'm coming back to Wheeling."
"After all these years?"
"Yes. I think it's important that I talk with you."
"Me?" Laurel was genuinely puzzled.
"Yes. You, Denise, and Crystal."
They'd all been friends growing up. Friends forever, they thought. When they were twelve, they'd formed a club called the Six of Hearts—Monica, Laurel, Crystal, Denise, Angela, and poor dead Faith. Anxiety abruptly gripped Laurel. "Monica, what's wrong?"
"You know Angie's been living here in Manhattan, too?"
"Of course. She's always kept in touch. I just got a card from her. She's the lead in a Broadway play."
"Not anymore." Laurel could hear Monica take a deep breath. "Laurel, Angie was murdered night before last. She wasn't found until yesterday, when she didn't show up for an interview and the theater couldn't reach her. It was ... brutal. She was bludgeoned to death in her own bed."
"Oh, my God," Laurel gasped, her stomach clenching as she pictured Angie's lovely face, remembered her beautiful voice. "How horrible!"
"Yes. But there's more, Laurel. I don't know how to tell you this, but Angela's death had something to do with the Six of Hearts."CHAPTER 2
Laurel's face slackened in shock. She saw the quick look Mary threw her way before she managed to speak again. "Monica, have they caught her killer?"
Laurel spoke softly. "Then what makes you think this had something to do with the Six of Hearts?"
"On the mirror in her bedroom the murderer drew a six and a heart. In Angie's blood."
"Oh," Laurel said weakly. "How do you know all this?"
"I'm good friends with a detective on the case. He knows I knew Angie. He gave me the details. They aren't known to the general public, but he thought I might have some idea of what they meant. I said I didn't."
"Why didn't you tell him the truth?"
"Because we never told anyone the truth about the Six of Hearts. Besides, I don't want to get involved in this. I doubt if any of us do."
Laurel realized she was clutching the receiver and forced herself to relax her grip. "Monica, the stuff on the mirror has to be some sort of coincidence."
"Coincidence?" Monica's husky voice rarely rose and Laurel heard the tension in it. "It's a coincidence that the killer just happened to put a six and a heart on her mirror when Angie used to be a member of the Six of Hearts? And something else. There was a tarot card lying beside her body—the judgment card."
Excerpted from In the Event of My Death by Carlene Thompson. Copyright © 1999 Carlene Thompson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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