From her silver Mercedes to her designer kitchen, Molly’s life is gleaming and beautiful—at least on the surface. But no one in her exclusive neighborhood in Goldenhills, Massachusetts, knows what living with her demanding husband Tanner is really like. They know even less about the life she left behind in Florida almost two decades ago.
Back then, Molly was Maddy Carmichael, living with her twin brother and neglectful mother in a run-down trailer park amid the orange groves of Florida. After the terrible events of her high school prom night, Molly fled north and reinvented herself. Now the veneer of Molly’s polished existence is finally cracking—and Molly must find the strength to become the woman she once hoped to be.
“The triumphant theme of women like Molly finding justice will appeal to readers.”—Booklist
“Fern Michaels takes a story line and makes you feel like this could happen to you. She writes stories that can and will happen in today’s world.”—Fresh Fiction
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About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
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Present Day Goldenhills, Massachusetts
Molly stood in her spotless, newly remodeled designer kitchen and checked her shopping list one last time before driving across town to Gloria's, her favorite market, which specialized in organic produce, freshly caught seafood, and everything in between. She had ten people coming over tonight for yet another one of Tanner's dinner parties.
This morning, as he was leaving for the dental clinic, he'd said one word to her: "perfection." He'd winked to soften his sharp command.
It was her warning that the outcome of this dinner party would determine their future. Everything must be perfect. Tanner was a true perfectionist. A bit harsh, she thought as she reached for the keys to her silver Mercedes, Tanner's gift to her on their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Now, nearing their twentieth, she continued to drive the same car. It had seemed like only yesterday that she'd gifted him with a photograph of the three children in an exquisite silver frame, an acknowledgment of the best part of their life together. The children. Holden and Graham, twins Tanner had from his first marriage, boys she'd raised since they were toddlers. Their mother, Elaine, had died in a tragic accident just months after they were born. To Molly, they were no different than Kristen, her biological daughter, who idolized her big brothers.
She remembered Tanner that day she'd given him the picture, all those years ago. He had been preoccupied with something and had only glanced at the framed photo, tossing it aside as though it were merely a flyer advertising a window-washing service or someone who was hoping to cut their grass. If he'd only known how hard it'd been to schedule the photographer and get all three kids in the same place for the scheduled appointment, maybe he would have actually appreciated her thoughtful gift.
She hadn't wanted or needed a new car then, didn't really like it all that much now. Her eight-year-old Range Rover had suited her just fine. She'd carted all kinds of sporting equipment when the boys played hockey, followed by football, stinky pads and all. Kristen had insisted on taking French horn lessons that she'd never quite got the hang of, but having such a large instrument was cool at the time, and she could fit it in the back of the Range Rover without a problem. Yes, she thought as she pulled out of the garage in her sleek and shiny car, her old Range Rover held many good memories, as did the other car, the one she'd had restored, which was now tucked safely away in a place where it belonged.
She glanced in the rearview mirror as she backed out of the driveway, aware that she looked older than her actual age. She put her foot on the brake and brought the car to a sudden stop, pulled the visor down, and looked into the vanity mirror. Her blond hair was more gray than blond, and her green eyes were lusterless. Her eyelids had begun to sag, and her once-full mouth drooped in a permanent frown. She traced the web of wrinkles around her eyes, then quickly raised the visor.
Shifting into PARK, she wondered when she'd begun to look so old. She had turned thirty-eight last month, had been dreading the big four-oh, but at thirty- eight she already looked much older than the ghastly forty. She was aging faster than Tanner, who at forty-eight looked much younger. Why hadn't Tanner mentioned this to her? He always critiqued her. What she wore, too much makeup, not enough makeup, too tan, too pale, too fat, too thin, and on and on it went. At least she had good teeth, she thought as she pulled onto Riverbend Road, the most exclusive neighborhood in Goldenhills. She ran her tongue across her teeth. They were as smooth as the mother-of-pearl necklace Tanner had given her on her thirtieth birthday. Of course, her perfect teeth were courtesy of Tanner's expertise; he was one of the top cosmetic dentists in the state.
Which brought her back to the reason for tonight's dinner party. Tanner owned three dental clinics, one here in Goldenhills and two in Ocean Orr, and wanted to open a fourth in Boston, near the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, his alma mater. Tonight's guests were potential investors.
Molly knew that tonight was very important to her husband. She truly appreciated his hard work and dedication, but there were times when she thought he took his business drive to the extreme. Tonight's dinner, for example. He didn't need these investors any more than she needed a snake for a pet, yet for Tanner, having a clinic that actually drew in investors was just another way to feed his already huge ego, though she would never say anything like that to him. Tanner strove to be a good husband and father most of the time, as well as a dedicated medical professional. A tiny thought crept into her head, a truth she rarely acknowledged: in point of fact, he was neither a good husband nor a good father. Right now, she chose not to consider those truths.
Forgiveness. She must remember to forgive thy neighbor.
Isn't that what Father Richard Czerwinski, or Father Wink, as he preferred to be addressed, had shared with her just last week when she'd stopped by the church to light a candle? Religion was a very important part of her life. There was a time when she didn't believe in any formal religion or a higher power, and she felt guilty about that to this very day. But she reminded herself that she'd never really had an opportunity to seriously explore any religion. Her own day- to-day survival had been her top priority. Of course, when Tanner and his twin boys came into her life, all of that had changed. She rarely thought of her life before Tanner and the kids, and when she did, it angered her. For days afterward, she would be in the most dreadful mood.CHAPTER 2
Maddy, After the Prom
Maddy drove as fast as she could, keeping an eye on the odometer. Shaken and unsure if she was making the right decision, she told herself that she really didn't have much of a choice. But hanging around Blossom City was not possible. She drove through the night and pulled into a rest area when she crossed over the Georgia border.
Maddy got out of the car and walked around it, looking for any damage that might have resulted from the accident. The car was so old and banged up that it was difficult to tell if any of the dents and scrapes were new. She got back into the car and sat for a few minutes thinking about what her next move should be. Her eyes were swollen from crying and felt gritty and dry. She longed for a cool shower but had to put first things first. She needed to find a place to stay and get some rest. More importantly, she needed to rid herself of the disgusting teal dress that only a day ago she had worn with so much promise. As soon as she could, she planned to burn the dress, and hopefully that simple act would erase the traumatic events of the previous night. She realized that she was being naïve in the extreme, but she didn't care.
She would never forget last night as long as she lived.
As she pulled back onto I-95, the traffic was light at this early-morning hour. She wished the radio worked now. She was so tired that maybe a loud rock song would keep her awake. She drove several miles until she saw an exit for Brunswick. She used her signal as she switched lanes, then followed the exit ramp to a traffic light. She waited for the light to turn green. Unsure if she should turn left or right, she took a right. Just the word "right" was enough. Slowly, the old Mustang crawled along Main Street.
"Main Street, how original," she said out loud. Her words were hoarse, broken, unrecognizable, as if they came from someone else. From this moment forward she would do her best to act as if she were someone else. Start over, put the past behind her. Forget last night. Forget Marcus. Forget her mother. Forget her life in Blossom City.
"Right," she said aloud.
Above the stretch of tall pines, the sun rose, bathing the early-morning sky in shades of pinks, purples, and various hues of deep blue. Off in the distance, clouds darkened in rich shades of slate and silver.
Rain, she thought as she slowly drove down Main Street. She came to a halt at a four-way traffic sign but didn't come to a complete stop. There were no other cars on the road this early in the morning, so she saw no reason to. Ahead, a bright-green neon sign, flashing MOTEL VACANCY, grabbed her attention. Increasing her speed, though not exceeding the posted limit of forty- five, she pulled into the motel's parking lot. Shutting the engine down, she leaned her head back against the seat, the events of last night still spinning crazily in her mind. Even though she'd just given herself a new beginning, she realized it wasn't going to be quite as simple as she thought.
Did her mother know what had happened last night? Had Marcus told some off-the-wall story, one that her mother would believe just because her golden boy told it to her? Usually, she believed every lie that rolled off his tongue. Knowing it would only cause her pain, but doing it anyway, Maddy flashed back to that second when she raced away from the school, coming upon the group of guys standing in the center of the road, the sudden impact as their bodies slammed against the grill, then the thwack as the Mustang's tires crushed flesh and bone. In a blind daze, she'd been too shocked at the time to realize the true significance of what remained on the road behind her, but she'd increased her speed in spite of this. Now, she fully realized, it was very probable that she'd committed a crime after she'd been the victim of a nightmarish crime herself. If she had decided to turn back, would she have spent the rest of her life behind bars for vehicular homicide, or, if no one was killed, just leaving the scene of an accident? Maybe whoever she hit would tell the police they saw her car? She was the only one in Blossom City who drove a battered red 1964 Mustang. At least to her knowledge she was the only one.
She would not allow this one mistake to torture her for the rest of her life. With that thought in mind, she grabbed her purse, which was still lying on the passenger seat, tucked it in her dress pocket, again, and realized once more that she desperately needed a change of clothes. She got out of the car, minus her silver heels. Holding the skirt of the long dress with one hand, raking the other through her stiff hair, and not caring what anyone thought, she entered the motel lobby.
A woman who appeared to be in her late sixties, judging by her graying hair and stooped back, looked up when she entered. "Can I help you?" she asked in a kindly voice.
For a moment, Maddy didn't know what to say. She'd never stayed in a motel. Other than what she'd seen on television, which involved signing a guest book and a taciturn desk clerk sliding a single key across the counter, she wasn't sure of the protocol. Licking her lips and tasting a bit of dried blood, she regretted not checking her appearance before coming inside.
"May I help you?" the old woman asked again, showing just a hint of impatience.
Nodding, Maddy reached into her pocket for her clutch purse and pulled out her wad of cash. In a soft voice, she said, "I, uh ... need a room." She chewed her bottom lip again.
The woman nodded, then asked. "Single or double?"
Swallowing, she spoke a bit louder this time, "It's just me, so a single."
"And how long will you be staying with us? There is a discount if you stay at least three days."
Taking a deep breath, she decided she'd stay. This would give her time to plan, time to make a decision about what to do. "Yes, I'll, uh ... I'll stay three days."
"Good choice. We offer free cable TV, and there's coffee available from six to ten every morning." She motioned to the corner.
Maddy glanced over her shoulder, where she saw a small table with a Mr. Coffee machine, paper cups, and a container of powdered cream, plus a basket filled with little packets of sugar.
"Thanks," she replied. She didn't drink coffee, but maybe she'd start.
"If you will just fill this out." The woman slid a form, along with a pen, across the counter, just like Maddy had seen on TV.
Turning her back to return to her former task, the old woman flipped through a stack of papers. "Oh, and I'll need to see your driver's license, too," she added nonchalantly.
Maddy quickly scanned the form. With an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach, she realized she'd have to lie if she wanted to spend the next three nights there. If she let the old woman look at her license, it would open a whole new can of worms. She made a snap decision. If she were going to lie, she might as well make it a whopper. She cleared her throat, dying for a drink, but that would come later, after she'd settled in, and only if the woman believed her and rented her a room. Making a big show of searching through her clutch purse, Maddy removed a tube of cherry-flavored lip gloss, her house key, which she knew she'd never use again, and the stub from her prom ticket. "I think I might have left it," she answered quickly, "at home."
The old woman stopped her task, turning around. "Where is home?"
Before she had a chance to change her mind, she spurted out, "Naples, Florida. I'm here to visit a friend."
When the woman just stared at her, she added, "We're ... uh, spending two weeks together before we start college."
"Not that it's any of my business, but why aren't you staying with your friend?"
Good question, Maddy thought. "I confused the dates, she's staying with her grandparents and, uh ... I didn't realize it until last night when I" — was brutally attacked and raped, she wanted to shout — "left in such a hurry."
"Is that why you're wearing that?" She pointed at Maddy's prom dress. "You didn't have time to change?"
God, why was this woman making this so frigging complicated? She just wanted a room. It wasn't like she was applying for a job. A dozen lies whirled in her brain. Before she thought too long, she said. "Uh, yeah. Well, last night after the prom, I had a fight with my boyfriend. I was packed for the trip" — Maddy pointed to her car in the parking lot — "but I was just so upset, I didn't bother to go home and change." Thank God the woman couldn't see her bare and bloodied feet.
"Your parents are fine with this, I take it?" the clerk asked.
"Uh, yes. They're out of ... the country. They took a cruise. To the Bahamas. For their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and well, I just left, and here I am," Maddy explained sheepishly.
"Well, go on, just fill out that form. You look like you could use a good night's sleep, though I wouldn't sleep all day if I were you. You'll be awake all night."
Maddy's heart pounded. She couldn't wait to escape this old woman's scrutiny. "Yes," she said, then proceeded to fill out the form before the woman had a change of heart. She wrote as fast as she could, and none too plainly. She made up an address, 2806 Palmetto Way. Naples was a ritzy city, so she figured that if she'd made up something like 123 Elm Street, it would be a dead giveaway. She decided it was best if she didn't use her real name either. If the police in Blossom City were looking for her, well, she wasn't sure how lying about her name would matter, given the fact that her Mustang was easily identified as belonging to her. She'd lied about everything else, so why not about her name? She put Molly where the form asked for her first name. She didn't dare add Ringwald, her favorite actress from the cult favorite movie Sixteen Candles, so she put Hall as her last name. Michael Anthony Hall, the geeky actor from Sixteen Candles. She liked her new name. Molly Hall. It sounded quite nice, she thought, as she slid the registration form across the counter for the woman to view.
A chain with a pair of glasses hung around the woman's neck. The old woman put them on before reading the form.
Maddy leaned forward, trying to see if she'd added something she shouldn't.
"Okay, Molly. I'll put you in 108. It's at the end of the building, and it's our last room."
Finally, she thought as she offered up what she hoped was a thankful smile. "I appreciate this, Mrs. —" Under her current circumstances, she'd completely forgotten her manners and hadn't asked for her name.
"Mrs. Wilkins. My family has owned the place for close to fifty years."
"Mrs. Wilkins, uh, thanks." She turned around, anxious to get out of the office, when Mrs. Wilkins called out to her.
"Aren't you forgetting something, young lady?" She'd put extra emphasis on her last two words.
Maddy, Molly, turned around. "I don't think so," she said because she truly didn't.
"The fee for the room," Mrs. Wilkins stated.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "No Safe Secret"
Copyright © 2016 Fern Michaels.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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