Delinsky, Barbara An Accidental Woman

ISBN 13: 9780743411264

An Accidental Woman

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9780743411264: An Accidental Woman
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Barbara Delinsky brings back Poppy Blake, from her stunning New York Times bestseller Lake News, in this deeply moving novel of life's second chances and the accidents of fate that can set us free....
Lake Henry, New Hampshire, is buzzing over the annual maple syrup harvestŠas well as the shocking revelation that longtime resident Heather Malone has been led away by the FBI, which claims the devoted stepmother and businesswoman fled the scene of a fatal accident in California years before. Poppy Blake, her best friend, is determined to prove Heather's innocence, while facing past mistakes of her own: she has never overcome her guilt from the snowmobile accident that killed her partner and left her paralyzed. Playing an unlikely role in both women's lives is investigative journalist Griffin Hughes, whose attraction to Poppy keeps him coming back to Lake Henry, even though he is secretly responsible for drawing the law closer to Heather. To redeem himself, Griffin sets out to solve the mystery surrounding Heather and becomes the key to freeing Poppy from her own regrets and showing her a rich new future.

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About the Author:

Barbara Delinsky has written more than twenty New York Times bestselling novels, with over thirty million copies in print. Her books are highly emotional, character-driven studies of marriage, parenthood, sibling rivalry, and friendship. She is also the author of a breast cancer handbook. A breast cancer survivor herself, Barbara donates her author proceeds from the book to fund a research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. Visit her at BarbaraDelinsky.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Within seconds of coming awake, Micah Smith felt a chill at the back of his neck that had nothing to do with the cold air seeping in through the window cracked open by his side of the bed. It was barely dawn. He didn't have to glance past Heather's body toward the nightstand clock to know that, but could see it in the purpling that preceded daylight when February snows covered the forest floor.

The purpling seemed deeper this morning, but that wasn't what caused his alarm. Nor was it any sound from the girls' room that caused him to hold his breath. They would sleep for another hour, he knew, and if not sleep, then stay in bed until they heard Heather or him up and about.

No. What held him totally still, eyes on that inch of open window, was the sound that came from beyond. Even in winter, the woods were filled with live things, but what he heard now was neither deer, nor owl, nor snowshoe rabbit. It was a car, moving very slowly down the snow-crusted drive toward the small house that Micah had built for his family.

Get out of bed, cried a silent voice, but he remained inert. Barely breathing, he listened. Not one car. Two. They inched their way closer, then stopped. Their engines went still.

Do something, cried that silent voice, more urgent now, and he thought of the rifle that was mounted high above the front door, out of reach of the girls. But he couldn't move -- couldn't move -- other than to turn his head toward Heather. She continued to sleep, oblivious to what he heard, unaware of the thoughts that held him there against her warmth.

As he watched the swirl of her long dark hair touched by a generous dusting of silver, he heard the stealthy click of car doors -- one, then a second. He imagined that there might be even more doors opening silently, carefully guided by hands trained in covert operations.

A patch of Heather's pale shoulder showed through the tangle of her hair. He would have touched it if he hadn't feared waking her, but he didn't want that. Once she was awake, once she heard what he heard, once this moment ended, their lives would be changed. He didn't know how he knew that, but he did. A part of him had been waiting for this moment, fearing it for four years -- and it wasn't just a superstition, the idea that because one woman had left him, this one would, too. Heather wasn't like anyone else; she was unique.

The footsteps coming toward the house were careful, making only the occasional crunch on the snow, but a lifetime of living in the New Hampshire woods had trained Micah's ear well. The house was being surrounded. He figured that his rifle wouldn't do much good against the five or six people that he guessed were outside. Nor did he figure gunpower was called for. The people out there weren't intent on violence. And what was happening was inevitable.

A soft knock came at the front door, a sound he might have missed if he'd been asleep. It had begun. He quickly slipped from under the thick down with a grace that belied his height and firm build. Silently he pulled on jeans and left the bedroom. In seconds, he was down the hall and through the living room. Not bothering with a light, he pulled the door open before another knock came, though Pete Duffy's hand was already raised.

Pete was second in command to Lake Henry's police chief William Jacobs, and was a friend of Micah's, which was certainly why he'd been chosen to come. The authorities would want things kept calm. Having Pete there, a man Micah trusted, would help on that score, though the look of regret on the man's face did nothing to ease Micah's sense of dread as his eyes moved past his friend to a second man who stood just behind him on the front porch. Micah didn't know this man, or the two women who were with him. All three wore jeans and identical blue jackets that Micah knew must have law enforcement initials on the back.

"We need Heather," Pete said in an apologetic whisper, with only the smallest jut of his chin toward the threesome with him. "They have a warrant."

Micah swallowed. A warrant was serious. "For what?"

The man with Pete extended both hands. One held paperwork, the other his ID. "Jim Mooney. FBI. I have a warrant for the arrest of Heather Malone on charges of flight to avoid prosecution."

Micah considered the man's words. There were serious charges and not-so-serious charges. He had always known that Heather hid her past. During those times when he had wondered what might have caused her secretiveness, involvement with the law had been worst-case scenario. Now he could only pray that the charges against her were of the not-so-serious kind, though he feared those wouldn't have brought the FBI to his doorstep at dawn.

"Prosecution for what?" he asked the agent.

"Murder."

A sharp breath escaped Micah -- oddly, he felt relief. If murder was the charge, then there surely was a mistake. "That's impossible. Heather's incapable of murder."

"Maybe as Heather Malone. But we have evidence that her real name is Lisa Matlock, and that fifteen years ago she killed a man in California."

"Heather's never been in California."

"Lisa has," the agent informed him. "She grew up there. She was there until fifteen years ago, when she deliberately ran a man down with her car. She disappeared right afterward. Your Heather arrived in Lake Henry fourteen years ago and worked as a short-order cook, just like Lisa did in California in the two years before she left. Heather's face is identical to Lisa's, right down to the gray eyes and the scar at the corner of the mouth."

"There are millions of women with gray eyes," Micah said, suddenly aware of cold air on his bare chest, "and that scar came from a car accident." The words were barely out when he realized what he'd said. But the agent absolved him.

"Not this one. She escaped this accident unscathed, but the man she ran down died -- a man she tried to extort minutes before she ran him down."

"Extort." Micah snorted, more convinced than ever that a mistake had been made. "Not Heather. I don't care what name she uses. She's gentle. She's kind. She'd die herself before she'd kill someone."

The agent was unfazed. "If that's true, it'll come out in a trial. For now, I need her to come out here. Either you bring her to us, or we go in."

"You can't do that," Micah said, straightening his six-foot-four frame. "This is my house."

"We have it surrounded, so if she's trying to slip out the back, she'll be caught."

Pete scowled at the agent. "I told you, Mooney. There won't be any trouble." The look he turned on Micah was pleading. "The law's on their side. We've got no choice."

Still Micah argued. "Eyes and a scar. What kind of proof's that?"

"We have prints," said the agent.

Micah studied the man. "Fingerprints?"

"Handwriting."

Micah read enough to know a little about the law. "That's not conclusive."

"I'd say you're biased."

"Same the fuck with you."

Pete stepped between the two men. Slowly and deliberately he told Micah, "They have a warrant. That gives them the right to take her. Don't rile them, Micah."

A low light suddenly came on behind him, a lamp near the spot where the living room met the hall. Heather stood there. She had slipped on a robe and held the lapels shut with one hand while with the other she steadied herself against the wall. As she looked at the people beyond the door, her eyes grew wider. Micah turned to look at her. Those eyes weren't just any gray; they were irridescent. From the start, way back, they had made Micah's insides jingle, and they did it again now, holding his in a silent plea.

Responding, he held up a hand to stop the two female agents who started forward, and, instead, went to Heather himself. Slipping his fingers into the hair at her nape, shaping his hand to hold her head, he searched her eyes for a sign of knowledge or guilt. All he saw was fear.

"They say you're someone else," he whispered. "They must be wrong, but they need you to go with them."

"Where?" she asked with barely a sound.

That wasn't the first question Micah would have asked if he had been in her shoes. He'd have wanted to know who they thought he was and why he needed to go with them. If Heather was truly in the dark as to why they were there, she would have wanted to know that.

But she was a practical sort, far more so than he.

"I don't know," he murmured. "Maybe to Willie Jake's office." He glanced over his shoulder at Pete. "They just want to question her?"

Before Pete could answer, the two women approached. "We need to book her," one told him before turning to Heather. "If you want to dress, we'll go with you."

Heather's eyes flew from one woman's face to the other, then to Micah's. She put a hand on his chest, burying it in the hair there as she always did in moments of passion, anchoring her then against abandon, anchoring her now against the terror that had seized her.

"I'll take her to dress," he said, but one of the agents was already grasping her arm and reciting her Miranda rights, as Micah had heard done dozens of times on television dramas. The moment would have been terrifyingly real even without Heather's eyes clinging to his.

Frantic to help her, desperate to do something, but realistic enough to know he was hamstrung, Micah glanced back at Pete. "Someone's gonna answer for this. It's wrong."

Pete came forward as the two female agents ushered Heather down the hall. "I told them that. So'd Willie Jake. He spent most of last night trying to talk some sense into them, but they have the warrant, Micah. It's legal. There's nothing we can do."

Micah turned back to Heather, but she had disappeared into the bedroom. When he turned to go after her, Mooney caught his arm. "You have to stay here. She's under arrest."

"Daddy?" came a soft voice from even farther down the hall.

"Oh God," Micah murmured and turned in alarm. It was Melissa, his seven-year-old daughter. In a voice that was as normal as he could make it, what with a growing panic, he said, "Go back to bed, Missy. Too early to get up."

But Missy, by far the more curious and bold of his two girls, padded toward him in her long pink nightgown. Her hair was as dark as his -- and as thick and long as Heather's -- but wildly curly. "Why's Pete here?" she asked, slipping a hand into Micah's, but looking at Mooney. "Who's he?"

Micah shot a frantic glance at Pete. "Uh, he works with Pete sometimes. They have to ask Heather some questions."

"What questions?"

"Just some...things."

"Now?"

"In a little while."

She looked up at him. "When the sun comes up?" That would make sense to her. It was what Heather had taught the girls when they'd been toddlers and had awakened Micah and her at ungodly hours.

"Yes."

Her eyes grew mischievous. "I'll bet she's still asleep. Can I go tickle her?"

"No." He tightened his hold on her hand. "She's already awake. She's getting dressed. I want you to go back to bed. Make sure your sister sleeps a little longer."

"She's awake. She's just scared to come out."

Micah knew it wasn't as simple as Star being scared or shy. He had long since accepted that the five-year-old possessed an odd adult insight. Star would know that something was desperately wrong. Her fear would be real.

"Then go back in and play with her. That'll make her feel better."

Missy smiled and released his hand. In the few seconds it took for her to step back and flatten herself to the wall, her expression turned defiant.

"Missy," Micah warned, waving her back down the hall, but before she could refuse, Heather emerged from the bedroom with the two female agents. She was dressed in jeans and a heavy sweater, the sheer bulk of which made her look lost. Her expression mirrored that. When she caught sight of Missy, she stopped short. Her eyes met Micah's for a single, alarmed second before returning to the child.

Missy was looking at the two agents. "Who're they?"

Micah said, "More friends of Pete's. Go on back in with Star, Missy. I need you to help."

Missy stayed pressed against the wall.

Heather knelt by her side. "Daddy's right, sweetie," she said in a gentle voice. "Go in with Star. She needs you."

Defiance gone, replaced by worry, Missy slipped an arm around Heather's shoulder. "Where are you going?"

"Into town."

"When'll you be back?"

"A little later."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"Do you promise?"

Waiting for the answer himself -- hanging his future on it much as the child was -- Micah saw Heather swallow. But that was the only beat she missed. In the same soft voice, she said, "I'll do my best to be here when you get home from school."

"Do you promise?" Missy repeated.

"Yes," Heather whispered. As she straightened, she pressed a kiss to the child's head. She closed her eyes, and a look of anguish crossed her face. Micah imagined that she held the kiss a beat longer than she might have. Sure enough, as she came toward him, her eyes were filled with tears. When she was as close as she could be, she whispered, "Call Cassie."

Cassie Byrnes was one of Heather's closest friends, and she was a lawyer.

Micah took her hands, only to find that the sleeves of the bulky sweater concealed handcuffs nearly as cold as her skin. Furious, he turned on Pete, who raised a brow in warning and nodded toward Missy.

"Call Cassie," Heather repeated -- which was certainly the right thing to say, certainly the practical thing to say, though not what Micah wanted to hear from her. He wanted her to profess utter confusion, to insist that a mistake had been made, to protest her innocence, even to cry and loudly declare that she had never in her life heard the name Lisa Matlock -- all of which might well be the case, Micah told himself. But yes, Heather was a practical woman, and yes, given the circumstances, especially with the legality of the arrest warrant as vouched for by Pete, cooperating was the only thing to do.

Still, the handcuffs offended him. A small person like Heather didn't have a chance in hell of overpowering these three agents, plus however many were outside, even with both hands free. Not that his Heather would think of fighting. In the four years that they'd been together, he had never seen her lash out in anger at anything.

When the two female agents ushered her toward the door, he followed closely. "Where are you taking her?"

Mooney stepped in his path as the agents whisked Heather outside. "Concord. She'll go before a magistrate there this morning. She needs an attorney."

Go before a magistrate. Micah's eyes flew to Pete, who said, "They have to return the fugitive flight warrant."

"Is she being charged with murder?"

"No. Not charged with anything yet. They return the warrant and ask for extradition. Heather can choose to waive an extradition hearing and go back with them, or she can fight...

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