Series: Charley Davidson, #6
Author: Darynda Jones
Published: May 20, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
SIXTH GRAVE ON THE EDGE-Excerpt
coffee doesn’t ask silly questions.
We weren’t back in the office ten minutes before the door to the front entrance opened. I’d expected Mr. Joyce, the agitated man with the issues. Instead I got Denise. My evil stepmother. Thankfully, Mr. Joyce was right behind her. He afforded me the perfect excuse not to talk to her.
Her pallor had a grayish tint to it, and her eyes were lined with the bright red only the shedding of tears could evoke. I honestly didn’t know she had the ability to cry.
“Can I talk to you?” she asked.
“I have a client.” I pointed to the man behind her to emphasize my point.
Giving her chin a determined upward thrust, she said, “You’ve had clients for two weeks now. I just need a minute.” When I started to argue again, she pleaded with me. “Please, Charlotte.”
Mr. Joyce was holding a baseball cap, wringing it in his hands. He seemed to be growing more agitated by the second. “I really need to talk to you, Ms. Davidson.”
“See?” I pinned Denise with a chastising scowl. “Client.”
She turned on the man, her face as cold and hard as marble. It was an expression I knew all too well. “We just need a minute,” she said to him, her tone razor sharp. “Then she’s all yours.”
He backed off, raising a hand in surrender as he stepped to a chair and took a seat.
My temper flared to life, and I had to force myself to stay calm. I was twenty-seven. I no longer had to put up with my stepmother’s insults. Her revulsion. Her petty snubs. And I damned sure didn’t have to put up with her invading my business and bullying my clients. “That was not necessary,” I said to her when she turned back to me.
“I apologize,” she said, doing a one-eighty. She turned back to Mr. Joyce. “I’m sorry. I’m in a very desperate situation.”
“Tell me about it,” he said, dismissing her with a wave. He clearly had problems of his own.
With all the enthusiasm of a prisoner walking up to the hangman’s noose, I led Denise into my office and closed the door. My temper flaring must have summoned Reyes. He was in my office, waiting, incorporeally.
Then I remembered. He didn’t like Denise any more than I did. Blamed her for most of my heartache as a child. Of course, she’d caused most of it, but Reyes could be . . . testy when it came to my happiness or lack thereof.
“Want me to sever her spine?” he asked as I sat behind my desk.
“Can I think about it and get back to you?” I asked, teasing. Kind of.
Denise looked toward the wall he was leaning against, the one I was looking at, and naturally saw nothing. But where her usual response would be to purse her lips in disapproval, she wiped at her lapel and sat down instead.
“What do you want?” I asked her, my tone as cold as her heart.
“I’m sure you know that your father has left me.”
She flinched like I’d slapped her. “Why would you say such a thing?”
“Are you really asking me that?”
“I love your father.” She almost came up out of her chair. “I’ve always loved your father.”
She had me there. She’d always been an attentive wife to him. Of course, attentive included her agenda, which was manipulative, conniving, and venomous. I couldn’t believe that I could dislike someone so much, but Denise had always been that splinter in my relationship with my father. She did everything in her power to keep us apart. Her jealousy was bizarre and childish. Who on earth was afraid of a father’s love for his child? It just made no sense to me. It never had.
And yet she was never that way toward my sister, Gemma. In fact, she and Gemma were fairly close. I had a feeling Dad’s leaving Denise affected Gemma much more than she was willing to admit. She knew how I felt about our stepmonster, and the fact that she couldn’t go to me when she needed support made me a very bad sibling. But the truth was, she couldn’t. I had no warm and fuzzies where Denise was concerned. She’d made sure of that from day one.
“I—I need you to talk to him. He’s been sick and, and he’s not thinking straight.”
“And what do you want me to say?”
She leveled an exasperated glare on me. “I want you to convince him to come back home where he belongs. He’s still weak. He still needs medical attention.”
“I’m sorry,” I said with a soft, humorless chuckle, “you want me to convince my father to stay with you? The bane of my existence? The woman who made my childhood a living hell? After everything you’ve put me through, you want my help? Are you insane?”
Too bad Gemma, a licensed psychiatrist, was at a conference in D.C. I’d call her and schedule an appointment for Denise ay-sap.
“What have I ever put you through?”
My temper flared again, and I bit my tongue, literally, to keep my emotions under control. When I lost control, the earth shifted beneath me. An earthquake in the middle of Albuquerque would do no one any good.Reyes straightened as though worried I’d lose control as well. I closed my eyes and took several gulps of air. This wasn’t me. I didn’t hate people. I didn’t make them pay for their misdeeds. Too many departed had crossed through me. Too many times I’d seen what people went through, what they’d endured that made them become the people they
were when they died. Until I’d walked a mile in her shoes, I could not judge Denise so completely. That would make me no better than she was. I opened my eyes to her stone face, the face that brought nothing but hurt feelings and knotted stomachaches. Maybe two miles.
“I just have one question,” I said, trying to hold the resentment from my tone lest I sound like her. “Why?”
“Yes, why? Why did you hate me from day one? Why did you treat me like a thorn in your side? What on God’s green earth did I ever do to you?”
She sighed in frustration and let her true colors show through. Her impatience with me, with anything I had to say. “I did no such thing, Charlotte. I don’t hate you. I never have.”
I leaned forward and gave her my best Sunday smile. “I’ll tell you what. When you can admit that you hate me with every fiber of your being, I’ll help you win back Dad. How does that sound?”
“I will never say such a horrible thing.”
I’d offended her. Sweet. “So you can feel it, you just can’t admit to it?”
She squeezed the pocketbook in her lap, her fingers flexing involuntarily. “Charlotte, can we talk sensibly?”
“Wait a minute,” I said as understanding dawned. “You’re here because Dad is fed up with the way you treat me, and you’re thinking that if we become besties, he’ll come back to you.”
“I’m here because I want us all to get into counseling together. Not just Leland and me, but all four of us, including your sister.” Reyes crossed his arms over his chest and went back to holding the wall up while I stood simmering in my astonishment.
She was a piece of work. “How about you go into counseling for you? Get over yourself. And when that happens, when you can be honest with me, we’ll talk again.” I was being so mean. I wanted to applaud myself. I wasn’t a mean person by nature, so it took a lot of energy to bring out the beast in me and stick with it for more than thirty seconds. Damned ADD. But I was so proud of myself. No more being a carpet for someone else to walk on. I was my own girl, and no one was walking on this carpet but me.
“Charley,” Cookie said through the intercom.
I poked the button. “Yes, Cookie?”
“Um, are you almost done? I need coffee.”
“Oh, sorry! I’ll get it made and bring you a cup.”
“Thanks. And can you bring me the box of Nilla Wafers while you’re at it?”
“Can do.” I jumped up and headed for the Bunn. “Priorities,” I said to Denise. “That’s what life is all about.”
NYTimes and USA Today Bestselling Author Darynda Jones has won numerous awards for her work, including a prestigious Golden Heart®, a Rebecca, two Hold Medallions, a RITA ®, and a Daphne du Maurier, and she has received stellar reviews from dozens of publications including starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and the Library Journal. As a born storyteller, Darynda grew up spinning tales of dashing damsels and heroes in distress for any unfortunate soul who happened by, annoying man and beast alike, and she is ever so grateful for the opportunity to carry on that tradition. She currently has two series with St. Martin’s Press: The Charley Davidson Series and the Darklight Trilogy. She lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband of almost 30 years and two beautiful sons, the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys. She can be found at www.daryndajones.com.
Sneak Peak at
Seventh Grave and No Body
Coming October 2014