Revenge, p.1
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       Revenge, p.1

           Lisa Jackson
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Revenge


  OUTSTANDING PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF LISA JACKSON

  CLOSE TO HOME

  “Jackson definitely knows how to jangle readers’ nerves ...

  Close to Home is perfect for readers of Joy Fielding or fans

  of Mary Higgins Clark.”

  —Booklist

  TELL ME

  “Absolutely tension filled ... Jackson is on top of her game.”

  —Suspense Magazine

  YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW

  “Lisa Jackson shows yet again why she is one of the best at

  romantic suspense. A pure nail-biter.”

  —Harlan Coben, #1 New York Times bestselling author

  “Shiveringly good suspense! Lisa Jackson ratchets up the

  tension as one woman’s desperate search for her missing son

  takes her to the very brink of losing her husband, her sanity,

  her very self. Each chapter will leave you wondering who to

  trust. The answer: You don’t want to know ...”

  —Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author

  DEVIOUS

  “Terrifying ... a creepy thriller sure to please Jackson’s

  many fans.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  WITHOUT MERCY

  “Her latest whodunit hits all the marks, taking readers on a

  nail-biting roller-coaster ride.”

  —Library Journal

  “A juicy creep-a-thon ... builds to a surprising cliffhanger

  ending.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  MALICE

  “Taut, twisty ... Malice displays the skilled Jackson at her

  best yet.”

  —The Providence Journal

  Books by Lisa Jackson

  Stand-Alones

  SEE HOW SHE DIES

  FINAL SCREAM

  RUNNING SCARED

  WHISPERS

  TWICE KISSED

  UNSPOKEN

  DEEP FREEZE

  FATAL BURN

  MOST LIKELY TO DIE

  WICKED GAME

  WICKED LIES

  SOMETHING WICKED

  WICKED WAYS

  SINISTER

  WITHOUT MERCY

  YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW

  CLOSE TO HOME

  AFTER SHE’S GONE

  Anthony Paterno/

  Cahill Family Novels

  IF SHE ONLY KNEW

  ALMOST DEAD

  Rick Bentz/

  Reuben Montoya Novels

  HOT BLOODED

  COLD BLOODED

  SHIVER

  ABSOLUTE FEAR

  LOST SOULS

  MALICE

  DEVIOUS

  NEVER DIE ALONE

  Pierce Reed/

  Nikki Gillette Novels

  THE NIGHT BEFORE

  THE MORNING AFTER

  TELL ME

  Selena Alvarez/

  Regan Pescoli Novels

  LEFT TO DIE

  CHOSEN TO DIE

  BORN TO DIE

  AFRAID TO DIE

  READY TO DIE

  DESERVES TO DIE

  Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

  LISA JACKSON

  REVENGE

  ZEBRA BOOKS

  KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

  http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

  All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

  Table of Contents

  OUTSTANDING PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF LISA JACKSON

  Books by Lisa Jackson

  Title Page

  A Is for Always

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  B Is for Baby

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  C Is for Cowboy

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Copyright Page

  A Is for Always

  Prologue

  Rimrock, Oregon

  Summer—1991

  Max,

  If you’re reading this, then I’m already gone and all my plans have been for nothing. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I won’t apologize for doing what I thought was right for you...for all of my children.

  You know, son, I always favored you over your brother. Because you were my first, I suppose. Whether this be right or wrong, only God can decide.

  I want you to know that I loved you and only wanted the best for you. That’s why Skye Donahue left town. I forced her to go and I stand by my decision. She was the wrong woman for you, Max. She was too hot tempered, too much trouble.

  But I thought you should know that when she left she wasn’t really running from you. She was running from me and what I threatened to do to her and her family if she ever came back looking for you. And I expect she will.

  I don’t regret what I did. She wasn’t the right woman for you then and she probably isn’t the right woman for you now.

  But I thought you should know.

  I’ve enclosed a letter that she left for you.

  Your father,

  Jonah P. McKee

  July—1987

  Dearest Max,

  As I write this I’m telling myself that I’m doing the right thing—the best thing for both of us. Though I’ll never love a man as I love you, I can’t live here any longer.

  So I hope you’ll forgive me for leaving. I really don’t have a choice.

  I’ve been wrestling with this decision for two days. Should I stay and tell you all the reasons I had for leaving? Should I take a chance on our love and damn the consequences?

  It’s a painful decision, but I know that it’s best that I go, Max. You have your life here in Rimrock and I have mine somewhere far away.

  I know you’d say that I’m running away and maybe I am, but this is something I must do. For you. For me.

  Believe that I cherish the moments we had together and that, no matter what happens, a part of me will love you forever.

  Always,

  Skye

  Chapter One

  Rimrock, Oregon

  1994

  Curling the yellowed pages in his fist, Max McKee swore beneath his breath and kicked a dirt clod across the pasture. The dry piece of earth landed with a thunk on the side of the stables and shattered into dust. Barn swallows, disturbed from their nests, squawked and dive-bombed the intruder, but he didn’t give a damn.

  He hadn’t for a long time.

  But the letters changed things.

  He’d discovered the aged pages earlier while going through the old man’s business papers, and there, in a thin file labeled MAX, were two handwritten notes that could have changed the course of his life. Max had read the damning words in his father’s den, then heard his mother’s soft crying whispering through the hallways of the old ranch house. Ra
ther than disturb her grief, he’d walked outside, read each letter again and felt as if a vise had been clamped over his lungs and was slowly being tightened, ensuring that each one of his breaths was more difficult than the last.

  “Bastard,” he snarled, disregarding the fact that deep down he’d felt a kinship with the crusty old man who’d been his father—Jonah Phineas McKee. The great manipulator.

  But it wasn’t Jonah’s letter that disturbed him most. It was the other single sheet with the flowing script signed by a woman he detested, a woman who had betrayed him, a woman for whom, at one time, he would have walked through the gates of hell just to see her smile.

  His back teeth ground together as he remembered her as clearly as if she were standing beside him. Her loose blond curls caught in the summer wind, and wide eyes the color of a morning mist sparkled with an impish light whenever she teased him. Her laughter seemed to roll off the surrounding hills. Her chin stubborn, her mouth wide and sensuous, she stood nearly five foot eight, with a slim and athletic body honed by years of hard work.

  She’d left him seven years before, and he’d never really understood why.

  “Face it, son, she just wasn’t the right woman for you. Too serious about that damned career of hers, too proud to admit when she’d made a mistake.”

  His father’s sentiments had always been spoken brashly, without hesitation.

  “She reminded me of one of them wolf dogs, you know the kind they’ve got down at the Purcell place,” Jonah had continued, his dark brows inching up to his shock of thick, snow-white hair. “Them dogs are deceptive—all cuddly and soft as puppies, cute as all get-out. But watch out. Those damned pups turn into killers, like as not. Remember Amy Purcell nearly lost half her face to one of them she-wolves. Yep, you’re better off without the likes of Skye Donahue.”

  Max, after his initial denial, had finally decided his father was right about Skye. He’d told himself that Jonah had pegged Skye from the start, though, more often than not in recent years, Max had found himself at odds with his father and had started second-guessing his own loyalties. For years, Max, firstborn and groomed to inherit most of Jonah’s estate, had believed that his father walked on water, a veritable god on earth. But as the years passed and he grew more independent, Max began to see Jonah with new eyes. He realized his cantankerous father wasn’t as innocent as he would have everyone believe. Sure, Jonah had been a colorful character, as rugged and rough as the outcrop of rimrock that topped the hills surrounding this valley, but Jonah had also possessed a darker side, one Max had begun to discover and one he’d steadfastly ignored. Or been too blind to see.

  Maybe Skye had been right all along.

  Hell!

  He brushed off his dust-covered hat and rammed it onto his head. The sun was beginning to set, the heat that had shimmered across the dry grass was letting up a little, and shadows stretched over the fields. Max decided he had to quit thinking of his father, of Skye, of the letters.

  The damned letters.

  He should burn them both and let the wind carry the ashes away, but he didn’t. Instead he took the wadded-up pages and tossed them through the open window of his pickup where they floated onto the worn seat. He’d think about the letters later. Much later.

  The screen door banged open and Max’s sister Casey careened from the house. “There’s just no talking to her!” Casey declared, blowing her bangs from her eyes. Petite, with shoulder-length brown hair and a temper that wouldn’t quit, Casey stormed across the porch, stomped down the two steps, and landed on a lawn chair. She crossed her legs and bounced her foot up and down in frustration. “Idiot!”

  “You’re talking about Mom.”

  “Damn it, Max, do you know what she’s trying to get me to believe now? Do you?”

  “I hate to ask.”

  “She thinks Dad was murdered!” Casey looked up at the dusky sky, as if hoping God would send a lightning bolt straight from heaven and knock some sense into their mother. “Murdered! Like anyone has ever been killed in Rimrock!”

  “There was Indian Joe.”

  Casey rolled her eyes. “He was ninety-five years old, blind, and he walked in front of a logging truck! Elvin Green didn’t mean to run him over.”

  “I was just trying to calm you down.”

  “Well, you can’t!” She shot out of her chair and marched up to her brother. Jabbing the air emphatically, she said, “Mom’s gone ’round the bend on this one.”

  “She’s still upset. It’s only been a week.”

  Casey shook her head furiously. “She’s beyond upset and plans on calling Myrna Cassidy, the reporter for The Rimrock Review. Oh, I can see it now. Inch-high letters screaming that Dad was killed by some unknown murderer. You know that Myrna’s always looking for something more exciting to write about besides the school-bond measures and the county fair! She’ll print this...this ridiculous theory of Mom’s in a heartbeat—”

  “Hold on a minute! Give Mom a break, will you?” Max closed his eyes against a sudden headache. “She’s not going to go spouting off to the papers—”

  “You’d better stop her! She won’t listen to me.” Casey tossed her hair out of her eyes and headed toward the barn. “I’m goin’ for a ride. Tell Kiki not to hold supper.”

  “I don’t think she’ll worry about it.”

  Kiki, the gray-haired housekeeper who’d been with the McKees for as long as Max could remember, wasn’t likely to keep anything warming. Long ago, Kiki had made it clear she thought all the McKee children—Max, his brother, Jenner, and Casey—were spoiled, and she wasn’t about to take part in their pampering.

  Max stalked into the house and found Kiki fussing over some peach dumplings bubbling on the stove. The aromas of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg mingled and wafted through the old ranch-house walls, reminding Max of happier, simpler times, when he’d been a kid. Life then had been working in the fields, skinny-dipping in the swimming hole, fishing until dark, sneaking a smoke, and constantly wrestling with his brother. Later, as the years had piled up, he’d spent more time wondering about the mysteries of all females and Skye Donahue in particular.

  “You’d better go see after your ma. She’s carryin’ on somethin’ fierce!” Kiki didn’t bother looking up from her kettle. “Damned peaches, trying to turn to mush on me. And don’t you wear your boots on my clean floor. Curse it all, anyway.”

  Leaving his hat on a peg by the back door, Max walked swiftly down the hall of the rambling ranch house he’d lived in for twenty of his thirty-five years. Virginia McKee’s sobs coaxed him around the corner and past the den to the master bedroom. Bracing himself, he rapped his knuckles on the double doors. He didn’t wait for a response but slipped into the room where his mother and father had laughed, cried, made love, and argued loudly enough to shake the rafters of the sprawling old house.

  Virginia McKee was sitting on the edge of the bed she’d shared with Jonah for only six months before Max had been born. She’d been pregnant when she’d gotten married, a secret she’d have preferred to have kept hidden, but her husband hadn’t given a rat’s hind leg who’d known the truth. He’d been proud of his virility, prouder still when he’d fathered a son.

  Virginia was a small woman with fine bones and a slight figure. She was huddled into a little ball, her arms wrapped around her middle. “Why?” she asked in a whisper that cut straight to Max’s heart.

  “I don’t know, Mom. It just happened.”

  “I don’t think so. He wouldn’t have been so careless. He was murdered, Max. I know it. I...just know it.” Staring sightlessly down at her wedding ring, she gnawed on her lower lip. Tears began to rain from her eyes.

  “Have you taken a tranquilizer? Doc Fletcher—”

  “I’m not taking any drugs! Besides, that old sawbones thinks a pill will solve everything. A pill to sleep, another one to wake up, one to quiet a fast-beating heart, one to keep you from running to the bathroom every ten minutes... Oh, Lord, I’m prattling on about usel
ess things when there’s so much to do.”

  “The funeral’s over, Mom. You can relax.” He sat on the bed beside her and the mattress creaked with his weight. “You should rest. Get your strength back.”

  “He was killed, Max.”

  “No—”

  “Someone murdered him.”

  Max rubbed a hand over his forehead. “He was drunk. He’d had five or six stiff drinks down at the Black Anvil. Jake, the bartender, thought about taking his keys, but didn’t. Dad left, driving too fast. He lost control, couldn’t make the corner, and the Jeep wound up at the bottom of Stardust Canyon. End of story.”

  Virginia shook her head. Her lips pulled together as if drawn by invisible strings. “I tell you, he was killed, Max.”

  Max closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Okay, Mom, just for the sake of argument, let’s say someone tried to murder him. Okay?”

  “They did!”

  “How? Did they wrestle the wheel away from him and somehow make the Jeep leap the guardrail? Did they force him off the road? How?”

  “I... I don’t know,” she said stubbornly.

  “The sheriffs department—”

  “Hasn’t found anything, I know. But they just haven’t looked hard enough!” She stood, maintaining her balance by holding on to one of the carved bedposts. “I know your father. He could hold his liquor. He’d driven that road a thousand times.”

  “Mom, his luck just plain ran out.”

  “So you won’t help me on this.”

  “It doesn’t serve any purpose.”

  Her eyes blinked rapidly. “I can’t believe that you won’t do something. Casey, well, there’s no talking to her. She’s such a...well, so stubborn, and Jenner, God knows he doesn’t much care about the family. Never did. Always had to play the part of the rebel. But you...you were your father’s pride and joy, the son who always did what was right—”

 

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