Under the skin, p.1

Under the Skin, page 1

 

Under the Skin
 



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Under the Skin


  PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF VICKI LANE

  THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS

  “Vicki Lane is one of the best American novelists writing today. In The Day of Small Things, she has once again rendered a lyrical, evocative, and haunting portrait of life in the Appalachians, both past and present. And in Birdie, she has given us a character who will steal your heart and stay with you for a long time to come.”

  —DEBORAH CROMBIE

  “The characters are so full-blooded and real, you think you could easily find them on a front porch in Marshall and be invited in for sweet tea.… The lyrical beauty of Lane’s descriptive prose is so exhilarating you have to put the book down occasionally just to catch your breath.”

  —Rapid River Magazine

  “Shines as a chronicle of Depression-era Appalachia … Like [Sharyn] McCrumb, Lane demonstrates how deeply she feels part of her Appalachian home, how tied she is to the land and the pulsating beats that can’t quite be found elsewhere.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  IN A DARK SEASON

  A Romantic Times

  Best Mystery and Suspense Novels of 2008 Pick

  An Anthony Nominee for Best Paperback Original

  “The precise details and many mysteries are all skillfully drawn together at the end, and the main characters are clearly developed, complicated people who have lives outside the mystery. Elizabeth Goodweather is a perfect protagonist who shows that there can be intelligence and romance after 50.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Vicki Lane is a born storyteller in the finest tradition of Sharyn McCrumb. Lane’s best yet, In a Dark Season, is a haunting, lyrical tale of the Appalachians, as heartbreaking as it is magical. Brooding, suspenseful, and superbly written, Lane’s Marshall County mysteries rank among the best regional fiction anywhere today.”

  —JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING

  “Suspenseful, atmospheric, and beautifully written.”

  —SARAH GRAVES

  “Lane craftily deepens the swiftly moving plot with liberal sprinklings of Carolina folklore.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  OLD WOUNDS

  “Lane is very adept at creating complex, multifaceted stories that move effortlessly from one time period to another and characters with incredible depth. She is also a master of using sensory details to make locale come alive. Old Wounds exemplifies these talents. Readers weary of reading too many mysteries featuring frothy amateur sleuths won’t find a better antidote than Old Wounds.”

  —Mystery News

  “Vicki Lane is quite simply the best storyteller there is. Her books, like her Appalachian home, have everything: mystery, suspense, beauty, heart, and soul.”

  —JOHN RAMSEY MILLER

  “A story so exquisitely written and perfectly paced, you will not want to put this book down. Old Wounds is a powerful and very personal mystery for the thoughtful Elizabeth Goodweather to solve.”

  —JACKIE LYNN

  ART’S BLOOD

  “Lane’s sharp eye for detail gets put to good use in this second installment of her Appalachian series.… The widow Goodweather is a wonderful character: plucky, hip and wise. The dialogue sparkles with authenticity, and Lane generates suspense without sacrificing the charm and mystique of her mountain community.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Lane mixes the gentle craft of old-time quilting with the violence of a slaughtered innocent.”

  —Greensboro News & Record

  “Lane is a master at creating authentic details while building suspense.”

  —Asheville Citizen-Times

  SIGNS IN THE BLOOD

  “Vicki Lane shows us an exotic and colorful picture of Appalachia from an outsider’s perspective—through a glass darkly. It is a well-crafted, suspenseful tale of the bygone era before ‘Florida’ came to the mountains.”

  —SHARYN MCCRUMB

  “Signs in the Blood turns the beauty of the Appalachian hills and a widow’s herb and flower farm into the backdrop for modern menace. This clash of the traditional and the modern makes for an all-nighter of satisfying suspense.”

  —Mystery Lovers Bookshop News

  “For readers familiar with the sound and feel of mountain life, this book rings with a resonance that is true to the life it describes. For everyone else, this book opens a peephole into a world both hauntingly strange and achingly beautiful.… Regional mystery lovers, take note. A new heroine has come to town and her arrival is a time for rejoicing.”

  —Rapid River Magazine

  The Full Circle Farm Mysteries of Vicki Lane

  SIGNS IN THE BLOOD

  ART’S BLOOD

  OLD WOUNDS

  IN A DARK SEASON

  THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS

  UNDER THE SKIN

  Under the Skin is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  A Bantam Books Trade Paperback Original

  Copyright © 2011 by Vicki Lane

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  BANTAM BOOKS and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of

  Random House, Inc.

  This book contains an excerpt from the book Old Wounds, originally published by Dell, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 2007.

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

  Lane, Vicki.

  Under the skin : a novel / Vicki Lane.

  p. cm.

  eISBN: 978-0-345-53024-0

  1. Sisters—Fiction. 2. Family secrets—Fiction. 3. North Carolina—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3612.A54996U53 2011

  813’.6—dc23 2011031801

  www.bantamdell.com

  Cover design: Marietta Anastassatos

  Cover image (girls): © Clayton Bastiani/Trevillion Images

  v3.1

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Epigraph

  Chapter 1 - A Complicated Person: Tuesday, May 8

  Chapter 2 - You Can Always Hope …: Friday, May 11

  I~The DeVine Sisters: Hot Springs, NC: May 1887

  Chapter 3 - An Old Friend: Sunday, May 13, and Monday, May 14

  Chapter 4 - To Be Fair: Monday, May 14

  Chapter 5 - Looking for Comfort: Monday, May 14, and Tuesday, May 15

  II~Amarantha: Cripple Tree Holler: May 1887

  Chapter 6 - The Monkey in the Middle: Tuesday, May 15

  Chapter 7 - Getting Jesuitical: Wednesday, May 16

  Chapter 8 - A Lot You Don’t Know: Wednesday, May 16

  III~The DeVine Sisters: Hot Springs, NC: May 1887

  Chapter 9 - Talking to Miss Birdie: Wednesday, May 16

  Chapter 10 - The Green-Eyed Monster: Wednesday, May 16

  Chapter 11 - The Queen of Hearts: Thursday, May 17

  IV~The DeVine Sisters: The Mountain Park Hotel: May 9, 1887

  Chapter 12 - Mrs. Robinson? Mr. Hawkins?: Thursday, May 17

  Chapter 13 - Emergency Champagne: Thursday, May 17

  Chapter 14 - Baby Steps: Thursday, May 24

  V~Amarantha: The Mountain Park Hotel: May 11, 1887

  Chapter 15 - Getting to Know You: Thursday night, May 24

  Chapter 16 - Midnight Revelations: Friday, May 25

  Chapter 17 - Trust: Friday, May 25

  VI~The DeVine Sisters: May 11, 1887

  Chapter 18 - Journey to the Astral Plane: Friday, May 25

>   Chapter 19 - A Man Alone: Friday, May 25

  Chapter 20 - The Woman in White: Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26

  VII~Amarantha: May 12, 1887

  Chapter 21 - Spirit Messages: Saturday, May 26

  Chapter 22 - Seekers: Saturday, May 26

  Chapter 23 - In the Dark: Saturday, May 26

  VIII~Amarantha: Cripple Tree Holler: May 15, 1887

  Chapter 24 - Six Impossible Things: Saturday, May 26

  Chapter 25 - Who? And Why?: Saturday, May 26

  Chapter 26 - In the Dark: Monday, May 28, and Thursday, May 31

  IX~The DeVine Sisters and Nellie Bly: May 17, 1887

  Chapter 27 - Dreams and Dreamers: Sunday, June 3

  Chapter 28 - Aunt Dodie Speaks: Sunday, June 3

  Chapter 29 - Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Sunday, June 3

  Chapter 30 - The Envelope, Please: Sunday, June 3

  X~Nellie Bly: Friday, May 20, 1887

  Chapter 31 - Seeking Closure: Sunday, June 3, and Tuesday, June 5

  Chapter 32 - Old Friends: Thursday, June 7

  Chapter 33 - Retail Therapy: Saturday, June 9

  XI~Nellie Bly: The Mountain Park Hotel: Friday, May 20, 1887

  Chapter 34 - The Kindest Cut: Saturday, June 9

  Chapter 35 - The Bolitar Ploy: Saturday, June 9

  XII~Amarantha: Friday, May 20, 1887

  Chapter 36 - My Sister, My Hero: Saturday, June 9

  XIII~Amarantha: Sunday, May 29, 1887

  Chapter 37 - Summer Solstice: Thursday, June 21

  Excerpt from Old Wounds

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  A Sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves—a special kind of double.

  —TONI MORRISON

  I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.

  —MAYA ANGELOU

  Chapter 1

  A Complicated Person

  Tuesday, May 8

  I should have known Gloria would come up with something like this right before our wedding. It’s just like her. I swear, she’s …”

  … crazy as the proverbial shithouse rat were the words on the tip of my tongue but I bit them back.

  Without looking up from the paperback he was reading, Phillip made a questioning sort of sound. “Hmm? … What was that, Lizabeth? Gloria’s what?”

  I dropped the phone onto the table and glowered at it as if it were responsible for this new and unwelcome twist in my life. “She’s … complicated,” I hedged, rejecting the coarse country phrase, apt though it might be. “Complicated—which is a polite way of saying I don’t understand her at all. She must be—”

  I couldn’t go on. But the voice in my head, never at a loss for words, finished the sentence for me. She must be out of her rabbit-ass mind, as Ben would say.

  I stood there glaring at the innocent telephone. It’s not FAIR! I wanted to shout, in a whining echo from my childhood. Glory always messes everything up! I wanted to throw something, to stamp my foot, to fling myself to the floor and have a screaming, kicking tantrum.

  Instead, I made a strenuous effort to sound composed and adult as I tried to explain things to the back of Phillip’s head.

  “It’s just that with all the farm work right now, not to mention getting things ready for the wedding next month, this isn’t exactly a good time for anyone to come for an open-ended visit, especially Gloria … she’s so bloody high-maintenance.”

  All the old feelings were just below the surface: bitterness, guilt, annoyance, a touch of envy, and guilt again—an evil stew of emotion ready to break into a full boil.

  Not attractive, Elizabeth, I warned that nasty inner child who was still quivering with righteous indignation. Aren’t you about forty years too old for this kind of adolescent reaction to your only sister … your only sibling?

  I took a deep breath, forcing myself into the mind-set of rationality and general benevolence that I like to pretend comes naturally. Usually, it does. But now … oh, why the hell does my sister always bring out the worst in me?

  Two more deep breaths and I was able to say, “On the other hand, if things are so bad between Gloria and her husband …”

  I was thinking out loud now, trying to make sense of the just-ended conversation and trying also to ignore the tagline from Tennyson that was running through my head—“ ‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried the Lady of Shalott.”

  “… if it’s so bad that she’s actually contemplating staying here for a month or longer, what can I do? And things must be seriously awful. Glory hates it here at the farm—‘too much Nature,’ she always says, as if Nature was something you wouldn’t want to step in.”

  Phillip, comfortable on the sofa with a dog on either side of him, his sock feet propped on the old cedar chest that serves as a coffee table, finally looked up from his after-supper book with that calm, amused expression he’s so good at.

  “This guy—he’s what—your sister’s third husband? So problems with married life aren’t entirely new to her. What’s the big deal this time?”

  He wouldn’t be so calm and amused if he had any idea of what Glory’s like, I thought, wondering if this could be some elaborate joke of hers. But the thing is—my sister has no sense of humor. None. Never has.

  “Well,” I told him, thinking at the same time that, after all his patient courtship, Phillip deserved better than this, “according to Gloria, the problem is that Jerry’s trying to kill her.”

  He wants me dead, Lizzy, she had whispered into the phone, her voice hoarse with what might be fear … or might just be Glory’s usual histrionics. The only thing that tempted me to take her seriously was that not once did she put me on hold—though I heard the telltale beep several times during the lengthy conversation.

  Phillip lifted a quizzical eyebrow and, after carefully marking his place with an envelope, laid his book on the coffee table. Harlan Coben again, I noticed.

  “Why don’t you tell me exactly what she said?”

  His dark eyes were intent on me—one of the things I like so much about this man I’m about to marry is the way he can switch from a comfortable-as-an-old-shoe, easygoing sort of a guy to a seriously focused police detective. And vice versa, thank god.

  Already he was worrying at the problem like one of the dogs with a bone. “Your sister thinks her husband wants to kill her—does she have anything concrete to base that supposition on? Or is it just a general feeling? I’m guessing that if he’d laid hands on her, she would have had the sense to get the law involved. Just what did she say?”

  Phillip was studying my face with what I took to be professional interest. “Well,” I began, “there were several things …”

  Standing there by the sofa, like a schoolgirl called on for recitation, I repeated what Glory had told me, trying to use just the words—leaving out what seemed to me Glory’s typical exaggeration. And leaving out, as well, my skeptical reaction. No eye-rolling—just the facts, Detective Hawkins, sir.

  These little things keep happening, Gloria had insisted, her voice breathless and hurried. The slick place at the top of the stairs, the food poisoning; the brakes on the car going out all at once—the trooper said it was a miracle that I wasn’t killed—and that’s only three—there were more and they weren’t all accidents. I’m sure of it now. Jerry wants me dead. I know too much about his so-called businesses.

  When I came to the end of my account, Phillip nodded.

  “Interesting.” He nudged Molly to dislodge her from her place by him. When her usual ploy of turning reproachful amber eyes on him was to no avail, the red hound gave a resigned sigh, rose, stretched her elegant body, and, with no evidence of hurry, made a graceful descent.

  Phillip patted the vacant spot. “Come sit down, Lizabeth, and tell me what you think. Do yo
u believe this story your sister’s telling?”

  I sank down at his side, nestling close and savoring the solid reassurance of him.

  “Do I believe her? … Well, I guess I believe that she thinks she’s in danger. But Glory’s life is always such a drama—no, not a drama, more of a soap opera.”

  Phillip gave my ear a friendly nuzzle then put an arm around me and began to rub my neck. “Yeah, I got that impression from a few things Ben said … his dad was her second husband, right?”

  “Umm,” I nodded, closing my eyes. “That feels good. Yep, Ben’s dad was her second marriage. Or maybe it was technically her first since the other one was annulled.”

  Was there any need to get into that episode of the Gloria Show? I wondered. Phillip’s hands moved to my shoulders. Since he isn’t asking, I decided, we’ll just fast-forward.

  “Ben’s dad was a respectable young lawyer—nice enough but spectacularly boring—at least, that’s what Sam and I thought. And I guess Glory got bored with him herself because she divorced him after only a few years. Ben was really little—maybe two or three—when that happened.” I leaned forward. “Right on down my spine, if you would. Ben and I were transplanting starts for most of the day and my body seems to have decided that fifty-five is the new eighty-five. All my joints have kind of seized up.”

  As Phillip’s strong fingers dug into my stiff muscles, I wondered if Ben knew about his mother’s plans to visit. My nephew has worked on the farm since a few years after my husband Sam’s death and I made Ben my business partner a while back. His choosing my lifestyle over his mother’s is only the most recent of Gloria’s many grievances against me. “Taking my only child from me” is how she put it during one particularly nasty phone conversation.

  “About Ben’s dad …”

  There was real curiosity in Phillip’s voice and I could almost hear the items being added to the file in that orderly cop-slash-detective mind of his: Gloria: Elizabeth’s younger sister, city girl, second husband, Ben’s dad …

 
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