The Barefoot Summer Page 1

Author: Carolyn Brown

Genres: Fiction , Romance


Black showed respect for the dead, so Kate Steele wore red to her husband’s funeral that Saturday. It seemed fitting that she would bury him on the first day of July, the same day he’d come into her life fourteen years ago. It brought everything full circle—right back to the afternoon that she’d met him in the cemetery when visiting her father’s grave. Six months later they were married. A year after that, the marriage went to hell in a handbasket.

Conrad Steele had definitely conned her, but she’d be damned if he would win.

Would the preacher go on forever? Maybe those other people sitting in the chairs at the other end of the single line appreciated what he was saying, but Kate had trouble listening to nice things about the son of a bitch. One thing for sure—that preacher didn’t know jack crap about Conrad or he wouldn’t be talking about him being among the angels in heaven. If he conned his way past Saint Peter at the pearly gates, then the angels best lock down those streets of gold.

Sweat streamed from her neck to puddle between her breasts. Not even with all Kate’s money could she buy, beg, steal, or borrow a breeze that afternoon, and there wasn’t a shade tree in sight. She eased a hand down beside her chair to fish out a few tissues to discreetly stuff into her bra. But she’d left her purse in the car. She brushed a strand of her shoulder-length blonde hair away from her sweaty neck and uncrossed her long legs. One little gust of wind to cool her thighs would be worth a fortune.

Her mother, Teresa, sat ramrod straight right beside her. No one could ever say that she wasn’t a lady. Not even the Texas heat was a match for Teresa Truman. She’d face off with the devil on his best day. Legs encased in black panty hose, properly crossed at the ankles, a black silk suit tailored to her long, thin body, gray hair styled that morning, and a wide-brimmed black hat with only the hint of a thin veil dropping down from the front, she was a true force to be reckoned with.

Only God, Kate, and Teresa knew that the whole funeral was a show. Kate didn’t care if they rolled him up in a used dog blanket and tossed him in a hole. Teresa insisted that they had an image to uphold, because, through Kate, his name was associated with the family oil company. And God—well, Kate would like to be a mouse in a corner when God got a firm grip on Conrad’s soul.

An antsy feeling that something was wrong crept up the back of Kate’s neck, making all the fine hairs stand on end. She glanced over her shoulder to see Detective Waylon Kramer standing behind a tombstone about ten yards to her left. The handsome detective had asked her to identify the body. He’d even told her right up front that the spouse was usually the first suspect, but she’d provided a rock-solid alibi. So why was he attending a funeral in the broiling Texas heat when he didn’t have to? Did he think she’d throw herself on the casket and confess to having her husband killed because he was a bastard?

Since he was there, he could be a gentleman and move up closer. With his height and broad body, he could provide some shade for her. It would make him good for something other than suspecting that she’d had Conrad killed.

“Stop fidgeting,” Teresa hissed from the side of her mouth.

“This is such a sham,” Kate whispered.

Teresa shot her a dirty look from under that fancy little veil.

Kate sat up straight and pretended to pay attention. But with sidelong glances, she studied the four women and the child sitting at the other end of the row of folding chairs. Thank goodness for big sunglasses so she could stare as long as she wanted and not get caught.

Two women and a child who were definitely Hispanic hovered first in her peripheral vision. The older one was as stone-faced as a statue, and for a while Kate began to think maybe the old gal had succumbed to the terrible Texas heat right there in the cemetery. Just as Kate was about to yell at the detective to call an ambulance, the woman let out a long sigh. Kate could relate. She would have gladly doubled whatever the preacher charged the funeral home for his services if he would cut his sermon short and let everyone get out of the scorching heat. The minutes ticked off at the rate of one every hour.

The dark-haired lady beside the older woman must be quite a bit younger, most likely the mother of the little girl with big brown eyes who, for the most part, looked confused. Poor little thing probably would have rather been home playing in a kiddie pool or watching cartoons on television than sitting at a funeral in the middle of a Texas heat wave.

An empty chair separated that group of three from an older woman with gray hair sitting beside a very pregnant red-haired woman, maybe in her late twenties. The pregnant lady moaned and sobbed into a white hankie as the other woman patted her shoulder. At least Conrad had one acquaintance who would cry for him, or—Kate eyed her mother carefully—had Teresa paid a mourner to come to the funeral and weep over that man’s body for appearances?

Kate leaned to the left and whispered, “Do you know those people?”

Teresa shook her head.

“Did you pay that redhead to cry?”

“Hush,” Teresa hissed. “I would never do that. But he’s dead, so we need to show respect.”

Eight people at the funeral.

It all went to show that a con man did not have real friends. Were those women related to Conrad? He’d never mentioned sisters or cousins, but then if he had, she wouldn’t have believed him. Not after she’d found out exactly what he was. She should have given him the divorce and the million-dollar settlement he wanted, and then she wouldn’t even have had to be there that day with sweat trickling down her ribs. That young one, who evidently sincerely mourned the bastard, could have buried him and maybe even put flowers on his grave. A settlement would have been well worth the money if it had gotten Kate out of planning and attending the funeral.

She glanced down the row again. The little girl held her red rose as if it were a piece of delicate china. The expression on the face of the woman beside her left no doubt that she wanted to get this whole thing finished as much as Kate did. The pregnant girl had wrapped her wrinkled handkerchief around the stem of her rose and now wiped her tears away with the back of her hand.

“Let us pray,” the preacher said.

Praise the Lord, Kate thought as she bowed her head, but she did not shut her eyes. She stared straight ahead at the shiny black casket with the reflections of the mourners, real or obligatory, right there before her. Their faces distorted in the casket’s curvature, but what she saw was sorrow, disgust, confusion, acceptance, and something akin to indifference.

“Amen!” the preacher said, and Kate mouthed the word even though she had no idea what he’d petitioned God for that afternoon. He could have begged the Lord to open up the ground and swallow Conrad Steele’s wife right there on the spot, or he might have read that week’s grocery list, but she could definitely say, “Amen,” if it got her out of the heat.

The preacher nodded toward her. “And now, Mrs. Steele, do you have any last words or something you want to say before we conclude the service?”

She shook her head, stood up, and hoped her slim skirt wasn’t stuck to her sweaty thighs as she took the red rose the funeral director had handed her when she arrived and laid it on the top of the casket.

“Yes, I have something to say.” The pregnant girl laid one hand on her baby bump and pushed up out of the chair. “Conrad was an amazing husband, and I cannot believe he’s gone.” She burst into another round of deep sobs.

“Sweet Jesus!” Surely the heat had fried Kate’s brain cells. That kid couldn’t be married to Conrad, and yet the scenario didn’t change, no matter how many times Kate blinked.

The older woman quickly stood up and wrapped an arm around the girl’s shoulders. “It’s all right, Amanda, darlin’. Just give your flower to Conrad and please stop crying.”

“I can’t. He was such a good man, and now he’ll never see our baby grow up,” she wailed.

Kate’s eyebrows shot up so high that it gave her an instant headache. Conrad had married without divorcing Kate and the woman was pregnant? She was still staring at the lady when the Hispanic woman popped up and her hands knotted into fists.

“You can’t be married to Conrad! I am his wife.”

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