The Barefoot Summer Page 2

Kate inhaled and let it out slowly, but then couldn’t make herself suck in more air. Her chest ached and her hands went clammy as the scene played out in slow motion.

“You are lying!” Amanda threw off the older woman’s arm and stomped up to the other woman until she was nose to nose with her. “I married him seven months ago. You might be his ex-wife, but you are not his wife today.”

“I have the marriage license showing that I’ve been married to him for seven years. With no divorce, so if he married you last year, kiddo, you aren’t even legally married. This child right here is his daughter.” Her dark eyes flashed.

Kate’s mother sighed. “I told you he was bad news.”

“Holy smokin’ hell!” Kate finally gasped.

“Okay, ladies.” Detective Waylon Kramer stepped between them. “You can both take a step backward. Neither of you are legally married to Conrad. This lady right here”—he pointed to Kate—“is his legal wife of fourteen years.”

“You can’t tell me that. I have a marriage license. Amanda Hilton and Conrad Steele were married the last day of December last year,” Amanda argued.

“So do I,” the dark-haired woman said and poked herself in the chest with a forefinger. “Jamie Mendoza and Conrad Steele were married the last day of December seven years ago.”

Waylon glanced at Kate.

She shrugged. “The last day of December fourteen years ago.”

“You”—Amanda raised her voice to only an octave below what it took to break glass—“are his sister. And that old woman beside you is his mother. He showed me pictures of you awful people together—his mother liked you better and gave you most of the money. He only got a little bit from his trust fund, which would be mine if something ever happened to him. And I need it for this baby.” Her hands went to her rounded stomach.

“Old woman!” Teresa gasped.

Kate bit back a nervous giggle. Nothing was humorous about anything that was going on, but that pregnant redhead had no idea that she’d just opened the cage to the scary Teresa Tiger, who could rip her throat out with nothing but icy words.

“I am his legal wife, and there is no trust fund,” Kate said.

“Bringing up money at a funeral,” Teresa muttered under her breath. “This is worse than The Jerry Springer Show. If I’d birthed that son of a bitch, I would have thrown him in the river before he was a week old. Old woman, my ass!”

“You are both wrong. Come on, Aunt Ellie. We’re going home and we’ll get a lawyer to sort this out.” Amanda set her mouth in a firm line.

At least that annoying sobbing had stopped. Kate didn’t give a baby rat’s rear end about her late husband, and when that woman woke up and realized that she’d married a con man, she might change her tune.

“Your rose,” her aunt Ellie reminded her.

Amanda laid it on the casket with her handkerchief. “Darlin’ Conrad, take my rose and my tears to heaven with you, and someday we will be together again.”

It might be funny if it wasn’t so bizarre. Lord, this kind of fodder just might be good enough to make it to those tabloids beside the grocery store checkout counter. Kate shuddered as she pictured all three wives with sweaty faces lined up beside a picture of Conrad on the front page of a magazine. What would that do for her reputation as president of the oil company?

Conrad had three wives. At the same time. She held her hands to keep from counting them off on her fingers. Kate, Jamie, and Amanda, married seven years apart on the same damn day. At least he wouldn’t forget his anniversary. It sure put new meaning to the seven-year itch.

“Did you know this?” she asked Waylon.

“I did yesterday.” His sexy grin jacked up the temperature another ten degrees.

“And you didn’t warn me?” She glared at him.

“I wanted to be sure that you didn’t conspire together to kill him or have him killed. The second wife, Jamie, showed up at the precinct when she heard the news on the television. The third one, Amanda, arrived in hysterics worse than you saw today when she saw the article about his death in the newspaper,” Waylon said.

“And what did you tell them?”

Waylon removed his cowboy hat, combed his thick dark hair with his fingers, and resettled the hat. “That the funeral was today, where it was and the time. And that his family was taking care of arrangements.”

“And now?”

“I’m not ruling out a conspiracy, but you are still my prime suspect. Don’t leave the state, Miz Steele,” he said.

“How can she be a suspect? She was with me in a board meeting all day when Conrad was murdered,” Teresa asked.

“That does not mean she couldn’t have paid someone to do the job when she found out about these other two wives.” Waylon tipped his hat to the two ladies and headed out across the green grass toward a pickup truck parked behind Kate’s Cadillac.

“You killed Conrad?” Jamie confronted her, hands on her hips and brown eyes flashing anger.

“I did not.” Kate took a step forward, jolted by her unexpected burst of offense at those words, and looked down on the shorter woman. As if she’d bother.

“You had him killed, then?” Amanda wailed as she made her way back toward Kate.

Kate quickly shook her head. “No, I didn’t do that, either, but if either of you want to confess, I’ll chase down that detective and we can get this over with right now.”

Amanda took a step backward. “I would never . . . how could you even suggest . . . he was my husband.”

Jamie stood her ground. Her eyes flashed anger, and her body fairly well hummed. “Well, he’s damn lucky I didn’t know about you or that other whiny pregnant hussy or I would have done the job myself.”

Jamie’s heart beat so fast that she thought it might jump right out of her chest. And her high heels sank into the green grass all the way from the graveside to her seven-year-old van. That hoity-toity bitch back there was probably laughing at her trying to keep her balance. She made sure Gracie and her grandmother had their seat belts fastened and drove out of the cemetery ten miles an hour above the speed limit.

Rita Mendoza crossed her arms over her chest. “I told you that something was not right. No man leaves his wife and daughter and only comes home one week out of every month. I don’t care what his job is—if he is within a hundred miles, he should come home. Now we know that he was staying with his other wives. But that leaves an extra week. Is there a fourth wife in the woodpile?”

“God, I hope not.” Jamie gripped the steering wheel to steady her shaking hands.

“Mama, are they going to put my daddy in the ground? Was he really in that big black box?” Gracie asked from the backseat.

“Yes, baby girl, your daddy is gone and he won’t come home anymore. But we will be fine. You still have your grandmother and me,” Jamie answered through clenched teeth.

“How do we know he was really in there?” Gracie asked.

“I’m sorry that you won’t see him again, sweetheart”—Jamie had to work at keeping her voice calm—“but he was really in the casket.”

It wasn’t a lie. She was sorry that Gracie wouldn’t see her father, but Conrad was lucky that someone had shot him before Jamie figured out why he only came home one week during each month. How dare he turn his back on Gracie and marry that girl! She wasn’t a day over twenty. She might not even be old enough to buy a shot of tequila, and Conrad was past forty. Did Kate have children with him, too?

Gracie nodded seriously. “Can we go to McDonald’s now?”

Rita laid a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Let it go. Don’t sugarcoat the truth when she asks, but don’t say too much. He was a good father when he was around.”

“I. Am. So. Angry.” Jamie emphasized each word with a slap of the steering wheel.

“With damn good reason, but it will pass,” Rita said.

“I’m starving.” Gracie folded her arms over her chest. “I hate getting all dressed up. My shoes pinch.”

“I’m hungry, too, baby girl.” Rita smiled. “We’ll get a burger and a milk shake, and we can eat it in the playroom. Afterward you can go down the slide as many times as you want.”

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