Walker Texas Wife by Melissa Storm & K.M. Hodge
- Women's Fiction
- 72,000 Words
- Drama & Mystery
Their lives are perfect… if only from the outside.
At first glance, the residents of Herald Springs lead charmed lives. But behind the dazzling smiles and inside the large brick homes, they all have their secrets. Most are harmless, but then again Annabeth King never did quite fit in.
This newest neighbor is harboring a special secret of her own, one that could prove deadly. Will the members of the “drink and gossip” club figure out what Annabeth’s working so hard to hide before disaster comes knocking?
With Storm’s signature bitter-sweetness and Hodge’s thrilling intensity, Walker Texas Wife offers a fast-paced, addictive romp that fans of Desperate Housewives and Pretty Little Liars will find themselves falling hard and fast for. This debut in the new Book Cellar Mystery series will leave you wondering: just how well do we know our neighbors after all?
Read an Excerpt
Annabeth King hated stereotypes, but knew she fit the hot-tempered Irish girl to a T. All morning she had been a powder keg waiting to go off.
An absurd discussion about the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing had sparked the most recent fight between her and Marcus. In retrospect she knew the fight had had nothing to do with the song, the oppressive heat, or even the last two days spent traveling across the country. No, it had everything to do with the incident from nine months ago—the one they didn’t talk about.
“Either slow down, or pull over and let me drive,” she said, her shrill voice annoying even her.
Marcus, just as hotheaded, pressed down on the gas pedal making the orange needle on the dash hover at eighty-five. “Is this slow enough for you?”
As he erratically shifted lanes to navigate around the traffic, she grabbed hold of the Oh My God bar to keep from being thrown against the door. “You’re going to get us killed. Pull over, and let me drive!”
“Can you even reach the pedals?” he growled, not taking his eyes off the road.
He fought dirty, always bringing up her height, knowing it would get a rise out of her.
Well not today!
Instead of shouting back an equally hateful retort, she bit her tongue until a small drop of blood welled at its tip. The acrid taste of it mixed with the sour words that she wanted to fire back at him.
Her lack of response seemed to calm Marcus as he dropped the speed back down. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the muscles in his chiseled jaw still twitched.
Their tempers had run hot from the very start, their vitriolic diatribes a kind of foreplay. But they were miles away from that now. As much as she hated him at that moment, she still found herself drawn to him; the longings from before had not been tempered by the incident.
His arms, she thought with a sigh, the thick muscular forearms and biceps that filled out the crisp white T-shirts that he always wore had been her undoing.
Even his smell left her intoxicated—a heady mixture of sandalwood and his own musk that made her mind wander to a much happier place and time. A time when she would have been tasting him instead of the bitter words that hung on the end of her barbed tongue.
Beside her, Marcus loosened his grip on the wheel and his breathing slowed. Without taking his eyes off the road, he slid his right hand onto her knee. His mocha colored hand stood in stark contrast to her almost translucent white skin. “I’m sorry.”
His baritone voice, full of contrition, calmed her frayed nerves.
“Me too,” she said, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze.
For a brief moment he took his eyes off the road and flashed her a wide, dazzling grin that melted away some of her resolve to hate him.
“You’ve been driving awhile. Why don’t we pull over at the next exit?”
He gave her knee a quick squeeze then put both hands back on the wheel and worked his way over to the far right lane.
“Yeah, I could use a break.”
They pulled into a Shell station to make the switch and top off the tank. After filling up the tank, Marcus slid into the passenger’s seat and held up his phone. “Morgan wants an update by tomorrow.”
“No pressure.” Annabeth sighed as she merged their truck back onto the highway. Being behind the wheel at least gave her a feeling that she had some semblance of control over her world. She finally relaxed enough to enjoy the drive.
The heart of Texas was not at all what she’d expected back when they’d first decided to pack up and leave Detroit.
“I know it’s ridiculously hot out, but it really is a beautiful place,” Marcus mumbled beside her.
Annabeth scanned the horizon as she drove up a steep hill that overlooked the breathtaking green and yellow vista. “The trees look like broccoli.”
From the corner of her eye she saw Marcus smirk and roll his brown eyes.
“About earlier…” He rested his arm on the top of her seat.
Annabeth glanced at him. “It’s all right. We’re just tired. It’s been a stressful week.”
Marcus huffed “A stressful year, more like it.”
He parted her hair with his fingers and began to rub the thick cords of tension at the nape of her neck. At his tender and insistent touch, she stopped breathing. It took everything in her to keep her eyes on the road and not let them slip closed.
Boundaries needed to be set, she thought as she took a breath at last. His hand felt so good that she couldn’t bring herself to tell him to stop.
“Yes, it has been a hard year for us, hasn’t it? Though, the way I see it, things can only get better from here.” She let out a deep sigh, relaxing into his touch.
“Your mouth to God’s ears, babe.”
As they pulled onto a deserted ranch road, they saw in the distance a small town up ahead—home.
“Turn right onto River Bliss Road. Your destination will be on the left,” the GPS announced.
“Thank God,” Annabeth muttered.
They drove past the quaint 1970’s ranch style homes to the very back of the Peach Creek subdivision. Children were out playing on manicured lawns that looked too green to be real.
“All they need is a kid on a bike delivering papers and it could be a Norman Rockwell painting,” she said with no small amount of sarcasm.
It had been a long time since she had heard him laugh like that.
“That’s it, 1013 William Drive. Home sweet home.” He pointed to the last house on the left—almost identical to the rest of the houses on the block. For better or worse, it would be their home for the foreseeable future.
As they pulled into the driveway Annabeth noticed a young Hispanic woman watering the lawn next door.
Marcus nodded in her direction, trying to be discreet. “Go introduce yourself.”
She hated when he told her what to do. He knew this, but did it anyway. Just because she knew it was the right thing to do didn’t mean she agreed with his bossiness. She slammed the door of the car shut. The pointed blades of grass poked at her feet and made a crunching sound as she walked over. The woman crouched down in the flowerbed that divided their properties.
“Hey, neighbor.” Annabeth extended her hand in greeting.
The young woman looked up as she wiped her hands dry on the back of her white jean shorts.
“Oh, hi,” she said with an easy smile as she took Annabeth’s hand in a firm grip.
“I’m Annabeth, and this is my h-husband Marcus.” She hooked her thumb in Marcus’s direction, still a bit irritated at him.
“Hi, I’m Violeta, but everyone calls me Vi. Y’all need help unloading that truck of yours?”
“Sure, we can use any help we can get,” Marcus called as he flashed a charming smile her way.
Vi’s cheeks colored a faint pink. Her black hair curtained around her face as she looked down. He had that effect on women. It wasn’t the first time his smile had left another woman a little knock-kneed.
Before Annabeth might have gotten jealous, or at the very least shot him a look, but now she just felt numbed. She had perfected the art of hiding her feelings so well that even she didn’t know how she felt about anything anymore. They didn’t call her the Ice Queen for nothing.
When Frozen came out, some of her colleagues had thought it was funny to give her an Elsa mug to go along with the awful nickname. And they wondered why I left. A small voice in the back of her mind reminded her that she hadn’t always been that way—he had been the exception.
Worrying her lip, a nervous habit, she fished out the house key from her pocket and jogged ahead of them. As she opened the door she felt a faint flutter of anticipation. This new beginning needed to be better than what she’d left behind in Detroit. It just had to be.
Behind her she heard Marcus’s teasing tone and the girlish laughter of their new neighbor.
“Ever onward,” she mumbled to the open house, steeling herself against the backlog of emotions that threatened to escape.
Annabeth put aside her growing troubles and took control of the unpacking process. Under her guidance, it only took the three of them two hours to unload the U-Haul trailer and unpack most of the boxes. She honestly couldn’t believe that Vi had stayed the entire time to help. Their new home had come fully furnished so they just had boxes of clothing and other personal effects, but still.
Vi grabbed the last one marked books from the back of the truck. “Are you a big reader, Anna?” she asked.
Annabeth grimaced. No matter how helpful their new neighbor had been, she just couldn’t have Vi calling her Anna. “Please call me Annabeth.”
“Oh Jeez, I’m sorry, Annabeth,” she said, her face turning a subtle shade of pink.
Damn it, this is why I have no female friends. She knew she came off as a bitch, but she honestly didn’t know how else to act. They didn’t have a how not to be a bitch class in school.
“Don’t worry—it’s silly really. Anyway, to answer your question, yes. I love to read. We moved here so I could get my Ph.D. in comparative literature. On the way down here I started reading Gone Girl. Have you read it?”
Vi clasped her hands together in front of her. “That’s what our book club is reading!”
“Well, that’s a coincidence, all right.” Annabeth smiled as she locked up the moving truck.
Vi lingered nearby even though the work was done. “You have to come. We’re meeting tomorrow night.”
“I don’t know…” Annabeth felt too tired to commit to anything except twelve hours of sleep in her new bedroom.
“Just think about it. We always have such fun.” Vi carried the last box into the house.
“Well looky, looky, a new neighbor,” called out a husky female voice behind her.
Annabeth turned around and saw a young woman about her age. The smartly dressed woman walked over to Annabeth with her dog in tow—a Pomeranian with a teddy bear cut and a bright pink rhinestone leash.
“Hi.” Annabeth extended her hand. “I’m Annabeth.”
“Pleasure to meet you Ms. Annabeth. I’m Brooke Fischer. I live two blocks down on Emily Street. You can’t miss it. The HOA just awarded us the yard of the month for the third month in a row.”
Flipping her long dark hair over her shoulder, she bent down to pick up her little dog and buried her nose in its fur. “This gorgeous little fur baby is Tiara. Say hi, Ti-Ti,” she said in a baby voice as she made the dog wave hello.
Annabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes or spout off some sarcastic remark that would more than likely go right over Brooke’s airy head. Not that she would have noticed. This woman only had eyes for her ridiculous-looking dog.
“Nice to meet you both,” she said, with a forced smile that she was sure looked more like a scowl.
Before she could say another word, Vi walked over to them wearing a delighted expression. “Oh good you two have met! I hope you don’t mind, Brooke, but I invited Annabeth to our little Drink and Gossip Club. You’re not going to believe this but she’s reading Gone Girl, too!”
“Well isn’t that a coincidence? How sweet of you to invite our new neighbor, Vi. Annabeth, please don’t feel like you have to join us. I’m sure you have loads to do. Just moving in and all,” Brooke said with a smile as fake as her own.
“Actually, I’m looking forward to it. It will be good for me to get out. I’ve been stuck alone with only my husband as company the last few days.”
Annabeth enjoyed watching her squirm. She hated women like Brooke, who looked down on her and treated her like a second-class citizen because she didn’t wear Jimmy Choo’s or get her nails done every week. Messing with Brooke would be a nice distraction from her complicated life.
“Of course,” Brooke said. “I don’t know if Vi here gave you all the particulars, but it’s tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. at the Book Cellar on Main.” She put her dog back down on the sidewalk. “It’s been just swell chatting with you ladies, but I really need to finish my five miles if I’m to stay on track for my half-marathon training schedule.”
“Sure, of course, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night.”
“Likewise. Toodles, ladies,” she said with a patronizing flicker of her hand.
Annabeth watched Brooke and her dog power walk around the corner, disappearing from sight.
“Isn’t she just great? We’ve been friends for forever it seems,” Vi said, almost gushing.
“Yeah, she seems very… nice,” Annabeth answered.
“Well I better skedaddle as well. I promised my sister I would swing by and take her to the movies tonight.” Her smile was so genuinely sweet that it made Annabeth want to protect her from all the horrors of the world.
Annabeth was not a hugger by any stretch of the imagination, but when Vi wrapped her arms around her and squeezed, she couldn’t help but reciprocate.
“Thank you so much for all your help tonight, Vi. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a good time at the movies.”
Vi smiled. “No problem, what are neighbors for?”
Annabeth fought back the sudden build-up of tears.
What was wrong with her? She wasn’t the kind of gal who got mushy.
“Goodnight, Annabeth.” Vi made her way across the lawn to her lime green pickup truck and drove off.
“Goodnight,” Annabeth said to herself, Vi already gone.
The sound of the front screen door opening and closing made her jump. She felt Marcus before she saw him. He came up behind her, tilting his head down to her level. The familiar and comforting feel of him up against her made her want to fall back into his embrace—leaning on him like she once had. But she wasn’t allowed to do that anymore, so instead she stood there using the last of her energy to stop herself from doing what came so naturally.
“I know the last thing you want to do is to get into that truck again, but we have no food. I Googled what’s around here—which is nothing, by the way. I did discover that there’s a Jet’s Pizza about 30 minutes up the road from here.” His boyish enthusiasm made her smile.
Marcus raked his fingers over his coarse, close-cropped hair the way he always did when he was tired. He had done the bulk of the driving all day and had to be exhausted. But he knew she lived and died for pizza so of course he’d scoured the Internet for the closest pizza place.
“All right, but only if I can drive,” she said with a wink.
Her heart raced and her breath quickened as he lowered his head a little more toward hers.
“Whatever you want, babe.”
Annabeth’s breath caught in her throat. His brown eyes glistened in his playful way that left her knock-kneed. For a split second she thought he might try to kiss her, but the moment quickly passed and he straightened to his full height again. The awkwardness returned, leaving her as frustrated and disappointed as ever. A part of her wondered if she actually would have let him kiss her this time.
They took the long drive through the Hill Country and back to the civilization of the big city in a comfortable silence. When she opened the door to the pizza place her mouth watered. They ordered a couple slices and two Diet Cokes. As much as they enjoyed the idea of small town living, there was something to be said about the conveniences Austin could offer.
The pizza was divine. So much so that she didn’t notice right away that he was watching her eat. His eyes teased her—the same kind of teasing that had always led to trouble in the past, the kind she secretly ached for again.
“What’s so funny?” she asked at last.
“The way you eat your pizza.” He tried—and failed—to hold in a roaring laugh that snuck out in stops and starts. “You’re adorable.”
Annabeth wiped at her face in earnest before tossing the balled up napkin at him. “Shut-up.”
Marcus shook his head with an amused smile while under the table her crossed legs bobbed up and down.
“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” he asked with a wink.
Stilling her leg she flushed again. “A little. I just hope that there are some students my age and not a bunch of teenagers.”
Marcus huffed out a small laugh. “Anna, I have no doubt you’ll do great. You just have to get your confidence back. We both do.”
She had never felt self-conscious before, but now—after all they had been through—she found herself second guessing everything all the time. Instead of looking ahead at the challenge with excitement, as she once had, she feared failing and what that might mean. Hell, apparently she couldn’t even eat pizza right.
“You know I go by Annabeth now. And what’s so amusing about the way I eat?”
Marcus snickered as he drank the rest of his Coke in one big gulp. His tennis shoe tapped her on the side of the leg, making her look away to hide her hot red cheeks from him.
“C’mon. Let’s walk off some of this dinner. It’s almost cool out now,” Marcus said, taking her by the hand.
As they stepped outside Marcus held tight to her hand. He had been right. It had cooled off.
Once they were out of earshot of the other couples and joggers, Marcus cleared his throat. “It’s going to be different this time, Anna… Beth. I know I messed up, but I hope you can trust me when I say that I won’t slip up again.”
His intense gaze bore through her. She knew if she turned her head and met his eyes full on, she would be lost. So she stared straight ahead, hoping he couldn’t see the sheen of unshed tears that were beginning to pool for the second time that night.
“I want to trust you and believe we could make it work, but I’m still not sure it’s the best idea right now, given what happened last time. I need more time to figure all this out.” She swallowed back the ball of emotions that threatened to choke her.
Marcus let out his breath in slow, even puffs through his parted lips. “I guess that’s all I can ask of you, huh?”
Annabeth tugged her hand free and stopped walking. “I’m kind of tired. Maybe we should head back.”
Marcus stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked away. “Sure, whatever you want.”
“I can sleep on the couch tonight,” she said.
Marcus shook his head emphatically. “Absolutely not! I’ll sleep on the couch. I’m always up before you anyway.”
“Right.” Annabeth bit her lip and fought back the urge to cry.
“Give me the keys. I’m driving.” He reached out his hand, the one she had been holding before.
She fished inside her shorts pocket and handed him the keys, their fingers brushing together in the exchange, creating a spark that she felt down to her toes.
He stalked off without waiting for her, his long-legged stride one she had no hope of matching even on her best day.
He wanted her and she wanted him, but that wasn’t enough. They couldn’t be together until she found a way to forgive him—forgive herself for what they’d done.
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