Read A Woman of Fortune Online

Authors: Kellie Coates Gilbert

Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC044000, #Criminals—Family relationships—Fiction, #Swindlers and swindling—Fiction, #Fraud investigation—Fiction, #Texas—Fiction

A Woman of Fortune

BOOK: A Woman of Fortune
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© 2014 by Kellie Gilbert LLC

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www
.
revellbooks
.com

Ebook edition created 2014

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-4500-7

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible®, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Published in association with MacGregor Literary Agency.

“In a story torn from the headlines, Kellie Coates Gilbert follows the roller-coaster ride of a white-collar fall from grace. With a unique feel for one woman's struggle to heal the wounds of broken trust, A Woman of Fortune delves deftly into the meaning of family, the bonds of love, and the healing power of faith.”

—
Lisa Wingate
, national bestselling author of
Wildwood Creek
and
The
Prayer Box

“Gilbert's writing is smooth and engaging, and she explores emotional issues with grace.”

—
Julie Kibler
, bestselling author of
Calling Me Home

“Kellie Coates Gilbert has penned an emotionally complex story, depicting how the powerful Massey family handles a critical disruption in their lives. As each member of the family deals with the damage differently, their journey inspires us to explore our own hearts and our ability to survive painful challenges with our souls intact.”

—
Julie
Cantrell
,
New York Times
and
USA Today
bestselling author of
Into the Free
and
When Mountains Move

“I didn't want to watch, but I couldn't look away as Claire Massey's seemingly idyllic life shattered around her well-heeled feet. Kellie Coates Gilbert takes an engrossing, all-too-real story of crime and greed and surprises us with a tribute to the overcoming power of true love.”

—
Shellie Rushing Tomlinson
, The Belle of All Things Southern and author of
Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She
Just Weighs Heavy

“Kellie Coates Gilbert's background as a legal investigator sets
A Woman of Fortune
apart. Countless times throughout this harrowing story, I found myself engrossed not only in the plot and characters but also in the detail given to the Massey family's tumble from fortune and subsequent rise to the true meaning of life and love. Heroine Claire Massey's decision to embrace forgiveness after such an intense betrayal will surely resonate with readers from every walk of life.”

—
Jolina Petersheim
, bestselling author of
The
Outcast

“From the heights of glittering Dallas society to gray prison walls, Kellie Coates Gilbert deftly draws readers into a world of privilege, avarice, betrayal, and ultimately, redemption.
A Woman
of Fortune
, the story of one woman's struggle to know herself and protect her family, is not to be missed.”

—
Cathleen Armstrong
, award-winning author of
Welcome to
Last Chance
and
One More Last Chance

To my sister,
Jeannie Ann Cunningham,
a woman of extraordinary grace

Prologue

U
ntil today, Claire Massey had never been inside the walls of a federal prison.

She'd taken French cooking lessons in Paris, photographed the aurora borealis, and even dined with a president and his wife. But never in her wildest imagination could she have contemplated herself doing this.

She fingered the fine-grain leather bag in her lap as the car slowly moved through heavy metal gates and past the guard tower that strangely resembled a childhood fort.

“You okay, Mom?”

She startled at her son's voice. “What? Uh, yes, I'm fine.” Her hand plunged inside her purse for her Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses.

Max took a deep breath. “You don't have to do this, you know.”

Claire nodded, keeping her eyes averted from the razor wire that cut a line across the horizon. She slipped the glasses on, glad for the barrier between her budding tears and the harsh Texas sun reflecting off the building looming ahead.

She swallowed. Hard. This was no time to lose it.

After pulling one hand from the steering wheel, her son slipped
his palm over her trembling fingers. “Please, Mom, let me go in with you.”

She shook her head. “No, this is something I need to do. Alone.”

Max circled the parking lot twice before finding an empty spot. He pulled the car between a pickup with wheels the size of her car door and a battered green sedan that had definitely seen better days. From its rearview mirror hung a rosary and a pair of red lace panties, the kind you might see on a Victoria's Secret model.

Her son cut the engine.

Claire took a deep breath. “I don't know how long this will take.”

Something in Max's eyes dimmed. He scratched at his beard stubble. “I'll be here.”

The line at the front door extended several hundred yards. Claire moved with caution into place at the end, behind a heavy woman clothed in a stained housedress and slipper-like shoes that dug deeply into swollen flesh.

She shifted uncomfortably in her own wedge pumps, aware she'd made a questionable shoe choice. Why hadn't she thought to wear tennis shoes? The woman she'd talked to on the telephone yesterday warned Saturday was their heaviest day for visitors, cautioning the line would be like this.

Forty minutes passed before Claire reached the front-entry door and stepped into the large, old brick building and out of the baking sun, the inside air a welcome respite from the heat emanating from the concrete she'd been standing on. Despite the cooler temperature, sweat formed on her scalp. The heat perhaps? Or maybe nerves. She couldn't tell.

From somewhere in the line behind her, a young girl shushed her squalling infant. Claire couldn't help but think this was no place for a baby. But then again, would any of them be here if given a better option?

A woman officer dressed in a blue shirt, damp at the underarms, stepped forward. “I'll need your driver's license.” She thrust
a clipboard at Claire. “Sign at the designated spot and put the time next to your name.” She tilted her head toward a large clock on the opposite wall. “And place your belongings in the basket.”

Claire looked up. “My belongings?”

The woman sighed. “Rings, watch. You can't take nothing in with you.”

“But my purse—”

“Nothing,” she repeated.

Claire swallowed and did as she was told. When finished, she held up the basket to the officer.

The woman pointed to a wall lined with lockers and handed Claire a key. “Over there.”

As soon as she stored her belongings, she glanced around, confused about where to go next. An older black lady with white hair gave her a toothy smile and pointed toward a metal door with a sign posted above that read “Visitors Holding Room.”

Claire gave her a token nod of gratitude and followed a crowd of people moving in that direction. After passing through the metal detector, she was patted down by another female officer, who smelled of cigarettes and maple syrup. “Wait over there,” the woman said, pointing to metal chairs lined up against a pea-green wall in bad need of paint.

She nodded and scanned for an empty chair, then sat to wait.

A man moved past, mopping the floor. His shoes made a slight squeaky sound every time he sludged forward, slowly pulling the dirty-looking mop across the speckled linoleum floor.

Claire looked away, focusing instead on a fake philodendron wedged in the corner, a few feet away from a drinking fountain hanging from the wall. Anything to quiet the voices in her head. Especially Jana Rae's.

“What are you? Ten shades of stupid?” her friend had asked over the phone.

“Look, this is something I need to do,” Claire explained.

“Claire, listen to me. This crazy idea is going to put you square
on the wrong end of an intervention. You know what I mean? Haven't you been through enough already?”

That was one thing Claire loved about Jana Rae. Few people could truly be counted on in life. Her crazy friend with blazing red hair and a mouth snappy as a bullwhip had always been in her corner of the arena. Even now.

Claire leaned her head back against the cold, hard wall of the holding room, keeping her eyes closed so she wouldn't have to see countless young girls waiting to see their baby daddies. The sight was far too depressing. But then, she wasn't so different. A female who had stood by her man and looked the other way, failing to see things as they really were.

Funny how she'd always known the grass was green—but never needed to know how or why.

She gnawed on her bottom lip, a habit she'd taken up as of late.

“Claire Massey?”

The booming voice caused her to startle. Claire glanced about the room as if there might be another woman with that name. “Me?” she asked.

The woman officer with the clipboard heaved a sigh laced with boredom. “Your name Massey?”

She nodded and stood. She followed the officer through the door and down a long hallway with windowless walls the color of the dried mud lining the pond out at Legacy Ranch, the one she'd gazed out at each morning while sitting in the breakfast nook.

The woman led her through a heavy metal door into a room less than half the size of her bathroom at home. Granted, the bathroom had been much larger than most, but this space felt cramped nonetheless.

A barrier cut the room in half, the upper portion made of glass grimy with handprints. The scene was straight out of a television episode of
CSI
.

Claire turned to thank the officer, but she was now alone. Nervous, she slid into the empty chair on her side of the barrier.

And waited.

Claire told herself to breathe. Her heart pounded wildly, and by the time the door on the other side of the barrier creaked open, every nerve fiber in her body was charged. It would take next to nothing to spark tears.

She trained her eyes on the doorway and vowed not to cry. Not here.

Then he entered, appearing older, more tired than the last time she'd seen him. Perhaps resigned to his circumstances. But he still looked at her with the same eyes—the ones she'd gazed into that night all those years ago at the Burger Hut. And so many times since.

Tuck quickly moved to the window and took his seat. With a guard standing nearby, he placed his shackled palm against the glass and mouthed, “I love you.”

Claire blinked several times before picking up the telephone receiver and motioning for him to do the same.

He scrambled for the phone at his side, as though it were a line to the life he'd left behind . . . to her. He quickly nestled the black handset against his ear.

“Claire.” He said her name with a kind of reverence, a tone you'd use with someone you cherished.

Claire swallowed against the dryness of her throat. She looked into her husband's eyes and steeled herself.

“I want a divorce.”

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