Authors: Melody Snow Monroe
She and Craig had purchased two other homes, but he’d put the title in his name, claiming it was better for tax purposes. Now she regretted her naiveté.
Before she said good-bye to Denver forever, she stopped at the bank to empty the contents of her safety deposit box and then headed to the stables. Charger, her beautiful black Arabian, was at the exclusive country club Craig insisted they join. Her horse would be the only thing she’d miss. Okay, that wasn’t quite true. She’d miss Candace, Beth, and Lisa, her three good friends.
If Craig learned she’d come to say good-bye to her horse, he might actually worry she would leave him.
Her horse whinnied as she neared and stroked his forehead. “I’m sorry I forgot an apple for you, boy.” Charger nudged her hand. Tears brimmed. “I promise I’ll come back for you.”
He dipped his head as if he understood. She’d had more heart-to-hearts with this animal than she’d had with her husband. If she’d realized Craig’s slick ways were smoke screens to conceal his sick Ponzi scheme, she never would have married him.
“I wish I could take you for one quick ride, but I have to go.” She hugged him once more and ran back to her car.
As she slid into her Mercedes convertible, she ran a hand over the console. Soon, she’d have to part with this baby, too. Starting over meant no more five-hundred-dollar shoes, no weekly manicures, massages, or costly tennis lessons that never seemed to help her game anyway.
She’d also have to give up her salon face creams, expensive brow and pussy waxing, and organic foods. Born into the middle class, she’d grown to love the high-society life the Clairbourne name provided. Now that was over and she had to move on.
She’d sold a few of the more expensive pieces of jewelry and hired a divorce lawyer, one who hadn’t invested in Craig’s spa. He’d read the prenuptial agreement and decried it airtight. She wouldn’t get any money if she left him. That was fine by her. This wasn’t about getting rich. She had no trouble working for a living.
As much as she wanted to just drive and drive, stopping only when fatigue claimed her, she needed closure. Not to mention she couldn’t go without the divorce papers in hand. Hopefully, in seventy-two hours, she’d be a free woman.
Mandy wanted to say good-bye to Candace Jackson, her best friend, who unfortunately worked for Craig. Mandy needed to let Candy know that Craig would be on the warpath once they faced the judge together. He’d be livid when she didn’t cave to his cajoling. Knowing him, he’d probably blame Candy for not assuring him that his wife was indeed serious about leaving him. Mandy hoped Craig believed Candy when she told him she had no idea.
Not far from town, Mandy stopped at an economy hotel to spend the night and regroup.
Please let there be no bed bugs
. Stained bedspreads, Formica counters, and even a television with rabbit ears she could live with. As long as the sheets were clean and the room didn’t reek of cigarette smoke, she’d deal. Staying in a five-star hotel was now a thing of the past.
Paying with cash, at least after the divorce hearing, was a must, as Craig would trace her credit card movement. His ego would demand it.
When she checked into the room, the desk clerk didn’t question her use of cash, but the young girl did give her the once over. She probably wasn’t used to seeing a customer in a Michael Kors outfit wearing a diamond necklace.
Once in the room, she dropped on the bed, and pushed back the depression. Time to call Candy. Last week, Mandy had purchased a phone from Walmart along with a calling card. The electronics clerk assured her it was untraceable.
Let’s hope he was right
. She dialed her best friend’s number.
“Hello?” Several voices sounded in the background along with the ping of a tennis racquet hitting a ball.
“Candy, it’s me, Mandy.”
“Mandy! Where are you?”
. “I have to cancel our match.” Actually, she’d forgotten to call sooner.
. “I need to see you.” A sob caught in her throat and she swallowed.
“I’ve never heard you this upset. What’s wrong, sweetie?”
She never could fool Candy. “I’ll tell you when you get here. I’ll be at Starbucks on Anderson and State Road 43.” She’d picked this hotel because of its proximity to the coffee shop.
“What are you doing way out there?” She had to shout over Beth’s yell. Mandy, Beth Simpson, Candy, and Lisa Brightner had a standing tennis match every Friday. From the joy in Beth’s tone, she must have won the match—a rarity against Lisa.
“Give me a minute to let the girls know I won’t be playing the winner. I’ll be there as fast as I can. You okay?”
“Not really. I’m divorcing Craig.” She didn’t need to be discussing something as sensitive as this over the phone. “Just hurry. Okay?” She had to have a foolproof plan come Monday afternoon.
“Oh, my God. When did this happen? I had no idea.”
That was the point. “We’ll talk when you get here, okay?”
“Danica Patrick won’t be able to catch me.”
That made her chuckle. Mandy disconnected and lay back on the bed. A migraine built behind her eyes. A quick shot of caffeine would help. Knowing Candace, she’d tell Lisa and Beth about the strange call and the three would speculate about the reason for the shocking news. Mandy had fooled them all.
Candy would need at least thirty minutes to get here, and Mandy needed the caffeine now. The July day was sunny, and a good walk would do her good.
She changed into her casual clothes. The half-mile walk would clear her mind and help her get in touch with the real Mandy Duncan Clairbourne once more.
Inside the coffee shop, she purchased a double latte and a chocolate-chip cookie then settled at a corner table where she could keep an eye on the entrance. She retrieved her iPad to search for jobs.
While she hadn’t settled on any particular town, Wyoming seemed the perfect spot. Craig claimed the state looked as if a nuclear bomb had exploded and wiped out the population. He’d never expect her to hide there. Without many large shopping malls to speak of or tennis courts at prestigious clubs, he’d figure she’d never go there. That was the crux of the problem. Only Craig thought she needed material goods to be happy, when in fact she didn’t. She liked the pleasure of teaching kids, of seeing the cheer on their face when they did something right. While she had a Colorado teaching certificate, she wouldn’t be employable in another state without taking more classes. Not having had a job in the last five years, she might need to shoot for something at minimum wage.
She was so focused on her plight that only the scrape of the chairs across from her had her looking up. “Candy! Beth? Lisa?” That was a surprise.
Her friends sat, and Lisa took her hand. “Oh, hon, we were worried about you. I’m still in shock.” She glanced at Beth who also nodded.
“Tell us what’s going on,” Candy said. “We want to help.”
One of Candy’s best traits was being direct.
“It’s what I said over the phone. I’m leaving Craig.” No use beating around the bush.
As expected, Candy’s eyes widened and her mouth gaped open. “You’re kidding, right? You have the perfect marriage.” Candy’s divorce two years ago left her bitter.
“I thought so, too, until I found out about his lies.”
She scrunched her brows together. “He’s having an affair?”
Lisa pushed back her chair. “Can you hold that thought? I so need a coffee.” She looked over at Beth. “Black iced tea, right?”
Beth’s lips pressed together. “Yes, and two brownies. This is definitely a two brownie discussion.”
Beth loved her sweets. Mandy leaned back in her seat while Lisa waited in line. “Thanks for coming. I really appreciate the support. I’ve been dying to tell you guys, but I feared you’d let it slip that I was really going to leave Craig.”
“What does he say about it? Craig must be frantic,” Candy said.
“He doesn’t believe I’ll go through with it even after he received the divorce papers three months ago.”
Candy shook her head. “He’s known three months? Yikes. He never said anything.”
Lisa returned with the drinks and dessert. “Okay, what did I miss?”
“Basically that Craig is in denial,” Candy assured her.
“Hell, I’m still in denial.” Lisa sipped her coffee, closed her eyes for a moment and exhaled. “So Craig was having an affair?”
An affair she might be able to deal with. “No. He’s running a Ponzi scheme using his spa.”
Candy worked for Craig. She decided what lotions, shampoos, polishes, and other items to sell to the clientele. Her face lost some of its color. “That’s not possible.”
If the truth got out, and the FBI investigated, Candy would lose her job. “I’m so sorry, but it is. I’ve not wanted to believe it, either.” She bit into her cookie. “You know Bill Christopher, right?”
“Sure. He’s one of Craig’s biggest investors.”
She nodded. “
one of his biggest investors. He approached me at the club about four months ago.” She detailed how she’d spotted him on the sidelines pacing. “When I finished the set, he told me how he’d decided to cash in his investment. Craig told him he didn’t have the money.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Candy said. “A while back, Amy let it slip that Indulgent Spa cleared over two mil last year. How could he not have enough money to give back to Mr. Christopher?”
“You tell me. Bill demanded Craig call him back.”
“What did Craig say?”
“That it was a misunderstanding.” She sipped her coffee, which was finally cool enough to drink. “After the confrontation, I became curious. Over the next few weeks, I found e-mails incriminating my husband. Christopher was one of many who’d sent angry-grams.”
Candy placed a hand over her heart and shook her head. “Does Craig know you’re onto him?”
“Hell no. He thinks I’m upset with him because he works too hard. If he finds out I know anything about the Ponzi scheme, he’ll come after me.” If she divorced him, only she stood between him and jail.
“What are you going to do?”
“After I divorce him on Monday, I plan to disappear.”
Monday turned out to be the worst day of her life. Not only did it represent the day she left Candy, Beth, and Lisa, but the divorce hearing turned ugly, too. Craig came to the hearing dressed in a two-thousand-dollar suit. His lawyer had the same smug look as Craig.
When they met with the judge, Craig tried to give her a hug, but she’d pulled away. His lawyer must have told him to act contrite and all lovey-dovey. She’d whispered that it wouldn’t work.
For six hours, he told lies to the judge about how happy they were. Mandy explained there were irreconcilable differences, and that she wanted absolutely nothing from the man.
In the end, the judge granted her the divorce. She had no plans to even step foot in the house again to pack or take anything.
As thrilled as Mandy had been to be free of the scheming ass, she had no doubt that Craig would come after her if and when his Ponzi scheme was exposed. He’d eventually learn that she knew all about his illegal activities and would testify if need be.
Knowing the tenacious bastard, he’d search for a way to get the divorce nullified. She prayed there wasn’t a loophole her lawyer had overlooked.
Her total focus right now was to make sure he never found her. That meant she needed to leave the state—go somewhere he’d never even think she’d end up. Then she’d find a job. It had been five years since her last employment, which would make the search hard.
Once she decided on Wyoming, she knew that without a teaching certificate, she wouldn’t be teaching. Besides, the school system would be the first place he’d look.
After she had made up her mind she liked Wyoming, she spent a lot of time on the Internet looking for jobs. Two weeks ago, she spotted one position in particular that sounded wonderful. It was a job at a ranch that catered to women. The ad said the Circle Bar was looking for a woman interested in leading other women into the wilderness. The requirements were an ability to ride and have outdoor skills. That worked for her. She grew up not only riding, but also rock climbing and camping.
The ranch was in a town called Intrigue, Wyoming, a mere two-hour drive north of Denver. While it was a little close for her, the fact it was in a different state gave her some solace.
Despite a state line between her ex and her, she made sure not to be followed. Because she didn’t have to be at the new job until Friday of that week, she was able to spend three days driving around, hoping to confuse whoever Craig might have hired to keep an eye on her.
When she was convinced no one knew where she was going—including Candy, Beth, and Lisa—she arrived in Intrigue.
Mandy met with the owner, a Samantha Callen Watson, and interviewed for the job.
To her delight, Samantha, or Sam as she asked to be called, told her the job was hers. So here she was.
Only, the job wasn’t quite as she’d expected. Sure, the first day was good. Sam introduced her to her bunkmates, Lilly and Trinity, both of whom were cool. The ladies showed her around the ranch and detailed how they handled the expeditions. Being out in the open, free of worry, helped soothed her soul.