Authors: Debra Burroughs
Tags: #The Jenessa Jones Mystery Series
From the Amazon Bestseller Debra Burroughs, topping the charts in Romantic Suspense and Women Sleuths, comes another exciting and entertaining story,
The Lake House Secret
Praise for Debra Burroughs’ romantic suspense novels…
“Love it, love it, love it! Can’t get enough of Debra Burroughs. I have always loved mysteries and Debra delivers.”
~ Ann Cross
“Ms. Burroughs writes her mysteries with so many twists and turns, she keeps you on the edge of your seat. Just when you think you have it figured out, you discover you don’t have a clue! Ms. Burroughs has a gift — each of her books gets even better than the last — and they are all excellent!”
~ Cathy-J’s Gram
“Once again, this author hits upon the perfect combination of great writing, well-paced plot, interesting, endearing, compelling and sometimes quirky characters, a touch of romance and the suspense of a good mystery to solve.”
~ K.C. Quinn
THE LAKE HOUSE SECRET
A Jenessa Jones Mystery: Book 1
“That stupid woman!” Jenessa Jones sputtered as she slid behind the wheel of her compact car and slammed the door shut. “I can see I’m not getting
She jammed her key into the ignition and turned it. The engine of her twelve-year-old Toyota moaned a few times, trying to turn over.
“No, no, no!” she screamed, banging the palm of her hand against the steering wheel. “I don’t need this today.”
The blistering July sun of Central California made the inside of her car feel like an oven. Her long, dark hair began sticking to the perspiration that trickled down her neck and onto her white silk blouse. She rolled her windows down to release the suffocating heat.
She had gone to the job interview dressed in her navy blue business suit, hoping to make her best impression, but she could tell by the interviewer’s questions, and apparent lack of interest, that the woman was simply going through the motions, like she had already made up her mind who she would hire.
Whispering a prayer and crossing her fingers, she tried the engine a couple more times. Success! The engine finally roared to life and eventually settled into a steady purr. Flicking on the air conditioner, switching the fan to the highest speed, she pulled out of the parking lot to head for home.
Jenessa had been a reporter for a newspaper in Sacramento for the past five years, that is, until almost nine weeks ago when her boss gave her the news that the paper was forced to downsize and he was going to have to let her go.
“Sorry, but more people are finding their news online these days and it’s killing us,” he had said.
Since getting the axe, she had sent out almost a hundred resumes and gone on countless interviews but, to her dismay, there had been no job offers yet. Reaching the point of desperation, she couldn’t afford to be picky.
Although nabbing another job as a writer would be her first choice, at this point she’d take a job as a secretary, a bank teller, or a store clerk if she had to. Her bachelor’s degree in journalism and her seven years of experience working for newspapers were getting her nowhere. At this point, even waiting tables or cleaning hotel rooms was not beneath her.
She’d already burned through the little bit of savings she’d had and was running out of cash fast. The current month’s rent was already a few days past due, plus she was late on last month’s—actually, she hadn’t paid last month’s rent at all.
To add to her misery, now her car was giving her trouble and there was no money to repair it. It would be near impossible to go on any more interviews without transportation.
She parked the car in the lot of her complex and climbed the outdoor stairs to her third-floor apartment. As she approached, her portly apartment manager was standing in front of her door in his t-shirt and shorts, taping a piece of paper to it.
He whipped around to face her, obviously startled by her unexpected presence. “Hi there,” he said, offering her a weak, rueful smile. “I’m really sorry, Miss Jones, I have no choice but to give you a three-day notice of eviction.” He glanced back at the note he had attached to her front door and motioned toward it.
“No, please…just a little more time,” she pleaded. “I’m sure I’ll have another job soon.”
“Sorry, but I have to do this, Jenessa—company policy. If it was up to me, I’d keep carrying you a little longer, but I have to answer to the owners, you know.” He tapped a chubby finger on the notice a couple of times before walking away. “You have three days—bring your rent current or you’ve got to move out.”
Jenessa pushed through the door and rushed inside, fighting back angry tears. She was doing the best she could. Things just weren’t going her way. In fact, they seemed to be going from bad to worse. She wished she could talk to her mother.
She peeled off her hot jacket and flung it over a chair. After kicking off her shoes, she untucked her silk blouse that had stuck to her sweaty back and plopped down on her old sofa, stretching her legs out and crossing them on the coffee table. She sunk back, closed her eyes, and rested her head against the cushion, hoping for some relief.
What was she going to do now? Perhaps her sister Sara could loan her some money, or maybe Aunt Renee, although, she cringed at the thought of asking either one of them.
After leaving home at seventeen, Jenessa had always been self-sufficient, never asked anyone for anything. Her mother had insisted on paying her college tuition and her father went along, but beyond that, she took care of herself. Now, her life was in a downward spiral and she didn’t know what to do to stop the momentum.
She wished she could call her mom and cry on her shoulder, ask her what to do, but her mother had passed away a couple of years earlier. Her father’s face, stern and aloof, popped into her mind, but there was no way on earth she’d ever ask him for help of any kind.
Her cell phone began to ring and she dug around in her purse until she found it. “Hello.”
“Jenessa, this is Aunt Renee.”
Taken aback by the perfect timing, Jenessa took a moment to respond. Maybe it was more than a coincidence that her aunt was calling. Maybe things were finally going to turn around. “I was just thinking about you, Aunt Renee. How are you?”
“Honey, I have some bad news.”
Great! Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse.
She squeezed her eyes tight and steeled herself. “What is it?”
“It’s your father, dear. He had a heart attack this morning and,” she paused and cleared her throat, but there was still a tightness in her voice as she continued, “I’m afraid he’s passed away.”
Jenessa’s mouth fell open. She wanted to say something, but no words would come. She was frozen. She loved her father, the way all good daughters should love the man they call Dad, but the two had become increasingly distant. For the past twelve years they had been almost like strangers, even on the rare occasion when she had gone home for a visit.
The last time she saw her father was at her mother’s funeral, and even then, he walled himself off from her. Tears blurred her vision now as she peered down at the small framed photo of her parents that sat on her end table.
“Jenessa, did you hear me?”
Renee Giraldy was her father’s younger sister. She lived in Hidden Valley, where Jenessa’s parents and younger sister, Sara, also lived, and where Jenessa had gone to high school. Aunt Renee had been married three times, each time to a man more wealthy than the one before.
Her last husband had died of a massive stroke while on a business trip in Europe. She had once shared with Jenessa how much she regretted not having been with him when he’d passed away. She rarely cared to go traipsing all over Europe while he met with clients and suppliers—she had gone twice, and that was enough.
“Yes, I heard you.” Jenessa shook her head, trying to clear the daze. “Sorry, I don’t know what to say. It’s such a shock.”
“For me too, hon.”
“From what I’ve been able to gather, he was at his office working, dictating to his secretary I believe, when he began to have chest pains and slumped over on his desk. She phoned nine-one-one, but it was too late.”
The words pressed down on Jenessa like an elephant sitting on her chest. She struggled to suck in a deep breath. Reconciliation of any kind with her father would be impossible now. Guilt rippled through her. Why hadn’t she tried harder?
Her father, David Jones, had been an attorney in Hidden Valley. He had moved the family there from San Francisco to start up a new practice when Jenessa was fifteen. She had been heartbroken, inconsolable, leaving her friends and the home she had grown up in.
He had tried to comfort her, her sister too, telling them that he was doing it to give his family a safer, better life in that small town, nestled in the central valley of California. They would make new friends, he had promised, and they would have a larger, nicer home than before. His sister Renee had lived there for years and had often encouraged him to take a leap and move his family there.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” Jenessa said. “He was always one to keep things bottled up.” Unfortunately, in that way, she took after him. “Perhaps the stress got to be too much for him.”
“You’re probably right.” Aunt Renee sniffled. “I know you and he didn’t get along all that well these last few years, Jen, but I know he loved you very much.”
“He sure had a funny way of showing it.” Jenessa pinched her lips shut. She hadn’t meant to sound so cold and had blurted it out before her brain could filter her response.
Aunt Renee’s words had yanked up painful, buried feelings and the comment had unexpectedly slipped out from a dark and wounded place. Jenessa was instantly thrown back to the years her father had been cool and distant, ever since she screwed up and made that one mistake—that one
mistake—when she was seventeen.
No matter how much she wished it, Jenessa couldn’t pull her icy remark back in. “I shouldn’t have said that,” was all she could offer.
“I understand, you’re upset. We all are, hon. When can you come home?” Aunt Renee asked.
Jenessa hadn’t told anyone in her family that she had lost her job at the paper. She’d hoped to get another before she ran out of money, before she disappointed her father one more time.
She hadn’t even told her best friend, Ramey St. John, who still lived in Hidden Valley. She and Ramey had met in Spanish class after her family moved there. They were in the same grade and became best friends.
“I can leave as soon as I get a bag packed.” It was a two-hour drive down Highway 99, assuming her old Toyota was up for the journey. “I’ll call you when I get close.”
“Sara and Ramey will be glad to see you, hon, and so will I. Drive safely.”
Ramey would be glad, but Jenessa doubted Sara would.
Jenessa hadn’t visited her hometown very often after she’d left at seventeen, but she did stay in contact with Ramey, and her sister too, somewhat. She and Sara had been close until Jenessa left, but her sister had blamed her for the rift between her and her father. She also blamed Jenessa for their mother’s death.
But sweet Ramey was always there for her. Ramey had become more like another sister than a friend to Jenessa. She had been raised by a single mother who had become an alcoholic and a recreational drug user over the years, making Ramey’s home life miserable and sometimes dangerous. Jenessa often invited Ramey to come and hang out at her house, to spend the night most weekends, and the girl became like a third daughter in the family.
The thought of seeing Ramey again was a bright spot in an otherwise sad situation. Sara? Well, she’d have to see how that went.
After changing out of her suit, and into a comfortable pair of jeans and a t-shirt, Jenessa began packing. With no job and no way to make up the back rent, she crammed all her clothes into suitcases and every other thing she wanted to take with her into boxes.