Book Debut: Deception by Sally Royer-Derr
Rick and Joanna Craig think their worries about Simon Clay are over; after his early release from prison, he’s supposedly killed in a house fire. But, Simon isn’t dead. Instead, he has a new face and a new identity. He’s coming back for Joanna, but someone else catches his eye this time.
He begins to date Joanna’s daughter, Jilly. She proves to be only a short term distraction for him; there is no substitute for Joanna in his heart. And, this time, he will have her.
The mid-June heat was starting to rise, snaking its grip around the Southern California residents. Simon hit the switch on the car door, a black Mercedes-Benz, no less, and the tinted window slid smoothly into the door. A warm breeze wafted inside the car, and the stately palm tree he parked beside slowly waved its leaves.
He leaned a well-muscled arm on the black leather console, studying the building in front of him. Gleaming panes of glass lined the front of the elegantly-appointed shop. Small, globe-shaped trees stood guard on either side of the front door, which boasted a mosaic of red, black and white. Above the door in a simple black-and-white lettering read, The Art Nook.
Foot traffic was light this early in the morning on trendy Montana Avenue. Everyone was still nursing their Starbucks and contemplating the plan of the day. Simon didn’t care. He had time to wait. He’d waited twelve long years in prison for this day. A few more hours are no big deal.
* * * * *
Jilly slammed the door of her white convertible and hurried to open the back door of the gallery. Hastily, she clicked her remote to lock the car. The familiar bleep made her move faster to enter the gallery. I can’t believe I overslept this morning. I hope he’s not here yet.
Her mother’s business partner, Maize Lee, usually opened the shop when Joanna was away. However, Maize was in New York this week scouting a new, talented artist they hoped to feature in the gallery. A bead of sweat formed on Jilly’s forehead as she fumbled with the lock. She brushed it away and wiped her hand on the skirt of her short, black dress. She wished she was wearing her bikini and lying on the beach. It sucks I have to work today. Normally, she wouldn’t be so concerned about being late, but one of the artists was stopping by this morning to check out the placement of his work. She didn’t want the front door to be locked when he arrived. Her mom had told her he could be oversensitive at times. I don’t need some artsy guy freaking out on me this morning. She planned on going to bed early last night and waking up early, but ended up staying up late watching movies.
Finally, the door opened. She slid inside, through the back room, into the showroom. Her black sandals clicked loudly on the gleaming, hardwood floor. Just in time. She breathed a sigh of relief as she noticed a handsome older man closing the car door on his black Mercedes-Benz and approaching the gallery. She turned the lock and graciously opened the front door to greet him.
* * * * *
His mind spun when he saw her standing at the door. A friendly smile adorned the sweet features of her face. The same face that continued to haunt his dreams. She looked exactly as she did in high school. His sweet, sweet Joanna.
He shook his head. This couldn’t be Joanna. She’d be 44 years old now―his age. This lovely creature must be Jilly. Her striking resemblence to her mother threw him off guard. He was back in high school again and the most beautiful girl he ever saw was smiling at him, welcoming him into her life.
He hadn’t prepared for this. He never expected to be reminded of the lust of his youth, to see the woman who was his very reason for breathing so many years ago. He’d expected to see Joanna, and didn’t know how the rage and love he felt for her would surface, but this was too much.
“Good morning,” the young woman said. She extended her hand. “I’m Jilly Dresden. My mother, Joanna, was so sorry to miss your visit. But I’m very happy to meet you.”
Simon grasped the soft, firm flesh of her hand. His mind continued to spin as he drank in her youthful exuberance. A perfect reincarnation of my Joanna. Mixed emotions raced through him. He felt confused and tried to gain his bearings.
“Oh,” he smiled warmly. “You must have me mistaken for someone else.”
Confusion clouded her blue eyes for a moment, “You’re not Edward? The artist?”
He shook his head, “No, my name is John. John Stapleton. But, I am very happy to meet you, Jilly.”
She laughed. A beautiful, tinkling sound hung in the air a few seconds after the laugh. “My mistake. Nice to meet you, John. How can I help you today?”
He paused for a moment, still feeling caught off guard by this beautiful vision of the past. Then, he started to speak in the slow, Southern drawl he’d practiced for so many months.
“I’ve heard great things about this gallery,” he said. “Your mother’s gallery, I assume.”
“Yes,” Jilly nodded. “Well, she is co-owner of it. Unfortunately, she’s out of the country. Actually, she’s on a book tour with her husband. He’s a novelist. Have you ever heard of Rick Craig?”
Simon clenched his teeth, trying to maintain the rage that flowed so easily through him at the sound of that name. Rick Craig. The man who destroyed all my plans. Even after all these years, the anger still simmered just below the boiling point. Everything would have worked out for me if he hadn’t waltzed into Joanna’s life. I should have shot him when I had the chance. But, he thought he and Joanna would die together. He shot her, then himself, like a classic tragic love story. He wanted Rick to feel the pain of losing her to him. An unsuccessful plan, obviously. He calmed himself. He was on a mission now, and Rick Craig would not get in his way again.
“I don’t have much time to read,” he said, quickly. “You said she was a co-owner. Is her partner available to speak to?”
“I’m sorry, no. Maize is in New York this week,” Jilly smiled. A beautiful, innocent smile that warmed the blood coursing through his veins. “I guess you’re stuck with me.”
A slow grin spread across Simon’s face. “Then, I’m a lucky man.
* * * *
Jilly studied the handsome, dark-haired stranger flirting with her. She estimated him to be in his early to mid-thirties. He was tall, dark-haired and had penetrating dark eyes. He’s too old for me. But, the man possessed a certain charm and familiarity about him that appealed to her. And that Southern accent piqued her interest.
“Your lucky day, I guess.” She brushed back a wisp of dark hair that escaped from her hair clip. She wished she’d kept the honey-blonde hair of her youth, but as she got older her hair darkened. Now, it was as dark as her mother’s hair. “What part of the South are you from?”
“Texas, ma’am,” the man replied. “I’m in real estate. What you might call “flipping.” Ever hear of that?”
“Like the TV shows? You buy a house, fix it up, and sell it? I love those shows. The remodels are amazing.”
“That’s what I do, only on a much bigger scale. See, I only flip top-of-the-line homes in expensive neighborhoods. And my homes are not only remodeled, but furnished. Top notch furnishings and décor. That’s why I’m here.”
“Okay, you’re looking for artwork for a home,” Jilly nodded and gestured her hand around the gallery. “Let’s look around. I’m sure you’ll find something you like.”