No Place Like Home

Seventy-three years haven’t dampened Fred Vickery’s enthusiasm for life–or his pride in his children, however foolish they may be.  Like his impetuous son Douglas.  Since his divorce, Douglas has managed to ignore all of Fred’s advice about reconciling with his ex-wife.

Now, Douglas is the only suspect in the murder of her new boyfriend.  There’s no way Fred is going to sit back and let his son tape the rap for murder–no matter what his daughter, his doctor, and the sheriff say.  So Fred turns to the one source that will eventually reveal the truth:  the small-town gossip mill.

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(Copyrighted Material) 

ONE

Fred Vickery adjusted his step to keep up with his youngest son, Douglas, who led the way down the boardwalk of Cutler, Colorado’s Main Street. Douglas set a quicker pace than Fred’s usual one, but not an impossible one to match.

“It never changes here, does it?” Douglas asked.

Fred squinted into the early spring sunlight, surveying Cutler’s tiny business district and sparse morning traffic. “There have been more changes than you think.

Nestled in a narrow valley, cut into the forest, the town huddled on the shores of Spirit Lake, high in the Colorado Rockies. Even in its most densely populated section, Cutler felt more like a nick in the timber than a town. But that’s what Fred loved about it.

Lodgepole pines towered over most of the buildings, aspen trees shivered in the high mountain breezes, and the chatter of forest creates broke the silence almost as often as the sounds of human occupation. Douglas was right. It had been this way for years; yet there were subtle differences Fred could sense, even if Douglas couldn’t see them.

“I haven’t been home in over a year,” Douglas said, “and everything’s exactly the same.” He grinned, looking more like a kid of eighteen than his thirty-six years. He’d grown tall as a teenager, but the height suited him better at this age than it had then. His deep brown eyes held their usual twinkle, and tiny smile lines creased the skin around them.

“Not exactly the same,” Fred insisted. “Change is in the wind.”

“Well, let’s just say I’m not likely to get lost around here,” Douglas said with a laugh. “You’ve got a long way to go before you catch up with Seattle.”

“Who said we wanted to?”

Douglas laughed again. “Got to leave us some place to come home to, huh?”

Fred nodded. “Yep. At least as long as I have any say in the way things are done.”

Douglas threw an arm around Fred’s shoulder and changed the subject. “After we see Alison, let’s drop by Maggie’s okay?”

Douglas had an impetuous nature, which often worried Fred. The boy didn’t believe in making plans, but his way of dropping in on people unannounced didn’t always go over well.

“Did you call her this morning?”

“Who? Alison? Or Maggie?”

“Either. Both.” Fred tried to keep exasperation from sounding in his voice. Margaret had always argued against her brother’s easygoing manner, and Fred thought Alison deserved more consideration from her father, especially under the circumstances.

But Douglas didn’t seem concerned. “No, I didn’t.”

“Don’t you think you should have let Suzanne know that you’re back? You’re divorced now, son. She might not appreciate—”

“She knows how I am,” Douglas broke in before Fred could finish. “It’ll be fine. Besides, she’s been all right with you, hasn’t she?”

Fred refrained from pointing out the obvious flaws in Douglas’s thinking. Suzanne knew only too well how Douglas was. After fourteen years of marriage, she’d stopped complaining about Douglas’s habit of leapfrogging from job to job. She’d abandoned her efforts to change him and moved from Seattle to Portland, taking Alison with her. Then, less than a month ago, Suzanne and Alison had moved back to Cutler. And late last night, Douglas had shown up on Fred’s doorstep—unannounced, of course.

“She’s seemed pleased to see me every time I’ve been over there,” Fred admitted, “but you can’t expect her to feel the same way about you.”

Douglas patted Fred’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t worry so much, Dad. She’s come back to Cutler, hasn’t she? And she knows I’ll come here to visit you. If she didn’t want to see me, she wouldn’t have come back here. Besides—” He broke off suddenly and grinned. “Hey! Is that Enos?”

Fred followed his gaze and found Enos Asay, Cutler’s sheriff, standing on the corner with one of his deputies less than a block away. The deputy was tall and lanky, towering over Enos by nearly a foot—Grady Hatch. Without another word, Douglas sprinted toward the two men.

Fred followed . . . without the sprint.

Even as a boy, Douglas had been full of energy and hard to pin down. He’d been interested in everything, started more projects than Fred could count, and abandoned every one of them halfway through. Fred had been waiting the boy’s whole life for him to settle down and focus on something—anything—all the way to the end. Judging from what he’d seen of Douglas so far, it looked like he’d be waiting a while longer.

(Copyrighted Material)


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