Painter Jenny Kinley has spent the last decade struggling in the New York art world. Her grandmother’s sudden death brings her home to New Mexico, but inheriting the children’s art camp her grandmother ran is more of a burden than a gift. How can she give up her lifelong dreams of showing her work in galleries and museums?
Rob Caruso, the camp cook and all-around handyman, would be happy to run the camp with Jenny. Dare he even dream of that, when his past holds dark secrets that he can never share? When Jenny’s father reappears after a decade-long absence, only Rob knows where he’s been and what danger he’s brought with him.
Jenny and Rob face midnight break-ins and make desperate escapes, but the biggest danger may come from the secrets that don’t want to stay buried. In the end, they must decide whether their dreams will bring them together or force them apart.
Counterfeits Chapter 1
Jenny’s rolling suitcase bumped up the porch steps. Once, twice, three times, like a knock that would never be answered. She propped up the bag and ran her hands over the graceful pattern of vines carved into the heavy wooden door.
Tears stung her eyes in the cold night air. How many times had she rushed to this door with a sense of coming home? Growing up, she had spent every summer at her grandparents’ art camp. She hadn’t been back as often in the last ten years, but it still felt more like home to her than any place else in the world. And now she couldn’t bring herself to reach for the doorknob.
She took a shuddering breath and turned away to gaze up at the dark sky. Stars splashed across the moonless night, so many stars she could hardly pick out the constellations, but the band of the Milky Way shimmered like a streak of glitter paint on velvet paper. She had gazed up at that sky a million times, and yet the sight jolted her. After a decade living among the lights of New York City, it was easy to forget that nature had her own Great White Way.
She shivered. During her childhood summers here in the northwestern New Mexico mountains, nights had typically been mild, even at over 6000 feet elevation. Now in early March, at nearly midnight, the temperature must be dropping toward freezing. Maybe that was why the vast, chilled sky seemed so distant and lonely.
Jenny leaned back against the door and closed her eyes. She was so tired. The last 36 hours had been a blur of grief, desperate planning, and travel across the country. But she’d been tired before that, for months, maybe even years. She couldn’t remember the last time she hadn’t felt exhausted, discouraged, hopeless. And now the person who could always make her feel better was gone.
She hadn’t made plans beyond getting here. Thank goodness for Ms. Espinoza, the camp secretary, who was handling all the funeral arrangements. Jenny simply didn’t have it in her to tackle that as well.
Maybe she’d take a few extra days and rest. But she couldn’t bring herself to enter her grandparents’ house and go to bed, knowing she’d be alone. When her grandfather had died two years before, her heart had broken. Now her grandmother was gone as well.
Jenny tried not to imagine her grandmother’s last moments, when the car she was driving had skidded off the twisty mountain road two days before. She tried to blank out all thoughts, all grief. She took a ragged breath, the frigid air searing her lungs, and blew it out slowly, hoping to empty her mind as well.
Her thoughts refused to quiet, while Jenny’s heart ached with emptiness, a dark hole as vast and cold as the night sky.
Jenny’s consciousness dragged her out of sleep slowly, her body resisting. She blinked, trying to make sure her eyes were really open. She could see nothing in the pitch black. Where was she?
Memories broke through the fog. The phone call, the rush across country, the late arrival. Crawling into bed in her grandparents’ upstairs guest room. She groaned and pulled up the blanket. Morning must be hours away, given the darkness.
The old house creaked, but no sounds drifted in from outside. Maybe that’s what woke her; she was used to the murmur of city sounds all night long. Who’d have thought that would become normal?
Her head pounded. Probably dehydration from the high elevation and dry air. She should get up, drink a glass of water, take a couple of aspirin. Her head would thank her in the morning. If only she could make herself move.
The house creaked again, followed by a rhythmic sound – like footsteps. Jenny jerked upright, her ears straining. Had she heard a voice?
She shook her head. She must still be half asleep, dreaming. Imagining her grandparents were still here. Wishful thinking.
Downstairs, a door closed. Jenny clutched the blanket. Imagination be damned. She was not alone.
For a long moment, she sat frozen. During her 10 years in New York City, she had never been burglarized or mugged. It seemed impossible that such a thing should happen now, here, in an off-season art camp five miles outside of Jemez Springs, New Mexico.
Maybe it was someone her grandmother knew. But what were they doing there in the middle of the night? And if they’d come to see Jenny, they should have knocked, rung the bell. Waited for morning. Anyway, who knew she was there? Even Ms. Espinoza didn’t know when she was supposed to arrive. She hadn’t told anyone her travel plans; she’d just gone.
She had to do something. Jenny rose and eased open the bedroom door, praying she had somehow been mistaken, that everything would make sense if… when… She couldn’t imagine a benign explanation.
She stood with her ear to the crack and heard a low chuckle, and then a male voice. She couldn’t tell if the laugh and the voice were the same person. Either way, that suggested two or more people, at least one of them male.
Why would a man be laughing in her grandmother’s house, in the middle of the night, two days after her grandmother’s death? No good reason came to mind.
She fumbled for her phone on the bedside stand. But even before she activated the screen, she gave a frustrated grunt. She wouldn’t get reception here. The only place in camp that got cell phone reception was the southeast corner of the parking lot. The landline was downstairs, in the kitchen.
Something crashed in a room below. Jenny jumped and dropped her phone. It hit her thigh, then her foot, and went skittering under the bed with a faint scrape against the wood floor.
A man was swearing downstairs. Hopefully that had covered up any sound she’d made. Jenny clenched her hands to control the trembling. She couldn’t imagine her grandmother being friendly with anyone who swore like that.
She had to get out of the house. She wouldn’t wait upstairs for the burglars, if that’s what they were, to find her. If she could get to her car – damn. Her keys were in her purse, which was downstairs on the living room couch. So she couldn’t drive, but she could still go to the Lodge, break in if she had to. Use the phone in the office, call the police.
Still shaking, Jenny crouched and felt along the floor for her shoes. She was wearing flannel pajama bottoms and a tank top; no need to waste time putting on clothes. She was already cold, but her jacket was downstairs, lying over her purse on the couch. It didn’t matter. She just had to get out.
Jenny slipped from the room and down the hall. She paused at the top of the stairs, which were open to the living room on one side. She had to figure out where the intruders were, so she didn’t walk right into their arms. She stood taut, senses straining.
A screech sounded, maybe a chair leg on tile, and then kitchen cabinets clattered open and closed. The kitchen was as far away as they could get from the front door. But were they both – or all, if there were more than two – back there?
What choice did she have? If they kept going through the house, eventually they would find her. She refused to think about what that might mean. She had to get out.
She crept partway down the stairs, sliding one hand along the banister for balance as she craned her neck to search the room below. Nothing moved in the dim living room, but light spilled down the hallway from the kitchen. She thought she heard two voices back there.
Jenny took a breath and held it. She had to go now.
She ran lightly down the stairs. By the time she hit the bottom, she was going full speed. The door was slightly ajar. She wrenched at it and hurled herself through. She swung around the door, pulling it nearly shut behind her to hide the sign of her exit. She had one moment to glance toward the back of the house before the door closed. Nothing but the light showed that something was wrong.
Jenny spun around and took one big step away from the house – and slammed into a hard body.