A handsome stranger comes to the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls in hopes of burying his past: Once a teacher at a girls’ prep school, Jack St. Bride was destroyed when a student’s crush sparked a powder keg of accusation. Now, washing dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, he slips quietly into his new routine, and Addie finds this unassuming man fitting easily inside her heart. But amid the rustic calm of Salem Falls, a quartet of teenage girls harbor dark secrets — and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation. Now, at the center of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence: to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray, and to the woman who has come to love him.
Salem Falls, New Hampshire
On the second worst day of Addie Peabody’s life, her refrigerator and dishwasher both died, like long-term lovers who could not conceive of existing without each other. This would have been a trial for anyone, but as she was the owner of the Do-Or-Diner, it blossomed into a catastrophe of enormous proportions. Addie stood with her hands pressed to the stainless steel door of the Sub-Zero walk-in, as if she might jump-start its heart by faith healing.
It was hard to decide what was more devastating: the health violations or the loss of potential income. Twenty pounds of dry ice, the most the medical supply store had to offer, wasn’t doing the job. Within hours, Addie would have to throw away the gallon buckets of gravy, stew, and chicken soup made that morning. “I think,” she said after a moment, “I’m going to build a snowman.”
“Now?” asked Delilah, the cook, her crossed arms as thick as a blacksmith’s. She frowned. “You know, Addie, I never believed it when folks around here called you crazy, but
“I’ll stick it in the fridge. Maybe it’ll save the food until the repairman gets here.”
“Snowmen melt,” Delilah said, but Addie could tell that she was turning the idea over in her mind.
“Then we’ll mop up and make more.”
“And I suppose you’re just gonna let the customers fend for themselves?”
“No,” Addie said. “I’m going to get them to help. Will you get Chloe’s boots?”
The diner was not crowded for 10 A.M. Of the six booths, two were occupied: one by a mother and her toddler, the other by a businessman brushing muffin crumbs off his laptop. A couple of elderly regulars, Stuart and Wallace, slouched at the counter drinking coffee while they argued over the local paper’s headlines.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Addie proclaimed. “I’m pleased to announce the start of the Do-or-Diner’s winter carnival. The first event is going to be a snow-sculpture contest, and if you’d all just come out back for a moment, we can get started — ”
“It’s freezing out there!” cried Wallace.
“Well, of course it is. Otherwise we’d be having a summer carnival. Winner of the contest gets…a month of breakfast on the house.”
Stuart and Wallace shrugged, a good sign. The toddler bounced on the banquette like popcorn in a skillet. Only the businessman seemed unconvinced. As the others shuffled through the door, Addie approached his table. “Look,” the businessman said. “I don’t want to build a snowman, all right? All I came here for was some breakfast.”
“Well, we’re not serving now. We’re sculpting.” She gave him her brightest smile.
The man seemed nonplussed. He tossed a handful of change on the table, gathered his coat and computer, and stood up to leave. “You’re nuts.”
Addie watched him leave. “Yes,” she murmured. “That’s what they say.”
Outside, Stuart and Wallace were huffing through their scarves, crafting a respectable armadillo. Delilah had fashioned a snow chicken, a leg of lamb, pole beans. The toddler, stuffed into a snowsuit the color of a storm, lay on her back making angels.
Once Chloe had asked: Is Heaven above or below the place where snow comes from?
“You got the Devil’s own luck,” Delilah told Addie. “What if there was no snow?”
“Since when has there been no snow here in March? And besides, this isn’t luck. Luck is finding out the repairman could come a day early.”
As if Addie had conjured it, a man’s voice called out. “Anybody home?”
“We’re back here.” Addie was faintly disappointed to see a young cop, instead of an appliance repairman, rounding the corner. “Hi, Orren. You here for a cup of coffee?”
“Uh, no, Addie. I’m here on official business.”
Her head swam. Could the accountant have reported them to the board of health so quickly? Did a law enforcement officer have the power to make her close her doors? But before she could voice her doubts, the policeman spoke again.
“It’s your father,” Orren explained, blushing. “He’s been arrested.”
Addie stormed into the police department with such force that the double doors slammed back on their hinges, letting in a gust of cold wind. “Jeez Louise,” said the dispatch sergeant. “Hope Courtemanche found himself a good hiding place.”
“Where is he?” Addie demanded.
“My best guess? Maybe in the men’s room, in a stall. Or squeezed into one of the empty lockers in the squad room.” The officer scratched his jaw. “Come to think of it, I once hid in the trunk of a cruiser when my wife was on the warpath.”
“I’m not talking about Officer Courtemanche,” Addie said through clenched teeth. “I meant my father.”
“Oh, Roy’s in the lockup,” He winced, remembering something. “But if you’re here to spring him, you’re gonna have to talk to Wes anyway, since it was his arrest.” He picked up the phone. “You can take a seat, Addie. I’ll let you know when Wes is free.”
Addie scowled. “I’m sure I’ll know. You always smell a skunk before you see it.”
“Why, Addie, is that any way to speak to the man who saved your father’s life?”
In his blue uniform, his badge glinting like a third eye, Wes Courtemanche was handsome enough to make women in Salem Falls dream about committing crimes. Addie, however, took one look at him and thought — not for the first time — that some men ought to come with an expiration date.
“Arresting a sixty-five-year-old man isn’t my idea of saving his life,” she huffed.
Wes took her elbow and led her gently down the hall, away from the dispatch sergeant’s eyes and ears. “Your father was driving under the influence again, Addie.”
Heat rose to her cheeks. Roy Peabody’s drinking wasn’t any secret in Salem Falls, but he’d gone one step too far last month, wrapping his car around the town’s statue of Giles Corey, the only man who’d been a casualty of the Puritan witch hunts. Roy’s license had been revoked. For his own safety, Addie had junked the car. And her own Mazda was safely parked at the diner. What vehicle could he have used?
As if he could read her mind, Wes said, “He was in the breakdown lane of Route 10, on his ride-on mower.”
“His ride-on mower,” Addie repeated. “Wes, that thing can’t go more than five miles an hour.”
“Fifteen, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, he doesn’t have a license. And you need one if you’re gonna operate any self-propelled vehicle on the street.”
“Maybe it was an emergency…”
“Guess it was, Addie. We confiscated a brand-new fifth of vodka from him, too.” Wes paused. “He was on his way home from the liquor store in North Haverhill.” He watched Addie knead her temples. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I think you’ve done enough, Wes. I mean, gosh, you arrested a man joyriding on a lawn mower. Surely they’ll give you a Purple Heart or something for going to such extremes to ensure public safety.”
“Now, just a second. I was ensuring safety…Roy’s. What if a truck cut the curve too tight and ran him down? What if he fell asleep at the wheel?”
“Can I just take him home now?”
Wes regarded her thoughtfully. It made Addie feel like he was sorting through her mind opening up certain ideas and shuffling aside others. She closed her eyes.
“Sure,” Wes said. “Follow me.”
He led her down a hallway to a room at the back of the police department. There was a wide desk manned by another officer, a high counter with ink pads for fingerprinting, and in the shadowy distance, a trio of tiny cells. Wes touched her forearm. “I’m not going to write him up, Addie.”
“You’re a real prince.”
He laughed and walked off. She heard the barred door slide open like a sword being pulled from its scabbard. “Guess who’s waiting for you out there, Roy?”
Her father’s voice now, pouring slow as honey: “My Margaret?”
“‘Fraid not. Margaret’s been gone about five years now.”
They turned the corner, Wes bearing the brunt of her father’s weight. Roy Peabody was a charmer of a man, with hair as white and thick as the inner wing of a dove and blue eyes that always swam with a secret. “Addie!” he crowed, seeing her. “Happy birthday!”
He lunged for her, and Addie staggered. “Come on, Dad. We’ll get you home.”
Wes hooked his thumb on his belt. “You want a hand getting him out to your car?”
“No, thanks. We can manage.” At that moment, her father felt slighter and more insubstantial than Chloe. They walked awkwardly, like contestants in a three-legged race.
Wes held open the door. “Well, shoot, Addie. I’m sorry I had to call you down for this on your birthday.”
She did not break stride. “It’s not my birthday,” she said, and guided her father out.
Pick up a copy of Salem Falls mass market edition, out from Pocket Books 11/25/14!