The Liar

By: Nora Roberts


1





In the big house—and Shelby would always think of it as the big house—she sat in her husband’s big leather chair at his big, important desk. The color of the chair was espresso. Not brown. Richard had been very exact about that sort of thing. The desk itself, so sleek and shiny, was African zebra wood, and custom-made for him in Italy.

When she’d said—just a joke—that she didn’t know they had zebras in Italy, he’d given her that look. The look that told her despite the big house, the fancy clothes and the fat diamond on the fourth finger of her left hand, she’d always be Shelby Anne Pomeroy, two steps out of the bumpkin town in Tennessee where she was born and raised.

He’d have laughed once, she thought now, he’d have known she was joking and laughed as if she were the sparkle in his life. But oh God, she’d dulled in his eyes, and so fast, too.

The man she’d met nearly five years before on a starry summer night had swept her off her feet, away from everything she’d known, into worlds she’d barely imagined.

He’d treated her like a princess, shown her places she’d only read about in books or seen in movies. And he’d loved her once—hadn’t he? It was important to remember that. He’d loved her, wanted her, given her all any woman could ask for.

Provided. That was a word he’d often used. He’d provided for her.

Maybe he’d been upset when she got pregnant, maybe she’d been afraid—just for a minute—of the look in his eyes when she told him. But he’d married her, hadn’t he? Whisked her off to Las Vegas like they were having the adventure of a lifetime.

They’d been happy then. It was important to remember that now, too. She had to remember that, to hold tight the memories of the good times.

A woman widowed at twenty-four needed memories.

A woman who learned she’d been living a lie, was not only broke but in terrible, breathtaking debt, needed reminders of the good times.

The lawyers and accountants and tax people explained it all to her, but they might as well have been speaking Greek when they went on about leveraging and hedge funds and foreclosures. The big house, one that had intimidated her since she’d walked in the door, wasn’t hers—or not enough hers to matter—but the mortgage company’s. The cars, leased not bought, and with the payments overdue, not hers, either.

The furniture? Bought on credit, and those payments overdue.

And the taxes. She couldn’t bear to think about the taxes. It terrified her to think of them.

In the two months and eight days since Richard’s death, it seemed all she did was think about matters he’d told her not to worry about, matters that weren’t her concern. Matters, when he’d give her that look, that were none of her business.

Now it was all her concern, and all her business, because she owed creditors, a mortgage company and the United States government so much money it paralyzed her.

She couldn’t afford to be paralyzed. She had a child, she had a daughter. Callie was all that mattered now. She was only three, Shelby thought, and wanted to lay her head down on that slick, shiny desk and weep.

“But you won’t. You’re what she’s got now, so you’ll do whatever has to be done.”

She opened one of the boxes, the one marked “Personal Papers.” The lawyers and tax people had taken everything, gone through everything, copied everything, she supposed.

Now she would go through everything, and see what could be salvaged. For Callie.

She needed to find enough, somewhere, to provide for her child after she’d paid off all the debt. She’d get work, of course, but it wouldn’t be enough.

She didn’t care about the money, she thought as she began going through receipts for suits and shoes and restaurants and hotels. For private planes. She’d learned she didn’t care about the money after the first whirlwind year, after Callie.

After Callie all she’d wanted was a home.

She stopped, looked around Richard’s office. The harsh colors of the modern art he’d preferred, the stark white walls he said best showed off that art, and the dark woods and leathers.

This wouldn’t be home, and hadn’t been. Would never be, she thought, if she lived here eighty years instead of the scant three months since they’d moved in.

He’d bought it without consulting her, furnished it without asking what she’d like. A surprise, he’d said, throwing open the doors to this monster house in Villanova, this echoing building in what he’d claimed was the best of the Philadelphia suburbs.

And she’d pretended to love it, hadn’t she? Grateful for a settled place, however much the hard colors and towering ceilings intimidated. Callie would have a home, go to good schools, play in a safe neighborhood.

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