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Nancy Bartholomew

Stand By Your Man

For my brother, John - the one who keeps the music and wisdom alive in our family, and to his beautiful family: Vicky, Jimmy, and Emily.

I love you.


My books couldn't happen without the support and encouragement of my family. My boys are all the world to me and I want to thank them once again for eating lots of noodles! Thanks to my husband for being the first reader, no matter that he hasn't gotten to put his briefcase down or loosen his tie!

Thanks also to my incredible editor, Jeffery McGraw, who sees the vision and pushes me forward. And to my agent, Donald Maass, for keeping my feet on the ground and my fingers on the keyboard. I would also like to thank my critique group for their unflagging support.

Now for the real scoop… Thank you, Town and Country Cloggers: Miss Patsy, Susan, Caroline, Kenny, Christine, and the gang! And Wendy, thanks for pretending to be my publicist and for giving so much of your time, energy, and love!

Chapter One

The first time I laid eyes on Detective Marshall J. Weathers of the Greensboro Police Department's Homicide Unit, I heard Mama's voice echoing in my head. "It's the fire that'll burn you, sweetie, not the smoke." Marshall Weathers was pure fire, from his icy blue eyes and handsome tanned face right down to his tight, faded jeans. But trying to bring the two of us together was like trying to put two angry porcupines in a Coke bottle-a sticky proposition on the best of days.

It was no different when my ex-husband, Vernell, disappeared. Marshall Weathers was the first person I knew to turn to, but he should've been the last. Despite his handsome ways and that thick cowboy mustache of his, I figured Marshall Weathers was just a lowlife snake in the grass.

I jammed a quarter in the meter across the street from the police station, knowing full well that I shouldn't go see the man, but where else could I go? Vernell Spivey, North Carolina's self-proclaimed King of the Satellite Dish and Mobile Home Kingdom, had been missing for two days. His bank accounts were as dry as his liquor cabinet, and I was worried half out of my mind. So I figured it didn't matter that Marshall Weathers had promised to call. So what if it had been two months? So what if I remembered the way he held me out on the dance floor, with a look that promised forever and a touch that said tonight? This was an emergency.

"Detective Weathers," the receptionist said into her little headset, "a woman is here to see you. Says her name is Maggie Reid. Says she knows you."

Why did they always make it sound like you were a liar? I stalked over to the waiting area, picked up Guns and Ammo Magazine, and held it in front of me, my face flaming nearly as red as my hair.

He'd accused me of murdering my brother-in-law a mere two weeks before he two-stepped me around the floor at the Golden Stallion, the club where I sing with the house band. He'd kissed me that night and disappeared. So, what the hell was that? Now Vernell was gone. A smarter woman would've seen the trend, but not me. I'm an optimist. I figure one day God'll make a model that doesn't rust out and holds true to its promises.

I closed my eyes for a short second, feeling his lips on mine, smelling his cologne, and remembering the way his arms had squeezed me close to him. My heart started to pound and I could feel my face turning redder at the thought of what might have happened if only I'd had half a chance.

"If you're napping, I can come back," a deep voice said. I hadn't heard him coming.

I jumped up, threw the magazine down on the coffee table, and got ready to launch right in. All right, so he hadn't called. He didn't need to think I gave a good fig about it.

"I need to report someone missing," I said.

He had the nerve to just stand there, smiling and staring at me in that way of his. I was having trouble looking at him, but I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of breaking off first, either. He wasn't going to best Maggie Reid.

"All right, Maggie," he said finally, "let's talk."

He turned and walked off, with me following behind and studying the back of his neck. What had I done to lose this one? One minute he was holding me in his arms, the next he had vanished. And don't go thinking I didn't want to call him, because I surely did, but pride kept watch over my impulses, holding me back from a short waltz with foolish desire. I wasn't going to chase him like a silly schoolgirl. Whatever was keeping him away from me could just remain a mystery. My days of chasing after scoundrels were over, that is, just as soon as I found out what happened to Vernell Spivey.

Marshall Weathers led us right past the hallway where his office was and on to a small interview room. I stared up at the one-way mirror and back at him.

"Well," I said, "this is certainly familiar. Are you thinking perhaps Vernell is dead and I killed him? 'Cause if you are…"

I was geared up for a confrontation, but Weathers just chuckled and held up his hand like a traffic cop.

"Maggie, they're painting my office. I don't have anyplace else to go." He walked around the big metal desk that occupied half the room and sat down in a chair. "Now, what's this about you killing Vernell?"

"I didn't!" I shrieked. "What makes you think I'd do a thing like that?"

He was laughing to himself. "I don't, Maggie. You're the one who brought it up." When he saw that I was serious, he stopped. "Okay, Mag, sit down and tell me what's going on."

I slid into the chair across from him and to my complete surprise and consternation, lost my cool and began to cry.

"Vernell has been gone for two days," I said, tears sliding down my cheeks. "I don't keep tabs on him usually, but what with him and Jolene getting divorced, and Sheila moving back in with me, well, I just figured it was better if I checked on him."

Marshall was listening, leaning back in his chair, tipping it up off the ground like always. He had rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt and was tapping a pen on his thigh.

"He's been drinking pretty steadily, too," I added. "So, when his manager at the mobile home lot called and said Vernell hadn't been in for two days and he needed his signature on the paychecks, I went over to his house." I looked up at Marshall. "I figured he might've been drinking so much he'd gotten sick, but he wasn't there. His truck was gone too."

Marshall started to say something, but I kept on going. "I know what you're thinking. He might've just run off for a couple of days. Well, I thought that too. So, I went over and signed the checks. I can do that with the mobile home lot, on account of Sheila and me owning almost half of it." I rushed on: "But the checks all bounced. Vernell's gone and so is his money. The bank said he withdrew almost everything two days ago. I've got to cover it, too, or we'll be arrested for bad check writing. I can't cover that kind of expense!"

Marshall Weathers was frowning. He reached inside his shirt pocket, pulled out a little notepad, and scribbled something on it.

"What bank does he use, Maggie?"

"Wachovia," I said, "on Church Street." I watched him writing more on the tiny pad. "Vernell didn't run off. He wouldn't do us that way, ex-wife or not. I think something bad's happened to Vernell. I want you to find him."

Marshall looked up at me, his eyes softening. He reached into his back pocket, pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to me.

"Maggie, have you thought that he might be very depressed over his second marriage ending? That he might've wanted to hurt himself?"

I thought about the Vernell Spivey I knew. When Jolene and Vernell first split and he saw her for the woman she was, even right after she went to prison, maybe then he could've felt suicidal, but not longer than ten minutes. Vernell was too pitiful to kill himself. And he had enough hope in him to know another woman would come along.