Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book 1
Matt & Kara’s Story
Anthony Benton wasn’t in the habit of walking across the lawn to his condo complex, especially not on a miserable night like this one. He valued his Bruno Maglis too much for that. What if somebody saw him slipping and scrambling through wet leaves like a snake in the grass?
Good thing nobody important enough to care about would be out here in this damned weather. It was supposed to be spring, but you’d never guess that in this godforsaken place.
Spindly new trees whipped in the wind as far as their short trunks would bend while Anthony counted the weeks backward in his mind – one, two, three, four, a month. This crap had only been going on for a month. His aggravation made it feel like a lot longer.
He woke up every morning with anger churning inside him. He almost couldn’t remember when he didn’t have to think about things like whether taking the shortcut across the lawn was safer than the longer way around the curved sidewalk.
How could he have ended up in such a humiliating position? Scrambling from his car to his house like a scared animal. He’d worked too hard making himself into Anthony Benton for this to be happening to him now. Worst of all, there was nobody in this jerkwater town he could go to for help.
What was he supposed to say? “My dim bulb ex-wife is stalking me?”
He’d be the butt of jokes from every hayseed in the county. Too many people envied him, and most of them were dim bulbs too. He’d have to put up with their sneers, or they’d roast him all the more. That’s how it was in a place like Riverton.
The damp mist had turned into a steady drizzle. Anthony cursed under his breath and walked faster. He’d left his umbrella in the car. A month ago he would never have made that miscalculation.
He’d have had a plan all laid out in his mind, with each step thought through and not a single flaw in the thinking. He’d have grabbed the umbrella from under the driver’s seat and had it at the ready in the outside pocket of his briefcase.
He’d parked under those dripping trees tonight because the walkway to the complex was only a few yards across the macadam from there. He’d done that because of her, to cut down on the chance she’d catch up to him between the car and the building, the way she did two nights ago.
She’d shouted and sniveled and grabbed at his clothes. He was sure some of his neighbors must have witnessed the scene from their windows. She’d made threats, too, said she’d get a gun and come after him.
He’d itched to pick her up and throw her as hard as he could onto the pavement right then. He was plenty strong enough to do that. He’d picked her up and thrown her plenty of times before, back when he was dumb enough to still be with her. But that was always in private. If he laid a hand on her in public and somebody saw it, he’d be the one in trouble.
That’s how it went these days with bitches like her. They’d whine about being victims, and everybody was on their side. But he knew what to do about that. When payback time came for all of this, he’d be sure to make his revenge very sweet, with an extra dose of punishment for the soggy leaves on his car. And he’d also make sure that payback time came soon.
The wind picked up with a cold, wet blast down Anthony’s neck. He didn’t have a raincoat with him any more than he had an umbrella. He hunched as far as he could into his saturated shirt collar. Payback was on its way for this, too. He’d make her regret every uncomfortable moment he’d ever suffered because of her. He’d commit himself a thousand percent to being absolutely certain that happened.
She whined about how unhappy he’d made her in the past. Those days would feel like a kindergarten picnic compared to what was coming in return for these past four weeks. And tonight was at the top of his list of reasons for making her sorrier than she’d ever been for anything in her worthless, miserable, unimportant life.
He hated her so much it almost warmed him up, even in this frigid rain. He hated her so much he’d love to choke her dead with his bare hands right now. He imagined himself squeezing harder and harder until he felt her bones snap under his fingers.
As soon as he could figure out a way to kill her, he’d do it, not with his own hands of course. He’d be too likely to get caught if he did that. He’d get somebody else to kill her, and he wouldn’t waste time on a second thought about it. He knew guys who’d do any job for a price. He knew one guy in particular.
The bitch deserved it, but that pleasure would have to wait. Right now all he wanted was to get out of this rain and into the classy condo he loved almost as much as he loved his car.
Anthony flashed on an image of Victoria opening the door the way she liked to do every now and then, wearing nothing but the fur coat he bought her last Christmas. She wasn’t anything like his ex-wife.
Victoria was the kind of woman who knew how to make a man feel good. He almost smiled. Maybe it was the vision of Victoria slowly opening the coat for him that caused Anthony to relax his cautiousness for just an instant.
Or, maybe he was forced to pay too close attention to where he put his feet in their fancy shoes that were getting soggier with every step. The harsh Northern New York State weather this past winter, the first winter since this condo complex was completed, had heaved some of the pathway’s flagstones out of line with the others, making for treacherous walking in the cold April rain.
Whatever the distraction may have been, Anthony didn’t hear the footsteps behind him or sense the jagged rock lifted above his head as he finally reached the top of the stairwell leading down to the basement service door that was the building entrance closest to the parking lot.
He did have time to feel a single shock of sharp pain and hear a voice echo out of long-ago memory. It was his mother calling to him, even though she’d been dead a dozen years.
“Be careful, Tonio! Don’t fall!”
Then everything went black and silent for Tonio Bento, aka Anthony Benton, and would remain that way forever.
Kara Cartwright was back in Riverton against her better judgment and in violation of her vow to stay away from Northern New York altogether. Only Aunt Dee could have manipulated her past that resolve, and she had to pass away to do it.
Kara hadn’t expected Dee to leave her the tall, white Victorian house on Flower Street, much less the added incentive of enough money doled out annually to keep the place and herself going, as long as she was careful about what she spent and how she spent it. Kara’s first thought had been to put the house on the market super quick and take off back to civilization even quicker.
Unfortunately, Aunt Dee had stuffed a very wet blanket into that loophole. Her will stipulated that Kara had to live in the house for a year before she could sell out and make a run for it. Those same strings were tangled around the doled out money too.
On the other hand, Kara’s life could use a new direction at the moment, so she’d given in to her savvy aunt and turned her compass northward from New York City, grumbling all the way.
Everything difficult about Kara’s life had started in the North Country, except for Matthew Kalli of course. He was the opposite of difficult. Matt was easy to look at and easy to love. But, as it had turned out in the end, he was also bad for her to be with. Otherwise, they’d still be together, burning down the bed as he used to call it.
He also used to say she only wanted him for his family, but that wasn’t true. She’d wanted him for himself. She’d wanted Matt, Matt and nothing but Matt for as long as they both would live. But that wasn’t the way things went, not by a long shot.
Now she was driving north, returning to where she started, and all of a sudden she was thinking about Matt Kalli and nothing but Matt Kalli all over again.
Just the awareness of that made her grip the steering wheel till her knuckles went dead white in the dim interior of the secondhand car she street parked, even back in Manhattan, because she couldn’t imagine anybody being dumb enough to steal it.
“You’d better get a grip on yourself too, girl,” she murmured.
She’d taken the old road north from the New York State Thruway at Utica. The newer roadway of the Thruway was straighter and faster, but she’d wanted to ease herself back gradually into her past, and a straight and fast highway wasn’t the way to do that.
So she’d driven the high crown, curving roads all the way from Central New York, and that meant it was dark by the time she got to Riverton. Even so, she could see that the place looked as familiar as she’d known it would, familiar and cozy and all tucked in for the night like a bug in a rug.
She was the one out of place here. She always had been, and she figured she always would be. But, as Aunt Dee said in the letter that accompanied her will, sometimes the place you need to go is home.
The possible truth of that made Kara feel suddenly uneasy, which might explain the impulse that struck her as she turned onto State Avenue. She was still telling herself she shouldn’t act on that impulse when she jerked the steering wheel to the right and heard the tires squeal into the parking lot of the Victory Diner at the corner of State Avenue and William Street.
She wondered who owned this property these days. She knew her father didn’t manage it any more, or any of the several other properties he’d been in charge of when she was a kid here.
Robert Cartwright hadn’t managed anything in Riverton, including his obligations, in the twenty years since he ran off, leaving her nine-year-old self to do the managing for him, the managing of herself at least.
Her father never came back to Riverton, and it had taken her ten years and a whole lot of trouble, including Matt Kalli, to get out of here on her own. Now she was back, doing her best not to start shivering all over again as the memories flooded through her, just as she’d been afraid they would.
She had to get her head out of the past. There was plenty enough for her to deal with in the present, and that present was what she needed to focus on. That and finding a phone.
Her cell phone had died a couple of hours ago, and she needed to make a call. She was counting on the way Riverton hardly ever changed to help her do that. All the time she was growing up in this town, there’d been a telephone booth right here, outside the Victory Diner.
And, sure enough, there it was still, next to the parking area at the side of the long, railroad car shaped building.
Kara felt comforted by that somehow. Maybe she’d find what she needed in Riverton after all. Or maybe the telephone still being here only signified that Northern New York was too far out of the loop to know phone booths were way out of style.
Kara was much more up to the minute than that. She’d already been thinking of Matt when she made a pit stop at the New Baltimore rest area near Albany just before her cell lost its charge. She’d accessed Google on her phone to find the number she needed.
That was the only thing she’d made certain to do. The rest had been pretty much a fast dash up the Thruway. She wasn’t even sure what she’d packed. Maybe she’d have to wear the jeans and tee shirt she had on for the rest of her North Country life, however long that might be.
She didn’t even know if she’d thought to pack the charger that would revive her cell. All she’d thought about in the New Baltimore rest area parking lot was that Matt Kalli might not have left Riverton, just as he’d never really left her thoughts.
Still, she’d been stunned by the sight of his name glaring out at her from the bright white cell phone screen. She’d gone quiet for a moment then, as she breathed a small prayer of thanks. Matt Kalli still lived in Riverton on Riverton Road.
He was exactly where he’d always been. Just like this telephone booth was still where it had always been, on the corner of State and William, waiting for her to give in to the impulse she knew all too well she should ignore.
A Wrong Way Home is the first book in The Riverton Road Series of romantic suspense stories featuring the Kalli family, the four Kalli brothers and others who find safety and a warm welcome at Kalli Corner on Riverton Road. A Year of Summer Shadows is the second book in the series and will launch on May 15, 2015.