Susan Mallery

Wife in Disguise

The third book in the Lone Star Canyon series, 2001

To those who have survived the trials of life,

while coming through the fire

with grace and humor intact.



The accident occurred in slow motion.

One minute Josie Fitzgerald Scott was driving home for lunch as she did most days, the next, her life changed forever. There was no warning, no premonition that this Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. was going to be different from any other. She entered the West Los Angeles intersection without a second thought. And then a truck plowed into her.

It was at that moment, when she glanced to her left and saw the grill-taller than her compact car-that she knew she was going to die. Time came to a halt. She had a chance to look up and see that yes, her light was green so she hadn’t accidentally run a red by mistake. She briefly thought about accelerating or braking, to lessen the impact of the impending collision. But before she could decide, the truck was on her and the first sickening sound of metal on metal filled her ears.

Mercifully, she felt nothing. Not pressure, not pain, not even panic. As she was thrust to her right by the force of the truck slamming into her car, she wondered what she would regret as she breathed her last. Would it be her tacit estrangement from her family or her solitary existence? Would it be…

The sound increased until it filled her head. She had an odd sensation of being disconnected from her body, of not actually being a part of the destruction. She heard screams and vaguely wondered if they were her own.

Then the darkness beckoned. But before she could step into the waiting oblivion, she felt her first and only regret. Del. That she would never see him again or tell him that she was sorry for everything that had gone wrong between them.

As her car was crushed like a soda can, breaking her body and ravaging her face, she slipped into the blackness. With her last conscious thought, she breathed the name of the man who had once wanted her for his own.

Chapter One

One year later

The old Miller place was for sale. Josie Scott parked her Volvo in front of the old Victorian mansion and stared at the gabled roof line. She’d been fighting nothing but memories since she’d driven into Beachside Bay, California, earlier that morning, and seeing the old house only made the problem worse. She’d returned to town for closure, but what she was getting instead was a quick course in how to survive a brutal trip down memory lane.

“I’m on a mission,” she reminded herself. A mission that should take two, maybe three days at most. Then she would leave the land of her past and return to…

Actually she didn’t have anything to return to, but this wasn’t the time to remember that. Better to focus on the past and why she was here. So she looked at the Miller house and remembered when she and Del had visited it, one of the many times it had been on the market.

“We could rip out the entire third floor and make it into a master suite,” he’d said one Saturday long ago. They’d been standing at the top of the narrow staircase leading to the unused third floor of the mansion. “New bathroom, sitting area, even a study.”

Josie had planted her hands on her jeans-clad hips and stubbornly shaken her head. “It’ll be too hot.”

Del turned to her, his dark eyes glinting with laughter. “There’s this new invention. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Air-conditioning? The master suite could have its own unit.”

She hadn’t been convinced. “I want the master on the second floor.”

“Where will the kids sleep?”

She’d rolled her eyes, then turned away, tucking a strand of short blond hair behind her ear. She hadn’t been about to get trapped in that discussion again. Del wanted kids; she wasn’t ready. He wanted the master up, she wanted it down. He wanted her home and cooking dinner and she wanted a career. They hadn’t agreed on the Miller house, nor on anything else of importance.

Josie leaned back in the front seat of her car and closed her eyes. “Oh, Del, what were we thinking?” Their three-year marriage had been one long argument punctuated by great sex. In fact, they’d currently been divorced as long as they’d been married. So what on earth was she doing in Beachside Bay?

“Closure,” she murmured to herself, opening her eyes and starting her car engine.

Yes, she and Del were divorced. From what she’d heard, while he hadn’t remarried he’d certainly moved on with his life. She had, too, or so she’d thought until her accident a year before. Del had been her last thought before she’d slipped into unconsciousness and her first thought upon waking in the hospital. He’d been on her mind on and off through the past twelve months of surgery, physical therapy and more surgery. Obviously, she wasn’t as over him as she’d thought.

So here she was, back where the trouble had begun. All she wanted was a couple of quick conversations with her ex so that she could put her past behind her. A simple plan, but one that wasn’t going to work if she didn’t have the courage to go talk to him.

“So do it now,” she ordered herself as she slipped the car into gear, checked the mirrors and road ahead before pulling out onto the quiet side street.

She drove the scant three miles to the offices of Scott Construction. As she did she was assaulted by memories of living in the sleepy seaside town. Beachside Bay was directly west of San Jose but light years from anything remotely resembling a burgeoning economy. The main residents were college kids and retirees who actually existed in peaceful acceptance. Funky restaurants and elegant bed and breakfasts pulled in the vacation crowd, but there wasn’t enough industry to keep the tourists longer than a weekend or two a year.

She turned the corner and pulled into the parking lot of Scott Construction. The low one-story building still looked more like a beach house than an office. Flowers, mostly roses, bloomed along the edges of the parking lot and up the long walkway.

Memories assaulted her. She remembered how the place had looked when she’d been all of nineteen and looking for a part-time job. The twenty-five hours a week of light office work had been more than enough to supplement her athletic scholarship. The fact that the Scotts’ son was three years her senior, good-looking enough to have his own beefcake calendar and a charmer to boot had simply been a bonus.

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