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Michael Kimball's
Mouth to Mouth
Psychological thriller bristling with secrets and lies
First Chapter
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First Chapter

On the crest of the hayfield, outside her sheep pasture, Ellen Chambers stood calmly under a green canopy tent while her son-in-law smothered her daughter with wedding cake. Randy was apparently teaching Moreen the first lesson of their married life, getting even with her for smearing his goatee with frosting while she'd fed him his slice. The wedding guests laughed. Even Moreen's high school friends thought it was funny, as Moreen tried to duck away from Randy, her swollen belly straining against the silk of her wedding dress. But when Randy wiped his hands on Moreen's dress, then stalked away from her, Ellen finally lost her composure and went to head him off at the beer keg.
"Is it my imagination, or is the groom not the son-in-law of your dreams?" Ellen heard the voice behind her. In her heels and close-fitting skirt, her friend Maddy was doing her best to keep pace with her.
"He's twenty-seven years old," Ellen said. "She's a junior in high school."
"Shy girls always marry outlaws," Maddy said. "You did." She gently took hold of Ellen's arm, stopping her. "Anyway, you don't want to make a scene today."
Ellen shut her eyes, took a heavy breath. Madeleine Sterling had been her closest friend since high school and usually gave good advice--it helped that she was a psychotherapist.
"So," Maddy said, changing the subject as she turned them around, "do I see more sheep in your pasture?"
Ellen laughed, finally grateful for Maddy's intervention. "We need the wool," Ellen told her. "The phone company's threatening to shut us off, the barn's falling down."
Maddy gave her friend a sympathetic look. "El, if it's just money, you know I'd love to help."
Ellen shook her head. "Thanks. But we'll be fine. The wedding set us back a bit, that's all."
"Mm," Maddy said. "I also can't help but notice that the minute Moreen moves out, you expand your flock."
"Oh, Maddy, no analysis today." Ellen turned away and found herself making eye contact with a young man standing in the shade of the oak tree beside her house. She averted her eyes, as she had done twice already. Large and strikingly handsome, with dark eyes and long black sideburns, he nursed a Styrofoam cup of coffee. The cuff of his white shirt were rolled up.
"No one seems to know anything about him," said Maddy, observing the direction of Ellen's glance.
"I'm sure you've asked around."
Ellen mustered a smile.
"His hair," Maddy went on in a low voice, covering her mouth. "Would you call that wavy or curly?" Maddy ran her hand through her own jet-black cut, which matched her black silk designer suit. Though Ellen loved Maddy, the friends couldn't have been more different. Twice divorced, Maddy was always on the lookout for her next conquest.
Ellen had been married since her teens and looked homespun, even when dressed up. Her hair was long and mahogany-colored; it fell down the middle of her back in a thick braid.
She was tall, but with a curve to her hip and breast. At thirty-six, Ellen felt strong and healthy and young--much too young to be a grandmother.
"How old do you think?" Maddy asked, eyeing the dark young man. "Thirty-three? Not a day younger than thirty."
"Dream on. Twenty," insisted Ellen, just as the young man glanced over at her again. Uncomfortable, she turned to look for Scott, her husband, spotted him leaning against the paddock fence with their new son-in-law. The two men were smoking cigars and talking intently. Scott, with his easy manner and ready smile, worked hard to make sure nobody in
Destin disliked him. It bothered Ellen to see him trying so hard with Randy.
She heard a sudden burst of singing, and turned to see Moreen standing at the beer keg with her friends, posing for snapshots with her arms around them, swaying and singing along with the three-piece band.
Unavoidable, Ellen supposed, the way Moreen mirrored her own young life: the rebellion, the recklessness, the careless pregnancy, the misfit husband. But somehow, across all these years, the reflection seemed so warped--almost as though Moreen was knowingly orchestrating her own destruction.
"I feel like she's drowning herself, and there's nothing I can do to save her," Ellen whispered to her friend.
"Don't you think that's a wee bit overstated?"
"Maddy, I don't even know, her anymore," Ellen said, sorrow almost closing her throat. "It's like I just opened my eyes, and here we are."
Maddy gave her a look. "You're both growing up," she said. "That's called life."
"Call it what you want," Ellen said. "It's not the life I wanted. For her or me."
Copyright 2000 by Michael Kimball

Mouth to Mouth
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Twilight Lane, from Avon Books, at The Online Mystery Network,
is produced and published by Newfront Productions, Inc.

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