Debby Conrad, author

Lust's Betrayal

Genre: Romantic Suspense
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"I didn't mean to upset her, Dr. Larson," Emma said between sobs.

"Call me Libby. And I'm sure you didn't mean to upset her," she said, patting the sixteen-year old on the back. "What happened had nothing to do with you." The girl looked so pathetic, Libby thought, wanting to comfort her. She gave her time to calm down. Emma forced her lips into a curl, but the smile didn't reach her face or her eyes. "I wanted to know about my mom. She died when I was little, and I thought . . . " She shook her head. "My dad never talks about her, and all I know is that she was beautiful, and she died in some kind of accident . . . "


Libby and Emma both looked up at the sound of Ross McLaughlin's voice. The man Libby had met on the beach a few nights ago.

Reader's Choice Award"Are you okay?" he asked Emma.

"I'm fine."

"Your grandmother?" Ross looked in the direction of the hall.

Libby stood up, smiled at him. "I gave your mother a mild sedative. Your father's with her now."

Without as much as a word to Libby, he touched his daughter on the shoulder. "I'll be right back," he said, then disappeared around the corner.

Libby didn't know whether the man was rude or simply upset about his mother. Deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt, she concluded it was the latter.

He was much more dangerous looking in the daylight, she thought, thinking back to the night she'd seen him standing on the dock, the weight of the world sitting on his shoulders.

Everything was dark on him. Hair, eyes and complexion. He was tall and lean with broad shoulders. His voice was deep and authoritative, and he was in need of a haircut, Libby mused. Emma didn't look anything like her father. She was fair haired--except for the red tipped spikes--blue eyed and petite. What a contrast father and daughter made.

"I hope my dad isn't mad at me."

Libby stared at her. "How could he possibly be mad at you? What happened was not your fault, Emma. Because you were curious about your mother had nothing to do with what happened. Your grandmother is ill."

"I know, but she was fine until I asked about my mother."

Ross came around the corner, a stern look on his face. "What did you ask her, Emma?"

"Nothing," the girl said, pausing momentarily. "I just asked if she would tell me about my mom. And she got all upset, and--"

Ross came closer and touched his daughter's cheek. "We had this discussion, remember? You promised me you wouldn't mention your mother in front of your grandmother."

Emma looked on the verge of tears again. "I know, but--"

"Emma, promise me."

"Okay," she finally relented.

Ross held out a hand. "C'mon, let's go home."

Emma stood, but didn't take her father's hand. "I think I left the garden hose on." She walked to the screen door. "And I want to clean things up before we go." With that, she flew out the back door.

Probably to hide her tears, Libby thought. The poor little thing. Squaring her shoulders, Libby zoomed in on the girl's father. "Don't you think you were a little hard on her? It wasn't her fault, you know."

Ross looked her in the eye, but didn't answer. He wasn't much of a talker, Libby surmised. Not now, nor the night she'd seen him on the beach.

"The poor thing is just curious about her mother. She feels badly enough already. You shouldn't make her feel worse," she continued to lecture. "What happened to Beverly had nothing to do with Emma. Your mother's had these outbursts before."

Gaping at her with his mouth wide open, he retorted, "Gee, Doc, I didn't know you did family counseling as well as being a general practitioner."

"I'm only trying to help." Libby pretended not to be offended.

"I didn't ask for your help." Ross moved past her and toward the back door. He spotted Emma crawling on the ground. Suddenly, feeling guilty, he wanted nothing more than to go to her. With his hand on the screen door handle, he said, "Thanks for helping my mother, Doctor Larson. But since she's resting now, I doubt there's any reason for you to stick around. Excuse me."

Libby had been dismissed by Ross McLaughlin. She'd thought him arrogant and bossy and rude. And those were just his good points. Realizing she was no longer needed, or wanted, she grabbed her medical bag and left by the front door. As she sped off toward town, her mood darkened even more.

She'd heard the rumors about him. That he may have killed his wife fourteen years ago. Apparently, he'd been arrested for her murder, then after being questioned, was released for lack of evidence. Which was how things worked in small towns. Arrest first, ask questions later.

Some of the townsfolk said that he couldn't have done something so horrible. He came from a good family. The McLaughlins had a fine reputation. Libby knew all about good families and fine reputations. She'd come from one, also. And what went on behind closed doors sometimes never surfaced.

Of course, she'd never paid much attention to the rumors about Ross. And she wasn't the type of person to cast judgment on people she didn't know. Emma said her mother had died in an accident. Maybe it had been an accident, after all. Or maybe, Meredith McLaughlin had jumped off that cliff. Then again, no one really knew for sure. No one except for Meredith and God. And the murderer, if there was one.

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