Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Reason to Sing - Prologue, Chapters 1 & 2

Beauty meets the Beast and a Bucket full of Betrayal.

 "Song of the Heart" Series Book 3

© 2017 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author, Michelle Lindo-Rice's written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only. Please note, this is an UNEDITED peek at the author's work. 
Order your Copy 

Prologue


Her husband hung two feet off the floor from the ceiling fan in their bedroom closet. The white laundry basket filled with baby clothes, fell from Megan Higgins’ hands onto the lush green carpet.
“Jackson.” Megan screamed as Jackson Higgins’ lifeless body swayed. “No! No! You can’t do this.”
She grabbed the cordless phone from its cradle and called 911. “Come quick. Help me. I need an ambulance.” She sniffled. “My husband’s… My husband’s h-h-hanging in my c-c-closet.” Her voice broke. Megan rattled off her address and cut the call.
Megan tossed the phone to the floor and moved her five-foot frame as fast as she could into the closet space. She grabbed her husband’s legs, pulling them up to rest on her shoulders. “Jackson!” She looked up in a face purple from asphyxiation.
 “Jackson,” she yelled again, although, he seemed lifeless. How long had he been in here?
Her heart pumped. Megan huffed under her husband’s weight. She needed a chair. She raced from the room trampling over the once folded onesies and jumpers.  She pushed the chair under Jackson’s feet.
“Jackson!” Megan dropped to her knees. “You can’t leave me like this. We have a son. Cooper needs you.” She looked around the room hoping to see something she could use to cut him loose. She needed a knife. Megan race down into the kitchen and back up the stairs, huffing from the speed.
She slid on one of the socks and stumbled to the floor. She landed hard on her butt. Megan drew a breath and thanked God for quick reflexes. A couple of inches to the right and she would have been pierced by the butcher knife. Megan jumped to her feet and headed to where Jackson was slumped over.
Megan sliced the cord with the sharp blade. She braced herself to cushion Jackson’s fall. His five-ten, two-hundred-thirty-pound body almost toppled her off the chair.
Megan took deep breaths and stepped off the chair. Her body shook under his weight. Then her right ankle twisted. Megan fell and Jackson landed on top of her. Holding back a scream, Megan rolled him off her. She squatted next to him and pummeled his chest. “Jackson! Jackson!”
The doorbell pealed.
Megan brushed her hair out of her face and scampered downstairs to open the door.
“Mrs. Higgins?”
“He’s upstairs,” she said by way of greeting to the two Caucasian EMT workers. Megan took off knowing the men would follow her.
She led them into her bedroom. “Stay here,” one of the men said before beginning CPR.
“I found him hanging,” Megan said. Her shoulders slumped and her breathing escalated. She clutched her chest. “I don’t feel good.”
The other EMT rushed to her. He took Megan’s arm. “Breathe. Breathe. You’re having a panic attack, Mrs. Higgins.”
Megan allowed him to lead her to the bed. She looked over at Jackson and lowered her head. . Her life as she knew it was about to change. It would never be the same and she had no one but herself to blame.
-->

Ch. 1


“I said no to seven million dollars. I said no to seven million dollars.” Megan leaned against her front door and breathed out the words. She clutched her stomach. “Oh, Lord, I said no to seven million dollars.”
The temptation to open the door and run after Ryan Oakes was strong. The multimillionaire had presented her with the certified check but she had refused to take the blood money. Not when her husband had warned her he would come. Ryan Oakes was not a philanthropist. He was trying to appease his conscience.
Megan’s body shook. “Jackson, why did you leave me?” she whispered. Had she not listened enough? Had she not been a supportive wife? The guilt thoughts plagued her being though she wasn't the one to blame.
Her nails scraped the cherry wood door as she crumbled to the parquet wooden floor. Megan buried her face in her hands and sobbed. Her shoulder length hair cascaded about her. She needed money. She had been sick to the point of death with a rare strain of pneumonia. Her hospital bills were astronomical. Megan would have died if it had not been for the prayers of the saints at A Better Life Center. Their prayers moved the hand of God.
Six months ago, everything was different. She had a healthy twelve-month-old, Cooper, and a husband who adored her. But, then she had gotten sick and Jackson Higgins had committed suicide.
Or so they say.
Megan knew differently. Ryan Oakes was a murderer. If only she could prove it.
Her lips curled as she thought of Ryan’s preposterous comment only moments before.
“Marry me.”
It was not the words, but the way they were said. If she didn’t know better, Megan would have believed Ryan meant them.
As if she would ever give him a chance. Money, good looks or charm did not turn her head. Fit and tall with beautiful brown eyes and a wide smile, Ryan looked like a man in his thirties but she knew he was forty-five years old from television interviews.
Megan’s head snapped up at the sound of a whimper. She wiped her tears and stood. She straggled down the hallway into her son’s room. Cooper tossed and turned. His gargling bothered her. Ever since Jackson’s death, Cooper had not slept well. Megan patted Cooper on the back until he settled.
“Hush little baby, don’t say a word,” she sang before her voice broke. Megan blew air at her bangs.
The doorbell chimed.
Megan flailed her arms. “That man is so persistent. I’m going to tell him where he can shove that check.” She marched to the door and swung it open.
Her eyes widened. “Mr. Manchester?”
Jackson’s attorney, Kyle Manchester flashed his five-hundred-an-hour smile. He reminded her of a snake, but Jackson had insisted Kyle was the best.
Megan gritted her teeth. “This is not a good time,” she said, and moved to close the door.
Kyle stuck his foot in the groove. “Mrs. Higgins, you haven’t returned my calls. It’s urgent that I speak with you.”
She pushed against the door. “I don’t have any money. I’ve settled most of my bills and I have a small trust for Cooper but other than that, I’m broke.”
Kyle shook his head. “Will you at least let me in?”
Megan stepped aside. She resisted the urge to rub the goose bumps popping up on her arms. Kyle made her feel unsettled. He strutted into her living room and sunk into the plush fabric of her couch. Then he plopped his briefcase next to him as if he owned the place.
“What do you want? When you took Jackson’s case, your payment was contingent upon a win. It’s not my fault Jackson passed before you got your big paycheck.”
“Don’t you mean killed?”  He challenged.
Megan gulped.
Kyle continued. “I’d like to continue the lawsuit proceedings. You’re sick with a young child to care for and no income.”
Megan folded her arms. “I have a master’s degree in music. I was a music teacher for ten years. And, I’m not sick anymore, thanks to the healing power of God.”
“You were a music teacher four years ago,” Kyle said. “And, I heard all about your healing, but we don’t have to mention that.”
She lifted her chin. “I’m not going to deny what God did for me. Ever. My answer is no.”
Kyle lifted a brow. He opened the file folder and extracted a piece of paper. “I think you need to read the contract.”
Megan narrowed her eyes and took the document. Kyle had a sly look on his face. She scanned the contents before her mouth dropped open. “Why would Jackson agree to pay you even if you didn’t win?”
“Because my time is valuable, Mrs. Higgins. Jackson wanted the best and I am that and more. In his defense, Jackson knew we had an airtight case.” Kyle’s greasy smile made Megan back up.
“But, I don’t have three-hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars,” Megan said. “You can’t hold me responsible for Jackson’s stupidity.”
Kyle stood. “I can and I will.”
Megan did not doubt Kyle meant his words. “I wish I hadn’t turned down Ryan’s offer,” she thought aloud.
Kyle lifted a brow. “What offer?”
Megan swung around and walked toward the front door.  She needed Kyle Manchester out of her home.
Kyle gripped her arm. He applied enough pressure until she had to face him.
She shrugged out of his hold and rubbed her arm. “Ryan offered me a large sum.” Megan bit her bottom lip. Why was she telling Kyle this? Something about him made her want to tell her business.
Kyle’s harsh face softened. His eyes salivated. She could almost see the dollar signs. “You should take it. You’ll have enough to pay me and care for Cooper.”
Megan shook her head. “I have no intentions of taking Ryan’s blood money. He killed my husband.” Her tongue loosened. “Did you know he had the nerve to ask me to marry him?”
Kyle threw back his head and laughed. “I can’t believe my good fortune.”
Megan tilted her head. “What good fortune?”
He touched her face. “You’re certainly a precious gem.” His voice dropped. “I understand why Ryan’s smitten with you.” His eyes slaked her snug jeans and fitted purple shirt. “I admit I’m captivated. When I first saw you, I wondered how an ape like Jackson landed a woman like you.”
Megan drew a breath. “Jackson was not an ape. He was kind and considerate and—”
“Not the man I can be for you,” Kyle said. He reached for a tendril of her hair and tugged it hard. “Consider the debt paid if you marry me instead. I wouldn’t mind getting one up on Ryan.”
“I’m not a pawn and I find you insulting.” Megan shoved him away from her. She sped to the door and opened it. “Get out.”
Kyle cackled. “I’m only messing with you.” In an instant, his demeanor changed and he was all business. “I’ll file a civil suit if I don’t receive my money. I strongly suggest you take Ryan’s check or accept his marriage proposal.”
Megan glared. “I’ve been taking care of myself for thirty-eight years, Mr. Manchester. I don’t need you telling me what to do.”
“You’re not thinking, my dear.” Kyle moved into her space. “You can help Jackson. Marry Ryan. Get him to love you. Get him to open up to you. You read the Bible. You know the story of Delilah and how she seduced Samson. Be Ryan’s Delilah and bring him to his knees. Use your beauty, and your—” He scanned Megan’s generous frame. “Assets. Make Ryan confess to killing Jackson. What a way to honor your husband.”
Kyle’s suggestion tempted her. His words wrapped around her mind. Megan felt compelled to obey his command.
“You have such a way with words,” Megan whispered. “It’s mesmerizing.”
“So I’ve been told.” Kyle’s bright eyes drew her in. He was stocky and his looks were nothing to brag about, but all of a sudden Kyle was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. His beauty tantalized her. She took a step toward him but Megan saw a shadow. She shivered.
“There’s a dark cloud around you,” Megan said. “I can see it.”
“I’ve heard that, too.” Kyle countered, not the least bit put off by her words. He leaned close. “I think you can handle me though.”
Megan snapped out of her trance. She pointed to the door. “Leave my home.”
Kyle reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a business card. “I won’t stay where I’m not wanted. But, I’ll give you my personal number. You can reach me anytime.”
She held the card against her chest. Kyle sauntered through the door. Just before he got in his vehicle, he said, “Call Ryan. You have a young son and you need the help. You never know what can happen. One day Cooper could be fine and the next he could be … Well, you know.”
Megan rushed out the door. Her short legs could not compete with the power of his Audi. He whipped around the bend before she reached the curb. 
Megan slowed. “Jackson, what have you done?” she whispered. Megan scurried into her home and secured the locks behind her.
Immediately, she praised God and dispelled any darkness because of Kyle’s visit. She went into Cooper’s room and prayed over him. Cooper stirred.
Eyes like Jackson’s observed her before Cooper let out a strong wail. Megan smiled and scooped him into her arms. With practiced skill, she changed him and strolled into the kitchen to make him a bottle. She seated Cooper in the booster chair. She had given up the high chair when he kept coming
Cooper hollered and banged his fist on the table. His legs pumped back and forth. Megan smiled.
“I’m coming. I’m coming.” Megan hummed as she took out the containers of mash potatoes and peas she prepared the evening before. She warmed them and tested the temperature. With a nod, she grabbed a spoon and slid a chair next to her son.
Then she bowed her head and blessed his meal.
“Amen! Eat!” Cooper said.
“Open up,” Megan said.  She plopped a dollop of mash potatoes into Cooper’s mouth. She smiled at the joy on his face. If only her problem could be solved with a scoop of potatoes.
Once Cooper finished his meal, Megan cleaned him up and tidied the kitchen.  Holding him on one hip, she headed to the basement. Cooper tugged on her hair and giggled with glee. Megan extracted her hair from his fist before setting him down to play. Jackson had designed a play area with everything that would entice a little boy. It also helped to keep the rest of the house clean.
Cooper waddled over to the mega blocks. Megan cringed at the crash that followed. Blocks were everywhere. Cooper stacked them and some found their way into his mouth. Megan kept wipes handy so she was not concerned. She laughed at her son’s antics and sat in her seat in the sectional.
Megan looked at the empty seat next to her. If Jackson were here, he would be fighting with her for the remote so he could watch a sports game. She would tell him to put it on a cartoon channel.
There was no one to fight with her now.
She reached for the remote and turned on the 65-inch television. She channel surfed before shutting it off.
She joined Cooper on the rug.
“Sing, Mommy.” Cooper clanged the blocks together.
Megan looked in the corner of the room. Her blue guitar, a thirty-sixth birthday gift from Jackson, rested in the corner.
“Sing, Mommy!” Cooper said.
“Mommy will sing later,” she said. Tears streamed down her face. Megan turned away from Cooper to dry her tears. Besides Cooper she had no one. No family to lean on. She had lost touch with most of her teacher friends.
“Want Daddy,” Cooper said.
Megan broke. She cuddled Cooper in her arms and allowed the tears to fall. “I want Daddy, too, Cooper. I want him, too but Daddy’s gone.”
Pain sliced through her. It was all Ryan’s fault. Kyle was right. Ryan needed to pay. Seven million dollars would not be enough. No, Megan decided. She needed his heart. So she could crush it. Destroy him.
Vengeance is mine.
Megan heard God’s voice and slumped. She could not break someone’s heart on purpose. But she could get evidence to convict Ryan. She smiled. Yes, she could do that. She pulled Ryan’s card out of her pocket and stared at the number. She bit her lower lip. Could she ask out the devil?
She could and she would if it meant finding out how her husband ended up hanging in a bedroom closet. Megan reached for her cell phone.




Ch. 2



I killed someone.
Well, I didn’t with my own hands, but I orchestrated it. Well, not orchestrated, but I’m responsible. I had needed someone taken care of. And he was. But, now I have to live with myself.
Taken care of.
Jackson Higgins had been taken care of. Ryan would never view the words the same again. He faced himself in the rearview mirror.
His cell vibrated and Ryan shook the macabre thoughts out of his mind. He swiped to accept the call. “Did you get my text?” he asked, without even a hello.
“Yes. I’m on it,” the gruff voice said.
“I need to know her every move,” Ryan Oakes said. “If Megan sneezes, I want to know about it.” Ryan disconnected his cell and rushed into Margaux, the restaurant in the Marlton Hotel where his daughter, Karlie Knightly lived. Karlie and her fiancé, Brian Oakes, were seated. He saw they had already ordered appetizers.
Karlie had thought about moving into her mother’s home in Hempstead, Long Island, but changed her mind when she got engaged. She and Brian were house hunting. Ryan hoped they would choose a home in Garden City, where he resided.
Ryan greeted his daughter with a kiss on the cheek. He went to hug Brian but the young man shifted out of his reach. Ryan scrunched his nose. What was that about? Brian had recently been in a car accident where he had almost lost his life. Ryan and Brian had made peace, so he didn’t understand the cold shoulder.
Ryan took his seat and said, “You can hug me. You were my son for twenty-three years of your life. As far as I’m concerned, you always will be.”
“Forgive me if I can’t get used to the fact that my former father will be my father-in-law.” Brian shook his head. “I mean who keeps their daughter a secret?”
Again, this had been settled or so he thought. Ryan tapped the bridge of his nose. Six years ago, He had taken a paternity test, which proved Karlie Knightly was his daughter. She was the product of a one-night-stand with Tiffany Knightly. Tiffany had been a chart-topper singer before she succumbed to lung cancer.
“Brian, I’ve forgiven Ryan so we need to move forward. That’s what God would want us to do.” Karlie swirled a celery stick into ranch dip.
Brian rolled his eyes before reaching for one of the soft rolls on the table. Ryan gave the younger man a smile. Then he asked, “How is the album going?”
“I’m putting it off until after the wedding,” she said. “We just wrapped up filming the first few episodes of… The network wants to pay for everything.”
Ryan lifted a chin. “You don’t need the network. You have me. I’m honored to help.”
Karlie slid her gaze from his. “I’m fine, I uh—”
“Neil is helping with the wedding,” Brian said.
Ryan could see the satisfaction on his face. He challenged him with a stare-down. “I insist. I know Neil won’t mind if we go half.”
“I do have money of my own…” Karlie said.
Ryan shook his head and took her hand in his. “No. It’s every father’s dream to walk his daughter down the aisle.”
Karlie pulled out of his grasp. Brian opened his mouth but she held up a hand. She faced Ryan. He didn’t like the uneasy look she gave him.
“I asked Neil,” she whispered. Her eyes pleaded for him to understand.
“I think it’s presumptuous of you to expect that honor,” Brian said. “You falsified documents citing your paternity. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgotten.”
Ryan swallowed his disappointment. “You’re right. I had no right to ask.”
Karlie reached for his hand. “I’m glad you did. Maybe you both can. I’ll talk to Neil.”
Ryan forced a smile. Now that he had his daughter, he didn’t want to share that moment with Neil. Neil had only been in her life since she was sixteen.
“I don’t think that will work,” Brian said. He gave Ryan a pointed look. “Mom is bringing a date. What about you?”
Megan’s face flashed before him. “I’ll be bringing my wife,” Ryan said.
Karlie’s eyes were wide. “You’re married?”
Brian snickered.
Ryan squared his shoulders. “I’m not as yet. But I will be in a couple weeks. Maybe a month, max. We’re planning a small, intimate affair. This is our second go-round at this so we’re not looking to do anything fancy. We might book the Ritz Carlton.” He just had to convince his bride.
“You don’t call that fancy? I think it’s pompous and ostentatious.” Brian jeered.
Ryan pulled on his tie. He knew Brian sought to get him riled but Ryan had just met his second wife. Nothing was going to spoil that moment. Not even the sulking man before him. “When are you going to get over it? Patti deceived me. I treated you like you were mine.”
Karlie interrupted their standoff. “I had no idea you were dating.”
Ryan shrugged. “You’ve been busy. That’s why I’m glad we have this moment to catch up.” His stomach growled.
“It’s started already,” Brian said. “He’s going to get all caught up with this mystery woman and forget about you.”
Ryan snapped. “I’m here.”
“You ignored me for most of my life,” Brian spat. His chest heaved.
Ryan relaxed. “I did and I’m sorry.” He looked at Karlie. “I’m a changed man. Better.”
She nodded. “I believe you.” She swatted Brian on the shoulder. “Back off,” she warned.
“I won’t back off. This man is an imposter and a murderer.”
Karlie gasped. “How can you say that about the man who raised you?”
“Because it’s true,” he said. “I can’t prove it but I know your father is shady.”
Karlie leaned into Ryan as if to shield him from Brian’s attack. Ryan took a tendril of her hair in his hand and rubbed her cheek. “It’s okay,” he said. “I won’t dignify that comment with a response.”
Brian stood. “I’m going to get some air.” He looked at Karlie. “I know I said I’d try but this is too much. He killed that man. I can’t prove it but I know it and it...” His voice broke.
Brian stormed off. Ryan eyed him. His heart ached. How did Brian know? He shifted. Did Karlie believe him?
Karlie’s eyes filled. “I love you both.” She shook her head. “Maybe I’m being naïve for wanting it all. You, Neil, Brian…”
“And you will have it all,” Ryan said.
She touched her chest. “I’m sorry Brian is coming at you like you’re a ruthless monster. I hate that he doubts what God did for you.”
Ryan shifted. He and God were often at odds. God seemed to have a wealth of patience, while Ryan was too wealthy to be patient. He got tired of praying for something to get fixed when he could pay to get it done himself.
Karlie jabbed him in the arm. “This is where you’re supposed to agree with me.”
“I do. You’d have to be made of steel to resist Pastor Ward’s messages.” What he said was true for ninety-nine percent of the people. He was that one-percent where the word seemed to bounce off his heart.
She laughed. “I agree.” Karlie launched into a retelling of the pastor’s last message.
Ryan had been a faithful member of Zion’s Hill under Pastor Keith Ward. But a faithful member didn’t equal a faithful follower. Ryan yearned for the word to penetrate his soul but his heart was like titanium. He thought he was unreachable until Megan had turned him into a bumbling fool. He scrunched his nose. Maybe she was the key to his redemption. His do-over. She had a son. Her son needed a man in his life.
Why couldn’t it be him?
He straightened. It would be him.
He knew what he had to do. Ryan kissed Karlie on the cheek, interrupting her mid-sentence. “I’ve got to run.”
She nodded. “I know you’re a busy man. I’m glad you made the time.”
He tapped her nose. “Always for you.”
She grabbed his arm. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
Ryan lifted a brow.
“I’m inviting Merle.”
Ryan bunched a fist. “She killed Karlie. That woman is a viper. You need to stay away from her.”
“She’s my blood. Just like you are.” Karlie’s leveled gaze challenged him.
“Fine,” he found himself saying. But he knew it was to appease his daughter.
“I don’t want any trouble,” she said. “I’m warning both you and Brian.”
“I can’t imagine Neil being okay with this.”
Her shoulders dropped. “He’s not. The house shook from his bellowing but it’s time we moved on and put the ugly past behind us. I feel it’s what my mother would have wanted.”
Ryan clenched his jaw and gave a terse nod before leaving. Tiffany would have wanted peace but she wouldn’t have allowed Merle to use or abuse her. Merle milked Karlie like she was a cash cow. It was only because Ryan knew Karlie had a great manager why he didn’t intervene. Winona Franks tended Karlie’s finances with the care a botanist gave to plants. Her net worth flourished by the day.
His cell buzzed. He knew his eyes were wide when he saw the name on the caller ID. “I’ve got to take this,” he said, and with a wave rushed out the door. He bumped into Brian on his way out but the other man didn’t acknowledge him.
Normally, Ryan would have ended the call and confront him, but he was too excited by the caller on the line. If he had his way, this phone call would be the beginning of many more.