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When you live a lie for so long, it becomes a part of you. Like clothing first rough and scratchy, it eventually wears down, thins out. Sinks into your skin.

Thirty-four-year-old Delanie Miller has fled her dark past and is now settled into a quiet life in small-town Kentucky. She has friends, a faux "family" who lives in her house, and a loving boyfriend who may soon ask her to marry him. Her aching dream of a husband and future children are about to come true. But protecting this life of promise means keeping a low profile and guarding the truth of her past--from everyone.

The town's peace is shattered when Delanie's friend, Clara, is murdered, and Delanie finds her body. The police chief quickly zeroes in on Billy King, a simple-minded young man whom Delanie knows would never hurt Clara. Delanie can hunt down evidence and speak out publicly against the chief--only at great risk of her own exposure. But after suffering such injustice in her own past, how can she keep silent now? Delanie must find a way to uncover Clara's murderer yet save the life she's created for herself--the deceit-ridden life that will forever distance her from others and God.

With page-turning intensity, Sidetracked hurtles between Delanie's trauma in Redbud and the chaos of her past. Those experiences forced Delanie to reinvent her present--but at what cost to her future?


Chapter 1

Copyright 2014 by Brandilyn Collins



In the beginning comes the end.

April in Redbud, Kentucky brings to full bloom the trees that give our town its name. Pink blossoms against blue sky. Daffodils push up yellow and sassy. Lilies are still in stem but boast lush promise. Tulips splash the yards, multicolored and fragile. Spring days are warm without summer’s humid oppression. The time of renewal.

Spring was my favorite season. Once.

In the dark just after nine-thirty I drove away from the town’s Methodist church, a white wooden building with a tall steeple. I was the last to leave Clara Ann Crenshaw’s wedding shower, having stayed around to clean up. After all, I was the one who’d thrown the party for Clara. She had left a few minutes before, her car chock full of presents. The rest she’d left behind to pick up the following day. I locked them up in the church.

Clara was twenty-two, vibrant and in love with life. In love with Jerald Allen, too, who would become her husband in June. The church hall had been full of her friends, young and old. The rip of wrapping paper, laughter, and clink of forks against cake plates vibrated in the air. A true celebration. Clara wore her signature bright blue to match her sparkling eyes. Rosy-cheeked, she hugged me hard before she left. “You’re next, Delanie,” she whispered in my ear. “Mrs. Andrew Bradshaw.”

I smiled. Andy had carried that look in his eye lately. I hoped I was reading him right. I was thirty-four already and so wanted to be his wife. Build my own real family—even though it would mean breaking up the pseudo one I’d gathered around me. Folks in town just knew Andy and I would be married before the year was out.

When you live in a town of twenty-five hundred, everyone assumes your business is theirs.

I drove out of the church’s parking lot and rolled down quiet Chester Avenue. Streetlights spilled over the tree-lined sidewalks. No one else in sight. Redbud always shuts itself up early. At Walton Street I went left, my house about a half mile away. One block over ran Main Street—the home of quaint shops and cafes. For a small town, Redbud had built quite a local reputation on its fancy-painted store fronts. Many from around the area came to browse through the town’s shops and dine in its homey restaurants.

Brewer approached. I turned onto it—and saw a shadow on the street. Faint, fleeting. Until it materialized again and went still, as if trying not to be seen. Washed pale by the umbra of a streetlamp, it looked like a man’s form, wearing a baseball cap, hands raised to his chest. Legs apart, as though ready to run.

A chill needled my bones.

I slowed the car. Slid my gaze left toward the source of the shadow. He stood by a front yard bush as tall as he, backlit by the house’s front porch light. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I felt them lock onto me.

A forever second ticked by.

He swiveled and ran toward the back of the house. Disappeared into the night.  

I braked to a stop. Peered into the darkness, looking for him.

He was gone.

Was this a robber? We had so little crime in our town. But this man was too out of place, too … raw. I was well acquainted with sudden trauma. Knew the feel, the smell of it. And this wasn’t right.

Lights were on in the house, a form moving behind closed blinds. I didn’t know who lived there. But maybe I should knock on their door, warn them—

My eye caught some … thing lying on the sidewalk three houses up.

The chill inside me crackled to ice. For the longest moment I could only stare at the object. How frighteningly familiar it looked. A silent scream wracked my head. No, no, no!

But deep within I knew. Death had followed me.

Heart rattling, I surged my car up close to the form. The wash of my headlights confirmed the knowledge borne of my past. A body. Crumpled on its side, facing away from the street.

I veered to the curb and shoved my car into Park. Jumped out and threw myself on my knees beside the body—and recognized the bright blue shirt. My legs went weak.

Some say memory blurs when you’re shocked beyond belief. Not mine. I still remember every detail of that moment. The roughness of the sidewalk against my palms, the spill of Clara’s blonde hair, the way the fingers on her one hand curled inward. A cry formed in the back of my throat but couldn’t pass my clenched teeth.

The world started to go black. I fought the dizziness. Wrenched myself into a strength I didn’t feel.

With reluctant hands I pushed Clara onto her back, knowing I was too late. Her eyes were open, stunned. Unmoving. I grunted out her name, laid the backs of my fingers on both sides of her neck, seeking a pulse.

Nothing.

From the light of a street lamp I could see bruises on the front of her throat.

I threw back my head, sick to the core, the world again spinning. Grief and rage surged through my veins, nearly tipping me over. I struggled to steady myself. To think.

Help her! Give CPR!

But it was too late for that. And I shouldn’t stay here. A terrible and selfish thought, but there it was.

My wild eyes looked around and saw no one. But then I’d already seen the culprit, hadn’t I? The man standing in that yard, fading into darkness.

I drew an arm across my forehead—and my gaze snagged on a car some distance up the street. Clara’s. Sitting at the curb, driver’s door hanging open, no headlights on. Why had she gotten out of it here, and in such a hurry? Her house was across town. Had she turned off the lights? Or had her attacker done that?

Vaguely, then, I heard the sound. The engine was still running.

On some other plane, my legs pushed me up. I stumbled to my car. Thrashed about in my purse, seeking my cell phone. Yanked it out. Twice my finger hit 922, and I had to erase.

Then my hand froze.

What was I doing? I couldn’t call this in. No matter that I was innocent, had simply found Clara here. That everyone in town knew me as caring and loving.

I needed to drive away while there was still time. Let someone else find her.

My limbs shivered at the appalling idea. How dare I even think it? This was Clara. My good friend. So what if my carefully constructed world could come cracking apart? Wasn’t it enough that I hadn’t saved her? That I’d let her leave five minutes before me?

I could have stopped this.

Time staggered. Years of pain and fear and loneliness tumbled in my head. Still, despite all I’d lived through, no way could I run from this, leaving Clara here, silent and alone.

Tears came then, washing hot.

Trembling yet determined, my finger punched in the searing digits. Nine. One. One. Blurry-eyed and stricken, I clutched the phone to my ear.

As the number began to ring I prayed for Clara’s family, then begged God to protect me in this. To save me.

But I’d prayed that before, years ago. Little good it had done.