Breath of Scandal

By: Sandra Brown


New York City, 1990

She was going back to Palmetto.

Standing at her office window, Jade Sperry adjusted the blinds and gazed down twenty stories at the snarled traffic around Lincoln Center. A cold wind whipped around the street corners with the impetus of the city buses that belched noxious fumes into the polluted air. Looking like frantic, yellow beetles, taxi cabs scurried from one congested traffic lane to another. Pedestrians never broke their stride, but continued to move, clutching their belongings.

It had been a struggle for Jade to adjust to such constant motion when she moved to New York. At first intersections proved hazardous. There was nothing quite as terrifying as standing on the curb of a busy avenue in downtown Manhattan, wondering which would mow her down first—a menacing taxi, a lumbering city bus, or the hoards of people pressing her from behind and growing impatient with the out-of-towner whose speech was as slow as her hesitant gait.

As with every challenge, Jade had ducked her head and tackled it. She didn’t move as fast, or hear as quickly, or speak as rapidly as the natives, but she wasn’t intimidated by them—just different. She hadn’t been bred to bustle. Jade Sperry had been raised in an environment where the most industrious individual on a summer day might be a dragonfly skimming a tidal swamp.

By the time she reached New York, she had become accustomed to hard work and self-sacrifice. So she had acclimated and survived, because her South Carolinian stiff-necked pride was just as characteristic as her speech.

Today, it had all paid off. Thousands of hours of planning, plotting, and hard work had finally been rewarded. No one could guess how many years and tears she had invested in her return to her hometown.

She was going back to Palmetto.

There were those there who had much to atone for, and Jade would see to it that they did. The restitution she had dreamed of was within her grasp. She now had the power to make it happen.

She continued to gaze out the window, but little of the street scene below registered with her. Rather, she saw tall grass swaying in coastal marshes. She smelled pungent salt air and heady magnolias. She tasted low-country cooking. The skyscrapers were replaced by tall pines; the broad avenues became sluggishly flowing channels. She remembered how it felt to breathe air so heavy and thick that it didn’t even stir the limp, gray Spanish moss that dripped from the branches of ancient live oaks.

She was going back to Palmetto.

And when she got there, all hell was going to break loose.

Chapter One

Palmetto, South Carolina, 1976

“The hell you say!”

“Swear to God.”

“You’re a liar, Patchett.”

“How ’bout it, Lamar? Am I lying, or not? Can’t a good whore put a rubber on you using only her mouth?”

Lamar Griffith divided his quizzical look between his best friends, Hutch Jolly and Neal Patchett. “I don’t know, Neal. Can she?”

“Why’d I bother asking you,” Neal scoffed. “You’ve never been to a whore.”

“And you have?” Hutch guffawed.

“Yeah, I have. Lots of times.”

The three high school seniors occupied a booth at the local Dairy Barn. Hutch and Lamar shared one vinyl bench. Neal was sprawled along the other, across the pink Formica table.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” Hutch said.

“My old man took me to her.”

Lamar grimaced at the thought. “Weren’t you embarrassed?”

“Hell no.”

Hutch looked at Lamar scornfully. “He’s lying, you fool.” Turning back to Neal, he asked, “Where is this whorehouse?”

Neal checked his reflection in the plate glass window at the end of the booth. His handsome face gazed back at him. Just the right amount of dark blond bangs dipped low over the brows above his sexy green eyes. His maroon and white high school letter jacket looked well used and hung jauntily off his shoulders.

“I didn’t say he took me to a whorehouse. I said he took me to a whore.”

Hutch Jolly wasn’t as physically attractive as his friend Neal. He was a big, gawky boy with wide, bony shoulders and bright red hair. His ears poked straight out from the sides of his head. Leaning in closer, he licked his fleshy lips. His voice was soft and conspiratorial. “You mean to tell me there’s a whore right here in town? Who is she? What’s her name? Where does she live?”

Neal gave his friends a lazy smile. “You think I’m going to share a secret like that with you two? Next thing I’d know, you’d be beating down her door, making damn fools of yourselves. I’d be ashamed to claim I knew you.”