Sinful Secrets

By: Melissa Ohnoutka

Chapter One

“Where the hell are they?”

Joanna McNamee paced back and forth across the parking lot in front of the Pine Woods Country Club’s banquet hall, kicking at the gravel with the toes of her red boots. Ten years after defying her father’s wishes and dropping out of college to pursue her dream, she now stood wondering if he’d been right all along.

A humid December wind swooshed up, striking her in the face and whipping her long braids around like a new cowboy’s wild and untamed lasso. She stiffened, inhaling the delicious aromas of her caterers outdoing themselves with the delicacies on the menu for the party that night. Despite the unusually warm temperatures, the country club and its lush surrounding gardens decorated with thousands of white glittery lights reminded her Christmas was just around the corner. One of the top resorts around, featuring two spectacular eighteen-hole private golf courses accessible to members and guests only of the Pine Woods Hotel, the location screamed money and social status. Just what her father wanted.

And yet apprehension hung heavy in her chest.

Giving the highway and feeder road one last glance, she slid her sunglasses on top of her head and stalked back inside the building to retrieve her cell phone. Her friend still sat cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the empty hall.

“She’s sabotaging my business again,” Joanna huffed.

“Who? Your dad’s girlfriend?” Sam glanced up from the hundred swatches of fabric and stone granite samples surrounding her.

“Who else would I be smoking mad about?” Joanna twisted her hands in front of her to keep from pounding the wall in frustration.

“What did Denise do this time?”

Joanna sighed, blowing the wild hairs away from her face. “The damn truck is late, and I know that woman’s behind it. They should have arrived over forty-five minutes ago with the extra tables, chairs, and decorations. Now I’m not sure I’ll finish in time. She knows how important this party is, and she’s determined to make me look bad in Daddy’s eyes.”

“I told you this woman has serious issues, Jo Jo. You should stay far away from anything or anyone associated with Denise.”

Hearing Sam use her nickname calmed her a bit and brought back a smidgen of normalcy. “As long as she’s hanging on Daddy’s arm, steering clear of her is kind of impossible.” She shuddered at the thought of the two “lovebirds” together.

“I just wish we could read her mind so we could stay a few steps ahead of her twisted reality.” Sam laughed and then turned quiet, her brows drawing inward as if contemplating her next thought.

“I’m with you on that one. Sure would make my life so much easier.” Joanna cringed as she recalled all the drama Denise had rained down on them over the past few months. The woman’s constant meddling and rude questions about her qualifications as a party planner made potential clients doubt her abilities to bring their visions to life. She’d already lost several clients and desperately needed to build her clientele in order to prove she could make it on her own without her father’s help.

“I think she’s stalking you.” Her friend stretched both arms out in front of her and stood, tiptoeing around the mess she’d made. Despite working overtime to help Joanna out, as well as designing an entire new living room for a buyer she’d just sold a house to, Sam sounded as fresh as she had the day before. “You know, trying to figure out how she can get rid of you, maybe even climb under your skin and be you.”

“How awful!” Joanna threw a highlighter in Sam’s direction. “Why on earth would she do that? I’m a nobody.”

“Nobody? Are you serious?” Her friend smacked herself on the forehead with her palm for effect.

“I don’t have anything she wants. It’s dear ol’ Dad who has all the money. I won’t see a cent unless I decide to go back to law school and then crawl on my hands and knees and beg for his forgiveness. I take his money, and he’ll use that as the green light to run my life again.”

“I’m just saying.” Sam sighed heavily.

“You really know how to yank my chain. The last thing I need is to be paranoid. I have too much to do, too much to worry about to make sure this event goes off without another glitch. Lots of people are counting on me.” Joanna tried to hide her anxiety, but it oozed out with every word.

“Sorry, hon. I just call them like I see them. And I see snake slithering all over the inside of that one.”

Joanna grabbed the back of her chair for added support. “Please do me a humongous favor and go see if the delivery of white poinsettias arrived. They were supposed to be here by two. I’ve got a truck and crew to find.”