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Her Buried Secret

Her Buried Secret

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Penelope Cline and her three closest girlfriends have a deadly secret. A young woman disappeared under mysterious circumstances at a party they attended together, and they know more than was reported to the authorities.

Penelope's friends urged her to keep quiet and forget it ever happened. They each enjoyed good lives and didn't want them interrupted. But when remains are discovered and the investigation turns towards an innocent man, Penelope is forced to wrestle with her own guilty conscience.

Should she speak up and report what she knows? Will bad things happen to her if she doesn't? And will telling the truth cost her the friendships she holds most dear?

Her Buried Secret is the fifth book in the Rosemary Run Series of domestic thrillers.

Publication date: April 15, 2020.

About the Rosemary Run Series:

In the charming Northern California town of Rosemary Run, there's trouble brewing below the picture-perfect surface.

Don't let the manicured lawns and stylish place settings fool you. Nothing is exactly as it seems. Secrets and lies threaten to upend the status quo and destroy lives when— not if— they're revealed.

With surprising twists and turns that will keep you guessing to the end, each Rosemary Run novel features a different woman's nail-biting story. The series is ongoing and books can be read in any order.

Look Inside


Penelope Cline had always known she wasn’t good at telling lies. Or, for that matter, keeping secrets. Her friends knew it, too, which is why they rarely asked her to keep anything in confidence.

As a kid, Penelope had held her breath every time she tried to tell a fib. It was comical, really. Her parents could gauge the truthfulness of their daughter’s statements by watching her breath for a minute or two. When she was lying, Penelope would purse her lips and inhale big gulps, as if she was sipping air through a straw. Then she’d exhale in loud, dramatic bursts once she couldn’t hold it in anymore.

Like Pinocchio, whose nose grew when he wasn’t truthful, Penelope’s body told everyone around her when something wasn’t right.

One time, at nine-years-old, Penelope had entered a bank to deposit some allowance into her savings account, but had made a carefully calculated withdrawal instead. Her mother had waited in the car, initially oblivious to her daughter’s plan.

“Is your mom or dad with you today?” Bernice Tenpenny, the stern old lady behind the counter, had asked.

Bernice had probably been amused to see the withdrawal slip filled out in the amount of eighty-seven dollars. Not a round or even number, like one would expect. And in a child’s handwriting, no less.

“My mom is outside waiting in the car,” Penelope had replied, twirling a strand of long brown hair around one finger.

“Does she know you’re making a withdrawal?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Penelope had answered, sipping air.

Bernice had looked at her skeptically, so Penelope expounded. “My baby brother is sleeping in his car seat and Mom didn’t want to wake him. She told me to go ahead by myself and explain what I was here to do.”

Penelope had been precocious for nine. And smart as a whip. She’d had her reasons for the withdrawal from her savings account. But she was still a child, after all. She hadn’t yet developed the judgment of an adult.

There had been a few moments of silence as Bernice sized the girl up and considered whether to honor her withdrawal request. Every second had been excruciating for Penelope as she stood, cautiously waiting. She had nearly cracked under the pressure, but instead she had focused on how funny it was that a bank teller had the last name Tenpenny. She could easily read and pronounce the moniker that was printed neatly on the woman’s name tag. She wondered if Bernice had chosen her job at the bank because of her name.

What a hoot, Penelope thought as she smiled sweetly and put a casual hand over her mouth to disguise the sips of air. She had hoped Bernice could see her smiling by looking at her cheeks and eyes. It had been hard to smile with pursed lips. But Penelope had held steady. She had felt like an actress giving the performance of her life.

To find the fortitude to continue her act as the minutes ticked by, Penelope had shifted her thoughts to the reason she was at the bank in the first place.

It was about a tent, of all things.

There had been a green camping tent that had caught Penelope’s eye when she’d seen it pictured in a glossy Sears Wishbook. She had envisioned herself reading and playing in the tent in her family’s fenced backyard. She had thought, if she was lucky, it could provide a place of peace and refuge. She needed such a place. Desperately.

Most kids would have simply asked their parents to order a tent for them. But not Penelope. She knew her mom would say no.

Money had been tight for the family ever since her dad had been laid off from his job the year prior. They’d exhausted their savings, and Jean Cline, Penelope’s stay-at-home mom, wasn’t handling the stress well. Jean had even seemed jealous of the five dollar allowance that Felix Cline, Penelope’s dad, left on the top of the girl’s dresser each week.

To get the tent, Penelope had been forced to hatch an elaborate plan. She didn’t have a debit or credit card, or know how mail or phone orders worked. So, she had done the only thing she could.

Enter the Sunnyday Sales Club, a fundraising partner for Penelope’s elementary school. Kids who sold enough of the club’s stationary and gifts could choose from prizes, one of which was a spacious green tent, just like the one in the Sears catalog. When Penelope saw it, she immediately knew what she had to do.

She’d sell enough to get the tent. Easy peasy.

The plan had seemed foolproof until Penelope’s door-to-door efforts failed to produce the required sales volume. It was at that point the savings account and the bank withdrawal had come into play as the girl had needed the eighty-seven dollars to buy enough stationary and gifts to qualify for the tent as a prize. Penelope told herself she’d worry about how to hide the surplus products when they arrived.

One step at a time. One lie at a time.

Sip... Sip... And hold.

It had been a roundabout way of getting what she wanted. But one had to admire Penelope’s tenacity and resourcefulness.

At the bank, against all odds, Bernice had cooperated. The old lady had chuckled as she dispensed the cash into Penelope’s hand and counted out loud, right up to eighty-seven. Penelope had thanked Bernice, then did her best calm-walk out of the building, completing the first act of the performance of her life. Or so she thought.

Penelope had stuffed the cash deep into her pants pockets so Jean wouldn’t see, then climbed into the backseat of the family’s big black car as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Jean had noticed that her daughter seemed to be holding her breath, but decided to watch quietly, perhaps planning to discuss it another time. Jean couldn’t imagine what Penelope would have lied about while inside the bank. She had been just nine-years-old.

Little did Jean know what the girl was up to.

And little did young Penelope know how much the Sunnyday Sales Club experience from her childhood would mirror the most dramatic turn of events in her adult life, each complete with numerous occasions to awkwardly hold her breath.

Thirty-something Penelope and her three closest girlfriends shared a secret.

A woman was dead. She had disappeared under mysterious circumstances at a party the friends had attended together, and they knew much more than was reported to the authorities.

Chapter 1

“I’m a good person, you know,” Penelope proclaimed.

She was seated cross-legged on the wide dock behind Marshall Erving’s house, her halter-top party dress billowed out around her. The vintage boho vibe of the floral-print dress paired well with Penelope’s long, side-swept braid.
She was the picture of sweet innocence as she fiddled nervously with her silver bracelet. The silky waters of Sweet Balm Bay lapped rhythmically against the steel support beams below. She was less than half an hour from home in Rosemary Run, but it felt like a world away.

Spring was in the air. Birds chirped eagerly as newly bloomed seaside daisies clung to bluffs along the banks of the bay. The smell of freshly cut grass hung in the air, still potent from mowers who had tended to Marshall’s property the prior afternoon. It was a perfect morning. Mother Nature was, apparently, unaware of the distress Penelope was experiencing.

Marshall and his husband, Reginald Johns, had thrown the big, booming party the night before. It had been a grand affair with decadent food and luxurious trimmings, but neither homeowner was anywhere to be found as the sun came up and shone on a new day. Penelope figured the police probably had them at the station, asking questions and taking official statements.

That’s where she thought Marshall and Reggie should be, anyway. Wasn’t that the way it usually worked on television?

Seated next to Penelope in a red Adirondack chair was her oldest friend, Cheryl Edwards. Cheryl kicked one leg nervously, her body draped sideways across the wooden planks as her curve-hugging pink dress and coordinating pale pink nail polish played against her bleach-blonde hair. The asymmetrical ruffles along the hemline of Cheryl’s dress danced in the gentle breeze as she kicked. Penelope had always thought Cheryl looked like a pin-up model. She certainly had the hourglass figure for it.

“We know you are,” Cheryl said. Her voice was shaky, but not shaky enough, as far as Penelope was concerned.

“Of course, you’re a good person,” Hana Kim added from the other side of Cheryl. “We shouldn’t have to tell you that.”

She, too, was on a red Adirondack chair, only she sat up straight and tall. Hana hugged her knees tight against her chest, her off-the-shoulder black dress pulled taut. She seemed quieter than usual, and not just because it was early in the morning. Penelope thought Hana’s jet-black hair and olive skin made her look exotic. She was the most glamorous of the bunch. And that was saying something. Even under the stress of their situation, Hana had the air of a glitzy runway model.

Meg Harris rounded out the foursome. She was splayed out face down on the deck just beyond Hana’s chair, her thick, blonde, curly hair disheveled. Black mascara was smeared under her eyes. Meg had imbibed far too many glasses of wine the night before, and she wasn’t holding her alcohol well. She was out of it, groggy and disconnected, yet she still looked beautiful. She wore a rose-colored, backless dress made of lace and featuring a thick ribbon that tied artfully around her waist. Only the ribbon was out of place now, a visual reminder of what had happened.

Penelope knew she was pretty in a down-to-earth, natural sort of way. She could put on a party dress and clean up nicely. Yet her friends were on another level. She often felt like the ugly duckling among world-class beauties.

It was no wonder, really. Jean had always been ashamed of her own physical appearance for reasons Penelope never quite understood, and she had passed her insecurities down to her unwitting daughter. Though the effects had been tempered by Felix’s kind encouragement and good parenting, Penelope had taken on too much of Jean’s low self esteem as her own. She had carried it, even when it wasn’t hers.

As Penelope sat fretting about what they had seen the night before, she was, perhaps, more aware of what she lacked than ever. If things went like usual, she knew her attractive friends would steer clear of trouble more easily than she would. It was a sad, but true fact of life: Extraordinarily beautiful women had it made. Life was easier for them. People bent over backwards to forgive their transgressions and to do them favors. The same wasn’t necessarily true for average-looking women like Penelope.

“Just stop,” Meg said as she rubbed her temples, curls bobbing. “Nobody is questioning your character, Pen.”

“It feels like they’re going to,” Penelope replied. “It’s only a matter of time.”

This was the way it always was with Cheryl, Hana, and Meg. Penelope worried while they skated through life effortlessly. At least, that’s how it had seemed.

“Not true, Pen,” Hana said, shifting her weight in the chair as she hugged her knees tighter. “I’m with Meg on this one. No one is questioning your character. You’re getting worked up when, most likely, that’s an overreaction.”

Of course, Hana was with Meg. She was always with Meg.

“What?” Penelope asked. “Are you seriously suggesting that I’m overreacting right now? Because I don’t think I am. This is serious.”

Hana shot Cheryl a knowing glance, which was then shared with Meg. They were deciding how to handle Penelope. They didn’t believe there was anything to be too concerned about.

“We know,” Cheryl said.

Cheryl was the one most likely to try to appease Penelope, when and if it had to be done.

But this was different. Penelope thought so, anyway.

“Maybe we should talk about what we saw last night,” Penelope suggested.

“What good will that do?” Hana asked.

Hana preferred to sweep things under the rug whenever possible, and she was a master at doing so. Her parents had been the same way. Hana had claimed it was typical of her Asian upbringing and that she came by it honestly, but Penelope wasn’t so sure that was all there was to it. Penelope often thought it was just an excuse to get out of the hard stuff in life. She had discussed Hana’s avoidance behaviors with Cheryl, who had agreed. Sometimes, facing up to life’s difficulties was necessary. No one said it had to be pleasant.

“Really?” Penelope asked, incredulous. “This again, Hana?”

“Shh,” Cheryl purred, leaning sideways and placing a hand over Penelope’s mouth.

It was a silly gesture, as if the two of them were back in grade school with little more to worry about than where they’d end up in that day’s lunch line.

Penelope’s blood boiled as she flung her friend away. “Did you just shush me?” she asked.

Cheryl rolled her eyes and turned back to face Hana and Meg.

“Please, keep your voices down,” Meg pleaded. “Can’t a girl have a hangover in peace?”

Penelope exhaled loudly, buzzing her lips. “Incredible,” she muttered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hana asked, her lip twitching like it did when she was irritated.

“What do you think it means?” Penelope replied. “I think the response here is incredible. You’re incredible… only NOT.”

Cheryl straightened herself in the chair and raised a hand in the air between Penelope and Hana as if she were a referee ready to break up a fight. “Ladies, please...”

Penelope knew it wasn’t a time for foolishness or bickering. She was experienced in such matters. Although, her friends had no idea of the things her history held. Not even Cheryl knew what Penelope had been through.

“Look,” Penelope began again, raising her voice. “I can’t stress enough how serious this situation is. I don’t know what you three witnessed last night, but I know what I saw. It wasn’t pretty.”

Penelope was wise enough to know that what they had seen made them liabilities. In fact, the guilty parties might soon be looking to cover their tracks. It was time to compare notes and get on the same page.

There might not be another opportunity.

“What, Pen?” Meg asked, exasperated. “Should we call in a priest and sit for confession?”

Hana chuckled. “Ooh, I know! We could put him on one side of the wooden fence at the edge of the property. Then we could glance at him ashamedly through the cracks.”

Cheryl chimed in, “And we could have him position himself strategically so that everything from the nose down would be hidden. Like Wilson on that old TV show. Home Improvement, right?”

Everyone except Penelope laughed heartily at the thought. She, on the other hand, stood and let her hands rest on her hips.

“It’s time we get it all out in the open between us,” she urged.

Hana smirked. “Come on, Pen. Whatever is meant to be will work out. You know my prerogative.”

Penelope’s brows furrowed, and she lowered her voice as she spoke sternly to her friends. Someone had to be the heavy. The responsible adult. The voice of reason.

“Out with it,” Penelope demanded. “Right now. I won’t take no for an answer.”

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