A Little Harmless Lie, page 1
To my sister, Sharon. Thanks for allowing your obnoxious little sister to follow you and your friends around, for sitting backwards in the car in the backseat of that Nova as Dad drove us through Europe (not to mention trying to devise a way to get him arrested by the East German guards), for being the best aunt my girls could ever have and for always remembering just how many steps there are up to that stupid reservoir. You are the only other person who truly understands how much our lives would resemble an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond if I moved in across the street.
Melissa (the aforementioned obnoxious sister)
No book is ever written without some of the most supportive people in the world. My big thanks to Kris Cook, Brandy Walker, Joy Harris, Ali Flores, Bonnie Hoffmaster, Tina Dowds and the rest of you crazy Harmless fans. You keep my heart light. Of course, a massive thank you to Heidi Moore, editor extraordinaire, for her mad editing skills and for being a calm presence in this crazy business we both love.
Of course, always to Les, Audrey, Eliza and Belle the dog. Your sacrifices are plenty, your contributions huge and my love for all of you knows no bounds. Thank you for everything.
10 years earlier
“If you’d find something to do, you wouldn’t be so antsy, Marjorie,” Agent Michelson said. “Read a book.”
Marjorie tossed a nasty look in the female FBI agent’s direction and kept pacing. In forty-eight hours she had to testify against the one man she knew wanted to kill her. Even thinking about it had her head pounding, her pulse racing. She felt as if she’d drunk three gallons of coffee.
“I’ve read everything you have here. I don’t think I can handle reading another Field and Stream, thanks. I’m not allowed to pick anything to watch,” she said, glancing pointedly at the other FBI agent, John Brown. He’d deemed himself king of the remote the moment they’d gotten there.
Michelson smiled. Marjorie had actually liked the FBI agent. She was the first woman agent she’d dealt with after going into hiding. Just over forty, Michelson had grown up in the Bronx from the sound of her accent. It was about the only thing they had in common. Michelson wore her hair super short, was in desperate need of an eyebrow plucking, and wore some ugly-ass clothes—not to mention the fugly shoes. But she’d been nice since she arrived, even if she wasn’t Conner Dillon, the man who had been in charge until two days ago. He’d headed up the investigation, been her main confidant and protector, and then he had left without a word. No explanation. She’d woken up and there was a new agent to take his place, and new orders. At least John Brown had stayed.
With a gusty sigh, Marjorie plopped down on the ratty recliner. There was no reason to be bitchy. Okay, she did have a good reason, and a lot of it started with the flea trap in which she was presently residing. For a girl who had grown up in luxury most people could only imagine, it was definitely a shock.
But that was her life before. Before she knew about the murder and before someone had tried to kill her.
“Have you been able to find my brother?”
There was a beat of silence and she glanced at the agents. They shared the same look they always did when she asked them about Mark. Conner and John had done the same thing. She knew there was something they weren’t telling her.
“No. We haven’t been able to locate your brother,” Michelson said.
Marjorie looked in John’s direction, but he ignored her. Purposively. They were hiding something. She knew the chances that it was something good, like they’d found her brother and had him hidden, were very slim. There was a higher chance that he was dead.
She blinked back the tears that threaten to spill over. What the fuck had happened to her life? She wanted to go back to what she’d had before. She wanted to be a regular seventeen-year-old with no worries other than getting her car keys back.
She turned away, stood and wandered to the window to stare out at the barren landscape. Not wanting to see it, to know just how horrible her life was now, she closed her eyes. But she couldn’t escape the fear for herself, for her twin brother who was apparently missing, and she couldn’t escape the fact she came from a family of jackals.
Michelson drew her attention by clearing her throat. She smiled and said, “Hey, Brown, why don’t you let Marjorie pick something to watch?”
Brown grunted. “SportsCenter’s on.”
Marjorie couldn’t keep from smiling. He was so laidback, so wonderful, she didn’t mind his grumpiness. He was in his late thirties, crazy in love with his wife, and had the sad job of being a Texas Rangers fan. Of course, she was for the Yankees, so they argued about baseball all the time. But he had been kind, understanding and dependable. Unlike Conner who had abandoned her.
“SportsCenter is always on. How many times can you watch the same footage over and over?” Marjorie asked.
“Why, is Oprah having something special today?”
She ignored his sneer because he tossed the remote in her direction. Catching it, she smiled. He winked at her. He was gruff and he was a pain in the ass, but he had been her savior. And for the first time in a long time, he was a man she could trust.
“Fucking teenagers,” he said with little heat.
She found the channel she wanted and settled in for watching her show. It was crap, she knew that. There was something about some man cheating or something like that, and she lost herself in the stupidity of it all. It had been a long time since she’d watched something that didn’t have to do with sports.
She barely noticed the time slipping by, until she realized her room had grown dark. Rising, she walked to the floor lamp to turn it on. The moment she did, the house exploded in a rain of bullets. Marjorie dropped to the floor as glass showered over her. She crawled across the carpet, her heart pounding as the TV exploded. She couldn’t stop the cry of fear that escaped. She pressed her back against the wall that separated the hall and the living room and drew in big gulps of air, trying to calm herself.
Closing her eyes, she remembered the instructions John had given her the day they picked her up.
Get to safety. Calm yourself. Assess the situation.
She did just that and the first thing she noticed was there was no returning fire. All of the shots were coming in the windows.
“Marjorie.” Brown’s voice was hoarse with pain.
She peeked around the corner into the foyer. She gasped at the sight. He lay against the opposite wall, and even in the dim light she could see the blood. It was everywhere, his shirt saturated with it.
Her stomach roiled as she moved to him. Tears burned the back of her eyes as she huddled next to him. She pulled the scarf she used to hold her rebellious dark curls back, and pressed it to his stomach. It was soaked within seconds.
She looked up and saw the resignation in his eyes, the knowledge that he was dying. The bullets rained around them, glass continued to shatter but they were apparently in a safe zone in the hall.
“Take these.” He handed her a set of car keys. “Just go. Go away, hide, don’t look back.”
“I can’t leave you. I’ll get Michelson—”
“Useless to us.” And that meant the female agent was dead. “Go. You know where the car is. You know where to go until they leave. Go out the back, down the alley. Don’t talk to anyone, no one.”
She nodded, but it wasn’t enough. He wrapped his fingers around her hand. With the level eye she had relied on since she’d been in his protection, he caught her gaze. “No one. I mean no one. No girlfriends, boyfriends, family…or the authorities.”
Her heart stuttered to a stop then swung into a rapid rhythm. “W-what?”
Her brain couldn’t seem to assimilate what he was telling her. All the weeks of protection, of trusting the FBI, holding on to them like a lifeline, and now…
He drew in a shuddering breath and winced. “God dammit, fucking go, now.”
It pulled her out of her thoughts, got her mind working in the right direction. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, John.”
She nodded, then turned away. She slipped down the hall and into the closet beneath the stairs. Once she closed the outer door, she pushed on the panel that opened to another set of stairs. She grabbed the flashlight and headed down. It was dark and dank in the basement, but out of boredom she had found it the first day they had arrived. Only Conner and John knew about it, and as far as she knew they hadn’t told a soul.
She knew there were bugs, knew there were probably big hairy rats, but she found the darkest corner and waited. She heard the pounding of feet, the shouts, the activity. She waited. The excitement seemed to fade, the knowledge that she wasn’t there was setting in from the arguing she could hear. It didn’t take them long, but it felt like a lifetime. The quiet house, the almost deathly stillness of it seeped through the floor above her head. And still, she waited.
Knowing she had to get out of there before the authorities arrived, she crept out of her corner. She reached behind the water heater and grabbed the bag of clothes. In it she knew there were documents for a new identity and money to get her where she needed to go. She slung it over her shoulder and headed to the stairs. Each step was agonizing as fear coiled in her gut. When she reached the top, she placed her ear against the door.
Nothing. Not a sound.
Drawing in a deep breath, she eased the outer panel of the wall open, then turned the knob and pulled the door ajar. She peeked out. She could see the front door was closed. With more courage than she felt, she slipped out of her hiding place. Glass cracked under her boots as she walked with her back against the wall down the hall. She looked around the corner and saw John Brown. Now she couldn’t hold back the tears. He lay, blood pooled around him, his eyes open, his chest no longer moving.
Even considering her father and all he had done, this was the first time she had dealt with the death of someone she cared for. He had lost his life for her. John had been hard on her at times, but he had done everything to protect her. As tears slid down her cheeks, she inched closer, and even though she knew he would have griped at her for wasting the time and putting herself in danger, she slipped her fingers over his eyes and closed the lids.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
She would not let him die for nothing. She held the keys in her hands and ducked into the kitchen. There was no sign of Michelson, but since John had said she was dead, Marjorie decided to just get out. She’d had enough up-close-and-personal dealings with death for the day.
She turned to go to her bedroom for more clothes, but then stopped. No. John said leave now. Go.
Instead of going to the garage, she slipped out the back, over the fence and then down the alley just as John had told her. She found the car three streets over, sitting in an abandoned lot. Five minutes later, she was driving down highway 395. She had one destination…Canada. She glanced at herself in the mirror, saw her trademark curls and knew they would have to go. And she would have to change her hair color. She needed to become someone else. Like John said, disappear.
Tonight, Marjorie Rizzoli would do just that.
“You’re going to bore a hole in her back if you keep staring at her like that.”
Micah Ross tossed his best friend and business partner, Evan Chambers, a nasty look. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Dee Sumner. You have an obsession with that one.”
Micah snorted. “Not likely.”
But even as he said it, his gaze traveled back to the monitor where his head bartender served drinks. He couldn’t seem to keep his attention on anything else. He had a club to run, a profitable one that turned people away on the weekends. It was getting downright embarrassing. He’d been drawn to her from the moment she’d come to work for him, and it was getting worse.
She wasn’t even his type. He usually went for curvy, soft women with a little height. Dee was short in stature with a tough little athletic body. He could see the sculpted muscles beneath her uniform. He would give a million bucks to see that tight ass of hers. Lord knew he’d spent enough time watching it the last few months. When he had first hired her, her hair had been short and curly. Now it was long, sleek and a lighter blonde. He preferred dark curls on a woman. But on her…it worked. It showed off her high cheekbones and that full mouth of hers. Her eyes were really what captured him. Blue, almost luminous…mermaid eyes. They took up most of her face and sparkled when she smiled. Like she was now, a full grin with those cute little dimples he’d come to love.
But he had rules, so he kept his hands to himself. He sat in his office above the main floor of his club, watching the monitors. Stalking her. She had a way about her. It was one of the reasons he had hired her. Each move was fluid, as if part of some dance routine.
He tore his attention away from the monitor and inwardly grimaced when he saw the smile on Evan’s face. His fascination with Dee was something he wanted to keep under wraps. He would never be able to act on it, and while he was frustrated, he could deal with it. Maybe. Truthfully, he didn’t know how he felt about the situation. It was probably the reason he couldn’t seem to settle down the last few months.
“Why not ask her out?”
He shifted in his chair. “She works for me.”
Evan rolled his eyes. “Big fucking deal. I know you don’t like to fuck the help, but that has never been a rule here.”
He hesitated. It had been one of his personal rules, true. Running a BDSM club came with some complications. A relationship of any sort could quickly escalate into a sexual-harassment suit. And of course, there was the real reason he couldn’t break the rules.
“She doesn’t play.”
Evan grunted. “Really? I find that hard to believe.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just a vibe I get off her.”
Micah knew what Evan was talking about. The woman might not admit she was a sub, but everything about her screamed it. He could see the way her eyes would flare with recognition and heat when he ordered her to do something. She was a woman who was made for submission.
Not that she was a wilting flower. She was one tough woman, as some patrons had found out when they’d tried to mess with her. The last guy sported a broken nose for his efforts.
There were times when they were together that he felt it. Felt her need to be conquered, to be controlled. Still, she denied it constantly. All of his employees had a free membership in the club. Since it was several thousand dollars, he knew it was a highly prized benefit. Dee never used hers.
“She’s been working here for two years, there has to be some reason.”
Micah glanced at Evan. “She says the tips here are better than other places. Plus, she says, other than the occasional jackass, our patrons are better behaved.”
Including the one she gave the broken nose to. Even now he wanted to hunt the son of a bitch down and break his nose again for even thinking he had the right to touch Dee.
“So are we done here?”
Evan’s question jolted him out of his revenge fantasy and he frowned. “Got somewhere to be?”
“May’s closing up right about now.” The smile Evan was sporting irritated as much as it satisfied him. Micah could take some credit for getting them together.
“Not bored yet?” He said it as a jo
“Yeah, sure. Would you ever get bored with May Aiona?”
A swift jolt of envy twined through Micah. May was a sub, an almost perfect sub. He would have loved to be the one who initiated her, but that had been for Evan. She had always been for Evan.
“We’re done. Since you’re whipped, you can leave.”
Evan laughed again. “Man, you’re nasty. You need to hook up before you start a fight with someone.”
The problem with having a friend like Evan was he knew too much. All their years together, living on the street, then building Rough ’n Ready, the premier BDSM club on the islands, they had learned each other quirks.
“Not happening, bra. I have more work to do tonight and someone has to close up.”
Evan shook his head as he headed for the door. “You’re going to work yourself to death if you aren’t careful. You need to take some time off.”
“And who would run the club?”
Evan paused. “We have a manager and several assistants who are very well trained. You can take a vacation whenever you want. If you don’t do it on your own, I’ll arrange it.”
“Are you talking kidnapping?”
Evan shrugged. “You need a break, Micah. I don’t want you working yourself into an early grave.”
He shook his head and flipped his hand at him. “Go to May.”
“Oh, did you get that ad set approved for next month?”
“How does it look?”
Micah rolled his eyes. “It looks great. You approved it, you should know. May’s waiting.”
Evan didn’t leave at first, but he sighed and then slipped through the door. Micah tried to concentrate, but his attention kept straying to the woman downstairs. He gave up and went to the window that looked out onto the floor. They had built the club from the ground up. With Evan’s skills and Micah’s vision, they’d designed something that was unique to the islands. The office overlooked the floor where their patrons mixed and mingled. Five bars were scattered throughout the area, although two of them were shut down since it was Monday, their slowest night of the week.