Authors: Fern Michaels
Also by Fern Michaels…
Fool Me Once
The Future Scrolls
What You Wish For
The Guest List
Listen to Your Heart
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
Myra Rutledge, heiress to a Fortune 500 candy company, looked around her state-of-the-art kitchen, at the pots bubbling on the stove, at the table set for two. Even though it was late afternoon, the sun danced through the stained glass ornaments hanging on the kitchen window creating rainbows on the white walls all around her. The girls — that’s how she thought of Barbara and Nikki — had made the colorful ornaments for her as gifts one year at summer camp.
She’d adopted Nikki at a young age, but she and Barbara couldn’t have been more alike than if they’d come out of her womb at the same time. Barbara was gone now, killed by a hit and run driver in the District by a man with diplomatic immunity.
Myra tried her best not to let maudlin thoughts overcome her, but sometimes, like now, at the end of the day, she thought about her two girls and the dangerous path she’d embarked on. She needed to fortify herself against such thoughts because she knew they weren’t going to go away on their own. A snifter of brandy helped a little. She poured generously, eyes watering at the first massive gulp. She always gulped brandy even though she knew it should be sipped. She took another mighty gulp as she looked at the clock. The girls of the Sisterhood would be arriving before nightfall, to prepare for their second mission. The thought warmed her more than the brandy did. They were like daughters now, and she loved them all.
She was worried a little about Alexis, though. She’d mentioned her worry to her live-in companion, Charles, the way she mentioned everything that bothered her, and he’d agreed that perhaps Alexis
ready for her mission. If not, they’d open the shoe box, fall back and regroup. It wouldn’t be a problem. With Charles at the helm, it would all go smoothly.
There was another problem, though, outside of the Sisterhood. Assistant District Attorney Jack Emery, Nikki’s fiancé. Ex-fiancé to be more precise.
Myra set the glass down on the table and massaged her temples.
“You’re at it again, eh, Mom?”
Myra’s head jerked upright as she looked around. One of the stained glass ornaments, a red tulip hanging in the window, was jiggling on its little hook. “Barbara? My dear, sweet girl, I was sitting here thinking about you and Nikki when you were little. I miss you so.”
“I know, Mom, but I’m always close by. I’m looking at you right now. Don’t worry so much. Things will work out. Trust Nikki.”
“But Jack…Jack could ruin everything.”
“Nikki won’t allow it, Mom. I think what you’re doing is super. That first mission of Kathryn’s was really kick ass. Thanks, Mom. I know you’re doing it for me, and I can’t wait till it’s your turn. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Myra looked down into her brandy glass. Was she really talking to her dead daughter? Was her dead daughter actually communicating with her? Or was it the brandy? She finished it off, not wanting to let go of her daughter’s voice.
“Easy on the sauce, Mom. I’d hate to take away a vision of my mom dancing on the table. I know how rowdy you can get. I’m teasing, Mom.”
“I know, dear. I’m feeling a little light-headed right now just talking to you. I wish…Oh, Barbara, I wish so many things.”
“Don’t, Mom. You can’t un-ring the bell. I just
want you to know how proud I am of what you and the girls are doing. Sometimes…sometimes you simply have to take charge and make things come out right. Kathryn is a new person these days. You’re right about, Alexis, too. She isn’t ready, but Mom, let her be the one to tell you she isn’t ready. Don’t make the decision for her. And, Mom, just keep doing what you’re doing.”
“Oh, I will, dear, I will. I just thank God I have the money to fund this venture. And to think I don’t even like candy.”
“I hear Charles coming. I’m going upstairs to spend some time with Willie. I love you, Mom.”
Myra smiled at the mention of Barbara’s tattered teddy bear. “When Nikki moved back here to the farm she started to sleep with Willie so he wouldn’t miss you so much.”
“I know, Mom. Trust Nikki. And, don’t worry about Jack. Nik has it under control. Love you, Mom.”
Myra was up and off the chair in the blink of an eye. She ran over to the kitchen window to touch the stained glass ornament that was now still. Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a sob.
She felt Charles’s hand on her shoulder. She turned around to bury her head in his broad chest. “She was here, Charles. We talked.”
Charles Martin, ex-MI6 operative who had devoted most of his life to Her Majesty, eyed the brandy bottle and the empty glass. “I’m glad, Myra. I’ll finish up here. Why don’t you check the bedrooms to be sure everything is ready for the girls. Did you buy something special for Kathryn’s dog, Murphy?”
“Yes, Charles, I did, a chew toy and a box of jumbo biscuits. He’s a wonderful animal, isn’t he?”
“Yes, Myra, he is.”
“I love you, Charles. I wish…I wish…never mind. Barbara said…it’s all right, Charles. I’m not dotty. Isn’t that a term you Brits use?”
“I’m an American now, dear. I say nutsy cuckoo like the rest of you. You are my dear, sweet Myra and I love you with all my heart. Scoot!”
Myra smiled. She adored flirting with the love of her life. “I’m going. I might have overcooked that mess on the stove, Charles.”
“I’m throwing it all out, Myra, and starting over. It’s all right, dear. You have other wonderful talents.” He twirled the dish towel and then playfully swatted her backside.
Myra laughed all the way down the hall and was still laughing as she climbed the steps to the second floor.
Alexis Thorn frowned as she looked around her small apartment. There was nothing about the tiny place to suggest permanency of any kind. There were no knickknacks, no green plants, no family pictures. It was a place to sleep, a place to come home to at the end of the day, nothing more. How could it be anything else when her name wasn’t even Alexis Thorn? Alexis Thorn was an alias. She’d taken a new name with the help of her lawyer, Nicole Quinn, when she got out of prison for a crime she didn’t commit. She didn’t want to think about why she was living in this run-down apartment but she had to think about it, like it or not.
Without Nicole Quinn she didn’t know where she’d be. Nikki had gotten her a job as a personal shopper to some of Virginia’s older, wealthy residents. It was a far cry from being a high-powered securities broker in her other life, that was for sure. Nikki had helped her with a new identity, too. Who in their right mind would hire a jailbird? No one, that’s who. These days she was Alexis Thorn and she liked it but someday when the time was right, she’d go back to being her real self.
Today, in just minutes, she had to climb into her little Mini Cooper and head out to McLean, Virginia. There at Nicole’s adopted mother’s palatial estate, she would join the other members of the Sisterhood. She’d joined a year ago, again, with Nicole Quinn’s help. The Sisterhood wasn’t just any organization. Myra Rutledge had formed the organization after her daughter was run down and killed by a diplomat’s son. With the aid of Nikki’s legal expertise, Myra formed the Sisterhood to help women get the justice and the revenge they deserved, even if it meant going outside the law to get it.
The Sisterhood consisted of six women, seven if you counted Myra, all recruited by Nikki. They’d gone on one mission so far and it had been successful. At the end of that successful mission, they’d drawn names to see whose case would be next. Alexis’s name — not her real name of course — had been drawn from the cardboard shoe box.
But she wasn’t ready yet to seek the justice she deserved. She needed more time to wallow in her misery, and to build up her strength and resilience. She didn’t know why that was, it just was. She would have to tell the sisters they needed to choose someone else for the second mission. She knew in her gut she was still too fragile, too broken with her thirteen-month stint in the federal pen. She tugged at her lavender dress, straightening it over her slim hips. The dress was one she’d chosen from her pitiful wardrobe and was a knock-off to boot. It went well with her brown skin and dark hair. She’d chosen the dress because she thought she looked best in pastels. The days were long gone when she didn’t think twice about buying high-end designer clothes. Everything from her past was gone. Every damn thing she cared about. Even her dog.