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Lies Lovers Tell
By Zuri Day DAFINA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Zuri Day
All right reserved.
Chapter One Maya fumed, the steady tapping of her foot an outward sign of her annoyance. The man standing five feet in front of her was taking forever at the ATM. On another, less harried day she might have welcomed the sight. He was tall, she guessed about six-two, broad-shouldered, with long, thick legs encased in jeans that emphasized nicely rounded, tight buns. She'd wondered what his face looked like until his transaction had taken longer than the sixty seconds she thought appropriate, considering the hurry she was in. As if Monday mornings weren't busy enough, her assistant had phoned to inform her that Mr. Brennan was waiting on her in his office. Zeke rarely came into the office before 10:00 a.m. on Mondays; she couldn't imagine the urgent matter that had changed his normally predictable schedule.
The stranger at the ATM looked at a receipt he'd retrieved from the machine, and began another transaction. Maya looked at her watch and sighed audibly, hoping the man would get the message. Will you hurry up? Jeez! She no longer cared about his attractive backside; he was making her late.
"Excuse me, but could you hurry? There's a line," Maya said in a firm, authoritative voice. The fact that she was the only one in line was beside the point.
The stranger stopped punching in information, looked up from the ATM screen, and slowly turned around. Mayabreathed in quickly, and almost forgot to breathe out. The man was platinum fine; at least what she could see of him. He wore a Dodgers baseball cap and sunglasses, so she couldn't really see his face. What she could see was mouthwatering: a strong, firm chin with perfectly groomed day-old stubble, a strong aristocratic-looking nose that tapered over the most delectable lips she'd ever seen in her life. A small cleft in his chin gave him a roguish air.
The stranger's mouth turned up in a slightly amused grin. Maya realized she was staring at the man's lips and tried to regain her composure. She slowly exhaled, set her shoulders back, tilted her head slightly, and continued in her best authoritative tone. "Are you finished?"
The smile deepened in the stranger's face. "Are you?"
His teeth were straight and white and lit up Maya's heart like a fluorescent lightbulb. She looked briefly at his chest, slightly exposed by two open buttons, revealing a light layer of curly black hair. Maya blinked her eyes, tried to get her mind to work. She couldn't figure out what was wrong with her, what about this man had her so flustered. She figured it must be the phone call making her nervous, the phone call that said her boss was upstairs, waiting.
That thought shook Maya from inactivity. "Look, I'm in a hurry. Are you done?"
Maya watched the smile fade from the stranger's face and she could tell his eyes were intense, even hidden as they were behind dark glasses. He shrugged, turned to the machine, canceled his transaction, retrieved his card, and stepped away from the machine.
"It's all yours," he said, unsmiling.
Maya hurriedly conducted a transfer and retrieved two hundred dollars from the ATM, all the while aware that she was being watched. She tried to forget about the stranger as she stuffed the bills into her purse, retrieved her card, and headed toward the elevator. She'd glimpsed the stranger step back up to the ATM after she walked away and couldn't help but consider what he'd done chivalrous. She also found herself wondering what was hidden behind the ball cap and dark shades.
There was little time to ponder that though; duty called. She phoned her brother to tell him she had transferred money into his account, and that it was the last time she was going to rescue him from his irresponsible actions. He was her beloved twin brother and all the family she had left in the world. The night before her mother died, Maya had promised to watch after him. All of eight minutes older than Stretch, she'd always been the sensible one, he the rebel. But she couldn't continue to clean up the messes he made. It was time for somebody to man up.
As soon as the elevator doors opened onto the penthouse floor of Brennan & Associates, thirty-three stories above the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, Maya was all corporate business. She bypassed the luxurious break room and her roomy corner office, not even stopping to put down her purse or briefcase. She'd been summoned by Zeke Brennan. And when Zeke called, people came running-quickly.
"Good morning, Zeke," Maya said. She'd called him "Mr. Brennan" the first three years of her employment. But last year, when she was promoted from first assistant to executive assistant, working directly with Mr. Brennan on a daily basis, he had told her it was okay to call him Zeke. She only did so when they were alone, however. Whenever clients or other staff was around, he was still "Mr. Brennan."
"Maya," Zeke replied simply, shuffling through papers on his desk.
"You're here early," Maya said. She sat down in a chair opposite him, set down her purse, and opened her briefcase to retrieve a pen and notepad. Sensing Zeke was in no mood for chitchat, she remained quiet, waiting. She casually scanned the immaculate office: an exquisite blend of African mahogany and stainless steel. The floor-to-ceiling windows covered the east wall, giving Zeke an uninterrupted view of not only downtown, but miles beyond, into Orange County. Unlike the rest of the carpeted offices, the CEO office's floors were a rain-forest-brown marble, imported from India. Matching maroon suede area rugs under his massive desk and the large conference table on the office's opposite side warmed both the floor and the room, as did the freshly cut bouquet of bird-of-paradise, yellow callas, reddish orange amaryllis, and vibrant blue mokaras, set in Tiffany crystal, and adorning the middle of the stately table for ten. Maya had been a key player in the office's redesign; and the weekly delivery of freshly cut exotic flowers created especially for the executive office was her idea. She noted that the cleaning team had done an exceptional job, as she demanded. There was not a speck of dust, or a paper out of place. She was pleased.
Zeke opened a folder and took out another document. He handed it to Maya. "Ever heard of this company?"
Maya's attention immediately returned to business. She took the paper from him, scanning it quickly. It provided scant details of an investment company, S.W.I., International, from London, England. Their holdings were listed at an impressive twenty billion, with properties on all seven continents. Several personnel were listed, one of them highlighted, a Mr. Sam Walters.
Maya shook her head, handing the paper back to Zeke. "No, I haven't. But it seems as if I should have, they're impressive."
"I thought the same thing," Zeke said, rising from his chair and walking over to look out the window. "How did a company of this size and with this reach elude my radar? Unless ..." Zeke turned to Maya and continued. "Unless this is a new company being developed under an old, established investment company, created to keep the competition in the dark about who's actually buying what."
Maya knew this was a definite possibility. Investors weren't known for shouting their transactions from proverbial rooftops. Research was one of Maya's fortes, and what had led to a bachelor's degree with honors. And she loved a challenge. "You want me to find out more about them?" she asked, already making of list of various resources she could tap for information.
"Actually, I want you to find out more about him," Zeke said, this time handing Maya a photo with a name highlighted at the bottom. "Sam Walters."
"Me?" Maya knew Zeke employed men and women from various occupations, geographical areas, communications and background check companies etc., to research competitors and others' histories. What could she possibly do that a professional background check company couldn't?
Zeke smiled for the first time that morning. He sat down in the chair next to Maya instead of behind his desk. "I know what you're thinking, and you're right. I've done the background checks, reviewed the buzz on this guy, and he comes up legit, a land developer who made billions redeveloping for the rich in Africa. Sold his company and is now looking to expand his land ownership portfolio, primarily in the large metropolises of the United States."
"So what do you think I can find out that your people couldn't?" The guy sounded legit to Maya too, so much so that if not for her professionalism, she'd ask if he was married.
"I don't know," Zeke responded. "It's just a feeling I have, a gut instinct, that all's not how it looks with Mr. Walters. He comes out of nowhere, no one knows about him over here ..."
"Did you ask Mr. Trump?" Zeke and Donald Trump were golfing buddies, and had also participated in several joint real estate ventures.
"He doesn't know him either. Knows about the parent company, though, the one we think is serving as an umbrella for S.W.I."
"So how can I help?"
Zeke leaned forward, choosing his words carefully. "I need someone to get on the inside of this company, to get close to Sam Walters, someone who has the smarts to obtain confidential information and the savvy to pull off the duality this job will require. In short, I want to find out if this Sam Walters is really who he says he is."
Maya frowned. "I don't understand. Do you think this man isn't the real Sam Walters, or do you think there is no Sam Walters at all?"
"I'm not sure what I think," Zeke answered. "But what I know is that my gut instincts have guided me accurately for over forty years, and something ..." he paused to look at Sam's photo, "is wrong with this picture."
Maya studied the photo again. "So you want me to try and get a job at"-she looked again at the paper-"S.W.I. Company?"
Maya was still confused. Was Zeke asking her to try and date this Mr. Walters? That had actually been the first thing that came to mind when Zeke mentioned "getting close."
"Ahem, how do you suggest I get close to Mr. Walters?" Maya was usually very comfortable talking with Zeke, even when discussing multimillion- and billion-dollar business deals. Now, however, was not one of those times.
"Well, I'm certainly not going to ask you to sleep with him," Zeke said, once again reading her thoughts.
"Was I that obvious?" Maya asked, relaxing.
"No, I'm that smart," Zeke countered lightly, before turning serious. "I do want you to become a part of his household, though, and I've got it all prepared, all worked out."
"How do you propose I do that?" Maya asked, confused once more.
Zeke hesitated and then answered, "As his maid."
Chapter Two Sean Wynn sat back in a plush leather chair and pondered his new identity as Samuel K. Walters. As one of the most sought-after private investigators in the world, he was used to assuming identities. Few, however, had been trickier than this one.
He'd had to study for two straight months just to get up to speed on all the real estate and investment lingo that would have to roll off his tongue naturally in the myriad of meetings he had scheduled for the upcoming week. Even though he'd invested heavily in real estate, and was a silent partner in a company that acquired premium properties, he hadn't become well-versed in the market's lingo until now. He'd had to research Canaccord Adams, the financial services company under which he'd assumed identity, and memorize their many global investment opportunities, which thankfully included real estate. His clients had set this cover up for him, obviously having some pretty extensive connections with them to be able to do so. They'd done an excellent job; he'd been given the name of one of the partner's uncles, and all subsequent information, with the exception of birth date photos, which obviously had to be of him, had been transferred from a white, obscure, and anonymous South African businessman. That their initials were the same was a lucky coincidence.
For the physical transformation from Sean Wynn to Sam Walters, Sean had chosen a conservative, human hair, black Afro wig lightly sprinkled with gray. He'd also purchased a mustache and beard, having learned from a top makeup artist years before how to apply such disguises professionally. He'd gotten so good at using the faux fuzz that his own mother had once mistaken it as real. Finally, Sam had adopted a spot-on perfect British accent.
Looking over at the couch, he frowned slightly at the midsection paunch he'd purchased from a Hollywood costume shop. It wasn't the most comfortable thing to wear, but it did give him a convincingly sloppy-looking midsection, one he'd cover at all times with an ill-fitting designer suit coat. His plan was to give the appearance of a rich, yet bumbling businessman, ripe for the pickings of his smooth-talking, more debonair American counterparts.
Sean rose from the chair, stretched his lithe frame, and walked into his large, stainless steel kitchen. Upon hearing his assignment was in California, he'd informed his assistant to immediately begin looking at beachfront properties. After living in London the past two years, he knew he wanted to be near the ocean. His assistant had done a fine job of obtaining just what he'd requested: an impressive yet unobtrusive oceanfront property with a stretch of private beach, pool, Jacuzzi, and space between the houses. His was a corner property, with only one close neighbor on the east side. The west side and back of his home was surrounded by ocean-the front, a gated, private drive. The furnishings were simple, yet elegant, perfect for the bachelor status Mr. Walters claimed. Sean claimed that status as well, but here, for all intents and purposes, he was strictly Sam Walters. All matters that didn't have to do with the task at hand, especially matters of the personal kind, like thinking of his bachelor state, would have to wait.
Sean walked into the kitchen, poured himself a large orange juice, and returned to the living room. He reached for a folder lying on the table next to the leather chair and took it and the juice outside to the patio. It was a beautiful summer California evening, with a cool breeze coming in off the ocean. A few sailboats drifted lazily on the water, children splashed in the waves closer to shore, and a couple of fishermen sat perched on a rock at the end of the marina. Sean stared out at the picturesque scenes for a moment before reclining on a chaise lounge. He thought of the irony in the contrast: how to those on the outside, his appeared to be a serene, lazy life of leisure while in reality, it was a life filled with suspense, mystery, intrigue, and, occasionally, danger. The mystery and intrigue thrilled Sean; the danger, he could do without.
Finishing the orange juice, he set the glass down and opened the folder. An eight-by-ten photo of a distinguished-looking gentleman was taped to the left side. He wasn't attractive as much as he was commanding: angular facial features, a thick head of wavy salt-and-pepper hair worn combed back from his face, clean shaven, piercing green eyes. His suit was immaculate, with smart matching shirt and tie. A large gem sat in the signet ring worn on his left pinky, displayed prominently as his chin rested between the forefinger and thumb. Beneath the photo, a name: Zeke Brennan.
Sean rubbed his chin as he reread the report he'd studied for weeks now. He'd basically memorized everything there was to be found on Brennan & Associates, or B&A as it was known in like circles, their projects and acquisitions of the past several years, primary competitors, and key personnel. Flipping through the pages, he pulled out another one with several photographs lined up on the left, descriptions on the right. His eyes rested on the information regarding Zeke's executive assistant, Maya Jamison. Sean studied the attractive yet serious face, brown eyes partially covered by blunt-cut bangs, high cheekbones, medium-sized lips, and smooth mocha skin. Her hair was pulled back in a conservative ponytail, her suit an equally subdued navy blue with high neckline. She wore little if any makeup. He shook his head. Definitely not my type. He had started to go to the next page of key staff descriptions when a thought came to him and he looked at the picture of Maya again. Was this the rude woman who'd snapped at him earlier today? He tried to remember the woman who had demanded he finish his transaction and move out of her way. He had purposely gone to the Brennan Building to scope out the place before his meeting with Zeke Brennan two days from now. But where there was fire emitting from the woman he'd encountered earlier, the woman in the picture looked as cold as ice. She's probably a bitter workaholic with a cat for company, Sean thought, before tossing the paper aside and finishing his study of the company, and more specifically the man he'd been hired to bring down.
Excerpted from Lies Lovers Tell by Zuri Day
Copyright © 2008 by Zuri Day. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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