Scarlet Nights (Edilean Series #3)by Jude Deveraux
What if you learned that your fiancé was not who he claimed to be?
Engaged to the charming and seductive Greg Anders, Sara Shaw is happily anticipating her wedding in Edilean, Virginia. The date has been set, the flowers ordered, even her heirloom dress is ready. But just three weeks before the wedding, Greg gets a telephone call during the night/i>… See more details below
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What if you learned that your fiancé was not who he claimed to be?
Engaged to the charming and seductive Greg Anders, Sara Shaw is happily anticipating her wedding in Edilean, Virginia. The date has been set, the flowers ordered, even her heirloom dress is ready. But just three weeks before the wedding, Greg gets a telephone call during the night and leaves without explanation. Two days later, a man climbs up through a trapdoor in the floor of Sara’s apartment, claiming that he is the brother of her best friend and that he’s moving in. While Mike Newland is indeed telling the truth about his identity, his reason for being there reaches far deeper. He’s an undercover detective, and his assignment is to use Sara to track down a woman who is one of the most notorious criminals in the United States—and also happens to be the mother of the man Sara plans to marry.
Mike thinks the job will be easy—if he can figure out how to make a “good” girl like Sara trust him, that is. But Mike has no idea what this mission has in store for him. He’s worked hard to keep private his connections to Edilean, which date back to his grandmother’s time there in 1941. But as Mike and Sara get to know each other, he can’t help but share secrets about himself that he’s told no one else. And in return, Sara opens up to Mike about things she could never reveal to Greg. As the pair work together to solve two mysteries, their growing love begins to heal each of them in ways they never could have imagined.
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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA
I THINK WE’VE FOUND her,” Captain Erickson said. His voice was forced, showing that he was working hard to control his jubilation.
They were sitting at a picnic table at the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, just off A1A in Fort Lauderdale. It was a September morning, and South Florida was beginning to cool off. By next month the weather would be divine.
“I guess you mean Mitzi,” Mike Newland said, for just yesterday the captain had given him a thick file on the family. Mizelli Vandlo was a woman several police departments, including the fraud squad of Fort Lauderdale, plus the Secret Service—for financial crimes—and the FBI—for violence—had been searching for for years. As far as anyone knew, the only photo of her had been taken in 1973, when she was sixteen and about to marry a fifty-one-year-old man. Even then, she was no beauty and her face was easily remembered for its large nose and lipless mouth.
When the captain didn’t answer, Mike knew that a Big Job was coming, and he worked to keep his temper from rising to the surface. He’d just finished an undercover case that had taken three years, and for a while there had been contracts out on his life.
Although Mike had never worked on the Vandlo case, he’d heard that a few years ago there had been major arrests in the family, all of it happening on one day, but in several cities. But Mitzi, her son Stefan, and some other family members—all of whom they had many photos of—had somehow been tipped off and had quietly slipped away. Until recently, no one had known where they’d gone.
Mike poured green tea from a thermos into a cup and offered it to the captain.
“No thanks,” the captain said, shaking his head. “I’ll stick with this.” He held up a can of something that was full of additives and caffeine.
“So where is she?” Mike asked, his voice even more raspy than usual. He often had to answer questions about his voice, and his standard half-lie was that it was caused by a childhood accident. Sometimes he even elaborated and made up stories about tricycles or car wrecks, whatever appealed to him that day. No matter what the story, Mike’s voice was as intimidating as his body was when he went into action.
“Ever hear of …?” As the captain fumbled in his shirt pocket for a piece of paper, Mike could tell that he was excited about something other than finding Mitzi. After all, this was at least the sixth time they’d heard she’d been found. “Ah, here it is.” The captain’s eyes were dancing about. “Let’s see if I can pronounce the name of this place.”
“Czechoslovakia no longer exists,” Mike said, deadpan.
“No, no, this town is in the U.S. Somewhere up north.”
“Jacksonville is ‘up north.’”
“Found it,” the captain said. “Eddy something. Eddy … Lean.”
“Eddy Lean is a person’s name, not a place.”
“Maybe I’m saying it wrong. Say it faster.”
A muscle worked in Mike’s jaw. He didn’t like whatever game the captain was trying to play. “Eddylean. Never heard of it. So where—?” Halting, Mike took in a breath. “Ed-uh-lean,” he said softly, his voice so low the captain could hardly hear him. “Edilean.”
“That’s it.” The captain put the paper back into his pocket. “Ever hear of the place?”
Mike’s hands began to shake so much he couldn’t lift his cup. He willed them to be still—while he tried to relax his face so his panic wouldn’t show. He’d told only one man about Edilean, and that had been a long time ago. If that man was involved, there was danger. “I’m sure you’ve found out that my sister lives there,” Mike said quietly.
The captain’s face lost its smile. He’d meant to tease Mike, but he didn’t like seeing such raw emotion in one of the men under his command. “So I was told, but this case has nothing to do with her. And before you ask, no one but me and the attorney general know about her being there.”
Mike worked on controlling his heart rate. Many times before he’d been in situations where he’d had to make people believe he was who he wasn’t, so he’d learned to keep calm at all costs. But in those times, it had been his own life in danger. If there was something going on in tiny Edilean, Virginia, then the life of the only person who mattered to him, his sister Tess, was in jeopardy.
“Mike!” the captain said loudly, then lowered his voice. “Come back to earth. No one knows about you or your hometown or your sister, and she’s perfectly safe.” He hesitated. “I take it you two are close?”
Mike gave a one-shoulder shrug. Experience had taught him to reveal as little about himself as possible.
“Okay, so don’t tell me anything. But you do know the place, right?”
“Never been there in my life.” Mike forced a grin. He was back to being himself and was glad to see the frown that ran across the captain’s face. Mike liked to be the one in charge of a situation. “You want to tell me what this is about? I can’t imagine that anything bad has happened in little Edilean.” Not since 1941, he thought as about a hundred images ran through his mind—and not one of them was good. While it was true that he’d never actually been to Edilean, the town and its inhabitants had ruled his childhood. He couldn’t help it as he put his hand to his throat and remembered that day and his angry, hate-filled grandmother.
“Nothing has happened, at least not yet,” the captain said, “but we do know that Stefan is there.”
“In Edilean? What’s he after?”
“We don’t know, but he’s about to marry some hometown girl.” The captain took a drink of his cola. “Poor thing. She grew up in a place that sells tractors, then Stefan comes along with his big-city razzle-dazzle and sweeps her off her feet. She never had a chance.”
Mike bent his head to hide a smile. The captain was a native of South Florida where there were stores on every corner. He felt sorry for anyone who’d ever had to shovel snow. “Her name’s Susie. Or something with an S.” He picked up a file folder from beside him on the bench. “It’s Sara—”
“Shaw,” Mike said. “She’s to marry Greg Anders. Although I take it Greg Anders is actually Mitzi’s son, Stefan?”
“You sure know a lot about the place for someone who’s never been there.” The captain paused, giving Mike room to explain himself, but he said nothing. “Yeah, he’s Stefan and we have reason to believe that Mitzi is also living in that town.”
“And no one would pay attention to a middle-aged woman.”
“Right.” The captain slid the folder across the table to Mike. “We don’t know what’s going on or why two major criminals are there, so we need someone to find out. Since you have a connection to the place, you’re the winner.”
“And here I’d never considered myself a lucky man.” When Mike opened the folder, he saw that the first page was from the Decatur, Illinois, police department. He looked at the captain in question.
“It’s all in there about how Stefan was found. An off-duty cop was on vacation in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife and he saw Stefan and the girl in a dress shop. The cop found out where they lived. As for you, a guy you worked with a long time ago knew about Edilean and your sister.” When Mike frowned at that, the captain couldn’t help grinning. Mike’s secrecy—or “privacy” as he called it—could be maddening. Everybody in the fraud squad would go out for a few beers and afterward the captain would know whose wife had walked out, who was getting it on with a “badge bunny,” and who was having trouble with a case. But not Mike. He’d talk as much as the other guys as he told about his training sessions, his food, and even about his car. It seemed like he’d told a lot about himself, but the next day the captain would realize that he’d learned absolutely nothing personal about Mike.
When the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Florida called and said they thought one of the most notorious criminals in the United States might be in Edilean, Virginia, and that Mike Newland’s sister lived there, the captain nearly choked on his coffee. He would have put money on it that Mike didn’t have a relative in the world. In fact, the captain wasn’t sure Mike had ever had a girlfriend outside a case. He never brought one to the squad functions, and as far as the captain knew, Mike had never invited anyone to his apartment—which changed every six months. But then, Mike was the best undercover cop they’d ever had. After every assignment, he’d had to hide until all of the people he’d exposed were in prison.
Mike closed the folder. “When do I go and what do I do?”
“We want you to save her.”
“Mitzi?” Mike asked in genuine horror. “So she can stand trial?”
“No, not her. The girl. Of course we want you to find Mitzi, but we also want you to save this Sara Shaw. Once the Vandlos get whatever it is they want from her, no one will ever see her again.” He paused. “Mike?”
He looked at the captain.
“If your sister really is there and if they find out about you …”
“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “Right now Tess is in Europe on her honeymoon. I’ll tell her to keep her new husband out of town until this is solved one way or the other.”
The captain opened another folder and withdrew an eight-by-ten glossy of a woman with dark hair and eyes. She was stunningly beautiful. She was standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, and a slight wind had blown her clothes close to her body. She had a figure that made a man draw in his breath. “Does your sister really look like this?”
Mike barely glanced at the photo. “Only on her worst days.”
The captain blinked a few times. “Okay.” He put a picture of Sara Shaw on the table. The young woman had an oval face, light hair, and was wearing a white dress that made her look as sweet as Mike’s sister looked, well, tempting. “She’s not Vandlo’s usual type.”
Mike picked up the photo and studied it. He wasn’t about to tell the captain that he knew quite a bit about Sara Shaw. She was one of his sister’s two best friends, which said a lot, since Tess’s sharp tongue didn’t win over many people. But from their first meeting Sara had seen past Tess’s biting words and extraordinary looks to the person beneath.
“Do you know her?”
“Never met Miss Shaw, but I’ve heard some about her.” He put the picture down. “So no one has any idea what the Vandlos want in Edilean?”
“There’s been a lot of research both from a distance and locally, but everybody who tried drew a blank. Whatever it is, Miss Shaw seems to be at the center of it. Is she rich but no one knows about it? Is she about to inherit millions?”
“Not that I’ve heard. She just opened a shop with …” His sister kept him up-to-date on the gossip in Edilean, but it wasn’t easy to remember it all. Now it seemed that every word she’d told him was of vital importance. “With her fiancÉ, Greg Anders. Tess hates the man, says he snubs everyone who isn’t buying something from him. But Tess does all of Sara’s accounting, so she’s made sure Sara hasn’t been put into debt by him.”
“That sounds like a Vandlo.” The captain hesitated. “Your sister manages people’s finances?” His tone said that he couldn’t believe a woman who looked like Tess could also have a brain.
Mike had no intention of answering that. He well knew the captain’s curiosity about his private life and he wasn’t going to reveal anything. “So you want me to catch these criminals, but I’m also to get the lovely Miss Shaw away from Stefan Vandlo? Is my assignment to follow and watch? Or am I to do more than that?”
“You have to do whatever you must to keep her alive. We think Stefan will murder Sara the minute he gets what he wants from her—and what he seems to want most is marriage.”
“My hunch is that since the dresses in the shop are expensive, Sara must get into a lot of rich houses. Maybe the Vandlos want to see what’s in them.”
“That’s what we thought too, but as her boyfriend, Vandlo already has access to the houses and no robberies have been reported. It’s bigger than that and no one has a clue what it is.” The captain tapped the folder. “After you read what’s in here, I think you’ll see that this scam of theirs is much more than just stealing a few necklaces. It’s got to be, if both mother and son are there.” He lowered his voice. “We think Stefan divorced his wife of nineteen years just so his marriage to Miss Shaw will be legal—which means he’ll inherit whatever she owns after she dies in some so-called accident.” He looked at Mike expectantly. “You’re sure you have no idea what’s connected to Miss Shaw that’s so valuable that two of the most evil conners in the world have prepared so well for this?”
“None whatever,” Mike said honestly. “The McDowells are rich, and Luke Connor lives there, but—”
“The author of the Thomas Canon books? I’ve read every one of them! Hey! Maybe you can get me an autographed copy.”
“Sure. I’ll be a tourist who’s lost his way.”
The captain became serious again. “Too distant. You’re going to have to use your connections to your sister, to the town, anything you can find, to get close enough to this girl to talk her out of marrying Stefan. We do not want it set up that he can inherit what is hers. And you have to do this right away because the wedding is in three weeks.”
Mike looked at him in disbelief. “What am I supposed to do? Seduce her?”
“No one would ask you to do this if we didn’t think you could. And, besides, I seem to remember that you’ve succeeded with several women. There was that girl in Lake Worth. What was her name?”
“Tracy, and she got ten to twenty. This one is a good girl. How do I deal with her?”
“I don’t know. Treat her like a lady. Cook for her. Pull out her chair. Girls like her fall for gentlemen. I’m sure that’s how Vandlo got her. And before you ask, no, you can’t kidnap her and you can’t shoot Stefan. This young woman, Sara Shaw, has to stay there to help you find out what those two want.” The captain grinned in a malicious way. “We’ve arranged for Stefan to be away for the whole time before the wedding. We gave him some family troubles that he can’t ignore.”
“Even though he divorced his wife, we know he’s still attached to her, so we arrested her on a DUI charge—which was easy. She’s done a lot of drinking since Stefan left her, so we just picked her up one night, and now she’s facing jail. We let her call him in the wee hours, and just as we’d hoped, he came immediately. If he gives us any trouble, we’ll lock him up until he cools off.” The captain smiled. “I wonder what he told his fiancÉe to explain why he went running off to his ex-wife?”
Mike was closing his thermos, his mind still on how to accomplish this mission. “I doubt if a liar like Vandlo had told her about his ex-wife.”
“Eventually, you’ll have to tell Miss Shaw the truth, so that should be a point in your favor. Whatever you do, you just have to do it fast,” the captain said. “And never forget that this young woman would be the fourth one to disappear after she got attached to Stefan Vandlo. He used a fake name and took those girls for everything they had. Then the girls ‘disappeared’ and the boyfriend, Vandlo, couldn’t be found.”
“Yeah, I read that,” Mike said. “And if it weren’t for some vague eyewitness reports, we wouldn’t know who he was.”
“Right, because Stefan left nothing behind, not so much as a fingerprint. And you know the rule: no evidence, no conviction. Personally, I’d like to arrest the man right now, but the higher-ups want an undercover operation so we can get the mother. We take away her son, and she’d just start using her nieces and nephews. She’s the brains, so we have to get her out of action. Permanently.”
Mike looked at his watch. “I just need to stop by my apartment to get some things, then I can leave—”
“Uh, Mike,” the captain said in a tone of apology, “it looks like you haven’t seen the local news in the last couple of hours. There’s something else you need to know.”
The captain took the last documents from the bench and handed them to him. “I’m really sorry about this.”
When Mike opened the folder, he saw a computer printout of a news story. APARTMENT BURNED, the headline read. CIGARETTES TO BLAME, SAY THE AUTHORITIES.
Mike’s anger flared as he looked at the photo. It was his six-story apartment building, and flames were coming out of the corner of the fourth floor—his apartment.
He put the papers with the others before he looked up at the captain. “Who did it?”
“The Feds say it must have been … Let me check. I don’t want to misquote anyone.” His voice was sarcastic as he flipped a paper over. “‘A fortuitous accident’ is what they called it. Lucky for them, that is.” The captain’s eyes were sympathetic. “I’m sorry about this, Mike, but they want you to go there clean. Your story is that your apartment burned down, so you decided to take a much-needed vacation from police work. It makes sense that you’d stay at your sister’s apartment since it’s empty. It’s supposed to be a coincidence that her place is on the same property as Miss Shaw’s. We—they—want you to lie as little as possible. Oh, yeah, I nearly forgot.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a new BlackBerry, and handed it to Mike. “Stefan cut his teeth on pickpocketing, so when you do meet with him he’ll take your phone. We don’t want him to find any numbers on it that would give you away. While you’re in Edilean you’re to contact us only through your sister. Will that be all right with her?”
“Sure,” Mike said and renewed his vow to tell Tess to stay away. The case must be really serious if they’d burned his apartment. He’d never tell anyone, but Tess had been sending him baked goods from her friend Sara Shaw for years now, and it was Mike’s opinion that anyone who could bake like she could deserved to be saved.
When Mike was silent, the captain said, “Sorry about your clothes.” They all knew Mike was a “dresser.” “What did you lose?”
“Nothing important. Tess keeps whatever means anything to me in a storage bin in—” He hesitated. “In Edilean.”
“My advice is that you don’t visit it.” The captain wanted to lighten the mood. “Again, too bad about the apartment. I was going to volunteer to look after your goldfish.”
Mike snorted as he stood up. He didn’t have goldfish or a dog or even a permanent home. He’d lived in furnished, rented apartments since he left his grandparents’ home at seventeen.
Mike glanced at the roadway that wound through the park. He’d take a run—he needed it—then go. “I’ll leave in two hours,” he said. “I should be in Edilean about ten hours after that—if I use the siren now and then, that is.”
The captain smiled. “I knew you’d do it.”
“Want to go for a run with me?”
The captain grimaced. “I leave that torture to you. Mike?”
“Be careful, will you? Stefan has a bit of a conscience—or at least a fear of reprisals—but his mother …”
“Yeah, I know. Could you put together more info for me on mother and son?”
“How about if you jog over to my car right now and I give you three boxes full of material?”
Mike gave one of his rare laughs, making the captain look at him in question.
“You have something in mind, don’t you?”
“I was thinking of how to introduce myself to Miss Shaw and I remembered a story my sister told me about a very old tunnel. It just happens to open right into the floor of my sister’s bedroom. All I have to do is move Miss Shaw in there.”
The captain waited, but Mike didn’t elaborate. “You’ve only got three weeks. Think you can entice Miss Shaw away from a big city charmer like Stefan in that time?”
Mike gave a sigh. “Usually, I’d say yes, but now …” He shrugged. “In my experience, the only way to get a woman is to find out what she wants, then give it to her. It’s just that I have no idea what a woman like Sara Shaw could possibly want.” He looked at the captain. “So where are these boxes of info? I need to get out of here.” Mike followed him to his car.
Ramsey McDowell was sound asleep when he heard Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” blasting from his wife’s cell phone. Groaning, he put the pillow over his head and tried to shut out the noise—and shut out his feelings. It was her brother calling her, a man Rams had never met, a man more elusive than a ghost, more secretive than a spy. But even though he’d never seen the man, Rams had heard more about him than he cared to. According to his bride, her brother was the smartest, most industrious, most heroic and, of course, the best-looking man on the planet.
“She’s succeeded in making you jealous, hasn’t she?” his cousin Luke had said, laughing. “Don’t worry, old man, a few days—or years—in a gym and you might live up to his reputation.”
Jealous or not, Ramsey knew that his wife halted everything—meals, arguments, even sex—if her phone emitted that outrageous song.
“He is not a hero,” Ramsey said the first time Tess had jumped off of him to run to her phone. “He’s just a policeman.”
“Detective,” Tess said over her shoulder. She was nude, and the sight of her beautiful body running was enough to make him forgive her. But that had been weeks ago and he was tired of the daily calls.
Tess said, “He usually only calls me once a week, but he’s off now so we can talk all we want.”
“All we want” turned out to be every day, and with the way the man caught them in the midst of every “activity,” Rams thought a camera had been set on them. Even now, on their honeymoon, he still called her.
“Mike!” Tess said as she picked up her phone. Her voice was breathless and a bit frightened. “Is something wrong?”
Rams looked at the clock. On European time, it was the wee hours of the morning. Why couldn’t the man get a girlfriend like normal people did?
“All right,” Tess said softly into the phone as she sat back down on the bed. “Of course I’ll do it.”
Rams moved the pillow off his head and looked at her with curiosity. He’d never heard her use that tone before.
“Mike, you’ll be careful, won’t you? No, I mean it. Really careful.”
Rams sat up in bed and watched her more closely. There was enough light in the room that he could see tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
She held up her hand for him to stop talking. “I understand completely. Luke will do whatever I ask him to.”
“Luke will do what?” Ramsey asked.
Tess looked at her husband. “Would you please be quiet? This is important.”
Angrily, Rams flung back the covers, pulled on his trousers that were hanging over a chair, and opened the curtain to look at the mountains outside. Behind him, Tess kept talking.
“Yes, I think it’s in good condition, and besides me, only Luke knows about it. I’m sure he didn’t tell Joce. He was afraid she’d want to explore it, and he’s always thought it was too dangerous.” Pausing, Tess smiled. “Not yet, but Rams is working on it with enthusiasm and endurance. Yeah, the first one will be named Michael.”
In an instant, Ramsey’s anger left him and he stretched out on the bed beside his wife. He didn’t like the way she’d told intimacies about them to her brother, but he did like that she’d said she planned to have children. They’d not talked about having kids, but he now realized he hadn’t done so in fear that she’d say she didn’t want any. Tess was a woman of very strong opinions. But once he was over his first pleasure at hearing that she did want children, Ramsey began to imagine a dozen of them, all with a name in some form of Michael: Michaela, Michalia, Mickey, Michelle—
“What an extraordinary call,” Tess said as she clicked off her phone.
“I draw the line at Mickey. No mice.”
Tess gave him a look of disgust. “Are you going to start on your jealousy again?”
“I’m not—” Rams began but stopped himself. “So why did your brother feel he had to call you in the middle of the night? Or is he playing James Bond in a country where it’s now teatime?”
“He just arrived in Edilean.”
Rams looked at her. “Your brother is in our hometown and you aren’t packed yet?”
“No, and I’m not going to. He wants us to go on an extended honeymoon—and stay away from home.”
“Not that I object, but why does he want us to do that?”
“It seems that my big brother has been sent to Edilean on a case.”
“But he—” Ramsey swallowed. Tess’s brother went undercover for big cases. Huge cases. He dealt in crimes that had international repercussions. He infiltrated gangs that were at war with each other—he’d been shot repeatedly.
Rams got off the bed and went to the closet.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going home; you’re staying here. If your brother’s been sent to Edilean, then something is very wrong.”
“If you go, I’ll follow you, and that will put my brother in danger. And Mike said that if I’m there I might become a target. Is that what you want?”
Turning, Ramsey looked at her. She wore no makeup or clothing, and she was so beautiful he could hardly stand upright. He still couldn’t believe that when he’d asked her to marry him just four weeks ago, she’d said yes. Three weeks later they’d been married in a private ceremony with only a dozen guests. And except that her brother hadn’t been able to be there, it was how they’d both wanted it. In fact, Tess had said, “If you think I’m going to make a fool of myself by wearing a hundred yards of white silk and having a bunch of women around me in pink dresses, then you’ve asked the wrong woman to marry you. Spend the money on a rock. I want a ring big enough to dance on.” He’d happily done just what she asked. And he’d added a pair of diamond earrings—all of which she was wearing now. Just the diamonds, her skin and hair.
“What’s going on in Edilean?” Rams asked. “Who is in danger?”
“You know Mike can’t tell me anything. His cases are top secret. If anyone found out, lives could be lost.”
Ramsey gave her a piercing look. As far as he could tell, her brother didn’t keep secrets from her.
Tess sighed. “Sara.”
Ramsey took a deep breath. “My cousin Sara? Sweet, dear Sara? It’s that bastard she wants to marry, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Tess said simply. “He’s not who he says he is.”
“Now there’s news! I’ve disliked him from the moment I first saw him.”
“All of us have felt the same way, but he’s helped Sara to recover, and their customers love him. Mike wants us to do some things.”
“Mike wants us …?” Ramsey grimaced. “If he asked us for help then he meant for you to tell me about Sara, didn’t he?”
Tess smiled. “Do you think I’d tell you anything Mike didn’t want me to?”
Ramsey started to, yet again, tell her what he thought of her elusive, secretive brother, but he didn’t. “Okay. I’ll bite. What does he want us to do?”
“First,” Tess said as she lowered her voice and slid down in the bed, “he wants nieces and nephews. He says he’s sick of having no kids to buy Christmas presents for.”
“Did he now?” Rams said as he slipped off his trousers and slid under the covers. “And what else did your very intelligent brother ask for?”
“To figure out what Sara owns that a thief would want. It seems that Greg is a big-time crook and Sara has something he’s gone to a lot of trouble to get.” When Rams started to move away, Tess pulled his face down to hers. “And you’re to take me to Venice.”
“For how long?” he murmured.
“Until Mike says we can return.”
Ramsey didn’t like the autocratic way his brother-in-law was making decrees, but he would do whatever he must to keep his beloved wife safe. Abruptly, he pulled away from kissing her neck. “What kind of gifts does your brother give to kids?”
“C-4.” When Ramsey gave her a look of horror, she laughed. “I don’t know. Why don’t we wait and see?”
The next morning, while Ramsey was in the shower, Tess called her friend and Ramsey’s cousin, Luke Connor, to talk about what Mike needed. He and his wife, Jocelyn, lived in Edilean Manor, a rambling mansion built in 1770. They resided in the two-story main part, while Sara had an apartment in one of the flanking wings on one side. Until her marriage, Tess had had the apartment on the other side.
A few years ago, Luke, a famous best-selling author, had returned to Edilean to recover from a disastrous marriage. As a way of healing, he’d taken over the maintenance of the old house and grounds. After days of heavy rain that nearly flooded the town, he’d discovered an old tunnel. It had been shored up with heavy timbers, and the floors had been laid with handmade brick—and it opened into the floor of Tess’s apartment.
Under normal circumstances, he would have told the people of Edilean what he’d found, but at the time he was so miserable he wasn’t talking to anyone. In private, with only the help of his grandfather, he’d restored the tunnel—which he figured had been used during the Civil War as part of the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape.
After his grandfather died, no one but Luke knew about the tunnel—until Tess discovered it. She was curious about the big square cut in the boards in the middle of her bedroom floor. Luke had made sure there were no handles on top and that it was locked from the inside, but that didn’t stop Tess from using a crowbar to pry up the boards. She went down the ladder Luke had put there and used a flashlight to make her way along the dark, dank corridor. When she tripped over Luke’s sleeping body—and found out where he disappeared to when no one could find him—for several long moments they’d both been in a state of panic. After they’d calmed down, they went to Tess’s apartment, and Luke ended up telling her his personal problems. And Tess told Luke about her brother and a little of why she’d come to Edilean. She didn’t have to tell him that she was madly in love with her boss, Luke’s cousin, Ramsey. He said the whole town knew that. But Tess had had to wait a long time before Rams figured that out for himself.
After that first nearly hysterical encounter, Luke and Tess had formed a bond between them, and unknown to the gossipy little town, Luke often entered her apartment through the tunnel and spent the night in her second bedroom. So now she called and told him what her brother needed.
“Let me get this straight,” Luke said. “You want me to sabotage Sara’s apartment so she has to move into yours because your brother—who I’ve never met—wants to sneak into your bedroom where Sara will be staying? And this is in the dead of night?”
“That’s exactly right. Is the tunnel in good shape?”
“Bugs and cobwebs, but the structure is sound.”
“So will you do it?”
“I have one question.”
“And that is?”
“Is your brother married?”
“Think he could seduce Sara away from Anders?”
“My brother could seduce Jolie away from Pitt.”
Luke groaned. “Sometimes I almost feel sorry for my cousin.”
“Rams needs competition,” Tess said. “How’s Joce?”
“Not so good. We just found out that she has to stay in bed for the rest of her pregnancy or risk losing the twins. But I got her started on doing the family genealogy, and she’s liking that.”
“Tell her that my heart is with her and I’ll call her tomorrow. Anything I can do for her?” Tess asked.
“Come home as soon as you can. She misses you. About Sara, if I tell her I have to fumigate her apartment, she’ll be out in seconds. Leave it all to me.”
“Thank you very much,” Tess said and hung up. When Rams got out of the shower, she was sitting on the little sofa in the hotel room, reading a magazine. “So what do they wear in Venice?”
“Exactly what you have on.” She was completely naked. “Except they add a mask.”
“And where do they put it?”
Ramsey laughed as he walked toward her, his towel dropping to the floor.
© 2010 Deveraux, Inc.
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