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Up To No Good
By Julie Leto
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Tell me your most secret fantasy."
Micki Carmichael swiveled in the surprisingly plush leather seat, nearly sloshing the contents of her complimentary orange juice over the sides of the cut-crystal glass. She'd never flown in first class before. She'd never been on an airplane, period. Made sense she'd be nervous, right? Made sense that she'd jump like a red-handed pickpocket when her friend Danielle, whom she'd thought had zonked out the minute she'd buckled her seat belt ten minutes ago, threw out such an intimate topic of conversation.
Secret fantasy? How about making it from takeoff to landing in one piece?
"Go to sleep, Danielle," Micki answered. "This is going to be a long flight."
Danielle pressed a button in the arm of her chair, extending a footrest hidden beneath the seat and lowering the backrest until she was nearly fully reclined. Micki imagined that before Danielle had run away from home, she'd traveled lots of times in first class. Even if Micki hadn't ditched her home with her grandmother, great aunt and twin sister ten years ago at age fifteen, she never could have afforded to fly in such luxury. The chair she would occupy for the next eight and a half hours was more comfortable than the moth-eaten mattress she'd recently called her bed.
"Oh, yeah. This is going to be a real chore to travel," Danielle said with a luxurious yawn. She peeked one eye open when the flight attendant approached with another tray of assorted juices and coffee. "Add some vodka to that O.J., would you?" she requested.
Micki instantly held up her hand. "She'll take it straight, thanks."
"The vodka?" the flight attendant asked, eyeing Danielle warily.
Micki chuckled. No doubt, Danielle would have preferred only the vodka, but with Micki as her designated watchdog, she'd have to make do with the orange stuff alone. "No, the juice. Thanks."
Surprisingly, Danielle didn't argue or even throw a rancid look her way. Instead, she smiled politely and accepted the glass from the flight attendant, then immediately placed it, unsipped, on Micki's tray. Mumbling, Danielle unhooked her seat belt so she could dig through the bag she'd stored at her feet, rising triumphantly when she extracted a collection of papers haphazardly bundled together. She shuffled through them, pulled one out by its frayed edges, scanned it, then tossed it beside her drink.
"Read it," Danielle ordered.
Micki complied. "This is your birth certificate."
"Yes. And if you'll make note of the line near the center, you will see that you are not my mother."
Micki shook her head. Her pal was notorious for going to great lengths to prove a point. Unfortunately, she had forgotten one important detail.
"And if you'll look at the line near the top, you'll see that you're not yet twenty-one."
End of discussion. They dissolved into snickers and chuckles, which only got worse when the flight attendant walked by again, a little pale after hearing their earthy exchange. God help the strangers who tried to understand the dynamic between Micki and Danielle. Hell, they didn't even understand it. When they'd met five years ago, the differences between them had been so pronounced, Micki couldn't remember why or how she'd hooked up with the kid. Danielle had been fifteen, Micki twenty. Though they'd both lived on the streets of Chicago, Micki had been close to kicking her bad habits and working up her courage to attempt a reconciliation with her family. Danielle, on the other hand, had just escaped her parents, a rich Michigan couple completely out of touch with their daughter. Micki had had a hard time understanding why Danielle had bolted from a house that sported two swimming pools and a full staff, but figured Danielle had had her reasons as much as Micki'd once had hers.
While Micki knew that the unique friendship had kept her on the streets longer than she'd planned, looking out for Danielle had also kept her on the straight and narrow. And so far their connection had also kept hardheaded Danielle out of a coffin. Micki never could have guessed that she'd morph into a guardian angel when, just ten years ago, she'd been just like Danielle - young, alone and on her own in a world that enjoyed chewing up and spitting out misguided teenagers searching for independence.
Independence. Micki rolled her eyes, then checked the seat belt again. Running away from home at fifteen had indeed put her on her own, but the word independence had taken on a whole new, more significant meaning now that she'd finally gone home - or at least, since she'd renewed contact with her twin, Rory. And with her twin's help, Micki now had a decent place to crash and a job lined up. For the first time in a decade, Micki could make choices based on her deepest desires, not on a basic need to remain alive. She could move into an apartment in order to explore new experiences and improve herself, not to escape mutant cockroaches or to avoid an angry landlord chasing her down for rent money she didn't have.
But as bright as the future seemed, Micki couldn't really focus on her tomorrows until she put her yesterdays to rest. First and most important - she needed to deliver Danielle to the care of her brother, the enigmatic venture capitalist, Sebastian Stone. He'd arranged for top-notch, professional care to address his sister's addictions. And he'd seemed more than willing to accept the responsibility for his sister's care.
According to Danielle, her much older brother had also run away from home, though Sebastian had done so by going to college at sixteen and becoming a millionaire in his own right before his twenty-first birthday. Micki couldn't understand how Danielle could idolize a brother she spoke with less than twice a year, but she did. The kid rarely respected anyone more than a minute older than she was. But it seemed if anyone could influence her friend to accept the help she needed, it was "Bastian," as Danielle called him - although according to her, everyone else simply called him "Bas."
Micki had had to move heaven and earth to get the man's phone number. She'd even gone as far as paying Mr. And Mrs. Stone an unexpected visit. When Danielle's parents had refused to intervene for their daughter, dismissing their child's addiction to cocaine as just a "phase," Micki had exploded. She'd pulled every bullying tactic out of her extensive arsenal, figuring William and Dorothy Stone would either call the cops or help Micki contact the brother. Since they feared scandal above all else, they'd given her the phone number and then had the butler politely escort her to the door.
Sebastian Stone had been in China when the call went through, yet only thirty minutes after she'd contacted Danielle's brother from a pay phone just outside of the ritzy Lansing neighborhood where he'd grown up, he'd sent a limousine to collect her.
Riding home to her sister's place in Chicago in the stretch Cadillac sure as hell had beat the bus. And when Micki had finally arrived at Rory's apartment where she'd left Danielle for safekeeping, Sebastian's attorney had been waiting for her with first-class tickets to Paris and instructions as to when and where to meet Bas.
Sebastian had even sent along a brochure of a beautiful rehabilitation facility in the countryside north of Paris and had included enough spending cash to break the bank. Not that she needed it. Micki could make do with very little, but money had been Danielle's downfall, even after she'd run away. One trip home with a sob story, and the Stones took their daughter back into their mansion, dressed her in designer clothes and ignored whatever troubles had led her to the streets in the first place. Usually less than two weeks later, Danielle had turned back to the streets in Chicago, armed with a wad of cash swiped from her parents' safe or with bounty from a trip to the pawn shop with Mommy's diamond bracelet. Each and every time, she'd steal enough to live on, with plenty left so Danielle could get high, no matter how Micki begged, threatened and bullied her friend to stop.
Excerpted from Up To No Good by Julie Leto Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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