Bestselling author De’nesha Diamond brings her dynamic storytelling talent to D.C.’s treacherous corridors of power—where scandal is merely the first move in a high-stakes game that makes its own rules . . .
Six years after a harrowing abduction, Abrianna Parker is forced to repay a debt that she never owed. Her only option is to trade working the gentlemen’s clubs for an elite escort service. But getting framed for a high-profile murder isn’t what the cool-headed beauty signed up for . . .
With police, government agencies, and a lethal third party on her trail, Abrianna will have to use all her resources to clear her name. That includes trusting an ex-con—and an attraction as incendiary as the lies they must expose. Now, as Abrianna puts her hard-won instincts and a team of street-rebels in play, secrets are their only chance to dismantle a powerful web of corruption—or be buried without a trace . . .
“This first story in the Parker Crime series believably takes readers from seedy streets to strip clubs and all the way to the White House with aplomb. Excitement abounds for the next book in the series!”
—RT Book Reviews on Conspiracy
About the Author
DE’NESHA DIAMOND is the author of almost a dozen street lit novels and short stories, including the gritty Desperate Hoodwives tales. This edgy Memphis native aims to deliver hope in tales that walk the fine line between glorifying thug life and telling it like it is. Visit De’nesha online at DeneshaDiamond.com.
Read an Excerpt
By De'nesha Diamond
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 De'nesha Diamond
All rights reserved.
Washington, D.C. Winter
A scared and hungry fourteen-year-old Abrianna Parker stepped out of Union Station and into the dead of night. The exhilaration she'd felt a mere hour ago evaporated the second D.C.'s blistering wind sliced through her thin leather jacket and settled somewhere in her bones' marrow. A new reality slammed into her with the force of a ton of bricks — and left her reeling.
"Where is he?" she whispered as she scanned the growing crowd. Abrianna was more than an hour late to meet Shawn, but it couldn't have been helped. Leaving her home had proved to be much harder than she'd originally realized. After several close calls, she'd managed to escape the house of horrors with a steel determination to never look back. Nothing could ever make her return.
Now it appeared that she'd missed her chance to link up with her best friend from school, or rather they used to go the same high school, before Shawn's father discovered that he was gay, beat the hell out of him, and then threw him out of the house. Miraculously, Shawn had said that it was the best thing to have ever happened to him. Over the past year, he'd found other teenagers like him living out on the streets of D.C. His eclectic group of friends was better than any blood family, he'd boasted often during their frequent text messages.
In fact, Shawn's emancipation from his parent had planted the seeds in Abrianna's head that she could do the same thing. Gathering the courage, however, was a different story. The prospect of punishment, if she was caught, had paralyzed her on her first two attempts and had left Shawn waiting for her arrival in vain. Maybe he thought she'd lost her nerve tonight as well. Had she thought to charge her battery before leaving the house, she would be able to text him now to find out where he was.
Abrianna's gaze skimmed through the hustle and bustle of the crowd, the taxis and cars. Everyone, it seemed, was in a hurry. Likely, they wanted to meet up with family and friends. It was an hour before midnight. There was a certain kind of excitement that only New Year's Eve could bring: the tangible hope that, at the stroke of midnight, everyone magically changed into better people and entered into better circumstances than the previous year.
Tonight, Abrianna was no different.
With no sight of Shawn, tears splashed over Abrianna's lashes but froze on her cheeks. Despite a leather coat lined with faux fur, a wool cap, and leather gloves, Abrianna may as well have been butt-ass naked for all the protection it provided. "Goddamn it," she hissed, creating thick frost clouds in front of her face. "Now what?"
The question looped in her head a few times, but the voice that had compelled her to climb out her bedroom window had no answer. She was on her own.
Someone slammed into her from behind — hard.
"Hey," she shouted, tumbling forward. After righting herself on frozen legs, she spun around to curse at the rude asshole — but the assailant was gone. She was stuck looking around, mean-mugging people until they looked at her suspect.
A sudden gust of wind plunged the temperature lower and numbed her face. She pulled her coat collar up, but it didn't help.
The crowd ebbed and flowed, but she stood in one spot like she'd grown roots, still not knowing what to do. And after another twenty minutes, she felt stupid — and cold. Mostly cold.
Go back into the station — thaw out and think. However, when she looked at the large and imposing station, she couldn't get herself to put one foot in front of the other. She had the overwhelming sense that her returning inside would be a sign of defeat, because, once she was inside, it wouldn't be too hard to convince herself to get back on the train, go home and let him win ... again.
Icy tears skipped down her face. I can't go back. Forcing her head down, she walked. She passed commuters yelling for cabs, huddled friends laughing — some singing, with no destination in mind. East of the station was bathed in complete darkness. She could barely make out anything in front of her. The only way she could deal with her growing fear was to ignore it. Ignore how its large, skeletal fingers wrapped around her throat. Ignore how it twisted her stomach into knots. Ignore how it scraped her spine raw.
Just keep walking.
"Help me," a feeble voice called out. "Help!"
Abrianna glanced around, not sure from which direction the voice had come. Am I losing my mind now?
"Help. I'm not drunk!"
It came from her right, in the middle of the road, where cars and taxis crept.
"I'm not drunk!" the voice yelled.
Finally, she made out a body lying next to a concrete divider — the kind work crews used to block off construction areas.
Again, Abrianna looked around the crowds of people streaming past. Didn't anyone else hear this guy? Even though that side of the building was dark, it was still heavily populated. Why was no one else responding to this guy's cry for help?
"Help. I'm not drunk!"
Timidly, she stepped off the sidewalk and skulked into the street. As vehicles headed toward her, she held up her hand to stop some and weaved in between others. Finally, Abrianna stood above a crumpled old man, in the middle of the road, and was at a loss as to what to do.
"I'm not drunk. I'm a diabetic. Can you help me up?" the man asked.
"Uh, sure." She knelt, despite fear, and asked, What if it's a trap?
It could be a trap, Abrianna reasoned even as she wrapped one of the guy's arms around her neck. Then, using all of her strength, she tried to help him to his feet, but couldn't. A Good Samaritan materialized out of nowhere to help her out.
"Whoa, man. Are you okay?" the stranger asked.
Abrianna caught glimpse of the Good Samaritan's shoulder-length stringy blond hair as a passing cab's headlights rolled by. He was ghost white with ugly pockmarks.
"Yes. Yes," the fallen guy assured. "It's my blood sugar. If you could just help me back over to the sidewalk that would be great."
"Sure. No problem," the blond stranger said.
Together, they helped the old black man back across the street.
"Thank you. I really appreciate this."
"No problem," the white guy said, his teeth briefly illuminated by another passing car as a smoker's yellow.
Once back on the sidewalk, he released the old man. "You two have a happy New Year!" As quick as the blond savior had appeared, he disappeared back into the moving crowd.
The old guy, huffing and puffing thick frost clouds, wrapped his hand around a NO PARKING sign and leaned against it.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Abrianna asked. It seemed wrong to leave him like this.
He nodded. "I'm a little dizzy, but it will pass. Thank you now."
That should be that. She had done what she could for the man. It was best that she was on her way. But she didn't move — probably because he didn't look okay.
As she suspected, he started sliding down the pole, his legs giving out. Abrianna wrapped his arm back around her neck to hold him up. "I got you," she said. But the question was: for how long?
"Thank you, child. Thank you."
Again, she didn't know what to do next. Maybe she should take him up to the station. At least, inside, she could get him to a bench or chair to sit down. "Can you walk?"
"Yes. I — I think so."
"No. No. Not back there," he said, refusing to move in the direction of the station. "They done already kicked me out tonight and threatened to lock me up if I return."
His words hit her strange. "What do you mean?"
He sighed. "Let's just go the other way."
With little choice, she did as he asked. It took a while, but the man's stench finally drifted under her nose. It was a strange, sour body odor that fucked with her gag reflexes. "Where do you want me to take you?" she asked, growing tired as he placed more and more of his weight on her shoulders.
When the old man didn't answer, she assumed he hadn't heard her. "Where are you trying to go?"
"Well ... to be honest. Nowhere in particular," he said. "Just somewhere I can rest this old body and stay warm tonight. I read in one of the papers that it's supposed to dip down to nine degrees."
It hit her. "You don't have anywhere to sleep?"
"Well — of course I do. These here streets are my home. I got a big open sky as my roof, some good, hard concrete or soft grass as my floor. The rest usually takes care of itself." He chuckled — a mistake, judging by the way it set off the most godawful cough she'd ever heard.
They stopped when the coughing continued. Abrianna swore something rattled inside of his chest.
"Are you all right?" she asked. "Do you need a doctor?"
More coughing. Are his lungs trying to come up?
After what seemed like forever, he stopped, wheezed for air, and then wiped his face. "Sorry about that," he said, sounding embarrassed.
"It's okay," she said, resuming their walk.
"I really appreciate you for helping me out like this. I know I must be keeping you from wherever it is you're trying to get to. It's New Year's Eve and all."
"No. It's all right. I don't mind."
He twisted his head toward her and, despite the growing dark, she could make out his eyes scrutinizing her. "You're awfully young to be out here by yourself."
Abrianna ignored the comment and kept walking.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Why?" she snapped, ready to drop him right there on the sidewalk and take off.
"Because you look like my grandbaby the last time I saw her. 'Bout sixteen, I'd say she was."
Abrianna jutted up her chin.
"She had a beautiful heart, too." He smiled. "Never could see any person or animal hurting."
The unexpected praise made her smile.
"Ah, yeah. A beautiful smile to boot."
They crossed the street to Second Avenue. She'd gotten used to his weight already, appreciated the extra body heat — but the stench still made her eyes water. Did he say that it was going to get down to nine degrees tonight? Abrianna had stolen cash from her house before she'd left, but hadn't had time to count all of it. Maybe she could get a hotel room — just for the night. After that, she would have to be careful about her finances. Once the money was gone — it was gone. She had no idea on how she and Shawn were going to get more.
Still walking, Abrianna pulled herself out of her troubled thoughts to realize that she and the old man had entered a park — a dark park — away from the streaming holiday crowd.
"Where are we going?" she asked, trying not to sound alarmed.
"Oh, just over there on that bench is fine." The old man pointed a shaky finger to their right. When they reached it, he dropped onto the iron bench like a sack of bricks and panted out more frosted air. "Whew," he exclaimed.
"That walk is getting harder and harder every day."
"You come here often?" Abrianna glanced around, catching a few figures, strolling. "Is it safe?"
"That depends," he said, patting the empty space next to him.
She took the hint and plopped down. "Depends on what?"
"On your definition of safe," he chuckled and set off another series of hard-to-listen-to coughs.
Abrianna wished that he'd stop trying to be a jokester. His lungs couldn't handle it. She watched him go through another painful episode.
At the end, he swore, "Goddamn it." Then he was contrite. "Oh. Sorry about that, sweetheart."
Smiling, she clued him in, "I've heard worse."
He nodded. "I reckon you have. Kids nowadays have heard and seen it all long before puberty hits. That's the problem: The world don't got no innocence anymore."
"Doesn't have any," she corrected him.
He chuckled. "Beauty and brains. You're a hell of a combination, kid."
Abrianna warmed toward the old man.
"Trouble at home?" he asked, his black gaze steady on her.
"No," she lied without really selling it. Why should she care if he believed her? In a few minutes, she'd probably never see him again.
"Nah. I didn't think so," he played along. "You don't look like the type who would needlessly worry her parents."
Abrianna sprung to her feet. "Looks like you're cool here. I gotta get going and find my friend."
"So the parents are off limits, huh?" He nodded. "Got it."
She stared at him, figuring out whether he was working an angle. Probably. Older people always did.
"It's tough out here, kid." His eyes turned sad before he added, "Dangerous too."
"I'm not looking for a speech."
"Fair enough." He pulled in a deep breath. "It's hypothermia season. Do you know what this is?"
"Yeah," Abrianna lied again.
"It means that folks can freeze to death out here — and often do. If you got somewhere safe to go, then I suggest you go there tonight. I'd hate to see someone as pretty as you wind up down at the morgue."
"I can take care of myself."
"Yeah? Have you ever done it before?"
"You sure do ask a lot of questions," she said.
"Believe it or not, you're not the first person to tell me that — bad habit, I suppose. But I've gotten too old to change now."
"What about you?" Abrianna challenged. "Aren't you afraid of freezing to death?"
He laughed, this time managing not to choke over his lungs. "Oh, I wish — but the devil don't want nothing to do with me these days. I keep expecting to see him, but he never comes."
"You talk like you want to die."
"It's not about what I want, little girl. It's just time, that's all," he said quietly.
Abrianna didn't know what to say to that — but she did know that she could no longer feel her face. "Well, I gotta go."
He nodded. "I understand. You take care of yourself — and if you decide to stay out here — trust no one."
She nodded and backpedaled away. It still felt wrong to leave the old guy there — especially if that whole freezing-to-death stuff was true. At that moment, it felt true.
The hotels were packed — or wanted nearly three hundred dollars for one night. That was more than half of Abrianna's money, she found out. At the last hotel, she agreed to the figure, but then they wanted to see some sort of ID. The front desk woman suggested she try a motel in another district — or a shelter.
An hour later, Abrianna was lost. Walking and crying through a row of creepy-looking houses, she had no idea where she was or where she was going.
Suddenly, gunshots were fired.
Abrianna ran and ducked down a dark alley.
Seconds later, a car roared past her.
More gunshots fired.
The back window of the fleeing muscle car exploded. The driver swerved and flew up onto a curb, and rammed headlong into a utility pole.
The ground shook and the entire row of streetlights went out.
No way the driver survived that shit. Extending her neck around the corner of a house, Abrianna attempted to get a better look at what was going on, but at the sound of rushing feet pounding the concrete, she ducked back so that she could peep the scene. She counted seven guys running up to the car. When they reached the driver's side, a rumble of angry voices filled the night before they released another round of gunfire.
Holy shit. Abrianna backed away, spun around, and ran smack into a solid body.
The pockmarked Good Samaritan materialized out of the shadow. "Hey there, little girl. Remember me?"
Abrianna screamed. ...CHAPTER 2
Abrianna begged for death.
She had long stopped counting the days and nights. There really wasn't a point. Each tick of the clock made it clear that she would die in this dark, dank dungeon of a basement. The only question was, when?
The door creaked open, emitting only a sliver of light into the room before the pasty, skeletal figure of a man entered. Another night of torture was about to begin.
"How are my ladies doing tonight?" he asked. The voice alone sent fear goosing across everyone's body.
Three women manacled to the walls squirmed to get away.
Her gaze followed the man's flickering candlelight attentively. She was weary — and afraid. But for some unknown reason, she refused to let that fear show. The simple act of defiance gave her power. Not much — but it was there.
Her refusal to cry out or beg for mercy often got under her captor's skin. In the first few weeks of her kidnapping, he'd marveled at the number of lashes or electric shocks she could take before passing out cold.
The man thought himself a scientist. Almost daily, he concocted some crazy mix of poison and got off injecting them with it as if they were a group of test animals.
Two girls had died since Abrianna's abduction.
Maybe tonight, she would be next.
"Which of you wants to be my little guinea pig tonight?" He stopped before one girl. A white girl — blond. "How about you?" He moved the candle in close to her face and smiled when she attempted to twist away. Her chains didn't let her go far.
"Aww. My pet. Don't you want to play with me?"
"Oh, God! Please don't," she begged.
The skeletal man shifted the candle and leaned forward to roll his tongue up the side of her face.
The girl quivered and cried.
Abrianna looked on in disgust, her empty belly flopping.
"No. I don't think that I'll play with you tonight," he informed the blonde, as if he'd been disappointed by her taste.
He moved to the next girl and repeated the same sick performance before the candle. Then his attention focused on Abrianna.
"Noooo. I think I'd rather play with you tonight," he announced, creeping in her direction.
Inwardly, Abrianna screeched in horror. Outwardly, she watched his approach with something akin to cool indifference.
"My tough little black angel," he cooed, placing the flickering flame so close that it burned her right cheek.
Abrianna winced, but said nothing.
He laughed. "Oh, I like you," he praised. "And I got something that I think you're going to like." He held something else up but she was unable to make it out. At this point, she didn't have to. It was a syringe — filled with his latest creation.
Despite the prayers for death, Abrianna was terrified.
But she was ready.
Her life had been nothing but one vast cosmic joke. Why not end it? Once she ascended, maybe she'd see her baby brother again — since she hadn't been able to save him.
A key rattled in Abrianna's locks, and minutes later, she went from being chained to the wall to being locked down on a metal table. Tears streamed, but the candle wasn't near her face so her captor didn't see. However, Abrianna could still hear and smell him.
Excerpted from Conspiracy by De'nesha Diamond. Copyright © 2017 De'nesha Diamond. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE - Monsters All Around ...,
PART TWO - Trouble Lasts Always ...,
PART THREE - Behind Dark Doors ...,
PART FOUR - Only Women Bleed ...,