The loyal friends who make up the Sisterhood have gathered at Myra Rutledge's beautiful Virginia home for the first time in a year, eager to talk, laugh, and share their joys and heartaches. For one of their number, it's an evening filled with anticipation. Because tonight, over delicious food and in the company of those she trusts most, it will finally be time to tell her storyand for the Sisterhood to help plan her revenge.
Yoko Akia's mother was only fifteen when a wealthy man swept her off her feet with promises of love. Instead, he filled her brief life with horror and misery. The Sisterhood has helped each other exact vengeance on rotten men before, but this time it's different. Their target is none other than America's favorite movie stara brute who has conned the world into believing he's Mister Perfect. But he's about to learn that nobodynot even a powerful superstaris above the Sisterhood's special brand of payback. . .
"Revenge is a dish best served with cloth napkins and floral centerpieces. . .fast-paced. . .puts poetic justice first." Publishers Weekly on Payback
"Readers who grow weary of seeing the bad guys get away with their crimes will enjoy seeing what happens when well-funded, very angry women take the law into their own hands." Booklist on Weekend Warriors
"An unforgettable story." Rendezvous on Weekend Warriors
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2007 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
Myra Rutledge fussed with her gray hair with one hand while her other hand fiddled with the pearls she was never without, a sign that she was worried about something. She looked across the kitchen to where Charles was basting a turkey. "Do you think it's an omen of some kind, dear?"
Charles Martin looked up from the golden-brown bird and smiled at the love of his life. "Why would you say something like that, Myra?"
Myra continued to finger the pearls at her neck. She walked over to the kitchen door to stare outside. She flipped the light switch to light up the courtyard. Rain was coming down in torrents. Maybe it was sleet, she couldn't be sure. "I can give you a hundred and ten reasons why, my dear."
Charles closed the oven door. "One will suffice." "The weather. The conditions are identical to those ... the first time the girls came out here. Remember how Kathryn drove her eighteen-wheeler through the locked gates? The power went out and we had to use candles. The girls slid down the banister that night. I caught Kathryn when she whooped her way to the bottom. I think this is an omen of some kind. I really do, Charles."
Charles peeked into a pot bubbling on the stove. "That's it, the weather?"
Myra continued to peer outside. Her response was almost a whisper. "The weather and the fact that this is our last mission. We have so many decisions to make tonight. Are we going to simply walk off into the night? Are we going to continue with the Sisterhood? It's come to an end so quickly. What will we do with ourselves if the girls want to ... to, you know, stop?"
"I don't think that's going to happen, Myra. The Sisterhood has become a way of life for all of us. There are thousands of people out there who can use our help. Just because Yoko's mission is our last doesn't mean we're going to close up shop. It just means our members have been vindicated, and that includes you, Myra. Now, is there something else bothering you?"
Myra turned away from the window and walked over to the man she loved with all her heart, the man who made the Sisterhood hum like a well-oiled machine. She stepped into his arms and laid her head on his shoulder. "You can't fool me for a minute, Charles. I know you too well. You spent almost all of last year going back and forth to Annie's fortress in the mountains of Spain. We've spent fifty million dollars, maybe more, to outfit the old monastery Annie inherited from her husband. You had Nikki research the laws of sanctuary. You did do all this ... just in case. Just in case we have to flee to a foreign land is why you've been doing it. You've called in old friends from your old days in MI 6. For all I know your best friend in England helped you out. We aren't supposed to have secrets from one another. I feel you are keeping things from me. You justify it to yourself by saying it is for my own good so I won't worry. I am a born worrier and I worry more when I don't know all the details. This is a very good time to tell me what prompted you to do all this."
Charles chuckled as he led Myra over to one of the kitchen chairs. He sat down opposite her. "If you remember, we discussed all this in great detail a year ago, Myra. We included Annie and Judge Easter in those discussions as well. The day may well come when we have to retreat to ... a more friendly climate. It's simply wise to be prepared should that happen. The girls understand. We've been extremely lucky so far, my dear, but luck lasts only so long.
"My people, whom we never see, have been advising me that the ... uh ... legal climate has been changing this past year. It's something I've had to pay attention to. It's all under control and I saw no need to worry you or the girls. Are you telling me, old girl, that you no longer trust me? Or are you trying to tell me you want to close up shop?"
Myra clasped Charles's hand in her own. "Absolutely not. I want to continue but, as Kathryn says, it's been getting dicey of late."
Charles chuckled again. "Kathryn is correct. I just found out yesterday that Ted Robinson and Maggie Spritzer are back in town. They were seen having lunch with some agents from the FBI. My man told me that Robinson and Spritzer had a meeting at the DOJ."
Myra reared forward. "The Department of Justice! Oh, dear Lord! I thought when you sent them to New York they were out of our hair. They have no proof of anything. Do they, Charles?"
"I'd stake my life on the fact that they don't, but Robinson and Spritzer have excellent memories. They also met with a man from the CIA. I am not going to pretend it isn't worrisome."
Myra bit down on her lip. "Charles ... I think ... I suspect ... that Nikki has confided in District Attorney Emery. I can't prove this but I think he's on our side, strange as that may seem. It's just a suspicion. I couldn't confront Nikki because I didn't want to put her in a position where she had to lie to me. Our girl loves Jack Emery. Love is more powerful than loyalty in my opinion. Having said that, if I'm right, Jack is telling Nikki everything that is going on."
"I more or less suspected the same thing but didn't want to say anything in case I was reading it all wrong. In addition to that, those two reporters are incredibly smart. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out they're setting Jack up. Emery's no fool, he's been around the block, and if our suspicions are right that he is on our side, someone has to warn him."
"What about your men with the gold shields? Can't they do something?"
Charles clucked his tongue. "They're on it, Myra. We may have to have a talk with Nikki sooner rather than later."
Myra worked at her pearls, twisting and untwisting them. "That makes me feel a little better but I'm not sure about the talk with Nikki."
"The good thing is, we don't have to make a decision on that right this minute. What we have to do right this minute is set the table and get things ready for the girls. They should be arriving anytime now, weather permitting."
Myra frowned as she got up to get the dishes out of the cabinet. "I'm still going to worry, Charles."
Charles laughed as he reached down to remove the turkey from the oven. "I know, old girl!"
Twenty minutes later, Myra and Charles heard the air horn on Kathryn's rig as she whipped through the electronic gates. The others followed close behind. The monster gates closed with a loud banging sound.
Myra's eyes lit up like stars. "They're here, Charles! Even Annie. Our girls are here! Everyone is safe and sound! I hear Grady and Murphy barking. Here they come!"
Jack Emery jerked at the collar of his overcoat as he walked against the wind. He was on his way to the last place on Earth he wanted to go. As he rounded the corner on his way to the Squire's Pub he heard his name called.
"Hey, Emery, slow down," Mark Lane shouted to be heard over the wind. "I oughta kick your ass for calling me out on a night like this. I hope you know the roads are icing up. What the hell is so damn important that you arranged this little meeting? Why couldn't we just have a conference call?"
"Stop whining, Mark. So what if the road ices up? The roads are supposed to ice up in February. This is February. Why do you care, anyway? You walked here."
"I'm not whining. I'm pissed that you called me out on a night like this. I know I'm not going to like whatever the hell is going on. Days like this I wish I didn't know you. You're like a fucking magnet to disaster and don't deny it," he sniped. "How's Nikki?"
"As far as I know, she's fine. Why wouldn't she be?" Jack asked as he burrowed his neck deeper into the collar of his overcoat. "But to answer your question, no, you are not going to like what's going on. Robinson and Spritzer are back in town. They've been meeting with the DOJ and the FBI."
"Yeah, oh, shit!" Jack struggled to get his breath against the driving sleet. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out someone has a few questions about that last computer program you wrote for your ex-bosses at the FBI. You know, the one you can hack into whenever you feel like it."
Instead of commenting, Jack slammed against the door of the Squire's Pub and blasted into the steamy watering hole filled with lawyers and young women in short skirts sporting deep cleavage. As he craned his neck to see over the crowds, Mark wiped at his steaming glasses.
"They're in the back," Jack said, shouldering his way through the laughing men and women who were looking to hook up for the cold night. "Just listen, Mark, and let me do the talking. Whatever you do, don't get pissed off. Just look bored. Tell me you understand everything I just said."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Who's paying tonight?"
"Robinson, since he called this meeting. Eat hearty because he probably has an expense account."
Jack could tell with one look that the ex-Post reporter was in an ugly mood. His partner, Maggie Spritzer, looked like she was in the same ugly mood. The ugly moods didn't seem to be affecting either reporter's appetite as they chowed down on ribs, baked potatoes and coleslaw with a slab of hot bread that was a foot long and oozed butter.
Both men slid into the booth the moment they removed their soggy coats. Mark immediately held up his hand to signal a waitress and ordered quickly. Jack shook his head and ordered a beer. "You have barbecue sauce on your nose, Ted."
Ted Robinson shot Jack a hateful look and ignored the comment as he clamped down on a dripping rib.
Jack settled into the booth and decided to wait out the reporter. His gut told him coming here was a mistake.
The Squire's Pub was the kind of place where secrets were told, rarely kept, and assignations were the order of the day. The decibel level was at an all-time high, so secrets remained secrets. Waitresses in skimpy shorts and spandex tops hustled and flirted to ensure a good tip. Nikki had told him once that on a good night a waitress at the Squire's Pub could earn three hundred bucks. She'd gone on to say every night was a good night at the pub. Nikki had explained she knew this because she'd represented several of the waitresses in a discrimination suit against the owners. A suit she'd won.
It took a full ten minutes for Ted to finish his ribs, wipe his face and clean his hands with a moist Towelette before he leaned back in the booth and eyeballed Jack. "The fibbies are requesting your presence at the Hoover Building tomorrow at ten."
Jack narrowed his eyes. Like he didn't know this was going to happen. "Really."
If Ted had hoped for a better reaction, he was disappointed. He tried again. "The DOJ wants you in their offices at two tomorrow afternoon."
"I'm busy tomorrow. I'm busy the day after and the day after that. Look at me, Robinson, you don't want to go where you're going with this."
Ted settled his lanky frame more comfortably in the booth. One of his long legs brushed against Jack's ankle. Jack kicked him hard. Ted winced but ignored the kick. "Don't shoot the messenger, buddy."
Maggie was busy sucking on a bone, as was Mark. They appeared to be oblivious to the conversation but Jack knew their ears were tuned to every word.
"Hey, Mister Reporter, what are you doing back in the DC area? I heard you were banished to the Big Bad Apple. As in New Yaak City," Jack said, his eyes glinting dangerously. He watched as Maggie tossed her bare bone into a bucket on the table. She licked at her sticky fingers before she reached for a Towelette.
"How about I missed your ugly face, you son of a bitch. You and that herd of criminals out there in McLean were the reason Maggie and I went to New York. It wasn't like we had a choice, as you well know. It took us a whole year to realize we hate New York. We love Washington, DC, so we decided to come back. In order to do that we had to get ourselves some protection. As in FBI protection."
Mark stopped eating long enough to guffaw at the statement. It was his one contribution to the evening's festivities.
Maggie was digging at her fingernails with the moist towel, her head lowered. Jack thought he saw a tremor in her hands. He noticed a momentary spark of fear in Ted's eyes. It was gone almost immediately but he relished what he'd seen.
Jack tilted his beer bottle and swigged. "Are they any match for the shields? Those guys never go away. There's a whole new crew these days and they are badass mean. You maybe want to think about that a little."
Ted's facial muscles tightened. "I told them everything!"
Jack's stomach tied itself in a knot. "Did they give you the magic decoder ring for your efforts or did they just promise 24/7 protection for you and the little woman?"
"Go ahead, be a wiseass. When they throw you in the slammer you'll be begging me to write your side of the story and I'll tell you to go fuck yourself."
Jack finished his beer and plunked down the bottle on the wooden table. Then he leaned across the table and grabbed Ted's shirt with one hand and a hank of Maggie's hair in the other, yanking them toward him. His face was mean and ugly when he hissed, "Cause me one moment of grief and I'll kill you myself. I know how to do it, too. That 24/7 protection of yours will be worth shit. I'm leaving now. Give my regrets to your buddies. Watch your back, Robinson. That goes for you, too, Maggie."
Mark already had his coat on and was threading his way through the swarm of bodies that was six deep around the bar.
It was still sleeting outside. Jack drew a deep breath. He looked up at Mark. "Well?"
"I think they got your nuts in a vice, Jack. If Ted spilled his guts, and there's no reason to believe he isn't telling the truth, they're going to go after you. Look, I've been out of the Bureau for a while now. I'm just a programming geek. No one is going to listen to me. If I could help you, I would. Ah, shit, you want me to hack into their files, is that it?"
Jack hiked up his wet collar around his ears. "You told me yourself you wrote the programs, installed the firewalls and created a back door that no one would ever find because you're so goddamn smart. Now's your chance to prove it. Robinson has no hard proof. None. Call me tomorrow and let me know what you find out." He watched Mark walk off into the dark night. Now, he could shiver and cringe. The FBI he could handle. The DOJ was something else entirely. Maybe it was time to have a little heart to heart with the shields who were still dogging him night and day. Sometimes he almost forgot about them. Other times they were front and center, a reminder that he was breaking the law right along with the Ladies of Pinewood.
Jack moved away from the entrance and looked into the steamy pub. The crowd around the bar had shifted to be closer to the three-piece combo that was belting out something he'd never heard before. He had a clear view of Ted and Maggie arguing. He watched as the redhead belted him on the arm, her mouth going a mile a minute. Ted appeared to be sucking up her abuse, his face miserable. Satisfied that things were going to get ugly in reporter land, Jack hiked back to the office to get his car.
Fifty minutes later, slipping and sliding all over the road, Jack parked and walked the three blocks to Nikki's house in Georgetown. He spotted the dark sedan two doors up from the house. He stopped, rapped on the window and said, "No, no, don't get out, it's nasty out here. Tell your buddy Charles or whoever the hell pays your salary that Ted Robinson is back in town. Funny how you guys missed that. Anyway, Robinson issued me an invitation to meet with the boys in the Hoover Building and the DOJ offices tomorrow. Now, I know you guys don't want me spilling my guts to every Tom, Dick and Harry who issues invitations, so squelch it. If you don't, things could get a little rough, if you get my drift. By the way, what's with this 24/7 protection our government is offering those two reporters? I have a good mind to write or call my congressman and complain. You need to take care of that, too, otherwise I'm going to have to shoot the son of a bitch myself. Have a nice night. See you in the morning, you big lug."
"Listen, Emery, who the hell ...?"
But Jack was already sprinting up the steps to Nikki's house and was out of earshot.
Excerpted from Free Fall by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2007 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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