The women of the Sisterhood know life isn't fair, but that doesn't mean they have to like it--or let it pass. Instead, these best friends share their joys, troubles, triumphs, heartaches and one collective mission: to right wrongs and bring justice where it is desperately needed. Even reeling from loss of one of their own, the Sisterhood is always prepared to rally behind a new friend.
For years, Paula Woodley has suffered the broken bones and shattered self-esteem caused by an abusive marriage. But what can she do? Her high-profile, Washington powerbroker husband is not a man to be crossed. Or so he thinks. The Sisterhood may not be an organization found in any of his memos, but he's about to take a meeting with them--and they'll be setting the agenda. . .
Praise for Fern Michaels's Sisterhood Novels
"Revenge is a dish best served with cloth napkins and floral centerpieces. . .fast-paced. . .puts poetic justice first."--Publishers Weekly
"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."
"An unforgettable story."--Rendezvous
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
The smoky scent of burning leaves hung in the autumn air as Myra paced back and forth. The day was cool, the way the last days of September usually were in Virginia. She hugged her arms to her chest, her pace picking up each time she circled the terrace. She stopped twice to pluck yellowing leaves from the clay pots of crimson chrysanthemums that lined the terrace. Charles watched Myra from his position in his favorite Adirondack chair. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his lady love so agitated, so frustrated.
"We should have called Nikki when all of this first happened. She is the president of the Virginia Equestrian Society. She may never forgive us, Charles. She's as headstrong as Barbara was. Surely you remember what that was like. You know how Nikki feels about animals, especially horses. Sending her off to that private island in the middle of nowhere, virtually incommunicado, might not have been such a good idea after all. I know, I know, she was on the verge of a breakdown and needed to get her head straight. But how are we going to tell her what's going on? We need to bring her back home. Better yet, have the plane readied and I'll go personally to fetch her."
Myra plopped down in a matching chair, her arms and legs at all angles, proof that she was so upset she didn't care how unladylike she appeared.
"Myra, listen to me," Charles said soothingly. "Nikki was in a bad emotional state when we sent her off to the island and she knew it. She was more than willing to go, to take time off so that she could get back on an even keel. She understood the rules — no contact with the office, no contact with Jack Emery and contact with us only once a month. She also understood our phone calls would deal only with pleasantries. She agreed, Myra, to take time off, to go away. It was her idea in the first place. I don't want you blaming yourself for any of this. Nikki knew back in May that she was teetering on the edge and she knew we only wanted what was best for her. If she'd been here when all of this happened, she would have teetered off that shaky ledge she was standing on. She's healthy and strong now. She'll be able to handle this."
Myra's voice rose shrilly. "This, this, this! Why don't we give this a name, Charles?"
Charles's voice was still soothing and calm. "Because talking about this upsets you. You're screaming at me, Myra. I'm going down to the war room to call my people and arrange Nikki's return home. She's ready to return; she told us so on Sunday when we spoke to her."
"I want to be the one to bring her back, Charles. No matter what you say, I still feel like this is all my fault."
Charles stood up and clicked his tongue. "It is not your fault, Myra. In fact, the equestrian world has you to thank for bringing the situation to light. And, no, Nikki does not need her mommy to bring her home. She left on her own because she's a big girl, and she's going to return the same way: a big girl."
"Those are just words, Charles. We live next door to the Barringtons and we had no clue that they were starving those beautiful horses. I still can't believe seven of those magnificent animals died because we didn't get to them in time. What kind of people allow animals to starve to death? And the miserable court system, which failed me after Barbara's death, failed me again when the judge ruled the horses should remain under the Barringtons' care. Those people are monsters and they're walking around as free as the air they breathe. All thanks to that ... that ... twit from Nikki's firm who represented them in court. Nikki would never have allowed that to happen if she had been here. Maddie must have been asleep at the switch."
"Myra, don't do this to yourself. You're obsessing. Nikki will handle it all when she gets back. I want you to sit here in the sun and think about how wonderful it will be when Nikki gets back. Why don't you call the girls and arrange a meeting for the end of the week? Maybe the weekend. Whatever works best for all of them. I may be an hour or so as I also have to arrange for Julia's return. She is hale and hearty so we do have something to be thankful for. I want your promise, Myra."
Myra offered up an elaborate sigh. "Very well, Charles. I'll sit here and count the leaves on all these flowers until you get back." She couldn't resist one last parting shot. "In the old days, they hanged horse thieves. What those high-priced lawyers did was worse than thievery. I say we hang 'em high, as soon as I can figure out how to do it ... I think I'm going to call Cornelia Easter and invite her out here for supper. I should have called her when all of this started. I'm sorry now that I didn't. She is a judge, Charles, so she'll have the inside details."
Charles frowned. "Myra, I don't ..."
Myra held up her hand. "Don't go there, Charles. Nellie and I have been friends for fifty years. Good friends. Actually, we're more than good friends; I'm her daughter's godmother. Our husbands died within months of each other. We've laughed together, cried together, applauded each other and our daughters were best friends, too. That alone makes us closer than close. Nellie's more like a sister than a friend. The way Nikki and Barbara were like sisters."
The soft warning in Myra's voice was something Charles had never heard before. "I told you, Charles, do not go there. I'm calling Nellie to come out for dinner. And I want you to ... to stay out of sight. I'll call ahead and have her pick up some of our favorite Chinese from the Imperial Dragon." Myra's voice softened. "It's all right, Charles, I know what I'm doing. I know you don't always think I do, but this time I really do know what I'm doing."
Charles chuckled at her words, but he sobered almost instantly when he saw the sudden bitterness in her eyes that didn't match the soft tone in her voice. He felt a chill ricochet down his back when he realized Myra meant what she said about hanging horse thieves and people who abused animals. Just the way she'd meant it when she said she wanted to take on the justice system to correct their mistakes by forming the Sisterhood years ago. She'd acted on that thought, too. The chill stayed with him as he made his way to the war room where all missions of the Sisterhood were planned, plotted and executed.
Charles looked around his domain. It was so state of the art that it sometimes boggled even his mind. If only they'd had half of what was in this room years ago when he was in Her Majesty's Service, his cover might not have been blown. He'd been the best operative at MI6 and was on first-name terms with the Queen. It had been the Queen's decision to send him to America with a new identity when his cover was blown, to ensure his safety. He hadn't come empty-handed, though. He'd brought a list of contacts from across the world — old friends, operatives still in the intelligence business, as well as retired operatives who were only too glad to offer assistance when he requested it, just to keep their hands in.
In his youth, before going into Her Majesty's Service, he'd had an intense relationship with Myra when she was living in England with her parents. Because of her youth, Myra had had no say when it was time to return to the States. She'd gone back to America, her heart broken as was his, only to find out when she got there that she was pregnant. At her parents' insistence she'd married William Rutledge, who died ten years later.
Charles had had no knowledge of her pregnancy or the birth of his child until he started to work as the chief of security for Myra's candy company — a post arranged by MI6. And the rest was history. To this day, he had no idea if the Queen knew of his relationship with Myra or not. He rather thought she did.
How he'd loved Barbara and Nikki. Myra had wanted to tell Barbara that Charles was her real father, but he'd been against the idea. She had loved William Rutledge and Charles saw no reason to add to her grief by telling her that he wasn't her biological father. But then Barbara had died not knowing that Charles was her real father. How he regretted that decision now.
His shoulders heavy, Charles finished his glass of iced tea. Wool-gathering was for other people who lived and dwelled in the past. He needed to get his thoughts together and get on with the business at hand. Myra would do whatever she wanted to do, regardless of what he said.
* * *
Federal judge Cornelia Easter arrived in a luxurious chauffeured town car complete with two female security guards. Myra winced at this new development. Nellie had told her that not a day went by when she didn't receive a death threat. She was philosophical about it, saying it's just the world we live in today.
The whistle in her hand, Myra blew two sharp blasts. The silent guard dogs that had been circling her feet raced off to the barn. Myra nodded at the driver to show it was safe to get out of the car.
Judge Easter was a buxom, round little woman with springy curls and twinkling eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. Her voice was raspy from too many cigarettes and her fondness for good whiskey, but only after hours, as she always said.
After the obligatory hug and peck on the cheek, the judge looked around in the late-afternoon sunshine and said, "God Almighty, Myra, when did you turn this place into such a fortress?" She pointed to the razor wire atop the electrified fence, the new state-of-the-art security gates and, of course, the pack of guard dogs.
Myra's expression grew vague. "A while ago. We had a few spots of trouble a while back. It's more a precaution than anything else. How are you, Nellie?"
"I'm fine, Myra, but I'll be a lot better once you serve me some refreshments. Make it a double." She turned to the security guards and their shopping bags full of Chinese food. "Girls, go in the house and watch television. I'll be on the terrace. That goes for you, too, Malcolm. This is my down time. If I need you, I'll call. Go along now. We discussed this exact situation on the ride out here. As you can see, there's all kinds of security here. Do as I say," Nellie said in her best courtroom voice, which had cowed many a lawyer. The security detail was no different; they scattered.
"We have a year's worth of catching up to do, Myra, so let's get to it. I can't believe it's been a whole year since I've been out here to the farm."
Nellie plopped down on one of the more comfortable chairs, her eyes sharp and keen as she watched Myra pour whiskey into a cut-glass tumbler. "Skip the ice and the water. Today I need it straight up." She took a healthy gulp before she set the glass back on the table. "Talk to me, Myra."
"I thought we'd go for a ride after you finish your drink. You have riding clothes upstairs in a closet and we still have two hours of daylight."
"That sounds like a plan. How's Nikki?"
"She's coming home tomorrow," Myra said as she fiddled with the glass in her hand.
Nellie sighed. "Jennifer was really worried Nikki wouldn't be here when she has the baby. Four more days, Myra, and I'll be a grandmother. Then the christening will be in two weeks, with Nikki being the godmother. Jennifer wants Jack Emery to be the godfather. I know, I know, but these young people have minds of their own. Then, six months later, I retire and kiss that black robe goodbye.
"They've been friends since high school. The four of them went through college and law school together. The girls stuck together when Nikki decided to open her all-female law firm, and Jack went to the District Attorney's office. When Barbara was alive you couldn't find a closer group of girls. I have to tell you, Myra, Jennifer has kept me apprised of the goings-on in that firm since Nikki went off to ... to ... recover. She's on maternity leave now, but she keeps her hand in. What in the world was Nikki thinking when she hired that troublesome woman? It's just my opinion, but she would have been better off to leave Barbara's position open."
Myra chewed on her lower lip. "I don't know, Nellie. Nikki doesn't even know what happened. Charles and I will tell her when she gets home tomorrow."
"She doesn't know? Myra, for God's sake, why didn't you tell her? Nikki's a trooper. She would have kicked that young woman's ass right out of the firm the minute she got wind of what was going on."
Myra took a sip of her drink. "That happened later, Nellie, after she was gone. Don't think Charles and I haven't agonized over this. We have, night and day. Our primary concern was Nikki's physical and mental health. Don't think I'm not dreading the moment I have to tell her what happened with the Barringtons. Aren't you finished with that drink yet, Nellie? It's not like you to be so slow."
Nellie's eyes narrowed. "I'm done. See?" she said, upending the squat glass. "It will take me five minutes to change. Leave the bottle right there on the table. I have a feeling I'm going to need a triple when we get back. Am I spending the night, Myra?"
"I think that might be wise if you plan on drinking your dinner."
The round little judge walked over to Myra. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"Nellie, I ... No, you aren't going to like it."
Nellie reached up to put her hands on Myra's shoulders. "For some reason, Myra, you always seem to underestimate me. Having said that, don't be so sure. Five minutes and I'll be ready to go riding."
Myra sighed. "You're a good friend, Nellie. What is it, fifty years?"
Nellie laughed, a robust sound. "Fifty-one and a half years. We met in Miss Dupré's dance class. Neither one of us could dance worth a damn back then. We were ten years old. Time does fly, doesn't it?"
"Sometimes, Nellie," Myra said sadly, "time crawls by."CHAPTER 2
Nikki was ready to pull her hair out by the roots when a small boy of ten or so came running down the path to her bungalow.
"Telephone, Missy. Come quick."
Nikki tossed the magazine she'd already read twice onto the floor of the porch and raced after the little dark-haired boy. She handed him a dollar bill and smiled. He grinned as he scampered off to play show-and-tell with his friends. She was breathless when she picked up the phone.
"Nikki, it's Charles. I'm sending the Gulfstream for you, so pack your bags. Someone will drive you to the airstrip at first light. I hope you're ready to come home."
Nikki sighed with happiness. "Charles, I am so ready you cannot believe. I've read fifty-six books since I've been here. I will probably never read another work of fiction for the rest of my life. I've watched over a hundred videos, some of them two or three times. I have snorkeled so much I've grown fins. I'm totally sick of sunshine. I long for a gloomy, wet, rainy day, the kind you used to have in England. I can't wait for a thunderstorm! I've been sleeping twelve hours a night and take naps in the afternoon. But despite all that activity, I'm bored out of my mind. Are the leaves starting to turn back home?"
Charles smiled at the wistful tone in Nikki's voice. He knew all about homesickness. "The leaves are just starting to turn. The evenings this past week have been cool. One of the neighboring farms has been burning leaves so the scent is in the air. The weather people are predicting a hard frost by the weekend. The produce stands are full of pumpkins. Myra insisted I buy two the other day. We carved one and put it on the porch to welcome you home. I made two pies with the other one."
Charles heard Nikki suck in her breath before she asked her next question.
"Has Jack given you any trouble?"
"No. If he still has us all under surveillance, he must also be bored out of his mind. Nothing has gone on at Pinewood since you left. Myra and I did take a road trip, and we attended the Truckers' Ball because Myra insisted. But this time we did not leave the house and grounds unattended. Alexis and Isabelle stayed here and kept an eye on things. I'm hoping Mr. Emery gave up on us."
"No such luck. He's out there. He's just waiting. Trust me when I tell you he knows everything you and Myra have been doing. How is Julia and when is she coming back?"
"Julia's progressing well and will be staying at Pinewood on her return. She will arrive home the day after tomorrow. You might find this of interest. Julia treated herself to some plastic surgery six weeks ago. Just enough to alter her appearance so she doesn't look like the old Julia. And she dyed her hair blonde. She e-mailed a picture and, I must say, I had to look twice to realize it really was Julia. She's quite beautiful."
Nikki's voice turned wistful again. "Good for her! How's her plant doing?"
Excerpted from The Jury by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2006 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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