For twenty years, they moved from town to town every few months. They paid in cash. They kept only what they could carry. But 26-year-old Charlene Bailey and her father were a family, complete and happy. Until a woman stabbed him to death in a New Orleans café, right in front of Charlene’s eyes, screaming in a language she didn’t understand. Now the police are claiming that her whole life is a lie. To find out who she is, she’ll have to find out what they were running from. And to discover that, she’ll have to find someone she can trust . . .
As a charter boat captain out of Key West, Marshall Crow has seen his share of reckless tourists. But the fierce young woman asking for passage to Cuba isn’t one of them. He never thought he’d put the skills he learned in the Navy to work smuggling a stranger, but he’s drawn to her the same way she’s drawn to the truth. And through the dark waters of the Florida straits and the narrow streets of Havana, the danger that awaits them is far too vicious to face alone . . .
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Sorrow coiled in Charlene's heart as she inched toward her father's body on the metal slab. The pungent air crackled with the stillness about her, and her bones sagged with an emptiness deep in her soul. Her father didn't look peaceful. She should've expected that, given the way he'd died. The stubble in his beard was longer than usual, and she was surprised at how many gray whiskers he had. Lips that had always been quick to smile were tinged the color of acid-washed denim.
His almond-colored eyes were closed, destined to remain that way forever.
With trembling hands, she curled her fingers beneath the seam of the white sheet concealing his body and eased it down from his neck. Fighting the quiver in her chin, she stared at the jagged knife wound in his chest. It was surprisingly small considering the amount of blood that'd gushed from it.
Charlene squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force the brutal attack from her mind. But it was there to stay. Every precise second was permanently etched into her memory.
The woman who'd stabbed him was a stunning brunette with olive skin and fierce brown eyes. She'd looked petrified. Clearly her father and the woman had known each other, but Charlene had never seen her before. They'd argued in Spanish. Charlene didn't speak any other languages, and she'd had no idea her father did either.
When the woman had grabbed her father's steak knife, Charlene had seen the look in his eyes. It wasn't fear. It was resignation. Like he'd always expected that moment to one day come.
Shaking the recollections free, she opened her eyes and touched his forearm, just as she'd done a thousand times over, except this time she had to resist recoiling at the cold beneath his flesh. As a single tear trickled down her cheek, she wondered if their past had finally caught up to them.
Twenty-two years it'd taken.
Twenty-two years since her father had whisked her away in the middle of the night.
Twenty-two years since she'd last seen her mother.
They'd moved to twice as many cities in that time. Just the two of them.
Charlene inhaled the tangy disinfectant and the emptiness around her. "What am I going to do?" Even her voice sounded hollow, lacking in emotion.
Life as drifters had meant she had no friends.
Her time with her mother was nothing but a whispered dream. Her father never did tell her what happened when she was six years old. And after a while, she'd stopped asking. In fact, she'd often wondered if it was just a silly childhood nightmare.
Now she was all alone.
The enormity of it had hit her yesterday when the police started asking questions.
Her father had no identification. No driver's license. No credit cards. Not even a Social Security card. Just a small amount of cash and the key to their rented apartment. It hadn't surprised her. The police, however, had implied that it was abnormal. Deceitful even. Charlene had explained away all their questions, yet Detective Chapel had looked at her like she was hiding something.
She'd learned to live with inquisitive gazes; she'd been the new student at twenty or so schools. Being the stranger in a crowd was completely normal.
The door cracked open, and the sound ricocheted about the room like a bullet. She jolted at the interruption and turned. Detective Chapel had a look of sorrow that for some reason seemed forced ... too practiced. She flicked the tears from her cheeks and stepped back from her father's lifeless form.
"Ms. Bailey, are you okay?"
Charlene swallowed the lump burning in her throat and shook her head. Okay? His question was ludicrous. Nothing will ever be okay again. Ever. She turned back to her father's body and through her murky tears scanned his face. Finally, she nodded. "Yes."
When she turned to look into Chapel's eyes, she had a strange feeling he didn't believe her account of what happened. She blinked and tried but failed to cast the unfounded feeling aside. "What happens now?"
"If you're up to it, we'd like to ask you a few more questions."
She glanced at her father one last time, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. He'd always been full of life ... the first to try out a dish he couldn't pronounce at a restaurant or jump off the bus to explore a new vista. He taught her to appreciate the sunrise and the glow of the moon over the ocean. His days were long and his nights short in his attempts to squeeze the life out of every second.
All that had been stolen with the slice of a blade.
She bit her lip in an attempt to halt her quivering chin, and before she succumbed to the burgeoning tears again, she allowed Chapel to lead her from the morgue.
Charlene wasn't sure if the odors inside the police interview room were any better than the sterile atmosphere of the morgue. Detective Chapel attempted to placate her with offers of coffee and sandwiches, but the idea of eating was repulsive. The last food she'd had were the spicy buffalo wings she'd shared with her father. It was impossible to believe that would be their last meal together.
"Charlene." Detective Chapel pinched the skin on the back of his hand. "We're sorry to do this so soon after your father's death, but the quicker we have answers, the more likely we are to catch his killer."
She nodded and moved her tongue around her mouth, trying to produce moisture. "I understand."
He flipped open a notebook and rolled a page to the back of the spiral. "So, you said you'd only arrived in New Orleans three weeks ago, is that correct?"
"Where'd you come from?"
"And why did you move?"
She shrugged. "For work." It was the same reason they'd moved nearly every six months or so for as long as she could remember.
"What work did Peter do?"
"Whatever was available, really."
"What job did he have here?"
"He was working as a gardener at Paradise Spring Hotel on Magazine Street."
Chapel jotted the details on his notepad. "We'll have a chat with them. Do you know any reason why someone would want to kill him?"
She'd been asking herself the same question every waking moment since the woman had fled with the knife in her hand. "No. He was gentle and kind. Everyone loved him." She sniffed back a sob.
"Have you thought about the woman who murdered him? Can you tell us anything else?"
She'd done nothing but think of that woman. It horrified her how little she could recall. "It happened so quickly. Isn't there any video footage?"
"Oh, we wish. But no, there's no footage." He cocked his head, and his left eye narrowed, looking at her even harder.
Charlene's chest squeezed at his intense gaze. When his eyes darkened even further, her gut churned. It suddenly occurred to her that she might be a suspect. "What about the waiter, and the other people in the restaurant, and that bus stop outside? Someone must've seen something."
"We're interviewing everyone at the moment."
Her thoughts again turned to the woman who'd stabbed her father ... her brunette hair, pulled into a high pony tail that flung from side to side as she snapped her eyes from Charlene to her father. The fire in her eyes that blazed both fear and bravado. Her white knuckles as she'd clutched the steak knife. The visible throb of pulse in her slender neck. The pause. That moment when she'd stopped for a split second, frozen with apparent indecision, the blade aimed at her father.
Yet Charlene couldn't remember anything else. Not what the attacker had been wearing. If she'd had jewelry or tattoos. She couldn't even remember the woman approaching their table. One minute, Charlene and her father were deciding whose turn it was to stock up the fridge; the next second, the brunette was screaming at her father in a foreign language.
"Do you have anyone you can stay with?" Chapel interrupted her tumbling thoughts.
"Is there anyone you can stay with?"
She lowered her eyes. "No."
"I don't have anyone."
His brows bounced together, his eyes narrowed, and again she had the impression he thought she was lying. He tapped his pen on the table, sounding out a metallic heartbeat. "What about your mother?"
Her brain screamed at her to run. But she fought the panic as her mind flitted from one possible response to the next. The vice that was clamped around her chest squeezed tighter. Insecurity crept in like a thorny vine. Her pause had his unfounded guilty glare darkening, and it was a couple of thumping heartbeats before she decided the truth was the best response. She raised her eyes to Chapel and met his gaze. "I haven't seen my mother since I was six."
"Hmm." His pen tapping stopped. His eyebrows nudged upward. "What about friends? Do you know anyone here?"
"Is there anyone who can stay with you?"
"No. I don't know anyone."
His brows drilled together this time, and when his pen tapping got faster, she felt the need to clarify. "We moved around a lot."
"A lot ... how often is a lot?" The pen stopped, and somehow the silence was worse.
"Usually every six months or so."
"Hmm. It would help us to piece things together if you retraced the last few years. Start with what you did in Chicago."
* * *
As Charlene listed her and her father's recent moves, Chapel jotted notes on his notepad. The scratching of his pen was as harsh as a nail being scraped down a board. But the silence when he stopped was worse. So she continued, blurting out one detail after another. Her mind danced to a game she and her father always played while on a road trip. It was a memory game. She'd say something like: we were eating ice cream on a pier, and a child flew a red kite into the railing right beside us. Where were we? Her father would have to answer. He'd then ask her a question about somewhere they'd been. They could do it for hours. Recalling where they'd been or something unique they'd seen.
She'd never play that game again.
"Wow, you do travel around." Chapel yanked her back from that horrific thought as he flipped the page. "Do you know if Peter retained his bank statements?"
She blinked at him, suddenly nervous about her response. But once again, the longer she paused, the guiltier she felt. "We don't have bank accounts."
He sucked air through his teeth and leaned back on his chair. "That's highly unusual, Charlene."
"Dad didn't trust the banks with his money. So we only ever used cash."
"You never had a bank account either? Credit card?"
"No. And I never needed one either."
"What about wages?"
He pinched the back of his hand again. "Rent?"
She huffed. "Everybody loves cash."
"Well, that's interesting."
"Interesting how?" She had no idea what he was implying, but the look on his face confirmed he was suggesting something. And it wasn't good.
"Most people who don't use bank accounts stash their money somewhere. Under a mattress. In the wardrobe."
Charlene huffed out a laugh. "You're implying that we have surplus cash. We earned enough to pay the rent, buy food, and occasionally have a treat. That's it."
"Maybe Peter's killer thought he did?"
The grin fell from Charlene's face. "I can assure you we didn't have extra cash."
"Did you know Peter didn't have a driver's license?"
"Yes. He never had a need for one."
"What about his Social Security number? Do you know it?"
Her heart leapt to her throat. Her father didn't have a Social Security number. Neither did she. "No! Why would I?" It wasn't a complete lie. Her heart leapt to her throat at Chapel's glare. Her father had ranted many a time about remaining untethered to any government programs. He was stubborn like that. But after hours of implications from Chapel, she couldn't help but wonder if he'd had an ulterior motive.
Was he keeping us off the grid for a different reason?CHAPTER 2
An odd feeling gripped Charlene as her mind stewed over that disturbing thought. Was Peter keeping her off the grid? Or were they just living a carefree life? But it wasn't just carefree; it was more than that. Peter went to great extremes to avoid any form of documentation. The windowless interview room grew suddenly both hot and cold. A venomous snake curled in her gut, and the urge to throw up was so strong she clenched her jaw and swallowed.
Detective Chapel leaned forward. "Are you okay?"
"No." She cleared her throat. "I'd like to go home, please."
"Of course. I'll have one of my men drive you."
"No. It's okay. I'll catch the streetcar." She stood, flipped her handbag strap over her shoulder, and clutched it.
"Miss Bailey, we'd like to have a look through Peter's property ... see if we can find anything that'd help with the investigation."
Her mind whizzed through her father's measly belongings, and she couldn't fathom what would be of any interest to the police. "Okay. When?"
"How about tomorrow morning — say, nine o'clock?"
"Sure. That'd be fine." She turned for the door.
"Oh, and Miss Bailey."
She spun to him, nervous about his impending comment. "Yes."
"Don't leave town."
She captured the detectives gaze with hers. "Where would I go?"
During the trip home, she contemplated how easy it would be to up and leave. She'd done it dozens of times. She and her father had moved so many times, they could pack up and go in the space of two hours. Their entire belongings could fit into three suitcases. That's the way her father liked it. Freedom. That's what he called it.
She didn't feel free now. She felt trapped.
Sometimes she hadn't wanted to move. Like in Seattle, when she'd met Charlie at the bar she'd worked at. Charlene and Charlie ... they'd joked about their names sounding like a couple of b-grade movie bank robbers. He'd been nice. So nice, in fact, she'd given her virginity to Charlie, and for the first time since she'd hit her twenties, she'd felt like a sensual woman.
It was one of the few times she'd fought with her father. In the end, she'd left Seattle and Charlie without even a good-bye. She'd never even gotten his phone number. Not that it mattered; once they'd left Seattle, she knew she'd never see him again. Just like every other person she'd met. She didn't have a single person she called a friend. Not that it bothered her.
It was the way they operated. They owned no assets, set down no roots, and tied themselves to nothing and nobody. Ultimate freedom. It was easy. Move to a new town, pay cash upfront for one month's rent. Find a job, any job that paid cash. And her father had made every new town, new house, and new school seem like an adventure. After school finished, every new city brought a new job to look forward to.
Most of the time Charlene loved it.
Now, though, with nobody to turn to, she wondered how she'd arrived at age twenty-eight without anyone she could call a friend. The urge to leave New Orleans was huge. She could head back to Chicago. She'd had a good job there in a café overlooking Lake Michigan. Her boss would give her old job back to her in a heartbeat, of that she was certain.
But she wouldn't go. Not when her father's killer was still out there.
Charlene needed answers.
She made herself a toasted sandwich, their meal of choice when time and funds were short. Her father often said the toasted sandwich was underappreciated, and they'd have competitions trying to outdo each other with their own personal spins on it. Charlene had become the master chef when it came to making dessert toasties. Raisin bread with sliced bananas and Nutella was one of her favorites. It cost less than a buck and took all of three minutes to make.
With a toasted bacon, onion, barbeque sauce, and cheese sandwich in hand, she headed into her father's room and sat on his bed. The springs twanged in protest. As she nibbled on the crusty corner of her sandwich, she scanned the room. Her father's entire assets were in that room.
The wardrobe was only half full, and the bulk of the clothes were over ten years old. The only time he'd bought something new was when he needed it. Her father's only splurge item was his pillow. Each new rented apartment qualified for a new pillow. He'd said it was his kind of pure luxury and insisted that she have a new pillow too.
His most expensive item was a pair of leather shoes. The only time he wore them was for job interviews. That same pair were about twelve years old, yet they appeared as if they'd been worn only a couple dozen times at the most. He looked after his things.
After finishing her sandwich and washing up the plate, she went through his drawers. She was snooping, and acid burned in her gut with every handle she pulled forward. But she had to know. She had to confirm that Detective Chapel wasn't going to find anything about her father that Charlene didn't already know.
Within half an hour she had her answer ... there was nothing.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Out of Luck"
Copyright © 2019 Kendall Talbot.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Out of Luck by Kendall Talbot Maximum Exposure #3 Action-packed romantic suspense with mystery, murder and a whole lot more. I have never read a book by this author but hope to read many more of her books in the future! What I liked: * Charlene Bailey: She was a loner in many ways but strong, capable and a delight to have as the heroine in this book. * Marshall Crow: I really liked him for and with Charlene * Peter: Even though we did not meet him in the story he seemed to be a good man who was a splendid father for Charlene * The threads of various stories as they overlapped and intertwined and were tied together * The comeuppance of the bad guy(s) * That the main characters were good people with simple desires What I didn’t like: * Noah: the more I heard about him the more I detested him * The decision that Charlene made at one point that was so out of character and got her into so much trouble Did I like this book? Yes Would I read more by this author? Definitely Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books – Lyrical Press for the ARC – This is my honest review. 4.5 Stars
Charlene lived with her father Peter. They never stayed in one place more than 6 months. They always paid in cash to never leave a trail. Out to dinner one evening, a woman puts a knife into Peter and kills him. Charlene finds out that Peter is not her biological father. She investigates and finds the trail leads to Cuba. She finds Marshall and arranges an illegal trip by boat to Cuba. This novel is full of heart pounding action. Deep secrets of her family, blackmail, and murder. Once I started reading this novel, I could not put it down.
First off- not a good idea to smuggle someone into Cuba. Just not. That said, Charlene is on a quest to find out the secrets in her past and she's hired Marshall, who has his own troubles, to do it. You know these two are going to start out picking at one another and then get together, right? It's a fast paced read with good guys, bad guys, and a plot that might make a good movie. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.