Some women get angry . . . the Sisterhood gets even.
Meet the Sisterhood—seven very different women who found one another in their darkest days and formed an indelible friendship, strong enough to heal their pasts and bring laughter and joy back into their lives. In Myra Rutledge’s beautiful Virginia home, amid hugs and fresh iced tea, shrimp fritters and shell-pink tulips, the friends have gathered to embark on their second mission of sweet revenge for one of their own.
Julia Webster’s husband, a U.S. Senator, has used his wife’s graciousness and elegance to advance his career even as he’s abused her trust at every turn and left her dreams for the future in tatters. Now, on the eve of his greatest political victory, he’s about to learn a serious lesson. Because the senator crossed the wrong woman—and there are six more where she came from . . .
“Spunky women who fight for truth, justice, and the American way.”—Fresh Fiction on Final Justice
“Readers will enjoy seeing what happens when well-funded, very angry women take the law into their own hands.”—Booklist on Weekend Warriors
“Delectable . . . deliver[s] revenge that’s creatively swift and sweet, Michaels-style.”—Publishers Weekly on Hokus Pokus
"Revenge is a dish best served with cloth napkins and floral centerpieces
. . .fast-paced. . .puts poetic justice first."
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2005 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
Alexis Thorn frowned as she looked around her small apartment. There was nothing about the tiny place to suggest permanency of any kind. There were no knickknacks, no green plants, no family pictures. It was a place to sleep, a place to come home to at the end of the day, nothing more. How could it be anything else when her name wasn't even Alexis Thorn? Alexis Thorn was an alias. She'd taken a new name with the help of her lawyer, Nicole Quinn, when she got out of prison for a crime she didn't commit. She didn't want to think about why she was living in this run-down apartment but she had to think about it, like it or not.
Without Nicole Quinn she didn't know where she'd be. Nikki had gotten her a job as a personal shopper to some of Virginia's older, wealthy residents. It was a far cry from being a high-powered securities broker in her other life, that was for sure. Nikki had helped her with a new identity, too. Who in their right mind would hire a jailbird? No one, that's who. These days she was Alexis Thorn and she liked it but someday when the time was right, she'd go back to being her real self.
Today, in just minutes, she had to climb into her little Mini Cooper and head out to McLean, Virginia. There at Nicole's adopted mother's palatial estate, she would join the other members of the Sisterhood. She'd joined a year ago, again, with Nicole Quinn's help. The Sisterhood wasn't just any organization. Myra Rutledge had formed the organization after her daughter was run down and killed by a diplomat's son. With the aid of Nikki's legal expertise, Myra formed the Sisterhood to help women get the justice and the revenge they deserved, even if it meant going outside the law to get it.
The Sisterhood consisted of six women, seven if you counted Myra, all recruited by Nikki. They'd gone on one mission so far and it had been successful. At the end of that successful mission, they'd drawn names to see whose case would be next. Alexis's name — not her real name of course — had been drawn from the cardboard shoe box.
But she wasn't ready yet to seek the justice she deserved. She needed more time to wallow in her misery, and to build up her strength and resilience. She didn't know why that was, it just was. She would have to tell the sisters they needed to choose someone else for the second mission. She knew in her gut she was still too fragile, too broken with her thirteen-month stint in the federal pen. She tugged at her lavender dress, straightening it over her slim hips. The dress was one she'd chosen from her pitiful wardrobe and was a knock-off to boot. It went well with her brown skin and dark hair. She'd chosen the dress because she thought she looked best in pastels. The days were long gone when she didn't think twice about buying high-end designer clothes. Everything from her past was gone. Every damn thing she cared about. Even her dog.
Alexis started to shake when she tried to imagine what the other sisters would say when she told them she wasn't ready for her mission. Kathryn, the most verbal, and the toughest of them all, in her opinion, would narrow her eyes and tell her to grow up and get with the program. Isabelle, who saw things other people didn't see, meaning, of course, that she was psychic, would shrug and close her eyes, maybe in the hope of conjuring up the reason for Alexis's pass on the mission. Julia, a retired plastic surgeon, who had contracted AIDS from her philandering husband, the senator, would stare at her as if she were a speck under a microscope. She'd say, "You need to make those bastards pay for what they did to you and get on with your life because you have a life to get on with." Yoko would nod and say she understood whether she did or not. Nikki would use logic to try to convince her to take the bull by the horns, and Myra, sweet, gentle woman that she was, would smile wanly and say, "Honey, if you aren't ready then you aren't ready and we'll choose one of the other sisters." At which point she'd feel like a fool and probably start to cry. The others would look at her with disgust and she'd cry harder. They might even become so disgusted with her they'd try to drum her out of the Sisterhood.
She'd done so well with Kathryn's mission. It couldn't have succeeded without her expertise. She could take nothing and transform it into something wonderful and exciting. She was a master with a makeup brush and she knew it. Costume design was something she loved doing. Nikki said she was a master at that, too. She'd been so proud when Nikki had said that. All the sisters had complimented her. Life after prison. She owed this new life to Nikki and the sisters. And she was happy. So, what the hell was her problem?
Alexis eyed her suitcase by the front door, and then let her gaze go to what the sisters called her Red Bag of tricks, complete with everything she needed to alter a person's being. Makeup, spirit gum, latex, costumes, wigs, glasses. She had the talent to take an ordinary person and transform him or her into a movie star. Where she'd come by this particular talent, she had no idea. Everything in the Red Bag had been updated or replenished by Myra.
Alexis looked at her watch. Time to get on the road. The Sisterhood's hosts, Myra Rutledge and Charles Martin, didn't like to be kept waiting. She smiled when she thought of Charles, Myra's right hand man, and the one who planned each mission. Charles was an ex-British MI6 operative who had once worked for the queen on the other side of the pond until he'd been compromised. In the spook world, according to Charles, the bad guys had found out who he was and steps had to be taken to keep him safe. Now he worked and lived with and for Myra. Charles always said being a super spy for Her Majesty had equipped him to head up the Sisterhood. On top of all his other accomplishments, Charles was a gourmet cook. Alexis felt her mouth start to water at some of the wonderful meals he'd cooked for all of them. Today, she hoped, would be something just as wonderful.
Suitcase in one hand, the Red Bag of tricks in the other, Alexis still somehow managed to lock the flimsy door of her apartment. She didn't look back because there was nothing to see except a bunch of shabby, secondhand furniture. She hadn't seen the need to buy new furniture, preferring to bank all her money until she was sure where she was going with her life. A new life, a new name without the stink of ex-con attached to it. What more could a girl want?
Alexis tossed her suitcase into the back of the Mini Cooper, then climbed behind the wheel. Before she turned the key in the ignition, Alexis looked around the ratty-looking neighborhood and the building she lived in. They should just demolish the entire three blocks. Once she'd lived in a pretty little house with window boxes and flowers on her front porch. She had furniture that she saved for, beautiful linens, fine dishes and crystal. And she'd had a dog she'd loved dearly. It was all gone now, sold to pay her legal fees. She'd been told that one of the officers who arrested her had taken her dog.
If anyone should be ready for revenge, it was she. She knew in her heart of hearts, deep in her gut, that the two partners who framed her for their own crime did it because she was a black securities broker. She'd been careful not to play the race card in her defense. Now, she wished she had. Maybe her problem was she couldn't come up with a suitable revenge that would make her whole again. Nothing she could come up with was bad enough, horrible enough, ugly enough to make her whole. Death was the only thing she could come up with but that wasn't an option. She had no desire to go to prison again.
The engine of the Mini Cooper turned over and Alexis drove down the road to the highway. Another glance at her watch told her she had just enough time to make it to McLean. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. It would be good to see the sisters again.
As she drove away, Alexis noticed for the first time that spring had really arrived. The trees were dressed in their fledgling greenery and here and there she could see flower buds. Spring. A new beginning. She crossed her fingers the way she had when she was a child. Maybe this spring would be a new beginning for her.
As the miles ticked by, Alexis settled herself more comfortably in the driver's seat. She felt better already.
Myra Rutledge, Charles at her side, stood under the portico and watched as the cars inched their way through the open gates. Her smile rivaled the sun. "They're here, Charles! Every single one of them. I was so afraid they might have second thoughts. They look wonderful, don't they? I love the way they poke one another and make each other laugh. I am so relieved that they all get along just like real flesh and blood sisters."
Charles beamed. "Love, they are beyond wonderful. Julia looks particularly good, don't you think?"
"For now, she's in remission, but yes, she looks wonderful, just awfully thin. Look how they're all smiling, Charles. That means they're glad to be here. Turn off the power to the gate. We don't want any intruders today." Myra's voice dropped to a whisper when she said, "Nikki didn't say anything about ..."
"No, Nikki didn't mention Assistant District Attorney Jack Emery at all. I didn't want to open any old wounds by asking. They broke off their personal relationship and Nikki is touchy on the subject of Jack Emery."
"A district attorney prowling around here with binoculars makes me worry, Charles. I know Nikki is still in love with him. I also know Jack Emery is not going to give up. He suspects that we were responsible for Marie Llewellyn's disappearance, a case that had nothing to do with the Sisterhood. He told Nikki so. That's why the two of them are estranged. They were on opposite sides of that case. He's trying to ... to ... get the goods on us, Charles."
Charles patted Myra's hand. "Not to worry, my dear. That will never happen. I want you to trust me."
Myra stared into Charles's bright blue eyes. God, how she loved this man, her daughter's father. "I do, Charles. I do. Now, let's welcome our new little family.
"Girls! Girls! Welcome back to Pinewood! Charles prepared lunch for all of us and we'll have it on the patio. Oh, how I've missed you," she said, opening her arms wide to gather all the young women close.
Murphy, Kathryn's dog, barked sharply for attention. Myra laughed. "You, too, Murphy. Charles fixed you a special treat." The big shepherd literally purred at her words.CHAPTER 2
"Listen to them, Charles!" Myra said, pointing to the ceiling. "They sound so happy. This old place is alive again. I love to hear them laughing and poking fun at one another. And, did you see Murphy? I love the way he cozies up to you because he knows what a good cook you are." She paused, and a frown replaced her smile. "Things are going to work out for Alexis, aren't they?" she asked.
Charles Martin stared at the love of his life and smiled as he expertly turned over the shrimp fritters in the frying pan. Alexis's favorite food was shrimp fritters and since they were here to plot out her mission, it was only natural for him to cook her favorite food. On more than one occasion he'd boasted, shyly of course, that he'd personally prepared beef Wellington for the queen. He always followed up that statement by saying, of course, that was in my other life. "We'll just have to wait and see. Let her tell us. We'll take it from there." He hugged her.
"There's a glow about you today, my dear. You look like spring itself in your flowered dress. And" — he leered — "you smell heavenly!"
Myra patted Charles's hand. "Thank you, dear. Charles, how can I be so happy when we do ... when we ..."
"Make things come out right for our friends?" Charles said, finishing her question. "We committed ourselves, Myra, to right old wrongs, to settle old scores and to fight for those who fell through the cracks while the law was looking the other way. Let's not worry about the dark side today. You're happy, I'm happy, the girls are happy, and we're about to embark on our second mission. As they say in the business, 'I got it covered, lady.'"
Myra burst out laughing as she started to set the table. She looked down at Murphy, who was watching Charles's every move. "It's time for lunch, Murphy, fetch the girls."
Murphy raced to the bottom of the magnificent spiral staircase and barked, then raced back to the kitchen. Myra patted his big head and smiled. "He's a wonderful animal, isn't he, Charles?" Not bothering to wait for a response she said, "I feel so much better knowing he's with Kathryn when she drives that big rig of hers cross-country."
"Darling, you're jittery. Calm down. I hear them coming down the steps. For all our sakes, I want you to look and sound positive."
Myra held her regal gray head even higher. "Whatever you say, Sir Charles!" She smiled, referring to his knighthood. Charles grimaced. He hated discussing anything about his old life.
Charles beamed when the women swooped into the kitchen jabbering a mile a minute.
Myra hugged them one at a time before they all sat down.
"Shrimp fritters! My favorite soul food," Alexis said.
Yoko reached to the middle of the table and said, "The tulips are real! They are so beautiful! My own at the nursery are just starting to bud."
Isabelle shaded her eyes with her hand and said solemnly, "I see acres and acres of tulips and they're all purple ... I see ..."
Kathryn turned in her seat and swatted Isabelle. "Then, oh mighty seer, you must be in Holland, you jerk!" Everyone laughed at Kathryn's reference to Isabelle's clairvoyant capabilities, which were iffy at best.
"Spring is my favorite time of year," Nikki said as she shook out her linen napkin. "The tulips are gorgeous. Are they the ones Barbara and I planted when we were little?"
Myra squared her shoulders, her eyes bright at the mention of her dead daughter. "No, dear, those are long gone. These are a new variety. Charles and I planted them last year. The colors are remarkable so that means the seed catalog didn't lie. The golden yellows are my favorite. Barbara loved the shell pink ones and those are just starting to bloom."
Julia, her eyes as bright as Myra's, said, "I don't know about the rest of you but I am so glad to be here. I feel ... I feel like I've come home. I don't mean to sound maudlin or anything but I feel like you're all my family. So, let's make a toast to the Sisterhood."
"Hear! Hear!" Charles said, raising an exquisite crystal pitcher of sweet tea. He poured it into matching goblets before he took his seat at the table. As one, the women raised their glasses. Charles did the honors and said, "To all of us. To the Sisterhood and their lone brother!"
Myra was the first to burst out laughing. "That's my Charles," she said fondly. "Now, girls, let's devour this wonderful luncheon Charles has so lovingly prepared so we can get to work and do what we do best: going after the scoundrels who have turned your worlds upside down, so we can give you back your lives."
Midway through the meal, Murphy reared up next to Kathryn and let out a bloodcurdling howl. The women looked at one another in alarm. Kathryn got up and went to the kitchen door and opened it. Murphy raced outside, the hair on the back of his neck straight up. Nikki got up and followed Kathryn. "Easy girl, easy," Kathryn said, placing a hand on Nikki's arm. "It might be a squirrel or a rabbit. It doesn't have to mean it's Jack Emery out there spying on us."
"Yes, it does, Kathryn. He's been stalking me when I go into the city. I never see him but I know he's there. He's on a mission now just the way we are. He's got himself convinced we all helped to spirit Marie Llewellyn away after she killed the man who murdered her only daughter. He's never going to give up, that's why he's such a good district attorney. I hate to say this but he's better at tracking than a herd of bloodhounds. He's out there somewhere watching and waiting. I'd stake my life on it."
"Then I guess it's time we did something about Assistant District Attorney Jack Emery," Kathryn said flatly. "Come back to the table, Nikki, we can't let Charles's dessert go to waste."
Myra's voice was hushed when she asked Nikki, "Is it ...?"
"Jack? Yes, I think so, Myra. I think he's been stalking me. I also think he's got some of his people watching the rest of you, too. I don't know where he's getting the manpower unless he's calling in favors from his friends and they're doing it pro bono. D.A.'s do that all the time. Let's face it, he's got us staked out. We have to find a way to work around that or else we have to ... do something drastic where he's concerned."
Excerpted from Payback by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2005 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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