Tell Her No Lies352
Tell Her No Lies352
Nina Fischer carries a camera wherever she goes so she can view life through a filter. Safely. After her mother abandoned her to the streets, Nina kept people at a distance, including her uncle, Geoffrey, who adopted Nina and her sister. Wealthy and proud, he is a good man, a fair judge, and someone many in San Antonio admire.
But when he is murdered, and the detective assigned to the case accuses Nina of the crime, she knows she must act. She’s determined to use her journalism background to find her adoptive father’s real killer. The two men in her life want to help, but can she trust them? She’s known Rick since they were children, but now he’s an attorney whose political aspirations seem more important than Nina’s tragic loss. And then there’s Aaron, a news videographer, who knows that using their friendship could break the biggest story of his career.
Following the evidence leads Nina on a journey of discovery into her father’s shocking masquerade as a law-abiding, family-loving Christian. When her biological mother makes an appearance at Geoffrey’s funeral and asks to be welcomed back into her daughters’ lives, Nina is even more determined to find the truth about her past. Unlocking these secrets could prove fatal, but it’s the only way Nina will ever be able to trust love again.
A fast-paced thriller, Tell Her No Lies is sure to satisfy fans of romantic suspense.
Praise for Tell Her No Lies:
“Tell Her No Lies is true romantic suspense at its best! Kelly Irvin has penned a heart-stopping, adrenaline pumping romantic suspense with an unlikely heroine that tugs at the heartstrings. Highly recommended!”—Colleen Coble, USA TODAY bestselling author
“In a world where so many present one facade externally and another inside their homes, this novel shines a light on the power of truth to cut through the darkness. Wrap that inside a page-turning mystery and some sweet romance and it’s a story perfect for readers who love multiple threads.”—Cara Putman, author of the Hidden Justice series
- Full-length, stand-alone romantic suspense
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
- Perfect for fans of Colleen Coble, Dani Pettrey, and Allison Brennan
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
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Someone needed to make a perfume from stop bath and developer. The photo chemicals smelled like come-hither to Nina Fischer. She inhaled their biting scent and studied the image that appeared as she swished the sheet of paper in the deep, gray plastic tub. A homeless man with a toothless grin rewarded her efforts. The man smiled as if he'd invited her into a palatial home and not a squatter's makeshift campsite. His black-and-white surroundings materialized in sharp contrast around him. A graffiti-covered Dumpster dwarfed his skeletal frame. A shopping cart loaded with a tattered coat, mismatched sneakers, and a pile of blankets was parked on the broken cement like a car in a driveway. Despite the alcohol-induced trust in his bloodshot eyes, he stayed close to the cart as if he feared she would steal it away.
The photo told a story. A story that the world needed to see and Nina needed to tell. In many ways it was her story. The story of a child who'd lived in that world and survived. The words to the poem that would accompany the photo fell into place.
"Nina? You're doing it again."
Rick Zavala's irritated baritone boomed in the small darkroom.
"Sorry." Nina snatched the phone from the counter, hit the speaker button to turn it off, then tucked the phone between her ear and her shoulder while using her free hand to move the photo to the stop bath. She glanced at the illuminated face of the sports watch on her wrist. Thirty seconds and the photo moved to the fixer.
"You could at least pretend to pay attention when you're on the phone with me."
"I am paying attention." Now she was. Suppressing a snort of laughter, she gripped the tongs and slipped the photo into the next tub. "It's three o'clock in the morning. I'm not going to a party with you. I only have a week left to get ready for the exhibit."
"All work and no play make Nina a dull girl. Have a cup of coffee and get your second wind. Jackson hired a great band for this fund-raiser. Everyone's here. It's actually fun." Despite the loud conversations in the background accompanied by raucous Dixieland jazz, Rick's silky voice dropped another notch the way it always did when he wanted to coax her into doing something they both knew she didn't want to do.
"There're some people I need to talk to here. Having you by my side would help. It's a perfect opportunity —"
"To schmooze, I know." Glancing at her watch again, Nina laid the tongs on the counter. Thirty seconds. She flipped the switch and the small room was bathed in a soft overhead light. She had five minutes before she could move the photo to the water bath. "My favorite thing."
A chorus of whiny yowls outside the darkroom door made Nina pause for a second. The cats never bothered her when she was working. They knew better. She opened the door. A black furry streak hurled herself into the room. Nina managed a quick two-step as Daffy whirled and threw herself at Nina's legs, emitting a meow that was more of a hiss than a whine. Mango, an orange tabby whose girth prevented her from winning any race with Daffy, followed at a surprising clip. "What's wrong with you?"
"Something's wrong with me because I want my girl at my side —"
"I'm not talking to you. The cats are having a hissy fit at my feet. They have the run of my family's entire three-story home, and they have to congregate here. Jan must've forgotten to feed them before she and Brooklyn took off. And I'm not your girl."
Just to keep the record straight.
"You could be if you'd stop putting me off." His aggrieved tone reminded her of all the times she'd beaten him in one-on-one basketball games and he'd insisted she cheated. "I'm ready to take it to the next level and you know it."
His idea of the next level didn't jive with Nina's. "I'm not putting you off."
"Then what would you call it — playing the field?" Now he sounded like the sulky kid she'd first met when his mother let him tag along while she cleaned the Fischer house a hundred years ago. "Playing hard to get? Playing with my feelings?"
"I'm not playing at all. I take relationships seriously. You're the one out past midnight on a work night. You're almost thirty years old."
"This is work and I'm asking you to be here with me."
"As a prop."
"I would never use you as a prop. I would never use you period. I love your company."
In typical Rick fashion, he stopped short of saying he loved her. "It's late and I'm tired. Let's not do this now."
"If you have your way, we'll never have this conversation."
The opposite was true. They'd had the conversation over and over again in the years since they both returned to San Antonio after college. Always with the same outcome.
Ignoring the pique in his voice and the herd of two cats clamoring at her feet, Nina focused on a dozen photos clipped overhead with wooden clothespins on a rope strung the length of the room. She liked the progression. Early afternoon sunlight slipping into dusk as the day went on. It would be interesting to see how they compared to the video Aaron shot for their joint exhibit.
Daffy nipped at her bare ankle and yowled. "Ouch. Seriously, what has gotten into you?"
"Sorry, not you, Rick. Daffy just attacked me. You don't need me. You do fine without me."
"That's not true. I need you in more ways than one and you know it."
No, she didn't. Rick's efforts to line up supporters for his fledgling campaign for state representative would no doubt go better without her. She didn't schmooze well and she didn't have a political bone in her body.
"I'm hanging up now. I want to have this series done before Aaron comes over with the video. We have to figure out how to loop it on the wall opposite the photos, and the photos still have to be mounted and the poems finished."
"Aaron's coming over? At this hour? Doesn't he have to work tomorrow — later today?"
Nina held the phone away from her ear. Rick wanted her to come out to a party at three in the morning, but she couldn't have a colleague over to work at that time? She and Aaron McClure had been in school together at the University of Texas–Austin. He was her closest friend in ways Rick could never be. They walked a careful line that preserved that friendship, which she valued beyond measure. "Unlike you, he's taking a vacation day tomorrow — today. We're running out of time and he's just now doing the final edits to the video."
"Whatever. Let's have breakfast."
His way of ensuring she didn't share that meal with Aaron. "You'll be up by nine?"
"Probably not. Peter knows about this party tonight, and I don't have anything on the court docket. He'll cut me some slack."
Peter Coggins hadn't become senior partner in his own high-powered law firm by cutting anyone slack. "If you decide to get up, bring me a whole wheat bagel with blueberry cream cheese."
"Come with me to see the Aaron Neville Quintet play at the Empire Theatre this weekend." Rick managed to skip right over the breakfast invitation. He was not a morning person. "The guy's in his seventies. You never know if you'll get another chance."
Nina glanced down at her jazz festival T-shirt. How did he know? She wouldn't be able to resist a concert featuring her favorite non-rock artist, the soul–R&B&–funk–doo-wop man with New Orleans roots. "Call me later."
"I thought your name was Nina."
Chuckling despite herself, she disconnected and tucked the phone in the hip pocket of her jeans. Rick could be sweet when he wasn't trying to figure an angle to make a situation work to his advantage. Including dating the daughter of a well-connected family whose roots went back to Sam Houston and the Alamo. Or maybe that was her imagination. Her insecurity. Couldn't he be interested in her regardless of her family's genealogy?
Their paths had meandered in wildly differing directions, then reconnected because of her dad's generosity. Giving a maid's son a helping hand with college tuition was like her dad. Exerting his influence to get Rick a job at a local firm after law school. Whether intentional or not, her dad's kindness served to keep Rick in her life. Which kept her off-balance and wondering.
With a sigh, Nina turned the volume on the radio back up on her favorite classic rock station. Vintage Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" poured from the speakers. Wishing she could take a long run to shake off her fatigue, she moved the print to the water bath and spent a few minutes swishing it around before hanging it next to the others. Fatigue made her light-headed. She gripped the counter and closed her eyes for a few seconds. She needed food. And caffeine if she was going to pull the necessary all-nighter.
She slipped on her flip-flops, turned off the radio, scooped up Daffy, and headed down the stairs to the most important room on the first floor. The kitchen. Mango followed, nipping at her heels as if to say, "Hurry up." Daffy struggled in her arms, her back claws digging into flesh. "Hey, that hurts, you little poop head."
Nina let go and the yowling cat leaped to the floor. Mango immediately joined in. "Hush up, you two. You can't be that hungry. I'm getting the food right now." She examined the scratch on her arm. The cat had drawn blood. "Seriously, Daffy, what's wrong with you? I want both of you to find the dogs, annoy them for a while. Okay?"
The cats ignored her instructions and followed her through the kitchen in a nip-and-tuck pattern. Thunder boomed in the distance. Maybe it was the weather. They'd forgotten what thunder sounded like after the long drought.
She froze, sure she'd imagined the hoarse, whispered two syllables wafting into the kitchen from the hallway. She took a mental inventory. Grace was at a writers' conference in Indianapolis. Dad had gone to bed hours earlier. Jan and Brooklyn were camping. Nina was alone on the first floor.
She cocked her head, listening. The house creaked and settled, no doubt swaying in a stormy September wind.
A screamed whisper.
A chill spread across her bare neck above her T-shirt. She eased toward the kitchen door and put one hand on the solid wood frame. "Dad?"
Concern mixed with dread made a sour concoction in the pit of her empty stomach. She strode down the hallway that led to the living room and formal dining room on one side, her parents' offices on the other. "Dad, is that you? Are you okay?"
Daffy shot past her and squeezed through the first door on the right. Mango held back, impeding Nina's progress as she stared. The door to her dad's study.
"Help me ..."
Now a breathless whisper.
Nina touched the door with one finger. It swung open. "Dad? What's wrong? Why are you whispering?"
A low whine told her Peanuts, Dad's cocker spaniel, had beaten her to the room along with Daffy. Nina bent and picked up Mango, who weighed more than a small child. Her warm, tubby body offered comfort against a sudden chill. "I'm here. Dad, did you want something?"
A petite Tiffany desk lamp cast just enough light for Nina to see that nothing seemed out of place. She cleared her throat. "Dad, where are you? You're scaring me."
Shadows created pockets filled with blackness. Books lined built-in shelves that covered an entire wall up to the eight-foot ceiling. The gold-and-auburn brocade drapes were pulled back and held with tasseled ropes, revealing the steady stream of rain running down two floor-to-ceiling windows. Fire bushes in the side yard scraped the windows in an annoying rustling sound.
The mammoth mahogany desk bore all the signs of a workaholic. A desktop computer, a laptop, and an iPad. Piles of papers. Law books stacked six and eight deep. Court briefs.
Her perusal of the room skidded to a stop. Behind the desk, one glass door to her dad's gun cabinet gaped open. He never left it open. He always kept it locked and the key on his chain. Ever since she and her sister, Jan, had moved into a bedroom down the hall from Trevor's room all those years ago.
The office smelled of old paper and books and something else. Something not good. Something that made her stomach turn over and her arms tighten around Mango. The cat squirmed and leaped from her arms.
The room smelled like blood.
Another whine. Behind the desk.
She started around it. Daffy sped past her and out the door as if her work were done. Peanuts crouched next to a long leg stretched out on the floor.
Her breath a hitch in her throat, Nina shot forward. "Dad?"
The cocker spaniel whimpered, a sound that made Nina's own throat ache. "It's okay, boy, it's okay."
A bare foot next to a brown corduroy slipper. A silky, beige pajama pant had ridden up, revealing a leg covered with thick, black hair. Nina edged past Peanuts until she could see the rest of the body.
Her father sprawled on his back, hands clutched at his stomach.
Her legs trembling, Nina knelt. Blood stained his pajama top a deep scarlet. It pooled under him. A gun lay near his right elbow. Nina knew less than nothing about guns. This one was big and black. "Oh, Daddy." His eyes didn't blink and his face didn't acknowledge her presence. "Dad? Geoffrey!"
She touched his throat. His skin was warm. Almost hot. Sweat streaked his face and something else. Tears? She pressed her fingers harder, seeking a pulse. "Daddy, talk to me, talk to me."
No pulse. The voice that had spoken only seconds before had been silenced. Why hadn't she come sooner? Why hadn't she heard the shot? Daddy had always said she played her music too loud. "You'll end up deaf." He would never say those words again.
"No, no, no." She tugged her phone from her pocket, surprised to see bloody prints on it when she tapped those three numbers they'd all been taught to see as lifelines. "Help, I need help."
The 911 operator's voice was kind. Yes, she would send someone. Yes, Nina needed to stay on the line.
Nina hit speaker and tossed the phone on the thick carpet he'd insisted on, saying wooden floors were cold even in a climate like San Antonio's. The cold aggravated his arthritis. His joints ached and his fingers wouldn't cooperate when he tried to hunt and peck on his laptop. Had that pain seeped away with the blood that ran from his wounds?
Nina bent over, getting close to his mouth, to hear his breath. He had to breathe. She'd lost enough people in her life.
She touched his neck again. Still no pulse. Skin cooling.
Come on, God. Come on. Hasn't it been enough? Can't I keep this one person? Can You see why I don't trust You?
The pounding of her heart in her ears served as the only answer. As usual.
She gently moved his hands, sure any small adjustment would cause him pain. She began to push, up and down, up and down on his chest. Wasn't that what a person did when someone's heart stopped beating?
One should perform CPR. One, two, three, four, she counted silently, then aloud. "Five, six, seven, eight, nine ..." As if counting aloud would make her efforts more powerful. His heart would start and he would open his eyes and tell her all about how this happened. How he ended up on the floor of his study. A gaping hole in his gut.
Sirens sounded in the distance, music to her ears for the first time in her life. Help was coming.
Nina paused, her head over her father's, her long hair touching his still, white cheek. The only real father she'd ever known. The man who had taken Jan and her in and made them his daughters. He liked to say he'd chosen them, which was much nicer than the truth. The ugly truth. He'd been the one to tell her it was okay to call him Daddy, a word so foreign to her vocabulary it could've been another language.
"Breathe, Daddy, breathe. Please."
His head lolled to one side, features slack. The sirens screamed. Whirling lights pierced the windows, lighting up the dark and ping-ponging on the walls in a crazy, unpredictable pattern.
It didn't matter how fast they arrived. They were already too late.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tell Her No Lies"
Copyright © 2018 Kelly Irvin.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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