Back from undercover work in the jungles of South America, CIA agent Jonah Slade has returned to discover that his former lover has been killed in cold blood, and her fifteen year-old-son has been kidnapped. And everything is tied to his very dangerous line of work . . .
Years ago, Macie Blaine loved and lost Jonah to her sister Felicity, who eventually left him broken-hearted. Now, with her sister murdered and her nephew missing, he’s the only one she can go to for help. But Macie holds a secret that could turn Jonah’s whole life upside-down; a secret that could turn him away from her forever . . .
With action that will thrill you and a romance that will leave you breathless, The Perfect Lie is “a frighteningly real story of suspense and true romance, [with] characters who will grab your heart” (RT Book Reviews).
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Sixteen Years Later
"Agent Slade, please have a seat."
Jonah Slade sat. When the director of the CIA ordered, his men were trained to obey.
"We have some intelligence from the DEA that is causing some concern on the Hill," the director said.
Jonah sat up a little straighter. From time to time, different branches of the Federal government got information that was out of their jurisdiction. He wasn't surprised that the Drug Enforcement Agency had come up with information. Quite often the people they arrested were willing to make a deal to lessen their own sentences. Obviously something like that had occurred.
"You're familiar with Miguel Calderone?"
"The Colombian drug lord of the moment ... yes, I am."
"There's a rumor that he's going to back an assassination attempt on the president. If this is true, at the least we need to know how, when and where. If you can find out how many are involved, so much the better. You know the drill."
"You speak Spanish fluently. All your previous undercover work has been in the Middle East, so your face is not known in South America."
The director looked up from the file on his desk. "Start working on a look. Don't shave. Don't cut your hair. Immerse yourself in the language so you won't miss a nuance of the conversations. In two weeks, your papers will be ready. You'll show up at the Calderone hacienda as a mercenary looking for work."
"What guarantee do I have that they won't shoot me on sight?"
Jonah grinned. "Thank you, sir. Just what I wanted to hear."
The director sighed. "It's not an ideal situation, but it's vital that we learn what we can. Be prepared to stay under for several months, if need be. Your contact will find you, so don't worry about passing on any information that you learn."
"Yes, sir," Jonah said. "Is there anything else?"
"Yes. I would appreciate it if you did not get yourself killed."
"I wouldn't dream of it, sir."
"Good. Then that's all for now. We'll be in touch."
Six months later
"Juanito! The padrone wishes to speak with you."
Jonah laid down the rifle he'd been cleaning and brushed off his hands as he stood and followed a woman named Elena into the house. She was Calderone's woman of the moment, although, to be fair, she'd lasted longer than the others had. If gossip was to be believed, she'd been living in the Calderone stronghold for almost two years and had even borne Calderone a daughter. A child who had stolen his heart.
And, like every other man here who wanted to see the next sunrise, he ignored her sexual teasing and the sway of her hips as she led the way into the hacienda.
Jonah took off his hat as he entered the home, welcoming the cooler temperatures inside the vast, high-ceiling rooms. His footsteps echoed on the red Spanish tiles as he followed Elena into the main room.
Calderone was dandling a baby girl on his knee as Jonah walked in. Calderone laughed as he looked up, then stood abruptly. He kissed the baby soundly on her cheek, ruffled her thick, black curls, then handed her to her mother.
"Chica, it is time for her siesta."
Elena took the baby but gave Calderone a sultry look as she ambled out of the room with the baby on her hip.
"Juanito ... you have children?" Calderone asked.
Jonah shook his head. "No, Padrone, I have none."
Calderone shrugged. "Myself, I have four. My sons, Alejandro and Juan Carlos, an older daughter, Juanita, who is studying in a convent, and my little chica, Raphaella, who is the child of my heart."
"She's very beautiful, Padrone."
"Of course she is, but that's not why I asked to speak to you," Calderone said.
"How can I serve you?" Jonah asked.
Calderone beamed. If he had more men like Juanito, his organization would be perfect. As it was, there were too many lazy Indians on his payroll, but he needed the hands to process the cocaine.
"There are some very important men who will be coming here tomorrow. I want you to make sure that security is tight before their arrival."
Jonah nodded. "Will they be staying in the hacienda?" he asked.
Calderone frowned, then realized that Juanito would need to know their locations to assure their safety.
"Sí. All four will be here with me."
"Bueno. It will make security much easier."
Calderone nodded, reminding himself that he was going to have to get over this constant feeling of danger. At least here, in the depths of the jungle and beneath his own roof, he was safe.
"Do what you have to do. When it's time, I will ask you to accompany them back to the airstrip. The time is drawing near when our plans for the future will need to be put in place."
Jonah nodded, but his heart began to race. Months ago he'd learned that Calderone was indeed harboring dreams of killing the U.S. president, whose policies and their stringent enforcement were hurting the drug trade. In Calderone's mind, getting rid of the man would get rid of the rules. Jonah would have liked to explain the way democracy and justice worked in his country, but he didn't think Calderone was ready to hear it. Now this meeting led him to believe that the plan to take the president's life was about to be put into motion. He had to find a way to alert his contact without getting himself killed.
"Padrone ... if I might be so bold as to ask."
"What is it?" Calderone asked.
"We are running low on ammunition. If I could take a truck to Bogotá, pick up the necessary supplies and whatever special foodstuffs you might want to serve your guests, I think it would be a good idea."
Calderone hesitated only briefly, then waved his hand.
"Take Alejandro with you."
The last person he wanted along was Calderone's eldest son, but he nodded agreeably.
Jonah nodded. "Is there anything special you wish us to bring back?"
"I will have the cook make a list, but I know for certain that we will want some of the finest Russian Vodka, as well as the most expensive Saki to be found in Bogotá."
Lots of people drank both, but he would bet a year of his life that the men who would be coming to see Calderone were connected to the Japanese Yakuza and the Russian Mafia. If that was true, the president was in a world of trouble.
Eighteen hours later, the four men arrived and Jonah knew he'd been right. Now all he could do was hope that his contact in Bogotá got word to the right people before it was too late.
* * *
It was siesta, the hottest time of the day, when it all came apart. One minute Calderone's men were lolling lazily on the veranda and beneath the huge trees — anywhere there was silence and shade — and the next all hell erupted.
Calderone came running out of the hacienda only moments before the first of the helicopters came into sight. It was a bloody battle that was over almost before it began. The DEA was all over the place, taking people into custody, confiscating computers and log books.
Ostensibly, Jonah was still one of the bad guys, and he was in the act of being handcuffed by a fellow agent when a shot rang out. Suddenly Danny Cordell's brains were all over the legs of his pants. That was when he lost it. He grabbed Cordell's rifle as he spun. Alejandro Calderone was standing on the roof with an assault rifle in his hands, grinning at Jonah for what he'd just done.
Jonah swung the gun upward and fired. Blood sprayed out from behind Alejandro's head, and then he dropped out of sight onto the roof. And Miguel Calderone saw it happen.
It was unfortunate, but not earth-shattering. Calderone had no idea of Jonah's true identity or what he really looked like beneath all his hair and beard, and he had no family of his own for Calderone to hurt. Even as Calderone was calling down every curse he knew on Juanito's head, Jonah was walking away.
A week later: Bel Air, California
A black van with heavily tinted windows pulled up to the iron gates of Declyn Blaine's estate. A hooded man jumped out and aimed a can of spray paint at the lens of the security camera, while another man short-circuited the gate controls. Seconds later the gate began to open. The men jumped back into the van as it started up the driveway.
The thick growth of trees and shrubs provided much desired privacy: a high selling point for the owners of the exclusive estates in the area. But now the privacy had become an accomplice, hiding the van and its occupants.
There were five hooded men inside the van. They sat quietly without talking, awaiting the moment when they would reach the main house. Each knew his role in the event that was about to take place, and failing was not an option. Not if they wanted to live to see another day.
* * *
Thanks to the skill of a famous Hollywood surgeon, Felicity Blaine's forty years had yet to show on her finely toned body. As the eldest daughter of multibillionaire Declyn Blaine, she had never turned her hand to a day's work or wondered where her next meal was coming from. She was a perfect hostess, a better than average tennis player, and although she'd never been married, was the mother of a fifteen- year-old boy. She'd named him Evan for no other reason than it did nothing to remind her of the man who'd fathered him.
A series of nannies had fed and diapered Evan, and when he was older, Declyn had stepped into the role of surrogate father, grooming the young man for the day when he would take over the reins of the massive fortune and all that entailed.
Felicity glanced at the clock, blew herself a kiss in the mirror, then turned to pick up her tennis racket and bag as she left her bedroom and started down the stairs. She had just enough time to drop Evan off at school before her court time at the country club, and she was halfway down the stairs when the doorbell rang. Although she was closer by yards than the family maid, Felicity had not been raised to answer her own door. She paused on the stairs, waiting for Rosa to appear.
Rosa Guitiero had worked for the Blaines for many years, and when she heard the doorbell, she quickly moved from the library, where she'd been dusting, into the foyer to answer the door. Her hand was on the doorknob as Evan Blaine came out of the breakfast room with his backpack slung over one shoulder. His thick black hair was short and spiky. His jeans rode low on his hips, and the T-shirt he was wearing bore a Make Love — Not War slogan on the front that Declyn abhorred. It was mostly why he wore it. Still chewing the last bite of the croissant he'd had for breakfast, he was looking up the staircase at his mother as Rosa opened the door. After that, it seemed that everything happened in slow motion.
Hooded men in black knit thrusting guns in Rosa's face.
Rosa screaming in Spanish and then being shoved aside, where she fell into a corner.
Then an abrupt burst of gunfire.
Felicity staring in disbelief at the red blossom of blood spreading across the front of her white designer tennis shirt when the first bullet hit.
Evan shouting his mother's name and then turning to run.
The anger on Declyn Blaine's face turning to a look of utter disbelief as he dashed out of his office.
The echo of rapid gunshots, then running footsteps on fine Italian marble.
The violent impact of bullets ripping through cloth and then flesh as the shots lifted Declyn off his feet.
Evan's fear giving way to a scream for help as the men gave chase.
They caught Evan at the doorway to the kitchen, rendering him unconscious with one blow.
The silence, after the sudden butchery, was startling. With one man carrying the unconscious teenager over his shoulder, they headed for the door. Another paused at the foot of the stairs and dropped a note beside Felicity's body. They paused in front of Rosa, who was on her knees in prayer. One of them aimed a gun, but another spoke sharply and shoved his hand aside. Moments later, they were gone.
For a few disbelieving seconds Rosa crouched where she'd fallen, unable to believe what had just happened. And then her gaze focused on Felicity and the blood pooling beneath her body, spilling down the stairs. She staggered to her feet and stumbled into the hall, where she saw Declyn lying in the doorway of his office. It was then that she began to scream. She screamed until her head felt as if it was going to shatter as Felicity's had done, and she might never have stopped had it not been for the grandfather clock in the hall. When it began to chime, the sound shattered her hysteria. Clasping both hands to her mouth, then stifling a moan, she ran for the phone.
The same day — Chicago
Mercedes Blaine set aside her jeweler's loupe, then straightened abruptly as she turned to face the two men on the other side of her desk.
"I like them," she said briefly. "Consider the deal a go. When can I expect the first shipment?"
It was all the two South Africans could do not to clap their hands in glee. Landing a contract for their exclusive line of jewelry with Blaine Imports was a coup for their company.
"Thank you, Miss Blaine. We are so delighted! I will send the e-mail to our shipping office today. You can expect the first shipment before the end of the month, if that's all right?"
She nodded and shook their hands while deftly escorting them to the door.
"Gentlemen ... it's been a pleasure doing business with you. If you'll stop back this afternoon, my secretary will have the contracts ready for you to sign."
The two men were so happy about closing the deal that they didn't realize they were being hustled out of the office. Mercedes' mind was already on her next appointment when Julia, her secretary, caught her eye. Mercedes looked past her to the two men in dark blue suits in the doorway. She frowned, wondering if there was a meeting she'd forgotten.
"Miss Blaine ... these gentlemen are here to see you," Julia said, then added, "They're from the FBI."
Hoping there hadn't been some kind of irregularity or illegality with one of her foreign shipments, she smiled cordially as they both flashed their badges. The older one spoke for them both.
"Miss Blaine, I'm Federal Agent Sugarman. This is my partner, Federal Agent Carter. If we could have just a moment of your time?"
She smiled again. "Certainly. Won't you please step inside?"
She stood back, waiting for them to enter her office, then followed them inside and closed the door.
She circled her desk. "Have a seat," she said, and then sat down without waiting for them to comply. "Now, to what do I owe the honor?"
The look that passed between Sugarman and Carter made the hair rise on the back of her neck. Sensing that this was news she didn't want to hear sitting down, she stood abruptly and leaned forward, flattening the palms of her hands on her desk.
Her question took them by surprise.
"Miss Blaine, I'm sorry to inform you that your father's home was invaded this morning."
"Oh, my God," Mercedes gasped. "My family! Are they all right?"
Carter sighed, his expression filled with unspoken sympathy.
"No, ma'am, I'm sorry to say they are not. Your sister, Felicity, was shot and died on the scene. Your father has been hospitalized in critical condition, and your nephew, Evan, has been abducted, although as of this hour, no request for a ransom has been received."
Mercedes stood behind the desk without moving, watching the man's mouth as it continued to move, but for her, all sound had ceased. She tried to speak and instead felt her throat tightening with unshed tears. Felicity dead? Evan kidnapped? It couldn't be! It still took a virtual act of congress for her to get past the security at the front gate, and she knew the codes. It didn't occur to her that she'd all but ignored her father's fate. They'd parted company in anger years ago, and she still could not think of him and what he'd done without getting sick to her stomach. She leaned forward, then started to shake.
Carter motioned to Sugarman, who got up and strode quickly to a wet bar in the corner of the room and poured a double shot of whiskey into a glass, then thrust it into her hands.
"Here, Miss Blaine ... drink this," Sugarman said.
Mercedes grasped the small glass with both hands and downed the amber liquid in one gulp, thankful that the quick burn gave her reason for the unshed tears scalding her eyes. She looked at Carter again, her voice shaking.
"Is there ... are you sure there wasn't a mistake?"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Miss Blaine, but there has been no mistake."
"Sweet Jesus," she whispered, and covered her face. "How did they get past Declyn's security?"
"It's a little unclear," he said. "But they left a note."
She looked up. "For ransom?"
"No. More of a warning ... or, I guess I should say, a reason for the abduction."
"What did it say?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Perfect Lie"
Copyright © 2015 Sharon Sala.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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