Lisa Raine was an exotic dancer desperately seeking a way out. Frank Mason posed as the perfect escape. However, Lisa's ex-lover, Lewis, is not willing to let her go without a price. After years of paying Lewis to keep her past a secret, the money dries up, and both Lisa and Lewis are forced to alter their arrangement. Things take a turn for the worse, and only one of them may make it out alive.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lisa inhaled deeply, the cold autumn air filling her aching lungs. This moment had been a long time coming. She wondered if the earth felt her vibration; if he knew how much she needed this. She rose to her feet, anxiously awaiting her turn. Lisa had not intended on sharing this moment with so many, but out of all the people present, his was the only familiar face. The soft ground was porous, its delicate constitution nearly mirroring her fragile state of mind. Even in her flats, it was difficult to keep her feet from sinking into the earth during the walk. The air felt different as she drew near to his side, each step speaking to the miracle of her living. Before long, it was time as she stood beside the man she had loved. She brazenly ran her fingers across his cold, full lips, and etched them along his square jawline. He was beautiful lying there.
As tears filled her eyes, she let them roam over his six-foot frame and drink in his chocolate features. It was certainly worth the wait. His wife had chosen well; his navy blue suit was impeccable. The brother was designed for Tom Ford. She stifled a moan as memories flooded her mind. She could still feel him. For a moment, she longed for more time before dismissing the thought as quickly as it came. As she turned to leave, she shot a quick glance at the weeping widow. The poor girl didn't know the man she married. She chuckled at the thought and raised her face to the peeking sun. The rays highlighted her caramel complexion. A smile found its way out as she departed the funeral grounds. She sighed with relief. The bastard was dead ... and Lisa was free.
Three weeks earlier ...
Lisa sat on the edge of the bed and fumbled with the zipper on her dark denim jeans. She had spent the better half of the last thirty minutes vainly trying to repair it. She looked out the window and admired the view from the penthouse suite. She was impressed. The soft white sand against the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea made for a truly breathtaking scene. Charlie caught her by surprise with this, but the trip was only prolonging the inevitable. Their getaways were becoming too commonplace, risky, but Lisa could never turn down a trip to Saint Maarten. She felt like the air wrapped itself around her there. She could only guess that was why Charlie suggested it.
Charlie began as a random Instagram snapshot, and it would've ended with their drunken dance beneath sheets had Lisa not received a special request every day for three weeks. Though she should have probably been alarmed by the persistent, nearly stalker vibe, she was turned on by it, instead. Giving up on zipping her jeans, Lisa walked out onto the balcony. There was something about the water that gave her peace. She lost her thoughts in the waves. Frank. She was missing Frank, her husband. For a second, she wondered how she had arrived at this intersection in her life, a point where no available direction seemed optimal.
Lisa hoped it was not too late to go back. Charlie might have had her singing a sweet melody in the early-morning hours, but Charlie was no Frank. Frank alone had the power to alter her soul if he cared enough to try. Lisa loved Frank, but he failed her. Frank lost his ambition, his drive. She had big plans before she met Frank. Plans before her heart nestled with his and on the eve of the big "4-0," she felt like her life was losing its hue. Frank had only managed to provide her with moments of greatness when she wanted a lifetime.
Those two words, "I do," changed everything. They changed Frank. Frank was a six-foot-four bronzed demigod. He was gorgeous, and for two decades, she'd been waiting for her husband to wow her, waiting for the all-consuming fire that she dreamed her marriage would be. Frank was the kind of man movies were made of, the kind that melted in your mouth. She just knew her life would be amazing, but that fire never really blazed. The memory was still fresh; still hurt. After only one week of marital bliss, Frank made a decision that changed their lives forever.
The Masons weren't ready to be parents, and since they had planned to honeymoon for a year via a private cruise around the world, they were obviously aware of this truth. Their parentage was a stipulation, a business move. It may have seemed cruel, heartless, but their lifestyle was one they individually and, in this case, collectively, went to great lengths to maintain. Frank proposed after a mere three months of dating, but Lisa didn't mind. She was relieved. Lisa Raine had plans for that 20 million; falling in love simply sweetened the deal. A chill tickled the skin, her black lace spaghetti strap, top left, exposed, causing the tiny hairs covering it to rise, but it wasn't the warm island wind that made her hold her arms for comfort. It was the thought of that day. Lisa would never forget it.
Mr. and Mrs. Mason went to meet with their attorney and friend, Jacob Wilson, expecting to sign a few papers to finalize the acquisition of Frank's inheritance. They were anxious to begin their happily ever after when Wilson revealed an unexpected brick wall:
The money would be released upon the birth of a child.
Lisa felt like she'd been blindsided by an armored truck. Had she not been sitting, she would have fainted with the news. Frank was stoic, however, like he'd known all along. The happy couple rode home in silence. They had never discussed children — ever, but it wasn't the news of the child that now turned her stomach into knots. It was Frank's reaction. Frank didn't speak a word for nearly a week, not even hello or good-bye. Lisa still wasn't privy to the details, but one day, Frank came home with a new baby girl. In the blink of an eye, everything changed. Lisa grew to love Brianna, but women generally had nine months to prepare mentally, emotionally, and physically for motherhood.
Frank gave her twenty-four hours.
He was cold, calculating. Too much for her comfort. The shimmer that she was accustomed to seeing was missing from his hazel eyes when he told her about the adoption. Every fiber of her being screamed out that something was amiss, but she made her peace with it and raised Brianna with all the love she could muster. There was no way she was walking away from her new life. She tried her best to give Brianna what she had not been afforded as a child. Though her many efforts to conceive with Frank had not been rewarded, she was proud of the intelligent young woman Brianna had become. Frank, however grand a father, had grown to be an absent husband over the years. He had slowly disappeared and withdrew from their marriage, a few broken promises at a time.
At the budding of the Mason family, the three would travel together. They shopped in Milan and vacationed in Paris. Brianna had been to Italy, Greece, and Egypt before she turned five years old. They spent countless nights in exotic places. Once Brianna reached school age, they slowed down, traveled less, and eventually stopped altogether. Frank would go months without even touching Lisa, barely showing any interest. His every waking hour was consumed with Brianna. Although Lisa was not the jealous type, long stints of celibacy were cancerous to a marriage.
On the contrary, she enjoyed the time they spent together as a family. Frank seemed to come back to life whenever Brianna was in the room. Lisa recalled a rare twinkle in his eye, and in those flashes, a hint of the man she married would push forth. It gave her hope that perhaps all wasn't lost, but those times were too infrequent for her tastes. There was only so much a woman could take before she drafted a new plan. For the next sixteen years, Lisa worked her plan: she'd give him what he needed and get what he wouldn't give her elsewhere ... anywhere.
Lost in her thoughts, Lisa didn't hear Charlie come in and nearly leaped from the balcony at the feel of a gentle hand on the small of her back. Startled, she turned to meet Charlie's gaze and immediately felt naked underneath those doelike eyes. She quickly offered her lips to quiet her own questions. Charlie was not an imposing figure at five foot nine and a mere 130 pounds, but there was something that was always present in their time together that jarred Lisa. Charlie seemed to know things about Lisa that were only known to a select few. Charlie took her by the hand and led her to the bed — Lisa pushed the implications out of her mind. There was no way Charlie could know the truth.
Was there?CHAPTER 2
"Armand, get out!"
"MK, I don't want to argue, OK? Just hear me out, please?" Armand pleaded.
Armand had never seen Michelle this upset and, frankly, it worried him. He slowly twisted the diamond-encrusted platinum band on his finger, ridding it of the sweat that coated his large hands. Nothing rattled Armand. Life had shaped his mind to anticipate, acclimate, and execute. Reality had caught him by surprise only once in his life, and the band was a constant reminder. It was the only symbol of a mother's love he owned, and the only piece of jewelry he wore; in this way, they traveled together. He carried that memory with him. His fiddling with it clearly showed that the situation with Michelle had really gotten to him.
There were things about Armand that Michelle Kaye had not been aware. Some of which, if divulged, would nullify this argument, but releasing that information could put Michelle at greater risk. His employers had a reputation that gave him access, and the freedom, to run in circles that could be dangerous for the average man. Lately, he had found it increasingly difficult to meet the requirements of the task he was hired to do. Though his employers had never threatened him, he did not think they would respond well to his failure. His moves were a calculated attempt to soften their expectation and buy him more time to sort it all out. Things had been going as expected. Armand had been very careful not to take things too far, but Sheila's antics rubbed Michelle the wrong way, and she was clearly on the verge of exploding. If he were a lesser man, he'd find that five-foot-six, fake- ass Taraji P. Henson and reshape her face. Not only did she fail to avoid Michelle as she left their condo — as instructed — but she ran into her, literally.
Michelle had pulled into the garage and parked in her usual spot. She gathered her things, safeguarded her Audi with the key fob, visually mapped out the quickest path through the maze of cars to the elevator, and started her trek. She began mentally preparing for the meeting scheduled with a potential client with mechanized precision, though it was still a few hours away, as she leisurely made her way to the elevator leading up to her condo. She weaved her way between the rows of cars, easily navigating the cold terrain of tires and plastic ... when something grabbed her attention.
She paused to lay eyes on the owner of the shoulder-length blond, wavy weave whose whip action had interrupted her thoughts. Michelle felt an immediate familiarity that both intrigued and annoyed her. Even though several rows of cars separated them, Michelle was certain she knew her and could not help but stare as she sashayed through the parking lot. Click, click, click ... The sound echoed off the walls marking each moment her heels connected with the cement floor. Michelle deviated from her route and opted for one that would allow her to walk by the woman, permitting her to get a closer look at her face. She was so focused on the girl that she failed to notice the car idling by with its reverse lights on. As Michelle got close enough to get a decent look, the driver suddenly gunned the engine and quickly backed out of its parking spot. To avoid being hit, Michelle quickly scurried to the left, placing her directly in the woman's path. Ol' girl, unfortunately, was not paying attention, and the two collided.
Michelle fell to the ground and immediately started choking on the heavy fragrance that dwarfed her. Rather than assisting Michelle, the woman stood over her, brooding, showcasing her Manolo pumps that were visibly poised to strike. Michelle sprang to her feet, and the two engaged in an epic visual battle worthy of a heavyweight boxing ring. The hostility in the air was so thick that the large, three-tier parking garage felt like a broom closet. Ol' girl's purple contacts did little to dull the razor-sharp edge of the daggers she threw in Michelle's direction. Though she was taken aback by the animosity, Michelle stood her ground.
She had not lifted a finger to strike anyone in her life, but she was prepared to hit this chick, if necessary. The menacing glare painted on ol' girl's facial landscape hinted at the aggression waiting to be unleashed on Michelle, but surprisingly, she rolled her eyes, issued an awkward apology, and continued on her way. Michelle did not respond. She stood, transfixed, with a look of shock and confusion on her face. Why did this woman give her the evil eye? She took some deep breaths to regain her composure and inhaled another dose of the lingering fragrance the woman wore, which ignited a coughing fit all over again.
With slow, steady steps, Michelle made her way to the elevator leading up to her condo. Her breathing returned to its natural rhythm as she tried to make sense of the exchange. As she reached out to press the button to open the doors, the answer suspended her movement. She took a deep breath and inhaled the familiar scent. It was Armand's signature Polo Double Black cologne; ol' girl must have bathed in it. Images of ol' girl and Armand flashed through her mind, searing her memory. Michelle realized why she had looked so familiar: she had viewed her mug several times in the surveillance footage of her condo.
The realization hit her with the force of a sledgehammer. Michelle now understood why she had looked at her that way ... She must have recognized Michelle from the various pictures hanging around the home. The same home that was leased to Michelle; the same home she shared with Armand. The same home she must have exited only moments before. The fine hairs on her arms stood in response to the swell of anger rising within her. She turned in a huff, nearly knocking to the ground a gentleman who had been patiently waiting behind her, sprinting back into the main area of the parking garage. She searched for the video vixen but could not find her. Livid, she took the stairs up to the condo and confronted Armand. Michelle's fury intensified as the scene replayed in her mental theater.
"This is not up for discussion," she seethed.
Armand found himself in an untenable situation. He did not want to lose Michelle, but he did not know how to repair the damage without blowing up the spot. Sheila was not supposed to confront or have any contact with Michelle. He had been explicitly clear on that point. All she had to do was arrive, be seen, and leave from the front door. Any qualms she had about that should have been addressed before she accepted his cash. He had gambled and lost. He was out of a thousand dollars, but more importantly, Michelle was up in the air. He never had a woman push his buttons like Michelle did; never had a woman that made him care. He didn't want to risk losing everything by telling her the truth too soon, deciding, instead, to let things play out and hope for the best.
"MK, I am trying here, but you knew my situation, and you said you could handle it."
Michelle collapsed into the plush, plum-colored chair and stared out the window into the street, refusing to meet his stare. She was amazed at the absurdity of the situation, ultimately resigning herself to the truth of it. She did know the kind of man he was, but she still expected some decorum. Michelle knew Armand would be trouble for her from the first moment she laid eyes on him coming out of Club Karma. Every step he made toward her spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E in slow motion. Michelle was not the club type. She was pumping gas at the 7-Eleven across the street and found herself staring shamelessly at this man. Armand was a six-foot-two blend of French aristocracy and African rhythm. With his curly hair shaped by a fresh tapered fade, piercing light gray eyes, and a commercial-worthy smile, Michelle was helpless to defend herself. Though that night they only spoke long enough to exchange contact information, they had been inseparable ever since. That was two years ago.
Armand sat on the chaise directly across from Michelle, hoping to at least get her to reason with him. "I didn't know she would try to come at you."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better, Armand? I need you to leave."
"MK ... Nothing happened. I need you to trust me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Virtuous Deception"
Copyright © 2018 Leiann B. Wrytes.
Excerpted by permission of Urban Books, LLC.
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.