Authors: Shady Grace
Wanda sighed deeply. “Some people never learn.” She closed the lid and handed him the box, her smile tight. “Nobody messes with my family.”
“I know.” He led her toward the plush sectional couch—a white and grossly modern monstrosity—in the middle of the parlor, before making his way to the liquor cabinet. “Drink?” He held up a crystal tumbler.
Everything in his family home was original, right down to the floral wallpaper and fainting couches. But Wanda insisted on “pops of modern and contemporary furnishings,” as she’d told Colton. Terry thought the mixture to be highly unusual and in very bad taste. But he’d never tell her the bitter truth.
Wanda shook her head and frowned. “Terry, darling, what is going on with you? You have me worried with your drinking lately.”
Ignoring her pleading eyes, he focused on pouring a healthy measure of vodka, clean. “I’m an adult and I’m fine.”
With her thin eyebrows arched high, the wrinkles in Wanda’s forehead deepened. “What would your father say if he knew you drank a forty a day?”
He blinked. “How do you know how much I drink?” He shook his head. “Never mind.” She probably knew everything. She was a smart cookie and kept tabs on them all.
She sighed again, her expression full of worry. “He hasn’t been feeling well lately. I don’t think he’ll be joining us for lunch. You’ll have to entertain our business guests, sweetheart.”
Wanda clasped her hands together as she always did when deep in thought. Terry stared at the beautiful woman who devoted her life to his father. She was a raven-haired beauty with mocha skin and dark eyes that whispered scandal. Tall and thin, she was a rare gem who commanded attention and made many women jealous. No wonder Colton fell for her quickly. She epitomized grace and charm and brass balls.
“I wish you would open up to me, my boy. I only want you to be happy. Don’t be like your father, Terry.”
More guilt weighed on his shoulders. “I know. You’re the total opposite of the wicked stepmother in every other book.”
She slowly eyed him up. “Is there a woman in your life? Someone to make you happy?”
He swept his hand out in a gesture of indifference. “There’s many of them. They’re only good for one thing.”
“Terry!” Wanda’s eyes widened in surprise, then she chuckled softly. “One day you will learn the power of a woman. One woman. And if you’re lucky you might survive what she does to your heart.”
The power of a woman.
Terry grinned as an idea sprung to mind. “What do you think of the mountains?”
Wanda appeared confused. “What about them?”
“I read an article recently about mountain women who trap animals and rely on dogs to get around in the winter. Totally self-sufficient. Impressive, don’t you think?”
Wanda shook her head, eyes wide in disbelief. Her massive diamond earrings twinkled in the light. They probably cost his father no small fortune. “Why would you read a silly article like that?”
Coming from the finest, wine infused circles in Los Angeles, she wouldn’t understand Mary if her life depended on it.
Terry shrugged. “I was just curious.”
“Who could possibly tolerate a bunch of filthy mutts in the wilderness anyway?” Wanda leaned forward, staring hard. “Do these . . . females . . . go to town to bathe?”
Terry’s head filled with a gorgeous vision of Mary rubbing a bar of soap along her soft flesh in the middle of a river, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but the wilderness in the background.
I hope not.
One of the housekeepers entered the room. “Lunch is served.”
“See? It’s officially noon.” Terry lifted his drink in a salute to his stepmother, took it back in three swallows, welcoming the burn down his throat. He was thankful to have such a large stash of Finlandia Vodka nobody else seemed to like.
After lunch and a brief meeting with new and old business associates, Terry headed back to the Sea Scape and tried to forget what Adolfo Montesano said before he shot him in the forehead.
* * * *
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Terry whipped his legs over the bed and grabbed his robe off the floor. With his heartbeat in his throat he stumbled to the en suite. Every step became forced, as if his feet held the weight of the hotel. Sweat trickled from his forehead into his eyes. A disgusting bile filled his mouth. He could hardly swallow and his vision blurred.
He stared at his pale skin in the mirror, his entire body trembling with weakness, before splashing cold water onto his face. His pupils were so dilated he could hardly see the blue, while red veins spanned across most of the white. This wasn’t the flu or some nasty hangover, there was something seriously wrong with him.
Maybe it was only a nightmare. Maybe a drink would settle him. No. It was more than that. He tightened the sash on his robe and made his way to the study. A wave of nausea hit him like the force of Gabe’s hatchet. He stumbled against the hallway wall and tried to keep his head straight. The door at the end of the hall expanded and shrunk like in a cartoon. He leaned against the hallway wall. Bile scorched his throat more forcefully. He shook his head and fought the rush of dizziness, his hazy vision trained on the study door.
Determined to make it there before losing it in the hallway, he pushed forward, gripped the doorknob and shoved the door open. He groaned and wiped the sweat beading into his eyes. Somebody had moved the furniture. He shook his head, trying to navigate the unfamiliar floor. The objects in the study molded together, danced in a sea of blurring white. His knee hit something and he crumbled to a state of submission as a streak of lightning spread across his stomach. He whimpered as pain unlike anything he’d ever felt before gripped him hard.
Somehow he managed to pull himself off the floor and stumble to the desk, where he picked up the phone. With a shaky hand he pressed the button for the front desk.
“Help me,” he groaned, his strength completely sapped.
He heard the click on the other end before the receiver fell from his shaky hand and banged onto the desk. His knees buckled, the lights went out, and he hit the floor.
Sometime later he blinked and rolled to his side, just in time to hurl into a mop bucket. How it got there was a mystery, but he was glad for it. He wouldn’t want to ruin his favorite Navajo rug. He puked so hard he thought his eyes would pop out and fall into the bucket.
After long, agonizing minutes, he finally lifted his head and breathed as if he’d completed the longest marathon in existence. Two blurry bodies filled his vision.
“What happened?” He spit into the bucket, not daring to look up too fast and feel that hot sickness again. He already knew who occupied the room with him, and only one of them had a key.
“You’re drinking too much, dickhead,” Gabe blurted.
“No. He was most likely poisoned, shitstick,” said the other man.
“What?” Of all the ways to try and kill him in this day and age, being poisoned would be his last guess. And he didn’t drink
He lifted his heavy head to find Gabe and Sammy Hayes sitting opposite him. If not for Sam—who knew pretty much every way to kill a person—Terry might not be alive right now. Barely alive, but still breathing at least.
“Hey, Sam,” he mumbled, completely baffled and ill to the bone. He wanted to die and get it over with. “What are you doing here?” Every word he uttered sounded like drunken gibberish.
Sam chuckled. “What, no thank you?”
“Thanks,” Terry muttered. “How did this happen? How did you know?” Saying the words took great difficulty.
“Well, you were disoriented, mumbling shit that didn’t make sense. You were burning up, and drooling and twitching. Top signs for poisoning, and most likely arsenic.”
“Why the hell—”
“You just lie there and be quiet, boy.”
Terry tensed at the sound of his father’s voice through the speakerphone. Of all the people he wanted to chat with, Colton would be the last. He sighed and shook his head, prepared to have his ass handed to him, even though this wasn’t his fault. “Hello, Father. Nice of you to check in.”
“Shut up and do as you’re told. You’re not invincible, you know. Time to watch your ass and quit fucking around. Now, what are we looking at here?”
Gabe sat forward in his chair and spoke loud enough to be clear to Colton. “Good thing Sam knows his stuff, sir.” He directed his attention to Terry. “Once you finish puking you’ll need to eat something and drink lots of water. You’ll be sitting on the toilet more than puking. I truly feel sorry for you.” Yet his grin totally belied that, the snarky bastard.
. Eating was seriously the last thing on Terry’s mind.
I just want some fucking vodka.
“Well, it’s obvious this person didn’t know what they were doing. This is not the work of a professional.”
Terry watched in silence as Gabe closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Hard to say, Boss. Could be this person was interrupted and had to compromise, or poison isn’t their usual method. There’s no easy answer. Terry took your place at the meeting today. There were several new faces in the mix. They should all be questioned.”
“Well, it’s clear to me my son needs a little vacation and we’ll figure this out, quietly, without him. God knows he needs to sober up anyway. You know what to do.”
Terry glared at the phone as Colton hung up.
At least it was the three of them now, and he could speak his mind. Terry, Gabe, and Sam were like brothers, although Sam wasn’t always around. His missions usually consisted of eliminating unsavory characters in all corners of the world. Right now Sammy was on the home front, and nobody knew why.
Either way, he was a smartass like Gabe. Terry had the pleasure of constant mockery at his hip.
“Colton’s right. We can’t risk your health when he’s already under the weather. You’re all he has left.” Gabe leaned forward, his expression hard. “And you’re my only brother. Don’t fuck this up.”
Terry wasn’t afraid to die; to take a number and wait for it. Death was the one sure thing in life. But he understood his father and Gabe didn’t want to lose him. But why did his father have to speak as if Terry was at fault? All he ever did was try to be the best he could be, yet it wasn’t good enough. He knew his father loved him, but sometimes it felt as if his father had no choice. He didn’t
to love him, he
because Terry was his son.
Sam on the other hand seemed bored by the heartfelt exchange.
“He talks to me like I’m a fucking kid and all I do is disappoint him.”
Sam chuckled. “Awww. Chin up, bud.”
Terry glared at Sam and flipped him the bird. He loved Sam like a brother but he could be a jackass at times. Maybe living his life through the eye of a scope made him God or something, like doctors and their “live or let die” mentality.
“Not long ago you were shot by Ben and now this,” Gabe tossed in.
Adolfo’s last words repeated in Terry’s hazy mind. When he felt strong enough not to puke, he pushed up to a sitting position and stared at the two men. His guts turned and the need for food became stronger by the second.
“Do you think Ben’s wife hired someone to poison me?”
Sam shrugged. “It’s possible, but I doubt it. She had the hots for Gabe and was only with Ben out of necessity. I doubt her heart is broken. I could probably unzip my pants right now and she’d fall to her knees.”
“Then Adolfo’s family or his contacts must be behind this. Someone must have poisoned my food either at the hotel or at the house today. I haven’t been anywhere else.”
Sam glanced at Gabe, who nodded in agreement.
“Well, you need to go somewhere and you’ll need to be watched at all times.”
Terry settled back against the couch and took a deep breath. “I don’t want to hide out like some rat.” The queasiness in his stomach died down a bit but the hunger was like a living thing raging within. Either that or Gabe was right about the toilet. He forced his mind away from the ugly thought. “A vacay would be nice. How long is this going to take?”
Gabe shrugged. “Hard to say. Maybe a couple of weeks, or longer. Don’t worry, someone will watch the old man, too. What about spending some time with the trapper?”
The power of a woman.
Terry closed his eyes and sighed. “We haven’t talked in a while. She’ll probably tell me to fuck off, or shoot me right there on her doorstep. I have to admit I would deserve it.”
Gabe chuckled. “I think you might be surprised what she does to you.”
Terry frowned but his nerves jumped to life. “What do you mean?”
His best friend shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “I paid her a visit the other day and sort of mentioned you needed a vacation.”
Terry sat up straighter. If he had the strength he’d fly through the air and take Gabe down right through the fucking couch. “Why the fuck would you ask her without even asking me first?” His chest tightened and his stomach turned to knots. He couldn’t believe Gabe took it upon himself to talk to Mary. Yet his curiosity screamed to know the answer. “What did she say?”