Take Down (The Men of the Sisterhood)

BOOK: Take Down (The Men of the Sisterhood)
5.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Books by Fern Michaels
A Family Affair
Forget Me Not
The Blossom Sisters
Balancing Act
Tuesday’s Child
Southern Comfort
To Taste the Wine
Sins of the Flesh
Sins of Omission
Return to Sender
Mr. and Miss Anonymous
Up Close and Personal
Fool Me Once
Picture Perfect
About Face
The Future Scrolls
Kentucky Sunrise
Kentucky Heat
Kentucky Rich
Plain Jane
Charming Lily
What You Wish For
The Guest List
Listen to Your Heart
Finders Keepers
Annie’s Rainbow
Sara’s Song
Vegas Sunrise
Vegas Heat
Vegas Rich
Wish List
Dear Emily
Christmas at Timberwoods
The Sisterhood Novels
Eyes Only
Kiss and Tell
Home Free
Déjà Vu
Cross Roads
Game Over
Deadly Deals
Vanishing Act
Razor Sharp
Under the Radar
Final Justice
Collateral Damage
Fast Track
Hokus Pokus
Hide and Seek
Free Fall
Lethal Justice
Sweet Revenge
The Jury
Weekend Warriors
The Godmothers Series
Breaking News
Late Edition
The Scoop
eBook Exclusives
Take Down
Upside Down
Captive Innocence
Captive Embraces
Captive Passions
Captive Secrets
Captive Splendors
Cinders to Satin
For All Their Lives
Fancy Dancer
Texas Heat
Texas Rich
Texas Fury
Texas Sunrise
When the Snow Falls
Secret Santa
A Winter Wonderland
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Making Spirits Bright
Holiday Magic
Snow Angels
Silver Bells
Comfort and Joy
Sugar and Spice
Let It Snow
A Gift of Joy
Five Golden Rings
Deck the Halls
Jingle All the Way
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Take Down
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter 1
All across the United States of America, citizens were waking up to what the weathermen were touting as a white Christmas for most of the country, thanks to a cold front swirling down from Canada. In the South, the sun was shining brightly as picture after picture blitzed across television screens showing Santa arriving on water skis, his sack of presents perched precariously on his back.
Parents, sleepy-eyed, did double time ooohing and aaahing as their bright-eyed children squealed in delight at the mounds of presents piled high under the tree, and then pointed to the empty milk glass and a few stray crumbs on the cookie plate, proof that Santa had indeed slid down the chimney, fire and all. The proof, the little ones pointed out, was the small pile of ash on the hearth. And their parents, of course, nodded sagely, congratulating their beaming children on their deductive powers.
In Georgetown, Jack Emery slept soundly. The digital clock on the nightstand read 5:10, which meant Jack had been asleep for all of two hours. It had been a long night as he and the others wrapped up their current project to everyone’s satisfaction, then attended the midnight religious service in the Southeast section of Washington, D.C. No one, it had seemed, wanted the wonderful night to end, and the pastor at the church agreed wholeheartedly. This, after all, was the community’s way of thanking the men who had entered their lives with riches beyond their wildest dreams. Not riches in the monetary sense of the word, but riches in food, warmth, hot water, love, and caring, which, the pastor boomed at the pulpit, just proved what he had preached all his life, give and you shall receive. And Jack and the boys, thanks to Dennis West and his inheritance, had given beyond the community’s wildest dreams.
The dark night had yet to give way to the dawn that waited impatiently to surface, cloaking the house in Georgetown in a white mantle of snow. The silence was so total that Jack slept peacefully, his arms wrapped around his pillow as dream after dream marched through his tired brain.
Jack stirred restlessly. “Hmmnn, um, oooh,” he moaned as he gripped his pillow tighter against him. “Oh, yeah, oh, don’t stop. Aaah, oooh.” He cracked an eye to stare at two pointed ears and two very large brown eyes staring down at him. “Cyrus!” The big shepherd barked happily as his tongue sought Jack’s ear again. “Son of a gun, you gotta stop doing that, Cyrus. You got me all hot and bothered there for a minute. God, what time is it? It’s only 5:15! It’s not time to get up yet.”
Cyrus thought differently as he tugged at the covers.
Jack yanked at the covers. “Turn the heat up. I’m not getting up until it’s warm in here. Two clicks, Cyrus. I taught you how to do that. Two clicks to the right. Go!” Cyrus leaped off the bed and immediately ran out to the hallway, where he hopped up on the bench under the thermostat and looked at it. He brought his paw up, gave the button a smack, waited for the click, then hit it once more. His bark was pure joy as he spun around, jumped off the bench, and enthusiastically raced back to the bed, where he took a flying leap and landed smack in the middle of Jack’s chest. Then they tussled for a few minutes, the way they always did when Nikki was away. Jack wrapped his arms around the big dog and whispered, “Merry Christmas, big guy. Thanks for waking me up. We gotta get that turkey in the oven. C’mon, I’ll let you out before I take my shower. Last one to the door stinks!” Cyrus was off like a shot, while Jack shuffled in his bare feet into the hall, then down the stairs and out to the kitchen, where Cyrus was barking frantically.
“I see it, Cyrus, I see it,” Jack said as he eyed the mountain of fresh snow that had fallen during the night. “Okay, in and out, and you can do the rest later.”
In seconds, Jack had the coffeepot going. He struggled with the huge turkey and set it in the sink. He turned on the oven just as Cyrus rang the back doorbell to get in. The shepherd shook off the snow and saw Jack looking at the water puddling on the floor. He trotted into the laundry room and dragged a towel out of the laundry basket and dropped it at Jack’s feet. “Oh, no. Your mess, you clean it up,” Jack yelled over his shoulder as he raced up the stairs to take his scalding-hot shower.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Cyrus looked at the towel and considered the puddle on the floor for almost a half minute. Then he let loose with a shrill bark, turned around, and raced up the stairs, as much as to say,
that’s not my job
Twenty minutes later, Jack was shaved, dressed, and ready to take on Christmas Day without his wife, for the first time in their marriage. He allowed himself a few minutes to contemplate what he was feeling before he patted Cyrus, his other true love, on the head and made his way down the stairs to start what he hoped would be a wonderful memory for his mental scrapbook.
Jack turned on the lights of the Christmas tree and smiled. He turned on the Bose sound system and was rewarded with what he knew would be twenty-four hours of Christmas music. After listening to Bing Crosby singing Irving Berlin’s immortal “White Christmas,” he let loose with a heavy sigh. Today would be whatever he made of it, no more, no less.
In the kitchen, Jack poured coffee, fished a yogurt out of the fridge, toasted a bagel, then sat down, his eye on the towel and the puddle. Cyrus, having come downstairs after Jack and quietly entered the kitchen, was dancing around the towel. “You want to eat, clean up your mess. You know the rules, Cyrus. Nothing is free in this world.”
Jack thought he heard the big dog sigh as he dragged the towel across the floor, back and forth. He barked again, this time shrilly, as much as to say,
this is as good as it’s gonna get
. He dragged the towel back to the laundry room just as Jack opened the fridge to get out his food, which he warmed in the microwave oven. He was glad now that he had taken the heaped-up to-go plate the young pastor had insisted on when they left the parish house earlier in the morning.
“Merry Christmas, world,” Jack muttered to himself as he walked over to the kitchen door to view the winter wonderland into which his backyard had been transformed. A white Christmas. It didn’t get any better than that, now did it? If only Nikki were here to share it with him. If only.
Don’t go there, Jack
, he cautioned himself.
Not today. Today is . . . is . . . whatever I damn well make it.
Jack smacked his hands together to get himself in the mood, then turned up the volume on the Bose. Sound invaded the house. “Now, that’s more like it!” he said to his empty kitchen. He eyed the monster turkey and vowed out loud, to his still-empty kitchen, to make the bird as delicious and succulent as one the long-absent Charles Martin would have prepared. But first he had to build a fire to complete the ambiance.
While he waited for the logs to catch, along with the kindling, Jack looked at the pile of presents he had so painstakingly shopped for and wrapped. They were definitely not up to Nikki’s standards when it came to exquisite wrappings, but if intent counted, he’d aced that chore. Nikki’s present was in the drawer of the china cabinet and would remain there until she came home. He’d found it by chance one day in a little shop on a narrow side street in Georgetown and immediately scooped it up because it screamed Nikki’s name. From the time she was a little girl, Nikki had collected unicorns, and this particular one was not in her collection. He knew she would love it on sight. He’d also gotten her a pair of pearl earrings with a diamond bevel that he knew she would like. Nikki, like her mother, Myra, was into pearls in a big way. He smiled at the thought.
Once the fire was blazing to his satisfaction, he took one more long look at the beautiful tree, inhaled the tantalizing scent, then made his way to the kitchen, where he got his Christmas dinner under way. He decided to set the table with Nikki’s favorite china before going outside and using the snowblower to clear a path for his dinner guests. The turkey would go into the oven later so that it would not have a chance to dry out before being served.
Christmas Day.
Jack’s guests started to arrive a little before three o’clock, each of them carrying shopping bags full of presents. Dinner was scheduled for five o’clock since the huge turkey had not been put into the oven until eleven o’clock. No one minded the late dinner hour. It gave them all time to sit around the fire, and enjoy the canapés courtesy of Ding at the Bagel Emporium and the rich eggnog Jack had picked up at the local deli. Any discussion of last night’s activities, by mutual agreement, would have to wait till after dinner. And only if anyone wanted to talk about it.
The only missing guests were Yoko and Lily, who Harry said were sick. Yoko had been fighting a cold that had turned into bronchitis, then little Lily had come down with the same thing. A visit to the medical center, shots, meds, and plenty of fluids plus sleep were called for. The doctor had told Harry they would sleep around the clock, so he felt comfortable enough to come for dinner. Besides, he said, Yoko didn’t want him fussing and fretting over her and Lily. Cooper fussed enough. No one, not even Harry, crossed Yoko, and here he was. “But,” he had said, “after we clean up from dinner, I’m outta here.”
“So,” Jack said, “should we do the presents before dinner or after dinner?”
“Let’s do them now since Harry has to leave after dinner,” Espinosa said. They all agreed, and it was Dennis who handed out the presents. They all laughed and smiled, poked one another at the thoughtful, silly, practical gifts everyone had shopped for. Even Cyrus had a pile that he pawed over, licked, then stashed in his basket of treasures.
The gang thanked one another, clapped backs, and hugged and kissed cheeks with Maggie doing the kissing. If there was a pall on the little group since this was so unlike Christmases in the past, it was hard to see. Life had to go on, as Ted put it, and there would be other Christmases, and this one was special because they were all together and not spending this special day alone.
They shared stories of their childhood Christmas mornings, teenage Christmas mornings, and their favorite adult Christmas mornings until they all knew everything there was to know about one another.
And then it was time to get dinner on the table. They fell to it, getting in one another’s way and laughing as they squabbled over the seating arrangements, and looked for the carving knife Jack said was somewhere but couldn’t be found. In the end, he carved the big bird with a steak knife, and no one cared.
Grace was said by Harry. Heads bowed and words whispered. Cyrus, his paws on Jack’s chair, lowered his big head and whimpered, his sign that he got what was going on. Then he barked, which obviously meant,
let’s eat
. They all laughed as Jack set down Cyrus’s special Christmas bowl, which was loaded with chicken instead of turkey, and everything else the others were eating.
The compliments flowed, to Jack’s amazement, because they sounded so genuine. Maggie said she thought his turkey was better than the one Charles had made for the previous year’s Thanksgiving dinner, which gave everyone pause for thought, but the somewhat uncomfortable silence, as everyone thought about that tumultuous day, lasted for only a moment.
Jack’s plum pudding didn’t garner any rave reviews, but they all agreed it was edible. Cyrus passed on it. Jack was not offended, saying it was his first-ever effort at plum pudding. No one complained, and they all applauded Jack’s bravery.
Abner, with Dennis’s help, served the coffee from Nikki’s heirloom pot.
“This was an excellent dinner, Jack,” Ted said. “Thanks for inviting us.”
“Now can we talk about last night?” Dennis asked.
“Sure, kid, what do you want to talk about?” Ted asked.
Dennis had finally given up getting upset about being called a kid. He’d decided, with Harry’s input, that he needed to accept it as a term of endearment, which he had come to do.
“Like what happened to the Sandfords and that guy Lionel. I’d like to know.”
“Well now, Dennis, here’s the thing: When a mission is over, it’s over. We just walk away and let things happen as they will. We absolutely do not, as in never ever, ask questions. Once we have done our part, the exfiltration is something to be left to others. In other words, last night never happened. End of story,” Ted said.
“Yeah, well, how do we know it’s really the end of the story?” Dennis persisted.
“Because Ted said it was,” Jack snapped. “We have moved on. Tomorrow, we meet up in the office, ten sharp, so we can get started on Nik’s class-action suit. We need to move fast on that. I want my wife back, and Espinosa wants Alexis back. So if any of you have any after-Christmas plans, forget about them. We are going to need to pull out all the stops and take down the guys whose greed started the whole mess. Just so you know, we’re going to split into two teams, so we can handle both of those cases. The third one Nik’s firm can handle on its own. We work solely on the leukemia drug and the dog-food-processing plant. It is not going to be a walk in the park, I can tell you that right now. We are going to need this to be airtight, no screwups, and above all, absolute, total secrecy. No whistle-blowing on this one; no reports in our esteemed
Washington Post
BOOK: Take Down (The Men of the Sisterhood)
5.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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