Read Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel Online

Authors: Elizabeth Bemis

Tags: #Mail Order Bride, #FBI, #military, #Police

Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel (8 page)

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
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Directly on top of his thumbnail.

He spun around to face her, realizing microseconds into the turn that it had been a really, really bad idea.

He went down like the Hindenburg, catching a glimpse of the concern on her face as he landed—not directly, but close enough—on his bad knee.

He groaned. Pain, humiliation, and anger churned through him as he tried to right himself, only to find Dana kneeling beside him.

“You hurt?” she asked, methodically checking him over, running her hands down his arms and legs. She seemed to know what she was doing.
Is it possible she has medical training?

He knew absolutely nothing about this woman.

He brushed her hands away. “I’m fine,” he said more gruffly than he’d intended.

Deck struggled to sit up, wincing as a sharp pain stabbed down his leg. Having made it to his elbows, he took a deep breath, held it for a second, then let it go in an exhausted whoosh, hoping to find enough determination to pry himself the rest of the way off the floor. “Just let me catch my breath for a second.”

He didn’t know if she understood him or not, but it was probably too much to hope for that she would sit beside him and wait quietly.

She moved closer, sliding one leg behind him, the other parallel to his side, and helped him ease back, his head pillowed on her thigh.

She touched the side of his face.

Sweet, merciful God.

No one had touched him in a thousand years. The coolness of her fingers against the side of his head felt impossibly good. He barely stifled a whimper.

Deck closed his eyes. He knew he should pull back before she realized how much her touch affected him. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

She stroked his forehead as if brushing his hair out of his eyes, not that he had a hair on his head longer than a quarter of an inch. But it still felt like heaven. And to a man who’d been living in hell for the past year, a taste of heaven was terrifying.

Yet still, he didn’t pull away. He nuzzled into her palm as it swept down his cheek, calling himself every sort of fool. Opening his eyes, he made contact with the warm gingerbread depths of hers.


Jeste li u redu?
” she said, then shook her head, trying it again in English. “You okay?”

Deck nodded, one short jerk of his chin. He’d never felt better, really. Sure, his leg still throbbed, but it was nothing compared to the ache in his chest. He was taking advantage of her concern to abate his own need for physical contact.

And that realization gave him enough strength to pull away. To concentrate on the embarrassment of having fallen on his ass in front of her. To push away from the unbearably tender touch of her fingers in his hair, her soft thigh under his cheek, the light, tempting cloud of flowery scent given off by her hair, and the hopelessly sweet expression on her face, which turned to disappointment as he finally sat up and moved back.

Deck picked up the crutch next to him and wished he’d done his stunning swan dive closer to some piece of furniture that he could use to wrestle his body to an upright position. To have her watch him make the pathetic struggle to his feet was even worse than her having seen him go down.

Before he could do more than brace himself, Dana scrambled to a standing position and held out a hand to him. Having no other choice, he took it and let her pull him up.

Even if it did make him feel like a pitiful weakling.



Dana’s fingers still tingled from the gentle abrasion of Deck’s short hair against them. When she’d rushed to his side, she’d only meant to confirm that he hadn’t seriously hurt himself. Instead, she’d just had what might have been the most intimate encounter of her life.

She had a strong feeling that Deck didn’t often let anyone touch him. She couldn’t believe she’d been so bold as to nestle his head in her lap and touch him to her heart’s content.

Except she wasn’t feeling particularly content. She wanted…
more.

A lot more.

She wanted to see if his skin tasted as good as it smelled, and if his reciprocating touch would be gentle or urgent. She wanted to feel his lips on hers, his arms tight around her body, and his strong hands stroking her long-ignored skin.

For less than a second, she contemplated taking him down again and comforting him for her own gain. Of stretching out next to him and pressing the full length of her body against his and seeing if he would take things from there.

It was wrong, and she never would have done it.

But it was a thought that wouldn’t leave her alone.

“I help you,” she insisted. As much fun as it was to think about getting him on the floor again, she didn’t want to hurt him further, and she certainly didn’t have anything else to do. As accustomed as she was to going at top speed nineteen hours a day, two days of virtual inactivity were already driving her to inappropriate fantasies about her host and possible suspect.

He hesitated for a long moment. “I don’t really have much of a choice, unless I want to find myself in your lap again.”

He looked up at her, and Dana tried to school her features into a questioning, “Huh?” all while her heart was doing the Macarena in her chest.

Deck leaned down and lifted the edge of the white-painted trim, tilting it into place against the wall. “Hold this,” he said, indicating where she should put her hands.

“Tell me about yourself,” he said out of the blue.

“What do you want to know?”

“Do you have a family?” he asked.

“Family?”

“Brothers and sisters, mother, father? Family.”

She shook her head. No siblings. Her father’s actions had taken her mother from her, and a prison fight had taken him. Her grandparents, who’d raised her after her mother’s death had passed almost five years ago.

“No.” She gazed at his profile while he prepared to drive the first nail, several others sticking out the side of his mouth, caught between his lips.

“You have…family?” she asked slowly.

He shrugged. “Sort of.”

She thought that was the end of that. Then he started talking.

“My father died when I was in Iraq about five years ago. I have a brother who’s younger. My mom’s still alive, but we don’t speak.”

“Why not?”

“She lied to us all about something big.”

Dana gave him a blank smile while he hammered the trim into place, holding her breath and hoping he would continue.

“I haven’t talked to her since then. I hate it when people lie to me. Any lie.”

Dana felt the weight of the lies she’d already told him. Both explicitly and by omission. He was going to hate her when the truth came out. If he hadn’t spoken to his
mother
in five years, how quickly would he thrust her from his life?

Not that she was expecting their relationship to last past the point when Sherwood pulled her out of here.

The loss that thought brought was far more intense than she ever would have imagined.

“Have you ever been in love?” he asked.

“I think so at the time.” She shrugged. “Now? Maybe no.”

“I almost got married a few years ago. I was in the military and not home as much as she liked. She’d send these great emails and letters to me in the field. I thought everything was working out well. Then I found out she’d been seeing our neighbor the entire time I was gone.” He made a derisive snort. “I confronted her about it. Of course, she lied. But I’d seen the truth with my own eyes. And the neighborhood busybody was only too happy to fill me in on the details I hadn’t seen.”

She wondered why he was telling her all this. Was this really a get-to-know-you conversation, or was he trying to put her at ease so she’d spill the beans? While she’d proven him “wrong” about her travel, she still didn’t think he trusted her.

“Sometimes it’s just easier not to let anyone in, you know?”

Despite suspecting that he was directing this conversation for less than altruistic purposes, Dana’s heart ached for him. How many people had removed themselves—or been removed—from his life? His phone hadn’t rung once in the two days she’d been here. Was he truly all alone?

Unfortunately, she could all too easily imagine it. She had the people she worked with, but she’d only been here for several months. And there wasn’t anyone left from her days in D.C.

He looked over at Dana. “I guess one of the benefits to you not speaking much is that you can’t lie, eh?”

Dana’s stomach pitched wildly.

If only he knew.



Date unknown, early evening.

Somewhere in Southwestern, Ohio

The blood started dark red and diluted quickly to a pale pink as it swirled down the drain of the shower.

Anka Pierovich knew the cuts on the inside of her left thigh were infected. And now that she had scrubbed it out, the top one was bleeding again. She had no idea how much blood she had lost or even how much more blood she could lose. Already the edges of her vision were starting to fade.

It seemed stupid now, that she refused to let the man who stitched up the long shallow slices on her arm and across her abdomen to treat the even deeper slices high on her leg.

It had not mattered that he said he was a doctor and had surely seen many versions of the parts of her body she wished to hide. However, he had not seen
hers
.

From within the limited privacy of the even more limited bathroom, Anka inspected the inflamed lines in her skin. Bright pink lightning-bolt-shaped marks streaked away from the wound.

That could not be good.

Maybe she would die. That thought was almost comforting until she remembered the sweet, sweet face of Katja, her baby girl. She would be two years old in January.

Anka would do almost anything in the world for just one of her soft, baby-powder hugs.

Regret sliced through her. How could she have ever traded months of her daughter’s life on the hope for more financial stability?

She had to hang on. Eventually, the wound would heal. It had to. She could not die. Not like this. She just could
not.

Carefully, she began scrubbing the second cut, trying to clean out the infection. Tears streamed down her cheeks, mixing with the spray of the shower.

It hurt so badly, for a moment she thought she might be sick. She allowed herself to slide down the shower wall until she sat in the small tub.

It all seemed so hopeless.

She could not live through another episode like she had just endured.

Each one was getting worse.

After the first time, his use of her body was not as emotionally invasive. She could cut her brain off when it happened. It was just physical pain. Not as sharp as the knife slices. Not as heartbreaking as the first time. All he wanted was her fear, and she gave that to him. She could not have helped it if she had tried.

But Anka could be brave for only so long. She was not a brave person to begin with. If she were brave, she would not have fled Croatia for the United States. She would have stayed and made a life for herself and her daughter there in spite of the rocky economy and the mistakes of her past.

Or she could have worked harder with her very ill-suited near-groom. They had had nothing in common. He had been humorless and already had two children. He had not been interested in another. But maybe, if he had not sent her back, she might have been able to change his mind.

She had not yet given up hoping that she would be able to escape this place. The only window was glass block. In front of the window were five steel bars, the ends of which were buried in the concrete wall both above and below the inset window. She was trapped in a small room with a tiny, horrible bathroom and a small bedroom with a cot—not even a real bed.

She suspected she was in a basement. But since she could not see out the glass-block window except to know that it was day or night, she could not tell for certain. She had never heard anyone outside. She did not even have any warning when the man brought food twice a day until he opened the door.

She had been allowed to keep the clothes she had brought with her to the US, and the man sent them to a laundry service every week, possibly the one where she once worked.

This had been going on for months and months. She stopped yelling after the first week, when she had shouted herself hoarse. No one could hear her.

She thought she’d been so clever to put the paper with her name and number on it in Stana Novak’s coin purse.  She had nothing but lip liner to write with, and that was the only paper.  But if anyone had found the small slip of paper, it hadn’t led them to her.

Perhaps the man who fed her found it first. He was tall and broad. Dark olive skin, black hair, dark eyes. He never spoke. He never looked directly at her unless she moved. He trained a gun on her every time he came to her room. She didn’t think he could be overpowered. A reverse peephole in the door guaranteed he knew where she was in the room before he opened the door, so surprising him would be difficult.

But it was the only chance she had.

The hot water began to run out. She leaned forward far enough to turn the water off, not moving, just shivering on the floor of the tub.

Despair overtook her. She would be here until she died.

Until he killed her.

Chapter Eight

Monday, November 24—8:30 a.m.

Cincinnati FBI Field Office, Kenwood Neighborhood, Cincinnati, Ohio

“Could I speak to Nada or Jeff Wilson, please,” SAC Andrew Sherwood said into his phone, noting that his latest assistant—the third one this month—hovered in his doorway. He held up a finger indicating that he would be just a moment, and she scampered away.

“This is Nada,” said the heavily accented voice.

“Nada, this Special Agent Andrew Sherwood with the FBI. Do you have a moment?”

There was a gasp on the other end of the line as the woman called hysterically for her husband.
Crap.
Nada Wilson née Plavšić had left a particularly war-torn area of the country where half the town had been driven out or annihilated. Perhaps telling her that the Federal Government was on the phone
wasn’t
his smartest move. “Ma’am?” he asked. But Nada Wilson was still frantically speaking with her husband.

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
2.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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