Didi hankered for another cigarette as she drove, but resisted the urge. She’d already broken some unwritten law by lighting up with her twins in the car, and she’d just have to wait. Instead, she reached across the bench seat and opened the massive glove box, another place she kept props, then with one hand and an eye on the road, she scrounged around until she found an opened tin of Altoids. She popped two, hoping her breath would smell fresh for the upcoming meeting.
Her heart was pounding a million times a minute at that thought. Hands tight on the steering wheel, she gave herself an internal pep talk. “You can do this. You know you can. It’s for the best. For you. For the kids. For everyone.” But she blinked against an unexpected gush of tears and refused to let them fall from her eyes. Not only did she not want to appear weak to herself or to him, she didn’t want to ruin her so carefully applied makeup.
She checked the Caddy’s dash, noting the time. She couldn’t screw this up. Her next set started at ten, and she’d promised she would be there. And she would be. Nothing could go wrong. It just couldn’t. She stretched her fingers over the steering wheel, feeling them tense despite all her best intentions.
She’d been planning this night for months, ever since the midwife had given her the news that she’d be delivering twins. Not one baby, but two. Oh, Lord. She’d wanted to argue with Seneca, but the woman, who had some Jamaican blood in her, was a skilled midwife and nursemaid. Tall, elegant, with sly, watchful eyes, Seneca knew how to keep her mouth shut as well as help with the birthing and caring of babies without the inconvenience of hospitals full of staff and visitors with their watchful eyes and wagging tongues. Doctors, nurses, aides, and whoever else within the walls of even a private hospital would have been hard to buy off—there were just too many people involved—but Seneca, though not cheap, not by a long shot, could keep her mouth closed. Seneca’s tight lips, coupled with her skilled hands, made her well worth the trouble and expense, and even if Didi really couldn’t afford the midwife/nursemaid right now, she would soon be able to.
Didi might not be much of a celebrity, as she darned well should be, but right now she had to filter the publicity around her and make sure her secrets were secure. Or else her plan would backfire—and she couldn’t risk that. She had a future to think of. Not just for herself, but for her children. She hazarded another quick glance at the back seat, where her babies were cooing and gurgling. Little Adam and Ariel. Her throat grew thick, and she turned her eyes back to the road and searched for the spot where she would exit this strip of highway. Within minutes, she found the back road that dissolved into gravel and wound through the cholla and yucca before turning onto the broad expanse of Mojave. Her throat was tight and as dry as the dust that plumed from beneath the whitewalls of her Caddy as she tore past Joshua trees and followed the dirt bike and ATV tracks through the uneven desert.
One of the babies started to cry, and she let out a sigh. “Not now,” she said softly. “Please not now.” To distract herself, she turned on the radio again but didn’t even notice what was playing. It didn’t matter.
Her nerves were on edge, but in an hour, maybe less, this part of her plan would be over. And then . . . And then . . . ? Phase two.
“God help me,” she whispered, and despite her vows otherwise, she pressed in the lighter again and searched her bag for one more cigarette.
Stomping on the accelerator, Brett Hedges drove as if he were trying to outrun a damned avalanche. And he was. The storm of emotions roiling within him, propelling him, was chasing after him, nipping at his heels, threatening to swallow him with all its vengeful fury.
Just who the hell did Didi think she was?
Threatening to expose him and using a kid to do it?
A mental image of her beautiful face swam before his eyes. Sly green eyes, pouty slick lips, high cheekbones, and a naughty comehither smile that was part innocence and part pure sensual guilt. With a sexy, sassy attitude and a body to match, she’d lured him, teased him, and thrown out her proverbial bait, and he’d snapped it up, hook, line, and sinker.
The damned part of it was, he’d probably do it all over again, even knowing the consequences.
Maybe . . .
As dust spun from beneath the Mustang’s tires and the engine roared, he sped across the desert, the sinking sun at his back, the luminescent glow of Las Vegas deep into the horizon, the million stars in the clear, dark sky beginning to show. He drove steadily to the stupid meeting point that she’d insisted upon.
He’d told her he would drive to the city, have the meeting in a hotel room in one of the large casinos, but no. She wanted a face-toface in the middle of the damned Mojave Desert.She wanted a face-toface in the middle of the damned Mojave Desert.
It seemed over the top. Nearly insane.
Then again, Didi was nothing if not a drama queen, so here he was, racing across an uneven track of what couldn’t even be called a road, in the middle of the fucking Nevada desert. The back of his neck twinged, that same feeling that was always a warning, telling him he was making a big mistake, maybe a colossal or epic error in judgment, by agreeing to her demands.
For a second, he sneaked a peek at the passenger seat, where his briefcase lay. Inside: blood money. Next to it: his pistol. A Glock G-19. With fifteen rounds in the clip.
Just in case.
His back teeth ground together as bugs spattered his windshield and dust filled his nostrils.
Shit, shit, shit!
Pounding on the steering wheel with one curled fist, he thought of all kinds of scenarios, nasty ones, where he would put her in her place. His guts curled at the thought of paying that lying bitch, who, less than a year ago, was all wet lips and hot pussy, a woman who was, as it turned out, as crazy as she was sexy, as cunning as she was erotic, a woman he never should have touched, let alone slept with. Oh, hell, this was a mess, and he was right at the center of it.
But he wasn’t going down without a fight, he thought, as he heard the first cry of a lonesome coyote over the growl of the Mustang’s engine. Inside his somewhat battered briefcase, he had a little surprise for Didi. Some of the bills weren’t legit, but near-perfect forgeries, a fact she wouldn’t be able to discern until she’d really examined each bundle, all strapped neatly. Professionally. By the time she’d realized her mistake, it would be too late. She wouldn’t be able to go to the cops without selling herself down the river for attempting extortion and selling her own infant. He wasn’t sure about the laws, but what she was attempting was darned close to human trafficking in a way, even if he was the kid’s father.
Did it matter? No.
The upshot was that she would be cornered as well as broke.
He felt a grim satisfaction at that thought. Didi would get what she’d deserved, the con artist becoming the mark. It all had an ironic and gratifying ring to it, he thought, though the sprinkling of legitimate fifties and hundreds within the straps did bother him. A necessary cost of doing business.
He only wished he could be a fly on the wall when she finally discovered that the illicit tables had been effectively turned on her.
As he thought about that, he allowed himself a grin, and for the first time since he’d rented his car in LA, the warmth of the lowering sun was welcome against his back.
In the back of the Cadillac, Remmi fought nausea. The car was speeding, engine humming, and Didi didn’t seem to care as the tires hit rocks and potholes that caused it to bounce. The cargo space was beyond hot, the air stale, and Remmi held onto the grips on either side of the tight space, handholds made especially for Didi when she was hiding within this cramped space as part of her routine. Now the straps helped Remmi from hitting her head again and kept her body, even wedged as it was, from shifting and banging against the sides or ceiling. Her head still throbbed from the first time, and she couldn’t chance Didi hearing a suspicious noise, though that scenario seemed far-fetched right now as she was driving like a bat out of hell to a place only she knew. The longer the trip, the more woozy Remmi felt, and the more her fear mounted. Wherever Didi was taking her twins, it wasn’t a good spot, of that Remmi was certain.Wherever Didi was taking her twins, it wasn’t a good spot, of that Remmi was certain.
What if Didi was somehow plotting to get rid of Ariel and Adam? Remmi’s heart twisted, and she didn’t really believe it because she felt at some level her mother really did love her infants, even if they were fatherless, and once again, Didi Storm, aka Edwina Maria Hutchinson, was thrust into the role of single mother. She’d stuck by Remmi despite the lack of a husband; surely, she would do the same for the twins. Or would she? Hadn’t Didi taken extraordinary measures to hide her pregnancy, wearing tight girdles in the first few months, which, combined with her morning, afternoon, and night sickness, had kept her from showing, but then, when the two babies began gaining weight in utero, Didi had stopped working, claimed an illness shrouded in mystery, and quietly had her babies at home, with Seneca as midwife and Remmi as her aide. Remembering the birth, Remmi felt even more queasy. Afterward, when the two infants were breathing on their own, wailing and cleaned, their cords cut, the detritus of afterbirth and blood dispensed with, Remmi’s heart had soared at the wonder of birth and the creation of the perfect tiny humans, but during the protracted labor and birth itself, she’d nearly vomited.
Didi had taken to the twins, a boy and girl she’d quickly dubbed Adam and Ariel, but still she’d kept her secret, and Remmi had been advised to do the same. There had been the unspoken threat of some kind of illegality, possibly no official birth record for either child, and Didi had warned her daughter that the babies could be “taken away” and “put into foster care” or “put up for adoption,” all of which was probably BS, but Remmi had dutifully held her tongue.
And now this. A secret run through the desert in the Caddy, while dressed in her flashiest costume? It didn’t make any sense. Not only that, Remmi knew, somehow it wasn’t right, almost seemed sinister. But what was her mother’s plan? Remmi didn’t doubt that Didi had one, and she almost banged on the panel separating this tiny cranny from the back seat, but didn’t. If Didi realized her eldest daughter was stowed away and now a part of whatever plot she’d hatched, Didi would flip out and possibly even slap her again, so Remmi bit her tongue and tried to ignore the headache throbbing to the pulsing beat of some song Didi was listening to, the guitars and drums pounding through speakers mounted in the cargo space.
But as the beat thundered and the smell of cigarette smoke filled her space, the heat intense, Remmi almost gave up and pounded her fist on the panels. She was poised to do it when the music stopped suddenly and the car shifted, turning widely, still bouncing on the uneven terrain, slowing slightly. Whatever Didi was involved in, it was about to go down.
Remmi bit her lip, worried. And Didi was clearly nervous. She never smoked unless she was stressed to the max, at least not around the babies. Whatever this was, it was bad, bad, bad.
Maybe she should reveal herself.
What if something really bad was about to happen?
She’d told herself that Didi wouldn’t do anything to put her babies, her specially equipped monster of a car, and her own self at risk, but what did Remmi know? Didi was nothing if not theatrical, and though she seemed very inclined to save her own skin, she’d been acting weird lately, ever since the birth of the twins. And now she was lighting up again, a sure sign that she was anxious. Yeah, Didi smoked, but not one after another, and the set of her jaw, the little worry lines near the corners of her glossy lips, visible in the mirror, were indications of just how serious this all was.
Remmi started hyperventilating and told herself to calm down, that everything was going to be fine, that Didi had been in more than her share of scrapes and had always landed on her feet. Hopefully this time would be the same.
From LIAR, LIAR. Used with the permission of the publisher, KENSINGTON. Copyright © 2018 by LISA JACKSON.