Authors: Alison Kent
Smithson Group, book 10
A land without ruins is a land without memories—a land without memories is a land without history.
—Abram Joseph Ryan, American poet, 1838–1886
They say this about the land. It owns a man. Heart, soul, and body, all the way to the bone. It breaks backs and bank accounts, reduces dreams to dust. It seduces skillfully, a demanding mistress, draining, mesmerizing, keeping promises only when the mood strikes.
And that owning? That hold? It can cause a man to do things he never would if he understood, if he cared about or considered the impact of his actions, if he knew who he was hurting and looked beyond the riches the land surrendered, to the value of human life.
This is the only explanation I can think of for what I’ve discovered. The details cannot be shared before I determine the implications. If I fail, if I’m found out, there will be little chance of anyone ever knowing the truth.
I can’t let that happen. I can’t let him get away with destroying the lives of those standing in his way. I can’t let him live out his days without making amends, without paying restitution, without admitting to his crimes.
I t was the perfect bedroom.
Truly it was.
The bed was queen size, the sand-colored sheets one-thousand-thread-count Egyptian cotton, the coverlet chocolate
the duvet imprinted with a scrollwork pattern in ebony and brown.
The nightstands and wardrobe, headboard, footboard, and five-drawer chest were hardwood solids, the cherry and walnut veneer inlaid with Italian marble. The lamps were urns of Venetian bronze with shades the same ivory as the handwoven rug of wool and rich silk.
The jewelry chest on the mirrored vanity held her signature onyx pieces—including the glossy ebony disk surrounded by lemon quartz and mustard-yellow petal pearls designed for her to wear at the Tonys. The photos had been splashed all over the Web. She’d never worn the piece again.
A social secretary handled all of her appointments, from luncheons to charity events to spas, nails, and hair. An executive assistant took care of her financial, legal, and business obligations. The two women shared an office on the first floor of the five-story prewar in TriBeCa, leaving her to her personal space on the third.
It was the perfect bedroom.
Truly it was.
Or it would have been had Michelina Ferrer not been thirty years old, sti
l sleeping in her father’s house, and sleeping there alone.
She slid from her perch on the end of the bed to sit on the floor, missing the rug completely and hitting the cold hardwood. Her purse followed, a plop of crushed leather at her hip. The contents tumbled out.
She groaned—not at that mess but at the other one she’d made before catching a cab to come home. Oh, but she was so not looking forward to the celebrity photos section of tomorrow’s “Page Six.”
What had she been thinking, ditching her underpants while at Slick Velvet and dancing bare-assed on the raised platform like some sixties go-go girl? Okay, she knew what she’d been thinking, but still.
She wasn’t a pop star shaving her head and looking to shock the media into remembering her glory days.
She wasn’t a celebutante seeking headlines through sex videos, music videos, DUIs, and reality TV.
She wasn’t an actor feeding her drama queen need for publicity through breakdowns and rehab, fan sympathy, and peer critique.
She was the public face of and the spokesmodel for the family business, Ferrer Fragrances.
She was also her father’s sole heir.
Micky dropped her head against the mattress, closing her eyes and fighting the need to weep. Papi was going to kil
her when he saw tomorrow’s edition of the Post. And he would see it. Greta would make sure of that.
Greta always made Papi aware of his “little Micky Mousey’s” stunts—and for one simple reason. It was Greta’s opinion that Micky had no business representing the Ferrer name across the globe.
Right now, at four a.m., on a Tuesday in April, more drunk than not, her butt sticking to the floor, her pedicure scuffed all to hell, Micky wasn’t so sure the other woman wasn’t right.
It wasn’t that Greta wanted the job for herself, or even had anyone else in mind. She’d been Papi’s personal assistant for fourteen years, and she made no bones about putting Ferrer’s corporate interests above the family’s.
Of the two women, Greta was the one with her priorities in order, her head on straight. But then Greta wasn’t the one looking at a future with a man of Papi’s choosing, a man she didn’t even know.
It didn’t matter what Micky was facing. Her streak of admittedly bad and selfdestructive behavior had to stop, and stop now. This recent old-school, arranged-marriage trigger aside, she didn’t know where it had come from, this manic desperation. She didn’t know what was going on with her. She did know this wasn’t like her, wasn’t who she was.
She never had been one to act out or throw tantrums. She’d only had to ask for what she wanted. It had always been that simple for Edoardo Ettore Ferrer’s daughter, his
“little Micky Mousey.”
Either she didn’t know what she was searching for, or worse. It was something she had no business thinking about, being in the position she was.
Whatever. She couldn’t deal tonight, this morning. She’d had too many margarita martinis—like that was a good idea? Not her drinking them, just the mix of the two cocktails.
And with a gummy worm for garnish? She smacked her tongue to the roof of her mouth and tasted sour lemon and other things she couldn’t place that quite frightened her.
She reached for her purse and began gathering the spilled contents, contents that included her thong. She groaned, hooking the scrap of fabric with one finger and twirling it around before flinging it across the room.
God, but she wished she was more drunk so she could remember less of the night, or less drunk so she could remember more. As it was, she was gong to need her own copy of the paper to separate the brutal reality from the vodka-tequila haze. No doubt Greta would be happy to provide her one to read at the breakfast table while Papi read his….
Micky groaned again. She couldn’t face him. She just couldn’t. She’d seen the disappointment in his face too many times this last year as she’d strained against some weird boundary that had begun to constrict her.
What she needed was to blow off work and her shrink and spend a long weekend watching al
six seasons of Sex and the City on DVD with Lisa, gorging on kettle corn and room-temperature Coke the way they had the last time her girlfriend had been in Manhattan.
When was that? Two years ago? Three? How had she let herself lose touch with someone who’d been such an important part of her life? Could it be because Micky herself had turned into a person she was really beginning to dislike?
Lisa Weston—now Lisa Landry—had stepped between Micky and a horny frat boy their first year at school, and the two women had been BFF—best friends forever—from that very day, even though Lisa later left college to marry a deputy sheriff down in Cajun country, abandoning Micky to the clutches of Greta and Papi and all the beautiful people Micky didn’t care to know.
Poor little rich girl. All alone in her ivory tower. Making a mess of her attempts to escape. Wait. That’s what she’d do! Escape! She’d take the Coke and the kettle corn down to Louisiana.
Lisa had written just recently; Micky dumped her purse again and found the envelope she’d tucked inside after reading about Lisa’s family keeping her out of some loop. Some friend she was, not even checking back to see if the other woman was okay. Enough with the destructive behavior. Lisa would help her get her act together, and then Micky would make sure the Landrys understood that Lisa was a jewel and worth more than they obviously knew.
Drinking and driving was out of the question, but she was sober enough to dial. First she had to pack a few things. No, she decided, pushing up from the floor. Packing would take too long, though putting on her underpants wouldn’t.
She had her credit cards, her cell phone, and the envelope with Lisa’s address. She could get what she needed once she reached…She frowned, unfolded the envelope. Once she reached Bayou Allain.
H e was going to go.
His mind was made up.
He’d been putting it off for too long.
Standing at the window outside the wal
of servers that hid the guts of the Smithson Group’s ops center, Simon Baptiste stared across Manhattan toward the southwest and thought of Louisiana and Bayou Allain.
He hadn’t been back in years. The realization that he had business there left dangling was making him restless, jumpy, irritable, like he’d popped back a handful of pil s and been slammed with the backwash.
He’d joined the army at eighteen, boarded the bus for boot camp, and kissed the bayou country good-bye. That didn’t mean the flavor wasn’t stil
strong in his blood. Like his mother, he’d been born in that land of cypress trees and accordions, of alligators and boudin and swamps.
He’d seen a whole lot of the rest of the world since leaving the Gulf Coast. Twenty years had gone by, and he’d done as much traveling since his discharge as during his three tours. But other than going where Hank Smithson sent him these days, he was al
about sticking close to home.
A studio on the Lower East Side had been his crash pad since joining the SG-5 team. He’d figured it would be easier to stick close to headquarters than fly in and out the way Mick Savin did from West Texas, or the way Ezra Moore did from the Florida Keys. The place was small, but it was all he needed, and lately, for weeks longer than was good for any man, he’d needed it a lot, holing up like an injured animal, tending his wounds in tight quarters, feeling safer in those few hundred square feet than he could in a larger town house or loft with too much exposed space, too much room to roam. The bil
board had helped.
It had gone up a month ago. He’d gotten used to kicking
back on his small patio and tell
ing the woman in the fragrance ad—Ferrer’s Adria—about his day, giving her the rundown of what he had to do the next, where Hank was sending him, who the bad guys were this time.
She would smile, looking like all kinds of hot, listening to every word he said as if she couldn’t wait for him to shut the hell up and take her to bed. She’d only started talking back when he’d been too drunk to stop her.
After the shit hit the fan on his last SG-5 assignment, he’d stayed that way for a week, her nagging voice ringing in his ears—or so he’d thought until Hank had quit the buzzer and started knocking instead.
Hank had told him it was fine to take a break and wallow, but he needed to be sober while he did. Not that Hank was wrong, but Simon had been the one walking in those particular shoes, the one to see the advantage in the bottle. Speaking of Hank and shoes…Simon heard the older man’s footsteps behind him only seconds before a meaty hand clamped down on his shoulder.
Hank moved to stand at Simon’s side, staring with him at the financial district and the human ants on the sidewalk below. “When you just say mornin’ like that? It leaves a man to wonder whether it’s a good one, or whether the day has started off so wrong it’ll never get back to bein’ right.”
Simon chuckled under his breath. “It’s good enough; thanks for asking. I’ve just got something that needs doing that I’m not looking forward to.”
He handed Hank the envelope that had hit his box after a series of forwards and courier drops; he liked that no one knew where he was other than those he wanted to know.
And then Simon waited while the man who had given him back his life took a look at the past Simon had hoped would resolve itself if he ignored it long enough. Twenty years spent ignoring the property he owned but never wanted had accomplished nothing. The time had come to cowboy up, to get his affairs in order. He needed to see to the land. But of a higher priority was his need to make whatever peace he could with his cousin. After all, King was the only blood family he still had. Hank scanned the documents inside that had come from Savoy Realty and included the property tax bills, the management company’s maintenance records, the current appraisal and geological survey, the rental history that was out of date and sorely lacking in detail.