Buried secrets never stay hidden. They take root and spread through the soil. In time, the lies breach the surface and the slender stems creep along the earth, climb and entangle with first solid thing it encounters.
Secrets bind people.
Agitate the mind.
Love is the same.
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The skyline punctured the wide-open sky, not a single cloud drifted above Manhattan. The city bloomed into a fresh season but Isla stood outside and inhaled the whiff of karma. People weaved around her along the sidewalk as she tipped her head back and followed the tower of granite and glass. Straight from the airport, her leather tote was packed for a quick jaunt to Sutton territory.
Isla pushed through the revolving door, entering into a lobby with the modern sophistication of white walls with abstract art and hand blown colored sconces. Behind a stainless steel desk was stationed a uniformed guard. He backed up against an encased wall of cascading vibrant turquoise water.
She approached the man who looked like a retired bodybuilder. “I’m here to see, Martin Sutton.”
“Isla Pierce. What happened to Donovan?”
He handed her a small key, ignored her question, and instructed her to enter the elevator on the left then insert the key above the number pad in the elevator. Not her first rodeo, she thought, though the penthouse visit was new.
“No funny business. I’ll be watching you. Give the key back to Mr. Sutton.”
Isla winked. “Got it, Mr. T.”
“You know, the A-Team…I pity the fool. You have the mohawk, and—and the chains.”
With a grunt he pointed over his shoulder.
“All right, I’m going.” She turned her back. “Donovan had a sense of humor.” Isla spoke under breath.
The glass lobby swarmed with suits. A handful of men and women stepped on and off the elevators. In the corner, a tall brunette spit obscenities into her phone while her heel tapped against the marble.
Midtown was all business, as was she.
Isla stepped onto the elevator, along with two others. She cleared her throat and inserted the key. A bell chimed but a number never lit up. Isla removed the key, held it tight in her fist, and glanced at the man and lady.
Their eyes adverted hers. Isla gathered her curtain of thick dark golden brown hair and twisted it up on the top of her head. It was lovingly named the “bitch bun” by her friends. She checked out the perfectly put together woman. Isla was never a pencil skirt, silk blouse type of girl. Only when forced would she slip on heels and her mother’s diamond earrings.
The gears whined and grinded after each floor; the woman was the first to scurry out. The man remained silent and stared at his shoes until the elevator slowed and stopped on his floor. Gripping his briefcase against his chest like a shield, he sidestepped off. The corners of her lips lifted. She punched a guy in the gut for accidentally touching her ass in the elevator and now the entire building was afraid of her.
The cables tugged higher, a dash flashed on the panel. Martin had been holed up in his office for weeks, or so he had city officials believe. His family was in shambles, and he was stirring the family pot, upsetting investors and shareholders. Martin—the loose cannon—needed to stop taking pages from his spoiled daughter’s book.
The elevator dipped and halted. With a loud clang, the doors slid open. Isla cringed and stood transfixed on the row of buck, elk, and wolf heads mounted above a gathering of rich leather club chairs. The soles of her boots left the confines of the elevator and stepped into an urban hunting lodge. The woodsy aroma flowed about the room with notes of patchouli and cedar as the masculine bouquet clung to Isla’s skin.
Typically when she met Martin it was in his office fourteen floors below. It was sparse in contrast. A filing cabinet here and there, it was filled with standard office furniture, dark rugs, and a coffee maker in the corner near the receptionist desk. How many knew of his secret penthouse lodge? Probably not many, including the officials who would love nothing more than to toss him in prison for numerous allegations the State’s attorney couldn’t back up.
The windows were covered with sliding wood panels. The room of stone and varnish was illuminated by a chandelier of antlers and shaded lamps. Isla stepped closer to his animal trophies; she saw her distorted reflection in their black eyes.
“Breathtaking, are they not?”
She whirled around. “Not the word I would choose.”
“I hunted each one of these beauties.”
“Not an honorary member of PETA?”
Martin held out his hand. “No, but I’m sensing you must be.”
Isla laid the key in the palm of his hand and looked over at the stuffed and displayed animals. “I enjoy a juicy rib eye like any other carnivore. I’m just not particular to mounting the cast of The Jungle Book up on my walls.”
Martin laughed, his tenor deep and hearty. If Isla closed her eyes, she’d envision a man with a heftier waist and trousers nestled just below his man boobs, not the man before her. Well-groomed in a black suit, Martin’s crown of ash was combed to perfection. He flashed his gleaming veneers at her and motioned to the closest chair. Isla sunk into the cool leather cushion and lowered her tote beside her feet. Martin unbuttoned his suit jacket and sat down across from her.
“What happened to Donovan?”
“Fired after your little altercation in the elevator. He smashed in Mr. Gibbs’ rear window with a fire extinguisher.”
“Too bad, I liked him.”
“How rude of me. Would you care for coffee or water, Isla?”
“No, thank you. Why are making threats against the families?”
“Skipping the pleasantries? I like that.”
Isla raised her eyebrow. “You aren’t going to like this.”
“No. Why are you stirring up problems?”
Martin rose from his seat and crossed the room to an alcove of vintage booze and crystal. Ice cubes clanked inside the glass. “I attempted to contact you a few weeks ago but you were nowhere to be found. I don’t even think Reed knew your whereabouts.”
“I didn’t realize you cared. I’m touched.”
Martin poured the liquor into his glass. “I care for my family, especially my daughter, and I found her arrest coincidental. I was struck by curiosity. Would Isla know anything about it and, if so, could she and I come to some type of an agreement?”
“She pleads the fifth.”
“Is that how we’re going to play this? You started this tit-for-tat game.”
Fire licked Isla’s veins. “Are you five? Do you need a timeout like Mia?”
Martin’s face flushed red and she didn’t care. His tantrums were annoying and they had been at each other for some time but in the end, Isla would win. “I came here to discuss the territories—”
“Ellis sent you to do his bidding. How noble. Or perhaps you volunteered to impress your displeased husband. Is that it?”
She shot up from the chair ignoring his jab. “What do you want with the Jupiter territory?”
Martin tipped his drink back and lowered the empty glass. “I have every right to a piece. I’m an investor in multiple properties—”
“Properties which were foreclosed. Properties you were unable to unload. Properties you invested in without the vote. Sounds like a personal problem me.”
“My name is just as important as Ellis’ or any of the families.” He said with a snarl.
“Maybe a decade ago, but the DA is on a mission to desecrate the Suttons and, at last check, you’re untrustworthy. Zagotta over in Detroit wants you dead as does a few others I’m sure.” Isla stuck her bottom lip out. “Sad for you.”
“You will make Ellis see. You will convince him of my loyalty and my justification. Besides, he’s incorporating a new city. I know the area. I can return to Florida.”
Martin’s voice shook a bit. Giovanni “Vinny” Zagotta’s name did that people. He wasn’t like the white collars; he was straight on street thug who was a phantom to police. Cross Vinny and a person’s days were numbered.
Isla barked out a laugh. “Why in the world would I help you? You got in bed with the wrong guy. The drug trade isn’t for everyone, and now your daughter is a coke head spending some quality time with Big Mavis.”
“I’ll expose you, your clientele, and the millions you’ve stolen. Do you know what torture techniques the Columbians would use on you? I know all about Ellis’ pet.”
Her pulse tightened. “Traipsing down the blackmail road, are we?” Isla knelt to pick up her bag, but was met by polished leather shoes. “Get off.” She yanked on the strap, tipping Martin off balance, and hoisted herself up. He intimidated most of humanity — or those without spines. Isla wasn’t one of them.
“You aren’t some badass hacker chick.”
“You’re right. I’m worse.” Her jaw tensed. “What pisses you off more? Ellis trusting me more than your incarcerated, cocaine-addicted daughter, or the possibility of Reed gaining a controlling interest within the company and being appointed over the Jupiter territory?”
Martin leaned closer to her with a smirk. “You’re damaged goods. I know it, and you know it. You’re out of your depth little girl. Your time is thinning within the family.”
Isla’s heart roared in her ears. She wanted more than anything to knock Martin’s teeth down his throat, but it wasn’t her purpose for visiting. Not this time, anyway. She walked away and pressed the metallic button. His threats didn’t scare her; they infused her blood with conviction.
“War and death will come to your city. I am not one to trifle with,” he yelled from behind her.
“Neither am I,” she said through her teeth.
Martin’s cold glare ground a hole into the back of her head, his evil, dark presence hovering around her. It was a presence she knew well. She had escaped Ronan Walker’s sick, radical lunacy with the taste of blood still in her mouth.
In a heap her clothes laid next to his feet.
Quivered limbs lifted Isla. Satin sheets slipped beneath her, and her elbows and knees sunk into the mattress. The snap of leather stole breath from Isla’s lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut.
His warning reverberated the bedroom. Isla braced for the first lash.
Isla prayed for it to be over. Begged God to make it quick.
It never was.
The sting lasted for hours, sometimes days. Ronan preached to her about obedience; choking her with scripture and shouting Delilah as he disciplined her. Isla loathed herself.
How could she allow her grandmother’s husband to abuse her over and over again? It wasn’t her. She was strong and resilient, but Ronan had a perverse power over her.
Leather sliced her flesh.
She bit down hard on her bottom lip. Tears and saliva dripped onto the sheets. Her punishment carried on. Isla’s muscles weakened with each lashing. Isla smelled blood thick within the air, and she tasted it in the back of her throat.
She screamed. Her spine curved at the new wounds. The mattress dipped. Isla sobbed as he ran his stubble over the gashes. Her fingers dug into the sheets. Death, come to me.
Amazon Best Selling Author
Andrea Johnson Beck was born in Sioux City, Iowa. From a young age, she enjoyed telling stories. Many her dad recorded. Writing was her creative outlet and at 10-years-old, her first poem was published in an anthology. Always curious, Andrea read and watched what was considered risqué in the 80's and early 90's, such as, books by VC Andrews. Dirty Dancing and Top Gun (snuck downstairs) raised questions and were brought to her parents for clarification. Understanding their daughter's need for answers, they always replied truthfully.
Her curiosity and rebellious disposition has carried on. Andrea credits the strong woman in her life who guided her through difficult times. That and writing. Blogging about her marriage, her quirky son, and homeschooling helped her connect with others around the world.
Life on Awesome Street is a shared website between Andrea and Logan. Most topics revolve around homeschooling, the autism spectrum, and mom humor. She's a columnist for Home & School Mosaics. In the past she has written for In-Depth Genealogist and Home Educating Family.
In 2012, Andrea self-published her debut novel, Deadly Deception. A year later, the book was acquired by Montlake Romance and re-released in October of 2013. Deadly Deception hit #4 on the Amazon Best Seller List in overall paid fiction in the Kindle Store, it was right behind the Divergent Trilogy. Her second novel, Deadly Revelation, released April of 2014 and was #1 in Organized Crime and Crime Fiction and continues to hold a spot in those categories.
Andrea and her son collaborated and released a short story, Hush, Mary in October of 2014. Also, the mom and son duo are writing homeschool and autism spectrum books together. Over the years, Logan has impacted and inspired many with his own personal stories of how he accepted and embraced his quirkiness.
Andrea lives in North Carolina with her husband Phil, son, and their deaf dog, Bear. Sarcasm is the oxygen they breathe, as is love and humor.
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