Tess McDonald has a score to settle. It was she who set into motion a series of events that caused the murders of two adversaries. Tess even turned complete strangers, Kim Sheppard and Nikki Perez, into partners of a deadly crime. With life good now that their nemeses are out of the way, they celebrate. But not for long. On the night that the three women reunite, Tess receives a phone call that has the potential to ruin everything that she has put in place. Vincent, the one man that Tess would have changed her life for, has found her and her cohorts and he knowseverything. She agrees to meet him with the intention of silencing him for good. But Tess is shocked when Vincent asks her to leave with him and put her criminal past behind her. However, Kim and Nikki aren't about to let her go so easily.
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St. Martin's Press
December 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Wicked Ways by Donna Hill
KILLING VINCENT WASN'T PART of her plan. He should have stayed in New York and left well enough alone. He shouldn't have contacted her--told her that he knew everything--told her that he would not allow her to continue hurting people.
Vincent. Damn you.
Tess McDonald's pulse beat a little faster. She'd been in love with Vincent, and if she really thought about it, she still was, at least as much as she allowed herself to love anyone. That made what she had to do so much more difficult. However, she didn't live in the kind of world where love was an option. Allowing feelings to enter into her life resulted in this--a rendezvous with murder.
Tess eased her rented white sports car along the dark narrow roads. A light drizzle fell onto the windshield. The full moon's iridescent light flashed from behind the tops of swaying palm trees.
She'd come to Aruba not only to recover from months of tension, anxiety, and murders, but also to reestablish her business. For more than a decade she'd been the highest paid and most influential madam on the East Coast.
A rueful smile tugged the corners of her full mouth. She'd worked hard to assemble her elite stable of women and develop her powerhouse clientele list. She'd had a multimillion-dollar business, and Tess intended to reclaim it here in Aruba. Her former clients included everyone from Fortune 500 CEOs to politicians and judges. The key to her long-standing success was discretion, for which she'd been well compensated.
Life had been good--until Tracy got too close. That her own sister had been the catalyst for the demise of her business was unfortunate, to say the least. Tracy's zeal as an assistant district attorney for New York City--always on the side of justice, law, and order--led directly to her death. Life was full of ironic twists, wasn't it?
Tess would never forget the night of the newscast that detailed the gunning down of Assistant DA Tracy Alexander. Her sister. Dead.
Now Tess was once again on the precipice of loss. It's always those closest to you that brought the most harm, she mused, navigating the gravel road. Perhaps she didn't keep her enemies close enough. She almost laughed. Almost.
After relocating to Aruba it had taken her months to get set up again: to recruit the perfect women, to cultivate relationships with the men of wealth who lived on the island, as well as with those who visited on holiday. Tonight's elaborate gathering at her secluded villa was the culmination of all her work. She'd left her guests inthe capable hands of Charrie Lewis. Hopefully, this task wouldn't take long and she'd be able to return before she was truly missed.
She'd gotten Charrie, her original business partner from back in the city, to join her. Tess trusted Charrie implicitly. Equally important, she'd convinced Nicole and Kim that if they joined her as well, they could finally be free from their pasts. They would reap the rewards that were due them. But then Vincent had found her. Tracked her all the way here from New York.
She couldn't let him ruin it all--and not just for her sake but for that of everyone else she'd enlisted. Nicole and Kim had risked everything, committing crimes from which they'd ultimately walked away scot-free, crimes she'd convinced them to commit. The three of them were bound by that secret. It was up to her to ensure that their pact was never discovered. Only Vincent stood between them and total freedom.
The skyline lit up with electricity and thunder exploded overhead. Adrenaline surged through her veins.
She pulled up to the motel where she was to meet Vincent, and slowed the car. Her .38 was tucked neatly inside her purse on the passenger seat. What did Vincent have planned for her? Would he make a scene? Were the local police waiting?
No. Vincent would do this alone. She knew him. He loved his autonomy. Yes, it would be just the two of them, face-to-face.
VINCENT STEPPED OUTSIDE, looked skyward. A storm was brewing. It was close. A light sprinkle danced around him.
He lit a cigarette and blew a plume of smoke into the muggy air. The fleeting scent of sulfur wafted beneath his nose.
He peered into the darkness, the moon obscured now by thickening clouds. Tess was close. He could feel her as surely as he could feel the bulging erection pressing against the fabric of his jeans. Anticipation of a bust always did that to him, and so did Tess McDonald. He'd let that personal flaw cloud his objectives once. Not again.
Headlights drew closer and then stopped. A car door opened. Vincent reached for his gun.
Thunder boomed. Vincent felt a searing pain in his side. His legs gave out. His .45 slipped from his hands to the sandy ground. He followed suit.
Tess pressed her body against a tree, standing stock still. Her heart was pounding so violently, her head began to throb. She listened for sound--for movement. When she was sure it was safe to do so, she stepped out into the moonlight. The shape of a sprawled body was ahead. Crouching and with her gun at the ready, she ran over to the motionless form.
Blood pooled beneath him. Tess listened intently for any hint that the gunshot had been heard by the local residents or passersby. She grabbed the limp body beneath its damp armpits and dragged the dead weight to her car.
Vincent groaned. Blood flowed onto the soft leather seat. Tess stepped on the gas. Not too fast, she cautioned herself. The last thing she needed was to draw attention to herself by speeding.
Suddenly the sky opened up, and the deluge nearly blinded her. Within moments the wipers were useless. Tess gripped the steering wheel, trying in vain to see the road ahead. She stole a glance at her wounded passenger. Sweat drenched his forehead.
Headlights appeared in her rearview mirror. Her heart pumped faster. Should she speed up or slow down?
The other car's horn honked. The driver had switched on the turn signal. Tess eased her car to the right side of the road, and the other car sped up and went around her.
Tess released the breath that had lodged in the center of her chest. Vincent groaned again.
She had to find sanctuary, and she had to get rid of the car. There was only one place she could go.
He may be a man of power now, Tess thought as she drove, a man of great status, but Winston Sinclair would still help someone like her. Or rather her specifically. They had a past, a hot stormy history that had changed her life, at least for a while.
She'd been young when she met the dashing island man in Washington. He was handsome, polished, and on his way up the political ladder in Aruba. He'd come to the States to study the economy. They'd been introduced at a restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue. Tess was in college at the time, but early on she'd developed a taste for the finer things and had found ways to support her expensive tastes.
The attraction between them had been instant--perhaps because they knew it couldn't last. Perhaps it was because he was married and a liaison between them was forbidden. Or maybe it was pure and simple passion. He was different from all the others. It was the first time she'd regarded a man as something more than a means to an end. A part of her fantasized that she and Winston could have a life together, that he could make an honest woman out of her ... . But it was only fantasy.
Their affair lasted for six months, and then Winston returned to Aruba and Tess discovered she was pregnant.
Being young and in love, she convinced herself that she wouldbecome a single mom. She'd give up her "other life," and she'd love her love child with or without its dad in the picture.
"Pregnant!" her sister Tracy screeched when she'd called and told her the news. "Tess, are you crazy? You're only nineteen years old. You're going to fuck up your whole life."
"I want this baby, Tracy."
"What about a career? Your life?"
"I can make a life."
"Don't do this. You'll regret it."
"So I guess I don't have your support?"
"No. Not for this, Tess. It's a mistake."
"Thanks, Tracy." She'd hung up the phone and never spoke to her sister about it again.
Tracy was in New York attending Columbia University with aspirations of moving into law. Tess, on the other hand, was secretly hoping to find someone to care about her one day. Her deceased parents hadn't cared. It was clear since childhood that her fraternal twin, Tracy, was the favorite. Tracy could do no wrong. So of course she would think that this pregnancy was an atrocity.
So Tess decided to go it alone. She knew it was pointless to tell Winston. He would never leave his wife for some teenager. But in the end, she'd done what was best for her and the child. She'd never felt like that about a man again ... until Vincent.
TESS DROVE SLOWLY up the long winding driveway, ringed on either side by towering willow trees. A few lights dotted the windows of the vast estate. She approached the entry gate and waited.
"Yes," came the sudden terse squawk from the intercom.
"Tess McDonald. I'm here to see the prime minister."
The gate opened immediately. Since her arrival on the island, Tess was a frequent and favored visitor to the private home of the island's prime minister. She hoped that relationship would pay off now.
The heavy wrought-iron gate slowly parted. She drove along the lane toward the front door and then around to the back of the house. She pressed her fingers to Vincent's throat. His pulse was weak, and his breath had grown increasingly sharp and raspy.
Tess grabbed her purse, got out of the car, and locked the doors. She hurried around to the front of the house, dashing through the rain.
Earl, the butler, was waiting. "Ms. McDonald, was the PM expecting you?"
"No. But it's urgent that I see him," she said, a bit breathless. She wiped water from her face.
"He has guests in the study. Come in out of the rain. I'll see if he can be disturbed."
"No! I mean no, I'll wait here. It's rude enough of me that I came without calling first. But please impress upon him that it's urgent."
Earl peered at her through the shadows and then nodded before walking back into the house.
Tess stole a glance over her shoulder. The seconds that passed after Earl's exit seemed interminable.
When Winston appeared at the door, he was as dapper and handsome as always. Winston epitomized the "stately gentleman," from his imposing six-foot-four height and solid two-hundred-pound weight to his smooth olive complected face, framed in salt-and-pepper hair and tapered beard. But appearances were truly deceiving. For all his outward pomp, behindclosed doors, Winston Sinclair was an insatiable animal who gave as good as he got.
"Tess. My gawd, what on earth are you doing out in this weather? Come in." He extended his hand.
Tess grabbed it. "I can't. But I need your help."