The Sisterhood: a group of women from all walks of life bound by friendship and a quest for justice. Armed with vast resources, top-notch expertise, and a loyal network of allies around the globe, the Sisterhood will not rest until every wrong is made right.
Isabelle Flanders Tookus isn’t expecting to involve the Sisterhood in a new mission when she strikes up a friendship with a curly-haired boy in her local park. Ben Ryan is an eight-year-old child genius, the grandson of millionaire Eleanor Lymen, who hired Izzy years ago to design an institute for gifted children. Ben’s mother passed away and Ben now lives with his stepfather, Connor, and Connor’s wife, Natalie. They’ve been using Ben’s trust fund to support their lavish lifestyle while shamefully neglecting Ben. And with Natalie getting greedy, Ben’s safety is now in jeopardy.
Izzy’s first step: call in the Sisterhood. The second: track down Eleanor, who has mysteriously vanished on a secret mission of her own. Izzy, Annie, Myra, and the rest of the Sisters come together at Pinewood, thrilled to be united once more. Together they’ll lay a trap for Natalie and Connor, one that will protect Eleanor’s beloved grandson, get him into the happy home he deserves, and provide the kind of creative, satisfying payback the Sisters dish out so well . . .
Praise for Fern Michaels
“Michaels manages to surprise and delight fans of all ages with her novel’s unexpected twists and turns.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars, on High Stakes
About the Author
FERN MICHAELS is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood, Men of the Sisterhood, and Godmothers series, as well as dozens of other novels and novellas. There are over one-hundred ten million copies of her books in print. Fern Michaels has built and funded several large day-care centers in her hometown, and is a passionate animal lover who has outfitted police dogs across the country with special bulletproof vests. She shares her home in South Carolina with her four dogs and a resident ghost named Mary Margaret. Visit her website at www.fernmichaels.com.
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
Isabelle Flanders Tookus picked her way carefully through the beautiful autumn leaves as she made her way to a park bench to eat her lunch with her new best friend. She carried her lunch in a small take-out bag. It was a simple lunch — pastrami with spicy brown mustard on rye along with two equally spicy garlic dill pickles. And one peanut butter and jelly sandwich, just to be on the safe side. Two bottles of Snapple iced tea, along with napkins and two wet wipes, completed the contents of the bag.
Isabelle loved autumn's crisp air, the magnificent colored leaves, and the scent of smoke in the air to go along with all the fall decorations. She closed her eyes for a moment to allow conjured-up memories of childhood to appear behind her closed lids — visions of pumpkins, scarecrows, and haystacks.
She was partial to this little park because it allowed her to see what Realtors referred to as the Circle, the enclave she had designed early in her career as an architect. She never got tired of looking at it. She had also designed the little park she was sitting in at the moment. Because she loved the area so much, she had located her offices a block behind the enclave, so she could still enjoy gazing at the fruits of her labor whenever she chose to do so.
Weather permitting, she brought her lunch every day, usually from home, and spent a quiet hour doing nothing but people watching and devouring her lunch. It was also something she did alone, never inviting anyone to join her, because this hour of the day was hers and hers alone. Until six months ago, that is.
Isabelle looked down at her watch. He was late. A first.
He was never late. More often than not, her lunch date was early and waiting for her. It wasn't always that way. In the beginning, when she first met him last spring, he would simply wave and move on. Waving became "hi," then a few words here and there. Each encounter was for no more than a few seconds. Gradually, over the past six months, those few seconds slid into minutes, to be followed by an exchange of identities. First names only. So far.
A worm of fear crawled around Isabelle's stomach. She wondered if something was wrong. She'd been crystal clear when she issued the luncheon invitation. Lunch on Friday — a first. Twelve noon. He'd nodded in agreement. Seeing no watch on his wrist, she wondered if he would be on time. She smiled now when she remembered how his eyes had lit up and sparkled like bright blue jewels at her invitation. It was a sign that their relationship was safe and moving to another level. Something she totally understood.
Isabelle shifted on the bench as she strained to see down the many paths in the little park that led to another circle, then back to the main entrance. She could see two young women jogging in their brightly colored spandex outfits that screamed, Hey look at me, I'm exercising. Two elderly gentlemen were wearing gilly hats and getting ready to set up a chessboard for their daily game. And a young couple was strolling along, holding hands.
It was such a beautiful day, so inviting, so golden and bronze that Isabelle was surprised the park wasn't jammed with office workers taking advantage of the nice weather to eat their lunch outdoors. In a few weeks, these days of Indian summer would be nothing more than a memory.
Isabelle chewed on her lower lip as she stared down at her watch. Eight minutes late.
And then she saw him, pedaling his bicycle as fast as his eight-year-old legs could pump the pedals. "Hey, Izzy! I'm sorry I'm late! I had to help a lady catch her dog. I caught him, and he was fast." The little boy beamed happily. "Look, she gave me five dollars! I didn't want to take it, but the lady insisted. I didn't want to insult her, so I took it."
"It's okay, I just got here myself. That's wonderful about catching the dog! You ready for lunch?"
"I am. What are we having, Izzy?"
"Something you told me you have never eaten before, a pastrami with hot mustard on rye bread and some really good pickles. Snapple."
Ben Ryan slid off his bike and propped it up against the back of the bench before he skedaddled around to sit down next to Isabelle, his only friend in the whole world.
"If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it. I also brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, just in case."
Ben grinned from ear to ear as he waited for Isabelle to hand over his sandwich and napkin. "I am sure I'll like it. I have a discriminating palate." He chomped down on his sandwich.
Isabelle had trouble not laughing at his final comment before starting to eat. She nibbled on her own pastrami sandwich as she studied her new friend. She was obsessed with the little guy, who was so skinny she worried that a strong wind would blow him away. Childless herself, she simply assumed what she was feeling was some kind of motherly instinct. She knew so little about him. She understood his original reticence about not talking to strangers. But months of hand waves, short greetings, and short conversations meant they'd moved to a place where the young boy felt safe and comfortable around her. And yet he was still aloof to a fault. He had never volunteered any information about himself; nor had he asked her anything about herself. As much as she wanted to quiz him, she'd restrained herself, afraid that if she did, she'd drive him away.
She saw him three days a week, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Five months into the friendship, Isabelle found herself scheduling her appointments earlier or later so as to always be available at the noon hour to spend time with the little boy. She couldn't explain it to herself, much less explain it to her Sisterhood friends or her husband, Abner. In a way, it was her special secret, one she wanted to keep to herself. She couldn't help but wonder if Ben had told his parents about her. For some reason, she thought it unlikely.
Ben Ryan was an endearing little boy. His dark, curly hair was too long. His bright blue eyes confused her because, at least in her opinion, they were the eyes of an adult. He had a cute little pug nose and chipmunk cheeks, and there was a gap between his front teeth. Endearing. Something about Ben suddenly stirred in Isabelle. It was something she was all too familiar with: fear. Now why would a little eight-year-old be fearful? He was well dressed. Just because he was whippet thin didn't mean he wasn't fed. He had a bicycle, and it was relatively new. Obviously, he was allowed to be out and about on his own, so he wasn't being held a prisoner anywhere.
"Is this your lunch hour, too?" Isabelle blurted.
"In a manner of speaking. This is a very good sandwich, Izzy. You were right when you said I would like it. I like the tea, too. Sometimes I get tired of drinking milk."
Isabelle decided it was time to take a gamble. "Are you homeschooled, Ben?"
Isabelle froze in place as Ben grew still and stopped eating. She instantly regretted asking the question and wished she could have taken it back. She knew instinctively that she'd crossed some invisible line. It made her want to cry. "Never mind, that's none of my business. So," she said, as cheerfully as she could, "are those pickles everything I said they were?"
"They're very good. I guess you could say I'm homeschooled. See that building with all the ivy growing up the front? I go there on Mondays. The rest of the week, I do my studies at home and turn it all in on the next Monday. Sometimes, I have to go during the week to be tested. Usually from one o'clock till six o' clock."
"You go to the Institute?" Isabelle asked in stunned surprise.
"That has to mean ..."
Ben grinned. "One of those wussy geniuses who go there." He grinned again. "What grade do you think I'm in?"
Isabelle blinked. "Well, let's see, you said you were eight, so I guess either the fourth or fifth grade."
Ben hooted with laughter. "I finished high school in May. Now I'm a college freshman." The grin left his face. "Knowing that, do you still want to be my friend?"
Isabelle was stunned. "Of course I do. What kind of a question is that?"
"Most people are uncomfortable around me. I guess you figured out by now that I don't have any friends. I try to act like the kids my age, but I can't manage to do it. Normal kids my age make fun of me. The instructors, the doctors, stress to all of us who go to the Institute that we're not normal. My IQ is so far off the charts that they're not sure exactly what it is. That's why I'm registered at the Institute. The instructors call me Mr. Ryan because, in their eyes, I'm their equal. Actually, Izzy, I'm smarter than every single one of them. Please understand, I'm not bragging about that. It's just a fact. And you can't argue with facts, now, can you?" He grinned that endearing grin, and Isabelle laughed.
Isabelle fought the urge to hug the little boy, who was already a college freshman. "No, you can't argue facts. And I'm honored to be your friend. I hope I measure up. I'm ... ah ... pretty much just normal, to use your word."
"Oh, you do. I made up my mind about you a long time ago, Izzy. What's your story?"
"You know, your story. Your schtick. Like what do you do? Are you a mother? What makes you tick? When you told me I could call you Izzy, I knew we could be friends because only friends allow friends to call them by a nickname. I think that's a fact. At least I hope it is.
"That's why I told you to call me Ben. I thought you would laugh if I told you I was Mr. Ryan. No one ever called me Ben except my grandmother."
"What do your parents call you?" Isabelle asked uneasily.
"That's another can of worms. I don't have any real parents. My mother died when I was two years old. I don't know anything at all about my biological father. My mother was smart like me. My mother married Connor Ryan, and he adopted me. After my mother died, I lived with my grandmother for a few years. Then, two years after my mother died, Connor Ryan married a woman named Natalie."
Ben threw his hands in the air. "So, no real parents. But to answer your question, they call me Benjamin most of the time. Okay. Now it's your turn."
"Uh-huh. Well, I'm an architect. In fact, I designed the Circle. And the building where you go every morning as well as the six houses on the Circle. I'm very proud of that. I'm married to a great guy named Abner. If you ever want to meet him, I can have him stop by on his lunch hour. He's very smart, too. You two would probably have a lot in common. We don't have any children, so no, I'm not a mother. I wish I were. I have quite a few friends, all nice people. My office is over there," Isabelle said as she waved her hand in the direction of the Institute. "I bought a building there just so I could come to this park and see the Circle. Weather permitting, I come here every day."
"That's a valid reason," Ben said. "I pretty much surmised something along those lines."
Isabelle blinked. She had to remember this was an eight-year-old she was talking to. "Do you live near here?"
"I do, but behind the Institute. I used to live on the Circle until my mother died, but I was only two, so I don't remember much about living there with my mother and my stepfather. But until I was four, I lived with my grandmother. At first, Connor moved into an apartment. I'm not allowed to ride my bike there because Connor hates my grandmother. I come here for the same reason you do, to look at the Circle and hope to get a look at my grandmother. I used to sneak in to see her, but I got caught, and they told me if I did it again, they'd make me live at the Institute. See, I'm smart, but not that smart. I got caught."
Isabelle suddenly felt sick to her stomach. "Ben, is your grandmother by any chance Eleanor Porter Lymen?"
"Yes!" Ben shrieked, his voice rising in excitement. "Do you know her?"
"Yes, I do. Very well, in fact. I don't understand. Why aren't you allowed to visit her?"
"Because Connor hates my grandmother. Shortly before Connor married Natalie, my grandmother took him to court to get custody of me. The lawyer told my grandmother that he thought she had a chance to win because Connor had let me live with her for the past two years, he was not related to me by blood, and I was her daughter's son. Once Connor married Natalie, the judge said because Connor had adopted me and had a stable family life, I had to stay with him and Natalie. I told the judge I wanted to stay with my grandmother, but he said I was just a kid, and he knew better than I did what was good for me. Connor, Natalie, and I moved into the house that my mother had purchased before she married Connor, when I was about seven months old. Apparently, she intended for us to live in it, but for some reason she never got around to moving before she died. Now I own the house because the deed was in my mother's name and my name. They also said that my grandmother has to give all my mother's money to Connor. He gets some every month now, but he wants it all.
"That happened before I was tested, and they found out how smart I was. Can you find out where my grandmother is, Izzy?"
"Isn't she home in her house?"
"No. She's gone, and so are Rita and Irene, her two best friends who live next to her. Rita lives on the right and Irene lives on the left. They do everything together. Grandma told me they are both my godmothers."
"How long has your grandmother been gone, Ben?"
"Six months! Almost seven. Just before they left, Connor had gone back to court and told the judge Grandma was a bad influence on me. He was mad at her because she won't turn over my mother's money to him.
"Grandma showed me where she kept a key, and I sneaked over there and went into the house."
"You mean in the birdhouse up in the tree?" Isabelle interrupted.
"Yes. I cried when I went into my old bedroom. Big boys aren't supposed to cry, but I cried anyway. And I didn't care. Everything looks the same, but she's gone. All the electrical plugs were pulled out. There is no food in the refrigerator. The water still runs, and the lights still come on. The whole foyer is full of mail the postman drops through the slot. I checked Rita's and Irene's houses, too, but only by looking in the windows. All three of them are gone. Can you look into it for me?"
Isabelle swallowed hard. She nodded. "I can try."
"I have to go now. Connor said if I take more than an hour, he'll ground me."
"Then by all means go. I'll see you on Tuesday. I'll see what I can do over the weekend. Would you have any objections to my asking my friends to help?"
"Do you trust them?" Ben asked as he fastened the strap under his helmet.
"With my life." Isabelle reached out and hugged the rail-thin little boy. She held him tight, and he didn't object. "Ben, do you have a cell phone?"
"That's good enough for me," Ben said when she finally released him. "My grandmother used to hug me like that. I miss the feeling. You can hug me anytime you want to. And no, I don't have a cell phone. Grandma was going to get me one, and it was going to be our secret. But Connor said I didn't need one."
"You may not have one, but I want you to have my business card, so you can get in touch with me if you need to." Isabelle took out a pen and scribbled something on the back of the card. "I just wrote my cell phone number on the back. You can call me at any time of the day or night if you need me. Okay."
"Thanks, Izzy. I really have to be going now."
Isabelle's eyes burned. All she could do was nod as she watched the little boy with the old man's eyes pedal away. She smiled when he bellowed over his shoulder, "Thanks for lunch, Izzy."
Isabelle sat back down on the bench and kneaded her hands. Her head felt like a beehive. What to do? She closed her eyes, hoping a bolt of lightning would strike, showing her what her next move should be. When nothing happened, she gathered up the remnants of her and Ben's lunch. She was about to bag it all up when she noticed two fat little squirrels watching her. She scattered the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the crust from her sandwich. Before she knew it, there was a whole family of plump little squirrels chewing away. Must be the peanut butter, she mused.
Isabelle pulled out her cell phone and called her office. "I'm running late, Carol. Cancel my one-thirty appointment. The Sinclairs are nice people, they won't mind. Reschedule at their convenience. I'll work around them."
Isabelle slid to the opposite end of the bench so as not to startle or disturb the squirrels, who were contentedly dining on their unexpected meal.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Safe And Sound"
Copyright © 2018 Fern Michaels.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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