Once upon a time there were seven very different women who had been broken but not beaten by life. In those tough days of healing, they became the Sisterhood, a group of devoted friends who vowed to change their lives, empower themselves, and be there for each other, no matter what. Now, they're ready to answer the call for the woman who started it all, Myra Rutledge.
Five years ago, Myra's pregnant daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driverthe playboy son of an ambassador with diplomatic immunity. Myra was left to grieve while the murderer was free to return to his lavish lifestyle with no fear of ever having to pay for his crime. But not for much longer. As the air turns crisp the Virginia hills around Myra's lovely old farmhouse, the Sisterhood has gathered for a little creative planning, and what they have in mind is a gift for Myra of long-awaited and very sweet revenge. . .
"Revenge is a dish best served with cloth napkins and floral centerpieces. . .fast-paced. . .puts poetic justice first."
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
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2005 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
Myra walked over to the kitchen door to peer outside. She eyed the temperature gauge and gasped. "Charles, it's twenty-seven degrees! Good heavens! Do we have enough wood for all the fireplaces? We did have an oil delivery, didn't we? We're going to freeze down in the war room."
"Darling, relax. We have two full cords of wood. I carried several loads in earlier this afternoon. Oil was delivered three days ago. We are not going to freeze. Don't you remember, dear, we had special heaters installed in the war room in early September?"
"You're right, I forgot. I am just so overwhelmed that I am finally. ... Never mind, it's all I've been talking about today. Your ears must be sore by now. The girls are late, aren't they?"
"No, Myra, the girls are not late. We said seven and it's only six-thirty. Please try and relax. Do you think they will like my dinner? I thought about doing something fancy and elegant but decided, that, with the weather, the girls might like some comfort food. And I know how you like my pot roast."
"It smells wonderful, Charles. The potato pancakes are my favorite. We have both sour cream and apple sauce, right?"
Charles wagged his wooden spoon in the air. "I have it all under control, right down to the wine, salad and dessert — and no, I did not forget Murphy."
"Oh, Charles, whatever would I do without you? Never mind, I don't even want to think about that. They're almost late."
"Almost doesn't count, my dear." Charles pointed to the security monitor positioned over the back door. "I think they're here now. I see Kathryn's rig in the lead. I think they wait at the end of the road so they can all arrive at the same time."
"I think so, too. One car is missing, Charles. The girls will want to know all about Julia." Myra started to fret again. "It's not going to be the same without her. The empty chair is going to ... Oh, Charles, I feel like crying."
"There's no time to cry, Myra. I hear Murphy barking. I think that means he's glad to be back. Open the door, welcome our guests. We'll talk about Julia later."
There were squeals of delight, backslapping, high-fives and hugs galore as the five women and Murphy raced into the kitchen. The jabbering was so high-pitched that Murphy went into the huge family room to lie by the fireplace.
"Oh, I missed you all," Isabelle said happily.
Alexis dumped her red bag by the door and ran to Myra. She hugged her so hard, Myra squealed for mercy. Yoko, always subdued, clapped everyone on the back and then hugged them all. Kathryn ran around the counter to the kitchen window to see if Julia's plant was still there. It was.
"Oh God. Oh God, it has two new leaves! Hey, everyone, Julia's plant has two new leaves! We have to move it, Myra. It's too cold on the windowsill. See how the leaves are limp. Where can I put it? Yoko, you're the plant expert, what should we do?"
The women crowded around to stare at the plant Julia had left behind when she went to Switzerland, hoping to find a cure for her deadly disease. Myra looked stricken, as though she had somehow personally failed their missing sister.
Yoko picked up the plant, stuck her finger in the soil and then touched the leaves. "Some light, a little warmer area and it will be fine," she said.
It was finally decided to place the little plant on a small folding table directly under the kitchen skylight. Everyone sighed with relief.
"Any news about Julia?" Nikki asked as she filched a strip of bacon that was to go into the arugula salad. Charles pretended to swat her with his wooden spoon.
"Julia is doing well," Charles said. "She's gained eight pounds in the last four months. She's tolerating her meds and she misses us all terribly. She's coming home for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas, but then will go back for another six months. What that means is, she's holding her own and she has not regressed or gotten worse. She's happy. She reads, takes walks, rides her bicycle. Her stamina is better than it's ever been. I spoke to her yesterday. She misses you all and she sends her love. She wants you to give Murphy a big hug for her. The first thing she asked about was the plant. To say she was overjoyed at the two new leaves would be putting it mildly." This last comment was addressed to Kathryn, who was busily wiping tears from the corners of her eyes.
"Everything smells wonderful," Nikki said as she carried candles and napkins into the dining room. "Anything new these past few weeks?" she asked Myra.
"Nothing, dear. Charles and I have just been rattling around out here all by ourselves. No one has called or stopped by. Is there any news on Jack?"
"No. That's why I thought ... I assumed he would. ... Damn, I don't know what I thought or assumed. I check his and Mark's new website daily. I have no clue what the two of them are doing. That could be good or it could be bad."
"I can't believe Jack gave up his job as assistant district attorney, and I can't believe his friend would give up his job as a federal agent just like that," Isabelle said.
"Well, he did." Nikki clicked a lighter to light the scented candles. Within seconds the room smelled like blueberries.
"Are we celebrating something special tonight?" Yoko asked.
"Yes. The good news on Julia, your arrival and anything else we want to celebrate," Myra said. "Goodness, how I've missed you all. But before I forget, Charles and I want to invite you all for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Please say you will come."
"You bet," Kathryn said.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Alexis said.
"I will be glad to attend," Yoko said. "My husband will spend the day sleeping so he will not miss me."
Isabelle and Nikki smiled and nodded.
"We go out to the woods and chop the tree down," Myra said. "If it snows, we pull the tree on a sled, but if there's no snow we pull it on a wagon. We cut all the evergreens the same day so they'll be fresh. We haven't really celebrated Christmas here at Pinewood for some years now. I think it's time to get back to our traditions."
"Christmas here at Pinewood is a marvel. The house smells heavenly with all the balsam," Nikki said. "The vaulted ceiling allows us to have a twenty-foot high tree and balsam twined around the bannister going all the way to the second floor. Lots of red velvet bows and our own mistletoe. Myra always made it like a fairyland for Barbara and me. One year, Lu Chow, Myra's gardener, played Santa. She thought we wouldn't notice a Chinese Santa. We pretended not to for her sake."
"You knew? You little rascal!" Myra said. Nikki laughed.
They could have been simply a group of young people getting together to play catch-up, or a group of old friends enjoying dinner together.
"I had a date!" Kathryn blurted out, her face rosy pink. She looked around the table at the stunned looks.
"Tell me you didn't wear that flannel shirt and those Frye boots," Alexis said.
"No, I didn't wear them. I got dressed up. Panty hose, makeup, the whole magilla."
"And?" the others chorused as one.
"And nothing. Murphy didn't like him. By the end of the evening the guy was all over me. I had to deck him, at which point he got a little pissy with me. He was so good-looking, he made my eyes water. But I won't be seeing him again. Now, don't ask me any questions because I told you the whole thing."
"I had a date, too," Alexis said. "One of the women I shop for fixed me up with her next-door neighbor. Nice guy. He manages La Belle, that new restaurant in D.C. The food was excellent. He asked me out again. I said yes." Everyone clapped their approval.
"I bought a plasma TV," Nikki said.
"I had to get a new transmission for my car," Isabelle said.
"Well, nothing is new in my life," Yoko said. "I ordered two thousand poinsettias for the holidays. With Lu Chow helping us I will be able to get away for your mission, Myra. I owe you many thanks for allowing him to work at odd times for us. My husband likes him very much."
"That leaves you, Charles. Share with us what you've been up to," Kathryn said.
Charles chuckled. "I've been trying to amuse Myra because she missed you all so much. In my free time, I've been working on the details of her mission."
"Guess that means we're all caught up. Let's clear up this mess," Nikki said, waving at the table, "so we can get down to business."
The war room, as they called it, was warm and cozy. Computer monitors lined the walls, along with television monitors tuned to the three major cable networks: CNN, MSNBC, and the Fox network. Directly in the women's line of vision was an oversized monitor showing the scales of justice, with Lady Justice looking down on them.
A soft whirring could be heard above the quiet tones on the televisions. A fortune in the latest high-tech equipment was at Charles's fingertips. Some of the equipment was so advanced even the FBI didn't have it. "Spare no expense, get the best so the girls are kept safe," Myra had said. And Charles had done just that. He was Lord Supreme in this room and everyone knew it.
Myra usually presided over the meetings, but as it was her mission that was to be discussed this evening, Nikki rose and addressed the group. "This is where we all give input after Myra tells us what she wants done to the man who killed Barbara. We all know he's back in China and that's our first hurdle. I personally don't see any way to entice him back here, so that means we have to go there. We'll have to figure out a way to do that, of course. First, though, I think Myra might want to say something. Myra, the floor is yours," Nikki said, sitting down.
Myra stood up, her legs wobbly. She grasped the edge of the table with both hands as she stared around at the women who were now like daughters to her. They were her family and she knew that, no matter what she asked of them, they would do it if humanly possible. How much should she ask of them? Going to a foreign country to seek her vengeance seemed extreme. Still, there really was no other way to punish her daughter's killer. She looked from one to the other, recognizing each one's particular strength. If anyone could help her, it was these five beautiful, talented women, each with her own cause.
Myra licked at her dry lips. "I ... My quest for justice is going to be dangerous for all of you. I don't know if I have the courage to ask you to ... to help me. I won't be offended if you want to opt out of my mission. Somehow, someway, I'll get justice for my daughter. What I'm trying to say is, if anything happened to any of you, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. This won't be anything like Kathryn's or Julia's missions.
"You all know Charles's background, and we'll be operating in his field of expertise. But none of you are Charles and none of you are like the operatives he worked with when he was in Her Majesty's service. Right away, that puts us all at a disadvantage."
Kathryn, always the most vocal of the group, squawked her displeasure at what Myra was saying. "Myra, Myra, you're forgetting something. We're women! That alone gives us an edge! I rest my case." Everyone cheered, including Charles. Myra grinned from ear to ear.
"Well said, Kathryn. You are forgiven, dear. How stupid of me to forget women can do anything they set their minds to. I think I might be a little overwhelmed at this point. Now, let's decide how we are going to take care of Mr. John Chai, my daughter's killer."
"If Julia was here she could do a little slice and dice with a very dull knife. But since she isn't here, I'll volunteer to do the honors, and if he bleeds to death, oh, well," Alexis said.
"That's too good for him. He needs to suffer. His father needs to suffer for protecting him. Let's see what Charles has come up with."
Charles shuffled through the papers in front of him. When he had them in order, images appeared on the screen as Lady Justice faded away. "This is John Chai." A second picture appeared. "This is Chai Ming, China's former Ambassador to the United States. He is retired now and living in Hong Kong. From what I've been able to garner from my sources, Chai Ming has a pretty tight rein on his playboy son." Charles sought Myra's eye. "I haven't been able to find any evidence of employment of any kind. I would assume he's living off the largesse of his father, Chai Ming. John's Harvard education was a waste."
"Is he still covered under the law of diplomatic immunity even though his father is retired?" Yoko asked.
"Yes, but he cannot return to the United States for fear of reprisals, that sort of thing. It's obvious the man stays close to home under his father's supervision. Sooner or later, he's going to wander off the reservation. It's a given that he will not return here to America. That means we will bring him here. Unwillingly, of course."
The women gasped as one. "You mean we're going to go to China and ... and ..."
"Snatch the son of a bitch?" Kathryn said. "Yep, that's what it means all right."
"Tell us how we are going to get inside China, snatch this guy, and get back out," Nikki demanded. "I would think the Chai family are watched as closely as our Secret Service agents watch over our retired politicians."
Charles nodded. "You're right, Nikki, but in China they are watched even more closely. I can't swear to this, but I do know how the Chinese think in these matters. It's doubtful Ming's own eye is on his son. There are hundreds of eyes on him. They don't want any kind of scandal that will make them lose face. Family is very important. Respect of one's family is paramount."
Myra's eyes pooled with tears. "If it's impossible, why are we even discussing the matter? Why was I so foolish to think we could finally get to ... that ... hellish person?"
"Myra, dear, it is not impossible to get to John Chai. However, it will be a very dangerous and difficult mission for all of us. We are going to need a lot of outside help."
"What kind of help?" Isabelle asked nervously.
"Chinese help. In ... ah ... in my other life, I made friends with some very unlikely people. People that I was forced to depend on to stay alive. One develops, over time, instincts where people are concerned. I have a friend named Su Zhow Li. He got me out of a rather horrid situation and then I was able to save his life later on. He is probably in his mid- seventies by now if he is still alive. I haven't been able to renew old friendships since moving here. That was one of the conditions of my transfer from England to America. I'm now willing to ignore that condition.
"Li was born in China but spent many years living in England. His father was British, his mother came from a very well-to-do Chinese family. In the early fifties, as some of you may know, China undertook a massive economic and social reconstruction program. China's new leaders curbed inflation by restoring the economy, and rebuilt many of its war-damaged industrial plants." It had been years since Li told him this story and Charles wondered if he was remembering everything correctly.
"China's new leaders, with their new-found authority, wedged their way into almost every phase of Chinese life. It worked for a few years, then Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic, broke away from the Soviet model of Communism and announced what he thought of as an even better economic system. They called it the Great Leap Forward. The goal was to raise industrial and agricultural production. They formed communes. People had factories in their back yards. It was disastrous because the normal market mechanisms were disrupted and so agricultural production fell behind. The Chinese people exhausted themselves by producing what later turned out to be shoddy goods that were not fit for sale."
"Tell me about it," Yoko grumbled. "I wouldn't buy something that said 'made in China' for all the tea in China." She giggled at her witticism.
"Bad timing, poor planning, whatever you want to call it, the Chinese people were starving. Around this time, Li's family sought passage to his homeland."
Charles knew he'd piqued the women's interest when Kathryn asked, "How did they manage to get out of China?"
Excerpted from Vendetta by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2005 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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