Unforgettable (Untouchables), page 1
Table of Contents
About the Author
Discover more mystery and suspense titles from Entangled Ignite… Bound to Serve
Discover the Untouchables series… Untouchable
An Untouchable Christmas
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Cindy Skaggs. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Ignite is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Suzanne Evans
Cover design by L.J. Anderson
Cover art from Shutterstock
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition December 2016
To my brother, Mike, who is my sounding board and my friend. Thank you for long conversations, unconditional support, and for being nothing like the fictional and psychotic Nick Calvetti.
Vicki Calvetti dug through the bushes looking for the cat she hadn’t wanted to adopt. A branch flicked, smacking her cheek as she bent low to grab the orange ball hiding in the bushes behind her house. The mangy cat rewarded her by scratching the back of her hand.
“You chose me, Fuzzball,” she muttered. “It’s too cold to stay outside today.”
Why did she bother? He’d shown up before the first snow, and she couldn’t turn her back, so she let him inside for one night only. Two months ago. She was now the proud owner of more cat toys than a pet store, and the cat still fought when she tried to protect him from the harsh Colorado winter.
As she walked him to the back deck, he curled under her coat and started to purr. Dangit. His sweet temperament was why she bothered. He was a snuggler. Who’d have thought she would go for a snuggling, purring orange furball? Opening the door a crack, she set him on the kitchen tile. Before he could run, she slammed the door closed. Brushing off loose cat hair, she walked around the outside of the house. Fuzzball was a door darter. If she went inside with him, she’d turn around and have to fight to keep him inside when she left. Easing through the stark branches of a dormant lilac bush, she pushed into the front yard.
The quaint gingerbread house across the street caught her eye. A Hansel and Gretel cottage, it was decked in more trim than a Christmas tree and had more colors than a rainbow parade. A swing set dominated the winter-dead lawn, surrounded by toys, bikes, and a crazy old man in a flapping black trench coat.
Fear slithered along her skin like the cold. “Manny.” She whispered his name, stunned to see the mob hit man out of his native New York. He had never been to Colorado, at least as far as she knew. His appearance did not bode well.
Legs braced apart, the killer stood next to the kid’s bike, looking surreal with blue handlebar streamers whipping against him. Shock froze her in place next to her little porch. When he didn’t make a move, she let her gaze slide past him to take in the empty street. Nerves squeezed her heart.
No witnesses. No collateral damage. It was open season, and she was wearing a target.
Vicki had pissed off plenty of people who could afford Manny’s services. The pulse in her neck felt like a beacon, calling Manny to finish her off. When her gaze tracked back to him, her great-uncle Manny nodded from behind dark sunglasses.
What the hell did the nod mean? Prepare to die? Lord, but she hated mobsters, especially the ones she was related to. He didn’t cross to her, nor did she rush to give the old man a hug. They stared across the street waiting for the other to blink first.
The winter chill numbed her hands before she moved fully into the front yard. A shiver twitched in her shoulders. If the man in black wanted her dead, she’d be dead before the day was through. Being related to him wouldn’t save her. And if she wasn’t dead, she had bigger problems than a geriatric killer for hire. Her life was crumbling faster than a day-old muffin at a second-rate coffee shop.
She crossed in front of her old Victorian home, presenting him her back.
A spot behind her left ear started to itch as she waited for a bullet that didn’t come. She turned, her movements unhurried, but inside, her internal shit-o-meter blared. Not all of the worry had to do with Uncle Manny standing in the street like an angel of death.
His presence on such a gray winter day felt like an omen. She tucked her frigid hands into her pockets and kept walking. A memory tugged at her, a thought she couldn’t quite grasp, but she knew it was tied to Manny. The faster the wheels in her head spun, the more her brain started to hurt.
It had been a pissy morning. The ancient heater in the house barely kept the temperature above freezing and chose the coldest day of the year to die with a loud and messy belch. The repair guy couldn’t get to her house until late afternoon, which meant a wasted and bitter-cold day of waiting—preferably someplace warmer than her house. She needed coffee, not an unexpected visit from the world’s worst great-uncle.
Vicki massaged the tendons climbing the back of her neck. She could obsess on the morning visit from a hit man—which she couldn’t control—or focus on the joy of a cold winter day.
Boots and scarves and lattes, oh my.
She tripped over the sidewalk cracks leading away from her neighborhood. The hills were like ski slopes after a snow, the side streets were frustratingly narrow, parking was a nightmare, and in the summer, tourists clogged the roads like grease in an artery. Despite or because of those imperfections, she loved Manitou. The town had a soul, a history beyond a single generation.
The hills and the winter chill didn’t slow the locals down. A jogger in black pushed past on the way uphill when Vicki made the turn onto the main thoroughfare.
A tickle of awareness skittered up her spine, but it wasn’t the jogger or even Manny causing her heart to race like a drug runner. A tail followed less than a block back. Not one to give herself away, she maintained a steady pace as she traipsed down the bumpy sidewalk to the business district. Once past a row of restaurants, she slowed to look into the shop windows as if she had nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon.
Knowing Manny wasn’t behind her should have been a relief. It wasn’t. The man-boy on the skateboard skidded to a halt when she paused to look at a display of Native American jewelry. The silver metalwork was distinctive. Any other day and she might sneak inside to wreak havoc on her credit card, but she was more interested in the reflection of the pinhead wearing a backward ball cap and playing it cool on the longboard. Unlike the jogger, this guy didn’t belong.
The torn jeans and grimy concer
Wind fluttered the thick fabric of her maxi skirt. She pulled her jacket closed as she headed to the next shop. The skater paused on the sidewalk, practicing a kick turn until one of the shop owners shooed him along. The stoner wannabe complied without so much as a rude hand gesture, which further identified him.
If the Feds wanted stealth, they’d have to try harder. Victoria Calvetti was the daughter of one of the most feared mob bosses in history. She’d been able to pick up a tail before she’d learned to read.
Strange day for a shadow—not that any day was good for one—but she had thought after her brother’s death the Feds would leave her in peace. A hitch of guilt jumped in her chest. Nick’s death six months ago should have caused grief, as he was her only living brother, but the news of his demise had only brought relief. Nick Calvetti had been evil from the day he was born. As a mob boss, he had ruled with fear and an iron fist. He’d tormented his wife. Nearly gotten his son Eli killed. Manipulated everyone. No one mourned him.
She didn’t have any connections with what remained of her brother’s business associates. She was clean, and the Fed surveillance was a slap to her pride. That the Feds were here the same day as Uncle Manny was one more piece of bad luck in a day too full of that commodity.
She crossed the street, temper rising, and ducked into the coffee shop. The Fed followed her across the street like they were attached with an invisible string. Anger kicked up inside, warmed her blood on the cool day. When would they give up? Well, she could get angry and let her Italian blood show, or she could outclass them. Her father and brother would have opted for the direct approach, which explained their early demise. They were predictable and violent men. Vicki preferred a subtle attack.
She ordered cappuccino and a bagel and chatted with the barista while she waited. George was a mob refugee like her, but they weren’t friends so much as two people who had survived the same hell. “Quiet in here today.”
“You’re running late.” George’s bushy gray brows lifted in silent question. “Most of the regulars headed out already.”
“I had a last-minute client,” she said with a shrug.
“If you had a real job, you’d have a real schedule.”
“I have a real business.” Vicki flicked a piece of lint from her lapel. “As you know.”
“Hypnotherapist?” The old man scoffed, shook his head. “Quackery if you ask me.”
“I didn’t ask.” She had heard her share of snide remarks. Hypnotism wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It was, however, her pot of coffee and the thing that got her out of bed every morning. She had a psych degree, but preferred to work with the brain in an unconventional way. Why anyone thought their opinion mattered was beyond her. She let the old man’s prejudices slide. He was old-school, a high-level member of a crime family in Chicago. He’d have thought the same thing if she were a psychologist. Men like him dealt with a problem by killing someone or burying it.
He nodded toward the agent pretending to skateboard out front. “You bring him with you?”
“I have no control over them.” She dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. “That ridiculous excuse for a tail showed up at my door this morning.”
“And you bring him to mine?” The man running the espresso machine had lived neck-deep in the mob until his son got caught in the cross fire. Dead at twenty-six. The old man had been living off the grid under the name of George Something-or-other ever since.
“They’re not looking for you,” she assured him. She laid a twenty on the counter, shook off the change. She couldn’t afford to alienate the best barista within walking distance of her house.
“The skater isn’t your only problem.” George pulled out a tray and deposited her cappuccino on it. He’d foamed the milk to look like a question mark. Nice. Should she test the cup for arsenic? Next to the cup, he placed a sugar bowl and a spoon, a bagel, and the local newspaper folded in half. He tapped the paper hard enough to rattle the cup. “The grim reaper came to my house before sunrise.”
Manny. Her internal freak-o-meter shot into the red zone. “What did he say?”
George glanced nervously at the window before stabbing the paper again. “He left you a message, to which I will add my own. Do not come back to my shop. I am a peaceful man now. An honest businessman, and I have a grandson to raise. You stay out of my shop until you make peace with the past.”
Good Lord, she thought she had. When she’d helped her sister-in-law escape Nick, Vicki had paid her penance for introducing them in the first place. Helping Sofia escape had required precision planning. Maybe her tactics weren’t honest, but she’d controlled the outcome, made it possible for everyone to move on with Nick dead, but remnants of her former life kept showing up like a bad penny. She’d done nothing to encourage it, except to be born a Calvetti, which was a curse worse than any devised in the Grimms’ dark tales.
“George,” she said with a smile designed to soften men with granite egos. “You know I can’t live without you.” She laid a gentle touch to his shaking hand.
He snapped back. “No more. Finish your paper. Drink your coffee. Leave my shop.”
Well, that went well. Who did George think he was? The things he’d done made Manny look like a juvenile delinquent, yet George had gotten his second chance.
She steamed as she sat at a café table with a prime view of the windows. The Fed was still spinning his skateboard wheels out front. She added three teaspoons of sugar to the cappuccino and stirred away the foam question mark, a perfect metaphor for her day. What the heck was happening to her orderly life? She smeared a thick layer of cream cheese on the bagel before snapping open the newspaper. A clipping of another article floated to the tabletop. Holding the newspaper to hide the clipping, she skimmed the article.
Hypnotist Dead, read the headline.
Fantastic. The sense of dread she’d felt when she saw Manny settled like a noose around her neck. August Trimbath, a Fort Collins hypnotherapist, was murdered Wednesday night, less than thirty-six hours previous.
The accompanying picture showed a pretty blonde with a vibrant smile that didn’t seem the least bit familiar. The death of a random hypnotist wouldn’t have worried her on a normal day. Today was not a normal day. The article was a warning in a twisted Uncle Manny way. The description in the paper sounded like the woman had been tortured prior to death, which came in the form of a bullet to the back of the head. The execution style suggested a professional hit, but who would want to kill a hypnotist, and what did it have to do with Vicki?
Was the murderer Manny? She didn’t want to believe him guilty. Torture wasn’t his style, but maybe he hadn’t set aside enough money for retirement. It wasn’t like a hit man had a pension plan. But if it was Manny, why send the article? She couldn’t remember ever meeting the murder victim, even at a convention, but there had to be a connection.
The itch behind her left ear intensified until she had an overwhelming urge to rub her head and ease the ache growing stronger by the minute.
What had she stumbled into? Manny was sending dead-drop messages, the Feds were following her, and her intuition was screaming. At the bottom of the article, Manny had written an address in a spidery scrawl along with a time. Was the address a place to meet? More likely a trap, but her insatiable need for information was triggered by the clue, something Manny would know. Information had protected her time and again when Nick was alive. Her need to protect herself didn’t die with him. Despite the rush of fear flooding her system like the coffee she was drinking, her curiosity was aroused.
Given her morning, going to the address was a bad idea. Didn’t mean a thing.
The skater was still playing his limited tricks on the sidewalk. George didn’t want trouble,
She stuffed the article in her jacket pocket, but the rolling thunder of the skater reminded her the Feds were still watching. The agents assigned were either blind, dumb, or both. They had a known hit man in town, whom the skater had blindly passed, and George the former mobster had lived in town a half dozen years, yet they were keeping an eye on her? Well, she thought peevishly, so long as the Feds were paying someone to watch her, they could pay overtime.
The heated coffee shop was as good a place as any to wait. She flicked through the paper after she finished her coffee. Not that she cared much about local news, but all the time the skater spent rolling around the front, the Feds were paying. After wasting enough time, she ordered a coffee to go and a bag of bagels. When she stepped into the dim winter sun, the agent unrolled from his slouch and kicked the board into his hand. She walked straight toward him. The look of panic on his clean-shaven face was priceless. His eyes went round and his thin face bloomed with a boyish blush. He certainly looked young enough to be a skateboarder.
How young were they recruiting agents these days? She reached out with a cup of black coffee. Good manners had him reaching to take the cup from her.
“Let me help you out here, Slick. I’m on my way to the post office, so if any of your cohorts are going through my mail, they want to be quick.” She winked and tossed him the bag of bagels. “See if you can keep up.”
He caught the bagels, but the board clattered to the sidewalk. She headed uphill to the post office before he got everything in hand. He followed for a block before an FBI vehicle disguised as a cable company van picked him up. She blew them a kiss as they drove past.
Jerks. She walked off her mad, going faster than her short legs wanted to move. She’d worked up a full head of steam by the time she hit the post office steps. She went in, grabbed her mail, but as she turned to leave, a man in a suit stepped between her and the exit. The panic she’d tried to bank exploded in her blood.
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