Unbelievable, page 1
Book Two of The Port Fare Series
Copyright 2013 Sherry Gammon
Copyright 2013 Wordpaintings Unlimited
This book is dedicated to:
My faithful readers who were beyond patient while I rewrote Cole’s story
NOTE TO THE READERS OF UNLOVABLE
As many of you know, Unlovable is being made into a movie. A few changes to the original book were made to facilitate this. Most were small, insignificant changes, with one exception: Maggie’s age. Now Maggie turns 18 at the very beginning of the book. If you bought a Kindle or Smashwords copy, you may update your ebook for free on their site. I assume it is the same for Barnes and Noble. Oh, and don’t worry, Booker still refers to Magpie as Jailbait in book one because, well, he’s Booker!
An Old Cherokee Tale of Two Wolves
One evening an old Cherokee Indian spoke to his grandson. ‘My son,’ he said, ‘there is a great battle that goes on inside us all between two ‘wolves.’ One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, lies, pride, superiority, and ego.
‘The other is Good,’ he continued. ‘It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
The grandson thought for a moment then asked, ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’
I filled my lungs, slowly releasing the air with a whoosh. The sound carried a chill of memories: horrible, heartbreaking memories. I shook my frizzy brown hair against the ache in my heart.
“No trips down memory lane right now,” I lectured myself softly. “Daddy wants this done.” And frankly, so did I. Once the revenge was complete, I could move on . . . and away, from Daddy and his influence.
I stepped out of my car, a vintage VW bug—orange, my favorite color—and shut the door behind me. Nervous tension nipped at me as my hand trailed over my long, wild mane again. “Thank heavens I can go back to my hair products when this is done.” I checked my reflection in the window of my car door, mostly out of habit. With only mascara to frame my soft brown eyes, there was no need to worry really. I admit, that part of my ruse worked for me. The unruly hair I hated, but the simple, easy make-up I currently wore? A definite plus.
Daddy said it best: “No one will guess you to be Harry Dreser’s high-maintenance daughter looking like this.” Daddy’d brain stormed the entire idea. If the police were looking for Harry’s daughter, they’d be looking for a well-groomed, sophisticated woman in her mid-twenties. The simplicity of this getup was genius. Daddy did know best. Most times, anyway.
I wedged the leather portfolio of my work under my arm and pushed my bright pink purse up on the opposite shoulder. The purse was my latest thrift store find—a designer bag discarded amongst the pile of cheap replicas. I knew it the moment my eyes landed on the huge black rose on the side. What people gave away as junk still amazed me.
With Daddy’s medical expenses burning through the last of our money, I needed to be wise with my purchases for the first time ever in my life.
I straightened my bold yellow shirt and tugged my orange capris up just a bit. I’d lost a few pounds worrying about my assignment from Daddy, not that it was a bad thing. I loved my curves, but I enjoyed being able to button up my shirt and not have it snug across my bust line more.
I approached the small brick building, noting the wooden sign hanging from two black metal hooks hanging over the door.
Design-Aholics: Corporate Interiors is our passion
I took another cleansing breath and opened the glass door as a tinkling bell announced my arrival. I brushed my nose at the musty smell which greeted me. To the right, two women entered through an adorable archway, one a tall brunette, the other a short blonde. Both smiled brightly.
“Hello,” said the blonde in an unmistakable British accent. Her purple shirt intensified her green eyes, which dropped to the portfolio I held. “My name is Haley, and this is my sister Donna, well, stepsister really. My mum married her dad. You’re Delilah Hudson, correct?”
I nodded, tugging my portfolio a little closer. “Yes. But it’s Lilah, just Lilah.”
Donna stepped forward. “Yeah, our parents married about two years ago. We set them up while we attended design school. Love at first sight,” she swooned. Unlike Haley, Donna’s accent was clearly American, the Bronx, if I were to guess. Her dark brown hair and soft brown skin testified of her Latino heritage, like mine. My mother hailed from Mexico. She’d met and fallen in love with my dad as a young woman barely twenty years old. They also had a love-at-first-sight romance, only theirs didn’t turn out so great. Oh, how I miss her.
Donna gestured me to follow her. The reception area was unimpressive, to say the least. The space was not only small, but drab. Not a single piece of artwork hung on the wall. And the rusty pipes hanging from the ceiling screamed unprofessional.
“We haven’t put our stamp on this place yet,” Donna said, glancing back at me. “It doesn’t look like much now, but we just got a big contract so we have high hopes.” I nodded politely.
“Which brings us to you, Delilah,” Haley said as we passed through the arched doorway.
“Lilah, just Lilah.” I smiled politely. I hated my full name.
“Before we begin, I do have one concern,” Donna said, her brow pinched. My stomach flopped over nervously. “Are you really twenty-four? Because, seriously, you look about sixteen.”
I relaxed somewhat. “Yes, I really am. Do you want to see my license?” Donna shook her head. “It’s the hair,” I added. “Every time I let it have its way, people say I look younger than I am.” I ran my hand self-consciously over the frizz again.
Daddy hated my wavy hair and had gotten me my first blow-dryer at the tender age of eleven. Personally, I liked the curls—well, with a little mousse added so they hung in soft ringlets not wild frizz. But for the purpose of disguise, frizz was the order of the day. Also, glasses. Black antique frames. By antique I don’t mean quaint, I mean ugly.
“Lilah, we’ll conduct the interview in my office,” Haley said as we entered a small lounge with two offices, each just as small and sparsely decorated as the first space.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Donna insisted. “Why would anyone hire us to decorate when our office looks like a barren wasteland?” she asked, mirroring my thoughts. She laughed and set a large portfolio down on her desk. “We’re good, despite how it looks. We’re less than three months in this building. When we started we decided to reinvest all our profits into the company for the first year.” She sighed heavily. “Nine more months.” She crossed her fingers and smiled at Haley.
I stepped up to the small wooden desk and paged through their photos. Their portfolio was indeed impressive. I’d misjudged them. Like me, they embraced color. “These are fabulous.” I closed the book and set my portfolio down on the desk for them to review, along with my résumé and a letter of reference Daddy emailed me last night. I needed this job.
I’d been in town for three weeks now, searching desperately for employment that would put me in the vicinity of Booker Gatto or Seth Prescott. I tried the burger stand Gatto frequented, but they weren’t hiring. I’d applied at the police station as a receptionist. They never called me back. I went to the Lunch Swap, a charity Prescott ran, only to be told by some cantankerous old lady named Miss Ethel that the positions were all filled by volunteers. I even applied to be an aide at the hospital because, according to Daddy, Prescott’s girlfriend had an internship there. When I learned I’d have to
“As the advertisement in the paper said, we’ve been hired to decorate the common areas in the new office complex on Main Street,” Haley said as she continued to peruse my portfolio. “A man named Booker Gatto owns the building and he’s hoping to have the place ready to rent out by September.” She nudged her sister, showing her one of my photos of Daddy’s office. Donna looked up from my résumé and glanced at the page, grinning at Haley. They were impressed.
Haley turned to me. “Your paintings are amazing. You could sell these.” She pointed to a photo of an oil canvas I’d done a few years ago. “Your mother, I’m assuming. You look just like her. Latina, correct?”
“Yes, from Mexico City. She was a dancer at her family’s restaurant when she met my father.”
“She’s lovely,” Donna said. “My grandmother is from Chihuahua. She came here as a young woman and worked her way up from waitress to owner of an Italian restaurant, of all things,” she laughed. “I’ll bet your mom is very proud of you and your work. You have a lot of talent.”
“She died when I was ten, but she was always supportive of me and my dreams.” I stopped my hand from rubbing at my heart. It still hurt even after all these years.
“I see you studied design in France?” I nodded at the lie Haley asked about. I’d been to France, and as a tourist studied the art and architecture, but I’d never taken any classes while there. Hopefully a small-time business like this would do very little fact checking.
“Aside from your eye for design, because clearly you have a gift for it,” Donna said, nodding at my portfolio, “what two things would you say are your strong suits?”
“Painting,” I said instantaneously. “I love to paint. Everything from portraits to walls. I mean, seriously, a blank wall is just a huge canvas begging to be made into something beautiful.”
They laughed at my exuberance. “I never quite thought of it that way, but I do love your fervor.” Donna sat dawn behind the desk. “And what is your second strong suit?”
“Organization, I guess. I love to take chaos and tame it into a fresh, uncluttered space,” I said confidently. “It’s liberating.”
Before either could respond, the bell on the front door tinkled again. “Police! Freeze!” boomed a deep male voice from the outer room. My knees gave out. Thankfully I stood next to a chair and sank into it.
How did they know I was here, and what could they possible arrest me for?
Daddy had run a drug ring in Port Fare three years ago with the help of my two brothers. I’d escaped from the nightmare that’d become my life at the time, hiding mostly from Daddy, and knew little to nothing of what went on here. I knew that it ended badly. If I believed my dad’s telling, my brothers were executed by the crooked cops, and he desperately wanted my help with his revenge.
My gaze jumped to the arched doorway. In strutted Booker Gatto. My stomach heaved at the site.
Don’t panic. Stay calm. My poor heart, now racing like a deer caught in a trap, actually hurt as if I’d run a marathon. My breath bounded in short pants as I forced myself to calm down. I’d tried to prepare myself for this moment, but the reality was—I could hardly function.
The pictures Daddy had of him didn’t do him justice. Tall, dark and sexy. His mischievous grin was graced by dimples on each side, and his eyes were a deep brown, like mine. He wore blue pants and a dark blue t-shirt with the letters M-E-T in white stretched tight across his muscular chest. On his left shoulder hung a walkie-talkie, and a leather holster with an intimidating Glock pistol hung low on his hips. His hand rested comfortably on the holster, as if second nature for him to wear a gun. Inwardly, I cringed. I hated guns.
“Booker!” Haley snapped. “You scared Lilah. She’s the only designer with talent to apply for the job we posted. So help me, you better not have scared her off.” Despite her stern chastisement, Haley stepped over to Booker and stretched up to kiss him. He turned his head at the last second and it landed on his cheek.
“I’m sorry.” Booker stepped toward me. I quickly looked down at my hands. If he were half as good a cop as Daddy claimed, I’d have to be extra careful around him. I coyly wiped the sweat off my palms onto my capris and inhaled deeply. Steady, Lilah.
“Are you okay?” Donna asked, squatting down next to me. “You look as if you’re going to faint. Your hands are shaking.”
Think fast. You’re a Dreser. Deception is second nature to you.
“Sorry. Low blood sugar. I get this way when I don’t eat sometimes.” I chuckled. It sounded forced. “My bad,” I added, smiling weakly, tapping the black rimmed glasses back up my nose. “Please don’t let this affect my chances of getting this job. I’ve been searching three weeks for work.”
“You do know the job is per diem since we’re not in a position to hire anyone permanently. At least not yet.” Haley closed my portfolio and passed it back to me. “It’s about a month worth of work, spread out over the summer. But since it is per diem, you can take other jobs outside of Design-Aholics. You’re amazingly talented, Lilah. Once people see your work, you’ll have more jobs than you can handle.”
“Thank you. So does that mean I have the job?” Please. I really needed this. It was the light at the end of a very long tunnel. No more controlled life. No more deception. No more Daddy.
Donna looked at her business partner, who smiled back. “Looks like we have an assistant, Haley,” she said with a nod.
“I’m a good worker. You won’t be sorry, I promise.” A deep breath settled my stomach somewhat.
“If you’re serious about needing work, I just may have a side job for you, if you two don’t mind,” Booker said, stepping forward.
“Not at all,” Donna assured him.
Booker leaned against the desk. His features softened as he scanned my face. If I guessed, I’d say he was concerned. Not going to lie, it seemed strange to see compassion on the face of a supposed killer.
“I’ve a friend named Dr. Cole Colter who needs an office redo. It shouldn’t take you too long. It’s a small space. What he really needs is some organization. Maybe some cabinets, a more functional desk. Is that something you can do?”
“Is it something she can do? It’s one of her strong suits. Here.” Donna handed him my portfolio before I could stop her. If Booker saw the pictures of Daddy’s office, I was dead. Daddy said that Gatto and his men raided the place three years ago. I stood up and took the photos from him and opened it to the pictures of our home in the Caribbean. It was the only home not seized by the government after my brothers died, although Daddy had since sold it, desperate for cash. I showed him the den and living room I’d decorated.
“You have a gift,” Booker said as he examined the page. When he reached to turn the page, I held my breath.
“Captain Gatto. Ten-two please,” demanded a scratchy voice on the shoulder walkie-talkie Booker wore.
He frowned as he pushed the button. “And why would I return to the station? I’ve been on for twenty-seven hours straight. I’m going home and going to bed.” He handed me back my portfolio as he stood.
“Negative. You forgot to sign your reports.” I could’ve been wrong, but I thought the dispatcher was laughing.
Booker groaned. “Just forge my name,” he grumbled, shaking his head. “I’ll be in in an hour. I’ve an errand to run,” he said into the talkie.
He scrubbed his face with his hand before pulling out a set of keys from his pocket. “Here. The
“Yes, especially now that we have Lilah.” Donna walked over to the desk and put them in the top drawer. “We won’t need you until Monday, Lilah.” I nodded.
“If you’re interested in the job I was telling you about, it’s over at the hospital,” Booker said to me.
“You’re going to hire me without looking over more of my work?” I asked, somewhat surprised
“If Donna and Haley believe in you, then I do,” he smiled. “I’m warning you, the place is a real disaster. Sure you’re up for it?” With all my heart I wanted to say no. But I couldn’t. First of all, I needed the money, and second, if this Dr. Cole was a friend of Booker’s, my plan to get close to the cops and earn their trust was about to get a little easier.
“Now, Booker, she needs to be available for this job first,” Haley said sternly.
“Not a problem.” Booker nodded. “We can head over there now and if you decide to take the job, we’ll work around your schedule here. Deal?”
“Yes. Thank you.” I smiled widely.
Booker’s eyes narrowed. “Have we met before? You look kind of familiar.”
“No,” I shook my head. “I have one of those faces. I get that all the time.” I stood, tucking my portfolio securely under my arm.
“I guess so.” He turned to Haley. “Thanks again. I’ll see you on Monday.” He strode through the arch, looking back over his shoulder. “You coming, Lilah?”
I turned to Donna and Haley. “Go ahead,” Haley insisted. “We can fill out the forms and orient you with the project on Monday. Be here at noon. Sound good?”
“Yes, and thank you again. You have no idea how important this is to me.” I grabbed my purse and jogged after Booker to keep up. He’d parked his patrol car directly behind my orange bug.
“I’ll follow you over,” I said, putting my portfolio in the car as Booker went over to his patrol car. He returned before I got in, carrying a small lunch bag.
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