LILY ~ NOW
Every good story starts with a lie.
Moonlight streams through my kitchen window and bathes my countertops in clean, white light. It’s deceptive, the moonlight. Nothing about the night is clean.
My phone vibrates against my hand as I press my index finger over the fingerprint scanner. Text eighteen of twenty rolls in.
A second layer of security prompts a sixteen-digit pass code that appears random but is really a set of my best friend’s and my husband’s birthdays. And mine. My real birthdate. Not the one I scratch out on medical history forms or that sits on mine and Evan’s marriage certificate. The birthdate I hold tight. Hold secret.
I scroll through my girls’ home safe messages. The phone vibrates again—nineteen out of twenty reporting in. Four in the morning—curfew. Cuts down on profits, but I’d rather them be safe and rested than deal with the kind of client that books all-nighters. I check the names, all in code.
Zelda hasn’t checked in. My hands start buzzing, my adrenaline already revving up.
Any of the other girls, and I’d assume they’d forgotten. Not Zelda. A pre-law student from some trailer town in East Texas, she’s who I used to be, responsible and wide-eyed and believing the promises she makes to herself.
My eyes flit to the upper kitchen cabinet where I keep my weapon. Thirty minutes. The girls get a thirty-minute grace period before I go after them and kick some client ass. No one messes with my girls.
I pull out a pie sheet and get to work on pie one of four. Cherry pie, this one. I check the clock. Should have enough time to throw it together. At the very least, it’ll keep me from running out of this house, guns blazing, before the grace period is up. And it gives me a head start on getting ready for our annual spring barbecue. As Evan would say, win-win.
Twenty minutes later, I finish up the intricate basket weaving of the pie’s top crust and gently press on the University of Texas logo I’ve cut out of the extra dough. Our friends will love it. I shove the pie into the overstuffed refrigerator and wipe my hands on my apron. Mrs. Susie Homemaker, that’s me.
The house is quiet, except for the ticking of Evan’s grandmother’s mantel clock. Our home is full of inherited antiques, and not one of them is mine.
My grandmother had this gorgeous colonial-style buffet from the late 1800s. She kept all her china inside and a crystal candy bowl on top, filled with glass fruit. Every visit to her house, she’d let me pick two tea cups with matching plates out of the buffet, and we would have a tea party. Even as a kid, I loved that buffet. She told me after I grew up and had a house of my own, I could have it.
That was before.
Evan is upstairs in our room, sleeping the sleep of Lumeria. My phone still hasn’t vibrated with a message from Zelda, and I push down the sickening twinge in my stomach. Worry won’t help her. Certainly won’t help me.
I hop onto the counter and reach for the top of the cabinet, my fingers brushing against the slick metal of my Beretta, hidden beneath the silk greenery I spent hours arranging last summer.
Firearm safety says to keep bullets separate from the firearm.
Street survival says that’s a good way to get killed.
I grab the rubber grip, check the safety, and hop down from the counter.
“Lily, what are you doing?” Evan’s voice is a gunshot through the kitchen, hitting the bullseye on my spine and plowing straight to my heart.
I slip the Beretta into my apron pocket and turn around, the gun’s weight tugging at the ties around my waist.
Evan’s hair is sticking up in the back, Dennis the Menace style. His gray eyes are slitted like a napping cat’s, one who’s been awakened before he’s ready.
“Baking,” I manage and hope the chitter in my bones doesn’t come through my voice. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“You’re baking from the top of the cabinet?”
My stomach dead drops. Oh god.
“Thought I stored your grandmother’s pie plate up there.” There’s a definite tell to my voice now. Good grief, I used to be so much better at this. Either I’m getting used to telling the truth or the years of living a double life are finally wearing me down.
Evan’s eyes slide to the countertop, where his grandmother’s pie plate is displayed on an easel. Where it’s been displayed on an easel since we moved into this house, three years ago.
I give him a sheepish smile and grab the pie plate.
“Honey, you need sleep. You can’t keep waking up in the middle of the night.” He reaches a hand out to me.
I’m going to have to get him to up his sleeping pill strength.
“This is my body’s natural awake time. I’ll get in a nap later, like I always do.” I prop my hand on my hip and lean a bit, letting him see down my negligée. “You could stay home from work and join me.” I lick my lips, making him an offer I know he’ll refuse. The only thing Evan loves more than me is his job.
“I could join you now.” His eyes go all glinty and his eyebrows raise, giving me his come-hither look. “Such a sexy chef.” He comes close, so I put the kitchen island between us. I want him, I always want him, but I can’t right now. I check the clock again. Four minutes. Zelda has four minutes before I know she’s in trouble. And there’s no one to save her except me.
A mischievous smirk tugs at Evan’s mouth, and he growls, a low, predator sound that would normally have me growling back and tackling him right on this island.
“I’d love to, you sexy beast.” I purr my words, curling my tongue around each syllable even as I untie my gun-weighted apron. “But I’m out of butter.”
Evan stops mid-growl. “Butter? You’re saying no to this”—he gestures at himself—“for butter?”
“Sorry, love.” I walk around the island and kiss him on the cheek. “Gotta make the pies for all those people you invited over.” I give his butt a squeeze. “After everyone’s left, I expect you to eat this pie off every inch of me.”
He groans as I disappear into the laundry room, where I hide my apron and pull on jeans and a cardigan over my negligée, discreetly hide my gun in my purse, and scoot out of the house, my heart barely recovering from the near miss. If he knew my secrets, he’d smash my heart to bits and never look back.
Evan doesn’t know.
And I intend to keep it that way.
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