Iris Johansen The Perfect Witness: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781250020055

The Perfect Witness: A Novel

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9781250020055: The Perfect Witness: A Novel
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She had the perfect life.
She had the perfect cover.
She was the perfect witness.
Until they found her.

When Teresa Casali was young she discovered she had a strange gift: the ability to read people's memories. But the gift seemed more like a curse as her mob boss father used her to gain the upper hand in his world of corruption and violence. Exposed by her own family to the darkest impulses of mankind, Teresa is alone and unprotected. She realizes that if she is to survive, she has to run.

Out of nowhere, or so she believes, a man by the name of Andre Mandak appears. He kills her pursuers―but that's not nearly enough for Teresa to trust him. It is his promise to get her into Witness Protection, along with his mind-blowing ability to help her control her gift before it consumes her, that convinces Teresa Casali to become Allie Girard. Living a normal life with a new family, she shuts the door to the past ...although Mandak is clear: when the time is right, he too will benefit from her powers.

For years Allie flourishes ...until the day her cover is blown and the truth comes tumbling out. Once again she is on the run, with her own life and those of her loved ones at stake. But this time she will not be a pawn. This time she will use her finely honed gift to end the threat that began with her family's betrayal. From perfect target to perfect witness, Allie Girard is ready to take on the past even if it kills her.

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About the Author:

IRIS JOHANSEN is The New York Times bestselling author of Live to See Tomorrow, Silencing Eve, Hunting Eve, Taking Eve, Sleep No More, What Doesn't Kill You, Bonnie, Quinn, Eve, Chasing The Night, Eight Days to Live, Blood Game, Deadlock, Dark Summer, Pandora's Daughter, Quicksand, Killer Dreams, On The Run, Countdown, Firestorm, Fatal Tide, Dead Aim, No One To Trust and more. And with her son, Roy Johansen, she has coauthored Sight Unseen., Close Your Eyes, Shadow Zone, Storm Cycle, and Silent Thunder.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE

SHE WAS BLEEDING …

 

The pain in her side was almost overwhelming.

Teresa could hear the three men behind her in the forest, crashing through the underbrush.

Run.

No time to try to stop the bleeding. If she didn’t get away from them, there would be another bullet, another wound.

Or death.

She had been lucky to have seen them coming up the road toward the cabin and guessed that they had been sent to kill her. She had slipped out of the cabin, but they had caught sight of her running into the woods. She had heard Mick Judaro shout to Tantona when he saw her. He’s been surprised, they’d thought she’d be easy game. But she’d been waiting for them for the last three days.

Waiting for death.

No, she wouldn’t let them kill her. She could feel the anger tearing through her, smothering the fear.

“Stop, Teresa. We didn’t mean to hurt you. That was only supposed to be a warning shot.” It was Hank Tantona calling out to her. “We were just sent to bring you back. You know me. I’ve watched you grow up. I was at your sixteenth birthday party last month.”

She had not wanted to have that party, but Mother had insisted. She had said it would look strange if she didn’t throw a party for her. And she had been aware of Tantona leaning against the wall while she blew out the candles. Smiling, joking with her father. She hadn’t been able to look at him.

His memories were too dark, too ugly, swirling around, pushing into every corner of his mind. He didn’t try to keep that ugliness tucked away. He was proud of it.

Like her father.

But she had learned to shut herself away from her father’s memories. She wouldn’t have been able to survive living with him if she hadn’t.

She ran faster.

“I know you’re scared,” Tantona shouted. “But Rico Camano doesn’t want to hurt you either. He only wants to talk to you. He was a good friend to your father. He wants to find out who murdered him. He thinks you can help.”

Liar. Liar. Liar.

“But you have to obey Camano just like you did your father. After all, he’s our boss now, Teresa. He’s the Don. And your father would like him to be in charge now that he’s gone. Camano will treat you well if you just do what he says.”

Camano would kill her. She had seen it in his face at her father’s funeral. He had smiled at her and patted her shoulder, but she could still feel the coldness of him.

Then he had smiled at her mother, Gina, and she had smiled back.

And Teresa had known that she was alone.

“But if you don’t stop, we may have to take you down, Teresa,” Tantona called. “We’ll try not to hurt you again, but I can’t promise. Just give up and let us talk to you.”

Her breath was coming in gasps, and the pain was getting worse. “Blood,” she muttered. She had to do something about that blood …

“Yes, you do.”

She paused, startled at the words that had come out of nowhere. Her gaze flew to the path in front of her.

A man stood on the path a few yards away. Tall, dark-haired, gleaming, light blue eyes. Dressed in dark jeans and sweatshirt. She didn’t recognize him. He was a stranger. But everyone was the enemy.

Her hand tightened on the branch in her hand, then she crouched and swung the branch at him like a club.

He grabbed it and wrenched her arm until the branch dropped to the ground. “You don’t have time for this. I’m no threat to you, Teresa.”

She punched him in the stomach.

He muttered a curse and swung her around and shoved her up the path. “I told you I was no threat. Get out of here. You have only a few minutes. I’ll take care of Tantona and the others. Wait for me on the hill, and I’ll look at that wound.”

She hesitated only for a second, then took off running again. She didn’t know what was going on, but it couldn’t be worse than what she was facing now. He was a stranger, but strangers couldn’t be any more dangerous than those people with whom she’d spent her entire life.

Mother …

Don’t think of her. It hurt too much.

Keep running.

She heard a scream behind her. Then a curse, then another sound that was like a grunt.

Had Tantona killed him?

The wet shrubs were striking her face as she ran up the hill.

Get away. He had told her to wait, but he was probably a dead man.

If he wasn’t, he could be just as much a danger to her as the men who had shot her. She couldn’t trust him. She couldn’t trust anyone.

“Dammit, stop.” The stranger’s voice behind her. “You’re okay now. No one’s chasing you. Correction. No one but me. Stop.”

She kept running.

Two minutes later, he tackled her from behind and took her down.

She rolled over, and her fist struck out and hit his mouth. Then she butted her head up and struck his chest as hard as she could.

Dizzy. Her head was spinning.

But she tried to do it again.

He muttered a curse as he straddled her and pinned her shoulders to the ground. “I’m not going to hurt you, you little tarantula.”

“No, you’re not,” she said fiercely, and moved her head, so that she could sink her teeth into his hand on her shoulder.

He didn’t move but said through clenched teeth, “Get your fangs out of me, or I’ll knock you out and explain later. Do you want me to prove that I’m not one of Camano’s errand boys? I will. No problem. Let’s go down the hill, and I’ll show you their bodies.”

She stiffened and removed her teeth from his hand. “That doesn’t prove you’re not just as bad.” She was silent, looking up at him. “Did you really kill them?”

He shrugged. “It was the only way to stop them. Camano had given them orders. He would have taken you alive, but he’d be relieved if you were dead.”

“How do you know what Camano wants or doesn’t want?”

“Not because I belong to his fine organization. He’s as dirty a gangster as your father was before him. I don’t give a damn about him.” He met her eyes. “But I do give a damn about you. I want to help you.”

“Bullshit. I don’t know you. Get off me.”

“Then let me introduce myself. My name is Andre Mandak. And I’ll get off you if you promise you won’t kick me in the nuts or run away. And if you’ll let me take a look at that wound and stop the bleeding.”

“Why would you want do anything to help me? I don’t know you.”

“You’ve said that before. Maybe I’m just a good Samaritan.”

“Bullshit.”

“You’ve said that before, too. I know you’re scared, but think. I saved your life. Why would I want to take it now?”

“I don’t trust you.”

“You don’t trust anyone. Deal with it. I’m the only game in town.”

She stared up at him, then slowly nodded. “Get off me.”

He swung off her and helped her to her feet. “I’ll take you to my car on the road and see if I can stop that bleeding and—”

“I’m not getting into any car,” she said flatly. “And how do I know that you really did kill those men who were after me? Maybe it’s a lie to trick me.” She started back down the hill. “I want to see them for myself.”

“Really?” He followed her. “Are you sure? Corpses aren’t a pleasant sight.”

“I have to know if you lied to me.” Her hand was holding the wound in her side. It was wet with blood. Pain … She had to keep on going. “If you work for Camano, too, I don’t think you’d kill his men. It wouldn’t make sense. So I might be able to trust you to— No, but maybe I could—” She stopped again. She wasn’t thinking clearly. She whirled to face him. “But you took away that club I had. If you really want to help me, give me your gun or something else to protect myself if you’ve lied to me.”

“What?” He shook his head. “I didn’t expect that.” He hesitated an instant. “No gun, that would be too easy to turn against me.” He reached in his jacket pocket and took out a long, slender dagger. “That’s not enough to prove I’m on your side?” He gave the dagger to her. “No, I guess not.”

“I have to know that they’re dead. Then I might be able to listen to you and decide what you want from me.”

“And someone is always wanting something from you, aren’t they, Teresa?” he asked quietly. “You’re only sixteen. How long has it been going on?”

“None of your business,” she said jerkily. Don’t give in to the weakness. Put one foot in front of the other. “Where are Tantona and the others?”

“You’re my business, or I wouldn’t be here,” he said roughly. “And part of that business is keeping you alive. Will you give this up and let me stop that bleeding?”

“Where are they?”

“Behind those trees up ahead. You’re running a big risk just to see if I’m lying to you.”

“I know. How else can I find out? You could be tricking me. But you could have killed me back there. I don’t know why you didn’t. Either way it’s a risk. I can’t trust anyone. But I have to find out for sure who I have to fight.”

“By all means, go check them out. Considering the fact that your dirtbag father raised you as a Mafia princess, I’m sure you shouldn’t be shocked at a few dead bodies.”

He was angry, she realized. Were those words supposed to hurt her? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but finding a way to get away from Camano.

She faded to the left when she reached the trees and tried to creep quietly forward in case there was someone in wait for her. Her hand tightened on the dagger. She stopped and listened.

No sound.

Her gaze searched the darkness.

She went a few steps deeper into the trees.

The first body she saw was that of Georgie Sohler. He was lying crumpled beside an oak tree. His head was twisted at an odd angle.

Shock. She stopped short, then forced herself to keep on walking.

A few yards later she saw Mick Judaro lying with eyes wide open staring at the sky.

“Seen enough?” Mandak asked, behind her.

She shook her head, moving forward.

Tantona’s throat had been cut, and there was a pool of blood on the ground around him.

Dead. All dead.

“Satisfied?” Andre Mandak asked.

“Satisfied I’m safe from them.” She couldn’t take her eyes from the wound in Tantona’s throat. “Not satisfied that I’m safe from you. You’re a murderer like them. You killed them all in just a matter of minutes.” She was dizzy, and it was hard to form the words. “Maybe you’re … worse than they were.”

“Or better. It depends on how you look at it.” He took a step closer to her. “But I’m not going to hurt you, dammit. Now let me—”

Her knees were buckling. She was falling …

He caught her before she reached the ground. He took the dagger from her hand. Then he lifted her and was carrying her through the trees.

“Let me … down.”

“No way. I’ve wasted enough time already. I can’t be sure that Tantona didn’t phone a location to Camano while he was chasing you.”

“Camano already … knew I was at the cabin. That’s why he sent them.”

“How did he know?”

“She … told him.”

“Who?”

“My mother.” It hurt to say the words. “She … told him.”

He was silent. “You’re sure?”

“I’m … sure.”

“Son of a bitch.

He was angry again. She didn’t think that it was with her this time … “What are you going to do to me?” She moistened her lips, then said fiercely, “I won’t let you kill me. I’m not going to die. Do you hear me? I’ll fight you.”

“I know you will. You’re ready to fight the whole damn world.” He was looking straight ahead. “But you don’t listen. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m your best hope to stay alive.”

“Why?” she whispered. “If you help me, Camano will kill you.”

He didn’t answer.

And she didn’t care. She was getting dizzy again. It might be okay to hope that he didn’t want to hurt her or kill her and just let go …

“You were wrong about me,” she whispered. “I’ve only saw one man who had been murdered before tonight. But he was shot in the head. Hideous…”

“Your father did it?”

Jokman’s skull exploding and blood and brains blowing in all directions.

Guilt. Terrible guilt.

Scream. She had screamed …

“No, I did it. It was me…”

Darkness.

*   *   *

GLITTERING STARS. TALL TREES. Wisps of smoke.

A crackling fire only a few feet away.

And Andre Mandak was kneeling beside her, his gaze focused intently on the bandage he was applying to the wound in her side. He looked up as he felt her stiffen. “Back with me? I was beginning to worry. You lost quite a bit of blood. The wound isn’t all that bad, just a flesh wound. But you probably suffered shock.”

“Where are we?”

“After I stopped the blood, I drove twenty or thirty miles down the road and set up camp to finish the job.” He was buttoning up her shirt. “You need blood, but it’s not urgent. I’ll get you to someone I trust to check my first aid within the next twelve hours or so.” He smiled. “But I don’t anticipate any complaints. I’m pretty damn good.”

She shook her head. “You’re crazy. I’m not going to take that chance. I don’t know or trust you. Why should I trust your friend?”

“No reason. Except that from now on I’m going to run the show.”

“Bullshit.”

“That’s the way it has to be,” he said as he moved a few yards away from her. “Unless you particularly want Camano to kill you or get his hands on you. Neither would be pleasant. I understand that he has certain ambitions in which he thinks you might be a help or hindrance.”

“I can run. I can hide. I don’t need you.”

“The hell you don’t. If I help you, you’ll survive. If I don’t, you may last six months.” He smiled and coaxed, “Come on, Teresa. Use me. People have been using you for most of your life. It’s your turn now.”

She stared at him. He had suddenly turned from brutal frankness to a charisma that was almost mesmerizing. She had only been vaguely aware of him as a man since he had appeared in her life tonight. He had only been a threat and a puzzle and the faint stirring of hope.

Close-cut dark hair, blue eyes beneath slashing dark brows, high cheekbones, and a beautifully shaped sensual mouth. How old? Late twenties? Early thirties? He was dressed in dark jeans and sweatshirt that revealed he was lean but muscular and very strong in spite of his slimness. He had carried her with no problem at all. “Who are you? Not your name, Mandak. Who are you to me?”

“Who am I?” He thought about it. “Your savior? Your teacher? Anything else will have to be worked out between us.”

“Savior?”

“I killed three men for you tonight. Doesn’t that qualify?”

“How did you even know I was in those woods tonight?”

“I’ve been waiting … and watching. I knew it was going to happen soon.”

“What? How?”

“Because it wasn’t reasonable that they’d let you go peacefully. It would have been too dangerous for Camano.” He paused. “I didn’t know that your mother was involved.”

“I don’t want to talk about her,” she said shakily. “She didn’t mean for anyone to hurt me. She loves me.”

“Very well. But I had to know if she’s a threat.”

“Why? Why do you have to know anything? Who the hell are you? How do I know that you won’t try to sell me to Camano? I don’t know you.”

“But I know you. I’ve been watching you for a long time.” He held up his hand as she opened her lips to speak. “I’ll tell you as much as I can. I’ve been keeping an eye on your father and his relationship with you for the last few years after it came to my attention.”

She stiffened. “What came to your attention?”

He only stared at her.

“What?” she said through clenched teet...

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