Scarlet Nights: An Edilean Novel (Edilean Novels)

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9781439107997: Scarlet Nights: An Edilean Novel (Edilean Novels)
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What if you learned that your fiancé was not who he claimed to be?

Engaged to the charming and seductive Greg Anders, Sara Shaw is happily anticipating her wedding in Edilean, Virginia. The date has been set, the flowers ordered, even her heirloom dress is ready. But just three weeks before the wedding, Greg gets a telephone call during the night and leaves without explanation. Two days later, a man climbs up through a trapdoor in the floor of Sara’s apartment, claiming that he is the brother of her best friend and that he’s moving in. While Mike Newland is indeed telling the truth about his identity, his reason for being there reaches far deeper. He’s an undercover detective, and his assignment is to use Sara to track down a woman who is one of the most notorious criminals in the United States—and also happens to be the mother of the man Sara plans to marry.

Mike thinks the job will be easy—if he can figure out how to make a “good” girl like Sara trust him, that is. But Mike has no idea what this mission has in store for him. He’s worked hard to keep private his connections to Edilean, which date back to his grandmother’s time there in 1941. But as Mike and Sara get to know each other, he can’t help but share secrets about himself that he’s told no one else. And in return, Sara opens up to Mike about things she could never reveal to Greg. As the pair work together to solve two mysteries, their growing love begins to heal each of them in ways they never could have imagined.

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About the Author:

Jude Deveraux is the author of more than forty New York Times bestsellers, including Moonlight in the Morning, The Scent of Jasmine, Scarlet Nights, Days of Gold, Lavender Morning, Return to Summerhouse, and Secrets. To date, there are more than sixty million copies of her books in print worldwide. To learn more, visit JudeDeveraux.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA


I THINK WE’VE FOUND her,” Captain Erickson said. His voice was forced, showing that he was working hard to control his jubilation.

They were sitting at a picnic table at the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, just off A1A in Fort Lauderdale. It was a September morning, and South Florida was beginning to cool off. By next month the weather would be divine.

“I guess you mean Mitzi,” Mike Newland said, for just yesterday the captain had given him a thick file on the family. Mizelli Vandlo was a woman several police departments, including the fraud squad of Fort Lauderdale, plus the Secret Service—for financial crimes—and the FBI—for violence—had been searching for for years. As far as anyone knew, the only photo of her had been taken in 1973, when she was sixteen and about to marry a fifty-one-year-old man. Even then, she was no beauty and her face was easily remembered for its large nose and lipless mouth.

When the captain didn’t answer, Mike knew that a Big Job was coming, and he worked to keep his temper from rising to the surface. He’d just finished an undercover case that had taken three years, and for a while there had been contracts out on his life.

Although Mike had never worked on the Vandlo case, he’d heard that a few years ago there had been major arrests in the family, all of it happening on one day, but in several cities. But Mitzi, her son Stefan, and some other family members—all of whom they had many photos of—had somehow been tipped off and had quietly slipped away. Until recently, no one had known where they’d gone.

Mike poured green tea from a thermos into a cup and offered it to the captain.

“No thanks,” the captain said, shaking his head. “I’ll stick with this.” He held up a can of something that was full of additives and caffeine.

“So where is she?” Mike asked, his voice even more raspy than usual. He often had to answer questions about his voice, and his standard half-lie was that it was caused by a childhood accident. Sometimes he even elaborated and made up stories about tricycles or car wrecks, whatever appealed to him that day. No matter what the story, Mike’s voice was as intimidating as his body was when he went into action.

“Ever hear of ...?” As the captain fumbled in his shirt pocket for a piece of paper, Mike could tell that he was excited about something other than finding Mitzi. After all, this was at least the sixth time they’d heard she’d been found. “Ah, here it is.” The captain’s eyes were dancing about. “Let’s see if I can pronounce the name of this place.”

“Czechoslovakia no longer exists,” Mike said, deadpan.

“No, no, this town is in the U.S. Somewhere up north.”

“Jacksonville is ‘up north.’”

“Found it,” the captain said. “Eddy something. Eddy ... Lean.”

“Eddy Lean is a person’s name, not a place.”

“Maybe I’m saying it wrong. Say it faster.”

A muscle worked in Mike’s jaw. He didn’t like whatever game the captain was trying to play. “Eddylean. Never heard of it. So where—?” Halting, Mike took in a breath. “Ed-uh-lean,” he said softly, his voice so low the captain could hardly hear him. “Edilean.”

“That’s it.” The captain put the paper back into his pocket. “Ever hear of the place?”

Mike’s hands began to shake so much he couldn’t lift his cup. He willed them to be still—while he tried to relax his face so his panic wouldn’t show. He’d told only one man about Edilean, and that had been a long time ago. If that man was involved, there was danger. “I’m sure you’ve found out that my sister lives there,” Mike said quietly.

The captain’s face lost its smile. He’d meant to tease Mike, but he didn’t like seeing such raw emotion in one of the men under his command. “So I was told, but this case has nothing to do with her. And before you ask, no one but me and the attorney general know about her being there.”

Mike worked on controlling his heart rate. Many times before he’d been in situations where he’d had to make people believe he was who he wasn’t, so he’d learned to keep calm at all costs. But in those times, it had been his own life in danger. If there was something going on in tiny Edilean, Virginia, then the life of the only person who mattered to him, his sister Tess, was in jeopardy.

“Mike!” the captain said loudly, then lowered his voice. “Come back to earth. No one knows about you or your hometown or your sister, and she’s perfectly safe.” He hesitated. “I take it you two are close?”

Mike gave a one-shoulder shrug. Experience had taught him to reveal as little about himself as possible.

“Okay, so don’t tell me anything. But you do know the place, right?”

“Never been there in my life.” Mike forced a grin. He was back to being himself and was glad to see the frown that ran across the captain’s face. Mike liked to be the one in charge of a situation. “You want to tell me what this is about? I can’t imagine that anything bad has happened in little Edilean.” Not since 1941, he thought as about a hundred images ran through his mind—and not one of them was good. While it was true that he’d never actually been to Edilean, the town and its inhabitants had ruled his childhood. He couldn’t help it as he put his hand to his throat and remembered that day and his angry, hate-filled grandmother.

“Nothing has happened, at least not yet,” the captain said, “but we do know that Stefan is there.”

“In Edilean? What’s he after?”

“We don’t know, but he’s about to marry some hometown girl.” The captain took a drink of his cola. “Poor thing. She grew up in a place that sells tractors, then Stefan comes along with his big-city razzle-dazzle and sweeps her off her feet. She never had a chance.”

Mike bent his head to hide a smile. The captain was a native of South Florida where there were stores on every corner. He felt sorry for anyone who’d ever had to shovel snow. “Her name’s Susie. Or something with an S.” He picked up a file folder from beside him on the bench. “It’s Sara—”

“Shaw,” Mike said. “She’s to marry Greg Anders. Although I take it Greg Anders is actually Mitzi’s son, Stefan?”

“You sure know a lot about the place for someone who’s never been there.” The captain paused, giving Mike room to explain himself, but he said nothing. “Yeah, he’s Stefan and we have reason to believe that Mitzi is also living in that town.”

“And no one would pay attention to a middle-aged woman.”

“Right.” The captain slid the folder across the table to Mike. “We don’t know what’s going on or why two major criminals are there, so we need someone to find out. Since you have a connection to the place, you’re the winner.”

“And here I’d never considered myself a lucky man.” When Mike opened the folder, he saw that the first page was from the Decatur, Illinois, police department. He looked at the captain in question.

“It’s all in there about how Stefan was found. An off-duty cop was on vacation in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife and he saw Stefan and the girl in a dress shop. The cop found out where they lived. As for you, a guy you worked with a long time ago knew about Edilean and your sister.” When Mike frowned at that, the captain couldn’t help grinning. Mike’s secrecy—or “privacy” as he called it—could be maddening. Everybody in the fraud squad would go out for a few beers and afterward the captain would know whose wife had walked out, who was getting it on with a “badge bunny,” and who was having trouble with a case. But not Mike. He’d talk as much as the other guys as he told about his training sessions, his food, and even about his car. It seemed like he’d told a lot about himself, but the next day the captain would realize that he’d learned absolutely nothing personal about Mike.

When the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Florida called and said they thought one of the most notorious criminals in the United States might be in Edilean, Virginia, and that Mike Newland’s sister lived there, the captain nearly choked on his coffee. He would have put money on it that Mike didn’t have a relative in the world. In fact, the captain wasn’t sure Mike had ever had a girlfriend outside a case. He never brought one to the squad functions, and as far as the captain knew, Mike had never invited anyone to his apartment—which changed every six months. But then, Mike was the best undercover cop they’d ever had. After every assignment, he’d had to hide until all of the people he’d exposed were in prison.

Mike closed the folder. “When do I go and what do I do?”

“We want you to save her.”

“Mitzi?” Mike asked in genuine horror. “So she can stand trial?”

“No, not her. The girl. Of course we want you to find Mitzi, but we also want you to save this Sara Shaw. Once the Vandlos get whatever it is they want from her, no one will ever see her again.” He paused. “Mike?”

He looked at the captain.

“If your sister really is there and if they find out about you ...”

“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “Right now Tess is in Europe on her honeymoon. I’ll tell her to keep her new husband out of town until this is solved one way or the other.”

The captain opened another folder and withdrew an eight-by-ten glossy of a woman with dark hair and eyes. She was stunningly beautiful. She was standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, and a slight wind had blown her clothes close to her body. She had a figure that made a man draw in his breath. “Does your sister really look like this?”

Mike barely glanced at the photo. “Only on her worst days.”

The captain blinked a few times. “Okay.” He put a picture of Sara Shaw on the table. The young woman had an oval face, light hair, and was wearing a white dress that made her look as sweet as Mike’s sister looked, well, tempting. “She’s not Vandlo’s usual type.”

Mike picked up the photo and studied it. He wasn’t about to tell the captain that he knew quite a bit about Sara Shaw. She was one of his sister’s two best friends, which said a lot, since Tess’s sharp tongue didn’t win over many people. But from their first meeting Sara had seen past Tess’s biting words and extraordinary looks to the person beneath.

“Do you know her?”

“Never met Miss Shaw, but I’ve heard some about her.” He put the picture down. “So no one has any idea what the Vandlos want in Edilean?”

“There’s been a lot of research both from a distance and locally, but everybody who tried drew a blank. Whatever it is, Miss Shaw seems to be at the center of it. Is she rich but no one knows about it? Is she about to inherit millions?”

“Not that I’ve heard. She just opened a shop with ...” His sister kept him up-to-date on the gossip in Edilean, but it wasn’t easy to remember it all. Now it seemed that every word she’d told him was of vital importance. “With her fiancé, Greg Anders. Tess hates the man, says he snubs everyone who isn’t buying something from him. But Tess does all of Sara’s accounting, so she’s made sure Sara hasn’t been put into debt by him.”

“That sounds like a Vandlo.” The captain hesitated. “Your sister manages people’s finances?” His tone said that he couldn’t believe a woman who looked like Tess could also have a brain.

Mike had no intention of answering that. He well knew the captain’s curiosity about his private life and he wasn’t going to reveal anything. “So you want me to catch these criminals, but I’m also to get the lovely Miss Shaw away from Stefan Vandlo? Is my assignment to follow and watch? Or am I to do more than that?”

“You have to do whatever you must to keep her alive. We think Stefan will murder Sara the minute he gets what he wants from her—and what he seems to want most is marriage.”

“My hunch is that since the dresses in the shop are expensive, Sara must get into a lot of rich houses. Maybe the Vandlos want to see what’s in them.”

“That’s what we thought too, but as her boyfriend, Vandlo already has access to the houses and no robberies have been reported. It’s bigger than that and no one has a clue what it is.” The captain tapped the folder. “After you read what’s in here, I think you’ll see that this scam of theirs is much more than just stealing a few necklaces. It’s got to be, if both mother and son are there.” He lowered his voice. “We think Stefan divorced his wife of nineteen years just so his marriage to Miss Shaw will be legal—which means he’ll inherit whatever she owns after she dies in some so-called accident.” He looked at Mike expectantly. “You’re sure you have no idea what’s connected to Miss Shaw that’s so valuable that two of the most evil conners in the world have prepared so well for this?”

“None whatever,” Mike said honestly. “The McDowells are rich, and Luke Connor lives there, but—”

“The author of the Thomas Canon books? I’ve read every one of them! Hey! Maybe you can get me an autographed copy.”

“Sure. I’ll be a tourist who’s lost his way.”

The captain became serious again. “Too distant. You’re going to have to use your connections to your sister, to the town, anything you can find, to get close enough to this girl to talk her out of marrying Stefan. We do not want it set up that he can inherit what is hers. And you have to do this right away because the wedding is in three weeks.”

Mike looked at him in disbelief. “What am I supposed to do? Seduce her?”

“No one would ask you to do this if we didn’t think you could. And, besides, I seem to remember that you’ve succeeded with several women. There was that girl in Lake Worth. What was her name?”

“Tracy, and she got ten to twenty. This one is a good girl. How do I deal with her?”

“I don’t know. Treat her like a lady. Cook for her. Pull out her chair. Girls like her fall for gentlemen. I’m sure that’s how Vandlo got her. And before you ask, no, you can’t kidnap her and you can’t shoot Stefan. This young woman, Sara Shaw, has to stay there to help you find out what those two want.” The captain grinned in a malicious way. “We’ve arranged for Stefan to be away for the whole time before the wedding. We gave him some family troubles that he can’t ignore.”

“Such as?”

“Even though he divorced his wife, we know he’s still attached to her, so we arrested her on a DUI charge—which was easy. She’s done a lot of drinking since Stefan left her, so we just picked her up one night, and now she’s facing jail. We let her call him in the wee hours, and just as we’d hoped, he came immediately. If he gives us any trouble, we’ll lock him up until he cools off.” The captain smiled. “I wonder what he told his fiancée to explain why he went running off to his ex-wife?”

Mike was closing his thermos, his mind still on how to accomplish this mission. “I doubt if a liar like Vandlo had told her about his ex-wife.”

“Eventually, you’ll have to tell Miss Shaw the truth, so that should be a point in your favor. Whatever you do, you just have to do it fast,” the captain said. “And never forget that this young woman would be the fourth one to disappear after she got attached to Stefan Vandlo. He used a fake name and took those girls for everything they h...

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