THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S GREATEST HITS (Book 16)
eBook: 9781942052791 ($3.99)
Trade Paperback: 9781942052784 ($16.99)
IN BOOK 16 OF THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN SERIES:
As housewife assassin Donna Stone Craig's life hangs in the balance, a deadly bet with the Grim Reaper brings forth a cavalcade of ghosts from her past: those whom she loved and lost, and those whose lives she took. Their sometimes chilling but always insightful points-of-view on Donna's life leave her with a few regrets, and at the same time grant her the redemption she needs to keep living. But first she must beat the Reaper at his own game.
“This novel is the 16th book in author Josie Brown’s fantastic Housewife Assassin series, and WOW! That doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt about this book. I loved the story, as we get to reconnect with many past characters, both good and bad.
I adore Donna, the heroine, more and more with each book. To be honest, I would highly suggest this book, and this series (please read in order), but I do have one recommendation to go along with it: bring a box of Kleenex. I admit it, I sobbed while reading this book.
So what’s a girl to do after finishing this incredible tale? Reread the whole series from the beginning!” —Night Owl Reviews
Chapter 1: That’ll Be the Day (That I Die)
Recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Released May 1957, the song spent one week on the greatest hits chart at Number One.
You find a man’s body in a ditch. It is face down and seems to be unconscious—or worse yet, dead. How can you tell if he is still alive?
First, check for a pulse. You do this by placing two fingers on the man's wrist. If a few minutes go by and you haven’t felt a heartbeat, time to face up to the fact that you’ve been holding hands with a dead man. Drop it before someone sees you and thinks you have some sick fetish.
Next, hold up a mirror under his nose to discern if any vapor is exhaled. If indeed some condensation collects, well then huzzah, you’ve got a live one! (Tip: Do wait a bit after he gains consciousness before suggesting he clip any nose hairs you found particularly disgusting.)
A final suggestion: give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If he doesn’t come to, restrain the urge to tell any future blind dates that you kissed a stiff. Seriously, you don’t want a corpse’s kiss to be your last.
The howls from the Russian hacker whose spine I’m crushing with my knee could easily pass for Chewbacca’s signature wail.
Despite this, no one else on this floor of the San Diego Marriott seems a bit concerned. In fact, applause can be heard coming from up and down the hall. It is, after all, the middle of Comic-Con.
I’m dressed in a replica of the iconic Slave Girl outfit: perfect for luring my Star Wars-obsessed target into my ad hoc torture chamber. In fact, Russian Hacker is dressed as Darth Vader—or was, until I convinced him that stripping naked except for his helmet was a much better look for a princess with daddy issues.
Darth’s costume is apropos since he and a few of his tech team in Russia’s intelligence agency, the GRU, successfully hacked the cell phones of every member of the United States Congress and the U.S. Senate. (Really? Would our elected officials believe POTUS would send a personal email invitation to his wife’s book launch party with her name misspelled? But I digress…)
My Leia-kini may not leave much to the imagination, but hidden within the links of my fifteen-foot-long slave girl chain are all sorts of goodies that will give any man nightmares he’ll never forget. Whereas a few twists of the nipple clamps got Darth to follow me anywhere—even to the bed, where he now lies, spread-eagled—he has yet to give up the intel I need: his phone’s password. Through the device, the CIA can release an undetectable virus that will allow it to peruse all the GRU’s dirty little secrets—
Especially as they pertain to all that Putin and company know about us. One good hack deserves another, right?
It should be interesting to see how their dictator—COUGH—president reacts when he learns that he’s lost Russia’s next election.
Darth’s hacking mission was so successful that he and the rest of his tech team—for now, let’s just call the other two guys Han and Luke—were rewarded with a trip to anywhere in the world they wanted to go. Where did they choose? You guessed it: Disneyland!
So, off they went in a private plane formerly belonging to a Russian oil oligarch who disappeared after refusing to allow Putin’s cousin to buy his company for a few shekels on the ruble. However, the moment the plane landed in Orange County, Darth, Han, and Luke ditched their GRU babysitters and hightailed it to Comic-Con instead.
I intercepted Darth at a Star Wars Cosplay meet-up sponsored by Tinder. His English is good enough that he understands the words sex, drugs, and nipple clamps. Who’d have figured that our revered statesmen’s texts could serve as the perfect S&M language primer for our enemies?
What Darth didn’t understand is that he’d be wearing the nipple clamps—not me.
And because this interrogation is taking much longer than I anticipated, it’s time to bring out the heavy artillery.
So that he can see the full extent of what I have planned, I yank the slave chain that is now wrapped around his neck, gagging him unless he follows his tether that insists he flip over onto his back. His eyes bulge as I pick up Leia’s weapon of choice: the laser sword. When switched on, it becomes a glowing green beacon—
I stab the bed a few inches from his right foot. The sound of the sword searing a perfect slit into eighteen-hundred-thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets is nothing compared to the pungent smell it makes when it hits the Duxiana mattress's goose-down layer while making its way through memory foam.
“It’s a real laser?” he screams.
“You betcha,” I assure him. “Cool, huh?” My black-ops mission team’s tech operative, Arnie Locklear, had a blast designing this adorable little gadget.
To squash Darth’s doubts to the contrary, I trace the inside of his leg—ankle, calf, knee, and thigh—with the beaming blade. When it gets within an inch of the appendage he’ll miss the most; I allow it to hover there. “Ah! Little Darth has never been circumcised.”
I click my tongue as a way of pointing out the obvious: how, with a flick of my wrist, I can remedy this dilemma, perhaps by an inch or two.
Darth is sobbing so loudly that, at first, I don’t hear the trill of my cell phone.
Annoyed, I sigh loudly. “Hold that thought,” I command him as I glance down at the phone.
It’s the baker who’s making the cake I ordered for tonight’s intimate gathering—
To which Darth is certainly not invited.
The baker is talking a mile a minute. Unfortunately, between Darth’s whimpers and all the shouts and murmurs from the cosplay out in the hall, all I can make out is, “—concerned that this record heat wave we’re having will melt the seven-minute egg-white icing on the cake before being delivered to the hotel! Would you prefer we switch to buttercream, or marzipan?”
“Wait…what? Look, hold on a moment, please. It’s a bit noisy here,” I explain calmly before muting my cell phone.
So that Darth gets the hint to shut the hell up, I stab the bed with the sword just an inch from his ear. As it sizzles through the foam, I growl, “If you make one more sound, I’ll give you the closest shave of your life. Get me?”
He stifles a groan and then nods his head vigorously.
Back to the baker: “Here’s a thought: bring it in a refrigerated van.”
The baker pauses before asking, “Well, okay…but you do know it will quadruple your cost, right?”
“Doesn’t matter. In fact, I don’t mind renting the hearse—I mean, the ‘van’ for the whole night. I’ll get it back to you in the morning, all spick and span”—I mute the phone again, but Darth doesn’t know it—“from any blood or DNA.”
My declaration brings tears to his eyes. Darth finally gets the picture:
The Force is not with him.
“Sure.” The baker sighs with relief. “Then egg-white icing it is.”
I hang up before she can hear Darth, who is now blubbering incoherently.
Okay, time for me to play good cop. “Look, handsome, I know what you’re thinking. On the one hand, all it takes is one little oopsie and you’re a eunuch—or worse still, a dead man. On the other, is that any worse than what’s bound to happen when one of your buddies is eventually given the task of tracing the virus to your cell?” I click my tongue at his dilemma. “Vlad and his GRU Impalers will toss you into a Chernobyl cell so deep that the only way anyone will be able to find you is that you’ll be glowing in the dark from all that radiation.”
His patented Chewbacca howl echoes off the walls.
Enough of this crap. I’ve got places to go, and a very special someone to see. Tonight, I’m hosting a very important soiree:
A surprise birthday party for my husband, Jack.
I should never have allowed Ryan Clancy—my boss at Acme Industries—to talk me into this assignment, and today of all days! I only agreed to this mission when Ryan promised that I could keep any and all swag I picked up. My fourteen-year-old son, Jeff, will be beside himself when he sees that I scored autographs from Felicity Jones (Star Wars), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool), Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange), and Scarlett Johanssen (Black Widow).
(To be honest, Darth collected those goodies. Well, too bad. They fall under the category of spoils of war.)
With my sword, I cut figure eights in the air. “It’s your lucky day, Darth. Now, if you can shut your pie hole, you’ll hear an offer that I’m sure you’ll find hard to refuse.”
He purses his lips to keep them zipped.
“Much better. Now, here’s what you’ll do.” I hold up his cell phone. “You give me your password, and then redial your GRU babysitters. Heck, they’re probably so frantic by now that they’ve already got the Kremlin in a tizzy! Better to get a jump on this thing before they figure out on their own how and why you ditched them, right? It’s the only way to save your manhood.” I aim the sword within an inch of little Darth. “And for that matter, your life.”
No need to ask twice.
I hold up his cell phone. “What’s the passcode?”
“R2D2…twice,” he sighs.
Duh. Gee, I could have guessed it.
After I punch in the code, I dial Arnie Locklear, my tech-op at Acme. When he picks up, he chortles, “One-two-three…Mother McGee!”
It's his way of signaling me that he’s ready to release the virus without a trace of its originating source.
Next, I re-enter the number of Darth’s Russian babysitters, who’ve left a message every minute on the minute. The second they pick up, the virus will be released.
Darth is still cuffed, so I have to hold it up to his mouth. Another twist of the chain around his neck lets him know that I’m monitoring every word—and that the wrong one will kill him.
My handler, Abu Nagashahi has had eyes and ears on me since the start of this mission. Fluent in Russian, he also listens in. A few minutes later, he murmurs into my ear: “They’re pissed, but they’re buying his story. All’s well that ends well.”
“Good, because I need closure on this anecdote.”
“I hear yah.” Of course, he knows what I mean:
I’ve got a pressing engagement, one that cannot be missed.
With that in mind, I end the connection.
Before Darth can protest, I’ve stabbed him with a needle filled with Kickapoo joy juice—as it turns out, of Russian origins. Known as SP-117, it works as a truth serum and also erases any memory of events that took place before taking the drug.
In other words, Darth’s torture at the hands of Princess Leia will soon be just a pleasant fantasy, if he remembers it at all.
“Better get hopping. The GRU is already en route, and Darth’s buds are banging on doors, looking for him and ‘Princess Leia with ‘zee hoot bood…’”
I snort. “‘Hot bod?’ Gee, I guess I should feel flattered.”
Well, of course I am. Perhaps I’ll hold onto this costume if only to see if Jack finds it alluring. Not that he needs any cosplay to get in the mood. He’s got a pretty impressive laser sword, and it’s EverReady.
Thank goodness it doesn’t glow in the dark.
By the time Acme’s helicopter lands back in Orange County, Abu has already briefed Ryan on my mission’s success. As I drive home, he calls to congratulate me.
“All in a day’s work,” I respond glibly. “Ryan, I presume you’ll keep Jack busy so I have the afternoon to take care of business?”
“Not to worry. Something major has come up that should have us tied up for at least a couple of hours: a conference call with Marcus Branham.” Ryan is referring to the United States Director of Intelligence who replaced Carl Stone, my ex, who blackmailed the United States president, Lee Chiffray for the position before his terrorist activities were once again exposed by Acme.
And, yes, we took Carl down.
Ryan adds, “MI6 will also be on the call, along with the Bundesnachrichtendienst, and the D.I.H.”
“Sounds like an important powwow,” I murmur. The fact that Branham’s counterparts in Great Britain, Germany, and Japan are included indicates something big is going down, and it won’t be pretty.
Well, here’s hoping it doesn’t happen before the evening is out. Otherwise, Jack’s party will have to be postponed—
Leaving me with a cake that’s dripping seven-minute egg white icing in this Godforsaken heat wave.
“I’m sure Jack will fill you in on it when you see him.” By Ryan’s wistful tone, I can tell he’s hoping that I’ll suggest joining them.
Ain’t happening. The night belongs to Jack.
With that in mind, I remind Ryan, “Remember, mum’s the word.”
Ryan sighs. “Don’t worry your pretty little noggin. Hell, if he finds out about this shindig you’re planning, my head will be on the chopping block along with yours.”
“Seriously, Ryan, unless the world blows up, try not to hold him any later than seven o’clock, okay? And if you permit the rest of my party guests to clear out of the office by six, all the better.”
By that, I mean everyone on Jack’s and my mission team—not just Ryan and Abu, but Arnie too, along with Emma Honeycutt, who is Arnie’s wife as well as our team’s COMINT supervisor.
“Speaking of POTUS—”
“Who? I never brought him up.” My heart lurches.
“Oh…I thought you had.” It’s wishful thinking on Ryan’s part. President Chiffray’s infatuation with me has worked out well for Acme, but it’s put a strain on my marriage. As much as I appreciate Lee’s trust and respect him as a friend, I’ve made it very clear to him:
I’m a one-man woman.
I think he gets this now. But the way in which his wife, Babette, unsheathes her claws whenever I’m within scratching distance, tells me she has her doubts about it too.
That’s okay. Whenever Lee’s name is mentioned, Jack growls, which is just as disconcerting.
“In any event, Lee will also be on the call. In fact”—Ryan pauses—“he’s in town. Babette is due to go into labor any day now.”
“I know. And from what I hear, she insists on having the child at Lion’s Lair.” I try to keep my annoyance out of my voice. The Chiffrays’ monster mansion is in my hometown: Hilldale, California.
I’m doubly pissed when Ryan declares, “I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of inviting the Chiffrays to Jack’s surprise party tonight.”
“Mind?” I mutter. “It’s the cherry on the cake of my day.”
I don’t even wait for Ryan to say goodbye. Instead, I slam down the phone.
“Tell me again why you won’t be on this call?” Jack asks me before he heads out the door.
I find it easier to lie if I don’t have to look him in the eye. Scrutinizing my lip gloss in my compact mirror, I murmur, “Ryan assured me that I’m not needed. Frankly, I’m glad. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have time to run into Beverly Hills and pick up Mary’s dress for her prom tomorrow night.” As if annoyed by the time crunch caused to run my errand, I glance at my watch and frown. “If I leave now, I’ll just barely make it back before traffic on the 405 backs up.”
Jack laughs. “Yeah, well, good luck with that.” We both know I’m kidding myself, since Los Angeles’ I-405 is at a standstill almost night and day, especially in evening traffic.
I snap my fingers as if a thought has just occurred to me. “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Since you’ll be leaving the office by seven, why don’t we meet up in Beverly Hills for a drink? That way, we can hang out there until traffic lightens up.”
His brow arches, proof that my offer tantalizes him. “You mean, have drinks and then maybe dinner out, like two carefree adults?”
If only he knew.
“Sure, why not? Aunt Phyllis is already on her way. Her Rumba class is on this side of the city.” It’s true, so why not use it as a convenient excuse for her imminent arrival? “I’m sure she won’t want to fight the traffic to get back to her place. And she won’t mind chaperoning the kids until we get home. She can warm up Tuesday’s leftover casserole for the kids. They’ll be glad to have a break from us too—if only to watch Game of Thrones without us hounding them about their homework.”
Ha! In truth, Mary, Jeff, and Trisha are beside themselves about surprising Jack, as is our ward, Evan. (He is the son of the deceased president-elect Catherine Martin, who was implicated in the murder of her husband, Robert, which was carried out by my ex-Carl. Yes, I know—even a messy divorce pales by comparison!)
“Well, then, count me in.” He draws me in for a kiss.
I linger in his arms, but only for a moment. As much as I’d prefer to stay in them forever, if I’m to pull off this charade, I must leave now. Reluctantly, I pull away.
But Jack is not ready to let me go. “I miss you already,” he says.
His words put a smile on my face, but from the look in his eye, he’s not teasing.
Egad, now I feel guilty.
To cover up my feelings, I whistle as I walk out the door to my real destination—the Hotel Bel-Air—I don’t look back. Otherwise, he’ll see the blush on my face and know something isn’t right.
Within twenty-four hours, he’ll thank me for what I’m doing.
At least, that’s what I tell myself so that I’m not tempted to call the whole thing off.
“Mrs. Smith? It’s a pleasure to have you with us.” The tone of the front desk clerk is deferential even as his eyes sweep over me curiously.
He’s wondering if I’m a celebrity incognito, but he can’t easily place me. My hair is upswept into a wide-brimmed hat with netting that scrims my profile. My large sunglasses also obscure my face. My black leather jacket and fitted jeans over beige Gianvito Rossi leather V-neck peep-toe booties give me the polished look of a moneyed socialite. Even my perfume, Joy by Jean Patou, is the ultimate scent: equal parts old wealth and anonymity.
With a few clicks, the desk clerk confirms the room I’ve reserved—the Swan Lake suite—is ready for occupancy. He snaps his fingers. “One of our bellmen will escort you to your suite.”
As if by magic, a broad-shouldered blond Adonis appears by my side.
With a demure smile, I wave him away. Other than my purse, all I have with me is a small suitcase. “Thank you, but no need. I’ll just take my key.”
The desk clerk nods. “Your cottage is out the back terrace, the last one on the far side of the pool.”
Our eyes meet as he hands me a key card. Yes, I’m annoyed by the derision I see there. He has me pegged as a call girl.
Considering what I have planned, he’s not that far off.
My heels tap sharply on the tiles as I saunter out the terrace door.
The room is perfect for what I have in mind.
Its ten-foot high walls, adorned with excellent replicas of a Klee, a Jackson, and a few other modern artists, are textured and creamy beige: a gentle contrast to the stark white overstuffed sofa facing the fireplace and deep hues of the lush intricately designed antique Persian rugs.
Colorful glass chips, heated by the gas flame burning beneath them, flicker in the marble fireplace.
A large sterling silver tray on the sideboard makes for a fitting bar. It holds cut-glass decanters filled with expensive liquors: Macallan Whiskey, Hendrick’s gin, Henri IV cognac, Diva vodka, and Wray and Nephew Jamaican rum.
Sheer curtains, hung over the full-length paned windows, give the room a hazy glow.
A full-length mirror runs the length of the hallway leading to the en-suite bedroom. The doorways into every room are arched. The marble friezes that run a foot below the suite’s ceilings curve upward before creating a ledge for the suite’s recessed lighting.
Yes, this is the perfect setting for my purposes: unadulterated sex.
My preparation for the role of sex kitten lover is always exacting. This time, though, the adrenaline rush is different.
I’m doing it for Jack.
Metallic sandals, clasp my ankles like bracelets: a fitting reminder to us both since tonight I am his slave.
My nails, oxblood red, are the same hue as the gloss on my lips.
My hair, now swept to one side, can be released from its clasp with a mere flick. He’ll enjoy doing so, but his hands won’t stop there.
My gown is simple: Versace, gold sleeveless, ruched dupione silk that hugs me like a second skin. A slim spaghetti strap is bejeweled with tiny diamonds. A princess neckline crosses my chest diagonally, from over one shoulder to the far side of the backless dress.
Another spray of diamonds will beckon his eyes downward to a slit in the gown, high enough to reveal my left thigh. I’ve no doubt it will taunt his hand to wander through it. There, he’ll discover nothing beneath it to hinder his probing fingers.
They will find me moist and wanting.
In anticipation, I wait for him.
He texts me:
Coming your way. It’s been a hell of an afternoon. Our next assignment is a doozy. Cyberattacks all over U.S. public utilities, hospitals, etc.
I sigh to myself. Tonight, I don’t want to hear about it. My subtle way of moving him off the subject of work is to text back with the ultimate tease:
Hotel Bel-Air, Cottage Suite 15.
I remind him:
The anniversary of your birth is an occasion that deserves a little TLC, wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Smith? Park in the alley out back of the cottage.
I can’t have him running into any guests who may arrive early. Knowing Aunt Phyllis’s lousy sense of time, it could be her and the kids.
He texts back a happy face, followed by:
And all this time, I thought you’d forgotten! Be there in 40 minutes.
Which means he’ll be at least an hour earlier than expected. Perfect! We’ll have much more time for fun and games.
Afterward, I’ll have to rouse him from the bed. I’ll claim to be famished, and then I’ll shrug off his inevitable suggestion that we order room service on the pretense that I want to listen to the jazz combo playing in the lounge while we enjoy the hotel’s excellent filet mignon.
Instead, we are to be guided into one of the lounge’s alcoves, where our friends and family have gathered and are waiting to shout happy birthday to him.
Jack will be shocked, annoyed, and then resigned to my covert plan. Having made love first will have put him in an amenable mood.
Even when we’re surrounded by those closest to us, I’ll be thinking of the next time we can be alone again wrapped in each other’s arms.
I know he’ll be doing the same.
Jack has yet to arrive. What the hell is keeping him?
No doubt, it’s the godforsaken Los Angeles traffic.
Every tick of the clock on the mantel has me jumping out of my skin. I’m freshening my lipstick by the mirror over the fireplace when, finally, I hear a gentle rap on the door.
It’s about time! As late as it is, if we’re interrupted—
Well, I don’t even want to think about the look on Jack’s face.
I'm disappointed to see that it’s only Adonis the Bellman. He stands next to a rolling cart bearing a bucket of champagne, flutes, and a caviar service. “Compliments of the hotel,” he assures me.
For what I’m spending here tonight, it damn well better be.
I open the door so that he can wheel it in. “Please set it up there, by the bar.”
He nods. As he rolls the cart in that direction, he adds, “The front desk asked me to relay the message that, as you requested, you and Mr. Smith will not be disturbed by any other guest who may ask for you.”
Good, because Jack would not appreciate that. Not on his birthday.
And certainly not when he thinks we’re spending a quiet night, just the two of us.
Relieved that all is going as planned, I smile sweetly at the bellman. “Thank you! Please wait. I have something for you…” I walk back toward the mantel to grab my purse for a tip.
Through the mantel’s mirror, I see the bellman’s sleight of hand: a gun is pulled from under a shelf hidden below the cart’s tablecloth.
By the time he turns around to take aim, I’ve lifted the marble-based clock off the mantle and heaved it in his direction.
He yelps in pain when it hits his shoulder. Still, his first shot just barely misses me as I drop behind one of the two facing sofas.
He too crouches low so that I can’t see him. He doesn’t realize I can watch him through the hallway’s mirrored wall.
Silently and slowly, he makes his way to the left of the sofa, thinking he’ll flank me. “Mrs. Smith—or should I call you Mrs. Craig? In any event, let’s not play games, shall we?”
While keeping my eyes on him, I reach behind me and grab the ash shovel beside the fireplace. By nudging the mesh fire screen to one side, I’m able to slide it under some hot glass crystals.
Just then, Adonis spots me. He aims—
But not before I fling the crystals at him.
As they hit his face, he curses. Blinded and burned, he takes a step back.
Quickly, I grab the fireplace poker. Grasping it in both fists, I run at him—
And stab him with all my might: low, but with the poker angled up, so that it enters between his ribs and to the left of his sternum—
Piercing his heart.
But by then he’s got off one last shot. My eyes follow its trajectory: wild and upward. It ricochets off the curved lip on one of the wall’s marble frieze moldings—
Before tearing into me with a thump.
I gasp in agony as it rips open my abdomen. When I look down, I notice that the gold of my gown instantly deepens to bright red. Awed, I touch it. What I feel is damp and warm, whereas the rest of me is suddenly ice-cold.
I seem to have shed my body like an unwanted coat. As its falls to the floor, I think, so, this is how I look when I’m asleep.
My body is as loose as a marionette whose strings have been cut. My hair, clasped to one side, fans out from behind my head, which now rests on the rug closest to the hearth. My brow has lost the tiny wrinkles I’ve earned while battling life’s tribulations. My skin is the color of pearls.
And yet, I smile slyly, as if I hold dear to a secret.
Somehow, my essence—my very being—is left hovering above my body. The presence of my assailant is hanging in mid-air as well. I float to him. I put my hands around his throat and hiss, “Who are you? Who sent you to do this to me?”
He whispers back, “It’s payback…”
I then watch, astonished, as his soul blackens like a rain cloud.
A moment later, it dissipates into thin air.
His mournful howl reverberates long after the rest of him is gone.
But I’m still here.
Or am I?
© 2017 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher, Signal Press (firstname.lastname@example.org)