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Deceptive PracticesTrade paperback
Do you have a cheating spouse? Has counseling failed? Want to get even with them? Then hire Infidelity Limited to teach them a lesson…
Olivia Shaw grew up poor on the wrong side of the tracks, but with her thriving real estate practice and a solid marriage, her life finally feels stable . . . until she discovers her husband is cheating. Enraged, her sister offers a solution: Infidelity Limited, a firm that promises to rough up her husband and scare him straight.
Overnight, Olivia’s life is upended as she, like all of Infidelity Limited’s clients, is drawn into a dark web of blackmail and murder. Now, Olivia is emerging as a prime suspect in her husband’s death. As a dogged detective closes in, she has only one option—take down Infidelity Limited before it’s too late.
The 4th Book in the Bay Area Quartet
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Rain streaked the Audi’s windshield, obscuring Olivia’s view. She didn’t care. It hid the betrayal taking place across the street.
“You bastard, Richard,” she murmured. “How could you?”
On the stoop of a house, her husband was in the arms of a woman she had never met. He held her in a tight embrace and kissed her with a passion Olivia hadn’t seen from him in years.
Olivia didn’t see what was so damn special about this woman. She was no supermodel, just blonde, trim, and willing. It wasn’t like she was even young. Olivia guessed she was maybe five years younger at the most.
I have everything she has. The thought burned her. She knew that wasn’t true. She was carrying a few extra pounds that hadn’t been there when she’d married Richard eight years ago, but that was nothing an extra visit to the gym every week and a touch of dieting couldn’t cure. In a matter of months, she could be sporting the same figure as Richard’s piece of ass.
But looks weren’t the problem. While it was easy to blame everything on them, she knew Richard’s cheating was due to more than her appearance. Even through the tears and rain, Olivia saw one other distinct difference between her and her husband’s mistress. The woman brimmed with excitement and lust. It had been a long time since Olivia had felt that way. Somewhere along the line, their life had become routine. Clocks could be set by it. When they had sex . When they went to eat out. When they saw their friends. The crackle of spontaneity had fizzled out at some point, and Olivia couldn’t put her finger on when. The wipers pulsed, refreshing her view of the treachery.
She closed her eyes and wished for the bliss of ignorance so she could go along believing in her idyllic, suburban existence. She wished she hadn’t seen the cracks in her life appear over the last few months. Richard always seemed to have an excuse not to be around her. He spent most of his time at work or at the athletic club. Yes, their lovemaking had dropped off since the early days of their marriage, but even she’d noticed their recent lack of sex play. Richard was always tired. Now she knew why. God, she’d been so dumb.
Finally, Richard pulled away from his mistress. He gazed lovingly into the woman’s eyes and said something to her, then kissed her quickly on the mouth and trotted through the rain to his Mercedes sedan. He waved to her as he slipped behind the wheel. His mistress didn’t step back inside. She watched him, standing barefoot on the cold concrete path, the rain soaking into her silk robe.
Love, Olivia thought. He loves her. Something sharp embedded itself into Olivia’s heart. She pressed a hand to her chest and massaged the pain, but it wouldn’t go away.
Richard got as far as firing up the engine before his little tramp called out to him. He killed the engine, and she disappeared inside the house. A moment later, she reemerged with his duffel bag.
His damn squash bag. It had been the smoking gun that had led Olivia here, to their love nest. Squash was Richard’s game. He played every Tuesday and Thursday. Olivia was terrible at the game and never joined him. Last Thursday, he’d left his bag behind. She, being the dutiful wife, had run it over to the athletic club. Richard wasn’t there, and no one had seen him in weeks. Although the truth had scratched at the base of her brain, she’d given him a chance to come clean. When he came home, she asked, “How’d the game go?”
“Great. I wiped the floor with Jerry.”
He had kissed her. His hair was wet and slicked back from showering, and he smelled fresh and clean—like he always did after his matches.
“You forgot your bag.”
“Yeah,” he said with the merest of hesitations. “I begged and borrowed everything I needed from the guys.”
The lies came so easily practiced. He hadn’t even grappled for a deception. It was there, close at hand.
She’d caught him in a lie, but what kind of lie? Adultery had crossed her mind, but so had a dozen other possibilities. She saw no point in accusing him. All she had were suspicions. Throwing those in his face would drive the truth even further underground. But if she followed him and caught him in the act, then she robbed him of any chance to lie.
It had been stunningly easy to catch Richard . She knew the squash games were his cover. She’d simply waited outside of his office for him to leave. She had expected a long night of following her husband from place to place. Instead, he’d simply driven here to this house. He’d been in there two hours. It wasn’t hard to imagine what he was doing. She could have run up to the door and kicked it in, but she hadn’t had the heart. Discovering the truth had left her in misery.
The mistress scampered along the path with Richard’s duffel in hand. He hopped from the car and met her halfway. He took the bag and cast it to the ground, then gathered her up in his arms, and the kissing started all over again.
Olivia felt sick. They were so blinded by their fun and games that they didn’t even notice her parked across the street. Didn’t they have any shame? Didn’t they consider for one moment they’d be discovered? The answer had to be no. God, she’d love to see their faces if she walked right up to them. Then they’d be sorry. Then they’d show some shame.
A sob leaked out of her and echoed off the confines of the car’s cabin. The sound of it shocked her. It was the sound of her marriage ending.
It was time to bring the curtain down on this charade. Time to make the scene. Time for the ugly accusations and denials. She reached for her keys in the ignition, but instead of pulling them out, she hesitated.
Where was her victory in all this? Sure, she held the moral high ground. She was the jilted wife. But that was a hollow trophy.
She ran her thumb and forefinger over the comforting feel of her car key. An ugly thought developed in her head, one filled with revenge and hate and rage. She could run them down. They wouldn’t know what hit them. They wouldn’t even see it coming. She could do it. No one could stop her.
Her cell burst into song in the cup holder next to her. Clare’s name appeared on the small display. Her sister was the only person who knew she was out here. If Olivia could have turned to anyone else, she would have. Their relationship was one bound by family guilt and obligation, which usually revolved around her bailing out her sister in some form or another. But for all that, Clare still ranked as the closest thing to a friend Olivia had. There was no one else she could turn to for support. When there was no one else, you turned to family, for better or worse.
Despite their tenuous relationship, Clare had stepped up and offered to join her tonight, but Olivia wanted to be alone for this. She couldn’t face anyone witnessing the worst night of her life, even though Clare knew the pain of a broken marriage. At least her husband had the decency to run off. She picked up the phone.
“Is it a squash night?” Sarcasm weighed down Clare’s question.
“Christ, I should have known, but I didn’t want it to be true. I thought Richard was better than that. Do you know her?”
“Where are you?”
“In Walnut Creek. Outside her place. She lives only twenty minutes away. Very convenient.”
“Saves on the gas, I suppose.”
“They’re outside on the street, kissing. They don’t care who sees them.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Run them down.”
“That’s not what I meant, Liv.”
It was what Olivia meant. She didn’t know where the idea had come from, but now that it was there, she’d warmed to it. What was the point of exposing the cheating couple? Who did it benefit? Not her. Her marriage was in tatters, and calling them out didn’t solve anything. Worse still, Richard benefited. He had her to turn to. What did Olivia have? Nothing but a busted marriage and pain to look forward to. They deserved some pain too. If they wanted to be together, so be it, but there was a price to be paid.
She twisted the key in the ignition, and the engine burst to life. The sound failed to alert the lovers, who were too selfish to care about their surroundings. It would be so gratifying to hear their bones break against the car’s unforgiving aluminum body.
“They haven’t spotted me. I’m across the street in my car.” She dragged the gearshift into drive. “I could take my foot off the brake and plow right over them.”
Fear crept into Clare’s voice. “Hey, that’s dangerous talk, Liv.”
“Who cares? They deserve it.”
“You don’t want to do that, Liv. They’re the ones who’ve screwed up. If you hurt them, you’re the one who gets into trouble. Not them.”
Richard tightened his lover’s embrace to the point that he lifted his mistress off the ground.
Clare was making sense, but who cared? Olivia’s life was imploding, and it wasn’t fair. Her foot trembled on the brake pedal, and the car inched forward.
“So they should get away with it?”
“No. I’m not saying that.”
“It doesn’t matter what happens. They get what they want—each other. I still lose. This way, at least there’s some payback.”
“I’m coming out there.”
“This isn’t you, Liv. Now me on the other hand, we both know I’m the stupid one when it comes to this crap. Not you. You’re the smart one.”
“I don’t want to be smart. I’m sick of doing the right thing.”
“Don’t give them the satisfaction.”
“Who gives a shit?”
Her sister’s concern cut her in two. Olivia needed it, but it hurt so much.
“You want payback?”
“Yes.” The word came out exhausted and defeated.
“Then I can provide it. Forget them for now. Come to my place. You can have your payback. You just have to do it right. I can make it happen.” Clare paused. “Are you listening, Liv?”
It didn’t take long to make the short journey from Walnut Creek to Martinez. As Olivia pulled into her sister’s trailer park, another weight dropped onto her shoulders. She never liked coming here. It reminded her of an upbringing she’d left behind. Olivia had worked hard to escape the gravitational pull of trailer parks and crappy apartment complexes that her sister remained mired in. Clare was older than Olivia by three years, but she was reckless. If there was a way of screwing up a good situation, Clare would find it. Her behavior had always forced Olivia to be the responsible one.
Olivia stopped in front of the trailer. Clare had the door to her double-wide open before Olivia reached it. Her sister was small, not much over five feet and slight, which made her look fragile. Despite the small age gap, Clare appeared much older than Olivia. Crow’s-feet and laugh lines had etched her face prematurely, and her bleached hair washed out her fine features.
“Oh, Liv. I’m so sorry,” she said, pulling Olivia into a hug.
Clare sat Olivia down on the sofa in the same spot she’d sat last week when she’d poured out her fears and suspicions about Richard. It should have felt like a problem halved, but it felt more like a problem doubled. Speaking her fears out loud had only intensified the shame and embarrassment.
“I still can’t believe he cheated,” Olivia said.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“He’s a guy. It was just a matter of time. They all get bored, and obviously you didn’t do enough to keep his dick from wandering.”
“Thanks for the moral support, Sis.”
“What do you want me to do, hold your hand and tell you it’s all going to be okay?”
“A bit of sisterly love would be nice.”
“Okay, okay, it probably feels like the end of the world right now, but it’s not. You’ll get through this. I did, and you will.”
Clare knew this road well. Her ex-husband had taken off six years ago, leaving his debts and commitments for her to honor. It was probably why she had such a rosy image of men.
“I suppose that’s the best I’m going to get.”
Her sister grabbed a bottle of vodka from the refrigerator and two glasses from a kitchen cabinet, then went to pour them each a drink. Olivia put her hand up. Alcohol and self-pity were an ugly combination. Her refusal didn’t stop Clare from pouring herself one.
Clare raised her glass. “Here’s to the single life.”
“Oh God, don’t say that. I can’t stand the thought of another failed marriage.”
Olivia had once joked that Mark had been her starter husband. She’d married him straight out of high school. Playing grown-up had proved too hard for him. Two years into their marriage, he wrapped his Trans Am around a tree. His blood-alcohol level had been through the roof at the time.
“I thought Richard was different.”
“Everyone thinks that. The women of this family really know how to pick their men,” Clare said with a smile. “But we Lyndon girls survive.”
Survival had never sounded so depressing.
“How long do you think it’s been going on?” Clare asked.
“A couple of months? A year? God knows.”
“How do you feel?”
Olivia jumped to her feet and stormed away from her sister. There was no avoiding the question. In the trailer’s limited space, she quickly ran out of real estate. “How do you think? Sad. Betrayed. Angry. Confused.”
Olivia’s words bounced off Clare. She sat, just sipping her vodka. “What do you want?”
“Want? I want tonight never to have happened. I want Richard to have stayed faithful. I want my marriage not to be on the rocks. What do these questions have to do with anything? I thought you said you could help me.”
“I can, but I need you to answer my question first.”
Olivia waved her hands dismissively. She brushed by her sister and grabbed her purse. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I need to get home. I have a marriage to end.”
“That’s fine. Go. But one last question.”
Olivia wasn’t interested and kept heading for the door.
“Would you have really run Richard down?”
The question stopped Olivia and neutralized the rage boiling up inside her. She hated to admit it, but the answer was yes. Maybe her conscience would have stepped in at some point, but she knew in her heart of hearts that if Clare had told her to do it instead of talking her off the ledge, she would have done it.
“Sit down, Liv. We need to talk.”
Olivia did as she was told.
“Do you want to patch things up with Richard?”
“It’s not for me to patch anything. He’s the one who broke a good thing.”
Clare raised a hand. “Okay, are you interested in him making up for his mistake?”
“I don’t know. A part of me says yes. I love Richard, but I’m not sure I can forgive him, and worse, I’m not sure I can trust him. There’s nothing to say he won’t do this again.”
Clare refilled her glass, then looked at her drink. The sight of it seemed to disappoint her, and she put it next to the vodka bottle.
“Clare, please tell me what any of this has to do with the call. I understand if you were only talking me down, and I appreciate it. I could have done something really stupid tonight, and you stopped me. But if that’s it, then I need to go.”
“I’m trying to gauge how you feel. I want you to answer my first question.”
“Which was what?”
“What do you want? Forget reconciliation. Forget divorce. Think about your emotions. How do you feel, and what do you want?”
It wasn’t hard to answer. When she peeled everything back to the core, the answer was plain and simple. “I want to hurt Richard as much as he hurt me.”
“That can be arranged.”
Clare’s answer stunned Olivia into silence. The only sound in the room was the growling air conditioner. “What does that mean?”
“There are people who can make him pay for what he’s done to you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Infidelity Limited. They offer a discreet service that deals with infidelity issues.”
“What do they do?”
Clare hesitated, just for a second, but that was enough. The hesitation told Olivia exactly what Infidelity Limited did to the adulterous men.
“Richard hurt you,” Clare said, “and Infidelity Limited can hurt him back, in the way you wanted to tonight.”
“They’ll run him down?”
“No. They’ll give him a beating.”
“I can’t have them do that. That’s crazy.”
“Liv, less than an hour ago, you were talking about wiping those two out. This is a safer option.”
Yes, she’d come close to running Richard down, but that had been in the heat of the moment. Sending someone after him was a premeditated act of violence. “How do you know about these people?”
“I hired them to deal with Nick.”
“You had Nick beaten up? Is that why he left you?”
“Yes. I’m not proud of what I did, but it had to be done. You have to understand that. If I hadn’t done it, things would have been worse. He was flushing our lives down the toilet. He was spending money we didn’t have. He knocked over a 7-Eleven; did you know that? I needed someone to scare him straight, so he would shape up or ship out. He chose to ship out.”
Olivia’s cell rang, making both of them jump. She pulled out the phone. It was Richard, calling from home. She frowned and answered the call.
“Hey, babe,” Richard said. “Where are you? I thought you were staying in tonight.”
Richard calling her “babe” after what he’d done tonight grated against every one of her nerve endings. She pushed her disgust to one side and injected a cheerful tone into her voice. “I’m at Clare’s.”
“What’s gone wrong this time—money or men?”
His derision would have been justified yesterday. Not tonight. Piety only worked for the pious.
“Family is family,” she replied.
“That’s why I love you.”
Each word of that lie burned her flesh through to the bone. Her grip on the phone turned into a stranglehold. “I’m going to stay here tonight. I’ll come home in the morning.”
“Okay. Call me if you need anything.”
Did she detect a note of joy in his voice? The wife wasn’t coming home, so he could run back to his slut for the night. She put the thought from her mind. There was no point in torturing herself. There’d be plenty of time for that in the coming weeks and months.
“I will. See you tomorrow,” she said and hung up. “You asked me what I want to do, Clare? I want you to call Infidelity Limited.”
Olivia sat, watching the shoppers at the Sunvalley Mall drift by her. There weren’t many on a Friday morning. She felt conspicuous, as if everyone knew why she was there.
She checked her watch. Infidelity Limited was late. She’d kept up her end of the bargain. She’d arrived at the Starbucks precisely at noon, bought a coffee, and taken a table in the outdoor area. It was now 12:40, and she couldn’t keep nursing her cold coffee for much longer. She couldn’t believe she’d burned a vacation day on this shambles.
Clare had set up the meeting. It had taken a couple of days of calls through various intermediaries to get the word that they wanted to meet Olivia. Olivia understood the need for all the precautions, but it did nothing for her nerves. Her resolve was shrinking with every passing minute. Was she really going to have Richard beaten up?
The precautions had initially given her confidence, because they meant these people knew what they were doing. Now, she wasn’t so sure. Being forty minutes late and counting didn’t say much for their professionalism. In the meantime, Richard was still running around on her. Only last night he’d had another “squash night.”
God, what am I doing? she thought. How had she gotten herself into this position?
She checked her watch again. She’d give Infidelity Limited until the top of the hour. If they hadn’t contacted her by then, she was going. Screw them, and screw Richard. She’d go home, confront him, and tell him to get out. It wasn’t like he didn’t have somewhere to go.
A woman leaving the Starbucks interrupted Olivia from her thoughts. The woman crouched down, then dropped a napkin on the table. “Excuse me. I think you dropped this.”
Olivia thanked the woman absently and picked up the paper napkin. She rolled it around in her hand for a minute before noticing the writing.
WOMEN’S RESTROOMS. UPPER LEVEL. NEXT TO PENNEY’S. NOW.
Olivia looked up. The woman who’d given her the napkin was long gone. Not that Olivia would recognize her. She hadn’t even looked at her.
It didn’t matter now. She’d been given her signal.
She left the coffee on the table, grabbed her purse, and rode the escalator to the upper level. The women’s restroom was in a corner next to one of the main entrances into the mall. Her heart was beating rabbit fast when she pushed open the door to the ladies’ room.
Two women were at the sinks, washing their hands and chatting. They didn’t react to Olivia’s arrival.
Were these women her contacts? Was she supposed to introduce herself? The napkin hadn’t said.
The door to the handicapped stall opened, and a severe-looking woman with broad shoulders stood in the doorway. She put her finger to her lips and waved Olivia over.
Olivia glanced at the two women at the sinks to see if they’d caught the exchange. They hadn’t, so Olivia joined the woman in the oversized stall and closed the door.
The woman was in her fifties. She was big in all her proportions. She weighed at least 250 pounds and stood close to six feet tall. Her hands were large and coarse. Her nails were unpainted, chipped, and split. She looked more than capable of dishing out a beating on Richard.
Olivia started to speak, but the woman raised a finger to silence her. When the two women at the sinks left, the woman said, “Okay. Strip.”
“We don’t have time for questions. Strip.”
“Look, you play by our rules or not at all. We don’t take chances when it comes to this kind of work. We don’t know who you are. You could be a cop for all we know. So you strip. Okay?”
Olivia nodded. The woman took Olivia’s purse and rifled through it as Olivia kicked off her shoes and stripped down to her underwear. She guessed humiliation was part of their business too. They wanted to prove who was in charge.
The woman made a turn-around gesture and picked through Olivia’s hair before checking her body for hidden devices. Then she turned her attention to Olivia’s clothes, inspecting them for micro cameras, wires, and God knew what else. The inspection was conducted in silence, while other women entered and left the restroom unaware of the events going on inside the handicapped stall.
When the woman was done, she nodded to Olivia, and Olivia put her clothes back on.
The woman listened to make sure they were alone before opening the stall door. “I’ll leave first. You wait two minutes; then you leave. Thank you for your cooperation. We’ll be in touch.”
Olivia grabbed the woman’s arm. “Hey, wait a minute. What’s going on here? I thought we had an arrangement.”
The woman jabbed Olivia in the stomach. Suddenly, Olivia couldn’t breathe. She sucked in air, but it didn’t seem to find its way into her lungs. The woman guided her onto the toilet.
“What did I tell you about following the rules? If you want our help, you’ll do as you’re told.”
Olivia nodded, still struggling for breath.
“I’m leaving now. Don’t let me catch you tailing me.”
Olivia nodded again, and the woman let herself out.
Olivia waited the two minutes before leaving the restroom. The woman was nowhere to be seen.
She’d had enough of this crap. Getting back at Richard wasn’t worth this. A good divorce lawyer was what she needed.
She headed back to her car. Every time she took a step, she felt the woman’s fingers where she’d poked Olivia under her rib cage.
They’d get in touch with her? No, she’d get in touch with them. She’d have Clare tell them thanks but no thanks. They had rules, and so did she. She had the right to choose, and she chose no.
As she walked through the parking garage, a Chrysler 300 stopped in front of her. The passenger window slid down, and a bald man craned his head to see her better.
“Get in,” he said.
“C’mon, Olivia. I don’t have all day. You called us. Not the other way around.”
Olivia glanced around before getting into the car.
He hit the gas the second she had her seat belt on.
“Apologies for the cloak-and-dagger act, but we can’t take any chances. It’s for your protection as well as ours. None of our clients will ever feel any pain if we do our due diligence.”
Olivia rubbed her aching stomach. “Has anyone told the woman in the bathroom about that policy?”
The man laughed. “Dolores mentioned she had to use some force. She’s a trip, isn’t she?”
Yeah, you can say that again, Olivia thought.
“She gets a little overzealous from time to time. Jail time will do that to you. Her heart is in the right place. I’m Roy, by the way. I’m your case officer.”
Like Dolores, Roy was in his fifties and had an ex-football-player look to him. He was broad shouldered and muscled despite some extra weight. He wore a Rolex and an ugly pinkie ring on his right hand.
Roy left the parking garage and joined the freeway, heading south toward San Jose. A trickle of fear seeped into her. There was no escape. She was this man’s prisoner.
“If you’re so concerned with security, why did you and Dolores let me see your faces?”
“I want you to see my face. It’s important that you know me. It’s easy for someone to sell out a faceless organization, but it’s not so easy when you know the people you’re doing business with. Knowing me will keep you honest.”
“I don’t think us being friends would stop me from selling you out.”
“I didn’t say we’d be friends. Look at me, Olivia. Take a good look. I want you to see the kind of man I am because just by looking at me, I think you can imagine the kind of pain I can inflict on a person.”
Olivia didn’t have to imagine too hard. He possessed the strength and size to fell the biggest of men. She’d already noticed the scar tissue built up over his knuckles. Now, she wondered how much of that scar tissue had been a result of people who’d tried to screw him and Infidelity Limited over.
“Make no mistake; I won’t go to jail for you, Olivia. If you do anything to compromise my business, I will come after you. I know what you look like. I know where you live. I can get to you at any time. I’m more than well equipped. Do I make myself clear?”
Olivia started to speak, but her mouth had gone dry, and her voice cracked. She cleared her throat. “Crystal clear.”
Roy smiled, the warmth returning to his face. “Do you have the consultation fee? I hate to ask for it, but with all the precautions I have to take, people need to be paid.”
Olivia handed him an envelope from her purse, containing $500 in cash. He didn’t check the envelope’s contents; he simply dropped it in the door pocket.
“How much do you know about us?” Roy asked.
“Only what Clare told me. You take care of cheating spouses.”
“That’s how Infidelity Limited started out. If a wife found out her husband was cheating and she wanted a little payback, we provided the fists to do that. A little Old Testament, I’ll grant you, but we were scratching an itch. We’ve come a long way since then. Cheating spouses are only one part of the business. We deal with wayward kids, abusive parents and spouses, stalkers, and people with addictions. If there’s someone in your life causing you pain and grief, we can take care of it. And I don’t want you thinking that we’re nothing more than a bunch of thugs who go around whaling on people. We tailor our approach to your specific situation. For example, cheating spouses get treated differently than a stalker. Vengeance might be the overriding desire in cases of infidelity, whereas safety is the primary concern when it comes to stalkers. Making that stalker leave town will be our primary aim.”
It was odd to listen to Roy speak about Infidelity Limited in such lofty terms, like they were some philanthropic organization and not a criminal enterprise. She couldn’t decide if it was a method for desensitizing their clients to the violence or legitimizing their existence to themselves.
“The reason I’m telling you all this is we can’t do our job if you don’t tell us what you want to gain from our intervention. What are your needs here?”
It was a good question that she had trouble answering.
Roy picked up on her hesitancy. “Why don’t you tell me a little about the situation? Your husband is having an affair, right?”
“How long’s it been going on for?”
“I don’t know. I found out for sure a week ago last Thursday, but I think it’s been going on some time.”
“Who’s the woman?”
“I don’t know her, but I know where she lives.”
“Why don’t you tell me how you feel about your husband’s cheating?”
“I feel like a failure.”
Roy smiled. “And a host of other things, I bet.”
Olivia smiled back. “Yes.”
“I’ve become a little bit of an amateur therapist with this job. I’ve heard it and seen it all. Everybody’s story is different, but also the same. The big question is, do you want revenge?”
“He hurt me, and I want to hurt him back. If I scream at him, tell him what a shit he’s been, demand answers, and do all the things he expects, I doubt he’ll get the message. He might understand all this if you did something to him. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.”
“That makes sense and is very fair under the circumstances. Do you want him back? It will dictate how I go about educating Richard on his mistake.”
Educating. She liked that. Never had she equated violence with education, but maybe that was why her life was in the toilet.
“I don’t know. Part of me says no. He betrayed me, and it’s over. But part of me says yes. I know this is stupid, but I still love him. We’ve had a lot of good years together, and I would hate to write them off. To be honest, it’s all too raw. I don’t know what I want. I don’t even know what’s possible. I think I might take him back under the right circumstances, but I’d want to see real contrition.”
“I might be able to turn him around. I’ve managed it with others, but there are no guarantees. People will only reform if they want to. He won’t appreciate our intervention. At least, he certainly won’t in the short term. Just know that the action Infidelity Limited takes could push him further away.”
She was prepared for that eventuality. Saying it with flowers worked. Saying it with fists probably didn’t. A failed marriage would hurt, but she’d accept it if it happened.
“How safe am I from reprisals?” she asked.
“It all depends. Do you think Richard will be violent?”
“No, but what’s stopping him from calling the police? He’ll know that I orchestrated this.”
“The honest answer is there’s nothing stopping him. But you don’t have anything to fear. No one we’ve dealt with is thinking about the police after we’ve visited them. Either they’re walking the wrong side of the law themselves and wouldn’t welcome any police involvement or they don’t want the world to know their spouse caught them cheating and they caught a beating for it.”
If there was one thing Richard valued, it was his reputation. If push came to literal shove, he’d keep quiet.
“Got any questions for me?”
“Are you married, Roy?”
He showed her his ringless left hand. “Not married, but I have a woman in my life who is very special to me.”
“Ever cheated on her or anyone else?”
“How’d you get into all this?”
“A friend needed someone bigger and stronger than her to send a message, and I was that person. I saw how I could do the same for others, so I started Infidelity Limited. Let’s get you back to your car.”
Roy turned the car around at the next exit. On the way back, he made small talk. After a while, Olivia noticed he always kept to generalities, never divulging anything personal about himself. Precautions again. She didn’t let it bother her. She was growing to like Roy despite what he did.
“I don’t think I have to tell you that you can’t breathe a word of our arrangement to anyone. I know your sister is a previous client, but I don’t even want you discussing this with her. We have a doctor-patient-style arrangement here. Your sister doesn’t tell you about her arrangement, and you don’t tell her about yours. Infidelity Limited operates and survives under a veil of secrecy. Is that understood?”
“How would you like me to proceed?” Roy asked.
Two days ago she would have told Roy to go ahead. Now she wasn’t so sure. Infidelity Limited scared her. They were slick and capable. Their clandestine display this morning demonstrated their relative ease at this kind of work. She could only imagine how efficiently they’d take care of Richard. Strangely, she would have felt more comfortable around a less competent group. It would even up the playing field. Richard stood a chance against thugs but not against the likes of Roy.
“If you want time to think about it, that’s not a problem,” Roy said. “Prudence is a good thing. This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. There’s no going back once you start down this road. If you’re hoping for reconciliation, it might not be an option once we get going. In the meantime, there’s something for you in the glove box.”
Olivia opened it and removed a cell phone.
“If you want to get in contact with me, use that phone and only that phone. It’s disposable and totally untraceable. My number is programmed into it. It will be live for two weeks only. After that, the number will go dead, and I’ll assume you don’t wish to go any further. Understood?”
Olivia eyed Roy and nodded.
He scared her, but not physically. She wasn’t scared of him. She was scared of herself. Roy had held up a mirror, and she hadn’t liked her reflection. She considered herself as red-blooded as the next person, but like most people, she came equipped with an inhibitor switch that prevented her baser side from taking over. It had almost failed her outside the mistress’s house, but she had held herself back from running over Richard and his piece of ass. Meeting with Infidelity Limited underlined how far she’d floated into the deep end. Desperate people, not her, hired thugs to solve their problems. She owed Roy a debt of gratitude. He’d helped her come to her senses. There was a right way and a wrong way to solve problems, and she’d come a decision away from making a regrettable choice.
She shook her head. What was wrong with her? What had made her think Infidelity Limited was the solution to her problems? The answer wasn’t a what, but a who. Infidelity Limited was such a Clare thing to do. Poor decisions were her sister’s MO. She didn’t blame Clare for bringing in the likes of Roy to deal with Nick. Nick wasn’t the kind of guy to see sense, so telling him not to piss his life away was never going to work. It would have taken someone beating the living crap out of him before he made a life change.
But it was wrong for her to pin everything on Clare. Her sister had been trying to help, trying to stop her from doing a monumentally stupid thing. She’d lost her head when options were still open to her. Yes, Clare had led her to Infidelity Limited, but she didn’t have to employ them.
The fault belonged to one person and one person alone—Richard. He was the one who’d cheated. He’d hurt her so badly that she’d considered inflicting physical harm on him.
Yes, he deserved to be punished, but Infidelity Limited wasn’t the answer. Counseling or a divorce lawyer was. She needed to do what she should have done last Thursday—confront him. Put the onus on him. What happened next between them rested on his shoulders, not hers. If he wanted to end the affair and make a concerted effort to repair the damage, so be it. She’d help him make up for his mistake. If he wanted his mistress and not her, screw him, and she’d see him in court.
The thought of divorce threw her back to the night she discovered Richard cheating. Divorce did nothing to punish him. It only gave him what he wanted—an out. It would cost him financially, but California was a no-fault-divorce state, so there was no punitive cost for what he’d done to her. He’d get to keep his half and move on. She’d have her assets but no victory. No pound of flesh.
Roy glanced over at her. “Everything okay? You’ve gone a bit quiet on me.”
He nodded and turned back to his driving.
Why did she have to do the right thing, when everyone else could be reckless? That single thought seared her to the core. God knew Clare never suffered any consequences. Even Richard had his mistress and nothing significant was going to happen to him because of it. If it was okay for them, then why couldn’t it be okay for her? For once in her life, she wasn’t going to be the grown-up; she wasn’t going to do the right thing, the better thing. She was going to take her hands off the wheel and let fate do the driving and not worry about what happened next.
Roy eased the Chrysler off I-680 and drove back to the mall’s parking lot. He found an empty parking stall and stopped the car. He turned in his seat. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Olivia. I do wish it had been under better circumstances. Take the cell phone, and think about your next step. Give me a call with whatever you decide. Like I said, I’ll keep the line open for the next two weeks.”
“I don’t need two weeks.”
“I want you to go ahead,” she said after a moment.
“You realize there’s no going back?”
“And you’re sure? Please don’t feel pressured.”
She lifted her gaze from the burner cell phone and looked Roy in the eyes. “I want to do this.”
“Good. We need to make arrangements. I’ll need two thousand for the job, in cash and in advance. There’s no follow-up after it’s done. We do it; then you don’t hear from us again and vice versa. Okay?”
“That’s the easy part. I’ll also need a complete rundown of Richard’s movements on a daily basis—where he goes and who he meets. I want the names and addresses of his place of work and regular hangouts, and that includes his mistress’s place.”
“Are you going to involve her?”
“Not unless you want me to.”
“No, I don’t want that.”
“Okay, in this kind of work, we have to move fast and usually at the spur of the moment. When a good opportunity presents itself, we go for it. Make sense?”
“What’s the make and model of his car and the license plate number?”
She told him.
“I also need a couple of good head shots of Richard. I don’t want to make any mistakes when it comes to identification. Yes?”
He reached over and grabbed the cell phone from the glove box. “When you have all the information and the money ready, call me.”
She nodded again. The ability to speak seemed to have deserted her now that she’d made the decision.
“Don’t worry, Olivia. You’ll feel a lot better when this is done.”
"To call the book a page-turner doesn't do it justice."
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