Welcome to Hill’s Creek, Texas, where the townsfolk like their secrets the same way they like their steaks . . . big and juicy. Don’t worry. Nobody’s secrets stay buried for long.
Until his socialite sister took a swan dive out her penthouse window, FBI Agent Jonah White’s life had been fairly simple: track down bad guys and slap a pair of silver bracelets on them. Nursing a guilty conscience gnawing at his heart, he heads to Hill’s Creek, Texas to investigate the one woman who just might be connected to his sister’s death. Falling in love with her, a possible accomplice to murder, was never part of the plan.
Recently widowed Maya Savantes is barely keeping her head above water. With a precocious five-year-old to raise, and a growing pile of debt to wade through, she doesn’t have time for a romp through the sheets with a mysterious stranger – no matter how sexy he is. But when her husband’s trigger-happy loan shark comes looking to collect on old debts, Jonah might be the only one who can protect her.
Living in sunny Southern California, Elizabeth Janette is an elementary teacher by day, romance writer by night, and crazy soccer mom on the weekends. When she’s not drafting fun lesson plans, she’s dreaming up murder mysteries and love affairs to write about. Elizabeth’s stories have most recently earned her as a finalist in the 2018 Windy City Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest. Her debut novel, Redemption For Liars, was a finalist in the Romantic Suspense category as well as the Best First Book category for the 2014 National Excellence for Romantic Fiction Award.
Find Elizabeth on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads and Instagram
Read an Excerpt from Redemption for Liars
Special Agent Jonah White barreled past a protesting secretary and toward his commanding officer’s door, clutching the day’s newspaper. The front-page headline, Socialite’s Death Ruled a Suicide, had seared itself permanently into his brain until it taunted, she’s dead because of you.
Jonah shook the offending newspaper. “Suicide my ass.” Damn reporters always got the story all wrong.
The secretary scrambled to get to the office door first, narrowly beating him to it. She flattened herself against the door, her petite body barring his entry to the room. “You can’t go in there, Agent White. As I told you earlier, Agent Williamson is in a very important—”
He leveled a steely gaze her way. “You know damn well Lexie didn’t jump, and so do they. Now move aside.”
Brushing past her, he turned the doorknob.
They can take their rules, and crappy protocols, and shove them. Task-force meeting be damned.
The door swung open to reveal a room full of agents gathered around a long, imposing oak table. A dozen or so high-ranking heads swiveled around at the intrusion, surprise on their faces.
Jonah blurted out, “You know damn well . . .”
He took a deep breath to ease the sudden vise-like tightening of his chest and gulped back the accusation poised on his tongue. Anguish boiled beneath his skin making him forget social niceties. Still. Accusing the boss wasn’t a smart move under any circumstance. He dropped the volume of his voice to an appropriate level and carefully chose his next words. “Lexie was murdered. Why pretend it was suicide?”
There it was again. His heart squeezed painfully, as it had ever since he’d learned of her death.
Behind him the secretary stammered a profuse apology.
Ever the cool-headed professional, Special Agent in Charge Frank Williamson dismissed his flustered secretary and continued as if the interruption had never happened. “Gentlemen, you have your assignments. We’ll reconvene tomorrow morning.”
No matter how exasperated his boss got, he never lost his cool. It was something that Jonah had always admired, but no matter how hard he’d tried to emulate Williamson’s cool demeanor, he could never keep his emotions buried for long. Maybe it had something to do with the relaxing slate blue paint color splashed on the walls or the water trickling from the Zen inspired fountain in the corner.
Taking their cue, the men thrust reports in their binders. One by one, the agents filed past Jonah, sympathy and curiosity glistening in their eyes. Did everyone know? Of course they did. Her death had come as a shock, and many of the agents had attended the funeral. The rest were keeping tabs on the investigation.
Williamson sighed when the door shut. “Because it was, Jonah.” His shoulders slumped as he sank into a chair. “Lexie jumped of her own volition. Local law enforcement couldn’t find a single scrap of evidence that could prove to the contrary, no matter how much we all wish it weren’t true.”
Jonah rubbed his hand down his face, feeling the bags under his eyes and the stubble of beard on his chin. He probably looked like hell. Felt like hell, too. “I don’t give a damn about their findings. I want to know what you found, because I trust you. Know you. And I want to hear the truth from your lips.”
No matter how hard it would be to hear the truth, Williamson would never lie to soften the blow. It was part of what Jonah liked about the man.
“Take a seat.” Williamson waved his hand toward the chair across from him. “I know how hard this must be for you.”
“With all due respect, sir, you don’t,” Jonah said, ignoring the offer to sit. “You didn’t lose a sister.” No one could ever understand how he felt. Jonah paced the room, the guilt eating away at his heart. He turned and faced Williamson, his fist still clutching the crumpled newspaper. “I was supposed to protect her.”
It was the last promise he’d made to his parents and he had failed. Even God wouldn’t forgive him now. Williamson shook his head, his silver hair glistening under the florescent lights. “And you did. To the best of your abilities. What do you want to know that I haven’t already told you?”
Either way, the details of Lexie’s death would tear his heart apart. Better to hear it from a friend now than from the tabloids later.
“What about a note? She didn’t leave a note. No apologies or explanation. Nothing. It just doesn’t add up.” His voice choked up.
Williamson clasped his hands together and leaned forward, nodding toward the adjacent seat. “They don’t always, you know that.”
Of course he did. But it had never occurred to him that someday he might be on the receiving end of the torment that came with the not knowing. Jonah blew out a frustrated breath, then sat. He slid the newspaper across the table. “And what about her inheritance, her college fund? Fifty thousand doesn’t just disappear overnight.”
Williamson picked up the newspaper and deposited it into the trashcan against the wall. “We all feel your pain. Alexis was a lovely girl,” Williamson’s voice softened, “but a troubled girl nonetheless.”
Jonah’s fist hit the table with a force that reverberated through his body. He didn’t need to be reminded of just how troubled Lexie truly was. “Don’t talk about her like that.”
Williamson was right, of course. On more than one occasion, Jonah had confided in his boss about the more intimate details of his sister’s tumultuous life. Though unspoken, many of Lexie’s problems were well known, and hung in the air, hovering, threatening to smother Jonah with memories of self-indulgent drug binges, illicit affairs, and rehab. It was a vicious cycle he’d long ago stopped trying to help his sister break. Maybe if he had, she’d still be alive.
“You know what?” Jonah’s upper lip curled. “You can save your pithy condolences.”
“I’m afraid that’s all I have for you. There aren’t any answers to be found. Not here, not anywhere.” He reached out and covered Jonah’s hand with his own.
Jonah stood with a force that sent his chair reeling backward. “Then I’ll find my own answers.”
Williamson looked up at Jonah. Studied him in silence. His eyes narrowed, as though trying to zero in on whatever plan he was hatching. Acutely aware of the ticking of the clock, Jonah fought back the urge to squirm under the intense scrutiny. Many an agent had fallen prey to the director’s skillfully honed prying gaze. He returned his stare, keeping his face blank, giving nothing away.
Williamson took a deep breath and studied Jonah for a long moment, before continuing. “I hope you’re not going off on some cockamamie goose chase again. Elias Savantes is dead and Lexie is gone. There’s simply no proof he killed her.”
Are you kidding me? Jonah’s rage exploded.
“What more proof do you need? You have him on surveillance tape leaving her apartment, check in hand!” He was getting nowhere trying to talk sense into the old man. They were wasting valuable time when they should be out there tracking a killer.
“You know you can’t bring her back, Jonah. Don’t you?” A quizzical expression crossed Williamson’s face. “Case closed. Let it go, son. You have to move on with your life.” His voice softened. “Without her.”
There was that look again. Pity. Everywhere he looked someone stood at the ready with curiosity and pity in their eyes and meaningless condolences spewing from their mouths. Jonah shook his head. No. He would not allow himself to be swayed by sympathy, not even by a man to whom he owed his career.
“I quit.” Jonah glowered at him. Not what he’d planned to say, but it was the best he could manage when he’d spent half the night pacing the floors.
Williamson stood, his lips pressed tight into a grim smile. “If it’s time off you want, son, that’s fine.” Resignation rang in his voice. “Under the circumstances I’m inclined to agree. Take as long as you need. But for Christ’s sake, whatever you do,” he plucked a triplicate form and a pen from the counter along the wall, “get some rest. And take a shower.”
He paused while he signed his name on the bottom of the leave of absence form. He thrust the form into Jonah’s hand. “Go to Hawaii with that flight attendant you met. Or get lost in the Outback. But don’t go chasing down ghosts. If you want to fight off some demons, we have an excellent psych department on hand.” The corners of Williamson’s lips turned up in a small smile. “I don’t want to lose my best agent.”
Jonah frowned. “I don’t need to be shrinked.”
Williamson chuckled. “Now that’s open for debate.” He ushered Jonah toward the door. “If that’s all, I have another meeting to attend to.”
With his job temporarily on hold, he needed a game plan, and fast. He was on his own, with no backup, and desperate for answers. It had already been more than a month since Lexie’s death and by now the trail, what little trail they did have, was ice cold. He couldn’t wait any longer. Jonah raked a hand through his hair.
“Have you gone stark-raving mad?” a voice bellowed from down the hallway as the door behind Jonah shut. The French accent was more pronounced than normal when angry.
Jonah looked at the man approaching him and then to the secretary. His brow quirked. “You called Jon Luc?” Facing his best friend would be far worse than facing his boss. He’d hoped to leave town and avoid the inevitable scene his friend would cause.
The secretary shrugged, her manicured fingernails clicking away on the keyboard, but she didn’t look his way. “You left me no choice, Agent White. You messed with the wrong secretary.” A smug smile covered her face. “Remember that next time you need something. I’m not a forgiving kind of girl, but flowers can go a long way to erasing my memory. And chocolate covered strawberries.”
“Duly noted.” He grabbed a pen and completed the form, leaving the return date empty. At the moment, he wasn’t sure if, or when, he would ever be ready to return to work. Without looking up, the secretary took the form from Jonah and resumed her typing.
Jon Luc grabbed Jonah by the elbow and dragged him down an empty hallway. “What the hell has gotten into you? You can’t go about barging in on task force meetings! And yelling at Williamson? You’re lucky he didn’t throw you out on your kiester!”
“Well, he didn’t.” Jonah pulled free of his friend’s grasp and headed for the lobby exit. He pushed through the doors and out into the crisp Texas morning. A hint of rain floated on the wind as silver clouds gathered. If he wanted to hit the road before the storm hit, he’d better hurry.
“For the love of God, Jonah, don’t do it.”
Jon Luc dropped a hand on Jonah’s shoulder, pulling him up short. Pleading wasn’t something J.L. did often. Jonah turned and faced his friend. He took in the drawn eyebrows that disappeared under disheveled hair and deep lines around Jon Luc’s tightened mouth.
He was worried, Jonah realized with a start. Didn’t matter. He was a big boy. He could handle himself.
“You’re going to Eli Savantes’ funeral today. Am I wrong?”
Jonah let out an agitated snort. “So what if I am? Someone out there knows the truth and I’m betting they’ll be at that funeral.”
“Lexie’s dead, Jonah, and this won’t bring her back. She wouldn’t want you to throw your entire career away.”
They scowled at each other until Jon Luc sighed in exasperation. “You’re going to do it anyways, aren’t you?” His gaze darted around the parking lot. Apparently satisfied they were free of prying eyes he opened his jacket and pulled out a file folder. “If you’re bound and determined to do this alone, you’ll need this.”
Jonah took the file and flipped through the sparse documents and photographs.
“It’s not much, but I managed to copy a few photographs and case notes. It should be enough to point you in the right direction.”
Jonah tucked the file under his arm. “Thanks. I won’t do anything stupid, I promise.”
“Like hell you won’t.” Jon Luc gave Jonah a quick man hug.
More than just a friend and fellow agent, J.L. was like a brother to him. It went without saying, that Jon Luc was the one person Jonah could count on to bail him out of any scrape, no matter how dangerous or embarrassing. And vice versa.
Jon Luc punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Just don’t die doing it.”
Raising a hand in a farewell salute, Jonah unlocked his truck and slid in, heading back to his house to pack up.
Thirty minutes later, his duffle bag was loaded on the floorboard next to his laptop and digital camera. His dog, Dax, prepared to ride shotgun. Jonah picked up the folder off the seat, and opened it, letting his eyes wander the information.
Suspect: Eli Savantes, white male adult, 32, wanted in connection with multiple financial scams and fraud over three states, reported deceased. Known Associates: Wife, Maya Savantes, white female adult, 26, and one child, Lily, 5, currently living in Hills Creek, Texas.
“If you had fifty thousand dollars, where would you hide it?” Hitting the road, he hung a hard right turn. Destination: Hill’s Creek, Texas. “Time to see what secrets you’ve been keeping, Mrs. Savantes.”