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Authors: Delphine Dryden

Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #Fiction

Tell Me No Lies

BOOK: Tell Me No Lies
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Tell Me No Lies

Delphine Dryden

 

Truth & Lies, Book Four

 

Tess and Jake have avoided their
attraction since they’d first discovered boys and girls were different. But
when Tess hits rock bottom, Jake decides the best way to pull her back up is
his
way…which involves whips, cuffs, ropes, some highly customized workout
equipment and a heaping helping of control.

 

Tell Me No Lies

Delphine Dryden

 

Chapter One

 

Tess slammed her car into gear, grimacing as the unintended
force caused the roadster to start off jerkily from the turn. She shifted
aggressively, heading down the highway toward home. Leaves flew up in her wake,
little red and yellow foul flags, appropriate to the season in more ways than
one.

She had always loved this drive to Cranston. It was a nice,
clean stretch of largely empty highway, and most of the drive was lined with
trees. In autumn, the turning leaves contrasted vividly against the clear blue
sky, and as they fell the canopy opened more each day. By winter, the entire
framework would be visible, stark black and elegant. In the spring and summer,
the trees formed a cooling canopy overhead, making the drive seem like a trek
through an enchanted forest.

Beautiful, no matter what the season. And the perfect place
to give her car a good run, let her baby stretch its legs. She’d purchased the
Mercedes used, over a decade old, but she maintained it obsessively and it
still ran like a top. Her dream car, her only real vice. Tess pressed her foot
down and allowed herself a smile as the vehicle responded instantly and
eagerly. She knew it was silly, but she thought the car liked the drive too.

Today she thought the car more likely to enjoy it than she
was, inanimate object or not. Her own appreciation was intellectual, a watery
memory of the joy she used to take in this. She felt inanimate herself, dead
inside. But she knew the drive was something she
should
take pleasure
in.

She willed herself to recall the feeling, the rush, and nudged
her speed up as if the car’s velocity could counteract the terrible inertia
that had gripped her for months. To the speed limit, beyond and then well
beyond that. At this speed, she thought idly, it would be the work of a second
to ignore a turn and just keep going straight, crash through a headrail, into a
tree or a ravine. Almost more difficult
not
to do that, really.

There weren’t many sharp turns, though, and no convenient
cliffs. Not in this idyllic pastoral landscape. And thinking about things like
that was crazy, anyway, and she needed to get her thoughts
and
her speed
under control.

Wally Stanton, the sheriff in Beasley halfway between the
city and Cranston, had ticketed her a few times when she first got the new car.
She tended to treat the speed limit signs as challenges, so the sheriff’s
attention was hardly surprising. Now he and his two deputies usually let her
pass, a kind of diplomatic immunity. She’d written a puff piece for her
newspaper about which small towns were perfect for tourists who wanted to see
the leaves turn; Beasley had been high on the list, and the resulting boomlet
for local businesses during the subsequent Fall Festival had been enough to
ensure her safe passage through the town for some time to come.

Cranston Township had also been on the list, of course, but
Tess didn’t count on any leniency from Sheriff Fields. Not since she’d dumped
his son Danny shortly before they’d graduated high school. Never mind that
Danny had cheated on her during their entire two-year relationship, or that
nearly a dozen years had passed since then; Tess would forever be the scarlet
woman who led his son on and then hung him out to dry. It wasn’t so much
Sheriff Fields himself as it was his
wife
who hated Tess. The sheriff
was somewhat apologetic when he had occasion to speak with Tess, whether
pulling her over for a ticket or otherwise. He was a nice man who knew only too
well what his son got up to. The boy apparently took after his mother in more
ways than one. The father was just trying to get along.

Small towns, Tess thought, were infinitely more interesting
than big cities precisely because of this sort of personal entanglement. Plenty
of good fodder there for a novelist, even if she transposed all her characters
back into the city and put a gloss of sophistication on them. And in Cranston
she’d have blissful quiet and no excuse not to write. Perfect.

On the other hand, small towns also tended to exert their
own gravitational pull, making it hard for the inhabitants to ever truly
escape. Perhaps that’s why she sped up on her way to Cranston. It was her own
personal black hole, pulling her back in and crushing her in the process. Not
that Cranston was a bad place, objectively speaking. Tess’ current concern had
more to do with timing, specifically the timing of her move relative to her
cousin Allison’s wedding. Despite all logic that might dictate a summer wedding
for college professor Allison and her professor husband-to-be Seth, the couple
had decided they wanted their ceremony in the fall when the leaves were
changing.

Those damn leaves, with their timeless allure.

But Tess had made the mistake of telling her family she was
finally giving up her job at the paper to write full time, that her new
schedule would be flexible and allow her to “help” her cousin Allison in Tess’
capacity as bridesmaid. Apparently that translated to “Tess is out of work, she
has plenty of time to come a few weeks early and get all these final details
ironed out”.

She’d stretched the truth, and gained herself some time, by
backpedaling and telling everyone she would still be busy until a few weeks
before the blessed event. That had given her nearly three weeks to clear out
her apartment in the city and move into the tiny house she’d rented near the
Cranston Township limits. A big chunk of precious days without questions,
without explanations.

Tess hadn’t told anybody
that
part yet, that she was
actually moving back to Cranston. She wasn’t sure why she wanted to keep it
secret until after the fact. It seemed a private thing, a decision she wanted
to present as a fait accompli. Nobody’s business but her own, although people
were sure to ignore that stricture once they found out she was here. She might
have made plenty of visits home over the years, but she’d made it no secret
that she was glad to get out of that place, that she was a city girl and always
would be.

She needed at least a few weeks to figure out what to tell
anybody who asked her why she’d returned…because at the moment she had no
fucking clue.

* * * * *

Tess arrived at her new cottage in good time, shortly before
sundown. The house was simple and cheery, canary yellow with crisp white trim.
She opened the door with a sigh of relief, looking around the empty spaces and
finding the unsullied airiness extremely satisfying. A living room with a tiny
kitchen visible through an archway. An open door on one wall that Tess knew led
to the single bedroom, with attached bath. Dark hardwood floors, walls a soft
buttercream color. Simple. Restful. Easy.
Anybody
would feel calm and
well balanced here. She could too.

And this time, she was finally here to stay. Her place in
Indianapolis was packed up for good, the boxes all loaded on the moving van.
Hopefully they’d arrive in a few days, so Tess could sleep in a regular bed
again.

She’d spent the last weekend here at the cottage, just a
trial run, and had felt like she was camping. Partly because of the sleeping
bag, but also because of the quiet solitude of the woods and being awakened by
raucous birdsong. When she’d tried to write, the quiet had gotten to her. But
then, she was used to tuning out a lot of noise at home in the city. Probably
she just needed practice.

After her sample weekend of solitude, she’d driven back to
the city to supervise the packing and ended up camping out there too. The
packing took less time than she’d expected, and while she’d planned to leave
the bed linens unpacked until the last minute, she found they looked untidy, a
loose end. She was ready to be
done
. So rather than use them for another
few nights, she folded and boxed them. Then she waited among the boxes for
three days, sleeping in her sleeping bag on the couch, eating takeout and
staring at her ominously empty laptop screen. By the time the movers had come
and gone, she felt as if she’d spent a year on that couch.

The cottage would be better. A new beginning, a refreshing
breeze through her mind. She brought in her sleeping bag and pillow from the
car, her laptop case and a backpack stuffed with some essential clothes and
toiletries. Two bags of groceries, mostly snacks and frozen goods, along with a
lone set of dishes she’d purchased at the discount store. A single folding
wood-slat chair that could move out to the front porch once her real furniture
arrived. It was all that would fit into her two-seater. The rest of her things
would arrive in a few days, but for now she was looking forward to roughing it
in a little more comfort than she had during her last visit. The chair,
groceries and shampoo raised the standard from spartan to merely minimal. She
would even tether her phone to get wireless.

“Lucky it has a microwave,” she murmured as she stowed
groceries in the freezer. “Talking to yourself already? Maybe it’s time to head
to the pound and start stocking up on cats.”

The words sounded too hollow in the unfurnished house. When
Tess laughed at herself, that rang false too, a harsh note against the mellow
afternoon silence. No city noises, no traffic or sirens. She heard a crow
cawing somewhere outside. Then more silence. Just as silent as it had been the
previous weekend.

Just as stifling as her apartment had become.

“Jesus.”

She had wanted uninterrupted time to think. Now the quiet
mocked her. Thoughts scrabbled to the surface and she didn’t want to think any
of them, any more than she had in the city. She felt the usual self-protective
response, the thick haze settling over her brain, slurring her mind but keeping
the bad things at bay. Deadening, deadened, dead. Exactly what she’d felt when
she looked around her empty apartment in town and turned the key in the lock
for the last time. Exactly what she’d hoped to leave behind by coming here.

Maybe she just needed some time to settle in.

Tess pulled out her iPod and some cheap drugstore
checkout-line speakers and set it all up on the kitchen counter. The tinny
noise filled the awful void she suddenly dreaded. Silly pop from the eighties,
because girls just wanted to have fun. Tess sang along as she unrolled her
sleeping bag.

The first knock startled the hell out of her, and she
squeaked out a screech through the lyrics, like a record needle scratching off
the track. The music jangled on in the background as she approached the front
door warily, trying to peer through the adjacent window without being seen.

Knock knock knock
. Louder this time. “Hello?”

A man’s voice, sounding puzzled and vaguely familiar.

Impatient. What if I’d been in the bathroom or something?

Tess knew she had to answer. Her car was barely visible from
the main road but was in plain view to anybody standing on the front porch. The
guy would know somebody was here.

Knock knock
. “Tess?”

“Oh fuck me…”

She twisted the deadbolt and yanked at the doorknob, glaring
out into the sunset at the one person in the world she least wanted to see.

“So it
is
you,” he said, seeming surprised but pleased.
“What are you doing here?”

Jake Hogan. Why did it have to be him?

“What the fuck are
you
doing here?”

He held up his hands, made a calming gesture. “I live across
the road. I’d heard there was a new renter but the house seemed empty all week,
so when I finally saw the light on I came over to introduce myself. Then I saw
your car and—”

“You’re my
neighbor
? I didn’t even know anybody else
lived on this road. Great. Well isn’t this just fucking peachy?” That had been
the entire point, after all—solitude. She already had a few choice words in
mind for the realtor who’d steered her here under false pretenses.

“Technically I live on McAdam, it runs past the other side
of my property. That’s what my address says. I always come in the back way,
though, since it’s closer to the house. There’s a gravel drive about fifty
yards past yours. So you’re back in town now? I had no idea—”

“Neither does anybody else.” Tess glanced furtively past
Jake’s shoulders, as if any other traffic were likely to come along the deserted
byway, then stood aside to let him in, closing the door firmly behind him.
“Look, I really need you to keep quiet about this for a few weeks, okay? Just
forget I’m here.”

“Why, are you on the lam or something? Is there a story in
it?”

He said it lightly but she turned on him with suspicion.
“There is no news here, Jake. I want a couple weeks to myself. Not even my dad
knows I’m here yet. They aren’t expecting me until the week before the wedding.
And
nobody
knows I’m moving here. It’s…a surprise.”

Not only was Jake the guy everybody had expected Tess to end
up with, he was the editor of the local newspaper, heir to its ownership. He’d
started working with his father a few years ago, slowly transitioning into the
primary role; he’d left a prestigious editorial post in Chicago to do so. Jake
would never keep her secret. He was in business to
share
information,
not hide it.

Of course, he was also a friend, and not really in the
business of spreading ordinary gossip. But Tess’ frustration and tension spoke louder
than her sense on the matter, and she clenched her fists at the prospect of
imminent outing.

A new selection of happy girl-bop started up in the
background. They had the beat, but it was a terrible soundtrack for the current
scene.

“I don’t suppose I could get a, ‘Hey, Jake, could you do me
a favor?’” he asked wryly. “‘Could you
please
not tell anyone I’m
here?’”

“Pretty please? Do I have to put a cherry on top too?” Tess
sassed, then shrugged and looked down at her feet, embarrassed by her outburst.
She was wearing rainbow-striped socks. One of the big toes was wearing thin.
“Please?”

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