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Authors: Elizabeth Finn

The Innocent Liar

BOOK: The Innocent Liar
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The Innocent Liar
by Elizabeth Finn
Copyright © Elizabeth Finn, 2014

All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.

This e-book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.

Musa Publishing
4815 Iron Horse Trail
Colorado Springs, CO 80917
www.MusaPublishing.com

Issued by Musa Publishing LLC, April 2014

This e-book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this e-book can be reproduced or sold by any person or business without the express permission of the publisher.

ISBN
: 978-1-61937-330-3

Editor: Marci Clark
Artist: Kelly Shorten
Line Editor: Michele Hamner Moore
Interior Book Design: Cera Smith

Warning

This e-book contains adult language and scenes. This story is meant only for adults as defined by the laws of the country where you made your purchase. Store your e-books carefully where they cannot be accessed by younger readers.

Chapter One

“A
ccording to your resume, you haven’t worked for some time. Can you explain that?”

Her heart fluttered and then pounded. Her cheeks started to burn. She’d thought this was a done deal, but there was nothing
done
about this man’s grilling questions. She forced a nervous smile to her mouth that she hoped looked nonchalant, and she thanked God the man couldn’t see what was flying through her mind. “I’ve been taking classes.” Well, it was partly true. She’d been in school once. Still a lie, but a kernel of truth was hidden in what she said.

The man was Eli Hunter, owner of Hunter Custom Furnishings. She liked his name, but as near as she could tell, that was all there was to like. He wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t frowning. He was just watching her. He was dressed in jeans and a navy Henley. When he’d met her on the shop floor, she’d mistaken his casual look for a
casual
personality. He was proving to be anything but. She wasn’t expecting that. He was far too serious and intimidating. Of course he was. He had a job, she needed a job, and he was eyeing her from across his desk as though he didn’t believe a word she said. Perhaps his suspicion was because every other word out of her mouth was a lie.

“I see.” He returned to watching her.

“I thought—”

“I know exactly what you thought. That this job was simply yours for the taking.”

She tried to swallow, though her throat wasn’t cooperating. He’d nailed her. This job
was
supposed to be hers for the taking. This was supposed to be a gimme.

“Let me make something very clear,” he continued. “This is my company, and my father can call in as many favors as he wants, but at the end of the day, it is up to me whether I choose to be an accommodating son or not.”

“I’m punctual. I know how to be on time. I’m a hard worker, and I
need
this job.” Her tone was pure, pathetic groveling, but he was going to reject her at any moment, and that couldn’t happen. This wasn’t a
gimme
at all. With every guarantee she made, his eyebrows inched higher and higher. She sounded desperate, and as she reined in her tongue, she took a deep breath and let her gaze drop to her lap.

“I wasn’t planning to hire for this position until spring, and while I’m not looking for much in the way of experience, I am looking for a solid work history. I’m afraid I don’t see much in the way of your—”

“I’m a hard worker.” She’d already said that, but as her focus flashed to his, she seemed to lose control of her mouth again. “I know my work history is…is sparse—”

“I would have said nonexistent.”

“I really need a chance here. I’m just asking for a chance.” She twisted the straps of her purse in her hands and chewed on the inside of her lip.

“Fiona? That’s your name?”

She nodded as his eyes narrowed.

“Sure it is. This is a woodworking shop. It can be dangerous if you don’t know your way around the equipment, and this job requires at least a portion of the working hours to be unsupervised. I’m sure you can understand why a trustworthy employee with a decent work history is important to me, not to mention something more than the assurance of my father that hiring you won’t be a huge mistake. You are aware I was asked by him to pay you under the table as well?”

She inhaled deeply. This wasn’t a conversation she thought she’d be having today. This was supposed to go smoothly. It was not supposed to turn into an actual job interview. “Yes.” Her words came out sounding pathetic and weak.

“So if I’m to pay you under the table, then I can only assume there’s a reason.” He was still eyeing her, and she felt practically naked as she sat in front of him. Of course, he was studying her eyes for dishonesty and not looking farther down her body, so she must still be clothed, but the utter exposure left her hands trembling in her lap. “I don’t know… Perhaps you hate Uncle Sam. Is that it? Or perhaps you’re behind on filing your tax returns. Hmm?”

He didn’t look away from her, and she tried again to swallow.

“I find it hard to believe you’re an undocumented foreigner, given your bland American accent, but that does leave one last option.” He steepled his fingers under his chin “Perhaps you have a name you’re trying to lose. A name you’re trying to hide maybe?” He cocked his head to the side.

She remained quiet. She should say something. Obviously, he was fishing for an answer, and she’d been lying just fine so far. It really was her obligation to keep it up.

“Given the tremble in your hands and the tightness in your jaw, I’m guessing maybe the latter. So who are you really?”

He was expressionless as he watched her.

“My name—” she cleared her throat “—is Fiona.”

“Of course it is. Now, how about you tell me your
real
name?”

“I’m telling you the truth.”

“No, you’re not!”

She jumped as his deep voice cut through the air, trampling her weak and scared response.

“Try to understand where I’m coming from. This is a small business. Just myself and a small crew of woodworkers, and that’s it.”

“I understand, but I am capable of—”

“You may very well be, but the fact of the matter is even if I hired you, you wouldn’t technically exist in this company. It poses problems for a business owner to employ undocumented employees, pay them under the table, screw over the big man. You’re a liability to me if I take you on. I don’t like liabilities.”

“I promise I won’t cause any problems. Please.”

“Then tell me your name.” He leaned over his desk, glaring at her. He was handsome—tall, fit, and toned. His skin was tanned in that earthy sort of way she’d seen on men who worked outside. His shop certainly didn’t require working outside, but he must somewhere. His eyes were dark and unreadable.

She had no real idea whether she held any cards in this little game of poker or not. She’d thought when she walked into his office she held them all. She was supposed to be in and out. It was what she’d been told at any rate, but this wasn’t in and out, and the man in front of her seemed to resent the hell out of the position his own father had put him in.

“Fion—”

“Your name or no job!”

She thought he was intimidating the second she met him; now, he’d taken it to a whole new level. His voice was loud and angry, and she jumped again where she sat.

“I assure you I won’t mention it outside this room, but if you expect me to hand over the keys to my shop to a woman posing as someone else, the least you can do is tell me your
real
name.”

“I…I…”

“Get out.” He suddenly sounded calm, and he stood, rounding his desk.

Her eyes bulged as he approached her, and her heart started pounding. When he gripped her elbow with his overtly large and strong hand, she yelped in surprise. He hoisted her onto her feet and started pulling her toward the door. Digging in her heels did little good, and it wasn’t until she gripped the side of his waist with her free hand that he stilled. The hard surface of his muscles tensed under the fabric of his shirt.

“No…no, no, no. Please! Please don’t kick me out. I need this.” He had her nearly to the door at that point, and as she peered up into his dark and searing eyes, she released a shuddering breath. “I’m sorry.” Forcing her focus to remain on his eyes was nearly impossible as he looked down to her. His muscles were still taut under his shirt, and his body was entirely too close for comfort. He smelled warm and clean. It was an oddly comforting scent, though he hardly was. He smelled of woodchips and juniper, perhaps a bit of warm vanilla.

“Your name!” He bellowed down at her as his jaw tightened, and she dug her nails into his side inadvertently. His free hand, the one not gripping her elbow, clasped on her other wrist, pulling her hand from his side. “Get out of my workshop.”

His tone was now reined in, but her nerves were flying high, and as the realization that she’d blown it sank in, a devastated sob escaped her mouth, and she bolted out the door.

She ran, foot over foot, stumbling down the open metal stairs to the shop floor below. A few men had been working on various pieces of equipment when she’d arrived, but now she ignored all of it. She kept her head down as she focused on her feet, and when she pushed her way through the exterior door and hit the blustery Wyoming winter day, she started crying. Her tears froze on her cheeks as she made her way down the sidewalk.

She stared at the ground after she found a bench to sit on, and she stayed there in a daze as she hugged herself tightly. Her parka was warm, but the cold was biting right through the thick layers of material. She was out of money, she was out of time, and she was out of options. She was just plain out of luck. This was not a good place to be stuck on a cold November day, and she had nowhere to go. Salt Lake City was a long way behind her, and she didn’t have the cash to get there anyway. This was the very definition of fucked.

Chapter Two

“L
et me guess. Another date you scared off, boss? First time I saw one literally running from you though. You must have really turned on the charm with her.”

Eli stepped casually off the last step to the shop floor and turned toward Mike. Mike was smirking in his chastising, grandfatherly way as he peeked over the top of an intricate spindle he was sanding.

“Very funny. Job interview gone bad more like.” He was muttering, and Mike’s eyebrows shot up. Why wouldn’t they? They were only a small group of men, and the fact Mike was only just hearing about an open position was likely cause for concern in his eyes.

“Since when are we hiring?”

“We’re not. The interview was a favor. It didn’t go well…for rather interesting reasons.” He couldn’t seem to stow the annoyed tone in his voice.

Chris popped his head around the corner then. “Ah, come on, boss. Hire us a pretty girl to play with, please?”

That’s just what Chris needed—another female distraction in his life. He had his hands full with his wife who trusted his two-hundred-pound ass about as far as she could throw it, and for good reason. The man couldn’t keep his dick on a leash to save his life, and Eli had dealt with the fall out plenty. Mrs. Chris liked to surprise-visit her whoring husband regularly, and her grilling and prying questions weren’t reserved for just her husband. If Eli had to entertain her one more time for an interrogation, he might just have to fire the man.

“How about I offer Kathy the job?” He cocked his head to the side. It wasn’t a playful gesture though.

“My wife? Now, why’n the hell’d you want to go and do that for? Trying to ruin my day, boss?”

Eli ignored Chris’s response as he flopped down on a stool next to Mike and picked up the spindle Mike hadn’t yet started on and his own piece of sandpaper. It was a tedious task, but he needed something brainless to distract himself from the runaway interviewee.

She was cute. He’d give her that. Her hair was dark brown, and her eyes were a clear, crystal blue. Her freckles were light and sparse, but she had milky pale skin underneath them. She was at most thirty, if not a few years shy of that, and she was dressed about as casual as he was in worn boot cut jeans with a rusty orange Henley. She wore her dark hair straight as a board down to the middle of her back.

He should probably feel guilty for how he treated her, but he was stifling it easily at the moment. He didn’t like dishonesty, and he didn’t give a shit what her story was or why she felt the need to lie to him. Her deception was impossible to overlook, and he was almost as furious at his father for even asking the favor of him as he was at her for lying. Hiring her was a risk. A big fat fucking risk that his own father had tossed him, and he was well and truly willing to tell his dad to fuck off for this one.

“What’s the position?” Mike, beside him, cocked his head as the inventory guy, Aaron, flopped down across from them at another stool.

“No position now. It would have been secretarial, some janitorial.”

“Ah, fuck, Eli!” Aaron apparently had something to say about that. “I’m sick of cleaning this place all the time. We need someone to sweep up the shop floor, and I’m sick and tired of doing it myself. I’m inventory, not the damn janitor! Besides, you’ve been complaining about needing someone to keep track of your schedule, and appointments, and do the payroll. What the hell?”

“Candace is doing just fine—”

“Candace is the showroom manager, and she ain’t even working out of this shop. She’s practically working two damn jobs. My paycheck hasn’t been right once in the past two months thanks to the fact that woman can’t even use a calculator.”

“Drop it, Aaron. No secretary.”

“She was cute too, Aaron. Did ya see her? I’d tap that.”

Eli glared as he rounded toward Chris. The man was a walking penis. “Nobody’s tapping anything, Chris. She wasn’t right for the position, and I’m not ready to hire for it anyway. It’s November, in case you idiots forgot. We’re going into our slow season once the holidays die down.”

“Jackson Hole ain’t never too slow for the likes of a pretty gal like her.” Chris had his womanizing skeezer face on, and Eli wanted to kick his balls up into his head where they obviously resided.

“I’d like to keep you all employed this winter, not add another mouth to feed onto the payroll. I can get by until spring without a secretary.”

“It ain’t secretary nowadays. It’s
add-menstruation
assistant.” Chris started laughing like a hyena. “Get it? Cause they add girly shit to your life.” He was looking around the room as most eyes rolled, including Eli’s. “She can add all the girly shit she wants to my life.” And back to womanizing skeezer.

“Let it go. It isn’t happening.” Eli stood. He had intended to stay on the floor for a while and help get a few projects caught up, but he wasn’t going to catch a break from this crowd, so he gave it up and returned to his office. It didn’t take Mike long to come knocking on his door. If there was one thing Eli could depend on from Mike, though, it was a level head and a complete lack of womanizing tendencies.

“That girl looked two seconds from crying when she left here. Care to tell me what happened?” Mike plopped his sixty-year-old ass down in the chair in front of Eli’s desk. He wouldn’t be budging until he was good and ready. He was one of the few men that could actually get away with such things with Eli.

“I might have been a little rude.”

Mike snorted in response—very obviously not surprised to hear that. “Who was she?”

“Good question. Says her name is Fiona.”

“Says? You say that like you don’t believe her.”

Eli harrumphed and chuckled quietly. It was the only reaction he intended to give the man. He had no reason to protect the woman’s secrets, but he still did.

Mike hoisted himself from the chair. “Well, what do we need with a woman around here, right? They bring their prettiness and their nice smell with them wherever they go. Don’t need none of that around here. This here’s boys’ town.” He grinned as he said it. He wasn’t being at all serious, but when he reached the office door, he stopped and turned back with all the seriousness his previous comment lacked. “You see that girl again, you try to be a bit more civil. Can’t guess what’s going on in a pretty little head like that, and you don’t need to be causing her any grief.”

Then the old man was gone, and Eli was left with unease and just a bit of guilt on his conscience.

He dialed his father’s number, barely even looking at the keypad. “Care to tell me who this chick was I just kicked out of my shop and nearly made cry?”

“Please tell me you didn’t.” His father sounded no more surprised than Mike had.

“She was dishonest, she had no work history whatsoever, and you expected me to give her a key to my business? A favor, Dad, consists of borrowing my car, lending you cash, designing a piece of furniture for you; it does not consist of offering jobs to young women with fictitious names, nonexistent social security numbers, and questionable pasts.”

“Well, does it consist of trusting your father enough to go out on a limb occasionally?”

“Apparently not. Who is she?”

“You know more than I do. Like I said, it was a favor, and the favor was passed along to me from someone else.”

“Wow. Not even an original favor?”

“No, but one from a trustworthy requester. Eli, I wouldn’t have been asked for no reason whatsoever, and I wouldn’t have passed along the request if I didn’t trust it was for a good cause.”

“And who made the request of you?”

“Someone I trust implicitly.”

“That means nothing to me. You run with an odd group, Dad. I suppose that’s what thirty years as a P.I. will do to you. You know more ex-prostitutes, bondsmen, and snitches than anyone I’ve ever met.”

“Well, I’d say thanks for trying, but obviously you didn’t even bother.” His dad sighed. “Your mother wants to know when you’re coming to Denver to see us.”

“Thanksgiving.”

“Bringing a date back with you?”

“Hardly. I couldn’t even manage to be civil to the last woman I spoke to. I wouldn’t count on it.”

Eli closed up shop less than an hour later and spent the rest of the evening trying to shake the mystery woman from his mind. A mystery was a burrowing, pervasive thing to him that would gnaw away at his mind.
This
mystery was throwing him for a loop, and he didn’t like it. He wanted to know who the hell she was. She was just too cute to be involved in some entanglement, but she was most definitely involved in something. Jackson wasn’t a large town, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t busy or bustling, and as he walked from the workshop to the town square, he couldn’t seem to keep his eyes from roving.

The square was always crowded except during the worst of weather, and he was scanning the streets for her. It was not that he didn’t have business there. It was where his showroom was located after all; hell, he needed to check in with Candace anyway, but it didn’t mean his attention was on anything but the stranger he’d met earlier in the day. He caught Candace just as she was locking up, and he took the deposit from her before walking her to her car.

Candace was a pretty, albeit snooty, transplant. She’d followed a man out to Jackson years ago, and when the man fell through, she stayed. Eli had made the mistake of deciding there would be nothing at all wrong with fucking her on occasion, and he was paying for it now. Her version of
occasional
and his were two entirely different concepts.

“Care for a nightcap?”

“No. I have some designs I need to work on.” It wasn’t a lie, but even if he didn’t have work to do, he’d be turning her down.

“Maybe some other time.”

“Not likely. I told you we weren’t going to see one another outside of work anymore.” It was a shitty response to say the least, and he walked away quickly, ignoring her. He took the long way around the block, still scanning the people out and about, looking for his nameless beauty. When he finally gave up, he returned to the now silent and dark workshop. Staying until midnight working at his drafting table likely wasn’t the wisest thing in the world to do, but it was how he spent plenty of nights. His actual intention was to stop trying to solve a mystery he had no hope of
solving
. He was stumped, and no matter how much he thrust himself into his work, he couldn’t shake her.

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