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Promises by Aleatha Romig (1)

Prologue

Araneae

The end of Lies, book #2 of the Web of Sin trilogy


When we finally arrived at her door, he said, “I’m staying right here. Get her and bring her back. We’ll go back to the office and forget this happened.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Please, Araneae, talk to her. If she intends to stay employed by Sinful Threads, she’ll come back with you. If not, it’s her choice.”

“My company,” I said with less zeal than before.

He didn’t answer.

Taking a deep breath, I knocked on her door. When she opened it, her eyes were red and swollen, and her face and neck were covered in red blotches. “Winnie...” I wrapped her in my arms as we stepped inside. As the door closed, I asked, “Winnie, what is it?”

“Ms. McCrie?”

I gasped as I stood straight again, taking in the man who had appeared from the bathroom. I knew him immediately.

Knew was the wrong word.

I recognized him, his blond hair, and his boyish features. “Mark?” I questioned.

Hanging from his belt was a badge.

I took a step back, my shoulders colliding with the wall. “What is this?”

The man placed his finger over his lips. “I know you’re being watched. I know there’s a man outside who won’t hesitate to enter. I need you to listen to me.”

“I-I thought you were in trouble...” Winnie cried, her words surrounded by quick inhales of breath. “I-I thought...”

“What did you do?”

“Ms. McCrie,” Mark said, speaking quietly as he came closer, “I’m certain you were told elsewise. May I formally introduce myself? My name is neither Mark nor Andrew. I’m Wesley Hunter, a field agent with the FBI. For the last two and a half years I have been infiltrating the world of Chicago’s underground.”

My lips came together as my head shook. “That-that has nothing to do with me.”

“You didn’t correct me on the use of your birth name.”

“My name is Kennedy Hawkins.” I fumbled with my purse. “I-I have my ID.”

Mark, I mean, Wesley, lifted his hand. “If you want to play that game, it’s your choice. You have a long history, Ms. Hawkins, Ms. Marsh. Or is it, Ms. McCrie? While infiltrating the world that has nothing to do with you, the FBI became aware of your connection—or should I say your father’s? Because of that, there is concern for your safety. For most of your life you have been a sought-after individual. For that reason, once you were discovered, I tried to stop you from becoming involved. Wichita? Perhaps you recall? As you know, that didn’t work.”

My head was shaking. “This doesn’t make any sense.”

“Kenni,” Winnie said, “I’m sorry. They came to me, told me you were in danger. Your behavior...I thought I was helping.”

“Why?” I asked, this time louder. “Why not come to me?”

“I thought with the odd behavior,” she said. “I thought...the FBI said...you were in danger...that you were being forced...and then today you said...I left the office to inform Agent Hunter that the FBI was wrong.” Her head shook. “I’m sorry.”

“Agent Hunter,” I said, finding my voice yet purposely keeping it low so as not to alarm Patrick. “Am I under arrest? If not, I’m going to leave this room. I appreciate your concern; however, I guarantee that I’m safe.”

He reached for a folder lying next to the TV and flipped it open, revealing Sterling Sparrow’s picture. “Ma’am, this man is dangerous.”

“He’s in real estate.”

“You’re believed to have information that could be detrimental to him and his future. We have it on good authority that his plan is to get that information by any means possible. Are you in possession of the information?”

What could I say?

“I don’t have anything like that.”

“The FBI is willing to offer you, Ms. Douglas, and the cofounder of your company, Louisa Toney, witness protection in exchange for the information in question. Certainly, you want to save your friend’s soon-to-be-born child?”

Oh my God. This was the same way Sterling convinced me in the first place—blackmail.

I shook my head. “I don’t have any information.”

“You have been marked by Sterling Sparrow.”

He had no idea.

“We’ve tried for years to find something that would finally stick to Sterling Sparrow. We believe you have it.”

I shook my head. “I’m leaving.” I took a step toward the door.

“Upon further research,” Agent Hunter said, “into Sinful Threads, it has come to the notice of the FBI that there are some unusual real estate deals regarding your properties that are connected to Sparrow Enterprises.”

“Yes, that company deals in real estate,” I said, standing taller. “My company needs properties.”

“The deals you received are significantly below market and below that offered to other customers. That leads us to question the complexity of your agreements.”

I shook my head. “Those agreements go back years. I only recently became acquainted with Mr. Sparrow.”

“If you’re not willing to share the information that you have with the FBI, possibly incriminating evidence against your new acquaintance, we are prepared to offer you an alternative. This is a onetime offer. Once it’s made your decision must be imminent.”

“I don’t need an alternative offer. I don’t have any information, and I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Wesley crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s very easy. All you need to do is take my place, infiltrating and ultimately testifying against Mr. Sparrow.”

“What?”

“The evidence regarding real estate combined with some questionable bookkeeping and inventory irregularities at your Chicago warehouse implicate Sinful Threads as a possible means for illegal activities. We have the records.”

“No, that’s impossible. Louisa and I go through every line. Besides, it couldn’t be him. He’s in real estate,” I said it again as if repeating it would nullify his other dealings. “And I just met him.”

“Lying is what men like him do.”

My phone buzzed and STERLING came onto the screen.

My mind was a battlefield as my lungs forgot to breathe, and my gaze went back and forth between Sterling’s name and the FBI agent across the room.

Who should I believe? Who was telling me the truth, and who was telling me lies?

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