Excerpt: Reel of Fortune

Excerpt: Reel of Fortune

Book 12: Miss Fortune Mysteries

Chapter One

I parked my Jeep in front of the General Store and prepared to go inside. It was a Thursday and midafternoon, so the store shouldn’t be busy. The locals would be in the next day, stocking up for the weekend after work, but it would be mostly quiet until they started piling in. I’d planned my return to Sinful, and specifically my visit with Walter, that way on purpose. I stepped out of the Jeep and looked at it with a smile. Soon, it would officially be mine, as I was acquiring it along with the house.

In the weeks since the Ahmad takedown, so much had happened. First, I’d headed back to DC to wrap things up. I could have waited a week or two but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like something hanging over my head. So I decided the sooner I dealt with it the better and hopped a plane two days after the takedown and headed to my former home. The CIA paperwork didn’t take long to handle, except for the human resources stuff, which seemed to be an extensive waste of time. But with the legal climate being what it was, it didn’t surprise me.

I had a nice dinner with Harrison and finally met Cassidy, his girlfriend, who was absolutely nothing like the model-looking airheads he’d usually gone with. And I could tell immediately that this one was going to take. Cassidy was a pediatrician who was as pretty as she was smart and had a relaxed way about her that made me feel comfortable from the get-go. It was clear that Harrison was over the moon about her and she appeared just as infatuated with him. I could see why he’d decided to quit the agency and couldn’t have been happier for the both of them. He was considering several different job options, mostly involving the private security line of work—it was DC, after all—but wasn’t rushing into anything.

The real Sandy-Sue had returned from her European vacation, and I’d finally met the woman I’d been portraying over lunch with Director Morrow. To say we were nothing alike and I’d pretty much gotten everything about her wrong was an understatement. Sandy-Sue was 100 percent USDA-certified girl and she loved every second of it. She was also one of those eternally perky women who smiled and greeted everyone she came in contact with. By the time we’d gotten from the foyer of the restaurant to the table, I was already exhausted. I could tell Morrow was amused.

But while the lunch was tiring, it was also productive. Sandy-Sue was more than happy to sell all of Marge’s property to me for what Director Morrow and a Realtor called “a fair price.” The estate attorney was drawing up the docs and my bank was on standby to wire money when everything was in writing and ready to sign. The entire thing was expected to wrap up sometime early next week.

I’d packed the stuff I wanted to ship to Sinful, which had taken all of two hours since I wasn’t bringing most of it with me. Marge’s house was already stocked with dishes and linens and all those other household-type things that I wasn’t picky about, so I saw no reason to pay to ship a bunch more of the same stuff to Louisiana. Besides, Marge’s stuff was nicer than mine. I shoved most of it into boxes and hauled it all down to a local charity, then boxed up some books and my clothes and shoes and carted it down to UPS. The CIA had agreed to fly my weapons in on the next military transport it had landing in NOLA.

Then in a temporary fit of insanity, I actually went to the hairstylist who’d put in my extensions and had them redone. I swear, I’d originally thought I’d just have them removed and see what was what, but when I looked at a photo of myself with two-and-a-half-inch hair, I didn’t recognize that person anymore. And I liked looking in the mirror and seeing a glimpse of my mother. I figured it might take a while to grow it out so in the meantime, I was going to stick to fake. I had a small stroke over the cost—the CIA had paid for the first round—but I couldn’t argue with the results.

The stylist assured me that in six to nine months or so, I’d have enough length to probably suit me, but I’d need the extensions redone several times before then. When I’d first come to Sinful, Ida Belle and Gertie had taken me to a stylist in New Orleans named Genesis, who’d fixed a torn extension, so I figured I had that part covered until nature fixed my previous hairstyle choice.

With the entire first twenty-eight years of my life wrapped up in five boxes on a truck to Sinful, I caught a flight back to Louisiana and had arrived home just an hour before. I’d given Ida Belle, Gertie, and Carter a call to let them know I was back—mostly  because I knew they’d all been worried that I might change my mind—then I’d arranged to see them all later. But right now, I had business to attend to. Mainly the business of fessing up to the people who mattered a lot to me. People I’d lied to about who I was from the very beginning.

I was starting with Walter.

In a way, Walter was the cop-out route to confessing my true identity, because he already knew I wasn’t Sandy-Sue and had probably guessed I was associated with law enforcement or the federal government in some capacity. He’d been clear when he’d told me he knew I wasn’t Sandy-Sue that he didn’t want any details, his assumption being we were both better off the fewer people who knew the truth. Along with Ida Belle and Gertie, Walter had been one of the people who’d had my back from the beginning and had shown a genuine interest in me. I just hoped his opinion didn’t change when he found out what exactly my previous employment had entailed.

The store was empty except for Walter, who occupied his usual stool behind the counter in the back. The bells above the door jangled when I entered, and he looked up and smiled.

“I thought you were out of town,” he said.

“Just got back a while ago,” I said.

He put down his paper and raised an eyebrow. “So, I take it your situation has changed?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, you, Ida Belle, Gertie, and Carter disappear for a day, then come back, and you disappear for weeks. Despite the fact that you’re gone, the other three are walking around smiling like they just won the lottery. And in a complete change of direction, the troublesome twosome are oddly quiet about everything. Let’s just say I noticed a shift in the Force.”

I laughed. “Star Wars?”

He nodded. “I see Gertie’s got you watching more movies. So? Are you here to reveal your true identity? Or are you going to keep an old man waiting?”

“You’ve been waiting long enough. I really do go by Fortune, but the last name’s Redding. Former CIA agent, Fortune Redding.”

“Former? Hmmm. And the reason you were hiding out in Sinful? Is that handled?”

“A done deal.”

His shoulders relaxed, and I could tell he was relieved. “I was really hoping that was what all the smiling was about. I won’t ask for details, as I know you probably can’t give them anyway. I’ll just say I’m glad that you’re safe, and that whoever was targeting you is no longer a threat.”

“You and me both.”

“So what are your plans now? Or have you had a chance to think that far?”

“I’ve thought about nothing else for weeks, and I have some of it figured out. I’m staying in Sinful, for one, and buying Marge’s house. But I’d appreciate it if you keep that under wraps until the deal is finalized and money’s exchanged hands. Should be all done next week.”

He grinned. “I’ll keep it quiet, but oh, I wish I could be a fly on the wall when Celia finds out you’re staying. She’s going to have a stroke.”

“We should be so lucky. I’m hoping when rumor of my former employment makes the rounds, she’ll be suitably impressed or scared stiff and back off. Mind you, I’m not counting on it though.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t either. That one isn’t right in the head, and she’s fixated on you, Gertie, and Ida Belle. She’ll keep making trouble as long as she’s able, but I have no doubt you girls can handle it. So should we work on a regular weekly food and beverage order for you? That way you won’t keep running out.”

I tilted my head to the side. “You’re really not going to ask me about the nature of my position with the agency?” Most people wanted to know everything, or at least, thought they did.

“I’ve overheard enough from the three of you and picked up on some of Carter’s grumbling,” he said. “And there’s a couple situations this summer where the narrative didn’t quite fit the outcome. When you put it all together, it adds up. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have a shooting match with you for money.”

I smiled, relieved. I hadn’t figured Walter would be awful to tell, but this had gone even easier than I’d imagined. Now I just had to hope that Ally wasn’t completely pissed when I leveled with her. It was bad enough to find out the person you trusted wasn’t even who they said they were. It added a whole different layer of shock value when you threw in CIA agent. And even though I wasn’t passing out my résumé, I figured other people might put things together as Walter had. At least enough so that they decided to give me a wide berth.

“You’re awesome, Walter. And I want to say thank you for supporting me from the moment I arrived. You’ve been a good friend, and I’m really glad we’re going to stay that way. I’m lucky to have you.”

Walter blushed at my compliment, and I could tell he was touched and pleased. “You’ve been quite a treat for an old man. This place needed a little shaking up and Lord knows you brought that in spades. And Carter needed someone who didn’t bend over backward to kiss his butt. You’re exactly the woman who fits with him, even though he didn’t think so for a bit.”

Now I blushed. “I think that goes both ways. I’m just glad he worked it out. We worked it out. Well, we’re working on working it out.”

Walter laughed. “You’ll be fine. I don’t think I’ve ever met two people more suited for each other and less suited for anyone else.”

“I hope you’re right.” I looked down at the counter. “It’s scary, you know?”

“Why?”

I looked back up at him and remembered that Walter didn’t know anything about the real me. Nothing about my disinterested overachieving father, or my mother who died way too young. Nothing about my constant quest at the CIA to prove something to a dead man.

“You know,” I said, “that’s a long story. Basically, it’s the story of my life. And I definitely want to share it with you, but I’d rather do it over burgers and beer and a batch of Ally’s cookies, sitting in my backyard and looking out at the bayou.”

Walter reached over and squeezed my hand. “That sounds perfect. Welcome home, Fortune Redding.”

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