Brighter Than the Sun(2)

By: Maya Banks

Rusty looked relieved and then smiled, her eyes lighting up with triumph. “I don’t want you to worry. I have the perfect plan.”

Zoe looked at her in confusion, but Rusty went over and gathered the stack of folders she’d carried in with her. She began placing items in front of a stunned Zoe.

“First, here’s your driver’s license. You’re from Chicago, by the way. Here’s your birth certificate, passport and Social Security card. Oh, and credit cards with an already well-established credit history. You have a penchant for books and wine, judging by the purchases. And clothes. I made you a total clothes and shoe whore. You even have Facebook and Twitter accounts that date back seven years—do you have any idea how long it took me to make up and post inane details of your life as well as establish fake friends for you? Oh, and you also have a solid purchase history with Amazon, including a Kindle and plenty of ebooks. You’re a devoted fan of cookbooks, romance and science fiction.”

Zoe looked at her in utter bewilderment. Then she latched on to one of the last things Rusty said. “Cookbooks?” She broke into hysterical laughter. “I can’t even boil water!”

Rusty shrugged. “Details. Not like you’ll have to prove your culinary prowess, and it was all I could come up with on such short notice.”

Zoe’s jaw gaped in awe. “Rusty, how on earth did you accomplish all this? Isn’t this . . . illegal?”

Rusty didn’t look overly concerned. “What can I say? I have mad tech and hacking skills. I impressed even myself this time.”

“I have no idea what to say. This is . . .”

Rusty gave her a cheeky grin. “Brilliant? Genius?” She made a show of blowing on her nails, a devilish gleam in her eyes. “Oh, and by the way, after you got your BA, you also graduated with an MBA from DePaul University. I didn’t want any similarities to your past reality.”

“I think I’m kind of afraid of you right now,” Zoe said, though some of the panic that had been ever present since hearing of her intended fate from her scumbag ex-lover eased, and for the first time she began to feel . . . hope.

Rusty rolled her eyes. “It’s just as well you can’t tell anyone what I’ve done because it’s not like my overbearing brothers would ever believe I was more tech savvy than my geek-god brother, Donovan. Not to mention a certain asshole sheriff who’s the bane of my existence and hasn’t missed any opportunity to demean and insult me over the years but then inexplicably decided to give me the most delicious kiss of my life. Not that there’ve been that many.”

Zoe winced in sympathy. She was the only person Rusty had confided in about her love/hate relationship with Sean Cameron, the sheriff of the county she lived in.

“Apparently we both suck when it comes to men,” she said lamely.

“No, sister. We don’t suck. They do,” Rusty said emphatically.

“I’ll drink to that,” she muttered.

Rusty leaned forward and squeezed her hands, sympathy brimming in her eyes. “He’s an asshole, Zoe. And not worth your time or regret. You did nothing wrong. He played you. That’s on him. Not you.”

“Doesn’t make me any less stupid,” Zoe muttered.

“Well, join the crowd. I should have knocked Sean’s teeth out when he pulled that stunt and especially since he apologized and said it never should have happened. But noooo. I stood there like a moron. God, I’m mortified to this day and avoid him at all costs.”

“So you said you had the perfect plan,” Zoe said, purposely turning the subject away from what was clearly a painful, embarrassing memory for Rusty.

Rusty’s eyes lit up as she smiled. “I have the perfect plan. You’re going to come home with me and stay for a while. You know. A friend I met at a conference while in college and kept in touch with. Marlene and Frank will love you and take you in just like family.”

Zoe’s expression became troubled. “That’s not a good idea, Rusty. I don’t want you or your family exposed to any danger. You’ve already risked far too much.”

To Zoe’s surprise, Rusty laughed. “I realize we’ve both kept our secrets during our friendship—you keeping the fact your father is involved in organized crime, and me? Well, let’s just say that the very safest place for you to stay until we figure out a better plan or nail Sebastian’s sorry ass to the wall is with my family. He doesn’t stand a chance against my brothers, not to mention all the people who work for them.”