Corkscrewed by M.J. O’Shea
Release Date: December 1, 2014
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Blurb: Cary Talbot has found the perfect mark. Marigold Shelley is filthy rich, and her newly found grandson, Isaac Shelley, is poised to inherit her huge estate, complete with a priceless wine collection. Cary concocts a plan to con both of them into selling the crown jewel of that collection to him at a bargain price. Since Isaac is young, single, and gay, part of Cary’s scheme to get close to the Shelleys includes seduction.
But Isaac isn’t the sheep he appears to be. He isn’t even the grandson he appears to be. Isaac is, in fact, running quite the con of his own.
These two masters of the confidence game are pitted against each other, and both are after the ultimate prize—a chunk of the huge Shelley fortune. It’s only when a third cunning player comes in and is ready to outwit them both that they must band together and beat their opponent or see all they’ve worked for slip from their grasp one ruby-red drop at a time.
SONOMA COUNTY was pretty, in a bucolic, hazy sort of way, rolling green hills covered with neat rows of grape vines and grass so gold and waving, Van Gogh would’ve been envious of its color. Yeah, the place was beautiful. If you liked that kind of thing. Cary Talbot didn’t. He figured if he were anyone else, he’d find himself charmed by the roll of the hills and the dusty golden glow. But he wasn’t charmed. He was lost. Totally, completely, fuck-if-he-had-a-clue lost. He’d been winding around picturesque country roads for hours, his GPS was having some sort of meltdown, and he was on the verge of pulling to the side of the road and throwing the damn thing as far as he could. Because, you know. That would help.
He took another turn that the angry lady in the computer told him to take, which landed him in some sort of roundabout that led absofuckinglutely nowhere.
“Screw you!” He slammed his hand on the steering wheel. “Ow, fuck.” He was lost, and his hand hurt like hell.
“Turn left in thirty feet. Turn left…. Turn left.” The voice got more insistent, but it didn’t change the facts.
“There is no damn left turn here!”
“Recalculating….” Of course that’s when the car’s Bluetooth picked up his phone. He should’ve turned the damn thing off. Cary glanced at the readout on the rental car’s screen. Jules. Who else would it be? Fuck.
“What?” he barked.
“Jesus, boss. Have a Xanax or ten. Just letting you know the room’s all rented out and taken care of. I’m getting my equipment set up now. You should be good to go in a day or two.”
“Can you tell me how the fuck to get out of here while you’re at it?”Corkscrewed 5
He was met with silence. Cary wasn’t surprised. He didn’t do yelling. Not at Jules, not at anyone. He did charm. Charisma. Confidence enough to sell the hardest mark whatever lies and half-truths he happened to be peddling. Pissiness wasn’t on Cary Talbot’s résumé. He pulled over and took a deep breath. Then he took great pleasure in yanking his damn GPS cord out of the dash.
He hated that thing.
“Powering off in ten seconds,” the voice intoned.
Cary wanted to growl. Instead he took another long, slow, calming goddammit breath. “Sorry, J. Long day. I hate California,” he grumbled.
“It’s okay, boss. You hate everything. How on earth are you lost? The town is right off of highway twelve.”
“I have no idea. I think this damn machine decided I was in Australia or something. Can you please just run a search on my tracker and tell me where the hell I am and how to get out?”
“Good thing we’re paranoid.” Jules laughed softly. “Give me a few minutes to get up and running, and I’ll be able to tell exactly where you are. Get out of the car and do a sun salutation or something. You need to chill before you have a stroke.”
Cary chuckled. “I’m not doing yoga on the side of the road under a bunch of goddamn grape leaves.”
Jules made a derisive noise but didn’t reply. Cary did prop the door of his rental car open, but all that got him was an overwhelming wave of dusty, late-summer heat that nearly made him choke.
He took a long drink from his water bottle and chucked a few pistachios into his mouth. Chewing helped him calm down when he let himself get way too wound up. Some days he wished he’d never quit smoking.
“Where are we at with those directions, Jules?”
“Just… a… minute. There you are. Okay. So I’m going to need you to make a left.”
“Jesus Christ, there is no fucking left.”
Cary could tell Jules was holding back a laugh. “Okay, okay. Why don’t we turn around? I’m going to try another way to get you back to highway twelve. I don’t want you to end up crashed into the bottom of some wine vat.”
Cary rolled his eyes and stuck his key into the ignition. “I don’t even like wine but that’s sounding better and better by the minute.”
“I have no idea how you managed before you met me.”
Jules’s laugh came loud and clear through the car’s speaker. “Anything.”
By the time Cary reached their hotel—modest, nondescript and right off of the highway—he was hot and tired and beyond ready to have a big drink of anything strong, and pass out. That probably wasn’t going to be his luck. Jules usually had about seven million details to work out with him when he least felt like talking. Plus he was hungry, and he wouldn’t say no to some snacks.
Cary started to mentally prepare himself. He had a lot of work ahead of him, hopefully easy work, but work all the same. If he managed to pull it off, the payoff would be fantastic.
“What room are we in?” he asked Jules quietly.
“Eleven fifteen. I’ll prop the door open for you with the bolt.”
“Thanks. I’m on my way up.”
Cary bypassed the front desk. He wasn’t in the mood to put on a show, to charm the hotel staff into liking him but forgetting him the minute he was gone. He’d rather be completely invisible. Luckily he didn’t need a card to make the elevator rise to his floor. There were ways around that. He knew ways around pretty much everything, but after the day he’d had, he really didn’t feel like fucking around with gadgets.
True to form, Jules looked like she was about to stage a military coup right from the comfort of their hotel suite. Cary bitched and teased her about all her techy crap, but he didn’t know how the hell he’d operated without her for as long as he had. She’d set up her computers and her phone station in the corner of the room, and had gotten comfortable in a pair of sweats, flip-flops, and a T-shirt. She’d tied her riot of inky black curls into a knot on the top of her head and was busily painting her toenails a bright pink. She glanced up when the door clicked shut.
“Hey, boss. You look like hell.” Tactful as usual. Jules was brilliant at what she did, but smooth-talking was never going to be her strong suit. Good thing they had him for that.
“Thanks a million, Delgadillo. How are we looking?”
“I just got the system all set up. Give me a minute to breathe. You need a drink.”
“And a nap. I think I have sun poisoning.”
Jules chuckled at him. Typical. She smirked. “Hopefully it’ll be raining when we get home.”
Cary thought of his big, drafty loft in Portland, and smiled. He wasn’t sure if you could call a place home if you were gone more than you were there, but there was something about the old building’s weathered bricks, soaring metal-beamed ceilings, and scarred wood floors that felt like a refuge.
Jules went to the counter and opened a new bottle of scotch and pulled a fresh liter of soda out of the mini-fridge. She mixed Cary a drink without comment and handed it to him. He took a swallow and sank down onto the room’s armchair gratefully.
“Thank you so much. This is literally going to save my life.”
“That’s why you pay me the big bucks.” Jules rolled her eyes a little and gave Cary a fond smile.
“You know. Bring you drinks and stuff. Answer the phone.”
It was a running joke between them. That had nothing to do with why Cary had hired her. Jules was special. She’d been a sophomore at OSU and had a very promising future at some prestigious grad schools when she’d been caught doing a few very naughty things with her computer in the dorms. Like looking-for-backdoors-into-the-NSA’s-internal-system kind of naughty. Cary would’ve thought that was impossible to do from a remote location. Apparently Jules had found a way to make it possible enough that some friendly government agents paid a visit to her dorm room the next day. Luckily she’d been out and saw them from down the hall.
Jules had taken off, and Cary found her shivering and scared in a coffee shop, no family, no more scholarship, and newly homeless. He’d offered her a job, and she’d been with him ever since. She was like a kid sister, if by kid sister he meant an outrageous brat with an IQ of 180, limited social skills, and technology chops that made his head spin.
“So are we going to talk about the job?”
Cary sighed. “Now? Does it have to be now?” What was that he’d been thinking about her being
“Now would be good. Unless you’d like a nice stay off highway twelve for nothing. We need to
get this job set up or we’re wasting our time.”
“Someday you’re gonna kill me.” Jules snorted. No respect.
“So the plan is twofold, correct? Well, three actually. Get the mark to believe you work for the insurance company, but you’re a little dirty. Introduce the idea that the Nine Sisters is just a myth. Falsify the tests to prove they’re fakes. Oh, and then of course get them to sell the bottles to you at a low price to get them off their hands so they don’t get charged with insurance fraud.”
“That sounds about right.”
It was a complicated game, and it relied on Jules’s technical skills as much as his talking, but Cary thought they might be able to pull it off. He could barely fathom the payoff if they were successful. The Nine Sisters. Even one would be an incredible get. Nine of the world’s most sought- after bottles of wine all in the same collection? Nearly priceless. Marigold Shelley was supposed to have them. Cary was banking on the fact that the rumors and Jules’s techno sleuthing were, in fact, correct.
The story of the Nine Sisters was legend. It started back when George Washington had first taken office. He’d been a well-known fan of Portuguese Madeira wines. So much so that Pedro and Maria, king and queen of Portugal, had sent him a case of ten bottles of their private reserve Madeira. One had disappeared into time. Maybe it had been drunk by Washington himself, maybe broken or sold—that part of the story was never told. But the others had formed a collection. Priceless. Famed. Nearly mythical.
The bottles still had their royal seal from the Portuguese court on them, and the stamp showing they’d belonged to Washington’s private collection. How a single vineyard owner got their hands on all nine of them was beyond Cary’s imagination. Their worth was staggering. He had his work cut out for him if he wanted them to be his.
“I still don’t like this, boss.” Jules had never been one to hold back her opinion. She’d been making her opinion on the sisters known ever since Cary decided to go for it. “It’s not fair.”
“Jules. Marigold Shelley is reported to have one of the best private collections in the entire country. The Nine Sisters is the crown of that collection, but she has others. You know how I operate.”
Cary might have been a con artist, but he had morals. He never took from people who couldn’t afford to lose, and he never took everything. Not even close.
“But you’re using the fact that she’s distracted by her grandson to get to her.”
“Of course I am. It’s the perfect time. She’s in love with the romance of getting her family back.
She’s not going to want to take time out of whatever years she has left to deal with me.”
“And the kid? Hasn’t he gone through enough after all these years?”
Cary shrugged. “He’s twenty-four. That’s not a kid. Plus, this isn’t gonna hurt him. He doesn’t even have to get involved.”
He knew Jules had her reasons for wanting to protect Isaac, and they had a lot to do with her past. Cary didn’t feel like playing cheap hotel room shrink.
“I’ve made you a cheat sheet.” Jules handed it to him reluctantly. “I still don’t like this, though.”
“No kidding.” She’d made her stance on the newest mark quite clear before she’d left Oregon a day and a half before Cary. “Do you want to go back to Portland and leave this to me?”
“No. You’ll get arrested, and then what would I do? I’d be bored.”
Cary sighed. “Contrary to your very strong beliefs, I did survive for thirty years before I found you at that coffee shop. Successfully.”
Jules rolled her eyes.“How you managed that is a mystery I’m still trying to solve.”
I’m Mj O’Shea:) I grew up, and still live, in sunny Washington state in a little old house. While I love to visit other places, I can’t imagine calling anywhere else home.
I spent my childhood writing stories. Sometime in my early teens, the stories turned to romance. Most of those were about me, my friends, and our favorite movie and pop stars. Hopefully, I’ve come a long way since then!!
When I’m not writing, I love to go to concerts, hang out with my friends, play the piano (and my other instruments), dance, cook, paint pictures, and of course read! I really, really like coffee and tea, nail polish and glittery sparkly things, headbands, hats, scarves and sunglasses!
I have two little dogs who sit with me when I write. Sometimes they come up with ideas for me too…when they’re not busy napping of course.