Book 5 of The Last Stand series
Obsession leads to lies
When Air Force Captain Luke Trussell opens his door one Sunday morning, he’s shocked to find the police, and even more shocked when they charge him with rape. He knows he made a mistake in judgment the night before, but he certainly didn’t force his attentions on the woman who’s been stalking him for months.
Problem is Kalyna Harter has the bruises, and the DNA evidence, to make her claim convincing.
And lies can lead to murder!
Determined to isolate Luke, Kalyna goes to victims’ rights advocate Ava Bixby of The Last Stand, hoping Ava will help put Luke behind bars. But Ava soon realizes she’s defending the wrong victim.
Problem is switching her support to Luke could be dangerous, especially when she falls for him. Because Kalyna won’t tolerate losing the man she wants to anyone. Least of all Ava.
You’re here, why? Wearing only a hastily donned pair of jeans, Captain Luke Trussell stood squinting at the man and woman, both from base security, whose knock had just dragged him from his bed.
We’re responding to a complaint filed by Sergeant Kalyna Harter.
There had to be some mistake. He didn’t even live here. He’d loaned the use of his off-base apartment to two female cousins visiting from out of state and temporarily moved into a friend’s place because it was empty while that friend and his family were on leave. Against me? He pressed a hand to his bare chest.
One of the officers, Sgt. E. Golnick according to her nametag, let her gaze range over his upper torso. Although female attention had little to do with why he worked out regularly, it remained a fringe benefit. But her expression revealed more contempt than appreciation. He could tell she was taking note of his size and musculature, thinking how easy it would be for him to overpower a woman, any woman, even a woman like Kalyna, who was 5’10 and lifted as regularly as he did.
Yes, you, she responded, her eyes shifting to his face. You know her, right?
Yeah, I know her. She’s in my flying squadron, has been since she was transferred here three months ago. Which is how they probably knew where he was staying. She must’ve told them.
She’s claiming you raped her last night, Captain. From the look of her, it was a brutal attack.
A brutal attack? Kalyna had been perfectly fine when he left her apartment only, how long ago? He glanced at his wrist; then remembered that she’d removed his watch when he started mentioning how late it was. She hadn’t wanted him to leave her bed. Was this her revenge for doing so anyway? Or had she been hurt by someone else to the point that she didn’t know what she was saying? Is she going to be okay?
She’s got a few bumps and bruises, nothing life-threatening, Sgt. P. Jeffers, E. Golnick’s counterpart, chipped in, but she’s spent the past five hours at Mercy Fairfield being examined for sexual assault.
Luke shook his head. This isn’t right. If she was assaulted someone else had to do it.
That’s not her story.
A rush of anger burned away his sleepy confusion. Then she must be out of her mind, delirious.
She’s perfectly coherent, E. Golnick said.
Then she’s lying!
One eyebrow slid up. They’ve extracted semen from her body. Are you telling me it won’t prove to be yours?
I don’t see how it can be.
Golnick folded her arms. You didn’t have sex with her?
Luke rubbed his neck. He hated discussing such personal matters–especially when all he wanted to do was forget–but he had to explain fast and be frank. Otherwise, there could be more trouble. We had sex, yes, he clarified. But it was consensual.
Consensual means you both agreed.
He gave her what he hoped was a withering look. I know what it means.
She stood her ground. The fact that you didn’t use a condom might suggest otherwise.
I did use a condom, he argued. I wouldn’t…I mean, I’m not that reckless.
She shifted her weight to one hip. “Then how do you explain the semen?”
He couldn’t. But it wasn’t as if last night was a complete blur. He could remember. It was just that some details stood out more than others. And it didn’t help that he was hung over. Maybe it broke… He hadn’t noticed anything unusual, but he’d drunk more than he had in years. And once he started sobering up, he’d been anxious to get home. I didn’t hurt her. I can promise you that much. I’m sorry if someone else did, but I’ve never struck or forced a woman.
You keep mentioning someone else.
Because it wasn’t me.
So what do you suggest happened? Are you thinking someone must’ve come in after you left?
That has to be the case, he said. It isn’t as if I’m some predator out trolling for women. I wasn’t even the one who wanted to hook up last night. Kalyna got into my cab and gave the driver her address. I thought we’d already said goodnight.
Some men might think that means she’s asking for whatever she gets.
He easily recognized the trap in that statement. Some men, but not me. Quit trying to twist whatever I say. I’m just telling you how we got together. If I was a rapist, don’t you think I’d be the aggressor? That was how he pictured rapists, but Kalyna had been chasing him for weeks. She managed to bump into him all over the place, even when they were off work and off base. He’d been able to feel her interest from the first moment they were introduced, could still remember how her smile had widened at the sight of him, how she kept trying to engage him in conversation.
She said you asked her to go home with you and she refused but later relented. P. Jeffers added this with some doubt in his voice, so Luke appealed to him.
That’s a lie! I didn’t even ask her to dance with me. I’ve never been attracted to Kalyna. Kalyna was too masculine, at least in the light of day. And he’d been able to tell from very early on that she was too forward and controlling. He avoided her if he could, but it was impossible to avoid her entirely. She was his crew chief, which meant she performed pre-flight, through-flight and post-flight inspections and fixed anything that broke or went wrong with his jet.
If you weren’t attracted to her, why’d you have sex with her? E. Golnick asked.
Luke hadn’t planned on touching Kalyna. She was the one who kept rubbing up against him while they danced, whispering in his ear: You make me so hot… When you gonna show me what you’ve got in your pants, Captain? Even then, he hadn’t been tempted until later on, after he had a good buzz going.
To be honest, I don’t know, he admitted with a sigh. He’d just let the sultry promise in her voice overcome his better judgment.
E. Golnick peered behind him, into the Craigs’ house, as if she might see something there that would provide proof of his guilt. Why don’t you get dressed? she said at length. We need you to come down to the squad room to make a formal statement. We’ve notified your commander. He’s meeting us there.
Formal statement rang like a death knell in Luke’s head. They were taking him in. This was serious. After all the bad press such stories had received in the past, the military had grown very intolerant of any kind of sexual misconduct. A wink or a nod or even a smile could be termed sexual harassment and ruin a guy’s reputation, maybe even his career. And here he was, accused of much worse. It didn’t matter that he was innocent. He’d look guilty. To anyone else, the chances of a second person coming in after he left Kalyna had to seem minute–he’d been with her until three in the morning. Beyond that, he was bigger and stronger than she was which meant public support would remain firmly in her favor. This was the one situation where, even in America, a guy was guilty until proven innocent.
He opened his mouth to plead his case. But a neighbor had spotted the security car and was watching to see what would happen next, and Luke was reluctant to put on a show. Still hoping that this was a terrible mistake that would be resolved quickly if he cooperated, he ducked back into the house and yanked on the rest of his clothes.
He’d had a feeling Kalyna was bad news, but he’d discounted it. He hadn’t had enough respect for the amount of damage she could inflict if she set her mind to it. He’d never had reason to fear a woman. What could she do to him?
Apparently, he was about to find out.
A Five Rose Review! “Once again Brenda Novak has given readers a wonderful cat and mouse story. We know who the main villain is, but reading how Kaylna got to be the way she is makes for a fascinating story…The only problem with The Perfect Liar is that when I closed the last page, I didn’t have the final book in the trilogy to immediately turn to.” –Sandi, The Romance Review
4.5 Stars! –RT Book Review Magazine
Gripping, frightening, and intense…a compelling romance as well as a riveting and suspenseful mystery… Novak delivers another winner. –Library Journal