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Crown of Lies (Truth and Lies Duet #1)

Pepper Winters



  New York Times Bestseller

  Pepper Winters

  Crown of Lies

  Copyright © 2017 Pepper Winters

  Published by Pepper Winters

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, including electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it to the seller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

  Published: Pepper Winters 2017: [email protected]

  Cover Design: by Cover it! Designs

  Editing by: Editing-4-Indies (Jenny Sims)


  Pepper Winters is a multiple New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today International Bestseller.

  All Pepper’s books are available in e-book, paperback, & audio.


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  Crown of Lies Blurb



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six




  Crown of Lies Blurb

  “I met the man I wanted. But then he vanished, and a new man claimed me instead. My father approved, my colleagues congratulated, and behind closed doors, I was bedded by a stranger.”

  Noelle Charlston lives a fairy-tale life: a doting father, a powerful job, and a future blessed with financial security.

  However, two meetings with two men changes her happy existence forever. First, she meets the man who makes her heart sing. Three years later, she meets the man who makes her blood quiver.

  Broken-hearted from a teenage romance, Noelle’s freedom is no longer hers. It belongs to the stranger her father believes is her perfect match. The stranger who pulls his lies over everyone he touches.

  Including her.

  Seduced and manipulated, Noelle gives into the mysterious Penn Everett. The lies he spins, the truth he hides, the mystery he weaves—it’s all enough to slowly erode the woman she is and turn her into something else.

  Until her past collides with her present.

  And it’s her turn to lie.

  To everyone...including herself.


  This book is dedicated to all those eagle-eye readers who will most likely notice I’m an English-born writer who uses words with pesky S’s (tantalise), double L’s (travelled), and the occasional extra U (favourite). I’ve done my best (and enlisted help) to catch the English in this American book, but to any New Yorkers who spy a few...all I can say is, I tried. I now have a love-hate relationship with Z’s, learned a boot is a trunk and a lounge is a living room, and just how magical one language can be with two correct ways of writing.

  Happy reading!


  IN EVERY GIRL’S life, there is betrayal.

  Betrayal from loved ones, unknown ones, and from the ones we choose to make our own. However, where there’s deceit, there’s trust, too. And sometimes, those two things camouflage themselves to mimic the other.

  That was what he did.

  The man who first stole my body and then stole my heart was the ultimate magician with lies.

  I think a part of me always knew what he kept hidden. I always suspected and maybe that was why I fell for him despite his deceit.

  But then his fibs fell apart.

  And it was up to me to decide if I wanted to give him


/>   or


  Chapter One

  “YOU CAN’T BRING your daughter to work on a weekend, Joe.”

  “Says who?”

  Steve crossed his arms, doing his best to come across as strict but failing. “Says you.”

  I hugged my frilly dress-covered chest, my head bouncing like a volley-ball between Dad and the man who helped run his company. My back tensed, waiting for their voices to climb and anger to emerge, but their elderly faces remained happy.

  Ever since Mom died four years ago, I’d become susceptible to outbursts of emotion. I hated when Dad raised his voice or someone had a fight in public.

  Dad looped his arm around my tiny shoulders, hugging my body to his. “When did I say I couldn’t bring my darling daughter to work on a Saturday, Steve?”

  Steve winked at me, his dark blond hair trim with his mustache bushy. “When you wrote the rule book for your company, Joe. There was fine print.”

  I knew they were joking—playing a game I couldn’t figure out. I’d been to the office every day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays. But because they expected me to buy into their little drama, I did.

  I allowed myself to act younger than I felt, even though I was still a child and shouldn’t grasp age and maturity just yet.

  Mom’s death and my induction into the workforce from a tender age had given me two ideals to follow: adulthood and adolescence. A lot of the time, I was treated and responded like an adult, but today, I didn’t mind acting younger because I wanted to be younger for a change.

  I wanted to be allowed to cry because today had become a massive disappointment and if I was a kid, I could let my hurt show. If I was an adult, I had to suck it up and pretend I was fine with it.

  My sadness originated from something so stupid. I shouldn’t care—especially seeing as I knew better. But Dad had let me down on a silly birthday tradition, and I didn’t know how to tell him I was sad without coming across as a pouting kid who didn’t value everything she already had.

  “Rule book?” I piped up, glancing at Dad. “You wrote a rule book like school has? Is it as stuffy and strict on silly things like sock length and uniform?” I wrinkled my nose at Steve’s crumpled shirt and creased trousers. “If you did, how come you’re not dressed the same?”

  Dad wore pressed slacks, gray vest, and a blazer with navy piping on the sleeves. Every cuff and pleat were military in perfection.

  He looked nothing like the other suited men in his high-rise building, especially Steve in his shirt-wrinkled glory.

  But that wasn’t new.

  Dad had been immaculate every day of his life since I could remember. Even in the photos of him holding me as a new-born at the hospital, he’d been in a three-piece suit with a chrysanthemum (Mom’s favorite flower) in the lapel.

  Steve chuckled. “Your school has a uniform, Elle?”

  He knew this. He’d seen me here after school in my despised splendor.

  I nodded. “I hate it. It’s scratchy and gross.”

  “But you look so adorable in it, Bell Button.” Dad hugged me closer. Secretly, I loved his cuddles (especially because we only had each other now) but outwardly, I had a twelve-year-old reputation to maintain.

  Still playing their game, I sing-songed, “Daa-ad. You said you wouldn’t use that name.”

  He cringed dramatically. “Whoops. I forgot.” He tapped his temple. “I’m an old man, Elle. I can’t remember everything.”

  I nudged him with my shoulder. “Just like you forgot you wrote a rule book saying no daughters allowed on weekends.”

  “Exactly.” He beamed.

  “And how you forgot my birthday?”


  I didn’t mean to say that, but I’d bottled it up all morning. I did my best to joke, but my hurt refused to hide. He’d never forgotten before. He’d always woken me up with a silly gift and then done whatever I wanted for the afternoon.

  Not the case today.

  I’d turned twelve, and there’d been no cake or candles—not even a birthday hug.

  Instead, he’d cooked me toast, told me to dress smart, then dragged me to work with him. He took me to the office often, but I’d hoped today would’ve been a trip to Central Park together, or at the very least, lunch at my favorite Thai restaurant.

  Is fun no longer allowed?

  Now I was older, did I have to earn an income like he’d kept telling me? That it was time to put the meager few years at school into practice?

  I thought he was joking.

  Then again, he was joking with this whole role-play. My heart skipped, doing its best to understand what was going on.

  Steve gasped. “You forgot your own daughter’s birthday?” He tutted, shaking his head. “Shame on you, Joe.”

  “Watch it. I can still fire you.” Dad’s face contorted as he struggled not to smile. He gave up, allowing a broad grin to spread. “That’s the reason why I broke the rules and brought my daughter to work on Saturday.”

  I froze, unable to stop the happiness fizzing into being.

  Wait...does that mean he didn’t forget?

  “ make her slave away?” Steve’s eyes rounded. “Could’ve waited until she was thirteen, at least.” He winked at me. “Let her see the world before shackling her to this place.”

  “She’ll have plenty of time for that.” He hugged me close, marching forward, pulling me with him. “Come along, Bell Button.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Again with the Bell Button.”

  “Deal with it.” He chuckled, his graying hair catching the neon lights as we strolled down the wide hallway. The view of downtown Manhattan sparkled in the windows. Sitting regal on the forty-seventh floor, the offices of the CEO and top managers of Belle Elle never failed to impress and terrify me.

  Dad owned this building along with a few others. He was loaded, according to the girls’ gossip at school. However, only I knew how much time and energy he put into his company and was very proud of him. But also scared what he would expect from me now I was older.

  For years, things had been changing. My childhood had ended two months after Mom died, revealing how different both our lives would be from then on. No more fairy-tale stories or bedtime read alongs.

  No more Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast.

  No more make-believe.

  Instead, Dad read me ledgers and showed me catalogs of new season apparel for the company. He gave me homework on how to navigate our website and taught me how to decide if buying a dress at two dollars was good sense if we sold it for nineteen. To work out rent, taxes, employee salaries, and other overheads to see if that dress would make any profit (turned out it was only twenty cents after expenses and too low to make a sustainable profit).

  I’d lived and breathed this place since I was so young. And now, it seemed it even controlled my birthday.

  Dad stopped at his office and held the entry wide for me to scoot through. I continued to his desk while he closed the door. I loved his desk. It reminded me of an ancient tree that’d been outside our brownstone for years until it was cut down.

  Throwing myself into his comfy leather chair, I spun around, kicking his drawers to increase my inertia on the second spin.

  “Elle.” Dad blurred as I spun again. He wasn’t mad. His face split into a smile as he chuckled. “You’ll make yourself sick.”

  I planted my hands on his desk, coming to an abrupt stop. “No, I won’t. Those ballet lessons helped with my balance, remember?”

  He nodded. “I do. You were a lovely swan in the Swan Princess.”

  I smiled, forgiving him for forgetting my birthday because really, spending time with him was all I needed. Here or there, it didn’t matter as long as he and I were a we. “You need me to try some of the kid’s clothes today?” I reclined in his chair. “Help design the window display from a girl’s point of view?” I’d learned how to do all that, and I was good.

  The company—Belle Elle—had been in
my father’s lineage for longer than I could comprehend. One of my great, great, too many great grandfathers had called his little shop Belle Elle after his wife, Elizabeth Eleanor, whose nickname was Belle Elle. I knew that because multiple case studies on my ancestry and newspaper articles existed. It was yet another element of my homework: to learn as much about our legacy as I could because in this world—where the US didn’t have a royal family—we were classified in some circles as blue bloods.

  Long standing citizens of an empire that’d been here since colonization. Slowly growing bigger and delivering more products from basic coats and hats for men and parasols and shawls for women, to full wardrobes, housewares, entertainment, and jewelry for any age.

  Belle Elle was the largest retail chain in the US and Canada, and someday, it would be mine.

  To a twelve-year-old girl who had fun playing dress-up with child-size mannequins once the customers had been kicked out, helped staff arrange new window displays, and could take costume jewelry home occasionally because her dad could write off a necklace or two, I was excited at the thought of this being mine. But to the woman slowly evolving—the one groomed on an hourly basis for such a future—was afraid.

  Would I have what it took to control such a place?

  Was it what I wanted to do with my life?

  “I didn’t forget your birthday.” Dad linked his hands in front of his vest. “But you already knew that because you’re my daughter and the brightest girl in the world.”

  I smiled, dropping my head in embarrassment. His praise never failed to warm and comfort me. I wouldn’t tell him I’d worried to begin with.

  I truly thought you forgot.

  He continued, “Today is a very special day and not just because you were born.” He plucked a piece of lint off his blazer, looking every inch a powerful CEO rather than the loving father I knew.

  No matter where we were going, he always wore a suit. He made me adhere to the same strict wardrobe of pressed blouses, dresses, and smart trousers. I didn’t, nor had I ever, owned a pair of jeans.