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Now You See Him

Now You See Him

Mira
November 1, 2004
Amazon ASIN: B000AI4K6C
ISBN-10: 0778320995
ISBN-13: 978-0778320999

A Bayou Book

Death at Mardi Gras

Ellie Byron witnessed the first murder…

Two years ago during Mardi Gras a young woman was brutally killed with an ice pick. Charles Penn, a hard-eyed man with a history of violence, was convicted. But Ellie was never certain of his guilt. Now, while being transported between maximum security prisons, he’s escaped.

Death in Diamonds

Suddenly another woman is found dead, lying cold on a bed of diamonds in a New Orleans jewelry shop. Recognizing that both murders mirror the crimes in bestselling novels by Sonia Elliott and must be connected, the police show up at Ellie’s Toussaint, Louisiana, bookshop. The first murder had frightened Ellie, but their news of a second terrifies her. Afraid for her own safety, she turns to the only person she really trusts: attorney Joe Gable. Joe would give his life to protect Ellie, but neither he nor Ellie knows just how deadly and brilliant an enemy they face—or how near he is.

Death of a Witness

When the third book in Elliott’s mystery series is released, Joe and Ellie realize that time has run out. In this book, the killer eliminates the only threat to his freedom. The last death will be the death of a witness.

Read an Excerpt

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Now You See Him – Excerpt

Now You See Him

Mira
November 1, 2004
Amazon ASIN: B000AI4K6C
ISBN-10: 0778320995
ISBN-13: 978-0778320999

Buy at Amazon.com Buy at BN.com Buy at Seattle Mystery Bookshop

CHAPTER ONE

There is a beat in this city, like the throbbing of arteries when the heart contracts.

New Orleans has its own pulse. I hear it now, getting faster. Steam vents through grills in the street. If they pumped blood from those grates the air would turn red, but the pressure would ease.

It’s early, early enough the breeze through jasmine doesn’t take the edge off last night’s scents of booze, sweat and urine.

This waterproof bike-suit makes me sweat and the helmet doesn’t help anything.

Concentrate.

My timing must be as perfect as it was the first time. I’ve already seen her several times. The one. Rich, spoiled, dissatisfied and looking for more treasures to buy, to stuff in the bottomless cavity she thinks is her desire. Boredom is the name of that cavity, and fear. The boredom of a woman who has everything but purpose. She would never confess to fear but it’s there, fear of being alone with herself. I loathe such women. One of them has ruined my life by using my talent and ignoring my existence.

Concentrate.

Antiques, Diamond and Gold Jewelry by Xavier Tilton.

Whooee, that is some name to fill up an awning over a shop door. Shops like this one cram Royal Street but I picked out Xavier Tilton’s place for the diamonds—and the long-legged woman who comes at the same time on the same morning each weeks. Tilton carries more diamonds than any other place I’ve checked. They shimmer and flash inside glass-fronted display cases lining the walls. No fingerprints on that glass; Xavier carries a half-mit in his pocket and moves behind customers discreetly wiping away any evidence of their presence.

He’s doing it now, sliding behind her, talking and wiping.

It’s time. They’re alone in there and the street is almost empty. Nothing but a few stinking, sleeping no-names covered with piles of rags. Once I’m in the shop I’ll close the door to keep the sound down.

Wait, there’s a delivery truck. If it stops here I’ll have to change plans.

Come on, come on. Geez, a friggin turtle. Move. Good, it’s parking over there, the driver’s leaving the engine running. Any distraction is good.

Call Xavier to the courtyard behind the shop, to the deliveries gate. Now! Move your feel. Walk into the alley beside the shop and press the button beside the pretty iron gate.

“Xavier Tilton here.”

“Mornin’ Mr. Tilton. Gift delivery from Blossoms.”

“Bring it into the shop.”

Shit. “It’s a fern of some sort. A tree. ‘Bout seven foot.”

“I’ll meet you at the delivery gate. Give me a couple of minutes to get through the courtyard.”

Do that, Xavier. Take your time getting to your gate. I’m the one who has to get inside the shop and keep moving until this is finished.

It’s raining again. Quick, inside, close the door quietly. Smells of ammonia and stinkin’ candles.

Bless you, Xavier, for the classy music. Nothing like a little opera early in the morning.

The seconds are ticking away now. How long before Tilton comes back?

The woman has heard me coming into the shop. “Mornin’, ma’am.” Don’t I sound friendly?

“Good mornin’ to you,” she says. “He’ll be right back.” Pretty face. Smooth blond hair. Much younger than I thought. Too bad. She wants something in the case, can’t look away from it for more than a second.

Her purse is small—no straps. Fate is smiling.

Take out the pick and palm it against my thigh. Cram the dark visor down.

Stay cool. Two steps . . . and strike. Ouch, it goes in easy enough until she falls and her weight hangs on the pick. Damn blood everywhere, running down the visor and blurring everything. Wipe it on your sleeve. She’s doing it right. With a little guidance from me she falls forward and through the glass and she doesn’t say a word, doesn’t scream. That’s because she’s already dead—or close to it.

How many more seconds? If he catches me it’s over.

I can see her in the mirrored back of the case, sliding down, breaking shelves, tipping all the pretty things. She’s not pretty anymore.

Pull the pick out. NOW. Grab the purse and stuff inside the suit. Move my feet, back away, put the pick in its thigh pocket, open the door, close it behind me and walk away. Walk fast but not too fast—to the corner, turn, and there’s the bike.

I’m away and heading for that coulee and the ruined shack. It wasn’t the woman’s fault, not really, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time—for her.

This suit doesn’t keep the wind out, or am I cold? How can I be cold. Warm rain hits my neck and should turn this oilskin stuff into a sauna? I’m going where I went before, out past the zoo.

Soon the scenery gets lonely, the undergrowth is burned, and rotting trees lean this way and that. The deeper I go the more deserted it feels.

The coulee isn’t deep enough but it’ll have to do.

The rented bike goes into the barn. My own wheels never looked so good. Off with the suit and wrap the helmet and purse inside, and the gloves, the black tennis shoes, underwear too. Now I stuff the lot into a double garbage sack but I can’t load it until I wash.

The soap is still where I hid it. Colder, the water should be colder and chafe my skin red and clean. My feet cling to slimy gravel and tree roots. Why do I shiver when I’m not cold anymore? Soap coats me and I rub it in hard, dig my fingernails into the soft surface of the bar.

Not enough. I want to bleed, I want to hurt. A pebble, large and porous like pumice—yes, it will clean me. It tears into my upper arms, into the skin on my belly and buttocks, the backs of my thighs and my elbows. Long red stripes that pop bubbles of blood, then begin to seep in ragged rivulets quickly mixed to a bloody wash by the water. I want to lay the flesh on my face raw but everyone would see it.

Sometimes a sacrifice must be made—as an example. I didn’t want to do it the first time or this time, but I had to, Sonja made sure of that. Sonja owes me.

God help me, one more to go.

CHAPTER TWO

THE TIMES ONLINE:
New Orleans. Tuesday, October 23

Yesterday morning an as yet unidentified woman died when she fell into a jewelry display case at a Royal Street antique shop.

Owner Xavier Tilton, alone with the woman at the time, received a call to the outside service entrance and left the woman in the shop. By the time he returned she appeared close to death and did, in fact, expire before the police and aid units reached the scene.

Although Mr. Tilton is sure the victim carried a purse, no purse was located at the Royal Street shop. Mr. Tilton reported that the deceased had been interested in a piece of antique diamond jewelry in the case. After the incident, no merchandise appeared to be missing. The ring the victim was considering remained on her finger.

No official comment has yet been made but information from a credible source revealed that the crime has been classified as murder.

A tentative link is made to the bizarre murder of Stephanie Gray during Mardi Gras two years ago. At that time a close friend of Miss Gray said the victim had traveled to New Orleans to try out for a place in a band. The friend did not hear from Miss Gray after she boarded a bus in Bismark, ND.

At autopsy it was discovered the woman had most likely died before being trampled during the parade. A weapon later described as probably an ice pick, had been stabbed beneath the base of her skull then removed. No purse or other personal possessions were ever found. Our sources tell us yesterday’s Royal Street victim also sustained a mortal wound to the brain, most likely inflicted with an ice pick, and used in part to drive her through a heavy glass door in the display cabinet.

Last Friday, Charles Penn, convicted murderer of Stephanie Gray, escaped while being transported between maximum security facilities. He remains at large.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Think it’s going to rain?” Father Cyrus Payne, pastor of St. Cécile’s parish in Toussaint, Louisiana pounded along the path beside Bayou Teche with his friend Joe Gable at his heels.

“Nope.” Joe Gable didn’t say a lot when they took these early morning runs together.

Cyrus figured Joe only stayed behind him because he was too polite to leave the narrow track and pass. Cyrus turned his face up to the hazy sky and said, “It’ll rain.”

“What evidence do you have to back up that claim?” Joe sounded like the lawyer he was.

“Purely circumstantial stuff,” Cyrus said. “It’s almost eight and there’s no sign of the sun.”

“Pretty thin,” Joe said. The church and rectory came into view and he made sure, politely, that he was the first on the faint path from the bayou to Cyrus’s garden gate. “When the haze shifts the sun will be out.”

“I feel rain coming.”

Joe laughed. “Well now, that changes everything. You’ve got me convinced.”

Cyrus thumped his friend’s shoulder. Once inside the white fence which surrounded the garden, they slowed and walked side-by-side on crunchy, sunburned grass. There wouldn’t be much time to get cleaned up and have a think before mass at 8:30.

“Madge is here again,” Joe said, pointing to Madge Pollard’s car parked beside Cyrus’s red Impala station wagon in front of the house.

“Madge works here, she’s here every day.” He’d almost said she was always here.

“This early, Cyrus?”

“Not all the time.” This line of questioning didn’t come up often but when it did Cyrus felt awkward, almost cornered. His own fault for being so dependent on Madge as his assistant—and his friend.

“She’s a special woman,” Joe commented. “And she’s lovely.”

“Yes, she is.”

Joe slanted him a look and said, “I’ll carry on back to the office and shower there. Wills, wills and more wills today, not that I’m complaining.”

“Cyrus!”

They both stood still and looked across Bonanza Alley, the little street between the church and the rectory. There was Madge, just as if talking about her had conjured her up. She ran between graves in the churchyard, waving a piece of paper above her head. “Wait!” she cried, even though they hadn’t moved since her first shout.

Alarmed, Cyrus hurried to meet her. Today she wore red, his favorite because it showed off her dark curly hair and even darker eyes—and it went with her bright spirit. “Mornin’, Madge. You’re awful early.”

She didn’t smile or greet him in return. “Where have you been? I looked for you everywhere.”

Joe caught up with him and they said, “jogging,” in unison.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Madge told Joe. “You probably know Ellie Byron better than any of us.”

Cyrus felt Joe stiffen. “What about Ellie?” he said.

“Maybe we should get out of the street,” Madge said although there wasn’t a moving vehicle in sight. She looked hard at Cyrus and said, “There’s coffee ready in the kitchen. Let’s get some and you can both read this.” She waggled the sheet of paper again and led the way around the house to the back kitchen door and inside.

“I don’t need coffee, thanks,” Joe said. He’d turned pale under his tan. “Let me see that, please. I’ve got to get back.”

Back to the town square where his offices were only two doors away from Ellie’s book shop, Cyrus thought.

Joe scanned the computer printout he’d taken from Madge, read it again—more slowly, and gave it to Cyrus.

He finished it and his hand fell to his side. He watched Joe’s reaction. The man crossed his arms tightly and he looked into the distance as if he’d forgotten where he was and who he was with.

“Well, say something,” Madge demanded. “Do something.”

“We probably won’t need to do anything,” Cyrus said. “Ellie happened to be on a hotel balcony when Stephanie Gray died—staring straight down. Other people were there and they didn’t see a thing. For some reason Ellie did. In all that crush she noticed a woman fall like a log, not get accidentally pushed the way it was supposed to look. But she didn’t see the killer—or she’s not sure if she did or not. Ellie couldn’t identify him.”

“What if Charles Pen doesn’t really believe that?” Madge said tightly. “What if he decides to come after her?”

“He may blame her,” Joe said. “I’ve thought about this plenty. She couldn’t identify him, but she wouldn’t rule him out.”

Suddenly Madge’s eyes shone with angry tears. “He got caught because he was there, exactly there, and he ran. He got in the way of people trying to help Stephanie, he was in such a hurry.”

Joe scrubbed at his face and said, “I can’t get it out of my head that maybe if Ellie had been down there, she’d have been the one who died.”

“God rest the soul who did,” Cyrus murmured.

“Not everyone believed Ellie had never seen Charles Penn before,” Madge cut in. “Some said she must have seen him but she was afraid to admit it in case he ever came after her.”

“Poor girl,” Cyrus said. “She’d barely come through the nightmare at Rosebank and managed to pull herself together for Spike and Vivian’s wedding and this happened.” Rosebank belonged to Vivian and her mother. They ran it as a hotel with a few long stay apartments. Sheriff Spike Devol and Vivian Patin had been married at the house a few weeks after the Patins’ lawyer was found dead on the grounds and Ellie got singled out for some unpleasant attention. Cyrus glanced at the headline again. “Ellie’s been through too much and I don’t think we know all of it.”

“I’ll tell you this much,” Joe said, his dark blue eyes flat and hostile. “If Ellie said she’d never seen Penn before the lineup, she’d never seen him. Ellie doesn’t lie.”

Madge said, “We all love Ellie. I’d do anything for her.”

“It’ll take me about fifteen to run back there,” Joe said, the defensive expression still on his face.

“Take my car,” Madge said.

“Or mine,” Cyrus offered.

“I’d rather run,” Joe said as he opened the door.

When they were alone Madge poured coffee for Cyrus and herself. She put the cups on the table before the kitchen windows and they sat down.

“We mustn’t frighten Ellie,” Madge said. “But we’re all going to have to keep watch on her.”

“And pray Penn gets picked up quickly.” Cyrus said. The first drops of rain hit the windows but he didn’t feel any triumph. “We’re going to have to watch both of them, Ellie and Joe. He could put them both in danger if he rushes in without knowing what he’s getting into.”

“The police will come poking around,” Madge said. “It’s the Sheriff’s Department jurisdiction out here, but the New Orleans people will want to talk to Ellie.”

“NOPD probably has a detective on the way as we speak,” Cyrus said. “But Spike will have a cruiser in the square all the time and he’ll camp on Ellie’s doorstep to keep her safe if necessary—with Joe. I’m glad she has the dog now.”

Madge topped up their coffee. “Did you see his Joe’s face when he went out of here?”

“Uh huh—and before. First he looked sick and scared, then mad.”

“Did you have any thoughts about that.” Madge stirred her coffee and kept her eyes lowered.

“Maybe, tell me yours first.” Cyrus didn’t like to start gossip.

“I think Joe’s in love with Ellie.”

So did Cyrus and he wasn’t sure the idea gave him a warm and cozy feeling.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ellie Byron reached to turn off the computer, but couldn’t make herself do it. Even when she pushed her chair away from the desk she could read the words on the screen, or maybe she’d memorized them in one reading.

Charles Penn on the loose.

And within hours another ice pick killing occurred, like the one at Mardi Gras two years ago.

Hungry Eyes, Ellie’s book shop and café occupied the entire floor beneath her flat and a second, vacant one she tried to keep rented. She had gone down to get ready for the day and popped back up to check the news online, as she did every morning.

Ellie forced herself to move and ran down to lock the shop doors again. She hurried to switch off all appliances in the small café. She kept a wary eye open for her regular early customers and printed on an index card: SORRY. LATE OPENING TODAY. This she attached to a window with a suction cup and hook.

Trailing a battered cell phone by its antenna, Daisy, her German Shepherd loped into the shop and flopped on her bed, followed by Zipper, the moody cat Zipper, Ellie had bought for Daisy. Zipper didn’t lope, she sprang, all four feet leaving the ground at the same time, and landed on top on Daisy.

The dog inherited the phone after she began stealing and hiding it at every opportunity. She played up like a kid when a call came in for Ellie.

Outside in the square two early morning delivery trucks, parked half on and half off the sidewalk were the only signs that a new business day had begun. Boxes piled outside Cerise’s Boutique, a dress shop opened a few months ago, meant Cerise was late getting started again. Ellie worried about Cerise’s merchandize being left on the sidewalk.

The driver of the second truck carried supplies into Lucien’s Hair Affair and Spa where the first clients would already be lounging and tucking into fresh beignets and café au lait, unless they preferred champagne. Lucien had come from an upscale salon in New Orleans.

The only other vehicle in sight belonged to her friend Joe Gable, a lawyer with offices almost next door. His army green Jeep hung out in its usual spot beneath a gnarled old Sycamore. Ellie gave the vehicle a long look. The thought that Joe was so closeby gave her courage.

From the way things looked outside, this was just another day in this old Bayou Teche town, only for Ellie it was anything but just another day. She switched off the little radio balanced between jars of loose candies on a shelf in the café.

Keep busy. Think about what you should do next, but don’t think about ice picks. She stopped breathing and looked behind her, into the square, again. No one brandishing an ice pick out there.

The nightmare began again and she squished the urge to call Joe. That wouldn’t be wise.

“C’mon gals,” she said to the animals. She didn’t attempt to soothe their injured feelings at being disturbed from a little morning nap for the second time. “Now! Heel, Daisy. Upstairs we go.”

Keeping up with the news online became a habit after the death of poor Stephanie Gray almost two years previous, when Ellie was the only eye witness in the case.

When the last tenant left the second flat above the shop, Ellie hadn’t hurried to replace her. She still toyed with the idea of making the two flats into one large one but couldn’t afford a renovation yet.

Ellie closed herself in but heard the insistent ring of the bell at the shop door. She knelt on the floor between Daisy and Zipper and held their muzzles. “You’re good girls but you mustn’t bark.” Some hope. They thought barking at possible intruders was their reason to live.

The bell rang again and she shuffled on her knees with an arm around Daisy until she reached the front windows. She looked down at the top of a man’s dark blond hair. Behind him at the curb stood a gray Dodge sedan in need of a paint job.

Ellie couldn’t think for the hammering of her heart and the pounding in her ears.

Calm down. Sure Charles Penn had similar coloring, but he wouldn’t come to her door in broad daylight and ring the bell.

She should call for help now. Joe would come, and Spike. The phone rang and Ellie jumped so badly her chest hurt. She picked up and said, “Joe?” Sometimes he called her around this time.

“You are there, Miz Byron. My name is Guy Gautreaux, Detective Guy Gautreaux, NOPD. I just want to ask you a few questions.”

CHAPTER THREE

Ellie muzzled Daisy, put on her choke chain and shut Zipper in the apartment. No point having a well-trained dog then leaving her where she couldn’t be of any help.

Daisy’s alert button had been pressed. Nose straight ahead she didn’t as much as whine while she walked beside Ellie. They arrived at the shop door and Ellie peered through at a rangy man dressed in jeans and a denim jacket. Detective Gautreaux gave a big, white grin and looked back at her with liquid almost black eyes.

The detective had an open face and the eyes were sincere.

Ellie stared at him, waiting. Just because he looked like someone’s handsome, harmless big brother returned from a camp counselor stint didn’t mean he’d get inside Hungry Eye so easily.

He mouthed something and indicated the door handle.

Ellie put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows. Daisy gave a single deep bark and strained toward the door.

He slapped his forehead in one of those, “What was I thinking?” motions and produced his badge which he pressed against the glass so she could read clearly. Looked real, darn it. Now she had no excuse not to let him in. She took off Daisy’s muzzle and opened the door.

Gautreaux stepped inside and locked the door behind him.

Ellie wasn’t sure that made her feel comfortable. She could feel Daisy vibrating under her skin, see the way the dog’s eyes went from her to Gautreaux.

The detective gave her a disarming grin and walked forward to take a look at the shop and café. “Nice place,” he said and she noted he wasn’t grinning anymore although, even in repose, there were plenty of lines to prove he smiled a lot. “Some dog, too. What’s his name?”

“She’s Daisy.” Ellie held onto Daisy as if she barely had control of the animal. “It’s not a good idea to make nice with her.”

Gautreaux nodded gravely. “Ex police dog?”

“No, but she’s just as well trained. Friend of mine had a friend who trained her. And Daisy’s in therapy regularly so she’s fairly predictable.” The devil made her say the last bit.

“Therapy?” Gautreaux looked blank.

“Both Daisy and Zipper. We’ve got one of the best dog therapists around, right here in Toussaint. L’Oisseau de Nuit. We call her Wazoo.”

“Uh huh. How interestin’. Is Zipper another Shepherd?”

“Mean cat. She belongs to Daisy. Daisy gets lonely if she doesn’t have someone to play with.”

“Well,” Gautreaux said, “I sure understand how she feels about that.” The expression on his face didn’t flicker and he didn’t give Ellie even a suggestion of an invitation with his eyes.

“I have a lot to do,” Ellie said. This guy thought he was smooth and that she was a small town girl waiting for a nod from an urban cowboy. If she had her way, he’d never find out how wrong he was about her.

“Look, these are informal questions but you’re expected to take them seriously.”

Ellie’s sweating hand slipped on Daisy’s cinch. She didn’t comment.

“Where were you first thing yesterday mornin’?” He turned on the smile again. “Remember, this doesn’t mean anythin’. Just a few routine questions to fill up the necessary spaces.” His pen hovered over a notebook and he hummed while he waited. “Between the moonshine, and the shinin’ of the moon…” He sang barely above a whisper. A pleasant sound—too pleasant.

“Yesterday mornin’?” he prompted.

“I was here.”

“And you’d been here all the night before?”

“Yes.”

“Alone?”

She blushed, darn it. “Yes, alone. I live alone.”

“What time did you open up?”

“Around twelve.”

Gautreaux looked at her sharply. “Why so late?”

She began to feel angry, and hot. “I take an occasional Monday morning off. I clean up the stacks, work on my books, pay bills.”

“You can’t do that without closin’ the shop?”

“I’m the only one here. I’d be interrupted all the time.”

“So there wasn’t anyone here with you yesterday morning? Who saw—”

Joe, in a mesh tank top and running shorts, used his key and opened the shop door. With his jaw jutting, he advanced on Gautreaux. “What the hell’s goin’ on here?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “I see NOPD’s unmarked cars haven’t gotten any cuter.”

At the very least, Ellie would like to stand beside him but she thought better than to move.

“You heard me,” Joe said. He had a film of sweat on his tanned face and body and his navy blue eyes narrowed to slits. “Why are you here?”

“Who are you?” Gautreaux asked, flashing his badge. “This is a friendly conversation between Miz Byron and me.”

“I’m her lawyer,” Joe said promptly, although he wasn’t. “Joe Gable.”

“A lawyer with a key to the castle.”

When Gautreaux showed his white teeth again Ellie feared Joe might land a fist right there. Every muscle and sinew in his fit body flexed. His black curly hair clung to his forehead and neck.

Since it was obvious Joe didn’t intend to answer the detective’s question, Ellie said, “Joe is my neighbor, too, and we keep spare keys for each other.”

“Cozy,” Gautreaux said, apparently unaware that Joe’s stance had changed. Ellie swallowed several times. Leaning forward slightly, Joe’s hands had curled into fists.

Without moving her feet, Daisy stretched her neck, sniffed Gautreaux’s jeans and rested her big wet nose at the side of his knee.

Ellie didn’t move her away and Gautreaux behaved as if he hadn’t noticed.

“Why are you here?” Joe said to Gautreaux.

“I thought I told you. To ask the lady some questions.”

Joe turned his attention on Ellie. “Did he tell you what the interview was about?” She’d never seen him like this. He seethed.

“No,” she said. “But I figured—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Joe said, quickly enough to let Ellie know he didn’t want her finish what she’d been about to say.

“Hey.” Gautreaux gave Joe a man-to-man look. “Why don’t the three of us sit down somewhere. I don’t have a lot to ask but we could get through faster.”

Joe appeared about to refuse but he took a deep breath through his nose instead and nodded shortly. “How about the table at the back of the stacks?” he asked Ellie, putting a hand at her waist.

“Fine,” she told him, very aware that for all the times they’d shared together, she never remembered him touching her except for one time when they danced at Pappy’s Dancehall.

Gautreaux stood aside to let them pass between lines of books and Ellie smiled when Daisy looked up at him and raised one side of her top lip. They took chairs around a table where customers sat to look over possible purchases. A circle of easy chairs for book club meetings would be more comfortable but Ellie didn’t want to get comfortable.

This time Daisy put her chin on Joe’s thigh and proceeded to sniff him.

He laughed and said, “I really do need a shower.” But he kissed Daisy’s head and, with a great sigh, she leaned against him.

“Let’s pick up where we left off,” Gautreaux said. “Did anyone see you here in the shop yesterday mornin’, Miz Byron?”

Ellie thought about it and said, “I don’t think so.”

“Not even your lawyer?”

“Not even her lawyer,” Joe said, showing his teeth in a vaguely Daisy-way. “Loads of people must have, though, Ellie. The early café customers at the very least.”

“Miz. Byron didn’t open the shop until twelve yesterday,” Guy Gautreaux said without looking at Joe. “She says she was doin’ paperwork and tidying up.”

“Then that’s what she was doing,” Joe said in as close to a deadly voice as Ellie had heard him use.

Gautreaux wrote and said, “Subject doesn’t have an alibi for night of 21 or mornin’ of 22. I’ll need to speak to anyone who did see you in the afternoon, but you can leave that to me.”

“You’re going all over Toussaint asking questions about me?” Ellie said.

“I’m a discreet man,” he said and stood up. Daisy squeezed past Ellie and planted that moist nose in exactly the same spot at the side of the man’s knee. “As Miz Byron was about to say before you stopped her, Joe, she figured quite correctly that I’m here because of her connection to the Stephanie Gray killin’. By now I’m sure you both know there was a murder in New Orleans yesterday. Royal Street. Same MO as the Gray case. Charles Penn escaped from custody a few days back and hasn’t been picked up so I’ll ask you to be careful, ma’am, and call me at this number if you encounter anything unusual.” He passed her a card. “No one you couldn’t identify has tried to contact you? Or even someone you did identify but wished you hadn’t?”

Ellie stiffened and took short breaths through her mouth. She knew what the last, not very subtle question meant. Daisy moved her head ever so slightly and gently closed her big, white teeth on a smidgeon of Gautreax’s jeans leg.

“No,” Ellie said. She might be scared but she wouldn’t let it show. She hardly dared look at Joe, but she could feel him, feel his anger although she couldn’t figure out why he was getting so mad at her, or Gautreaux.

“This was just an initial contact,” Gautreaux said. “I’m sure we’ll have to come to you again—or have you come to us. We’re there for you, and I mean that sincerely. I’ll make sure the local Sheriff’s Department is informed. Is there anyone you could ask to be with you until this is cleared up?”

“Yes,” Ellie said. “Daisy.”

“Not quite what I had in mind,” Gautreaux said, his gaze flicking toward Joe. “I’ll get some help from the local law. They’ll do some drivebys to check up on you.” He glanced at Daisy’s teeth and Ellie gave a little tug to disengage her buddy.

She wouldn’t help Gautreaux with a thing. He could find Spike Devol himself and later, she’d let Spike know she was just fine.

The detective gathered up his pad and pen and, as an afterthought, put one of his cards in front of Joe who left it on the table.

One last grin, a move to stroke Daisy—sensibly aborted—and he scuffed his dusty boots out of the shop.

Silence followed and Ellie’s jumpy nerves sickened her. Joe was her friend. He’d always been there if she’d needed something. Their response to each other had been slow at first but the liking had grown steadily and she enjoyed his offbeat sense of humor and spontaneity.

Joe stood up. He looked into Ellie’s face. “I’m goin’ to take a shower. Lock the door after me.”

He walked out.

NOW YOU SEE HIM

 

An Angel In Time

An Angel In Time

Harlequin
October 1, 2004
ISBN-10: 037381075X
ISBN-13: 978-0373810758

A very special delivery…

Hannah Bradshaw arrives home to find an elderly gentleman with a snowy beard waiting on her steps. He hands her a worn and battered envelope. But before Hannah can find out who he is, he vanishes…

Hannah opens the envelope to find a long-lost letter from her hometown sweetheart Roman Frazer. Seven years ago they’d planned to marry–until another woman claimed to be carrying Roman’s child. Distraught, Hannah fled. This letter states the baby wasn’t Roman’s. Could Hannah have been wrong to run away from the one man she’d always loved. . .and still loved? It’s time for Hannah to find out the truth…

Out of Print

Read an Excerpt

An Angel in Time – Excerpt

An Angel In Time

Harlequin
October 1, 2004
ISBN-10: 037381075X
ISBN-13: 978-0373810758

"Hello! Hannah Bradshaw?"

Hannah heard her name and peered through driving snow. An elderly man waited, smiling, by the front door to her apartment building.

"That’s me." Puffing into the scarf she had wrapped around her nose and mouth, she grasped a slippery iron railing and scuffed up the steps.

"A lucky day," the man said, rocking to the square toes of his old-fashioned black boots and back onto his heels. "A very lucky day."

Lucky? So far today she’d lost her secretarial job and been jilted. Well, not exactly jilted. After two years, good old reliable John Norris had told her they shouldn’t see each other for a while, that they should date other people to see how strong their bond really was. To Hannah that felt remarkably like a polite way of saying goodbye.

She gained a precarious foothold on the marble top step and took a closer look at her visitor. Clear, kind gray eyes, too young for his face, met her gaze squarely from beneath the rakishly dipped brim of a gray Stetson with a corded band. Hannah thought fleetingly of Confederate uniforms.

"Not the best of days, if I may say so, ma’am." Bushy white brows, a luxuriant mustache and beard covered much of his face.

"It stinks," Hannah said grimly. Usually she loved snow, particularly in November with the hope of a white Christmas to follow.

"Er, indeed." He bowed slightly. "As you say."

Hannah swept snow from her lashes. There was something about him…

"I’ve been waiting for you, ma’am," he said, working an envelope from the pocket of the high-buttoned black jacket he wore beneath an oddly long and voluminous gray cape, which looked as if it might be intended for horseback riding in bad weather. A second flap of fabric fell over his shoulders, and Hannah saw with amusement that a stiff collar, held in place by a dark cravat, rose to his jaw. Like a man from another century.

His shaggy brows drew together in a quizzical frown. "Is my arrival inconvenient?"

She realized she’d been staring and pulled the scarf beneath her chin to smile. "Not at all. I’ve won something, right? Or you’re delivering flowers from several admirers. No, no—Miss Universe has been asked to step down and only I can fill her swimsuit."

He shook his head slowly but smiled more broadly. "Does a man a passel of good to hear high spirits from a beautiful young lady." He handed her the envelope and bowed again. "I’m mighty glad I found you. I thought you might be waitin’ for this."

Hannah stopped smiling. The accent was soft and unmistakably Georgian, a male echo of her own. And on this "lucky" November day in cold Chicago, the voice from home was enough to drown her in nostalgia. Studying the man, she took the envelope. "You’re from Georgia."

He inclined his head. "A long time ago. A very long time ago."

"Where in Georgia?" Hannah ripped open the yellowed envelope and barely caught some sort of ticket that slipped from the folded sheet of paper she pulled out.

"Here and there," the man said, but she’d have sworn he knew her home country, the lush flat land of the state’s south, very well. Back there on this early November day, traces of an overnight frost might linger, but chances were the weather was mild enough to make a walk through still-green fields a pleasure.

She unfolded the sheet of paper and read.

Clarkesville, Georgia

December 10 My Dearest Hannah,

Mary-Lee Cassidy’s baby isn’t mine….

Hannah stopped breathing. She raised her face to find the man watching her, unsmiling now, a distant look in his eyes. He reminded her… She made herself continue reading:

I love you, Hannah. There isn’t anyone else for me but you. There never could be. I’ve tried to find a phone number for you in Chicago.

There’s no listing. I managed to get the PO Box address from Donna at the post office. Hannah, I can’t believe this has happened to us. I got back to Clarkesville a week early, only to find you and your mother had left two days before.

I’m grateful to your mother for the note, but I can’t do what she asks. Not trying to contact you is impossible.

My father’s very ill, and you know how things are here on the farm, otherwise I’d be tearing Chicago apart looking for you. But perhaps it’s just as well. We’re going to need to be a little careful with money if we’re going to try to buy Harmony.

Come home, please. We have a date on Christmas Eve. Four o’clock in the walled garden at Harmony. Remember? I told you I’d have a question to ask then.

Use the bus ticket, Hannah. Please. I’ll be waiting in the garden.

I love you, Roman.

P.S. Today I thought about us from the beginning, about how we met when you were a scrawny kid with brown eyes that were too big. You had too many freckles and too much shiny brown hair you couldn’t braid properly.

I thought about how you delivered papers in that awful old truck. Do you remember that, too, Hannah? Those mornings when I waited for you and came along to help out? You were all skinny arms and long tanned legs, but you had a way about you that kept me sneaking out to the road every day. We had to be careful our parents didn’t find out because they might say an eighteen-year-old boy had no business spending time with a fifteen-year-old girl. I always told you I was just being kind to a little kid with too much to do, but I loved you then, too. That’s something I never did tell you.

The bus ticket’s open, so you can come when it’s most convenient. Make it real soon. I need you. R.

With shaking fingers, Hannah turned the envelope over again. Her heart pounded, and she blinked to clear her fuzzy vision. The postmark was indistinct, smudged from handling. Scrawled across the bottom in a hand that was unmistakable as her mother’s were the words: "Moved. No forwarding address. Return to sender."

And with those words her mother had taken the most important choice of Hannah’s life out of her hands. She swallowed acid. A physical blow couldn’t have shocked her more. But her mother had been trying to protect her. That was something Hannah mustn’t forget, regardless of how wrong the action might have been.

"How…how did you find me from this?"

When she glanced up, the man was at the bottom of the steps. He turned his face up toward her. Failing light and the snow obscured his features. "Like I told you. It’s a lucky day." His voice seemed fainter, like the end of an echo. "It’s a lucky day. I did a little fancy footwork, put a few things together, and here you were. Enjoy your trip."

"Mmm?" Hannah had started rereading. No, she hadn’t forgotten the date in the garden, any more than she would ever forget Roman Hunter.

Enjoy your trip? "How did you know…" The man had left. Clutching the railing, she went to the bottom of the steps. "Where did you find this?" She searched in either direction. Despite the snowfall, she could see to both corners of the short block.

He’d gone. Disappeared. Hannah screwed up her eyes to locate his footsteps. Nothing. As if he’d never existed… Now she was getting fanciful. The snow must have filled in his footprints. But he’d reminded her of someone. She couldn’t remember who—not that it mattered. Lots of people looked like other people.

Slowly she let herself into the apartment her mother and new stepfather had insisted on giving her before their departure for Denver a month ago. Hannah had lived here with her mother since they’d left Clarkesville.

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A Useful Affair

A Useful Affair

Mira
Mar 1, 2004
ISBN-10: 0778320200
ISBN-13: 978-0778320203

The Marquis of Granville’s deadly efficiency makes him invaluable to the Crown. But his latest mission has nothing to do with his work for England and everything to do with avenging the murder of two members of his family. Killing would be too good for Bernard Leggit, the wealthy and corrupt merchant responsible for their deaths. Granville has a better plan: Seduce the old man’s young wife, Hattie, then let society know about their affair. For Leggit, living with shame will be worse than death.

Hattie Leggit married her odious husband in a devil’s bargain to save her parents from debtors’ prison. She has a scheme for freeing herself from this private misery, but foiling Leggit is taking too long. The opportune arrival of the dashing Marquis of Granville inspires a daring new plan: Pretend to engage in a very discreet affair with Granville and make her freedom the price for not flaunting their liaison in society.

When Hattie responds to him, Granville smells his revenge, but nothing goes as he had planned. Hattie drives him wild with need, until he finds himself forgetting his purpose. Although desire is new to Hattie, she manages to resist surrender—until love and yearning conquer all doubts. But will they join forces in time to outwit a vicious enemy with more murder in mind?

Out of Print

Read an Excerpt

A Useful Affair – Excerpt

A Useful Affair

Mira
Mar 1, 2004
ISBN-10: 0778320200
ISBN-13: 978-0778320203

CHAPTER ONE

Gratitude be damned. When he finally unfolded himself from the inside of this sorry coffin—ouch—when he got out of the hearse driven by his so-called rescuer, his fists would speak for him.

If he got out alive.

Well, if he didn’t he’d be in the right place at the right time . . .

He grinned in the blackness, then winced as the wheels beneath him momentarily left the ground. The rims hit storm torn ruts again, rattled every board and brace in the hearse—and every bone in the Marquis of Granville’s body.

This was all his own fault. He had been in too much of a hurry to get out of France and return to England ahead of a luscious but designing female who had produced a husband bent on blackmail, or worse. Granville, who had made plans to travel with his cousin Frances, persuaded him at the last moment to take the ship Windfall, because it left a day earlier than the one on which they’d originally booked passage.

The captain of the Windfall had turned out to be a smuggler in the employ of an unscrupulous Englishman. But his share of the smuggling bounty hadn’t been enough for the captain. He’d charged a ransom to take Granville and his cousin Frances, with his wife Simonne and little daughter Chloe, across the Channel. Not that the man had ever intended for them to arrive on their home shores alive.

What followed had been disastrous. Francis and Simonne had discovered the Captain’s plot and ended their lives shot, and thrown into the sea. Granville barely managed to save Chloe and himself from the same fate, only to be cast upon the dubious mercy of a wild-eyed stranger.

A smuggler turned rescuer had plucked Granville, together with his first cousin once removed, six-year-old Chloe Worth, from the icy, fog-shrouded English Channel. Once ashore, the man, one Albert according to the ruffians he commanded, insisted there could be no better chance of escape than by traveling as a dead man.

Even inside the coffin, the ceaseless beating of rain could be heard. And wind. Wind howled as if through a tunnel and whirled about the Shillibier. Matched black horses pulled the great carriage and their hoofs clattered and scraped over stone and mud.

The little girl curled against his chest with her hands clapped over her ears didn’t ease Granville miserable confinement. He must manage to save his cousin from any injury inside the magnificent but tossing Shillibier with its rushing team. Also, he was desperate to keep her as warm as he could with both of them still wet from their near-drowning, and to soothe her without making any noise. And he must pray that Chloe would not choose a deadly dangerous moment to find her voice and cry out.

"Chloe," he whispered into her ear. "We shall be safe." When she addressed him, the child called him, "Uncle John." He’d never considered why, but John was his given name and he supposed she must find it comfortable. "Stay very quiet and trust Uncle John," he murmured. Dash it all but he knew nothing of dealing with children. Would a six-year-old believe such rubbish? He had no idea if they were safe.

Albert the smuggler, in a large fishing boat, had used the fog to hide him from the eyes of his fellow villains in a flotilla of small vessels which had arrived to take contraband from the Windfall.

Heading for the mouth of the River Thames and London, and with the coast of England faintly in sight, the ship’s Master had dispatched his illegal cargo. And Albert had turned back to draw Chloe and Granville from the water and into his boat, a boat pulled by oarsmen who seemed cowed by their leader.

The tall, thin man had made no sense, muttering all the time about his damnable conscience and how the Lord and someone named Snowdrop would reward him for going against the others—and "that evil old sod, Leggit." Had he been alone, Granville would have fought for his freedom the instant he stepped ashore. As it was, he’d been unwilling to risk Chloe’s safety.

The smuggler had promised to get them away and been certain none but his "kin," the oarsmen, knew Granville and his charge were still alive. Their secret was safe, he’d insisted in a huge voice that would have done any highwayman proud. A frenzied ride by wagon from the coast to an isolated inn, and Granville had been hustled with his charge into the funeral vehicle driven by Albert. After all, his host said, no-one dared stop the dead on the way to their rest.

This casket didn’t fit Granville at all. True, he was taller than most and strongly built, but he couldn’t imagine any man of his acquaintance who wouldn’t be twisted up in the thing like a bedsheet on washday, even without a small companion. The thing had probably been made for a woman, he decided. A rotund woman, for the box was exceedingly deep.

The pace changed. Albert yelled and the horses seemed to dance, rocking the Shillibier in the process. They slowed down.

"’Old! ‘Oldisay!"

Another man’s bullish, and meaningless words bellowed over the roar of hoof and wheel.

So much for the sanctity of the dead.

He’d chosen to accept a promise of help from a smuggler—a criminal who swore his repentance—rather than expose Chloe to the threat of instant death.

Her chances might have been better had Granville chosen to run with her.

The Shillibier shuddered. Wheels hammered rocks into ground that must be as furrowed as it was muddy. The horses shrieked and John imagined the inky ostrich plumes jostling as they tossed their heads, and yards of black crepe streaming in the shadowy night. Tack jangled, while Granville felt rolling objects thudding against the coffin, heavy objects. Casks of contraband? Damn Albert and his henchmen, they hadn’t been able to resist an opportunity to move some of their spoils out of harm’s way. The smugglers’ weakness could scuttle what hope there was of escape.

He realized what should have been obvious. The reason the coffin was so deep was because it’s real purpose was to transport smuggled goods. Little wonder Albert had thought of the ruse for Granville and Chloe.

Granville knew the sound of gunshot, even over the night’s cacophony. He hugged Chloe tighter and smoothed her hair.

"I told ye to ‘old," the newcomer bellowed again. "Next time I fires, it won’t be past your ‘ead."

"Don’t you ‘ave no respect for the dead?" Albert roared. "Stand off, there. Stand off, I says."

"Who’s in there, then? King bloody George III?"

Granville managed to turn Chloe and settle her face against his neck. "Hush," he told her. "Be very quiet and don’t cry." She had not, in fact, made a sound since they’d been brought ashore somewhere on the southern shores of England. He had no idea where that had been, or where they were now.

"You’ve a perilous bad tongue, sir," Albert told the intruder. "It’s a good thing the King—God save ‘im—can’t ‘ear you all the way in his palace. They don’t tell me who t’is gone to their rest. I just drive. The grieving relations is waitin’. They’ll send after me if I’m late." Following a pause the young man continued. "If it’ll satisfy you, sir, then be my guest. The box isn’t ‘ammered down yet. Take a look."

Granville smiled thinly and held his breath, admiring Albert’s daring bluff, but prepared for the sound of doors being opened. He’d lost his pistol in the dive from the deck of the ship to save Chloe. The only defense would be to play dead, then to "rise from the dead" with horrible howling if necessary, and hope the shock bought him some advantage.

Chloe’s small fingertips opened and closed against Granville’s linen shirtfront. He stroked her hair again, awkwardly, and made what he hoped was a calming noise.

Rain pelted the draped windows of the carriage.

Boots hit the ground. "I’ve thought that over, and I thinks as I’ll do what you suggest and pay me respects to the departed." The other man sounded even bolder than before. "Strangest funeral procession I’ve seen, I can tell you. No train of coaches and only a young cove still wet behind the ears in charge."

Granville braced himself and assumed what he prayed was a more corpse-like pose. "Don’t move at all," he whispered to Chloe. Not that anything would help them if his suspicions were correct and casks of liquor surrounded the coffin.

Heavy footsteps approached the Shillibier.

The handles on the back doors rattled.

It was all up to him then. Granville, lying on his side, inched up the knee that rested against the bottom of the coffin and blessed God for giving him powerful legs. He’d need them to thrust himself out and overpower whoever was coming for them.

"Al-bert!" A feminine cry carried the name on the wind. "Al-bert! You apology for a man, you. What are you doin’? Allowin’ some ruffian to disturb the dead? You’ll rot in hell. We all will. And you there, stop that, you raper of corpses, you friend of the devil, you, you—"

"Snowdrop," the hapless Albert called from the driver’s seat. "This is no place for you, my flower."

"You keep mum and sit where you are, Albert Parker," Snowdrop shouted. "And you, stand back from that carriage and tell me your name? And give it to me honestly, because my father and his men aren’t far behind me. They’ll cut you to ribbons as soon as look at you. Slasher Pick don’t ask questions, ‘e just makes up his own mind and he does it quick."

The mystery of Albert’s earlier "Snowdrop" mutterings was solved. She must be his wife.

"You’ve no need to know my name, missus, only that I’m an agent for a venturer who’ll soon be hearing about a recent mistake made by the master of a vessel he has interests in."

That vessel would be Windfall. And the venturer was likely to be that dog, Leggit, spoken of by Albert as the ship’s owner.

"Seems as if that captain and his crew unwisely took on passengers, then had to dispose of ’em. Only one got away see, a desperate fugitive from the law. Name of John Elliot. You might be interested to know there’s a pretty price on ‘is ‘ead and a search is underway all over the countryside."

The woman didn’t answer and Granville’s stomach plummeted. It went lower as the silence stretched without a word from good old Albert, either. Granville, who had used his family name, Elliot, to travel, was that "desperate fugitive." Intuition told him Albert and Snowdrop were considering the reward on his head.

A horse whinnied and blew and hoofs beat a dancing tattoo.

"’old ‘im," Albert yelled. "Stop’n or he’ll be away."

Scuffling grew louder. The horse’s whinny became a shriek and metal jangled madly. The venturer’s agent hollered, but John couldn’t understand a word.

More noise-soaked seconds passed before there came the fierce drumming, clanking and snorting of horseflesh at a full gallop. A full gallop that carried an animal and its rider away from the Shillibier.

A hush descended.

"Snowdrop!" At Albert’s roar, John jumped and held Chloe very tightly. "What ‘ave you done, then, flower? How did you do it?"

"Ask no questions and you’ll ‘ear no lies, Albert Parker. Nosey Parker. The gentleman decided ‘e had more important people to deal with than us. What did he mean by venturer?"

"Leggit. Him I told you about. He’s the venturer ‘ere. Put up the money for that ship I met tonight. Probably pays for other ships and pockets a fortune for his trouble. They says there’s no record made of his dealings. He must have heard how someone what could tell about everthin’ that went on aboard the Windfall is still alive."

"Albert—"

"Tell me what you did." Albert cut his flower off. "You did something to the horse to make it run, Snowdrop?"

"Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. Now drive that thing off the track and hide it in the trees, you oaf, and get to the cottage."

"I’ve got to make sure they’re . . ." The silence let Granville know that Albert was indicating his human cargo. "Well, I promised I’d see to it they was safe. How’d you know where to find me, anyway?"

"People talk. I already got the message from someone at that inn as how you were coming this way. The whole world knows where to find you. Lose the carriage in Lock’s bower and put the ‘orses in the cave. Other’s will take care of what else ‘as to be done."

"Aye," Albert said promptly.

Granville closed his eyes and prepared for an even more uncomfortable ride once they left the track.

The doors at the back of the carriage opening, slamming wide as they were released into the wind, made sure he was completely alert. The coffin lid began to slide and John prepared to leap upon whomever appeared.

"Settle down in there," Snowdrop said. "Keep mum. Do what I tells you and you won’t be ‘urt."

The lid fell beside the casket and blessedly fresh air rushed in. "Out you get," Snowdrop ordered. "Quick and quiet. There’s no time. We’ve got to be out of the way before someone else comes or that buffoon decides to turn back."

Gingerly, Ganville raised his head and wouldn’t have been surprised to loose it to a bullet at once.

No pistol fired.

"Out. Quick!"

"Come along, Chloe," he said in as normal a voice as he could muster. "We’re to meet some new people who will help us."

With that he moved his cramped limbs and climbed from the casket. Sure enough, brandy casks, boxes of tea, tobacco and rolls that would be lace goods, or silks, confirmed his suspicions. Holding Chloe in his arms, Granville pushed contraband aside and made his way to the ground outside.

No moon pierced the night but he made out a winding track through a forest. Dripping trees soared on either side. His boots squelched in mud. Wind whipped rain into his face and turned his sodden clothes icy. Chloe must be made warm.

"Oh, look at the little mite," Snowdrop said, and John saw her for the first time. "Albert Parker, you’re ‘opeless. Why didn’t you say there was a little one in there?"

"At the time, I was trying to ‘ide them from an enemy, my flower."

A creature so diminutive as to resemble a child herself whirled at John and Chloe, tearing off her cloak as she came. She pulled the little girl from him, wrapped her in the cloak, and pushed her back into his arms. "Get on the ‘orse. Now!"

"Madam, I cannot take your horse."

This small, pale creature with tossing black hair, put two fingers in her mouth and issued a piercing whistle. Immediately a second, unsaddled, horse clattered from the cover of the trees and Snowdrop hauled herself onto its bare back. "Come on. We’re going."

Granville needed no more coaxing. He mounted the gray Snowdrop had arrived on and followed her deeper into the forest, leaving Albert behind to mutter while he carried out the orders she’d given him.

Kiss Them Goodbye

Kiss Them Goodbye

Mira
November 1, 2003
ISBN-10: 1551667452
ISBN-13: 978-1551667454

A Bayou Book

RT TOP PICK! 4½ Stars.
Cameron masterfully takes readers to a truly enticing place with this suspenseful tale. Her vivid storytelling makes each scene come alive and will draw you in from the first page.” —Debbie Richardson, Romantic Times

Just weeks after inheriting Rosebank, a once-magnificent plantation on the banks of Bayou Teche, David Patin died in a mysterious fire that destroyed his popular New Orleans restaurant. In the aftermath, his daughter Vivian and wife Charlotte are shocked to discover that the family finances are as run-down as their only remaining asset—Rosebank.

With her degree in hotel management and her mother’s restaurant expertise, Vivian Patin decides to restore the family fortunes by turning the lushly overgrown and decaying Rosebank into a resort hotel with all the sultry charm of old Louisiana. But Vivian’s dream becomes a nightmare when she finds the family’s lawyer dead on the sprawling grounds of the estate—with a rose on his chest and a brilliant lipstick mark on his cheek. Suddenly Vivian begins to wonder if someone is targeting Rosebank and the Patin family . . . and if her father’s death was, in fact, an accident.

Dissatisfied with the local police investigation, Vivian approaches Spike Devol, deputy sheriff of a nearly town, who has a reputation for being smart, honest and tough. She asks him to help her find the truth. But the instant attraction between them leaves Spike reluctant to get involved–until he discovers that Vivian could be the next victim. When another shocking murder occurs at Rosebank, it’s clear that the stakes have never been higher—and that now it’s up to Spike and Vivian to catch a killer . . . before he kills again.

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Kiss Them Goodbye – Excerpt

Kiss Them Goodbye

Mira
November 1, 2003
ISBN-10: 1551667452
ISBN-13: 978-1551667454

Buy at Amazon.com Buy at BN.com Buy at Seattle Mystery Bookshop

This excerpt from KISS THEM GOODBYE introduces us to Vivian Patin and her mother, Charlotte. They have inherited Rosebank, a big old lush Louisiana Estate just outside the little town of Toussaint. Unfortunately Rosebank needs a major facelift—and the women are waiting for the arrival of their lawyer, Louis Martin of New Orleans.

"Vivian Patin, I’m your mother." Charlotte hissed the words at her daughter. "You have absolutely no right to speak to me in that manner."

She paused to peer down the passageway leading from the big, antiquated kitchens to the hall and the receiving room where their next door neighbor, Mrs. Susan Hurst, waited for tea. After taking no notice of Charlotte and Vivian since they moved in months earlier, she had appeared on the doorstep today, just appeared without warning and invited herself for tea. Imagine that. With a plate of cookies in hand, she’d showed up to be "neighborly."

"Mama," Vivian said in a low voice but without whispering. "I’m a little old to be treated like a child. Now tell me what you’ve been up to. No, no, don’t tell me you haven’t been up to anythin’ because I can tell. Guilt is painted all over your face."

Her mother’s pretty, fair-skinned face and innocent, liquid brown eyes couldn’t hide a thing from Vivian. Charlotte Patin feared nothing and would dare anything. Her close-cropped gray hair and petite frame added to the impression that she was a dynamo. In fact, she rarely stood still and she hatched a plan a minute. And Vivian adored her. She also knew that her mother was putting a great face on her grief. She and Vivian’s father had lived a love affair. As brave as Mama was, David Patin had only been dead a year and Charlotte’s odd, empty expressions that came and went without warning, made lumps in Vivian’s throat.

"Mama, please," Vivian said gently. "I know whatever you’ve done is with the best intentions. But—and I’m beggin’ now—put me out of my misery."

Charlotte hushed her and leaned out of the kitchen door once more.

"Just tell me what you’re up to," Vivian said. "I’m worried out of my mind about Louis Martin. Where can that man be? That should be all you care about, too, but you’re up to something else. You got off the phone real quick earlier." Her mother in a stubborn mode was a hard woman to break down.

"I’d better call Louis’s offices in New Orleans and see if he ever left," Charlotte said, knowing she was going to be on thin ice with Vivian. "I don’t hear any hammerin’ or bangin’ in this house, do you? No? That’s because workers have to be paid and we’re about out of money." A mother had to do what a mother had to do and right now this mother had to safeguard her little surprise planned for the evening.

Vivian shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. She decided they were better there than taking out her ire on some innocent dish—particularly since most of the dishes around here were actually worth something. "Don’t try to distract me with what I already know," she said, raising her voice a little. "Tell me the straight truth."

"She’ll hear you," Charlotte whispered. "She’s only here because she’s a nosy gossip who finally decided to come and poke around. That woman will run straight from our house to chatter about us to her cronies. She behaves like the lady of the manor visiting the poor on her estates. I can only imagine what she’ll say about us."

"If I shout at you, she’ll have a lot to say."

"Oh, all right, I give up. You have no respect. I called that nice Spike Devol and invited him to dinner this evenin’. A handsome man like that all on his own. Such a waste."

Vivian took a calming breath. "He has his daughter and his father," she said while she turned to water just under her skin, all of her skin, at the mention of that man. "Anyway, I’m sure he didn’t accept. Why would he?"

For a smart woman who, until months ago, had managed an exclusive hotel in New Orleans, Vivian, Charlotte thought, could be plain stupid. "Well, he did accept and he’ll be here around seven. He may be a deputy sheriff and we know the pay’s not so good, but I hear he does well with that gas station and convenience store his daddy runs for him, and now he’s got his crawfish boilin’ operation."

She watched for Vivian to react and when she didn’t, said, "He’s obviously not afraid to work and he’s had his hard times with his wife leaving him like that. For a body-builder. There isn’t a thing wrong with Spike’s body as far as I can see. Of course, I haven’t seen—" Vivian’s raised eyebrows brought Charlotte a little caution. "Well, anyway, he’s just about the best-looking single man in these parts, and quiet in that mysterious way some strong men are. I’m tellin’ you, Vivian—"

"Nothing." Vivian hardly dared to speak at all. "You are telling me nothing and from now on you won’t make one more matchmaking attempt. Y’hear? I can’t imagine where you got all your personal information about him."

"You like him, too. You have since you first met him. That had to be a couple of years back. I’ve seen how the two of you talk—"

"Not a thing, Mama. You will not do or say another thing on the subject. Give me that tea." With that, she snatched up the pot. "Bring the cups and saucers and help me get rid of this woman quickly."

"He had a disappointing thing with Jilly at the bakery in Toussaint—All Tarted Up," Charlotte said from behind Vivian. "I guess everyone thought they were goin’ somewhere but it didn’t work out. They’re still good friends and I always think that says a lot about people."

"I know that," Vivian said.

"Father Cyrus and Spike are good friends so Spike must be a good man."

Vivian faced Charlotte, pressed a finger to her own lips and said a fierce, "Shh," before hurrying on, crossing the hall with its towering gold relief plasterwork ceiling and walls hung with faded chartreuse Chinese silk. She entered the shabbily opulent receiving room. With a big grin, she said, "Here we are, Mrs. Hurst. If I say so myself, my mother and I make the best tea I ever tasted." She grinned even more broadly. "But then, I only drink tea when we’re at home together."

Apparently Mrs. Hurst didn’t see any humor in what Vivian said. She looked back at her from a couch covered with threadbare gold tapestry and supported on elephant foot legs. Mrs. Hurst’s glistening pink lips hung slightly open and vague confusion hovered in her blue eyes. The woman could have been as young as forty or approaching sixty. It was hard to tell but everything about her was pretty tight and with not a wrinkle or sag in sight. She did have a nineteen-year-old daughter, Olympia, but that didn’t really give much of a clue to the woman’s age.

Vivian remembered to pour tea into three cups.

"Hot tea?" Mrs. Hurst said with horror in her voice. "Well."

"We drink hot tea in the afternoon," Charlotte told her. "My English grandmother taught us the right way to do things. Hot tea on a warm afternoon. The tea makes your body temperature higher. Brings it closer to the temperature of the air and you feel cooler. Anyway, Grandmama would turn in her grave if I served you iced tea at this time of day."

Without further comment Mrs. Hurst accepted her tea. Vivian caught her mother’s eye and winked. Mama’s grandmothers had been French and mama liked hot tea—that was all there was to it.

"We are so happy at Serenity House," Mrs. Hurst said. With her younger, handsome husband she lived at the estate that bordered Rosebank to the north. They’d bought the place some months earlier and the building had swarmed with architects, contractors and workmen ever since. Susan Hurst reached for one of her own cookies but thought better of it. "We’re still renovating, of course, but the house is already beautiful. Do please call me Susan, by the way. Dr. Link would like me to take his name but when we were married I chose to keep Hurst because it’s Olympia’s name. Anyway, I believe a woman should have some independence, don’t you? Without appearing strident, that is."

On the surface Susan’s accent was almost southern, but that was forced and phoney and spread on over of something Vivian didn’t recognize. "A woman should never be strident," she said, and found herself looking at her mother again.

"Never," Charlotte said. She stood behind Susan. Making outrageous faces at Vivian, she took one exaggerated step backward, then another forward to her starting position. "Never strident." Vivian’s mother had an irrepressible sense of fun. "I thought your house was called Green Veil."

Susan managed a haughty toss of the head. "It’s called Serenity House now. Much more refined and appropriate. I’m sorry to see the work on this place slow down so. It’s huge. Such a maize of wings and outbuildings. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to get rid of this asian jungle theme. Monkeys and pineapples everywhere." She shuddered discreetly.

"Guy Patin was still in residence when we bought Serenity or we might have looked at this—even if it is in a terrible mess. And the grounds are horrible, you poor things. Give me the word and I’ll send my head-gardener over to talk to you. I know he and his crew could give you a few hours a week, or suggest another crew who can. Make sure you don’t get those people who work on Clouds End. Marc and Reb Girard’s place. All that overgrown tropical look wouldn’t appeal to me."

Vivian had seen Clouds End and her ambition was to have Rosebank look just as lush. The Girards were nice people and had welcomed Charlotte and Vivian to the area. Marc was an architect and Reb the town doctor in Toussaint.

"Rosebank was never on the market," Charlotte said. "You probably noticed right away that we’re also Patins. Guy was my husband’s brother and the house was left to us."

"Of course I knew that," Susan said. "Silly me to forget. We’ve been so busy for such a long time these things slip my mind sometimes."

"We like what you call the jungle theme, y’know," Vivian said. She might as well show the woman they weren’t easily intimidated, especially by money. "We’re going to keep it. It’ll be made wonderful again, of course."

"Poor thing." Susan patted Vivian’s hand as if she didn’t take a word seriously. "I can see you’re overwhelmed. Let me help you. Did I tell you our pool house is just about finished. It’s all marble. Very Roman and wickedly decadent, but almost edible." She hunched her shoulders. "Morgan and I want you to use it whenever you have a mind. We know the pool here isn’t usable."

"Thank you," Vivian said, making a note never to have a mind for a swim in Susan’s decadent pool. "We do have a gardener and we’re very pleased with him." Gil Mayes might be seventy-two and a bit crippled by gout but he showed enthusiasm for the work. Unfortunately he moved slowly and the gardens were big, but more men couldn’t be afforded yet, not until some serious money came in.

Susan said, "Hm," and flipped back her artfully shaggy red-streaked brown hair. Good looking, sexy even, her mannerisms were naturally provocative. "I hope you won’t think me too curious, but after all we are neighbors. There are rumors about your having some intentions about this place—not that I believe a word."

"Of course you don’t," Charlotte said. "And a very good thing, too."

If Susan didn’t know their intentions perfectly well Vivian would be amazed. And Mama might enjoy her banter but afternoon crept toward evening and she glanced repeatedly toward the front windows. Vivian knew her own uneasiness was for the same reason as her mother was edgy. Where was Louis?

"It may be crude to say so, but I come from money," Susan announced. "Might as well have honesty among friends. I’m accustomed to a quieter, more gracious mode of life. It’s true that I’ve had my share of the social whirl in Paris, London—Milan, and New York of course, but I need the life only a true Louisianan lady knows how to live. Quiet. Refined. I’m sure you know what I mean. Soon Serenity will be perfect and I expect a good many visitors—friends—who expect a certain atmosphere at a house party."

Vivian said, "I thought you wanted peace and quiet, not a load of uppity visitors."

Vivian spied Boa, short for Queen Boadicea, her hairless chihuahua. The tiny dog had roused herself from some hiding place and stood in the middle of the green silk rug with one minuscule paw raised. Her black eyes popped and shone while she watched Susan. Like her namesake, Boa just didn’t accept her limitations.

"I didn’t know you had an animal," Susan remarked. "I prefer big dogs myself, not that I have any." Her nose wrinkled. "They just aren’t clean."

"That always depends on the dogs you hang around with." Vivian made sure she sounded sweet. "Come to me, sweetypie. Come to mama."

Her daughter, Charlotte thought, could be charmingly snippy. "I’m sure you’re very happy at Green Veil, Susan."

"Serenity House." The woman corrected Charlotte firmly. "Just to put my mind at rest, tell me you don’t intend to turn Rosebank into a hotel with some sort of, well, trendy restaurant."

With Boa under her arm, Vivian had strolled to the windows and peered out into the rapidly darkening grounds. She heard Susan’s question and winced a little, but she couldn’t concentrate on anything but Louis’s failure to show up. Anger had begun to replace concern. He obviously wasn’t coming now and the way he’d treated them was just plain rude. Louis had always been polite, kind even, but she guessed they might not be important to him if a more valued client needed attention.

She realized there was silence in the room and turned around. Mama ate a cookie, toothful by toothful, with the kind of close attention that spelled avoidance. Vivian recalled the question Susan had asked. "This will become a hotel, a good hotel, and we will be opening a restaurant in the conservatory. We intend to pull in clients who aren’t necessarily staying with us. My mother and I have a lot of experience in the business. I managed Hotel Floris in New Orleans. My parents owned Chez Charlotte. They ran it together and it was a huge success. I thought everyone in the area knew our plans."

"A hotel?" Susan set down her cup and saucer and pressed her fingers to her cheeks. "I thought it must be a joke. Say you aren’t serious. Why, at your time of life, Charlotte, you should be taking things easy and enjoying yourself."

"I will enjoy myself—doing what I like best. Vivian, it’s 5:30."

The heavy significance in Mama’s voice meant she was reminding Vivian that they would have a guest for dinner and that Susan Hurst needed to leave.

Susan wasn’t hearing anything that didn’t relate to the reason she was here—to try to influence Charlotte and Vivian onto her side. They would, if she had her way, come to realize that Susan was a superior person who should not be thwarted in any way.

"We have traditions to uphold, we Louisianan ladies. The reason I moved here—what I want from life—is to model a way of living that’s in danger of disappearing. I know both of you understand what I mean. Louisianan ladies, and houses like this, are about grace and holding out against progress." Susan turned up her nose and turned down her mouth. "It’s up to us to keep certain standards alive. With something like a hotel, you could get any sort of person wandering about and most of them just wouldn’t fit in."

Charlotte sat beside Susan and rested her hand on the back of the woman’s right forearm. "Now you calm yourself and trust our good judgement. We intend to make sure our business doesn’t endanger anyone who lives around here." The devil had gone to work on her. "Why, we’ve already started looking for a reliable firm of uniformed guards to patrol the grounds—especially when we hold outdoor concerts that will draw lots of young folk."

"Concerts on the grounds?" Susan said weakly.

"Oh, yes," Vivian said, her expression angelic. "We’ve already reserved dates with some of the best known zydeco bands around—and some swamp pop, of course. And we’re in negotiation with one or two popular groups, hip-hop will really bring in the crowds."

Susan was no fool. She narrowed her eyes and cast suspicious glances at each of them. "I think you have very strange senses of humor."

Vivian didn’t argue. She did look at her watch, then at her mother. They were running short of time if they were going to prepare dinner. Boa nuzzled her neck but repeatedly arched her little back to cast a suspicious glare at Susan.

The phone rang and Vivian went into the hall to answer.

"Vivian," the voice at the other end said. "It’s Madge at the rectory. Father Cyrus asked me to give you a call." Madge was Cyrus’s assistant.

"Is something wrong?"

"No! Why would there be? He said you were having a meeting with a New Orleans’ lawyer earlier this afternoon and you said you’d call and let him know if the news was good. He wanted me to check in with you."

Vivian yanked on the bottom of her too-short T-shirt. "Now I feel guilty. I should have gotten back with him. We waited all afternoon but Louis didn’t show. Guess we’ll call his office in the morning. Maybe there was a muddle up over the date. Tell Cyrus we’ll talk to him tomorrow, would you?"

Madge agreed and hung up.

And the doorbell gave a rusty buzz.

Charlotte got to her feet at once. "Louis. He must have gotten lost, poor man." She looked at her watch. "Oh, my, it’s almost six-thirty."

"I’m going to the door," Vivian said, frowning. "This is turning into a messy evening."

Charlotte waited for Vivian to add that it was her mother’s fault but she didn’t, although the look in her green, almond-shaped eyes said it all.

"I suppose I should leave," Susan said, her attention on the hall and curiosity oozing from her pores. "I’ll slip along now. Don’t forget how convenient that path between the two estates is. Come over anytime, anytime at all. You’ll fall in love with Morgan—and Olympia’s a charmer—" she didn’t as much as blink when Charlotte put a hand beneath her elbow and eased her to her feet. "Olympia is a beauty. She’s considering the Miss Southern Belle Pageant. I’ve tried to dissuade her but you can’t stand in children’s way, can you?" Her long sigh wasn’t convincing.

Vivian opened the front door.

Rather than Louis Martin, Deputy Sheriff Spike Devol stood there.

He stood there, a broad brimmed black Stetson covering his hair, his eyes very blue in a tanned face, and with a bunch of flowers in each hand. Rather than say, "Hi," or "Good evening," or even, "Here’s looking at you," he studied the flowers as if he’d never seen them before and raised and lowered them as if figuring out how to get rid of them.

Behind Spike, bands of purple streaked the setting sun, shading his face but backlighting him with gold. The deputy was in his thirties, with the mature, muscular body of a man who knew all about being physical. His shoulders and arms, and his chest filled a crisp, dark gray shirt to capacity, but his hips were slim. His legs weren’t so slim. Once again long, well-developed muscles strained at his clothes; in the best possible way. Vivian felt a definitely sexual thrill.

"Hi, there, Spike," she said, making sure she sounded pleasant but detached. "Mama said you were coming for dinner." She felt Susan Hurst arrive at her side and knew she’d heard what Vivian had said.

"I’m Susan Hurst. I live next door at Serenity House," Susan said with a new, husky sound in her voice. "I’m just going to pop along the path and go home. So convenient."

"That’s nice." Spike had a deep voice, deep and soft and impossible to read. There was something a little different about him than Vivian had noticed on the previous occasions she’d run into him, but she wasn’t sure what—other than his being out of uniform.

Finally he grasped both bunches of flowers in one hand and took off the Stetson. "Evenin’ Vivian," he said, managing to get his thumbs anchored in the pockets of his jeans.

Susan Hurst still hovered.

"Take care," Vivian told her. "Best make it home while there’s still enough light. It looks like it could rain, too."

Susan didn’t look happy, but she gave a stiff smile and trotted off, her very nice behind swaying in tailored white slacks.

"C’mon in," Charlotte said from behind Vivian. "You’re never going to believe this but Susan Hurst’s visit was a surprise. We haven’t gotten far with dinner done yet, but it won’t take too long."

"I’m early," Spike said in that still voice of his. "I’m useful in the kitchen. I’ll give a hand."

Vivian stood aside for him to enter and her heart—or the vicinity of her heart—squeezed. As he passed her he looked sideways and down into her face. The faintest of smiles pushed dimples into the creases beside his mouth. His sun-streaked hair, she noticed, had a way of standing up on end in front.

Down girl, down.

"We wouldn’t hear of it," she said when she found her voice. "What do you like to drink? Make yourself comfortable and we’ll show you how quickly we can get things done."

"Thank you, ma’am," he said, inclining his head and broadening his smile enough to deepen those dimples and show very good teeth. He actually made Vivian feel small and feminine and she’d never thought of herself as either.

The phone rang again and Charlotte hurried away, apparently to answer it in the kitchens although she could have done so in the hall. Mama was still in matchmaker mode, but then, she’d been trying to marry Vivian off for years.

"If it won’t upset you," Spike said. "I’d like to help. I’m not good at sitting still and doing nothing."

"Neither am I," she told him, emphatic. "I guess it’s because my parents were always busy."

He only nodded and suddenly thrust both bunches of flowers into her arms. Boa had disappeared at the sound of the doorbell—guarding wasn’t one of her duties—but she chose this moment to skitter into the hall and make a dash for Vivian, screeching to a halt with all four feet braced in the forward position.

"Nice dog," Spike said, with a look that suggested he wasn’t sure Boa was a dog at all.

"Thank you," Vivian said, and smiled at him. "Nice flowers. I don’t remember the last time someone gave me any."

His smile dropped away. "You should be given flowers every day." Immediately he colored under the tan and the result was disarming. "I thought you could share them with your mother. How is she doin’?"

For an instant she didn’t understand. Then any last reserve against this man melted. He wasn’t just a tall, good-looking piece of manhood, he was thoughtful. And that was a killer combination. Almost no one here mentioned their loss. "Mama’s strong, but she and my dad just about grew up together. It’s hard and it’s going to be hard for a long time. Especially because of the way he died."

Spike slid the brim of his Stetson through his fingers. "There’s nothing anyone can say to whitewash that. I’m real sorry. Not that it helps."

David Patin had burned to death in the fire that destroyed Chez Charlotte. "Kindness always helps," Vivian said feeling the too familiar desire to be alone again.

"Vivian!" Charlotte came from the kitchens and her face was too pale. "I don’t know what to make of it. That was Cyrus. He says when he was walking toward the road, to his car, he saw Louis Martin—driving a brand new powder-blue Jag."

Vivian’s mind became blank.

"Y’hear me?" Charlotte said, her voice rising. "That wretch Louis drove all the way here—Cyrus spoke with him—and then he must have decided he couldn’t be bothered and left again."

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About Adam

About Adam

Mira
Mar 1, 2003
ISBN-10: 0739433148
ISBN-13: 978-0739433140

Adam Chillworth—a hard man, yet a man of principle and honor, talented artist of 7C Mayfair Square—is desperately in love with Princess Desiréée. He could never have her, as she is a princess, he’s much older, and her guardian has a duty to find a marriage alliance for her.

Princess Desiréée has been in love with Adam since she was a teen. Now a woman, she will go to any measure necessary to have this man for her husband. She devises a plan that will get her what she wants: the love of her life, Adam.

While these two want each other, and while Adam holds his integrity to keep Desiréée untouched, circumstances arise beyond both of their control. One or both of them have enemies that will go to any extreme possible to keep these two apart, all in the name of hate.

At the same time, there is a wondrous team of matchmakers, including Spivey, resident spirit, and the other residents of Mayfair Square who will also do anything to get these two together, all in the name of love.

Out of Print

Read an Excerpt

About Adam – Excerpt

About Adam

Mira
Mar 1, 2003
ISBN-10: 0739433148
ISBN-13: 978-0739433140


PROLOGUE

Mayfair Square, London. 1824

The trouble with the people at 7 Mayfair Square is that they are alive.

There is no doubt that bodies, the bones and blood, the mortal mind, the so-called heart and other various bits and pieces get in the way of good, solidly disconnected logic. It’s all that and the wretched feelings they swear by that may scuttle the sensible plans of a superior being like yours truly. Nevertheless, I must say that being a ghost can be more than it is cracked up to be.

My word, I almost forgot to tell you that I am the late Sir Septimus Spivey, esteemed architect knighted for his worldly accomplishments, the crowning glory of which was my family home at Number 7 Mayfair Square.

Desperation at the possible misuse of my masterpiece forced me to hang around in mortal form until I was 102! 102, I tell you, when I was perfectly ready to commence my path to heaven a good ten years earlier. If my family hadn’t shown themselves incapable of keeping my house in the manner to which it deserved to be accustomed, I should not have wasted those extra years trying to guide my ungrateful progeny. I rarely complain, but this delay put me considerably behind in angel school and it has only been through diligent work that I have made sterling progress—much to the annoyance of my "friend," William Shakespeare and one or two others I won’t bore you with now.

That’s history and I only mention it to let you know that since you will be supporting me in my current endeavor, you are on the side of right.

You’ll be meeting the former Misses Smiles who used to rent 7B Mayfair Square–the second floor. Below the Smiles, Latimer More and his sister, Finch, had 7A, and the third floor—for reasons only my granddaughter Lady Hester Bingham could explain—became her home and known as 7. Hunter Lloyd, her nephew, lived on the same floor and that oaf of a painter, Adam Chillworth was, and is, in residence at 7C as they call it. An attic by any other name is still an attic to me and that’s where that frequently silent, oppressive north countryman continues to live.

I had no intention of boring you with too much information but why not bring you up to date on the happenings of recent years within the walls of my house.

As I planned, Finch More married Ross, Viscount Kilrood, a scotsman who owns Number 8 Mayfair Square, in addition to considerable Scottish holdings. They divide their time between the London house and the Scottish estate.

Meg Smiles of 7B designed an audacious plan and snared Jean-Marc, Count Etranger, the vulgarly wealthy son of Prince Georges, ruler of Mont Nuages, a principality on the border between France and Germany. They own Number 17 Mayfair Square and a home at Windsor. That little arrangement wasn’t quite what I had in mind but it worked well enough.

Meg’s sister, Sybil, was as besotted with Hester’s nephew, Hunter Lloyd, just as he was with her and since their marriage this has remained sickeningly true. Hunter, a barrister, was knighted for services to George IV—that almost came to a nasty pass. A Cornish holding and considerable money came with the knighthood. The holding is small but nice enough. However, the boy insists on spending a good deal of time at Number Seven and Sibyl is as attached to Lady Hester as he is. Their little boy doesn’t lessen the confusion about the place, even if more rooms have been made over for the family.

Drat, I knew I should get a headache—an ache in the region where my head once was, that is—if I tried to make you aware of the way things are and how they became so.

That leaves Latimer More, Finch’s, now Viscountess Kilrood’s brother. I got lucky there. The unthinkable actually worked out and he settled on a pauper, an orphan from the most degrading beginnings, as his wife. Jenny O’Brien was . . . well, I must be charitable. Jenny knew she had no rightful place in the polite world and did her best to make that rattle Latimer see the truth. He didn’t and they’re married. The only good part of that arrangement is that they now live at Number Eight, Ross and Finch’s house, where they have a handsome suite of rooms and seem ridiculously happy each time Ross and Finch and their offspring arrive to crowd the place.

A moment please, I must rest after all that.

Did I tell you that one of the flawlessly carved newel posts in the foyer at Number 7 is my retreat? Well, it is. From here, at the base of my miraculous staircase, I observe all comings and goings. I admit that since my wings have matured from buds and are growing a little every day, I am not quite as comfortable as I used to be; the space inside the post has become somewhat snug. Yes, yes, of course I know I should be able to deal with this problem but I can’t ask help in finding out how to make the change and I have had rather a lot of other things to learn.

By gad I forgot Birdie, that wretched, wispy little creature Hester insisted on adopting. The child is audacious but Hester dotes upon her and I suppose the girl dotes upon her, but she makes entirely too much noise. Fortunately she dotes on Hunter and Sibyl and spends a goodly amount of time with them.

Toby! I can’t be blamed if some of these people slip my mind. Toby is Jenny More’s tatty young friend from her days of living in Whitechapel and, yet again, Hester took pity on the clumsy creature. He now lives in the best room in servants’s quarters and is treated like a particularly intelligent pet.

Never mind all that. Forget about it unless one or two of them show up while I’m cleaning up the mess they’ve all made at Number 7. And they have made a mess. Almost nothing is simple.

But I have a plan, the Perfect Plan. My previous attempts to rid the house of Hester’s unbearable lodgers (protogées as she pretends they are) were fraught with obstacles because I had not seen the obvious. Lady Hester Bingham must become a celebrity hostess and patroness in her own right. For this she will need her home to be serene and impeccable. There she will welcome literary gatherings, guide silly girls toward fine matches, and have the ear of every important member of the ton.

There are one or two problems to overcome—:when haven’t there been problems to overcome in this house? But getting rid of Adam Chillworth is my essential goal now, and since the only woman he believes he can love (as if love had anything to do with these matters) is Jean-Marc Count Etranger’s sister, Princess Desirée of Mont Nuages, then that must be arranged.

Since the attic at 7 Mayfair Square would hardly make an adequate home for a princess, I’m sure the girl’s brother—once he stops trying to oppose the marriage, as he most certainly will—I’m sure Jean-Marc will provide a suitably splendid abode and, after all, the Princess herself is to come into a fortune. And if that dolt Chillworth climbs on his high horse and talks about not being prepared to live on his wife, well then, there are ways to force his hand.

I do foresee a nasty conundrum in Hester’s plans to renovate the house. Hunter and Sybil encourage all this, but from what I’ve heard of those plans, well, they must not be carried out and I shall rely upon your eyes and ears and, where necessary, your hands to help me scuttle their vulgar ideas.

The usual rule applies—your mouths are no good to me and should be kept shut.

I’m off to meet someone who will be my right hand in all of this, my earthly helper. In the past my error has been to seek the assistance of empty minds I assumed would be simple to control and guide. Never again. This time I have realized where I went wrong. This time a busy mind will be the weapon against any resistance. After all, doesn’t it make sense that the busy mind of a self-centered person will clamor and scheme with such deafening vigor that my instructions, so craftily introduced, will go unnoticed in the din. Before this indispensable helper realizes what’s happened, the deeds I order will be performed and even then, and with any luck, the arrogant prancer will still be too involved with other matters to notice mine.

It is time to set my plans in motion. Await my dispatches and be ready to act. Soon.

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