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Authors: Fayrene Preston

Deceit

BOOK: Deceit
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Deceit
SwanSea Place [2]
Fayrene Preston
Loveswept (1990)
Rating:
*****

Legendary model Liana Marchall was every man's dream--every man except Richard Zagen whose heart she had broken to begin her career. When he arrived at SwanSea Place, Liana's heart raced--both with desire and panic--but she could never forget the scars she bore. Could they ever forgive one another and regain the passion they had once embraced together?

Preface

SwanSea, 1898

Lights glimmered in every window of SwanSea. Inside, dance music reverberated through the elegant rooms and hallways. And in the ballroom exquisitely dressed couples whirled gaily, the women’s jewels flashing like fire.

A quarter of a mile away, on a lonely windswept cliff, Leonora Deverell could hear the strains of the waltz as she paced in the iron gazebo.

Where was he?

Pausing a moment, she glanced up at the big yellow moon that hung over SwanSea and tried to judge the time. At least an hour had passed since the grandfather clock in the foyer had struck midnight. Anxiously she clasped her hands together. The carriage was waiting for them, their bags already in it. John’s nurse had packed all of his clothes and toys, and if she were following the schedule, had probably already tucked him comfortably into the carriage. It would be a long, tiring journey for the three year old, and Leonora hoped he would sleep all the way to Boston where they would board the ship for Europe.

Where was he?

Be calm, she told herself. Everything was going to be fine. For the first time in her life she had discovered love. She was happy and full of anticipation for the future.

Suddenly she heard footsteps and eagerly turned. But at the sight of her husband standing before her, she went cold all over.

“Leonora, it is time for you to come back to the ball now. It is almost over and you will want to bid our guests goodnight. ”

Their only illumination was moonlight, but she had no trouble making out the glittering anger in his cobalt blue eyes. “Edward, I—”

“You will have to change back into your ball gown, of course. I am not sure our guests would understand if you were wearing a traveling suit.” 

He was so tall, so big, so hard. In the four years they had been married, she had never crossed him, but her love for Wyatt had given her a courage she had never known before. “I cannot live with you any longer, Edward. I have tried to make our marriage work, but you care nothing for me. There is no love between us, and I feel as if I am withering from the lack of it.” She paused. “Edward, I am leaving you.”

“No, Leonora, you are not.” He thrust out his hand toward her, the gesture an order. “Come with me. Your maid is waiting to help you change. If we’re quick enough, no one need ever know about this.”

“That’s all you care about, isn’t it?” she asked, despair making her voice quiver. “Appearances. Gaining acceptance into society.”

“I don't have time to discuss this with you.” “You
never
have time to discuss
anything
with me, Edward. I thought all men were like that until I met Wyatt.”

His teeth came together with a snap. “Wyatt Redmond is an Impoverished painter I
hired
to paint your portrait. Surely you wouldn't make a fool out of yourself over a nobody like him.”

“He isn’t a nobody,” she said, tears clogging her throat. “He is the man I love.”

“He can offer you nothing.”

“He can offer me everything that matters.”

For a brief moment, a look of genuine bewilderment crossed his face. “I don’t understand. I have given you everything you desired. The grandest house in America. Beautiful clothes. Why, the gown you wore tonight was designed by Worth of Paris, and you have one of the finest collections of jewelry in the country.” His finger flicked the topaz, ivory, and gold lily she wore on her lapel.

She stiffened, afraid for a moment he would realize the lily was not among the many pieces of jewelry he had given her. Then she realized it no longer mattered.

“Those were the things you desired, Edward. They were possessions for your possession. I wanted only your love.”

“Love?” His tone indicated he thought her insane. “I am leaving, Edward, and you cannot stop me.”

His hand snaked out and closed on her wrist. “You will not take my son.”

She had feared discovery for this very reason. Edward was obsessed with having children, and John was the only child she had been able to give him. She swallowed. “Of course John will go with me. I am his mother. ”

“What kind of mother would want to take her son from his father? What kind of mother would expose her son to the adulterous relationship she has with her lover? I tell you, I will not have it. I absolutely will not allow the scandal. No, Leonora. John stays with me.” Edward leaned closer and closer still. His face almost touching hers, he cruelly tightened his hold on her wrist, bruising her soft flesh. “Think about this very carefully, Leonora. Because the only way you will leave me is if you are dead.”

She stared at him, stricken.

And neither of them noticed that behind them, the lights of SwanSea were going out, one by one.

One

SwanSea, 
Present Day

He positioned himself unobtrusively among the onlookers of the photographic shoot and fixed his steel gray gaze on the world-famous model, Liana Marchall. She was the epitome of serenity and beauty as she stood at the top of the marble stairs beneath the tall, stained glass Tiffany window that suggested the living form of a peacock’s head and body.

The peacock motif continued in a mosaic representing the vivid plumage of the tail. It trailed down the grand stairway and onto the floor of the great hall where he stood. It was breathtaking, but it was nothing in comparison to the woman, he reflected, using utter objectivity.

She was a living work of art. She lacked only two things to make her perfect: a heart and a soul.

His fingers idly rubbed the white-on-white
RZ
monogram on his shirt's cuff while he studied the people with whom she was working. Through inquiries, he had learned that the photographer, Clay Phillips, was relatively unknown and was

here only because the great Jean-Paul Savion, one of the top fashion photographers in the business, had come down with a virus on his last trip to the Middle East and had been forced to remain at his home in Paris.

His mouth quirked.
What a shame.

“How’s it going, Rosalyn?” he heard Clay call up to the middle-aged woman who had been brushing extra color onto Liana’s perfect cheekbones. “Are you finished?”

Stroking her skin had been like stroking the inside of a flower petal.
His fingers flexed, and he slipped his hands into the pockets of his tailor-made gray slacks.

Rosalyn stepped back and critically eyed Liana’s face, then reached up and combed a shining strand of wheat-colored hair into place. “Yes,” she said finally and somewhat disappointedly, “I’m finished.” “Great,” Clay said. The comer of his mouth twitched slightly, and he rubbed the area immediately below his belt.

The man’s stomach had to be in knots,
he thought. Before this, Clay Phillips had only worked under Savion. He had to view this opportunity as a huge, almost miraculous break.

“Steve, bring the key light down two stops and move that wind machine exactly three inches to the right and set it on low. Got it?”

“Got it,” the younger man named Steve said laconically. He wore a pair of bleached-out blue jeans, a nondescript T-shirt, and his hair long and slightly curly.

He was good at his job,
he thought, observing him,
but he didn’t look prosperous enough to be Liana’s type.
The photographer could be another story, though. Maybe Liana had decided her star would be lifted even higher if she helped another photographer achieve fame.

Suddenly Clay lifted his head and swept his gaze around the great hall as if he were searching the air. “What in the hell is that awful music?”

“Gershwin,” Steve said, then grinned. “George Gershwin. ”

“Gershwin? Where’s our music? U2? The Rolling Stones? The Beatles? Sara, did you check into this?”

Clay’s abrupt question was directed at the young woman who knelt beside him, loading film into one of his many cameras. She flipped a long, sleek swag of red hair behind her shoulder. “The management said positively no rock music,” she said quietly.

Clay frowned. “What decade are these people living in?”

“I asked something like that and was told that this is SwanSea.”

“What does that mean?”

“Offhand I’d say it means no rock music,” Steve said dryly, sending a wink in Sara’s direction. She smiled shyly back.

“Oh,” Clay said, his tone and gaze indicating his mind was already on something else, namely his model.

Who could blame him,
he wondered cynically.

Clay gestured to Sara and pointed at the camera he wanted her to hand him. “Good, then let’s go to work. Liana, darling, are you ready?”

“Yes,” Liana said, relieved that the waiting was over.

Oblivious to the frenzy of activity at the base of the staircase, Liana clasped the silk chiffon skirt of her strapless haute-couture gown between her fingertips. With each movement, the dress appeared to change color, one moment a teal blue, the next, a shimmering green. Rather than seeing an actual color, a person received an Impression of the two colors that was much like the iridescent eye of a peacock feather. The fabric had been specially woven to produce this effect and was a compliment to the Tiffany window, the marble mosaic of the staircase, and Liana’s famous teal-colored eyes.

The first straining notes of “Rhapsody in Blue” began to rise. With the material still clasped in her hands, she spread her arms in a V above and behind her head and started her descent, crossing back and forth across the staircase.

As she glided downward, the blue-green silk chiffon fluttered like wings, making her appear as if she were some exotic bird about to take flight.

Below her, Clay scrambled to take shot after shot. “Beautiful, wonderful. Cain you raise your arms more? Now lower them. Look down. Good. Over your shoulder—”

Liana, lost in the image she and Clay were creating, followed his instructions to the letter. She’d done it a thousand times. These were her favorite moments, when she could forget Liana, the woman, and focus on Liana, the model, and how best she could sell whatever product her face and her body were showcasing. In this instance, it was the idea of elegance and glamour that would be produced by the combination of her, the dress, and SwanSea.

All at once, a light crashed to the floor, jerking her from her state of concentration. Electricity flashed and hot glass flew outward. With one high-heeled shoe poised midair for the next step, Liana hesitated, glancing to see what had happened.

Her gaze collided with a pair of steel gray eyes, and for a moment everything stood still. As her lips formed the name,
Richard,
darkness rushed in to circle her, she lost her balance, her heel twisted, and she began to fall.

Her knee struck the marble, pain shot through her. There would be more pain to come, she thought vaguely, and held out her hands in an attempt to protect herself. Then hard arms caught her against a solidly muscled chest, a masculine scent of musk and spices enveloped her, and she knew that though she was no longer in danger from harming herself on the marble staircase, she would not be as lucky with Richard Zagen.

“You might as well open those beautiful eyes, Liana, because I’m not going away. Not this minute, at any rate.”

She didn’t remember his voice having such a sharp, cutting edge, she thought hazily. But then again, maybe, on that last day in Paris, it had. She braced herself as if she were about to smash into a brick wall going a hundred miles an hour and did as he said.

The years had given his face a hard, cynical cast. His dark brown hair appeared as crisp and vital as ever, but the silver at the temples was new, and the muscles she could feel in his arms and chest suggested an even greater strength than before. All in all, he was still the most attractive man she had ever known.

Her gaze touched on the sardonic curl of his lips, then returned to the steel gray eyes. “Hello, Richard.”

“So you do remember me? I wasn’t sure. I thought perhaps you’d had so many victims in the past eleven years that the first one might have slipped your mind. ”

“Are you hurt, Liana?” Clay asked, stooped down beside them and taking her hand. “I nearly had a heart attack, watching you fall.”

Sara, Rosalyn, and Steve stood anxiously in a circle around them.

“Lord, Liana, I’m sorry,” Steve said. “I got caught up in watching you and I guess I leaned against the light. I should have known better.”

“It's all right.” She pushed away from Richard and sat up. “I’m okay.” Her voice was shaking. Though she wasn’t surprised, she tried to rectify the matter with her next words. “My knee hurts a little, but I’m fine.” Good, she thought. She sounded stronger.

BOOK: Deceit
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