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Authors: Jackie Collins

Lethal Seduction

BOOK: Lethal Seduction
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In memory of my darling Frank, Who will live in my heart forever.

Book One

•

MANHATTAN
CHAPTER
1

“W
HAT'S THE BEST SEX
you've ever had?” Jamie Nova asked her best friend, Madison Castelli. At twenty-nine Jamie was heartbreakingly lovely. A cool, willowy blonde with classic style and an impeccable pedigree, she was a cross between a young Grace Kelly and a contemporary Gwyneth Paltrow.

“Huh?” Madison said, glancing quickly at the adjoining table in the packed Manhattan restaurant. The couple sitting there were deep into their own conversation and had failed to hear Jamie's provocative question.

“You know what I mean,” Jamie said, brushing a lock of fine, blond hair from her forehead. “Mind-blowing, earth-shaking down and dirty sex. The kind where you never want to see the guy again, but at the exact moment you're doing it—anything goes.” A long wistful sigh. “And I
do
mean anything.”

“Well . . .” Madison said, wondering where Jamie, her former college roommate, was going with this.

“Come
on,”
Jamie said impatiently. “Answer me.”

“Hmm,” Madison thought for a moment, realizing this was not a question Jamie was about to drop. “Miami,” she said at last. “Vacation with my father. I was sixteen, and the guy was a forty-five-year-old major playboy with all the toys. Penthouse, Porsche, porno videos.”

“Porno videos!” Jamie said, rolling her aquamarine eyes in exaggerated horror. “Doesn't sound too sexy to me.”

“I can assure you it was,” Madison retorted crisply. “He had this oversized water bed covered in rose petals. A pitcher of champagne with sliced peaches. Sexy European body oil. And”—she paused for full effect—“an extraordinarily talented tongue!”

“Ah . . . the old talented-tongue trick,” Jamie retorted a touch bitterly. “Gets 'em every time.”

Madison raised an eyebrow. “What's
with
you today? Why all this sex talk? You're a married woman and—if what I hear is true—once you're married, sex is supposed to be nothing but a distant memory.”

“Very funny,” Jamie said glumly.

“I was joking,” Madison said, sensing trouble in the paradise that Jamie inhabited. It was a fact that everyone who knew Jamie and her Wall Street hotshot husband, Peter, considered them the golden couple. They seemed to have everything, and yet today Madison sensed a lurking storm. “So, what's up?” she asked, leaning across the table. “Tell me everything.”

“Well,” Jamie said, biting on her lower lip. “Last night we were at a dinner party and the question arose.”

“What
question?”

“The best-sex-you've-ever-had question,” Jamie said, toying with her salad. “And here's the thing—everyone was coming up with
really
good answers.”

“Yes?” Madison said curiously.

“Naturally, when it came to me, I carried on about it being the first time Peter and I made love. I told a cute little story about it, and everyone oohed and aahed. Then it was Peter's turn, and he suddenly went very quiet, muttered that he couldn't remember and abruptly changed the subject.”

“Maybe he was embarrassed.”

“Peter?” Jamie shook her head vigorously. “Not him.”

“Had he been drinking?”

“Not at all.”

“Then . . .
what?”
Madison asked, perplexed.

“I think he's having an affair,” Jamie blurted.

“Come
on!”
Madison exclaimed. “You've only been married three years. Give the guy a
chance
to get bored.”

“Thanks a lot,” Jamie said huffily. “What makes you think he'd
ever
get bored?”

True,
Madison thought,
how could any man be bored with a woman like Jamie by his side? She was perfect. Everyone knew that. Besides, in a proper world, no man would cheat on Jamie.

But the world wasn't proper, and most men were dogs, so maybe Jamie was right, maybe Peter
was
exercising his precious manhood in another neighborhood.

“What makes you suspect Peter might be screwing around?” she asked.

“Intuition,” Jamie answered. “That and the fact that we haven't made love in two weeks.”

“Two weeks!” Madison exclaimed teasingly. “Jesus! Send in the Marines!”

“You don't understand,” Jamie muttered, twisting her diamond wedding band on an elegant French-manicured finger. “Peter is a
very
sexual man. He likes sex every day.” A meaningful pause. “Sometimes more than once.”

“Hmm . . .” Madison murmured, thinking that
she
hadn't had sex in almost a year. Her choice, because who needed to sleep with assholes? And unfortunately that's all she'd come across in the last year—major assholes. The truth was that ever since her live-in love of two years, David the TV producer rat, had run out on her, she'd been off men. Although there
was
that very attractive photographer she'd met in L.A. earlier in the year while on assignment for
Manhattan Style,
the upscale magazine she worked for. His name was Jake Sica, and they'd had chemistry. Unfortunately he'd been involved elsewhere.

Too bad.

Then there was the one-night stand in Miami, where she'd been interviewing The Donald. She'd met a male model at one of the happening clubs in South Beach. He was not very smart, but quite beautiful, with a muscular body and an untamed mane of sun-streaked hair.

One long, passionate night of unbridled lust accompanied by a condom and later a feeling of “Why the hell did I do
that?”

No. One-night stands were not for her.

“What do
you
think I should do?” Jamie wailed. “I can't
stand
not knowing. It's driving me
insane.”

“Well . . . uh . . . find out, I guess,” Madison offered.

“Very helpful,” Jamie snapped. “You're supposed to be the smart one with an answer for everything.”

Madison sighed. What a label to be stuck with. Unfortunately, it was true. In college she and Jamie were known as “The Beauty” (Jamie) and “The Brain” (Madison). And a third friend, Natalie De Barge, a pretty black girl, was nicknamed “The Sexpot.” The three of them had been inseparable.

College had ended seven years ago, and in those seven years they'd all made their mark. Apart from marrying Peter and leading a hectic social life, Jamie had her own successful interior-design firm in Manhattan. It helped that her rich daddy had put up the money
and
partnered her with Anton Couch—a gay genius with connections up the kazoo.

Natalie, with nobody to back her, had carved out a career on television. She was currently living in L.A. and cohosting
Celebrity News,
an
E.T.
-type entertainment show.

And Madison had an interesting, challenging job and quite a reputation. Her profiles of the rich, powerful and infamous were an important part of
Manhattan Style'
s outstanding success as
the
magazine of the moment—regularly outselling
Vanity Fair
and
Esquire.
In fact, the piece she'd written on Hollywood call girls earlier in the year had caused quite a stir—she'd even sold the film rights, although she doubted if the movie would ever get made.

“Okay, here's the plan,” she said, deciding that Jamie needed help.

“Yes?” Jamie said, placing her elbows on the table, wide aqua eyes eager for an answer to her problem.

“Have him followed.”

“Followed!” Jamie exclaimed, causing the couple at the next table to finally take notice. “I can't do that, it's so . . . so . . .
cheap.”

“Expensive, actually,” Madison corrected. “But worth it I'm sure.”

“How can
that
be?”

“Peace of mind. If he's cheating, you'll find out. And if he's not . . . hey, it'll have cost you a few bucks and normal life resumes.”

“Maybe . . .” Jamie murmured hesitantly, followed by a much firmer, “Okay, I'll do it!”

“Let me check into our options,” Madison said briskly, “find out who's the best.”

“And
the most discreet,” Jamie added quickly. “There's no way this can get out.”

“I understand,” Madison said, sure that her editor, Victor Simons, would be able to come up with exactly who they should hire. Victor knew everything and everybody. Maybe he even knew if Peter was hound-dogging after some sexy nymphet.

Then again, maybe not. Victor and Peter did not travel in the same social circles.

“I'm certain you're wrong,” Madison said reassuringly. “But at least this way you'll know.”

“Right,” Jamie agreed, and felt sick at the thought of catching Peter with another woman.

•

After saying good-bye outside the restaurant, Madison strode along Park Avenue, heading for the offices of
Manhattan Style.
Heads turned, but she didn't notice, she was too busy thinking about Jamie and her suspicions.

Madison was a striking-looking woman, tall and slender, with full breasts, dancer's legs and a cloud of long black curly hair that she usually wore pulled back. She tried to play her good looks down, but nothing could disguise her green almond-shaped eyes, sharply defined cheekbones and full, seductive lips. She was a beauty, although she did not consider herself one—her idea of beauty was her mother, Stella, a statuesque honey blonde whose quivering lips and dreamy eyes reminded most people of Marilyn Monroe.

Lookswise Madison took after her father, Michael. Dark and handsome, Michael Castelli was the best-looking fifty-eight-year-old in Connecticut. He also possessed a beguiling charm and steely determination—two qualities Madison had definitely inherited, which had not hindered her rise to success as a well-respected writer of revealing and insightful profiles of the notorious and powerful.

Madison loved what she did—going for the right angle, discovering the secrets of people in the public eye. Politicians and superrich business tycoons were her favorites. Movie stars, sports personalities and Hollywood moguls were low on her list. She didn't regard herself as a killer, although she wrote with searing honesty, sometimes upsetting her subjects, who were usually sheltered in an all-enveloping cocoon of protective PR.

Too bad if they didn't like it, she was merely reporting the truth.

She'd worked under the watchful eye of Victor Simons for five years. They had an excellent relationship, although sometimes Victor could be a total pain, especially when he wanted her to interview a subject she had absolutely zero interest in. Usually they compromised, and she'd reluctantly agree to interview some dingbat movie star sex symbol in exchange for a crack at a nuclear scientist or a computer genius.

Victor had discovered her fresh out of college. She'd written a provocative piece on the still-rampant double standard between men and women, and it had been published in
Esquire.
He'd taken her to lunch, told her to get more experience, then two years later hired her to write short question-and-answer pieces for his magazine. A year later she'd graduated to brief interviews, then suddenly she'd come up with her signature work: “Madison Castelli—Profiles in Power.”

Her first subject was Henry Kissinger. She'd captured the essence of the aging politician with a sharp, wry wit. After that it was easy. One interview a month, which gave her plenty of free time to work on her novel—a book about relationships, which was making slow progress while she got over her anger at David for walking out. It wasn't easy writing about relationships while she was still so hurt.

Why
had David left? That was the question. Was it something she'd done to turn him off?

No. Deep down she knew the answer. David hadn't been able to accept the fact that she made as much money as he did. It was as simple as that. He was searching for a woman who stayed home and did what
he
wanted, not an independent free spirit with ambitions.

Two years of great sex did not make a lasting relationship, because after the passion settled down, what was left?

In their case, apparently nothing.

A few weeks after David's abrupt departure, she'd heard that he'd married his childhood sweetheart, a vapid blonde with fake boobs and an annoying overbite.

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