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Authors: Heather Graham

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BOOK: The Death Dealer
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And he was not alone.

The woman standing behind him was in her late thirties or early forties. She was small and model thin. Her hair was blond and highlighted with an even lighter shade, and her eyes were enormous and a marbled blue-gray. She appeared both extremely artificial and extremely attractive at the same time, as if many things about her had been enhanced, but enhanced very well.

Mary Vincenzo, Thorne Bigelow’s late brother’s much younger wife. She had been in public relations before her marriage, according to the file Raif Green had sent. She had never changed her name.

The two newcomers walked into the room, and the others jumped to their feet and crowded around Jared, voicing the usual awkward and sympathetic words everyone came up with when someone died.

Genevieve, however, hung back, Joe noticed. As did Eileen. Interesting.

Only when the crowd around Jared had dispersed did they take the opportunity to murmur quiet sympathy. Joe found himself realizing that, despite all the jewels and silk, cosmetics, surgeries and expensive coiffures in evidence, there was no one in the room like Genevieve. Tall, slim, sleek and natural, everything about her whispered of innate perfection. He found himself glad for personal, as well as professional reasons that he had attended this very strange affair.

She had endured so much and was herself so strong. But no one should have to be alone after what she’d been through, and he would protect her.

“Please,” Jared said, lifting a hand and stepping back to address the group. He smiled awkwardly. “I actually came here tonight to say the same thing to all of you that he…” he indicated Joe with a nod of his head “…that he told you. Please be careful.” He grinned. “If one of you bastards didn’t kill my father, or even if you did, we have to live with the fact that any one of us may be a target.”

If one of you bastards didn’t kill my father…

He had spoken the words lightly, Joe thought. Like a joke. But had he really meant them humorously?

Joe walked over and offered his hand to Jared. “Joe Connolly,” he said. “I add my condolences on your loss.”

“The private detective?” Jared asked him. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve engaged Mr. Connolly,” Gen said, stepping up. “To look into your father’s murder—and to make sure that my mother and the rest of you aren’t in any danger.”

“But…this is a board meeting,” Jared said.

“No, this is actually an accusation fest,” Larry said huffily.

“Larry…” Barbara chastised.

“Seriously, right now it would be prudent for all of you to be careful. The police are investigating a number of possibilities, but until they have a suspect in custody, you all need to behave as if you could be next,” Joe said.

“But this is a board meeting,” Jared repeated, staring at Eileen Brideswell.

“Calm down, Jared. Anything that helps, right?” Mary Vincenzo said, speaking up at last.

“Yes, yes. All right. Well, get to it then, Mr. Connolly. Actually, I just stopped in to make sure everyone on the board was aware that we’re having a special viewing of my father before the services Monday. Five o’clock, at Philips Mortuary. I hope to see you all there.” Jared looked from one to another. “I hope you’ll understand if I don’t stay. Aunt Mary…?”

They started to walk away, and then Jared, with Mary on his arm, paused at the door and turned back. “Mr. Connolly?”

“Yes?”

“You’ll be there, I assume? In your…professional capacity.”

“Yes,” Joe said. “I’ll be there.”

He felt Genevieve lay her hand on his arm, and he watched as Jared Bigelow noted her movement, a curious glint entering his eyes.

“Until then,” Jared said, and left.

 

Joe was acting strange lately, Genevieve thought.

The distance between them suddenly seemed far too great, far greater than it ever had before.

They had dropped Eileen at home, and then he’d brought her to her place. Being Joe and ever the gentleman, he had seen her up to her apartment, his every move the epitome of courtesy.

But, to be quite honest, she didn’t want courtesy any more than she wanted pity or to be treated like a fragile rose.

All of a sudden she realized the complete truth that had inexplicably eluded her until now.

In the days following her rescue and Leslie’s death, she had been forced to find her own footing, to learn simply to go on again.

But since then, during the time they had spent together, she had begun to realize just how much she liked Joe. More than liked him.

He, of course, had been in love with Leslie, who in turn, had been in love with the fiancé, Joe’s cousin, who had died before her. But if she had lived, would she have fallen for Joe in time? Or would she have fallen only for a shadow of her first love? Matt, like Joe, had been tall, with light hair, though Joe’s was slightly darker, just as his eyes were greener. But Matt had been built with the same broad-shouldered strength. Maybe Joe would have wondered all his life if she had been truly in love with him, or only dreaming that he was someone else every time they made love.

Some questions could never be answered. Leslie and Matt were both dead now.

She found herself thinking of Shakespeare then, rather than Poe. Of
Hamlet.

He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone. At his heels a grass green turf and at his head a stone…

Yes, Leslie MacIntyre was dead, but did Joe still dream about her?

Perhaps Joe could never be serious about anyone—especially Gen herself, because she had been the cause of Leslie’s death.

But not intentionally. Never intentionally. She would never have allowed someone else to die in her place.

Joe knew that. She knew he did. And dwelling on the events of that fatal night would only serve to drive her insane. What had happened, had happened. And no one but the murderer himself had been at fault. She hadn’t needed therapy to recognize the truth of that. And she knew that Joe knew it, too.

So why was he so strange and distant these days?

And why did she insist on caring? Was she only hung up on him because he had been there in her darkest hour? According to Dr. Mowbry, women often fell in love with men they considered to be their saviors.

And he
had
saved her life. No doubt about it. But that wasn’t why she had fallen for him. She was sure of that.

And now, here he was, and she didn’t want him to be so gentle. She wanted him to crush her in his arms. She wanted to make wild, hot love with him. She didn’t want him to see her as delicate or in need of protection. She was tempted to simply slip off her dress, fling her arms around him and do something so sensual and sexy that he couldn’t resist her.

“So,” she said, with just the right amount of curiosity and professional courtesy, “what did you think?”

She loved his rueful smile, she thought. Loved it when she had his full attention and could see on his face that certain dry amusement he felt for life, himself and everything around him.

“I felt like I walked into a play filled with outsize characters who had to prove themselves and their innocence within the confines of two hours and one intermission,” he told her.

“Oh, come on, we’re not that bad,” she said.

“I didn’t say anyone was bad.”

He was hovering in the doorway. They’d already argued about the fact she had refused to stay with Eileen at the mansion, even though she was worried about her mother, and even though everyone was worried about
her,
despite the fact that, as she kept pointing out, she wasn’t a Raven. This time around,
she
wasn’t the one who had something to worry about.

But her mother had live-in help and an excellent security system, and she still needed her own place, her own independence.

So that, if she ever got up the nerve, she could just strip off her little black dress, and do something so exotic and sensual and sexual that he couldn’t stand it and…

“I know Larry,” Joe said. “He’s not a bad guy. And your mother is a wonderful woman.”

“See? Rich people aren’t all bad,” she heard herself say defensively.

He laughed easily and shook his head. “Gen, I never said they were. It was just tonight…that group. Let’s face it, I think everyone there was afraid someone else in that room did it. Lila was all bravado. Barbara was all denial. Brook Avery was pure pretense. And then…Jared showing up so dramatically…It was…interesting.”

“Did you learn anything?”

He hesitated. “I learned that no one there likes anyone else all that much, that no one liked Thorne, in particular, and that Jared Bigelow is sleeping with his aunt.”

She gasped. “What?”

“Well, they aren’t related by blood, are they?”

“No. Mary was married to Thorne’s older brother, Steven. He was thirty-some years older than she is.”

“A real love match, huh?” he said cynically.

“Supposedly it was a good marriage,” she said.

“Sure. I’d probably be good for that kind of money, too,” he said.

“You really are a skeptic, aren’t you?”

“Oh, come on, Gen! You weren’t just a little bit skeptical about that one yourself?”

“Maybe,” she admitted.

He was laughing, and suddenly he seemed to be so easy with her.

“Okay, so she probably married Steven Bigelow for his money,” she admitted. “That doesn’t mean that people always marry rich people for their money.” Why on earth had she said that? Could she be any more obvious about what was on her mind?

But he didn’t even seem to notice. “I’m sure some women do fall in love with men who are older and richer,” he said. “Just not in that particular case.”

“And what made you so certain that they’re sleeping together? Jared and Mary, I mean.”

“The possessive way she hung on his arm. The way he looked at you, and the way she looked at him for the way he looked at you.”

“You’re reading a lot into the way people look at each other.”

“Because there’s a lot to be read into it.”

“So do you think Jared killed his father, or his aunt killed his father or—”

“I think there are a lot of suspects,” he assured her. “And a lot of motives. Greed and jealousy have both been strong inducements for murder over the centuries. Of course, tonight we were missing one of the traditional suspects.”

“Who?”

“The butler, of course,” he said, grinning.

She had to laugh. But then she assured him, “Bennet didn’t murder Thorne, I can assure you.”

“Bennet? You know him?” he asked her.

“Of course. My family and the Bigelows kind of run in the same circles, though I can’t exactly say we were friends.” She pointed a stern finger at him. “And don’t you dare start in on rich people again.”

“I wasn’t about to.”

She offered him a doubting sniff.

“So tell me about Bennet.”

“Well, he’s old.”

“How old?”

“Oh, honestly, sixty-five, maybe. He’s been with the family for as long as I can remember. You could talk to my mom. She would know more.”

“Actually, I’d like to talk to Bennet himself.”

“I’ll go with you tomorrow.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“You need to stay out of this.”

“But I hired you,”

“Yes, and if you wanted to do everything yourself,” he said irritably, “you shouldn’t have.”

“You need my help on this,” she assured him.

“Oh?”

“Bennet likes me,” she said. “He’ll be happy to talk to you if you’re with me. He won’t be so thrilled if you’re on your own.”

“Genevieve, seriously—”

“If you don’t let me help, I
will
start doing things on my own,” she said softly.

He stared at her, frustrated.

She had him, and she knew it. He still had that protective thing going on, which wasn’t what she wanted, but it would have to do for now.

“So what time are we going to see Bennet tomorrow?” he asked dryly.

She smiled. “I’ll talk to him in the morning. He goes to church, and I’m taking Mom to church, so I’ll see him there. So let’s say about…one?”

He nodded, eyeing her cautiously, as if he had just realized she might be a species of dangerous animal he had misjudged.

“One o’clock, then,” he said.

Joe stood there in the doorway for a moment, and she couldn’t help staring at him. Joe, whose sandy brown hair fell over his forehead in such a casual and sexy manner, whose eyes seemed to reflect the world and his knowledge of it. Whose shoulders filled the doorway, whose jaw could be so hard and stubborn. Joe…

For a split second she thought that he was going to move forward. Come closer. Even touch her.

And finally he did.

He reached out—and tousled her hair.

“Tomorrow, then, kid. See you. And until then….”

“I know, I know. I’ll be careful.”

Then he was gone. And she locked the door—as he told her to do from the other side.

When she went to bed, she found herself staring at the ceiling and thinking about loss, about death.

Leslie’s death. And the deaths of the prostitutes she herself had tried so hard to help. They had been nothing but disposable members of society to so many people, but she had known them as women with hopes and dreams. So much loss.

Then there was the loss she faced herself…

The loss of a life once filled with promise but now controlled by fear. Not hers, but everyone else’s for her.

The loss of a life never really lived…

 

By the time her phone rang Sunday morning, Lori Star had given up expecting anything good.

At first the news media had embraced her, but then they had dropped her like a hot potato. Perhaps they had found out about her arrests; she didn’t know. Apparently they now believed she was some kind of a fake. Which she usually was…

But not this time.

It had been terrifying when she had first felt the sensation of being somewhere else, being some
one
else.

Not just because it was like some sort of out-of-body experience, but because there was more to it. That sense of pure malice and…
evil
had been terrifying.

BOOK: The Death Dealer
2.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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