Breach of Promise (Nina Reilly Series #4)by Perri O'Shaughnessy, Laural Merlington
Broken hearts. Broken promises. Deadly consequences.
In glitzy Lake Tahoe, couples break up every day. But few are as successful as Lindy and Mike Markov, who built a $200-million business together--before Mike took up with a younger woman. Now he's claiming he doesn't owe Lindy a dime since they never married.See more details below
Broken hearts. Broken promises. Deadly consequences.
In glitzy Lake Tahoe, couples break up every day. But few are as successful as Lindy and Mike Markov, who built a $200-million business together--before Mike took up with a younger woman. Now he's claiming he doesn't owe Lindy a dime since they never married.
"Ingenious . . . Move over, Kinsey. Nina's come to town!"—Monterey County Herald
"Gripping courtroom drama . . . Heart-stopping . . . Riveting."—Booklist
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Nina couldn't imagine how they could stuff more people inside. The decks were full of guests dancing, drinking, and snacking. The usual casual tour boat had been transformed--waiters in black suits dipped and posed with silver trays full of hot treats for the guests; tables with white cloths and real silver for a massive buffet dinner had been set up in the midsection of the center deck.
What must be hundreds of people murmured and milled through the scene, dreamlike in the dusk. Once her eyes adjusted, Nina said hello to a number of them; Judge Milne, who was rumored to be considering retirement, Bill Galway, the new mayor of South Lake Tahoe, and a few former clients. She stayed with the group where the judge was holding forth, and Paul wandered off. Seven o'clock came and went, and the waiters made sure no glass ever emptied, but Mike Markov didn't come and the boat sat at the dock as the lake and sky flickered with the fire of sunset.
By the time the guest of honor finally appeared, everyone, including Nina, had had too much to drink. A lookout gave an advance warning, and a hush fell over the boat.
Nina saw him come aboard. Looking like a man with a lot on his mind, he walked right into Lindy's waiting arms. He was stocky with dark skin, about the same height as Lindy. He embraced her quickly, revealing muscular forearms. "I'm sorry I'm so late," he said. "I was afraid the boat would be long gone." He looked around, puzzled. "Where is everybody?" he asked.
"Surprise!" the crowd shouted. The waiters popped another round of champagne. People poured out of the woodwork to pat him on the back.
For a moment, shock poised over his features likethe shadow of Lizzie Borden's ax. Nina had time to think, God, he's having a heart attack. . . .
He shuddered. In that first second he looked only at Lindy, suppressing some unreadable emotion. Then, like magic, as he turned to his guests a cloak of good humor dropped into place. He began to stroll through the crowd accepting genuinely warm congratulations, shaking hands as he greeted people.
"My God, Mikey. Fifty-five. Whoever thought we'd get there?"
"You look damn good for such an old fella!" This said by a bald man leaning heavily on a walker, who had to be teetering toward ninety.
"Great excuse to have a helluva good time, eh, Mike? Like old times."
Lindy trailed behind for a bit, then caught up with him, taking her place by his side. Nina stayed behind as hands thumped him on the back and good wishes floated on the air.
The engine started up. The paddle wheel at the stern began to churn up water, and a mournful, low blast from the horn cut through the sound of revelry, of wind, of evening birds and insects chirping away on land.
Just as the paddle started up and the big boat began to move smoothly away from the dock, Nina saw the final guest arrive.
The young woman came onboard quietly. In her midtwenties, with black hair so long it hung almost to the hem of her dress, the girl wore strappy sandals that crept up her calves like trained ivy. Nina thought someone should say hello and show her the way to the bar. She started toward her, but after a quick glance around, the girl dropped her coat on a chair in the corner, collected champagne from a passing tray, and downed the first half of her drink, edging over to blend into a group of people standing by the door who apparently knew her. "Rachel, honey. Somehow we didn't expect to see you here tonight," a snickering, booze-laden voice called out to her.
Nina wandered off to find Paul, who was watching the great wheel make its waterfall at the back of the boat.
The enclosed main deck, a huge, dark space alive with undulant bodies, still pitched with music from a live band. Far from deflating once the honored guest had eaten his cake and endured a shower of fantastic presents, the party was heating up. Nina dragged Paul to the dance floor, where they danced and danced some more. When a moment of clearheadedness intruded on her whirling brain, she moved outside to get a breath of fresh air, losing Paul somewhere along the way.
At the front of the boat next to the staircase, she leaned unsteadily against the wall of the cabin. They had reached Emerald Bay and the boat was circling Fannette Island, the rocky islet at its center.
In the shadow of the western mountains the water was indigo streaked with green, like shot silk. Fannette rose in solitary splendor out of the bay into a tree-studded granite hill. At the top, the ruin of a rich woman's teahouse presided over the whole sweep of bay.
Nina had always wanted to visit the tiny island. The stone ruin at the top looked inviting under the fading tangerine glow of the sky. She imagined what the teahouse must have been like back in the twenties, a rustic table and chairs for furniture, candlelight, a roaring fire; and Mrs. Knight, coercing friends from the city into the steep climb, long dresses hiked up, waiters with trays and tea sets leading the way.
Someone on the deck above spilled a drink and laughed, then complained about the chill. Whoever was up there went back inside, and the night fell into the shushing of the paddle wheel and the drone of the boat's motor. Nina closed her eyes and sank into a woozy meditation on the high life, and what to do with Paul after the party. Questions swam through her mind as the night's cool air, balmy and soothing, wrapped itself around her.
The door opened and two people stepped out. They didn't see her tucked away beside the stairway. She didn't feel like starting a conversation, so she said nothing. She would be leaving in just a sec, just as soon as she adjusted her shoe around the new blister forming on her heel.
"I thought you were going to wait for me at the marina," a man said quietly. "We would have been back in another hour."
"I just couldn't wait." The voice was a young woman's, and it sounded a little defiant.
"Did you know about this crazy surprise thing?"
"No," said the girl. "Have you told her yet?"
"With all our friends around?"
"Honey, how can I? I thought we'd be out here with strangers."
"Liar!" the girl said, sounding near tears.
"I will after this is over, later tonight," murmured the man. "I promise I will." The voices stopped. Nina started to rise, then heard whispers. They were embracing, kissing. Oh, great.
Now feeling the cold herself, she waited, hoping they would pack it in soon. Then she heard a cry, and the violent crash of a glass breaking close by them.
Someone new had entered the scene.
"Oh, no. Mike. Oh, my God, no." Nina immediately recognized Lindy Markov's voice. "What is this?"
Oh, no, was right. Nina stayed out of sight behind the stairs, stuck like a fox with its leg in a trap.
"Lindy, listen," Mike said.
The first woman's voice, younger and more high-pitched than Lindy's, interrupted. "Tell her, Mike."
"Rachel?" said Lindy, in a quavering voice.
Nina peered around the corner. No one was looking her way. Markov stood next to the dark-haired girl Nina had noticed arriving late. Lindy stood about four feet away, facing him, her hand over her mouth.
"Oh, Mike. She's got to be thirty years younger than you are," Lindy Markov said.
"Mike and I are in love. Aren't we, Mike?" The girl moved to take his hand but Markov pushed her away.
"Be quiet, Rachel. This isn't the place. . . ."
"We're getting married! You're out, Lindy. We don't want to hurt you. . . ."
"Oh, shit," said Mike. "Shit."
Nina, who for all the attention they were paying to her might as well have been invisible, silently agreed with him.
"Marry you?" Lindy said, her voice shaking. Nina didn't think she had ever heard such fury contained in two words.
"That's right," said Rachel.
"What kind of crap is this? Mike? What's she talking about?"
In a high, triumphant voice, Rachel said, "Look at this. See? A ring! That's right. A big fat diamond. He never gave you a diamond, did he?"
"Get out of here before we both kick you from here to kingdom come," Lindy replied, her voice wobbling.
There was silence. "Lindy, I've tried to tell you," Mike said finally. "You just won't listen. It's over between us."
"Mike, tell her to leave so we can talk," said Lindy.
"I'm not going anywhere!"
"Calm down now, Rachel," Mike said, sounding remarkably composed, Nina thought. "Now, look at me, Lindy," Mike said. "I'm fifty-five years old tonight and I feel every minute of it. But I have a right to choose my own happiness. I didn't plan this. I'm sorry it had to happen this way . . . but maybe it's for the best."
"Five minutes alone with you, Mike. That's my right."
"We don't expect you to understand," said Rachel.
"Who are you to talk to me like this! Mike loves me!"
"Oh, now she's playing that game, where she can't see the nose on her face," Rachel continued, lifting her words over Lindy's. "This is real life, Lindy. Pay attention for once."
"Shut up!" Did only Nina notice the menace in Lindy's voice?
"You had twenty years! Five more minutes won't change anything. Mike, come on. Tell her."
But Mike apparently could think of nothing to add.
"I said shut up!" Lindy rushed toward the girl, knocking her off balance against the railing. The girl fell backward. Nina and Mike both winced at the sound of her cry, then the splash as she hit the lake.
"Lindy!" Mike said. "Jesus Christ!"
Nina searched for a float to throw to the girl. She found one, but a rope was snagged around it. She fumbled to get it loose, her fingers working clumsily at a knot.
Lindy and Mike stood by the railing, their backs to Nina, too deeply engulfed in their own private hell to care what she did. Mike leaned over the side, peering into the darkness. "Rachel can't swim!" he yelled.
"Good!" Lindy said.
"Look what you've gone and done now, Lindy! My God, you just don't think! Now, listen. You keep an eye on her. I need to get help." But before he left, he hurried back and forth along the railing calling to Rachel, reassuring her.
"What I've done?" Lindy said, standing close behind him. Nina recognized that she was beyond reason, out of control. "Look at what I've done?"
The lifesaver suddenly fell into Nina's hands.
"Mike!" Nina said, preparing to toss it the few feet between them. He knew where Rachel might be. She didn't.
Mike turned to face her, putting his arms out to catch.
And Lindy, catching him completely off guard, bent down and took his legs in her hands, heaved mightily and tipped him neatly overboard. "Go get her, then!" she yelled, and the explosion of maledictions that followed was swallowed up by the sound of a second splash.
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