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Cut To The Chase
By Julie Kistler
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAbra sank into a seat in the waiting area near her gate. She was ages early for her flight, and the place was deserted, with not even an agent behind the counter yet. Good. She could relax.
When she left the city, she'd rented a car and just driven blindly away, anywhere, finally dropping it in New Jersey. After that, she'd taken a train to Philly and a bus to Baltimore, and now she was flying to Chicago from there. It wasn't as if it would be hard to follow her trail, even though her hair was now a different color and cut, she had no makeup on, and she was wearing a baseball cap she'd just purchased in the concourse. No one in the world would expect Abra Holloway to have brown hair, let alone an Orioles baseball cap.
But to trail her, someone would have to want to. And who would want to?
She leaned back into her uncomfortable seat, clutching her boarding pass. Gone were the days when she flew first class and flight attendants brought her extra drinks and other passengers sneaked up from coach to ask for her autograph.
"Better get used to it. You're flying coach from now on," she told herself sternly, sticking the ticket back in her bag and pulling out a book to read till her flight.
But the book was about a dazzling television star with a terrible secret, and she couldn't imagine why she'd bought it. Who wanted to read about that?
She glanced up at the TV mounted above the seats, almost afraid to look. Phew. Just a piece about a teapot exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cute and wacky teapots. Nothing scary. But then the perky anchorwoman seemed to stare right out of the TV, straight at Abra, when she announced, "Sources in New York City report that media darling and lifestyle expert Abra Holloway has disappeared."
Abra gulped. She looked around. Except for a man with a rolling garbage can headed to clean the ladies' room, there was no one around. No one looking at her or noticing that her face was reflected on the monitor over her head.
"Although she was scheduled to appear on The Shelby Show last week as she has every Thursday for the past two years," the anchorwoman continued, "host Shelby Marino revealed that 'Abra Cadabra,' as fans call her, would not be dispensing advice that day. Today, when another Thursday came and went without Holloway, and no explanation was offered for her failure to appear, reporters from several major news outlets began to make efforts to contact her. Shelby Marino and producers on The Shelby Show had no comment, but sources close to Holloway have indicated that she has apparently left the show and the city without a trace."
What sources "close to Holloway"? Abra couldn't think of one person besides Shelby she would call remotely close. There was Julian, of course. The world thought he was close, given the carefully crafted image they had portrayed. But Abra knew better.
Breaking into her thoughts, the woman on the television added, "There is no evidence of foul play. In fact, there is very little evidence at all. Her fiancé, millionaire businessman and philanthropist Julian Wheelwright, spoke to the press earlier today."
Abra's heart beat faster, but her eyes were riveted to the TV. Oh, lord, lord, lord. Not Julian. He looked as smoothly handsome as ever, with his blond hair perfectly styled, as always, and his blue eyes so very sincere.
Damn him and his blue eyes both. "Never trust a man with blue eyes," she muttered. She'd had longterm relationships with a total of two men in her entire life, and they'd both had gorgeous blue eyes. They'd also both turned out to be beyond redemption, beneath contempt. Never trust a man with blue eyes. She promised to cross-stitch that motto onto a sampler and take it everywhere she went. As soon as she got somewhere she could find cross-stitch supplies and safely sit around and stitch without anyone bothering her.
She felt like bursting into tears. Oh, jeez. If brown hair and baseball caps were weird for Abra Holloway, weeping in public was really beyond the pale. She gazed, transfixed, at the TV. She didn't want to see Julian, and yet she couldn't look away. What would he say? Why did he give a press conference? Why couldn't he just keep his damn mouth shut?
"I understand that Abra's many fans are surprised and worried, but there's no need," Julian offered, sending the viewing public a serene smile. "Yes, of course we're still engaged, and no, nothing is wrong."
Nothing wrong? Julian's pants ought to be on fire for that one.
"She simply felt a little stressed," he went on, "a little overwhelmed because of mounting duties on The Shelby Show and discussions of her own daily syndicated series. She decided to take a break to get her plans in order."
Her mouth fell open at the boldness of his lies. Still engaged? After she'd thrown his ring at his brilliant, lying white teeth? Stressed and overwhelmed because of The Shelby Show? As if. That show was a walk in the park.
And now he was saying that she'd left him a note and told him not to worry, that she loved him and would be back soon. All a pack of lies!
"I know and trust Abra completely," he finished, in a firm and certain tone, "and if she says this is the right thing for her at this moment, then it is. As her fans will tell you, Abra is very focused and she always knows what's right."
Abra didn't know what to think. Well, at least this way maybe no one would be looking for her. Maybe she should be thanking him for trying to take the heat out of her vanishing act.
"He probably just wants to clear himself." She glared at his handsome image. "I hope the police think he murdered me. It would serve him right."
But his face on the screen had been replaced by hers again. She saw footage of herself on The Shelby Show, with her beautifully styled honey-blond hair brushing her shoulders, her skin flawless, her posture perfect. She looked so confident and assured, smiling sympathetically at a guest who wanted help with a husband hooked on outdoor sex. The woman's description of her husband's desire to make love up against the Washington Monument elicited giggles from the audience, but didn't faze the amazingly cool and composed Abra Holloway one bit.
Had that only been a few months ago? Could things possibly have been as simple then as they looked on TV?
"Holloway first came to prominence with her weekly visits to The Shelby Show," the newswoman went on, "as she offered advice and counsel on everything from how to bring order to messy closets to how to acquire better self-esteem and find the love of your life. She acquired the nickname Abra Cadabra because of her apparent magic touch when it came to helping people sort through their problems."
Abra frowned. She hated that nickname. But it only got weirder after that. Someone she had never seen, someone who was identified as her biggest fan, popped up on the TV.
"I am very worried," this stranger confided. "This isn't like the Abra I know. Why would she run away?"
"Who are you? You don't know me," Abra argued back at the television.
Excerpted from Cut To The Chase by Julie Kistler Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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