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By Mary Firmin
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Mary Firmin
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Chapter OneBayside Yacht Club, Marina del Rey. August 16th
Megan Riley struggled to sit up on the white canvas mat, lying on the top deck of the mega yacht, where she was sunbathing. She stared at her friend in astonishment. "Have you lost your mind?"
"Just a thought." Rachel Feinman turned onto her stomach to cook the other side of her perfectly tanned body. Her back was naked but for a silver thong that disappeared between her round, golden buttocks.
Rachel has really lost it this time, thought Megan. Her cheating husband's antics have finally driven her around the bend. "Are you suggesting that the three of us ...?" She gestured grandly to include Alexandra Grant, whose husband owned the ninety-five–foot yacht where they presently languished. "... Alex, you, and I hire a good-looking guy to get it on with?" Megan could see the muscles in Alex's smooth belly quivering from contained laughter.
Propping herself on one elbow, Rachel swished back her lush black hair to reveal ample, sun-browned breasts. "Yes, that's exactly what I mean."
"Where did y'all get such a crazy idea?" Alex blurted in her quaint Southern drawl. "I mean, that sounds like somethin' the men would do."
Rachel shrugged. "You're absolutely right. I heard David telling Gino Rosario about four guys at the studio who share a girlfriend. They pay for her apartment and give her a monthly salary just to be on call whenever they want a little action."
Megan couldn't believe what she was hearing. Did men actually do these things? Or was it a product of David Feinman's overactive screenwriter's imagination? Distracted by the sharp ring of a cell phone, she fished in her crocheted bag.
But Rachel already had hers in hand. "Hello?" Pause. "Oh, hi, Helen." Distastefully she mouthed the words, "Helen Jennings."
Helen was the club gossip. Rachel could count on large doses of calumny and character assassination if she stayed on the phone with her. Helen Jennings was also known as the "Top Bitch of Bayside." Though others tried, she retained the title hands down.
"You're kidding!" Rachel said, arching her permanently lined eyebrows. "No, I believe you, Helen. Go on."
Obviously, even the jaded Rachel was captured by this conversation. Megan figured it had to be really choice stuff or she wouldn't give Helen the time of day.
Minutes later, she clicked off the phone and took a deep breath. "George Fisher died in bed with a hooker."
Both Megan and Alex shot up from their mats.
"He did what?" Stunned, Megan couldn't finish the sentence. She was speechless. Was this some kind of joke?
Tiny Alex covered her flat chest with ten delicate fingers and blurted, "You can't be serious."
"It's true. George died of a heart attack. But that's not all ..." Rachel paused, slowly reeling them in. "The poor girl was trapped beneath him. She screamed for fifteen minutes before the next-door neighbor came to the rescue. The woman had to call the fire department to come and 'un-hooker' old George." She raised her palms. "Helen's words, exactly. 'Un-hooker him.' I can't stand it." That's when Rachel fell back on the mattress, her body convulsing with laughter.
For a long moment, Megan exchanged a dismayed look with Alex and then shifted her gaze back to Rachel, who was rolling around the mat.
"I think the whole thing is appalling," Alex drawled, adjusting her red bikini bottom over protruding hip bones.
But Megan felt a sudden rush of sadness and, unexpectedly, fear. For George? Hardly. While she felt bad about his death, she'd barely known the man, and what she knew of him she didn't like. He was, how old? Forty-one, maybe forty-two, about ten or so years older than herself.
She could not think of a single thing to say.
But of course Rachel could. "Well, I think it's hilarious. Ol' grabby George died in the saddle." Still chuckling obscenely, she added, "I'll bet he'd be the first one to say it's a hell of a way to go."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said a shocked voice coming from the direction of the stairwell.
Megan turned to greet the new arrival. "What took you so long?" She'd driven her friend Kathleen Rosario to the yacht club but left her in the ladies' locker room visiting with Senator Rattner's wife. Megan had walked down to the Ecstasea's dock by herself. But that was almost an hour ago.
Ignoring Megan's question, the lanky redhead marched across the teak deck, tossed her backpack beside the last vacant mat, and towered over Rachel. "What about George's poor wife?" she demanded, her lips compressed, like a disapproving nun's. "How do you think she feels?"
"Jesus, Kathleen, will you lighten up?" Rachel rolled her eyes. "She'll probably mourn all the way to the bank. And when she finds out how much money old lover boy had stashed away, she'll head straight for Neiman Marcus!"
Alex chuckled. "Neiman Marcus? That's funny."
Despite herself, Megan smiled.
She glanced over at George's fishing boat, moored directly opposite the transom of the Ecstasea. The sign on the back of the hull read Happy Hooker. How appropriate. How sad. And how terrible for George to die the way he did, exposing all his nasty secrets. Shuddering, she remembered the circumstances of her own father's death, the shame she'd felt—and the heartrending grief.
Forget it, Megan. That was a long time ago.
Flopping back on the mat, Megan tried to get comfortable. Silently she renewed her daily vow to lose ten pounds—by the weekend. Maybe then she could wear something other than this lousy black bathing suit—like maybe a sexy bikini.
Dream on, girl.
But the new arrival, Kathleen, seemed unwilling to let go. "One day it could be your turn, you know. Your comfortable little lives won't always be so perfect."
Her childlike voice didn't wield enough power to be threatening. In fact, scarcely anyone took Kathleen seriously, including her soon-to-be ex-husband, Gino Rosario. But Megan did, and she was especially glad she had, that night a few months ago, when Kathleen threatened suicide. The doctors claimed that Megan's fast reactions had saved her friend's life.
Silently, Kathleen unbuttoned her lace cover-up, revealing a pale, shapely body in an emerald tank. The rich color of the suit complemented her glorious auburn curls, but the usual glow on her lovely face was sadly diminished. Suffering, for months now, through a heart-wrenching divorce from her TV-anchorman husband, Kathleen was so vulnerable she was apt to cry for no reason at all. Still sniffling, she folded her long, slender body onto the down-filled pad.
From a prone position, Alex voiced her agreement with Kathleen. "She's right. The whole family's gonna suffer because of George's disgustin' behavior and the circus surrounding his death."
Megan sighed. No one was laughing anymore.
"According to Helen, the police are going to release the body tomorrow," Rachel said. "But they still want to question all of George's friends." She tried to attach some softness to her next words. "Apparently the house where he passed on was close to the beach where the other prostitute's dead body was found. Five or six months ago, remember?"
Megan was jolted. "You mean the Bondage Murder?"
"That's the one."
"Not far from your house, Megan, if I remember rightly," said Alex.
Megan nodded. "Three blocks away." She recalled the precise moment Kathleen's husband had announced the discovery of the girl's body on the late news. Just thinking about it renewed her terror. "But why are the authorities so interested in George's death if it was supposed to be of natural causes? Do the police think George had something to do with the Bondage Murder?"
"That's preposterous," Rachel dismissed. "Old George was basically a wimp."
"I guess they'll be speakin' to my Charlie," Alex murmured. "He and George were fishin' buddies."
Suddenly, Kathleen sat up. "Wait a minute! I saw George Fisher with some woman in the Venice Liquor Store about a week ago. I saw him. I know I did. He was talking to her, their heads real close, at the back of the store. She had white, spiky hair, big breasts. And she was young, younger than either one of his daughters."
"Built like the proverbial brick shithouse, I'll bet," Rachel snickered.
Megan gave her another scathing look. "Rachel."
"Well," she said, "that's the type he liked."
"Yes, I could see where he might have a heart attack if she was the one." Kathleen gave a sage nod. "She looked kind of scary to me."
"Everybody looks scary to you," snapped Rachel.
The conversation ceased against the deep roar of a 747 taking off from LAX. Megan raised her eyes to watch it disappear into a cloud bank. She mulled over her own screwed-up life and the recent breakup with her fiancé, Brian Mason. She felt a familiar twinge of self-pity.
First, her three-year marriage to Stephen had ended in divorce. Now, her engagement to Brian was over. Maybe she was incapable of having a successful relationship. Maybe two or three years were all she could manage.
It was a painful time to remember.
New in Los Angeles—with no family, no friends—Megan had been heartbreakingly lonely, so she'd latched onto Stephen like a drowning woman. She knew now she'd married him for all the wrong reasons. When he moved on, she was alone again. But she'd worked very hard to get her real estate license, and then she had spent the next five years making a name for herself in the business. Along with success, her drinking had accelerated, and she'd been easy pickings for the likes of Brian Mason. Now that relationship was over too.
And here she was, thirty years old and still looking for Mr. Right.
But this time Megan wouldn't have to drink. This time she had the love and support of her three best pals, not to mention all her new friends at the AA meetings.
She glanced at Alex, who was opening a bottle of Dom Pérignon with an experienced hand. Having recently passed the golden age of forty, though she'd never admit it, the petite blonde was totally obsessed with her weight and survived solely on lettuce and champagne. Alex Grant held the mistaken belief that her waif look pushed back the years, when, in fact, she was so painfully thin she looked anorexic. Megan pondered what she would do if anything happened to her husband, Charlie. After all, he was quite a bit older than Alex.
The Grants' custom-built Christensen was the largest, most expensive cruiser in Marina del Rey. Moored in front of Bayside Yacht Club, the Ecstasea had its own heated spa on the forward deck and four staterooms. The sophisticated art-deco salon, complete with player-piano bar and spiral staircase, had recently been featured in Motor Yacht magazine.
Charlie's family also held controlling stock in Grant Aviation, as well as dozens of real estate investments, not the least of which were 220 condominiums in the Marina he was trying to sell off as time-shares. Add that to the penthouse where they resided, and Megan was sure the Grants had more money than they could count.
Megan concluded that if anything happened to Charlie, Alex would simply buy a new husband—maybe two or three. Or at least that's the way it used to be before the crash of the economy these last couple of years. Megan wasn't sure how much damage, if any, had been done to the Grant family fortune.
Alex filled the fluted wine glasses with a flair that suggested the abundant Bayside lifestyle was her due, while Megan was not even sure how much longer she could pay the monthly fees. She'd joined the yacht club in order to meet and procure wealthy real estate clients, but lately her sales were almost nonexistent.
Unfortunately, Megan had no one to depend upon but herself and was now painfully aware she'd soon have to dip into her small emergency fund.
Megan stared at the bottle for the longest time. She could almost feel the icy bubbles tickle the back of her throat. She shook her head. "No, thanks, Alex."
"Oh, I'm so sorry, honey. I keep forgettin'." Alex blushed. "How long has it been now?"
"Ninety-seven days clean and sober." And it isn't always easy.
"Why, I think that's commendable, darlin'." Alex emptied a bottle of Perrier into one of the fluted glasses and handed it to Megan.
Sipping it, she turned her attention to Rachel, who had quickly drained her glass and held it out for a refill.
Stunning Rachel Feinman, with her perfect yuppie family, seemed to have it all. She was rich, thin, and gorgeous, married to a handsome screenwriter husband, and the mother of two adorable little girls.
But Megan knew differently. Trouble was brewing in that paradise too!
She could tell from the way Rachel was acting that David was up to his old tricks—being emotionally unavailable, staying out all night, and God knows what else. Megan flashed on the last miserable months of her own marriage and shuddered.
"While we're on the subject," Rachel's matter-of-fact voice brought her back to the present, "I booked the club dining room for Thursday, December 2."
Megan looked at her quizzically.
"You know, for the Mothers in Recovery luncheon?" Rachel prompted.
"Of course." The luncheon was for Megan's new cause.
Mothers in Recovery assisted female addicts and alcoholics who were pregnant. The program also maintained a facility to handle their special-needs children, but it was extremely costly, so Megan had volunteered to chair a fund-raiser. It was her way of giving back for her sobriety.
"By the way, I spoke to Charlie," Alex said. "We'll be sending a large donation."
"When can I help with the babies?" Kathleen pleaded.
"Anytime you like. I spoke to—" but Megan was interrupted by the sound of a deep masculine voice calling from the dock below.
"Hello? Is there anyone aboard? Ahoy there!"
"Now, who can that be?" Donning the strip of red material that was her top, Alex rose from the mattress and leaned over the side. "May I help you?"
Megan couldn't hear the reply.
"Mr. Grant is out of town," Alex said. Pause. "All right, come on up. Through the salon and up the spiral staircase; we're on the top deck."
"Who is that?" Rachel asked.
"He says he's a police detective. He wanted to see Charlie, but now he's going to speak to us."
"What do you think he wants?" Megan asked.
"He probably wants to know more about George Fisher." Alex patted her sleek, blonde hair. "George is—I mean was—our neighbor on the dock."
Megan lapsed into silence. Again she asked herself the question: Why were the police investigating an accidental death?
Chapter TwoSuddenly, he was there on the deck, the most fabulous-looking man Megan had ever seen, probably in his late thirties. He wore Ray-Bans, a brown leather aviator jacket, and beige chinos, and he didn't look the least bit like a policeman.
That's when Rachel scrambled for a towel to cover her bare chest. Despite her best efforts, one ruby nipple escaped concealment.
So much for Rachel's modesty, thought Megan.
"Good afternoon," he said. "I'm Detective Matt Donovan, Los Angeles Police Department." He displayed his badge to Alex and then handed her a business card, which she tucked inside her red bikini top without even looking at it. "Mr. Grant is out of town?"
"Yes, he's visiting our factory in San Diego." Alex checked her watch. "But he's due back any time." She then introduced her three companions.
Megan watched the detective scribble their names in a crumpled black book. In fact, she couldn't take her eyes off him. To put it mildly, Matt Donovan was your classic tall, dark, and handsome. But when he removed his sunglasses, he epitomized Megan's vision of an IRA rebel, with his shock of curly, dark hair peppered with gray, and pride dancing in those moody, blue eyes. "Black Irish" is what her father would have called him.
"Would you mind answering a few questions about Mr. Fisher?" He smiled at Megan and moved closer.
"Of course not," she murmured, shocked to feel herself blushing.
"You all know about Mr. Fisher's death?" he asked.
Alex answered, "Yes, Rachel told us all about it. It's terrible, terrible."
"Then you're aware of the circumstances?"
"Isn't it just awful? Dying in bed with a ... well, you know. Poor, dear Junie," Rachel purred, feigning sympathy for George's wife.
Excerpted from Deadly Pleasures by Mary Firmin Copyright © 2011 by Mary Firmin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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