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Do Not Disturb
Inside Carmel, California's largest church, the unseasonal early September heat opened the pores of the one-thousand-plus gathered for Stephen Whitney's memorial service. The mingled scents of deodorant, aftershave, hairspray, and perfume rose above the crowd to hang like a thick cloud over the pews, making each of Angel's breaths a struggle.
Add to the cloying humidity yet another piercing Hallelujah!, followed by the droning voice of yet another moralistic muckety-muck at the podium, and Angel wondered if she'd made the short drop to her own personal hell instead of the short drive from San Francisco. Her scalp itched beneath her broad-brimmed black straw hat. She pressed the fingertips of her black cotton gloves to her upper lip to blot the moisture gathering there.
She needed air.
She needed out.
But she could hardly retreat now.
Not after pitching the idea of an in-depth profile on Stephen Whitney in such winning tones to her editor, Jane Hurley. Not after following that up with an interoffice e-mail inquiring if Jane had any contacts that might be helpful.
Jane herself proved to be that -- Angel had counted on it. While her editor was the woman who had turned West Coast magazine from a monthly filled with decorating tips and regional recipes into a nationally read and respected political and cultural journal, she was also Hearst-rich and maintained a second home on the famed Seventeen Mile Drive. So thanks to Jane, Angel had scored one of the scarce press passes to this memorial service, and her name was on the short list of guests for a much more private ceremony taking place later that day.
Nevertheless, Angel couldn't quash her serious second thoughts about digging into Stephen Whitney's life. In the past, she'd made it her mission to ignore anything having to do with the "Artist of the Heart," just as he'd ignored her when she'd so desperately needed him. Maybe she shouldn't --
Oh, stop being such a sissy, the journalist inside her interrupted, there's good stuff here. A story worth telling.
But even as another choral ensemble trooped up to the front of the church, Angel continued to waffle. So she settled her latest dilemma the same way she'd settled nearly all of them since she was a lonely twelve-year- old hooked on the video of All the President's Men.
WWWD? Angel asked herself. What Would Wood-ward Do?
And the answer was obvious, of course. Woodward would work the story.
Inhaling a deep breath, she glanced left and appraised the person nearest her in the second-to-the-last pew. Middle-aged lady, politely interested expression, quiet mauve suit. A likely source for some basic info.
Abandoning her niche at the outside corner of the pew, Angel slid closer. The filmy chiffon overlay of her sleeveless, little black dress floated up around her knees and she settled it back down before catching the lady's eye.
"Excuse me," she murmured. One of the very few things Angel knew about the artist was that he'd married. "I wonder if you could point out the widow."
Ms. Mauve took her time giving a less-than-neighborly once-over, which made Angel sorry she'd tucked her hair beneath her hat. She had yards of the curly blond stuff, and though it was a real pain to manage, it did take ten years off her age. That was a real blessing in the news-gathering biz, because people tended to trust those who looked more vulnerable than they.
It was another long moment before the woman finally spoke. "Stephen Whitney," she said in a biting whisper, "didn't believe in black."
Angel glanced down at her dark dress. "Oh." That explained why she was the lone beetle among the throng of butterflies in the room. She'd thought it was the heat that had everyone wearing pastels. "How, uh ... colorful of him."
When her comment did nothing to endear her to Ms. Mauve, Angel gave up and slid back toward her corner. But instead of the outside of her right leg finding the inside edge of the wooden pew, it found the long, hard thigh of a man.
"Oh!" Angel exclaimed again, scooting away to stare at the person who had invaded her corner when she wasn't looking. "Pardon me."
He glanced at her. Well, she supposed he did. It was hard to tell exactly what he was looking at when his eyes were hidden behind the dark lenses of Armani sunglasses.
"Don't mention it," he said in a low voice, his attention returning forward.
For some odd reason, Angel's attention stayed on him. He must have known Stephen Whitney better than she, because the man beside her was dressed in a butter-yellow linen shirt and a light olive suit. Both the suit and the shirt looked a little too big on him. He was very tan -- oh, like, for sure, the tan, the expensive suit, and those fancy shades just screamed Malibu Beach -- and his shiny dark hair untidily brushed his collar in an I-don't-give-a-damn sort of way.
As if sensing her continued regard, he turned his head her way again.
A sharp jolt of somethingsomething like ... like ... uh, recognition? -- straightened her in her seat and stirred a sexy little tickle low in her belly. Angel barely suppressed the sudden urge to squirm against the wooden bench as her hormones said, Hell-o! You gotta check this guy out!
But then, thank God, in dour, sensible tones, her head reminded the rest of her they were at a funeral. Stephen Whitney's funeral.
Feeling an embarrassed flush rising up her neck, she tried glossing over the awkward moment with a warm smile ...Do Not Disturb. Copyright © by Christie Ridgway. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.