Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A young artist's obsession with mirrors entangles her in the scandals and power struggles of Atlanta's wealthiest and most influential family in prolific Hooper's (After Caroline) new novel of contemporary romantic suspense. At the Kilbourne estate auction, striking redhead Laura Sutherland is delighted to acquire a beautiful 200-year-old mirror for her collection. But she's no longer convinced her purchase is a bargain when magnetic Peter Kilbourne turns up dead only hours after attempting to buy back the mirror, and the police immediately consider her a suspect. Intent on proving her innocenceand inexplicably drawn to the history of the mirrorLaura becomes a regular visitor to the Kilbourne estate and meets the rest of the eccentric clan. She is immediately attracted to Peter's brother, enigmatic Daniel, the heir to the fortune. A soupon of magical second sight, sexual seduction and the devious machinations of a powerful Southern family intertwine as Laura becomes more deeply enmeshed in Kilbourne affairs. Hooper keeps the intrigue pleasurably complicated, with gothic touches of suspense and a satisfying resolution. (Oct.)
Hooper's Gothic novels (e.g., Amanda, LJ 10/15/95) have sold more than four million copies. Here, a young woman is implicated in the death of the wealthy head of a Southern clan.
Hooper's latest paranormal romance (After Caroline, 1996, etc.) tackles reincarnation in a modern southern gothic mode, with lots of coupling in the gazebo.
The benighted Kilbourne family has not known a natural death in 150 years. No one dies in bed, and all the men seem to meet their maker somewhere before middle age. At an improbable super- duper garage sale at the magnificent Kilbourne estate in Atlanta, Laura Sutherland buys a small hand mirror made in 1800. Laura has always been obsessed with mirrors, though she doesn't know why, any more than she understands her other eccentricities: her refusal to cut her red hair, for example, and a dislike of Christmas. Right after handsome Peter Kilbourne offers to buy back the antique mirror from her, he's murdered, and Laura immediately becomes a suspect. In order to clear herself, she visits the Kilbournesand runs right into panther-like Daniel Kilbourne, virtual head of the family. Her reaction to him is something beyond chemical: It's immediate and cosmic, and apparently Daniel feels the same. Meantime, he's involved in a power struggle with the family matriarch, Amelia, who asks Laura to stick around and paint her portrait. During stormy nights at the Kilbournes', Laura and Daniel become lovers. (Two other romances also play out amid the search for Peter's killer.) And while all this is happening, a college student is researching the colorful history of the mirror. In no time at all, the reseacher discovers that it has always been owned by lovers: not just garden-variety married couples, but passionate, inseparable beloveds who meet mainly because of the mirror. Could it be that the same two lovers have been reincarnated, and then re-reincarnated, over the past two centuries?
Despite the adult sex and good surprise ending: a treacly adolescent affair, just a few steps beyond paper dolls and Barbie.
From the Publisher
"A master storyteller."
"Kay Hooper is a multitalented author whose stories always pack a tremendous punch."
Read an Excerpt
"Did you kill my brother?" he repeated when she remained silent.
"No." She shook her head a little, her wide eyes never leaving his. "No, I didn't kill him. I didn't know him."
Daniel came into the room slowly, relying on the control built over a lifetime to keep his expression unreadable. He went past her to the compact wet bar between the windows. "Drink?" She shook her head, and Daniel fixed a small Scotch for himself. He wasn't a drinking man, but he needed one now.
Turning once again to face her, he moved toward her until he could rest a hand on the back of the couch between them. He sipped his drink, watching her, then said, "Peter went to see you Saturday. So you did know him."
"I met him then," she said, steady now. "But I didn't know him. He spent less than fifteen minutes in my apartment, and then he left. That's the only time in my life I've ever seen your brother."
"Do you expect me to believe that?"
"It's the truth."
"Of course, you would say that, wouldn't you?"
She drew a little breath, her fingers playing nervously with the strap of her shoulder bag. "You know I bought a mirror at your estate sale Saturday?"
He nodded. "Yes. The police asked me to verify that Peter had gone to see you because of the mirror."
"You verified it?"
"Then you know I was a stranger to him."
He smiled slightly without amusement. "I know that's the way it appeared."
"It's the way it was. He came to see me because he wanted to buy the mirror back. Do you--do you know why?"
Daniel looked down at his drink, moving his hand to swirl theice cubes around in the glass. "No."
He's lying. Laura knew it. She didn't know why he was lying, but she knew he was. She watched him lift the glass to his lips, her gaze fastening onto his right hand. He wore a big gold ring with a carved green stone that might have been jade or emerald, and there was something eerily familiar about how he held the glass with only his thumb and two fingers.
It was difficult for her to think clearly; she was still shaken and bewildered by the instant physical attraction she had felt to him. She had never been a woman who reacted to men quickly, cautious in that as she was in no other area of her life, and she wasn't quite sure how to cope with what she felt. He was a stranger, and a man moreover who thought her at least capable of being a killer, yet she couldn't take her eyes off him, and all her senses had opened up so intensely that she felt nakedly unprotected.
Daniel lacked Peter's beauty, but his harsh features were compelling in a sensual way that made the younger brother seem almost absurdly boyish in retrospect. Daniel's big, powerful body moved with uncanny grace, with the ease of muscles under absolute and unthinking control, and his very size and strength spoke of command, of natural forces just barely contained. She thought of a big cat moving silently through a dark and dangerous jungle, and the image was so strong she could have sworn there was a scent of primitive wildness in the room.
To Laura's bewilderment, her body seemed to open up just as her senses had, to soften and grow receptive as if in invitation. Her skin heated, her muscles relaxed, her breathing quickened. Her knees felt weak, shaky. She felt an actual physical ache of desire.
My God, what's happening to me?
Struggling inwardly to control what she felt, to concentrate on what she had come here to find out, Laura managed to speak evenly. "You don't know why Peter wanted to buy the mirror back, but you know that's why he came to see me on Saturday?"
"As I told the police." His pale eyes were fixed on her face, intent, almost hypnotically intense. He was absently swirling the ice around and around in his glass, the movement causing his ring to flash shards of green.
His hand was long-fingered and strong; she wondered if his touch would be sensitive or if it would overpower with its strength. A flare of heat burned inside her as speculation created a rawly sexual image in her mind. "You don't know why the mirror was important to Peter?" she asked with an effort.
"That's what I said." His voice was even, his gaze unreadable.
Whatever she felt, he seemed unaffected, and seemed not to notice that she hardly shared his composure. Laura tried to draw a steadying breath without making the need for one obvious. "He said the mirror was an heirloom. Is it?"
"As far as I know, Miss Sutherland, it was one of many unused, unwanted items packed away in the attic by God knows who, God knows how many years ago." He had only a trace of a Southern accent, something common to people who had lived and traveled much outside the South.
"Would anyone else in the family know more about it?"
"I doubt it." He was abrupt now, a slight frown narrowing his eyes. And it's not really the best time to ask them, he might as well have added.
It struck Laura for the first time that Daniel seemed completely unmoved for a man who had buried his brother two days before. Had the two men disliked each other? Or was Daniel merely a controlled man who gave away little of his emotions? He certainly looked hard, with those harsh features and chilly blue eyes, and though his attitude toward her said plainly that he was not inclined to believe her relationship with his brother had been either recent or innocent, he didn't appear angered or in any way disturbed by the possibility that his brother's murderer might be standing before him.
Still, he was obviously at least conscious that his was a house of mourning, and she wondered if that was why he had agreed to meet and talk to her--so that other members of the family, closer to Peter, would not be disturbed.
Slowly she said, "But you don't believe the mirror has any value to anyone in the family?"
"I don't believe anyone else will wish to buy it back from you, no," he replied indifferently. His wide shoulders moved in a slight shrug, drawing her eyes and causing her concentration to waver yet again. There was so much of strength and power about him, so much of force or the possibility of force. And yet she wasn't afraid of him, she thought.
Aware, suddenly, of a silence that had gone on just those few seconds too long, she said hastily, "Then you won't mind if I try to find out why Peter wanted to buy it back."
He lifted an eyebrow. "Mind? No. But just how do you propose to do that?"
"It's an old mirror; it's bound to have a history. I have a researcher looking into that."
Laura hesitated an instant before answering him. "I . . . collect mirrors, so I probably would have done it anyway just out of curiosity. But since your brother tried to buy the mirror back, and then was killed hours later, I need to know if there was some connection to his murder. For my own peace of mind."
Hearing something in his voice, she said tightly, "The only connection between your brother and me is that mirror, Mr. Kilbourne. I was not having an affair with him, if that's what you think."
His eyes were narrowed again, fixed on her face, and his voice was very deliberate when he said, "I haven't quite made up my mind what I think about you, Miss Sutherland. Let's just say I knew my brother very well. He never met a beautiful woman he didn't try to get into his bed. And that was not something at which he often failed."
Laura ignored the backhanded compliment. "Be that as it may, I'm not in the habit of sleeping with men on fifteen minutes' acquaintance. Or married men at all, for that matter. Whatever you think of your brother's morals, you have no right to make assumptions about mine." He'll incline his head slightly to the side in that mocking way.
He did just as she expected, the gesture familiar to her for no reason she could explain to herself.
"I was brought up never to call a lady a liar," he said dryly. "So we appear to have a standoff. I don't quite believe your relationship with my brother was innocent, and you have no way of proving it was."
The fact that he was all too right about the latter point was something Laura found distinctly unsettling. She didn't want anyone to believe she had been sexually involved with Peter Kilbourne, not the public, not the press, not the police, not the family--and most certainly not this man.
"At least believe I didn't kill him," she said, hearing the plea in her voice.
She thought that harsh face might have softened imperceptibly, thought there was a glint of warmth in the chilly eyes, but whatever Daniel would have replied to her plea was lost forever when a new force entered the study.
"Why didn't you tell me we had a visitor, Daniel?"
I would love to paint her, was Laura's first thought.
Amelia Kilbourne, without question. She was a tiny old woman, hardly over five feet tall and seemingly frail, walking with a silver-headed cane even though her posture was upright. Her face hadn't changed all that much in sixty years, retaining the high, sharp cheekbones and jaw so obvious in the painting, as well as the high-bridged nose and clear dark eyes. Her snowy white hair was arranged in a smooth and immensely flattering pompadour, her turn-of-the-century-style black dress was floor-length, high-necked, and made of lace over some shimmery material that seemed more suitable for a dinner party than an afternoon of a day of mourning. But, like the hairstyle, the old-fashioned style of clothing suited her to perfection.
Daniel looked at the old lady before he spoke, and for an instant it seemed to Laura that there was a silent battle of wills going on, his pale eyes hard and her dark ones holding an expression that was somewhat defiant and--afraid?
Then Daniel said expressionlessly, "This is Laura Sutherland. My grandmother, Amelia Kilbourne."
"Mrs. Kilbourne," Laura murmured, not knowing what to expect from this member of the family.
Amelia moved across the room with apparent ease and without leaning on her cane, and sat down at Laura's end of one of the leather sofas. She gestured to the other one with an elegant hand and said pleasantly, "Hasn't my grandson asked you to sit down? Do, please."
Laura did, overwhelmingly aware of Daniel standing silently behind her. "I didn't mean to intrude, Mrs. Kilbourne. I--I know this is a terrible time. You have my sincere condolences on the death of your grandson." It occurred to her only then that she had not offered sympathy to Daniel for his brother's death, and she wondered if that oversight had been because his effect on her had pushed politeness aside or because she had sensed immediately that he would not want condolences from her.
"Thank you, Miss Sutherland. Or may I call you Laura?" Her voice was soft, her accent more Alabama than Georgia.
"And everyone calls me Amelia. I hope you will."
"Thank you." Laura could almost feel Daniel's sardonic gaze on the back of her head, and wished to heaven he'd move around the sofa where she could keep an eye on him. It was like having the big cat of her imagination crouching in darkness behind her, ready at any moment to spring forward and devour--or at least seize--his prey.
And she felt more than a little uncomfortable facing his grandmother, wondering how swiftly Amelia's gracious manner would desert her when she found out just who their visitor really was. But then Amelia spoke again, her tone still pleasant, and it became clear that she knew exactly who she was entertaining.
"I understand the police are looking for evidence connecting you to my grandson, Laura."
It was hardly a question, and the suddenness of it caught Laura off guard, but she tried to keep her voice steady when she said, "I met Peter for the first time on Saturday, Mrs. Kilbourne."
"Amelia, my dear. Please."
"Amelia, then. Thank you. He just came to my apartment to talk about a mirror I bought here that day."
"Yes, my dear, so the police said." Amelia brushed the mirror aside, uninterested. "But it appears that Peter was seen several times in the company of a beautiful redhead, and it seems the police want to cast you in that part." Her tone was brisk and matter-of-fact, and if she found it distressing that her grandson should have been seen in the company of a woman not his wife, she didn't let her feelings show.
His voice level, Daniel said, "Have you been talking to the police, Amelia? I thought we agreed that I would handle them."
"You forget, Daniel, the commissioner is an old friend of mine." She glanced up at him, a hint of pleased triumph in her eyes. "He called to tell me how the case was progressing."
"And obviously," Daniel said grimly, "let his tongue run away with his judgment."
"Nonsense. Why shouldn't I be told the facts? I'm Peter's grandmother, after all."
"The facts, Amelia? You'll learn the facts if this ever gets to a courtroom. In the meantime all you'll hear are theories and speculation. Because that's all the police have, until they find evidence. Peter is dead; that's a fact. Somebody killed him; that's another fact. And that's all we know."
The hard force of his words didn't seem to affect Amelia unduly; she merely moved her thin shoulders in a delicate shrug. "If you're hoping to protect Kerry from public speculation about Peter's women, I would say it's too late for that, Daniel. Far too late."
Laura sat very still, watching Amelia and listening to her and Daniel talk as if no third person were in the room. She was trying to define the undercurrents she felt between these two, trying to understand what it was she heard in their voices and saw in their manner toward each other. Was it dislike? A natural struggle between two powerful, willful people, or something more? Daniel seemed to choose his words carefully, yet it was clear he was at odds with his grandmother; Amelia appeared somewhat wary of her grandson, and yet there was also defiance in her attitude.
And neither of them, so far as Laura could tell, was grieving much for the man they had buried two days ago.
"It may be too late to spare Kerry's feelings," Daniel said to Amelia, still grim, "but I don't think Laura should be dragged through the mud with nothing more than circumstantial evidence against her--and precious little of that. Was it you who gave the press her name, Amelia?"
Laura turned her head to stare at him, conscious of a little shock to hear him use her name so casually. "How did you know they had my name? It hasn't been printed in the newspapers."
Daniel looked down at her briefly. "I know because several reporters called here asking insolent questions."
"Did you tell them not to print my name?" she wondered.
"I reminded them that freedom of the press did not include the right to libel, and since you had not been arrested, it wouldn't be wise of them to print your name in connection with my brother's murder."
She wanted to ask him why he was bent on defending her from the press when he was