Hot Wheels and High Heels
By Jane Graves
Forever Copyright © 2007 Jane Graves
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-446-61786-4
On July twenty-fifth, Darcy McDaniel lost her house, her husband, and her self-respect. Then things really went downhill.
Looking back, she should have known something was up. After all, her husband, Warren, hoarded money like a survivalist hoards ammo, yet he made reservations at a five-star resort in Cancún, handed her two airline tickets, told her to grab her friend Carolyn, and live it up for a week. As he hustled her out the door, Darcy remembered thinking that even though he was fifty-seven, he was still a little young for senility. Unfortunately, she took his sudden generosity as a good thing, and that was about as far as her thought process on the matter went.
She and Carolyn spent a glorious week in Cancún. Scantily clad waiters brought them pitchers of margaritas while they lolled in beach chairs and dragged their toes in the sand. They ate the most superb gourmet food; had spa treatments involving hot rocks, cold compresses, and Alonzo's magical hands; and soaked up enough sun to give their skin a healthy glow without turning it into lizard hide.
After flying back to Dallas, they air-kissed and promised to make a trip to Mexico an annual tradition. Darcy hopped into her Mercedes Roadster, put down the top, and sped out of long-term parking at DFW. She jacked up the radio and savored the last moments of her vacation before going home to Warren.
At four-thirty in the afternoon, the Texas sun beat down on her shoulders like a blowtorch, but she liked the feel of the wind tossing her hair and the appreciative smiles of the men she zipped past, some of them young enough to be her ... younger brothers. She smiled back, knowing they figured she was thirty, tops. Actually, she was thirty-nine, with the big four-oh only a few weeks away. She surprised herself by not caring about that. Thanks to her personal trainer, her hair colorist, and the miracle that was Botox, it was a secret no one ever had to know.
She stopped at Doggie Domain to pick up Pepé, who was delighted to see her. The tap, tap, tap of his tiny toenails, along with his buggy little eyes staring up at her adoringly, made her heart melt. She scooped him up and rubbed her cheek over his silky hair, inhaling the aroma of vanilla-scented doggie shampoo. Long-haired Chihuahuas weren't any less neurotic than short-haired ones, but all that hair did help cushion the frantic beating of their little hearts. Still, Pepé's was thumping even faster than normal, because it always freaked him out a little to be away from home. But since Warren didn't communicate well with other species, letting Pepé stay with people who spoke dog-particularly dog with a Mexican accent-was better for all concerned.
By the time Darcy reached Plano, it was nearly five o'clock. She drove down Preston Road, which was flanked by immaculate strip malls, restaurants, and movie theaters. Everything in Plano was brand-new and squeaky clean, unless of course you crossed Central Expressway into old east Plano, which was what Plano used to be before it became home base for a substantial segment of corporate America. Over there you'd better have a damned good car alarm and hang on to your wallet with both hands. She'd grown up in east Plano, so she knew for a fact it was a good place to be from.
A few minutes later, Darcy was motoring down Briarwood Lane, heading for her house at the end of the block. On either side of the street, huge two-story brick houses stood as monuments to upward mobility, with massive front doors inset with etched glass, arched windows, pristine landscaping, and a swimming pool in every backyard. Coming home to a place she loved after a week of being pampered put her in such a fabulous mood that when Warren got home, she was going to hand him a glass of water and a little blue pill and show him her appreciation. She swung into the alley, then pulled into her driveway, hit the garage door opener, and got a shock.
Two unfamiliar cars sat in the garage.
Her first thought was that since Warren had a thing for cars, he'd done a little buying or trading while she was out of town. That theory might have held water, except one of the cars was a Buick sedan and the other a Ford Explorer, and Warren would never have bought any vehicles so painfully ordinary.
Houseguests? While she was away?
She grabbed Pepé and got out of the car. On her way through the garage to the back door, she noticed a car seat in the back of the SUV.
Houseguests with kids?
She went inside and set Pepé down. He trotted off with a jingle of dog tags. When she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she got another surprise. Four strangers sat at her breakfast-room table.
And Warren was nowhere in sight.
Odd little chills snaked up her spine. She put her handbag on the kitchen counter. Several boxes sat along one wall, a few of them standing open. She had no idea what that was all about.
She feigned a friendly smile. "Uh ... hello?"
A thirtysomething man in a rumpled polo shirt was holding up a forkful of pasta, as if he'd stopped midbite when he heard her come in. The nondescript woman beside him looked equally dumbstruck, an expression that exaggerated the frown lines around her mouth. The ponytailed preschool girl kicked her feet back and forth and blinked curiously. The baby sitting in a high chair smashed a graham cracker in his fist, then deposited the crumbs all over Darcy's marble tile floor.
The man stood up, his brows drawing together like dueling caterpillars. "Who are you?"
Darcy eased back, feeling a little defensive. Wasn't she the one who should be asking that question?
"You must be friends of Warren's," she said.
"Warren?" the man said. "Warren McDaniel?"
"Yes. I'm his wife, Darcy."
At first Darcy took his surprise to mean that he thought a woman her age-you know, thirty-couldn't possibly be married to a man as old as Warren. Most people thought that. Even she thought that. But something else lurked behind this man's confusion.
"Yes," she said carefully. "His wife. Didn't he tell you he was married?"
After the man and his wife exchanged a few more of those stunned looks, he cleared his throat. "Actually, he ..."
The man swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing wildly. "He told us you were ... uh ..."
Darcy went totally still. It took a full ten seconds for her to even comprehend the word, then another five or so to find her voice. "Warren told you I was dead?"
"Yes. He said there was a car accident in Cancún. Those Mexican cabdrivers, you know. It was very, uh ... tragic."
Tragic? Tragic? The only tragedy here was just how delusional these people were. Or maybe it was Warren who was delusional.
Or maybe she really was dead.
For a moment Darcy actually considered that The Sixth Sense might be more than just escapist entertainment. Still, she was quite certain she hadn't gone to heaven in the backseat of a Mexican cab. Now, she had taken a spill off a jet ski and sucked in a little surf, but she'd made it back to the beach still breathing. And she'd driven home from the airport, hadn't she? Everyone knew if a dead person tried to drive, his hands passed right through the steering wheel. She'd seen Ghost. That mind-over-matter thing was way harder than it looked.
No, the problem here wasn't her death, or lack of it, but the fact that she didn't know who the hell these people were-and that her husband was missing in action.
"Where's Warren?" she asked.
When they shrugged, she felt her confusion melt into frustration, which oozed into annoyance. Finally she just let it loose.
"Excuse me, but ... who are you people?"
She spoke a little louder than she'd intended, and they recoiled as if she'd physically shoved them. The baby stopped littering her breakfast-room floor, screwing up his face as if he was going to cry. Pepé's buggy little eyes grew even buggier. The woman fiddled with the silver bracelet she wore and deferred to her husband. When he shot her a helpless look, she turned back to Darcy, shrugging weakly.
"I guess with you being, you know, dead and all, your husband didn't tell you he ..."
"Sold the house."
Wooziness overcame her. Warren sold the house. The words whacked the outside of her skull, trying desperately to get through. Entry was denied.
"We had to make a decision quickly," the man said, "but we had cash and were ready to buy, and it was such a steal, especially with all the contents thrown in. This big house at the price he was asking ... well, you understand. We couldn't say no."
Darcy started to shake a little, sure she was going to be sick. But she managed to hold up her palms, laughing a little in that way people do when they know there has to be some mistake. "There has to be some mistake," she said, in case they missed the laugh.
"No," the man said. "No mistake. I can show you the closing papers."
The guy dug through a kitchen drawer and produced a stack of legal-sized paper and shoved it at her. She saw only one thing clearly before her vision went all blurry. Warren's signature.
Good God, he'd actually done it.
She was about to shout, This is my house, too! How could he sell it without my signature?
Then she remembered the papers she'd signed fourteen years ago before they got married, the ones that short-circuited Texas's community property laws. Warren had the right to do anything he wanted to with this house, and she couldn't do a thing about it.
Consciousness seemed to fade a little, leaving her dazed and confused. Then a horrendous thought jerked her back to reality.
"Where are my things?" she said, her voice rising with panic. "My clothes? My shoes? My jewelry?"
The woman and her husband exchanged those glances again.
"He took your jewelry with him," the woman said, "but he left everything else. So this morning we called Goodwill-"
Darcy actually screamed. Or, at least, she thought she did, but it was hard to tell when the world was moving in slow motion and her head felt as if it were underwater, where voices get muffled.
She raced to the front entry and scrambled up the stairs, images of street people filling her mind. She saw them huddled in doorways wearing her Emilio Pucci pants and smoking Camel nonfilters. Stretched out on park benches, using her Gucci jackets as pillows. Carrying drug paraphernalia in her Fendi bag. And whatever clothes of hers they weren't wearing were stuffed inside rusty shopping carts, suffocating beneath something flowered and polyester from the Kathie Lee Collection.
Darcy went into the master bedroom and threw open the closet door. It was like looking into an eclipse, because she was blinded by the most pedestrian clothing she'd ever seen. Cotton T-shirts. Sneakers and flip-flops. Enough denim that Levi Strauss had to be feeling the shortage. They were clothes only a mother could love-the mother downstairs with the husband and two kids and the title to Darcy's house.
She ran to the jewelry box on her dresser and yanked open the door. It was empty. Visions of pawnshops danced in her head, their grimy glass cases displaying her gold Lacroix bracelet, her diamond chandelier earrings, her Cartier watch. As she stood there sucking in sharp, horrified breaths and gaping at the black hole where her jewelry used to be, the truth finally sank in.
It was gone. Everything was gone. What the hell had Warren done to her?
Strangely, it hadn't occurred to her yet to question the why of the situation. She was still dealing with the what, when, where, and how. She ran back down the stairs and wheeled around to the living room, where she spied the French art deco vase she'd gotten at the Moonsong Gallery on McKinney Street. Whatever Warren's plans were, they clearly didn't include her, so when it hit home that she'd gone from having everything to having nothing, she was determined that she wasn't leaving this house without something.
She grabbed the vase and stuck it under her arm. She took the silver candlesticks from the mantle, plunked them inside the vase, and grabbed the Waterford clock from the end table. She spied the wine rack in the dining room and started toward it, intending to snatch the bottle of 1996 Penfolds Grange Shiraz that these people were going to drink over her dead body.
She had to hand it to the new homeowners. They knew temporary insanity when they saw it, and they were smart enough to back off and call 911. But that didn't slow Darcy down. She knew she was slipping off the deep end, but she was caught in one of those weird out-of-body experiences where she was watching herself doing something stupid but couldn't stop. She told them she didn't care what Warren had done. She didn't care if they had a ream of closing papers. She didn't care what kind of evil prenuptial agreement she'd signed. The things in this house were hers, and she wasn't letting them go without a fight.
Just when she was wishing for a third hand so she could grab the Tarkay serigraph off the wall, she heard a rapid-fire knock at the door.
Plano's finest had arrived.
Cop number one was an older guy who looked like a hound dog minus the floppy ears. Cop number two was a cute young guy who'd been there a couple of times when their security alarm had gone off by mistake. He'd been friendly beyond the call of duty, giving her a few suggestive smiles in spite of the fact that he wore a wedding ring. Now he was looking at her as if she were a crazed asylum escapee. But that was only fair, because she was feeling a little differently about him, too. Those other times, she'd noticed how cute his legs looked in his summer cop shorts and the way his green eyes sparkled by the light of her foyer chandelier. Now she saw the Gestapo coming to drag her kicking and screaming from her home.
After getting the gist of the situation, the cops managed to pry everything away from her but the bottle of wine, which she had a death grip on. The new homeowners just shoved her handbag at her and waved at the cops to take her away, figuring it was more important to get rid of the crazy woman than it was to have a nice red with dinner.
She scooped up Pepé on her way out the door. Young cop escorted her to her car while old cop spoke to the new homeowners. He came back a few minutes later to tell her that the people had no desire to press charges in spite of the way she'd behaved, as long as she swore she would never step foot in their house again. She countered that the prenup she'd signed didn't cover the things in the house she and Warren had bought since they were married, so he had no right to sell them. Old cop said fine, but that was something that had to be sorted out between her lawyer and her husband's, and for now it would be best if she just left the neighborhood.
Darcy's hands shook as she started her car and backed out of the driveway. She drove down the alley and swung back onto Briarwood Lane just in time to see the cops take a left onto Thornberry. As soon as they were out of sight, she did a one-eighty in the cul-de-sac and headed back down the street, stopping at the curb to have one last look at her house.
Her house? It wasn't her house.
It had never been her house.
At that moment, she wished Mercedes-Benz had taken luxury one step further and installed a corkscrew in the dashboard. Then again, it was probably a good thing they hadn't, or she'd be chugging that two-hundred-dollar bottle of wine like a can of Old Milwaukee.
Okay. She had to get a grip. Talk to Warren. Find out why he'd done this to her. She pulled out her cell phone and called Warren's office to talk to his secretary. If anyone would know where he was, Lucy would. She was an earthy little woman utterly lacking in fashion sense, which gave her that much more room in her brain for things like efficiency and professionalism and organizational skills. So Darcy was surprised when the woman greeting her sounded a little befuddled. She told Darcy she hadn't seen Warren for the past two days, and he had a client presentation this afternoon. Did she have any idea where he was?
Stunned, Darcy hung up the phone. This couldn't be happening. Warren had kissed his job good-bye, along with that big, beautiful paycheck?
That led her to another thought that made her even queasier than before. Warren could subsist a long time on the profit from the house, but not in the style to which he was accustomed. But if he piled a few more assets on top of it ...
Darcy called information, who then connected her to their bank. She asked about their checking accounts. The perky little clerk on the other end informed her that all three of them had been cleaned out and closed two days ago.
Excerpted from Hot Wheels and High Heels by Jane Graves Copyright © 2007 by Jane Graves. Excerpted by permission.
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