Read an Excerpt
See How She Dies
By LISA JACKSON
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2004 Lisa Jackson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIf only she could remember.
If only she knew the truth.
If only she were certain she wasn't on a fool's mission. She glanced up at the dark October sky and felt the gentle wash of Oregon mist against her face. Had she ever tilted her head back and let the moistness linger on her lips and cheeks? Had she stood on this very corner, across the street from the old Hotel Danvers, holding onto her mother's hand, waiting for the light to change?
Traffic rushed by, cars and buses spraying water as tires splashed through puddles. Deep in the folds of her coat she shivered, but not from the cool autumn air, or the breath of a breeze rolling off the dank Willamette River only a few blocks to the east. No, she shivered at the thought of what she was planning to do-her destiny, or so she'd been told. She knew she was in for the battle of her life.
But she was committed. She couldn't give up now. She'd traveled hundreds of miles, been through emotional hell and back, and spent days searching her soul during painstaking, laborious hours in libraries and newspaper offices throughout the Northwest, reading every chronicle, article, or editorial she could find on the Danvers family.
Now her plans were about to come to fruition. Or ruin. She stared up at the hotel, seven stories of Victorian architecture, which had once been one of the tallest buildings in the city and now was dwarfed by its concrete-and-steel counterparts, great skyscrapers that knifed upward, looming over the narrow city streets. "God help me," she whispered. As beautiful as it was, the edifice of the Hotel Danvers seemed sinister somehow, as if it knew secrets-dark secrets-that could change the course of her life forever.
Which was just plain silly.
Still, Adria felt a chill that had nothing to do with the wind whipping through Portland's narrow streets.
Without waiting for the light to change, she dashed across the street, the hood of her coat blowing off with a strong gust of wind. Daylight began to fade as the cloud-shrouded sun settled behind the westerly hills, hills still rich with green forests and dotted by expensive mansions.
Though the Hotel Danvers was closed to the public, as it had been for the past few months while it was being renovated and brought back to its turn-of-the-century grandeur, she walked through the lobby door that had been propped open for the workmen. The renovation was nearly complete. For the past two days she'd watched as delivery vans had brought tables, chairs, and other furniture to the service entrance. Today, linens, glassware, even some food had been delivered in anticipation of the grand opening, which was slated for the weekend.
The entire Danvers clan, Witt Danvers's first wife and his four surviving children, were rumored to be in town. Good.
A cold fist of apprehension tightened in her stomach. Ever since learning of the hotel's closure and reopening, she'd planned her introduction to the family, but first, to test the waters, she needed to speak with the man in charge of the hotel's face-life: Zachary Danvers, the rebel of the family and second son to Witt. According to every article she'd read, Zachary had never quite fit in. The Danvers family resemblance, so evident in his brothers and sisters, had skipped over him, and during his youth he'd had more than one brush with the law. Only the old man's money had kept Zachary out of serious trouble, and gossip had it that not only was he the least favorite of Witt's children but was also nearly cut out of the old man's will.
Yes, Zachary was the man she needed to see first. She'd studied his photographs so often, she knew she would recognize him. A little over six feet, with coal-black hair, olive skin, and deep-set gray eyes guarded by heavy brows, he was the one son of Witt Danvers who didn't resemble his father. Leaner than his brothers or the bear of a man who had sired him, his features were as chiseled as the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He was a rugged man, rawhide-tough with a hard mouth that was rarely photographed in a smile. He bore a scar over his right ear that interrupted his hairline, and his broken nose was testament to his violent temper.
In the lobby two men were staggering under the weight of a long couch wrapped in plastic. She heard other workers talking in the background, saw hotel employees and workmen scurrying to and from the dining room and kitchen located opposite the front doors. The smells of cleaning solvent, turpentine, and varnish greeted her, and the whine of a skill saw screaming through the vestibule was muted by the rumble of industrial vacuums.
As the workmen shoved the couch near a huge fireplace, she paused in the lobby and eyed the hotel that had once been the most opulent in Portland, a place for dignitaries and town fathers to gather, where decisions were made and the shape of the future had been planned. She gazed upward to the intricate stained-glass windows that rose over the outer doors where they caught the last rays of daylight and cast a pool of amber, rose, and blue on the tile floor in front of the desk.
She swallowed against a lump that closed her throat; this hotel was her legacy. Her birthright. Her future.
Or was it?
There was only one way to find out. She headed for the wide, curved staircase that swept upward to the balcony.
"Hey, you! Lady, we're closed!" The voice, deep and male, was coming from a big, burly man poised on the top of a high scaffold positioned under the second-floor landing. He was fiddling with the chandelier situated over the lobby desk.
Ignoring him, she started up the carpeted steps.
"Hey, I'm talkin' to you!"
She hesitated, her hand trailing on the banister. This wasn't going to be easy, but the electrician was only a small stumbling block. The first of many. With a determined smile meant to disarm him, she turned and squared her shoulders. "Are you Zachary Danvers?" she asked, knowing full well he wasn't.
"Are you related to the Danvers family?"
"What the hell?" Beneath the edge of his hard hat, he scowled at her. "No, of course not, but you can't go up there!"
"I have a meeting with Zachary Danvers," she insisted, her voice filled with chilly authority.
"A meeting?" the electrician repeated, obviously not believing her bluff.
She stared at the worker without giving an inch. "A meeting."
"That's news to me. I'm his foreman and he didn't mention anything about it." His scowl grew dark. Suspicious.
"Maybe he forgot," she said, as she forced a cold smile. "But I need to talk to him or a member of the Danvers family."
"He'll be back in a half-hour or so," the man said reluctantly.
"I'll wait for him. In the ballroom."
"Hey, I don't think-"
Without another glance in his direction, she hurried up the remaining stairs. Her boots were muffled on the thick carpet and her breath was shallow, a sign of her case of nerves.
"Shit," the man muttered under his breath, but stayed atop his perch and turned back to his work. "Damned women ..."
Her heart was beating so fast she could hardly breathe, but at the top of the landing, she turned unerringly to the left and shouldered open the double doors. The room was dark. Her throat closed in on itself and with her fingers she fumbled for the light switch.
In a glorious blaze, the ballroom was suddenly lit by hundreds of miniature candles suspended in teardrop-shaped chandeliers. Her heart nearly stopped at the sight of the polished oak floor, the bank of tall, arched windows, the dizzying light from a million little bulbs that reflected in the cut crystal.
Her throat clogged and she blinked back tears. This was where it had all happened? Where the course of her young life had been thrown from its predestined path and into uncharted territory?
Why? She chewed on her lower lip. Oh, God, why couldn't she remember?
October rain slid down his hair and under the collar of his jacket. Dead leaves, already sodden, clung to the sidewalk and were beaten with the thick Oregon mist that seemed to rise from the wet streets and gather at the corners of the buildings. Cars, delivery vans, and trucks roared by, their headlights feeble against the watery illumination from the street lamps.
Zachary Danvers was pissed. This job had lasted too long, and wasted too much of his time. What little pride he had in the renovation was tarnished. Working here made him feel like a hypocrite, and he was thankful the project was just about over. Muttering oaths at himself, his brothers, and especially at his dead father, he pushed open the glass doors of the old hotel. He'd spent a year of his life here. A year. All because of a promise he'd made at his father's deathbed a couple of years ago. Because he'd been greedy.
His stomach soured at the thought. Maybe he was more like the old man than he wanted to admit.
The hotel manager, a newly hired nervous type with thinning hair and an Adam's apple that worked double time, was laying down the law with a new clerk behind a long mahogany desk, the pride of the lobby. Zachary had discovered the battered piece of dark wood in a century-old tavern located off Burnside in a decrepit building. The tavern had been scheduled to be razed, but Zach had decided to take the time to have the bar restored. Now the once-scarred mahogany gleamed under the lights.
All the fixtures in the hotel had been replaced with antiques or damned-close replicas, and now the hotel could boast an authentic 1890s charm with 1990s conveniences.
The advertising people had loved that turn of phrase.
Why'd he'd agreed to renovate the old hotel still eluded him, though he was beginning to suspect he had developed a latent sense of family pride. "Son of a bitch," he grumbled under his breath. He was tired of the city, the noise, the bad air, the lights, and most of all, his family, or what was left of it.
"Hey, Danvers!" his foreman Frank Gillette yelled from his position on the scaffold twenty feet above the lobby floor. He was tinkering with the wiring of a particularly bad-tempered chandelier. "Been waitin' for you. There's a woman here, in the ballroom. She's been here over an hour."
Zach's eyes narrowed a fraction. "What woman?"
"Didn't give her name. Claimed she had a meetin' with you."
"That's what she said." Frank started down the ladder. "She couldn't talk to me as I wasn't a-and I'm quotin' here-'member of the Danvers family.'"
Frank hopped to the floor and dusted his hands. He drew a wrinkled handkerchief from his back pocket and rubbed it under the brim of his hard hat.
From somewhere near the kitchen there was a crash and rattle of silverware that echoed through the hotel.
"Christ!" Frank's head snapped up, and he narrowed his eyes at the kitchen. "Damn that Casey."
"Is she a reporter?"
"The woman?" Frank fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes. "Hell if I know. As I said, I'm not a Danvers, so she wouldn't talk to me. Not that I wouldn't mind spending a little time with her."
Frank said, "Beyond a ten."
"Look, all I know is that short of bodily hauling her out of here, we got a problem. No one's supposed to be on the premises. If she slips and falls and breaks her neck and OSHA finds out-"
"You worry to much."
"You pay me to worry." Frank found his crumpled pack of Camels and shook out a cigarette.
"Just finish the job. I'll deal with the insurance people and the woman."
"Good." Smiling as he clicked his lighter, Frank inhaled deeply. "Now, let's see if this mother works. Hey, Roy, turn on the juice." Reaching around the desk, he flipped a switch and stared at the chandelier. Lights shaped like candles blazed for a second before flickering and dying. "Fuckin' wiring" Frank growled, his face turning red, his cigarette bobbing between his lips. "I told that half-wit Jerry to use ... oh, hell!" Exasperated, he shot out a stream of smoke. "Roy, turn it off again!" he roared.
"I'll go talk to the mystery lady."
"Do that," Frank growled as he finished his smoke, then started back up the scaffolding. Zach didn't doubt that by the grand opening, everything would work perfectly. Frank would see to it, if he had to hold two wires together himself.
From the stairs, Zach glanced around the lobby and thought of his father. Witt Danvers. A royal pain in the ass.
Right now, Witt would have been proud of the son he'd disowned half a dozen times. Not that it mattered. Witt Danvers was dead and cremated, his ashes spread across the rolling forests of the Oregon hills two years ago. A just end to a timber baron who had spent all his years raping the land.
Through the leather of his jacket, Zach rubbed the scar in his shoulder, the result of being the son of Witt Danvers. His jaw tightened. It had taken him years to come to terms with the old man, and now it was too late to make amends.
"Rest in peace, you miserable bastard," Zachary said, his lips flattening as he opened the doors. His father had always treated Zach differently from the rest of his children. Not that he cared now. Zach had his own business, his own identity. The noose of being the son of one of Portland's wealthiest men didn't seem quite so tight.
He took two long strides into the ballroom, then stopped dead in his tracks. The woman was there, dressed in a black long coat and matching knee-length boots. She turned at the sound of his entrance, and before she could say a word he knew why she was waiting for him.
Glossy black curls swirled away from a flawless face. Round blue eyes fringed by lacy black lashes stared straight at him. Thin black brows arched inquisitively. He felt as if his heart had stopped for a second as she smiled, showing off beautiful teeth, finely carved cheekbones, and a strong, slightly stubborn chin.
His breath seemed to stop somewhere in his lungs.
"You're Zachary," she said, as if she had every right to stand in the middle of the ballroom-as if she belonged.
Zach's throat was suddenly dry and hot and forbidden memories struggled to the surface of his mind. "Right."
"Danvers," she supplied, her voice low, her lips tightening just a fraction. She smiled slightly, and with her hand extended, walked slowly toward him. "I've been wanting to meet you for a long time," she said, forcing a smile. "My name is-"
"London" he supplied as every muscle in his body grew taut with the pain of the past.
"You recognize me?" Hope lighted those blue eyes.
"There's a resemblance. I guessed."
"Oh." She hesitated, the wind suddenly out of her sails.
"But that's why you're here, isn't it?"
"You think you're my long-lost sister." He couldn't hide the cynicism in his words.
Excerpted from See How She Dies by LISA JACKSON Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Jackson . Excerpted by permission.
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