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This was a mistake, Skylar Lawrence thought, climbing out of her car and staring, with increasing foreboding, at the Sagaponak estatean English-country type, with shingles and lots of points and dormer windowssprawled in front of her.
Actually, mistake was the wrong word. A mistake was locking your keys in the car and needing AAA to ride to the rescue, or showing up on Tuesday when you and your pal had scheduled lunch for Wednesday. Under a scenario like that, things could turn out well in the end, and if you played it right, you'd have an amusing story to tell the next time you were forced to attend a cocktail party and needed to fill awkward silences with clever chitchat while you nursed your Cosmopolitan.
What she was doing now was courting disaster, plain and simple.
Showing up late at night. Unannounced.
At the home of her late ex-fiance's fraternal twin.
But she and Alessandro Davies, a man she'd only met once, nearly two years ago, had unfinished business that couldn't wait any longer.
Not that she was looking forward to it.
Nothing good could come of this, her roiling gut told her, and she usually made it a practice to listen to her gut's communications. Usually. Too bad she couldn't this time and had to race, full speed ahead, toward certain and inevitable disaster. Hell, maybe one of the local news stations should send a satellite truck and a reporter to cover unfolding events. It was sure to be quite the show.
She rang the bell anyway.
Overhead, the sky was doing crazy and alarming things. Intermittent forks of lightning illuminated forbidding and swiftly moving gray clouds that seemed primed to unleash hell any second. Some patches of the sky were navy, while others were the kind of bottomless black that seemed to belong in the farthest reaches of space.
The wind whipped her hair to the left, then to the right, and finally threatened to pick up her whole body and smash it into the nearest mature tree. Only her locked knees kept her from becoming like tumble-weed and blowing away. Somewhere behind the house, unseen but violent, the surf crashed against the shore as though it was determined to eradicate the entire beach by morning.
Shivering inside her jeans now, she wished she'd taken the time to grab a heavier jacket before she had left the city and drove out to the Hamptons, but who expected a near hurricane to hit in the middle of February? If the wind kept up like this, she should probably start worrying about whether the estate had a cellar or not.
Oh, God, thoughwhat if no one was home?
She'd be making like King Lear, raging in the storm, wouldn't she?
She rang the bell again.
It would have made sense to call ahead, of course, but she'd really been counting on the element of surprise
The door swung open with a creak straight out of a Vincent Price haunted-house movie. She froze, her hand raised midknock, and scrambled to get her senses together.
A man glared up at her from his seat in a wheelchair. His dark hair, buzzed short, was drill-sergeant crisp, as were his white polo shirt and dark trousers. His impressive barrel chest and bulky arms looked as though they belonged to the current heavyweight-boxing champion of the world.
His legs, she realized, were gone below the knee.
Her cheeks flamed as she caught herself staring and looked back at his face.
The flash in his eyes warned that she had exactly one second to state her business and convince him that she meant no harm before he called the police. Actually, no. Something told her that this bulldog wouldn't bother with niceties like consulting the local authorities. He'd probably just pitch her off the nearest cliff and into the surf.
"What the hell?" he demanded in a voice that came from somewhere on the East Coast. "Are you insane, or what?"
"Or what." She cleared her throat, trying to keep her voice strong and unconcerned. "I'm Skylar Lawrence. I'm here to see Alessandro Davies."
"Jesus Christ, lady. It's after eleven o'clock."
"I know. I apologize."
"There's a freaking monsoon out there."
She tried to keep her wind-whipped hair out of her face so she could see. "I'd noticed. Can I come in before I get struck by lightning?"
His lips thinned with apparent indecision, and she sent up a quick prayer that his innate suspicion would give way to what she hoped was the heart of a gentleman. Shooting a glare at the sky, which now looked like the swirling contents of a witch's cauldron, he backed up enough to open the door an additional inch, let her edge inside, and shut the door behind her.
A quick glance up and down the forbidding hallway made her wonder if she should go back outside and take her chances with the elements.
They were in a massive foyer, the centerpiece of which was a staircase that curved up into the invisible depths of the floor which was where they probably kept the bodies.
She couldn't see much else of the house. They either hadn't paid their electric bill or didn't believe in lamps, and she therefore had to rely on the sketchy moonlight streaming in through the windows. But it did seem like they could either go left or right. The left option apparently led to an abyss. To the right was a long stretch of hallway leading to an open door through which a crack of yellow illumination was visible.
Skylar shivered, trying to get a grip on the dread that trickled down her spine like a single drop of ice water. "Is Alessandro home?"
Mr. Friendly folded his Popeye forearms across his chest and put another roadblock in her way. "This ain't a good time, if you know what I'm saying. You might want to come back"
"No, I don't want to come back." She didn't mean to be rude, but really, did this genius think she'd show up in the middle of the night like this if she had some other option? "I didn't want to drive all the way out here in the first place, but Alessandro forced my hand. So, if you don't mind, just go get him, tell him I'm here, I'll say my piece, and I'll get out of your hair. Okay?"
He was so not moved by her plea. "And what've you got going on that's so doggone important, eh? Someone die or something?"
"Bingo. My ex-fiance died. Antonios. Alessandro's twin brother. As you surely know already." Even in the relative darkness, she could see the color leach out of his skin, making his pale face stand out like a beacon against the gloom. "Can I see Alessandro now?"
"Mother of Mary," the guy breathed. "I should have recognized you. Tony showed us your picture. You're Sky?"
As always, the use of Tony's nickname for her and, hell, the memory of Tony himself, made her throat seize up. "Skylar, yes."
"He talked about you." The guy swallowed audibly, no doubt trying to wrestle his own memories into submission. "You know he loved you, right?"
There it was: the sharp edge of that same dagger carving up her heart. Again. Always. Blinking back a tear or twoshe would not do this, not nowshe swiped at her nose and did her best to produce a smile. It didn't work. "Thank you for telling me. Did you serve with Tony?"
"Yeah." At long last, the guy seemed to remember his manners and stuck out a hand to shake hers in his crushing grip. "Yeah. I'm, ah, Michael Bianchi. People call me Mickey. I'm, ah, sorry for your loss."
If there was an appropriate response to that sentiment, she'd never been able to manage it. This time, she didn't even try. A nod would have to do.
Mickey murmured something unintelligible that sounded gruff and sympathetic.
They both shifted uncomfortably.
"Well," he said, "I'd better get the boss for you"
A sudden bang and the shatter of glass came from somewhere on the second floorher first thought was a shutter flying into a window and breaking itand they heard the ferocious whistle of the wind as it swept down the staircase to meet them. She could just make out the flap of expensive drapes on the other side of the upstairs railing and feel the damp chill of the rain, which was now, apparently, falling in sheets.
"Shit. Not the mural. Not the mural." Forgetting all about her for the moment, Mickey wheeled around his chair and raced off to a small elevator for damage control.
Skylar took a couple quick steps after him, because God knew what a few minutes of rain could do to the undoubtedly highend silk drapes, furniture and gleaming floors in this beachfront palace, and maybe she could help.
But then, lured by the insistent siren call of the light in the other direction, she hesitated . Stopped . Turned . Tried to talk sense into herself and resist the irresistible.
She could wait for Mickey to come back and announce her to Alessandro, but why? Hadn't she waited too long already? Did it matter if she saw Alessandro now or five minutes from now? It wasn't like she could scrape together another ounce of patience anyway.
The decision made, she crept down the hallway to the right.
Another mistake, she knew, but her feet kept walking her toward that yellow glow. Whatever power she may have had to stop and go back was chomped on and swallowed up by the kind of driving curiosity that had always spelled trouble for her, especially where Alessan-dro Davies was concerned.
He was in that room, her instincts screamed, and tonight, for once, he couldn't hide from her.
She paused at the threshold, her hand on the ornate brass knob, and that was when she heard a low cry that was as painful as any injury she'd ever sustained.
It was the raw, wounded sound of a heart breaking.