Smoke in Mirrors

( 25 )

Overview

A con artist and seductress, Meredith Spooner lived fast - and died young. Now it seems Meredith's last scam - embezzling more than a million dollars from a college endowment fund - is coming back to haunt Leonora Hutton. An email just arrived in which Meredith - in fear for her life - explains that the money is waiting for Leonora in an offshore account ... and a safe-deposit key is on the way.

Leonora wants nothing to do with the tainted money. She's already been accused of ...

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Smoke in Mirrors

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Overview

A con artist and seductress, Meredith Spooner lived fast - and died young. Now it seems Meredith's last scam - embezzling more than a million dollars from a college endowment fund - is coming back to haunt Leonora Hutton. An email just arrived in which Meredith - in fear for her life - explains that the money is waiting for Leonora in an offshore account ... and a safe-deposit key is on the way.

Leonora wants nothing to do with the tainted money. She's already been accused of being in on the theft by Thomas Walker - who, it seems, was a victim of Meredith's knack for both scams and seductions. Eager to prove him wrong, Leonora sets out to collect the cash and hand it over.

But she discovers two other items in the safe-deposit box. One is a book about Mirror House - a mansion filled with antique mirrors, where Meredith engineered her final deception. The other is a set of newspaper stories about a thirty-year-old murder that occurred there - unsolved to this day.

Now Leonora has an offer for Thomas Walker. She'll hand over the money - if he helps her figure out what's happening. Meredith had described Walker as "a man you can trust." But in a funhouse-mirror world of illusion and distortion, Leonora may be out of her league.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Charming, seductive scam artist Meredith is dead, and the job of proving that death was no accident is left to Leonora Hutton, who has always been there when Meredith needed her. Thomas Walker has something to prove about Meredith, too -- that the million-dollar inheritance she left Leonora was embezzled from a college endowment fund entrusted to his brother. He gives Leonora two choices: Turn the money over to him or be named an accomplice to Meredith's crime. Leonora makes the blackmail mutual. To gain her cooperation, Thomas must help her investigate Meredith's death, which shows some uncanny similarities to the supposed suicide of Thomas's brother's wife, who had also worked in the campus building known as Mirror House. Their first clue is a folder of clippings about an unsolved murder in Mirror House 30 years ago, so academic librarian Leonora secures a job cataloging the building's vast collection of antique mirrors and books about them, to search for reflections of that past case in their present situation. Smoke in Mirrors tells of a looking-glass world, where academic jealousy, murderous rage, and deadly passion are superimposed, and nothing is as it seems.
Publishers Weekly
Sparks fly between a sexually repressed college librarian and a handyman venture capitalist while they attempt to hunt down a killer who possesses the ability to make murder look like suicide in this tepid romantic thriller from veteran author Krentz (aka Amanda Quick, Stephanie James, Jayne Castle). The news of Meredith Spooner's death comes as no surprise to her half-sister, Leonora Hutton; after all, Meredith was a con artist who was adept at making enemies. But when Thomas Walker, a victim of Meredith's most recent scam, confronts Leonora, demanding that she help him find the $1.5 million that Meredith filched from the Bethany Walker memorial fund and intimating that Meredith may have been murdered, Leonora drops her reference desk position in California to do some amateur sleuthing in Wing Cove, Wash. With the help of Thomas's brainy brother, Deke, she lands a position in Mirror House, an eerie, mirror-lined mansion that houses Eubanks College's alumni office as well as a large collection of rare books. While investigating the connection between Meredith's death and two other suspicious deaths, Leonora romances Thomas with the help of her matchmaking grandmother and a disgruntled advice columnist and pairs Deke with his sexy yoga instructor. A few half-hearted attempts on Thomas's life, orchestrated by a fraudulent stress therapist, add some zing to this one-dimensional read, but events spiral too quickly toward an unexpected and unbelievable conclusion. Once a college librarian herself, Krentz (Dawn in Eclipse Bay; Slightly Shady) ably depicts the competitive atmosphere of the academic arena, but this awkward pairing of dark melodrama and frothy romance fails to impress. National author tour. (Jan. 7) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Leonora intends to turn over the cash that she discovers murdered friend Meredith embezzled. But she feels compelled to investigate when she finds that the lock box where the loot is stashed also contains a newspaper account of an unsolved murder and a book about the Mirror House, where the murder occurred. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Nancy Drewish turn from perennial bestseller Krentz (Soft Focus, 2000, etc.). Leonora Hutton, academic librarian and all-around sex goddess, just claimed the body of her half-sister Meredith Spooner. Now a strange man is claiming that Meredith embezzled more than a million dollars from the Eubanks College endowment fund before her mysterious death. Thomas Walker is a magnetically sexy animal whose reclusive brother Deke was married to Bethany, a mathematician in charge of the endowment fund who also died mysteriously. Deke might be implicated in the embezzlement unless Thomas can unmask the real culprit. So Thomas wants answers-now. Well, Leonora explains, Meredith had emotional problems because she never met their father, who's long dead (her heartless, no-account mother produced evil little Meredith via sperm donation). Feeling deprived of a real dad and other fun things, she began to embezzle and play nasty pranks, like seducing Leonora's former fiance just to show her half-sister that he was no good. Accompanied by Thomas, Leonora pays a visit to Eubanks College on the fog-shrouded shores of Puget Sound. She can pretend to be reorganizing the card catalogue at Mirror House, the spooky Victorian mansion filled with unusual antique mirrors. Maybe then she can find out why Meredith circled the oddly ornate mirror on page 81 of the house's catalogue of mirrors. Speaking of mirrors, there were rumors that both Bethany and Meredith had been using a new hallucinogen called "S and M" (for Smoke and Mirrors, of course). Along with a placebo stress reliever for high-strung academicians, S and M is being pushed by an amber-eyed con man named Alex Rhodes. But Deke swears Bethany never toucheddrugs of any kind, although she wouldn't be the first substance abuser on campus. Why, world-famous mathematician Osmond Kern, inventor of an algorithm that proved to be immensely important to the computer industry, is drinking himself to death. It's almost as if he knows something no one else knows... For the fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441866981
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 10/13/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 4 CDs, 4 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jayne Ann Krentz
Jayne Ann Krentz is the author of fifty New York Times bestsellers. She has written contemporary romantic suspense novels under that name, as well as futuristic and historical romance novels under the pseudonyms Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, respectively. She lives in Seattle.

Biography

A successful corporate and academic librarian-turned-author, Jayne Ann Krentz wrote serial romances for several publishers (including industry powerhouse Harlequin) before breaking out in the '90s as a writer of romantic novels. To say that she has been successful is an understatement: A New York Times- bestselling author with more than 23 million copies of her books in print, she writes three sub-genres of romantic suspense under three different pen names: contemporary romances as Jayne Ann Krentz, historicals as Amanda Quick, and futuristic/paranormal romances as Jayne Castle. (In her early career, she employed at least three additional pseudonyms!) In 2006, the prolific Krentz launched The Arcane Society series -- crossover thrillers written under all three noms de plume that feature members of a secret organization devoted to the study of the paranormal.

It would be hard to find a more passionate advocate for romantic fiction than Krentz. In 1992, she edited and contributed to Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance, an award-winning nonfiction essay collection that serves an eloquent apologia for the genre. She has also received the Jane Austen Commemorative Medal from Romantic Times magazine for her work educating readers about Romance. "The Romance genre is the only genre where readers are guaranteed novels that place the heroine at the heart of the story," she says on her website. "These are books that celebrate women's heroic virtues and values: courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love." Clearly, her legions of loyal fans agree!

Good To Know

I have finally reached the point in my career where I have some say over cover art. Unfortunately, it turns out that I have absolutely no talent for cover art design. Thank heavens I'm with a publisher (Putnam/Berkley) that maintains a terrific art department.

I love green tea and red wine and was absolutely thrilled when it turned out that both are now considered health foods.

I love all animals except for squirrels which, I strongly suspect, are aliens from outer space who are here to take over the planet. You have been warned.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle
    2. Hometown:
      Seattle, WA
    1. Education:
      BA in History, University of California at Santa Cruz, MA in Librarianship from San Jose State University (California)
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

One year earlier . . .

The hallucinations were worsening rapidly.

She halted at the top of the staircase and tried to steady herself. The hall of dark mirrors stretched away into infinity, a treacherous fun house filled with night and shifting shadows. She had to forge a path through this disorienting landscape before she lost her grip on the last remnants of her sanity.

The planes and angles of the shadowed corridor were melting and flowing into bizarre shapes that reminded her of Mšbius strips. Endless loops with no beginning and no end. She did not know how much longer she could hold together the disintegrating fragments of her awareness. She longed for sleep but she could not give in to the nearly overwhelming urge. Not yet. There was something she had to do first.

The electricity had flickered out of existence a moment ago. Weak starlight seeped in through the narrow windows at either end of the endless corridor. She gazed down the length of the writhing passage and saw a sharp sliver of silver. She knew it marked the entrance to the library. Fourth door on the left.

A desperate urgency swept through her. If she could get to that shard of light she could leave her message.

"Bethany?" The killer's voice came from shadows at the foot of the stairs. "Where are you? Let me help you. You must be very sleepy by now."

A bolt of icy panic gave her the energy required to overcome the drug's effects for a moment. She tightened her grip on the strap of her purse, staggered a few steps down the hall and came to a stop again. She fought to remember what it was that she had to do. It had been so clear there at the bottom of the stairs. But now it kept slipping away.

She stared into the nearest of the dozens of black mirrors that lined the walls. In the gloom she could just barely make out the heavily gilded and scrolled frame of the eighteenth-century looking glass. She searched the bottomless pool behind the glass for wisps of her memory.

There was something she had to do before she went to sleep.

"I can help you, Bethany."

She thought she saw a shifting of the shadows in the old looking glass. An image gelled there for an instant. She struggled to make sense of it. The library. She had to get to the library. Yes. That was it. She had to go there before the killer found her.

A number swirled up out of the depths of her disappearing memory.

Four.

The entrance to the library was the fourth door on the left.

She clung gratefully to the number. It steadied her as nothing else could have done. She was at home in the universe of mathematics; comfortable and serenely content in a way she had never been in the world where human emotions made things complicated and illogical.

Four doors down on the left.

Getting there meant running the gauntlet of mirrors. The enormity of the challenge almost paralyzed her.

"There's no need to hide from me, Bethany. I only want to help you."

She had to do this. Deke would need answers. He would not be able to rest until he got them. And Thomas would help him because Deke was his brother and the Walker brothers stuck together. She had never fully understood the depths of that kind of bond, but her logical mind accepted the strength of the link that existed between Deke and Thomas. It was as real as any mathematical relationship.

Summoning every ounce of will she possessed, she made her way toward the shard of light that marked the library door.

The hallucinations intensified. Strange creatures pulsed behind the reflective surfaces of the antique looking glasses that surrounded her. They beckoned her to join them.

Not yet.

She set her teeth and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

She dared not look directly into any of the old, dark mirrors for fear that she would be sucked into the world on the other side. It was not that she was afraid to go there, it was just that she knew she had to stay in this universe for a few more minutes. She owed that much to Deke and Thomas.

"Bethany? You're ill, Bethany. Let me help you."

The killer was in the hallway behind her.

"Not much longer now, Bethany. The hallucinations must be terrible. But soon you'll sleep and then it will all be over."

She focused intently on the triangle of moonlight. The glowing lines drew her and calmed her. The mathematical purity of the moonlit angles was a strong, if temporary antidote to the hallucinations.

She reached the fourth door, went through it and paused in the middle of an aisle of books, trying to think. There was a small office in here somewhere. And inside the office there was a book. She had been looking at it just this afternoon. It was a very important book because it contained a picture of her killer. She had to mark the picture for Deke and Thomas.

The shelves of books around her curved and warped themselves into a maze. Gathering her waning strength, she staggered through the twisting corridors to the office.

The little book was lying on the desk, just as she remembered. She got it open and stared helplessly at the first page. The picture was here somewhere. She had to find it quickly. The killer was halfway down the hall.

She turned pages, taking refuge once more in the comfort of numbers.

Seventy-nine.

Eighty.

Eighty-one. There it was. A picture of the killer.

There was a pen next to the book. After three attempts she finally managed to pick it up. She was beyond being able to write a name but she had enough eye-hand coordination left to draw a shaky circle around the picture on page eighty-one.

She paused when she finished, concentrating hard.

There was something else she wanted to do just to make sure Deke and Thomas understood.

The envelope, please.

She smiled with satisfaction as the memory blazed clearly in the fog of her thoughts.

The envelope was in the purse draped over her shoulder. She got it out. Managed to slip it inside the book.

Now what?

Hide the book and the envelope. She could not risk having the killer discover them.

"I know where you are, Bethany. Did you think you could hide in the library?"

She looked around, searching for a place in which to conceal the book and the envelope.

The large, old-fashioned wooden card catalog stood against one wall, the rows of little drawers neatly organized in lovely straight lines.

Perfect.

"Mirror, mirror on the wall," the killer chanted from the door of the library. "Who is the smartest one of all? Not you, Bethany. Not Sebastian Eubanks, either. I'm the smartest one of all, Bethany."

She ignored the taunting and wedged the book with the envelope inside into the hiding place. Deke and Thomas would find it sooner or later.

It was done. A sense of peace flowed through her. She had completed the task. She could sleep now. She turned around, clutching the desk for support.

The killer came to stand silhouetted in the office doorway.

"I'm the smartest one of all, Bethany."

Bethany Walker did not respond. She closed her eyes and slipped into a peaceful world on the other side of the looking glass, where the laws of mathematics reigned supreme and everything made sense.

—from Smoke in Mirrors Jayne Ann Krantz, Copyright © January 2002, Putnam Pub Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

The present...

A shifting of the light reflected in the mirror above the dresser was the only warning she had that she was not alone in the dead woman's apartment. Her hands went cold. The fine hair on the nape of her neck stirred as if she had been zapped with an electrical charge.

Leonora straightened swiftly from the drawer she had been searching and spun around, a soft, pale pink cashmere sweater in her hands.

Two junkyard dogs stood in the doorway of the bedroom.

One of them was human.

His broad shoulders filled a lot of the available space and cut off the view of the hall behind him. There was about him the deceptively relaxed, totally centered grace of the natural-born predator. Not an impulsive young hunter overeager to take down the first of the prey that bolts from cover, rather a jaded pro who prefers to pick and choose his targets. He had the face of a man who had done a lot of things in life the hard way and he also had the cold gray eyes to match.

The ghost-gray beast at his heels had a lot in common with his companion. Not real big, but very solid. One of his ears was permanently bent, the result of a fight, no doubt. It was difficult to imagine this creature springing playfully in pursuit of a Frisbee. Probably tear the thing to shreds and eat the plastic raw.

Both of the intruders looked dangerous but her intuition told her to keep her eyes on the man. She could not see his hands. They were thrust casually into the deep pockets of a charcoal-colored windbreaker. He wore the lightweight jacket open over a buttondown denim shirt and a pair of khaki trousers. His feet were shod in leather work boots. The boots looked large.

Both man and beast were damp from the rain that misted this stretch of the southern California coast today. Each gave the impression that going for her throat would be no big deal. All in a morning's work.

"Were you a friend of hers or did you just happen to hear that she was dead and decide to drop in to see if there was anything worth stealing?" the human junkyard dog asked.

His voice suited him. A low, dark, very soft growl.

She got a grip on her hyperactive imagination. "Who are you?"

"I asked you first. Which is it, friend or casual opportunist? Either way, I figure you're a thief so maybe the answer is moot."

"How dare you?" Outrage incinerated some of the alarm that had quickened her pulse. "I am not a thief. I'm a librarian." Damn, that sounded dumb. Well, no one could say that she couldn't hold her own when it came to snappy reporters, she thought.

"No kidding." His mouth curved into a mockery of a smile. "Looking for overdue books? You should have known better than to give Meredith Spooner a library card. Doubt if she ever returned anything she stole in her entire life."

"Your sense of humor leaves a lot to be desired."

"I'm not auditioning for a late-night comedy show."

One had to be forceful in situations such as this, Leonora thought. Take the initiative. Take charge. Gain the upper hand with a show of confidence and authority. It wasn't as though she had not had some experience with difficult people. In the course of her career as an academic librarian she was occasionally obliged to deal with a variety of obnoxious patrons, from egotistical, demanding faculty members to boorish frat boys.

She went deliberately toward the door, praying that the stranger and his dog would step back in that automatic way most creatures did when you made it clear that you wanted to move past them.

"As a matter of fact I have every right to be here, which is probably a good deal more than you can say." She gave man and dog a steely smile. "I suggest we discuss this with the apartment manager."

"The manager's busy. Something about a plumbing emergency down on the third floor. I have a feeling we'd both rather deal with this privately, anyway. Got a name?"

It became glaringly apparent that neither he nor the dog was going to get out of her way. She was forced to halt in the middle of the room.

"Of course I've got a name," she said crisply. "But I don't see any reason why I should give it to you."

"Let me take a wild guess. Leonora Hutton?"

She froze. "How did you know?"

He shrugged. The easy movement drew her attention once again to the impressive width of his shoulders. The fact that they fascinated her was worrisome. Normally she was not the least bit attracted to male muscle. She preferred the intellectual type.

"Meredith didn't have a long list of friends," he said. "Mostly she just had marks, from what I can tell."

"Marks."

"Marks. Targets. Victims. Dupes. Whatever you call the people she used, conned or fleeced in the course of her scams. But unlike most of the people in her email address book, you and she went back a ways from what I can tell." He paused a beat. "Assuming you're Leonora Hutton, that is."

She set her teeth together. "Yes, all right, I'm Leonora Hutton. Now, who are you?"

"Walker. Thomas Walker." He glanced down at the dog. "This is Wrench."

Wrench tilted his broad head and grinned in response to the sound of his name.

She looked at Wrench's impressive array of teeth. "Does he bite?"

"Nah." Thomas was apparently amused by the question. "Wrench is a real sweetheart. Very nonconfrontational. Probably a miniature poodle in his former life."

She did not believe that for one moment. If Wrench had had a former life he had no doubt lived it as a giant medieval hunting mastiff. But she decided not to make an issue of it.

"We've been waiting for you to show up, Miss Hutton," Thomas said.

She was aghast. "Waiting for me?"

"Three days now. Spent most of the time in that coffee shop across the street." He angled his jaw toward the window and the partial view of a block of small shops. "You were the one who claimed the body and made the burial arrangements last week. Figured you'd come to clean out her apartment sooner or later."

"You seem to know a great deal about me."

He smiled. It was the kind of smile that made her want to take a couple of steps back, turn and run for her life. But that would be the worst thing she could do, she told herself. She knew enough about animal behavior to know that predators only got more excited by fleeing prey.

"Not nearly as much as I'd like to know about you, Miss Hutton."

There was nowhere to run, anyway. He had her cornered in this small, barren room. She stood her ground.

"How did you get hold of Meredith's email address book?" she asked.

"That was easy," Thomas said. "I came here and helped myself to her laptop just as soon as I heard the news about the crash."

The casual admission left her speechless for a few seconds.

"You stole her computer?" she finally managed to ask.

"Let's just say I borrowed it." He gave her another one of his chilling, humorless smiles. "In the same spirit that she borrowed one-point-five million bucks from the Bethany Walker Endowment Fund."

Oh, damn. This was bad. This was very, very bad. Embezzlement had been one of Meredith's favorite sports but her preferred victims had been other cons and scam artists who had not been in a position to complain too loudly. And to the best of Leonora's knowledge, she had never gone after a score of this magnitude. Trust Meredith to go out with a bang, not a whimper.

And trust her to leave me with the mess to clean up.

"Are you a cop?" she asked warily.

"No."

"Private investigator?"

He shook his head. "No."

Not the law. She didn't know if that was good news or bad news.

She cleared her throat. "Did you know Meredith personally?"

"Oh, yeah, I knew her," he said. "Of course, like a lot of folks who had that privilege, I wish I had never met her, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty, isn't it?"

Understanding descended with the inevitability of a shroud.

"I see. You were one of her-" She broke off, searching for a diplomatic turn of phrase. "The two of you were, uh, acquainted socially?"

His mouth was a flat line. "Not for long."

He had been one of Meredith's lovers, then. For some reason that news was oddly depressing. Why should she care whether or not this man had had an affair with Meredith? He certainly wouldn't have been the first. It occurred to her that he might have had the distinction of being the last, however.

"I'm surprised," she said, without stopping to think. "You're not her usual type."

Oh, jeez. What in the world had made her say that?

It was the truth, though. Meredith had had a long-standing policy of sticking to men she could manipulate. Something about Thomas Walker sent a message that he wouldn't play the puppet-on-a-string game for long, not even for a woman as savvy and sexy and as skilled in manipulative techniques as Meredith.

If she could see that stark truth, Leonora thought, Meredith, who'd had preternaturally acute instincts where the male of the species was concerned, had almost certainly seen it also. Maybe that was why the relationship hadn't lasted long.

"Meredith had a type?" Thomas looked mildly surprised by that information. Then he nodded in a thoughtful way. "Well, hell, I guess you're right. She did have some distinct preferences, when it came to her social life, didn't she? Far as I can tell she only dated men she figured could help her further her own agenda."

Leonora wondered if the real problem here was that Thomas had been badly hurt when Meredith's true nature was revealed. A broken heart could generate a lot of pain, and pain could produce anger. Maybe he was grieving in his own macho, masculine fashion.

She offered a sympathetic smile.

"I'm sorry," she said very gently.

"Yeah, me, too. More than sorry. When I found out that she had embezzled the one-point-five mil I was kind of pissed off, if you want to know the truth."

Okay, he wasn't exactly prostrate with grief. He was mad.

"Uh-" Inspiration failed her.

"What about you?" Thomas asked much too pleasantly. "Any fond memories of the deceased? How far back did you two go?"

"We met in college. We've kept in touch all these years, but-" She swallowed and tried again. "I didn't see much of her in the past few months."

Not since I found her in bed with my fiancŽ, she added silently but she saw no reason to bring up that dismal subject.

"You should probably consider yourself fortunate," Thomas said. "Meredith Spooner was bad news. But, then, I'll bet you already know that."

Old habits were hard to break. The instinct to cover up, defend and make excuses for Meredith kicked in, just as it always did when crunch time hit.

She raised her chin. "Are you absolutely certain Meredith embezzled that money?"

"Positive."

"How did she manage that?"

"Easy. Took a job as an alumni endowment fund development officer at Eubanks College. As the person in charge of the money on a day-to-day basis, she had access to all the accounts and to a lot of wealthy alumni. Add in the fact that she had the morals of a con artist and great computer skills and you have the recipe for embezzlement."

"If what you say is true, why are you here? With that kind of money involved, I would have thought you'd have gone to the police."

"I'm trying to avoid the cops."

"When there's more than a million dollars missing?" She saw a chance to go on the offensive and grabbed it. "That sounds very suspicious to me. It certainly casts some doubts on your story, Mr. Walker."

"I want to avoid the cops because that kind of bad publicity can really hurt an endowment fund. Undermines the faith of potential donors. Makes them question the integrity of the folks entrusted with the responsibility for managing the money, know what I mean?"

She'd had enough experience with the delicate politics of academic endowment fund raising to realize that he had a point. But that was no reason to let him off the hook. Besides, he didn't look at all like the kind of person who got involved in college endowments. That business was run by suave, cultured types who wore good suits and who knew how to make nice with wealthy alumni.

She gave him her most polished smile. "I think I'm getting the picture here. My turn to take a wild guess. Could it be that you haven't reported the missing money to the authorities, Mr. Walker, because for some reason you think you might be a prime suspect?"

His dark brows rose in silent appreciation of the direct hit. "Close, Miss Hutton. Not quite on target, but very, very close."

"I knew it."

"Meredith left a trail that would point to my brother, Deke, if the embezzlement is exposed."

"Your brother." She digested that slowly. "Where exactly is the headquarters of this Bethany Walker Fund?"

"It's part of the alumni endowment of Eubanks College. It was set up to support research and teaching in the field of mathematics."

"Eubanks?" She frowned. "I'm not familiar with that institution."

"It's a small college in a little town called Wing Cove. About an hour and a half's drive north of Seattle."

"I see."

"The fund is named for Deke's wife, Bethany, a brilliant mathematician. She died last year. Deke is the head of the board that oversees the fund's operations and investments. In three months there will be an audit. If that money turns up missing, he will look like the guy responsible for making it disappear, thanks to sweet Meredith."

A typical Meredith operation, Leonora thought. Make sure the victim of the scam won't call the cops.

"I realize how upsetting this must be for you and your brother, Mr. Walker. But I must say, for a man who wants to keep the situation low profile, you seem to be quite chatty on the subject."

"That's because I have a strong interest in recovering the money. I want it back in the fund's account before that damned audit."

"I understand," she said. "But why are you talking to me about this?"

"Simple. You're my best lead."

She stared. "I beg your pardon?"

"Let me put it this way, you're my only lead."

Panic shot through her. "But I don't know anything about that missing money."

"Yeah?" He looked unconvinced. "Let's say for the sake of argument that you're telling me the truth-"

"I am telling you the truth."

"Even if that is the case, you're still my only lead."

"Why?"

"Because you knew Meredith better than anyone else, as far as I can tell. I'm really hoping that you can help me out here, Miss Hutton."

In your dreams, Leonora thought. "I just told you, I didn't have much contact with her this past year. I wasn't even aware that she had a job at Eubanks College. I didn't know she was living here in this apartment until the authorities contacted me after the accident."

"No kidding. According to the manager, she used your name on the rental application."

Leonora said nothing. It wasn't the first time Meredith had borrowed her good name and credit references.

"I doubt that she intended to stay here long." Thomas surveyed the room with its bare-bones furnishings and uninspiring view. "Probably just needed a staging area and an address she could use while she set up her next scam."

"Look, I really don't know what to say. I can't help you, Mr. Walker. I'm only here to pack up Meredith's belongings. I intend to donate most of her stuff to a local thrift shop. When that job is done, I'm going straight home. I have reservations on an evening flight. I'm supposed to be at work in the morning."

"Home is Melba Creek, right? Outside of San Diego?"

She tried to ignore the unsettling sensation that trickled through her. "Okay, so you know where I live. Is that supposed to scare me?'

"I'm not trying to scare you, Miss Hutton. I'm trying to work with you."

"Uh huh."

"I've got a business proposition for you."

"Give me one good reason why I should listen to it."

"I'll give you a couple. The first is that if you cooperate with me and help me locate the money, I'll see to it that you get a finder's fee."

"Let me get this straight. You'll bribe me to return the money?"

"Beats going to prison for embezzlement, doesn't it?"

"Prison?" She did take a reflexive step back at that. Wrench shifted a little in response and looked interested. She froze. "Why would I be arrested? You said your brother was the one who would appear guilty if that money isn't found."

"I don't intend for my brother to take the fall for Meredith's embezzlement scam," Thomas said softly. "If that money isn't back in the account before the next audit, I'm going to make sure the cops look real hard at you."

"How?"

"Deke is a wizard when it comes to computers. I'm pretty good on the financial side. Shouldn't be too difficult to create a trail from Meredith to you."

"Me?" She was dumbfounded. "But I had nothing to do with Meredith's embezzlement."

"Who knows? Maybe you'll even be able to prove that in the end. But I can arrange to make life damn miserable for you in the meantime. Tell me, how do you think your employer would react if it got out that you were being investigated for embezzlement?"

"How dare you threaten to drag me into this mess?"

He took one hand out of his pocket. It was a very large, powerful, competent-looking hand, the hand of a man who worked with tools or climbed rocks. Not the soft, manicured hand of a businessman.

He spread his fingers in a fait-accompli gesture.

"In case you haven't noticed, Miss Hutton. You're already in this mess. Right up to your very nice ears."

"How can you say that?"

"You're the closest thing to a friend that Meredith had, as far as I can tell. In my book that makes you the closest thing she had to a partner."

"I wasn't her partner."

"The two of you have a history. You're the only person she kept in touch with through thick and through thin. I'm pretty sure that with a little help from Deke, I can make you look like her accomplice."

"My God, you're serious, aren't you?"

"With one-and-a-half million, plus my brother's reputation on the line? Yeah, Miss Hutton, I'm damned serious. Cooperate with me. Help me find the money and we can both walk away from this without anyone having to hire a lawyer."

"Just where do you think I would stash that kind of cash?"

"At this point, all I know for sure is that it's not in your personal bank account."

She felt her jaw drop. "You checked?"

"First thing after I found your name in Meredith's email address book."

"How?"

"I told you, my brother is good with computers."

"That kind of invasion of privacy is illegal. I could have you arrested."

"No shit. I'll have to remember that for future reference."

She glared. "And you have the nerve to accuse me of criminal behavior."

"Go figure."

"I don't believe this." She felt dazed. "It's beyond bizarre."

He looked almost amused. "Be grateful. You've got the easy part. All you have to do is help me find the money."

She watched him warily. "What's the hard part? Getting it back into the endowment fund?"

"No. That will be simple. The hard part is going to be convincing my brother that Meredith Spooner wasn't murdered."

She felt the air leave her lungs in a rush. Stunned, she gazed at him, her mind a complete blank for about three full seconds.

"The police didn't say anything about murder," she finally got out.

"That's because they didn't find any evidence to indicate the crash was anything other than an accident," he said. "Probably because there wasn't any."

She got the feeling he'd had this conversation a number of times in recent days.

"But your brother takes another view of the situation?" she asked.

"Deke is-" He broke off, apparently searching for the right word. "Some people think he's a little obsessed with his theory that his wife, Bethany, was murdered a year ago. When he heard about Meredith's accident he leaped to the conclusion that the killer had struck again."

"Good grief. What do you think?"

Thomas was silent for a time. Wrench leaned heavily against his leg, as though offering support.

She thought that Thomas might brush off the question with all its horrifying implications. But to her amazement he just shook his head.

"I don't know," he said eventually.

"You don't know? What is that supposed to mean? We're talking about murder, here."

"Look, all I can tell you is that a year ago when Bethany died, I didn't think there was any question about what had happened. The official verdict was suicide. Unfortunately, it seemed to fit the circumstances and there was no evidence of violence."

"Was there a note?"

"No. But that's not as unusual as people think."

"Suicide is always so difficult for those who knew the victim. No wonder your brother is looking for other answers. But what is it about Meredith's death that makes him think there's a connection?"

"Not much," Thomas admitted. "Meredith didn't arrive in Wing Cove until six months after Bethany died. The two never even met. But Deke is trying to see patterns where none exist. The only thing Meredith and Bethany had in common as far as I know was that each of them spent a lot of time at Mirror House."

"What is Mirror House?"

"The headquarters of the Eubanks College Alumni Association."

"That's it? They worked in the same place? That's the only connection you've got?"

He hesitated briefly. "The only solid one."

"No offense to your brother, but that's extremely weak."

"I'm aware of that, Miss Hutton." Thomas's voice was grim. "Like I said, Deke has had a difficult time coming to terms with Bethany's death. I've done my best to discourage his conspiracy theories. I thought I was making progress in the past few months. He seemed to be coming out of his depression, at least. But Meredith's death has set him off again."

She replayed his earlier comment in her head. "Wait a second. You said the fact that Bethany and Meredith worked in the same place was the only solid link between the two deaths. Are there other, less substantial connections?"

"Maybe," he said slowly. "One possibility, at any rate."

His obvious reluctance told her that he was not buying into his brother's conspiracy theory completely, but that he felt obligated to give it some credence. A family loyalty thing, probably. She knew only too well how that worked.

"What?" she asked when he offered no further details.

"After the funeral, there were rumors."

"Rumors?"

"Some local gossip that Bethany may have been experimenting with drugs at the time of the suicide," he said reluctantly. "Deke and I agree that would have been completely out of character. She never did drugs so far as we know."

"Were any drug tests run at the time of her death?"

"There were some routine things done, but there was no reason to go looking for anything exotic that would have required a lot of unique and expensive testing. Small-town law enforcement and medical examiner budgets don't allow for extensive tests unless there's a serious question about the cause of death. She had no history of drug use. Deke had questions about the suicide, but they didn't revolve around drugs. And there's no going back now. Bethany was cremated according to the stipulations in her will."

"Meredith's death was ruled an accident. There was no indication of drugs or alcohol involvement. How do the rumors about Bethany Walker link to her death?"

"After the news of the crash reached us in Wing Cove, there was some gossip that Meredith had been doing drugs while she lived there."

"No," Leonora said flatly.

He narrowed his eyes. "No? You're sure of that?"

"Oh, yes. Very sure. Lord knows, Meredith had her faults, but doing drugs was not one of them. Her mother killed herself with them, you see."

"Huh."

Thomas said nothing more. Just looked thoughtful. Wrench looked bored.

"Traffic accidents happen all the time." She wondered if she was trying to convince him or herself. "And there's no motive for murder."

"I wouldn't say that. One-point-five mil is a lot of money. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Meredith did have a partner. Someone who didn't want to split the profits."

She felt as if she was falling down the rabbit hole. This was getting worse and worse.

"For the last time, I wasn't Meredith's partner," she said tightly. "I knew nothing about this scam you claim she was running at Eubanks College."

"Prove it. Help me find the money she embezzled."

"You're threatening me. I really hate that."

"I've also offered a hefty finder's fee," he reminded her. "Think of it as the carrot-and-stick approach."

"If you don't mind," she said icily, "I've got to finish packing up Meredith's things."

"Which reminds me. I've got a question about that."

"What question?"

"Why are you the one who came here today? Why is it your job to clean out the apartment and deal with the final details of Meredith Spooner's life?"

Leonora looked around at the unadorned walls and the impersonal furnishings. It was difficult to imagine Meredith, always so vivid and exciting, spending the last few days of her life in this plain, dull space.

A great sadness welled up inside Leonora. Meredith had been complicated and frequently maddening. Whenever she had appeared, trouble had followed. But the world would certainly be a less colorful place without her.

"There was no one else to do it," Leonora said.

—From Smoke in Mirrors by Jayne Ann Krentz, Copyright (c) January 2002, Putnam Pub Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2002

    5 stars for a whodunit book

    this was a great mystery book so thats why i rate it 5 stars but it wasnt so much a romance book though so if u r looking for a good whodunnit book with a little romance then this book is for you

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2002

    Good read!

    Vibrant and sexy con artist Meredith has bilked the Bethany Walker fund out of over a million dollars. Thomas Walker, Bethany's brother in law is out to recover it, even if doing so means putting Meredith's lovely half sister, Lenora, in jail, though he would much rather do other things with her. However, Leo, unlike her sister, is honest, and out to do the right thing. Though at first disliking Thomas, she quickly warms up, welcoming his assistance in solving her half sister's murder. Their investigation has ties to more than one old unsolved murder, and reveals plots involving cover ups, homosexuality, and illegal drugs. Secrets and danger dog their heels as they fall more in love and come closer to the truth. **** Though not as quirk filled as many of Ms. Krentz's trademark oil and water couples, Thomas and Leonara live up to her classic style. Long time fans will find all the signs of a Krentz novel in this one and will not be disappointed. There are also a couple of charming secondary romances that add depth to the mix. **** REVIEWER: Amanda Killgore.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fine romantic suspense

    The once beautiful and vibrant Meredith Spooner is dead and her closest confidant Leonora Hutton cleans out the deceased¿s apartment when Thomas Walker arrives. He informs Leonora that Meredith stole 1.5 million from the college alumni fund that his brother manages. <P>Leonora tries to ignore Thomas¿ threats to implicate her as an accomplice of Meredith if she fails to help him. However, Meredith eerily contacts Leonora, informing her where the loot is, but that the deceased worried about something she learned. Leonora offers to return the cash if Thomas helps her investigate Meredith¿s ¿accident¿. However, Leonora will soon hit the highest and lowest points of her life as she will find love at about the same time that someone tries to kill her. <P>Jayne Ann Krentz has written a fine romantic suspense novel starring two quirky lead characters that endear themselves to the audience. The fast-paced action works because the secondary cast adds the needed depth to turn this multi-faceted story line into a realistic endeavor. SMOKE IN MIRROR is Ms. Krentz at her most romantic and suspenseful best. <P>Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    Wonderful mystey

    As always Jayne Ann Krentz has again written a spell-binding
    love story. I have read almost all of her books and don't know
    how I missed this one. I truly and highly reccommend this won-
    derful story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 28, 2009

    Good Read

    Really good book. An earlier novel of the author. Her alter books are better

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2007

    Great book!

    My fave author! Great book. Had everything from romance to mystery. A great summer read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2005

    An amazing book

    Thrilling,I couldnt put the book down! The best page turner I have read. Mystery, Romance.. everything you could ask for in a book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2002

    Excellent Romance/Mystery

    This was my first Jayne Ann Krentz book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! The suspense was great.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2002

    EXCELLENT READING!

    THIS IS ONE OF HER BETTER WORKS, AND I REALLY ENJOYED THE MIX OF WHO DONE IT AND ROMANCE.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2002

    This book will leave you guessing until the end

    This book is so good. I thought the suspence was wonderful and you will never know who the killer is until the end. This book is a great suspence and love story in one and I highly recommend it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2002

    Clever Tale of Murder and Mystery

    Multi-talented author Jane Ann Krentz¿s latest is a novel of mystery and murder set in an eerie old home replete with antique mirrors. <br><br> As librarian Leonora Hutton learns of the car crash that killed her half-sister Meredith, she begins to clean out Meredith¿s apartment. There she encounters Thomas Walker, a former ¿friend¿ of Meredith¿s who is convinced that she embezzled from his sister-in-law¿s memorial fund at Eubanks College in Wing Cove, Washington. And the only link between his sister-in-law, Bethany, and Meredith, is that they both worked at Mirror House, the college alumni association building. <br><br> When Leonora receives information concerning her sister¿s offshore bank account, she agrees to share that with Thomas in exchange for his getting her a job at Mirror House. Upon learning of Thomas¿s brother Deke¿s suggestion that Meredith and Bethany may have been murdered, Leonora wants to investigate. What she soon discovers is a house full of sinister-looking mirrors, a snake-oil therapist, and an attraction she never expected. While the romance heats up between Leonora and Thomas, they find themselves in danger as their investigation brings them closer to the truth. The carefully orchestrated love scenes are a wonderful addition to this read thereby making up for the minimal description of Thomas and Leonora. <br><br> Though the reader may feel cheated with the shallow characterization of the main characters, the mystery will carry this novel through to the finish. With the page turning suspense, be prepared for the final clincher- it¿s a winner.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 21, 2010

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    Posted June 10, 2014

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    Posted August 15, 2009

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