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Bailey Weggins, the Manhattan-based thirtysomething true-crime journalist, is enjoying her regular gig at Buzz, a leading celebrity magazine, getting freelance work, and hoping her first book will garner attention. In the love department, she's finally back in the game with her recently-turned-exclusive boyfriend, Beau Regan. When Beau heads out of town one early December weekend, Bailey accepts an invitation from her office friend to a music mogul's house in the country, hoping...
Bailey Weggins, the Manhattan-based thirtysomething true-crime journalist, is enjoying her regular gig at Buzz, a leading celebrity magazine, getting freelance work, and hoping her first book will garner attention. In the love department, she's finally back in the game with her recently-turned-exclusive boyfriend, Beau Regan. When Beau heads out of town one early December weekend, Bailey accepts an invitation from her office friend to a music mogul's house in the country, hoping for a fun, relaxing getaway.
But a weird tension settles over the houseguests—a glamorous crowd that includes the famously thin supermodel Devon Barr. So when Devon's lifeless body is found in her bed, Bailey immediately suspects foul play: she can't stop thinking of the day before, when a frightened Devon pleaded, "I have to get out of here. . . . It's not safe for me." When Bailey starts to nose around, she finds herself a moving target—running closer to the truth and straight into danger.
An old geezer of a reporter I used to work with once said that I had a rotten habit of biting off my nose to spite my face. An ex-boyfriend told me the same thing. And you know what? It's true. There've been more than a few times when I've tossed back a gift or stormed off in a huff, and on one occasion I jumped out of a car in the rain and walked home alone, ruining the hottest shoes I ever owned. But I've rarely regretted it. The satisfaction I've felt from making the big defiant gesture — and seeing the stupefied expression on the other person's face — has generally been worth the price.
Soaked shoes are one thing, though, and a corpse is something else entirely. During a frigid week in early December, I bit off my nose to spite my face because of something the new guy in my life, Beau Regan, did. And I ended up in a big fat mess that involved all sorts of nasty things: a suspicious death, requests for kinky sex, my ass on the line at work, and a showdown with a killer who wanted to make sure I couldn't tell what I knew. In the end I decided I'd have to behave more rationally when my knickers were in a twist. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The trouble started the week after Thanksgiving. Beau and I had been dating exclusively for about two and a half months, seeing each other a few times a week. Over dinner that Friday night Beau announced — out of the blue — that he needed to leave the next day for Sedona, Arizona, and would spend the next eight or so days there, shooting extra footage for his new documentary film. Apparently some people who hadn't been available before were suddenly available now, or something or other.
But Beau's announcement had bugged me. It turned out that he'd known for over a week that he needed to go but had only shared the news at the last possible moment. Why? I'd wondered. To me Beau had always seemed slightly mysterious and elusive, and just when I'd convinced myself that this was simply a perception created by those dark Heathcliffian eyes and longish brown hair, he was telling me that he had to head off on some vague sounding trip, suggesting it wasn't perception after all.
I didn't come right out and say I was annoyed, but he could tell, I'm sure, by my attitude. Of course, that wasn't the only reason I was testy as December rolled around. I'm a true crime writer, and in addition to my part time gig covering celebrity crime for the Manhattan-based tabloid magazine Buzz, I'd been trying to hawk my recent book, a collection of articles I'd written called Bad Men and Wicked Women. The small publisher had put practically zilch into promotion and marketing, and my book was currently something like number 29,478 on Amazon — when I had the nerve to look. Failure always turns me into a grump.
Beau called me as soon as he arrived in Sedona and then called or texted every day after that. Things were friendly but a little clunky. The week without him seemed to drag by, and I realized how much I had come to love his company — both in bed and out. Please, I thought. Don't tell me I've fallen for someone who doesn't want to jump in with both feet just at a point when I do. On the Thursday morning before the Sunday Beau was due back, he sent me an unexpected text: "may finish early and b bk sat. will let u know."
The message should have warmed the cockles of my heart — and trust me, the thought of falling onto a mattress with him one night sooner than planned made my cheeks flush. And yet as I hurried toward the subway stop at Astor Place on my way to Buzz, I could feel my overall annoyance starting to swell. It was the last line that really bugged me. 'will let u know'. So I should just hold open my Saturday night in case he made it back to town? Maybe I was wrong, but to me that sounded like a guy who didn't like to be pinned down himself, yet wanted to be sure I was.
I was still in a pissy mood when I arrived at Buzz. The place that morning seemed surprisingly quiet. Though the final closing day at Buzz is Monday, the phones tend to ring like mad on Thursday. That's the day the issue hits the newsstands, and Hollywood publicists love to call and scream in defense of any clients they feel we've maligned. Phones weren't ringing, and that wasn't a good sound. At Buzz, if you're not pissing off Hollywood publicists, you're not doing your job.
"Oh God, Bailey, are those the new Prada riding boots?" Leo asked me as I pulled out my desk chair in the large open bullpen area. Leo's a photo editor, but there isn't enough room for him in the overstuffed art department, so he was bumped to a workstation right behind me and my office bff Jessie Pendergrass, a senior staff writer. Leo spends most of his day scanning through paparazzi photos on his computer for shots of celebs looking blubbery, blotto, badly dressed, or like they've suddenly got a bun in the oven.
"Yeah, in my dreams," I said.
"I thought maybe you got a big royalty check and splurged," Leo said, rubbing his hand over his shaved head.
"No check yet, but I'm sure one is due any day now," I replied. "Apparently I just got torpedoed by Decorative Napkin Folding for Beginners on Amazon."
"You seem grouchy," Jessie said. She'd just set down the phone and was scrutinizing me closely with her amber colored eyes.
"Sorry — I'm just a little frazzled. Does anyone want coffee?" They both declined, and I headed back to the kitchenette, where I filled up my mug. There were five or six people congregated there, arguing about the ending of a new movie; most I didn't even recognize. Not only was the staff at Buzz huge, but because of the pressure and late hours, it turned over faster than you could say "Jen's Latest Heartache."
When I arrived back at my desk, Jessie wheeled her chair over to me.
"Bailey, I've got a brilliant idea," she said, her eyes sparkling. "I know Beau is out of town till Sunday so I bet you don't have anything planned for the weekend. How would you like to spend a weekend with me at a gorgeous house in the country?"
"You've definitely got my attention," I said, not bothering to point out that Beau might be coming back Saturday.
"Remember that record producer I told you I met a few weeks ago — Scott Cohen? He called yesterday and asked if I wanted to come to his weekend place — along with a friend if I wanted."
"Is it in the Hamptons?"
"No, it's north of the city someplace. We can hike if we want or just sit by the fire and drink hot toddies. There'll even be a masseuse on hand."
"Wow, that sounds so much better than treating all my boots with water repellent," I said. "But if this guy is after you, why would he want me tagging along?"
"He's invited a whole group of people — you know, a house party. It'll actually be less awkward for me if you come. Besides," she added, grinning, "we can take your Jeep."
"You sure about this?"
"Yeah, it'll be fun. Please say yes."
"God, I'd love to," I said. I meant it. It did sound fun. But as I smiled back at Jessie, I could sense the bite being taken out of my nose. I'd had the chance to possibly see Beau Saturday night and had chosen not to, partly to prove that I didn't have to just sit around waiting — and that I could have mysterious plans of my own.
I worked late that night, mostly chasing down quotes for two different items I was working on. Buzz is packed each week with stories on the hapless love lives, fashion faux pas, and generally futile weight battles of the stars, but when these same stars get into any kind of legal trouble, we cover that too, and that's where I come in. I report on any crimes they commit or are involved in on the East Coast, and I also consult on coverage we do in L.A. Many of the reporters on staff could certainly do as good a job, but I was hired because the editor in chief at the time believed having an experienced crime writer by-lining those pieces would add cachet. I wasn't sure what good it had done in that department, but my new boss, Nash Nolan, seemed happy enough.
I finally headed home just after eight, shivering most of the way. It had been unseasonably warm the last two weeks of November, but winter had finally reared its head, and temperatures had plunged to the thirties.
My apartment — a nifty one- bedroom with a terrace on Ninth and Broadway that I'd kept after my divorce — was toasty warm at least, and after stripping off my work clothes, I made a gooey cheese omelet and began to pack for the weekend. The phrase "weekend house party" conjured up an image of people in tweeds and plaids, but based on the fact that Scott was in the music business, I decided I'd better opt for tarty over tartan. I'm five-six, fairly slender, and attractive in a kind of sporty way, so tarty is a stretch for me, but I like to give it my best shot when the moment calls for it.
The phone rang just as I was tossing the last stuff into my overnight bag. It was Beau, calling from Sedona.
"Good to hear your voice," he said.
"Ditto," I said. Bailey, keep it light and breezy, I told myself.
"How's the weather? It's suddenly freezing here."
"It's been nice during the days — mostly in the seventies — but it gets pretty cool after dark."
"Any UFO sightings?" I asked, referencing the fact that over the years, more than a few people had claimed to see alien spaceships buzzing around the heavens above Sedona.
He laughed. "Not so far. But every time I look up at night, I half expect to see flashing lights."
Why are you out under a night sky anyway? I wondered, staring out at the skyline of Greenwich Village. Light, Bailey, I told myself.
Keep it light.
"I guess I should be on the lookout if you start creating any weird sculptures when you get back," I told him.
"Speaking of that, did you get my text? I'm not positive yet, but I'm pretty sure I can hop on a flight early Saturday."
"Uh, I was actually just going to text you back," I said. "Don't rush back just on my account. I'm going away this weekend."
There was a pause, not interminable but long enough for me to know I'd caught him off guard.
"Where you headed?"
"Jessie asked me to tag along to some house party she was invited to — upstate. This guy who apparently has the hots for her owns a place up there. He told her she could invite a friend if she wanted, and she knew I was just hanging out this weekend. Plus it will be less awkward for her."
I was sooo over explaining myself. I could have retiled my bathroom in less time.
"So what's a house party anyway? I thought that's what real estate agents gave to court prospective buyers."
"Um, I think that's an open house," I said. "I guess this guy is just having a bunch of friends up — for hiking, that sort of thing."
Again there was a pause, this one longer.
"You still there?" I asked. What did you think, Bailey, I asked myself, that he'd been abducted by invaders from the planet Abdar?
"Is something the matter?"
"No. But I just can't help wondering if your weekend excursion is some kind of payback for my being away."
"Payback? That sounds pretty extreme."
"That would be my thought, too."
"Then what would possibly motivate me to do that?"
"You were ticked about my going to Arizona."
"I wasn't ticked about your going," I said, trying hard to keep my voice calm. "I was just surprised because it seemed to come out of nowhere. And honestly, there's no payback. This just seemed really fun."
Liar, I thought.
"Okay," he said. "Well, if you get back early enough, maybe we can get together Sunday night."
We muttered good-byes and hung up. I ignored the twinge of regret I was feeling over going away. It was clear that something needed to be addressed between Beau and me, but I didn't want to deal with it at the moment.
Jessie and I had vowed to leave the city before six the next night, but in the end it was closer to seven.
"So is this some big country estate we're headed to?" I asked after we'd finally made it through the frustrating snarl of Friday night traffic just north of Manhattan.
"I'm not sure what the house is like, but it's gotta be pretty big — he told me we'd each have our own room." "That's probably so he can sneak into yours at night."
"I really don't know what he's got in mind," Jessie said pensively.
"We had this flirty lunch and then he asked me to dinner. But there were six other people out with us that night. I really hope he's interested — because I dig him — but a little part of me is worried that he asked me to come with a friend because he needed eye candy for other guests."
"Jeez, it's starting to sound like the Playboy mansion."
"No, Scott just likes having these old-fashioned kind of house parties."
Excerpted from So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White. Copyright © 2013 by Kate White. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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