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Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.
KATE WINTHROP HAD REACHED an all-time low. She was broke. Desperate. And about to become a thief.
She had her ex-husband to thank for each of these mantles. And if it were the last thing she did on God's green earth, she planned to get even with him.
She made this resolution in the backyard of the castle-size Georgian house Karl had recently purchased in one of Richmond's more lavish neighborhoods. Amazing in itself, considering he supposedly had no money. But then, he had her money, and it didn't look as though either conscience or good sense had prevented him from spending it.
A car drove by, the lights arcing across the backyard, catching her in its glare for a flash of a second. She stepped back into the shadows, her heart relocating in her throat. She waited a full minute after the car had passed before peeling herself off the brick wall.
A headline flashed in front of her: Kate Winthrop, Daughter of Self-made Millionaire Hart Winthrop, Five to Ten in State Pen.
Long headline, but point taken.
She knew it was crazy, coming here like this. Even so, she could no more make herself leave than she could erase the mental image of Karl stealing her blind day by day, week by week for the past three years. As it always did, the thought brought with it fresh humiliation.
She stepped back and studied the house. Karl lived by the creed that more was more. Here, that principle had been put to adequate test.
A pool took up most of the suburban backyard, surrounded by expensive, imported planters that anchored boxwoods the size of an overfed sumo wrestler. Wrought-iron loungers with plump cushions sat in neat rows at the water's edge.
She pictured herself upending each of them into the blue water. That was too petty, though. She was here for real evidence. Something concrete. Something she could take to the police, wave in their faces with an indignant, "See, I told you he was a scumbag!"
As to what that would be, she had no idea. She'd know it when she saw it. In all reality, could someone really embezzle millions of dollars without leaving a trail of some sort?
She patted a hand against the pocket of her zipup vest and pulled out her flashlight. She glanced down at the rest of her outfit. Turtleneck, gloves, cargo pants, boots. So maybe she'd gotten a little carried away with the Mission Impossible theme.
French doors served as a wall to the back of the house. She stepped forward and pressed her face against the glass, peering into the darkened living room. After learning that Karl and his new wife would be out of town until tomorrow afternoon, Kate had called the house earlier in the day to inform the maid she had a package to deliver to Mr. Forrester. Berta—leave it to Karl to import a German housekeeper—had said she would be there until 6:00 p.m. It was now seven-thirty. All the lights were off in the house, no one home. Still, her stomach dropped at the thought of being caught.
But then she envisioned herself standing in front of the divorce court judge, heard him say that as far as he could see, she had knowingly and willingly given her husband the authority to do with their joint funds as he had seen fit. "His name is on all the accounts, dear," he'd said, Southern disdain for her idiocy marking each word. "Your husband might have made some bad decisions, but there's no law against that. I suggest you be careful who you marry next time, young lady."
So there was no law against robbing your wife blind. There was, however, a law against breaking and entering. She sent a quick glance over both shoulders, then turned the flashlight around and placed the butt of it against the glass pane nearest the door handle. A quick jab, and the glass shattered, falling to the floor on the other side. She reached through the open cavity and pressed the lock. The door swung open, and the silence exploded.
She jumped as if poked with a cattle prod, even though she'd fully expected an extra-loud alarm system. Extra was Karl's style. If you could super-size it, his name was on the dotted line.
She stepped inside and closed the door, using the flashlight to wind her way down the hall to the front of the house.
The control panel was where she'd thought it would be: to the left of the door. She had forty-five seconds to figure out the code and turn off the alarm before the security company called. Earlier that day, she'd invested a couple of hours in coming up with the combinations Karl might have used.
Being married to Karl had left her with an absolute understanding of the three engines that pulled his train of thought: golf, women and money. And not necessarily in that order.
From her pants pocket, she pulled the piece of paper on which she'd written her best guesses.
First, golf. With one gloved finger, she punched in the two scores he had bragged about so often that the numbers were seared in her brain. 6265.
But the ear-piercing wail continued.
Door number two: women. She punched in 3624, picturing Karl's wife—Tiffany-the-interior-decorator, her surgically enhanced figure leaving little doubt as to what had initiated his defection.
But clearly Karl had not immortalized Tiffany's measurements in his alarm control panel. It continued its wail. Her nerve endings were beginning to feel as if they'd been dipped in Tabasco Sauce.
One more. Time was running out. She had ten seconds max. Next on the list: Karl's penchant for picking stocks. He played the market the way little old ladies in Las Vegas played the quarter slot machines, going online ten or fifteen times a day to monitor his latest picks. He'd hit the jackpot once, quoting the stock's sell price to anyone who would listen. She glanced at the piece of notepaper on which she'd written the last of her three guesses.
What if she were wrong?
She drew in a deep, hopeful breath and punched in the numbers.
The wailing immediately ceased. Ah. Silence. Peaceful, blessed silence.
And then she grew indignant again. It figured, after all. When it came right down to it, everything that mattered most to Karl centered around money. Without it, he couldn't afford golf or women.
She leaned her head against the wall, gathering up her now shredded nerves of steel. A neighbor could have heard the alarm. The police could be on their way right this minute.
Even as she indulged her paranoia, she knew the closest house lay well out of earshot. It wasn't likely that the police would have been notified. Now that the alarm was off, she should have all night to search the house.
Still slumping with relief, she turned around and waved the flashlight across the room. The main living area looked like a candy cane factory, the red-and-white stripes on the walls nearly blinding her. A hysterical giggle bubbled up from her throat and broke free, the sound ridiculous in the otherwise tomb-still house. Appearances were important to Karl. She wondered if he provided his business associates with protective eyewear when he entertained here.
She left the vertigo-inducing living room and aimed the flashlight down the hallway that led to the rest of the house. Tiffany's touch had found its way to these walls as well. Karl now had stripes in black and white, green and white, pink and white. The upside? If she could find something to convince the police he was a crook, he'd have no problem adjusting to his prison uniform.
The house felt eerie, pitch black as it was. But she didn't dare turn on any lights for fear that someone would notice and report it. Like the alarm code, she had planned this part of her efforts as well. She'd start with the most obvious place: Karl's office. Using the flashlight as a guide, she poked her head inside several different rooms until she found it.
Here, Tiffany had given up the striped wallpaper for paint. Purple was her color of choice, although Kate would bet Karl had dubbed it eggplant.
She headed for the desk, sat down in Karl's leather chair and began opening drawers, using the flashlight to illuminate their contents. The first three yielded nothing more than paper clips and files full of papers that meant nothing to her.
The bottom drawer was locked.
But she'd come prepared for locked drawers. She reached inside her vest pocket and pulled out the small black case that held a series of lock picks she'd managed to purchase at a pawn shop in the seedier part of Richmond.
She chose one and got to work, fumbling at first, then getting the hang of it. The first four did nothing. The fifth one, however, did the trick.
The drawer popped open. Again, there were files, neatly organized. Behind them sat a metal box. She reached for it first, surprised to find it unlocked. She popped the latch and then sat a little straighter at the sight of the gun nestled inside. What was Karl doing with a gun? A big one at that. In three years of marriage, she'd never known he had one.
Maybe he and Tiffany played games with it. A mental picture she didn't need.
Glad she'd reached the point where she could actually joke about the biggest mistake of her life, she slammed the lid closed and stuck the box back in the drawer. She worked on the files then, leafing through each of them in the hope that something incriminating would jump out at her.
Twenty minutes later, she'd found little more than records of car loans, garage services, health insurance.