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Tall, Dark, and Deadly
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Heather Graham Pozzessere
All rights reserved.
The house was coming along beautifully. Marnie Newcastle breathed a sigh of pleased relief as she opened the door and peeked into the old home she'd been renovating. It was almost done. There were still a few odds and ends to be taken care of—the contractor still had workmen coming in to do touch-up painting and carpentry. But she was thrilled—she finally felt as if she'd come home. It hadn't been easy. She'd been ready to kill the contractor. He'd been ready to kill her. But it had finally all come together.
She stepped into the foyer and absently closed the door behind her, looking around. The floor here was beige marble with accents of amber, the walls were ivory, and the antique chandelier was showcased against the plainer backdrop, making it a true focal point. To her left, she could see the living room and its captivating fireplace, flanked on either side by a goddess, Athena on the right, Hera on the left. To her right was the library, already filled with her books. Before her was a spiral staircase to the rooms above; around it was the hall to a completely renovated kitchen.
No, it hadn't been easy. She knew that all the men working on it, from the contractor to the plumber, had called her names behind her back—while accepting their checks, of course. But now even they could be proud. They had rebuilt a masterpiece.
She stepped into the center of the foyer, whirling around. Yes, she was home now.
The phone started to ring. She automatically reached into her purse for her cellular phone, but it wasn't there. She frowned, wondering where she had left it. Back at the office, in the car? But it wasn't the cell phone ringing anyway, it was the house phone. Where were the lines she had in at the moment? She'd only been sleeping here for a few days now. The phones ... there was one up in the bedroom and one back in the kitchen ... yes, that was the closest, a minimum of steps.
She walked through the hallway, still feeling a sense of satisfaction. The kitchen had a center butcher-block work stand and state-of-the-art stainless-steel appliances. She had wanted all this so badly, and she had gotten it. She worked, she'd sacrificed, she'd achieved. Her friends had always called her focused. She paused, biting her lip. Yes, she was what people called "hard." That was because they didn't understand how she had gotten this way.
For a moment she felt some of the old discomfort. Let them grow up with an abusive, alcoholic father and they'd figure it out fast enough.
She allowed herself a smile. She was good. She'd pursued some of the toughest cases out there, defending no-good—but rich—criminals to get where she wanted to be. She was a realist, and realistically, someone was going to take the cases, make the money. The way she saw it, that someone ought to be her. She tried to explain to her friends, that to move forward, you had to get your hands dirty. People said that attorneys were like sharks. Maybe. She had to be, though. She was a woman, and there were other associates in the firm ready to step on her, anxious to make partner first. They were always swimming with their jaws wide open.
The phone kept ringing. How did anyone know she was here? Silly question—she'd told her secretary she was coming here. And, she reminded herself, she lived here now.
She reached the phone, picked up the receiver, said a breathless "Hello?"
She didn't recognize the voice. It was very low and raspy, almost a whisper. Her contractor? No, he always sounded brusque and angry.
"Who is this?"
"You like the house?"
Was it her contractor? Must be. Maybe he had a cold. Or a hangover.
"Yes, it looks fabulous. Phil?" Phil Jenkins and Associates were the people working on the place.
Soft laughter followed.
"You didn't answer. Do you like the place?"
"Yes, of course, it's fabulous. Look, Phil, I've had a long day. I don't mean to be rude, but I don't want to spend time—"
"Time, Marnie. Time. Your time is so limited. More precious than you know."
"Yes, my time is precious!" she said impatiently. Hmm. Maybe she'd given Phil a bit too much of her time. He was getting possessive. Men never understood that there were women who lived on a logical plane. Not every relationship in life had to have a deep emotional meaning. "Look, Phil, I want to enjoy my house. Call back when you have something to say, huh?"
She set the phone down, annoyed. For a moment, though, she wondered if it really had been Phil.
She looked around her kitchen again. It led to the family room, which led to her pool and patio. The sun was beginning to set. The sky was the gold that came just as night blanketed day. The water in her pool seemed to be aquamarine. There was a little fountain in it. And beyond the pool was the bay. She could see all the way over to Key Biscayne. Upstairs, her bedroom looked out on that same incredible view. She couldn't wait to sleep here, have her first party here ... entertain here. She thought about her beautiful bedroom. For a moment she allowed herself to feel wistful. It would be nice to find a special guy. A really special guy.
The phone started ringing, irritating her back to the moment at hand. Phil again, being annoying, or one of her friends? Samantha Miller lived next door and could easily see her car. Maybe it was Sam and she could hop on over and see the house. They were right next door on the beautiful little man-enhanced finger of land reaching into the bay.
She picked up the phone, feeling happy once again. "Hello?"
"Don't hang up on me."
The same voice, grittier. Angry.
"Oh, no? Who the hell do you think you are? I'll hang up on whoever the hell I want to hang up on, asshole!"
She slammed the receiver down, shaking her head. She turned from the kitchen and walked back to the stairway. He was ruining it, whoever he was. Her first trip into her almost absolutely completed, beautiful new home. A place that was everything she had worked for.
She frowned as she walked up the stairs. Didn't that idiot Phil read the papers? They had said that she was beautiful and brilliant—and cold as ice and hard as steel. They could have been just a bit more imaginative, but still, she had liked the billing. And her firm had been inundated with requests after the article. Beautiful and brilliant, hard as steel, cold as ice—she was hardly likely to tolerate irritating phone calls.
Forget it, see the house! she told herself. Her home. Her achievement.
From her kitchen window next door, Samantha Miller looked over at her friend's house. She turned from the window to her oven. Time to flip the fish. Delicate stuff. Fresh dolphin, brought to her just that afternoon by Ann and Harry Lacata, clients of hers. She'd helped Harry get back in shape after a heart attack, but it was their son, Gregory, with whom she'd formed the most important relationship. She called him the man in her life. At age nine, Gregory was one of the most beautiful children she had ever seen, but he lived in his own world. He didn't come out often. Sometimes Sam could coax him out, and in the coaxing, she'd fallen a little bit in love. She glanced through the open kitchen doorway back to the glassed-in Florida room. Gregory, a lock of his pitch-black hair falling over one eye, was watching Lion King on the video. He could watch it for hours. Over and over again. Frequently he didn't respond when his name was called, but he could sit down at a piano and pick out any piece of music he had heard, barely missing a note on his first try.
Back to the matter at hand, she warned herself. Fresh seafood. Cook it just right, it was delicious. They were having dolphin the fish, not the mammal—she thought mechanically, something she always said to Northerners unaccustomed to the fish. Dinner was important tonight, and she wasn't exactly the Galloping Gourmet.
"Laura!" she called to her cousin, who was perched on one of the kitchen counter barstools. "I think Marnie is home. Why don't you give her a call and see if she wants to join us?"
Laura had been in the process of carefully touching just the tip of a raw carrot into a bowl of raspberry vinaigrette dip. She looked up, startled. "Call Marnie—tonight?"
"Sure. We've got plenty of fish."
Laura hesitated. "But—"
"She's just moved in. Call her, please."
Laura sighed. "It's just that ... well, this is for Aidan."
"Aidan likes Marnie."
"What male doesn't?" Laura murmured.
"He's your son," Sam reminded her.
"Umm, she likes 'em young and innocent."
"It's family night, and we already have Gregory here."
"Aidan is great with Gregory, and Gregory loves to see Aidan."
That was true. On some level, the very nearly adult Aidan and the nine-year-old autistic boy communicated beautifully. Their language was music.
"I adore Gregory, too, you know," Laura said a bit defensively.
"I know. You're trying to find an excuse not to call Marnie."
"All right, all right. I'll call her. We could use some free legal help with Aidan's copyrights and all that stuff. I'll call her. Maybe she can't come anyway!" Laura said cheerfully. Then she sobered as she stared at the carrot and dip.
Sam sighed deeply. "Laura, take a chance. Be daring. The dip isn't from a health food store, it's Marie Calendar's, right out of Publix."
Laura looked up guiltily. "All right, all right!" She popped the carrot stick into her mouth and started to dial, then stopped. "Wow! Great dip!"
"See what happens when you take chances in life?"
"Yeah, well, take a chance sometimes, and you've got a mouthful of jalapeño!" Laura retorted philosophically. "What's Marnie's number?"
Upstairs, Marnie wondered which way to go first ... ah, the guest suites. There were two of them to the southward side of the house, the rear of which looked out eastward to Key Biscayne. She walked out on the south balcony of the rear suite. From there she could see Sam's place. Cute as a button, but nowhere near as nice as hers. Sam didn't make her kind of money, not to mention the fact that Sam's family had owned the old place. It needed renovation badly; lots of the real estate people watched her house, waiting for it to go on the market so that a contractor could come in, make it brand-new, and sell it for a fortune over cost. Sam's folks had never had any money. Her father had been a schoolteacher, of all things. But his father had just happened to have a chance to buy waterfront property after a hurricane—when it was definitely at its cheapest—and so Sam had one of the nicest little places in the world. This kind of waterfront property was dwindling away now; it was almost nonexistent so close to downtown.
From the guest suites, she walked back down to her own bedroom. She admired the mahogany four-poster bed frame and her matching dressing table and dresser set. They gave the room so much symmetry. All right, she admitted to herself with a smile, so she was an organization freak. It had its benefits. She smiled, walking to the dressing table. A beautifully etched silver tray held her makeup in perfect order. Foundation, blush, liner, shadow, and mascara, all in a line. And to the side of the tray, her lipsticks and nail polishes—reds together, browns, mauves, and so on. She couldn't help it; she liked order. Order gave her more time.
The phone started ringing again. She hesitated, then walked over to the bedside table and answered it with a no-nonsense attitude. "Listen, asshole, leave me alone."
There was a hesitation. "Marnie?"
Marnie exhaled on a long sigh. "Laura?" She recognized the voice right away. Sam's cousin. She made a little face, which, of course, Laura couldn't see. Laura was sometimes too critical, but Sam could be fierce about the people she cared about. She was a love-me-love-my-dog type person, except that it was the people surrounding her that you had to love—or at least tolerate. And Marnie honestly liked Sam. She was, in her strange way, like a rock; even when they'd been in college, she'd refused to bow to peer pressure. She was a true friend—a rarity in this day and age.
"Yeah, it's me," Laura said, annoyed. "Why'd you call me an asshole?"
"I didn't call you an asshole, I—I thought you were someone else. Sorry. What's up?"
"I'm over at Sam's, and we thought we saw some life over at your new place."
"Yes, well, obviously, I'm here," she said, her pride and excitement growing. "Want to come and see it?"
"Can't right now—Sam's in the middle of cooking dinner. She's watching Gregory so his folks can get out, and I'm waiting for Aidan to show up—he promised to come over for Sam's fish and chips. Teenagers! I don't get to see much of my own son. Thought you might want to come over for dinner, too. Maybe fill us in on the tall, dark, and handsome character who just bought the new place on the other side of yours."
"How do you know he's tall, dark, and handsome?"
"I saw the back of his head the other day when he was going into the house. He's definitely tall, and dark. I didn't see his face, so I suppose that he could be ugly as sin."
"Have you met him yet?"
"Oh ... yes, of course I've met him." She made her voice sultry and suggestive.
"And?" Laura responded impatiently.
"Umm. Yes, he's quite tall, dark, and handsome. Wonderful. And guess what? He's actually someone we know—from Gainesville. Well, of course, you—being so much older—weren't really there with Sam and me, but I think you met him as well."
"Okay, so—shoot. Who is he?"
Marnie opened her mouth, then paused. She wasn't telling Laura yet. Laura would naturally tell Sam. Prepare her. Sam was her friend, honestly. But sometimes she couldn't help but feel jealous. Sam could accomplish with a word, the lift of a brow, a simple look, something that might take her twenty minutes of flirting to do. Elegance and grace came as naturally to Sam as breathing.
The new neighbor had changed like night and day, hearing that Sam was just a house away. Something would happen there, but Marnie would be damned if she was going to be the one to get it going.
"Oh, sweetie, you'll see him soon enough. Yes, he's tall, dark, handsome—and charming. I can't wait to spend more time with him, get to know him all over again." She hesitated, smiling slightly, determined to tease Laura and get her wondering for the rest of the night. "I'm sorry, can't tell you, not yet, you've got to stew a while. As to tonight, well, I'd love to come to dinner, but I have plans, thanks," Marnie said. Plans. Did she really have plans? Well, yes, if she wanted. And if she chose to back out on the invitation she had accepted, well ...
She didn't want to do a boring family thing. And Sam had that strange kid over, too. She understood that he was different, of course, but he unnerved her. He looked at her all the time as if he could see any little evil thought in her mind.
"Oh, Laura! Honest, you should see my place now, it's really fantastic. They finished up almost all of the last-minute touches today. Sam needs to come over. I can give her some good ideas for when she decides to redo her place."
"Yeah, she'll come soon enough. Well—"
A beeping on the line cut off Laura's voice. Call waiting. Modern technology was just wonderful.
"Hang on, somebody's on the line, and come to think of it, it may be my date for this evening—someone tall, dark, and handsome," Marnie told Laura. She clicked the button on the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey, Marnie. How do you like the bedroom?"
That damn voice again, a whisper, but deep and husky. This time the raspy sound of it unnerved her. "How do you know I'm in the bedroom?" she asked before thinking.
"Oh, I know where you are, Marnie. I know you. 'Cold as ice, hard as steel.' What they really meant was that you're one hell of a bitch."
"You call again, and I'll call the police."
"Oh, I won't exactly be calling again, Marnie. Don't worry. Because I do know where you are. I know exactly where you are."
This time the caller hung up. "Jerk!" Marnie whispered before clicking back to Laura. "Hey, kid, I guess I gotta—" She broke off, this time hearing a knocking sound downstairs. "The workmen are screwing around," she told Laura. "I've got to go scream at someone."
Excerpted from Tall, Dark, and Deadly by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1999 Heather Graham Pozzessere. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I like this author and even though this is an early work it was a great read.