A YOUNG WOMAN ARRIVES IN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE ON EARTH ONLY TO FIND THAT NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS IN THE CHARMERS, AN EMOTIONALLY CHARGED THRILLER FROM NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR ELIZABETH ADLER
On the narrow coastal strip in the South of France lies the idyllic Villa Romantica, the home Mirabella Matthews has newly inherited from her Aunt Jolly, who died suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. A tragedy, no doubt, but with it comes a fresh start for Mirabellaa writer in need of a change in sceneryuntil, on her way to the villa, she is run off the road by a motorcycle. And that’s only the beginning of the mysterious goings-on. . .Soon, Mirabella learns that Aunt Jolly had a dark pastpopulated by men who are now crawling out of the woodwork. Who can Mirabella trust in the midst of such madness? And who is using charm to mask the face of a murderer?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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By Elizabeth Adler
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Elizabeth Adler
All rights reserved.
Antibes, South of France
The Boss, as he was called by everyone, even those that did not work for him and merely knew his reputation, strode purposefully past the seafront terrace bars until he came to the one he favored, where he pulled a chair from a table in the third row back, closest to the building. He always liked to face the street, the crowds, the other customers, keep his back against the wall, so to speak. Backs were vulnerable, his particularly so.
Despite the heat he was comfortable in white linen pants and a blue-and-white-print shirt, sleeves rolled up over his muscular forearms. His watch was neither gold nor flashy, though it was certainly expensive.
The chairs were small for a man his size, big, built like a wrestler. Most chairs were, except of course for the ones specifically crafted for his many homes. He was a man who liked his comforts, and coming from his background, who could blame him? Though you could blame him for the way he'd gone about getting them.
The waiter recognized him. Smiling, obsequious, linen napkin draped over an arm, and tray in hand, he inquired what his pleasure might be.
Lemonade was the answer. The Boss did not drink liquor, not even wine in this wine-growing country. The estates around St. Tropez in particular produced a benign, gently flavored rosé that slid down comfortably with a good lunch of lobster salad, or with the crisp and very fresh vegetables served raw with a house-made mayonnaise dip. They crunched between the teeth and had the added benefit of making the eater feel virtuous at not having had the hearty sandwich on the delicious locally baked bread many others were tucking into.
The lemonade came immediately, along with a bowl of ice and a spoon so he might help himself, decide how cold he wanted it, how diluted. He took a sip, and nodded to the waiter, who asked if there would be anything else. The waiter was told that there was not, but that he was expecting someone. He should be shown immediately to the table.
The Boss's original Russian name was Boris Boronovsky, which he had changed some time ago to a more satisfactorily acceptable European Bruce Bergen, though he looked nothing like a "Bruce." He had a massive build, exactly, he had been told, like that of a Cossack from the Steppes: mighty on a horse, saber in hand, ready to take on the enemy. Yet his face was lean, with craggy cheekbones and deep-set eyes, lined from a lifetime of scouting for danger, which was all around. In his world it was anyway. And now at the international property level where land was fought over for the millions it would bring, that danger was ever-present. He knew always to look over his shoulder.
The Boss certainly took on the enemy, though not in an overtly aggressive fashion. He was more discreet, more subtle, more specific in his methods. He had always known, even as a child growing up — or more like existing — in the cold cabin outside the town of Minsk in Belarus, that he was destined for better things. No forest cabin for him, no logging trees, risking life and limb with a power saw; no dragging great lumps of wood still oozing sap onto a tractor so old it no longer functioned and was pulled instead by two donkeys with long faces like biblical animals in Renaissance frescoes. There was just something about those donkeys that made Boris think that, like in the paintings, they should have golden halos over their heads. Sometimes there was an unexpected tenderness in him, odd in such a brutal man.
The donkeys worked hard, were obedient to his commands, alert when he gave them food, drank from the stone trough when he permitted them to stop, thin sides shivering, ribs sticking out. Until one day they were not pulling hard anymore, their heads drooped with weariness, too weak to go on. He shot them where they stood, butchered them, sold the meat door-to-door in the town as fresh venison. Nobody knew the difference, or if they did they never said because Boris was intimidating, with his height, his massive build, his intense dark stare.
It wasn't long before he realized the power that stare and his very presence brought to any scene, whether it was the local market or the city streets. He was from a poor family who'd given him a brief education and strived to elevate him in society. He would certainly have become moderately successful, a big fish in a small pond, but the one element in Boris's character that no one perceived but himself was that he was capable of doing anything. Anything at all to further his ascent into the larger world he knew existed and that he wanted to be part of. More than part of; he wanted to own it. As he wanted to own the women in his life. Besides, he enjoyed intimidating women, liked to see fear in their eyes. It pleased him. There was only one way to leave, and it was not out the front door.
It had taken several years existing in a number of Ukrainian towns, then on through Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and ultimately France, before he achieved his goals. And the place where he was most comfortable, of all the homes he owned, was the sprawling villa overlooking the Mediterranean in the hills in the South of France. Which is where he was now, in Antibes, at the café, sipping a lemonade iced just sufficiently to his taste, awaiting the arrival of the man known merely as "the Russian."
Everybody in the Boss's world had a name that was not the one they were given by their parents at birth. Those were long forgotten, buried like their enemies, or their victims, long ago. The Boss had given up carrying out any such distasteful tasks himself. Now, he employed men like the Russian to do them for him.
But the Russian was late. The Boss tapped his fingers impatiently on the table and the waiter popped up immediately next to him. He waved him off as he saw the Russian wending his way through the tables to where he was sitting.
He was a plain man, undistinguished in any way, which was crucial to his job. Nobody ever recognized him, nobody so much as remembered him. Medium height, medium hair, maybe receding a bit, glasses sometimes with wire rims, sometimes horn-rims, sometimes no rims at all. Often a Panama hat, open-neck shirt, never a tie unless it was a city job. Inexpensive jacket but not too obviously cheap, after all he made good money doing what he did. Didn't like to flaunt it on the job, was all.
He took a seat opposite the Boss, offered his hand, which the Boss did not shake. Stung, the Russian called over the waiter, ordered a dirty martini, two olives. It was barely eleven-thirtyA.M. and the Boss did not like it. A man who drank could be a dangerous man. He waved the waiter back, canceled the order, said to bring a double espresso and be sharp about it.
The Russian made no complaint, he knew better. He sat quietly, listening, as the Boss told him what he wanted done.
"There is a house in the hills nearby. In fact you can see it from here." He pointed across the arc of the bay to the greenery beyond, and a glimpse of a pink stucco villa. "In that house is a painting. Small. The artist's name is Turner. The woman who owned the house died recently."
The Russian nodded. He knew about Jolly Matthews's death.
"I immediately made an offer to buy the whole property, the hectares of land adjoining it, plus the contents, including artworks, most of which in my mind are worthless, but that the old woman enjoyed all her life. She was a social acquaintance, known to all as Aunt Jolly though her real name was Juliet Matthews. When she passed, I made contact with the legal representatives of the heir, a woman by the name of Mirabella Matthews. A writer of some kind of entertaining novels." The Boss was a snob about both art and literature, though he scarcely read anything other than the local newspaper, the Nice-Matin, and the Wall Street Journal.
"The heir, through her representative, has refused to sell. I wish to build a fourteen-story condo on that property. I increased my offer considerably. Meanwhile, through subtle means, I found out the details of the contents, and that the one piece of real value is that painting. I want it for my collection. I cannot get it by legal means. Therefore, I am asking you to take care of this task for me."
The Russian nodded. It was the kind of work he did. None of it was legal, none of it could be mentioned, most of it was lucrative. He had removed jewels from vaults, pearls from necks, cars from underground garages. Everything had a value and there was always somebody willing to pay.
"I'll get you the painting," he said.
The Boss named a price. The Russian shook his head. "It's not the value of the painting," he said, then added, "sir," as compensation for what he was about to say. "It's what it's worth to you."
"It is worth everything," the Boss said. And it was. He wanted that land and the painting the bitch, Jolly Matthews, had denied him in her lifetime. He would have both now that she was dead. Of course the police were looking into her death, and rightly so, because obviously, with a knife in her back, she had been murdered.
Perhaps a robbery, the police were speculating. Maybe the house was turned over, that sort of thing. They'd never trace that knife, though. There were millions like it and the Russian knew every source. Jolly Matthews had gotten in the Boss's way, triumphed over him in life but not in death. All he had to do now was get his hands on her property.
Architectural plans were already drawn up, documents were ready to be submitted for planning permission, already promised and paid for, of course. Millions would be made by everybody, though the green hillside would disappear under a plague of small villas, most of which would be bought by people who intended them to be rented out and everybody knew that in a couple of years rental properties often became shabby and neglected, and would downgrade the area.
The Boss did not care about the future. He would make money from each part of the deal: the sale of the land, the construction of the buildings, the sale of those properties, the infrastructure — roads, water, electricity. And to top it all would be the fourteen-story apartment building, the max allowed even to him in the restricted area, and the top three floors, which would become for a few years his new home. His would be a magnificent view down to the sea, of the yachts, the palm trees, a view better than most everyone's. Not all though, because this was a rich man's playground, yet certainly better than many of his soon-to-be neighbors.
And to highlight it, he wanted the Turner. Of course he could buy any painting he desired, and had. His walls were already adorned with a couple of Picassos, maybe not the best because they were, even for him, hard to come by and usually went though private, almost secretive sales. He had a few Impressionists, as well as some Italians: a Raphael, a Caravaggio, whatever his advisors recommended. None of them impressed him but they were expected of a man in his position. This Turner painting had become an obsession and he was a man who got what he wanted.
Right now, the thing he liked best of all that he owned was the fifty-foot Riva he sailed himself, at top speed the length of the coast from Marseille to Menton, leaving other boats awash in the great surge of its wake. There'd been a few insurance claims as a result but of course he'd settled quietly, out of court. In that sense, he was a man of his word, and held respect for his fellow sailors.
He was aware though, of how impressive he looked to those in the passing boats, with his great height, his white captain's cap with the gold braid and navy-blue anchor, his sun-browned chest, shaved of hair so he did not quite resemble a bear, which is what some woman had told him, mocking him, while he ran his heavy hands over her own lithe body.
Actually, he had liked the comparison; he'd chuckled over it, looking at himself in the mirror over the bed, a great bear, full of power. That was him.
And he wanted his condos on that land, and the painting, the Turner, on his wall. Everything Jolly Matthews had denied him in life would be his now that she was dead. And if that meant removing Mirabella Matthews from the scene, so be it.CHAPTER 2
My name is Mirabella Matthews, a name you might recognize as I am a well-known author of suspense novels. I'm on the train from Paris to Nice, attempting to ignore the fraught-looking young blonde sitting opposite, and whose problems I certainly do not want to hear, though I can tell she is dying to unburden herself. I turn my head away, hoping not to be the one who has to hear it all.
I am returning once again to the scene of the crime: the villa I had visited several times and which I have inherited upon the sudden and unexplained death of my Aunt Jolly, a tragedy that is taking me from an apartment in London to the shores of the South of France. They have not yet found out who killed her, nor have they discovered why.
She was simply gone, "in the twinkling of an eye," as they say, and I became a rich woman. I had not always seen eye to eye with Aunt Jolly, who disapproved of my youthful antics. She once invited me to stay and I stood her up for a more tempting offer from a man I could not resist. More fool me. It didn't last. Aunt Jolly's attention did. I learned the hard way, but then, don't we all?
The villa lured me with a magic my family home in Scotland never had. "Home" in my childhood was a Victorian turreted redbrick monstrosity, from which I longed to escape, especially after Mom "went over the wall," as Dad succinctly put it, with an American tourist, leaving him to cope with an obstreperous and angry ten-year-old.
It was my job to help clean out the stables, morning and evening. The horses knew I was afraid of them and would lean on me, trapping me against the wall, or do a nifty little back-kick that invariably got my shins. I hated it, but I liked the outfit, the tight little cream jodhpurs, the black jacket, and cute velvet helmet.
I guess when Dad had had enough, he sent me off to live for a while with what he termed "foster parents," though they were no relation and simply made a living from taking in boarders like me. Life there was not much different, except it was in Wyoming. Both were equally cold in winter.
After a couple of years they sent me back, having also had enough, I suppose. Back in Scotland, I wore a pleated tartan kilt fastened with an oversized safety pin to protect my modesty from the everlasting wind that blew it apart, displaying more, I'm sure, than anyone ever wanted to see. I also wore heavy woolen shooting socks, the kind made specially for men and days out in the woods and fields, gun in hand, ready to murder a few innocent pheasant, that I refused to eat when they showed up later on the dinner table. Every Sunday the family attended church where a lady in a feathered hat pounded out "Abide with Me" on an organ with many pipes. I can still sing every verse.
Needless to say it didn't last long. London called. And boys — well, men really.
In London I went through my gauzy, "hippie" phase, all fluttering skirts and softly draped tops with a large fake jewel or two prominently displayed on my bosom. This was when I met husband number one, about whom the less said the better. His only excuse was that he was as young as I was.
Then it was on to smart little suits and heels, very businesslike. I took a job as a receptionist at an agency for actors where I met some fun people, all of whom were as broke as I was. I also met husband number two. An actor of course.
After him, and I was still only twenty years old, came the "debutante" era: the dirndl skirt, the little white frilly collared shirt, the cashmere cardigan, and the flats, with a bag big enough to pack a weekend's clothes in, which I often did. Along with that look came husband number three. I never could resist a man with charm and he had it in spades. He also had money but I got none of it when I left, being too goody-goody to take any man's money. "Fool," was more like it. Obviously, I was having trouble "finding myself."
A couple years later I took the train to Paris, and then to Nice and Aunt Jolly. Well, that was then. And now is now.
And now, I guess, I'm just me. Or who I perceive I am currently. Like the characters in the books I write, I can change with the wind.
Excerpted from The Charmers by Elizabeth Adler. Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Adler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I. The Present,
Part II. Jerusha 1930s,
Part III. Jerusha and the Past,
Part IV. The Present,
Also by Elizabeth Adler,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book had a great storyline throughout many years . The characters were very interesting and I liked how she tied them altogether !
Always loved her books, however this one was truly not good.
This is yet another author I haven't read. I have heard of her, but always thought she did more like poetry. I was entertained for the most part by this book. However, there were a few parts that I found a little unbelievable and just seemed as though they had just been thrown in. I loved that the story went back and told the history of the house and the woman who it was built for. What a happy, mostly sad life she led. I thought overall it was a great read and one that I enjoyed reading. The scenery descriptions made me feel as if I was there and I felt I really wanted to hang out with Verity and Mirabella. I'd definitely go shopping with them. Ha!! Thanks to St. Martin's Press for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
I've always read and loved Elizabeth Adler's Books but I have to say this is the worst one ever. If this is her direction, I shall never buy another one. What a terrible waste of money and time!
Cant believe she even wrote it