In 1930s California, glamour and seduction spawn a multitude of sins in this New York Times bestseller from the author of Tightrope.
At the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel on the coast of California, rookie reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool....
The dead woman had something Irene wanted: a red-hot secret about an up-and-coming leading man—a scoop that may have gotten her killed. As Irene searches for the truth about the drowning, she’s drawn to a master of deception. Once a world-famous magician whose career was mysteriously cut short, Oliver Ward is now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel. He can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene, a woman who seems to have appeared in Los Angeles out of nowhere four months ago.
With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under....
About the Author
Amanda Quick is a pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz, the author of more than fifty New York Times bestsellers. She writes historical romance novels under the Quick name, contemporary romantic suspense novels under the Krentz name, and futuristic romance novels under the pseudonym Jayne Castle. There are more than 35 million copies of her books in print.
Read an Excerpt
The abstract painting on the bedroom wall was new. It had been painted in fresh blood.
There was blood everywhere in the elegant, white-on-white boudoir. It soaked the dead woman’s silver satin evening gown and the carpet beneath her body. There was blood on the white velvet seat of the dainty chair in front of the pretty little dressing table.
Anna Harris’s first thought was that she had walked into the middle of a nightmare. The scene simply could not be real. She was asleep and dreaming.
But she had grown up on a farm. She had hunted deer with her grandfather. Caught and cleaned fish. Helped deliver calves. She knew the cycle of life and the smell of death.
Still, she could not leave the room until she made certain. Helen had collapsed on her side, facing the wall. Anna crouched next to the body and reached out to check for a pulse. There wasn’t one, of course.
There was a gun, however. A small one. It lay on the carpet not far from Helen’s right hand. Acting on instinct—she certainly wasn’t thinking clearly now—Anna scooped up the weapon.
It was then that she saw the message. Helen had used her own blood to write it on the silver-flocked wallpaper just above the baseboard. Run.
And in that moment, Anna knew that the perfect new life she had been living for the past year was an illusion. The reality was a dark fairy tale.
She rushed down the hall to her lovely blue and white bedroom, pulled a suitcase out of the closet, and started flinging clothes into it. Like the shoes and the frock she was wearing, almost all of her wardrobe was new, the gift of her generous employer. Can’t have my private secretary looking like she shops at a secondhand store, Helen had said on several occasions.
Anna was shaking so badly she could barely get the suitcase closed and locked. With effort she managed to haul it off the bed.
She went back to the closet and took the shoebox off the top shelf. Tossing the lid aside, she started to reach into the box for the money she kept inside. She had been in her late teens a few years earlier when the crash occurred, but like so many others who had lived through the experience, she had no faith in banks. She kept her precious savings close at hand in the shoebox.
She froze at the sight of what was inside the box.
There was money, all right—too much money.
With all of her living expenses paid for by her employer, she had been able to save most of her salary for the past year, but she certainly had not saved anywhere near the amount that was in the box. Helen must have added the extra cash. It was the only explanation, but it made no sense.
In addition to the money there was a small, leather-bound notebook and a letter written on Helen’s expensive stationery.
If you are reading this, it means that I have made the biggest mistake a woman can make—I have fallen in love with the wrong man. I’m afraid that I am not the person you believed me to be. I apologize for the deception. Take the notebook, the money, and the car. Run for your life. Get as far away as possible and disappear. Your only hope is to become someone else. You must not trust anyone—not the police, not the FBI. Above all, never trust a lover.
I wish I could give you the glowing reference you deserve. But for your own sake you must never let anyone know that you once worked for me.
As for the notebook, I can only tell you that it is dangerous. I do not pretend to understand the contents. I would advise you to destroy it, but if the worst happens, you may be able to use it as a bargaining chip.
I have always considered us to be two of a kind—women alone in the world who are obliged to live by our wits.
I wish you all the best in your new life. Get as far away as possible from this house and never look back.
Yours with affection,
Helen Spencer had been bold, adventurous, and daring—a woman of the modern age. She had lived life with passion and enthusiasm, and for the past year Anna had been caught up in her glittering, fast-paced world. If Helen said that it was necessary to run, then it was, indeed, vital that Anna run.
She emptied the contents of the shoebox into her secretarial handbag. After a few seconds’ hesitation she put Helen’s little gun inside, as well. She closed the handbag, gripped it in one hand, hoisted the suitcase, and hurried out into the hall.
When she went past Helen’s bedroom she tried not to look at the body, but she could not help herself.
Helen Spencer had been ravishingly beautiful, an angelic blonde with sparkling blue eyes. Wealthy, charming, and gracious, she had paid her small household staff, including her secretary, very well. In return, she had demanded loyalty and absolute discretion concerning her seemingly small eccentricities such as her occasional demands for privacy and her odd travel schedule.
Like the others on the mansion’s very small staff—the middle-aged housekeeper and the butler—Anna had been happy to accommodate Helen. It had been an enchanted life, but tonight it was over.
Anna went down the stairs. She had always known that her good fortune could not last. Orphans developed a realistic view of life early on.
When she reached the ground floor she went past Helen’s study. She glanced inside and saw that the door of the safe was open. The desk lamp was on. There was a blue velvet bag inside the safe.
She hesitated. Something told her that she had to know what was inside the velvet bag. Perhaps the contents would explain what had happened that night. She set the suitcase on the floor, crossed the study, and reached into the safe. Scooping up the velvet bag, she loosened the cord that cinched it closed and turned it upside down over the desk.
Emeralds and diamonds glittered in the lamplight. The necklace was heavy and old-fashioned in design. It looked extremely valuable. Helen had some very good jewelry but Anna was sure she had never seen the necklace. It wasn’t Helen’s style. Perhaps it was a family heirloom.
But the more pressing question was, why would the killer open the safe and then leave such an expensive item behind?
Because he was after something else, she thought. The notebook.
She slipped the necklace into the velvet sack and put it into the safe.
She went back into the hall, picked up the suitcase, and rushed outside. The sporty Packard coupe that Helen had insisted upon giving her was waiting in the drive. She tossed the suitcase and the shoebox into the trunk and got behind the wheel—and nearly went limp with gratitude and relief when the well-tuned engine started up on the first try.
She turned on the lights, put the car in gear, and drove down the long, winding drive, through the open gates, and away from the big house.
She gripped the wheel very tightly and forced herself to concentrate. She had not learned all of Helen Spencer’s secrets tonight but she had stumbled upon enough of them to make one thing blazingly clear: She had to get as far away from New York as possible.
The narrow mountain road twisted and turned on itself as it snaked down into the valley, a harrowing trip for those unaccustomed to it, especially at night. But her grandfather had taught her to drive when she was thirteen, and she learned on bad mountain roads. She knew how to handle tight curves, and she knew this particular mountain road very well. She had driven her employer back and forth between the Manhattan apartment and the secluded mansion many times during the past year.
Helen’s faithful butler, Mr. Bartlett, had doubled as her chauffeur before Anna arrived at the mansion. But Bartlett’s eyesight had begun to fail. Helen had been thinking of looking for a new driver when she hired Anna. Helen had been delighted to discover that, in addition to her stenography skills, her private secretary was also a skilled driver. Saves me from having to hire a chauffeur, she had said.
Helen had always been very keen on keeping staff to a bare minimum. She was not a stingy employer—just the opposite, in fact—but she had made it clear that she did not want a lot of people around her at the mansion. Tonight it occurred to Anna that the reason Helen had limited the number of people on her household staff was because she had secrets to hide.
I’ve been incredibly naïve, Anna thought.
She had always prided herself on taking a cold-eyed, realistic view of the world. A woman in her position could not afford the luxuries of optimism, hope, and sentiment. For the most part she considered herself to be quite intuitive when it came to forming impressions of others. But when she did make mistakes, the results tended to be nothing short of catastrophic.
She reached the small, sleepy village at the foot of the mountain and turned onto the main road. Unable to think clearly enough to come up with a destination, she pursued a random route, passing through a string of tiny towns.
She continued driving an erratic pattern straight through the next day, stopping only for gas and a sandwich. But at nightfall exhaustion forced her to pull into an autocamp. The proprietors did not ask for a name, just enough money to cover the cost of a private cabin and a hot meal.
She collapsed on a cot and slept fitfully until dawn. In her feverish dreams she fled from an unseen menace while Helen urged her to run faster.
She awoke to the smell of coffee. A newspaper delivery truck arrived while she was eating the breakfast provided by the couple who operated the camp. She bought a paper and unfolded it with a mix of dread and curiosity. The news of Helen Spencer’s murder was on the front page.
Wealthy N.Y. Socialite Savagely Murdered.
Private Secretary Missing. Wanted for Questioning.
Stolen Necklace Found in Dead Woman’s Safe.
Shock iced Anna’s blood. She was now a suspect in the murder of Helen Spencer. Helen’s warning came back to her: You must not trust anyone—not the police, not the FBI. Above all, never trust a lover.
The last bit, at least, was easy enough, Anna thought. She did not have a lover. She had not had one since Bradley Thorpe. That humiliating debacle was the last occasion on which her intuition had failed quite spectacularly.
She pulled herself back from the cliff-edge of panic. She was a proud graduate of the Gilbert School for Secretaries. Gilbert Girls did not panic. She had been trained to exert control over chaos. She knew how to set priorities.
First things first: It was time to choose a destination. She could not continue to drive aimlessly up and down the East Coast. The very thought of spending weeks, months, or years on the run was enough to shatter her nerves. Besides, the money would not last forever. Sooner or later she would have to go to ground. Catch her breath. Get a job. Invent a new life.
She was not the only person who had spent the night in the autocamp. The others gathered around the table for breakfast, eager to get back on the road. They chatted easily, sharing travelers’ tales. All of the conversations started the same way. Where are you headed?
There were many answers but one in particular stood out because it sparked curiosity, wonder, and several nods of agreement around the table.
By the time she finished breakfast she had made her decision. She would do what countless others had done when they were forced to build new lives. She would head for that mythical land out west where a vast blue ocean sparkled beneath a cloudless sky, and orange trees grew in people’s backyards. A land where glamorous people created magic on the silver screen and got involved in titillating scandals in their spare time. A land where everyone was too busy inventing the future to care that she had no past.
She got back behind the wheel and started driving west.
Somewhere along the line she came up with a new name for herself: Irene Glasson. It had a Hollywood ring to it, she thought.
She found the highway to her future right where the other travelers had said it would be—in downtown Chicago.
Route 66 would take her all the way to California.
“You failed.” Graham Enright folded his hands on top of the desk. “In addition to terminating Spencer, you were supposed to acquire the notebook.”
Julian was standing in front of the art deco portrait on the wall, examining it with the intent expression of a connoisseur. He could have passed for one if necessary. Not only had he received an excellent education that included an appreciation of the fine arts, he was a born actor.
From his artfully cut blond hair to his fashionable suit with its perfectly knotted tie and the elegant pocket square, he looked as if he played polo in his spare time. The accent and manners were pure East Coast Old Money, and it wasn’t an act. Julian’s ancestors had not actually arrived on the Mayflower, but they had been on board a yacht that docked soon thereafter.
“I assumed the notebook would be in Spencer’s safe,” Julian said. He looked and sounded bored by the conversation. “It was the logical place to look so I cracked it. Took me several minutes, by the way. When I realized the damned notebook wasn’t inside I searched the study and Spencer’s bedroom. It would have been impossible to go through the entire house. The old mansion is huge.”
“Spencer probably had a second safe, maybe one hidden in the floor.”
Julian inhaled deeply on his cigarette. The brand was French. Very expensive. Very exclusive.
“What did you expect me to do?” he said. He did not take his eyes off the portrait. “Pry up every floorboard in search of a hidden safe? Sorry, I’m not a carpenter. I don’t do household remodeling work.”
“You shouldn’t have gotten rid of Spencer until you had that notebook in your hands.”
“Spencer kept a gun in her bureau drawer. At some point she became suspicious. She went for the weapon. I had no choice. It’s not my fault I couldn’t find the damned notebook.”
“The client is not going to be pleased.”
“That’s your problem, not mine. You’re management. I’m just a field agent, remember? True, I’m your only field agent but, nevertheless, I’m just hired help.”
Graham ignored the barb. “Enright and Enright has a contract to recover the notebook and get rid of anyone who might have had access to it. I expect you to complete the assignment.”
Julian turned around. “I’ll be happy to make further inquiries but I want something in return.”
Graham controlled his temper with an effort. He was not in a position to bargain. The reputation of Enright & Enright was on the line.
“What do you want?” Graham asked.
“A promotion to vice president of the firm.”
Graham pretended to give that some intense thought. Then he nodded curtly.
“Very well,” he said. “But I will expect results and I will expect them soon.”
Julian’s sensual mouth curved faintly. His gem green eyes glinted with amusement. “You really are nervous about this contract, aren’t you?”
“I want it completed satisfactorily, yes. The client is a new one with very deep pockets and wide-ranging interests. If we are successful, there is the potential for a great deal of future business.”
“You seem particularly keen to land this particular client. Why is it so important?”
“It represents a golden opportunity for the firm to expand its business into the international sphere.”
That got Julian’s attention, just as Graham had known it would.
“This client has international interests?” Julian asked.
Graham allowed himself a small, satisfied smile. “It does, indeed.”
“What sort of interests are we talking about?”
“A wide variety. You read the newspapers. The modern world is an unstable place.”
Julian waved that aside. “That’s hardly a new development. The world has always been an unstable place. But until now Enright and Enright has confined its activities to the United States.”
Graham pushed back his chair and got to his feet. He went to stand at the window. He had a spectacular view of New York City, but in his mind’s eye he saw Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and beyond—all the way to the Far East. He intended to position the firm to take advantage of the opportunities that would abound in the future. It would be his legacy, he thought, the legacy that he would leave to his son and heir, who would, in turn, provide future generations of Enrights.
Not that he planned to leave that legacy to his son anytime soon. Graham was still in his prime, healthy and fit. He came from a long-lived line. Unfortunately, the men of the Enright line were not very prolific. After two wives—both deceased—he had managed to sire only one heir.
The law firm of Enright & Enright had been founded by his father, Neville Enright, amid the chaos following the Civil War. Neville had understood that the desire for money and power and revenge were forms of lust and, therefore, immutable aspects of human nature. Firms that catered to those elemental lusts would always prosper, regardless of stock market crashes and wars.
On the surface, Enright & Enright was a respected law firm that specialized in estate planning for an exclusive, wealthy clientele. But in addition, it provided very discreet services to those willing to resort to any means to achieve their objectives so long as they could keep their own hands clean. For a hefty fee, Enright & Enright was willing to do the dirty work for its clients.
In the aftermath of the War to End All Wars it had become clear to Graham that not only would there be more wars in the future, there would also be an unlimited demand for the services that Enright & Enright provided.
It had also become obvious that the rapid advances in modern technology—faster modes of transportation and communications as well as more efficient weaponry—would open up new markets and new opportunities.
“The times are changing,” he said. “The firm must change with them. To do so we must cultivate clients such as the one that has commissioned us to retrieve the notebook.”
“A client with international interests,” Julian repeated softly. “Very interesting.”
He no longer sounded bored. There was something new in his voice. Anticipation. Graham was pleased and more than a little relieved. Satisfied, he turned around.
“The only way to secure this client is to find the notebook and get rid of anyone who might be aware of its value,” he said. “You will, of course, have the full resources of the firm at your disposal.”
Julian headed toward the door. “I’ll get started immediately.”
“One moment, if you don’t mind.”
Julian paused, his hand on the doorknob. “What is it?”
“Can I assume you have some idea of where to start looking?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” Julian said. “Spencer employed only three people. One of them has gone missing.”
Graham tensed. “Which one?”
“The private secretary, Anna Harris. An orphan with no family and, given her career, very little money, unless she stole some from Spencer. She is the only member of the staff who disappeared, so it seems likely that she took the notebook.”
“The thing is, Anna Harris is not a professional like Spencer. She won’t know how to go about making a deal for an item as dangerous as the notebook without revealing herself to someone who is watching for it to appear on the underground market.”
“Someone like you.”
“Thanks to the firm’s connections I can keep an eye on that market. Don’t worry, Anna Harris and the notebook will show up sooner or later, and when they do, I’ll deal with both issues.”
“Why didn’t you mention this before?”
Julian smiled his fallen-angel smile. “Because I wanted to know just how important this contract was to you.”
“I see. What makes you think that this Anna Harris knows the value of the notebook?”
“I’m sure of it, because she fled without helping herself to the necklace that was in the safe. She must have seen it. Why would a poor secretary leave such a valuable item behind unless she thought she had something of even greater value to sell?”
“Good point,” Graham said. “But I must say, I’m surprised that Spencer confided the truth about the notebook to her secretary.”
Julian’s brows rose. “Are you really? We both know that, sooner or later, private secretaries discover a great deal about their employers’ confidential business.”
Graham grunted. “Very true.”
It was unfortunate that the very qualities that made for a skilled secretary—intelligence, organizational talents, and the ability to anticipate her employer’s needs before he was even aware of them—were the same qualities that eventually caused problems.
He was always careful to hire experienced single women who lacked family and social connections. His current secretary was a fine example. Raina Kirk was in her thirties and alone in the world. There was no man in her life and no close relations. When it came time to let her go, there would be no problems.
“Don’t worry,” Julian said. “Anna Harris is just a secretary who made off with her employer’s property. Her first objective will be to try to sell the notebook. But she won’t have the least idea of how to find a buyer for such an exotic item. Once she starts putting out feelers, she’ll give herself away very quickly.”
“Let’s hope you’re right. One more thing.”
Julian had been about to open the door. He sighed rather theatrically and turned back to face Graham.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Was it absolutely essential to make such a mess of the Spencer job? The murder is making headlines because the police believe that whoever killed the victim is a homicidal maniac.”
“Which distracts them from the true reason for the kill,” Julian said with exaggerated patience. “That was the point. They are now looking for a madman—or, possibly, a madwoman. They won’t make the connection to the notebook.”
He let himself out into the reception area. Graham saw him give Raina a warm, seductive smile just before he closed the door.
Graham sat down at his desk. Julian’s explanation for the bloody death was reasonable, but he could have taken a less spectacular approach. A motor vehicle accident or a suicide might have generated headlines—Helen Spencer moved in society—but neither would have involved the police.
He realized that what concerned him was Julian’s penchant for the sensational. He clearly enjoyed the thrill of the kill. Graham understood. We’re only young once, he reminded himself. Nevertheless, it was time that Julian matured and learned to control his impulsive nature.
Graham contemplated the portrait of himself that hung on the wall. The artist, Tamara de Lempicka, had used her talent to give him an aura of mystery and glamour. He appeared both intensely masculine and darkly sensual. The light turned his blond hair to gold. His green eyes glowed like jewels. Lempicka had called him Lucifer during the sittings and tried to seduce him. Her illicit liaisons were the stuff of legend. He smiled at the memory.
Better to reign in hell, he thought, especially when one commanded such a profitable version of Hades.
He was untroubled by thoughts of heaven and hell because he was not a religious man. He did not consider himself a vain man, either, but he had to admit that he was quietly pleased with the portrait. He was some thirty years older than Julian, but the similarity between the two of them was unmistakable. Anyone who saw Julian standing next to the Lempicka portrait would recognize the truth immediately.
Like father, like son.
Excerpted from "The Girl Who Knew Too Much"
Copyright © 2017 Amanda Quick.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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