On her way to meet a friend for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in a seedy part of downtown Denver, Valerie Rowe gets tackled from behind. When she’s back on her feet, her purse is gone, and the teenager who took it is sprinting down the street. She chases after him, but knows it’s hopeless—right until her mugger runs into Leonard. This quiet young man refuses a reward for retrieving her purse, but accepts an invitation to lunch. Though she doesn’t know it, Valerie’s moment of politeness could prove fatal.
Leonard never talks to girls besides his mother, and no one so beautiful as Valerie has ever even looked at him before. Instantly in love, he begins courting her obsessively, graduating quickly from love notes and flowers to arson and, perhaps, murder. He is fixated on Valerie, and will allow no law to stand in his way.
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||718 KB|
About the Author
Lomax would star in four more novels, including Blood Stone (1988), The Dead of Winter (1989), and Grave Doubt (1995). In the early 1990s, Allegretto began writing standalone novels, including the Christmas suspense story Night of Reunion (1990) and the fast-paced family thriller The Watchmen (1991).
Read an Excerpt
By Michael Allegretto
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Michael Allegretto
All rights reserved.
The young man slammed into Valerie Rowe from behind.
He knocked her off balance, yanked the purse from her hand, and ran. It happened so quickly that she felt no fear, only surprise. And a split second later, anger.
Valerie hadn't wanted to come here in the first place. East Colfax, a dozen sun-baked blocks from the capitol building, was an area of porno houses, tape and record shops, liquor stores, bars, and a few blue-collar restaurants. Downtown office workers on their lunch hour mingled, at least temporarily, with seedy street people. The latter group appeared annoyed by the midday invasion of the working class.
Not an area Valerie frequented.
But Brenda had insisted they have lunch at the Sapphire Lounge. After dark the place was a dive, but at noontime it was the source of the best chili rellenos in Denver. Or so said Brenda. And since Brenda Newcomb was the owner of Newcomb's Gallery, and since Valerie's paintings would soon hang there, Valerie thought it prudent to dine wherever Brenda suggested. Even though walking in this part of town had been contrary to her instincts.
And now look what had happened.
"Hey, dammit, stop!" she yelled as the young man raced through the crowd, dodging pedestrians like a running back on his way to the end zone. Valerie ran after him. A futile effort, she knew. After all, the kid was in his teens, while Valerie was a few years over thirty. She was in good shape, sure, but aerobic exercises aside, she was in no condition for a chase through a crowded city street. Besides, she was wearing a skirt and leather-soled flats, and the kid was dressed for action: T-shirt, blue jeans, and athletic shoes.
Still, it was her purse, dammit, with her cash (around thirty dollars, she thought), credit cards, checkbook, driver's license, social security card, photos of her son Matthew, lipstick, gold compact, pen, and who knows what other dear junk she'd never be able to replace. And it was her favorite purse—soft gray leather with plenty of room for everything, everything that damn kid was running away with.
So she ran, leaving Brenda behind, stunned and open-mouthed.
The youth dodged pedestrians, who willingly stepped aside, as if they were his accomplices. Valerie shouted, "Stop him!" But everyone seemed concerned only with avoiding involvement. At least they left a path open for her to follow.
Then, as the thief neared the end of the block, he suddenly ran headlong into a man, bowling him over and landing on top of him. The man struggled with the teenager, both of them prone on the sidewalk, fighting for Valerie's purse.
Valerie hurried forward, amazed that no one was helping. People stared, walking by.
"That kid stole my purse!" she yelled.
The youth saw her approaching and made one final effort for the purse, punching the man in the face and yanking on the strap. When the man refused to yield, the kid scrambled to his feet, ran to the end of the block, and vanished around the corner.
The man stood up, seemingly embarrassed.
"Are you hurt?" Valerie asked, putting a hand on his arm.
He was much taller than she, close to six feet, she guessed, lanky, twenty-five or older. Despite the heat he wore a zippered jacket. He had brown hair and eyes, a pale complexion, and blood at the corner of his mouth. He licked it away with the tip of his tongue.
"No, I'm ... fine," he said. His eyes flicked nervously from Valerie to the passersby. "I guess this is yours." He handed her the purse.
She noticed that the strap had partially torn free—and that her hand was shaking. Now she could feel her heart thumping in her chest, whether from the exertion of running or the excitement of the chase she wasn't sure.
"Valerie, my God." Brenda hurried toward them. "Are you okay? Should we call the police? Your purse. You got it back."
"Thanks to him," Valerie said, smiling at the man, feeling her heart rate slowing to normal. "How can I thank you?"
"It's ... all right." He brushed dirt from the sleeve of his jacket.
Brenda said to the man, "There should be more people like you, instead of these, these"—she waved her hand at the pedestrians—"these zombies, who couldn't care less about helping out a fellow human being!" She ended with a shout directed at the nearest stranger, who gave her a wide berth.
"I'd like to pay you a reward," Valerie said. She dug into her purse for her wallet.
"That's not necessary." The man shifted his feet, as if anxious to leave, although his eyes had become fixed on Valerie.
"I don't have much cash," she said. "Would you take twenty dollars?"
"Val ..." Brenda cautioned.
"You don't have to pay me."
"Well, I want to give you something. At least let me pay to have your jacket cleaned. My God, you don't know what trouble you saved me—replacing my identification, credit cards ...." She opened her wallet.
"Really," the man said, "I don't want any money."
Valerie wondered if she'd insulted him, offering cash for a good deed. "Well, then thank you again," she said, shrugging, "unless ... listen, we were on our way to eat and—"
"—and if you'd like to join us, I'd be glad to buy you lunch." Valerie had spoken quickly, making one last offer, certain the man would politely refuse.
"Well ..." he said, freezing the smile on Valerie's face.
Brenda cut in: "We'll be talking business. I'm sure you'd be bored stiff."
But the man's attention was focused on Valerie.
"If you insist." His tone was shy. "I'd like that."
Brenda sighed loudly.
"Great," Valerie said, maintaining her smile, trying not to feel like a hypocrite. The truth was, she really didn't want to sit with a stranger at lunch. But after all, the man had risked bodily harm to retrieve her purse. The thing now was to make the best of it. "I'm Valerie Rowe," she said, briefly shaking his hand. "And this is Brenda Newcomb."
"Pleased to meet you." The man never took his eyes off Valerie. "I'm Leonard Tully."
Brenda led them through the bar into the crowded restaurant. The place featured Formica table tops, paper napkins, and a linoleum floor. But, Valerie noted with pleasure, the atmosphere was cheerful and the aroma was delicious.
They found an empty table near the back.
After the waitress had taken their orders, Brenda launched into a detailed description of her plans for the opening reception Friday night, just two days from now. Valerie was elated about having her paintings displayed in Brenda's gallery, not only because of the possible, even likely financial gain—although money was certainly important to a single parent raising a young son—but also because she felt this was a step ahead in her career as an artist.
So she listened intently to everything Brenda had to say. And out of politeness she tried not to ignore Leonard.
He was an odd young man, she decided. His haircut, his clothes, everything about him seemed out of date, as if he'd been hiding or locked away somewhere for years. Obviously ill at ease, he kept his hands beneath the table. He was quiet—well, for that matter, they both were—letting Brenda do most of the talking.
Valerie faced Brenda, but she could sense Leonard beside her, staring at her. No, not just staring. Inspecting. She was glad when the food arrived, if only to divide his attention.
"Aren't these rellenos to die for?" Brenda said.
"They're great. What do you think, Leonard?"
Leonard was uncomfortable.
He rarely ate out. Too much noise and commotion and too many people walking past the table, moving behind him. He especially hated that. He was used to quiet meals with Mother.
In fact, he was supposed to be on his way home now to fix her lunch. And of course, he was supposed to have been scouring flea markets and garage sales for items for their shop—not wallowing in filth on East Colfax.
He would have been driving home at this moment if it hadn't been for the purse snatcher. That stupid kid had run right into him, even after he'd done his best to get out of his way. He'd struggled to push him off, but his arm had become entangled in the purse strap. And then the kid had punched him in the face and run.
He'd felt stupid sitting on the sidewalk holding a purse. But then she had appeared, emerging from the crowd like the sun from behind the clouds.
She was beautiful—small and delicate and perfect. He guessed she wasn't more than a few inches over five feet tall, with ripe curves beneath her tan skirt and yellow blouse. He'd never been that close to a woman like her before. Oh, he'd seen enough pretty women, strutting with their noses in the air as if they were God's gift to Earth. And he'd seen plenty of the others, the sluts on the street. But this woman, this Valerie with the green eyes and auburn hair ... she was special.
She'd actually touched him, touched his arm. When that had happened, he hadn't mistaken the look on her face: concern. She genuinely cared about him.
And she'd invited him to lunch.
Although, now that he was here, it wasn't as pleasant as he'd expected. The noise and all. And her loud friend. And these overspiced things on his plate. He'd ordered what they'd ordered, even though he disliked Mexican food. He'd forced himself to eat a small mouthful, and then he'd set his fork aside and pretended to listen to the conversation between Valerie and her friend.
The friend he could do without. She hadn't stopped talking since the three of them entered the restaurant, never giving him and Valerie a chance to get acquainted. He'd occupied himself by watching Valerie. He was careful not to stare, of course, studying her facial expressions, her delicate movements, the curves in her face....
When her shoe brushed his pant leg, he felt the blood rise to his face.
"What do you think, Leonard?"
"Oh, I guess I'm not too hungry. The fight and all."
"So, Leonard," Brenda said, as if noticing him for the first time, "what line of work are you in? Or do you just hang out on East Colfax?"
"Brenda," Valerie said from the side of her mouth.
"I, I mean we, have an antique store."
"Mother and I."
"Ahhh," Brenda said, raising her eyebrows at Valerie. "Mother and I."
Valerie gave her a look, then turned to Leonard. "Antiques. How interesting."
Brenda rolled her eyes.
"You must come by our shop sometime," Leonard said.
Valerie nodded, "Sure," and then automatically repaid the invitation: "And you should visit the gallery."
"Really? Where is it?"
Valerie felt Brenda's hard stare. She winced inwardly and said, "The Newcomb Gallery in Cherry Creek."
"I'm sure it's not to your taste," Brenda told him.
After that both women became intent on their food. Leonard toyed with his fork and tried to think of something to say to Valerie. Then, quite suddenly, it seemed to him, lunch was over. The three of them walked, squinting, into the hot, bright August day.
"Thanks again for what you did," Valerie said.
She shook Leonard's hand. He was reluctant to let go.
"It was my pleasure."
"Right," Brenda said, taking Valerie's arm.
Leonard watched Valerie and Brenda walk down the block, climb into a car, and drive away. His stomach was knotted and his head was spinning. He licked his dry lips and wiped moisture from his palms onto his pants. He'd never felt this way before. But he understood the feeling.
Valerie drove her Toyota east on Colfax, heading for York Street, with the windows down and the summer heat pouring in.
"God," Brenda said, "don't you have air-conditioning?"
Brenda fanned herself with her hand. "And I still can't believe you invited that creep to lunch."
Valerie smiled. "Come on, he wasn't that bad. Besides, he risked life and limb for me."
"Yeah, right, he knocked down a kid half his size."
"He got my purse back, didn't he?"
"Listen, all I'm saying is you shouldn't get so friendly with total strangers."
Valerie was about to make a joke about it being a good way to meet men, but when she saw Brenda's serious expression she kept her mouth shut. She'd known the woman for several years, and although their relationship was mainly professional, Valerie considered her a friend. But sometimes Brenda, who was ten years her senior, talked to her like a parent.
"Besides," Brenda said, after Valerie had been silent for a few moments, "I didn't like the look in his eye."
"What look was that?"
The Newcomb Gallery was nestled among the fashionable, upscale shops on Second Avenue east of University Boulevard. It rested comfortably between a jewelry store and a fur boutique.
Brenda unlocked the glass door and led Valerie inside. She flipped a switch, throwing patterns of light on the barren white walls. They'd been freshly painted in preparation for Valerie's show. The long room was empty, except for one small corner set off with temporary partitions, displaying paintings by several artists.
Valerie followed Brenda across the expanse of neutral gray carpeting to the back room, which doubled as an office and a storeroom. Leaning against the wall beside a paper-strewn desk were more than a dozen flat carrying cases.
As Valerie had learned over the years, each gallery owner had her or his own way of hanging paintings for a new showing. Some of them, particularly owners of small galleries operating on tight budgets, let the artists do it all: select the wall space, decide on the groupings, pound the nails, and hang the frames. At the other end of the scale were the gallery owners who did everything themselves and basically told the artist to stay out of the way.
Brenda was somewhere in between. While she employed several people to help her run the gallery, she preferred the hands-on approach when it came to hanging an artist's works. She also wanted the artist there to help—not only physically, but also to make certain the placement made the most sense, aesthetically.
Brenda briskly rubbed her hands together. "Let's have a look."
The Newcomb Gallery had displayed Valerie's work before, but always in conjunction with other artists. This Friday was the first time that Valerie would be the major artist on display. So as they removed each canvas from its case, Valerie watched Brenda's reaction with a bit of apprehension. Brenda had seen only a few of these paintings before, and she'd seen color slides of half a dozen others. The rest, though, were completely new to her.
"Oh, this is nice," Brenda had leaned the first painting against the desk, then stepped back for a better view. "Have I seen this one?"
"Just a photograph, I think."
The two-by-three-foot painting in acrylic was one of several that Valerie had completed last month for this showing. Like the others in the series it was a swirl of colors suggesting movement and energy, an impressionistic image of a Native American dancer.
Valerie remembered this man—John Her Many Horses, a Cheyenne River Sioux. She'd taken snapshots of him and a dozen other dancers during the March Powwow at the Denver Coliseum.
"I love it," Brenda said, lifting the painting and carrying it toward the doorway. "It will definitely sell."
They unpacked the remaining eighteen paintings—mostly male dancers, with a few women and children in Native American dress—then carried them into the main room, where they arranged them leaning against the long opposing walls of the gallery, rearranged them until they were both satisfied with the placement, pounded nails, and hung the paintings.
They worked without stopping, and in three hours they were finished with what often could be an all-day job. Valerie was sticky with perspiration. She wished she had dressed for work instead of for a luncheon date.
Now Brenda stood in the exact center of the room, hands on hips. She turned slowly, squinting, stopping, smiling, turning again, as if she were a mighty Sioux hunter who'd crept into the midst of a herd of grazing buffalo.
"Absolutely perfect," she said. "What do you think?"
Brenda nodded, pleased. "Sharon will be in this evening to help me reposition the track lighting."
They began making up tags with the titles and prices, attaching one beside each painting.
Excerpted from The Suitor by Michael Allegretto. Copyright © 1993 Michael Allegretto. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.