Back in Chicago after a disastrous European love affair, socialite Pauline Cook finds her finances nearly depleted, her co-op a shambles, and her best friend mysteriously missing—vanished along with Pauline's cat. Though Whitney Armstrong's husband offers a substantial reward for the return of his lost wife, Pauline can't help suspecting that his grief is merely an act. But it's a shocking suggestion by a member of Whitney's book club that really gets Pauline moving—halfway around the world, in fact, to Thailand . . . in spite of a psychic's warning of terrible danger.
In Asia, a morass of dark motives and deadly corporate intrigues await the intrepid globe-trotter. And all the high society connections in the world aren't going to ensure that Pauline makes it home alive. . . .
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Well Read and Dead
My plastic surgeon assures me that not only will the burns heal entirely but that since they were only first-degree my skin might become smoother and younger looking than before. Frankly I'd rather have had the chemical peel. Cosmetic issues aside, it's the internal wounds that trouble me more. Are they also first degree or will they prove beyond healing? I suppose only the balm of time will tell. In the meantime while waiting to see the final results, I seldom stray from bed as I replay the drama of the last months over and over again. Though all the warnings were laid in front of me, they were too close for me to see them. Now each time I revisit the drama, it becomes clearer who the players were and who were merely chorus. But unfortunately, like all Greek tragedy, the outcome is always the same.
In retrospect, it may have been a bit excessive for a party of one to charter a hundred-and-twenty-foot yacht just for herself. At sixty thousand dollars a week. Plus gratuity. But my frivolity at the time was not without justification. Having chosen to spend the autumn in Europe while my penthouse underwent a renovation, I happened to be in Portofino the day a group of pathetic zealots commandeered four airplanes and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, killing untold numbers and propelling us mentally back to the Middle Ages. In the weeks following the disaster, nearly all my friends overseas decided to return stateside, turning the mood abroad so somber that I contemplated returning home myself. The problem was that with myapartment under construction, I had no home to return to.
That's when Gianfranco entered the picture. I was strolling along the dock, wrestling over what course to take next, when I came upon him standing in the shadow of a sleek Benetti with the name Herakles stenciled in gold across her ample stern. With his tall, muscular frame draped in nautical whites, his sandy brown hair falling in loose curls along his face, and the regal profile of a Roman coin, he cut quite an Adonis-like figure. I stopped in pretense of admiring the yacht, and he engaged me in conversation, lamenting in broken English that his autumn charter had just been canceled. The Americans who had hired the Herakles for a tour of the antiquities were now too frightened to travel overseas. Perhaps I might be interested in such a charter? A quick tour of the vessel ensued, and my dilemma of how to spend the next months was solved. I chartered the orphaned Herakles myself. And felt rather patriotic about it, I might add. What better way to show the terrorists that Pauline Cook was not about to buckle under to their agenda of fear than by continuing to lead a full life?
I rushed back to the Splendido to settle my bill—a sum equal to the budget of a small third-world country—and soon thereafter my seven pieces of luggage and I were delivered dockside by the hotel's car. An hour later, I stood beside Gianfranco on the bridge of the yacht with a warm September breeze brushing my shoulders. As we watched the gentle hills of Portofino recede in the afternoon glow, my capitano assured me that I would never regret choosing to take this intimate tour.
"I will take-a you places you only dream of-a visit," he promised.
And take me he did. We hadn't made twenty nautical miles into the Adriatic when Gianfranco turned the wheel over to his first mate and escorted me belowdecks where he proved his sublimely tuned and tanned body to be more than seaworthy. For the next two and a half glorious months, certain all my interests at home were being looked after by competent parties, I gave little thought to the present-day world and immersed myself in the ancient one with Gianfranco as my captain, companion, and tour guide.
Together we explored the farthest reaches of the Hellenic and Roman empires. We visited Ilium, where the ill-fated Trojans made the poor choice of accepting the Greek's four-legged gift. We traipsed the ruins left by the Minoans at Knossos, often thought to be the lost civilization of Atlantis. We traveled to Actium where I felt the ghosts of Marc Antony and Cleopatra stir. When the weather grew cooler, we sailed south to Alexandria, the site of a library that once held 400,000 priceless scrolls whose ashes were now but dust in the wind.
And while the Herakles put in at one port after another, Gianfranco continued to put in at all points in between, a pastime I enjoyed as much, if not more, than the touring. Having breached the dreaded half-century mark over a year ago, I reveled in having a young paramour, though I did wonder what he would say if he knew he was making love to a woman nearly fifteen years his elder. Fortuitously, time had treated me well, and my skin did not reveal my age. This was the mixed blessing of growing up as a redhead who had to take shelter from the sun or risk looking like a beet. The summers of my youth were spent cowering beneath wide-brimmed hats and beach umbrellas while my peers cavorted gaily in the sun. Now while those same peers paid the price for their earlier freedom, having their faces pulled back to gather up the crevices carved out by youthful indiscretion, I gloried in the delayed benefits of my exile.
I had also been blessed with a trim figure, a benefit that comes along with standing five foot ten in one's stocking feet. And since I never bore children, there were no untoward stretch marks to be dealt with either, though I must concede each year the drapery of my body seemed to hang slightly lower. But this seemed to matter naught to my young lover, who claimed his preferences ran to mature women, explaining that the ripe-a pear-a has the sweetest taste and finest perfume while an unripe pear is hard-a and no taste-a so good.Well Read and Dead. Copyright © by Catherine O'Connell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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