- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
"IWAS TRYING to remember the last time I wore a tux." Mitch slid behind the wheel of the car, giving himself the pleasure of another long look at Roz as he hitched on his seat belt. "Pretty sure it was a friend's wedding. His oldest kid graduates high school this year."
"She's rich, but then so were you. After that, she's young and you weren't, and she's remarkably stupid. You weren't that, either. A little slow, but never stupid."
"Are you really going to marry her?"
"She thinks so." He took out a gold lighter, idly flicking the lid open and closed. "And who knows? Money, youth, malleability. She may just be the perfect wife for me."
"It does seem small of you to be going around, making prank calls, complicating her life - oh, and screwing with Quill and Jan, losing Quill clients. I think you need more constructive work."
"Two birds, one stone. It keeps them sympathetic to me and chips away at you."
"And what do you think will happen when they find out the truth?"
"They won't. As I said before, I'm careful. You'll never prove it."
"I don't think I'll have to. You always did like to boast and brag, Bryce." This time she patted him on the cheek, and thought of it as her kill shot. "Only one of your many failings." She gestured behind him to where Jan and Mandy stood, faces shocked, bodies still as statues.
Beside them, Cissy began to applaud lightly. Roz took a small bow, then walked away.
It was her turn to be surprised when she saw Mitch at the end of the corridor.
"Caught the show," he said casually, and slipped his hand over hers. "I thought the female lead was exceptional."
"Probably, but I wouldn't mind some air."
He led her out on the terrace. "Very slick," he said.
"Very impromptu," she corrected, and now, after it was done, her stomach began to jump. "But there he was, just dying to nip at me and posture around, and there they were, those pitiful, annoying women. The bonus being Cissy's presence, too. That little play will be making the rounds, word-for-word, in a New-York minute."
On cue, there was the sound of raised female voices from inside the ballroom, an abrupt crash, hysterical sobbing.
"Want to go in for the second act?"
"No, I don't. I think you should ask me to dance, right here."
"Then I will." He slipped his arms around her. "Beautiful night," he said while the scene played out through the open doors behind them.
"It really is." With a long sigh, she laid her head on his shoulder and felt all those sharp edges smooth out. "Just smell that wisteria. I want to thank you for not riding to my rescue back there."
"I nearly did." He brushed his lips over her hair. "But then, I thought you had it so completely under control, and I was enjoying my front-row seat."
"Lord, listen to that woman wail. Doesn't she have any pride? I'm afraid Bryce had one thing right. She is stupid, bless her heart. Dim as an underground cave on a moonless night."
"Dad!" Josh charged through the doorway. "You'vegot to come see this."
Mitch just continued to circle Roz on the terrace, though the music had long stopped, giving way to shouts and scuffling feet.
"Busy here," he replied.
"But Shelby's dad just clocked this guy. Punched himout . And this woman ripped into him - the other guy, not Shelby's dad. It's all about teeth and nails. You're missing it."
"Go on back, you can give us the play-by-play later. I'm going to be busy kissing Roz for a while."
"Man. I've got to come to country clubs more often." With that, Josh rushed back inside.
And Mitch lowered his mouth to Roz's.
SHE NEEDED TOrelax. She'd handled herself, Roz thought as she replaced her jewelry in its case, and she believed that what she'd been able to do had finally pried the monkey of a vindictive ex-husband off her back.
But the cost had been yet another public scene.
She was tired of them, tired of having her dirty linen flapped around for avid eyes to see. And she'd have to get over it.
She undressed, slipped into her warm flannel robe.
She was glad they'd been able to leave the club early. Hardly any reason to stay, she thought with a sharp smile. The place had been a glorious mess of overturned tables, spilled food and drink, horrified guests, and scrambling security.
And would be the talk of the gossip circuit for weeks, as she would be.
That was fine, that was expected, she told herself as she ran a warm bath. She'd ride it out, then things would get back to as close to normal as they ever did.
She poured in an extra dose of bubble bath, a lovely indulgence for a midnight soak. When she was done, all relaxed and pink and fragrant, she might just wander down to the library and crook a finger at Mitch.
Bless him for understanding she needed a little alone time. With a sigh, she slid into the tub, right down to the tips of her ears. A man who recognized a woman's moods, and accepted them, was a rare find.
John had, she remembered. Most of the time. They'd been so beautifully in tune, moving in tandem to build a family, enjoying their present and planning their future. Losing him had been like losing an arm.
Still, she'd coped, and damn well if she said so herself. She'd raised sons she, and John, could be proud of, kept a secure home, honored her traditions, built her own business. Not bad for a widow woman.
She could laugh at that, but the tension gathered at the base of her neck as she moved to the next phase. Bryce. A foolish, impulsive mistake. And that was all right, everyone was entitled to a few. But this one had done such damage, caused such upheaval. And public speculation and gossip, which in some ways was a bigger score to her pride.
He'd made her doubt herself so often during their marriage, where she'd always been so confident, so sure. But he had an eroding way about him, slick and sly with all those insistent little rubs under the charm.
It was a lowering thing to admit she'd been stupid - and over a man.
But she'd cooked him good and proper tonight, and that made up for a lot of irritation, embarrassment, and pain. He'd served himself up on a goddamn platter, she thought, and she'd stuck the fork in. He was done.
So good for her. Woo-hoo.
Now maybe it was time for yet another phase in the Life of Rosalind. Was she ready for that? Ready to take that big, scary step toward a man who loved her just as she was? Nearly fifty, and thinking about love and marriage - for thethird time. Was that just insane?
Idly she played her toes through the trickle of hot water she'd left running to keep the bath warm.
Or was it a gift, already wrapped in pretty paper, tied with a big fat bow, and tossed in her lap?
She was in love, she thought, her lips curving as she let the tension drain away, closed her eyes. In love with an interesting, attractive, considerate man. A good man. With enough flaws and quirks to keep him from being boring.
She sighed, as contentment began to settle over her. And a thin gray mist crawled along the tiles.
And the sex? Oh, thank God for the sex, she thought with a lithe stretch and a purr in her throat. Hot and sweet, tender and exciting. Stimulating. Lord, that man was stimulating. Her body feltjuiced again.
Maybe, just maybe they could have a life together. Maybe love didn't have to come at convenient and sensible times. And maybe the third time was the charm. It was something worth considering, very, very seriously.
Marriage. She drifted, drowsy now, trailing her fingers through the frothy water while the mist thickened, rising off the floor like a flood.
It came down to making an intimate promise to someone you not only loved, but trusted. She could trust Mitch. She could believe in him.
Would her sons think she'd lost her mind? They might, but it was her life, after all.
She'd enjoy being married - probably. Having someone else's clothes in the closet, someone else's books on the shelf. The man wasn't what you'd call tidy, but she could deal with that if . . .
The foamy water went ice cold. On a gasp, Roz shoved up from her lounging position, instinctively clutching her arms. Her eyes popped wide when she saw the room was full of fog, so dense she couldn't see the walls, the door.
Not steam, she realized, but a kind of ugly gray mist, as cold as the water and thick as iced soup.
Even as she started to stand, to climb out, she was dragged under.
With a leap in the belly, shock came first, before the fear. The utter shock of the frigid water, the sensation of being yanked down, held under, froze her before she began to fight. Choking, kicking, she strained to surface as the cold stiffened her limbs. She couldfeel hands clamped on her head, then nails digging into her shoulders, but through the film of the water, she saw nothing but floating bubbles and swirling mists.
Stop!Her mind screamed it. Using all her strength, she braced hands and feet and pushed up in one desperate lunge. Her head came up, broke through into the icy fog. She took one frantic gulp of air before the steely pressure on her shoulders shoved her under again.
Water sloshed over the rim of the tub as she struggled, burned her eyes and throat. She could hear her own muffled screams, as she flailed against what she couldn't see. Her elbow slammed against the side of the tub, shooting pain through terror.
For your own good. For your own good. You have tolearn!
The voice was a hiss in her ear, a hiss that cut through the frantic beat of blood. Now she saw it, the face swimming above her, over the churning water, its lips peeled back on a grimace of fury. She saw the madness in Amelia's eyes.
He's no different. They all lie! Didn't I tell you? Why don't you listen? Make you listen, make you stop. Tainted blood. His blood's in you. Ruined you after all.
She was dying. Her lungs were screaming, her heart galloping as she fought wildly to find purchase, to findair . Something was going to burst inside her, and she'd die in the cold, scented water. But not willingly, not easily. She pounded out, with her hands, her feet. And with her mind.
Let go of me. Let go! I can't listen if I'm dead. You're killing me. If I die, you'll stay lost. If I die, you'll stay trapped. Murderer. Trapped in Hell.
She gathered herself again, fueled her straining muscles with the strength of survival, and rocketed up.
Water fumed, sliced through the mists to splash walls and floor in a small, violent tidal wave. Gripping the edge of the tub, she leaned over, choking, coughing out what she'd swallowed. Her stomach heaved, but she locked her arms around the rim. She wouldn't be pulled under again.
"Keep your hands off me, you bitch."
Wheezing, she crawled out of the tub and dropped weakly onto the soaked mat. As shudders racked her, she curled into a ball until she could find her breath. Her ears rang, and her heart thudded so brutally she wondered if she'd have bruised ribs to add to the rest.
She heard weeping.
"Your tears don't mean a lot to me at the moment." Not trusting herself to stand, she scooted over the floor until she could reach for a towel with a shaking hand, and pull it around her for warmth.
"I've lived with you all my life. I've tried to help you. And you try to drown me? In my own tub? I warned you I'd find a way to remove you from this house."
The words didn't come out nearly as strong or angry as she wanted. It was hard to sound in charge when her teeth were chattering, as much with fear as cold.
She jolted when the robe she'd hung on the back of the door drifted down and settled over her shoulders. "Why, thank you," Roz said, and did manage sarcasm well enough. "How considerate of you, after trying to kill me, to see that I don't catch cold. I've had about enough."
She shoved her arms in the robe and drew it close as she got shakily to her feet.
Then she saw Amelia, through the thinning mists. Not the madwoman with crazed eyes and wild hair who'd loomed over her while she'd fought for her life, but a shattered woman with tears on her cheeks, and her hands clasped as if in prayer.
As she faded away, as the mists melted, another message appeared on the mirror. It said simply:
"YOU COULD'VE BEENkilled."
Mitch paced the bedroom, anger all but sparking off his fingertips.
She'd gone down to make a pot of hot coffee, and to ask him to come upstairs. She'd wanted to be assured they weren't overheard when she told him.
"I wasn't. Happily." The coffee was helping, but she was still chilled, and willing to bundle under a thick cashmere throw.
"You might've died, while I was downstairs putzing around with books and files. You were up here, fighting for your life, and I - "
"Stop." But she said it gently. A woman who'd lived with men, raised sons, understood ego. "What happened, could have happened, didn't happen - none of it was your fault. Or mine, for that matter. The fault lies in what is no doubt an emotionally disturbed ghost. And I don't care how ridiculous that sounds."
"Rosalind." He stopped in front of her, knelt down, rubbed his hands over hers. They felt strong on hers, and warm. They felt solid. "I know how you feel about this house, but - "
"You're going to say I should move out, temporarily. And there's some good, solid sense in that, Mitch. But I won't. You can say it's because I'm stubborn, because I'm too damn hardheaded."
"And I will."
"But," she said, "besides that, and the fact I won't be chased away from what's mine, the problem won't be solved by moving out. My son lives on this property, as do others I care about very much. My business is on this property. Do I tell everyone to find other accommodations? Do I shut down my business, risk losing everything? Or do I stick it out, and work to find the answers?"
"She's escalating. Roz, for years she did little more than sing to children, an odd but relatively charming addition to the household. A little mischief now and then, but nothing dangerous. In the past year she's become increasingly unstable, increasingly violent."
"Yes, she has." Her fingers linked with his, held firm. "And you know what that tells me? It tells me we must be getting close to something. That maybe because we are, she's more impatient, more erratic. Less controlled. What we're doing matters to her. Just as what I think and feel matters, whether she approves or not."
He probably wouldn't take it well, she considered. But it had to be said. She'd promised him honesty, and took promises seriously. "I was thinking of you. Of us. When I finished sulking about tonight, and started to relax, I was thinking of the way I feel about you, and the way you feel about me."
"She tried to kill you because we love each other." His face stone hard when he pushed to his feet. "I'm the one who needs to leave, to stay away from here, and you, until we finish this."
"Is that how you deal with bullies? You give them their way?"
He'd started to pace again, but whipped around now, fury ripe in his eyes. "We're not talking about some asshole trying to steal lunch money on the playground. We're talking about your safety. Your goddamn life!"
"I won't give in to her. That's how I stay alive. That's how I stay in charge. You think I'm not furious, not frightened? You're wrong."
"I notice fury comes first."
"Because it's positive - at least I've always felt a good, healthy mad's more constructive than fear. That's what I saw in her, Mitch, at the end."
Roz tossed the throw aside and rose to go to him. "She was afraid, shocked and afraid and sorry - pitifully. You said once she didn't want to hurt me, and I think it's true."
"I also said she could, and I've been proven right." He took her face in his hands, then slid them down to her shoulders. "I don't know how to protect you. But I know I can't lose you."
"I'll be less afraid if you're with me."
He cocked his head, very nearly smiled. "That's very tricky."
"It is, isn't it?" She wrapped her arms around him, settled in when his came around her. "It also happens to be true. She asked me to forgive her. I don't know that I can, or will, but I need the answers. I need you to help me find them. And damn it, Mitch, I just need you - and that's hard for me to say."
"I hope it gets easier, because I like hearing it. We'll keep things as they are for now."
"Thank you. When I got out of there." She shifted her gaze toward the bathroom. "When I got out and pulled it together enough to think, I was so relieved you were downstairs. That I could tell you. That I wouldn't be alone tonight."
"Alone isn't even an option. Now." He scooped her off her feet. "You're getting into bed, bundling up."
"And you'll be . . ."
"Taking a closer look at the scene of the crime before I mop it up."
"I can take care of that, the mopping up."
"No." He tucked her in, firmly. "Give a little, get a little, Roz. Do what you're told, and stay in bed like a good girl. You've had a long and interesting day."
"Haven't I just?" And it felt wonderful to snuggle in the bed, knowing there was someone to look after some of the details. "I'm not sure what I'll have to give, but I'm going to ask you for a little something more."
"You want some soup? Something hot? Tea? Tea'd be better than coffee."
Look at you, she thought, Dr. Studly, with your black tie loose, and your tux shirt rolled up to the elbows, offering to make me soup. She reached for his hand as he sat on the side of the bed.
"No, but thanks. I'm going to ask you to keep what happened here between us for now."
"Roz, how does your mind work?" Frustration was so clear in his voice, on his face, she nearly smiled. "You were almost drowned in the tub by our resident ghost, and you don't want to mention it?"
"It's not that. We'll mention it, document it, go into great detail and discussion if need be. I just want to wait until after Stella's wedding. I just want a little calm. When Harper hears about this . . . Well, he's not going to take it well."
"Let me just say a big fat: Duh."
She laughed. "Everyone'll be upset, distracted, worried. And what good will it do? It happened, it's over. There are so many other things to deal with right now. I'm already going to be dealing with the fallout from what happened at the club. I can promise you word will be out, and it'll be a topic at my breakfast table tomorrow."
"And that bothers you."
"Actually, I think I'll enjoy it. I'm just small enough to bask in it. So let's leave this between us, until Stella's had her wedding. After that, we'll tell everyone, and deal with the fallout. But for the time being, we could use some undiluted happiness around here."
"Okay. I don't see that it'll matter."
"I appreciate it. I'm not so mad and scared now," she added, and slid down on the pillow. "I stopped her. I fought her off. I could do it again. That has to count for something."
Mitch leaned over to press his lips to her cheek. "Counts for a hell of a lot with me."
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold