Read Envy Online

Authors: Sandra Brown

Tags: #Women editors, #Islands, #revenge, #Fiction, #Romantic suspense novels, #Editors, #Psychological, #Georgia, #Authors and Publishers, #Suspense, #Novelists

Envy (10 page)

BOOK: Envy
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He smirked. "Knew you's lying 'bout him expecting you."

"Why didn't you tell me he was here?"

"Don't recollect you askin'.was

She was seething, but he was too coarse and stupid to waste her anger on. She would save it for Mr. Parker Evans. She had a lot to say to him. He had probably known about the wild goose chase she'd been sent on. Terry, the

#cook, surely had. His charcoal #######159

grill had gone cold, but he was tending bar when she pulled open the squeaky screen door to his establishment and went inside.

She crossed a bare concrete floor,

splashed through a puddle of what she hoped was beer, and strode past the pool tables straight to the bar at the back of the room. The man who had rented her the cart followed her inside.

Billiard balls stopped clacking.

Conversations died. Someone turned off the boom box. The floor show was about to begin, and the angry New Yorker was the featured act.

Terry was grinning at her sardonically.

"Give me a beer."

His grin slipped a notch. He hadn't

expected that. But he reached into an ice chest and pulled out a longneck bottle of beer. He uncapped it and passed it to her. Foam oozed from the neck. Maris shook it off her hand, took a long drink, then set the bottle on the bar with a hard thump.

"I'm here to see Parker Evans," she announced.

Terry planted his hairy forearms on the bar and leaned across it toward her. "Who should I say is calling?"

His customers guffawed. Terry basked in the success of his clever comeback. He laughed louder than anyone. Maris spun around and confronted the room at large. The interior was thick with tobacco smoke despite the screened walls and the overhead fans. Their desultory rotations didn't eliminate the smog but only stirred it into the warm, humid air.

A dozen pairs of eyes were focused on her.

There was only one other woman in the place. She was wearing crotch-hugging shorts and a clinging tank top that barely contained her pendulous breasts and the tattooed cobra whose flared head and wicked tongue rose out of her cleavage. One hand was insolently propped on her hip, the other held a smoldering black cigarette.

The tavern smelled of beer and grilled meat, tobacco smoke and male sweat. Maris drew a deep breath and tasted those essences in the back of her throat.

"Isn't this rather juvenile, Mr. Evans?"

No one said a word. There was little movement beyond one man glancing at another, jabbing him in the

#ribs and winking. Another gave her a ####161

mocking salute with his beer bottle. One sitting near a pool table idly chalked the tip of his cue.

"To say nothing of rude," she continued.

Forcing herself to move away from the false security of the bar, she approached a group of three men sitting around a table. She looked at each of them carefully. Judging from their moronic leers, she doubted any of them could read without moving his lips, much less write fiction.

"I've come an awfully long way to see you."

"You can go back the same way." The voice issued from a shadowed corner and elicited more chuckles.

She gazed into the face of a man sitting alone.

He was about Mike Strother's age, with a neglected white beard and the weather-beaten face of a seaman. He seemed not to be aware of her or anyone else. His rheumy eyes were fixed on the glass of dark liquor cradled between his callused hands.

"Mr. Evans, the least you could do is give me ten minutes of your time."

"Come on over here and bend over, honey," a nasally voice invited. "I'll give you the best ten minutes you've ever had."

"In your dreams, Dwayne," the tattooed woman drawled. "You can't keep it up more'n two."

Laughter erupted, louder than before. The woman was high-fived by the man standing nearest her, but he said, "Ol' Dwayne's got the right idea, though."

"Yeah, Yankee lady. You don't know what you're missin' till you've been rid hard by a horny southern boy."

Maris had experienced catcalls from construction workers made anonymous by distance and hard hats.

She had received obscene propositions by crank callers and men lurking in recessed doorways on the sidewalks of the city. When she was seventeen, she had been groped in the subway and to this day the memory of it made her skin crawl.

But having been the victim of crude behavior hadn't made her immune to it. Their vulgarity got to her, but not in the way they expected. It didn't frighten her; it made her angry. In fact, it made her mad as hell.

Not even attempting to disguise her contempt,

#she said, "Whoever you are, Mr. #########163

Evans, you're a damn coward."

The snickering ceased abruptly. Silence fell like a lead curtain. Any other insult was pardonable, but apparently cowardice wasn't.

Name-calling couldn't get more serious than that.

Using it as her exit line, she made a beeline for the door. As she passed a billiards table, a pool cue arced down in front of her like the arm of a toll gate. She ran into it, connecting with her pelvic bones hard enough to make a smacking sound.

She pitched forward, but broke her fall against the stick. She took hold of it in a tight grip and tried to shove it out of her way, but it was unyielding. Turning her head toward the man holding it, she realized he was the one she'd noticed earlier chalking the pool cue.

"I'm Parker Evans."

Maris was astonished. Not by his audacity or the hostile eyes that reflected the red glow of a neon sign as they glared up at her.

What astonished her was the wheelchair in which he sat.

CHAPTER 7

The contraption was green, a cross between a golf cart and a pickup truck. Maris learned later that it was called a Gator, but she had never seen one before Parker Evans nodded her toward the one parked outside Terry's Bar and Grill. He invited her to get in.

Still reeling from the shock of finding him in a wheelchair, she did as he requested and climbed into the passenger seat. She kept her head averted as he used his arms to lift himself onto the driver's seat. Then he leaned down, folded his chair, and swung it up into the shallow trailer.

The Gator had been reconfigured for him.

The brake and accelerator were hand-controlled. He handled the vehicle with an ease that comes from practice as he steered it away from Terry's and headed it toward the dock.

"I can take you only as far as the ramp," he said. "It's too steep for my chair. I'd make it down okay, but I might have trouble stopping and would wind up in the drink. Which you probably think I deserve."

###She said nothing. ###################165

"But even if I didn't go hurtling into the sound, I couldn't get back up the ramp on my own."

Maris was at a complete loss. "Ramp?"

"Down to the dock. Where you left your boat."

"I don't have a boat. I paid someone to bring me over."

"He didn't wait to ferry you back?"

"I didn't know how long I'd be here. I told him I'd call."

He brought the Gator to a stop, looking displeased that he wasn't going to shake her as soon as he thought. His shirt was chambray like Mike's, except that the sleeves had been cut out of Parker Evans's, revealing muscled arms that compensated for the limitations his legs imposed. Those muscles went to work as he pulled the steering wheel into a sharp turn.

"Shouldn't take a boat long to get over here.

Terry will call for one. You got the number?"

"Couldn't we talk for a while, Mr.

Evans?"

He braked the Gator again. "About what?"

"Look, be obtuse on somebody else's time. I've come a very long way--was

"Without an invitation."

"You invited me when you sent me that prologue."

He registered mild surprise over her

snappishness and raised his hands in mock surrender.

She took a moment to collect herself, then continued in a more conciliatory tone. "It's been a very long day for me. I'm tired. A hot bath and cool sheets sound wonderful. But I'm here, so I'd like to make this trip worth my time, trouble, and expense by having a civil conversation with you before I leave."

He folded his arms across his chest in what she supposed could be viewed as a civil gesture.

But it also looked smart-alecky, and that, she thought, was probably closer to his intention.

Doggedly she continued. "You sent me your work.

You meant for me to read it or you wouldn't have sent it. Despite your claims to the contrary, you want this book to be published. I publish books.

We could work together. You don't even have to meet me halfway. I'll go three-quarters of the way.

In fact, I believe I already have by coming here. So

#could we please have that conversation?" #########167

Despite his arrogance, he had a disconcerting way of staring. His expression was inscrutable, giving no indication of what he was thinking. He could have been seriously weighing her arguments or planning to toss her out of the Gator and letting her swim back to the mainland. One was as viable a guess as the other. Or he might have been thinking neither.

Taking his silence as permission for her to continue, she did. "I know it's rather late in the day to be talking shop, but I promise not to take up too much of your time. Mike said he would--was

"I know what Mike said. He called me at Terry's after you left the house. He's acting like a complete fool."

"He didn't strike me as a fool.

Anything but."

"Ordinarily, no. Ordinarily he's levelheaded, calm, cool, and collected, the voice of reason, a goddamn pillar of

sensibility. But you've got him in a dither.

He's tearing around straightening up the house, fixing supper, acting like an old maid about to receive her first gentleman caller." His eyes were shadowed, but she could tell they were moving over her.

"You m/'ve laid on the charm double thick."

"I did nothing of the sort. Mike is just a nice man."

He barked a harsh laugh. "Unlike me."

"I didn't say that."

"Well," he drawled, "you just as well have, because it's true. I'm not at all nice."

"I'm sure you could be if you wanted to."

"See, that's the kicker. I don't want to."

Then, before she could prepare herself, he reached across the space separating them, hooked his hand around the back of her neck, and yanked her forward, bringing her mouth up to his. It was more an assault than a kiss. Hard, grinding, insistent. His tongue stabbed at the seam between her lips until it forced them apart.

Making angry sounds of protest, she pushed against his chest, but he didn't stop. Instead he continued to plumb her mouth forcefully as his lips twisted upon hers. Imperceptibly the thrusts became slower and gentler, more exploratory than invasive. His thumb stroked the underside of her chin, her cheek, and very near the corner of her

#lips. Her anger shifted into distress. ###169

When he ended the deep kiss, he rubbed his lips against hers lightly before breaking contact with them, and even then they remained close, merely a breath apart. Only after he let his hands fall away did he pull back.

Maris turned her head away. She stared out across the water of the sound. It was relatively calm compared to the choppy currents circulating through her bloodstream. The lights on the shore of the mainland seemed very distant. Much farther than before.

Now a world away. She felt strangely

disconnected, as though that narrow body of water had widened into a gulf that couldn't be spanned.

Somewhere out on the sound a boat's horn bleated a warning. Inside Terry's, the boom box had been restarted and was playing a wailing song about a love gone wrong. Closer, she could hear the gentle slap of the water against the rocky beach at the bottom of the steep ramp that Parker Evans was unable to navigate in his wheelchair.

"It won't work, Mr. Evans," she said quietly. "I'm not going to flee in terror of you."

She turned then to look at him and was surprised by the absence of smugness in his expression. He didn't look contrite or apologetic, either, but he wasn't wearing the triumphant sneer she had expected. He was staring at her in the same disconcerting, inscrutable way as before.

"I ignored the vulgarities inside Terry's, just like I'm going to ignore that kiss.

Because I know why you subjected me to that," she said, hitching her head in the direction of the bar, "and I know why you kissed me."

"You do."

"I'm calling your bluff."

"Bluff."

"You kissed me to scare me off."

"All right."

"Àll right`?"

"You can think that if you want to." He held her gaze for several seconds, then put the Gator into forward motion. "Did Mike happen to mention what's for supper?"

It turned out to be smoked ham sandwiches served in a casual room on the back of the house. Mike referred to it as the solarium.

###"Fancy name for a glassed-in ########171

porch," Parker commented wryly.

"It was a porch," Mike explained to Maris as he spooned potato salad onto her

plate. "You can't tell, now that it's dark, but this room overlooks the beach. Parker decided to enclose it with sliding glass panels that give us the option of closing it completely or opening it up. Now he can write in here during any kind of weather."

Maris had pretended not to notice the computer setup in one corner of the room, which was otherwise furnished with rattan pieces. Nods toward decoration were limited. A few throw pillows.

One struggling potted plant that looked doomed to lose the struggle. That was all. It was a bachelor's room. A writer's retreat.

Stacked around the computer terminal, on the stone tile floor, in shelves, on every conceivable surface, were books. Reference books, literary novels and classics, mysteries, romances, science fiction, horror, westerns, autobiographies, biographies, poetry, childrens' books, histories, self-help, and inspirational. Every kind of book imaginable, some in hardcover, some in paperback, some of which, she was pleased to see, bore the Matherly Press imprint on the spine. Gauging by the worn appearance of the books, his library wasn't just for show. Parker Evans was well read.

"Whatever you call this room, I like it," she told them. "It's a wonderful place to read.

And write." She gave Parker a sly glance, which he chose not to see as he spread mustard onto his sandwich.

After serving them, Mike sat down across the table from her, confirming what she had guessed, that he was as much a friend and companion as he was a valet--the need for which was now sadly apparent. "You went to far too much trouble, Mike."

"No trouble. We planned to have a late supper anyway, and I'm awfully glad to have a guest in the house. Parker isn't always the best company. In fact, when he's writing, he sometimes doesn't speak for hours, and when he does, he can be a real grouch."

Parker shot him a sour glance. "And you're a perpetual pain in the ass."

Maris laughed. Despite the swapped

insults, the affection between them was obvious.

#"I've experienced Mr. Evans's ####173

grouchiness firsthand, Mike, but I don't take it personally. I'm used to it. I work with writers every day. A gloomy bunch, for the most part. I probably don't catch the verbal abuse their agents do, but I get my share."

Mike nodded sagely. "Artistic

temperament."

"Precisely. I'm not complaining. Based on my experience--and confirmed only yesterday by my father--bad temperament is often an indicator of good writing."

She blotted her lips with her napkin and was shocked to realize that they were still tender. She'd checked her reflection in the framed mirror above the basin when Mike kindly directed her into the powder room shortly after she and Parker arrived.

The only visible trace of the kiss was a slight abrasion above her upper lip. She'd applied powder to the whisker burn and then quickly switched off the light, afraid she would see in her eyes even more telling evidence of the kiss, which she had resolved to deny--a resolve jeopardized by whisker burns and such.

She and the author had spoken little on the drive to his home. She had kept her eyes trained on the twin beams the Gator's headlights cast onto the road. The darkness within the forest made it easier to ignore, although at one point she couldn't resist taking one furtive glance into the trees.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.

"What?"

"Fireflies. There in the woods."

"Lightning bugs," he said. "Down here, we call them lightning bugs."

"I haven't seen any in years."

"Insecticides."

"Unfortunately. When I was little, I used to see them around our house in the country. I'd catch them and put them in a glass and keep it on my nightstand overnight."

"I did that, too."

She turned to him in surprise. "You did?"

"Yeah. The kids in my neighborhood used to hold contests to see who could catch the most."

So he had been able to chase fireflies. He hadn't always been confined to a wheelchair.

Naturally she was curious about the nature of his disability, but she was too polite to ask.

He wasn't the first person she had known who was

#similarly incapacitated. She had #####175

enormous respect for those individuals who had made the best of their misfortune. Some were the most optimistic, upbeat people she had ever had the pleasure of knowing. What they lacked in physical stamina and strength, they made up for with courage and spiritual fortitude.

Parker Evans seemed to have the raw power of physically challenged triathletes who competed in the Ironman competitions, men and women who achieved Herculean feats with the strength of their arms

--and willpower--alone. Frequently they were athletes or otherwise active young people whose pursuits had been ended in one fateful second, victims of tragic accidents. She wondered what had happened to Parker to change his life so dramatically.

She glanced across the table at him now. He was picking at the bread crust on his plate but, as though feeling her eyes, raised his and caught her looking at him. He gave her a frank

return stare.

He was undeniably attractive, although years of pain or unhappiness or disillusionment or a combination thereof had etched lines into his face, making him appear older than he probably was. His rare smiles were tainted by bitterness.

His brown hair was thick and threaded with gray.

Grooming it would probably be an afterthought. He was wearing two days' worth of stubble.

His eyes weren't a definitive color like blue or green or brown. They were best described as hazel and would have been unremarkable except for the occasional amber spots that flecked the irises. That unique feature, coupled with his amazing ability to remain focused on something for an incredible length of time, made his eyes compelling.

Staring at her now, he seemed to know exactly what she was thinking. His eyes were issuing a challenge. _Go _ahead, they seemed to say.

__You're dying to know why I'm in this chair, so why don't you just _ask?

She wasn't going to take up that dare. Not now. Not until she knew him better, or not until she got at least a verbal commitment from him that he would finish his book.

"Have you written any more, Mr. Evans?"

"Want a refill of iced tea?"

"No, thank you."

###"Another sandwich?" ################177

"I'm full, thank you. Have you got more for me to read?"

He looked pointedly at Mike, who took the hint. "Excuse me. I need to put some things away." The older man got up and left the room through a connecting door.

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