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Authors: Sandra Brown

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

Envy (2 page)

BOOK: Envy
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He sobbed uncontrollably. "In the water."

###"Overboard?" #####################11

"Yeah. Oh, God. Oh, Jesus."

"That asshole nearly wrecked my yacht!

What the fuck was he doing?"

A man wearing flip-flops came slapping up, hands on hips, reeking of a cologne that any self-respecting whore would think was too strong. He was wearing only a Speedo

swimsuit beneath an overhanging belly covered with black curly hair. He had a thick gold bracelet on his right wrist and spoke with a nasally northeastern accent--just the kind that never failed to get on Hatch's fighting side.

"The boy's hurt. There's been an accident."

"Accident my ass. He put a big dent in the _Dinky _Doo." They'd been joined by the man's female companion, who was dressed in a bikini and a pair of high heels. Her tan and tits were store-bought. Under each arm she was holding a toy poodle. The pets had pink ribbons tied to their ears and were yapping in angry synchronization.

"Call 911," Hatch said.

"I want to know what this son of a bitch intends to do--was

"_Call _911!"

The interior of Hatch's "office" smelled of sardines, damp hemp, dead fish, and motor oil. It was uncomfortably warm and stuffy inside, as though the shack couldn't provide enough oxygen for three men because it was usually occupied only by one.

The limited floor space was crowded with trunks of fishing and diving gear, coils of rope, maps and charts, maintenance supplies and equipment, a vintage metal file cabinet in which Hatch rarely filed anything, and his desk, which had been salvaged from a shipwreck and bought at auction for thirty dollars.

The kid who'd crashed his boat had heaved twice into his toilet, but Hatch figured the nausea was more from nerves and fear than from the shot of brandy he'd sneaked him when no one was looking.

Of course, the kid had had a lot to drink prior to the brandy, and that wasn't just an assumption. He'd admitted as much to the Coast Guard officer who was currently questioning him. Key West police had had their turn at interrogating

#him about crashing the boat into the marina. He ##13

was then turned over to the Coast Guard officer, who wanted to know what had happened onboard that had caused his two companions to wind up in the Atlantic.

He'd provided their names and ages, their local addresses. Hatch had checked the information against the rental agreement the two young men had filled out before embarking. He confirmed the data to the officer.

Hatch resented having to share his private space with strangers, but he was glad he hadn't been asked to wait outside while the laws interrogated the kid. The marina was now swarming with onlookers who'd been drawn to the scene of the drama like flies to a pile of manure. And you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting some breed of uniformed personnel.

Having intimate knowledge of jails in numerous ports on several continents, Hatch had an aversion to uniforms and badges. He would just as soon avoid authority of any kind. If a man couldn't live by his own set of rules, his own sense of right and wrong, what was the good of living? That attitude had landed him in paddy wagons all over the globe, but that was his philosophy and he was sticking to it.

But, in all fairness, Hatch had to hand it to the Coast Guard officials and local policemen who'd questioned the young man and organized a search-and-rescue party: They hadn't been assholes about it.

It was clear that the kid was on the brink of total breakdown. The badges had been savvy enough to realize he might crack if they applied too much additional pressure, and then where would they be? In order to calm him down and get answers, they'd gone pretty soft on him.

He was still wearing wet swim trunks and sneakers that leaked seawater onto the rough plank flooring whenever he moved his feet. In addition to giving him the brandy, Hatch had thrown a blanket over him, but he'd since discarded it, along with his tattered T-shirt.

Outside, running footsteps and an excited voice brought the kid's head up. He looked hopefully toward the door.

But the footsteps ran past without stopping. The officer, who'd had his back turned while helping himself to Hatch's coffeepot, came around and

#correctly read the kid's expression. ###15

"You'll know something as soon as we do, son."

"They've got to be alive." His voice sounded like someone who'd been outyelling a storm for a long time. Every now and then it would crack over a word. "I think I just couldn't find them in the dark.

It was so damned dark out there." His eyes bounced back and forth between Hatch and the officer. "But I didn't hear them. I called and called, but ...

Why weren't they answering me? Or calling out for help? Unless they ..." He was unable to say out loud what they all feared.

The officer returned to Hatch's stool, which he'd placed near the chair in which the boy sat with his shoulders hunched forward. For several weighty minutes, the officer did nothing but sip his hot coffee. _Schwoop. _Schwoop.

It was irritating as hell, but Hatch remained quiet. This was the law's business now, not his.

His boat was insured. There'd be paperwork out the wazoo, and a suspicious, seersucker-suited adjuster to haggle with, but in the long run, he would come out okay. Maybe even a little better off than he'd been.

He was less optimistic about how this kid would fare. No amount of insurance was going to make his life easier after this. As for the two who'd gone into the water, Hatch didn't hold out much hope.

The percentages were stacked against them.

He had known a few men who had foundered and lived to tell about it, but not many. If you went into the water, drowning was probably the most merciful way to die. Exposure took longer. And to predators you were just another source of food.

The Coast Guard officer cradled the chipped coffee mug between his palms and swirled the contents.

"How come you didn't use the radio to call for help?"

"I did. I mean, I tried. I couldn't get it to work."

The officer stared into his swirling coffee.

"Coupla other boats heard your SOS. Tried to tell you to stay right where you were. You didn't."

"I didn't hear them. I guess ..." Here he glanced across at Hatch. "I guess I didn't pay much attention when he was showing us how to operate the radio."

"Costly mistake."

"Yes, sir."

"Fair to say you're not a seasoned sailor?"

###"Seasoned? No, sir. But this is the ###17

first time I've had any trouble."

"Uh-huh. Tell me about the fight."

"Fight?"

This drew a frown from the officer. "Don't bullshit me now, son. Your eye's all but swollen shut. You've got a bloody nose and busted lip. Your knuckles are scraped and bruised. I know what a fistfight looks like, okay? So don't play games with me."

The young man's shoulders began to shake. His eyes streamed, but he didn't even bother trying to stem the tears or to wipe his dripping nose.

"Was it over the girl?" the officer asked in a gentler voice. "Mr. Walker here says she was a looker. A party girl, best he could tell. She belong to one of you?"

"Like a girlfriend, you mean? No, sir. She's just a casual friend."

"You and your buddy fight over her favors?"

"No, sir. Not ... not exactly. What I mean is, she wasn't the reason it started."

"Then what was?"

The boy sniffed but remained mute.

"Just as well tell me now," the officer said,

"because when we find whatever we're going to find out there, we'll keep hounding you until we get the truth of it."

"We were drunk."

"Uh-huh."

"And ... and ..." The kid raised his head, looked over at Hatch, then back at the officer, and said earnestly, "He's my best friend."

"All right. So what happened?"

He licked mucus off his upper lip. "He got mad. Mad as hell. I've never seen him like that."

"Like what?"

"Crazy. Violent. Like he snapped or something."

"Snapped."

"Yes, sir."

"What'd you do to piss him off, cause him to snap?"

"Nothing! One minute he's down below with her.

I gave them some privacy, you know?"

"For sex? They were having sex?"

"Yeah. I mean, really going at it, having fun. Next minute, he's back up on

#deck, coming at me." ##################19

"For no reason? Just like that?"

The kid's head wobbled up and down. "It was supposed to be a party. A celebration. I don't understand how it went to hell so quick. I swear to God I don't." He lowered his battered face into his hands and began to sob again.

The officer looked over at Hatch as though for consultation. Hatch stared back at him, wanting to ask what he was looking at him for. He wasn't a counselor. He wasn't a parent.

He for damn sure wasn't an officer in the Coast Guard or a cop. This was no longer his problem.

When he failed to volunteer anything, the officer asked if he had anything to add to the boy's story.

"No."

"Did you see or hear them fighting?"

"The only thing I saw them doing was enjoying themselves."

The officer turned back to the young man. "Best friends don't fight for no reason. Not even when they've had too much to drink. They might swap some harsh words, maybe throw a punch or two.

But once it blows over, it's over, right?"

"I guess," he replied sullenly.

"So I want you to come clean with me now.

Okay? You listening? What brought on the fight?"

The kid struggled to swallow. "He just attacked me."

"How come?"

"All I did was defend myself. I swear,"

he blubbered. "I didn't want to fight him.

It was a party."

"Why'd he attack you?"

He shook his head.

"Now, that's not true, is it, son? You know why he attacked you. So tell me. What caused your best friend to get mad enough to start beating up on you?"

Silence stretched out for about twenty seconds, then the kid mumbled a single word.

Hatch wasn't sure he'd heard

correctly, mainly because the first clap of thunder from the predicted storm rattled the small square window in his shack just as the boy spoke, and also because what he thought he heard the boy say was a strange answer to the question.

The officer must have thought so, too. He shook his

#head with misapprehension and leaned forward ####21

to hear better. "Come again? Speak up, son."

The young man raised his head and took a swipe at his nose with the back of his hand. He cleared his throat. He blinked the officer into focus with his one functioning eye.

"Envy," he said gruffly. "That's what this is all about. Envy."

P.M.E.

St. Anne Island, Georgia

February 2002

CHAPTER 1

"But there's got to be." Maris Matherly-Reed impatiently tapped her pencil against the notepad upon which she had doodled a series of triangles and a chain of loops. Below those she'd rough-sketched an idea for a book jacket.

"P.M.E., correct?"

"Correct."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, there's no such listing.

I double-checked."

The idea for the book jacket--an

autobiographical account of the author's murky relationship with her stepsibling--had come to Maris while she was waiting for the directory assistance operator to locate the telephone number. A call that should have taken no more than a few seconds had stretched into several minutes.

"You don't have a listing for P.M.E. in this area code?"

"In any area code," the operator replied. "I've accessed the entire U.S."

"Maybe it's a business listing, not a residential."

###"I checked both." #################23

"Could it be an unlisted number?"

"It would appear with that designation. I don't have anything under those initials, period. If you had a last name--was

"But I don't."

"Then I'm sorry."

"Thank you for trying."

Frustrated, Maris reconsidered her

sketch, then scribbled over it. She wasn't going to like that book no matter what the jacket looked like. The incestuous overtones made her uncomfortable, and she was afraid a large number of readers would share her uneasiness.

But the editor to whom the manuscript had been submitted felt strongly about buying it. The subject matter guaranteed author appearances on TV and radio talk shows, write-ups in magazines, probably a movie-of-the-week option. Even if the reviews were poor, the book's subject matter was titillating enough to generate sales in large numbers. The other decision makers in the hardcover division of Matherly Press had agreed with the editor when she pled her case, so Maris had deferred to the majority. They owed her one.

Which brought her back to the prologue of _Envy she had read that afternoon. She had discovered it among a stack of unsolicited manuscripts. They had been occupying a shelf in her office for months, collecting dust until that unspecified day when her schedule permitted her to scan them before sending the anxious authors the standard rejection letter. Imagining their crushing disappointment when they read that impersonal and transparent kiss-off, she felt that each writer deserved at least a few minutes of her time.

And there was always that outside, one-in-a-million, once-in-a-blue-moon chance that the next Steinbeck or Faulkner or Hemingway would be mined from the slush pile. That, of course, was every book editor's pipe dream.

Maris would settle for finding a bestseller.

These twelve pages of prologue had definite promise. They had excited Maris more than anything she had read recently, even material from her portfolio of published authors, and certainly more than anything she'd read from fledgling novelists.

It had piqued her curiosity, as a

#prologue or first chapter should. She was ####25

hooked, eager to know more, anxious to read the rest of the story. Had the rest of the story been written?

she wondered. Or at least outlined? Was this the author's first attempt at fiction writing? Had he or she written in another genre? What were his/her credentials? Did he/she have any credentials?

There was nothing to indicate the writer's gender, although her gut feeling said male. Hatch Walker's internal dialogue rang true

to his salty character and read like the language in which a man would think. The narrative was in keeping with the old sailor's poetic, though warped, soul.

But the pages had been sent by someone totally inexperienced and untutored on how to submit a manuscript to a prospective publisher.

All the standard rules had been broken. An SASE for return mailing hadn't been

enclosed. It lacked a cover letter of introduction. There was no phone number, street address, post office box, or e-mail

address. Only those three initials and the name of an island that Maris had never heard of. How did the writer hope to sell his manuscript if he couldn't be contacted?

She noticed that the postmark on the mailing envelope was four months old. If the author had submitted the prologue to several publishers simultaneously, it might have already been bought.

All the more reason to locate the writer as soon as possible. She was either wasting her time or she was on to something with potential. Whichever, she needed to know sooner rather than later.

"You're not ready?"

Noah appeared in her open office door wearing his Armani tuxedo. Maris said, "My, don't you look handsome." Glancing at her desk clock, she realized she had lost all track of time and that she was, indeed, running late. Raking her fingers through her hair, she gave a short, self-deprecating laugh. "I, on the other hand, am going to require some major renovation."

Her husband of twenty-two months closed the door behind him and advanced into her corner office.

He tossed a trade magazine onto her

desk, then moved behind her chair and began massaging her neck and shoulders, which he knew were the gathering spots for her tension and fatigue.

"Tough day?"

###"Not all that bad, actually. Only ####27

one meeting this afternoon. Mostly I've used today to clear some space in here." She gestured toward the pile of rejected manuscripts awaiting removal.

"You've been reading the stuff in your slush pile? Maris, really," he chided lightly.

"Why bother? It's a Matherly Press policy not to buy anything that isn't submitted by an agent."

"That's the official company line, but since I'm a Matherly, I can bend the rules if I wish."

"I'm married to an anarchist," he teased, bending down to kiss the side of her neck. "But if you're planning an insurrection, couldn't your cause be something that streamlines our operation, instead of one that consumes the valuable time of our publisher and senior vice president?"

"What an off-putting title," she remarked with a slight shudder. "Makes me sound like a frump who smells of throat lozenges and wears sensible shoes."

Noah laughed. "It makes you sound powerful, which you are. And awfully busy, which you are."

"You failed to mention smart and sexy."

"Those are givens. Stop trying to change the subject. Why bother with the slush pile when even our most junior editors don't?"

"Because my father taught me to honor anyone who attempted to write. Even if the individual's talent is limited, his effort alone deserves some consideration."

"Far be it from me to dispute the venerable Daniel Matherly."

Despite Noah's mild reproof, Maris

intended to continue the practice of going through the slush pile. Even if it was a time-consuming and unproductive task, it was one of the principles upon which a Matherly had founded the publishing house over a century ago. Noah could mock their archaic traditions because he hadn't been born a Matherly. He was a member of the family by marriage, not blood, and that was a significant difference that explained his more relaxed attitude toward tradition.

A Matherly's blood was tinted with ink. An appreciation for it seemed to flow through the family's veins. Maris firmly believed that her family's admiration and respect for the written

#word and for writers had been fundamental #####29

to their success and longevity as publishers.

"I got an advance copy of the article,"

Noah said.

She picked up the magazine he'd carried in with him. A Post-It marked a specific page.

Turning to it, she said, "Ah, great photo."

"Good photographer."

"Good subject."

"Thank you."

"`Noah Reed is forty, but could pass for much younger,`" she read aloud from the article. Angling her head back, she gave him a critical look. "I agree. You don't look a day over thirty-nine."

"Ha-ha."

"`Daily workouts in the Matherly Press gym on the sixth floor--one of Reed's innovations when he joined the firm three years ago--keeps all six feet of him lean and supple.` Well, this writer is certainly enamored. Did you ever have a thing with her?"

He chuckled. "Absolutely not."

"She's one of the few."

On their wedding day, Maris had teasingly remarked to him that so many single women were mourning the loss of one of the city's most eligible bachelors, she was surprised that the doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral weren't draped in black crepe. "Does she get around to mentioning your business acumen and the contributions you've made to Matherly Press?"

"Farther down."

"Let's see ... `graying at the

temples, which adds to his distinguished good looks`

... So on and so forth about your commanding demeanor and charm. Are you sure-- Oh, here's something.

`He shares the helm at Matherly Press with his father-in-law, publishing legend Daniel Matherly, who serves as chairman and CEO, and Reed's wife, Maris Matherly-Reed, whom he claims has perfect selection and

editorial skills. He modestly credits her with the company's reputation for publishing bestsellers.`" Pleased, she smiled up at him. "Did you say that?"

"And more that she didn't include."

"Then thank you very much."

"I only said what I know to be true."

Maris read the remainder of the flattering

#article, then set the magazine aside. ###31

"Very nice. But for all her ga-ga-ness she overlooked two major biographical

points."

"And they are?"

"That you're also an excellent writer."

"_The _Vanquished is old news."

"But it should be mentioned anytime your name appears in print."

"What's the second thing?" he asked in the brusque tone he used whenever she brought up his one and only published novel.

"She said nothing about your marvelous massage techniques."

"Happy to oblige."

Closing her eyes, Maris tilted her head to one side. "A little lower on your ... Ahh.

There." He dug his strong thumb into a spot between her scapulas, and the tension began to dissolve.

"You're in knots," he said. "Serves you right for scavenging through that heap of garbage all day."

"As it turns out, it might not have been time wasted. I actually found something that sparked my interest."

"You're joking."

"No."

"Fiction or non?"

"Fiction. Only a prologue, but it's intriguing. It starts--was

"I want to hear all about it, darling. But you really should shake a leg if we're going to get there in time."

He dropped a kiss on the top of her head, then tried to withdraw. But Maris reached for his hands and pulled them over her shoulders, holding them flattened against her chest. "Is tonight mandatory?"

"More or less."

"We could miss one function, couldn't we?

Dad begged off tonight."

"That's why we should be there. Matherly Press bought a table. Two empty seats would be noticeable. One of our authors is receiving an award."

"His agent and editor are attending with him.

He won't be without a cheering section." She pulled his hands down onto her breasts. "Let's call in sick. Go home and shut out the world.

Open a bottle of wine, the cheaper the better.

Get in the Jacuzzi and feed each other a pizza. Make love in some room other than the

#bedroom. Maybe even two rooms." ####33

Laughing, he squeezed her breasts

affectionately. "What did you say this prologue was about?" He pulled his hands from beneath hers and headed for the door.

Maris groaned with disappointment. "I thought I was making you an offer you couldn't refuse."

"Tempting. V. But if we're not at this dinner, it'll arouse suspicion."

"You're right. I'd hate for people to think that we're still acting like newlyweds who crave evenings alone."

"Which is true."

"But ...?was

"But we also have professional

responsibilities, Maris. As you are well aware. It's important for industry insiders to know that when they refer to Matherly Press, it damn well better be in either the present or future tense, not the past tense."

"And that's why we attend nearly every publishing event held in New York," she said as though it were part of a memorized catechism.

"Precisely."

Their calendars were filled with breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, receptions, and cocktail parties. Noah believed it was extremely important, virtually compulsory, that they be seen as active participants within literary circles, especially since her father could no longer be involved to the extent he once had been.

Recently Daniel Matherly had slowed

down. He didn't attend as many insider gatherings. He was no longer accepting speaking engagements, although the requests still poured in. The Four Seasons was calling daily now to inquire if Daniel would be using his reserved table for lunch or if they were free to seat another party there.

For almost five decades, Daniel had been a force to be reckoned with. Under his leadership, Matherly Press had set the industry standards, dictated trends, dominated the bestseller lists. His name had become synonymous with book publishing both domestically and in foreign markets. He had been a juggernaut who, over a period of months, had voluntarily been decreasing his momentum.

However, his semi-retirement did not spell the end, or even a weakening, of the publishing house's

#viability. Noah thought it was vitally #####35

important that the book publishing community understand that. If that meant going to award dinners several times a month, that's what they would do.

He checked his wristwatch. "How much time do you need? I should let the driver know when we'll be downstairs."

Maris sighed with resignation. "Give me twenty minutes."

"I'll be generous. Take thirty." He blew her a kiss before leaving.

But Maris didn't plunge into her overhaul right away. Instead, she asked her assistant to place a call. She'd had another idea on how she might track down the author of _Envy.

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