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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 (29 page)

BOOK: Envy
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"Not that I saw."

"Good. Have a seat. Drink?"

"No, thanks."

On the way over, an unpleasant thought had crossed Noah's mind. What if Maris had told her father about his affair with Nadia? Maybe she had confided in Daniel before running off to Georgia. To crown a totally shitty day, all he needed was for his father-in-law to accuse him of adultery and order him from his house. But the old man was behaving normally.

Noah sat down on the love seat. "I'm sorry to disturb you. But Maris will call later, and I'll be required to give her a full report, right down to what you ate for dinner."

"Grilled sole, brown rice, and steamed vegetables."

"A menu she'll approve. She also put me in charge of keeping you company while she's away."

Daniel snorted. "I don't need a

baby-sitter."

"I agree. But please go along with me or I'll catch hell when she returns." He

#set his elbows on his knees and leaned ####505

forward. "What say we go to the country tomorrow for the weekend? Get in some fishing. Relaxation. I could use it, God knows."

"I rarely go up there anymore."

"Before she left, I ran the idea past Maris, and it met with wholehearted approval.

I think she feels guilty for not taking you to the farm more often. If we go, it will alleviate her guilt and give her peace of mind knowing that you're enjoying yourself."

Daniel pondered it for a moment. Noah said no more. He couldn't push too hard or the old man would become suspicious. He'd made his pitch; it was time to shut up and let Daniel make his decision.

"What time tomorrow?"

Noah's tension eased and he smiled. "I have a breakfast meeting that would be difficult to reschedule. We could leave right after."

"That doesn't give Maxine much time to--was

"Actually, Daniel, I was thinking that we could go alone. Really bach it." He glanced over his shoulder as though to assure himself that the housekeeper wasn't eavesdropping. Lowering his voice, he said, "If Maxine goes, she'll fuss over you like a mother hen. You'll be accounting to her for every drink, every fat gram. Forget puffing your pipe."

"She nags worse than a wife, and everything I do will be reported straight to Maris."

"Sometimes we men must take a stand."

"Hear, hear."

"So, are we all set?"

"I am if you are."

"Great!" He stood and crossed the room to shake Daniel's hand. "I'll be over in the morning around ten. Pack light. I'll call the grocer up there and have him deliver food and drink to the house, so it'll be well stocked when we arrive." As he moved toward the door, he spoke over his shoulder. "I'll even volunteer to break the news to Maxine that she's not invited."

CHAPTER 22

While Maris studied his manuscript,

Parker studied her.

She had taken a full hour in the guest cottage and had returned wearing a loose, casual skirt that came almost to her ankles,

#along with the sleeveless shirt that tied at ###507

her waist and allowed an occasional glimpse of bare midriff. She had kicked off her sandals when she settled into the easy chair and tucked her feet beneath her.

Her hair had been shampooed. A fresh

application of lip gloss had left her mouth with a peachy shine. And whether it was the whisky she'd drunk or cosmetics, there was more color in her cheeks than when she arrived. She looked and smelled delectable.

He supposed he should be grateful that she found his manuscript so absorbing that she was unaware of his scrutiny. She was focused solely on the pages lying in her lap, and he was irrationally jealous of his own work for the amount of her attention it was receiving.

Before her unheralded arrival this afternoon, he'd been well on his way to getting good and trashed.

He hadn't been able to write worth a crap all day, although from a meteorological standpoint it was a perfect day for it. Cloudy, gloomy, and gray, it was the kind of day when he usually immersed himself in his story and came up for air only when forced to by hunger, thirst, or needing to relieve himself.

But his mind had been a blank. Well ... not a blank. He just wasn't able to write down what was on his mind, because all that was on his mind was Maris. As it had been since she left, he could think of little else today.

Maris presiding over a meeting.

Maris smiling at Noah.

Maris hailing a taxi.

Maris kissing Noah.

Maris working at her desk.

Maris sleeping beside Noah.

Maris shopping on Fifth Avenue.

Maris opening her thighs to Noah.

The revolving mental images had been enough to drive him crazy. Had been enough to drive him to drink, anyway.

He wondered now if he'd had a premonition of her arrival. Yeah, maybe he had. Because he'd been in the dining room, a room he visited only rarely. He'd been feeling sorry for himself, quaffing Wild Turkey as fast as he could pour it, and glumly staring out the window at nothing.

When he heard a motorized vehicle turning

#into the lane off the main road, he had ####509

assumed it was Mike returning. He remembered hoping that Mike hadn't forgotten to get a bag of bite-sized Milky Way bars.

When he saw Maris behind the wheel of the approaching golf cart, his heart had sputtered and knocked like an ailing engine.

Subconsciously, had he been watching for her, pining like a grass widow searching the horizon for sight of her sailor's ship? He hated to think of himself as some wretched, pathetic figure waiting for Maris to grace him with her presence.

God, had he sunk that low?

But he realized now that that's exactly what he'd been doing since she'd turned her back on him and stalked out of the cotton gin. Since that morning, he'd been steeping in his misery, stewing in his jealous sweat, sucking on whisky bottles, and nursing his fantasies.

Torturous fantasies of her with Noah.

Delicious ones of her with him.

At night he had erotic dreams in which she clutched him and chanted his name in breathless, urgent, orgasmic whispers. During the daylight hours, he occupied himself with visions of her caressing him, of her fingertips skimming his chest and belly, of her mouth silkily sliding--

"Was it Todd's?"

He jerked upright as though his wheelchair had goosed him. "Huh?" He cleared his throat and shook off the sexual reverie. "Pardon?"

"The baby that Mary Catherine miscarried. Was it Todd's?"

"What do you think?"

"It's suggested. Do we ever know?"

He shook his head. "I think it's better to leave it with just a suggestion. Let the reader come to his own conclusion."

"I agree." She thumbed through the pages again, stopping occasionally to reread a passage. "He's a remarkable character. Roark, I mean. He's so

... well, heroic. As Mary Catherine says, he's nice."

Parker grimaced. "He's not _too nice, is he? I don't want him coming across as a saint. Or worse, a puss."

"He doesn't." She smiled reassurance, but he continued to frown doubtfully. "Trust me, Parker. I'd tell you if he were nice to the point of being dull."

###"Women readers aren't turned on #####511

by nice heroes any more than male readers lust after heroines who are too virtuous. There should be at least a hint, maybe even a promise, of corruptibility."

"You don't have to worry about Roark in that regard. Women readers will love him, for this scene alone if for no other. He's very male. His responses are instinctually masculine. He looks at everything in a sexual context first, before expanding his viewpoint to include other factors, like morality.

"At the same time, he's sensitive to Mary Catherine's needs. He declined her invitation to have sex, demonstrating that he knows where the lines of decency are drawn. Without hitting the reader over the head with his goodness, you imply that he has a strong conscience and moral fiber. He upholds a code of honor, a ..." She glanced up and caught him silently laughing at her. "What?"

"You really get worked up over this stuff, don't you?"

"That's my job."

"I understand your need to get excited over it.

But at the end of the day, it's still only a book, Maris."

"Not to me it isn't." She spoke softly and a bit shyly. "When I really love a book, the characters become real to me. I think it stems from losing my mother at such an early age. I needed people around me, so the princes and princesses I read about became my adopted brothers and sisters.

"I lived in palaces and on pirate ships.

I climbed mountain peaks and hacked my way through dark jungles. Captain Nemo's submarine became as familiar to me as my own bedroom. The characters in my books took me along on their adventures. I laughed and cried with them. I was involved in their lives. I was privy to all their secrets. I knew their hopes and dreams as well as their fears. They became like family."

She straightened a bent corner of one of the manuscript pages and gave a small,

self-conscious, self-deprecating shrug. "I suppose that passion for fiction carried over into adulthood."

For several ponderous moments, she kept her head down. Eventually she looked across at him.

He leaned toward her and spoke very softly. "If you can get that turned on by a book, I'd like to know

#what else you have a passion for." #########513

She knew exactly what he was thinking. Their minds were moving along the same track. He could see it in the way her eyes turned smoky and hear it in the catch of her breath.

"The f word turns me on," she whispered.

"The f word?"

"Food."

He threw back his head and laughed. It rumbled up out of his chest and felt so good it startled him. For the first time in years, his laughter was spontaneous. It wasn't tinged with bitterness and cynicism.

She fired a fake pistol at him.

"Gotcha."

"I concede. You're hungry?"

"Famished."

"Mike will never forgive me for being such a rotten host. I suppose I can put together some sort of meal, but you have to help."

"Lead on."

They moved into the kitchen and, working side by side, assembled BLT's. "Avocado?" he asked, as he set the microwave to cook the bacon strips.

"Yum."

"You have to peel it. Mike says I can't do it without bruising it."

"One thing I like about you, Parker--was

"Only one?"

?--is that you own up to your shortcomings."

"Well, there are so few of them, I can afford to be humble." She threw a Frito at him.

They ate the chips out of the bag and pickles straight from the jar. "Different from what you're used to, isn't it?" he asked around a mouthful.

"Obviously you have me confused with a pampered, spoiled brat."

"No," he replied honestly. "You work too hard to fit that description."

"Thank you."

"You're dedicated."

"Yes, I am."

"You get the job done."

"I try."

"So is that why you came back? Am I a job you left unfinished?"

"I came back to deliver the letter of agreement along with your signing check for fifteen thousand."

"You never heard of Federal Express?"

###"I wasn't sure a carrier would #####515

deliver to St. Anne."

He gave her a look that said he knew

better, and she got busy picking at the crust on her bread. "Okay, we're being honest. I wanted to make sure you were writing, Parker, and if you weren't, to prod you along. My dad advised it."

"Oh, so you came back because your _daddy thought it was a good idea."

"Not exactly."

"Then why, Maris? Exactly."

She looked over at him, opened her mouth to speak, reconsidered, and began again. "We had quarreled before I left. I wanted to clear the air between us. Otherwise our working relationship would--was

He bleated a sound like the buzzer on a TV

game show. "To you this might look like the backwoods, but believe it or not, we've got telephones, e-mails, faxes, various

methods of communication."

"But you wouldn't take my calls or answer my e-mails and faxes."

"Eventually I would have."

"I wasn't sure."

"Yes, you were." He ended the parley there by holding up his hand and stopping her next argument.

"You hopped that jet plane because you wanted to see me again. Admit it, Maris."

Her chin went up defiantly, and he thought she might deny it. But she surprised him again.

"All right, yes. I did. I wanted to see you."

Folding his arms on the tabletop, he leaned toward her. "Why? Not because of my natural charm.

We established early on that I have none." He stroked his chin. "So I'm wondering, did you and your hubby have a spat? Afterward, you thought, __I'll show him. I'll trot myself down to Hicksville and have a fling with a _gimp. Is that why you came back?"

He figured she would storm from the room, retrieve her things from the guest cottage, then hightail it to her golf cart and leave him in a wake of epithets. But, again, he guessed wrong.

She remained where she was and addressed him in a remarkably calm voice.

"Tell me, Parker, why do you insist on being cruel? Does being mean to people make you feel

#stronger and more manly? Do you use meanness ##517

to cancel out the wheelchair? Or do you deliberately piss people off in order to keep them at arm's length? Do you hurt them before they have a chance to hurt you? If that's the case, then I'm truly sorry for you. Indeed, for the first time since I met you, I pity you."

When she did leave the table, her pace and posture were dignified. Her back was straight, her head high, and as Parker watched her disappear through the kitchen door, he felt like the lowest life-form on earth.

He had accused her of using him to get to Noah, when precisely the opposite was at play. He was using her to get to Noah.

Afraid she would leave before he could apologize, he backed his chair out of the kitchen and quickly rolled it down the central hallway and through the front door. He was relieved to find her on the veranda, leaning into one of the support columns, staring out at the giant live oaks that stood sentinel on both sides of the front path.

"Maris."

"I'll leave in the morning."

"I don't want you to go."

She laughed softly but without humor. "You don't know what you want, Parker. To write.

Not to write. To be famous. To be a recluse.

To have me here. To send me away. You don't even know whether or not you want to go on living.

"Whatever the case, I shouldn't have come back.

My reasons for returning were muddled at best, even to me. I should have stayed in New York where I belong and left you alone to luxuriate in your anger and bitterness and to keep boozy company with a ghost. You can get back to your pathetic pastimes tomorrow after I leave."

He rolled his chair directly behind her and placed his hands on either side of her waist where it flared into hips. "Don't leave."

Leaning forward, he pressed his forehead into the small of her back. He rolled it to the left and right of that shallow depression while his fingers flexed, tightening his grasp on her.

"I don't give a damn why you came back, Maris. I swear I don't. Even if you are here just to make your husband angry, I don't care. You're here, and I want you to be."

He moved his hands around to her front, where he rested them for a time on the knot of her shirt before

#slipping them beneath it and touching her skin. ####519

Massaging gently, he gradually drew her backward.

She spoke his name plaintively, part

statement, part query, part sigh of resignation.

He continued to draw her backward until her knees bent and he settled her onto his lap.

He turned her, draping her legs over an armrest of his chair so that he was cradling her like an infant.

She looked up at him with concern. "Is this all right?"

He sifted her hair through his fingers. He stroked her cheek with his thumb, then dragged it across her lower lip. "This is perfect."

BOOK: Envy
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