Read Envy Online

Authors: Sandra Brown

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

Envy (4 page)

BOOK: Envy
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CHAPTER 3

"Just one more picture, please, Mr. and Mrs. Reed?"

Maris and Noah smiled for the photographer who was covering the literary banquet for _Publishers _Weekly. During the cocktail hour, they'd been photographed with other publishers, with their award-winning author, and with the celebrity emcee. The former women's tennis champion fancied herself an author now that she'd had a ghostwriter pen a roman à clef about her

#days on the professional circuit. ######53

The Reeds had been allowed to eat their dinner in relative peace, but now that the event had concluded, they were once again being asked to pose for various shots. But, as promised, the

photographer snapped one last picture of them alone, then scuttled off to catch the exercise guru whose latest fitness book topped the nonfiction bestseller list.

As Maris and Noah crossed the elegant lobby of the Palace Hotel, she sighed, "At last. I can't wait to get into my jammies."

"One drink and we'll say our good nights."

"Drink?"

"At LeCirque."

"Now?"

"I told you."

"No, you didn't."

"I'm sure I did, Maris. Between the main course and dessert, I whispered to you that Nadia had invited us to join her and one of the award recipients for a drink."

"I didn't know you meant tonight."

Maris groaned with dread. She disliked Nadia Schuller intensely and for this very reason.

The book critic was meddlesome and pushy, always roping Noah and her into a commitment from which there was no graceful way out.

Nadia Schuller's "Book Chat" column was syndicated in major newspapers and carried a lot of weight--in Maris's opinion

simply because Nadia had ramrodded herself into being the country's only book critic whose name was recognized by the general public. Maris held her in low regard both professionally and personally.

She was adroit at making it seem as though this sort of arranged meeting were for the benefit of the parties she was bringing together, but Maris suspected that Nadia's matchmaking was strictly self-serving. She was a self-promoter without equal and refused to take no for an answer.

Whatever her request, she extended it assuming that it would be granted without a quibble.

Noncompliance to her wishes was met with a veiled threat of consequences. Maris was wise to her manipulations, but Noah seemed blind to them.

"Please, Noah, can't we decline? Just this once?"

"We're already here."

###"Not tonight," she implored. ############55

"Tell you what. Let's compromise." He pulled her around to face him and smiled affectionately. "I think this might be an important meeting."

"Nadia always makes it sound not just important but imperative."

"Granted. But this time I don't think she's exaggerating."

"What's the compromise?"

"I'll make your excuses. I'll tell Nadia that you have a headache or an early breakfast appointment tomorrow morning. Have the driver take you home. After one drink, I'll follow you. Half an hour, max. I promise."

She slid her hand inside his tuxedo jacket and stroked his chest through the stiffly starched shirt.

"I have a better compromise, Mr. Reed.

I'll tell Nadia to take a flying leap into the East River. Then let's go home together. Those jammies I mentioned? They can be dispensed with."

"You ended your sentence with a preposition," he noted.

"You're the writer. I'm a mere editor."

"I'm a _former writer."

"There's no such thing." She took a step closer and aligned her thighs with his. "What do you say? About the jammies."

"Noah? We're waiting."

Nadia Schuller approached with the bearing of a military general about to address the troops, except that she was better dressed and had her phony smile in place. She was skilled at turning on the charm at will--to intrude, disarm, and promote herself. Many fell for it. She was a frequent and popular guest on talk shows.

Letterman loved her, and he was just one of her celebrity friends. She made it her business to be photographed with actors, musicians,

supermodels, and politicians whenever possible.

She had elevated herself to heights that Maris felt were undeserved. She was a self-appointed, self-ordained authority with no meaningful credentials to support her opinions on either writing or the business of publishing. But authors and publishers couldn't afford to offend her or they risked their next book being slammed in her column.

Tonight her arm was linked with that of a bestselling novelist who looked a little dazed. Or stoned,

#if the gossip about him was true. Or #####57

maybe he was only dizzy from being propelled through the evening by the turbo engines of Nadia's personality.

"They won't hold our table forever, Noah.

Coming?"

"Well ..." He hesitated and glanced down at Maris.

"What's the matter?" Nadia asked in a voice as piercing as a dentist's drill. She addressed the question to Maris, automatically assuming that she was the source of the problem.

"Nothing's the matter, Nadia. Noah and I were having a private conversation."

"Oh, my. Have I interrupted one of those husband/wife things?"

The critic could have been pretty if not for her edge, which manifested itself in the brittleness of her smile and the calculation in her eyes, which seemed to miss nothing. She was always impeccably dressed, groomed, and accessorized in the best of taste, but even arrayed in fine silk and finer jewelry there was nothing feminine about her.

It was rumored that she went through men like a box of Godivas, chewing up and spitting out the ones who didn't challenge her or who could do nothing to further her career--in other words, the ones with soft centers. Maris had no problem believing the gossip about Nadia's promiscuity. What surprised her was the number of men who found her sexually appealing.

"Yes, we were having a husband and wife _thing.

I was telling Noah that the last thing I want to do is join you for a round of drinks," Maris said, smiling sweetly.

"You do look awfully tired," Nadia returned, her smile just as sweet.

Noah intervened. "I'm sorry, Nadia.

We must decline tonight. I'm going to take my wife home and tuck her in."

"No, darling," Maris said. She wouldn't play the wounded wife in front of Nadia Schuller. "I wouldn't dream of keeping you from this obligation."

"It's hardly that," Nadia snapped. "More like a rare opportunity to talk shop with one of publishing's most exciting novelists."

The exciting novelist had yet to utter a peep. He was bleary-eyed and seemed oblivious to their conversation. Maris gave Nadia a knowing

#look. "Of course it is. That's what ####59

I meant." Back to Noah, she said, "You stay. I'll see myself home."

He regarded her doubtfully. "You're sure?"

"I insist."

"Then it's settled." Nadia gave the writer's arm a sharp tug. Like a sleepwalker, he fell into step beside her. "You two say your good-byes while we go claim the table. Shall I order your usual, Noah?"

"Please."

Then to Maris she called back airily,

"Get some rest, dear."

Parker Evans stared out the window into nothingness.

He couldn't see the shoreline from this vantage point, but if he concentrated, he could hear the surf. Rain clouds obscured the moon. There was no other source of light, natural or

man-made, to relieve the darkness.

From this first-floor window overlooking the rear of his property, Parker could see across a breast of lawn to the point where it sharply dropped off several degrees before sloping more gradually toward the beach. That edge of the lawn appeared to be the threshold of a black void that melded with the ocean farther out. No wonder ancient sailors had feared the unknown terrors that lay beyond the brink.

The room behind him was also dark, which wasn't an oversight. He had deliberately left the lights off. Had they been on, his reflection would have appeared in the window glass. He preferred looking at nothing to looking at himself.

Anyway, he didn't need a light in order to read the list of telephone numbers he held in his hand. In fact, he no longer needed to read them at all. He had committed them to memory.

His six months of waiting had finally paid off.

Maris Matherly-Reed was trying to contact him.

As recently as yesterday, Parker had come close to scratching his plan and devising another.

After months of not hearing from her, he figured that she had read the prologue of _Envy, hated it, tossed it, and hadn't even had the courtesy of sending him a rejection notice.

It had also occurred to him that the partial manuscript had never reached her desk, that mailroom staff had misdirected it or hurled it into a Dumpster within minutes of its delivery.

#Few of the major publishing houses even ###61

had slush piles anymore. Manuscripts either got in through literary agents or they didn't get in at all.

If his pages had survived that first selection process, a junior editor who was paid to cull material from slush piles could have deep-sixed the _Envy prologue before it ever got to her office.

In any case, he'd almost convinced himself that this plan was a bust and that it would be necessary to plot another.

That was yesterday. Just went to show what a difference a day could make. Apparently the pages _had made it to her desk, and she _had read them, because today she _had tried to contact him.

Maris Matherly-Reade. The deputy had

misspelled all three of her names. Parker hoped he was more adept at taking down telephone numbers.

Business, she had told Deputy Dwight

Harris when he had asked why she was looking for P.M.E. She had business to discuss. Which could mean good news for Parker. Or bad. Or something in between.

She could be calling to say that his writing stunk and how dare he presume to send her prestigious publishing house such unsolicited shit. Or maybe she would take a softer approach and say that he had talent but that his material didn't fit their present publishing needs, and wish him luck at placing his book with another house.

But those responses usually came in the form of rejection letters, written in language firm enough to discourage another submission but with enough encouragement to keep the rejected writer from jumping off the nearest bridge.

Ms. Matherly-Reed didn't know where

to address such a letter to him, however. He'd made certain that she couldn't reach him by mail. So if her intention had been to reject _Envy, he probably would never have heard from her at all.

Instead, she had tried to track him down. From that, he deduced her response must be favorable.

But it wasn't yet time to ice down the champagne. It was a little early to award himself a gold star for being such a clever boy. Before he got too carried away, he forced himself to keep his heartbeat regular, his breathing normal, and his head clear. Success or failure hinged not on what he'd done up to this point but on what he

#did next. #########################63

So instead of celebrating this milestone, he had stared for hours out this window into the rainy moonless night. While the calm surf swept the

shoreline, he weighed his options. While his distant neighbors on St. Anne slept, or watched late-night TV, or made love under their summer-weight bedcovers, Parker Evans plotted.

It helped that he already knew the ending to this story. Not once did he consider changing the outcome from his original plot. He never considered letting Maris Matherly-Reed's attempt to reach him go unacknowledged, never thought about dropping this thing here and now.

No, he'd come this far, he was committed to seeing it all the way through the denouement. But between here and there, he couldn't make a single misstep. Each chapter had to be carefully thought out, with no mistakes allowed. It had to be the perfect plot.

And if his resolve to finish it ever faltered, he had only to remember how fucking long it had taken him to reach this point in the saga. Six months.

Well ... six months and fourteen years.

Maris groped for the ringing telephone. She squinted the lighted clock on her nightstand into focus. Five-twenty-three. In the morning.

Who--

Then panic brought her wide awake. Was this that dreaded, inevitable phone call notifying her that her father had suffered a coronary, stroke, fall, or worse?

Anxiously she clutched the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Maris Matherly-Reed?"

"Speaking."

"Where do you get off screwing around with my life?"

She was taken completely off guard and it took a moment for the rude question to sink in. "I beg your pardon? Who is this?"

She sat up, switched on the lamp, and reached out to rouse Noah. But his side of the bed was empty. She gaped at the undisturbed linens, at the pillow that was still fluffed.

"I don't appreciate you calling the sheriff," the caller said hotly.

###_Where _is _Noah? "I'm sorry ####65

... I was ... you caught me asleep. ...

Did you say sheriff?"

"Sheriff, _sheriff. Ring any bells?"

She sucked in a quick breath. "P.M.E.?"

"A deputy came to my house, snooping around. Who the--was

"I--was

?--hell do you think you are?"

"I--was

"To mess with people's--was

"You--was

?--lives. Thanks for nothing, lady."

"Will you please be quiet for one second?"

Her raised voice brought him to an abrupt silence, but Maris sensed waves of resentment pulsing through the line. After taking a couple of calming breaths, she assumed a more reasonable tone. "I read your prologue and liked it. I wanted to talk to you about it, but I had no way of contacting you. You _left me no way to contact you.

So I called the sheriff's office in the hope that--was

"Send it back."

"Excuse me?"

"The prologue. Send it back."

"Why?"

"It's crap."

"Far from it, Mr.--was

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