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Authors: Sandra Brown

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Envy (5 page)

BOOK: Envy
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"I shouldn't have sent it."

"I'm glad you did. These pages intrigue me. They're compelling and well written. If the rest of your book is as good as the prologue, I'll consider buying it for publication."

"It's not for sale."

"What do you mean?"

"Look, I've got a southern accent, but I'm still speaking English. Which part didn't you understand?"

His voice was geographically distinctive.

Usually she found the soft r's and slow drawl of southern regions engaging. But his manner was abrasive and disagreeable. If she hadn't seen real potential in his writing, recognized an untapped talent, she would have ended the conversation long before now.

Patiently she asked, "If you didn't want your book published, why did you submit the prologue to a book publisher?"

"Because I suffered a mental lapse," he

#answered, imitating her precise ########67

enunciation. "I've since changed my mind."

Maris took another tack. "Do you have a representative?"

"Representative?"

"An agent."

"I'm not an actor."

"Have you ever submitted material before?"

"Just send it back, okay?"

"Did you multiple-submit?"

"Send it to other publishers, you mean? No."

"Why did you send it to me?"

"You know what, forget sending it back. Toss it in the nearest trash can, use it for kindling, or line your birdcage with it, I don't care."

Sensing he was about to hang up, she said quickly,

"Just one more moment, please."

"We're on my nickel."

"Before you decide against selling your book, a decision I think you'll regret, I'd

welcome the chance to give you my professional opinion of it. I promise to be brutally honest. If I don't see any merit in it, I'll tell you. Let me decide if it's good or not. Please send me the entire

manuscript."

"You have it."

"I have it?"

"Did I stutter?"

"You mean the prologue is all you've got?"

"It's not all I've _got. It's all I've _written. The rest of the story is in my head."

"Oh." That was disappointing. She had assumed that the remainder of the book was completed or nearly so. It hadn't occurred to her that the manuscript consisted of only those first twelve pages. "I urge you to finish it. In the meantime--was

"In the meantime, you're running up my long-distance bill. If you don't want to spend any money on return postage, then shred the damn thing. Good-bye. Oh, and don't send any more deputy sheriffs to my door."

Maris held the dead phone to her ear for several seconds before thoughtfully hanging up. The conversation had been almost surreal. She even thought that perhaps she had dreamed it.

But she wasn't dreaming. She was wide awake. By Manhattan standards, it was practically the middle of the night--and her husband

#wasn't in bed with her. If the strange ####69

telephone call weren't enough to wake her up, then Noah's unexplained absence certainly was.

She was concerned enough to call the hospital emergency rooms. But when she'd last seen Noah, he'd been in the company of Nadia Schuller. Which made her angry enough to throw something against the wall.

In either case, her night had ended and she was up for good. Throwing off the covers, she got out of bed and was reaching for her robe when Noah strolled into the bedroom, politely covering a wide yawn with his fist. He was still dressed in his tuxedo trousers and shirt, although he had removed the studs and his shirttail was hanging out. His jacket was slung over his shoulder. He was carrying his shoes.

He said, "Did I hear the telephone ring?"

"Yes."

"Was it Daniel? There's nothing wrong, I hope."

She was greatly relieved to see him, but dumbfounded by his nonchalance. "Noah, where in God's name have you been all night?"

Her tone stopped him in his tracks. He looked at her with puzzlement. "Downstairs on the sofa in the den."

"Why?"

"You were already asleep when I came in. I hated to disturb you."

"What time did you get home?"

He arched an eyebrow in silent disapproval of the third-degree tone of her questions. "About one, I think."

His calm manner only fueled her irritation.

"You said--you promised--you'd be half an hour behind me."

"We had two rounds of drinks instead of one.

What's the big deal?"

"The big deal is that I was awakened at five-twenty-something in the morning, and I was alone in bed," she exclaimed. "Call me irrational, but unless I know the reason why not, I expect my husband to be sleeping beside me."

"Obviously I wasn't missed until you were awakened."

"And who's fault is that?"

Her voice had gone shrill. It was the voice of a ranting wife. It called to mind the caricature dressed in a shapeless flannel robe and fuzzy scuffs, curlers in her hair,

#holding a rolling pin above her head as she ##71

caught her cheating husband sneaking in the back door.

She took a moment to get her temper under control, although she was still bristling with anger. "If you'll recall, Noah, I tried to seduce you into coming home with me straight from the office. But you elected for us to go to that interminably long banquet instead. Following that, I tried to talk you into salvaging at least part of the evening just for us, but you chose to have drinks with Vampira and that dopehead."

He dropped his shoes to the floor, removed his shirt, then unzipped his trousers and stepped out of them. "Each book that `dopehead` writes sells over a half million copies in

hardcover. His paperback sales are triple that. But he thinks he can get even higher numbers. He's unhappy with his present publisher and is considering moving to another.

"`Vampirà set up the date for drinks, thinking that it would be a beneficial meeting for both parties. Indeed it was. The author agreed to let us work up a publishing proposal.

We'll be hearing from his agent to discuss terms. I had hoped to surprise you and Daniel with this good news tomorrow, but ..." He shrugged eloquently, then moved to the bed and sat down on the edge of it.

"And just to come completely clean with you," he continued, "I confess that the dopehead got so drunk we couldn't conscientiously put him into a taxi by himself. Nadia and I accompanied him to his apartment and put him to bed. Not a pleasant chore, I assure you. Then she and I shared a taxi back uptown. I dropped her off at Trump Tower, then after arriving home I came upstairs, saw you sleeping soundly, and decided not to disturb you.

"Throughout the evening, I was acting in what I thought was your--our--best interest." He placed his hand over his heart and bowed his head slightly.

"Forgive me my thoughtlessness."

Despite his logical explanation, Maris still believed she had a right to be angry. "You could have called, Noah."

"I could have. But knowing how exhausted you were, I didn't want to disturb you."

"I don't like being obligated to Nadia."

"I don't like being obligated to anyone. On the other hand, it's not very smart to intentionally alienate Nadia. If she likes you, she

#bestows favors. If she dislikes you, she ##73

can inflict serious damage."

"And either way--if you're a man--you get screwed."

That caused him to smile. "Why is it that a woman, and especially you, is never more beautiful than when she's angry?"

"I was."

"I know."

"I _am."

"Don't be. I'm sorry I worried you.

I didn't mean to." He looked at her and smiled gently. "You have no reason to be jealous, you know."

"Oh, really?" she asked, deadpan. "I think I have every right to be paranoid, considering the number of affairs you had before we were married."

"You had affairs, too, Maris."

"Two. You had that many a week, and you had a ten-year head start."

He grinned at her exaggeration. "I'm not even going to honor that with a comment. The point is that I married you."

"Sacrificing all that fun."

Laughing, he patted the spot beside him on the bed. "Why don't you stop this nonsense, retract the talons, and simply forgive me?

You know you want to."

Her eyes narrowed with feigned malevolence.

"Don't push it."

"Maris?"

Reluctantly she moved toward him. When she was still a distance away, he reached out far enough to take her hand and draw her down beside him on the bed. He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear and kissed her cheek. She put up token resistance, but not for long.

When their first long kiss ended, she whispered,

"I hankered for this all day yesterday."

"All you had to do was ask."

"I did."

"So you did," he said with a regretful sigh.

"Let me make it up to you."

"Better late than never."

"Didn't you say something earlier about dispensing with these jammies?"

Moments later they were both down to their skin.

Nibbling her neck, he asked, "Who called?"

"Hmm?"

"The telephone call that woke us up. Who was

#it?" ###############################75

"That can wait." Seizing the initiative, she guided his hand down her belly to the notch of her thighs. "If you want to talk now, Noah, talk dirty."

CHAPTER 4

Daniel Matherly laid aside the

manuscript pages and thoughtfully pinched his lower lip between his thumb and fingers.

"What do you think?" Maris asked. "Is it my imagination or is it good?"

Taking advantage of the mild morning, they were having breakfast on the patio of Daniel's Upper East Side townhouse. Terra-cotta pots of blooming flowers provided patches of color within the brick enclosure. A sycamore tree shaded the area.

While Daniel was reading the _Envy

prologue, Maris had helped Maxine put together their meal. Maxine, the Matherlys'

housekeeper, had been practically a member of the family a full decade before Maris was born.

This morning she was her cantankerous self, protesting Maris's presence in her kitchen and criticizing the way she squeezed the fresh orange juice. In truth, the woman loved her like a daughter and had acted as a surrogate since the death of Maris's mother when she was still in grade school. Maris took the housekeeper's bossiness for what it was--an expression of her affection.

Maris and Daniel had eaten their egg-white omelets, grilled tomatoes, and whole-wheat toast in silence while he finished reading the prologue. "Thank you, Maxine," he said now when she came out to clear away their dishes and pour refills of coffee. "And yes, dear," he said to Maris, "it's good."

"I'm glad you think so."

She was pleased with his validation of her opinion, but she also valued his. Her father was perhaps the only person in the world who had read and reread more books than she. If they disagreed on a book, allowances were made for their individual tastes, but both could distinguish good writing from bad.

"New writer?"

"I don't know."

He reacted with surprise. "You don't

#know?" ##############################77

"This wasn't a typical submission by any stretch." She explained how she had come to read the prologue and what little she had learned about the elusive author. She ended by recounting her predawn telephone conversation with him.

When she finished, she asked crossly, "Who goes strictly by initials? It's juvenile and just plain weird. Like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince."

Daniel chuckled as he stirred cream

substitute into his last permitted cup of coffee for the day. "I think it adds a dash of mystery and romance."

She scoffed at that. "He's a pain in the butt."

"No doubt. Contrariness falls under the character description of a good writer. Or a bad one, for that matter."

As he contemplated the enigmatic author, Maris studied her father. __When did he get so _old? she thought with alarm. His hair had been white almost for as long as she could remember, but it had only begun to thin. Her mother, Rosemary, had been the widowed Daniel's second wife and fifteen years his junior. By the time Maris was born, he was well into middle age.

But he'd remained physically active. He watched his diet, grudgingly but conscientiously.

He'd quit smoking cigarettes years ago, although he refused to surrender his pipe. Because he had borne the responsibility of rearing her as a single parent, he had wisely slowed down the aging process as much as it was possible to do.

Only recently had the years seemed to catch up with him. To avoid aggravating an arthritic hip, he sometimes used a cane for additional support. He complained that it made him look decrepit. That was too strong a word, but secretly Maris agreed that the cane detracted from the robust bearing always associated with him. The liver spots on his hands had increased in number and grown darker. His reflexes seemed not to be as quick as even a few months ago.

But his eyes were as bright and cogent as ever when he turned to her and asked, "I wonder what all that was about?"

"All what, Dad?"

"Failing to provide a return address or telephone number. Then the telephone call this

#morning. His claims that the prologue was ###79

crap. Et cetera."

She left her chair and moved to a potted geranium to pluck off a dead leaf that Maxine had overlooked. Maris had urged the housekeeper to get eyeglasses, but she claimed that her eyesight was the same now as it had been thirty years ago. To which Maris had said, "Exactly.

You've always been as blind as a bat and too vain to do anything about it."

Absently twirling the brown leaf by its stem, she considered her father's question. "He wanted to be sought and found, didn't he?"

She knew she'd given the correct

response when Daniel beamed a smile on her. This was the method by which he had helped her with her lessons all through school. He never gave her the answers but guided her to think the question through until she arrived at the correct answer through her own deductive reasoning.

"He didn't have to call," she continued. "If he hadn't wanted to be found, he could have thrown away my telephone numbers. Instead he calls at a time of day when he's practically guaranteed to have the advantage."

"And protests too loudly and too much."

Frowning, she returned to her wrought-iron chair. "I don't know, Dad. He seemed genuinely angry. Especially about the deputy sheriff."

"He probably was, and I can't say that I blame him. But he couldn't resist the temptation to establish contact with you and hear what you had to say about his work."

"Which I think is compelling. That prologue has me wondering about the young man in the boat.

Who is he? What's his story? What caused the fight between him and his friend?"

"Envy," Daniel supplied.

"Which is provocative, don't you think?

Envy of what? Who envied whom?"

"I can see that the prologue served its purpose. The writer has got you thinking about it and asking questions."

"Yes, he does, damn him."

"So what are you going to do?"

"Try and establish some kind of professional dialogue. If that's possible to do with such a jerk. I don't fool myself into thinking it will be easy to work with this character."

###"Do you even know his telephone #########81

number?"

"I do now. Thanks to caller ID. I checked it this morning and recognized the area code I called yesterday."

"Ah, the miracles of advanced technology.

In my day--was

"In your day?" she repeated with a laugh.

"It's still your day."

Reaching for his speckled hand, she patted it fondly. One day he would be gone, and she didn't know how she was going to survive that loss.

She'd grown up in this house, and it hadn't been easy to leave it, even when she went away to college. Her bedroom had been on the third floor--still was if she ever wanted to use it.

Daniel's bedroom was on the second floor, and he was determined to keep it there despite the pain involved in getting up and down the stairs.

Maris recalled Christmas mornings, waking up before daylight, racing down to his room and begging him to get up and go downstairs with her to see what Santa Claus had left beneath the tree.

She had thousands of happy and vivid

recollections of her childhood--the two of them ice-skating in Central Park, strolling through street fairs eating hot dogs or falafel while rummaging in the secondhand book stalls, having high tea at the Plaza following a matinee, reading in front of the fireplace in his study, hosting formal dinner parties in the dining room, and sharing midnight snacks with Maxine in the kitchen. All her memories were good.

Because she had been a late-in-life only child, he had doted on her. Her mother's death could have been a heartache that wedged them apart. Instead, it had forged the bond between father and daughter. His discipline had been firm and consistent, but only rarely necessary. Generally, she had been obedient, never wanting to incur his disfavor.

The most rebellious offense she'd ever committed was to sneak out one night to meet a group of friends at a club that Daniel had placed off-limits. When she returned home in the wee hours she discovered just how vigilant a parent her father was--the kitchen window through which she had sneaked out had been locked behind her.

Forced to ring the front doorbell, she'd had to wait on the stoop for what seemed an excruciating eternity until Daniel came

#to let her in. He didn't yell at ####83

her. He didn't lecture. He simply

told her that she must pay the consequences of making a bad choice. She'd been grounded for a month.

The worst of the punishment, however, had been his disappointment in her. She never sneaked out again.

She'd been indulged but not spoiled. In exchange for spending money, she was required to do chores. Her grades were closely monitored.

She was praised for doing well more frequently than she was punished for mistakes. Mostly she had been loved, and Daniel had made certain every day of her life that she knew it.

"So you think I should pursue _Envy?" she asked him now.

"Absolutely. The author has challenged you, although he might not have done it intentionally and doesn't even realize that he has. You, Maris Matherly-Reed, can't resist a challenge."

He'd practically quoted from an article recently written about her in a trade journal.

"Didn't I read that somewhere?" she teased.

"And you certainly can't resist a good book."

"I think that's why I'm so excited about this, Dad," she said, growing serious. "In my present capacity, most of my duties

revolve around publishing. I work on the book once all the writing and editing have been done. And I love doing what I do.

"But I didn't realize until yesterday when I read this prologue how much I'd missed the editing process. These days I read the final, polished version of a manuscript just before I send it to production. I can't dwell on it because there are a million decisions about another dozen books that are demanding my attention. I've missed working one-on-one with an author. Helping with character development. Pointing out weaknesses in the plot. God, I love that."

"It's the reason you chose to enter publishing,"

Daniel remarked. "You wanted to be an editor. You were good at it. So good that you've worked your way up through the ranks until now your responsibilities have evolved away from that first love. I think it would be stimulating and fun for you to return to it."

"I think so too, but let's not jump the gun," she said wryly. "I don't know if _Envy is worth my attention or not. The book hasn't even been written yet. My gut

#instinct--was ##########################85

"Which I trust implicitly."

?--tells me that it's going to be good. It's got texture, which could be fleshed out even more.

It's heavy on the southern overtones, which you know I love."

"Like _The _Vanquished."

Suddenly her balloon of enthusiasm burst.

"Yes."

After a beat or two, Daniel asked, "How is Noah?"

As a reader, as well as his wife, she'd been massively disappointed that Noah hadn't followed his first novel with a second. Daniel knew that, so mentioning the title of Noah's single book was a natural segue into an inquiry about him.

"You know how he is, Dad. You talk to him several times a day."

"I was asking as a father-in-law, not as a colleague."

To avoid her father's incisive gaze, her eyes strayed to the building directly behind them.

The ivy-covered brick wall enclosing

Daniel's patio blocked her view of the neighboring building's ground floor, but she watched a tabby cat in a second-story window stretch and rub himself against the safety bars.

Maxine poked her head outside. "Can I get either of you anything?"

Daniel answered for both of them. "No, thank you. We're fine."

"Let me know."

She disappeared back inside. Maris remained quiet for a time, tracing the pattern of her linen place mat with the pad of her index finger. When she raised her head, her father had assumed the listening posture he always did when he knew there was something on her mind. His chin was cupped in his hand, his index finger lay along his cheek, pointing toward his wiry white eyebrow.

He never pried, never pressured her

into talking, but always patiently waited her out.

When she was ready to open up, she would, and not a moment before. It was a trait she had inherited from him.

"Noah came home very late last night,"

she began. Without going into detail, she gave him the gist of their argument. "We ended up lovers and friends, but I'm still upset about it."

###Hesitantly Daniel asked, #######87

"Did you overreact?"

"Do you think I did?"

"I wasn't there. But it sounds to me as though Noah had a logical explanation."

"I suppose."

He frowned thoughtfully. "Are you thinking that Noah has reverted to the habits he had while living a bachelor's life?"

Knowing the admiration and respect her father had for Noah, she was reluctant to recite a litany of complaints against him, which, when spoken aloud, would probably sound like whining at best and paranoia at worst. She could also appreciate that using her father as a sounding board placed him in an awkward position. He wasn't only Noah's

father-in-law, he was his employer.

Daniel had brought Noah into their publishing house three years ago because he had proved himself to be the smartest, shrewdest publisher in New York, save Daniel himself. When Maris and Noah's relationship became more social than professional, Daniel had expressed some reservations and cautioned her against an office romance. But he had given his approval when Noah, after being with Matherly Press for one year, confided in Daniel his plans to marry his daughter. He had even offered to resign in exchange for Maris's hand. Daniel wouldn't hear of it and had embraced Noah as his son-in-law with the same level of enthusiasm as he had hired him as vice president and business manager of his publishing house.

For almost two years, they had successfully managed to keep their professional and personal roles separate. Airing her wifely

grievances could jeopardize the balance. Daniel wouldn't want to say too much or too little, wouldn't want to choose one side over the other or trespass into marital territory where a father-in-law didn't belong.

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