Read Envy Online

Authors: Sandra Brown

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

Envy (6 page)

BOOK: Envy
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On the other hand, Maris needed to vent, and her father had always been her most trusted confidant.

"In answer to your question, Dad, I'm not thinking anything that specific. I don't believe that Noah's having an affair. Not really."

"Something's bothering you. What?"

"Over the last few months, I don't feel like I've had Noah's full attention. I've had very little of his attention," she corrected with a

#rueful little laugh. ####################89

"The champagne fizz of a honeymoon doesn't last forever, Maris."

"I know that. It's just ..." She trailed off, then sighed. "Maybe I'm too much a romantic."

"Don't blame yourself for this stall. It doesn't have to be anyone's fault. Marriages go through periods like this. Even good marriages.

Dry spells, if you will."

"I know. I just hope he isn't getting tired of me. We're coming up on our two-year anniversary. That's got to be some kind of record for him."

"You knew his record when you married him," he reminded her gently. "He had a solid reputation as a ladies man."

"Which I accepted because I loved him. Because I had been in love with him since I read _The _Vanquished."

"And out of all those women, Noah returned your love and chose to marry you."

She smiled wistfully, then shook her head with self-deprecation. "You're right, Dad. He did. Chalk this up to hormones. I'm feeling neglected. That's all."

"And I must assume some of the blame for that."

"What are you talking about?"

"I've vested Noah with an enormous amount of responsibility. He's doing not only his job, which, God knows, is demanding enough, but he's begun taking up the slack for me as well.

I've slowed down, forcing him to accelerate.

I've suggested that he hire someone to shoulder some of his duties."

"He has difficulty delegating."

"Which is why I should have _insisted that he bring someone else on board. I'll make a point to see that he does. In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea for the two of you to go away together for a few days. Bermuda, perhaps. Get some sun.

Drink too many tropical drinks. Spend a lot of time in bed."

She smiled at his candor, but it was a sad smile. He'd said practically those same words last year when he'd packed them off to Aruba for a long weekend. They'd gone in the hope of returning pregnant. Although they'd made every effort to conceive and had enjoyed trying, they hadn't been successful. Maris had been greatly

#disappointed. Maybe that's when she and ######91

Noah had started drifting apart, though the rift had only recently become noticeable.

Daniel sensed that he'd touched on a topic best forgotten, or at least left closed for the present. "Take some time away together, Maris,"

he urged. "Away from the pressures of the office, the zaniness of the city. Give yourselves a chance to get back on track."

Although she wouldn't say this to Daniel, she didn't share his confidence that spending time in bed would solve their problem and set things right. Their disagreement this morning had ended with sex, but she wouldn't call it intimacy. To her it had felt that they were doing what was most expedient to end the quarrel, that they had taken the easy way out. Their bodies had gone through the familiar motions, but their hearts weren't in it.

Noah had defused her with flattery, which, in hindsight, seemed ingratiating and patronizing.

She'd been genuinely angry, which wasn't an ideal time to be told how beautiful she was.

Falling into bed together had been a graceful way to end an argument that neither had wanted to have. She hadn't wanted to accuse him further, and he hadn't wanted to address her accusations, so they'd made love instead. The implications of all that were deeply troubling.

For Daniel's benefit, she pretended to think over his suggestion of a tropical vacation, then said, "Actually, Dad, I was thinking of going away by myself for a while."

"Another good option. To the country?"

Frequently, when the city became too

claustrophobic, she went to their house in rural western Massachusetts and spent long weekends catching up on paperwork and reading manuscripts.

In the Berkshires, without the constant interruptions imposed on her in the office, she could concentrate and accomplish much in a relatively short period of time. It was natural for Daniel to assume that she would choose their country house for her retreat.

But she shook her head. "I think I'll go to Georgia."

Noah took it with equanimity. "I'm all for your getting away for a few days," he told her when she announced her intention to take a trip south. "A change of scenery will do you good. But

#what in heaven's name is in Georgia? ####93

A new spa?"

"An author."

"You'll be working? The whole point of taking a few days off is to relax, isn't it?"

"Remember the prologue I told you about yesterday?"

"The one from the slush pile?"

She ignored the skeptical slant of his grin. "I had difficulty locating the author but finally did."

"Difficulty?"

"Long story, and we've got that meeting in ten minutes. Suffice it to say he's not your routine writer trying to get published."

"In what way is he different?"

"Recalcitrant. Rude. And unenlightened.

He doesn't realize how good his writing is.

He's going to need some stroking, possibly some coaching, and a great deal of coaxing. I think a face-to-face meeting will yield more than telephone calls and faxes."

Noah was listening with only one ear. He was shuffling through a stack of telephone messages that his assistant had discreetly carried in and laid in front of him before slipping out. Then, checking his wristwatch, he stood up and began gathering materials off his desk for the upcoming meeting.

"I'm sorry, darling, but a continuation of this conversation will have to wait. This meeting won't keep.

When do you plan to leave?"

"I thought I'd go tomorrow."

"So soon?"

"I need to know if I should get excited about this book or drop it. The only way to find out is to talk to the author."

He rounded his desk and gave her a

perfunctory kiss on the cheek. "Then let's go out tonight, just the two of us. I'll have Cindy make reservations. Where would you like to go?"

"My choice?"

"Your choice."

"How about having Thai brought in? We'll eat at home for a change."

"Excellent. I'll pick the wine."

They were almost through his office door when he drew up short. "Damn! I just remembered, I have a meeting tonight."

She groaned. "With whom?"

He named an agent who represented several

#notable authors. "Join us. He'd be ####95

delighted. Then we can go somewhere alone for a nightcap."

"I can't be out all evening, Noah. I have things to do before I can leave town, packing included."

"I've postponed this engagement twice," he said with regret. "If I ask for another rain check, he'll think I'm avoiding him."

"No, you can't do that. How late will you be?"

He winced. "As you know, this guy likes to talk, so it might be late. Certainly later than I'd like." Sensing her disappointment, he stepped closer and lowered his voice. "I'm sorry, Maris. Do you want me to cancel?"

"No. He's an important agent."

"Had I known you planned to go away, I--was

"Excuse me, Mr. Reed," his assistant said from just beyond the doorway. "They're waiting for you and Mrs. Matherly-Reed in the conference room."

"We're coming." Once his assistant had withdrawn, he turned back to Maris. "Duty calls."

"Always."

"Forgive me?"

"Always."

He gave her a hard, quick hug. "You're the most understanding wife in the history of marriage.

Is it any wonder I'm crazy about you?" He kissed her briskly, then nudged her toward the door. "After you, darling."

* * *

"Envy" Child. 1

Eastern State University,

Tennessee, 1985

Members of the fraternity thought it brilliant of their chapter founders to have designed and built their residence house to correlate with the diamond shape of the fraternity crest.

But what they attributed to genius had actually come about by happenstance.

When shopping for a lot on which to build their fraternity house, those thrifty young men in the class of 1910 had purchased the least expensive property available, a deep corner lot a few blocks from campus whose owner was eager to sell. Its appeal was not its shape or location but its price. They acquired it cheaply.

So the lot came first, not the architectural

#renderings. They designed a structure that ##97

would fit on their lot; they didn't choose a lot that would accommodate their design. After the fact, some members might have noticed that the house was indeed diamond-shaped like their crest, but the similarity was coincidental.

Then, in 1928, a university planning and expansion committee fortuitously decided that the main avenue bisecting the campus should be converted into a landscaped mall open only to pedestrian traffic. They rerouted motor traffic onto the street that passed in front of the unusually shaped chapter house.

Consequently, through no genius of the founders, this location at a key intersection gave the fraternity a commanding presence on campus that was coveted by every other.

The front of the three-story house faced the corner, with wings extending at forty-five-degree angles from either side of it. Between the wings in the rear of the building were a limited and insufficient number of parking spaces, basketball hoops sans baskets, overflowing trash cans, two rusty charcoal grills, and a chain-link-fence dog run that was occupied by Brew, the fraternity's chocolate Lab mascot.

The building's facade was much more imposing. The stone path leading up to the entry was lined with Bradford pear trees that blossomed snowy white each year, providing natural decoration for the fraternity's annual Spring Swing formal.

Photographs of these trees in full bloom frequently appeared on the covers of university catalogues and brochures. This bred resentment in rival fraternities. Whenever threats of chain saws circulated, pledges were ordered to post twenty-four-hour guard. Not only would the fraternity lose face on campus if their trees were cut down, their residence hall would look naked without them.

In autumn the leaves of the Bradford pears turned the vibrant ruby red they were on this particular Saturday afternoon. The campus was uncharacteristically quiet. The football team was playing an away game. Had the team been at home, the front door of the fraternity house would have been open. Music would have been blaring from it.

It would be a raucous gathering place for the members, their dates, their parents, and their alums.

###Game-day traffic would be backed up ###99

for miles, and because every vehicle had to pass through this crossroads to reach the stadium, the members would enjoy a front-row seat for this bumper-to-bumper parade. They'd jeer at the rival team's fans and flirt with the coeds, who flirted back and sometimes, upon a spontaneous invitation, would leave the vehicles they were in to join the party inside the house. It was documented that several romances, and a few marriages, had originated this way.

On game days, the campus was drenched in crimson. If the school color wasn't

worn, it was waved. Brass and drums from the marching band echoed across campus for hours prior to kickoff. The campus was energized, hopping, festive.

But today it was practically deserted. The weather was rainy and dreary, incompatible with any sort of outdoor activity. Students were using the day to catch up on sleep, study, or laundry--

things they didn't have time to do during the week.

The halls of the fraternity house, smelling dankly of beer and boys, were dim and hushed. A few members were gathered around the large-screen TV that a prosperous alum had donated to the house the year before. It was tuned to an NCAA football game on which money was riding.

Occasionally either a cheer or a groan filtered up the staircases to the resident rooms on the second and third floors, but these sounds did little to compromise the sleepy quiet of the corridors.

A quiet that was punctured by, "Roark! You asshole!" followed immediately by a slamming door.

Roark dodged the wet towel hurled at his head and started laughing. "You found it?"

"Whose is it?" Todd Grayson brandished a Styrofoam cup that contained his toothbrush. Which wouldn't have been remarkable except that the cup had been used as a spittoon. The bristles of Todd's toothbrush were steeping in the viscous brown fluid in the bottom of the cup.

Roark was reclined on the three-legged sofa beneath their sleeping lofts, which were suspended from the ceiling by short chains. To maximize the small room's floor space, the lofts had been designed and constructed by the two young men in direct violation and defiance of fraternity house rules against any alteration to the structure of the building.

A couple of stacked bricks served as the sofa's fourth leg, but the eyesore was the focal

#point of their habitat, the "nucleus of ##101

our cell," Todd had intoned one night when he was particularly drunk. When furnishing their room, they'd found the atrocity in a junk store and bought it for ten bucks apiece. The upholstery was ripped and ratty and stained by substances that remained unidentified. The sofa had become so integral to the overall ugliness of their room, they had decided to leave it there upon their graduation as a legacy for the room's next occupants.

But Todd, who had once waxed poetic about the sofa, was so angry now that every muscle in his body was quivering. "Tell me. Whose spit cup is this?"

Roark was clutching his middle, laughing. "You don't want to know."

"Brady? If it's Brady's, swear

to God I'll kill you." Brady lived down the hall. He was a terrific guy, an ideal fraternity brother, the type who, on a moment's notice and without any complaint, would come out and get you if your car broke down on a snowy night.

BOOK: Envy
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