Read Envy Online

Authors: Sandra Brown

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

Envy (8 page)

BOOK: Envy
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"Why do we have to plan the rest of our lives now?" he argued. "Why can't we hold off making major decisions and just continue to spend time together, enjoy each other, wait and see what happens?"

"Because if I continue seeing you, I'll sleep with you."

"Would that be so terrible?"

"Not at all terrible. It would be ..." She kissed him deeply, her sweet mouth tugging on his with the restrained passion he had come to expect.

"I want to," she whispered against his lips.

"I want to so bad. But I made a pledge of abstinence. I can't break it. So I can't see you anymore."

To his mind, that was totally irrational, but she would not be dissuaded. He was depressed and testy for weeks. Todd, sensing that the budding romance had suddenly withered and died, walked on eggshells around him.

Finally, however, he'd had all the moodiness he could stand. "Christ, get over it already." He insisted that the only cure for one woman was another woman. He practically dragged Roark from their room. They got drunk and got laid that night.

Roark wasn't "cured," but eventually he came around because he had no choice. And, in retrospect, everything she had said was right.

Maybe not the part about his guaranteed greatness. That remained to be seen. But regarding everything else, she had been inordinately insightful.

At the end of the semester, she transferred to a college nearer her hometown, where the boyfriend was attending. Roark wished her well and told her that her sweetheart was the luckiest bastard on the planet. She blushed, thanked him for the compliment, and said she would be watching for his name in print.

"I'll buy a dozen copies of your books and distribute them to all my friends, and boast that I once dated the great Roark Slade."

###That was as close as either he or Todd ##117

came to having a serious romantic entanglement.

But women consumed their thoughts and fueled their lusts, and on that rainy Saturday evening, it was a girl that brought to a close their conversation about Professor Hadley's grueling, demoralizing critiques.

A pair of coeds were actually brave--or brazen--enough to enter the testosterone-charged sanctum of T.R4's just as Roark was advising Todd to deflect Hadley's comments. "After all, they're just his opinion."

Todd, who was facing the door, changed the subject by saying, "Well, it's my opinion that that is one hot chick."

Roark glanced over his shoulder at the two girls. "Which one?"

"Blue sweater. Packing Tic Tacs." That was their coded reference to evident nipple projection.

"She's hot, all right," Roark agreed.

Todd grinned at her and she grinned back.

Roark said, "Hey, Christie."

"Oh, Roark, hi." Her drawl stretched the single-syllable words into roughly three apiece.

"How are you?"

"Great. You?"

"Couldn't be better."

When Roark came back around, Todd was swearing into his beer mug. "You son of a bitch.

I might've known."

Roark merely smiled and sipped his beer.

Todd continued to ogle. "She's a fox. I don't remember you ever going out with her."

"We didn't go out."

"Casual acquaintance?"

"Something like that."

"My ass," Todd scoffed. "You got on her."

"I--was

"Didn't you?"

"Maybe. Once. I think. We might've just mugged during a party."

The girls were now receiving instruction from several other customers on how to line up a pool shot.

The lesson required bending over the billiard table, which provided Todd an anatomical perspective of Christie that actually caused him to moan. "Damn."

"Try not to drool, okay?" Roark

#admonished. "It's embarrassing." ######119

He slid from the booth and approached the laughing group. The other men eyed him resentfully when he took Christie's elbow and steered her toward the booth. "Christie, Todd, my roommate.

Todd, this is Christie."

Roark ushered her into his side of the booth, so that they were seated across from Todd. "Hi, Christie."

"Hi."

"Would you like a beer?"

"Love one."

Todd signaled T.R. to bring another

pitcher and a third mug. "Pizza?"

"No, thanks."

Roark waited through the pouring of the beer before saying to Christie, "Listen, this is a bitch, but I gotta split. Are you okay with me leaving you in Todd's company? He's fairly harmless."

Her pout could have sold a million tubes of L'Oréal lipstick--to men. "It's

Saturday night, Roark," she whined. "Where do you hafta go?"

"I left Gatsby, Daisy, and the gang waiting on me. I need to get back to them."

He tilted his head toward Todd. "If he gets out of line, let me know. I'll knock him around for you."

She glanced flirtatiously at Todd. "I can handle him just fine."

"I bet you can," Todd said, bobbing his eyebrows. "Anytime, sweetheart."

Roark left her giggling over the innuendo. It was hours later before he returned to his and Todd's room. After listening at the door for several moments, he knocked tentatively.

"Huh?"

"Okay if I come in?"

"Yeah."

Todd was alone in his loft, lying on his back, one bare leg and foot dangling over the side.

He looked completely done-in but managed to mumble, "Thanks for keeping your distance. Where've you been all this time?"

"The library."

"How's Gatsby?"

"No more pussy-whipped than you, ol'boy.

When did Christie leave?"

"About ten minutes ago. Your timing was perfect."

###"Happy to oblige." ##############121

"You know, she actually asked if they were friends of yours."

"Who?"

"That's what I asked. And she said, `Those people waiting for him.`"

"You're kidding."

"Nope. Never heard of Gatsby. But who the hell cares? She fucks like she invented it."

Roark crossed to the window and opened it.

"Smells like sex in here."

"Oh, before I forget, our favorite professor called and left you a message."

"Hadley?"

"Said he has a conflict at eight, so he bumped your appointment up to nine o'clock Tuesday morning."

"Fine by me. I won't have to get up so early."

Todd yawned and turned toward the wall.

"Thanks again for Christie. She was something else.

G'night."

CHAPTER 5

Following the meeting that she and Noah had been required to attend, Maris went home from the office alone.

There was a moment, while she was getting mail from their box, that she was tempted to ask the night-duty doorman if he had noticed what time Noah had come in that morning, but she couldn't think of a way to ask without embarrassing both of them, especially herself.

She had a Thai dinner delivered. As she ate, she reviewed the revisions an author had made to her manuscript, signed off on them, and marked the manuscript ready to go to a copy editor.

She checked her calendar one final time to make certain that she and her assistant hadn't overlooked an appointment that needed to be rescheduled. She had blocked out the remainder of the week for her trip to Georgia, which might be a tad optimistic considering that the author hadn't been notified of her pending visit.

But in this instance, begging forgiveness was preferable

#to asking permission. She had to be ########123

assertive. With him, her approach must be proactive and aggressive. Timidity wouldn't make a dent. Rearranging her busy schedule and making travel arrangements had cemented her determination to go and see him whether or not he was agreeable.

Having put off for as long as possible the unpleasant chore of alerting him to her arrival, she dialed the number that had appeared on her caller ID machine that morning. The telephone rang four times before it was answered.

"Yeah?"

"This is Maris Matherly-Reed."

"Jesus."

"No, Maris Matherly-Reed."

He said nothing to that, not even a cranky __What do you _want? although his hostile silence spoke volumes.

"I was thinking ..." She halted. Wrong tack. __Give him no outs, Maris, not even wiggle _room. "I'm coming to St. Anne Island to see you," she declared.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I was speaking English, wasn't I? Which part didn't you understand?"

After a moment, he made a gruff sound that could have passed for a laugh. "That's two. You're on a roll tonight."

"Well, I try."

"So you're coming to St. Anne."

"Yes, I am."

"I gotta warn you, it's different from what you're used to. Folks like you--was

"Folks like me?"

?--usually vacation on the more developed islands. Hilton Head. St. Simons.

Amelia."

"This isn't a vacation trip."

"No?"

"I'm coming to talk to you."

"We've talked."

"Not face-to-face."

"What've we got to talk about? The flora and fauna of Georgia's sea islands?"

"Your book."

"I've already told you that my book isn't for sale."

"You also told me that there is no book. Which is it?" She had trapped him. His stony silence

#indicated that he knew it. "I'll be ####125

arriving tomorrow evening."

"It's your money."

"Could you recommend a--was She was talking to a dead line. He'd hung up on her.

Stubbornly she dialed him back.

"Yeah?"

"I was asking if you could recommend a hotel in Savannah?"

When he hung up on her again, Maris

laughed. As her father had said, he was protesting too loudly and too much. Little did Mr.

P.M.E. know that the more he balked, the more determined she became.

She had just slid her suitcase from beneath the bed to begin packing when the telephone rang. She expected it to be the author. He'd probably invented some very good reasons why it was inconvenient or impossible for him to see her when she arrived tomorrow.

Bracing herself for a barrage of excuses, she answered with a cheerful, "Hello." To her surprise, a man with a broad Brooklyn accent asked to speak with Noah. "I'm sorry, he isn't here."

"Well, I gotta know what to do with this key."

"Key?"

"We don't make house calls after hours, ya know. Only, see, Mr. Reed give me

twenty extra bucks to get it here tonight. You his ol' lady?"

"Are you sure you have the right Noah Reed?"

"Deals with books or something?"

"Yes, that's my husband."

"Well, he give me this address in Chelsea, said--was

"What address?"

He recited an address on West

Twenty-second. "Apartment three B. He axed me to change out the lock yesterday, on account of he'd already moved some stuff in there and didn't want old keys floating 'round, ya know?

Only I didn't bring an extra key

yesterday, and he said he needed at least one extra. So I tole him he'd have it tonight.

"I'm here with the key, but the super's out for the evening. There's a note on his door, says call, but a call ain't gonna help me, is it? I don't trust leaving a key to Mr.

Reed's apartment with the neighbors. You never know about

#people, am I right?" ####################127

"What kind of stuff?"

"Huh?"

"You said some stuff had already been moved into the apartment."

"Stuff. Furniture. You know, the kinda stuff rich folks have in their places. Rugs and pictures and shit. Could I afford nice stuff like that? Forget about it. All I know is, I'm ready to get my butt home and in my lounger on account of the Mets game. Only I don'

wanna offend Mr. Reed. He give me

twenty extra--was

"Bucks. So you said. I'll give you twenty more if you'll wait for me. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

Maris left her building and practically ran the two blocks to the subway station at Seventy-second and Broadway. A taxi would take too long to get downtown. She wanted to see sooner rather than later the nice stuff that Noah had moved into an apartment in Chelsea that she knew nothing about. She wanted to learn sooner rather than later why he needed an extra apartment.

And she wanted to know for whom he was having an extra key made.

Ivy clung to the old brick, contributing warmth and charm to the building's exterior. Flowers bloomed in window boxes on either side of the narrow stoop, which was separated from street level by eight steps. The block was lined with similar buildings that had been quaintly refurbished by urbanites trying to create a neighborhood feel and recapture the spirit of a kinder, gentler, bygone New York.

The leaded glass entrance door was unlocked.

The locksmith was waiting for Maris in the foyer.

Somehow he had managed to zip a khaki jumpsuit over a belly that extended a good two feet beyond his chest. "Who buzzed you in?" she asked him after introducing herself.

"I ain't a locksmith for nothin'," he said with a snort. "Only, truth be told, it wasn't locked. Too hot to wait outside.

I was sweating like a pig."

The air-conditioning was cooling her own damp skin, a dampness she attributed to being in close confines with other sticky passengers on the subway train. The stations were notorious for being drafty and

#frigid in the winter and completely #######129

airless in the summer. But she was also sweating anxiously over what she would find on the third floor in Apartment B.

"You wanna settle up with me?"

She looked at him quizzically, then

remembered the promised twenty dollars. After paying him, she asked for the key.

"I gotta check it out first," he told her.

"It ain't as easy as people think, making keys. I never leave one with a customer before seeing if it works okay."

"All right."

"There ain't no elevator. We gotta climb."

She nodded for him to precede her up the staircase. "Why didn't you just go up, test the key, and then leave it in the apartment? Wouldn't the door have locked behind you when you left?"

"Not the deadbolt. Besides, that's all I need," he said, speaking to her over his shoulder as they rounded the second-floor landing. "Something turns up missing, I'm the first one accused of stealing."

"I doubt that."

"I ain't taking no chances goin' into a man's apartment when he ain't there. Forget about it."

He was huffing and puffing by the time they reached the third level. As he approached the door, he withdrew the spare key from the pocket of his jumpsuit and slipped it into the lock.

"Pouyfect," he said as he swung open the door. Then he stood aside and motioned for Maris to go in. "The light switch is there on your right."

She felt for the switch and flipped it on.

"_Surprise!"

The shout went up from fifty or so people, all of whom she recognized. Her mouth dropped open like a trapdoor. She pressed a hand to her lurching heart. Everyone was laughing over her dumbfounded expression.

Noah separated himself from the others and came toward her, grinning from ear to ear. He embraced her tightly, then soundly kissed her mouth.

"Happy anniversary, darling."

"But-but our anniversary isn't until--was

"I know when it is. But you always catch on to my attempted surprises. This year I thought I'd get the jump on you. Judging by your reaction,

#I'd say I was successful." He #####131

looked beyond her shoulder and addressed the locksmith. "You were terrific."

As it turned out, he was an actor hired to play the role. "You had me convinced that I was about to catch my cheating husband," Maris told him.

"Happy anniversary, Mrs. Reed," he said in a voice that resonated with the Queen's English. It was explained to her later that his most notable role was Falstaff. Now he reached for her hand and kissed the back of it. "Enjoy your special evening."

"Don't go. Stay and enjoy the party." She prevailed upon him, and he accepted her invitation.

"It's okay, isn't it?" she asked Noah when the actor joined the other guests in line at the buffet.

"Whatever makes you happy, darling."

"Whose apartment is this?"

"That part of his dialogue was true. It's mine."

"It really is?"

"Whose did you think it was?"

"I--was

"You need some champagne."

"But Noah--was

"You'll get a full explanation later. I promise."

After seeing to it that she had a brimming flute of bubbly, he maneuvered her through the crowd to greet their guests, which included most of the editorial staff of Matherly Press. Many remarked on how difficult it had been to keep the secret.

One confessed to almost asking her what she was going to wear. "Noah would have killed me if I'd spoiled the surprise."

"And look what I turned out in," Maris groaned. "A wrinkled business suit and a shiny face. I didn't know I was coming to a party."

"I would kill to look like you on your worst day," the woman said.

Among the guests were also a handful of local authors with whom Maris worked, and friends whose careers were in other areas entirely, including an anesthesiologist and her husband who taught chemistry at NYU, a stockbroker, and a movie producer who had turned one of the books Maris had edited into a gripping feature film.

Then the crowd parted to reveal Daniel. He was

#seated with one hand resting on the engraved ####133

silver head of his cane while the other was saluting her with a glass of champagne.

"Dad!"

"Anniversary wishes a few weeks early, sweetheart."

"I can't believe you were in on this!" She bent down to kiss his cheek, which glowed with a champagne flush. "You gave nothing away this morning."

"Which was hard, considering the topic of our conversation." His meaningful look reminded her of the marital concerns she had shared with him.

Feeling her own cheeks grow warm with embarrassment, she said softly, "This explains why Noah has been distracted lately. I feel like a fool now."

"Don't," Daniel ordered, his brows lowering sternly. "A fool is someone who ignores warning signs."

She kissed him again quickly before being pulled away to mingle. Noah had done an outstanding job, not only of putting over the surprise, but of planning a wonderful party. The chef of her favorite restaurant had prepared the food and was on hand to see that it was properly served.

Champagne was poured liberally. The music got louder as the evening progressed, and, although it was a weeknight, guests stayed late. Eventually, however, they said their good nights.

Daniel was the last to leave. "Age has its benefits," he told Maris and Noah at the door. "Not many, mind you, but a few. One is that you can get tipsy on a weeknight and sleep late in the morning because there's nowhere you absolutely must be."

Maris hugged him exuberantly. "I love you, Dad. And I learn something new about you every day."

"For instance?"

"That you're damn good at keeping secrets."

"Watch your language, young lady, or I'll have Maxine wash your mouth out with soap."

"It wouldn't be for the first time," she said with a laugh. After another hug, she asked Daniel if he could manage the stairs all right.

"I got up here, didn't I?" he growled querulously.

"Sorry I asked." Even so, she motioned for Noah to accompany Daniel down. "Is a car waiting to take him home?"

###"It's at the curb," Noah ########135

assured her. "I've already checked."

"Good. Dad, remember I'll have my cell phone with me in Georgia. I told Maxine to call--was

"And she will, the old busybody. Get me out of here, Noah. Please. Before Maris decides I'm ready for adult diapers."

Noah guided him down the hallway toward the staircase. "I'll be right back, darling," he called to Maris. "I haven't given you your present yet."

"There's more?"

"Just wait. And no snooping!"

Now that the apartment was empty of guests, she could see it well for the first time. Tall windows on the far wall of the living room overlooked the rooftop garden on the next building. The "stuff" was nice, but not as pricy as the "locksmith" had implied. There were pictures on the walls, and an area rug beneath the seating arrangement of chairs and sofas, but the emphasis was on functionality and comfort.

The galley kitchen was narrow, even by New York standards. Off the living room, a closed door led to what she assumed was a bedroom. She was making her way toward that door when hands seized her around the waist.

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