Read Tempting Fate Online

Authors: Carla Neggers

Tempting Fate

Praise for
CARLA NEGGERS

“Neggers's engaging romantic mystery neatly blends fiction with authentic detail.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Tempting Fate

“Carla Neggers is one of the most distinctive, talented writers of our genre.”

—#1
New York Times
bestselling author Debbie Macomber

“When it comes to romance, adventure and suspense, nobody delivers like Carla Neggers.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz

“Neggers has created yet another well-matched pair of characters and given them a crackerjack mystery to solve—complete with a seriously creepy villain.”

—
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
on
Abandon

“Neggers keeps the reader guessing ‘whodunit' to the end of her intriguing novel.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
The Widow

“A keen ear for dialogue and a sure hand with multidimensional characterizations are Neggers' greatest gifts as a storyteller…. By turns creepy and amusing, the story engages on several levels.”

—
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
on
Breakwater

“[Neggers's] skill at creating colorful characters and deliciously twisted story lines makes this an addictive read.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Stonebrook Cottage

“Neggers's brisk pacing and colorful characterizations sweep the reader toward a dramatic and ultimately satisfying denouement.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
The Cabin

“Suspense, romance and the rocky Maine coast—what more could a reader ask?
The Harbor
has it all. Carla Neggers writes a story so vivid you can smell the salt air and feel the mist on your skin.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Tess Gerritsen

TE
M
PTING F
A
TE
Also by
CARLA NEGGERS

THE ANGEL

ABANDON

CUT AND RUN

THE WIDOW

BREAKWATER

DARK SKY

THE RAPIDS

NIGHT'S LANDING

COLD RIDGE

ON THE EDGE

“Shelter Island”

THE HARBOR

STONEBROOK COTTAGE

THE CABIN

THE CARRIAGE HOUSE

THE WATERFALL

ON FIRE

KISS THE MOON

CLAIM THE CROWN

Coming November 2008

COLD PURSUIT

CARLA NEGGERS
TE
M
PTING F
A
TE

Dear Reader,

If you've ever been to Saratoga Springs in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, you know it's a great place to be. I've spent many days there enjoying its beautiful Victorian streets and sidewalk cafés, its colorful history, its incomparable mineral springs—and breakfast at the Saratoga racetrack in August is an experience not to be missed.

All these elements are the perfect backdrop for
Tempting Fate,
a favorite novel of mine that I'm delighted to see back in print—updated, even better than the original! I loved diving back into this story and revisiting its colorful cast of characters and the dangers they face. They've stayed with me from the moment they started percolating in my head on a pleasant stroll in downtown Saratoga, and I hope they stay with you, too.

Enjoy!

Carla

www.carlaneggers.com

One

B
efore she could change her mind, Dani Pembroke cut down a narrow side street in downtown Saratoga Springs, New York, and joined the line outside a small theater.

It was a beautiful August evening, the start of Saratoga's racing season, a tradition since 1863, when, just a month after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, John “Old Smoke” Morrissey and Cornelius Vanderbilt had brought twenty-six horses to America's favorite spa for four days of racing. Dani loved the energy, the excitement, that she could feel in town. People jammed the pretty streets, the shops and restaurants were crowded and the sidewalk vendors were out in full force.

The Chandlers would have arrived by now, she thought.

My family.

Dani fought the urge to head up to the restored Victorian house they owned on North Broadway, Saratoga's “Millionaires' Row.” She could see if the wraparound front porch had the hanging baskets of pink and white petunias and antique wicker furniture she remembered as a little girl. If the gardens still smelled of summer roses and lilies.

If the place still reminded her of her mother.

For twenty-five years—ever since she was nine years old—Dani had avoided Saratoga in August. Her one searing memory was of watching her mother take off in a hot-air balloon, never to return.

More people fell into the line. The August factor at work, Dani thought. Usually the theater had to scramble for a crowd. But today, a hundred people would pack the house.

Then someone said, “It's twenty-five years this month that Lilli Chandler Pembroke disappeared,” and Dani felt herself go cold. But she did nothing to draw attention to herself. The theater was showing a double feature of Nick Pembroke's masterpiece,
The Gamblers,
and its sequel thirty years later,
Casino.
The owners had gotten hold of the old posters. The one of
The Gamblers
showed a smiling, black-eyed Mattie Witt.

She's so beautiful
, Dani thought, staring at her grandmother, a young woman in the picture—dazzling and mysterious with her midnight-black eyes and glossy black hair. Even then, before she'd become a star, her famous mystique was in place. Mattie Witt had made her last movie, given her last interview and abandoned Hollywood long before Dani was even born.

Her grandmother had also been long divorced from Nick Pembroke by the time her one and only grandchild was born. But as reckless as she was feeling, Dani didn't want to think about her grandfather, a talented, scoundrel Pembroke if there'd ever been one.

Her gaze shifted to the second poster, and her chest tightened at the image of her mother. It wasn't the original
Casino
poster. It was the one the studio had made after Nick Pembroke admitted that the unknown young blonde in the movie-stealing scene in the second act was his daughter-in-law, missing heiress Lilli Chandler Pembroke. He'd given her the part when he'd filmed
Casino
on location in Saratoga the previous August, days before she disappeared.

Her photograph captured not the mother Dani had known and loved and lost, but the woman Lilli Chandler Pembroke had longed to become: vivacious, sexy, independent—someone else. She had a completely different look from Mattie Witt thirty years earlier. Lilli was all Chandler, slender, fair, patrician, pretty but not exotic. She'd believed her destiny was to be the proper heiress, always gracious and elegant, never taking a wrong—a daring—step.

Until her father-in-law had cast her in his comeback movie.

Lilli's searing performance had helped catapult
Casino
into the commercial and artistic success Nick Pembroke, who hadn't done much since Mattie Witt's defection from his life and work, had needed. Naturally he'd squandered it. No one had expected him to do anything else.

All Dani's instincts urged her to leap out of the line and keep going, keep walking.

Twenty-five years.

Blood pounded in her ears, but she didn't move.

She remembered herself at nine, waiting for her mother to come home. She'd sat on a wicker swing on the front porch of the Chandler cottage in her raspberry-smeared white dress, plucking a basket of petunias bald-headed until finally her white-faced father—Mattie Witt and Nick Pembroke's only son—had come for her. She made him put the raspberries she was saving for her mother into the refrigerator. They'd molded there, untouched.

Dani stayed in the line. She didn't look like the women on the posters. With her black eyes and short black hair, her strong features and straight, athletic figure—and her supposed recklessness—she was usually compared not to the southern Witts or the blue-blooded Chandlers but to three generations of Pembroke scoundrels. She'd seen the comparisons in the worried faces of her marketing consultants in New York. Through two days of nonstop strategy sessions, reports, brainstorming, even casual meals together, she'd sensed their unasked questions. Had she gone too far? Had she overextended herself? Was there any Chandler in her, or was she, after all, pure Pembroke? Not one Pembroke in the last hundred years had been worth a damn when it came to reliability, trustworthiness, commitment or responsibility.

When people did recognize a trace of her mother, of Chandler, in Dani—in her full, generous mouth or her occasional displays of graciousness—it was commented on with surprise, as if they must have imagined it. Even as a little girl, before her mother had disappeared, a New York gossip columnist had said, “Danielle Chandler Pembroke is not a child meant to have been born rich.”

But she'd taken care of that.

Inside the theater she found a seat in the front near an exit. She'd seen both movies before, but never on the big screen. Never in public.

Sitting through
The Gamblers
was relatively easy. It was fun, romantic, like watching someone she didn't know, although she'd visited her grandmother in Greenwich Village just a few days ago. Mattie Witt was eighty-two now and still beautiful, still fiercely independent.

The film's rendition of Ulysses Pembroke's life—the murdered grandfather Nick had never known—painted him as a lovable rogue, a well-meaning scoundrel. It skipped his tragic end.

Dani almost left before
Casino
started.

She'd seen it just twice, both times on television at one o'clock in the morning. When it was released in the spring after her mother's disappearance, the adults around her all had agreed she should be spared. Nonetheless, Dani had felt the tension between the two sides of her family. Caught in the middle, her father had tried to mediate. Yes, his young wife should have—could have—told her family that she'd taken the role in
Casino.
But no, his father hadn't been wrong to offer it to her, to let her be reckless this once, to let her put this one dream into action.

There had been no reconciliation, no understanding. Twenty-five years later, Eugene Chandler remained horrified and humiliated by what he regarded as his older daughter's betrayal, her underhandedness. He continued to believe that by encouraging Lilli to be something she wasn't, Nick Pembroke bore at least partial responsibility for her disappearance.

The story of
Casino
picked up where
The Gamblers
had left off. It painted a less romanticized, more realistic picture of Ulysses Pembroke, not shying away from how he'd gambled away his fortune at Saratoga's gaming tables and New York's stock market, how he'd wanted desperately to do the right thing but always came up short. In
Casino
he didn't get the girl, and he didn't ride off into the proverbial sunset. As in real life, he was shot dead by an anonymous sore loser outside Canfield Casino, now a Saratoga landmark. Three weeks later his wife gave birth to their son on the gleaming ballroom floor of the outrageous mansion he'd built near the Saratoga Race Course. Unable to find a buyer for her husband's eclectic, unaffordable estate, his widow had stripped it of anything she could sell to make a life for herself and her child.

The last scene in the movie showed her holding her baby as she gathered up the keys to every wrought-iron gate on the property. Ulysses had had two keys made for each gate, one of brass, one of gold. His widow sold off the gold keys.

It was a nice touch—an example of Ulysses Pembroke's profligacy. For years Dani had thought it pure fiction. She'd never seen hide nor hair of any gold keys.

Until a few weeks ago.

While rock climbing on the old Pembroke estate, she'd run across an old gate key on a narrow ledge. It turned out to be twenty-four-karat gold. And it matched exactly the brass key to the wrought-iron gate of the pavilion at the springs.

Dani had hung both keys on a gold chain. They'd attracted no comments whatever in New York. Her consultants apparently had been more interested in looking into her eyes for any sign she was going off the deep end.

She touched the keys as she watched the movie. In a performance as enriching as it was painful, the thirty-year-old heiress to the Chandler fortune managed to capture not only the soul of her character—a stunning, tragic singer in late Victorian America, a complex woman of torn loyalties and dreams she herself didn't dare acknowledge—but also of countless women like her. She bridged the gap between rich and poor, between educated and illiterate, between virgin and harlot.

Lilli Chandler Pembroke tore out her own heart and gave it to every woman in her audience.

To her own daughter.

Yet if millions of moviegoers had their image of the famous missing heiress forged by her one short, unforgettable scene in
Casino,
Dani's central vision of her mother was of her smiling and waving from the basket of a hot-air balloon.

She'd looked so happy.

As Dani had called up to the balloon as it lifted off with her promise to save her some raspberries, she'd never guessed—couldn't have imagined—that she'd never see her mother again.

It was late when the theater emptied, but Saratoga was a late-night town, and the sidewalks were still crowded. Dani cut through Congress Park, past stately Canfield Casino. She wouldn't have been surprised if she walked right over the spot where Ulysses Pembroke had been murdered.

On the other side of the park she crossed onto Union Avenue, a wide street lined with beautifully restored Victorian houses. The air was cool, fragrant with grass, pine and summer flowers. She passed the historic racetrack, quiet so late at night, its tall, pointed wrought-iron fences and red-and-white awnings silhouetted against the dark grounds.

Soon she came to the narrow, unpretentious driveway and discreet sign that marked the entrance to the Pembroke. Not long ago there'd been no sign, just the crumbling, pitted driveway. No more. Transforming Ulysses Pembroke's dilapidated house and grounds into an inn and spa had been Dani's biggest gamble. So far, it looked to pay off.

The biggest miracle, she thought, was that Nick hadn't sold the property to a mall developer years ago, never mind that she'd threatened everything short of murder if he did. Instead, she'd leased the land from him and revived Ulysses's long-defunct mineral springs, turning it into a profitable company that enabled her to buy out her grandfather. Of course, Nick liked to claim he'd never have sold out on her. Hadn't he hung on to the old place, let it be a drag on his finances, for decades? But Dani was unimpressed. Nick Pembroke was a gambler. This time he'd just gambled on her.

Walking up the driveway, she could smell the roses even before she passed the rose garden she'd restored, first on her own, with goatskin gloves and some books on roses, then later with a gardener and landscape architect. The garden was free and open to the public, as Ulysses Pembroke himself had intended when he'd first planted roses there over a hundred years ago.

Beyond the gardens the paved road veered to the right, onto the hillside where she could see the lights of the main house through the trees. It was as big and ugly and ostentatious—and amusing—as one would have expected of someone as grandiose as her great-great-grandfather. The outbuildings were just as unconventional: a sixteenth-century stable the legendary rascal had had shipped stone by stone from Ireland; a Vermont red barn for which he'd had no discernible use; a marble bathhouse with Roman columns. There were two guesthouses and more gardens—informal, formal, vegetable, flower, herb, perennial, annual. Dani had had everything gutted, renovated, spruced up, modernized, restored—whatever was necessary, she did.

Risky, maybe, but what was the worst that could happen? She could fulfill her Chandler grandfather's expectations and fall flat on her face.

She didn't follow the road up to the main buildings now. Instead she headed straight along a narrow dirt road, onto a wooden bridge. She could hear the brook below her tumbling over rocks. The dirt road curved sharply to the right and opened into a clearing. In the middle stood her gingerbread cottage. She'd had it painted pink, mauve and purple, planted its front yard with a wild-looking mix of flowers. The area bordered woods that led to the far edge of the estate and Pembroke Springs.

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