Someone to Watch Over Me
Leigh Kendall is relishing her stellar Broadway acting career in her marriage to Logan Manning, scion of an old New York family, when her husband finds the perfect mountain property for their dream house. But while driving upstate on a winter’s night, Leigh is run off the road in the midst of a blinding blizzard. When she awakes in the local hospital, seriously injured, the police inform her that her husband has mysteriously disappeared, and Leigh becomes the focus of their suspicions. The more she discovers about her husband and his business affairs, the less she realizes she knew about Logan Manning. Now, Leigh is heading deeper and deeper into unknown territory—where friends and enemies are impossible to distinguish, and the truth becomes the most terrifying weapon of all in this thrilling tale filled with unrelenting suspense, unforgettable characters, and powerful traces of greed, ambition, and desire.
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…Chapters 2 – 4
Bravo! Bravo!” Six curtain calls and the applause was still at a deafening roar. The cast was lined up onstage, taking their bows one at a time, but when Leigh stepped forward, the cheers rose to a wild crescendo. The houselights were up, and Leigh could see Logan in the front row, on his feet, clapping and cheering with enthusiastic pride. She smiled at him, and he gave her a thumbs-up.
When the curtains closed, she walked to the wings where Jason was standing, his face beaming with triumph. “We’re a smash hit, Jason!” she said, giving him a hug.
“Let’s take another bow, just you and me this time,” he said.
Jason would have taken curtain calls all night until the last theatergoer left his seat. “Nope,” Leigh said with a grin. “We’ve both taken enough bows.”
He tugged on her hand, a happy thirty-five-year-old child—brilliant, insecure, sensitive, selfish, loyal, temperamental, kind. “C’mon, Leigh,” he cajoled. “Just one more little bow. We deserve it.” The crowd began chanting, “Author! Author!” and his grin widened. “They really want to see me again.”
He was in an ecstatic mood, and Leigh looked at him with a mixture of maternal understanding and awe. Jason Solomon could dazzle her at times with his intellect, hurt her with his insensitivity, and warm her with his gentleness. Those who didn’t know him thought of him as a glamorous eccentric. Those who knew him better generally regarded Jason as a brilliant, irritating egocentric. To Leigh, who knew him, and loved him, he was a complete dichotomy.
“Listen to that applause,” he said, tugging on her hand. “Let’s go out there . . .”
Helpless to resist him in this mood, Leigh relented, but stepped back. “Go for it,” she said. “I’ll stay here.”
Instead of releasing her hand, he tightened his grip and dragged her with him. She was off balance when they emerged from the wings, and her surprised resistance was plain to see. The moment of unplanned confusion struck the crowd as wonderful. It made the two biggest names on Broadway seem endearingly human, and the riotous applause was joined with shouts of laughter.
Jason would have tried to coax her into taking yet another bow after that one, but Leigh freed her hand this time and turned away, laughing. “Don’t forget the old adage—” she reminded him over her shoulder, “Always leave them wanting more.”
“That’s a cliché,” he retorted indignantly.
“But true, nonetheless.”
He hesitated a moment, then followed her backstage, down a hallway crowded with elated cast and busy crew members, who were all trying to congratulate and thank each other. Jason and Leigh stopped several times to participate in the congratulatory hugging.
“I told you the twenty-eighth was always my lucky day.”
“You were right,” Leigh agreed. Jason insisted on opening all his plays on the twenty-eighth including Blind Spot, even though as a general rule, Broadway plays did not open on Saturdays.
“I feel like champagne,” Jason announced as they finally neared Leigh’s dressing room.
“So do I, but I need to change clothes and get this makeup off right away. We have a party to attend, and I’d like to get there before midnight.”
A theater critic was congratulating the play’s director, and Jason watched him closely for a moment. “No one will mind if we’re late.”
“Jason,” Leigh reminded him with amused patience, “I’m the guest of honor. I should make an effort to get there before the party is over.”
“I suppose so,” he agreed, dragging his gaze from the critic. He followed her into her flower-filled dressing room, where the dresser was waiting to help Leigh out of the cheap cotton skirt and blouse she’d been wearing in the last act.
“Who are these from?” Jason asked, strolling over to a gigantic basket of huge white orchids. “They must have cost a fortune.”
Leigh glanced at the immense bouquet. “I don’t know.”
“There’s a card attached,” Jason said, already reaching for the florist’s envelope. “Shall I read it?”
“Could I stop you?” Leigh joked. Jason’s nosiness was legendary. Behind the folding screen, Leigh stepped out of her clothes and into a robe; then she hurried over to her dressing table and sat down in front of the big lighted mirror.
With the open envelope in his hand, Jason caught her gaze in the mirror and gave her a sly smile. “You’ve evidently acquired a serious suitor with big bucks. Come clean, darling, who is he? You know you can trust me with your sordid secrets.”
His last sentence made Leigh laugh. “You’ve never kept a secret in your life, sordid or otherwise,” she told his reflection in the mirror.
“True, but tell me who he is, anyway.”
“What does the card say?”
Instead of telling her, Jason handed it to her so she could read it herself. “LOVE ME,” it said. Leigh’s brief frown of confusion gave way to a smile as she put down the card and began removing her stage makeup. “It’s from Logan,” she told him.
“Why would your husband send you one thousand dollars’ worth of orchids with a card asking you to love him?”
Before replying, Leigh finished spreading cream over her face and began wiping off her makeup with tissues. “When Logan told the florist what to write on the card, the florist obviously misunderstood and forgot to put a comma after the word ‘love.’ It should have read, ‘Love comma Me.’ ”
A bottle of Dom Pérignon was chilling in a bucket, and Jason spotted it. “Why would Logan call himself ‘me’ instead of calling himself ‘Logan’?” he asked as he lifted the bottle from its icy nest and began unpeeling the black foil from the bottle’s neck.
“That’s probably my fault,” she admitted with a quick, rueful glance at him. “The Crescent Plaza project has been consuming Logan for months, and I asked him to relax a little. He’s trying to be more playful and spontaneous for my sake.”
Jason gaped at her in laughing derision. “Logan? Spontaneous and playful? You can’t be serious.” He poured champagne into two flutes and put one on the dressing table for her; then he settled himself onto the little sofa at her left, propped his legs on the coffee table, and crossed his feet at the ankles. “In case you haven’t noticed, your husband thinks a five-star restaurant is just a badly lit conference room with forks. He thinks a briefcase is an indispensable fashion accessory, and he depreciates his golf clubs.”
“Stop picking on Logan,” she told him. “He’s a brilliant businessman.”
“He’s a brilliant bore,” Jason retorted, clearly enjoying the rare opportunity to joke about someone he actually admired and even envied. “If you wanted playfulness and spontaneity in a man, you should have had an affair with me instead of turning to this orchid guy for those traits.”
She flashed him an amused, affectionate look and ignored his reference to the orchids. “You’re gay, Jason.”
“Well, yes,” he agreed with a grin. “I suppose that could have been an impediment to our affair.”
“How’s Eric?” Leigh asked, deliberately changing the subject. Eric had been Jason’s “significant other” for over six months—which almost set a longevity record where Jason was concerned. “I didn’t see him out front tonight.”
“He was there,” Jason said indifferently. He shifted his foot from side to side, studying his shiny black tuxedo loafers. “Eric is becoming a bit of a bore, too, to tell you the truth.”
“You are very easily bored,” Leigh said with a knowing look.
“If you want my opinion—”
“Which, of course, I don’t,” Jason interrupted.
“And which, of course, I’m going to give anyway—If you want my opinion, maybe you should try to find someone who isn’t so much like you that he seems predictable and boring. Try going with someone who depreciates his golf clubs for a change.”
“Someone who is so gorgeous that I could overlook his boring traits? As a matter of fact, I do know someone like that!”
He was being so agreeable that Leigh shot him a suspicious look before she tossed a tissue into the wastebasket and began putting on her regular makeup. “You do?”
“Yes, indeed,” Jason said with a wicked grin. “He has thick light brown hair streaked blond from the summer sun, beautiful eyes, and a great physique. He’s a little too preppy-looking for my tastes, but he’s thirty-five, and that’s a good age for me. He’s from an old aristocratic New York family that ran out of money long before he was born, so it was up to him to restore the family fortune, which he’s managed to do single-handedly . . .”
Leigh finally realized he was describing Logan, and her shoulders began to shake with laughter. “You’re a lunatic.”
Jason’s short attention span led him from romance to business without a pause between. “What a night!” he sighed, leaning his head back against the sofa. “I was right to change your lines in the last scene of the second act. Did you notice how strongly the audience reacted? One minute everyone was laughing; then they realized what you were actually going to do and they ended up crying. In the space of a few lines, they went from mirth to tears. Now that, my darling, is brilliant writing—and brilliant acting, of course.” He paused for a sip of champagne and, after a moment of thoughtful silence, added, “After I see the matinee tomorrow, I may want to change a little of the dialogue between you and Jane in the third act. I haven’t decided.”
Leigh said nothing as she quickly applied the rest of her makeup, brushed her hair, and then disappeared behind the screen to change into the dress she’d brought to the theater. Outside the dressing room, the noise level had risen dramatically as actors, crew members, and people with enough influence to obtain backstage passes all began leaving the theater by the rear door, laughing and talking as they headed off to celebrate the night’s triumph with friends and families. Ordinarily, Jason and she would be doing the same thing, but today was Leigh’s thirty-fifth birthday, and Logan was determined that it not take second place to the play’s opening night.
She emerged from behind the screen wearing a deceptively simple red silk sheath with tiny beaded straps at the shoulders, matching high heels, and a jeweled Judith Leiber evening bag that dangled from her fingers by a narrow chain.
“Red?” Jason said, grinning as he slowly stood up. “I’ve never seen you wear red before.”
“Logan specifically asked me to wear something red to the party tonight.”
“Probably because he’s being playful,” Leigh said smugly; then uncertainty replaced her jaunty expression. “Do I look all right in this?”
Jason passed a slow, appraising glance over her gleaming, shoulder-length auburn hair, large aquamarine eyes, and high cheekbones; then he let it drop to her narrow waist, and down her long legs. She was pretty, but certainly not gorgeous, and not even beautiful, he observed. And yet in a roomful of women who were, Leigh Kendall would have drawn notice and attracted attention the moment she moved or spoke. In an attempt to define her powerful presence onstage, critics likened her to a young Katharine Hepburn or a young Ethel Barrymore, but Jason knew they were wrong. Onstage, she had Hepburn’s incomparable glow and she had Barrymore’s legendary depth, but she had something else, too, something infinitely more appealing and uniquely her own—a mesmerizing charisma that was as potent when she was standing in her dressing room, waiting for his opinion about her attire, as when she was onstage. She was the most even tempered, cooperative actress he’d ever known; and yet there was a mystery about her, a barrier, that no one was allowed to cross. She took her work seriously, but she did not take herself seriously, and at times her humility and sense of humor made him feel like a towering, temperamental egotist.
“I’m starting to wish I had a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt on,” she joked, reminding him that she was waiting for an opinion.
“Okay,” he said, “here it is—the unvarnished truth: Although you aren’t nearly as gorgeous as your husband, you are remarkably attractive for a woman.”
“In the unlikely event that that was meant to be a big compliment,” Leigh said, laughing as she opened the closet door and removed her coat, “thanks a lot.”
Jason was truly stunned by her lack of perspective. “Of course it was a compliment, Leigh, but why would you care how you look right now? What matters is that an hour ago, you convinced four hundred people that you are actually a thirty-year-old blind woman who unknowingly holds the key to solving an unspeakable murder. You had every member of that audience squirming in his seat with terror!” Jason threw up his hands in bewildered disgust. “My God, why would a woman who can do all that give a damn how she looks in a cocktail dress?”
Leigh opened her mouth to reply; then she smiled and shook her head. “It’s a girl thing,” she said dryly, glancing at her watch.
“I see.” He swept the dressing room door open and stepped aside in an exaggerated gesture of gallantry. “After you,” he said; then he offered her his arm and she took it, but as they started down the back hall, he sobered. “When we get to the party, I’m going to ask Logan if he sent you those orchids.”
“I’d rather you didn’t worry yourself or Logan about that tonight,” Leigh said, keeping her tone light. “Even if Logan didn’t send them, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve taken precautions—I have a chauffeur-bodyguard now. Matt and Meredith Farrell lent him to me for six months while they’re away. He’s like a member of their family when they’re home in Chicago. I’m very well protected.”
Despite Leigh’s reassuring words, she couldn’t completely suppress a tremor of anxiety about the orchids. Recently, she’d received some anonymous gifts, all of them expensive and several with blatant sexual overtones, like a black lace garter belt and bra from Neiman Marcus and a sheer, extremely seductive nightgown from Bergdorf Goodman. The small, white cards that accompanied the gifts bore short, cryptic messages like, “Wear this for me” and “I want to see you in this.”
She’d received a phone call at home the day after the first gift was delivered to the theater. “Are you wearing your present, Leigh?” a man’s soft, cajoling voice had asked on the answering machine.
Last week, Leigh had visited Saks, where she’d purchased a robe for Logan and a little enamel pin for herself, which she’d tucked into her coat pocket. She had been about to step off the curb at Fifth and Fifty-first Street with a crowd of other pedestrians when a man’s hand reached forward from behind her, holding a small Saks bag. “You dropped this,” he said politely. Startled, Leigh automatically took the bag and dropped it into the larger one containing Logan’s robe, but when she looked around to thank him, either he’d retreated farther back into the crowd of pedestrians or he was the man she saw walking swiftly down the street, his overcoat turned up to his ears, head bent against the wind.
When she got home with her purchases, Leigh realized her own small bag from Saks was still in her coat pocket, where she’d originally put it. The bag the man had handed her on the street contained a narrow silver band, like a wedding ring. The card said “You’re mine.”
Despite all that, she was certain the orchids in her dressing room were from Logan. He knew they were her favorite flower.
IN THE ALLEY BEHIND THE theater, Leigh’s new chauffeur-bodyguard was standing beside the open door of a limousine. “The show was a big hit, Mrs. Manning, and you were terrific!”
“Thank you, Joe.”
Jason settled into the luxurious automobile and nodded with satisfaction. “Everyone should have his very own bodyguard-chauffeur.”
“You may not think so a moment from now,” Leigh warned him with a rueful smile as the chauffeur slid behind the steering wheel and put the car into gear. “He drives like a—” The car suddenly rocketed forward, throwing them back against their seats and barging into heavy oncoming traffic.
“Maniac!” Jason swore, grabbing for the armrest with one hand and Leigh’s wrist with the other.
Leigh and Logan’s apartment occupied the entire twenty-fourth floor. It had a private elevator lobby that functioned as an exterior “foyer” for their apartment, and Leigh inserted her key into the elevator lock so that the doors would open on her floor.
As soon as the elevator opened, the sounds of a large party in full swing greeted them from beyond her apartment’s front door. “Sounds like a good party,” Jason remarked, helping her out of her coat and handing it to Leigh’s housekeeper, who materialized in the outer foyer to take their coats. “Happy birthday, Mrs. Manning,” Hilda said.
“Thank you, Hilda.”
Together, Jason and Leigh stepped into the apartment onto a raised marble foyer that offered a clear view of rooms overflowing with animated, elegantly dressed, beautiful people who were laughing, drinking, and nibbling canapés from trays being passed around by a battalion of waiters in dinner jackets. Jason instantly spotted people he knew and headed down the steps, but Leigh remained where she was, struck suddenly by the beauty of the setting, its portrayal of the success and prosperity that Logan and she had achieved together in their individual careers. Someone spotted her then and started a loud chorus of “Happy Birthday to You!”
Logan arrived at her side with a drink that he placed in her hand and a kiss that he placed on her mouth. “You were fantastic tonight. Happy birthday, darling,” he said. While their guests watched, he reached into his tuxedo jacket pocket and produced a Tiffany box tied with silk ribbon. “Go ahead and open it,” he prodded.
Leigh looked at him uncertainly. “Now?” Normally Logan preferred privacy for sentimental moments, but he was in a boyishly carefree mood tonight.
“Now,” he agreed, his eyes smiling into hers. “Absolutely, now.”
It was either a ring or earrings, Leigh guessed, judging from the size and shape of the cream leather box that slid out of the robin’s egg blue outer box. Inside was a spectacular ruby-and-diamond pendant in the shape of a heart. Now she understood why he’d wanted her to wear something red. “It’s magnificent,” she said, incredibly touched that he had spent so much money on her. No matter how much money Logan made, he felt almost guilty about spending it on anything that wasn’t likely to become a profit-making asset or at least a tax deduction.
“I’ll help you fasten the chain,” he said, lifting the glittering pendant from its case. “Turn around.” When he finished, he turned her back around so that their guests could see the magnificent pendant, lying just below her throat. The gift earned a round of applause and cries of approval.
“Thank you,” Leigh said softly, her eyes shining.
He looped his arm around her shoulders and laughingly said, “I’ll expect a more appropriate thank-you later, when we’re alone. That bauble cost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
Stunned and amused, Leigh whispered back, “I’m not sure I know how to express a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of gratitude.”
“It won’t be easy, but I’ll make some helpful suggestions and recommendations, later tonight.”
“I’d appreciate that,” she teased, watching his gaze turn warm and sexy.
He sighed and put his hand under her elbow, guiding her down the marble steps to the living room. “Unfortunately, before we can take care of that very important matter, we have a few hours of obligatory socializing to perform.” On the bottom step, he paused and looked around. “There’s someone here I want you to meet.”
As they wended their way slowly through the noisy, crowded rooms, greeting their guests, Leigh was struck anew by the almost comic contrast between Logan’s friends and business acquaintances and her own. Most of Logan’s friends were members of New York’s oldest and most influential families; they were bankers and philanthropists, judges and senators, all of them with “old” money. Quiet money. They were expensively but conservatively attired and impeccably behaved, with wives who matched them perfectly.
In comparison to them, Leigh’s friends seemed absolutely flamboyant; they were artists, actors, musicians, and writers—people who equated “fitting in” with being overlooked, and that was anathema to them. The two groups didn’t avoid each other, but neither did they mingle. While Leigh’s friend Theta Berenson expounded on the merits of a new art exhibit to her group, the huge yellow feathers on her hat continually brushed against the ear of the investment banker behind her. The banker, who was a friend of Logan’s, irritably brushed the feathers aside while he continued discussing a new strategy for portfolio reallocations with Sheila Winters, a highly respected therapist. Leigh and Logan had met with Sheila a few times to smooth out conflicts in their relationship a couple of years earlier; in the intervening time she had become a dear friend. When she looked over for a moment and saw Leigh, she blew a kiss and waved.
Although Logan and Leigh stopped frequently to chat with their guests, Logan didn’t allow his wife to linger long. He was searching for whoever it was that he wanted her to meet. “There he is, over there,” Logan said finally, and immediately began guiding Leigh toward a tall, dark-haired man who was standing completely by himself at the far end of the living room, looking at an oil painting that was hanging on the wall. His bored expression and aloof stance made it very obvious he wasn’t interested in the artwork, or in the party, for that matter.
Leigh recognized him at once, but his presence in her home was so unlikely that she couldn’t believe her eyes. She stopped short, staring at Logan in horrified disbelief. “That can’t be who I think it is!”
“Who do you think it is?”
“I think it’s Michael Valente.”
“You’re right.” He urged her forward, but Leigh was rooted to the floor, staring at Valente, aghast. “He wants to meet you, Leigh. He’s a big fan of yours.”
“Who let him in here?”
“I invited him,” Logan explained patiently. “I haven’t mentioned him to you before, because the deal isn’t finalized, but Valente is considering putting up all the venture capital for the entire Crescent Plaza project. I’ve had several meetings with him. He has a genius for putting together highly lucrative business deals.”
“And for avoiding prosecution afterward,” Leigh retorted darkly. “Logan, he’s a criminal!”
“He’s only been convicted of wrongdoing once,” Logan said, chuckling at her indignant reaction. “Now he’s a respectable billionaire with an incredible track record for turning risky commercial projects, like Crescent Plaza, into wildly successful ones that make a fortune for everyone.”
“He’s a felon!”
“That was a long time ago, and it was probably a bum rap.
“No it wasn’t! I read that he pleaded guilty.”
Instead of being annoyed, Logan gazed at her mutinous expression with amused admiration. “How have you done it?”
“Maintained the same rigid, wonderful values you had when we first met?”
“ ‘Rigid’ doesn’t sound like a good thing to me.”
“On you,” he said softly, “ ‘rigid’ is a wonderful thing.”
Leigh scarcely heard that as she looked around the room. She spotted Judge Maxwell and Senator Hollenbeck, who were standing against the wall behind the buffet—as far as they could physically get from where Valente was standing. “Logan, there isn’t a man in this house with a reputation to safeguard who is anywhere near Michael Valente. They’ve gotten as far away from him as they can.”
“Maxwell is no saint, and Hollenbeck’s closets have barely enough room for all his skeletons,” Logan said emphatically, but as he looked around, he reached the same conclusion that Leigh had reached. “It probably wasn’t wise to invite Valente.”
“What made you do it?”
“It was an impulse. I phoned him this afternoon to discuss some contractual details for Crescent Plaza, and I mentioned that your play was opening tonight and we were having a party afterward. He mentioned the play, and he said he was a big fan of yours. I knew there wasn’t a seat to be had in the theater tonight, so I compromised and invited him to the party instead. I had so many things going on I didn’t stop to consider that his being here might be awkward, particularly for Sanders and Murray. Will you do me a favor, darling?”
“Yes, of course,” Leigh replied, relieved that Logan was at least acknowledging the problem.
“I’ve already spoken with Valente tonight. If you don’t mind introducing yourself to him, I’ll go over and soothe Sanders’s and Murray’s offended sensibilities. Valente drinks Glenlivet—no ice, no water. See that he gets a fresh drink, and play hostess for a few minutes. That’s all you have to do.”
“And then what? Leave him there by himself? Who can I possibly introduce him to?”
Logan’s dry sense of humor made his eyes gleam as he glanced around the room, looking for possible candidates. “That’s easy. Introduce your friend Claire Straight to him; she’ll tell anyone who’ll listen about her divorce. Jason and Eric already look ready to strangle her.” At that moment, Claire, Jason, and Eric all looked up, and Logan and Leigh waved to them. “Claire—” Logan called, “don’t forget to tell Jason and Eric all about your lawyer and how he sold you out. Ask them if you should sue him for malpractice.”
“You are an evil man,” Leigh said with a giggle.
“That’s why you love me,” Logan replied. “It’s too bad that Valente isn’t gay,” he joked. “If he was, you could fix him up with Jason. That way, Jason would end up with a lover and a permanent backer for all his plays. Of course, that would make Eric jealous and even more suicidal than usual, so that’s probably not a good idea.” He resumed his thoughtful surveillance of their guests until Theta’s yellow-feathered hat captured his notice. “I suppose we could introduce him to Theta. She’s ugly as sin, but Valente has a fabulous art collection, and she’s an artist—allegedly.”
“Her last canvas just sold for one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars. There’s nothing ‘alleged’ about that.”
“Leigh, she painted that thing with her elbows and a floor mop.”
“She did not.”
Logan was laughing in earnest, and he covered it by lifting his glass to his mouth. “Yes, she did, darling. She told me so.” Suddenly his delighted gaze shifted to an attractive blonde standing with the same group. “The Valente problem is solved. Let’s introduce him to your friend Sybil Haywood. She can tell his fortune—”
“Sybil is an astrologer, not a fortune-teller,” Leigh put in firmly.
“What’s the difference?”
“That depends on whom you ask,” Leigh said, feeling a little put out with Logan’s blanket joking dismissal of her friends, and Sybil in particular. Leigh paused to nod and smile graciously at two couples nearby; then she added, “Sybil has many famous clients, including Nancy Reagan. Regardless of whether you believe in astrology, Sybil is as committed to her field and her clients as you are to yours.”
Logan was instantly contrite. “I’m sure she is. And thank you for not pointing out that my friends and I are as boring as dust, and our conversations are predictable and tedious. Now, do you think Sybil would take Valente off our hands as a favor and spend a little time with him tonight?”
“She will if I ask her to,” Leigh said, already deciding that the plan was a viable one.
Satisfied that a compromise had been worked out, Logan gave her shoulders a light hug. “Don’t stay away from me too long. This is your big night, but I’d like to be as much a part of it as I can.”
It was such an openly sentimental thing to say that Leigh instantly forgave him for joking about her friends and even for inviting Valente. As Logan brushed a kiss on her cheek and left, Leigh glanced in Valente’s direction and discovered he was no longer looking at the painting. He had turned and had been staring directly at them. She wondered uneasily how much of their debate he had witnessed and if he’d guessed that he was the cause of it. It wouldn’t have taken much imagination on his part, Leigh decided. She suspected that whenever Valente managed to intrude on respectable social gatherings, most hostesses probably reacted with the same resentment and reluctance that Leigh felt right now.
Hastily smoothing the expression of distaste from her face, Leigh moved sideways through the crush of guests until she reached Sybil Haywood’s group. “Sybil, I need a favor,” she said, drawing the astrologer aside. “I have an awkward social problem—”
“You certainly do,” Sybil agreed with a knowing grin. “Virgos can be very difficult to deal with, especially when Pluto and Mars are—”
“No, no. It’s not an astrological problem. I need someone I can trust who can deal with a particular man—”
“Who happens to be a Virgo—” Sybil stated positively.
Leigh adored Sybil, but at the moment, the astrologer’s fixation on astrology was driving her crazy. “Sybil, please. I have no idea what his astrological sign is. If you’ll take him off my hands and chat with him for a few minutes, you can ask him your—”
“Valente is a Virgo,” Sybil interjected patiently.
Leigh blinked at her. “How did you know?”
“I know, because when the Senate was investigating him last September Valente was asked to give his full name and date of birth. The Times reported on his testimony, and the reporter noted that Valente was actually testifying on his forty-third birthday. That told me he was a Virgo.”
“No, I mean how did you know that Valente is my ‘awkward social problem?”
“Oh, that,” Sybil said with a laugh as she passed a slow, meaningful glance over all the other guests within view. “He does stand out in this crowd of politicians, bankers, and business leaders. There’s not another criminal in the entire place for him to socialize with—Actually there are probably a lot of criminals here, but they haven’t been caught and sent to prison like he was.”
“You could be right,” Leigh said absently. “I’m going to introduce myself to him. Would you get him a drink and bring it over in a couple of minutes so I can escape gracefully?”
Sybil grinned. “You want me to socialize with a tall, antisocial, semi handsome man who happens to have a murky past, a questionable present, and fifteen billion dollars in assets, probably all from ill-gotten gains? Is that it?”
“Pretty much,” Leigh admitted ruefully.
“What shall I bring him to drink? Blood?”
“Glenlivet,” Leigh said, giving her a quick hug. “No ice, no water, no blood.”
She watched Sybil begin working her way toward one of the bars, and with reluctant resignation, Leigh pasted a smile on her face and wended her way toward Valente. He studied her with detached curiosity as she approached, his expression so uninviting that Leigh doubted he was actually “a fan” of hers or even that he particularly wanted to meet her. By the time she was close enough to hold out her hand to him, she’d noted that he was at least six feet three inches tall with extremely wide, muscular shoulders, thick, black hair, and hard, piercing amber eyes.
Leigh held out her hand. “Mr. Valente?”
“I’m Leigh Manning.”
He smiled a little at that—a strange, speculative smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. With his gaze locked onto hers, he took her hand in a clasp that was a little too tight and lasted a little too long. “How do you do, Mrs. Manning—” he said in a rich baritone voice that was more cultured than Leigh had expected it to be.
Leigh exerted enough pressure to indicate she wanted her hand released and he let it go, but his unnerving gaze remained locked on hers as he said, “I enjoyed your performance very much tonight.”
“I’m surprised you were there,” Leigh said without thinking. Based on what she knew of him, he didn’t seem the type to enjoy a sensitive theatrical drama with a lot of subtleties.
“Perhaps you thought I’d be knocking off a liquor store, instead?”
That was close enough to the truth to make Leigh feel exposed, and she didn’t like it. “I meant that opening night tickets were virtually impossible to get.”
His smile suddenly reached his eyes, warming them a little. “That’s not what you meant, but it’s charming of you to say so.”
Leigh clutched at the first topic of common interest that came to mind. With an over bright smile, she said, “I understand you’re thinking of going into some sort of business venture with my husband.”
“You don’t approve, of course,” he said dryly.
Leigh felt as if she were being maneuvered into a series of uncomfortable corners. “Why would you think that?”
“I was watching you a few minutes ago when Logan told you I was here, and why I’m here.”
Despite the man’s unsavory background, he was a guest in her home, and Leigh was a little mortified that she’d let her negative feelings about him show so openly. Relying on the old adage that the best defense is a good offense, she said very firmly and politely, “You’re a guest in my home, and I’m an actress, Mr. Valente. If I had any negative feelings about any guest, including you, you would never know it because I would never let them show.”
“That’s very reassuring,” he said mildly.
“Yes, you were completely mistaken,” Leigh added, pleased with her strategy.
“Does that mean you don’t disapprove of my business involvement with your husband?”
“I didn’t say that.”
To her shock, he smiled at her evasive reply, a slow, strangely seductive, secretive smile that made his eyes gleam beneath their heavy lids. Others might not have noticed the nuances of it, but Leigh’s career was based on subtleties of expression, and she instantly sensed peril lurking behind that come-hither smile of his. It was the dangerously beguiling smile of a ruthless predator, a predator who wanted her to sense his power, his defiance of the social order, and to be seduced by what he represented. Instead, Leigh was repelled. She jerked her gaze from his, and gestured to the painting on the wall, a painting that Logan wouldn’t have let hang even in a closet under ordinary circumstances. “I noticed that you were admiring this painting earlier.”
“Actually, I was admiring the frame, not the painting.”
“It’s early seventeenth century. It used to hang in Logan’s grandfather’s study.”
“You can’t be referring to that painting,” he said scornfully.
“I was referring to the frame. The painting,” she advised him with a twinge of amused vengeance, “was actually done by my husband’s grandmother.”
His gaze shifted sideways, from the painting to her face. “You could have spared me that knowledge.”
He was right, but Sybil’s arrival saved Leigh from having to reply. “Here’s someone I’d like you to meet,” she said a little too eagerly, and introduced the couple. “Sybil is a famous astrologer,” Leigh added, and immediately resented his look of derision.
Undaunted by his reaction, Sybil smiled and held out her right hand, but he couldn’t shake it because she was holding a drink in it. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” she said.
“I’m not sure yet,” Sybil replied, extending her hand farther toward him. “This drink is for you. Scotch. No ice. No water. It’s what you drink.”
Eyeing her with cynical suspicion, he reluctantly took the drink. “Am I supposed to believe you know what I drink because you’re an astrologer?”
“Would you believe that if I said it was true?”
“In that case, the truth is that I know what you drink because our hostess told me what you drink and asked me to get this for you.”
His gaze lost some of its chill as it transferred to Leigh. “That was very thoughtful of you.”
“Not at all,” Leigh said, glancing over her shoulder, wishing she could leave. Sybil gave her the excuse she needed. “Logan asked me to tell you he needs you to settle some sort of debate about the play tonight.”
“In that case, I’d better go and see about it.” She smiled at Sybil, avoided shaking Valente’s hand, and gave him a polite nod instead. “I’m glad to have met you,” she lied. As she walked away, she heard Sybil say, “Let’s find somewhere to sit down, Mr. Valente. You can tell me all about yourself. Or, if you prefer, I can tell you all about yourself.”
IT WAS AFTER 4 A.M. when the last guest departed. Leigh turned out the lights, and they walked across the darkened living room together, Logan’s arm around her waist. “How does it feel to be called ‘the most gifted, multitalented actress to grace a Broadway stage in the last fifty years’?” he asked softly.
“Wonderful.” Leigh had been running on excitement until they walked into their bedroom, but at the sight of the big four-poster bed with its fluffy duvet, her body seemed to lose all its strength. She started yawning before she made it into her dressing room, and she was in bed before Logan was out of the shower.
She felt the mattress shift slightly as he got into bed, and all she managed to muster was a smile when he kissed her cheek and jokingly whispered, “Is this how you thank a man for a fabulous ruby-and-diamond pendant?”
Leigh snuggled closer and smiled, already half asleep. “Yes,” she whispered.
He chuckled. “I guess I’ll have to wait until tonight in the mountains for you to properly express your gratitude.”
It seemed like only five minutes later when Leigh awoke to find Logan already dressed and eager to leave for the mountains.
That had been Sunday morning.
This was Tuesday night.
Logan was lost somewhere out in the snow . . . probably waiting for Leigh to do something to rescue him.
Tagged: Judith McNaught