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By Sandra Brown
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BOOKS BY SANDRA BROWN
Best Kept Secrets
Breath of Scandal
Love Beyond Reason
Shadows of Yesterday
The Silken Web
Slow Heat in Heaven
A Treasure Worth Seeking
Where There's Smoke
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1985 by Sandra Brown
All rights reserved.
Warner Vision is a registered trademark of Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBrookGroup.com
First eBook Edition: December 2009
"WE'VE GOT A TWO-ALARM FIRE WORKING ON CLERMONT just south of Sixth Avenue. It should be at about 42H on your Mapsco. And get there pronto. I want some good video."
The inch-long ash on the end of Pinkie Lewis's cigarette fell unnoticed on his battered, cluttered, littered desk. The harried news director paused long enough to say "Hiya, sweetheart" to the young woman who had just moved aside a day-old Moon Pie, a roll of masking tape, and two cups of cold gray coffee in order to perch on the corner of the desk.
"When you're done with the fire," Pinkie went on, returning his attention to the two men lounging by his desk, "swing by that elementary school where the third-graders are writing letters to the Russians. If we have any time left on the six o'clock, it'll make good human interest. Anybody hear from Jack lately? It's taken him four hours to shoot that bit on the drug bust."
"Maybe he's hanging around, hoping they'll let him sample the goods." The videotape photographer grinned as he heaved the camera to his shoulder. The reporter, who was pulling on his sport coat, thought his cohort's suggestion was funny and laughed.
"I'll have his ass," Pinkie growled. "So what are you two bozos waiting for?" The grins collapsed. That particular tone in Pinkie's voice could bring about miraculous changes in a man. "The damn fire will be out before you get there. I want to see flames, smoke, tragedy in the making," he yelled, waving his arms descriptively. "Now get out of here!"
The reporter and cameraman left, stumbling in their haste. Pinkie glowered after them and ran a hand through his hair. Or he would have if he'd had any hair. Actually, he ran his hand over a rapidly growing bald spot that blended into his beefy forehead. It was his florid complexion and fair hair that had given him his nickname.
"One of these days you're going to have a heart attack," the young woman commented. Disgustedly she stubbed out three cigarette butts left in the ashtray. They hadn't been properly ground out and were curling acrid smoke into the already polluted atmosphere of the television newsroom.
"Naw. I drink too much whiskey. It scares sickness off." Pinkie picked up a Styrofoam cup and took a swig. He made a face at the stale coffee. "Buy you a cup," he said, taking the woman's arm and guiding her into the hall and toward an alcove where numerous vending machines were tucked outside of the flow of continuous foot traffic.
As usual, Pinkie's pockets produced no change when he began slapping them in search. "Let me buy this time," Kari Stewart said, smiling. The coffee was too black and bitter, but it was hot. Crossing her ankles, she leaned against the wall and sipped cautiously.
Pinkie smiled at her with paternal affection. "God-amighty, you're a sight for sore eyes. Helluva day. One of the video cameras is on the blink. It'll cost a fortune to repair and then I'll catch hell for going over budget. I've got two unexciting but dependable reporters out with flu." He belched. "I need a drink."
"You need a hot, balanced meal, far fewer cigarettes, far less whiskey—"
"—and a good woman to take care of you."
"Oh, yeah?" Pinkie asked belligerently. This was a familiar topic of conversation. "You got someone in mind?"
"That dried-up old prune! She's too old for me."
Kari laughed. The switchboard operator who handled all the calls coming into the television station with amazing alacrity and patience had carried a torch for the crusty news director for years. "You'll never change, Pinkie. You're biased, stubborn, grouchy, and predictable. That's why I love you." She poked him in the spare tire that sagged over his belt.
"How'd the interview go?"
"He was as wretched as he's reputed to be." That morning Kari had interviewed an aging television sitcom actor who was now doing "legitimate theater" on the dinner theater circuit. "I can see why his varied series went down the tubes. He was rude, obnoxious, and condescending. But I'll have the last laugh. I went to last night's rehearsal. The production is a turkey. And I didn't think anyone could ruin a perfectly wonderful Neil Simon."
Pinkie crumpled his empty cup and tossed it in the general direction of the trash can. It didn't make it, but he didn't notice. "Goose the old geezer right in his pride. Don't soft-soap it. I want gutsy stuff on the newscast, even during your entertainment segment."
Kari saluted. "Right, Chief."
Pinkie's beet-red face split into a grin as he lit one of his unfiltered cigarettes. "And that's what I love about you. You don't give me any guff." He sauntered away in the direction of the newsroom. "And you've got great legs," he called over his shoulder.
Kari took the compliment for what it was, a teasing gesture between friends. Pinkie had been her friend and ally ever since she'd signed on with WBTV five years ago. Where others were cowed by the querulous news director, Kari, as a green intern with no more television journalism experience than her college diploma afforded her, had called his bluff one day and forever won his respect. She talked to him as no one else would dare and got away with it because of their mutual affection. She knew he wasn't nearly as fierce as he pretended.
Pinkie saw in her a dedicated, thorough reporter with initiative. He could count on her not to "screw up," as he put it. At the same time, he liked her warm personality, her femininity. He had had a hunch that the viewers would be as charmed as he, and he had been proven right.
When Kari had married Thomas Wynne two years earlier, Pinkie had feared he would lose her. But she had assured him that she wanted to continue working. "Thomas agrees. Until we decide to start a family, he wants me to do anything I want. And I want to keep working for you."
"There might be a conflict of interests here, Kari," Pinkie had said. "How can you impartially cover the city hall beat when your husband is one of the city councilmen?"
"I've already thought of that. Much as I hate giving up that beat, I think it's the proper thing to do."
"So where does that leave us?"
"I've got an idea for an entertainment segment on the news programs."
His white eyebrows had jumped up then lowered into a thoughtful frown. "Let's hash it over."
Pinkie had trusted her judgment and her ability to implement her idea successfully. Kari Stewart's critiques were a highlight of every newscast. She was witty and incisive without being scathing or vicious. The viewers adored her.
Now Kari went into the editing room and closed the door behind her. She dropped into the chair and fished a cartridge of videotape from her oversized bag, which served as both purse and carryall. Pushing back a mass of untamed blond hair from her cheek, she inserted the cartridge into the computerized editing console and began watching the interview she had conducted barely an hour before.
She picked up the telephone and dialed an extension. "Sam, hi. Kari. Can you bring that tape you shot last night of the rehearsal to editing room three, please? Thanks."
A few moments later the door opened behind her and she said, "Just set it down, Sam. Thanks. I'm using that for B-roll. I'll be ready for it in a minute."
She was capably punching buttons while scanning the two monitors, one with the unedited tape playing, the other with the edited version she was electronically compiling. She was so engrossed that she didn't notice that the door didn't close.
Pinkie's voice and the unfamiliar tone of it brought her head around. She had seen him in moods ranging from elation when they had scooped all their competitors on a story, to drunken melancholia over a bad ratings report. She had never seen him as he was now: deflated, sagging, abject, and most uncharacteristic of all, pale.
She half rose out of her chair. "Pinkie? What is it?" He laid a hand on her shoulder and eased her gently back into the chair.
"An accident report came in over the police radio a few minutes ago."
"And?" A cold fist of dread began squeezing her heart. "What kind of accident?"
He ran his hand over his head, then dragged it down his face, distorting the features. "Auto/pedestrian. Just a few blocks from here, right downtown. I sent a cameraman over there. He just called in."
She did stand now, fighting off his hands as he tried to restrain her. "Thomas? Something's happened to Thomas?" There was no one else in her life. Pinkie wouldn't be acting like this if it weren't Thomas.
She made a mad dash for the door, but Pinkie caught her. "It is Thomas, Kari."
"He's hurt? What happened? What?"
"A truck hit him."
"Oh, my God."
Pinkie dropped his eyes to the middle of her chest, which was just about eye level for him. "It was … fatal. He died at the scene. I'm sorry, sweetheart."
Several ponderous seconds ticked by. She remained motionless, speechless. Disbelief paralyzed her. Then quietly she said, "You're telling me Thomas is dead?" Her hands gripped Pinkie's shirtfront like claws and she shook him. "A truck hit him?! Killed him?!" she screamed. Several of the station's employees were now crowded into the doorway of the editing room. The women were weeping. The men looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"Kari, Kari," Pinkie crooned. He patted her back.
"There's a mistake. It couldn't be—"
"I made the reporter confirm it a dozen times before I came to tell you." Her eyes were wild in her pallid face. Her lips worked, but no sound came out. "Come on," Pinkie said gently. "They've taken him to Denver General. I'll drive you."
It was the cold that struck her first. She had never been in a room this cold. The dual swinging doors closed silently behind her and Pinkie as they entered. She shrank against him, hating this stark, clinical place instantly.
The fluorescent lights hurt her eyes. The brightness offended her. Shouldn't this room be dark and serene, lending death some dignity and reverence? But here death was considered only a physical phenomenon. This place was so very sterile. And so very cold.
She felt like turning to run, but Pinkie urged her forward. A man in a white lab coat looked up from his desk. He stood up immediately. "Mrs. Wynne?"
He led them to a large table draped with a white sheet. Beneath the sheet lay the still form of a man. Kari began to whimper involuntarily and mashed her lips flat with her fingers.
How could she bear to see Thomas's body mangled and bloodied? Would she disgrace him and herself by her actions? Would she scream? Faint? Dissolve into hysterics?
The pathologist pulled back the sheet.
At first she thought it must all be a tasteless joke someone was playing on her. Or some outlandish mistake. Her eyes flew up to the man holding the sheet. He read the unspoken question in them; saw her incredulity.
"He was killed by the impact," he said softly. "The truck struck him from behind. The trauma traveled up his spine into his brain. There is a bruise on his back. Otherwise …"
He left the rest unfinished.
Kari stared down at Thomas's body. He looked as though he were asleep. Nothing more. His face was relaxed. The silver hair that she had found so attractive the first time she met him was neatly combed. The hand lying by his side looked merely at rest, ready to lift up a tennis racket or caress her hair.
His tall body seemed as strong as it had that morning when she had kissed him good-bye. He exercised religiously at a gymnasium to maintain that hard muscle tone and to avoid middle-age spread.
"Thomas, Thomas, darling." Her whisper sounded loud in the silent room. She almost expected him to open his eyes and look up at her, to say her name, to smile. She would see again the sparkle in his blue eyes and hear the rich sound of his laugh.
She had thought it would be unbearable to see his body broken. It was almost worse to see it looking so normal. His untouched state made the whole thing seem that much more absurd and unreal. It simply hadn't happened!
But it had. He was horrifyingly still.
"Where would you like us to send him?"
"Send him?" she repeated vacantly.
"I'll telephone you later," Pinkie said to the man. "Mrs. Wynne hasn't had time to make her arrangements."
"I understand." The pathologist began to lower the sheet.
"Wait!" she cried. The word echoed eerily off the tile walls. She couldn't leave him. Not in this terrible place. Not in this cold, cold room. If she left him lying here, his face covered by the sheet, it would be official. She couldn't cope with that yet. She couldn't admit that Thomas, her husband, was dead.
"Kari, you have to go." Pinkie laid gentle hands on her shoulders.
"Thomas." Her eyes filled with tears that rolled heavily down her cheeks. Tentatively she stretched her fingers toward him. She touched his hair, his forehead.
Then, sobbing uncontrollably, she collapsed into Pinkie's arms. He led her out.
It was unexpected, unheard of, bizarre. The day of the accident had been clear. For some undetermined reason, the driver of the delivery truck had lost control as he turned the corner. The truck had swerved, jumped the curb, and robbed Denver of one of its leading citizens and Kari Stewart Wynne of her husband. He had been walking back to the courthouse after a luncheon appointment. Innocently. Feeling the false sense of security human beings are wont to feel about their mortality. He had died instantly of the impact.
Kari stared at the flower-blanketed casket and wondered how it was possible that Thomas, her vibrant, dynamic husband, was sealed lifelessly inside.
She gripped Pinkie's hand. He had been a bulwark for the last two days, seeing to the myriad details while she moved in a daze. She was grateful for this mental netherland she moved in. It protected her from reality. Without it, she wouldn't have been able to cope.
She had no parents to lean on for support. Her mother had died when Kari was a child. Her father, whom she had adored and admired, had died just before she graduated from college with her degree in communications.
And now Thomas had been taken from her, too.
She went through the rites of burial feeling nothing but a deep hollowness inside her. It was only when she was returning home, riding in Pinkie's car with him and Bonnie, that she began to weep. Bonnie silently passed her a box of tissues.
"Do you remember when we got married?" Kari asked them rhetorically. "People were shocked." Her voice, she noted, was husky. Maybe she had cried more than she remembered.
"People are always shocked when a couple doesn't fit the norm. There was over thirty years difference in your ages," Pinkie said.
"Thirty-two years to be exact. But I never felt there was any difference."
"Thomas didn't look as old as he was. He certainly didn't live like most men in their sixties."
Kari smiled at Bonnie. "No, he didn't." She turned her gaze out the window. It surprised her to see so much activity. To most people this was an ordinary workday. Life was going on.
"I was distraught over my father's death," she said reflectively. "I remember coming to work at WBTV with the sole intention of making that my life's focus. My work was going to be all I lived for. Then I met Thomas. He gave purpose to my life again. I don't know what I would have done without him. We were so happy." She sighed. "Is fate jealous of one's happiness?"
"Sometimes I think it is," Bonnie said kindly. "You're beautiful and talented. Thomas Wynne was rich and successful. The two of you seemed to have it all."
"We did," Kari confirmed as Pinkie turned his car into the lane that led up to the house she had shared with Thomas. "Please come in."
"You sure?" Pinkie asked. "We don't want to impose, but I could sure as hell stand a shot of something."
"I have a stock of your brand," Kari said, taking her key from her purse and opening the front door. She had dismissed the servants for the day so they could attend the funeral. And she had known she would only want her closest friends around her afterward. "No one else would drink that rotgut you prefer."
Pinkie appreciated her attempt at humor. He knew she was cracking up on the inside. She had worshipped Thomas Wynne. Privately he hadn't thought their relationship was healthy, but he had never dared mention that to Kari. She couldn't abide even a breath of criticism of her husband.
The house was chilly and gloomy, though a weak sun filtered beams of light through the mullioned windows. Kari turned up the thermostat as she entered the living room. She took off her coat and hat, then seemed uncertain what to do with them. They were finally dropped into a chair.
"I'll get the drinks," Pinkie said, crossing to the antique liquor cabinet. "What'll you have, Bonnie?"
"That's my girl. Kari?"
"Oh … whatever." Dispiritedly she sank into the sofa.
Bonnie Strand leaned forward from her place in an easy chair and took Kari's hand. Pinkie had unflatteringly referred to her as a prune. She wasn't. Not by a long shot. The strands of silver in her brown hair seemed to soften her features. Her face had character lines, but they added to rather than detracted from her expressive face.
She was a well-maintained woman in her mid-forties whose husband had left her after giving her three sons in rapid succession. From the time she was twenty-two, it had been an uphill climb to support herself and the three boys. But they were now grown, through college, and successfully on their own. Bonnie was tough yet kind-hearted. In Kari's opinion, Bonnie Strand was one of the most "together" people she knew.
"I'll have to move from this house," Kari said, breaking the silence.
"Why?" Bonnie asked, incredulous.
"Sweetheart," Pinkie said as he came toward them with two drinks in his hands, "you're in no shape to be making that kind of decision."
"If I don't concentrate, if I don't think, I'm afraid my brain will atrophy and I'll slip into a coma." She had to force herself to go on living, couldn't they see that? No, she didn't feel like doing anything, certainly not planning the future, though she knew she must. "I'll move out as soon as I'm packed."
"You sure you want to do that?" Pinkie asked, shoving one of the glasses into her hand.
It was brandy. She sipped it and savored the burning elixir as it slid down her throat into her stomach. "Yes. This was Thomas's first family's house. You met his son and daughter today. They could have been hostile when we married. But they weren't. Their mother made this house a home. They grew up here. I never wanted them to feel like I was taking over something that didn't belong to me." She sipped again at her drink. "After we married and Thomas altered his will, I insisted that the house be left to his children."
"That was no small concession," Pinkie said. "This place is worth a million at least."
The estate, located in Cherry Hills, Denver's most exclusive area, sprawled over three acres. A blue-spruce-lined drive led up to the fifteen-room Tudor mansion that boasted a swimming pool in back, as well as a lighted tennis court and stables. The grounds were as spectacular as the house.
She spread her arms wide and painted on a bright smile as she asked, "What would a working girl like me do with all this?" She could tell by their dubious expressions that they weren't convinced. "I won't be entertaining in the fashion Thomas and I did. Most of our friends were actually his friends. I'll take my things and find a smaller place." She looked down into the brandy snifter and watched as the afternoon sunlight made its rich color jewellike. "Besides, I don't want to live here anymore without …"
It became necessary to dam a fresh fountain of tears. When she was more composed, she said to Pinkie, "I still have a job, don't I?"
"Don't worry about your job," he grumbled and ambled toward the bar to refill his empty glass.
"With Sally Jenkins just itching to get a spot on the air? No, sir. I'll be back to work in a week."
"For crying out loud, Kari," Pinkie shouted, whirling around. "Take your time. Let it heal. Forget Little Miss Hot Pants. She's filling in for you now, but when you come back, your spot on the news is waiting for you. You know that. And that Jenkins broad can itch all she wants to."
"What does that mean?" Bonnie asked suddenly, sitting up straighter.
"What does what mean?"
"The way you said 'itch.' "
"It means that there's a much more descriptive word for what she's willing to do to land a spot on the air."
"Like sleeping with someone who could put her there?" Bonnie's teeth were clamped tight.
Pinkie's meaty fists found his waist and dug in as he faced her. "Yeah. What about it?"
"What did you do?" Bonnie asked coolly.
"Nothing. I don't use the sack as a bartering table."
Bonnie smiled benignly and settled back into her chair. "What do you use it for?"
Growling like an angry dog, Pinkie faced Kari again. "You know your job is secure."
She had been fascinated by the exchange between her two friends. "Thank you, Pinkie. But I don't want to take extended time off. As soon as I've moved from here, I'll need to go back to work. Thomas would want me to," she finished quietly and bowed her head. Her finger trailed in endless circles around the rim of the snifter.
Bonnie gave Pinkie a speaking glance and stood up. "We'll leave you now, Kari, if you're sure there's nothing we can do before we go."
Kari stood with them. "No. Thank you both. I'll be fine. I need to be alone for a while."
At the front door, Pinkie took her hand. "Come back to work when you want to, when you feel like it; but don't be too hard on yourself."
"I'm not, really."
"That's what I like about you. You've got guts."
She smiled at him fondly. Even in his dark suit and tie, he looked rumpled and unkempt. "Don't forget my great legs," she teased softly.
He kissed her cheek and then awkwardly turned away. Bonnie was waiting on the opposite side of the car for him to open her door. "Well, what are you standing there for?" he said to her. "Get in."
He squeezed behind the wheel and Bonnie had no choice but to open her own door. She slammed it solidly and they drove away.
A smile curved Kari's lips, but it quickly faded as she turned away from the door and faced the emptiness of the large house, the emptiness of her life.
The beer was cold and biting. He didn't even taste it. He set the can aside.
He was slouched in his favorite chair. It conformed to his spine as if designed to do so. Over the tent formed by his fingers, he stared at the television screen. The sound was turned down. He already knew the audio portion of the news story by heart. But the video continued to intrigue him.
- On Sale
- Jan 1, 1999
- Page Count
- 320 pages