Authors: Cynthia Hamilton
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Blackmail - Sabotage - Santa Barbara
|Cynthia Hamilton - Madeline Dawkins 01 - Spouse Trap|
|Madeline Dawkins |
|Woodstock Press (2013)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Blackmail - Sabotage - Santa Barbara|
This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, businesses, events or locales is coincidental or used with permission.
Copyright © 2012 by Cynthia Hamilton
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.
First Published 2013
Formatting by Six Penny Graphics
Cover design by Barbara Boros
Editing by Gail Prather
Proofreading by Amy Orozco
This book is dedicated to my husband, with love and gratitude
Madeline Ridley opened her eyes with a start. Her mouth was dry and an unpleasant taste lingered on her tongue. Her head felt heavy and it ached as she moved. Reflexively, she flung out an arm, seeking the reassuring comfort of her husband’s body. Instead, she encountered the cool starchiness of unfamiliar bed linens.
Where am I?
She sat bolt upright, her heart and head throbbing in unison. Either she had been in the throes of a disorienting dream, or she really was in a strange room. Not knowing where she was terrified her.
The only illumination came from the meager predawn seeping through the French doors at the far end of the room. Her left hand groped the side table for the lamp switch.
The light temporarily blinded her, making her wince. She looked around, quickly searching for any object that would ground her to her life. She was not in either of her bedrooms, or any of the guest rooms. She sat tentatively on the edge of the bed, breathing hard. By the furnishings and the layout she figured she was in a hotel room. But where?
Grabbing the phone, she recognized the familiar logo of The Edgecliff Hotel across the top.
The Edgecliff; right. Steven and I were here for the fundraiser,
This recollection made her feel less shaky, but it didn’t explain how she’d ended up in this room.
Did we drink too much and decide to get a room?
She glanced at the other side of the bed. The sheets were flung back, indicating it had been occupied at some point.
“Steven?” she called out. “Steven?” As she got up from the bed, she caught sight of the dress she’d worn to the ball. She reached for it and the bra and panties she had been wearing only hours earlier fell to the floor. She stooped to retrieve them, discovering the dainty lace articles were in tatters.
“Steven!” she cried out, trembling as she wove her way to the bathroom on unsteady feet. “Steven?” She flipped on the light switch, and squinting through the glare, found the room empty. She backed out into the hallway, checking the closets for clues of her predicament.
Why am I in a room at The Edgecliff?
she asked of her reflection in the hall mirror. All she saw was tousled hair, smudged lipstick and bloodshot eyes. Her hand traveled down the side of her neck to her clavicle, where three bright red scratches stretched toward her left breast. She turned away from the mirror, panting as she forced herself to recall how she had gotten there. And whose nails had made those marks on her.
Images of last evening began filtering across her mind’s eye. She recalled stepping out of the Maserati at the hotel entrance and walking with Steven to the main ballroom. He had been in a foul mood; she clearly remembered that. She could hear the harsh tone in his voice, could see the anger in his eyes as he laid into her.
What was he mad about?
Madeline shook her head. She couldn’t figure it out.
But she did recollect walking fast to catch up with him as he stormed off toward the lobby—him turning around, calling her a filthy whore under his breath. She remembered the sting of tears in her eyes and the feeling of disbelief as she watched him drive off, leaving her there on the curb.
With shaking hands, Madeline struggled into the red lace Valentino gown. She recalled the dark-haired man coming toward her…two glasses of champagne in his hands. His consoling words…
Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you get home…
Madeline’s throat closed, making it impossible to breathe. Her eyes teared up, but the cries couldn’t escape.
This did not happen! This did not happen!
she thought, though it was obvious she had been in a hotel room with someone, and the odds were it wasn’t her husband.
She sank into a chair as she pleaded with herself to remember how she had gotten to this room. Panic set in. Her hands flew to her earlobes; she went limp with relief when she felt the teardrop diamond earrings still in place. But where were her diamond watch and bracelet? And her wedding ring?
She frantically looked around and spotted her handbag, itself a pricey investment. She opened it hastily and found her jewelry, along with her cell phone and credit cards. She had not been robbed, at least. But what happened? Who had been here with her?
As she looked for cash in her tiny bag, she discovered the key to the beach house. She had put it in at the last minute, just in case she and Steven drank too much and didn’t want to drive back up the hill. She clutched the key tightly in her hand; it was her salvation.
She found her shoes and carried them in one hand and hiked up her gown with the other. With the first tinges of daybreak coloring the sky, she crept out the French doors and followed the pathway. She crossed out of The Edgecliff grounds and headed down the steps to the sand. In less than ten minutes, she had made it to the beach house without seeing a soul.
“That was quite the haul,” Madeline said into the phone distractedly, as she scanned through her emails.
“That’s putting it mildly! It’s the largest amount we’ve ever raised. Twice as much as last year’s event,” Carla Dickens reported with effervescent glee, clearly enjoying their triumph over the previous co-chairs’ fundraising efforts.
“That’s fantastic,” Madeline agreed, but she had a hard time putting any real feeling into her words. Carla didn’t seem to notice. It had been a fairly lopsided conversation from the start, which was fine with Madeline. She had far more pressing matters on her mind.
“I got an email from Katherine Broadhurst, the national chairwoman for the NHDF, congratulating me—
—on our success. She thought the ‘Open Your Heart’ Valentine’s Ball was ingenious. I had to tell her it was
brainchild. She said she’s going to institute it nationwide next year. She said her mind was just ‘whirring’ with the potential of a campaign based on that slogan.”
Madeline had not heard these last bulletins at all; her mind had been completely distracted by the sight of Steven’s car pulling up out front. It was only 10:30. He must have forgotten something.
Since the fundraiser fiasco on Saturday night, and the uneasy détente that had ensued since their phone conversation Sunday morning, she and Steven had been polite and reserved around each other, outwardly civil, but still tentative with one another.
After thoroughly showering at the beach house Sunday morning, Madeline had racked her brain for clues to the previous night’s unraveling. The most she could come up with was that Steven’s dark mood had further blackened when she danced with the dark-haired stranger. Beyond Steven leaving her standing on the sidewalk like a fool and taking the glass of champagne from the mystery man, she couldn’t remember a thing.
On the assumption that jealousy had sparked Steven’s bizarre behavior, Madeline bridged the divide and called him. To cover for the missing hours of her memory, she told him she had walked to the beach house when the ball was over, as she’d been too upset to stay in the same house with him. Only the fear of facing what had happened in that hotel room allowed her to keep her cool.
“I know we should be basking in our success right now, but I’ve had a couple ideas that could make next year’s event even more successful,” Carla was saying as Steven walked through their bedroom headed straight for Madeline’s sitting room.
“Carla…I’ve got to call you back,” she said, scarcely hearing Carla’s response as she ended the call.
“Hi…” Madeline said cautiously as Steven approached. Her hesitant smile vanished when Steven took several 8 x 10 glossy photographs from a manila envelope and splayed them across her desk. Steven’s face was rigid with rage, his eyes filled with contempt.
“What…?” Madeline’s heart began to pound as her eyes focused on the subject matter in the accusatory photos.
“You filthy, disgusting slut!”
Steven spat, picking up the photos and shoving them at his wife.
She stared at the amber-lit images of herself naked, in the tangled embrace of who she suspected was the stranger from the fundraiser. Photo after photo graphically depicted the two of them engaged in the act of sex. Madeline’s hand shot to her mouth as a weak groan escaped. Her nightmare was far from over.
“Where did you get these?” Madeline sputtered, as she rose awkwardly from her seat, trying to distance herself from the pornographic images.
“That’s your response? I show you pictures of you having sex with another man, and you want to know where I got them?” Steven yelled at her. “The fact that I now know what a cheap, disgusting whore you are doesn’t worry you. No, you’re only concerned about where this trash came from.”
Madeline’s face became a pale mask of trepidation as Steven ranted at her. She tried to speak, but no words came out. Her inability to answer for her crimes further infuriated him. He stood there, sheaf of damaging photos in his hand as he fumed, his face contorted with loathing.
“Who else have you slept with?” Steven demanded, taking a menacing step towards her. “How many times have you cheated on me, Madeline? Did you think you could get away with having an affair in a town this small? Or have you, and I’m just the last to know?”
“I’ve never cheated on you,” Madeline said, her voice quavering. Steven barked out a harsh laugh that made his features more menacing. Suddenly, the wrath in his eyes was replaced by despair, and his voice broke when he spoke.
“It was the only thing I ever asked of you, the only thing you promised—
—you’d never do…” Steven held his hand over his face to hide his pain.
“Steven…I swear I didn’t do anything—” Madeline said, taking a step closer to him.
“How can you say that?” he said, throwing the photos at her. “How can you stand there and
to me like that? Just like you lied to me Sunday morning—telling me you stayed at the beach house. You didn’t, did you? Obviously not.” Steven turned away, his anger causing him to wander indecisively.
Even though she was being accused of infidelity, Madeline couldn’t stand to see Steven so anguished. She moved toward him, but his anger flared and froze her to the spot. “Stay away from me! I hate the sight of you.”
Tears landed with loud plops on the photographs as Madeline bent down to gather them up. The drops left streaks on the glossy paper as she wiped them away.
“Do you have any idea how potentially damaging this could be for me?” Steven railed, as loss took a backseat to bitterness. “My credibility would be shot if this filth fell into the wrong hands. Think of the scandal this could cause.” Madeline held the photos against her chest as Steven began to pace.
“Twelve years I’ve been faithful to you.
I’ve given you everything you’ve ever wanted. I’ve treated you like a fucking princess! You would’ve been nothing without me. Look at you! Look at your life! And this is how you repay me?” A truck from a local nursery pulled up on the drive. Voices could be heard as the gardener conferred with the driver.
“I’m leaving for Dallas tomorrow. I want all your things out of here when I get back on Saturday,” Steven said, cutting off Madeline’s attempts to persuade him of her innocence. “I’ll have Hughes take your things to the beach house. You can stay there until the divorce is final. Or shack up with your new boyfriend, I don’t care which,” he said contemptuously.
“Steven—please don’t go! I swear I don’t know what happened…” Madeline sank back into her chair, completely devastated, as she watched her distraught husband walk out of the room. Moments later, she heard his car start, the low purring diminishing as he headed down the drive. She burst into tears as her heart broke in half.
Madeline sat there, unaware of time, a wad of soiled tissues clutched in her hand as her mind raced over the events of the last few days. Somewhere in the missing hours of memory, she had broken her vows and destroyed her marriage.
But why? Why would she do something like that? She had never once been tempted to cheat on Steven. Never. When he walked out on her at the ball, she had no thoughts of retribution. She had been baffled and hurt, but surely not vengeful. Besides, she was the fundraiser’s co-chair; she had duties to perform.
Her iPhone chimed, reminding her of a tennis game at 2:00. She scrolled down through the messages that had continued to flood in while she sat there helplessly, unable to move from the spot where her life had been suddenly wrenched away from her.
She stared at the messages uncomprehendingly, as if they were written in a foreign language. They might as well have been; she had no interest in anything right now but in trying to salvage her marriage. It couldn’t be over just like that. Twelve years of marriage didn’t end at 10:30 one day without any warning.
Steven was hurt. That was understandable. She couldn’t fault him for his reaction or his feelings of betrayal. He was definitely the injured party here. But something inside her made it impossible to resign herself to the role of unfaithful spouse, despite the lurid photos proving otherwise.
Every time she replayed their conversation, she shook her head in disbelief. It simply wasn’t in her makeup to cheat on her husband. There was something wrong with this scenario. And the damning photographs.
Madeline moved the envelope to uncover the pictures. It made her feel sick all over again, but she forced herself to look at all seven of them. If she hadn’t found herself alone in a hotel room with her lingerie in shreds, she’d have dismissed this evidence as a photo-shopped attempt at character assassination.
She took a closer look. It was her, alright. She recognized the room, but the man—what she could see of him—could’ve been anyone. She shuddered and stuffed the photos into the manila envelope. But even in her distressed state, something didn’t make sense.
She removed the photos and carefully scanned at each one. Her profile was clear, but it was impossible to read her expression, except to speculate that she was so enraptured by her lover that her eyes were closed in bliss. Each photo was the same.
Madeline’s heart raced as she laid the photographs side by side. Maybe
hadn’t been altered, but
clearly had. It was all starting to add up: the man—Italian, she vaguely recalled—who she’d never seen before; the glass of champagne; the complete memory loss.
She sprang out of her chair, her mind spinning with the sickening realization that someone had planned this. To discredit her? What would be the purpose of that? It was not conceit to say she was well liked. As far as she knew, she was the darling of Santa Barbara society. Even if someone were jealous of her wealth and position, it seemed extremely unlikely they’d go to all this trouble to destroy her. But what about Steven?
Do you have any idea how potentially damaging this could be for me? My credibility would be shot if this filth fell into the wrong hands. Think of the scandal this could cause.
Recalling his words sent chills down her spine.
Yes, that had to be it. Someone was trying to get at Steven. They wouldn’t even need to know that infidelity in a spouse was Steven’s Achilles’ heel. Horrible pictures like these could be used to smear anyone’s reputation.
The blood drained from Madeline’s face when it occurred to her these hideous photos could be all over the internet by now. She rushed to the bathroom and threw up.
As she stood in front of the sink, consulting her reflection for answers, she realized she had to share her suspicions with Steven. If she could explain everything to him, he would have to listen—he would have to know that she hadn’t been unfaithful to him. Not willingly, at least.
Once she had her resolve, Madeline shifted into high gear. She sent a text to Jane canceling their tennis game, pleading exhaustion. She took a quick shower, then took pains with her hair and makeup. She wanted to present the image of a calm, pulled-together ally. She wanted Steven to see her as an asset again, not as the enemy.
She carefully chose her clothing, going for non-flashy neutrals, elegant but understated shoes, gold earrings and bracelets instead of diamonds. She looked the epitome of style and grace as she rang Hughes and told him she was going out and would need him to bring the car around—the BMW sedan, not her Porsche Carrera. She was going to appear upstanding and irreproachable in every manner. Her marriage was riding on it.