By: JAYNE ANN KRENTZ
Category: Fiction Mystery
The rose with the needle thrust into its heart... arrived on Kimberly Sawyer's doorstep that morning. Darius
, the man with the emerald eyes, arrived that evening. Both events shook her to the core. There was nothing unusual at first about the rose, other than the fact that it had been left without a note. Kimberly discovered it as she opened the door to walk down to the beach. Startled and mildly Intrigued, she picked the blood-red flower and stuck it into an old wine bottle. Not until midmorning, when the petals began to open, did Kimberly look up from her work and see the vicious shaft of the steel needle spearing the center of the rose. Kimberly froze at the subtle deliberate violence. She sat very still, staring at the wicked needle, and tried to chase away the frisson of fear that flashed down her spine. Then she remembered Darius
Last printing: 07/21/02 `=-«/' ISBN: 0-4194-104-3734-1 use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form, by any electronic, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, MIRA Books: 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention. MIRA and the star colophon are trademarks of MIRA Books.
The rose with the needle thrust into its heart arrived on Kimberly Sawyer's doorstep that morning. Darius
, the man with the emerald eyes, arrived that evening. Both events shook her to the core. There was nothing unusual at first about the rose, other than the fact it had been left without a note. Kimberly discovered it as she opened the door to walk down to the beach. Startled and then mildly intrigued, as any woman would have been, she picked up the blood-red flower and cheerily stuck it into an old wine bottle. It would look nice sitting on the window sill in front of her typewriter. Not until midmorning, when the petals began to open, did Kimberly look up from her work and see the vicious shaft of the steel needle spearing the center of the rose. It had been carefully insinuated between the folded petals so that it would be revealed only when they gradually opened. Kimberly froze at the subtle, deliberate violence. She sat very still, staring at the wicked needle, and tried to chase away the frisson of fear that flashed down her spine. Then she remembered Darius
. The image of his savagely hewn features and the gleaming emerald depths of his strangely compelling eyes appeared with shattering intensity in her mind. Her gaze never leaving the needle in the rose, Kimberly reached out a trembling hand and picked up the receiver of her chromium-yellow telephone. She found herself searching blindly for the little card Darius
had given her two months ago, her fingers shuffling awkwardly through the file on her desk. And then she was dialing the number without even pausing to think. Halfway through the process, Kimberly suddenly realized how foolishly she was behaving. This was ridiculous. Someone was playing a joke on her, nothing more. But the phone had already started to ring. Before she could slam down the receiver a woman's voice answered. "Hello?" Frantically Kimberly tried to retreat. "..... I'm sorry, I have the wrong number."
"This phone is unlisted," the woman said coolly. "May I ask who's calling and where you got the number?"
"I'm sorry, I misdialed." Kimberly hastily replaced the receiver. Stupid. What on earth was she thinking of to call
residence just because she'd had a small, but rather jolting experience? She was back under control now. Kimberly frowned at the offending rose and tried to imagine which of her few neighbors might have played such a bizarre trick on her. There was gruff and dour Mr. Wilcox who lived farther down the beach. Then there was Elvira Eden, the aging flower child who had never quite evolved mentally beyond the era of the 1960's. She had a huge garden, Kimberly reminded herself.
But it was hard to picture the perpetually serene and smiling Elvira doing something like this. And old Wilcox, while admittedly not possessed of a charming personality wasn't really the type, either.
Restlessly, Kimberly got to her feet, shoving her hands into the rear pockets of her snug, faded jeans and went to stand in front of the huge window that faced the ocean. This was a particularly desolate and rugged stretch of California's northern coast. Few people lived here year-round, although the tourists would be pouring in from San Francisco and the Bay area when summer arrived. But it was early spring right now and there was only a handful of residents strung along the craggy coastline this far north of Fort Bragg. None of the ones whom she'd met seemed the type to pull this little stunt with the rose. "You're going soft in the brain, Kim," she lectured herself as she filled a teakettle and set it on the stove. "It's got to be someone's crazy idea of a joke." Once again
image flashed through her mind. She couldn't help wondering about the woman Who had answered his phone. It could have been any one of his relatives or someone who worked on the estate. The
winery undoubtedly employed several people. As far as relatives went, there was his sister, Julia, Julia's son Scott, an aunt whom Kimberly vaguely remembered being named Millicent and who knew how many others? Kimberly shuddered at the notion of so many people intimately involved in one's daily world. Extended families were not high on her list of life's pleasures. In fact, families of any size tended to make her wary. That thought made Kimberly remember the buff-colored envelope that had arrived in her mailbox yesterday. It was still lying, unopened, on the kitchen counter. That envelope wasn't the first she had received, bearing the discreet address of a Los Angeles law firm. After opening the first several months ago, Kimberly had determined not to open any more. Still, for some obscure reason, it was difficult for her to just toss it in the garbage. The kettle came to a boil and Kimberly poured herself a huge mug of tea. She needed to get back to work. Her fictional characters were making more pressing demands on her than the silly incident with the rose. With a frown of concentration, she sat down to finish chapter three. She worked for an hour before thinking again of the pierced rose. Kimberly looked up, gazing absently into the middle distance beyond her window, and found herself staring at the crimson flower instead of untangling the intricacies of her current plot. That needle had been placed inside the petals deliberately. There was no point telling herself it had happened accidentally. And no mere accident had brought the flower to her doorstep.
A spark of sunlight glinted on the needle, illuminating it harshly.
Then one of the storm clouds rolling in from the ocean blotted out the brief ray of light. The steel needle continued to gleam dully. She ought to throw the rose into the garbage along with that letter from the lawyer, Kimberly told herself uneasily. But the unanswered questions surrounding the rose's presence on her doorstep seemed to make it impossible to just dismiss the incident. Thoughts of Darius
brushed through her mind again, and before they had disappeared she found her eyes sliding toward the yellow telephone. Without stopping to think she picked up the receiver, dialing the number on the small card quickly, as though something beyond her own will drove her to do so.
"This is ridiculous," Kimberly muttered as she listened to the phone ringing a hundred miles away on the estate in the Napa Valley. She took a deep breath and hurriedly disconnected herself before anyone could pick up the receiver. But all afternoon as the storm began to gather itself out at sea for the assault on the coast, Kimberly's thoughts kept ricocheting back and forth between the rose on her windowsill and the image of Darius
. Twice more she found herself reaching for the phone as though an outside force were prompting her. Twice more she slammed the receiver back into the cradle with an exclamation of disgust. She could not call
. Not over something as trivial as this damned rose business.
grudgingly ended shortly before five o'clock. With a feeling of relief Kimberly covered the typewriter. It had been terribly difficult to keep her mind on her work. Outside, the sky was already quite dark and the wind was beginning to howl demandingly around the small beachfront cottage.
Turning on a few more lights to ward off the pressing storm-driven darkness, Kimberly built a small fire in the old stone hearth. It was not uncommon for the electricity to go off during a storm, and she didn't want to f and herself without heat or light later on this evening. A feeling of tension, real restless uneasiness, began to work on her nervous system as she lit the fire and went into the kitchen to see about dinner. Long accustomed to eating alone, Kimberly normally viewed the prospect with a certain quiet pleasure. She poured herself a glass of
Merlot wine and sipped it slowly as she prepared a baked potato and a green salad. This evening would be a good time to finish that wonderfully trashy adventure novel she had started reading last night. As usual she set a neat table for herself, preparing the baked potato exactly as she liked it with loads of sour cream and salad dressing, grated cheese, chopped black olives, a sprinkling of peanuts and some sliced hot peppers. Setting out the bottle of hot sauce to which she was pleasantly addicted, she poured a bit more of the Merlot into her glass. Kimberly had bought the
wine on a whim earlier that week when it showed up on the shelves of the tiny market in the nearby town. It had been an expensive whim, and not one she would indulge frequently. Writers living from one royalty statement to the next tended to become
of wine that came in large bottles with screw tops. She'd actually had to dig out a genuine corkscrew for the
Vineyards bottle. The wine inside had proven to be excellent, but that didn't really surprise her. Anything Darius
did would be done well. No, she thought absently, more than just well. It would be done right. With all the loose ends tied up.
She wasn't certain why she knew that on the basis of only having spent a few hours with him, but she didn't question the knowledge. She had been hoping the extra half-glass of wine that she'd allowed herself tonight might dispel some of the strange tension she was experiencing, but it didn't seem to be working. Kimberly was just about to sink a fork into the elaborately decorated baked potato when the lights flickered and went out. "Well, damn. There goes my chance to finish that novel tonight," she murmured with a sigh. Across the room the fire crackled.
Picking up her plate, the hot sauce and the remaining glass of wine, Kimberly started toward it, intending to finish her meal while sitting in front of the hearth. The purr of a sophisticated car's engine in her driveway captured her attention when she was halfway across the small room. The sound rose briefly above the increasing howl of the wind and rain and then
fell silent. Someone had chosen a miserable night to come visiting. A moment later came the knock on her door.
Kimberly had already set down her dinner and was peering through the tiny window set in the door panel. It was impossible to see who stood on the step because the porch light was not working. "Who is it?" she called with a trace of unease. Except for that incident two months ago, crime was not a real problem around here. Nevertheless, Kimberly was instinctively wary tonight. That business with the rose had unsettled her more than she had realized. There was no answer. Perhaps whoever it was couldn't hear her over the roar of the storm. Taking a deep breath and telling herself not to be so skittish, Kimberly unlocked the door, leaving the chain on, and opened it a couple of inches. "Who's there?" she inquired coolly, peering through the small opening. The man on her front step turned his head in that moment, and the faint light from the fire flared briefly on his roughly etched features. His gaze flicked over her shadowed face; a gaze that Kimberly knew would be emerald green in the full light of day.
." he said. Kimberly closed her eyes with an odd sense of relief at the succinct answer.