Authors: Arlene Kay
Table of Contents
Eja’s ex-husband just might prove that only death will part them . . .
FOR NEW BRIDE Eja Kane-Swann, revenge is both sweet and deadly. When Gabriel Mann, the ex-husband who kicked her to the curb, begs for help, Eja laughs in his face. Gabriel is involved in a nasty literary spat with a competitor for tenure, and charges of sexism may derail Gabriel’s career. Expect murder, misdirection, and a pinch of glamour as that dazzling duo, Eja and Deming, explore complex motives, political correctness, and academic angst in the rarified air of Cambridge, Massachusetts. This time, Eja’s campaign for justice just might be the death of her.
Praise for the Boston Uncommons Series
“. . . snappy repartee reminiscent of the comedy-mystery movies of the thirties . . .”
—Toni V. Sweeney,
NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS
“Among the setting, characters, and vocabulary I couldn’t resist Arlene Kay’s GILT TRIP.”
WRITERS WHO KILL BLOGSPOT
“ . . . blends mystery with a dollop of romantic suspense and a whopping dose of luxury.”
—Christina Ironstone, International Thriller Writers’ Ezine
Other Books by Arlene Kay
The Boston Uncommons Mystery Series
(Book Four: A Boston Uncommons Mystery)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.
PO BOX 300921
Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-696-3
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-678-9
ImaJinn Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 2016 by Arlene Kay
Published in the United States of America.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
ImaJinn Books was founded by Linda Kichline.
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Cover design: Deborah Smith
Interior design: Hank Smith
Couple © Viorel Sima | Dreamstime.com
“WHAT’S PAST IS prologue.” So said the Bard, and a midlist mystery writer like me can hardly argue with greatness. Besides, as the magical strains of Yo-Yo Ma wafted through Boston’s Symphony Hall, my mind was firmly focused on my future. In the adjoining seat, my husband closed his eyes and smiled, looking more like an angel than the litigious lawyer he truly was. Perhaps music does tame the savage breast. Miracle of miracles—sometimes cellos calm even a rascal like Deming Swann.
I leaned back in my seat, staring at the sixteen marble statues that adorned the hall. They were familiar friends from a childhood spent absorbing culture. In truth, my parents force-fed me the stuff until I developed an appetite for the arts. Demosthenes, a fellow writer, had always been my favorite statue, but Deming predictably loved the Satyr. The lot of them, all ancient Greeks or Romans, glanced down on us with bemused tolerance and a dash of insolence. Who could blame them? Their hard-won wisdom was born of centuries while ours was pitifully new. All things considered, there are far worse ways to spend a sultry Saturday evening in Boston.
At intermission, I edged into the aisle poised to make a beeline for the ladies’ lounge.
“Go on ahead, Eja,” Deming said. “I see one of my clients coming over.” He gave my hand a playful squeeze. “Don`t get into any trouble. Okay?”
I`m a wife in training, so I bit back a snarky retort. “Of course, darling,” I said, pinching his cheek a little too hard.
My relative vigor served me well in this crowd, and I was able to scamper down the stairs to the lobby before most of the other concertgoers left their seats. That`s when everything went awry.
A tentacle of my youth reached out and grabbed me, sending the past careening into my present.
“Eja Kane! I can`t believe it.”
A tall blond man in his thirties tapped my shoulder and spun me around, treating me to a megawatt smile. “You haven`t changed at all. Still lovely.”
I have few illusions about myself. Our home has plenty of mirrors. I am a moderately successful mystery author, certainly not a femme fatale. For Deming’s sake I try to up my game, but on my best day I seldom score a “ten.” My features are passable, my curls unruly, and my curves far too exuberant for high fashion. At one time, I longed for this man’s approval but no more. Against all odds, the creature standing before me was Gabriel Johnston Mann, the ex-husband who once broke my heart.
“How are you?” I asked, giving him a quick once-over. His lush blond hair was subdued by a touch of gel, and he now sported a goatee. Otherwise the decade had been kind to him. I longed to spot an incipient paunch or some other sign of debauchery, but it was not to be. Gabriel was still flat in all the right places and muscled in the others.
“Congratulations on your marriage,” he said. “Deming Swann was quite a catch. No more worries about selling books, I guess.”
Gabriel gave me his sincere look, the same one I had seen the day he`d unceremoniously dumped me for a nubile coed. Our divorce was a swift, surgical strike—his pregnant lover couldn`t wait too long.
“Speaking of Deming,” I said, “I should be getting back. He worries about me.”
Suddenly cool, contained Gabriel vanished. His eyes widened, and he grabbed my wrist.
“Wait. Please don`t go. I need your help, Eja. I`m in trouble.”
“Help? Be serious.” I jabbed his side with my elbow. “Let me go, Gabriel. You`re making a spectacle of yourself.”
“Don`t be rude, Eja.” Deming materialized by my side, his lips spread in a tight smile that held no mirth. He used his height to advantage, peering down at Gabriel in predator-to-prey mode.
Funny. I had never considered Gabriel puny until that moment. At one time, I`d thought him a god, the pinnacle of male beauty gracing my bed. Now although he straightened his shoulders and rose to full height, he seemed weak and ineffectual next to my testosterone-packed husband. Payback can be so sweet.
“You were saying, Mann?” Another faux grin from Deming. For some reason he was insanely jealous of my ex, despite knowing full well that Gabriel kicked me to the curb.
“Nothing,” Gabriel stammered. “I hoped Eja might help me with a problem. It`s nothing big, just a work issue.” His downcast eyes told a very different tale.
“Really? Perhaps you need an attorney.” Deming was all silky smoothness. “I can recommend one if you like.”
I decided to end the melodrama before fisticuffs or a duel broke out. A duel was romantic delusion, but a brawl simply wouldn`t do. Camera phones abounded, and someone was certain to capture the scion of the Swann fortune pummeling a college professor.
“Time to go,” I said. “The chimes are ringing.”
“Nonsense,” Deming said. “Let`s meet afterward and discuss this problem. The Taj Hotel is right around the corner. We can relax in The Bar and thrash things out. Do you know it?”
“My wife is here,” Gabriel said with a shrug.
“Love to meet her. See you then.” Deming put his arm around me and herded me toward our seats.
“What was that all about?” I growled. “He`s the last person on earth I want to socialize with.”
“Not the least bit curious?” Deming’s hazel eyes sparked with mischief. “This is wife number three, I believe. Maybe four. Melanie Hunt—very rich, quite demanding, very much in control.”
I plopped into my seat without speaking. Silence is my weapon of choice in any confrontation with Deming. Like most lawyers, he`s a word wizard, but deprive him of an argument and you win. Case closed.
Next on the musical agenda was a selection from Strauss, one of Deming’s absolute favorites. This time I closed my eyes, absorbed the music, and examined my conscience. Gabriel Mann was a dark, dim memory of things past. Way past. Our whirlwind courtship had begun at Brown University and culminated with a lovely wedding during graduate school. We shared common literary ambitions and a fierce determination to become published authors. When I succeeded and he did not, I sacrificed any passion my husband might have felt for me. A year of crippling anxiety ended with Gabriel’s exit. I still recalled his analysis of my flaws: too ambitious, unsupportive, and worst of all, not beautiful enough. He no longer loved me.
“Hey,” Deming whispered, brushing my cheek with his finger. “You`re not crying, are you?”
“Of course not. It`s the music. Very moving.”
“You loved him once,” he said. “Did this stir up old memories?”
“Not good ones, I assure you. No nostalgia here.”
He said nothing, just put his arm around me and sighed. When the program ended and the house lights came on, I was dry-eyed and clearheaded. The only place I would help Gabriel Mann go was straight to hell. Besides, he wasn`t beautiful enough to interest me anymore. I loved someone else.
“We don`t have to meet him,” Deming said. “I`ll leave a message at The Bar.”
I met his gaze with one of my own. “Absolutely not. I have no intention of getting involved in his messes, but I`m no coward. I can face him.”
Deming pinched my cheek. “That`s my girl. Besides, I understand that his wife keeps him on a very short leash. She who holds the purse strings . . .”
That made me chuckle. Deming is heir to the Swann billions, and his wealth is staggering. Somehow that has never been an issue between us. We`d grown up together and sparred as equals since preschool. Deming knew that money would never control or intimidate me. Love was another matter entirely.
THE TAJ HOTEL boasts elegant surroundings and a prime location on Arlington Street. Magnificent floor to ceiling windows give anyone in The Bar an unobstructed view of Boston’s crown jewel, the Public Gardens. Although the place was packed, Deming secured an A-list table near the fireplace. Swanns have that kind of luck.
It was late—almost eleven o`clock—when Gabriel straggled in. Apparently Mrs. Mann had vetoed the plan, leaving him to face the music alone.
“Where`s your wife?” Deming asked. “I met her once at some boring charity event. She`s very lovely.” He took a measured sip of Cognac.
Gabriel managed a wan smile. “She wasn`t feeling well. Headache.”
I averted my eyes. Surely an aspiring novelist could invent something more interesting and less clichéd.
“A pity,” Deming said without much sincerity. “Now. Let`s hear all about your problem.”
Gabriel spread his hands in a familiar gesture. It was part of his charm, offensive and phony as hell. In my experience it always preceded a lie, usually involving a woman.
“Have you heard of Sonia Reyes?”
Deming shook his head, but I couldn`t resist chiming in.
“Of course. She`s all over the local media. New York, too. I read her study on beauty bias. Very provocative.”
“My wife is brilliant, as you well know. I can`t keep up with her.” Deming shot me a look of such tenderness that I melted. Even now, I couldn`t believe that such a man actually loved me.
Gabriel wilted somewhat but plunged ahead with his narrative. “Sonia is my colleague at the university. Truth be told, we`re competitors for tenure.” He took a mighty swallow of Cognac. “You know academia, Eja. All the infighting. Especially in the Liberal Arts. Concord is no better than the rest.”
Deming leaned forward to prompt him. “That`s your problem? Tenure?” His tone teetered on scorn.
“Not exactly.” Gabriel kept his head down and stared into his drink. “There was an incident. Perhaps you saw it in the
I nodded, but Deming merely shrugged. Somewhere along the line he had perfected that elegant Gallic gesture that combines grace with insolence.
Gabriel blinked as if he were awakening from a trance. “Sonia formed this pressure group, called the Bella Brigade. It`s a play on words of course and homage to Bella Abzug, that New York congresswoman from the old days. She was famously unattractive if memory serves.”
The irony of the situation made me abandon my vow of silence. “Your position on female looks is well established, Gabriel. I can certainly vouch for that.”
Deming pushed his club chair closer to me in a gesture of solidarity. His silence was eloquence personified.
“Well then, Sonia started this absurd dialogue about lookism and wrote an op-ed piece in the
touting her new movement.” Gabriel smirked. “I couldn`t help myself. I responded in kind. Nothing flamboyant, just reasoned logic.” He spread his arms wide. “All hell broke loose and everything imploded. Protestors—hordes of hairy, unkempt women—marched in front of the Administration building. They called me a bigot! Can you believe that? After all the ways I`ve supported women.”
I coughed to suppress a laugh. Gabriel Mann had retained his capacity for self-delusion despite a number of close calls and scrapes with disaster. His so-called support for women usually began and ended in the bedroom. In financial matters it was a different story: he had always relied on female largesse.
I noticed that Gabriel was playing to Deming at this point, heartened by the thought that a fellow man-of-the-world would understand and agree.
“Bad strategy,” Deming said, shaking his head. “Best to steer clear of these civil rights kerfuffles. Can`t win that kind of argument, particularly on a college campus.”
Gabriel shivered. “So true. Now we`re both competing for tenure, and this group of uglies has threatened a boycott if I get the nod. My dean is noncommittal what with Sonia playing the race and gender cards.”
“Race?” Deming asked.
“Oh, you know, the Hispanic thing. Who even knows if Reyes is her real name?” Gabriel frowned. “Stranger things have happened in academia.”
Add paranoia to the list of his ailments. Instead of feeling vindicated and triumphant, I felt a twinge of pity for a man whose worldview clashed so starkly with reality.
“How does Eja fit into all this?” Deming sounded genuinely curious.
Gabriel brightened, as if things were finally going his way. “That`s easy. Eja’s always been a big libber. I thought that if she spoke with Sonia, you know, explained my bona fides one published author to another, it might do some good.”
His audacity astounded me. Did he really expect a discarded ex-wife to vouch for him as a champion of women? Knowing Gabriel, he probably did.
“How close were you two?” I asked.
“Colleagues, nothing more. Hardly even friends.”
Gabriel drummed on the table with his fingers, another
whenever he lied. I felt confident that Sonia Reyes had been one of his conquests or vice versa.
“You don`t mind, do you?” he asked Deming.
Deming’s handsome face was impossible to read. “Totally up to my wife,” he said, patting my hand.
It was absolutely up to me, and I had no problem making a choice.
“I couldn`t dream of interfering,” I said, “but I’m sure you`ll work things out.”
Deming rose and extended his hand. “Nice seeing you, Mann. Good luck with that.”