Lady Killer

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Silverston, Nevada

It was true, Trish Garrett told herself in the final moments of her life. Unlike Maddy--dear, vulnerable Maddy--she had never ben given to self-examination. Trish could even say her existence was driven by vanity. But it was true, ane the fact astonished her. Everything flashes before your eyes.

Behind her, she could feel the close presence of her enemy. How streange, she thought, to die in these fragrant green woods near th erough-hewn mountains, the peaceful town she had come to call home, not far from her beginnings.

Perhaps it didn't matter. Her career was over too. There would be no more photoflashes, no more posing for the cameras. No more sinuous walks down a runway in Paris or New York. No more adulation from the public or the press. No more money.

She knew that.

Still, it was hard to accept. Like death, she didn't know how to escape it.

"Keep walkig," said the voice at her back.

Trish realized she was resigned to dying. Maddy, she thought again. We were such good friends until...She pictures Will's handsome face. I loved you once, too. But there was no way to make him believe her either. Their divorce had ended that, as her life would end, without saying good-bye.

Now, time had run out.

"Stop here." The voice breathed harshly in her ear. "I regret this, you know. If you hadn't pried into things that don't concern you..."

"Please," she whispered, knowing her protest was futile.

"Brave girl. Don't be afraid."

The sympathetic tone, surely fase, didn't reassure her, and at the same time a hard shove caught the backs of her knees. They buckled, sending her down into the needle-strewn forest floor. Trish cried out as a sharp twig bit into her flesh, but she had no time for tears. It was finished. From behind again, she felt the first hard blow, and in that instant the words seemed almost fitting. She deciced they were also true.

"There are worst things than dying."

Then, blissfully, she felt nothing.

Chapter 1

The next morning

"Maddie, it's me. Don't hang up."

The familiar male voice on the ohter end of the line caused her pulse to jerk then ound, and Madison Hayward tightened her grip on the phone. William Garrett. Her predictable reaction came as no suprise--just good, old Pavlovian response--but she'd hoped she was over that. Furious with herself, yet glad to be standing at her desk with miles of fiber optics between them like a barricade, she counted to ten, then twenty. She didn't want to chat with Trish's ex-husband...her own ex-lover, and Maddy poised one index finger above the disconnect button.

"What do you want, Garrett?"

She had no time for this. For him. Maddy had been out of town the past few days and needed to catch up. There was voice mail waiting, email, a memo from her boss... Then it occurred to her that Will still lived in Chicago too, mere miles from her comfortable office and her professional niche at Berwick, Fenton & Haines, one of the area's most prestigious insurance companies. He could be as in-your-face as Maddy herself. If she didn't deal with him now, he might show up in her office.

Maddie closed her eyes against a flood of memories, too many of them concerning Will, and guessed she wouldn't like whatever he had to tell her. That was nothing new, either. William Garrett and bad news, for Maddy, went together like smoking and emphysema on the actuarial tables. What was it this time? A reconciliation between him and Trish? The thought sent her pulse soaring. Or, no—and what a crazy nothing this was—maybe since the divorce he hoped to start up with her again. She opened her eyes, banishing the image of his sunlit hair and liquid brown eyes, his lean, strong body. Another go-round with Will, another betrayal of Maddy's trust? No way. Not even for that sensual mouth of his, that smile. If he didn't enlighten her within fifteen seconds, she would hang up.

His voice sounded husky. His taut tone matched her own girm mood.

"There's no easy way to say this, Maddy. I hope you're sitting down."

"Just get to the point, Wil--"

"Trish is dead."

She'd asked for it, but with the abrupt statement, her own heart stopped for a second. The world went cold, utterly silent, and Maddy sank on to her chair. Oh, dear God. Then all around her, like a shock wave, shattering sound seemed to explode. She heard the far-off bleat of taxi horns, a siren wailing along MIchigan Avenue thirty-three stories below. From the anteroom to her office, through the closed door, her secretary's computer keys tapped loud enough to make Maddy's ears quiver. She could hear Will's breathing, the ragged rush of air in and out of his lungs, and then her own pulse thumping again. Flub-dub, fub-dub. It sounded steady but too strong, steady and alive, while Trish...

Maddy heard about death every day—strangers' deaths—and her first inclination was to run through her mental file of Trish like the good insurance investigator she was. She and Trish hadn't parted as friends but Trish couldn't be...

"Gone," he said when she didn't respond. "Out of my life. Just what I always wanted—at lesat for the past three years. Isn't that what you wre thinkking? Well, now it's happened, under the heading: Be careful what you wish for. Hell," he said, his voice breaking, "I never wanted this.

Unable to think straight, she inhaled a shaky breath. His obvious despair cut through Maddy's first shock, and at least she found her voice.

"Where are you calling from ?"
"Tahoe," he said. "I'm here in Silverston with Cait."

Poor little girl. Caitlin was his child, and Trish's. How old was she now? Four, five? Maddy couldn't remember, but she needed the calm rationality of facts, the precise order they brought to chaos, and—because this was Trish and they had cared about each other once—to heartache. She couldn't function otherwise. Not now, she thought, and felt herself shiver as if Trish's chill hand had passed over her.

"When did it happen?"

"Yesterday, apparently. The autopsy report's not in yet so I can't be sure."

Maddy frowned. She'd never heard him rattled before, never hesitant. He tended to speak his mind, to make snap judgments, to act while Maddy pondered and analyzed, sometimes to the point of emotional paralysis. She admitted that. But Will Garrett, shaken? Her first assumption had been a automobile wreck. Trish was too young to join more than a few other kinds of actuarial statistics, and Maddy envisioned her car—shiny, and brand-new of course—hitting a patch of black ice, sliding out of control on some treacherous mountain road ouside Reno. Would it freeze this early in Tahoe? Freeze at all there?

"Why would they do an autopsy for an accient?"

He answered curtly, and then, as Maddy had been tempted to, hung up, leaving her to dealwith the dreadful truth, as she always did, alone.

"No accident. I thought you'd want to know. Someone killed her, Maddy."


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