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Authors: Christie Ridgway

Do Not Disturb

BOOK: Do Not Disturb
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Christie Ridgway
DO NOT DISTURB

For Marlene and Jasper DiGiovanni,
my Tante and Uncle Jay,
who always made me feel loved and special

Contents

Prologue

“He's dead.” Angel Buchanan stared at the television mounted above…

Chapter 1

Inside Carmel, California's largest church, the unseasonal early September heat…

Chapter 2

Angel knew Cooper Jones—Katie Whitney's uncle—was stalking her.

Chapter 3

Angel thought Cooper Jones was about to have a heart…

Chapter 4

Angel lay on the skinny but surprisingly comfortable bed and…

Chapter 5

Judd paused in Beth's foyer, still somewhat hesitant to follow…

Chapter 6

The next morning, Cooper was standing at the breakfast buffet…

Chapter 7

For her meeting with Stephen Whitney's widow, her first actual…

Chapter 8

Judd had just settled into his chair at Beth's kitchen…

Chapter 9

Yes, dessert, Cooper thought, as Angel's mouth softened beneath his.

Chapter 10

Thank goodness Katie did not appear the least bit teary-eyed…

Chapter 11

It was nearly night, but Cooper could see Angel's eyes…

Chapter 12

The night was hot and dark and so was Cooper's…

Chapter 13

“Cooper borrowed a wineglass from me last night.”

Chapter 14

Two days later, Angel lay stretched on a blanket in…

Chapter 15

His mood at a boiling point, Cooper dragged Angel down…

Chapter 16

Judd was crouching beside the rosemary bush outside Tranquility House's…

Chapter 17

The walk back to the retreat didn't smooth out Angel's…

Chapter 18

Judd found Beth in her kitchen. He didn't bother ringing…

Chapter 19

Angel couldn't let it end like this.

Chapter 20

Cooper's gaze shot from Angel to the road behind her.

Epilogue

Angel hurried through the crowd in the bar at the…

“He's dead.” Angel Buchanan stared at the television mounted above the bar. Her whole body sagged, her high-heeled foot slid off the rung of her tall stool. “He's
dead
.”

“Huh?” Angel's intern-assistant paused in the act of wiggling her own stool closer to the marble-topped cocktail table where the pair were sitting and glanced up. Her gaze followed Angel's over the heads of Ça Va's noisy postwork crowd to the news ticker creeping across the TV screen. “Oh. That ‘Artist of the Heart' guy. So?”

Angel didn't answer. Instead she gripped the solid table edge to anchor herself as the chatter of the restaurant's upscale clientele, and even the presence of her curious intern, receded. Her eyes tracked the crawl.

Stephen Whitney, the self-dubbed “Artist of the Heart,” had been hit by a truck while walking in the
predawn dark. Though it was clearly an accident, the famous painter was dead all the same. A memorial service was scheduled for the following week in Carmel, California, near the place where the artist had lived for the last twenty years.

“Twenty-
three
years,” Angel muttered, correcting the newscaster.

Already the holy and the holier-than-thou were weighing in on the loss of one of America's “great visionaries.” One claimed that not only had Whitney's paintings celebrated home and family, but so had the way he lived his life. Both the National Choral Ensemble of the Baptist Church and the Harlem Boy's Choir had promised to sing at the memorial service. A representative from the White House was planning to attend. The public was “stunned” and “saddened.”

Angel didn't know what to call the ball of emotion suddenly expanding inside of her.

“She's here,” the intern hissed in her ear. “Miss Marshall's coming this way.”

Despite the warning, it still took a sharp elbow jab to jolt Angel's attention back to the present. San Francisco. The popular Ça Va Restaurant. That she was here as a writer for
West Coast
magazine because her latest story needed Julie Marshall's reaction to the fact that her boss was a two-faced charlatan who had swindled investors in a classic Ponzi scheme.

The thin, fiftyish Miss Marshall was settling on the barstool across the table. She looked at Angel with anxious eyes. “I know something's wrong, Ms. Buchanan. Something about Paul. What is it?”

Angel's gaze flicked back to the TV, that unnameable
emotion roiling again in her belly. Something was wrong, all right. The world was getting ready to beatify Stephen Whitney, the man who Angel knew was no saint.

Later, though. She'd have to think about that later.

She forced herself to refocus on Miss Marshall. Though Angel knew from a previous interview that the older woman was head-over-girdle in love with her boss, she wouldn't let anything as useless as a soft heart soft-pedal the bad news. In her experience, the baldest truth was always healthier than the most handsome lie.

“It
is
about Mr. Roth,” Angel began, slipping her hand inside her purse to bring out the wad of tissues she'd stuffed there before leaving the office. “You told me last week that you believe he's innocent and that your house is on the market to pay for his defense. But I found evidence during my investigation…”

“Wh-what are you saying?” The older lady's voice trembled.

“I followed the paper trail.” Angel placed the tissue wad on the tabletop and pushed it forward. “He bilked all those investors, every one, including your mother's church circle. Don't sell your home for him.”

The lady licked her pale lips. “Perhaps…perhaps you're mistaken?”

God, why did women do something so foolish—dangerous, even—as putting their faith in a man?
Shaking her head, Angel gave the tissue wad another nudge across the table. “He isn't the man you think he is.”

Her hand closing around the tissues, Miss Marshall slowly, ever so slowly, rose to her feet.

Swallowing, Angel stood too.
Here it comes
, she thought, steeling herself for the sick panic she always felt when a woman cried.

The older lady sucked in a sharp breath. Then her eyes narrowed. “That bastard!” she spit out.

Angel stared.

“That slimy, lying bastard!” Instead of tears, Miss Marshall's pale eyes were filling with something else, something that looked a lot like that emotion coiling and writhing inside Angel herself.

“Promise me it will all come out in your article,” Miss Marshall demanded. “Promise me that the whole world will know the kind of man Paul Roth is.”

“I always tell the whole story,” Angel assured her.

“Good.” There were spots of color on the woman's cheeks. “I thought, we all thought, he could do no wrong. The world should know the truth about men like that!”

Before Angel could say any more, a waiter paused at Miss Marshall's side, the small tray balanced on his palm crowded with martinis and highball glasses. “Ladies, I'll be with you in just a moment.”

The older woman rounded on him. Angel guessed it happened because the poor guy did bear a slight resemblance to Paul Roth, the “rat-faced, smarmy-smiling, hell-bound seducer of hearts” that had done Miss Marshall wrong. Whatever the reason, following that damning pronouncement, the betrayed woman threw down the tissues and lifted a martini glass off the waiter's tray to dash the contents into the unsuspecting man's face.

Then she stormed away.

Not until Angel handed over that wad of tissues and a massive tip to the dripping waiter did she finally put a name to the emotion that had been radiating off the older woman. It was outrage. And Angel recognized it as the same feeling burning inside of her at the idea that Stephen Whitney would be remembered as a noble family man. A hero.

But she didn't devise a plan of action until later, after she'd returned home to her apartment, her dry cleaning in one hand and a tiny bag of groceries in the other. Outside her door, she dropped them both when her neighbor's oversized cat, Tom Jones, demanded his customary belly rub.

Of course, the instant another set of footsteps sounded on the stairs, the philanderer abandoned her.

Isn't that just like a male
.

With a sigh, Angel walked into her apartment and immediately crossed to the TV, filling the silence with the voice of the evening anchor on the all-day, all-news channel. Now she learned that even more were mourning the “upstanding” Stephen Whitney, whose paintings “captured so many precious moments of the American family experience.”

The flames of that hot, angry emotion inside Angel leaped higher.
They're wrong, all wrong!

The upstanding Stephen Whitney, who the world thought knew so much about family, was the same man who'd fathered Angel…and then forgotten her. It was then that Miss Marshall's exhortation blazed in Angel's mind.

The world should know the truth about men like that
.

Inside Carmel, California's largest church, the unseasonal early September heat opened the pores of the one-thousand-plus gathered for Stephen Whitney's memorial service. The mingled scents of deodorant, aftershave, hairspray, and perfume rose above the crowd to hang like a thick cloud over the pews, making each of Angel's breaths a struggle.

Add to the cloying humidity yet another piercing
Hallelujah!,
followed by the droning voice of yet another moralistic muckety-muck at the podium, and Angel wondered if she'd made the short drop to her own personal hell instead of the short drive from San Francisco. Her scalp itched beneath her broad-brimmed black straw hat. She pressed the fingertips of her black cotton gloves to her upper lip to blot the moisture gathering there.

She needed air.

She needed out.

But she could hardly retreat now.

Not after pitching the idea of an in-depth profile on Stephen Whitney in such winning tones to her editor, Jane Hurley. Not after following that up with an interoffice e-mail inquiring if Jane had any contacts that might be helpful.

Jane herself proved to be that—Angel had counted on it. While her editor was the woman who had turned
West Coast
magazine from a monthly filled with decorating tips and regional recipes into a nationally read and respected political and cultural journal, she was also Hearst-rich and maintained a second home on the famed Seventeen Mile Drive. So thanks to Jane, Angel had scored one of the scarce press passes to this memorial service, and her name was on the short list of guests for a much more private ceremony taking place later that day.

Nevertheless, Angel couldn't quash her serious second thoughts about digging into Stephen Whitney's life. In the past, she'd made it her mission to ignore anything having to do with the “Artist of the Heart,” just as he'd ignored her when she'd so desperately needed him. Maybe she shouldn't—

Oh, stop being such a sissy,
the journalist inside her interrupted,
there's good stuff here
.
A story worth telling
.

But even as another choral ensemble trooped up to the front of the church, Angel continued to waffle. So she settled her latest dilemma the same way she'd settled nearly all of them since she was a lonely twelve-year-old hooked on the video of
All the President's Men.

WWWD?
Angel asked herself.
What Would Woodward Do?

And the answer was obvious, of course. Woodward would work the story.

Without delay.

Inhaling a deep breath, she glanced left and appraised the person nearest her in the second-to-the-last pew. Middle-aged lady, politely interested expression, quiet mauve suit. A likely source for some basic info.

Abandoning her niche at the outside corner of the pew, Angel slid closer. The filmy chiffon overlay of her sleeveless, little black dress floated up around her knees and she settled it back down before catching the lady's eye.

“Excuse me,” she murmured. One of the very few things Angel knew about the artist was that he'd married. “I wonder if you could point out the widow.”

Ms. Mauve took her time giving a less-than-neighborly once-over, which made Angel sorry she'd tucked her hair beneath her hat. She had yards of the curly blond stuff, and though it was a real pain to manage, it did take ten years off her age.
That
was a real blessing in the news-gathering biz, because people tended to trust those who looked more vulnerable than they.

It was another long moment before the woman finally spoke. “Stephen Whitney,” she said in a biting whisper, “didn't believe in black.”

Angel glanced down at her dark dress. “Oh.” That explained why she was the lone beetle among the throng of butterflies in the room. She'd thought it was the heat that had everyone wearing pastels. “How, uh…colorful of him.”

When her comment did nothing to endear her to Ms. Mauve, Angel gave up and slid back toward her cor
ner. But instead of the outside of her right leg finding the inside edge of the wooden pew, it found the long, hard thigh of a man.

“Oh!” Angel exclaimed again, scooting away to stare at the person who had invaded her corner when she wasn't looking. “Pardon me.”

He glanced at her. Well, she supposed he did. It was hard to tell exactly
what
he was looking at when his eyes were hidden behind the dark lenses of Armani sunglasses.

“Don't mention it,” he said in a low voice, his attention returning forward.

For some odd reason, Angel's attention stayed on him. He must have known Stephen Whitney better than she, because the man beside her was dressed in a butter-yellow linen shirt and a light olive suit. Both the suit and the shirt looked a little too big on him. He was very tan—oh, like, for sure, the tan, the expensive suit, and those fancy shades just screamed Malibu Beach—and his shiny dark hair untidily brushed his collar in an I-don't-give-a-damn sort of way.

As if sensing her continued regard, he turned his head her way again.

A sharp jolt of something—something like…like…uh, recognition?—straightened her in her seat and stirred a sexy little tickle low in her belly. Angel barely suppressed the sudden urge to squirm against the wooden bench as her hormones said,
Hell-o! You gotta check this guy out!

But then, thank God, in dour, sensible tones, her head reminded the rest of her they were at a funeral. Stephen Whitney's funeral.

Feeling an embarrassed flush rising up her neck, she tried glossing over the awkward moment with a warm smile. It rarely failed to disarm men, because to go along with that curly mess of hair she had one of those skinny, frail-looking bodies too. Despite nature, despite nurture, the whole package just oozed take-care-of-me innocence.

“Did you want something?” he asked.

“Uh…well…”
Why not?
She always figured that if she had to go through life looking like a creature who needed a knight in shining armor, she might as well get something out of it. “Perhaps you
could
help me out,” she said softly, inching closer.

He edged away.

Hmmm
. Angel turned down the wattage this time, but gave him another of her unsullied smiles. “Don't worry, it's just a little thing.”

“The Vice President is about to speak.” Sunglasses Man had a husky whisper that set her scalp prickling again.

Ignoring the sensation, Angel gave a tiny shrug.

“The Vice President of the United States,” he clarified, nodding toward the front of the church.

Though she kept her bottom glued to the pew in order not to spook Sunglasses, she leaned confidingly close. “I haven't listened to him since he ordered plastic pasties and weatherproof fig leaves for the nude statuary in the White House garden.”

When she saw Sunglasses' lips twitch, she knew she had him. She smiled again. “I just wondered if you could point out Mrs. Whitney.”

“Excuse me?”

Uh-oh,
Angel thought, her smile dying. His wasn't one of those innocuous I-didn't-quite-hear-you excuse me's. Instead, it smacked of the protective, guard-going-up, excuse-me-why-the-hell-do-you-want-to-know sort. Worse, Angel had taken a crash course in smelling trouble when she was five years old and all at once her nose was twitching at the scent.

Making a quick, dismissive gesture with one hand, she slid as far away from the mystery man as the crowded pew would allow. The move accidentally jostled Ms. Mauve's elbow and the lady took the opportunity to slice Angel with a glare, adding a hissing “Shh!” for good measure.

She had to force herself not to cringe. With hostility on her right and suspicion on her left, those second thoughts from before swiftly returned for a third, fourth, and fifth round.

You're a journalist,
she reminded herself.
And so, accustomed to being the unwanted guest
. It was no big deal. All she had to do was stay neutral. Dispassionate. Detached.

But Angel didn't bother scouting the church for the Whitney widow, or even attempt another mental pep talk. As the virtues of the artist continued to be extolled from the podium, she found herself hugging her elbows against her ribs, trying to become as small as possible in the hot, suffocating atmosphere.

Eventually, though, the final sanctimonious speaker wound down. There was more singing, an orgasmic organ chord or two, and then, without warning, the
church went dark. In the next instant, a close-up photograph flashed onto a huge screen. A man's face, framed by gray-blond, lionine hair, took over the room.

Stephen Whitney.

It was as if a hand had found Angel's throat and squeezed. Erupting from her seat, she didn't think of anything but getting that air. Of getting out. Somehow she scuttled over Sunglasses' knees and then bounded toward a narrow side door. As she pulled it open, another body joined hers and they burst into the sunlight shoulder to shoulder.

As the door swung silently shut behind them, Angel sucked in several long breaths of fresh air. Then she glanced over at her fellow escapee. It was a teenager, her dark hair in one of those ballerina-buns that young girls favored. She had on a light blue cotton sweater set and a matching teensy-weensy skirt that high schoolers always wore with chunky shoes.

“Stuffy in there, huh?” Angel said, feeling a thousand times stronger now that she was outside, more than strong enough to feel sorry for the kid someone had dragged to such an event. “Not just the air, but all those old white men talking at the podium. I wish I had an M&M for every time I heard the phrase ‘American values.'”

The girl's eyes widened. A single note of laughter bubbled out of her, then she clapped her hand over her mouth.

Angel felt sorry for the kid all over again. To her mind, a little irreverence was as necessary to survival as venti lattes, juicy half-pound hamburgers, and quest-for-justice movie marathons on the Lifetime channel.

She gave a wondering shake of her head. “And what do you think about that boys' choir? I know they say their voices will change with puberty, but have you ever met even a
little
boy with a voice that high? I'm thinking there are girls under those coats and ties.”

The teenager choked off another laugh. “You don't really believe that.”

Angel's spirits lifted higher with the simple task of lifting someone else's. Smiling, she shrugged. “It's possible.”

She should know.

The girl released another half-laugh, then looked around guiltily.

Poor thing,
Angel thought,
her folks should have left her at home.
“Go ahead, hon, it's all right. You're not dead.”

The teen's eyes focused over Angel's shoulder, then widened. Angel felt a sharp kick of awareness, then her nose twitched, itching at that unmistakable sense of trouble. She didn't turn around—or move, for that matter.

She didn't need to, because she already knew who was behind her. His voice confirmed it. Even though he wasn't whispering now, she recognized the voice of Sunglasses Man.

“Your mother's looking for you, Katie,” he said. “We have to get going.”

The teenager—Katie—bobbed her head. “All right.”

The girl brushed past. It was then that Angel finally turned, steeling herself to meet the man's suspicious gaze, eyeballs to eyeglasses. But he was looking down at Katie instead, easy-to-read love on his face.

Angel breathed easier. Then Katie looked over. “This
is my uncle, Cooper Jones,” the girl offered. “And I'm Katie. Stephen Whitney's daughter, Caitlyn.”

Whitney
. Stephen Whitney's daughter. His other daughter.

Stunned, it was autopilot that had Angel shaking the slender hand that was proffered.
Damn, damn, damn, damn,
she scolded herself. If she hadn't been such an ostrich about the artist, she would have known that as well as being married, he'd fathered another daughter.

“I'm…” Angel's mind whirled through all the names she'd used in her lifetime. The identity she'd inexplicably chosen for herself when she was fourteen years old didn't immediately present itself.

“Let's hurry, Katie,” the girl's uncle—he must be the brother of Katie's mother—urged. “The family limousine is out front.”

With a farewell nod to Angel, the girl hurried away. The man turned to follow, but then he paused to cast one dark-lensed, enigmatic look over his shoulder.

Angel couldn't miss it, because she couldn't take her eyes off the both of them. The uncle. The girl, especially the girl. Katie
Whitney
. Stephen's daughter, going to take her place in the family limousine.

After a few more minutes absorbing her surprise, Angel took off toward her own car. There was no turning back now. She
had
to find out—find out everything about the man who hadn't bothered with her since she was four years old.

The world should know the truth about men like that
.

BOOK: Do Not Disturb
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