Authors: Eileen; Goudge
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Praise for the Writing of Eileen Goudge
“Eileen Goudge writes like a house on fire, creating characters you come to love and hate to leave.”
âNora Roberts, #1 New York Timesâbestselling author
“Once you start this wonderful book, you won't be able to put it down.”
New York Times
“Beautifully intertwines â¦ two stories, two generations â¦ [Goudge's] characters are appealing both despite of and because of their problems.”
“Eileen Goudge has crafted a beautiful tale of loss, redemption and hope.
Woman in Red
is a masterpiece.”
New York Times
“Powerful, juicy reading.”
San Jose Mercury News
“A lovely book, tender, poignant and touching. It was a joy to read.”
New York Times
“A page-turner â¦ with plenty of steamy sex.”
“Goes down like a cool drink on a hot day.”
“Enlightening and entertaining.”
The Plain Dealer
“Double-dipped passion â¦ in a glamorous, cut-throat world â¦ Irresistible.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Goudge's adroit handling of sex and love should keep her legion of fans well-sated.”
“This novel is the ultimate indulgenceâdramatic, involving, and ringing with emotional truth.”
New York Times
“Romance, both old and new, abounds. Fans of Goudge's previous books, romance readers, and lovers of family sagas will enjoy the plot, characters, and resolution.”
“A touching story with wide appeal.”
To Karen, my sister in life and in crime
In my line of work, surprises are never good. That's why, as I'm unlocking the door to the Mediterranean-style beachfront villa on Sand Dollar Lane, I freeze at the sound of movement from inside. It's midmorning, so I'm not expecting company. My last guests checked out yesterday, and the next one isn't due until later today. Whoever they are, they have no business being here.
Suddenly, I'm wide awake, where a minute ago I'd been yawning after another late-night Skype session with my boyfriend. I lower my black Tumi messenger bag and the wicker basket laden with goodies that I'm toting onto the Saltillo-tiled porch. I bend down and pull out my iPad and the .38-caliber Smith and Wesson I'm licensed to carry. I slide the revolver into the waistband of my size-ten Jag jeans. I use the iPad to access the Excel spreadsheet in which I keep track of arrival and departure dates and the maintenance and houseÂkeeping schedules at the dozen properties I manage.
Casa Blanca, in the exclusive gated community of Casa Linda Estates, is the largest and most luxe of my vacation rentals. It sleeps fifteen, so bookings to date have been large parties. The current one is my first single. Also, my first celebrity guest. I consult the spreadsheet, which shows her arriving today, June 1, well after the 3 p.m. check-in time. I return the iPad to my bag. Now the only sound is that of breaking waves from the beach below. The noise I'd heard a minute ago was probably nothing, a mouse skittering or a breeze blowing through a window that had been left open a crack. I tend to spook easily, a holdover from my near death at the hands of an assailant last summer. Now, anytime I hear a car backfire, I think it's a gunshot. So I keep my gun on me just in case and ease the door open as I enter.
No sooner do I step inside does it come flying at me like a projectile-vomited hairball, startling me into almost dropping the basket. A blur of black-and-tan fur materializes into a small dog, a Yorkshire terrier I see when it launches itself at me, pawing at my pant leg and yapping maniacally. I recognize it from the cover story on Delilah Ward in the current issue of
magazine. There's a photo of the dog curled on her lap, wearing the same rhinestone-studded collar.
The bitch has arrived. And I don't mean the dog.
I knew she would be trouble from my dealings with her personal assistant, Brianna Sweeny, a scarily efficient young woman with whom I'd spoken over the phone. I'd envisioned Brianna as the secretarial equivalent of a hired gun, packing weaponry in the form of a laptop and multiple handhelds synced to a Bluetooth device glowing evilly in her ear as she bedeviled me with her employer's endless list of requirements, which included her desired brand of toilet paper (Quilted Northern), pillow (down, medium-firm), and coffeemaker (a Jura Capresso I'd had to order from Williams-Sonoma to replace the Mr. Coffee). To add insult to injury, Brianna had told me I was expected to sign a legal document agreeing not to reveal the location of Miss Ward or so much as breathe her name. I almost called it quits at that point, but in the end I couldn't refuse. I owed it to my clients, the Blankenships. The booking was through the end of August, which amounted to a tidy sum.
After payment had been made in full, I emailed the set of instructions with passcodes for the key lockbox and house alarm. Standard operating procedure. I expect guests to show me the courtesy of arriving and departing on schedule. Occasionally, there's overlap at either end, but never had a guest shown up an entire day in advance. Why hadn't Brianna or her boss requested an early check-in? Did they think I existed solely to serve at the whim of Her Royal Highness?
I shake the Yorkie loose from my leg. “Down, Cujo. I come in peace.” My soothing tone has no effect. He continues to boing up and down like a kid in a bouncy castle, barking his furry little head off.
Normally, I carry treats in my pocketâdogs frequently mistake me for an intruder, an occupational hazardâbut I'm fresh out on account of the Rottweiler that nearly took a chunk out of my leg at the Andersons' Cape Cod on Cliff Street earlier in the day. At the moment, however, I'm less concerned with any threat posed by Cujo's Mini Me than I am with the beeping sound emanating from the alarm console. I dart over and punch in the passcode, breathing a sigh of relief when the blinking light goes from red to green. The last thing I need is for the cops to show. As it is, I'm on thin ice with Detective Breedlove after my arrest for breaking and entering last summer. (I'd been after clues in my mom's murder investigation, not valuables, but try telling him that.) But that shouldn't have surprised me given our history. When you've lived in a small town your entire life, you don't need class reunions to remind you of bad shit that happened way back whenâyour former classmates are the folks with whom you do business or serve on committees or vote for (or against) in local elections. Or, as in my case, who are arresting you.
“Hello! Anyone home?” I call in my loudest voice. No answer. She must have stepped out. Fine. I'll leave the goodie basket and be on my way. Filled with locally sourced comestiblesâcoffee beans from the Daily Grind, blueberry muffins from Paradise Bakery, a selection of cheeses from Fog City Dairyâthe basket is my way of welcoming new guests, and I make sure it's the first thing to greet them when they arrive. The bottle of Bonny Doon chardonnay I normally provide is the only item missing from this one. I don't want to tempt Delilah, who is fresh out of rehab, into falling off the wagon. From the stories I hear in AA, I know that it's a short fall.
I head deeper into the house, Mini Me trotting docilely at my heels, having apparently decided I'm friend and not foe. I'm nearing the end of the hallway when I spot a figure lurking in the shadows up ahead. I let out a yelp before I realize it isn't human. It's a foam-core cutout of Delilah, part of a freestanding lobby display advertising her soon-to-be-released action flick,
. I gaze upon her doppelgÃ¤ngerâsultry eyed and pouty lipped, butter-Âblond tresses blown back as if by hurricane windsâand wonder if she could possibly be that gorgeous in person.
She's more than a pretty face. From humble beginningsâshe grew up in foster careâDelilah Ward skyrocketed to fame at age nineteen with the low-budget slasher flick
They Come Out at Night
, which grossed over two hundred million worldwide and went on to become a cult classic. She costarred in several more pictures after that, before her life and career were derailed by personal tragedy. Ten months ago, she lost her husband, former stuntman Eric Nyland, when his private plane went down in the ocean off Catalina Island. She went into seclusion following reports of a breakdown, resurfacing a couple months later to confirm in a press conference that she had been in rehab, after the tabloids ran a blurry shot of her outside the Betty Ford Center. Since then, she'd gone on to make another picture. Now she's here in Cypress Bay, where her next picture is being filmed.
It's a big deal in our small community. Excitement has been building since the film crew set up camp along the coast twenty miles north of town. Our sleepy Northern California seaside town hasn't seen this much buzz since Brad and Angelina were here to look at a property a few years back.
I step from the hallway into the great room. Usually, the ocean view showcased by twelve-foot floor-to-ceiling windows is the first thing I notice when I walk in. But that's not what draws my attention now. I come to an abrupt halt and look around in disbelief. The room is in shambles. Dirty plates and glasses litter every surface. Cigarette butts overflow from saucers used as makeshift ashtraysânever mind this is a nonsmoking residence. A red-wine stain mars a fawn sofa cushion, and the residue of white powder on the glass surface of the wrought-iron coffee table tells me booze wasn't the only substance abused. Delilah Ward didn't just arrive a day early; she partied all night.
I've spilled more alcohol than the average person drinks in a lifetime, so normally I don't judge. I've been sober four years but still have dreams from which I awake disoriented and drenched in sweat, wondering where I was the night before and who I had sex with, verbally abused, or inflicted bodily harm to. But this is beyond the pale. Typical of a drunk, Delilah has trashed the place when she wasn't even supposed to be here.
I make my way into the open-plan kitchen where the granite countertops and butcher-block island are awash with empties and half-eaten deli platters. There's wet garbage in the recycling bin and, inexplicably, a man's wallet. The soles of my sneakers stick to the tiled floor where spills had been left to dry. My disgust mounts as I move from room to room surveying the wreckage that extends throughout the house. The master bedroom looks like the postâHurricane Katrina New Orleans Astrodome, bedcovers torn apart and the cream carpet strewn with items of clothing. Beer bottles sit in pools of moisture on the cherry night tables. Towels are heaped on the travertine floor of the en suite bathroom, and in one of the double sinks, an upended container spills lavender-scented lotion. A close look shows it to be from the set of Molton Brown toiletries I'd supplied upon Delilah's request. I'm mad enough to wring her pretty little neck.
Mini Me whines piteously as if to say,
It wasn't me.
I'm bending to give him a reassuring pat when I see what he left on the Turkish runner in the hallway. “Bitch,” I growl. “Not you,” I say when the Yorkie yips in response. It's not his fault that his owner didn't let him out to do his business.
I so do not need this. I have two more stops on my morning rounds, one of which involves an ant invasion, the other a dead tree limb. I could leave this for Esmeralda, my housecleaner who was hired by Delilah to come in every day, but I don't. With a sigh, I push up the sleeves of my turquoise Hang Ten Surf Shop sweatshirt to tackle the worst of the mess. I'm itching to phone Briannaâher Bluetooth device will be buzzing like an angry hornet in her ear when I doâbut it can wait.
Dripping with sweat, I dump the last of the three large garbage bags I've filled in the trash bins. I'm heading out the door when I remember the goodie basket that I left on the kitchen counter. I retrace my steps, mentally scratching out the words
Compliments of the Management
on the handwritten card tucked inside and substituting
as I retrieve it.
I'd sooner give it to a stranger on the street.
If I were nicer, I'd cut Delilah some slack, if only because she was recently widowed. But I'm not nice, so to hell with it. I'm headed to my SUV with the basket tucked under my arm when a midnight-blue Lexus sports coupe pulls into the driveway. A blond woman, dressed in short-shorts and a tank top, climbs from the driver's side. A jolt of recognition has me halting in my tracks. I stare at her as she walks toward me. Even with the huge designer sunglasses that partially cover her face, I instantly know whoâor rather whatâI'm looking at.
The supernova that is Delilah Ward.
that gorgeous in person. Slender and perfectly proportioned, she has legs that go on forever and boobs that bounce in a way that tells me they're not the store-bought kind. Her hair is naturally blondâI know from the pictures I've seen of her as a childâand falls in loose curls around her shoulders. If someone told me she was from another planet, it would make sense. A planet where there is no such thing as cellulite, and you can party hard without appearing the least bit hungover the morning after.
She smiles, dazzling me with the whiteness of her teeth as she extends her hand to shake mine. “Hi, I'm Delilah! And you must be â¦” She frowns as though trying to remember my name.
“Tish.” It's short for Leticia, my grandmother's name. It's a moment before I remember I'm mad at the woman with whom I'm shaking hands. “I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow.”
“Oh, God.” Her smile gives way to a rueful grimace. “I knew I was forgetting something. I promised Brianna I'd call and it totally slipped my mind. Karol”âshe names the director of the pictureâ“wanted us to meet to go over some script changes, so I flew in a day early. I'm sorry. My bad.” Her gaze drops to the goodie basket. “For me? Oh, now I feel even worse. I'm such an idiot!”
“It happens.” I can overlook the fact that she failed to inform me of her change in plans, which seems minor compared to her having trashed the place. “But I have to charge you for the extra day.”
“No problem. I'll have Brianna take care of it,” she says blithely.
“There's something else we need to discuss.” I say, adopting a firmer tone.
She pushes her sunglasses onto her head. Her eyes are the blue of a tropical lagoon fringed with dark lashes. I become transfixed as I gaze into them. “Is this about the neighbor lady who complained? She calmed down after I explained we were rehearsing. I'm surprised she said anything.”
Mrs. Cooley is the closest neighbor. She's in her eighties and hard of hearing, so it was more than loud talking if she'd called to complain. “From the looks of it, you were doing more than rehearsing.”
“Oh. Right. About that,” she says, catching my meaning. “I was going to tidy up, but it was late by the time everyone left, and â¦” She trails off at the stony look on my face, and I brace myself for a blast of who-do-you-think-you-are star displeasure. But she smiles instead, a dimple forming in one cheekâthe dimple that fixed her place in the Hollywood firmament from frame one. “I bet you think I'm one of those Hollywood types. I'm not, I promise. I'm usually very considerate.”
I soften toward her. “Well, you might want to review the rental agreement. I wouldn't want your stay spoiled by any â¦ unpleasantness. Also, keep in mind the housekeeper, Esmeralda, works a tight schedule. If you need full-time help, I can recommend a service.”
Delilah waves her hand in an airy gesture, the diamond engagement ring she wears on her right hand, signifying her widowhood, flashing in the sunlight. “That won't be necessary. I can manage. Between you and me”âshe drops her voice to confideâ“I'm no stranger to scrubbing toilets.”