What the Lady Wants


Page 15 of 19


"They all have holes." Mae slumped back against the pillows.

"I'd complain to your druggist." Mitch scooped up the last of the packets and leaned over Mae to toss them on the table. Since he was there, he bent to kiss her on the neck.

"They were Armand's."

Mitch jerked his head back. "What?"

"They were in the box we found the key in. There were dozens of them, remember?"

Mitch hesitated and then nudged her hip with his. "Come on. Let's go look at the rest of them."

"Now?" Mae said, but he was already bending over her, reaching for his pants.

Every condom in the box had a hole in it.

"What good would it do for Armand to get Stormy pregnant?" Mae asked Mitch where he sat next to her on the floor of Armand's bedroom.

"It could be Stormy poking holes, you know." Mitch tossed the last condom back in the box. "Maybe she thought she'd trump Barbara if she had a baby."

"No." Mae's voice was positive. "Armand didn't like kids. The only reason he kept me was to..." Her voice trailed off.

"To keep June," Mitch finished. "Would Armand knock Stormy up to keep her from leaving when he married Barbara?"

"Well, it's low enough for him." Mae sounded doubtful. "I just don't see Armand poking holes in condoms."

"Looks like I need to read another diary. What else is in here that we missed?" Mitch stirred his hand through the items in the box.

Mae yawned. "Mitch, it's the middle of the night. Can we do this in the morning?"

"No. We're going to be too busy making love in the morning." He held up a handful of lip balm sticks. "Your uncle had a bad Chap Stick habit, didn't he?"

"So this is how it ends," Mae said sadly. "One minute making love like crazed animals, the next minute discussing Chap Stick."

Mitch shoved the box away. "I'm a professional, ma'am. My professional instincts have been aroused."

Mae blinked at him, trying hard to look sad and vulnerable. "I liked it better when your other instincts were aroused."

"Fine." Mitch grabbed the back of her robe and yanked her to the floor, rolling on top of her.

"This is good." Mae bit him on the neck.

"No, it isn't." Mitch winced away from her teeth. "The only condoms we have without holes are back in your room." He kissed her once, hard, and then let it melt into a longer, softer, tongue-tangled kiss.

When she spoke again, Mae's voice was a lust-drunken murmur. "Let's go back to my room."

"Whatever you want, Mabel," Mitch said. "Whatever you want."

Mitch woke up the next morning the way he always did: badly. First he struggled to consciousness through the heavy drug of his natural sleep, then he squinted and frowned against the sunlight that filled the room, then he hauled his mind over to the problem of why there was so damn much light in his apartment, then he dealt with the idea that he wasn't in his apartment and then finally, he absorbed the mind-bending fact that Mae's warm, lush body was curved naked against him.

Then he remembered everything, and for the first time in his entire life, Mitch was delighted to be awake. He stretched slowly, trying not to wake Mae, feeling his muscles faintly ache from the athletics of the night before, shivering at the slide of her skin against his. Then he pulled her close to feel her softness squash against him even though he knew it would wake her up.

He wanted her awake, anyway.

She stretched against him, and he enjoyed it, and then she moved her head higher on his shoulder and sighed into his ear, and he enjoyed that, and then her hand trailed down his chest, and he almost passed out from pleasure.

"Good morning," she murmured, and licked her tongue into his ear, and he said, "Mabel, you have no idea how good a morning it's going to be," and pinned her under him.

Then the screaming and shouting started downstairs.

Mitch vaulted out of bed and headed to the door, only to stop when Mae grabbed for him and said, "Wait. You're naked."

"Right." He fumbled for his pants, only momentarily distracted when she flitted by him as she slid on her robe, and then she was looking out the door to see what the shouting was about.

"Stop it," she called down, and there was silence. "Carlo, you sit down until I can get some clothes on. I mean it. Stop it." She slammed the door without waiting for an answer. "You've got to get out of here," she said to Mitch.

Mitch scowled at her. "I am not running away from Carlo."

Mae put her hands on her hips, and Mitch closed his eyes, trying not to think about what great hips she had. "It's not running away, it's saving me from a hassle. I don't want to referee any fight right now. I've got enough troubles." Her eyes went past him, and she froze. "Oh, no!"

"What?" Mitch wheeled around, but all he saw was the worktable with the lamp and Mae's clock.

"I'm late for work." She ran to her closet and started pulling out clothes. "And I need a shower, and I'm not going to get one because I have to take care of Carlo first...oh, hell!"

Mitch put his arms around her and held her close. "Tell work you're not coming in, and tell Carlo to get lost, and I'll spend the rest of the day with you in the shower." She slumped against him, tightening her arms around his waist, and he took a deep breath to keep from passing out from happiness.

"I can't," she said into his chest, and the tickle from her breath made him dizzy. "But it's a great offer, and I'm going to remember it." She pulled away from him. "Just wait here until I get rid of him."

The pounding on the door jolted both of them. "Mae? Mae, who's in there with you?"

"That's it." Mitch started for the door and Carlo.

"No," Mae whispered and hauled him back. "No. I can't handle this if you're here."

He sighed and said, "All right. But only for you would I do this." He shoved his feet into his loafers and picked up his jacket. "You got any cab fare?"

"I gave you every cent I had last night." She picked up her car keys from the table and tossed them to him. "Take the Mercedes. I'll get money from June and take a cab."

"When do you get off?" Mitch pocketed the keys. "I'll pick you up."

The pounding accelerated.

"Five." Mae shot an anxious glance at the door. "Carlo, knock it off," she called. "I'm getting dressed."

The pounding stopped, and Mitch rolled his eyes and moved toward the window.

"What are you doing?"

Mitch threw one leg over the sill and grinned back at her. "There is no end to my talents."

"You'll get killed!" She grabbed his arm, but he kissed her, enjoying her mouth as if it were the first time, and then he pried her fingers off.

"There's a trellis." He found it with his foot and pulled his other leg through the window. "See? Piece of cake." He climbed down, and when he was on the ground, he looked up and saw her framed in the window, the morning breeze tossing her curls. She was smiling down at him, and her face was like the sun, and he stood there, rapt, amazed all over again that they were together, and that she was smiling at him.

"What's wrong?" she called down softly.

Mitch had always thought that "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun," was the dumbest pick-up line he'd ever heard, but it suddenly made sense. "I just figured out why Romeo killed himself."

Mae's smile widened. "Well, don't do it, even if you see my corpse. It'll be a trick. I'm staying alive just to drive you crazy."

"Thank you," Mitch said fervently.

Mae jerked her head around to look back into the room. "I've got to go. Get out of here. I'll see you tonight."

"Count on it," Mitch said, and then she was gone, and the day seemed a little dimmer, and he turned dizzily toward the back of the house and Mae's Mercedes.

Mae opened the door and glared as Carlo came stomping into the room. "Listen to me. This stops now. I've had it with you. You can stop following me around, and threatening my dates, and acting like you own me. We're cousins. That's all we're going to be. Ever." She stopped because the misery on Carlo's fac

e was overwhelming. "I'm sorry, Carlo, but it's never going to be anything else. I grew up with you. You're like my brother."

"It's that Peatwick guy, isn't it?"

"No. I'd feel like this even without the Peatwick guy." Mae put her arm around him and kissed him on the cheek. "It's us. I don't feel that way about you, and I never will. And you don't feel that way about me, either. You just think you should, so you go around acting all proprietary."

"I love you," Carlo protested.

"Then why have you slept with everything that moved and said yes since puberty?"

"If that's all this is about," Carlo began.

"No, that's not what this is about." Mae fought back her exasperation. "People who are in love do not sleep with other people they're not in love with." Carlo opened his mouth to protest, and she held up her hand to stop him. "I know, I know, you were saving me for marriage, but Carlo, I wasn't saving me for marriage, why should you? You just got this idea in your mind. Well, it's time to let go of it."

"No," Carlo said, and before Mae could start again, June knocked on the door and opened it.

"I'm sorry," she said, looking terrified. "But the police are here."

Mae followed Carlo downstairs, still wrapped in her white satin robe, trying to remember when she'd had a twenty-four hours like her last one.

"Mae Belle Sullivan?" one of the officers said when she reached the bottom step.

"Yes." She took a step back.

"You're—"

"Back off," Carlo snarled.

"Hey." The other cop stared at him. "You're Carlo Donatello."

Carlo glared back. "So?"

"So you're under arrest. There's a warrant out for you. Malicious destruction on some guy's car."

"Oh, no." Mae sank onto the step.

"They lifted your prints, pretty boy," the cop said cheerfully. "You're screwed. You also have the right to remain silent—"

"What about her?" The other officer jerked his head at Mae.

"Wait a minute." Carlo turned back to her, and Mae stood up.

"I'll call Uncle Gio," she began, but he put his arms around her. She tried to pull away, and then he whispered in her ear, "They're here for you, too. Get out of here."

She blinked up at him, and then he said aloud, "I'll call Grandpa from the station. You go upstairs and get dressed," and she nodded and turned to stumble blindly up the stairs.

"Wait a minute," one of the cops called after her, and the last thing she heard was Carlo growling, "Let her get dressed."

She closed the door behind her and immediately moved to the closet, yanking out the first dress her hand touched. She dropped her robe to the floor and pulled the pink flowered dress over her head, trying to think as she moved but not having much success. Nothing made sense. She grabbed underwear out of the drawer and crammed it in her purse, and then she went to the window.

If Mitch could do it, she could, too.

A minute later, she was running across the backyard of the mansion to the street that ran behind it.

She had no idea where she was going, she just knew it was away.

Mitch pulled up in front of his office feeling like the king of the world. He was showered, shaved and dressed, he was driving a Mercedes and he was going to marry the most amazing woman he'd ever met.

It occurred to him in the elevator that he hadn't mentioned marriage the night before, and made a mental note to propose the next time he saw her. He was pretty sure it was going to be a formality. Judging by the previous night, no was not a word Mae was familiar with.

So he was feeling pretty chipper when he got to his office and began to tackle the work that had backed up in the week he'd been dealing with Mae. He sorted through the mail, tossing the ads and the catalogs, and then, as he slit open the first envelope, he punched the button on his answering machine.

There were seven messages, and every one of them was a client firing him.

By the time he'd listened to the last one, Mitch had given up any pretense of reading his mail. He pulled the phone toward him and dialed the number of the last client on the machine. "Mr. Belden? This is Mitch Peatwick," he began, only to hear a dial tone in his ear. He got hang-ups on the next three calls, but the fifth one finally gave him a clue. "I don't know what the hell you did, Peatwick," the guy said, "but it was dumb. Good luck." Then he hung up, too.

Mitch pushed the phone away, no longer interested in talking to ex-clients. Someone had obviously gotten to them. It didn't take a rocket scientist to narrow down the list of who that might be.

He was getting one hell of a set of in-laws.

The only question left was, why? Aside from pure cussedness, there was no reason for them to want to put him out of business. Unless he was getting close to something someone didn't want him to know about. Like the diary.

A rap on the office door broke him out of his reverie. "What?" he said, and his dried-up little landlord came in. Mitch scowled at him. "The rent is paid, Mr. Richardson, and I'm having a bad day. Go away."

"It's gonna get worse," Richardson rasped. "You're evicted."

"I'm what?"

"Evicted." Richardson put a check on the desk. "There's your rent back. Get out of here."

Mitch sat back and stared at him until the man broke a sweat. "Why?" he asked.

"New owner." Richardson edged his way to the door. "Doesn't like P.I.s. Says they bring down the tone of the place."

"This place has no tone." Mitch stood. "Who's the new owner?"

"I don't know, and I don't care. You're evicted." Richardson had managed to sidle his way through the door by now, and he reached out and slammed it behind him.

Mitch sat back down in his chair.

None of it made sense.

And it wasn't going to as long as he sat there.

He grabbed his jacket, ran downstairs and pointed the Mercedes toward the art museum and Mae, stopping at an ATM only long enough to pick up cash to pay her back for the gas money the night before. He was just getting back in the car, when the police pulled up.

There were two of them, one tall and female and the other short and male, and they didn't look amused to see him.

"Is this your car?" The male cop looked up at him, seemingly annoyed about having to look up at him.

"No, it belongs to a friend of mine," Mitch said. "Do not tell me it's been reported stolen."

"Nope." The woman officer took a notebook out of her breast pocket. "What's your friend's name?"

Mitch shifted his eyes from one to the other. "Mae Belle Sullivan. What's going on here?"

"You wouldn't happen to know where she is, would you?" the male officer asked.

"Yes," Mitch said with exaggerated patience. "She's at the Riverbend Art Institute. She works there."

"Nope." The woman moved her head once to the right and once to the left, conserving her strength. "We checked. She's not there. When was the last time you saw her?"

"This morning." Mitch scowled at both of them. "What the hell is this about?"

"She's wanted for murder," the male cop said. "We'd like you to come downtown with us."

"Just a few questions," the policewoman said.

"I want my lawyer," Mitch said.

Chapter Nine

Nick was jovial when he joined Mitch in the interrogation room. "What did you do now, Sundance? Sell Bolivian tin mines to somebody besides me?"

"It's not me," Mitch said, and Nick's smile faded at his tone. "They want Mae for murder."

Nick blinked. "Whose murder?"

"On a guess, Armand's. He's the only body in the picture at the moment." Mitch got up and started to pace. "There's something going on here, Nick. I thought Armand was doing it, looting his own estate, but now there's other stuff coming down." He stopped pacing. "There's no chance that Armand is still alive, is there? I mean, people did see the body?"

"Tess heard that the university med school got the remains," Nick pointed out. "And somebody signed a death certificate."
<b

r /> "Somebody could have been bought off."

Nick sat down. "Let's take this from the top. Exactly whom am I representing, you or Mae?''

"Well, preferably both, but if you have to choose, choose Mae. I'm just in here for driving her car and not knowing where she is."

"You really don't know?"

Mitch held up his hand. "Scout's honor. The last I saw of her was this morning. She didn't mention anything about going on the lam later."

"If you don't know, tell them you don't know." "I did. They didn't seem to find it convincing." Nick pushed back his chair. "Let me see what I can do, but then you and I are going to have a long talk." "No problem." Mitch slumped back in his chair. "All my clients fired me this morning, and my landlord evicted me from my office. I'm pretty much free."

"One problem at a time," Nick said and left to spring Mitch.

An hour later, Mitch stood outside the police station, wilting under the blast of the noon sun and figuring out his next move.

Nick came out to join him and jerked his head toward the Mercedes. "Get in."

Once inside .with the air conditioner on, he turned to Mitch. "This isn't good. The police got an anonymous tip Saturday afternoon that Armand had been poisoned. Then this morning they got a page from his diary in the mail that implies that somebody was putting the squeeze on him to put money in Mae's trust fund. That somebody is logically Mae."

Mitch relaxed. "That can't be right. She doesn't have any money."

"She didn't have until a couple of weeks ago." Nick looked unhappy. "According to bank statements, during the past fourteen weeks, right up to his death, Armand deposited almost eight million dollars to her trust fund account."

Mitch blinked. "How many?"

Nick smiled grimly. "Eight big ones. One deposit alone was for six million. She's got a motive, Mitch."

Mitch swallowed. "Nick, everybody in Riverbend had a motive to kill Armand. She'd have to get in line."

"She also had means. The police got a warrant and went to the house this morning and found Armand's pill bottle in his room. Mae's prints are all over the bottle."




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