What the Lady Wants


Page 2 of 19


Patience wasn't supposed to be a bombshell's strong suit, but Mae didn't have much choice. Mitchell Peatwick was turning out to be a lot more focused than she'd thought. This was not good. "It's not enough for them to retire on. If Uncle Armand were still alive, they'd be making almost that much in salary every year, plus free room and board. They're in their sixties, and they're not going to find places like the ones they had with my uncle. His death was a disaster for them. Now, about my uncle—"

"I don't suppose there are a lot of calls for butlers these days," Mitch agreed. "Still, give me their names."

Mae took a deep breath. Why was it that men always said they wanted to help her and then refused to listen to her? Was it her, or was it some awful byproduct of testosterone? "They didn't kill him."

"Give me the names."

She smiled again, a little tighter this time. "Harold Tennyson and June Peace."

"Where are they living?"

"In the house." Mae tried to unclench her teeth. The heat was making her irritable, her tight shoes were making her irritable, but mostly Mitchell Peatwick was making her irritable. "My uncle's house."

"So you're keeping them on."

"Well, of course." Mae's patience finally broke. "I can't throw them out into the snow."

He smiled at her. "It's July. You'd be throwing them out into the grass. And since you're not throwing them out, they didn't lose anything when he died."

Mae swallowed her irritation. "They didn't know that I wouldn't throw them out."

"They're not acquainted with you?"

"Of course they're acquainted with me. But I never promised I'd keep them on if anything happened to Uncle Armand. We never talked about it."

"How long have they known you?"

"What difference does it make?"

"If they have known you for any length of time, they would have known what you were likely to do. How long have they known you?"

"Twenty-eight years."

His eyes widened slightly. "Since you were born?"

"No, since I was six and went to live with my uncle."

"You're thirty-four?"

"I'm thirty-four."

"You don't look thirty-four."

"That's because I'm not married." Mae's smile felt as if it were set in concrete. "Marriage tends to age a woman."

"Doesn't do much for a man, either."

"Actually, it does. Married men live longer than single men."

"It just seems longer." He leaned back in his chair and surveyed her. "So, Harold and June dandled you on their knees and fed you cookies, but you think they didn't know that you'd take care of them for life if they offed your Uncle Armand."

Mae closed her eyes briefly. "They did not off my Uncle Armand."

"We'll get back to them later. Okay, besides you and Harold and June and Uncle Claud., there's nobody else in the will?"

"No."

"Did your uncle own a business?'' He tapped his pen on the pad. "Was he involved in anything that somebody might have wanted to take over?"

"He was a partner with my Uncle Claud."

"Were there any other partners?"

"No. Just my Uncle Claud."

He opened his mouth again, and Mae moved to block him before he took off in another wrong direction. "He also did not kill my Uncle Armand."

"Did they get along?"

"No. My Uncle Claud disliked my Uncle Armand because he thought that he was profligate and libidinous and a disgrace to the good name of Lewis."

"Sounds like a direct quote."

"It is."

"Was it true?"

"Yes."

Mitch raised his eyebrows. "Libidinous at seventy-six?"

Mae sighed. Mitchell Peatwick might be a fool, but he was a persistent fool. "He kept a mistress. In fact, they made love the night he died. She tells everyone that whether you ask or not. Then she weeps."

He sat back in his chair. "Could we digress for a moment?''

Mae looked at him with exasperation. "Do I have a choice?"

"No. He was seventy-six years old with a heart condition and he made love with his mistress who was...what? Fifty?"

"Twenty-five. Her name is Stormy Klosterman. This is not relevant—"

"Klosterman?"

Mae gave up. "Her stage name is Stormy Weather. Of course, she was temporarily retired while she was with my uncle."

"Of course." He blinked. "That would have been how long?"

"Seven years," Mae said flatly. "He caught her umbrella when it rolled off the runway one night. It was magic."

He grinned at her. "Not a fan of Stormy's, I see."

Mae shrugged. "She's all right. At least, I don't think she killed my uncle. She didn't get a dime."

"Did she know that before he died?"

"Yes. He was very clear about that with all his women."

"There were more?"

"Well, there were before Stormy. I had a lot of aunts when I was growing up."

"You grew up with Uncle Armand?"

Mae thought briefly about reaching across the desk, grabbing him by the collar and screaming, "Could we get to the diary, please?" but that would have been counterproductive. Humor him. "My parents were killed in a car accident when I was six. In their wills, they had appointed my three great-uncles as executors and guardians. Uncle Armand, Uncle Claud and Uncle Gio. All three uncles wanted me, so they drew straws."

"Uncle Gio?" His voice sounded strangled.

"We were all in the lawyer's office, and they drew straws, and Uncle Armand won. Now can we get back to my Uncle Armand's death?"

"And Uncle Gio's last name would be...?"

"Donatello."

"Terrific." He dropped his pen and stared at her with distaste.

Mae tried to get the conversation back on track. "I see you've heard the rumors about my Uncle Gio. Don't worry. They're not true. Now, about—"

"I've heard of the whole family. How's your cousin Carlo?"

"He's out already," Mae said. "It was a bum rap."

He sat quietly for a moment, and Mae felt his eyes size her up, and she realized for the first time that she might have made a mistake in coming to see Mitchell Peatwick. He looked as if he had the IQ of a linebacker, but there was something going on in that devious male mind. God knew what, but Mae was sure it wasn't good.

He leaned forward. "Okay, let's forget Uncle Gio for the moment. Aside from your sixth sense, which I'm sure is extremely accurate, you must have had another reason for coming here since, according to you, no one who knew him killed him. So tell me the truth. Why do you think he was murdered?"

This was it. Mae moistened her lips again. "You mustn't tell anyone this." She leaned forward a little to meet him halfway. "His diary has disappeared. I heard him talking on the phone about it the day he died, and now it's gone. The diary isn't important, but whoever has it murdered him. I'm sure of it."

She was lying, of course. Mitch's take on humanity had deteriorated to the point where he assumed someone was lying if her lips were moving, but she was definitely lying about the diary. Either there wasn't a diary, or there was and it was important. Either possibility was irrelevant; what was important was to find out why she was lying.

And with this woman, it could be because of her sixth sense. Or her twenty million.

Twenty million.

Hell, with twenty million, she could lie to him forever as long as she paid him $2,694.

If only she hadn't mentioned her Uncle Gio.

He really had been interested in taking the case. And not just because of the money or because she had a terrific body. Well, okay, partly because of that. But mostly because it would have been great to take as his last case one that didn't involve drinking lukewarm coffee in parked cars outside cheap motels. He'd come to terms with the fact that his bet had been the result of a midlife crisis, and that it would have been a hell of a lot easier to just buy a Porsche and date a twenty-year-old, but somehow he'd wanted to have at least one rea

l fight-against-injustice case before he quit and went back to being Mitchell Kincaid, yuppie stockbroker.

But now there was Gio Donatello. He raised his eyes to hers to tell her that he didn't think he'd be interested, and she looked back at him, trusting and vulnerable. He couldn't tell whether it was real-vulnerable or fake-vulnerable, although his money was on fake-vulnerable, but as vulnerable went, it was very attractive.

"So." Mitch shifted in his chair, squirming as his shirt stuck to the sweat on his back. "Let's sum up here. You have a seventy-six-year-old man with a heart condition who makes love to his twenty-five-year-old mistress and dies. The doctor says it's a heart attack. You, the woman who inherits half of his stock and everything else he owns, say it's murder. The suspects are the housekeeper and the butler, his brother who inherits the other half of his stock, his mistress who inherits nothing and a local mob boss and his homicidal son, but in your opinion, none of them did it."

"That's it." She nodded. "I know these people. I've asked them if they know anything about Uncle Armand's death, and they've said no. They wouldn't lie to me."

Mitch shook his head at her naiveté. "Sure they would. The first rule in life is 'everybody lies.' Remember that and you'll get a lot further."

She blinked at him, her thick lashes making the movement much more of a production than it usually was on regular people. "That's awfully cynical, Mr. Peatwick."

"That's me. And cynical doesn't mean I'm not right. For example, I'll bet you fifty bucks you've lied to me already today."

Her eyes met his without blinking this time. "Of course I haven't." She widened her gaze, looking stricken. "How could you think that?"

Mitch grinned. "You're good, sweetheart. You're very, very good. But you blew it there at the end. Don't widen your eyes like that. Gives you away every time."

Her eyes narrowed. It was amazing. Even narrowed they looked good. Sort of bitchy and mean, but good. "Mr. Peatwick," she said. "Do you want this job?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to say no, thank you, I don't like your relatives, and besides, you lied to me, and you're up to no good, and the diary bit is too farfetched, and what the hell are you trying to do, anyway? and then he realized that the only way he'd ever find out what she was trying to do was if he took the case.

And it was a real Sam Spade kind of case.

And he needed the money to win the bet.

Mitch sighed. "What did your uncle say about the diary on the phone that makes you think somebody killed him?"

"He said, 'Don't worry. No one can get me without the diary.'"

Mitch felt depression settle over him. For the first time that afternoon, she was making sense. "Are you sure it wasn't gone before he died?"

"I don't think so." She gazed at him, wide-eyed and innocent, and he knew she was up to something. "He said that on the phone Monday evening, and he died later that night. He wrote in the diary every night, so he'd seen it the previous evening at the latest."

Mitch threw his pencil on the desk. "Okay. Five hundred per day plus expenses."

Her eyebrows snapped together. "That's ridiculous."

Mitch shrugged. "That's my price."

She scowled at him for a moment, and he smiled back, impervious. "All right." She opened her purse and took out a checkbook. He watched her scrawl the amount and her name across the check, her handwriting the first uncontrolled thing he'd seen about her.

Then she tore the check out and tossed it across the desk to him. Thirty-five hundred dollars. He took a deep breath and tried to look unimpressed. "This is for a week. What if I solve this in an afternoon?"

"You can give me a refund."

She didn't seem unduly interested in the possibility. The woman had no faith in him. Just as well. There was no way in hell he was giving her a refund.

He'd just won his bet.

Mitch walked around the desk and pulled his jacket from the coatrack. "Come on then, let's go see Uncle Gio."

She took a deep breath, and he watched in appreciation. "Mr. Peatwick, I just paid you to find the diary—"

"And I will do that, Miss Sullivan. I will do whatever you want. But first we will go see Gio Donatello."

"Why Uncle Gio? I told you—"

"I have to talk to all of these people," Mitch said patiently. "And if I manage to live through an afternoon of accusing a mob boss of murder, the rest of this case has got to be all downhill."

"Uncle Gio's not with the mob."

"Your cousin Carlo cut off somebody's finger. Who cares if they're with the mob? They're psychopaths."

She shifted in her chair. "They're just volatile."

"Volatile." Mitch snorted. "That's cute. Come on, let's go, but I'm warning you— you protect me from your homicidal relatives or my rate doubles."

She picked up her purse, contempt clear in her eyes. "Fine."

He watched her stand, pushing her weight up with her calves, which flexed roundly as she moved, and then he watched as she swiveled toward the door.

If she'd just keep her mouth shut...

She turned back to him, impatience making her face stern. "I don't have all day, Mr. Peatwick, and you're already wasting my time with this trip. Are you coming or not?"

His fantasy evaporated, and reality returned, still sucking. Mitch sighed and followed her out the door.

Chapter Two

His car looked like a two-toned aircraft carrier. Mae had known he wouldn't be the Volvo type, but she'd expected something from the current decade. "This is your transportation?"

"This is a classic." He patted a massive metal side panel. "There aren't many '69 Catalinas on the road anymore."

"Yes, and there's a reason for that." Mae touched the paint. "What exactly do you call this color?"

"Oxidized red. You getting in or not?"

"Certainly." Mae looked pointedly at the passenger door.

He grinned at her. "It's okay, it's not locked. Go ahead and get in."

Mae shook her head in disbelief. "A collector's dream like this one, and you don't lock it. What are you thinking of?"

"I have faith in my fellow man." He ambled around to the driver's side, so relaxed that Mae wasn't sure how he stayed upright.

"Then you're going to love my cousin Carlo." She tried to open the door but it stuck. "I think this is locked."

"Nah, just yank on it." He opened his door and slumped into his seat while Mae tugged on the door with increasing force. Finally, he reached over and popped it open from the inside.

"Thank you." Mae slid into her seat. "I've seen living rooms smaller than this."

He surveyed his domain with obnoxious pride. "Makes you wonder why they invented bucket seats, doesn't it?"

Mae bounced a little on the rock-hard seat. "No."

He turned the key in the ignition. "You snotty rich people are all alike. Can't appreciate the simple things in life."

"I am not rich." Mae gazed at the vast interior of the car. "And I wouldn't call this simple."

"You're not rich?"

"No." Mae tugged at the seat belt, trying to get it across her lap. "I had a trust fund once, but it died. When the inheritance clears, I will be rich, but until then, I just cleaned out my checking account for you." She gave up tugging and turned to him in exasperation. "Mr. Peatwick, I don't think this seat belt works."

He leaned across her to yank on the belt himself, and she breathed in the scent of soap from his hair. He yanked on the belt again, rocking slightly against her, and she stopped breathing for a moment in the sudden flush of heat she felt.

This was not good.

He yanked again, and the belt unspooled, and he leaned back into his seat and clicked it in place for her. "There. Just like one of those fancy new cars, only better."

Mae brought her mind back to where it belonged: away from Mitchell Peatwick.

He pulled out into the street, and the rear of the car bounced as the wheels hit the pavement. "Where exactly does Gio live?"

M

ae told him and then watched him drive, absent-mindedly answering his questions about Armand and steering him back to the diary whenever he drifted too far afield. His hands were loose on the wheel, large and supple, and his fingers slid over it when he turned a corner. She'd never been a hand freak before, but then, she'd never met Mitch Peatwick before. He's dumb, she told herself, and he's macho, and he's going to be another one of those let-me-take-care-of-every thing guys who's just out for himself. There was a reason she'd given up men, and Mitchell Peatwick was a perfect example of it. She'd paid him to find the diary, but he wanted to see Gio, so of course they were going to see Gio. Whatever you want, Miss Sullivan. Right. As long as she wanted what he wanted.

She glared at him.

He stopped in the middle of one of his questions. "What? What did I say?"

"Nothing," Mae snapped. "Absolutely nothing."

Mitch learned only one thing on the drive over to Gio Donatello's place: Mae Sullivan wanted that diary. He'd tried half a dozen times to bring up unhappy business partners, disgruntled ex-girlfriends, irate husbands, anyone who might possibly have a reason to give an old man a heart attack, but she dismissed his suggestions every time and returned to the diary. Stubborn beyond belief, that was Mae Sullivan. She would be pure screaming hell to live with, no matter how good she smelled or how soft she was when you were trying to put a seat belt around her in a purely professional capacity. Of course, he was stubborn, too, but that was different. You had to be stubborn if you were a private eye. Otherwise, you starved.

He wondered if her Uncle Gio was as stubborn. Probably more so if the rumors were true. Even so, he wanted to see Gio first. More important, he wanted Gio to see his open, honest, Boy Scout face so Gio wouldn't get annoyed with him and kill him.

His caution grew as they were waved through the heavy gates of the Donatello estate by a large, scowling man with a bulge under his jacket, and then ushered through the massive door of the sandstone mansion by another large, scowling man with a bulge under his jacket and finally led through cream-and-gold hallways to Gio's office by a small, scowling maid. She had no bulges anywhere, but Mitch was willing to bet she was still lethal.




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