PART I: ENGLAND
“What do you think? Poisoned Pink, or Pink Menace?”
The young blonde woman of whom this question was asked ad-opted a pose of deep concentration, weighing the matter with all the deliberation of King Solomon presented with two feuding mothers. That the colors under discussion were nearly identical to the naked eye seemed to escape the notice of both women. The manicurist held the two small bottles aloft in the late winter sunlight streaming through the window of the trendy Knightsbridge beauty salon.
“The Poisoned Pink, I think, Suzie,” the blonde said at last. “The other is so, like, totally last year. Positively no one in New York would be caught dead wearing it any more. Besides, Poisoned Pink sounds perfect for a crime writers’ conference, don’t you think?”
Suzie nodded, bending to her task and laying about with an emery board. Give me an old-fashioned romance book any time, she thought. Barbara Cartland, now: There was a woman who knew which way was up with men and all. Lovely hair she had, too.
“I’m getting an award from my publisher during this confer-ence, you see. Did I tell you?”
Only three times.
Kimberlee Kalder, the blonde, paddled the fingers of one elegant, narrow hand in a bowl of soapy water as she lifted one elegant, nar-row foot to examine the hand-woven gold brocade of her £900 bal-let flats. “And for that and, well, other reasons, I want to look, like, to die for.”
So there’s another man at the end of all this effort, then, thought Suzie. Thought so.
“Not that I don’t always strive to look, like, really hot,” Kimberlee went on. “Image is, like, everything in this business, my agent says.”
“I’m certain he’s right, Miss.”
“She, actually. At least, for the moment.”
Not really interested, Suzie asked politely, “When’s the confer-ence, then?”
“This weekend. I head to Scotland tomorrow. My publisher is treating his most successful—well, in some cases, just his longest-lived—authors to a few days at Dalmorton Castle and Spa during Dead on Arrival.”
Seeing Suzie’s look of mystification, Kimberlee said, “That’s a crime writers’ conference held in Edinburgh every year. And, as I say, he’ll be handing out a special award to his most successful writer: Me.”
“Me,” as Suzie well knew, was a favorite word in Kimberlee Kalder’s vocabulary. That and “I.” She was a big tipper, though— writing must pay bloody well.
“I always wanted to write a book,” said Suzie wistfully. “Maybe I will one day when I have time. I’d write about me gran, during the war—”
Kimberlee just managed to stifle a snort of derision, although she didn’t bother to hide the contempt that lifted her beautiful, chiseled mouth in a smirk. If she had a pound for everyone who was going to write a book when they could find the time—like they were going to pick up the dry cleaning or something when they got around to it. Really, people had no idea.
Cutting off the flow of wartime reminiscence, Kimberlee said: “No one cares about that old crap anymore. Don’t forget—I want two solid coats of the topcoat. Last time my manicure only lasted two days. And watch what you’re doing. You’ve missed a spot.”
“Must be all that typing you do,” Suzie said quietly. Kimberlee was her least favorite customer and there always came a point in their conversations when Suzie remembered why.
“What, me? Type?” said Kimberlee, as if to say, I? Slaughter my own cattle? “I guess you’ve been looking at my publicity stills. ‘The Famous Writer at home, fingers poised over her laptop.’ But I have people who do all that. I mostly just dictate.”
Really? thought Suzie. So what else was new?
News item from the Edinburgh Herald, by Quentin Swope:
Book lovers wait in thrilled anticipation of this week’s Dead on Arrival conference, where fans and would-be authors gather to meet their favorite crime writers—in the flesh. Said writers will also be signing their books “by the hundreds,” conference chair Rachel Twal-ley tells this reporter.
Among conference highlights is the anticipated appearance of hot young newcomer Kimberlee Kalder, who burst onto the crime-writing scene last year, quickly climbing the charts with her runaway “chick-lit” hit, Dying for a Latte. Kimberlee will be fêted before and dur-ing the conference by her Deadly Dagger Press publisher, Lord Julius Easterbrook, who must be thanking his lucky stars for leading him to Kimberlee. She may single-handedly have revived his moribund fam-ily publishing house.
Other Dagger authors invited to push out the boat at Easterbrook’s exclusive gathering at Dalmorton Castle include Magretta Sincock, An-nabelle Pace, and Winston Chatley—the stars of yesteryear. Rumor has it top agents Jay Fforde and Ninette Thomson, and American publicist
B. A. King, are also on the guest list, along with ex-pat Joan Elksworthy, author of a detective series set in Scotland, and American spy-thriller novelist Tom Brackett. Also look out for newcomer Vyvyan Nanker-vis—a little bird tells me she’s really Portia De’Ath, a Cambridge don, and the author of a delightful series of Cornish crime novels.
But it’s our little Kimberlee who is stealing the other crime writ-ers’ thunder. Definitely, a publishing force to reckon with!
Jay Fforde had come to the conclusion that the invention of e-mail signaled the imminent demise of mankind. Even though his agency Web site stated explicitly “No E-mail Queries or Submissions,” every day his network server was nearly shut down by some berk trying to send him a 150,000-page manuscript by attachment. The ones that made it through went straight into his little electronic trash bin, unread. Even after fifteen years in the business, Jay was amazed at the number of people out there tapping away at manuscripts—each one, of course, a potential best-seller, according to its creator.
The phone rang. A carefully screened call had been allowed through the bottleneck by Jay’s assistant. Jay picked up the in-strument, first pausing to fling back a strand of the longish, sun-streaked fair hair that flopped in accepted head-boy style from a center part on his patrician skull. Many thought his wide-set eyes, high cheekbones, and sulky expression held a suggestion of Byro-nic decadence, a thought Jay liked to cultivate.
“Jay,” came a confidant, female voice. A trace of an American ac-cent flattened what would once have been called BBC English, before regional accents became the new Received Pronunciation. Imme-diately Jay sat up a little straighter. The voice of a beautiful young woman who happened to be a wildly successful, selling-in-the-millions author was a potent combination for any agent.
“Kimberlee?” he said. Frightful name; it must come from her American side. Well, no one was perfect, although Kimberlee came close. “What a delight to hear from you.
How was the rest of the holiday?”
His assistant appeared in the doorway, carrying a sheaf of man-uscript pages. Jay impatiently waved her away, miming for her to close the door behind her.
“… Bahamas are not what they were, but still—you should see my tan,” Kimberlee Kalder chirped on. “I just heard you’ll be at Dalmorton. How wonderful of Julius to include you. Of course, you rep what’s-her-name, don’t you?”
“Magretta Sincock? Yes. For a short while longer, at least.”
“Yes. Damned shame about her books and all, but tastes change, and poor Magretta will keep turning out the same old thing. I mean, seriously, how many women can there be out there married to some guy who—surprise!—turns out to have shoved his three previous wives overboard during their honeymoon cruise? Any-way, Easterbrook thought it would be a good opportunity to mix business with a little pleasure.”
“Good,” she said, lowering her silky voice to a purr. “I do think it’s time you and I had a serious discussion, too, don’t you?”
Jay’s heart took flight at the words. If he could land Kimber-lee Kalder as a client, well … He’d be running the agency in a year. The Troy, Lewis, Bunter, and Hastings
Agency would become the Fforde Agency at last. And he could ditch his other clients, begin-ning with Magretta. Who would need them?
Reluctantly, he tore his mind away from empire building. Kim-berlee was saying something about train connections and reserva-tions at the castle.
“You’ll have to call today if you want to get near the castle spa,” she told him.
“They’ll be booked solid from the moment this crowd of scribblers arrives.”
“I’ll tell you what, Kimberlee. Why don’t I book a massage for you while I’m at it?
My little treat, courtesy of the agency. I insist. What’s that you say?” He picked up a pen and jotted notes as she talked. “All right. So that’s a black mud envelopment treatment, an Aromapure Facial, a hydro pool session, and a sun shower treatment.”
Feeling like a waiter, he asked, “Will there be anything else?”
He rang off awhile later, Kimberlee having run out of spe-cial requests. Almost simultaneously, the door to the outer office swung open again.
“That was Kimberlee, wasn’t it?” said Laurie. “She wouldn’t identify herself, but the bossy tone is unmistakable.”
“Yes. She’s ready to dump Ninette and come over to the dark side.”
“I suspected as much. You can tell her for me you can catch more flies with honey—”
“Before I forget, call Dalmorton Castle, will you, and book her into the spa for these treatments.” He handed her the list. Laurie glanced at it and sniffed.
“She doesn’t want much, does she?” Laurie tucked the list in her pocket and began tidying his desk, gathering files, tapping pa-pers ruthlessly into line against the antique mahogany wood.
“If you move that you know I’ll never find it again,” said Jay.
“That’s what I’m here for, Jay. To find things for you.”
Jay smiled absently. Laurie always made him think of the re-doubtable Miss Lemon, Hercule Poirot’s fiercely competent secre-tary, foil to the well-meaning but dim Hastings. She placed a stack of papers before him.
“Magretta’s late again with her rewrites. She’s getting worse, I think.”
Jay was pulled back from a daydream of yachts, Caribbean beaches, and ski chalets in Val Claret. He sat up, shoving the stack of papers to one side.
“Give her a few more weeks,” he said. “It doesn’t matter any-more, does it?”
A few blocks to the west, Ninette Thomson was worried. Kimber-lee Kalder, her megastar client, as she supposed they would say in Hollywood, was sending out all the well-known signs of a writer in flight to a new agent. Increasingly ludicrous demands—an espresso machine, for God’s sake—temper tantrums, insistence on impossible terms from her British and American publishers for her next book, overturning all the carefully negotiated—and ex-tremely generous for an unknown author—terms of the contract Ninette had painstakingly organized for her. Demanding Ninette take the new book when it was ready to a larger publisher, despite a contract option that stipulated she could not do precisely that.
Honestly, thought Ninette. It was worse than dealing with the commitment-phobic, hormone-blinded male. You always could tell when they had one foot out the door, headed for another wom-an’s bedroom, if you knew the signs. Which Ninette, fifty-four and the survivor of countless “summer” romances, felt certain she did.
Sometimes the only indicator of a good agent that a writer had to go by was the address. But the expense! The expense would have driven her down and out long ago if that wonderful manuscript of Kimberlee Kalder’s hadn’t shown up in her slush pile two years ago.
Wonderful, she reminded herself, meaning saleable, meaning mar-ketable, meaning the only things that mattered in today’s publishing climate. Every day Ninette turned down manuscripts that were won-derful—wonderfully written, insightful, sad, funny, groundbreaking, heartbreaking, whatever. And not one of them met the blockbuster, plot-driven standards that were becoming the byword of the industry: less character, more plot.
Fewer and fewer publishers were willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. But Ninette, after years in the business, could sense a best-selling winner, and had persuaded Easterbrook to take that chance on Kimberlee.
The last truly fine writer she’d taken on, knowing for certain she’d never make a fortune, but not caring, had been Portia De’Ath, who was now selling at a decent little clip. Winston Chatley once fell into the same category …
But it was Kimberlee, damn it all, who was paying the bills.
Now the silly, greedy little twit thought she could do better. Imagined a different agent, a different publisher, would bring in even more than the ridiculously large amount the first book had brought her already.
Kimberlee Kalder suddenly thought she didn’t need her, Ninette Thomson.
Well, we’ll just see about that now, won’t we?
Winston Chatley was having tea with his mother in their narrow row house in a small, hidden mews in Chelsea. The fashionable part of Chelsea had grown up around them, leaving them stranded like shipwrecked survivors clinging to a valuable piece of real es-tate they couldn’t afford to sell. Winston thought of them as on an island of desperation surrounded by a sea of clamoring, mobile-phone chatting yuppies.
Where would we move? Winston would ask his mother when the subject arose.
You need to be near the best treatment available, not stuck in some backwash village, Winston would say. Besides, I like the city.
We’ll manage, then.
They had had the identical conversation so often it amounted to a comforting ritual.
For his mother, Winston suspected it was just that.
Winston worried he’d need home care for her eventually. For him the best thing—maybe the only good thing—about being a writer was that he was home most days. But she was fast reach-ing the stage where she’d have burned the house down if he didn’t watch her constantly. What really needed to happen was for Win-ston to sell the house, use the proceeds to put her in a home, and use whateverwas left over to buy that remote country cottage.
The idea had never seriously settled on him and would have horrified him if it had.
This house was all she knew of home, of warm familiarity. It would kill her to be moved.
And so they circled around the topic. But today, his mother reverted to another familiar line of questioning.
“So, how is the new book coming?”
If there is one question a writer fears more than any other, it is that, for the answer calls upon more skills of invention and cre-ativity than the actual writing of any book.
She beamed at him in anticipation of his answer. That Winston was an ugly man, combining the worst features of Abraham Lincoln and Boris Karloff into a homely, yet surprisingly engaging whole, she had never really noticed. She loved Winston with all the devo-tion and sublime lack of awareness of a golden retriever nursing an orphaned bloodhound pup. She herself was beautiful and never seemed to see the craggy, bumpy planes of Winston’s face. It didn’t matter: He was hers.
“It’s fine,” he said at last. “The first fifty pages are really quite good, I think.” He neglected to mention he had been stuck at page fifty-one for perhaps the last three months, and was growing more certain those pages would soon join the ever-growing pile of fifty-page beginnings in his bottom desk drawer.
“Do you think Ninette Thomson is really doing the best job for you?” Mrs. Chatley asked, with one of the stunning reversions to her old self that kept him alive in hope for her condition. “I keep read-ing in those publishing magazines of yours about this Jay person.”
“Jay Fforde?” Winston asked. Did she seriously think that was an option? Jay was far out of Winston’s league, a star agent dwell-ing amongst the Lotus Eaters of Hollywood and Pinewood. Win-ston had a realistic enough assessment of his gifts to recognize that they didn’t translate well to the cinematic.
“I couldn’t leave Ninette, mother. After all these years, it wouldn’t be right,” he said.
Joan Elksworthy said, “I’m surprised you didn’t just stay in Edin-burgh with the conference so near, Rachel.”
The two friends were splashing out on afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason’s—a rare, guilty indulgence. They had seen each other sel-dom in the decades since they’d been girls at school together. Rachel had married a Church of Scotland minister, Joan an American who had carried her off to Washington, D.C. When she left the brief mar-riage, she retained the name and remained in the United States— moving to Santa Fe to write her crime stories. The only sign she was sometimes homesick was that she chose to set all her books in the west of Scotland.
“Didn’t I say? I had to fly up to London to stay with my daugh-ter’s infants. She’s got legs, you know,” said Rachel.
Joan interpreted this correctly to mean Rachel’s daughter was again having trouble with her legs. Varicose veins, most likely, from the three stone of extra weight she carried around since the twins arrived, but Joan would have stabbed herself with one of the tearoom’s lovely pudding forks before saying so.
“I see. You had to come down, did you?” she said.
Rachel Twalley smiled. “Can I help it if they’re the world’s most beautiful—not to mention gifted and intelligent—grandchildren?” A waiter approached to verify they had enough hot water in the pot, then glided soundlessly away. Rachel looked around her at the white tablecloths and glittering glassware, sank further back in her plush chair, and sighed. This, indeed, was the life.
“I’ll be taking the train Thursday to Edinburgh,”Joan said.“Should we arrange to travel together then?”
Rachel shook her head.
“Can’t. I have to head back straightaway—even though most of the work for the conference is done. I’ll never volunteer for this sort of thing again, I can tell you that. What with the pro-gram, registration, sponsorships, coordinating everything with the hotel—getting volunteers for all that is well nigh impossible these days. Then there’s all the usual internecine squabbling. I should have known: The village fête last time took years off my life.”
“I wish you were staying with us at Dalmorton Castle,” said Joan. “We could’ve treated ourselves to the mud cure, you and I.”
“I wish, too. I’ve always wanted to wallow in mud—in a man-ner of speaking. But I have to be on the ground at the Luxor, rallying the troops, who only lurch into action when someone is keeping an eye on them. I must say, it was jolly nice of your pub-lisher to arrange all this for you. I’ve heard Dalmorton is such a lovely place.”
“It’s all in lieu of bigger advances, you watch. I can’t imagine why I’m included, to tell you the truth. Kimberlee Kalder is all that’s on Lord Easterbrook’s mind these days.”
“Humph,” said Rachel. “I don’t care if I never hear the name again.”
Joan smiled. “The cozy mystery is dead, haven’t you heard?” She waved an imaginary (pink) flag. “Long live Chick Lit.”
“I tried to read that thing of hers,” Rachel said, adding hast-ily, “I didn’t buy it, never fear, I got it from the library. It was just absurd. Pink, and silly. ‘Will he call, or won’t he?’ Romance via mo-bile and e-mail.” She sniffed. “Not the way things were in my day. And what is it with the shoes, anyway? If I’d spent that kind of money on shoes my Harry’d have shown me the door tout de suite and no mistake, minister’s wife or no. As for plot—the whole thing seemed more an excuse to skewer people she didn’t like. Which seemed to be everyone.”
“But you read the whole thing,” said Joan. It was a gentle ques-tion. Why shouldn’t Rachel have read the whole thing? She’d have been nearly alone among the women—and many of the men—of the English-speaking nations had she not.
Rachel, crinkling her face apologetically, admitted, “They are sort of like chocolates, those books. Actually, more like swallowing a box of licorice all-sorts. But I do try to move with the times. I don’t exactly approve, mind.”
“Well, if there’s one thing these books do prove,” said Joan, “it’s that men haven’t improved one bit since we were girls.”
Rachel nodded somberly. “Have you met Kimberlee Kalder?”
“Really? And what’s she like?”
Joan hesitated, toying with her butter knife. It went against her grain to disparage a fellow author. In the latest incident, Joan’s American publisher had approached Kimberlee about writing a blurb for the back cover of Joan’s latest book—since Joan had been instrumental in bringing Kimberlee to the attention of the Americans. But Kimberlee had flat-out refused. As the publisher reported later, Kimberlee’s exact words were, “There’s nothing in it for me, so why in hell should I?”
“What is Kimberlee Kalder like, you ask?” Joan looked straight at Rachel. “Pure poison.”
Lord Easterbrook sat at his desk, staring at a spreadsheet on his monitor, scrolling back and forth with his computer mouse to read the numbers in the outer columns. He accidentally struck the wrong key and the whole thing disappeared. He let out a bellow that set the eighteenth-century glass rattling in the windowpanes.
His youthful assistant, well-used to these technical emergencies, came rushing in—a pretty girl in her mid-twenties, dressed in black and white. A no-nonsense type whose crisp demeanor nicely kept Easterbrook’s querulousness at bay. She’d become adept at coping whenever he threw his toys out of the pram. Now she deftly tapped at Easterbrook’s keyboard until the vanished document reappeared.
“Haven’t I told you then?” she said. “Stay away from that delete key and you’ll be fine.”
“I was never near the blasted delete key. Print the infernal thing out for me, will you? On good old-fashioned paper. Oh, and tell my wife I’ll be late.”
“Yes, sir.” And the young woman went to do as she was told. Her great-gran was the same way: She’d never quite resigned her-self to any invention introduced since the telephone, and even that she thought was full of “rays,” whatever that meant.
Left alone five minutes later, Lord Easterbrook perused the res-cued document, now safely consigned to paper. On the mend, he thought, on the mend. Like Scholastic before J. K. Rowling came along, his was a tiny press, its prestige and respectability owing more to longevity than anything like profitability. Who, after all, would expect to turn anything like a real profit on a house special-izing in crime novels?
Rumor had long had it in the City that Easterbrook simply kept Deadly Dagger Press on as a rich man’s hobby. Like those fools knew anything, he thought. But then, Kimberlee Kalder had come along, rising from the submission pile like—well, like Venus rising from the sea. That his assistant, not he, had recognized the poten-tial at once was something he often conveniently forgot. Thanks to Kimberlee, silly name and all, Dagger was, to continue the meta-phor, afloat.
Not that Easterbrook had ever actually read Kimberlee’s book. The balance sheets were the only required reading on his night table.
But what the deuce was taking the girl so long with the next manuscript? he wondered now. It’s not as if she were writing Pride and Prejudice, for God’s sake.
The last time they’d spoken on the phone she’d been decidedly cagey about that.
“Wasn’t quite ready,” she’d said. “A bit more of a rewrite on the end, I think,” she’d said.
It was balderdash, of course. She was out shopping for a new agent, and a new publisher, if the rumors from the publishing trenches were true. Which was why he’d had the sudden inspira-tion for this pre-conference gathering, and the little award to keep her happy. A chance to talk with her in person.
The personal touch, yes, that’s what was needed.
He looked at the figures, mostly black now instead of red.
Leave Dagger, would she, and break her contract? Well, we’d just see about that.
In a beautiful flat high above the Thames, Magretta Sincock stared at the screen of her own computer with none of the complacency of Lord Easterbrook, just across the water in his counting house. She reread the e-mail several times, blinking in disbelief. Perhaps it was spam, a cruel hoax? But the return e-mail address indicated clearly enough it was from Ludwig’s, her American publisher. And the body of the e-mail said clearly enough that regrettably, they would not be picking up the American rights to her next manu-script. But they wished her well in her future endeavors.
Well, that at least was something, after thirty bloody years, thought Magretta. That well wishing certainly made all the difference.
They were dropping her by e-mail. Not in person, saving some-one the airfare to London. Not even with the minor expense of let-terhead and airmail postage. They were dropping her. Her.
After a very long while, Magretta got up from her desk and walked to the French doors of her aerie. Barely feeling the blast of cold, she stood looking down at the brown river, churning up a whitish foam as it eternally snaked its way through London. Any-one looking up from the ships below would have thought they were seeing a large tropical bird perched on the balcony, bedecked in an array of green plumage. Magretta’s large red crest of hair would have added to the illusion.
The conference in Edinburgh, to which she had so been look-ing forward, she now viewed with dread. They would all know, all her fellow scribes, everyone connected with this wretched indus-try. Probably knew before she herself was sent that miserable e-mail, bad news traveling faster in the publishing world than in any other.
She’d have to call her agent.
But he should have called me. Jay must have known this was coming. This was all his fault. If he’d kept his mind on his job …
Still, she had to go show the flag, since Lord Easterbrook had invited her. She at least could still count on her British publisher.
St. Germaine’s had been in existence so long it was the one res-taurant everyone in Cambridge, rich and poor alike, had heard of. The ruder the maître d’, the wider grew its fame, and the more wealthy patrons schemed and plotted to secure a reservation.
There were exceptions to the reservation rules, but only the owner, Mr. Garoute, knew what they were. Solving the murder by poisoning of the restaurant’s sous-chef and thus saving St. Ger-maine’s from certain financial ruin was clearly top of his list. Mr. G. always, therefore, held a table open for DCI Arthur St. Just, knowing the unpredictable schedule of the Inspector, and he always greeted him with rapturous cries of joy—cries that would have astounded his business competitors, who only saw Mr. G.’s flintier side.
It so happened today was St. Just’s birthday, a fact he himself had nearly forgotten until his sister’s birthday card arrived that morning, and which fact he found somewhat depressing once he’d been reminded. Dinner at Saint Germaine’s was his effort to shake off the pall of being forty-three—a boring age with neither a here nor a there to it, he thought.
To make matters rather worse and himself grumpier, his new Chief Constable, Brougham—her motto was, predictably, “A New Brougham Sweeps Clean,” and she was given to using terms like “Crime Management,” which set St. Just’s teeth on edge—had con-scripted him into giving a presentation in Edinburgh as part of her “Reach Out!” public relations campaign. He was to speak at a crime writers’ conference, for God’s sake, on the subject of police proce-dure. Rooms at the conference hotel already being sold out, his ser-geant had booked him a room at Dalmorton Castle for the weekend. St. Just grinned, wondering how the Chief was going to like it if she saw that bill.
Once St. Just had been settled behind a hastily assembled for-tress of gleaming glassware, cutlery, table linens, and menus the size of Moses’ tablets, he took a moment to survey his surround-ings, peering about in the dark, candlelit room like a mole adjust-ing to daylight. As he was just emerging from his last case, which had lasted many hectic weeks, that was close to describing how he felt.
Mr. G. always took into account St. Just’s preference for an un-obtrusive table away from the action, where he could sit and in-dulge his penchant for people watching.
To his left an older couple, perhaps in their late thirties, pro-vided a contrast, a living tableau of aggrievedness, warning of the dangers that might lie ahead for the young lovers. The older pair sat in a sulking silence, their meal eaten mechanically, with little evidence of pleasure. Their thoughts might have been on absent lovers or the terms of their imminent divorce. Or even, thought the detective, on murder.
At a far table in the opposite corner from his a woman sat, her head bent over a sheaf of papers as she waited for her compan-ion. She made the occasional note in the margin of a page using a Montblanc fountain pen—St. Just could just make out the white six-pointed star on the cap. But by the time St. Just had finished his first course, she was still alone and he was growing alarmed. It was no way to treat a lady, for a lady she clearly was, and St. Just’s sense of outrage at this cad-like behavior on the part of her missing companion almost could not be contained. St. Just gener-ally disliked dining alone in public and rarely did so, which was why he was glad to have Mr. G.’s discreet little table at his disposal. Unthinkable then, for this woman to be treated so shabbily by a husband or companion.
Still, the woman herself did not seem perturbed by this social disgrace, calmly setting aside her papers as her meal arrived, and only reverting to them again once her coffee had been brought. Most people, women especially, he felt, would have hidden behind a book the whole time, lacking the savoir faire to dine alone. He found her self-possession fascinating, and he began committing her details to memory for later rendering on his sketch pad. She was not a classic beauty, he decided. Still, it was hard not to stare at her. Maybe this was where all those years of surveillance training paid off, he thought wryly. But she did seem oblivious. Probably, she was used to being stared at.
She looked the type of woman who had found her style years ago and kept it: long dark hair pulled back, with escaping tendrils feathering an oval face, darker brows framing somewhat hooded eyes, an apparent absence of makeup aside from deep red lipstick against translucent, marmoreal skin. He was to learn that she al-ways wore long earrings that accentuated her long white neck; this evening the earrings were silver and spun like wind chimes when-ever she moved.
Her companion never arrived and she seemed in no hurry to leave. St. Just, wanting to extend the time he had to observe her (as he thought, unobtrusively), ordered a second coffee that would keep him awake into the wee hours, trying to recapture in his sketchbook the angles and planes of this lovely creature’s profile.
He would have been chagrined to know that while Portia De’Ath noted with amusement the tall, barrel-chested man staring at her with wounded eyes, she herself slept that night like a baby.