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Engaged to Die: A Death on Demand Mystery

Chapter One

"We always go to Saint Thomas in January." Irene lifted a thin dark
eyebrow. "If it weren't for Virginia, we'd be there now."

Carl stared into her amber eyes, looked quickly away. Those eyes --
they reminded him uncomfortably of a cat watching a bird,
remorseless, predatory, unfathomable. He focused on the coffeepot,
a fine china one with pink roses twining around the spout. He
watched the clear black stream of coffee, strong, hot,
nerve-stretching, pour into his cup. Because of his diabetes he
permitted himself only a half cup every morning, no cream, no
sugar. He wished with a quick bitterness that he could as easily
control his appetites in every sphere. Including Irene. But no
matter how little she cared -- and sometimes it seemed to him that
she made her disdain for him more apparent every day -- he knew he
would never leave her, that he would do what she wished, when she
wished. What was her fascination? It wasn't her beauty, though her
dark hair had the sheen of midnight and her almond-shaped eyes and
smooth creamy skin and sultry mouth inflamed him. Right this moment
he wanted her with a hunger that was painful. But her attraction
was more than beauty and passion. There was an aura of recklessness
about her that held infinite allure. Funny, he'd always been such a
cautious man ... He took a sip of coffee. The hot liquid burned his

"Wouldn't we?" It was a taunt. She held out one perfectly manicured
hand, glanced at the shining red nails, turning her hand this way
and that.

"Irene" -- his tone was harsh -- "I can't swing it this

Her gaze lifted from her hand. Cold eyes stared at him. "It's that

"You know what's been happening. The money's gone." He looked
through the shining glass of their private upstairs sitting room at
the magnificent sweep of the courtyard. Water bubbled cheerfully in
both fountains. Winter-bare rosebushes filled the formal beds in
the terrace. When Dad was alive and footing the bill, there'd been
a full-time gardener. If no one trimmed and spruced, they'd have a
burgeoning wilderness by summer. God, everything cost so much. Now
he worried whether he could afford the taxes. He'd been pleased
several years ago when his father decided to deed the house to him,
on the proviso, of course, that Susan and Rusty would always have
their own wing. Now, the huge Italian-style villa was as burdensome
as trying to heft an elephant. Maybe Virginia ... He didn't want to
ask Virginia. Not if he could help it. The house was his, the only
property actually in his name. Everything else, including the
gallery, belonged to her. But the taxes ... Beyond the terrace was
the point, much of it screened by pines and palmettos. He couldn't
see the ruins of the old fort from the window, but he knew that
once conquering Union troops had bustled about, stood by their
guns, ready to engage the Confederate forces trying to regain the
island. So long ago. The island families that had created fortunes
from sea cotton lost everything then. Their world changed. But the
world was always changing. Battle, pestilence, and sudden death.
Good Lord deliver us ...

"You aren't listening to me!" The words were flung toward him,
sharp as barbs catching a bull's flank.

Carl felt the beginnings of a headache. He'd had a lot of headaches
lately. Who wanted to buy paintings now? If he didn't come up with
at least twenty thousand in a couple of weeks, the gallery would
have to go into bankruptcy. It would have broken Dad's heart. Would
Virginia help? Surely she would. But to Virginia twenty thousand
dollars sounded like a fortune. She still had a substantial amount
of cash. Dad had believed in cash. If she were fearful -- and so
many were fearful now -- would she see it as throwing good money
after bad? If she didn't help ... Who would ever have believed that
the Neville Gallery could go down? It was a solid business,
catering to rich vacationers and to the well-heeled retirees who'd
settled on the South Carolina sea island of Broward's Rock to
escape harsh northern winters. They still had money, but the days
of free spending for luxuries were gone. If only he'd been more
cautious when times were good. He'd put all he earned from the
gallery into stocks. He'd bought more on margin. Dad always warned
against buying on margin.

Only a year ago, he and Irene had been rich enough to do anything,
go anywhere. That was over. He'd had to borrow to make good. Money
was due now on the notes. If Irene knew just how little money they
had ...

"I want to go to Saint Thomas." She tossed down her napkin, pushed
back her chair. She rose gracefully, lithe and athletic, stopping
at the breakfast room door to flash the enigmatic smile that had
held him in thrall since the day they met. "You'll find a way,
Carl. I know you will."

"Maybe we should tell Virginia to stick it. Just not show up. The
damn gall of her having the damn party at the gallery at the same
time as the Mackey opening." Rusty shoved a hand through his hair,
now a faded red, nothing like the flaming thatch he'd had when
Susan first met him. His charm had attracted her, and the Hollywood
boy-next-door appeal of his broad open freckled face. And just like
Hollywood, it was all show and no substance. Oh, he was charming
still, but now there was often an undercurrent of petulance when
they were alone. In public, he was always a pukka sahib, perfectly
attired in a navy polo shirt, chinos, cordovan loafers, welcome at
a country club, on a cruise ship, hail fellow well

Excerpted from ENGAGED TO DIE © Copyright 2003 by Carolyn
Hart. Reprinted with permission by Avon, an imprint of
HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.


Engaged to Die: A Death on Demand Mystery
by by Carolyn Hart

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Avon
  • ISBN-10: 0060004703
  • ISBN-13: 9780060004705