"Stuart is where?" asked Angela as she sat in the Victoria's cottage. The young blonde tapped her fingers anxiously on the table. "And don't get all worried about my being here. Nobody knows me here. And don't get all bent out of shape thinking that Jared is going to show up. He hasn't been up here since he came back to Andrews Vineyard."
"You're a fool, Angela," Victoria spat. "A complete fool. You're every kind of trouble walking. You're damned lucky that I managed to have a cleanup crew nearby the other day when you staged that fiasco with your former lover, and yes, I know that you played games with that man. Have you any idea what you could have cost us that day? There was no need to get dramatic about it. You didn't even need to confront him. You knew his schedule, what he did. You could have slipped him something and he never even needed to know. It would have been so easy, so convenient. Then you could have taken what you needed and slipped away unnoticed." She took a drink of the coffee from the cup that sat steaming next to her. "But no, you have to jeopardize the whole thing. Do you have any idea how much damage you could have done had you been discovered? Don't you have any sense at all? You could have destroyed everything we've worked for in an instant if the police had been called to investigate a homicide. Now all they have to deal with is a missing person and what appears to have been a burglary."
"I don't care about that," Angela told her, her bright blue eyes flashing as she looked contemptuously at the older woman. What had Stuart ever seen in her, anyhow? "I got what we wanted, and everything is fine. What I want to know is where Stuart is?"
Victoria laughed at the younger woman. "He's out this evening," she told Angela, with a certain amount of relish. "He's gone to the same restaurant where the luscious Lucy Coe is dining with her less than appreciative fiancé. Didn't he tell you? Didn't you know that Stuart has this thing for sexy, intelligent women? They have been his downfall in the past, but who knows now? From what Stuart has told me, Ms. Coe is not only beautiful, but resourceful and creative. And sexy. Did you know that Stuart finds intelligence as alluring as beauty? No, you wouldn't have known that, would you?"
"You're just jealous," Angela sneered. "Because Stuart wants me."
"Child, if Stuart wanted you, he wouldn't be out lusting after Ms. Coe this evening. He wasn't pleased with how you handled the Cameron affair-it wasn't overly intelligent."
"Don't think I can't see what you're doing-and I know that you were his lover years and years ago, back when you were young and attractive." Angela smiled nastily. "And I also know that he dropped you for someone else."
"And now you're in line?" Victoria chuckled. "He's way too old for you, Angela, and I don't mean physically. He sees the subtlety of shades where you see black and white. He knows the value of patience and planning while you want everything now. He plots and waits for his plans to come to fruition while you grab and try not to get caught. He sees you as a greedy little girl-and one who is useful to him just now."
Angela was livid, her face turning a dull red. "I'm more than useful to him. Stuart loves me and I'll have him all to myself. You just think that he'll come back to you because he still thinks you're beautiful and intelligent."
"I've outgrown him," Victoria told her. "Not that it would matter. You're not enough woman for him anyhow. He's not a cruel man, and he doesn't like cruel women. He's a lover, and he doesn't get his kicks out of kinky sex, like some people I could mention."
"So now you're spying on me? I don't think of it as kinky-more like creative."
"Little girl, it's more than a matter of semantics. It's time that Stuart realized just how much of a liability you are."
"And you think you're going to tell him?" Angela was smiling that same, dangerous smile, and Victoria met that gleam in her eyes with a sick sense of understanding. Angela's eyes drifted lower, to the coffee cup. "When, Victoria? Yes, it's about time for the stuff to be taking effect. You're getting sleepy aren't you? No, I don't think you'll be telling anybody anything. No sense trying to call anybody-I've disconnected the phone. And, don't think that Stuart will miss you for longer than it takes to replace you. That you've died will make him feel a little older, and therefore, more vulnerable. He'll need someone youthful to make him feel young again. Of course, I'll be there..."
Angela watched as Victoria's eyes closed, and she smiled as the older woman fell out of the chair. "Good by, Victoria," she said, taking the coffee mug and slipping it into her purse. Victoria was right-she had to be more careful of details. With that, she left the cottage.
As soon as she heard the door click shut, Victoria opened her eyes, and dragged herself to the bedroom. Each inch seemed several feet, and by the time she'd gotten there, she was nearly spent. But, she was determined, and she found her way to the bed, and the computer she kept hidden below it. Prying the case open was a chore, but when she'd at last succeeded, she logged onto the net, grateful that she had a cellular phone tie-in that was easy to establish. Her vision was dimming, rapidly, and the fatigue was getting the best of her, but still she labored on. Seconds later, she had her e-mail program operational, and with leaden fingers, entered an address and a message. The words "Angela Killed Me" flashed onto the screen, and with one more move, she hit the 'send' icon. Breathing shakily, she closed her eyes, determined to hold on, but this time, they stayed closed.
Gilbert looked once more at the computer screen where he'd been chatting with his mentor, D. B. Saxon, discussing the promotional campaign for his novel. "I'd prefer to stay out of the spotlight," he'd written. "I want to write, not do talk shows."
"This will generate interest in your books, therefore more revenue, and better sales which will result in better future sales. Your advances will undoubtedly grow as your popularity grows. This is all a part of the game," Saxon had written back. "Wait a minute. I have E-mail." Then, another line. "Must go. Critical problem from another writer. BBL!"
"Duck A L'Orange??!!" Lucy exclaimed, her eyes flashing outrage. "You are eating DUCK?"
"Lucy, give me a break. It isn't like anybody went out and offed a duck after I ordered it. These ducks are already dead and besides, they were grown specially for eating."
"You.....Cannibal!" she flamed, her offense at the offense committed by Kevin growing by the second. It had been planned, and even rehearsed, but there was nothing quite like an outraged, enraged and utterly incensed Lucy to gather an audience. All evening, she'd danced with different men while he'd pretended not to notice, and a WEB agent had been taking pictures and notes. All evening, he'd been growing more and more annoyed knowing that his Lucy was being as provocative as she could be-at least in public, and that he wasn't free to respond. What an ass he had to appear! Still, that was part of the act, and now, Lucy's anger at whoever had killed and cooked the duck was running rampant. "A duck!! Siggy's relatives! How could you?? How could you?"
"Lucy, put a lid on it," Kevin muttered, tersely. "We have an audience."
"I don't care if the whole $%^&* city of San Francisco is watching. Kevin, I'll never forgive you for this."
"Lucy, now you're being ridiculous. This is just a duck, for Pete's sake. A duck! Siggy will never have to know. It's not like I'm going home with feathers on my mouth. Or, duck breath, even."
"Kevin!" Lucy was strident, shrill.
"Lucy, I'm warning you. I've about had enough of this. You're not being reasonable."
"Reasonable?" she shrieked, apparently oblivious to the audience that was gathering near. A flash went off, and so did Lucy. "I'll give you reasonable, Dr. Kevin Reason is my middle name Collins. Reasonable is that I'm leaving tonight, going home! I've had enough of you and your duck-eating mentality!"
With that, she stomped off, signaling the maitre d' to call a taxi. The crowds parted as she sailed between the people, her head held high, and her eyes flashing as brightly as the flashbulbs.
From a few feet away, Stuart Matthews watched as the woman he'd come to consider his Lucy Coe marched from the restaurant. With the ease of a practiced predator, he rose to his feet and followed her, ignoring the insistent tone from his beeper.
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