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Her teeth were ready to chatter, and her toes were wet despite her expensive leather boots and the lovely thick wool ski socks Jonah the jerk had given her for Christmas. Okay, she’d been stupid to walk the eight blocks, but she was still so angry that she’d chosen not to drive or take a cab. She’d intended to walk off her mad before she sat down at the breakfast table with her mother and stepfather. Now she rather thought the mad was the only thing keeping her going. It was cold and getting even colder, if that was possible.
It was just after nine o’clock, enough time for them to catch up on everything. Maybe she’d even tell them about the jerk Jonah Blazer, a journalist for The New York Times. She really didn’t want to admit that she’d been so wrong about him, but of course if they asked, she’d have to tell them about that lying moron.
Everywhere she looked, the feathering snow was stark white, soft and romantic in spite of the cold wind. She wondered how long it would stay so achingly clean. But she didn’t want to freeze to death in a winter wonderland. She finally turned the corner onto Beckhurst Lane, old, rich, and beautiful, its big houses set way back from the quiet, tree-lined street.
She came to an abrupt halt. There were three strange cars, mongrels all, at odds with the Beemers and Benzes and the occasional sexy Jaguar. These sedans were pedestrian, nondescript, and they’d been parked here awhile, given the amount of snow on their hoods. What was this? She paused a moment, frowning, watching the silent snow cascade like lace from the leaden sky.
Oh good heavens, was she ever slow. They were cop cars, and that meant something was wrong. She ran to the front door, nearly tripping, and panting because she was so scared. She tried to find her keys in her leather bag, but her hands were cold and shaking and she couldn’t find them. She pounded on the front door. “Let me in! Somebody, let me in!”
She heard footsteps coming, not her mother’s light high-heeled step. The door swung open. A woman in a black pantsuit stood there. “Yes? May I help you?”
“I’m Callie Markham, Mrs. Califano’s daughter. What’s going on here? Who are you? Oh God, has something happened to my mother?”
A man’s voice called out, “She’s the daughter? Bring her in here, Nancy.”
It was then that Callie heard a woman weeping, quietly, hopelessly. It was her mother.
Callie ran into the living room, only to stop cold. There were three men there, two in dark suits, the third in a leather jacket, white shirt, black tie, and black slacks, black half boots on his feet. Mr. Leather Jacket rose from where he’d been sitting close to her mother, and walked to her. He was a big guy, tall and tough-looking, out of place in this soft cream-and-blue room. The two suits with him didn’t look all that tame either, but their clothes didn’t fit as well as his. “Ms. Markham?”
“Yes. What’s going on here? Who are you?” She tried to get around him, to go to her mother, but he blocked her path. “Just a moment, ma’am. You’re Mrs. Califano’s daughter, the one who is supposed to be in New York?”
“Yes, yes, I came back early because I found my boyfriend in bed with another woman, if you can believe that. Now move, before I deck you.”
The man smiled down at her, and even though it was the meanest excuse for a smile she’d ever seen, there was also a bit of humor in it.
She shoved hard against his chest. “Move, dammit!”
Margaret Califano raised her head. Her face was ravaged, eyes swollen, her mascara smeared around her eyes.
“Callie? Please, Detective Raven, it’s my daughter. She’s not here to hurt me.”
“Mama? What’s going on here? Why would anyone want to hurt you?”
She watched her mother rise and weave a bit until she steadied herself. Her strong, self-assured mother looked fragile, terrifyingly fragile. She held out her hand, her mouth worked, but nothing came out. She sent a look toward the man, fanned her hands out in front of her, and fell back onto the sofa, her face in her hands.
Detective Raven. Of course the man was a cop.
He said, “I’m very sorry, Ms. Markham, but it’s your stepfather. He’s dead.”
She slowly turned to face Detective Raven again. “That is ridiculous. It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, and here you are saying things like that? What kind of a sadistic creep are you?” She tried to shove him away, but he didn’t move.