In high school, Lindy was everything Mary Beth was not: a cheerleader who dated and finally married Roger Van Court, the wealthiest boy in school. Now, however, Roger has thrown Lindy out of their pricey San Francisco home. She's living on the streets, denied access to her only child.
Mary Beth can't turn her old friend away. But almost immediately their lives are threatened. Caught up in a series of terrifying events, Mary Beth will uncover more than she bargained fora sinister plot and a heartbreaking secret that will change Mary Beth's life forever.
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The Last Cheerleader
By Meg O'Brien
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen a train comes bearing down on one, there's always a warning. The tracks shake and noise vibrates through them, like the sound of a thousand poor souls in hell. There's a heavy smell of oil in the air, and if anyone is on those tracks - if they can't get off, no matter how hard they try - there is also the dreadful, sickening scent of fear.
That's the way it was for me with Tony. I'd loved him far too long and should have left him long ago. For three years I was on those tracks, and I heard and smelled all the warnings. I just couldn't get off. I watched while he flirted with other women and didn't show up on time, drank my coffee and never even brought me a bean. Tony didn't spend much, and I always knew why. He held on to money as if it pained his palm to pull it out of his pocket. I tried to tell him that if you hold on to money like that it'll just stop coming, that it's like a cat, and if you pay too much attention it sticks its nose in the air and prances the other way. I told him he should be more generous, give some of it away, if only to a poor box at a church. I swore that it would always come back twofold, if not more.
Tony was horrified at that idea. He said he didn't have "enough" to give away, and I always thought he felt the same way about love. He was terrified that if he gave that to someone, even himself, something terrible would happen. As if he'd wake one morning and find he wasn't there anymore, that so much had been given away, there would be nothing left.
And what about you? one might well ask. What was wrong with me, that for three years I hoped against hope that one day this fool would wake up in his Brentwood penthouse and find that he couldn't live another moment without me?
Well, this is what I tell myself, slipping out of my Gucci pumps and slinging my feet up onto my new antique desk: Tony wasn't someone I could all that easily leave. I'm a literary agent, known as one of the best, and Tony sold more books than all my other clients combined - books that turned, like little miracles, into movies and made millions of dollars. In these days of slow sales in New York, of literary agents dropping by the dozens back there and moving to places like Connecticut and Vermont, working out of their homes to squeeze a dime for all it's worth, Tony still came up with one blockbuster after another. And Tony was mine. To leave him might have been slaying the goose with the golden egg.
Slaying. An odd word to think of, under the circumstance. I've been dwelling more on Tony today because they found him dead last night. Worse - right next to him on the bedroom floor was Arnold Wescott, who for the past ten years had been my exhusband.
The police called at the crack of dawn to notify, as well as question, me. I drove from my home in Malibu to Tony's penthouse apartment in Brentwood to identify the bodies, my thoughts a jumbled mess all the way. Tony and Arnold, together? Murdered together? I couldn't wrap my mind around it.
It didn't get better with the terrible wrenching horror of seeing Tony on the floor with his forehead crushed in. As the police detective watched, I turned to Arnold, my heart thumping and questions like wasps still buzzing in my brain. Who could have done this? How did it happen?
I had questions but no answers. This was Tony's apartment, and in the first place, I couldn't understand what Arnold was doing here. So far as I knew, they'd never had any real connection to each other. Only once in a while did they cross paths in my office, and the two couldn't have been less alike. Even in death, while Tony's beautiful Italian face looked pained, Arnold's was placid, as if he'd finally found peace.
In fact, Arnold - a Woody Allen look-alike - didn't appear much different from any other day. All the time I'd been married to him, Arnold Wescott seemed largely comatose. The most energy I ever saw him put out was the time he asked me to wear a metal bra so he could see if it really would deflect bullets.
Arnold was sweet, if morose, and at the time I was still struggling to build my stable of authors from an old thirties-era storefront office in the wrong end of Hollywood. Nights, however, I was into any adventure that came my way. So I stupidly let Arnold put the bra on me, his nervous little fingers shaking as he made sure my breasts were evenly cupped. Then, sweat pouring down his forehead, he stepped back six paces and let fly with the bullets.
Arnold was a toy designer, and how a man who spent thirty-two years in a clinical depression could possibly design a toy that a child would like is beyond me. Well, come to think of it, he never did manage that. After scaring half the world's children to death with GORP, a seven-headed beast that spewed forth murderous threats when his biceps were flexed, he'd turned to designing adult toys. The little rubber bullets were part of a mock-up for GOTCHA, his latest invention. Designed to be pointed at little models of ex-girlfriends wearing metal bras, he had a male doll, too, wearing a metal jockstrap.
That day, the bullets came zooming toward my chest, and I couldn't help it - I flinched, bent over, and one bullet went straight for my eye.
Arnold had to get me to the hospital, where an unbelieving intern was sure that my husband had deliberately popped me one. That only made me laugh so hard that tears stung the abrasion on my cornea. Arnold, violent? No way. Arnold was meek and mild, and he never once had deliberately lifted a finger in my direction - or any other appendage, for that matter.
So it was a bit of a shock when the cops called last night and said they'd found Arnold dead. Not only that, but he was found next to another man's body, in that man's bedroom. Further, the other man was Tony Price, my best-selling author and longhungered-after love.
Even more of a shock was that both men lay side by side on the floor, and next to them was what the police were sure was the murder weapon - a rare ivory Chinese dildo, a favorite of the gay crowd in West Hollywood.
Excerpted from The Last Cheerleader by Meg O'Brien Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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