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Drop Dead, Gorgeous!

MaryJanice Davidson

  Drop Dead,


  Drop Dead, Gorgeous!

  MaryJanice Davidson


  This book is for Sam, but not Scott. It's also for Jenny, the first woman I ever met who had no idea how beautiful she was. And for her beautiful sister, Jessica, who knows why…oh, hell, we'll just throw the whole Lorentz family in there. Frankly, they're all a pretty good-looking bunch.


  Thanks to my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, for helping to make this book happen. I just write ’em. He does the hard stuff. Really! Given a choice between writing a book and reading a contract, guess which one I’ll pick every time.

  I have read that having a bad agent is worse than no agent at all, but thankfully, I don’t know from bad agents. I also have no idea, thanks to Ethan, about bad contracts.

  I mean, not to go on a whole rant here, but have you seen the font used on some of those publishing contracts? I get a headache just thinking about it, but not only does he have a gift for contract-ese, he has a gift for keeping me out of trouble. His enthusiasm, accessibility, and kindness are priceless beyond rubies.

  Thanks also to my husband, a tireless sounding board, and my friend Jessica (another beautiful woman who does not know her worth), who thinks nothing of keeping her cell phone on her nightstand in case I want to call at 4:00 A.M.

  I am blessed.

  Finally, special thanks to my editor, Kate Duffy, for also being my sounding board and sending me cyber-Kleenex this fall. I love this book, but it was a difficult one to write. Kate knew, and if she ever feared what I was going to produce, she never let on. God bless the inscrutable editor.

  “The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”

  —Omar Bradley

  “You know what it takes to sit across the table from a man, listen to him talk, look into his eyes…and then blow his brains all over the wallpaper?


  “And the more of that you have, the easier it is.”

  —Andrew Vachss,

  Dead and Gone

  “Always forgive your enemies…nothing annoys them so much.”

  —Oscar Wilde

  Author’s Note

  This is the second book set in the Gorgeous universe. If you’re standing in the bookstore trying to decide whether to buy this or not, let me assure you that Drop Dead, Gorgeous! is a stand-alone book, and you certainly don’t need to read the first one to figure out what’s going on.

  But you don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, you shouldn’t take my word for it. Who am I? Someone who gets paid to spin yarns for a living…better check to make sure your wallet is still in your purse. Instead of taking my word for it, you should pick up the first book in this series, Hello, Gorgeous!

  Go ahead. Reach for the shelf. The D’s. Davidson. I’m usually in the middle of the shelf. Janet Dailey’s books are probably to the left, and Jude Deveraux is to the right.

  Anyway, reach out, grab Hello, Gorgeous!, read it, then read this one. And then you’ll know I was telling the truth: this book really does stand alone. Although it’s nice to find out how things began, don’t you think?

  You haven’t bought it yet? Well, that’s all right. I can bring you up to speed in just a couple of paragraphs. And it’s fine if you didn’t want to buy it. Really! I don’t mind. I’m making the mortgage payments on my hovel, and the kids’ rickets have nearly cleared up. Don’t give it another thought. We’re all fine.

  No go, huh? Well, good for you. Paperbacks are getting more expensive all the time. There’s always the library. (That sound you heard was my editor’s head blowing up.)

  Anyway. This book takes place about two years after the events in Hello, Gorgeous! In that fine, upstanding work of clarity and vision (I’m expecting a call any day from the Pulitzer people), we met Caitlyn and Dmitri. Caitlyn was a pretty ordinary gal—smarter than she liked to let on, opinionated, a small-business owner (the hair salon Magnifique), single, loath to work out.

  Then there was an accident, and then there was the O.S.I., and then there was The Boss. Caitlyn woke up in a hospital bed fundamentally changed; she had been infected with nanobytes. (Nanobytes=the twenty-first century version of bionics.)

  The good news: she would not be breathing through tubes for the rest of her life. The bad news: the government-funded think tank, the O.S.I., expected her to work for them. Save the world on occasion. Show up at staff meetings. Wear a tacky, government-issued I.D. card. Unending horror.

  What with one thing or another, Caitlyn ended up going after the only other person on the planet who was nanobyte-enhanced: Dmitri Novatur, code named The Wolf. She did this a) to get The Boss off her back, and b) because O.S.I. personnel were turning up dead, which wreaked havoc on the staff meetings.

  In between catching bad guys, falling in love, running Magnifique, and trying to stay out of The Boss’s clutches, we met Jenny, her assistant, and Stacy, her best friend. These women kept Caitlyn grounded as only the best of friends can; a woman who will tell you your butt looks big in peach is priceless beyond compare.

  Caitlyn (saddled with the annoying code name Mirage because, as The Boss explained, no one ever knew if she was going to show up for work or not) saved the world (multiple times), got the guy (multiple times), and lived through the horror of her best friend falling for The Boss.

  And that’s about where we left off.

  P.S. Nanobyte technology in the “real world” appears to be beyond our grasp, at least as far as Dmitri and Caitlyn are concerned; but there are still disastrous wedding luncheons every day, all over the world.



  Author’s Note


  Part One WITHIN

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Part Two WITHOUT

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Part Three WITHAL



  The Snakepit

  1430 hours

  “It has to be done.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Done now. Right now.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “This has been on my To-Do list for a while. You know that.”

  “Everyone knows that, ma’am.”

  “Right. So nobody’s going to think I’m doing it—finally—just because he’s getting married to That Woman, right?”

  “Right, ma’am.”

  “Because She has nothing to do with it.”

  “Got it in one, ma’am.”

  “Okay, then. So. Do it.”

  “Ma’am. I’ll see
to it myself.”

  Part One


  Chapter 1

  The Grand Hotel

  Minneapolis, Minnesota

  Jenny Branch watched as her boss was gently restrained from committing homicide.

  “I have to do it now,” Caitlyn James cried. “If I don’t do it now, they’ll—ugh!—do it. Do you know what that means?”

  “They’ll be husband and wife, pet,” Caitlyn’s husband, Dmitri, replied, catching her small fist and kissing it.

  “Don’t say that. Like they haven’t already been doing it. Because they have! I had to gouge out my retinas when I accidentally walked into the kitchen at the wrong moment.” Caitlyn seemed unaware that her husband had picked her up by the elbows and held her effortlessly off the ground as her small feet swung and kicked. “But that was sex. Nightmarish, disgusting sex. But still. The sex I could tolerate.”

  “What a charming liar you are, my love.”

  “Well, I was almost getting used to it. A teensy bit used to it. But marriage? Him? Marrying my best friend? No chance in hell. If I was ever going to kill him, I’ve got to do it now. So put me down already.”

  Jenny sighed again, and they both looked. “Sorry,” she covered. “I love weddings.” In fact, she hated them. Just what every single woman needed: a reminder that she would die alone, until the cats found her.

  She was reminded, again, of her favorite movie, When Harry Met Sally, and the lines she thought applied to her in particular: “Suppose nothing happens to you. Suppose you live out your whole life and nothing happens. You never meet anybody, you never become anything, and finally you die one of those New York deaths which nobody notices for two weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway.”

  Not that she was from New York; she was a small-town Minnesotan, born and bred.

  (Who’s going to want you?)

  But the rest of it applied to her.

  (You’re not smart enough for college—stick with modeling.)

  It’s why she was a dog person.

  She shoved her thoughts from unnpleasantries and focused on the wedding, and her friends. Not that Dmitri was really anyone’s friend—not even Caitlyn’s, she sometimes thought.

  But it didn’t seem to matter; Dmitri and Caitlyn were so perfect for each other. And they would have the most glorious children. And Caitlyn hadn’t even been trying to get married! She had loved being single, especially after getting free of her parents like that. Jenny suspected that was why she had been drawn to the tall, sarcastic, sometimes-annoying owner of Mag, the super-salon in St. Paul. They both had something in common: rotten parents.

  Then Dmitri practically falls into Caitlyn’s lap at her new job—or maybe she fell into his, Jenn never got all the details—and boom! A big, expensive wedding. In Lithuania!

  Followed, in an annoyingly short time, by Jessica’s wedding to The Boss.

  It just wasn’t fucking fair, and she knew it was petty, but it was in her own head, and she was allowed to be petty there if nowhere else, right?

  “I’d love it if you tried to make me put you down.” Dmitri was breathing that sexy European accent right into Caitlyn’s ear, and she was liking it plenty, too, the whore, but at least she wasn’t screeching anymore.

  “You guys, I don’t really think—” Jenny peeked through the curtain again. The use of a curtain, rather than a door, to separate the bridesmaids (to wit: Caitlyn) from the groom (to wit: The Boss) was making her nervous. “I don’t think Dmitri’s supposed to be back here.”

  “And I don’t think this farce of a wedding is supposed to be taking place—there’s only a million other nicer things to do in Minneapolis on a gorgeous day like today—but here we all are.”

  “It’s pouring rain.”


  “Caitlyn, do we have to go through this again?” Jenny tried to keep the exasperation out of her voice. Caitlyn was, for all her faults, still the boss.

  “I guess I’m the only person who sees all the unique horribleness in the situation,” Caitlyn hissed, which made Dmitri snort briefly with laughter.

  A new voice interrupted the faux fight. “Jimmy, hon, you are totally replaceable. You know that, right?”

  Dmitri put down the maid of honor. Jenny turned. The bride was standing on the opposite end of the sitting room, just closing the far door behind her. The room itself, a plush, brocaded thing with too many chairs, looked far more dressed than the bride.

  “Stop calling me Jimmy,” Caitlyn said, newly distracted.

  The bride ignored her. “I’m surprised you two didn’t hear me clomping up the stairs—you got ears like hounds.”

  “We were a little preoccupied,” Dmitri said, trying not to stare at the golden brown tops of Stacy’s breasts, which were barely held in by the creamy bustier.

  “Yeah, and now we’re busy saving your life. Again! Though metaphorically this time.”

  “Actually, boss, more figuratively than metaphorically. A metaphor is defined as the substitution of an idea or an object with another idea or object. For example, ‘the aggressive couple howled at the moon’ would be a metaphor.”

  “Jenny, honey, I love you, but we got no time for your spooky smartness. I need help!” Stacy spoke gently enough, but her voice spiraled up into panic at the end. “The seamstress is late with my dress. My underwear is at least a size too small. And I just had to break up a fistfight between the caterer and one of the waiters.”

  “Nonsense,” Dmitri, a man like all men in at least one thing, replied. “Your underwear is perfectly sized. Speaking on behalf of grooms everywhere, you don’t need another stitch. Now go on out there and swear eternal love to the luckiest man on earth.”

  “That’s going to cost you,” Caitlyn muttered.

  “Well spoken, my dear. Very well…. to the second luckiest man on earth. The important thing is, you’re dressed.”

  His wife elbowed him in the ribs. “I see your point, Stace. But maybe you should look at this as more like an omen, you know?”

  Stacy crossed the room with terrifying speed. Given that she had no enhancement, technological or otherwise (she didn’t even like to run on the treadmill), it was an impressive move.

  She jammed a finger under Caitlyn’s chin (the nail, Jenny noted, was painted bright blue) and said in a low, terrifying voice, “We’ve been over this. I’m marrying him. Now you can stand up or you can get out of my way. Don’t make me go through this with you again.”

  “Okay,” Caitlyn said with uncharacteristic meekness, but then, who wanted to get a bright blue fingernail jammed into their eyeball? And on such a shitty day? “Sorry. Don’t, uh, do anything rash.”

  “Don’t talk to me about rash, girlfriend. You don’t know from rash.”

  “This is true,” Caitlyn admitted and, for a wonder, had no further comment.

  “While we’re waiting for the seamstress, maybe we could touch up your hair a little,” Jenny suggested. Among other things. The bride was looking a little stressed; Jenn could see the sweat beading her temples.

  “I have to get dressed first. Besides, hon, I’ve got work for all of you,” she added, nodding to Dmitri. “You need to go down to the kitchens and make sure no more fights break out.”

  “Hmmph,” Dmitri said, allowing himself one last lingering look at her cleavage.

  The bride ignored him. “The boneheads haven’t frosted my cake yet, God knows why—”

  Caitlin raised her hand like a kid in school. After a pause, Stacy said, “Caitlyn?”

  “I’ve mentioned that all these things going wrong are an omen, right?”

  “Shut up. Why don’t you go down with Dmitri?”

  “Why don’t I?”

  “And Jenny, I need you to track down the decorator, or whatever the cake-toppie-thingie-person is called. You can play with my makeup and hair after that…” she added, pointing to a perfectly beautiful, slicked-back ponytail with rich brown curls swinging at the back, curls that had been tw
ined with ribbon the exact color of her missing dress. There were benefits to having friends who worked in a salon.

  “Don’t touch your hair,” Caitlyn ordered.

  “I’m not. And the dress will have arrived by the time she gets back. It will. And then the show will go on. God willing, the show will go on.”

  Given their marching orders, they all got to work.

  Chapter 2

  Jenny found the cake, but no cake decorator. “She had to leave,” a doleful waitress informed her. “She was getting a migraine.”

  “She couldn’t decorate the cake, then leave?”

  The waitress, filling silver-rimmed plates with petits fours, didn’t look up. “No way. She tried that once, but when she gets that way she sees double.”

  “But—the cake?”

  The waitress, who had finished with the tiny cakes and was now stacking empty glasses on the counter between them, actually shivered. “Just the thought of it. Curds of meringue everywhere—even the ceiling! The cake looked like someone punched it, and then had sex with it.”

  “So…what? What’s the plan? We can’t serve it to the guests like this.” Jenny eyed the cake, a four-tiered confection of what appeared to be vanilla sponge. It was neatly put together, and there were several bowls beside it, all full of perfectly whipped frosting.