Skin deep, p.15
Skin Deep, p.15Part #3 of The O'Hurleys series by Nora Roberts
"Came in here smoking some foreign cigarette. I don't allow smoking, no matter how classy the tobacco. Not good for the flowers."
"How do you know it was foreign?"
"How do I know? How do I know? I know an American cigarette when I see one," the florist said testily. "And this wasn't one of them. Made him put it out too. Don't care how much money you spend in here you ain't gonna pollute my flowers."
"Okay, so he had nervous hands."
"Couldn't keep them still once he put the thing out. Look, I had enough trouble in here yesterday without this character. Mrs. Donahue was driving me to grief and my clerk was getting her appendix out. Next thing you know, she'll want to claim it on workman's compensation."
"Anything else?" Quinn steered him patiently away from his clerk's appendectomy. "Anything he did or said that sticks in your mind?"
"Money clip," he said abruptly. "Yeah, he took the cash out of a clip instead of a wallet. A nice one, nothing you'd pick up on the street. Silver. Monogrammed."
"Initials?" The florist began to file away his stack of receipts. "What do I know from initials? It had squiggly lines on it."
"Any rings? A watch?"
"I don't know. I notice the clip because the guy's got a nice fat wad tucked into it. Maybe he's got jewelry, maybe he doesn't. I'm taking his cash, not giving him an appraisal."
"Thanks." Quinn took out a card and wrote his number at the hotel on the back. "I'd appreciate it if you'd call if you remember anything else. Or if he comes back."
"He in trouble?"
"Let's just say I'd like the chance to talk to him."
"Don't forget your carnations."
Quinn tucked the arrangement under his arm and headed for the door.
"Guess you get some weirdos out in California," Bernstein commented.
"Movie stars." He gave another quick snort. "Guy said he worked close with Miss O'Hurley. Real close."
Quinn's fingers tightened around the knob. "Thanks." As he stepped onto the sidewalk, he thrust the flowers into the arms of a woman dragging a shopping cart. He didn't look back to see her staring at him. There was a sick feeling starting in his stomach. He knew someone who occasionally carried a silver money clip. A clip that had been a present from Chantel. Matt Burns.
He didn't want to believe it. Matt was a friend, and no one knew better than Quinn how hard it was to make and keep friends in his business. Yet how well did he really know Matt Burns?
He hadn't known about the gambling until he'd dug it up. Matt had betrayed a client then because of a weakness. Didn't that make him first in line to betray Chantel because of another kind of weakness?
A lot of men carried money clips, Quinn reminded himself as he headed away from the hotel rather than toward it. He needed to think things through before going back to Chantel. A lot of men carried silver money clips, Quinn continued, just the way a lot of men smoked foreign cigarettes. But he wondered how many men who knew Chantel, who worked closely with Chantel, did both.
He was being stupid, Quinn decided as he stopped at a phone booth. The word was soft, he corrected. That's what the woman had done to him. It wasn't his job to find reasons why it couldn't be Matt, but find reasons why it could.
Flipping open his notepad, he scanned for Matt's number and dialed.
"Answering for Matt Burns."
"I need to speak with him."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Burns is unavailable until Monday."
"Make him available, sweetheart. It's important."
The voice became very prim. "I'm sorry, Mr. Burns is out of town."
Nerves skimmed down Quinn's spine. "Where?"
"I'm not permitted to give out that information."
"This is Quinn Doran. I'm calling for Chantel O'Hurley."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Doran. You should have told me who you were. Mr. Burns is out of town, I'm afraid. Should I have him get in touch with you if he checks in?"
"I'll get in touch with him on Monday. Where is he?"
"He flew to New York, Mr. Doran. On some personal business."
"Yeah." He bit off an oath as he hung up the phone. It was very personal. This was going to hurt her, Quinn thought. And it was going to hurt deep.
"Three more hours." Maddy O'Hurley jumped up from her chair, paced across the room and plopped onto the sofa. "We should have gotten married in the morning."
"It'll be afternoon soon enough." Chantel sipped at her third cup of coffee and wondered when she would hear from Quinn again. "Shouldn't you be enjoying your last hours as a single woman?"
"I'm too wired to enjoy anything." Maddy was up again, her mop of red hair bouncing with the movement. "I'm so glad you're here." She stopped long enough to give Chantel a quick squeeze. "I'd be going crazy now if you weren't. I wish Abby would come down."
"She will, as soon as she dumps Dylan and the boys on Pop. Think about something else."
"Something else." Maddy's slim dancer's body spun in a circle. "How can I think of something else? Walking down that aisle is the biggest entrance I'll ever make."
"Speaking of entrances, tell me about the play."
"It's terrific." Her amber eyes lighted with love of the theater. "Maybe I'm prejudiced because it was the play that brought Reed and me together, but it's the best thing I've done. I was hoping you'd be able to see it."
"I'll be back in New York shooting on location soon. You'll be back from your honeymoon and onstage."
Chantel reached restlessly for a cigarette. "And if the reviews are any indication, the thing's going to be running for years."
Maddy watched her sister toy with, then light, the cigarette. It was something she did rarely, and only when she was tense. "How's the filming going?"
"And this Quinn? Is it serious?"
Chantel moved her shoulders. "He's just a man."
"Come on, Chantel, this is Maddy. I've seen you with just a man before. Did you have an argument?" She managed to keep herself still long enough to sit on the arm of Chantel's chair. "Last night you seemed so happy. You practically glowed every time you looked at him."
"Of course I'm happy." She gave Maddy's arm a quick pat. "My baby sister's getting married to a man I've decided is nearly worthy of her."
"Don't hedge, Chantel." Abruptly serious, Maddy took Chantel's restless hands in hers. Nerves seemed to leap from one sister to the other. "Hey, something's really wrong, isn't it?"
"Don't be silly, I—" She broke off at the knock on the door. Maddy felt her sister's fingers tense.
"Chantel, what is it?"
"Nothing." Disgusted with herself, Chantel made her muscles relax. "Just make sure who it is, darling. We don't want an overexuberant bridegroom walking in."
Far from satisfied, Maddy rose and walked to the door. "It's Abby," she said as she looked through the peephole. And with Abby's help, she thought, she'd get to the bottom of what was worrying their sister. "How come you're not fat yet?" she accused as she opened the door.
With a laugh, Abby put one hand on her stomach and the other on Maddy's cheek. "Because I have over five months to go. How come you're not getting ready yet?"
"Because the wedding's not for three hours."
"Just enough time." Abby draped a garment bag over the back of a chair and went to Chantel. "Think we can whip her into shape?"
"Maybe. At least if we start on her she can't pace around the suite. Thank God Reed talked you into giving up that apartment. We'd have been sitting on top of each other."
"I still miss it." With a grin, Maddy moved over to wrap an arm around each of her sisters. "I have such a hard time picturing me in a penthouse uptown. Are Dylan and the boys with Pop?"
"I left them at his door. Mom's getting her hair done, and Pop was about to talk Dylan into a prewedding toast. I can't wait to see Ben in his tux again. He looks like such a little man. And Chris is annoyed that we're renting them instead of buying
"The possessive pronoun's a bit premature." Chantel managed a smile. Then, on impulse, she went to the phone. "I know what's missing here," she told them, punching up Room Service. "I'd like a bottle of champagne, three glasses. Dom Perignon '71. Yes, Madeline O'Hurley's suite. Thank you."
Abby arched a brow and leaned her arm on Maddy's shoulder. "It's barely eleven."
"Who's counting?" Chantel wanted to know. "The O'Hurley Triplets are going to celebrate." Without warning, her eyes filled. "Oh, God, sometimes I miss the two of you so much I can hardly stand it."
In an instant they were together, holding close in the bond that had cemented them even before birth. Maddy sniffled, Abby soothed, and then, to her sisters' amazement, Chantel broke down completely.
"Oh, baby." Abby lowered her to the sofa, casting a quick, concerned look at Maddy. "What's wrong, Chantel?"
"It's nothing, nothing." She brushed her tears aside. "Just being sentimental. I guess I'm a little edgy, working too hard. Just seeing the two of you, you with your beautiful family, Abby, and Maddy about to start one of her own. I wonder if things had been different…" She let her words trail off with a shake of her head. "No, I made my choices, now I have to deal with them."
Abby brushed the hair from Chantel's face. Her voice was always calm, her hands always gentle. "Chantel, is this about Quinn?"
"Yes—No." She lifted both hands, then dropped them. "I don't know. I'm having a little trouble with an overenthusiastic fan," she said, downplaying her problem. "I hired Quinn to more or less keep him at a distance, and then I fell in love with him and…" She trailed off again, letting out a deep breath. "I just said it out loud."
Maddy bent down to kiss the top of her head. "Did it help?"
Some of the tension uncurled. "Maybe. I'm being an idiot." She fumbled for a tissue. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to walk down the aisle as maid of honor with puffy eyes."
"That sounds more like Chantel," Maddy murmured. "And besides, if you're in love with Quinn, everything's going to work out."
"Always the optimist."
"Absolutely. Abby found Dylan, I found Reed, so it's your turn. Now if we could just pin down Trace…"
"You're really reaching," Chantel said with a laugh. "If there's a woman out there who can put a hobble on big brother, I'd love to meet her." She started at the knock on the door, but brought herself back quickly. "Must be the champagne." Stuffing the tissue in her pocket, Chantel went to the door but checked the peephole first. "Uh-oh." A smile hovered on her lips as she glanced over her shoulder. "We've got the champagne, all right, but there's more. Abby, drag Maddy into the bedroom. There's a lovesick maniac at the door."
''Reed? Is it Reed?" Maddy was halfway to the door before her sisters headed her off.
"No way." She might be nearly four months pregnant, but Abby was still agile. She had an arm hooked around Maddy's waist. "Bad luck, honey. You get into the bedroom. Chantel and I can transmit any messages."
"This is silly."
"I'm not opening the door until you're out of the room," Chantel said simply, and leaned back on it. "All the way out."
After wrinkling her nose, Maddy slammed the door behind her. As a precaution, Abby posted herself in front of it. With a nod of satisfaction, Chantel pulled open the door to the hall. "Just over there," she told the waiter. "And you—" she put a slender, manicured finger to Reed's chest "—not a step farther."
"I just want to see her for a minute."
Chantel managed to force back a smile and shook her head. She could almost feel the love coming from him, the nerves, the longing. He hadn't changed into his tux yet, and he was wearing a pair of casual slacks and a shirt that reflected his conservative style. He looked like an executive. He was an executive, she thought with another shake of her head. And the farthest thing from the type one would have imagined with her free-spirited, bohemian sister. Yet they fit. Chantel imagined Maddy had fallen for those calm gray eyes first. The rest would have been a smooth drop.
"Look, I have something for her." Used to getting his own way, Reed took a step forward, only to be blocked easily by Chantel. "I'll be in and out before you know it."
"You won't be in at all," Chantel corrected. "We're Irish, Reed, and we're theater people. You're not going to find a group more superstitious. You'll see Maddy at the church."
"That's right." Hearing a stirring behind her, Abby hooked her hand firmly around the knob of the bedroom door. "I'm sure you're too much of a gentleman to try to get through both of us." Using the ultimate weapon, she smiled and put a hand to her stomach. "Or should I say all three of us?"
Reed wasn't so sure. He wanted to see Maddy, touch her, if only for a minute, to assure himself it was all real. Abby smiled at him with warm, sympathetic eyes, but she didn't budge. Chantel signed the receipt for the wine without moving from the doorway.
"Go down to the eighth floor and have a drink with Pop," she advised.
"I just want to—"
"Forget it." Then she softened and kissed his cheek. "Just a couple of hours, Reed. Believe me, it'll be worth the wait."
Only minutes before, Reed had managed to talk his way around Dylan and override Frank's objections. But he knew when he was out of his depth. "Would you give her this?" He took a small box from his pocket. "It was my grandmother's. I was going to give it to her later, but, well, I'd like her to wear it today."
"She'll wear it." She started to hustle him out again, then stopped. "Reed."
"Welcome to the family." Then she shut the door in his face. "Lord, another minute of that and I'd have been in tears again. Let her out."
"What did he give you?" Maddy was already nudging past her sister. She took the box from Chantel and opened it. Inside was a tiny heart of diamonds on a thin silver chain. "Oh, isn't it lovely?"
"It's going to look even lovelier against your dress." Abby ran a fingertip over the stones. "Here, I'll clasp it for you."
"Now I'm going to cry." Maddy closed her hand over the heart. He was going to be hers, truly hers, in a matter of hours. And her new life would begin.
"No more tears." Chantel released the cork from the wine with a swoosh. It landed on the carpet, to be ignored as she poured wine to overflowing into three glasses. "We're going to get just a little drunk—Well, two of us are going to get a little drunk, and Abby's going to have half a glass. Then, between the three of us, we're going to create the most beautiful bride to ever walk down the aisle at St. Pat's. Here's to you, little sister."
"No." Maddy touched her glass to Chantel's, then to Abby's. "Here's to us. As long as we have each other, we're never alone."
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At Chantel's insistence, she and Quinn caught the redeye to L.A. Saturday night. New York hadn't been the haven she'd hoped for. With the wedding over and her sister off on a Caribbean honeymoon, Chantel could only think of getting home.
The reception had been a strain. She'd caught herself watching strangers, studying familiar faces and wondering. Even when she willed herself to sleep on the plane, she promised herself that the next time she came back to New York, it would be without fear.
And what could she say to Quinn? She felt betrayed by his silence, yet had she, by the extent of her dependence on him, asked for it? Was she so weak, so cowardly, that he felt it necessary to shield her from everything? She wanted his protection, but she also wanted his respect. Had she forfeited that by refusing to listen to his reports, by allowing him to intercept the notes and keep the contents from her? It was time that stopped. All her life, except for one brief period, she had had her hand on the controls. Now, through fear, she'd relinquished them. Starting now, she was taking back the helm.
Quinn wondered how long it would take her to unfreeze. She'd certainly been cool eno
He wondered what it would feel like to stand where Reed Valentine had stood, to watch Chantel, as Reed had watched Maddy, walk toward him wearing white lace. What would it be like to hear her make the promises her sister had made? He shook himself out of the mood.
They were almost ready to land, and Chantel was dozing restlessly beside him. Couldn't she understand that he'd done what he'd done for her sake, because he'd needed so badly to see her relax, even if only for a couple of days? She didn't understand, or wouldn't, and he hadn't tried to explain. He didn't know how.
He didn't have the flair of one of her leading men. He didn't have the words all neatly typed in a script he could memorize. He had only what was inside him, and there didn't seem to be a way to explain that. Words weren't feelings. Phrases weren't emotions. And emotions were all he had.
When they landed, Chantel looked fresh and rested, as though she'd spent eight hours sleeping on a soft bed rather than snatching naps on a plane. They got their luggage without incident and within twenty minutes were riding in the back of a limo toward Beverly Hills.
Chantel lighted a cigarette, then glanced casually at her watch. Right now she felt wired, restless. Jet lag would hit tomorrow, but she would function.
"I'd like to see your reports, all of your reports, by noon tomorrow."
Streetlights flashed intermittently against the windows. His face was in shadow, but Chantel doubted she would have been able to read his expression in any case. "Fine. I have the file at your place."
"I'd also like an update on anything you came up with in New York."
"You're the boss."
"I'm glad you remember that."
He could have strangled her. He thought about ways that were quick and quiet, but instead he simply sat back and bided his time. He stepped out of the limo at the gate. Though Chantel had been gone, he'd thought it best to leave the twenty-four-hour guard in place. A few brief words and he was back in the limo, gliding through the open gates.
At the entrance, Chantel sailed past him. She had reached the head of the main staircase before he caught her.
"Something eating you, angel?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. You will excuse me now, Quinn?" Delicately she peeled his fingers from her arm. "I want to take a long, hot bath."
No one did it better. He had to give her that as he watched her walk down the hall to her room. She could, with a look, with an inflection, slice a man in half without leaving a drop of blood.
He thought he was calm. He thought he was controlled—until the moment he heard the lock click on her door. Then the rage he'd held in throughout the day clawed free. He didn't hesitate. Maybe he wasn't even thinking. Quinn walked to her bedroom door and kicked it in.
She wasn't often speechless. Chantel just stood there. The jacket of her suit had already been discarded, leaving her in a pale pink teddy and a rose-colored skirt. One hand remained frozen on top of her head where she had begun to pin up her hair.
She'd seen fury before, real and simulated, but she'd never seen anything like what was boiling in Quinn's eyes.
"Don't you ever lock a door on me." His voice was so quiet after the crash of splintering wood that she shivered. "Don't you ever walk away from me."
Slowly she lowered her hand so that her hair tumbled to her shoulders. "I want you to leave."
"Maybe it's time you learned even you can't have everything you want. I'm here to stay. You're going to have to do a hell of a lot more than turn a key to keep me out."
When he came toward her, she stiffened but refused to retreat. She was through backing away from anything, even him. He took her hair and wrapped it around his hand.
"You wanted to slap me down, and that's fine. But I'll be damned if I'll take it from you for doing my job."
Skin Deep by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes