I knew it wasn’t the Benadryl that had my mouth drier than the sandy beaches of Newport. No. It was Neal. Neal folding his shirt. The red, expensive shirt. The fabric that looked exactly like the swatch I’d found on the bushes of Cliff Walk where Ian had died.
I didn’t think so.
Perfect Neal was wearing this particular red shirt as if mocking me. Giving me some kind of signal. Yikes.
Neal set the shirt on top of his jacket and turned back.
My jaw dropped.
Apparently he was better at reading body language than I was at hiding my reaction. His look became rather ominous, eyes darkening, face scowling.
He knew, just knew, that I had caught on about the shirt.
“Goddamn it, Pauline.”
I wrinkled my forehead and tried to chuckle. “What?” I asked, moving to the side with the hopes that maybe I was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t as crafty as I’d given him credit for. Or should I say devious? “I’m fine.” I tried to sit, but he pulled me back. “I have to use the powder room.” And get my pepper spray.
He looked at me and shook his head.
This time that body language said, “Doesn’t matter. You ain’t going anywhere. We have things to do.”
In my gut I knew Dr. Neal Forsyth wasn’t talking sex here.
And in my medical opinion, Neal brought me out there for one specific reason, and in the interim he snapped. Snapped like a twig. I could see it in his eyes. The guy was nuts.
I had to think fast.
“Let me go, Neal.” I leaned over and tried to kiss him on the cheek (as a diversion despite my nearly gagging), but he pushed me away.
This was not looking good.
Suddenly Neal was standing above me, and with his shirt off looked more like my older brother than the young doctor that he was. I pushed myself over to the other side of the bed and stared at him.
That ominous, dark look deepened in his eyes…and I realized…Neal Forsyth was not as young as I thought he was.
The guy must have had plastic surgery.
Oh, yeah. Neal probably had BDD too-or was hiding something.
Or had plastic surgery to change his appearance. Oh…my…God.
How could I have not noticed before? Okay, I cut myself some slack since it was so dark in Forsyth Manor the other night, Neal didn’t take off his shirt, which should have been some kind of clue, and I’d had…maybe a bit too much expensive alcohol.
I moved one way.
I had to do something fast. “Oh, are we role playing here?” The words slipped out of my mouth in hopes that Neal would believe that I thought he was kidding. Then I could get away from him-and go where?
“Yeah, Pauline. We’re role playing.” He came to my side of the bed and looked down.
I tried to ease back and grab my jeans.
If something menacing was going to happen-and my gut was screaming that it was-I certainly didn’t want to be found in my floral pink undies.
I knew I needn’t worry since shark bait didn’t need to follow any fashion trends. Who the hell would ever see? I gave up trying to grab my pants and concentrated on what to do.
Save my life came to mind.
I yawned and felt my body getting lighter. My arms actually felt heavy, and I knew if I had to get up and run, my legs would fight me. The Benadryl could be my undoing here.
Benadryl that Neal had “encouraged” me to take.
All right, I’d been in this situation before. Facing the murderer and probably fraud criminal too. But despite my getting through it unscathed before, my mind was so woozy that I couldn’t remember what I’d done.
So I said a silent prayer.
Neal grabbed my arm. “Get up.”
“I’m cold. At least let me stick my jeans back on.” I tried to pull away, but he held me tightly. I told myself I should poke his eyes with my nails, but the damn antihistamine really had done a number on me and I could barely focus.
Why was I so vain that I didn’t want to barf in front of a hunky doctor?
“What are you doing, Neal? I thought we were…I mean…I really wanted to-” I leaned forward and whispered in his ear (all the while fighting back the nausea my words caused), “-make love to you. Real hot, naughty nurse sex, I’m talking.”
Long shot. Sure. But a guy was a guy was a guy.
For a few seconds he started to cave. I could feel him stiffening next to me so I continued prostituting myself in order to…live…and stiffen him.
I kissed him behind the ear and his grip loosened.
Sometimes survival was all out sickening.
“Neal, what happened? I mean, I thought you were younger than you appear.” I ran my fingers through his hair and nearly groaned in disgust. But a girl had to do what a girl had to do to get out of this treacherous situation. “Um, not that you still aren’t a hunk,” I lied, trying to appeal to his vanity.
He started kissing me back.
I swallowed hard so bile wouldn’t rise up in my throat. When faced in a life or death situation, I realized it was an out-of-body experience and pretended this really wasn’t me.
It wasn’t me he was kissing.
It wasn’t my neck he was breathing heavily on.
It wasn’t me Neal would have sex with-then flip overboard.
It was me thinking over my dead body.
But I did keep my mind on the problem at hand, all the while fighting like hell to stay coherent. I knew I could never take him, especially on the Benadryl jag, so I had to keep my wits about me and use my brain.
“What is really going on, sweetie? You were kinda scaring me for a few minutes.” I tried to chuckle, but it came out a strangled sound.
He eased back as he tried to undo the buttons on my top.
To buy time, I took his fingers from the clothing and kissed each one very slowly and deliberately. Ick.
“It has to end, Pauline. It has to end,” he whispered near my ear.
He wasn’t talking finger kissing, that much I was certain-and hoped to hell that I wasn’t the “it” he’d just mentioned. “What, Neal? What has to end?”
Slowly his hands relaxed and he eased me down on the bed. But thank goodness he balanced himself on his arms. Then he looked so very odd. Almost as if in another world. Neal really wasn’t with me right then as he said, “The deception. The killing. My own brother.”
My heart stopped.
When it started again, my hands were shaking so badly I worried Neal would notice. Don’t show fear to the enemy became my motto-although it was much easier to repeat in my head than to actually do. “Deception?” The killing could wait since I figured out that he must have pushed Ian off the cliff. But was Ian his brother? How to get away from this wacko?
“I told Mother this could never work. She’s never left me alone in my life. Never.” Tears streamed down his cheeks, falling onto my chest.
How I wanted to push him away before I vomited, but my strength hadn’t returned despite the adrenaline that pulsed through my body. Besides, Neal had gotten me confused. Mother? In past cases I’d learned to get the murderers, who usually loved to brag, to confess more and more once they got on a roll.
Neal was almost there.
And Neal was no longer rational.
The question was, what the hell would I do with the information since getting off this yacht alive looked…like a slim chance.
For a second I shut my eyes and prayed again, asking Saint Theresa for a miracle.
Neal looked up, his tear-filled eyes eerily glassy. He wasn’t seeing me any longer. But he was still talking.
“She should have stayed in Europe where she could have made a life for us. Damn her for dragging me here. I could have been a doctor in Austria and never gotten into this mess.”
This mess? I needed to know more about this mess. “I’m not following, Neal. Mess?”
He didn’t acknowledge me talking, but as if in a trance continued, “Killing Ian because the fool fell in love with Mr. Perlman.”
I gasped. My Goldie!
On one hand it was handy that Neal had snapped and started confessing, but on the other…I sure didn’t like his admissions.
Neal shifted his weight from one arm to the other. I glanced down to see he was in no “readiness” for sex (thank you, Saint Theresa), so I didn’t try to push him off but lay there listening.
“Because they are gay?” I asked, fishing for clues.
Neal scowled at me. “Because Ian’s loyalty shifted. He was going to risk our moneymaking surgical scheme for love. Love. Ha!”
I tried to weed through what he’d said, clearly admitting to the fraud, yet what else?
“Mother could have been set for life if she could only control herself.”
“Control,” I muttered in a subliminal sort of way so as not to pull Neal from his rambling.
He relaxed a bit, crushing into my chest, but I took a long deep breath and remained silent. “I did all that surgery on her, and when she came to America and married Chandler I was nearly twenty…”
Chandler? Olivia Wheaton-Chandler was Neal’s mother!
Wait a minute! Nearly twenty? That would make Neal closer to fifty than thirty. Eek! I shivered at the thought. Thank goodness we didn’t do more the other day, but too bad it was so dark, I would have noticed that he was older then.
“What happened to Chandler?”
Neal looked at me oddly, as if I should have known. “Heart attack is what the autopsy said.” He grinned an evil look, and I knew he and Olivia had probably given Mr. Chandler some medication to cause the attack-so she could get all his money. How convenient to have a doctor for a son. One who could invent a person. No wonder Adele couldn’t find anything about Olivia’s earlier life.
There was no Olivia.
Probably Olivia-not even her real name, I imagined-married for money-and murdered for the same.
“Your mother looks much younger.” I didn’t expound since I wanted to just shift his direction. The locket was still too far out of reach. Damn it.
In a rather testy tone he said, “You know I am a board certified, exemplary plastic surgeon. Mother has a penchant for younger men. Mother needs to be kept happy.”
I’ll just bet. So Olivia was made to look younger and younger but in a very clever way so as not to attract attention to her-and so she attracted young guys like Devin. Men and money. What a combo.
“Did she love Devin?” I asked, holding my breath as if Neal would snap out of this episode and strangle me in a second.
“Ha, that bastard. Olivia doesn’t love anyone. She uses him as much as he uses her. But the bastard spent way beyond their means and…that’s why I had to step in to take care of Mother.”
Made me wonder why he didn’t just “off” Devin. Maybe Mommy put the kibosh on that idea so she could keep her boy toy. Eeeeeeyew.
So, Neal was committing fraud so that his mother could live her life of luxury. But what about Forsyth Manor?
“Where did you get your house from?” At first I even stunned myself with that question, but faced with death, I figured I had nothing to lose. Then I had a thought: Maybe my cell would work out here, and I could at least leave a voice mail for Jagger.
Tears seeped out of the corners of my eyes. I refused to allow myself to think of any of my loved ones-as that would be my undoing. Nope. I had to keep my wits about me, fight the damn Benadryl and find out everything from Neal.
Neal looked off into the distance. “I really did love her. Emily. She gave birth to our daughter seventeen years ago, but died from hemorrhage, leaving me all of her inheritance. Emily was the only heir left to the Forsyth money-but it wasn’t nearly enough for Mother.”
So to disguise himself, Neal took his wife’s maiden name and their baby. Oh…my…God. I looked him in the eye. “You are the father? Of…Lydia.”
He didn’t even acknowledge the fact but merely said, “She was too much a reminder of her mother. I couldn’t love her.” He looked off into space and muttered, “The goddamn baby was too much of a reminder of what I could have had. What I’d lost. Well, at least I got all of the Forsyth money and house.”
That’s it, Neal. The old glass was half full in theory.
So Lydia’s grandmother, not aunt, raised her. Or at least let her live in the same mansion, but grow up unloved.
But why not let her go to Yale?
I asked Neal that question, and after him mumbling a few seconds learned that Olivia kept all of them-Neal, Devin, Ian, and Lydia-on a very short rope. If Lydia moved away, she could draw attention to the family, such as it were, and maybe even uncover their moneymaking scheme.
That’s what Lydia had meant by only trusting family.
She knew about the fraud, but had no choice in the matter.
Poor kid. No wonder she talked of suicide.
“Does your daughter know who you are?” I asked through clenched teeth.
“Good,” I mumbled. She was better off not knowing.
“So you pushed your brother off Cliff Walk so he wouldn’t go to the authorities?”
“He already had. How ironic. He knocks off Baines, who refused to pay for Daphne’s multiple surgeries, and then found out about the diagnosis scheme we used, yet Ian too was going to bail. Poor Mother.” Neal looked me in the eyes. “And you, Ms. Sokol, investigator, are the reason we are out here. You too are not going to be allowed to ruin Mother’s scheme.”
“How…why me, Neal? Why pay all that fund-raiser money to get me out here?”
He laughed. The eerie sound had me stiffen.
“Ah. The Chandlers are known for their generosity, Pauline. We needed to make sure to keep up our stellar image.”
Stellar my ass.
“Mother kept a close eye on things recently. She’d sent Ian to check out your room at the lodge.” He laughed. “He thought he’d scare you off with the lipstick message.”
Ian? Knowing he tried to scare me made it somehow hurt more. I thought back to the pictures in the office. Ian must have been the blond child with Olivia. And I guess nurse Jackie was innocent, and it was Ian who had knocked me out.
“Mother found out about you in her spying. Very smart lady my mother. Oh, don’t flatter yourself that I spend all that money on you. There is no scholarship, the ruse was merely to make you feel as if you had to go out with me at least one more time. You might say we ‘killed two birds with one stone’ by having all of Newport admire our generosity, and getting you out here. Sealed your fate, you did, you fool.”
Fool? Hey! Wait. Spying? I let my mind wander backward. “Lady Bandage,” I murmured and had to stop myself from clocking him after that “fool” comment. “So Dr. Cook worked with you on all this?”
“Ha. He’s what kept the suspicion from us.”
I had to agree with him there. Damn, even I’d fallen for believing Dr. Cook was the crook when Neal had obviously set it up that way. The guy was smart. I’d give him that. Sick but smart and the true meaning of the words “mama’s boy.”
My eyes shut a second as I tried to think. This guy was off the deep end, and if I didn’t do something soon, I’d be off the deep end of the boat. With all my force I kicked my knee into his groin, opened my eyes and pushed at his chest, sliding from under him just enough to grab the pink locket with its pepper spray.
Neal screamed out in pain and, taken off guard, fell to the floor where his head smacked against the bedside table. Blood spurted out onto the beige carpet, but I told myself that head wounds bled a lot and that I had to save myself.
No nursing the killers, Jagger had once said.
I needed my miracle.
Neal lay silently still.
I grabbed the pull rope of the drapes and yanked with strength I had no idea that I had.
In the pocket of my jeans my cell phone went off.
Neal started to moan.
I grabbed my cell phone out, pushed the speaker button on and talked nonstop to whoever was on the line, telling him or her exactly what had happened and where I was-not even knowing the real location. I chattered on and on, never letting the other person say a word-then the line went blank.
But for a miracle, you don’t have to fill in all the blanks. You merely have to believe.
I pushed Neal over, ignored the gaping wound on the back of his head and tried to tie his hands together. In my nervousness my hands shook and I fumbled several times. Soon I had Neal’s hands near each other.
One hand reached out and grabbed me!
Neal swung around and with blood trickling down his forehead cursed at me in a low, guttural tone that sent chills racing up my spine and fear into my heart.
“You bitch!” he shouted and started to get up.
I pushed him back with all the Benadryl-laced strength that I could muster. Then I relied on my self-defense moves that Jagger had taught me-and stuck my fingers into Neal’s nostrils.
Barely able to complete the gross action, I did as I’d learned, and before I knew it, Neal was once again doubled over in pain. I then grabbed the rope, tied as tightly as I could, not forgetting his feet, and ran out of the room.
At the top of the stairs a set of arms seized me.
And I knew I was then going overboard to my death.
All went black.
“What the hell possessed you to come out on a boat? You couldn’t swim to save your life, Sherlock!”
I opened one eye, realized I was on Jagger’s lap still on Neal’s boat and must have died. If this was Heaven, I’d wasted way too many years of diligently going to church each Sunday.
Not that being on Jagger’s lap wasn’t Heaven, but he was chastising me and the setting was all wrong.
I rubbed at my forehead. “Don’t yell so loudly.”
Suddenly his voice softened, “I’m just so pissed that you could have…you could have-”
I looked up at Jagger to see his eyes teary and him not able to finish.
Worrying about me had Jagger speechless.
This rush of pleasure made living through the experience with Neal all worth it.
As the Coast Guard called out from some bull-horn-since Jagger had called them right after my rambling cell phone call with him-he leaned over and kissed my lips, then tucked the pink locket into my hand.
“I can’t even take off a few days to go sailing on a quick trip to Martha’s Vineyard without you getting into trouble.”
“Hey, I didn’t get hurt.”
“Yeah, you did good, Sherlock.”
My heart soared.
Jagger blew out a deep breath. “I’d told Samuel to look after you.”
I chuckled. “I guess that’s why you called when you did. Who is he, Jagger?”
He looked off into the distance. “He lives in the lodge that I’d inherited many years ago. Samuel was my great-grandfather. Samuel Freeman Tonelli. He started the insurance company years ago…”
I knew Jagger was talking but I’d fixated on the word “Tonelli.”
Shark bait was sounding better and better by the second.