Winslow Talbot left the gallery showing at nine o'clock feeling jazzed about her interview with the Nicaraguan artist and his artwork. One of his paintings, depicting a lush courtyard, would look perfect on the wall behind her dining room table. The empty coffee mug and the hibiscus flower on the stone bench inspired thought-provoking questions. She was both journalist and photographer for the society magazine, Dazzle, while covering smaller events. Once in her car, she flipped through the pictures on her digital camera and liked what she saw.
As Nora Jones sang from the CD player, that nagging emptiness settled in the pit of her stomach. She enjoyed doing these articles; nothing too serious or deep. She did enjoy them. So why did she feel just a bit unsatisfied?
Because of Alex Díaz.
She made a sound of disgust, started
her car, and turned north onto A1A. Even at this time of night,
Neon pulsed in colors all around her, and so did the people who walked down the sidewalks and milled outside restaurants and bars. An ocean breeze sent everything into motion: leaves, flowers, hair, and the silky dresses of three women walking toward a club. They didn't seem to mind how much thigh showed—or even a bit of derriere, courtesy of the thong one of them wore.
The girls reminded her of her stepsister Ashlyn. What had the fight been about that made her run away from the fiancé she seemed to adore? Ashlyn had dated on and off over the past several years, and Winslow couldn't remember her once running off without the current beau. None of those romances had become this serious.
A chilling thought assailed her.
What if Jayce Bishop had done something to Ashlyn? After all, no one knew Jayce
that well. Winslow acknowledged that her suspicions came from her dislike of
him, but since she didn't know the source of that dislike, she wasn't going
to dismiss it. She passed the road that led to
When she couldn’t locate the card that allowed her access to the parking garage, she pulled into a spot in the lot. The doorman held the massive glass door for her as she entered. The clicking of her heels bounced off marble and glass. The security guard nodded, recognizing her from other visits. Did he think it odd that she rarely came here when Ashlyn was in residence?
The elevator shushed to a stop at
Ashlyn's floor; hers was the residence on the right. She liked to pretend that
it was hers, and in truth, her father, Grant, had given it to her. But
Winslow knew he still held the deed. She slipped out of her heels and walked
through the rounded foyer to the living room. Rows of glass doors lined the
rear wall. The view of the
The interior living room wall was curved, too, and along the upper wall snaked shelves for what must be a hundred champagne bottles, all emptied at some party or club. Ashlyn had affixed gold stars to the best. She'd chosen furniture to play off the curves: kidney-shaped sofas with low, contemporary profiles, lots of glass, all in pastel colors. Her bonsai collection took up a blue glass lacquer shelving unit.
Winslow picked up the crystal pitcher and poured water into each of the pots. "There you go, little guys. Aunt Winslow's here to take care of you." In the last two years she'd actually gotten attached to the miniature trees. They each had personalities, like prickly, smooth, or fuzzy. She didn't tell anyone, but she named all her plants at home.
Snippets from fashion magazines littered the surface of Ashlyn's glass coffee table. She clipped the tiniest details from outfits and glued them to other pictures. Then she'd buy the clothing and replicate what she'd created on paper. Sometimes the effect was stunning. At the least it was usually interesting.
Ashlyn's other trophies were clippings from society magazines. She hunted every local magazine searching for pictures of herself. Attached to the designer wallpaper in the dining room was a huge corkboard. Ashlyn pinned up the snapshot pages depicting the hip crowd at SkyBar, Crobar, and Rumi, at some fashion or awards show with Lil' Kim, a Calvin Klein briefs model, and even the latest Survivor winner. Ashlyn peered out from every page, hamming it up for the camera.
Looking at the pictures of young, beautiful people having a fabulous time made Winslow feel like a fuddy-duddy. Not that she didn't enjoy a good party from time to time, but bars made her uneasy. And she was in bed before these people even got started.
The only sounds she heard as she walked to the master bedroom were the soft squish of her feet on the plush beige carpet and a bass murmur from the condominium below. Ashlyn's desk and computer were in the bedroom sitting area. The computer was on, and Winslow fitted herself into the art deco chair and looked at the screen.
The inbox was open. She had few personal E-mails; most were from Neiman Marcus announcing the new Juicy Couture or Anna Sui collection. The last five days' worth hadn't been read, while all of the previous E-mails had been opened—and thoroughly scanned Winslow was sure.
As she was about to check the other open window on the computer, movement caught her eye. Her heart fluttered as she got up and peered into the living room. "Ashlyn?"
No answer. She wandered back through the foyer and looked in the kitchen. She checked the other two bedrooms. Something in the air felt different, but she saw nothing out of place. A trick of the light then, or perhaps a bulb flickering in its death throes.
She returned to the computer and switched to the alternate window: the Internet browser. The history had been pulled up. As though someone had been looking for whatever Web pages Ashlyn had recently visited. Winslow's gaze kept sliding to the door just over her left shoulder.
None of the history pages looked promising, so she turned toward the red lacquer bed. It had been loosely made, though that was hard to tell beneath the piles of shopping bags and shoeboxes. Ashlyn had clearly gone on a shopping spree, but something had interrupted her enjoyment of the spoils. That worried Winslow. She picked up the receipt that went with the purple Manolo Blahnik boots with tassels around the tops. She couldn't help notice the price: $1600. The receipt was dated two days before, midmorning, as were the receipts for her other purchases.
She walked through the master bathroom and into the immaculate closet. Everything was as neat as ever: racks of shoes organized by casual, mules, dressy, and outrageous. She had a shoe in every color, sometimes buying a "to die for" pair and then hunting for an outfit to match. Some shoes had never found their outfit and sat in the rack without more than the rub of the shop's rug on the sole. Prada bags hung on one rack, and Ashlyn's newest love, Gwen Stefani's designer bags, hung on their own rack.
Winslow liked quality clothing, too, but not to the extent that Ashlyn did. She occasionally splurged on a Dior gown for a charity ball she was covering. But those days of shopping the sales racks had stuck with her. She had a hard time paying several hundred or thousand dollars for one outfit. She marveled at how Ashlyn didn't even look at price tags before trotting to the dressing room.
Grant treated both his full blood daughter and his adopted stepdaughter equally. He had given Ashlyn and Winslow each a credit card that he paid off every month. It seemed like taking too much to spend a lot on that card. Winslow already owed him so much. And in fact, she liked being able to take care of her own expenses. She charged just enough so that he wouldn't accuse her of being frugal. He seemed to take it personally when she didn't take what he offered.
Winslow looked behind her, not sure if she was imagining the shift of light. She'd been up here alone before, but had never gotten the willies like this. She looked at the top shelf and saw a large purple suitcase. Ashlyn had gone on and on about her new Prada luggage set. Two of the smaller pieces were gone. That was a good sign; it meant Ashlyn had left of her own volition.
Winslow turned off the lights
and then leaned down to switch off the monitor. A wadded-up newspaper in the
red trashcan caught her eye. Ashlyn didn't read the paper; she only read society
and fashion magazines. Winslow smoothed the paper and sat on the slanted chair
again. It was the front page of the
She skimmed the article now, trying not to feel or imagine the scene. Luis García, his brother Jose García, and Jose's ten-year-old daughter, Elena, had been out fishing at dusk. A speedboat in the twenty-eight to thirty foot range hit their boat at what the authorities speculated was full throttle, running completely over the boat. Jose had been killed instantly and was found in the boat along with his daughter, whose hands and face were severely lacerated by the boat's propeller. The girl was in critical condition.
Luis ended up in the water where he'd succumbed to his massive injuries. Authorities were seeking the operator of the boat that hit them and were putting out a call for witnesses seeing a boat with damage to the keel and bottom area, as well as to the outboard.
Winslow's throat had gone dry. This was why she never let herself get involved in news stories, why she cushioned herself from others' pain. She had a tenuous belief that there was justice in the world. She needed to believe that the man who had forced her father off the road was haunted by what he'd done. Stories about tragedies and people denying their sins broke down that belief. Her fears kept her from fully investing herself in life, and in moments of stark honesty she didn't like that about herself.
She turned the paper over and scanned the backside. Nothing seemed to relate to Ashlyn, and Winslow almost threw the newspaper back in the bin when something caught her eye: a hole in the top right corner surrounded by a faint square imprint. She walked to the bulletin board and matched the imprint to the square tacks etched with the words Love and Peace. Ashlyn had pinned the page on the board. Which meant that it was important. By the direction of the hole, Winslow could tell the front page had been facing out.
Before she could start contemplating which story Ashlyn had found fascinating and why, Winslow felt a compulsion to turn around. Goose pimples dotted her arms. She could see across the living room and into Ashlyn's bedroom from there but saw nothing that should cause the hairs on her arms to rise. She walked into the living room and looked toward the foyer. As she stood perfectly still and listened, she couldn't hear anything but the soothing murmur of the bass. She didn't recall hearing anything to alarm her.
When she turned toward the glass door next to her, she saw her eyes reflected back at her.
Only they weren't her eyes.
She felt soft prickles all over her scalp. It wasn't her face staring from the other side of the glass.