Love can kill. Suzanne Gray proved it two days ago when she dressed herself all in white, drew back her dark hair with a blue ribbon, gathered a bouquet of white roses, and spread a linen cloth across Richard Hovey's grave. Then she turned on a tape of "All You Need Is Love," swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, and lay down to join him on the coldest day in Macon, Georgia's recent history, and froze to death, leaving only the shadow of a smile on her lips.
Now all of Macon was talking about her death, including a deejay on a local radio station not thirty minutes ago, just as Jennifer Marsh and Sam Culpepper had pulled into the parking lot of the Casablanca Club.
With thoughts of Suzanne in mind, Jennifer was not at all certain how she felt about "until death do us part" or how she intended to handle what she feared Sam was about to say as he gently brushed back her long, taffy brown hair. He kissed her shoulder on either side of her spaghetti strap and drew her close on the restaurant's dance floor, the ominous strains of "How Do I Live Without You" in the background.
He'd seemed far too serious when he called to make a date for Saturday night and spoke those most dreaded of words, "We need to talk." If this was it, the big will-you-marry-me, she wasn't about to tell him no, but she sure wasn't ready to say yes. Not yet. Not until she had achieved at least some promise of success as a writer. All she needed was one contract for any of her mystery novels, or some other small acknowledgment of her talents.
After all, Sam was a well known investigative reporter for the Macon Telegraph. He'd even written several acclaimed feature articles, including one about Richard Hovey. The article had garnered so much attention that Hovey had asked him to coauthor his memoirs. Of course that was before Hovey died. And before Suzanne had killed herself on his grave. What Sam planned to do now, only he knew--about the Hovey book and about his and Jennifer's relationship.
There was a slim possibility, she supposed, that what Sam wanted to say had nothing to do with them as a couple.
He nuzzled her neck, sending little sparks down her spine.
Yeah, right. She gazed about the room. Candlelight, superb wine, a four-course dinner at one of Macon's trendiest restaurants, carrying a price tag equivalent to an entire night's catering for Dee Dee, bare tree branches wrapped in twinkling white lights reflected in floor-to-ceiling windows, cloth napkins, and tuxedoed waiters. The man was serious.
"Jennifer," he whispered, his breath hot in her ear, as they swayed to the music. Sam didn't actually dance, but he swayed with the best of them. "We've known each other for some time now. You know how--"
Suddenly Suzanne's death seemed of paramount importance and a far safer subject than whatever Sam was about to say.
"Did you see the body?" Jennifer asked.
"Oh, yeah. And lookin' really good, too." He cocked his head against hers. "That doesn't sound like a question you'd ask."
Jennifer felt a blush sweep across her neck and down her chest. "I meant Suzanne Gray's body."
He drew back and stared at her, his dark hair falling across his right eyebrow just the way she liked it. Then he pulled her close to him again, the fresh scent of his aftershave spicing her thoughts. She could have stayed like that forever, so comfortable in his arms. Too comfortable.
"You don't want to know about that," Sam whispered. "We have something we need to--"
Not so comfortable after all.
Jennifer jerked back. "Oh, yes, I do. Tell me about the flowers."
He sighed. "I suppose it'd be too much to hope you're talking about the roses I brought you tonight."
"Jennifer . . ."
"I want to know. Please just humor me." She teased his lip with her finger. Not a good idea. She managed to snatch it away before he kissed it.
Sam frowned. "They were clutched in her hands. Frozen. Like she was. All that was in the article I wrote for the newspaper. I know you read it. So why are you asking?"
Thank goodness. He was off topic now, and the spell he'd tried so hard to cast had been broken.
"It just seems so sad. A woman dying alone in the cemetery all because of that Richard Hovey. Not the nicest man this city has ever laid claim to."
Sam didn't need to know that even she'd felt a flutter whenever Hovey's photo splashed across the TV screen, which was pretty often what with his death seven days ago and then, just yesterday, the release of one of his most notorious clients, Simon DeSoto. There was no denying Hovey had charisma, charm, even good looks. Too bad he had no morals.
"He was a good lawyer," Sam reminded her.
"If by 'good,' you mean he almost always won, you're right. And I'll admit that if I were ever in trouble--and guilty--he'd be the one I'd want defending me."
"That'd be quite a trick now that he's dead."
Sam swung her around into a dip.
She frowned at him and pulled herself back up. "Don't change the subject. I was talking about Suzanne. The poor woman was found by some groundskeeper. How old was she again?"
Nine years older than Jennifer.
"She had a lot of life yet to live. Why would she give up like that, not even try--"
"She's not the only one not trying," Sam pointed out.
Oh, she was trying all right, and apparently succeeding. At least he was answering her questions. "Did she leave a suicide note?"
"She had on some kind of lacy gloves. It was tucked inside the right one, next to her palm."
Suddenly Jennifer really was more interested in Suzanne than in diverting Sam. "You didn't mention that in the article, and I haven't heard one word about it on any of the news reports. What did it say?"
"It said that she was so nuts about Richard that she couldn't live without him."
"The nuts part I'll go along with. Was it common knowledge that they were involved?"
"No," Sam assured her. "Before Hovey's death, I'd never heard of her. He didn't mention her during the interviews he gave me for the book. Pretty much no one knew they were engaged, at least not until they were both dead."
"Well, they know it now. They're calling her the Bride Who Died," Jennifer told him.
"Yeah. I think we've got the Atlanta Eye to thank for that catchy phrase."
"So you didn't know about the engagement when you were covering the story of her death."
"Oh, I knew. Shirley over at the style section made sure I knew. But her section had already gone to print carrying the announcement--in the same edition of the Telegraph that my article about Suzanne's death appeared in."
"Then why didn't you include it?"
"Hovey's family asked that we downplay the relationship, which they were totally unaware of--and which they deny. Out of respect for them and both Hovey and Gray, I haven't reported it in any subsequent articles. Too easy to let controversy overtake the tragedy. I didn't want that to happen. But it does appear he was expecting Suzanne the night he died."
"And just how do you know that?" Jennifer demanded, louder than she intended to. "Sam, you may hold out on the reading public, but not on me. Now spill."
Sam pulled her closer, his hand pressing against the small of her back, and spoke directly into her ear. "I'm telling you this for only one reason: so you'll understand what happened and let it go. Agreed?"
She made a noncommittal nod of her head.
"Agreed?" he repeated.
"Okay, okay. Just tell me."
"You know that Richard Hovey died from a fall at his home."
"Of course. He slipped on the stairs. The fall broke his neck."
"Right. He slipped on rose petals."
She pulled back. "Rose petals?" she said out loud. He shushed her and pulled her back to him.
She whispered, "What were rose petals doing on the stairs?"
"When the police arrived at Hovey's townhouse, they found a trail of red petals leading from the top of the stairs into the bedroom, where the path split. Some petals led to the king-size bed, others to the bathroom and a tub of water where oils and more petals were floating. There were candles, too, burned well into their wax at the landing, on top of the bedroom dresser, and on the counter in the bathroom. Oh, and a bottle of Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon and two wineglasses next to the bed."
"Yeah," Sam agreed, "until you add an aromatic corpse to the mix."
That did take some of the magic away.
"The police concluded that Hovey was expecting a woman Saturday night, had created the scene, and then slipped on a small pile of petals on the slick hardwood floor at the top of the stairs. His feet flew out from under him, and down the stairs he went."
"How horrible," Jennifer said. "No wonder Suzanne was devastated. Here she was expecting to . . . to . . . well, you know, but instead . . . Did she call the police?"
"No. The doors were locked. If she came to his house, she must not have come in. The police didn't know about Suzanne. None of his friends or family gave them her name, and she didn't come forward so she was never questioned. And, as I said, none of us in the media knew about her until she died herself. He was discovered Monday morning when his cleaning service arrived and let themselves in."
"How did you manage to keep the story quiet? Surely the cleaning crew saw the petals."<...