Kiss an Angel(5)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

They had barely pulled away from the curb before he began to tug at his necktie. He yanked it off, stuffed it in the pocket of his suit coat, and unfastened his collar button with an efficient flick of his wrist. She stiffened, hoping he wasn’t going to take off any more. In one of her favorite erotic fantasies, she and a faceless man made passionate love in the back of a white limousine stuck in a Manhattan traffic jam while Michael Bolton sang “When a Man Loves a Woman” in the background, but there was a big difference between fantasy and reality.

The limo began to move. She took a deep breath, trying to pull herself together, and smelled the heavy scent of the gardenia in her hair. She was relieved to see that Alex had stopped taking off his clothes, but when he stretched his legs and began to study her, she shifted uneasily. No matter how hard she worked at it, she would never be as beautiful as her mother, and when people stared at her for too long, she felt like an ugly duckling. The hole in her shimmery gold nylons from her encounter with the Pekingese didn’t add to her self-confidence.

She opened her purse to find a much needed cigarette. It was an awful habit, and she wasn’t proud of having succumbed to it. Although Lani had always smoked, Daisy’d never had more than an occasional cigarette in the evening with a glass of wine. But in those first months after her mother’s death she’d found that cigarettes relaxed her, and she’d become truly addicted. After a long drag, she decided she was calm enough to tell Mr. Markov her plan.

“Put it out, angel face.”

She regarded him apologetically. “I know it’s a terrible habit, and I promise I won’t blow smoke at you, but I really need this right now.”

He reached past her to lower her window. Without warning, her cigarette burst into flames.

She shrieked and let it go. Sparks flew everywhere. He grabbed a handkerchief from his breast pocket and somehow managed to put out all the embers.

Breathing hard, she looked down at her lap and saw tiny burn marks in her gold lace dress and on the satin jacket.

“How did that happen?” she gasped.

“I guess it was faulty.”

“A faulty cigarette? I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

“You’d better let me throw away the pack in case the others are like that.”

“Yes. Of course.”

She quickly handed it over, and he pushed the pack into his pants pocket. Although she was shaken, he seemed perfectly relaxed. Leaning back in the corner of the seat, he crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes.

They needed to talk—she had to explain to him her plan for putting an end to this embarrassing marriage—but he didn’t seem to be in the mood for conversation, and she was afraid she’d mess it up if she wasn’t careful. This past year had been such a disaster that she’d gotten into the habit of giving herself small pep talks so that she didn’t fall into the habit of considering herself totally hopeless.

She reminded herself that although her education might have been unorthodox, it had certainly been comprehensive. And despite what her father thought, she’d inherited his brain and not her mother’s. She also had a good sense of humor and a naturally optimistic outlook on life that even the past year hadn’t entirely destroyed. She spoke four foreign languages, could identify nearly any couture piece by designer, and was an expert at calming hysterical women. Unfortunately, she didn’t possess even a modicum of common sense.

Why hadn’t she listened when her mother’s Parisian lawyer had explained there would be nothing left after Lani’s debts were paid? She suspected now that it was guilt that had pushed her into her disastrous months-long spending spree following that numbing time immediately after the memorial service. For years she had wanted to escape the emotional blackmail that had pinned her to Lani’s side on endless rounds of pleasure-seeking. But she hadn’t wanted Lani to die. Not that.

Her eyes filled with tears. She’d loved her mother desperately, and despite Lani’s selfishness, her endless demands, and her constant need to be reassured that she hadn’t lost her beauty, she knew Lani had loved her, too.

The more guilt Daisy had felt about the unexpected freedom Lani’s death had given her, the more money she’d spent, not only on herself but on any of Lani’s old friends who were down on their luck. When her creditors’ threats had grown ominous, she’d written more checks to hold them off, not knowing or caring that she didn’t have enough money to cover them.

Max found out about her extravagant spending the same day a warrant was issued for her arrest. Reality crashed in, and she realized the enormity of what she’d done. She’d begged her father to lend her the money to hold off her creditors, promising to pay him back as soon as she got on her feet.

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