"Really, is a heinous murder any reason to devalue such a glorious
piece of real estate?"
The words rolled off the man's tongue in a luscious British
accent and with a hint of tease, lending him a cocky James
Bond air. He was dashingly handsome (a good British description,
what?). Dark hair, rich brown eyes, a jaw cut just so-not
too square, but firm. Carla Radling glanced at his left hand. No
ring. But then he'd already intimated he was single. A real-estate
developer, he'd said over the phone yesterday. And apparently
rich, although no proper English gentleman would say so. He
was "seeking a beautiful and private piece of property near
water as a second home," and the half-page ad in Dream Houses
had caught his eye. If he liked the place, he'd pay cash.
To think she'd complained about the high cost of the ad.
Behind them, the heavy wrought-iron gates of the estate that
once belonged to the late actress Edna San closed with a muted
clang. Carla steered her white Toyota Camry down the impressive
driveway curving through forest. Her client, David Thornby-although
James Bond fit so much better-dignified her front seat.
His legs, in impeccable beige trousers, were confidently apart, his
left arm draped over the console, fingers casually drumming. His
navy sport jacket boasted a thousand-dollar weave.
Carla laughed at Thornby's "heinous murder" remark. "No
devaluing here. But often that's what happens to the homes
of celebrities caught in a scandal-or murder. Gives potential
buyers the willies to picture the crime occurring in their living
"Technically, it didn't occur here, correct? Edna San was
taken out of the home, with no one being sure exactly where she
That accent was just to die for. "Right. The news was where
they found her, not where she was killed."
But enough of this morbid topic.
"The property has only been for sale a little over a year," Carla
said. "That's not a long time given its price for this area. I told
Edna's heirs I fully expected that someone out of the area would
Carla rounded a curve in the wide driveway, and the actress's
magnificent two-story home of wood and stone swept into view.
A front porch with thick round pillars ran its entire length, the
arched and mullioned windows giving it a castlelike quality.
Surrounded by twenty acres of forest, it included a smaller home
on the property for a full-time caretaker or perhaps a gardener,
whatever a well-bred English gentleman might prefer.
Thornby drew in a breath. "It's stunning. And look at that
Kanner Lake sparkled some three hundred feet beyond the
backyard of the main house, its waters tinged crimson in the
sunset. Carla caught a glimpse of it through the side yard as she
pulled up to the front of the house.
"Yeah, isn't it great? Like the ad said, a large dock and two
hundred feet of sandy beach. Plus, with the forest all around
you, it's completely private. And you'll see plenty of wildlife.
Deer, with their new spotted fawns each year, wild turkeys." No
need to mention the skunks, coons, and occasional bear.
Carla slid another look at Thornby. He leaned forward, anticipation
on his face. The man liked what he saw.
A vague warning twinged in her stomach. Such obvious excitement
didn't fit the demeanor of a suave British gentleman, did it?
Carla pushed the thought away. Pure stereotype.
She stopped close to the wide porch steps and cut the engine.
"Wait till you see the inside."
He smiled at her, and his eyes twinkled. Twinkled. Carla
hadn't known a pair of eyes could do that-outside the romance
novels she used to read as a teenager.
How old was this guy? Maybe forty? Not so much older than
her thirty-two years.
Please, oh, please, buy this house, you handsome thing. Then
marry me quick.
"Thanks for letting me leave my car outside the gate," he said.
"This was a treat, being free to ogle while you drove in."
"We aim to please."
They mounted the three curved flagstone steps side by side,
Thornby a good eight inches taller than her five-six frame. Power
and control emanated from him, his back straight, chin high,
and eyes alert. He ran his knuckles down the huge carved door
as Carla, trying her best to appear unaffected by his charm, slid
her key into the lockbox. She removed the lock, pushed back the
door, and waved him inside. "After you."
He stepped over the threshold onto gleaming tile floor, Carla
following. Thornby's head tipped back to admire the grand
curving staircase to their left.
Carla hung back, giving him time to admire the sights-a
formal living room on the right, furnished in leather couches
and Persian rugs, rich wood wainscoting on the walls.
"Of course if you don't like Edna San's taste in furniture, you
"I do like it, very much. Makes it easier to buy a second home
when it's turnkey."
"Well, that's good." Carla dropped her keys into her purse.
"Since Edna's son and daughter didn't seem to care a whit about
taking anything. Other than the crystal and china, that is, and
the photos of Edna with Bette Davis and other movie cohorts."
"I thought Edna San hated Bette Davis." Thornby stepped
into the living room and leaned down to inspect the fifteen-thousand-dollar
Carla shrugged. "Didn't all the legendary female movie stars
hate each other? It's a cat thing."
"Yeah, you know how women can fight over ." Carla eased
up beside him, and he looked at her with those incredible eyes.
Carla pressed her lips together. "Never mind."
He flashed another smile, sending a tingle down Carla's spine.
"So." She pointed toward the entryway. "How about if I show
you the kitchen and dining room?"
In the large kitchen Carla pointed out the amenities. Thornby
stood back while she opened cabinets, the refrigerator.
Odd. Prospective buyers typically inspected every nook and
Must be a man thing. The guy probably didn't even cook.
He glanced at his Rolex watch more than once.
Carla tilted her head. "Are you in a hurry?"
"No, no, sorry. Just the habit of a businessman."
Down a short, wide hall off the kitchen they stepped into the
formal dining room. A highly polished cherrywood table lay
beneath a sparkling crystal chandelier, the matching hutch elegant
despite its emptiness after Edna San's children had claimed
its dishes and goblets. On the hardwood floor spread another
luxurious Persian rug. Carla walked around to the other side of
the table, gesturing toward the large back windows. "Great view
of the lake."
Thornby put his hands on his hips. "Splendid." He gazed at
her, mouth curving. "And so are you."
Carla blinked. Was he talking about her skills as a realtor?
Huh-uh-the look on his face said something far different.
He sighed. "It's such a shame."
Carla was half tongue-tied. This man was so . mesmerizing.
He spread his hands. "You. This place. That I can have neither
Whoa, where had that come from? She searched in vain for
one of her typical witty comebacks. "You can't?"
"No. You see, unfortunately things aren't quite as I
It took her a second to realize the glorious accent had vanished.
The guy now sounded as American as her coffee-guzzling
pals down at Java Joint.
Carla stared at him. What was going on? She thought of
the things she'd chosen to ignore-his request to leave his car
outside the gate, his obvious anticipation of . something, the
refusal to touch anything, the glances at his watch. Her spine
tingled, but this time it didn't feel so exciting.
"You're not British." She would not let her voice tremble, even
though the ten-minute drive to town suddenly seemed like a trip
to the moon. What was she thinking, coming out here alone near
dusk? After all the trauma Kanner Lake had seen in the past year.
But good grief, he'd sounded so normal. Not to mention anxious
His lips spread in a slow smile. "No."
Fear flushed through Carla-and that ticked her off. She
raised her chin. "Well, how about that. So tell me how much you
told me is true. Are you a real-estate developer?"
He shrugged. "It seemed like such a respectable line of work
at the time."
"At what time?"
"When I called you."
She stuck her tongue between her lip and top teeth. "Okay,
let's cut the games. Just what are you?"
His graceful right hand slid into his coat pocket. "To use
the vernacular, vulgar though it is"-his voice carried a light,
engaging tone-"I'm a hit man."
He pulled out a handgun and aimed it at her heart.