Thrill Me To Death by Roxanne St. Claire

By SMW Staff

Lucy pushed her chair back from the Victorian writing table that served as her desk, letting out a sigh. At the mullioned window that filled nearly one wall of her library, she stared at the Hudson River Valley and the manicured acres of her estate, lushly green from the summer rain.

“No formal investigation is being launched into William Peyton’s death. His heart failure was confirmed with an autopsy. But…” She turned to look at him. “Beckworth Insurance investigators are not entirely certain. It’s very neat, this young woman being handed billions and the power of all her husband’s voting shares on Peyton’s board of directors. Yes, the autopsy was clean. No one is filing charges and no law enforcement has been brought notified. But you know how thorough Beckworth is. Since they handle the insurance for the entire Peyton Enterprises, they want the truth, whatever it is.”

“She didn’t really inherit control of the company,” he told her. “Just that Foundation, and I believe it was one billion, not two.”

She couldn’t resist a wry smile. “So you have been keeping tabs on Cori Cooper.”

He glanced at the magazine cover. “I read.” His brow furrowed as he gazed at her. “All right. This is no random assignment, Luce. Why me?”

Lucy locked her hands behind her back and looked hard at him. “You bring some critical elements to the party.”

A smile threatened. “Other than my boyish charm, they would be?”

“You are a superb bodyguard, you are an excellent and skilled interrogator thanks to your years in the DEA, and you have a personal relationship with the principal, making it easier to get access to private information.” He also had charm, in spades. He just didn’t dole it out liberally like, say, his buddy and fellow Bullet Catcher, Dan Gallagher. “I do, however, have one major concern.”

He looked at her expectantly.

“Can you leave your emotions out of this, Max?”

His lip twitched and for a moment, she thought he was going to laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Unfortunately, I’m not.”

“Lucy.” He shook his head, a gleam in his chestnut brown eyes. “Of all things to get in my way, emotions would not be one of them.”

“But I’ve never given you a responsibility like this, protecting and investigating a person you were involved with.”

He stood to a height that dwarfed the table, his face still unreadable, except for the tiny scar above his right eyebrow, which paled and pulsed slightly as he gathered the papers together.

“Not an issue. Considering I just got back from six months in South Africa sucking up to a known arms dealer, I’d call babysitting some trophy widow a cakewalk.”

“Cakewalks can kill you.”

He smirked. “Have some faith in me, Luce. This is Protection and Investigation 101. Simplified by the fact that I know Cori Cooper. Doesn’t matter what her name is or what her husband left her, that girl’s an open book.”

“That girl is a very rich woman under a cloud of suspicion for murder.”

His eyes shuttered momentarily. “If she’s guilty of anything, I’ll know it in five minutes.” He closed the folder and slid it into a soft-sided leather bag.

“Money – and murder – can change a person,” she warned softly.

“Not that much.” He crossed the twenty-foot Oriental carpet in remarkably few steps. At the door, he paused, and slowly turned back. “Have you considered the possibility that she had nothing to do with her husband’s death? That it was a heart attack, pure and simple?”

“Defending her already?” That was the risk in assigning him to the job: he couldn’t be objective.

He finally gave her a long, slow smile. “Just considering every possible outcome.”
“You do that. And try to stay cool down there.”

As he disappeared into the hallway, she could have sworn she heard him laugh softly.
In a few moments, she returned to the window to watch Max climb into the driver’s seat of a sedan parked in her circular drive.

Every Bullet Catcher was tested one time in his career. She closed her eyes and leaned against the cool glass. Lord, she hoped that this Rock of Gibraltar with a mile-wide moat around his heart, could pass his test.

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