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53

Fleeced

The maids room was cozy all right. So cozy that when you opened the door, it slammed into the couch. But Regan didnt mind. By the time she retired for the second time that night it was four oclock. Talk about musical beds, she thought as she pulled the covers over her and turned to face the wall.

Sleep didnt come as quickly as it had in Nats guest room. And when it did, it was in fits and starts, accompanied by strange dreams that she could barely remember. It was only when light started coming through the window that she finally fell into a deeper sleep.

At ten after nine her cell phone rang. Regan opened her eyes and looked around, momentarily confused. Then, like a boomerang, the memories of the last twenty-four hours all came back to her. She reached for her phone on the nightstand next to the bed. The Caller ID showed her parents number.

Hi, she answered and realized she sounded pretty tired.

Regan, are you all right? Nora asked with concern.

Yes. Im just not fully awake.

So you havent seen the paper yet?

No, but now its safe to say Im wide awake. How bad is it?

Pretty bad.

What page?

The front page. Nora read the headline.

Thatll make Thomass day.

The article makes it sound like all hell is breaking loose at the Settlers Club.

It is, Mom. Regan admitted, knowing she had to tell her mother what happened.

What do you mean?

Last night, when I was sleeping, Nat Pemrods apartment was broken into.

Regan, oh my God! Are you all right?

Yes. Regan gave Nora a full explanation of the nocturnal excitement, concluding, I slept in the maids room in the apartment across the hall.

The apartment with all those butlers and singles parties?

Howd you guess?

Its in the article. Nora relayed the conversation to Luke, who was next to her.

Regan sighed and rubbed her eyes. I cant wait to read it. Im surprised Thomas hasnt come running up here already this morning. Wait till that reporter gets her hands on the crime blotter with the latest incident. By the way, she made it seem like you were her buddy.

Shes covering the crime convention, but I think she found whats going on at the Settlers Club more interesting. Listen to this:

While Nora Regan Reilly is uptown running a crime convention for writers of fiction, daughter Regan is investigating the real thing in toney Gramercy Park. And boy does she have her hands full.

Regan sat up. That I do.

Nora continued. When the senior Reilly was asked about her daughters whereabouts, she said Regan was working on a case in New York but refused to get specific

So much for classified information.

Why must they refer to me as the senior Reilly? I hate that.

At least she didnt call me junior.

Yes she did.

Why dont I just get the paper and read it myself? Listen, Mom, do you think you could round up some of your cronies from the convention and drop by the party tonight? Were trying to make this gathering as interesting as possible. Divert the attention from whats gone on, although with everything in the news now, that seems unlikely. Weve got a lot of damage control to take care of.

What time does the party start?

Seven.

Thatd work. Our cocktail hour is from five-thirty to six-thirty, and then people are on their own until the final sessions and brunch tomorrow. Ill see who wants to come down. Before you hang up, your father wants to talk to you.

Okay.

Hi, honey, Luke said. Be careful, would you?

Luke and Regan both chuckled. It was a family joke. Once after she had slipped and fallen in the snow, Nora had leaned over Regan, who was sprawled on the sidewalk, and said, Be careful.

Too late, Mom, Regan had replied.

Anyway, Luke continued, yesterday I mentioned what you were doing to Austin. He reminded me we had heard last year about this girl who inherited money from her elderly neighbor in Hoboken and then started a dating service.

Yes? Regan said, her investigative antennae roused.

This woman left her a lot of money.

Yes, I know.

It turns out she didnt make too many friends after the woman died. She even stiffed the Connolly brothers, who had handled the funeral, when they held a charity drive. They said she was cheap and couldnt get out of town fast enough.

Being cheap isnt a crime, Regan said, though maybe it should be.

True. But it made them wonder whether there was any undue influence with the neighbor

And here I am in her apartment. Could Lydia have anything to do with any part of what had happened? Maybe I should call them, Regan said. Do you have their number?

Yes, Luke said and read it to Regan. For what its worth.

Nothing would surprise me, Regan said. Ill see you tonight.

Be careful. Really.

Regan smiled. Right, Dad. When she hung up, she pulled on her robe and stepped out into the kitchen. Maldwin was just getting out the coffee cups.

Im sorry I didnt bring coffee to you, but I think we all slept in a bit today. Its just ready now.

Thats okay, Regan said. Im going to go back across the hall and take a shower. My things are all there.

Take a cup with you.

Thanks. Is Lydia up yet?

No. I will wake her momentarily. Her pedicurist is coming in to do her nails at ten oclock.

I wish I had someone coming to rub my feet, Regan thought. Tell her thanks for me and Ill talk to her later.

Maldwin poured a cup of perfectly brewed coffee. Milk and sugar?

Just some milk. I tell you, Maldwin, maybe you should start a butler school where I live in California.

Maldwin dropped the pitcher on the counter. Excuse me, he said nervously.

Whats the matter? Dont you like California? Regan teased.

Too much sunshine, he said, pouring another cup and placing it on Lydias tray.

Whats he so worried about? Regan wondered as she walked across the hall, unlocked the padlock with the key the police had given her, and stepped back into what she now thought of as the abyss.


| Fleeced | c