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“Where’s the woman who met me at the door? Rowena?”

Dana pursed her lips as she glanced back toward the archway. “She glides in and out, looking gorgeous and mysterious. I’m told our host will be joining us shortly.”

“Who is our host?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Haven’t I seen you?” Dana added. “In the Valley?”

“Possibly. I manage The Gallery.” For the time being, she thought.

“That’s it. I’ve come to a couple of showings there. And sometimes I just wander in and look around avariciously. I’m at the library. A reference librarian.”

They both turned as Rowena walked in. Though glided in, Malory thought, was a better description.

“I see you’ve introduced yourselves. Lovely. What can I get you to drink, Miss Price?”

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

“Perfect.” Even as she spoke, a uniformed maid came in bearing two flutes on a silver tray. “Please help yourselves to the canapés and make yourselves at home.”

“I hope the weather isn’t keeping your other guests away,” Dana put in.

Rowena merely smiled. “I’m sure everyone who’s expected will be here shortly. If you’ll excuse me just another moment.”

“Okay, this is just weird.” Dana picked a canapé at random, discovered it was a lobster puff. “Delicious, but weird.”

“Fascinating.” Malory sipped her champagne and trailed her fingers over a bronze sculpture of a reclining faerie.

“I’m still trying to figure out why I got an invitation.” Since they were there, and so was she, Dana sampled another canapé. “No one else at the library got one. No one else I know got one, for that matter. I’m starting to wish I’d talked my brother into coming with me after all. He’s got a good bullshit barometer.”

Malory found herself grinning. “You don’t sound like any librarian I’ve ever known. You don’t look like one either.”

“I burned all my Laura Ashley ten years ago.” Dana gave a little shrug. Restless, moving toward irritated, she tapped her fingers on the crystal flute. “I’m going to give this about ten more minutes, then I’m booking.”

“If you go, I go. I’d feel better heading back into that storm if I drove to the Valley behind someone else.”

“Same goes.” Dana frowned toward the window, watched the rain beat on the other side of the glass. “Crappy night. And it was an extremely crappy day. Driving all the way here and back in this mess for a couple of glasses of wine and some canapés just about caps it.”

“You too?” Malory wandered toward a wonderful painting of a masked ball. It made her think of Paris, though she’d never been there except in her dreams. “I only came tonight in hopes of making some contacts for The Gallery. Job insurance,” she added, lifting her glass in a mock toast. “As my job is currently in a very precarious state.”

“Mine too. Between budget cuts and nepotism, my position was ‘adjusted,’ my hours trimmed back to twenty-five a week. How the hell am I supposed to live on that? And my landlord just announced that my rent’s going up first of next month.”

“There’s a rattle in my car—and I spent my auto-maintenance budget on these shoes.”

Dana looked down, pursed her lips. “Terrific shoes. My computer crashed this morning.”

Enjoying herself, Malory turned away from the painting and raised a brow at Dana. “I called my boss’s new wife a bimbo and then spilled latte on her designer suit.”

“Okay, you win.” In the spirit of good fellowship, Dana stepped over and clinked her glass against Malory’s. “What do you say we hunt up the Welsh goddess and find out what’s going on around here?”

“Is that what the accent is? Welsh?”

“Gorgeous, isn’t it? But be that as it may, I think . . .”

She trailed off as they heard that distinctive click of high heels on tile.

The first thing Malory noticed was the hair. It was black and short, with thick bangs cut so blunt they might have required a ruler. Beneath them, the tawny eyes were large and long, making her think of Waterhouse again, and his faeries. She had a triangular face, glowing with what might have been excitement, nerves, or excellent cosmetics.

The way her fingers kneaded at her little black bag, Malory went with the nerves.

She wore red, stoplight red, in an abbreviated dress that clung to her curvy body and showed off terrific legs. The heels that had clicked along the tile were a good four inches high and sharp as stilettos.

“Hi.” Her voice was breathy and her gaze was already flicking around the room. “Um. She said I should come right in.”

“Join the party. Such as it is. Dana Steele, and my equally baffled companion this evening, Malory Price.”

“I’m Zoe. McCourt.” She took another cautious step into the room, as if she was waiting for someone to tell her there’d been a mistake and boot her out again. “Holy cow. This place, it’s like a movie. It’s, um, beautiful and all, but I keep expecting that scary guy in the smoking jacket to come in.”

“Vincent Price? No relation,” Malory said with a grin. “I take it you don’t know any more about what’s going on than we do.”

“No. I think I got invited by mistake, but—” She broke off, ogling a bit when a servant entered with another flute on a tray. “Ah . . . thanks.” She took the crystal gingerly, then just smiled down at the bubbling wine. “Champagne. It has to be a mistake. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to come. Where is everybody else?”

“Good question.” Dana angled her head, charmed and amused as Zoe took a small, testing sip of champagne. “Are you from the Valley?”

“Yes. Well, for the last couple years.”

“Three for three,” Malory murmured. “Do you know anyone else who got an invitation for tonight?”

“No. In fact, I asked around, which is probably why I got fired today. Is that food just to take?”

“You got fired?” Malory exchanged a look with Dana. “Three for three.”

“Carly—she owns the salon where I work. Worked,” Zoe corrected herself and walked toward a tray of canapés. “She heard me talking about it with one of my customers and got bent out of shape. Boy, these are terrific.”

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