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Authors: Diana Dempsey

Chasing Venus

Chasing Venus
Diana Dempsey
(2011)

Known for page-turning romantic novels that keep you reading late into the night, Diana Dempsey delivers a suspenseful tale about a man and a woman who must shed the past to embrace the future …

Annette Rowell’s latest novel is leapfrogging up the bestseller lists, and with every surge in sales she’s becoming more of a household name. The literary success she’s struggled so hard for would be a dream come true were it not for the killer preying on bestselling authors.

Reid Gardner hosts a syndicated crime show dedicated to capturing the most dangerous fugitives. The former LAPD cop knows only too well how violence can shatter lives. No victim arouses his ardor more than the pretty brunette author who’s become the target of a psychopath. Yet falling in love with her could cost him not only the reputation he’s spent years building, but the one killer who forever eludes him …

About the Author

Diana Dempsey traded in an Emmy-winning career in TV news to write fast, fun romance fiction. Her debut novel, FALLING STAR, was nominated for a RITA award for Best First Book by the members of Romance Writers of America. It centers on the personal and professional travails—and eventual triumphs—of a primetime anchorwoman. TO CATCH THE MOON, a Romantic Times Top Pick, combines a murder mystery with a love triangle. TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN goes behind the glossy veneer of a Napa Valley winery to find forbidden love, intrigue, and betrayal. CHASING VENUS is a romantic suspense about Annie Rowell, who discovers that being a best-selling novelist can be a killer ... Since Diana enjoys the occasional well-executed murder, she also writes a cozy mystery series. MS AMERICA AND THE OFFING ON OAHU introduces beauty queen and budding sleuth Happy Pennington, who must clear her name when her fiercest competitor tumbles dead out of the isolation booth during the pageant finale. MS AMERICA AND THE VILLAINY IN VEGAS finds Happy in Sin City for the over-the-top nuptials of pageant-wear purveyor Sally Anne Gibbons, only to have the best man turn up dead. In her dozen years in TV news, the former Diana Koricke played every on-air role from network correspondent to local news anchor. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York—Go, Bills!—Diana is a graduate of Harvard University and the winner of a Rotary International Foundation Scholarship. She enjoyed stints in Belgium, the U.K., and Japan, and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and a West Highland White Terrier, not necessarily in that order. Diana loves to hear from readers! Visit www.dianadempsey.com to email her and sign up to her mailing list to hear first about her new releases. Also join her on Facebook at DianaDempseyBooks and follow her on Twitter at Diana_Dempsey.

 
 
 
 
 

CHASING
VENUS

 
 
 

Diana Dempsey

 

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events,
or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Chasing
Venus

 

All
Rights Reserved

Copyright
© 2011 by Diana Dempsey

 

This
book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by any means, without
permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes
copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil
liability.

 

ISBN:
978-0-9815223-5-7

 

First
electronic edition August 2011

 

Dear Reader,

 

I have a wonderful
group of writer friends with whom I brainstorm and trade publishing-industry
gossip. We meet at a Bay Area mall and work for a while before breaking for
lunch. Brainstorming resumes afterward, always over chocolate.

 

Chasing Venus
grew out of one of those sessions, when we got to
thinking about how a struggling author might be tempted to murder a successful
author to clear space on the bestsellers lists. A wild notion, to be sure, but
it took root in my writer’s brain. And I’m so glad it did, because I love the
novel that resulted. This is a passionate love story about a man and a woman
who must shed the past to embrace the future. That’s no easy trick to pull off,
particularly for these two.

 

This book also
benefitted tremendously from the sage editorial advice of my great friend and
fellow writer Bill Fuller. The cover art is another masterwork by Rhonda
Freshwater of Freshwater Design.
 
My
husband Jed, as always, was a marvelous thought partner and plot-
meister
.

 

Please let me know what
you think about
Chasing Venus
. I love
to hear from you! E-mail me at
www.dianadempsey.com
,
and while you’re visiting my website, be sure to sign up to my mailing list so
you’ll hear first about new releases. I’d also love for you to join me on
Facebook
and follow me on
Twitter
. Most of all, keep
reading!

 
 

All the best,

Diana

 

 
 
 
 

This book is dedicated to

Barbara
Freethy

Carol Grace

Lynn Hanna

Candice
Hern

Barbara McMahon

and

Kate Moore

 

We know we’ve all been tempted …

PROLOGUE
 
 

Death was not on the
guest list, but it appeared all the same.

Maggie Boswell,
reigning queen of mystery fiction, sat at the signing table as if she were
royalty on a throne.
 
Around her, in
teetering piles, was her latest bestseller.
 
Grabbing at the books were members of
the literary elite—authors, editors, agents.
 
It was a huge irony that Maggie had
invited them into her home for this book party.
 
Most of them she disliked.
 
Now all of them she distrusted.

For any one of them
might try to kill her.

Someone handed her a
book.
 
She scribbled the
inscription, struggling to rise above her fear.
 
In the shifting terror of her worst
imaginings, even her beloved home unnerved her.
 
Its enormity was no longer a joy, but a
threat.
 
It had too many corners,
too many shadows.
 
And outside its
stucco walls the night was moonless, and the silver-gray Pacific beyond the
terraced garden unnaturally still.

A breeze from the open
French doors behind her wafted over the back of her neck, chilling her skin
like a spectral caress.
 
She
shivered, turned to look.
 
Yet there
was nothing there, nothing but the unrelieved blackness of her garden.

“Ms. Boswell?”

She spun at the woman’s
voice, and pursed her lips.
 
A
pretender to her throne, in the form of a brunette wisp with—in Maggie’s
opinion—dubious talent.

The woman held a book
toward her and smiled.
 
"I’m
Annette Rowell.
 
I’m a huge admirer
of your work."

Maggie took the book
but didn’t care to smile back.
 
“Are
you?”

"I’ve really been
looking forward to this one."

Read it and weep
.
 
“Shall I sign the book to you?”

“Please.”

Maggie scrawled
To Annette
and then her signature in
expansive script.
 
She slapped the
hardcover shut and held out the volume.

"You may remember
that I have a mystery series of my own," the woman said.

Maggie was well aware
of it.
 
"Is that so?"

Again the woman
smiled.
 
“Thank you so much for
including me tonight."

Maggie wondered how
this upstart had made it onto the guest list.
 
She averted her head in silent dismissal
and the woman moved along.

The books kept coming,
endlessly.
 
Greet, open, sign, hand
back, smile, over and over again.
 
At one point, Maggie jolted upright.
 
She’d felt something, sudden and swift,
in the nape of her neck.
 
A
piercing, like a bee sting, or a needle making an entry into flesh.
 
Deeply and with purpose.
 
Then, just as quickly, gone.

She frowned, twisted to
look behind her out the French doors.
 
Again, nothing.
 
Just the
yards of flagstone terrace and the lawn sweeping to the sea.
 
With some trepidation she touched the
back of her neck, then stared aghast at the unmistakable crimson smear on her
finger.

My God
.
 
A thought came,
a terrifying idea she immediately banished.
 
It
can't be
.

Someone held another
book toward her.
 
Mechanically she
signed it, her mind whirling.
 
As
she returned the volume to its owner, she grimaced again.

An unnatural tingling
sensation had begun in her body.
 
Maggie stilled, gave it her full attention.
 
Yet the feeling didn’t disappear, but
grew, strengthened.

She shivered.
 
Coldness writhed within her.
 
The hideous thought returned, taunted
her.
 
Just like in my second book
.

No.
 
She wouldn’t believe it.
 
It couldn’t be so easy, that what she
feared most would simply come to pass.
 
Just like that.
 
All the
while the iciness intensified, knifing through her body.
 
A harbinger of doom.

This cannot be happening.

Yet, she knew, it
could.

The people around her
seemed to grow distant, as if a veil had dropped between her and the living
world.
 
She saw their faces, she
heard their voices, but she was alone among them in a way she never had been
before.
 
She tried to move her mouth
to speak but her lips failed to respond.

So fast.
 
It really is so
fast.

She was almost admiring
of the poison's power.
 
Just as she
had written about it, so it was.

"Darling?"
 
Her husband bent over her.
 
Voices echoed, concerned faces loomed.
 
Someone held up something thin and shiny
and silver.
 
Maggie didn’t need to
see it clearly to know what it was.
 
A dart, tipped with poison.

Terror gripped her
then, spun in her mind like a grotesque dervish.
 
Her imagination, always vivid, conjured
an image of her last breath.
 
Not so
far off now, she knew.
 
And, oh, how
she would gasp, strain, seek air she could never more find ...

Panic ballooned in the
gorgeous living room, an acid cloud only she could see.
 
People were jostling now, bumping into
one another, seeking escape.
 
A lone
scream rent the air.
 
She tried to
turn her head to see who had made the shrill sound but wasn’t able.
 
Already that was beyond her rapidly
dwindling capabilities.

So fast, so fast …

Her body slumped to the
table.
 
She was powerless to keep
her head from slamming onto the book she had been preparing to sign.

My last book.
 
It's
over.
 
I'm dead.

Another scream, not her
own, for she could no longer draw breath.
 
She knew.
 
She had
tried.
 
Nothing came.

Death made its exit,
leaving its grim calling card behind.

CHAPTER ONE
 
 

Annie Rowell snagged a
deep breath of air, her heart pumping, her feet in their worn running shoes
pounding the graveled shoulder of the two-lane road.
 
It was dusk, and at this hour few cars
passed through these low grassy hills outside the California coastal town of
Bodega Bay.
 
Here, a mile inland,
she couldn't hear the surf, but still the chill air carried a tang of
salt.
 
Overhead a raven cawed, its
shriek splitting the heavens.

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