Murder Melts in Your Mouth

Murder Melts in Your Mouth
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Drop-Dead Blonde

Murder Melts in Your Mouth

A Blackbird Sisters Mystery

Nancy Martin

AN OBSIDIAN MYSTERY

Obsidian
Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Copyright © Nancy Martin, 2008
All rights reserved

OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Martin, Nancy, 1953–
Murder melts in your mouth: a Blackbird Sisters mystery/Nancy Martin.
p. cm.
ISBN: 978-1-1012-1189-2

1. Blackbird Sisters (Fictitious characters)—Fiction. 2. Philanthropists—Crimes against—Fiction. 3. Philadelphia (Pa.)—Fiction. 4. Socialites—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3563.A7267M87 2008
813'.6—dc22                             2007034157

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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.
     The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

MANY THANKS:

Meg Ruley and the Rotrosen dream team

Ted and Wendy

Elizabeth Tierney

Ramona Long

Sarah Martin

La Sweeney

The Tarts at www.thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com—
Harley and Sarah and Michele and Elaine and Rebecca.
(And you, too, Margie.)

Without Ellen Edwards and the whole wonderful team at NAL, the Blackbirds wouldn't be the characters I love so much.

Thank you!

Chapter One

W
hile yakking into her cell phone with her massage therapist, my sister Libby walked out into traffic and got herself hit by a Rolls-Royce.

It happened during a heat wave so unbearable a dozen water mains had burst all over Philadelphia, and cabdrivers reverted to their native languages to scream at one another. Libby decided her recovery depended on her moving from the hospital into the peace and quiet of a luxury suite at the Ritz-Carlton. The mysterious owner of the Rolls insisted upon paying, and the suite was full of flowers and restorative chocolate when we arrived.

“Nora, you'll take care of my children while I recover, won't you? I'm sure they'll be no trouble at all.”

Struck dumb by the terror her hyperactive monsters could cause during a heat wave, I watched while Libby stripped off most of her clothes, slipped into the fluffy white robe provided by the hotel and arranged herself on the king-sized bed like a determined Vegas gold digger awaiting a randy billionaire.

She looked nothing like a woman with a head injury. In fact, I still wasn't sure she'd actually suffered any injuries at all. I had arrived at the hospital too late to hear an official diagnosis, but she seemed indecently robust at the moment.

She poufed her auburn hair, opened the first box of chocolate truffles and deeply inhaled their seductive aroma. “You don't mind babysitting, right? I need serenity. The charming neurologist was adamant about that. You heard him, didn't you?”

I had indeed heard rest prescribed for my sister by a doctor who seemed interested in palpating more of her as soon as his shift ended. But perhaps I was the one who needed to have my head examined, because I agreed that her five children could stay with me at Blackbird Farm until she felt better.

“But only until Friday,” I said firmly. “I'm supposed to cover the Chocolate Festival Gala that night, not to mention four parties for the Fourth of July on Saturday. I can't miss any of them. I'm serious, Lib. I'm still on probation at the newspaper. If I blow these assignments, I could lose my job once and for all.”

“That awful job! It was so much more convenient when you were unemployed, Nora.”

“And broke, you mean?”

“Details, details!” She caught sight of my expression. “Oh, all right. I'll be good as new by Friday.”

“Promise?”

She looked good as new already. Maybe better. Being half-naked always gave her a glow. She said, “I promise.”

I checked my watch. “I was supposed to meet with my editor an hour ago. Maybe he's still in his office.”

“Yes, run along.” She yawned prettily. “Just remember, Maximus is at a crucial developmental stage. So keep the binky out of his mouth and practice his language skills. Even though I'm opposed to formal education, it can't hurt if he gets into Yale someday.”

“Libby, he's eight months old. His favorite toy is his own penis. He's a long way from Yale.”

“I know several Yale graduates, and their favorite toys are still their penises. Just sing the ABC song once in a while, please? Or conjugate some verbs.” She collapsed against the mound of pillows. “I need a nap. It's impossible to get any rest in a hospital. Before you go, will you slip down the hall and bring me some ice, darling? And pull those curtains? Do you think this hotel has a masseur on staff?”

Because I was actually happy to see her alive after the Rolls-Royce scare, I drew the draperies, filled the ice bucket and gave Libby a cool cloth to press to her not-so-fevered brow. When I slipped out the door, I distinctly heard her pick up the phone and say, “Room service? Will you send up a bottle of chilled champagne right away? And two glasses, please!”

Only Libby could find a date in a psych ward.

I took the elevator down to the sweltering street and pulled out my cell phone to contact my editor. He was out until three, I was told. A slight reprieve. So I tried calling our sister Emma for the third time since I'd been summoned to spring Libby from the hospital. But Emma didn't answer her phone. Again.

I hadn't seen my little sister in ages, and such an extended absence didn't bode well. Left unsupervised a few weeks ago, she had run off to Atlantic City with Jon Bon Jovi's roadies. Heaven only knew what kind of trouble she could get into during a heat wave.

With Emma on my mind, I began the arduous trek back to the Pendergast Building and my job at the
Philadelphia Intelligencer
. I had my weekly column to finish and phone calls to make to finalize arrangements for all those Fourth of July parties. But the intense heat that radiated up from the sidewalk nearly melted the soles of my Kate Spade sandals, and after four blocks I lost my determination. The city smelled of hot asphalt and garbage, and the howling of horns and enraged drivers started my head pounding. I was wilting faster than cheesesteaks on a griddle.

And besides, I suddenly had an idea where I might find Emma.

So I stopped at a trendy Broad Street oasis.

It was an upscale restaurant, popular with theatergoers in the evening, but crowded with bankers and lawyers from the financial district during the lunch hour. A sizable contingent of reporters hung out there, too, ears to the ground. Several tables hummed with the low-pitched rumble of wheeling and dealing.

A very married news anchor sat at the bar, sucking down his first scotch and water of the day. Beside him, a pretty summer intern spun on the barstool, showing off her legs. A tableful of bankers leaned their heads together as if plotting a financial coup.

I ordered an iced tea and snagged a seat at the end of the bar, near the window so I could keep an eagle eye out for Emma.

“Nora? Is that you?”

Crewe Dearborne got up from a secluded table and came over to the bar.

Rich enough to be a dilettante, Crewe had instead turned an appreciation for the finer things in life into a career as the restaurant critic for the city's most respected newspaper. His opinions on food and drink made him a tastemaker for readers and restaurateurs alike. Today he had a sheaf of notes in his breast pocket and a dish of mixed berries in one hand. His thinning fair hair spilled over an aristocratic forehead and the regal Dearborne nose.

He also wore a false mustache, wire-rimmed glasses and a light seersucker suit.

“Good heavens, Crewe, you look like a nephew of Colonel Sanders.”

“I'm in disguise. I understand the chef has my picture on the refrigerator with a target drawn on my forehead. Mind if I join you?”

He set his dish on the bar. The berries were drizzled with a vintage balsamic vinegar, dark as chocolate. It was the sort of piquant treat enjoyed by sophisticated palates on a hot afternoon.

I avoided contact with his bristly mustache as I gave Crewe a kiss on the cheek. “Your identity is safe with me. How on earth can you look so cool on a day like this?”

“Restaurants are the new theater, Nora, and I've got a front-row seat. I've been here in the air-conditioning for hours. You look lovely today, by the way. You have quite a glow.”

Desperate to dig something cool out of my closet that morning, I had slipped into a Lilly Pulitzer sheath printed with ladybugs—inappropriate dress for the workplace, but infinitely more comfortable than a business suit during a heat wave. “That's sweat, darling.” Using a cocktail napkin, I dabbed my forehead. “I thought my sister Emma might be hiding out here this afternoon. Have you seen her?”

“Quite a bit of her, in fact. Emma just stepped into the ladies' room.”

“Good. That gives me time to cool off before we have a public fight.”

Crewe's brows rose. “What's going on?”

“A lack of family communication, that's all. She bought several ponies to teach riding lessons at Blackbird Farm, then disappeared and left me the keeper of the animal kingdom.” As the bartender arrived with my iced tea, I said, “Thank you.”

While I drank deeply from the glass, Crewe watched me with his smile fading to concern. “How are you, Nora? Besides riding herd on the pony farm. Tell the truth.”

He kept his tone casual, but I knew his question was genuine. The two of us had been embroiled in an unfortunate business just a few weeks ago, and I still hadn't quite recovered. I took a sip of my drink and forced my voice to sound steady. “I'm fine. Or giving my best impression, at least. I'm focusing on work. If only I can hike back to the office through all this heat.”

He smiled down at me. “Isn't the Pendergast three blocks from here?”

“Today it feels like twenty miles. I'm thinking of hiring a camel.”

He laughed as he leaned against the bar beside my stool. “You'll have to fight the tourists. With the Chocolate Festival going on, it's gridlock all over the city—with or without camels.”

Although Crewe made small talk, he rested his hand on mine for an instant and squeezed, communicating how he sympathized with my rocky mental state. Between a couple of restrained blue bloods, his gesture was tantamount to a violent emotional display. My throat tightened abruptly.

I squeezed him back, then slipped my hand from Crewe's touch and took another thirsty gulp of the cold drink. “How's Lexie?”

I expected Crewe to smile. He had been dating my best friend, Lexie Paine, for over a month, and I thought their relationship had blossomed despite her long-avowed reluctance to venture into a meaningful affair with any man. Lexie was happiest when dealing with financial transactions, not matters of the heart, but Crewe seemed to have melted her reserve. I thought they were on their way to becoming a blissful couple.

But Crewe's expression clouded.

“What's wrong?” I asked.

“I'm not sure,” Crewe said slowly. “You've known her longer than I have, Nora. Maybe you can tell me.”

Lexie and I had met while still in diapers, and we'd grown up together. Our parents shared a Hamptons summerhouse, and we spent several hot Julys roaming the dunes and playing dress-up in her mother's closet. If I closed my eyes, I could still conjure up the mental image of skinny Lexie racing barefoot across the sand in her mother's best Vionnet nightie. We'd been playmates first, then roommates in boarding school, confidants for years ever since. I knew Lexie better than my own sisters, really. And for Lexie, I was the sibling she never had.

“Let's see. I last spoke to her—oh, dear, it's been over a week,” I said. “Come to think of it, she seemed a little distracted then.”

“She's more than distracted now. She had her assistant cancel our dinner date last evening—couldn't even make the call herself because of a problem at work. And when I telephoned later to say good night, Lexie acted like I was a telemarketer trying to sell time-shares.”

That was a surprise. Even on dire days when the stock market behaved like an Alpine skier plunging off an icy slope, Lexie always took the extra second to be unfailingly polite. I asked, “What kind of problem at work?”

“She didn't say. She's very secretive.”

“That comes with the territory, you know.”

Lexie had inherited a vast financial empire from her father and his various curmudgeonly business associates. Now she was the controlling partner in a firm that represented more billionaires than some of the biggest houses in New York. Wall Street bulls stopped snorting and listened carefully when she spoke. Her clients included ruthless tycoons, a handful of peripatetic European royals and a fair number of idiotic heiresses, who all depended on Lexie's know how to keep their investments secure and growing.

Crewe pushed his dish of berries away. “Yes, I know discretion is part of her job, but she seems genuinely upset. I thought the two of us had reached the point where we could confide in each other, but…”

“You've been very patient, Crewe.”

He allowed a rueful smile. “It hasn't been easy.”

No, I was sure it had been excruciatingly difficult to convince Lexie to trust him. Their relationship had grown only in tiny increments. Lexie was too skittish to enter into an impulsive love affair. As a young teenager, she had been sexually assaulted by a cousin, and since then she had been unwilling—unable, really—to have a man in her life. Only Crewe's gentle persistence had nudged Lexie toward a relationship that could be considered almost normal for her age.

“If something's wrong at her office,” I said, “she'll find a way to fix it. Then she'll get back to you. Don't give up on her. She's worth it, you know.”

“I've been in love with her for ten years, Nora. I'm not quitting now, not when I'm this close.”

I raised my glass to him. “Good for you.”

“And how are you? Now that you and Mick are…?”

“As good as can be expected. I've had my heart ripped out and handed back to me. So I'm a free woman. If you have a scholarly cousin, Crewe, or a friend who has a spare theater ticket, or maybe just a nice man with a few boring habits, why don't you fix me up?”

“Nora.”

“I'm not kidding. I'm looking for a man who's as dull as beans, please. Someone dependable and quiet. A Mr. Nice Guy.”

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