Silhouette Bombshell #70
“Have you been keeping up with the news of the show circuit?” Renee asked, reaching for a scone.
“No, not really.” What was the point of salting a wound? I got my fix of horses through my foundation and my weekly trips to my estate in Darien, Connecticut where I kept two horses. “Why?”
“A string of accidents have happened this winter on the Palm Beach show jumping circuit. Canterbury Crown died of a heart attack while going over a jump and his rider was hurt from the fall. Drug testing showed cocaine in the horse’s blood.”
“Cocaine?” Who would do such a thing? Of course, some people would do anything to win—even hurt a defenseless animal. “What happened?”
“The police investigated but came to no conclusion.”
I leaned forward, my heart fluttering against my ribs. “You want me to look into it,” I said hopefully.
“A few weeks later, a barn fire killed four horses, including the current National Horse Show champion, Total Eclipse.”
Just thinking about the terror those poor animals had to endure raised my blood pressure and sparked my anger. But I bit my tongue. This was definitely my kind of assignment, but Renee was obviously not asking for my opinion.
“The latest victim is Monica Lightbourne, daughter of the media heiress,” Renee continued. “Someone injected her horse, Blue Ribbon Belle, with a drug that caused a neurological reaction so violent the horse had to be put down.”
“That’s awful. How do you want me to help?”
“The Metropolitan Spring Classic Charity Horse Show begins in a week.”
“You want me to investigate at the show since I’ll be there for my foundation’s charity event.” Yes! This I could do. No stretch at all.
“Not exactly.” Renee sipped her tea, humor glinting in her eyes. “As you know, the mayor’s daughter participates in show jumping. Elliot Siegel is afraid his daughter, who’s a front runner to win the Grand Prix, will be the Horse Ripper’s next victim and that he’ll strike some time before or during the show.”
“You want me to protect Leah Siegel.” A small thrill spurred my pulse into a gallop. Finally a chance to do more than shuffle paper. Protecting the mayor’s daughter was an elite assignment.
“We want you to go undercover at the stable where she trains.” Renee tilted her head. “As a groom.”
One of my favorite things on DVDs is the deleted scene. I thought I’d let you read the airport scene I deleted from MS. LONGSHOT for pacing’s sake:
Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Paris, France. April. Present.
I wasn’t sure what tipped my temper into full boil. All of my life, my mother had drilled into me that I was expected to behave as was worthy of my station in life. And I tried. I really did. On my shoulders I carried the burden of being Lady Jacquelyn Oxborrow Cheltingham and Phillip Cheltingham’s only child, the sole heir to both the Cheltingham and the Oxborrow fortunes. Much was expected of me.
I could blame the blow-up on being up for two days straight as Nat had dragged me from one premiere and one party to the next at the International Women’s Film Festival held in the heart of gay Paree. I could blame it on the Cristal champagne that had seemed to flow endlessly and had tasted so fine. I could blame it on Nat’s father’s private Gulfstream developing engine problems and having to run from Terminal 9 to Terminal 2 of the monstrously big glass-and-concrete buildings to catch an American Airlines flight back to the States. A flight that was due to take off in twenty minutes and would stop boarding in five for security reasons. I had to get on that flight because I had to get back to New York for a meeting. And for all my faults, I understood responsibility.
But the truth was that sometimes certain people just needed putting back in their places. And the hyper frog in a gendarme’s uniform barking at me in French at the security checkpoint had far exceeded my limit of patience.
I’d tried to explain, but he just didn’t want to hear.
“Un moment, monsieur.” I held up a finger, then calmly rolled up the leg of the white Givenchy pants I hadn’t been able to resist when Nat and I had done some shopping on avenue George V. With the push of a button, I released the Ferrier Coupler joining my state-of-the art—and experimental—digitally controlled “smart” lower leg to the self-adjusting socket on the residual limb below my knee. After all price was no object. If I could spend money on designer clothes, why not on a beautiful and functional leg?
There you go, jack. There’s the terrorist weapon I’ve been hiding up my pants.
Biting my tongue because the last thing I needed was to be detained any further, I plunked the prosthesis—Yves St. Laurent sandal still attached to the lifelike foot—on the mechanical belt screening hand luggage and hoped to God the silicone cover didn’t rip as it went through the X-ray machine. I couldn’t just order a new one from Barney’s and expect same day delivery. Even the accelerated process took several days and required a trip to the prosthetist—and mine was in New Hampshire.
The frog finally clammed up and gaped at me. I slanted him my most regal smile. Bite me!
Head straight I tossed my mane of curls over my shoulder and hopped on my remaining foot through the security gate. This time when the thing went haywire, no one said a word.
Of course spite had a way of biting back, but I never seemed to learn that lesson. By the time I hooked up the prosthesis after it popped out of the X-ray machine, I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
The sweating and swelling from rushing over from Terminal 9 made my residual limb pulse with discomfort. Blinking away the burn in my eyes, I smoothed the silicone cover over my knee and rolled down my pant leg. A hot flush fired my neck and face. I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want anyone to see me. I grabbed my Louis Vuitton carry-on and my purple Prada purse and I forced myself to walk without a limp as I proceeded to my gate.
Chortling with glee, Nat grabbed my arm. Her gypsyesque Jean-Paul Gaultier skirt swirled around her tanned legs. “I can’t believe you did that!”
“He asked for it.” Go away, Nat. Leave me alone. But she didn’t get the hint.
“Did you see his face?” Nat prattled on. “Priceless!”
I wished I’d found a different way out of my predicament. If this got back to my mother, I’d be in for a lecture of biblical proportions. This was no way for the daughter of Lady Jacquelyn Oxborrow Cheltingham to behave. Because of who you are, you’re held to a higher standard, Alexa.
And if my “improper behavior” made it into Rubi Cho’s “In The Know” column at the New York Reporter, the secret I’d tried so hard to hide for the past ten years would become public knowledge, further embarrassing my mother. She’d refused to acknowledge that the amputation had ever happened.
I wasn’t sure how well this would go over at the Gotham Rose Club, either.
“Miss? Excuse me?”
I stopped and looked at the elfin woman gesturing wildly beside me. Red splotches blotched the skin of her face as if she’d been crying. Was she feeling sorry for me? She shouldn’t.
“My daughter,” she said and swallowed hard. Her department store skirt and twin set looked slept in, her brown hair unbrushed, and her shoulders hunched as if she carried a heavy burden. “She’s a student. Doing a semester at the Sorbonne. A motorcycle accident. That’s why I’m here. I flew from Boston as soon as I could. I-I—”
She seemed as if she was about to collapse, so I guided her to one of the bright orange chairs and sat her down. She shook her head, opened her mouth, but nothing came out.
“What happened?” I asked and my anger at the gendarme poofed away like a champagne bubble. Nat jerked her head toward the gate and pointed at her watch.
“They say they have to amputate her leg. She’s just nineteen.” Tears flowed down the already swollen cheeks. She must have been crying the whole flight over. “I don’t know what to say to her.”
I dug into my purse. My fingers brushed the Tiffany case I’d carried since I’d gotten out of the hospital after my accident ten years ago. I popped the case open and stared at the half-smoked cigarette. I’d hoped that nothing would change. That life would go on as it always had. But, of course, it hadn’t. Everything had changed that day. I snapped the case shut, found a packet of tissues and handed it to her.
“Have they amputated yet?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Tomorrow.”
“First,” I said, “make sure the surgeon does everything he can to save her knee. Even if it takes more recovery time now, she’ll have a better quality of life.”
The woman sniffed back, dabbing at her eyes and seemed to perk up at the bit of concrete advice. And I thought back to waking up in the hospital, what I’d needed to hear, what no one had told me.
“What’s your daughter’s name?” I asked.
“Tell Sarah that you love her. Tell her that a really shitty thing happened to her. Tell her that she has two choices. She can live her life or she can feel sorry for herself.”
I pressed one of my calling cards into the woman’s hand. “When she gets back stateside, have her call me. She can ask any question she wants.”
“Thank you,” the woman said, holding the card against her heart, and I wondered at the warm glow heating my solar plexus.
I stood as Nat impatiently waved me over and smiled reassuringly at the woman. “Tell Sarah that she’ll be able to do whatever the hell she wants.”
And to prove my point, I ran to catch my flight.