“Well,” she says with a gusty sigh, “I have. That’s why all this is happening.”

“Wait,” I say, my smile disappearing as I realize Tania was asking if I’ve been married before because she has. But that’s impossible, because the girl is barely old enough to drink legally . . . plus a few years. “What?”

“That’s why all this is happening,” she repeats. “You’re right, I do owe you the truth. And you know what? I feel better about it now that I’ve told you.” She smiles and picks up her dog, giving him a little squeeze. “Wow, you’re easy to talk to. I knew you’d understand. No wonder you’re so good at your job. I bet those students tell you stuff all the time. Secret stuff they’ve never told anyone before, like what I just told you. I’ve never told that to anyone before, not even my stylist. Or Jordan.”

I’ve thrown off the chinchilla rug, put both feet on the floor, and am staring her straight in the face. Only she won’t look at me, because her face is buried in Baby’s fur.

“Tania,” I say. “What exactly are you talking about? What secret? What is happening?”

“Everything,” she says with a shrug of her elfin shoulders as she hugs Baby so tightly that he begins to struggle. She doesn’t let him go, she doesn’t look up, and her voice is muffled as she hides her face in shame. “Why I had to steal Jordan away from you. Why Bear got shot. And why Jared died today.”

“Why?” I ask, even though I think I finally know.

When she looks up at last, her cheeks are wet with tears.

“Because of my ex-husband,” she says. “He says he’s going to kill me.”

Chapter 17

Baby Mama Drama
Baby mama
That’s what he calls me
Don’t want no drama
So I don’t say a thing
But I ain’t his mama
And this ain’t his baby
So there’s gonna be trauma
If I don’t nip this thing

“Baby Mama”
Performed by Tania Trace
Written by Larson/Trace
Cartwright Records
So Sue Me album
“So what’d she say?” Cooper asks as soon as he climbs back into the Cadillac Escalade in which we’re being driven home. He’s just come from escorting Tania and Jordan up to their apartment, which is in a building a few blocks downtown and west, on Fifth Avenue, from Grant Cartwright’s. I elected to stay in the car, too disturbed by the story Tania told me back at Cooper’s parents’ place to do more than utter a polite good night.

“I’ll tell you when we get home,” I say, my gaze on the driver.

“Are you sure?” Cooper asks, looking surprised.

“Oh yes,” I say. “I’m sure.”

Cooper, after giving me a questioning glance, leans forward to give the driver our address, and I sink back against the hand-stitched leather seats, staring unseeingly out the tinted window.

“Just making sure Dad gets his money’s worth,” Cooper had joked when Jordan—and the building’s doorman—insisted it wasn’t necessary for him to accompany Tania all the way to the door and then inside the apartment she shares with Jordan.

“Our security in this building is very good, sir,” the doorman said to Cooper. “We have a night watchman posted at the door to the garage downstairs and monitors on all the exits and stairwells.”

“And our lock’s a Medeco,” Jordan pointed out proudly.

“I think you should let him,” I’d said from inside the Escalade.

Cooper, Jordan, and the doorman had all leaned into the open car door to look at me oddly. Tania kept her face buried in her Chihuahua’s sparkly jacket, looking at no one at all.

“Excuse me, miss?” the doorman had said.

“I think they should let this man escort them to their apartment,” I’d said. “I’ll wait down here in the car for them. It will just take a minute. I don’t know if you heard, but there was a murder today. A stalker of Ms. Trace sent her a box of cupcakes tainted with rat poison, and someone ate one and died. Whatever your building’s normal security precautions are for her, quadruple them. And do not eat or even open anything addressed to her. I’m sure the police have been by—”

The doorman was a young guy. “Actually,” he said, swallowing hard, “I just started my shift. I haven’t even had a chance to read the log notes—”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Cooper said and draped his linen sport coat over Tania’s shoulders as he walked her into the building, the doorman and Jordan following closely behind. “Cooper Cartwright Security Services. Can’t get rid of me until I’ve briefed all your staff and checked under your bed for intruders. Only then do I call it quits for the evening.”

The funny part—if you can call it funny—is that I haven’t yet had a chance to tell Cooper the terrifying tale Tania had dropped on me like a hydrogen bomb an hour earlier. It had been almost a relief when Nicole had come bursting into the media room, demanding that Tania and I watch a DVD of her performance in the talent competition at her all-women’s college the year before, in which she’d come in third (in the single-vocalist division).

“Moooom,” Jessica had shrieked, coming close on her twin’s heels, “she’s making people watch it again!”

I enjoyed the video—in which Nicole performed the Eagles’ “Witchy Woman” on guitar—since it gave me a chance to try to process Tania’s confidences. Eventually the whole family drifted in from the deck, Cooper ending up sitting on the arm of the leather couch beside me.

“Are you all right?” he’d leaned in to whisper at one point, pretending to be reaching for one of the whiskeys his father had poured for everyone but Tania. “You look . . . freaked out.”

Who wouldn’t have been? Tania’s story had bordered on the . . . I didn’t even know what.

“Fine,” I’d whispered back. But I was relieved when Cooper suggested we all head home a few minutes later, noting that Tania seemed tired.

“Are you sure?” Jordan had asked, seeming reluctant for the evening to end. “We could stop by my place and have a Drambuie. Well, we three could.” He gave his sisters a dark look. “They’re not invited. And Tania usually likes chamomile tea before bed these days.”

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