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Revenge of the Gypsy Queen - Prologue

Talk about the unexpected. I came to New York for a vacation and to share in the joy of my sister-in-law's wedding. The operative word was fun. Instead, I wrestled with extortion and murder — not to mention losing ten thousand bucks — and I hadn't even been on the subway!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. During my first full day in New York, I had no inkling of the ugly obstacles that would rear up on the road ahead, though I'd already gathered it would take a few surprising bends--thanks to a rather strange and wonderful afternoon.

During my return to my in-laws' Upper East Side town house, my mind reeled with questions: Why were the police watching my husband's Uncle Philly? What could that lovable cherub, whom I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw Manhattan, have done to attract the attention of the boys and girls in police blue? And if Philly interested them so much, why didn't the cops haul him in for questioning — instead of me?
Not that the afternoon was without its compensations. I considered getting tossed in the hoosegow as nothing less than the attainment of a merit badge I'd coveted for years, as well as priceless entertainment. Especially when it provided a little family dirt my in-laws obviously didn't want me to know.

But dampening the experience was the unease I felt over the one question that really mattered. The question that had gnawed at me ever since my sister-in-law, Marisa, failed to turn up for our appointment that morning: What had happened to her? Where was Marisa?

I'd hoped no one would be home; I needed time alone with my thoughts. No such luck. Both my husband, Drew, and his mother, Charlotte, pounced on me the instant I entered the town house foyer. I noticed not a hair of Charlotte's honey blonde head was out of place, but there was fire in her stormy blue eyes. Was it too late to make my escape?

"Tracy! Finally, you're here," my mother-in-law said with an impatient sniff. "You're the only one who has seen Marisa today. Perhaps you can tell me why she hasn't kept any of her appointments."
"Actually, we never —"

The telephone rang.

"Doesn't that phone ever stop?" Charlotte's rhetorical demand overflowed with aggrieved righteousness. "Drew, I am not your sister's answering service!" she snapped as if it were his fault, before dashing to the den to answer it.

It troubled me that they hadn't seen Marisa, either, but they weren't supposed to. My rational mind continued to override the doubts with its insistence that Marisa and I would share a good laugh over the mix-up before the evening ended. Sure, we would.

Drew and I strolled arm-in-arm past the staircase to the living room. I noticed one lock of his wavy light brown hair fell over his forehead, the way it did when I played "Tracy and the stable lad" in my head. But his golden eyes looked glazed and irritated. Must have been jet-lag.
He took me into his arms. "Mrs. Eaton, I hope you feel just a bit guilty. Gallivanting around while I've had a miserable day."

"Really, Mr. Eaton? I'll have you know my day wasn't all fun and games, either."

Emphasis on the word, all. The games I played with Philly and Detective Billy Jay Weaver were worth the price of admission at police headquarters.

No contest," Drew said. "I had the pleasure of my mother's company when she learned my sister has fallen an entire day behind on the wedding schedule."

So those tired eyes were the result of Charlotte-stress, not travel-fatigue. Much worse. My first glance at the room should have told me. Charlotte always kept her home ready for an impromptu Architectural Digest spread. Sometimes I half-expected to be cautioned to stay behind the velvet ropes. Tonight, while the room tastefully decorated in this season's selection of grays still had a long way to go before looking lived in by anyone else's standards--for this crowd, it was downright messy. The black jacket tossed on a chair would have been bad enough, but the heather grey scarf that slipped to the floor was unforgivable. The blizzard of neatly printed Rolodex cards scattered on every surface practically signaled the end of the world.

"And you had to be late," Drew went on. "When my mother wanted to question you about Marisa, and I assured her you would be home early."

"Why did you do that?" I demanded in self-defense.

"Because you left me a note saying you wouldn't be late."

As a mature adult, an officer of the court, Drew has a penchant for justice — which means he's a stickler for apportioning blame. And he operates under the ridiculous idea that I sometimes try to get out of things.

"Drew, it's your fault that I'm late," I said.

He threw his head back and laughed like he'd needed a good one for a while. "How do you figure that?"
I snuggled closer to his white stiff-as-a-board shirt; the Eatons might feel a little rumpled on rare occasions, but their clothes would never tell. "Your cloak-and-dagger game started it all. It was only because I saw you following your uncle that I did, too. By the way, what's Philly's last name?"
I noticed the man in the circle of my arms was pulling away.

"You're mistaken, Tracy," he said as if he spoke the unvarnished truth.

"About his name? If you don't tell me things, how can I be wrong?" I complained.

"I meant, I wasn't following my uncle. What gave you that idea?"

"Drew, I saw you. You sailed right past Marisa's very own restaurant in a cab."

"Must have been someone else," was his airy response.

"I know my own husband!"

"Obviously not too well. I haven't left the house all day."

His eyes met mine and stuck with all the might of Krazy Glue. He believes that to be a sign of honesty. Like he would know. Drew is the world's worst liar. With his strict ethical code, he doesn't get enough practice. He was making up for it now. If things got any screwier around there, I was going to need a guide.

The doorbell rang once, then a couple more times in rapid succession.

"Marisa!" I said. "Probably just forgot her key."

I heard a flood of relief in my own voice, far greater than the level of anxiety I acknowledged. I ran to the foyer. Before I reached the door, the ringing gave way to an insistent pounding. Suddenly, I knew Marisa and I weren't going to share that laugh tonight, after all.

I stopped, unable to take another step, unwilling to face whatever waited on the other side of that door. I'd always held the people who avoid the tough stuff in contempt. Yet I'd engaged in denial about Marisa's whereabouts all day. I clung to it even now.

If life hadn't already taught me about the price of silence, I would learn it when I opened that door.

And I would pay that price for as long as I lived.

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