Dark Paradise
pieces of my shattered
    heart,'" she said loudly, her voice suddenly dripping the honey of the Deep
    South. "'I shall gather them to me and go on, valiant and undaunted.'"
     
    he straightened and heaved a cleansing sigh, her features settling
    back into the same fierce, businesslike expression she had worn a moment
    before. "From Lila Rose by Baxter Brady. It closed after three weeks in
    the St. James, though through no fault of mine. I assure you, I was
    brilliant.."
     
    Marilee just blinked.
     
    The woman pulled a small highly polished black stone from the pocket of
    her jumper and pressed it gently into Marilee's palm, curling her
    fingers up to hold it in place.
     
    "There. That will help."
     
    Without another word she strode away, boots clumping on the wooden steps
    as she left the veranda for the building. Marilee stared blinking on the
    south side of the veranda after her, forcing a couple in Rodeo western
    wear around her on their way into the hotel. As the two step doors swung
    shut behind them, a puff of air brought out the aromas of fresh bread
    and simmering herbs. Marilee's nose locked on like a bloodhound's. Food.
    Food always made sense. Rousing herself, she went in search of it.
     
    The Mystic Moose bar was magnificent. Instead of receating the fussy
    opulence of Madam Belle's Golden Eagle, the new owners had opted for
    rustic chic. Rough white stucco walls and heavy, carved mahogany woods
    antler chandelier hung   work. Massive versions of Lucy on the high
    ceiling. The trim, the thick exposed beams back wall was dominated by a
    series of tall multipaned windows and French doors that led onto a
    broad terrace   and gave a magnificent view of the mountains that rose to
    the east. The centerpiece of the south wall was a huge fieldstone
    fireplace, over which hung an enormous mounted moose head. The moose
    looked straight across to a beautiful bar that gleamed in the soft
    afternoon light with the rich patina of age and loving care. Behind it,
    Madam Belle's gilt-framed mirror still hung; twenty feet of homage to an
    illicit affair of a bygone era.
     
    There was a fair number of customers for the middle of the afternoon. A
    few cast curious looks in Marilee's direction as she made her way to a
    table and settled into a large, comfortable captain's chair. She put her
    rock on the table and stared at it vacantly.
     
    "If you don't mind my saying, luv, you look positively all done in."
     
    The cultured British tones brought her head up and added another layer
    of confusion to the fog shrouded brain. "Excuse me?"
     
    "I say, you look all done in," he said, a gentle smile curving his
    mouth. He looked fortyish and attractive with wavy auburn hair, a bold
    nose, and a kind shine in his eyes. An afternoon beard shadowed his lean
    cheeks, but took nothing away from the overall impression of style and
    quality he projected in a loose-fitting ivory silk shirt and
    coffee-brown trousers. He leaned across the table and placed a cocktail
    napkin beside her stone. "Is something the matter?"
     
    "Well, for starters, I have a fractured aura."
     
    "Ah, you've met M.E." At her blank look he expanded. "M.E. Fralick,
    maven of the Broadway stage and patron of all things New Age." The
    name rang a dim bell, but it didn't cut through the pounding in her
    temples.
     
    "How about a cappuccino?" he suggested.
     
    "I was thinking more along the lines of a G and Twist a capital G - and a
    large plate of anything edible."
     
    "A woman after my own heart. By the way, my name is Andrew Van Dellen.
    Aside from playing waiter on occasion, I'm one of the lucky owners of
    the Mystic Moose."
     
    "Marilee Jennings," she said, trying to offer a smile.
     
    He straightened a bit and stared at her for a moment, brows knit.
    Humming a note, he tapped a forefinger against his pursed lips.
    "Marilee. Marilee Jennings?" The light bulb went on. "Oh, my God, you're
    Lucy's friend!"
     
     
     
    Across the room, at the bar, Samantha

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