“Then I guess you’re going to have to fix them. How can I help?”
The support made her eyes burn. “I don’t know, but as soon as I figure something out, I’ll be in touch.”
“I’ll be waiting. We’re here for you, Gracie. I want you to know that.”
“I appreciate it, Mom. I’ll let you know.”
She hung up and quickly punched in Riley’s number. Several seconds passed before he answered.
“Are you okay?” she asked frantically. “I just saw the paper. What happened?”
“I just got home and I need to take a shower,” he said. “Come on over and I’ll tell you everything.”
She had a thousand questions, the first one being why he was just getting home.
“They kept you in jail?” she asked, outraged.
“It’s a long story.”
“Okay. Go take your shower. I’ll be right there.”
“I’ll leave the front door open.”
Gracie dressed in record time and made her way to Riley’s house. She felt a little weak, but a big breakfast should take care of that, she thought. After parking in the driveway—at this point what did it matter if anyone saw her car there—she walked inside and headed upstairs.
She found Riley in his bedroom. He’d already showered and shaved and was just pulling on jeans as she walked in.
After a brief thought that she was sorry to have missed the good part of watching him dress, she moved close and hugged him.
“This is all my fault, and I’m really, really sorry.”
He pulled her against him. “It wasn’t you. It was Pam and circumstances. Don’t blame yourself.” He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her.
The melty sensation began instantly, but Gracie told herself this wasn’t the time to get distracted. There were too many other things to worry about.
“What happened?” she asked when he drew back. “How did you end up covered in cake? And who arrested you? And why didn’t you get home until this morning?”
He released her and picked up a shirt on the bed. After shrugging into it, he started on the buttons.
“One of the guards figured out I was taking out a cake as well as bringing one in. Someone had called to warn security I might try to pull something.”
“You? That’s crazy.”
“I saw Pam driving away, which means she saw my car. I’m guessing she made the call to get me in trouble and it worked perfectly. The guards tried to detain me, I didn’t want to stay. What I didn’t see was the liquor guy coming up the stairs. We collided and both went down. The wine broke and we fell in it and the cake.”
Her breath caught. “What about all that glass? Are you hurt?”
“A few cuts. Nothing serious. Then the deputies arrived to take me away. There was enough blood that we had to stop by the hospital first.”
He pulled up his shirt and turned so she could see the bandages on his back. There were five and none were very big.
“Did they have to pick any glass out?” She asked, feeling more horrible by the second.
“Some. I have a couple of stitches.”
She winced. “I’m so sorry.”
He dropped the shirt and set his hands on her shoulders. “Not your fault. Remember that. This is Pam’s doing and by God, she’s going to pay.”
Gracie wanted to ask how, but she had other, more pressing questions.
“Why didn’t Mac release you right away?”
Riley tucked in his shirt. “He wasn’t on duty and the damned deputies wouldn’t call him. They didn’t want me to call anyone either. They finally did let me and I got in touch with Zeke who drove out to Mac’s house, but he wasn’t there. Apparently Mac and Jill went out of town for the night. Zeke called around to hotels in Santa Barbara until he found them. Mac drove back and let me out.”
“And I slept through the whole thing,” Gracie said mournfully.
“You were sick. Alexis left when you fell asleep. Don’t sweat it,” he told her. “I’m fine now.”
“So how are we going to get Pam?” she asked.
“Too bad she’s a woman. If she was a guy I’d just go beat the shit out of her.”
“We could confront her and threaten her. That would be good.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said. “You have your camera in your car, just in case we find something interesting?”
She grinned. “You bet.”
They drove to Pam’s house and parked right in front.
“I don’t care who knows we’re here,” Riley said as he climbed out.
Gracie agreed and followed him to the front door, which was standing ajar.
They both stared at the slight crack of space just begging to be entered.
“Is it a setup?” Gracie asked in a whisper. “Is she going to have us arrested for breaking and entering?”
“Prove that it wasn’t,” he said, nodding to her camera.
“Oh. Great idea.”
She snapped a picture of the half-open door, then winced at the loud click and whirr of the picture being shot out. She grabbed it and handed the picture to Riley to shove it in his jeans back pocket. Then he pushed the door open wider and they stepped inside.
Gracie’s first impression was of elegant furnishings and plenty of light. “Nice house,” she murmured.
Riley shot her a glance that said this wasn’t the time to be discussing Pam’s decorating ability, then motioned to her to follow him. He pointed to the hall.
Gracie wondered why until she heard a faint sound. A faint rhythmic sound that was familiar. And intimate.
“She’s doing it!” she whispered. “We’ve got to see who the guy is. Whoever he is, he’s helping her!”
Riley pressed a finger to his lips and led the way. The noises got louder. There was heavy breathing, a cry of “Oh, yes, I’m close,” from Pam, then a low groan.
“Get ready,” Riley mouthed, pointing to the camera.
They paused outside the half-closed bedroom door for a second, then Riley pushed it open and rushed inside.
Several things happened at once. As Gracie followed, the couple on the bed noticed the intrusion. Pam screamed, which made Gracie jump and maybe scream a little, too. But she was careful to keep her camera positioned.
Through the tiny lens she got an eyeful of Pam’s breasts, some guy’s back and then the guy turned and she found herself staring directly at the still-erect private parts of Franklin Yardley.
“Oh, yuck,” she yelled, even as she started clicking pictures.
“Get out!” the mayor demanded.
He grabbed for the blanket, jerking it off the bed, but not before Gracie got several pictures of him and Pam in what could only be described as compromising circumstances. The ever-lovely Mrs. Yardley was not going to like this.
Riley was careful to catch the pictures as they popped out of the camera.
“Interesting,” he said with a grin. “It’s about time someone else starred in the local paper. I’m getting tired of all the notoriety.”
Yardley grabbed for the pictures, but Riley kept them out of reach.
“You’ll pay for this,” Yardley said.
“How?” Riley asked. “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” He looked at Pam, who had pulled the sheet up over her breasts. “When did your taste get so lousy?”
She glared at him. “Don’t talk to me about lousy taste, you bastard. You’re the one sleeping with Gracie.” Her face tightened and her voice rose. “How could you want that bitch?”
Gracie jumped. “I’m not a bitch.”
“You’re disgusting and horrible,” Pam yelled. “I hate you. Do you hear me? I hate you. I hate everything about you. I wish you were dead. You ruined my life. All those damn articles back when we were in high school. Everyone thought you were so sweet and I was just the whore who wanted to marry Riley for the money. You ruined my wedding. It was supposed to be my day, do you hear me? My day. And it was all about you. All everyone could talk about was Gracie Landon. ‘Do you think she’ll show up?’” Pam said in a mock high voice. “‘What will precious Gracie do’?”
Pam narrowed her eyes. “I wanted you punished back then, but I couldn’t find you. So I waited and planned and I’ve got you now.”
“Pam!” Yardley move away from the bed. “You’re unbalanced. What have you done?”
Pam turned on him. “What?” she shrieked. “Oh, don’t you dare pretend you weren’t in on this from the beginning.”
Yardley’s eyes widened. “I swear, I have no idea what she’s talking about. Pam, have you broken the law?”
Pam screamed. “Don’t you play innocent with me, you old goat. You’re in this up to your eyeballs.”
Yardley turned to Gracie. “I swear, I have no idea what she’s talking about.”
Pam swore. “Fine. If that’s the way you want to play it.” She turned on Riley. “Oh, this is good. I might have to go down, but I’m taking your precious Gracie with me.” She swung her attention to Gracie.
“I ruined you,” she said with glee. “I ruined your precious business and now you have nothing.” She turned back to Riley. “I’ve ruined you, too and I’m glad. You know why? Because when you left me, you said Gracie was right. I’ve never forgiven you for that.”
Gracie turned to Riley. “You said that?”
He shrugged. “You were.”
Pam screamed. “I never got a penny out of that divorce and I want my money now. Do you hear me?”
“Pam,” the mayor said. “Be quiet. You’re obviously not feeling well. I had no idea you were harboring all of this anger.”
“Anger?” Pam started screaming and crying and laughing. Gracie wondered if she had gone over the edge.
“I hate you both,” she said as she sank back on the bed. “Dammit, I worked so hard. I hate you all.”
“Pam!” Yardley sounded shocked. “I don’t know you anymore.”
“Oh, like you ever did,” Pam said, sounding defiant. “I only ever slept with you because you’re getting most of the estate when Riley fails. I was planning to take half of it and run as soon as we were married.” She looked at Riley. “He keeps a separate set of books in his office. He has a secret drawer in his desk. He’s been skimming money for years.”
“Pam, no!” Yardley protested.
She stood and jerked the sheet free, then wrapped it around herself. “I nearly got everything.” She glared at Gracie. “I suppose you’re feeling fine.”
“Sure. Why would you…” Gracie stared at her, remembering her sudden illness. “What did you do to me?”
“Mixed some very old mayonnaise in your stupid tuna salad. My God, how can you eat that? It smells like cat food. I wanted to get you out of the way and I did. I planned everything.” She kicked Yardley. “Until you messed it all up. I’ll never forgive you.”
Riley took Gracie’s arm. “This is our cue to leave.”
Yardley stared at Pam as if he’d never seen her. “But I loved you.”
“Oh, sure. That’s why you screwed all your assistants. You’re old and you can barely get it up and you’re lousy in bed.” She turned her attention to Riley. “You’re crap in the sack, too.”
With that she stomped into the bathroom, closed the door and clicked the lock.
Riley led Gracie out of the bedroom. She couldn’t believe all that she’d heard.
“It was them all the time,” she said, feeling as if she’d just watched a very intense live show. “The photographer, the cake mixes. Everything.”