The fundraiser had been a smashing success. The staff at
the exclusive Kansas City Club had worked overtime to
ensure that the decor and the service for the two-hundred-
dollar-a-plate dinner was impeccable.
Everyone who was anyone had been there, afraid that if
they weren't then they'd be fodder for gossip during the
evening. Of course if there was one thing the wealthy of
Kansas City loved to do more than spend money, it was to
talk about one another.
"I could live on this." Belinda Carlyle scooped up a
cracker full of caviar and popped it into her mouth.
Chantal Worthington wrinkled her nose at her best
friend. "Not me, I can't stand the stuff."
The two women stood next to a buffet table. The fancy
appetizers had been picked over hours earlier. Chantal
would have left long ago but her mother had been in
charge. Chantal knew her mother would expect her to stay
until the last party gasp.
"See the waiter over there? The one with the flashing dark
eyes and tight pants? I'm thinking of having him on a
cracker later this evening."
"Honestly, Belinda..." Chantal bit back the lecture that
sprang to her lips, knowing from past experience that it
wouldn't do any good.
Belinda had been on a path of self-destruction for years
and Chantal knew there was nothing she could do except be
there when her friend fell...which she did often.
"Your mother looks good. Botox?" Belinda asked as she
grabbed another cracker.
Chantal looked across the room where her mother stood
talking with the mayor. At sixty-five years old Katherine
Worthington was still a beautiful woman, thanks to a man
named Pepe who was paid an inordinately large amount of
money to keep her hair the perfect shade of champagne
blond and her skin like that on a baby's butt.
"If she's had it, she'll never admit to it," Chantal
replied dryly. "She'll simply say her ageless beauty is
the result of good genes."
"I met a guy in the bar earlier whom I would have liked to
talk right out of his jeans." When Belinda got no rise
from Chantal she changed the subject. "How's the bounty-
hunting business?" Belinda shook her head, her highlighted
brown curls dancing on her painfully thin shoulders. "I
still can't believe my best friend is a bounty hunter."
Chantal grinned. "There are times I can't believe it
myself. Mother insists it's a form of late rebellion."
Belinda was one of only a few people who knew what Chantal
did during her free time.
Belinda raised a perfectly waxed eyebrow. "Is it?" Chantal
didn't answer immediately. "I'm not sure," she
admitted. "I was bored, looking to challenge myself with
something more than shopping and doing lunch."
"Seems a little extreme," Belinda observed.
"So does taking home waiters you don't know to have
meaningless sex," Chantal retorted.
"Darling, don't knock it until you've tried it," Belinda
purred. Then she widened her eyes. "Oops, I forgot, you
did try it. What was his name? Larry or Harry?"
Chantal laughed and nudged her friend with her
elbow. "Gary, and that was definitely a wild, crazy
rebellion." Gary Burkett was a poet she'd met at a
He'd been intensely handsome with soulful eyes. They'd
spent thirty minutes talking at the bookstore then had
left and had spent the next two days in bed.
Chantal had begun to believe she'd found Mr. Right, then
they'd gotten out of bed. What was it about silk sheets
that could make a man irresistible but once the sheets
were off transformed him into an asshole?
"I can tell you why you were so bored with your life,"
Belinda continued. "You don't have enough dysfunction.
You're the only person I know who doesn't have a
"You have two. Me not having one keeps the world in
Belinda picked up her purse from a nearby chair. "On that
note, I'm going home. Call me tomorrow?"
"As always," Chantal replied.
Belinda pulled her keys from her purse, then looked at
Chantal again, all trace of humor gone from her pretty
features. "Did you hear that the case went to the jury
late yesterday afternoon?"
Chantal didn't have to ask which case Belinda was
referring to. The Willowby rape trial had been one of the
most highly publicized cases ever tried in the state of
Ten months before, Marcus Willowby, heir to the Willowby
Whisky fortune had been arrested on two counts of rape. It
was alleged that twenty-eight-year-old Marcus had drugged
the victims with GHB, then videotaped himself raping the
unconscious young women.
The crimes were brought to the attention of the police by
a young woman and her friend who had spent the night at
Willowby's condo after a night of dancing and partying at
a local club.
According to the young women they had gone to Willowby's
place and had a few drinks and neither of them remembered
anything after that. They'd awakened the next morning in
Willowby's spare bedroom, fully clothed on top of the bed.
Willowby had been in the kitchen fixing them all
It wasn't until one of the women went to use the bathroom
and discovered her underwear inside out that she became
suspicious that something had happened that shouldn't
have. She and her friend had left Willowby's and gone
directly to the nearest police station where rape kits
were performed on the two women and traces of semen were
found on their underwear and skin.
An investigation had yielded the videotape of the two
women being raped by Willowby while they were unconscious.
Although the police suspected there were other victims, no
other videotapes had been found and no other women had
It was an ugly case, but there had been very little gossip
among Chantal's friends and peers. Willowby was one of
their own, but the heinous nature of the crime and the
power wielded by Rebecca and Roger Willowby, Marcus's
parents, had kept public gossip at a minimum.
But Belinda and Chantal had spent a lot of time talking
about Willowby. Ten years ago Marcus had raped Belinda.
"I hope the bastard rots in hell," Belinda now said, her
voice husky with suppressed emotion. "I hope somebody
kills him in prison."
Chantal placed a hand on her friend's arm. She knew the
devastation that single night had wreaked in Belinda's
life. She knew the emotional scars had been ripped open
again when details of Willowby's arrest had hit the news.
"Belinda, he's not going to get away this time," she said
softly. "According to everyone there's no way the jury can
come back with a not guilty verdict."
"I know...I just wish..." She shook her head once
again. "I've got to go home. I'm getting one of my
headaches." She leaned forward and kissed Chantal on the
cheek, then turned and headed for the banquet-room exit.
Chantal watched her friend go, her heart aching. She and
Belinda had been best friends since seventh grade when the
two of them had attended an exclusive summer camp and
discovered they both had a passion for mint chocolate
truffles from the Tenth Street Bakery, Vogue magazines and
late lunches at the Plaza.
During those early teenage years, they had shared their
despair over the fact that high fashion came to Kansas
City six months later than every place else on earth and
that the grapefruit diet didn't really work.
They'd shared the joy of discovering that Calvin Klein
jeans actually made their butts look good and that bitchy
Susie Winchester had become a clichĂ© and run off with her
Those had been the most carefree years Chantal had
enjoyed, even though, looking back, she recognized that
she and Belinda had been totally self-absorbed and shallow
as only teenagers can be.
The night of the party at the Willowby mansion had changed
everything. They'd been sixteen, and, despite not really
hanging out with Marcus and his friends, they hadn't been
able to resist a party at the Willowby home.
The house had crawled with teenagers. Drugs and liquor had
flowed freely and in the space of the thirty minutes that
Belinda and Chantal had been separated, Marcus Willowby
had nearly destroyed Belinda's life.
Chantal had tried to talk Belinda into going to the
authorities and reporting the crime, but Belinda had been
afraid. She'd been afraid of what Marcus might do, what
her parents would think, and the gossip that would
surround her if she told.
While Chantal and Belinda's friendship had only grown
stronger, Belinda had transformed from a happy, carefree
teen to a neurotic mess who only occasionally allowed
glimpses of the happy girl she had once been.
"Darling, where are you?"
Chantal blinked and realized her mother stood before her.
She smiled. "I got lost in my thoughts for a moment." She
leaned forward and kissed her mother on the cheek. "The
evening was a huge success."
Katherine frowned, a dainty wrinkle forming in the center
of her forehead. "The salmon was overcooked and the salad
wasn't chilled enough, but the good thing is, according to
my best guess, we raised almost twenty thousand dollars
for Kansas City Kids."
Kansas City Kids was one of Katherine's pet charities, an
organization that provided medical and dental treatment to
the underprivileged children in the city.
"That's wonderful, but certainly not a surprise. You're
definitely an expert at fundraising."
Katherine smiled. "Your father used to say that if
necessary I could raise a million for a family of toads."
Her smile grew wistful and Chantal knew she was thinking
of Chantal's father, who had died unexpectedly of a heart
attack five years before.
"He'd be proud of you," Chantal said softly. "Yes, I think
he would be," she agreed. "So, are you heading straight
"I'm not sure. I'm going to check in with Big Joey and see
if anything is happening."
The frown that had disappeared from Katherine's forehead
appeared again. "You will be careful?"
"Heavens, why would I want to do that?" Chantal
teased. "You know I will be," she added and kissed her
mother's cheek once again.
Minutes later she walked out of the lobby and into the
sultry mid-June night and waited for the valet to bring
her car around. She was glad the fundraiser was over. This
had been her third one in the past two weeks. Friends of
the Zoo, People for Pets, Save the Whales... everyone
needed money and Chantal was on every-one's list as a
As she waited for her car she pulled her cell phone from
her purse and hit the speed dial for Big Joey's Bail Bonds.
Even though it was after eleven, she knew Joey would be
in. Joey was almost always in. He slept, ate and drank his
bail-bond business, and that business was never closed.