Sex, lies and my mother????

 

CHAPTER ONE

     I was running late, not that’s newsworthy, but I was low on time as I pointed my champagne colored Mercedes toward my modest cottage on Palm Beach. The pink-striped Victoria’s Secret bag sat on the passenger’s seat. A special little outfit for a special occasion.

     I felt a smile come to my lips just thinking about my reunion with Liam. Though we’d only been officially dating for a few weeks, we were still in the honeymoon phase. Especially when he’d been out of town on a case for almost three weeks.

     Liam is a private eye who often does work for the law firm where I’m employed and in my opinion, underpaid. I’m a paralegal at Dane, Lieberman and Caprelli. I used to be strictly estates and trusts but a year ago they added litigation support to my duties.  But they didn’t add any digits to my paycheck.

     “Jesus,” I muttered as I glanced at my fingertips on the steering wheel. I had a nasty smudge in the polish on my index finger. It bothered the hell out of me but I didn’t think Liam would notice. He tended to concentrate on other parts of my body. A shiver slid down my spine. I definitely had sex on the brain.

     Well I did until I turned into the horseshoe-shaped drive in front of my house. “What the f-?”  The question trailed off as I took in the sight of my mother’s Bentley.

And it was hers. Unlike my Mercedes, which was owned by Mercedes Leasing Corp. And my house, which had a line of credit on it that I was plowing through at an alarming rate. A fact not lost on my dear friend and financial advisor, Jane. So I had splurged on a few full-price purchases. I was still secretly trolling outlets, thrift stores and eBay. And after three years of mother-induced poverty, I was good at finding bargains and gently used deals.

My mother never dropped by unannounced. I immediately scanned my memory trying to figure out what mortal sin I’d committed since our last meeting.

I stopped the car and got out. As I did, my mother cut the engine in the Bentley and gracefully extracted herself from the car. She had on a stunning pale green Chanel suit with nude Louboutin heels and matching bag. She reached inside the car and took out a briefcase. Well, it wasn’t technically a briefcase; it was an YSL satchel she used as a briefcase.

We exchanged air kisses and the scent of her perfume hung like a cloud between us. I was holding my bag and mentally counting down the time I had to shower and dress before Liam came over. This was not a good time. Then again, my mother is rarely a good time.

“Do you always work late?” she asked.

“Errand,” I replied, lifting my bag.

She looked at it as if I was holding a dead kitten.

“Shopping again, Finley?”

Great, my fears were coming true. She was going to lecture me on my shopping habits. This from the woman who has a stylist bring things to her penthouse for consideration.

“I needed some . . . intimates.”

She eyed me like I’d just admitted being a serial killer. Then I noticed it. There was something in my mother’s brown eyes. Something different. It wasn’t disdain, which I was used to. Not even irritation. Weird.

“Are you going to invite me in?” she asked curtly.

“Of course,” said, digging my keys out of my purse.

We walked up the crushed shell drive and as I reached to put the key in the lock, she said, “Was it dress down day at work?”

Shot fired.

I wasn’t encased in Chanel but I was wearing a cute Lilly Pulitzer shift dress. It was white with little pink bows down the back over the zipper. I had on bright fuchsia pumps and a matching Michael Kors purse. Perfectly appropriate for the office.

Liam was due in forty-seven minutes.

“I like to be comfortable when I’m working.”

My mother followed me in as I disabled the alarm and then set my package on the counter. I turned to see her reaction. After declining all my invitations, this was her first visit to the cottage since she’d sold it to me more than a year ago. I know it’s stupid but part of me wanted some praise for the way the place had turned out.

She glanced around the kitchen, living room and dining room area, her expression never wavered. Finally, she asked, “I’ve never seen a house decorated entirely with furnishings from that Swedish mega store. It’s very . . . interesting.”

I felt a tad deflated. “Would you like to see the bedrooms?” I asked just to be courteous.

“Perhaps later,” she said as she ran her hand over her perfectly coiffed hair. “Do you have any wine?”

“White Zin,” I answered as I moved into the kitchen. “Will that do?”

“If that’s all you have.”

What I have is a date. I checked my watch again and said a few choice words to myself. I poured the wine and handed it to her.

Once I made myself a cosmo, my mother had moved into the living room and was seated very properly on the edge of the white sofa, her legs crossed at the ankles. She took a sip of wine, holding the satchel close to her hip.

“I have a problem,” she said after three more fortifying sips.

     “And you came to me?”  Color me stunned.

     “You are my daughter.”

     But not the right daughter. My mother always sought the counsel of my younger, successful, married sister, Lisa. Lisa was a pediatric oncologist who had married another doctor from one of Atlanta’s better families. I was happy for Lisa and happy for me. As a maid of honor gift, Lisa gave me a pair of much coveted Jimmy Choos.

     I sat across from my mother and it was my turn to grab a gulp of alcohol. “What do you need?”

     My mother stiffened her already rigid spine. She looked very regal, except for the odd expression in her eyes. Cassidy Presley Tanner Browning Rossi was every inch the diva she’d aspired to be before she accidentally got pregnant with me. The fact that she’s developed throat nodules that actually ended her career as an opera singer got lost in translation. Somewhere down inside I know she blames me for stealing her spotlight. This makes no sense if you think about my name.

     Until the age of thirteen, I thought Jonathan Tanner was my father. And in every sense of the word, he was. Only I was thumbing through my mother’s sacred La Perla drawer and found my adoption papers. Jonathan had become my father when I was three. I’d always been told that Finley and Anderson were family names. Technically they were. The surnames of the two men my mother was sleeping with when she got pregnant with me. Who knows?  Maybe naming me Finley Anderson Presley – later Tanner - was a mistake. Maybe it just reminded her too much of her past. All I know is that I can’t take a breath to please the woman, which is why her request came straight out of left field.

     “Do you have contact with that man you brought to your sister’s wedding?”

     “Liam?”

     “Yes, him. The one you practically mauled on the dance floor.”

     An answer, a dig, and a dagger glare. A Cassidy trifecta.

     “I may need his services.”

     “For what?”  I asked. “Someone stealing your newspaper at the penthouse?”

     That earned me a tilt of the head and pursed lips.

“It’s a confidential matter.”  She tugged at the hem of her skirt.

I looked at my watch. So much for date night. But I wasn’t going to tell her that. The last thing I needed was her commentary on my choice of Liam as the man in my life. Maybe if I got him over here, she could explain her confidential problem and then leave. It was worth a try. “I’ll send him a text.”

“You don’t communicate by phone?” my mother asked with censure.

“The text goes to the phone.”  I stood up and grabbed my cell and dashed off a quick but urgent text to Liam. He responded in seconds. He was on his way and was stopping to get Chinese take-out. I texted back and reluctantly told him to make it for three. Just in case.

Then the awkwardness set in. There we sat, across from one another and the best we could do was surface chitchat. The weather, the DAR – I pay dues but I don’t attend the luncheons – Lisa, anything that didn’t have to do with my job. She thinks I should have gone to law school and instead of calling me a paralegal, she calls me a secretary. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a secretary, but I have a degree. I’m qualified to do legal work under the supervision of an attorney.

After a long, drawn out silence, I proudly said, “There’s a pool outback. Would you like to see the rest of the place while we wait?”

“I suppose. May I have more wine?”

Freaky thing number two. I’d never known my mother to have more than one drink. “Sure.”

I left my empty glass in the sink, refreshed hers, and then started the tour.

It was a warm May night with a gentle breeze off coming off the ocean. I loved my backyard, especially when I could hear the waves lapping against the shore. “What do you think?” I asked.

“It’s cozy but I don’t know why you went to the expense of putting in a pool. The ocean is right here and chlorine will damage your blonde hair.”

“Let’s check out the bedrooms,” I suggested.

The guest room continued the color scheme throughout the house. Turquoise and coral accents with white furnishings and white bedspreads. To me it looked very beachy. According to my mother it looked like a motel. She wasn’t fond of the adjoining small cabana bath either.

The master bedroom had been two smaller rooms but I had the contractor expand it into one large room with a bathroom and closet that I was sure she would approve of.

“This is nice,” she said as she stuck her head in the closet. “As soon as you organize your shoes it won’t look so messy.”

“That’s on my list, “I lied. I checked my watch again. Where are you Liam?

As if by telepathy, the doorbell chimed. I practically ran to answer it. My mother could stand there and contemplate my shoes until hell froze over.

He never fails to make my breath hitch in my throat. He had a large brown paper bag in one hand but his other hand slipped around my waist and he gave me a long, lingering kiss. It was magical.

It was interrupted by the click of my mother’s heels against the tile floor. I leapt away as if I was seventeen and gotten caught in the family room. That’s the thing about mothers. No matter how old you are, you revert to your teens in their presence.

“Mom, you remember Liam,” I said as I felt my cheeks grow hot.

“Mr. McGarrity,” she said stiffly.

“Mrs. Rossi,” he returned easily.

“Liam brought dinner,” I said as I went to the kitchen and got plates, bowls and utensils.

Before we went to the table, Liam went to the fridge and got a beer. He then went into the third drawer from the dishwasher and grabbed the bottle opener. My mother was taking it all in. Between the kiss and the fact that Liam knew his way around my house, I was fairly sure she’d deduced that Liam and I were more than friends. True, only we hadn’t really discussed the parameters of our relationship. Our one step toward commitment had been swapping drawers at each other’s houses. That didn’t mean he couldn’t see other women. Or one woman in particular. His supposed-to-be ex-wife Ashley. For divorced people they sure did spend a lot of time together. And when Liam was shot, it was Ashley he called, not me. I was still struggling with that one.

“Moo Shu?”  I asked as I offered my mother the container. I opened another one. “Steamed dumplings? General Tso’s chicken?  Szechuan beef?”

My mother frowned. “Do you have anything that isn’t fried?”

“A glass of water,” I muttered.

She picked through the offerings, taking about a tablespoon of each and some rice as well. I know Chinese isn’t one of her favorites but the alternative was to serve her the jar of mustard dying of loneliness in my fridge.

Liam’s bright blue eyes darted between the two of us. He actually seemed amused by our mother-daughter tension. Absently, I reach over and brushed a lock of jet-black hair from his forehead. A gesture not lost on my mother.

“Want to tell me the problem?” Liam asked as he pushed away his empty plate.

“I’d prefer to discuss it in private.”

I didn’t know whether to be insulted or excited. I settled on irritated. “Whatever it is,” I began. “I can keep a secret, Mom.”

“I’m sure you can,” she said as she got up and went to retrieve her purse. She pulled her keys out. “Be helpful and get my luggage out of the trunk.”

“What for?”

“I’m having some renovations done at the penthouse. There was a problem with my room at the Breakers. It won’t be ready for three days and the Palm Beach Resort is full. I’ll just be here a few days. You won’t even notice me.”

Right. Like you don’t notice chlamydia.

“You’re staying here? With me?”

She stiffened. “Am I not welcome?”

I let out a breath. “Of course. You just caught me off-guard.”

“Then please get my luggage while I speak with Mr. McGarrity.”

“Liam,” he corrected.

I took the keys. Snatched them actually. Liam got to chat and I got to play bellman. I went outside, my way guided by motion-activated security lights and went to the Bentley.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I grumbled. There were three trunk-sized suitcases in the car. And they were heavy. Any airline would have charged her an additional fee. I hoisted the first one up, out and let it thud onto the driveway. I did the same with the other two, and then closed the trunk. At least they had wheels.

I had no choice but to roll them one at a time up the steps and past the two of them. My mother was on one sofa; Liam was on the other. He was relaxed, his arms draped over the back of the sofa. My mother was in her usual prim position. There was a DVD sitting on the coffee table along with a folded piece of paper.

By the time I rolled the third luggage-zilla into the house, my curiosity was piqued. I rolled it into the guest room, which was now barely navigable with all the suitcases. I slipped my shoes off and did the adult thing. I went to the end of the hallway and listened in.

I heard my mother’s voice. “. . . and it must be paid in five days.”

“And you’re willing to pay?” Liam asked.

“Of course. I can’t possibly have that . . . that come out.”

“So what is it you want from me?”

“I want you to be the one to deliver the money and make sure there are no more copies. That’s essential.”

I came around the corner. “Copies of what?”

“Finley, this doesn’t concern you and I don’t appreciate you eavesdropping.”

“Couldn’t be helped. You’re asking my . . . my friend to deliver money, probably putting his life in danger. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to ask why.”

My mother shifted slightly to face me. That funny look was in her eyes again. “Fine. I’m being blackmailed and Mr. McGa – Liam is going to act as my go-between.”

“Blackmailed over what?  Did you wear the wrong shoes to play bridge?”

“I have an idea. Why don’t you call the police?”

My mother’s mouth pulled into a taut line. “The blackmail information is sensitive.”

“You’re the most proper person on the planet. What could you possibly be into that would draw the interest of a blackmailer?”

Liam picked up the DVD. “Your mother has a sex tape.”