At the Edge of the Sun

By: Anne Stuart

one




Maggie Bennett stared at the gun in her hand. The tiny Colt 380 pistol was compact enough to look like a toy, but no toy ever felt so cold and deadly against her warm flesh. She’d never liked guns, but she was pragmatic enough to accept that they had their uses, so she always kept one handy. She’d cleaned it regularly in the four months she’d been back in New York, kept it neat and in perfect working order, just in case Randall Carter ever made the fatal mistake of walking through her door.

So far he’d been wise enough to keep his distance. Maybe he realized she knew about his involvement with her husband’s death, maybe not. She’d told no one about Bud Willis’s deathbed confession, his choking, malicious admission that Randall had paid him twenty thousand dollars to gun down Mack Pulaski two years ago on the streets of Booth-bay Harbor. She kept that four-month-old confession like a deadly canker eating away at her heart, half of her convinced it was true, half of her still refusing to believe it. She recognized the dangers of keeping it all inside her—no one had the chance to argue with her, to try to convince her that Bud Willis had lied. But then no one had the chance to look at her with sorrowing, sympathetic eyes, no one knew what a fool she’d been, to fall in love with someone who could be her husband’s murderer.

Mike Jackson was the only one who’d seen through her defenses. Her boss at Third World Causes, Ltd., had taken her off any important cases and kept her busy with inconsequential paperwork. It was the best thing he could have done, because at this point she was ineffective as a lawyer. She was too distracted to concentrate on any of the usual cases assigned her, but she had needed something to fill the endless hours, something besides karate and the ever-present sense of doubt and betrayal.

She finished cleaning the gun, slipped it back in its custom-tailored shoulder holster, and locked it back in the desk drawer. The desk was one of the few pieces of furniture she’d kept; the rest of her apartment looked as austere as a Buddhist shrine. She started to run her hand through her short-cropped blond hair, then pulled it back, wrinkling her nose at the smell of gun oil clinging to her skin. She hated the acrid stink of it, hated the way it stuck to her for days, reminding her of the weapon of death that lay hidden, waiting for her.

It wasn’t the only weapon of death at her command nowadays, she reminded herself, heading through the empty apartment, through her bedroom with the futon on the floor and the neat piles of neutral-color clothes, past the solitary floor lamp that was always on, night or day, keeping the darkness at bay. For the past four months she’d immersed herself in the study of karate, and as she’d cleared her apartment of any extraneous furniture and decoration so she’d cleared her life of any excess baggage. Her entire energy had been devoted to the singleminded goal of revenge.

But gradually, slowly, her rage had ebbed away. There was no way one could study the ancient discipline of karate as a mere physical exercise. It was a study of mind and soul as well, and anger, rage, and hot-blooded killing had little to do with it. As her life became centered, her anger dissipated, and a hard-won calm filled her soul, banking down her rage and fooling her into thinking she had risen above mundane human emotions such as revenge, hatred, desire. Only her dreams told her otherwise.

She scrubbed at her hands, using the rough lye soap that had replaced her lavender-scented English imports, and looked up at her face in the mirror, something she seldom did nowadays. The short-cropped blond hair was more functional than flattering. She’d chopped off her shoulder-length mane when she’d flown back from Washington and Bud Willis’s deathbed, and kept it trimmed off her nape with nail scissors. She’d lost weight, weight she couldn’t necessarily afford to lose, and there was a fine-honed, slightly driven look to her facial structure, to the tight, fair skin that stretched over her delicate bones, to the shadowed aquamarine eyes that looked bigger than ever in her pale, narrow face. Her mouth gave her away every time. It was pale, vulnerable, and smiled all too infrequently. She stared at that lost face, then stuck out her tongue at her solemn reflection. Then she turned away, flicking off the light.