Sample text for The marriage game / Fern Michaels.


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Prologue

Samantha Rainford, just hours away from her thirtieth birthday and forty-eight hours away from being served with divorce papers, looked around the tiny apartment she'd lived in for the last five years. It was tiny but cozy and comfortable. For the most part, all she did was sleep here. Every piece of furniture had been chosen with care. Every knickknack meaningful. Even the plants had been chosen with regard to light and temperature. Translated it meant she was a home-and-hearth kind of gal. So much so that her husband of three weeks had just served divorce papers on her.

Sometimes life was a bitch.

Sam took another look around the tiny apartment. She'd sold off the furniture, the knickknacks, and even her luscious plants to the new tenant who was moving in tomorrow, at which point she would move into the condo she'd been in the process of buying when she'd been caught up in a whirlwind romance with Douglas Cosmo Rainford, III.

Samantha gathered up her coat, her purse, and the carry-on that contained what she referred to as her "life," and made her way through the living room to the front door, where her bags waited for her. She shoved them one by one out into the hallway. The manager would have them in the garage waiting to be loaded into her BMW by the time she took the elevator to the garage. Then she would take them to her new condo a mile away in Alexandria, Virginia. The condo was a spacious, two-bedroom, two-bath, up-and-down condo that she'd furnished in two days' time. It even had a fireplace, the main reason she'd bought the condo in the first place. The fireplace was part of her nesting home-and-hearth personality. The kitchen had new appliances and ample counter space. She could hardly wait to cook her first dinner and mess up the place. Best of all, she had an unlisted telephone number that she'd given out to only a select few, including her closest friend Sara, otherwise known as Slick, who was a super, glossy, high-fashion model, her employer, and, of course, the bank where she had her checking and savings accounts. In addition to those accounts, she had several CDs that she'd taken out with her modest inheritance from her grandmother years before and all the savings bonds she'd gotten as gifts during her lifetime. She was definitely solvent.

An hour later Sam was lugging her bags into her new home. The minute the bags were in her spacious living room, she locked the door and danced around the room, clapping her hands in glee. It was all hers. No one could cross the threshold unless she invited them in. All hers. She started to cry then because it wasn't supposed to happen like this. She was supposed to start her new life with her new husband, not alone in a condo just three weeks after her honeymoon.

She swiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt as she looked at her watch through tear-filled eyes. She had one hour till her appointment with Douglas's attorney. What that was all about, she had no clue. The call had come in yesterday, just an hour after she'd been served with divorce papers, inviting her to the offices of Prizzi, Prizzi, Prizzi, and Prizzi.

She thought about blowing off the Prizzi law firm but decided to keep the appointment so that when she returned to her new nest, her past would be just that, her past. Her lawyer could handle the divorce, and she would simply move on. She needed time to grieve, to cry and sob, to stomp her feet and get down and ugly. The honeymoon must have been some kind of test that she failed. How crazy was that?

The honeymoon was everything a honeymoon was supposed to be. She'd loved every minute on the exotic island. Loved the togetherness, loved making love on the beach under the stars. Loved hearing her new husband whisper sweet words of undying love in her ears. She had every right to expect that she would return home and have a normal marriage. Instead, she'd returned home to be served with divorce papers. Even a stupid person could figure out the divorce papers had to have been drawn up and filed while they were still on their honeymoon.

Sam looked around for her purse and car keys. The little mirror by the front door showed her that her eyes were red and puffy. As if she cared. Minutes later she was on her way.

As she maneuvered the BMW up and down the streets, she wondered what this particular summons was all about. Something to sign undoubtedly. She'd called an attorney who was a client of the accounting firm where she worked to represent her, but he'd been out of the office taking a deposition. His secretary said she would have him return her call later in the day.

She was on K Street with two blocks to go. She found a vacant spot, parked, buttoned her coat against the cold wind, and moved toward the entrance to the building that housed the Prizzi law firm. She signed in, showed her ID, and headed for the elevator that would take her to the eighteenth floor.

The law firm was one of the most prestigious firms in the DC area, befitting Douglas Rainford, III, who liked to say he measured everything in life by dollar signs and beauty. "I have an appointment with Mr. Prizzi. Is it one, two, three, or four? Prizzi I mean," Sam asked.

The receptionist looked up at Sam with a blank expression before she looked down at her appointment book. "Which one?" Sam prompted as she looked around the shiny, marble lobby with the expensive furniture and luscious green plants. She looked down at her watch. "I'm in a hurry," she said coolly.

"Isn't everyone?" the receptionist responded just as coolly.

"Yes, but I'll leave if Mr. Prizzi doesn't see me in the next...three minutes," Sam said, her eyes glued to her watch. What am I doing here? I never should have come. My lawyer can handle things.

The phone console buzzed. The receptionist listened attentively. She hung up the phone, and said, "Mr. Prizzi will see you now. Go through the door on the right. Mr. Prizzi's office is the third door on the right."

Sam unbuttoned her coat as she walked through the open door and down the hall. She took a second to look at the nameplate on the door. Emmett Prizzi. The worm. Number Four in the pecking order of Prizzi brothers. Smallest office off the long hallway, one tiny window, no secretary. It could only mean one thing, Emmett Prizzi was the runt of the litter. She felt insulted.

Emmett Prizzi was a smallish man, thin and wiry. He wore large, thick glasses that magnified his eyes and seemed to engulf his thin face. He didn't bother putting his jacket on, nor did he bother to stand up to greet her. A worm. She felt more insulted. Without waiting to be asked, she sat down across from his desk. She felt bold and aggressive. She also felt wounded and sad, but this worm didn't need to know that. She wished she'd put on some makeup. "I don't have much time, Mr. Prizzi, so let's get right to the point." That's when she saw the folder on his desk. Even though it was upside down, she knew it was the prenuptial agreement she'd signed before she married Douglas. She waited.

The attorney was just about to speak when a knock sounded on the door and it opened almost immediately. A secretary handed over a sheaf of papers, which the attorney ignored.

Emmett Prizzi shuffled the papers in a folder that had her name on the flap. Sam saw a blue check work its way out of the folder. The lawyer picked it up and waved it around, then wet his lips as he tried to decide what he was going to say. Sam lost her patience. "Yes?"

The lawyer took a deep breath. "Your husband said I was to give you this check and to tell you he's sorry things didn't work out. The check is for five thousand dollars as per the prenuptial agreement. As you know, if you and Douglas had remained married after the five years stipulated, you were to get ten million dollars. Since that isn't going to happen, this is your payoff." He slid the check across the desk. Sam looked down at the blue check and wanted to cry. Five thousand dollars for a three-week honeymoon. The man she'd married, the man she'd thought she loved, certainly moved at the speed of light. She made no move to pick it up because she was too busy fighting the tears that threatened to roll down her cheeks. She leaned back in the leather chair and forced a laugh that sounded hysterical to her own ears.

"I don't find this a laughing matter, Mrs. Rainford," the worm squeaked. Another paper slid across the desk. "All you have to do is sign the release, and the check is yours."

Sam laughed again as she stood up. She started to fasten her coat. All she could think about was the new cozy condo she was going to return to. She was going to cook a wonderful dinner, build a fire, and settle in with a good book. She didn't know if that would be before or after she cried her eyes out.

"I don't want it. I don't need it. Is there anything else, Mr. Prizzi?"

"You have to take it," the lawyer sputtered.

"No. No, I don't have to take it. I'm not signing anything either. From here on in, you can talk to my attorney."

The lawyer snorted. "That's what the second Mrs. Rainford said. It didn't get her very far."

The second Mrs. Rainford. Surely she'd heard wrong. She shrugged. "Ask me if I care."

"That's exactly what the third Mrs. Rainford said. In the end she did care."

The third Mrs. Rainford. That had to mean she was the fourth Mrs. Rainford. She had to get out of here immediately so she could think about what she'd just heard. She was almost to the door, the lawyer following her, when she turned, and said, "What did the first Mrs. Rainford say?"

Prizzi started to sputter again. "She said she didn't give a good rat's ass what her husband wanted, and she would take him to the cleaners. Of course, that didn't happen."

Sam opened the door and sailed through. Douglas had had three other wives he hadn't seen fit to tell her about. Prizzi caught up with her at the elevator. Up close and personal, he still looked like a skinny worm. He reached out to touch her arm. Sam jerked away. "You have to sign the paper or you don't get the check, Mrs. Rainford. The bank in the lobby is giving a free blender if you open a new account," he said.

Sam pierced him with one scathing look before she stepped into the elevator. "I have a blender, Mr. Prizzi. Tell Mr. Rainford he can just kiss my ass."

Hysterical laughter bubbled out of Sam's mouth as she rode the elevator to the first floor of the office building. She dabbed at her eyes, not caring if anyone saw her or not.

Three ex-wives. Three!

Forty-five minutes later, just as Sam was fitting her key into the lock of her new home, her cell phone rang. She clicked it on, jiggling her shoulder bag and the key. "Slick! Wait, wait, I can barely hear you. Let me get inside. What's wrong, you sound terrible. Then again, you're half a world away. You're not half a world away? You're at Reagan National? Of course you can come here. Wait, I'm not in the old apartment. I moved into my new condo today. You have the address. You're crying, Slick. Get a cab, and I'll have the coffee on."

Sam shrugged out of her coat and hung it in the closet. Her best friend in the whole world was coming to visit, and she was crying. Slick never cried. Never. Ever. Crying made the eyes puff, something no model could allow to happen. Something must have happened in her love life, and she was coming home to lick her wounds. They'd curl up by the fire and cry together, then talk it to death. At least with Slick here, she wouldn't have to think about Douglas and his three ex-wives and getting dumped the day after her honeymoon.

In her bedroom, which was painted a delicate peach color, Sam shed her business suit and pulled on a navy sweat suit and heavy wool socks. She turned up the heat as she made her way to the kitchen to prepare her first dinner in her new abode. Stew and homemade bread. Perfect for a cold, blustery November day.

Don't think, don't think, she cautioned herself as she dredged the meat in flour, then browned it. In minutes she had the vegetables chopped and the stew set to simmer. The bread machine took an additional few minutes. She was proud of her pantry and stocked refrigerator and freezer. Don't think about Douglas and the three wives that came before you. Don't think, period.

All the dinner preparations had been taken care of with an economy of motion, the way Sam did everything. The oven was on, but it hadn't yet reached the temperature required to bake the frozen blueberry pie compliments of Mrs. Smith. While she waited, she made her first pot of coffee in her new coffeepot. It was a bright cherry red machine.

Done. Sam smacked her hands together. Three wives and I never had a clue. Don't think about it. It's over and done with. Think about Slick and whatever her problem is.

This was the perfect warm, cozy place for Slick and herself to lick their wounds. Sam looked around the kitchen. She'd taken pains with it, hanging ferns and settling potted plants in colorful clay pots in the corners of the counters. The maple table and chairs by the bow window were inviting, allowing for a full view of the garden outside. It looked barren now, but in the spring and summer it would be beautiful. She did love the color red, and all the accent pieces in the cozy kitchen reflected that love. She couldn't wait to have her morning coffee and frozen bagel right here in the morning.

Sam slid the blueberry pie into the oven, set the timer, and moved on to the living room, where she built a fire. Douglas was divorcing her after a three-week whirlwind courtship, a justice-of-the-peace wedding, and a three-week honeymoon. What did that say about her? What were the three Rainford wives that came before her like? Why did Douglas divorce them? More to the point, why did he marry me? she wondered.

Sam stared into the fire, looking for the answers to her questions, finding nothing that would satisfy her. She turned around, savoring the tantalizing smells wafting in from the kitchen. There was nothing like the smell of baking bread to remind her of the times she spent at her grandmother's when she was a little girl. Thursday was always bread-baking day. Of course her grandmother hadn't had a bread machine. She did it the old-fashioned way. Everything Grandma had done, she'd done the old-fashioned way. She'd hung clothes on the line outdoors, ironed her sheets and pillowcases. She'd stretched her curtains on a contraption that was a killer on the fingers. She'd canned vegetables, made her own root beer, and kept a fully stocked root cellar. She was gone now, having died, Sam thought, of a broken heart soon after Grandpa had died after a long illness.

One of these days she was going to return to Pennsylvania, and the old house with the big front porch that her grandmother had left to her. But not yet. She simply wasn't ready to bear those old ghosts. She paid the nominal taxes every year, paid the neighbors to mow the lawn in the summer and shovel the snow in the winter.

Sam almost jumped out of her skin when the doorbell rang. It was a five-note chime. She ran to the door and threw it open. "Slick!"

"Oh, Sam! Thanks for letting me come here. God, it's cold out here!" Sam stepped aside for the taxi driver to carry in Slick's bags.

"Oh, it smells sooooo good. And that fire is great. Can I sleep in front of it? Let's have a sleepover the way we used to do in college." Slick gave Sam a quick hug, then wiped the tears from her eyes. "They fired me, Sam. Sheer Delight fired me! They replaced me with a nineteen-year-old girl whose legs go all the way up to her neck. She's Scandinavian and weighs ninety-three pounds. Just like that they fired me! Do you believe that? I was so upset I packed up when the shoot was over and for two months I ate my way across Europe. I put on eighteen pounds. What do you think of that!" She burst into tears, not caring if her eyes got puffy or red. "My whole life is over!"

Sam waited until Slick paid the driver, then led her over to the deep comfortable sofa in front of the fire. "What I think is you look wonderful! You don't look like a plank of wood. Your bones aren't showing. You look healthy, Slick. Your life is not over, it's just beginning. I'll get us some coffee. Then we'll talk."

"Four sugars and cream," Slick said.

"What happened to black coffee?"

"I left black coffee with the Scandinavian. By the way, her name is Grette." Slick started to cry again.

It was midnight when Slick finally asked the question Sam dreaded. "What are you going to do now, Sam?"

"I'm going to work for the FBI after all. I was going to sign on, but then I met Douglas, and everything changed. They gave me ninety days to make up my mind. They've been actively recruiting for the past few months. Want to join up?"

"Hell, yes. It's got to be better than strutting down a runway throwing my hips and pelvis out of joint."

"Then we'll sign you up tomorrow," Sam said.

Copyright © 2007 by MRK Productions, Inc.




Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Divorced women -- Fiction.
Virginia, Northern -- Fiction.
Washington (D.C.) -- Fiction.