The Player Next Door - Kathy Lyons

Chapter One

It was a sushi cookbook that ended Tori William’s five-year relationship with Edward. They were at a small bookstore that served hot chocolate and brought in acoustic guitar musicians when Tori saw the thing. She thought the cover image was clever—a dragon roll curving around wasabi and ginger made to look like a knight on an orange steed.

She smiled at the picture. Edward had taught her not to laugh. He said her sense of humor was often inappropriate and so she smiled rather than chuckled. Grinned rather than laughed. It was the best she could do and he had pronounced that better than nothing.

So she smiled at the picture and held the book up for him to see.

He looked up from his tea and scoffed. “As if you could cook even raw food without poisoning yourself.”

“What?” It took her a moment to understand him as she had just seen another book over his shoulder featuring a cute kitten in a teacup. Kittens always distracted her.

“That’s raw food, Tori. It takes a special grade meat and careful monitoring to make sure it doesn’t go bad. You’d poison yourself.”

She looked back at the dragon vs. knight picture. She hadn’t even noticed it was a how-to book. And at that moment, she decided to be irrational and argue.

“I’m an intelligent woman with a PhD,” she said in her most prim teacher voice. “Of course I could make sushi without killing anyone.”

“I suppose food poisoning isn’t necessarily fatal.”

“I’m buying this book,” she said, suddenly thinking of all the money they would save on sushi if she made it rather than purchased it from their favorite organic Japanese restaurant.

“If you must,” he said, going back to his tea and a book on the gruesome death of a pair of foolish mountain climbers. “But I’m not going to eat it.”

That was the end of their argument. He’d pronounced the final word and looked back to his own book. It didn’t help that he was probably right. She had no true interest in making sushi and was well known for getting distracted while… Well, while doing anything. It was how she was made, and Edward always said it was charming in a rare, overbred toy dog kind of way. She could never survive alone in the wild, according to him, but he appreciated having a purpose in life as her owner.

He never actually said owner. He wasn’t that stupid. But her sister had made that joke just last week at Aunt Mabel’s funeral, and the idea had festered in Tori’s thoughts.

“I bought Aunt Mabel’s house,” Tori said, not intending the words to come out, but then that often happened. Words slipped out while her mind was busy elsewhere.

Edward didn’t look up. “You inherited it, Tori.”

Actually, what she meant is that she paid all the taxes and the mortgage on it. The place was hers now, free and clear.

Meanwhile, Edward wasn’t done instructing her on what to do. “Did you contact Georgie? He could use the commission on selling the house, and though that rat trap isn’t worth much, it’s in a great area.”

“No,” she admitted, a groundswell of emotions building inside her. She didn’t get stirred up by much—she was too easily distracted—but when a storm finally broke, it tended to blow her entire life around.

Meanwhile, Edward set his teacup down with an audible click. It was a clear sign that he was out of patience with her. “Really, Tori, you can’t let this just hang out there—a death trap of a house with no one living in it. I’m too busy with the semester ending to take care of this for you. Just call Georgie and have done with it. Some sucker will buy it and with a quick closing we can have a tidy sum within a couple months.”

“Can we?” she said, her words sharp and cold. They were like lightning flashes of fury, but he was too caught up in his own irritation to notice. Even when she tossed out the warning shot, “I believe it’s my inheritance.”

“Yes, yes, of course. But we’ve been talking about buying a boat to sail on Lake Michigan.”

No, he’d been talking about that. Tori had no special love of things nautical. No particular hatred either, but it seemed to her that she ought to get some fun out of spending that much money.

“I thought we’d go on safari instead.” She’d always wanted to do that.

He frowned, clearly thinking of the possibility. “I suppose a quick trip could be