Deadly Charade - By Virna Depaul


Linda Delaney woke feeling optimistic about life and love. Even so, the comforting haze of sleep beckoned to her. She pushed it aside, longing for her lover’s embrace. Nothing felt as good as being in his arms.

She shifted, intending to burrow closer to Tony under the warm, protective haven of the sheets, but only coldness greeted her. With it came an immediate sense of panic. Dread.

Her eyes popped open and she sat up, alone in her bed. A quick glance at the clock confirmed it was the middle of the night, not even three o’clock. The bedroom door was slightly ajar, allowing tendrils of the illuminated hallway light to sneak inside, much the same way she imagined Tony had snuck out of bed, cautious not to wake her.

For a moment she closed her eyes and fought it off. The suspicion. The feeling of betrayal. The knowledge of what she had to do. But it was no use.

Tony could be watching television. He could be reading. He could be doing a multitude of things, each of them perfectly respectable and ordinary, but deep down she knew he’d snuck away for a more nefarious purpose. To get in touch with his supplier. To exchange money for the painkillers that would take away the man she loved and replace him with a stranger.

According to Tony, the last time he’d used had been a year before they’d ever met. She’d chosen to believe him, but a small part of her had always suspected he wasn’t telling the truth. Or that even if he was, it wouldn’t last.

And she’d been right.

God, she wished he wasn’t using again. But she knew better. She’d seen the signs of his relapse—his restlessness, the sleepless nights, his increasing agitation—but had simply chosen to ignore them. She’d prayed she was wrong. That he’d keep his promises to her in a way her father had never been able to.

She stood and went looking for him. He was in the kitchen, his elbows on the table, his head cradled in his hands, staring down at a plastic bag filled with pills. Hearing her, he looked up, his gaze tortured.

She sat in the chair beside him.

He shook his head. “I haven’t taken one.”

Not yet. He didn’t say it, but she heard it anyway. It was only a matter of time. He’d gotten hold of the drugs, obviously. That evidenced his intent to use them. And he would, no matter how hard he tried not to. He would.

“I know,” she said softly. She reached out and touched his arm. Desperately he pulled her toward him and she went willingly, wrapping her arms around him and cradling him close. He was shaking. His body vibrating with need—need for the drugs, she realized sadly. Not her.

His mouth sought hers and she opened it to him as automatically as she opened up her heart. Their tongues surged against one another, and she wished she could infuse him with strength, but his addiction was a dark, monstrous force. It gave him something she never could. An unnatural high. Forgetfulness. Oblivion.

And that’s what hurt the most.

They were together. She loved him, more than she’d ever loved anyone. Loved him enough to have stayed with him, despite her job as a criminal prosecutor. But he wanted the drugs more than he wanted her.

Automatically she pulled away, shoring up her courage to ask him to leave.

Obviously sensing that, he pulled her back. “No, not yet,” he stated. “Stay with me. You’re more important to me than these pills. You know that. Be with me. Please.”

One last time. Again, the words went unspoken. And truthfully maybe he didn’t even realize that’s where this was headed. But he’d inadvertently reminded her what a losing battle this was. Her father had used to say the same thing to them—her, her sister, Kathy and their mother. “You’re more important to me than anything. You know that.”

In the end it had all been a lie. And that’s why they’d had to cut him out of their lives.

Just like she’d have to cut Tony out of hers.

The finality of her thoughts had her panic and despair spiking, so much so that when he cupped her breast in one hand she felt nothing. Given her body’s addiction to Tony’s touch, that told her more than anything that it was time to let him go. But despite the seeming absence of true desire, her love for him was still there, and she couldn’t walk away without telling him—no, showing him—how