Lexi Crane lay in her clawfoot bathtub with strawberry-scented bubbles up to her armpits, her right leg dangling over one side. She ran a dry toothbrush over her teeth slowly, and contemplated the two objects before her.
The first, standing on the closed lid of the toilet, was a black leather briefcase with elegant white piping. It was closed and locked, but she had already tried the combination, a not-so-wild guess, and it had opened. She had locked it again without looking inside.
The second, propped up on the windowsill, was a cheerful greeting card with a painting of a classic Jaguar racing car on it. The sight of the graceful green D-type made Lexi happy, but she didn’t smile. Inside the card were carefully written, slightly cryptic directions to a place she’d never seen but knew was called the Minilite Bar, and a date: 01-14-97. Two days hence. Lexi hadn’t memorized the directions, but she had seen that they took her through St. Louis, which meant she had at least a seven hundred-mile drive ahead of her if she wanted to see the Minilite Bar.
She scratched the toothbrush back and forth, a lackadaisical parody of brushing her teeth, and let her gaze drift slowly from the card to the briefcase and back again.
She hadn’t mentioned the card to Dobie and had been careful to keep it hidden, but somehow he must have known it had come, because he’d suddenly presented her with the briefcase. “I’ve been concerned about whether I should give this to you or not,” he had said, his elegant, private-schooled accent and his obnoxious resemblance to Cary Grant making each syllable seem dramatic and important. “The day before the accident, just before the reception in the Rainbow Room, Warren gave this to me.”
Lexi’s breath had caught in her throat. Ren had been dead for almost a year and it still hurt physically to think about him. She tread lightly around his memory, fearing another tumble into the crushing grief she’d just managed to let go of, and Dobie Cassarell’s sudden mention of his name was like a slap in the face.
If Dobie noticed her reaction, he hadn’t let it show. “He said it was your birthday present, and he wanted me to hide it from you. He said you were a good searcher, if memory serves, and so hiding it with me was a good way to keep it out of your reach. He also suggested that it would be appropriate to open the present at my home, and had planned to fly you to Ile du Soleil to do just that.”
It made perfect sense, on a larger scale. Dobie rarely did anything with only a small scale in mind, Lexi had learned, and so she knew he couldn’t possibly have just decided to give her this belated birthday present out of goodwill. No, he didn’t want her to go to the Minilite Bar, that was his intent, and she knew even before he said it that he was going to suggest…
“Why don’t we fly out there?” he had said. “I’ve been wanting to show you the collection, and I’ve been in the States for quite a while.” Dobie had spoken the words with an air of being far too important to be in the United States, especially to be visiting her run-down old mansion up in the woods of Arcadia, Michigan.
She wanted to tell him that if he was really above her house and had better things to do, she wasn’t keeping him here. He (and Victor, his bodyguard) had been here for a month already.
“Let’s make it an impulse thing. I can fly us out tomorrow,” he finished.
“Of course you can,” Lexi had replied. She couldn’t think of a clever way to tell him that she knew he never did anything on impulse, didn’t even know what the word meant other than in a lexicographical way. All of this was a polite pretense, to keep her from going to the Minilite Bar.
Lexi let her eyes drift back to the card, and the Jaguar on it. Her toothbrush slid over clean teeth, tickled her gums in a way that was conducive to deep thought. Poor Dobie. He didn’t understand there were things he couldn’t buy. Such things didn’t exist in his world, and yet here was one. The Minilite Bar, home of the Road Associates. The eclectic group of car enthusiasts was well-known in automotive circles, and Dobie fancied himself an Important Car Person thanks to a garage full of significant collector vehicles and a penchant for showing up at all of the right events. Road Associates membership would have made a handy feather in his cap, but it was an invitation-only club. Only a few select people were invited to join each year, and all the money and cool cars in the world counted for nothing when it came to being singled out as a true believer by the Road Associates.
The card was Lexi’s invitation to something that Dobie couldn’t get at. And he was trying to keep her from having it, in a boardroom-clever, passive-aggressive way. She knew he expected her attention to rivet upon the briefcase, her birthday present, the last gift she’d ever get from Ren. Dobie expected her to throw her clothes into a suitcase and leap into a plane for Ile du Soleil and forget all about the Road Associates. And the inclination to do so was huge.
Of course, if she did that, he’d be buying her, in a way. Not sexually (he was too much of a gentleman to come right out and hit on her, though Lexi was reasonably sure that the thought had crossed his mind while he’d been staying at her house), but with gifts she couldn’t resist and the chance to play with his cars. It was tempting. Compelling, even.
And yet, if the Road Associates knocked, and she didn’t answer, there was a good chance they wouldn’t knock again.
Lexi scrubbed her teeth slowly. So how much do you cost? she asked herself, and tried to decide if she was for sale.