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Stuart Woods

Kisser

Book 17 in the Stone Barrington series, 2009

1

ELAINE’S, LATE.

Stone Barrington and his former NYPD partner, Dino Bacchetti, were dining in the company of herself, Elaine, who, as usual, was making her rounds. “So?” Elaine asked as she joined them.

“Not much,” Dino replied.

Stone was deep into his spaghetti alla carbonara.

“Nice, isn’t it?” she asked. Elaine had a good opinion of her food.

“Mmmmf,” Stone replied, trying to handle what he had stuffed into his mouth and speak at the same time.

“Never mind,” Elaine said. “Enjoy.”

Stone swallowed hard and nodded. “Thank you, I am.”

The waiter came with the wine and poured everybody a glass.

Stone began to take smaller bites, so as to better participate in the conversation. As he took his first sip of wine, he froze.

Dino stared at him. “What’s the matter? Am I gonna have to do a Heimlich?”

Stone set down the glass but said nothing. He was following the entrance of a very beautiful woman. She was probably five-eight or -nine, he thought, and closer to six feet in her heels. She was dressed in a classic Little Black Dress that set off a strand of large pearls around her neck. Fake, probably, but who cared? She had honey-blond, shoulder-length hair and a lot of it, cascades of it, big eyes, and plump lips sporting bright red lipstick. Dino and Elaine followed Stone’s gaze as the woman turned to her left and sat down at the bar.

“She can’t be alone,” Dino said.

“Who is she?” Stone asked Elaine.

“Never saw her in here,” Elaine replied, “but you’d better hurry; she’s not gonna be alone long.”

Stone put down his glass, got up, and walked toward the bar, straightening his tie. Normally, the people at the tables didn’t have much to do with the people at the bar; they were different crowds. But Stone knew when to make an exception.

“Good evening,” he said to her, offering his hand. “My name is Stone Barrington.”

She took the hand and offered a shy smile. “Hello, I’m Carrie Cox,” she said, and her accent was soft and southern.

Stone indicated his table. “My friends Dino and Elaine agree with me that you are too beautiful to be sitting alone at the bar. Will you join us?”

She looked surprised. “Thank you, yes,” she said after a moment’s thought.

Stone escorted her back to the table and sat her down. “Carrie Cox, this is Elaine Kaufman, your hostess, and Dino Bacchetti, one of New York ’s Finest.”

“How do you do,” Carrie said. “Finest what?”

“It’s a designation meant to describe any New York City police officer,” Stone said, “without regard for individual quality.”

“Stone should know,” Dino said. “He used to be one of New York ’s worst.”

Carrie laughed, a low, inviting sound.

“You must be from out of town,” Dino said.

“Isn’t everybody?” Elaine asked.

“I’ve only been in New York for three weeks,” Carrie said.

“Where you from?” Elaine asked.

“I’m from a little town in Georgia called Delano, but I came here from Atlanta. I lived there for two years.”

“And what brought you to our city?” Stone asked.

“I’m an actress, so after a couple of years of training in Atlanta, it was either New York or L.A. Since it’s spring, I thought I’d start in New York, and if I hadn’t found work by winter, I’d move on to L.A. ”

Stone was fascinated by her mouth, which moved in an oddly attractive way when she talked.

“And have you found work yet?”

“Almost immediately,” she said, “but not as an actress. I’ve been working as a lip model.”

“I’m not surprised,” Stone said.

“A lip model?” Dino asked.

“I’ve been modeling lipstick,” she explained, “in the mornings. In the afternoons I’ve been making the rounds, looking for stage work.”

“That’s tough,” Elaine said.

“Well, I’ve had one very attractive offer,” Carrie said, “from a man called Del Wood.”

Stone knew him a little, from a couple of dinner parties. Wood was a king of Broadway, who composed both music and lyrics and who owned his own theater. “The new Irving Berlin,” Stone said, “as he’s often called.”

“Unfortunately,” Carrie said, “the offer came with some very unattractive strings.”

“Ah,” Stone said. “Del Wood has that reputation. He is also known as Del Woodie.”

Carrie laughed. “I can believe it. Do you know what he said to me?”

“I can’t wait to find out,” Dino said, leaning forward.

“He said-and please pardon the language; it’s his, not mine-‘I want to strip off that dress, lay you on your belly, and fuck you in the ass.’ ”

“Oh,” Dino said.

Stone was speechless.

“I was thinking of suing him for sexual harassment,” Carrie said.

“Well,” Dino said, indicating Stone, “meet your new lawyer.”

“Oh, are you a lawyer?” Carrie asked Stone.

“Yes, but I’m not sure you’d have much of a case.”

“Why not?”

“Did he force himself on you?”

“No. I got out of there.”

“Were there any witnesses?”

“No.”

“Then I’m afraid it would be your word against his,” Stone said.

“Well,” Carrie said, “I did get him on tape.”

2

STONE NEARLY CHOKED on his wine. “That was prescient of you,” he rasped.

“Well, I had heard a little about him,” Carrie replied. “A girl has to protect herself.”

“Certainly,” Stone replied.

“Too fucking right,” Elaine added.

“And by what means did you record him?” Stone asked.

“Small dictator in my open purse on his desk,” Carrie replied. “So, shall I retain you as my attorney and sue the

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