Brett Halliday

Blood on the Stars

Chapter One


Celia Dustin sat before the mirrored dressing-table in an elaborate corner suite on the sixth floor of the Sunlux Hotel in Miami Beach. Subconsciously she counted the strokes as the silver-mounted brush swept through her long flaxen hair-eight, nine, ten-then changed it to her left hand and began counting toward the required hundred strokes. Her sheer coral dressing-gown fell away from her shoulders, revealing the light sun-tan on her smooth throat and taut young breasts. Long dark lashes were half closed over her blue eyes that shone with an inner delight, and her full red mouth was lifted at the corners in a smile.

Celia was scarcely aware of her reflection. Her head was tilted, and she listened to the muffled sounds in the bathroom where her husband was taking a bath. They had been married two years today, and she knew exactly the progress he was making by the sounds. He was turning on the cold water now, swearing softly and contentedly as he made it colder and colder. In a moment Mark Dustin would fling back the curtain and emerge from the shower, dripping and magnificent in his nakedness, sputtering like a half-drowned bear while he groped for a towel to rub himself down.

An indefinable shiver of pure delight traversed Celia’s slender body as she transferred the brush from left to right hand for another ten strokes. Marriage was the most wonderful thing in the world. Marriage with Mark, she amended hastily to herself. She had often wondered during the past two years whether it would have been quite the same with any other man. She didn’t think so. Mark wasn’t anything wonderful. She often told herself that in order to keep her feet firmly on the ground, but he was right for her. She was serenely certain that of all the people in the world she and Mark were meant for each other.

She completed the hundred strokes and laid the hair brush on the dressing-table. All sound from the bathroom had ceased. Soon Mark would come out with his black silk robe carelessly belted around his lean stomach, his strong sun-bronzed face glowing with health and with happiness. He would come up behind her chair and put his hands on her bare shoulders and lay his cheek against her lustrous hair and smile at her reflection in the mirror and tell her she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

She would blush, as she always did, because his hands would creep downward to spread her dressing-gown farther apart, and she would catch her breath and demand whether he wanted his wife to be a wanton, and his lips would nibble at the lobe of her ear and he’d whisper that that was exactly what he was looking for when he picked her out two years ago-and then perhaps he’d remember and whisper something else in her ear and then the lovely, lovely Miami morning would be perfect indeed.

Straightening her shoulders, she leaned back a trifle and clasped both hands behind her head while she looked approvingly at the reflection Mark would see. Sunlight came through the east window and touched her head and shoulders caressingly. From far below there came the faint sound of the surf and the laughing voices of early bathers. It was one of those perfect days in early December when the season is just beginning. An interlude between the lethargy of summer and the hectic pace of winter; a period when early vacationers could live and move freely before the influx of the masses crowded the beaches and jammed traffic.

Celia did not move a muscle when she heard her husband come padding into the bedroom in cork-soled sandals. She watched her reflection in the mirror and saw him come up behind her and stop there as she had known he would. His black hair was tousled and he looked ten years younger than the forty he had admitted to when they were married. An unruly curl on either side of the part stood up, adding an impish look that matched the gleam in his gray eyes.

Something of her love and wonder and pride in him must have showed in her eyes as they met his in the glass, for Mark laughed, his hands on her bare shoulders, and said, “You look like a little girl on Christmas morning who has suddenly decided to believe in Santa Claus after all.”

“I feel like a little girl on Christmas morning, Mark.”

His fingers tightened and his head bent low until his cheek was against her hair. Her eyes still held his in the mirror and a tremor went over her body as his hands moved down and drew the sheer material farther away from her breasts.

He said, “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world,” and his voice was husky with passion.

She smiled happily and demanded, “Do you want your wife to look like a wanton, Mark Dustin?”

With his lips against her ear, he whispered, “Why else do you think I married you? Don’t you know every man secretly desires a wanton wife-but a paragon in public, mind you,” he added quickly and with mock severity. He straightened up then, and his hands drew the folds of her dressing gown together.

Celia waited for a breathless moment, then forced herself to carry on the ritual by asking, “Do they really?”

“Every man with any sense.” He turned away abruptly, now that the matutinal amenities were ended, and started for the sitting-room, saying cheerfully, “I’ll order some breakfast.”

“Mark.” The single word halted him with his hand on the doorknob.


“Do you know why I particularly feel like a little girl on Christmas this morning?”

“This morning?” He turned slowly. “Because the sun is shining and the ponies are running this afternoon?”

Her tone was slightly impatient. “The sun has shone and the ponies have run every day since we’ve been here.” She studied his face anxiously in the mirror.

“So they have.” He grinned boyishly and added, “Must be you’re in love with your husband.”

“So I am, darling.” When he smiled her anxiety went away. “Order English muffins and bacon for me, and lots of coffee. I’ve forty more strokes to go on my hair.” When he went out and closed the door she picked up the brush again, but the strokes were not so even and placid as they had been before. Tears moistened her eyes and she wiped them away angrily. Mark was a darling, but damn him anyway. Why did men always have to spoil things? You’d think they could remember an important date. But all he was thinking of was food and the bets he would lay at the track. Never a thought for her and for today.

She began to grow very angry, and the brush went back and forth swiftly, glinting in the sunlight and whisking viciously through the soft strands of hair. She made a face at herself in the mirror, then decided all over again that Mark was a darling and that she was acting like a fool.

By the time she applied powder to her face and a fresh layer of rouge to her lips, Celia was humming. She got up and slid the dressing-gown from her shoulders, slid into a brassiere and panties, white slip and a powder blue sports suit.

Mark was seated on the padded window ledge, deep in the morning Herald, when she entered the big square living-room. He looked up to mumble, “Breakfast coming up. Listen, Ceil. Here’s a hot one in the fourth today. Thunderhaven at twelve to one. If I can pick out a parlay-” his voice trailed off as he went back to the day’s selections at Tropical Park.

“Oh, you!” she laughed, and again thought how like a young boy he was and how darned lucky she was to be Mrs. Mark Dustin.

The buzzer sounded and she went to admit the waiter with a wheeled breakfast table. She asked the man to place it in the angle between the two wide east and south windows, signed the check and tipped him, and he departed before Mark seemed aware of his presence. She peeked playfully over the top of the newspaper and said, “Sir, breakfast is served.”

“So?” He sprang up and helped her pull up two chairs, and enthusiastically explained his projected three- horse parlay while they breakfasted in the sun-drenched luxury of their corner suite.

When the meal was finished, Celia sat on the window seat and idly turned the pages of the morning paper

Вы читаете Blood on the Stars
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату