Stuart Woods


The second book in the Stone Barrington series, 1996

This book is for David and Lynn Kaufelt

Chapter 1

Dinner had been wonderful – twelve around a gleaming oval table of burled walnut in a dining room a dozen stories above the light-flecked carpet of Central Park, the cooking by the chef of a famous restaurant a few blocks away, the wines from the host’s superb cellar, and the company carefully chosen by a couple who could cast a wide net. Amanda Dart felt quite at home among them.

As they moved from the table into the library next door for coffee and brandy, Amanda reflected that her presence there was as much a tribute to her position as to her personality, though she could certainly hold her own in any company. Of those present – a movie star and his gorgeous companion, a captain of industry and his dowdy wife, and a former British prime minister, her dinner partner, among them – Amanda alone possessed the power to tell the world just who her hosts had attracted to their table, something the couple wanted very badly for the world to know. It was vulgar to drop names; Amanda Dart, queen of gossip columnists, would do the dropping for them.

Lord Wight, the former prime minister, was taking a keen interest in Amanda, attention that, on another night, would have been a great deal more interesting for her. Tonight, however, she had other plans, other company in mind, and the thought made for a weak feeling in her crotch.

“I chose my title from the island of my birth,” Lord Wight was saying.

“Oh, yes, the Isle of Wight,” Amanda said, returning his serve. “I believe the town of Cowes there is the capital of British yachting.” Point made.

“The capital of European yachting,” his lordship replied.

“And that’s where you sail your little yacht?”

“Actually, it’s quite a large yacht,” Wight replied testily. “And I don’t just sail it, I race it.”

“Tell me, Lord Wight,” Amanda asked innocently, “just how does someone amass enough of a fortune to buy a large yacht during a lifetime of public service?”

“Fortunately, my dear lady,” Wight said, smiling softly, “in my country the amassing of a fortune is not incompatible with a life in politics. One acquires knowledgeable friends who advise one on how to invest one’s money.”

Amanda winked at him. “One understands,” she said.

Her hostess joined them. “Amanda, dear,” she said, “you made me promise to tell you when it was midnight, and it is. You’re catching a plane?”

“To St. Bart’s,” Amanda said, moving forward in her seat in preparation for standing.

“Surely there’s no plane out of Kennedy at this hour,” Wight said, consulting a gold watch from his waistcoat pocket. “They do have noise regulations, don’t they?”

“Not at Teterboro,” Amanda replied. “One is fortunate enough to have friends with jets.” She stood up, bringing Lord Wight with her.

“My dear,” he was saying, “I do hope I can see you when I’m next in New York.”

“Of course, Lord Wight,” Amanda replied, fishing in her little clutch purse for a card. “I would be delighted to hear from you.” Any night but tonight, she thought.

She made her good-byes, collected her coat from the butler, and slipped out of the huge apartment.

Downstairs, her trusty driver, Paul, and her elderly Cadillac were waiting. Amanda slipped into the back seat, and in a moment they were moving. “The Trent, Paul,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Paul replied.

It was Amanda’s fiftieth birthday, though no one knew it; she was in spectacular shape, her firm body the product of a regular program with a trainer in her own little gym. Amanda allowed no other person to see her perspire. She placed two fingers on her carotid artery and glanced at her watch. Her resting pulse was normally forty-five; tonight, it was seventy.

Amanda lived her life in very public view, and she took great care in how she presented herself to her world. Although of a deeply sensual nature, she was known as something of an ice queen, and she was quite happy to keep it that way. Her sexual alliances were few, but athletically maintained, with men who were always wealthy, off her beaten track, very discreet, and usually younger than she. Tonight and for the weekend, she would see her very favorite, a real estate developer from Atlanta named Henry Bell, who made it to New York no more than once every eight or nine months. Perfect for Amanda.

Henry was a pillar of Atlanta society, the husband of a retired opera singer and the father of two daughters whose social ambitions were relentless. Amanda had helped them meet tout Gotham while, unbeknownst to them or anyone else, she had established a highly erotic relationship with their father, who was a youthful forty-five. This weekend he was in New York, ostensibly for a board meeting, and he was waiting for her at the Trent, a small, elegant hotel in the East Sixties. They planned to be together until early Monday morning.

The car glided to a halt at the Trent ’s discreet entrance. Amanda looked up and down the block before she got out; she had no wish to run into anyone she knew. “No need to get the door, Paul Please meet me here after midnight on Sunday – say, two A.M.”

“Two o’clock Monday morning,” Paul said.

Satisfied that the block was empty of pedestrians, she slid out of the car and ran across the sidewalk, slipping on a pair of dark glasses. She paused for a moment in the foyer of the hotel and glanced across the little lobby at the front desk, where a man in a tailcoat was working. She waited until he turned away, then scooted across the lobby, unspotted, to the alcove where the elevator was. She pressed “P” for penthouse and waited while the car traveled upward for fifteen floors. When the door opened, she popped her head out to check that the hallway was empty, then walked out of the elevator and to the end of the hall, stopping before double doors.

Glancing around once more to be sure she was alone, she stepped out of her shoes, then slipped off her panties. She was not wearing a bra under the little black dress. She took off her coat and unzipped her dress. Then, holding her coat, shoes, and panties in her hand, she rang the bell. Seconds later the door opened, and she stepped inside.

Henry Bell stepped back to allow her to enter. He was wearing a silk dressing gown. He said nothing, but untied the belt and whipped it off, presenting a trim physique and a throbbing erection. Amanda dropped her belongings on the floor, wiggled her shoulders, and let the little dress fall off, revealing full breasts and a finely crafted body. She kicked the dress out of the way and stood there, wearing only black stockings and a black garter belt.

“Hello, sailor,” she said, and went to him.

Late Sunday evening, they sat propped up in bed, naked, next to the remains of a room service dinner on a tray. Henry dozed lightly while Amanda watched yet another of his endless collection of erotic Scandinavian videotapes. Henry had a little man in Stockholm who sent them to the Trent whenever he was in New York. Amanda loved

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