By Al Blanchard

Clayton Wentworth’s death had been ruled accidental, but William O’Rourke knew it was a well-planned murder. Wentworth’s young widow stood under a chandelier in the living room of her palatial estate. The soft light shimmered on her blonde hair. The black skirt and matching jacket did little to camouflage her voluptuous figure. O’Rourke knew the effect she had on most men in the room. Her talk was punctuated by finger jabs and smiles. She certainly didn’t look like a woman who had buried her husband that morning. Of course, his fortune probably helped alleviate much of her grief.

O’Rourke put his empty glass on a tray being carried by a tuxedoed waiter. The room where Carrie Wentworth accepted condolences was as big as his New York City apartment, a scant one mile away, and the antique furniture in the room was worth more than he’d received as an advance for his last novel.

The wine flowed and the canapés, finger sandwiches and shrimp were almost gone. The crowd had thinned to about a dozen people. Carrie glanced at him and smiled. He wished he could stop staring. Maybe he'd put her in one of his novels. Dirt-poor farmers raised her in Kentucky. At twenty she packed her bags, moved to New York City and had a few minor successes as an actress. The tabloids linked her with a variety of lovers. After one theatrical performance she’d met Clayton, who was thirty-two years her senior. Four years ago he'd taken her as the third Mrs. Wentworth, writing his other wives out of his will and leaving the bulk of his wealth to Carrie. If O’Rourke did put her in a novel most people wouldn’t believe her good fortune.

He was so engrossed in his thoughts he wasn't aware that Adriana Evans, his editor, had moved next to him. She was dressed in a beige skirt and white blouse. O’Rourke felt unkempt in his corduroy jacket by comparison.

"I haven't had time to read your latest manuscript yet," she said. "Matter of fact I'm bringing it up to the cabin in Vermont this weekend. If it's anything like your others I'm in for a good read."

William smiled, and then gulped the last of his wine. Adriana had auburn hair, green eyes, and a fine body. He was attracted to her, and at thirty-seven it was time he settled down, but Adriana wasn’t the woman he wanted.

Carrie threw her head back and laughed at something a good-looking young actor said.

Adriana leaned close to O’Rourke’s ear. "You've been skulking around for the past hour. What's going on in that devious mind of yours?"

"I’m fabricating a plot for my next novel. You know writers. We get paid to make up stories and the more mysterious the better."

"William, your imagination is superb, but I hope you’re not planning on doing a story about Clayton’s death."

O' Rourke shrugged. "According to the police it wouldn’t be much of a story. Clayton was drunk and fell from a ladder while trying to retrieve a book in his library. Not much glamour in a broken neck."

"You saw how shaky he was at Friday’s dinner party," Adriana said. "Carrie told me he hadn’t been feeling well lately. Maybe he passed out."

William gave a half-laugh. "Or maybe he was murdered."

"Good, God, William. Is that what you’ve been thinking all afternoon? It was an accident. Besides, when he was found the library door was locked from the inside."

"It’s still possible he was killed." "How could someone pull it off? The killer would have to get past the guard at the front gate, avoid all of the surveillance cameras, turn off the alarm system and get into Clayton's locked library. Then he'd have to leave without detection."

O’Rourke glanced at Carrie, who continued to talk to the young actor. Even at her husband's funeral she couldn't stop flirting. "For a shrewd killer those would be minor obstacles."

Adriana laughed shrilly. "You've written three best- selling novels and now you're an expert on murder." She shook her head and a look of amusement crossed her face. "And who would you suspect?"

"The one who had the most to gain by his death, of course."

"William, usually I find you amusing, but tonight I find your comments in very poor taste." She turned and walked quickly away.

O' Rourke refocused on Carrie. He knew her alibi. She’d been at their Long Island house for the weekend. She arrived home, became worried when she couldn’t find her husband and called the police. They’d found his body sprawled on the library rug, a half empty bottle of brandy beside it. No sign of foul play. No forced entry. Open and shut. Accidental death. But that wasn’t how it happened. O’Rourke rehearsed in his mind what he was going to say to Carrie when he got her alone.

A half hour later Carrie walked into the kitchen. She was standing by the sink taking out a cigarette when he approached.

"William, thank you so much for coming. When I didn't see you at the funeral this morning I was afraid you were out of town." "Are You Kidding? I wouldn’t have missed your performance for anything."

She flipped open a lighter, lit her cigarette and blew smoke into the air. If she understood the implication of what he said she ignored it. "It's been a tiring day. I just want to fall asleep. Maybe when I wake up I'll find this was all a dream and Clayton will still be alive."

"You're a very rich woman, Carrie. I imagine that you’ll find a way to be happy."

Her eyes narrowed and a flash of anger crossed her face. "Happy? With Clayton dead? I loved my husband. He was a wonderful man."

"Save your acting for someone else," William said.

She took a drag on her cigarette, her gaze boring through him. "William, I've never known you to be cruel. What's wrong with you?"

He leaned close to her ear. "You do remember the walk in the woods we took after last summer’s dinner party? You said what you needed was a real lover to come in and save you. The kiss. The way you held me."

"Oh, for God's sake. I was drunk. Sure, sometimes Clayton and I had problems, but so do most married couples. You couldn’t have possibly taken me seriously."

"Of course I did. Your message was very clear."

Carrie's cheeks flushed. "That's the way I am, William. I flirt. That doesn't mean I didn't love my husband."

O' Rourke grabbed Carrie's arm. "You wanted to be with me. I could tell. You told me he left his keys in the bedroom bureau. Why would you do that if you didn’t want me to figure out a way to kill him?"

Carrie tried to jerk away, but William held her firmly.

"You're hurting me."

"I did it for us, Carrie." He leaned close to her ear and lowered his voice. "I knew the only way we could be together was if I killed Clayton."

"Adriana warned me about you." The words came out like a hiss.

"What did she say?"

"That you were falling in love with me. That you are like a child who will say anything to impress people and I shouldn't believe most of what you say. But making up this story is beyond anything I could have imagined."

"Made up?" O’Rourke said. "I planned his death for six months."

Carrie's mouth opened, but nothing came out.

O’ Rourke jabbed a finger at her. "Once the idea got hold of me I couldn’t get rid of it. At one of your parties I went into the bedroom and took clay impressions of Clayton's keys. Friday night at dinner I faked being sick and when Adriana offered to drive me home I said I needed fresh air and would walk. I used Clayton’s keys to slip into the basement. On Saturday when you went to the Hamptons and Clayton was at the office I did my preliminary work. So you see, when Clayton came into his library on Sunday I was already there, hiding behind the curtains. I staged the whole scene so the police would think it an accident."

"Stop this, now," Carrie said. "I don’t believe you for an instant. The police had to break the door down to get in and the surveillance cameras would have picked you up leaving the property."

"Don’t underestimate me, my love. The door was a simple job, really. The old oak door had rusting hinges. On Saturday I loosened them and once I killed Clayton it was a simple job to remove them, open the door, then replace the hinges so the door would remain locked from the inside. You didn't see me at the funeral because I was still in the basement waiting for the grieving crowds to show up so I could mingle and pretend I'd just arrived."

"You’d been in the basement for four days?" O’Rourke nodded. "It’s very well stocked. I’d have stayed months longer for you, Carrie."

Carrie flicked her cigarette into the sink. "I've had enough. Get out of my sight. You sicken me."

O’Rourke felt his mind tumble. This wasn’t how things had come out in his head. "Cut the act, Carrie. You wanted Clayton dead as much as I did. Whether you believe it or not, we're meant to be together, my love."

" I took my marriage vows seriously, William. I cherished my husband. You’re a demented man."

William’s eye twitched. The air in the kitchen suffocated him like warm wool.

"Please, leave," Carrie said.

William walked out onto the front lawn and watched the guard deal with departing guests. He had no intention of leaving until he convinced Carrie that they were meant for each other.

The back door was still unlocked as he slipped inside. The lights in the kitchen had been turned off and he crept into the darkness. Laughter came from the dining room. He recognized Adriana’s voice. "It worked perfectly. I told you he was like a child. All you had to do was play into his male fantasies. He killed Clayton so the two of you could be together. What a fool. Men are so easily manipulated."

"You should have seen his face when I put on my shocked widow routine," Carrie said. "I had to use all of my willpower to keep from laughing."

William peered into the room. What he saw threw his mind for another tumble. Adriana and Carrie were kissing passionately.

William stood in the shadow of the Vermont pines. Through the cabin window he could see Adriana’s prone body asleep on the couch, his manuscript resting on her chest. A faulty space heater, the one he had tampered with, would be ruled as the cause of her death. Killing Clayton hadn’t won Carrie’s undying love, so something more drastic was needed. He hoped killing Carrie’s next lover would be as easy.