The Next Accident (Quincy & Rainie #3) by Lisa Gardner

PLAN A

PROLOGUE

VIRGINIA

His mouth grazed the side of her neck. She liked the feel of his kiss, whisper-light, teasing. Her head fell back. She heard herself giggle. He drew her earlobe between his lips, and the giggle turned to a moan.

God, she loved it when he touched her.

His fingers lifted her heavy hair. They danced across the nape of her neck, then slid down her bare shoulders.

"Beautiful, Mandy," he whispered. "Sexy, sexy, Mandy."

She giggled again. She laughed, then she tasted salt on her lips and knew that she cried. He turned her belly-down on the bed. She didn't protest.

His hands traced the line of her spine before settling in at her waist.

"I like this curve right here," he murmured, dipping one finger into the concave curve at the small of her back. "Perfect for sipping champagne. Other men can have breasts and thighs. I just want this spot here. Can I have it, Mandy? Will you give that to me?"

Maybe she said yes. Maybe she just moaned. She didn't know anymore. One bottle of champagne empty on the bed. Another half gone. Her mouth tingled with the forbidden flavor, and she kept telling herself it would be okay. It was just champagne, and they were celebrating, weren't they? He had a new job, the BIG job, and oops, it was far away. But there would be weekend visits, maybe some letters, long-distance phone calls…

They were celebrating, they were mourning. It was a farewell fuck, and either way champagne sex shouldn't count with the nice folks at AA.

He tilted the open bottle of bubbly over her shoulders. Cool, sparkling fluid cascaded down her neck, pooling on the white satin sheet. She lapped it up helplessly.

"That's my girl," he whispered. "My sweet, sexy, girl… Open for me, baby. Let me in."

Her legs parted. She arched her back, the whole of her focusing down, down, down, to the spot between her legs where the ache had built and now only he could ease the pain. Only he could save her.

Fill me up. Make me whole.

"Beautiful, Mandy. Sexy, sexy, Mandy."

"Pl-pl-please…"

He pushed inside her. Her hips went back. Her spine seemed to melt and she gave herself over to him.

Fill me up. Make me whole.

Salt on her cheeks. Champagne on her tongue. Why couldn't she stop crying? She tilted her head down to the sheets and sipped champagne as the room spun sickeningly.

Suddenly the bed was gone. They were outside. In the driveway. Clothes on, cheeks dry. Champagne gone, but not the thirst. Six months she'd been dry. Now she craved another drink horribly. One bottle of champagne still unopened. Maybe she could get him to give it to her for the drive home. One for the road.

Don't go……

"You okay, baby?"

"I'm okay," she mumbled.

"Maybe you shouldn't be driving. Maybe you should stay the night…"

"I'm okay," she murmured again. She couldn't stay, and they both knew it. Beautiful things came, beautiful things went. If she tried to hold on now, it would just make it worse.

He was hesitating, though. Looking at her with those deep, concerned eyes. They crinkled at the corners. She had loved that when she first met him. The way his eyes creased as if he was studying her intently, really, truly seeing her. Then he'd smiled a split second later, as if merely finding her had made him so very happy.

She'd never had a man smile at her like that before. As if she were someone special.

Oh God, don't go. …

And then: Third bottle of champagne. All full. One more for old times' sake. One more for the road.

Her lover took her face between his hands. He stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. "Mandy…" he whispered tenderly. "The small of your back…"

She couldn't answer anymore. She was choking on her tears.

"Wait, baby," he said suddenly. "I have an idea."

Driving. Thinking really hard because the narrow road curved like a snake and it was dark and it was so strange how early she could have a thought, and how late her body would be in responding. He sat beside her in the passenger's seat. He wanted to make sure she got home safe; then he'd take a cab. Maybe she should take a cab. Maybe she was in no shape to drive. As long as he was coming with her, why was she the one at the wheel?

She couldn't hold on to that thought long enough to make it work.

"Slow down," he cautioned. "The road is tricky here."

She nodded, furrowing her brow and struggling to concentrate. Wheel felt funny in her hand. Round. Huh. Pressed on the brakes. Hit the gas instead. The SUV lurched forward.

"Sorry," she muttered. World was beginning to spin again. She didn't feel well. Like she was going to throw up, or pass out. Maybe both. If she could just close her eyes…

Road moved on her again. Vehicle jerked. Seat belt. Needed a seat belt. She groped for the strap, got the clasp. Pulled. Seat belt spun out toothlessly. That's right. Broken. Must get that fixed. Someday. Today. May day. Stars spinning away, sky starting to lighten. Sun going to come up. Now she just needed a little girl singing, "Tomorrow, tomorrow, there's always tomorrow – "

"Slow down," he repeated from the passengers seat. "There's a sharp turn ahead."

She looked at him numbly. He had a strange gleam in his eyes. Excitement. She didn't understand. "I love you," she heard herself say. "I know," he replied. He reached for her kindly. His hand settled on the wheel. "Sweet, sexy, Mandy. You're never going to get over me."

She nodded. The dam broke, and tears poured down her cheeks. She sobbed hopelessly as the Ford Explorer swerved across the road, and the gleam built in his eyes. "I'm as good as it gets," he continued relentlessly. "Without me, Mandy, you'll be lost." "I know, I know."

"Your own father left you. Now, I'm doing the same. The weekend visits will stop, then the phone calls. And then it will just be you, Mandy, all alone night after night after night."

She sobbed harder. Salt on her cheeks, champagne on her lips. So alone. The black abyss. Alone, alone, alone.

"Face it, Mandy," he said gently. "You're not good enough to keep a man. You're nothing but a drunk. Christ, I'm breaking up with you, and all you can think about is that third bottle of champagne. That's the truth, isn't it? Isn't it?"

She tried to shake her head. She ended up nodding.