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Toasting Tina
by Evan Marshall
Kensington, 2003


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TOASTING TINA

Excerpt

Putting away her phone, Jane noticed groups of women passing the bar, obviously on their way to some event.

“Are you going?” Elaine asked.

“To what?”

“The award ceremony. That Tina person Bertha was talking about is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award from RAT. Come on, we’ll sit together.”

Jane couldn’t think of anything she would enjoy less than attending the award ceremony for Tina, but at that moment she couldn’t think of a gracious way to bow out. “All right.”

Together they made their way to a large function room at the far end of the lobby. The room was already nearly full of women, all buzzing excitedly. Jane and Elaine took seats near the back.

At the front of the room, Kara Falcone, RAT’s charismatic president, stood behind a podium, gazing out at the audience. Kara, a tall, big-boned blonde with prominent teeth, tapped gently on the microphone and burst into a horsy smile. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.” The audience grew quiet. “I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am about this event. We’re here to present a Romance Authors Together Lifetime Achievement Award to a very special person…someone I’d like to tell you about now.”

Kara cleared her throat. “Tina Vale, our honoree today, was a top literary agent before deciding to become an editor—a decision for which we as romance readers are extremely grateful.”

The audience broke into spirited applause.

Jane turned to Elaine. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Kara continued, “In her new role as editor, Tina Vale immediately began to make her mark on the world of women’s fiction. She made a point of making sure there were always plenty of romances and women’s mainstream novels on her publication lists. In doing so, she discovered some of the legends of romance. It’s a long list, but I want to read it to you now, so that you can get the full impact of the achievements of this remarkable woman.”

A wave of nausea rose in Jane’s throat. She couldn’t take any more. She turned to Elaine. “I’m really sorry,” she whispered, “but I’ve got to go.”

Elaine looked concerned. “Are you all right?”

“Oh sure, I’m fine. Gotta call home, make sure my son is all right.” And she jumped up and scooted out the door.

Outside in the lobby, it was mercifully tranquil, since everyone at the convention was in that room listening to the long list of Tina Vale’s discoveries. Breathing in the lovely cool air, Jane caught the aroma of food cooking—steak, it smelled like. She realized she was hungry. The convention dinner banquet would immediately follow Tina’s award ceremony, which with any luck would be over soon. Jane made a mental note not to sit with Bertha.

She delved into a new area of the lobby’s jungle, following a brick path around a cage containing two cockatiels. She came out into a small tree-sheltered circle of brick on which sat a comfortable-looking loveseat and a coffee table.

“Perfect,” she breathed, and settled into the loveseat. Looking about her, she was pleased to discover that she was completely hidden from the lobby itself.

Opening her purse, she took out her compact, checked her makeup, and put on some more lipstick. She gazed over at the cockatiels, sitting silently on their perch. From the room in which the award ceremony was taking place came Kara Falcone’s voice, as if very far away. “…and I can think of no one more deserving of the Romance Authors Together Lifetime Achievement Award. Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to present to you a titan of the romance world, and a fine human being…”

Obviously Kara didn’t know her.

“…Tina Vale!”

Wild applause, which seemed to go on forever before finally dying down. Jane waited for the sound of Tina’s voice thanking everyone. Instead, there was an odd silence. Then came a murmur of many puzzled voices. Jane frowned. What had happened?

She heard heels clicking on the tile of the lobby just behind her and turning on the loveseat, parted two palm fronds to peer out. Two convention coordinators had emerged from the award room, concerned expressions on their faces.

“Where do you think she is?” one asked the other, who shrugged.

“Do you think she forgot?”

“Forgot! A Lifetime Achievement Award? No way. Something must be wrong.”

A third woman appeared. “Is she here?” The other two shook their heads. “I’ll go up to her suite to see if there’s a problem.” She hurried off to the elevators.

Jane settled back into the loveseat. Wasn’t that just like Tina to blow off her award. It wasn’t at all surprising, really, considering what she had just done to Nat Barre…and Jory Mankewitz…and Salomé Sutton. That list went on and on, too.

Behind her she heard more clacking of heels on tile, as the murmur of voices in the award room grew louder. She turned again and peeked out. The coordinator who had gone up to Tina’s suite had reappeared and was speaking to the other two women. “I knocked on her door. No answer.”

“Did you knock loud?”

“Of course I knocked loud. She’s not in there, or if she is, she’s sound asleep.”

“What if she’s sick or something?”

The third woman looked at her, clearly considering this possibility seriously. “You know, she could be. Like I said, no one would ever just forget she was getting this award. I know what to do.” She marched over to the reception desk, where Andrew Cowan, the hotel manager, busied himself behind two clerks. The woman got his attention and spoke to him. He listened, an intense expression on his face, then came out from behind the counter and followed her to the elevators. They both went up together.

Jane sat back down and rolled her eyes. She giggled. Wait until the RATs found out Tina simply hadn’t bothered to come down and claim her award! She was probably doing her nails, or balancing her checkbook.

Approximately ten minutes passed before Jane heard the elevator doors swoosh open. She turned and resumed her spying. The woman walked slowly out of the elevator, a sickly expression on her face, which had gone very pale. Immediately behind her was Andrew Cowan, who was chewing on two fingernails at the same time.

“Call an ambulance!” the woman suddenly shrieked at him.

“No, the police,” Cowan said, and ran for the front desk.

An ambulance? The police? Had Tina been hurt?

Stanley was probably still in the hotel. Jane called him on her cell phone and he answered instantly.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“Back in Conference Room D. They’re still fighting. I may have to have one of them arrested,” he joked.

“Stanley, the hotel manager is calling the police.”

“Why?”

“Something about Tina Vale.” She made her way out of the sheltered circle, back along the brick path, and into the lobby proper. At the far end, Stanley emerged from Conference Room D. She waved to him and he waved back, closing his phone and hurrying to the reception desk. There he spoke with Cowan for a moment before hurrying after him to the elevators.

Jane stood, waiting. It felt like an eternity. Finally she could stand it no longer and called Stanley again.

“Jane,” he said, his voice grave, “I can’t talk to you now. Tina’s dead.”

Excerpted from Toasting Tina by Evan Marshall. Copyright © 2003 by Evan Marshall. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.









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