"The girl's here," Mrs. Dour said, "and there's nothing for you to do here. Why don't you take your book and go upstairs?"
She meant, Olivia knew, that she wanted to get dinner underway and start cleaning, and having her very pregnant employer underfoot wasn't helping. What ever had possessed Charles? Not that she objected to the housekeeper as such, but why had he picked this one?
Not daring to open the brown Amazon package under Mrs. Dour's disapproving Pentecostal eyes, she grabbed it and escaped from the kitchen, pausing at the foot of the stairs to listen to the sounds of "the girl"--some teenager from down the street--entertaining Trouble, who at one and a half took a lot of watching. He sounded happy enough, and Olivia, too smart to risk disturbing that by setting foot in there, fled up to her bedroom. Guiltily she unwrapped the last word in semi-literate erotica, and climbed into bed with a jar of cocoa butter lotion and a small tube of orange-oil stretch mark preventative. Second pregnancies demanded a lot of buttering, apparently.
The guy in the high office block looked strangely familiar, though Olivia had never heard his name before. She frowned. "So what's the problem?"
He strode handsomely across an office suite liberally garnished with marble, and pulled open a closet door. "This," he said, and she peered past him at the corpse of a young woman, long brown hair matted with blood. She was dressed in an evening gown which must once have been tailored to fit her, but was now twisted awkwardly across her body in loose folds, suggesting she'd lost weight between the time of purchase and her death. "It's the third one this month. My fiancee, Miss Steele, can't take much more of this. Can you help us, Ms. Greening?"
"Fiancee?" Olivia repeated, and looked up to find another young woman entering the office. Same brown hair as the corpse, she noted, and similar dress and shoes, though this one was definitely alive, and biting her bottom lip nervously. Olivia tilted her head; there was something familiar about that, too, but she couldn't place it at the moment. "Who were the other victims, and where were they found?"
Mr. Grey stiffened, obviously uncomfortable. "They were found in my apartment," he admitted finally. "One was sitting at the kitchen table. I thought at first she'd fallen asleep while having a sandwich, but it turned out her tea had been poisoned. The other had been shoved off the balcony outside my bedroom."
"What was your relationship with these women, Mr. Grey?" Olivia asked sternly. "There's no point in retaining a private detective if you don't tell me the whole truth."
He held himself very still, not glancing at his fiancee, but in a way that made it obvious to Olivia's trained eye that it was taking an effort for him not to turn to her. It was the girl who answered first.
"Go ahead and tell her, Christian," she said wearily. "It's not as if I don't already know."
"They were my submissives," he explained. "Sexual submissives, that is."
"All three of them?" Olivia asked, not daring to look at his fiancee. "How very 90s of you, Mr. Grey."
"Former submissives," he corrected. "I haven't been involved with any of the victims since meeting Anastasia."
"Yet they still had the keys to your apartment," Olivia pointed out.
He frowned. "Yes, but even so: I can't imagine them showing up in my home or office in formal wear unless I'd ordered them to. Somebody must have invited them, and made them believe the invitation was from me."
Olivia whirled around to confront his partner. "I presume you have an alibi for the times of death, Anastasia?" Should that be "time of deaths," she wondered fretfully, or maybe "times of deaths"? Oh well, it would have to do.
"She does," Mr. Grey answered smoothly. "She was with me, providing hours of pleasure." The young woman blushed becomingly, and chewed on her bottom lip some more.
"Then in that case the motive is obvious," Olivia said. She gestured at the unfortunate corpse. "Did all your submissives look like this, Mr. Grey?"
"They did," he confirmed. "And before you can ask, yes: they were all similarly attired at the time of death, wearing clothes I had chosen and purchased for them."
"Clearly," Olivia told him smugly, "the murderer has been attempting to kill your fiancee. I'm afraid your life is in grave danger, Miss Steele, until we have solved this case. Now: I need you both to tell me all about your relationship, and spare no detail."
"Then we should return to my place," Christian said. "Ana needs to eat, and it's more comfortable, with less marble."
Several painfully repetitive hours later, Olivia closed her notebook with a sigh, wondering if she'd ever be able to look a man's tie in the face again. "Well, that was ghastly," she said, "but I think I can point you to the most likely culprit."
"You can?" Anastasia and Christian cried together, and Anastasia groaned loudly and bit her bottom lip some more for good measure.
"I can," Olivia answered. "It was Gail Jones, the housekeeper."
"It's true," the older woman exclaimed, bursting into the room. "For years I've put up with it: the requests for food at all hours of the night for a string of skinny-arsed wenches; the unspeakable stains in the red room; the ridiculous amounts of cash spent on luxuries, while my salary never rises. But the butt plugs were the last straw. I made up mind to make them all pay, one by one..."
"Livi," Charles was saying, shaking her gently. "Livi. Wake up. You've been asleep for simply hours. Come put Trouble to bed so we can eat, darling." His glance fell across the trilogy of paperbacks lying sprawled atop the covers, and he snorted. "Good lord, Livi, don't tell me you've been reading Those Books?"
"I had trouble falling asleep." she said defensively, "and anyway, everyone is reading them."