Today's Reading

(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores July 2021.)

Los Angeles, California

Such fuss over a little burn. Some salve and a gin rickey, and Mirielle would be right as rain tomorrow. But Charlie had insisted on ringing the doctor. Look how it's blistered, he said. Off in the nursery, the baby was crying. Mirielle's head beginning to pound. She didn't have the energy for another quarrel.

Dr. Carroll had set Mirielle's broken arm when she was six. Delivered all three of her children. Cared for her after the—er—accident.

So she knew well how to read his expressions. The affable smile he wore when he greeted her in the great room and asked after the baby. The shrewd glance when slipping in a question about her moods.

But his expression upon examining her hand made her insides go numb as if she were sixteen again and trussed up in a corset. The way his lips clamped shut and pushed outward, causing his graying mustache to bunch and bristle. The furrow that deepened between his eyebrows. The slow, deliberate way his features reset themselves.

Mirielle pulled her hand away. She'd seen his face morph that way before. But this was just a little burn. Mirielle wasn't dying.

"The spot on the back of your hand," he asked. "How long has it been there?"

She glanced at the pale patch of skin at the base of her thumb. What the devil did this have to do with her burned finger? "This little thing? Can't say I remember."

"And when you scalded your finger curling your hair, you didn't feel any pain?"

She shook her head. It was the smell that had alerted her. Like meat in a frying pan. She ought to have let the hairdresser give her a permanent last week when she'd bobbed her hair. Then Mirielle wouldn't have had to bother with the iron. Or the doctor. "It's just a burn. A trifle. I thought you might prescribe some ointment. Maybe a little whiskey while you're at it."

Still that serious expression.

She reached out and batted his arm. "Oh, come on. That was a joke. You know I can't stand that cheap medicinal stuff."

He mustered a weak smile while brushing off the sleeve of his jacket where she had touched him. "Is your husband home?"

"He ran off to the studio. Be glad you missed him. Charlie's been in a bum mood ever since his last picture. That reviewer at the Times sure did—"

"Mirielle." His eyes fixed her with unsettling intensity. "I'd like you to go to County General."

"The hospital? Whatever for?"

"There's a dermatologist there, Dr. Sullivan. I'd like him to have a look at your hand. Perhaps your driver can—"

"Of course." Her insides squeezed all the tighter.

"I'd take you myself but..." His steady gaze became skittish.

"I'll ring for the driver as soon as I finish making my hair."

"No, best go right away. I'll telephone ahead so they'll expect you." He gave her arm a hesitant pat and forced another smile. "Perhaps I should give them an alias when I call."

Mirielle almost laughed. It'd have to be an awfully slow day in the newsroom for anyone to care about her going to the hospital for a silly little burn. But then, maybe Dr. Carroll was right. She and Charlie had been fodder enough for the press these last few years.

She drained what remained in her highball and glanced at the framed posters hung about the great room. Every one of her husband's motion pictures was displayed, from his very first to his latest flop.

"Tell them to expect a Mrs. Pauline Marvin."

The dilapidated county hospital on Mission Street bustled like a hash house on a Sunday morning. Nurses and orderlies in starched white uniforms scudded from bed to bed in the vast ward beyond the admitting desk.

"Miri—er—Pauline Marvin," she said to the nurse at the desk.

"I'm here to see some doctor or another. Sullivan, maybe? He's expecting me."

The woman didn't look up but waved a hand toward the crowded waiting area. "Have a seat."

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