Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©2001 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
He stared at the letter in his hand, his mind numbed with disbelief.
It was addressed to Nicole Debré. How could that be? The old familiar
pain, the brutal desolation, flared to life at the sight of her name. Oh,
His name was Guillaume Debré, or had been once. Now he was William
Dubrey, or Bill to his friends. He much preferred Bill because William was
too much like that other name and identity he had left behind in France.
Bill, however, seemed far removed from Guillaume Debréand his
wife Nicole, now five years dead.
Nicole. When the memories came, as it seemed they must when he was alone,
they always began at that last train ride. With her fiery death, not the
life they had shared. Mostly he tried not to think about it. Young love gone
awry; he should have gotten over her by now. But sometimes in the night,
he would remember just a flash of the lovely girl next door, of the person
she had been before he had married her and taken her to Paris for their
honeymoon. On the train.
Guillaume had loved Nicole his entire life. He would always love her.
And the profound pit of emptiness her death had left was the reason he couldn't
continue any semblance of a life in France. So he had finished his education,
immigrated to the States, and had become Bill, an entirely new person, with
no past to haunt his future. France was now only a bitter memory buried deeply
in his new persona. His colleagues and friends knew him as a talented plastic
surgeon, an ambitious, thirty-something man on the rise. A voice tutor had
eliminated all but the mere vestiges of an accent. No one suspected he had
ever been anything other than the American Bill Dubrey, except his older
brother Jourdain, who lived in France and exchanged cards with Bill at Christmas
That was why the letter in the mailbox came as such a shock. Bill had
nothing now to do with Nicole, but there the letter was, addressed to her.
The name stabbed into his chest, choked the air from his lungs.
Nicole! Nicole! a silent voice cried. Clutching the mail to his
heart, he went inside, slamming the door behind him.
Who had written to Nicole? And why here? Why now? What did it mean?
The questions flooded his brain so quickly he couldn't process them.
Methodically, he set his briefcase down in the entryway and studied the envelope
as he walked into the kitchen. It was a simple white mailing label. Nicole
Debré, it read, complete with the French spelling and accent. Anyone
who would have known enough to connect his name with hers, and send it to
America, should have also known that Nicole was dead. He threw the letter
onto the kitchen table with the rest of the mail, then picked it up again.
He stared at it for another full minute before tossing it into the trash,
Hot, blind anger filled every portion of his body. How dare they! How
dare they intrude upon my life! He snatched the letter out of the garbage
and ripped it open viciously, stoking his anger and resentment. He had come
too far to return to the pitiful wreck he had been after the accident. He
would fight this intrusion on his calm and orderly existence. I am no
longer Guillaume, but Bill, who never knew or loved a beautiful woman named
Inside the envelope was a gold embossed invitation to attend a benefit
dinnera very expensive dinner to be held in L.A. in two weeks. He barely
glanced at the name of the charity as he absorbed the meaning of the yellow
note inside: I met Jourdain in France last month. He gave me your address.
I didn't know you had moved to California! Keep in touch. Hope to see you
at the benefit. Kylee.
For long seconds his fury was all-encompassing. He instantly recalled
Nicole's friend Kylee. She had always been involved in raising money for
one charity or another, in America or in other countries over the world.
The women had first met in France while Bill had been in America studying,
two years before he and Nicole had married. Kylee had been Nicole's best
friend and confidante while he had been away chasing his dreams.
Agony burned in his soul. Why had he waited so long to marry Nicole?
If he had only known that she was going to die! Perhaps marrying her earlier
would have prevented her death, or at the least given them more time as husband
and wife. Tears streamed down his face. "Cursed woman," he growled, crumpling
the invitation and throwing it again into the trash. "Did she think that
sending it to my dead wife would capture my attention? What a cruel joke."
If Kylee Stuart had been in the room at that moment, he would have strangled
herand thoroughly enjoyed the revenge.
Later that night he couldn't sleep. Thoughts of his childhood with Nicole,
and playing together at the park, filled his mind. Then of her as a young
woman when he stole his first tentative kiss. He tossed, he turned, and he
cursed until he could stand it no more. No matter how wonderful her cause,
Kylee would never again use Nicole's name to elicit money. And he knew just
how to stop her.
* * * * *
Kylee Stuart looked around with satisfaction. The banquet hall was decorated
with stylish paintings, sculptures, and expensive knickknacks, all of which
were part of the silent auction that would be carried on throughout the evening.
The two singers, a local football star, and the comedian were present and
ready to display talents or give speeches. Even the children were in a back
room waiting to do their part, their misshapen faces bright with
Sixteen by twenty inch pictures of those children decorated one entire
wall of the banquet hall. Taken close-up against a black background, these
pictures made every small feature stand out and epitomized the need that
had created the Children's Hope Fund five years earlier. Only the hard-hearted
could look upon their innocent faces without feeling a deep compassion and
desire to help.
The delicious aromas in the air reminded Kylee to do a last minute check
on the meal preparations. "Everything okay?" she asked Julius Taylor, owner
of the catering business as well as head chef.
Julius nodded. "Two hundred and forty meals nearly ready to go. Don't
worry, everything's taken care of."
For the hundred bucks a head I'm paying you, it ought to be, Kylee thought.
At the dinner cost of five hundred dollars, that meant a profit of ninety-six
thousand dollars for the Children's Hope Fund, less expenses and her meager
salary. Not a bad start. And she determined the meal was to be just thata
start. The silent auction would raise a great deal of money, but she was
hoping for more straight monetary donations than for anything else. As part
of her plans, a video of the unfortunate children she was trying to help
would be projected onto the wall-sized screen. Only the most tough-hearted
would be unmoved by the deep needs of these little ones. She cried herself
each time she saw the video or talked with the children, and had channelled
her own slim savings into the program. Kylee was very good at what she did,
but she was even better at practicing what she preached.
Shaking out her hands to relieve the tension, Kylee walked to the door
to greet the guests. They came in twos and threes, and sometimes in larger
groups, but never alone. They came wearing glittering clothes and cultured
smiles. They came with confidence and a benign generosity. There would be
two hundred and forty guests, each holding pre-paid tickets bought from the
charity. Kylee was grateful to them for their attendance and for their
willingness to help the children receive new faces. Of course, a few of the
charity's guests could give so much more than they would offer, but she refused
to think of that. She focused instead on the tears of the children and their
small misshapen faces that held so much pain. Tonight she would help at least
a few more of the children applying to Children's Hope for funds that would
provide desperately needed surgeries.
"Welcome. Thank you for coming," she said, nodding her head graciously
and occasionally taking guests' hands in hers. She knew most of them by sight,
if not by name. They had come from her mailing lists, carefully compiled
and maintained over the ten years she had been raising funds for charities.
There was trust involved in her relationship with these donors; she had promised
them that the charities she represented were of unquestionable caliber with
the lowest overhead. They could rest assured knowing that their dollars went
for the intended cause, not to overpaid administrators.
"Feel free to browse through the auction items," she invited the guests,
motioning them toward the items she had worked so hard in the past month
to gather from local businesses and artists. She gave each guest a program
which announced not only the performers and speakers, but also listed the
silent auction items and minimum bids. On the last two pages were touching
stories of children the organization had helped in previous years, and of
those who still waited for funding.
Standing next to her, the charity administrators, Elaina Rinehart and
Troy Stutts, also greeted guests, elaborating on their aspirations to help
the children. Elaina leaned toward Kylee during a brief lull, her short dark
hair shining in the bright lights. "These people are perfect," she said.
"They really seem to care. Troy was right when he said you were the one we
should contact to raise the money. You're a wonder. I bet they love you at
Kylee grinned and whispered back, Actually, my church doesn't really
have a lot of thoseexcept for the scouts. But you ain't seen nothin'
yet. Wait 'till I show them the video. And then bring out the children."
"I can't wait!" Elaina giggled like a school girl.
Kylee forgave Elaina's enthusiasm; she had received similar gratitude
from many of the charities she had worked with over the years. Children's
Hope would finally be in a position to help children who had been waiting
years for a new face and outlook on life. Neither woman had any qualms about
accepting donations. The wealthy had a certain amount of money they needed
to donate to charities for tax purposes, and it might as well go to
Then she saw him.
The first thing she noticed about the man was that he was alone. He
had wavy black hair, cut short against his scalp, and inscrutable deep brown
eyes. The tuxedo he wore was of the latest style and he carried himself with
sureness and purpose. His expression was pleasant enough, but she noticed
that the muscles in his jaw were tight, and twitched every so often as though
his outward mask flickered, threatening to reveal an inner truth he would
rather hide. But how could she possibly guess all this from a stranger's
Pulling her thoughts back to her duty, she smiled at him as she had
the others. He took her proffered hand in his cool grip and suddenly she
knew him. "Guillaume! How wonderful to see you! How long has it been?"
"Kylee." His voice was far from cordial. "How dare you use Nicole to
get me here. How dare you!" As he spoke, she saw the rage and contempt emerge
from behind the mask.
"What are you" Kylee glanced down the line at the oncoming guests.
The people greeting Elaina were looking her way, interested in what might
come next. "Come over here and we'll talk about it." She tried to pull her
hand from his tightened grasp.
He shook his head and stayed where he was. "Why? Aren't you proud of
your tactics? I wouldn't be either. Using a dead woman to sell one more ticket
for your charity. But that's okay, isn't it? Because it's for the children.
The rest of us can go to the devilas long as you get your money
Kylee watched him helplessly. "I don't understand what you mean. Please,
Guillaume." She took a step backward, but he refused to release his grip.
"Kylee, what's going on?" Elaina asked with a false smile that showed
all her teeth. "Do you need me to call security?"
They didn't have any security, but Guillaume couldn't know that. "No,"
Kylee answered. "I know him." At least she had once. But why was he acting
so odd, and where was Nicole?
Kylee's heart seemed to skip a beat. He had mentioned a dead woman.
"Nicole," she said, unready to believe. "Where is she?" She looked past
Guillaume, searching, hoping to see Nicole's attractive, eager face. Perhaps
this confrontation had been a joke and Nicole was watching her even now,
ready to laugh the moment away. Kylee could forgive the unseemly jesthow
she had longed to be with her friend again! But only the faces of the interested
guests met her gaze. Kylee turned to Guillaume, her eyes filling with tears.
"Dear Lord," she muttered with a heartfelt prayer. "Is it Nicole?"
His face lost much of the fury as he stared at her. "She's dead."
"II didn't know." Kylee blinked hard and backed away again. This
time he let her go.
Without a word to Elaina, Kylee fled the room as fast as her fitted
silver gown would allow. She heard someone come after her. Unlocking the
door of her temporary office, she whirled on him. "Why?" She threw the word
at him like a knife.
"I thought you knew."
"You should know me better than that. I was her friend!"
His shoulders slumped and he answered jaggedly, "I was just so angry.
I thought I had put it all behind me. I came to America with a new name and
started a new life, and then to see her name on the envelope"
"And someone had to pay. Is that why you attacked me?" Her voice shook
with her anger and hurt, but he looked dejected, and Kylee wanted to forgive
him. "How long ago was it?" she asked more gently.
"Five years. Two days after we were married. We were on the train at
Port Royal when it was bombed. She burned to death. There was nothing I could
do." His face was immobile, but the tears in his eyes moved Kylee more than
she would have expected. She took a tentative step toward him, touched the
sleeve of his suit.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
He nodded. "I shouldn't have reacted like I did tonight. I wasn't planning
on staying, but I'd like to nowto make it up to you."
"You don't have to. I understand." She wiped at the tears on her
His lips twisted into an odd sort of smile, as though the motion pained
him. "I want to. Besides, I bought a ticket. Can't let a five hundred-dollar
meal go to waste."
Kylee felt touched at his willingness to make things right. "Okay,
Guillaume. Would you like to sit at my table?"
"I'd like that. But call me Bill, okay? Bill Dubrey."
"Oh, right. You said you had a new name."
"What about you, Kylee? Have you changed your name? Your last, I mean.
Are you married?"
"No, I'm not." No use in telling him about her brief relationship with
He said nothing further, but offered her his arm. Kylee was amazed that
she could see no trace of the violent emotions she had glimpsed before. Neither
the grief nor the anger was apparent in his demeanor. How could he obliterate
them so quickly?
"Wait." She swiftly checked her makeup in her compact mirror and rubbed
off a bit of smudged mascara. After reapplying her powder and patting her
short blonde hair into place, she hooked her hand through his arm and they
walked back into the banquet hall together.
Elaina and Troy were still greeting people at the door. It took Kylee
only a few moments with the waiter to rearrange the seating at her table,
where a few guests were already seated. "I need to welcome the rest of the
people," she told Bill, after she had introduced him to the others at the
table. "I'll be back soon."
He gave her a wry smile. "Take your time."
"We'll keep Dr. Dubrey company," said Mrs. Boswell. "I have a little
surgery I've been meaning to discuss with him."
"Oh, you know Bill?" Kylee asked.
"Not really, my dear, though I feel as if I do. My friend Audrey has
simply gushed about what he did for her." Mrs. Boswell gave Kylee a
conspiratorial smile, but her voice carried to everyone at the table. "A
facelift, you know. She positively looks ten years younger." She focused
on Bill while her husband and the other guests continued to nibble on their
appetizers. "I've asked around and you have quite a reputation, Dr. Dubrey.
They say you are simply the best."
Bill smiled. "I'm glad to hear it."
Kylee excused herself and hurried to the entrance, wondering at what
she had learned. She had understood that Guillaume was studying to be a doctor
when she had known Nicole, though she didn't remember anything about plastic
surgery. Nicole had told her that after their initial bout at separate colleges,
she and Bill had rediscovered their childhood love and had become engaged.
While he was off in America, specializing in one thing or another, Nicole
had stayed in France delivering babiesand waiting. It had been to the
hospital where Nicole worked that Kylee sent several of the pregnant charity
recipients she was working with at the time. She met Nicole, and they soon
became close friends. Kylee remembered Nicole's sadness at Guillaume's absence,
and how she had attempted to stave off her loneliness by throwing herself
into fund-raising with the organization Kylee was working for. But Guillaume
had returned to France often. During his visits Nicole tended to be scarce,
though on more than a few weekends the three of them had gone hiking or camping
together. Kylee had liked what she had seen. He was a nice guy, and perfect
When Kylee had moved on to England for another fund-raiser, she was
pleased to receive the announcement of their long-awaited wedding. Nicole's
accompanying letter had exuded complete happiness. It was the last communication
Kylee ever received from Nicole, despite four subsequent letters Kylee had
sent to her in France. Kylee imagined her friend was so content with her
fiancé's return and their subsequent marriage that she hadn't even
thought of writing. Now Kylee knew the truth, and it hurt to think that the
lively Nicole was dead. No wonder Guillaume had been so angry!
Kylee glanced at Guillaumeno, it was Bill nowand saw him
conversing with the group at her table. He was obviously successful, and
incredibly handsome. If not for her glimpse of the emotions he had shown
earlier, she would have never guessed at his former life and the tragedy
behind the mask.
When she finally greeted the last of the guests, Kylee headed for her
table, leaving Elaina to officially welcome the crowd and introduce the speakers
and singers who would entertain them as they ate. After the dessert had been
served Kylee would make her presentation of the video and the children.
"So why haven't you married, Doctor?" Mrs. Boswell was saying as Kylee
arrived at the table. "Audrey has quite the eye for you, you know. And her
two kids are practically in high school, so they wouldn't be much of a bother.
The fact that she's moved to the same condominium complex as you is really
quite convenient. I keep telling her to chase you a bit, you know. Men liked
to be chased." Mrs. Boswell batted her mascara-laden eyes and Kylee felt
her heart go out to the unfortunate Audrey, who had trusted Mrs. Boswell
with her heart.
"Well, I'm afraid I'm a born bachelor," Bill said as he applied crab
paste onto a wheat cracker. He met Mrs. Boswell's gaze with a direct stare.
"My focus is on my work. I'm much too busy for a relationship." He took a
bite of the cracker and swallowed before adding, "And I especially like to
work on subjects with your potential, Mrs. Boswell. You're a perfect candidate
for my latest sculpting methods."
Mrs. Boswell flushed and brought a hand to her well-endowed bosom. "Oh,
I may come to see you very soon, Doctor." She elbowed her husband, who nodded
with a distracted smile. Kylee had the feeling that the heavyset Mrs. Boswell
did whatever she pleased, with or without her husband's approval.
Kylee slipped into the chair next to Bill just as the waiters began
to serve the main course. Usually she would have mingled with the guests
instead of eating, in order to personally iron out any problems that might
arise. But tonight Elaina and Troy would have to handle that. She owed Bill
this much. She had brought him here using Nicole's name and then, worse,
she had inadvertently set him among sharksor at least one shark. Kylee
felt she should give him as much support as she could muster.
"So how long have you been in California?" Kylee asked.
He set down his fork and looked at her steadily. "Four years."
"He studied in France, you know," Mrs. Boswell said. "And the French
are simply the best at maintaining beauty, aren't they?" The other women
at the table nodded. "But it's certainly good to be able to go to an American,"
Mrs. Boswell added with a sniff. "I don't trust foreigners."
Kylee caught an amused glint in Bill's eyes, and she almost laughed
aloud. What would Mrs. Boswell say if she knew Bill had been born in France
as Guillaume Debré? Well, Kylee wasn't about to tell her.
Everyone was blessedly silent after the waiters delivered the food,
but only for a few moments. When the talk began again, it turned to politics
and the economy. Kylee only listened halfway, as she studied Bill from the
corner of her eye. She had known him fairly well during the two years she
and Nicole had been friends, and his appearance seemed the same. There were
few wrinkles around his eyes, and his hair didn't have even a trace of grey.
There was something still boyish and open about him. Was that what had made
Nicole love him so deeply?
Kylee sighed inwardly and forced herself to think about the speech she
would make. The sooner it was over, the sooner she could help the
childrenand the sooner she could get away from Bill Dubrey. Her memories
of Nicole were too overwhelming.
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