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By Brenda Novak
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Caleb, she's gone. Disappeared. Vanished," Holly said.
Caleb Trovato could hear the distress in his ex-wife's voice, but he wasn't about to respond to it. Everything seemed to affect her far more acutely than it would anyone else, and by virtue of the fact that they were divorced - for the second time - he didn't have to ride her emotional roller coaster anymore.
He propped the phone up with his shoulder and swiveled back to his computer to check his email, so the next few minutes wouldn't be a total waste. "Your sister's what - twenty-six? She'll turn up."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Susan's disappeared before. Remember that time she met some rich guy on an hour's layover in Vegas and let him talk her into a wild fling? We were positive something terrible had happened to her. Especially when the airline confirmed that she'd boarded the flight out of Phoenix."
"That was different," Holly retorted. "She called me the next day."
"Only because loverboy had started acting a little scary. She finally realized it might be a good thing to let someone know where she was. And she needed money to get home."
"That was almost five years ago, Caleb. She's changed.
She has a steady job at Nordstrom's cosmetics counter and she's kept her own apartment for almost a year."
The high pitch of Holly's voice brought back memories of the many outbursts he'd been forced to endure while they were married, and put his teeth on edge. "Listen, Holly, I'm sorry Susan's giving you a scare, but I'm really busy," he said, determined to escape this time. "I've got to go."
"Caleb, don't do this to me," she replied, openly crying. "I haven't bothered you for anything since our last divorce."
Caleb rolled his eyes. Wasn't that the general idea? It wasn't as if they had children together. And contrary to her claim of not bothering him, she called often. She called to borrow money. She called to ask how to file her income tax returns. She called to see if he could remember what happened to the X rays that had been taken of her leg when she'd had that waterskiing accident. She even called to see what his plans were for certain holidays.
"I don't understand what you want from me," he said in frustration.
"I haven't been able to reach Susan for almost a week. Mom and Dad haven't heard from her. Lance, the guy she's dating, hasn't heard from her. She hasn't called in at work -"
"Skipping work is nothing new for Susan, either," he pointed out.
"Caleb, she was living near the university."
At this Caleb sat forward, feeling his first flicker of alarm. Eleven women had been abducted and killed near the University of Washington over the past twelve years. Holly had lived right next door to one of them. That was how he'd met her. He'd been working for the Seattle Police Department, canvassing the apartment building of the strangler's ninth victim, looking for leads, and he'd knocked on Holly's door to check if she'd seen or heard anything.
But Caleb was certain the man who'd committed those murders was now dead. He should know. He'd spent three years on the task force investigating the case and another four continuing to help after he'd quit the Seattle PD. "Holly, the Sandpoint Strangler shot himself in his own backyard over a year ago."
She sniffed. "If you're so sure, why didn't you ever finish the book you were going to write about him?"
"There wasn't enough hard evidence to connect Ellis Purcell to the killings," Caleb admitted. "But you saw him drive away from your apartment building the night Anna was murdered. You're the one who gave us the partial plate number."
"But you could never place him inside the apartment."
"That doesn't mean he was innocent, Holly," Caleb said, making a halfhearted attempt to organize his desk while they talked. "Purcell couldn't account for his whereabouts during several of the murders. He failed two different lie-detector tests. The geographical profile done by the FBI indicated the killer lived within a five-block radius of him and his family. And he was secretive, kind of a recluse. I talked to him twice, Holly, and it always felt as though he was hiding something."
"I know all that, but when you worked for the department you searched his place three different times and never found anything."
"Some of the task force searched it. I was young enough, and new enough to the force, that I did what Gibbons told me, which was mainly behind-the-scenes grunt work. Gibbons was lead detective. He always dealt with the really important stuff. But the murders have stopped since Purcell's death," Caleb said. "That should tell you something."
"They stopped for several years after Anna's body was discovered, too," Holly argued.
"That's because the police were watching Purcell so closely he could scarcely breathe. The murders started up again as soon as that custodian, John Roach, killed a kindergarten teacher at Schwab Elementary downtown and almost everyone on the force, including Gibbons, suddenly believed we'd been barking up the wrong tree. But it was only wishful thinking."
"Then what about the woman who went missing from Spokane a couple of months ago?" Holly asked. "How do you explain that if the strangler's dead?"
"I haven't heard anything about it," he said.
"I just read an article the other day that said the police found some of that date rape drug on the floor of her car. Roach is in prison and Purcell is dead, but that sounds like the strangler to me."
Caleb still had several close friends on the force. If anything interesting had developed, Detective Gibbons or Detective Thomas would have called him. This case had meant a lot to all of them. "Have they found her body?"
"Then they don't know anything. Roofies are only about two bucks per tablet, and they're easy to buy. We saw them in that pharmacy when we were in Mexico, remember?"
"So what about Susan?" she asked, with more than a hint of desperation.
She was baiting him, trying to tempt him back into her life. But it wasn't going to work this time. He no longer felt the same compulsion to rescue her that had drawn him to her in the first place. "I don't know what you want me to do."
"You used to be a cop, for God's sake! A good one. I want you to come out here and find her, Caleb."
Shoving his mouse away, Caleb turned in his new leather office chair to stare out the picture window that revealed a breathtaking view of San Francisco Bay. A panorama of blue-green, undulating ocean dotted with at least twenty colorful sailboats was spread out before him. "I live in California now, Holly." As if to prove how necessary it was that he remain in his current surroundings, he added, "I have someone coming to lay new carpet next week."
Excerpted from Cold Feet by Brenda Novak Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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