Read an Excerpt
THE ANGRY SHOUTS began just as J.C. Riley was finessing the bride into the spun sugar gazebo on the top of the wedding cake. Startled by the raised voices, she dropped the figurine, then watched in horror as it ricocheted off a pink butter-cream rose and nose-dived to the floor.
Dammit! She'd spent five full minutes fashioning that rose. Not only was the flower ruined, but the little plastic bride now wore a pink veil. As she stooped to pick it up, the shouting grew louder and J.C. heard a loud thump. Years of experience growing up with four crashing into a wall.
A door slammed. More thumping followed, punctuated by muffled grunts.
Maybe she ought to think about rescuing the real bride. Striding to the door of the rectory dining room, she peered down the hall to the covered walkway that connected Father Mike's residence to St. Peter's Church. The door to the church sacristy was shut. Strange—it had been open when she'd brought the cake in from her van.
So far, the whole wedding had been strange. Father Mike had ordered cake and champagne for five people—the bride and groom, two witnesses and himself. That made it the smallest wedding that J.C. had catered at St. Peter's, and the first one where she'd yet to meet either the bride or the groom. Father Mike hadn't even given her their last names. He'd called them by their first names only once—Juliana and Paulo. Then he'd seemed upset that he'd let the names slip and had asked her not to mention them. A very secret wedding, he'd explained. If word got out, there could be…consequences.
Maybe that was what was going on now in the sacristy—consequences. She glanced back at the table she'djust finished arranging. The cake—now minus a rose and a bride—was in the center. An arrangement of white flowers flanked it on one side, along with linen napkins, crystal plates and silver forks. At the other end, candlelight flickered off of a silver bucket and champagne flutes. Scattered along the whole length of the table were little bowls of sugar-coated almonds.
Moving to them, J.C. popped an almond into her mouth. She'd made them, adding a chocolate layer just to please herself. She always got so hungry when she was nervous.
None of her business. Besides, she had to get the plastic bride into the gazebo. She figured Father Mike had been talked into marrying a pair of minor celebrities. With all the reality and become-a-star TV shows, fifteen-minutes-of-fame people were popping up all over the place. Father Mike had become a minor celebrity himself. A few months back the Sunday paper had run a feature article on the hip priest who'd turned St.
Peter's into a very popular church for young people in the area who wanted to get married. Since then, St. Peter's had become the "in" place to have your wedding—which was working out very well for her fledgling catering business.
J.C. glanced at the door, then popped another almond into her mouth. The extreme secrecy of tonight's wedding reminded her a bit of Romeo and Juliet. So did the continuing sounds of a fight in the sacristy. Hadn't it been a stupid fight that had spun events out of control for Shakespeare's lovers?
Enough. J.C. strode through the door of the dining room and down the hall. Someone had to do something, and she had more than a little experience in breaking up fights. The sacristy was a small room, about the size of a boxing ring, but it was certainly not meant to be used that way. Most of the space in the room was taken up with cupboards, the largest of which stored Father Mike's vestments. Whoever was rolling around in there on the floor ought to be ashamed of themselves. They were probably scaring the bride to death.
Stepping into the covered walkway, she picked up her pace. She'd caught a glimpse of the young bride and a woman who was probably her maid of honor when a taxi had dropped them off in the parking lot about ten minutes ago. Five minutes later, when she'd been unloading the champagne and the flutes, the groom had arrived with his driver. At least she figured the younger man was the groom and the big, burly man who'd driven the car was some kind of a chauffeur. But he'd
If the happy couple were celebrities, J.C. hadn't recognized them. Of course, they were young, and she didn't think she was up-to-date on all the latest tween and teen idols.
The only one who'd seemed familiar was the man who'd arrived alone just moments ago. She'd figured him for the best man. He was tall and good-looking, probably in his late twenties or early thirties, and she was sure she'd seen him before.
She was halfway across the walkway that joined the rectory to the church when there was another thump and a cry. "Roman! No!"
A gunshot sounded. Another.
J.C. stopped in her tracks, her heart beating frantically in her throat.
"Get out of here! Now!" shouted another voice. Two male voices. And the name Roman had jogged an elusive memory into place. The man who'd seemed familiar was Roman Oliver, whose family had been loyal supporters of her father during his last two campaigns for mayor of San Francisco. The Oliver family had also been in the news lately because of some big land deal they were competing for.
Was it Roman Oliver who'd just fired those shots? Where was the bride? And Father Mike? Grabbing her cell phone out of her pocket, she punched 911 as she raced toward the sacristy door.
"I'm at St. Peter's Church near Skylar and Bellevue," she said to the 911 operator. "There's a wedding and a
Through one of the open windows that ran along the choir loft on the side of the church, she saw a man running. The bridegroom.
"Shots were fired?" the operator on the other end of the line asked.
Reaching the door, J.C. pushed through it and barely
"Yeah." She recognized the man at her feet as the groom's driver. He was lying in a pool of blood, and he had a large, nasty-looking gun in his hand. "There's a
J.C. didn't catch what the operator said in reply because of the buzzing that had begun in her ears. But she did recognize Father Mike's voice coming from the altar.
"…a house of God. Put…gun away."
around it and reached the doorway to the altar in time to see a man with his back to her point his gun at the priest.
"No," she screamed. Then she did the only thing she could think of—she hurled her cell phone at the shooter.
After that everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. The cell phone hit the man in the head with a thwack. She saw a flash of fire, heard the explosion as the gun went off. Her ears rang as the priest fell, and the man with the gun ripped off his ski mask, pressing it against the back of his head, and turned toward her.
For an instant his eyes met hers, and all she could think of was a snake—the kind that hypnotized its prey before it struck. Then he smiled at her and raised his gun. In another second she was going to join the priest on the floor. The image galvanized J.C. into action.
Whirling out of the doorway, she pressed her back to the wall. A bullet splintered her reflection in the mirror across the room. Another bullet sliced through the door frame inches from where she stood.
She had to run. But her feet might as well have been planted in concrete. The shooter's definitely weren't. Even above the wild beating of her heart, she heard his footsteps on the marble floor coming closer and closer.
She was going to die. That certainty streamed through her, heightening each one of her senses. She could smell the scent of the gunfire and blood, see the fractured image of the approaching shooter in the broken mirror, and she felt a door handle dig into her side. The cupboard. She tried to grip the handle, but her damp fingers slid off of it. Another shot was fired from farther away. The choir loft?
The footsteps coming toward her never faltered. Any second the shooter would step into the sacristy. The door to the walkway seemed miles away. Desperate, she gripped the handle again. This time it turned and she pressed herself backward, deep into the garments hanging in the cupboard.
Then J.C. Riley began to pray.
BY THE PRICKING of my thumbs something wicked this way comes.
"Dammit!" Nik Angelis braked at yet another red light. He, along with thousands of other San Franciscans, was inching his way toward the Golden Gate Bridge to escape the city for the weekend. But it wasn't the slow moving traffic he was cursing. It was the damn pricking in his thumbs. It was bad enough that the annoying little rhyme had been popping into his mind all day. It had started when he'd taken his morning run along Baker beach.Any day that began near the sea was a good day—when he wasn't plagued by a hint of coming disaster. But now his thumbs had actually begun to hurt.
That sucked. This was his weekend off.
Taking his hands off the steering wheel, he flexed his fingers. The sensation didn't go away. It never did simply because he wanted it to.
According to his aunt Cass, a well-known psychic in the San Francisco area, the prickling sensation he always got when something significant and usually bad was about to happen was simply an outward sign of the psychic ability he'd inherited from his mother's side of the family. From the time he'd been a child, first his mother and then his aunt had encouraged him to nurture and develop it. Instead, he'd chosen to ignore it—as much as it was possible to do that.
It was only since he'd become a cop that he'd begun to value a talent that he suspected had saved his life on more than one occasion. Anything that warned of approaching disaster was something a cop had to appreciate. But he was off duty this weekend, and the only significant thing that he wanted to happen was to beat his brothers, Kit and Theo, to his family's fishing cabin and get out in his sailboat. Oh, he'd fish, too, but his first love was to be out there on the water, capturing the wind and skimming over the waves.
Theo was already at the cabin, Nik had gotten the gloating phone call before he'd left the office. There was still a good chance that he could beat Kit there. His youngest brother was a P.I. and a writer. If he wasn't tied up with surveillance, he could be hunched over his laptop determined to meet his next deadline.
Nik let out a frustrated breath as the traffic light ahead of him turned red. A love of the sea and fishing was big in the Angelis family. Their paternal grandfather had made his living as a fisherman in Greece, and Nik figured he'd inherited his love of sailing from his maternal great-grandfather, who'd made his fortune building boats in nearby Sausalito. Even though his father had become a restaurateur, Spiro Angelis still found the time to join his sons at the cabin as often as he could. But lately Spiro was always busy at the restaurant.
After eighteen years, there was a new woman in his father's life. She was a five-star chef he had met on a recent visit to Greece and had invited to come to San Francisco to help him expand his restaurant. The result was that The Poseidon now offered fine dining on an upper level—and Spiro and Helena had somehow become rivals. Each time Helena added a new item to her menu, Spiro felt obligated to add something to his. His aunt Cass and his sister Philly thought that Spiro was in love with Helena and bungling it badly. So far, Nik and his brothers had stayed out of it, but drama was running high at the restaurant.
As he inched his car forward, Nik felt the pricking in his thumbs grow stronger. Not a good sign. He was Greek enough to know that he couldn't escape what fate had in store and curious enough to wonder if his premonition would prove to be work- or family-related.
He thought of his partner, Dinah McCall. She was assigned to a stakeout this weekend—a drug dealer that they'd been watching for months. Because he was off duty, she was paired up with a rookie.
On impulse, he lifted his cell phone off his belt and punched in her number.