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Eight months later
"Hey, Caldwell, get up!" Brody McQuade pushed open the door to the second bedroom of the luxury conference suite at the Cantara Hills Country Club. His fellow Ranger was nothing more than an irregular lump under the fancy bedspread.
The lump stirred. A rude, muffled comment reached Brody's ears. "Let's go. We've got another break-in."
The lump turned into a head with brown hair sticking out every which way. "Another at the condos?" Egan cursed and sat up, kicking at the bedclothes. He yawned and rubbed his head.
"Yeah. Come on."
Egan squinted at him. "You're already dressed."
Brody didn't respond.
Egan sighed. "I'll catch up. What room?"
"Didn't get particulars. The police are there. Ask at the door." Brody left Egan sitting on the side of his bed with his head in his hands.
Grabbing his holster and hat, Brody stalked out to his Jeep Compass. The whine of police sirens echoed in his ears. He could see flashing blue lights in the near distance, over the Cantara Gardens Condominiums, south of the country club.
Adrenaline pumped through him and he had trouble reining in his impatience on the four-minute drive around the back nine holes of the golf course to the condos' gates. He'd have preferred to sprint across the manicured greens and straightaways. Probably wouldn't take forty seconds if he ran flat out.
But arriving at a crime scene sweaty and wrinkled wasn't the Ranger way. Nor was it Brody's style.
He'd been expecting this. There had been a break-in every month at the condos since January. Seven so far. Two fatalities. Trent Briggs in February, and Gary Zelke three months later, in May.
Deason hadn't mentioned the name of the latest victim. The San Antonio Police Department Detective Sergeant had sounded frantic.
Did that mean they'd had another fatality?
He pulled up to the gate where an SAPD officer waved him through. Normally the residents used a computerized access card to open the gate. He had a master in his pocket.
Pulling up beside a police car, he headed inside. He didn't recognize the officer at the front door, but the young man's eyes lit on the silver star pinned to his shirt pocket and nodded. "Sergeant Deason is waiting for you, sir. In the penthouse."
He raised his eyebrows. The penthouse. Victoria Kirkland's apartment. Naturally it had to be her. Anger bubbled up from his chest, hot and noxious as methane gas.
Suck it up, McQuade. Tonight she wasn't the shyster who'd gotten Kimmie's killer off with nothing but a DUI. Tonight she was a victim. He didn't ask if she'd survived the break-in. If she hadn't, Deason would have told him.
He stepped into the elevator and eyed the button labeled "P." Beside it was a narrow horizontal slot. He inserted the master access card the condos' manager had given him into the slot and pressed the button.
The elevator car rumbled and started climbing, straight to the top. The doors opened into a foyer that could have been the lobby of a fancy hotel, complete with massive vases of flowers, illuminated artworks, and marble floors and columns.
Damn. Victoria Kirkland didn't make this kind of money practicing law. She was a trust-fund baby. He should have known.
He pointedly ignored the voice in his head that reminded him that he was, too. His situation was different. For one thing, he was never going to touch the money his careless, carefree parents had placed in trust for Kimmie and him.
As his boot heels clicked on the marble floor, he heard heavier boots on the dark mahogany staircase to his left. The tall, burly detective sergeant, Cal Deason, came down the stairs.
"McQuade," he said, holding out his hand.
Brody shook it briefly. He and Deason had worked together before. They both knew that the Rangers were in charge of this investigation, but Brody was careful to give Deason his full respect and consideration for his position.
"What's going on? Have we got a fatality?"
Deason shook his head. "Nope. She was damn lucky." Brody's gut clenched. Lucky? Yeah. Some people were born lucky. He concentrated on the slight weight of the unique silver badge pinned to his shirt and reminded himself that this wasn't personal.
Personally, he despised the leggy attorney for making good on her promise to get Gary Zelke acquitted of the charge of vehicular manslaughter. But as a Texas Ranger, he was bound to protect her and stop these break-ins and murders.
"Bruises on her neck. But other than that, just scared." So the perp had gotten in. Tried to kill her. That fit the pattern. If he'd succeeded, this would have been the third killing in eight monthsif he counted Kimmie's. One murder every three months.
"The guy got past the condo's security alarm system," Deason went on, "just like every other time. But Ms. Kirkland had her own system installed when she moved in." Deason nodded toward the ceiling.
Brody followed his gaze and spotted the security cameras trained on the doors. "You get the tapes?"
Deason nodded. "That's the only camera, and the guy didn't use the front door, but I'll have my guys go through them."
"No. I'll send them to Austin. Sergeant Caldwell will take them."
"I'll have 'em ready."
Deason's words were affable, but Brody detected a note of resentment in his tone. He couldn't blame the homicide sergeant. But Deason knew Brody had no choice. The request for the Rangers to take charge of the investigation had come from the mayor through the governor.
The residents of Cantara Hills had the clout to cover their butts. Once the Rangers had control of the investigation, there'd be no question of conflict of interest. "I'd appreciate it. How'd the perp get inside?"
Deason shook his head. "My guys are checking. However he did it, he went out the same way. Ms. Kirkland's extra security may have saved her life, but it allowed the perp to get away clean."
"I assume your guys are going over that area with a fine-toothed comb. Give Sergeant Caldwell anything you find. As long as we've got the Rangers' crime lab, we might as well use it. Where is Ms. Kirkland?"
"In the kitchen. She wanted some hot tea."
His mental picture of her modified slightly to add a fragile expensive teacup to her perfectly manicured hand. He'd figured her as a fancy martini type.
"Sergeant Caldwell will be here in a minute to help you process the scene. I'm going to talk to her."
Deason nodded toward his right. "That-a-way. McQuade "
He turned back. "She hasn't been processed yet. I told her we could wait until she'd calmed down."
Wealth hath its privileges.
He knew that, too well. What he'd never been able to figure out was why great wealth didn't come packaged with wisdom and responsibility.
If his parents hadn't missed out on the responsibility gene, his and his sister's lives might have taken another path and Kimberly would be alive.
Quelling the urge to clutch at his chest where grief and loneliness still squeezed the life out of his heart, he stepped around a marble column, through a formal dining room and into the kitchen area.
The kitchen was as outrageously opulent as the foyer and living room. It was more like a balcony than a kitchen, with paned windows running across one entire wall, Mexican quarry tile on the floors and teak lounging furniture taking the place of a table and chairs.
Victoria was sitting on a love seat holding a mug in both hands while a young police officer stood nearby looking bored and awestruck at the same time.
Brody caught his eye. "Crime-scene kit?"
The officer nodded. "Yes, sir. Right here." He toed a metal case at his feet.
"Help them upstairs." He gestured with his head. "Leave the case here."
Victoria looked up. Her mug jerked slightly, even though her pale face didn't change expression. "Lieutenant McQuade. I didn't expect to see you." Her voice was husky.
He bit back a retort. Did she actually think he'd send someone else just because she was the victim? This was his case, and he didn't let anything interfere with a case. "I was available."
She muttered something. It sounded like Lucky me. "Tell me what happened."
She set the mug of tea down on the teak side table. "Can I make you some tea or coffee?"
"No. Tell me what happened."
Her lips compressed into a thin line and she sat back. For the first time he noticed what she was wearing. It was some kind of shiny satiny nightgown with a robe over it. Except that it wasn't exactly a robe. It was black and red and looked Oriental. A kimono? Whatever it was, it and the gown together hardly qualified as clothes. The material of both was so slinky and clingy that he could see the vague outline of her nipples and the V where her thighs met.
Lust speared through him. Hell. He swallowed and concentrated on her words.
"I went to bed fairly early, around eleven. I must have gone right to sleep because the next thing I knew something startled me." She lifted the mug and blew across its surface. The satiny fabric whispered and shimmered.
Brody's mouth went dry. Dragging his gaze away from her slender body, he focused on her feet. They were encased in delicate, ivory, open-toed slippers. Her toenails were unpaintednaked.
He shifted his gaze to the windows. "What startled you? A sound?"
"Maybe. I woke up and I knew someone was in my apartment. Sergeant Deason has already asked me all of this."
"Now I'm asking. And trust me, this won't be the last time."
"I'm aware of how investigations work, Lieutenant. I was merely pointing out that you might save yourself some time if you talked to him."
No.You're merely testing to see if you can intimidate me with your wealth and position. He crossed his arms. She was a victim here. As much as she irritated him, he couldn't forget that.
"I've got plenty of time. What happened next?"
Her fingers tightened on the mug. "I sat up and he whoever it wasgrabbed my throat." She closed her eyes.
"He pushed me down and flipped me onto my stomach before I could react. Then the security alarm went off."
"It went off after he attacked you?"
"It's my personal security system, not the building's. It trips when a door or a window is breached. It automatically calls the police, then after fifteen seconds, the siren goes off."
"Fifteen seconds? You could be dead in fifteen seconds." What little color she had in her face drained away.
"Th-the theory is that the police get a head start."
"Brilliant theory," Brody muttered. "The condo's security system never went off, just like the other break-ins."
"What does that mean? Are you saying it's one of us?" He bristled at her words. One of us. As opposed to whom?
"Do you mean the residents of Cantara Hills, rather than the rest of San Antonio?"
She angled her head and assessed him. "I mean one of the residents of Cantara Gardens. Lieutenant, should I be talking to someone else? I'm afraid your personal grudge against me might jeopardize this investigation."
"There is absolutely nothing personal about my feelings for you."
"Are you sure? Because it certainly sounds personal." Brody reined in his rising irritation. She was right. His question had been out of line. She was the victim of a potentially deadly crime. That was all that mattered. The fact that she was instrumental in freeing the drunken weasel who killed his sister had no bearing on this case. Nor did the unfortunate fact that despite himself, he was attracted to her.
"What about Gary and Trent? Do you think it means anything that they're the only two who've been killed?"
And there it was.
The one thing that kept gnawing at his brain and digging at his insides. He couldn't shake the feeling that their deaths had something to do with his sister's death eight months before. His notebook was filled with notes and charts and analyses of every detail of the break-ins and murderstheir similarities and their differences.
Everything about the break-ins led back to one undeniable fact. If he started with the night Kimberly was killed, the fatalities in Cantara Hills were three months apart. December, February, May and now August. The break-ins had started in January. There had been one a month since then. The theory was that the five people who weren't home when the break-ins occurred had been lucky. But Brody had a different theory.
Trent Briggs and Victoria Kirkland had left socialite Taylor Landis's party together that fateful night, just ahead of Caroline and Kimberly. Zelke had left a few minutes after Kimberly. Victoria had passed the intersection just seconds before Zelke plowed into Caroline's Vette and fled the scene of the crime.
Briggs and Zelke had been killed during break-ins. And now the last person who'd been near the scene at the critical time that night had been attacked.
And nearly killed.
But Brody didn't want to get into that with her. She'd denied seeing anything that night, and she'd gotten Zelke off with nothing more than leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence.
Brody hated her for that. Even though she'd proved that another vehicle had crashed into Caroline's car first. Even though the final coroner's report concluded that Kimberly had already been thrown from the car before Zelke hit it.
"Lieutenant? None of the other break-in victims were attacked, were they? Their apartments were broken into while they were gone." Her eyes glittered and the mug clattered as she set it down. "So why Gary? Why Trent? Why me?"
Dammit. She was really spooked. Despite his resentment, the hint of tears in her eyes and the faint trembling of her lower lip tugged at his heart.
"The theory is that the others were lucky they weren't home," he said noncommittally.