Heart of Ice (Triple Threat Series #3)by Lis Wiehl
Elizabeth Avery could easily be the girl next door. But what she has planned will make your blood run cold.See more details below
Elizabeth Avery could easily be the girl next door. But what she has planned will make your blood run cold.
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HEART OF ICEA Triple Threat Novel
By LIS WIEHL APRIL HENRY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Lis Wiehl and April Henry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSouthwest Portland
The fuel sloshed inside the red metal gas can, splashing in rhythm with Joey Decicco's steps. As soon as the house at the end of the long driveway came into view, he stopped and took stock. Sprawling. Lots of windows. Two-story. Wooden. On the porch, two Adirondack chairs and a blue bike with training wheels. And no lights on, no car parked in front. Nobody home.
Just like Sissy—or Elizabeth, as she called herself now—had said.
Because Joey didn't want to kill anyone. He had already caused enough death.
The sun was setting, but the fading light was enough for what he needed to do. Joey walked to one corner, carefully tilted the can, and began to trace a line around the house, drawing an invisible noose. By the time he finished, it was almost fully dark. He trailed the last of the gasoline and diesel mixture back up along the driveway.
Pulling a silver Zippo from his overalls pocket, he flipped open the cover. The thin metallic clank gave him goose bumps, as it had every time since he was eleven.
It was showtime.
Fire made Joey powerful. He could cause ordinary, boring people to wake in fright. He made the alarms sound. Made the fire trucks race down the road, sirens wailing. And right behind them stampeded the television cameras and reporters. All of them eager to look upon his handiwork.
Without fire, Joey was nothing. People made a point of not looking at him. At the patchwork skin on his face and his scarred left hand. But fire drew their eyes like iron filings to a magnet. They couldn't not look at fire.
He flicked the lighter and then bent down, shielding the quivering blue flame with his free hand. With a whoosh, a line of fire raced away from him, advancing into the dark.
This was Joey's favorite part. The beginning. He had surprised the night. What was supposed to be dark was suddenly filled with light and heat.
The flames circled the house like a lasso, then began to crawl up the sides. Joey's hands were clenched, his eyes intent as he followed the spreading fire. But like a kid determined to spot the magician's sleight of hand, sometimes even Joey was surprised by the fire's next move. The blaze leapfrogged over the open porch and to the top story. A window shattered. With another whoosh, the curtains caught. For a second, Joey thought he saw a flicker of movement, but he told himself it was a trick of the shifting light. There was no one home. Sissy had promised.
Heat tightened his skin. He stood at the end of the driveway, ready to slip into the woods as soon as he heard the sirens. But with no nearby neighbors, they were slow in coming.
Then came a moment when Joey knew the fire would win. The sound had shifted, like an engine shifting to a higher gear. The flames must have found a new, more concentrated source of fuel. Cans of paint in the basement, a natural gas line—something. He sniffed but couldn't smell anything except the sweet smell of burning wood. But still, the crackle and hiss became a roar, building and echoing until it was a wall of noise.
Finally he heard sirens in the distance. He moved farther back into the trees. As soon as he saw the first fire truck, he would slip away and make his way back to his El Camino. Like a man leaving his lover before a long journey, Joey feasted his eyes on the fire's beauty—the undulating colors, the flickering flames licking the sky, and the great pillar of smoke visible only because it blocked out the evening's first stars.
Tomorrow morning the house would be nothing but charred timbers and puddles, gray ash still drifting through the air. And the fire would be dead.
But for now, it was alive. And so was Joey.
"Believe me, she deserves it," Elizabeth had told him through gritted teeth as she gave him a hand-drawn map and five hundred bucks. Joey had been desperate for cash. It wasn't easy to get a job when you looked like he did. Not when a background check—even something as simple as typing his name into Google—turned up the truth of who he was. What he had done. So he needed the money.
But the thing was, Joey thought, his heart beating wildly in his chest as he watched the hungry flames, he would have done this for free.
Chapter TwoNew Seasons Market
Elizabeth was pushing her cart down the aisles of New Seasons when she saw it. A beautiful royal-blue silk scarf tucked into the corner of another cart. The color, she thought, would complement her auburn hair and blue eyes. The cart also held a block of cheddar cheese, a half dozen cans, several boxes of pasta, and a gallon of milk. Not that much different from the contents of Elizabeth's own cart.
She looked around. An observer might have thought she was scanning the shelves for the next item on her list. But Elizabeth never shopped with a list. And what she was looking for was the cart's owner.
But she was all alone in aisle seven.
Without a second's hesitation, Elizabeth walked away from her cart. She didn't even think of it as her cart anymore. It was the cart. Or a cart. In a few more steps, in the time it took for her to begin pushing the second cart, to put her big black purse on top of the blue scarf, Elizabeth had completely forgotten the first cart. She could have just taken the scarf, but the idea of eating the other woman's food made her feel powerful.
Having Joey burn down Sara's house had awakened something in Elizabeth. Something strong. Something hungry. Something she hadn't felt in a long time. She had built up a perfect life for herself, and she wasn't going to let anyone spoil it. Sara had needed to be punished.
Feeling bubbly, almost buoyant, Elizabeth pushed her new cart toward the front of the store. The skin between her shoulder blades tingled as she imagined a woman, much like herself, looking in bewilderment for her cart. Her cart with the beautiful blue scarf.
As she pushed the cart toward the line of registers, Elizabeth added a half dozen more items, like a dog marking its territory. A golden-yellow beeswax candle, a clear plastic box of sixteen perfectly iced cookies, a log of goat cheese rolled in silver-gray ash. New Seasons had a reputation for carrying the best organically grown produce, the finest cuts of pasture-raised meat, and cheeses and pastas imported from all over the world.
It also wasn't cheap.
But Elizabeth did not believe in treating herself cheaply.
At the register, she transferred her groceries to the black rubber conveyor belt with one hand. With the other, she bunched up the scarf and in one quick motion tucked it into her purse. When she lifted her head, she caught the clerk staring at her. His name tag said Clark S. His brows drew together as he saw her hand emerge from her purse.
Elizabeth realized he thought she was shoplifting.
He wasn't her type—a grocery checker would never be her type— but Elizabeth gave him her very best smile, and his face smoothed out. Well, smoothed out as much as it could. Clark S. was about twenty, with horrible acne, red pustules alternating with old cratered scars. His eyes were striking—large, a deep greenish-blue—but who would ever look past those scars to see them? Or to see how he flinched every time someone looked directly at him?
Elizabeth bet she was the first woman who had smiled at Clark in a long time. She felt him falling into her smile. His shoulders straightened, his hands moving mechanically as he slid each item past the scanner. He only had eyes for her.
She signed the check with a flourish and handed it over. Technically, it belonged to her old roommate, but Elizabeth had taken a book of checks from the bottom of the box before Korena moved out. With any luck it would be weeks before she noticed. And New Seasons prided itself on its friendly neighborhood atmosphere. An atmosphere that included accepting customers' checks and not asking to see any ID.
"Korena?" Clark asked, staring at the name on the check. "That's pretty."
Elizabeth let her eyes drop, as if in shyness. She was calculating what she could get from him. He was only a checker, but she had always had a sixth sense about people who might prove useful to her. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
"Why, that's the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day." She lifted her gaze and let her smile reach her eyes. Behind her she could hear a woman saying the words blue scarf, but Elizabeth didn't turn, didn't let her expression change even as a thrill raced down her spine. She didn't know if Clark heard it, or understood what it meant, but he didn't turn either.
As Clark placed her bags—half filled with items she hadn't chosen—into her cart, Elizabeth let her hand trail over all the impulse buys hanging on the wall behind her. Her fingers closed on an imported chocolate bar with hazelnuts. She slid it into her pocket just as he turned back to her. Giving Clark one last long smile, she began pushing her cart out the door.
By the time she reached her car, Elizabeth was already sucking the last of the chocolate bar from her fingers.
When she pulled out of the lot, she left the grocery cart right where she had unloaded it. Twenty feet from the cart corral.
Chapter Three¿Por Qué No? Taqueria
Spring could be a tease in Portland. Today, she was in full flirt mode. Yellow daffodils edging a curb bobbed their heads in the light breeze. The sky was a pale blue, as if it had been washed clean and hung out to dry. Even here on North Mississippi Avenue, where telephone poles outnumbered trees, the birds were striving to outdo each other with trills and warbles.
Urban hipsters had turned this once-blighted area into a neighborhood filled with funky boutiques, tattoo parlors, and the city's hottest new restaurants. Most weren't special occasion places, but rather offered pizza, tapas, or breakfast all day. And even though the offerings were often modeled on Mexican or Filipino street food, they still used top-shelf ingredients like regional line-caught snapper or locally farmed organic greens.
Although the thermometer had barely broken sixty degrees, the open-air tables at ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria were crowded. Surrounded by colorful plates, sun-starved Portlanders people-watched, read newspapers and novels, pushed back sleeves to expose pale or tattooed arms, and in general sprawled like contented cats. Allison Pierce leaned back against the hot pink wall, but straightened up when she felt how it still held the chill of winter.
There were days when that was how Allison felt. Still a little cold inside.
"You okay, girl?" Nicole Hedges asked. She had an uncanny ability to read minds. "Too cold out here for you?"
"No, it feels good." Allison tilted her face up to the sun, listening to the driving beat of an old Clash song coming from inside the restaurant.
The waiter, a tall guy with a shaved head and a half dozen earrings, walked up with their drinks. "One Coke." He set the glass bottle, which the restaurant imported from Mexico, in front of Allison. "One iced tea"—this went to Nicole—"and one pomegranate martini." The last was for Cassidy Shaw, who rewarded him with a smile Allison thought her dentist could use as an advertisement.
"Hey, haven't I seen you on TV?" the waiter asked, prompting Cassidy to add a few more teeth.
"Channel Four," she said.
"That's it! The crime reporter." He pitched his voice like a TV anchor's. "'This is Cassidy Shaw, reporting live ...'"
"That's right." She ducked her head in a show of modesty. "Thanks so much for watching."
After giving her another starstruck smile, the waiter left. As Cassidy picked up her drink, Allison wondered if it would be comped. Probably. Cassidy had that effect on people. She also wondered if Channel Four had a policy against drinking during the middle of the day. Probably not. And even if it did, Cassidy wasn't a stickler for the rules. You didn't break the big stories without occasionally coloring outside the lines.
As a federal prosecutor, Allison would never drink during the workday. And no matter whether it was day, evening, or weekend, because she was an FBI agent, Nicole had to be fit and ready for duty at all times. She rarely drank more than a single glass of wine in the evening, and she carried her Glock to dinner, to the grocery store, and to her kid's third-grade play.
The waiter forgotten, Cassidy leaned forward and put her hand over Allison's. "So, are you feeling better?" Her nails were perfectly manicured, a contrast to Allison's, which were short and bare.
A few weeks ago Allison had miscarried, joining the imaginary club of Mothers Without Children. Only there was no color-coded ribbon to wear, no walkathon or T-shirt. Nobody talked about it. It was the kind of secret that women whispered to each other—if they said anything at all.
Allison had told only a few people, including Nicole and Cassidy. They understood, or at least they tried to, even though they came to it from different places. Nicole had a nine-year-old daughter and had never been married. Cassidy had had a string of boyfriends, but never talked about wanting kids.
The pain, the mess, the inexplicable shame—all of it was behind Allison now. Everything except the emotional aftermath. Maybe she wasn't meant to be a mother. Maybe it wasn't God's plan for her to have a kid. She was thirty-three, and every day she saw women a dozen years younger or even, occasionally, a dozen years older pushing a stroller. It seemed like any other woman—any girl—could have a baby as easy as pulling a letter from the mailbox.
Allison held out her hand, palm down, and wiggled it back and forth. "Some days I'm fine. Other days I wake up and wonder why I should bother to get out of bed."
"What happens then?" Nicole asked.
"Marshall brings me coffee, lets me talk about it, and doesn't try to tell me it happened for a reason."
Her husband believed, and most times Allison did, too, that they might not ever know why it happened. Just that it had, and that God could bring forth good out of bad, just as He had brought forth the flowers and the birds after what had seemed like an endless winter. On days like today, the deep sorrow lifted and Allison felt hope tugging on her sleeve. Now she offered up a silent prayer of thanks for her friends.
Fifteen years earlier, the three of them had graduated from Catlin Gabel, one of Portland's elite private schools. They had barely known each other then, although they had known of each other. Nicole had stood out by virtue of being one of the fewer than a half dozen African American students. Cassidy had been on the cheerleading squad. And Allison had captained the debate team.
At their ten-year high school reunion, they realized they all had something in common: crime. Cassidy covered it, Nicole investigated it, and Allison prosecuted it. At the time, Nicole was working for the Denver FBI field office, but not long afterward she was transferred to Portland. At Allison's suggestion the three women met for dinner, and a friendship began. They had half-jokingly christened themselves the Triple Threat Club in honor of the Triple Threat Chocolate Cake they had shared that day.
"Marshall's a keeper." Taking a sip of her drink, Nicole smiled her enigmatic, catlike smile.
Cassidy spoiled the effect by nudging her in the ribs. "You should know. How are things with Leif?"
But Nicole was not one to spill any details about her new relationship with a fellow special agent. Raising her eyebrows, she simply shrugged one shoulder and broadened her smile. Allison knew that might be all the answer they would ever get. Nic kept herself to herself.
The waiter set down their food, and the three women fell silent for a few minutes as they traded bites of crisp fish tacos, pork carnitas, and tingas made with spiced beef.
"So what's the latest on the Want Ad Killer?" Cassidy spoke around a mouthful of mango-and-cabbage salad. "Do you guys really think it's Colton Foley?"
A man had been attacking women who advertised "erotic massages" in the alternative paper. He would lure them to a hotel, where he tied them up and robbed them. And sometimes more. Three women had ended up dead—two in Portland and one in Vancouver, Washington. But the alleged culprit had been a shock. Even the judge was a little surprised when Allison brought him an arrest warrant to sign. Colton Foley was a medical student at Oregon Health Sciences University.
Excerpted from HEART OF ICE by LIS WIEHL APRIL HENRY Copyright © 2010 by Lis Wiehl and April Henry. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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