Naked in Death (In Death Series #1)by J. D. Robb, Nora Roberts
In a world of danger and deception, she walks the linebetween seductive passion and scandalous murder...
Eve Dallas is a New York police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer. In over ten years on the force, she's seen it alland knows her survival depends on her instincts. And she's going against every warning telling her not to get involved with… See more details below
In a world of danger and deception, she walks the linebetween seductive passion and scandalous murder...
Eve Dallas is a New York police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer. In over ten years on the force, she's seen it alland knows her survival depends on her instincts. And she's going against every warning telling her not to get involved with Roarke, an Irish billionaireand a suspect in Eve's murder investigation. But passion and seduction have rules of their own, and it's up to Eve to take a chance in the arms of a man she knows nothing aboutexcept the addictive hunger of needing his touch.
Read an Excerpt
What’s past is prologue.
Violence is as American as cherry pie.
—RAP (HUBERT GEROLD) BROWN
She woke in the dark. Through the slats on the window shades, the first murky hint of dawn slipped, slanting shadowy bars over the bed. It was like waking in a cell.
For a moment she simply lay there, shuddering, imprisoned, while the dream faded. After ten years on the force, Eve still had dreams.
Six hours before, she’d killed a man, had watched death creep into his eyes. It wasn’t the first time she’d exercised maximum force, or dreamed. She’d learned to accept the action and the consequences.
But it was the child that haunted her. The child she hadn’t been in time to save. The child whose screams had echoed in the dreams with her own.
All the blood, Eve thought, scrubbing sweat from her face with her hands. Such a small little girl to have had so much blood in her. And she knew it was vital that she push it aside.
Standard departmental procedure meant that she would spend the morning in Testing. Any officer whose discharge of weapon resulted in termination of life was required to undergo emotional and psychiatric clearance before resuming duty. Eve considered the tests a mild pain in the ass.
She would beat them, as she’d beaten them before.
When she rose, the overheads went automatically to low setting, lighting her way into the bath. She winced once at her reflection. Her eyes were swollen from lack of sleep, her skin nearly as pale as the corpses she’d delegated to the ME.
Rather than dwell on it, she stepped into the shower, yawning.
“Give me one oh one degrees, full force,” she said and shifted so that the shower spray hit her straight in the face.
She let it steam, lathered listlessly while she played through the events of the night before. She wasn’t due in Testing until nine, and would use the next three hours to settle and let the dream fade away completely.
Small doubts and little regrets were often detected and could mean a second and more intense round with the machines and the owl-eyed technicians who ran them.
Eve didn’t intend to be off the streets longer than twenty-four hours.
After pulling on a robe, she walked into the kitchen and programmed her AutoChef for coffee, black; toast, light. Through her window she could hear the heavy hum of air traffic carrying early commuters to offices, late ones home. She’d chosen the apartment years before because it was in a heavy ground and air pattern, and she liked the noise and crowds. On another yawn, she glanced out the window, followed the rattling journey of an aging airbus hauling laborers not fortunate enough to work in the city or by home-links.
She brought the New York Times up on her monitor and scanned the headlines while the faux caffeine bolstered her system. The AutoChef had burned her toast again, but she ate it anyway, with a vague thought of springing for a replacement unit.
She was frowning over an article on a mass recall of droid cocker spaniels when her tele-link blipped. Eve shifted to communications and watched her commanding officer flash onto the screen.
“Lieutenant.” He gave her a brisk nod, noted the still wet hair and sleepy eyes. “Incident at Twenty-seven West Broadway, eighteenth floor. You’re primary.”
Eve lifted a brow. “I’m on Testing. Subject terminated at twenty-two thirty-five.”
“We have override,” he said, without inflection. “Pick up your shield and weapon on the way to the incident. Code Five, lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir.” His face flashed off even as she pushed back from the screen. Code Five meant she would report directly to her commander, and there would be no unsealed interdepartmental reports and no cooperation with the press.
In essence, it meant she was on her own.
Broadway was noisy and crowded, a party where rowdy guests never left. Street, pedestrian, and sky traffic were miserable, choking the air with bodies and vehicles. In her old days in uniform she remembered it as a hot spot for wrecks and crushed tourists who were too busy gaping at the show to get out of the way.
Even at this hour there was steam rising from the stationary and portable food stands that offered everything from rice noodles to soydogs for the teeming crowds. She had to swerve to avoid an eager merchant on his smoking Glida-Grill, and took his flipped middle finger as a matter of course.
Eve double-parked and, skirting a man who smelled worse than his bottle of brew, stepped onto the sidewalk. She scanned the building first, fifty floors of gleaming metal that knifed into the sky from a hilt of concrete. She was propositioned twice before she reached the door.
Since this five-block area of Broadway was affectionately termed Prostitute’s Walk, she wasn’t surprised. She flashed her badge for the uniform guarding the entrance.
“Yes, sir.” He skimmed his official compu-seal over the door to keep out the curious, then led the way to the bank of elevators. “Eighteenth floor,” he said when the doors swished shut behind them.
“Fill me in, officer.” Eve switched on her recorder and waited.
“I wasn’t first on the scene, lieutenant. Whatever happened upstairs is being kept upstairs. There’s a badge inside waiting for you. We have a Homicide, and a Code Five in number Eighteen-oh-three.”
“Who called it in?”
“I don’t have that information.”
He stayed where he was when the elevator opened. Eve stepped out and was alone in a narrow hallway. Security cameras tilted down at her and her feet were almost soundless on the worn nap of the carpet as she approached 1803. Ignoring the handplate, she announced herself, holding her badge up to eye level for the peep cam until the door opened.
“Feeney.” She smiled, pleased to see a familiar face. Ryan Feeney was an old friend and former partner who’d traded the street for a desk and a top level position in the Electronics Detection Division. “So, they’re sending computer pluckers these days.”
“They wanted brass, and the best.” His lips curved in his wide, rumpled face, but his eyes remained sober. He was a small, stubby man with small, stubby hands and rust colored hair. “You look beat.”
“So I heard.” He offered her one of the sugared nuts from the bag he habitually carried, studying her, and measuring if she was up to what was waiting in the bedroom beyond.
She was young for her rank, barely thirty, with wide brown eyes that had never had a chance to be naive. Her doe-brown hair was cropped short, for convenience rather than style, but suited her triangular face with its razor-edge cheekbones and slight dent in the chin.
She was tall, rangy, with a tendency to look thin, but Feeney knew there were solid muscles beneath the leather jacket. More, there was a brain, and a heart.
“This one’s going to be touchy, Dallas.”
“I picked that up already. Who’s the victim?”
“Sharon DeBlass, granddaughter of Senator DeBlass.”
Neither meant anything to her. “Politics isn’t my forte, Feeney.”
“The gentleman from Virginia, extreme right, old money. The granddaughter took a sharp left a few years back, moved to New York, and became a licensed companion.”
“She was a hooker.” Dallas glanced around the apartment. It was furnished in obsessive modern—glass and thin chrome, signed holograms on the walls, recessed bar in bold red. The wide mood screen behind the bar bled with mixing and merging shapes and colors in cool pastels.
Neat as a virgin, Eve mused, and cold as a whore. “No surprise, given her choice of real estate.”
“Politics makes it delicate. Victim was twenty-four, Caucasian female. She bought it in bed.”
Eve only lifted a brow. “Seems poetic, since she’d been bought there. How’d she die?”
“That’s the next problem. I want you to see for yourself.”
As they crossed the room, each took out a slim container, sprayed their hands front and back to seal in oils and fingerprints. At the doorway, Eve sprayed the bottom of her boots to slicken them so that she would pick up no fibers, stray hairs, or skin.
Eve was already wary. Under normal circumstances there would have been two other investigators on a homicide scene, with recorders for sound and pictures. Forensics would have been waiting with their usual snarly impatience to sweep the scene.
The fact that only Feeney had been assigned with her meant that there were a lot of eggshells to be walked over.
“Security cameras in the lobby, elevator, and hallways,” Eve commented.
“I’ve already tagged the discs.” Feeney opened the bedroom door and let her enter first.
It wasn’t pretty. Death rarely was a peaceful, religious experience to Eve’s mind. It was the nasty end, indifferent to saint and sinner. But this was shocking, like a stage deliberately set to offend.
The bed was huge, slicked with what appeared to be genuine satin sheets the color of ripe peaches. Small, soft focused spotlights were trained on its center where the naked woman was cupped in the gentle dip of the floating mattress.
The mattress moved with obscenely graceful undulations to the rhythm of programmed music slipping through the headboard.
She was beautiful still, a cameo face with a tumbling waterfall of flaming red hair, emerald eyes that stared glassily at the mirrored ceiling, long, milk white limbs that called to mind visions of Swan Lake as the motion of the bed gently rocked them.
They weren’t artistically arranged now, but spread lewdly so that the dead woman formed a final X dead center of the bed.
There was a hole in her forehead, one in her chest, another horribly gaping between the open thighs. Blood had splattered on the glossy sheets, pooled, dripped, and stained.
There were splashes of it on the lacquered walls, like lethal paintings scrawled by an evil child.
So much blood was a rare thing, and she had seen much too much of it the night before to take the scene as calmly as she would have preferred.
She had to swallow once, hard, and force herself to block out the image of a small child.
“You got the scene on record?”
“Then turn that damn thing off.” She let out a breath after Feeney located the controls that silenced the music. The bed flowed to stillness. “The wounds,” Eve murmured, stepping closer to examine them. “Too neat for a knife. Too messy for a laser.” A flash came to her—old training films, old videos, old viciousness.
“Christ, Feeney, these look like bullet wounds.”
Feeney reached into his pocket and drew out a sealed bag. “Whoever did it left a souvenir.” He passed the bag to Eve. “An antique like this has to go for eight, ten thousand for a legal collection, twice that on the black market.”
Fascinated, Eve turned the sealed revolver over in her hand. “It’s heavy,” she said half to herself. “Bulky.”
“Thirty-eight caliber,” he told her. “First one I’ve seen outside of a museum. This one’s a Smith & Wesson, Model Ten, blue steel.” He looked at it with some affection. “Real classic piece, used to be standard police issue up until the latter part of the twentieth. They stopped making them in about twenty-two, twenty-three, when the gun ban was passed.”
“You’re the history buff.” Which explained why he was with her. “Looks new.” She sniffed through the bag, caught the scent of oil and burning. “Somebody took good care of this. Steel fired into flesh,” she mused as she passed the bag back to Feeney. “Ugly way to die, and the first I’ve seen it in my ten years with the department.”
“Second for me. About fifteen years ago, Lower East Side, party got out of hand. Guy shot five people with a twenty-two before he realized it wasn’t a toy. Hell of a mess.”
“Fun and games,” Eve murmured. “We’ll scan the collectors, see how many we can locate who own one like this. Somebody might have reported a robbery.”
“It’s more likely it came through the black market.” Eve glanced back at the body. “If she’s been in the business for a few years, she’d have discs, records of her clients, her trick books.” She frowned. “With Code Five, I’ll have to do the door-to-door myself. Not a simple sex crime,” she said with a sigh. “Whoever did it set it up. The antique weapon, the wounds themselves, almost ruler straight down the body, the lights, the pose. Who called it in, Feeney?”
“The killer.” He waited until her eyes came back to him. “From right here. Called the station. See how the bedside unit’s aimed at her face? That’s what came in. Video, no audio.”
“He’s into showmanship.” Eve let out a breath. “Clever bastard, arrogant, cocky. He had sex with her first. I’d bet my badge on it. Then he gets up and does it.” She lifted her arm, aiming, lowering it as she counted off, “One, two, three.”
“That’s cold,” murmured Feeney.
“He’s cold. He smooths down the sheets after. See how neat they are? He arranges her, spreads her open so nobody can have any doubts as to how she made her living. He does it carefully, practically measuring, so that she’s perfectly aligned. Center of the bed, arms and legs equally apart. Doesn’t turn off the bed ’cause it’s part of the show. He leaves the gun because he wants us to know right away he’s no ordinary man. He’s got an ego. He doesn’t want to waste time letting the body be discovered eventually. He wants it now. That instant gratification.”
“She was licensed for men and women,” Feeney pointed out, but Eve shook her head.
“It’s not a woman. A woman wouldn’t have left her looking both beautiful and obscene. No, I don’t think it’s a woman. Let’s see what we can find. Have you gone into her computer yet?”
“No. It’s your case, Dallas. I’m only authorized to assist.”
“See if you can access her client files.” Eve went to the dresser and began to carefully search drawers.
Expensive taste, Eve reflected. There were several items of real silk, the kind no simulation could match. The bottle of scent on the dresser was exclusive, and smelled, after a quick sniff, like expensive sex.
The contents of the drawers were meticulously ordered, lingerie folded precisely, sweaters arranged according to color and material. The closet was the same.
Obviously the victim had a love affair with clothes and a taste for the best and took scrupulous care of what she owned.
And she’d died naked.
“Kept good records,” Feeney called out. “It’s all here. Her client list, appointments—including her required monthly health exam and her weekly trip to the beauty salon. She used the Trident Clinic for the first and Paradise for the second.”
“Both top of the line. I’ve got a friend who saved for a year so she could have one day for the works at Paradise. Takes all kinds.”
“My wife’s sister went for it for her twenty-fifth anniversary. Cost damn near as much as my kid’s wedding. Hello, we’ve got her personal address book.”
“Good. Copy all of it, will you, Feeney?” At his low whistle, she looked over her shoulder, glimpsed the small gold-edged palm computer in his hand. “What?”
“We’ve got a lot of high-powered names in here. Politics, entertainment, money, money, money. Interesting, our girl has Roarke’s private number.”
“Just Roarke, as far as I know. Big money there. Kind of guy that touches shit and turns it into gold bricks. You’ve got to start reading more than the sports page, Dallas.”
“Hey, I read the headlines. Did you hear about the cocker spaniel recall?”
“Roarke’s always big news,” Feeney said patiently. “He’s got one of the finest art collections in the world. Arts and antiques,” he continued, noting when Eve clicked in and turned to him. “He’s a licensed gun collector. Rumor is he knows how to use them.”
“I’ll pay him a visit.”
“You’ll be lucky to get within a mile of him.”
“I’m feeling lucky.” Eve crossed over to the body to slip her hands under the sheets.
“The man’s got powerful friends, Dallas. You can’t afford to so much as whisper he’s linked to this until you’ve got something solid.”
“Feeney, you know it’s a mistake to tell me that.” But even as she started to smile, her fingers brushed something between cold flesh and bloody sheets. “There’s something under her.” Carefully, Eve lifted the shoulder, eased her fingers over.
“Paper,” she murmured. “Sealed.” With her protected thumb, she wiped at a smear of blood until she could read the protected sheet.
ONE OF SIX
“It looks hand printed,” she said to Feeney and held it out. “Our boy’s more than clever, more than arrogant. And he isn’t finished.”
Eve spent the rest of the day doing what would normally have been assigned to drones. She interviewed the victim’s neighbors personally, recording statements, impressions.
She managed to grab a quick sandwich from the same Glida-Grill she’d nearly smashed before, driving across town. After the night and the morning she’d put in, she could hardly blame the receptionist at Paradise for looking at her as though she’d recently scraped herself off the sidewalk.
Waterfalls played musically among the flora in the reception area of the city’s most exclusive salon. Tiny cups of real coffee and slim glasses of fizzling water or champagne were served to those lounging on the cushy chairs and settees. Headphones and discs of fashion magazines were complementary.
The receptionist was magnificently breasted, a testament to the salon’s figure sculpting techniques. She wore a snug, short outfit in the salon’s trademark red, and an incredible coif of ebony hair coiled like snakes.
Eve couldn’t have been more delighted.
“I’m sorry,” the woman said in a carefully modulated voice as empty of expression as a computer. “We serve by appointment only.”
“That’s okay.” Eve smiled and was almost sorry to puncture the disdain. Almost. “This ought to get me one.” She offered her badge. “Who works on Sharon DeBlass?”
The receptionist’s horrified eyes darted toward the waiting area. “Our clients’ needs are strictly confidential.”
“I bet.” Enjoying herself, Eve leaned companionably on the U-shaped counter. “I can talk nice and quiet, like this, so we understand each other—Denise?” She flicked her gaze down to the discreet studded badge on the woman’s breast. “Or I can talk louder, so everyone understands. If you like the first idea better, you can take me to a nice quiet room where we won’t disturb any of your clients, and you can send in Sharon DeBlass’s operator. Or whatever term you use.”
“Consultant,” Denise said faintly. “If you’ll follow me.”
And it was.
Outside of movies or videos, Eve had never seen anything so lush. The carpet was a red cushion your feet could sink blissfully into. Crystal drops hung from the ceiling and spun light. The air smelled of flowers and pampered flesh.
She might not have been able to imagine herself there, spending hours having herself creamed, oiled, pummeled, and sculpted, but if she were going to waste such time on vanity, it would certainly have been interesting to do so under such civilized conditions.
The receptionist showed her into a small room with a hologram of a summer meadow dominating one wall. The quiet sound of birdsong and breezes sweetened the air.
“If you’d just wait here.”
“No problem.” Eve waited for the door to close then, with an indulgent sigh, she lowered herself into a deeply cushioned chair. The moment she was seated, the monitor beside her blipped on, and a friendly, indulgent face that could only be a droid’s beamed smiles.
“Good afternoon. Welcome to Paradise. Your beauty needs and your comfort are our only priorities. Would you like some refreshment while you wait for your personal consultant?”
“Sure. Coffee, black, coffee.”
“Of course. What sort would you prefer? Press C on your keyboard for the list of choices.”
Smothering a chuckle, Eve followed instructions. She spent the next two minutes pondering over her options, then narrowed it down to French Riviera or Caribbean Cream.
The door opened again before she could decide. Resigned, she rose and faced an elaborately dressed scarecrow.
Over his fuchsia shirt and plum colored slacks, he wore an open, trailing smock of Paradise red. His hair, flowing back from a painfully thin face echoed the hue of his slacks. He offered Eve a hand, squeezed gently, and stared at her out of soft doe eyes.
“I’m terribly sorry, officer. I’m baffled.”
“I want information on Sharon DeBlass.” Again, Eve took out her badge and offered it for inspection.
“Yes, ah, Lieutenant Dallas. That was my understanding. You must know, of course, our client data is strictly confidential. Paradise has a reputation for discretion as well as excellence.”
“And you must know, of course, that I can get a warrant, Mr.—?”
“Oh, Sebastian. Simply Sebastian.” He waved a thin hand, sparkling with rings. “I’m not questioning your authority, lieutenant. But if you could assist me, your motives for the inquiry?”
“I’m inquiring into the motives for the murder of DeBlass.” She waited a beat, judged the shock that shot into his eyes and drained his face of color. “Other than that, my data is strictly confidential.”
“Murder. My dear God, our lovely Sharon is dead? There must be a mistake.” He all but slid into a chair, letting his head fall back and his eyes close. When the monitor offered him refreshment, he waved a hand again. Light shot from his jeweled fingers. “God, yes. I need a brandy, darling. A snifter of Trevalli.”
Eve sat beside him, took out her recorder. “Tell me about Sharon.”
“A marvelous creature. Physically stunning, of course, but it went deeper.” His brandy came into the room on a silent automated cart. Sebastian plucked the snifter and took one deep swallow. “She had flawless taste, a generous heart, rapier wit.”
He turned the doe eyes on Eve again. “I saw her only two days ago.”
“She had a standing weekly appointment, half day. Every other week was a full day.” He whipped out a butter yellow scarf and dabbed at his eyes. “Sharon took care of herself, believed strongly in the presentation of self.”
“It would be an asset in her line of work.”
“Naturally. She only worked to amuse herself. Money wasn’t a particular need, with her family background. She enjoyed sex.”
His artistic face winced, the rosy lips pursing in what could have been a pout or pain. “I was her consultant, her confidant, and her friend,” Sebastian said stiffly and draped the scarf with casual flare over his left shoulder. “It would have been indiscreet and unprofessional for us to become sexual partners.”
“So you weren’t attracted to her, sexually?”
“It was impossible for anyone not to be attracted to her sexually. She . . .” He gestured grandly. “Exuded sex as others might exude an expensive perfume. My God.” He took another shaky sip of brandy. “It’s all past tense. I can’t believe it. Dead. Murdered.” His gaze shot back to Eve. “You said murdered.”
“That neighborhood she lived in,” he said grimly. “No one could talk to her about moving to a more acceptable location. She enjoyed living on the edge and flaunting it all under her family’s aristocratic noses.”
“She and her family were at odds?”
“Oh definitely. She enjoyed shocking them. She was such a free spirit, and they so . . . ordinary.” He said it in a tone that indicated ordinary was more mortal a sin than murder itself. “Her grandfather continues to introduce bills that would make prostitution illegal. As if the past century hasn’t proven that such matters need to be regulated for health and crime security. He also stands against procreation regulation, gender adjustment, chemical balancing, and the gun ban.”
Eve’s ears pricked. “The senator opposes the gun ban?”
“It’s one of his pets. Sharon told me he owns a number of nasty antiques and spouts off regularly about that outdated right to bear arms business. If he had his way, we’d all be back in the twentieth century, murdering each other right and left.”
“Murder still happens,” Eve murmured. “Did she ever mention friends or clients who might have been dissatisfied or overly aggressive?”
“Sharon had dozens of friends. She drew people to her, like . . .” He searched for a suitable metaphor, used the corner of the scarf again. “Like an exotic and fragrant flower. And her clients, as far as I know, were all delighted with her. She screened them carefully. All of her sexual partners had to meet certain standards. Appearance, intellect, breeding, and proficiency. As I said, she enjoyed sex, in all of its many forms. She was . . . adventurous.”
That fit with the toys Eve had unearthed in the apartment. The velvet handcuffs and whips, the scented oils and hallucinogens. The offerings on the two sets of colinked virtual reality headphones had been a shock even to Eve’s jaded system.
“Was she involved with anyone on a personal level?”
“There were men occasionally, but she lost interest quickly. Recently she’d spoken about Roarke. She’d met him at a party and was attracted. In fact, she was seeing him for dinner the very night she came in for her consultation. She’d wanted something exotic because they were dining in Mexico.”
“In Mexico. That would have been the night before last.”
“Yes. She was just bubbling over about him. We did her hair in a gypsy look, gave her a bit more gold to the skin—full body work. Rascal Red on the nails, and a charming little temp tattoo of a red-winged butterfly on the left buttock. Twenty-four-hour facial cosmetics so that she wouldn’t smudge. She looked spectacular,” he said, tearing up. “And she kissed me and told me she just might be in love this time. ‘Wish me luck, Sebastian.’ She said that as she left. It was the last thing she ever said to me.”
No sperm. Eve swore over the autopsy report. If she’d had sex with her killer, the victim’s choice of birth control had killed the little soldiers on contact, eliminating all trace of them within thirty minutes after ejaculation.
The extent of her injuries made the tests for sexual activity inconclusive. He’d blown her apart either for symbolism or for his own protection.
No sperm, no blood but for the victim’s. No DNA.
The forensic sweep of the murder site turned up no fingerprints—none: not the victim’s, not her weekly cleaning specialist, certainly not the murderer’s.
Every surface had been meticulously wiped, including the murder weapon.
Most telling of all, in Eve’s judgment, were the security discs. Once again, she slipped the elevator surveillance into her desk monitor.
The discs were initialed.
Gorham Complex. Elevator A. 2-12-2058. 06:00.
Eve zipped through, watching the hours fly by. The elevator doors opened for the first time at noon. She slowed the speed, giving her unit a quick smack with the heel of her hand when the image bobbled, then studied the nervous little man who entered and asked for the fifth floor.
A jumpy john, she decided, amused when he tugged at his collar and slipped a breath mint between his lips. Probably had a wife and two kids and a steady white-collar job that allowed him to slip away for an hour once a week for his nooner.
He got off the elevator at five.
Activity was light for several hours, the occasional prostitute riding down to the lobby, some returning with shopping bags and bored expressions. A few clients came and went. The action picked up about eight. Some residents went out, snazzily dressed for dinner, others came in to keep their appointments.
At ten, an elegant-looking couple entered the car together. The woman allowed the man to open her fur coat, under which she wore nothing but stiletto heels and a tattoo of a rosebud with the stem starting at the crotch and the flower artistically teasing the left nipple. He fondled her, a technically illegal act in a secured area. When the elevator stopped on eighteen, the woman drew her coat together, and they exited, chatting about the play they’d just seen.
Eve made a note to interview the man the following day. It was he who was the victim’s neighbor and associate.
The glitch happened at precisely 12:05. The image shifted almost seamlessly, with only the faintest blip, and returned to surveillance at 02:46.
Two hours and forty-one minutes lost.
The hallway disc of the eighteenth floor was the same. Nearly three hours wiped. Eve picked up her cooling coffee as she thought it through. The man understood security, she mused, was familiar enough with the building to know where and how to doctor the discs. And he’d taken his time, she thought. The autopsy put the victim’s death at two A.M.
He’d spent nearly two hours with her before he’d killed her, and nearly an hour more after she’d been dead. Yet he hadn’t left a trace.
If Sharon DeBlass had recorded an appointment, personal or professional, for midnight, that, too, had been wiped.
So he’d known her intimately enough to be sure where she kept her files and how to access them.
On a hunch, Eve leaned forward again. “Gorham Complex, Broadway, New York. Owner.”
Her eyes narrowed as the date flashed onto her screen.
Gorham Complex, owned by Roarke Industries, headquarters 500 Fifth Avenue. Roarke, president and CEO. New York residence, 222 Central Park West.
“Roarke,” Eve murmured. “You just keep turning up, don’t you. Roarke?” she repeated. “All data, view and print.”
Ignoring the incoming call on the ’link beside her, Eve sipped her coffee and read.
Roarke—no known given name—born 10-06-2023, Dublin, Ireland. ID number 33492-ABR-50. Parents unknown. Marital status, single. President and CEO of Roarke Industries, established 2042. Main branches New York, Chicago, New Los Angeles, Dublin, London, Bonn, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Milan, Sydney. Off-planet branches, Station45, Bridgestone Colony, Vegas II, FreeStar One. Interests in real estate, import-export, shipping, entertainment, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, transportation. Estimated gross worth, three billion, eight hundred million.
Busy boy, Eve thought, lifting a brow as a list of his companies clicked on-screen.
“Education,” she demanded.
“Access Roarke, Dublin.”
No additional data.
“Well, shit. Mr. Mystery. Description and visual.” Roarke. Black hair, blue eyes, 6 feet, 2 inches, 173 pounds.
Eve grunted as the computer listed the description. She had to agree that in Roarke’s case, a picture was worth a couple hundred words.
His image stared back at her from the screen. He was almost ridiculously handsome: the narrow, aesthetic face; the slash of cheekbones; and sculpted mouth. Yes, his hair was black, but the computer didn’t say it was thick and full and swept back from a strong forehead to fall inches above broad shoulders. His eyes were blue, but the word was much too simple for the intensity of color or the power in them.
Even on an image, Eve could see this was a man who hunted down what or who he wanted, bagged it, used it, and didn’t bother with frivolities such as trophies.
And yes, she thought, this was a man who could kill if and when it suited him. He would do so coolly, methodically, and without breaking a sweat.
Gathering up the hard data, she decided she’d have a talk with Roarke. Very soon.
By the time Eve left the station to head home, the sky was miserably spitting snow. She checked her pockets without hope and found she had indeed left her gloves in her apartment. Hatless, gloveless, with only her leather jacket as protection against the biting wind, she drove across town.
She’d meant to get her vehicle into repair. There just hadn’t been time. But there was plenty of time to regret it now as she fought traffic and shivered, thanks to a faulty heating system.
She swore if she got home without turning into a block of ice, she’d make the appointment with the mechanic.
But when she did arrive home, her primary thought was food. Even as she unlocked her door, she was dreaming about a hot bowl of soup, maybe a mound of chips, if she had any left, and coffee that didn’t taste like someone had spilled sewage into the water system.
She saw the package immediately, the slim square just inside the door. Her weapon was out and in her hand before she drew the next breath. Sweeping with weapon and eyes, she kicked the door shut behind her. She left the package where it was and moved from room to room until she was satisfied she was alone.
After holstering her weapon, she peeled out of her jacket and tossed it aside. Bending, she picked up the sealed disc by the edges. There was no label, no message.
Eve took it into the kitchen, tapping it carefully out of its seal, and slipped it into her computer.
And forgot all about food.
The video was top quality, as was the sound. She sat down slowly as the scene played on her monitor.
Naked, Sharon DeBlass lounged on the lake-size bed, rustling satin sheets. She lifted a hand, skimming it through that glorious tumbled mane of russet hair as the bed’s floating motion rocked her.
“Want me to do anything special, darling?” She chuckled, rose up on her knees, cupped her own breasts. “Why don’t you come back over here . . .” Her tongue flicked out to wet her lips. “We’ll do it all again.” Her gaze lowered, and a little cat smile curved her lips. “Looks like you’re more than ready.” She laughed again, shook back her hair. “Oh, we want to play a game.” Still smiling, Sharon put her hands up. “Don’t hurt me.” She whimpered, shivering even as her eyes glinted with excitement. “I’ll do anything you want. Anything. Come on over here and force me. I want you to.” Lowering her hands, she began to stroke herself. “Hold that big bad gun on me while you rape me. I want you to. I want you to—”
The explosion had Eve jolting. Her stomach twisted as she saw the woman fly backward like a broken doll, the blood spurting out of her forehead. The second shot wasn’t such a shock, but Eve had to force herself to keep her eyes on the screen. After the final report there was silence, but for the quiet music, the fractured breathing. The killer’s breathing.
The camera moved in, panned the body in grisly detail. Then, through the magic of video, DeBlass was as Eve had first seen her, spread-eagled in a perfect x over bloody sheets. The image ended with a graphic overlay.
ONE OF SIX
It was easier to watch it through the second time. Or so Eve told herself. This time she noticed a slight bobble of the camera after the first shot, a quick, quiet gasp. She ran it back again, listening to each word, studying each movement, hoping for some clue. But he was too clever for that. And they both knew it.
He’d wanted her to see just how good he was. Just how cold.
And he wanted her to know that he knew just where to find her. Whenever he chose.
Furious that her hands weren’t quite steady, she rose. Rather than the coffee she’d intended, Eve took out a bottle of wine from the small cold cell, poured half a glass.
She drank it down quickly, promised herself the other half shortly, then punched in the code for her commander.
It was the commander’s wife who answered, and from the glittering drops at her ears and the perfect coiffure, Eve calculated that she’d interrupted one of the woman’s famous dinner parties.
“Lieutenant Dallas, Mrs. Whitney. I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but I need to speak to the commander.”
“We’re entertaining, lieutenant.”
“Yes, ma’am. I apologize.” Fucking politics, Eve thought as she forced a smile. “It’s urgent.”
“Isn’t it always?”
The machine hummed on hold, mercifully without hideous background music or updated news reports, for a full three minutes before the commander came on.
“Commander, I need to send you something over a coded line.”
“It better be urgent, Dallas. My wife’s going to make me pay for this.”
“Yes, sir.” Cops, she thought as she prepared to send the image to his monitor, should stay single.
She waited, folding her restless hands on the table. As the images played again, she watched again, ignoring the clenching in her gut. When it was over, Whitney came back on-screen. His eyes were grim.
“Where did you get this?”
“He sent it to me. A disc was here, in my apartment, when I got back from the station.” Her voice was flat and careful. “He knows who I am, where I am, and what I’m doing.”
Whitney was silent for a moment. “My office, oh seven hundred. Bring the disc, lieutenant.”
When the transmission ended, she did the two things her instincts dictated. She made herself a copy of the disc, and she poured another glass of wine.
She woke at three, shuddering, clammy, fighting for the breath to scream. Whimpers sounded in her throat as she croaked out an order for lights. Dreams were always more frightening in the dark.
Trembling, she lay back. This one had been worse, much worse, than any she’d experienced before.
She’d killed the man. What choice had she had? He’d been too buzzed on chemicals to be stunned. Christ, she’d tried, but he’d just keep coming, and coming, and coming, with that wild look in his eyes and the already bloodied knife in his hand.
The little girl had already been dead. There was nothing Eve could have done to stop it. Please God, don’t let there have been anything that could have been done.
The little body hacked to pieces, the frenzied man with the dripping knife. Then the look in his eyes when she’d fired on full, and the life had slipped out of them.
But that hadn’t been all. Not this time. This time he’d kept coming. And she’d been naked, kneeling in a pool of satin. The knife had become a gun, held by the man whose face she’d studied hours before. The man called Roarke.
He’d smiled, and she’d wanted him. Her body had tingled with terror and sexual desperation even as he’d shot her. Head, heart, and loins.
And somewhere through it all, the little girl, the poor little girl, had been screaming for help.
Too tired to fight it, Eve simply rolled over, pressed her face into her pillow and wept.
“Lieutenant.” At precisely seven A.M., Commander Whitney gestured Eve toward a chair in his office. Despite the fact, or perhaps due to the fact that he’d been riding a desk for twelve years, he had sharp eyes.
He could see that she’d slept badly and had worked to disguise the signs of a disturbed night. In silence, he held out a hand.
She’d put the disc and its cover into an evidence bag. Whitney glanced at it, then laid it in the center of his desk.
“According to protocol, I’m obliged to ask you if you want to be relieved from this case.” He waited a beat. “We’ll pretend I did.”
“Is your residence secure, Dallas?”
“I thought so.” She took hard copy out of her briefcase. “I reviewed the security discs after I contacted you. There’s a ten minute time lapse. As you’ll see in my report, he has the capability of undermining security, a knowledge of videos, editing, and, of course, antique weapons.”
Whitney took her report, set it aside. “That doesn’t narrow the field overmuch.”
“No, sir. I have several more people I need to interview. With this perpetrator, electronic investigation isn’t primary, though Captain Feeney’s help is invaluable. This guy covers his tracks. We have no physical evidence other than the weapon he chose to leave at the scene. Feeney hadn’t been able to trace it through normal channels. We have to assume it was black market. I’ve started on her trick books and her personal appointments, but she wasn’t the retiring kind. It’s going to take time.”
“Time’s part of the problem. One of six, lieutenant. What does that say to you?”
“That he has five more in mind, and wants us to know it. He enjoys his work and wants to be the focus of our attention.” She took a careful breath. “There’s not enough for a full psychiatric profile. We can’t say how long he’ll be satisfied by the thrill of this murder, when he’ll need his next fix. It could be today. It could be a year from now. We can’t bank on him being careless.”
Whitney merely nodded. “Are you having problems with the rightful termination?”
The knife slicked with blood. The small ruined body at her feet. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
“Be sure of it, Dallas. I don’t need an officer on a sensitive case like this who’s worried whether she should or shouldn’t use her weapon.”
“I’m sure of it.”
She was the best he had, and he couldn’t afford to doubt her. “Are you up to playing politics?” His lips curved thinly. “Senator DeBlass is on his way over. He flew into New York last night.”
“Diplomacy isn’t my strong suit.”
“I’m aware of that. But you’re going to work on it. He wants to talk to the investigating officer, and he went over my head to arrange it. Orders came down from the chief. You’re to give the senator your full cooperation.”
“This is a Code Five investigation,” Eve said stiffly. “I don’t care if orders came down from God Almighty, I’m not giving confidential data to a civilian.”
Whitney’s smile widened. He had a good, ordinary face, probably the one he was born with. But when he smiled and meant it, the flash of white teeth against the cocoa colored skin turned the plain features into the special.
“I didn’t hear that. And you didn’t hear me tell you to give him no more than the obvious facts. What you do hear me tell you, Lieutenant Dallas, is that the gentleman from Virginia is a pompous, arrogant asshole. Unfortunately, the asshole has power. So watch your step.”
He glanced at his watch, then slipped the file and disc into his safe drawer. “You’ve got time for a cup of coffee . . . and, lieutenant,” he added as she rose. “If you’re having trouble sleeping, take your authorized sedative. I want my officers sharp.”
“I’m sharp enough.”
Senator Gerald DeBlass was undoubtedly pompous. He was unquestionably arrogant. After one full minute in his company, Eve agreed that he was undeniably an asshole.
He was a compact, bull of a man, perhaps six feet, two hundred and twenty. His crop of white hair was cut sharp and thin as a razor so that his head seemed huge and bullet sleek. His eyes were nearly black, as were the heavy brows over them. They were large, like his nose, his mouth.
His hands were enormous, and when he clasped Eve’s briefly on introduction, she noted they were smooth and soft as a baby’s.
He brought his adjutant with him. Derrick Rockman was a whiplike man in his early forties. Though he was nearly six-five, Eve gave DeBlass twenty pounds on him. Neat, tidy, his pin-striped suit and slate blue tie showed not a crease. His face was solemn, attractively even featured, his movements restrained and controlled as he assisted the more flamboyant senator out of his cashmere overcoat.
“What the hell have you done to find the monster who killed my granddaughter?” DeBlass demanded.
“Everything possible, senator.” Commander Whitney remained standing. Though he offered DeBlass a seat, the man prowled the room, as he was given to prowl the New Senate Gallery in East Washington.
“You’ve had twenty-four hours and more,” DeBlass shot back, his voice deep and booming. “It’s my understanding you’ve assigned only two officers to the investigation.”
“For security purposes, yes. Two of my best officers,” the commander added. “Lieutenant Dallas heads the investigation and reports solely to me.”
DeBlass turned those hard black eyes on Eve. “What progress have you made?”
“We identified the weapon, ascertained the time of death. We’re gathering evidence and interviewing residents of Ms. DeBlass’s building, and tracking the names in her personal and business logs. I’m working to reconstruct the last twenty-four hours of her life.”
“It should be obvious, even to the slowest mind, that she was murdered by one of her clients.” He said the word in a hiss.
“There was no appointment listed for several hours prior to her death. Her last client has an alibi for the critical hour.”
“Break it,” DeBlass demanded. “A man who would pay for sexual favors would have no compunction about murder.”
Though Eve failed to see the correlation, she remembered her job and nodded. “I’m working on it, senator.”
“I want copies of her appointment books.”
“That’s not possible, senator,” Whitney said mildly. “All evidence of a capital crime is confidential.”
DeBlass merely snorted and gestured toward Rockman.
“Commander.” Rockman reached in his left breast pocket and drew out a sheet of paper affixed with a holographic seal. “This document from your chief of police authorizes the senator access to any and all evidence and investigative data on Ms. DeBlass’s murder.”
Whitney barely glanced at the document before setting it aside. He’d always considered politics a coward’s game, and hated that he was forced to play it. “I’ll speak to the chief personally. If the authorization holds, we’ll have copies to you by this afternoon.” Dismissing Rockman, he looked back at DeBlass. “The confidentiality of evidence is a major tool in the investigative process. If you insist on this, you risk undermining the case.”
“The case, as you put it, commander, was my flesh and blood.”
“And as such, I’d hope your first priority would be assisting us to bring her killer to justice.”
“I’ve served justice for more than fifty years. I want that information by noon.” He picked up his coat, tossed it over one beefy arm. “If I’m not satisfied that you’re doing everything in your power to find this maniac, I’ll see that you’re removed from this office.” He turned toward Eve. “And that the next thing you investigate, lieutenant, will be sticky fingered teenagers at a shop-com.”
After he stormed out, Rockman used his quiet, solemn eyes to apologize. “You must forgive the senator. He’s overwrought. However much strain there was between him and his granddaughter, she was family. Nothing is more vital to the senator than his family. Her death, this kind of violent, senseless death, is devastating to him.”
“Right,” Eve muttered. “He looked all choked up.”
Rockman smiled; he managed to look amused and sorrowful at once. “Proud men often disguise their grief behind aggression. We have every confidence in your abilities and your tenacity, lieutenant. Commander,” he nodded. “We’ll expect the data this afternoon. Thank you for your time.”
“He’s a smooth one,” Eve muttered when Rockman shut the door quietly behind him. “You’re not going to cave, commander.”
“I’ll give them what I have to.” His voice was sharp and edged with suppressed fury. “Now, go get me more.”
Police work was too often drudgery. After five hours of staring at her monitor as she ran makes on the names in DeBlass’s books, Eve was more exhausted than she would have been after a marathon race.
Even with Feeney taking a portion of the names with his skill and superior equipment, there were too many for such a small investigative unit to handle quickly.
Sharon had been a very popular girl.
Feeling discretion would gain her more than aggression, Eve contacted the clients by ’link and explained herself. Those who balked at the idea of an interview were cheerfully invited to come into Cop Central, charged with obstruction of justice.
By midafternoon she had spoken personally with the first dozen on the client list, and took a detour back to the Gorham.
DeBlass’s neighbor, the elegant man from the elevator, was Charles Monroe. Eve found him in, and entertaining a client.
Slickly handsome in a black silk robe, and smelling seductively of sex, Charles smiled engagingly.
“I’m terribly sorry, lieutenant. My three o’clock appointment has another fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll wait.” Without invitation, Eve stepped inside. Unlike DeBlass’s apartment, this one ran to deep, cushy chairs in leather and thick carpets.
“Ah . . .” Obviously amused, Charles glanced behind him, where a door was discreetly closed at the end of a short hallway. “Privacy and confidentiality are, you understand, vital to my profession. My client is apt to be disconcerted if she discovers the police on my doorstep.”
“No problem. Got a kitchen?”
He let out a weighty sigh. “Sure. Right through that doorway. Make yourself at home. I won’t be long.”
“Take your time.” Eve strolled off to the kitchen. In contrast to the elaborate living area, this was spartan. It seemed Charles spent little time eating in. Still, he had a full-size friggie unit rather than a cold cell, and she found the treasure of a Pepsi chilling. Satisfied for the moment, she sat down to enjoy it while Charles finished off his three o’clock.
Soon enough, she heard the murmur of voices, a man’s, a woman’s, a light laugh. Moments later, he came in, the same easy smile on his face.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“No problem. Are you expecting anyone else?”
“Not until later this evening.” He took out a Pepsi for himself, broke the freshness seal from the tube, and poured it into a tall glass. He rolled the tube into a ball and popped it into the recycler. “Dinner, the opera, and a romantic rendezvous.”
“You like that stuff? Opera?” she asked when he flashed a grin.
“Hate it. Can you think of anything more tedious than some big-chested woman screaming in German half the night?”
Eve thought it over. “Nope.”
“But there you are. Tastes vary.” His smile faded as he joined her at the little nook under the kitchen window. “I heard about Sharon on the news this morning. I’ve been expecting someone to come by. It’s horrible. I can’t believe she’s dead.”
“You knew her well?”
“We’ve been neighbors more than three years—and occasionally we worked together. Now and again, one of our clients would request a trio, and we’d share the business.”
“And when it wasn’t business, did you still share?”
Meet the Author
Nora Roberts is the number-one New York Times-bestselling author of more than 150 novels, including High Noon, Angels Fall, Blue Smoke, and Northern Lights. She is also the author of the bestselling futuristic suspense series written under the pen name J. D. Robb. There are more than 280 million copies of her books in print.
- Keedysville, Maryland
- Date of Birth:
- Place of Birth:
- Silver Spring, Maryland
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