Read an Excerpt
"I'm sorry about your friend."
Throttling the urge to scream in rage and pain, Lauren Cooper stared down at the body of Megan Taylor. "She's She wasn't my friend. We were sisters."
On the other side of the stainless-steel table that supported Megan, the coroner consulted a small spiral-bound notebook. Intensity clung to him like a second skin. He didn't look like a guy who smiled much, but he was handsome and would have had a nice smile when he put himself to it.
Being a coroner wasn't a profession that lent itself to a lot of smiles, though. Not even in Jamaica.
His white lab coat was stretched tight across broad shoulders. The notebook nearly disappeared in his big, callused hands. A faded half-moon scar showed on the left side of his cleft chin. He was over thirty, but not by much. He was six feet plus and lean. His sun-streaked bronze hair was short and neat, professional, but a little long now, a little out of control. Maybe he hit the beach a lot when he wasn't in the morgue. His accent was Southern, somewhere in the lower forty-eight.
Lauren turned her attention from the coroner and focused on Megan. Looking at her lying there on the table was the hardest thing Lauren had ever had to do. Mornings filled with pillow fights, nights packed with shared secrets, all the things sisters did made the reality even more confusing.
Megan's short-cropped platinum-blond hair was tangled with seaweed, and Lauren knew that she would never have wanted to be seen like that. She had to resist the impulse to comb the debris from Megan's hair.
You can't. It's evidence. It's all evidence. Tears burned the backs of Lauren's eyes.
Megan is evidence now.
The thought almost wrung a howl of pain from Lauren. She curled her hands into fists and made herself breathe, made herself push the air out and slowly let it back in. She had to keep the air going out. It was too easy to hold it in.
Looking at Megan's body lying on the table and covered to the neck by the white sheet was a nightmare. She'd been twenty-seven years old, the same age Lauren was. Both of them were similarly built, athletic with curves.
With her fair hair and dazzling blue eyes, Megan had been the one of them that was the light. Dark haired and dark eyed, Lauren had been the shadow. Megan had always fearlessly rushed in, and Lauren had always waited on the outside, watching before she dove in.
That had changed later. Megan had remained fearless, but Lauren had learned to seize the limelight whenever she needed to. Success in her job had depended on that. She was suddenly aware of the silence in the morgue, and that the coroner was staring at her.
She thought back frantically, trying to remember any question she might have missed. There were so many questions swirling through her head right now. "I'm sorry. Did you ask me something?'
"I did. Which of you is married?"
The question surprised Lauren. It didn't seem like the kind of information a coroner would want. But this was Jamaica. She didn't know how things worked down here. She'd never been to the island country. "Neither of us is married."
The coroner's eyes were gold with green flakes that stirred restlessly. He didn't blink. "Different last names. Is one of you divorced?"
"But you said you're sisters?'
"Yes. I was adopted." Rescued was more like it. Lauren still had nightmares about the orphanage and foster homes. Her adoptive mother told her those memories would fade, but they hadn't. Lauren had always been thankful for the second chance she'd gotten, and being orphaned once had made losing her adoptive father to a heart attack four years ago even harder. Megan and her mother were all that Lauren had left.
And now Megan was gone.
"You kept your birth name?'
"Yes. It was all I had left of my parents." Lauren had wanted to keep something from them. They had died tragically. It hadn't been their fault that they'd left her. From everything she remembered of them, they had been good people.
"Do you know who Ms. Taylor came down here with?'
"She came by herself." Lauren looked down at her sister. There had been so many wild things Megan had gotten her to do when they'd lived at home and during college.
"Was she in the habit of doing things like that?"
Lauren kept her voice soft. "She liked her adventures."
"That's what she called them. Her adventures." Lauren's eyes burned, but she refused to let the tears fall. She wasn't going to do that in front this stranger. She had always been emotionally reserved.
Except with Megan. With Megan she'd always been able to just be herself.
Now that was gone.
"Coming down here by herself was risky."
The flat tone in the coroner's voice stopped just short of insulting, but that somehow made the statement worse. He winced, as if he'd just realized how harsh he'd sounded.
"Sorry. Something like this, it's hard to take even if you've seen it dozens of times before."
The morgue, for all its stainless-steel and tiled-floor impersonality, suddenly seemed too small. Lauren made herself breathe out. He's just here to do his job. Just answer the questions. She worked to unclench her fists and failed. She wanted to defend Megan, wanted to explain how her sister loved life and new experiences, and she wanted to lash out at the coroner all at the same time.
"Megan was impulsive." The statement felt naked and indefensible to Lauren's ears. She desperately wanted to make the man understand, but she just couldn't find the words. There were words. She knew there were. "She wanted to see Jamaica. She'sShe'd been going on about it for weeks. This trip was something she'd promised herself when she finished up a project at her advertising firm. This was a celebration. A getaway from the 24/7 life she'd been doing the last few weeks to close the deal."
"So there was no particular reason she came to Kingston?"
"She wanted to come here. For Megan, that was reason enough." Lauren thought back to her discussion with Megan before her sister had left. "There was some movie she'd seen lately. Something about an island cop." She shook her head. "I can't remember anything more than that. She caught a movie on Netflix, and she decided this was where she had to go." She took a breath. "That's just Megan. It's always been Megan."
The coroner made another notation in his book. "Was she meeting anyone down here?"
"Would she have told you if she was?"
"Yes. When Megan was in discovery mode, that's what she called it, she didn't want anyone else around that she knew. She said having a friend along was too limiting. It didn't let her really explore a new environment."
The coroner studied her with those gold eyes. "Would you say you and Ms. Taylor had a good relationship?"
It took a moment for Lauren to answer the question because her voice was thick and felt like shattered glass. "Yes. We did."
"You knew she was here?"
"Who else knew she was coming?"
"I don't know. Lots of people. Megan was people-friendly. That's why she was so good at her job. She kept a Facebook account and updated it regularly. She let everyone know she was taking this trip."
He wrote something else down. "So someone could have been meeting her here?"
"You'd have had to know Megan. If she knew something, or even thought she knew something, she told you. That's how she was."
"Did she have many romances?"
Heat filled Lauren's face, and she glared at the man.
"I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I apologize. That wasn't supposed to come out like that." He waited a moment to see if she would respond. When she didn't, he went on. "I just wondered if there's the possibility that she was currently seeing someone and you didn't know about it."
"No. Not that I'm aware of. Maybe Megan wouldn't tell me about a new guy in her life at the time that relationship started, but I always knew. Megan thought she could hide things like that, but she really couldn't. Not from Mom. Not from me. I knew." Lauren looked down at her sister and wanted to believe that. No, she did believe that. She would have known.
The air-conditioning unit cycled, and the cool air washed over Lauren. She wrapped her arms around herself and trembled slightly. Her fists still wouldn't open. She couldn't remember feeling so cold and so alone.
"If Megan had been meeting someone here, I would have known."
"You're certain of that?"
"Was Ms. Taylor casually seeing anyone back home? Someone that didn't come along on this trip?"
Lauren tried to keep up, but the questions just kept coming with staccato regularity. The man was like a machine. "No."
"There wasn't anyone she'd started seeing a little more of before she left? Maybe someone she was interested in but not officially seeing?"
"No. Like I said, with Megan, every potential romance was a big deal. I would have known." So would everyone on Face-book. Megan liked being in love. None of her suitors had stood the test of time, though. Megan had liked her diversions, but most of her exes were still friends of hers. That was just how she was. No one would hurt her.
Except that someone had. The dark bruising around Megan's throat testified to that.
"Was there anyone your sister had stopped seeing recently?"
"Anyone she'd stopped seeing in the past that would hold a grudge?"
"Look." Lauren's tone came out sharper than she'd intended. "You didn't know Megan. She wasn't like that. No one would want to hurt her. Not even an ex-boyfriend. She was the kindest, gentlest, most innocent person I've ever known." A tear fell from her right eye, and she felt it skid down her cheek. She refused to brush it away because she knew that would only open the floodgates.
"Where are Ms. Taylor's" The coroner stopped himself and offered a correction. "Your parents?"
"We lost our father a few years ago. Mom's not well. She's gone through chemo and isn't able to travel. She asked me to bring Megan back home."
"I see. I'm sorry to hear that." For the first time, the cold, impersonal voice softened just a little.
Lauren took a deep breath and looked at the bruises around her sister's throat. They looked almost like handprints. "Can you tell me what happened to Megan? The police inspector I talked to on the phone wasn't very informative. I'm supposed to meet with him later." She didn't want to know what Megan went through in her last moments. She knew her mom wouldn't want to know, but they had to know so they would be prepared for what was going to happen next. For when whoever had done this was caught. "He said there's going to be an investigation."
"What were you told?"
Again with the questions. Lauren made herself breathe out. "A police inspector, Wallace Myton, contacted my mother and told her that Megan had drowned. When my mother told me, I knew that couldn't be true."
"Megan was a strong swimmer. And she didn't take chances out in the water."
"But you said she was impulsive enough to come to Jamaica on a whim."
Lauren's voice tightened and grew sterner. "I'm telling you what I knew the minute I was told what had happened. My sister did not drown."
He looked at his notebook. "I see that. You called Inspector Myton back and insisted that your sister could not have drowned. You wanted him to investigate your sister's death."
"That's right. The inspector was very polite, but I could tell he didn't believe me."
"He believed you after the bruises showed up postmortem on your sister's neck."
Lauren closed her eyes. She couldn't believe the man had stated that so coldly. "That's when the police knew Megan had been strangled."
Keep breathing. Deal with this. Mom is counting on you. Lauren opened her eyes and looked back at the man.
"Did your sister know a magician named Gibson?"
The question came so far out of left field that Lauren couldn't help being surprised. "No."
The coroner looked puzzled. "Your sister didn't know Gibson. But I can tell by your expression that you do."
"I don't know him. I know of him. Everybody who loves magic knows who Gibson is. I've seen him perform." Lauren didn't like the way she suddenly felt guilty. That came from the coroner, not her. She grew more uncomfortable with the questioning, but she told herself she'd never dealt with something like this before and that her answers would help catch whoever had hurt Megan.
"What do you know about Gibson?"
That question was easier to answer. Lauren knew about Gibson. She answered automatically, pulling up the information effortlessly, and was grateful for the change of subject. "The man's a master illusionist. He's up there with David Copper-field. Criss Angel. Doug Henning. Siegfried & Roy."
Frowning, the man shook his head. "I've heard of Criss Angel."
Lauren could tell from the coroner's reaction that he didn't care much for the magician.
"And I thought Siegfried and Roy were lion tamers."
"Magic is a part of their show." Lauren studied him. "I don't suppose you care for magic shows or magicians."
"Magicians are just another type of con artist."
Under other circumstances, Lauren knew she would have argued the point and maybe even gotten angry. Magic and illusion were an art, and shows depended on audiences wanting to be fooled just as much as on magicians and illusionists. For now, though, she just let it go.
"Why would your sister have been interested in Gibson?"
"I don't know that she was."
The coroner reached under the lab coat and took out a photograph. He held it so Lauren could see it.
In the photograph, Megan sat at a table in an elegant club. She held a wineglass in one hand and looked as carefree as ever. The lights sparkled in her blue eyes, and Lauren knew her sister was having a great time. She didn't look frightened or under duress. Her smile was carefree.
The man sitting beside Megan was instantly recognizable. Gibsonthat was the only name anyone knew him bywas a virtuoso of illusion. He'd had shows in Vegas and in Europe that were always sold out.
Dark and broody, a wild flip of hair hanging down into his face, Gibson looked mysterious and otherworldly. His persona, if it was a persona, never slipped. In the few interviews he'd done, he'd maintained his distance and hadn't revealed much about himself. No one knew where he came from. He'd just appeared on the magic scene almost as if by arcane means. If it was a shtick, it worked for him.
The black suit was Italian, neatly pressed, and fit him well. In the darkness of the club, he almost seemed to be disappearing into the shadows, as if the darkness around him was drawing him in under its protective wing. His was a hatchet face fleshed out by hard planes and deep-set eyes. A thin beard edged his jaw and pooled in a goatee around his thin-lipped mouth. The pale complexion made him look stark, as if he never saw the light of day.