When Cochise County sheriff Joanna Brady and her husband, Butch Dixon, head out of town for a long weekend of business and pleasure, she's happy to know that her 12-year-old daughter, Jenny, will be enjoying herself, too. On Jenny's agenda is a Girl Scout camp-out, and though the recent dry spell has quashed any chances of an honest-to-goodness campfire, Joanna is confident that Jenny will have a good time.
She couldn't be more wrong. Paired with an unpopular 13-year-old named Dora Matthews as her tent mate, Jenny struggles from the start to make the best of what promises to be a difficult weekend. But Jenny's weekend is cut short early, when the two girls break the rules by sneaking away from their troop on the very first night and discover the naked body of a murdered woman hidden in the brush not far from their campsite. And when Dora's body turns up just a few short days later, broken and twisted on the side of a road, Joanna's worry for her daughter grows by leaps and bounds.
What motive could someone have that would drive them to murder both the woman and such a young girl? Are the two murders connected? Will her own daughter be the next victim of a killer out to silence any and all witnesses? As these terrifying questions and more race through Joanna's mind, and her prime suspect provides what appears to be an airtight alibi, it's all Joanna can do to keep her mind on the job.
But now, more than ever, Joanna needs a cool head and a steady trigger finger. Because on a case that will magnify every maternal instinct Joanna's ever had --and challenge every notion she's ever held about motherhood -- it's going to take all of Joanna's commitment and strength to catch a killer and keep her daughter safe from harm.
In Paradise Lost, J. A. Jance once again weaves evocative settings, unforgettable characters and a breathtaking plot into an emotionally vivid story about a realistic heroine striving to balance her passion for justice with her love for family.
Read an Excerpt
Connie Haskell had just stepped out of the shower when she heard the phone ringing. Hoping desperately to hear Ron′s voice on the phone, she grabbed a towel and raced through the house, leaving a trail of wet footprints on the worn carpeting of the bedroom and hallway. For two weeks she had carried the cordless phone with her wherever she went, but when she had gone to the bathroom to shower that morning, she had forgotten somehow and left the phone sitting beside her empty coffee cup on the kitchen table.
By the time she reached the kitchen, the machine had already picked up the call. "Hello, Mrs. Haskell. This is Ken Wilson at First Bank." The disembodied voice of Connie′s private banker echoed eerily across the Saltillo tile in an otherwise silent kitchen. As soon as she heard the caller′s voice and knew it wasn′t her husband′s, Connie didn′t bother to pick up the receiver. It was the same thing she had done with all the other calls that had come in during this awful time. She had sat, a virtual prisoner in her own home, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But this call from her banker probably wasn′t it.
"I′m calling about your checking account," Ken Wilson continued. "As of this morning, it′s seriously overdrawn. I′ve paid the two outstanding checks that showed up today as well as one from yesterday, but I need you to come in as soon as possible and make a deposit. If you′re out of town, please call me so we can make some other arrangement to cover the overdraft. I believe you have my number, but in case you don′t, here it is."
As Ken Wilson recited his direct phone number, Connie slipped unhearing onto a nearby kitchen stool. In all the years she had handled her parents′ affairs -- paying bills and writing checks after her father had been incapacitated by that first crippling stroke and then for her mother after Stephen Richardson′s death -- in all that time, Connie had never once bounced a check. She had written the checks and balanced the checkbooks each month under Stephen′s watchful and highly critical eye. Because of stroke-induced aphasia, her father had been able to do nothing but shake his head, roll his eyes, and spit out an occasional "Stupid." But Connie had persevered. She had done the task month after month for years. After her marriage to Ron, when he had volunteered to take over the bill-paying, she had been only too happy to relinquish that onerous duty. And why not? Ron was an accountant, wasn′t he? Dealing with numbers was what CPAs did.
Except Ron had been gone for two weeks now -- AWOL. For two long, agonizing weeks there had been no word to Connie. No telephone call. No letter. She hadn′t reported him missing because she was ashamed and afraid. Ashamed because other people had been right about him and she′d been wrong, and afraid she might learn that there was another woman involved. The woman was bound to be far younger and far better-looking than Constance Marie Richardson Haskell. She was unable to delude herself into thinking there was a chance of foul play. No, Connie had made a point of checking Ron′s carefully organized side of the closet. Her missing husband had simply packed one of his roll-aboard suitcases with a selection of slacks and custom-made, monogrammed shirts, and left.
The main reason Connie had kept silent about his absence was that she didn′t want to have to face up to all those people who had told her so. And they had told her so -- in spades. Any number of friends and relations had tried, both subtly and not so subtly, to explain that they thought Connie was making a mistake in marrying so soon after her mother′s death. Connie′s older sister, Maggie -- someone who never suffered from a need to keep her opinions to herself -- had been by far the most outspoken.
"If you ask me, Ron Haskell′s nothing but a gold-digging no-account," Maggie MacFerson had said. "He worked for Peabody and Peabody for six months before Mother died. He knew everything about Mother′s financial affairs, and now he knows everything about yours. He also knows how naive you are, and he′s taking you for a ride. For him, you′re nothing but a meal ticket."
"We fell in love," Connie had declared hotly, as if that one fact alone should resolve all her older sister′s concerns. "Besides, Ron′s resigning from the firm, so there can′t be any question of conflict of interest."
In response, Maggie MacFerson had blown an exasperated plume of smoke in the air. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. When she did that, she looked so much like Stephen Richardson that Connie had expected to hear her father′s familiar pronouncement of "Stupid!"
"We all have to make our own mistakes, I suppose," Maggie said with a resigned sigh. "At least do yourself a favor and get a prenup agreement."
That was the one and only time the two sisters had discussed Ron Haskell. Naturally, Connie hadn′t followed Maggie′s advice. She hadn′t wanted to ask for a prenuptial agreement because she was afraid if she mentioned it, Ron might think she didn′t trust him, which she did -- absolutely and with all the lovesick fervor of a forty-two-year-old woman who had never fallen in love before, not even once. Paradise Lost. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.