Read an Excerpt
By Justine Davis
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI need your help.
Four small words, yet they had the power to turn an FBI agent into a burglar.
It had been a while, but Alexandra Forsythe quickly saw that the locks at the hospital, in this basement area anyway, were not going to be a particular challenge. The security of the small-town medical center wasn't designed to protect against people like her.
She was thankful the practice of observation had become so ingrained in her. As a forensic scientist with the FBI, she focused on tiny details every day, so even though she'd been here earlier under horrible circumstances, she was still able to recall most of what she needed now. The layout of the building, the basement and the morgue itself.
That she was risking her career with the FBI was something she was quite aware of. Yet, when placed on the opposite end of the scale from the woman who lay on the other side of this door, it didn't even move the dial.
Lorraine Miller Carrington had counted on that commitment when she'd put out the call invoking an old promise among friends. Alex had made the Cassandra promise with all the zeal of a passionate young woman, but her dedication to what it meant had never wavered as time passed. She would do what had to be done, whatever the cost. They all would,every one of the remaining six Cassandras. They would keep their word.
It was what graduates of the Athena Academy for the Advancement of Women did.
"Oh, God, Rainy," she murmured, feeling her eyes brim with the tears she had been fighting so hard all day.
Alex had come back to southern Arizona expecting trouble. She could only guess at the severity of the situation that would make the cool, unflappable Rainy put in that call for help. She knew it hadn't been done lightly.
But she had never expected to end up here, in the small town of Casa Grande, just north of the smaller town of Eloy, where Rainy's car had crashed. Rainy had made it only a third of the way from her home in Tucson to Athena Academy, just west of Phoenix. It was there where four of her former mentees, the Cassandras, had waited with Athena Academy principal Christine Evans to hear what dire event had instigated Rainy's desperate call.
Now Alex wondered if there could be anything worse than watching an autopsy on someone you loved.
She reined in her emotions and glanced up and down the hallway to be certain she was alone. Foot traffic down here was rare at 3:00 a.m. She'd waited in a shadowy side corridor until she'd seen a man with a cleaning cart load up with fresh supplies and get on an elevator. He was the third uniformed worker to have followed this route, and she was guessing from the fact that she'd seen three of the big carts in the storage room that he was the last of the night cleaning crew. Still, she waited a little longer, just to be sure.
Finally she slipped on the blue uniform smock she'd liberated from a linen closet on the third floor ward, figuring it might buy her a few seconds if she was discovered. Her intractable red-gold spiral curls were already pulled up into a tight knot at the crown of her head, to further the makeshift disguise and to avoid leaving any telltale hairs behind. She'd come to appreciate the uniqueness of both the color and curls. But tonight her distinctive hair was a nuisance.
She turned her attention to her lock picking.
It took her less than thirty seconds to get the door to the morgue open. The room was very dim, the only light coming from one fluorescent ceiling fixture in the far corner. A couple of new residents had arrived since she'd been here last, and Alex made a silent apology as she intruded.
One of the gurneys held an elderly woman who was partially uncovered, the cloth over her lined face having slipped off. Alex hesitated, then gently pulled the cover back up. She might not have bothered before, but the harsh reality of death was weighing heavily on her, and she couldn't help thinking about the loved ones who no doubt would still grieve even though this soul's suffering had ended.
She suppressed a shiver and began to walk toward cold storage. A separate small room in the back of the morgue, it was where bodies were kept when the paperwork was complete, before they were picked up by a mortician. Oddly, the door wasn't secured. In fact, it stood slightly ajar, and she frowned. She could feel the cool air escaping through the gap.
A slight noise followed by a barely audible muttering came from the room. She froze in her tracks. If she'd been given to horror stories, a thousand possibilities would have raced into her mind. But she glimpsed something through the narrow gap between the door and the jamb that catapulted what she'd heard into an entirely new category. A narrow beam of light, moving.
The room was pitch black. Anyone who belonged there would have turned on the overhead lights. And they wouldn't worry about making noise. The furtive implications of that flashlight and the effort to stay quiet started the flood of adrenaline in Alex.
She crept forward, her body instantly in the high state of alert and muscle tension that allowed her to make every careful movement utterly silent. She'd come prepared, wearing soft, leather-soled shoes rather than her running shoes with soles that could squeak too easily on the polished vinyl floors.
She peeked through the gap, saw a dark figure moving in the back of the room. The beam of the flashlight was small and intense, a xenon bulb, most likely.
Excerpted from Proof by Justine Davis Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.