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Cara Messinger hated coming home to an empty house. Especially after dark.
At 11:22 on a Thursday night, she parked at the curb in her quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Santa Fe and glanced toward her house. Two front windows stared back as if mocking her hesitation. Shadows from the windswept shrubs and piñon pines skittered across the white stucco walls like a thousand spiders gone wild.
She wasn't usually so nervous. Cara thought of herself as being responsible, strong and resource-ful. A bit of an overachiever. At age thirty-two, she'd been an archaeology professor for three years. She'd supervised digs and published academic papers. Other people respected her. Young women wanted to be her. Why was she crouched behind the wheel of her car, afraid to go into her own house?
It had to be the e-mails. For the past two months, she'd been receiving weird e-mails from someone who called himself the Judge. He was watching her, stalking her.
"Well, watch this," she muttered as she shoved open her car door.
The night brought a chill to the thin air of the high desert even though it was springtime. She shivered as she gathered her briefcase and books from the back seat. When she slammed the car door, the sound echoed. From somewhere down the block, a dog howled.
Her keys jingled in her hand as she hurried up the sidewalk, and her sense of apprehension grew stronger. She was not alone in the night. Someone else was here. Something else. She felt a heavy jolt against her ankle and staggered backward. Her books fell on the concrete porch.
Two unblinking yellow eyes stared up at her. "Yazzie."
The big orange-striped tomcat yawned. "Yazzie, you scared me to death."
The twenty-pound tom threaded his bulk between her arms and batted at a strand of her long black hair as she bent down to retrieve her books. His purr rumbled as loud as a motorboat.
"You really are a pest." She'd never intended to have a pet, but Yazzie had adopted her. When he'd been only a kitten and the name YazzieNavajo for
"little one"had still applied, he'd shown up on her doorstep and had claimed this territory as his own. She really shouldn't complain; the big orange tom was the closest to a relationship she'd had in months.
Inside the house, she flicked the switch by the door. A soft overhead light shone on her earth-tone sofa, chairs and coffee table. Being home usually soothed her; this place was her sanctuary. Instead, her tension deepeneda possible result of the two cups of espresso she'd had with her students to celebrate her last evening lecture of the semester. This academic year was almost over. She should have been relieved.
Her gaze scanned the shelves by the door that held an array of native pottery, artifacts and woven baskets she'd acquired while working at various ar-chaeological sites throughout the Southwest. Color from the woven Navajo rug on the hardwood floor brightened the room. Nothing seemed out of place.
Yazzie had picked up on her mood. Instead of dashing to his food dish in the kitchen and yowling until she fed him, he leaped onto the center of the coffee table. His back arched, he bared his sharp teeth and hissed.
A shudder went through her. Cats were good at sensing danger. "What is it, Yaz?"
He hissed again. Then he bolted toward her and out the door into the night.
For a moment, she considered following the cat. Racing back to her car. And then what? Sleep in the car? Rent a motel room? Ridiculous. There was nothing to be afraid of.
Firmly, she closed the door and crossed behind the sofa to the dining area where her laptop sat on the table. She dropped her books on the table, peeled off her wool jacket and logged on. Might as well get this over with.
Immediately, the threat appeared on her computer screen. She had an e-mail from "Judge." The message line said: Final. Possibly, a reference to final exams or final papers. The way she figured, her stalker had to be a student. A computer expert might be able to track him down, but Cara hadn't wanted to report the e-mails. She took enough grief for being the youngest person in the department. Young and female. And half-Navajo.
Angrily, she ignored the Judge and opened a message from the Navajo tribal council reminding her of the meeting next week at Window Rock. No problem. The meeting was already on her calendar.
The next e-mail came from her half sister who was getting married next month in Denver in an epic pro-duction worthy of Hollywood. Cara had been re-cruited as a bridesmaida position she wasn't thrilled about. For one thing, she was the oldest and ought to be getting married first. Also, Cara's father was Navajo while her three half sisters were the offspring of her mother's second husband, a blond, blue-eyed doctor. They looked just like him. Though they didn't consciously treat her like an outsider, she didn't fit into the family unit. With her long black hair amid all that blondness, she felt like a crow in a flock of canaries.
The only physical trait Cara had inherited from her mom was her pewter-gray eyes.
In the e-mail, her half sister reminded Cara about a final fitting for her coral-colored bridesmaid dress.
Gritting her teeth, Cara responded that she was looking forward to those peachy ruffles and bows.
Then she opened the message from the Judge. It started innocently enough. Good evening, Cara. Congratulations on finishing the semester.
This seemingly innocent comment quickly turned sinister.
You're very pretty tonight, the e-mail continued. Red is your color. Blood-red.
She glanced down at the dark crimson blouse she wore with a long khaki skirt. He'd been watching her tonight.
You really shouldn't drink coffee so late, Cara. You'll have the devil's own time falling asleep. Before you close your eyes, you might read the Nora Roberts book on your bedside table.
He knew what was on her bedside table. Damn it. He must have been here at her house, peeking through the windows. Until now, his comments had been limited to the campus and her car. He was coming too close for comfort.
He always signed off with "catch you later." Tonight, the difference was subtle but scary. Catch you soon.
She heard a creaking of floorboards and looked up. A tall young man stood in the hallway that led to her bedroom.
A scream caught in her throat. Her blood turned to ice water. She knew this man. His name was Russell Graff. When he was in her class, she was aware that he might have a bit of a crush on her. But nothing like this. Nothing crazy. Struggling for control, she asked, "What are you doing here, Russell?"
"I came to see you, Cara."
He looked down at his sneakers. His thick brown curls fell across his forehead. Though he was the ag-gressor, his attitude was sheepishalmost as if he were embarrassed.
Hoping to assert her authority, Cara stood. She was the professor. She gave the orders. "You have to leave."
"I want you to come with me." His deep voice was almost inaudible. "There's something I want to show you."
If she remembered correctly, Russell was enrolled in a graduate program and working at a dig site near Mesa Verde. Maybe he'd uncovered an important artifact. But that didn't explain or excuse his presence here. He'd broken into her house. "How did you get in here?"
"I thought you'd leave the door open for me." Why would he think that? They had no relationship.
"I had to break a window. Sorry." His lower lip trembled. "Come quietly, Cara. Don't make me hurt you."
His shyness was more frightening than if he'd been raging and snarling. He was holding back, restrained by a thin leash that might snap at any moment.
She had to get away from him. Slowly and care-fully, she circled the dining table and picked up her car keys. If she kept her distance, she might make it to the front door. And then to her car.
While she moved, she kept talking. "You were always a good student, Russell. I remember that paper you did comparing the Mayan culture to theAnasazi."
Her thigh brushed against the sofa. The bulky piece of furniture stood between them. She contin-ued, "Now you're working at the dig with Dr. Petty. I was hoping to join that site later this summer."
He looked up. His dark eyes were cold and flat. "The time for judgment is here."
The Judge. Just like in his e-mails. "Listen to me, Russell. You don't"
He sprang into action, charging across the room toward her.
Just as quickly, she made a frantic run for the door. He shoved aside the coffee table, caught hold of her wrist and yanked her toward him. "You're coming with me."
His grip tightened. Viselike, he squeezed. Pain shot up her forearm. He was skinny but strong. No way could she win in a physical struggle. "Russell, please. Tell me what you want. I'll cooperate."
His eyes blazed. "You're mine now, Cara." When he pulled his hand from his jacket pocket, she saw a flash of silver. A knife?
In a frantic effort, she threw all her weight toward the door, wrenching free of his hold and stumbling to her hands and knees. She scrambled to her feet and ran.
At the door, he caught up to her and pushed hard against her shoulder. She crashed into the shelves of Native American artwork. Pottery, vases and kachinas shattered as they hit the hardwood floor.
She darted away from him. He cut off her escape, backing her into a corner. She stared in shock as he came closer. Russell Graff, an A student. A young man from a good family. He brandished the silver object in his hand.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
She felt the metal prongs in her side, then the as if her heart would explode. Her muscles twitched, tied into knots. Her legs weakened and she fell to the floor.
Fighting her way through excruciating pain, she forced her hand to clutch the arm of a chair. Every upright. Trembling in horrible spasms, she faced her attacker.
When he reached toward her, she made a feeble slap at his hand. He gave her a sad smile. "I didn't want to hurt you."
He plunged a hypodermic needle into her arm. Unable to fight him, unable to escape, she felt herself sinking into a dark, bottomless canyon.