Juleigh Muirhead Clark
Rapture in Death (In Death Series #4)by J. D. Robb, Nora Roberts, Nora D. Roberts
They died with smiles on their faces. Three apparent suicides: a brilliant engineer, an infamous lawyer, and a controversial politician. Three strangers with nothing in commonand no obvious reasons for killing themselves. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the deaths suspicious. And her instincts paid off when autopsies revealed small burns on the brains… See more details below
They died with smiles on their faces. Three apparent suicides: a brilliant engineer, an infamous lawyer, and a controversial politician. Three strangers with nothing in commonand no obvious reasons for killing themselves. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the deaths suspicious. And her instincts paid off when autopsies revealed small burns on the brains of the victims. Was it a genetic abnormality or a high-tech method of murder? Eve's investigation turned to the provocative world of virtual reality gameswhere the same techniques used to create joy and desire could also prompt the mind to become the weapon of its own destruction...
Juleigh Muirhead Clark
Read an Excerpt
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Mind games . . .
At the flick of a switch, Eve’s face flashed onto a monitor, all pertinent data split-screened beside her. A fascinating woman. Birthplace and parents unknown. The abused child discovered hiding in an alley in Dallas, Texas, body battered, mind blanked. A woman who couldn’t remember the early years of her own life. The years that formed the soul. Years when she had been beaten and raped and tormented.
What did that sort of life do to the mind? To the heart? To the person?
It had made the girl a social worker and had made Eve Dallas into a woman who had become a cop. The cop with the reputation for digging deep, and who had come into some notoriety the previous winter during the investigation of a sensitive and ugly case.
That was when she had met Roarke.
The computer hummed, sliced Roarke’s face onto the screen. Such an intriguing couple. His background was no prettier than the cop’s had been. But he’d chosen, at least initially, the other side of the law to make his mark. And his fortune.
Now they were a set. A set that could be destroyed on a whim.
But not yet. Not for some little time yet.
After all, the game had just begun.
But I do nothing upon myself,
and yet am mine own Executioner.
There is rapture on the lonely shore.
The alley was dark and stank of piss and vomit. It was home for quick-footed rats and the bony, hungry-eyed felines who hunted them. Red eyes glinted in the dark, some of them human, all of them feral.
Eve’s heart tripped lightly as she slipped into the fetid, damp-edged shadows. He’d gone in, she was sure of it. It was her job to follow, to find him, to bring him in. Her weapon was in her hand, and her hand was steady.
“Hey, sweetcakes, wanna do it with me? Wanna do it?”
Voices out of the dark, harsh with chemicals or cheap brews. Moans of the damned, giggles of the mad. The rats and cats didn’t live here alone. The company of the human garbage that lined the sweating brick walls was no comfort.
She swung her weapon, crouched as she sidestepped a battered recycling unit that, from the smell of it, hadn’t worked in a decade. The stench of food gone over smeared the humid air and turned it into a greasy stew.
Someone whimpered. She saw a boy, about thirteen, all but naked. The sores on his face were festering; his eyes were slits of fear and hopelessness as he scrabbled like a crab back against the filthy wall.
Pity stirred in her heart. She had been a child once, hurt and terrified, hiding in an alley. “I won’t hurt you.” She kept her voice quiet, barely a murmur, kept her eyes on his, maintaining contact as she lowered her weapon.
And that’s when he struck.
He came from behind, a roar of motion and sound. Primed to kill, he swung the pipe. The whistle of it stung her ears as she whirled, dodged. There was barely time to curse herself for losing her concentration, forgetting her primary target as two hundred fifty pounds of muscle and mean sent her flying to the bricks.
Her weapon flew out of her hand and clattered into the dark.
She saw his eyes, the glint of mayhem heightened by the chemical, Zeus. She watched the pipe raised high, timed it, and rolled seconds before it cracked against brick. With a pump of her legs, she dived headfirst into his belly. He grunted, staggered, and as he reached for her throat, she brought her fist up hard, smashing it under his jaw. The force of the blow radiated pain and power up her arm.
People were screaming, scrambling for safety in a narrow world where nothing and no one was safe. She spun, used the impetus of the turn to deliver a roundhouse kick that shattered her adversary’s nose. Blood fountained, adding to the sick miasma of odors.
His eyes were wild, but he barely jerked at the blow. Pain was no match for the god of chemicals. Grinning as blood poured down his face, he smacked the thick pipe on his palm.
“Kill you. Kill you, cop bitch.” He circled her, swinging the pipe like a whistling whip. Grinning, grinning as he bled. “Break your head open and eat your brains.”
Knowing he meant it pumped her adrenaline to flash point. Live or die. Her breath came in pants, the sweat pouring like oil down her skin. She dodged the next blow, went down on her knees. Slapping a hand on her boot, she came up grinning.
“Eat this instead, you son of a bitch.” Her backup weapon was in her hand. She didn’t bother with stun. The stun setting would do little more than tickle a two hundred fifty pound man flying on Zeus. It was set to terminate.
As he lunged toward her, she hit him with full power. His eyes died first. She’d seen it happen before. Eyes that turned to glass like a doll’s, even as he charged her. She sidestepped, prepared to fire again, but the pipe slipped from his fingers. His body began that jerky dance as his nervous system overloaded.
He fell at her feet, a mass of ruined humanity who had played god.
“You won’t be sacrificing any more virgins, asshole,” she muttered, and as that wild energy drained, she rubbed a hand over her face. Her weapon arm dropped.
The faint scrape of leather on concrete alerted her. She started her spin, weapon rising, but arms clamped her, lifted her to her toes.
“Always watch your back, Lieutenant,” the voice whispered just before teeth nipped lightly at her earlobe.
“Roarke, goddamn it. I nearly zapped you.”
“You didn’t even come close.” With a laugh, he turned her in his arms, and his mouth was on hers, hot, hungry. “I love watching you work,” he murmured and his hand, clever hand, slid up her body to cup her breast. “It’s . . . stimulating.”
“Cut it out.” But her heart was thundering in reaction, and the order was halfhearted. “This is no place for a seduction.”
“On the contrary. A honeymoon is a traditional place for a seduction.” He drew her back, kept his hands on her shoulders. “I wondered where you’d gone off to. I should have known.” He glanced down at the body at their feet. “What did he do?”
“He had a predilection for beating the brains out of young women, then eating them.”
“Oh.” Roarke winced, shook his head. “Really, Eve, couldn’t you have come up with something a little less revolting?”
“There was a guy on the Terra Colony a couple of years back who fit the profile, and I wondered . . .” She trailed off, frowning. They were standing in a stinking alley, death at their feet. And Roarke, gorgeous, dark angel Roarke, was wearing a tuxedo and a diamond stud. “What are you all dressed up for?”
“We had plans,” he reminded her. “Dinner?”
“I forgot.” She tucked her weapon away. “I didn’t think this would take so long.” She blew out a breath. “I guess I should clean up.”
“I like you the way you are.” He moved into her again, took possession. “Forget dinner. . . for now.” His smile was slow and irresistible. “But I do insist on slightly more aesthetic surroundings. End program,” he ordered.
The alley, the smells, and the huddle of bodies winked away. They stood in a huge, empty room with equipment and blinking lights built into the walls. Both floor and ceiling were glass-mirrored black to better project the holographic scenes available on the program.
It was one of Roarke’s newest, most sophisticated toys.
“Begin Tropical Setting 4-B. Maintain dual control status.”
In response came the whoosh of waves, the sprinkle of starlight on water. Beneath her feet was white sugar sand, and palm trees waved like exotic dancers.
“That’s more like it,” Roarke decided, then began unbuttoning her shirt. “Or it will be when I get you naked.”
“You’ve been getting me naked every time I blink for nearly three weeks.”
He arched a brow. “Husband’s privilege. Complaints?”
Husband. It was still a jolt. This man with the warrior’s mane of black hair, the poet’s face, the wild Irish blue eyes was her husband. She’d never get used to it.
“No. Just an—” Her breath hitched as one of his long-fingered hands skimmed over her breasts. “An observation.”
“Cops.” He smiled, unfastened her jeans. “Always observing. You’re off duty, Lieutenant Dallas.”
“I was just keeping my reflexes sharp. Three weeks away from the job, you get rusty.”
He slid a hand between her naked thighs, cupped her, watched her head fall back on a moan. “Your reflexes are just fine,” he murmured and pulled her down to the soft white sand.
His wife. Roarke liked to think about that as she rode him, as she moved under him, as she lay spent beside him. This fascinating woman, this dedicated cop, this troubled soul belonged to him.
He’d watched her work through the program, the alley, the chemical-mad killer. And he’d known she would face the reality of her work with the same tough, terrifyingly courageous determination that she’d possessed in the illusion.
He admired her for it, however many bad moments it gave him. In a few days, they would go back to New York and he would have to share her with her duties. For now, he wanted to share her with nothing. With no one.
He was no stranger to back alleys that reeked of garbage and hopeless humanity. He’d grown up in them, escaped into them, and eventually had escaped from them. He had made his life into what it was—and then she had come into it, sharp and lethal as an arrow from a bow, and had changed it again.
Cops had once been the enemy, then an amusement, and now he was bound to one.
Just over two weeks before, he had watched her walk toward him in a flowing gown of rich bronze, flowers in her hands. The bruises on her face a killer had put there only hours before had been softened under cosmetics. And in those eyes, those big brandy-colored eyes that showed so much, he’d seen nerves and amusement.
Here we go, Roarke. He’d nearly heard her say it as she put her hand in his. For better or worse I’ll take you on. God help us.
Now she wore his ring, and he hers. He’d insisted on that, though such traditions weren’t strictly fashionable in the middle of the twenty-first century. He’d wanted the tangible reminder of what they were to each other, the symbol of it.
Now he picked up her hand, kissed her finger above the ornately etched gold band he’d had made for her. Her eyes stayed closed. He studied the sharp angles of her face, the overwide mouth, the short cap of brown hair tousled into spikes.
“I love you, Eve.”
Faint color bloomed on her cheeks. She was so easily moved, he thought. He wondered if she had any idea how huge was her own heart.
“I know.” She opened her eyes. “I’m, ah, starting to get used to it.”
Listening to the song of water lapping on sand, of balmy breezes whispering through feathery palms, she lifted a hand, brushed the hair back from his face. A man like him, she thought, powerful, wealthy, impulsive, could call up such scenes at the snap of a finger. And he’d done it for her.
“You make me happy.”
His grin flashed, making her stomach muscles curl in delight. “I know.” With easy, effortless strength, he lifted her up and over until she straddled him. He skimmed his hands idly up her long, slim, muscled body. “Are you ready to admit you’re glad I shanghaied you off planet for the last part of our honeymoon?”
She grimaced, remembering her panic, her dug-in-at-the-heels refusal to board the transport he’d had waiting, and how he had roared with laughter and had tossed her over his shoulder, climbing on board with her cursing him.
“I liked Paris,” she said with a sniff. “And I loved the week we had on the island. I didn’t see any reason for us to come to some half-finished resort in space when we were going to spend most of our time in bed anyway.”
“You were scared.” It had delighted him that she’d been unnerved by the prospect of her first off planet voyage, and it had pleasured him to keep her occupied and distracted for the bulk of the trip.
“I was not.” Boneless, she thought. Scared boneless. “I was justifiably annoyed that you’d made the plans without discussing them with me.”
“I seem to recall someone being involved with a case and telling me to plan whatever suited me. You were a beautiful bride.”
It made her lips curve. “It was the dress.”
“No, it was you.” He lifted a hand to her face. “Eve Dallas. Mine.”
Love swamped her. It always seemed to come in huge, unexpected waves that left her flailing helplessly. “I love you.” She lowered herself to him, brought her mouth to his. “Looks like you’re mine.”
* * *
It was midnight before they had dinner. On the moon-washed terrace of the towering spear that was the nearly completed Olympus Grand Hotel, Eve dug into stuffed lobster and contemplated the view.
The Olympus Resort would be, with Roarke pulling the strings, completed and fully booked within a year. For now, they had it to themselves—if she ignored the construction crews, staff, architects, engineers, pilots, and other assorted inhabitants who shared the massive space station.
From the small glass table where they sat, she could see out over the hub of the resort. The lights brightly burned for the night crew, the quiet hum of machinery spoke of round-the-clock labor. The fountains, the lances of simulated torchlight and rainbows of color running fluidly through the spewing waters, were for her, she knew.
He’d wanted her to see what he was building and perhaps to begin to understand what she was a part of now. As his wife.
Wife. She blew out a breath that fluttered her bangs and sipped the icy champagne he’d poured. It was going to take some time to understand just how she’d gone from being Eve Dallas, homicide lieutenant, to become the wife of a man who some claimed had more money and power than God.
She flicked her eyes over his face, smiled a little. “No.” With intense concentration, she dipped a bit of lobster in melted butter—real butter, no simulation for Roarke’s table—and sampled it. “How am I going to face the cardboard they pass off as food at the Eatery once I’m back on the job?”
“You eat candy bars on the job in any case.” He topped off her wine, lifted a brow when she narrowed her eyes.
“You trying to get me drunk, pal?”
She laughed, something he noted she did more easily and more often these days, and with a shrug, picked up her glass. “What the hell, I’ll oblige you. And when I’m drunk”—she gulped down the priceless wine like water—“I’ll give you a ride you won’t soon forget.”
Lust he’d thought sated for the moment crawled edgily into his belly. “Well, in that case”—he poured wine into his own glass, teasing it to the rim—“let’s both get drunk.”
“I like it here,” she announced. Pushing back from the table, she carried her glass to the thick railing of carved stone. It must have cost a fortune to have it quarried, then shipped—but he was Roarke, after all.
Leaning over, she watched the light and water show, scanned the buildings, all domes and spears, all glossy and elegant to house the sumptuous people and the sumptuous games they would come to play.
The casino was completed and glowed like a golden ball in the dark. One of the dozen pools was lighted for the night and the water glimmered cobalt blue. Skywalks zigzagged between buildings and resembled silver threads. They were empty now, but she imagined what they would be like in six months, a year: crammed with people who shimmered in silks, glowed with jewels. They would come to be pampered within the marble walls of the spa with its mud baths and body enhancement facilities, its soft-spoken consultants and solicitous droids. They’d come to lose fortunes in the casino, to drink exclusive liquor in the clubs, to make love to the hard and soft bodies of licensed companions.
Roarke would offer them a world, and they could come. But it wouldn’t be her world when they filled it. She was more comfortable with the streets, the noisy half world of law and crime. Roarke understood that, she thought, as he’d come from the same place as she. So he had offered her this when it was only theirs.
“You’re going to make something here,” she said and turned to lean back against the rail.
“That’s the plan.”
“No.” She shook her head, pleased that it was already starting to swim from the wine. “You’ll make something that people will talk about for centuries, that they’ll dream of. You’ve come a long way from the young thief who ran the back alleys of Dublin, Roarke.”
His smile was slow and just a little sly. “Not so very far, Lieutenant. I’m still picking pockets—I just do it as legally as I can. Being married to a cop limits certain activities.”
She frowned at him now. “I don’t want to hear about them.”
“Darling Eve.” He rose, brought the bottle with him. “So by-the-book. Still so unsettled that she’s fallen madly in love with a shady character.” He filled her glass again, then set the bottle aside. “One that only months ago was on her short list of murder suspects.”
“You enjoy that? Being suspicious?”
“I do.” He skimmed a thumb over a cheekbone where a bruise had faded away—except in his mind. “And I worry about you a little.” A lot, he admitted to himself.
“I’m a good cop.”
“I know. The only one I’ve ever completely admired. What an odd twist of fate that I would have fallen for a woman so devoted to justice.”
“It seems odder to me that I’ve linked up with someone who can buy and sell planets at a whim.”
“Married.” He laughed. Turning her around, he nuzzled the back of her neck. “Go on, say it. We’re married. The word won’t choke you.”
“I know what we are.” Ordering herself to relax, she leaned back against him. “Let me live with it for a while. I like being here, away with you.”
“Then I take it you’re glad you let me pressure you into the three weeks.”
“You didn’t pressure me.”
“I had to nag.” He nipped her ear. “Browbeat.” His hands slid up to her breasts. “Beg.”
She snorted. “You’ve never begged for anything. But maybe you did nag. I haven’t had three weeks off the job in . . . never.”
He decided against reminding her she hadn’t had it now, precisely. She rarely went through a twenty-four-hour period without running some program that put her up against a crime. “Why don’t we make it four?”
He chuckled. “Just testing. Drink your champagne. You’re not nearly drunk enough for what I have in mind.”
“Oh?” Her pulse leaped, making her feel foolish. “And what’s that?”
“It’ll lose in the telling,” he decided. “Let’s just say I intend to keep you occupied for the last forty-eight hours we have here.”
“Forty-eight hours?” With a laugh, she drained her glass. “When do we get started?”
“There’s no time like—” He broke off, scowling when the doorbell sounded. “I told the staff to leave the clearing up. Stay here.” He snugged together her robe, which he’d just untied. “I’ll send them away. Far away.”
“Get another bottle while you’re at it,” she told him, grinning as she shook the last drops into her glass. “Someone drank all of this one.”
Amused, he slipped back inside, crossed the wide living space with its clear glass ceiling and feather-soft carpets. He wanted her there, to start, he decided, on that yielding floor with the ice-edged stars wheeling overhead. He plucked a long white lily out of a porcelain dish, imagining how he would show her just what a clever man could do to a woman with the petals of a flower.
He was smiling as he turned into the foyer with its gilded walls and sweeping marble staircase. Flipping on the view screen, he prepared to send the room service waiter to perdition for the interruption.
With some surprise he saw the face of one of his assistant engineers. “Carter? Trouble?”
Carter rubbed a hand over a face that was dead pale and damp with sweat. “Sir. I’m afraid there is. I need to speak with you. Please.”
“All right. Just a moment.” Roarke let out a sigh as he flicked off the screen, disengaged the locks. Carter was young for his position, in his middle twenties, but he was a genius at design and execution. If there was a problem with the construction, it was best to deal with it now.
“Is it the sky glide at the salon?” Roarke asked as he opened the door. “I thought you’d worked out the kinks there.”
“No—I mean, yes, sir, I have. It’s working perfectly now.”
The man was trembling, Roarke realized, and forgot his annoyance. “Has there been an accident?” He took Carter’s arm, steered him into the living area, nudged him into a chair. “Has someone been hurt?”
“I don’t know—I mean, an accident?” Carter blinked, stared glassily. “Miss. Ma’am. Lieutenant,” he said as Eve came in. He started to rise, then fell weakly down again when she gave him a quick push.
“He’s in shock,” she said to Roarke, her voice brisk. “Try some of that fancy brandy you’ve got around here.” She crouched down, kept her face level with his. His pupils were pinpricks. “Carter, isn’t it? Take it slow.”
“I . . .” His face went waxy now. “I think I’m going to be—”
Before he could finish, Eve whipped his head down between his knees. “Breathe. Just breathe. Let’s have that brandy, Roarke.” She held out a hand, and he was there with a snifter.
“Pull it together, Carter.” Roarke eased him back onto the cushions. “Take a swallow of this.”
“For Christ’s sake, stop sirring me to death.”
Color came back into Carter’s cheeks, either from the brandy or from embarrassment. He nodded, swallowed, let out a breath. “I’m sorry. I thought I was okay. I came right up. I didn’t know if I should—I didn’t know what else to do.” He spread a hand over his face like a kid at a horror video. He hitched in a breath and said it quickly. “It’s Drew, Drew Mathias, my roomie. He’s dead.”
Air exploded out of his lungs, then shuddered back in. He took another deep gulp of brandy and choked on it.
Roarke’s eyes went flat. He pulled together a picture of Mathias: young, eager, red hair and freckles, an electronics expert with a specialty in autotronics. “Where, Carter? How did it happen?”
“I thought I should tell you right away.” Now there were two high bruising red flags riding on Carter’s pasty cheeks. “I came right up to tell you—and your wife. I thought since she’s—she’s the police, she could do something.”
“You need a cop, Carter?” Eve took the snifter out of his unsteady hand. “Why do you need a cop?”
“I think—he must have—he killed himself, Lieutenant. He was hanging there, just hanging there from the ceiling light in the living room. And his face . . . Oh God. Oh Jesus.”
Eve left Carter to bury his own face in his hands and turned to Roarke. “Who’s got authority on site for something like this?”
“We’ve got standard security, most of it automated.” Accepting, he inclined his head. “I’d say it’s you, Lieutenant.”
“Okay, see if you can put together a field kit for me. I need a recorder—audio and video—some Seal It, evidence bags, tweezers, a couple of small brushes.”
She hissed out a breath as she dragged a hand through her hair. He wasn’t going to have the equipment lying around that would pinpoint body temperature and time of death. There would be no scanner, no sweepers, none of the standard chemicals for forensics she carried habitually to crime scenes.
They’d have to wing it.
“There’s a doctor, right? Call him. He’ll have to stand in as the ME. I’ll get dressed.”
* * *
Most of the techs made use of the completed wings of the hotel for living quarters. Carter and Mathias had apparently hit it off well enough to share a spacious two-bedroom suite during their shift on the station. As they rode down to the tenth floor, Eve handed Roarke the palm recorder.
“You can run this, right?”
He lifted a brow. One of his companies had manufactured it. “I think I can manage.”
“Fine.” She offered a weak smile. “You’re deputized. You hanging in, Carter?”
“Yeah.” But he walked out of the elevator into the hallway on ten like a drunk trying to pass a competency test. He had to wipe his sweaty hand twice on his slacks to get a clear reading on the palm screen. When the door slid open, he stepped back. “I’d just as soon not go in again.”
“Stay here,” she told him. “I may need you.”
She stepped inside. The lights were blinding bright, up to full power. Music blared out of the wall unit: hard, clashing rock with a screeching vocalist that reminded Eve of her friend Mavis. The floor was tiled in a Caribbean blue and offered the illusion of walking on water.
Along the north and south walls, banks of computers were set up. Workstations, she assumed, cluttered with all manner of electronic boards, microchips, and tools.
She saw clothes heaped on the sofa, VR goggles lying on the coffee table with three tubes of Asian beer—two of them flattened and already rolled for the recycler—and a bowl of spiced pretzels.
And she saw Drew Mathias’s naked body swaying gently from a makeshift noose of sheets hitched to the glittering tier of a blue glass chandelier.
“Ah, hell.” She sighed it out. “What is he, Roarke, twenty?”
“Not much more than.” Roarke’s mouth thinned as he studied Mathias’s boyish face. It was purple now, the eyes bulging, the mouth frozen into a hideous, gaping grin. Some vicious whim of death had left him smiling.
“All right, let’s do what we can. Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, NYPSD, standing in until proper interspace authorities can be contacted and transported. Suspicious, unattended death. Mathias, Drew, Olympus Grand Hotel, Room ten thirty-six, August 1, 2058, one hundred hours.”
“I want to take him down,” Roarke said. It shouldn’t have surprised him how quickly, how seamlessly she’d shifted from woman to cop.
“Not yet. It doesn’t make any difference to him now, and I need the scene recorded before anything’s moved.” She turned in the doorway. “Did you touch anything, Carter?”
“No.” He scrubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. “I opened the door, just like now, and walked in. I saw him right away. You . . . you see him right away. I guess I stood there a minute. Just stood there. I knew he was dead. I saw his face.”
“Why don’t you go through the other door into the bedroom.” She gestured to the left. “You can lie down for a while. I’ll need to talk to you.”
“Don’t call anyone,” she ordered.
“No. No, I won’t call anyone.”
She turned away again, secured the door. Her gaze shifted to Roarke’s, and their eyes held. She knew he was thinking, as she was, that there were some—like her—who had no escape from death.
“Let’s get started,” she told him.
The doctor’s name was Wang, and he was old, as most medicals were on off planet projects. He could have retired at ninety, but like others of his ilk, he had chosen to bump from site to site, tending the scrapes and bruises, passing out drugs for space sickness and gravity balance, delivering the occasional baby, running required diagnostics.
But he knew a dead body when he saw one.
“Dead.” His voice was clipped, faintly exotic. His skin was parchment yellow and as wrinkled as an old map. His eyes were black, almond shaped. His head was glossy and slick, lending him the appearance of an ancient, somewhat battered billiard ball.
“Yeah, I got that much.” Eve rubbed her eyes. She’d never had to deal with a space med, but she’d heard about them. They didn’t care to have their cushy routine interrupted. “Give me the cause and the time.”
“Strangulation.” Wang tapped one long finger against the vicious marks on Mathias’s neck. “Self-induced. Time of death I would say between ten and eleven P.M. on this day, in this month, in this year.”
She offered a thin smile. “Thank you, Doctor. There aren’t any other signs of violence on the body, so I lean toward your diagnosis of self-termination. But I want the results of the drug run. Let’s see if it was chemically induced. Did you treat the deceased for anything?”
“I cannot say, but he looks unfamiliar. I would have his records, of course. He would have come to me for the standard diagnostic upon arrival.”
“I’ll want those as well.”
“I will do my best to accommodate you, Mrs. Roarke.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Dallas, Lieutenant Dallas. Put a rush on it, Wang.” She looked down at the body again. Small man, she thought, thin, pale. Dead.
Pursing her lips, she studied the face. She’d seen what odd tricks death, particularly violent death, could play with expressions, but she’d never seen anything like that wide, goggle-eyed grin. It made her shudder.
The waste, the pathetic waste of such a young life made her unbearably sad.
“Take him with you, Wang. Get me the reports. You can shoot his basic paperwork to the tele-link in my suite. I need the next of kin.”
“Assuredly.” He smiled at her. “Lieutenant Roarke.”
She smiled back, showed her teeth, and decided she didn’t want to play the name game. Standing, she put her hands on her hips as Wang directed his two assistants to transport the body.
“You find that amusing,” she muttered to Roarke.
He blinked, all innocence. “What?”
Roarke touched her face because he needed to. “Why not? Both of us could use some comic relief.”
“Yeah, your Dr. Wang’s a chuckle a minute.” She watched the doctor sail out in front of the dead boy on a gurney. “It pisses me off. It fucking pisses me off.”
“It’s not such a bad name.”
“No.” She nearly did laugh as she rubbed her hands over her face. “Not that. The boy. A kid like that tossing out his next hundred years of life. That pisses me off.”
“I know.” He reached out to rub her shoulders. “You’re sure it was suicide?”
“No sign of struggle. No additional insults to the body.” She shrugged under his hands. “I’ll interview Carter and talk to some others, but the way I see it, Drew Mathias came home, turned on the lights, the music. He drank himself a couple beers, maybe took a VR trip, ate a few pretzels. Then he went in, stripped the sheets off his bed, made himself a rope, fashioned a very precise, professional noose.”
She turned away, scanning the room, letting the scene into her head. “He took off his clothes, tossed them aside. He climbed up on the table. You can see the smears from his feet. He tied the rope to the light, probably gave it a good tug or two to make sure it was secure. Then he slipped his head into the noose, used the remote to raise the light, and choked himself to death.”
She picked up the remote she’d already bagged for evidence. “It wouldn’t have been quick. It’s a slow ascent, not enough to give him a nice clean broken neck, but he didn’t struggle, didn’t change his mind. If he had, you’d see scrapes from his nails on his neck and throat from where he’d tried to claw free.”
Roarke’s brow knit. “But wouldn’t it be instinctive, involuntary to do just that?”
“I don’t know. I’d say it depended on how strong a will he had, how much he wanted to die. And why. Could have been cruising on drugs. We’ll know that soon enough. The right mix of chemicals, the mind doesn’t register pain. He might even have enjoyed it.”
“I won’t deny there’s some illegals floating around here. It’s impossible to regulate and supervise every staff member’s habits and personal choices.” Roarke shrugged, frowned up at the gorgeous blue chandelier. “Mathias doesn’t strike me as the type for a habitual, even an occasional user.”
“People are a constant surprise, and it’s an unending wonder what they’ll pump into their bloodstreams.” Eve jerked her own shoulders in turn. “I’ll give the place the standard toss for illegals, and I’ll see what I can find out from Carter.” She dragged her hair back with a hand. “Why don’t you go back up, get some sleep?”
“No, I’ll stay. Eve,” he said before she could argue, “you deputized me.”
It made her smile a little. “Any decent adjutant would know I need coffee to get through this.”
“Then I’ll see that you get some.” He framed her face in his hands. “I wanted you away from this for a while.” He let her go and walked into the adjoining kitchen to see about her coffee.
Eve stepped into the bedroom. The lights were low and Carter was sitting on the side of the bed, his head in his hands. He jerked straight when he heard her come in.
“Take it easy, Carter, you’re not under arrest yet.” When his cheeks paled, she sat beside him. “Sorry, bad cop humor. I’m recording this, okay?”
“Yeah.” He swallowed hard. “Okay.”
“Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, interview with Carter—what’s your full name, Carter?”
“Ah, Jack. Jack Carter.”
“Carter, Jack, regarding the unattended death of Mathias, Drew. Carter, you shared suite ten thirty-six with the deceased.”
“Yeah, for the past five months. We were friends.”
“Tell me about tonight. What time did you get home?”
“I don’t know. About twelve thirty, I guess. I had a date. I’ve been seeing someone—Lisa Cardeaux—she’s one of the landscape designers. We wanted to check out the entertainment complex. They were showing a new video. After that, we went to the Athena Club. It’s open to the complex employees. We had a couple of drinks, listened to some music. She’s got an early day tomorrow, so we didn’t stay late. I took her home.” He smiled weakly. “Tried to talk her into letting me come up, but she wasn’t having any.”
“Okay, so you struck out with Lisa. Did you come straight home?”
“Yeah. She’s just over at the staff bungalow. She likes it there. Doesn’t want to close herself up in a hotel room. That’s what she says. It only takes a couple minutes on the glide to get back here. I came up.” He drew a breath, rubbed a hand over his heart as if to calm it. “Drew had the door secured. He had a thing about that. Some of the crew leave the locks off, but Drew had all that equipment, and he was paranoid about anybody messing with it.”
“Is the palm plate coded for anyone but the two of you?”
“Okay, then what?”
“I saw him. Right away. That’s when I went up to you.”
“All right. When’s the last time you saw him alive?”
“This morning.” Carter rubbed his eyes, trying to visualize the normality of it. Light, food, mumbling conversation. “We had some breakfast.”
“How was he? Upset, depressed?”
“No,” Carter’s eyes focused then, and were for the first time animated. “That’s what I can’t get through my head. He was fine. He was joking around, yanking my chain about Lisa because I haven’t—you know—scored. We were needling each other, just friendly shit. I said he hadn’t scored in so long he wouldn’t know it if he did. And why didn’t he get himself a woman and come along with us tonight to see how it was done.”
“Was he seeing anyone?”
“No. He always talked about this babe he was hung up on. She wasn’t on the station. The babe. That’s what he called her. He was going to use his next free cycle to pay her a visit. He said she had it all, brains, beauty, body, and a sex drive that wouldn’t quit. Why should he play with lesser models when he had state of the art?”
“You don’t know her name?”
“No. She was just The Babe. To be honest, I figure he made her up. Drew wasn’t what you’d call babe material, you know. And he was shy around women and really into fantasy games and his autotronics. He was always working on something.”
“What about other friends?”
“He didn’t have many. He was quiet around a lot of people, internal, you know?”
“He use chemicals, Carter?”
“Sure, your basic stimulant if he was pulling an all-nighter.”
“Illegals, Carter. Did he use?”
“Drew?” His tired eyes popped wide. “No way. Absolutely no way. He was a total arrow, straight as they come. He wouldn’t mess with illegals, Lieutenant. He had a good mind, and he wanted to keep it that way. And he wanted to keep his job, move up. You get tossed for that kind of shit. Only takes one time on a spot check.”
“Are you sure you’d have known if he decided to experiment?”
“You know someone you hang with for five months.” Carter’s eyes went sad again. “You get used to them—habits and everything. Like I said, he didn’t hang with other people much. He was happier alone, fiddling with his equipment, diving into his role-playing programs.”
“A loner then, internal.”
“Yeah, that was his way. But he wasn’t upset, he wasn’t depressed. He kept saying that he was onto something big, some new toy. He was always onto a new toy,” Carter murmured. “He said just last week that he was going to make a fortune this time, and give Roarke a run for his money.”
“He didn’t mean anything by it,” Carter said quickly, defending the dead. “You’ve got to understand, Roarke—to a lot of us—well, he’s ice, you know? Solid ice. Rolling in credits, mag clothes, outstanding digs, power plus, sexy new wife—” He broke off, flushing. “Excuse me.”
“No problem.” She’d decide later if she was amused or flabbergasted that a boy barely twenty considered her sexy.
“It’s just that a lot of us techs—well, a lot of people altogether—sort of aspire. Roarke’s like the epitome. Drew totally admired him. He had ambitions, Mrs.—Lieutenant. He had goals and plans. Why would he do this?” Suddenly his eyes swam. “Why would he do this?”
“I don’t know, Carter. Sometimes you never know why.”
She led him back, guided him through, until she had a picture of Drew Mathias that gelled. An hour later, there was nothing left for her to do but put together a report for whoever would be transported in to close the case.
She leaned against the mirrored wall of the elevator as she and Roarke rode back to the penthouse. “It was good thinking to put him in another room on another floor. He may sleep better tonight.”
“He’ll sleep better if he takes the tranqs. How about you? Will you sleep?”
“Yeah. I’d turn it over easier if I had a glimmer of what was troubling him, what pushed him to it.” She stepped out into the corridor, waited while Roarke disengaged security to their suite. “The picture I’ve got is of your average tech nerd with grand aspirations. Shy of women, into fantasy. Happy in his work.” She lifted her shoulders. “There weren’t any incoming or outgoing calls on his ’link, no E-mail sent or received, no messages recorded, and the security on the door was engaged at sixteen hundred hours by Mathias, disengaged at oh thirty-three by Carter. He didn’t have any visitors, didn’t go out. He just settled in for the evening, then hanged himself.”
“It’s not a homicide.”
“No, it’s not a homicide.” Did that make it better, she wondered, or worse? “Nobody to blame, nobody to punish. Just a dead kid. A life wasted.” She turned to him suddenly, wrapped her arms tightly around him. “Roarke, you changed my life.”
Surprised, he tipped up her face. Her eyes weren’t wet, but dry and fierce and angry. “What’s this?”
“You changed my life,” she said again. “At least part of it. I’m beginning to see it’s the best part of it. I want you to know that. I want you to remember that when we get back and things settle into routine, if I forget to let you know what I feel or what I think or how much you mean to me.”
Touched, he pressed his curved lips to her brow. “I won’t let you forget. Come to bed. You’re tired.”
“Yeah, I am.” She skimmed her hair back from her face as they started toward the bedroom. Less than forty-eight hours left, she remembered. She wouldn’t let useless death mar the last hours of their honeymoon.
She angled her head, fluttered her lashes. “You know, Carter thinks I’m sexy.”
Roarke stopped. He narrowed his eyes. “I beg your pardon?”
Oh, she loved it when that lilting Irish voice turned arrogant. “You’re ice,” she continued, circling her head on her tensed shoulders as she unbuttoned her shirt.
“Am I? Am I really?”
“Solid ice, which is, as Mavis would say, mag. And part of the reason you’re ice, in case you’re wondering, is because you have a sexy new wife.”
Naked to the waist, she sat on the bed and tugged off her shoes. She flicked a glance over at him and saw that he’d tucked his hands in his pockets and was grinning. Her lips curved as well. It felt very good to smile.
“So, ice man”—she cocked her head, lifted a brow—“what are you going to do about your sexy new wife?”
Roarke ran his tongue over his teeth, then stepped forward. “Why don’t I demonstrate?”
* * *
She thought it would be better, facing the trip back, being flung through space like a kid’s ray ball. She was wrong.
Eve argued, using what she considered very logical reasons why she shouldn’t get into Roarke’s private transport.
“I don’t want to die.”
He laughed at her, which had her eyes kindling, then he simply scooped her up and carried her on board. “I’m not staying.” Her heart jittered into her chest as he stepped into the plush cabin. “I mean it. You’ll have to knock me out to get me to stay on this flying death trap.”
“Mmm-hmm.” He chose a wide, scoop-shaped chair in buttery black leather, kept her in his lap and, moving quickly, strapped her in, trapping her arms to limit any possible reprisals.
“Hey. Stop it.” Panicked, she struggled, wiggled, swore. “Let me out. Let me off.”
Her snug butt jiggling on his lap gave him a solid clue as to how he intended to spend the initial hours of the trip. “Take off as soon as you have clearance,” Roarke ordered the pilot, then smiled at the flight attendant. “We won’t need you for a while,” he told her and engaged the locks on the cabin doors the moment she made a discreet exit.
“I’m going to hurt you,” Eve promised. When she heard the hum of engines gearing up, felt the faint vibration under her feet that signaled imminent takeoff, she seriously considered gnawing at the safety harness with her teeth. “I’m not doing this,” she said definitely. “I am not doing this. Tell him to abort.”
“Too late.” He wrapped his arms around her, nuzzled her neck. “Relax, Eve. Trust me. You’re safer here than you are driving through midtown.”
“Bullshit. Oh Christ.” She squeezed her eyes tight as the engine let out a powerful roar. The shuttle seemed to shoot straight up, leaving her stomach flopping on the ground below. The g’s slapped her back, plastering her against Roarke.
She was barely breathing by the time the ride smoothed out and she discovered that the pressure in her chest was caused by the fact that she was holding her breath. She let it out in a whoosh, then sucked in air like a diver surfacing from a great depth.
She was still alive, she told herself. And that was something. Now, she would have to kill him. It was then she realized that not only was she unstrapped, but her shirt was unbuttoned and his hands were on her breasts.
“If you think we’re going to have sex after you—”
He merely swiveled her to face him. She caught the glint of humor and lust in his eyes just before his mouth closed cagily over her breast.
“You bastard.” But she laughed as pleasure speared into her, and she cupped her hands behind his head to urge him on.
She’d never take for granted what he could do to her, do for her. Those wild floods of pleasure, the slow, thrilling glide of it. She rocked against him, let herself forget everything but the way his teeth nipped, his tongue licked.
So it was she who pulled him onto the thick, soft carpet, she who dragged his mouth to hers. “Inside me.” She tugged at his shirt, wanting that hard, muscled flesh under her hands. “I want you inside me.”
“We have hours yet.” He dipped to her breasts again, so small, so firm, already warm from his hands. “I need to taste you.”
He did, lavishly. The subtle variety of flavors, from mouth to throat, from throat to shoulder, shoulder to breast. He sampled with tenderness, with finesse, with a quiet concentration focused on mutual pleasure.
He felt her begin to tremble under his hands and mouth.
Her skin grew damp as he roamed to her belly, easing her slacks down, nibbling his way between her thighs. His tongue flicked there, making her moan. Her hips arched for him even as he cupped them, lifted them, opened her. When his tongue slid lazily into the heat, he felt the first orgasm rip through her.
“More.” Greedy now, he devoured. She would let go for him as she had for no one else, he knew. She would lose herself in what they made together.
When she was shuddering, when her hands lay limp on the carpet, he slid up her body, slipped into her. Mated.
Her eyes fluttered open, met his. Concentration was what she saw there. Absolute control. She wanted, needed to destroy it, to know she could, as he could destroy her.
“More,” she insisted, hooking her legs around his waist to take him deeper. She saw the flicker in his eyes, the deep, dark need that lived inside him and, pulling his mouth to hers, scraping her teeth over those beautifully formed lips, she moved under him.
He fisted his hands in her hair, his breath quickening as he rammed himself into her, harder, faster, until he thought his heart would burst from the ferocity of it. She matched him, beat for beat, thrust for thrust, those short, unpainted nails digging into his back, his shoulders, his hips. Delicious little bites of pain.
He felt her come again, the violent contraction of her muscles fisting over him like glory. Again, was all he could think. Again and again and again, as he hammered into her, swallowing her gasps and moans, shuddering from the thrilling sound of flesh slapping wetly against flesh.
He felt her body tense again, revving toward peak. As that long, low, throaty moan slipped through her lips, he pressed his face into her hair, and with one final thrust, he emptied himself.
He collapsed onto her, his mind fuzzed, his heart thundering. She was limp as water beneath him but for the rage of her heart against his.
“We can’t keep this up,” she managed after a moment. “We’ll kill each other.”
He managed a wheezing laugh. “We’ll die well, in any case. I had intended a bit more romance—some wine and music to cap off the honeymoon.” He lifted his head, smiled down at her. “But this worked, too.”
“It doesn’t mean I’m not still pissed off at you.”
“Naturally. We’ve had some of our best sex when you’re pissed off at me.” He caught her chin between his teeth, flicked his tongue along the slight dent in the center. “I adore you, Eve.”
While she was adjusting to that, as she always did, he rolled off, got lightly to his feet, and walked naked to a mirrored console between two chairs. He laid his palm on it, and a door slid open. “I have something for you.”
She eyed the velvet box with suspicion. “You don’t have to get me presents. You know I don’t want you to.”
“Yes. It makes you uncomfortable and uneasy.” He grinned. “Perhaps that’s why I do it.” He sat beside her on the floor, handed her the box. “Open it.”
She imagined it would be jewelry. He seemed to thrive on giving her body decorations: diamonds, emeralds, ropes of gold that left her stunned and feeling awkward. But when she opened it, she saw only a simple white blossom.
“It’s a flower?”
“From your wedding bouquet. I had it treated.”
“A petunia.” She found herself sentimentally teary-eyed as she picked it out of the box. Simple, basic, ordinary, one that might grow in any garden. The petals felt soft, dewy, and fresh.
“It’s a new process one of my companies has been working on. It preserves without changing the basic texture. I wanted you to have it.” He closed a hand over hers. “I wanted both of us to have it, so we could be reminded that some things last.”
She raised her eyes to his. They had both come from misery, she thought, and survived it. They had been drawn together through violence and tragedy, and had overcome it. They walked different paths and had found a mutual route.
Some things last, she thought. Some ordinary things. Like love.
Three weeks hadn’t changed Cop Central. The coffee was still poisonous, the noise abominable, and the view out of her stingy window was still miserable.
She was thrilled to be back.
The cops in her unit had arranged for a message to await her. Since it was blinking slyly on her monitor when she walked in, she figured she had her old pal Feeney, the electronics whiz, to thank for bypassing her code.
WELCOME BACK, LIEUTENANT LOVEJOY
Hubba-hubba? She snorted out a laugh. Sophomoric humor, maybe, but it made her feel at home.
She glanced over the mess on her desk. She hadn’t had time to clear anything up between the unexpected closing of a case during her bachelor party and her wedding day. But she noted the neatly sealed disc, competently labeled, sitting atop her stack of old work.
That would be Peabody’s doing, Eve concluded. Sliding the disc into her desk unit, she cursed once and slapped the drive to cure the razzing hiccups it emitted, and saw that the ever-reliable Peabody had indeed written the arrest report, filed it, and logged it.
It couldn’t, Eve mused, have been easy on her. Not when she’d been sharing a bed with the accused.
Eve glanced at the old work again, grimaced. She could see she had court dates stuffed and layered together over the next few days. The schedule juggling she’d had to do to accommodate Roarke’s demand for three weeks away had had a price. It was time to pay up.
Well, he’d done plenty of juggling as well, she reminded herself. And now it was back to work and reality. Rather than review the cases she would soon give testimony for, she bumped up her ’link and put out a search for Officer Peabody.
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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