Senseless

( 38 )

Overview

Every Serial Killer Knows. . .

The vicious burns scarring the victims' flesh reveal the agony of their last moments. Each woman was branded with a star, then stabbed through the heart. With every death, a vengeful killer finds a brief, blissful moment of calm. But soon it's time for the bloodshed to start again. . .

The Perfect Time. . .

Ten years ago, Eva Rayburn and her sorority sisters were celebrating the ...

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Senseless

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Overview

Every Serial Killer Knows. . .

The vicious burns scarring the victims' flesh reveal the agony of their last moments. Each woman was branded with a star, then stabbed through the heart. With every death, a vengeful killer finds a brief, blissful moment of calm. But soon it's time for the bloodshed to start again. . .

The Perfect Time. . .

Ten years ago, Eva Rayburn and her sorority sisters were celebrating the end of the school year. That party turned into a nightmare Eva can't forget. Now she's trying to start over in her Virginia hometown, but a new nightmare has begun. Every victim is linked to her. And Detective Deacon Garrison isn't sure whether this mysterious woman needs investigating--or protecting. . .

To Make His Mark

Only Eva's death will bring peace. Only her tortured screams will silence the rage that has been building for ten long years. Because what started that night at the sorority can never be stopped--not until the last victim has been marked for death. . .

Praise for the novels of Mary Burton

"A twisted tale. . .I couldn't put it down!" --Lisa Jackson on Dying Scream

"Taut, compelling. . .delivers a page-turner." --Carla Neggers on I'm Watching You

"A chilling thriller." --Beverly Barton on Dead Ringer

"Mary Burton's latest romantic suspense has it all--terrific plot, complex and engaging protagonists, a twisted villain, and enough crime scene detail to satisfy the most savvy suspense reader."--Erica Spindler, New York Times bestselling author of Blood Vines

Prologue

Saturday, April 1, Midnight

Duct tape muffled the woman's hoarse moans as a hooded figure stoked the glowing embers in the basement hearth. She had been screaming and struggling, hoping to get her captor's attention since she'd started awake . . . was it an hour ago? Two hours? Down in this cellar prison, time leaked away like the drip, drip of water from an overhead pipe.

No amount of crying or rattling of chains against the stone floor diverted the shadowy figure's attention from the flames that hungrily danced and licked the logs in the ancient hearth. Twig by twig, her jailer tenderly fed the flames as a mother might nourish a child, never paying her a moment's attention. In this dank place, she was invisible, of no greater consequence than the three-legged chair leaning in the shadowy corner or the trash bags piled by the rickety staircase.

The hard, uneven stone floor dug into her back, cramping her muscles, numbing her skin and driving home the realization that there'd be no escape. She was going to die.

She closed her eyes, the thud of her heart mingling with the crackle of the fire and the clink of the andiron against the blackened grate cradling the logs. Since childhood, she'd been told she didn't deserve happiness or a full life. Bad girl. You are a bad girl. All her life, she railed against those messages, grabbing or stealing what she could to not only survive but also to prevail.

Maybe the dark message funneled into her soul since the cradle was right. Bad girls always came to a bad end.

Despair rose up in her like a black storm cloud, wrapping around her throat and beckoning her to relent. It would be so easy to give in to her predestined fate. So easy just to close her eyes and let the darkness slide over her.

As she eased toward the mental abyss, ready to surrender to fate, a primal survival urge jerked her back from the edge.

No! You want to live! You deserve to live!

She opened her eyes and stared at her captor. He wasn't so large. He didn't look so strong. Or so evil. Perhaps she could wedge a bit of reason under his icy exterior and get him to take pity.

Drawing on what little energy remained in her limbs, she kicked and screamed, but he didn't shift his gaze from the fire.

God, what was he planning? What could he want with her? As her mind tumbled over increasing vicious scenarios, fear and panic reignited her struggles. Please, God, get me out of this. A thousand promises, I swears and resolutions raced through her mind as she bartered with God.

And then a miracle came in the form of a loud thump from upstairs. The noise cut through the stream of I swears. She craned her neck toward the rickety staircase that led to the upper floor. Someone had arrived! Her heart pounded faster, harder and her stomach coiled like a tight spring.

She studied her captor's posture, searching for a sign. Was the upstairs arrival good or bad? Did this creep have some sick friend who'd come to enjoy this party? Or did she have a savior?

His narrow shoulders stiffened and an abrupt jerk of his head toward the door told her that the guest was uninvited.

Hope exploded. Maybe someone had come! Maybe someone had figured out that she'd been kidnapped.

Oh, God. Oh, God. Please send someone to save me!

She jerked against her bindings and screamed muffled pleas, projecting her voice beyond the tape.

Sunglasses and a hood hid a great deal, but she caught traces of a scraggly beard as he carefully laid down his iron and climbed the stairs to the first floor.

He unlocked a shiny new padlock on the basement door, opened it and vanished.

Her heart thundered in her chest as she strained to listen. Above, the ceiling creaked as her jailer crossed the first floor in search of the intruder.

Someone, please, save me.

Floorboards creaked with light tentative footsteps of the newcomer who moved about the upstairs freely. As the seconds passed, the footsteps grew more confident as if the new arrival wasn't expecting company.

Be careful! He's waiting for you!

She screamed until her throat burned, but the duct tape muffled her words, garbling all her warnings.

The intruder moved across the first floor. Her jailer remained still, lying in wait, like a snake ready to strike.

And then a loud scream, "Shit!"

A scuffle followed. Bodies slammed against walls. Glass hit the floor and shattered. A subdued groan and something large slammed the floor, as if a body had crumpled under its own weight. And then silence.

The woman's heart jack hammered her ribs so hard she thought bones would crack as she frantically twisted her hands and stared at the door, hoping for a miracle.

Who had won the battle? She struggled against her bindings, willing the hemp to snap even as it cut into her flesh.

Oh, God, save me!

Her mind tumbled as she imagined police storming into the basement and cutting her bindings as they explained in soothing tones that she was now safe.

They'd ask her what had happened and she'd calmly explain.

"The last thing I remember was sitting at the bar in Moments, a little upscale place on the Potomac. It's a good place to hang out. Normal people, like doctors, lawyers and bankers, drink at Moments. It's not the kind of place crazy people visit. It's safe."

She'd be sure to mention that she'd only sipped a single white wine and had spent most of that night chatting with the female bartender, killing time until her blind date showed. This had been her Saturday night routine for over a year.

Toward the end of the evening, a guy had settled beside her on a bar stool. He'd worn sunglasses, had a neatly trimmed beard and a nice oversized dark suit. He was a strange still man who could hardly be classified as overly masculine. Her stepfather would have called him a "Girlie-man." He'd ordered vodka in a quiet raspy voice that had sent a chill whispering down her spine. But his drink had arrived and he'd sipped it without fanfare as if content to be alone. Ignoring him had been easy.

She remembered a woman walking into the restaurant and shouting someone needed to fix her flat tire. The shrill voice knifed through the hum of conversation and soft jazz.

Distracted, she had turned to see who was making so much noise. She'd classified the woman as unimportant . . . some nobody from the street. She'd returned to her drink, forgetting the woman even before she'd swallowed her next sip.

And then . . . then she'd woken up here--a dank, dark basement, tied to the floor.

Oh, God, how she desperately wanted to tell that story. To be saved.

Seconds passed--then minutes and then the steady sound of footsteps. Steady. Not rushed. Cautious like a rescuer or unhurried like a madman? Impossible to tell.

And still she hoped. What if her savior was just being cautious? He didn't know what was downstairs.

He had to be careful so he didn't get hurt himself.

Please hurry.

The door at the top of the stairs opened and a silhouetted form appeared. Who was there? He descended the steps, carefully and deliberately moving into the light generated by the fire.

Her captor.

No savior.

No rescue.

Fresh tears welled and streamed down the side of her face, pooling in her knotted blond hair.

As if she were invisible, he passed her, his attention transfixed by the fire. He stoked the embers, whistling as he lovingly coaxed more life from the flames.

Tears ran down her face. Look at me, damn you! See me as a frightened woman! She was a good girl. She was from a respectable family. Sure she liked to party. What girl didn't? She'd told a terrible lie years ago, but it had haunted her almost every day of her life and she'd prayed for forgiveness. She'd donated to an animal shelter at Christmas. She went to church at Easter. She laid flowers on her stepfather's grave even though the bastard had never deserved respect. Christ, she'd just turned thirty.

Good people didn't die this way.

She didn't deserve this!

Her head slumped back as she tried to block out the panic and focus on what might get her out of this horror.

Oh, Holy Mother of God, this had to be a nightmare. It had to be! This did not happen to regular girls. It just didn't.

But the raw skin on her wrists and pain in her spine said otherwise. This wasn't a nightmare.

Fear fisted in the woman's gut as she stared at the man. Was he the one from the bar who'd sat down beside her? She couldn't tell, but sensed he had to be the one. Who else would do this to her? The one man she'd known who could be this cruel had died years ago.

"Finding you was easy, you know." His voice sounded like sandpaper rubbing against wood. "You didn't move more than five blocks from your parents' house."

She stopped struggling, searching her brain for any clue to his identity. But as much as she tried to cut through haze and confusion, she found no answers. Fear rose up in her and she couldn't suppress a moan that sounded like an animal caught in a trap.

The guy straightened and turned. He wore a large bulky coat, making it hard to judge his size, maybe five nine. As the figure moved toward her, his glasses reflected the firelight, which mingled with her terrified face. He pulled the tape from her mouth and the adhesive pulled bits of the skin on her lips. She tasted blood.

"Surprised to see me again?"

The raspy voice sent a chill snaking down her spine. In the dim light she could see that he wore a wig and his beard appeared fake. Smoky glasses obscured his eyes.

She winced, moistening her cracked dry lips with her tongue. "You were in the bar."

"Yes."

If she hadn't been trying so hard to ignore him in Moments she'd have seen he was a freak. "You drugged me."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Makes you more reasonable." With a gloved hand he pushed up her shirt, exposing her flat belly.

"What are you doing?" Her white flesh quivered with fear.

Gently, he smoothed his hand over the pale skin.

"So pretty and clean. But we both know that you aren't clean, are you?"

"I'm a good girl."

"No, you are not."

Her mind reeled. Make a connection. Let this freak see that I'm a person. "I have a family. Parents. A child."

He circled an index finger around her belly button. "You haven't seen any of them in a very long time. None of them want you."

The words clawed at her insides. He was right. She'd lost contact with them all. She grasped for the right words that would cause delay. "Someone was upstairs! Someone knows you are here. They know I am here."

"He's trussed up like a pig for slaughter. I'll deal with him after you."

Tears welled in her eyes. "Please let me go."

He arched an amused eyebrow. "Can you imagine?

A thief breaking into this house, tonight of all nights. Talk about timing." A smile teased the edges of his beard. "You can scream if you want."

Her heart hammered so hard it rattled her ribs like a speeding freight train. Tears spilled down her cheeks.

"I'm not going to scream."

The guy cocked his head. "Why not? You've reason to scream."

Oh, God. Please. "I won't scream."

The smile widened, revealing small yellowed teeth. "We shall see."

Words tangled with fear and caught in her throat. "What do you want?"

"You."

"Why? I'm nobody. You said so yourself. My family doesn't want me. I'm not worth the time."

"No, you're special."

Special. That's what her stepfather used to say. My special little girl, it'll be our secret, won't it? "What do you want?"

"Not much really. All you have to do is lie still."

Gloved hands stroked her hair, the heavy-handed gesture pulling hard against her blond curls.

She winced. "I want to leave."

"No."

Panic rose up in her throat. "People will miss me."

"No they won't."

With quick, angry strokes, the guy jabbed a metal rod into the embers. Finally, he raised the tip out of the flames and inspected the glowing star-shaped tip.

A four-pointed star.

Memories from long ago burned through her mind, forcing her to remember a time she'd worked hard to forget. "What are you going to do with that?"

"You remember the star, don't you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"The star. And The Secret."

Memories elbowed to the front of her mind. "No, I don't remember," she lied.

"Liar."

"No, I swear." She squirmed and tugged against her bindings but her struggling only tightened their hold. He adjusted his sunglasses as he stared at the glowing red star. "I promise you before I'm done, it'll be burned in your memory."

Sobs fueled her hysteria. "Please, I don't want to remember."

He knelt beside her, the coarse fabric of his pants brushing her hip. "Your job is to send a message to the others."

The others. "You don't know about the others."

"I surely do. I surely do. And soon everyone will know of their betrayal." The scent of hot metal wafted around her, stirrng up the old sin buried under a decade of wine and denial.

"Please." Her gaze locked on the red tip of the brand and every muscle in her body tensed with terror.

"Starlight, star bright; the first star I see tonight. I wish I may; I wish I might; Have the wish I wish tonight."

And then he touched the hot brand to her stomach. The metal seared into her flesh. Instantly, pain robbed her of breath and she couldn't squeak out a sound.

Every nerve in her body convulsed. When he pulled the brand away, the pain lingered. Her heart slammed the walls of her chest, as if trying to flee the agony.

Glasses hid her tormentor's eyes, but a twitch of his lips betrayed a euphoric joy as if this moment had been a pleasure long denied. "When I'm done, they'll see you and they'll know it's time to atone."

Her lungs contracted, sucking in air.

She screamed like a wild animal caught in a trap.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stieg Larsson fans will find a lot to like in Burton's taut, well-paced novel of romantic suspense. Eva Rayburn returns home to Alexandria, Va., after serving 10 years in prison for a crime she's not sure she committed--the murder of Josiah Cross--after the terrible night when Josiah, the ex-boyfriend of one of Eva's college sorority sisters, terrorized Eva and the other residents of their sorority house, branding each with a four-pointed star. Now, the women who survived are starting to die at the hands of a serial killer, who first brands each victim with a four-pointed star. Eva joins forces with Deacon Garrison, an Alexandria city homicide detective, to find the revenge killer. Despite their initial distrust, Deacon and Eva end up unable to fight the spark between them. Burton (Dead Ringer) surrounds her appealing protagonist with a strong supporting cast, including a largehearted bar owner, a ruthless crime reporter, and a self-preserving socialite. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Ten years after surviving a brutal attack that led to her subsequent arrest and ten-year imprisonment because of the death of her attacker, Eva Rayburn returns home to Alexandria, VA, to rebuild her life. Only now bodies are being discovered, and they're somehow related to that long-ago crime, an event she could never fully remember. Homicide detective Deacon Garrison must battle his attraction to Eva and figure out whether she's involved in these new killings, and if so, why. VERDICT In the first of two linked novels, rising romantic suspense star Burton (Dying Scream) gives us a fast-paced thriller with a touch of romance. With hard-edged, imperfect but memorable characters, a complex plot, and no-nonsense dialog, this excellent novel will appeal to fans of Lisa Gardner and Lisa Jackson. [Merciless, the second book, will be published February 2011.—Ed.]—Debbie Haupt, St. Charles City/Cty. Lib. Dist., St. Peters, MO
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781420110197
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 1/1/2011
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 178,267
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

First Chapter

SENSELESS


By MARY BURTON

ZEBRA BOOKS

Copyright © 2011 Mary Burton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4201-1019-7


Chapter One

Monday, April 3, 9:15 P.M.

"What are you doing?" Eva whispered.

The fear in her voice fueled his excitement and anger as he dangled her star pendant over the dancing flames. "You're so proud of your star necklace. So proud of being a Rising Star. Now you'll have it with you forever."

As she pushed against the hearth to free herself, he shoved his full weight into her body. Her face scraped against the mortar, and when she whimpered, his erection hardened against her backside. As the metal star heated, she realized being raped again paled to what he now planned. "Josiah, don't do this. You've taken enough."

"Not even close." He removed the star from the flame, tossed it on the floor and then shoved her back, pressing her right shoulder into the hot metal. Instantly, it burned through her shirt and into her flesh.

She howled in anguish. His excitement grew. But as he reached for the hem of her skirt, agony turned her world black.

* * *

Eva Rayburn jerked awake, gripping the steering wheel of her truck, dragging in a lungful of air. Her muscles, as tense as a bow, braced for attack.

Seconds passed. No burning pain seared her flesh, and her muscles eased. Cocooned by the night, she heard only the distant sound of traffic and the chirp of a nearby grasshopper. The dream's smothering haze slowly eased its grip and the familiar came into focus. She was in the cab of her old truck parked on a suburban street corner. Safe. Okay. Years away from that terrible night she'd endured long ago.

"Damn it." She rested her head against the steering wheel and drew in a deep, deep breath before slowly letting it leak away. "Just the dream. Just the dream."

She slumped back against the seat, grabbed the edge of her T-shirt and billowed the ends until the sweat dripping between her breasts dried. It had been years since she'd suffered through the nightmare, and its arrival didn't bode well.

Eva checked her watch, cursed herself for having dozed and then glanced toward the one-story house across the street. A '72 red Porsche was now parked in the driveway, signaling her guy had arrived home.

"Way to go, Eva," she muttered. "Sleep through the job."

Eva tucked her long hair under a FLORIST ball cap, grabbed the bouquet of daisies and a clipboard and jogged toward the front door of the one-level rancher. She rang the bell, shoving aside a quiver of worry. An overhead bulb spit out a weak halo of light that ringed the cracked brick porch steps and a ragged welcome mat. Not a lot of light but enough to see her way quickly back down the stairs.

She'd been a part-time process server for about three months. The work fit well around her job as a waitress/bartender at King's pub and her other gig as a night attendant at a homeless shelter. Normally, she didn't squeeze in a delivery between a shift at the pub and an overnight at the shelter, but her boss, Luke Fraser at LTF Processing, had promised her extra cash for this delivery tonight. The additional income had been too sweet to pass up.

Luke had described the job as a piece of cake. Piece of cake. Luke never paid extra for easy jobs, and toss in that this was a divorce court summons for a guy nicknamed Bigfoot, she'd decided to play it safe and go with her florist delivery ruse. Eva adjusted her cap and rang the bell a second time. The faint scent of garbage rose from the daisies retrieved from the Dumpster behind a florist shop down the alley from King's. All she needed was a signature.

She rang the bell a third time.

Eva straightened her slim build to her full five feet one. Faded jeans hung on her slim hips and an oversized black hoodie swallowed her narrow shoulders and flat chest. As her mother used to say, she weighed one hundred pounds "soaking wet." The clothes combined with her small stature had most guessing she was a high school kid, not a woman in her late twenties. She hoped this guy pegged her for a kid because people generally underestimated kids.

Footsteps sounded behind the front door. Her heart kicked up a notch, but her chin stayed level and her stance relaxed. Just a signature. Piece of cake. Just serve him and then get the hell out of Dodge.

The door snapped open to one of the tallest men she'd ever met. The guy stood at least six foot six and had to have weighed three-hundred-plus pounds. A stained wife-beater T-shirt stretched across a wide chest and three days' growth of beard covered a lantern jaw. Bigfoot.

Behind him a table lamp lit a messy room furnished with a worn couch and a flat-panel sixty-four-inch television airing a game show.

"I have a delivery for Bruce Radford."

He snorted. "I don't know what the hell you are selling, kid, but I don't want it." His deep voice, raspy from cigarettes, telegraphed annoyance.

"I'm not selling. I'm delivering." Extra attitude in the voice hid the nerves flexing in her belly. "Are you Bruce Radford?"

Radford moved to close the door. "Nobody here ordered any fucking flowers."

She shrugged, still careful to keep her expression neutral. "Like I said, I ain't selling anything, mister. Just delivering flowers. You Bruce Radford or not?"

Bloodshot eyes narrowed.

"If you're not, just say so. I'm too tried to play games. I'll tell the boss you refused the flowers." She turned to leave.

"Who sent them?" He was more careful than she'd expected.

Eva paused and glanced at the clipboard, pretending to read. "Some woman named Wanda."

"I don't know a Wanda."

"She's some hot chick that came into the shop at closing time. Red dress. Blond hair."

The suspicion darkening his eyes faded a fraction. "Blond?"

"Yeah. And big boobs."

A hint of a smile tugged his full lips. He didn't know who the hell Wanda was but blond and big boobs suited him just fine. "I'll take 'em."

"So you are Bruce Radford?" The scent of stale pizza and beer mingled with his body odor.

"Yeah, I'm Radford."

"Great." Eva pulled a pen from behind her ear and held it out. For good measure, she tossed in a smile. "Just need your John Hancock."

Bruce studied the paper but in the fading light couldn't possibly read the small print. "Must be the chick at Hanson Trucking. She's got a thing for me."

She edged the clipboard closer, obscuring the page with most of her hand. "Just sign here and I'll be out of your hair."

Pursing his lips to hide a smile, Radford nodded. "Cool."

Radford grabbed her outstretched pen and scrawled his name in a sloppy mixture of print and cursive that reminded her of a third grader. "Thanks."

She shoved the flowers and tore off a copy of the delivery slip. "You have a nice night."

Absently, he took the slip. "Sure."

Eva moved toward her truck, praying the starter didn't act up and wishing she'd had enough gas in the tank to keep the engine running. Just hustle across the yard and get behind the wheel before Radford figures out what he's really signed—an agreement to appear in court. When he figured out he'd been tricked, he'd be one pissed hombre.

Eva fished her keys out of her pocket, got in the truck and fumbled in the dim light for the ignition. A glance over her shoulder told her Radford hadn't raised his gaze from the flowers, which he sniffed like a lovesick fool. He'd already forgotten about the delivery kid. Round one goes to Eva.

She cranked the engine.

Nothing. She tried the engine a second time. Still nothing. Crap. Another look at Radford had him studying the paper closely. The dumb schoolboy look morphed into confusion and then anger. "Hey, what the hell is this?"

Tension fisted in Eva's gut. She cranked the engine. Nada.

What had her boss, King, said when he'd lent her the truck? Count to three and then try again. Shit. One. She glanced over at Radford who sprinted across the yard toward her truck. Two. He reached the street in seconds and thundered halfway across the street when she lost her nerve and turned the key.

Click. Click. Click.

No engine roared to life.

Normally, she'd get out and tighten a few wires and the problem would be solved, but if she got out now, Radford would likely beat her to a pulp.

With the paper balled in his fist, Radford shouted, "What the hell is this, bitch?"

She pulled in a deep breath. Shit. Shit. Shit. She locked the doors, wishing now she'd kept the engine running. Certainly, running out of gas a few miles from here would have been better than this mess.

Radford reached the door handle. Discovering it was locked he pounded his fist on the window. She jumped. Her hands sweated. Soon the battery would be dead.

He hit the window again, making it groan and flex under the assault. A couple more punches like that and it would shatter like a thin coating of ice.

"Bitch. Who the hell sent you?" he shouted. "That damn wife of mine sent you, didn't she? I ain't giving her a divorce. Greedy whore."

Eva's focus remained on the ignition. Her hands steadied and her mind became oddly clear. She didn't bother with prayer, learning long ago that only she could solve her problems.

The fist smacked against the glass again and this time left a spiderweb of cracks. "I'm gonna pummel your bony ass."

Eva skipped counting to three and cranked the engine. This time the motor moaned and sputtered to life just as Radford hit the window a third time. Spiderweb cracks spiraled out from his fist, and if the glass had given way his fist would have landed on her jaw.

She shoved the gear into drive and punched the gas. Gravel sputtered under the back tires that struggled for traction.

Radford ran alongside, pounding metal with his fist. She gripped the wheel and held on tight. The truck picked up speed and Radford couldn't keep pace. A grin tugged the corners of her lips.

Bruce yelled obscenities, nearly tripped and released his grip. "I'm going to kill you, bitch. I'm going to kill you."

Eva held a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. She glanced in her rearview mirror and saw him running after the truck, his fist punching in the air. He finally stopped, bent over to suck in air, but took his gaze off her.

She plowed through a stop sign at the corner and drove several blocks before she slowed and rounded a corner. For several seconds, her heart pounded in her chest and sweat trickled down her spine. As her gas gauge hovered and sometimes dipped below empty, she drove for at least two miles before daring to really release the deep breath clogged in her lungs.

Adrenaline pumped through her veins, leaving her light-headed and, God help her, jazzed. She liked getting one over on bullies like Radford. Controlling bastards.

Luke owed her big time for this gig. A point she'd drive home when she reported.

She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Nine forty-five. Good. She was ahead of schedule, but had chewed through the last of her gas. Digging in her pocket, she pulled out three rumpled one-dollar bills as she ducked into the first gas station. She pumped exactly three dollars' worth and started the engine. The gas gauge barely registered above E, but she knew she had enough to do her for forty miles. Just enough.

Eva got back on the beltway and headed toward Hanna's House. She spent Monday nights at the halfway house, working as a kind of nighttime attendant/go-to gal in the shelter. Most times her shift was quiet, although she had a night when two residents got into insane arguments over television remotes or who ate the last cookie.

She checked her watch. It was Sally's night off, and the shelter director would need her at the house on time. Eva hated to disappoint her. In her early fifties, Sally was a modern-day hippie who loved her tie-dye shirts, silver and bead bracelets and long hair. They'd met at King's six months ago, just days after Eva had moved back to Alexandria. Eva had been bartending, Sally had come in for a sandwich and the two had hit it off immediately. Sally had dedicated her life to helping people no one else gave a crap about, which in Eva's book equated to big points.

Eva glanced up and realized she'd strayed into a part of town she'd carefully avoided since her return to Alexandria. It was filled with stately brick homes, neat lawns and smooth sidewalks. Anyone would have described it as affluent, upper crust and a great place to raise kids.

Eva should have kept moving through the neighborhood but she continued to drive deeper into the web of streets until she reached the old stone house. She'd been to this house a few times for parties. She'd been the kid on scholarship who'd not quite fit in at the private college, but Kristen Hall, the school's reigning senior, had taken Eva under her wing and introduced her to the world of the elite. At Kristen's house, she was cocooned from the outside world and surrounded by sweet scents, pretty dresses and glittering lights. She'd ventured into a world away from her foster care home with its noisy arguments and greasy fried food smells. Each visit to the Halls' home fueled Eva's belief in fairy tales and happy endings.

Absently, Eva rubbed the scar on the back of her shoulder. God, she'd been so very wrong.

Shaking off anger and sadness, she pushed on the gas and slowly drove away. No more memories. No more sadness. Eyes forward. She'd chanted this mantra for over a decade.

Eva concentrated on the road ahead and the work she'd do at the halfway house tonight. The past was dead. Reaching for the radio, she turned it to a rock tune, full of words that pounded the memories from her head.

As she drove through Alexandria and cut her way toward the halfway house in the southeastern portion of the city, her stomach grumbled and she realized she'd not eaten since breakfast. King's had been slammed today. Her shift should have ended at seven but she'd stayed to help with the crush. She'd dashed out, forgetting the dinner her boss had bagged for her. Hopefully, the shelter had plenty of peanut butter and bread.

She looked forward to seeing who bunked down for the night. Maybe Tony, the ex-military boxer who'd just gotten out of jail, would have a new story to tell. He liked to relive the glory days in the ring and had sworn to control his temper. Or Pam. She just celebrated three weeks of sobriety. She talked of regaining custody of her kids and getting a job. There was Luna, a young teen runaway. Eva had been trying to convince the girl to get her GED.

Eva had driven halfway down the second block stuffed with one-story ranchers when she saw the distant flashing lights of fire trucks. As she drove closer, she realized yellow fire engines and cop cars crowded into the end of the shelter's cul-de-sac. She veered away from the dead-end scene and drove down a parallel residential road. Parking, she got out and cut between the yards that separated the streets.

Large floodlights, set up by the fire department, shone on the shelter. The unnatural light cast an eerie glow on the two-story frame house reduced by fire to smoking timbers. Even though the crews had contained the blaze Eva could still feel the residual heat burning her face.

Fire engines and dozens of cop cars surrounded the building, their bright red and blue lights flashing in the dark.

Eva's head spun as the old memories of another fire rose up inside her and coiled around her chest. She could barely breathe and for a moment wanted nothing more than to bolt. Instead, she held her ground, shoving trembling hands through long black hair. She scanned the crowd for anyone that she recognized. Sally managed the shelter but she was nowhere to be found. And Rhonda, the evening manager, wasn't anywhere in sight.

Oh, God. Oh, God.

Her mind tripped to the people who were to have spent the night in the shelter. Tony. Pam. Luna. She kept hoping she'd see them next to one of the EMS trucks, huddled safely under a blanket. But she didn't see anyone.

She hugged her arms around her chest, wanting to rush forward under the yellow crime tape and ask the cops about the building occupants, but she didn't. Since she'd gotten out of prison six months ago, she avoided the cops. Cops translated into trouble and she'd sworn never again to trust a cop or return to prison.

But her friends. God, she had to find out something.

Tucking her head low, she moved toward the edge of the growing crowd of onlookers mesmerized by the bright red flames. The heat would be so hot now that it could sear lungs and melt flesh.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from SENSELESS by MARY BURTON Copyright © 2011 by Mary Burton. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. 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.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A strong romantic suspense starring an intriguing heroine who holds the taut thriller together

    After a decade in prison for the murder of Josiah Cross, Eva Rayburn is freed and returns home to Alexandria, Virginia. Eva thinks back to the horrific night when the predatory Cross terrorized her and other members of their sorority sisters after one of the coeds broke off with him. Ironically though she spends time behind bars, she remains unsure whether she actually killed the lunatic.

    However, someone begins murdering the sisters; using a heated branding iron to burn a four-pointed star on each of the conscious victims before stabbing their prey in the heart. Alexandria homicide detective Deacon Garrison leads the serial killer investigation with Eva assisting him although neither trusts one another.

    Senseless is a strong romantic suspense starring an intriguing heroine who holds the taut thriller together. The relationship between the cop and the con enhances the tenseness of the story line with a late twist that augments the feeling of doom. Readers will want to know who the serial killer is and why this psychopath targets the sorority sisters even with knowing the probable motive most likely ties back to Cross. This is a powerful thriller.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    ?

    Thanks to harriet klausner and the ither plot revealers, this is another book i cannot buy. Why pay good money when these rude ppl already revealed every detail? Anither sake lost

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 31, 2011

    Great read

    Have read all this authors books. She will appeal to all you mystery fans. Holds your interest.

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  • Posted April 26, 2011

    excellent

    i couldnt put this dwn and had to download the second book immediately

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  • Posted January 21, 2011

    New thriller

    First off, this is not a unique storyline. I have read several thrillers that revisit secrets of college life only to have them haunt the girls later in life. That being said, this is the first of a series that will surround sisters and cops. The characters are well developed, the thrills take off midway through the book and the beginning chapters are somewhat too mysterious to "get into" the book. That being said, it has one heck of an ending, some really good thrills and a few side stories that get a good link by the end. I will be interested in seeing how the series manifests itself. If you are not put off my a somewhat worn out storyline, then this a thriller to pick up.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2011

    Rock Solid Hit

    Eva Rayburn is in her late twenties (although she looks like she's 16). She's strong, incredibly smart, beautiful, tough, and an ex-con. Ten years earlier, while partying with her sorority sisters, Eva was raped and branded with a star-shaped pendant. A fire is set and she barely escaped with her life. Unfortunately (or depending on how you look at it, fortunately), her rapist, Josiah, dies in the fire, and Eva is convicted of killing him. She is fairly certain she did not kill Josiah, but she can't remember much about that night. Is she a cold-blooded murderer, or did she take the fall for someone else? The fact that her sorority sisters testified against her didn't help much either. Neither are the nightmares and bits and pieces of memories that keep coming back. But she is now trying to rebuild her life by, moving back to Alexandria where she was born and raised. She is working nights at a halfway house as an attendant, afternoons as a bartender, and in between as a process server. While she has grown close to King, (the bar owner who has a secret of his own), and his foster son, Bobby, (who has his own issues, as well), she still hasn't let her sister Angela know that she has been back in town for six months. A sister that she pushed away during her trial in order to protect her from Josiah's father, hell bent on making the person who took away his son suffer.

    Now someone is killing Eva's former sorority sisters. Each time a body is found, it has the same star-shape branded into them. The killer leaves the body of the first girl at the halfway house where Eva works, torching the place to boot. Detectives Deacon Garrison and Malcolm Kier are assigned to the case. It soon becomes apparent to Deacon that Eva is not just someone who happens to work at the burned-down Halfway House, but that she has a connection to the victim as well. What Deacon can't figure out is how Eva is involved. Is she seeking revenge for those that testified against her and cost her ten years of her life? What he does know is that there is definitely something going on between them. Something that is so instinctual, so deep, that it goes way beyond the cop/suspect/victim relationship.

    Eva must now fight to not only save her own life, but to also prove her innocence. Can she do it before it's too late? Or will she become the final victim of this maniac? Senseless is clever, dark, and full of suspense. The reader is pulled in from page one with a gruesome murder that will make you cringe yet have you turning the pages wanting more. The characters are well thought out, real and relatable. Senseless neatly fits into the "romantic suspense" category. What I love about what Ms. Burton has done is that while the reader knows who will end up with whom, it's not forced on you right at the beginning, making it seem implausible; the relationship builds over time, making it more believable. Get your map handy. You'll need it to follow all of the twists and turns Ms. Burton lays out for you all the way to the stunning, unbelievable, didn't-even-come-close-to-see-that-coming ending. Senseless is a rock sold hit! Make sure to check out the next book in the series, Merciless (due out Jan 25th), featuring Eva's sister, Angela, and Deacon's partner, Malcolm.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2011

    Fantastic Read

    Suspense to the nth degree keeps Senseless racing along with adrenaline-pumping action. Evil, with the super cunning of a sick mind, stealthily works to carry out a diabolical agenda.

    Eva Rayburn, a strong, smart, and beautiful young woman, is determined to get her life back on track after spending ten years in prison for a crime she did not commit. One of Eva's three jobs brings her to the attention of the cops, something she tries to avoid. Tiny but tough she stands her ground as the big, intimidating detectives Deacon Garrison and Malcolm Kier set in to solve the case of the burned halfway house where Eva worked as a night attendant. The dead woman found at the site seems to have no connection with halfway house, but she does figure into Eva's past, which opens up a can of worms-so tangled together there seems to be no way to unravel the knots. Ten years of evil doing seethes, coils, and clings together to obscure the doer of the horrific crimes.

    Detective Deacon Garrison, even though big and intimidating, uses his killer smile and soft-spoken manner when he needs to get information. He is convinced Eva is connected to the crimes of branding, killing, and burning that are happening, but he also finds her an enigma that intrigues him on a very personal and primal level.

    The multitude of compelling and important characters in Senseless create a complex plot that grabs the reader's attention and, at times, takes the breath away with horror, fear, or surprise. How the Cross family figures into Eva and her half-sister Angie's lives makes spellbinding reading.

    The way Mary Burton weaves together the many past and present happenings swirling around Eva is incredible. Ms. Burton's unique story-telling abilities make Senseless a chilling, spine-tingling, page-turner tale peopled with characters that seem very real. Their hopes, fears, flaws, and foibles make this story pulsate with strong emotions.

    The horrific crimes, complex relationships of the edgy characters along with an intense, twisted plot make Senseless remarkable reading.

    Originally posted at The Long and Short of It Romance Reviews

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