The Last Victimby Karen Robards
“[An] exceptional storyteller . . . Leave it to [Karen] Robards to deliver the start of a series that is distinctive and unforgettable!”—RT Book Reviews
A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Dr. Charlotte Stone regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. At the age of sixteen, she herself survived a serial/b>/i>… See more details below
“[An] exceptional storyteller . . . Leave it to [Karen] Robards to deliver the start of a series that is distinctive and unforgettable!”—RT Book Reviews
A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Dr. Charlotte Stone regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. At the age of sixteen, she herself survived a serial killer’s bloodbath. Because of the information she gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground, but Charlie kept her postmortem visions of the victims to herself. Years later, to protect her credibility as a psychological expert, she tells no one about these apparitions. Now a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. The Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. This is the one case Charlie knows she shouldn’t go near. But she also knows that she may be the one person in the world who can stop this vicious killer, especially when she receives help from an unexpected source: The fiery spirit of a seductive bad boy who refuses to be ignored.
“Excellent . . . This story is going to haunt you.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Thrilling . . . a fun and sexy read.”—Booklist
Features a preview of the next Charlotte Stone novel, The Last Kiss Goodbye.
“Draw a line between two extremely popular genres, mysteries and romance novels, and in the middle you will find the bestselling Robards. She merges the two worlds like no one else, deftly interlacing plot and passion.”—Albany Times Union
“Robards has a true flair for characterization and excels at adding large doses of humor to the spicy mix.”—RT Book Reviews
“One of the most popular voices in women’s fiction.”—Newsweek
“Robards is one terrific storyteller.”—Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
If Charlie Stone hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid, she would have died.
But in the random way the world sometimes works, the seventeen-year-old did drink several big tumblers full of Goofy Grape generously mixed with vodka, courtesy of her new best friend Holly Palmer. As a result, she just happened to be in the utilitarian bathroom off the Palmers’ basement rec room, hugging the porcelain throne when the first scream penetrated her consciousness.
Even muffled by floors and walls and who knew what else, it was loud and shrill and urgent enough to penetrate the haze of misery she was lost in.
“Holly?” Charlie called, lifting her head, which felt like it weighed a ton and pounded unmercifully.
Okay, her voice was weak. Probably Holly hadn’t heard her. Probably the scream was nothing, Holly’s little brothers fighting or something. Seeing that it was around two a.m., though, shouldn’t the eleven- and thirteen-year-olds have been asleep? Charlie had no idea: she knew nothing about tweenie boys. God, she should have followed her instinct and just said no to the booze. But as the new girl in Hampton High School’s senior class, Charlie hadn’t felt like she was in a position to refuse. From the first day of school, when they’d found out they were sharing a locker, sweet, popular Holly had taken Charlie under her wing, introduced her around. For that, Charlie was grateful. The veteran of seven high schools in just over three years, Charlie knew from bitter experience that there were a lot more mean girls out there than nice ones.
A late August Friday night in this small North Carolina beach town meant the movies. Four of them had gone together. The other two had moms who were reliable about picking their daughters up after. When Charlie’s mom hadn’t shown (typical), Holly had invited her to spend the night. They’d wound up sneaking out to meet Holly’s boyfriend, Garrett--a total hottie, who had to work till midnight, which was past Holly’s curfew--and go for a ride in his car. Since he’d had a friend with him--James, not quite as hot as Garrett, but still--it had actually worked out pretty well, except for the whole toxic Kool-Aid thing.
They’d driven to the shore, plopped down in the sand, and shared the concoction Garrett had mixed for them while they talked and watched the waves.
The good news was, Charlie might actually have gotten a bead on landing her own boyfriend. The bad news was, as soon as Garrett had dropped them off and they’d crept back down to the basement where supposedly they’d been watching TV all along, Charlie had had to rush straight to the bathroom. She’d been in there for what felt like forever, being sick as a parrot.
She’d be lucky if Holly ever invited her over again.
The second scream definitely did not come from one of the boys. High-pitched and shattering, it smashed through the ordinary sounds of the babbling TV and humming air-conditioning and thumping dryer in the next room like an axe through Jell-O. The fear in it was enough to make the hair stand up on the back of Charlie’s neck. Until it abruptly cut off, she forgot to breathe. The ensuing silence pulsated with . . . something. Tension, maybe. An electric kind of heaviness. Shooting to her feet, she swiped her long brown hair back from her face with one hand and headed for the door. Knees weak, battling a disorienting attack of the woozies along with the worst taste ever in her mouth, she grabbed the cold-from-the-air-conditioning brass knob.
“Teach you to ignore me . . .” The words were followed by the sharp sound of a blow. It was a man’s voice, low and deep. Mr. Palmer? Had he found out they’d snuck out?
Charlie froze, her hand still on the knob. She could see herself in the mirror over the sink. Average height, maybe a little too plump. Her face, cute, round, currently rosy from her mostly futile attempts to tan, had gone utterly white. Her blue eyes were the approximate size and shape of golf balls. The yellow T-shirt she wore with jeans looked neon bright in the drab space. Tonight there would be no blending in to the background for her. Earlier, standing out was what she had wanted. Her yet-to-be-proven theory was that, unlike birds, brilliant plumage on girls helped to attract boys. Whatever, James had seemed to like her.
“Don’t go anywhere,” the man said. At the ugly note in his voice, Charlie let go of the knob and took a step back. Pulse pounding, she stared at the raw wood panel. The tiny bathroom with its plain white toilet and sink and unpainted concrete block walls seemed to shrink as she stood there. There was no window, no way out except through that door.
Her heart thudded so hard she could feel it knocking in her chest.
A moment later the unmistakable creak of the door to the rec room told her it was being opened. She didn’t hear it shut, but then she didn’t hear anything after that. No footsteps, no voices. What was happening? Was he gone? Where was Holly?
All Charlie knew for sure was that she wasn’t about to just open that door.
Instead she dropped to her knees and tried looking beneath it, through the crack between door and floor.
The overhead light was still on, just like it was when she’d run for the bathroom. She could see the rug, a tan kind of Aztec print laid down over the concrete. She could see two legs of the coffee table, and a sliver of the tan leather couch. And Holly’s feet. Yes, definitely Holly’s feet, bare like her own. Slim and tanned, toenails painted bubblegum pink, poking out from beneath the fashionably raggedy hems of her jeans.
Judging from their position, Holly was lying on her side on the floor between the coffee table and the couch.
Charlie wet her lips. Something bad had happened. Something was really wrong.
Even as Charlie watched, Holly’s toes curled, straightened, curled again. Then Charlie heard a moan, low and drawn out. Her stomach bunched into a big knot. The moan came from Holly, no mistake about that. Whatever had gone down, Holly was hurt. She needed help. Had her dad beaten her up?
Mr. Palmer--Ben, all Holly’s friends called him, although Charlie, who’d only met him twice, hadn’t quite gotten there yet--was a lawyer. He seemed nice, not like the type who’d hit his daughter, but in Charlie’s experience of men, you just never knew.
The door to the rec room was open, she could see that much. There was no sign of the man, no sound from him. In her gut Charlie felt he was gone.
Standing up, Charlie took a deep breath. Then slowly, carefully, she eased open the door.
Just a crack. Just enough to see.
As she had thought, Holly lay on the floor, on her side. Her taut, tanned, cheerleader-worthy midriff was visible from the top of her hip bones to halfway up her rib cage because her hot pink tee was pulled way up. It was pulled way up because her arms were raised above her head in the most awkward-looking position ever. Charlie’s heart stuttered as she took in the silver bracelets circling Holly’s wrists, recognized them as handcuffs, and registered that Holly was handcuffed to the black plumbing pipe that rose along the room’s concrete block outer wall.
Oh, my God.
Holly’s dad hadn’t done that.
A swift glance around assured Charlie there was no one else in the room. So nervous she almost vibrated with it, Charlie hesitated. But what else could she do? Pulse racing, she flew to her friend’s side, nudging the coffee table out of the way, careful not to make a sound. Holly’s eyes were closed, she saw as she crouched beside her. Blood trickled from a cut just above her temple. The thread of bright scarlet sliding along Holly’s cheekbone horrified Charlie almost as much as the two strips of gray duct tape plastered over her friend’s mouth.
Oh, God. Oh, no. What do I do?
Panic tightened her throat, but she did her best to force it back. Cold sweat prickled to life around her hairline, beaded her upper lip.
“Holly.” Charlie’s whisper was urgent. She grabbed Holly’s arm, shook her. Whatever had happened, this was something way outside her experience. Way outside her ability to deal with. Casting terrified glances over her shoulder, she frantically felt the smooth metal handcuffs, felt the cool strength of the chain linking them, felt the solidity of the iron pipe they were wrapped around. No way were they coming off without the key. Her friend’s hands felt warm, but they were limp and almost colorless except for the pink of her nail polish. “Holly, wake up.”
Holly’s eyes opened. The pupils were enormously dilated, making her blue eyes look almost black. For a moment she blinked, unfocused. Then she saw Charlie and seemed to regain awareness.
“Mmm.” Holly moved in agitation. She turned her head, twisting, struggling to get free. The handcuffs clanked against the pipe. She kicked the coffee table, the sound of her feet hitting the wood loud as a clap to Charlie’s suddenly hypersensitive ears. Charlie’s heart leaped. She cast another of those terrified glances at the door.
If the man should come back . . .
Fear twisted inside her like a knife.
Grabbing Holly’s arm again, Charlie shook her head in an emphatic no.
“Shh,” she warned. Holly’s eyes met hers and clung, begging her. Fingers trembling, Charlie reached for the edge of the duct tape. Scrabbling at the edges, she managed to pull it off. The sticky side clung to her fingers. She had to pull the doubled strips off with her other hand, then stuck the tape on the wall.
“Do something. Get me out of here. He just walked in. He hit me.” The words spilled so fast out of Holly’s mouth they tumbled over one another. Her face was shiny with sweat. Her eyes were huge and glassy, her mouth blurry and smashed-looking from the tape.
“Who?” Grabbing one of the metal rings with both hands, Charlie tried yanking the cuff open.
“I don’t know. A stranger. Hurry.”
The cuff didn’t give by so much as a millimeter. Neither did the other. Upstairs, another scream split the night. This one was loud, guttural, animal-like. Charlie’s hands dropped away from the chain she was attempting to separate from the metal bracelets as a chill raced down her spine. Holly went completely still.
“Mom,” Holly whimpered. Her eyes darted around the room. “Oh, God, what’s happening? Help me.”
“Shh. I’m trying.” Desperately Charlie yanked at the pipe. Solidly set into the wall, it didn’t budge. Rolling onto her knees, Holly started yanking at the pipe, too. Clank, clank, clank, went the handcuffs.
“You have to be quiet.” Charlie’s voice was low but sharp. “If he hears you . . .”
“He’s got my mother. Oh, my God, what if he comes back to the basement?” Frantic, panting, Holly grabbed the pipe and tried to break it free of the wall. Thud, thud. Clank, clank. “You have to help me get out of here.”
Terror sent goose bumps racing over Charlie’s skin. She shot another frightened look at the door.
“Holly. Stop it. Be quiet.”
“You have to help me.”
Charlie’s palms were damp with sweat. She let go of the pipe. Holly wasn’t the only one at risk here. If the man came back, if he caught her, if he found out she was here, whatever this terrible thing was could happen to her, too. The knowledge dried Charlie’s mouth, sent her pulse into overdrive.
She stood up abruptly. “I can’t get you loose. I have to go for help.”
“Don’t leave me.” Holly’s eyes blazed with fear. Strands of her long blond hair hit Charlie’s face as Holly whipped her head around so that she was facing the wall. Scrambling into a crouch, Holly yanked desperately at the pipe, trying to free her trapped hands. Even as she was backing away, Charlie smelled the citrus-y scent of her friend’s perfume. Holly was sweating bullets, Charlie realized. Just like she was herself.
“I have to. I have to go.” Anguish made Charlie’s voice break as she continued to back away.
“You can’t.” The handcuffs clanked as Holly kept trying to free herself. Her head turned to track Charlie’s progress. Her eyes clung desperately to Charlie’s. “You can’t just leave me.”
“Be quiet, he’ll hear you. I’ll be as quick as I can.”
“Please. Please.” Holly started to sob as Charlie, able to take no more, turned her back on her and ran from the room. Charlie’s throat went tight. Her heart hung heavy as a bowling ball in her chest. Leaving her friend behind was one of the hardest things Charlie had ever had to do in her life. But getting help was the only smart thing to do, she told herself. She could use the phone, or run to a neighbor. What she couldn’t do was free Holly herself. And if the man caught her . . .
She couldn’t finish the thought. Fear washed over her in a cold wave.
The stairs were in the unfinished part of the basement, the part that held the washer and dryer and furnace and water heater. Out the rec room door, turn left, and there they were.
Charlie hesitated at the foot, looking up. Her heart pounded. Her pulse raced. The door at the top of the stairs was closed. It opened, she knew, into the kitchen. Concentrating hard as she crept up the stairs, hanging on to the handrail, moving as quietly as it was possible to move, Charlie tried to picture the Palmers’ kitchen. Big and modern, it had an island in the center where she and Holly and the other girls had chowed down on pizza earlier. And yes, in the far corner, beside the refrigerator, was the back door. All she had to do was make it to that door, then race across the backyard to the next house just yards away. Forget trying to call for help: she was better off getting out of the house and running to the next-door neighbor as fast as she could go.
I can’t let him catch me. Even forming the words in her mind made shivers race over her skin.
Pausing on the top step, listening intently at the closed door, she heard nothing beyond the normal sounds of the house. But she knew people were up there, in the main part of the house: for one thing, Holly’s family had to be there. And the man--where was he? Who was he?
Oh, God, if he decides to come into the basement now . . .
The thought was so horrifying Charlie felt faint.
Holding her breath, she turned the knob with infinite care, then pushed the door open the merest sliver.
Meet the Author
Karen Robards is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of forty books and one novella. The mother of three boys, she lives in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Unexpected but keeps you reading! When I started this book, I figured it was going to be the typical former victim meets hot FBI agent and romance blossoms. Wow, was I ever wrong! This is a romance like no other I have read in a while. Charlotte “Charlie” Stone is a psychologist studying serial killers for the Department of Justice. She is uniquely qualified for this because she is the only survivor of a killer known as the Boardwalk Killer. She has dedicated her life to finding out what makes these killers do what they do. At the present time she is working with Michael Garland who is on death row for the murder of seven women. Garland is a handsome and charismatic man who tries to play Charlie whenever she works with him. Her latest session is interrupted by two FBI agents who have come to ask her help on an urgent case of a missing girl whose family has been slaughtered at a beach area. This scenario is the exact thing that happened to Charlie when her friend Holly was killed a week after her family was murdered. Charlie does not want to get involved for many reasons but eventually agrees to do so. Before she can leave, Garland is stabbed by another inmate and despite her best efforts to save him, dies on the prison floor. This is when the book gets interesting. It turns out that Charlie has otherworldly skills that involve recently dead people who have died violently. This is more of a curse than a blessing and causes Charlie all kinds of problems with the FBI unit when she arrives at the scene of the murder. At first it is kind of amusing reading about Charlie trying to act normal while ghostly activity is happening around her, making her seem a bit of a strange one to FBI people. There is a budding romance with Bartoli, the handsome but solid team leader. The other two members, Crane and Kaminski, are quirky and interesting with a history between them The major twist in the book is the continued appearance of Garland and how his appearance impacts the case and Charlie’s equilibrium. Suffice it to say, it is unexpected to say the least. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about how the story played out but I found myself reading faster and faster to see what happened. According to the end notes there will be future books with Dr. Stone in them and it will be interesting to see how this series works. Charlie is an unusual character, a mix of strength and fears who find herself in a situation she would have never imagined. The whole premise could have gone wrong but it works. I am actually looking forward to reading more of the series and I wasn’t sure about that mid-way through. My advice is keep reading and you will be surprised how the book pulls you in.
There are only few books with a great storyline. This was one of them. A great summer read.
I love all of Karen Robards' books, but this one was especially good. Not predictable at all. Can't wait to read the second book in the series!
Loved it! Couldn't put it down after starting it!
Interesting story line. The cheesy yet crude (and ridiculously LONG) sex scenes between the main character and a convicted serial killer's ghost kinda ruined it fir me though. Totally unrealistic - and not because the guy was a ghost. Just silly.
I was surprised and really couldn't wait to get to the end! Looking forward to the next one
Karen Robard is an amazing storyteller. Tight with suspense, hot with romance and surprise plot twists this was an excellentand unique summer read. I can't wait to read morr about charlie and michael.
Could not put it down. So what if it is not believable? Great story line. Unpredictable. It was different from other books that seem to follow the exact same format. That is a good thing.
I feel somewhat conflicted about this book. I didn't like the idea of a ghost lover and I really didn't like the idea of her being turned on by a serial killer. Obviously in a future book we will learn that he is not a serial killer, but he will always be dead. I just don't see this having a good ending. I think having Garland communicate with her would be fine but he shouldn't be her love interest.
First book by author that I did not like.
Affter over a hundred pages of reading about the main character getting so upset she either was or was thinking about throwing up I gave up reading. Boring and stupid.
Karen Robards hooked me with Beachcomber and I have been reading her books ever since! The Last Victim is one of my favorites, she keeps you on the edge of the bed with suspense. I find myself reading every word of every page...no need to skip over any fluff because there is none! Can't wait for the sequel to come out in August!
I was lucky enough to receive a free copy if this in exchange for an honest review, and happily I can give a solidly positive review. This book takes the somewhat overused concept of the spunky female excelling in the male dominated field of criminal pathology. Dr. Charlotte Stone, known as Charlie to friends and co-workers, elected to take a terrible trauma from her youth and turn it into a dazzling career. Charlie is the only living witness of a serial killer's spree, but that was years ago and she likes to think she has made as much peace with surviving as she ever will. While in a local prison interviewing accused & convicted serial killer Michael Garland - her's was never caught and could still be out there - Charlie is pulled away from her interview by some FBI agents. At the moment she gets pulled away from her subject something terrible happens, but the hardest part is that she can't tell anyone the worst part of the experience. She simply has to live with it and do her best to ignore it while she tries to help local law enforcement & the FBI team that dragged her into this mess. It seems that either the serial killer that she escaped has returned to his games, or there is a sick copycat killer out there. Many think Charlie is their best shot at getting the most recently abducted teenage girl back before it is too late. Ms. Robards has taken a tried and true formula and made it her own. The characters have interesting layers and uncharted depths to be plumbed in future books. Charlie's personal quirk can possibly help her save the young girl's life, but at what cost to Charlie? Not only is she wrestling with her own demons from her past, but she is also wrestling with a big secret - a very opinionated secret at that! This book has a well developed story arc, or more like two parallel arcs, and clever plot devices that help make it stand out from the run of the mill police procedurals. It is fun working the case with the team and watching as Charlie learns to starting taking what she wants from life, consequences be damned. Watching Charlie wrestle with her emotions regarding her own personal antagonist-protagonist is a real treat, and I look forward to seeing where things go in the next book.
Karen Robards Goes Paranormal—The Last Victim As a longtime reader of Karen Robards, I didn’t think she could surprise me anymore. Well, she shocked me with this one. Charlie, our heroine, is a psychiatrist who sees the dead, including one ghost who just won’t go away. I don’t want to give away details of the plot, but it’s unlike anything she has written before, and it mesmerizes and repels in equal measure. It’s the first of a series, and I can’t wait for the next part. There is an excess of paranormal novels currently on the market, and the genre suffers from writing that is too weak to do justice to some otherwise very imaginative ideas. Despite a love of fantasy, magic, and all that jazz, I have given these novels a wide berth because of the mediocrity factor. Now that Karen Robards with her impressive writing chops (despite some disappointing efforts in recent years) has taken up the cause, I am onboard. Suzanne Brockmann has likewise embarked on a fantasy series with Born to Darkness. These novels take a stronger stomach than I usually need for pleasure reading, but so does the roller coaster, and I’ve always loved it. Exciting ideas in the hands of really good writers: this is something you shouldn’t pass up. Keep an open mind and enjoy.
I have been reading Karen Robard's mystery/romances for years and always look forward to them, but this one was very different. I get the fact that the author is tapping into the current supernatural craze but this did become borderline creepy at times. Without going into too much detail the main love interest here is with a dead convicted serial killer's ghost. I almost stopped reading around the halfway point, but then I started to get an idea of where I think she is going with this and that saw me through to the end of this first book in what is set to become a series. And now I confess I will probably read the next one because my interest is peaked. I only gave this two stars because I could see why a lot of readers would have given up early on it.
incredibly disappointing book by an author I usually like. I don't want to include spoilers, but let's just say that the heroine may be the character most in need of therapy that I have ever seen. I stopped reading this book about halfway through because of the horrible plot line and I will not be reading any more books in this series. Buyers beware.
Enjoyed that this book offered s completely different story!
I enjoyed this book and can't wait for the next one! ugh! i hate waiting! Wonder what happens to them next...
Normally, I read a book in one sitting. This one took three. It was good to read. It is just a bit far fetched. You have to wonder about the sequel and a happy ever after. I guess that the ghost will have an identical twin who actually did the killings - hence, the DNA match. Then the ghost will find a way to take his twin's body. But only the author knows. My advice with reading this book? Relax and enjoy. The perfect relationship - a guy at your fingertips who won't leave the toilet seat up.
This is the first time I read a Karen Robards book. It was a surprising mix of suspense and humor. Just to warn you, though, there is a supernatural element to the book. I highly recommend the book. The hero surprised me, but without giving too much away, a sequal is a must. I will be looking for it in the, hopefully near, future.
I' m confused it was a great story line ......But come on! A ghost lover? I understand the ghost she sees help her in her investigation. But a ghost lover? Yes Michael helped save her. But a ghost lover? If there is a sequel, not sure I would buy it. Karen Robards is one of my favorite authors.
Fell in love with the characters and the twists in the plot! Great read Can't wait to finish the next one!
Great Audio book
And i'm giving up. Sage? Salt? What next?