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John Miller's heart was pounding and his mouth was dry as he awoke with a start. He stood up fast, trying hard to get his bearings, reaching automatically for his gun.
"John, are you all right?"
Christ, he was in his office. He'd fallen asleep with his head on his desk, and now he was standing in his office, with his side arm drawn and his hands shaking.
And Daniel Tonaka was standing in the doorway watching him. Daniel was expressionless, as he often was. But he was gazing rather pointedly at Miller's weapon.
Miller reholstered his gun, then ran both hands across his face. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just fell asleepor somethingfor a second."
"Maybe you should go home and go to bed."
Bed. Yeah, right. Maybe in some other lifetime.
"You look like hell, man," Daniel continued.
Miller felt like hell. He needed a case to work on. As long as he was working, the dreams weren't so bad. It was this damned in-between time that was unbearable. "I just need some more coffee."
Daniel didn't say anything. He just looked at Miller. He was relatively new to the bureaujust a kid. He was hardly twenty-five years old, with a young handsome face, high cheekbones and deep brown, exotically shaped eyes that announced his part-Asian parentage. Those eyes held a wisdom that extended far beyond his tender years. And true to the wisdom in his eyes, the kid always knew when to hold his tongue.
Daniel Tonaka could say more with his silence and maybe a lift of one of his dark eyebrows than twenty other men could say if they talked all day.
Miller had had half a dozen new partners since Tony, but Daniel was the only one who had lasted for any length of time. Next week it would be, what? seven months? The kid deserved some kind of award.
Miller knew quite well the reputation he had in the bureau. He was "The Robot." He was a machine, an automaton, letting nothing and no one get in the way of his investigation. He was capable of putting everyone around him into a deep freeze with a single laser-sharp look. Even before Tony had died, Miller had kept his emotions to himself, and he had to admit he'd played his cards even closer to his vest over the past few years.
He was aware of the speculation about his lack of close friends within the bureau, the whispered conversations that concluded he was incapable of emotion, devoid of compassion and humanity. After all, a man who so obviously didn't possess a heart and soul couldn't possibly feel. Some of the younger agents would go well out of their way to avoid him. Hell, some of the older agents did the same. He was respected. With his record of arrests and successful investigations, he'd have to be. But he wasn't well liked. Not that a robot would give a damn about that.
Daniel stepped farther into Miller's office. "Working on the Black widow case?"
Miller nodded, gazing down at the open file on his desk. He'd been studying the photos and information from the latest in a string of connected murders before he'd fallen asleep.
And dreamed about Tony again.
He sat back down in his chair, grimacing at his stiff muscles. Christ, everything ached. Every part of him was sore. He desperately needed sleep, but the thought of going home to his apartment and sinking into his bed and closing his eyes was unbearable. The moment he closed his eyes, he'd be back outside that warehouse. He'd dream about the night that Tony died, and he'd watch it happen all over again. And for the four thousandth time, the choppers would never come. For the four thousandth time, Miller would arrive too late. For the four thousandth time, blowing Domino's ass straight to hell still wouldn't make up for the fact that Tony's brains were smeared across the concrete.
God, the stab of guilt and loss he felt was still so sharp, so piercing. Miller tried to push it away, to bury it deep inside, someplace from which it would never escape. He tried to put more distance between himself and this pain, these emotions. He could do it. He would do it. He was, after all, the robot.
Miller took a swig from a mug of now-cold coffee, trying to ignore the fact that his hand was still shaking. "The killer did her last victim about three months ago." The coffee tasted like something from a stable floor, but at least it moistened his mouth. "Which means she's probably preparing to make another go of it. She's out there somewhere, hunting down husband number eight.
At least we think it's number eight. Maybe there've been more we just don't know about."
"What if she's decided she's rich enough?"
"She doesn't kill for the money." Miller picked up the picture of Randolph Powers, knife blade protruding from his chest as he gazed sightlessly from his seat at the dinner table. "She kills because she likes to." And she was getting ready to do it again. He knew it.
"I haven't had time to look at this file," Daniel admitted, sitting down on the other side of the desk, pulling the report toward him. "Are we sure this is the same woman?"
"Exact M.O. The victim was found in the dining room, cuffed to the chair, with the remains of dinner on the table." Miller ran his fingers through his hair. God, he had a headache. "Opium was found in his system in the autopsy. The entire house was wiped clean of fingerprints. The only photo was a wedding portraitand the bride's veil was over her face. It's her."
Daniel skimmed the report. "According to this, Powers married a woman named Clarise Harris two and a half weeks prior to his death." He glanced up at Miller. "The honeymoon was barely over. Didn't she usually wait two or three months?"
Miller nodded, rummaging through his desk drawers for his bottle of aspirin. "She's getting impatient." Jackpot. Miller twisted off the aspirin bottle's capempty. "Damn. Tonaka, do you have any aspirin in your desk?"
"You don't need aspirin, man. You need sleep. Go home and go to bed."
"If I wanted free advice, I would've asked for it. I think what I asked for was aspirin."
The deadly look Miller gave Daniel was designed to freeze a man in his tracks.
But Daniel just smiled as he stood up. "You know, I really hope we're partners for a good long time, John, because I cannot for the life of me imitate that look. I've tried. I practice every night in my bathroom mirror, but.." He shook his head. "I just can't do it. You have a real God-given talent there. See you later."
Daniel closed the door on the way out and Miller just sat, staring after him, wishing
If the kid had been Tony, Miller might have told him about the nightmares, about the fact that he was too damn scared even to try to sleep. If the kid had been Tony, Miller might have told him that this morning when he'd gotten on the bathroom scale, he'd found he'd lost twenty pounds. Twenty pounds, just like that.
But Daniel Tonaka wasn't Tony.
Tony was gone. He'd been dead and gone for years.
Miller reached for the phone. "Yeah, John Miller. Put me through to Captain Blake."
It was time to get down to real work on this Black Widow case. Maybe then he could get some damned sleep.
Garden Isle, Georgia, was the best kept secret among the jet set. The beaches were covered with soft white sand. The sky was blue and the ocean, although murky with mineral deposits, was clean. The town itself was quaint, with cobblestone streets and charming brick houses and window boxes that overflowed with brightly colored flowers. Most of the shops were exclusive, the restaurants trendy and four-star and outrageously expensiveexcept if you knew where to go.
And after two months on Garden Isle, Mariah Robinson knew exactly where to go to avoid the crowds. She loaded her camera and her beach bag into the front basket of her bike and headed toward the beach.
Not toward the quiet, windswept beach that was only several yards from her rental house, but rather toward the usually crowded, always happening beach next to the five-star resort.
Most of the time, she embraced the solitude, often reveling in the noise-dampening sound of the surf and the raucous calls of the seabirds. But today she felt social. Today, she wanted the crowds. Today, just on a whim, she wanted to use her camera to take photographs of people.
Today she was meeting her friend, Serena, for lunch at one of those very same four-star restaurants.
But she was more than an hour early, and she took her bike with her onto the sand. She set it gently on its side and spread her beach blanket alongside it. There was a reggae band playing in the tent next to the resort bar even this early in the morning, and the music floated out across the beach.
She sat in the sun, just watching the dynamics of the people around her.
Some sunbathers lay in chaise lounges, their noses buried in books. Others socialized, talking and flirting in large and small groups. Men and women in athletic gear ran up and down the miles of flat, hard sand at the edge of the water. Others walked or strolled. Still others paradedclearly advertising their trim, tanned bodies, scantily clad in designer bathing suits.
Mariah took out her camera, focusing on a golden retriever running next to a muscular man in neon green running shorts. She loved dogs. In fact, now that she wasn't shut up in an office each day from dawn till dusk, she was thinking about getting one and
"Fancy meeting you here this early."
Mariah looked up but the glare from the bright sun threw the face of the woman standing next to her into shadows. It didn't matter. The crisp English-accented voice was unmistakable.
"Hey," Mariah said, smiling as Serena sat down next to her on her blanket.
"I thought you'd sworn off the resort beach," Serena continued, looking at Mariah over the tops of her expensive sunglasses.
Serena Westford was older than Mariah had originally thought when they'd first met a few weeks agoshe was closer to forty than thirty, anyway. Her smile was young though. It was mercurial and charming, displaying perfect white teeth. Her hair was blond with wisps escaping from underneath the big straw hat she always wore, and her trim body was that of a twenty-four-year-old.
She was as cool and confident as she was beautiful. She was everything Mariah wished she could be. Everything Marie Carver wished she could be, Mariah corrected herself. But Marie Carver had purposely been left behind in Phoenix, Arizona. Mariah Robinson was here in Georgia, and Mariah was happy with her life. She went with the flow, calm and relaxed. No worries. No problems. No stress. No jealousy.
Serena was wearing a black thong bathing suit, covered only by a diaphanous short wrap that fluttered about her buttocks and thighs in the ocean breeze, leaving only slightly more than nothing to the imagination. Despite the fact that Serena Westford was no longer a schoolgirl, she was one of the minuscule percentage of the population who actually looked good in a thong bikini.
Mariah let herself hate her friendbut only for a fraction of a second. So what if Mariah was destined never to wear a similarly styled bathing suit? So what if Mariah was the exact physical opposite of petite, slender, golden Serena? So what if Mariah was just over six feet tall, broad shouldered, large breasted and athletically built? So what if her hair was an unremarkable shade of brown curls, always messy and impossible to control? So what if her eyes were brown? Light brown, not that dark-as-midnight intriguing shade of brown, or cat green like Serena's.
Mariah was willing to bet that behind Serena West-ford's cool, confident facade, there lurked a woman with a thousand screaming anxieties. She probably worked out two hours each day to maintain her youthful figure. She probably spent an equal amount of time on her hair and makeup. She was probably consumed with worries and stress, poor thing.
"I just came down here to violate the photographic rights of these unsuspecting beachgoers," Mariah told her friend, unable to hide a smile.