Vengeance in Death (In Death Series #6)by J. D. Robb
A madman brutally murders two men-both with ties to an ugly secret shared by Lieutenant Eve Dallas's new husband, Roarke.
Futuristic...and steamy. (Publishers Weekly) See more details below
A madman brutally murders two men-both with ties to an ugly secret shared by Lieutenant Eve Dallas's new husband, Roarke.
Futuristic...and steamy. (Publishers Weekly)
Read an Excerpt
Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.
Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand.
The business of murder took time, patience, skill, and a tolerance for the monotonous. Lieutenant Eve Dallas had them all.
She knew the act of murder required none of these. All too often a life was taken on impulse, in rage, for amusement, or simply out of stupidity. It was the last of these, in Eve’s mind, that had led one John Henry Bonning to throw one Charles Michael Renekee out a twelfth-story window on Avenue D.
She had Bonning in Interview and calculated that it would take another twenty minutes tops to shake a confession out of him, another fifteen to book him and file her report. She might just make it home on time.
“Come on, Boner.” It was her veteran cop talking to veteran bad guy. Level ground, her turf. “Do yourself a favor. A confession, and you can go for self-defense and diminished capacity. We can tie this up by dinnertime. I hear they’re serving pasta surprise in lockup tonight.”
“Never touched him.” Bonning folded his oversized lips, tapped his long, fat fingers. “Fucker jumped.”
With a sigh, Eve sat down at the little metal table in Interview A. She didn’t want Bonning to lawyer himself and gum up the works. All she had to do was keep him from saying those words, steer him in the direction she was already heading, and she had a wrap.
Second-rate chemi-dealers like Bonning were invariably slow-witted, but sooner or later he’d whine for a representative. It was an old shuffle-and-dodge, as timeless as murder itself. As the year 2058 stumbled to an end, the business of murder remained basically unchanged.
“He jumped—a quick gainer out the window. Now why’d he do that, Boner?”
Bonning furrowed his ape-sized forehead into deep thought. “Because he was a crazy bastard?”
“That’s a good guess, Boner, but it’s not going to qualify you for round two of our stump-the-cops sweepstakes.”
It took him about thirty pondering seconds, then his lips stretched out into a grin. “Funny. Pretty funny, Dallas.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking of moonlighting as a stand-up. But, going back to my day job, the two of you were cooking up some Erotica in your porta-lab on Avenue D, and Renekee—being a crazy bastard—just got some hair up his ass and jumped out a window—right through the glass—and dived twelve stories, bounced off the roof of a Rapid Cab, scared the living shit out of a couple of tourists from Topeka in the backseat, then rolled off to leak his brains onto the street.”
“Sure did bounce,” Bonning said with what passed for a wondering smile. “Who’da thought?”
She didn’t intend to go for murder one, and figured if she went for murder two the court-appointed rep would bargain Bonning down to manslaughter. Chemi-dealers greasing chemi-dealers didn’t make Justice flip up her blindfold and grin in anticipation. He’d do more time for the illegals paraphernalia than he would for the homicide. And even combining the two, it was doubtful he’d do more than a three-year stretch in lockup.
She folded her arms on the table, leaned forward. “Boner, do I look stupid?”
Taking the question at face value, Bonning narrowed his eyes to take a careful study. She had big brown eyes, but they weren’t soft. She had a pretty, wide mouth, but it didn’t smile. “Look like a cop,” he decided.
“Good answer. Don’t try to hose me here, Boner. You and your business partner had a falling out, you got pissed off, and you terminated your professional and personal relationship by heaving his dumb ass out the window.” She held up a hand before Bonning could deny again. “This is the way I see it. You got into, maybe dissing each other over the profits, the methods, a woman. You both got hot. So maybe he comes at you. You’ve got to defend yourself, right?”
“Man’s got a right,” Bonning agreed, nodding rapidly as the story sang to him. “But we didn’t get into nothing. He just tried to fly.”
“Where’d you get the bloody lip, the black eye? How come your knuckles are ripped up?”
Bonning stretched his lips into a toothy grin. “Bar fight.”
“You’d better. And you know you’d better, Boner, after we run the tests on the blood we scraped from your knuckles, and we find his blood mixed with yours. We get his DNA off your fat fingers, I’m going for premeditated—maximum lockup, life, no parole.”
His eyes blinked rapidly, as if his brain was processing new and baffling data. “Come on, Dallas, that’s just bullshit. You ain’t gonna convince nobody I walked in there thinking to kill old Chuckaroo. We were buds.”
Her eyes steady on his, Eve pulled out her communicator. “Last chance to help yourself. I call my aide, have her get the test results, I’m booking you on murder one.”
“Wasn’t no murder.” He wanted to believe she was bluffing. You couldn’t read those eyes, he thought, wetting his lips. Couldn’t read those cop’s eyes. “It was an accident,” he claimed, inspired. Eve only shook her head. “Yeah, we were busting a little and he . . . tripped and went headlong out the window.”
“Now you’re insulting me. A grown man doesn’t trip out a window that’s three feet off the floor.” Eve flicked on her communicator. “Officer Peabody.”
Within seconds Peabody’s round and sober faced filled the communicator screen. “Yes, sir.”
“I need the blood test results on Bonning. Have them sent directly to Interview A—and alert the PA that I have a murder in the first.”
“Now hold on, back up, don’t be going there.” Bonning ran the back of his hand over his mouth. He struggled a moment, telling himself she’d never get him on the big one. But Dallas had a rep for pinning fatter moths than he to the wall.
“You had your chance, Boner. Peabody—”
“He came at me, like you said. He came at me. He went crazy. I’ll tell you how it went down, straight shit. I want to make a statement.”
“Peabody, delay those orders. Inform the PA that Mr. Bonning is making a statement of straight shit.”
Peabody’s lips never twitched. “Yes, sir.”
Eve slipped the communicator back in her pocket, then folded her hands on the edge of the table and smiled pleasantly. “Okay, Boner, tell me how it went down.”
Fifty minutes later, Eve strolled into her tiny office in New York’s Cop Central. She did look like a cop—not just the weapon harness slung over her shoulder, the worn boots and faded jeans. Cop was in her eyes—eyes that missed little. They were a dark whiskey color, and rarely flinched. Her face was angular, sharp at the cheekbones, and set off by a surprisingly generous mouth and a shallow dent in the chin.
She walked in a long-limbed, loose-gaited style—she was in no hurry. Pleased with herself, she raked her fingers through her short, casually cropped brown hair as she sat behind her desk.
She would file her report, zing off copies to all necessary parties, then log out for the day. Outside the streaked and narrow window behind her, the commuter air traffic was already in a snarl. The blat of airbus horns and the endless snicking of traffic copter blades didn’t bother her. It was, after all, one of the theme songs of New York.
“Engage,” she ordered, then hissed when her computer remained stubbornly blank. “Damn it, don’t start this. Engage. Turn on, you bastard.”
“You’ve got to feed it your personal pass number,” Peabody said as she stepped inside.
“I thought these were back on voice ID.”
“Were. Snaffued. Supposed to be back up to speed by the end of the week.”
“Pain in the butt,” Eve complained. “How many numbers are we supposed to remember? Two, five, zero, nine.” She blew out a breath as her unit coughed to life. “They’d better come up with the new system they promised the department.” She slipped a disc into the unit. “Save to Bonning, John Henry, case number 4572077-H. Copy report to Whitney, Commander.”
“Nice, quick work on Bonning, Dallas.”
“The man’s got a brain the size of a pistachio. Tossed his partner out the window because they got into a fight over who owed who a stinking twenty credits. And he’s trying to tell me he was defending himself, in fear for his life. The guy he tossed was a hundred pounds lighter and six inches shorter. Asshole,” she said with a resigned sigh. “You’d have thought Boner would have cooked up the guy had a knife or swung a bat at him.”
She sat back, circled her neck, surprised and pleased that there was barely any tension to be willed away. “They should all be this easy.”
She listened with half an ear to the hum and rumble of the early air traffic outside her window. One of the commuter trams was blasting out its spiel on economical rates and convenience.
“Weekly, monthly, yearly terms available! Sign on to EZ TRAM, your friendly and reliable air transport service. Begin and end your work day in style.”
If you like the packed-in-like-sweaty-sardines style, Eve thought. With the chilly November rain that had been falling all day, she imagined both air and street snarls would be hideous. The perfect end to the day.
“That wraps it,” she said and grabbed her battered leather jacket. “I’m clocking out—on time for a change. Any hot plans for the weekend, Peabody?”
“My usual, flicking off men like flies, breaking hearts, crushing souls.”
Eve shot a quick grin at her aide’s sober face. The sturdy Peabody, she thought—a cop from the crown of her dark bowl-cut hair to her shiny regulation shoes. “You’re such a wild woman, Peabody. I don’t know how you keep up the pace.”
“Yeah, that’s me, queen of the party girls.” With a dry smile, Peabody reached for the door just as Eve’s tele-link beeped. Both of them scowled at the unit. “Thirty seconds and we’d have been on the skywalk down.”
“Probably just Roarke calling to remind me we’ve got this dinner party deal tonight.” Eve flicked the unit on. “Homicide, Dallas.”
The screen swam with colors, dark, ugly, clashing colors. Music, low octave, slow paced, crept out of the speaker. Automatically, Eve tapped the command for trace, watched the Unable to Comply message scroll across the bottom of the screen.
Peabody whipped out her porta-link, stepping aside to contact Central Control as the caller spoke.
“You’re supposed to be the best the city has to offer, Lieutenant Dallas. Just how good are you?”
“Unidentified contact and/or jammed transmissions to police officers are illegal. I’m obliged to caution you that this transmission is being traced through CompuGuard, and it’s being recorded.”
“I’m aware of that. Since I’ve just committed what worldly society would consider first-degree murder, I’m not overly concerned about minor nuisances like electronic violations. I’ve been blessed by the Lord.”
“Oh yeah?” Terrific, she thought, just what she needed.
“I have been called on to do His work, and have washed myself in the blood of His enemy.”
“Does He have a lot of them? I mean, you’d think He’d just, what, smite them down Himself instead of enlisting you to do the dirty work.”
There was a pause, a long one, in which only the dirge played through. “I have to expect you to be flippant.” The voice was harder now, and edgier. Temper barely suppressed. “As one of the godless, how could you understand divine retribution? I’ll put this on your level. A riddle. Do you enjoy riddles, Lieutenant Dallas?”
“No.” She slid her gaze toward Peabody, got a quick, frustrated head shake. “But I bet you do.”
“They relax the mind and soothe the spirit. The name of this little riddle is Revenge. You’ll find the first son of the old sod in the lap of luxury, atop his silver tower where the river runs dark below and water falls from a great height. He begged for his life, and then for his death. Never repenting his great sin, he is already damned.”
“Why did you kill him?”
“Because this is the task I was born for,”
“God told you that you were born to kill?” Eve pushed for trace again, fought with frustration. “How’d He let you know? Did He call you up on your ’link, send a fax? Maybe He met you in a bar?”
“You won’t doubt me.” The sound of breathing grew louder, strained, shaky. “You think because you’re a woman in a position of authority that I’m less? You won’t doubt me for much longer. I contacted you, Lieutenant. Remember this is in my charge. Woman may guide and comfort man, but man was created to protect, defend, to avenge.”
“God tell you that too? I guess that proves He’s a man after all. Mostly ego.”
“You’ll tremble before Him, before me.”
“Yeah, right.” Hoping his video was clear, Eve examined her nails. “I’m already shaking.”
“My work is holy. It is terrible and divine. From Proverbs, Lieutenant, twenty-eight seventeen: ‘If a man is burdened with the blood of another, let him be a fugitive until death; let no one help him.’ This one’s days as a fugitive are done—and no one helped him.”
“If you killed him, what does that make you?”
“The wrath of God. You have twenty-four hours to prove you’re worthy. Don’t disappoint me.”
“I won’t disappoint you, asshole,” Eve muttered as the transmission ended. “Anything, Peabody?”
“Nothing. He jammed the tracers good and proper. They can’t give us so much as on or off planet.”
“He’s on planet,” she muttered and sat. “He wants to be close enough to watch.”
“Could be a crank.”
“I don’t think so. A fanatic, but not a crank. Computer, run buildings, residential and commercial with the word luxury, in New York City, with view of the East River or the Hudson.” She tapped her fingers. “I hate puzzle games.”
“I kind of like them.” Brows knit, Peabody leaned over Eve’s shoulder as the computer went to work.
Eve pounced. “Access visual of Luxury Towers, on screen.”
Working . . .
The image popped, a towering spear of silver with a glint of sunlight off the steel and shimmering on the Hudson at its base. On the far west side, a stylish waterfall tumbled down a complex arrangement of tubes and channels.
“Can’t be that easy,” Peabody objected.
“He wanted it easy.” Because, Eve thought, someone was already dead. “He wants to play and he wants to preen. Can’t do either until we’re in it. Computer, access name of residents on the top floor of the Luxury Towers.”
Working . . . Penthouse is owned by The Brennen Group and is New York base for Thomas X. Brennen of Dublin, Ireland, age forty-two, married, three children, president and CEO of The Brennen Group, an entertainment and communications agency.
“Let’s check it out, Peabody. We’ll notify Dispatch on the way.”
“We’ll get the lay of the land first.” Eve adjusted the strap on her weapon harness and shrugged into her jacket.
The traffic was just as bad as she’d suspected, bumping and grinding over wet streets, buzzing overhead like disoriented bees. Glide-carts huddled under wide umbrellas and did no business she could see. Steam rolled up out of their grills, obscuring vision and stinking up the air.
“Get the operator to access Brennen’s home number, Peabody. If it’s a hoax and he’s alive, it’d be nice to keep it that way.”
“On it,” Peabody said and pulled out her ’link.
Annoyed with the traffic delays, Eve sounded her siren. She’d have had the same response if she’d leaned out the window and shouted. Cars remained packed together like lovers, giving not an inch.
“No answer,” Peabody told her. “Voice-mail announcement says he’s away for two weeks beginning today.”
“Let’s hope he’s bellied up to a pub in Dublin.” She scanned the traffic again, gauged her options. “I have to do it.”
“Ah, Lieutenant, not in this vehicle.”
Then Peabody, the stalwart cop, gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut in terror as Eve stabbed the vertical lift. The car shuddered, creaked, and lifted six inches off the ground. Hit it again with a bone-shuddering thud.
“Goddamn piece of dog shit.” Eve used her fist this time, punching the control hard enough to bruise her knuckles. They did a shaky lift, wobbled, then streamed forward as Eve jabbed the accelerator. She nipped the edge of an umbrella, causing the glide-cart hawker to squeal in fury and hotfoot in pursuit for a half a block.
“The damn hawker nearly caught the bumper.” More amazed than angry now, Eve shook her head. “A guy in air boots nearly outran a cop ride. What’s the world coming to, Peabody?”
Eyes stubbornly shut, Peabody didn’t move a muscle. “I’m sorry, sir, you’re interrupting my praying.”
Eve kept the sirens on, delivering them to the front entrance of the Luxury Towers. The descent was rough enough to click her teeth together, but she missed the glossy fender of an XRII airstream convertible by at least an inch.
The doorman was across the sidewalk like a silver bullet, his face a combination of insult and horror as he wrenched open the door of her industrial beige city clunker.
“Madam, you cannot park this . . . thing here.”
Eve flicked off the siren, flipped out her badge. “Oh yeah, I can.”
His mouth only stiffened further as he scanned her ID. “If you would please pull into the garage.”
Maybe it was because he reminded her of Summerset, the butler who had Roarke’s affection and loyalty and her disdain, but she pushed her face into his, eyes glittering. “It stays where I put it, pal. And unless you want me to tell my aide to write you up for obstructing an officer, you’ll buzz me inside and up to Thomas Brennen’s penthouse.”
He sucked air through his nose. “That is quite impossible. Mr. Brennen is away.”
“Peabody, get this . . . citizen’s name and ID number and arrange to have him transported to Cop Central for booking.”
“You can’t arrest me.” His shiny black boots did a quick dance on the sidewalk. “I’m doing my job.”
“You’re interfering with mine, and guess whose job the judge is going to think is more important?”
Eve watched the way his mouth worked before it settled in a thin, disapproving line. Oh yeah, she thought, he was Summerset to a tee, even though he was twenty pounds heavier and three inches shorter than the bane of her existence.
“Very well, but you can be sure I will contact the chief of police and security about your conduct.” He studied her badge again. “Lieutenant.”
“Feel free.” With a signal to Peabody, she followed the doorman’s stiff back to the entrance, where he activated his droid backup to man the post.
Inside the shining silver doors, the lobby of the Luxury Towers was a tropical garden with towering palms, flowing hibiscus and twittering birds. A large pool surrounded a splashing fountain in the shape of a generously curved woman, naked to the waist and holding a golden fish.
The doorman keyed in a code at a glass tube, silently gestured Eve and Peabody inside. Unhappy with the transport, Eve stayed rooted to the center while Peabody all but pressed her nose against the glass on the ascent.
Sixty-two floors later, the tube opened into a smaller garden lobby, no less abundant. The doorman paused by a security screen outside double arched doors of highly polished steel.
“Doorman Strobie, escorting Lieutenant Dallas of the NYPSD and aide.”
“Mr. Brennen is not in residence at this time,” came the response in a soothing voice musical in its Irish lilt.
Eve merely elbowed Strobie aside. “This is a police emergency.” She lifted her badge to the electronic eye for verification. “Entrance is imperative.”
“One moment, Lieutenant.” There was a quiet hum as her face and ID were scanned, then a discreet click of locks. “Entrance permitted, please be aware that this residence is protected by SCAN-EYE.”
“Recorder on, Peabody. Back off, Strobie.” Eve put one hand on the door, the other on her weapon, and shouldered it open.
The smell struck her first, and made her swear. She’d smelled violent death too many times to mistake it.
Blood painted the blue silk walls of the living area, a grisly, incomprehensible graffiti. She saw the first piece of Thomas X. Brennen on the cloud-soft carpet. His hand lay palm up, fingers curled toward her as if to beckon or to plead. It had been severed at the wrist.
She heard Strobie gag behind her, heard him stumble back into the lobby and the fresh floral air. She stepped into the stench. She drew her weapon now, sweeping with it as she covered the room. Her instincts told her what had been done there was over, and whoever had done it was safely away, but she stuck close to procedure, making her way slowly over the carpet, avoiding the gore when she could.
“If Strobie’s finished vomiting, ask him the way to the master bedroom.”
“Down the hall to the left,” Peabody said a moment later. “But he’s still heaving out there.”
“Find him a bucket, then secure the elevator and this door.”
Eve started down the hall. The smell grew riper, thicker. She began to breathe through her teeth. The door to the bedroom wasn’t secure. Through the crack came a slash of bright artificial light and the majestic sounds of Mozart.
What was left of Brennen was stretched out on a lake-sized bed with a stylish mirrored canopy. One arm had been chained with silver links to the bedpost. Eve imagined they would find his feet somewhere in the spacious apartment.
Undoubtedly the walls were well soundproofed, but surely the man had screamed long and loud before he died. How long had it taken, she wondered as she studied the body. How much pain could a man stand before the brain turned off and the body gave out?
Thomas Brennen would know the answer, to the second.
He’d been stripped naked, his hand and both his feet amputated. The one eye he had left stared in blind horror at the mirrored reflection of his own mutilated form. He’d been disemboweled.
“Sweet Jesus Christ,” Peabody whispered from the doorway. “Holy Mother of God.”
“I need the field kit. We’ll seal up, call this in. Find out where his family is. Call this in through EDD, Feeney if he’s on, and have him put a media jammer on before you give any details. Let’s keep the details quiet as long as possible.”
Peabody had to swallow hard twice before she was sure her lunch would stay down. “Yes, sir.”
“Get Strobie and secure him before he can babble about this.”
When Eve turned, Peabody saw a shadow of pity in her eyes, then it was gone and they were flat and cool again. “Let’s get moving. I want to fry this son of a bitch.”
It was nearly midnight before Eve dragged herself up the stairs to her own front door. Her stomach was raw, her eyes burning, her head roaring. The stench of vicious death clung to her though she’d scrubbed off a layer of skin in the locker room showers before heading home.
What she wanted most was oblivion, and she said one desperate and sincere prayer that she wouldn’t see the wreckage of Thomas Brennen when she closed her eyes to sleep.
The door opened before she could reach it. Summerset stood with the glittery light of the foyer chandelier behind him, his tall bony body all but quivering with dislike.
“You are unpardonably late, Lieutenant. Your guests are preparing to leave.”
Guests? Her overtaxed mind struggled with the word before she remembered. A dinner party? She was supposed to care about a dinner party after the night she’d put in?
“Kiss my ass,” she invited and started passed him.
His thin fingers caught at her arm. “As Roarke’s wife you’re expected to perform certain social duties, such as assisting him in hosting an important affair such as this evening’s dinner.”
Fury outdistanced fatigue in a heartbeat. Her hand curled into a fist at her side. “Step back before I—”
Roarke’s voice, managing to convey welcome, amusement, and caution in two words, stopped her curled fist from lifting and following through. Scowling, she turned, saw him just outside the parlor doorway. It wasn’t the formal black that made him breathtaking. Eve knew he had a leanly muscled body that could stop a woman’s heart no matter what he wore—or didn’t wear. His hair flowed, dark as night and nearly to his shoulders, to frame a face she often thought belonged on a Renaissance painting. Sharp bones, eyes bluer than prized cobalt, a mouth fashioned to spout poetry, issue orders, and drive a woman to madness.
In less than a year, he had broken through her defenses, unlocked her heart, and most surprising of all, had gained not only her love but her trust.
And he could still annoy her.
She considered him the first and only miracle in her life.
“I’m late. Sorry.” It was more of a challenge than an apology, delivered like a bullet. He acknowledged it with an easy smile and a lifted eyebrow.
“I’m sure it was unavoidable.” He held out a hand. When she crossed the foyer and took it, he found hers stiff and cold. In her aged-whiskey eyes he saw both fury and fatigue. He’d grown used to seeing both there. She was pale, which worried him. He recognized the smears on her jeans as dried blood, and hoped it wasn’t her own.
He gave her hand a quick, intimate squeeze before bringing it to his lips, his eyes steady on hers. “You’re tired, Lieutenant,” he murmured, the wisp of Ireland magical in his voice. “I’m just moving them along. Only a few minutes more, all right?”
“Sure, yeah. Fine.” Her temper began to cool. “I’m sorry I screwed this up. I know it was important.” Beyond him in the beautifully furnished parlor she saw more than a dozen elegant men and women, formally dressed, gems winking, silks rustling. Something of her reluctance must have shown on her face before she smoothed it away, because he laughed.
“Five minutes, Eve. I doubt this can be as bad as whatever you faced tonight.”
He ushered her in, a man as comfortable with wealth and privilege as with the stench of alleys and violence. Seamlessly he introduced his wife to those she’d yet to meet, cued her on the names of those she’d socialized with at another time, all the while nudging the dinner party guests toward the door.
Eve smelled rich perfumes and wine, the fragrant smoke from the applewood logs simmering discreetly in the fireplace. But under it all the sensory memory stink of blood and gore remained.
He wondered if she knew how staggering she was, standing there amid the glitter in her scarred jacket and smeared denim, her short, untidy hair haloing a pale face, accenting dark, tired eyes, her long, rangy body held straight through what he knew was an act of sheer will.
She was, he thought, courage in human form.
But when they closed the door on the last guest, she shook her head. “Summerset’s right. I’m just not equipped for this Roarke’s wife stuff.”
“You are my wife.”
“Doesn’t mean I’m any good at it. I let you down. I should’ve—” She stopped talking because his mouth was on hers, and it was warm, possessive, and untied the knots in the back of her neck. Without realizing she’d moved, Eve wrapped her arms around his waist and just held on.
“There,” he murmured. “That’s better. This is my business.” He lifted her chin, skimming a finger in the slight dent centered in it. “My job. You have yours.”
“It was a big deal though. Some whatzit merger.”
“Scottoline merger—more of a buyout, really, and it should be finalized by the middle of next week. Even without your delightful presence at the dinner table. Still, you might have called. I worried.”
“I forgot. I can’t always remember. I’m not used to this.” She jammed her hands in her pockets and paced down the wide hall and back. “I’m not used to this. Every time I think I am, I’m not. Then I come walking in here with all the megarich, looking like a street junkie.”
“On the contrary, you look like a cop. I believe several of our guests were quite impressed with the glimpse of your weapon under your jacket, and the trace of blood on your jeans. It’s not yours, I take it.”
“No.” Suddenly she just couldn’t stand up any longer. She turned to the steps, climbed two and sat. Because it was Roarke, she allowed herself to cover her face with her hands.
He sat beside her, draped an arm over her shoulders. “It was bad.”
“Almost always you can say you’ve seen as bad, even worse. It’s most always true. I can’t say that this time.” Her stomach still clenched and rolled. “I’ve never seen worse.”
He knew what she lived with, had seen a great deal of it himself. “Do you want to tell me?”
“No, Christ no, I don’t want to think about it for a few hours. I don’t want to think about anything.”
“I can help you there.”
For the first time in hours she smiled. “I bet you can.”
“Let’s start this way.” He rose and plucked her off the step up into his arms.
“You don’t have to carry me. I’m okay.”
He flashed a grin at her as he started up. “Maybe it makes me feel manly.”
“In that case . . .” She wound her arms around his neck, rested her head on his shoulder. It felt good. Very good. “The least I can do after standing you up tonight is make you feel manly.”
“The very least,” he agreed.
The sky window above the bed was still dark when she woke. And she woke in a sweat. The images in the dream were muddled and blurred. All too glad to have escaped them, Eve didn’t try to clarify the dream.
Because she was alone in the big bed, she allowed herself one quick, hard shudder. “Lights,” she ordered. “On low.” Then sighed when the dark edged away. She gave herself a moment to settle before checking the time.
Five-fifteen A.M. Terrific, she thought, knowing there would be no return to sleep now. Not without Roarke there to help beat the nightmares back. She wondered if she’d ever stop being embarrassed that she had come to depend on him for such things. A year before she hadn’t even known he existed. Now he was as much a part of her life as her own hands. Her own heart.
She climbed out of bed, grabbing one of the silk robes Roarke was constantly buying her. Wrapping herself in it, she turned to the wall panel, engaged the search.
“Where is Roarke?”
Roarke is in the lower level pool area.
A swim, Eve thought, wasn’t a bad idea. A workout first, she decided, to smooth away the kinks and the dregs of a bad dream.
With the objective of avoiding Summerset, she took the elevator rather than the stairs. The man was everywhere, sliding out of shadows, always ready with a scowl or a sniff. A continuation of their confrontation the night before wasn’t the way she wanted to start her day.
Roarke’s gym was fully equipped, giving her all the options. She could spar with a droid, pump up with free weights, or just lay back and let machines do the work. She stripped out of the robe and tugged herself into a snug black unitard. She wanted a run, a long one, and after tying on thin air soles she programmed the video track.
The beach, she decided. It was the one place other than the city she was completely at home. All the rural landscapes and desert vistas, the off-planet sites the unit offered made her vaguely uncomfortable.
She started out at a light trot, the blue waves crashing beside her, the glint of the sun just peeking over the horizon. Gulls wheeled and screamed. She drew in the moist salt air of the tropics, and as her muscles began to warm and limber increased her pace.
She hit her stride at the first mile, and her mind emptied.
She’d been to this beach several times since she’d met Roarke—in reality and holographically. Before that the biggest body of water she’d seen had been the Hudson River.
Lives changed, she mused. And so did reality.
At mile four when her muscles were just beginning to sing, she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. Roarke, his hair still damp from his swim, moved into place beside her, matching his pace to hers.
“Running to or away?” he asked.
“You’re up early, Lieutenant.”
“I’ve got a full day.”
He lifted a brow when she increased her pace. His wife had a healthy competitive streak, he mused, and easily matched her stride. “I thought you were off.”
“I was.” She slowed, stopped, then bent at the waist to stretch out. “Now I’m not.” She lifted her head until her eyes met his. It wasn’t only her life now, she remembered, or her reality. It was theirs. “I guess you had plans.”
“Nothing that can’t be adjusted.” The weekend in Martinique he’d hoped to surprise her with could wait. “My calendar’s clear for the next forty-eight hours, if you want to bounce anything off me.”
She heaved out a breath. This was another change in her life, this sharing of her work. “Maybe. I want to take a swim.”
“I’ll join you.”
“I thought you just had one.”
“I can have two.” He skimmed a thumb over the dent in her chin. The exercise had brought color to her cheeks and a light sheen to her skin. “It’s not illegal.” He took her hand to lead her out of the gym and into the flower-scented air of the pool room.
Palms and flowing vines grew lushly, surrounding a lagoon-styled pool sided with smooth stones and tumbling waterfalls.
“I’ve got to get a suit.”
He only smiled and tugged the straps from her arms. “Why?” His graceful hands skimmed her breasts as he freed them and made her brows raise.
“What kind of water sport did you have in mind?”
“Whatever works.” He cupped her face in his hands, bent to kiss her. “I love you, Eve.”
“I know.” She closed her eyes and rested her brow against his. “It’s so weird.”
Naked, she turned and dove into the dark water. She stayed under, skimming along the bottom. Her lips curved when the water turned a pale blue. The man knew her moods before she did, she thought. She did twenty laps before rolling lazily to her back. When she reached out, his fingers linked with hers.
“I’m pretty relaxed.”
“Yeah, so relaxed I probably couldn’t fight off some pervert who wanted to take advantage of me.”
“Well then.” He snagged her waist, turning her until they were face to face.
“Well then.” She wrapped her legs around him and let him keep her afloat.
When their mouths met, even the whisper of tension fled. She felt loose and fluid and quietly needy. Sliding her fingers up, she combed them through his hair—thick, wet silk. His body was firm and cool against hers and fit in a way she’d nearly stopped questioning. She all but purred as his hands skimmed over her, just hinting of possession.
Then she was underwater, tangled with him in that pale blue world. When his mouth closed over her breast, she shivered with the thrill of sensation, from the shock of being unable to gasp in air. And his fingers were on her, in her, shooting her to a staggering climax that had her clawing toward the surface.
She gulped in air, disoriented, delirious, then felt it whoosh out of her lungs again when his clever mouth replaced his fingers.
The assault on her system was precisely what she’d wanted. Her helplessness. His greed. That he would know it, understand it, and give was a mystery she would never solve.
Her head dipped back to lay limply on the smooth side of the pool as she simply wallowed in the pleasure he offered her.
Slowly, slyly, his mouth roamed up, over her belly, her torso, her breasts, to linger at her throat where her pulse beat thick and fast.
“You’ve got amazing breath control,” she managed, then trembled as gradually, inch by inch, he slipped inside her. “Oh God.”
He watched her face, saw the heat flush her cheeks, the flickers of pleasure move over it. Her hair was slicked back, leaving it unframed. And that stubborn, often too serious mouth, trembled for him. Cupping her hips, he lifted her, moved in deep, deeper to make her moan.
He rubbed his lips over hers, nibbled at them while he began to move with an exquisite control that tortured them both. “Go over, Eve.”
He watched those shrewd cop’s eyes go blind and blurry, heard her breath catch then release on something like a sob. Even as his blood burned, he kept his movements achingly slow. Drawing it out, every instant, every inch until that sob became his name.
His own release was long and deep and perfect.
She managed to drag her hands out of the water and grip his shoulders. “Don’t let go of me yet. I’ll sink like a stone.”
He chuckled weakly, pressed his lips to the side of her throat where her pulse still danced. “Same goes. You should get up early more often.”
“We’d kill each other. Miracle we didn’t drown.”
He drew in the scent of her skin and water. “We may yet.”
“Do you think we can make it over to the steps?”
“If you’re not in a hurry.”
They inched their way along, staggered up the stone steps to the apron. “Coffee,” Eve said weakly, then stumbled off to fetch two thick terry robes.
When she came back, carrying one and bundled into the other, Roarke had already programmed the AutoChef for two cups, black. The sun was staining the curved glass at the end of the enclosure a pale gold.
She sipped the coffee, hummed as the rich caffeine kicked. “Starving. But I want a shower.”
Back in the master suite, Eve carried her coffee into the shower. When Roarke stepped into the criss-crossing sprays with her, she narrowed her eyes. “Lower the water temp and die,” she warned.
“Cold water opens the pores, gets the juices flowing.”
“You’ve already taken care of that.” She set the coffee on a ledge and soaped up in the steam.
She got out first, and as she stepped into the drying tube, shook her head as Roarke ordered the water to drop by ten degrees. Even the thought of it made her shiver.
She knew he was waiting for her to tell him about the case that had kept her out the night before and was taking her back on her day off. She appreciated that he waited for her to settle in the sitting area of the suite, a second cup of coffee in her hand and a plate loaded with a ham and cheese omelette waiting to be devoured.
“I really am sorry about not showing up for the deal last night.”
Roarke sampled his own buttermilk pancakes. “Am I going to have to apologize every time I’m called away on business that affects our personal plans?”
She opened her mouth, closed it again, and shook her head. “No. The thing is I was headed out the door—I hadn’t forgotten—and this call came in. Jammed transmission. We couldn’t track.”
“The NYPSD has pitiful equipment.”
“Not that pitiful,” she muttered. “This guy’s a real pro. You might have had a tough time with it.”
“Now, that’s insulting.”
She had to smirk. “Well, you might get a chance at him. Since he tagged me personally, I wouldn’t put it past him to contact me here.”
Roarke set his fork aside, picked up his coffee, both gestures casual though his entire body had gone to alert. “Personally?”
“Yeah, he wanted me. Hit me with some religious mission crap first. Basically, he’s doing the Lord’s work and the Big Guy wants to play with riddles.” She ran the transmission through for him, watching his eyes narrow, sharpen. Roarke was quick, she reflected as she saw his mouth go grim.
“You checked the Luxury Towers.”
“That’s right, penthouse floor. He’d left part of the victim in the living area. The rest of him was in the bedroom.”
She pushed her plate aside and rose, raking a hand through her hair as she paced. “It was as bad as I’ve ever seen, Roarke, vicious. Because it was calculated to be ugly, not because it was uncontrolled. Most of the work was precise, like surgery. Prelim from the ME indicates the victim was kept alive and aware during most of the mutilation. He’d been pumped up with illegals—enough to keep him conscious without taking the edge off the pain. And believe me, the pain must have been unspeakable. He’d been disemboweled.”
“Christ Jesus.” Roarke blew out a breath. “An ancient punishment for political or religious crimes. A slow and hideous death.”
“And a goddamn messy one,” she put in. “His feet had been severed—one hand gone at the wrist. He was still alive when his right eye was cut out. That was the only piece of him we didn’t recover at the scene.”
“Lovely.” Though he considered his stomach a strong one, Roarke lost his taste for breakfast. Rising, he went to the closet. “An eye for an eye.”
“That’s a revenge thing, right? From some play.”
“The Bible, darling. The lord of all plays.” He chose casual pleated trousers from the revolving rack.
“Back to God again. Okay, the game’s revenge. Maybe it’s religious, maybe it’s just personal. We may zero in on motive when we finish running the victim. I’ve got a media blackout at least until I contact his family.”
Roarke hitched up the trousers, reached for a simple white linen shirt. “Children?”
“You have a miserable job, Lieutenant.”
“That’s why I love it.” But she rubbed her hands over her face. “His wife and kids are in Ireland, we think. I need to track them down today.”
“Hmm. Yeah, seems the victim was one of your former countrymen. I don’t suppose you knew a Thomas X. Brennen, did you?” Her half smile faded when she saw Roarke’s eyes go dark and flat. “You did know him. I never figured it.”
“Early forties?” Roarke asked without inflection. “About five-ten, sandy hair?”
“Sounds like. He was into communications and entertainment.”
“Tommy Brennen.” With the shirt still in his hand, Roarke sat on the arm of a chair. “Son of a bitch.”
“I’m sorry. It didn’t occur to me that he was a friend.”
“He wasn’t.” Roarke shook his head to clear away the memories. “At least not in more than a decade. I knew him in Dublin. He was running computer scams while I was grifting. We crossed paths a few times, did a little business, drank a few pints. About twelve years ago, Tommy hooked up with a young woman of good family. Lace curtain Irish. He fell hard and decided to go straight. All the way straight,” Roarke added with a crooked grin. “And he severed ties with the less . . . desirable elements of his youth. I knew he had a base here in New York, but we stayed out of each other’s way. I believe his wife knows nothing of his past endeavors.”
Eve sat on the arm opposite him. “It might have been one of the past endeavors, and one of those less desirable elements, that’s responsible for what happened to him. Roarke, I’m going to be digging, and when I dig how much of you am I going to uncover?”
It was a worry, he supposed. A mild one to him. But, he knew, it would never be mild to her. “I cover my tracks, Lieutenant. And, as I said, we weren’t mates. I haven’t had any contact with him at all in years. But I remember him. He had a fine tenor voice,” Roarke murmured. “A good laugh, a good mind, and a longing for family. He was fast with his fists, but never went looking for trouble that I recall.”
“Looking or not, he found it. Do you know where his family is?”
He shook his head as he rose. “But I can get that information for you quickly enough.”
“I’d appreciate it.” She rose as he shrugged into the casual elegant shirt. “Roarke, I’m sorry, for whatever he was to you.”
“A touchstone perhaps. A song in a smoky pub on a rainy night. I’m sorry, too. I’ll be in my office. Give me ten minutes.”
Eve took her time dressing. She had a feeling Roarke would need more than ten minutes. Not to access the data she’d asked for. With his equipment and his skill he’d have it in half that time. But she thought he needed a few moments alone to deal with the loss of that song in a smoky pub.
She’d never lost anyone even remotely close to her. Maybe, Eve realized, because she’d been careful to let only a select few become close enough to matter. Then there had been Roarke, and she’d had no choice. He’d invaded, she’d supposed, subtly, elegantly, inarguably. And now . . . she ran a thumb over the carved gold wedding ring she wore. Now he was vital.
She took the stairs this time, winding her way through the wide halls in the big, beautiful house. She didn’t have to knock on his office door, but did so, waiting until the door slid open in invitation.
The window shields were up to let in the sun. The sky behind the treated glass was murky, hinting that the rain wasn’t quite finished. Roarke manned the antique desk of gleaming wood rather than the slick console. The floors were covered with gorgeous old rugs he’d acquired on his journeys.
Eve slipped her hands into her pockets. She was almost accustomed to the grandeur she now lived in, but she didn’t know what to do with Roarke’s grief, with the self contained quiet sorrow.
“I got you a hard copy.” He nudged a sheet of paper across the desk. “I thought it would be easier. His wife and children are in Dublin at the moment. The children are minors, two boys and a girl. Ages nine, eight, and six.”
Too restless to sit, he rose and turned to stare out at his view of New York—quiet now, the light still dull, the skies almost still. He’d brought up visuals of Brennen’s family—the pretty, bright-eyed woman, the rosy-cheeked children. It had disturbed him more than he’d anticipated.
“Financially they’ll be quite comfortable,” he said almost to himself. “Tommy saw to that. Apparently he’d become a very good husband and father.”
She crossed the room, lifted a hand to touch, then dropped it. Damn it, she was no good at this, she thought. No good at knowing if comfort would be welcomed or rejected. “I don’t know what to do for you,” she said at length.
When he turned, his eyes were brilliantly blue, and fury rode in them along with the grief. “Find who did this to him. I can trust you for that.”
“Yeah, you can.”
A smile touched his lips, curved them. “Lieutenant Dallas, standing for the dead, as always.” He skimmed a hand through her hair, lifting a brow when she caught it.
“You’ll leave this to me, Roarke.”
“Have I said otherwise?”
“It’s what you haven’t said that’s just beginning to get through.” She knew him, knew him well enough to understand he would have his own ways, his own means, and very likely his own agenda. “If you’ve got any ideas about going out on your own, put them to bed now. It’s my case, and I’ll handle it.”
He ran his hands up her arms in a way that made her eyes narrow. “Naturally. But you will keep me apprised? And you know that I’m available for any assistance you might require.”
“I think I can stumble through on my own. And I think it would be best if you took a step back from this one. A long step back.”
He kissed the tip of her nose. “No,” he said pleasantly.
“Would you prefer I lied to you, Eve?” He picked up the hard copy while she fumed, handed it to her. “Go to work. I’ll make a few calls. I’d think by the end of the day I should have a complete list of Tommy’s associates, professional and personal, his enemies, his friends, his lovers, his financial status, and so forth.” He was leading her across the room as he spoke. “It’ll be easier for me to accumulate the data, and it’ll give you a clear picture.”
She managed to hold her ground before he pushed her out the door. “I can’t stop you from accumulating data. But don’t step out of line, pal. Not one inch.”
“You know how it excites me when you’re strict.”
She struggled back a laugh and nearly managed a glare. “Shut up,” she muttered, and shoved her hands in her pockets and she strode away.
He watched her, waited until she’d disappeared at the stairs. Cautious, he turned to the security monitor and ordered view. The laughter was gone from his eyes as he watched her jog down the steps, snag the jacket Summerset had laid back over the newel post for her.
“You’re forgetting an umbrella,” he murmured, and sighed when she walked into the thin drizzle unprotected.
He hadn’t told her everything. How could he? How could he be certain it was relevant, in any case? He needed more before he risked tangling the woman he loved in the ugliness of his own past, his own sins.
He left his office, heading for the communications room that was both expansive and illegal. Laying his palm on the security screen, he identified himself then entered. Here, the equipment was unregistered and any activity would be undetected by the all-seeing eye of CompuGuard. He needed specifics in order to plan his next step, and sitting in the deep U of a sleek black control center, he began.
Invading the system of NYPSD was child’s play for him. He sent a silent apology to his wife as he accessed her files, dipped into the medical examiner’s office.
“Crime scene video on screen one,” Roarke ordered, easing back. “Autopsy report, screen two, primary investigating officer’s report, screen three.”
The horror of what had been done to Brennen swam on screen, made Roarke’s eyes go cold and flat. There was little left of the young man he’d known a lifetime before in Dublin. He read Eve’s clipped and formal report without emotion, studied the complex terms of the preliminary report from the ME.
“Copy to file Brennen, code Roarke, password my voiceprint only. Off screen.”
Turning, he reached for his in-house tele-link. “Summerset, come up please.”
“On my way.”
Roarke rose, moved to the window. The past could come back to haunt, he knew. Most often it remained in some ghostly corner waiting to strike. Had it slipped out to strike Tommy Brennen? he wondered. Or was it just bad luck, bad timing?
The door slid open and Summerset, bony in black, stepped through. “Is there a problem?”
Summerset’s thin lips frowned, then his eyes cleared into what was nearly a smile. “Ah yes, an eager young hacker with a love of rebel songs and Guinness.”
“He’s been murdered.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Here in New York,” Roarke continued. “Eve is primary.” Roarke watched Summerset’s mouth set and flatten. “He was tortured, kept alive for the pain. Disemboweled.”
It took a moment, but Summerset’s already pale face whitened a shade more. “Coincidence.”
“Maybe, hopefully.” Roarke indulged himself by taking a slim cigarette from a japanned case, lighting it. “Whoever did it called my wife personally, wanted her involved.”
“She’s a cop,” Summerset said with a lifetime of disdain in his voice.
“She’s my wife,” Roarke returned, the edge in his voice scalpel sharp. “If it turns out it isn’t coincidence, I’ll tell her everything.”
“You can’t risk that. There’s no statute of limitations on murder—even justifiable murder.”
“That’ll be up to her, won’t it?” Roarke took a long drag, sat on the edge of the console. “I won’t have her working blind, Summerset. I won’t put her in that position. Not for myself, not for you.” The grief slipped back into his eyes as he looked down at the flame at the tip of the cigarette. “Not for memories. You need to be prepared.”
“It’s not me who’ll pay if the law means more to her than you. You did what needed to be done, what had to be done, what should have been done.”
“And so will Eve,” Roarke said mildly. “Before we project, we need to reconstruct. How much do you remember about that time, and who was involved?”
“I’ve forgotten nothing.”
Roarke studied Summerset’s stiff jaw, hard eyes and nodded. “That’s what I was counting on. Let’s get to work then.”
The lights on the console twinkled like stars. He loved to look at them. It didn’t matter that the room was small, and windowless, not when he had the hum of the machine, the light of those stars to guide him.
He was ready to move on to the next one, ready to begin the next round. The young boy who still lived inside him reveled in the competition. The man who had formed out of that boy prepared for the holy work.
His tools were carefully set out. He opened the vial of water blessed by a bishop and sprinkled it reverently over the laser, the knives, the hammer, the nails. The instruments of divine vengeance, the tools of retribution. Behind them was a statue of the Virgin, carved in white marble to symbolize her purity. Her arms were spread in benediction, her face beautiful and serene in acceptance.
He bent, kissed the white marble feet.
For a moment he thought he saw the gleam of blood on his hand, and that hand shook.
But no, his hand was clean and white. He had washed the blood of his enemy away. The mark of Cain stained the others, but not him. He was the lamb of God after all.
He would meet with another enemy soon, very soon, and he had to be strong to bait to trap, to wear the mask of friendship.
He had fasted, made the sacrifice, cleansed his heart and mind of all worldly evils. Now he dipped his fingers into a small bowl of holy water, touched his fingers to his brow, his heart, left shoulder, then right. He knelt, closing a hand over the cloth scapular he wore. It had been blessed by the Pope himself, and its promise of protection from evil comforted him.
He tucked it tidily under the silk of his shirt where it could rest against warm flesh.
Secure, confident, he lifted his gaze to the crucifix that hung above the sturdy table that held the weapons of his mission. The image of the suffering Christ gleamed silver against a cross of gold. A rich man’s visual aide. The irony of owning an image carved from precious metals of a man who had preached humility never touched him.
He lighted the candles, folded his hands, and bending his head prayed with the passion of the faithful, and the mad.
He prayed for grace, and prepared for murder.
The Homicide bullpen at Cop Central smelled like day-old coffee and fresh urine. Eve wound her way through the jammed-in desks, barely registering the buzz of chatter from detectives working their ’links. A maintenance droid was busily mopping up the ancient linoleum.
Peabody’s cube was a dimly lighted two-foot square in the far corner. Despite its size and location, it was as ruthlessly organized and tidy as Peabody herself.
“Somebody forget where the toilets are?” Eve asked casually, and Peabody turned from her dented, police issue metal desk.
“Bailey had a sidewalk sleeper in for questioning on a knifing. The sleeper didn’t like being held as a witness and expressed his displeasure by emptying his bladder on Bailey’s shoes. From all reports, said bladder was unusually full.”
“Just another day in paradise. Is the sweeper report in on Brennen yet?”
“I just gave them a nudge. It should be coming through shortly.”
“Then let’s start with the security discs from the Luxury Towers and Brennen’s apartment.”
“There’s a problem there, Lieutenant.”
Eve cocked her head. “You didn’t get them?”
“I got what there was to get.” Peabody picked up a sealed bag containing a single disc. “The Towers’s security, penthouse level, for the twelve-hour period before the discovery of Brennen’s body and the SCAN-EYE in Brennen’s place were disengaged, and empty.”
Eve nodded and took the bag. “I should have figured he wouldn’t be that stupid. Did you download the incoming and outgoing calls from Brennen’s tele-link?”
“Right here.” Peabody handed over another disc, neatly labeled.
“My office. We’ll run them and see what we’ve got. I’m going to give Feeney a call,” Eve continued as they headed out of the bullpen. “We’re going to need the Electronic Detective Division on this.”
“Captain Feeney’s in Mexico, Lieutenant. Vacation?”
Eve stopped, scowled. “Shit, I forgot. He’s got another week, doesn’t he?”
“Just over that. In your lovely cliffside villa. To which your devoted aide has yet to be invited.”
Eve lifted a brow. “You got a yen to see Mexico?”
“I’ve seen Mexico, Dallas, I’ve got a yen to let a hot-blooded caballero have his way with me.”
Snorting, Eve unlocked her office door. “We wrap this case up in good time, Peabody, I’ll see if I can arrange it.” She tossed the discs on her already disordered desk, then shrugged out of her jacket. “We still need someone from EDD. See who they can spare who knows his stuff. I don’t want some second-grade tinkerer.”
Peabody got out her communicator to make the request while Eve settled behind her desk, slipped the disc of Brennen’s communications into her unit.
“Engage,” she ordered after remembering her password. “Playback.”
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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