When former race car driver Trick Granger picks up a mysterious hitchhiker, he discovers a whole series of puzzles. "Nevada White" has escaped from a mental institution where her memory and real name were wiped out, and now a pair of undead "detectives" are trying to kill her. She's plagued by uncontrollable psychic flashes and her pursuers' accusation that she murdered her father. Intrigued by Nevada's resemblance to a ghost haunting his Northern California home and dismissive of the danger, Trick hires her to clean up the inherited mansion. Mulvaney (Something Wicked) spins a diverting if predictable tale with some suspense, but she divulges too many secrets in scenes from the villain's viewpoint. The paranormal elements add atmosphere, but won't do much for readers who prefer them integral to the plot. (Dec.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Wicked Is the Nightby Catherine Mulvany
When the sun goes down, passion and danger light the darkness....
Wicked is the Night
Nevada White is on the run from a strange psychic gift that enables her to see evil...from two deadly predators who are tracking her every move...and from a past she can't recall. The only clue to her identity is a gold amulet, torn from her neck in a struggle with her… See more details below
When the sun goes down, passion and danger light the darkness....
Wicked is the Night
Nevada White is on the run from a strange psychic gift that enables her to see evil...from two deadly predators who are tracking her every move...and from a past she can't recall. The only clue to her identity is a gold amulet, torn from her neck in a struggle with her pursuers. With no safe haven, she crashes into the life of gorgeous race car driver Trick Grainger near a small California town. And though it's clear Nevada spells trouble, she arouses all Trick's protective instincts...and a whole lot more. He offers her sanctuary at the Victorian mansion, said to be haunted, that's been in the Grainger family since the 1850s. But although Nevada is deeply attracted to Trick, how can she hope for love when even her name is a fake? As a series of eerie, violent deaths plague the area, Nevada and Trick race to uncover the link between Nevada's lost amulet and her only known family: her half brother, a San Francisco politician with an insatiable bloodlust. And even if they survive the physical danger, the greatest threat comes from within, because Nevada has no idea who she is, where she came from, or what she might have done....
Read an Excerpt
Marcello, my friend, you drive like a woman." Patrick Granger scowled at the taillights of the logging truck they'd been stuck behind for the last three miles. "Lean on the horn and get the hell around that bozo." Admittedly a challenge that fell into the easier-said-than-done category. The truck's driver hugged the center line like a long-lost friend and slowed to twenty every time he came to one of the hairpin turns that made this stretch of road between Tahoe and Placerville such a challenge.
"Testa di cazzo," Marcello muttered.
"Dickhead?" Trick said. "That's a little harsh. The guy's not much of a driver, but "
"I was not referring to the truck driver."
Trick raised an eyebrow. "Okay, I'm acting like a jerk. I admit it. But there are extenuating circumstances. If I don't get some aspirin soon, my head's going to explode. Of course," he couldn't resist adding, "I realize you have limited experience driving mountain roads..."
Marcello vented his spleen in a torrent of Italian invective. "I am entirely competent, and you know it. If you must place blame, blame this gutless piece of garbage I am driving."
In reality, the Jeep Wrangler Trick had bought shortly after they'd arrived in the U.S. a month ago was far from gutless, but then, it wasn't Italian-built, and from Marcello's perspective that automatically qualified it as an inferior vehicle.
Marcello hit a pothole dead center.
On purpose, Trick suspected. He groaned as the jolt triggered a fresh burst of pain. "Damn it, watch where you're going!"
"Stiff suspension," Marcello said. "In a Lamborghini, one would scarcely "
"When in Rome, blah-blah-blah, but this isn't Rome, my friend. Keep your eyes on the road. My head won't survive another thump like that last one." Not to mention his queasy stomach.
"If you did not drink so much..."
To which Trick had no snappy comeback. Marcello was right. But if he didn't muddle his brain with alcohol, he might have to think about what he was going to do with the rest of his life. And that was too damned depressing to contemplate. Not many career choices open to a guy with a limp and an eye patch, pirates being in short demand these days.
Neither man spoke a word for a full two minutes. Then, "Straight stretch dead ahead," Trick said. "Get ready to punch it. The driver of the BMW behind us just turned on his signal. No way he's getting around until we do."
"What is that quaint American saying?" Marcello frowned as if he were scouring his memory. "Ah, yes. 'Nobody likes a backseat driver.'" But he punched it as instructed.
"I'm not in the backseat, so technically..." Trick let his comment trail off as headlights seemed to materialize out of nowhere, heading straight for them. "Oh, shit! Back off! Back off!"
Marcello hit the brakes and pulled back in behind the truck. Either the driver of the BMW didn't see the oncoming car or didn't care. The logging truck's brake lights lit up as the guy in the BMW blew around both them and the truck.
Swearing under his breath, Marcello hit the Jeep's brakes again as they nearly kissed the truck's rear end.
The driver of the oncoming car, an older-model Cadillac, laid on his horn. Swerving to miss the Beemer, he swung too wide and slid half off the pavement to churn through the gravel on the shoulder, almost but not quite scraping the guardrail.
The BMW whipped back into its own lane, avoiding disaster by inches before continuing blithely on its way.
Crisis past, the truck ahead began to pick up speed. Marcello didn't. Too busy tracking the Caddie's erratic progress in the rearview mirror, Trick suspected.
A girl suddenly catapulted out of passenger-side door of the truck's cab and tumbled down the embankment.
"Stop!" Trick yelled, then grabbed his head to keep his brains from spilling out his ears.
Marcello slammed on the brakes.
Trick's head whipped forward, then snapped back against the headrest. He swore softly and steadily under his breath as Marcello eased the Jeep off the highway into a small turnout. Still swearing, Trick released his shoulder harness and opened his door.
"What is wrong?" Marcello asked. "Is it your stomach? Do you feel as if you are about to "
"No! I'm going back to help the girl."
Marcello frowned in confusion. "What girl?"
"Right after that near collision between the Beemer and the Caddie, a girl either fell or was thrown from the truck ahead of us."
"I did not see a girl," Marcello said.
"Because you were focused on the Cadillac."
"Would the truck driver not have stopped if he had lost his passenger?"
"Not if he dumped her on purpose," Trick said, thinking maybe the girl had been dead before she'd been tossed from the truck. "Anyway" he dragged his cane out of the back end "I'm going to go check it out."
"Absurd," Marcello said. "You stay here. I will go take a look. Perhaps you were mistaken. Perhaps it was only a bag of trash." He didn't wait for a response, just jumped out of the Jeep and took off at a lope.
Trick, whose loping days were over for a while, banged his bad leg on the edge of the door as he struggled awkwardly from the vehicle. For a few moments, the throbbing in his knee rivaled the throbbing in his head. He turned the chill mountain air blue with his epithets, but swearing didn't help any more than drinking did. One clumsy, lame-ass gimp was what he was. Worthless as a flat tire.
Frustrated, he propped himself on his cane, leaned against the Jeep's door, and tracked Marcello's progress along the moonlit highway with his one good eye.
Before the Italian had gone twenty yards, a small figure clambered up the embankment and staggered onto the shoulder. A young woman in dark clothing. Slender, fragile-looking with shoulder-length dark hair and pale skin, she limped a little as she accompanied Marcello back to the Jeep.
"Are you all right?" he meant to ask as soon as she drew close enough, but then he got a good look at her face a perfect oval with huge dark eyes, a straight, narrow nose, a sweet, soft mouth and the words clogged up in his throat. He knew that face. It belonged to the Gypsy girl who'd haunted the Granger mansion since the 1850s.
The young woman stared at him, her face completely expressionless.
Not Blanche, he realized belatedly. Not his ghost made flesh. This woman was smaller and paler, her mouth fuller, her cheekbones less prominent. Still, at first glance the resemblance had been startling. "What's your name?" he demanded, sounding more abrupt than he'd intended.
"Jane Doe. Or at least it would have been if that truck driver had had his way."
Trick frowned. "You're saying the man tried to kill you?"
"I'm saying he shoved me out of a truck going thirty miles an hour." Her face still betrayed no emotion, but strain had frayed the edges of her voice. "Apparently, that's the way it plays out when some sicko orders you to give him a blow job and you refuse."
Marcello frowned. "What is this blow job?"
Trick translated for him and Marcello's frown deepened. "We must call the police."
"No!" the woman said quickly. "I mean, nothing actually happened. I'm not hurt. Not seriously. It would be my word against his, and..."
"And?" Trick prompted.
"I'd rather not get involved with the police right now."
"I see," he said, wondering if he did. She looked so young, so frail, so innocent, and yet her reluctance to involve the authorities seemed to argue that she was or recently had been involved in something illegal.
"You may see, Trick, but I do not," Marcello objected. "Miss, you must try to bring this man to justice. He should not be allowed to "
"To what?" she said. "Proposition females stupid or reckless enough to hitchhike?"
"I'm guessing you're neither stupid nor reckless," Trick said.
"No? Then what am I?" She faced him squarely.
"Desperate?" he said softly.
She went very still, and for a brief moment, he caught a glimpse of the vulnerability she was working so hard to hide. Then it was as if shutters slammed down to mask her emotions once again. "Desperate's a strong word," she said. "I prefer... cautious."
Marcello shifted his gaze back and forth from Trick to the girl. "Yes, but the authorities " he started, then stopped abruptly when he saw Trick's warning scowl.
Trick stepped toward the girl, extending his hand. "I'm Trick Granger. Patrick Donatelli Granger."
"The race-car driver," most people responded, placing the name if not the face, but this woman's expression remained stuck in neutral. Not the faintest flicker of recognition sparked in her eyes.
She gave his hand a hesitant shake. "Nevada White."
"Unusual name," he said.
"Not when your mother's a hippie-turned-blackjack dealer. I count myself lucky that she didn't call me Vegas."
"Or Roulette," Marcello said.
Both Trick and Nevada turned to him in surprise.
He shrugged. "I once had a cat named Roulette."
Trick turned back to the woman. "Nevada White, meet former cat owner Marcello Bellini."
"How do you do?" she said formally.
Marcello nodded. "Very well, thank you." As if they were in a receiving line, not standing at the edge of a mountain road at four in the morning.
If Trick hadn't felt so lousy, he'd have laughed. "Well, Nevada White," he said, "if you don't mind riding in the backseat, you're welcome to a lift. Midas Lake is the nearest town. About five miles that way." He pointed down the road with his cane.
A faint frown rippled across her face, there and gone so fast he might have imagined it. She said nothing.
"We can drop you off at Buzz's Stop 'N Go. Should be easy enough to hitch another ride there." He paused. When she didn't respond, he added, "Or we can take you to the bus station. Your choice."
She searched his face but still said nothing.
"Do not worry." Marcello gave her an earnest look. "We are neither rapists nor serial killers."
"Definitely not," Trick said.
"Which, considering that there are two of us, would be most unlikely in any case. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all rapists and serial killers work alone," Marcello pointed out.
"Very reassuring," Trick said, "that you'd have that statistic on the tip of your tongue."
Marcello ignored him. "Besides, after all the media coverage that followed Trick's near-fatal crash at Le Mans, everyone knows who he is."
Nevada White gave Marcello a blank look. "I don't."
"Trick Granger, world-famous race-car driver?"
"Former world-famous race-car driver," Trick said, not without a twinge of bitterness.
Nevada White shook her head. "I don't follow sports."
"But the accident was front-page news," Marcello protested.
Not to mention, Trick thought, that the Granger curse angle had made it major tabloid fodder.
The woman's eyes widened, as if they'd accused her of some heinous crime. "I don't pay much attention to the news," she said, then added slowly, "but now that you mention it, I guess the name does ring a bell."
Nevada White didn't know him from Adam. Which was no big deal. What Trick couldn't understand was why she was pretending she did. He searched her face, but no hidden motives revealed themselves. Maybe she was just being polite. "So," he said. "Do you want a ride or not?"
"I..." Nevada White studied him long and hard, then shifted her gaze to Marcello, submitting him to the same intense scrutiny.
"Yes or no?" Trick said.
She turned to search his face once again. "Yes," she said at length. "I would. Thanks."
"Then let's move it. I'd like to reach Midas Lake before my brain goes ballistic."
She shot him a questioning look as he shifted aside to let her climb into the backseat.
"Headache," he explained.
Marcello snorted. "Of the self-inflicted variety."
Trick hoisted himself awkwardly into the passenger seat. "I had a little too much to drink." Okay, a lot too much. He scowled at Marcello, who grinned back, thoroughly unrepentant. "Sei un rompicazzo, Marcello."
The Italian slid behind the steering wheel and turned the key in the ignition. "Vai all'inferno." He punched the accelerator, pulling back onto the road with a jerk.
Trick groaned as jolts of pain zigzagged through his head. "Hell? Already there, my friend."
They weren't serial killers. Or so they said. And they definitely weren't cops federal, state, or local which should have been reassuring. So why was her gut still tied in knots?
The driver glanced back at her. "How are you doing?" he asked in his heavily accented English.
"Fine," she said because she knew that's what he wanted to hear, and even if he didn't, she couldn't exactly tell him the truth: I have two killers on my tail, and I'm scared out of my mind.
"You sure?" Granger, the ex-race-car driver, peered at her around the edge of his headrest.
Had something in her voice sounded a false note? Did she look as desperate as she felt? Chill, she told herself. No red flags. Slowly, deliberately, she unclenched her fists and forced herself to relax. Above all, she needed to avoid raising any suspicion.
"Maybe we should take you to the ER, have you checked out."
"I'm fine. Really. A few bruises maybe. Nothing serious." She mustered a smile but couldn't prevent herself from reaching as she always did in times of stress for her amulet.
It wasn't there.
Fortunately, Granger had turned back around by then and didn't see the panic she knew must be reflected in her face. She reached behind her to check the hood of her sweatshirt, thinking maybe the amulet was stuck in the folds, but no such luck. She unzipped the hoodie, hoping to find the pendant caught between her sweatshirt and the T-shirt she wore underneath. Not there, either. She must have lost it in the struggle with the truck driver. Or maybe during the roll down the embankment.
Damn it. Tears prickled her eyes.
She no longer remembered where the gold amulet had come from or who had given it to her, but she treasured it anyway, her only tie to her old life, to the person she'd once been. Gone now just like her memories of her preinstitutional life.
A second wave of panic suddenly constricted her chest. What if the pendant wasn't the only thing she'd lost in her unplanned dive from the truck?
She jammed her hands deep in the pockets of her hoodie, relieved to find that she still had her two dog-eared twenty-dollar bills, most of her change, the scrap of paper that held the only clue to her real identity, and, thank God, the plastic bag full of little peach-colored pills. "As long as you take one first thing every morning, you'll be fine," Yelena had promised, though she'd never explained exactly what the pills did. Suppressed Nevada's "gift" maybe? She hadn't had an episode in a while now.
As for her counterfeit social security card, the foundation of her new identity, it was safely hidden inside her right shoe.
In the front seat, the two men were engaged in a low-voiced argument, possibly about her, though she couldn't be sure since they were speaking Italian, not a language she understood.
"Where are you headed, Ms. White?" Granger asked suddenly in English.
"Nowhere in particular," she lied, unwilling to confide in a stranger. The truth was, San Francisco was her ultimate destination. Written on that scrap of paper in her pocket was the anonymous Pacific Heights address Yelena had copied from Nevada's file at the Appleton Institute.
He turned around to face her. "On the run, huh?"
"No," she said quickly. Could he tell she was lying? "I took a year off between college and grad school. I've been bumming around, trying to see as much of the country as I can." She'd used that story several times in the last week.
Definitely suspicious, she thought, despite that bland expression.
"The Sierra Nevadas are well worth an extended visit," Granger said. "Bountiful wildlife, breathtaking scenery. Plus, the area's rich in history."
The Italian snorted. "You have been reading the Fodor's again."
"But hitchhiking's not the safest way to travel through the mountains," Trick Granger continued, ignoring the Italian's interruption. "Or anywhere else for that matter."
"I know that," she said. "The thing is, I'm running low on cash. I suppose I could call home, but I really don't want to listen to all the I-told-you-sos. What I need is a job."
Granger turned back to Marcello, rattling off some more Italian.
Marcello answered sharply in the same language.
"Do you know of any hotels that might have an opening on the housekeeping staff?" A waitressing job would do in a pinch, though she preferred a position with less public exposure.
"I doubt it," Granger said. "Business is slow right now. Ski season's over, and it's a little early for the usual influx of warm-weather tourists."
Disappointing but not totally unexpected. Nothing was ever easy.
Granger turned back to face her again, studying her for a moment in silence before saying, "I do know of one job opening that might interest you."
"No," Marcello protested.
"Yes," Granger said.
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
"A job," Granger said.
"In his brothel," Marcello added.
Nevada's stomach clenched.
"Marcello's joking," Granger said, though the Italian had sounded perfectly serious, even grim, and Granger didn't seem particularly amused, either. "I recently inherited a mansion, a three-story Victorian that formerly housed a brothel emphasis on the formerly, but "
"No real estate agent will touch it, buried as it is under a century's worth of grime," Marcello said.
Granger scowled at the other man. "Century's worth is a gross exaggeration. The mansion's only been empty for fifty years." He angled around to make eye contact with her again. "Marcello's right about the grime, though."
The Italian grunted. "Filth. Layers of it."
"I need someone to clean the place up so I can put it on the market. I've had a help wanted ad running in the Nugget that's the local paper for three weeks now, but no one's applied for the job."
"Because everyone believes the house is haunted." Marcello met her gaze momentarily in the rearview mirror, his expression unreadable.
"Which is, of course, ridiculous," Granger said.
"I " Nevada started.
"Ghost stories are inevitable, I suppose," he continued, "considering how long it's been since the mansion was occupied."
"Unless you count mice and spiders," Marcello put in.
No doubt some of that abundant wildlife Granger'd been touting earlier.
"The place has been abandoned for years," Granger said. "You have to expect "
"I feel certain the curse has also discouraged job applicants," Marcello said.
"Curse?" she repeated.
"Superstitious nonsense." Granger's laugh seemed more forced than convincing. "But in the interest of full disclosure..." He paused. "In the early 1850s one of my less illustrious ancestors, brothel owner Silas Granger, ran afoul of a Gypsy, grandmother of a young woman who died in his employ, and got himself and his family cursed. Ever since, male Grangers have been dropping like flies."
"I thought you said the curse was nonsense."
"It is." Granger nodded. "The body count's merely coincidence. Or maybe genetics." He shrugged. "But curses make for better headlines. The mansion, Silas Granger's former brothel, is filthy beyond description but one hundred percent curse-free. I admit it's a dirty job, but "
"Somebody's got to do it," she finished.
"You'd be well compensated."
"Five hundred dollars a week."
"I don't know...."
"All right. Seven hundred fifty. That's assuming you know one end of a broom from the other."
"I've killed a few dust bunnies in my time."
"Bunnies?" Confusion clouded Marcello's voice. "These are rabbits, yes? And you kill them?"
"It's slang," she said, "meaning I know how to clean."
"Is that a yes?" Granger asked.
"More like a maybe. The prospect of spiders doesn't bother me, but I'm not crazy about mice."
"Good," Granger said, "because I'm not, either."
"Nor I," Marcello chimed in.
"Marcello works for me," Granger explained.
"The Bellinis have served the Donatelli family for generations," the Italian added.
"How charmingly feudal," she said dryly.
"Unfortunately, the tradition of service doesn't include windows," Granger muttered.
"I am a personal assistant," Marcello said with exaggerated patience, as if this were a distinction he'd explained many times in the past. "I will cook. I will garden. But I draw the line at cleaning."
"We could really use your help, but if you're concerned about propriety "
Marcello launched into an impassioned flood of Italian as they entered Midas Lake, a charming little resort town, heavy on log construction and retail shops aimed at the tourist trade handmade quilts, chainsaw sculptures of bears and eagles.
She needed the money and was tempted to take the job. But since her escape, every time she'd stopped for more than a few hours, her pursuers had caught up with her. She'd already survived two close calls, one in Chicago, the second, two nights ago in Nowheresville, Nebraska. She was afraid she might not be so lucky a third time.
On the other hand, the job sounded very low profile.
Marcello hit the red at the first of three stoplights on the main drag. Directly ahead of them, also stopped at the light, a police cruiser idled. A scruffy-looking man in the backseat repeatedly slammed his handcuffed wrists against the grillwork separating him from the officer in the driver's seat. Blood splattered, but the prisoner was apparently too worked up to feel any pain. Under the influence, Nevada guessed.
The cop spoke into his radio, then glanced in the side mirror.
A searing pain pierced Nevada's eyes and buried itself in her brain. "He beats his wife," she blurted.
The babble of Italian in the front seat came to an abrupt halt. Marcello twisted around to look at her. "I beg your pardon?"
She clenched her fists so hard that her nails dug into her palms. Squeezing her eyes shut, she fought to clear her mind of the ugly images.
"She said she thought that guy in the back of the cop car was a wife-beater. Wouldn't surprise me any. He sure as hell looks the part."
No! She could feel the anguished denial trying to escape, but she kept her lips tightly sealed. The prisoner wasn't a wife-beater. At least she had no reason to think so. The cop was the one she'd been talking about. The cop was the one she'd seen in a disturbing psychic flash. The cop was the one who beat his wife.
Love taps. That was how Morgan the Orderly described what he did to his spouse. Only way to keep the bitch in line, according to him.
Love taps wasn't really a description, though. It was an excuse. A lying excuse. And Nevada ached to set the record straight, to scream the truth at the top of her lungs the way she'd done with Morgan the Orderly.
Except that hadn't turned out too well, had it? When she'd gone berserk, they'd stuffed her in a strait jacket and tranqued her. So unless she wanted to go back to the Institute to play guinea pig again experimental drugs and experimental treatments, most of them with undesirable side effects she would be smart to keep her mouth shut.
Seven hundred fifty a week for however many weeks it would have taken to clean Granger's mansion would have given her a cushion, but it wasn't going to happen. Marcello was already giving her that wary look she'd come to fear. "Drop me at a truck stop," she said. "I'll hitch a ride from there."
Copyright © 2008 by Catherine Mulvany
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