“Plenty of action and mystery…Eve Duncan [does] not disappoint!”Criminal Element
New York Times bestseller Iris Johansen is back with another high octane thriller in Dark Tribute that will leave your mind racing and your heart pounding.
Despite her tragic childhood, violin prodigy Cara Delaney has finally found peace in her career as a professional musician and stability in her relationship with her guardians, forensic sculptor Eve Duncan and ex-Navy SEAL Joe Quinn. If only Jock Gavin, Cara’s lifelong friend and a man with his own twisted history, would come back into her life, everything would be perfect.
The carefully constructed world Cara has built for herself is suddenly threatened when she is kidnapped by a mysterious man trying to settle a score against her family, setting off a violent chain of events that puts everyone Cara loves in danger. Now, Cara will have to use every instinct she has to stay one step aheador else pay the deadly tribute of her family’s dark past.
The Eve Duncan novels are:
“Enough to keep readers hooked all night long.”San Francisco Book Review
“Enthralling…and completely satisfying.”Kirkus Reviews
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Michael pressed the disconnect on his cell as he ran into the living room and plopped down on the couch beside Eve. "Her final concert is in Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight. She'll be here in Atlanta tomorrow night, but she won't be able to come home until day after tomorrow. She has to be at some fancy party in Buckhead for a benefit. She says it has something to do with a fund-raiser for St. Jude Hospital." He leaned back and stretched his legs out before him. "But she says we've got her for the next week ... if we want her." He smiled mischievously. "I told her we'd talk it over and get back to her. What do you say, Mom?"
"I want to know what she said." Eve ruffled his chestnut-colored hair. "Did she put you in your place, young man? You nag her constantly to get her agent to stage her violin concerts as close to Atlanta as she can manage so that she can come home. And then you give her grief when she does?"
"Well, someone has to give her grief." Michael gave her a sly glance as he nestled his head on her shoulder. "Just teasing. Teasing is fun, right?"
"If you say so. It depends on whom you ask." But she knew that Michael was all joy and humor and very special in every way. She had known that from the moment he was born ten years ago and was even more aware of it now. "But Cara hasn't been around much for the last year. She might have forgotten what a brat you can be."
"She thinks I'm perfect," he said solemnly. "Most of the time." His amber-colored eyes were suddenly twinkling. "You're the only one who thinks I'm a brat."
"Because lately you've started trying to manipulate me." She looked him in the eye. "Haven't you, Michael?"
He hesitated. "Manipulate?" he repeated.
"A big word for a very devious act," she said. She'd been bracing herself for the past few days, and she might as well get the confrontation over. No matter that his actions were motivated purely by affection, it was her job as his mother to monitor and guide those actions. "And stop pretending you have no idea what it means. You probably have a bigger vocabulary than I do these days. Answer me."
"I wasn't pretending. That would be a lie. I never lie to you. I just had to think what to say."
"The truth. You've been trying to manipulate me?"
He didn't speak for a moment. "Yes. How did you know?"
"Oh, you've been very clever. Sometimes even subtle. Asking for help with your homework. You never need help with your homework. Persuading your dad and me to go on walks every evening. Bringing in Cara's CDs for me to listen to with you after supper." She paused. "Anything and everything to keep me from working on that reconstruction. Why, Michael?"
He was silent. Then he sighed and gave up. "You've been working too hard this month. You just got over the flu." His gaze went to the skull of the young boy on the dais of her worktable across the room. "It won't hurt you to take your time doing that reconstruction. Dennis wouldn't mind. He's probably a good guy."
He wasn't joking. From the first time he'd become aware of those skulls that appeared on her worktable when he was a toddler, he'd always treated them with gentleness and respect. He'd even given a few of them names just as Eve always did in order to better connect with them as human beings, not just as victims. "That's my decision, Michael. You're my son, not my guardian." She smiled. "And you're only ten years old. Put a few more years under your belt before you decide you're in charge of this family."
"Years don't really matter," he said absently. "You just have to make up your mind what's important and do it. Of course, people seem to object to letting you do what's right until you reach a certain age. But most of the time you don't, Mom."
"But what you think is right isn't always that," she said gently. "There's such a thing as free will."
"Yes." He was frowning. "But you were working too hard. I didn't want you sick again. You're never sick. It scared me."
"Did it?" She pulled him closer. Of course it had scared him. That bout of flu had come out of nowhere and attacked her like a nuclear bomb. She had come very close to pneumonia. It had taken her almost a month to get over it, and she'd been aware how upset he'd been. The bond between them was even closer than between most mothers and sons. Sometimes it seemed as if they could read each other's thoughts. "Then talk to me about it. Don't try to manipulate me."
"It seemed the easiest way." He was still frowning. "I've been finding it works with other people."
And Michael was so clever, so innovative, that it would be simple for him to manipulate and manage the people around him. His understanding was far beyond his actual age, and she sometimes felt as if she were dealing with a college student. But she had noticed that as he grew older, that particular skill was constantly growing. If he didn't have such a good heart, it could be a very dangerous talent. "I'm sure it does work, and only you can decide if it's the right thing to do. I can only tell you it's wrong when you use it with family and people you love. It might make them not trust you."
"Then I won't do it," he said immediately. "Not if you say I shouldn't." He paused. "Does that mean I have to call Cara back and tell her not to come?"
"What?" She frowned. "Why should you?"
"I wanted her to come home. I knew that you'd spend most of the week with her and not work." He added simply, "So I fixed it."
"Fixed it?" Her eyes widened. "You didn't tell her I'd been ill? I deliberately kept that from her so she wouldn't worry. And I told you not to say a word when you talked to her."
"And I didn't tell her." He was genuinely upset. "I wouldn't do that if you didn't want me to."
"Then exactly how did you 'fix it'?"
"I told her that Jock was going to be here this weekend." His luminous smile lit his face. "I knew that would bring her. She doesn't get a chance to see him very much when she's on tour."
Eve stared at him in shock. "Yes, that would bring her." But she hadn't realized that Michael would know that. The relationship between Cara and Jock Gavin had been ongoing since Cara had been only a little older than Michael's age and Jock had saved her life. It had been one of those strange, rare attachments that perhaps comes along once in a lifetime. The child who had been friendless and on the run most of her life. The young man who had fought his way from the depths of guilt and despair and was probably still fighting. Through the years, they had been best friends, almost brother and sister, and yet lately Eve had become aware something ... deeper had emerged. "But he's not going to be here. He's still in Scotland. I haven't heard anything from him. I can't believe you would lie!"
He shook his head. "He'll be in Atlanta. He promised to bring me that family kilt that MacDuff said I could use for the show-and-tell exhibit next week. And he said that he'd bring along all the family historical stuff with it so that I could have a complete presentation. But he said that it was priceless to the MacDuff family so he'd have to be here to keep his eye on it." He beamed at her. "But it's nice of him, isn't it?"
"More than nice. Extraordinary. And why didn't I hear about this show-and-tell?"
He looked at the Dennis reconstruction. "You were busy."
"Are you trying to give me a guilt trip?" she asked sternly.
He smiled innocently. "Maybe. Is it working?"
"It is not." She pushed him away from her. "And since when have you gotten so chummy with Jock Gavin? He's not been around much in the past few years."
"I like him. Lord MacDuff might be the one everyone makes a big fuss over, but Jock is cool."
"Yes, he is." Jock was Lord MacDuff's best friend and not only ran MacDuff's Run but also handled all of MacDuff's investments, which Jock had built into a large fortune. He was totally brilliant and had a history more dark and complicated than she wanted to explain to Michael at the moment. "But how did you get to know him well enough to decide that he was cool enough for you to approach about borrowing a MacDuff family heirloom?"
"Well, Cara liked him. I knew I'd probably like him, too. So I started phoning him whenever I felt like talking about Cara or to ask him questions about Scotland or that loch you said we liked when I was a little kid."
"You did like it." She had spent months in Scotland when she was pregnant with Michael and later had taken him to Loch Gaelkar when she and Joe had been married. The loch was a magical place of mist and legends, and it had not surprised her that he'd felt at home there. But then she had never seen a place where Michael wasn't at home. He seemed to have an affinity for everything that had to do with nature and life itself. "You could have asked me about it."
"I wanted to ask Jock. It was kind of neat having him explain everything in that Scottish accent." His smile widened. "He laughs when I try to imitate him. And I think he knows lots of other things that he didn't tell me. Maybe he will someday." He added gravely, "I didn't bother him, Mom. I think he liked to talk about Cara."
She didn't doubt it. She'd been aware Jock had been keeping his distance from Cara during these last years when she'd been completing her studies and starting to launch her career, but she didn't believe he would ever allow himself to totally lose touch. And it was possible Jock had also been caught up in the spell Michael managed to weave over everyone with whom he came in contact. "But you didn't tell me you were talking to him. Why?"
"I would have told you if you'd asked me."
He nodded. "Sometimes secrets are fun." He made a face. "But this is one of those times you think I was using a friend to get what I wanted?"
"Isn't that what you think?"
He thought about it. "I guess I do. It didn't seem like that when I was doing it. All I thought about was you."
She tried to stifle the melting tenderness she was feeling. "And I appreciate that you were concerned. But you have to think about other people as well." She made a face. "I'm only grateful you didn't decide to bring Jane into your machinations, too. I'm surprised you didn't figure a way to have her cancel her art show in London and come winging home."
Michael smiled and just shook his head.
"Michael?" she said warily.
"Jane visited us just three months ago. It was too soon. I would have had to tell her you'd been sick. I couldn't do that, so it had to be Cara."
But he had thought about it, Eve realized. "I'm surprised that stopped you. Why not bring the entire family?"
"I promised you," he repeated. "But I would have made sure that it didn't hurt Jane. She would still have been able to make her art show. A few days wouldn't have made a difference."
"No, it wouldn't." And she knew he would never do anything to harm Jane. He considered Jane MacGuire and Cara Delaney as his sisters and he adored them both. He didn't understand the difference between blood relations and family members invited by love, and he never would. As for Jane and Cara, they had been his willing slaves since the night he was born. "But it should be her choice. So we're back at square one, aren't we?"
"Yeah, I guess we are." He met her eyes. "Do I have to call Cara back?"
She sighed. "No, that would make everything worse." The relationship between Cara and Jock was delicately balanced enough without bringing Michael's convoluted maneuverings into the mix. Besides, it had been too long since Cara had been home. Eve had missed her. "Just promise me that this kind of thing won't happen again."
He was silent.
"I promise I'll try not to make it happen." His expression was troubled. "Unless I get scared about you or Dad again. Then I'd have to do anything I need to do. You can see that, can't you?"
"No, I can't see —" She stopped. She'd been going to be the good mother and tell him rules were rules and there should be no exceptions. But she wouldn't lie to him. If she was frightened for any of the family, she wouldn't hesitate to do anything she needed to do to protect them. "I can understand that you'd have a problem. But we discussed persuasion and being honest. Will you promise to tell me first before you do anything else?"
"Sure." He smiled brilliantly. "Does that mean I can persuade you not to work tonight?"
She shook her head ruefully. "No, that doesn't mean you'll get your way every time. That's not how it works."
His smile faded. "Then what good is it if I still have to worry about you? How does it work, Mom?"
"We compromise. I might be persuaded to knock off at ten. Take what you can get, kid."
"Right!" He jumped to his feet and tossed a salute to the reconstruction on the dais. "You heard her, Dennis. Ten." He headed at top speed for the front door.
Had she just been persuaded or manipulated she wondered suddenly. Worry about it later. "Where are you going?"
"I've got to go down to the driveway and help Dad give the Jeep a tune-up. He said I needed to learn how to do it. It's going to be fun!" He slammed the porch door behind him, and she heard him running down the porch steps, and calling, "Cara's coming home, Dad. Maybe we'd better tune the Toyota, too."
Of course, it did, Eve thought with amusement as she followed him to the front porch. Working on the cars was a favorite pastime for both of them. Joe because it allowed him to work with his hands instead of his mind, Michael because he had a thirst for knowledge that was positively unquenchable. But perhaps the main attraction was that they could be together and bond. She stood looking down at the driveway, where Joe and Michael were already bending under the hood of the Jeep. So different and yet so much alike. Joe in his jeans and the chambray work shirt he always wore when he worked outside on the property. Tall, muscular, lithe, but with the same brown-red hair and tea-colored eyes as his son. Michael with a child's gangliness yet brimming with vitality and the sheer joy of living in his khakis, tennis shoes, and Falcons sweatshirt. He was laughing up at Joe and saying something Eve couldn't hear. She wished she had a photo of this moment to preserve it forever. Michael's eager expression was glowing with all the love and respect that he felt for his father. Joe was gazing down at him with a half smile that was both understanding and tender. Another guy moment, she thought. For an instant, she felt a little wistful about that bond between them that she would never be able to share. Joe and Michael were constantly together. Whether it was Joe teaching Michael every skill under the sun, playing different sports, barbecuing, or fixing that darn Jeep. The envy was immediately gone. What was she thinking? She and Joe had their own special places in Michael's life, and she was grateful for every minute that he gave to him. As even her son had learned, she was something of a workaholic, and Joe's job as a police detective was equally demanding. Hopefully by sharing the responsibilities, they had managed to give Michael everything he needed.
"Want to come down and help?" Joe called up to her.
She shook her head. "Just enjoying watching the two of you slave. I have to get back to work. It seems I have a curfew."
"Ask your son." She turned and moved toward the front door. "Be sure you don't get too involved with that Jeep and skip supper."
"How about you?" Joe asked.
"I'll grab a sandwich now." She cast one more glance down at the two of them. The setting sun was casting a golden aura around them. Their chestnut hair looked almost auburn in this light. They were strong and healthy and beautiful ... and they belonged to her.
Lord, she was lucky.
* * *
"Curfew?" Joe murmured as he glanced down at Michael. "What have you been up to?"
"She said I should use persuasion instead of ..." He took a wrench and tightened a nut. "So I did. I wanted her to rest, but all she'd give me was ten o'clock."
"That's not bad." Joe leaned on the fender, gazing thoughtfully down at him. "Persuasion instead of what?" He chuckled and held up his hand. "Never mind. You got busted, didn't you?"
He looked up at Joe. "Did I?"
"I only wanted her to rest more. I didn't like it when she got sick."
"Neither did I."
"I was scared."
"So was I." He shrugged. "And I also wanted her to rest more after the doctor released her. But I've learned that's a difficult thing to accomplish with your mom. And it's something you'll have to learn for yourself. So I let you go for it. You were doing very well, but you must have gotten a little overconfident."
He nodded gloomily. "She called me manipulative."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dark Tribute"
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