A grieving widow becomes a killer in this psychological thriller by the New York Times–bestselling author of Deadly Memories.
A mild-mannered car salesman . . . A womanizing bartender . . . A beloved minister with a devoted family. Except for the fact that each of the murder victims is male, Minnesota police can’t find a connection between the crimes. But that’s because what links them can’t be seen with the naked eye . . .
Losing everything can make a person do crazy things. No one knows that better than Connie Wilson. The shock of suddenly losing her fiancé, Alan, in a car accident, is almost too much bear . . . Until Connie comes up with a plan to stay close to Alan forever. And she’s finally found just the man to help her. There’s only one thing standing in her way: his wife. She’s smart, beautiful, and has exactly what Connie desperately needs. Connie will just have to be smarter, more seductive—and stay one step ahead of a detective who’s as determined to save her as Connie is to destroy her . . .
Originally published under the name Chris Hunter.
If you’ve enjoyed Joanne’s earlier novels like Final Appeal and Fatal Identity, then you’re going to love reading Eyes!
For lighter mysteries, don’t miss Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series!
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By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1996 Joanne Fluke
All rights reserved.
Connie Wilson frowned as she stared out at the snow-covered courtyard. The condo association had decorated for Christmas, and this was the night they'd turned on the lights. She had watched them from her third-floor windows, draping the tall, stately pines with strings of multicolored bulbs. Now that the lights were on, the gently falling snow reflected all the colors, but Connie was too worried to appreciate the lovely sight. She didn't even smile as she spotted the life-size sleigh nestled under the trees with the illuminated figures of Santa and his elves. It was almost ten, and Alan still wasn't home.
He'd never stayed at his parents this late before. The Thanksgiving dinner had begun at three, and meals at the Stanford mansion were always served on time. Even with all the courses associated with the traditional Thanksgiving feast, they must have been finished by four or four-thirty.
Alan had promised to make his announcement right after dessert. Perhaps that had been as late as five, but there was no way the obligatory snifter of cognac, sipped with his father in the library, could have taken more than an hour. Even if Ralph Stanford had objected to the marriage, as Connie was sure he had, father and son wouldn't have argued this long.
So what was keeping Alan? She paced back and forth across the white carpet, doing her best to think positive thoughts. Alan loved her. She was sure of that. And he was determined to marry her, with or without his parents' permission. He had been ready to slay dragons for her when she'd kissed him good-bye; nothing Alan's parents could say or do would sway him.
And he wasn't the type to stop off for a drink. He always called her when he knew he'd be late. Even if there'd been a terrible family fight, he would come straight home to her. But what if his parents hadn't objected? What if he had convinced them that marriage to her was acceptable? Was it even remotely possible that he was with his family right now, planning the wedding?
Connie thought about that for a moment, then shook her head. Alan had told her all about his family, and she was sure the Stanfords would never approve of her as a prospective daughter-in-law. They were probably laying down the law right now, telling Alan that if he went ahead with this unsuitable marriage, they would disown him.
She pictured Alan coming in the door, his face lined with worry. She'd put on coffee, so it would be ready when he got home. He loved a good cup of coffee. One was bound to make him feel better.
Connie measured out the espresso beans, put them in the electric grinder. She loved coffee, too, and she adored the espresso Alan had taught her to make in his machine. But the doctor had told her that too much caffeine during a pregnancy could cause problems, so she had decided to give up coffee until after the baby was born.
There were so many things to remember. Connie frowned slightly as she glanced at the list she'd tacked up on the kitchen bulletin board. No caffeine, no alcohol, a high-fiber diet, moderate daily exercise, and plenty of rest. She was doing everything her doctor had recommended. Her friends from the past would never believe the fun-loving exotic dancer had stopped drinking, toned down her makeup, and let her bleached blond hair grow out to its natural color. Connie now looked like the girl next door, wholesome, sweet, and totally natural.
When the coffee was ready to brew, she went into the huge living room. She glanced at the clock and sighed again. It was almost ten-thirty. Should she call Alan at his parents' house to make sure everything was all right? She debated for a moment, even going so far as to pick up the phone, but she replaced the receiver in its cradle without punching in the number for the Stanford mansion. A call from her might rock the boat, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.
She sat down on the couch and stared at the snow falling outside. She was just thinking how pretty it was when the telephone rang. She reached out to it, crossing her fingers for luck. It just had to be Alan!
The voice sounded official, and Connie could hear other voices in the background. "No. I'm not Mrs. Stanford. Is this a sales call?"
"No, this is Central Dispatch, Minneapolis Police. Do you know an Alan Stanford?"
"Yes." Connie swallowed hard. "Alan's my fiancé. Is something wrong?"
"Two officers are on their way to talk to you. They should be there any minute."
"But ... why? What's happened?"
"Just relax, Miss ...?"
Connie clutched the phone so hard, her knuckles were white. "Connie Wilson. But can't you tell me —"
"I'm sorry." The voice interrupted. "I'm just a dispatcher, and I don't know. They just told me to call this number to confirm that someone was home."
Connie's head was spinning. Had Alan been arrested? She was about to ask, even though the dispatcher probably wouldn't know, when she heard a sharp knocking. "Someone's at the door. It must be your officers."
"Please let them in. And thank you, Miss Wilson."
There was a click, and Connie dropped the phone back into its cradle. Her legs were shaking as she rushed across the carpet to answer the door.
"Miss Wilson?" The older officer flashed his badge. "May we come in, please?"
"Yes. Of course." Connie stood to the side so both men could enter. "But ... how do you know my name?"
"The dispatcher told us. We were in radio contact. Please sit down, Miss Wilson."
Connie had a wild urge to refuse. If she didn't sit down, perhaps they would leave. And then Alan would come in the door, and —
"Miss Wilson? Please."
The older officer gestured toward the couch. Connie sat. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"There's been an accident, Miss Wilson."
The blood rushed from Connie's face, and she swallowed hard. "But ... Alan's all right, isn't he?"
"I'm afraid not." The older officer shook his head. "Do you have anyone who can come to stay with you, Miss Wilson?"
"No. There's no one. But I don't need anyone to stay here. I have to go to the hospital to see Alan!"
"There's no need for that, Miss Wilson."
"Alan's dead?" Connie's eyes widened. "No! That can't be true!"
"I'm afraid it is. Why don't you let us call someone for you. A friend? Family? You shouldn't be alone at a time like this."
"No!" Connie shook her head so hard, she became dizzy. "You've got the wrong person, that's all. It was someone else. You just thought it was Alan. Alan's alive! I know he is!"
"Calm down, Miss Wilson."
The older officer tried to put an arm around her shoulders, but Connie shrugged it off. "You'll see. It's a mistake, that's all. Alan'll be coming through that door any second, and we'll all have a good laugh."
"Miss Wilson ... I know how hard this is to accept, but we made positive identification at the scene."
"Nooooo!" Connie started to sob, and tears poured down her face. Alan couldn't be dead! Not Alan! Then she was hit by a terrible cramping. She screamed in pain.
"Miss Wilson ... Connie. Please." The older officer looked terribly concerned. "Are you ill?"
She opened her mouth to tell him, but nothing came out. She felt so weak she could barely move, and dark spots swirled in front of her eyes. Another cramp struck, as if it were trying to split her in two, and she looked down to see that the couch was wet with blood.
"The ... the baby! Save the baby!" Connie forced herself to choke out the words. She heard the younger officer radio for an ambulance, but just as he was giving the address, everything went black.CHAPTER 2
Jill Larkin Bradley paced across the kitchen floor of her childhood home on River Road. They'd moved to the four-bedroom, two-bath home in a rural suburb of Minneapolis when her father had died, two years ago. Jill loved the old house with its wooden floors, large airy rooms, and comfortable, overstuffed furniture. She was the third generation of Larkins to live in this house, and that gave her a sense of continuity. There were memories here of the happy times when she was a child, of her college years when she'd brought friends home for long weekends, and of the holidays she'd shared with her family. There were sad memories, too, of visiting her mother in those last months, of watching the grief that had settled into permanent lines on her father's face, and of seeing his gradual decline until death had taken him, too, less than a year later.
Jill's husband, Neil, hadn't wanted to move. Their single-bedroom, high-rise apartment, adjacent to the University of Minnesota campus, had been perfect for him. He'd been two blocks from his office in the English Literature building, and had walked to work every morning. But Jill's commute had been a killer. She was an assistant DA, and her office was located in downtown Minneapolis, right across from the central police station. The only way for her to get to it was through street traffic. Many mornings it had taken her over an hour to drive to work. Now that they'd moved, they both had a twenty-minute commute, but the fact that their house on River Road was centrally located for both of them didn't seem to matter to Neil. He hated to be inconvenienced, so he complained constantly about the traffic.
Jill sighed as she paced to the counter and then back again. She knew the real reason Neil had resisted their move. His teaching assistant, Lisa Hyland, had lived in their building. And that had been very convenient for him.
Two years ago, Jill had caught them in bed together. She'd wanted to leave Neil, to file for divorce and move back to the home she'd inherited from her father, but her husband had been persuasive. He'd apologized, held her when she'd cried, and told her he loved only her. So Jill had been persuaded to stay with him, but only if they moved across town to her childhood home, where she'd never have to see Lisa again.
Looking back on it now, Jill knew why Neil had agreed to the move. Associate professors barely made enough money to support themselves, and he'd needed her income. The prospect of living in a large house with room for an office was also a factor, since he had decided to write a book.
Neil's book had been published last November. The time had been right for a mystery thriller, and to Jill's delight, it had climbed to the top of the charts. There had even been a publicity tour; that was how Jill had found out that Neil was still involved with Lisa. One of her Chicago cousins had taken a picture at his book signing. She'd sent Jill a print, and there was Lisa, standing right next to Neil.
Jill had called a good divorce attorney, but he'd advised her against filing papers so close to the end of the year. If she could stick it out for a few more weeks, she could avoid some complicated tax problems, he'd said. Of course Jill had stuck it out. She'd been married to Neil for over three years; a month or two more wouldn't make any difference. She'd also followed her attorney's advice in not mentioning that she was planning to seek a divorce.
Christmas had entailed the usual round of social engagements. The district attorney had thrown his annual party, and Jill had attended with Neil. There had been Neil's English department party, a Christmas dance at the chancellor's home, and a Minnesota Bar Association dinner. Neil's brother and his wife had flown in for the holidays; Jill had felt like a hypocrite as she'd served the traditional Christmas Day dinner. They'd gone to a party on New Year's Eve, watched the bowl games with the neighbors on New Year's Day. And then Jill had gone back to the office.
Preparing divorce papers had taken time, ten weeks to be exact. Her lawyer had wanted to wait until Jill and Neil had filed their tax forms before he worked out a financial settlement. When Jill had gone to his office to sign the forms, an urgent call had come in for her. Neil had been taken to the hospital; the doctor attending him had asked her to come immediately.
Jill's hands had been shaking as she'd driven to the hospital. Was this God's way of punishing her for trying to divorce Neil? She was a rational person, she told herself, and she'd refused to believe God kept track of every broken marriage. Neil's hospitalization was a coincidence, nothing more, nothing less. But it had kept her from filing for divorce.
The doctor had explained everything when she'd arrived. Neil would be kept several days for testing and observation, but he was convinced that Neil's eyesight was failing, that he had a rare, degenerative disease called Lompec's Syndrome. There were only five cases in the medical literature. Dr. Varney had seen one case when he'd been an intern, and he believed there was hope if they treated Neil with a combination of powerful drugs to knock out the virus.
Jill had nodded. What was the prognosis? Would the drug therapy restore his sight?
Not entirely, Dr. Varney had told her. The disease had already done considerable muscle damage, but that could be handled surgically. Right now, Neil was experiencing tunnel vision, another symptom of Lompec's Syndrome. His peripheral vision was narrowing quite rapidly, and even with the proper drug therapy, it would take time to improve.
Jill had shuddered. The whole thing sounded horrible — and it had happened so suddenly. Only last week Neil had mentioned that he wasn't seeing well and might have to get glasses, but neither of them had realized he had such a disease.
Dr. Varney had nodded. That was the problem with Lompec's Syndrome. The symptoms came on so gradually, the patient learned to compensate for his impaired vision. Luckily, Neil had come in for testing while there was still time to reverse the process, but they were too late to save his corneas. He would need a double corneal transplant, and Dr. Varney had already put Neil's name on the waiting list.
Jill had asked the obvious question. What if they couldn't find a donor in time? And even if they did, what if the transplant didn't work?
The doctor had told her not to worry, that they'd cross that bridge when, and if, they came to it. Drug therapy would slow and eventually stop the progress of the disease, but even if Neil's eye muscles were repaired and he responded well to the corneal transplant, there was no harm in being prepared. The Institute For The Blind had some excellent programs, and he'd advised Neil to enroll. The Institute would provide a support network to help him through his anxious time.
Of course Jill hadn't filed the divorce papers. She couldn't leave Neil at this time of uncertainty. But he hadn't been easy to live with, and tonight she felt trapped and resentful. She no longer loved him, but she had to stay with him. It wasn't so much the vows she'd taken when they'd married. "In sickness and in health" was definitely a factor, but what trapped her was her own sense of fairness. Neil was in trouble; leaving him now would be wrong.
Today the hospital had done more tests, and the results weren't good. Neil's eyesight had deteriorated drastically in the past eight months. He was still able to distinguish between dark and light, but his peripheral vision had narrowed to the point where he could only see in an arc of twenty degrees in the strongest light.
Neil refused to take classes at the Institute. He said it was beneath his dignity to stumble around with a white cane and a guide dog. He was wallowing in self-pity, which was only natural, but lately he'd begun to take his frustration out on her. Jill understood his anger. Fate had dealt him a cruel blow. But she really didn't know how much more abuse she could take.
Neil's hope for a transplant was fading, too. He'd only be a candidate for a few more weeks. After that, his nerves would have degenerated to the point where a transplant wouldn't restore his sight. Something had to happen soon, and Jill felt like a ghoul every time she called the doctor to see where Neil's name was on the list. It was too much like hoping that someone would die so Neil could have his eyes.
She sat down at the kitchen table and did what she'd gotten in the habit of doing for the past six months; she thought about how she'd feel if their positions were reversed and she was the one losing her sight. She was sure she'd spend her time storing up beautiful memories: the colors of a splendid sunset, the graceful pattern of a single snowflake, the deep black velvet of the winter sky at night, the face of the person she loved. Perhaps Neil was doing all that, but Jill felt fairly certain that her face wasn't the one he was memorizing.
Excerpted from Eyes by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 1996 Joanne Fluke. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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