#1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson’s bestselling Bentz & Montoya series is back with this chilling story of true crime come to life as Rick Bentz’s daughter gets too close to an investigation that might cost her own life…
"Solidifies Jackson's status as the queen of the modern-day suspense thriller."
—The Providence Journal
Kristi Bentz wants to write true crime. All she needs is that one case that will take her to the top. She finds it when she enrolls at All Saints College after learning that four girls have disappeared in less than two years.
"Expect the unexpected."
—The Clarion Ledger
All four girls were "lost souls"troubled, vulnerable girls with no one to care about them, no one to come looking for them if they disappeared. The only person that believes Kristi is her ex-lover, Jay McKnight, a professor on campus. The police think they're runaways, but Kristi senses there's something that links themsomething terrifying. . .
"Jackson creates relentless suspense. . .builds the tension to an unbearable and satisfying pitch."
As Kristi gets deeper into her investigation, she gets the feeling she's being watched and followedstudied, even. Then the bodies start turning up, and Kristi realizes she is playing a game with a killer who has selected her for membership in a special club from which there will be no escaping death. . .
"Dark and disturbing."
—The Roanoke Times
About the Author
LISA JACKSON is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over ninety-five novels, including You Will Pay, After She’s Gone, Deserves to Die, You Don’t Want to Know, Running Scared, and Shiver. She is also the co-author of the Colony Series, written with her sister and bestselling author Nancy Bush, as well as the collaborative novels Sinister and Ominous, written with Nancy Bush and Rosalind Noonan. There are over thirty million copies of her novels in print and her writing has been translated into nineteen languages. She lives with her family and three rambunctious dogs in the Pacific Northwest. Readers can visit her website at www.lisajackson.com and find her on Facebook.
Read an Excerpt
By Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2009 Susan Lisa Jackson
All rights reserved.
So far, so good, Kristi Bentz thought as she tossed her favorite pillow into the backseat of her ten-year-old Honda, a car that was new to her but had nearly eighty thousand miles on the odometer. With a thump, the pillow landed atop her backpack, books, lamp, iPod, and other essentials she was taking with her to Baton Rouge. Her father was watching her move out of the house they all shared, a small cabin that really belonged to her stepmother. All the while he was glaring at her, Rick Bentz's face was a mask of frustration.
So what else was new?
At least, thank God, her father was still among the living.
She hazarded a quick glimpse in his direction.
His color was good, even robust, his cheeks red from the wind soughing through the cypress and pine trees, a few drops of rain slickening his dark hair. Sure, there were a few strands of gray, and he'd probably put on five or ten pounds in the last year, but at least he appeared healthy and hale, his shoulders straight, his eyes clear.
Because sometimes, it just wasn't so. At least not to Kristi. Ever since waking up from a coma over a year and a half earlier, she'd experienced visions of him, horrifying images that, when she looked at him, showed he was a ghost of himself, his color gray, his eyes two dark, impenetrable holes, his touch cold and clammy. And she'd had many nightmares of a dark night, the sizzle of lightning ripping through a black sky, an echoing split of a tree as it was struck, then her father lying dead in a pool of his own blood.
Unfortunately, the visions haunted more than her dreams. During daylight hours, she would see the color leach from his skin, witness his body turning pale and gray. She knew he was going to die. And die soon. She'd seen his death often enough in her recurring nightmare. Had spent the last year and a half certain he would meet the bloody and horrifying end she'd witnessed in her dreams.
These past eighteen months she'd been worried sick for him as she'd recovered from her own injuries, but today, on this day after Christmas, Rick Bentz was the picture of health. And he was pissed.
Reluctantly he'd helped lug her suitcases out to the car while the wind chased through this part of the bayou, rattling branches, kicking up leaves, and carrying the scent of rain and swamp water. She'd parked her hatchback in the puddle-strewn driveway of the little cottage home Rick shared with his second wife.
Olivia Benchet Bentz was good for Rick. No doubt about it. But she and Kristi didn't really get along. And while Kristi loaded the car amidst her father's disapproval, Olivia stood in the doorway twenty feet away, her smooth brow wrinkled in concern, her big eyes dark with worry, though she said nothing.
One thing about her, Olivia knew better than to get between father and daughter. She was smart enough not to add her unwanted two cents into any conversation. Yet, this time, she didn't step back into the house.
"I just don't think this is the best idea," her father said ... for what? The two-thousandth time since Kristi had dropped the bomb that she'd registered for winter classes at All Saints College in Baton Rouge? It wasn't like this was a major surprise. She'd told him about her decision in September. "You could stay with us and —"
"I heard you the first time and the second, and the seventeenth and the three hundred and forty-second and —"
"Enough!" He held up a hand, palm out.
She snapped her mouth closed. Why was it they were always at each other? Even with everything they'd been through? Even though they'd almost lost each other several times?
"What part of 'I'm moving out and going back to school away from New Orleans' don't you get, Dad? You're wrong, I can't stay here. I just ... can't. I'm way too old to be living with my dad. I need my own life." How could she explain that looking at him day to day, seeing him healthy one minute, then gray and dying the next, was impossible to take? She'd been convinced he was going to die and had stayed with him as she'd recovered from her own injuries, but watching the color drain from his face killed her and half convinced her that she was crazy. For the love of God, staying here would only make things worse. The good news: she hadn't seen the image for a while, over a month now, so maybe she'd read the signals wrong. Regardless, it was time to get on with her own life.
She reached into her bag for her keys. No reason to argue any further.
"Okay, okay, you're going. I get it." He scowled as clouds scudded low across the sky, blotting out any chance of sunlight.
"You get it? Really? After I told you, what? Like a million times?" Kristi mocked, but flashed him a smile. "See, you are a razor-sharp investigator. Just like all the papers say: local hero, Detective Rick Bentz."
"The papers don't know crap."
"Another shrewd observation by the New Orleans Police Department's ace detective."
"Cut it out," he muttered, but one side of his hard-carved mouth twitched into what might be construed as the barest of smiles. Shoving one hand through his hair, he glanced back at the house to Olivia, the woman who had become his rock. "Jesus, Kristi," he said. "You're a piece of work."
"It's genetic." She found the keys.
His eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened.
They both knew what he was thinking, but neither mentioned the fact that he wasn't her biological father. "You don't have to run away."
"I'm not running 'away.' Not from anything. But I am running to something. It's called the rest of my life."
"You could —"
"Look, Dad, I don't want to hear it," Kristi interrupted as she tossed her purse onto the passenger seat next to three bags of books, DVDs, and CDs. "You've known I was going back to school for months, so there's no reason for a big scene now. It's over. I'm an adult and I'm going to Baton Rouge, to my old alma mater, All Saints College. It's not at the ends of the earth. We're less than a couple of hours away."
"It's not the distance."
"I need to do this." She glanced toward Olivia, whose wild blond hair was backlit by the colored lights from the Christmas tree, the small cottage seeming warm and cozy in the coming storm. But it wasn't Kristi's home. It never had been. Olivia was her stepmother and though they got along, there still wasn't a tight family bond between them. Maybe there never would be. This was her father's life now and it really didn't have much to do with her.
"There's been trouble up there. Some coeds missing."
"You've already been checking?" she demanded, incensed.
"I just read about some missing girls."
"You mean runaways?"
"I mean missing."
"Don't worry!" she snapped. She, too, had heard that a few girls had disappeared unexpectedly from the campus, though no foul play had been established. "Girls leave college and their parents all the time."
"Do they?" he asked.
A blast of cold wind cut across the bayou, pushing around a few wet leaves and cutting through Kristi's hooded sweatshirt. The rain had stopped for the moment, but the sky was gray and overcast, puddles scattered across the cracked concrete.
"It's not that I don't think you should go back to school," Bentz said, leaning one hip against the wheel well of her Honda and, today, looking the picture of health — his skin ruddy, his hair dark with only a few glints of gray. "But this whole idea of being a crime writer?"
She held up a hand, then adjusted some of the items in the back of the car, mashing them down so that she would be able to see out her rearview mirror. "I know where you stand. You don't want me to write about any of the cases you worked on. Don't worry. I won't tread on any hallowed ground."
"That's not it and you know it," he said. A bit of anger flashed in his deep-set eyes.
Fine. Let him be mad. She was irritated as well. In the last few weeks they'd really gotten on each other's nerves.
"I'm worried about your safety."
"Well, don't be, okay?"
"Cut the attitude. It's not like you haven't already been a target." He met her eyes, and she knew he was reliving every terrifying second of her kidnapping and attack.
"I'm fine." She softened a bit. Though he was a pain in the ass often enough, he was a good guy. She knew it. He was just worried about her. As always. But she didn't need it.
With an effort she tamped down her impatience, as Hairy S., her stepmother's scrap of a mutt, streaked out the front door and chased a squirrel into a pine tree. In a flash of red and gray, the squirrel scrambled up the pine's rough bole to perch high upon a branch that shook as the squirrel peered down, taunting and scolding the frustrated terrier mix. Hairy S. dug at the trunk with his paws as he whined and circled the tree.
"Shh ... you'll get him next time," Kristi said, scooping up the mutt. Wet paws scrabbled across her sweatshirt and she received a wet swipe of Hairy's tongue over her cheek. "I'll miss you," she told the dog, who was wriggling to get back to the ground and his rodent chasing. She placed him on the grass, wincing a little from some lingering pain in her neck.
"Hairy! Come here!" Olivia ordered from the porch, but the intent dog ignored her.
Bentz said, "You're not completely healed."
Kristi sighed loudly. "Look, Dad, all my varied and specialized docs said I was fine. Better than ever, right? Funny what a little time in a hospital, some physical therapy, a few sessions with a shrink, and then nearly a year of intense personal training can do."
He snorted. As if to add credence to his worry, a crow flapped its way toward them to land upon the bare branches of a magnolia tree. It let out a lonely, mocking caw.
"You were pretty freaked when you woke up in the hospital," he reminded her.
"That's ancient history, for God's sake." And it was true. Since her stay in ICU, the whole world had changed. Hurricane Katrina had ripped apart New Orleans, then torn through the entire Gulf Coast. The devastation, despair, and destruction lingered. Though Katrina had raged across the Gulf over a year earlier, the aftermath of Katrina's fury was evidenced everywhere and would be for years, probably decades. There was talk that New Orleans might never be the same. Kristi didn't want to think about that.
Her father, of course, was overworked. Okay, she got that. The entire police force had been stretched to the breaking point, as had the city itself and the beleaguered and scattered citizens, some of whom had been sent to far points across the country and just weren't returning. Who could blame them, with the hospitals, city services, and transportation a mess? Sure there was revitalization, but it was uneven and slow to come. Luckily the French Quarter, which had survived virtually unscathed, was still so uniquely Old New Orleans that tourists were again venturing into that part of the city.
Kristi had spent the past six months volunteering at one of the local hospitals, helping her father at the station, spending weekends in city cleanup, but now, she figured — and her shrink insisted — that she needed to get on with her life. Slowly, but surely, New Orleans was returning. And it was time for her to start thinking about the rest of her own life and what she wanted to do.
Detective Bentz, as usual, disagreed. After the hurricane Rick Bentz had fallen back into his overly protective parental role in a big way. Kristi was way over it. It wasn't as if she was a child, or even a teenager any longer. She was an adult, for crying out loud!
She slammed the back of her hatchback shut. It didn't catch, so she readjusted her favorite pillow, reading lamp, and the hand-pieced quilt her great-aunt had left her, then tried again. This time the latch clicked into place. "I gotta go." She checked her watch. "I told the landlady that I'd take possession today. I'll call when I get there and give you a complete report. Love ya."
He seemed about to argue, then said gruffly, "Me, too, kiddo."
She hugged him, felt the crush of his embrace, and was surprised to find she was fighting sudden tears as she pulled away from him. How ridiculous! She blew Olivia a kiss, then climbed behind the wheel. With a snap of her wrist the little car's engine sparked to life and Kristi, her throat thick, backed out of the long, narrow driveway through the trees.
At the country road, she reversed onto the wet pavement. She caught another glimpse of her father, arm raised as he waved good-bye. Letting out a long breath, she felt suddenly free. She was finally leaving. At long last, on her own again. But as she rammed her car into drive, the sky darkened, and in the side view mirror she captured a glimpse of Rick Bentz's image.
Once more all the color had drained from him and he appeared a ghost, in tones of black, white, and gray. Her breath caught. She could run as far away as possible, but she'd never escape the specter of her father's death.
In her heart she knew.
It was certain.
And, it would be soon.
Listening to an old Johnny Cash ballad, Jay McKnight stared through the windshield of his pickup as the wipers slapped the drizzling rain from the glass. Cruising at fifty-five miles an hour through the storm with his half-blind hound dog seated in the passenger seat, he wondered if he was losing his mind.
Why else would he agree to take over a night class for a friend of a friend who was on sabbatical? What did he owe Dr. Althea Monroe? Nothing. He'd barely met the woman.
Maybe you're doing it for your sanity. You damned sure needed a change. And anyway, how bad could one term of teaching eager young minds about forensics and criminology be?
Shifting down, he guided his truck off the main drag and angled along the familiar side streets, where rain fell through the naked branches of the trees and the streetlights were just beginning to glow. Water hissed beneath his tires and few pedestrians braved the storm. Jay had cracked the window and Bruno, a pitbull-lab-bloodhound mix, kept his big nose pressed to that thin sliver of fresh air.
Cash's voice reverberated through the Toyota's cab as Jay slowed for the city limits of Baton Rouge.
"My momma told me, son ..."
Jay angled his Toyota onto the crumbling driveway of the house on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, a tiny two-bedroom bungalow that had belonged to his aunt.
"... don't ever play with guns...."
He clicked off the radio and cut the engine. The cottage was now in the process of being sold by his ever-battling cousins, Janice and Leah, as part of Aunt Colleen's estate. The sisters, who rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything, had agreed to let him stay at the property while it was being marketed, as long as he did some minor repairs that Janice's do-nothing wanna-be rock star husband couldn't get around to making.
Frowning, Jay grabbed his duffel bag and notebook computer as he hopped to the ground. He let the dog outside, waited as Bruno sniffed, then lifted his leg on one of the live oaks in the front yard, before locking the Toyota. Turning his collar against the rain, he hurried up the weed-strewn brick path to the front porch, where a light glowed against the coming night. The dog was right on his heels, as he had been for the six years that Jay had owned him, the only pup in a litter of six who hadn't been adopted. His brother had owned the bitch, a purebred bloodhound who, after going into heat, hadn't waited for the purebred of choice. She'd dug out of her kennel and taken up with the friendly mutt a quarter of a mile away whose owner hadn't seen fit to have him neutered. The result was a litter of pups not worth a whole helluva lot, but who'd turned out to be pretty damned good dogs.
Especially Bruno of the keen nose and bad eyes. Jay bent down, petted his dog, and was rewarded with a friendly head butt against his hand. "Come on, let's go look at the damage."
"Folsom Prison Blues" replayed through his mind as he unlocked the door and shouldered it open.
The house smelled musty. Unused. The air inside dead. He cracked two windows despite the rain. He'd spent the last three weekends here, repainting the bedrooms, regrouting tile in the kitchen and single bath, and scraping off what appeared to be years of dirt on the back porch where an ancient washing machine had become the home to a nest of hornets. The rusted washer along with its legion of dead wasps was now gone, terra cotta pots of trailing plants in its stead on the newly painted floorboards.
Excerpted from Lost Souls by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2009 Susan Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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