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The Perfect Murder

The Perfect Murder

4.3 30
by Brenda Novak

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For more than a year, Sebastian Costas has been trying to unravel the truth behind the murder of his ex-wife and son. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he's convinced that her second husband—a cop—committed both murders, then faked his own death. Now Sebastian has followed the slimmest of leads to Sacramento…and that's where he


For more than a year, Sebastian Costas has been trying to unravel the truth behind the murder of his ex-wife and son. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he's convinced that her second husband—a cop—committed both murders, then faked his own death. Now Sebastian has followed the slimmest of leads to Sacramento…and that's where he finally gets the break he needs. Jane Burke, an investigator with The Last Stand, calls him in connection with a separate crime—a crime that could lead him straight to the man he's been looking for.

Once married to a serial killer, Jane has spent the past five years rebuilding her life. And with Sebastian she finally has a chance at happiness. But the man they're after is after them, too. For him this has become a personal battle, one he's determined to win. Whatever it takes…

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Sebastian Costas's yearlong hunt for the ex-cop who killed Sebastian's ex-wife and son and then faked his own death has led Sebastian to Sacramento, CA, and into the life of Jane Burke, a victim's advocate at The Last Stand charity who is looking for two missing sisters. Realizing they are after the same man, Jane and Sebastian set a trap for the killer, but what began as a one-way hunt has suddenly turned into a deadly game of cat and mouse. VERDICT Two emotionally damaged protagonists find much-needed healing and unexpected love in a chilling, sensual tale that features a host of skillfully developed characters and intricate, multilayered plotting. Sacramento-based Novak (The Perfect Liar) writes gripping romantic thrillers. This is the latest in her "Last Stand" series.

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Last Stand , #6
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Mary looked good. Better than she had in high school. There were more curves to her body, a new sophistication to her face, and her smile seemed to have more meaning behind it. But Malcolm could tell she was weary. The divorce had taken a heavy toll. And she did a lot for her two boys.

He shifted, ducking when he heard an engine in the street. He was partly shielded by a large poplar tree and, judging by the volume of the music emanating from what appeared to be a muscle car, the driver was probably a teenage boy who was as oblivious and self-absorbed as he used to be at that age. But it wouldn't do to have someone see him peeking in Mary's windows.

The car, bass pounding through its speakers, passed without slowing. Then the beat and the motor dimmed, and the neighborhood returned to sleep mode. This was Malcolm's favorite time to watch Mary—although he sometimes came when the sun was up, too, if he thought she'd be home from work. Now that he was unemployed it was hard to fill all the hours in a day. His new life hadn't turned out remotely the way he'd imagined when he'd planned to start over. He missed the people he'd known before, wanted to contact some of them— but they thought he was dead and they had to go on thinking that.

Maybe that was why, after so many years, he'd looked up his high-school sweetheart and followed her to California. The compulsion to reconnect didn't make much sense otherwise. He'd moved on without her quite easily twenty years ago. Married twice, divorced once and…

He didn't want to think about what he'd done to his second wife. He didn't regret killing her or her son. As far as he was concerned, they deserved what they got.But ever since he'd gambled away most of the insurance settlement he'd taken when he left Jersey, he'd been forced to live in dumpy rental houses out in the boondocks where the smell of cow shit was so strong it sometimes felt as if he was standing in it. Tough to find something better when the only jobs he could get were at two-bit security companies that paid a buck or two over minimum wage.

With a silent curse, he remembered the last job he'd held. It wasn't the meager pay that bothered him so much as the lack of respect. He couldn't take it; not after being a real cop.

Fingering the badge he still carried everywhere, he slid to the next window so he could have a better view of Mary checking her computer. She was probably expecting to hear from him. Claiming to be someone she'd once met briefly, he'd contacted her through her jewelry-making Web site and managed to strike up a relationship.

But hiding behind an alias and a computer screen wasn't satisfying him tonight. He was bored, restless….

After only a few minutes at the computer, Mary stood and started turning off the lights. With the kids in school and her job at the hospital, she was pretty damned predictable. From here, she'd go into her bedroom, pull the blinds and the show would be over.

Unless she didn't bother with the blinds. In the months he'd been watching her, she'd forgotten only once, but that gave him hope.

Creeping around to the other side of the house, he squatted in the shrubbery and waited for her to enter her bedroom.

She came in, turned on the TV, put away some clothes that were folded and sitting on a chair. Then she approached the window. They were only inches apart, so close he could see the mascara smudges that told him she'd been rubbing her eyes—

Then the blind went down.

Shit. Malcolm sank lower on his haunches. What now? Should he head to the Indian casinos and while away a few hours?

No. He needed something more visceral, something more exciting, something to remind him of the power he'd once enjoyed.

He toyed with the idea of slipping into the house, exploring the empty rooms, touching Mary's things, stealing a pair of her panties. Maybe even watching her sleep. The temptation to do so was growing stronger every day. He certainly thought about it a lot. But he was afraid he'd get caught and screw up the possibility of having a real relationship with her once he could trust her enough to reveal his true identity. He'd come too far to blow all that by being impatient….

He had to leave. But that didn't mean he had to call it a night. Thinking of the Kojak light he kept in his van, he felt his mood improve. Playing cop wouldn't put him in Mary's bed tonight, but it would give him the adrenaline rush he craved—and maybe a few sexual favors to go with it.

Three weeks later…

Jane Burke recognized an opportunity when she saw one. Ever since she'd started working at The Last Stand, she'd been waiting for her chance, hoping a case would come along that would allow her to prove herself.

She was pretty sure it had just walked through the door.

"The man who let me in said you might be able to help me." A short cannonball of a woman stood uncertainly in the entryway of Jane's office, swiping at tear-filled eyes.

Motioning for her to come farther into the room, Jane brought over a box of tissues. "I'll do my best," she promised. "But first I need to learn more about why you're here."

The young woman's obesity made it difficult to guess her age, but Jane pegged her at twenty-four or twenty-five. Gerald, the volunteer who'd admitted her, had told Jane she had two siblings who'd recently gone missing. So far, that was all Jane knew. If it'd been on the news, she hadn't seen it or heard about it. But that wasn't too surprising. She'd been so busy she hadn't even turned on the TV. "What's your name?"

In an attempt to control her emotions, the woman took two tissues and blew her nose. "Gloria. Gloria Rickman."

"Gloria, I'm Jane Burke. Please sit down so we can talk." Jane returned the tissue box to its generally ignored corner, then pulled a chair away from the wall, placing it in front of the desk, where it would've been if she'd been in the habit of taking her own cases. She was still in training, had been since she'd started six months ago, which meant she did all the tedious record searches, time-consuming court runs and boring clerical work for the three partners who were the backbone of the victims' charity. But she had a feeling the criminal justice courses she'd been taking, and everything she'd learned on the job, was about to pay off. With Skye Willis and Ava Trussell in South America on a rare job-for-hire, tracking a father who'd stolen his child from his ex-wife, and Sheridan Granger out on maternity leave, Jane had been left in charge of the office. This was the perfect time to tackle her first case. Other than the three volunteers who came in to stuff envelopes or solicit donations, she was the only person here.

"Let me get a notebook. Then I want you to tell me what's upset you so much."

The chair creaked as the woman settled into it. Rolls of flesh spilled over the wooden frame, but Jane didn't care about her excess weight. She'd once been heavy herself. Maybe not quite to this degree, but definitely frumpy. If not for the counseling, daily workout sessions and self-defense classes that'd become her routine—all a product in one way or another of her friendship with Skye—she'd probably still be the disillusioned, overweight, hard-edged smoker she'd been four years ago.

Now she ran an hour a day, weighed a trim one hundred and ten pounds, and had stopped trying to kill herself with cigarettes. Only her smoker's voice remained. And the scars from that period of her life, of course. They'd never go away entirely—especially the ones on the inside.

"I'm here 'bout my two sisters," Gloria said. "They went missin' three weeks ago."

"Three weeks ago?" Jane echoed, unable to hide her shock.

Tears welled up again. "Three weeks ago las' Saturday."

It was Monday morning. That added another day, almost two.

"Why haven't I heard about this?"

"I don't know. There were articles in the paper. I reported it to the police the same afternoon it happened," she said, "but the detective who called me ain't found nothin' yet. He's been tryin', but… no one's got any idea where my sisters are an'… I'm so scared. That's why I'm here. I have to do somethin' more. I can't jus' sit around an' wait. I'm all they have. I'm all they ever had."

"Where're your parents?"

"We have different fathers, but none of 'em are any good," she said. "Our mother didn't hang with the best crowd, you hear what I'm sayin'? She died of a drug overdose when I was twenty-three. I was the oldest and had my own place, so I moved my sisters in with me. Latisha, the youngest, wasn't even in high school yet."

Jane could easily identify with being raised by another member of the family. Her parents had been killed in a car accident when she was six, leaving her to be raised by an aging aunt who'd stayed single her entire life and had since died, as well. "Where do you live?"

"In a one-bedroom apartment on Marconi. We been there since they came to live with me. It's a small place, but we make it work. I won't uproot 'em again and again and again, like what my mama did to me."

"It's wonderful that you've been able to provide some stability," Jane said. "How long ago did you assume responsibility for them?"

"It's been 'bout three years now. They eighteen and seventeen. They both graduated this last June," she stated proudly. "Marcie got her GED, but Latisha, she was put up a grade on account of she's so smart. She graduated with honors and won a scholarship to Sac State."

So the missing sisters were, for the most part, adults. That was probably why this case hadn't become a major focus for the media. That and the fact that there'd been nothing more to report. "Did you have an argument with them? Try to punish them? Anything that might've made them angry enough to leave?"

"We argue all the time, but that ain't what's wrong, Ms.—"

"Jane. You can call me Jane."

"They ain't never left before. They know I yell 'cause I want 'em to be more and have more than our mother. They gotta go to college. They keep tryin' to drop out so they can help me keep a roof over our heads. It's tough to earn a livin' workin' at a convenience store. I put in a good sixty, seventy hours a week. But I got Marcie's tuition at ARC to pay for, in

addition to all the other bills. They're what make it worth doin'—knowin' they'll have a better life if I keep goin'. I can't lose 'em." More tears streaked her bronze cheeks. "We been through too much. It can't end like this."

Already Jane feared she might be in over her head. Be careful what you wish for, she silently chided herself. She'd been bugging Skye to let her start taking on her own cases, and Skye kept saying she wasn't ready. But if she didn't get involved now, Gloria would have to wait for Skye and Ava to return. Depending on what happened in South America, that could take a week to ten days, maybe longer. With the economy the way it was, donations were down by a significant margin. Skye and Ava needed to finish this job in order to keep the charity's doors open. That was the only reason Skye's husband had agreed to her going so far away. He was the one who'd insisted Ava go with her, since he couldn't take the time off work. They wouldn't be back until the woman who'd contracted them had her child back. And Sheridan, their other partner, was planning to spend the next three or four months at home with her new baby.

"Have you been in touch with all their friends?" Jane asked. "Do you have any other family in the area?"

"I talked to everybody. I been on the phone night an' day. Ain't nobody seen 'em."

"When's the last time you had contact?"

"That same Saturday. Latisha was sleepin' when I had Marcie take me to work. Latisha had to wait tables at noon and Marcie had to be at the Rancho Cordova Marriott at three. She's a maid." She leaned forward, as if taking Jane into her confidence. "I let 'em work part-time if they're keepin' up with their schoolwork and all." She rocked back. "Anyway, Latisha never showed up at the restaurant. I didn't know 'cause nobody called me. But when Marcie didn't go to work like she always does, the hotel wanted to know what was what. I tried her cell, but it kept goin' to voice mail."

"So you're thinking they disappeared from your apartment?"

"No. As soon as I could get someone to cover the store, I took the bus home and foun' the house jus' fine, locked up an' everythin'. But the car was gone. We have a little Honda Civic."

Jane made a note of this information. "Is there any chance your sisters could be into drugs, Gloria?"

"Oh, no! You think I'd let that happen after I watched my mama kill herself with that shit? After all I done to raise 'em up good? They wouldn't dare. They know I'd kick their asses clear to kingdom come."

Jane believed she would, too. "Where do you think they might've driven?"

Gloria's double chin wagged as she shook her head. "With the price of gas, they had no business goin' nowhere. We gotta pinch pennies jus' to survive. Mosta the time, we take the bus. But maybe Marcie decided to buy some doughnuts and a paper. She been talkin' 'bout gettin' a new job, a better one. That's my best guess, since the car was found near Hank's Donuts. Hank's is our favorite."

Jane quickly tried to assemble the scenario in her mind. Car abandoned; girls missing. Both sisters were going to school and working. They were also living in an environment that wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was very apparent that they were at least loved. What could've gone wrong?

"What condition was the car in? Did it have a flat, a breakdown?" she asked.

"That car has one problem after another. It ain't worth but a few hundred bucks. But the police found it parked on a residential street off Franklin Boulevard, a few blocks from the doughnut place, like I said. And it was runnin'jus' fine."

"Was there anything inside to indicate where your sisters had been that morning—some napkins from Hank's? A grocery sack? A Starbucks cup?"

Meet the Author

Most writers say they've had stories running around in their head since they can remember, but that wasn't the case for Brenda. She grew up thinking she didn't have a creative bone in her body. She considered herself "left-brained," with talents in science and mathematics, and even went to school for business.

It wasn't until she was 29 and married with three kids that she discovered writing-- and if not for a difficult situation that prompted her to find a way to make money from home, she might not have started even then.

Brenda was a loan officer for a mortgage company when she caught her in-home daycare provider drugging her children with cough medicines and Tylenol to get them to sleep while she was gone. They'd been waking up several times in the night and she couldn't figure out why. Except for the baby, they were too old for that. But once she found the medicine in her baby's bottle, she suspected the baby-sitter had been doing this for several months.

No longer able to trust someone else with her children's well-being, Brenda quit her job to stay home with them--but her husband's business was failing and she needed to find some way to help him financially. That's when she decided to write a book.

It wasn't the "quick fix" the Novaks were hoping for. It took her five years to teach herself the craft and to finish her debut novel, Of Noble Birth, published in November 1999. But it introduced her to something she loves to do more than anything else. Shortly after she sold Of Noble Birth, she sold three books to Harlequin's Superromance line, the first of which, Expectations, came out in February 2000.

Now she has five children; three girls and two boys, and juggles her writing career with softball games and field trips, carpool runs and homework sessions, and trying to keep up with her active husband. Fortunately, her family is as involved in what she does as she is in their activities. Her husband or one of her daughters sometimes go to conferences with her, they put stamps on the postcards she sends to her mailing list when she has a new book come out, and they come to all her book signings.

Her oldest, Ashley, throws her backpack down when she gets home from school and immediately joins Brenda at her computer, wanting to hear the latest installment on her current work in progress. Ashley gives Brenda valuable feedback, and so does her husband, who hears the same pages when he comes home from work. Now, as a family, the Novaks look back on those hard times when Brenda was just starting out and are grateful that something so good came out of it.

Brenda loves to hear from fellow romance enthusiasts. You can contact her at P.O. Box 3781, Citrus Heights, CA, 95611 or via her web site at www.brendanovak.com.

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The Perfect Murder (Last Stand Series #6) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous 6 months ago
I had hoped this would be a fast paced read. Constant flashbacks. Slow moving plot.
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Great story, although sometimes a bit illogical.
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I like all her books.
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momoftwinsMM More than 1 year ago
I was pulled into the novel from the first page and continued to be drawn in by the multi dimensional characters who were trying to move forward from pasts that seemed to have irrevocably changed them. The plot had so many twists and turns which served to keep my attention. I must warn that if you haven't read Novak's Trust Me series, this book would be a spoiler as it discusses situations that occured. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good thriller with a serving of romance on the side!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago