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Sunday, October 19, 2003 Dallas, Texas
Jane Killian awakened with a start. Light from the video monitor flickered in the otherwise dark room. She blinked and lifted her head. It felt heavy, thick. She had fallen asleep in her screening room, she realized. She'd been editing one of her interviews, readying for her upcoming art exhibition, Doll Parts.
"Jane? Are you all right?"
She turned. Ian, her husband of less than a year, stood in the doorway to her art studio. Several emotions hit her at once: love, wonder, disbelief. Dr. Ian Westbrook—smart, charming and James Bond handsome—loved her.
Jane frowned at his expression. "I screamed, didn't I?"
He nodded. "I'm worried about you."
She was worried, too. She had awakened screaming three times in recent weeks. Not from a nightmare. Not from a manifestation of her subconscious, but one of her memory. The memory of the day that had changed her life forever. The day that had transformed her from a pretty, popular and happy teenager to a modern-day, female Quasimodo.
"Want to tell me about it?"
"Same old thing. Boater runs down teenager. The boat's prop chews up half her face, takes her right eye, comes damn close to severing her head. The girl survives. The boat captain is never caught and the police classify the incident as an accident. End of story."
Except in the dream, the boat captain doubles back to make another pass at her.
And she awakens screaming.
"Far from the end of the story," Ian murmured. "Not only does the girl survive, she triumphs. Over years of painful reconstructive surgeries, years enduring the stares of strangers, their whispers."
Their expressions of horror at her face. Their pity.
"Then she meets a dashing doctor," Jane continued. "They fall in love and live happily ever after. Sounds like a made-for-TV, triple-hankie special event. I'm thinking the Lifetime channel."
Ian crossed to her, drew her to her feet and into his arms. The cold night air clung to him and she rubbed her cheek against his sweater, realizing he'd been outside.
"You don't have to be flip with me, Jane. I'm your husband."
"But it's what I do best."
He smiled. "No, it's not."
She returned his smile, pleased. Acknowledging that every minute she grew to love him more than the last. "Would you be referring to an ability passed in great secrecy from one generation of Dallas debutante to the next? A subject not fit for proper society?"
"I would, indeed."
"Glad to hear that, since it happens to be one of my favorite subjects, Dr. Westbrook."
He sobered, searched her gaze. "Typical Dallas deb, you're not. Never will be."
"Tell me something I don't know, stud."
He frowned at her reply. "You're doing it again."
"Sorry. Sometimes I breathe, too."
He cupped her face in his palms. "If I had wanted a perfectly coiffed doll in pearls and a little black dress, I could have had one. I fell in love with you." She didn't reply and he trailed his thumbs across her cheekbones. "You did triumph, Jane. You're so much stronger than you know."
His belief in her made her feel like a fraud. How could she have beaten the past when the memory of that day still had such power over her?
She pressed her face to his chest. Her rock, her heart. The man, the love, she had never thought she would be lucky enough to find.
"It's probably the baby," he said softly, after a moment. "That's what's going on. That's why the nightmare's back."
Just yesterday the doctor had confirmed what she'd suspected for weeks—that she was pregnant. Eight weeks along. "But I feel great," she protested. "No morning sickness or fatigue. And it's not like we weren't wanting a baby."
"All true, but early pregnancy is tough. Your hormones are going haywire. The HCG level in your blood is doubling every couple of days and will continue to do so for another month. And as thrilled as we both are, a baby means major lifestyle changes."
Everything he said made sense and Jane found a measure of relief in his words. But still she wasn' t convinced, though she didn't know why not.
As if he knew what she was thinking, he bent his forehead to hers. "Trust me, Jane. I'm a doctor."
She smiled at that. "A plastic surgeon, not an obstetrician or a shrink."
"You don't need a shrink, sweetheart. But if you don't believe me, call your buddy, Dave Nash. He'll back me up."
Dr. Dave Nash, clinical psychologist, occasional consultant for the Dallas Police Department, and her closest friend. They'd been friends since high school—he had stood by her when the other teenagers had treated her like a leper, had taken her to the homecoming dances and senior prom when no other guy would come near her. He had counseled her, laughed with her, provided a shoulder when necessary.
They had even tried dating during their twenties, only to slide back into a comfortable friendship.
The years between the accident and her eventual recovery would have been much more difficult without Dave Nash.
Maybe she would call him.
Jane laid her cheek on Ian's chest. "What time is it?"
"Just after ten. Past your bedtime, little mama."
She flushed with pleasure at the term of endearment. She had always dreamed of being a mother, now it was happening.
How much luck could one woman have?
"How about a cup of chamomile tea?" Ian asked. "It'll help you sleep."
Jane nodded and stepped out of his arms, though she was loathe to do so. Reaching across the table, she popped the interview out of the player and shut down the machine.
"How's the editing coming?" he asked, flipping off the light as they stepped out of her screening room and into the studio proper.
"Good. Though the show's getting close."
"No need to be." He led her out of the studio and up the circular staircase to their adjoining loft apartment, again flipping off the lights as they exited. "I predict all the art world will fall at your feet in adoration. And properly so."
"And you're basing this prediction on what?"
"I know the artist. She's a genius."
Jane laughed. He settled her onto the overstuffed couch, bent and dropped a light kiss on her mouth. "Be right back."
"Let Ranger out of his kennel," she called after him, referring to her three-year-old retriever mix. "He's whining."
"Biggest baby in the great state of Texas."
"Jealous?" she teased.
"Hell, yes, I'm jealous." He said it seriously, though his eyes crinkled at the corners with amusement. "You scratch him behind the ears way more than you do me."
A moment later Ranger bounded out of the kitchen. Outrageously ugly but uncommonly smart, she had adopted him from the SPCA as a puppy. Truthfully, she had chosen him because she'd known no one else would. With the size and shape of a retriever, coloring of a springer spaniel and a smattering of dalmatian spots, he was truly one of a kind.
The dog skidded to a halt beside her and laid his big head on her lap. She stroked his head and silky ears; his eyes rolled back with pleasure.
"So, what's your opinion, Ranger?" she murmured, thinking of the past, the way it had begun intruding on her sleep, eroding her feelings of safety and contentment. "Has the baby got my knickers in a twist? Or is something else going on?"
He whined in response and she bent and pressed her head to the dog's. "Maybe I should call Dave. What do you think?"
She caught a glimpse of herself, reflected in the mirrored box on the coffee table, her image slightly distorted by her angle and the glass's beveled edges.
Slightly distorted. Appropriate, she thought. For she would never see herself in any other way, though to most she appeared a normal, attractive, dark-haired woman. Some might wonder at the long, thin scar that curved along her jaw. They might think she was recovering from some sort of cosmetic surgery, a face-lift, perhaps. The most observant might notice that her pretty brown eyes didn't reflect the light in exactly the same way, but would think little of it.
How others saw her had little effect on how she saw herself. Truth was, every day was a challenge not to look into the mirror and see the teenage girl with a face ravaged by a network of scars, the girl whose eye patch hid a hideously empty socket.
A series of reconstructive surgeries had restored her face. The custom-made, pegged prosthesis, her eye. But no surgery had existed capable of restoring her place within her peer group, no technological wonder to restore the way she looked at the world—or it at her.
The carefree, confident girl she had been that bright but cold March day had been lost forever.
She hadn't been able to go back. But wouldn't, even if she could. For if she did, her vision would be changed. And Jane Killian, the artist who called herself Cameo, would cease to exist.
For she would have nothing meaningful to say.
"Tea for two," Ian said, returning with mugs. He set both on coasters, nudged Ranger out of the way, then settled beside her.
They sat in silence a moment, sipping their beverages. She caught him glancing at the clock and followed his gaze. She made a sound of dismay. "My God, it's after midnight."
"It can't be." He blinked as if clearing his vision. "Damn, tomorrow's going to be a bitch."
"It's tomorrow already." She snuggled into his side. "This is practice for those infamous 2:00 a.m. feedings."
She felt his smile. "Whatever you need to tell yourself."
They fell silent again. Ian broke the quiet first. "When are you going to tell Stacy about the baby?"
At mention of her sister, uneasiness rippled over her, souring the moment.
Ian drew away, meeting her eyes. "She'll be happy for you, Jane. She will."
"I hope so. It's just that now I have—"
Everything her sister wanted.
And worse, Stacy had dated Ian first.
Jane pressed her lips together, hurting for her only sibling. Wishing she could change the way she and Ian had met. Even though Stacy and Ian had only dated briefly, Jane felt as if she had stolen him from her sibling.
Jane pictured her sister the day she and Ian had shared their plans to marry: tall, fair-haired and built like a female Nordic warrior. But Stacy's strength had been belied by her expression. Soft. Heartbroken.
Ian had mattered to Stacy. Mattered deeply.
Ian tightened his arm around Jane. "I know there's history there. A lifetime of hurt feelings. But give her a little credit, okay?"
Stacy's father had been a police officer, killed in the line of duty when Stacy was only three months old. Her mother had remarried quickly and conceived Jane almost before the ink had dried on their marriage certificate.
Jane had been born. And although their father had raised Stacy as his own, never showing favoritism, his snooty Highland Park family hadn't accepted Stacy and had shown Jane preferential treatment at every turn. Particularly his mother, the family matriarch. Jane shared their blood, the woman had been fond of saying. Stacy did not.
It had been easier when their parents had been alive. Stacy hadn't needed Grandmother Killian's support or love. She had been able to ignore the woman's snubs. But when both parents passed a half dozen years ago—one taken by a sudden, massive heart attack, the other a stroke—Jane and Stacy had been left with no one but each other and Grandmother Killian.
Of course, now her sister had twenty million reasons to resent Jane—the dollar amount of Grandmother Killian's estate, which she had left to Jane when she died a year ago.
Stacy had gotten nothing, not even a family memento of the man who had been her father in every way but one.
If only they could put it all behind them, Jane thought, aching for the closeness most sisters shared. If only she could find a way. Offering to share her inheritance had only infuriated the other woman. Grandmother Killian hadn't loved her, Stacy had spat at Jane's offer, she didn't want anything that had been hers. Not a nickel.
"Stop it," Ian said softly.
"Blaming yourself for your grandmother's prejudices."
"You think you can read my mind?"
"I know I can." He laughed softly and bent his forehead to hers. "I know all your secrets, my love."
"Every last one."
"And how do you intend to use that knowledge?"
He lowered his mouth until it hovered above hers. "Mmm… that would be for me to know. And you to find out."
It wasn't until much later, as Ian slept beside her on the bed, that she realized she had never asked him why he'd been outside so late that night.
Monday, October 20, 2003 12:20 p.m.
Detective Stacy Killian surveyed the scene before her: the lushly appointed hotel room; the victim on the bed; her partner Mac McPherson talking with the coroner's deputy; the police photographer and criminalists moving about, doing their thing.
The call had come at high noon, cutting short lunches. A few of the guys had simply packed up their meals and brought them along—a greasy combination of burgers and fries or sandwiches from home. They now stood just beyond the established perimeter, finishing them off. A few looked pissed. The others, resigned.
Murder victims had no sense of timing at all.
The scent of the food hung heavily in the hallway, and with perverse enjoyment Stacy imagined the hotel management holding their noses in outrage and offended sensibilities. A stiff in a guest room was one thing; fast food in the hallway quite another.
Stacy had zero patience with the stratosphere-sucking set.
Several people nodded in her direction as she stepped into the room. She returned their greeting and started toward her partner, her feet sinking into thick, putty-colored carpeting.
Stacy moved her gaze over the opulent interior, taking in details: the fact the heavy drapes were pulled tightly shut; the tray of chocolate-dipped strawberries and split of champagne on the small Queen Anne-style desk near the window; the spray of fresh flowers beside it.
The arrangement of irises and lilies couldn't compete with the scent of death. The body sometimes voided with the cessation of life, particularly when that end came suddenly and violently. Stacy wrinkled her nose, though she didn't try to avoid the smell, a common mistake of rookies. Within a few minutes, as her olfactory glands fatigued, she would become accustomed to the smell.
At the worst scenes, ones where the body was in an advanced stage of decomposition—or even worse, when the body had been submerged in warm water—the smell was so intense it could not be overcome, even with the help of a smear of Vicks below the nose. The smell of those corpses inundated everything, even the hair shafts. Every homicide detective kept lemon shampoo and a change of clothes in their locker.