The vicious burns scarring the victims’ flesh reveal the agony of their last moments. Each woman was branded with a star, then stabbed through the heart. With every death, a vengeful killer finds a brief, blissful moment of calm. But soon it’s time for the bloodshed to start again . . .
THE PERFECT TIME . . .
Ten years ago, Eva Rayburn and her sorority sisters were celebrating the end of the school year. That party turned into a nightmare Eva can’t forget. Now she’s trying to start over in her Virginia hometown, but a new nightmare has begun. Every victim is linked to her. And Detective Deacon Garrison isn’t sure whether this mysterious woman needs investigating—or protecting . . .
TO MAKE HIS MARK
Only Eva’s death will bring peace. Only her tortured screams will silence the rage that has been building for ten long years. Because what started that night at the sorority can never be stopped—not until the last victim has been marked for death . . .
“With hard-edged, imperfect but memorable characters, a complex plot and no-nonsense dialog, this excellent novel will appeal to fans of Lisa Gardner and Lisa Jackson.” —Library Journal
“This is a story to read with the lights on.” —BookPage
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|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
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By MARY BURTON
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Mary Burton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMonday, April 3, 9:15 P.M.
"What are you doing?" Eva whispered.
The fear in her voice fueled his excitement and anger as he dangled her star pendant over the dancing flames. "You're so proud of your star necklace. So proud of being a Rising Star. Now you'll have it with you forever."
As she pushed against the hearth to free herself, he shoved his full weight into her body. Her face scraped against the mortar, and when she whimpered, his erection hardened against her backside. As the metal star heated, she realized being raped again paled to what he now planned. "Josiah, don't do this. You've taken enough."
"Not even close." He removed the star from the flame, tossed it on the floor and then shoved her back, pressing her right shoulder into the hot metal. Instantly, it burned through her shirt and into her flesh.
She howled in anguish. His excitement grew. But as he reached for the hem of her skirt, agony turned her world black.
* * *
Eva Rayburn jerked awake, gripping the steering wheel of her truck, dragging in a lungful of air. Her muscles, as tense as a bow, braced for attack.
Seconds passed. No burning pain seared her flesh, and her muscles eased. Cocooned by the night, she heard only the distant sound of traffic and the chirp of a nearby grasshopper. The dream's smothering haze slowly eased its grip and the familiar came into focus. She was in the cab of her old truck parked on a suburban street corner. Safe. Okay. Years away from that terrible night she'd endured long ago.
"Damn it." She rested her head against the steering wheel and drew in a deep, deep breath before slowly letting it leak away. "Just the dream. Just the dream."
She slumped back against the seat, grabbed the edge of her T-shirt and billowed the ends until the sweat dripping between her breasts dried. It had been years since she'd suffered through the nightmare, and its arrival didn't bode well.
Eva checked her watch, cursed herself for having dozed and then glanced toward the one-story house across the street. A '72 red Porsche was now parked in the driveway, signaling her guy had arrived home.
"Way to go, Eva," she muttered. "Sleep through the job."
Eva tucked her long hair under a FLORIST ball cap, grabbed the bouquet of daisies and a clipboard and jogged toward the front door of the one-level rancher. She rang the bell, shoving aside a quiver of worry. An overhead bulb spit out a weak halo of light that ringed the cracked brick porch steps and a ragged welcome mat. Not a lot of light but enough to see her way quickly back down the stairs.
She'd been a part-time process server for about three months. The work fit well around her job as a waitress/bartender at King's pub and her other gig as a night attendant at a homeless shelter. Normally, she didn't squeeze in a delivery between a shift at the pub and an overnight at the shelter, but her boss, Luke Fraser at LTF Processing, had promised her extra cash for this delivery tonight. The additional income had been too sweet to pass up.
Luke had described the job as a piece of cake. Piece of cake. Luke never paid extra for easy jobs, and toss in that this was a divorce court summons for a guy nicknamed Bigfoot, she'd decided to play it safe and go with her florist delivery ruse. Eva adjusted her cap and rang the bell a second time. The faint scent of garbage rose from the daisies retrieved from the Dumpster behind a florist shop down the alley from King's. All she needed was a signature.
She rang the bell a third time.
Eva straightened her slim build to her full five feet one. Faded jeans hung on her slim hips and an oversized black hoodie swallowed her narrow shoulders and flat chest. As her mother used to say, she weighed one hundred pounds "soaking wet." The clothes combined with her small stature had most guessing she was a high school kid, not a woman in her late twenties. She hoped this guy pegged her for a kid because people generally underestimated kids.
Footsteps sounded behind the front door. Her heart kicked up a notch, but her chin stayed level and her stance relaxed. Just a signature. Piece of cake. Just serve him and then get the hell out of Dodge.
The door snapped open to one of the tallest men she'd ever met. The guy stood at least six foot six and had to have weighed three-hundred-plus pounds. A stained wife-beater T-shirt stretched across a wide chest and three days' growth of beard covered a lantern jaw. Bigfoot.
Behind him a table lamp lit a messy room furnished with a worn couch and a flat-panel sixty-four-inch television airing a game show.
"I have a delivery for Bruce Radford."
He snorted. "I don't know what the hell you are selling, kid, but I don't want it." His deep voice, raspy from cigarettes, telegraphed annoyance.
"I'm not selling. I'm delivering." Extra attitude in the voice hid the nerves flexing in her belly. "Are you Bruce Radford?"
Radford moved to close the door. "Nobody here ordered any fucking flowers."
She shrugged, still careful to keep her expression neutral. "Like I said, I ain't selling anything, mister. Just delivering flowers. You Bruce Radford or not?"
Bloodshot eyes narrowed.
"If you're not, just say so. I'm too tried to play games. I'll tell the boss you refused the flowers." She turned to leave.
"Who sent them?" He was more careful than she'd expected.
Eva paused and glanced at the clipboard, pretending to read. "Some woman named Wanda."
"I don't know a Wanda."
"She's some hot chick that came into the shop at closing time. Red dress. Blond hair."
The suspicion darkening his eyes faded a fraction. "Blond?"
"Yeah. And big boobs."
A hint of a smile tugged his full lips. He didn't know who the hell Wanda was but blond and big boobs suited him just fine. "I'll take 'em."
"So you are Bruce Radford?" The scent of stale pizza and beer mingled with his body odor.
"Yeah, I'm Radford."
"Great." Eva pulled a pen from behind her ear and held it out. For good measure, she tossed in a smile. "Just need your John Hancock."
Bruce studied the paper but in the fading light couldn't possibly read the small print. "Must be the chick at Hanson Trucking. She's got a thing for me."
She edged the clipboard closer, obscuring the page with most of her hand. "Just sign here and I'll be out of your hair."
Pursing his lips to hide a smile, Radford nodded. "Cool."
Radford grabbed her outstretched pen and scrawled his name in a sloppy mixture of print and cursive that reminded her of a third grader. "Thanks."
She shoved the flowers and tore off a copy of the delivery slip. "You have a nice night."
Absently, he took the slip. "Sure."
Eva moved toward her truck, praying the starter didn't act up and wishing she'd had enough gas in the tank to keep the engine running. Just hustle across the yard and get behind the wheel before Radford figures out what he's really signedan agreement to appear in court. When he figured out he'd been tricked, he'd be one pissed hombre.
Eva fished her keys out of her pocket, got in the truck and fumbled in the dim light for the ignition. A glance over her shoulder told her Radford hadn't raised his gaze from the flowers, which he sniffed like a lovesick fool. He'd already forgotten about the delivery kid. Round one goes to Eva.
She cranked the engine.
Nothing. She tried the engine a second time. Still nothing. Crap. Another look at Radford had him studying the paper closely. The dumb schoolboy look morphed into confusion and then anger. "Hey, what the hell is this?"
Tension fisted in Eva's gut. She cranked the engine. Nada.
What had her boss, King, said when he'd lent her the truck? Count to three and then try again. Shit. One. She glanced over at Radford who sprinted across the yard toward her truck. Two. He reached the street in seconds and thundered halfway across the street when she lost her nerve and turned the key.
Click. Click. Click.
No engine roared to life.
Normally, she'd get out and tighten a few wires and the problem would be solved, but if she got out now, Radford would likely beat her to a pulp.
With the paper balled in his fist, Radford shouted, "What the hell is this, bitch?"
She pulled in a deep breath. Shit. Shit. Shit. She locked the doors, wishing now she'd kept the engine running. Certainly, running out of gas a few miles from here would have been better than this mess.
Radford reached the door handle. Discovering it was locked he pounded his fist on the window. She jumped. Her hands sweated. Soon the battery would be dead.
He hit the window again, making it groan and flex under the assault. A couple more punches like that and it would shatter like a thin coating of ice.
"Bitch. Who the hell sent you?" he shouted. "That damn wife of mine sent you, didn't she? I ain't giving her a divorce. Greedy whore."
Eva's focus remained on the ignition. Her hands steadied and her mind became oddly clear. She didn't bother with prayer, learning long ago that only she could solve her problems.
The fist smacked against the glass again and this time left a spiderweb of cracks. "I'm gonna pummel your bony ass."
Eva skipped counting to three and cranked the engine. This time the motor moaned and sputtered to life just as Radford hit the window a third time. Spiderweb cracks spiraled out from his fist, and if the glass had given way his fist would have landed on her jaw.
She shoved the gear into drive and punched the gas. Gravel sputtered under the back tires that struggled for traction.
Radford ran alongside, pounding metal with his fist. She gripped the wheel and held on tight. The truck picked up speed and Radford couldn't keep pace. A grin tugged the corners of her lips.
Bruce yelled obscenities, nearly tripped and released his grip. "I'm going to kill you, bitch. I'm going to kill you."
Eva held a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. She glanced in her rearview mirror and saw him running after the truck, his fist punching in the air. He finally stopped, bent over to suck in air, but took his gaze off her.
She plowed through a stop sign at the corner and drove several blocks before she slowed and rounded a corner. For several seconds, her heart pounded in her chest and sweat trickled down her spine. As her gas gauge hovered and sometimes dipped below empty, she drove for at least two miles before daring to really release the deep breath clogged in her lungs.
Adrenaline pumped through her veins, leaving her light-headed and, God help her, jazzed. She liked getting one over on bullies like Radford. Controlling bastards.
Luke owed her big time for this gig. A point she'd drive home when she reported.
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Nine forty-five. Good. She was ahead of schedule, but had chewed through the last of her gas. Digging in her pocket, she pulled out three rumpled one-dollar bills as she ducked into the first gas station. She pumped exactly three dollars' worth and started the engine. The gas gauge barely registered above E, but she knew she had enough to do her for forty miles. Just enough.
Eva got back on the beltway and headed toward Hanna's House. She spent Monday nights at the halfway house, working as a kind of nighttime attendant/go-to gal in the shelter. Most times her shift was quiet, although she had a night when two residents got into insane arguments over television remotes or who ate the last cookie.
She checked her watch. It was Sally's night off, and the shelter director would need her at the house on time. Eva hated to disappoint her. In her early fifties, Sally was a modern-day hippie who loved her tie-dye shirts, silver and bead bracelets and long hair. They'd met at King's six months ago, just days after Eva had moved back to Alexandria. Eva had been bartending, Sally had come in for a sandwich and the two had hit it off immediately. Sally had dedicated her life to helping people no one else gave a crap about, which in Eva's book equated to big points.
Eva glanced up and realized she'd strayed into a part of town she'd carefully avoided since her return to Alexandria. It was filled with stately brick homes, neat lawns and smooth sidewalks. Anyone would have described it as affluent, upper crust and a great place to raise kids.
Eva should have kept moving through the neighborhood but she continued to drive deeper into the web of streets until she reached the old stone house. She'd been to this house a few times for parties. She'd been the kid on scholarship who'd not quite fit in at the private college, but Kristen Hall, the school's reigning senior, had taken Eva under her wing and introduced her to the world of the elite. At Kristen's house, she was cocooned from the outside world and surrounded by sweet scents, pretty dresses and glittering lights. She'd ventured into a world away from her foster care home with its noisy arguments and greasy fried food smells. Each visit to the Halls' home fueled Eva's belief in fairy tales and happy endings.
Absently, Eva rubbed the scar on the back of her shoulder. God, she'd been so very wrong.
Shaking off anger and sadness, she pushed on the gas and slowly drove away. No more memories. No more sadness. Eyes forward. She'd chanted this mantra for over a decade.
Eva concentrated on the road ahead and the work she'd do at the halfway house tonight. The past was dead. Reaching for the radio, she turned it to a rock tune, full of words that pounded the memories from her head.
As she drove through Alexandria and cut her way toward the halfway house in the southeastern portion of the city, her stomach grumbled and she realized she'd not eaten since breakfast. King's had been slammed today. Her shift should have ended at seven but she'd stayed to help with the crush. She'd dashed out, forgetting the dinner her boss had bagged for her. Hopefully, the shelter had plenty of peanut butter and bread.
She looked forward to seeing who bunked down for the night. Maybe Tony, the ex-military boxer who'd just gotten out of jail, would have a new story to tell. He liked to relive the glory days in the ring and had sworn to control his temper. Or Pam. She just celebrated three weeks of sobriety. She talked of regaining custody of her kids and getting a job. There was Luna, a young teen runaway. Eva had been trying to convince the girl to get her GED.
Eva had driven halfway down the second block stuffed with one-story ranchers when she saw the distant flashing lights of fire trucks. As she drove closer, she realized yellow fire engines and cop cars crowded into the end of the shelter's cul-de-sac. She veered away from the dead-end scene and drove down a parallel residential road. Parking, she got out and cut between the yards that separated the streets.
Large floodlights, set up by the fire department, shone on the shelter. The unnatural light cast an eerie glow on the two-story frame house reduced by fire to smoking timbers. Even though the crews had contained the blaze Eva could still feel the residual heat burning her face.
Fire engines and dozens of cop cars surrounded the building, their bright red and blue lights flashing in the dark.
Eva's head spun as the old memories of another fire rose up inside her and coiled around her chest. She could barely breathe and for a moment wanted nothing more than to bolt. Instead, she held her ground, shoving trembling hands through long black hair. She scanned the crowd for anyone that she recognized. Sally managed the shelter but she was nowhere to be found. And Rhonda, the evening manager, wasn't anywhere in sight.
Oh, God. Oh, God.
Her mind tripped to the people who were to have spent the night in the shelter. Tony. Pam. Luna. She kept hoping she'd see them next to one of the EMS trucks, huddled safely under a blanket. But she didn't see anyone.
She hugged her arms around her chest, wanting to rush forward under the yellow crime tape and ask the cops about the building occupants, but she didn't. Since she'd gotten out of prison six months ago, she avoided the cops. Cops translated into trouble and she'd sworn never again to trust a cop or return to prison.
But her friends. God, she had to find out something.
Tucking her head low, she moved toward the edge of the growing crowd of onlookers mesmerized by the bright red flames. The heat would be so hot now that it could sear lungs and melt flesh.
Excerpted from SENSELESS by MARY BURTON Copyright © 2011 by Mary Burton. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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