Whispers at Midnight

Whispers at Midnight

by Karen Robards


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From New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards, whom Newsweek magazine calls “one of the most popular voices in women’s fiction,” comes a thrilling novel of romantic suspense set in a sultry small southern town.

Carly Linton returns to her hometown of Benton, Georgia, to open a bed-and-breakfast in the house she inherited from her grandmother. She’s also dead-set on burying her former good-girl image—by seducing the one man who can give her a guided tour of the wild side...Matt Converse, the local sheriff, was once the town’s bad boy who shared one magical night with Carly at her senior prom. But igniting the sparks of the past can lead to a blaze of danger: First her house is burglarized, then someone comes after her. A mysterious enemy wants Carly out of Benton for good, and now she needs Matt more than ever—to keep her alive.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451631890
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 01/01/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 924,516
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Karen Robards is the New York Times, USA TODAY, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than fifty books and one novella. Karen published her first novel at age twenty-four and has won multiple awards throughout her career, including six Silver Pens for favorite author. Karen was described by The Daily Mail as “one of the most reliable thriller...writers in the world.” She is the mother of three boys and lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Read an Excerpt

Whispers at Midnight

By Karen Robards

Thorndike Press

Copyright © 2003 Karen Robards
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0786252421

Chapter One

June 28

"I hear you two had a fight."

Matt Converse watched the boyfriend's eyes. They flicked away, came back almost immediately. The guy - Keith Kenan, thirty-six years old, one divorce, employed on the line at Honda for five years and resident of Benton for that same period, clean police record except for one brawl over in Savannah two years back and a couple of old DUIs - was nervous. Nervous didn't always equal guilt, but it bore watching.

"Who told you that?"

Matt shrugged noncommittally.

"So what if we did? That don't mean anything. Everybody has fights." Kenan's tone was defensive. He was getting agitated. Matt observed the quickening of his breathing, the tightening of his jaw, the narrowing of his eyes, with clinical detachment. Kenan was a big, burly guy with a dark blond buzz cut, smallish pale blue eyes, and a tattoo of a heart pierced by a dagger on one pumped-up biceps, which was bared by the ratty tank top he was wearing with black nylon gym shorts. The two of them were standing in the combination living/dining room of the apartment Kenan shared with Marsha Hughes.

Correction: had shared. Marsha Hughes had been missing for just over a week. This was Matt's second conversation with Kenan. He'd first talked to him five days ago, after one ofMarsha's friends at work had become concerned enough about her unexplained absence to report it to the sheriff's department.

"Everybody has fights," Matt conceded. Kenan started to pace. Matt took advantage of his distraction to glance around. Except for a single meal's worth of dishes on the dining-room table - apparently the previous night's supper because, upon answering the door, Kenan had complained about being rousted from bed - the apartment was neat. Furniture by Sam's Club or Wal-Mart. Worn green carpet. Gold drapes drawn against the bright morning sun. Walls painted white, hung with a few nondescript prints. As far as he could tell, nothing out of the ordinary. No telltale brown stains on the carpet. No suspicious dark spatters on the walls. No corpse sticking out from under the couch.

Matt's mouth quirked wryly. If it were only that easy.

"Look, Sheriff, I ain't stupid. I know what you're getting at," Kenan burst out, turning to face him. "I didn't lay a hand on Marsha, I swear."

"Nobody's saying you did." Matt's voice was calm, his demeanor nonconfrontational. No point in provoking Kenan by escalating the discussion into more than it needed to be at this stage of the investigation. It was still quite possible that Marsha had left on her own; she could turn up alive and well somewhere at any minute. On the other hand, he didn't like the feel of things. Call it instinct, call it applied common sense, call it whatever you wanted, but he didn't think that a woman who'd lived in the area most of her life, who'd shown up like clockwork since she'd started at the Winn-Dixie eight years ago, who had regular habits and a good number of friends, would light out to parts unknown without letting somebody know.

"She just took off," Kenan said. "She got in her car and took off. That's what happened. That's it."

Matt took his time. "Mind telling me what the fight was about?"

Kenan looked harassed. "Baloney, all right? I had some baloney in the refrigerator and it was gone when I got home from work and went to make a sandwich. Turns out she'd fed it to a damned dog." He took a deep breath. "It was stupid. Just one of those stupid things."

Over Kenan's shoulder, Matt watched his deputy, Antonio Johnson, emerge from the bathroom down the hall. Antonio would turn fifty in two weeks. He was black, a little less than six feet tall and nearly as wide, built like a linebacker gone to seed. He had a bulldog's pugnacious face, a more or less permanent scowl, and basically looked like a thug in deputy's uniform. He had asked to use the john right after Kenan had let them in, as a way of getting a look at the areas of the apartment the sheriff or his deputy were not normally allowed to see without benefit of a search warrant. It was a ploy they had used before, and would use again. Sometimes it netted them valuable information. Today, apparently, they weren't going to be so lucky. Antonio replied to his questioning look with a negative jerk of the head.

"Thanks," Antonio said to Kenan as he joined them in the living room. Kenan nodded, then glanced back at Matt.

"I didn't do nothing to her," he said, wetting his lips. "I swear to God."

Matt looked at him. Kenan held his gaze.

"You mean besides yell at her," Matt said agreeably. "And chase her down the stairs and out of the building. Isn't that what happened that night?"

Kenan didn't say anything. He didn't have to. The breath he sucked in through his teeth was as much confirmation as Matt needed this side of the courtroom.

"Might as well give it up," Antonio said, folding his arms across his massive chest and glowering at Kenan. "We know."

Matt barely stopped himself from casting his deputy a wry glance. What they knew was basically what Kenan and the neighbors had already told them: Marsha Hughes had had a fight with him, had left or been chased from the apartment and had not been seen by anyone important to her since. Without any kind of solid evidence that Marsha had come to harm, what they knew didn't amount to a hill of beans. There was no case. But Antonio was an optimist. He was always thinking that if he applied enough pressure, potential suspects would crack, confessing all and saving everybody concerned a boatload of time and trouble.

Sometimes it even worked.

Kenan's expression changed. His lip curled angrily as his eyes slashed to Matt. "I saw you talking to that damned Myer woman the other day. Stayin' home all the time, claiming she hurt her back and can't work, getting her kicks butting into other people's business." His voice was tight with resentment. "She's the one who told you that, right?"

"Actually, everybody in the building who was home that night pretty much says the same thing." Matt's demeanor was still mild, still neutral, although he made a mental note to keep an eye on Audrey Myer, who had indeed been the primary source of his information, in case Kenan should live up to his hair color and try something stupid. Reaching for a brass-framed picture of Kenan with Marsha, whom he recognized from a photo he'd collected for identification purposes on his first visit to the apartment, Matt paused and glanced at Kenan before picking it up. "Do you mind?"

"Help yourself." The tension in his voice was still palpable.

Matt picked up the picture and made a show of examining it. It was a snapshot rather than a formal portrait, obviously taken at a fair or amusement park, showing the two of them dressed up in old-fashioned clothes, including a big picture hat for Marsha that hid most of her red hair. They were grinning at the camera, their arms around each other, clearly on good terms at that moment.

At another moment, had Kenan killed her?

"Good-looking woman," he said, putting the picture back down on the end table. His gaze slid to Kenan again. "You must be worried sick about her."

The point being that so far Kenan had shown no sign of being unduly concerned over Marsha's fate. Chalk up one more red flag. Of course, it was possible that Kenan was a still-waters-run-deep type, with a lot more going on beneath the surface than Matt had been able to discern. It was also possible that Kenan simply wasn't all that sorry she was gone, which still didn't make him guilty of a crime.

The thing about it was, Matt wasn't even a hundred percent sure that a crime had been committed here. His gut instinct said that Marsha Hughes's prospects for turning up unharmed did not look good, but then, his gut instinct had steered him wrong before.

"I am," Kenan said. Belligerently.

Matt took note of the tone, of the clenching of Kenan's fists, the reddening of his face.

"You've been known to hit her." Matt's voice was almost gentle. His purpose was to uncover information, not to accuse.

"Who told you that?" Kenan responded. He was breathing heavily even though he was no longer pacing.

Matt shrugged.

"Goddamned nosy-ass neighbors." A muscle in his jaw worked. His stance had shifted, become aggressive, with legs braced apart, shoulders rigid, fists clenched into tight bunches by his sides. His eyes were hard as they met Matt's. "Look, like I said, we had fights. Marsha's no angel, either. Anything I did to her, believe me, she gave as good as she got."

"Did you hit her the night she disappeared?"

"No! No. I didn't touch her. She left, all right? We had a fight and she left. She got in her car and I watched her drive away. That's the last time I saw her."

Antonio made a skeptical sound that was not quite under his breath. Kenan's gaze swung around to him. The look Kenan gave him was tense, angry. The interview was teetering on the brink of turning ugly, Matt realized. Pushing Kenan to the point of clamming up and calling a lawyer would be counterproductive. Time to hang it up for now.

"Well, thanks for your cooperation. We'll be in touch," Matt said, offering his hand before the encounter deteriorated irredeemably. After the briefest of hesitations, Kenan shook it. Antonio shook hands, too. It was clear from the expression on his face that he did so with reluctance. Making nice with those he considered bad guys was not one of Antonio's strong suits.

Antonio tended to take crime personally. Matt had spent a considerable amount of time in the two years since he'd been elected Screven County Sheriff dissuading Antonio from breaking people's arms and legs. Figuratively speaking, of course. At least, most of the time it was figurative.

Suppressing a sigh, Matt turned to the door, then glanced back over his shoulder with his hand on the knob as if he'd just remembered something.

"Just so you know: we've got an APB out on her car, and her picture and stats have been sent to every law enforcement agency in the Southeast. Plus we're still running down a few leads locally. We'll find her."

His tone was deliberately confident; if Kenan really was concerned about his girlfriend's fate, it should provide some small degree of reassurance.

On the other hand, if he wasn't revealing any concern because he knew very well where Marsha was, having personally put her there, it should worry him.

Either way worked.

"Yeah, we'll find her." Antonio turned it into a threat as he followed Matt out into the stuffy upstairs hallway.

Kenan closed the door behind them without another word. The sound, louder than it needed to be, echoed off the concrete-block walls.

"Think you could tone the hostility down a notch?" Matt asked as they took the stairs.

"We got him. That's our man right there. The guy's an asshole."

It was hot in the stairwell; the sound of their shoes hitting the metal treads echoed around their ears.

"Last time I checked, being an asshole wasn't a crime. As for any evidence against him, we don't have diddly-squat."

"He has a history of beating up on her. She was scared enough of him the night she disappeared to run out of their apartment. He chased her outside. We've got half a dozen witnesses ready to swear to that. Nobody's seen her since. What more do you want?"

"A lot," Matt said dryly, pushing open the door and walking out into the sweltering heat. There'd been a whole string of hellishly hot days like this, nine or ten together. It was ninety-nine in the shade, and humid. He'd seen it before - the heat made people crazy. There'd been more crimes, petty and otherwise, in the last two weeks than there had been in the previous six months. His eight-man department was swamped. They were all working pretty much around the clock, himself included. Today he'd been fighting crime since five A.M., when Anson Jarboe had tried to sneak into his house after an all-night bender and been surprised by his wife, who'd been waiting in their darkened living room with a baseball bat. Anson's shrieks as she'd given him what for had roused the neighbors, and the neighbors had called the sheriff. It was now five past eleven, and he knew from experience that the day - a Friday - was just getting underway. After people got off work, the county would really start to hop.

All he wanted to do tonight was sit in his air-conditioned house in front of the TV set with a cold beer in one hand and the remote in the other; there was a baseball game he was dying to catch.

Fat chance of that.

"Well, I -" Antonio began, then broke off, a grin splitting his homely face from ear to ear. Alarmed, Matt glanced around to see what had prompted such an uncharacteristic display of glee from his typically stone-faced deputy. When his gaze lit on the cause, he barely managed to swallow a groan. He'd known it had to be bad to wrest that kind of grin out of Antonio, but this wasn't just bad - it was awful.

"Oh, Matt, there you are!" Shelby Holcomb's face brightened as she spotted him. Waving, her face wreathed in smiles, she straightened up from peering into the window of his official car and headed toward him.

"Hey, Shelby," he answered, his pace slowing.

Undeterred by his clear lack of enthusiasm, she kept on coming. Slim and attractive at thirty-two, a Benton native who had moved back to town four years before to take over the local Century 21 franchise, Shelby had twisted her honey-blond hair up in some kind of fancy-looking roll at the back of her head as her sole nod to the heat. Her makeup was on in full force, down to the bright red lipstick that gleamed as the sun hit it. She even had on a suit, for crying out loud, a powder blue number with a short skirt and elbow-length sleeves, which he guessed was no big deal for Shelby despite the soaring temperature because the woman never seemed to break a sweat. Buttoned up the front, it exposed what Shelby no doubt considered an effective but tasteful amount of cleavage. She had on hose, and heels, and was carrying that damned notebook she was using as her latest weapon in the war of conquest she was waging. Not that he was about to fall anytime soon.

She'd been chasing him for years. Last summer, in what was one of the many brain-dead episodes that continued to distinguish his existence, he'd made the mistake of letting her catch him for a while. They'd hung out, had fun, gone to some parties, the movies, Savannah for dinner a couple of times. All in all, they'd had a good time. Then Shelby had started reading magazines with titles like June Bride and dragging him into jewelry stores and otherwise giving off all kinds of vibes that she was starting to pair him with "forever" in her mind.

Forever gave him nightmares. Forever wasn't in his game plan. Forever and a woman? Not happening. At least, not anytime in the foreseeable future. Just the idea of being tied down to a wife and kids and a mortgage made him break out in a cold sweat.


Excerpted from Whispers at Midnight by Karen Robards Copyright © 2003 by Karen Robards. Excerpted by permission.
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