Authors: Lisa Jackson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Suspense, #Thrillers
Books by Lisa Jackson
IF SHE ONLY KNEW
Published by Zebra Books
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Copyright © 2002 by Susan Lisa Jackson
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First Printing: June 2002
Printed in the United States of America
To Robin Rue, agent extraordinaire—thanks for all!
First and foremost I would like to thank the City of New Orleans Police Department for their help and courtesy, even though I bent the rules a tad to accommodate this story.
I would also like to thank the following individuals who offered then" support, knowledge and expertise, without whom this book would not have been written. Thanks to Nancy Berland, Nancy Bush, Matthew Crose, Michael Crose, Alexis Harrington, Mary Clare Kersten, Carol Maloy,
K.C. McNeeley, Aria Melum, Ken Melum, Ari Okano, Betty and Jack Pederson, Sally Peters, Robin Rue, Jon Salem, John Scognamiglio, Larry and Linda Sparks, Laura Stanulis, Mark and Celia Stinson, and Jane Thornton. If I've missed anyone, my apologies.
He saw her.
Half-running, head bent, fingers clutched at the hood of her coat, she hurried through the darkness to the small church.
From his hiding spot beneath the magnolia tree, The Chosen One waited.
His blood began to sing through his veins as he crouched in the darkness, every muscle tense, nerves strung tight as piano wire.
How easy it would be to catch her. In three swift strides he could be upon her and drag her away. While her father waited inside. That particular thought appealed to him, was warm seduction.
But it wasn't her time, he reminded himself. There were others.
She paused beneath the overhang near the front doors, tossing off her hood and shaking her hair free. Long and wavy, the strands gleamed a tempting red brown in the lamplight. The Chosen One swallowed and felt the first stirring between his legs.
He wanted her.
So badly he ached.
Just looking at her, his senses were heightened. He heard his heart beating, felt his blood pulse through his veins, smelled the heavy odor of the Mississippi River winding dark and slow through the town where traffic whined on slick streets and sin was waged at every corner.
As she disappeared through the doors, he edged deeper into the dense foliage of the grounds to his hiding spot near the flawed stained-glass window. A tiny panel of glass had been removed and replaced by a small clear pane, giving a perfect view into the nave. Crouching, The Chosen One peered through this portal and he watched as she walked down the aisle, genuflected, then slid into the pew to take her seat next to her father. The bastard cop.
They exchanged a few words before she planted herself next to him.
Once seated, she fidgeted in the pew. Looked bored.
As if she'd rather be anywhere than at evening mass with her father. She flipped her long hair this way and that, glanced at the others as they entered, slumped onto her lower back to bite at one fingernail as dozens of candles burned.
The Chosen One let his gaze move to the cop.
He was a solid man, over six feet. His jaw was square, his eyes deep-set and world-weary, showing his forty-plus years. Rick Bentz was a detective whose tarnished reputation had been polished to a recent sheen, his past sins forgotten if not forgiven. In his black suit and starched shirt, he appeared more uncomfortable than his daughter, definitely out of place in the house of God.
As well he should be.
Tugging on his tie, Bentz leaned closer to the girl and whispered into her ear. Immediately she stopped biting at her nails and straightened in the pew. She folded her arms over her abdomen defiantly and inadvertently raised her breasts, making them plump a bit at the neckline of her dress. White supple flesh against turquoise silk.
The Chosen One imagined what was hidden beneath that smooth fabric ... rosebud nipples, virgin skin, and lower, a dark nest of curls the same reddish brown as that luxurious tangle of copper that tumbled to her shoulders.
He thought of her as the princess.
Her father's pride and joy.
Athlete, scholar, and ... a little naughty. Rebellious. It was there, in her eyes. He'd seen it before. Heard it in her deep, sexy laughter.
She glanced toward the window with her wide green eyes.
The Chosen One froze in his hiding spot.
Her mouth pulled into a tiny, defiant pout.
His cock responded. Just a little twinge.
He imagined what those lips might do with the right sort of prodding ... Closed his eyes, felt the cool caress of the ram running down his neck as his fingers strayed to his crotch.
His erection stiffened to full mast. Hard. Throbbing.
Soon, Princess, he thought. Soon. But I must take care of the others first. Then it will be your turn.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
His eyes flew open at the sound of his watch's timer. He clicked off the alarm and bit back a swear word. That was careless. Unlike him. Angry with himself, The Chosen One took one last glimpse of the church's interior and found the princess still staring at the window. As if she knew he was there.
Quickly he ducked from beneath the tree and jogged through the curtain of rain. He'd stayed much too long.
Furious with himself, he picked up his pace, long legs sprinting easily across the wet lawn to the corner, where he turned down a narrow alley, ran three blocks, then doubled back to a parking space in front of an abandoned, boarded-over building that had once been a garage.
He was sweating, not from exertion but anxiety as he climbed into the older car with its tinted windows. He stripped off his running clothes and gloves, then folded them neatly into a leather duffel.
Soon it would be time.
Soon Rick Bentz would feel the pain of losing that which he held most dear.
But first Bentz needed to know what was at risk; he had to feel real fear--a dark, gnawing dread that would eat at him when he realized that everything he did, everywhere he turned, every place he'd once held sacred, would no longer be safe.
A smile crept across The Chosen One's jaw as he withdrew a towel from his bag. Quickly he swiped the rough terry cloth over his face and neck.
Then he took the time to check the rearview mirror. Blue eyes stared back at him.
Hungry eyes. "Bedroom eyes," he'd been told by more than one woman who
was foolish enough to think he could be seduced.
But ... beneath his gaze he caught the merest glimmer of a shadow, something wrong, out of sync in the reflection.
As if someone were watching him. He snapped his head around, stared through the foggy rear window to see if the mirror's reflection had caught someone peering into the car.
He squinted through the raindrops and fog of condensation.
Nothing moved outside.
There was no one around on this deserted street. And yet he felt ... a connection somewhere. This wasn't the first time; he'd sensed a presence on several occasions. Each time the feeling became a little more certain, a tad more intense. Sweat rolled down his temples. His heart hammered wildly.
Paranoia ... that's what it is. Stay cool. Keep focused.
There was no one in this desolate part of town, no one who could possibly see through the smoky glass windows of the sedan on this gloomy night.
He had to calm down. Be patient. Everything was coming together.
Rick Bentz's worst nightmare had already begun.
He just didn't know it yet.
"You need a woman," Reuben Montoya observed as he pulled the police cruiser into the lot of Rente's apartment.
"Good. Maybe I could borrow one of yours." Bentz reached for the handle of the door. What he didn't need was any advice from a young cop with more balls than brains as evidenced by the earring winking in Montoya's ear and the neatly trimmed goatee covering his chin. The younger detective was smart as hell, but still a little wet behind the ears. And he didn't know when to keep his nose in his own business.
"Hey, I'm a one-woman man these days," Montoya insisted and Bentz snorted.
"I mean it." Montoya slammed the cruiser's gearshift lever into park, then reached into his jacket pocket for a pack of cigarettes.
"If you say so."
"I could set you up." Montoya was a young cop, not quite thirty, with smooth bronze skin, a killer smile, and enough ambition to propel him out of his poor Hispanic roots and through college on an athletic scholarship. Not only had he kicked the living hell out of a soccer ball, but he'd made the dean's list every semester and then, upon graduation, with his future as bright as the damned sun, he decided to become a cop.
Montoya shook out a filter tip, lit up, and blew a cloud of smoke. "I know this nice older lady, a friend of my mother's--"
"Can it." Bentz shot him a look meant to shut him up.
"Forget it. I'm okay."
Montoya didn't back off. "You're definitely not okay.
You live alone, never go out, and work your tail off for a department
that doesn't appreciate you. That's your life."
"I'll bring it up when I'm up for my next raise," he said and climbed
out of the passenger seat. It was a cool night; the wind rolling off the
river had a winter edge to it.
"All I'm sayin' is that you need a life, man. Your kid's gone off to
school and you should have some fun."
"I have plenty."
" ', Montoya." He slammed the door of the Crown Vie shut, then made his
way into the building. A woman.
Yeah, that would solve his problems. He grabbed the evening paper and
his mail on the ground level, then climbed up the stairs to his
second-floor unit. What did Montoya know?
Shit. That's what the kid knew: shit.
Bentz had learned long ago that women only added to his problems; and
he'd learned from the master.
Sexy as hell.
The one woman he'd given his heart to; the only woman he'd allowed to
break it and break it she had. On more than one occasion. With the same damned man. He unlocked the door and snapped on the lights.
Hun me once, shame on you.
Hun me twice, shame on me.
Tossing his keys onto the desk, he shed his jacket and yanked off his tie. God, he could use a beer and a smoke.
But not a woman. Trouble was, he'd sworn off all three.
No messages on the answering machine. Montoya was right.
His social life was nil. He worked out by pounding the hell out of a boxing bag that hung in the second bedroom, didn't even belong to a bowling league or golf club. He'd given up sailing and hunting years ago, along with high-stakes poker and Jim Beam.
Rolling up his sleeves, he walked to the refrigerator and stared at the dismal contents. Even the freezer, where he usually kept a couple of those frozen man-sized microwave meals, was empty. He grabbed a can of nonalcoholic beer and popped the top, then clicked on the TV. A sportscaster started rattling off the day's scores while highlights flashed in rapid-fire images across the screen.
He settled into his recliner and told himself that Montoya was way off base. He didn't need a social life. He had his work and he still had Kristi, even if she was off at school in Baton Rouge. He glanced at the telephone and thought about calling her, but he'd phoned last Sunday and had sensed she was irritated; hated him intruding on her newfound freedom at college, acted as if he was checking up on her.
He turned his attention back to the tube, where highlights of Monday night's Saints game was being replayed. He'd grab a sandwich at the local po'boy shop two blocks over then open up his briefcase and catch up on some paperwork.
He had a couple of reports to write and he wanted to pull his notes together; then there were a few open cases that were going stale; he'd need to look them over again, see if there was anything he missed the first, second, third, and fourth times through.
He had plenty to do.
Montoya was wrong. Bentz didn't need a woman.
He was pretty sure no one did.
Olivia didn't like the lawyer. Never had. Never would. She couldn't imagine how her grandmother could have trusted anyone so obviously crooked. Ramsey John Dodd, who liked to be called RJ, was as oily as Grannie Guy's fried chicken and twice as plump. "... so the estate's all wrapped up, the taxes and fees paid, all the heirs having gotten then-disbursements. If you want to sell the house, now's the time." From the other side of his oversized desk in this hole-in-the-wall he called an office, Ramsey John tented his pudgy hands together and patted his fingertips. Behind him, trapped between the blinds and the only window in the airless office, a fly that should have died days ago buzzed in frustration, banging against the glass.