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Authors: Gabrielle Lord

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Death by Beauty

BOOK: Death by Beauty
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Death by Beauty
Gemma Lincoln [5]
Lord, Gabrielle
Hachette Australia (2012)
Tags:
Australia

A ‘vampire’ is stalking the streets, attacking beautiful young women;
some are murdered days later, others aren’t touched again. Gemma
Lincoln, PI, begins to see a pattern and predicts which woman will be
targeted next. But can she convince the police to take action?
Meanwhile,
at the salubrious Sapphire Springs Spa, a cosmetic surgery clinic that
boasts the latest breakthrough in the search for eternal youth, clients
are experiencing sudden onset depression and worse. Is the exclusive
clinic involved in a lethal cover-up? While dealing with this brutal
case, Gemma finds that her ex, Steve Brannigan, the father of her son
Rafi, desperately needs her help. He is facing career destruction from a
woman who also wants Gemma dead. As she moves closer to discovering the
appalling truth about the murders, Rafi and Steve disappear.
Confronting a mother’s worst nightmare, Gemma realises what she is
prepared to do to save her son…

Gabrielle Lord
is widely acknowledged as one of Australia’s foremost crime fiction writers. She is the author of fourteen adult novels,
and her stories and articles have appeared widely in the national press and anthologies. Her psychological thrillers are informed
by a detailed knowledge of forensic procedures and are set in contemporary Australia. The twelve books of the award-winning
‘Conspiracy 365’ series for young adult readers, published by Scholastic Australia, have been sold into thirteen countries
and have been made into a television series. Gabrielle Lord won a Ned Kelly award for
Death Delights
and shared a Davitt award for
Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing
.

The Gemma Lincoln novels

Feeding the Demons

Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing

Spiking the Girl

Shattered

Death by Beauty

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or
dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Published in Australia and New Zealand in 2012

by Hachette Australia

(an imprint of Hachette Australia Pty Limited)

Level 17, 207 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000

www.hachette.com.au

Copyright © Gabrielle Lord 2012

This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review permitted under the
Copyright Act 1968
, no part may be stored or reproduced by any process without prior written permission. Enquiries should be made to the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record of this book is available from the National Library of Australia.

978 0 7336 2730 9

978 0 7336 2785 9 (ebook edition)

Cover design by Design by Committee

To Borys

PROLOGUE

By 1 am, the crowd at Midnight Mirage was thinning. The light reflecting from gloomy mirrors and polished black granite surfaces
threw theatrical shadows and glimmers over the intimate arena.

In the furthest corner from the bar, a large-framed, well-dressed man was helping a young woman to her feet. Clearly, she’d
drunk too much, which puzzled the barman because he remembered her orders as well as those of her date. Drugs, maybe. It happened,
despite the watchful eye of security. Whatever. Not his business, really. As the pair made their way to the exit, the woman’s
head lolled backwards off her attentive companion’s shoulder. Even upside down, her face was extraordinarily beautiful, the
ivory pallor of her skin contrasting with the deep red of her lipstick and long dark-gold hair glinting in thick waves down
her back. Midnight Mirage attracted, if not the A crowd, then the very cream of the B double plus – up-and-coming models,
racing identities, newspaper people, even some quite well-known actors.
This girl could have challenged any of the celebrity beauties, thought the barman.

The pair disappeared through the door, stepping into the cold night air.

Outside, the young woman leaned heavily against the man, who had tightened his arm around her waist, half lifting her as she
walked, her feet slipping in their stilettos, sometimes dragging like a doll’s. A couple of times her head jerked up as if
she were trying desperately to pull herself together. Once she swung around to take a puzzled look at the face of the big
man beside her, but her head seemed too heavy for her slender neck.

They didn’t have far to go. He’d already booked a room at a nearby boutique hotel. He helped her up the few low steps, through
the bevelled glass doors and across the foyer, nodding at the night clerk, towards the old-fashioned cage lift.

On the first floor, he half carried her out of the lift and into the softly lit corridor.

Another hotel guest, leaving his room, noticed the situation and commented with a smile, ‘Too much celebration?’

The big man nodded, holding up the drunken woman. ‘She’ll sleep it off. Goodnight.’

He found the room, slipped the key card in with one hand while supporting her with the other, and then in a honeymoon gesture
swept her up in his arms over the threshold, covering the distance between the door and the king-size bed in two large strides.
He sat her on the bed, where she lolled for a few seconds before keeling sideways. In one strong movement he gathered up her
long legs from the floor and lightly swung them onto the bed, so that now she lay on the dark rose damask quilt, legs bent
to
one side, long hair streaming around her perfect face and across the brocade cushions on top of the pillows.

He stood and looked down on her, her beautiful body in its slinky gold and silver dress, a mauve and white silk flower attached
to one shoulder by a tiny golden arrow pin, the strappy stilettos at awkward angles at the end of her shapely legs. She opened
her eyes and blinked up at him, a frown lightly compressing her face. She briefly struggled to sit up but got no further than
slightly raising her upper body and an awkward movement with her left elbow before she collapsed.

The man removed two small objects from inside his jacket. The first he placed on the quilt near the woman’s legs and her eyes
blinked open for a moment as she strove vainly to see what it was. As he fitted the second object into his mouth he smiled,
further distorting his lower face.

The woman made a superhuman effort and pushed through into consciousness – confused seconds of startled clarity piercing through
billowing distortion. Vanished now was the large friendly man who had been chatting to her at the club, convincing her he
could help her career with his contacts in the fashion industry, showing her his business card, impressing her with his knowledge
of the latest designers, delighting her with his respectful manners and European accent.

Towering over her was a monstrous, impossible nightmare.

Grimacing with horror, she saw what he was flicking with his fingers. She tried to move, to scream. A strangled sound escaped
her throat, her mouth gaping in her frozen body, immobilised, as his face loomed closer.

Then he opened his mouth and the strangled sound in her throat began to choke her.

He swooped lower.

The scream stuck in her throat.

CHAPTER 1

Gemma’s eyes snapped open. Rafi, a warm caterpillar in his sleeping bag, stirred beside her. But in that split-second of waking
she wasn’t thinking of her beautiful son. Something else had woken her; an unpleasant sound, high pitched, shrieking. Still
and focused, she listened for it again. Now, all she was aware of was Rafi’s tiny murmuring, a prequel to his hungry cry,
yet she felt uneasy. She was almost certain that it hadn’t been Rafi’s pre-dawn wake-up sounds that had roused her from a
deep sleep.

She raised herself on an elbow, blinking in the early light, pulling him towards her, slipping him out of his sleeping bag
and holding him close. Tense, she listened.

Convinced it must have been a bad dream that woke her, Gemma relaxed. Her heart, with her baby’s warm body nestled against
her, throbbed and fluttered with movements that, in the days following his birth, had alarmed her – until she had recognised
the feelings as love.

All the sounds around her now were unremarkable. And yet something had woken her to full alert: an alien noise, piercing through
the soft morning sounds.

Her partner, Mike Moody, slept silently beside her. Formerly Federal police, and until last year Gemma’s employee, Mike had
been out for most of the night on a surveillance job, coming in at around 3 am. Gemma looked away from his peaceful face and
felt guilty. Up until a minute ago she’d been dreaming of another man, Steve Brannigan, her ex-lover and Rafi’s absent father;
the question she was about to ask him slipping away into the depths of the dream world.

Rafi held her tight as she carried him into the kitchen and warmed his bottle of formula. When it was ready she eased them
both back into bed, careful not to disturb Mike as Rafi grabbed greedily at the bottle. Gemma pressed her mouth against his
soft head. Nothing in her experience had prepared her for the fierce, protective love she felt for this little being in her
arms. She sank deeper into the pillows, trying to remember the question she’d been asking Steve in the dream, but soon gave
up. Mike, strong and comforting lying beside her, Rafi snuggling into the covers on the other side, surrounded her with peace.
She looked fondly at Mike, soft brown hair falling over his forehead, his wide chest rising and falling rhythmically, as she
remembered the astonishing moment when he had changed from colleague to lover last year. He’d realised she was pregnant even
before she had. His generous spirit had embraced both her and Rafi, another man’s child.

Gemma’s memory strayed to the night of Rafi’s birth: the car accident as Mike raced to get her to the birthing centre, the
last part of the trip accompanied by a police car; the young police officer who’d assisted with Rafi’s birth on the back seat
of the
police car later admitting her only birthing experiences had been with foals; Steve’s surprise visit to the ward later, his
shocked and dawning comprehension that the baby in her arms was
his
; the awkward moments as Mike returned with coffees; Steve leaving in distress and then finally, Mike recounting the three
shooting stars he’d seen in the sky on his way back to the hospital.

Lucky stars, he’d called them. Even then, eleven months ago, Gemma hadn’t been convinced. The shooting stars had always troubled
her. She pulled herself back from the past. No point in delving into old catastrophes. She’d survived. She was here still.

As Rafi gulped the last of the formula, the morning’s business rushed into Gemma’s mind. This was the day she’d chosen to
officially start back at work. Over the past week she had been easing Rafi into a routine at the local daycare centre and
he seemed to be doing well, despite the tear-filled goodbye to his mother each day. For the last eleven months Mike had kept
Gemma’s security business going, picking up the jobs that had come in for Phoenix Business Services and Gemma was immensely
grateful. But it was time for her to take control again.

She was already worrying that the pile of bills mounting on her desk would continue to grow. And she wanted to bring in enough
work to be able to pay Spinner, her ace surveillance operative, to join her again.

First day back on the job, and she had booked only one client, Mrs Delphine Tolmacheff. She’d contacted Gemma, mentioning
a problem too sensitive to be spoken of on the phone. Man trouble, Gemma guessed.

Rafi pushed his bottle away and smiled up at his mother, a beam of pure love.

‘Ooh, you gorgeous moozle,’ Gemma whispered, completely smitten.

She swore as her mobile rang, startling Rafi and making her jump.

‘Gemma Lincoln,’ she answered as graciously as she could at 5.42 am, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb Mike.

‘Me, honey. I knew you’d be awake,’ puffed Angie.

Detective Sergeant Angie McDonald had been a steadfast friend to Gemma for fifteen years, especially during the bitter end
of Gemma’s police career. She’d been set up to take the blame for a leak during an investigation into race-fixing and Angie,
a country girl of strong loyalties and high intelligence, had stood by Gemma, and their friendship had grown stronger over
the years. Somehow steering her way through the brotherhood and its built-in misogyny, Angie had flourished by outrunning,
outgunning and outdrinking the boys.

‘Who’s chasing you, Ange?’

‘Just the speedo on the treadmill at the police gym. Gotta go faster.’

‘At this hour?’

‘I’ve been up all night.’

‘Oh no, not Trevor?’

‘You’ve got to be joking. He still hasn’t recovered from the handcuffs and the stockwhip.’

Gemma grinned, remembering Angie’s revenge on an unfaithful lover.

‘I can’t wait to see that little boy of ours again,’ Angie said. ‘It’s been too long since I cuddled him.’

‘Four days, actually.’

‘Like I said, too long.’ Angie laughed. Then she suddenly grew serious. ‘I need your help, Gems. There’s a girl I want to
bring over to see you. We can’t really do anything for her but I’m hoping you can help. Discreetly.’

Gemma frowned. ‘What’s the story?’

‘It’s a freaky one. It starts out classic drug-assisted date rape and ends up seriously Gothic. There was no sexual assault,
though, which is strange. We’ve had a few weird ones lately, but this has to take the cake. Can I bring her over to your place
later this morning?’

‘I can’t do this morning, Ange. I have an appointment at ten and some other things I need to do. What about some time in the
afternoon?’

‘Can’t do that, Gems.’

‘Then how about tomorrow?’

Angie’s heavy breathing eased and Gemma could hear her friend jump off the treadmill. ‘Okay, tomorrow then. Mischa has a wild
tale to tell. She reckons she was attacked by—’ Angie paused. ‘No, on second thoughts I’ll let her tell you.’

‘Mischa,’ said Gemma. ‘Cute name.’

‘Mischa Bloomfield. Cute girl. Wait till you see her. And now I’ve gotta fly. The senior pathologist’s coming by later to
talk to the Homicide team about a murder last week – it’s the second murder of a young woman in the past couple of weeks.
I want to be looking my best for him.’

‘Ange, relax. You don’t even have to try. The last woman he looked at was dead and drained on his slab. And anyway, you’re
the best looking cop in the team.’

‘Mmm. That’s a low base we’re talking about. Obviously you haven’t seen the others. Specially the boss.’

Gemma groaned. ‘Bruno Gross?’

‘The aptly named Gross himself. Make time for me tomorrow? In the meantime, get yourself nice and rested up.’

As Gemma put her mobile down, she felt she could sleep for twenty-four hours. Having a baby had changed everything, including
sleeping patterns. His cot was in her bedroom, which meant every tiny sound he made woke her and she would lie there listening,
until he either started to cry, or slipped back to sleep. He’d increased her alertness to her surroundings and although Gemma
realised this could be a good thing, she wondered if she’d ever feel ‘nice and rested’ again.

She changed Rafi and left him drowsy and secured under the tucked-in doona beside Mike. Then she gazed fondly for a few moments
on the two males in her life before going back out to the kitchen to put the coffee on to brew while she showered.

She dressed in black trousers, a white shirt and her old cashmere cardigan with the holes in the elbows, which she couldn’t
bring herself to throw out, and quietly padded into the living room with her coffee, glancing at herself in the hallway mirror.
Her shoulder-length hair could do with a wash, she thought as she pulled its tawny thickness back from her neck. The square-jawed
face that looked back at her appeared strained and in need of a night’s uninterrupted sleep. Lipstick, she decided. That’s
what I need. Bright red lipstick.

She pulled the heavy curtains away from the sliding doors that opened out on to a deck overlooking her straggly cliff-top
garden
and then the wide sky and the waters of Phoenix Bay. Gemma shivered, remembering a night when an intruder with homicide on
his mind had burst through the glass, coming straight at her like something from a horror movie. She dismissed the memory
and turned to see Taxi cat, a tight ginger ball wedged warmly in the corner of the blue leather sofa. Taxi didn’t deign to
look up at her.

Dawn was breaking along the eastern horizon, the sky lightening above the still dark sea. She took it all in for a few moments,
and, feeling optimistic about the new day, she headed down the hall to her office, but first she stepped into the deserted
room once used by her staff.

Spinner and Mike had both worked in here, and some years ago she’d even had enough jobs on to employ an office assistant.
Now Mike used the room as an office and storeroom for his gear. Unpacked boxes were piled high in one corner and he’d set
up a clothes rack where his suits, shirts and trousers hung in neat rows. She noticed how dusty the room was. Having a child
sure plays hell with the housework, Gemma thought.

She shivered. It was cold in here on the southern side of the flat, one of four that had originally formed an old colonial
mansion, subdivided in the 1960s.

Mike had left a stack of files and his notebook from yesterday’s jobs on his desk. He’d been doing routine surveillance for
one of the big insurance companies during the day, checking up on claimants, while keeping an eye during the night and early
hours of the morning on a couple of long-haul drivers who worked for a petroleum company and were suspected of diverting some
of the fuel.

Between the jobs, he wasn’t getting much sleep either and he was away overnight two or three times a week. ‘It’s okay, Gemma,’
he’d said. ‘We need the money, and I can do this until you’re back full time. Or at least part time.’

She picked up his notebook and glanced through a couple of pages, thinking how good he’d been to her and Rafi. She still couldn’t
quite believe that he loved her and wanted to be with her and her baby. That he seemed happy to work and live here with her
and Rafi, with whom he had bonded in a way that surprised them both.

BOOK: Death by Beauty
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